Memorialization of the Holocaust in Transylvania During the Early Post-War Period

Zoltán Tibori-Szabó. Journal of Southeast European & Black Sea Studies. Volume 17, Issue 2. June 2017.

Details of the fate of the Jewish community in Northern Transylvania, under Hungarian state administration after 1940, were of common knowledge already by the last months of the Second World War. Consequently, wide circles of the local population could have been familiar with its nature and events. However, only the top members of the political and church elites were aware about the tragedy of the Transylvanian Jews after their deportation. Between 1945 and 1949, the Transylvanian media presented several times the most important facts of the horrors of the Holocaust. Simultaneously, the surviving members of the annihilated Northern Transylvanian Jewish communities did everything in their power to immortalize the memory of the tragedy in literary and art works. During the decades of communist consolidation, when all areas of social life, the facts of the Holocaust included, fell under the reign of silence, these early creations of Holocaust memorialization played an important role in keeping the memory of the genocide alive and constantly directing the attention of young generations upon the sinister legacy of Nazism and fascism.

Historical Context

The Second Vienna Award of 30 August 1940 divided Transylvania into two parts: the northern part came back under Hungarian rule, while its southern area remained part of Romania. The number of people persecuted for their Jewish origin between 1938 and 1944 rose in Northern Transylvania to 164,000 (Tibori Szabó), while in Southern Transylvania it was around 42,000. Between 1940 and 1942, Hungarian authorities deported the Jews of Northern Transylvania to Galicia and Podolia in today’s Ukraine, and then the bulk of the community to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the German occupied Poland, during May and June 1944. The forced labour programmes started in 1942 further increased the number of the victims. The community lost more than 125,000 of its members. Jews from Southern Transylvania also faced deportations. In 1942, Romanian authorities sent many of them to Transnistria. Very few made it back to their homeland. According to statistics provided by press reports immediately after the WWII, the number of victims was around one thousand. (S.K.) (Szabadság)

The Christian population of Northern Transylvania was fully informed about the anti-Jewish measures adopted by the Hungarian authorities, and directly witnessed the economic despoliation, ghettoization and deportation of the Jewish community. (Nagyi) Although starting with May 1944, members of the Hungarian elites were in the possession of the Auschwitz Reports, having full knowledge of the realities of the Nazi Final Solution programme (Tibori Szabó), the population of the region and the local press was unaware of the fact that the deported Jewry ended up in death camps. Nor did the leaders of the Jewish survivors’ organizations know about the scale of the deaths.

During the May and June 1944 period, the Transylvanian newspapers recorded the progressive humiliation and material exploitation of the Jewish community, and the pace of their concentration in ghettoes. Even though Transylvanian newspapers did mention anti-Jewish measures and the ghettoization, they mentioned nothing about the facts and directions of deportation. While trains deported several thousand Jewish people on a daily basis from Northern Transylvania to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Transylvanian media was busy dissecting the ‘damaging economic activity’ of Jewish communities, presenting confiscated Jewish objects of value, and finally yet importantly revelling in the fierce fight over sequestered Jewish wealth. In the meantime, an entire campaign was unleashed against those who tried to rescue objects of Jewish property.

The Soviet and Romanian armies gradually conquered Northern Transylvania in September and October 1944. By 25 October Transylvanian territories transferred to Hungary by the Second Vienna Award were all under Soviet and Romanian occupation. After the liberation of the region, Social Democratic and Communist forces established new media entities that immediately effected inquiries into the actual events related to Northern Transylvanian Jewry, in spring and early summer 1944. It turned out that except for those involved, neither the population, nor the mostly left-wing correspondents of new media outlets, nor Jews recently returned from forced labour camps knew anything precise about the fate of the Jewish communities deported from Northern Transylvania.

Memorialization by Press Articles

The earliest Transylvanian writings of Holocaust memorialization took into account the types of information Transylvanian society had access to concerning the fate of deported Jewish communities. Obviously, the first part of the memorialization process was carried out by the press, which was the quickest and most effective way during that period. Survivors started to publish their own accounts and to memorialize the tragedy through literary and art works only after the clarification of the realities of the death camps.

