Jews in Cluj (a short summary)

translated by Moldován Árpád Zsolt

Although Jews have been mentioned in the chronicles of Cluj (Kolozsvár in Hungarian, Klausenburg in German) as early as the beginning of the 16th century for the next couple of hundred of years they played only a marginal role in the town’s life due to the various restrictions which made it impossible for them to live within the medieval walls.

Jews were allowed to settle in towns of the Hungarian Kingdom after Law XXIX/1940 was passed. This law – however – was not put into force in the Transylvanian Principality, and the urbanization of Jews was permitted only in 1851 thanks to a ministerial decree from Vienna. As a result of this delayal the Jewish population of Cluj started to grow just in the 1850’s.

A city council report drafted in April 1835 mentionned 61 men and 48 women of Jewish origins, while the 1846 Census listed 58 Jewish families. The community outgrew the small synagogue on the Kül-Magyar Street (todays December 21. 1989 Avenue, no. 96) and a new stone-dwelling, a Classical style synagogue in Pap Street (todays Paris) street was built. This synagogue and the properties surrounding it – the Rabbi’s, the School-Teacher’s and the Mashgiach’s house, the ritual bath (Mikvah) – later became the Orthodox community’s spiritual and cultural center. During the German occupation it was used as a garage, after 1945 it a Matzah factory and a Kosher butcher used the premises. Since 1990 the building houses the Antena 1 Television’s Cluj studio.

 By the end of the 19th Century the Jewish Community of Cluj moved into new headquarters on Szappan Street (todays Tipografiei) which is home to our organization ever since. The most influential Rabbis came from the Glasner family: Ábrahám Glasner (1863–1877), Mózes Sámuel Glasner (1877–1925), Akiba Glasner (1923–1944), Juda Cvi Glasner (1941–1944). President of the Jewish Orthodox Community at the time of the deportation was Gyula Weiss.

One Community, Three Rites

The Jewish communities of Hungary broke into three rites at the 1868 Hungarian Jewish Congress held in Budapest. Most of Cluj’s Jewry joined the Conservative oriented Orthodox rite, but in a few years time the community segmented even further. The first move was made in 1875 by the most-conservative Sephards (actually Hasids who had nothing to do with Sepharadic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula) when they built the Beth Avrohom Synagogue on Malom Street (todays Gh. Bariţiu). This house of prayer was sacked and devastated in 1927, never used after 1945 and shortly demolished. The last Rabbi serving here was named Yekusiel Halberstam; he was the only Rabbi in Cluj who was deported along with his congregation. He survived the Holocaust, returned to Cluj but soon afterwards left for Israel.

In 1881 the next group to leave the Orthodox congregation was the progressive, mainly well-educated Jewish bourgeoisie which joined the Neologue current based on the status quo ante ideology. They have erected theit own synagogue in 1887 on Szent István Street (todays Horea) no. 21. The Arabesque style temple was constructed by the Horváth brothers and Károly Reményik’s construction company based on the plans of Izidor Hegner, a local railroad engineer. In 1904 a new building was erected nearby which housed the Rabbi’s office, a school and a kindergarten. In 1927 members of the anti-Semitic Iron Guard sacked and devastated the synagogue. At the end of World War II the retreating German and Hungarian forces detonated the Synagogue (according to other sources it was hit by a bomb in June 1944.

The building was reconstructed three years later and took up the name of Memorial Temple to the Deported. Nowadays it’s the only functional synagogue in Cluj.

The most outstanding Jewish religious personality in Cluj was Mátyás Eisler (1891–1930). This Neologue Rabbi was educated in Budapest and Berlin, had a Ph.D in Philosophy and Semitic Languages, and was an editor of the Enciclopedia Iudaica. The first president of Neologue Jewish Community was its founder Vilmos Farkasházi Fischer, while the last one – at the time of the deportation – was József Farkasházi Fischer.

Similarly to other Transylvanian Jewish communities, the Jews of Cluj possessed a number of dwellings (17 houses of prayer) managed by different religious groups or professional associations. The only one still functional today is the Bet Hamidras Ohel Moshe (Dávid Ferenc Street no. 16) founded by the Sephardic community in 1910. The Mikvah is closed, but the building is used as a house of prayer, the Community’s doctor sees his patients here and a larger gatherings can be held in the big meeting hall.

