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[Page 129]

The History of the Jewish Worker
Movement Bund in Bukovina (Cont'd)

II. Between the Two World Wars

Equiped to Enter the New World

During the war years, 1914-1918 one couldn't speak of any meaningful work accomplished by the Social Democratic Party, but from the beginning Bukovina had the unhappy fate of being a staging and operations territory for large armies, either the Austro-Hungarian or the Russian depending on the situation at the front lines.

The Party, however, especially the Jewish organization, even during the most difficult times kept up contact with the working population wherever there was a possibility. During all the hardships that afflicted Bukovina members of the Party leadership stood by the population and shared their tribulations. Nathan Tropper who had remained in Czernowitz during the first Russian invasion did much valuable work in his activities for the Jewish hospital and other institutions of the Jewish community. Dr. Jakob Pistiner returned to Czernowitz after it was re-occupied by the Austrian army. Even under the Austrian occupation life was not easy for the civilian population. Dr. Pistiner did what he could to help.

In spring of 1918 the majority of the Party leadership returned to Bukovina. At the initiative of the Social Democratic Party the Worker's Home that had been occupied by the military (the Old State Theater) was cleaned out and again put at the disposal of the worker's organizations.

Since during the last months of Austrian rule the collapse of the monarchy seemed inevitable and an uncertain fate hovered over the heads of the population, the organizational and order bringing skills of the party became apparent, especially in the areas of housing and providing nourishment.

At the beginning of September 1918 the Jewish Social Democratic organization held a conference attended by leaders from Czernowitz and the provinces. The purpose of the conference was to prepare for the changes that were inevitable. Whatever awaited Bukovina, the conference attendees clearly saw the path the organization was to take. It was the way of the Bund, by which was understood: close cooperation with the international Socialist Movement in all actions and full autonomy in all Jewish questions. A new executive committee was elected. Dr. Jakob Pistiner was selected as chairman.

The name, Bund also had been used to designate the Jewish Social Democratic organization before the war although it hadn't been used consistently became from then on the official and generally used name for the organization. After Bukovina had been annexed into the Greater Romanian Nation, the Social Democratic Party was among the first organizations in the country to take up its full activity in a new nation wide alliance.

The entrance of Romanian troops into Czernowitz on November 12, 1918 took place without fanfare and without celebration. The soldiers with their ragged clothing and torn shoes and worst of all, their loose discipline, made a miserable impression and had a sobering effect even on the Romanian intelligentsia.

The crude regime established by the military occupation in Bukovina frightened all circles of the Bukovina population. During the period of arbitrary police power and siege mentality, the Worker's Home on Schulgasse was a true refuge of the persecuted and threatened out of all strata of the population. The overwhelming majority of those seeking help were Jewish.

Happily, it turned out that the initial fears for the fate of the worker's organizations although not groundless, proved to be greatly exaggerated. The organizations were subjected to all imaginable harassment, but one could soon see that the police who attacked individuals without concern were restricted by the barriers of the law when dealing with organized groups. This behavior of the police was largely due to the activity of the former Austrian Member of Parliament, Georg Grigorovici who played a major role in the new state and whose Romanian national inclination was not questioned in spite of the fact that he continued to be active in a leading position in the Social Democratic movement.

Even the press was not to strictly censored.

In a short period of time, the organization of the Worker's Movement was again reconstructed. Not only were the old political and union organizations from pre-war times brought back to life, also new organizations were started that corresponded to the needs of the times: consumer's unions, rent associations, etc.

The organ of the Social Democratic Party Forwards (Vorwärts) which before the war appeared weekly was changed to a daily publication. Editorial work was entrusted to a committee consisting of: Dr. Jakob Pistiner, Georg Grigorovici and Dr. Albert Silbermann. The Bund founded a weekly organ in the Yiddish language, The New Life (Dos Naye Leben). Editing was directed by Sarah Kaswan with Dr. Jakob Pistiner, Dr. Berl Friedmann and Markus Kaswan also being members of the editorial committee. Also the Romanian and the Ukrainian groups in the Social Democratic Party founded their own press organs, which however appeared irregularly.

The popularity of the Social Democratic Party grew appreciably. It acquired great respect also with the higher authorities including the Bucharest central government. Often, negative government policies were stopped by the efforts of the Social Democratic Party.

The first election for the Romanian Parliament was a great victory for the Social Democratic Party. In the Czernowitz district, three Social Democratic candidates were elected to parliament. It was a symbol of the true international character of the Movement that the three seats that were won went to three different nationalities. In the Senate, the Romanian Georg Grigorovici won, in the Chamber of Deputies, the Jew Dr. Jakob Pistiner and the German Rudolf Gaidosch won.

In the Jewish National Council

When on October 17, 1918 the Kaiser's manifesto appeared proclaiming the self determination right of all Austrian nations, it drove the formation of a Jewish National Council in Bukovina to which all the Jewish national parties belonged. The formation of the Jewish National Council was preceded by a lively dispute between the Zionist organizations and the Bund. The Zionists insisted that there should be a clause concerning the “Aliyah” to Palestine in the unification platform and this ran contrary to the program of the Bund. Finally, a milder expression of this Zionist demand was agreed upon. For the Bund, the value of the existing state of things outweighed any concerns about principals. The National Council seemed the most suitable “umbrella body” for defending the rights of the Jewish population, especially (in view of the expected Romanian assumption of government power) for guarding their civil rights. Moreover, the National Council seemed to be a beginning of national cultural autonomy which was one of the most important demands in the Bund's program. The Jewish National Council encompassed all parties and points of view. The Bund was represented in the National Council by ten members. At the constitutional convention which followed on November 10, 1918 Dr. Mayer Ebner was elected president, Dr. Jakob Pistiner as vice president and Markus Kaswan as secretary.

The Jewish National Council soon got into a difficult situation when it had to take a position on the annexation of Bukovina by Romania. Namely, after the occupation of the land by Romanian troops the Romanian National Council under the leadership of Dr. Jancu Flondor wanted to issue a declaration about the voluntary acceptance of the annexation by all nationalities. For this purpose, he invited the National Councils of the other nationalities (with the exception of the Ukrainian National Council) to officially state their positions on the question of annexation. The Polish and the German National Councils willingly agreed. The Jewish National Council which had declared its neutrality during the fight for possession of North Bukovina decided to make its agreement to the annexation by Romania conditional on the Jewish population being guaranteed the full civil rights that they had possessed under Austrian rule and moreover that the Jews of Old Romania[4] be guaranteed the same rights.

This dignified answer of the Jewish National Council under the occupation of the Romanian army was rejected by Dr. Flondor who demanded an unconditional declaration for the annexation. The Jewish National Council declined to take part in the ceremonial Romanian Unification Congress which took place on November 28 (compare a.a.O.)

The expectation that the National Council would gradually take over the functions of national cultural autonomy appeared at first to well on its way to becoming reality as the Community[5] and the public school system came under its control.

For administering the Community which up to then had been led by Dr. Neumann Wender the National Council designated a commission in which the Bund was represented by five members. For the schools, a Jewish school inspector was created. In the elementary schools, parallel classes were set up. For middle school instruction, the Jewish students were concentrated in the Third State Gymnasium which consequently became a pure Jewish school.

