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Subcarpathian Ruthenia

SUBCARPATHIAN RUTHENIA (also known as Ruthenia, Carpathian Ruthenia, Carpatho-Russia, Carpatho-Ukraine, Carpathia, and Transcarpathian oblast; Rus. Zakarpatskaya oblast), historic region, part of (western) Ukraine. Its territory adjoined Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Formerly part of Hungary, at the end of World War I the bulk of this territory passed to Czechoslovakia, becoming a province; a section of the county of Máramures was incorporated into Romania; in 1938, 1939, and 1940 most of the territory was gradually annexed by Hungary; after the reconstruction of Czechoslovakia, it was ceded in 1945 to the Soviet Union. The capital of the oblast is *Uzhgorod; its important towns are *Mukacevo, *Beregovo, *Vinogradov, and *Khust.

Documents confirm the presence of Jews in Subcarpathian Ruthenia from the first half of the 17th century. Some survivors from the *Chmielnicki massacres of 1648 who escaped from Poland to Hungary settled in this region and on the estates of noblemen there in this period. According to the government census of Jews in the region, there were about 100 families, or 450 persons, between 1725 and 1728. This number is, however, unreliable since, because of the numerous changes in sovereignty over sections of the region, it is difficult to determine the accuracy of the census lists; they were occasionally of a very general nature and referred to places and districts which became excluded from the present area of Zakarpatskaya oblast.

The almost exclusive occupations of the Jews during this period were the manufacture and sale of liquor and beer (see Wine and Liquor *Trade) on the estates of the noblemen, a limited amount of agricultural activity, and the maintenance of flour mills. The Jews were compelled to pay various taxes to both the owners of the estates and the government authorities. The taxes were a heavy burden, while the livelihood earned by the local population was meager. The number of Jews nevertheless steadily increased. In 1745 the government took the initiative of expelling the Jews from the Máramures district and sought to reduce their numbers in general. Despite this, further waves of Jewish immigration arrived from beyond the Carpathians – from Galicia and Poland, where the situation of the Jews had deteriorated. The new settlers scattered in many localities and there were some villages with only one or two Jewish families. This resulted in a degree of dissociation from the sources of traditional Jewish life. In most localities there was no minyan for the first few years, and there were few rabbis and Jewish teachers in the area. This cultural and spiritual desolation enabled the movement of Jacob *Frank to win many adherents in Subcarpathian Ruthenia. After the Frankist crisis, rabbis from beyond the Carpathians arrived and taught among the Jews of the towns and villages. Later the various trends of Ḥasidism also reached the Jews of the region. Its influence increased and remained strong until the liquidation of the Jews during the Holocaust.

Economic life also began to develop. The Jews of Galician origin were naturally inclined to establish commercial relations with their country of origin. During the early 19th century closer relations were also established with the center of the state, Hungary. During this period the influence began to be felt of the Orthodox disciples of the Ḥatam Sofer, Moses *Sofer, many of whom took up rabbinical office in communities of the region. In consequence, after the schism in Hungarian Jewry in 1868–69 (see *Hungary), most of the Jews in Subcarpathian Ruthenia and their community organizations remained Orthodox. The numerous Ḥasidim adhered to ẓaddikim of Galicia and Bukovina, predominantly to the ḥasidic "court" of *Kosov, as well as to those of *Vizhnitsa, *Zhidachov, and *Belz. Between 1825 and 1848 the Jewish population also increased in the smaller localities; a considerable number of villages had a Jewish population of over 100. In the public and political debates which then took place in Hungary, the question of the *emancipation of the Jews was also raised; many Christian leaders in the region supported the granting of equal rights to the Jews on condition that they would endeavor to assimilate from the external and cultural aspects into the Christian population. During the same period antisemitic criticisms were voiced against the Jews in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, their rapid natural growth, and their economic role within the general population.

In the four districts which in time formed the territory of the oblast (including Máramures, of which only a part belongs to this region from 1918 and at present) the Jewish population numbered about 93,000 in 1891, and about 120,000 in 1910.

In 1897 the Hungarian government investigated the impoverished social condition of the region's inhabitants. The investigator, E. Egán (1851–1901), an expert on agriculture, submitted antisemitic conclusions and sought discrimination against the Jews in the economic sphere. His conclusions became the basis of widespread violent anti-Jewish agitation, which was expressed in a series of articles by the publicist Miklós Bartha (1848–1905), later collected in Kazár földön ("In the Land of the Kazhars"). This work, published for the first time in 1901, was republished during the Nazi antisemitic period in 1939 and served as a manual for the renewed persecutions of the Jews of Subcarpathian Ruthenia. Despite the accumulation of obstacles against the Jewish population, there were large communities with numerous institutions, including yeshivot and charitable institutions, toward the close of the period of Hungarian rule at the end of World War I. Though the general cultural standard of the Jews was slightly inferior to that of the Jews in the other parts of Hungary, internal Jewish life flourished, and there were also frequent disputes between *Mitnaggedim and Ḥasidim. The spoken language of most of the Jews in the region was Yiddish. The overwhelming majority of them, however, also knew Hungarian. Many Jewish professionals were to be found in the towns, mainly lawyers and physicians.

