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[Page 84]

Gura Humorului

47°33' / 25°54'

Translation of chapter
“Gura Humorului” from Volume II:

Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina

Edited by: Hugo Gold

Written by: Schlomo Wininger with contributions by Israel Ellenbogen

Published in Tel Aviv, 1962

Translated by:

Jerome Silverbush z”l

This is a translation of the chapter “Gura Humorului”, Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina
{History of the Jews in the Bukovina} Editor: Dr. Hugo Gold,
written by Schlomo Wininger and Israel Ellenbogen, Tel Aviv, Published in Tel Aviv, 1962

Gura Humorului, located on the left shore of the Moldau at an elevation of 472 meters surrounded by forest covered mountains, is a small town in southern Bukovina with a rich historical past. From the beginning of the Middle Ages, through modern times, the town was the battleground of barbarian hordes. In the year 1648 the Cossack leader Bogdan Chmielnitzky advanced with his army to Gura Humorului. In 1739 during the Turkish wars a Russian army laid waste to the area around Gura Humorului. In 1768 the Moldavia Principality was occupied by the Russian army. A few years later, Austria annexed Bukovina. Since the region had strategic importance, already a year earlier, a garrison was established. In 1787 barracks were built for the garrison. This garrison remained until 1866.

Together with the soldiers, artisans and merchants sporadically arrived. In 1779 there were 22 families in Gura Humorului. In 1787 there were 44 houses and a post office. In 1848/1849, the Russian reinforcements that were going to Siebenbuergen to put down the Hungarian Revolution stopped in Gura Humorului. In 1867 Gura Humorului became a small market town and in 1893 it was elevated to county seat. In 1869 when the federal elementary school law was passed, the combined boys and girls school had two teachers and 249 registered students. of which, however only 93 actually attended school, among them 69 Germans and Jews, 15 Romanians and 3 Armenians.

In 1886 the construction of the railroad line from Hatna to Kimpolung was started. The line ran through Gura Humorului. In 1888, service started on this line. The extension of this line from Kimpolung to Valeputna was completed in January1901 and it was further extended to Dorna Watra in October 1902. A magnificent accomplishment of the builder of this regional train line, Emanuel Ziffer, a Jewish nobleman from Teachenbruck, was the construction of the 1621 meter long Mesticanesti tunnel at a cost of two million gold crowns.

This local train lead to the rapid growth of travel and commerce. Many sawmills were erected, mainly by Jewish lumber firms. Because of this activity, the tiny market town of Gura Humorului was able to grow into a administrative town that included 13 villages and later into a county seat for 12 villages.

Gura Humorului also made a name for itself as a climatic Spa town. Since its origin, the town had attracted people from near and far for rest and recuperation. Among others, the author, Carl Emil Franzos (1868 - 1904) spent the Summer of 1875 in Gura Humorului. He lived at the time in the Hotel Schapira and there met a judge whose life story he later told in the book, "Der Kleine Martin" (Little Martin) (Berlin, 1896).

Among the oldest Jewish families who first ran small water powered saw mills and later large steam driven mills were the families: Kissman, Scharfstein, Berl and Chaim Schieber , Jucki Braun, Popper, Gottlieb, Fischer, Schlesinger, Greiner, Anhauch, Kreindler, Schapiria, Wagner, Adelesberg, Wiznitzer and others. The families, Kleinberg, Kahn and Schieber were among the most prominent in the city.

The town suffered under the yearly flooding of the river. The disastrous great fire of May 11, 1899 turned almost all Gura Humorului into ashes, destroying more than 400 houses and their outbuildings. The town was built up again with the help of American-Jewish donations. Also in the intellectual life of the inhabitants, one could see progress. In 1908 a public school was founded which in its first year had 91 students among them 48 Jews. In 1927 the institution had 636 students - among them 174 Jews.

