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[Page 73]

Rohonc

(Rechnitz, Austria)

4718' 1627'

Translated by Susan Geroe

Presently part of the Austrian Burgenland province, this incorporated town with a population of approximately 5,000 people, became and presumably remained to this day “Judenrein” since Hitler's incursion in 1938. Thus, politically it no longer belongs to Vas County, nor is it even part of Hungary, and in truth, its existence, unfortunately, is associated entirely with the past. Nevertheless, neither time nor setbacks could break off the emotional connections that tie this great kehilla of the past to our history. For two centuries, it enjoyed having a leading role. An intellectual center, it diffused Jewish vital spirit to numerous regions of Vas County, and even to far away areas of the country.

Jewish scholars strove from early on to explore the vast evidence of Jewish life, monuments, documents, important antique devotional articles, and cemetery grave markers. First, its own Rabbi, Dr. Mayer Zipser, then Chief Rabbi of Szombathely, and Dr. Béla Bernstein wrote monographs on the subject of this town. There are scores of documents pertaining to the Jewish life of Rohonc at the Hungarian Jewish Archives. In this article, we only confine ourselves to give an outline, a short review of these works.

The inception of the community of Rohonc can be traced back to the beginning of the 17th century, when the small town was still in Austrian hands. In its three-century old cemetery, the first legible grave marker dates back to 1682, but the cemetery itself is much older. The preserved Curtain of the Ark donated by the devout women of the congregation in 1649 provides evidence that the community already had a regular prayer house from the middle of the 17th century.

Before long, the village and thus its Jewish inhabitants came into the hands of the Count Batthányi family. Under their sovereignty, Jews enjoyed relative peace and protection. In 1702, the congregation purchased for 500 Forints the prayer house that also belonged to the Batthányis. The renowned Viennese Imperial banker, Sáamuel Wertheimer, provided the loan for the deed. Soon, in 1718, the community built a new synagogue atop a hill, in a beautiful exclusive area. The synagogue was restored in 1855 and it lasted until quite recently. Of credit to any town, the synagogue was rather spacious, able to accommodate for major holidays flocks of congregants who returned from regions as far removed as Vas, Zala, or even Somogy County. On the other hand, in time, the cemetery proved to be inadequate and it had to be enlarged three times – in 1731, 1750, and 1768.

According to the 1735 census, Rohonc with its 323 Jewish inhabitants constituted the sixth largest congregation in the country.

Consequently, the community knew a period of flourishing and developing. The first document of protection given by Count Kristof Batthányi, was expanded by his son, Adam, on July 10, 1687. This document listed 36 families that formed the congregation. Additionally, the document provided an introspective look at the state of economic dependence of the Jews. Each family paid an annual protection fee of six Forints. Furthermore, the community paid a separate fee of 20 Forints for the right to engage in commerce, and another 40 Forints for the slaughtering of small stock. On the other hand, they had the protection of the powerful Count Batthányi family, which was more or less legally enforceable. The warfare of the times however, did not sidestep the Jews of Rohonc either. During the days of the Kuruc-Labanc wars (1704), a Kuruc band raided and sacked them. [Translator's Note: Kuruc was the name of armed anti-Hapsburg Hungarian rebels. Labanc refers to the Austrian and Hungarian supporters of the Hapsburgs.]

We will review the records of the Archives referring to this issue in another part of this work. Otherwise, the Jews of Rohonc were involved in trade, traveling as far as Szombathely, which at the time was a town off-limits to them. The squire provided them with transit permits. They reached even further areas. In the 1709 census of Pozsony, we find the names of two Jews from Rohonc. In the post-Kuruc era (December 13, 1706), at the request of local noblemen, Emperor Joseph I granted a two-year moratorium on the dues of bankrupt Rohonc Jews in view of the Kuruc pillaging and ransacking. Times that were more peaceful and a period of development followed.

The congregation increased in number. House ownership rose to 38 in 1715, and 66 in 1720. In the second half of the 18th century, there were over 200 families living in Rohonc, the district included.

In 1732, Countess Eleonora Batthányi published an ordinance entitled “Judenpolizei” that she extended in 1737. Its statutes incorporated the status of Jewish protection, the responsibilities of the Jews towards the nobility of the land, and also regulations regarding intrinsic Jewish life in its entirety.

We have already mentioned that the “protection” was not an inexpensive affair. According to records dating back to about 1740, the community was paying the following amounts: slaughterhouse for larger animals – 400 Forints; slaughterhouse for smaller animals –80 Forints; slaughter of young animals - 40 Forints; kosher wine tavern - 400 Forints; schnapps pub - 400 Forints. There were also fees to be paid for the release to purchase poultry –75 Forints; the protection fee itself –1116 Forints; old taxation – 200 Forints on the average; miscellaneous – 300 Forints. Altogether, it added up to 3011 Forints. On top of this, the lords of the manor were to receive yearly gifts in the amount of 13 gold pieces, two containers of sugar, four pounds of coffee, three-dozen oranges, three dozen lemons, and two geese. The clerk and the keeper, each received one goose and one pound of pepper. In short, the bill was so high, they paid through the nose. [TN: The literal translation of the Hungarian text would be “The bill was peppery”. It refers to the biting strength of black pepper, an expensive spice.] They also paid two Christian priests, the market magistrate, the town crier, guild masters, and the district shepherd. These were the local powers that be. In addition to these Rohonc potentates, they also paid the provincial noblemen, deputy prefect, deputy sheriff, prosecutor, the district justices, organ money to cantors, and for the illumination of the tower clocks.

