Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine

Beta version

Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine

Beta version

NN Theatre

Khust - guidebook

Ukr. Хуст, Hung. Huszt, Yid. חוסט

Here live the Ruthenian shepherds and woodcutters, the Jewish craftsmen і merchants. Poor Jews and rich Jews. Poor Ruthenians and even poorer Ruthenians.

Ivan Olbracht, Nikola Šuhaj loupežník (Czek. Nicolas Shukhai, the Bandit), 1933
Khust - guidebook

The fortress on the salt trail

Khust, located at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, in the Valley of the River Tisza, is the third city in terms of population in Transcarpathia. The name of the town probably derives from the River Hustets flowing through the centre of the city. There is also a legend of the devil, who wanted to jump out of hell. He got angry and broke through the earth with his head. He got through except for the tail, which got stuck. Try as he might, he could not pull it out. He started yelling: "Oh-je-e-j, my khwust-khwust-khwust (Ukr. tail)!"; the echo reverberated throughout the valley: "khust-khust-khust". Now in the place where the devil pulled his tail out of hell there is a hill and the town around it is called Khust (according to a story by Iryna Pustynnikova).

The origins of the town date back to the 11th century, to the construction of a fortress to protect the salt trail leading from Solotvyno salt mines. The construction of the castle was completed by the King Béla ІІІ of Hungary, around 1190. In 1329, the Hungarian King gave the castle in Khust to his faithful Knight Draga, and the town received the status of a royal town. After the defeat of the Hungarian army in the battle of Mohács in 1526, The Kingdom of Hungary fell apart and the castle in Khust became a part of the Principality of Transylvania. In the second half 16th century, the Khust castle was one of the centres of struggle between the Dukes of Transilvania and the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1577, the fortress was reinforced and received a protection of a royal garrison. The castle was often under siege, e.g. by the Tatars, who in 1594, set the surrounding area on fire but failed to conquer the city. The castle also survived the Turkish siege (1660–1661). In the 1770s, Hungarian insurgents, the kuruc, were active in the vicinity of Khust. Finally, in 1687, the Austrian army took the castle. In the 18th century, peasant bandits began ransacking the area; e.g. a gang led by Hryhor Pync (there are many folk songs about how he bombarded the castle using wooden cannons) and by Fedir Boyko. In 1703, the castle was occupied by the troops of Prince Francis II Rákóczi – and it was there that the independence of the Principality of Transylvania was announced. In 1709, Prince Rákóczi called a Council of Transylvania. In 1711, Khust was eventually incorporated into the Austrian Empire as a part of its Hungarian lands.

In the 19th century, Khust continued to develop as a city of craft and trade. To this day, there is a quarry of extraction of andesite, which has been mined industrially since 1885. From the point of view of the economic development of the city, other important industries were production of furniture and brick, which gave rise to factories of building materials in Khust.

In autumn of 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart as a result of World War I. On 21 January 1919, Ukrainians from Transcarpathia called up a nationwide Transcarpathian Congress in Khust, where 420 delegates from all over the Carpathian region decided to join the united Ukraine. Ultimately, however, this part of Transcarpathia found itself in the Republic of Czechoslovakia as the Subcarpathian Ruthenia.

The Jews of Khust

Attracted by the favorable location of the city, Jewish merchants began to settle in Khust probably as early as in the late middle ages. However, the increased influx of the Jewish population began in 1772, after the First Partition of Poland. In 1792, the Jewish community of Khust consisted of 14 families. In 1839, 132 Jews lived here, next to 1,953 Greek Catholics, 640 Catholics, 370 Reformed Evangelicals and 8 Lutherans. The first rabbi (in 1812) was Abram Yakov of Zhidachov. The most influential rabbi was Moshe Schick (1807–1879), who, in 1861, founded in Khust the largest yeshiva in the Eastern Europe. Other prominent rabbis in the city were also Grinwald Moshe (1853–1910), Israel Yakov Leifer, Shmuel Shmelke Leifer ІІ of Khust, Meshulam Grinsberg of Khust and Josef Zvi Duszinski.

Moshe Schick (Maharam Schick, 1807–1879) was one of the most eminent Rabbis in Hungary in the 19th century, born in Birkenhain (now Brezová in Slovakia). His family came from Rabbi Hanoch Heinich Schick of Shklov. Moshe was sent to study at Chatam Sofer's (Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, 1762–1839) in Pressburg (Bratislava). Chatam Sofer called his extraordinary student a "treasure chest full of holy books." Schick was appointed rabbi in Svätý Jur (Slovakia) in 1838, where he opened a yeshiva. In 1861, he became the Rabbi of Khust, where he also helped to create a yeshiva for over 800 students.

