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[Page 120]

Vizhnitsa
(Ukraine)

48°15' / 25°11'

Translation of the vhapter
“Wiznitz” from Volume II:

Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina

Edited by: Hugo Gold

Written by: Selig Ascher Hofer, Tel-Aviv

Published in Tel Aviv, 1962

Translated by:

Isak Shteyn

Editorial assistant for translation: Bruce Reisch


This is a translation of the chapter “Wiznitz”, Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina
{History of the Jews in the Bukovina} Editor: Dr. Hugo Gold, written by Selig Ascher Hofer, Tel Aviv,
Olamenu Publishers, Tel-Aviv, 1962 (German).


1. Historical summary

Wiznitz is situated by the slopes of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, where the Ukrainian mountain peasant population, called the Hutzuls, live. At the time of the Austrian occupation, the locality was a village with a large Jewish population. Supposedly, the location of Wiznitz on the Czeremosh River, the former border between Moldowa and Poland, across from the small Polish city Kuty, and the border trade developed here lured in the Jews. In 1774 the Community already numbered 56 Jewish families with 191 souls, and two years later 108 families with 208 people, of which the number of males was just a little bit more than the number of females. Wiznitz was a unique Jewish Community in the Bukowina for having a Pinkas (register of births, marriages, deaths) of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) dating from 1768, before the Austrian rule. The Chevra Kadisha had the same functions like the later Kultusgemeinde and was subordinated to the Chacham-Basha Yitzchak ben Bezalel (1743-1777) from Jassy, a grandchild of the Rabbi Naftali Cohen (born 1649) from Ostrow. (Volume I, page 12)

At the time of the Austrian occupation, the Jewish representatives of the locality were Jstmar Hasklowitz, Josef Loebl, Jakob Israel, Loebl Meyer, Israel Jakob and Jehoschua Mayer. In 1778, Abraham Dawid was the substitute Rabbi, and one year later it was Wolf Jacob (according to the documentation collection of Teki Schneidra, State Archives, Krakau).

The Jews from Wiznitz, like the other Jews of the province, had much to suffer from the Chief of the Austrian Military administration, the Judeophobe, General Enzenberg. First of all, in 1779 a Kahal (Jewish community administration) was installed, subordinated to the Main-Kahal in Czernowitz. In 1782 already, on an order of General Enzenberg, who decided to use all means to reduce the number of Jews in the Bukowina, 19 families numbering 61 souls were expelled. One year later, a “mark off” commission began to classify the Jews according to their occupation as peasants, merchants and craftsmen. All other Jews who didn't end up in one of these three categories could be expelled. To avoid this calamity, delegates from 13 Communities came together in Czernowitz to direct a petition to the Military Administration. The Wiznitz delegates David Itzig and Jossel Leibel also signed the petition, which was presented to Enzenberg on April 4, 1783. On the basis of the decree regarding Jewish arrangements by Kaiser Joseph II from May 7, 1789, Wiznitz was declared a branch of the Czernowitz Jewish Community. Now, all Jews from the villages were obliged to move into one of the three cities, Czernowitz, Sereth and Suczawa, by November of that year. This odious measure of the Vienna court-office was met with opposition from even the local authorities. The District Captain Beck proposed the expansion of the rights of Jews to live also in Wiznitz, among other localities. The proposition was rejected, but after a new intervention, through the decree of June 21, 1790, 40 Jewish families were permitted to stay in Wiznitz until April 1, 1792. When Wiznitz became a market town, the planned measure against the village Jews automatically became senseless. Another petition, to prevent the introduction of new Jewish taxes, was signed by local Wiznitz residents Joseph Rosenberg and Jakob Dettinger (Volume I, page 30). According to an official report of 18 May 1808, 64 non-agricultural Jewish families lived in Wiznitz. It appears that these families saw their existence threatened by the influx of Galician Jews. During the visit of Kaiser Franz to Kuty in 1817, the representatives of the Wiznitz Jewish Community, Moses Mik and Nathan Reichmann, complained about the “crept-in” Jews; and as no change occurred, they sent a new complaint to the Kaiser, signed by Moses Mik, Simche Pachter and Jechiel Engel (Volume I, page 32).

The head of the Wiznitz Jewish Community between the years 1807-1833 was the Dayan (judge) Itzig Landmann (Volume I, page 35). According to the 1880 census, in the locality were 3,795 Jews out of 4,165 inhabitants (91.9%). Wiznitz and Sadagura had become the two Bukowinian localities almost totally inhabited by Jews. Wiznitz, like Sadagura, was also the residence of a Rabbinical Dynasty, despite the fact that its “Court management” was less magnificent than that of Sadagura. The two Dynasties were related by marriages. When the Sadagura Rabbi Bereniu, as “apostate” moved to Czernowitz, his brother-in-law, the Wiznitz Rabbi Mendl, was the one who tried, although unsuccessfully, to persuade him to return to Sadagura (Volume I, page 89ff). Rabbi Mendl was the director (Rosh-Yeshiva) of the Wiznitz-Yeshiva. The newly opened Yeshiva in 1918 was under the guidance of Rabbi David Schneebalg. Thank to the Chaim and Frieda Jwanier Foundation, the Yeshiva got a boarding school and enjoyed a subvention from the Vienna industrialist Max Delfiner (Volume I, page 83). There was also a Yiddish school-society under the guidance of the elementary school teacher Buchwerk.

