By Ioana Florea, Isabela Panek, Jelena Steigerwald
Between 1937 and 1945, more than 250.000 people from all over Europe, including Northern Transylvania, were imprisoned by the Nazi regime in Buchenwald concentration camp and its adjacent camps. Testimonies from this period were given by survivors in interviews taken in 1998, 2002, 2005 and during a discussion between Miklós/Nicolae Kallós, Ladislau/Vasile Nuszbaum, László Székely, the activists from “Third Generation Buchenwald” and researchers from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which took place in Cluj in October 2014. We thank Andrea Julika Ghiță for facilitating this discussion.
Most of the Romanian prisoners from Buchenwald and its adjacent camps came from Northern Transylvania. Petru Muresan was born in 1917 in Corbu village, Renee Davidovici in 1925 in Matei village, Kallos in 1926 in Oradea, Nuszbaum in 1929 in Turda, Szekely in 1929 in Cluj. They were all of Jewish descent, but their destiny in the concentration camps was different. One year after the start of World War 2, Transylvania was divided as a result of the mediation of Germany and Italy. The north was annexed by Hungary. Roughly 200.000 Jews were living in Transylvania, 164.052 of them in the territories ceded to Hungary. In the summer of 1940, the Hungarian authorities began excluding the Jewish population from public life – they had already been excluded by the anti-Semitic policies of the Romanian government. The continuity of exclusion is also marked by the fact that the anti-Semitic laws and policies of the Hungarian authorities in Northern Transylvania had already been applied in Hungary: Jewish newspapers had been banned, Jewish teachers and students had been excluded from state education and a system of forced labor camps was set in place.
Davidovici recalls the Jewish high-school established in Cluj in 1940: students from all over the region studied there, as it was one of the few educational facilities (segregated and private) which functioned at the time. The teachers were excellent, as they were university professors fired under the provisions of anti-Semitic laws. Nuszbaum remembers that it was “an oasis any way you look at it. We felt much safer there than we did at home.”
Before the massive deportations from the summer of 1944 started Székely László and his seven-years older brother, Székely Imre, witnessed the deportation of their parents. On that day, the two brotehrs had been walking around Cluj (Imre had a several days pass from the labor camp in Baia Mare) without wearing the yellow star, which saved them from the first wave of deportations. But as their neighbors, friends and parents had been deported, the two brithers could not go back home and had to go to Baia Mare, pondering whether to stay in the labor camp or look for their parents in the ghetto; eventually they were taken to the Baia Mare ghetto. The strong desire to stay together with the family influenced the behavior and the experiences of the young deportees, shaping the image of their innocence before a tragedy they could not imagine as Davidovici recounts).
Throughout May-June 1944, all the Jews from Northern Transylvania were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Kallos remembers that people in Oradea „were sitting on the sidewalk laughing at us when we were being deported.” […]