(Ger., Bukowina), a historic region in Eastern Europe, roughly encompassing the current region of Cernăuți in Ukraine and the area of Suceava county in Romania. In the Middle Ages, Bucovina formed part of the Halicz Kingdom and eventually was included in the principality of Moldova. The frontiers of the province were established in 1774 when, for strategic reasons related to the first division of Poland, the Habsburg army occupied more than 10,000 square kilometers of northwestern Moldova and, with the consent of the Ottoman Empire—the suzerain power at the time—annexed it in 1775 as the district of Bukowina.
“Greetings from Bucovina.” Postcard with photographs of Hasidic Jews and the synagogue of Sadagora Hasidim. Postcard printed by Verlag v. Leon König, Czernowitz (now Chernivtsi, Ukr.), ca. 1900. (Jewish Museum, Vienna)
This land was covered mainly by forests (its name is derived from the Slavic word buk, meaning beech) and included 250 towns and villages, among which the most important were Suczawa (Rom., Suceava), Czernowitz (Rom., Cernăuți; mod. Ukr., Chernivtsi), and Sereth (Rom., Siret). In 1786, Bukowina was joined with Galicia, only separating from it as a result of the 1848 Revolution, when the Austrian constitution of March 1849 declared it an autonomous Kronland with the rank of great duchy.
The first Austrian census report of 1775 indicated the presence of 526 Jewish families in Bukowina, mainly concentrated in the market towns. In 1776, the number of Jews had increased to 2,906; the sudden increase in immigration from Galicia, Ukraine, and Moldova compelled the Austrian authorities to resort to repressive measures—including banishment of the newcomers. After 1790, the number of Jews settling in Bukowina again increased, prompted by tax exemptions as well as the absence of military conscription (until 1830).
In 1802, records showed 3,286 Jews living in Bukowina; in 1821 there were 6,077; in 1830 this figure had risen to 7,726; and in 1846 there were 11,581 Jews out of a total provincial population of 371,131. Except for those who settled in the countryside, among whom some were farmers, most Jews resided in small urban centers where they stimulated economic development in their roles as merchants (in 1826, out of a total of 62 registered firm owners, 44 were Jews), craftsmen and owners of industrial workshops, tavern owners, moneylenders, builders, and real estate owners.
The communities of Czernowitz and Suczawa, which were initially organized according to the pattern of communal political and legal autonomy existing in Moldova and Poland, were reorganized in accordance with the imperial patents of 1786 and 1789 as primarily confessional associative bodies. Schools played a vital role in eliminating cultural and religious isolationism and spreading Enlightenment (Haskalah) ideas. Under pressure from the authorities, the first German Jewish schools were established after 1790. Through the acquisition of bourgeois values, the study of German language and culture stimulated the “assimilationist” enthusiasm of the Jewish urban class, which focused on social evolution and rapid integration into society. The Jewish lower class, however, remained attached to Orthodox beliefs—especially to Hasidism, which remained strong in Bukovina due to the influence of Sadagora, Vizhnits, and Boyan Hasidim.
Postcard commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph’s ascension to the throne: employees of P. Weissberg trading firms, a timber concern, and officials, Novoselitsa, Romania (now Novosel’tsy, Ukr.), 1908. In this town in northern Bucovina, 66 percent of the population was Jewish in 1897. (YIVO)
The gradual elimination of economic and political discrimination against Jews in the Habsburg monarchy following the revolution of 1848, culminating in full emancipation in 1867, encouraged rapid expansion of the Jewish bourgeoisie in Bukovina. The total autonomy granted to the province led to new opportunities for economic development. The prospect of prosperity encouraged Jewish immigration from Galicia and neighboring countries: the number of Jews increased from 14,581 (3.82% of the total population) in 1850 to 67,418 (11.79%) in 1880 and to 102,919 (12.9%) in 1910. Jewish entrepreneurs played a crucial role in the development of capitalism in Bukowina. In 1906, almost half of the province’s tax revenues came from Jews.
In the eyes of the Austrian administration, which used one’s spoken language as the main criterion (Yiddish was only acknowledged as a local dialect), Jews were considered to be of German “nationality” and were therefore included in the census together with members of the German ethnic group. In 1910, the 168,251 “Germans” in Bukowina (21.24% of the total population) represented the third largest nationality in the province, after Ukrainians (38.38%) and Romanians (34.38%).
As in Vienna or Prague, the desire to acquire German language and culture was part of the liberal, pro-Habsburg commitment on the part of the majority of the Jewish bourgeoisie. Increasingly, Jewish children attended German public schools: in 1865, Jewish students represented 100 out of a total of 162 students; in 1905 the figure was 664 out of 970. The proportion of Jewish students enrolled at the German University of Czernowitz increased from 25 percent in 1883 to 42 percent in 1904.
Given the diverse ethnic and religious environment of Bukowina, Jewish notables were able to arbitrate among various private interests as “Germans,” yet also as allies of the authorities. This gave them privileged access—unimaginable elsewhere in Eastern Europe at the time—to key positions in cultural and political spheres. Between 1860 and 1918, Jews were elected to almost every municipal council and to the Landtag. The electoral reforms of 1909–1910 guaranteed Jews 9 mandates out of a total of 63 in the Landtag. Jews also served as deputies of the province in the Reichsrat.