In one point, however, the most important and decisive point the Bund experienced a great disappointment. Its suggestion to introduce the Yiddish language for Jewish children in certain schools was defeated by a small majority (27 votes against 24 votes). With the same vote totals, a Zionist suggestion for introducing Hebrew as the language of instruction was accepted. The Bund didn't accept defeat after this negative vote. A compromise was reached wherein the children's parents upon registration in the school could decide - which in practice would have been difficult to carry out. The fight about the language for instruction continued.

The Jewish National Council soon lost its significance and was together with the national councils of the other nationalities dissolved by the government.

Attack on Civil Rights

One who was familiar with the traditional Jewish politics of Romania had to be prepared that the Government sooner or later would make an attempt to take away from the Jewish population that valuable good that they possessed in the new state - their civil rights.

The test of wills came in the course of a workers' conflict which in itself was nothing unusual and under normal circumstances would have been resolved with compromises by both sides. However, the atmosphere at that time in 1920 was far from normal. In the atmosphere of overheated Romanian nationalism and with the deep mistrust of the authorities concerning the non-Romanian population, the most trivial event of everyday life concealed the seeds of a great “state affair” within itself.

That's how it went with the wage movement of the hotel, restaurant and coffeehouse workers in the autumn of 1920. Both sides in this work conflict, the waiters and the owners were almost entirely Jewish. Politics was not involved in the conflict. The result of the fight would affect neither the Romanian ruling classes nor the allegedly carefully nursed economic interests of the Romanian citizens. In addition, the demands of the union organization had not been met with a brusque rejection by the business owners. On the contrary, after a short negotiation, an agreement with the large majority of the innkeepers had been reached and the conflict seemed near to a settlement. Finally, there was only one undertaking - the largest, by the way, the Café L'Europe - that remained unyielding and the union was forced to call a strike.

Now the state authorities intervened to beat down the “revolt.” Police violence followed that by far exceeded previous arbitrary police actions. The two most important officers of the organization, the waiters Flasch and Sobel were censured.

Both had lived for many years in Czernowitz and had belonged since before the war to the “elite” among the waiters of the larger restaurants and coffeehouses of the city. They both had served nobly in building up the union of the hotel, restaurant and coffeehouse employees, Flasch at the time of the outbreak of the pay conflict was chief waiter in the Café L'Europe and had been chairman of the organization for years. Sobel, employed in the restaurant Black Eagle was deputy chairman. They were both born in Galicia, that is outside of the new Romanian borders, but as former Austrian citizens who at the time of the signing of the peace treaty lived in Bukovina, they were according to the sense of the peace treaty, citizens with full rights in the new Romania. Their rights as citizens of Romania had also previously never been questioned by the authorities. Some time previously the magistrate of the city of Czernowitz had for them as for thousands of others issued official certification concerning their Romanian citizenship. They were also on the voting lists for Parliament and had already taken advantage of their right to vote form members of Parliament two times.

Now they were suddenly banished from the state as “undesirable foreigners.”

One must assume that the official in the Interior Ministry who issued the banishment order was unaware of the enormity of this step and of the outrage it would arouse. It corresponded, however, completely to the traditional “Judenpolitik” of old Romania. For years, the Jews there were considered and handled as “foreign elements” even when they were born there and resided there. Many were simply pushed over the border. Why then make a “big deal” out of ejecting two Jewish “agitators” who moreover came from the newly acquired territories.

Even the Czernowitz Siguraza [political police], the leading Romanian authorities from the “Old Kingdom” didn't have any idea of the major effects that would result from this flouting of the law. The Siguranza chief had both “criminals” hauled in and told them about the order of the Ministry of Interior that they had to leave the land within 24 hours and dismissed them with orders to pack their belongings and to appear at the police station the next day to be escorted to the border. It never occurred to the respected “guardians of the law” that Jews would dare to disobey an order of the government.

Things didn't occur as the police expected. The “bothersome foreigners” disappeared as soon as they left the police building. The news of the banishment spread like a wild fire in the city and created tremendous agitation in all circles of society. The leaders of the organized hotel, restaurant and coffeehouse workers immediately issued a call for a protest strike. Several hours later all the restaurants and coffeehouses were closed. In the evening the union commission called for an extraordinary conference. Workers in all fields were represented. Only short talks were given. The mood was universal. It was unanimously decided to call a general strike.

On the following day a complete work stoppage ruled in Czernowitz. Stores, banks, work shops, factories and restaurants were closed. The street cars weren't running and horse drawn transport had disappeared from the streets as if by magic. Czernowitz presented the picture of a dead city. At various places in the city strike posts were set up. They did their duty quietly without the least disturbance. A word of explanation sufficed to turn around the people who were on their way to work. These weren't “strike breakers” in the current sense of the word, but simply people who hadn't yet been informed of the decision to strike. Even the lowest category of workers, the wood choppers (almost small Ukrainian and Romanian farmers from the surrounding area) were drawn in by the strike.

One can vividly imagine the painful surprise in government circles when the news reached Bucharest, that because of two Jews the capital of the “freed” Bukovina had been completely paralyzed.

The government obviously didn't want to drive affairs to the “point of no return.” In the late afternoon, the police informed the strike leaders that the Council of Ministers had withdrawn the expulsion order and Flasch and Sobel could remain undisturbed in the country. With that, the strike ended.

The workers flush with a great victory returned to work the following day.

The International and Jewish Party Activity

During the entire period when it appeared as if there was a democracy in Romania, that is into the middle of the thirties, the Social Democratic Party asserted the same position in public life in Bukovina that it at the beginning of the government upheaval.

Even as in 1930, as the Socialist Movement in all the rest of Romania lost much of its power because of government persecution, the power of the Movement in Czernowitz was made apparent at the General Council election which for the first time in history produced a Social Democratic vice mayor (Dr. Moritz Oberländer).

The party at that time won 12 seats in spite of the highly undemocratic method of voting. Among the elected were three Bundists: Dr. Pistiner, the chairman of the Group of Socialistic Businessmen Nathan Tropper and Mrs Leah Kissman, member of the International Party Executive of Romania who became the only Socialist “councilperson” of Romania.

The Party was firmly established with the unions. After the association with the Vienna Union Central was definitely broken off and the building up of central union corporations only proceeded slowly in Bucharest, the Bukovina unions led an independent existence. Membership in the Social Democratic Party was completely optional for union members. In the interest of the unity of the unions in that period of continual splintering of the Worker Movement, any use of force to promote party membership was avoided. The union members, however held fast to the Social Democratic Party and regularly paid in the no longer obligatory dues.

The relation ship of the Bund to the unions was no different then the entire Party. The union organizations in the businesses, which were chiefly in Jewish hands, were almost all members of the Bund. Since the population of the city of Czernowitz was over 45% Jewish, it could be taken for granted that the majority of the members in the unions were of the Jewish nationality and were firm members of the Bund.

In the state executive of the Social Democratic Party which consisted of an equal number of representatives of all national groups Jews were assigned to the most important functions.

