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[Page 162]

The History of the Massada

by Dr. Leo Schächter (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

One should really apologize for writing the history of the Massada. However, we are not dealing with the history of a party or movement which had an important influence on the events in our city Czernowitz. I find the justification for writing this essay in the unique character of the Massada, which understood, despite its relatively small number of members, how to create something new and how to lead men in a Jewish spiritual direction, who without Massada would have remained alienated from Judaism.

What was new and unique about the Massada, which in March 1932, inspired young professional men to found a new association? Weren't there enough association? Perhaps these young men experienced stronger than others the contradictions in exterior life and the contrasts in their interior lives and this led to constant conflict for these men. Growth means nothing more than a fight of the contrasts and contradictions and it is necessary for our intellectual and spiritual development that there is not a 100% agreement. And these searching young men lacked exactly that balancing reconciling element. They thought they had found it in the true, genuine friendship. This basic element of every human relationship is unchanging in a changing environment, steady during the altering of our life's situation. These young men first looked at what existed. There were enough parties and all these young men lived in a happy family relationship. Why was the society of the family or the party not enough for these young men? Again, we can look to the contradictions in the nature of these individuals. The indivisible individual seeks at the same time, to be a part of society, which under certain circumstances is prepared to sacrifice a part of his personal freedom or even his life (a pathological special case is the great love). Often the fear of the freedom is the motive for an individual seeking the “chains” of “bondage” in an organization.

The family because of its over-strong ties doesn't provide release from this individual fear, and the party, because of its to impersonal position creates in the individual a further need for personal ties.

In order to satisfy this strong need, these young men sought a new, true, to be created bond of friendship. The common tie, in spite of all contradictions, the uniting link, in spite of all contrasts should be friendship.

Children, generally make friends easily. Wouldn't it be a gamble, though, for a grown person to seek friendship in an organization that was yet to be created? The need was there and the attempt had to be made and this was the new and unique in the founding of the Massada.

In March of 1932, several friends met in the house of Dr. M. Wiesenthal in Czernowitz: Dr. N. Getzler, Dr. C. Lindenbaum, Dr. L. Rappaport, Dr. Jakob Geller, Dr. L. Engler, Dr. Sigmund Last, Dr. P. Katz, Dr. L. Wiznitzer, N. Landau, Prof. H. Teller, Dr. Salzinger, Dr. M. Reifer and Dr. L. Schächter.

The purpose of this first meeting was to create something that young men in their need for their intellectual and social lives, in which political fights were to be completely excluded.

After further meetings it was finally decided to hold a constitutive meeting for the purpose of founding a Jewish club, whose most important task would be nourishment of the friendship among the individual members. As mentioned, it was a daring task for adults. Generally, friendship is understood as a sociable interaction, a sharing of common interests. Here, however, the attempt was to be made for the first time to build a friendship which was to be more than an exchange of various services.

The first president of the newly founded club was Prof. H. Teller. He was just the right man to promote friendship among grown ups. He had a sentimental nature and was soft hearted, but otherwise steel hard and immediately ready to fight when the principal of friendship was misused as camouflage for personal advantage. And unfortunately, so was the case when after three years, Massada lost Prof. Teller as a member, since at that time, he believed that he wasn't treated 100% as a friend.

When the founding of the organization took place, it didn't yet have a name. “Nomina sunt omina” applies not only to the fate of an individual, but is also decisive for the fate of an organization. The name of an organization will set its direction. It is not surprising therefore, when weeks of debates are held and committees are formed to find the right name for the organization. It was Dr. M. Reifer who found the solution and the right name, “Massada,” which pleased everyone. With this name, our young organization got its distinctive note. It was really not a Zionistic organization, but national life stood in the forefront of our efforts and activities.

