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Jahaduth: Jüdische Religion
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Malka is getting married

Malka, my mother’s pretty little sister was to marry her choice, Meir Aaron Teichmann from the small town of Volova near Majdan. The wedding took place in the groom’s place of residence in the cold, snowy time of the year. I was five years old at that time and remember quite well the wedding and especially the cold weather of those days. The organizers were looking for a festive hall that allowed for the ritual separation of both sexes but still allowed the reception of all the wedding guests. They solved the problem by erecting a tent for the women next to the community rooms.
Almost every member of the Majdan Hebrew Congregation traveled to the wedding. It was obvious that every one wanted to take part in the celebration of Reb Itze’s daughter’s wedding. Many people turned up from the small town of Volova as well. The festivities lasted for seven days, in accordance with the seven blessings. My mother helped a great deal in the organization of the catering and I kept her place free for her i.e. unoccupied. There were not enough chairs and I fought for her like a lion. I clang to her chair like to the protrusions of the Temple’s Altar and refused to let it go even when someone wanted to remove it by force. We all traveled to Hungary after the wedding, to the small town of Nyirbátor, where my father’s family had lived.
Malka gave birth to five children. Unfortunately they could enjoy their good luck only for ten years. The family was deported to Poland in 1941. With the exception of two children, who were able to escape, the entire family was murdered. Jossele was taken up by our family and his sister by a family in the little town of Satmar. 13) But their life was short too. They ended up in Auschwitz some years later from which there was no return for them.
Malka’s wedding was a turning point in my life. I did not know anything about my father’s existence up to these celebrations. At this point I time, he turned up with my mother’s brothers, my uncles Alter and Shlomo. My two uncles wanted to use the occasion and to make peace between my parents. They invited him to the wedding for this reason. They told him that he had a son! It was there and then that I first saw my father. As I heard from my Uncle Zwi much later, my parents had separated shortly after their wedding. Following their separation, my mother returned to her paternal home and thus I was born in Majdan. I couldn’t stop thinking about this story, but whenever I tried to question my father about it, he evaded the matter so I could not get anything out of him.
But when I visited my father in his home at Bne Brak 14) approximately two years before his death and he was on his own, I used the opportunity
and confronted him with the request to tell me more about my mother. How did it happen that we only net each other when I was five? My father told me that they had a fight shortly after their wedding and my mother decided to return to her father’s place. My father had no idea that my mother expected a child. This remained a secret later on as well as my mother’s family never told him about me. As a result, I grew up at my Grandfather’s house that was to me like a father.

13) Satu Mare/Rumania, in the North of Transsylvania, southeast from Ushgorod
14) Large city near Tel Aviv, founded by Polish Chassidim in 1924, the home town of religious Jews

The small town of Nyirbátor

The small town of Nyirbátor is located in the North East of Hungary, approx. 20 miles distance from the Rumanian border. The town’s name is a combination of two elements. “Nyirfa” means “birch”, a tree most common in that district and “Bátor” stands for Stephen Bathory, the Fourth, a warrior who fought the Turks and became in 1575 the King of Poland and the Prince of Transsylvania. Bathory did a great deal for the development of the little town. He supported the development of the Protestant Church in the town and had erected a wooden belltower next to that church, a scheduled property to this very day.

The first Jewish congregation was founded by Simon Mandel, the offspring of a noble Jewish family in 1816. The Mandels applied strict standards to the economic development of the town and the entire district by founding their first industrial enterprise in Nyirbátor called “Bóni”. These works bought the produce of the local peasants and produced bread, spirits, tobacco goods and other articles.
The Jewish congregation grew fast and gained much influence upon the economic life of Nyirbátor. Approx. 40 per cent of the inhabitants were Jewish before the Holocaust. The relationship between the non-Jews and the Jews were passable. At first the Jewish-Orthodox Congregation came into being that became dominant. Liberal Jews founded later on the so-called “Status Quo Congregation”. Both Synagogues were located next to each other and had a common fence between them and that was about the only thing common between the two congregations.
In the ritual house of slaughter only poultry was butchered, no ox. 15)
The Orthodox Congregation possessed all necessary institutions. Rabbinate, Talmud-Thora School, Jewish School, Ritual Baths, Kosher Slaughterhouse and Funeral Institution (Chevra Kadisha). In addition several circles of study and work functioned within the congregation, for example the one of Charity, mutual aid and financial management. The Board of the Congregation consisted of the President, the Cashier, the Bookkeeper and the Auditor.

