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Translation of the chapter
Sereth from Volume II:
Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina
Edited by: Hugo Gold
Written by: Dr. S. Last (Vienna), Martin Pariser (Tel-Aviv), and Jehuda Gil (Nathania)
Published in Tel Aviv, 1962
Editorial assistant for translation: Bruce Reisch
After having routed the Tartars who invaded his territory, the Hungarian King Ludwig (1342-1382) transferred administration of the northeast portion of his Kingdom to his confidant, Andreas. According to legend, Andreas was the founder of the city of Sereth, one of the oldest cities in Bukowina. When Bukowina became a part of Austria, a small Jewish settlement already existed in Sereth. Statistics from the year 1774 report about 8 Jewish families numbering 43 people; in 1776 their numbers reached 15 families with 73 souls. These data are not reliable, because at that time, Jews had many reasons to stay away from censuses. Thus, the number of Jews was likely greater than the number given in the statistics. General Enzenberg, the Chief of the Austrian Military Administration, an uneducated man and notorious anti-Semite, complained in his main report of the year 1779 about the privileges, that the Jews enjoyed in the cities Czernowitz, Sereth and Suczawa: These (Jews), control all the trade, commerce and industry, even in the three cities Suczawa, Seret and Czernowitz, as in others, selling wine, beer, spirits and vodka to Christians, and in many villages they are the renters of rural properties, and as a result - what is terrible - having Christians as their subjects . . . so many of them want to settle in Bukowina, but I do not allow it and I am chasing them in every possible way. (see also Volume I, page 14)
The great numbers of tombstones and their artistic presentation in the Jewish Cemetery are evidence of the economic prosperity of the community of that time.
The Jews of Sereth, as well as their fellow sufferers in other Jewish settlements, would soon realize the extent of the persecutions inflicted by the new Austrian regime - before the liberal era. It is, nevertheless, true, that the better business climate and earnings possibilities in the Bukowina attracted Jews from Galicia and Russia, who lived under special pressure, to emigrate to Bukowina. As the numbers of the illegal Jewish immigrants in the Bukowina climbed from year to year, 365 families with 1,210 people were expelled in March-April 1782, including 18 Jewish families with 61 souls from Sereth (35 men and 26 women).
The Jewish Community of Sereth filed at the end of the 1770s a lawsuit against the Jewish-judge (starosta) Moses Perkowitsch for embezzlement of Community money. Perkowitsch understood how to help himself. He resorted to the mediation of the Zastawna Jew Hirschl and bribed the wife of the corrupt captain-auditor Dorbath von Heidnisfeld with 12 Dukats, whereupon the latter ceased the investigation. The Jews from Sereth wanted to use the same method against their Jewish-judge, but Dorbath refused to accept the gift offered to him, out of fear of the eventual consequences. Anyway, he and his helper Hirschl were later taken to the pillory where they were heavily punished (see Volume I, page 25).
Besides expulsions, the authorities also applied in their policy against the Jews a whole series of other measures, which seriously endangered their economic life. To ward off the threatening dangers, the Jews delivered on 4 April 1783 a petition to the government, signed by 20 representatives from 13 Jewish communities. In the name of the Sereth-Jews, the petition was signed by Berl Abraham and Wolf Itzig. The most important request was to free the Jews from the obligation to practice agriculture and to allow them to sell alcoholic drinks, as it was before the Austrian occupation. The application was rejected. It has to be remarked that the Jews declined agriculture only because of the impossibility to satisfy the conditions tied to it. The Jews could lease the soil, which they had to till, for only 20 years. After that, they could become the owners of the land, but only if they converted to Christianity. The rights to sell alcoholic beverages were now given exclusively to Christians; nevertheless, the latter leased it usually to Jews, and in this way the prohibition to exercising this profession could be eluded. In Sereth like in Czernowitz and Suczawa, there was only one Jewish public house, where Jews from other places could be lodged. The acceptance of foreign Jews (with the exception of parents} was severely prohibited to local Jews; but all these measures couldn't prevent the influx of alien Jews. In 1808, the authorities deprived several Sereth renters of their right to sell alcoholic drinks. The complaint of Abraham Kapralik against this measure was rejected. In the archives, one can still find a record showing that Kapralik applied for permission for the journey Sereth-Lemberg (then the capital of both Galicia and Bukowina) to plead his case. (See Sternberg, To the History of the Jews in Czernowitz, Volume II, Footnote 16). Menasse Schillinger is mentioned as Rabbi in Sereth around the year 1770. He was the father-in-law of Abraham Kapralik, who erected the first house of stone in Sereth, with a second floor.
