The Forgotten Ghetto: Kolozsvar
It is wholly unthinkable what it must have been like to be taken out of your home, simply because you belonged to a certain ethno-religious group, and thrown into a ghetto, where your fate was already decided by forces that were beyond your control. Yet, this is by no means a singular story but one that happened innumerable times throughout the course of the Shoah. The few survivors that are still around today must come forward and present their narratives so we can tell it to the world.
To this day very few people have heard of the Kolozsvar ghetto and the stories of Jews who were sent to their deaths, and the lucky ones who managed to escape. Six transports is what took to empty the brickyard that was transformed into a deploring ghetto by the SS that May in 1944. Around 18,000 people were crammed into deplorable conditions, in the most unthinkable manner by the Hungarians and Nazis all for the simple purpose of extermination.
Magda Herzberger, a survivor of the ghetto, that was later taken to Bergen Belsen testified that: “We were just lying on the ground and we had very, very little food and very little fluids and they kept us under terrible hygienic conditions, terrible.”
In the month of May of 1944, as it became clear that the Germans were losing the war on the Eastern front, and as the Allies in the West were about to launch their invasion of Normandy, the small town of Cluj/Kolozsvar was struck by dread, as so many countless places across Europe has been. The Jewish population of the city was amalgamated by force, taken from their homes and placed into the Iris brickyard on the outskirts of town, which was made into a makeshift ghetto, with no real liveable conditions. Herzberger also said: “I can never forget that. You know, I can never forget the treatment that we got in those ghettos.”
The ghetto was put together by the Dieter Wisliceny, but it came under the jurisdiction of the draconian Lazlo Urban, the chief of the police of Kolozvar. Still the one thing that we must consider, is that although the Germans had planned the effort of ghettoization it was mainly facilitated by the Hungarian authorities. This important point, similar to the instance of the Shoah in Romania/Hungary, is something that must be taken into account when studying what happened to the Jews in that part of the world.
One of the main reasons why the Kolozsvar ghetto is somewhat known is because of the famous account of Rudolf Kastner and the 388 Jews that he saved from the ghetto by cutting a deal with Adolf Eichmann, who at that time was in Budapest. The exact details of his deal were rather peculiar, and a great deal of many people later accused him of blatant favoritism in regards to the people he chose to save in his transports to Switzerland.
Despite the survivors of Kolozvar, the majority of Jews were taken to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen under the authority of the S.S. The people who were forced to make the administrative decisions in regards to the ghetto were those of the Judenrat. The undeniable moral implications of being forced to decide who would be deported to the camps first, or “reallocated” as the occupiers were lied to, were undeniably onerous. This is also one of the reasons why so many people, within the context of the entire Shoah, despised the Judenrats who at times used their positions of power for self-gain.
Regardless of our capacity for empathy, placing ourselves into someone's shoes in such unthinkable circumstances is exceptionally difficult, which is why we must gather the stories of people, and use them to not only make the picture more clear, but also try to preserve them for future generations before it is too late.
Milad Doroudian, a writer, historian, and editor-in-chief of The Art of Polemics, is a Grad student at Simon Fraser University(SFU), currently working on a thesis in the area of Kolozsvar and the Kastner Train.