A few weeks ago, I found myself shuttling back into time as we drove through the Transylvania countryside in northwestern Romania.
Once part of Hungary, forever the birthplace of Count Dracula, this former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is a region to which many American Jews trace their roots.
Today its once-significant Jewish population is now but a memory.
Following a major highway, our driver careens from side to side as he attempts to out-maneuver the potholes.
And while it may sound like a car race for weekend sports car lovers, it’s really the beginning of a Jewish-roots tour, sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
This trip had three objectives — to observe the remains of places with once-grand Jewish histories, experience Jewish life in Romania today and visit the aging recipients of assistance from the American Jewish community.
Dollars raised by local federations are converted into food, medicine and social services by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Packages are then delivered by volunteers and professionals throughout Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and areas of Jewish pain, including economically depressed Argentina.
This time, we’re in Romania, touring cities large and small, tracing the remnants of a once-large (800,000 strong) Jewish community. Today 1 percent of that remains.
Here, tourists are still an oddity, so we’re greeted with smiles (perhaps of delight, perhaps of amazement) throughout the countryside. And wherever we go, we look for the Jewish sites — synagogues, cemeteries, senior centers — that still dot the landscape.
In the country, one feels frozen in time. Farmers still plow their fields with ancient iron implements, a man standing on the plow, another leading a horse.
Behind them are the women of the family, young and old, weeding the fields bent over at the waist. Often, the elderly women are in black dresses, while the younger women wear bikinis to better cope with the intense heat.
Almost every village, and certainly every town, holds striking reminders of hundreds of years of Jewish settlement and prosperity.
In Carei, a small town near the Hungarian border, there is a proud synagogue, largely restored, that once held hundreds of Jews at prayer. Today, there are three Jews left. The “president” of the community is 80. The other two members are 78 and 79.
The grounds of this synagogue are immaculate.
The building is watched over by a family of non-Jewish caretakers, who evidence great pride in their responsibility.
In the winter, it’s too expensive to heat, but in the summer, the building gets occasional use for concerts by traveling Jewish choruses, whose performances remind Carei’s residents about a missing segment of their town’s history.
And then there’s Oradea, a stunning city of 200,000, once largely Jewish. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, attempting to preserve and restore scores of elegant older buildings that were built at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to house successful Jewish families and businesses.
World War II saw a majority of Romanian Jews sent to their deaths by the Nazis and their Romanian allies, and the early 1960s witnessed a large immigration to Israel that further reduced the community, but Oradea still has a core Jewish community desperately trying to renew its growth.
We sit in their small community center, used mainly to provide hot meals to elders once a day, listening to the Oradea Jewish Chorus. Perhaps 50 or 60 strong, the members range in age from 3 to 83.
Led by a local resident with an accordion, backed up by two local symphony members playing the violin and bass, the faces of the choir members are highly animated as they welcome us with songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and Hungarian.
Sitting in this warm and humid room, no one in our group moves. After seeing so many abandoned Jewish places, this one defies gravity. This is renewal if we ever seen it, and it gives us the first bit of hope that there may be a future for the Jewish community in Romania.
Seventy-five percent of the Jews remaining in Romania are elderly. They are kept alive by monthly food and medicine packages from the JDC, which have extended the average elderly Jews’ life by eight years compared to his non-Jewish neighbor. The rooms of the elders we visited all contain time suspended in photographs from happier days. While looking back is common to all cultures, among Romanian Jews the dramatic loss of whole generations during World War II, and the hard years that followed, intensify the need for these survivors to preserve their memories. These elders rarely leave their rooms. So occasional visitors, like ourselves, becomes a beam of sunshine, bringing fresh air into these closed, tired spaces with peeling paint.
As we step back into time, visiting ancestors we never knew, it helps remind us of the importance of working to ensure that future generations of Bay Area Jews continue to know a vibrant and exciting community, rather than some day simply visiting empty spaces that once reverberated with the sounds of Jewish life.
The writer, a San Francisco resident and a past president of the Jewish Community Federation, serves on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Some 1,800 families are suing the French State and the French railroad company for the arrest, internment and transportation of civilians reported as Jews between 1941 to 1944, including the transportation of deported families to Eastern Europe death camps.
On June 6th 2006, the Administrative Tribunal of Toulouse found the French State and SNCF guilty of interning and deporting in concentration camps located in France individuals considered as jews. Whereas the French State agreed, according to the verdict, to pay 40.000 Euros (approximately US Dollars 52 000) to family LIPIETZ, the SNCF, condemned to pay 20.000 Euros (approximately US Dollars 26 000), appealed.
Procuror Didier PEANO spoke in favour of SNCF before the administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux.
This action against SNCF cannot be received due to the 30 years prescription and to the fact that no specific fault of the Company in the transportation of the Lipietz family has been reported.
He argues: “ The French State, who ordered and financed the transport, shall bear the sole responsibility and must bear the cost.
Subsequently, the administrative court of appeal of BORDEAUX decided on an exceptional basis that the case should be examined again on March 2007, by the highest group of judges ever of the Court.
At the same time, attempts to clear the French railroad company from/of any responsibility in the transportation of civilians in cattle wagons are being made.
To determine the level of responsibility of an enterprise is not an easy task.
Time and research will be needed to assess the willingness senior management and technical services of the company to collaborate with the French and German Authorities, their ordinary work being cut off from the absolute brutality of convoys to death camps and from the courageous resistance of a minority of railroad employees.
One must recall that, since 1940, the SNCF agreed to the transportation of Jews from Baden and The Palatine, provided a planning was established with the German Authorities, as for any regular operation.
SNCF senior management participated to all significative meetings dealing with deportation of the Jews of France, along with Nazi authorities and the French State.
Let us recall that Pierre-Eugène Fournier, former President of the French National Bank and of the SCAP (entity dealing with the ‘aryanisation’ of Jews belongings) ( Service de Contrôle des Administrateurs Provisoires ), was president of the French national railroad company from 1940 to 1946.
Perfectly aware of the conditions of the internment, deportation and final destination of the cattle trucks, the company never officially protested against the transport of civilians according to BACHELIER Report ( report financed by the SNCF in 1998 to analyse the company behaviour during WWII).
Hence, journeys were classified third class (despite transportation of humans in cattle trucks) and payment duly received even until after the end of the war.
Léon Bronchart, the one and only employee to refuse to conduct such a train, was only deprived of his annual indemnities.
Legal action against the French State was not possible before 2002, when the supreme administrative Court (Conseil d’Etat) decided that the French State could be held responsible for its actions during WWII.
Indeed, since 1946 (sentence Ganascia), the Conseil d’Etat rejected all actions aginst the French State, on the basis of the anti-jews laws enacted during the Vichy Regime.
In doing so, the Conseil d’Etat breached the continuity of State and put forward a generalised non-liability of the state.
It is as late as April 2002, with the Papon case, that the French Conseil d’Etat recognized that the French State had to be held responsible for its acts during the German occupation.
Why do victims or their legal successors sue the French State? In doing so, they express the need for a fair State and a fair Justice for all. By asking financial indemnity, they attempt to recover their trust in the French state.
They do not forget that the Vichy Régime was a legal creation of the French IIIrd Republic, where a majority of representatives gave full powers to Marechal Petain.
Citizens ask SNCF to face up its responsibilities in the deportation of Jews; they ask that the company opens up its archives to the public.
One can regret that SNCF is forced to do so, whereas most German companies involved in deportation have willingly confronted their past, such an approach called Vergangenheitbewaltigung in German.
Pretending to be non-political organizations, and just cultural, today’s legionary circles prevent their scrutiny by the rules applied to political parties. It is a subterfuge, which, until now, granted them the expected results.
The legionary groups organize (beyond the front look of the clubs and lecture houses) in nests, and authorized sources acknowledge that more organizations than tose officially registered are active.
Such organizations have publications, two printing houses which published almost all their pre-war works, written by the leaders of the Legionary Movement.
Recently they recorded, in an audio studio in Timisoara, the tape “Songs of The Iron Guard”.
The actual Legionary Movement organizes for its adherents and sympathizers memorial reunions (like the one of June 1999, celebrating the centenary of Corneliu Zelea Codereanu and another in November 1999, celebrating 61 years from the murder of the same Corneliu Zelea Codreanu), held in Bucharest and Iasi.
They are also planning summer camps and marches.
