Jewish Identities In Interwar Bucovina

There were Jews in Bucovina even before its existence as a separate province. As early as the 18th century, some Jewish families in the German area looked for a better life in this northern part of Moldavia, which subsequently became Bucovina. Here they were given more protection by the Moldavian voyvods, vassals of the Ottoman Sublime Porte, than in other parts of Medieval Europe. A historical survey After the territory in the north of Moldavia was yielded by the Ottoman Empire to the Habsburgs, in 1775, and became a part of the Austrian Empire, new waves of Jewish immigrants settled in Bucovina during the 18th and 19th centuries. The migration was supported by the imperial authorities through economic advantages. In exchange for the chance of creating a better life for themselves, the Jews had to become loyal subjects, and after 1867, trustworthy citizens of the Habsburg Empire. The assimilation or, better said, the acculturation of the Jews in Central Europe was a general phenomenon. Through education and a kind of prosperity, many of them managed to rise to the level of the local elites, adopting their language. A good example for this is Hungary, where, until the end of the 19th century, the majority of Jews became native speakers of Hungarian. In Bucovina, although a considerable geographical distance from the nucleus of the German linguistic area, an important part of the Jewish immigrants gradually became native speakers of German, assimilating at the same time the German culture. Nevertheless, the native speakers of German didn't become a majority among the Jews that settled in Bucovina, because of the fact that, up till World War I and a little after, successive waves of immigrants continued to supplement the number of Yiddish speakers, who couldn't be assimilated by German language and culture. But the Jews who were native speakers of German represented a majority in the urban centers and especially in Bucovina's capital, Cernautzi. Similarly, Germanophone Jews lived in smaller towns as well, like Suceava (34.2%) and Radautzi (33.6%). The fact that they were fond of the German language and culture was the expression of their loyalty towards the Austrian state. As they were playing at the same time an important role in the socio-economic life of the province, they created a specific local identity, with roots in their past as Austrian subjects. What differentiated them from the native Germans from Bucovina were their religion and their traditions. But the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, followed by the policy of Romanianzation of Bucovina after it united with Romania, and especially the increasing popularity of Nazism with the Germans, led to an identity crisis among the Germanophone Jews from Bucovina, which took different forms. An identity issueIt would be inadequate to talk, with reference to the period of Great Romania, about the "Romanian Jewry" as the totality of the Jews who were Romanian citizens. The majority of those who, before 1918, lived in the territories which only after World War I became a part of the Romanian state, had little to do with the Romanian language, history and culture. The Jews from Transylvania had been assimilated, from the linguistic and cultural point of view, as Hungarians, and those from the urban environment even considered themselves Hungarians of Mosaic religion. In Bessarabia, the majority of the Jews spoke Yiddish as their mother tongue, while the few Jewish intellectuals were native speakers of Russian. Only in the Old Kingdom, that is in Moldavia and Muntenia (Wallachia), the majority of the Jews had Romanian as their mother tongue, and were fond of the Romanian cultural values. Hebrew was then more of a cult language, and not all the Jews endorsed the Zionist idea of its revival and everyday use.In the context of linguistic diversity which characterized Romanian Jewry after the Union, it became obvious that the language could no longer be considered as an element of cohesion for the Jews in Romania, that's why it would have been better to adopt a common language, such as the Romanian language. Still, the Jews from Bucovina, especially those from Cernautzi, continued to nurture their German identity, even though more and more of them were acknowledging the need to educate their children in the spirit of the Romanian language and culture. The reserve of the Bucovina Jews towards the assimilation of the Romanian language and culture was due to an important difference between the Jews that lived in the Romanian Kingdom before World War I and those of the same religion from Bucovina. The latter experienced emancipation during the Austrian domination, enjoying the full rights of citizen long before the difficult emancipation of those of the same religion in the Romanian Kingdom. The German culture of Jewish origin developed in Bucovina under Austrian rule, especially since the second half of the 19th century, through representatives like Karl Emil Franzos, Emil Singer and Kamillo Lauer. After a certain lull in the first two decades of the 20th century, the cultural output of the Germanophone Jews in Bucovina experienced in the '30s a spectacular upsurge. Also at this time, the literature now represented by Alfred Margul-Sperber, Alfred Kittner and Rose Ausländer expressed the attachment of the Jewish intellectuals to the German language and culture. So, in spite of the change in Bucovina's inclusion in a certain state, the ones that before 1918 were educated in the spirit of