After the end of World War I almost the whole of the territory was incorporated into Czechoslovakia and the remainder into Romania. During this period the Jews rapidly adapted themselves to the democratic way of life of the new Czechoslovak state. According to the constitution of the Czechoslovak Republic, Jews were recognized as a national minority. They took part in municipal life and the political struggles. In many towns Jews were well represented on the municipal councils, and they also succeeded in sending a deputy to parliament in Prague. The Jews in the region numbered 93,341 (15.39% of its total population) in 1921, and 102,542 (14.14%) in 1930, when they formed 28.73% of Czechoslovakian Jewry.

Economically and socially, this period was characterized by extensive activity and development. A particular phenomenon of Subcarpathian Ruthenia was the considerable Jewish agricultural population. Two-thirds of the Jews lived in villages, and many of them engaged in agriculture. Their economic situation differed little from that of the Christian farmers. The region, in general, was poor and there were many unemployed among the Jews of the towns and villages. The American Jewish Joint Distribution *Committee established important institutions for the relief and assistance of the Jews of the region. The traditional yearning for the Land of Israel had already before this period prompted Jews to immigrate to the Holy Land where they joined the old yishuv, mainly in Jerusalem. From its inception, political Zionism found adherents in Subcarpathian Ruthenia. Between the two world wars the movement developed to considerable dimensions among both the adults and youth. There was a considerable aliyah, mainly of working-class people and farmers. Zionist initiative was also evident in internal political life, in both the municipal and national spheres, the framework for this activity being the Jewish Party (see Zidovská *Strana). To a smaller but noticeable extent, Jews were also active within the Hungarian minority movement. Exceptional in this part of Central Europe was the network of Hebrew schools established in Subcarpathian Ruthenia. The first Hebrew elementary school was opened in Mukacevo in 1920, to be followed by the Hebrew secondary school in the same town in 1925, and another secondary school in Uzhgorod, in 1934.

Hebrew printing presses also functioned. Jewish newspapers published in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian became the platforms for lively polemics between the representatives of the various trends among the Jews in the region. Zionist publicists were active and also fought Ḥasidism through this medium. It may be estimated that about 10,000 Jews from Subcarpathian Ruthenia emigrated between 1918 and 1938, and at least an equal number moved to the western parts of Czechoslovakia.

Holocaust Period

As various parts of Subcarpathian Ruthenia were annexed by Hungary (1938; 1939; 1940), anti-Jewish persecutions were immediately initiated. At first these took the form of administrative measures by the new Hungarian government; they subsequently reached the stage of physical annihilation. Jews of military age were conscripted into labor battalions and sent to the eastern front, where most of them perished. From the spring of 1944 the Hungarian Fascist regime and the German Nazis collaborated in concentrating the Jews in ghettos and deporting them to the death camps. After March 19, 1944, when the extermination of Hungarian Jewry was set in motion, the authorities began their activities in Subcarpathian Ruthenia. A special operational garrison was organized within the framework of the eighth zone of the Hungarian gendarmerie within which territory the region was situated. The pretext for the speeding up of these activities was that the Jewish population would most likely collaborate with the approaching Red Army. Ghettos were set up in Mukacevo, Uzhgorod, Khust, Vinogradov, Beregovo, and other places. After the deportations to the camps had been accomplished, one of the most flourishing and variegated Jewish populations was effectively liquidated.

Contemporary Period

Only 10,000 to 15,000 Ruthenian Jews, out of over 100,000, survived the Holocaust. Several thousands of these did not return to their former residence and joined the movement of Displaced *Persons (see also *Beriḥah); up to 8,000 moved upon the cession of Ruthenia to the Soviet Union westward to Czechoslovakia, most of them to towns in the Sudeten area depleted of their former German population. Some groups resettled in their former places of residence in Ruthenian towns and smaller localities. Later, other Jews arrived there from distant parts of the Soviet Union, mainly office workers and technical administrators employed in industry. Differences developed between the two Jewish groups, and they did not amalgamate. Culturally also, the character of the Jewish population changed. The Western Hungarian-Czech-German cultural influence was gradually replaced by Eastern Soviet culture. According to Soviet estimates, there were 13,000 Jews in the district in 1971, but there is reason to believe that their actual number was greater. They formed an amorphous group and Jewish life was in a process of disintegration, the remnant of the Jewish heritage being maintained mainly by the few survivors of the original population.


EG, 7 (1959); MHJ, 7 (1963), 19–23, also Index Locorum S.V. Bereg, Máramaros, Ugocsa; P. Meyer et al., Jews in the Soviet Satellites (1953), 49ff.; R.L. Braham (ed.), Hungarian Jewish Studies, 1 (1966), 223–35; A. Sole et al., in: Jews of Czechoslovakia, 1 (1968), 125–54; S. Goldelman, in: Juedischer Almanach (1933), 78–86; H. Hoffmann, in: Juedische Wohlfahrtspflege und Sozialpolitik, 6 (1936), 123–35.