It is now mainly known for being the place where such distinguished poets as Paul Celan [s. Illustration 2] and Rose Ausländer [s. Illustration 3] first appeared on the cultural scene. Their native tongue was German, and German was also the native tongue of many other Jews in Bukovina. After the Holocaust, these Jews in retrospect depicted the world of their adolescent years as one where five ethnic groups had been living together peacefully. A historian will immediately see considerable potential for conflict, yet will also recognize time periods where close cooperation and harmonious coexistence between Jews and Germans was perfectly possible.
In the first part of this article I am going to outline the circumstances that – before 1918 – permitted Jews and Germans to make such a significant contribution to the development and flowering of cultural life in Bukovina together. I will then research into the means the Romanian administration employed to repress the influence of the German-speaking community, and explore how Germans and Jews resisted this and how they together stood upon their defence for fifteen years. In the third part of this article I will show how the cooperation between Germans and Jews was shattered, and ultimately broke apart under the influence of Nazism.
Before 1930, over 70% of the population were farmers; they spoke Romanian in the south of Bukovina and Ukrainian in the north of the country. Even though Romanian landowning families were the major political decision makers, the central government in Vienna had imposed German as the official language. In court and in dealings with the local authorities Romanian and Ukrainian were accepted, too. Germans, however, accounted for merely 9% of the population, and many of them were farmers. Hence, the Jews with their share of 10% of the population (1930) and with most of them living in the cities (73, 9%) were well placed for social advancement. With over 40% in Czernowitz they were the largest group of inhabitants there, and several times before 1918 the mayor of the city came from among their ranks. Due to legal equalization in 1867, Jews were well represented in almost every profession. Many of them were judges, administration officials, teachers or professors at the University of Czernowitz [s. Illustration 4].
With the appointment of university professors from Vienna and Graz, however, anti-Semitic ideas had reached Czernowitz, too. Some of these professors had founded the "Association of Christian Germans" in 1897, denouncing, among other things, the high interest rates Jewish money lenders charged. Subsequently, an extensive network of German associations was gradually set up. But the new borrowing facilities helped improve the situation of farmers and craftsmen, and so anti-Semitism remained weak. Among the Romanians, the supporters of the “Liga culturală” (Romanian Culture League), which stirred up anger against the influence of Jews, tried to gain a foothold, but the Romanian landowners were not keen on entering into competition with anybody and so the "Liga culturală" [s. Illustration 5] did not form any branches.
Due to the introduction of universal suffrage for men in 1907, all population groups were represented in the Vienna Imperial Council [s. Illustration 6]. At the level of provincial diets, there was in fact only one common electing curia for the German-speaking citizenry after 1910, but Germans and Jews agreed on the allocation of seats. Together they brought into bloom the cultural life in Czernowitz; first they founded a musical society that organized concerts. Then the German-speaking citizens raised funds for the construction of a pompous theatre building [s. Illustration 7] that still exists today. City dwellers read daily newspapers published by Jewish publishers, and those who wanted to advance in society sent their children to the German-speaking classes of the multilingual schools. In rural areas there were mainly Romanian and Ukrainian schools.
The first major rupture in in the lives of the people in Bukovina came with the disintegration of the Habsburg Monarchy, and the invasion of the Romanian army in November 1918. These events, however, did not antagonize Jews and Germans, as the societal position of both groups was under threat now. At first, representatives of the Germans trusted the Romanian promise that their cultural life would not be affected. They attended the unification ceremony with the Romanian kingdom, whilst the representatives of the Jewish community refused to take part because they had not been guaranteed full civil rights. At that time, the majority of the Jews in Romania were stateless and thus completely at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities. At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the delegates of France and Britain demanded to admit to citizenship all Jews in Romania, which now was twice the size of its original territory. As a result of the annexation of Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania the number of Jews had risen from just 200.000 in the "Altreich" to around 700.000, and the Romanian Prime Minister strictly opposed their en bloc naturalization, and walked out of the conference. Only when his successor was given an ultimatum by the major powers, equal rights for the 30% minorities in Greater Romania were guaranteed.
