1715 – The first mention of a Jewish settlement in the city of Oradea
1722 – The Jewish community of Oradea is born
1731 – Chevra Kadisa (The Sacred Brotherhood) is founded by 68 members of the Jewish community. Membership could only be obtained by those men who made proof of an exemplary family life and spirit of sacrifice. We could assume that the number of Jews, on the territory of the future city of Oradea, is considerable at this moment
1735 – The 1735 census shows that the Jews from Orasul Nou (The new City) and Olosig were mostly of Czech descend and, to a lesser extent, of Polish origin. These two mixed sources of the Jewish immigration carried inside them the future separation of the Jewish community from the second-half of the next century. Olosig showed a greater tolerance towards the Jews than Orasul Nou. The latter was almost entirely composed of manufacturers and traders who saw the Jews as unwanted competitors.
1740 – The settlement, in the Olosig area, of Honigsberg, Michel Fr. (Mihelfy) and Puliczer families, whose descendants are going to play a major role in the economic, intellectual and social life of Oradea until deportation in 1944.
1742 – An imperial decree brought some facilities concerning the standard of living for the Jewish community and after the seven years war (1756-1763), Empress Maria Theresa introduced the “tolerance tax” for the Jews.
1778 – Emperor Joseph II introduced even greater facilities towards the Jews, and after the year 1781 when the “tolerance decrees” were issued, Jewish children could be schooled in confessional schools and had the right to be accepted in any public schools. Also, the Jews gained the right to work the land and to practice all the occupations they were denied until then. German became the official language, replacing the Hebrew which, from now on, is reserved exclusively for religious purposes. The Jews could also build synagogues without special approvals and they weren’t obliged anymore to wear distinctive signs
1783 – All the Jews within the Habsburg Monarchy gained the right of free travel within the empire and the right to settle in cities.
1785 – The “tolerance tax” is renamed “cameral tax”, a notion less discriminatory
1783 – The Superior Council of War decided that the fortress of Oradea should be disbanded. The gained land was offered to build houses. The Commander of the Oradea fortress, Colonel Georg Roth has offered land for housing even since the year 1780, long before the Jews had the right to buy buildings
1786 – Local administrative authorities were reluctant in applying the imperial decrees thus the measures to ease the Jewish trade and commerce were published only in 1786 due to repeated protests from the local tradesmen
1787 – German names take the place of the Hebrew names and the building of houses of praying was approved
1792 – The new settlement received officially the name Subcetate (“under the fortress” or “next to the fortress”) and was composed of 46 families of which 26 owned their homes. The town Subcetate, established by the Jews, became independent territory, with the approval of the military authorities. Their mayor was elected from the Jewish community. From now on, the Jews from Orasul nou and Olosig, who were previously subordinated to the Jewish mayor of Velenta, Brod Samu, become subordinated to the mayor from Subcetate. The first elected mayor was Mihaly Samuel, who was followed by Brod Samu and others.
1796 – The other two cities had their own Jewish mayors. The function of Jewish Mayor was maintained until 1849, when the town of Oradea was officially established
1835 – The 1835 census reveals 107 Jewish families in Subcetate, of which 55 owned their own houses
1850 – There were 1438 Jews living in Oradea.
1851 – “Asociatia comerciantilor si a meseriasilor din Oradea Mare” (The Association of Craftsmen and Tradesmen from Oradea) is established. It comprises 28 elected members, of which 6 are Jews.
1867 – The year of the Jewish emancipation, their number in Oradea being 6438, representing 22, 4% of the city’s population.
1869 – The Jews were responsible for creating a modern commercial network that had connections with all the cities in Transylvania and as well with numerous commercial houses from Austria, Germany, Great Britain and the countries of the Middle East. The modernization of the banking system of Oradea is the work of Reismann Mor. He initiated the creation, in 1869, of “Hala Comerciala” (The Commercial Hall). Its first president was Brull Lipot, who detained this function until 1881.
1870 – The Jewish community of Oradea splits in two. First-Rabbi Landsberg remained in the Orthodox community; as President was elected Kurlander Elias. Rosenberg Sandor was elected First-Rabbi of the Congressional community and Dr. Pollak Hermann became President. The Congressional community will, eventually, become the Neolog community.
