Dan-Ionuţ Julean. East European Jewish Affairs. Volume 42, Issue 2. August 2012.
Oradea, once possessing the most active and important Jewish community in Hungary (the biggest in number, after Budapest), and then in Romania, is nowadays a true, silent witness of the immense impact of Jewish culture, in almost all aspects of society, and especially architecture. There is an important Jewish legacy to protect and to pass on to the heirs, in memory, of those approximately 25,000 Jews from Oradea who were exterminated in Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944. The article highlights the history and heritage of the Oradea Jews, from the beginning to the present day.
In his study on The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture, Fredric Bedoire includes the city of Oradea, Romania alongside more prominent “Jewish” centres, such as Łódź, New York and Chicago. He asserts that Oradea “is perhaps the clearest European instance of the Jewish urban culture that flourished for more than 200 years down to the Second World War.” Even today, Oradea remains one of Romania’s most significant Jewish communities, together with Bucharest, Ias¸i and Cluj. It is well organised, with strong international connections and a high desire for rebirth, and is open to new opportunities and achievements. The community has institutions that take care of the elderly, and is engaged in educating and inspiring children and the young. It also proactively memorialises those murdered in the Holocaust. There is a real endeavour to respect and preserve Jewish Law and tradition—gratefully safekeeping and wisely using the legacy inherited from the community’s ambitious and notable ancestors.
This study considers aspects of Oradea’s built heritage left behind by those notable and ambitious ancestors who played a major role in its architectural development and construction. Given its geographical position and varied national experiences (before 1918, it was located in the Hungarian domains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the city was subject to an array of cultural influences, which were reflected in its architecture and built heritage. As Philip Bohlman has observed, “as a border city with cosmopolitan flair and extensive railroad connections, Großwardein [the German name for Oradea] flourished because of its cultural diversity and became one of the metropolises in which Jews from both East and West encountered each other.” It was, in fact, a city sited at the “juncture of many nations.” As a city with cosmopolitan flair, Oradea had a large Jewish community, who gained great importance in its economic and social life. This was, in turn, reflected in the city’s built heritage, and its most spectacular buildings, constructed during the Belle Époque, had Jewish owners, who were tradesmen, industrialists, bankers, entrepreneurs and intellectuals.
This study examines a representative sample of Oradea’s Jewish built heritage. It will consider both religious and secular buildings constructed by Jewish architects, engineers and builders. It will also look at buildings that were erected specifically for Jewish owners, as well as other forms of built heritage, such as cemeteries, and evidence of the Jewish contribution to aspects of the city’s cultural, intellectual and industrial life.
The Jews of Oradea: Historical Context
The municipality of Oradea (Hungarian, Nagyvárad; German, Großwardein; Hebrew, אדרואה), capital city of Bihor county (Romanian, judeţul Bihor), located on the banks of the Cris¸ul Repede river, in modern northwest Romania, has a rich history, with millennial tradition. Archaeological discoveries prove the existence of human habitation and continuity in the settlement on the Cris¸ul Repede since the Neolithic age. Materials and documents attest to the specific characteristics of the Dacian, Daco-Roman, pre-feudal and feudal periods. Excavations in the 1960s brought to light traces of a Romanian or Romanian–Slavic settlement in the city, dating from the ninth and tenth centuries, along with a cemetery. The vicissitudes of history have not been kind to the city and, as a consequence, the existing built heritage of Oradea preserves very few ancient monuments. One exception is the Oradea Fortress, which is mentioned in some medieval literary sources. The testimony of the monk Rogerius, for example, found in Carmen Miserabile, describes the strong fortress destroyed during the Tatar–Mongol Invasion in 1241. Fortifications on the left bank of the Cris¸ul Repede date from the sixteenth century, when the pentagonal fort, with a precinct and five bastions, was built. After renovations undertaken in the eighteenth century, it was enlarged and adapted in the Vauban style, which has been preserved until today.
