Even Fake IDs Could Not Save Them From the Nazis

Roza Bahar and her sister Matilda were willing to try anything to escape the Nazis but in the end, it was their fake IDs that led to their deaths.

Roza Bahar's forged ID. Courtesy of the Historical Archives of Belgrade.

Roza Bahar was born on August 15, 1916, in a town called Pristina in the south of Serbia. She grew up with her older sister Matilda and her two brothers, Haim and Rahamin. After completing her schooling, Roza found work as a clerk. Little more is known of her life before the Holocaust; we don’t have information about her personality, her interests or hobbies, her social life or her experiences, but in the Historical Archives of Belgrade there are several documents that tell the story of her struggles during World War II and the events that eventually lead to her death.

The Jewish community of Serbia dates back centuries to the times of the Romans.  For many years the Jews successfully participated as equal citizens in the local economic, political, social and cultural spheres and contributed greatly to the development of the capital city of Belgrade.

King Peter I of Serbia laying the cornerstone of the synagogue Beit Israel in Belgrade, May 10, 1907. Photo from the Center for Jewish Art.

Jewish life in the region was brusquely interrupted with the start of the Second World War, and life as they knew it came to an end. The Jewish community of Belgrade had grown to 12,000 members but just over 1,000 survived the horrors of the Holocaust.

The Palestine Post, April 28, 1941. From the Historical Jewish Press.

In early 1941, the Germans invaded Serbia and began raiding Jewish homes and businesses, evicting the Jewish residents and owners and confiscating their property. Many Jews were shot and murdered in mass executions carried out by the Germans during this time.

The Beit Israel Synagogue in Belgrade was destroyed by German bombings in April 1941. Photo from the Center for Jewish Art.

According to a Special Police file preserved in the Historical Archives of Belgrade, during the raids on the Jewish community Roza Bahar and her sister Matilda were caught holding forged identification cards listing their names as Roksandra and Mileva Zunic during a raid on the apartment of a gentleman named Radoje Zunic. Radoje tried to protect the women and presented Roksandra, otherwise known as Roza, as his fiancé but his efforts were for naught.


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Roza and Matilda were arrested on the spot when the Germans discovered the forged IDs and were sent to the Sajmište concentration camp, one of several operating in the region, to join the thousands of Jewish men, women, and children who had been rounded up throughout Serbia in late 1941 and early 1942.

The Sajmište concentration camp was built on the former Belgrade fairgrounds, a place that was intended to show the great progress in industry taking place across Europe. The prisoners were kept in squalid quarters and faced harsh weather conditions and food scarcity with many dying from influenza outbreaks, frostbite, and starvation.

Sajmište fairgrounds before the start of World War II.

Sajmište began operations as an extermination camp in 1942 when a mobile gas chamber arrived at the fairgrounds. Under the guise of transfer to a different and better-equipped camp, prisoners who had volunteered for the transport were loaded into the mobile gas chamber and were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Transportable gas vans similar to those used in the Sajmište concentration camp.

Roza and Matilda Bahar met their deaths in Sajmište according to a report filed in 1945 by their brother Rahamin, who survived the war and returned to his hometown of Pristina. Haim also survived the war and in 1949 he moved to Israel with his wife Sofia and their child.

Historical Archives of Belgrade

The Historical Archives of Belgrade were established in 1945 by the Belgrade City Council with the task of collecting, processing and protecting material generated by city authorities and various public institutions belonging to the city’s 17 different municipalities.  Today, the archives preserve 13 linear kilometers of archival material in 2,737 fonds and collections. The archives also preserve numerous personal and family collections of distinguished individuals from Serbian history or important families who participated in crucial historical moments of the Serbian capital.

Materials kept in the archives preserve evidence of the Jewish community’s everyday life in Belgrade over the last two centuries. Numerous cherished documents touch on many aspects of life of Jewish community members – men, women and school children alike.

A sample of the Jewish archival material in the Historical Archives of Belgrade. This is the citizenship card of Rabbi Iganc Rot, a rabbi from Belgrade, from 1941. Courtesy of the Historical Archives of Belgrade.

The Historical Archives of Belgrade has begun a new and important initiative entitled, “The Jewish Digital Collection Project,” with the goal of creating an online database of Jewish archival materials using all the material that has been preserved in the Archives of Belgrade that relates to the Jewish community and Jewish heritage in Belgrade (Serbia).

As part of this project, 25 collections of documents will be processed as well as documents belonging to six elementary and secondary schools in Belgrade.  Once the research is finalized, the item descriptions will be translated into English. Currently, the internal archive database already contains some 27,000 records, with between 70,000 to 100,000 records set to be processed and scanned by the end of the project for digital preservation.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.

