April 16th marks the Day of Remembrance for the Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust. On this day in 1944 the Hungarian Holocaust began with the systematic sending of Hungarian Jews to the ghettos by the German occupation.
Ever since the arrival of Jewish merchants in Debrecen during the 1780s the community grew and settled, to such an extent that it was officially recognised in 1852. Along with settlement and official status came the development of synagogues, Jewish schools along with a hospital and social welfare institutions.
The Jewish community thrived in Debrecen, finding the city an accepting and tolerant society, and by the first world war, the city had 3 synagogues, two of which can still be visited today. The third was demolished after the war after structural damage caused during the war.
The 1941 census shows a Hungarian Jewish population of 725,000 of which two-thirds of them died as a result of forced labor, deportations, and genocide. Most of the Jewish communities in the countryside were destroyed.
In Debrecen, of the 11,500 registered citizens of the Jewish community in 1940, only one-third remained by the end of the war in 1949. Many of the survivors immigrated to the United States or to Israel, and many did not survive the ghettos, or for those transported elsewhere during the war, did not survive the labor or death camps.
Although Debrecen’s Jewish community of today is less than one-tenth of its pre-Holocaust size, its members preserve their heritage and traditions. The Jewish cultural heritage sights of Debrecen and Eastern Hungary can be explored on thematic trails and pilgrimage tours.
The “Journey to the Jewish heritage of the Northern Great Plains” pilgrimage centres on Debrecen, an urbanized Jewish community, as well as Nagykálló, a world-famous community organized around the famous Rabbi Taub. Pilgrims traveling on the holy journey can stay at the guesthouse of the headquarters of Debrecen’s congregation. The “Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis” is a 150-km long pilgrimage route that touches 10 towns and villages on its way through the Jewish memorial sites and the architectural heritage of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region.