From the sixteenth century onwards, the city witnessed various occupations and fell under Ottoman influence. Following the Battle of Mohács (1526), and the establishment of the Pashalik of Buda (1541), Oradea became a strong military centre of the Principality of Transylvania, fulfilling a very important role in the defensive system of the Partium, even housing the princely residence. In 1660, Oradea fell to Ottoman occupation, which continued until the defeat of the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna (1693). After the Peace of Carlowitz (1699), which concluded the Austro-Ottoman War, sovereignty over the principality returned to Vienna. After 1700, the city underwent an architectural revival, and Baroque made its mark with several new and important buildings. In the nineteenth century, the settlement greatly prospered, especially culturally and politically, and it occupied an important role during the 1848 Revolutions. The Austro-Hungarian Dualism era was the apogee of Oradea’s urban development. From the mid-nineteenth century, the city’s economic and cultural prosperity grew. Industry and trade blossomed, public utilities and urban planning measures were implemented, and the city became the focus of architectural change from renowned architects and builders. Its cultural advance was marked by the growth of newspapers, magazines, educational institutions and a thriving intellectual life among its scientists, actors, writers, poets, artists and artisans. Naturally, the city’s Jewish population played a great role in these developments. Before the First World War, “trade in Oradea reached a level … that few cities in the province could covet … The measurement [i.e. comparative] unit was the capital [Budapest] and achieving its level set for them as a model [ideal].”
Following the First World War, Oradea continued to be an important commercial and industrial centre, though, as with other Transylvanian cities, it was now a part of Greater Romania. The Romanian state strongly supported the development of the city as a centre for Romanian culture, and encouraged liberal views towards national minorities, too. Yet another change in fortunes occurred during the Second World War, when the city fell under military occupation by the Hungarian fascist Horthy regime in September 1940. This lasted until October 1944, during which the second-largest Jewish ghetto, after Budapest, was established in Oradea in the Oras¸ul Nou area (Hungarian, Új Város; German, Neustadt; English, New Town), located around the Great Orthodox Synagogue, the Emilia steam mill and the Moskovits distillery. Nearly all 27,000 Jews from Oradea and its surroundings were deported and exterminated in May 1944. Since then, Holocaust survivors have undertaken an extremely long and difficult journey towards recovering and preserving the memory of Oradea’s once thriving Jewish community.
The Oradea Jewish Community
Although the exact date of the settlement of Jews in Oradea is unknown, the existence of the fortress and the maintenance needs of the garrison stationed there constitute major factors in prefiguring the Jewish settlement, which developed and flourished faster than anywhere else in the region. At the end of the eighteenth century, Jews were involved in trade, manufacturing and alcohol distillation as well as money-lending and exchange. Oradea’s Chevra Kadisha (“holy society”—burial society) was founded in 1735, but the city’s first synagogue was only built in 1803, and the first Jewish school opened in 1839. In the early nineteenth century, Jews were legally proscribed from undertaking any kind of trade inside the city, and, in addition, a curfew obliged Jews to withdraw at night to their quarter, the Subcetate (Hungarian, Katoná város).
Lajos Lakos has shown that, although Jews were not allowed to own land or buildings in Oradea or Olosig (a village nearby), in 1783 they were permitted by Colonel György Roth, then commander of the fortress, to settle in the Subcetate area of the city. For decades, only Jews lived here, where they developed “a completely independent communal life.” Only in a later period did Christians settle in Subcetate. Nevertheless, Jews managed to maintain their autonomy, including judicial independence, even when the Christian community (comunitas) tried to force them, through various lawsuits, to pay general taxes, from which they were hitherto exempt. It was, in fact, a fierce battle against assimilation.
In 1835, Jews obtained permission to live freely and to settle anywhere in the city, but the real emancipation happened only after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. In the nineteenth century, the Jewish population was religiously divided into two congregations, Orthodox and Reformed (Neolog). Oradea Jews gained prestige in public life and, undoubtedly contributed to the economic and cultural life development of the town. In early twentieth-century Oradea, Jews were usually artisans, farmers, merchants, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors or pharmacists, and occupied leading official positions in the judicial and administrative systems. Besides the Chevra Kadisha, other specific Jewish institutions functioned in Oradea by the late nineteenth century: a hospital, a women’s association, a grammar school, an industrial school for girls and boys, a traditional high-level school yeshiva, a canteen and the like. The first Jewish public schools were opened in Oradea in the early nineteenth century. Both the Orthodox (founded in 1888) and the Neolog (founded in 1920) high schools continued their activities until the Holocaust.
