In the early 1940s, Nagymegyer was a small town, or a big village,
of about 5,000 inhabitants, including a Jewish community of between 95 and 100 families (520 to 540
souls). It is situated between Bratislava and Komarno (Komárom). This region is an island,
embraced by the Danube, from the South and its branch, the Small Danube, from the North. It is called
Csallóköz (Žitný Ostrov in Slovakian), meaning
Wheat Island, because of its fertile land that yields rich grain crops. The
region changed political régimes during the first half of the twentieth century.
Until the end of WWI it belonged to the Autro-Hungarian Monarchy; between
1918 and 1938 it was part of the Czechoslovak Republik; at the end of 1938 it was
reattached to Hungary; and since the end of WWII, it has belonged to Slovakia.
Rabbi Yoseph Dov Lock
First Rabbi in Nagymegyer, Hungary, 1860-1880
(great-grandfather of the author)
The gentile population is Roman Catholic and a rather large Evangelic minority.
They were mostly small farmers, owning a few acres of land where they grew, mainly, the forage
for their livestock of some cattle, a pair or two of horses, a small flock of
poultry and a few pigs. Many worked, in addition, as hired men for the big
corporation farm that owned the great part of the land, while the women and
children did the work on the family farm. There were a few “richer”
farmers who owned more land and also employed some hired farm hands.
The Jewish community was Orthodox and conducted an organized community life. It had
a Rabbi, a cantor, a slaughterer, two teachers, two Melamdim (Torah
teachers of children) and a synagogue attendant. It owned a spacious synagogue, a
Beit Midrash (a special facility for adults studying Torah), a Talmud
Torah (a school of religious Torah studies) of two classrooms, a basic school of
two classrooms, a slaughterhouse and a Mikve (a ritual bath).
Some voluntary associations acted in the community: The Charity Association, that
aided the poor; The Talmud Torah A., that supported the religious education
of the children; The Chevra Kaddisha (the "holy society"), that cared
for the arrangements concerning the dead, organizing the funerals and maintaining
the cemetery; Chevrat Nashim (The Women’s Association),
dealing with charity and supporting, aiding needy women; and, maybe,
some others. Their budgets came from donations of people
called to the Torah on Saturdays and Holidays. Some generous community members
made anonymous donations before the High Holidays.
Grave Marker of Rabbi Yoseph Dov Lock in Nagymegyer
Rabbi in Nagymegyer, Hungary, 1860-1880
The chairman of the community, the Rosh Hakahal, and the leading committee were
elected once a year in the Beit Hamidrash by the general
assembly of the community members who had paid their taxes. This assembly had to
approve of the budget for the coming year. These occasions were always rather
stormy, because the budget forecast was always deficient and the assembly had
to decide what expenses should be reduced. There always was a group that wanted
to “crop” the salaries of the community employees, mainly that of the Rabbi.
Others fought vehemently to spare the Rabbi the abashment, the humiliation of
decreasing his family’s standard of living. This battle repeated
itself every time, before the general assembly and the election. A severe rift
developed in the community around this issue. A certain part of the
members, practically, separated themselves from the services in the synogogue and
kept them in the classrooms of the Talmud Torah. They no longer recognized
the Rabbinic authority. This happened due to the influence of a couple of
young Chareidim, religious fanatics who had married local Jewish girls
and managed to spread their ideas and “ideology”
among those people who, gradually, became their “fans”.
This process started some time about the mid 1930s, but it was not always so.
Since its founding at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the community was
strictly observant, but moderate. It led a peaceful life and everybody minded
his own business. The first Rabbi of the community, Yoseph Dov Lock, (my Great
Grandfather) a most cherished and praised pupil of the famous Orthodox rabbi and teacher Rabbi Moshe
Schreiber (Rav Moshe Sofer in Hebrew), who is known for his main work Chatam Sofer,
translated as Seal of the Scribe. Lock, who was in office from 1860-1880,
was a man who always sought peace
and even on his tombstone it was engraved that he was a man of mediation.
During these years, the community developed peacefully and there is no record
was found about controversy within the community.
