Czernowitz and Chernivtsi

From: milton Taylor <>
Date: Tue, 01 Jul 2003 08:51:34 -0500
To: "" <>

Dear all,

This is intended as a personal, frank account of my recent trip to
Chernivtsi, what led
up to it, and my thoughts and feelings two weeks later. I will not
include much practical
information, nor will it contain much of genealogical interest to most
of you. It may be
too frank or too opinionated, I just hope no one will be offended or
insulted, this
certainly is not my intention and please forgive me if it is.

Until a few month ago, I had occasionally thought of visiting the town
in which I was
born and in which I lived till the age of 8, but these thoughts were
only idle speculations
and I was neither sure I wanted to go to what I considered a third world
country, nor did
I know what the purpose of such a visit would be. Only after becoming
reacquainted with
a close family and childhood friend, who had recently been to
Chernivtsi, did I start
thinking of such a visit as a serious possibility. Then I joined this
group and simultaneously,
my husband, Milton, started urging me to undertake this trip. I think he
realized, more than I,
that I had a deep need to do this and many of you reassured me that I
did not need fear
either the physical discomfort or incidents of anti semitism. We flew to
Budapest, rented a
car and drove to Romania. On the second day, as we reached the southern
Bucovina there
was a road sign saying "Radauti, Cernauti" and suddenly I had a
physical sensation, as if
something had contracted deep within me. The next day, we were picked up
in Radauti by
Pyotr, a driver from Chernivtsi. He speaks little English and I speak
even less Ukrainian,
also do not distinguish between Ukrainian, Russian or Ruthenian, but
everything had been
prearranged and went well. The car was an ancient Mercedes, the
passenger seat felt like a
bucket, but Pyotr drove skillfully and the border crossing took no more
than 20 minutes.
We crossed at Siret, the same place at which I had crossed 58 years ago,
going in the opposite
direction. This time in daylight, in a car, then, at night, in a horse
drawn cart. In the summer of
1945, the border between the USSR and Romania was opened for two or
three days and most
of Czernowitz's Jews who had survived the war and not crossed this
border illegally before,
left. Now as we drove north, we passed the village of Tereblesti, where
we had waited for three
days before being allowed to cross the border. Now in 2003, it looked
the way I remembered
it, in a plain, its houses scattered. I remembered the barn in which we
stayed either for just
some hours, or probably the first night, also the peasant house in which
we stayed, 18 people
sleeping on a hastily built L shaped wooden platform, in a room which
had just been cleaned of
a very large pile of manure. In 1945, the horse, which pulled the cart
in which we left Czernowitz,
was not very strong, so that, from where the road branches to Hliboka,
till Tereblesti, we mostly
walked. Seeing this landscape again, at the same time of year, and
knowing we were so close
to Czernowitz, I found myself saying to Pyotr "Damoi paydiu" (I am going

When we actually reached Chernivtsi, nothing looked familiar nor
attractive. Possibly slightly
more rundown than the outskirts of other European towns of similar or
larger size. The hotel
Cheremosh, where we stayed, is located outside the 1941 map. I think
that if the map continued
southward, it would probably be in quadrant Ek or Fk. In the immediate
vicinity there are some
cheaply built, badly designed apartment houses, as well as some new
stores, which we avoided.
On the southwest side of the hotel there is a small forest, very green
and pleasant, in which a
cuckoo would call every morning from around four until we got up. This
was occasionally
very nice and at other times quite annoying. Anyone planing to stay at
the Cheremosh in the
summer, ask for a room which faces in the other direction, so as not to
get the afternoon sun.
The windows are quite large, they open only partially and there is no
air conditioning. And
since I am describing the hotel; our room was about 4m x 4m, contained
two narrow platform
beds, which we found quite comfortable, also some ugly shabby furniture.
Both the room and
the bathroom were clean and we had hot and cold water at all times.

