Suceava, or Schutz as it was called by the local residents, was a District City in Romania. Between 1348 and 1565 it was the Capital of Moldavia. The City of Suceava in Southern Bukovina dominates a valley through which a namesake river is winding its course. It is an ancient city, first mentioned in a document dated back to 1388, when it was ruled by Petru Muşat, the Governor of Moldavia (1375-1391). Moldavia existed as an independent entity as of the 14th century; the City of Suceava was its Capital until 1564, after which the Capital was moved to the City of Iași.
At the end of 1918, after World War I and 144 years of Austro-Hungarian rule, Bukovina became again part of Greater Romania. As a precondition for the Super Powers’ recognition of the annexation of Bukovina, Bessarabia and Transylvania by Romania, the latter was compelled in the Versailles Conference held in 1919, to commit itself to grant equal civil rights to its citizens. Notwithstanding, the Romanian Government kept evading its commitments regarding the Jews, even after the principle of conferring equal rights to them was recorded in Romania’s New Constitution, ratified on March 28, 1923.
In the summer of 1940 the Red Army entered Bukovina and Bessarabia, and the Romanian forces retreated from these provinces without giving fight. The anti-Semitic instigations prevailing prior to the retreat, the presence of Cuza’s and Codreanu’s adherents among the ranks of the Romanian Army as well as the hatred and frustration led to cruel murdering of Jews. The Jews of Schutz and especially those of its neighboring areas were not spared the atrocities.
In the spring of 1944 after the Red Army liberated Transnistria and advanced westward towards Bessarabia and Bukovina, the Jews who had survived the hell of the Holocaust started to come back home. Nowadays, only a handful of them remained in Suceava, mainly the aging and the sick, or such who had come from elsewhere and settled there. A considerable number reached western countries (Germany, France, the US, Canada and other countries), but for the great majority of the Holocaust’s survivors Jeremiah’s prophesy: “…thy children shall come again to their own border” came true.
Beginning of the Jewish Settlement in Suceava
At the start of the 15th century, Alexandru cel Bun (1400-1432) invited Jews from Galicia and Hungary in order to help the development and promotion of economy and trade. Another ruler, Ştefan cel Mare (1457-1504), who used to be treated by the Jewish physician Shmil, was sympathetic to the Jews. The ruler Aron Vodă (1591-1595) was of Jewish origin. Ştefan Răzvan, another ruler of Suceava, turned also to Jewish merchants (1595) in order to develop trade and economy.
At the start of the 17th century the Jews fled Russia after persecutor Khmelnytsky and his assassinating thugs had destroyed hundreds of communities and murdered ten thousands of Jews. Some of them reached Suceava and brought with them Hassidism and the Yiddish language. An organized community existed already in the early 18th century, headed by a rabbi responsible for issues such as justice, finances and civil status.
Antioh Cantemir, the ruler of Moldavia (1705-1707) granted to the Jews the right to live in Suceava. Merchandises coming from Galicia or Hungary have used to pass through Suceava on their way to the harbors of the Danube River and the Black Sea.
In 1774, when Austria conquered Bukovina, there were 50 families in Suceava (203 persons – 108 males and 95 females).
In 1771 a synagogue went up in flames and only in 1781 a permit to build a new one was received.
In 1782 General Enzenberg ordered the deportation of all Jews, who had “sneaked” into Bukovina as of 1769 and had not paid an annual contribution of 4 Gulden; thus 31 families were driven out, counting 90 persons.
A real estate census conducted in the City of Suceava reveals that a considerable amount of the houses downtown belonged to Jews. One of the main streets was called The Street of the Jews (judengasse) and the name was unofficially preserved until the deportation of the Jews in October 1941.
The representatives of the Suceava Community, Laizer Joel, David Shimshon and Ephraim Moishe played an active role in conferences along with other delegates from all 13 districts of the state. The conferences were held in Chernovitz and a petition was sent on behalf of the whole Jewish population in order to enable access to kosher food and confirm leasing of lands and starting of new businesses.