That applied above all to Dr. Jakob Pistiner, who led the work of the Executive the entire time. Mostly he was formally the chairman, but even when someone else held that office (which happened now and then for short periods) his work was in no way less important. At the same time, he was chairman of the Bund and leading editor of the international organ of the party, “Vorwärts” [Forwards]. The second editor of the Vorwärts, Dr. Albert Silbermann, although not a member of the Bund was also Jewish, , and because of Dr. Pistiner's parliamentary activity he often had to carry the full editorial load. A master of the German style, a literary aesthete and brilliant journalist, Dr. Silberbann did not have enough political savvy to be the independent leader of a party organ. So it was always Pistiner who in all actual political questions gave the publication direction and tone. Pistiner was by the way, also the representative of the Social Democratic Party of Romania in the Executive Committee of the Socialist International.

With his parliamentary activity grew the respect that Dr. Pistiner was held in. With the frequent elections to the short lived Parliaments of Romania he was repeatedly, except for the period from 1926-1928, re-elected. His speeches from the Parliamentary tribune found respect in the entire land. He was chairman of the Social Democratic faction in the Chamber of Deputies and soon became one of the most esteemed parliamentarians of Romania.

The decade 1920-1930 was in spite of the strengthening of the Reactionaries in Romania, a period of intense political activity. While the leadership of the general Party activity was concentrated ever more in the person of Dr. Pistiner, the leadership of the Bund went to the writer of these lines.

In the summer of 1920, Dr. Joseph Kissman came back from Vienna to Bukovina. He was immediately drawn into Party work and absorbed into the Party leadership with the editing of the weekly organ, “Dos Naye Leben” [The New Life] and the leadership of the extended education work and finally in 1930, elected to the chairmanship of the Bund and elected as the Bukovina international state executive.

The Bund's weekly newspaper had a considerable number of readers at that time in Bukovina as well as in Bessarabia and in Old Romania. The most important worker in the editorial department was Mrs. Sarah Kaswan. Occasional workers were: Dr. Friedmann, Dr. Pistiner, Herz Gilischenski, Leah Kissman, etc. A great number of friends from all the larger cities in the land supported the paper by submitting correspondence, articles and literary contributions so that the newspaper reflected the multi-faceted picture of Jewish life in Romania.

In education work of the organization, in the union work and in the many sided functions of the Bund, in addition to the previously named many other Party members worked in a selfless way. We want to mention only a few here: Awner, Engel, Feuerberg, Fischbach, Glasberg, Goldberg, Hammer, Hartmann, Dr. Alex Kissman, Merling, Perlmutter, Rosenkranz, Rubinger, Sinnreich, Steinberg, Stieglitz, Stroh, Süsser, Samuel Tropper, Wiesel and Zimmet - all in Czernowitz. The must important functionaries in the province were: M. Fast in Storozynetz, Dr. M. Drimmer in Radautz, Dr. K. Watner in Sereth and L. Rothkopf in Suczawa.

At that time the Jews in Bukovina had an active social life in the city and in rural areas. The Bund opposed the various Zionist groups. There were passionate unsparing conflicts. These conflicts however were fought out exclusively on a higher plane dealing with principals, ideas and “world views.” Whatever the immediate goal of the fight in the political arena might be, the fight was really for the heart and soul of the Jewish masses. Never in all the years was the border of personal respect for political opponents crossed. The best evidence for the character of these conflicts came from the pen of Dr. Mayer Ebener who as president of the Zionist State Organization and the Jewish Unity Party was the main target of the Bund's attacks. One reads today, not without melancholy in the yellowed pages of the East Jewish Newspaper his realization after the conclusion of the election battles that it was “a clean fight,” a fight with “clean wristbands.”

General Strike, Unification, Loss of Civil Liberties

By some miracle the Bukovina worker's organizations escaped the storm of reaction after the abortive general strike of 1921.

The general strike was a premature action. It was really an act of desperation in reaction to the arbitrary actions of the police, especially in Old Romania. Without the necessary preparations it was declared at the initiative of the at that time radicalized socialist organizations of Old Romania for the entire country. The strike collapsed on the first day. Mass arrests followed with uncontrolled police brutality and monster trials with heavy sentences.

In Bukovina, from the beginning, the general strike was viewed not as a power struggle of unlimited duration against the government, but was proclaimed as a 24 hour protest strike against official misconduct. As such, it was carried out in a quiet and disciplined manner in Czernowitz and also partially so in the provinces and in spite of police provocation, it never provided a reason for the police to take a serious action.

In spite of that, the Bukovina population, not merely organized labor soon felt the full weight of the centralized force from Bucharest. The reactionaries were firmly in the saddle. They not only shattered the upward striving worker organizations of Old Romania,but alsoachieved a definite victory against the progressive forces which were still alive in government circles. From then on, accelerated “unification” of all provinces with the Old Kingdom was the solution of the ruling party. For the new provinces, that meant: suppression of individuality and a sinking to the Balkan like level of Old Romania. The Jews were hit the hardest by this course of events. For them, unification meant the reducing of their social and civil rights situation to that of the Jews of Old Romania who until after the First World War, were completely without rights and whose new civil rights had existed for only a short period and were still very shaky. And that indeed was the goal of the ruling parties. Official anti-Semitism was in Romania as overall and forever in history an unavoidable accompaniment to the general atmosphere of reaction.

This spirit sprang from the citizenship law of 1924, a malicious law to rob rights, which in a cynical manner ignored the clear requirements of the peace treaty. The law threatened the citizen's rights of all residents of the new provinces; Jews were however the real target of the law and mainly it was Jews who fell victim to the law.

The Jewish parties in Bukovina held large protest meetings. Also the Bund organized giant meetings together with the International Social Democratic Party. Protests against the law were made at these meetings in the names of all the Bukovina nationalities and sent to the government. Dr. Pistiner castigated the law in sharp speeches from the parliamentary tribune. There followed interventions by great Jewish world organizations at the People's Alliance [Völkerbund] but it was clear from the beginning that any attempt to defeat this law through political combat would be unsuccessful. These protest actions had a great unsettling effect on the Jewish population. On one hand, they sowed the seeds of panic among the Jewish people and on the other hand, they urged them to watchfulness and activity concerning their threatened citizen's rights.

The organization of Bund opened a “rights office” to protect citizens' rights which was directed by the lawyers Dr. Berl Friedmann and Dr. Joseph Kissman.

With this action, the question of citizen's rights was by no means resolved. Amendments and revisions to the law were published. The Bund was always watchful and stood by the Jewish population in every crisis. [loss of ] Citizen rights became a permanent danger for the Jewish population.

Antisemitic Excesses. Communist Movement

The increasing pressure from the reactionary regime resulted in two opposing phenomena, both previously unknown to the Bukovina population, both brought in from outside. On one hand, anti-Semitic excesses and on the other hand a strengthening of the illegal Communist Movement.

Brutal acts against the Jewish population with their proud national awareness and unbending courage of citizenship were welcomed by the central government as a form of “pacification.” The excesses were always initiated by university students and were visibly encouraged by the authorities. Jewish youth from the Zionist and Jewish Socialist organizations reacted in an analogous manner against those responsible giving them a good lesson.

Almost exclusively Jewish youth were taken up by the illegal Communist Movement. That was a serious danger. Mass arrests were made ever more frequently. Those who were imprisoned were often badly mishandled and tortured. There were many, who even in the eyes of the authorities were innocent, but who had to undergo a full measure of police “handling” before they could prove that the charges were groundless. The persecution had a distinctly anti-Semitic character.