The following additional members joined the club: Prof. Dr. H. Sternberg, Iby Naftalisohn, S. Trichter, M. Horowitz, R. Gottlieb, E. Luft, Mag. Stein, Mag. A. Gläner, M. L. Segal, Dr. O. Brück, Nachman, Dr. Chaim Korn, E. Korn, Prof. S. Dachner, E. Rössler, A. Dresdner, N. Biederman, Engineer M. Schapira, Architect G. Locker, Dr. Ch. Ehrlich, Dr. K. Merdler, Engineer Salzinger, Dr. E. Krau, H. Schärf, Hermann Schärf, Dr. G. Weiner, B. Schieber, Prof. Herbst, Max Wagner, E. Weiser, A. Selzer and Josef Schieber. The first president, Prof. Teller, imbued with general worldly knowledge and specialized knowledge of Judaism, sought above all, the internal consolidation. He succeeded in this through frequent comradely meetings and get-togethers, most of which reached a high intellectual nouveau.

And so, with time came artistic performances, sometimes lectures, sometimes improvised plays or entertainments. In first place were the efforts of our friends: Dr. Mendel Wiesenthal, Dr. L. Engler, Dr. S. Last and Dr. Jakob Geller to mention a few/ These modest “artist groups” understood how with the smallest resources to prepare a great pleasure. The “Tunkeler” and “Scholem Alechem” evenings remain unforgettable.

The “actor troupe” had the following main players: Dr. Wiesenthal, Frau Engineer Salzinger, Dr. Meier Schapira, Dr. J. Geller, Dr. C. Lindenbaum, Emil Weiser and Gottlieb. Moreover the ladies: Frau Dr. Getzler, Tini Gottlieb, Clara Dachner. As directors functioned the friends: Roschkes, Last, Dr. Engler and later after the respected Sigmund M. Pulmann joined us, our theater performances became almost professional.

All in all, our social and artistic occasions were a novum and the right “glue” for our friends and the right means to let the families of our friends meet and get closer together.

Massada became with the increase in membership, ever more a society where opposing views and opinions could meet

Prof. Dr. H. Sternberg became the second president. He was “cut from another block of wood” than Prof. Teller. Strict, hard, punctual, he strived for firm discipline in the still young association. He pictured the climb of the friends to a higher level of humanity.

Dr. Hermann Sternberg began his professional activity in 1910 in Czernowitz as a gymnasium professor for Latin, Greek and German. In 1912, he was granted the title of “Dr. of Philosophy sub auspiciis Imperatoris” on the basis of his excellent middle school and university studies. At a solemn ceremony in the auditorium of the university, he was given a ring with the initials “F.J.” by the representative of the Kaiser Franz Josef, the State Present Dr. Rudolf Graf von Meran, a member of the Kaiser's family.

In 1915 and 1917 he taught at the Sophie Gymnasium and the Real Gymnasium in the 17th district. In 1918, he came back to Czernowitz where he continued his teaching activity and often gave lectures on Jewish subjects. He was also active in publicity. In Czernowitz, Dr. Sternberg was A.H. of the Emunah and for a while, president of Safa Iwria and the Friends of Hebrew University.

The consolidation had advanced so far that the need existed to turn more to the outside. Massada set social goals for itself and a social welfare committee, led by Elias Luft was created. The other committee members were: J. Naftalisohn, S. Trichter, M. Horowitz, M. Deichsler, M. Landau, Josef Wronski, Dr. Ehrlich, Paul Suchestow and Rauchwerger.

Friend Elias Luft pulled us all forward. In his zeal and untiring efforts to help the needy, he often forgot our financial situation. In the framework of social activity, our contribution was by no means negligible. Whether it concerned a winter (firewood) or a Passover action or it was about getting involved in the Sulina-Silistria affair, Massada always was in the forefront of the activities.

In the course of the year 1924, more members, among them the friends: P. Suchestow, Max Deichsler, Rauchwergger, Dr. Frischwasser, S. Woraczek, J. Wronski, Dr. E. Weinstein, Dr. P. Lieber, J. Schieber, Chaim Lerner, A. Körner, the painter Klinghofer, Dr. F. Stecher, S. Pulmann, M. Seidmann and Engineer R. Margulies joined the organization and our space became to small. A new larger space at Herrengasse 19 was better able better serve our inwardly and outwardly directed needs.

