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“Piatra Neamt”
Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities:
Romania, volume 1

Education:

The Talmud Torah was already in existence in 1770, and it is mentioned in the Pinkas of the Chevra Kadisha.. In 1868 the police closed it as well as other private “cheders”, and forced the Kehilla to open a new school. In 1882-3 the” B'nai Brith Tsiyon” founded an elementary school, but it closed in 1885 because of the divisions within the Kehilla. In that same year the Talmud Torah reopened. In 1889 there were two Jewish schools in Piatra Neamt; one belonged to the craftsmen, and the other to the merchants. In that year an organization named “Tikvah” (Hope), with about 80 youths, was founded for the purpose of implementing general studies in the Talmud Torah. This organization, together with another named “Tsedakah” (Charity) collected funds in order to build a new school. In 1896 a school was opened in a wooden house, under the supervision of the Kehilla. Nearby was a restaurant for the students. In that same year an organization named “Cultura”, was formed for the purpose of establishing a school for young girls. This school was inaugurated in 1899 with the support of the “Y.K.A.” In 1900 a second school for boys opened, also with the support of the “Y.K.A.”, which in addition gave a loan to the Kehilla to construct a new building for a school for both boys and girls. During the years 1896-1905; 2,961 pupils (both boys and girls) studied in these schools. In 1910 there were 800 pupils. In 1914 a school for commerce was built in Piatra Neamt.

For a certain period during this time the author and educator Menachem Braunstein–Mibashan was active in Piatra Neamt. He published textbooks, poems, and translations one of which, “Sefer HaMoreh” (Teacher's Manual), was published in Piatra Neamt in 1910-13. Another textbook was written by a local watchmaker, Shlomo Markovich, who invented a new system of punctuation.

rom1_00211b.jpg [19 KB] - The School for Boys of the Kehilla
The School for Boys of the Kehilla

Bottom of left column on p. 211

 

Institutions and Organizations

In 1872 a new cemetery was inaugurated, and in 1903 it was enlarged. The old cemetery of the Jews of Piatra Neamt had been closed because the Christians resented the passage of Jewish funeral processions through the center of town. The Municipality appointed a Christian as a cemetery guardian, and forced the Jewish community to pay his salary. The Kehilla complained about this to the Office of Religious Affairs, and the order was rescinded. The Municipality tried several times to assert its authority over the cemetery, and in 1898 an independent Chevra Kadisha was set up which took over administration of the cemetery.

In the old cemetery stood the “Hekdesh”(shelter), containing a few rooms for poor and sick people. Until 1875 the Kehilla paid a doctor and a midwife to care for the sick and poor. In 1898 the Chevra Kadisha turned the Hekdesh into an Old Age Home. In 1901 a shelter for the indigent sick with seven beds was created in a private home. In 1905 a new hospital with 12 beds was built.

Several charitable organizations were active in town: “Gmilut Hasadim” (Acts of Charity), which gave free loans and had 200 members; a charitable society comprising both Jews and Christians (1880-84); “Ahavat Yisrael” (Love of Israel) (1880-85), which helped bereaved families; “Jewish Women's Organization “, founded in 1880 and from 1895 called “Chevrat Tsedaka” (Charitable Society); “Tikva”(Hope) Young Women's Organization, founded in 1883; and “Hachnasat Kalla”( Aid to Brides), founded in 1906.
Special attention was given to the activities of the local Jewish labor unions. The oldest one was the Shoemakers' Union, called “Sanders Organization”. It had an old Pinkas, and was originally recognized as a guild. The elections for its leadership were held at the Municipality, and were approved by the Office of Agriculture and Commerce. It was dismantled by the Government in 1866, when all guilds were abolished. Since then it was known as a Professional Organization.

The Commercial Clerks had their own organization, founded in 1892, as did the Peddlers, founded in 1889. Other professional organizations were those of the tailors, the coopers (barrel makers), and others. The merchants also had their own charitable organization (1868-78). In 1902 the “Ichud Baalei Melacha” (Craftsmen's Union) was founded for the purpose of obtaining permits for craftsmen. The Carpenters' Union “Hatikva”(The Hope) was founded in 1906, as was the organization of carpenters' wives.

