Jewish Mementos in the Zala Comitatus

History of the Jews in the Zala Comitatus

Text: Lajos Szarka

During the first third of the 18th century Jews came from Rohonc, Vas comitatus, to the Zala comitatus. In the beginning there were mostly traveling Jewish peddlers, leaseholders and merchants coming for the purpose of buying and selling goods.
The development of the Jewish settlement can be traced by four national censuses which were conducted during the first half of the 18th century (1725-28, 1735-39, 1743-45 and 1746-48). The first Hungarian census of Jews in 1725 found Jews in seven Zala villages: in Keszthely, Szentgrót, Sümeg, Tapolca, Kanizsa, Zalaegerszeg und Alsólendva (in total: 20 patriarchs, 25 boys and 13 girls). The families of the Jews counted in the census were often still living in Rohonc so they also figured in the registry of the Jewish community of 1727. In 1728 most Jews lived in Keszthely and also in Zalaszentgrót. According to the census they were grocers, a considerable financial capacity allowed them to rent stores and stay away from their hometowns for long periods of time, traveling to other markets in their carts.
The number of Jews increased continuously through natural reproduction and immigration, roughly 1100 people settled in the comitatus every year. The 1735 census examined not only the total number of Jews but also the increase of the proportion of Jewish inhabitants and their economic status. In the seven communities in which the census was conducted it counted 106 Jews (22 patriarchs), which was 0,2% of the total population of the comitatus. Most of them were leaseholders to countess Ádámné Batthyány and count Graf Lajos Batthyány.

The third national census of 1743 was aimed at putting an extraordinary tax on the Jewish population which amounted to 6 Forint per family. The Zala comitatus counted 36 patriarchs.
Maria Theresia ordered a new census in 1746 forcing every Jewish person to pay a tax of 2 Forint or else be banned from the country. 92 Jewish families were counted in 27 Zala communities. It is quite obvious that the Jewish population had grown considerably from the first to the fourth census (from 20 families/58 persons to 92 families/336 persons). And they had spread from 7 to 27 communities. Immigration (and national migration) driven by the promising markets and trade outlooks was the main reason for this increase. The Jews flocked to the market cities of the comitatus, single families also lived separated in other villages often due to certain leaseholds they had acquired. Most of the Jews rented stores or worked as peddlers, some also leased seigniorage for certain occupations (distilling, cooking potash, sloughtering, innkeeping), only few of them worked as craftsmen, amongst the craftsmen they were mostly tailors. Between 1750 and 1780 the number of Jews in the Zala comitatus grew further and a census from the first half of the 19th century shows that Jews had formed a vital and diverse part of society, thriving financially and increasing in members. In 1805 there were 3512 Jews living in the Zala comitatus, the Jews accounted for 1,7% of the total population of the comitatus, their number grew to 8596 in 1850, they then constituted 3,7% of the Zala population, these figures were similar to the national average. There were many Jews in the cities and villages with larger markets, in 1825 there were 1038 Jews in Nagykanizsa, 406 in Zalaegerszeg and in 1829 there were 319 Jews in Keszthely. The increase of Jews in Hungary was faster than that of any other religion in the country, this was mainly due to the prohibition of contraception, lower child mortality and the continuous immigration. The greatest number of Jews came to settle between 1840 and 1850, largely immigrating from Moravia. Their number increased by 37% then (from 6290 to 8596 persons), growing from a total of 2,3% of the Zala population to 3,7%.
In the first half of the 19th century the integration of the Jews in society developed significantly, which would still have an impact on the fate of the Zala Jews.

