A note about this lecture:

A note about this lecture:

It was given in 1994 in Jerusalem (in the French Research Centre) by Florence Heymann, French researcher, (CNRS: centre national de la recherche scientifique). At this time she was in contact with my father and so, she gave him this text.

The lecture was translated (French to English) by :

Victoria Barkoff, (Montréal-Québec-Canada) Jay Friedman ( Georgia-USA) Nathan Kravetz (California-USA) , Mickey Rostoker ( Regina - Canada)

Thanks a lot to the translators!

Mariette Gutherz


Flashes of Memory

From oral histories, we have tried to recreate what life was like for the Jewish community of Czernowitz in Bukovina. The oral histories of those who were born there, those who lived there and those who one day departed from there.

As a certain number of these voices have fallen silent since I began gathering their histories, I am all the happier to be able to present some of them to you tonight. With regard to those who are now silent, it is incumbent upon me, more than ever, to carry out the task that they themselves espoused during their lifetime, that of handing down their experience to us. This is because Jewish tradition teaches us that to not hand down experience is to betray it. i shall therefore endeavor to explain what Nicole Lapierre calls "the presence of absence, the eloquence of silence".

In the late 1970s, a team of researchers at the National Center For Scientific Research, working on a project entitled the Oral History of Jews In France, started gathering the remembrances of Jews born almost everywhere in the world but then living in France. Although my Czernowitz project was a bit different, because the French aspect wasn't central to it, it nonetheless found a place in this group. It became a part of the group because of a problem common to all of us:  "the society you used to be a part of no longer exists, it died out without leaving any records, or else the records are not accessible; you are therefore the only source of information on an important period. Tell us everything".

Each of the individual stories thus gathered seemed to us to be an example. Examples they were, of the difficult task of remembering. The task of remembering and working at remembering. Remembrances were thus placed at the intersection of individual and group destinies. Each of them, in telling his or her own story, led their life according to social and historic determinants. Each of them, retracing the profile of his or her existence, used the words, the sounds and the values of the culture he or she once belonged to. Each of them, speaking about him or herself, spoke about "us".

Methodology: History, Oral History, Anthropology

These conversations were assembled according neither to the logic of historians nor the logic of ethnologists.

The historian has a reference point and sorts out his information according to an initial question. What he expects from facts, once a number of them become apparent, is that they answer the same question. Ethnologists observe. They reveal the social practices that make sense in the society which produces them. Because culture, which is a symbolic construction of the collective experience, is a major condition for existence and for reproduction of the social mass.

Both of these approaches, that of the historian and that of the ethnologist, has objectivity and completeness as a goal. Our work adopts a middle ground: research carried out by listening to stories.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Essay on the Origin of Languages presented a modern view of the concept of identity: "If you wish to study men, look around you. But to study man, you must take the longer view; you must first observe differences in order to discover basic properties."

Taking the longer view, we cannot explore the issue of Jewish identity without looking to the past.

In Difficile Liberté, Emmanuel Lévinas wrote: "If we question ourselves about our Jewish identity, we have already lost it; but we still are trying to hold onto it, or we would stop questioning. The Judaism of western Jews walks a fine line between this 'already' and this 'still'."

Why Czernowitz?

There are two answers to this question; one is personal and the other relates to scientific justification.

Several years ago, when I was working on my doctoral thesis in historical anthropology, under Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, I had to choose an "area". I knew that in order to motivate me properly, this "area" would have to be at the same time "exotic" and " familiar". So I decided to work on the Jewish community in an Eastern European city where part of my family had its roots. This pretext turned out to be reassuring to many with whom I discussed the project: "Oh! Your family comes from Czernowitz! That explains why you're interested in it." Scientific justifications, methodological explanations, and institutional standards like those of the CNRS all paled in comparison with the clear possibility that I was researching my own identity. As Nicloe Lapierre says, "the research of one's origins and the origins of research are interconnected."

The scientific justification was far from negligible. Czernowitz was the capital of Bukovina, a Moldavian province in the southern Carpathians, a geographical crossroads between Russia, Romania and Poland. Czernowitz was also a cultural crossroads. It was a meeting place, a place of symbiosis and the flourishing of every aspect of Jewish culture, on the one hand and Austro-Hungarian culture on the other.

At a time when Western Europe is attempting to merge in a unifying structure from which Eastern Europe is dislocated, when once again there are bloody nationalistic conflicts, it is quite natural that we should feel drawn to such a place.

Czernowitz represents the meeting of the two Europes, Western and Eastern. A geographical, cultural and ethnic crossroads, the city was also a religious crossroads, even within Judaism. Czernowitz combined various forms, while tempering Russo-Galician extremist religious influences with German assimilationism. It occupied an intermediary position, a bit of the West in the East.

Nicknamed "the Vienna of the East", or "Little Vienna", Czernowitz was a German-speaking Jewish city, as Israel Chalfen defines it in his book Paul Celan :Biographie de jeunesse.

Paul Antschel-Celan was born in Czernowitz in 1920. He grew up there. He was deported to Transnistria with his parents who were killed there. After two years of forced labour, he immigrated to France in 1947, after a stay in Bucharest and then Vienna, settled in Paris, married Gisèle de Lestrange, had two sons and committed suicide in 1970 by throwing himself into the Seine. He was one of the greatest poets writing in German in the 20th century. Here is what he said in his acceptance speech for the Bremen Literary Prize in 1958:

"The country from which I have come to you is surely unknown to most of you. It was a region of men and books, an ancient province of the Hapsburg Empire, a place that has since disappeared from History."

Finally, this is how an editor of Die Stimme, a newspaper for expatriate Bukovinians in Haifa, summed it up in 1963:

"If God was planning a new deluge and was looking for a second Noah to preserve the old European traditions, whom would he choose?