Aron Hutmann and Abraham Goldhagen were the leaders of the Sereth-Jewish Community, a branch of the Suczawa Upper-Kahal (the Moldovan name of a Jewish Community). The Community became independent only in the first half of the 19th Century and its statute confirmed in 1877. After the decree of the Austrian Ministry of Education and Public Worship of 26 June 1891, Sereth became one of 15 approved Jewish communities in the Bukowina.
The Haskalah movement arose in the city around the middle of the 19th century. The Jewish youth turned to the German culture, organized itself in societies, and gave nevertheless to the Jewish personalities of the time the opportunity to teach it. It is worthy to mention that Shalom Aleichem visited Sereth and presented there a series of speeches.
In the years 1807-1833, Sereth had its own religion-teacher, Nathan Salzberger, with a yearly salary of 160 Florinths. The Community Council had 11 members and the Board of Directors 4 members. Besides a Temple, there were 4 common and 4 private prayer-houses. In the list of citizens for the year 1840 there are the names of renown families: Achner, Atlas, Beral, Brecher, Burstyn, Delfiner, Fleischer, Gredinger, Horowitz, Kapralik, Kliffer, Last, Schaffer, Schreiber, Tamler, Wagner. The Jews succeeded , thanks to their diligence and proficiency, to obtain through the years important positions in the City and District in the branches of commerce and economy. In 1873, Sereth had 3,433 Jews. In 1880, there were 3,122 Jews out of a population of 7,240 (37.1%) (Volume I, page 46). In 1948, there were 5,112 Jews in the Sereth region.
The political situation of the Jews of Sereth corresponded to their importance in the city. The Jew Isaak Beral was Mayor of Sereth 1912-1918 and several Jewish Community Councilors functioned in the City Council. In several rural communities, Jews were leaders, e.g. B. Sternberg in Preworoki. The renowned Talmud-scholar Alexander Salomon Schreiber lived in Sereth. He was a descendant of the Reichstag Deputy and Chief Rabbi of Krakau Schimon Schreiber. He was longtime the President of the Jewish Community.
Reb Burstyn, Dr. Samuel Freifeld and a member of the Wiznitz rabbinical dynasty, Reb Baruch Hager, functioned as Rabbis.
Rabbi Dr. Freifeld, a graduate of the Pressburg Yeshiva, studied in Basel 1905-1909. First he was Rabbi in Nove Mesto (then Slovakia), and later he was invited to Sereth. He was an important pulpit orator, a columnist with vision, and a wanted arbiter. The entire Jewish community of the city mourned his sudden death in 1930. His daughter Aranka Landau, who is the only survivor of the whole family, lives in Haifa.
The spiritual life of the city at the time of its blooming, was mainly represented by the Jewish intelligentsia. Dr. Jacob Benkendorf, Medical Doctor and Poet, lived and worked in the city. His drama Samson and Delilah is worthy of mention; another 12 historical dramas on Jewish subjects that he allegedly wrote were lost, and even their titles are unknown.
According to tradition, the Jewish Community was always interested in cultural performances. But, because at that time no theatre troupe would visit such a small town, there were amateurs who performed dramas, such as Uriel Acosta and others, with the help of local talents. Dr. Karl Kohn, Ellner, Klein, Kutzmann, Kahan from the strong gender and Miss Unterfort and Rachel Goldschlaeger from the beautiful are worthy of mention among these popular artists.
The German governmental Gymnasium was attended mainly by Jews. In the years before the war, a group of Jewish Professors was active in this institution: Dr. H. Barbash, Leo Gabor, Katz, Joel Kohan, Osias Ordinanz, Dr. H. Sternberg. The above mentioned Rabbi Baruch Hager founded in 1938 a Yeshiva under the name Beth Israel Wetomchim d'Oraytha; after the model of the Wiznitz-Yeshiva, there was also a boarding school with craft courses for the pupils. This institution was closed in 1940. A portion of the students emigrated to Israel, where Rabbi Baruch renewed the Yeshiva in Haifa (Volume I, page 83).
Most of the medical doctors and lawyers were Jewish. To name were the Lawyers Dr. Isaak Kohn, Dr. Mattes, David Kutzmann, Dr. Isidor Rosenzweig, Candidate-Lawyer Joseph Brecher, Dr. K. Wagner, temporarily Dr. F. Chomed (Radautz), and the Medical Doctors Leo Goldhammer (former Kultuspresident, died 1950 in Tel-Aviv), Dr. Jacob Benkendorf, Dr. Geber, city Medical Doctor Emanuel Goldschlaeger, and the surgeon Abraham Ehrlich.
There were also several Jewish office-holders. Even among the gendarmes there were four long-term Jewish sergeants: Kramer, Ramer, Warmbrand and Koerner. To mention are the distinguished people: Head-geometer Engineer Horowitz, Pharmacist Silberbusch, Chief-Veterinarian Citron. Among the industrialists to be named: the owner of flour mills G.L. Kraft, the wholesalers Rachmuth, Klausner, Sonnenreich, David Axelrad, brothers Salzberg, Osias Engler, Steinberg (hardware), Gelber and many others. In addition, there were the booksellers Hermann Grauer, O. Weschler, Susi and Max Last.
A sentient Jewish life was already perceptible in the time before Herzl. Burstyn, the son of the Sereth-Rabbi Burstyn, was one of the founders of the first academic Association Hasmonaea in Czernowitz (1891). The Zionist movement found in the city numerous and enthusiastic followers. A Gymnasium-student's Zionist Organization stood under the leadership of Elias Weinstein, who later became the chief editor of the Czernowitz Morgenblatt newspaper, and of the Stimme in Tel-Aviv. The Poale-Zion movement got in the Gymnasium-student Berl Locker, a convinced disciple, the future President of the Sochnut and the temporary president of the Knesset. A zealous Poale-Zionist was, among others, Mosche (Moritz) Goldschlaeger.
There existed in Sereth an academic vacation association Makkabaea. Prominent personalities in the Jewish community life were Aron Stober and Abraham Pariser.
Schulim Achner and later Abraham Pariser conducted the agenda of the Kultusgemeinde for many years. The latter was born in 1877 in Oprischeni (Bukowina). He was the son of the renowned Talmud-scholar Salomon Pariser. He finished the Oberrealschule in Czernowitz and the Handelshochschule (trade-academy) in Prague. He was active in significant positions in the bank system in Sereth from 1900 until WWII, aside from which he held various community offices through the years. He was Kultuspresident and Vice-Mayor of the city. When he died in 1947, the imposing funeral showed the exclusive popularity of this noble man.
Another significant personality in the life of Sereth was Michel Drach. Born in 1884 in Sereth, he was for years manager of the Kultusgemeinde, City Councilor, and Vice-Mayor. He conducted the help action of the Joint for the few who came back from the camps, and he was renowned and venerated as a philanthropist for his exclusive readiness to help. He survived Transnistria 1941-1944 and died 1954 in Buenos Aires.
His wife Klara Drach was also socially active and worked helpfully and beneficently in several Jewish associations.