The Holocaust-Era Hero Who Became the Mayor of Hell

Miksa Domonkos, a Hungarian war hero who saved countless lives in the Budapest Ghetto during the Holocaust, was tortured to death under false pretenses.

Miksa Domonkos at the Italian front, Trento, Italy, 1916. Photo courtesy of Centropa.

The following story was collected by Centropa in an interview with István Domonkos, the son of Miksa Domonkos. István’s full oral history interview can be read here. 

For more than 40 years Miksa Domonkos unknowingly trained for the moment when he was needed most.  He became a hero, a genuine Hungarian hero, and like so many heroes in Hungary’s history, he paid a steep price for his sacrifice.

A road in Budapest, Hungary. This postcard is from the early 20th-century. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Domonkos was born in 1890 in Zsambek. Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, and Miksa spoke perfect German. He studied in Berlin and in 1910 when the first commercial tractors were being sold in Europe, he went to work for Caterpillar.

When the First World War began, he took his ability to work with trucks and tractors and went to serve the nation. He quickly rose through the ranks, from private to ensign to first lieutenant. He was wounded several times, after recovering from the injury, he would always return to the war front.

Miksa Domonkos at a tractor show in Budapest, Hungary, 1930. Photo courtesy of Centropa.

In 1918, Miksa married Gabriella Rozsa and they had three children, Peter, Istvan, and Anna. But the marriage didn’t last, and a few years later, Miksa married Stefania Szabo. He went back to work for tractor companies and was extremely successful.

When the world economic crisis started in America in 1929 and spread its way to Europe, Hungary was hit hard. As new governments were elected they seemed to move ever more to the right. The situation worsened in 1938, as one anti-Jewish law after another was passed. Miksa lost his job and became a traveling salesman.

Istvan and Peter, the sons of Miksa Domonkos, 1932. Photo courtesy of Centropa.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, he expected the Italians, the Romanians, and the Hungarians to join him in his fight. Jews went too, in unarmed labor brigades. In 1942, Miksa’s son Peter was sent to a labor brigade in Ukraine where he died at the early age of 22. Istvan also went into forced labor in the mountains, working through the summer heat and raging winters.

Map of Budapest, 1942 from the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection at the National Library of Israel.

In 1944, Miksa was unemployed. As a Jew, he was unemployable. One day, he met with the leader of the Jewish community, Sandor Eppler. Eppler knew about Miksa Domonkos—the decorated soldier of the First World War. He knew that in 1935, he had become a Captain in the Reserves. Miksa Domonkos was hired and began arranging supplies to be sent to young Jews in forced labor brigades. He had soon turned the Jewish Museum into a warehouse for blankets, canned food, and medicine.

On March 19, 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary. Throughout the country, Jews were soon forced to wear the yellow star. Adolf Eichmann, with the help of the Hungarian government, the Hungarian gendarme and police very quickly arranged the deportation of 437,000 Jews from all provinces and outer districts of Pest directly to the death camps in German-occupied Poland.

Captain Miksa Domonkos, 1938. Photo by Color Photo Salon, VI, courtesy of Centropa.

In July 1944, a Swedish diplomat by the name of Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest and he soon began to save Jews by issuing them Swedish protective passes and later setting up safe houses.

Tens of thousands of Jews were sent out on death marches, and 75,000 people were forced into a very crowded ghetto in the center of Budapest as the Soviet Army began to surround the city.

This is when Miksa Domonkos became the man everyone depended on—he became the de-facto mayor of the ghetto—the mayor of hell.

Every day, even while soldiers guarded the ghetto, Miksa donned his uniform, polished his buttons and went to work. He was among those with permission not to wear the yellow star meaning he was able to move freely throughout the city. He used his army contacts to the best of his ability, reaching out to those who still respected the army that he had so faithfully served. They answered his calls, and when they could, they helped.

The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial in Budapest, Hungary 1988. Photo from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He ordered the workers of the community to distribute what little food he could find. They set up medical offices so doctors could care for the sick. They arranged for their own ghetto police, to keep order. And then arranged to bury the dead. All the while Raoul Wallenberg distributed forged documents to say Jews were under Swedish protection.

The Soviet Army entered Budapest, and on January 18, 1945, the ghetto was liberated. The great and grand city of Budapest was a war-ravaged wreck. It was then that Raoul Wallenberg went out to meet the Soviet Army—and vanished, never to be seen again.