The first Jewish schools were established by the Orthodox community, they have opened an elementary school for boys in 1875 and for girls in 1908. The number of students grew each year: in the first year the school was attended by 40 children, by the mid-1930s more than 300 pupils were enrolled in these institutions. In 1903 the Neologue community decided to set up its own elementary school, which was opened next year with 2 classes attended by 32 children.

Major role in the city’s economic and cultural development

Thanks to the 1867 law on Jewish emancipation new economic and cultural professions opened up for Jews in Cluj. Most of them made their career choice in commerce, industry and the so-called free professions. As a consequence Jews had a major role in introducing different forms of Capitalist production in Transylvania, which at that time legged behind other parts of the country from an economic point of view. President of the Neologue community Vilmos Farkasházi Fischer and others represented Transylvania’s industry at the 1867 World Fair in Paris and the Millenium Exhibition in Budapest. In 1911 local councilor Ödön Hirsch proposed the exploration of natural gas resources for the benefit of the city.

Jewish entrepreneurs invested heavily in industry too. Izsó Diamant founded the Câmpia Turzii/Aranyosgyéres cable plant, János Hirsch the iron smeltery, Izsó Vigdorovits the Fermata iron and metallurgic company, in 1935 Jenő Vadász and Miksa Rappaport founded Ravag (todays Armătura), the copper and metal factory. Jewish entrepreneurs invested in chemical businesses (Tivadar Herczeg’s factory, the Gladys and Heinrich soap factories, the Ufarom and Hygen pharmaceutical companies and the Porgesz candle factory) and small manufacturies. Many of Cluj’s well-known architects and construction entrepreneurs (Dávid Sebestyén, Emil Devecseri, Vilmos Heves and others) were of Jewish origins.

The Dermata leather and shoes factory was a joint investment of the Farkas (Jewish) and the Renner (German) families.

A large variety of consumer goods (fur and textile items, cooking utensils, canned foods, advertising products) and intellectual products (pronting-offices, publishing houses, bookbinderies) were made in businesses belonging to Jewish investors.

Sixteen thousand Jews of all social strata

The largest Jewish communities in Transylvania lived in Oradea/Nagyvárad and Cluj/Kolozsvár. According to the 1930 Romanian Census three other cities – Sighetu Marmației/ Máramarossziget, Satu Mare/Szatmárnémeti and Timișoara/Temesvár had Jewish communities of over 10,000 people. Three successive censuses made in Cluj showed a proportionate growth of the Jewish population: 7046 people in 1910, 13 504 people in 1930 and 16 763 people in 1941 declared themselves Jewish. Between the two world wars the Jewish population of Cluj varied between 13–15%. The vast majority of them was native Hungarian speaker and had a double Hungarian-Jewish identity.

By the end of the 1930s there were approx. 4000 Jewish families in Cluj: 150 belonged to the upper class (haute bourgeoisie: bankers, industrialists), 800 were middle class and the remaining more than 3000 families were tradesmen, white collar workers or lived in deep poverty. In 1938 when the Romanian authorities started a process of citizenship verification there were 800 Jewish families which couldn’t afford to pay for the necessary supporting documents.

The Jewish community of Cluj had a well-integrated occupational structure which actively shaped the city’s economic and cultural life. According to the 1930 Census 33% of the Jews in Cluj worked in the industry or practiced different trades, 31% worked in commerce or in institutions related to the Jewish religion. Of the 435 businesses registered in 1937 with the Cluj Chamber of Commerce and Industry 246 (57%) belonged to Jews and the Chamber of Industry gave permits to 665 tradesmen (24%) of Jewish origins.

Jewish youth frequently chose a career in the fields of Medicine or Law and because of their good reputation they drew a large clientele. In 1937 of the 472 doctors practicing in Cluj 158 were Jews.

Jewish shopkeepers and tradesmen had a major participation in Cluj outlook as nearly all shops in the city center were owned by Jews (or Hungarians).

After the Trianon Treaty the Transylvanian Jews – the Cluj community included – lost the safety provided by the Hungarian Kingdom’s legal system. The so-called Mârzescu citizenship law adopted in 1924 and the 1938 citizenship verification process stripped hundreds of Jews of their Romanian citizenship.