Despite the fact that, at first, they were accepted into wider society in Oradea only with difficulty, Jews still expressed their “generosity” towards those who
offered to them hospitality … and have greatly contributed to the economic and cultural city development, outlining the general image of the town. Banks were created, to provide loans to traders, craftsmen and landlords, allowing the possibility of establishing new industrial and commercial investments. The favourable geographical location of the town, the selfless work led to the transformation of Oradea in an important commercial centre. Both in the country and abroad Jewish family relations, as well as direct contacts with foreign companies determined the development of vast import–export business. They have filled the world map from Italy to South America, from Austria to England, from the Balkans to Asia Minor and even China … they provided work and food to many people.
After 1860, Neolog Jews with progressive views sought to win the sympathy of the Hungarian nobility, showing an anti-German attitude, while the Orthodox, traditionally orientated, were regarded with hostility by Hungarian society. These tensions relaxed when the Orthodox finally accepted usage of the Hungarian language. A third group was formed in 1883, from the Orthodox circles, the so-called “Status quo ante,” though it only survived for three years. According to popular memory, there were 29 synagogues and prayer houses operating in Oradea at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, however, there remains just a single functional synagogue.
Between 1850 and 1930, the growth in the Jewish community of Oradea grew in line with the city’s prosperity. In the late nineteenth century, of approximately 40,000 inhabitants, about 10,000 were Jews. In the early twentieth century, among around 50,000 inhabitants, a quarter were Jews. In 1920, the city had 68,000 inhabitants, of whom 17,800 were Jews. Towards the end of the Second World War, in 1944, before deportation was implemented, Jews formed between 25 and 30 per cent of the city’s population, of about 90,000 inhabitants. The war witnessed the extermination of almost the entire Jewish population, though a few survived. After 1945, a small new community of about 2000 Jews formed. In the 1970s, three synagogues were functional and there was a kosher restaurant, too. However, the 1992 census recorded just 284 Jews and today the community has about 200 active members.
Oradea’s Jewish Legacy
During the early decades of the nineteenth century, Oradea was affected by several natural disasters. In 1836, a great fire destroyed the Oras¸ul Nou and Subcetate area. “The Soldiers City and the surroundings of the Great Market Square were burnt,” so that “the part on the left bank of the Cris¸ had to be rebuilt almost entirely.” In 1851, the Cris¸ul Repede overflowed and severely flooded the lower parts of Orașul Nou and Olosig. Despite the enormous damage, the prosperity of the city permitted reconstruction. Therefore, the Orașul Nou district (Hungarian, Újváros; German, Neustadt) was built over the old ruins. Thus, it became the real city centre. The Great Square was surrounded by the City Hall, the main churches, typical palace-like elegant apartment buildings with shops, cafes and restaurants on the ground floor, and various public institutions, urban facilities and monuments. The wealthiest Jews with important social positions took up residence by buying or building property in the Orașul Nou, and it thus, became primarily a Jewish district, though it also housed a sizeable Calvinist congregation.
Oradea’s locus at the confluence of many nations and ethnicities, as discussed by Bohlman, was reflected in many aspects of the city’s culture, such as people’s names, place names, the names of shops and cafeterias, popular books and magazines, various cultural trends and aspects of daily life. Oradea’s fascination with its multiple identities is well illustrated in a popular song from the late nineteenth century, “Nach Großwardein!” (To Oradea!), written by Anton Groiss, with musical arrangement by Hermann Rosenzweig. It was a familiar song on the late nineteenth-century Jewish stage, in both Central and Eastern Europe. Bohlman believes the song presents Oradea as “a land where the traveller experiences Eastern Jewry at its most extreme but also at its most humorous”:
A city in the Land of the Hungarians—doi deridi ridi ridi roidoi,
Is for a certain reason well known—doi deridi …
Because the most beautiful girls live there –
And all of them can dance a czardas,
God, how nice –
[doi dideridi …]
We’ll go there full of joy –
Men from far and wide –
Aron Hirsch and Isaac Veitel—doi dideridi …
Moishe Baer and Natsi Teitel –
And the whole “Beggars” Society –
Take a trip—to Großwardein.