1881-1885 – Some members of those communities formed a third one, Status Quo Ante, which had the declared goal to restore the lost unity of the Jewish community as a whole. Held Hermann was elected as president and Kunstadt Isac as First-Rabbi. Nevertheless, the unity of the Jewish community was maintained through Chevra Kadisa, which remained unique and indivisible.
1910 – There were at the time 48 doctors, 10 engineers, 6 pharmacists, 8 journalists and 29 Jewish teachers in Oradea. At the beginning of WWI, there were 15155 Jews in Oradea, representing 23, 6% of the city’s total population.
1914 – 1918 – In the military campaigns of the WWI, the Jews participated according to their percentage in the total population. The schools and the Jewish hospital were handed over to the Army, for military use. The Jewish communities, along with Jewish charities, organized the help for the families left without any support. The Neolog community organized an orphanage for the children whose parents died during the war; in this orphanage the children who escaped the bloody pogroms of 1918 and were brought to Oradea were also placed. In 1915, when the Russian armies occupied Galicia and Bukovina, Rabbi Israel Hager found refuge in Oradea with the help of the Romanian authorities.
1918 – 1932 – The new Karolyi Mihaly government of the Hungarian Republic, has appointed, towards the end of 1918, as ruler of the Bihor county, a known anti-Semite, Dr. Agoston Peter. During the final years of the Austrian monarchy and the establishment of East European national states, the question of the Jewish national identity was brought up. In Oradea, the Orthodox Jews were integrated in the Mizrachi organization, which was constituted in Oradea soon after the Romanian administration was chaired. The organization edited, beginning with 1921, a newspaper which defended the interests of the Jewish community. The ideas promoted by this organization led to the creation of the National Jewish Party who obtained absolute majority in the local elections of the year 1920 and remained in power until 1932.
1932 – 1941 – The hard work and the perseverance of the Jews, together with the liberal profile of the new Romanian administration led to the disappearance of the past social problems, to economic growth and the development of the city. While fascism gained ground throughout Europe, but mostly after the implementation of racial laws directed against Jews in Hungary, the Romanian and Jewish communities left aside the ideological issues and cooperated closely. The number of the Jews in Oradea reached 25000.
1941 – 1944 – After the Second Vienna Award, the racial laws introduced in Hungary as soon as 1938 also applied to the Jewish community of Oradea.
1941 – The National Central Alien Control Office (KEOKH) decided that all the Jews with foreign citizenship were to be arrested, along with their families, and deported to Poland. They were handed over to the German administration and subsequently killed in Kamanetz-Podolsk. Men with ages between 18 and 45 were retained for forced labour. They were sent unarmed in Ukraine, close to the battlefields. Thousands of men dressed as civilians, poorly fed, had to work hard and were the subjects of inhuman treatment from officers and soldiers especially trained for torturing them
March 19 1944 – Along with the German occupation of Hungary, from March 19 1944, Jews were forbidden to leave their hometowns. Everybody caught on their way home, in trains or train stations was arrested without the possibility of contacting their families. All these measures had the purpose of removing Jews from the social and economic life
April 5 1944 – The wear of the yellow star is introduced. One day later, numerous arrests occur, under the accusation of “sabotaging the war effort”. Among those arrested there were dr. Adorjan Emil, president of the Vulturul Negru Society (“Black Crow”), Leitner Sandor, brother of the President of the Orthodox community, dr. Vali Peter, hero of WWI, many clerks, writers, journalists, etc.
