Sighet (now known as Sighetu Marmatiei) is a small town in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, just south of the border with Ukraine and Hungary to the west. Like all the villages and towns in this area of Transylvania, it has known the tread of many occupiers: the Ottomans, Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and since 1920, Romania.
It is rich in Jewish history dating back to the first records in 1062 and prior to the Second World War, more than one-third of its 22,000 population was Jewish.
It was a major centre of very strict Chasidism, including the court of the noted Teitelbaum family, the founders of the Satmar sect.
In addition to Elie Wiesel, another prominent Jew from Sighet was Amos Manor, who became head of the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence and security service, and who was one of the operatives in the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960.
By April 1942, the town contained close to 13,000 Jews from Sighet itself and the neighbouring areas. Between 16 and 22 May, they were herded into a ghetto. One month later, the ghetto was liquidated and its inhabitants deported to Auschwitz.
READ MORE – Limmud FSU in Romania:
A total of 11,000 were killed and only 2,000 returned to find their houses and property had
been occupied by others. Attempts to reclaim them failed.
Dr Aurel Vainer, the president of the Romanian Jewish community, says that of the 850,000 Jews in Romania before the war, there are no more than 7,000 in the whole country today.
In 1947, there were some 2,300 Jews in Sighet, including survivors and a considerable number of Jews from other parts of Romania, but now the town has just 120 Jewish families, most of the remainder having left for Israel, the US and other places where they had relatives.