Siret – an Ancient Jewish Town and Community
Siret is a town in North-Eastern Moldavia, about 40 kilometers away from Chernovitz as well as from Socheava, situated on the main road which had served commercial caravans in both the ancient era and the middle ages. The town rises above the right bank of the Siret river in an area of hills and mounds, e.g. Tatracina, Ruina and Sasca. The area is crisscrossed by the valleys of the streams Cacaina, Perjelnica and Negostina. There is a meadow (a lunca or: “ called Lunca”?) along the river, which is the recreation site for the town’s young during the summer months.
Siret is a border town: during the Habsburg-Austrian era it was the border with Old Romania, while since 1940, it is the Siret river, north of town, which had marked the border with the Soviet Union; nowadays with the Ukraine. Some 6 kilometers away, one finds the Town of Mihaileni, founded 1792 with the support of Prince Mihai Storze, in order to encourage Jews to settle in the area. Mihaileni, placed in the Druhoi District, kept its character as a Jewish town until the fifties. ???Between the world wars Mihaileni was dependant on services supplied from Siret, especially those of its high school. Siret is the fourth largest town in Southern Bukovina in terms of population size, after the towns of Socheava Radautz and Câmpulung.
1898 saw the completion of the railway track to Siret. In 1918 it was shortened and consequently did not reach beyond Adancata. After the war it was reestablished and lengthened, crossing the river by an iron bridge towards Chernovitz.
Siret had almost no big industrial plants. Among the small-industry enterprises we would like to mention Bukovina’s earliest brewery, owned by the German Julius Beill, Kraft’s flour mill, the roof-tile workshop, knitting workshops, a rug factory and packing plants for eggs designated for export.
The majority of the local population – Romanians, Ruthenians and Germans found their livelihood through agriculture and craftsmanship.
Since ancient times the Market Day (Iarmaroc) has taken place each Tuesday in town, to which the farmers from the neighboring villages used to bring their produce for sale: vegetables, eggs, poultry, lumber, grain, pigs, horses.
The Jews were mainly occupied with commerce, craftsmanship and liberal professions.
The only hotel (Annahof) was owned by Jews – so did two cafes in town.
Also the only hall in town for shows, movies and theatrical performances, the Bierpalast (The Beer Palace), belonged to Jews.
The town is surrounded by a network of 20 villages for which it served as an administrative and economic center: Calafandesti, Barlint, Banceseni, Balcauti, Baineti (Capitala De Plasa), Fratauti, Dorensti, Draguseni, Climauti, Cerepcauti, Candesti, Tereblecea, Tarnauca, Sinauti, Rogojesti, Opriseni, Musenita, Granicesti, Volcineti and Vascauti.
According to the population census from 1930 the Town of Siret featured 9,905 inhabitants, split ethnically between Romanians – 4,302 (43%), Jews – 2,101 (21%), Germans – 1,657 (16.72%). Ukrainians – Ruthenians in the Habsburg-Austrian jargon – 1,011 (10.2%) and Russians – 462 (4.62%).
According to religious affiliation the population was split as follows: Orthodox – 5014, members of the Jewish faith – 2121, Roman Catholics – 1,891, Greek Catholics – 603, Evangelical-Protestants – 276.
The Romanians and most of the Ruthenians were members of the same faith - the Orthodox.
Due to the Romanian Authorities’ pressure towards Romanization, numerous Ruthenians affiliated to the Orthodox Church declared themselves as Romanians; hence the changeover in the census of Romanians and Rutheniens.
In the population censuses of 1910 (towards the end of the Habsburg-Austrian regime) and 1930 (under Romanian rule), the said shift could be observed: 2,070 Ruthenians and 715 Romanians in 1910 (towards the end of the Habsburg –Austrian regime) versus 4,302 Romanians and 1,011 Ruthenians in the years of the Romanian administration.
According to the 1930 census the number of Jewish residents in the villages around Siret were the following: 12 – Bainet – 23, Candesti - 2, Calafandesti – 12, Botasenita – 8, Balcauti Cerpcauti – 34, Sinauti De Sus – 14, Sinauti De Jos – 1, Rogojesti – 1, Opriseni – 15, Negostina – 16, Stracea – 12, Stanesti De Sus – 19, Stanesti De Jos – 11, Solobozia Berlintelui – 3, Valucinet – 35, Tibeni – 41, Tereblecea Noua – 38, Tereblecea – 19.
