by Benzion Schaechter
Translated by Moshe Devere
About the Jews of Comăneşti Village
Benzion Schaechter of Comăneşti, son of Mendel and Ḥannah Reizel (obm), lives in Vizhnitz neighborhood in Haifa. His wife Ḥannah (née Tennenhaus of Bălăceana) has passed away but he is now surrounded by his family: children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the Vizhnitz neighborhood and elsewhere in the country. This is his story.
About 20 Jewish families lived in the village of Comăneşti. A small and cohesive community with a religious and ḥassidic lifestyle. For good reason, they called the village the little Land of Israel (by this nickname, communities from other villages also crowned themselves with an affinity for the Holy Land, M.K.). Symbolically, the name of the village was also the surname of the homeowners. For example, they did not call me Benzion Schaechter, but Benzion Comăneşti.
The families' livelihood was based mainly on commerce. Mendel (Schaechter) Comăneşti, not a relative, owned a brandy distillery. The produce was marketed in barrels to tavern owners in the villages of the area (also Jews, of course). Leibele (Schaechter) Comăneşti, my uncle, was a very rich man. He owned a general store (grocery, textiles, metals). Another of my father's brothers, Baruch Schaechter, owned a shop for various products.
We, my father and the brothers, were transporting merchandise to and from the village and other shipments. The Sussman brothers were engaged in trading in lambskins. They slaughtered sheep and lambs in the village, and from there they would ship the lambskins. The Miron Costin train station in Comăneşti also contributed to the population's livelihood.
Comăneşti also had poor Jews. I remember how my father, even though he was not among the village rich, would send me on Fridays with quarter-liters of home-made wine to the homes of the poor, so they would have wine for kiddush. Ḥassidim tell about Mendel Comăneşti's promissory notes. As said above, Mendel Comăneşti would manufacture and market brandy in barrels. Among the buyers were those who had many children and had difficulty paying for the produce and paid with a promissory note. When they did not repay the notes, they bought brandy at another distillery. During the holidays, when the Jews met with the Rabbi of Vizhnitz, Mendel told the debtors that they could continue buying from him despite their non-repayment. And so, they continued buying and continued paying with promissory notes. On Passover eve, when baking the matzos at the Vizhnitz courtyard, they heated the oven with the promissory notes at the behest of Mendel Comăneşti. Thus, they fulfilled the mitzvah of baking the matzos. Rabbi Menaḥem Mendel, the Zemaḥ Zadik, named after his book on the Torah and holidays, demanded to eat these special matzos.
There were two synagogues in Comăneşti. The first one, the Old Synagogue (Alte Shul) at Velvel Zlochiver's, where the non-ḥassidim, including the Sussman brothers, prayed. To lead the prayers on holidays and High Holidays, they brought in prayer leaders from Schotz. The second one was the synagogue of the ḥassidim, which was established by Aharon Dalfen, my grandfather Benzion Schaechter's brother. The man became famous for being a very hospitable person. The Schaechter families prayed in this synagogue, many of them were excellent prayer leaders.
My father led the prayers in Rădăuţi on the High Holidays. In our synagogue in the village, my uncle Leibele Schaechter, a diligent scholar, led the prayers. When I came to him at 4 a.m. to receive shipping instructions for the day, I found him already studying. He also gave lessons to people in the synagogue after the morning and evening prayers.
Uncle/Dawid Shmil Schaechter was also one of the prayer leaders and continued doing so in the Schotzer Synagogue on Herzl Street in Haifa, led by Rabbi Ḥaim Hager OBM. Shmil
arrived in Eretz Israel in 1930, after training and marriage. Berel Brandes, Velvel Zlochiver and others from Comăneşti prayed in this synagogue.
During the holidays and High Holidays, Jews came to Comăneşti from the village of Luz (i.e., Luizi Humorului) and even on weekdays, mourners would come to Comăneşti to recite the Kaddish. We young guys sometimes went on Shabbat on foot some 2-3 km to Luz to complete the quorum. From the Luz community, I remember Merling, who owned a flour mill and a shop.
But how could there be 20 families and two synagogues with no controversy? So once, in the days selichot was recited, they stole, secretly transferred, the Torah scroll from the ḥassidim to the second synagogue and the ḥassidim were forced to pray on Rosh Hashanah with the non-ḥassidim.