In a Romanian Information Service report on 1998-1999, there is specified that these organizations follow “the awaiting of the reestablishment of a structure at a national scale”, just like “The Iron Guard”, in the perspective of “acceding on a higher political scale”, adding that “now there are more than 12 foundations and associations constituted by the supporters of the Legionary Movement out of which many openly admire political crime and violence.
Proceeding with such large propaganda campaigns, including publicity, today’s Legionary Movement, succeeded in gaining more supporters among the young scholars and students, turned into members of the nests mentioned above.
An organization deeply undemocratic, totalitarian, xenophobic, anti-Semite and with a criminal political background, the Legionary Movement is today a real threat to the Romanian democracy.
Like pointed by an article (A Fascism Reborn in Romania) in “Le Monde”, the attempt of organizing memorial and anniversary reunions for the N.S.D.A.P. in Germany or in another democratic state, would only cause great counter-demonstrations and legal actions for prohibition.
All these legionary tendencies are very serious, dangerous political acts.
Therefore, we dare to draw the attention to the authorities to adopt more efficient measures against the reorganization of the old interwar legionary movement, based on provisions of the Penal Code article 317 and the Romanian Constitution, chapter III, article 30, referring to the interdiction of the development of nationalist-chauvinistic activities, incitement to national and ethnic hatred.
These measures must be adopted as long as it is not too late, not in the interest of our Jewish Community but, in the interest of protecting the Romanian democracy and its good image in the world.
Black, Green, Brown Shirts Salute, Again, With the Opened Arm
In Germany, after the failure in the elections for the European Parliament, The Right Extremist Party “Republikaner”, led by an old Nazi, Franz Schonhuber, disappeared from the political stage. The other Right Extremist Parties from Europe do not claim themselves to be the heires of the fascist ideology. Some even defend themselves from being anti-Semite.
They are just against the “Jewish people who led in their country” or in the entire world. An old fascist slogan… Now they earn their electors counting on the nationalistic and xenophobic campaigns, pointed, mainly, against the immigration from underdeveloped countries.
Interethnic conflicts can facilitate the advantage of the extreme right in federal countries like Belgium. There, the Flemish Party “Vlaams Book” went so far as to grant every woman, who gave birth to “a true valon”, a thousand dollars.
But in Belgium the Valon Party is practically rejected by all the Democratic Parties, refusing every offer for an alliance with them. In the quiet, rich and prosperous Switzerland, the leader of the Right Extreme is a billionaire: Christoph Blocher.
His party came first as number of votes, counting on a xenophobic campaign towards the immigrants. Blocher claims that he is not an anti-Semite, but instead he sent a letter of congratulation to an author denying the Shoah and who was convicted to 15 years in prison for racial discrimination.
The letter has been published by the Swiss Press. “I did not even read the book”- claimed Blocher, marking, in this way, his solidarity with the principles of those people still in denial. In Italy, Umberto Bossi, the leader of The North League, disposes to his own paramilitary army – 3000 men dressed… in green shirts.
He organizes parades and ceremonies in the medieval style, after the model of the gothic Nazi festivals. He does not claim to be an anti-Semite, but just to embrace xenophobia. The same xenophobic model helped Jean Marie Le Pen and Bruno Megret gain their electors in France. But, in France, their electors decreased from 16% in 1998 to 10% in 2000) AUSTRIA: The Austrian Liberty Party (F.O.P. at the elections from 1999, 29.9% of the votes) BELGIUM: “Vlaams Blook” (in 1999, 10.1%) DENMARK: The Danish People Party (P.P.D.- in 1998, 7%); The Progressive Party (in 1998, 9.8%) ITALY: The North League (in 1996, 10.1%) NORWAY: The Progressive Party (F.R.P.- in 1997, 15.3%) SWISS: The Center Democratic Union (U.D.C..- in 1999, 23%)
Reading the Daily Press
After the public release of the letter from the F.C.E.R. in which there was a demand to the state authorities to take legal actions against the reorganization of the Legionary Movement in Romania, the newspaper “National”, of April 26, 2000 published a half of page dedicated to the rebirth and restoration of the Legionary Movement, quoting, at the same time, the report of the Romanian Information Service addressed to the Parliament, which mentions the danger of the revival of the fascism in Romania.
The report mentions that 24 organizations, many of them clandestine, are expecting financial and moral support from abroad, and the radicalism of the extremists increases, day by day.
The newspaper underlines that, although the Romanian Information Service warned the State authorities a long time ago, regarding the danger of the increase of right extremism, nothing has been done to take legal measures to fight the phenomenon, although the development of the fascist manifestations is of nature to deteriorate our image in the eyes of the public opinion and of the political class of the European Union.
In the Friday, 28th of April 2000 issue, in the newspaper “Today”(Azi), Mr. Ion Cristoiu publishes a one page editorial in which he resumes the millenary, Jewish guilt thesis about the killing of Christ. As it is known, this thesis fed for two millenniums the anti-Semitism in the entire Christian world.
We received a few phone call in our editorial office, and our readers expressed their astonishment about this reaffirmation of the oldest anti-Semite myth, adhered by the known journalist.
Two decades ago, an Israelite lawyer (today, the President of the High Court of Cassation), received the task to study the process and the sentencing of Jesus Christ from the point of view of the laws and customs of 2000 years ago.
After 20 years of study he published a paper in which he proves what was already known: it was not the Jews the ones who convicted and killed Jesus Christ, but the Romans themselves. Mr. Ion Cristoiu does not agree.
The Jews did kill Jesus Christ! he concludes. However, through the authoritative voice of Pope John Paul the Second, the Catholic Church recognized the falsity of this anti-Semite millenary accusation and disclosed it.
Qualified in every field, Mr. Ion Cristoiu is with this occasion more qualified than the Pope. And the Pope is not an antisemite person.
In the paper “Adevarul” of April 24, 2000 a retired colonel from Iasi, Mr. Constantin Bucos wrote, on behalf of a few local veterans: “We express our surprise and indignation towards the injustice made by the Iasi City Council for hindering the laying of the bust of Marshal Ion Antonescu near the other two Marshals, Constantin Prezan and Al. Averescu”.
Mr. Colonel Bucos, can not forget the “historic merits” of the Marshal, who sent to death in Odessa thousands of Jews by his personal order, and led the Romanian Army to the great victories, ending in its destroying and surrender, as well as Romania’s occupation by the Soviets.
But, at the same time, we received a letter from Colonel(r) Vasile Amariucai, from Bucharest, in which he notes that on the Negruzzi Street in the Capital there is the headquarters of the Legion “Michael The Archangel” The Iron Guard, a location of the Association “The Christian Legion”, as well as a documentation library, with the legionary flag anchored to the building.
Mr. Colonel V. Amariucai mentions that this represents a real violation of the national laws and that he informed the District Council, which treated the problem with indifference.
Mr. Colonel, exactly to this problem the letter of F.C.E.R. was referring to: the indifference of the authorities.
IN EUROPE, WHERE WE HOPE TO ADHERE …
France – 16 of July – Memorial Day
France’s National Assembly adopted in unanimity a law through which it declares the day of June 16 a “Memorial Day of the Anti-Semite Persecutions Committed by the State of France “. On the 16th of July 1942, there took place a famous raid and the gathering at the winter Velodrom of thousands of Jews who were deported to the extermination camps.
On this occasion, homage will be made to “the right ones”, who opposed these persecutions in France. In Romania, we have nothing to remember???
Switzerland – the conviction of a non believer
After 1946, Gaston Armand Amadruz, never hidden his fascist sympathies, supporting in this way different actions of the European Right Extreme. He always denied the existence of the Nazi extermination camps, and that the Nazis used the gas chambers. In 1995, in the Swiss Penal Code an article was introduced that punishes the racial discrimination.
Recently, based on this article, G.A. Amadruz was convicted to a year in prison and to the payment of some moral damage to every Swiss and French association which protects the deported Jews’ memory. We also have an article of law. Do we wait to adhere to Europe to apply it, or after we apply it shall we adhere to Europe?
IN THE FUTURE – AN EUROPE WITHOUT JEWS?
