After a few weeks of rumor and conjecture, the war broke out. It turned into a world wide conflict. Still, no one could grasp the tragedy that lay in the terrible event or foresee the bloody consequences or realize that this war would end European culture and civilization and introduce an epoch of horror of incalculable duration. Millions would meet their fate and for the Bukovina Jews, it meant the "beginning of the end."
In the first weeks of the war, the Czernowitz Jews celebrated the small victories of the Austrian army units in the border clashes near the city. The skirmish at Rarancze where the Russians got a bloody nose was celebrated as a great victory by the local patriots. They didn't, however have to wait long for a disappointment. Bad news arrived from the Galician front. Many were able to foresee the future events and fled, preferably to Vienna. Mayor Dr. Weisselberger remained staunchly at his post. Already on September 2, 1914 units of the Czar's army under General Evreimow entered Czernowitz. There were gun battles in the side streets of the city and a Jewish victim was recorded, but soon quite ruled. The Russian soldiers maintained discipline. Only the general rattled his saber and demanded a high tribute from the mayor of the city. Since the city treasury was empty, the mayor appealed to the citizens to contribute money and valuables. Only the poor Jews responded to this appeal since the rich Jews had already fled. The non-Jewish citizens remained passive. The next day the Russian commander made a noble gesture he nullified the order. The money and valuables were returned to their owners. The protector of the Jews was the Archbishop Dr. von Repta, who had stored the Torah scrolls in his palace for safekeeping. In their time of greatest spiritual need, the Czernowitz Jews were without political leaders. Dr. Straucher thinking of his safety had fled as had his deputy, Dr. Adolf Leiter and the majority of the Community Council. The community had become an orphan. Then the brave master carpenter, Jeremia Sikofand stepped into the breach and together with other courageous Jews, managed the community institutions.
The fortunes of war fluctuated. Already in November 1914, the Russians retreated from Czernowitz. However, they took many prominent citizens as hostages including Dr. Salo Weisselberger, the Zionist leader Dr. Mayer Ebner and the journalist Dr. Philipp Menczel. The Austrian medical corps soldiers, with many Jews among them, who remained in the city were taken as prisoners of war. The Jews were now able to breath easy in the freed city. Their Christian fellow citizens had hung holy pictures in their windows in order to direct the plundering Russian soldiers to the Jewish homes. Since 1848 when Russian soldiers marched through Czernowitz on the way to suppress the Hungarian revolution, the city had seen no Russian troops; now the renewal of the acquaintance would prove to have serious consequences.
In 1915, the Austrian government opened Czernowitz university which had been closed for more than a year and also, all the middle schools of the land, in order to show in this way that they didn't expect another Russian advance. This maneuver was especially intended to prevent the Romanian government, which was already making eyes at the Triple Entante 16 , from falling into the enemy camp. Obviously, the goal was not reached. The Jews of the city and the state suffered grievously. The fleeing of a large part of the population led reduced possibilities for earning a living. The front was nearby. The thunder of the artillery continued day and night. Soon events took a new turn. The offensive of the Russian general Brussilow in June of 1916 led to a retreat of the Austrian Eastern Army and sped up the evacuation of Czernowitz. Only when the Russian steamroller plowed back East in 1917 was the city again free. The Russian revolution awoke new hope. Many Jewish families who had fled, gradually returned. Their homes in the provinces were destroyed and they tried to start over in Czernowitz. The despair grew with every day. Most of the men were still in the field or sent Red Cross letters from prison camps. In order to help the returnees, Jewish "help committees" were organized in Czernowitz. The poor helped the poorest. Longing to return to their home town of Czernowitz led many who had fled to break ties they had built up in their temporary locations so they again be at home. In the end, their loyalty to their home town was poorly rewarded.
During the war years, Czernowitz could hardly be recognized. People frightened and weighed down with troubles, hurried like shadows through the streets. Military uniforms dominated the cityscape. Officers and tired soldiers were on their way to or from the railroad station. The station building, heated in winter had become a dormitory. Soldiers slept on the floor pressed closely together, leaving no space free. Anyone seeking the entrance had to step over them. The closer the war came to its end, the greater became the lack of food and other necessities. The most difficult articles to obtain were fuel and foot wear. Prices rose from day to day.
The greatly reduced Jewish population suffered indescribable difficulties. Intellectual life had died completely. After the fall of darkness, all traffic ceased because the street lights didn't work. Families generally restricted themselves to one room, dimly lit with an oil lamp. The only topic of conversation was the war and its consequences. People clung to the weakest hope. Austria still existed. Their own fate seemed to be tied to the final victory of the Austrian army. People shut their eyes to the threatening danger. Even elderly people who supposedly had the wisdom of age, had a completely unfounded optimism. No one wanted to thing about the impending downfall of the Hapsburg monarchy.
The streets of the city were filled with armed soldiers who had deserted their units. Hand in hand with the disintegration of the army came a paralyzing uncertainty. The danger of attacks on the Jewish population by armed deserters seemed to be immanent. Like a miracle help came just in time. Chief doctor Dr. Ferdinand Sternlieb, First Lieutenant Dr. Leon Schmelzer and other, still uniformed children of the city spontaneously formed an organized well armed militia which kept civil order. In the hearts of the returning soldiers, there was still the last shreds of discipline. Not a single Jew was injured.
As on November 11, 1918 Romanian troops marched into Czernowitz, all the residents of the city were depressed, but the Jewish population of the city was most severely affected. Towards the end of the war the Austrian government made efforts to start rebuilding the city. Now the hope for a better world came to a sudden stop. Knowing how Jews in Romania were treated, people feared a return to the barbarity of the middle ages. Desperation spread.
