The Munkács Ghetto

The first ghettos to be established in the occupied areas of Hungary were in Subcarpathian Rus'. The initial deportation orders came from the German authorities, and the Hungarian government activated its police forces to carry them out. According to the original plan, the ghettoization of Subcarpathian Rus' was to be completed by 6 April 1944, but the date was postponed because the Hungarian army claimed that too fast a process would complicate its operations in the region.

A Hungarian gendarme checks a woman entering the Munkács ghetto

A Hungarian gendarme checks a woman entering the Munkács ghetto.

In the first half of April, staff at the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior, SS officers, gendarmes and police officers met to discuss the fate of Hungarian Jewry. They decided to purify the area of Jews, and detailed how they would achieve this aim: concentration of Jews, robbery of their belongings, and deportation outside of Hungarian borders. László Baky, Hungarian Deputy Minister of the Interior in the political department, summed up the meeting of 4 April in a detailed document. On 15 April, a discussion was held in Munkács in the presence of Dieter Wislieceny, one of Adolf Eichmann's men, on the ghettoization of the Jews of the town. Eichmann himself came to visit the Munkács ghetto at the end of April, accompanied by László Endre, Hungarian Deputy Minister of the Interior in the organization department.

Immediately following Passover, on 18 April, the Judenrat publicized a Hungarian flyer in the streets of Munkács about the forced entrance of the Jewish population into the ghetto. A few sections of the city were desginated for the Jews of the town. They were allowed to take only a few items into the ghetto: two sets of clothing, folding beds, food, and a further load of up to 50 kg. Jews were ordered to lock their apartments and put their keys in an envelope on which they were to write their old address and their new address in the ghetto. They gave the envelopes to the Judenrat. The empty apartments were plundered the day the Jews were expelled. When representatives of the authorities came a month later to create a list of the houses' contents, they found most of them stripped bare.

In just two days the transfer of all of Munkács Jewry to the ghetto was completed, except for a few dozen "privileged" Jews – those who had been awarded medals of valor for their service in the Hungarian army during WWI. Latorica Street was turned into the ghetto, with the main street dividing the ghetto into two. Later, the area of the ghetto was decreased. Jews lived in terrible conditions of poverty, and suffered from cruelty, daily abuse and forced labor in the town.

"When the order first went out to evacuate the streets and establish the ghetto – the Jews were ordered to build their own gated fences and walls around the ghetto, so that no Jew could leave. 300 young people were chosen to tear down the fences between the houses, gather planks of wood into one place and then build the enclosing walls from them. The ghetto turned into one big courtyard".
(Eliyahu Rubin, Munkács ad Auschwitz, [Hebrew], p. 23)

On the first Shabbat after the Jews entered the ghetto, many hundreds were taken and ordered to destroy the town's synagogues.

"We woke up one Shabbat morning, and saw armed Hungarian soldiers standing next to every gate of the courtyard. Anyone leaving their house for Shabbat prayers was diverted by the solders to one of the synagogues in the town. I was directed to the great Beit Midrash […] we were urgently shouted at, under the threat of guns, to destroy the furniture in the Beit Midrash. A distinguished Jew, a 70-year-old man called Rabbi Yaakov […] dared to challenge one of the human-animals about his lack of politeness towards us. He was immediately punished severely […] the brother of one of my friends tried to escape by jumping down to the courtyard […] he was shot to death by one of the SS men who emptied a whole cartridge into his body".
(Avraham Zin, Lech Lecha, [Hebrew], p. 62)

The ghetto's internal affairs were handled by members of the Judenrat. These men lived with their families in a special quarter of the ghetto, where the Jewish hospital was located. Most of the Munkács Judenrat had been leaders of the community before the Germans arrived, and the decisive majority fulfilled their difficult roles while endeavoring to maintain their responsibilities towards the community. The occupation authorities kept them in their positions until the end of the deportations, and then deported them as well. The chairman of the Judenrat was Shandor Steiner, and its members were Siegelstein, Oszkár Klein, Ferenc Áron, János Morvai and Mendel Eisenstätter.