Ernest Halpert was born in 1923 in Mukacheve, which was then under Czechoslovak rule. His father was a shopkeeper and Halpert grew up with two sisters. Halpert attended a private religious school until his bar mitzvah and then worked at a factory until the outbreak of World War II. When Mukacheve was occupied by the Germans in 1944, he was deported to Austria, where he was imprisoned in several camps as forced laborer. In March 1945, Halpert was drafted into the Red Army. During the postwar Soviet era, Halpert worked as engineer at a factory and raised two children.  

Other Interviews:

The Hard Years
The Jewish Soul
The Prayer House

Minkatch: a Jewish Town

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Ernest Halpert describes in this clip how he grew up in a religious family in Mukacheve before World War II. The romantic image of a Jewish shtetl (i.e., small Jewish market towns) in Eastern Europe that occurs in Western literary and scholarly narratives disappears at once when Ernest mentions his straining job at a factory at 13.

Ernest returned to Mukacheve after World War II, when he was released as forced laborer from the Hungarian Army battalion for Jews. The Transcarpathian province was officially annexed to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic mid-1945. This new socio-political reality significantly restricted Jewish religious practice - as Ernest remembers well. Ernest's strong sense of Jewish identity, growing up in a hasidic family, is very much noticeable when he describes the urge to live a Jewish way of life. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he was finally able to practice religion free from state persecution.