General History of the Town of Siret
Siret is one of the most ancient towns in Bukovina as well as the whole of Moldavia.
The antiquity of a settlement in this site can be deduced from excavations carried out in the mounds of Ruina and Sasca. According to one tradition the settlement was founded by German monks from the Order of Saint John; according to another, it was initiated by Andreasz, an emissary of the King of Hungary.
The first record mentioning Siret dates back to 1326.
Between the years 1365 and 1374 Siret was the Capital of the Principality of Moldavia, ruled by Prince Latcu Voda. Between 1374 and 1401 Siret was the siege of a Catholic bishopric and had a Franciscan monastery.
In the 14th century Siret was Moldavia’s most important cultural center, constituting the meeting point between the Orthodox and Catholic religions. The surviving ancient church in the town called Se Treime was built in this era.
Voda Latcu himself was converted for a while to the Catholic religion.
In addition to German settlers the town was also populated by Armenians.
In 1380 Prince Petru Musat moved the siege of the Capital of the principality of Moldavia to Socheava. According to a tradition, the grave of Shmil, the Jewish personal physician of Prince Stefan Cel Mare is placed in the old cemetery of Siret.
In the 15th and 16th century the Town of Siret experienced an economic-commercial as well as cultural prosperity; in the 17th and 18th century, however, a decrease in economic enterprise took place.
In the year 1774 the Town of Siret along with the whole of Bukovina becomes subject to Habsburg-Austrian rule.
In 1775 75 families resided in the town; 65 of which were farmers’.
In 1787 the following house ownerships were counted: 173 Romanian, 36 Jewish, 23 German, 27 Ruthenian, 7 Greek as well as a few houses owned by Armenians and even French.
Thus in the beginning of the Austrian rule Siret featured a solid Romanian majority, however, members of several other ethnic groups, including a substantial number of Jews, resided there as well.
In 1786 Siret was promoted to the status of District’s Capital (Bezirkshauptstadt).
The ethnic-national composition of the population of Sireti in 1910, towards the end of the Habsburg Empire, was the following: Romanians - 715, Ruthenians – 2,070, Jews – 3,178, Germans – 1,498, Poles – 345, miscellaneous – 9, totaling – 7,815.
The partial data at our disposal regarding the distribution by professions among the Siret Jews in 1910 was the following: merchants – 292, craftsmen – 270, including no less than 30 cart drivers, 18 shoemakers, 20 tailors, 19 pub owners, 8 tinkers, 8 carpenters and 5 butchers. We don’t have numerical data regarding the liberal professions (physicians, lawyers, employees in the public service (collection of taxes, courts, police etc.) and teachers.
In the era of the Austrian rule (1774-1918) – although it became a border town due to its border with Old Romania, the town experienced a period of economic and cultural prosperity, although only a few industrial enterprises were established there.
A small plant for the processing of shoe paste owned by Menerd Beil, a soap factory, 4 bakeries and 4 brick factories were founded in town.
In 1911 a power station was initiated there.
During the era of the Austrian administration the town was mainly characterized by a cultural blooming.
In 1898 studies in the German-language theoretical high school (Gymnasium) were inaugurated; the school is continuing its activity in these very days.
The German-language high school named after Emperor Franz Joseph was characterized by the high level of the teachers as well as of the students, who towards the end of the 19th century were mainly Jews.
The majority of the teachers were also Jews.
In 1902 a hostel for lodging the students – Romanians and Ruthenians - from the neighboring villages was established.
In the years of the First World War Russian Cossacks burned down the high school; it renewed its activity only in 1919, as a Romanian state-supervised high school called Latcu Voda.
Near this high school there was also a high school for girls; it closed down, however, in 1934.
The high school was visited not only by the town’s youth but also by students from the neighboring villages as well as from the Town of Mihaileni.
During the era of the Romanian rule all schools were visited exclusively by members of the same sex.
In 1938 the civic high school became a commercial one and the senior classes were abolished.
The high school management published yearbooks of which 7 editions were issued.
In these yearbooks, which were meticulously edited, a comprehensive review regarding both the school’s as well as the town’s cultural activity in the relevant year was portrayed.
Initiated by the high school management and its teachers, several issues of a literary journal, the Frematul Literas were published
Between the world wars the high school excelled mainly in the humanistic studies, while its natural-scientific labs were poorly equipped.