The Board was elected by the Congregation every few years. The Congregation occupied a number of paid employees. Next to the Rabbi these were especially the teachers, (Melamed) but also the Kosher butcher, the synagogue servant (Shames), the Bath Supervisor and of course the “Sabbath Goy” 16)
The entire organization of the congregation, all localities such as the Synagogue, The Talmun-Thora School (Cheder) the “Stiebel” (a small room to pray) and the Jewish School were located altogether in the same street in the city center. The Rabbinate, Slaughter House, the Ritual Bath (Mikwe) and the dwelling place of the synagogue servant (Shames) were all located in the courtyard of the Synagogue.

In addition the two Synagogues there was thus another room , the afore mentioned “Stiebel” , also called “Klaus” a small room where mainly Jews from Satmarand Chassids from Belz (Poland) said their prayers in private.
The Status-Quo Congregation had its own dignitaries; a Rabbi, a kosher butcher and a servant (a Shames).
First, I suffered from resettlement difficulties after our move to Nyirbátor. I was unable to speak Hungarian and even the local Yiddish sounded strange to me, as it was different to the Yiddish dialect spoken in Majdan. Our first dwelling place was rented from an assimilated Jewish family called Fon, who also possessed a printing place. The Fons lived at the entrance of the yard. Next to their place four rented out properties followed for four other Jewish families, similar to railway carriages. We were the last in the row. Our neighbors were the families Kraus, Ellenbogen and Reich.
Our next door neighbors were the Reichs. They had a very pretty daughter called Leah. Later on I heard it that my father and Leah had something to do with each other. She traveled with him to Budapest to avoid the gossip. But the news spread. It became known in Nyirbátor that a boy was born to Leah. My classmates pulled my leg at the Cheder and said I had now a bastard brother. The story went round the town like wildfire. The main victim of the story was of course my mother. She locked herself in and wept bitterly. Loud cries and the sound of arguments accompanied by my mother’s sobbing was heard from their bedroom, when my mother demanded an explanation from my father. Finally, we moved out from the first flat in order to avoid the Reichs. I was not allowed to talk to them. As a child I did not understand why. I loved Leahs mother like my own Granny.

Leah stayed in Budapest. I met her after our return from the concentration camps to Nyirbátor. She too went through Auschwitz, she survived and returned to Nyirbátor in the hope to find surviving members of her family. She was just as beautiful as in her youth. Leah married an Orthodox Jew and immigrated to the States. Later on, when I discussed with my father the separation from my mother, I also asked him to tell me more about this Leah-story. Much against his will he admitted that Leah had a son. But the son was not his but that of Laci Fon, the printing press owner’s son where we first lived. Our new flat was in the neighborhood of my grandfather’s house. We lived in the property of a peasant called Hatházi, first in a small flat in the courtyard next to the sheep’s pen and the cows’ byre, with an external earth lavatory. The flat had two rooms and there were five of us. My brother and I slept in one bed in the kitchen. A baby’s cot was put into the parent’s bedroom. The kitchen’s wall had no tiles. Before the Sabbath with smoothened the floor with clay. We had no electric current. A paraffin lamp was hanging down from the ceiling, for lighting. The kitchen stove was wood-fired and served as heating and cooking. Our firewood we stored in the shed which we also used as a tent. Prior to the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) we removed the bricks from the shed’s roof , covered it with twigs and decorated it’s inside. 17)

My mother had some non-Jewish woman friends as well, The first two houses away, the last in a villa opposite Grandfather’s house. We bought all our milk and dairy products from Mrs. Baracsi. As we faced the deportation at Passover 1944, Mrs. Baracsi begged my mother to leave my little sister behind in her care; She’d look after her well, until we return. My mother did not realized the horrors waiting for us just around the corner and did not want to give up her smallest. She only handed over to her friend some bedding and other unimportant things. When Father and I returned from the deportation, Mrs. Baracsi gave back these items on the spot and said how sorry she was, not having demanded more resolutely that my mother should leave my little sister behind in her house.