A 3 member committee headed the Community; it was elected once every 3 years by its members in the presence of the representative of the authorities.
In 1786 an attempt was made to force Jews to work in agriculture and 5 “volunteers” were requested for this purpose. The families, comprising 12 men, 7 women, 10 sons and 9 daughters received beside land, 5 apartments, 5 cattle-sheds and storehouses also 5 sets of tools, 10 horses, 10 oxen and 13 cows.
In 1790 a secular German-language school was established and the teacher was one Enoch Goldenthal, who according to the Community report dated June 17, 1791 used to curse the Jewish religion and was unpopular. In 1792 a teacher called Bally was employed. Beside this school there were private religious teaching houses (kheiders) kept by the Community.
In 1808 73 Jewish families were living in Suceava – a number large enough in order to organize a community and elect a leadership, which was supposed to get the approval of the local authorities.
The main occupation of the Suceava Jews was the manufacture and marketing of brandy, beer and alcohol. The brewery, which belonged to Avraham Schecter, Aron Barber and Bauer competed with similar plants owned by gentiles in Chernovitz and Suceava, so the latter filed a complaint, and along with the local government and the Organization of Brewers claimed that the owners of the Jewish plant didn’t have the required apprenticeship certificate; consequently the plant was closed down in 1802. In addition, it was decided that according to the law, Jews in Suceava were permitted to keep only a buffet, and like all other Jews in the state, they were heavily taxed. In 1817 there were 272 families in Suceava and the surrounding area, which due to the exorbitant taxes kept falling behind more and more on their payments.
At the start of the 19th century the Jewish Community of Suceava was headed by the following elected Committee members: Hersch Baber, Feibisch Hattner, Solomon Rohrlich, Yuda Kramer and Yossel Bandel. Although the religion teacher Nathan Goldstein was supposed to remain only until the end of October 1810, he still held his office in 1821. On September 21, 1821 he managed to achieve a certificate from the Regional Government, which authorized him to register divorces of Jewish married couples in case one of the partners converted to Christianity.
Suceava’s Jewish population kept growing as of 1841 - and towards the end of 1880, 3750 (37.1%) out of 10104 city residents were Jewish.
The number of Jewish students grew in the same proportions: in the Suceava County there were in 1871 28 Jewish male students (3.3%) and 39 female students (12.5%); in 1875 - 34 males (3.5%) and 40 females (9.4%) and in 1880 – 75 males (7.2%) and 282 females (34.6%). On the other hand only 10 female students visited private schools in 1871 and in 1880 – one female and one male.
Suceava has always been a hub for educated people and until the annexation of Bukovina by Romania there had been there quite a few merchants and only a handful of craftsmen. The Jewish population was intensely active and played an important role in public life. At the beginning of the 20th century, 1901, there were 6787 Jews in Suceava proper and 1500 more in the rest of the county. In 1914 there were already 8000 Jews, but only 900 of them were tax paying members of the Jewish community.
The Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Jewish Community at that time was the lawyer Dr. Adolf Finkler and his deputy was Samuel Hellmann. The members of the Committee were Karl Scherzer, Dr. Leo Bogen, also a lawyer, Dr. Jakob Kraemer, the city’s doctor and Benzion Fraenkel. Dr. Abraham Levi served as rabbi, the dayan, the rabbinical judge, was Schulem Moskowicz, the community secretary was Salomon Gottesmann, the religion teacher was Bernhard Fraenkel, the cantor was Avraham Chajtman and the teachers at the Talmud Torah (a religious studying institute) were A. M. Rosenstrauch and Sam. Kupferberg. The yearly income and expenses of the Jewish Community at that time were 100,000 Kronen.
