History of the Jewish Community of Balassagyarmat

The Jewish Community of Balassagyarmat is one of the oldest diaspora in Hungary. Its history goes back nearly 600 years. It was in the XVIII. century when it really began to grow and it expanded till in the middle of the XIX, when 39,32 per cent of the population of the town was jewish.

Jews in town had an own, independent community, which wasn’t the part of the town’s jurisdictional and administrative system. They had their own council, which was led by the rabbi, and consisted two prosecutors, two judges ('dayan') and seven councillors. They had the scope of authority over the litigations and the home affairs of the jewish citizens and they even helped the local authorities in cases, where not all of the contestants were jewish, but at least one of them were involved.

The community consisted mostly merchants first, but after the so called „emancipation law” had been released in 1868, they slowly began to appear at every aspect of the towns life, at the social, cultural, economical sphere (and by the way Balassagyarmat was the county’s centre back then).

From the middle of the  18th century a famous „yeshiva” functioned here and they also built their first synagogue around that time. The latter soon turned out to be too small, so they started to build a whole new, enormous synagogue in 1839. But controversy lashed out between those, who worked at the construction and so the building was left unfinished until the late 1850s. That was the time when Áron Dávid Deutsch became the town's chief rabbi. He was the favourite apprentice of Moses Schreiber also known as 'Chatam Sofer', who was the famous chief rabbi of Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg).

He had a strong will and was able to iron out all the differences in an otherwise factious, home affairs ridden community, he was able to unite the community and by the time the beforehand mentioned „emancipation law” in 1868 was released, the synagogue was almost ready, they finished it within months. It was a masterpiece, and one of the most significant orthodox jewish synagogues in eastern Europe. Then, in the second World War, the nazis used it as a storage facility, and they blasted it  when they fleed the town in 9 December, 1944 It was built in an arabesque style and had two upper circle for woman and it was able to welcome as much as 4000 people.

There was a famous conference in 1868 too, and it was called the „congress of union”. Ironically it ended with a demerger among the jewish people. Rabbi  Áron Dávid Deutsch was one of the greatest supporters of the orthodox-wing in Hungary. He was one of the three orthodox envoys, who had an audience in the court of emperor and king Franz Joseph. So we can easily say he was very influential and illustrious.

After Áron Dávid Deutsch died, his son, Joseph Israel became the rabbi in Balassagyarmat, who was followed by his son, David. The latter –alongside with most of his community- died in Auschwitz. Another famous religious leader of the „golden age” of the jewish history in Balassagyarmat was Salamon Weisz, who was the leader of the jewish community for 50 years, and he had one of the biggest lordships in whole Hungary.

Beside the great synagogue there were another two tabernacles in the town. There was a building called Beth-Hamidras, which was built in 1852, and also was a Youth Centre which was created in 1920. The „Talmud Thóra” (which served as kind of an elementary school for jewish children) and the „Chevra Kadisha”  had their own, independent building too. There was a mikvah, a matzah bakery and also a kosher butcher too. Not to mention the civil organizations, endowments, which all helped the jewish community here. They even had an own newspaper called „Szombat” which means Sabbath or Saturday in hungarian.

The community which had a rich past and a prosperous present didnt know they wont have any future. When the World War II reached the town they were forced into ghettos, then almost 2000 of them were taken into work and deathcamps, and were massacred with utmost cruelty. Only 136 of them ever returned...

© 2010-12. Kertész István Alapítvány