The “Achvat Tsion”Togetherness of Zion) club , which was established in 1875, had a great influence on the Jewish life of the town. In 1881 its name was changed to the “Lishkat Zrubavel” chapter. Another club, “Bnai Brit Menorah”, was also active in establishing a school, as well as charitable works.

Another national organization with a local chapter was the “Organization of Jews who Served in the Reserves”, founded in 1899, and which in the following year became a chapter of the “General Union of Jews Born in Romania”. This organization was active until 1905.

 

rom1_00212a.jpg [23 KB] - The Hospital of the Kehilla
rom1_00212b.jpg [20 KB] - A Jewish funeral before the  First World War
The Hospital of the Kehilla

Top left column on p. 212

  A Jewish funeral before the First World War

Top right column on p. 212

 

Economic Life

The Jews of Piatra Neamt were greatly involved in the economic life of the town. During certain periods many crafts were exclusively in the hands of the Jews. These included the hatmakers, boilermakers, tinkers, jewelers, housepainters, watchmakers, leathercrafters, bookbinders, locksmiths, upholsterers, dressmakers, photographers, and dentists. A few bargemen from Maramures tried to establish themselves in Piatra Neamt, but were expelled. Many Jews raised cows, and poor Jews worked on large estates belonging to wealthy Jews in the area. In the municipal band there were several Jewish musicians.

Numbers of local craftsmen in 1902:

  Jews Christians
Shoemakers 24 3
Carpenters 17 7
Tailors 39 3
Butchers 10 3
Tinkers 12 6
Watchmakers 4 0
Wagoners 35 3
Furriers 5 4

Altogether, there were 376 independent craftsmen in the town, of whom 267 were Jewish. Of 490 helpers and apprentices in town, 306 were Jewish.

Jewish industrialists built mills, as well as factories for making ink, beer, cloth, and alcohol; and leatherworks, oilworks, and forges. The Jews also were initiators of gas lighting in the town. As in the whole district, commerce in Piatra Neamt was almost entirely in the hands of the Jews, who were the commission merchants for agricultural produce. Jews also traded in wood, which was the main product of the area; as well as in grain and cattle. In 1891 Piatra Neamt had 417 stores belonging to Jews.

Towards the end of the 19th century anti-Semitism increased, and the economic situation of the Jews deteriorated. As a result, some Jews joined the “fussgayers” ( emigrants who proceeded on foot) . On May 30, 1900 a group of 59 emigrants calling their group “Lev Echad” (One Heart) left Piatra Neamt; on July 4, another group (“Montefiore”) of six young men left; on July 11 a group called “Chaim Fybush”, comprising 70 families of merchants who had lost their fortunes, also left town. This group, as well as one called “Don Yitshak Abarbanel”, was forced to return by the authorities at the border. As a result, other groups refrained from leaving. Through Piatra Neamt also passed groups of emigrants from other towns, whom the local Jews assisted with food and money.

Zionism

The “ Hovevei Tsion “ (Lovers of Zion) movement spread in Piatra Neamt. First a chapter of the movement called“Yishuv Eretz Yisrael” ( Settlement of the Land of Israel), whose headquarters were in Galati, was established. Next was set up an organization “Moriah”, which established a Hebrew library and aided emigrants going to Eretz Yisrael. In 1882 were founded several other groups: “Avodat Adama” (Work of the Land [of Eretz Yisrael]), “Ahavat Tsion” (Love of Zion), a youth movement called “Oliphant”, and a young women's movement named “Atzilei Bet Yisrael” (Nobles of the House of Israel). In 1894 a branch of the movement “Hovevei Tsion” (Lovers of Zion) started up;. and the movement “Tseirei Tsion” (Youth of Zion) organized lessons in Hebrew and Jewish History. In 1897 a youth movement named “Bnai Tsion Yehudah Halevi” (Yehuda Halevi Branch of the Sons of Zion) started, and in 1898 the movement called “Dr. Carpal Lipa”, as well as another called “Bnot Tsion Dr. Herzl” (Dr. Herzl Branch of the Daughters of Zion) were set up. In 1899 Rabbi H, L. Loebel was sent from Piatra Neamt to the First Zionist Congress in Basel. In that year he published a booklet in German about Zionism and religion. On Dec. 30, 1906, the National Zionist Congress for Culture was held in Piatra Neamt.

