Tuesday 18th June 2024,
Post-Soviet Graffiti

זכור: Remembering a Pre-War Jewish Munkacs

Town Square. 31 July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Nic van Beek).

On this date in 2011 the Post-Soviet Graffiti team found itself stranded in Transcarpathia. With no phone, no hryvinas, no friends, poor Ukrainian, and no way to leave except on foot, we spent three days walking the city in the pouring rain.

We saw weirdly agressive anti-Roma bullying, we flirted with the babushki selling their medicinal honeys in the market, and we listened to Kundera-worthy quartets.

We identified the homes and businesses from the stories that my grandparents have shared about their pre-war European lives, we stepped over dead dogs left for days in the middle of the street, we watched young wedding parties drunkenly stroll across the cobblestoned center of town, and we photographed the brick factory where Munkacs’ Jewish population was held before the fascists shipped them en masse to Auschwitz II by train in spring 1944.

Workers repair an air conditioning unit above the head of an oblivious woman on the telephone. July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

“Pick Up Your Dead Dogs!” July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

The town seemed small to our western eyes, but is the second largest within Trans-Carpathia (also called Subcarpathian Rus’). The pre-war Chasidic Jewish community of Munkacs neared fifty per cent of the city’s population; its cobblestone avenues lined with thirty-some synagogues, multiple Yeshivot, and scores of Jewish day schools. Under Czechoslovakian rule, The Jewish-Hungarian population lived with relative comfort and the freedom to practice as they pleased. As a result, the mostly-peasant city gained a reputation for fostering learned Talmudic scholars and early Zionist ideology.

In 1939, Hungary annexed Munkacs and Subcarpathian Rus’. Under Hungarian authority, oppressive anti-semitic policies increased in both number and severity, thus forcing many Jews to leave their homes for Palestine, Canada, the United States, and Western Europe. Those Jews that chose to remain suffered gravely.

German Nazis occupied the city on the 19th of March 1944 and by the 15th of May placed the area’s Jewish residents in a temporary holding pen housed within a former brick factory. There, Munkacs’ Jewish population slept in the open air, withstood brutal abuse, and awaited their horrific fate. Within a week, the Nazi Germans and the Arrow Cross Hungarians liquidated the brick factory and sent its 28,587 inhabitants via train to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. On the 30th of May 1944, authorities proclaimed their fine city ‘Judenrein,’ or free of Jews. 450,000 Hungarian Jews (seventy per cent) were murdered in 1944 and 1945. Overall Nazi Germans exterminated an estimated 2-3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 2 million ethnic Poles, hundreds of thousands of Roma, Gay, Belarusian, Slovenian, and disabled persons, and 6 million Jews.

“Remember.” July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

“Remember.” July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

The hebrew word זכור (‘Zachor’), translated as ‘remember’ in English, is directly associated with the concept of preserving the memory of the Holocaust and those murdered under fascist ideology from 1939 to 1945. The yellow band across black letters in this stencil symbolizes the yellow arm-band that Jews were publicly forced to wear prior to and during the Holocaust.

“Remember.” July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

Jewish Star Etched onto My Grandfather’s Former Home. July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

“Remember.” July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

On August 1st 2012 Polish filmmakers released a short video that shows Warsaw residents sharing a moment of silence in honour of the Warsaw Uprising’s fallen heroes. We felt that the mood of respect and community portrayed in this clip appropriately match the message of the photo-essay above. Please enjoy:

A Note on Naming: The Hungarian and Yiddish name for this city is ‘Munkacs,’ while its Ukrainian (and today, predominant) name is ‘Mukachevo’. There is an obvious political context surrounding our decision to use ‘Munkacs,’ most explicitly as it symbolically refuses to ignore the city’s Chasidic, majority-Jewish, Hungarian-and-Yiddish-speaking, pre-war population. In passing conversation, many immigrants also call the country by its long-unused ‘Czechoslovakia’ for the same reason; this is one way to relate to and connect with the space’s former (and fleeting) temporal-spatial existence. Arguably, the naming concepts ‘Ukraine’ and ‘Mukachevo’ exist in cultural, culinary, linguistic, and religious opposition to ‘Czechoslovakia’ and ‘Munkacs,’ though the same boundaries are occupied by all four terms. This is an ethnically-influenced claim and may present some controversy.

“Mukachevo City.” July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

“Remember.” July 2011. Munkacs, Ukraine. (Photo: Alexis Zimberg)

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1 Comment

  1. Sam March 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for introducing a liltte rationality into this debate.

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