The physical development of the Wiznitz Jewish youth was the concern of the Maccabi Society, under the leadership of the sportsmen Weiner and Schneider (Volume I, page 171).

2. The Zionist movement and the religious life in Wiznitz

The impetus came from the enlightened (maskilim) as well as the Talmud scholars; first of all from the brothers Meier Josef and Jakob Rosenberg. They were zealous readers of the “World”, “Zephira”, and other New-Hebrew magazines from Russia. This was something new in the eyes of those who saw a desecration of the Holy Language in the New-Hebrew literature. Besides those mentioned, the following were among the first Zionists: Meschulem Schaerf; Jossel Fried; the brothers Streit; N. Drimmer; Haber; students who spent their summer vacations in Wiznitz; Joachim Frist; Dr. Rosner; and Dr. Schaerf. The first Maccabi celebration took place in 1903. Gradually, the majority of Jews, especially the youth, became oriented toward Zionism. The following groups existed: Hanoar Hazioni, Yichud ( Zeirei Zion and Poalei Zion), Hapoel Hamizrachi and Bethar. The club of the Zionist movement was in the Buller house. All the factions were represented in the elected management. For many years, Dr. Jehoschua Glueckstern was Chairman of the Zionist Society; he was one of the most respected lawyers in Wiznitz and a specialist in Hebrew. A group of socialist-leftist oriented teenagers unsuccessfully opposed the Zionists. The orthodox youth-group “Agudat-Israel”, whose leaders came from the Yeshiva, also attacked the Zionists at every occasion. Their battle slogan was: “If our beloved Almighty does not reconstruct Zion, then all efforts will be to no avail”. Opposing the Aguda was the religious faction “Hapoel Hamizrachi”, which was sympathetic toward Zionism and became a part of the Zionist Society.

The young leaders developed a vibrantly active Zionist movement; they took part in the fundraising for KKL (Keren Kayemet Le-Israel), in the emptying of the KKL-boxes, in the Tischrei (Yom Kippur)and Chanukah campaigns, distributing books to every house, organizing Hebrew-courses, holding speeches and reports. The Zionists controlled the social and cultural life of the City with the partnership of the local Jewish intelligentsia. To be mentioned: Dr. O. Glueckstern, Dr. Joseph Diamant, Rachel Diamant, Medical Dr. Schneider, Dentist Lehr, Dr. Berl Henisch and others, some active in the leadership of the Zionist Society, some as representatives of the Community. The youth found all they needed in their cultural and social life through the Zionist Society. Here they danced the “Yeled-Dance”, the Chaluz “Hora” and other popular dances. Here they sang national songs and had their entertainment.

On the premises you could find Hebrew newspapers from Eretz Israel, the Hebrew paper “Baderech” from Warsaw, the “Welt” and all kinds of dailies. The members did their best, everybody in their own domain e.g. Chanandel Surkis and Rosa Hofer sang during the “homeland-evenings”, to the delight of their listeners; Ms. Stachlovitz organized mandolin and violin concerts; all the musicians were members of the Society. All that contributed to the enhancement of the national self-esteem of the population. The Zionist's balls constituted the main event in the social life of the City. Most of the youth were enthusiastic about Zionism; many of them accomplished the Hachshara (labor-preparation) with the goal of going to Israel as Chaluzim. Among the Wiznitz Chaluzim living today (1958) in Israel are: Koppel Weiner, married to Donia Hofer (Kibbutz Yagur), Sighi Heit, Fritz Haber (now a high Zahal officer), Tuschka Drassinower (Chedera), the brothers Joseph and Schlomo Klipper (Moshav Ovdim in Kfar Haroe), Salo Gaster (Haifa) and many others.

Zionist celebrities visited Wiznitz many times and helped to educate a national conscience and well organized youth. Nathan Bistrizky left as a gift the song “Machol Massada” (Massada dance), which he composed himself. The leaders of the Zionist Society were: Shlomo Erbsenthal, now (1958) in Jaffa, Uri Blum (died in Transnistria), and S. Hofer (Tel-Aviv). Erbsenthal was the permanent press-contact and for years the president of KKL. There was a big interest in the media-afternoons and the lively discussions that followed. The always-beloved Uri Blum was a born “Madrich” (educator). He was the son of the Dayan (judge) Blum, had a religious education, and had the reputation of a good Talmudist. He was also the Wiznitz reporter for the Czernowitz Morgenblatt and gave free English lessons to the beginners as well as advanced. He used to speak at meetings about Jewish sociology; David Anschel (died in Transnistria) belonged to the Poale-Zion and his themes were political economics and the working Eretz Israel. S. Hofer gave twice-a-week Hebrew lessons, reported upon different topical problems, and held speeches for the growing youth.

Dr. Glueckstern taught Hebrew grammar and reported once a week upon Jewish history.

Dr. Joseph Diamant used to speak about History of Zionism and gave reports on Zionist problems; he was, so to speak, the spiritual head of the Society. Dr. Schneider reported about current medical problems. The Zionist Society possessed a very rich library: the meritorious librarian was the sister of the Dr. Diamant, Ms. Diamant. Literary trials were also held, e.g. about “Jud Suess” by L. Feuchtwanger, or the “Trilogy” by Schalom Asch. The Rabbis Dr. A. Mark, Dr. J. Nacht, Dr. Jacob Hoffmann and other Zionist celebrities were gladly seen as guests at the lectern.

The common Zionist activity of all factions lasted unimpeded until the 18th Zionist Congress. Quarrels among the parties caused later splits. The first to leave the Zionist Society were the groups “Bethar” and “Hapoel Hamizrachi”. The “Bethar” was under the leadership of Efraim Isiu Fruchten, and Sunia and Lusia Henisch; the “Hapoel Hamizrachi” under Joseph and Schlomo Klipper, Salo Gaster, Zwi Weinberg, Schmarjahu Winter and Surkis; while the “Hanoar Hazioni” (with Selig Hofer, Rosa Hofer, Sali Hirsch, Pepi Mayer and Frieda Berggruen), the “Zeirei Zion” (under Schlomo Erbsenthal, Mendl Fessler, Isak Bitter and Koppel Weiner) and the “Poale Zion” (under David Anschel) remained in the original Society. Finally, it is worthy to record that the Wiznitz Zionist Society was entered into the Golden Book of the KKL (Volume I, page 108).

After the Russian occupation of 1940, all Zionist activity was outlawed. In one night (June 13, 1941) the Russians deported 31 families to Siberia. A second transport was already in sight, but didn't happen, because of the war between Germany and the USSR (June 22, 1941) and the Russian retreat from Bukowina.

A huge wave of destruction, through deportations to Transnistria, overcame Wiznitz. The major part of the city population became victim to this catastrophe. Most people perished in the camps of Mogilev and Djurin. Among the most renowned victims were: lawyer Dr. Rosner and spouse; the wholesale merchants Schlomo Rosner, Hermann Steigmann, Naftali Haller, who with his father and his son starved to death; the spouse and daughter of Dr. Glueckstern and the dental technician Brauner, who was shot to death by a gendarme.

The Religious Life

To many readers of “The History of the Jews in the Bukowina”, the Shtetl Wiznitz may appear to be just a geographical representation, but the importance of the city lay in its being a religious center and the residence of the Wiznitzer Rebbe.

The Wiznitzer Rebbes had been active already for three generations. The majority of Wiznitz Jews were orthodox, and the few indifferent or even unbelievers didn't dare to break openly with tradition, and respected the proximity of the Rabbinic Court. On Shabbat, all kinds of activity stopped; stores and workshops were closed. From all streets and lanes, Jews, wrapped in their prayer shawls, some with shtreymels (fur hats) on their heads, in high spirits, streamed to the Synagogues and prayer houses. Many came with children in their hands.

The Wiznitz Synagogues occupied an honorary place in the social life of orthodox groups. Thrice a day, the believers gathered there to perform their prayers. The Synagogues also served as scenes for different religious celebrations like Bar Mitzvot, Chasanut-concerts and others, and even for political meetings. Different population ranks had their own Synagogues. After the services, the participants went home for the Shabbat-Kiddush, energetically discussing the sermon or the cantor. The women would sit in the women's section; on high holidays almost all of them, along their long tables, and prayed too. For those, who didn't understand the Hebrew text of the prayers, a “firsugern” (kind of translator) was used to read the prayers in the vernacular, i.e. in Yiddish and to give a sign when it was time to cry loudly. Sometimes the women mistakenly anticipated when to cry - then their outraged husbands would knock on their desks calling: “No. no, women not yet! . . .”. The crying and weeping would cease only to start again at the right place.

