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is part of the Kingdom of Hungary (11th century - present) in the Heves megye (county) in the Alföld (Northern Great Plain) provincie (province).
In Yiddish, Gyöngyös was referred to as Gondish
Gyöngyös is located 44 miles ENE of Budapest and 45 miles WSW of Miskolc.
Jews settled in Gyöngyös during 15th century with the Turkish conquest and were of Sephardic origin. They left with the Turks when the city was destroyed and returned again in the early 18th century. In 1851, the Jewish population was 385.
Their numbers started to swell in the l8th century. Mostly it was the landowners—in the case of Gyöngyös, with such powerful families as the ESZTERHÁZY, GRASSALKOVICH, KOHÁRY, KÁROLYI and ORCZY—who settled them in their manors or city houses, to enable them to sell the corn and products of their estates. The town, however, disapproved of this endeavor. The Jews were rivals to the local tradesman, and to the artisan, and repulsive usurers to the average citizen. The leaders of the town had been trying to expel them until the reform period, and their only patrons were the landowners.
The 1848 Revolution and War of Independence changed their legal status radically, when they raised their voice on the side of the revolutionary decrees and equality before law. In Gyöngyös they were admitted to the revolution's army and to the National Guard. About 20 of the Gyöngyös Jews fought in the National Army. The Austrian tyranny consequently handled them collectively guilty because of their serious sacrifices for Hungarian freedom. This brought them only closer to Hungarians, and started an assimilation previously unthinkable in Europe.
By the time of the 1867 Compromise, the Jewish community of Gyöngyös, which had by then grown to at least 10% of the population, became more and more Hungarian in its language, clothing, culture, habits, and even in its name. Approximately 90% of the Gyöngyös Jews, wanted total assimilation; about 10% still observed religious traditions strictly. These were the causes that divided the Jewish community into three groups—a phenomenon unique in Hungary— of Neologue (progressive), Orthodox and Status Quo Ante denominations with their respective institutions. At the turn of the
century, the Jewish community of Gyöngyös, numbering 2,000 people, mostly (90%) followed the Status Quo Ante tendency. From the last third of the l9th century, the Gyöngyös Jewish community (like Jews generally in Hungary) experienced one of the most successful and peaceful periods of their history. This is borne out by the constant and noticeable rise in of their number: the 1900 census registered 1,974 Jews, while the 1910 census knew of 2,312 living in the town.
Gyöngyös Population Table
% OF TOTAL RESIDENTS
Parallel to the growth of the number of Jews in Gyöngyös, the economic and social status also became more stabile. They were thriving in all of areas the economy, not only in banking but also in industry and agriculture. The first land-owning Jews with big estates appeared about the middle of the century, but laws abolished the limitation of Jewish real estate acquisition only in 1867. In industry, the obstacles obstructing the improvement of manufacturing industry were removed by the 1867 law as well as the 1872 Factory Act. Most of the factories coming into being in Gyöngyös after the end of guild-based industry were established by Jews. All the banks in the town were directed by Gyöngyös Jews, and moreover, they owned much of the viniculture and agriculture, a fact to be reckoned with in the light of the area's mono cultural character. Their more and more definitive presence in the social life of the town came with their gaining economic ground. Not only were they the leading body of the Trades Hall (a body traditionally named "Jewish Club"), but they also played leading roles in the Casino Association, Mátra Association, Fire Brigade and Ambulance, Skating Society, Association to Help Knowledge, Red Cross and other societies. Not counting the founding of societies, the lively press in Gyöngyös at the turn of the century under Jewish ownership.
According to examinations on the area of the so-called "free intellectual jobs," in 1893, eight of the town's 11 doctors and five of its 18 lawyers were Jewish, while in 1909, 10 of the 15 practicing lawyers, seven of nine doctors and two of the three chemists were of Jewish. A decisive part of the local middle class in Gyöngyös came from the Jewish families. The middle classes, however, were not only accessible through economical status, but also through education and with consequent offices.
For those who had no wealth, the road to offices and middle class status was through the secondary schools—in Gyöngyös, mainly the local grammar school. The Jewish community's urge and demand for education was great, which is in fact one of the lesser known causes of their gaining ground. There were many more Jewish students studying in the local grammar school and graduating from it than we would think based on their proportion of the whole population.