Kobi Gigerl in his finery –
Wants to go along on the trip –
Because a new surcharge has been placed on that stretch –
So, the trip is the best way to show off these days –
[doi dideridi …]
One sees a fancy carriage –
And our folks are sitting in it –
There’s a little city here in Hungary –
Where all the prettiest girls live –
All the men are young and handsome –
Take a trip—to Großwardein.
When it’s market day in Großwardein –
One sees the Jews, tall and short –
Merchants, beggars, and hawkers with their goods –
Little thieves and all sorts of ruffians –
[doi dideridi …]
All of them look forward –
To making some profit on the train –
Kobi Giberl, who’s totally broke –
Wants to see all the young brides –
And he thinks he can manage it –
Take a trip—to Großwardein.
The lyrics, in undisguised manner, easily capture the disposition of Oradea’s society at the turn of the twentieth century. The words express the Jews’ faith in a good life in this city, as in a promised land of all sorts of accomplishments (but most of them joys of a lazy easy-going existence). It seems to be an objective exposé of a Jewish creed, like “ubi bene ibi patria,” but expressed more directly and in the simplest way. It concerns only the desire for well-being, without any subsidiary meanings regarding matters of patriotism.
Doubtlessly, the same observations could be made about other cities, such as Timis¸oara or Arad, situated in the west of Transylvania, which mark, for sure, the link between West and East). In light of Bohlman’s remark and metaphor, the song depicts Oradea with a very Orientalist ambition, involving a lot of symbolism regarding the possible overlapping between the geographical East and “the East of Jerusalem.” The score’s original title page suggested this, too. It showed a silhouette of the city, surrounded by a somewhat Oriental landscape, implying that facing East (as ritually required) in Oradea (like the target point of a journey—a promised land of blessings) meant an accentuated proximity to Jerusalem. Consequently, for the Jews, Oradea is associated with the idea of wealth, social fulfilment, a joyful and blessed life—an achieved goal, a place of stability and happiness, in the generation’s long journey home—a step towards Zion.
Oradea’s Built Heritage
Mircea Moldovan has shown that when they were no longer forced to live in Oradea’s peripheries Jews “could give vent to their desires and fantasy, exploring other domains (in this case aesthetics) besides the study of the holy books.” In the late nineteenth century, they developed
a real “appetite” for architecture … featuring Oradea as a centre of creative effervescence. The work that was undertaken was of a quality that justifies calling it “a true late nineteenth century Jewish Florence”, revealing its affinity towards Art Nouveau and the profound European attitude … of the maecenates [patrons] (mostly Jewish) and the Jewish artists, engineers and architects. They were all together, artisans of a modern, model new city.
Moldovan lists the names of the most important Jewish architects and builders who made remarkable contributions to the enrichment of the Oradea’s built heritage. These included the following architects: the Vágó brothers (József and László), Marcell Komor and Dezső Jakab, Nándor Bach, József Reisinger, Géza Márkus, Vilmos Rendes, József Guttman, Frigyes Spiegel and Ferenc Löbl. Some of these men worked in other cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Vienna and Budapest. Among builders were Lipót Incze, Lajos Incze, Gold & Co., Miksa Schiffer, Izsó Rosenberg, Rosental and Kraus, and Weiszlovich. Moldovan also details that Jews were “the great patrons of Oradea’s urban planning,” being instrumental in constructing the city’s most representative buildings. These men were Adorján, Bleyer, Brüll, Deutsch, Erkler, Frienfeld, Füchsl, Goldstein, Grünfeld, Guttmann, Konrád, Moskovits, Okányi, Roth, Schwartz, Sonnenfeld, Stern, Ullmann and Weiszlovits.