In 1934 Massada passed its first “test of fire” of true friendship. An article by Dr. M. Reifer in the “Allgemeinen Zeitung” in Czernowitz was falsely interpreted by many readers and caused great excitement in the city. It should be stressed that all our friends, even those who would have preferred that the article not have been published, stood as one man behind Dr. Reifer and protected him from all external attacks. What else is friendship, than sacrificing your own advantage to come to the aid of a friend in need? Outwardly perhaps, we lost a little prestige in that affair, but inwardly, we were stronger and better consolidated than before.

At that time Massada knew how to sound the right note to generate enthusiasm among the masses in the city of Czernowitz. And that was appreciated by the guests who visited our city like Kurt Blumenfeld, A. Berger, R. Lichtbaum, Dr. N. M. Gelber, Dr. Prinz, Martin Buber and Dr. Olswanger who Massada greeted and received as its guests. These people were introduced by Massada to the wider public.

In 1934 Dr. Carl Grossberg died, a young doctor, hardly 30 years old. He was a childhood friend of almost all the founders of Massada. We all felt the need to honor his memory. Therefore, a “Carl Grossberg Library” was created within the framework of Massda which in addition to many valuable books, contained a large and a sought after collection of Judaica. Dr. Carl Grossberg's father cared for this library as carefully as he did his child who had died to young.

In 1934 friend Paul Suchestow was accepted as a member. He possessed a deep intellectual knowledge and because of his dignified nature was already considered a future president when he joined. After hardly half a year as a member, he died suddenly at the age of 52 years. Massada showed at that time, with the first loss of a member that also on sad occasions, it understood how to take its obligation to the widow seriously.

Pau Suchestow was a dignified noble character. He was an intellectual man. Politically, he was the only Revisionist1 in Massada. In polemic, naturally he presented the views of his party, but never in a way to insult others. He attempted to convince through the power of ideas, never with demagoguery.His sudden death when apparently healthy was for Massada, the first great loss.

Prof. Dr. H. Sternberg was as a consequence, president of our organization three times in a row. During this period, the following new members were accepted: Rabbi Dr. Heitner, Engineer Abraham Klier, Dr. S. Klier, Birnholz, B. Metsch, A. Selzer, O. Engler, J. Rosner, Lawyer J. Chises, Engineer Szabo, Pharmacist Dlugacz.

When in this connection, I give special mention to the Roschkes brothers it is because they gave Massada a new direction: the older Hennoch through his deep Jewish knowledge which he dedicated to Massada and the younger, Leib through his socially advanced ideas which in the course of time led to strong and lively debates. This illustrates again that in the environment of Massada, the most extreme views and opinions can come together without endangering friendships.

So it was possible at that time to have the idea of holding High Holiday services within the framework of Massada. And again, it was friend Luft who turned the idea into action. Those who wanted to dedicate themselves to their God on these solemn days could do this together with his friends.

In 1938 we suffered the second loss of a member, the friend Architect Locker. He died much to early for his family and for our society. He was made of a hard wood. What one called stubbornness in him was actually firmness of character, his single-mindedness was his nature. He was a man who knew no compromise, even when his advantage was at stake. Once he recognized something as right, whether for himself or for Massada, he spared no one who stood in his way until he reached his goal. In spite of his sick heart, he carried out his obligations without sparing himself. In Massada, his was the death of a simple soldier, but a soldier on the watch, who saw that nothing unseemly occurred in our organization. He held the highest position that Massada had to offer as a member of the Arbitration Board Commission.

As he lay on his deathbed, his thoughts were only for his family and Massada. And as he closed his eyes for ever we all knew that we had lost a true friend.

In 1933, the book, “Chaim Weizmann, a Jewish Statesman” by Dr. M. Reifer appeared in the framework of Massada.