Synagogues in the City of Suceava
There were ten synagogues in Suceava, where praying quorums (minyans) were gathered each morning and evening. The Great Synagogue, The Temple, was built at the beginning of the 19th century (the cornerstone was laid by Rabbi Chaim Tyrer, of Chernovitz. The first cantor was Menasche Mass from Russia, followed by cantor I. Spektor. The Baal Tefilah (the person who reads the liturgy during the worship service) was Srul Ebner, a renowned Talmud scholar. The custodian of the Temple was Mendel Eisenberg and the members of the management were Hermann Beiner (an active captain in the Austrian army), tannery owner Solomon Sternlieb, ironmonger Shaye Langer, Mendel Bogen, Meir Rosenstock, Markus Kahn, Eisik Grinberg, Alter Grinberg, Lipa Fraenkel, Pavel Holdengraber and Hersch David.
The Great Beit Hamidrash (House of religious] learning) was founded in 1860 by Hersh Langer and Jakob Baer Weidenfeld.
The Khevra Gmilat-Khassadim [or Gakh] (Charity Society) Synagogue was founded in 1870, renovated in 1910 and repeatedly refurbished in 1929, 1975 and 1983. Aron Hakodesh (The Thorah ark) was sculptured by a local artisan and the walls were decorated with biblical motives by the artist Nossik. Among the several Ba’alay Tefila (readers of liturgical texts) Asher Reicher, Joseph Glickman, Ephraim Weissbuch Berel Liquornik and Simkha Stattner were especially prominent. This is the only synagogue out of a lot of others in Suceava, which remained intact until today; all others were destroyed by the Communist Authorities.
The Khevrat Tehilim (Psalms Society) Synagogue was founded by Moishe Marian and Beit Knesset Hakhayatim (The Tailors’ Synagogue) – by Eisik Rothkopf. The Vizhnizer Klaus (house of prayers) was founded by Mordekhay Tennenbaum and the one owned by the Sadegura Court – by Mordekhay Leib Spran, Wolf Segal and Yonas Schmalbach, who donated the land. In addition there were there The Great Beit Hamidrash, The Vatikim (Seniors’) Synagogue and those of the rabbis Hager and Moskovicz.
Until the deportation of the Jews in October 1941 the synagogues were full to overflowing in the holidays of Pessach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukot.
In the month of Elul, the last in the Jewish calendar, crowds of residents flocked to the cemeteries. On the Sabbath and holidays some used to wear Streimel hats and kaftan cloaks and on Yom Kippur – Kittels. On Saturdays all trade came to a standstill and most of the stores were closed down, although no relevant municipal law existed. The Orthodox used to get up at dawn on the eve of Hayamim Hanora’im (the “terrible days” i.e. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and go to the synagogues for the Slikhot (forgiveness) prayers and on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (when it didn’t occur on the Sabbath) to the Girla stream (at the foot of the Fortress) for the execution of the tashlikh custom, by which they shook their clothes pockets as a symbolic act for the shaking off of the sins gathered in the year that passed and begged to be pardoned. On Yom Kippur Eve donations for the poor as well as for national funds such as KKL and Tel Khai were collected in the synagogues. Immediately after Ne’i’lah (literally: locking, i.e. Yom Kippur’s final prayer) a lot of families were hurrying home to stick in the first peg for the hut of the imminent Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) in order to follow the verse “Go from strength to strength”. On the Sukkot Holiday there used to be in every synagogue at least one etrog – the Sukkot citrus fruit – which arrived from Palestine. On Simkhat Torah, Sukkot’s final evening, the children used to join the traditional Hakafot (walking around) – waving special flags while the crowd started singing and dancing with Torah rolls in their arms.
Suceava was a multifaceted Community headed by an Executive Committee, which took care of the religious needs of the Jews, of whom the majority kept adhering to tradition.
The Community employed the dayan – the rabbinical judge – Gershon Stattner beside several shokhatim – ritual slauterers: Schaechter, Ehrlich, Genuth, Hattner and Nussbaum. The slaughterhouse for poultry downtown and the one for cattle and the like at the foot of the Ştefan cel Mare Fortress, supplied the Community with kosher meat.