Some of the high school teachers and principals were outstandingly dedicated and their memory is kindly cherished also by their Jewish students. I am going to mention some of them: Oreste Prokovitch, a math teacher and especially Nikodem Itskush, a geography teacher, and central figure also in the civic activity beyond the context of the high school, who was loved by his students not least for his suave manners. In this context, we will mention also the teacher Peter Tomaschek, of German origin, teacher for German and Philosophy, a humanist and expert for the Esperanto language, who used to maintain friendly relations with numerous members of the Jewish Community.
In addition, I would like to mention the teacher for literature Iordache Grigorovichi, who defended his Jewish students, when they were falsely and maliciously accused for communist activity, the priest Dusceac and others.
Jews constituted about 30% of the high school students. In the second half of the thirties both the Romanian and Ruthenian students were poisoned by anti Semitic atmosphere, which found its expression especially in the intervals between classes.
Many of them joined the clubs of the Green Shirts, affiliated to the Iron Guard.
Among the activists of the Iron Guard stuck out the young poet Nicolae Tautu.
His juvenile poems in the Town of Siret are inspired by nationalistic-legionary ideology; however, towards the end of the Second World War he joined the Communist movement.
After becoming a prisoner of war by the Russians in Stalingrad and undergoing brainwashing he returns to Romania as an officer in the Romanian military unit, the Tudor Vladimirescu.
As the years went by, he eventually became one of the court poets of the Communist regime.
This explains why nowadays, in the post Communist years, he is not mentioned in the official publication of the Municipality of Siret, although he had been one of the town’s most celebrated citizens.
The level of studies was not affected even during the critical second half of the thirties.
The Jewish students – of their own initiative – sat in separate banks and many of them used to refrain demonstratively from writing on the Sabbath. Notwithstanding, they were not entirely removed from school.
Generally, it may be stated that between the two world wars the town underwent a period of economic and cultural decay.
Siret lost its status as District’s Capital (Bezirkshauptstadt) it used to have in the era of the Austrian rule and became just a center (Pretura).
Following the Soviet ultimatum from June 28, 1940, 3 Soviet tanks entered the town; they retreated however, once they realized they made a mistake when reading their maps.
Subsequently, persecutions against Jews accused for “encouraging” the Soviet tanks ran wild and arbitrary arrests were made.
Many among the town’s Jewish young abandoned it and crossed the Soviet border by the first occasion the Romanian Authorities let them do it.
Siret became a dying frontier town on the Soviet border.
On April 1, 1941, Romanian refugees, who had crossed over to the Soviet area tried to return to Romania, many of them, however, were slaughtered.
October 1940 the German residents left town according to the Umsiedlung (resettlement) agreement signed between Hitlerite Germany and Legionary Romania and were settled in Germany.
July 1941 the Siret Jews were evacuated; the majority were temporarily transferred to the Town of Calafat by the Danube river, in the South-West of the country; a minority among them were brought to Caraiova.
October 1941 the Siret Jews were deported to Transnistria, along with the other Bukovina Jews.
Subsequent to the end of the Second World War, the Town of Siret underwent a process of Sovietization and Ukrainization.
The population of Siret counts nowadays about 10,000 residents, almost all of them, according to the census, are Romanians.
Recently Herbert Grupper, the last Siret Jew passed away; he dedicated his last years to the sustenance and maintenance of the town’s Jewish cemetery.
Notwithstanding the erection of some industrial plants during the days of the Romanian Communist rule, as well as housing projects built in the Soviet style and reestablishment of the railway track Siret- Dornești, Siret has never recovered.
The Jewish Community of Siret through the Middle Ages and the Habsburg Era
Already in the late middle ages Siret used to be a site of lodging for the night for caravans of Jewish traders on their way to Socheva, Chernovitz and Hungary.
As early as 1371, as Siret was granted the status of a town, there were there already several Jewish families.
The oldest tombstone in Siret’s ancient cemetery dates back to 1560.
Until 1877 Siret’s Jewish population lived under the auspicess of the bigger Jewish Community of Socheava.
Until the end of the rule of the Moldavian princes over the Town of Siret, i.e. up
to the end of the 18th century, we have no written records at our disposal regarding Jews
residing in Siret in ancient periods.
The first mentioning of a small Jewish population in Siret can be found in the census held by
the Head of the new Austrian administration, General von Spleny, in 1774.
According to this census, 8 Jewish families counting 43 persons resided in Siret at the
beginning of the Austrian rule.
