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[Page 55]

Burdujeni
(Romania)

47°41' 26°17'

by Simcha Weissbuch

Translated by Ida Selavan Schwarcz

(The material on this town is based mostly on an article by Ruth Goldschmidt, published in the periodical, ROMSIG News, Vol.8, No.1, 2000. It was based on what was told to her by her Aunt Becky, who had left Burdujeni for Canada in 1921, and her father Jacques Alter who came to Montreal in 1928 when he was about 20 years old. Shimon Kern, Eliezer Foni and Tsevi Kandel also contributed material both orally and in writing.)

 

The town

The first Jews came to Burdujeni in 1792. At that time the town was on the Austrian Romanian border. In 1820 there were 183 Jewish tax–paying paterfamilias. In the middle of the century Jews made up most of the population of the town and in 1859 there were 1140 Jews, two thirds of the inhabitants. In 1899 the number grew to 2081.

Most of the population of the surrounding rural area was Christian. Before 1918 the Suceava River, which flowed near Burdujeni, was the border between Austria and Romania. Because of the proximity of the Austrian border, many Jewish emigrants from Russia and also from Romania hoped to steal across to Austria and from there to the United States.

The train station was the second largest in the country and the first stop in Romania for the express train between Vienna and Bucharest. The station was beautiful and had three restaurants. The town exported eggs and nuts that were brought from the villages in the area.

There were three streets: the main business street (Stefan cel Mare), the hind artisans' street –the “intergass” and the workers' street, the”boodergass”, which led to the public baths.

 

The Jews and their institutions

The Jewish populations was almost evenly divided between Hassidim and mitnagdim [opponents of Hassidism]. Very few men wore beards and sidelocks. In 1898 the Jewish School was founded, but closed in 1925 because of budgetary difficulties. Those children who attended Romanian schools received additional Jewish lessons from private teachers after school hours. Pupils started at the Romanian schools at age seven. Until that age they attended three Talmud Tora's. The teachers were Bart, who spoke and taught Hebrew, and Bergelson and Horowitz who gave private lessons.

Before the war there was a vibrant Jewish life in town. Ninety percent were Sabbath observers and of all the families there was only one that never came to the synagogue. The head of the community was Tsalik Gruenberg who served also as the hazzan [cantor] in the synagogue. With the assistance of his son Shimon, and a group of youngsters including Shimon Kern, they prepared entertainments for Purim and Hanukkah and before each holiday. The vice chairman of the community was Avraham Foni, Eliezer's father.

Every house had a charity box in which coins were placed before the Sabbath or holidays. The money was used to help the sick or needy. There were very few beggars. Most of them were ashamed to ask for alms even during periods of economic crisis. However, from time to time, beggars came to Burdujeni from Suceava.

In town there were two ritual slaughterers, paid by the community, and each one accused the other of non–kosher slaughter. People who came to have a fowl slaughtered had to buy a ticket from the community and the money was used to pay the slaughterers and the rabbi.

The rabbi's name was Basechet. He did not have any children, to the sorrow of the residents and he lived with his nephew. Eliezer Foni who lived in town used to tell that before the Second World War there were seven synagogues : the Wijnitzer shul, the Tailors' synagogue, the “Pluff Shul”, the Big synagogue (among whose managers was Avraham Foni) the Little synagogue (located inside the Great synagogue) with a daily “minyan” (quorum), the “Old” synagogue and the “New” synagogue. Before the war the Big synagogue was refurbished and the artist Nusig from Suceava participated in decorating the walls.

[Page 57]

There were extensively active Zionist movements both before and after the war. Thus, Shimon Kern joined Hanoar Hazioni in 1933 and Eliezer Foni was also active in it. The director was Shimon Gruenberg and the instructor was Nathan Brill. In 1939 a member of the movement, Leah Anschelson (Avino'ah) emigrated to Israel and she is at present a member of Kibbutz Nitzanim. Hannah Schafer, the sister of Dr. R. Schafer, was also active in the movement. A member of the head office of the Hanoar Hazioni in Romania, Tsevi Har–Zahav (Goldberg) visited the group in Burdujeni.

There was also the Dror Habonim organization whose chairman was Herman Pisem, who had to flee to Czernowitz at the beginning of the 1939 persecutions. He served afterwards in the Red Army and lost a leg there.

 

suc057.jpg
Hanoar Hazioni in Burdujeni – 1936

Right to left – standing: Leon Margloman, Shimon Abramovici, Chaim Rosner, Wolf Lupo, Shimon Gruenberg, Leah Anschelson, Nahman Brull, Shimon Kern, Leyzer Lazarovic
Seated: Hayim Barash, Barukh Manash, Dago Wagner, Avraham Korn

[Page 58]

Adv. Vogel came to Burdujeni and married the young Amalya Ruckenstein. They later on divorced and she married Rabbi Moshe Rosen, afterwards the Chief Rabbi of Romania.

It was during 1939 that the persecution of Jews began, with decrees of curfews, hostage taking and forced labor. In 1940, 26 men from Burdujeni (including Shimon Kern and Hersh Kandel) and 36 men from Suceava were sent to Arbore to work on the roads. Shimon Kern remembers how they spent Yom Kippur in a dry riverbed and didn't get any food in the evening since they didn't work that day. The men were sent back home just before the deportation to Transnistria. On Shimon's return to Burdujeni, he did not find his family who had already been deported to Transnistria a day before.

In January 1941, an attempt was made to save the Torah scrolls from two synagogues. The gendarmes showed the Jews an area outside the ghetto where German soldiers were supposed to have their quarters. The members of the community organized themselves and in the middle of the night, in the dark, they brought the Torah scrolls and hid them. They didn't know that the deportation edict was imminent and what would be the fate of the hidden Torah scrolls.

Before deportation to Transnistria, there were 1634 Jews in town. Entire families had been wiped out in the deportation and only 400 people returned. Fifty percent of the households did not have anyone left to return. Shimon Kern's family was sent to the death camp of Luchinchik, a small village about 3 kilometers from the town of Luchinetz. The conditions in the camp were dreadful and in the course of three months, from November 1941 until January 1942, 370 people died. Most of them were buried in mass graves. Shimon succeeded in burying the dead members of his family in the Jewish cemetery in the city of Luchinetz.

Shimon was sent to forced labor in Tulchin and stayed there for six months. They worked, shackled, in ditches eight meters deep with water up to their knees. The meager rations they received consisted of corn bread and soup made of peas meant for animal fodder. In 1944, after the liberation, Shimon worked in trade and renewed his activities in Hanoar Hazioni in town. In 1945–1946 he worked together with Shimon Gruenberg and Tsevi Kandel, selling shekels for the Zionist Congress and collecting funds for the Keren Hayesod. In June, 1948, Shimon Kern immigrated to Israel and participated in the War of Independence.

Eliezer (Lazar) Foni was born in 1929 in Burdejani. He was deported with his family in 1941 to Transnistria and they went from Luchinetz to Tulchin to Mogilev. The members of his family who died were his uncle Judko Foni, Moshe Chaim, Vigdor and his son Avraham. Immediately after liberation in 1944 they returned home via the town of Mihaileni, until Burdujeni was liberated. His parents and his sister immigrated to Israel in April 1951 and he received his long awaited passport later, in September 1951, and came on the ship “Transylvania.” After his immigration he joined the army and served for three years in the Golani Brigade and participated in Operation Kadesh [1956] and in the Six Days War (1967). In 1959 he married Polish born Haya Garten. They have two sons, Kobi and Alon, and a grandson.

 

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