(According to the statistics, millions of Jews lived in Europe in 1937. Today there are only 1,627,000…)
In the printing house “Calmann Levi” (France) was published a book written by Bernard Wasserstein, called: Jews in Europe after 1945. A Diaspora on the road of disappearance. We can agree with the author or we can have our own doubts. But, Wasserstein operates with interesting figures. According to the statistics, in Europe in 1937 there lived 10 millions of Jews. Today, there are only 1,627,000 left. Because of ageing and emigration to Israel, in 10 years there will be only a million. (Actually, from the 3.9 million of the Holocaust survivors, in 1944, there must be subtracted the ones who emigrated in Israel, so far, to explain the sudden decrease of the Jews from Europe). After the fall of the virtual wall that surrounded them from the inside in the Soviet Union , a quarter of this country’s Jews emigrated. The biggest Jewish Community of Europe is now in France, where there are two thirds of the European Jews.
As B. Wasserstein writes, once the Zionism dream of realizing an Israelite State was achieved, once the the catholic rhethoric changed to a pro-semite attitude, once the Governments and the populations achieved a pro-Semite perspective after the Shoah, a segment of the Jewish population will interfere with the European population in the wide area to which they contributed with culture and civilization.
Along with my constant concern for the characteristics of our Jewishness as a way to assert our Romanian, Jewish identity both individually and as an ethnic, group, I have always had the deep-set conviction that a fertile osmosis has taken place between the country where our forefathers settled several centuries ago and the people from whom we are descended. History – one that has had its tense moments, but also its profuse intertwining, which has enriched the diversity of the Romanian environment – is the best paradigm of that osmosis. Romanian, Jewishness is a result of the process, and this specific cultural enrichment can be traced in literature, arts and other spiritual areas, in ways of life, etc. No efforts are great enough to stimulate researches, works, and actions that will shed further light on it. As we set out a Jew years ago to reshape the museum of the Jewish communities in Romania that Chief-Rabbi Dr. Moses Rosen of blessed memory had founded two decades earlier, we tried to find the most appropriate, convincing ways of showing both the significance of Romania to her, Jews and how they, too, had been significant to their adoptive country. With the assistance of my coworkers – advocate Iulian Sorin, architect Tiberiu Benedek, Lya Benjamin, architect Lilica Enachescu, Hary Kuler, and others – I think we have succeeded in conveying to the visitor, whether Jewish or not, local or foreigner, the image of an ethnic group with a call for inter-ethnic solidarity that over a few centuries has built up a biography of great accomplishment and prospect. A museum usually houses records of the past. Ours, Bucharest’s sole museum of an ethnic minority, has been conceived as a demonstration for the future, one that should have a beneficial influence on the Romanian public as it grows increasingly adapted to multiculturalism – a daring project considering that it is proposed by one of the smallest ethnic minorities of today’s Romania. Professor Dr. Nicolae CAJAL Member of the Romanian Academy
THE INAUGURATION OF THE MUSEUM
The museum, originally known as that “of the Jewish Communities in Romania,” opened on January 15, 1978. A frosty day in the dead of winter and in a hard period for Romania where Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime ran like an overstrained clockwork, wheels spinning frantically on. A strict ideological benchmark used to provide administrative, political, and other penalties for any initiative that would diverge from the party line.
This line, which was anything but straight, imposed via the intricate censorship system of the day that ethnic minorities (particularly those falling in the “etc.” category, as the Jews did) were not to be praised nor indeed disparaged: they were simply not to be mentioned.
It is in these circumstances that a prominent Jewish personality decided to break the official silence with respect to the local Jewry. Dr. Moses Rosen, who served as chief rabbi of the Romanian Jews from 1948 to his death in 1994 and also as leader of the Federation of the Jewish Communities from 1964, began by founding a magazine called Revista Cultului Mozaic (“The Mosaic Cult Magazine”) in 1956.
A Documentation Center on the History of the Romanian Jews was discreetly established in 1977.
Along with a broad range of other Judaic cultural and ritual activities, its main task was to counter a rising trend of making the Jews – those that were not immigrating to Israel or elsewhere – forsake their ethnic and religious identity and ultimately disappear as an ethnic group.
In retrospect, the establishment of the museum just as the (Ceausescu regime’s leftist nationalism not entirely free of an anti-Semitic touch was on the rise in 1978, indicated a good measure of civic courage on Dr. Rosen’s part, but also some political confusion among those who tolerated his initiative.
The new museum was hardly a high-profile institution: housed by a former worship place, the Holy Union or the Tailors’ Synagogue, as it was also known, it was located on Mamulari Street, in a far-flung corner of the Vacaresti neighborhood that would be leveled to the ground a few years afterward.
Its appearance, nevertheless, did not go unnoticed by either the domestic public or especially foreign visitors. This obviously defied the authorities’ policy of holding back the fact that the Jews used to be the second largest ethnic component in the Old Kingdom of Romania, then the fourth largest, 800,000-strong, in the new state emerging from the 1918 Unification. A community as strong as that had evidently made a valuable contribution to the development of local civilization and culture.
While the past and present history of the Romanian Jews was an open secret, the official propaganda loathed seeing it showcased in a museum in which objects and documents bore testimony of a creative Jewish presence in every sector of Romanian culture and society. The unitary history of the Romanian people appeared doubled by another one – that of the cultural Judaic life which gradually developed an original Romanian Jewish nature, blending specific forms of spirituality, such as, say, Hasidism, Zionism, the Yiddish theater, with contributions to Romanian life and culture. Of course, the museum also pertinently mirrored the various acculturation elements resulting from the Jewish-Romanian interferences.
The museum of the Jewish communities clearly showed that a constructive attitude had to be taken with respect to this people, whose specific social, cultural, and spiritual life, as illustrated there, far from harming the country in any way, had constantly invigorated it.
By breaking the Communist Party’s “rule of silence” over the Jews and ethnic minorities as a whole, the museum proved that hushing up the facts had hardly any heuristic- value. Actually, by redeeming the Romanian Jewish history from oblivion, it constituted a challenge to, perhaps even a protest against, the government.
Its challenge extended to the broader, ingrained mentality, which regarded the Jews as a “source of dissolution of culture and civilization.”
Furthermore, it also challenged and even disavowed those assimilated Jews, with or without an “internationalist” creed, that underestimated the forces and creative power of local Judaism, largely because they had no idea about the history of the Romanian Jewish `tribe’ or the role they had played in Romanian history, in eastern Jewry, or in the global history of the Jews.
This first museum therefore was an important step. So, before we start our imaginary tour of the current, revamped, modernized halls and review the cultural and educational functions of this institution as a preserver of the past and even present values of the Romanian Jewish heritage, we would just like to linger a bit longer over its former shape.
The Holy Union Synagogue, or the Tailors’ Great Synagogue, was built 150 years ago, rebuilt during the first decade of the 20th century, and then arranged to host the museum that opened in 1978.
Those who planned and carried out the original project of putting the history of the Romanian Jews into “pictures” deserve a pious word. No one can tell this story better than the very first director of the museum, the journalist and writer Marius Mircu, author of many papers on the Romanian Jews. “It was the Mircus and the Maneas that designed according to Dr. Rosen’s indications the first museum of the Jewish communities in Romania,” Mircu, now in his nineties, vividly recalls.
“The Maneas, husband and wife, would have been unable to arrange it without me, because I knew the history of the Romanian Jews and I also knew the material the documentation department had gathered.
But neither would I have managed, without these two artists’ assistance, to create a real museum. All by myself, I think a chock-full storehouse was the best I would have done.”
In its present, restructured form, the museum provides with appropriate illustration a consistent, systematic outline of Jewish history in the Romanian lands. Thousands of exhibits reflect the communal, cultural life of the Jews; their economic, social, and political integration with Romanian society; their scientific, literary, and artistic creations-indicating a rich multi-centennial Jewish activity within the circumstances of Romanian history.
The ground floor traces the political, cultural, and economic evolution of Romanian Jewry from the 14th to the 20th century.
But before that, some information is provided as to the historical roots of the people going back to ancient Judea on the eve of the Roman conquest (1 st century CE). A replica of a basrelief from Emperor Titus’ triumphal arch in Rome shows how the Romans chased the Jews from Judea leading to their dispersion around the world, mainly into Europe.
A number of archeological findings prove that the wandering sons of Israel, particularly those who served in the Roman troops, occasionally arrived as far as the territory of Roman Dacia.
However, one cannot speak of any Jewish settlement during those early times, nor for the next one thousand years. It was not until the early 2 nd millennium that a Jewish traveler, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, mentioned in his diary he had found Jews among the Wlachs living south of the Danube River.
A French version of the rabbi’s book printed in Amsterdam in 1’734 is among the most valuable possessions of the museum.
EXHIBITS FOR A JEWISH HISTORY IN ROMANIA IN THE 14TH – 19TH CENTURIES
A map of the Romanian principalities shows the places where the Jews founded transitory and stable settlements, and the progress of their organization into communities from the 140, to the 19th centuries. It is not incidentally that the portraits of several princes of Walachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania are on display. Contemporary documents indicate these rulers had various connections with the Jews in Poland and Constantinople, and of course in their own states.
A broad range of exhibits in chronological and topical orders reflect the early stages of community life, the dynamics of the Jewish population, and their diversity in terms of social standards and professions. Princely edicts reflect the trade exchanges and institutional relations that were going on between the Jews and the Romanians.
A good deal of exhibits shows how the Jews involved themselves in economic life. Some documents, for example, describe how Jewish merchants and artisans took an active part in founding small urban communities, while others point to their organization into guilds.
The symbols of these guilds, their banners, and their rosters, provide a detailed picture of the Jewish trades and of the traditional religious nature of these vocational associations.
Some of the banners on display indicate the beginnings of a Romanian Jewish tradition. We mean particularly the custom of placing traditional Jewish symbols against the background of the
Romanian colors. A showcase is dedicated to the Jewish engravers’ work, which included medals the political, cultural, and academic Romanian institutions ordered to mark various events and anniversaries of major historic significance.
Other exhibits related to business life refer to the first Jewish financiers such as Bercovitz, who set up the famous namesake bank in Bucharest in 1836; the bankers Hillel and Leon Manoah, the latter of whom also became noted as one of the earliest wholesale traders of manufactured products in Walachia; Solomon Halfon, who established Halfon Bank in 1829; Michel Daniel and son, well known money-changers in the town of Iasi; Marmorosh and Blank, founders of Marmorosh-Blank & Co., one of the biggest, longest lived banks, and so on. The Jewish contribution to the development of mechanical industries, and other economic sectors is also illustrated.
The way in which the Jews involved themselves in 19th century Romanian politics can be seen in a photo-montage illustrating how a number of Jews joined the 1848 revolution; the revolutionary manifestos, the provisions of which included the emancipation of the Jews; the work of Constantin Daniel Rosenthal, whose paintings rendered the lofty ideals of the revolution, etc. The political and legal status of the Romanian Jewry in the second half of the 19th century is relevantly reflected in a number of documents, concerning Prince Alexandru loan Cuza’s favourable stand towards the Jews naturalization.
To tell the truth, Prince Cuza’s intentions did not materialize. Article 7 of the 1866 Constitution provided a stateless status for the Romanian Jews and stipulated that non-Christians were not to be granted Romanian citizenship. The condition of the Jews tended to become a most ambiguous one: on the one hand, they would be persecuted and chased, yet on the other hand, some of them would enjoy an increasingly higher social standing, marking a start to gradual integration with Romanian society. A late 1901 century map of Bucharest by O. Papazoglu shows, for example, several central streets (e.g., the Synagogues Street, Spanish Street, Palestine Street) which were prevailingly,Jewish; a number of main
Jewish buildings, including synagogues, community, seats, etc., are also indicated. Certain streets got Jewish denominations.
A special showcase is dedicated to Jewish culture and spiritual life in second half of the 19th century, with a particular emphasis on Jewish Enlightenment. Israelite-Romanian schools opened up during this period; Jewish newspapers and magazines were published, the Choral Temple was built, etc. At the heart of this cultural boom were outstanding characters such as Julius Barasch, the Schwartzfelds, – Elias, Wilhelm, and Moses -, I. Psanter, and so on.
The Choral Temple that was to play a key role in animating religious and secular spirituality among Romanian Jews officially opened July 18, 1867.
Original medals and diplomas, portraits of Colonel Mauriciu Brociner and other Jewish military, remind that the Jewish population provided an important moral and material support for the Romanian War of Independence of 1877-1878 and a significant number of Jews enlisted as volunteers, although, the Jews were still denied the right to naturalization.
An interesting contemporary engraving shows an important Jewish delegation of the Bucharest Jews attending the crowning of King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth in 1881. The document is indicative of the high economic and social standing at least some of the city’s Jews had attained. Indeed only a wealthy, upper class community could have afforded to mount, as seen in this engraving, a grandiose chariot representing the solemn coronation of King Solomon. Accompanying the chariot were delegations of the country’s main Jewish organizations that had come to greet the new king and wish him a reign as long and glorious as that of i I king of the Israelites.
True, not all Romanian Jews belonged to the fashionable society. The community was actually quite polarized in terms of wealth and standing. Except for a few rich, the Jews suffered many hardships and deprivations. Contemporary photos show Iate 19 the century convoys of so-called “pedestrians”-destitute Jews who were leaving the country on foot, in order to escape their miserable lot.
JEWISH LIFE IN THE EARLY DECADES OF THE 20TH CENTURY
At the end of the 19th century and in the early 201h century, the Romanian Jewry moved on to establish various political organizations. Exhibits illustrate the beginnings of the Zionist movement; the Romanian Jewish participation in the First Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897; the creation of the Native Jews Union (1909) aimed at winning civil rights.
Eager to integrate into Romanian society, more than 10 percent of the country’s Jewish population fought in the Romanian Unification War of 1916-1919. Many documents, writings and photos, and original medals bear witness of their bravery, even though the problem of a collective unconditional naturalization of the Jews had yet to be resolved.
An entire wall left of the main entrance is dedicated to the inter-war period, illustrating the way the Jews involved themselves in the crucial events of Romanian history that took place during that period. Excerpts from contemporary Jewish documents show the Jewish adhesion to the Great National Assembly in Alba Iulia that voted for the unification of all Romanians on December 1918. Unique photos indicate that a Jewish delegation attended the crowning, also in Alba Iulia, of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary in 1922. The new Constitution of 1923 provided civil rights for the Romanian Jews and extended equality of rights to all inhabitants of Romania, Jews included. An ethnographic map of Greater Romania shows the number of the Jews, their share of total population, and their strength in the big cities. Following that merged the Old Kingdom and the other historical Romanian territories, the Jewish population had grown considerably. It totaled roughly 750,000, or four percent of the entire population in 1930.
Their social and professional structure, their role in the dynamics of the capitalist economy, the contribution Jewish businessmen made modernizing Romanian society in the period between the two world wars are illustrated in numerous statistic reports, photos, documents, and writings. Further exhibits – banners, medals, pictures, brochures, books, and other printed matter – dating back to the same period reflect the part the Jews were taking in public life, the activity of Jewish lawmakers, as well as the life and structure of a vast network of worship places, cultural and educational institutions, sport clubs, and political movements. Portraits are displayed of the most prominent rabbis and community leaders – the Jewish elite that guided the religious and communal activities and provided them moral and financial support.
The last panel on this wall refers to random anti-Semitic acts during the inter-war period, which were to turn into state policy after a government led by O.Goga. And A.C.Cuza came into power in December 1937.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO CULTURE AND SCIENCE
No modern world history of the ,Jews will fail to note their outstanding contributions in the areas of science, arts, and letters. Similarly, every museum of their history will be inclined to illustrate their gift to civilization as a whole and to the secular culture of the countries in which they have settled and integrated. As for the Romanian Jews, they are particularly famous for their artistic and literary works, though their merits in science, technology, or social-historical researches are by no means lesser. An entire sector of the ground floor is devoted to these personalities. Literature. A row of showcases at the center of the ground floor hall takes the visitor through the realm of Romanian Jewish authors, particularly vernacular writers, beginning with Cilibi Moise, often portrayed as a “Romanian Jewish Aesop,” and Ronetti-Roman, whose Manasseh is regarded as a major work of Romanian Jewish drama and of Romanian drama as a whole.
