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Peter I. Hidas

The History of the Sacher Family of Losonc

My name is Peter I. Hidas. I was born in 1934 in the Hungarian town of Balassagyarmat. My mother's, Irén Sacher's grandfather's great-grandfather was Volf Sacher[1] of Moravia, who immigrated to Hungary in the 1720s. The Sachers, bearing the name of the Hebrew prophet Zachariah, lived in Balassagyarmat and Losonc for the next 215 years. This is their story.


1. The Eighteenth Century

In 1726 King Charles, Emperor of Germany and King of Hungary, a determined anti-Semite, in order to reduce the Jewish population in his Austrian dominions of Bohemia and Moravia, forbade marriage of all but the first-born males. At that time there were 8,541 in Bohemia and 5,106 in Moravia. Volf, whose life was impacted by this new law, decided to immigrate to Hungary where 12,000 Jews lived at that time. According to the census of 1735-1739 38% of the Jewish heads of families were born in Moravia. Due to immigration by 1782 the Jewish population grew to 83,000.[2] Following the expulsion of the Turks Jews began migrating to Hungary. The first wave came at the end of the seventeenth century from the Austrian and the German provinces. The second wave arrived at the beginning of the next century from the Moravian and the Czech lands, mainly from Nikolsburg, Göding, Ungarisch-Brod and Prossnitz. The latter group was more secular than the first one, more aware of German culture and the Enlightenment, and more inclined to assimilate.[3] Volf's descendants followed these traditions.

In 1729 Volf settled in Balassagyarmat in the County of Nógrád. He found himself, after his roughly 200 kilometer southeastwardly journey, in the midst of a well-established three hundred years old Jewish community. Volf shared the languages of his fellow-Jews; spoke German on the street and prayed in Hebrew at home and in the synagogue. The Moravian settlers maintained contact for decades with their "old country" for family and business reasons.[4]

In the eighteen century Balassagyarmat became the centre of Jewish life in Nógrád County. The community was growing rapidly despite government interference. In 1693 Leopold I forbade his Jewish subjects occupation other than retailing, brewing and finance. He also forbade them to settle in or within 50 kilometers of the country's mining towns. This latter regulation restricted the destination of Moravian immigrants to Hungary, and in particular to Nógrád County where there were numerous mining communities. The Jews from these towns and from abroad moved to Balassagyarmat, Szécsény, Losonc and the villages of Nógrád where they could legally settle. A new influx of Jewish merchants began in 1725 with the arrival of Markus Leukó to Balassagyarmat. In the oldest part of the town (Óváros) town's lived side-by-side Hungarian, Greek, Jewish and Serbian merchants. The wealthiest of them became the county's main merchant-bankers taking over the credit business from the guild merchants of Besztercebánya and Losonc.[5]

By 1746, 152 Jews lived in Balassagyarmat. In that year Queen Maria Theresa ordered her Jewish subjects to pay a two florins toleration tax per person under penalty of expulsion from Hungary.

Volf and his fellow Jews called this tax the Malke-Geld, the Queen's Money. The tax, the taxa tolerantialis, originally introduced in 1698, was six florints per family, but at Volf's time instead of six florints per year, he had to pay eight for his family, two florins per head. The larger the family the higher the burden became.[6] Making a living became difficult.

By 1771 the number of Jews in Balassagyarmat declined to 26 families with 102 members. Nevertheless, the Jewish merchants and tradesmen of the town began to dominate the business life of the town and the neighbouring villages. New wealth was created and that eased the tax burden. By 1787, 2,778 persons lived in Balassagyarmat, of whom 529 were Jewish. The town grew to 3,692 in the late 1820s by which time 839 of the citizens constituted the Jewish community.[7]

In 1753 a tax roll enumerator registered Volf Sacher (Sacharia). At various times the authorities marked down his name as Farkas Sacher, or Volf Zachar, or Sacharia Farkas, as they had heard or according to their own language; Hungarians preferred Farkas, the Austrians, Volf.[8] Six years later Volf was a respectable member of the local Jewish community, "ad sinagogam Judeorum" under the protection of the Zichy Estate. His income was 40 forints and paid 33 forints in taxes. In 1778 he was still a merchant (ficticium questor), selling pottery and earthenware but making only 10 forints a year.[9]

The census of 1775 mentions Abraham and Adam Sacher (Sachiras, Sachrias), presumably one of Volf's sons, was a wool and pelt itinerant merchant, (questor cum Iana et pellium). Abraham roamed the countryside and bought wool and leather from the peasants which he later sold at the local fairs. The family business flourished. By 1778 Abraham's yearly income was 52 forints. By 1784 he was only doing business in wool only. Abraham Sacher had three children; one son and two daughters but he could now easily afford the high toleration tax still in effect.[10] He was well-to-do, albeit not so rich as Abraham Lebel, a local competitor of the Sacher family. Business did not always proceed smoothly. Jewish merchants in need of justice turned either to the Jewish Council or to the secular authorities. Generally the Jewish Council, headed by the rabbi, arbitrated unless the case involved Greek merchants or gentile Hungarians.[11] The Balassagyarmat Jewish community administered its own affairs until 1848 with the approval of the Viceroyalty Council and the local landlords. The Jewish Council consisted of the rabbi, two lawyers, two judges and seven councilors. One of the lawer represented the defendant, the other the accuser. This Council coopted a local rabbi as co-president when cases of the neighbouring communities were tried.[12]

Adam Sacher (Sachar) was probably Volf's other son. In 1775, according to the census, there were four children under age fifteen in Adam's family: two boys and two girls. Ignátz Sacher, my great-great grandfather, was most likely Adam's youngest son who was born in 1781 in Balassagyarmat. Later one of Ignátz's grandsons was named Adam presumably in memory of Volf's son.

Marcus Sacher, who may have been Ignátz's brother or cousin, could have moved with Ignátz to Losonc, a few miles northeast of Balassagyarmat at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The census of 1831/32 shows Marcus as the head of his family living with his wife, two sons and two daughters in Losonc-Tugár, a small settlement adjacent to Losonc. Another Sacher boy, Áron, also lived in Losonc-Tugár and so did Nani Silber (1793-1861) who was born in Balassagyarmat and married one of the Sacher boys.

Some of the Sachers remained in Balassagyarmat. According to the census of 1831 Rebeka Zachar was a taxpayer of the town and the head of a Sacher family of seven. Jonas Zachar lived here with his father and a childless couple.

There is a story that is often told by members of the Losonc Sacher family. My mother and my cousin Elizabeth Sacher (Mrs. L. Szegö) who heard the story from our aunt Ilona told me the details. A very long time ago, the fable goes, in Vienna a member of the Austrian Sacher family which owned the famous Hotel Sacher was an officer in the army. This officer, who was a Catholic by faith, fell in love with a beautiful Jewish girl of Losonc. The affection was mutual and the couple was determined to get married. The families, however, opposed the marriage for religious reasons. The Jewish Sachers loved their daughter so much that they were ready to compromise; if the gentleman were willing to convert to Judaism, they would no longer oppose the union. Officer Sacher obliged and the marriage duly took place according to Jewish customs.And so began, according to legend, the Jewish branch of the Sacher family.

The story is a twentieth century fabrication. The Viennese Sachers became famous at the end of the nineteenth century and we know very little about them before the 1860s. Franz Sacher was born in 1816 and was apprentice-cook in Vienna by 1832. He completed his apprenticeship at the Bratislava (Pressburg, Pozsony) palace of Count Esterházy. According to a Hotel Sacher promotional pamphlet published in 1996 on the hundredth anniversary of the enterprise "It all started in 1857 when Eduard Sacher [one of the sons of Eduard] was only 14 and serving his apprenticeship in the firm of his father." A few years later he opened his first hotel. The Losonc Sachers had a two hundred years old history. By the 1860s they were wealthy citizens of their town. I found no evidence of intermarriage or of any communication between the two families. Nevertheless, the myth lives on. The true story of the Sachers in Losonc began with Ignátz.