Having to gain acceptance within the Hungarian society also triggered a polarization within the Jewish community, the struggle for the emancipation of the Jews lead to the development of a reformist group and an opposing conservative group, the orthodox Jews, as well as a hasidist group which opposed rabbinism. With the traditional unity of Judaism crumbling a strong hungarianization began. One exceptional figure among the religious reformists was Lipót Lőw, who worked in Nagykanizsa between 1841 and 1846 (as of 1842 he was head rabbi). Through his reforms he tried to adjust the Jewish laws and practice to the requirements for naturalization in Hungary. His combined the emancipation of Judaism with modernization and integration in such a way that religious tradition and a Jewish identity could still be maintained. He said that “the question of Judaism is not a matter of nationality but of religion”. He held synagogue reforms and the adaptation of the Hungarian language to be necessary elements of modernization. From 1844 on he started preaching in Hungarian at the Nagykanizsa synagogue and, for the first time in a Hungarian synagogue, organ music was to be heard here on October 22, 1845. The hopeful yet admonishing words of his sermon have become somewhat of a saying: “Well then, courage my friends! The synagogue shall naturalize the Hungarian and we hope that the Hungarian will naturalize the synagogue!” Going with the European taste of his time he tried to integrate music into the service, he worked with the organ and the men’s choir. And thanks to his initiative a Jewish school was built in Nagykanizsa in 1842 which laid a special focus on teaching Hungarian language and literature. Also in 1842 an artisan association was founded for the Kanizsa Jews aiming at spreading trade in that region. In 1844 Lipót Lőw worked on the Jewish integration in the Pesti Hírlap (magazine of Pest), he wrote an article on the role of the Jews in Hungarian society in which he spoke out against the opponents of the integration in Hungary. The ideas and opinions he voiced later became the core principles of the neological movement which explicitly drew upon his intellectual and cultural legacy and his efforts in society.

The laws passed in April 1848 did not secure equal rights for the Jews. Together with this denial of emancipation came the emergence of anti-semitic incidents in the larger cities during the first months of the revolution (March-April). The tensions also reached the Zala comitatus. On March 26 an anti-semitic mass demonstration was organized in Keszthely; the city council which had been elected in May sought the support of the governing Festetics family to force the Jews to use contraception and thus to slow down their rapid growth.
Despite the setbacks the Hungarian Jews came to aid the fight for freedom of their home country, their contribution to the revolution was substantial in proportion to their numbers. There were around 20.000 Jewish Honvéd soldiers whose fighting ability Artúr Görgey greatly valued. Their readiness to make sacrifices set an example for the entire comitatus of Zala. Three Zala Honvéd battalions, no. 7, 47, and 56 took part in the liberation war. After recruitment in the Zala comitatus (Zalaegerszeg, Keszthely, Nagykanizsa, Sümeg) and Vas the Honvéd battalion no. 7 was founded in mid July 1848 in Szombathely with volunteers from Zala and Vas. It was one of the ten first Honvéd battalions which were assembled by prime minister Batthyány on May 15, 1848. Apart from small interruptions the recruiting for Honvéd battalion no. 7 took place from June 5 to October 1. Over the course of 119 days 213 recruits were initiated, the proportions of their religious groups were remarkable. The majority was Roman Catholic (164), the second largest group was the Israelites (23), Protestants and Reformists were the smallest group (16). Most of the volunteers were artisans, then came farmers and only 7 merchants. There were Jews even among the chief officers of the liberation struggle such as the Csabrendek-born Honvéd major Jakob Frank or the Honvéd major Ede Damburgi from Nagykanizsa who, as an ambassador for the Hungarian government, presented a copy of the declaration of independence to the government of the United States of America. The former Kanizsa head rabbi Lipót Lőw (he relocated to Pápa in the summer of 1846) served as field rabbi in 1848 and 49. On July 29 the national assembly which was located in Szeged at the time honored the extraordinary contribution of the Jews to the liberation during the last days of the war by finally proclaiming legal equality for Judaism.

The Jewish community started playing a significant role in industry and trade in the first half of the 19th century, the reason for this were the economic requirements for naturalization in Hungary. They took up long distance trade and exporting and importing in the beginning of the century, many of them became wholesale traders and the grocers developed a certain kind of shop, the storefronts of which embellished the overall look of the city. Within the comitatus Nagykanizsa became the most important center for commerce, conducted by -mostly- Jewish wholesale merchants with the South Transdanubial comitatuses (Somogy, Tolna, Baranya), the South Slavic and Balkan regions as well as the Austro-Hungarian markets. In the beginning of the century many merchants did business in the cities, mainly with raw products such as gallnut, wool, honey, raw leather or cream of tartar. Many of them, e.g. the Blau, Bettelheim and Guttmann families, held famous companies for many generations (Blau M. and Sons, Guttmann S.H., Samu W. Bettelheim and Sons). In the 1820s Mózes Blau established connections with Beogrand and Zimony from where dried prunes and other raw goods were brought to Mohács by boat and delivered to national and international markets from there. Others imported and stocked honey, raw leather, silvorium and other products from Slavonia and Croatia and then resold them. In 1839 the Nagykanizsa merchants wrote a request to the vice trustee of the comitatus: “The Kanizsans have been doing good business abroad... The farmers have been living almost entirely from trade goods. Every year they receive 2000 ohms of silvorium from Slavonia and bring it to Nagykanizsa and from there to the big trade markets”. The merchants’ wagons went to Vienna, Graz and Triest, they brought artisanal and metal work back home and from Triest they imported spices (coffee, tea). Wholesale retailers such as the spice trading business of Sándor rosenfeld which operated for three generations until 1929 were established around that time, they covered the local demand as well as resales.
At the end of the 1930s grains were excluded from the general trading and became a special branch of trading and soon was one of the most important products for the region. Hungarian grain was delivered to Austrian, Italian and German markets by rural wagoners until the extension of the railway. In the 1840s factories and banks were founded; in 1842 the machine parts factory Weise, in 1845 the Nagykanizsa savings bank were established.

The increase in population and economic impact of the Jews also brought along a surge in religious life. The first Israelite communities in the comitatus were founded in the 18th century, the community of Zalaszentgrót is presumably the oldest, dating back to 1735. The Jewish communities built prayer houses, institutions (the Chevra Kadisha usually being the first) and a synagogue: Keszthely around 1780, Zalaszentgrót in 1809, Nagykanizsa in 1821, Zalalövő in 1830, Pacsa in 1836. During the first half of the 19th century they also organized their own elementary schools: 1820 in Zalaegerszeg, 1832 in Nagykaizsa and 1849 in Keszthely.

The Jews, even though they were not the sole agents in the development, played an important role in the early growth of capitalism.
Of the cities in the Zala comitatus Nagykanizsa maintained its leading position in terms of trade and industrial potential and even stood out among the Transdanubial cities. With the expansion of the Southern railway line in the 1860s the trade volume increased even more. There were many financially sound companies in grain and general product trade.
Many cities in the comitatus were characterized by vibrant trade and industrial life, one of them was Keszthely which in 1873 qualified as a large scale community. According to the city chronic published in 1910 by János Sági the greatest part of the trade businesses was in the hands of (old) Jewish families. Of the major Israelite entrepreneurs a small monograph lists 5 businessmen and 22 merchants. They were active in shirt manufacturing, cement and milk factories, stone mining, lumber industry and construction. In terms of trade the monograph mentions spices, delicacies, dry goods wholesale, department stores, general stores, fur trade, hats, men’s and women’s fashion, transportation business, insurance, glass, wine, iron soap and candle wholesale, soda manufacturing, wagon lease (automobiles and buses). Most of the enterprises conducted business in several of these branches, and they manufactured some of the products which they sold themselves, the iron merchant Frank for instance offered fuel efficient stoves from his own production line. Many of the merchants also offered services linked with the various goods they traded such as the planning and establishment of building supplies stores or the skinners often did the summer treatments for fur goods. The businesses were characterized by reasonable prices, good quality and polite service.

