Siret Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 2
47°57' / 26°04'
Translation of Siret chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
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This is a translation from:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities,
Volume II, pages 482-483, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980
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Translated by Michal Goldberger
Edited by Bruce Reisch
This translation is dedicated to the memory of my Grandfather and Grandmother, Mordko & Sali Goldberger, killed in the ghetto of Bershad in Transnistria; the memory of my parents, Mendel (Max) and Ita Goldberger; Uncle Iuda (Jean) Goldberger, missing in action in France during WWII; and Aunt Jenny (Sheindl) Goldberger. May they all rest in peace.
of Jews in
Before the end of the World War I
The beginning of the Jewish settlement
Jews had already settled in Siret by 1371, the year Siret attained the status of a city. A Jewish goldsmith was, back then, employed in the courtyard of the ruler of Moldova. The city developed quickly because of its location on the main road from Galicia through Czernowitz and Suceava to Hungary. Even before the 16th century, Jews who were originally from Galicia had settled in Siret. The tombstones in the cemetery (the most ancient among them dating from the year 1560) are used today as witnesses to a large Jewish settlement, which existed in those days.
By 1759, a Moldavian ruler, Ion Calimachi, conferred some privileges upon several Jews and relieved them of taxation. When Bukowina was annexed to Austria in 1774, the authorities began to persecute the Jews of Siret. There was an attempt to deport them; however, the eviction wasn't carried out because the authorities were considerate of the fact that the Jewish settlement had been there first.
By 1778, Enzenberg, the governor of the Bukowina district, permitted the establishment of butcher shops and candle producing factories to supply the needs of Jews. However, in 1779 he complained about the privileges that were given to the Jews of Siret.
In 1781 a committee was established in Vienna headed by Enzenberg. It was decided that Siret would become one of the three cities in which Jews would be allowed to live. In 1782, 18 Jewish families, who arrived in Siret after 1769, were deported from Siret (61 persons in all). At the meeting of the representatives of Bukowina communities, which convened in Czernowitz in 1783 to protest against the deportations ordered by Enzenberg, two representatives from Siret participated.
In 1789 all the Jewish merchants and the winemakers of the areas surrounding Siret were forced to move to Siret itself or to the other two cities in the Bukowina, in which Enzenberg had authorized the presence of Jews. In 1808 the authorities canceled the licenses given to owners of Jewish taverns, which had been authorized by the municipality. Only one lodge for Jewish travelers was allowed to open in Siret. In 1810 once again 65 Jewish families were ordered to leave the city because they weren't working in agriculture.
The Jews appealed the decree and proved that the privilege of their settlement had been given in Siret prior to 1789. After that the authorities of Austria decreed that they would take into account only licenses that were given up to the year of 1783. The decree wasn't carried out in totality. Since the regime in Austria became more liberal towards the Jews in the second half of the 19th Century, the Jews reached important positions in business and, later on, in political life.
Most of the Jews of Siret were engaged in trade and various crafts. Most of the doctors and the lawyers in the city were Jews. In the days of Austrian rule there were also Jewish judges and clerks working for the government. Four Jews even served in the military police. During the years 1912- 1918 the mayor of Siret was a Jew, and several Jews were even on the City Council.
Already during the time of Moldavian rule, the Jewish community in Siret was organized as a Jewish guild, which continued to function under the Austrian rule. In 1779, the leaders of the community presented a complaint concerning starosta Moses Perkowitz who embezzled public funds. The starosta bribed the authorities and the complaint was rejected. Under Austrian rule the community of Siret was subordinate to the community of Suceava. But by the middle of the 19th century it was separated from the community of Suceava and became an independent community. By the year 1877, community regulations were authorized. According to the community's law from 1891, Siret was one of 15 cities in which the existence of an organized Jewish community was allowed. In 1914 there were 800 members in the community who were contributing money. The community managed three funds: "Fund Leib Echner" for giving grants for Jewish and non- Jewish students; " Fund Kalman Hecht" " for the support of the "Talmud Torah" and "Fund Aaron Blum". In addition to the Great Temple there were four public synagogues and 4 private synagogues.
The Zionist movement arrived in Siret already in the days of Herzl. The Zionists students organized the "Maccabia" society that was active during vacation periods when students returned to their homes. Zionist youth society was founded for school students. Zionist leader Berl Locker, who was a student in the Siret gymnasium, began his activities with a "Poalei Zion party in 1908-1909.
Between World War l and World War ll
With the start of World War l many Jews fled from the city, which was occupied twice by Russians: during 1914 and 1916. After the battles, Siret was in ruins. The Jews that returned to the postwar city did not find their possessions and almost all of them were supported by the Joint (Jewish Distribution Committee). During 1919 - 1925 The "Joint" donated large sums of money for the restoration of Jewish homes in Siret.