We had made arrangements for Zoya Danilovitch who works at the
Cheremosh, to be our
guide and translator. She met us at the hotel, and for the next two and
a half days she was with
us from morning till evening. She is a well educated woman in her
fifties, pleasant, polite and
respectful of other peoples feelings. I also found her helpful,
knowledgeable, trustworthy and

That first afternoon I wanted to visit all the places I remembered in
the southern part of
Czernowitz.We first went to the "Spital fur Geistes- und Nervenkranke" (
#72 quadrant jF on
the 1941 map) which is close to the Cheremosh. In the summer of 1944, my
father and many of
his friends, fearing they would be drafted into the Russian army and
sent to the front, arranged to
be declared mentally ill and were hospitalized there. The hospital did
not provide food for it's
patients, so my mother would bring my father his meals and I usually
accompanied her. I
remembered a spacious garden, tall trees and nice important looking
buildings, it is still all there,
but the buildings and garden look in need of care and what I remembered
as beautiful and imposing,
is now worn and sad. We next went to the Blumengasse, (strada Florilor)
which is at right angle to
Strada Transilvaniei further NE. I lived there only for one year during
what we called the Russian
time (summer 1940 till fall 1941). But I remembered a nice house, full
of light, a small garden and
most important, the garden of the Schattner family, our neighbors across
the street, which was more
of a meadow than a garden. Our cow was kept there and the neighbor's
teenage daughter would play
with me in the tall grass and make me flower wreaths of Ganseblumchen
and Butterblumchen
(daisies and buttercups). I did not have a photograph of the house we
lived in, just an address, but I
did have a photograph of the neighbors' house. In 1940 the Blumengasse
was a pleasant, quiet
suburban street. Now it contains small industries, the houses look
neglected and the gardens have
vanished. I found it hard to believe that the small, shabby house, was
what I remembered as a
spacious comfortable villa. It must have been considered spacious not
just by me; beside my parents,
my maternal uncle and I, we also had a lodger, a high ranking officer in
the NKVD who prevented
our being deported to Siberia. Next we drove north on the
Siebenburgerstrasse, one block past the
northern end of the Volksgarten, then turned right to get to the
Schmiedgasse, later named Cronicarul
Neculce. This is where I lived in the family house from birth till age
three and later in a rented
apartment from age 5 till age 8. I recognized the family house
immediately. It was actually sort of a
compound consisting of a three story plus Mansard apartment building, a
factory building, stable and
cow shed and a one story front building. Sounds grandiose? In reality it
was not. The apt. building
consisted of 3 or 4 apartments. In these lived my grandparents, my
uncle, Schiku Steinmetz, my
mother's cousin Itzik Fruchter and his family, my parents and I, my
mother's cousin Frieda Jagendorf
and our Jewish cook, Jenny. The front house consisted of a store, large
kitchen, dining room, some
sort of general purpose room, laundry room and probably our maid
Anetca's room. These buildings
surrounded a center courtyard. They were never beautiful, but they were
my home and seeing them
again, I broke into tears. I have lived in much nicer surroundings, and
this can be said about the city
of Czernowitz too. I have also lived much longer in other places and
have strong emotional ties to
Israel in general and some locations in it, in particular, but in ways I
cannot understand, this piece of
land and its buildings is very special, dear and loved. The buildings
were all in good shape,
the apartment house and factory looked newly renovated and we were told
it now serves as a school.
The courtyard, stable and cow shed were a mess, they were probably not
very sturdy to begin with
and 58 years of neglect were only too evident. The house in which I had
lived later, was at that time a
neat if modest 3 story house belonging to the Munster family.
Mrs.Munster was an avid gardener
and the large front yard was ided into neat raised beds in which she
grew any vegetables and