Of the cities close to the Balaton Tapolca and Kővágó,rs came to be important centers of wine trading. The Tapolca wine wholesalers used some of their revenues for industrial enterprises and the establishment of banks. Kővágó,rs emerged as a fashionable summer health resort where many wealthy Jews from the capitol had summer houses built for themselves.
The development of Jewish business and employment in the Zala comitatus was similar to that in the rest of the nation. Their proportion was notably higher among certain professions such as doctors, lawyers, employees in trade and banks, veterinarians, engineers, pharmacists, journalists and editors, as well as in scientific and artistic occupations. However, their involvement in civic and legal administration, the military, as well as all governmental, comitatus and municipal jobs, notaries, judges, lawyers and officers was low. The Zala Jews also held leases.
As the Jews grew stronger in terms monetary and cultural assets they laid great emphasis on the general schooling and higher education of their children. The number of inscriptions by Jews at law and medical faculties grew significantly in the 1870s. The promising social demographics of the Zala Jewish community in the comitatus were comparable to national figures: 57,2% middle class citizens, 17,95% clergymen, 24,9% laborers (national average).
The integration of the wealthiest part of the Jewish community became evident in Hungarianization of Jewish names and efforts to receive aristocratic titles. In Nagykanizsa the Guttmann and Ebenspanger families were typical examples, in Kesthely it was the Baron family.
Henrik Guttmann got involved in trade through his father in law, Lázár Strasser, who even before 1820 had already been an important merchant in the city. Later, in the beginning of the 1860s he took to lumber trade and gained international fame with the processing of byproducts from the lumber trade. He was the first Kanizsa jew to receive the Hungarian aristocratic title of “Gelsei” in honor of his achievements. Apart from business he was active in the public social life, he was a member of the executive board of the Nagykanizsa trade and artisanry association founded in 1842, then director of the society of Nagykanizsa merchants. From 1863 on he was also head of the Jewish community and performed his functions with only few disruptions until his death in 1890. He greatly increased the assets of the Jewish foundations by investing in real estate. He bought property and built houses. His son, Vilmos guttman Gelsei (of Gels) founded the Nagykanizsa beer corporation in 1893, in honor of his work he was awarded the title of court counselor by the monarch, in 1904 he was then made a baron. After his father’s death he was elected head of the Jewish community and fulfilled this function personally until his relocation to Budapest in 1902, and until 1911 through vice executive Henrik Grünhut. In 1911 the Zala branch of the national organization of manufacturers was founded and Baron Vilmos Guttmann was appointed as director. The Guttmann family later invested part of their assets in land, in 1929 Baron László Guttmann Gelsei and Belistyei (of Belistye) owned an estate of 3000 jugerum in Zalabér.

Another Nagykanizsa family secured itself a bright future in trading goods. Manó Ebenspanger’s son, Lipót, was awarded a Hungarian title of nobility in 1899 and he changed his name to Lipót Elek to Hungarianize it. His company, Ebenspanger and Sons, traded leather among other goods. Lipót Elek was executive of the association of Nagykanizsa merchants for a while and later headed the managing board of the Nagykanizsa bank association. The family continued to play an important role in the public life of the city, Ernő Elek of Újnép had a part in the founding of the rubbing alcohol refinery, he owned land and in 1929 headed the Nagykanizsa savings bank.

The sons of the Keszthely Baron Ignác, Benedek and Ede, were known throughout the country for the development of their careers. They also received titles of nobility in honor of their achievements. The Baron brothers relocated their domicile from Keszthely to Budapest in 1862 where they received a permit to establish a currency exchange business. But relaying capital was not their only business. Another important branch was the issuing of loans to rural merchants for whom they also exchanged currencies. And they conducted business as brokers, trading bonds and then buying foreign currency from the returns. The Baron company contributed to the Ganz factory’s transition to a corporation. Benedek Baron was gentled with the title of "Csángóhétfalusi" in 1870, at the same time he Hungarianized his name making himself a Baronyi. Not only his economic achievements, especially in trade, but also his philanthropy were greatly valued. He supported elementary schools and invalid Honvéd veterans and increased the Kisfaludy association’s stocks. His younger brother, Ede Baronyi, received the Hungarian title of nobility “Zalai” in 1882. In 1873 their father Ignác Baron, a londlord in Keszthely requested the changing of his name. Ignác Baron (Baronyi) too put a lot of money towards welfare. His foundations supported various Keszthely schools ranging from elementary schools to high schools and the school of economics, excluding only the public girls’ school. The Baronyi brothers liquidated their company in 1885 and quit the currency exchanging business to be landlords. They were listed the registry of estates with an almost 1500 cadastral acre property close to Kehida, and took to intensive livestock breeding.

