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[Page 113]

History of the J.N.A.V. 1 Hasmonaea
in Czernowitz

by Adolf Koenig (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

On July 14, 1891 Hasmonaea was founded in Czernowitz. The founding preceded a meeting of several Jewish academicians. In a small room in the dwelling of Chief Rabbi, Dr. Lazar Igel on Landhausgasse, the so-called Boxwood House, opposite the elementary school, a small group of 10 or 12 students, inspired by the Jewish national2 spirit meet to form a Jewish academic association. The students were: Mayer Ebner, who already as a high school student was the leader of a group which fought against the ruling stream of assimilation, Isak Schmierer who later was chosen as one of the leaders, Philipp Menczel, Julian Sternberg from Suceava and his brother Adolf, Paul Rieber who already at that time was a deep thinker, Blum, Leonhard Gerbel who later studied medicine, Nachum Feuerstein, later a doctor in Czernowitz, Michael Feuerstein who was later know as a “man of letters” in Austria, Burstyn, the son of the Siret Rabbi, Reinisch Ebner who became a lawyer, Josef Bierer and Siegmund Neuberger who both became doctors in Czernowitz.

This meeting which took place in the winter of 1890/1891 was attended by both sons of the chief rabbi, Moses and Leon Igel who were part of the circle of Jewish national youth. Inspired by the Jewish national thoughts spread by the Chowewe Zion3 movement, the intention to bring a Jewish national academic association to life was created.

These students loved Judaism. They strived for the recognition of the Jewish people as a nation like all others. Jakob Kommer wrote a brochure in which he presented proof that the Jews were a nation. Kommer had closed his brochure with the words, “Hear oh Israel, you are a nation.” There was a discussion about the name for the new association. Some proposed the name, “Makkabaea.” Others wanted the name “Hasmonaea,” a name that has spread through the entire world. They decided at that time to form an association with colorful caps and sashes, to give it the name Hasmonaea, to learn fencing and to have duels. They wanted to lead a real student life and at the same time learn Jewish history, deal with and discuss Jewish questions and to train the Jewish youth as fighters for Jews and Judaism.

Josef Bierer filled out the application to the state government and it was characteristic that in answer to question 2, (Purpose of the organization) he spoke of “nurturing of Jewish unity and national consciousness.” At that time there still was no talk of Zionism.

Several months passed by until in summer, on July 14, 1891, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in Paris, the Jewish National Academic Association, Hasmonaea was founded. The two medical students, Josef Bierer and Siegmund Neuberger who were members of the National Academic Association Kadamia which was folded into Hasmonaea became leaders of the Hasmonaea.

After the founding of Hasmonaea, an appeal to the Jewish population of Czernowitz was published, which characteristically began with the words, “ Fight assimilation.” Writer of this appeal was Mayer Ebner who already in high school was considered an excellent author. On October 1, 1891 members of Hasmonaea appeared in “full colors” on the promenade, the so-called Paradise Heights.

How was the founding of the first Jewish academic association accepted? The intellectuals looked with a sort of good natured contempt at these Jewish students. On October 1, 1891 Hasmonaea had its first saber duel. It was the bloody initiation of the young organization in the fight for national honor. Mayer Ebener had several weeks previously accused Max Haendel who had belonged to his circle of friends in the 8th gymnasium class of disloyalty for became a “fox” in the International Corps, Allemannia instead of joining Hasmonaea whereupon, Haendel challenged Mayer Ebner to a duel. The challenge was accepted and the duel took place. Bierer seconded his younger friend who was not yet sufficiently trained. After several “rounds” Ebener received a serious blow to the head and the duel was ended honorably. The opponents parted unreconciled.

It was decided to hold a founding celebration. The question arose, how the University and the Jewish population would react to this. As far as reports confirmed, an invitation to this celebration was extended through the newspaper to academic circles and to representatives of corporations. The festivities took place in Meyer's beer garden which was adjacent to the Black Eagle hotel. The organizers sat at tables arranged in horseshoe form awaiting the guests and asked themselves if the rector of the University would come in person or send a representative. They hesitated to start the ceremony. Then who should appear but Prof. Dr. Isidor Hilberg, the dean of the School of Philosophy. He took his place in the center of the table of honor whereon the celebration was opened with a song.

After the usual speeches and toasts to the alma mater, Prof. Dr. Hilberg gave his talk. There was absolute silence and complete attention as he began his speech with the following words: “Even if I didn't come as dean of the School of Philosophy, I still would have come as a Jew.” Prof. Dr. Hilberg was a brilliant speaker. With pride, he spoke of being a Jew and descending on his mother's side from famous Hebrew author, Dr. Isak Erter. He concluded his speech with the following meaningful words: “I hope the time will come when there will no longer be a need for organizations like Hasmonaea.” What he meant with this phrase was that Hasmonaea had been founded as a reaction to the lack of equality and the lack of esteem that Judaism and the Jewish people suffered in the Christian world. This idea was also expressed in paragraph II of the Hasmonaea charter, according to which the purpose of Hasmonaea was to boost the feeling of national unity and national pride of the Jews. The main goal of the contemporary youth movement was to stress the existence of a Jewish nation in order to prepare the youth for further Zionist ideas.

Several years after its founding, Hasmonaea created the organization, “Zion” in Czernowitz.

Now anti-Semitism appeared, mainly among German and Romanian students. There was a German-national fraternity in Czernowitz, modeled on the pattern of the German and Austrian fraternities which fought for “racial purity.” At that time the well known anti-Semite, Georg Schoenerer was popular. His successor was the Austrian member of parliament from Bohemia, K. H. Wolf. The German fraternity in Czernowitz at that time was called “Arminia.” The Arminia brothers wore red caps and sashes of red, black and gold. There was also in Czernowitz at that time a Romanian youth group called “Junimea” from which the organization “Bukesen” later emerged. The Romanian fraternity closely associated with Arminen.

One day, the seniors of Hasmonaea, Isak Schmierer and Mayer Ebner sat in the Café Korso on Herrengasse and read newspapers. The seniors of Arminen, Brunner and Bukesen, Braileanuan stopped at their table and demanded that Schmierer give them the New Free Press that he had in his hand. When Schmierer refused, Braileanuan tried to tear the paper out of his hands. When Schmierer defended himself, Braileanuan started to insult the Jews. Then the large and powerful Max Koenig, the brother of the patron of Hasmonaea, Leon Koenig stepped forward and gave Braileanuan such a resounding rap on the ear that he fell to the floor. Brunner quickly scurried out and Braileanuan limped out after him. That was the start of dark days for Hasmonaea. There were many wild frays which sometimes took place right before the University. Arminen and Bukesen were so badly beaten by Hasmonaea and its followers that soon peace reigned again.

Next at the Czernowitz University, a certain Friedrich Choloney, the son of a high Jewish post office official founded the International Fraternity, “Gothia.” One day at the time of the founding, Schmierer and Ebner were strolling on Hauptstrasse. When Schmierer saw Choloney approaching, he stepped up to him and soundly boxed his ear, saying, “this is what I think of Gothia.” The members of Gothia, among whom were many Jews didn't dare to react to this insult. There were also “incidents” with the newly formed fraternities Alemannia and Austria from which Hasmonaea always emerged victorious.

There was a Jewish student with an obvious hunchback in Austria. He composed a scornful verse about Hasmonaea and sang it with his fraternity brothers. It went: “We (Hasmonaea) are a fine group, we wear colors on the Sabbath, for the peoples' wellbeing and honor.” “For the peoples' wellbeing and honor” was Hasmonaea's motto. In reaction, Mayer Ebner wrote as an answer, the following verse of ridicule which the Hasmonaea brothers sang to the melody of the Austrian anthem: I grasp my saber and parry the blow with my hump, fearless and true. With that, the scornful songs of the hunchback and his brothers ended.

The early years of Hasmonaea were filled with wild brawls with anti-Semitic, nationalistic and non-Jewish organizations who were not interested in giving the Hasmonaea brothers satisfaction in a saber duel. It was well known among Jews and non-Jews that Hasmonaea had many excellent “blades.”

Hasmonaea didn't escape unscathed from these fights. The number of members dropped, there wasn't enough “new blood” to keep the organization growing and finally, Hasmonaea temporarily suspended its activities. In spite of that, they maintained their “fraternity house” and still came together, mostly on Sabbaths.

Nathan Birnbaum appeared in the young life of Hasmonaea, about 1892/93. He made a deep impression. Nathan Birnbaum preached the ideas of Zionism in the Spirit of Chowewe Zion and fought passionately against the conception of Yiddish being a “jargon.”