The beginning of World War I broke a laborious, but undeniably peaceful, period in the history of the Jewish community of Gyöngyös. In the animated atmosphere of the country going into war, for one moment at least, it seemed that the differences were at last blurred between Jews and non-Jews. From Gyöngyös, 430 Jews were recruited, which contradicts the well-known anti-Semitic assertion that Jews avoided conscription and did not take part in the fighting. In fact, 36 of these brave Jewish souls died in action and countless other Jewish soldiers returned crippled. The occurring political upheavals and the resulting in the atrocities of the red and white terror, both effected the local Jews. The Red's executed Ignác WELT, a store-clerk, and the White terrorists, took the life of two Jewish residents of Gyöngyös. Amongst the political detainees, the number of Jews where high, and the authorities kept them locked up for a long time before their release.
When the Jewish soldiers returned from the fighting, they discovered that Gyöngyös burnt down in a great fire which occurred on 17 May 1917. Destroyed were the synagogues, some buildings of the religious community, also number of stores and private homes belonging to Jews. This tragedy only intensified the lingering oppositions after the terrors of war and the problems of provisions. During the revolutionary times there were pogroms to make their situation impossible, during the proletarian dictatorship, there were overhasty and irrational socialization.
The lost World War, the revolutions, and Treat of Trianon, resulted in considerable changes, not just in the life of the local Jewry, but, in other related aspects as well. Their markets shrank and with the flare up of the local anti-Semitism, their situation became difficult. The only pogrom in the county, occurred here in January, 1920, during the election drive for the National Assembly. Amongst the city's intelligentsia, the anti-Semite elements were heavily represented, therefore the local formation of the so called, "race-defender" organizations quickly became established. The Municipal Assembly was closed for Jewish representatives and only reopened in 1923.
After the partitioning of Hungary, the country was occupied first by the Romanians, then by HORTHY's National Hungarian Army. Following this, open or secret anti-Semitic plotting dominated the period. More than once, at the time of elections, there were open pogroms in the town, and during the Bethlen consolidation the assimilation process seen earlier did not start again. It was not only the Numerus Clausus, passed by legislation, that stated that differences between denominations would not be blurred, but the Gyöngyös Jews were subject to more direct atrocities. In 1920, the Gyöngyös Athletics Club decided that they would not tolerate Jews in the Club any more and many Jewish athletes had to leave. In 1925, Jews were expelled from the Gyöngyös Casino Association by "race-protectors," in spite of the fact that it was mainly the Jewish membership dues that maintained the association financially. The split has also occurred in the social life.
Quite a few families arrived in Gyöngyös from within the pre-Trianon boundaries and from the areas of the former Monarchy. The dwindling of the original Gyöngyös Jewish community is well understood. Their definitive economic role, however, stayed unbroken. However, in 1938, three laws were passed attempting to make this impossible, following the German model and dramatically affected the Jews of Gyöngyös, both economically and in their day to day religious life.
In the 1930s, the Arrow-Cross (Nyilaskeresztes) party of SZÁLASI had a considerable strength in Gyöngyös, he earlier he served the military as an officer and was stationed in Gyöngyös, where from that time had a lot of acquaintances. His party was banned by the government in the beginning of 1938 for anti-state activities. On 22 February, in the middle of the night, a search was performed in the homes of the municipal doctor, a leading lawyer, and a council member. The Baross Association of Gyöngyös formed for the purpose "To facilitate the Christian consumer to meet the similar vendor." In the beginning, the association was joined by tradesman and merchants, but later by medical practitioners and lawyers as well. In 1939, a book was published in Gyöngyös with the list of the names of Christian tradesman and merchants. Eight medical doctors, one dentist, one veterinarian, and five lawyers where participated in the above mentioned list. The right-wing "race defenders" soon joined up in the Arrow-Cross Party, which was run by two pharmacists and a doctor. The organization had considerable influence amongst the petty bourgeois and the poor peasant stratum. SZÁLASI's Arrow-Cross Party locally had about 400 members in Gyöngyös and its leader, Endre FRANKÓ, also became the leader at the county level after the Arrow-Cross Party take-over. In 1939 and 1942, the Baross Association of Gyöngyös published the story about the Jewry of Gyöngyös—two volumes—which was portrayed an extreme view by Anti-Semite, Lieutenant Colonel Laszlo BACHO, a local historian.