Tombstone of Rabbi Yehoshua-Heshl
Har Hamnuchot cemetery, Jerusalem
Rabbi in Nagymegyer, Hungary, 1880-1920
(grandfather of the author)
During the forty years of his successor, his son-in-law Rabbi Yehoshua-Heshl Weiss (my Grandfather), this situation did not change. All the
community members honored their spiritual leader, whose fame reached even the
remote communities of the Monarchy and were loyal to him during the long
years of his service (1880–1920).
Like his father in law, he bequeathed his rabbinical position to his scholarly
son-in-law, Rabbi Shimon Shatin (1920–1938), who had married his daughter, Beile Haye.
As previously discussed, he conducted his service
peacefully, until the new ideas began to undermine his authority and embitter
his and his family’s lives.
He also wanted to leave the high office to his son-in-law, Rabbi Pinkhas Asher
Goldberger, but due to the controversy and the opposition of the Chareidim, only the
“loyal” part of the community accepted him as Rabbi. In 1944, the whole community was deported to
Auschwitz along with Rabbi Goldberger with his wife
and three children, his brother in law and three sisters-in-law. Only Rabbi Goldberger
and his youngest sister-in-law, Adele, returned from the
infernal “journey”. They married and, shortly
afterward, immigrated to the United States. Rabbi Pinkhas
established a new community and a Shul (a small synagogue) in Forest Hills, New York.
He was well known in the Orthodox circles of New York. He passed
away some years ago and was put to his eternal rest in the Har Hamenuhot cemetery
in Jerusalem, where he and his wife had brought her both parents’ and the remains of our Grandfather
Rabbi Yehoshua Heshl Weiss, from the Nagymegyeri cemetery,
years earlier. This was the end of our Rabbinical “dynasty”.
Apart of the succession of Rabbis, the community conducted its normal life. The Jewish
families occupied the Main Square and the commercial life of the town was concentrated there. The
Catholic population, with their church and graveyard, lived at one end of the
town, the Evangelic occupied the other end, whereas the Jews, with their shops,
kept to the center of the town. Very few of them lived on the outskirts,
among the Gentiles. There were no officials among them. Neither the Monarchy, nor
even the Czechoslovak Republic
liked Jews in official positions, not to speak about the Hungarian Horthy régime. Most
families were low middle class but there were a few well-to-do, or even rich ones. Apart of
shopkeepers and merchants of all kinds, there were quite a few craftsmen,
tinkers, carpenters, watchmakers, jewelers and tailors.
Weisz Albert Warehouse, Nagymegyer
The building still exists although in an altered state
The local historian, Mr. Varga, has, recently, “unearthed” from the municipal
archives, an old picture of a warehouse, situated in the very center of the town,
that belonged to Mr. Albert Weisz in the middle of the nineteenth century. The house still exists, although after some alterations.
Our basic school of 8 grades had two classrooms, where two teachers taught about 100
pupils. The Small School contained grades 1 through 3 and the Big School
the remaining 5. The Small School teacher divided his time between
the first grade and the second and third grades.
While he was busy with one group, the other one had to do a writing job.
The groups learned with the teacher for half an hour and made written
lessons during the other half. The pupils of the Big School learned in the same way.
The grades 4 and 5 were in one group and the grades 6 through 8 were in the other one.
It seems, even to me, now, rather absurd, but it worked.
Our school always was the best one among the three local ones. The
district inspector of the ministry of education visited all the schools before
the end of every quarter. After every visit, he had to admit, to the community
board of education, that our Jewish school was the most advanced and had the
highest qualification, not only among the three local schools, but it was the
leading one in the whole county. These officials never liked to praise anything
Jewish, but, in this case, he had no choice. I lovingly remember that school,
where the old headmaster taught us, not only grammar and math, but also good
manners and proper behavior, for lifelong use. The valuable knowledge we acquired
in that strange school, has remained with us until old age. On Fridays, the
last lesson was borrowing books from the library of the school. There were all
kinds of books in that library, for all levels and ages. This happened under the
supervision of the teachers, who cared that all the pupils get the
suitable books. I acquired my reading habits, my attraction to books, owing to
that precious library of my early childhood.