German culture were influenced by a powerful German identity, with a Jewish tinge and feelings of nostalgia for Vienna. It was the same intellectuals who identified themselves with the German language, trying to integrate their literary and artistic creation in the universal German culture. The above mentioned writers indubitably belonged to this category.In the interwar period, the Jews from Bucovina were able to attend only primary school in the German language, after which they had to continue their studies in Romanian high schools. This change initiated a process which occurred in different ways and with different intensities, having an unmediated influence upon the identity of the younger generations of the Germanophone Jewish families. It's very unlikely that their assimilation of the Romanian language and culture would have provided them with more opportunities in life, given the fact that Romanian identity was not given by linguistic or cultural affiliation, but by ethnic origin. Nevertheless, in the small towns in the south of Bucovina, where the Romanian environment was more powerful, such as Campulung, Gura Humorului, Suceava, the preference of the young Jews from Germanophone families for the Romanian language increased considerably up till the end of the '30s. Some of them even tried to adopt a patriotic attitude towards Romania, as a result of the new socio-political events, thus hoping to obtain from the state a treatment equal to that of the Romanians. In the north of Bucovina, especially at Cernautzi, the German cultural heritage was still rather powerful and able to stop, or at least delay, a new assimilation of the Jews. A telling example of this is the poet Paul Celan, the last of the most prominent representatives of the culture of Germanophone Jews from Bucovina, contemporary with two other writers of the same cultural background: Immanuel Weißglas and Alfred Gong. A biographyPaul Celan embodied, through his education and cultural affiliation, the example of the young intellectual from a middle-class family of Germanophone Jews from Cernautzi. In the twenties, his parents still considered it necessary to ensure an adequate environment for their children to learn their mother tongue, German. Paul Celan was enrolled first in a German kindergarten, where Romanian was almost never spoken. As a consequence of their forefathers' conversion from Judaic Orthodoxy to Hasidism, religion had a secondary role for many of the Jews from Cernautzi. So, the religious education of children commenced only when they started school. There was a Hebrew-language primary school in Cernautzi, where Paul Celan went as well. Hebrew language, then used mainly as a religious language, constituted nevertheless the most important element of Jewish identity. Junior high-school education in interwar Romania functioned in the Romanian language. As a consequence, the Jewish students had to learn Romanian as well. The high schools founded by the state were made first of all for the Romanian students, but their low number in Cernautzi meant the high-schools were used mainly by Jews and Ukrainians. A concrete example of this was the high school where Paul Celan studied and took his baccalaureate. But as many other Germanophone Jews from Cernautzi, Paul Celan remained faithful to the German language even after the terrible experience of World War II. The young poet Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger from Cernautzi started to write poetry at the age of fifteen. She continued writing in German even in the harsh conditions at the forced-labor camp in Mikhailovka, which was under the terror-inflicting domination of SS troops. Deported and humiliated, as a consequence of the domination of German Nazism, these Jews from Bucovina continued to speak to each other in German as their mother tongue. Even today, the people from Cernautzi, brought up in Germanophone Jewish families, although scattered all over the globe, in extremely diverse linguistic environments, continue to use German in their everyday life. A new projection of an identity?A question arises as to whether there was a third direction in the construction of linguistic and cultural identity as well. An answer might come from Arnold Daghani (1909-1985), Bucovina's forgotten painter, who presented in one of his drawings the tragic death of the young poet Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, choosing his own way of expressing his identity. Although his work contains elements of Jewish culture, both German and Romanian, he also had something we could now call "European identity". Arnold Daghani was born in Suceava, into a Jewish family which was native German speaking. His initial name was Korn. Although Arnold abandoned the religious strictness of his father, he changed the name Korn, adopting through its Hebrew translation that of Daghani. Monica Bohm Ducem, who wrote the biographical foreword to her book dedicated to Daghani's artistic work, assumed that the painter changed his name in the '30s, after he moved to Bucharest. But new evidence points to the fact that he still had the name of Korn, at least until the end of the war, after his return from Transnistria. Even more than the change of name, Daghani was willing to change his religion, converting to Calvinism. Instead of German, which was his native tongue, he preferred adopting and using in his notes English and French. There is no doubt that Daghani also spoke Romanian well, since he lived in Bucharest both before and after the war, still, in his correspondence