The president of the tradesmen-bank Nathan Glaesel successfully represented the interests of the working class. In 1914, the Jewish Community of Sereth numbered 3600 souls, and among them were 800 Kultusgemeinde-taxpayers. At that time, the manager was Isak Munz-Beral; deputy-manager Leiser Adler; and the board of directors consisted of: Abraham Achner, Dr. Jacob Benkendorf, Abraham Ehrlich, Isak Gelber, Aron Gottlieb, Isaak Klein, Moses Lackner, Benjamin Lenzer, Moses Mayer, Joseph Munz, Mendl Wassermann. The religion-teachers were Alexander Salomon Schreiber and Seinwel Kahan.
Secretary of the Kultusgemeinde was Jeschajahu Weinstein, and Cantor of the Temple was Nuchem Preiss.
To mention are the societies: Linas Hazedek (kind of hotel, managers S.A. Rappaport, Akiba Schreiber), the Women's Association (Regina Achner, Berta Benkendorff); the Sick Support Society (manager Isidor Berl), Yad Haruzim (Nathan Glaesel), Chevrat Tehillim (Berl Kreisel), and Nossei Hamitah (Moses Spindler). The revenues and expenditures of the Kultusgemeinde amounted to approximately 20,000 Krones yearly. The community had three foundations: the Leib Achner Foundation for different humanitarian goals and for Jewish and non-Jewish students; the Aron Blum Foundation; and the Foundation for the Talmud-Torah. It must be mentioned that the Jews of Sereth provided active and brotherly help to the surviving refugees of the Kishinew and Rumanian pogroms of the years 1903 and 1907.
In 1918, a Shomer organization Dror was founded in Sereth. Several Sereth inhabitants took part at the foundation celebration of the Bund in 1923 in Czernowitz, with the lawyer Dr. K. Wagner as their representative. The Yiddish Schulverein (Czernowitz) had a branch in Sereth. In charge of Jewish sports was Makkabi (managed by Dr. Weissmann and Goldschmidt).
The city almost died out during the 1914-1918 war. Most able-bodied men were drafted into military service. Their families fled out of fear of the inimical invasion. Only a very few remained in their homes. New life seemed to initiate in the winter of 1915, when the Russian troops began to retreat. The Gymnasium re-opened with duplicate classes, to give the opportunity to students (who failed to finish the 1914/1915 school year because of the war), to do two years of classes in the1915/1916 year. A medical doctor, the old Dr. Benkendorf, a pharmacy, the Hotel-Restaurant Annahof and others were once again available. But in the summer of 1916, after the offensive of the Russian General Brussiloff and the collapse of the Austrian Front on the Pruth, everybody who possessed two legs fled from the flood of the Russian Armies. In 1918 most Jewish houses were destroyed or had become uninhabitable ruins. The railroad connection Hliboka-Sereth was interrupted, because the Russians dismantled the rails and took them away. The traffic with Czernowitz and other localities was only possible, because of the shortage of transportation means, by peasant loaded carts. People, who came home, found none of their belongings and became a burden to the public and private philanthropy. The Austrian government began, just a few weeks before the collapse of the Monarchy, a large reconstruction program. In November 1918, Rumanian military troops and gendarmes occupied Sereth. This meant for the Jews of Sereth and the District the onset of a period during which they began to lose their rights.
Until 1919, the Jews in Sereth as in the whole Monarchy enjoyed rights, guaranteed by the fundamental laws of the state. But, their situation changed very much in the following time! The economic damage to the city, many times occupied by looting soldiers, was compensated according to its means by the Joint, during the years 1919-1925. Nevertheless, the stripping of the Jews of their rights went very quickly. The village-bartender, the grocer, and other small merchants became the victims of decrees issued overnight; their interpretation and implementation depending on the mood and arbitrariness of the Rumanian office-holders. Even the professionals got to feel it. Lawyers were obliged to take different examinations and medical doctors were deprived of their jobs in the Social Security system. Merchants with 30-years of practice lost their bread overnight. In the District, the situation of the Jewish inhabitants worsened. The rural Jews were compelled to leave their property and were rapidly in a situation of bitter need. The measures against Jews reached their apogee at the beginning of 1938, when the notorious Goga-Cuza government came to power. Jews, who possessed Austrian citizenship, became under irrelevant pretexts, with one stroke of the pen, stateless and shipped over the border. Many preferred suicide to such deprivation of rights. Crimes began against Jewish life and Jewish property. After several months of relative calm, came the very sad end.