Articles on the life of Jews before deportation published in Transylvanian newspapers after the passing of the front were dealing above all with the events that had determined the fate of these communities in the spring of 1944. Northern Transylvanian newspapers reported on the tragedy of the Northern Transylvanian Jewry beginning with November 5, 1944, nevertheless they had no information whatsoever on what happened to the deported in German concentration camps. Béla László published a sequence of three articles in the Cluj daily newspaper Világosság on what occurred six months earlier, between April and June, in Northern Transylvania, focusing, logically, on the events in Cluj. (László) According to these articles aiming at the written memorialization of the Jewish tragedy, the author had no idea that in Germany, Jewish people ended up in actual death camps; consequently, he did not know that the majority of the deported would never return. His unawareness might be excused considering the fact that the proportions of the losses were also unknown to the leaders of the Democratic Jewish People’s Community (by its original Hungarian name: Demokratikus Zsidó Népközösség, DZSN) established in October 1944, whom he interviewed.

This is also understandable, as most of the leaders of the DZSN returned to Northern Transylvania after having escaped from forced labour camps and following the liberation of the territory by the Red Army, knowing close to nothing about why and where had the Hungarian and German authorities deported their family members and friends. It also turned out that Hungarian police forces possessed a few pieces of classified information on the concentration of Northern Transylvanian Jewry into ghettoes and their deportation to Germany, yet not even these forces were entirely familiar with the actual aim of the deportation. In the third part of his investigative report, the journalist Béla László writes as follows:

‘After it became known in initiated police circles that Jewry will be removed from the city and transported to an unknown destination, detectives showed up at the headquarter of the Jewish Community, and confiscated the 49,200 Pengős mutual fund. At the same time, they summoned the members of the Jewish Council, and all of them ended up in internment camps. By this, the Jewish society of Cluj definitively collapsed. The deportation of the Jews in Germany has begun.’ (László)

The process of deportations, the objective behind it and the fate singled out for the deported were nevertheless known to certain circles in Transylvania. Already in spring 1944, the leaders of Christian churches received the main data of the Auschwitz Reports. In his speech delivered on May 18, 1944, and in his subsequent letters addressed to local and central leaders of the Hungarian Government a few days later, the Roman Catholic bishop of Alba Iulia, Áron Márton had clearly referred to the fact that the deported were to face death. Members of the political elite and Christian church leaders in general had also known about the fate of the deported Jewry, yet nobody had mentioned this in public discourse. The horrors that took place in Auschwitz-Birkenau and in other German death and concentration camps became facts of common knowledge only when the first groups of survivors returned and started to tell their stories, within the limits set by the physical and psychological traumas they had experienced. Nevertheless, even the most well-intended authorities found these stories hard to believe or much rather: unbelievable.

The Transylvanian public received direct information on death camps and the events that had occurred there only three months after the publication of the articles of Béla László. On 20 February 1945, the first small group of Jewish survivors of German death camps in occupied Poland (Bernát Hersch, Adolf József and Mihály Preisler; having been deported from Bistrița and Reghin) reached Cluj in passing, and they gave an interview on their experiences to Lászlóné Ferencz née Ilona Jagamas, journalist of the newspaper Világosság. According to their declaration, the deportation trains took them to Birkenau, where they had all been selected: healthy, fit for work adults into one group, sent to the right, and others into another, sent to the left. The returnees did not know for certain what had happened to those sent to the left. They had nevertheless mentioned how ‘the chimneys of crematoria kept fumigating day and night’ and that ‘the smell of burnt meat and bones lingered on for weeks’. Survivors also told the reporter: ‘we don’t know who had been killed’. (Jagamas)

The text reflects the inability of the reporter to interpret the received information: she does not inquire into the details. This must not, however, overshadow her professional tenure and honesty (Tibori Szabó, 132), while it also should be noted that on the day of her taking the said interview, the paper published a call signed by DZSN, in which the Jewish organization presented the objectives of the movement initiated for ‘the return of those deported from Northern Transylvania’. As the organization expected Moscow to deliver help in bringing the deported home, it urged its members to support the Communist Party, the National Democratic Front (Hungarian name: Országos Demokrata Arcvonal, ODA) and the Red Army, arguing that ‘the sooner this war ends, the faster will our deported family members return to us’. (Világosság)

On the other hand, the DZSN had earlier demanded the governments of the Allied forces ‘to put pressure upon Bucharest so that the Romanian government would request by radio message the return of the Jewish people exiled to Germany’. Moreover, in case of a negative answer, Romania should ‘initiate arrests and processes of internment against Saxon and Schwab minorities in Romania, until the initial goal is reached’. (László) The tragedy became known in a slow pace, and even though the Transylvanian Hungarian media had at times tackled the atrocities committed by the forces of public order of the Horthy regime, these writings did not succeed in clearly presenting the facts and had most often failed to mention the sufferings of the Jews.

During the time of the Holocaust, the population in the region knew very little about the tragedy that befell the Jewish communities in Southern Transylvania. The first reports on the events in Southern Transylvania published in Transylvanian newspapers presented the sad outcome of deportations effected in 1942. The Timișoara daily newspaper Szabad Szó published a summary of events on November 16, 1944. According to this article, in autumn 1942, the Romanian authorities had deported 800 Jewish men, women and children from the Banat region, 25 among them from Timișoara. They took the deported to Mostovoi in Transnistria, where ‘German colonists, Ukrainian policemen and Romanian gendarmes’ killed most of them and ‘burnt the bodies of their victims in lime kilns’. Only two persons from among the people deported from Timișoara returned. (S.K.)

The story seemed unreal to most contemporaries, while a significant part of Romanian historians and the authorities still question the facts of deportations from Southern Transylvania. Almost a year later, the Arad daily Szabadság confirmed the fearful stories of Mostovoi and Transnistria. According to the newspaper, during the summer of 1942, ‘several thousand’ people from Arad were deported to Transnistria, people who had previously turned from Jewish to other (Christian) religions, who were members of left-wing movements or who simply ‘wished to obtain a passport to Russia’, the only accessible route towards America in those times. The Romanian authorities had punished the members of the first group of Hungarian Jewish people for choosing the Calvinist or Lutheran rather than the Romanian Orthodox denomination instead of their former religion.

However, it all first happened as Romania began to deport Jewish people to Transnistria in 1941, and general Ion Antonescu intended to get rid of all the ethnic minorities in the country. Those deported from Arad were taken to Tiraspol, then some to Berezovka and others to Mostovoi. According to the paper, only a few escaped the hands of the German and Romanian army and police, to survive the horrors and return home to Arad. (Szabadság) We know it from other sources that people from Arad were also taken to Vapniarka, and the fate of Jewish people deported from other Southern Transylvanian settlements to Transnistria is also known.

Further details of the tragedy were revealed as the number of returning survivors increased and the media kept publishing reports. The Cluj People’s Tribunal, established by the beginning of June 1945, and with an authority ranging over the entire territory of Transylvania, played an important role in making information public. Several details of the fate of Northern Transylvanian Jewry were cleared during the ‘ghetto trial’ conducted at this court (Ádám; Világosság; Igazság), with a verdict reached in May 1946.

Memorialization by Literary Works

Nevertheless, no work assessing the actual proportions and horrors of the tragedy was published right away. Even though interviews with returning deportees were published in a modest volume in the early autumn of 1945, a book that is a bibliophile rarity by now (Somos), the first Transylvanian work of literary ambition in the field came out in November 1945, from the Minerva Publishing House of Cluj. This is the book Füst (Smoke) by Ottó Kornis (Kornis), in which the lawyer and journalist, deported together with his family from Cluj, declares: the matter of deportation and death camps cannot be explained.

