Located in the pretty Tisza River Valley at the foot of the Carpathians, Khust is the third largest city in Transcarpathia and was home to 14 members of the Boys.
Slave labour played a major role in ensuring their survival. It was not only the antisemitism that greeted them on their return home but the annexation of the region by the Soviet Union after World War Two that turned them into refugees.
Until the end of the First World War, the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1920, the Carpathians became the most easterly part of the newly created state of Czechoslovakia
A Jewish community developed in Chust in the 18th century. The city was a centre of religious learning and was an important Hasid centre. The Chust yeshiva opened in 1861.
By 1941, the Jewish population, just under a third of the total, had increased to 6,023.
In the inter-war period, Jews were involved in all aspects of civic, cultural, and economic life. Most of the Jews of Chust were tradesmen or ran shops. Jews also owned cinemas, hotels, taverns, three banks, factories and flour mills. Many of them worked in liberal professions as doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, and clerks.
Various Jewish political parties were active in Chust. they included the Agudat Israel which represented newly formed political-religious Orthodoxy, as well as several Zionist parties.
In October 1938, following the Munich Agreement, Chust became part of Hungary. Chust and the surrounding area was officially annexed to Hungary in 1939. Chust’s Jewish families without Hungarian citizenship were expelled to the Nazi-occupied territory of Ukraine. Many of them were executed in Kamianets-Podilskyi in 1941.
Many Jewish men were taken into labour battalions and sent to the Russian front.
In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary and installed a puppet government. That government participated in the Holocaust.
In April 1944, three ghettos were set up in the area: one in Chust and two in the villages of Iza and Sokyrnytsia. Several dozen Jews managed to escape from Chust and join the Ukrainian partisan units.
On 14 May 1944, Jews in the Chust ghetto were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp in occupied Poland.
Prisoners on the ramp warned new arrivals to say they were healthy, and teenagers were told to say they were older than they were. These inmates spoke Yiddish which increased the chance of the Boys survival. Most arrivals from Greece, France, Italy and Holland did not understand the warnings
Although Auschwitz is the symbol of the Holocaust and the genocide carried out against the Jews, it was significantly different from the other extermination camps as it was not just a place where Jews were deported to be murdered.
When the trains arrived in Birkenau a selection was made on the ramp. It offered healthy young men and women a chance of survival as they were often selected for slave labour. The fact that the Boys arrived six months before the camp was liberated increased their chance of survival.
On 24 October 1944, the Soviet Red Army liberated Chust and by February, the first Jewish survivors began to return to the city. By mid-1946, the Jewish population of Chust had grown to 400 people.
Most of the survivors found that their home’s occupied by strangers.
The Carpathians were annexed to the Soviet Union in 1945. Most of Chust’s Jews were either very religious and, or, Zionists. It was not possible to practice religious observance under Stalinism and Zionist politics could lead to arrest. As a result most survivors chose to leave the Carpathians.
The Soviet government deported much of the city's German and Hungarian populations.
PRESENT DAY KHUST
The 18th century Old Synagogue survived the war, but it was converted under communism into a cinema. The Old Jewish cemetery also remains, although it was closed for burials in 1960.
Only one synagogue, built at the end of the 19th century, has retained its original appearance and function. It is the only synagogue in Transcarpathia which has operated continuously as a Jewish prayer house since its construction.
Today, about 165 Jews live in Khust and still pray in the synagogue.