In 1923, while the new constitution was being discussed, an anti-Semitic movement arose. At first it was lead mainly by university students who demanded that access to the universities be restricted for Jews. Before 1918, Jews had not been allowed to attend governmental educational institutions, and therefore Romanians perceived them as unwanted rivals in their aspiration for social rise. In order to make its mark and win over the new Romanian elites, the government instituted a strict “Romanianization” policy and passed a new citizenship law in 1924 already. Altogether 30.000 Jews, mainly in the newly annexed territories, were made stateless persons by this act. From that time on, their children were no longer allowed to attend state-run schools.
In Bukovina, where a majority of 60% of the population were non–Romanians, these discriminatory measures met with particularly strong resistance. As a result of the immediate implementation of Romanian as the official language, many Jews and many Germans were forced out of the positions they held in state administration and judicial administration. Romanian had also been introduced as lecturing language at university, and as a consequence, in 1919 many of the university professors who had been appointed from all parts of the Habsburg Empire had left Czernowitz. They were replaced mainly by Romanian grammar school teachers, and no Jewish professor was appointed after that.
The swift conversion of the municipal theatre into a Romanian institution marked another stage in the decline of cultural life in Czernowitz. Romanians accounted for only 16% of the city population, and non-Romanians stayed away from theatre events for a long time after Romanians had carried out violent attacks on the audience and thus brought to an end the last theatre performance in German. When the Friedrich Schiller statue in front of the theatre was removed by Romanians, Germans and Jews followed it, as in a funeral procession, to its new location in the garden of the "Deutsches Haus" [s. Illustration 8].
Romania remained under law of war until 1928. This, by means of censorship and a ban of public assemblies, made largely impossible any form of criticism from non-Romanians. A furious battle was fought about the teaching language at schools; during the Austrian rule there had been school classes for German-speaking students in primary schools and secondary schools, as well as classes for Romanian, Polish, and Ukrainian students. From 1919 on, however, the Ministry of Education financed primarily Romanian schools. For Jews it became mandatory to send their children to Romanian schools. The representatives of both the German and the Jewish population protested against this together. The majority of the Jews in Bukovina spoke Yiddish or German within their families, and they did not want to see their children confronted with a foreign teaching language in primary school. A German delegate to the Romanian Parliament, Alfred Kohlruß [s. Illustration 9], demanded that the autonomy of the school system guaranteed in 1918 be maintained, but the regulations were modified only marginally.
All teachers had to take Romanian language exams, and if their knowledge of the language was insufficient, they were removed from office. From 1926 on, external examiners were chairing the school-leaving examinations (Abitur), and in Czernowitz they made an especially large number of Jewish students fail their exams on the grounds of poor Romanian language skills. When frustrated students finally confronted a particularly nationalist examiner, they were arrested. After the hearing in court, one of the accused students was shot dead in front of the courthouse by a Romanian right-wing extremist.
Numerous Jews, but also Germans, attended the funeral of the Jewish student. In Parliament, the Jewish, German and Ukrainian delegates jointly protested against the Romanianization measures that had led to this escalation of violence, but their speeches were disrupted by the clamour nationalist Romanians made. When the Jewish representative Manfred Reifer was physically assaulted, his Ukrainian colleague from Bukovina and a few social democrats shielded him. Both Jews and Germans were particularly outraged that Interior Minister Octavian Goga had called the shooting of the high school student an act of heroism in defence of the “honour of Romanians”. The assassin had been acquitted by a jury court after that.
The social democrats of Bukovina were an important binding force between all the ethnic groups their members were recruited from. The labour unions had been weakened by the violent repression of a national strike in October 1920, but nevertheless there was always a social democrat elected to Parliament in Czernowitz. There, Jakob Pistiner of the Jewish Workers' Alliance, popularly known as the "Bund", together with Alois Lebouton, the delegate of the conservative Germans, demanded that all ethnic groups get their own schools.
When every one of the initiatives aimed at strengthening the position of non-Romanians in Parliament suffered defeat, the delegates of Bukovina brought the violations of minority rights in Romania to the attention of the Congress of European Nationalities in 1926. After that, representatives of Germans, Jews and Ukrainians also tried to get support from the League of Nations at their convention in Geneva.
In 1928, for a short time there were high expectations that a new law on minorities in Romania would improve the situation, after the National Peasants’ Party had come to power. They had also included representatives of Non-Romanians and Social Democrats on their list of candidates. They lifted the siege, and public assembly was possible again. Member of Parliament Alois Lebouton noted with satisfaction that 21 German primary schools had been opened in Bukovina. But this positive development came to a sudden end when the global economic crisis substantially restricted the extent to which the government could act. Export of grain and timber had declined sharply, and tax yields had dropped as a consequence. Pensions and salaries of state employees could no longer be paid out in full.