The Bund successfully resisted the attempts of the Communists to infiltrate its ranks. As energetically as it fought Communist propaganda, just so forcefully did it support the victims of police brutality. Often, it was children or siblings of Party members who fell into the nets of the Communists or the hands of the police. In the processes before the Tribunal in Czernowitz in which Dr. Kissman often appeared as the defending lawyer not seldom screaming injustices, brutal abuse and even cases of torture were uncovered.

The Bund became ever more hated by the police. It was no secret that the police planed to destroy the organization and take revenge on its leaders. The organ of the Bund which was being changed over to a daily newspaper and which for a while appeared twice a week was repeatedly banned by the police. After every ban the organ of the Bund reappeared as a weekly newspaper under a different name. The newspaper changed its name no less than six times. It started as Das Naye Leben [The New Life] and was alternately called Naye Zeitung [New Newspaper], Der Strahl [The Ray of Light], Dos Freie Wort [The Free Word], Volkszeitung [Peoples' Newspaper], Naye Volkszeitung [New Peoples' Newspaper] and again Naye Zeitung. Dr. Kissman was also arrested two times; once in 1921 when the attempt was made to entangle him in a Communist conspiracy that a number of young people from Bukovina and Bessarabia were accused of running. The attempt failed miserably; a decade later, a second attempt was made based on an “inflammatory” article in the Naye Zeitung. This accusation was sent to the military court in Iasi. The police also had no luck in this case since the military prosecutor himself found no reason to press charges.

The Bund let itself be in no way intimidated by this harassment and unlawfulness.

General Jewish Worker Bund in Romania

For many years, the Jewish social life in Bukovina remained completely isolated from the other provinces of the country. The Jews of Bukovina who could look back on a long history of equal citizens' rights under Austrian rule and who had gathered a rich experience in long years of activity in the political arena seemed to be destined to play a leading roll among the Jews of the new Greater Romania. But in spite of these considerations for a long time the way to organizational unification could not be found. It didn't go much better for the other nationalities including the Romanians themselves. It was as if the former national boundaries between Old Romania, Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina wouldn't let themselves be obliterated. It didn't come to a complete integration until the very end.

The Bund was the first Jewish organization which undertook to break out of the narrow provincial isolation. After ongoing negotiations with Jewish Socialists Old Romania and Bessarabia the Party leadership decided in 1922 to formally expand the organization of the Bund in Bukovina over all parts of the land and to hold the founding conference for the Romanian Bund in Czernowitz on the 6th and 7th of January 1923.

Representatives of the organization from Czernowitz, Radauti, Suceava, Siret and Storozynetz as well as four delegates from Old Romania and three from Bessarabia attended the conference. The presentation about the General Socialist Movement in Romania was given by Dr. Pistiner, the presentation about the founding of the Bund and its goals by Dr. Kissman. Herz Gilischenski spoke about Jewish education and Markus Kaswan spoke about organization and the press.

It was a very significant conference, the first Jewish worker's conference in which representatives from three provinces of Greater Romania talked together, the first Socialist conference of this type altogether, because a unification conference of Socialist organizations of all provinces and the founding of the united Socialist Party of Greater Romania only took place later. The conference was warmly greeted by the other national groups of the Bukovina Social Democratic Party and the regional Party leadership of the other provinces. Also, notes of congratulations arrived from abroad. The larger Bucharest newspapers had extensive coverage.

The conference solemnly proclaimed the founding of the General Jewish Worker Bund in Romania.

The founding resolution started out with a reference to the founding of the Bund in Tsarist Russia a quarter century previously (1897)and went on to say that East Jewish workers in other countries had followed the same developmental path to social and national awakening and had created organizations with the same goals although they weren't connected. In the resolution, the commitment of the newly formed organization to the program of the Bund was solemnly proclaimed and essentially the same program points were listed such as the fight for the recognition for the recognition of the Jewish language in schools and offices and others.

The founding of the General Jewish Workers' Alliance [Bund] in Romania was like opening a window in Czernowitz to Jewish workers in the other provinces, but there were tremendous barriers to the building of local organizations. In Old Romania, the Bund ran into the resistance of the regional Social Democratic Party which stubbornly resisted the long since dissipated “naïve cosmopolitanism” of Bukovina and unreasonably fought the national combining of the Party organization. Things were the same in Marmorosch with the Transylvania Party leadership. Bessarabia however lived with the fear of the military “state of siege” which made the existence of a socialistic organization impossible.

There followed years of hard work and great disappointments for the Bund. Loose groups of followers of the Bund in the larger cities was the only thing that could be achieved in the other provinces. In the parliamentary elections of 1932, Dr. Kissman ran as list director for the Social Democratic Party in the three northern districts of Bessarabia - Chotin, Beltz and Kischinew - and in spite of the election terror achieved a great victory.

In the Community

In the national program of the Bund, the Community figured as one of the most important political battlegrounds. No area in public life offered such a rich opportunity for propaganda on social ideas as the fight for the Community and the activity in the Community. The formulation of an action program for the Community occupied the organization of the Bund in Bukovina since its reconstruction after the war.

More than a decade was to pass before the Jewish population of Bukovina were offered the opportunity to choose the officers of their Community in a free election.

The Israelite Community was the most important Jewish institution which passed from old Austria to Romania. In Old Romania, there was no legally recognized Jewish Community. In as much as Jewish associations in various cities of Old Romania performed community functions for the population they were either constituted of incorporated individuals of private rights, for example burial societies or they led a lawless existence and could neither acquire nor possess property. The Israelite Communities in Bukovina were anchored in the Austrian Community Laws which tentatively remained in force for the area of Bukovina. First in 1928 was a general Community Law for the entire land accepted.

The Israelite Community in Czernowitz - which during the Austrian time remained for many years the uncontested domain of Dr. Benno Straucher - became in the Romanian era a position of strength for the party in power. It served the governing party which was unpopular in Bukovina not only as a strong point within the Jewish population but also as a strategic position for conquest of the majority in the city and even in the district in political elections.

The Jews who were undoubtedly the most politically active group in the population who in every election created the atmosphere and to a certain degree set the tone. The Community as key to power - that was virtually an axiomatic tactic of every party.

The government would choose a “gerent” to administer the Community and to support him a “reliable” person would also be named.

One change occurred with the rise of the National Zaranistisch Party. At that time, the end of 1938, a democratic spring storm blew over the land. The positions of the reactionary “historic” parties were swept away. Also, the Community seemed ripe for democratization.

According to the old Austrian law concerning the statutes for individual Communities only tax paying citizens had the right to vote. That is, it was restricted to the strata of citizens who owned property. The working population were from the outset excluded from exercising any influence on the Community. The first condition for the fight for the Community was therefore the winning of general suffrage. A vigorous campaign was waged for this cardinal demand. Finally, an election law with equal direct proportional voting rights was accepted and confirmed by the government.

After an attempt by the Gerent Dr. Lazarowicz to secure general voting rights failed, Dr. Karl Gutherz was named gerent by the government and an advisory board with representatives from all groups was formed. Also, the Bund decided to participate in this advisory board since it was certain that only by working with the sitting administration could a democratically chosen Community Council[6] be achieved and end be put to the “buying” of the Gerent position.

The advisory board took up as its first task the creation and revision of a voter list. The voter list included all Jewish residents of the city of Czernowitz - also those who were not Romanian citizens. Without unnecessary delay preparations for the election for May 18, 1930 were made.