herbs which would grow in that climate. I particularly liked the bed of
crocuses which were grown
for their stamens to be used to impart a yellow color to the Koilitch
(challa) my mother and her
neighbors baked each Friday. Also the bed of white lilies grown for
their petals which were steeped
in alcohol and used to disinfect wounds. At the side of the house there
had been a bed of "Forget me
not" and "Bleeding Heart". Now the large front yard contained only weeds
and a car parked at an odd
angle right in the middle. The house has been enlarged by widening it on
both sides, each story is
painted a different color and the meadow across the street, in which my
friends and I would play all
summer, is a scrap yard. Turning back to go to the main street I noticed
the corner house. During the
war years a Ukrainian family lived in it. They had a daughter, a year or
two older than I. Some time in
1943 as I passed the house on my way to a private reading lesson, the
girl ran after me yelling
"Parsheve Jidd" and I was suddenly possessed by such a fury that I
attacked her, kicking, pulling her
hair, probably screaming and scratching. It took some adults to pry me
loose. Seeing the house, the old
fury almost returned. I told poor Pyotr, who did not know how to react,
all about it. We then walked
on what used to be Strada Stefan cel Mare in the direction of the
Ringplatz. On the way, I looked for
the house which used to be the Kaiser (or was it Konig) Konditorei. I
remembered the wonderful
Creme Schnitt and the matzah shmura called shmira, which we bought for
passover 1945, after many
years in which there had been none. I think I found the building, it now
contains a general store. I
also turned a corner to look for the building in which I had lived for
some month after the ghetto was
closed down. I think I found the right building, but am not sure. Even
though I can picture the interior,
including the attic in which we hid for a few days and the cellar in
which wood for heating, potatoes,
beets and other food staples were kept, but all I remember about the
exterior is that it was grey. This
building too, is now painted, each story a different color. Sedate,
respectable Czernowitz now looks
like the worn set for a 19th century operetta. The school I attended,
one month for first grade and one
year for second grade, was then the Yiddish school. It still is a
school, a nice solid building,
mercifully painted just one color. In the vicinity of the Cathedral
there were a number of imposing
buildings, all former and probably still administrative buildings. Later
we walked on what used to be
the Herrengasse and on to the Ringplatz. As a child I was probably more
interested in the stores
lining the Herrengasse than in the architecture. I had previously
correctly identified buildings on the
Herrengasse when I saw them in photographs, but now nothing seemed
familiar except the entrance
hall of the movie theater on the west side of the Herrengasse. This is
now the most modern movie
theater in Chernivtsi and that is why Zoya wanted us to see it. The
moment we entered I remembered
it, the interesting design of the entrance hall, and the movies I
watched in it. My first movie, which was
probably "Jack and the bean stalk" and which caused me many nightmares,
later the "Jazz party",
which for many years I looked for in vain, since I did not remember it's
name. I finally did find it a
few years ago and it is just as delightful as I had remembered it. Many
of the buildings on the
Herrengase and The Ringplatz too, looked different, also some buildings
had apparently been
demolished to make room for communist statues. Later that evening we
went to the shul. When we
arrived, about eight elderly men and rabbi Kofmanski were sitting or
standing outside. The men were
all quite old, in their late seventies and eighties. They looked sad and
in worse physical shape than
elderly people in the US or Israel. I spoke with some in Yiddish, just
some friendly but insubstantial
conversation. They were all people who were not born in Czernowitz they
had come from other parts
of the USSR. More elderly and two or three younger men arrived later. I
did not like rabbi Kofmanski,
nor would I entrust him with money. Whether he does anything useful for
his congregation I do not know.