Zionism in Cluj

The Jewish synagogues which traditionally held together the community got a mighty rival in the secularist Zionist movement. Cluj became the center of the Transylvanian Jewish national movement and a comprehensive network of institutions was set up in a couple of years ranging from Jewish political representation to social care, all of them shaping the identity of the Jewish community.

The Transylvanian Jewish National Alliance was formed ten days after the Padova Armistrice signed on November 3, 1918 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire accepted the peace terms. The Cluj charter of the newly formed organization took a leading role in managing the local Zionist institutions. Several political and social organizations were founded under the umbrella of the Alliance. The Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) opened its Cluj branch in 1927 and posed a serious competition to the religious women’s organizations. The Transylvanian Jewish Student’s Relief Fund was set up in 1932 to help the Jewish youth studying in Cluj, the Transylvanian Jewish Orphan’s Care Fund aimed to support the education of the young Jewish tradesmen. The Jewish Hospital was opened in 1928, the children were educated in kindergardens and primary schools operated by the synagogues and in the boys’ and girls’ secondary school between 1920-1927.

Jewish schools in Cluj

The Jewish Lyceum of Cluj was established in 1920 when the Tarbut National Jewish School Association founded a secondary school offering four years tuition for boys and girls. This institution along with the ones established in Timișoara/Temesvár in 1919 and Oradea/Nagyvárad in 1920 formed a network of three Jewish secondary schools in Transylvania but only a slim minority of the community’s children was educated in Jewish institutions. The establishment of the Cluj and Timișoara schools were part of the Transylvanian Jewish National Alliance’s policy to build a strong Jewish identity in Transylvania. The objectives of this policy were laid down in the Alliance’s charter: learning and using the Modern Hebrew language, awakening and strengthening the Jewish identity, Religious education and guiding the youth towards „productive professions”. Affairs of the Tarbut were managed by a board of trustees set up by the Neologue and Orthodox synagogues presided over by mathematician Márk Antal well-known for his Marxist seminars.

In the first couple of years approx. 600-600 boys and girls attended the Jewish Lyceum of Cluj. In 1922 the four years curriculum was extended to eight years for boys and seven years for girls. One year later it was decided that the girls should study eight years as well. After 1923 the Romanian authorities stopped funding the Jewish secondary schools and forced them to change the language of tuition to Romanian. Subsequently the interest in Jewish school gradually dwindled, less and less parents enlisted their children in the Jewish Lyceum. In 1927 the Romanian authorities charged the Tarbut with revisionism and closed down the school. Jewish private schools were reopened in 1940, the Jewish Boys’ and Girls’ Lyceum got the approval of the Hungarian authorities and functioned until the German occupation. The language of tuition in the so-called Zsidlic was yet again Hungarian. Until his death in 1942 Márk Antal was the the Boys’ Lyceum’s director, succeeded by Endre Bach, the Girls’ Lyceum was managed by Janka Winkler. After the Holocaust the Zsidlic reopened for a couple of years, it was forcebly nationalized in 1948 along with other denominational schools.

Huge influence on Hungarian culture

Jewish The Zionist-oriented Új Kelet daily newspaper, publishing houses which edited books with Jewish subjects and the Goldmark Philharmonic Association were well intergrated in Cluj’s cultural life. Soon after its establishment Új Kelet (1918-1940) became one of Transylvania’s most read newspapers; according to data provided by the Cluj County Office in 1939 it’s daily circulation reached 7200 copies. The editor in chief Ernő Marton was also an active politician, in the 1930s he was a member of the Romanian Parliament on behalf of the Jewish Party established in 1930. President of the party’s Cluj branch was Jenő Kertész helped by executive president Izsó Vigdorovits.

The Poale Cedek Tradesman Association and the Paul Ehrlich Doctor’s Association were the most important Jewish professional organizations. In 1912 it was the Poale Cedek which financed the construction of the Synagogue situated on Malom Street (todays Barițiu) no. 16. Presently the building is used by the Tranzit Foundation. The community’s needy, the shopkeepers and the tradesmen could turn to the Kishitelbank, a financial institution offering small loans.