A Frenchman? A German? An Englishman?

They could only tell part of the story.

No, God would choose a native of Czernowitz!"

A Few Words on "Pre-History"

The origin of Jewish immigration to Bukovina dates back to the exile which followed the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC. From then on, in every period of history, there is evidence of a Jewish presence in Moldavia. From a nucleus of a single "resident", immigrants arrived in successive waves, some fleeing the government of their country, some invited by the Boyars.

Two principal streams of immigration are dominant: from the West, that is Spain Germany, Hungary and Poland; and from the East, that is Bulgaria and Turkey.

Moldavia constituted an important commercial axis between Poland- Lithuania at one end and the Ottoman Empire at the other. Initially, the Jews settled in the towns and nearby areas. Afterwards, they swarmed into the countryside.

Austria-Hungary: The Hapsburg Empire

Along with Transylvania, Bukovina is typical of the lands of Central Europe that were for many centuries bitterly disputed among nations who were all equally convinced that they had an exclusive right to them. In 1774, Bukovina was annexed by Austria, at a time when the Monarchy was going through a period of enlightened absolutism and a centralization of its administration. After a period of military administration from 1774 to 1786, Bukovina was incorporated into Galicia. In 1849, Bukovina finally became autonomous with the title of Duchy. The golden age of Bukovina's Jews began with the complete emancipation of the Jews of the Hapsburg Empire in 1848. Most notably, the authorities encouraged the emigration of the Jewish poor of Galicia to Bukovina.

From 1918 to 1945 the province became Romanian. Romania, which entered World War I at a late stage, August 27, 1916, and yet afterwards twice changed sides between the Allies and the Central Powers, obtained Banat, Transylvania and Bukovina by means of a treaty with the Allies. In 1940, the USSR "suggested" that the Romanian government cede to it northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. Romania complied. On August 2, 1940 the Supreme Soviet decreed the annexation of Bukovina to Soviet Ukraine. In 1945, it was permanently integrated to the Ukraine. Thus, the multiple names of the city which illustrate its diverse fortunes: Czernowitz (Austria), Cernauti (Romania), Chernivtsy (Ukraine).

Romania Between The Wars

During the inter-war period that we are dealing with, because it is most directly accessible to individual memories, the city of Czernowitz was Romanian. Of 110,000 inhabitants, 50,000 were Jews.

In the city, one heard German spoken, the German of Bukovina, Bukowinerisch; a German spoken with an Austrian non-chalance, a Slavic intensity and filled with Yiddish words and turns of phrase. Our informants were delighted by its fracturing of regular German syntax and its expressions, which in fact came from Yiddish. "In Czernowitz , there are expressions like 'isst mir nicht'...don't eat me, 'sie ist mir krank'...which does not mean she is not sick, it means she is getting sick because she wants me to do something. It's Czernowitzian jargon..., “if you don't do this or that, I'll go out on the balcony and catch a cold." Erica tells us that even today, from this kind of expression, with a single word she would immediately recognize a Czernowitzian.

The Romanian authorities hardly showed any readiness to respect the rights of national minorities, "cohabiting nationalities" as they had to be called from 1945 according to a directive of the regime. The same authorities were very anxious, in fact, to quickly transform Bukovina into a province of "reunited" Romania. They started by removing Jews from all the important positions they were able to attain during the Austrian occupation. Even their legal status was threatened, as the authorities attempted to denaturalize 40,000 Bukovinian Jews on the pretext that they were refugees who had recently arrived in the country.

Assimilation into the Romanian national culture was not a real prospect for Bukovinian Jews, as it was not for the Ukrainian culture either. It was in this context that three great movements developed which attempted to resolve the "Jewish problem": Zionism, Territorialism (Territorialists sought to gain Jewish autonomy and recognition of Yiddish in the countries of the Diaspora.) and, finally, Socialism.

A Vienna Waltz

How did memory work? In a rhythm of three-four time? A waltz rhythm, no doubt a Vienna waltz. In the first place, memory separates past and present. The past itself is divided into "periods", between which a decision is formed, frequently unknowingly, to be an "other". The past, thus, was a compound past, comprising a simple past, life in the city, and a complex "more-than-perfect" idealized past. A spatial idealized past whose space was the shtetl, and a temporal idealized past whose time was the "blessed" time under the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This more-than-perfect, idealized past, this waltz in three-four time, profoundly molded the simple past, which I am trying to bring forth from the present, whether it be a present from our conversations in Paris, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or London.

The Myth Of The Shtetl

In these stories, the nostalgia of childhood is intermingled with another nostalgia, the nostalgia for the world of the shtetl. For my informants, it's a twice-lost world: lost in the first instance when the family emigrated to the city, and secondly when, in effect, it vanished forever in their minds.

Memory receives at one and the same time the imprint of an "origin-myth" story and the imprint of its completion, of its tragic conclusion. The imprint of a "world" in its totality, in its completeness was expressed in the title of a a French ethnographic work, Olam, (“World” in Hebrew) by Mark Sborowski and Elizabeth Herzog, whose original English title was Life With People when published in New York in 1952.

The shtetl, in the majority of the stories, is presented as a place that is somewhat sublimated by a "unified" Judaism: unified by community life, by food, by language. A place where one lives with oneself and among ourselves.

This is how David tells it: "There was practically the same daily menu in every family; that is, what everyone ate Sunday, Monday, etc., and especially Shabat, it was always the same thing. Shabat eve, for example, to begin with there was fish, soup and then traditional chicken, then tzimmes, carrots. At the end there was always peanuts; or else, in certain houses, beans, sometimes with sugar, sometimes without. In Czernowitz, I knew less and less what was going on in other families. Everybody eating the same thing every day, that was in the village."