When Bukowina was annexed to Romania after the end of the war, the persecution of Jews in Siret began. The lawyers had to pass exams again; the Jewish doctors were alienated from the hospitals; and Jewish merchants were encumbered with more income taxes, which were collected in a cruel fashion. Almost all Jewish administration officials were removed from their positions. Many Jews left Siret and emigrated abroad. In the days of the Goga - Cuza government in 1937, the privilege of citizenship was stripped from many Jews. Some of them even committed suicide because of this.
Before World War l there were 10 prayer houses in the community, a Mikwe tehara, cattle slaughterhouse and slaughterhouse for chickens. The community held Talmud Torah for four classes. Many Jewish children studied in private Cheders. In 1936, Rabbi Baruch Hager of the Wiznitz Hassidic dynasty was appointed head of the Siret rabbinate. He founded yeshiva "Beit Israel and Tomchei Orieta" in Siret and nearby - a boarding school for the yeshiva boys who studied Torah and trades. Rabbi Baruch Hager supported emigration to Israel. After World War ll he himself emigrated to Israel, settled in Haifa, and established a yeshiva there.
During the years between the wars a "Zionist youth" organization was founded in Siret where leaders of the liberal party in Israel, Yitzhak Artzi (former Israeli Knesset member) and Judah Shaari were educated. Branches of Hashomer Hazair and Bund were founded there in 1918. Charity Societies in Siret included: "Lemaan Hatsedek", "Yad Harutsim", "Nosei Hamita", society for the aid of sick patients, the company of psalms and the women's association. During the same time period, a group of amateur actors performed in Siret.
When northern Bukowina was annexed to the USSR in June 1940, Siret remained in Romania, 5 kilometers from the new border. Many Jews fled from Siret to the other side of Dniestr River, afraid of the persecution that began in Romania. When World War ll started in June 1941, and the Russians withdrew from Bukowina, many Jews succeeded in joining the Russians and in doing so, their lives were saved.
Siret served as a transition point for the Romanian army, known for mis-treatment of Jews. In 1940, when the Romanian army had to retreat from northern Bukowina, several Jews were murdered. Jewish soldiers that were mobilized to serve in the army suffered in particular. Some were thrown to their deaths from moving trains. Romanian soldiers abused Jewish villagers in the Siret district, and murdered several of them. They were buried in mass graves in Siret.
On June 20th, 1941, when the war began, all Siret Jews were concentrated in a city square and were deported by foot to Dornesti, a distance of 12 kilometers from Siret. Only 18 sick Jews remained in the city because it was impossible to carry them. Later, they too were evicted from their homes and were led to the valley beside the Siret River. The women were raped, and later all of them were shot as ordered by the great captain Major Albu, head of the army headquarters in the city, who arrived just the day before in Siret. Among the murdered were the blind butcher with his wife as well as Rabbi Meir Hersh Schechter, an erudite teacher who taught several generations of children. They were murdered in front of Christian city inhabitants who were brought to witness the event. The Jews that had been sent to Dornesti were put on a freight train. Fourteen days later, they arrived in Craiova. Some were brought to two schools and some were sent to Calafat. Several Dornesti Jews also accommodated deported Siret Jews from the camp in their homes. Those that had been sent to the two schools were later transferred to the stables outside the city, and had to live with the horses. Accommodation conditions in Calafat were even more difficult. After about two months, all those deported were transferred again to Bukowina, to the district city Radautz. They were employed in forced labor for two weeks, and later, on the forth day of Hol hamoed Sukkoth, they were deported to Transnistria. Before deportation, they were forced to pay taxes for the coming year to the municipality and to the government. In four trains, each with 40 - 50 freight wagons, Siret Jews were transported across Dniestr river. Two trains were directed to Bershad and two more to Mogilev Podolsky. Family members were separated. The ones that were transported to Mogilev Podolsky crossed the Dniestr River at Ataki, after its passengers were robbed by the peasants and military policemen. From Mogilev they were then deported to other camps. A group of Siret Jews were sent to Djurin, where many died from the typhoid epidemic that raged there. Djurin Jews helped the exiled Jews and brought them clothes and household utensils. Radautz community leaders set up a committee that organized a soup kitchen for the deported. The head of the committee, Moshe Katz, succeeded in bribing the Romanian officers to cancel the decree of the deportation for two thirds of the deported during the hard winter of 1941/42. He rescued a group of Jews that fled from Krasnaya and would have been shot otherwise by the military policemen. Rabbi Baruch Hager organized a soup kitchen for the deported from Siret, with the aid of Siret Jews living then in Bucharest. Several Siret Jews were sent from Djurin to forced labor in the quarries and some helped to build a bridge on the Bug River. Many of them were killed there.
In 1944, the Soviet army conquered Djurin. Only 460 Jews deported from Siret, survived, of which 400 emigrated to Israel. Siret was totally ruined by bombardments. Anti-Semites ruined the Wiznitz and Sadagora Hasidic Synagogues. Even the cemetery was damaged. In the Siret Temple, which was restored after the war, a memorial plaque was erected commemorating the names of every Siret Jew murdered in Transnistria.
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