The Hungarianisation mentioned above was part of the spread of religious (neological) reforms. The final separation of the neological and the orthodox movements took place at the Israelite Congress in 1868-69.
Most Jewish communities in Zala adapted the neological direction, some of the stayed orthodox (Hahót, Kővágó,rs, Balatonfüred). After the separation of the Israelite districts in 1868 the neological Jewish communities of the Zala and Somogy comitatuses became the IX. community district, from 1921 on they merged with the Baranya comitatus to become the VI. district, the capital was always in Nagykanizsa. In 1885 there were 15 Jewish communities in the comitatus, in 1890 even 17. With the communities growing financially stronger led to the building of impressive synagogues in some of the towns. In 1863 a new synagogue was constructed in Tapolca, the neo-classical Keszthely synagogue which had been built in 1852 was remodeled in 1894 in the early eclectic style, in 1889 a new synagogue was inaugurated in Pacsa and in 1890 the old building of the Kővágó,rs synagogue was renewed. In 1904 the neo-romanesque synagogue with oriental embellishments was built, the Hahót community built a synagogue the same year, Sümeg in 1913.

In Hévízfürdő close to Keszthely Vencel Reischl jr. who rented the bath house built a prayer house from his private fortune for the Jewish guests of the bath. The prayer house operated during bathing season and was located on the banks of the drainage canal, close to the “Jerusalem” inn which belonged to the Keszthely entrepreneur Ignác Lusztig. The number of Jewish organizations grew as well, in Keszthely there were three religious organizations (Chevra Kadischa, Ner Tamid, Talmud Thora association) and two women’s organizations (first organization for dowry funds, Krajczár association). The highly respected Jewish women were also active in the municipal women’s organizations (which had Jewish and non-Jewish members). The Israelites got along with the various religious denominations in the comitatus. There was only one significant period of anti-semitic incidents which affected the entire comitatus, it was after the Tiszaeszlár case was closed in August of 1883 that there were turmoils in several towns in the Zala comitatus (Zalaegerszeg, Zalalövő, Tapolca), they were ended by the military.
The history of dualism proves that the assimilated Jews played a vital role in the comitatus. They contributed greatly to the economy and also to the development of towns and civic life. They were well integrated in the local society and expressed their Jewish identity through philanthropy. Even though Judaism did give in to certain religious reforms the Jews maintained and celebrated their religion and created a lively Jewish community. At the head of this community were successful entrepreneurs, merchants and intellectuals which had proved themselves in civic life. The time period up to the First World War is known in Hungary as the golden ages to which the Zala Jews are closely connected.
As had happened before in the history of the country the Jews were just as involved in the happenings of the war as the other denominations were. The assimilated part of the Jews even was an enrichment for the military.
Of the Nagykanizsa soldiers (549 persons) 78 died a hero’s death: 33 in Zalaegerszeg (205 recruits), 36 in Keszthely (150 recruits), 15 in Zalaszentgrót (25 recruits).

The proportion of Jews in the Zala comitatus was far below the national average and even decreased to less than half of the average between 1920 and 1941. The census of 1920 found 3% of the population to be Jewish, in 1930 it was 2,3%, in 1941 only 1,4%. Next to the reasons mentioned earlier one important factor for this decrease was that many of the Jews moved to Budapest. Between 1920 and 1930 their number went down by 2136 persons. Within the comitatus the Jewish population concentrated in the larger settlements, leaving only 1-2 families in the villages, sometimes none at all. In 1940 a community of 100 persons was spread over 10 villages - Nagykanizsa, Zalaegerszeg, Keszthely, Sümeg, Tapolca, Zalaszentgrót, Balatonfüred, Alsólendva, Csáktornya, Zalalövő - it comprised three quarters of the entire Jewish population. There were Jews living in 203 villages in the Zala comitatus, in 151 of these villages there were less than 10 Jews, meaning 1-2 families were living there.
The largest Israelite community in the Zala comitatus was in Nagykanizsa, the second largest in Zalaegerszeg, the third largest was in Keszthely.