We had dinner at the Cheremosh with the documentary film team which
produced "Herr Zwilling und Frau
Zuckermann". ( A documentary about two old time elderly Czernowitzers
who had remained in the city)
They were in Chernivtsi to film another documentary. The food was very
good, different kinds of warm
and cold appetizers, varenyiki, blintzes, caviar and excellent Russian

The next day was to be our most exciting day during this trip; we first
drove to various locations friends had
asked me to photograph, as well as some I had heard about from my
parents, but did not know personally.
This gave us a chance to see various parts of town. The public
administration buildings and schools were
beautiful if not spectacular and had been well maintained. The
university buildings, particularly those which
had previously been the residence of the Archbishop were very beautiful.
The students looked much like
students anywhere, except for the lack of nose rings, torn clothing and
purple and green hair. Apartment
houses and single family houses mostly looked shabby and neglected. Some
had obviously been stylish
buildings when they were built, others were simple and functional. Many
had corrugated iron roofs, which
I cannot remember if they had previously. "Der Schwarze Adler" looks
newly renovated, but is not used as
a hotel or restaurant. "Der Temple" is now a garish looking cinema. I
looked for the apartment house on the
former Karolinengasse in which my mother was born and lived till the age
of 16 or 17. She was not fond of
the building, referring to it as a "Miet Kaserne" (rental Barracks), but
it was very close to the temple, where
she sang in the choir when Joseph Schmidt sang as cantor. I wanted to
see the neighborhood in which she
had grown up. It looked better than I had expected, certainly better
than the apartment buildings which were
built during the Soviet period. The house of my paternal grandparents in
Manasteriska, also looked much
better than I thought it would. I had no memory of it, but knew my
grandparents had been quite poor and
Manasteriska was not considered a desirable neighborhood. Now it looks
rural compared to other parts of the
city, the buildings are all modest and small, but not in worse shape.
Next we drove through Revna, the village
in which my paternal grandmother was born. It is quite a small village,
its houses scattered in a pleasant hilly
area next to the Prut.

Our next destination was Klivodin, the village in which my maternal
grandmother was born and in which her
youngest brother, Jakob Fruchter, continued to live till he was deported
to Transnistria. In the summer of 1944
he arrived in Czernowitz, a broken man. He was emaciated, suffered from
various injuries which were the result
of a severe beating he received in one of the camps, he was crawling
with lice and he had just found out that his
wife and 3 children were all dead. After some time he went to Klivodin
to see whether he could salvage anything
of his farm. When he next came to Czernowitz, he had recovered
physically and told us how very well one of
his Ukrainian neighbors had cared for him. My mother credited this woman
not only with her uncle's bodily
recovery but also with restoring his will to live. I was going to
Klivodin in the hope that I might find some old
people who would remember my great uncle Jakob and possibly find the
descendants of the woman who had
been so kind to him. I also wanted to see the village in which my
grandmother had grown up. On the way there
we passed through Kitzman, which is a larger village, and Zoya said that
there was an old Jewish cemetery in the
village. It was a very small cemetery, behind a group of relatively new
apartment buildings. Because of the
proximity of the buildings, the area was relatively free of weeds and
bushes, but the gravestones were quite old
and worn, so that it was impossible to read the inscriptions. I suppose
that most of us who return to the towns
and villages of our ancestors search for their names in the cemeteries
and I was no exception. Therefore when
we arrived in Klivodin we asked a passerby for the location of the
Jewish cemetery and were told that there was
none in the village, and that Jews were probably buried in the Christian
cemetery. We asked for directions, and
found the cemetery at the top of a hill, neatly fenced in and surrounded
by corn fields. An elderly woman was
hoeing in a nearby field, so we asked her if she could tell us where the
Jewish burial place was. She replied that
there was none in the village. Jews were buried some other place. I then
asked her whether she had known Jakob
Fruchter, she had previously told us she was 72 years old, so I assumed
she might remember him, but she did not.
She could not remember any Jews in the village. Another woman who had
been working in a nearby field came up
to see who we were and we asked her if she could remember my great uncle
and again the answer was negative.She
remembered that there had been a Jewish man who came back to the village
after the war. This man as well as her
father had been taken from the village by the Russians when they
retreated in 1941, but her father did not return.
At this point in her story she started crying and said " why did they
have to take a man who had six children?" She
thought the name of the Jewish man who had returned was Jakob Adler.
When she calmed down, she told us that
there was a very old woman in the village who was most likely to
remember my relative. We all piled into the car
and drove to the old woman's house. Our informant went in to see her,
then we were all invited in. When we asked
the old woman if she had known Jakob Fruchter, she said no, but then it
occurred to me to ask if she had known
Yankel Fruchter. Of course, she said, Yankel Fruchter was the son of
Motko Fruchter. Motko Fruchter had an older
son by the name of Hershcu. Hershcu had two sons, one was also named
Yankel and the other Itzig. This Yankel
had red hair and he had moved to Sniyatin or Sastavna. Itzig lived in
Czernowitz, and the wife of Hershcu was a
"kalika" ( had a physical disability). So, not only did she know my
great uncle, but all my relatives who had lived in
Klivodin, including my great-grandfather who was born in 1847 and died
in 1931. I then asked her if she knew the
woman who had been so kind to Yankel Fruchter. She did know her, also
where she lived, so we again got into the
car and drove there. When we arrived at this location, two women were
standing in the street talking. The older of
the two was the woman I was looking for and the other lived in a house
which had been built on the same spot on
which the house of my great- grandfather and later his son's stood. The
older woman was 83 years old and looked
frail and worn, but despite her age it was obvious she had once been
very beautiful. Both women were glad and
pleased when I explained who I was and I felt about the older one as if
I had found a long lost relative. I thanked her
for having been so kind to my great uncle and she told us that when he
came back to the village, he had no one to
cook for him and so she did. Before the deportations he had asked her to
look after his oldest daughter, should he
be taken away, but eventually she could not. All of us were very
emotional, I thanked her again, looked at the farm
which had once belonged to my ancestors and about which I had heard many
stories. As is the local custom we
drank water from a enamel cup which hung near the well in the yard. It
was chipped and much used but no matter.
Klivodin is a pretty village, its houses spread over hilly terrain, all
those I saw, neat and well maintained. Each house
has a vegetable garden, some fruit trees and an adjacent small field.
All villagers own larger fields some distance from
their houses. All the older people we saw were women, the men either had
shorter life spans, or they died young as a
consequence of war and forced labor. Some of the younger people had
moved to larger cities in the Ukraine or abroad.