It is well possible that the real number of Jews was higher already then, because Jews
had quite a few good reasons to hide and avoid the census; and indeed, until 1848 the Jews
residing in the three Bukovinian towns of Chernovitz, Socheava and Siret- like all the Jews of
the Habsburg Empire - were subject to numerous anti Semitic harassments.
This notwithstanding, Jews from neighboring Galicia were attracted to Bukovina and kept
infiltrating into its territory, since their situation over there was even worse.
In order to reduce the number of Jews in Bukovina the Austrian regime issued an order,
according to which, Jews not willing to work in agriculture and not disposing of means of
livelihood must leave the region.
In 1782 365 families counting 1,210 souls were deported from Bukovina, including 18 families
counting 61 souls from Siret.
Nevertheless, in a census of real estates held in 1787, 36 out of 273 houses in Siret were
counted as owned by Jews having Jewish names.
In those years a conflict between the staroste (Supervisor of the Jewish community)
Moshe Faikovitch and the activists of the community regarding embezzlement in community
funds was recorded.
According to the diary of one von Ziegelauer, Faikovitch tried to instigate a Jew from Zastavna
called Hirschel to bribe regime officials.
When the Austrian authorities got wind of the affair, both Jews were expelled beyond the
This episode indicates a widespread corruption also among the Austrian administration.
In 1783 Berl Avraham and Wolf Itzik, dignitaries among the Siret Community, signed a
petition submitted to the Central Government on behalf of 13 Jewish population centers
requesting leniency of the anti Jewish decrees and especially the cancellation of the order
regarding the deportation of Jews refusing to work in agriculture.
The application was rejected.
Jews were also forbidden to deal with alcoholic beverages and only one single pub
(Wirtshaus) was permitted to function in Siret, in which Jewish travelers could lodge.
Among the community dignitaries towards the end of the 18th century the following are
mentioned: Avraham Kaperelnik, who built the first stone house in Siret, Rabbi Moshe
Schillinger, Aharon Hotmann and Avraham Goldhagen.
In the years 1807-1833 Nathan Salzberger served as Dayan (judge by religious law) in the
Community of Siret.
The 1848 revolution brought in its wake a significant improvement regarding the situation and
status of the Bukovina Jews including those of Siret. The Habsburg Empire conferred an
almost entire emancipation to all Jews under its auspicess.
Only as of this year starts the Habsburg era’s Golden Age for the Bukovina Jews, including
those of Siret.
As of 1849, the Jewish population kept increasing without restrictions.
Simultaneously, an accelerated process of Germanisation of Siret’s Jewish population has
In 1873 3,433 people declared themselves as Jews.
Among the 7,940 residents of the town in 18880, 3,122 counted themselves off in 1880 as
Jews, constituting 37.12% of the population.
At the end of the 19th century the percentages of Jews among the general population in the
towns of Bukovina were the following: Chernovitz – 33.48%, Socheava – 37.12%, Siret–
40.66%, Radautz – 35.77%, Storojinet – 33.63%, Gura Humorului – 38,93%, Câmpulung –
18.07%, Vizhnitz – 82.77%.
Vizhnitz was the only town in Austrian Bukovina where Jews enjoyed absolute majority.
According to the census of 1910, the last held under the Habsburg Imperial rule, the Siret
population was split as follows: Jews – 3,178, Romanians – 715, Ukrainians (Ruthenians) –
2,070, Germans – 1,498, Poles – 345, others – 9%, totaling 7,815.
In 1891 the Community of the Siret Jews was granted by the Imperial regime the status of
one of the 15 recognized Jewish communities.
The Jewish Community of Siret was headed by an elected 11 member committee and a
4 member management.
Towards the end of the Austro-Habsburg era a Main Synagogue (The Temple) was functioning
On the eve of the First World War the Community was headed by Isaac Berl.
Serving in the Community Council were: Avraham Achner, Avraham Ehrlich, Dr. Jakob
Bankdorf, Isaak Geler, Aharon Gottlieb, Mendel Wassermann, Moses Lakner, Benjamin Anzer,
Joseph Minz and Isaak Klein.
The following were activists serving the Community: Achner, Atlas, Berl, Brecher, Burstein,
Gredinger, Horovitz, Tamler, Kapralnik, Klipper, Fleischer, Last, Delfiner and Schaffer.
1912 through 1918 Isaac Berl served as the Mayor of Siret.
Several Jews served in the Town’s Council as well.