Yiddish literature by Romanian Jewish authors The presentation goes on to several generations of noted fiction writers, poets, and literary critics, including B. Nemteanu, Steuerman-Rodion, Al. I. Dominic, L. Feraru, G. Baltazar, M. Banns, F. Aderca, M. Sebastian, M. Blecher, I. Peltz, I. Calugaru, Ieronim Serbu, Aurel Baranga, S. Tita, V. Porumbacu, M. 13rcslasu, Sergiu Dan, etc. Authors who wrote in languages other than Romanian such as Alfred Margul Sperber, who wrote in German, or who rose to fame abroad, such as M. Rusu in Paris, E. Relgis in Montevideo, K. Bercovici in New York, and Paul C,elan in France and Germany, are also on display. A special area is devoted to leading surrealists, including Tristan Tzara, Benjamin Fondane, and Ilarie Voronca. Another showcase illustrates the works of literary critics from Dobrogeanu-Gherea, I. Trivale, E. Sanielcvici, to T. Vianu, and up to M. Petroveanu, Savin Bratu, and Paul Cornea. Authors of the current generation, some of whom are still writing, have not been overlooked. A special emphasis, somewhat to the expense of other areas, is laid on literary publications, particularly on literature publishers such as S. Benvenisti, L. Alcalay, S. Ciornei, Samitca, and Saraga. Samples are also on show from the hundreds of books on Jewish lore, faith and history Hasefer publishing house has put out since its creation on Rabbi Moses Rosen’s initiative in 1993. Books, documents, portraits, and various other exhibits illustrating Yiddish literature and culture in Romania are displayed in several showcases. Prominent personalities in this area such as the poet W. Z. Ehrenkranz, Eliezer Steinberg, best noted for his fables, I. Groper (poet and essayist), I. Manger, poet and fiction writer, are represented, along with other gifted authors, including M. Altman, S. Bickel, I. Sternberg, E. Frenkel, and B. Snabl. Some of them can be seen in a family picture taken at the First Yiddish Congress that was held in Czernowitz, in 1908. Special attention is devoted to Dr. Sotec-Leteanu, a distinguished intellectual and a dedicated advocate of Yiddish culture in Romania. More books and photos tell of fine Hebrew scholars such as Frenkel, Papa, M. Halevy, M. Beck, I. D. Hakohen, Dr. K Lippe, M. Braunstein, and S. Schechter. Due to limited room on the ground floor, which has been planned as a comprehensive panorama of Romanian Jewish history in every area, many significant exhibits on these personalities are kept in the museum’s documentary fund to be displayed on special exhibitions marking various events.
Science. The contribution of Romanian Jewish scientists is illustrated by portraits, papers, and documents relative to noted mathematicians such as David Emmanuel, E. Abason, A. and M. Haimovici, S. Sanielevici, S. Marcus; architects Marcel Iancu, J. Vladeanu, and H. Maicu, explorers Benjamin II and Julius Popper, Fenichell, and others; the geologist D. Roman; famous chemists such as L. Edeleanu and I. Blum; and prominent doctors, including Prof. Dr. Nicolae Cajal, member of the Academy. Many exhibits refer to eminent philologists such as Gaster, Saineanu, Byck, Tiktin, Candrea, Graur, and others. A number of historians – Psantir, Barasch, Kaufman, etc. – are mentioned, but they are just a few representatives of the rich Romanian Jewish school of history that has continued to this day. A long roll of full-fledged, corresponding, and honorary members of the Romanian Academy may give the visitors an inkling of the Jewish creativeness in the realm of science.
Press. A “tower” of the press suggests the lively world of Jewish journalism as illustrated by at least 500 periodicals that have been published in Romania so far, in languages such as Romanian, Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Ladino, or in bilingual form. The latest museum revamp has devoted a special area to the leading Jewish journalists and reporters that have contributed to the most important Romanian dailies.
All of these exhibits rely on a vast documentary research compiled in studies such as The Contribution of Romanian Jews to Culture and Civilization (editors: Acad. N. Cajal, Dr. H. Killer, Bucharest, 1996) and, Jewish Contributions to Modern Romanian Culture (in Revue Roumaine, nos. 339-341), which amply inventory authors and works in every literary area.
Music. Many Jews have made noted careers as composers and performers in Romanian music. The showcases illustrate the activity of folk musicians, composers, researchers of the Romanian and Jewish folklores, etc., and scores of synagogue music, symphonic works, pop music, and so on are on display. From among the earlier generations are cited the folk band of the cellist ,Jean Marcu, and the musicians A.L. Ivela, C.I. Bernstein, I. Rosensteck, Joseph Schmidt, Alberto della Pergola, Immanuel Bernstein, Eliachem Algazi, Rudolf Steiner, Rudi Ledeanu, Emil Cobilovici, Mauriciu Cohen-Lanaru, Stan Golestan, Filip Lazar, Marcel Mihailovici, Haim Schwartzman, Teodor Fuchs, Leon and Alfred Mendelson,,Jehuda Leib Levin, Leopold Stern, the conductor Otto Akerman, Clara Haskil, the famous pianist, the opera director Jose Aratti, and so on. Following in their footsteps and adding to their artistic quests and achievements, bright musicians of today’s Romania are also presented through various scores, photos, and other documents.
As early as June 21, 1941, Ion Antonescu ordered that all able-bodied eighteen- to sixty-year-old Jewish males in all villages lying between the Siret and the Prut Rivers be removed to the Târgu Jiu camp in Oltenia and to villages surrounding that camp.
Their families and all Jews in other Moldavian villages underwent evacuation to the nearest urban districts.
In addition to Târgu Jiu, the Ministry of the Interior and certain military garrisons set up camps in Craiova, Caracal, Turnu Severin, and Lugoj.
Throughout Moldavia and in much of the rest of the country, hundreds more were interned as hostages against anticipated actions by other Jews.
These internments would last only until January 23, 1942, when the policy of taking hostages was abandoned.
In a message sent in July 1941 to the Ministry of Internal Affairs the Iasi prefect, Colonel Dumitru Captaru recounted the concentration of Jews from northern Moldavia in the southern part of Romania: 829 Jews (275 adult men, 377 women, 98 boys, and 79 girls) in twenty-four railway cars (twelve passenger cars for the women and children, twelve freight cars for the men).
On November 12, at Marshal Antonescu ‘ s request, the Supreme General Staff offered statistics showing that 47,345 Jews were then employed in socially useful or, more precisely, forced labor, the luckier at projects in their own communities, others in external work detachments hundreds of kilometers away.
An undated list from the Supreme General Staff shows that these assignments sent more than seventeen thousand Jews to twenty-one districts.
Engaged in enterprises such as breaking rocks and repairing roads, these Jews toiled in a state of pronounced exhaustion.
The advantage that Jews in Regat enjoyed over those living in the territories that had been lost to and then regained from the Soviets reflected a distinction the government made between the two categories of Jews.
A series of orders in the summer of 1942 sought the elimination of all Jews suspected of Communist sympathies, a purpose explicitly formulated in the July 24 instruction of the Office of the President of the Council of Ministers to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. All Jews who were Communists or Communist sympathizers were to be deported to Transnistria; as a result 1,045 Jews were sent to Transnistria in July. On September 3, the Bucharest Prefecture of Police arrested 395 Jews, many of whom were suspected of being Communists, including three who, in December 1940, had petitioned to go to Soviet-occupied Bessarabia under the exchange of populations arrangement; their petitions had just been unearthed in the archives of what had been the Soviet legation in Bucharest.
A mere five days after their arrest, all of them were deported to Transnistria. During their trip their number grew to 578 as more Communists, sympathizers, suspects, and would-be emigrants arrested in provincial towns were boarded onto the trains.
Another 407 who had already been interned in Târgu Jiu were likewise packed into the freight cars. Yet a further 554 Jews from still other towns, all suspected of Communist activity but not previously arrested, and 85 others already sentenced and imprisoned soon joined the caravan.
Suspected Communist affiliation was not the only justification for deportations from Regat. On July 11, 1942, the Supreme General Staff ordered evacuation to Transnistria as punishment for violations of the forced labor regime.
Thus on September 22, 1942, a new group of 148 Jews and their families were sent to Transnistria following reports by General Cepleanu of their evasion of forced labor.
Another group was arrested on October 2, 1942, but these Jews were freed eleven days later and not deported.
Non-Jews too suffered torture, beatings, and exhausting labor in the Târgu Jiu camp. The General Staff coordinated and oversaw the forced labor of these other minorities.
Just as the Hungarian authorities in northern Transylvania had dragooned Romanians into forced labor gangs, Ion Antonescu ordered able-bodied Magyars to be brought into his own forced labor detachments.
As late as May 13, 1943, a detachment of 250 Jews was sent from Bucharest to perform labor in Balta, Transnistria,23 but this appears to have been the final deportation from Regat.
Bessarabia and Bukovina
On July 25, 1941, Romanian troops led a convoy of 25,000 Romanian Jews beyond the Dniester River to German-occupied Ukraine, apparently in the hope that the Germans would swiftly dispatch them. However, the German military authorities refused the convoy, which had to return to Bessarabia.