As a child I had heard conflicting opinions about Ukrainians. They were
considered "verbissene" anti-Semites, they
collaborated with the Germans, they committed atrocities against Jews
and even after the Russians liberated us they
continued to murder us, but I loved our Ukrainian maid Anetc'a, and my
parents liked and trusted her. During the war
years a Ukrainian peasant woman would bring my mother, butter and cheese
to the house, because Jews were not
allowed to go out before ten in the morning, by which time there was no
food left at the market. She was risking grave
punishment by bringing food to the home of Jews. The same woman once
broke down in tears, saying "God my God,
what do they want of you Jews?" After the liberation another Ukrainian
woman saved my mother from being forced
by some Russian decree to work felling trees. My mother had received an
order to appear at a given office on a
particular date and time and would then have to fell trees for a number
of days. My father was working in Hliboka at
the time, so she had no one to leave me with and therefore took me with
her to the appointed office. A number of
Ukrainian women who were there for the same purpose, became very angry
that a frail woman with a child and a "panye"
(lady) to boot should be required to do heavy work, and one of them
argued and fought with the bureaucrat in charge
until he let my mother go home. Now returning to the Bucovina, I had
feared my own reactions to Ukrainians and
worried that I would encounter anti-semitism. At no time and no place
did anyone react adversely when it became
evident that I was Jewish, and in Klivodin I actually felt as if I was
among my kind of people. My maternal grandmother,
the one who was born in Klivodin, was by all accounts a very
industrious, capable and hard working woman. She was
also known for her honesty, good common sense and simple ways. Many of
her attitudes and sayings have survived
within the family and I find myself mentioning these frequently, even
though she died when I was only four month old.
Now I saw my grandmother's attitudes and inclinations, as well as many
of my own, rooted in this village and these people.