Pinsker's brochure, Autoemancipation, was the catalyst for enthusiastic discussion of the national problem and as a result, the seed of the Zionistic idea grew and the vision of the youth in those days was the creation of a national center for the Jewish people. One day, in the weekly magazine published by Bloch in Vienna, an article appeared about a brochure put out by the feature writer of the Vienna New Free Press, Dr. Theodor Herzel in which he urged the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine or Argentina. This article was the push that got Hasmonaea to take up its activities again and caused its members to reappear on the street in their caps and sashes. Theodor Herzel had stepped into Jewish life and when in 1897, the first Zionist congress was called in Basel, Mayer Ebner as delegate and Schmeirer and Picker as backup delegates led Hasmonaea to the congress.

In this “reincarnation” of Hasmonaea, Moses and Elias Stroh, Abraham Schuetzer, Abraham Welt, Josef Sommer, Herschmann and Marco Covler were active. The group which was led by the founders of Hasmonaea affiliated itself later with Salomon Kassner and Karl Klueger.

The activities of Hasmonaea intensified. Many new members joined and the ideas of Jewish nationalism were spread to the Jewish masses.

In 1910 Hasmonaea held the first social affair with a decidedly Jewish character. The “Jewish Ball” at which the state government, the University, the city government and the military were represented. The state president, the mayor, the Rector of the University and the commanding general attended the ball.

As thousands of victims of pogroms in the Ukraine came to Czernowitz Hasmonaea together with master builder Papst provided relief for the refugees.

With the outbreak of World War I, the activities of Hasmonaea as well as the other fraternities ceased. Many of the brothers were drafted into the army and others moved west where because of the threat of the Russian occupation of Czernowitz, they took up residence. After their return to Czernowitz in 1919, Hasmonaea took up activity again. Also, the founding of the association, “Davidia,” took place at this time. New members were accepted. Thanks to the intervention of Dr. Mayer Ebner who had been elected to the Romanian Senate, they received permission to wear their caps and sashes in public. In the following years, under completely changed political conditions Hasmonaea carried on significant activities in all areas of Jewish life.

In 1921 to celebrate 60 semesters of existence, Hasmonaea decided to have a special celebration lasting two days. On the first day, the activities took place at the fraternity house and in the evening, they moved to the Jewish National House. Jewish society, representatives of the University, the archbishop's residence, the Jewish National Academic Association, court officials and city council members took part in this celebration. On the morning of the second day, a visit was made to the graves of departed fraternity brothers. The old gentlemen and the young members all appeared in cap and sash. The celebration of the 60th semester of activity was an event to remember.

The increased agitation by the Iron Guard 4 led to a higher level of friendship and cooperation between members of Hasmonaea.

After World War II

In 1951 in Israel, Hasmonaea celebrated the completion of 120 semesters. At this celebration, Dr. Mayer Ebner was the main speaker and he told many stories from the early days of Hasmonaea.

In 1955, the founder of Hasmonaea, Dr. Mayer Ebner died in Israel. At the convention held to honor Dr. Ebner's memory, many speeches were made recalling his valuable contributions to Hasmonaea and how he even in advanced age attended every Hasmonaea meeting and convention.

On July 14, 1956, in honor of 120 semesters of Hasmonaea, a convention was held at which the senior, Adolf Koenig, stressed the importance of the day and talked of all the brothers who had passed on. At this convention, it was decided to build a garden with a memorial in its center engraved with the names of all the deceased Hasmonaea brothers. Of the older brothers from the turn of the century, Viktor Resch, Dr. Josef Schauer and Dr. Elias Weinstein live in Israel today.

If the Hasmonaea brothers today no longer wear the violet cap and the red, green and violet sash, they still wear these colors deep in their hearts, proud of belonging to an organization that helped lay the foundation stones for the building of the Jewish state.

Written by Adolf Koenig (Tel Aviv)

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1) J.N.A.V.: This acronym stands for “Jewish National Academic Association.” Return

2) Jewish national: This term is used again and again in these essays. My guess (un- educated) is that living in an area of the Austrian empire where there were many peoples (Germans, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, etc) each of which was recognized as a nation with rights of representation, they felt the Jews should have equivalent rights. I don't think it was quite the same as Zionism whose goal was the creation of a Jewish state. Return

3) Chowewe Zion: Founded by Schaje Langer in Suceava in 1882, the organization sought the colonization of Palestine. The words mean “Lovers of Zion.” Return

4) Iron Guard: Romanian nationalistic, anti-Semitic and antiparliamentary group, founded in 1924 by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. Return

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