In the crisis years, the cooperation of the representatives of Germans and Jews came to an end, too. The German smallholder farmers were hit hard by the economic crisis as prices for grain had halved. Their co-operatives were unable to support them because the lending system of the Agricultural Co-operative Bank wasn’t functioning anymore. Because of the currency devaluation, the farmers did not want to take their modest savings to the bank now, and thus the bank was unable to pay out deposits. The Romanian government supported only Romanian banks, by means of National Bank loans. The smaller German banks were not the only ones affected, however, also the big Jewish-owned Marmorosch Bank was driven into bankruptcy.
The German-owned banks turned to the Foreign Office for help, but the loan granted the Bukovina Agricultural Bank in 1932 came too late.
By then the crisis had affected the entire export of timber in Romania. Many of the timber mills in Bukovina were owned by Jews, and many mountain farmers had worked there temporarily, and they now lost their income. In some places in Bukovina 95% of the Germans were out of work. Alois Lebouton made an appeal for donations for the mountain farmers, but with little success, as poverty was now spreading among the urban population, too.
During the crisis years, the influence of Professor Cuza's "League of National Christian Defence" grew stronger. They claimed that the crisis had been caused by Jews and their speculations at the stock exchange, and demanded depriving them of their power. Public anti-Semitic agitation came from Germans, too, now; in Transylvania, the "Self-Help" movement of Fritz Fabritius evolved and, from 1932 on, it found more and more followers in Bukovina. They accused the conservative delegates of the Germans to be partly responsible for the increasing hardships because, with their negotiation policy, they had failed to obtain any concession from the government in Bucharest. Until then, the conservative leaders had in most cases formed an electoral alliance with the strongest Romanian party, thus securing places on the party list and obtaining concessions regarding the school problem. When those concessions proved to remain on paper only, the radicals accused the leaders of advocating this electoral alliance only with a view to securing their own privileged position. In the 1932 elections, many Germans did not vote for the ruling party any more, but for Cuza’s anti-Semitic protest movement instead. Fabritius defended the voting agreement with Cuza and argued that solving the Jewish question would improve the situation of the Germans at the same time.
Agitation by right-wing organisations had been putting German-Jewish relations under strain already since 1932, but it was the year 1933 that marked the beginning of a lasting crisis. When in April 1933 there was a call in Berlin for a boycott of Jewish shops, sympathizers of the Nazis in Bukovina readily joined the propaganda campaign. Yet, in cities like Czernowitz, where Jewish merchants were predominant, any practical application of anti-Semitic propaganda was nearly impossible. Nearly 80% of all Jewish men in Bukovina had stated “business and trade” as their occupation – a huge share, partly due to the geographic location, as a substantial proportion of the transit trade passed through the region. Viewed in this light, the call for boycott published in the "Czernowitzer Deutsche Tagespost" was mostly propaganda, but it still clearly shows how vulnerable the relations between Germans and Jews were. The "Tagespost", a rather insignificant newspaper until then, made the boycott their central topic. Its editors wanted to attract new readers, and also subsidies from the Propaganda Ministry of the German Reich. Their editor-in-chief, Bruno Skrehunetz, had previously temporarily worked as proof-reader for the Zionist "Ostjüdische Zeitung". Now he mobilized dormant social envy among the Germans, accusing the Jews of trying to gain an unfair competitive advantage over the Germans with the help of the American Joint Committee which had in fact granted loans for the rebuilding of the Jewish credit co-operatives. The 12 Jewish credit-co-operatives had over 8.000 members in Bukovina, and therefore Jewish farmers, craftspeople and entrepreneurs were slightly better equipped to weather the crisis years. The Germans received money from the Reich, mainly for propaganda, from 1933 on.