When Dr. Nahum Sokolov visited Romania in 1912, he called Piatra Neamt the Jerusalem of Romania.

Journalism

Already in the days of the Hibat Tsion (Love of Zion) movement, a few manuscripts appeared in the town. In 1882, the Hebrew weekly of the Yishuv Eretz Yisrael movement arrived in Piatra Neamt from Iasi. In the same year , a triweekly in Yiddish entitled “Hoffnung” (Hope), began to appear , but did not last long. In 1885 there appeared the Yiddish paper “Di Neuste Nochrichten” (The Latest News),. In 1909 a Hebrew publication “Hamekitz” (The Awakener) appeared, edited by M Braunstein-Mibashan and A. L. Zisu. The year 1909 saw the emergence of the “Fussgayers”

Publications, entitled “Stiara Israelita” (Jewish Star), “Vocea Pribegilor” (Voice of the Wanderers), “Bistrita”,, and “Ecoul Pribegilor” (Cry of the Wanderers). In 1906 the paper “Hashekel” appeared, which encouraged the distribution of shekels for the Jewish National Fund.

Personalities

Piatra Neamt was the birthplace of several illustrious people, including the authors H. S. Streitman (1873-1956); and A. L. Zisu (1888-1957), who described Jewish life in Piatra Neamt in his short stories and novels. During the Holocaust years, Mr. Zisu was the leader of the underground Zionist organization. Jean Juster , born in 1886 and killed at the front in the First World War, was the author of the book in French, “The Jews Under the Roman Empire”. Yosef Kaufman (1860-1934) authored monographs on the Jewish communities in Romania; among them those in the district of Neamt. The lawyer M. Weissman-Amir (1893-1954) was president of the Zionist Organization of Romania, a delegate to the Romanian parliament, and afterwards ambassador of Israel to the Benelux countries. The historian of Romanian Jewry, Dr. M. A. Halevy (b. 1900) was also from Piatra Neamt.

 

rom1_00213b.gif [21 KB] - The Hospital of the Kehilla
rom1_00213a.gif [29 KB] - A Jewish funeral before the  First World War
Front page of the book “History of the Kehillot
(Communities) in the District of Neamt”,
by Yosef Kaufman

Bottom of right column on p. 213

  Front page of the Hebrew monthly
“HaMekitz” (The Awakener),
edited by A. L. Zisu

Bottom of left column on p. 213

 

Between the Two World Wars

Persecutions

During this period, the town was a center of anti-Semitic activity, and the local authorities collaborated in the persecution. In 1919 the mayor issued an order (#3897, dated Nov. 18), which forced the Jews to purchase bread only with ration coupons., under the pretext that the Jews were eating too much bread, and that as a consequence the general populace was suffering from starvation (!). In 1923, the Priest Constantinescu separated Jewish students from Christian Romanian students in his classes.

The year 1925 was especially notable for pogroms against the Jews. At the start of the year Romanian students who visited the town during the winter vacation robbed the synagogue, the Jewish school, Zionist homes, and the Jewish Library “Kadima”. At the head of those hooligans stood a Romanian lieutenant. Christian groups in town spoke against these activities. In the month of August of that year, the anti-Semitic leader A. C. Cuza visited the town and district. The mayor received him with an official ceremony . In his inflammatory speeches throughout the district Cuza suggested to treat the Jews “ in the same manner as the Turks treated the Armenians”. The Christian population had the impression that the authorities were standing behind this policy, and the results were not long in coming. On Yom Kippur of that year a few students from the local high school threw stones at the windows of the synagogue. The worshippers responded in kind, and as a result the Christian League organized a meeting in the Great Churchyard. At the conclusion of the meeting, the inflamed mob ran to the homes of the Jews, looting and destroying everything on which they could lay their hands. Several Jews were severely wounded. Forty Jews were arrested and brought to trial for defending themselves. Some were fined and the rest were cleared, but had to pay three million lei to three of the students as reparations.