The Community kept a kindergarten managed by teacher Blanka Isolis and Ethel Karp-Shapira (who later perished in Siberia) and a Talmud Torah in a building donated by the Vogel family (Itzik and Regina), where the Torah books, the Gmara and the Hebrew language were taught. The teachers were Geuchmann, Weissbuch, Mueller and Karten.
There were several Talmudic scholars in the city e.g. Weissbuch, Nussbrauch, Bakel, Weissberg, Meir Rauchberger, known as der Poilscher and others. In addition, there were teachers (one of them was called Kalchstein) who kept kheiders, as well as such who were private tutors e.g. Weissbuch, Gottlieb, Feibish, Melamed, Weissberg and Blum.
Next to the building of the Jewish Community there was in the 20’es of the previous century a Jewish high school recognized by the authorities. According to a law from 1925 the teaching language was Romanian; however, most of the teachers were Jews: N. Delfen, Halpern, schoolmistress Dr. Levi, Steinhauser, Trauner, Waldmann and others.
For many years the only public bath which included also a Mikveh (a bath designated for ritual ablutions), was owned by the Community. There were two cemeteries in the city - the old (closed at the end of the 19th century) and the new, for which a plot of land opposite to the Christian graveyard was allocated to the Jewish Community in 1925. In this site a mass grave was found in which Jewish martyrs murdered in 1940 in Zahareşti by troops commanded by a criminal called captain Karp were buried. Under the auspices of the Jewish Community their bones were exhumed in 1941 and reburied in the Jewish cemetery, Next to the mass grave soaps were interred, produced by Hitlerite villains – may God curse them - from the corpses of the murdered Jews (R.J.F. – Rein Juedisches Fett i.e. Pure Jewish Fat).
In the old cemetery there are also graves of rabbis who served in the city.
Not far away from the old cemetery, on a hill at the outskirts of the city tombstones with Hebrew letters were found. On one of them the name Khana could be read. This was probably the earliest graveyard, dated from the days of the beginning of the Jewish settlement.
Towards the end of the 60’s of the previous century, while under the rule of Ceaușescu and the Communist party, Mr. Ephraim Weissbuch was summoned one day as representative of the Jewish Community to the Party headquarters and was required to agree to the construction of a road meant to pass through the old cemetery. The applied pressure notwithstanding, he rejected the demand on the spot, claiming that this would mean desecration of the cemetery. Because of his vehement refusal, higher Authorities in the Capital were applied to with a request to let a senior official come and decide on the issue. And indeed, a few days later a representative of the Ministry of Religions appeared in the city; he listened to the contentions of both sides and ruled that the planned road doesn’t necessarily have to run in a straight line as if it were a ruler; there are endless numbers of bypass roads, in the country, he said.
Organizations of Mutual Aid
1) Institutions of Beneficence
Already in those days banks used to receive deposits and grant loans against appropriate collaterals, paying and charging interest respectively; the concept of overdraft was unheard of.
When a merchant needed a sum of money for a short while, he would turn to another familiar tradesman and ask for gmilut khessed (act of beneficence) i.e. a short-term loan refundable without charging interest. In most cases his request would be granted and he would receive a part of the required sum or all of it in a discreet manner, occasionally without a promissory note or any written document, solely based upon the trust prevailing between borrower and lender. It goes without saying that such an act was based on mutuality, constituting an example for the trust and solidarity which existed among most members of the Jewish Community.
2) Fund Raising for the Needy
Another form of aid existed when someone – due to a sickness or any other calamity - required a substantial sum without being able to pay it back. In such cases an anonymous fund raising used to be carried out; two respectable Community members would then pass between the stores and ask for a donation without referring for whom and for what purpose. The more honorable the fundraisers, the larger the donations. Occasionally, the potential donor would ask what was expected of him and donate accordingly.
In 1940, when the deported Jews from the neighboring villages arrived in the city, members of the Community rose to action, organizing a fundraising for their sake. The city was divided to streets, which the fundraisers would comb and the collected money given to the needy deportees.