Re: [Cz-L] czernowitz language use

From: Charles Rosner <>
Date: Sun, 06 Jan 2008 06:50:25 -0800 (PST)
To: Czernowitz Genealogy and History <>
Reply-to: Charles Rosner <>

Hello Rachel!
My name is Charles Rosner, I was born in Czernowitz in
1941 and both my parents were Jews from Czernowitz. We
survived (long stories) and finally arrived in France
in 1948. I am French since the mid-1950s, am an
engineer+MBA (now retired) and I even got the French
Légion d’Honneur.
Now, attached is an extract from my book “Emancipation
– Etes-vous (aussi) de Czernowitz?” (Emancipation –
Are you (also) from Czernowitz?), which deals with
languages and nationalities. The book is in French and
I’m currently working on an English version. I hope
that, beyond the fun they convey, my stories will help
you somehow.
“Of languages and nationalities
This complex history couldn’t but affect the life of
the individuals who survived. For example in terms of
nationalities, when people ask whether I’m German:
- No, I’m French.
- But, how come you speak so well German?
- German was one of my mother tongues: I was born in a
place that is today in Ukraine…
- So, you are of Ukrainian origin?
- No, when I was born, this was Romania.
- Then, your origin is Romanian?
- No, at the time of my parents, this was Austria.
- Well, then you are of Austrian origin.
- Well, yes… and no: my origin is that of a simple
East-European Jew.
- So, you speak Yiddish?
- No, I speak German!
To make a long story short, I often confirm that I’m
of Austrian origin: my interlocutors would otherwise
need a lot of patience to listen to a lengthy
explanation. In fact, we spoke German at home and I
chose to study it as a foreign language at college. My
mother mastered perfectly German, which she also used
as a kid with her parents. The little Yiddish she
knew, she got it from my father: Yiddish was his
mother tongue and he only learned German as a
Personally, I certainly understand some Yiddish, but
I’m far from speaking it correctly. This leads
sometimes to funny consequences. Like in the
seventies, when I twice visited a friend living in
Israel at the time. He let me have his car, so I could
play the tourist:
One day, I stop at a service station to buy some
I ask the man “Englit (English)?” His answer is “Lo
So I say “Germanit”: again a “Lo”
Desperately, I try “Tsarfatit (French)?” and he utters
a third “Lo”, adding “Ivrit (Hebrew)?” It’s my turn to
give him a “Lo”
The man then takes his time for a closer look at me
and, bending his head over his shoulder, he asks
“Yiddish?” I cannot but say “Eeh… a bissele (a
We exchange a few sentences while he is filling the
tank. I pay and, as I am about to step back into the
car, he says with a bright smile “Ir red take Yiddish
wi a Goy (You really speak Yiddish like a non-Jew, a
Back in Paris, when I told this story to my parents,
they laughed for days.

Although he wasn’t Jewish, the writer Gregor von
Rezzori mastered perfectly Yiddish. In an interview of
July 1994, he explains that he never tried to learn a
foreign language methodically – he spoke fluently six
languages – because he was born in Bukovina, “a region
where people spoke pell-mell about six languages” A
bit further he adds that, like every gift of God, the
aptitude to language has also negative aspects: in
Malaysia, for example, they say that monkeys could
very well speak, but they prefer not to, because this
would complicate their life!
But, in my opinion, the best story about languages
appears in the dialog between Mordechai Schwarz and
Israel Schmecht, in the excellent movie “Le train de
vie” (train of life) directed by Radu Mihaileanu:
Mordechai Schwarz must absolutely improve his German
in order to be held for a nazi captain; Israel
Schmecht, who lives in Switzerland as a refugee after
the Anschluss of Austria, is a cousin of the Rabbi. He
tries to have Mordechai get a German accent by
repeating the words “Freundschaftliche Beziehung”, a
friendly relation.
- I don’t get it! Why is it so difficult? It resembles
so much to Yiddish; I understand everything!
- German is a rigid language, Mordechai, precise and
sad. Yiddish is a parody of German; it has humor in
addition. So, the only thing I’m asking of you in
order to perfectly speak German – and to lose this
Yiddish accent – is to take-out the humor! That’s all.
- Do the German know that we parody their language?
Maybe that’s the cause for the war!”

--- Czernowitz Genealogy and History digest
<> wrote:

> CZERNOWITZ-L Digest for Saturday, January 05, 2008.
> 1. [Cz-L] czernowitz language use
> Subject: [Cz-L] czernowitz language use
> From: "Rachel Cylus" <>
> Date: Sun, 6 Jan 2008 03:43:44 +0100
> X-Message-Number: 1
> Hi,
> I am Rachel Cylus, a student at the Johns Hopkins
> University in
> Baltimore, MD. I am writing my senior history
> thesis on language use in
> interwar Czernowitz. I am most interested in the
> spheres in which Yiddish
> or German were used. I am looking for any
> information about how language
> was effected by romanianization or by political and
> social interactions
> within the Jewish community. I have done quite a
> bit of secondary research,
> but would be eager to hear anything people have to
> say, especially personal
> stories or perspectives.
> Thanks,
> Rachel
> ---
This moderated discussion group is for information exchange on the subject of
Czernowitz and Sadagora Jewish History and Genealogy. Messages sent to the
 group are archived at <>. Please post in "Plain
 Text" if possible (help available at:

To remove your address from this e-list follow the directions at

To receive assistance for this e-list send an e-mail message to:
Received on 2008-01-06 14:50:25

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : 2008-10-17 22:48:13 PDT