Ignátz Sacher (Zachar) according to the Jewish census of 1848 was born in Balassagyarmat in 1781[13] He died in 1864 of tuberculosis.[14]

In the late 1810s Ignátz married Maria Selberer who, just like Ignatz, was born in Balassagyarmat. Her year of birth was 1791. Their first son, Leopold, was born in Losonc in 1821. Four years later in 1825 my great-grandfather Samuel Sacher was born; then Vilmos in 1830 followed by a daughter, Boriska, in 1835. According to the census of 1832, Ignátz Zacher had two sons and three daughters.[15] Ignátz and Maria had two more daughters, who were no longer alive in 1846, or, more likely, were married and no longer lived with their parents. Maria gave birth at age 30 to Leopold, and since it was unusual at that time to start a family so late, it is not unlikely that she gave birth to at least two more children when she was in her 20s. In the spring of 2002 my mother still fondly remembered Uncle Poldi (Leopold Sacher).



[1] Nógrád megyei censusok, Országos Levéltár, [Nógrád County censuses, National Archives of Hungary], film 42011-adóösszeírások [censuses]-judei [Jews], Balassagyarmat, 1753, 1775, 1778, 1831, 1843/44.

[2]Jehuda Don and George Magos, "A magyarországi zsidóság demográphiai fejlödése," [The Demographic Progress of the Jews in Hungary] Történelmi Szemle 28, No.3 (1985): 437.

[3]Aladár Komlós, Magyar-zsidó szellemtörténe t a Reformkortól a Holocuastig [Hungarian-Jewish Intellectual History from the Age of Reform to the Holocaust], Volume I: A magyar zsidóság irodalm i tevékenysége a XIX. században [The Literary Activity of the Hungarian Jewry in the Nineteenth Century] (Budapest: Mult és Jövö, 1997): 22.

[4] Ernö Marton, "The Family Tree of Hungarian Jewry," Hungarian Jewish Studies, I, 53.

[5] Balassagyarmat története 896-1962) [The History of Ballassagyarmat 896-1962] (Balassagyarmat: Városi Tanács, 1977): 72; Katalin Tausz, "Az Óváros: zsidó-keresztény együttélés egy kistársadalom példáján," Nagy Iván Történeti Kör Évkönyv 1995 (Balassagyarmat, 1995): 47.

[6] Béla Telek, "Adalékok a Nógrád megyei zsidóság történetéhez (1725-1848) [Contributions to the History of the Jews of Nógrád County, 1725-1848], Nógrádi Történeti Évkönyv 1989 [The History Yearbook of Nógrád, 1989] (Salgótarján, 1989): 99.

[7] Ágnes Ságvári , ed. Dokumentumok a zsidóság üldöztetésének történetéhez [Documents Concerning the History of the Persecution of Jewry] (Budapest: Auschwitz Alapitvány, n.d.): 14.

[8] Scheiberné Livia Bernáth, a magyarországi zsidóság személy- és családnevei II. József névadó rendeletéig [Prename and Family Name of Jews in Hungary before the Issuance of the Name Giving Law of Joseph II] (Budapest: MIOKK, 1981): 16.

[9] Országos Levéltár, C 29, Acta Judaeorum, 1725-1783, 39: ConscriptioJudaeorum: 32, Com.Abauj-Neograd, 1-17. Sz. No.139; Nógrád megyei censusok, Országos Levéltár, [Nógrád County censuses, National Archives of Hungary], film 42011-adóösszeírások [censuses]-judei [Jews], Balassagyarmat, 1753, 1775, 1778, 1831, 1843/44.

[10] Abraham Zacher, a brewer in Losonc in 1845, might have been his son or grandson.

[11] Telek, 102.

[12] Balassagyarmat története, 72

]13] Országos Levéltár [National Archives], 966 2285/1847 losonci járás [County of Losonc], Losonc-Tugár.

[14] Országos Levéltár [Hungarian National Archives], film 966, 2285/1833, Losonc járás [Losonc County], 1832, 1831-32, 1830-31, 1845, 1847 (Losonc Tugár); film 42012, Balassagyarmat. 1848.

[15] Ibid.