It was a great event. For the first time in the history of the Jewish Community of Czernowitz were Jews from all social strata were called to the urn [where they threw in their ballots] to decide the composition of a Community Council. The election campaign which started several weeks previously was waged vigorously by all sides. The Community was obviously much more important to the Jews that other public institutions like, for example, the Gemeinderat, etc.

The platform of the Bund which was published in the news papers and distributed in flyers was based on the primary requirement that the Communitymust be changed into a national Jewish organization. It started with the statement: The Community is an institution governed by public law which encompasses all of the Jewish people and therefore constitutes the de facto Jewish nation within the framework of the Romanian state. The platform continued: It therefore depends on the will of the Community Council to make this body, recognized by public law into the starting point for national cultural autonomy for the Jewish people. It is necessary above all to enhance the existing form with national cultural content, to create schools and cultural institutions of all types for the maintenance and development of the Yiddish language and to promote literature and culture. With great emphasis, the platform called for the discontinuation of indirect taxes and for the introduction of a progressive tax system for property owners and demanded the building up of social institutions like hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly and a modern system of care for the poor.

A large number of candidate lists were submitted since the proportion system of the new election ordinance gave small groups the possibility to win elected positions.

Every vote was passionately fought for. In the middle class arena the fight between the Jewish National Unity Party, the Straucher group and the National Zaranistisch parties was carried on with the greatest passion. The Bund stood in the cross-fire of all the parties and groups. It was notorious as a godless party, and a representation of the Bund in the Community would be considered as a danger for the religious institutions. In spite of all these accusations, the Bund asserted that its position was a special way of thinking for the Jewish workers and led the battle on the high plane of an ideological combat with citizens from all groups.

The great splintering of the vote in the election produced the result: a Community Council that was divided between small groups, none of which had a commanding majority. The Bund won eight seats which was seen as a great victory. The following candidates from the Bund's list were elected: Dr. Berl Friedmann, Nathan Tropper, Dr. Joseph Kissman, Mathias Rolf, Litman Schaffer, Markus Kaswan, Eisig Wiesel and Josef Stieglitz.

When the new Community Councilwas seated the Bund took the standpoint that the strongest party should have the honor of providing the first president and therefore voted for Dr. Myer Ebner, the president of the Zionist Unity Party which had a small superiority in number of votes compared to the National Zaranistisch group. Dr. Ebner and Dr. Karl Gutherz, the candidate of the National Zaranistisch group won an equal number of votes. Lots were drawn and the lottery decided in favor of the later. The Bund won two seats, Dr. Berl Friedmann became the first vice president, Dr. Joseph Kissman was elected as chairman of the school section.

Minor differences between the citizens groups prevented the newly elected Community Councilfrom accomplishing any useful work. As an administrative body, it is possible that this freely elected Community Council didn't win a brilliant place in the history of the Jewish community of Czernowitz. As a public tribunal for the existing parties and trends, it was unique in its way. The passionate discussions that took place during the long evening meetings in the packed hall were at the center of public interest for the entire population. Never before was the “Jewish question” dealt with by speakers of all persuasions in such a forum.

What was necessary, however, was more than mere discussion and with the existing composition of the Community Council, constructive administrative work would never be accomplished.

The years of uncontrolled rule by the gerents had severely reduced the finances of the Community. The social institutions, the hospital, orphanage, etc. couldn't accomplish their jobs. The public school, under the old teachers had come down severely.

The Bundists together with a small number of council members from other groups tried their best under the most difficult conditions to fulfill their administrative tasks. Nathan Tropper and Litman Schaffer were active in administering the hospital. Mathias Roll, who as an economist and financial expert who was highly respected tried in vain to find new ways and means to fill the Communitie's coffers. Dr. Kissman developed a plan to gradually pension the old teachers of the elementary school and started talks with the previous administrator of the pension, teacher Dubensky. This was supposed to smooth the path to a modernization of the school. It never came to this, however, because the fight about the school took a completely new turn.

Concerning the Language of Instruction in the Community School

The leadership of the Bund decided to quickly settle the question of the language of instruction to be used in the public schools. One allowed one's self no illusions how the decision would fall considering the composition of the Council, but no more suitable tribunal for the fight for the recognition of the Yiddish language could be found in the Jewish community than just this council. In addition, there were other considerations: The general interest of wide circles of the population in the activities of the Council could not be expected to last much longer. The Council stood before the danger of turning into an unproductive discussion club. It was decided to leave the possibility of success out of the consideration and to continue the fight about Yiddish as the language of instruction as long as one was certain that the public debate would call forth a lively echo among the population. The situation in the school itself called for a quick decision.

In the six class public school, the German language from the Austrian time was still being used for instruction while the patience of the education officials was running out. That was an untenable situation since according to the law; private schools with public rights had to instruct in either the language of the corresponding national minority or in Romanian. The school stood in danger of being closed by the authorities if it didn't quickly obey this law.

After a short preparation in the press and in meetings, the Bund started its fight about the language of instruction soon after the start of the school year 1930/31. The proposal for introducing of Yiddish as the language of instruction resulted in the expected split in votes along party lines in the school section of the Council: The two Bund members voted for Yiddish, the three Zionists for Hebrew. As referees for the plenum Dr. Reifer voted for the majority and Dr. Kissman voted for the minority.

There then followed a dramatic fight in the plenum. The Bundists were successful in expanding the debate to wider aspects of Jewish life. For the Bund, the language of instruction was more than a mere question of education principals. And so the debate became more of a fight over the basic principals of Jewish life, Bund vs. Zionism, that a simple question of the language used in instruction. The debate was carried out in two long night meetings. It was the high point of the clash of opposing ideas on the battle field of the Council. In the general debate that followed Dr. Reifer's and Dr. Kissman's votes one soon saw signs of disunity in the middle class citizen camp. The speaker for the Orthodox, Jakob Wiznitzer demanded merely that children be taught to pray (daven) and expressed no interest in the language of instruction. Dr. Max Diamant who belonged to the Einheitspartei [Unity Party] who in the school question as in many other areas went his own way proposed a conciliatory solution: the instruction language should be Yiddish for the first three years and first from the fourth year on should be Hebrew.

At the following plenum meeting on Thursday October 17 however, the Bund faced a united front of all the bourgeois groups. The meeting was for the final speeches of the referees and the final vote. The members of the Unity Party certain of their success pressed for the final vote.

The Bund faction decided to put off the final vote for as long as possible in order to perhaps cause some indecision in the voters. Therefore, Dr. Kissman's speech advocating the introduction of Yiddish as the language of instruction lasted more than four hours. In the early morning, the vote which produced the expected result was held: with all the bourgeois groups against the votes of the Bund, the proposal of the Unity Party for the introduction of Hebrew as the language of instruction was adopted.

After the vote, Dr. Kissman resigned from his position in the school section, so as he explained - not to preside over the “Romanianization” of the single Jewish elementary school for which the decision to introduce Hebrew as the language of instruction would certainly “open the door and the gate.”

Shortly after that, the entire Bund faction resigned from the Council. The Bund was richer for the experience. Much difficult work would be required in private schools teaching in Yiddish before recognition would be achieved in the political battle.

Not long after that, the Community Council was dissolved by the government.