In 1934 at the initiative of Dr. Reifer and with support of Massada, the Historic Society was founded. In addition to Dr. Reifer, friend Dr. H. Sternberg and the gentlemen Grossberg, Prof. Rabinowicz and Dr. Diamant belonged to the society as guest members of Massada. Relations were established with all of the larger similar societies, both domestic and foreign. The friends Dr. Reifer, Dr. Sternberg and Mr. Dr. Diamant soon began an enthusiastic activity and collected much previously unknown material.

In 1935, the “Society of the Friends of the Hebrew University” was founded within the framework of Massada through the efforts of Dr. Wiesenthal. There was also an organization of the same name in Bucharest, but our work first gave the existing framework the corresponding content. Dr. H. Sternberg became the president and friend S. Trichter the vice president. We all started on a task that was far from easy. To get money for national funds was significantly easier. The public relations ground work had long be laid for that effort. Asking for support for the Hebrew University was a strange idea. Our guest Dr. Grau took care of the necessary propaganda and material success came not far behind. Credit must be given to Massada because it brought the Society of the Friends of the Hebrew University to life on its own initiative.

In 1938 the Massada took over the leadership and reorganization of “Safa Iwria.” The story of Safa Iwria is a piece of the history of the renaissance of the Hebrew language in Czernowitz and Romania. If up until then Hebrew was a language taught in the cheder for use in prayer, with the founding of Safa Iwria was made the first attempt in Bukovina to systematically bring the Hebrew language to the masses as a living language. The credit for this revolutionary attempt goes to Mr. Jeschajahu Goldfeld who together with some of his friends founded in 1912, the first Hebrew school, the Safa Iwria.

After Goldfeld, Dr. Josef Bierer took over leadership of Safa Iwria which he ran until 1933. In this period, Safa Iwria acquired its own building on Synagogengasse. Then Dr. Rappaport was president for three years. Then the Massada entrusted Prof. Dr. H. Sternberg with the task of rebuilding the financially and organizationally collapsed school. With zeal and the knowledge of the experienced educator, he undertook this job, while the Association supported him as well as it could. He found neither in the school or in the city, the necessary support and embittered, he left the further work to other functionaries.

In 1938 Dr. L. Wiznitzer took over the leadership of the Massada and led with the precision and exactness of a surgeon for one year whereupon, Dr. M. Reifer became president of the Massada. Dr. Reifer had an impulsive and complicated nature in spite of his profession as a historian, was gifted with fantasy and often had the luck to see his fantasies become reality. Unrest, even though he didn't strive for it, was the principal of his presidency. He wanted the new to replace the old and with his élan pulled everyone along. The Massada's initial enthusiasm, its “sturm und drang” period had passed, but he reinvigorated the group. The Massada, however, couldn't take his enthusiasm for more than a year and so the leadership was finally passed to the much quieter and more thoughtful Dr. L. Schächter who was more inclined to compromise and who held the presidency for three years until the Massada's sad end. He understood how to smooth over differences caused by the Massada's growing number of members and how to preserve unity both within and outwardly.

As in 1939, the German – Polish war broke out, in the Massada which in the interim had moved to nicer quarters in Dr. Reissgasse 2, we followed with fear the course of the bloody war events on a large map we had pinned up.

When we review the events which took place in the last 5 years before the end of Massada, the attitude of the organization and its members is incomprehensible to us. It is known that even statesmen fail to learn from history. The social and economic rise of the Jewish people caused it to forget similar epochs of history, extermination and exile of the Jews which we experienced in Spain and the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance.
We were never inclined or obliged to draw a lesson from history. And to bring the masses from the flesh pots of Romania to the Promised Land, not a second Moses, but the mass murderer, Hitler was needed.

Only few of our friends understood the signs of the times. As we in the Massada debated our emigration plans, individual friends packed their bags and courageously rescued themselves and their families from the physical and spiritual collapse, which we remaining Massada members experienced. Many of our friends couldn't even rescue their naked bodies. We had going away evenings in honor of our friends: Engineer Max Schapira, Engineer A. Klier, Max Deichsler, Dresdner and the Roschkes brothers and didn't realize that for many friends, it was a parting for ever.

When in September 1939, at the outbreak of the German – Polish war, a stream of Polish refugees (Jews and Christians) flowed over our city, we were all there to help. We saw events occurring which effected others, but not ourselves. We all outdid ourselves in offering hospitality.

In the Massada, the friends gathered nightly, studied the wall map, experienced with pain the collapse of France and knew that soon the war could engulf us and remained calm and did nothing. There was no lack of warning voices from outside, especially that of Dr. Olswanger. Most of our friends, however, considered the warnings as propaganda and were to pay with their lives for not heeding the warnings.

I had the sad task, when the Russian troops entered to burn a part of our books that would appear to be reactionary to them and when the Romanian troops marched in, to burn the other part which would have appeared to advanced for them. We had no more legal future, only secret meetings in which we tried to support each other by expressing the hope we had never given up, to go one day to our homeland, Israel. Many had the luck, which because of their behavior, they didn't deserve, to be saved. Many others, who didn't have this luck, we lost, not through natural death, which is also no consolation for the friends and loved ones left behind. But, the human soul knows different levels of pain, which with the brutal death of a healthy young person is especially great.

As Dr. Jakob Geller, our “Jankale,” left his home and belongings and fled with his wife and child to Milice, to “his village and his farmers,” when the Russians started the deportations, he didn't suspect that he fled to his murderers. And if I can find something consoling in this triple murder, it is the fact that no one in the family survived the terrible ordeal by stoning for a survivor could never have forgotten that horrible murder.

And how our Jankale loved life. We all loved him greatly. He, who always laughed and made others laugh was a bringer of joy and at the same time a complex person. He absorbed Zionism with his mother's milk, Zionism was his life and also, his death, because they wanted to deport the Zionist Geller.

Among the list of victims of the war were also friends who the Russians deported and who found their deaths in Siberia. Pharmacist Dlugacz, a joyful man couldn't understand how the strange cold world could be so terribly cruel, as to repay the goodness of him and his family with evil. His exterior mirrored his inner nature. He was always clean and elegant and never carelessly dressed because he viewed that as an insult to his surroundings. When it came to arranging large functions, friend Dlugacz was always there. He worked happily to help others. And this gregarious, helpful man was swallowed by the wide icy Siberian earth.

Another friend, Dr. P. Lieber died later in Siebenbürgen in 1946. He was a quiet modest man of over average height. Since he often towered over his companion, he compensated by being modest. often almost to the point of self-depreciation. Strong internally and externally, he died half way through his life course of doctor and husband.

To honor the dead means not to forget them. I say, “forget” and not “commemorate them.” The content of the thoughts is perhaps the same, but not the psychic mechanism. What sleep is for the body, forgetting is for the soul. The body that gets no sleep becomes sick; the soul that can't forget must also sicken. With time, we forget our dead and so thoroughly that it costs us an effort to remember them.

Our scholars and law givers knew men well. All rules and laws concerning the dead have the goal of avoiding the forgetting of those dead. All religious rules in this connection call not so much for honoring the dead, who would rather have been honored in their lifetimes, but for a fight against forgetting. With only a few exceptions, there are no Jewish holidays or celebrations where there isn't an opportunity to think of our dead so as not to forget them.

With the publishing of this work, “History of the Jews in Bukovina,” in word and pictures, the publisher OLAMENU has done a great service. It saves for eternity the modest accomplishments of the living and throws a bolt against the forgetting of our dead.

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1) Revisionist: Refers to Revisionist Zionism. The Revisionists broke from the ideas of Herzl's “Political Zionism” and wanted to using a more forceful approach in gaining the Jewish homeland. The Irgun grew from the ranks of the Revionists. Return

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