Cehu Silvaniei: Local history in search of a family

Dear Beate,

I’m so sorry for being late with the pics and text. I would love to say “it’s the Romanian way”, but no, it’s me. I’m lazy. And busy finding my cave for hibernation cause winter is coming.
Let me make amends and do it right.

Cehu Silvaniei-today
It’s the smallest city in Salaj county, about 7000 inhabitants (49% Magyar). It does not have a hospital or appeal court. Normally it should not be a city, but a village. This was one of Ceausescu’s habits. He wanted rural population extinct, everybody living in cities for his obsession of the “new man”, so decided to move peasants in cities and give the title “city“ to medium, big size villages. Today they live mostly on agriculture, textile and wood furniture industry. Ps: the road to Cehu was hell. It’s under construction. Which in Romania means a new house with a pool for the mayor and 3-5 years for making 10 km of asphalt.

Cehu Silvaniei name meaning:
silva(-ae) is latin for „forest”
Cehu comes form the Czech ethnics which were there in XV century
Cehu Silvaniei = the Czech’s forest.

Around 1900 this was a busy, multi-ethnic place. 3000 inhabitants out of which 600 were Jews. The Jews had an important part of this place, proof is the imposing, magnificent synagogue they had built in Cehu. They had local business and were Magyar (or Hungarian) Jews. Makes it harder to understand when they were all send to prison camps and deported (part of Transilvania was then under Hungarian occupation; the Hungarians send Hungarian people to hell). History is sometimes hard to swallow and people don’t always make sense. But if I were you, I’ll stick to “I’m Romanian, of Magyar Jewish descend, from Transilvania), rather than “I’m Hungarian.” Just saying. :d​

The synagogue was demolished in 1930s. On its location today is the local town hall.

WWII monument with the names of the deported (located in the yard of the Reformat  church)

In the old days, XIV century, there was a fortress in Cehu Silvaniei, and later in XVI century a castle belonging to various Magyar nobility families. Only the main building remained standing in the XX century. During 40 years of communism the castle was used as headquarters for communist agriculture industry CAP until 1990. After 1993, while its rightful owners were going through legal trial to get the building back, people started stealing construction materials from it, hence leaving it in ruins today. While we were in Cehu, we didn’t see the ruins. Smart call since it would have make for a really sad picture.

After the Jewish were deported their houses and business were taken over by the “new people”. Most of center houses which were Jewish owned and build were demolished or left in ruins. Very few remained. The Finance house is a former Jewish house. So is the Multicultural center, former Orphanage house. You can recognize some of the Jewish houses due to the semicircular arcades and Jewish elements, like the beehive.

The Jewish cemetery is on the right corner of the Romano-catholic one. Mostly in ruins, old stones covered in tall grass, decay, crumbled funerary stones no one is taking care of. They have a commemorative stone placed there after 1989 Revolution to remember the Jewish that were deported. The decay of that small place, on top of a hill, was for me the saddest things we saw in Cehu. If you can’t remember the dead or keep their memory alive, you’re bound to repeat the mistakes and in the end there’s gonna be no one left to tell the story.

In Cehu around 1920s there were two banks: Albina and Corona. Surprise, surprise! Both of the two buildings remained standing today. One of them was probably the place owned by your grandparents.
Albina bank is today a school history museum

Corona bank is mostly shops and in decay inside

A building still standing and in use today is the Magyar school. Built in 1892 your father most likely went to school here, his first grades. It didn’t change much. If you look closer, on the walls under all that paint you might see his handwriting scribbling the name of the girl he had a crush on.
Beate in school

All the information I wrote you about comes from the director of the museum we met and talked to. His name is Gavra Augustin, he runs the local history museum and told me what he could remember of the Jews and their local history. He’s born and raised in Cehu and so are his grandparents. He also told me there are some archived kept in the schools’ attic with old pictures of what Cehu Silvaniei used to look like back in the day and probably registers of your father first school days. If you’re ever interested you should look into that and start from there.
If I may give you an advice: keep a diary for posterity. You have a lot of history with you. Let it be known and shared. It made you who you are today and it will shape your future generations. Speak up! Look up! Be proud!