The first news came from the provinces; it was frightening. After their march into the villages of Bukovina, the commanders of the Romanian troops introduced the bastinado 17 punishment and the unhappy delinquent would receive 25 blows for the smallest transgression. It was like being hit in the head. The bastinado was exactly what it appeared, an act of barbarity. The Jews were assaulted and insulted on the streets and had no way of protecting themselves. In official announcements, the Jews were called "Evrei " but normally, they were called "Jidani" (Jewish rascals) and suffered in all punishments of the Romanians who were defeated in war, but considered themselves members of the "ruling nation," a concept which was difficult to get used to.
In his first announcement to the citizens, Jancu Flondor the new Bukovina minister stated that the minorities (meaning the Jews) had to subject themselves to the majority. When the Morgenblatt, in an article written by its editor, Julius Weber took a position against this unreasonable demand and called for justice the government promptly reacted by closing down the paper for three days. The public got a small taste of "freedom of the press" in Romania.
Soon, however, the Romanian government itself reigned in the outbreaks of hate against the Jews. Romania stood before the conclusion of the peace negotiations and was not sure that its territorial ambitions would be fulfilled and therefore had to cultivate the good will of the Great Powers who were suspicious of Romania because of its earlier treatment of the Jews. Therefore, a "modus vivendi" came into being. Jewish businessmen could continue with their businesses, Jewish civil servants with many years of service were tolerated, albeit only in minor positions; children were could continue attending school. Members of the learned professions had it harder however, the policy of pin pricks continued unabated. Almost overnight, the new regime nullified the positions attained through years of diligent study. Those who had become lawyers or teachers suddenly stood before the void. They were denied the instrument of speech. German was forbidden and few were able to speak Romanian. The population of Bukovina was 40% Ruthenian , 35% Romanian, 10% Jewish, 6% German, 5% Hungarian, 4% Polish and other nationalities, but in Czernowitz the situation was different. In the city everyone spoke German and the suburbs were mainly Ruthenian. With no transition period, the official language became exclusively Romanian. Even businesses were forced to use Romanian for their signs. Private announcements like obituaries had to appear in two languages with Romanian in first place even if the announcement was not intended for Romanians. In Austria, all languages were treated equally and the declared superiority of the "Romanian state language" offended one's sense of justice. The government organized language courses for teachers and civil servants. Even old men sat on the school benches, but the government's heavy handed methods created resentment which carried over to the lessons. The success of the instruction was very small.
The taxes were oppressive, but bearable. The most difficult burden for the former full citizens of Austria was the attitude of the Romanian civil servants who made the most insignificant transaction difficult. Soon, however, it was realized that giving the civil servant the appropriate bribe, would smooth the path for any business, legal or illegal. Many Jews gradually became used to this situation and both Jews and bureaucrats were satisfied.
The Jews who were in need, found help at the organizations JOINT, ORT and OSE which using funds from American sources performed many beneficial services. Not much later, HIAS came into the picture.
The rebuilding made visible progress. Czernowitz Jews who were themselves in need, did all they could to help their less fortunate brothers. A stream of approximately 6000 Jewish refugees from the Ukraine came to Czernowitz to try and rebuild their lives. A committee for Ukrainian refugees was established, directed at first by Schaje Goldfeld, who later became president of "Safa Iwria" and later directed by the warm hearted Karl Klueger. With help of a staff of fellow workers they were successful in helping the unfortunate ones with word and deed until they moved on. Also the existing fraternal orders (Bnai Brith, Orient, Veritas, Fraternite) contributed to the social help. The founding of the "Helio-Therapeutischen Station" for treating sick children was also a wonderful example of Jewish desire to help.
After the conclusion of the peace treaty negotiations, in which the clauses dealing with the Jews led to unhappy delays, Jews were finally accorded the same rights as the other residents of Bukovina and the treaty was ratified by the parliament. It soon became obvious that the Romanian government had no intention of taking the requirements of the treaty seriously and soon took measures that proved the rights promised to the Jews were only illusory.
The short lived Romanian governments differed mainly in the degree of persecution the Jews in the Land suffered. A new government meant only a change in personnel. The party which faced election always found ways and means to insure itself a majority in the law making bodies. Thereupon, the earlier ministers and high officials disappeared from the scene. Their replacements, after a period, faced the same fate. Every administration had the goal of pushing the Jews who were leaders in commerce and industry out and replacing them with Romanians even though the party members were directly or directly involved in the Jewish concerns and were well paid.
The leaders of the Jewish National Council (founded on December 7, 1918) fought in the first months of the Romanian government to improve the living conditions of the population and had to contend with the efforts of the government to break the attempts at Jewish solidarity. For example, the National Council declined the invitation to attend the December 28, 1918 congress of all the National Councils of Bukovina called by Jancu Flondor, the first Romanian governor and refused to provide the declaration of unconditional annexation to the Romanian state. Then it was decided not to take part in the Konstituante held in the Summer of 1919. Then Jakob Hecht, a Jewish business running as a candidate for the anti-semetic Liberial Party was "elected" senator and in this capacity delivered the statement intended for the peace conference, that the Jewish residents of Bukovina willingly become part of the Romanian state. This declaration, however didn't achieve its goal because the Paris Committee for the Protection of Jewish Rights was immediately informed about the situation and Dr. Ebner, in his publication, the "East Jewish Newspaper," skewered the lumber dealer Hecht for issuing this false declaration, but this did nothing to alter the fact that from now on, the Jews were registered members of the Romanian political parties and had lost their mandate. The Jews could no longer present a united front against persecution by the government, and this meant the victor of Romanian anti-Semitism. During its existence the members of the Jewish National Council worked nobly, but couldn't claim any noteworthy success.