In the shtetl, the community is Klal ?? Kal ?? Israel, that is the whole of the Jewish people united in its responsibility toward the Torah. In the shtetl, one lives in the world of Halakha, The Law.

There is a homogeneity between the words of daily life and the words of study, and an incessant coming and going back and forth between the two. Let me remind you that there is only one Hebrew word, davar to signify "word" and "thing".

The universe of the shtetl is a spatio-temporal continuum: from the deepest antiquity into the future there is no break in Tradition. And here we are really talking about the discipline of tradition and not about mere custom. Custom is the expression of a collectivity that is necessarily territorialized, since most often its space does not go beyond the boundaries of the village. Here, on the other hand, the uniformity of Jewish Tradition extends to the entire Eastern European Jewish world. Thus, a visitor from a faraway place would find everywhere else, including Bukovina, the same food, language and rituals.

According to the testimonies that I was able to gather, no one spoke or was said to speak, anything but Yiddish. The December 1930 Romanian census found Yiddish was the mother tongue of 80% of Bukovina Jews (compared with 97% in Bessarabia, 63% in Transylvania and 50% in Regat). Karl's father did not begin learning German or reading Latin script until he left Kolomea, his village.

The use of Hebrew, the lashon hakodesh (translator's note: holy language), reserved for the liturgical realm, is bound up with respect. Aron told us about it: "As for Hebrew, the lashon hakodesh, there were a lot of people, like the Naturei Karta today, who thought it was a sacred language, that it should not be profaned by speaking it every day. My grandfather, who knew Ukrainian, didn't speak Ukrainian on Shabat day. He, of course, spoke Yiddish. The lashon hakodesh, he didn't speak, but he wrote it. Certain people used it to write letters on very learned subjects in a very flowery style. For secular letters, they wrote in Yiddish with expressions in the lashon hakodesh."

The Myth of The Good Old Days in The Austro-Hungarian Empire

The second pillar of identity was Austria, which constituted the primary cultural reference of the Jews of Czernowitz, and through it, German culture in general. For all those whom we met, German was, without question, their mother tongue. Whenever they referred to a place name they used the German, not the Romanian, version of the name. Three daily newspapers and several monthly publications were managed by Jews and published in German, such as the Czernowitzer Allgemeine Seitung and the Czernowitzer Morgenblatt. Even Zionists, who advocated education in Hebrew and a return to Palestine, spoke German in their congresses and published their newspapers in German, such as the Ostjudishce Zeitung "The Journal Of Eastern Jews", Die Volkswehr and the Bukowiner Volksblatt. Even the town policemen spoke a slightly altered German, although most were ethnic Ukrainians.

When adults learned Romanian, it seems they limited themselves to just enough to get by in daily life. Romanian was, of course, compulsory at school, but it was rare for it to become something personal.

This is what Rita remembers: "There was a refusal to speak Romanian. You noticed it even among children, in my house too. For me, Romanian existed between eight o'clock in the morning and one o'clock in the afternoon. Enough time to do my homework and then I would forget it until the next day."

And David: "I knew how to write Romanian very well. I understood everything that I read, but I never was a very brilliant speaker. Romanian wasn't really part of our life. Six or seven years ago, I met a gentleman from Bucharest who started speaking to me in Romanian. I understood everything, but I didn't succeed in getting out a single word.”

And Joseph: "I have the impression that I have forgotten practically everything about that language."

The "good old days", the "blessed time", that's what the Austro- Hungarian Empire was. Idealized of course, as the shtetl had been, they said it was a period of calm, of rights and liberties. They actively supported it, either by praying, like the old man in the photo praying for the victory of the Central Powers, or by enlisting in the Austrian Army, like these young Czernowitz Jews.

Abraham said, "The Austrians were trying to get Jews to enter "German" for nationality on their official documents to reinforce the German element in Bukovina. Ah, those were the good old days at the turn of the century."

Simone also: "Under Franz-Joseph, Jews could attain very high positions. There was no overt discrimination."

And one must recognize that during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, living conditions of Jews in Bukovina were very good. The cultural level was rather high and, overall, their standard of living was satisfactory. Mostly involved in commerce, they kept up relations with Russian Bessarabia, Romanian Moldavia and Hungarian Transylvania. Their businesses dealt mainly with cattle and agricultural products. Many Jews were able to acquire property while others rented (in 1910 almost one-third of the territory of Bukovina belonged to Jews).

In addition, by dealing in timber, oil and sprits, they contributed, a great deal toward the development of local industry. They ran breweries and mills as well as being involved in the production of sugar.

They also attained mid-level positions in administration and the liberal professions. To illustrate this remark, I'll cite two figures: in 1914 of 273 doctors in Bukovina, 114 were Jews; equally, 114 lawyers of a total of 225 were Jews.

Emmanuel's grandfather, father and his father's brothers were all merchants. Rouja's maternal grandfather owned a timber firm.

As did Rita's father: "In the beginning, my father was a timber dealer; then he had two sawmills, always in Bukovina. Then, when that industry was no longer doing well, he became an exporter of timber to Holland, Belgium and Germany".

Sigfried's father "was a currency changer in the market place... He placed himself there with a little table, and he changed money for peasants who had rubles. He was called Simon T.”

Erna's father was a building contractor.

As for Joseph's grandfather: "he had left the country at the end of the 19th century, which was a big deal in those days. He had been in South America and in Argentina in order to do some importing. This was before the First World War. And then when he came to settle in Czernowitz, with two partners, he set up a business which dealt in colonial products and food. He had an office and a warehouse. He sold to retailers. He sold olives which came from Greece, coriander, pepper; that is to say spices and stuff like that".