Early in the 1940s, a serious political rivalry occurred for some time. The rivalry was between the moderate Mayor, Árpád PUKY, and the extremist Gyula MAKRÁNYI. MAKRÁNYI intended to get the mayoral job by any means and received the support from several members of the leading Anti-Semite intelligentsia, among them, Zoltán POLÓNYI - pharmacist, Lajos JESZTREBÉNYI - lawyer and Oszkár BAKÓ - municipal councilor, who also was one of the major representatives of the group with the intention to supersede the Jews in every territory. In the Mayoral election of 1939, this group tried to intimidate the supporters of Árpád PUKY, without success. However, on 31 March 1942, they succeeded. In April, 1944, the Status Quo Ante community numbered 1,356 members. The office of president was held by Ármin VAJDA lawyer, the rabbis were Rabbi Hermann L. FEIGL and Rabbi Jeno JAKAB. The Orthodox community had 466 members. The office of president was held by Nándor JAKOBOVITS and the rabbis were Rabbi Jeno JUNGREISZ and Rabbi Jeno NEUFELD.
In the 1941 Hungarian National census, following are the number of Jewish residents counted in the district and at the following locations:
1941 County Population Table
After the Germans moved in the country, a series of prohibitions started, including the directive requiring Jews to wear the yellow star as well. After the German occupation of Gyöngyös, Spring of 1944, the Jews were subjected to a reign of terror with the willing participation of the Hungarian fascists.
From Gyöngyös, a number of Jews where interned namely: Samuel KARDOS - timber-merchant, Miklos NEUMANN - haberdashery merchant, Fülöp WALDNER - lawyer, and accused of being dangerous communists were Erno FRIEDMANN - produce merchant and Zsigmond VAS - hardware merchant. Gyula WALDNER - Textile merchant was taken away, for his 1919 activities. They all never returned. The authorities closed 93 stores, confiscated the radios, telephones and the bicycles. Five municipal officials lost their job for racial reasons.
After the German occupation of Gyöngyös in the Spring of 1944, the Jews were subjected to a reign of terror with the willing participation of the Hungarian fascists.
In late-May of 1944, the Jews of Gyöngyös (and the surrounding areas) were rounded up and forcibly moved to a ghetto where they were confined under a regime of forced labor.
In mid-June, 1944, the Jews of Gyöngyös were deported to Auschwitz.
After the war, approximately 500-550 Jews from Gyöngyös survived the Holocaust and of that number, only 300 of them returned to Gyöngyös, mainly from the labor camps. Their story, however, does not end with the end of World War II, a new period of the Gyöngyös Jewish community had started. The turning point was not only marked by the
ending of open terror and direct danger to life, but also by a radical drop of population. These returning Jews had to start from scratch, and until 1948, they had more than one way to go.
In 1948, the Jews of Gyöngyös organized a great ceremony, celebrating the creation of the State of Israel. In 1949, there was 414 Jewish inhabitants, with Status Quo Ante congregation (312) and the Orthodox congregation (102).
On the basis of the Gyöngyös research, four survival strategies were employed by the remainder of the Jewish community. Three out of the four meant leaving the town. This was in accordance with the impossible economic and moral hardships of local regeneration, to be seen in many instances. Beside tragic memories, post-war economic and demographic hopelessness contributed to the significant exodus. Most of the departing groups, approximately 150 Gyöngyös Jews, went to Budapest, a city giving more hopeful prospects in the fields of economic, social and banking life. The second group is made up of those who returned and left for Israel—mostly by the younger generation, since they were the main target of the Hungarian Zionist Union. In Gyöngyös, orphans and those without families, were also potential candidates for this solution. It is very hard to guess their number, since many of them first moved to Budapest, where, confronted with the available opportunities, they decided to go to Israel. About 100 Gyöngyös Jews found their new home in Israel. The third option was to emigrate to the West. Out of the estimated 50 Gyöngyös emigrants, the great majority were either educated intellectuals (doctors, lawyers, engineers), or people wanting to complete their university studies abroad. Some others, who had economic or professional connections in the countries concerned, joined this group. Although not in every case consciously, this decision meant the election of middle class values as opposed to the left-wing limitations imposed upon those who stayed in Hungary or as opposed to going to Israel. The first three strategies, in many cases overlapped, and many people were forced to try out more than one. But it was the fourth strategy which was most adventurous, the most hopeless: to stay in Gyöngyös and live through the decades following the war.
