Zionist Movements in Munkács in the Interwar Period
Members of "Hechalutz Hatzair" of the "Palzan" regiment. Members of the pioneering youth movements in Munkács operated in training groups across Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
"The young pioneer gave a home to the homeless youth, planted seeds of brotherhood in the wasteland of the villages, raised a warm sun over the gloomy mountains and awoke a yearning of the soul: aliya".
(Menachem Oren, Encyclopedia Shel Galuyot, [Hebrew], p. 344)
Before WWI, only a few Zionists lived in Munkács. By the end of the war, outside influences had penetrated Jewish life in the surrounding Subcarpathian Rus'. Jewish soldiers returning from Russian imprisonment came into contact with Zionist activists, became influenced by them, and refused to return to their previous way of life. Contact with Jews across Czechoslovakia strengthened, and the Jews of Subcarpathian Rus' were exposed to the modern world.
The first Zionist organization established in Munkács was Hatchiya, attracting many of the most important and influential people of the community. The organization set up Hebrew courses in Subcarpathian Rus' – activities managed also by female Zionists – and later Jewish schools. In 1920, the "Union of Hebrew Schools in Subcarpathian Rus'" was established, and the same year a Hebrew elementary school was set up in Munkács with 45 first-grade students. In the 1923/4 school year, 200 students learned at the school, with three male teachers and one female teacher. The crowning jewel of the Zionist educational activity was the establishment of the Munkács Hebrew Gymnasium (school), which opened its doors in the 1924 under the management of Dr. Chaim Kugel.
The main activities were organized by the youth movements and Zionist political parties – and sometimes the former preceded the latter. Many Zionist movements were active in Munkács, including Hechalutz, which began to operate in Czechoslovakia in 1920 and sent emissaries to Munkács.
In approximately 1920, the Mizrachi movement was established in the town, and a year later the Tzeirei Mizrachi movement. Other Zionist youth movements operating in Munkács were Hechalutz Hatzair, Bnei Akiva, Tchelet-Lavan (Blau-Weiss) and Hanoar Hatzioni, as well as Beitar and Hashomer Hatzair. A scout movement, unrelated to Zionism, also operated in the town. The town had other Zionist bodies, national funds such as the JNF and WIZO, and more.
The Zionist movements, especially the religious ones such as Mizrachi, were the subject of frequent attacks from the fervent Orthodox public that followed its anti-Zionist rabbis and admorim. Agudath Yisroel, despite being anti-Zionist, was pursued for its support of immigration to and settlement in Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).
In addition to attacks from outside, the Zionist movements in the town suffered many internal disputes. Sectarianism between the different streams and the limited options for immigrating to Eretz Israel gradually eroded their lively activities. Youths from religious homes found it difficult to acclimate to communal living during their Zionist training. The Communist party offered an alternative to the strains of poverty and depravation, which also undermined the Zionist movement.
In 1938, with the absorption of Subcarpathian Rus' into Hungary, the Zionist movements broke up and their activities went underground. In 1940 they were outlawed completely. For the remainder of the war, members of the pioneering youth movements were active in the rescue and escape lines from Hungary.