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Chernovtsy, Ukraine

CHERNOVTSY (Ger. Czernowitz; Rum. Cernǎuţi), city in Ukraine, formerly capital of *Bukovina ; under Austrian rule, 1775–1918, and part of Romania in 1918–40 and 1941–44. Jews are mentioned in Chernovtsy from 1408, and larger numbers – both Ashkenazim and Sephardim – settled there in the course of that century. Later the Chernovtsy community assumed a distinctly Ashkenazi character, with Yiddish as the spoken language. The "Breasla jidoveasca," as the community was called in Romanian, was first headed by an elder (starost). The second half of the 17th century brought Jewish immigrants and culture from Poland. They traded with agricultural produce and cattle and Jewish artisans were organized in their own unions. The Russian-Turkish wars (1766–74) caused severe hardship and the Jews had to leave Chernovtsy for a time. After the area came under Austrian rule in 1775, the Austrian military regime immediately began a policy of discrimination with the avowed aim of "clearing" Bukovina of Jews. The measures were resisted by the community, which attempted to obtain their revocation by the central government in Vienna. Nevertheless, a number of Jews from Galicia immigrated to Bukovina during this period, and many settled in Chernovtsy. Despite the restrictions still in force the Jews there acquired real property and engaged in large-scale commercial transactions. After 1789 the community was reorganized on the Austrian communal pattern. In 1812, during the Napoleonic wars, Jewish goods and property were plundered by the Russian Army.

Tension arose within the community between the Ḥasidim and maskilim around the beginning of the 19th century and later intensified. In 1853 the community converted its hospice for the sick, founded in 1791, into a full-scale hospital. An imposing synagogue was built in 1853, in addition to the many other houses of prayer. The community's first cemetery dated from 1770, and a second was opened in 1866. *Ḥayyim b. Solomon Tyrer (also referred to as Ḥayyim Czernowitzer) served as rabbi from 1789 to 1807. In the second half of the 19th century Jews dominated trade, and 307 of the city's 753 artisans were Jews. Cultural life developed after 1848, along with trends toward assimilation and the penetration of Haskalah attitudes into wider circles. Abraham *Goldfaden , one of the leaders of the Haskalah movement in Bukovina, was active in Chernovtsy. The foundation of a university there in 1875 attracted Jewish students throughout Bukovina and had a stimulating and diversifying influence on the social and cultural life of the community. From the end of the 19th century student organizations played an important part in the Zionist movement there.

In 1872 the community split into independent Orthodox and Reform sections. The scholar Eliezer Elijah Igel served as rabbi of the Reform community for a time. A splendid Reform Temple was opened in 1877. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941. The *Czernowitz Yiddish language conference held in 1908 proclaimed Yiddish to be a national language of the Jewish people. Zionism made headway in the city despite opposition from the assimilationist and Orthodox elements. Jews also took an active part in public affairs. As early as 1897 one of the Jewish leaders, Benno Straucher, was returned to the Austrian parliament as representative for Chernovtsy (1897–1914). Jews there joined the various socialist movements; the *Bund was also active in the city. Elections to the municipal council were strongly contested by the various Jewish parties.

During World War I, when the city passed from hand to hand between the Russians and Austrians (September–November 1914), the community suffered great hardship, and many left the city. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918, the soldiers of the Romanian Army who entered Chernovtsy behaved brutally toward the Jews and started a wave of persecution. With the incorporation of the city into Romania and the institution of a civil government, the situation of the Jews improved. One of the prominent personalities of Chernovtsy Jewry in general was the Zionist leader Meir *Ebner , editor of a German-language Jewish newspaper there. Other outstanding personalities who represented the Jews in the Romanian parliament were the historian Manfred Reifer and the socialist leader Jacob Pistiner.

The community numbered 14,449 in 1880; 17,359 in 1890; 21,587 in 1900 (31.9% of the total population); 28,613 in 1910 (32.8%); and 43,701 in 1919 (47.4%).

Hebrew works were printed in Chernovtsy for over a century, from 1835 to 1939, and nearly 340 items were issued by nine publishers and printers. Of these the most important was the house of Eckhardt (Peter, Johann, and Rudolf, 1835–92), where, with the help of Jewish experts, a complete Babylonian Talmud (1839–48), a Bible with standard commentaries (1839–42), the Mishnah with commentaries (1840–46), and other important rabbinic and kabbalistic-Ḥasidic works were printed; at a later stage some Haskalah literature was also printed there, and some Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals.

[Yehouda Marton]

Holocaust Period

In 1941 the Jewish population numbered 50,000, due to the influx of Jews from the smaller towns and villages in Bukovina. On the night of June 30, 1941, the Soviet Army vacated Chernovtsy. The following day gangs broke into Jewish homes, looting and burning them. On July 5, the first units of the German and Romanian armies entered the town, accompanied by Einsatzkommando 10b, which was a section of Einsatz gruppe D. This unit fulfilled its task of inciting the Romanians against the Jews; on the pretext that the Jews were plotting against the government, they murdered the Jewish intelligentsia. The reports of Einsatzkommando 10b contain data on the mass murders carried out in cooperation with the Romanian gendarmes and police. On July 8 and 9, the Einsatzkommando shot 100 Jews and another 400 were shot by the Romanian Army. On August 1, 682 Jews were murdered and on August 29, the number of victims in Chernovtsy and the district reached 3,106. However, the number was far higher than that listed in the official reports; between 2,000 and 3,000 Jews were slaughtered during the first 24 hours after the entry of the German and Romanian armies, in house-to-house operations. The victims, who included the chief rabbi of Bukovina, Abraham Mark, the chief cantor, and leaders of the community, were buried in four mass graves in the Jewish cemetery. The murders were accompanied by looting, robbery, and vandalism.

On July 30, when the anti-Jewish measures introduced by *Antonescu 's government went into effect, hostages were taken from among Jewish leaders. Jews were compelled to do forced labor and to wear the yellow *badge . The authorities permitted Jews to be seen on the streets only between 8:00 and 11:00 a.m. Jews were hunted down in the streets and houses. On October 11, the Jews were concentrated in a ghetto; their property was confiscated; and deportations to *Transnistria began. On October 14, 1941, the chairman of the Union of Jewish Communities, Wilhelm Filderman, obtained an order halting the deportations, but the decision was carried out only a month later, and by November 15, 1941, about 30,000 Jews had been deported. The mayor of Chernovtsy, Traian Popovici, also attempted to stop deportations, issuing about 4,000 certificates of exemption from deportation, but the officials of the municipality, the police, and the gendarmerie extorted enormous sums of money in return for these exemptions. Many Jews were deported even after they paid the ransom.

The cessation of deportations caused the breakup of the ghetto. Jews who returned from the ghetto to their destroyed and looted homes were forced to contribute their clothing and bed linen to the aid committee headed by Antonescu's wife. The contributions collected by the community for rehabilitating its institutions were also confiscated for this purpose, while the removal of Jews from any kind of economic activity caused a serious worsening of their material condition.

After a short break, deportations were resumed and about 4,000 Jews were deported in three waves between June 17 and 27, 1942. The deportees included some who had exemption certificates issued by Popovici, which became invalid after he was removed from his post. Some of the deportees were taken to camps east of the Bug River (an area occupied by the Germans) where children up to the age of 15, old people, invalids, women, and those unfit for work were systematically murdered. About 60 percent of the deportees from Chernovtsy to Transnistria perished there. Most survivors who returned did not resettle in Chernovtsy, which had in the meantime been annexed to the Ukrainian S.S.R., but went to Romania and from there to Ereẓ Israel.

[Theodor Lavi]

Contemporary Period

In 1949 there were six synagogues functioning regularly. Except for one, all were closed by the authorities in the 1950s, and the Torah scrolls were removed to the municipal museum. In 1970 there was a small synagogue left open with seats for 50–60 people. In 1952 the Choral Synagogue was converted into a sports club, and the Reform Temple was converted into a movie theater; two other synagogues were converted into a mechanical workshop and a storehouse. In 1959 all mohalim were ordered to register with the authorities and to report the names of the circumcised babies. In the same year, the Great Synagogue, as well as its mikveh, was closed down. The baking of maẓẓot was allowed in that year only after lengthy dealings with the authorities. A year later the site of the Jewish cemetery was divided up, leaving the Jews with only a small plot, and another synagogue was closed. The Jewish State Theater of Ukraine, which returned from a tour of Uzbekistan in August 1944, was diverted to Chernovtsy (instead of the capital Kiev). It performed there until the summer of 1949, when it was shut down during the liquidation of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union.

In 1963 the organized baking of maẓẓot was prohibited. In the following year burial services in the cemetery were stopped by the authorities and its employees were dismissed. This action followed in the wake of an article published in Kiev's main newspaper, Pravda Ukrainy, condemning religious burials and recommending general cemeteries for all parts of the population. Nonetheless, the Warsaw Yiddish newspaper Folkshtime reported in May 1964 that a Jewish literary evening took place in Chernovtsy, with the participation of Jewish writers such as Moshe Altman, Meir Kharats, Yosl Lerner, A. Melamed, and Meshullam Surkis. In 1965 Jews were officially permitted to pray in minyanim, but the imposition of high taxes prevented the organized baking of maẓẓot in 1966.

In 1970 kasher poultry was available and the mikveh was functioning. On the High Holidays, thousands of Jews, among them many youths, congregated near the small synagogue, causing several streets to be closed to traffic. In 1970 the Jewish population of Chernovtsy was estimated at 70,000. Only around 6,000 remained in the early 2000s, but Jewish life again flourished with a full range of community services.


H. Gold (ed.), Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina, 2 vols. (1958–62), includes bibliography; Getzler, ibid., 2 (1962), 53; Lavie, ibid., 2 (1962), 70–3; E. Herbert, in: Journal of Jewish Bibliography, 2 (1940), 110ff.; M. Carp, Cartea Neagrǎ, 3 (1947), 135–9, 153–82; Zehavi-Goldhammer, in: Arim ve-Immahot be-Yisrael, 4 (1950), 89–209, includes bibliography; J.J. Cohen, in: Aresheth, 3 (1961), 277–375; M. Mircu, Pogromurile… din Bucovina şi Dorohoi (1945).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.