DEJ (Hung. Dés), town in central Transylvania, N. Romania; until the end of World War I and from 1940–44 within Hungary. In 1638 Dej became known through its connection with the history of the Transylvanian Sabbatarians (Judaizers). Although Jews were officially prohibited from living in Dej until 1848, by 1805 there were already 70 Jewish residents. Jewish settlement in Dej began in 1834; previously they had been allowed to live only in a few of the surrounding villages. After 1848 many immigrants from Galicia settled in Dej who made up the majority of the community which remained Orthodox with a strong ḥasidic following. The majority spoke Yiddish as well as Hungarian (and some also Romanian). Communal life was organized around the 1850s. Members of the
family served as rabbis of Dej from the beginning of the community's establishment to its end in the Holocaust. The first synagogue was built in 1863 and another opened in 1907, beside many other synagogues and yeshivot. A state Jewish elementary school was established in 1884, remaining open until 1938; the language of instruction was Hungarian and Yiddish until 1919 and subsequently Romanian and Yiddish. Zionist organizations were active from 1918. Attempts to bring out periodicals in Yiddish, Hungarian, and even Hebrew proved short-lived. The physician Nathan Friedlaender (1819–1902) settled in Dej in 1864. Meir Jehuda Majrovitz (1895–1944), the Hungarian writer, was born in Dej. Also connected to the city is the well-known Holocaust historian
, who lived there and was sent to forced labor during World War II.
The change of regime of 1919 – when the Hungarians were replaced by the Romanians – caused significant changes in the life of the local Jews, mostly for those strongly assimilated to Hungarian culture and language. They had to accustom themselves to the new antisemitism brought in by the Romanian authorities. However, the Jews tried hard to adapt to the new conditions and survive. More difficult to understand was the new situation after 1940, when the Hungarian Horthiite authorities who returned to Dej turned out to be quite different from those they had known and gotten along with before 1919; the disappointment was to be very severe.
The community numbered 3,360 in 1930 (22.2% of the total population), and 3,719 (22.8%) in 1941. During World War II, the Jews were subjected to many restrictions. Jewish males were mobilized for forced labor; a number of families who could not prove their citizenship were rounded up in the summer of 1941 and deported to Kamenets-Podolski, where they were murdered. In early May 1944 the remaining Jews were placed in a ghetto set up in a forest (the Bungur), located about two miles from the city. The ghetto was liquidated with the deportation of the Jews to Auschwitz in three transports between May 28 and June 8, 1944.
The survivors who returned, with Jews from other places, numbered approximately 1,000 in 1947. The community subsequently dwindled through emigration, many leaving for Israel. In 2004 there were fewer than ten Jews there.