Six of the Boys came from Veľka Sevljus.
There are several alternative names used for this city: Nagyszolos in Hungarian, Sevlus in Czech, Seleusu Mare in Romanian, Vinogradov in Russian, Seylesh or Selish in Yiddish, Vinohradov in Slovak and Veľka Sevljus during Czechoslovak rule.
Veľka Sevljus is situated in the region known historically as Subcarpathian Ruthenia, now south-western Ukraine. It is 19 kilometres west of Khust and 29 kilometres east of Berehove, near the borders of Romania and Hungary. Other nearby towns home to many of the Boys include Mukachevo, Uzhorod, Svaljus and Tacovo.
Until the end of World War I, Veľka Sevljus 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.
PRE-WAR VEL’KA SEVLJUS
The first Jews probably settled in Veľka Sevljus in the first half of the 18th century. In 1768, two Jewish families were living there.
Under the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Kaiser Josef II, the Jews specialised in the production and export of wine. His "edict of tolerance", issued in 1782 granted certain privileges and freedom of worship to the Jews. After his death, there were attempts to banish Jews from the cities, however a Jewish community remained in Sevljus.
In 1880, the population of Sevljus amounted to 4,400, of which five hundred of the residents were native Romanians. By 1877, out of a population of 1,191, there were 193 Jews, or 16% of the total population.
By 1910, the population had grown to 7,811, of which the majority of the inhabitants were Hungarians.
A yeshiva with dozens of students was opened in the mid-19th century and the stone built Great Synagogue was erected in 1904. A Hebrew school with 150 children was also established in 1922. Some continued their studies at the Hebrew Gymnasium in Munkacs.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a substantial improvement in the economic situation of the town's Jews. In Veľka Sevljus, most of the city's trade was in Jewish hands. Jews also owned banks, flour mills, distilleries, a canning factory and a number of farms. There were also Jewish doctors, veterinarians, lawyers and engineers. A few were administrative officials.
Many Jewish refugees arrived from Galicia during WWI, including Hasidim with their leaders. During the interwar period of the Czechoslovakian Republic, the Zionists were very active in Sevljuš and in 1921 the Jewish National Party won 11 of the 36 seats in the municipal council.
The Maccabi sports club had a branch in Sevljus, and there were active branches of many youth movements in the city, who sent their members to training farms and factories as a preparation for emigration to Palestine. Many emigrated there from 1930-1939.
The Jewish population of Sevljus grew significantly after the First World War, reaching 2,913 in 1921 and 4,262, out of a total of 13,331, or 32%, in 1941.
Following the Munich Agreement in 1938, Czechoslovakia was divided up and Veľka Sevljus and in March 1939, the surrounding area were annexed by Hungary. The town was now known by its Hungarian name, Nagyszollos.
The Hungarians were pro-German, 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, hundreds of Jews were drafted into Hungarian Labour Battalions for forced labour or service on the eastern front, where many died. In August 1941, dozens of Jewish families without Hungarian citizenship were expelled to Kamenets-Podolski in Nazi occupied Ukraine, where some were murdered.
In March 1944, the Nazis occupied Hungary and installed a puppet government. 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, on the last day of Passover, 12,000 Jews from Nagyszollos and the surrounding districts of Ugocsa and Halmi were rounded up and forced to move into the Nagyszollos ghetto. Wealthier Jews were taken to the synagogue where they were tortured to disclose where they had hidden their valuables.
Conditions in the ghetto were extremely cramped with many families living together in the same room, causing suffering and disease.
Between 20 May and 3 June 1944, the Jews in the Nagyszollos ghetto were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp in occupied Poland in three transports. Moshe Gutman, the community leader, was offered a chance to escape to Budapest, but refused, choosing instead to stay with his community.
After the deportations, a local underground group was uncovered by the Germans. Its members were arrested and executed by firing squad on June 17, 1944.
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.
An estimated 85% of the Jews of Subcarpathian Ruthenia perished in the Holocaust. The fact that the Subcarpathian Jews arrived six months before the camp was liberated in January 1945, greatly increased their chance of survival.
In the autumn of 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered Nagyszollos and liberated the town.
After the Second World War, the Carpathians were annexed to the Soviet Union in 1945. Nagyszollos became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and was renamed Vynohradiv.
A great number of the Jews of Vynohradiv were murdered in the Holocaust. Most of the surviving Jews who returned to the town after the war soon left, as it was not possible to practice religious observance under Stalinism and Zionist politics could lead to arrest. As a result, most chose to leave the Carpathians.
Some emigrated to the United States, to different countries in Europe and some to Australia. About 400 Jews emigrated to Israel, some illegally during the period of the British mandate.
Today, Vynohradiv is an industrial city with a population of over 25,000.
One of the synagogues has been restored and it is possible to visit the Jewish cemetery, but little more remains of the vibrant pre-war Jewish community.