JEWISH MONUMENTS IN ZEMPLÉN
Tolcsva

JEWISH MONUMENTS IN ZEMPLÉN
Tolcsva

Tolcsva is one of the villages in the Tokaj-Hegyalja region, which preserves the intellectual and architectural characteristics shaped centuries ago by viticulture and wine trade. The region’s wine cellars, press houses, manor houses, and lords’ castles, endow the locality with rich architectural values.

The first nationwide Jewish census – ordered for tax purposes – was conducted in 1726. Seven Jewish families were recorded in the population census. In 1736, Tolcsva had the highest number of Jews in all of Zemplén County: 14 families (43 individuals), all heads of households born in Poland. Documents mention the operation of a Jewish burial society (chevra kadisha) as early as 1770, and indicate the community’s growth with 102 Jews living in 45 families. By 1811, the Jewish community numbered 353 people, maintaining its countrywide lead in this respect. The occupational distribution included traders, craftsmen, barkeepers, and tenants who leased certain rights from landlords and nobles (regalia rights related to running taverns, operating slaughterhouses, and rights to distill brandy and beer) to secure their livelihoods. Initially, tenancy was the only option for livelihood, and settling was only possible if the landlord provided such opportunities in exchange for compensation. By 1880, almost a third of the population in Tolcsva was Jewish, with the orthodox community counting 860 members. During World War I, 42 Jewish individuals from the town participated in the war, and seven of them died in battle.

Several rabbis played a role in the spiritual and intellectual life of the Tolcsva Jewish community. Rabbi Glück Ábrahám Izsák, characterized by modesty and seclusion, held this position for half a century, from 1859 until his death in 1909. He was instrumental in establishing and operating the yeshiva (Jewish religious school), dedicating all his time and knowledge to this institution and to writing.

Tolcsva’s last rabbi was Ákivá Kornitzer (1909-1944), who actively contributed to interfaith dialogue. In October of 1938, he even met with Prince Primate Jusztinián Serédi. As one of the few Christian leaders who spoke out against the first anti-Jewish law in 1938, Serédi played a significant role in saving the lives of Polish-Jewish refugees by placing them in monasteries in 1939. He openly defied the far-right Arrow Cross Party, and staying true to his stance, did not attend the inauguration of Hungarian fascist dictator, Ferenc Szálasi.

Despite these efforts, the murder of the local Jews, including Rabbi Ákivá Kornitzer’s, could not be avoided. Neither was the internment of so-called “stateless” Jewish refugees who sought asylum in Tolcsva in 1941, or the murders in Kamianets-Podilskyi. The Jewish community at the time counted 2,700 members.

A few years later, after Hungary’s 1944 German occupation, Hungarian Jews were deported. The younger male members of the community had already been conscripted into forced, so-called “labour service,” so mainly women, children, and the elderly remained in Tolcsva. The Hungarian authorities collaborating with the German Nazis rounded up nearly three hundred Tolcsva Jews in the synagogue and surrounding buildings, transporting them first to the Sátoraljaújhely ghetto, and then to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Only around forty survived the death camps. Similarly to many Hungarian rural communities, Tolcsva Jews tried to reorganize their community, but their success was short-lived. By the mid-1950s, as a result of the emigration wave surrounding the 1956 revolution, the once prosperous Tolcsva Jewish community ceased to exist.

PHOTOS:

1. Coloured glass window of a veranda, with sukkah on a private house seen from the court yard. The moving element can be lifted and secured with iron rods. Tolcsva, 1985.
2. Private house with mikve, Tolcsva, 1985.
3. Glazed tile pool of the mikve (serving as a coal dump at the time of the photo), Tolcsva, 1985.

Tolcsva Synagogue
(Tolcsva, Szabadság tér 8. – the building no longer exists)

The first prayer house in the village fell victim to a fire, and in its ruins, the synagogue was built in 1865. However, this monumental building was demolished in the mid-20th century. Only postcards and old photos preserve the memory of the former rose windowed structure.

PHOTOS:

1. “Tolcsva, the synagogue building and its interior, before 1944.”
2. Andrew Hegedűs’s photo of the Tolcsva synagogue

The Jewish cemetery in Tolcsva
(Tolcsva, Arany János utca 4.)

The cemetery is available to the public to this day. It is home to the tombstone of Rabbi Ábrahám Glück, who led the Tolcsva Jewish community for half a century.

PHOTOS:

1., 2., 3., 4., 5., 6.: Tombstones in the Tolcsva Jewish cemetery.

Former Jewish School
(Tolcsva, Kossuth út 37.)

A plaque commemorates the former Jewish elementary school. In 1871, Fischl Rosenveld established a foundation for the preservation of his family’s memory, focusing primarily on his father, Bernát. According to the Hebrew-Hungarian inscription, the building once offered Torah and Hebrew language learning in what was a free educational institution. In local historic records, the school is referred to as Efrájim Háza (House of Ephraim), as Fischl is a nickname for Ephriam. Today, the building continues to serve as an educational institution, housing the Tolcsva Elementary School.

From Fried to Fox

Born as Vilmos Fried in 1879 in Tolcsva at Petőfi Street 10 was the man later to be known as William Fox (1879-1952) in the Hollywood film industry. He arrived in the current headquarters of American film production in 1911 and made history by initiating the era of talking films. His name still adorns one of the biggest American film studios, 20th Century Fox, which he founded. The renovation of his former home (Tolcsva, Petőfi u. 10) is in its planning phase, with an intention to establish a memorial house.