Until the end of the nineteenth century, the centre of Orthodox Jewish life remained in Subcetate, the part of the city truly founded by the Jews. One could find there “the two great synagogues, the Jewish hospital, the ritual bath and other religious buildings.” By the 1890s, there was a shift and Oras¸ul Nou, a part of the city that was in the process of being extensively rebuilt, became the new centre of interest for the Jewish population. Thus, new communal buildings appeared. These included the Great Synagogue, community offices, schools, official houses and ritual buildings such as the abattoir, the bakery for preparing Jewish bread and matzo, and a mikva (ritual bath). They were all grouped around the Great Market Square, on adjoining streets, which connected it to the area near Cuza Vodă and Mihail Kogălniceanu Streets. The chief rabbi continued to live in Subcetate, where the yeshiva functioned, too.
The Great Market Square (Hungarian, Nagyvásártér), nowadays 1 Decembrie 1918 Square, represented the centre of the old Subcetate “town,” located between the Cris¸ul Repede and Peţa. The area had non ædificandi status, which forbade new construction, because of its proximity to the fortress. Beyond its western limit, represented by the crossroad with Vasile Alecsandri Street, Oras¸ul Nou “town” developed, becoming, through its importance, the real urban centre of the new unified city of Oradea Mare (Greater Oradea). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Great Market functioned as the commercial centre of the town and also the centre of the Jewish population. Its urban development was perfected only at the beginning of the twentieth century, of course with substantial Jewish contribution.
One of the most direct aspects of Jewish influence on Oradea’s architectural heritage could be found in its religious buildings. The big Neoclassical and Eclectic style houses did not reflect any Jewish specificity, which was rather represented by the 12 functional synagogues.
The two Jewish communities in Oradea, Neolog and Orthodox, were perennially disputatious about synagogues. Following the Jewish Congress of 1868, the Neologs decided to construct their own independent synagogue. At first, they rented a prayer house, but in 1878 they built their own temple, the Zion Synagogue/Temple (Romanian, Sinagoga/Templul Sion; Hungarian, Zion zsinagóga/neológ Ción templom), at 22 Independenţei Street. It was a monumental building (with about 1000 seats; reminiscent of the Nuremberg Synagogue in Germany), designed by Dávid Busch, the chief engineer of the city, and built by Kálmán Rimanóczy, Snr, an architect and entrepreneur from Oradea. It was inspirationally located on the Cris¸ul Repede embankment (see front cover illustration), which has resulted in it becoming an eternal symbol of the city. Its architectural significance is particularly enhanced by its huge dome, originally painted red. Its sober façades contrasted with the style and scale of the interior decoration. Today, the synagogue no longer functions.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the size of the Orthodox community had grown, sufficient for them to need to build a new synagogue, the Great Orthodox Synagogue (Romanian, Sinagoga Mare Ortodoxă; Hungarian, Ortodox zsinagóga/Ortodox nagytemplom), located at 4 Mihai Viteazul Street. The project was realised by the architect Nándor Bach and served as model for other synagogues in Dej (Cluj county) and Satu Mare (Satu Mare county). The style chosen was Eclectic-Oriental (Neo-Moresque), with two steeples that flanked the main entrance and abundant interior decoration. It was inaugurated in 1890. This synagogue is presently undergoing an extensive rehabilitation and restoration process.
Later, in 1908, another synagogue, called Şas Chevra, was built in the Great Orthodox Synagogue precinct, at 4 Mihai Viteazul Street, following Lajos Incze’s plans. Then, in 1910, Ferenc Löbl was asked to design another synagogue, in the place of the Schwartz building (in Rahovei Square), but its construction was delayed by the First World War. The city’s Hasidic Jews wanted to build a synagogue of their own, but the Orthodox community allowed them only smaller prayer houses. Eventually, their wishes materialised with the building of “the prayer house of the Sephardic association and of the mishnayot learners,” also known also as “the Klauz,” which was demolished after the Second World War. Two other synagogues erected in the early twentieth century, which are in an advanced state of degradation and are being improperly used, are located on Tudor Vladimirescu Street (no. 18, now a garage) and Crinului Street (now an abandoned warehouse), along with the former Moskovits distillery.
