Tragedies of Experience – Satoraljaujhely: Peaceful Present, Nightmarish Past (Part Two)

Click Here For Part One Of Satoraljaujhely: Peaceful Present, Nightmarish Past

Satoraljaujhely’s Jewish population ended up being swept away in the whirlwind of the Final Solution. In 1944, Hungarian gendarmes rounded up the town’s Jews, placed them in a ghetto and soon thereafter shuttled them off to concentration camps, mainly Auschwitz, where they were murdered. In 1941 there were 4,160 Jews in Satoraljaujhely, by the end of the war 90% of these had been murdered. Tragically, the few hundred Jews who returned to Satoraljaujhely after the war suffered another wave of anti-Semitic attacks. Two centuries of slow, but steady progress for the Jews, a group that found prosperity and then tyranny in this forgotten town, had been eradicated.  Jews who had somehow survived eventually emigrated. By the turn of the 21st century there were only 6 Jews left in the entire town. The demographic statistics concerning Jews are impersonal, but still have the power to shock. Consider that in 1910 Jews made up 28.7% of the town’s population, in 2001 they made up .003%. In other words, in 1910 close to three out of every ten citizens in Satoraljaujhely were Jewish, by 2001 it was one out of every 3,047 citizens.

Abandoned Jewish synagogue and cemetery in Satoraljaujhely

Abandoned Jewish synagogue and cemetery in Satoraljaujhely (Credit: Lord Thomas)

Where Everyone Is A Survivor
The gentiles of Satoraljaujhely did not get off lightly either. They would see the Nazis come and go, the Soviets come and go (the lone physical remnant that remains from the Red Army’s occupation is an ivy covered monument barely visible in the town square), but not before they left permanent scars on the citizenry and the town. One of the horrific unspoken stories of Second World War in Hungary is the amount of rape, robbery and murder brought upon the provincial populace by the Red Army. These terrifying secrets are likely to die unspoken, unheard and undocumented as the last remaining Hungarians of Satoraljaujhely who suffered through these horrors die out in the years ahead. Some made it out of the war alive, but no one was left unscathed.

Old border post sign in Slovak in Slovenské Nové Mesto - Satoraljaujhely is literally a stone' throw away

Old border post sign in Slovak in Slovenské Nové Mesto – Satoraljaujhely is literally a stone’ throw away (Credit: Szeder László)

After the war, the border with Czechoslovakia was reinstituted (Upper Hungary i.e. much of modern Slovakia had been regained in 1938 as a gift from the Nazis in what is known as the Second Vienna Award).  The Slovaks took back their portion of the city and this time kept it for good. It is hard to believe that a border drawn in a suburb of Paris (could anyplace seem further from Satoraljaujhely) still is recognized today. In an odd twist of fate the border today is much the same as when it did not exist before the First World War. Due to Hungary and Slovakia both now being members of the European Union’s Schengen Area, citizens can walk across the border unimpeded by barbed wire, soldiers or geo-political strictures. All barriers have been dismantled though lines on the map remain.

View of Satoraljaujhely from Magas Hegy (Tall Hill)

View of Satoraljaujhely from Magas Hegy (Tall Hill)

The Past Was A Different Country
One hundred years later everything has changed, but the town’s name and Hungarians remain. They are as much survivors, as they are citizens. 20th century history in Satoraljaujhely was a tragic experience. The few remaining citizens who have still have a historic memory of what occurred in their hometown and why it happened are most likely to take this knowledge to the grave. Speaking about the multiple tragedies might make them real again. The town is proof that Hungarians can survive nearly anything, including multiple apocalypses. The composition of the people did not survive though. These are very different Hungarians. Survival in such a context is nothing to be proud of here, rather it is something that was endured.

There is a hill close to Satorljaujely. It is aptly named Magas Hegy (Tall Hill) due to the fact that it towers over 1,300 feet above the town. Here can be found superb views amid clean, crisp air. This is a place where the citizens come to refresh and relax. The verdant scenery, the natural aromas of the outdoors and dramatic view of the town is almost enough to make a person forget that along the slopes of this hill and so many others in the surrounding countryside Hungarians and Slovaks fought a 1919 border war. It is impossible to escape from the past in Satoraljaujhely. Only ignorance or amnesia offers a bit of temporary relief. The “utter waves of catastrophe” that Simon Winder in his book Danubia refers to when speaking of Eastern Europe’s calamitous recent past can still be felt in Satoraljaujhely. Winder is correct when he says, “outsiders like me cannot begin to understand” what took place. To understand such cataclysms one would have to live through them, one would have to survive them, one would have to relive these tragedies of experience.

One thought on “Tragedies of Experience – Satoraljaujhely: Peaceful Present, Nightmarish Past (Part Two)

  1. Pingback: Tragedies Of Innocence – Satoraljaujhely: Peaceful Present, Nightmarish Past (Part One) | Europe Between East And West

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