Benzion Fuchs, Simcha Weissbuch
In the fall of 2002, at the annual Holocaust commemoration at "Mesoah" - Tel-Yitzhak, while talking with Mimi Artzy and her late husband Yitzhak-Itziu (the then Mesoah Chairman), they remarked how sad it is that the once prominent Suceava (Shotz) Jewish community is the only one left without a written document to preserve from extinction the memory of its people and tradition. It dawned on me how true this was and how soon it might be too late to fill this gap. After a week of reflection, I took up with my friends Simcha Weissbuch (scholar and author of books of his own) and Yehuda Tennenhaus (the most authoritative source on Shotz around) the issue – its urgency and feasibility – to write and indeed publish a book, recording and reporting on what actually happened to the community we grew out of and that now is long extinct. We were fully aware of the lateness of this endeavour, our parents and the elders of the community not being with us anymore, to guide and advise us and much of the evidence gone or difficult to retrieve.
Convinced - even if apprehensive - of the significance of our decision, we called for a meeting of former 'Shotzer', on 17.12.2002 in Haifa and there we unrolled before the roughly 60 participants our plans and goal, which met with unanimous enthusiasm. The Association of former Shotz residents was thus formed: Menachem Fischler, Mordechai Gross, Israel Huebner and Meir Kostiner joined us in the directing committee, whence the Editorial Board emerged, as indicated on the title page. I should state, without undue immodesty but with pride and deep satisfaction, that we have given this project priority in our activities at the best of our abilities, our strength and our resources, to bring it to its successful end. With no less gratification do we cite the cooperation and dedication of many within and outside the Association who helped in so many ways. On a more personal note, my heartfelt thanks are due to Tamar, Neora and Eden for their encouragement, involvement and help during all this arduous period. That is how, after less than four ‘long’ years, the final goal, this Book, was achieved.
As to the contents of the Book and the process of writing it, the intent and underlying principles were: to retrieve and comprise as much as possible of the past and recent history of Shotz and of those who made it what it was, to stick to the truth, to preserve the memory of those who perished in or in the wake of the Holocaust and of those who died while defending the new/old homeland and, with no less fervour, to tally up and praise the survivors for having made it, building new lives, careers and homes, here or abroad. As it turned out, all those are a source of pride and honour to the community they stem from and that is why we gave up the initial definition/title of a “Memorial Book” in favour of “The Book of the Jews from Suceava (Shotz) …..”. To be sure, we were all conscious of the seriousness of the undertaking and carried it out with utmost care and sensitivity, especially in the memorial chapters. We are anxious and apologise for any possible errors and include an Erratum page at the end of the first volume for the readers to use.
Admittedly, we deliberately emphasize the name “Shotz”: we had lived in Suceava (Suczawa, etc.) on the face of it, but as it turned out, we merely dwelled there, we were just guests, undesired ones and the actual home had been the Shotz community. We are now fortunate to live in our own home and to be able to tell the Shotz story, to bring ‘her’ back to life, even if for one little while, in the sentences of this book.
Our choice of the book’s format was not accidental. The first volume comprises the general chapters, results of archival searches and personal data collection, closing with the painful “Yizkor” chapter, on the loss of all but half of our community, children, parents and elderly. The second volume consists of just one chapter, that of the personal accounts, in my eyes the most significant in the entire book. One is well aware of the skepticism autobiographical memoirs are read with, due to the subjective filters authors are bound to use in telling their story, especially after so many years. Here, however, the accounts are both fascinating and moving, short or long stories, each one unique in its own way but, most importantly, making possible to compare and verify facts and events and to extract the true picture and conclusions. A last remark on the Book’s covers: after prolonged contact with Shotzer old and new friends living abroad, we concluded that – in absence of a full translation – the Hebrew main/right cover will be matched by an English left cover, followed by the entire opening chapter in English translation. We trust that each and all of you will find in the book his/her past or that of the ancestors, or at least a pointer where to look for it.
We do hope that the Book will hold the attention of many generations to come. Enjoy reading it.
Tel-Aviv, September 2006
Jews from Russia, Hungary and Galizia (Galicja) arrived in Suceava (Suczawa) as early as the 15th century and on. They settled there and lived in relative harmony with the other minorities in the region (Bucovina).
In time and as their number kept growing, Jewish communities sprang up and developed dynamic religious, social and economic activities. In the 20th century, the Suceava Jewish community became one of the prominent communities in the region in terms of size, liveliness and cultural influence. It produced or hosted eminent Rabbis and scholars in ten synagogues, a Talmud-Torah and Kindergarten, Jewish social (WIZO, OSE, Hadassah, etc.) and Zionist organizations (Beitar, Hanoar Hazioni, Mizrachi, etc.) as well as secular intellectuals and politicians.
Some of the local Jews were strictly religious but most adhered to tradition, including ‘kashrut’, observing the Sabbath and religious feasts, awarding Jewish education to the children, including Hebrew. There was even a small but steady trickle of emigrants to Palestine between the two worldwars.
Before WWII and with the arrival of antisemitic regimes in Romania, however, the situation of the Jews deteriorated, from malicious imposition, through persecution, to murder and pogroms, culminating in the deportation of the Jews (of Bucovina) to Transnistria. The survivors returned and, while trying to rehabilitate their lives, forgetting the offense and suffering was too much for them and the majority decided to leave, in large part to the newly established homeland, Israel.
The new chosen road was rough and the life in the new country was not easy, either. In the first period, the Romanians were utterly uncooperative in letting people out and the British mandatory forces were painfully unwilling to let people in. But slowly, Suceava finally got rid of its Jews (except a few, partly from outside), and Shotz and surroundings' once proud and vital Jewish communities were largely gone.
This Book’s main purpose is to preserve at least their memory for the benefit of future generations, to be a written monument to the dead and a document on the real meaning of Diaspora for those who didn’t experience it.
Remembering the past and facing a better future, let us pray that our offsprings should live in peace, freedom and security in our land, as written: "וישבתם לבטח בארצכם" (ויקרא כ"ו, ה').
A sincere salute to all members of our Association, whose accounts shed light on the past of Shotz and surrounding communities, for generations to come.
Kiryat Yam, June 2006
During my tense return to Romania in 1997, following a period when a part of the Romanian press fancied me as some sort of “Hooligan non grata”, the day I spent in Suceava, far from the country’s cultural elite, was revitalizing. Vivid, even if melancholic memories; the town was clean and serene, in visible contrast to the dirty and chaotic Bucharest and the people still kept up some old style, vague habsburgian allure. The kitsch concoction of byzantine suburbanism and cheap American advertising had not yet pervaded sweet Bucovina.
The high-school building was still there and the same. So was the old Jewish cemetery on the hill of the “Pădurice”, only that it had an additional resident, carrying with her my entire past. There, at my mother’s grave, the irreversible ages resurrected her, the non-returning one. I became thus too, one of those who return to far and past places, as some sort of ‘pilgrim of the impossible return’.
The outcome of this experience has since been made available in a book, which stimulates, as I realized, pilgrimages of a second kind. This year, almost a decade after that journey into the past, I received from the Spanish translator of the “The Hooligan's Return” a few photos he took in Suceava, at my mother’s grave. He wanted to see himself the site portrayed in the book. And he was not the only one, as I found out.
When Gertrude Stein, the self-exiled American writer, wrote in Paris – decades ago -about the difference between ‘entity’ and ‘identity’, she may have not suspected how compelling the ‘identity’ emblem would become in our days. Some sort of magic key to too many contemporary issues, but also and ever so often, the battle flag for those who believe that discovering their identity means, in fact, achieving their internal coherence and balance and enabling them to shape anew their past, present and future.
‘Identity’ is what ties us to fellow people, to our social group, to the community: when talking about a man, medical doctor, afro-american, basket-ball fan, diabetic, family head, and car owner, we inevitably ascribe him to the respective category of American citizens, men, diabetics, etc., groups having one or more of these features.
‘Entity’ is what stays with us when we remain alone in a room. Sheer solitude, individuality. Reminiscences from the formative period in our family and society, more or less unchanged residues of that ‘identity’ define us globally, ignoring discrepancies, character or even destiny.
This book – written in several languages, published in Israel – illustrates in its way what the expatriated Gertrude Stein affirmed once in Paris, her adopted homeland. The authors of the book are Jews who became Israelis, Canadians, Americans, etc. who lived once in a town in Bucovina, in north-eastern Romania: Suceava. They were identified as such, as were their parents, grand-parents or even grand-grand-parents: some from Austro-Hungarian times in which Jewish life prospered and flourished, others from the gloomy period between WWI and WWII, with its demeaning intimidations by the “legionari” or the Antonescu regime, culminating in pogroms and the Transnistria deportation, others from the too short after-war period of “home coming” with its hollow illusions, others from the following decades of communist dictatorship. The ID of each and all of the authors, a cosmopolitan mélange of contrasts with one particular unifying biographical - ‘shotzer’ – quality. Merry or sad memories, joy and suffering binds them to the place they left, most of them willingly, some forced by circumstances, memories they carried along and became testimonies for this book..
This impulse of biographic retrieval perpetuates the moment into History. The personal stories of these former Suceava residents are part of the history of the town and the country it belongs to, but also, in a less canonic way, of the country they immigrated to.
To be sure, the place here remembered does not exist as such any more, or possibly not at all! Times have changed, the entire epoch has. Yet their memory is upheld in these pages for their potential readers, for present and future generations.
In the summer of this year, on the occasion of a borderline birthday, I received from the husband of a past Suceava sweetheart, living now in London, an account of their journey to visit her relatives in Burdujeni. This is my own birthplace, of too many years ago, then a “shtetl” full of vivacity and dreams, now a mere suburb of the city of Suceava. "I'm taking you to a place that no longer exists" had said his Romanian wife.
The Brit was delighted by the local food and drinks, the colourful pastoral life of the locals, easygoing and passionate at a time, by the domestic pleasures and pious recesses of the picturesque inhabitants. His account ends as following:
"Returning to London Stansted airport, T. (the wife) presented her British passport to the rather young lady at the immigration desk.The passport lists place but not country of birth. After studying the document for fractionally longer than the ten seconds that is the norm, the lady looked up, smiled, and asked: 'Şi mai ştiţi limba română?' So it carries resonance and identity, that single word 'Burdujeni'. Not bad, you may think, for a place that no longer exists."
In the memory of the young airport official of Romanian descent, however, the place existed, as it does in the memory of the authors of this book.
Let us hope that it will also come alive for the readers of this book.
New York, August 2006