Among other rabbis, Schick is commonly known as Maharam Schick; it is an acronym for "More(j)nu ha-Rav Rabbi Moshe" (Heb. Our Teacher, Our Master, Rabbi Moshe). He is the author of a number of responses-comments to Shulchan Aruch, аnd treaties Chidushey ha-Maharam Shick and Derashot Maharam Shick. He died in Khust on 25 January 1879. He was one of the leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community in Hungary.


Already in the first half of the 19th century, the community became one of the largest and most influential in Transcarpathia. In 1880, it was inhabited by 1,062 Jews, while in 1910 there were 2,371 Jews (14.7% of the population). In the interwar period, Khust became a district city in the territory of Czechoslovakia. The number of Jewish inhabitants of the city increased to 3,391 people in 1921. The Jewish entrepreneurs ran, among others, cinemas, wine cellars, shops, factories and craft workshops, 3 banks, 4 mills, and hotels: "Crown" and "Central". Many Jews in the city were doctors, pharmacists, lawyers and administrative workers. In 1923, 5 Jews were members of the City Council.

In 1921, Rabbi Josef Duszinski Zvi became the head of the Jewish community, and later he became the Chief Rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.


Josef Zvi Duszinski (1867–1948) was born in Paks (Hungary) and was a student of one of the grandsons of Rabbi Chatam Sofer of Pressburg. Duszinski was the Chief Rabbi of the city of Galanta in Slovakia, and since 1921, of Khust, where he spent most of his time teaching students in the yeshiva. In 1930, together with his family he moved to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. In 1932, shortly after the death of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (1848–1932), leader of the Haredim community (ultra-Orthodox) in Jerusalem, the Chief Rabbi and founder of the "Ha-ha-eda charedit" community (Heb. The Community of Those Who Fear God), Josef Zvi Duszinski was appointed his successor. He founded the Society of Hungarian Jews in Jerusalem. Duszinski was known for his strong opposition to secular Zionism and he sent numerous protests to the UN against the creation of the Zionist state. He died on the eve of the Sukkot feast on 17 October 1948, shortly after the creation of the Israel state.


In 1930, the Jewish population of Khust grew to 4,821 people. It has to be noted, however, that also in the 20th century, in Transcarpathia (as part of Czechoslovakia), the absolute majority of the Jewish population (according to data from 1930: up to 65%) lived in rural areas (mountains), which was the highest percentage of the Jewish peasants in Europe.

The Jewish political parties were active in Khust, including "Agudat Israel", as well as several Zionist organizations, Orthodox youth groups and the National Jewish Party, which represented the community in the City Council. There were various organizations and institutions, cheders and several Talmud-Torahs.

Khust had its Hasidic dynasty – chasidut Khust, an offshoot of the Nadvirna dynasty formed in the 19th century. The first admor was Rabbi Yakov Israel Leifer of Khust (d. 1929). The family is derived from Rabbi Meir of Premyshlan (1703–1773), student of Baal Shem Tov. Today, the descendants of the dynasty from Khust live mainly in the US.


World War II and the Holocaust

Since the end of 1938, Transcarpathia belonged to Hungary; with the outbreak of war, anti-Semitism intensified. In 1939–1944, the Transcarpathian Jews, like all Hungarian Jews, were persecuted. In 1940, all healthy Jewish men had to submit to forced labour. The Jews were transported in freight cars to Kőrösmező (the village of Yassin) near the prewar Polish border, then across the border and were handed over to the Germans. At that time, the Jewish families without Hungarian citizenship were expelled to Ukraine occupied by the Nazi. Many of them were murdered in Kamianets-Podilskyi.

In April 1944, 3 ghettos were created in the area: in Khust and in the villages of Iza and Sokyrnycia. There were 5,351 Jews, deported to the ghetto with over 5 thousand Jews from the surrounding towns and villages. Several dozen Jews managed to escape from Khust and join the partisan units.

In the spring of 1944, approx. 10 thousand Jews from Khust and the whole region were deported to the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Before the deportation, Jews were gathered in what is now a brick factory, as well as in other collection points at today's Dobryanskyeho, Duhnovycha and pl. Khmyelnyckyeho. Starting from 14 May 1944, trains to Auschwitz set off directly from 8 stations – Mukachevo, Berehovo, Uzhgorod, Volove, Solotvyn, Sewluszа (Vynohradiv), Khust, and Tiachiv. Each train transported between two and four thousand Jews.

Some Jews from Khust were forced to march west on foot – to concentration camps of Buchenwald and Ravensbruck (Germany) and Mauthausen (Austria). By the end of spring 1944, the Nazi proclaimed Khust a town "free" from Jews. They murdered and deported to concentration camps more than 10 thousand people.