Oradea’s civic architecture is distinguished by an abundance of styles, refined decoration and high-quality workmanship. The various styles wove a path from the Eclectic, Neo-Baroque or Neoclassic, to Secessionist. Following Hungarian influence, Art Nouveau left its mark upon Oradea, making it a real “open-air museum of the Secession.” House by house, and palace by palace, the city centre and its surroundings, even on more remote streets, formerly located in the city’s peripheries, abounded in buildings with floral, lace-like decoration, complicated stalks, combed plaster, shiny glazed ceramics, pastel-coloured stained glass, which create pictorial scenographic frames. This gives an architectural ambiance that is often enchanting and which evokes a calm, distinguished, bourgeois atmosphere, indubitably reflecting Jewish identity.
In one study, Zoltán Péter discussed the complex architectural evolution of Oradea, from the Baroque to the Secession, highlighting its greatest buildings, alongside their owners, master artisans and architects. The same author has made a picture album illustrating old Oradea through photographs, postcards, quotes, memories and stories of different personalities, evoking the city at the height of its development. In his doctoral thesis Mircea Pas¸ca describes in detail early twentieth-century Oradea’s habitat. He emphasises the evolution of architecture in Oradea and its specific features, within the context of Central European architecture, exemplifying numerous case studies of great architects and their projects in Oradea. Likewise, Rodica Hârcă discusses in her illustrated book the most graceful and sensitive aspects of Oradea’s Art Nouveau decorations, with their unique features that tell us about the refined taste of proprietors and the talent of artisans and architects.
These studies illustrate that many Jewish names are associated with Oradea’s late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century built heritage (see appendix for a list of these names and their associated buildings). Of the entire Jewish built heritage, around 70% is representative of architectural development in Romania, and about 50% is useful in considering the wider historical context of European architecture. Most of the buildings in Oradea, constructed in the early twentieth century, bear the mark of the Viennese Secession, with Hungarian influences, and represent the result of the initiatives of the richest inhabitants, most of them Jews, who included merchants, intellectuals, bankers, entrepreneurs and industrialists. The most prominent members of the community were Emil Adorján, Imre Darvas, Arnold Füchsl, Mór Füchsl, Ede Kurländer, Adolf Moskovits, Miksa Moskovits, Jakab Schwarz, Adolf Sonnenfeld, Miklos Stern, Sándor Ullmann, Lajos Weiszlovits and Lajos Weinberger. The names of these families often feature in the historiography of Jewish life in Oradea, though most became extinct as a consequence of the Holocaust. Their memory is respectfully preserved and proudly regarded by the community. Nowadays the numerous beautiful funeral monuments, family tombs and vaults, many of them in an advanced state of degradation, stand as a silent testimony to the glorious past. The three Jewish cemeteries in Oradea impress all who pass through their gates: the Orthodox (in Toamnei Street) and the Neolog (in Umbrei Street) cemeteries (both part of the “Rulikovsky” Municipal Cemetery) and the Velent¸a Jewish cemetery (88–90 Războieni Street, closed to further burial since 1944).
Architects, builders and foreign and local artisans, most of them Jews, created various works of art which further reveal Oradea’s cultural and artistic links with Central and Western Europe:
The aim of the buildings in Nagyvárad was not to display the individual entrepreneurs or families but to beautify the city and give it a place in the new world. Not even in the cemeteries did the wealthy Jewish families display any aspirations to pre-eminence.
A partially preserved and less known heritage is the consequence of technological and industrial development. The houses, institutions, grand apartment buildings and synagogues are not the only Jewish material and built legacy in Oradea. From modest craftsmen and tailors to journalists and doctors, all contributed to the welfare of the society. Famous fairs used to take place in Oradea. The demand for agricultural products and live animals in the Austrian market continuously increased. In this context, Oradea became an important transit centre for the empire.
In 1868, János Grünwald inaugurated the omnibus line between the city and Băile Felix (Hungarian, Félix fürdő), a famous spa resort with thermal waters, about ten kilometres from Oradea. In 1882, steam-driven transportation was developed. The first tramline opened in 1906. Lakos highlights that, through “their patriotic feelings and attitude … their sense and devotement to culture, commerce and industry,” the Jews “who lived here had the lion’s share, [and] took part in the development of Oradea … and making it one of most envied cities in the whole world.” During a conversation with the writer Endre Nagy, the Hungarian poet Endre Ady said that the Jews have made the city “a real Paris on the banks of Peţa [a channelled stream that flows in the South of Oradea]. The Jews of Oradea raised the city from its provincial status.”