From 1945 to 1948, things began to look up. Miksa went to work for the Jewish community and was highly decorated for all he had done during the war, but he had seen too much and in 1950, Miksa stepped down from his duties, exhausted.

Hungary—once an integral part of Europe—had now become a hardline Stalinist state. And the Russians were feeling the heat as the search for Wallenberg intensified. In April of 1953, Miksa was arrested and falsely accused of killing Raul Wallenberg. Miksa Domonkos, a decorated soldier of the First World War and hero of the Budapest ghetto, was tortured for six months by the communists to confess to murdering Wallenberg until there was nothing left of him.

Miksa Domonkos at his decoration ceremony in the Budapest Parliament in 1947. Photo by Photopress, Karoly Falus, VIII. Kisfaludy Street 4, courtesy of Centropa.

In November 1953, when it was clear he was dying, they dumped him in a hospital and Miksa passed away shortly after. Miksa Domonkos was quietly buried in the Jewish cemetery and, two years later, when the Hungarians rose up against the Soviets, the heroes of that failed revolution were buried just over the wall from Miksa.

Miksa Domonkos spent his whole life in service. He was a man of conviction who was always determined to do the right thing—and when he walked into the Budapest Ghetto every day, armed only with his elegant uniform and those glittering medals, he went to do the job he was hired to do—the job he had been born to do.

Watch this video produced by Centropa for the full testimonial as told by Istvan Domonkos, the son of Miksa Domonkos. 

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.

When Life Gives You Lemons: Sukkot Preparations in the Town of Halberstadt

Living in a cold climate in Central Europe sometimes meant going to great lengths to get the citrus fruit required to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the town of Halberstadt (then in Prussia, now in Germany), had one of the largest Jewish communities in Central Europe. The community Pinkas (registry), now housed in the Manuscript Department of the National Library, details the activities of the town’s Jewish residents from 1773-1808. This community register was written in chronological order and in several languages including Yiddish, Hebrew, and German. The Pinkas served as a centralized record of rules and regulations, criteria for acceptance into the community, diplomatic initiatives, and interactions with other communities.

In European countries with colder climates like Prussia, it was historically difficult to find fresh citrus fruit. While this may not seem like a critical issue for most, for the Jewish people citrus fruit play a fundamental role in the celebration of one of the central Jewish holidays – Sukkot.

An elderly man holding an Etrog used to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, illustration by Alphonse Levy from the Folklore Research Center at the Hebrew University

During the weeklong holiday, Jews celebrate by living and eating in huts constructed especially for the occasion in accordance with precise traditional instructions.

The citrus fruit known as the etrog, or citron in English,  plays a key part in the in the prayer services performed on Sukkot, which marks the end of the harvest season in the Hebrew month of Tishrei.

The Jewish communities in Central Europe were typically dependent on imported etrogim, a reality that served as a source of great apprehension for many given the dangers of sea travel.  As the high holidays approached, if the shipment of etrogim had yet to arrive, concern would grow within the community and the local Jews would find themselves feeling a bit frantic. In fact, there are recorded incidents where local merchants successfully tricked the despairing Jewish community into purchasing lemons in place of etrogim for want of a better option.

The concern over the timely arrival of etrogim was a familiar feeling for the community of Halberstadt. The community Pinkas includes an entry that tells of the great lengths the community leaders went through to ensure the town would be able to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot in its entirety.

Pages 101- 102 of the Halberstadt Community Pinkas, from the Manuscript Department of the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge the image.

Written in Yiddish on the 28th day of the Jewish month of Elul, just a few days before the start of the High Holy Days of 1796, an entry describes how the Jewish leaders of the town were working their personal connections in other Jewish communities to try and procure enough etrogim for the town to use in the upcoming holiday services.

“Reb Moshe said in the name of Reb Gissel, who wrote to the community leaders of Frankfurt to inquire about etrogim a while ago but until now we have yet received an answer,” reads page 201 of the Pinkas.

The entry even recorded suggestions by community leaders that another letter be written in the hopes of increasing pressure on potential suppliers of etrogim. They also included a contingency plan, in case the additional pressures were insufficient.

Etrog trees, photograph from the Dan Hadani Archive at the National Library of Israel

The entry reads, “Reb Gissel will continue to wait for an answer and in the case that his contact will not bring forth etrogim, we will instead buy a few etrogim at the fair in Leipzig before Rosh Chodesh Tishre (the beginning of the Jewish month of Tishre), as many as are needed for the community.”

This entry and the decision of the community council gives the impression that there were other locations with accessible etrogim but perhaps they were pricier or of a lesser quality, and therefore it was preferred to have them brought in from Frankfurt.

While the Pinkas does not mention the outcome of the community’s conundrum, this entry gives us an interesting insight into life for the religious Jewish community in the 19th century and provides a closer look at the difficulties faced when trying to uphold the laws of the holiday of Sukkot.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

The 13th Century Manuscript That Was Saved From the Nazis

The Worms Mahzor, written in the late 13th century, was spared the destruction of the Holocaust after it was smuggled away from the Gestapo and hidden in one of the city’s cathedral towers.

November 10, 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht.

Shattered glass glittered in the streets and the smoking remains of Jewish businesses and synagogues stood as witness to the violence and rampant destruction instigated by the Nazi mobs the previous evening. An eerie quiet fell on the streets of Germany that morning following the arrest and deportation of 30,000 Jews from their homes to the concentration camps where they would await their fate. Fear gripped the hearts of the Jewish community as its members surveyed the damage and questioned their safety and what the future held in store.

Dr. Freidrich M. Illert, the director of the local cultural institutions and the archivist of the city of Worms, immediately recognized that the extent of the damage was far beyond what most could perceive. It wasn’t just the physical businesses and places of worship that had been lost in the fires; the historical documents and archives of the Jewish community may very well have been included among the victims. The Great Synagogue of Worms had gone up in flames and he feared that, along with the building, the community’s archive which contained irreplaceable historical documents and books may have also been lost.

A page from the Worms Mahzor, from the NLI Collections. Click image to enlarge.

Included in the archive was the Worms Mahzor, a set of manuscripts consisting of two volumes, one that was written in 1272 and a second that was written in 1280. The two-volume set was used by the cantors of the community to lead the congregation of the Great Synagogue of Worms in the traditional holiday prayer services for centuries.

The two volumes were written by different scribes and it is not absolutely clear where they were written. The first volume was written by the scribe Simcha ben Yehuda and in the prayers for the seventh day of Passover, a marginal note reads: “This is said aloud on that day, such is the rite of Würzburg.” Based on this notation as well as the illustrations included in the manuscript which bare resemblance to other documents originating from that region, it is believed the volume originated from the area of Würzburg.


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Written on parchment in decorative Ashkenazic calligraphy, the Mahzor features illustrations and embellishments drawn in colorful inks. Over the years, different cantors as late as the 14th century had added their own notations to the first volume showing that the Mahzor had been used in prayer services for centuries.

A page from the Worms Mahzor, from the NLI Collections. Click image to enlarge.

The 13th-century manuscript also contains the oldest known sample of written Yiddish. The scribe of the Mahzor wrote a blessing for the man who carried the weighty book to the synagogue for prayer services. Hidden in the letters of the prayer for dew traditionally recited on Passover, the blessing reads, “Let a good day shine for him, who will carry this Mahzor to the synagogue.”

The blessing for the carrier of the Mahzor hidden inside the letters, “B’daato.” From the NLI Collections. Click image to enlarge.

During his desperate search for information, Dr. Illert discovered that the community archive had been spared the inferno that destroyed the Great Synagogue but the whereabouts of the archive and how it had survived remained a mystery. He sought the help of the Worms municipality and the Hesse State government in tracking down the archive but, despite his greatest efforts, his search proved futile.

Years later, in the summer of 1943, Dr. Illert was invited to the palace in Darmstadt by the local Gestapo officials to help decipher foreign manuscripts. He was led down the stairs of the palace to the basement to view the books. After just a cursory glance at what lay in front of him, Dr. Illert realized he was looking at the archives of the Jewish community of Worms. After a quick search, he discovered that buried deep in the pile of books and documents lay the two volumes of the precious Worms Mahzor.

A page from the Worms Mahzor, from the NLI Collections. Click image to enlarge.

Dr. Illert was determined to rescue the archives and the historical documents from likely destruction at the hands of the Nazis. At great personal risk, he began slowly and methodically removing items from the basement, transferring the archive to the towers of one of the city’s cathedrals for safekeeping, a decision that also spared the documents from destruction when the allied forces bombed the city.

A page from the Worms Mahzor, from the NLI Collections. Click image to enlarge.

The archive, along with the Mahzor, survived the horrors of the war and in 1956, legal negotiations began in the hopes of transferring the Worms archive to Israel. In June of 1957, the two-volume Mahzor was brought to the National Library of Israel for preservation and safekeeping and the rest of the archive of the Jewish community of Worms was transferred to the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish people.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.