The worshippers at the Ḥassidic synagogue were Vizhnitz and Antonia Ḥassidim. Rabbi Ḥaim Hager of Antonia, brother of the Ahavat Yisrael, when he passed by train once stayed overnight in Comăneşti. He received notes (kvitlech) and the joy was great.
The ritual slaughterer in Comăneşti was Israel Schreiber. He slaughtered the lambs for the Sussman brothers who traded in the skins, and poultry for the Jews in the village.
In Comăneşti there was a ritual bath that in wintertime, they heated the Samovar [hot-water tank] with the wood, but in summer the [women] would immerse in the village fish ponds.
The deceased would be buried in the Schotz cemetery.
The youngsters learned in the ḥeder. The teachers were brought in from Maramureş, each time for six months. One of them, David Folk married my sister, stayed in Comăneşti, and continued to teach in the ḥeder. Children from nearby villages also studied in the Comăneşti ḥeder. Aryeh Rudich, now living in Bnei Brak, came from Arbore and lived with my brother Gedaliah Schaechter, and studied with us at the ḥeder. The boys went to study at Yeshivat Damessek Eliezer in Vizhnitz. I studied at the yeshiva in Bănila.
Community life in the village was vibrant. They always knew when the Shaechters were singing and making happy. On Shabbat nights, they would stroll around the village streets until midnight, singing and dancing. On Simḥat Torah, they would go from house to house, drinking, eating and singing. During the holidays, in the Vizhnitz and Antania courtyards, they would make happy and exhilarate the crowd of ḥassidim. And when the Rabbi arrived in Schotz or another nearby city (Gura Humora, Rădăuţi), the ḥassidim traveled there en-masse.
Relations with the Christian population were normal. Doors and windows were not locked at night. We brought the merchandise-filled cart from the city; left it out in the open courtyard for the rest of the night without fear. We got along well with the gendarmes. There were no thefts. All this held until the summer of 1940, when the Romanian army withdrew from northern Bucovina and Bessarabia. Suddenly, all the Jews became communists. Pogroms broke out both by the retreating army and the gentiles in the village who turned treacherous.
The pogroms began on Friday evening, 28 Tammuz [Aug. 2, 1940]. The gentiles broke all the windows of Jewish homes. A gentile woman friend warned us. So, my brothers and I took our tefillin and ran to hide in the ruins. Our mother and sisters stayed home, and one sister brought us bread and water.
My uncle Leibele Schaechter hid with his two sons, Ḥaim and Menashe, with the gendarmes, but it didn't help. The retreating soldiers took them out and shot them dead. My Uncle Baruch's wife, Tova Schaechter, held her 11-year-old son in her arms and was at home with several women. A soldier came in and shot her dead. Her blood splashed on the boy. The boy survived. He was Yossel Schaechter, who later was an Egged bus driver. He passed away in Haifa.
Two other Jews were killed in these pogroms in Comăneşti. On Saturday night, after the intervention of the Jews of Schotz, who had approached the authorities about the pogroms in the villages, word spread that it was possible to leave the hiding places. On Sunday when I left with my two brothers from the ruins, a Romanian soldier grabbed us, put three bullets into his rifle and we already saw the end. I grabbed the rifle and struggled with the soldier. We told him to go to the gendarmerie. My brother ran ahead to call for help. The soldier told me to walk ahead in front of him but his intention was clear. I continued to walk alongside him and so the three of us were saved.
The pogroms were stopped, but the life of the Jewish community in Comăneşti had come to an end. The Jews were deported to nearby cities, mainly Schotz and Gura Humora. A year later, they were deported from there to Transnistria together with the Jews of these cities.
And if I were asked about anything that characterizes Comăneşti and the Schaechters there, it was the desire and the eagerness to sing and make happy. Here in Israel, years ago, I would go every Friday night with Isaac Laufer and Baruch Kostiner to Halisa, to the ailing Naftali Kohn, to sing him Shabbat hymns. And to this day on Shabbat nights, family members and youth from the neighborhood gather and sing until the early morning. My brother Yossel Schaechter obm, who lived in [Kiryat] Motzkin, was a welcome guest at celebrations and was always singing and happy. They traveled to the USA for a wedding in the Rebbe's family. Chaim Bennett, the composer, is my son-in-law. May singing and joy always prevail in the homes of our fellow Jews.
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