Yad Vashem cannot revive what is lost, but it can help restore its memory. In a new initiative on the Yad Vashem website, the Holocaust Memorial authority is 'bringing back to life' Jewish communities that were destroyed, exhibiting them as they were before the Holocaust.
The latest community on exhibit is Munkacs (pronounced Munkatch), a Jewish community that was the seat of the Munkacs Hassidic dynasty which still lives on today in such places as Boro Park, Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Monsey (all in New York).
Dana Porath, Director of the Internet Department of Yad Vashem, explained the project to Israel National News:
"We gathered [information] from all of Yad Vashem's collections, documents, and photos, and we contacted survivor groups for their stories. Our objective was to create a virtual home such that others can learn and discover what happened to these communities.
"We are trying to weave all these elements together in an experiential context in order to tell a story, a tapestry of memory. These communities were full of a whole, rich life. Here we can breathe life into a community that is gone. We want people to understand what life was like there. We try to tell this story through all these means."
The Story Begins (courtesy of the Yad Vashem website):
Jews Arrive in Munkacs:
Following the Chmielnicki Pogroms, a few Jews immigrated from Galicia and Ukraine to the area, initiating the Jewish community in Munkács and its peripheries. A certificate from 1649 attests to a Jew leasing property in Munkács, thereby achieving permission to settle in the area. For the next forty years, the Jews of Munkács leased licenses from the authorities for selling liquor, meat, candles and soap, and for grinding produce and transporting wood to the port of Danzig.
Substantial Jewish settlement in Munkács began at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1718, there were five Jewish homes – 25 Jews – among them a shochet (ritual slaughterer). In 1741, the Jewish community was established in the area, numbering some 80 souls. That same year, the first synagogue of the town was also established.Gradually, Munkács became world renowned for its rabbis, dayanim and roshei yeshiva, dedicated to the Torah and yeshiva world.
Mukacs at its Zenith:
On the eve of the Holocaust, Munkács (Mukačevo) was the largest and most important Jewish community in Subcarpathian Rus', Czechoslovakia. It was an Eastern European thriving community, known for its religious fervor, as well as substantial Zionist activities. In the final population census before the German invasion, conducted in January 1941, Munkács was noted to have 13,488 Jewish residents, some 42.7% of the total population of the town.
The War Begins:
On November 10, 1938, the Hungarian army entered Munkács. The Jews of the town blessed the return of Hungarian rule, but their optimism was soon brought to an end. The Hungarian authorities persecuted the Jews from the beginning of their annexation of the town. Jews fell victim to physical violence, abuse and robbery. The authorities harassed Zionist groups, limited the Jews' economic activities, and recruited many men for forced labor in the Hungarian army.
On March 19, 1944, the German army invaded Hungary and four weeks later, the concentration of Jews began. Jews from Munkács were forced into two ghettos, and those from the surrounding areas were assembled at two brick factories on the outskirts of town. On May 11, 1944 the deportations to Auschwitz began, and on May 23, the last deportation train left Munkács.
The Munkacs exhibition includes more details on the story of the Jews of Munkacs as well as several photographs of community members before the War.
Other communities exhibited on the Yad Vashem's website are Monastir, a Sephardic community in Macedonia; Trzebinia, Poland, which is 19 km from Auschwitz; and Wolbrom, Poland, whose small community was destroyed during a period of only 24 hours.
Click here to visit the Munkacs exhibition on Yad Vashem's website.