In northwestern Romania, not far from the border with Hungary, lies the city of Oradea — once the home of a thriving Jewish community. At its peak, the centuries-old Jewish population comprised nearly one-third of Oradea's people. Today, that figure is just 2 percent; only 600 Jews remain.
Alexandru Kepes, 82, a Holocaust survivor, guards an Oradea synagogue going through renovations. | May 24, 2016 | (Daniel Owen)
Like far too many European Jews, Oradea's Jews were systematically wiped out during the Holocaust. At the end of World War II, only about 2,000 survivors returned to Oradea, and many only temporarily, choosing instead to emigrate to Israel, Canada, or the United States. The trend in Oradea was repeated across Romania, which, by some estimates, has only 1 percent of its pre-war Jewish population.
Today, Oradea's Jews have an uncertain future. Their numbers are dwindling and their city bears few physical reminders of their history or the tragedies of the Holocaust. American photographer Daniel Owen traveled to Oradea in 2013 and spent two years attempting to preserve that fading legacy. "Every once in awhile you'll find a memorial or plaque somewhere but it's typically obscured," Owen said in an interview. "[Romanians] tried as best they could to remove the history. So my job was to try to record it as best I could so it wouldn't be further dismantled."
There is only one active synagogue left in Oradea. Most others were destroyed in the war, or left to the elements during the communist regime that followed. That sole congregation is now tasked with keeping the Jewish tradition alive in a country where anti-Semitism still lingers. Below, a glimpse at those fighting for a future:
A memorial plaque at the Sas Chevra Synagogue reads, "In memory of our brothers and sisters deported to Auschwitz." | Aug. 28, 2013 | (Daniel Owen)
The Jewish Orthodox Cemetery, inactive since 1952, in Velenta, eastern Oradea. The cemetery holds around 4,000 graves. Some of the tombstones predate the 19th century. Most have fallen into disrepair. | Jan. 13, 2015 | (Daniel Owen)
The sun sets over the Great Synagogue on the final day of Hanukkah. Tomer Corinaldi, center, visits from Israel to celebrate Hanukkah with the Jewish community and teach lessons from the Torah. | Dec. 23, 2014 | (Daniel Owen)
The women of the Jewish community in Oradea attend the Shabbat service at the Sas Chevra Synagogue. Orthodox tradition dictates that men and women sit on different sides of the sanctuary during services. | July 26, 2013 | (Daniel Owen)
A group of Jewish men meet for their weekly reading of the Torah. | April 11, 2013 | (Daniel Owen)
Five Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are celebrated jointly during the Shabbat service at the Jewish community center. The Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were the first in several years. | Jan. 16, 2015 | (Daniel Owen)
The empty Zion Neologic Synagogue, on the edge of the Crisul Repede River, in Oradea. The 1,000-seat synagogue, built in 1878, is being turned into a museum and concert hall. | March 13, 2013 | (Daniel Owen)
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of active synagogues left in Oradea. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.