Minister Jon Nistor, who represented Bukovina in the Kaiser's Council, a member of the so called Liberals, said one time in an election meeting that one must proceed with caution and be certain of the goal in order to gradually "take the bread out of the Jew's mouths." This utterance, in its perfidious brutality became popular. It was the favorite maxim of all the following regimes. In Czernowitz the capital of Bukovina with the greatest Jewish population, the pulse of events was more perceptible than in other Jewish communities.
The Jewish National Council was dissolved on December 25 1919. There was no longer a central organization for the defense of Jewish rights. The student organizations continued their usual activity. They operated almost secretly, meeting behind closed doors until the Romanian government ended their existence in 1936 with the stroke of a pen. The Jewish press was allowed to publish until 1936 and they could no longer record the growing evil.
Being members of Romanian parties brought some advantage to the Jews because the parties were forced to be considerate of their Jewish members and this prevented measures for total annihilation of the Jews. In various election periods, in addition to the already mentioned "Senator" Hecht, the Zionist Dr. Mayer Ebner, Karl Kluegr and Dr. Salo von Weisselberger sat in the Romanian Senate, the upper house. Members of the Chamber of Deputies were Dr.Mayer Ebner, Dr. Manfred Reifer, Dr. Benno Straucher, and Dr. Jakob Pistiner. The Jewish representatives had it hard. In spite of their courageous efforts on the part of their constituents, they could accomplish very little. There was no lack of efforts to relax the tense atmosphere. In the "Club of Bukovina Intellectuals" founded in 1928, there were many Jewish members (with Dr. Ebner at the helm) but attempts to dialogue with the Romanian spokesmen from Regat and Bukovina were unsuccessful. There were representatives of the Jewish population in the Czernowitz City Council and the Jews were also sporadically represented in the Presidium, but they had very little influence on the course of events. The Jews were always made aware that they didn't have equal rights and at best were only tolerated. Even in the Barreau and the Chamber of Commerce where Jews were in the majority, the dignity of the presidential office was reserved for Romanians. Romanians who tried to take the side of the Jews like Professor Dr. Radulescu and latter Mayor Traian Popovici were attacked unmercifully.
Since the Berlin Congress (1878) the granting of citizenship to Jews was a controversial problem. The Bojaren, the feudal rulers of the land and the thin strata of the educated and the half educated never made a secret of their dislike of the Jews. The Romanians were masters shirking their obligations and deceiving the world. Still in the pre-war years, the efforts of the "Alliance of Israelites" and its representative Adolphe Cremieux, who called the Jews in Romania "the last slaves in Europe" were without success. The Jews were the pariahs in a society consisting of a few Bojars, millions of backwards, exploited farmers and a thin strata of so called intellectuals which "blew in the nationalistic horn" and placed the blame for all its problems on the Jews. In the long run, the question of citizenship for the Jews was a thorn in the eye of the politicians, a bite that they couldn't swallow. A means to circumvent the clear wording of the contractual obligations was the citizenship law of 1924 and later came the ordinance of January 21, 1938 concerning the revision of citizenship requirements. The law only effected Jews and in no way concerned the other "foreign" races living in Bukovina. Thousands lost their citizenship because they could not produce the required documents for the court or got caught in the meshes of the exquisitely crafted law and this in a time when no other country would accept them. The measures taken by the government made the masses very bitter. Out of despair, the Czernowitz gynecologist, Dr. Weinberg committed suicide. The process lasted many months, tormented the nerves and required large outlays for lawyer's fees. Thousands lost their citizenship. Everyone involved had the bitter realization that the Jews in Romania were powerless against all the government's outrages. The countries which monitored to insure that the terms of the peace treaty were adhered to found no reason to interfere when the rights of Jews were trampled. The "Jewish Central" set up in Bucharest, under the direction of Chief Rabbis Dr. Jakob Niemierower, Dr. Theodor Fischer and Dr. Wilhelm Fildermann, could do nothing to alter the situation. National Socialist Germany was already determining the fate of the Romanian Jews.
The Czernowitz City Magistrate, the "Primaria" with every year, became more the domain of self seeking politicians. What used to be called "civic virtue" became an empty concept. The Jews were gradually driven out of all positions. For them, there was no place under the sun. In the City Council, which since 1863 had always had a Jewish deputy mayor or mayor as chairman, the Romanians still allowed Jews as members in order to put up a front, but allowed them to have no influence on the "Judenpolitik 19 " of the party currently in power. Some of the Jewish members of the city council in the Romanian period were Dr. Norbert Zlocower, Leo Schnapp, and Dr. Marcus Kraemer. In 1928, Dr. Oberlaender and in 1929, Karl Klueger were deputy mayors. The Judenpolitic of Nazi Germany was greeted in Romania with open sympathy. One was no longer ashamed of the hate tirades against the "Jidanii 20 ." Because of the Germans, hatred of the Jews had become respectable. This development reached its highpoint when in 1937/1938, the short lived government of Cuza-Goga came into power. Its fall only signified an acceleration of the catastrophe that was to strike the Jews of Romania. The political demoralization grew steadily. There was no protection against the exploitation by corrupt officials and no forum where a grievance had a chance of success. There were no Jews in the higher officialdom. For Jews, there were no favors and no possibility of advancing. Even the vernacular was prescribed for them. The former governor of Bukovina, Alexianu, who was executed as a war criminal in 1945 ordered punishments for any Czernowitz Jew who used another language than Romanian in public. There were no restrictions set on the language used by the other non-Romanian residents of the city.
