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The Jews of Sighetu-Marmatiei, Romania

Located on the border with Ukraine in Maramures County, Sighetu-Marmatiei is a city of 40,000 surrounded by rural communities that are the home marmatieiof one of the most intact peasant cultures of Europe. It was our base for the second part of our visit to Romania.
 
 I mentioned to Alex Lazin, our guide and host, that I was interested in learning what had happened to the Jews in this area, and as we went out for our first walk he kept pointing to the buildings as we walked, and pointing out “Evreica house.” It took a little while for me to realize that he was pointing to Jewish homes, and he was identifying them as such by their design. After awhile we came to a monument with Hebrew writing and a large date: 1944. And later we came to the Jewish Cemetery and wandered around through the weeds and gravestones until a watchman put us out.marmatiei2Another morning, as we were heading out of town to visit monasteries and villages in the countryside, Alex stopped downtown at a closed synagogue. I thought it might be a good time to try out my most ambitious line of Romanian, so I asked Alex, “Onde pot gasi un rabin care vorbeste englezeste?” (Where can I find a rabbi who speaks English?) I was goofing. I learned it as a goof, and I didn’t expect it to be a useful phrase. But it was. Alex disappeared. When he came back in a few minutes, he beckoned me to follow him to the side of a building and into an office, where he
introduced me to Hari Markus, the newly-seated president of the Sighet Jewish community. About sixty, retired engineer. From Iasi, a somewhat larger and more important city in the northeast, but his wife was from Sighet and wanted to come back, and here they were.
We talked for awhile. He would have preferred to speak French or German, marmatiei3but his English wasn’t bad. We went over to the synagogue. He explained that it had been a Sephardic Synagogue, while most of the Romanian Jews were Ashkenazi. A small room was being used for weekly services; the synagogue proper was undergoing serious restoration. Hari’s son Sorin, an excellent English speaker, joined us. From the two of them I got the following outline of what had happened to the Jews of Sighet.
Until the second world war, Hari told me, Sighet had a Jewish majority. About 20,000 Jews lived in Sighet proper, and many more in the countryside. The houses Alex had pointed out as “Evreica houses” had been among the most prosperous.

 

 

Maramures was part of “Greater Romania” taken over by Hungary at the beginning of the war and under Hungarian administration throughout the war.
In 1944, all the Jews were shipped to Aushwitz and other concentration camps. Most perished; some came back after the war. Of those that resettled in the area, almost all emigrated to Israel. Romanian Jews make up the second largest contingent of the Israeli population. Jews were pressured to emigrate; during the Ceausescu era, Israel paid Romania $50 for every Jew who moved to Israel. 

marmatiei4Today there are about 100 Jews in Sighet. There are also Gypsy, Hungarian and Ukranian minorities. Everyone gets along, Hari told me.


“ARE WE JEWISH?”

I remember asking my parents that. I must have been 14. It wasn’t the naive question of a kid. When I was a kid I knew we were Jewish. It was the thoughtful question of a teenager. I had been to friends’ bar mitzvahs…I knew that there was a big Jewish tradition that we had nothing to do with. No bar mitzvahs, no synagogue visits, even the meager observations we used to have for Passover and Hanukkah had disappeared from our lives. So why are we Jews?

Because, they told me, when they come to round up the Jews, they’ll take us, too. The Holocaust makes us Jews.
I can’t say I found that argument totally convincing, and I continued throughout my life as an ambivalent Jew. When people ask me “Are you Jewish?” I don’t really know how to answer.

I didn’t expect this to be an issue as I planned my Romania trip. On my initial raid on the downtown library for research materials, I avoided everything about “the Holocaust in Romania.” What I wanted at first was stuff about the Roman conquest, but I soon got hooked on the story of Ceausescu and the 1989 revolution.

And even though my mother was born in a refugee camp in what was then Romania (now the Republic of Moldova), a refugee from the anti-Semitic pogroms of the Ukraine, I didn’t have the sense that I was getting back to my own personal roots.

I REMEMBER, ON MY first trip to Mexico City, seeing Diego Rivera’s mural of La Gran Tenochtitlan, the pre-conquest city. It was a sudden opening onto a vast historical vista I had not yet seen. I had a similar experience in the Hebrew Cemetery at Sighet. A part of the past came into focus for me.

It’s not that I haven’t thought about the Holocaust; of course I have. I remember first learning about it at the age of 10, and since then, Holocaust-consciousness has permeated my thought, values and sensibilities. I didn’t think there would be anything left to think or feel about it, even in the center of it. But there was.

I don’t yet know how to describe it. I’m not done thinking about it, and I have to go back and check out those books I passed up before the trip. But I can tell you this:

I never felt more Jewish than among the neglected and overgrown graves at the Sighet Cemetery.

Fuente: The Dagger

Sephardim in Eastern Europe. The Sephardi Synagogue in Sighetu, Rumania

marmatiei5

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My good friend Ian Pomerantz directed me to this series of great photos of the Synagogue in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania. The edifice was built between 1900 and 1904 by the Sephardic community in the city and was frequented by both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities of Sighetu.

It is one of the only remaining examples of a completely intact Romanian Sephardi esnoga with full Moorish architecture from the mid 19th century.

 Joel Hahistorion

Fuente: Jewish History Channel

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6 respuestas a "The Jews of Sighetu-Marmatiei, Romania"

  1. Margo Schwartz dice:

    Thanks for the pictures.I’ll use them in the family tree.

  2. Margo Schwartz dice:

    thanks for the pictures of Sighet synagogue . I’ll use them for the family tree.
    Margo

  3. Ian Pomerantz dice:

    The Sephardic community of Romania has been worshipping in the area since the 1550s. The Sephardic building in its current form was fully completed in 1904, only 8 years before the outbreak of the First Balkan War.
    Thank you for the article!

  4. jonathan dice:

    We will be in Maramures for the month of July, and would love to go to the shul. Do you have contact details for Hari Markus?

    With thanks

  5. mos stein dice:

    Our family was from Dolha which we believe was in the area. Would they have gone to Sighetu Synagogue? We’re talking about the period of 1903-1908.

  6. Willy Gutman dice:

    My father, Dr. Armin Gutman, born in Sighet in 1903, served briefly as president of Sighet’s Jewish community after the war. He practiced medicine in Romania, France, Israel and the U.S. He died in 1987 in New York and is buried at the New Montefiore cemetery on Long Island.

    W. E. Gutman

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