‘Because there is no philosopher in a position to explain why and how young children should end up thrown into the fire, children whose clear souls can even adopt the rites of hate, children who could have been turned into fascists for instance by someone not simply cruel but also rational.’ (Kornis 5)

He considered that survivors managed to escape owing to hundreds and hundreds of blind coincidences, without ever being able to understand why they were the ones to escape the flames of crematoria, to endure the unending sessions of hunger, to survive the poisonous bite of infected lice. In addition, he continues in a manner much resembling the future writings of the well-known survivor of the Holocaust in Hungary, Imre Kertész, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002:

‘These are our questions. Because we are the deported ones. We have our own specific thoughts, sustained by our own specific memories and we often find ourselves gazing into something with eyes wide open, being mesmerized by the rare possibility of going on with our lives. Because we are and will forever remain—the deported ones.’ (Kornis, 5)

Ottó Kornis, born in Cluj, and 33 years old in the moment of his deportation, was crammed into a cattle wagon with 72 other people in Cluj, and only four persons from among them survived the hell of death camps. In his work, he preserves the memory of those with whom he left Cluj, he describes the forced and awkward goodbye he said to his parents on the Birkenau ramp, and gradually presents the devilish system of humiliation developed by the Nazis in order to make prisoners voluntarily give up whatever was left of their human dignity. He did not hold a grudge because of his suffering, and he did not waste his waning powers building castles of sand or conjuring up magnificent projects for his life after an eventual escape. He accepted his fate without resistance, trying to survive even the most difficult situations. He did have his share of hardship: after Auschwitz, he was taken to Brieg, to Gross-Rosen, and finally to Langenbielau, where he was set free at the end of the war. Yet he was not overwhelmed with happiness.

‘The boys laughed. I am not laughing along. What is this unpleasant feeling inside me? I close my eyes and hold my fellow prisoners tightly. It seems to me I am standing again beside the Auschwitz tracks on that rainy morning a year ago, I can see my mother standing in a line, moving to the left in her black overcoat, I can see her grave face as she is nodding towards me, I can feel the warmth of my father’s hands as we are saying goodbye, when our hands part for him to move to the left and for me to move to the right, and I can still see the immense cloud of smoke in the sky, the smoke as it spreads across the entire horizon above the concentration camp, as it spreads across our entire past and future, to cast its dark shadow upon our entire life.’ (Kornis, 151)

Kornis might not have known then, how little he had to live. After his return, he wrote articles in the Cluj social democrat newspaper Erdély, and, after May 1946, he was a journalist for the Cluj Jewish weekly Egység. His name appears among the authors of the Jewish Calendar for 1946–1947, published by the weekly Egység. He then left Cluj for Satu Mare, and finally moved to Budapest. He is buried there, in the Kozma street Jewish cemetery. He died in 1949, aged 38. Four years prior to his death, Ottó Kornis enriched Transylvanian Hungarian literature with the first literary description of the Holocaust. His work was nevertheless buried too, without the critical reflection it deserved.

Almost simultaneously with the volume by Kornis, a book by Anna Hegedűsné Molnár was published in Arad, in 1945, with the title Miért? Egy deportált nő élményei a sárga csillagtól a vörös csillagig (Why? Experiences of a deported woman from the yellow star to the red star). The book presents the experiences of the author deported from Szatmár County (Northern Transylvania) to Auschwitz and various other Nazi concentration camps. (Hegedűsné Molnár) A year later, still in Arad, the memoirs of Dóra Ferencz are published, with records by the author deported from Cluj of events passed in concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Helmstedt, Magdeburg, Stutthof and Thorn. (Ferencz)

The earliest literary creations of Holocaust memorialization in Oradea are published by József Gréda, in his book of poetry Fogózz a semmibe (Cling to Nothing). This volume calls attention to traumas suffered by survivors of Nazi camps and to possible consequences:

‘Not even a photograph has survived! The whirling wind
took all the sweet, beloved faces away,
and you are staring at the empty walls with nothing to say,
without having been born and having known a mother,
you are now dead and mourning for another.
Beware, poor thing and cling to nothing,
to the silky memory of pictures, words, perfumes,
heart, learn to endure, brain, learn to bruise:
if memories of lost trifles cause no pain,
you are nothing and everything is vain.’ (Gréda)