As mentioned, the Jewish community, which at the time numbered around 200 families paid for all of the above. Only half of these families resided in Rohonc, the other half lived in the district, or were in a constant state of movement in the Németujvár, Körmend, Vasvár, Sárvár, Kanizsa, Szentgrót, Egerszeg, Tapolca, and Keszthely belt. Furthermore, after 1749, they also had to pay the national tolerance tax to the treasury. It was not easy to be a Jew in Rohonc!

Given the economic oppression of the Jews, it is all the more admirable the extent of spiritual life that poured forth from this community. Renowned rabbis of far away lands officiated in Rohonc. We know only twelve of them by name.

At the head of the list was Rabbi Arjeh Jehuda Löb, who served at the end of the 17th century.

Rabbi Izsák Prossnitz, reputed to be a miracle worker, died in 1700 and is buried in Rohonc.

A Chassid and a Kabbalist, Rabbi Abrahám Epstein Halevi dressed all in white on Saturdays and officiated in the community until about 1720.

Rabbi Aron Sabbatai was the son of Rabbi Izsák Prossnitz, whom we mentioned as the second rabbi. When Rabbi of Rohonc, as early as 1727, he wrote a commentary that was included in the publication of the Maharam. In this work, he called himself Aron Mezerits. During his time in office, the congregation established the basic rules of the Chevra, created a Bét Hamidras, and in turn, dissolved the private prayer houses. It was also during his time that the already mentioned “Judenpolizei” was introduced. He died in 1747.

Rabbi Jehuda Löw Stassow served the Rohonc community from 1748. A strong character, at one point, he had to fight many contentions, but he held his ground. He condemned some of his adversaries to chérem. [TN: Cherem is an extreme punishment, banning one from the Jewish community.] He was accused of being the follower of Zwi Sabbatai, just as his teacher, Jonathan Eibenschütz had been. He was forced to flee, later returned, but only his own followers paid his salary. He died in 1767 (6 of Elul). His enemies even stoned his casket, but one of them suddenly went blind after arriving home from the cemetery. This fact had a calming effect on the frenzied passions.

The most celebrated Rabbi of Rohonc was Elázár Kallisch, born in 1745, in Kismarton (Eisenstadt). Our recently deceased great scholar, Professor Dr. Mózes Richtmann, studied this man. His grandfather was the famous Asch Maharam. Rabbi Kallisch corresponded with Ezékiel Landau, National Chief Rabbi of Prague. He had been elected rabbi in several places. He had a conflict in a Halachic matter with the Rabbi of Körmend, a fact that we already mentioned in our article referring to that place.

Rabbi Aron Holics (Schönfeld) followed in the rabbinical seat. He served from 1782 for the next two decades. Then, he went to the Holy Land, where he died a recluse, alone because his wife did not follow him.

Rabbi Alexander Maislis started serving the community around 1800. He was in correspondence with the Szófer Chatam. Rabbi Maislis later went blind and Lajos Königsberg became his assistant. Rabbi Königsberg, whom we'll meet later, went on to become the first rabbi of Szentmárton (Szombathely). Rabbi Maislis died in 1819.

After some interregna, Rabbi Gavriel Englmann Hakohén was elected rabbi in 1822. Born in Vágujhely in 1771, he had already given Hallahic lectures at the age of 14. He married at the age of 18. Later in life, he suffered many setbacks. After serving as Dayan back in Vágujhely, he came to Rohonc. He authored several scholarly works and died in 1851, after 29 years of blessed service to the community.

At this time, the community attained the zenith of its development. The stormy era of 1848 sidestepped Rohonc in part, unlike, for instance, Szombathely. According to the census of the times, 209 Jewish families lived in Rohonc.

Dr. Mayer Zipser, whom we already mentioned, came to Rohonc in 1854. He was born in Balassagyarmat, on August 14, 1815. As a 15-year old, he went to study in Prossnitz, and from there to Nikolsburg. Secretly, he was also studying secular sciences, and learned German, English, and French. We examine his persona in detail in a separate chapter (see: Vallási vezetöink. TN: Our Religious Leaders). He took active part in the 1868 National Congress and died the following year.

Mor Ehrlich, brother of the Rabbi of Körmend followed Dr. Zipser in the rabbinical seat. The congregation joined the directives of the Congress (Neology). Due to economic changes, an upsurge in migration from village to town, emigration and general shift of the population, the numeric strength of the congregation continuously decreased. At the turn of the century, only 60 -70 families, some 170 people of Jewish faith lived in Rohonc.

The rabbinical seat has not been filled since 1825 [TN: The year should be 1925]. Cantor and religion teacher József Glück attended to all functions related to faith.

As we remember the spiritual leaders of the congregation, we feel obliged to report also on the status of educational matters. Education had always had an important place in the Rohonc community. The 1736 County census, as well as that of 1770, listed four teachers of Hungarian ancestry. In 1774, the number of teachers increased to six. By the beginning of the 19th century, they built a school with four classes, which functioned until 1923. Due to financial hardship and lack of students, they closed the school and the building was leased for use by the state school system.

Relevant evidence of the highly observant Jewish community of Rohonc can be found in the numerous preserved relics, ancient ceremonial objects, as well as dedications, age-old manuscripts and documents. By their sheer antique status, the religious articles of the Rohonc synagogue were of notable value. As noted earlier, after the paróchet [TN: Curtain for the Ark], which dates to 1649, the next oldest relic goes back to 1727. Additional curtains of rich texture date to 1751 and 1794. A multitude of antique goblets, Torah shields, crowns, and mantles decorated the synagogue. Several documents and manuscripts were awaiting museum processing in the office of the registrar.

All of the above sank into the whirlpool of the past, when the heartless Nazi hordes overran Austria and destroyed everything, mostly that which constituted Jewish beauty.

The destruction of the renowned Jewry of Rohonc, once the cradle of the Vas County Jewry is especially painful to us, former residents of Vas!

 

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