The Prayer Houses in Wiznitz

1) The “Big Klaus”. Here four to five Minjanim prayed every day, with industrialists, merchants, professionals and prominent people like Chaim Schaerf, Mordechai Jaegermann, Koppel Ornstein, Eisig Nachman, Dudl Nachman, Hersch Lessner, Selig Lessner and Moshe Lessner. The “Klaus” was under the influence of the Rabbinic Court. Talented Baalei Tfillah (similar to cantors) were: Hersch Weinberg, Koppel Orenstein, Jacob Einhorn and Nachman Schaerf. Benjamin Baum held for years the honorary post as Gabbai (administrator). Israel Scharfstein taught the “Daf Yomi” from the Talmud every day. On every summer Shabbat, the Dajan Schneebalg (now in London) used to speak about the Pirkei Avot (collection of moral teachings).

2) The Prayer House “Reb Leibele”. Permanent visitors were: Schmiel Rosner, Hersch Witaschko, Jizchak Laufer, Perez Surkis, Nachman Maier Surkis, Abraham Nachman and Jacob Schieber. Abraham Steiner was the Gabbai.

The visitors to this prayer house were Chassidim of the Sadagurer or Bojaner Rebbe. A Christian water-carrier, an Ukrainian, while serving in that prayer house for many years, learned many prayer fragments, which he could recite by heart, when asked.

3) The prayer house “Itzig Fraenkl”. Here for many years prayed the wood-merchants: Schoil Ehrlich, a Talmud expert; Mottel Alpern; Schlomo Schmidt; Salomon Weber; Seide Singer and Lessner. Barki Roll was the Gabbai.

4) The “Vordere (front) Beth Hamidrash”. This prayer house was the place where wagoners, carriers and craftsmen used to pray. Gabbai was Benzion Fessler, a fruit merchant. A prominent personality of this prayer house was the former Dajan Rafael Jehoshua Weissmann. He was very extreme in his religious conceptions, studied the Talmud and the Sohar (Kabbala) day and night and was an odd person. Poor and needy, he lived in the world of the Kabbala and considered earthly things with indifference. Kalman Buller from Czorna-Huzy supported him monthly. The son of the scholar was already very versed in the Talmud as a little boy, but shy and unsociable; on the contrary, his daughter was an active member in the “Hapoel Hamizrachi” because, according to the Schulchan Aruch (code of laws), girls are not obliged to study the Torah.

5) The “Lower Beth Hamidrash”, where office-holders and modest craftsmen used to pray, among others Court-Clerk Reifer, Moshe Lessner, Rauchwerger, Jacob Landwehr, Seide Wolloch, David Pelzel and Iwanier. Gabbai was Mosche Lessner.

6) Prayer House “Chevra Tehillim”, where services were held only on Shabbat and Holidays.

7) The Prayer House in “New Wiznitz”, where all the Jews of New Wiznitz used to pray, without any social or other discrimination. Among them were Joel Hirschhorn and the Gabbai Leibish Gaertner.

8) The “Big Prayer House” in the Rabbinical enclave, where the Chassidim of the Wiznitz Dynasty used to pray. (See Dr. N.M. Gelber, Volume I. The Dynasty of the Wiznitz Zaddikim, page 89 ff.)

Yom-Kippur Customs

On the eve of Yom-Kippur, before Kol Nidre, there was lively activity in the Prayer Houses. The Mincha service was held earlier than usually. On a table in the “Pulish” (entrance), plates were set out for donations with inscriptions such as: Nathan Baseisser (anonymous donations), Meier Baal-Haness, Hachnassat-Kalah (marriage of poor girls), Keren Kayemeth (Israel National Fund), and others. It was usual to make donations Erev Yom-Kippur for these and other causes, and everybody did what they could.

In a corner of the Synagogue, on a little rug spread on the floor, the “shames” (beadle), with a leather belt in his hands, was ready to apply the “Malkot” (39 symbolic strikes on the back, while resting on all fours) to anyone who thought that he deserved that punishment. In order not to fail his counting, the shames recited thrice during the “execution” the “vehu rachum”, which consisted of 13 words, altogether 39.

In a specially designated room, watched over by a non-Jew, burned the wax candles for the beloved departed family members. Before the Kol-Nidrei Prayer, an awful silence befell the Synagogue. It was time to recite without sounds the “Tefilla Zaka” (pure prayer-confession), recalling the sins, committed and uncommitted, during the year. Then, the Chazan chanted the Kol-Nidrei in its well known and touching melody.

Orthodox Customs

A traditional custom was to “carry” the groom to the Synagogue on the Shabbat before marriage. In the morning of that day, relatives and friends of the groom would gather in his house to congratulate him and his parents. Then, altogether, with the beaming-of-luck groom in the middle, they went to the Synagogue. On their way, the procession excited common curiosity. Doors and windows opened to see the young groom. The same tradition and attention was dedicated to the bride. She also in her marriage-jewelry, would be surrounded by festively dressed relatives and friends, and was carried to the “Ezrath Nashim” (women section), where she was seated in an honorary place at the Eastern Wall of the Synagogue. Sometimes, the looks of the Community were directed with admiration toward the nice bride.

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