When the Nazis in Bukovina called out on boycott of Jewish shops, the "Ostjüdische Zeitung" demanded that people refrain from buying print products and medicines from the Reich. Mayer Teich, a lawyer of the Poale Zion, wrote in April 1933: "We do, however, not wish to be bearers of the German culture any longer… both, politically and culturally, we have been too much inclined towards Germany. Now our minds and our hearts have to unlearn. It is our tragedy that many of us will have to say this in German, still." He recommended that the Jews now orient themselves towards the cultures of France and England, two states that, he said, had always intervened for the protection of Jewish rights in Romania. As a long-term goal, he demanded standing up for private schools with Hebrew as the language of instruction. Many Jews, however, now rather argued for elementary schools with Yiddish as the teaching language.
Up to 1933, German had been the working language at the meetings of the Jewish National Party of Romania. The delegates from Bessarabia now opposed this, and the delegate Mayer Ebner had to speak Yiddish, the language he had derogatorily described as "jargon" before. Mayer Ebner [s. Illustration 10] had represented the Jewish National Party in Parliament and had closely cooperated on school issues with the German delegates there. Bukovina’s Senator Manfred Reifer from the Jewish National Party regarded this new strain on the relations with the German minority as an opportunity that could eventually lead the Jews closer towards a new independent Zionist identity.
At the "Congress of European Nationalities", until 1933, German and Jewish delegates had joined to form a unified front against the discriminatory measures against the minorities in their respective states. But when the Germans failed to clearly distance themselves from the boycott actions of the Nazis in the Reich, in September 1933 all Jewish delegates left this Congress for good. It continued to exist until 1935, but had less and less influence.
The conservative delegates of the Germans in Romania came increasingly under pressure. In the face of the growing influence of the Nazis, they joined forces to form a last line of defence. In the "Volksbund", apart from the delegates of Bukovina, such as Alois Lebouton, there were also active representatives of the protestant and catholic Churches from all the various regions. Right-wing radicals, supported by the Reich, fought against the "Volksbund" until it finally had to abandon its activities in 1935. After that, the national socialist Fabritius became chairman of the "Deutsche Volksgemeinschaft in Rumänien". The Nazis had discredited the conservative leaders by blaming them for the decline of the co-operatives induced by the economic crisis. Alfred Kohlruß died in 1935, and Alois Lebouton died in 1936 – at 53 and at 56 respectively – both of them filled with bitterness. In 1935, in the elections for the National Council, the "Volksrat", younger Nazis had obtained a majority, and now occupied all seats that received support from the Reich.
The Romanian government did not take any firm line against the German Nazis, as they did not want to put the thriving economic exchange with the Reich at risk. The National Liberals that ruled since the end of 1933 used the policy disagreements among the German minority as an excuse to withdraw concessions initially made in the school issue, and, as a result, the German-speaking classes of elementary schools in Bukovina were closed. As there did not exist any parochial schools in Bukovina, such as existed in Transylvania, German children were sent to schools where their mother tongue was not spoken at all.
Behind the National Liberals there were forces active that wanted to marginalize minorities primarily in economic life. Employment Secretary Ion Nistor, who came from Bukovina, enacted a law in 1934 that made it mandatory for private enterprises to predominantly hire Romanians. An intervention like that would be legitimized by the declared goal of creating a Romanian middle class. The proportion of Romanians of the urban population had indeed risen only insignificantly since 1920. When the Foreign Office took a stand in favour of the German minority, the Romanians claimed the law was only aimed at controlling the influence of the Jews, and so the Germans did not band together with representatives of other minorities to raise a protest as they had done before 1933. The representatives of the Jews appealed to the influential Jewish organizations in France and Great Britain for support, and the ambassadors of these two countries, bound by the 1919 contractual agreement to safeguard the protection of minorities, intervened with the Romanian government. The leaders of the Hungarian minority, which was particularly strong in Transylvania, sent a petition to the League of Nations. The law was amended slightly, and at first only businesses with a high share of Jewish employees were fined.