At the beginning of 1926, Cuza again visited the town; and his arrival brought new attacks on the Jews and their homes.

In November a group of students desecrated tombstones in the Jewish cemetery. Seven students were caught, but the chief of the district tore up the files with all the evidence and freed them.

During the night of January 5, 1928, 63 headstones in the Jewish cemetery were overturned by Christian students returning from a ball. This time the Christian-Jewish organization criticized what had been done, and in the same year the Metropolitan of Moldova issued a pamphlet attacking anti-Semitic activities in his district.

Meanwhile, a powerful branch of the Iron Guard was formed in town. In the summer of 1931 this Fascist group won the election for a vacancy for the district, and Cornel Codreanu, the head of the local branch, was seated in the Romanian parliament. Before the election they had proclaimed their platform: the expulsion of the Jews and the division of their property among the Christian inhabitants.

In February, 1933 policemen appeared in the dormitories of the Zionist Youth League. All present were arrested and jailed for two days.

At the start of 1937, the lawyers' organization started to display open anti-Semitism: In the elections which took place in February of that year, Jewish lawyers were not allowed to participate; and in April of that year the national organization decided to eliminate them from membership. In July, 26 of the 28 Jewish lawyers were forbidden to practice their profession, and the remaining two were not allowed to appear in court.

The Activities of the Kehilla

From the records of the Kehilla from 1922, it is apparent that they had two synagogues a mikvah, an old age home, and a school with a kitchen feeding 250 students daily. They also had a slaughterhouse for chickens. Papers showed that they had several sources of income: rent from three buildings which they owned, fees from the baths, and an allowance from the municipality. In 1925, a special building was donated for an old age home, in which 30 elderly persons were housed. During that year a merchant's association was formed. In 1926 a Jewish Cooperative Bank for small loans was formed, and in 1927 a vocational school for girls was established. A school for commerce, which had been set up in 1914, was closed in 1928 for lack of funds. In the same year, a kindergarten was begun as part of the Jewish elementary school. At that time, the separate boys' and girls' schools merged into a single school, which had an enrollment of 400 boys and girls by 1936-7.

Because of anti-Semitic pressure and economic distress (which particularly afflicted the laborers and craftsmen), the number of persons requiring assistance increased. The Kehilla gave them monthly allowances, participated in their rental payments, and gave them wood for winter heating, matzohs for Passover, and medical care for the sick. The municipal health department contributed to the Jewish hospital, and gave them medicines, medical instruments, and linens.

National and Political Life

After the Proclamation of Emancipation in 1919, Jews were accepted into the two major political parties: the Liberal Party, headed by Bratianu, and the National Farmers Party, headed by Maniu. Political differences were a cause for arguments among the Jews themselves. In 1922 the craftsmen's organization split in two, and presented separate lists in the elections to the Kehilla which took place that year.

On a few occasions, the town council included Jewish members. In 1930 there were two Jewish representatives, and in 1932 there were eleven, of which three came from the Jewish party which had been organized. In the 1931 elections to parliament, the Jewish party in the district of Piatra received 896 votes; but in 1932 only 353 votes.

In 1932 the Kehilla received legal recognition as an official organization.

Zionist Activity

During the years between the two world wars, the Zionist Federation had a strong influence on the affairs of the Kehilla. A central committee of all Zionist groups was formed. In 1919 there were 700 members listed in the local Zionist Federation, and this was without the members of “Poalei Tsion” of the craftsmen, the Zionist Movement of the “Sharon” girls, and the Zionist group of the high school. From 1920, the “Zrubavel” group also joined the Zionist activities and formed the “Ahuza” committee for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. In 1926 the activities of the Maccabi group, (originally formed in 1921), were resumed.