With the outbreak of the war in 1914, the tranquillity of the Gura Humoruli population disappeared. An anti-Semitic feeling made itself noticeable which in November 1914 was demonstrated by the murder of the Jewish merchant Erlerís family of four by German Bohemian colonists. During the war in 1916, Gura Humorului was occupied by Russian troops and the center of the city, with more than 120 houses and businesses, was burned down. Again, the city which returned to Romanian control in November 1918 was able to lift itself from the ruins. But the systematic repression of the Jews by Romanian laws and anti-Semitic propaganda in the school of the infamous Cuza poisoned the souls of the Romanian population Jews were systematically forced out of public office and professions and also from business and commerce. Finally the influence of Nazi Germany led to the aggressive hatred of Jews that led to the destruction of all Jewish commerce.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century there were no Jews in Gura Humorului. They appeared as individuals, but then disappeared again. Finally, in 1835, the Jews permanently settled down as craftsmen and businessmen, as well as suppliers to the military. Gura Humorului at that time had 200 small wooden houses and about 700 inhabitants speaking various languages among which there were only 5 Jewish families. In 1848, there were 20 Jewish families who formed a congregation and used a private house as a synagogue. In 1856, there were 130 Jews in Gura Humorului. At that time, the first record books were started, at first only death records, and a few months later, marriage records. The first record concerned the marriage of the 16 year old Leiser Fruchter with the 17 year old Chaja Elfermann. The birth records for the years 1856 to 1876 were lost. A reconstruction was started in the year 1896. These record books were kept by the first Jewish leader, Schulem Schieber (died 1899) and from 1864 by rabbi Meschulem Gebuehrer (died 1874) and after him by Mendl Merdler (died in 1921 at the age of 90 years). In 1857 Gura Humorului had a Jewish population of 190 souls. In the same year the Jewish cemetery was established on a small rise opposite Borier mountain. In 1919 this cemetery with 1400 graves was closed and a new cemetery not far away was opened.

The first census in the year 1867 counted 2703 souls, among them 190 Jews

1869:    2539 total,       800 Jews
1880:    2959 total,       963 Jews
1890:    3502 total,      1206 Jews
1910:    5320 total,      2050 Jews
1927:    4393 total,      1951 Jews
1941:    5883 total,      2771 Jews
(Including neighboring villages)

1948:    4573 total,      1158 Jews
In 1869 the Old Beth Hamidrasch was built in the Kloster Humora Street not far from the Armenian church.. After the fire of 1899, Chaim Schieber and Avrum Fischler had it rebuilt and it was renamed the Schiebersche prayer house. Sadagurer Synagogue was established on the property of Mendel Schieber at the same time. The prominent industrialist Wolf Kleinberg had the Great Synagogue built in 1871.

Meanwhile, by 1875 the Jewish population of Gura Humorului had grown to 880 souls. Among these were many craftsmen and manual laborers who didnít feel comfortable in the Great Synagogue or the Hasidic prayer house. These and other like-minded Jews established the "workers prayer house" which was scornfully named the "Drabes" by the middle class inhabitants of Gura Humorului. For several years it met in private dwellings. In 1894 the Wiznitzer Hasidim built a new Synagogue for their rabbi and sold the old one to the "Drabes". Around 1880 the Wiznitzer Hasidim built still another prayer house, so at that time, the pious little city of Gura Humorului had five synagogues.

In 1880 Gura Humorului got its own independent Jewish cultural council. The great industrialist, Wolf Kleinberg became president of the council. In 1888, Kleinberg moved to Chernivtsi. The next leader of the cultural council was Itzik Leib Schattner (1888 - 1903). He was followed by Markus Markowicz (1903 - 1904), Saul Ellenbogen (1904), and Abraham Fischler (1905 - 1908). During Fischlerís period of leadership, a steam bath was built in Gura Humorului.

