Subcarpathian Rus', ca. 2000.

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Subcarpathian Rus’

(also Subcarpathian or Transcarpathian Ruthenia), administrative region in present-day Ukraine, known as Zakarpatska Ukraina. The area first functioned as such a unit at the end of World War I, when it became part of Czechoslovakia. Subcarpathian Rus’ comprised the historical counties of Ung, Ugocsa, Bereg, and the northern half of Máramaros in the prewar kingdom of Hungary. Until 1918–1919, Subcarpathian Rus’ belonged to the Hungarian part of the Habsburg monarchy, but in 1918–1919 it was annexed to the Czechoslovak Republic, where it remained until 1938–1939. In autumn 1938, the Hungarian kingdom annexed one part of the region; another section was autonomous until March 1939, when the Hungarians conquered it as well. Soviet troops overran the area in the fall of 1944 and arranged for its incorporation into the USSR as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

A group of boys outside the Belzer kloyz, Mukačevo, Czechoslovakia (now Mukacheve, Ukr.), ca. 1930s. (YIVO)

The first Jews likely settled in Subcarpathian Rus’ during the Turkish occupation of Hungary (1526–1686); they were probably of Sephardic origin. Refugees from the Khmel’nyts’kyi rebellion of 1648–1649 followed. Later, a tiny stream of Moravian and Bohemian Jews arrived via the northern Slovak counties. The major influx of Jews, however, occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and consisted of migrants wandering southward from Galicia. The newcomers were welcomed by Magyar magnates, in particular by the Schönborn dynasty, which owned much land in the area. Nobles hired Jews to administer estates, sell spirits, and develop local trade.

The Jewish population rapidly increased: in 1840 there were 21,640 Jews, a number that rose by 1880 to 83,076; by 1910 to 135,161; by 1921 to 93,008; and by 1930 to 102,542. The total fell in 1938 to 65,278 but rose again by 1941 to 162,065 Jews. Political changes were responsible for the fluctuation of the 1930s. The population growth after the mid-nineteenth century can be attributed primarily to natural increase; the region had one of the highest fertility rates of European Jewry.

From the end of the eighteenth century, Hasidism spread quickly, while graduates of Ḥatam Sofer’s yeshiva in Pressburg (Bratislava) encouraged development of non-Hasidic Orthodox Jewry. After the General Jewish Congress of Hungary of 1868–1869, Neolog (Liberal) Judaism appeared in Ungvár (Uzhgorod; Uzhhorod) and Máramarossziget (Sighet Marmației). The Hasidim and the Orthodox, however, dominated in terms of numbers.

The region was known for its poverty, a condition exacerbated after it was cut off from its traditional markets in Hungary during the interwar era. Many Jewish inhabitants were unemployed and sometimes homeless. Those gainfully employed included manual laborers in forestry who worked as lumberjacks, in agriculture, and in artisanry. Jews engaged in banking, wholesale trade, estate management, and industry, especially timber. There were also free professionals working in the cities.

In 1867, Jews in Austro-Hungary became emancipated. Shortly thereafter, a drive to Magyarize the Jewish population began, terminating only with the incorporation of the region into Czechoslovakia. During the existence of the Czechoslovak Republic, Jews could assert Jewish nationality and enjoyed all political freedoms, despite the antisemitism of the Czech officials who administered the region. Nevertheless, when Magyar authorities, after the annexation of 1938–1939, launched an extensive anti-Jewish campaign, Jewish residents longed again for Czechoslovakia. The anti-Jewish campaign culminated in a wave of deportations to Auschwitz between April and July 1944, where most of the local Jews were murdered.

After World War II, many survivors chose to emigrate to Bohemia to avoid Soviet domination, and after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in February 1948, most immigrated to Israel or overseas. Jews who stayed on in the region suffered religious, social, and ethnic–national discrimination. While there were at least 13,000 Jews in the region in 1971, today, because of migration and emigration, only a few hundred Jews live in Subcarpathian Rus’.

Suggested Reading

Yehudah Erez, ed., Entsiklopedyah shel galuyot, vol. 7, Karpatorus (Jerusalem, 1959); Yeshayahu A. Jelinek, Ha-Golah le-ragle ha-Karpatim: Yehude Karpato-Rus u-Mukats´evo, 1848–1948 (Tel Aviv, 2003); Livia Rothkirchen, “Deep-Rooted Yet Alien: Some Aspects of the History of the Jews in Subcarpathian Ruthenia,” Yad Vashem Studies 12 (1977): 147–191.