In the fall of 1923, classes for the Zionist Youth of Romania were held, together with classes in Hebrew. In 1924, a branch of the WIZO organization was formed, and in 1929 the Zionist list obtained a majority in the Kehilla elections.

In the years 1930-1932, a Hebrew-Romanian and Romanian-Hebrew dictionary was compiled and published in two volumes by Mendel P. Mendel. (A new edition of this dictionary was published in Israel after the establishment of the State.) The same author published a booklet in Romanian : “History of Modern Hebrew Literature” (1945).

The Time of the Holocaust

As in the entire Neamt district, the terror produced by the Legionnaires was very severe in Piatra Neamt. These were led by the District Commander Dr. Silviu Craciunas, who was helped by the local authorities.

On Sept. 25, 1940, the authorities forbade the burial of Jewish dead in the town cemetery until a sum of money was paid by the Jews into the Fund for Legionnaires' Assistance. In November, formal arrangements were made by the town for the confiscation of the Jewish cemetery. From the 20th of that month, the Kehilla was forbidden to receive taxes and donations. This was immediately followed by a series of atrocities against the Jews of Piatra Neamt and the other towns in the district: All wealthy Jews were brought before the police and forced by torture to sign documents agreeing to pay large sums of money. The leaders of the Kehilla were forced to hand over to the Legionnaires all monies belonging to the Kehilla. Jews who did not have money available were forced to give merchandise and treasured items.

On Nov. 22, 1940 , the President of the Kehilla, Dr. L. Fischer, and his daughter were deported to Targu Neamt, where they were tortured for three days until he signed an agreement to sell one of his houses in Piatra Neamt to Dr.Craciunas. He resisted valiantly, but finally he was forced to relinquish his house to the Legionnaires. To obtain his release, the Kehilla then had to pay a large sum of money.

Persecutions did not stop after the change of authority in the town: in the place of the Legionnaire's police came the “ Legionnaire Guard”, formed by refugees from Macedonia. On Dec. 5, 1940, these Legionnaires posted on the streets of the town notices forbidding Christians from buying from Jews. On that same day, lists of merchandise in Jewish stores were made up. and the merchants as well as the population were told that said merchandise would be sold at public auction on the following Saturday. On Dec. 6, the Guardsmen entered several stores and announced that they were now owners or partners in the businesses. In some places they demanded the keys to the stores, and took for themselves all the money in the registers. Thirty six Jewish merchants were affected by these confiscations.

On Dec. 17 , the police, under orders from above, removed all Legionnaires and Macedonians who had established themselves in the stores, but these hoodlums soon found a new way to continue their depredations. The Jews received written orders signed by the Mayor under authority of the Ministry of the Interior to accept the Macedonians as partners in their businesses. Those who refused were summoned to the police station, where the commander himself ordered them to obey this edict within two hours, under penalty of having their stores closed. In addition, the Legionnaires took over factories and wood storehouses owned by Jews. On April 9, 1941, the municipality forbade the sale of flour to Jewish bakeries.

On June 18, 1941, three days before Romania declared war on Russia, the local police commander decided to deport all Jews in the Neamt district aged 16 to 60 to the concentration camp of Targu-Jiu. After much pleading by the Jews, the order was changed to the deportation of only one member of each family. As a result, 1500 persons were taken to camps established in Piatra Neamt itself; while only those suspected of Communist sympathies were sent to Targu-Jiu. Twenty one Jews were deported from Piatra Neamt to Transnistria. In the town, units of the German Army and members of the “Todt “ Organization (labor battalions) established themselves. The Commander of the German SS in the town requested that the local police transfer to them four Jews from the camp; these were promptly shot.

At the start of the war, Jews from the following villages in the district were transferred to Targu Neamt and Piatra Neamt: Brosteni , Hangu, Borca, Calugareni, Gura Bistricioarei, Rapciuni, Bicaz, Pangaraci, Vaduri, Madei, Baltatesti, Oslobeni, and others.