Since 1919, the Romanian government tried to gain influence over the Jewish Community so they could use its help in undermining the position of the Jews of the country. They made use of every discord in the Jewish camp, by sponsoring the Chairman who suited them. The Bukovina Minister Nistor had seen with his own eyes, the fight against Dr. Nestor in the People's Council and learned from that how he could defeat the Jewish groups who honestly fought against disfranchisement. He allowed Dr. Straucher who for a time had unsuccessfully looked for new group of allies to return to Czernowitz. Dr. Straucher then filled the wishes of his Romanian sponsors and joined the Jew hating Liberal Party Romanians, who in Minister Nistor had their Czernowitz representative. Dr. Straucher immediately after his return, caused the removal of the lawyer, Dr. Salomon Kinsbrunner as leader of the Community and stepped into his place. He probably thought that he could turn back the wheels of history if he took the leadership of the Community, the source of previous position of power. His deputy was the finance minister, a. D. Dr. Leo Neuberger. In 1926 there was a Executive Committee headed by Dr. Mayer Ebner and Bank Director Bernhard Fleminger with members: Julius Bochner, Moritz Geiger, Dr. Markus Kraemer, Moritz Liquornik, Engineer Samuel Platzmann, Dr. Max Perlstein, Zacharias Pullman, Isak Rosner, Felwel Trichter and Josef Wiznitzer. Soon, however a new wind was blowing. Lawyer Dr. Marcus Menczer was appointed as leader of the Community and then Dr. Straucher followed him (for the last time) and his deputy was OLGR a.D. Dr. Isidor Gold. In 1930 the Reg. Rat a.D . Dr. Karl Gutherz became leader of the Community. Shortly thereafter an election was held in the Executive Committee because of a new statute handed down by the Romanian Ministry of Religions. From now on the government of the Community was to be a body controlled by the Romanian administration for addressing Jewish issues. It carried the name, 'Comunitates Evreeasca and the Community seal bore the Romanian coat of arms. The purpose of the Community was no longer to satisfy religious needs but was considered a "People's Community 21 " with limited rights. As a result of the election, the Community got a new leadership with Dr. Karl Guthertz as president and three vice presidents, Dr. Berl Friedmann (Social Democrat), Dr. Joel Hafner and Dr. Paul Katz. Members of the Executive Committee were Isak Einhorn, Aron Heitner, Dr. Herbert Krauthammer, Moritz Liquornik, Dr. Jakob Markus, Kalman Metsch, Dr. Ignaz Perl, and others. Moreover, in compliance with the statute, there were 50 members of the Community Council. After the 4 year terms ran out, leaders of the Community were appointed, among them were Dr. Markus Menczer and Government Advisor Dr. Elias Enis. The Community received no subsidy from the government, while Christian religious organizations were generously supported.
Well know men in public life after the war were in addition to those already named were Dr. S. Kassner, Dr. Moses Gruenberg, Zwi Hellreich, Dr. Ludwig Chajes, Efraim Kasser, Dr. Elias Weinstein, Mosche Stroh, Dr. Benno Sternberg, Izchak Hermann, Dr. Moses Zimmer, Dr. Isador Zimmer, Dr. Max Diamant, Engineer M. Schindler, Baruch Schieber, Josef Blum, Josef Wronski, Dr. Josef Mann, Isak Zehnwirt, Gersch Steinberg, Josef Wiznitzer, editor Josef Weber, Chaim Lecker, Max Lauer, Schaje Goldfeld, Dr. Josef Bierer, Moritz Geiger, industrialist Solomovici, Isak Einhorn, Mendel Engler, Litmann Schaffer, Dr. Benjamin Fuchs, Dr. Marcus Schaffer, Natan Horowitz, Marcus Gold, Natan Boral, Salomon Doregger, Dr. Leon Weich, engineer M. Salzinger, Dr. N. Denker, engineer Maximillian Zwilling, etc.
In the Russian years (1940/41) the existence of a Community was not compatible with the Communist ideology. Some of the former officers of the Community formed a burial society which was still tolerated. As the German and Romanian army units entered in 1941, the real catastrophe began. Many reported for service to make themselves indispensable and in that way avoiding deportation. The Romanian administration at first put Dr. Siegmund Neuberger at the head of the Community. He had an advisory committee whose members were: Heinrich Deligdisch, Georg Haller, Dr. Moses Thaler, Dr. Leo Loewner, Dr. Jakob Landau, Dr. Josef Mann, Karl Kluegr, Mrs. Kopelman-Finder, Michael Schindler, Siegmund Sternberg and Arnold Zwecker. As the Community was dissolved on December 16, 1941 functions like the hospital and the burial society were directed by a "Jewish Council" with 3 branches and Dr. Ludwig Dische.
Under Romanian rule, Dr. Josef Rosenfeld (died 1922) and starting in 1926, Dr. Abraham Mark (murdered by the Nazis in 1941) served as chief rabbis. The Orthodox rabbis were Benzion Katz (died 1934) and Meschulem Rath, a rabbinical authority. They were assisted by rabbinical judges 22 Mordechai Schreiber, M.Hollaender and B. Schulsinger.