Despite the increasing anti semitism the Hungarian Jews were confident that their situation would get better and they emphasized their patriotism and loyalty to the Hungarian nation. With great joy the Israelite leaders took part in patriotic events and parades. They were proud of their accomplishments, proud of their position and achievements of World War I. In the beginning of the 1920s several memorial plaques were put up to commemorate the Jewish heroes which had died during the second World War. The political elite of the country aimed at consolidation and was backed by the extremely right wing Jewish bourgeoisie. Even during the 1930s, the decade was marked by growing repressions against Jews (especially after 1938), the Jews could well use their personal contacts, for their ecenomic interests.
And even in this time there were events in the comitatus of Zala that fostered hope and encouraged reconciliation, these events put forth the positive role of Judaism. During the second half of the 1920s a Jewish girl, Böske Simon, daughter of the district’s head physician, Dr. Sándor Simon, won the title of Miss Hungária and entered the competition for the European beauty queen.

On May 18, 1930 the 100th anniversary of composer Károly Goldmark was commemorated with celebrations in Vienna, Budapest and Sopron, on June 15 there was a celebration in his honour in Keszthely, the city of his birth.
On October 17, 1937 Dr. Sándor Büchler, head rabbi of the Jewish community of Keszthely, well known throughout the country (and even abroad) was honoured for 30h years of ministration (he had headed the Jewish community since 1907). He was a famous scholar and in 1914 was named a private teacher by the Budapest Scientific University for his research on the history of Hungarian Judaism. The leaders of the township, the Catholic church, the order of Prämonstrat, the priests of the reformed churches, representatives from the Jewish communities of Zala and the entire country came to the crowded synagogue to congratulate the head rabbi and he thanked the well-wishers in his grand speech. The famous rabbi was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.
Next to the spontaneous assimilation of Jews the increase of the “spirituality of the new times”, of antisemitism, also enabled two contrasting tendencies. On the one hand religious Jews grew closer to their respective spiritual communities, on the other hand there was a spread of zionism. The latter however only gained general support after World War II. Introspection within the Jewish communities grew and the communities took well to the religious regeneration. The traditional Jewish institutions which greatly shaped the Jewish public life (assembly, directorate, divisions), the communities’ institutions as well as the private clubs and associations grew ever more important in that time.
Social life and welfare flourished too and helped forge a strong Jewish identity.

There were 17 Jewish communities in the historical area of the Vas comitatus, but the peace treaty of Trianon changed the borders. 14 Jewish communities stayed Hungarian territory (15 after the revision) of which Csabrendek, Keszthely, Muraszombat, Nagykanizsa, Pacsa, Sümeg, Tapolca, Zalaegerszeg,
Zalalövő and Zalaszentgrót followed the neological order. The Jewish communities of Keszthely, Hahót, Kővágóörs and Zalaszentmihályfa were Orthodox. Two communities had their own schools: Nagykanizsa had a primary school and a trade school, the Tapolca community had a primary school. Many important rabbis served in the comitatus in the time between the two world wars: Dr. Sándor Büchler in Keszthely, Dr. Ernő Winkler in Nagykanizsa, Dr. Salamon Halpert in Tapolca and Dr. Mózes Junger in Zalaegerszeg. Of the rabbis living in the Zala comitatus only Jenő Schück, rabbi of Hahót, survived the Holocaust as he was able to evade deportation.

The inaugurations of new synagogues in Zalalövő in 1930 and on July 2, 1933 in Hévízfürdő are proof of the increase of spiritual life. The Jewish Schulhof brothers played a significant part in the growth of the Hévízfürdő health resort. Dr. Vilmos Schulhof (1874-1944), rheumatologist and specialist for bathing worked there from 1905 to May of 1944 when he had to move to the Keszthely ghetto. His younger half brother Dr. Ödön Schulhof (1896-1978), radiologist, rheumatologist and balneologist worked there from 1923 on. He survived the Holocaust and took on a scientific career in Budapest after the war. The resort was frequented by many Jewish guests, while staying at the resort during the season which went from May until September they could follow their spiritual routines at the synagogue which had been built thanks to the organisational effort of the lawyer Dr. Adolf Kertész.
Antisemitic legislation started in March of 1938 with the speech of premier Kálmán Darányi. The first of the so-called Jew Laws was then passed and marked the beginning of the repressions against Jews. The proportion of Jewish members in economic and cultural councils was fixed to 20%. In the Zala comitatus this quota was exceeded by the doctors (30%), the lawyers (52%) and met by the engineers (20%).