Hundreds of prisoners were held in a concentration camp near Khust. From there, 40-passenger transports were taken to the bank of the Tisza River in the vicinity of the Welatynsky Bridge, where the prisoners were shot and their bodies thrown into the river.

Ernő Szép (1884–1953) was born in Khust as one of nine children of a local Jewish teacher. In his youth, he moved to Budapest, where he made a literary career as a poet, playwright and journalist. He made his debut with a collection of poems and short stories Első csokor (Hung. The First Bouquet, 1902). He was one of the most outstanding artists of Jewish origin who wrote in Hungarian, alongside such writers as Sándor Bródy and Ferenc Molnár. His plays such as Pátika (Hung. Pharmacy, 1918), Lila ákác (Hung. Lily Acacia, 1921), A Vőlegény (Hung. The Bride, 1922) are still performed in contemporary Hungarian theaters. In 1944, Ernő Szép, together with other Jews from Budapest, was subjected to weeks of forced labour. He described this occupation experience in his book of memoirs Emberszag (Hung. The Smell of a Man, 1945).

The Soviet army occupied Khust in 24 October 1944. The city became a part of the Soviet Ukraine (USSR). At the beginning of February 1945, the first Jewish survivors returned to the city. Among them were Josi Rosenberg and Zvi Menschel. By the summer of 1946, the number of the Jews in Khust grew to 400 people. Most of the returning Jewish families, however, could not come back to their old houses.

In defence of the synagogue

According to some data, at the end of the 19th century, in Khust there were 8 synagogues and prayer houses. Among the buildings which have survived the war was the Old Synagogue built in the 18th century and rebuilt in the Soviet times for the purposes of a cinema.

Only one synagogue, built at the end of the 19th century, has preserved its original appearance and function to this day. Inside the synagogue there are wall paintings and its building has never been destroyed. It is the only synagogue in Transcarpathia continuously operating since its construction.

During World War II, the synagogue stored Jewish property confiscated by the Nazis. After the war, the Soviet authorities repeatedly tried to take over the building, but the Jewish women who came to the synagogue and took shifts under its walls, prevented these plans. The number of people praying in the synagogue was so large that there was hardly enough place for everybody. As a result, it has survived as a sacred building of the Jewish community of Khust in the difficult times of the communist regime. To this day, the Jewish community of the city (approx. 165 people) prays there.

The cemetery

On the hill, on Ostrovskoho Street, there is an old Jewish cemetery, founded in the 18th century. It has more than 1.5 thousand matzevahs. Buried here are, among others, Rabbi Moshe Schick and Rabbi Moshe Grinwald. The cemetery was closed for burials in 1960. On the slope of the castle hill, near the Christian cemeteries, a new Jewish cemetery was founded and is used by the Jewish community of Khust until today.

Worth seeing

  • Synagogue, Nezaleznosty Square 11

  • Jewish cemetery, Ostrovskoho

  • Ruins of the castle (11th century), Zamkova

  • Calvinist Church of St. Elizabeth (13th–18th century), Gothic fortified church, Konstytucyi 45

  • Roman Catholic Church of St. Anna (end of the 17th–19th century), Karpatskoi Sichy 40

  • Orthodox Church of the Annunciation of Mother of God (1928–1929), Duhnovycha

  • Khust Regional History Museum, Pyrohova 1

In the vicinity

Kireshi (5 km) Carpathian Biosphere Reserve "Valley of Narcissus": Narcissi bloom in May, at an altitude of 200 m above the sea level on an area of 170 ha; the entire reserve covers an area of 257 hectares

Vynohradiv (24 km): synagogue (19th century); Jewish cemetery; Franciscan monastery (16th century); Orthodox Church of the Ascension (15th century)

Irshava (36 km): former synagogue (19th century); Jewish cemetery

Solotvyno (50 km): salt mines; former synagogue (19th century) (rebuilt); Jewish cemeteries (19th century)

Kolochava (60 km): "village of a hundred museums," among others: Hutsul museum building with an exhibition of a Jewish tavern, museum of the writer Ivan Olbracht; wooden Orthodox church (17th century); National Park "Synevyr"

Berehove (60 km): active synagogue (1920); cemetery (19th century)

Mukacheve (83 km): unique Castle Palanok (11th–17th century); Gothic Chapel of St. Joseph (11th–15th century); Schönborn Palace (18th century); Council Cathedral of St. Martin (20th century); newly built synagogue (21st century); restored Jewish cemetery (20th century)

Uzhhorod (100 km): former synagogue (1903); Jewish cemetery (19th century)


Author: Volodymyr Bak