In 1941 the Jews were ordered to wear the yellow star. This order was in force for a few months. They were forbidden to be on the streets between 8PM and 7AM, and they were allowed into the market only after 10AM. On May 31, 1941, all Jews aged 18-65, both men and women, were ordered to report to the Town Hall for tunnel-digging service. They had to bring the equipment needed for digging from their homes. 500 Jews from Piatra Neamt, as well as refugees from the district villages, were sent to work in Focsani, Girov, and Ramnicu-Sarat. An additional 500 persons were conscripted into forced labor battalions in the town and district. A few Jews were exempted from forced labor by paying sums of money.

Activities of the Kehilla during the war

During this time the Kehilla continued its activities During the days of persecution the Kehilla established a coed high school with eight classes in addition to the elementary school. The only cultural activities during those days were the celebrations held in the high school.

Number of Students in the Jewish Schools

Year Elementary School High School
1940 506 160
1941 527 180
1942 510 220
1943 500 220

In those days there were 7000 Jews in Piatra Neamt, including 600 refugees from district villages. 4000 Jews who had become impoverished received support from the Kehilla. The families of the conscriptees also received support. In the community center of the Kehilla , 250-300 people were fed daily, and 1550 Jews received a weekly allowance. The Kehilla was unable, however, to help 2000 additional needy people. The following will show how dire their situation had become: Of 3707 Jews who had formerly been employed in the district, 1543 were out of work. Among them were craftsmen and laborers (650 out of 1270), clerical workers (440 out of 626), manufacturers and retail proprietors (371 out of 941), professionals (33 out of 77), and independent workers (36 0ut of 99). In the district of Neamt, 1043 buildings, 14 mills, 20 woodworking factories, 737 hectares of farmland , and 4599 hectares of forest were confiscated from Jews.

When the orphans from Transnistria were brought to Piatra Neamt, the Kehilla established a Children's House for them.

After the war, life gradually came back to normal, and many of the Jews who had been deported from their villages to Piatra Neamt established themselves in the town.

Translator's note concerning certain events in Romanian history, which may help explain some of the above happenings in Piatra Neamt:

  1. From the early 16th century, the Romanian provinces were part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The Turks appointed Christian Greek governors, known as “Phanariotes”, to administer these lands. Both the Phanariotes and the local Christian Romanians were very anti-Semitic, but they were frequently restrained by the Turkish military authorities. Once Romania became independent of Turkey in 1877, however, there was a marked increase in anti-Semitism, on the part of both the authorities and the Christian populace.

  2. In the 18th century, to stimulate the local economies, the princes of Moldavia and Wallachia encouraged foreign merchants, craftsmen, and artisans to immigrate to the Romanian lands, and gave them tax-free status as an incentive. These persons were known by the Romanian word “sudit”, meaning “privileged immigrant”. Some 30% of the Sudits were Jews.

    Resentment of the privileges given the newcomers caused much friction between them and the local population, which went on for generations; both within the Jewish community, and between Jews and Christian Romanians.


Bibliography:

General Archives of the History of the Jewish People:
RM 17, 18, 19, 23, 48, 65, 66, 67, 160, 168.

Yad v'Shem Archives:
JM 12200-11, 18-1, (245-49), 0-11 13-3 (4), 0-11 7-1 (5, 45, 150, 54), 03 1547, 03 1432, 635 60-S, 1080-80 5, 03 1471, PKR 1-13 (46) PKR 1-14(4647).

Archives of V. Fielderman:
10a (155-156, 191-192), 17(133), 18(33, 35, 54, 64, 67, 78-79, 100, 127), 19(40-41, 160, 189); 32(8); 45(7, 16).

Archives of M. Karp:
I :14-15, 48-50, V: 48, VI: 10-11, 24, 26, 70, 128.

Lavi, Theodore, “The Struggle of Romanian Jews for Their Survival”, Jerusalem, 1965, pp. 22, 90.

Kloizner, Yisrael, “Hibat Tsion in Romania”, Jerusalem, 1958, pp. 26, 46, 71, 155, 161, 162, 163, 228, 255, 256, 276, 279, 290, 294, 295, 307, 309, 310, 311, 312, 314, 321.

rom1_00216.gif [89 KB] - Bibliography

 

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