Although religious life restarted and associations were revived, during the communist era, everything was controlled by central offices. First, the religious community's autonomy was taken away, later even their buildings were sold without their knowledge by the central power. These outrageous steps resulted in the further dwindling of the Gyöngyös Jewish community, which counted approximately 400-500 people even after the war. The process was not halted by the opening on 13 September 1964 of a characterless, small house of prayer, in the place of two wonderful historic churches, sold previously. The number of those leaving their religion was incredibly high, the number of mixed marriages rose steeply and those who kept their religion grew old, moved away or died.
Inside this new, humble building an even more humble religious life was going on. The local Rabbi, the last in Gyöngyös, Rabbi Dávid WEISZ was, however, recognized country wide. This is borne out by the fact that he taught in the Hungarian Institute for the Education of Rabbis. Until his death in 1982, on every Friday evening and on Saturday, without exception, religious service took place in the Gyöngyös synagogue. In those days there were comparatively high attendance at the celebrations of the Passover Seder and at the annual memorial celebrations of the martyrs. By the end of the 1980s, the line of Jews keeping and observing their religion came to an end in Gyöngyös. From the beginning of the 80s, Ármin PROTOVIN was chairman of the Gyöngyös Jewish Community, cantor and the substitution for the Rabbi in one person. He did his utmost to keep the flame with superhuman
energy. He did the administration, made arrangements, organized religious services, and attempted to solve the problem of the neglected cemetery. In 1991, when Ármin PROTOVIN was 92 years old, he stated that about 100 persons of Jewish origin lived in Gyöngyös, about 20 of whom still attended synagogue services. But he did not give up. He believed and hoped that Jewish institutions can and should be made young again. He wanted to attract young people to Gyöngyös by available housing and other opportunities. He wanted a young successor, who knew Hebrew. But
in this, not even he was succeeded. By this time, the candles of Jewish life burnt to stumps in Gyöngyös.
Today, Gyöngyös, situated at the foot of the Sár-hegy and Mátra mountains, it is the home of numerous food production plants, including milk production and sausage factories. It is also the home of many vineyards, which use the slopes of the Sárhegy to cultivate vines. It has about 33,553 inhabitants (2001). A great number of the Jews of Gyöngyös were murdered in the Holocaust and no Jews live there today.
Sources (portions): The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, (2001), p. 472 The History of the Gyöngyös Jewish Community, by László Horváth, Ph.D.,Hungary The History of the Gyöngyös Jewish Community, by Ágnes SZEGÕ, Ph.D., Hungary
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Ágnes SZEGÕ, Ph.D., Hungary with assistance from A kõ zokog' (Film title, from the memorial tablet, "The Stone is Crying")
Bródy Sándor County Library, Eger
Hungarian Jewish Archive
M.Y. EHRENREICH, USA Histária (Journal) of Hungarian Jews Murdered in the Holocaust, No. 2-3 (2004)
Hungarian Business Directory
Hungarian Jewish Archive
László Horváth, Ph.D.,Hungary International Jewish Cemetery Project
Mátra Museum and Library, Gyöngyös
Nikoli KATZ, USA
Levente Balazs Kiss, Gyöngyös
Judy PETERSEN, USA
Alex SCHLESINGER, USA
Szabad Föld Journal
Vachott Sándor City Library, Gyöngyös Edward VICTOR, USA
Amos Israel ZEZMER, France
and the following:
JewishGen members/descendants and
contributors of Gyöngyös Jewish families:
Agnes HELLER, USA
Margarita LACKÓ, USA
László RÓTH, Hungary
Catherina SZÖLLOSI, Italy
Jerry ZEISLER, USA
Oren ZVIKA, Israel