The following leader of the cultural council was the pharmacist Alexander Loebel (1908 -1914). From 1918 to 1921 the organization was led by Gerenten. In 1921 came Doctor Jonas Gartenlaub, followed in 1926 by Chaim Rachmuth, and later Anschel Steinhorn, Rafael Mueck and finally, Feiwel Laufer (1885 - 1942), who in 1938 built the "Jewish House," mainly with his own money, which included offices, a theater and a reading room. Feiwel Laufer, a lumber wholesaler was born 1884 in Czudyn and died at the beginning of 1942 in Moghilew in Trasnistrien of typhus. During his lifetime he ran a substantial lumber business for several years in Warma and then moved to Gura Humorului in 1925. Soon thereafter he took over the leadership of the cultural council and he won, because of his humanity, the respect and love of the whole Jewish population. With open hands, he supported the charitable institutions, and was always at the forefront when the requirement arose to combat need and misery. Although he had the papers allowing him and his family to emigrate to Israel, he undertook, at the wish of the association of the Jewish cultural council, an effort to improve the political situation of the South Bukovinians, and put off the departure of his family. Because of this delay, he was deported along with the rest of the Jewish community to Transistria. There he led various efforts at self help, including the construction of community kitchens, shelters for orphans and hospitals.

Secretary of the council was A. Rosenkranz, religion teacher Feiwel Singer. There were 360 taxpayers in the council (Geminde). In the years 1944 to 1946 Meschulem Schnarch was kultusprasident followed by Berl Tennenhaus and finally, Dentist Rubbinger.

The first rabbi was R. Meschulem Gebuehrer who immigrated in 1860 from Obertyn (Galicia) (died 1874). His successor was Melech Aschkenazi who moved in 1896 to Horodenka. He was followed by a famous rabbi, Mendl Babad from an old rabbinical family. He was well-liked and worked until his death in 1930. After his death, rabbinical duties were taken up by his son, Mosche Babad and his son-in-law, R. Jakob Meschulem Ginsberg from Sadowa. Both then immigrated to Eretz Israel. With them, went the greater part of the Jewish population. Only a few remained behind.

The children were taught Hebrew by professional teachers. In 1935, Beth Jacob Schools, a Talmud Torah and a yeshiva " kítana" led by the Talmud scholar Axelrad were introduced. The first Hebrew kindergarten was established under the skillful leadership of Klara Mechlowitz. In 1945, after the return of the deportees from Transistria, education was started in a four grade grammar school under the leadership of Professor J. Scharfstein with 23 professors and 119 students.

For quite a while the public schools remained open to the Jewish population. First in the years of Romanian rule, the conditions changed to the disadvantage of the Jewish population. During the time of the persecution during WWII, starting in September 1940, attendance at all schools was forbidden to Jewish children. The Jews took self help measures. Because of the initiative of a group of Jewish students, Isador Merdler, Berhold Scheurmann, Ignaz Ellenbogen, Felix Mueller, Josef Friedmann, and Artur Fischler, courses for the middle school group (grades 1 to 4) were established. This course of study was managed by the previously named students in groups of six to seven pupils in accordance with a regulars lesson plan in the houses of the parents. Every week, lessons were held in another parentís house in order not to arouse the suspicion of the Romanian officials. The teachers were in danger of being jailed because of "subversive activities". These courses, however, served only a small group of Jewish children. It was necessary to continue the education of all Jewish children of school age. With the help and under the protection of the Jewish Cultural Council, they succeeded in getting permission from the school director in Jassy to open a 7 grade school (Chernivtsi was already Russian). The instruction in private houses stopped and the school (7 elementary school classes and 4 middle school classes) was moved to the spacious quarters of the Jewish Cultural Council. Mr. Moses Bor, formerly a teacher in the Kimploung elementary school served as director of the new school. Among the teachers were Miss Berta Lewin and Mr. Isak Scharfstein. The school achieved good results and the number of students rose to 250. Classes were given in Romanian and Hebrew was a required course.

On September 1, 1941, the school opened at the same time as the Romanian public schools and started its second year of instruction. The number of students rose to 300 including children from the nearby villages of Cimpulung and Dorna. Mr. H. Tauber joined the teaching staff. Instruction proceeded normally until October 10, 1941, the day of the deportation (Deportierung) of the Jewish population.

After returning from the deportation, the grades given by the Jewish school were recognized by the Romanian authorities and the years of absence were forgiven allowing the students to make up for lost time and continue their studies.

Even before Herzl, the Zionist longing existed and old Jews traveled to the Holy Land in order to die there. Among them were the former Schochet and businessman, Meschulem Ellenbogen, the widow Chaje Hassenfratz, together with her brother, Mosche Mordche Guertler, the grain dealer, Nute Schapira, the hotel owner, Mosche Schmelzer and the sawmill owner, Jankev Muenz, the father-in-law of the esteemed president of the Cultural Council and municipal council member, Chaim Rachmuth.

