Monday, 7 October 2019

The Jewish Community of Tapolca

After visiting Budapest for a few days, we chose to spend the second half of our holiday in the small town of Tapolca in western Hungary so that we could enjoy some of the Balaton countryside. My choice was based on the accommodation I found but incredibly, once we arrived in the town, I discovered that it had once been a Yiddish-speaking hub and home to a small Jewish community. I spotted a synagogue marked on the town map, which I of course had to find and, in the meantime began to do some reading.
I soon found out that the first Jewish families were permitted to settle in Tapolca in the middle of the 18th century, on the condition that they would not have children. Because of the hostility of the townsmen, most Jews lived in villages but, with the removal of the restrictions on them residing in the towns, settlement in Tapolca grew in the middle of the 19th century and the Jewish community organised itself. The majority of the Jews made a living from selling wines and allied products and, eventually, most of the businesses and industries in the town were in Jewish hands.
In 1840 the community formed a chevra kadisha, which is an organisation of Jewish men and women who see to it that the bodies of deceased Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish tradition. The community also established charitable institutions, a school which opened in 1855 and a synagogue in 1863.
In 1868, as a result of differences of opinion between the Haredim (Orthodox) and Maskilim (moderates) at the Jewish Congress, the community affiliated with the Neolog (Reform) movement, which advocated integration into Hungarian society and changes in the religious way of life.
It was the 1863 synagogue, above, which I had seen on the map of the town and which we subsequently found. The synagogue's inauguration ceremony took place on 13th September 1863 and in 1905 it was renovated, serving the Jewish community of Tapolca until the town's Jewish population was transported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. The building became abandoned in the following two decades. In the 1970s it was transformed completely by a local industrial firm. The main body of the synagogue was converted to the performance hall of the Tamási Áron Cultural Centre and only the western facade remained more or less in the same state as it had been earlier.
In World War I, 29 Jewish men from the town were killed in action on various fronts. During the period of the "White Terror"  (pogroms instigated against Jews and radicals in the period 1919-21, which were implemented by right wing military elements, after the collapse of the communist regime), some Jews were held in the Zalaegerszeg concentration camp. 17 others were murdered by gangs who came to the town, and stones were thrown at the synagogue.
In 1930 there were 706 Jewish people living in Tapolca.
In 1939, following the publication of "Discriminatory Laws" which aimed at limiting Jewish participation in economic and cultural fields, the licences of Jews dealing in wine were cancelled. Only thanks to Christian friends, who put their names to Jewish businesses, were the Jews saved from total economic collapse.
In 1940, Jewish labour battalions were brought to Tapolca. These workers were conscripted to work on fortifications, together with other Hungarian citizens whom the authorities would not permit to join the armed forces. They worked on the local airfield.
On 17th May 1944, after the German occupation of the town, the Jews were confined to the ghetto which was erected in the area of the synagogue. Today, signs on two buildings, above, mark where the entrance was. The wealthy Jews were tortured by the Germans in order to discover the hiding places of their valuables. On 18th June the Jews were sent to the Zalaegerszeg concentration camp. and the following day they were transported to Auschwitz. The Jewish labour battalions remained in the town at the time of the expulsion.
After the war sixty survivors returned to Tapolca. With the help of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee they renewed communal life there, renovated the synagogue and cemetery and erected a memorial to the martyrs. However, they slowly began to leave the town, with some coming to live in Israel and others migrating to Budapest. To the best of my knowledge, there are no Jews living in Tapolca today.
My interest in this lost community was piqued and I wanted to know more. We talked to the guy at the local tourist office who told us about visitors to the town who arrive there to find out about their parents' and grandparents' roots. He then directed us to yet another synagogue, which I had not known about. I had great trouble finding it but, with the help of Google Maps, came across a small stone building which looked nothing like a synagogue from the outside. Until recently it was being used as a pub.
Mister Handmade in Israel and I were snooping around the building when I saw someone watching us. We quickly made our introductions and upon hearing that we were visiting from Israel, our "guide", Imre Attila Neszler, was happy to open up the building for us.
It turned out that this building was the first synagogue in Tapolca, used between 1813-1863. Imre, who owns the synagogue and whose project this turned out to be, has carefully overseen the renovation of it and proudly showed us the place where the Torah scrolls were kept and the location of the mikveh. When he has sufficient funding, he plans to make this into a small Jewish museum commemorating the community of Tapolca.
Another gentleman involved in the project, László Hangodi, has written a book about the Jewish community of Tapolca and Imre very kindly gave me a copy, albeit in Hungarian.
If any of my readers have any contacts who could help Imre and László move the project forward, I would love to hear from you!

26 comments:

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Such a sad history but we should never forget. I can understand why no one wanted to remain in the old community after the war. Too painful #MMBC

Anne said...

What a really interesting post, there is so much to learn. I will admit that it pains me to learn of how badly the Jews were treated in the past, but I pray that one day there will be peace for all. You were lucky to find that guide, and for him to give you his book.
#mmbc

VeggieMummy said...