Members of the Katz family on their porch, Cernăuți, Romania (now Chernivtsi, Ukr.), 1930. Cernăuți was the capital city of Bucovina and had the region’s largest Jewish population in the period between World Wars I and II. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Philip Katz)
Jewish “national” trends, which emerged as a reaction to rising antisemitism throughout Europe, were welcomed in Bukowina, which sent three delegates to the First World Zionist Congress convened in Basel in 1897. The first Zionist organization in Bukowina was set up in 1901. Seeking to influence local politics, a Jewish national party was established in 1901 under Benno Straucher’s leadership. In 1910, Zionists, led by Leon Kellner and Mayer Ebner, separated from the national party and set up their own party. In 1908, the Socialist Bund was established as a distinct organization, and in 1911 it joined the Żydowska Partia Socjalno-Demokratyczna (Jewish Social Democratic Party) of Galicia.
During World War I, Bukowina was invaded and occupied by the Russian army. This turn of events destabilized the province, and many Jewish families left out of fear of persecution. National disputes between Romanians and Ukrainians, a consequence of the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy, were settled in November 1918 by the occupation of Bukowina by Romanian troops. Representatives of Jewish parties, united in a national council, maintained neutrality by refusing to endorse the unification of Bukowina with Romania (confirmed in the peace of Saint-Germain).
In Romania, Jews were only granted full civil rights in 1920. Forming part of that country, Bucovina lost its autonomy and was divided into the counties of Suceava, Câmpulung (Ger., Kimpolung), Rădăuți (Ger., Radautz), Cernăuți, and Storojineț (Ger., Storozynets); after 1938, the latter, together with the counties of Hotin and Dorohoi, made up the district of Suceava. In 1930, there were 92,232 Jews (10.8% of the population) residing in the former province of Bucovina. Although Jews were now acknowledged as a national minority—which they had not been under Austrian rule—they were subjected to a slow process of marginalization and loss of legal standing either directly (under pressure resulting from the centralized policy of “Romanianization” of the new province) or indirectly, through the continuous growth of antisemitism promoted by the extreme right.
Although Jews were represented in the municipal councils and, until 1933, even in the Romanian parliament (by Benno Straucher, Mayer Ebner, and Jakob Pistiner, among others), resistance by several Jewish organizations to this trend of Romanianization was weakened as a result of conflicts between social democrats and Zionists, as well as between Zionists and supporters of the Union of Romanian Jews, led by Wilhelm Filderman. From a cultural perspective, the choice of the German language—in which most of the local papers were published and in which poets such as Alfred Margul Sperber, Rose Ausländer, and the young Paul Celan wrote—was outweighed by the increasing impact of Yiddish, declared as mother tongue by 8.7 percent of the population of Bucovina. Yiddish writers included Eliezer Shteynbarg and Itsik Manger.
Already oppressed by the January 1938 decree reconsidering their citizenship, Bucovina’s Jews became the direct target of persecution following the Soviet ultimatum to Romania in June 1940, as a result of which Bessarabia and northern Bucovina, including Cernăuți, were transferred to the USSR. Accused by the authorities and public opinion of supporting communism, Jews in the rest of Bucovina were subjected—following violent acts by retreating Romanian troops—to a set of discriminatory measures, especially after General Ion Antonescu came to power in September 1940. Although protected against racial persecution while on Soviet territory, the Jewish bourgeoisie became the target of economic and political repression, culminating in the deportation of more than 3,500 people to Siberia in June 1941.
Jews from Dorohoi, Bucovina, being transported over the Dniester River to Transnistria, 10 June 1942. (Yad Vashem)
reoccupation of northern Bucovina by Romanian and German armies after 22 June 1941 was accompanied by a series of massacres, resulting in approximately 15,000 deaths. In October of that year, the Romanian government ordered all Jews from Bucovina to be deported to Transnistria and the simultaneous establishment of a ghetto in Cernăuți; except for approximately 17,000 Jews—in particular inhabitants of Cernăuți, who were considered indispensable—by summer 1942 almost 90,000 persons were transported under terrible conditions to the ghettos and camps of Transnistria. It is estimated that more than half were exterminated by summary execution or died as a result of disease, cold, and starvation.
Only under the threat of Soviet attack did Romanian authorities approve the repatriation of survivors in March 1944. The armistice of 1944 (and the subsequent 1947 peace treaty with Romania) required the division of Bucovina according to the border established in 1940. By 1946, a total of 22,307 Jews left the territory assigned to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, either settling in Romania or immigrating to Palestine. In southern Bucovina, the successive waves of emigration beginning in the Communist era diminished the Jewish population to approximately 150–200 in the early twenty-first century; in northern Bucovina, where several tens of thousands of Jews were still living in the 1980s, large-scale emigration to Israel and the United States began after 1990, and, as a result, their number dropped to a few thousand people.
Jean Ancel, Transnistria, 3 vols. (Bucharest, 1998); Jean Ancel, Contribuții la istoria României: Problema evreiască, vol. 1 (Bucharest, 2001); Andrei Corbea-Hoisie, Czernowitzer Geschichten: Über eine städtische Kultur in Mittelosteuropa (Vienna, 2003); Hugo Gold, ed., Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1958–1962); Mariana Hausleitner, Die Rumänisierung der Bukowina: Die Durchsetzung des nationalstaatlichen Anspruchs Grossrumäniens, 1918–1944 (Munich, 2001); Salomon Kassner, Die Juden in der Bukowina (Vienna, 1917); Nazionalnyi sklad naselennja Cernivetzkoji oblasti ta joho movni oznaky: Za danymy Vseukrajinskoho perepysu naselennja 2001 roku (Chernivtsi, 2003); David Shaary, “Jewish Culture in Multinational Bukovina between the World Wars,” Shvut 16 (1993): 281–296.
Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea