(English version follows the Yiddish)
Tsvishn di tsvey milkhumes is Chernovits (daytsh: Czernowitz, rumenish: Cernauti, rusish: Chernovtsy, ukrainish: Chernivtsi) geven a shtut fin anerekh 110000, gelegn af dem taykh prut in di far-karpatishe higlen. Di bafelkerung iz geven zer gemisht, mit anerekh 50000 yidn far der shoah. in gas hot men gehert a sakh shprakhn: yidish, daytsh, ukrainish (oder "rutenish"), poylish. rumenish, rusish, un ingerish. Di "lingua franca" ober iz geven "bukoviner doytsh" --- esteraykhish daytsh mit a yidisher sintaks, slavishe un rumenishe vertlekh. S’iz geven a gute universitet gegrindet arum 1875, mit bavuste profesorn i unter dem "K. und K." rezhim un oykh inter di rumener.
Ikh kim fin a mishpukhe vi me hot gered yidish un bukoviner doytsh. Mayn tate, Dr. Pinkas Mayer is nokh geven in gimnazie (in Radevitz—Raudautz) beshas dem 1908 kongres. Ober er iz shoyn geven aktiv in yidishistishe krayzn shpeter, a shtudent in Chernovits, Lemberik, un Wien. Fun di draysiker yurn gedenk ikh di uvntn mit yidisher literatur in muzik, vi s’hobn teylgenemen kolegn un fraynt fin mayn tatn, tsvishn zey Dr. Wiesenthal, Chaim Kraft, Chaim Lecker, di Roskies mishpokhe in asakh andere. Mayne feters Hersch in Gerschon Segal zaynen geven lerers fun matematik in fizik un geven aktiv in "Schulverein" in der "ORT" shul, ineynem mit Chaim Ginninger (mayn shpeterer yidish-lerer), Eliezer Shteinbarg, Itsik Schwarz-Kara, Naftule-Herz Kohn, Meyer Kharatz, Fried Weininger, in di retsitatorn Leybu Levin and Schwarzbart. Hersch Segal in zayne khaveyrim hobn aktiv geferdert yinge yidishe poetn un artistsn; zey hobn aroysgegebn an antologie "Naje Jidise Dichtung" (in lateynnisher transkriptsie) vus ikh hof nisht lang tsu "skanirn" (Weinreich) un oystsushteln oyfn Shtetl geveb-bletl.
Dos lebn far yidn in der Bukovine iz nit geven angenem inter dem keniglikhn rezhim in rumenie. Ot hot men revidirt undzer "birgershaft" (far yidn nisht geboyrn in "altn regat"). Dos hot geheysn "shmirn" rumenishe baamte. Alevay voltn mir hobn farloyrn di birgershaft—efsher voltn mayne eltern zikh avekgerirt fun Eyrope? Dus andere yur hot men revidirt dus rekht fun doktoyrim vus hobn shtudirt in oysland (der iker yidn) tsu praktitsirn in Rumenie. Mayn tate in zayne kolegn zenen etlekhe mul gefurn keyn Bukarest, "bakshish" tsoln baamte in sanitets-ministerye, kedey tsu ekvivalirn a Wiener diplom mit a rumeynishn. 1938 hot der meylekh Carol geshikt a gevisn Alexianu als "gubernator" fin Bukovine. Zayn ershter dekret iz geven az in efentlekhe pletser hot men gemizt redn nor rumeynish (vus anerekh 50% fin yidn hobn nisht gekent oder hobn shlekht gekent). A yidisher koyne hot gemizt zogn dem yidishn shnayder af rumenish vos er vil.
Nukhn Stalin-Hitler (besser Molotov-Ribentropp) pakt fun 1939, nukhdem vi Galitsie iz gevorn Sovietish, hot Hitler getsvingen di Rumener opzugebn Besarabie tsu dem Ratnfarband un oykh dem tsufn-teyl fun Bukovine, vi s’iz geven a groyse Ukrainishe bafelkerung. Dem 28-tn juni iz Chernovits gevorn Chernovtzy/Cernivtsi, un ayngekerpert in der Ukrainisher ratnrepublik. Mir yidishe kinder zenen geven zer freylekh puter tsu zayn dem rumenishn antisemitizm, shuluniformes mit numern afn arbl, quotas in melukhe-gimnazies, uav. Di sovetishe makht hot oyfgemakht yidishe teaters un arayngebrakht yidishe zhurnaln in bikher fin Moskve in Kiev. kulturele yidishe aktiviten zenen geven dermutikt (unter der alles-kenendiker madrikke funem khaver Stalin).