Jewish Trade Schools

Jewish school and cultural demands were an essential part of the Bund's program in all lands. This attitude was strongly expressed at the second conference of the Bund in Bukovina in May 1921. As important as the school and cultural requirements were as the solution to political conflicts, no one at first thought of using private means for the practical realization of these ideas.

In the resolution that was adopted at the above mentioned conference in response to a paper presented by Dr. Berl Friedmann, the demand for construction of Jewish elementary, citizen[7] and middle schools was presented to the state. Collecting money or similar social actions for the creation of private schools was not considered. Only at the conclusion of the resolution were a few words devoted to the construction of model schools on their own initiative - a pious wish about whose infeasibility everyone was in agreement.

In the public elementary schools, which gradually were Romanianized, Jewish children were enrolled without difficulty. The trade schools, however, systematically repulsed the Jewish youth. In any event, these schools were overcrowded and unsatisfactory in all respects, but it was not by chance that it was always just the Jewish boys and girls for whom no place could be found in the schools. The instruction of these hand worker youth (3 hours daily after regular school was over) was of doubtful value, but according to the Austrian trade regulations which at that time were still in force in Bukovina, graduation from a trade school was necessary to become a master craftsman.

About that time, the intensive Romanianization effort of the government was making itself felt in the trade schools. Romanian farm boys were brought from the villages to the city, housed in dormitory's at the expense of the state and Jewish hand work masters were forced to teach them. You didn't have to be very bright to connect the withholding of educational opportunities from the Jewish apprentices with this general tendency.

And so, the decision was made to create a Jewish trade school. By happy chance, just at that time an energetic young teacher from Bessarabia who had a wealth of practical experience in private Jewish schools had come to Czernowitz. This was Herz Gilischenski. He was entrusted with running this first trade school and was the soul of this and the later following school projects of the worker education organization Morgenroit [Morning Red].

A modest role was planed for Morgenroit (The name of the organization was made more Yiddish sounding after the First World War) at its founding in 1908. It was to provide for the educational needs of adolescents and adults. The building up of a comprehensive library of modern Jewish literature and the organization of periodic educational courses was until then the activity program of the organization. Then Morgenroit became the school organization of the Bund and expanded to ever wider territories of Jewish cultural activity and gradually became one of the greatest cultural organizations of Eastern Europe.

In Autumn of 1921 the first Jewish trade school in Czernowitz opened. The Ministry of Labor which supervised trade schools issued without difficulty the authorization to open the school, with which the “public right” was also involved. Large classrooms were provided in the Landhausgasse elementary school for Morgenroit to hold evening classes. Apprentices in all trades enrolled in the school which already in the first year had approximately 300 students of both sexes. The instruction (which started after a light meal provided by the Joint) developed without a hitch. A number of respected Jewish teachers like Karl Kohn, Chaim Fuchs and others instructed in the Yiddish language following the plan prescribed for public schools while Romanian teachers were brought in to teach the Romanian language and the history of the Romanian people. Chief teacher Karl Kohn was named director of the school.

Already in the next year the first difficult arose when the organization Morgenroit was told that it could no longer use the classrooms in the Landhausgasse elementary school. Other locations were not suitable and renting or purchasing was out of the question. The school had hardly started and already stood before its demise.

One hope remained; appeal to the comrades in America.

Help Action in America

The Bund had been in contact with worker organizations in America for some time. The founding of the General Jewish Worker Alliance [Bund] in Romania in 1923 had been warmly greeted by the leaders of the Jewish worker movement in America. It immediately offered material help.

Of the numerous friends of the newly founded Bund in Romania, two distinguished labor leaders should be mentioned here, both of whom who are no longer living; Baruch Czarny Vladek and Vladimir Medem, both immortal names in the history of the Jewish labor movement. Vladek who was considered almost god like (in his homeland, in Russia, he was called the “young Lassalle”) had leadership positions in the most significant Jewish world organizations such as the Joint Distribution Committee [the Joint], Ort, Hias, etc. Medem, the spiritual leader of the Bund in Tsarist Russia and after the First World War, in Poland came after a passage through great suffering to America. He was known as the legend of the Jewish worker's movement in the old homeland and in America he soon was held in great respect in all circles of the worker's movement. Both Vladek and Medem immediately grasped the historic significance of a Bund movement in the new Greater Romania and gathered the Romanian Landsmanshaft [organization of people who emigrated from the same town or country] groups of the Arbeiter Ring (Workman's Circle) to work together for the organization in the old homeland. Under their leadership the Gross Rumänische Arbeiter Liga [The Greater Romanian Worker League] in America was founded, whose goal was to help Jewish worker organizations in Romania.

The league invited the Bund in Romania to send a delegation to America.

Herz Gilischenski and Dr. Joseph Kissman were chosen.

We will not report about the events in America, but limit ourselves to several remarks. It was much more difficult than one could have imagined from a distance.

After the First World War, there were in America numerous individual efforts to support Jewish organizations and institutions in Europe - in addition to the universal generous help action of the Joint for the Jews in Europe. These efforts were however, held for the cultural and social needs of the Jews in Poland and Russia. Never before had an action been undertaken for Romania which for the Jewish public in America led to the “logical” conclusion that the Jews of Romania had no social needs and strivings. The most important task of the delegation therefore consisted of convincing the organizations and groups which were to be created of the existence of a large Jewish population in Romania - because of its expansion after the First World War - and to make them familiar with their struggles and the cultural efforts of the Worker's Movement. It was no easy task to put a country that was so little known “on the map” of the Jewish public in America.

The first thing to do was to get the help of the press.

Dr. Kissman because he had worked many years for the greatest Jewish daily paper in America (and the world), the socialist Vorwärts [Forwards] stood in friendly contact with the chief editor Abraham Cahan. The hearty welcome on arrival was very encouraging. The campaign for the Bund in Romania was advocated by the Vorwärts with great warmth and was soon popular in all workers' circles. The newspaper willingly printed not only Kissman's articles about the campaign, but also those of Cahan himself and other fellow workers wrote articles and interviews in which the necessity of the help for the institutions and organizations of the Jewish workers in Romania was stressed.

What strongly impressed the delegation right at the beginning was the small number of Landsleuten from Bukovina homeland itself. How small this little Bukovina “world” appeared in the American Babel [Tower of Babel]. The Bukoviner helped valiantly with the action, but the bulk of the work fell on the Greater Romanian Worker's League, whose members consisted almost exclusively of Landsleuten from Old Romania.

Before the delegation started the trip to America, the universally honored Vladimir Medem died in New York. Vladek then felt a doubled responsibility for the action. He introduced the delegates to the large Jewish worker organizations (trade unions) and as general manager of the Vorwärts he made sure that the branch offices of the paper in the large cites of the land were helpful to the delegates from Romania.

The campaign which lasted for three months was carried out with great success. Already after the first telegraphic report from the delegation the large building lot at the corner of Althgasse and Schillergasse was acquired and even before the delegation had returned the construction of the Morgenroit-Haus had been started.

Culture House Morgenroit

The Culture House Morgenroit as it was later named consisted of two large interconnected buildings: one building on Althgasse was to be used for the school and cultural institutions of the organization; the second attached building, situated on Schillergasse was intended to be a modern theater whose proceeds would finance the cultural work of Morgenroit. The enterprise was well thought out and excellently planed but it seemed that the unavoidable lot of public construction to be that at first the available material, means and labor are grossly over-estimated and only after some progress of the construction a crisis that seems to be insoluble arises which brings the undertaking right to the edge of collapse.