Besides the ever growing Zionist movement a large segment of the Jewish population identified itself with the Hungarian community and voluntarily assimilated into it. A great number of entrepreneurs and financiers of Jewish origins like Mózes Farkas supported Hungarian social and cultural institutions, while others donated for the Zionist cause, for Jewish organizations.

Writers and artists of Jewish origins held an important role in the Transylvanian/Cluj literary and cultural life. The first names which pop up in everybody’s mind are Jenő Janovics and Imre Kádár, directors of the Cluj Hungarian Theatre, or famous writers like Benő Karácsony, Ernő Ligeti, Oszkár Bárd, György Szántó and Rodion Markovits. Sándor Weiss, Hugó Róth, Mózes Farkas were founding members of the Hungarian Party since 1922 and were part of the national leadership until the party’s forced dissolution in 1938.

The role of Jewish writers, poets and journalists in Transylvania and Cluj grew after the Trianon Treaty. This was due to the fact that before 1918 the most talented Transylvanian Jewish writers moved to Budapest to publish in the weekly magazine Nyugat.

Before World War II Farkas Gyalui, director of the Central University Library played an important role in Cluj’s spiritual life as a literary historian. In his youth at the turn of the century he was a very talented journalist.

Trained as a lawyer Benő Karácsony was a housename writer in Cluj until his deportation to Auschwitz in 1944 where he became one of the many victims of the Holocaust. His first novel, Pjotruska was published by the Erdélyi Szépmíves Céh in 1927. His following books Új élet kapujában (1932), Napos oldal (1936), Utazás a szürke folyón (1940), A megnyugvás ösvényein (1946) brought him fame and appreciation.

Ottó Indig returned from Budapest for a brief period of time and worked at Ellenzék newspaper. During his stay he wrote successful plays.

Out of all Jewish writers Ernő Ligeti’s work can be considered the most colourful. He moved to Cluj/Kolozsvár from Oradea/Nagyvárad after WW I to work at the municipality’s newspaper Kolozsvári Hírlap. Later he transferred to the competition, to Keleti Újság. In his most important book, Súly alatt a pálma (The palmtree grows under weight) he describes the life of the Hungarian writers in Transylvania between the two world wars. Oszkár Bárd, who professed as a district MD in Gâlgău/Galgó was very active on the literary scene. The same applies for Antal Szerb, György Szántó, Rodion Markovits and András Szilágyi, who raised the level of the Cluj’s cultural life.

Arguably the most important personality in Cluj’s and Transylvania’s theatrical scene was Jenő Janovics, the Jewish director of the Hungarian Theater who in 1910 established the first silent film studio in Transylvania. After WW I Janovics played a vital role in the reorganization of Cluj’s and Transylvania’s theatrical life, he was a founding member of the Hungarian Actors’ Association in Transylvania and Banat, which he presided over from 1921.

Many Jewish representatives of the graphic arts chose to show their work in Cluj. It is worth mentioning the names of László Keleti László (The voyage of the Jews – album, 1936), László Kazár (The woodsmen), Alex Leon (The soup-kitchen), Éva Lázár (Jaszele), Herman Wald (The accuser, Mother mourning over her son). Their work was published in 1937 in the East and West anthology. The most successful Jewish sculptors of these times were Herman Wald and Egon Löwith.

One of the main objectives of the Zionist movement was to make people use the Hebrew language, be proud of their Jewish culture. Usually Transylvanian Jewish artists created in Hungarian, and their oeuvre was heavily influenced by the Hungarian cultural heritage. To counter this custom the daily newspaper Új Kelet laid down the basics of a Zionist programme. Béla Székely, Illés Kaczér, Péter Újvári, János Giszkalai, Imre Szabó, Sándor Benamy, László Salamon, Hillél Danzig were just a few of the most important Jewish journalists working in its editorial room.

Books with Jewish topics were on high demand between the two world wars, and consequently a number of Jewish publishing houses were established: Jewish Booklovers Association, Jewish Student’s Relief Fund, Pharos, Kadima, Fraternitas, Noár. In 1921 – as interest for the Jewish culture grew – Benjamin Glasner opened the first booskstore selling Hebrew language books and magazines.