Another significant early literary memorialization work of the era is the reportage novel published by lawyer and journalist Béla Katona in 1946, in Oradea: Várad a viharban (Nagyvárad under Storm). (Katona) Journalist Béla Zsolt—who spent some time in the Oradea ghetto, and escaped with the Kasztner group, a group transported by the SS to Switzerland for a consistent ransom—signs the preface to the book. He expresses his thanks to the author in the name of Hungarian literature and journalism, ‘in the name of the dead and of those living for the memory of the dead’, for memorializing in his book ‘all those who were left even without a mass grave, but who will always float across the European sky as low-lying clouds, until the carpets of heaven will tear to let the light of the Last Judgment shine through’. As the author of the preface states, ‘there is nothing left of Oradea, the easy city of István Tisza, the Western city of Endre Ady, the city of our youth, ambitions, loves, joy and happiness—it is all gone’. (Katona, 5)

Béla Katona continues the thoughts of his friend and colleague, Béla Zsolt. He presents the history of his city beginning with the year 1732, when the first Jewish community of the settlement is formed, through the best years of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and on to the Holocaust. He sees clearly how ‘even though there were thunders and lightings’, the Jews of Oradea gathered under the shelter of law and social conventions. However, theirs was not a time of miracles: the community was washed away by ‘the darkest of storms in history’ which ‘ripped out family trees and destroyed cottages and palaces built of vain wishes, high hopes and ambitious plans’. In his book, Béla Katona mourns for the lost community, for the ‘faded morals’ of his city, dedicating his volume to posterity. He is aware of the surprisingly fast recovery of humanity after the annihilation of six million Jews.

‘Contaminated souls were only partially healed. The poison is active again. (…) The souls of six million departed people are knocking on closed doors. The Jewish issue is more acute than ever,’ he wrote. (Katona, 357, 358)

Béla Katona died in 1948, two years after the publication of his book. He had committed suicide. He was 57 years old. The same year was published in Oradea the nowadays-famous book by Dr Miklós Nyiszli, DrMengele boncoló orvosa voltam az auschwitzi krematóriumban (I Was Doctor Mengele’s Pathologist in the Auschwitz Crematoria). (Nyiszli) Even though some of the author’s colleagues, also deported to Auschwitz, while recognizing the documentary value of the book, were of the opinion that Nyiszli ‘wrote a little bit more than he had actually dissected’, the international success of the book made Auschwitz and Mengele known in Transylvania, too. After Jean-Paul Sartre had certain fragments of the book translated into French and had published them in his political, literary and philosophical review Les Temps modernes in 1951, Nyiszli’s book became a popular document of international literature on concentration camps. (Nyiszli) By the time of their Western publication, doctor Nyiszli’s records were criticized from a historical stance, to which at present criticism from an ethical dimension is added. (Turda)

The fourth significant volume is published in 1947, in Târgu Mureș. The author is Dr Mór Berner, born in 1902, deported with his wife, four years his junior, and their two daughters, 12 and 9 years of age. Óh, kiválasztott népem! (O, My Chosen People!)—this is the title of the book, presenting the ghettoization, the deportation to death camps and the annihilation of the Jews of Târgu Mureș. (Berner) The same year appeared, in Cluj, at the Minerva Publishing House Menekülés (Escape), a novel by Dénes Kertész, a narrative about a deported girl. (Kertész)

In Southern Transylvania, the Timișoara journalist Sándor Grosz and his labour camp colleague, László Fenyves described the inhumane conditions in various Romanian forced labour camps in a book published in 1944. (Grosz and Fenyves) László Ernyes, also from Timișoara, published his poems on labour camps by the beginning of 1945. He dedicated his poems to those who suffered ‘in labour camps in the valleys of rivers Olt, Timiș, Siret and Danube’. (Ernyes) The mentioned press articles and volumes published on the topic had gradually offered an insight to the Transylvanian public into the nature and proportions of the tragedy suffered by the Jewish communities.