In the case of Morgenroit there was the additional circumstance that simultaneously with the building of the house the school and cultural institutions were being enlarged. The functioning of the school and educational system could not be even momentarily interrupted. These institutions required a large budget and were always short of funds.

The available funds were used for the construction of the building on Althgase. This work was moved forward as quickly as possible and the large four story building was completed within a year. The Morgenroit evening trade school that had been threatened by the loss of the elementary school on Landhausgasse was in the following school year able to move into the comfortable modern large spaces in the new school. The construction of the theater however was soon stopped and for years didn't proceed past the foundation while the pressing load of debt unceasingly grew.

Also the long awaited completion of the theater building after years of nagging worries didn't bring relief from the pressing debts. The theater hall was rented to a movie enterprise, but the income - far from covering the budget for the cultural work of Morgenroit was hardly enough to make the payments on the newly obtained loan.

In this need, the hope for the promised help from America proved to be the only correct calculation that Morgenroit had made when it initiated the construction. The rescuing angle was the always ready to help Baruch Czarny Vladek in New York who spurred the Romanian Worker League again and again to new activities and in difficult situations received appreciable sums from the large labor unions for Morgenroit. Delegations came to America three more times. Twice they were led by Herz Gilischenski for carrying out of help campaigns in America and once Dr. Joseph Kissman came in 1934. All three actions were successful.

We want to immediately add here that it was not the financial help from America alone that made possible the completion of these glorious buildings. No small measure of gratitude should go to the dedicated untiring members of the construction committee. The chairman of the Morgenroit Association Wilhelm Ippen was at the same time chairman of the construction committee and the soul of the entire project.

In spite of all the material worries Morgenroit had built two day trade schools - a girls' school for tailoring and a boys' school for carpentry - as well as expanding the evening trade school. In the day schools in addition to the vocational education by first class teachers the most stress was put on general education. Dr. Marco Schaffer, an extraordinarily educated middle school professor was director of the day school for tailoring; Dr. Israel Schäfler directed the carpentry school. The evening trade school which was still under the leadership of Chief Teacher Karl Kohn acquired the “one year right” in military service for its graduates.

The success of the instruction in vocational as well as in general education were satisfying to the highest degree.

In all the schools Yiddish was naturally the language of instruction as well as the conversational language. Moreover, the greatest attention was paid to teaching of the Yiddish language and literature as a subject of instruction. Along with that went the teaching of Yiddish song. For a time, Joseph Schmidt who was later to achieve fame was the music teacher and Choir director of the Morgenroit school.

Of no smaller significance was the institution for cultural work with adults, which was run in the building on Althgasse. We want to briefly describe it: a large hall which took up half of the ground floor was used for the library which bore the name “Wladimir Medem.” The other half of the ground floor was used for a lecture hall and the offices of Morgenroit. A workers' club with the name Jakob Pistiner met in the lecture hall. In a large, modest and comfortably furnished hall in the basement was located the “Morgenroit workers' corner,” a restaurant in which good meals could be had at low prices. The youth organization and the sport club Morgenroit had their homes high above in the attic. In addition, there was a Balalaika orchestra, a theater group with amateurs from the youth group and a mixed choir with adult and youth group members. This group had no assigned location and practiced their activity in various classrooms.

Two floors of the school building were rented to a private school which during the day gave the building the appearance of a normal school with quiet school activity. In the evening hours the building was transformed: educational courses, lectures, theater music tryouts, conferences and conventions took place. The greatest use was made of the reading room of the excellently run Wladimir Medem library which in the evening was filled to the last seat.

Even during the hot summer time the use of the building didn't completely cease. The schools were closed during the months of July and August and in place of instruction, the students and youth organizations of the Bund got together for entertaining and useful summer activities. Vacation colonies were set up in various places in the Carpathians and many who couldn't go remained active at home. Every week outings were made to local destinations.

Harassment and Persecution

Even before the building was completed and before the organization had completed this great expansion the envious looks of the anti-Semitic movement were directed at the lively activity on Althgasse-Schillergasse. Plans were forged to destroy the organization and rob its assets. The government which was always ready for such activity gave these plans their full attention. Soon the first blow was delivered.

The library was hardly opened in the new building when the police came and searched it. They objected to books by Marx, Engels and Kautsky and confiscated them. The district attorney's office issued an accusation against Morgenroit and demanded the dissolution of the organization. A similar process was started by the Higher Inspectorate for Judicial People in Bucharest. The process before the Czernowitz tribunal drew out for years while the proceeding with the Inspectorate in Bucharest rested. Searches by the police in the library were often repeated and many other books were confiscated in order to support the assertions in the charge. Finally a verdict of “not guilty” was declared.

The district attorney took the case to the Appeals Court and that proceeding was drawn out for over a year. Testimony about the confiscated books was given by anti-Semitic university professors and also by Chief Rabbi Dr. Mark and others. This process similarly ended with an acquittal by a senate chaired by the Higher State Court Council Stefanelli.

At the same time criminal proceedings for insurgency (under Lex Marzescu) were started against the chairman of Morgenroit Wilhelm Ippen and the librarian Sabina for being responsible for disseminating inflammatory material. Happily the proceedings took place before a senate chaired by State Court Councilman Dr. Bibring which declared the accused “not guilty.”

Unhindered by government bullying and legal persecution the great work of Jewish education and cultural work was continued.

The administrative accomplishment of this great effort was for all those years in the hands of the secretary Sarah Kaswan who carried out her service with great competence and unequaled faithfulness and devotion.

The Cuza-Goga government was to first to succeed in confiscating the great Jewish assets and in banning the organization. To do this, it required at that time no laws and no courts. But before it could enjoy the ill gotten gains, already others were in power.

Leave Taking of Pistiner and Tropper

The Social Democratic Party and all its associated organizations were in full blossom and strength and intensively active in all areas of public life when they were met by a hard fate: on August 23, 1930 Dr. Jakob Pistiner died suddenly. It was an irreplaceable loss for the Jewish population of Bukovina who in Pistiner had a courageous fighter for right and dignity and also an untiring opponent of injustice to individuals. It was also a shattering human tragedy: Pistiner who was not yet 49 years old literally broke down under his workload for the community. On a trip to a repeatedly delayed short vacation for recuperation he died from a heart attack on the train.

A funeral procession of thousands accompanied Pistiner to his final rest. It was one of the largest funerals that Czernowitz had ever seen, a manifestation of the love, respect and mourning that international Czernowitz was demonstrating for its greatest citizen and true friend. A true circle of legends grew around Pistiner after his death.

One year later on November 5, 1931 he was followed in death by his true friend who had accompanied him on his path, Nathan Tropper. A skilled hand worker who had an extraordinary gift for speaking, Tropper was not only the uncontested leader of the socialistic union movement but also a leading personality in the international workers movement in Bukovina. Also Tropper was deeply mourned in wide circles of the population. Both friends lay in adjacent honor graves in the Community.