Mrs. Molnár was an exceptionally pretty childless woman. When we were deported to Poland in 1941, she did everything in her power to help of financially and in other ways as well.. She applied to various authorities for the cancellation of our expulsion she provided us with the necessities while we were in the custody of the authorities and sat with us for hours and hours trying to cheer us up in our impossible situation. during my travels to Hungary in 1965 I made a special point of visiting Nyirbátor to see my late mothers former friends, to the ladies to thank them again for their kindness and all that they have done for us during those hard times. First I visited Mrs. Baracsi. Upon entering their house, I was received by her son and daughter who told me that their mother, Mrs. Baracsi is next door on her deathbed. But Mrs. Baracsi recognized my voice from next door and called me quietly: “ Shlajme, is that you?” I went in her room. She got hold of my hand and asked me how were things with me. Two hours later she died. The second house I visited was Mrs. Molnár’s but I could not find her. I found out that the Molnárs were expelled from the town by the Communists i.e. deported to an unknown place as they were considered to be “Capitalists”.

After a while we were able to relocate from the Hatházi’s place and to find a larger and more comfortable flat, not next door to the byre. I became very ill a few weeks later, around the time of the New Year Festival 18).
The physician, Dr. Balogh diagnosed diphtheria. This contagious disease was very dangerous. My worried mother left the Synagogue and ran home. The local health authorities posted the dreaded “red notice” at the entrance prohibiting the entry to our premises because of the contagious disease. My condition grew from bad to worse with every hour. I was choking. The Doctor ordered a new medication from Debrecen, not yet available at the local Chemists in Nyirbátor. He asked my mother to pray that the new medicament should arrive in time. It arrived in the last minute. Shortly after the doctor administered the Diphtheria Serum, my condition started to improve and my life was saved. Dr. Balogh who was not Jewish, refused to accept any payment for my treatment. He would accept no payment from a poor family, he said.

Old Molnár lived a few houses away in the same street. His house stood at the street corner, opposite of that of my Grandfather. When he retired, he transferred his flourmill to his two sons. One of his sons, the one hard at hearing, was the husband of the previously mentioned pretty Mrs. Molnár. The old Uncle Molnár, as we called him, was small, he had a bald head and was never seen without his cigar in his moth. Most of the times he was sitting on the bench in front of his door, dressed in a three-piece suit, with the fob chain dangling from his waist pocket. He greeted the passers-by with a broad grin and passed his time with the kiddies of the neighborhood. I was most impressed especially by his cigar lighter and by his pocket watch.
On one occasion, I asked him to leave me these two things in the event of his death. As an answer, he just shook his head and smiled. On passing his bench, I used to ask him: “Uncle Molnár, are you still with us?” He just kept smiling.

Molnár’s Flour Mill was in the next street that was leading to a small wood, a veritable “lover’s lane”, a witness of many young couples’ romantic actions. Old Uncle Molnár inspected every young couple upon their returns from the woods and said: “Well, these have done something!” Or: “No, these have not!” He explained his logic with the following wise words: If upon the return from the woods the man walked briskly in front of the woman, his result was positive, but when the woman was leading on, then the result was negative, i.e. nothing had happened.

Most Nyirbátor streets had been unpaved. The only exception was the central market place and a few streets leading to this actual center of the town’s business life. Most business premises were located at the market place and were mostly in Jewish hands. For this reason, business and trade stopped on Saturdays and on the days of Jewish Festivals. Peasant markets, artisan’s workshops and small mechanics’ shops were located at the outskirts.
The Town Hall was the largest, most significant building in the town center. It had a high tower with a clock visible from each side. This tower had a wide balcony around it used by the fire brigade guarding the town. Once a fire was noticed, the fireman gave alarm with a bell dangling over his head and signaled the direction of the conflagration waving his red flag, pointing to the proper direction.
On the Market Place, in front of the Town Hall, in the center of a small park, a Heroes’ Memorial had been erected to commemorate Nyirbátor’s sons who lost their lives in World War I. A marble tablet listed the names of the dead, 14 Jews among them. On the other side of the place, the second tallest building of Nyirbátor rose, the only commercial banking corporation in the entire district. It belonged to a Jew named Elek.

