History of Transcarpathian Ruthenia

At the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Carpathian Ruthenia had initially attempted to assert their autonomy.  Unfortunately, they failed and were forced to choose to join a nation in the area – they chose the democratic Czechoslovakia.  During the coming 20 years, Ruthenia wouild remain a relatively impoverished area and predominantly agriculture-based.  Even Jews in the area were inclined to go into manual labor and many Jewish people were unassimilated, religious, and impoverished.  Central cities of Transcarpathia with high Jewish population include Khust; Ungvar; and Munkacs.  However, many Jews also lived in the rural areas. When speaking of Holocaust history, we often lump Subcarpathian Ruthenia with the rest of Hungary because the Jews from this area were deported at the very end of the war in 1944 with the rest of Hungarian Jewry.  However, there are a few precursor events that show Hungarian culpability and anti-Semitism was in full throttle even before the Nazis demanded it.

The First Jews to be Deported

The Jews of Carpatho-Ukraine and Hungary, as a whole, were relatively safe in comparison to the rest of European Jewry until 1944.  However, before jumping into the extermination of all Jews in 1944, one must acknowledge the early blips of foreboding anti-Semitism.  In 1941, Germany urged the Hungarians to assist in the attack against the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa. This coincided with an official decision from the agency responsible for foreign nationals living in Hungary to deport foreign Jews.  This came at no provocation from the Nazis and was inspired completely from within Hungarian political bodies.  The Jews targeted were mostly Polish and Russian Jews, but there were also many refugees from western Europe.

Anyone who was not able to establish Hungarian citizenship was put into a freight car to Korosmezo – a border town – where they were transferred into the hands of the Germans. As of August 10, 1941, approximately 14,000 Jews had been deported from Hungary to German-controlled territory (mostly from Transcarpathian Ruthenia.) Later in the month there was a final transport of 4,000 more Jews, bringing the total to 18,000.  Almost all of these Jews would die at the hands of the Germans, who marched them from Korosmezo to Kamenets-Podolsk where they were shot on the spot with the local Jews.  The massacre at Kamients-Podolsk was the first large-scale mass killing of Jews executed by the Kamienets-Podolsk.

Jews from Carpathio Ruthenia waiting in Birkenau’s Birch Forest before they are gassed. They will have had nothing to drink during the 3 day journey.

False Security

After approximately 18,000 Jews from Carpathian Ruthenia were murdered by Germans and Ukrainians in Kamienets-Podoloski in 1941, there was a relative period of calm for jews in the area.  Carpathian Ruthenia was occupied by Hungarians and this afforded them the same treatment as the rest of the Jews of Hungary – a nation that had halted the deportations at the time.  The leaders of Hungary continued to pass anti-Semitic laws, however, they also were steadfast in the denial of deportation of their own country’s Jewish population.  In fact, so much of the Jewish population had been exterminated that the population of European Jewry was altered to a point where 2 out of every 3 still alive, were in Hungary (including Subcarpathian Ruthenia.)  On March 19, 1944, Hitler decided to occupy Hungary after hearing that the Hungarian Prime Minister was trying to cooperate with the Allied forces.  This spelled the end for all of the Jews still living in Subcarpathian Ruthenia.

In May 1944, Hungarian leaders organized the ejection of around 140,000 Jews from Subcarpathian Ruthenia to the border of the Generalgouvernement, Nazi-occupied Poland.  Once the Jews from the area were under control of the SS, they were deported to Auschwitz where they mostly perished.  A group of Jews from Transcarpathia is the one that is pictured in the infamous “Auschwitz Album,” which is the only known series of pictures of actual deportations arriving in the death camp.

Jewish Woman in Transcarpathia
Portrait of a young Jewish woman in Transcarpathia
Jewish Woman in Transcarpathia
A Mother at home in Tacovo, Transcarpathia
Transcarpathia Ukraine
Transcarpathia indicated on a map.

After the Holocaust in Transcarpathia

The Germans and their collaborators killed approximately 263,000 Jews who had resided in the territory.  This total is included in the amount of Jews killed by Hungary in total – usually given as close to 500,000 people.  In Transcarpathia about 80% of the Jews perished and the rest left for Israel after the war ended. The community has never recovered.