In the comitatus of Zala anti semitism spread particularly well, in this region people held on to archaic forms of social organisation. In the traditional aristocratic view of the world there was no place for the social mobility of the business mentality. the farmers too did not know where to place the Jews, to them they remained immigrants, responsible for their own social and financial disadvantages.

The Pfeilkreuzler movement and the newly emerging far right wing political parties found great support among the peasants and in the small villages, but also among the bourgeoisie in the cities. With the elections of 1929 all over the country the number of far right members of parliament rose sharply and in the Zala comitatus it even exceeded the national average. Of the eleven seats Zala comitatus had in parliament nine were held by supporters of the anti semitic policies, during the next years they contributed to the rise of anti semitic legislation. One of them was the prefect of the Zala comitatus, count Béla Teleki, who took office in 1936 and due to his alliance with government policies was allowed to keep this position until October of 1944.

The German occupation of Hungary began on March 19, 1944. For Hungary this was a political, economic and military catastrophe. The Eichmann brigade coming from Mauthausen and Hungarian sympathisers were able to “clean” the country, with exception of Budapest, of Jews in only four months. In all of Europe, even the in parts controlled by the Nazis, there was nothing to match this development.
Sándor Brand, vice prefect, issued a letter to the district’s judges asking them to observe the legal ordinance. Almost 50% (49 persons) of the members of the bar association were forced to resign from their positions. 9 legal practices were taken over by Christians. The Zala newspapers and magazines regularly reported on the anti semitic actions by the government - the Zala Mitteilungsblatt brought news on the construction of ghettos all over the country until the end of May. The Jewish population could read in detail about the fate that awaited them.

The decree establishing the isolation and concentration of the Jews (the so-called ghetto decree) was only passed in the beginning of April, however, a detailed plan for the implementation had already been worked out in the beginning of April. The planning for the operation of the ghetto and the deportations called for specific “cleansing” actions in the different areas of the country. For this purpose it was split into 6 operative zones, each zone encompassed 1 to 2 police districts. On April 19, 1944 the Southern border region of Hungary was declared operating territory and total clearance of the area was ordered. On April 28 the first group, around 800 people (men and boys fit for work) were deported from Nagykanizsa to Auschwitz. On May 17 the second group was taken from the Nagykanizsa collective camp (1217 Jews were placed there), it was put onto German trains and deported under German supervision. Early in the morning of May 21st the trains arrived in Auschwitz.

Ghettos were established in Zalaegerszeg, Tapolca, Keszthely, Zalaszentgrót, Sümeg, Pacsa and Nagykanizsa. In Nagykanizsa there was also an detention camp. The two boarding points for deportation were in Nagykanizsa and Zalaegerszeg.
The construction of the Keszthely ghetto was decided on May 8 and was to be implemented by May 15. The Jewish citizens of Keszthely as well as 110 other persons from the district were put in this ghetto. 719 Jews, among them the head rabbi Dr. Sándor Büchler, were deported to Zalaegerszeg on June 20.
The Jews from Tapolca and Balatonfüred districts were collected in Tapolca, the location for the ghetto was decided on May 6. The ghetto consisted of two parts, 744 people, 326 families, stayed there. On June 24, 1944 they were deported to the collective camp in the Zalaegerszeg brick factory.

Authorities wanted to place 316 Jews in the ghetto of the Bük community. There was no closed area designated for the ghetto here, the Jews were put up in Petőfi Street. The Jews of Sümeg district were deported to Zalaegerszeg in the end.
The Jews from Zalaegerszeg, from the district, as well as those from Nova and Lenti were joined in the capital of the comitatus. The ghetto was locked on May 16, 375 families (1221 persons) were staying in the ghetto.
The inhabitants of the other ghettos in the comitatus were brought to Zalaegerszeg between May 15 and 24. Together with the Jews from the city around 3450 people were crowded into the collective camps of the capital. At the camps in the former Gründbaum brick factory and on the outskirts of Andráshida the Jews had to suffer great atrocities, from body searches to corporal punishment, before the deportations. Between July 4 and 6 they were deported to Zalaegerszeg, and from there to Auschwitz on July 5., they arrived in Auschwitz on July 7. Around 5500 Jews were deported from the boarding points in Nagykanizsa and Zalaegerszeg.