A change took place in the arena of politics. Loyalty, once a sign of strength of character was no longer valued. Men with political ambitions joined Romanian political parties in order to obtain the mandate. There were exceptions, however. In addition to the Zionists under the leadership of Dr. Myer Ebner, the leaders of the left leaning parties were upright, honorable men. Already in the Austrian period, Dr. Jakob Pistiner, Dr. Joseph Kissman, Markus Kaswan, Dr. Berl Friedmann, Nathan Tropper and many others had made a name for themselves. Also the Poale Zionists, Dr. Berl Locker, Dr. Meier Rosner, Dr. Schlomo Bickel, Dr. Feiwel Sternberg and Leib Steinmetz as well as the young leaders of the Haschomer Hazair movement Jakob Polesiuk-Padan, Zwi Huber ((Ben Cohen), Izchak Nussenbaum (Ben Aharon) and Izchak Pessach were far from turning themselves into political "cattle dealers" in order to get in good with the Romanian power brokers. They had clearly defined programs and defied when possible the oppressive measures of the Romanian politicians. The left wing parties were able to increase their numbers in the Romanian era and win more ground with the Jewish public because, their political credo, appealed to the many Jews who hated the Romanian dictatorship. Many worked out their anger by joining a party that opposed the government. The "Bund" members managed with help of American donations to build a community center, "Morgenroit," in Czernowitz with a comprehensive library, a vocational school and a cultural center for party members. Many youngsters joined the party. The hopelessness of their future in Romania and their despair about the situation led to join the Bund. The Romanian security officials persecuted terribly the left leaning parties who they labeled as Communists. There were numerous cases in which the unhappy representative of a new "world view" paid for their idealism with their lives under the torture of the Siguranza Agents (secret police). The Romanian leaders were personally interested in the development of commerce and industry and therefore couldn't completely put the Jewish element out of the picture. The attempt by the Goga-Cuza government to totally drive out the Jews failed. This explains why that up to 1940 in Czernowitz, although the Jews lost all their political rights, their businesses prospered. The export of lumber blossomed. Max Ritter von Auhauch, an imposing personality was still at the head of the most important undertaking of this sort, "Bucovina," He was dedicated to supporting Keren Hajessod 23 and contributed large sums for community services.
New industries were founded and developed by Jews. The textile industry prospered thanks to Jewish capital and Jewish know how. Some of the firms were the Trikot factory "Hercules" (B. Deligdisch); "Trinaco" (Trichter, Naftalison & Co.); the factory of the Segall brothers; "Tricotania" founded by Samuel Schmidt and his son-in-law Rosner; "Bewi" (Bernhard Wiedner); "Minka" (Eugen Buchbinder) etc. A button factory (Wronski) and a chemical dye works (Dresner) worked in parallel with the textile factories. The Roskies brothers built a rubber ware factory "Caurom" in Czernowitz. The crude oil refinery, the distillery and the sugar refinery which already in the Austrian time were products of Jewish industry were able to expand their scope. The Jewish wholesale bakeries Bilgrey, Ternbach, Rasp and Spasser, provided baked goods for the city. The brick works "Patria", and the tile factory H. Trichter also large companies from the Austrian period were able to enlarge their businesses. The domestic trade became more significant every year. Large companies were "Buwag" (Bukowiner Warengesellschaft, B. Sobel) and "Impex" (Import-Export) and many others. Noteworthy industrialists and merchants were also Goldstein, Biedermann & Kindler (paper industry); M. Rosenberg and Herman Kern (grain exporters) S. Imber (fabric); Richard Trichter, Siegmund Lehr, Jakob & Josef Peretz, Gersch Steinberg, Israel Gottesmann, Emil Roessler, Engineer M. Schindler and others.
Jews were also important in banking. The branch of the National Bank (Banca Nationala) like its predecessor, the branch of the Austro-Hungarian bank had slipped from Jewish influence, but despite all the restrictions, Jews were active in the management of the other banks in the city. There were some new entries in the banking business during this period; the Marmaroschbank, the Mercurbank branch, later called the Banca Comerciala (Porcurist Josef Badian); the branch of the Banca Moldova (Dir. Josef Hilferding); Bankhaus Soifer (Procurist Josua Morgenstern); the Romanian Creditbank (Dr. Victor Landau) and others. Only the Savings Bank, at one time the most loved financial institution of in the city, in which the "little man" kept his savings went under because the makeup of the board of directors became a bone of contention among the Romanian parties and loans were made to party members incapable of repaying them. The large number of Jewish depositors remained loyal to the bank to the last and were the most hurt by its collapse. The "Ostbank" (Gen. Dir. Jakob Kindler) replaced the Savings Bank in the trust of the customers. Also, many Jews made a living in the insurance business (Steaua Romaniei, Dir. Gustav Huefgott).
The planned restrictions on the Jews in all areas of public life, the political pressure upon them, the general loss of rights and the countless small and large vexations couldn't suppress the Jewish longing for education. The majority of the population were not satisfied with the public school education, they sent their children to higher schools and wanted to send their children, as they were accustomed to, to the German middle schools that still existed. The Romanian government put a rude stop to this effort. Already in 1919, the Jewish middle school children were concentrated in one mammoth school, the Jewish State Gymnasium which at that time had 32 departments and 70 teachers. That way, the government achieved two goals with one stroke. The Jews could no longer attend a German school, so that the "Germanization" process was halted and the Romanian teachers who alone were permitted to teach the national subjects (Romanian language and Romanian history) made the lives of the students miserable and took away their desire to learn. Wealthy parents sent their children to private schools in which a different wind blew. In order to prevent the Jewish middle school graduates from attending the university, a short time later the baccalaureate law was passed. This law required that a middle school graduate had to pass an exam before a commission appointed by the Ministry of Education in order to attend a university. The examination was just a formality for Romanian aspirants, but for Jewish students it was roadblock that was difficult to get by. The tragedy of the student Fallik illustrates the situation. There were no Jews on the faculty of Czernowitz University. In spite of all the difficulties, many Jewish students could be found in the lecture halls, but their numbers steadily diminished. Those who could afford it attended a university abroad. The diploma earned abroad, was accepted in Romania if the candidate passed a special examination. The examining professors, out of respect for their foreign colleagues generally accepted the diploma. There were exceptions however.