Memorialization by Monuments and Memorials

Harold Marcuse stated that while the Holocaust has been widely represented in a variety of media, from autobiographical and scholarly books to literature, photography, and film as well as to art, music and museums, in the beginning it was only ‘commemorated in monuments and memorials’. (Marcuse, 53) On the other hand, according to Brian Ott, while monuments serve many important social functions, they often ‘relieve us of our memory-burden, our social responsibility to engage in memory-work’. Ott argues that memory-work ‘is not merely about remembering and forgetting, it is about connecting memory to ongoing events, to the self in contemporary society, to social conscience’. (Ott)

Both affirmations are valid for the case of Transylvania in the early post-war period. Immediately after WWII, Northern Transylvanian Holocaust survivors started to construct monuments to memorialize the victims of the tragedy, members of their families and communities. In the meantime, the Communist regime had no intentions to memorialize anything else than the persecution of the Communists and of a few democrats who were opponents and/or victims of fascist and/or Nazi regimes. It was primarily interested in constructing a competition of the memories. Consequently, until the collapse of the regime, the monuments and memorials erected in this early phase of the transition to Communism will remain the only signs reminding of the tragic events and the only places to mourn the murdered Jews.

The memorialization process that started in Transylvania with journalistic and literary works has been completed with a series of memorials and monuments erected by survivors mostly in Northern Transylvanian Jewish cemeteries, but also in a few public squares, in memory of those who perished. All these monuments were designed, financed and erected by the Jewish survivors and their organizations. The first monuments were erected in the Orthodox cemetery in Cluj, in the Satu Mare cemetery, in the Status Quo Ante cemetery in Târgu Mureș and in the Jewish cemetery in Cristuru Secuiesc.

In 1949, five years before the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague did the same, survivors from the Northern Transylvanian town of Gheorgheni placed marble plates on the inner wall of their synagogue with the names of 894 local victims of the Holocaust (Erős and Erős, 130-140).

A monument was erected in Oradea in 1946, next to the great synagogue, in memory of the Holocaust victims. The memorial constructed in the Jewish orthodox cemetery in Satu Mare commemorates all the victims of the community, similar to the memorial monument erected in the Status Quo Ante cemetery in Târgu Mureș.

The first and most beautiful public memorial monument in Transylvania was erected in the city of Dej,right in the middle of the square in front of the local Orthodox synagogue. It is probably one of the earliest, if not the first public Holocaust memorials of Europe.

According to Marcus, the initial stage of Holocaust memorialization is represented by three monuments: one created in the Majdanek concentration camp in 1943, one conceived for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, even as the rebellion was happening, and one proposed for New York City in 1944. However, the Majdanek monument was erected with the approval of the camp administrators, because they saw the ‘Three Eagles’ as a Nazi symbol, the Warsaw monument was constructed in 1948, while the New York monument was accomplished only in the 1990s. (Marcuse, 55, 56)

The Dej monument was unveiled on 11 June 1947. The statue is the work of the Târgu Mureș sculptor Márton Izsák, a survivor of forced labour camps, who had lost his mother and 25 relatives in the death camps. The artist elaborated two plans for the city of Dej. The one of the more complex compositions was erected in Dej in 1947, the other in Târgu Mureș, 56 years later, in the year 2003. The plaster model created for the latter is preserved in the chapel of the Târgu Mureș Status Quo Ante cemetery.