Frederica's grandfather, father and uncles were flour millers. Most mill owners were Jewish. Grain at every stage in its production, which had a lot to do with the community. Making flour was a Jewish activity, but making bread was also. Basements in the Jewish neighborhood seem to have sheltered a large number of bakeries where the bakers, big fellows in white pants covered in flour, with felt caps on their heads, made up a kind of "Jewish Defense" corps, according to Gregor von Reszzori.

Yitzak Nussenbaum (alias Ben-Aharon, who was general secretary of the Histadrut) reports: "My father had an inn at the edge of the town. Thursday was market day: the Modavians and the Ukrainians brought their goods and then came to drink. We served them but we diluted the brandy from 90% to make it 50-60% at most; my father, for the kiddush, took only the 90% brandy without a drop of water; it would have been forbidden to make the blessing on the water, but we only gave the gentiles 60%. I was the specialist of the percentage of alcohol."

Actually, the dominance of the German culture and the almost exclusive use of that language are the result of a process of coerced Germanization which lasted from 1781 to 1820. It is true that German appeared to be the language that assured the future of the children and provided an opportunity for upward social mobility. It is almost the centre of a creed. Moreover, it becomes the universal European voice. Besides, traditional Jews used the name "German" to indicate the apostates (that is to say, those who, having their own motives, denied their attachment to the Torah) or those "who imitate the ways of life of non-Jews".

Briefly, let us indicate the main stages in the process of Germanization: in 1781, the Jews of the Empire are required to establish special German-Jewish schools where the teaching is presented only in German. In these schools, the children may arrive after the prayer of shaharit and may leave before the minha. They may also keep their heads covered during class hours. The maskilim, the enlightened ones, for whom the acquisition of a German-language culture opens the doors of European society, greet these opportunities enthusiastically. The religious ones, the hassidim as well as the mitnagdim, judge them negatively. They see there the door opened to a shameful assimilation. The battle between the religious ones and the enlightened ones takes on in Czernowitz an extremely serious character. Rabbi Chaim Czernowitzer( also known as Rabbi Haim ben Shlomo Tyrer, pupil of rabbi Levy Itzhak of Berditchev) takes an active part in it. When the hostility became too violent, he left the town in 1807, despondent over the situation that had developed there.

The closing of the German-Jewish schools, 20 years after they opened, actually represented a concession to the Catholic Church with which Frances II had made an agreement in 1805, yielding the control of education to the clergy.

Another act: an imperial decree in 1786 ordered that every Jew in the empire who wished to obtain a marriage license must have an elementary school certificate in German.

A new stage: the laws about names were established in a decision of centralized administration and of the State’s social control. Joseph II, through an order of 1787, required the Jews to take a German family name and first name.

An alphabetical list of authorized names was published. The names chosen must be submitted to the authorities for approval. The latter undertook to impose names that were ridiculous or scandalous such as Wohlgeruch (good smell) Geldschrank (safe or strongbox), Pulverbestandteil (made of powder), Taschengreifer (pick-pocket) and others. It then was necessary for those named to bribe these officials in order to obtain a name less difficult to bear.

Other laws also concerned individuals and communities. In 1806, a law required that every elected official in a community organization, therefore the rabbis, must understand German. Jewish business people were also required to keep their accounts in German.

In 1810, to obtain a marriage license required that proof be presented of knowledge of morality and of the Jewish religion in German. The book used for this learning is Herz Homberg’s Bnai Zion, a "catechism" edited in German, and published anonymously at first, given the hostility to which the author was exposed by the religious. Herz Homberg was actually a leader of the Haskalah movement; he led a veritable "crusade" in favor of assimilation, and he had been the director of the German-Jewish schools. Another decree of 1820 required that synagogue services be conducted in German.

Here we have in brief, the stages of the process which brought the Jews to identify deeply, like it or not, with the German language. They were on the brink of realizing, as cited by Hagege, the prophecy attributed to Heine: that the Jews and the Germans were on the way to building together a kind of Palestine of the Mind.

To complete the circle, much later, the Nazi regime, in the totally tragic form that we know, would in fact de-Germanize that part of Europe.

With this de-Germanizing, deeply suicidal, as Hagege puts it, "The most international face was dissolved into nothingness, the face which spoke in German of the Universal values and which has not been replaced by anything today, on the contrary in this continent it is benumbed with acute chauvinisms".

Czernowitz: the City

The city still retains certain characteristics of the shtetl. In a certain way people continue to live in their homes for themselves.

"My mother was nostalgic for our shtetl. She had never considered it as a shtetl, for her it was a city".

"For you was it a city or a shtetl?" I asked Paul.

"Today, when I think about it, it had many aspects of a shtetl, but it certainly aspired to be a city. When I say this today, there are people who consider me a snob, but even so things seemed to me a bit provincial".

The passage, real or imagined, from shtetl to city is not expressed in our interviews as a sharp break. What is played out here is not the sense of belonging to a land, to a territory. It is rather the sense of circumstance, the sense of history.

The city stands on a hill with a downward slope toward the Pruth River valley. When one comes to it from the east, one sees spread out the iron roofs of the houses and the walls of the residence of the Metropolitan, built in a Moorish style.

Toward the south and the west, a gentle slope descends towards the vast plain. Finally, to the north, a chain of hills ends in a forest. A steep road leads from the Pruth Valley to the city, and the shouts of the coachmen whipping their horses represent one of the city’s characteristics. Another is its tramway. Opened in 1894, its wagons are painted red and are decorated with the emblem of the city, Good Shepherd, written in a blue shield. The line rises on a straight slope from the station near the Pruth up to the Ringplatz. From there it goes on to the administration buildings and the officers' Casino opposite the public garden. The terminal goes to the sport fields, including that of the Maccabees, which adjoin the muddy ground of a cavalry barracks.