In the initial years of Romanian rule, there were still a few German theater performances. Even Alexander Moissi gave a guest performance. But just the fact that the Jews acclaimed the great actor made the Romanians sour and they abruptly banned the German theater. After that there were only amateur German performances. The Romanian officials couldn't force the Jews to attend the Romanian City Theater. Only the Jewish middle school students occasionally were taken to "patriotic" plays by order of the school officials. Most theater goers boycotted the Romanian theater because they hadn't mastered the Romanian language and because of passive opposition to the forced "Romanization" of the city. They had to think of their own cultural values. The lodges, "Bnai Brith", "Orient", and "Fraternite" and the club "Massada" provided places where Jews could gather. The educational organizations "Ber-Borochow" and "Morgenroit" provided for the cultural needs of the workers in the socialist Bund organization. "Morgenroit" had a well stocked library. In the social democratic "Education Society" worked mostly Jews. The most well known instructors were Dr. Jakob Pistiner and Dr. Silbermann. The "Zeire Zion" (Chairman Dr. Benedikt Kasan) in Herrengasse and the "Poale Zion" in its home in Schulgasse cared for the education of the Zionist workers. The organ of "Poale Zion" was the "Freedom" and its most well known leaders were Leib Steinmetz, Hersach Essner, Josef Schwarzmann, Dr. Schmiel Enzer, Dr. Feiwel Sternberg, Chaim Kraft, Dr. Meier Rosner, Dr. Berl Locker, Leo Schaefler, Dr. Schaul Sokal, Dr. Schlomo Bickel, Jehuda Teitler, Dr. Mosner and others. Occasional guest performances offered Jewish theater (Fraje Yiddish Stage, Yiddish Theater Group Fischsohn). The Yiddish theater organization founded in 1913 by Dr. Max Diamant was not able to achieve its goal, the building of their own theater, but it was able to bring many top Yiddish theater troupes to Czernowitz.
The Zionists enriched the cultural life of the city greatly. In mass meetings, the population was urged to a healthy nationalistic feeling and was lifted spiritually by the hope for a homeland. The instructors Dr. Mayer Ebner, Dr. Theodor Weisselberger, Dr. Manfred Reifer and many others that we don't have room to list became the teachers of the people. The Jews of Czernowitz learned in time the names of all the honored guests who came to speak to them. The visits from Chaim Weizmann, Chaim Arlosoroff, Kurt Blumenfeld, Martin Buber, Selig Brodetzky, Nachum Goldmann, Seew Jabotinsky, Nachum Sokolow, Schmarjahu Lewin, Imanuel Olswanger, Josef Sprinzak, Joachim Prinz, Dr. N. M. Gelber, Menachem Ussischkin and others were unforgettable experiences. It was a prize for the "Debor" the "Wizo" and the "Young Wizo" and especially their long standing president Klara Klinge (died 1957 in Tel-Aviv) to have won the Ladies for National Jewish Activity. Klara Klinger accomplished great work as city councilwoman, serving on the Community Council and as director of the Jewish Orphanage in Wagnergasse. The Zionist organizations ran in addition to yearly propaganda rallies and commemoration services, "adult education" courses with the help of Dr. Th. Weisselberger, Dr. M. Reifer, Dr. L. Schmelzer, Julian Silberbusch, Dr. O. Brueck, Dr. Ch. Ehrlilch, Karl Klueger, M. Friedmann and others. The "Makabi" sports club had its own cultural circle under the leadership of o Dr. Jakob Pelzel. The Circle of Zionist Women (Dr. Weich, Fraenkel, Kraft, Kaniuk and others) met in private homes and listened to lectures about scientific themes of all sorts. In addition, the Community supported a public library with a reading room. In the memorable Community Council meeting of August 23, 1919, Hebrew was recognized as the national language of the Jewish people and its use was recommended for school instruction. The organization "Safa Iwria" was especially active in promoting the use of Hebrew. Jehuda Ehrenkranz was also a champion of the Hebrew language. In addition to the :Safa Iwria" the "Yiddish School Organization" was also a leader, albeit in a different direction.
There was a lively Jewish press in Czernowitz, which angered the Romanian government, since the papers appeared in German and Yiddish which allowed them to be distributed abroad, spreading the news of events which the Romanians would have rather kept secret. The papers kept a high standard of journalism and had a large circulation. The big dailies kept their readers up to date and were rather mild in their criticism of state politics. One could read between the lines that the writers of the articles were intimidated. The much ballyhooed freedom of the press didn't exist. On the other hand, the numerous publications of the left leaning parties, mostly in the Yiddish language were less cautious which gave the censors grounds to continually step in.
German literature lost ground. No more creative talent was to be found in that area. In contrast, Jewish literature blossomed. Some important authors were: the fable poet Elieser Steinbarg (died 1932), the ballad poet Itzig Manger and the poet Jakob Sternberg. Kubi Wohl who died young (1936) who wrote poetry in German and Yiddish.