with a Romanian lover he used either English or French. Apparently, one might think that he wanted to get rid of the German cultural inheritance of the family, constructing a new identity precisely because of the horrors of Nazism, which he felt in the work camp at Mikhailovka as well. Still, many other Jews from Germanophone families, such as Paul Celan, did not give up their identity, refusing to find any connections between German culture and Nazism.Segregation among the native speakers of German became inevitable, obeying the criteria of ethnicity and religion. What became characteristic was not what united them, that is the language and the culture, but what differentiated among them: the race and religion. The evolution of the relations between the Germans and the Germanophone Jews played an important role in the diversification of the identity of the latter. Up to the beginning of the '30s, anti-Semitism was not perceived as a German phenomenon. German instigators were to be found among the Romanians and the Ukrainians as well. In the years up to WW II in Bucovina, it was still possible for a Jewish boy to have a German governess, evidence that the anti-Semitic propaganda hadn't poisoned that quickly the minds of the common people. The Germans and the Jews from Cernautzi read the same newspapers until 1925, since there weren't any separate papers for Christian and Jewish speakers of German.Mayer Ebner, one of the leaders of the Zionists form Bucovina, characterized in 1927 the relationship between the Germans and the Jews by saying that "there are few places in the world inhabited by Germans and Jews, where their life together is so peaceful, friendly and cordial as in Bucovina." After World War I, when the Germans became themselves a minority in Great Romania, they considered their Jewish conationals "fellows by fate" ("Schicksalgenossen"), not ideological opponents. But after the rise of Nazism in Germany, there were changes in the political realm and in the relationships between the Germans and the Jews from Bucovina. The decay of these relationships, especially after the anti-Semitic attacks in Germany in the night of 9 to 10 November 1938 (Reichskristallnacht), which triggered the boycott of the products from Germany on the part of the Jews, was signaled and analyzed by Alfred Margul-Sperber, a journalist from Cernautzi. He pleaded for the common fight of the "two nations", meaning the Germans and the Jews, who "have all the reasons to work together for their national salvation, supporting one another in order to maintain their German character, rather than allow for them to be disunited by irresponsible instigators." Alfred Margul-Sperber couldn't convince the representatives of the Germans from Bucovina to choose cooperation between the Germans and the Germanophone Jews instead of subordination to Nazi Germany. This failure was due to some circumstances in which the organizations of the Jews from Romania became more and more dependent on the subsidies of the Nazi government from Berlin. The politicization of everyday life made people question their identity. In a short time, identity would become, in Bucovina as well, a crucial element on which destinies, and even lives, depended. The destiny of the Jews from BucovinaAssuming an identity had for the inhabitants of Bucovina, irrespective of their nationality, but especially for the Jews, dramatic consequences between 1940 and 1945. Each ethnic group suffered one way or another, as a result of the decay of the political atmosphere and implicitly of the start of World War II. In fact, the first that had to leave Bucovina were the Germans. It is certain that they weren't deported, but the entire campaign of "return to the country" of the Germans from Bucovina had its roots in the action of misinforming and misleading them, as they were treated by the German authorities in conformity to the interests of Germany. Statistics show that many of those who asked to be "returned to the country" were turned down, or put in the category of those who were not qualified to ask for German citizenship. The greatest part of them were precisely converted Jews. Paradoxically, some of the Germanophone Jews felt their cultural identity as being so German, that they were willing to deny their Jewish origin, preferring the displacement in the Nazi Reich to becoming Soviet citizens, as a consequence of the fact that north Bucovina was yielded to the Russians in July 1940.The problem of the identity of the Jews from Bucovina was a complex one. Besides the two identities represented by the Jews who were native speakers of German and the ones who were native speakers of Yiddish, new directions for constructing identity appeared among the Germanophone Jews in Bucovina. The changes that came up in the European political evolution at the end of the '30s affected Bucovina area as well. The process of political transformations sped up in the second half of the '30s so much that these directions of constructing the identity had no time to settle in a new identity of the Jews in Bucovina. The deportations to Transnistria, the flight from racial persecution, but the determination of the survivors of the Holocaust to start a new life, in safety, far from the places where they suffered, contributed to the scattering of the Germanophone Jews from Bucovina throughout the world; but they carried, wherever they might have been, the memory of that "lieu de memoire" which was multicultural Bucovina of old times. Cultura, 27 October-2 November 2004

by Petru Weber