Márton Izsák was born in Gălăuțaș, a son to Jakab Izsák and Vilma Friedmann. His father returned from the First World War with silver and golden medals for bravery, which should have secured the immunity of the family in the face of the anti-Jewish laws of the Second World War, but the authorities chose to disregard the medals. The family home in Gălăuțaș burnt down by the end of WW1, thus the family moved to Târgu Mureș and opened a grocery there. The boy’s teachers have singled out his talent for sculpture at an early age, and encouraged him to become a student of the Budapest School of Applied Arts. He studied sculpture there from 1929 to 1933, with professors Lajos Mátrai and Imre Simay. His statue, Young Sportsman, erected in the park of the Budapest University of Physical Education in 1935 is still standing. By this time, Izsák had returned to Târgu Mureș, where he opened his own studio and lived on commissions. For a period, he shared his studio with Olivér Pittner, one of the rebellious young artists of the Baia Mare art colony. He presented his works in personal exhibitions in 1936 and in 1937. (Murádin, 7-11) At present he is among the most famous sculptors of Târgu Mureș, his most popular work is the group of statues in front of the Farkas Bolyai High School, The Two Bolyais, which he elaborated in cooperation with István Csorvássy.

Izsák received the Dej commission in 1946 from Zoltán Singer, president of the Democratic Jewish People’s Community in Dej, who obtained official authorizations and the necessary funds for elaborating and erecting the statue. Endre Antalffy, orientalist, linguist and literateur, wrote about the Statue of Pain, erected in June 1947 in Dej, in the Cluj Jewish weekly Egység:

‘The main figure of the group is a young man of intellectual complexion, stooped under a bundle. On his right stands a female figure, holding her baby in her arms. On his left, an elderly woman expresses her distress with arms raised above her head. A little girl, lagging behind the group with her own bundle, looks back with wide-open eyes to the empty home and her childhood left behind. The drama of a family, pain and terror concentrated into a single moment.’ (Antalffy)

This is how members of the Jewish community in Dej must have left their homes in May 1944, when they were constrained to move to the Bungur Forest on the outskirts of the city, to live under the open sky. In fact, the plinth is not worthy of the statue. The black marble plate on it nevertheless displays a well-chosen quote from prophet Jeremiah:

‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me …?’ (Vadász)

The other version, The Victims of Fascism, was displayed in Târgu Mures in 2003, a year before the artist passed away. The monument stands in a small square of the former Jewish quarters, in Kossuth Street. After the death of the sculptor, the plaster model of the sculpture was moved from his studio to the chapel of the local status quo ante cemetery. After having visited the studio of the artist in 1960, the renowned Bucharest aesthete, Anna Halász, described the sculpture: ‘This monumental sculpture encompasses the persecuted family into a single huge block of plane surfaces, from which only the forms of faces and hands stand out in a sharp manner’. (Halász)


Immediately after WWII, Transylvanian survivors of the Holocaust tried to memorialize the tragedy of their Jewish communities as soon as possible, in a series of journalistic, literary and art works. They published articles, books and erected memorials and monuments. These later played an important role, because after 1949, following the consolidation of the Communist rule, long years of silence began, when the regime did not allow public commemorations and did not encourage any other kind of memorialization initiatives.

The purpose of the earliest journalistic and literary works presenting the fate of the Transylvanian Jewry was mainly to inform the Romanian, Hungarian and German Christian communities living in the region about the consequences of the fascist and Nazi ideologies. They also aimed at publicizing the facts and preserving the historical record of the tragedy that befell the Transylvanian Jewish community. Romanian authorities of the time did not oppose the appearance of such press articles and literary works. Usually, these works were seen as appropriate tools for unmasking the abominable crimes of the fascist and Nazi regimes.

The decision of the Northern Transylvanian survivors of the tragedy to commemorate their beloved victims by erecting monuments immediately after the war was also significant in shaping the collective memory of the Holocaust in the region. Especially because between the consolidation of the Communist regime by the beginning of the 1950s and its collapse in 1989, the Romanian state focused only on commemorating the fascist and Nazi persecution of the Communists. Consequently, during Communism only these early monuments memorialized the victims and the facts of the Holocaust and reminded the general public of the unimaginable tragedy of the Jewry. After the fall of Communism these monuments also were a reminder of the necessity of noteworthy shifts in the public memory. Moreover, the early—1945–1949—Transylvanian creations of Holocaust memorialization have greatly contributed to keeping the awareness of the horrors committed against Jewish communities alive, pointing as well as the attention of young generations to the matter. They have actually never ceased fulfilling their initial function.