Only in the area of sports were the Romanian rulers less oppressive. In sports the Jews saw a branch of Zionist activity, a kind of preparation for the life in Eretz Israel. The "Blue White Hiking Club" had been founded in 1908 and was followed by "Maccabee" and "Hakoah." Among, successful events, the Makkabee Games of 1935 deserve special mention. The number of talented athletes was impressive (Volume 1, Dr. H. Rubel, Jewish Sport in Bukovina).
In Czernowitz, music consistently found enthusiastic devotees. In the "Music Club" which had its own building with a large auditorium, and even in the Austrian time many Jewish artists practiced there and the music school there has a goodly number of Jewish students. Especially deserving of praise at the music school were Prof. Kraemer and Prof. Adler and Director Fohrenstein. One singing group was "Hasamir." During the Romanian period, the musical life of the city centered around the nerve doctor, Dr. Alfred Ramler (died March 7, 1958) at whose home, musicians and lovers of music met for Sunday concerts. Dr. Ramler, highly educated in music without actually being a musician, enjoyed being the organizer of musical performances and a sponsor of musical talent. His library which held vocal, instrumental and orchestral music was one of a kind. The string quartet which he formed consisted of Samuel Flohr (1 st violin), Benno Koerner (2 nd violin), and Dr. Max Schapira (viola and piano). Moreover Dr. Franz Tischler (cello), the singers Rosi Dampf, Dolly Engel, Marguerite Kozenn-Chajes and Melitta Sternberg were also part of this circle. The "Collegium Musicum formed in 1927 regularly performed symphony concerts in Toynbee Hall, which since 1937 were directed by Josua Hallenberg and in which besides the performers already mentioned the pianist Bianka Kraemer-Neuberger and the violinist Klein took part.
In addition, the concert agency of the Meth brothers repeatedly staged concerts. The audience consisted mostly of Jews. It's noteworthy that they rarely attended musical performances of the Romanian Conservatory or the diverse national singing groups. There didn't feel comfortable there. The estrangement had carried over into the area of music.
The talents of real artists prevailed. Josef Schmidt, the singer with God given talent, Norbert Gingold the creator of the Children's opera in San Francisco, the painter Berthold Klinghofer (Milano), Arnold Korn-Dagani, Jakob Eisenscher, Artur Kolnik (Paris), Schlomo Lerner, the sculptor Bernhard Redner, the actress Sidy Tal, the director Maricius Sekler and Benno Popliker all found success.
In the area of government social aid programs, the Jews were at a great disadvantage since they couldn't expect any accommodation from the Romanian authorities. Here is where private charity came into play. The accomplishments of the Czernowitz Jews in this respect deserve the greatest recognition. Especially helpful in this endeavor were the fraternal orders, "Bnai Brith Orient" (founded in 1911) the "Veritas" which in its founding year 1913 also accepted non-Jews, but since only 1923 only had Jewish members and the "Fraternite" which grew out of Veritas as well as the "Massada" club. The main goal was the creation of worker and student kitchens as well as aid to cultural organizations (Safa Iwria, etc.). The "Joint" (in Czernowitz since December 20, 1919) was generous with its resources whenever it was appealed to.
Besides these various clubs and charitable organizations, individuals provided charity. Nathan and Josefine Horowitz were supporters of the Child Protection League for Care of Orphans, the Jakob brothers and Josef Peretz used their own money to build the Apprentice Home, Dr. Gustav Schifter created the tuberculosis sanatorium, and the married couple Kisslinger supported the Toynbee Hall. When in the last half of September, 1933 a stream of refugees came from Galicia to Czernowitz, the residents of Czernowitz helped all the refugees without asking about their religion or nationality. Leading this effore were the wife of the industrialist, Rosa Kraft, banker Lipa Horowitz, Markus Gold, Simche Eisenberg, Josef Wronski, Director Isak Zehnwirt, etc. After the war, benefactors from Czernowitz set up a kitchen in Bucharest where hundreds of needy people could get a warm meal every day. Dr. Bernhard Tauber working closely with Dr. Chaim Gelber , assisted by Berthold Sobel, Salo Schmidt, Sumer Wolf (died 1956), Natan Klipper and Hermann Perez were responsible for this act of charity. Among the residents of Czernowitz there were always friends of humanity and not just in times of catastrophe. One we should mention is Schmuil Aba Soifer (murdered in 1941) who in Café Astoria, at his Oneg Schabbat had a group of generous men around him like Max Seidmann, Heinrich Deligdisch, Mathias Roll, Lipa Horwoitz, etc who worked together in charitable deeds. Among the most well known benefactors were Dr. S. Bibring, Rabbi Rubin, Siegfried Adlersberg, Max Adelstein, Levi Schachter, Karl Klueger (died December 19, 1943), Dr. Karl Gutherz, Arie Ritter, Maz Delfiner and many others. Deserving special mention are the ladies Zunia Schifter, President of the Czernowitz Jewish Tuberculosis Care Organization; Sarina Fokschaner (after school day care); Lina Trichter (People's Kitchen Organization); Gusti Weich and Klara Klinger (Woman's Aid Organization); Caroline Leiter (maternity home); Lina Roth and Rosa Kozower (vacation home); Eugenie Schifer, Josefine Horowitz and numerous deserving helpers, the many girls and women who with heartwarming motherliness helped the needy. The lodges and the club "Massada" saw in charitable works, their chief task.
During the Austrian period, Czernowitz had a student home (donated by Jews) which stood open for poor students. Since the Romanians took over, the home no longer accepted Jewish students. The building of a Jewish student home and a Mensa academy for students who were not residents of the city was a worthwhile work which proved very rewarding. In 1923 the Mensa moved into its own home (leader: Dr. Jakob Pelzel).