The year of Russian rule in Northern Bukowina (1940-41) wasn't too bad for Sereth, because the city did not fall under the Russian annexation. Just the murders of Jews by Rumanian soldiers during their retreat from the Northern Bukowina and by some incited Rumanian peasants cost the Jewish population a great deal of victims. The first atrocities occurred, anticipating the catastrophe of WWII. In Hliboka (Adinkata) Mendl Weinstein, Maratiew and Srul Feigenbaum were killed.
The harassment of the Jews of Sereth and other Bukowinian cities and villages are unique in the history of humankind. In Banila on the Sereth River, the villagers under the leadership of the mayor Moskaljuk and of a certain Barbaza killed 15 Jews, among them, the 80 years old, blind M. Shatran, Jacob Fleischer and Jacob Brecher. Out of protest, Stefanovici, the minister of the village, refused to come next Sunday to the Church (Carp, Schwarzbuch).
Prior to the deportation there were rumors that people over 70 could stay in their homes. However, despite this promise, the Jews who believed in this favor, were perfidiously shot and their corpses thrown into a ditch. Among these unlucky people were: Maier Hersch Schaechter, a renowned Talmud scholar and former teacher of the Czernowitz Rabbi Katz; Maier's wife Golde; and the families Klier, Reiner, and Rosenberg. All these victims were buried eventually in the Sereth Cemetery in a common grave, with tombstone and common inscription.
On an order of the German rulers from Bukarest in July 1941, the Jews of Sereth were loaded in cattle-wagons and evicted to Kalafat, where they had to wait in miserable camps until October 1941 to be deported to Transnistria. The survivors were deported to Transnistria, where 80% perished due to illnesses, cold and hunger. A wooden tablet in the Synagogue of Sereth, which still stands today, enumerates more than 700 names of Jewish people who died due to heavily torturous conditions in the steppes of Ukraine. It is reported that about 500 physically and psychically broken souls of Sereth Jews still live in Sereth (1958), awaiting their redemption like a miracle.
Just the tombstones of our dead, if they haven't vanished too, can prove that here once existed a vibrant Jewish community.
The following remarkable activists are descended from Sereth, in random order: Dr. Leo Goldhammer, gynecologist, since 1938 in Israel, died 1950 in Tel-Aviv; editor-in-chief Dr. Elias Weinstein; talented writer Leo Katz; Dr. Berl Locker, a famous politician in Israel; Dr. Joseph Kissman (New York); Max Enzer; Dr. S. Enzer, a brother of the veterinarian Dr. Menasche Enzer (died 1960 in Tel-Aviv); Kurt Enzer; S. Steinberg (Amsterdam); Dr. S. Last, author (Vienna); Lawyer Dr. Julius Pariser (Jerusalem) and his brother Martin Pariser (Tel-Aviv); Bruno Beral; Prof. Joseph Jurmann (Jerusalem); Martin Ellner (Montreal); industrialist Max Delfiner (Vienna); industrialist Bernhard Delfiner (Buenos Aires); Industrialist Nathan Eidinger (Vienna); Jehuda Schaari (Scheuermann), Member of Knesset (Tel-Aviv); Izchak Arzi (Herzig), Secretary-General of the Israeli Liberal Party (Tel-Aviv) and many more.
Matathias Carp: Schwarzbuch (Black Book)
M. Mircu: Pogromurile in Bucovina si Besarabia, Bukarest 1945.
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