Uzhhorod in the Carpathian Mountains was home to 22 members of the Boys and played an important part of their story.
Slave labour played a major role in ensuring their survival but 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.
Jews have lived in Uzhhorod since the 16th century.
Until 1920, Uzhorod was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1920, Uzhgorod became the capital of Carpathian Ruthenia, the most easterly corner of the newly created state of Czechoslovakia. In the inter-war period the Jewish community flourished.
In 1930, 7,357 Jews, a third of the population lived in Uzhorod.
The city had a number of Jewish schools, a yeshiva, a Jewish hospital and an old aged people’s home. Uzhorod was an important Hasid and Orthodox religious centre. Many books were printed in the city in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Jews played an important role in the economy and were active in local politics. The vast majority of the Jewish population of Uzhorod were tradesmen and shopkeepers, although there were also wealthy families who owned large factories that still exist. The Weiser family were owners of the flour mills on Mukacsevskaja Street, which still produces bread and baked goods.
Under the 1938 Munich Agreement, Hungary occupied the area. In March 1939, the Hungarians officially annexed the region and imposed laws restricting Jewish access to education, trade, and the professions.
Many Jewish men were drafted into slave labour battalions sending them east for forced labour on the eastern front. Jews who could not prove that they had Hungarian citizenship were deported to Poland and many were murdered there by the SS.
In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary and established a puppet government. That government took part in the Holocaust.
On 21 April two ghettos were established outside the town. One in the ghettos was in a brick factory, which belonged to the Jewish Moschkowitch family and the other in a timber warehouse, owned by the Gluck family, who were also Jewish. Jews from the surrounding area were brought into the ghettos and approximately 25,000 people were held there. Other member of the Boys from neighbouring towns and villages were also taken to the ghetto in Uzhorod, among them Rushka Swartz from Seredne, Moric Friedman from Velky Berezny, now Velykyi Bereznyi and Lazar Brandt from Medzilaborce.
In June 1944, the majority of the ghetto’s inhabitants were sent to 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. Many 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 members of the Boys from the Uzhorod ghetto, who survived Auschwitz were taken to work as slave labourers. The fact that they arrived six months before the camp was liberated increased their chance of survival.
On October 27 1944 the city was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. About 2,000 Jews from Uzhorod survived the Holocaust. Many of those who returned home were not made welcome and found other people living in the homes.
The Carpathians were annexed to the Soviet Union in 1945. Most of Uzhorod’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
PRESENT DAY UZHHOROD
In 1994, out of a total population of about 120,000 residents, there were only 2,200 Jews living in Uzhhorod. Many of those Jews had not originally come from the city.
Uzhhorod has a small Jewish community, a synagogue, community centre and a day school. It oversees the remaining Jews in the nearby towns of Khust, Mukachevo, Rachiv and Vinogradov.
The original synagogue was converted into a concert hall. On the façade is a plaque that remembers the 85,000 from Zakarpattia Oblast who were murdered in the Holocaust.
The Jewish community of Uzhgorod have been subject to antisemitic attacks in recent years.