The Romanian rulers had severely wounded the residents of Czernowitz. Human nature is flexible, however and people adapt to the unavoidable. They became used to the indignities and tried to bear them silently. Then suddenly in June 1940 came the Russian ultimatum. The Romanian military and officials cleared the city rapidly. The Russian act of force enraged the Romanians of the city and the surrounding land and this rage turned into a blind hatred of the Jews. Revenge on the "Jidanii" was the solution, as if Stalin had been invited to Bukovina by the Jews. Romanian soldiers, policemen and farmers carried out horrifying bestialities on the Jews of the surrounding area and the province. In the city itself, quite ruled as the Red Army marched in on June 28, 1940. The Russian years (1940/1941) let the Jews of the city get the full taste of the revolutionary ideology. At first there was a never before experienced lack of all food and necessities. There were long lines of young and old standing in front of the few open shops in all kinds of weather while policemen in blue uniforms taught the crowd Communist discipline. When there was nothing left to sell, the people had to quietly leave the place before the store that they had achieved by hours of waiting. In addition to the physical suffering, there was a laming uncertainty. People were arrested on the street, didn't come home and were never seen again. A dull confusion born out of hunger and poverty held the majority of the population. The Communists divided the people into two classes, capitalists and workers. The capitalists were considered criminals. They received special passes and were not allowed to work. They were the "exploiters" and the goal of the new order was to exterminate them. The workers became slaves of the state and were condemned to years of imprisonment for the slightest infraction. After they had faithfully worked for 8 hours at their machines, they had to listen to lectures in the evening telling them that they had to work harder and produce more. Former members or leaders of any organization, even if it was a sports club or a choir were suspect. Even members of the Bund whose outlook was close to that of the Orthodox were persecuted.
As all businesses were taken over by the state, "capitalists" put in prison and the last vestige of individuality lost in the collectives, in June 1941 came the peak of Soviet statesmanship. Thousands were routed out in the night, loaded on trains and sent to the snowfields of Siberia. There were very few non-Jews among the deportees. The measure was intended as a mass execution and was carried out as such. Even minor children were not spared. The people were still horrified about this misdeed when nightly explosions woke the city residents from their sleep. German flyers dropped bombs on the airport and the railroad station. The war had broken out. In a rapid sequence of events, the Rusians burned a part of the inner city an withdrew. They were followed by Nazi murder bands and uniformed Romanian criminals. The Russian enemy had fled. The helpless Jews of the city became the object of revenge and killing lust.
What the Jews of Czernowitz suffered in the years 1941-1944 must be understood in the framework of the total situation. The horrors that they were subjected to have no parallel in human history. No atonement can make up for it. But it is not necessary to add up the pieces from which the bitter material of our experiences with outer and inner enemies consists. The wounds are still not healed. The blood still flows at the lightest touch. There is no merit in having survived if survival doesn't bring obligations. Obligations to never forget. We will never be ashamed of our tears.
Written by Prof. Dr. Herman Sternberg, Tel-Aviv
1) Chedar: A school where little Jewish children learn the torah. Return
2) Kultusgemeinde: This term literally means "religious community." In this essay, it refers to the Jewish community of a town, or sometimes to the governing structure of the Jewish community as defined by the Austrian government. I simply use the term Community whenever the author uses Kultusgemeinde or Gemeinde. There were two committees, the Kultusvorstand (which I call the Board of Directors) and the Kultusrat (which I call the Community Council). There were also , a president, vice presidents, a secretary, a rabbi, religion teacher, etc. The committees were elected by the Community and I assume that some or all of the other positions were appointed. Return
3) Maskilim: Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Jews who engaged in secular rationalistic studies and facilitated the acculturation of Jews to Western society. Return
4) Gymnasuim: A secondary school that prepares students for the university. Return
5) state: The term state refers to the political entity of Bukovina Their parliament is called the Diet. In the text, it is usually called "Land." Return
6) Shabbat: The Jewish Sabbath. Return
7) Sermonizer: The text uses the word, "Prediger," which translates as sermonizer or preacher. If you know more about this strange usage, let me know. Return
8) federal: The federal parliament is called the Reichsrath and a delegate is called a Reichsrathabgeordneten. It is a parliament for the whole Austrian empire with two houses Return
9) Political Cellar: This must be a bar where all the big wigs gather. Return
10) Gasse: I don't try to translate the street names. Gasse means "street" in German. Sometimes they use the word, "Strasse." Return
11) Express Service Men: I assume that these are messengers. Return
12) Ruthenian: According to a British Foreign Office report, a race of people constituting 38% of the population of Bukovina, speaking the Ruthenian language. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that they were originally Ukrainians. They were also called "Little Russians." Return
13) Purim: The holiday which commemorates the salvation of the Jewish community from the genocidal plans of the wicked Haman. Haman wanted to kill all the Jews, children and adults, in one day. Return
14) Haman: The villain in the Purim story. Return
15) Musenstall: Stable for the muses? Return
16) Triple Entante: The World War I allies, the British, French and Americans. Return
17) Bastinado: Punishment by beating on the soles of the feet with a rod. Return
18) Morgenblatt: A local newspaper, literally the "Morning Paper." Return
19) Judenpolitic: The politics of hatred against the Jews originated in Nazi Germany Return
20) Jidanii: A derogatory Romanian name for the Jews Return
21) People's Community: The author used the term "Volksgemeinde." Return
22) Rabinical judges: Author uses Hebrew term "Dajanim." Return
23) Keren Hajessod: Conference of the National Fund (for Zionism) Return
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