What a tragic past. I'm so glad that you managed to uncover all the history. Fingers crossed that your guide manages to raise the money for the museum. xx

Phil Slade said...

That is a terribly sad story. Unfortunately,there is still much evil in the world directed at Jewish people. i wonder if we ever learn from history? It seems not.

A Bit of the Blarney said...

Thank you for this post. There is so much I do not know about Jewish communities and their histories. This is very sad. Wishing you well!

Shiju Sugunan said...

Interesting details!

Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid said...

What an adventure and what a heartbreaking history the Jews of Tapioca have. High five to Lazlo for all his hard work and keeping the spirit and history of the community alive.

judee said...

such an interesting post with a very sad history. I love visiting old synagogues in our travels, but unfortunately we find that many are not in use and most of the Jews have fled the area. Just returned from Tangier, Morocco where we visited the old Jewish quarter. Our tour guide explained that the Jews lived in ghetto conditions in Tangier but had tow or three synagogues- almost all Jews have left Tangier. Thanks for all the history of Tapioca.

NCSue said...

The synagogue is so beautiful - a wonderful worship space - such a shame that the history of the Jewish community here (and so many other places) is such a heart-breaking one.
Thank you for sharing at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2019/10/shades-of-yelllow.html

Powell River Books said...

Jewish people have had so many difficulties throughout history. - Margy

Cloudia said...

Thanks for sharing more of my own roots with me! Following your blog now. As we say in Hawaii: Shaloha

Denyse Whelan. said...

An important post. We do need to keep the stories alive. We live in Australia and sometimes feel cut off from history like this.

Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek. Next week the optional prompt is 41/51 "Your Choice of Prompt" 14/10/19. Hope to see you there, Denyse.

betty-NZ said...

Wow. This is so awesome that you found so much history in this place. I have to admit that, mostly, I don't read long blog posts, but yours always intrigue me, as I am interested in the history and the Jewish past that you uncover in your wanderings.

Thanks for being a part of 'My Corner of the World' this week!

My Corner of the World

Sharon said...

What a fascinating town -- and you didn't even know it would have all this history. Wow! I would love to visit this "lost" settlement of Jews. It's sad, but I think we should all know more about these small towns that were once thriving. Never forget.

Morgan Prince said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story with #PoCoLo. It's such an interesting read of a very sad past. I hope you manage to find someone to help the restoration. x

little orange dog said...

Beautiful photos of a place with such a sad history. Thank you so much for sharing it with us all x

#PoCoLo

Rhonda Albom said...

That's a fascinating history of this town's Jewish population. It is unfortunate that it was never resettled after the war but it is good to see that some are there to keep the memory and history alive.

Denise Lindsay said...

This was such an interesting read and it must have been fascinating for you to find out about the first synagogue that you never knew about. I find it really hard to imagine why people can be so cruel to others. All through history Jews have been treated very badly and to think that a whole community were rounded up and taken to Auschwitz is just heartbreaking. I can understand why the survivors didn’t want to live there on their return. #MMBC

Esther said...

This is such an interesting read! What a coincidence that you ended up there. Thank you for sharing this information, it should never be forgotten.
#FeetDoTravel

Jim said...

Great post.

Jayne said...

What an interesting read but so very heartbreaking at the same time. It must have felt quite surreal to discover the first synagogue. I hope the project goes well. x

Tom said...

...a painful period of history which must not be forgotten.

Billy Blue Eyes said...

The endured hardship and came through.

junieper/jesh said...

Not good for the town, but it seemed that after the Nazi occupation Jews in many cities moved to a more neutral living spot, or went to Israel. The town certainly had a Jewish history. Do you or your hubby have a nose for that? Also, it seems that the Nazi ideology was not so uplifting after all, torturing people to get hold of their riches:( Am glad that at least in Israel that will not happen. Many thanks for educating us at All Seasons about this, Lisa! Have a lovely week:)

Corey | Fifi + Hop said...

Wow, such an interesting story! While tragic, I love the positive ending. Everyone deserves to be commemorated, and it's crazy to think that an entire town was lost. Thanks for linking up this fascinating post with #farawayfiles

tapolcai értékmegőrző egyesület said...

Dear Lisa,
Thank you very much for this post, it is really great! My friend, László Hangodi historian and I, the owner of the old synagogue do everything for this building will be renovated. Currently the construction works are taking place amount of 20000 $, what I am financing. Unfortunately, the state and the jewish church does not helped for us. But You can help us, if You take with them our name to the world. As we know, somebody does not has similar initiative in Hungary.
Last month, we could presented the synagogue to 120 curious tourists, and we have further 150 people who are waiting based on registration. Beside the renovation we think keeping of generous jews’ memories are very important, because after the terrible period the jewish community disappeared in Tapolca. We work that people meet with this names.
We wait everyone with pleasure, from Israel and US or around the world, who want to dating with the story of the jewish community of Tapolca.
Best regards,
Imre Attila Neszler, the owner of the old synagogue,
László Hangodi historian,
and Tamás, the english language guide

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