The History of the Munkács Community Before the Holocaust
The Interwar Period
In 1921, some 10,000 Jews lived in Munkács – half the town's total population. The center of Jewish life was Latorica Street, also known as "Jews' Street." Many Jews lived in the streets and alleys near Latorica Street, in greatly overcrowded conditions. In the interwar period, the Jewish community of Munkács began to expand its geographical and cultural boundaries and become exposed to the modern, diverse world outside. Jewish life in Munkács bubbled between two opposing camps: on the one hand, extreme Hasidim led by Rabbi Elazar Shapira, and on the other, the Hebrew Gymnasium and the Jews that had abandoned all their religious obligations. Nevertheless, Munkács Jews from all colors of the political rainbow were involved in the Jewish life of the town: right-wing Zionist groups, worker and socialist anti-Zionist organizations, communists and anti-Zionist religious groups.
Munkács boasted many Hasidic courts. The largest among them were the Munkács Hasidim (Hasidim of Rabbi Shapira), the Belz Hasidim and the Spinka Hasidim. There were also Wisnicz and Satmar Hasidim. Alongside the Hasidic courts were those of the Misnagdim, Neologists and members of other streams of Judaism. Not only did the Hasidim and Misnagdim fight with each other, but there was also infighting within each sect.
Immediately following WWI, the first Zionist Association was set up in Munkács. Religious Zionists, Mizrachi members, stayed close to their Jewish tradition, but did not accept the authority of the Hasidic and extreme Jewish leaders. Zionist youth movements, including Beitar and Hashomer Hatzair, set up branches across the town.
The Jewish community of Munkács fell into bankruptcy more than once during the interwar period because of their rapidly declining economic situation. Income came from the "Gabla" (Gabala Gelt) – money for kosher meat and slaughtering services. The community also received a small allowance from the authorities. Other sources of revenue were payments for using the mikvaot (ritual baths), selling seats in the synagogue, donations made in lieu of aliyot letorah (being called up to bless the Torah during the reading of the weekly portion) and donations from the more well-off members of the community. Alongside the community's institutions, many Jewish volunteer organizations were active in the town, both religious and secular, providing health and nursing assistance. The Joint helped the Jews of Subcarpathian Rus' after WWI and during the 1930s when hunger was rampant, and supported these organizations. Their center of operation for the whole of Subcarpathian Rus' was in Munkács.
The Munkács community also established and ran Jewish educational institutions, including local Jewish elementary schools that ran alongside the heders and yeshivas. In 1922, Rabbi Shapira established the Darkei Teshuva yeshiva, which became the epitome of Torah learning across Subcarpathian Rus'. The Joint set up a number of vocational schools for young boys, as well as schools for girls to learn housekeeping. The Hebrew Gymnasium, established in 1924, became renowned across Czechoslovakia. Nonetheless, most of the Jewish children and youth in Munkács did not study in the Hebrew Gymnasium or other Jewish institutions, but in Czech schools instead.
Jewish libraries were found in the batei midrash and yeshivot. The largest beit midrash held some 6,000 books. The municipal library had a Jewish department, with Hebrew and Yiddish titles. Munkács also published Jewish newspapers written in Yiddish, which predominantly dealt with the Jewish politics of the town. Alongside reports of local disagreements within the community, the newspapers printed stories from Eretz Israel and the Jewish world at large. With the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany, many also reported on the sufferings of the Jews there.
The community ran extracurricular classes for Jewish study, in which sermons and lectures were given on Jewish topics. Among the important political visitors to Munkács were Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin and Berl Katznelson. The Csilag ("Star") coffee shop was the meeting place for the town's intelligentsia, as well as the site for parties and public events.