After March 19, 1944 the German Army took over this building and set up their Headquarters in these premises. After the defeat of the Germans, the Russians took it over and it became the Russian “Commendatory”. The Guard’s Room was located in a former store at the entrance that belonged before the Shoáh to a certain Jew called Gálet. As it happened, the Russian Officer of the Guard was a certain Sergeant Major of the Red Army, called Buchstein, who forbade me to call him by his family name and expressly demanded that I address him as Sargent Major. The Russians wanted to renovate the store to adapt it to the new use. For this reason they arrested the passers-by at random and gave them the task to clean the localities. I visited the Russians after my return from the concentration camps a number of times. They had a number of Jews among them with whom I could conduct some conversations in Yiddish language. Sometimes I assisted them in translations, too.

I was there during the aforementioned renovation jobs. Suddenly I noticed that the old Mesusah 19) was still attached to the doorpost. I detached it with my penknife. When I returned approx. one hour later, I saw Sergeant Major Buchstein hitting one of laborers with a stick while crying out loud: “Where is God?” I went up to him and tried to qualm him down by explaining that I was the one who dismantled God. I’ll extract now the parchment roll from its capsule. I’ll return the Mesusah to him if he can read the text. He looked at the piece of parchment, turned it upside down and back again and was obviously much distressed. He never saw Hebrew letters before in his whole life.
Thursday was the usual weekly market day. In addition, there was an annual market each autumn, when the peasants could sell their own produce. Rows of tents were erected for this purpose at the market place with broad passages between them so that visitors could inspect the goods on both sides at their pleasure.

Most artisans who offered their products for sale were Jews, especially in the rag trade, i.e. clothing, shoes, furniture and haberdashery. At the edge of the market place peasants sold hen, geese, and bundles of firewood.
The manual workers had months and months of hard work behind them to make up a proper selection of their goods for the annual market. Even we, the children of Nyirbátor had our little jobs. We were employed by the stallholders as look-outs – I at the tent of a tailor. My special duty was to keep an eye on the “gypsies”, the members of the Romany tribe who came to the market with the sole intention to steal. I did not earn a lot of money but it was an experience, I can tell you!
The sales were conducted by well-versed salesmen, belonging of course to the Jewish race. They knew the nature of their customers, the peasants and spoke their dialect, too. Almost every sentence they uttered was colored by Jewish wisdom, impressive curses, and hidden jokes. One of the tailors was stuck for a long time with a faulty three-quarter long overcoat with oblique i.e. slanting pockets. By accident or mistake, the apprentice attached the pocket slanting in the wrong direction and as a result, it was impossible to put the hand into the pocket. This tailor had a salesman, a genius called “Patyi” who was asked to get rid of the overcoat which had been dragged from one annual fair to the other. “Sell it at any price, Patyi, the main thing is you get rid of it!” Patyi did not hesitate for long when he saw a farmer coming to the market stall with a whip in his hand. He greeted him as an old acquaintance:” Uncle Jánosh, have you seen the latest overcoat, the American design?” Before the farmer could utter a sound, Patyi took off the farmer’s old overcoat and dressed him in the new one. He made the prospective customer stand in front of the mirror, pulled tight the overcoat at the back so that at the front it looked like made to measure, he got hold of the farmer’s right arm, guided it along the pouch and finally stuck the farmer’s hand into the pocket slanting in the wrong direction. He pushed the whip under the manipulated arm and said: “Do you see it now? If you travel in a wintry day, you won’t feel the cold!” The price, not more than… he said, he added to the original price five more per cent and asked him not to show the overcoat to anyone , not for the time being, as it is only a trial effort. The next shipment shall arrive from America in one month’s time! The overcoat with the originally wrong pocket had to be made in series and became a hit.
My father had an entire collection of pocket watches at home, left over from his watchmakers’ business. Some parts were missing, as they were used to replace faulty parts of other watches. The salesmen purchased these old shabby watches according to weight. They equipped their overcoats and jackets with them, by putting always one watch in the right hand pocket. If a peasant tried on a piece of clothing, he liked to out his hand into the pocket. Whenever he had the feeling of an apparently forgotten watch, he wanted to know how much the price of that piece.

15) According to the ritual laws of Kashruth
16) A non-Jew who is allowed to perform certain duties during the Sabbath not allowed for Jews.
17) The tents used at Sukkoth must not have tiled roofs but a transparent cover made up of twigs.
18) Rosh Hashana, at early autumn
19) Hebrew for “door post”. A capsule on the right-hand of the door post of Jewish houses and dwellings, containing the text 5 Moses, 6, 4-9 and 11, 13-21



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