This story is set in the Transylvanian city of Targu Mures, or Marosvasarhely in Hungarian.
During the Second World War, northern Transylvania was occupied by the Hungarian fascists, who deported 150,000 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944. Juci Scheiner, who hailed from a well-to-do family, was one of them. She and her brother Andras survived and returned home, where Juci re-opened her beauty parlor. She won a motorcycle in the lottery and, during a motorcyclists' ball, met and fell in love with her future husband, Jeno Schoenbrunn. Jeno himself had only recently returned from Soviet labor camps.
Juci's time in concentration camps saw to it she could have no children of her own. Jeno died after an extended illness. After a long time, Juci married another Holocaust survivor, Aladar Scheiner, president of their small Jewish community. Juci also lost Aladar. Well into her nineties she stayed involved with her smaller and aging Jewish community. This film ends with a tribute to the Joint Distribution Committee, which, among other things, helps care for elderly Holocaust survivors.
Transylvania has not always been Romanian – it has had a long collective history with Hungary. It was under Hungarian possession in the 11th century and incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary. The Habsburg monarchy acquired the territory of Transylvania after the Battle of Vienna in 1683. In the year Juci Scheiner was born, Transylvania was ruled by Austria. The region became fully absorbed into Hungary as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918).
Although the First World War was fought, in part, to secure the power of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, its defeat heralded its dissolution. The monarchy was disbanded and territory was partitioned. After the war, Transylvania joined Romania.
The existence of Jewish life in Transylvania can be traced back centuries. The earliest record indicates Jewish presence during Roman times.
Many Jews throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire were assimilated, more or less, into secular life. However, Jews living in independent Romania before the First World War were subject to an atmosphere of heightened anti-Semitism. After WWI, with the acquisition of territory including the region of Transylvania, Romania reluctantly legislated the naturalization of Jews in both the prewar and annexed territories. In the years before the Second World War, anti-Semitic attitudes and violence intensified.
The film states that in 1941, there were 6,000 Jews living in Targu Mures. Jews began settling in the city during the 19th century. The Large Temple still stands today.
As Juci explainds, only 800 of the prewar Jewish population Targu Mures returned after the war.
With right-wing military officer Ion Antonescu’s ascension to power in 1940, Romania formally joined the Axis alliance. Antonescu initiated violent measures against Jews in Romania and in the areas re-annexed from the Soviet Union known as Transnistria. Romanian authorities established their own ghettos and two concentration camps in Transnistria. Antonescu was overthrown in 1944.
Antonescu was a Romanian nationalist and supported the idea of “Romanianization” through which the race would be purified. He was a staunch anti-Semite, but also an anti-Communist. This review of Dennis Deletant’s book, “Hitler’s Forgotten Ally,” provides a useful overview of Antonescu’s policies and actions in Romania from 1940-1944.
In 1940, Romania was forced to give a great part of Transylvania to Hungary. The Jews who lived in this part of Transylvania, including Juci, were subject to Hungary’s anti-Jewish measures. Ghettos were established across Transylvania. In 1944 ghetto inhabitants were sent to Auschwitz.
Following WWII, Romania was occupied by the Soviets and after elections in 1946, communism was established as the dominant political force. In 1947, the People’s Republic of Romania was established.
In 1965, the name of the country was changed to the Socialist Republic of Romania and was led by Nicolae Ceauşescu – the country’s last communist leader. During his rule, he became increasingly aggressive and despotic and was eventually overthrown. He and his wife, Elena, attempted to flee but were captured and then executed on Christmas Day, 1989.
Because of mounting anger and opposition, large, violent demonstrations were led against Ceausescu and his regime. The Romanian revolution was one of the bloodiest of all the 1989 revolutions, which were held across Eastern Europe to overthrow the communist state.
Juci mentions that the Joint Distribution Committee does a lot of work for Romania’s Jewish population – many of whom are elderly and alone. The JDC works to provide basic services for community members, such as food and medical assistance, and to revive Jewish life.
Today there is an active Jewish community in Romania – their website offers information on various aspects of Jewish life in Romania.