In September 1940 hob ikh ungehoybn dem 5-tn klas in der yidisher mitlshul Nr. 5 oyfn Austriaplats (interesant az ikh derman zikh nor az dus iz amul geven dus drite "Oesterreichisce Staatsgymnasium"; dem rumenishn numen funem platz un fin der shul gedenk ikh nisht—azoy "umrumenish" hobn mir yidn zikh dor gefilt). S’iz geven noch a shul, numer 26, mit etlekhe hindertyidishe shiler. Andere yidn zenen gegangen in ukrainishe, rusishe un moldavishe (rumenishe) shuln.
Dus iz geven dus shulyur vus ikh gedenk nokh alts. In unhoyb, eyder mir hobn zikh dervist funem stalinistishn teror vus hot zikh opgehpilt ‘hinter di kulisn’ hobn mir gehat a gefil fun bafrayung fun dem rumenish-fashistishn antisemitizm. Ale materies hobn mir gelernt af yidish, mit oysgetseykhnete lernbikher far matematik, fizik, biologie, un yidish. Mir hobn nisht farshtanen az di bikher iber geshikhte, politishe geografie uav., hobn undz indoktrinirt in historishn materializm. Der marxistisher tsugang, bazunders in biologie, iz geven a forgeshmak funem kumendikn lisenko-izm.
Di lerer zenen kimat alle geven oysgetseykhnt, khotsh etlekhe hobn frier keynmol nisht gelernt af yidish, un di daytshmerizmen hobn zikh nokh aroysgehert. Oykh dil lerer vus zenen gekumen fin Kiev (di shvestern Shkolnik—eyne far yidish, di andere far Rusish, un di direktorshe fun der shul) zenen geven interesant, un lehavdl fun di rumenishe lerer fun frier, hot men nisht gepatsht, getsoygn ba di oyrn, oder avekgeshtelt shiler af di kni. Di eyntsike lerern vus iz nisht geven populer is geven a yinge ukrainerin vos hot undz gelernet ukrainish. Di eltere klasn hobn gehat Chaim Ginninger far yidish, Hersch Segal un Emil Blum (shpeter a professor in Halifax, Nova Scotia) far matematik, Joseph Auslaender (shpeter Professor in Bukarester Universitet un in Karlsruhe) un Anna Fuchs (shpeter Anna Fuchs-Ginninger) far khemie.
Se zenen geven asakh aktivitetn nukh di klasn, ikh bin oft shpet banakht aheymgekimen fun shul. Der iker fun di iz geven organizirt arum di "pionirn" un "komsomol"—ikh bin geven redaktor fun der "vandtsaytung" un se zenen geven krayzlekh far drame, muzik, bilologie, fizik, ski, uav. Me hot undz ofn oder veniker ofn indoktrinirt mit marksism-leninizm. eynem fun mayne khaveyrim hotmen efntlekh basshemt un aroygevorfn fun di pionirn val emetser hot im gemasert az er legt tfilin.
Chernovits un undzere shuln zenen bazukht gevorn fun baviste yidishe shrayber un poetn vi Dovid Hofshtein, Itsik Fefer, Leyb Kvitko, der aktyor Mikhoels (alle shpeter derharget in der stalinistisher paranoia fun 1948). Dus yidishe teater hot gshpilt pieses fun Goldfaden, Shulem-Aleykhem, Peretz, un sovietish-rusishe un ukrainishe autorn. me muz farshteyn az in der tzayt, lout Stalin’s teori fun natsies, zene mir yidn geven a natsie via le andere (mir hobn afile gehat an avtonome gegnt—Birobidzhan—un keyner hot nit gezen a kesorn vus in "pasport" is geven ayngeshribn "yevrey" (azoi vi ba andere "russkii, ukrainets, moldovanin, tsygan" uav.). Yidishe religie— vi ale religies akhuts "visnshaftlekher ateism" is geven farfolgt. Yingere metshn hob moyre gehat zikh tsu vayzn in shiln.
Beshas mir kinder hobn gelebt in der gliklekher iluzie (kukt zikh un dem film "Burnt by the sun" far atmosfere: mir hoben gezingen dizelbe lider ober af yidish) hobn indzere eltern zikh langzam dervust fun di aktsies fun NKVD: men hot nit gekent fartroyen keynem, men hot nit gevist tsi a nuenter khaver oder di eygene kinder zenen nisht geven mosrim. In friling 1941 hot men ungehoybn deportirn sotsial-demokratn, kleyne sokhrim, tsionistn, rabunim ("opium farn folk"), rekhte un linke upvaykher fin der partey-linie, uav. Se zenen take geven yidn vus hobn in dem gegloybt un hobn tumid rekht gegebn Stalinen.
In Juni 1941 ven di Daytshn hobn gebrohkn dem Hitler-Stalin pakt un atakirt dem Ratn-Farband hob zikh tsu zey alirt di rumener kedey tsuriktsunemen Bukovine, Bessarabie, un gevinen a shtik Ukraine (vus me hor shpeter genant Transnistrie). Zey hobn tsuersht bombardirt dem aerodrom, un az di nisht-greyte royte armey iz antlofn, zenen zey dem 6. Juli arayn keyn Czernovitz. Di trupn zenen geven a kombinatsie fun SS-"EinsatzKommando" un rumenishe gazlunim. Dem ershtn tug hobn zei gekhapt un derharget etlekhe hindert prominente yidn, unter zey der rabbiner Mark, undzer muzik-lerer, un andere. Di groyse shil—a monumetaler boy fun 19th yurhindert hobn zey upgebrant.
Asakh antisemitishe dekretn zenen dershinen; me hot farmakht di shuln, aroysgevrofn yidishe patsientn (inklusiv mayn tates psikhiatrishe patsientn) fun di shpiteler, men hot gemizt trugn gele shtern un gekont geyn in gas bashrenkte shoen, me hot geshlogn un genemen lebedike mashkunes.
In oktober 1941 hot men getsvingen ale yidn ibertsuforn (mit vus me hot gekent pakn) in a ghetto. Fin dort hobn zikh ungehoybn deportirungen keyn "Transnistrie". A dank dem mutikn birger-mayster Traian Popovici iz anerekh 20000 yidn ibergeblibn in Chernovits un aroys fun getto (virtshaftlekh noytvendike yidn).
In Juni 1942 hobn zikh vider ungehoybn deportirungen (dray zuntikn nukhanand, anerekh 8000 yidn). Mayn mishpukhe iz gven afn letstn transport in lager "Cariera de Piatra" (a friere NKVD shtruf-kolonie) afn taykh Bug. Nukh etlekhe andere ghettos un a farm, zenen mit in Merts 1944 tsurikgemumenn keyn Chernovits—vus isz etlekhe teg shpeter bafrasyt gevorn fun der royter armey.
Undzer yidishe shul (dusmul nor eyne—a groyse fraktsie fun di yidn zenen nisht tsurikgekumen fun di lagern) hot zikh derefnt in khoydesh april. Ikh hob oysprobirt farsheydene klasn un bin gelandet in 9-tn. Asakh fun mayne klas-khaveyrim zenen gevorn prominent in yidishe krayzn, unter zey Mordkhe Schaechter, un Anka Schorr (zi heist itst dakht zikh Shamir) vus firt di yidishe zendungen fun kol yisrael.
Di milkhume iz noch gegangen iber a yur un di khaveyrim vus zenen shoyn geven 17-18 yur alt hot men mobilzirt. eynike hobn zikh bahaltn, andere zenen ummgekumen oder hobn farloyrn hent der fis (Israel Berstein, shpeter a barimter Matematik-Professor in Cornell University). Asakh lerer hobn oykh moyre gehat far der mobilizatsie un mayn tate hot asakh fun zey geholfn. Unter zey der speter barimt gevorene poet Paul Antschel-Celan vus hot gearbet vi a krankn-bruder in shpitul.
Di shul in di yurn 1944/45 iz geven a troyriker plats—me hot gedenkt ale di vus zenen umgekumen, in me hot zikh bald dervist fun holendishe yidn vus di royte armey hot bafrayt frun Auschwitz un vus zenen durkhgefurn derekh Chernovitz, fun dem oysmas fun der yidisher katastrophe.
Ikh hob farendikt dem 10tn klas mit a Yidishn Diplom (vus ikh hob farloyrn in ale mayne vanderungen) un ongehoybn shtudirn meditsin mit 16 yur. ikh hob nor farendikt eyn semester. in friling 1946 hor Khrushchov—der ershter sekretar fun der Ukarine—gevolt puter vern di yidn fun Chernovits, un undz "ayngeladn" oystsuvandern keyn Rumenie. Nor si’z im nit gelungen. Asakh yidn fun Rusland un andere republikn hobn zikh bazetst in Chernowits.
Di atmosphere nukh der milkhume iz geven mer antisemitish. ober yidishe
bikher, tsaytungen, teater, un shuln hobn existirt bis tsu Stalins paranoia
Between the two world wars Czernowitz (Romanian: Cernauti, Russian: Chernovtsy, Ukrainian: Chernivtsi) was a city of about 110000 inhabitants, situated on the river Prut, in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. The population was quite mixed but heavily Jewish (there were about 50000 before the Holocaust). In the streets you could hear half-a-dozen languages (Yiddish, German, Romanian, Ukrainian, Polish, Hungarian, Russian). The lingua franca until the late 1930-s was "Bukowinaer deutsch"—a variation on Austrian German, with a strong Yiddish syntactic influence and Slavic admixtures. There was a University, established in 1875, which had a good reputation in the Austro-Hungarian period (the mathematician Hans Hahn, the Shakespeare scholar Leon Kellner, and others were on the faculty, and the last professor of theoretical physics appointed in 1917 was Erwin Schr"dinger -- he never filled the job since in 1918 Czernowitz became Cernauti).
I come from a family where Yiddish and Bukowinaer deutsch were spoken. My father, Dr. Pinkas Mayer was still a high-school student during the 1908 Yiddish Congress, but he was already active in Yiddishist circles. I personally remember evenings of Yiddish readings and music, in which many of my fathers colleagues and friends participated, among them Dr. Wiesenthal, Chaim Kraft, Chaim Lecker, Mr. Roskies, and many others. My uncles, Hersch and Gerschon Segal were mathematics and physics teachers, but were active in the "Schulverein" and the "ORT" school, together with Chaim Ginninger (my future Yiddish teacher), Eliezer Steinbarg, Itzik Manger, Itzik Schwartz, Naftule-Herz Kohn, Meyer Kharatz, Fried Weininger, and the actors/reciters Leybu Levin and Schwarzbart. My uncle and his friends were actively promoting young Yiddish writers and and they published an anthology in Latin transcription: "Naje jidise dichtung" which I hope to be able to scan an make available on the "Shtetl" web-page.
Life was not pleasant for Jews in Bukovina under the Romanian royal regime; there was constant harassment by the authorities: one year a "revision of citizenship" Jews which wee not born on Romanian territory had to prove (read bribe the right official) that they were entitled to Romanian citizenship (I wish we had lost it and would have been forced to emigrate). The next year it was a "revision of the right to practice medicine" for doctors who had studied abroad (like most of the ones in Czernowitz). My father made many trips to Bucharest, where the right officials at the Ministry of Health were bribed to establish the equivalence of a Viennese Diploma with one from the local Medical School. In 1938 a fellow by the name of Alexianu was appointed Governor of the region; one of the first decrees he introduced was to forbid anyone to use a language other than Romanian in public (reminds one of Quebec today). A Jewish customer had to ask his Jewish barber for a haircut in Romanian --- anyone using Yiddish, German or Ukrainian would be fined on the spot.
As a sequel to the Stalin-Hitler pact, the north of Bukovina and all of Bessarabia (which had been Russian for two centuries until 1918) were taken away from Romania and given to the Soviet Union. On June 28, 1940, Cernauti changed its name to Chernovtsy/Chernivtsi, and became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. We Jewish youngsters were happy that this meant the end or Romanian antisemitism, the end of uniforms, arm-patches, etc. Indeed, the Soviets opened two Yiddish schools, a Yiddish theater, Yiddish newspapers from Kiev and Moscow were on the newsstands, and lots of cultural activities were encouraged (all, of course under the guiding light of the all-knowing leader Comrade Stalin, whose pictures and slogans were everywhere).
In the fall of 1940 I enrolled in the 5-th grade of the Yiddish Middle School No. 5, and that year of school was perhaps the one I enjoyed most. There was another Yiddish high-school, number 26, also with almost 1000 students. Other Jews enrolled in Ukrainian, Russain or Moldavian (Romanian with cyrillic letters) high-schools.
At the beginning, before we became aware of the Stalinist terror which lurked in the background and transformed the way people acted, there was a sense of liberation from the Romanian antisemitic oppression. The fact that the whole curriculum was taught in Yiddish, with excellent textbooks for the language, mathematics, the sciences, history (little did we understand the historical-materialistic distortions of the social sciences in the texts). The dialectical materialism pervading our biology classes was a precursor of the coming "lysenkoism."
The teachers we had were almost uniformly excellent, including the few imports from the Soviet Union, like the school principal, who was teaching history, and her sister who was teaching Yiddish. About the only bad teacher was a young Ukrainian lady from Kiev who was teaching us Ukrainian. The upper grades had Chaim Ginninger as Yiddish teacher.