The slope is, according to the witnesses the steepest that can be climbed without safety cogged wheels. The carriages date from the Austrian period and the new Romanian administration has never, it seems, fully repaired them. It therefore once happened that a completely loaded carriage lost it brakes and rolled down the slope to create a bloody chaos among the coaches, the cattle carts, the Galician merchants, the Ruthenian peasants, the Jews, the Swabians and the Gypsies.

As you should understand, its cosmopolitanism is the third characteristic of the city, as Von Rezzori puts it.

"A dozen of the most diverse nationalities jostle each other and a good half-dozen of religions, fiercely hostile to one another, live in a snarling agreement born of a mutual hatred and of common commercial relations".

And we will find this mixture in every one of our interviews, even if the numbers of the religions and nationalities is not always strictly counted and with different valuations.

Cilly speaks of "five minorities which share the city, including the Jews. Of course, those are the ones I especially know. There were Romanians, Poles, Ukrainians and Ruthenians, who are a kind of Ukrainians?"

Sonia recalls "what was characteristic and unique was that, in a city which was not very large, there lived peacefully and very harmoniously—seen with my eyes today —Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Russians, Romanians, Austrians, Jews and Lithuanian refugees. There were even Turks, and I had an Armenian uncle."

From 1919, the Jews made up, however, the major nationality (47.7% of the total population). And it is this Jewish community, despite its extreme diversity, which asserted its pattern and its rhythm on daily life.

The city did not include a ghetto, in the legal and constructive sense of the term (it did have one during the war from October 1941). The distribution of Jewish families formed a topography of social segments. The poorest and the ordinary middle classes were installed in what was called the "Jewish quarter" to the east near the railroad station, between the Banhofstrasse, the Springbrunnengasse, the Synagogengasse, the Altplatz (which would later become Theodor Herzplatz).

Rita described for us: "The Jewish community was in its greatest concentration around the Judengasse, (Jew Street) with small craftsmen, very poor Jews, many without a livelihood, with eight or ten children. Living in very simple terrible houses. I used to go there with my grandmother because the Jewish hospital was there and the poor Jews were there.”

The better-off people were scattered in the middle-class neighbourhoods, the section of villas and they socialized with the "others", "non-Jews", according to their different social networks.

While the Shtetl might have seemed like an enclosure, placing the Jewish world in the center as the boundaries of the universe, the city was an open world bursting, especially in the relations undertaken with non-Jews, in the aspects of work, of school, or even in the family group of guests and servants.

This openness was not, however, for everyone: Orthodox groups maintained the values of the shetl in the city: their children continued to attend heder; in their dress, they rejected western clothing.

And here is how a district commissioner described the hassidim of Czernowitz in a report to the governor:

You recognize such a Jew very easily. He walks with a wild beard, with side curls and is usually very dirty and carelessly dressed. The ordinary Jews belong to this sect. They do not belong to a profession and generally carry out the work of innkeepers, swindlers or cheats, since they have the firm conviction that God will help and provide for them, even if they do nothing."

Relations with non-Jews

But what actually were the relations of Jews with non-Jews? As to ethnic liberalism, we found that these relations were almost non-existent or rigidly structured. The relationship that Frederika had with a shepherd’s son, for example, did not take place either in the home of the one or the other, but on "neutral territory" in the street.

For Rika's parents, one could not enter the apartments of non-Jews, that would be inconceivable. Her father, on dealing with them in the context of professional relations, met them in his office, but not at his home.

Sally also told us that there were "no meetings" between Jews and non-Jews. “I never had a real friendly contact with a non-Jew before I came to France. My parents met with two-non-Jewish Romanian families, both because of commercial reasons for my father"; and Erna added: "I had three very good girlfriends in school who were not Jews. But when they came to my house, mother was not pleased… You don't have enough Jewish friends? Why do you bring home a Christian?"

When there were relationships, they were also spoiled by prejudice. Rita reports: "Sometimes, my parents went to the home of this Romanian family. Semaca; very educated people, practically our neighbours, who had a little house quite near to ours. My mother would say to me in German: ‘How I hate to go to these goys!’ Although they were very nice people, she did not feel comfortable. She was afraid of not behaving as they wanted. Whereas my father, because of his business, had a very easy contact with non-Jews. But it never occurred to him that one could make friends with them."

The "others", non-Jews, who were in the reports, were for the more comfortable families, the nurses, servants and housekeepers. These three categories had one function in common. It was their task to transmit and maintain the ties between the generations. The existence of the maid, the nurse or the servant shows the social hierarchy and symbolizes its consistency.

They were attached to the families that employed them by an almost feudal tie. In Frederika's family, they could marry servants.

Their role in the education of the young middle class was enormous. As a partial substitute for the distant and mysterious mother, the servant interrupted, as Alain Corbin said, the beautiful harmony of the oedipal triangle.

Arthur Schnitzler spoke of Vienna, but the image is also proper for Czernowitz: "The young sons of high society traveled in this sexual world whose feminine geography is marked by a sacred boundary formed by mothers, sisters, cousins and all potential wives, inaccessible before the achievement of an " appropriate social position" and by the boundary of sin and intermediate type of pretty, common girls, more liberated than the young bourgeois girls without having fallen into prostitution, and who from time to time, arrive in the suburbs."

When Frederika speaks of the servants, she refers to a female staff. But strangely, since she is perfectly at home in French, she speaks suddenly in the masculine gender. "We paid attention to them; we noticed them when they went out." This confusion about gender is perhaps not by chance. Actually, it was the servants who, the evidence shows, brought sex into the family arena, either imaginary or actual. Abi tells us: "I remember three or ?? four maids whom we had, including the last one, when I was already an adolescent, because I believe that it was the first time that I had relations with one; I considered the others as being old."

To see the maid living in daily family life brings the revelation of the other, allows us to determine the social divisions, to detect the numerous strands of socialization.