Martyr's Death of a Young Jew, Edi Wagner

With Hitler's seizure of power in Germany the anti-Semitic movement in Romania assumed an ever more threatening character. The attacks against the Jewish population in various parts of the land occurred more and more frequently. The excesses were carried out by the Cuzisten (followers of the infamous Professor Cuza) and the Eisernen Garde [Iron Gurard]. The government which for some time still wavered between the order of law and anti-Semitic terror inclined itself evermore toward the later. In the summer of 1936, it was clear to see that the anti-Semitic mob had become an actual “shadow government” in Romania.

Czernowitz was at that time the show place for large anti-Semitic demonstrations. Students gathered in bands and made the streets unsafe in broad daylight. In the evening hours, a Jews' life was not safe. In front of the newspaper publishing house Abraham on Herrengasse often trucks with Bucharest and foreign newspapers were overturned and the offending newspapers, - the anti-Fascist Jew press - were burned in bonfires.

For a week the Culture House Morgenroit looked like a beleaguered fortress. When the rumor spread that an attack and plundering of the building was planed comprehensive countermeasures were taken. Hundreds of Jewish workers occupied the building continually, slept in the hallways and posted sentries around the building. The expected attack didn't materialize. If these preparations for defense were a deterrent or the rumor about the planed attack was exaggerated could not be determined.

In the city the excesses were continued every day. There were daily clashes with organized groups of Jewish youth in which the anti-Semitic bands drew the short straw. Finally the ground in the city got to hot for them and they moved the showplace of their activities to the Volksgarten [People's Garden]. For Jews entering the Volksgarten was associated with great danger. Bold attacks on peaceful strollers were daily occurrences. The police maintained “strict neutrality.” Police posted at the entrances warned Jewish walkers that they entered the park at their own risk and could not count on police protection.

So in those days the Volksgarten became “Judenrein” [free of Jews]. The Jews of Czernowitz also had to swallow this insult. At that time no one had an idea that a avenger from the ranks of the Jewish youth would hatch a plan to execute bloody justice on the Fascist youth. The very last person that one would have dreamed of to take this role was a delicate young man whose mild nature would have rebelled at the thought of a violent act. Edi Wagner was his name. He was 20 years old and studied optics. The son of a widow he had grown up in poverty. He made the youth organization of the Bund to his real home. In spite of the fact that he avoided the noisy carrying on of his contemporaries and was quiet and inward directed he was the most popular organizer whose directions everyone happily followed. Edi Wagner had one passion; music. He organized a Balalaika orchestra which consisted of 100 young boys and girls. He was the director of the orchestra and its soul. The orchestra often performed public concerts. The orchestra was the pride and joy of the workers.

The anti-Semitic excesses of the summer of 1936 made a deep impression on Edi Wagner. He visibly turned more into himself, became even more silent. In all secrecy he organized a fighting group of youth. On a sticky July night the group entered the Volksgarten determined to put an end to the activities of the Fascist bands. A clash soon took place. The leader of the Fascist band, a student of theology fell dead with a knife wound in his heart.

In that same night over 30 members of the youth group were arrested. All were severely abused by the police. Edi Wagner was beaten to death. On the following day a dying Edi Wagner was brought to the Central Hospital. The police asserted that during the questioning that night he had jumped out of the second story window. What the police executioners had really done to him is a bloody secret that won't be uncovered. One learned later from the nurse who was the only person allowed at his bed side that Eli Wagner's body was covered with wounds and showed clear signs of beating.

Edi Wagner died on the evening after he was brought to the hospital. The same night he was buried by lantern light in all secrecy in the Jewish cemetery. Besides his mother no one else was allowed at the funeral. Even she was not allowed to see the face of her only son.

It was never discovered who had actually delivered the deadly blow to the leader of the Fascist group. The arrested youth were soon released; the police had a bad conscience. About one thing the police were not in error: the organizer and leader of the heroic defense group was really Edi Wagner. The Czernowitz Jews will not forget him for that.

Then Came the Great Dying

Further events do not fit within the framework of this account.

The ties between the working population and their Organization became even stronger and deeper after Edi Wagner's martyr's death. After that July 1936 the Bund and all its institutions were watched even more closely by the police. Public activities were only possible in limited measures.

Because of that the victory of the Bund in the Community election of 1937 must be that much more highly valued. United with a group of leftist Poale Zionists the slate won 8 seats: 6 Bundists and two Poale Zionists.

That was the last public activity of Jewish parties in Bukovina.

What happened afterwards during the Second World War was part of the greatest Jewish tragedy in Europe and is reported on in other places.

Under Soviet occupation the Morgenroit House became a branch location of the University. The secretary of Morgenroit Sarah Kaswan remained as “custodian” of the building until that day when the police of the “socialist” state sent this true Jewish socialist to her death in Siberia. All other administrators were removed and the school and various other institutions were shut down.

Before the Russian army withdrew the following leading members of the Bund and the Social Democratic Party together with a whole series of Czernowitz citizens were arrested and deported to Soviet Russia: Wilhelm Ippen together with his wife and daughter, Sarah and Markus Kaswan, Herz Gilischenski and wife, Samuel Tropper with wife and child, Dr. Arthur Oberländer with wife and son, Dr. Albert Silbermann with wife and son and others.

Many of those who were arrested and deported fell victim to the rage of the Romanian troops when they re-entered Bukovina. Among them was Litman Schaffer. A member of the Council, he had during the Russian time voluntarily served in the Jewish hospital. When the Romanian troops marched in he was shot on the street in front of the hospital while carrying out his duties.

And many of those who escaped this bloodbath suffered in Transnistrien …

Out of Siberia came only limited news and cries for help to America. With the exception of several whose fate is still unknown all died from hunger and the miserable conditions.


Authors Note bottom of page 133:

A) This truly dedicated Jewish Socialist fell together with her husband, Dr. Jakob Edel as a victim of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. On October 12, 1941 both were murdered by the Germans in Yugoslavia after an adventurous flight from Vienna. Return

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. I'm going to take the liberty of using the German word “Bundists” to describe members of the Bund. Return
  2. In these Gold essays the German word “Kultur” is used quite often and if you look it up it translates to the English word “culture.” I think however it is used in a different sense perhaps meaning something like education. Return
  3. The author likes the word “anschluss,” and I'll use it since the best English translation I can find is “annexation” which really doesn't have quite the right tone. Return
  4. “Old Romania” or “the Old Kingdom” refers to the original Romanian state formed by the joining of Walachia and Moldavia in 1861. “Greater Romania” was formed after World War I by the addition of Transylvania (from Hungary), Bessarabia (from Russia) and Bukovina (from Austro-Hungary). Return
  5. I have substituted the word “Community” for Kultusgemeinde which the dictionary translates as “religious community.” This institution is mentioned in many of the Gold essays, but is no where explicitly defined. From the little snippets I have picked up, I can make some educated guesses: The word is used either to designate the Jewish community as a whole, or sometimes to refer just to its governing body. The Austrian government allowed the Jewish community to govern itself in “internal” matters. The Kultusgemeinde gathered taxes and ran the schools, the hospital, the orphanage, the insane asylum, the old people's home, etc. It hired the rabbi, the cantor, the ritual slaughterer. How many of the officials were elected by the community and how many designated by the state, I'm not sure. Return
  6. I translate “Kultusrat” as community council, the governing body of the Kultusgemeinde or Community. Return
  7. The author uses the word “Bürger” which translates to citizen of middle class or townsman. Return

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