Ivria was the first Hebrew cultural association in Transylvania which was established by the Zionist movement. Soon to follow was Jehudit set out to raise and strengthen Jewish national feelings in the Jewish women of Cluj.

In May 1925 the Jewish youth organizations opened a public library. Its shelves were packed with 1800 volumes, mainly literature and scientific works in Hebrew, Romanian, Hungarian, Italian and English languages.

The Goldmark Philharmonic Association was established in 1936 by the Neologue Synagogue. Its members – doctors, engineers and teachers – formed a great orchestra which gave symphonic concerts much-acclaimed in the periods Jewish and Hungarian papers. During the second half of the 1930s the Keleti Újság Képes Híradó published on a number of times pictures from these concerts.

At the beginning of the 1940s actors like György Kovács, Mihály Fekete who have been ousted from the Hungarian Theater because of their origins established the Concordia Company – Jewish Theater. Likewise the Hagibor Association was formed by sportsmen who have been kicked out of Cluj’s different sporting clubs.

One can draw the conclusion from all these exemples that the discriminatory laws enforced by the Hungarian authorities in Transylvania after the Second Vienna Award ostracized a community which participated actively in the development of Cluj’s civic, cultural and economic life.

Just 80 Jews survived the Holocaust in Cluj

Official data released by the Jewish World Congress show that in 1941 Cluj had a total population of 110 956 of which 16 763 were of Jewish descent adding up to a 15,1% presence in the city.

The German occupying forces took over the city on March 27, 1944. In May they set up the ghetto in the North-Eastern part of the city, on the premises of the Iris district brickyard. Jews were rounded up starting from May 3, the process was completed in ten days. The ghetto was liquidated in mere two weeks with six transports directed towards Auschwitz. Records left by the Kassa/Kosice railway station director show that between May 25 and June 9, 1944 six transports from Cluj passed Kassa with 16148 people. Only members of the so-called Kasztner-group, totaling 388 people escaped from the Cluj ghetto, they were transported to Budapest and later to safety in Switzerland.

On October 11, 1944 when the city was elliberated there were approx. 80 Jews in Cluj who survived the war in hiding. Almost one more year had to pass until those who survived the Holocaust returned to Cluj from different concentration camps. After 1945 the Jewish population’s number grew to approx. 1000 when people who flew to Romania in 1940 returned and others from other Romanian regions settled in Cluj.

Chief Rabbi of Romania Alexandru Șafran spoke at the so-called „Soap Funeral” memorial service held in 1945 for those who perished in Auschwitz. A monument was erected in the old brickyard’s court commemorating the deported. In the period of 1945-1964 the street linking the brickyard to the railway station was renamed Street of the Deported. Today it holds the name of Oașului and there is nothing to remind us of what had happened there in 1944.

Life after 1945

The Neologue Synagogue was reopened in March 1945 with only 100 members. Thanks to the generous support of the Joint the Jewish Hospital – which was operational all throughout the war – was renovated and reorganized. For a brief period of time a plaque – Mr. and Mrs. Dávid Sebestyén Jewish Hospital – was replaced on its frontispiece. It was nationalized in 1948 but even today the city’s knowledgeable population calls Medical Clinic no. 3 the „jewish hospital”.

The reorganization of the Zionist movement met political opposition. In spite of this adversity the main Zionist groups – Aguda, Mizrachi, Klál, Mapáj and Hasomer Hazair – managed to reopen their offices. The first smaller groups to make Aliyah left in 1947. At the end of the year a large, 18 000-strong group was assembled in Bucharest and left through Bulgaria for Palestine. Among them there were many Jews from Cluj. At this moment the city’s Jewish population stood at approx. 6500 people.

Holocaust survivers who have returned to Transylvania found themselves in a more difficult situation then those who went back to Hungary. Many of them chose to repudiate their identity in order to soothen the memory of all hardships suffered for being Jewish. Those who blamed the Hungarian authorities for the Holocaust kept their Jewish identity but cast away their Hungarian cultural heritage. Others became Christians, but most of them found salvation in the Communist ideology which promised to solve the „national question”. Consequently the Democratic Alliance of Jews established in Cluj after WW II was taken over quickly by the Communists who argued that there is no need for national identity, Jewish institutions should be liquidated and Jews should integrate as soon as possible into the Communist society. An other aim of the Alliance was to re-educate those who have returned from the concentration camps.