Some of these servants remained etched in memories as individuals, others became variable figures in fluctuating domesticity.

In the reports, we find two main representations of the servant: that of carnal incitement, as in the example I have just cited, and the abandonment of the body, as in the report about Frederika's nurse.

Frederika was partially, brought up by a nurse. Her mother, who, she said, "believed she had breast abscesses, but I believe it was rather an esthetic matter, did not nurse her children.” The story of the nurse recalls that of Felicite of a Simple Heart by Flaubert. It is a tragic story. She came from the suburbs of Vienna. To earn her living, she had to separate from her child. "She was engaged and her fiancé had gone to war. She had had a child. Her fiancé was killed and the child remained with her fiancé's mother." When she finally found her child again, already a young man, after Hitler came to power, he was killed several years later in the Russian campaign.

Housekeepers seemed to take, in the city, a special role, that of spreading the “Czernowitz gossip".

Pauline remembers: "In this city all those who did not use the public road were arbitrarily analyzed in the streets, thanks to housekeepers who were often Ukrainians."

Sonia also: "After the deliverymen went by, when something happened in the city, toward noon, they had at least three versions, that of the woman of the house, of the housekeeper, and of the deliveryman. This was a kind of Arab telephone system. In Romania, they called this "Radio-Schanze" ( Schanze which means "Trench" in German). It was the main activity of the housekeepers to spread rumours."

These are the peasant women who came to sell vegetables, eggs and fowl, whether at the big Monday and Thursday markets, also on traditional market days in Czernowitz, and who stayed on the square of the theater near the synagogue, or came directly to the houses, with their horse-drawn wagons. They could be seen from afar by their white kerchiefs. They went from house to house to deliver their goods. And it is there that they transmitted the latest news to the housekeepers.

Finally, there was one more category of "non-Jews" in the reports: the Romanians. The Romanian peasants are often presented in the interviews as somewhat mythical beings. "When we traveled, in the distance we would see several shepherds". And other kinds of bucolic recollections. In the mind of my interviewees, there are “true” Romanians and " false" Romanians, the "true" ones having only arrived after 1918. There were no "true" Romanians, but they lived, it seems, in the "true" villages.

If one or the other did not grant authenticity to these people, it is perhaps because the latter distinguished themselves from their brethren of the "Old kingdom", for the Romanians of Bukowina were also greatly influenced by the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and disassociated themselves from their compatriots of the Old Kingdom; they became Bukowiners, not Regatlers.

Here is a report of a Romanian of Bukowina (married to a Jewish man), telling of the entry of the Romanian army into Czernowitz on 11 November 1918:

"I had an aunt who was very Romanian. When the Romanian army came in, it was the soldiers who came first. It was something fearful, it seems, in contrast with the Austro-Hungarian army. The Romanians came out on the main street with bouquets of flowers. One of my aunts, the daughter of an orthodox priest, stood stiffly. A soldier came over to her and pinched her behind. She was scandalized. She looked for an officer. She said to him: ‘Sir, one of your soldiers pinched me.’ She didn’t even dare to tell him the place where she had been pinched. He said something to her in untranslatable French, to send her back to her mother to return the place from which she had come. I mention this to you so that you would realize that it didn't take long for the Romanians of Bukowina to feel themselves a separate nation. The mistrust of the Bukowiners toward the Regatlers went so far as to forbid "mixed marriages".

"I remember the day when my father asked a Bukowiner who lived in Bucharest: You married a woman from Bucharest? Do you take me for a [untranslatable]? I am not crazy, but no, my wife, like me, is originally from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I would not marry a Gypsy."

These several anecdotes should suggest to you that the colonization process established by the Romanian authorities, like the ideology of power, had no real impact on the native population. On the individual level, the Romanians were often considered by the Jews as representing the sub-culture.

Homo Bucovinensis or the dialectic of tradition versus rejection of tradition.

Let's return to the Jews, to Homo Bucovinensis —( this term is frequently used in the Austro-German literature to depict a cultured and tolerant man)— and the dialectic of tradition versus rejection of tradition.

Demographic growth, the development of industrial activity and urbanization, modified the socio-economic fabric of society, from the first half of the 19th century onwards. This led our Czernowitz Jews into transformations which affected our neighbouring societies.

How does this "before and after" the transformation pertain to the stories of daily life? It does so with regards to the concepts of tradition. Tradition is defined as that which is handed down from the past to the present, where it is transmitted. How? Orally of course. And what is transmitted? That which within the group is deemed to be convenient to know and do; that is, in general terms, what constitutes culture.

In fact, all culture is traditional, even if it considers itself new; even if it breaks with a past up until now upheld. This is because its main assumption is to perpetuate itself, therefore becoming a tradition.

Traditions are often subconscious or at least implicit, which means we are more easily aware of the traditions of others than we are of our own.

"The process of emancipation(...) is interpreted in terms of ideological differences between points of view; between the traditional world and the modern world " (Bahloul J., 1992 p.469).

In a spread out world longing for modernity and social ascendancy, all the cultural varieties and degrees are represented in Czernowitz; from language and clothing, to that of cooking.

Not eating kosher is very common. The eating of pork signifies a symbolic point of no return vis-a-vis tradition. In this way, an internal and external assertion is made. Erna's comment is typical: "One day I came and said I wanted to buy some ham. So I was told ‘No you're not allowed.’ So I said ‘What? Why?’ ‘If you really want to eat it, you will, but on a piece of paper.’ Even so, at our house it was kosher."

The differences in opinion vis-a-vis religion were often seen as a struggle between light and darkness. Rouija's father is described as a shrewd and cultured man who is always on the side of justice. On the other hand, she has this to say about her mother: "We soon saw the religious over-zealousness, the bad side of things". At Cilly's place, the parental roles were the same. "My mother was a strong believer and my father was an atheist. There were frequent clashes over this, because my mother wanted him to go to the temple during the high holidays and he didn't want to. My father was one of the few who displayed his atheism in such a frank manner. It was already customary in those days to say that one didn't practice one's religion by faith, but by tradition."

Izhak Ben Aharon, explains his distancing from faith and tradition by way of a painful experience, this time linked to his mother: "My mother was ill and bedridden. I was 10 or 11 years old, and no doubt unruly. I wasn't often allowed to go into her room. However, one day I went in. She asked me to get a box which was under the bed. Inside there was a braid of blond hair. ‘You see, they (she meant the Orthodox Jews) did this to me. My mother wore a sheitl, a wig. They did this to me when I was 17; when I married your father and I had to show him my shaved head!’ She died in 1918. I was 12 years old. At the burial, at the moment of the kaddish and prayers, I started sobbing because I had to say ‘barouh dayan ha emet’ (blessed is the judge of truth) to the one who took my mother away."

The weight of social conventions strongly colors Judaism in the city. Even those who dealt with the practice and fuss of overzealousness went to the synagogue for Yom Kippur. "Otherwise we would not have understood," said Sally. "In Czernowitz, everyone went to the temple; absolutely everyone. I remember, around 13-14 years of age, I started to rebel against this because I said: We go to the temple to show off our clothes," said Erna.

But those who pray have their rich and poor. "Dad and Mom had their place in the city's big synagogue (compared to the one in Paris, on Victory Street," reveals Joseph. This temple had been constructed in 1877 by the maskilim, the enlightened progressives, who tended to stay away from the quarrels between the Hassidim and mitriagdim. It was a luxurious building, where the prayers were accompanied by a choir and a cantor, and where the sermons reflected a modern spirit. But, contrary to the liberals of Western Europe, the content and order of the prayers was never modified. The grand temple, with its architecture, was a bit eclectic. There were interior ornaments and an impressive chandelier. Our synagogue, however, was very dark. The walls were whitewashed and we prayed leaning against a stander.

In those days, the more humble folk went to one of the many small schuls near their houses. They were mostly Hassidic. Unfortunately, I can't go into more detail at this point about the importance of the Hassidim in the city and the region, as this could be the theme of another lecture. I would like only to point out, in a couple of words, that Bukovina harboured famous Hassidic schools, with the Friedmann dynasty in Sadagura and that of the Hager family in Wishnitz. Between WWI and WWII, there were about 25,000 Hassidim in the region.

To the mosaic of the ethnicities and the religious currents, there is an abyss which separates the corresponding mirror image: a mosaic of subgroups composed of atheists and militants of various cultural and political movements. These movements have their schools, their libraries, their youth groups, their sports associations and they build vast networks of social connections. The meetings take place in cafes (such as the Europe and the Black Eagle), in hotel hallways and in three buildings: the Jewish house, Toynbee Hall (where the Zionist associations meet), and the Morgenroit, which houses the Yiddish activities. Incidentally, one should remember that in 1908, a conference on Yiddish was held in Czernowitz, thus establishing Yiddish as the national language of the Jewish people.

Czernowitz is a very Zionist city. We should point out that it is a native son of Czernowitz, Nathan Birnbaum, who uses the word Zionism for the first time in public, during his political acceptance speech at a reunion-debate which took place in Vienna, January 23, 1892.

For Rivka, Zionism is a basic given: "When I was 5 years old, they signed me up for playschool, where the teacher spoke Hebrew with the kids. Miss Shikler had learned modern Hebrew as well as could be expected. She taught us songs. Because of Zionism, I spent two years speaking a bit of Hebrew".

Emmanuel, Rouja, Siegfried and others frequented Zionist pre-school associations, like the Davidia (related to the Hasmonea), the Labanonia (under the aegis of the Hebronia), the Heatid and its offshhot Tsukumpft, and Herzlia (related to Emunah).

The adults attended cultural events, like those of the Hebrew club in the central hotel, or went to meetings of the movements: There was what was called the ken, the nest. People went and practiced their Hebrew and did their sihot, that is to say, gave short talks on current events such as the situation in Palestine and our relations with the Arabs.

The Zionist leaders all passed through Czernowitz. Nahum Sokolov in December 1924 and Chaim Weizmann in 1927.

Ben Aharon was at that time one of the leaders of Hachomer Hatsair. All of the militant Zionists of Bukovina and those of the surrounding countries (more than 10,000) were assembled there to greet the one who the police at the time were calling "the king of the Jews". Ben Aharon arrived on the scene with his colleagues and had to improvise a speech. "He speaks in Hebrew, he remembers. ‘We are pioneers; we are getting ready for the alya. Move over a bit and we'll break down the doors of the country.’ Weizmann got up, gave me a hug, turned to the crowd and said, in Yiddish German this time: ‘with men of this caliber, we shall triumph’. Shouts, applause. At that time, I was supposed to begin my military service in the Romanian army. That was a tragedy. The next day, Weizmann summoned me to his hotel, the Schwarzter Adler. ‘The country needs pioneers. Come.’ Those are the circumstances under which I left Czernowitz.”

Many other ideological options were represented, and I mention them in passing. For a while, Frederika, Joseph and Yetti backed the ideas of the Russian Revolution and communism; others Trotskyism and still others Bundism.

Let's review another topic. Remember that Jewish history is not based on a linear time line but on a succession of pivotal elements, the toledot. This is how the seasonal cycle of rituals, festivals and life works: a time to be born, rites of passage, and the irreversible evolution of the individual towards death.

Each individual thus changes his status several times during his life. The purpose of rites is to mark these transitions. All the stories have mentioned this and have revealed the role each plays: brit mila, bar mitzvah and marriage.

The brit mila is the outstanding symbol of the "alliance of Abraham", whereby the male child joins the community of Israel. It always takes place, even under the most difficult of conditions. For example, there are a number of narratives about circumcisions done in hiding, in the ghetto.

"For quite some time I continued to wear the tefillin. At first, after my bar mitzvah, I believed in it and did it with fervor. Subsequently, it began to bother me, and I did it to please my father; so as not to disappoint him; so as not to make him suffer. But above all, I did it to please my mother, who was more orthodox than he was. There came a time when I couldn't do it anymore. My parents had to find a way to rationalize my refusal. The Russians turned out to be a good pretext, because everyone was very busy; leaving the house early and coming home late. There was no time to put on the tefillin…" says Daniel.

As for marriage, it aims to reproduce the social order, and in particular the family unit. Each union thus assures that there will be another generation to take over. Not only are surnames and first names passed on in this manner, but also the reputation of the family.

All the evidence shows that marriage is a complex affair with a lot at stake. The husband and wife are not the only ones involved. The historical chronicle of marriage shows that the parents often have the final word. They "ask for" or "give" a girl in marriage. They "want" or "take" a girl for their son. Thus it is that parents have the first and last word in the marriage negotiations

This is explained by the break induced by the Shoah. Death, although omnipresent, is not territorial. It is not linked to a grave. This death without territory has been rendered transparent: one "makes" children and one "has" holidays, but one doesn't "do" death. This is because, for the most part we are not even aware of the common grave, mass grave or crematorium in which the dust of their bones has been dispersed.

Here are a few accounts from amongst the litany of death. "When the Germans came in 1941, they took my father and my second oldest brother. They were executed beside the river Pruth" (Rouja); "My father was deported by the Germans. He was taken to Russia, and like many others, my father died in deportation"(Cilly); "With the passage of time, very few survivors of our family were found. They were at Auschwitz"(Rouja); "A lot of Jews were deported in '43 and '44, to the other side of the Dniester, in Transnistria. It's there that part of my paternal family was exterminated. The brother of my father was deported there along with his wife and two children, a boy and a girl. The father and his son died of typhus. The mother killed herself. The daughter survived and lives in Palestine. For a long time, she refused to see family. She resented the survivors and she also thought that her family could have been saved if others had been more active."

Here are a few chronological reference points: In the summer of '40, the Romanian troops abandoned northern Bukowina to the Russians and massacred numerous Jews during their retreat. During the same period, the Russians deported a large number to Siberia. In July '41, the Russians evacuated the city and armed Romanian gangs once again entered, pillaging and burning Jewish houses. At that time, the first German units entered the city, accompanied by the Einsatzkommando 10b. On August 1, 682 Jews were killed and in the days which followed, 3,000 more. Then began the waves of deportation: 34,000 Jews deported. More than half would not return.

Relationship as Territoriality

All these shared memories have thus contributed to a collective memory. These memories have been organized not haphazardly, but on the basis of similar experiences on the road towards the final catastrophe.

These shifts between the individual and the collective which underlie the oral memories also underlie the written memories, and I am reminded of the monumental undertaking of the remembrance books.

When we started out, we surveyed a place, a space. In fact, when all is said and done, the site (or sites ) have been lacking in consistency. It's almost, according to Auge, as if they were non-sites, moving universes, interchangeable, transposable.

Czernowitz was more of a stopping off point for a destiny, the site of a mutation, an interior migration. Having arrived with the Yiddishkeit, the Jews became spread out along with the German culture. They were different Jews. Henceforth, the Yiddishkeit became useful as a mythic past, to be transmitted as such. The German culture was the basis from which they applied their Jewish "values", transposed in a humanism which was expressed in European terms, but which was lived out as site specific.

Those who populate these discussions are real people, their spheres of influence taken into account.

I asked Simone if she'd like to return to Czernowitz. "No, because in the end, what is it that we seek in a city? It's not only the sites, it is the human beings. If I went back, what would I find? I would see no one."

For the farmer, on the other hand, his origins and memory are linked to the land where he is; for the Jews, their link to history is the result of the relationship between people.

Each generation has been connected to a site which has been able to remain stable, but which often differed from that of the previous generation. But none of them has been able to recognize the place from which they came, or the place where they were, as the place which they were describing.

" Would you like to go back to Czernowitz,” I also asked Yetti.
No, it doesn't interest me. It seems that the city has changed a lot".

Gregor von Rezzori, who went back to Chernivitsi in 1989, fell victim to the same disillusionment: "The spirit of Czernowitz was attributed to the juxtaposition and mix of the totally unique populations found in Bukowina, their compassion which was extremely well developed in the capital, ( p. 50) the cultural fertility, the shining morals which resulted from all these contacts, the demands and constant necessity of adapting, and the need to think quickly and react appropriately, which for the Jews constituted an especially vital need. All this seemed to have become obsolete in the Chernovitsi of today…. I'll never be able to think of my mother's house without the hideous reality of the present superimposing itself on the old image. So be it! It's in the kingdom of the incredible, in countries composed of fanciful imaginations, where my city was, the unreal image of the reality of Czernowitz. The reality which I had encountered in Chernovitsi threatened to destroy even that. I had to leave as quickly as possible. One shouldn't devote their spare time to researching the old days in the spirit of nostalgic tourism."

They wouldn't like to go back to Czernowitz, but many, it should be pointed out, will find themselves in associations having to do with their origins, Landsmanschaften, associations for mutual aid, and cultural movements. These networks will maintain, in their own way, the solidarity founded on a culture and a common memory.

All the others will carry within themselves, and when the opportunity arises, will transmit the flickering lights of the memory of a place where the culture was buried alive.

Florence Heymann



* See also:

the latest book by F. Heymann:
Le crépuscule des lieux
(Identités juives de Czernowitz)
Éditions STOCK-2003