But even before their return crossing, the Germans did manage to cull about one thousand of the old, sick, and exhausted on the pretext of interning them in a home for the elderly; after the others had moved on, all were murdered and buried in an antitank trench.
On August 13, as the original convoy approached the crossing at Iampol, the Germans killed another 150 who had stopped in the woods without permission.
The Germans shot eight hundred more on the banks of the Dniester for holding up the operation. Of the 25,000 Bessarabian Jews originally herded beyond the Dniester, only 16,500 returned: more than 8,000 had perished between July 25 and August 17.
These weeks saw a number of comparable episodes. On August 1, Germans stationed in Chisinau rounded up 450 Jews, mostly intellectuals and young women, whom they then took to the suburb of Vistericeni to murder. All but thirty-nine were murdered, and these few were returned to the ghetto.
Another massacre took place near the river on August 6, when a Romanian military gendarme battalion shot two hundred Jews and threw their corpses into the Dniester.
A week later the Chisinau police office laconically reported on another incident of this sort.
The Transit Camps
The deportation of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina entailed a systematic, wide-ranging process that Marshal Antonescu and his immediate collaborators put in place and that was implemented largely by the Supreme General Staff.
While the Antonescu administration pretended that this was an orderly evacuation of a civilian population, it was in fact one of the major atrocious crimes of the Holocaust.
But the official version remained the same from beginning to end. A memorandum from the general secretariat of the Council of Ministers on January 24, 1944, for instance, offered the following official justification for the deportations:
The deportations [from Bessarabia and Bukovina] were carried out to satisfy the honor of the Romanian people, which was outraged by (a) the Jewish attitude toward the Romanian army during its retreat from the territories ceded [to the USSR] in June 1940; and (b) the Jewish attitude toward the Romanian population during the occupation. . . .
Deportations of Jews from Moldavia, Walachia, Transylvania, and Banat occurred after Marshal Antonescu ordered [on July 17, 1942] that all Jews who had violated laws and provisions, and others similar infractions would be deported beyond the Bug [River].
The intention to satisfy the honor of the Romanian people was, however, by no stretch of the imagination a determinative factor in actual events. The historical record proves that baser motives were at play: the desire to find scapegoats for Romanian failures; the eagerness for revenge on anyone for Romanian sufferings; the boundless, violent greed of both state and mob; unrestrained sadism; and blind, unquestioning, boundless bigotry . Between the lines even Antonescu hinted that lust for revenge was central, when, for example, he spoke of Jewish agents who exploited the poor until they bled, who engaged in speculation, and who had halted the development of the Romanian nation for centuries; for him, the deportations meant satisfying the ostensible need to get rid of this scourge. On July 8, 1941, the dictator ‘ s kinsman, Mihai Antonescu, expressed the leadership’s intent still more explicitly when he stated his indifference about whether history would consider his regime barbaric, and that this was the most propitious moment to deport the Jews.38
As early as the end of July 1941, the Romanian military began assembling Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina for deportation across the Dniester River, succeeding in sending across tens of thousands before the Germans became aware of what was going on. However, Romanian soldiers and police soon met resistance from the Germans, who thought their program precipitous. Transit camps would have to be created because the Germans did not want the Jews in what was still a war zone. Raul Hilberg describes the situation:
During the last week of July the Romanians, acting upon local initiative, shoved some 25,000 Jews from northern Bessarabian areas across the Dniester into what was still a German military area and a German sphere of interest. . . . The Eleventh German Army, observing heavy concentrations of Jews on the Bessarabia side, . . . attempted to block any traffic across the river. The order was given to barricade the bridges.
On August 12, German intelligence informed Berlin that Ion Antonescu had ordered the expulsion of sixty thousand Jews from Regat to Bessarabia; assigned to building roads, German intelligence warned that these Jews might actually be slated for deportation across the Dniester.
The Germans began to discern the specter of more than half a million Jews driven into the rear of a thinly stretched Einsatzgruppe D, already staggering under the task of murdering the Jews of southern Ukraine with only six hundred men.
The German legation in Bucharest made haste to ask Deputy Premier Mihai Antonescu to eliminate the Jews only in a slow and systematic manner.
The latter replied that he had already recommended to the marshal that he revoke his order since the Conducator had overestimated the number of Jews capable of work; indeed, police prefects had already been told to stop enactment of the measure.
In Tighina on August 30, 1941, the chief of the German military mission in Romania, Major General Hauffe, and a representative of the Romanian Supreme General Staff, General Tataranu, signed what would be called the Hauffe-Tataranu Convention for Transnistria; this agreement stipulated that Romanian authorities would govern Transnistria, and it gave them jurisdiction over any Jews living there. But the document also stated that deportation beyond the Bug River would no longer be allowed; consequently, Jews would have to be concentrated in labor camps until the completion of military operations could make further evacuation to the east possible.
In outline, two stages of the deportation of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina can be distinguished. The first phase occurred during the summer and early fall of 1941, when the Jews living in rural areas were herded into transit camps and urban Jews into ghettos.
The second stage took place from September to November, when Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews were systematically deported to Transnistria to complete implementation of Ion Antonescu ‘ s orders.
These expulsions were accomplished by administrators selected by Mihai Antonescu as the bravest and toughest of the entire police force.
Meanwhile, the internment of Jews in transit camps accelerated. The Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina were assembled in Secureni, Edineti, Marculesti, Vertujeni, and other, smaller transit camps.
To reach these camps, the gendarmerie dragged the Jews in all directions over the Romanian countryside ‘ s rutted roads, most often without water and food; at least seventeen thousand died in August alone during these forced marches.
According to Hilberg’s assessment, more than 27,000 Jews died in July and August 1941 in Bessarabia and Bukovina, in August alone 7,000 in the transit camps and 10,000 in Transnistria.
The quantitative picture is terrible enough, but the testimony of survivors, perpetrators, and witnesses paints an almost surreal canvas that more clearly conveys the horror of the transit camps.
The Rautel camp, for example, established in the woods twelve kilometers from Balti on July 17, amassed Jews from the city ghetto into dilapidated cottages and antitank ditches, all surrounded by barbed wire.
Between 2,600 and 2,800 competed for the six cottages, which together could hold 100 people at the most; those forced to seek shelter in the ditches covered themselves with makeshift roofs of branches.
The transit camp of Secureni opened at the end of July 1941. Initially, Jews from Hotin District were interned there, as well as some from Noua Sulita and other Bessarabian localities. According to Joe Gherman, the Hotin prefect, eating raw cereal grain caused the death of 30 or 40 percent of the internees during the first several days, though this later decreased to one-tenth of that rate. The Jews in Secureni, however, were generally in a better financial position than those in Edineti, who had come from Cernauti, Storojinet, Noua Sulita, and Radauti, totally destitute after having been plundered during previous transportations across the Dniester River and back again. At Edineti conditions were so atrocious that in October 85 percent of the children perished.
The Ghettos of Chisinau and Cernauti
The ghetto of Chisinau was the largest in Bessarabia, in operation mainly from July to November 1941, after which time only a few hundred Jews remained. It had been established on July 24 by Order No. 61 of General Voiculescu, the provincial governor, and eventually housed as many as eleven thousand Jews; on August 19, somewhere between 9,984 and 10,578 residents inhabited the ghetto, of whom 2,200 to 2,300 were children and 5,200 to 6,200 were women. Throughout its short existence the ghetto never quite sealed its inmates hermetically from the outside. Some of the guards helped the Jews get food from the outside in return for any valuables the prisoners could offer. Voiculescu worried that the authorities maintained only an illusion of control, and at one point he warned that if measures were not taken to assert control, we will be surprised and overwhelmed by the Jidani, or see them flee. To minimize commerce between the guards and the inmates, he ordered the former to be changed every ten days.
As heartless as his attempts to suppress the black market may seem, Voiculescu nevertheless worried about certain elements of the situation that were detrimental to his inmates. In an August 31 report to the president of the Council of Ministers, for instance, he stated that Chisinau had the capacity to employ only eight hundred Jews to earn their daily bread; indeed, even their semilicit trade with the locals provided sustenance for only a small group. The majority of them had no means whatsoever and had to rely on handouts from an overtaxed ad hoc ghetto committee. Reflecting his own anti-Semitic prejudices and perhaps a cynical understanding of world politics Voiculescu proposed that the government approach the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (H.I.A.S.) in the hope of obtaining aid from the United States.
In the early days of the Chisinau ghetto Jews were permitted to exit with passes from the city ‘ s military commander, facilitating soldiers and gentile civilians exploitation of their plight.
An SSI report covering the period August 20Ð31, 1941, stated that hygiene in all the camps and ghettos was worsening from day to day because of a lack of soap and underwear, presaging a possible typhoid epidemic. Another report stated that in the Chisinau ghetto with a population base of 5,377 families (as of September), or 11,380 individuals the Jews lacked clothing and bedding, and ten to fifteen were dying every day.
Mandated by Antonescu and the Council of Ministers on December 4, a commission investigating the conditions that produced these statistics determined that 11,525 Jews lived in the ghetto at its peak, 3,000 of whom had been utterly destitute. The commission ‘ s findings indicated that 441 Jews had died there, 20 of them suicides. Most had died from natural causes, especially the elderly or the very young.
Though deportation of nearly the entire surviving population of the ghetto took place during the fall, some flaw in the system permitted a reprieve for about 150 sick prisoners; others exempted for various reasons totaled fewer than this figure.
The ghetto in Cernauti attained a population of about 55,000 Jews, 30,000 of whom were deported in the fall of 1941 and 5,000 the following summer. Those remaining survived in the ghetto until the end of the war.
The Bukovina administration served under three governors during the war: Colonel Alexandru Rioseanu, who died on August 30, 1941; the aforementioned General Corneliu Calotescu, one of the chief authors of the 1941 and 1942 deportations; and General C. I. Dragalina, who became governor in 1943.
Rioseanu signed Order No. 1344 on July 30, 1941, barring Jews from circulating outside their quarters except during the hours between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (an order by the government of Bukovina changed this permitted span in late 1942 to the period between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.). Rioseanu also signed (on orders from the central authorities) a directive requiring Jews to wear a yellow star.
The stars turned into a source of income for the local authorities under Calotescu’s administration, which issued further regulations governing the Cernauti ghetto on October 11, 1941, placing the Jews under military jurisdiction and establishing penalties ranging from terms in concentration camps to execution for refusing to wear the Star of David or inciting others to do likewise.
It is not known if the death penalty actually came into play over this issue, but hundreds of people were certainly sent to the concentration camp at Edineti for having been caught without the star. Several thousand Jews were permitted to remain there subsequently, the only such locale in Bukovina.
During the 1944 retreat General Dragalina suspended the requirement of the yellow star for the Jews at Cernauti because he feared the Germans would press for mass executions.
If evasion of deportation spelled life for many, circumstances nevertheless remained hard; it is indicative of the struggle that only those holding special permits enjoyed the right to work and that these numbered only one thousand out of the fifteen thousand residing in the ghetto as of 1943-1944.
– The thought that will preside the rebirth – The academic reason of the Institute – A way towards recognition of the value and merits
The community leaders of the Romanian Jews left the mark of their personality – with “a focus” on a direction or another – to a certain becoming of the community: Adolf Stern and Wilhelm Filderman represented “the integrating trend”; A.L. Zissu, Benvenisti etc. – “the Zionist-immigration trend”; lacob Niemirower, Al. Safran and, after 1948, Moses Rosen – “the Jewish cultural trend”.
Nicolae Cajal, himself between this great personalities of the community, is convinced by the fact that our moral and human level, but also our relationship with the climate and the times we’re living in, is best expressed at the cultural level, in the effort we make for the affirmation and becoming of the community life.
Because, who will want, over the years, to know the deeds of the Jews of today and here, he will have to come close, realistically, to the cultural work made, to the social-cultural institutions which we perpetuated, even developing them.
Forever, the success of the initiative of all those community leaders depended of the manner in which the intellectuals and the good people of this community engaged themselves in realising the projects: be it social or assistance institutions, or be it religious or cultural institutions.
But this people doesn’t miss today, when it becomes necessary to complete the double “troika” of the existing Jewish cultural institutions (the first -“Realitatea Evreiasca” magazine, “Hasefer” Publishing House, the Centre for the study of the Romanian Jewish history; the second – the museum, the archive, the cultural centre) and, in time – why not? – a new forum, not institutionalised and without “schemes of the posts”, meant to reunite, as in an academy, intellectual forces happy to confront their opinions and contributions, in a domain or another, with the ones of the future members – titular, correspondent or honorific- of the mentioned institution, new and old in the Jewish world.
Because we have in mind the respective “Academy” to continue the valuable tradition of a prestigious community institution from near past, named the Institute of Culture of the Coral Temple (I.C.T.C.), born in 1936, when in Romania lived almost 800,000 Jews, equilibrated settled on a pyramid of age.
Instead today, the local Romanian Jews number less than 10,000 persons, the third age representing 3/5, from whom – it is true – people with high qualifications make the most of them.
In interactive situations, their capital of knowledge, their experiences and creativity make them worthy of our appreciation and prestige. Not to talk about the bridge that could be made with “the middle generation ” and the young one.
It would be a blessed moment to pass away the courier!
There are many motifs to salute the initiative of reactivating I.C.T.C., after a pause of 55 years – a very long one -, in which little remember the beauty and the results of this institution.
Let’s remind them, here and now, but not before mentioning that, between 1995-1996, there was another tentative to revive this institution, through the so-called F.C.E.R. Commission of Culture, which – due to the weak mobilisation, due to the lack of interest from the part of some “founding members” – had a short-lived existence.
Let us pray, with the occasion of the following autumn celebrations, that the new Institute will have a different destiny.
Because, if in the first half of the time passed by from the reaffirmation of the minorities, some creators still trifled with “the global assimilation”, in the second half became more evident that nothing stops the Jew of our time to take part to the globalisation process as member of an ethic group, as the Jewish ethnic group, and not as a “freischwebend”, free-floating outside his source.
In the evening of October 6th, 1936, the Jews from Bucharest, through its cultural elite, inaugurated in the conference room of Coral Temple the activity of the Institute of Culture of the Coral Temple (I.C.T.C.), the highest institute as importance among the co-religionists – and not only for them.
On the inauguration it was revealed that: “Our new cultural institution tries to incorporate in great understanding everything cultural in the country we are born in and our parents.
In the same time, it tries to be more attentive to all that represents creation of the Jewish heart and intelligence in the past and today” (from the inauguration speech of the founder of this institute, M.S. Zentler). So look, that is why!
At the moment of 1936, the Jews from the Romanian countries were deeply engaged in all the branches of the national culture (science, literature, arts, etc) and affirmed, in the same time, their own spirituality and religious and secular tradition. The institutions working to this end were many: I only mention a few, that lasted longer: the cultural society “Saron”, founded in 1913, at the initiative of M. Schwig; the association of the university people “Unirea”, founded in 1909; the cultural circle “Libertatea”, dating back to 1915; at last, the society “Cultura” or different “popular universities” belonging to Romanian Jews Union, to the Student Zionist Society, lodges (“Noua fraternitate”, “Lumina”), the Sefardic association etc. Between the wars, there were forums for organising the history researches of the Jews (the “Sinai” society, the Institute of Jewish-Romanian history). Around the education establishments (religious and secular), but also around the religious institutions, the cultural concerns were daily, with the local Judaism cultivating with great skill the cultural-cultural “symbiosis”.
This situation didn’t excluded deviations on one sense or another, existing not few Jewish creators assimilated, who ignored the Judaism – they indulged themselves in institutions pertaining to the gentiles – and people of culture incapable of surpassing the religious dogma and showed themselves as supporters of isolationism.
The originality of the Institute of Culture of the Coral Temple consisted in the wish to cultivate the science, the letters and arts under the roof and the name of the most modern cultural institution in the country.
Around it there had been founded a series of secular institutions, among the most recent being the library, the museum and the history archive – with its publication – the bulletin of library, museum and history archive (B.B.M.A.) year I, no. 1, January-February 1935.
There was intended the immediate creation of a Judaic Academy of the Coral Temple, destined to become “a desk for disseminating the Jewish thought, the place for carrying through the work of scientific research of our past in Romania, but also of the universal truths which constitute the value of the Judaism ” (B.B.M.A., year II, no. 1, p. 4).
On March 10th 1936, it is signed a constitutive document of the Association of B.M.A.T.C. friends with specific statutes for its transformation in the Judaic Academy of the Coral Temple.
The reason of naming the new institution an “academy” was especially motivated by the fact that until then – not a single Jew had access to the Romanian Academy except Gaster, whose presence was only a honorific one – and only after he, as an exiled person, became famous abroad.
Even it was more and more evident the tentative of the Jewish intellectuals to create their own “Academy” – as long as their most important personalities didn’t have the right to accede to the Romanian Academy -, at last, the name of this new prodigious institution will become the Institute of Culture of the Coral Temple whose statutes in 9 articles mentioned: “the «purpose» is to cultivate and disseminate the literature and art, especially the Jewish ones, and regarding the Romanian Judaism”. (article 1); the publication in the bulletin of the library of the museum and the history archive (B.B.M.A.), of the communications that will be uttered (pct. 2) by the titular, correspondent and honorific members (pct. 5).
The first founding members of I.C.T.C. were: M.S. Zentler, Dr. l. Blum, Dr. I. Brucar, Professor J. Bick, Dr. M.A. Halevy, Dr. O. Kauffman-Cosla, Engineer Max Marcus, Dr. I. Niemirower, G. Silvian, A.L. Zissu (see B.B.M.A., year II, no. 2, December 1936). After that, they will be successively co-opted, in the different scientific reunions held between 1936-1940, another 20 titular members, and between 1945-1948, after the restart of the activity cancelled between 1940-1945, another 20.
The first public act of I.C.T.C., after its founding, was to elect Rabbi Moses Gaster as honorary member. Dr. I. Niemirower, the honorary president of this Institute, made a wide presentation, in his homage speech, of the great merits of “the illustrious Rabbi who in his life united science and faith, Judaic and universal science…”
Doctor Gaster is a celebrity of both Romanian and Israel science” (id). Dr. M.A. Halevy honoured the welcoming in the Institute, in the same meeting, of Horia Carp, and G. Silviu uttered the reception speech for A. Toma, E. Furtuna, and E. Relgis.
One by one, there will be received in the Institute – until 1940 and then between 1945-1948 – personalities of the Romanian-Jewish intellectuality, culminating with Chief Rabbi Dr. Al. Safran, in the meeting that took place on January 19th 1945, and with Dr. W. Filderman, president of F.C.E.R., on October 7th 1946.
From the word of lawyer A. Schwefelberg on the occasion of including among the titular members of the last mentioned, we are citing: “This is the place to underline the good thought that presided the founding of this «Institut». Created in moments when the Jews were persecuted de facto and then de jure, excluded from the cultural life of the country, it represents a kind of Academy of the Romanian Jews…
But the permanent reason of this «Institute» is, of course, that that the works of its members have a specific Jewish interest – which not excludes at all their universal value – specialisation which, if sometimes reduces the extension of these works, permits in some cases an increase in profoundness. All the academies were accused of having members of an uneven value and that some values, left outside, can surpass the others already inside.
This normal imperfection, especially with the «spontaneous generation» of such an institution, doesn’t diminish its importance and utility, as much as the fact that the «Nobel» Prize is not awarded to all who might deserve it (and who, perhaps, don’t compete), doesn’t diminish its value. The acceptance of Dr. Filderman in this «Institute» is recognition of the value of his writings…”
Examining, after all those years, of the reception speeches, as well as of the answers and communications uttered on those occasions, increases our sorrow of not reproducing them, along with the themes disputed in the ordinary meetings in an ad-hoc anthology that would emanate not just the flavour of a period, but also the desire of the Jewish-Romanian intellectuality to affirm its specificity for themselves and for others.
As I said in many occasions, the Jewish intellectuals adopted in the modern society different approaches towards their Judaic roots: on the extreme were the ones that rejected it or acted dogmatic and fundamentalist in respect to it, rejecting every form of aculturation.
But between extremes, we have a wide range of positive attitudes. Those grouped around I.C.T.C. demonstrated the equilibrium between the innovation and tradition in the contemporary Judaism.
But there still are today Jewish creators that reject the Judaism, incapable of understanding the relationship between tradition and innovation. But we must not forget that there are limits that really close horizons, others – apparent delimitation that leave room to the infinite.
The Judaism represented, along with Greek civilisation and Christianity, a ferment of the European culture, and the Jews and their specific culture (here used in the widest sense, the ethnologic one) in contemporary times, a ferment for what it is called today… globalisation, meaning the «universality» of the values of the human individuality. (Harry Kuller)
Moments in the activity of the Institute of Culture in the years 1938, 1944, 1945, and 1946:
a) During the year 1938: January, 27th – the celebration of M. Schwarzfeld, on the occasion of his 80th birthday (communications: Dr. I. Niemirower, Dr. M. A. Halevy, A. Luca-Axelrad, J. Aberman) March, 10th – communications and commentaries to works – Dr. I. Brucar, Dr. M. A. Halevy, A. Axelrad-Luca March, 31st – the celebration of Dr. I. Brucar, on the occasion of his 50th birthday (communications – Dr. O. Kauffman-Cosla, M.S. Zentler, Dr. I. Niemirower, Professor C. Radulescu-Motru, M. Schwarzfeld, Dr. Th. Lowenstein May, 31st – the importance of I.C.T.C. (communications – H. Carp, Dr. M. A. Halevy, M. lancu, Dr. I. Brucar).
b) During the years 1944-1946: · November, 10th 1944 – resuming of the I.C.T.C. meetings · January 28th 1945 – debating the program of activity · March 25 1945 – the celebration of writer Eugen Relgis (communications – Dr. Al. Safran, Dr. J. Aberman) · May 20th 1945 – the reception of new members: Dr. L. Mayersohn; Doctor docent M. Cajal (communications about the members who passed away: H. Carp, M. Schwarzfeld, B. Kanner – uttered by A. Axelrad, J. Aberman, I. Grubea) · January 10th, 1946 – M. Marcus, president of I.C.T.C., a speech for the reception of Engineer A. Rosenzweig (communications – l. Grubea) · February 28th, 1946 – reception and communications: Dr. S. Bainglass, I. Grubea · March 17th, 1946 – L. Mayersohn presents doctor docent M. Goldstein – the man and the work · April 7th, 1946 – commemoration of 160 years from the death of M. Mendelssohn (communications – M. S. Zentler; M. Marcus; Professor G. Oprescu; minister M. Ralea; Dr. Al. Safran; J. Aberman) · May 3rd, 1946 – the reception of Doctor Sig. Cohl (communications – Dr. L. Mayersohn) · May 12th, 1946 – the reception of S. Gregore (communications – Dr. Al. Safran, S. Gregore).
Centuries of living together
“Every generation left a sign of its passing…”(E. Religis)
“The way of treating Jews represents a kind of political and social barometer, with which one can establish, with some exactness for all the countries, the intellectual and moral state of every period” (Moses Gaster)
“…our instinct and desire to live as Jews made as act with a renewed intensity in spiritual and religious domains. We wanted to rise our children, to form our youngsters as we had the certitude of duration. It was the unshakeable proof of our faith in the eternity of the Jewish people” (Alexandru Safran)Centuries of living together
In the Romanian countries, the presence of Jews is signalled from old times, especially at the princely courts, or as tradesmen and even farmers.
The historian Carol Iancu reminds – in his volume “The Jews from Romania (18661919) from exclusion to emancipation “ that a rise in the Jewish population in Romania has been signalled in the middle of the XVII century, and especially at the beginning of the XIX century, as confirmed by the chart of prince Caragea (1817).
I.B. Brociner would prove, based on old documents mentioned by Dr. M. Beck in an article published in “Israelite Magazine ” (1910) , that “it must have been Jews, both in Moldavia and Walachia, before the moment when those appeared mention in history as well-established principalities”.
The oldest news came from the XV-XVI centuries, mentioning dates regarding “a killing that took place in Bucharest” (Abraham Feller, “Toladot”), and in the XVIII century, the destruction of some synagogues in Bucharest.
The rule of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the first prince of the united principalities, really meant an important moment in the lives of Jews in the principalities, who were given civil and political rights, favourable conditions to the indigenous or naturalised Jews.
We remind the attitude of the great political Mihail Kogalniceanu, but also of some legislators and political and cultural personalities.
Thus, G. Costaforu had the courage to mention: “…if we ask them things, we should give them rights “.
Also, the beginning of the history of the Jewish communities in Romania – as it was said by the late Savin Solomon, our contributor, in articles published in “Revista Cultului Mozaic” is linked especially with the existence of the religious institutions, which were and still are not only praying houses, but also places to study the history of the Jewish people. It is one of the reasons for which we open this mini-monograph with the history of some religious institutions.