There were lots of extracurricular activities (mostly within the framework of the young-pioneer organization) such as the "wall-newspaper" of which I was editor, drama and science clubs, musical activities, ski outings, etc. But there was also subtle and not-so-subtle indoctrination with Marxist-Leninists ideology. One of my friends was expelled and publicly humiliated, when someone turned him in reporting that he put on "tefillin" every morning.
Czernowitz (and our school) were visited by famous Yiddish writers and actors, such as Dovid Hofshteyn, Itzik Fefer, Leyb Kvitko, Samuel Mikhoels (all of which were later killed by Stalin in 1948). The Yiddish theater put on plays by Sholom Aleykhem, Goldfaden, Peretz. Of course, it should be understood that being Jewish was, according to Stalin’s theory of nationality a nationality—not a religion (religion was a "dirty word"—people practiced it in secret). We felt, for the first time in our lives that we belonged to a nationality like any other, and did not consider it objectionable if our identity cards ("passports") listed nationality as one of the entries; after all, others were Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, Gipsy, Tartar, etc.—a nationality was defined as a group of people who had a common language, heritage, and maybe even a territory. Stalin created a "Jewish autonomous region": Birobidzhan with Yiddish as the official language.
While we children lived happily under the new regime (I strongly recommend the movie "Burnt by the Sun" for people who want to get a feeling for what life was like in that period—we sang the same songs, but in Yiddish, and had similar outings as the one shown in the film), our parents slowly discovered that things were not that rosy after all. The NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) was all over, actively recruiting people as informers against each other. In the spring of 1941 the deportation of "undesirables" to what was later called the Gulag started. Undesirables being: social democrats (which Bolsheviks considered as worse enemies than capitalists), small shopkeepers ("exploiters of the working class"), clergy (spreading "opium for the people"), Zionists, deviators from the party line to the right or to the left, and, of course, people who were turned in by informers for no good reason at all. There were plenty of true believers (I had an uncle in this class) who would say that Stalin is doing the right thing—he could not do wrong . . .
In July 1941 the Germans, joined by the Romanians who were eager to reconquer the lands the Germans had given away to the Russians just a year before, broke the non-aggression pact and invaded the Western territories of the Soviet Union. They first bombed the airport, and on July 6, 1942 entered Czernowitz. The troops that entered the city were a combination of Romanian infantry, gendarmes and an SS "Einsatzkommando" in charge of dealing with Jews. About 100 prominent Jews, among them Chief Rabbi Mark are arrested and shot the next day at the river Prut. The big synagogue—a beautiful 19-th century building is burned to the ground.
There followed a period of antisemitic measures go into effect: Jews have to wear yellow stars, there are curfews, shopping restrictions. no schools, forced labor, etc.
In October 1941 the governor decreed that all Jews move into a Ghetto, from where they would be deported to the part of the Ukraine between the rivers Dnyestr and Bug occupied by Romania, called Transnistria. The deportations were stopped due to the action of the mayor Traian Popovici who was sympathetic to the Jews and tried to keep as many as possible from being deported. About 19000 "necessary" Jews were left and allowed to leave the ghetto.
In June of 1942 deportations to Transnistria started again. This time my family did not escape and we were sent to camps in Transnistria from which we returned in March 1944, when Czernowitz was liberated by the Red Army.
One Yiddish school was soon reopened and I went to the 9-th grade, where I had as classmates people who later became active in Yiddish language (Mordkhe Schaechter), Yiddish broadcasting in Israel (Anka Schorr—she may have hebraicised her name), and others. Since the war was still going on those who were 17 or 18 were soon drafted; many of the teachers had a hard time escaping the draft. Among those employed at my father’s psychiatric hospital, in order to escape the draft, was the poet Paul Celan.
The school in 1944/45 was a sadder place—we thought of those of our friends who had not returned, and soon learned from a group of Dutch Jews freed from Auschwitz by the Red Army, who stayed in Czernowitz for a while waiting fro repatriation, of the extent of the Holocaust, and the atrocities committed by the Germans together with their Ukrainian and Lithuanian stooges in the camps.
I finished high-school in 1945 (with a Yiddish Diploma, which unfortunately got lost in my wanderings) and enrolled in Medical School for one semester. We stayed in Czernowitz till June of 1946, when we were "invited" to leave for Romania.
Although the atmosphere after the war ended was somewhat more hostile towards Jews, Yiddish books and newspapers and Yiddish theater continued in Czernowitz till the Stalinist paranoia of 1948.