Towards the end of the Habsburg era Rabbi Burstein served for many years as Chief Rabbi of
the Jewish Community of Siret.
Excelling in his presence and activity in Siret at the start of the 20th century was
Alexander Salomon Schreiber, scion of Moshe Schreiber-Sofer, the Chatam Sofer (Seal of the
Scribe) and descendant of the Chief Rabbi of Cracow, Shim’on Schreiber. He was a Talmudic
Scholar, disposing also of universal learnedness and enjoying a great prestige.
Towards the end of the era of the Habsburg-Austrian Empire, numerous charity associations
were active in the Community of Siret: Linat Hatsedek [Hebrew: Lodging of Righteousness]
(Chairmen: S.A. Rapaport and Akiva Schreiber); Agudat Hanashim [Hebrew: The Ladies’
Association] (Chairwomen: Regina Achner, Bertha Bankdorf); Yad Kharutzim [Hebrew: Hand
of the Industrious] (Chairman: Nathan Glezel); Khevrat Tehilim [Hebrew: The Psalms Society]
(Chairman: Berl Kreisel); Noss’ay Hamita [Hebrew: Bearers of the Coffin] (Chairman: Moshe
Beside the regular income the management of the Community was supported also by funds
The best known inheritance was the one bequeathed by Leib Achner’s, one of the
Community’s most distinguished figures towards the end of the 19th century.
This inheritance of more than a Million Gulden, as well as a farm and lands was affected by
poor management and lost most of its value; nevertheless, some leftovers remained, with
which, among other things, an apartment for the Town’s Chief Rabbi was purchased.
In addition, the management of the Community also disposed of the inheritance of Kalman
Hecht, which was used for the maintenance of a Talmud Torah
Zionist organizations were founded in Siret even before the emergence of Herzl.
Rabbi Burstein’s son was one of the founders of Bukovina’s first Zionist organization,
The Hasmonea (1891).
In a chronic published 1903 in Die Welt, the organ of The World Zionist Organization in the
Herzl time, the founding conference of “Zion” - the Zionist Organization in Siret – was
mentioned; it was presided by Dr. J. Bankroft and had 66 members.
Berl Locker and Melech Klein were among the founders of the Siret branch of Po’a’lay Zion
(Hebrew: The Laborers of Zion; a social democratic movement).
All the political movements active in Jewish public life were presented in town.
Dr. Karl Vitus participated 1923 in the founding conference of the Bund in Chernovitz.
Towards the end of the Habsburg Empire Siret Jews played an active role in the political life of
the Bukovinian Jewry.
395 Jews participated in the elections held 1911 for the juedischer Volksrat (The Council of the
Jewish People), a parliament founded in Bukovina by Prof. Lean Kelner. The deputies elected
for Siret were Akiva Schreiber and Dr. J. Bankdorf.
Siret was the fifth largest community regarding the number of voters for this assembly in
Bukovina, following Chernovitz, Socheava, Vizhnitz and Câmpulung.
Also in the Habsburg Empire, Siret has economically never been an exhilarating large city;
however, it was a cultural, politically well aware town – and so was the local Jewish
Community, which enjoyed a most significant effect on the town’s public life.
Retrospectively observing, Siret’s author and journalist Sigmund Last wrote a series of
feuilletons invoking figures and pictures of the Town’s life in the Habsburg-Austrian era.
These feuilletons have been published in the organ of the Bukovinian Immigrants in Israel, Die
Stimme, as well as in the German paper Suedostdeutsche Zeitung, which used to appear in
Munich. They were assembled in a small compilation called Sereth am Sereth.
The District’s Capital (Bezirkshauptstadt) of Siret had only 3 policemen at its disposal, of
whom one of the duties was to lighten the wind lanterns in the streets.
Last’s descriptions of the public holidays and festivals are quite illustrious: Emperor Franz
Joseph II’s birthdays (on August 18), which used to be celebrated not only by the regime’s
institutions, but also by the general population with all its national varieties’ – as well as the
Mayday processions organized by the socialist party and the Karnaval Fasching festivities
celebrated in town in a solid style of ballroom dancing.
Before the motorcar became a popular vehicle, the town’s traffic was maintained by 5-6
fiacres, which used to park around Annahof, the central Town Square. Out of 19 coachmen, 18
Bathing in the Siret river was quite popular.
An attempt has been made to found a local theater, initiated by the most outstanding people
in town, who were also actively involved in the acting.