Together with the deportations began the looting of Jewish houses and shops to which the bourgeois political authorities contributed with their reliability and rigour. Not only did they want to own the empty appartments, even Jewish stores and their supplies were taken into possession.
And the museums took great interest in the pieces of art left behind by the Jews, the Zalaegerszeg association "G,csej" wanted to take the opportunity to enlarge its "G,csej" collection, but Dr. Béla Darnay, official commissioner for the Jewish pieces entrusted with the selection and distribution of the artworks for the museums, gave them to museums. The Keszthely Balaton Museum was one to receive some of the confiscated artworks.
The Hungarian Jews suffered dreadful losses towards the end of the war. According to the census of 1941 the number of Jews affected by the “Jew Laws” was 780.000-820.000, of which around 550.000 died in the concentration camps, from forced labor or during the Pfeilkreizler pogroms.
In 1941 7027 people declared themselves Israelites. Another 48 spoke Yiddish or Hebrew as their mother tongue and 877 were baptized Jews. Headed “Nevek” (names), the list of victims of the Holocaust counts 6200 citizans that were categorized as Jews. Newer research holds the total number of Jews deported to be 5500. Roughly one in ten of the deported Jews survived the atrocities. The following towns used to have thriving Jewish communities, all of them were destroyed in the Holocaust: Balatonfüred, Keszthely, Lenti, Lesencetomaj, Sümeg, Tapolca, Türje, Zalabér, Zalalövő and Zalaszentgrót.

The Jews that returned came back to find their houses occupied, and their stores looted, they faced incomprehension and pity. Many returned without their children, wife, husband, parents, or grandparents and only very slowly did old acquaintances, friends and relatives find one another.

The census of 1948 counted 265.639 persons living in the comitatus of Zala. 606 of them (300 men and 306 women) were of Israelite religion. There were 9 Jewish communities in the area of the comitatus (within the borders of December 31, 1937), one in Balatonfüred, a status quo community in Tapolca and seven neological communities in Keszthely, Nagykanizsa, Pacsa, Sümeg, Zalaegerszeg, Zalalövő und Zalaszentgrót. In 1949 they consisted of 80 villages. In 1950 the congressional communities of Zala comitatus were added to the III. Transdanubial community which had its center in Nagykanizsa.

The Jews have vanished entirely from the Zala villages. Nowadays there are small Jewish communities in the larger cities. The only synagogue remaining is in Keszthely, the administrative buildings that used to belong to the Jewish community now serve worldly purposes: a concert and exhibition hall was founded in Zalaegerszeg, the buildings in Nagykanizsa and Kővágó,rs are yet to be renovated. Old photographs and postcards are the only reminders of the synagogues in the other towns (Zalalövő, Pacsa, Hahót, Csabrendek, Zalaszentgrót, Hévíz). Jewish cemeteries, often not very well taken care of, are the only mementos of the once lively communities.


Barbarits Lajos: Nagykanizsa. Magyar Városok Monográfiája Kiadóhivatala, Budapest, 1929.
Németh László: Zsidók Zalában a XVIII. század első felében. (Zalai Gyűjtemény 35.) Zalaegerszeg, 1994.
Németh László - Paksy Zoltán: Együttélés és kirekesztés. (Zsidók Zala megye társadalmában. 1919-1945) Zala Megyei Levéltár, Zalaegerszeg, 2004.
Goldschmied István - Szarka Lajos: A keszthelyi zsidóság története (1699-2005). Keszthelyi Izraelita Hitközség, 2005.
Szarka Lajos: A hévízi zsidóság története. Hévíz Város Önkormányzata, 2000.

by Johannes Scholem Graf & Alexandra Vogt