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City in western Romania, known in Hungarian as Nagyvárad or Várad and in German as Grosswardein. Oradea was part of Hungary until World War I and again between 1940 and 1944; it was the seat of the historical Bihar (Bihor) county. Jews were not allowed to settle within Nagyvárad’s city limits during the eighteenth century but were encouraged to settle in the adjoining district of Váralja, an independent community until 1848–1849, where they enjoyed the right to trade and acquire plots for houses. From the 1720s on, Jews were exempt from paying property taxes.

The first Jewish immigrants, who arrived from Bohemia, Moravia, and the Polish territories, had the privilege of communitas, or managing their own affairs. A burial society was established in 1731. By 1825, the Jewish population totaled 868. These numbers grew rapidly when mass immigration began in the 1850s; by 1869, it had risen to 6,438 and by 1910 to 15,155 (representing 5.4%, 22.4%, and 23.6% of the town’s population, respectively). Várad became the second-largest Jewish community in Hungary after Budapest.

Jews played a crucial role in transforming Várad into a major center for the food industry (particularly in milling and distilling). Jews also boosted many other areas of commerce and industry; these included colonial goods and groceries; timber cutting; clothing and leather; and chemical industries. The owners of the Moskovits, Léderer, and Kálmán food industrial companies, as well as Kurländer and Ullmann’s Colonial Goods Store, were among the highest taxpayers in the city by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Though a process of linguistic change took place very quickly in Nagyvárad (97.4% of local Jews declared Hungarian to be their mother tongue in 1910), the city’s Jews varied in their levels of assimilation and followed diverse cultural patterns. This issue became the source of internal disputes that ultimately led to the organizational breakup of Nagyvárad’s Jewish community. A separatist reform society was briefly established as early as 1848 and later a Magyar Jewish community was founded in 1861. In 1869, after the General Jewish Congress of Hungary (1868–1869), a Neolog community broke away from the original community. In the early 1880s, a Status Quo (neither Orthodox nor Neolog) group also separated itself from Orthodoxy but after three to four years was reunited with it.

Among Nagyvárad’s prominent personalities, David Joseph Wahrmann served as rabbi from 1842 to 1852 and was the first Hungarian rabbi to have earned a doctorate; Friedrich Grosz (1798–1858) was the first Jewish ophthalmologist in Hungary and a reform lay leader; and Alexander Kohut served briefly as the Neolog rabbi before moving to New York. During the Dual Monarchy (1867–1918) and interwar period, both religious divisions engaged in varieties of social and cultural activities. Lipót Kecszeméti (1865–1936), author, noted preacher, and opponent of Zionism, served as Neolog rabbi from 1890 until his death. The pro-Hasidic Mosheh Tsevi Fuchs (1843–1911) was the rabbi of the Orthodox community from 1873 to 1911. It maintained elementary and secondary schools, a vocational school, a yeshiva, an orphanage, and a soup kitchen. Its most prominent leaders belonged to the Kurländer and Ullmann families (the Ullmann library is now stored at the Widener Library of Harvard University). The Neolog community maintained a home for the elderly, an orphanage for boys, and, after 1920, a secondary school that offered a concentration in science.

After World War I, the city became part of Romania, and the Jewish community was declared an ethnic–national minority; assimilation ceased. During the Romanian student riots of 1927, several Jews were murdered and synagogues were ravaged, which led to increasing isolationism and the expansion of Zionism. Nagyvárad became a major center of the religious Zionist (Mizraḥi) movement and the National Jewish Party. Assimilated Jews supported the Hungarian National Party. By 1941, the Jewish population was 21,333.

The city was returned to Hungary during World War II. In May 1944, one of the country’s largest ghettos was set up in Várad. Extremely crowded conditions, shortages of drinking water and food, and police raids that resulted from the search for Jewish possessions were infamous for their cruelty. Deportations started on 24 May of that year. By 1947, when Nagyvárad was again part of Romania, only 8,000 Jews were living there, including people who had moved from other parts of the country. Although the community was reorganized, many Jews left, and by the early 1970s there were no more than 2,000 Jews in Nagyvárad. By 2002, the Jewish population was 172.

Suggested Reading

Ioan Ancel and Theodor Lavi, eds., Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 2 (Jerusalem, 1980), pp. 61–75; Lajos Lakos, A váradi zsidóság története hiteles levéltári adatok alapján (Nagyvárad, Hungary, 1912); Dezső Schön, ed., A tegnap városa: A nagyváradi zsidóság emlékkönyve (Tel Aviv, 1981).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó