Back to Bukovina - a Trip to my Roots in Radauti and Sadagura
Bruce I. Reisch, Copyright © 1998
(to see photographs from this trip, click here.)
Bukovina beckoned as plans for a business trip to Budapest developed. This was close enough, I felt, to plan a 10 day side trip into Bukovina. This region had been an integral part of Moldavia (1490-1775) and then, from 1775 until 1918, became the easternmost outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between the two World Wars, Bukovina was governed by Romania, and following World War II it was divided between Romania and the Ukraine. Bukovina was the birthplace of my paternal grandparents. Though they met in New York City, Rose Schachter and Morris Reisch were born 30 miles apart, in the 1890s. Today's Sadagura, birthplace of Grandfather Morris, is now a suburb of the Bukovina capital of Czernowitz (Chernivtsi in Ukrainian, see article in ROM-SIG Spring '98 issue, Volume 6, No. 3 by Ruth Gavis), in the Ukraine. Radauti (Radautz, Radowitz), home of my Grandmother Rose, is a small town in present day Romania.
I started planning my trip to Romania and the Ukraine by seeking advice from the JewishGen discussion group, soc.genealogy.jewish. Invariably, I was told to go with a tour group, and not to try to brave this trip alone. So, of course, I decided to go alone. . . but with lots of careful planning. I hoped my knowledge of French and a sprinkling of German would help me out, and it sure did. My JewishGen and ROM-SIG friends led me to Dr. Gabriel Rinzler, a native of Czernowitz, who had recently visited his hometown. Dr. Rinzler advised me on travel routes to the Ukraine and provided me an excellent contact in the Jewish Community. He wrote to Mrs. Evgenia Finkel, Secretary of the Chernivtsi Society of Yiddish Culture "E. Shtainbarg" (named after the famous Yiddish writer of Czernowitz by that name), and asked her to help me if she could. The travel advice in the article by Ruth Gavis was also invaluable to my planning - and as luck would have it, Ruth and her husband Jerry were at the same hotel in Czernowitz this summer for the same exact four nights that I stayed there. There was nothing like having a pair of seasoned Jewish genealogists as on-site resources and friends! With their help, I was better able to navigate the bureaucracy of the Ukrainian archive system.
My kind business associates and friends in Hungary arranged for my train ticket from Budapest to the Ukraine, advised me on travel, and were there to greet me when I returned to Budapest. The Ukraine portion of my trip began auspiciously with the company of a delightful and attractive English-speaking 25 year-old Ukrainian woman who shared my sleeping compartment on the train from Budapest to Ternopil, followed by a guided tour of the Jewish sites of Sadagura with Professor Grigori Chervenyuk of Chernivtsi State University, a native of Sadagura.
In the months before departure, I planned with intensity the details of my travel arrangements and goals upon arrival. I had been told by reliable sources that there were few if any vital records remaining from Sadagura. So I set my sights low and planned only to see the sights of Sadagura, such as the great synagogue, and the cemetery. I knew these still existed, since I had seen recent photos from fellow traveler Irene Silfin, whose husband was related to the Rinzlers of Sadagura. A photo of the great Temple in better times can be seen in the section on Sadagura in Encyclopedia Judaica. I really just wanted to walk the streets of a town I had heard of by name but knew little else about.
On my arrival in Czernowitz (where the Cheremosh hotel for tourists is located), I phoned the Yiddish writer, Mr. Joseph Burg, from my hotel room. Mr. Burg was recommended as a contact in the article by Ruth Gavis, and I knew that he spoke a little English. He immediately invited me to his apartment for a visit, where, by chance, another Jewish man helped me to find the right apartment as I wandered about the desolate street. Mr. