Tag Archives: holocaust

The Fate of the Sabbatarians

I don’t often link to other articles online, but I read an article today that struck me as fascinating, well-researched, well-written, and which has many implications for those interested in Jewish genealogy.

The article, by Shay Fogelman in Haaretz, is titled Discovering Europe’s non-Jews who kept the faith and it discusses the fascinating history of the Sabbatarian community of Transylvania (Szekler Sabbatarians). The Sabbatarians were a community founded in the late 1500s by a Christian nobleman who, fascinated by the Bible and other Jewish writings, adopted many customs of Jews such as keeping the Sabbath (thus the name Sabbatarians) and keeping kosher, etc. He spread his beliefs to his court, which slowly adopted his beliefs, but it was his adopted son and successor who really spread this new belief-system by translating Jewish prayerbooks into Hungarian for the use of his followers. They were not Jews, they were not Christians, and that created no shortage of problems for them.


Bozodujfalu, center of the Sabbatarian community

In many ways they were persecuted even more than the Jewish community in the same region, because the Christian churches which dominated the region viewed Sabbatarians not as Jews, but as Christian heretics. By 1635 when they were forced to convert to one of the four major Christian sects in the region by the government, they counted their members at 20,000 people. Driven underground the religion persisted in hiding for hundreds of years, pretending to be Christian but intermarrying either amongst themselves or occasionally with the local Jewish community. In the mid-1800s with the emancipation of the Jews, the Sabbatarian community came out of hiding (although they were still persecuted as heretics) and half of the community converted en-masse to Judaism. The community, now half Jewish, continued to pray together in the same Synagogue as before.

When WWII started and the Nuremberg laws came into force, the Hungarians who controlled the region, and the Germans who eventually took over, were not sure what to do with the Sabbatarians. At first they considered them Jews, but after protests (including by local Christian clergy) some were exempted from the racial laws that sent the Jews into ghettos and eventually to the death camps. Some who were given the opportunity to leave the ghetto remained there as they decided they would rather share the fate of the Jews (if that was what God willed). Very little of the community seems to have survived the war, although some descendants of the community still live in the area, and even in Israel.

The story is interesting from a genealogical point of view because of the history of the community. While the mass-conversion of half the community occurred within a time-period that is well documented, the previous two centuries of the community is not well-documented, and the interaction between the Sabbatarians and the Jewish community is not well known. If members of the community intermarried into the Jewish community (presumably converting to Judaism beforehand), then that is in many ways reverse intermarriage compared to the much-more-common-at-the-time marrying out of the community. It would be extremely rare at that time to find large numbers of a non-Jewish community marrying into the Jewish community.

How is this influx of the local population into the Jewish population reflected the DNA of the Jewish population? If intermarriage really started in the 16th century, the number of descendants could in fact make up a large minority segment of the Jewish population from that area. What are the predominant haplogroups of Sabbatarians? Do those haplogroups exist in any large percentage in the Ashkenazi Jewish community? Some haplogroups such as Q1b1, which is a minority among Ashkenazi Jews (5%), but which is almost all Jewish, have been theorized by some to be a remnant of the Khazarian mass-conversion (the only other large-scale conversion since biblical times that I can think of), but perhaps the Q1b1 haplogroup derives from the Sabbatarian community? or another mass-conversion which we don’t know about?

It would also be interesting to document the connections between the two halves of the Sabbatarian community after the mass conversion in the 19th century – presumably there was intermingling between the two halves after the conversion (they still prayed together after all).

From the article in Haaretz it seems those Jewish descendants of the Sabbatarians identified by the author may not be interested in researching this history. We may therefore never know the full story of the Sabbatarians, and what their influence on the make-up of the Jewish people today is (perhaps significant, perhaps inconsequential).

In any case, I recommend reading Shay Fogelman’s excellent article and learning about this little-known non-Jewish sect which followed many Jewish laws (although not circumcision among others).

Out of curiosity, how many of you had heard of these Sabbatarians (Szekler Sabbatarians) before this post? If so, where did you hear about them?

World Memory Project: USHMM and Ancestry.com Team Up

The US Holocaust Memory Museum (USHMM) has teamed up with Ancestry.com to digitize and index the millions of documents from the USHHM’s archives. This partnership is leveraging the indexing software that Ancestry.com build for its existing community project, the World Archives Project. Basically, this software allows people to register on Ancestry.com (this is free) and select a document in the queue, view a document, and then transcribe it so it will become searchable. The software knows the structure of the document you are transcribing and helps you through the process. Usually the way this kind of system works is that more than one person ends up transcribing each document, and then if there are any differences between the multiple transcriptions, an expert reviewer will check the transcription and correct any mistakes. This redundant system allows non-expert transcribers to help in a massive indexing projects like this one.

I wrote awhile back about the concept of giving back to genealogy through indexing projects like this one. In that article I explained how the process works at FamilySearch.org, whose indexing program is very similar. If you have been researching family members that were killed in the Holocaust then this is a great way to give back to the community. The millions of records being indexed from the USHMM archive will increase our knowledge about millions of people whose lives are recorded in these documents. Many of these documents will hold the key to families discovering what happened to their relatives during the war.

At the beginning, the project has started out indexing the following ten document collections:

  • USHMM Ain, France, Selected Holocaust Records
  • USHMM Czech Republic, Jews Deported to Terezin and Poland
  • USHMM Czech Republic, Selected Jewish Holocaust Records, 1939-1941
  • USHMM Eure-et-Loir, France, Selected Holocaust Records
  • USHMM Munich, Germany, Displaced Jewish Orphans at the Ulm Children’s Home, 1945-1948
  • USHMM Palestine, Illegal Immigration from Nazi-Occupied Europe, 1938-1946
  • USHMM Poland, Jewish Holocaust Survivors Registered in Warsaw, 1945-1946
  • USHMM Poland, Jewish Prisoners of War in Lublin, 1939-1941
  • USHMM Poland, Jews Displaced from Biała Podlaska to Mie̜dzyrzecz Podlaski, 1942
  • USHMM Romania, Family Questionnaires for Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Victims, 1945

The languages vary per collection, but the system is designed to allow even those without knowledge of the specific language to help transcribe the documents. Of course, if you do know one of the languages from these collections, that can only help. As the Palestine collection was generated by the British Mandate government, that collection is largely in English.

The project expects the first documents to be made available by this summer or early fall. As more document collections are completed they will be added to the web site. Like other collections that are indexed by the public (through the World Archives Project), these collections will be free to search, even though it is being hosted by Ancestry.com.

To get an idea of how indexing a document works, you can view a video guide the project has posted for one of the Polish collections:



The video should give you a good idea of how the process works.

[Update: Ancestry seems to have removed the video from their site and made it private on Youtube. I don’t know why this is case, but you can go to their written explanation of the same data collection to see pictures of the records and what information is extracted from them.]

One important note, especially since I am a Mac user myself, is that the Ancestry.com software being used for this project does not support the Mac. You can only currently join this project if you are running Windows. Hopefully Ancestry.com will remedy this problem in the near future.

It seems this week has had two intertwined themes running through it, the Holocaust and the digitization of archives. This project certainly borrows from both themes and it is great that there is a way for everyone to help in bringing these very important archival materials online.

Project HEART: Database of Stolen Holocaust-Era Assets

Continuing this week’s Holocaust focus, the NY Times has reported in an article Property Lost in Holocaust Is Cataloged Online about a project initiated by the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental organization in Israel headed by Natan Sharansky, to catalog assets belonging to Jews that were killed during the Holocaust.

The project, titled Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce, or Project HEART, has a website that includes a database of assets that they have collected from various resources across Europe. The database contains over 650,000 records currently, and is expected to grow to over a million records in the future.

This project is intended to help heirs of Jews murdered during the Holocaust to claim property, whether real estate, art, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc. that has sat unclaimed until now due in many cases to people not knowing that these assets existed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu introduces the project in a short video on Youtube:



I’ve discussed in the past some of the ways one can research family members that were killed during the Holocaust, including searching Yad Vashem’s Shoah Names Database and utilizing Yizkor Books. If you know of relatives killed during the Holocaust you should search through Project HEART’s database and see if perhaps they left behind something which I’m sure they would rather a family member claim then be left in the possession of some bank or insurance company in Europe.

Update: The Forward yesterday published a look at  the political implications of the Project HEART initiative.