Jews also contributed to the prosperity of Bihor county through food industries, milling and alcohol production. In 1885, Weinberger és Aufricht founded the “Emilia” roller mill in Oradea and, in 1890, the “Adria” mill belonging to “Moskovits Adolf és Fiai,” was enlarged with one for barley and millet, and then one for husking rice. For a long period, one of Adolf Moskovits’s sons was president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Moskovits Mór és Fiai” also opened a brewer’s yeast factory and chemical factory. In Seleus¸ul Oradiei, the Löwy brothers founded a brewery, which became “S.A. Dreher-Haggenmacher” in the 1930s. There was also the Rosenthal mill, the Schlezinger oil and starch enterprise, the Reichenberg match factory, József Reich’s carbonated water, carbonic acid and liquefied oxygen factories.
Other key figures included Adolf Weiszlovits, the owner of a famous funeral company. Sonnenfeld, Jnr, a stationery retailer, opened a printing house with an English-made printing press; then his successors turned it into the most modern printing house in Oradea, which remained famous even in the interwar period. In 1888, János Roth installed a telephone system—the first in a provincial town. Jews also prospered in agricultural endeavours on their estates in the countryside surrounding Oradea, where they raised livestock and produced milk.
Alcohol production was another prosperous industry that made its mark on Oradea’s built environment. In 1840, Henrik Löbl opened the first distillery, followed, in 1851, by Dávid Löbl’s alcohol refinery. In the early twentieth century, many distilleries functioned in Oradea, the largest of which belonged to the Moskovits family. “Lederer és Kálmán” alcohol and yeast factory had an alcohol refinery, too. Their market was very wide, from Central Europe to Istanbul, Smyrna and Thessaloniki. The factories of “Moskovits Farkas & Co.” made boots and shoes and exported their products to the Balkan states, Austria, Germany and Africa. In the early twentieth century, there was also a Jewish élite in the management departments of the large enterprises and banking, commercial and credit companies.
In his book dedicated to the industrial history of Oradea from 1848 to 1948, Ronald Hochhauser presents through richly documented research the causes, the development, the enhancement and the decay, over the course of a century, of almost all of the industrial, technical and financial establishments in Oradea. It would take a couple of pages to list all the Jewish industrial activity in Oradea, the diversity of production domains and the multitude of Jewish enterprises and Jewish entrepreneurs which undoubtedly marked the urban and social development of the city. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the factories and industrial activity of Oradea ensured its status as the sixth city of the Kingdom of Hungary. And the Jews’ role in that was considerable and thereby left an indelible mark on the city’s built heritage.
Nowadays, the faded memory of the Jewish community of Oradea lingers on in spirit, but might regain its strength, due to the physical presence of its built heritage, of inestimable value, that cannot be denied or forgotten. Oradea was once home to the second-largest Jewish community in Hungary, after Budapest, but perhaps it was ultimately the most important, given its varied and broad contributions that have left behind such a huge Jewish cultural heritage. These contributions are wholly integrated into the city in the twenty-first century. But this great legacy deserves remembrance and unfortunately in some cases needs saving from fading into oblivion or, even worse, from destruction. Following the example of other European cities, the Jewish heritage of Oradea could function as a possible cultural brand for the city. Its built heritage should be rehabilitated and renovated, have proper functions and be used for the benefit of the city’s society. For these purposes and to strengthen the Jewish community, the establishment of a new, modern and multifunctional community centre is greatly desirable.
The Jewish community of Oradea now has a presence on the internet, with the help and support of the Lempert Family Foundation. Its aim is to fight for the preservation of the memory of Oradea’s Jews, sustaining the community and hoping to establish a Jewish museum and a new educational centre, to present and study the life, contributions and fate of the Jews in northwestern Romania. The initiative of the Lempert Family Foundation promotes “tolerance, understanding and generosity” and is “helping to preserve the memory of the Jewish community of Oradea” and “remembering a once-thriving Jewish community in Eastern Europe.” Without question, Oradea and Romania would greatly benefit if this valuable Jewish living memorial (the city itself, together with its existing Jewish community) were regarded not as a dormant shadow of the past, but as part of a bright future.