When it was obvious that the minority protection conceded in 1919 was defended fairly weakly only, many professional associations began to exclude Jews. From 1935 on, Jewish lawyers were denied admission to the professional associations, and from 1937 on, medical doctors and pharmacists were excluded, too. This way, Jews would be forced to emigrate. In December 1937, leaders of the anti-Semitic movement came to power, with the right-wing extremist Professor Cuza in the government and Octavian Goga as Prime Minister. In the "Völkischer Beobachter", Professor Cuza ridiculed the League of Nations, calling it a corpse that yet remained to be buried, and Goga, who had justified the murder of the Jewish student in Czernowitz in 1926, now openly stirred up hatred against the Jews. He alleged that over half a million Jewish refugees had come to Romania from Germany after having obtained Romanian citizenship by the use of bribery. In January 1938, Goga's government used this as justification to enact a law for the review of citizenship status. Due to the pressure exercised by the governments of France and Great Britain, the Goga-regime was brought down after 44 days. The new law, however, remained in force, and by 1939, it had deprived over one third of the Jews of their citizenship. For various reasons, the Jewish associations did not offer any substantial resistance. Special provisions applied to Jews from the "Altreich", and therefore they were less affected by this law. The Jewish National Party, which was especially strong in the regions annexed in 1918, was experiencing decline. It had succeeded in getting Mayer Ebner elected to Parliament, and there he had defended the rights of the minorities together with German delegates, until 1933. In 1938, all parties were outlawed, and the Romanian Parliament was dissolved and replaced by a corporative chamber.
As a consequence of their social marginalization, some younger Jews took an increasingly radical stance. The social democratic Workers' Alliance came under severe pressure after 1936. When right-wing Romanians denied a group of Jews access to the Czernowitz municipal park, they stood up to them; in the fight that followed, a young Romanian got killed. Only Jews were arrested, though, and one of them died in police custody. As this man had been moving in the circles of "Haus Morgenroit", his involvement in the confrontation served as a pretext to shut down the Jewish social democrats’ meeting place.
While Jews were being subjected to ever more severe persecution, the German Reich continued to support the German minority in the country. At the same time, Romanian mineral oil was in great demand in the Reich and Romania [s. Illustration 11] became a well-functioning filling station even during the war against France, its former protective country. Among the German minority, the leaders promoted by the "Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle" in Berlin were in control now. In summer 1940, their propaganda proclaimed the resettlement of ethnic Germans from Bukovina as "Heimführung" – as bringing them home. The fact that almost all Germans from Northern Bukovina went along with letting themselves in for an uncertain future was, however, mainly due to circumstance that the Soviets had assumed control over the territory. Due to their resettlement, the German Nazis from Bukovina could not take part in the persecution of Jews there, yet could do so in territories that had belonged to Poland until 1939.
After years of marginalization, some Jews hoped for a new beginning in the Soviet Bukovina. They welcomed the Soviet Red Army when it marched into Czernowitz in June 1940, whereas wealthy Jews had already fled to Romania. From September 1940 on, Ion Antonescu [s. Illustration 12] held an authoritarian rule there, and in June 1941 he joined Hitler's attack on Russia. The Jews that had fled to Bucharest were in a better position to survive the years of war than the ones who had stayed in Bukovina; only very few were deported from the from the Romanian heartland, whereas the Soviet secret police deported from the Soviet North Bukovina to Siberia all Jews they considered to be politically unreliable or to be members of the wealthy class.
When in summer 1941 the Romanian army together with the German Wehrmacht had reconquered Northern Bukovina, almost all the Jewish population of the region was deported to Transnistria, a Romanian occupied territory. There, about one third of the Jews deported from Bukovina died of hunger and deficiency diseases. Only about 20.000 Jews were allowed to stay, thanks to the determined efforts of Traian Popovici [s. Illustration 13], the mayor of Cernowitz, and the German Consul Fritz Schellhorn. Those who were allowed to stay established help networks for the deported Jews.
In summary, it is important to emphasize that the close relationship that existed between Jews and Germans in Bukovina was the outcome of a pre-modern society, a society where those few cities that had a vibrant German cultural life were like islands in an ocean of underdevelopment. The development of new economic structures, mostly brought about by Jews, destroyed many established relationships. This was the reason why Romanian right-wing extremists first and foremost attacked Jews. After 1918, the new Romanian elite in Bukovina first pushed out all Jews of the cultural domain and then proceeded to ostracise them from the economic domain. For fifteen years, it had been mainly German and Jewish city dwellers who fought together to resist the "Romanianization". From 1933 on, this alliance crumbled and eventually broke apart under the pressure of the growing influence of Nazism. But ultimately, it was the aggressive territorial policy of the German Reich that put an end to the common history of Germans and Jews in Bukovina. The Germans were used for the “Germanization” of the territories occupied by the Wehrmacht. And as an ally of the German Reich, the Romanian Army violently expelled the Jews of Bukovina to Transnistria. An estimated 30.000 perished before 1944.
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