In 1906, Doctor Scheuermann founded a Zionist organization which was led until 1913 by Doctor Abraham Schaerf. In 1908, the youth group, "Young Juda" and "Haschomer Hazair" were organized. In 1911, the Jewish national organization Libanonia started and in 1918, the workerís organization "Poale-Zion", later called "Ichud" was founded. About this time in Gura Humorului, there was the organization "Miarachi" and "Aguda" as well as the organization of Zionist women, "Wizo". The Young Zionists organized themselves into "kibbutzim" which trained their members for "Hachschara" in "teaching farms". In order to send them to Eretz Israel. The first kibbutz was started in Gura Humorului in 1933 by Bernhard Uscher, Engineer Chaim Ostfeld, and Schillu Ellenbogen. The last named was a "free spirit" and dedicated himself with his whole soul, in spite of physical disabilities to poetic endeavors. The songs that flowed from his pen breathed bewitching ardency. In the last years of his life he found his way back to his Yiddish mother tongue. Unfortunately, none of his creations have been preserved. The kibbutz had 14 young members. In 1946, a second kibbutz was established, in 1947 the third and in 1948, the fourth. At the beginning of 1949, all the kibbutzim were dissolved by order of the Romanian authorities

Before the First World War in the years, 1908 to 1910, Saul Schieber, the proprietor of a stationery store was vice mayor of the city. Between the wars, a major part of the cities citizens were Jewish and the Jews were correspondingly represented in the city council. During this period, with the unspoken approval of the Romanian officials, Jewish vice mayors were elected, including Doctor Rafael Mueck (1927 - 1929) and Elias Ellenbogen (1931 - 1933). The last named was a textile wholesaler and a wealthy man He put his salary as vice mayor in the hands of Rabbi Ginsberg, who used it for charitable works.

With the renaming of streets in Gura Humorului in 1931, three streets were named after Jews, specifically, Israel Ellenbogen, Abraham Fischler and Leib Schattner. Directly after WWII, again, three streets were named after Jews. The honor was given to the last president of the Jewish Cultural Council before the deportation, Feiwel Laufer who perished in Transistria and who had accomplished great services for the city and the Jews and further to two young men, Moscovici and Hersch Geller who were murdered by the Germans when they returned from Transistria.

The Jews dedicated themselves mainly to wholesale and retail business (the lumber industry and grain export), but also the craftsmen were Jewish. The Jews were especially active in the clothing business. They were tailors, shoemakers, furriers and the businesses were passed from father to son. Even the furs which the farmers wore summer and winter, the cloth which they wrapped around their feet, the skirts for the farmerís wives, the black robes of the ministers and the warm gloves made from scraps of cloth were all produced by Jews.

The architects, surveyors, engineers, builders, and later on doctors and lawyers and representatives of all types of artisians, were all Jews. There were however no Jewish masons, carpenters, locksmiths, furniture builders or farm laborers. The only medical insurance organization was established in 1876.

On October 10, 1941, on one day, 2945 Jews, men, women and children were sent from Gura Humorului to Transistria. Hunger, cold and stress caused most of them to lose their lives in Transistria. Only 100 returned in the Spring of 1944 to their destroyed and plundered home city. In the years 1941-1945, approximately 110 houses were totally destroyed, 360 were badly damaged and 640 were slightly damaged. Only thanks to the relief efforts of the "Joint," was the misery of the returnees alleviated.

In September 1947 the first aliya of 140 people left from Gura Humorului to Eretz Israel by way of Cypress. A second aliya followed on December 23, 1947 with 160 people. Rabbi Mosche Babad left with this group.

In the years 1948-1951, almost all the Jews remaining in Gura Humorului immigrated to Israel. Only a few remained behind.
This work originates from a larger up to now unpublished monograph by Schlomo Wininger about the History of the Jews in Gura Humorului with contributions from Israel (Ignaz) Ellenbogen (Cholon). 

  Gura Humorului, at Shtetlinks

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