The small town of Irshava was the home to eight of the Boys.
There are several alternative names used for this town: Ilosva in Hungarian, Irsava in Czech, Irshava in Romanian and Orsheve in Yiddish.
Irshava is situated in the region known historically as Subcarpathian Ruthenia, now western Ukraine. It is about 30 kilometres southeast of Mukachevo. Other nearby towns home to many of the Boys include Uzhorod, Khust, Vynohradiv, Svaljus, Berehovo, and Tacovo.
Until the end of World War I, Irshava belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire. During the period between the two World Wars it was part of Czechoslovakia. In the course of World War II it was occupied by Hungary. At the end of the war it became part of the Ukrainian republic of U.S.S.R.
It is not known when the Jewish community of Irshava was established. The oldest tombstone of the Jewish cemetery is from the end of the 19th century.
Irshava was known among the Jewish communities mainly thanks to its yeshiva, established by Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, who had come to the town from Satmar before World War I. After the war, many Jews came to live near him at Irshava and rabbis and heads of communities were among his disciples.
The Jews of the Subcarpathian region were among the poorest in Europe, many living in rural areas and working in agriculture. Jewish families earned their livelihoods from trade and crafts. They worked mainly as traders and craftsmen, particularly as carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, cobblers and painters.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, two sawmills were built in order to establish a local furniture industry, as well as a chemical factory for wood, alcohol, acetone, and glue, employing Jewish workers.
The Jews of Irshava lived close to the main road which crossed the town. It was called “the Jewish road” in Yiddish. Most of the Jews had their own houses, with a flower garden in front and a vegetable garden and fruit trees at the back. Daily prayer services were held at the central synagogue. On Shabbat and religious festivals, the entire community attended the services. One of the entrances to the synagogue was through the fields.
In 1941, 1,393 Jews were living in Irshava. Most of its citizens were Ruthenians. Their language was Ruthenian, but Hungarian, Russian and Czech were also spoken. The majority of the Jews spoke Yiddish among themselves.
Following the Munich Agreement in 1938, Czechoslovakia was divided up and Irshava and the surrounding area were annexed by Hungary. The town became known as Ilsova in Hungarian.
In March 1939, the Hungarians occupied the region and imposed laws restricting Jewish access to education, trade, and the professions. Many Jews were persecuted and pushed out of their occupations. Jewish businesses were taken over by Hungarians but many remained closed.
In 1940, 150 Jews from Ilsova were drafted into forced labour battalions and others were drafted for service on the Eastern front, where most died.
In August, 1941, a number of Jewish families, who could not prove their Hungarian citizenship, were expelled to Kamenets-Podolski in Nazi occupied Ukrainian territory, where they were murdered. A number of Jewish families of Ilsova managed to secure false documents with the help of a school official, and so evaded expulsion.
The Nazis occupied Hungary in March 1944 and installed a puppet government. That government participated in the Holocaust.
At the beginning of April of that year all the Jews in Hungary were ordered to wear the yellow badge on their clothes.
In April 1944, just after Passover, the Jews of Ilsova were forced into a ghetto with Jews from surrounding localities. Local Hungarian police confiscated all jewellery and watches.
On 22 May 1944, the ghetto was emptied and all its inhabitants were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp in occupied Poland.
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 they arrived six months before the camp was liberated increased their chance of survival.
An estimated 85% of the Jews of Subcarpathian Ruthenia perished in the Holocaust. About 1,900 Jews from Ilsova were murdered, most of them in Auschwitz. Among them was also the last rabbi of Ilsova, rabbi Moshe Wirzenberger.
The number of Ilsova Jews who survived the war is not known.
Ilsova was liberated by the Red Army in the autumn of 1944.
After the Second World War, the Carpathians were annexed to the Soviet Union in 1945. Ilsova became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and was renamed Irshava.
As the Nazi concentration camps were liberated in 1945, a handful of survivors returned to Irshava. Most of the survivors found that their home’s occupied by strangers.
Most of Irshava’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 and emigrated to Israel or the West.
In 2016, Irshava had about 9,000 inhabitants. It is thought that no Jews live there today. The former synagogue is now a boutique, its original purpose no longer recognisable.