Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jews of Munkacs

I became responsible for selecting books to buy for the Holocaust Centre library. We have a fair selection of books, and some irreplaceable old books published soon after the Second World War, but our library is under used. We should make these books available through the library system to readers and scholars wherever they are in New Zealand, but the challenge of doing this proved so far too hard. Now Yad Vashem published a new book, Days of Ruin: The Jews of Munkacs during the Holocaust, by Raz Segal. Would we be justified in getting it? The story of the fate of the Jews of Munkacs sheds interesting light on the understanding of the Holocaust. Though Munkacs was an isolated town in the Sub-Carpathian border region between Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, where the borders kept shifting, the its hasidic Jewish community was renowned throughout the orthodox Jewish world. Jews were materially poor in an impoverished backward, underdeveloped part of Europe, but they had an amazingly rich Hasidic cultural tradition that made a great impact on current hasidism. Munkacs was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War. After that it was incorporated into the newly established Czechoslovakia. In 1938 it was annexed by Hungary. Had this not happened the Jews of Munkacs, part of Slovakia after the Czechoslovakia was dismembered, would have been among the first victims of the Holocaust. As it was, as part of Hungary, they were safe until the German occupation in 1944. At first they welcomed their incorporation in Hungary, but they faced increasing antisemitic legislation and restrictions on their livelihood. Jewish men were conscripted into the Jewish unarmed military labour force, but this in many cases saved them from deportation and enabled them to survive. Some could take the opportunity to emigrate. Thus the Munkacs hasidic court survived in Brooklyn, New York. To understand the Holocaust, it is important to consider the shifting borders of Eastern Europe and the accident of being on one side or the other of these borders. If we bought the book on the Jews of Munkacs who would read it? Who would care? On the other hand ours might be the only copy of the book in New Zealand. Perhaps there is someone out there interested in this remote border land of Europe who might want to read about it. Would it shed light on the conflicts in the region?