April 16 1944 – The seizure of all Jewish property by governmental order takes place. Nobody could possess more than 3.000 pengo
April 17 1944 – All Jewish stores were closed and sealed, the merchandise was confiscated
April 21 1944 – The old Synagogue of Subcetate was handed over to the German Army for military use. The newspapers were spreading hate against the Jews
April 26 1944 – The Ministry Council of the Hungarian Republic decided that all Jewish real estate property should be confiscated. Also, it was decided, at German request, that 50000 Jewish workers, along with their families, should be sent in Germany. These decisions predicted the establishment of the Ghetto and the deportations that would follow
May 3 1944 – Hundreds of posters – signed by Gyapay Laszlo, the Mayor’s assistant – announced to the Jewish population the creation of the Ghetto. Going out was permitted only between 9 and 10am. One hundred special commissions crossed the city, entered the houses of the Jewish community and challenged the inhabitants to leave their homes, taking with them no more than a 50 kg luggage. All the money and jewelry were confiscated
May 4 1944 – Estilap newspaper announced that:”The Oradea Ghetto will have 30000 inhabitants” and “The resettlement of the Jews would end in four days”. The Ghetto was sat up in an already crowded area, which meant that as many as 16 persons were sharing the same room. To prevent escapes, a fence of 2 meters high was erected
May 10 1944 – The Ghetto was taken over by the Hungarian Gendarmerie. The commandant of the Ghetto was Lieutenant Colonel Vitez Peterffy Jeno, together with his assistant, Captain Garay Istvan. The worst period in the life of those detained in the Ghetto started when The Office for Investigation also known as “Dreher” (because they used the buildings of the Dreher-Haggenmacher beer factory) was founded. The investigations were conducted with the purpose of obtaining confessions about hidden valuables and frequently involved torture and beatings. People were crippled, murdered and many committed suicide during these investigations
May 25 1944 – The evacuation of the Ghetto takes place. Between May 25 and June 3 1944, some 2500 – 3000 Jews were evacuated daily. They were sent, by train, to Kosice without food, water or elementary hygiene and were handed over to the German forces. At their arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau only 10% of them were selected for forced labour, the rest were being killed immediately. The Jews from Oradea were killed towards the end of the Auschwitz’s lifetime. Only 2000 of the pre-war Jewish community returned, after the war, to Oradea.
October 1944 – When the city of Oradea was liberated only a few Jews were found. There were 16 families that were spared by the racial laws and another 450 men who were deserving air defense units. The returning of refugees, survivors from deaths camps and of those who were used for forced labour commenced soon. The need for resolving a number of stringent problems like housing, food etc. led to the creation of an institution named The Jewish Democrat Group. Its mission was to help the reintegration in the social life of those returned, and their regaining of human dignity. From this institution, there was detached a special one named DEFAB (Deportaltak Felkutatasara Alakult Bizottsag – Comitetul pentru Depistarea Deportatilor – The Committee For the Tracking of Deportees), which, under the presidency of Dr. Ludovic Karl, had the goal of tracking and bringing home all those who survived the death camps. They organized 6 train travels from Oradea to Krakow and they searched all the death camps, including Auschwitz. 4500 survivors, from the North of Transylvania, returned to Oradea this way
1945 – 1953 – With the help of JDC (Joint Distribution Committee), The Jewish Democrat Group, built one hall for 100 boys and one for 70 girls. They also founded an ORT (Organization, Reconstruction, Travail) school, in the building of the former Jewish high school, where some 150 youths learned an occupation. They opened a Jewish school for the children of those from the southern Transylvania, a library, a summer school, IKUF organization for promoting the Yiddish language, etc. In 1945 The Jewish Democrat Group merged with the Jewish Democrat Committee, continuing its activity until 1953. The Jewish Community became the only organization that represented the Jews from Oradea.
1946 – According to a statistics elaborated in 1946 by the Jewish Democrat Committee, the number of Jews living in Oradea is around 6500
1948 – All the Jewish institutions – the Hospital, the ritual Bath, the Jewish School, the ORT school, etc. – were nationalized. Most of the religious buildings were demolished. From 1948, after Israel declared its independence, the Sionist movement in Oradea gained strength and emigration began. Almost 400000 Jews immigrated to Israel from Romania and the majority of the Jewish community from Oradea
Today – With the help of the Jewish Communities Federation, there still exist in Oradea 3 synagogues and 2 Jewish cemeteries. The community of Oradea – which half a century ago represented almost one third of the city’s population – is no larger than 600 persons. The remembrance of the past Jewish community – the largest in Transylvania – is kept by a monument in black marble, in honor of those killed in the Holocaust, placed nearby the grand Orthodox Synagogue.
“Gheorghe Sincai” Library, from Oradea, Romania, unfolded in October 2009 a photography exhibition which commemorated the cultural heritage left into the memory of our city by the important and prosperous Jewish community in the years prior to WWII. This moment is highly symbolic: 1944-2009. It represents the passing of 65 years since the closing of the Oradea ghetto and the departure of its inhabitants to a destination with no return.
The exhibition aims to evoke through photos and a multimedia application what our city has earned and, subsequently lost, in culture, architecture and social ambiance when nearly a third of its population disappeared in the summer of 1944.
We admit that this project might never succeed in providing a complete overview of the Jewish community’s pre-war lifestyle, but to honor the memory of those who were killed, this project is extremely necessary to us as a community.
This blog intends to give a partial overview of this exhibition.