The Jewish Community of Debrecen – Then and Now

According to written records, in 1781, while on their way to northern European markets, a few Jewish merchants decided to ask permission to temporarily stay within the city walls of Debrecen. Although, in accordance with the spirit of the age their request was denied by the city council, they were provided with a huge area to pitch their tents on right next to the city walls. Today this area is known as Széchenyikert but it used to be called Sidókert for a long time. Soon, the first small tabernacle and a humble roadside inn were built and the people gathered there became the first members of the blooming Jewish community of Debrecen.

In accordance with Article XXIX of Law 1840, it was no longer permitted to exclude Jews from the freedom of establishment and free movement, despite the resistance of local authorities. Debrecen was not an exception: the city council had to obey the law of the Diet of Hungary, so Jews were allowed to settle within the city walls. However, the city council and other associations tried to make life for Jews as miserable as possible. For example, they were supposed to pay for certain services, including sewerage and public lighting, even though these were free of charge for other, non-Jewish inhabitants. Moreover, the guilds operating in Debrecen did not accept Jewish people as members.

Despite all the obstacles they had to face, more and more Jews decided to move to Debrecen from the surrounding villages of Hajdúsámson, Hajdúhadház and Hajdúböszörmény. In 1842, because of the increasing number of Jewish people living in the city,  the Jewish cemetary was opened and the Chevra Kadisha was formed. Its members have been serving the community faithfully since then.

During the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-49 many of the Debrecen-based Jews joined György Klapka's army corp and they fought heroically alongside the General. The Hungarian Revolutionary Parliament of 1849 proclaimed the complete political emancipation of Jews in Hungary, however, this arrangement was revoked shortly after the revolution was repressed.

In 1852, the order of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary made it clear for Hungarian cities that forbidding Jewish people to move and settle down in their area is no longer accepted. According to the order of 1853, which established the Austrian legal system in Hungary, there was no room for religious discrimination regarding issues of private law.

From then on, the number of Jewish real estate owners increased dramatically, which resulted in an expansion of the community. It boasted several thousands of people by the end of the century.

During the golden age of the community, which was tragically ended by the First World War, three synagogues were built, two of which can still be visited today. The third one, the Deák Ferenc street status quo synagogue was so badly damaged after the war, that it had to be demolished. However,  many other services became available near Hatvan street, inculding a kosher butchery and bakery, two ritual baths (mikvahs) and a matzha baking factory.

Not only economic and religious institutions were developing, but also culture and education were thriving. The elementary community school opened in 1856, and during the next decades, Jewish children had the chance to get an insight into secular and sacred realms at the same time in various educational institutions.

During the First World War and especially the interwar period, the Jewish community of Debrecen had to face several difficulties, but they tried to make their best to survive the hard times. They established a status quo and an orthodox elementary school, and at the Jewish secondary school education was started. Also, girls were allowed to join public schools. 

The 1930s brought the onset of anti-Semitism which led to anti-Jewish laws and measures, embittering the daily lives of Jewish people. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the rights and opportunities of Jews became more and more scarce. However, they tried to adapt to the new circumstances.

As the German invasion reached Debrecen, two Jewish ghettos were established on both sides of Hatvan street, and after only three months, on June 24, the humiliation and degradation escalated into their transportation to German concentration camps.

More than 6,000 Debrecen-based Jews never returned following the ordeal they were subjected to. In 1941, 11,500 registered Jewish citizens lived in Debrecen, and by 1949, this number decreased to 3,000. Many Holocaust survivors immigrated to Israel or the United States and several families decided to move to Budapest. Although, the remaining Jews of the surrounding areas moved to Debrecen but the newly-formed community was too small to reinstate the institutions to their pre-war state.

Today, the number of community members is less than a tenth of what it used to be before the Holocaust. But despite the drastic drop in their number, the whole community tries to preserve their cultural heritage and traditions and they are doing great. Moreover, they keep an open mind and follow the latest trends to stay up-to-date in every aspect.

Not every building and institution has the same role that it used to have before the war. The decreasing number of community members and the changing needs and possibilities opened new horizons with regards to the utilization of these magnificent old buildings.

That is why the orthodox synagogue functions as a modern event center, a community area and an educational venue at the same time, where visitors can get an insight into the history of Jews living in the Hajdúság region. The synagogue is suitable for hosting conferences, community events and even special history classes. The material exhibited and the continually expanding database makes the Pásti Street Synagogue a must-see.

The traditional role of the once-thriving kosher butchery has changed and today it gives a spectacular setting for artists to make their debut, and the Orthodox mikvah situated under the winter tabernacle is soon to become a unique kosher winery.

One of the main elements of our Pilgrimage project was to provide accommodation for visitors if they require so. Several modern, well-equipped rooms are available in the 100-year-old, recently renovated community center, either for individuals or groups. All the attractions are available for people with disabilities, including rooms and the exhibitions themselves.

For further information about programs, temporary exhibitions and accommodation, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Zsidó naptár

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Zsinagógák

  • 4025 Debrecen, Pásti u. 4.
  • 4025 Debrecen, Kápolnási u. 1.

Információk

  • Elnök: Horovitz Tamás
  • Alelnökök: Dickmann Sándor
                    Dr. Grosz Zsuzsanna
  • Elérhetőség: 4025 Debrecen,
                       Bajcsy Zs. u. 26 sz.
  • Ügyfélfogadás: hétköznapokon 8:00 – 14:00