The History of the Munkács Community Before the Holocaust
Under Austro-Hungarian Rule
The Jewish Center of the Region
With the first division of Poland in 1772, Galicia was annexed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Consequently, Jews from Galicia began to arrive in Munkács in search of a better livelihood. This immigration continued until WWI, leaving its mark on the Jewish communities of Subcarpathian Rus'. The first rabbis in Subcarpathian Rus' were from Galicia.
At the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, Munkács developed to become the center of Jewish life of the entire Bereg district, in no small part due to the activities of the community rabbis.
In 1856, according to Hungarian data, over 2,100 Jews lived in Munkács, and its community also included Jews from nearby villages. In the same period, the community operated a hevra kedisha (burial society), established in 1814, a hospital with permanent doctors and pharmacists, a charity, established in 1846, and a "Poalei Tzedek" Association, established in 1840 to provide loans to tradesmen. The chairmen, treasurers and internal auditors of these associations worked voluntarily, and were elected on a yearly basis. Women worked in societies that gave aid to orphans, widows and the infirm.
Each year, the community would choose, with the permission of the czar, a leader and members of its committee, cantors and janitors, ritual slaughterers, a beadle and a scribe. The chief rabbi, dayan (rabbinical court judge) and doctor were elected to permanent positions. A small number of Jews, mostly the wealthy, had voting privileges. In 1900, for example, of the 6,576 Jews of the city, only 550 could vote. In the 1840s, a Jewish hospital was founded in the town, and by 1871 there were five Jewish doctors working there. In 1903, that number had increased to eight. In 1871, Rabbi Pinchas Blayer established the towns' first Jewish printing house. Blayer's Printing House became the center of Hebrew publishing throughout Hungary. Shimon Nomis, owner of a publications trading house in the town, brought out a catalogue of Hebrew books. By 1907, there were five Jewish printing houses operating in the town.
In 1867, the Jews of Hungary, including those of Subcarpathian Rus', were granted equal rights. However, the municipal and regional institutions continued to restrict the efforts of Jews in the area in affairs of taxation and business permits.
In the 1880s, the Jewish community of Munkács numbered some 4,000, and in 1900 the number of Jews in the town reached 6,567. This led to increased participation by the Jews in the town's economy. Jews worked in wholesale and small business commerce, and dealt in wood, foodstuffs and textiles, furniture, household and sewing items, tobacco, gunpowder, hunting equipment and more. There were also factory owners, and some who made a living from agriculture. Jews also dealt in financial trades such as loan and savings funds, and the first banks in the town were established by, or with the help of, Jews. Of the 169 shareholders of the National Bank of Munkács – Munkácsi Népbank – in 1873 there were many Jews (about 115), among them prominent personalities in the local community.
The Jewish educational institutions were hederim and yeshivot – for boys only. Sanitation in many of the hederim was substandard, and they were managed by educators with only a religious educational background. Secular and Jewish Reform education came to Munkács, but they were vigorously opposed by the rabbis of the community, who feared the children would attend local schools and become influenced by the Enlightenment. Worse still, the studies at these institutions were also held on Sabbath and Jewish Holidays. The rabbis thus endeavored to keep the children in exclusively Torah institutions. However, despite their protests, in 1866 a Jewish school that provided a general education was established in Munkács, with three classrooms. Wealthy families could thus ensure their children a general education from private teachers.