The peak of these efforts was the staging of the classical play Die Raeuber (The Robbers), by
Friedrich von Schiller.
On the eve of the First World War the Bierpalast (Beer Palace) was inaugurated as a movie
theater and site for shows and popular rallies; it has remained the sole such an establishment
throughout the years between both world wars.
The Jews were involved and integrated in all public events.
During the First World War the town was desolate.
All men were enlisted and fought in the ranks of the Imperial Army.
Most families left town and became refugees, who found shelter in sites erected for this
purpose in Bohemia, Moravia and the Capital of Vienna.
Siret was repeatedly conquered by the Russian Cossacks, who destroyed most of the town’s
houses, including the civic high school.
The railway line to the town ceased to function.
In the winter of 1915 the Russian army retreated temporarily and a new life started to bloom in
town: the high school reopened and so did the medical services, restaurants and the
However, in the summer of 1916 the Russian army conquered the town once more; this time
most of the town’s Jews became refugees.
The town became a pile of rubble.
The Austrian army liberated the town for a while and even started to rebuild the ruins;
however, in November 1918 the Romanian army entered the town.
Although during the Romanian rule Siret ceased to be a border town and the ruined houses
were restored courtesy of the Organization of the Jewish Joint, the Romanization measures
affected the town quite severely; between both world wars Siret was by no means an
The Town Siret During and Subsequent to the First World War
The news about the shootings in Sarajevo, which lead to the outbreak of the First World War
reached the population of Bukovina on a scorching summer day: June 28, 1914.
Everyone felt that these shootings were about to deeply shock the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The era of the philo-Semitic Emperor Franz Joseph reached its end.
The first weeks are characterized by minor victories of the Austro-Hungarian forces.
Yet the situation changes abruptly. On September 2, 1914, the Czar’s troops commanded by
General Evreimov enter Chernovitz.
Heading from Tereblecea they occupy Siret.
The town and its environments become a battle field.
The Austrian army is trenching itself in the hills southward from town.
In the street fighting the town center is hit.
Already before the battles the population starts to flee to Vienna, Moravia and elsewhere
Siret looks like a ghost town.
The schools are closed down.
The men are enlisted.
In November a change of the situation takes place.
The Russians leave, the Austrians return.
A year later, as a result of General Brusilov’s offensive, the Russians come back and the
Along with the retreat the school in Siret with all its didactic material and the compilation
documenting the town’s past is burned down.
The town becomes a shambles.
“Siret became a village”, notes the daily Morgenblatt.
During the autumn of 1918 the signs indicating the imminent collapse of the Austro-
Hungarian Empire are increasing in number.
On November 11, 1918, the Romanian army under the command of General Jacob Zadic
A Constituent Assembly headed by Janko Polandor, with the participation of the leaders of all
walks of Bukovinian Society, decides to join Bukovina with Romania.
During the war years, fearing the battles, about two thirds of the members of the Jewish
Community left the town and found shelter in other safer and more peaceful regions of the
Thanks to family stories I became familiar with some details regarding lives of the families in
Zwittau in the Moravia Region - now in the Czech Republic - one of the destinations of the
This region was remote from the fronts.
The Siret Jews who found shelter there, lived as tenants by Christian families.
Amicable, friendly relations developed between guests and hosts.
The Katzes, members of my own family, dwelt by a family called Schindler.
(This family of hosts may be related to Oskar Schindler the rescuer of Jews, whose story was
staged in the movie Schindler’s List).
Prof. Andermann’s family also fled to Moravia.
Wealthy families looked for shelter in Vienna.
Along with the retreat of the front from the Bukovina Region, the survivors, about 500 persons,
return to Siret, but a significant group, mainly intellectuals and capital owners settles down
in German-speaking countries.
In an unflattering note written in 1923, a journalist signing “M.K.” (probably Prof. Mel. Klein
from Siret, one of the founders of Po’a’lay Zion in Bukovina and a fellow student of Berl
Locker) compares the town’s contemporary cultural level to the one in days bygone: prior to
the war Siret was a town of intellectuals, researchers and writers.
Most of them sought their fortune in the West.
The newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung
(במקור שם העיתון כתוב באותיות עבריות. האם זה עיתון ביידיש? אם כן כדאי אולי לציין זאת.) describes the
situation less negatively.
The Siret Jews play an important role in the town’s public life - so the paper – and the town
had even a Jewish mayor (it meant Isaac Berl).