But also the Jews were the firsts who became disillusioned with Communism. This must be the explanation for the second wave of Aliyah at the beginning of the 1960s which basically decimated Romania’s Jewish population. According to official data provided by the Israeli government 273 957 Jews immigrated to the Holy Land from Romania between 1948-1995, a number which is higher than the number of Jews who made Aliyah during the same period of time from Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia put together.

The Shas Chevra Synagogue on Mikes Kelemen (todays Croitorilor) Street closed down at the beginning of the 1960s, it was turned into a furniture warehouse. Since 2002 the building houses the Babeș-Bolyai University’s the Moshe Carmilly Jewish Studies Institute.

Of the four Jewish cemeteries in Cluj only two – the former Neologue and Orthodox – are still opened (the other two have no more burial places and therefore they can only be visited). Except the four cemeteries in the city the Jewish Community of Cluj also manages more than 60 cemeteries in nearby localities, very often with no more Jews living there.

 Present days and future plans

The Jewish Community of Cluj is managed by a president and an executive board. After 1944 the following presidents were elected: Sándor Benjámin (lawyer), Miklós Kertész (lawyer), József Weintraub (economist), Miklós Kallós (university professor), Gábor Goldner (mathematician), Imre Rózsa (retired factory director) and since May 16, 2010 Róbert Schwartz (chemist).

The Jewish Community of Cluj with its 400-strong membership is affiliated to the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania – presided over by Aurel Vainer, member of the Romanian Parliament. The president and the executive board do everything in its power to keep the Jewish traditions, culture and identity in Cluj. It manages a kosher cafeteria, a Talmud Torah class is taught by Ossi Horovitz, Hebrew language lessons are offered by Yael Gross, the Talmud Torah Choir is led by Katalin Halmos, Jewish holidays are observed, Fridays and Saturdays services are held in the Synagogue. Furtehrmore the Jewish Community of Cluj supports the very successful Mazel Tov klezmer band led by Vasile Socea. A new chapter was opened in 2012 when the Community organized the first edition of an international symposium discussing the history of Jews in Cluj.

Caring for its lonely, old, sick, disabled members is a very important mission for the Jewish Community of Cluj. Their social and medical attendance requires a lot of organizational work and serious financial effort. The Federation the Jewish Communities in Romania, its health and social directorate finances the costs of having a full time employee, a doctor, a social worker and a medical nurse available for the 70 people who need support.

An other important duty is the conservation of properties, a task which is implemented with the financial support of the Federation. 20 percent of the monies collected from renting these buildings are at the disposal of the Jewish Community of Cluj and are the main source of income for the Community.

The Jewish Community of Cluj plans to open the The Jewish Community Center in the property adjacent to the Memorial Temple to the Deported which presently houses a kindergarten and a school. The aim of this initiative is to familiarize the Jewish traditions and culture with the whole population of Cluj.

Although on a smaller scale due to its reduced size the Jewish community is actively engaged in the city development. It participates in the public life, a good example for this is the team effort put together with the City Hall and other civic organization in preparing the candidacy of Cluj for the title of European Capital of Culture 2021.

In 2012 the Jewish Community of Cluj was accepted in the Central and Eastern European Jewish Communities Association.

Bibliography

Attila Gidó: Instituţiile evreieşti interbelice din Transilvania (Jewish institutions in Transylvania between the two World Wars). Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai. Historia 2003., Szemelvények a kolozsvári zsidóság múltjából (Excerpts from Cluj’s Jewish past), Mega Publisher 2012 (edited from the same titled essay prepared for a scientific symposium in 2011)

Dániel Lőwy: A Kálváriától a tragédiáig. Kolozsvár zsidó lakosságának története. (The road from the Kalvary to tragedy. History of Cluj’s Jewish population) Koinónia, Cluj, 2005,

Ferenc Pap: Evreimea clujeană, o succintă istorie (The Jews of Cluj, a short history) Editura Fundaţiei pentru Studii Europene, 2011,

Zoltán Tibori Szabó: Élet és halál mezsgyéjén (Between life and death), Minerva Cluj, 2001; Zsidlic, Mega Publishing House Cluj 2012.