Lesser and different excitement was to follow that evening. We had
invited Zoya to go out with us to a new Restaurant on
the former Herrengasse, but as we were dressing, Milton found a tick
stuck to his leg. We tried to dislodge it but could
not. Milton is a virologist and therefore particularly knowledgeable
about viral diseases. He was worried about viral
encephalitis and Zoya agreed that it would be best to go to the
emergency ward of the local hospital. When we arrived
there, I realized it was the same hospital in which my grandmother had
been treated at the time of her final illness and of
which I had a photograph. The photograph is actually of my mother
standing in front of the hospital. My father took
many pictures of her, but this is one in which she looks particularly
sad and beautiful and because of that I remembered
it very well. But not only was this the same hospital, it looked as if
it had not been renovated since 1937. Inside the building
the wear and tear was even worse, the linoleum on the floors had mostly
worn down to the concrete underneath and doors
and window frames needed to be replaced or painted. The chairs in the
waiting room looked as if they might collapse.
Two doctors and an intern came to see the patient. They all assured us
that there had not been any cases of viral encephalitis
in the Ukraine for the last five or six years and since they looked
intelligent and competent we believed them. The usual
instruments, gadgets and assorted supplies we take for granted in the
US, were completely absent. A standing lamp had
to be brought from somewhere, they had no surgical gloves, but the
surgeon soaped and washed his hands at great length.
When the tick had been removed, there were no ready dressings, surgical
gauze was applied and then they had to search
for some tape, which when found turned out to be the old fashioned kind
which needs to be cut to size. Both doctors and
Zoya were very embarrassed and apologetic about the scarcity of supplies
and I wondered how much of what we take for
granted is really necessary. Not that I would want to require medical
care in the Ukraine, but all our gadgets and ready
supplies do not prevent bad medical care, including septicemia. Medical
care in the Ukraine is free of charge, but Zoya
later told us that patients have to supply their own sheets, towels and
food. Shocked but relieved we continued with our plans
and went to the Ukrainian restaurant on the former Herrengasse. The food
was excellent Ukrainian dishes, the service was
good, the waiters wore national costume, the price was ridiculously
cheap and a live band was playing Americanized
Ukrainian pop. Most of the people in the restaurant were young and were
having a good time.

On the morning of the next and our last day in Chernivtsi we went to the
Jewish cemetery. This was our second attempt
to find the graves of three of my grandparents who are buried there. I
had the burial plot number for the grave of my
maternal grandmother as well as pictures of the gravestone. Furthermore
I remembered visiting her grave with my mother
probably before Yom Kipur of 1944 and thought it was to the right as one
went up the main path. On the previous day
I attempted to find this grave on my own, also thought that my maternal
grandfather would be buried next to his wife.
I had been warned that the graveyard was so overgrown, it resembled a
jungle, but still was unprepared for what it is like.
Not only is the whole cemetery overgrown with tall weeds, bushes and
trees but any vegetation which is occasionally cut
to clear a path to a particular gravestone, is left where ever it falls,
so it creates additional obstacles. The cemetery is also
very large. There are enterprising local people who have the burial
register and for a fee of $20 per grave will direct one to
the correct location, they also hope that foreign visitors will want to
repair any damage to the gravestone, which will enable
them to earn additional fees. This is true also of other cemeteries we
visited in Romania. Jewish cemeteries are a great source
of income. We had met one of these entrepenours on the previous day and
made arrangements for him to find the location
of the graves I was seeking. He now met us and directed us to the
location of my grandmother's grave as well as the grave of
my paternal grandfather, he had not been able to find the grave of my
maternal grandfather. Both gravestones were in good
condition, but a metal rail which had surrounded my grandmother's grave
was missing. I believe this was probably removed
during WW2 when there was a metal shortage. My grandfather's gravestone
presented me with a mystery, in the German
inscription the date of his death was 1932, in the Hebrew one it was
5694 which is 1934. To my own astonishment, I was
more emotional at my grandmother's grave than at my grandfather's. I
suppose I had heard so much more about her, I felt
as if I had known her. Before leaving the cemetery, as is traditional,
we all washed our hands at a faucet which still stands
at the entrance. I wish we, former Czernowitzers and their descendants
could have the cemetery cleaned and maintained.
I estimate that a total clean up, currently, would cost about $100 000
and two employees working full time could maitain it.

There were other locations in and around Chernivtsi I wanted to visit,
but Zoya suggested we do some general sightseeing
first. She pointed out an interesting wooden church which was a replica
of the oldest wooden church which had stood in
the same location, also the strange cupolas of the Romanian church which
can be seen from afar. Then we drove to what
I refer to as the Ukrainian theatre

Received on 2003-07-05 13:29:17

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