It is lawyers who are mainly attracted to public civic positions.
Siret also produces a candidate for the Parliament in Austria.
* * *
A double worry accompanied the return of the Romanian rule to Bukovina:
1. Deterioration of the Jews’ economic situation;
2. Injury to equality in civil rights enjoyed by Jews in the Austro-Habsburg era.
The first worry did not materialize.
The economic situation of the Siret Jews, like those of the whole of Bukovina’s, has generally
not deteriorated during the years of the Romanian administration.
They kept maintaining commerce with the environment’s farmers.
Also the volume of foreign trade, held mainly in Jewish hands, has not diminished, it even increased.
However, the economic-social polarization among the Jewish Community sharpened: the rich became richer and the distress of the poor classes increased.
On the other hand, the worries regarding an injury to the status and civil rights of the Bukovina Jews came true in a most severe way.
Although the Romanian Constitution of 1923 promised full, unconditional civil rights to the Jews too, this principle has never materialized in real life.
Throughout the years of the Romanian rule the Bukovinian Jews were required to struggle for their natural right to obtain the Romanian citizenship.
Following the Marzescu Law from 1924, numerous Jews lost their Romanian citizenship and became stateless, bearers of a Nansen Passport.
The steamroller of Romanization prevented admittance of Jews to the governmental apparatus and caused severe economic pressures.
These pressures, however, could be resisted with bribery.
Facing the demographic, social and political changes, those coming back were confronted with difficult personal dilemmas: integrate into local life or choose emigration to the West, to the US, and start a new life there.
Acclimatization in Siret meant the pursuance of petit livelihoods, the opening of a store, a hard struggle for a slice of bread.
Such daily life ceased to attract them all.
Rumors about America, Land of the Unlimited Possibilities enchant many.
The main dilemma is from where to take the money in order to reach the German Harbor of Hamburg and purchase there a sailing ticket in one of the boats of the shipping company Hapag, which transfer immigrants to the US, in a trip which lasts about six weeks.
Thanks to Jewish welfare organizations working in the field solutions have been found.
Quite a few choose the option of emigration.
I found no data about people who preferred to go to Palestine, although following the Balfour Declaration a messianic atmosphere prevailed in the Jewish street.
Oh People of Israel - Where Art Thou, asked then Prof. Chaim Weizmann, the future first President of Israel.
A significant answer to this call has not been heard then from Siret.
Among those who emigrated from Siret to America we identified Serulche Landmann (son of David and Dinza Landmann), Gabriel Herzig (Rabbi Avraham Katz’s son in law) and Ackermann.
It is important to distinguish in this era between the twenties and the thirties.
During the twenties, the heavy pressures of the Romanian Authorities towards Romanization notwithstanding, the Habsburg-Austrian legacy has not yet been entirely obliterated.
The inter-ethnic relations have still not been affected.
The Jewish Community kept functioning according to the Austrian law of 1890.
Only in 1928 the Romanian Law of Religions became valid.
In the local governments Jews were still serving in city and town councils.
Following the world economic crisis of 1929 the Jewish middle class was also affected.
The law of Debt Conversion (Conversiunea) intensely affected Jewish traders and bankers, who had lent money to farmers.
Nevertheless, rather after 1934 an economic recovery took place, which continued until 1937.
With Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany, the pressure of the anti-Semitic parties:
all varieties of the Causists (Blue Shirts) and the Iron Guard (Green Shirts) increased.
Tension in the schools was widespread.
Jewish children were exposed to beatings and insults and the calls Jidani la Palestina (Jews to
Palestine) became a routine.
Market days (Iarmaroc) were prone to catastrophes.
Under Tatarescu’s Government also the personal security of the Jews became precarious.
The brief episode of the manifestly anti-Semitic Goga-Cuza Government: December 1937-
January 1938, of which the only program was depriving the Jews of their civil status and
economic positions was, most fortunately, a short-lived nightmare.
Although Carol II’s royalist dictatorship restored order in the state, the new regulation of 1938
abolished the citizenship of about a third of the Siret Jews.
The soviet military takeover of North Bukovina in June 28, 1940 turned Siret into a decaying
The town’s Jews lived in fear and terror.
The deportation of the Siret Jews, first to Calafat and Craiova (July 1941) and then to the
steppes of Transnistria (October 1940) along with the other Bukovina Jews marked the bitter
end of this ancient community.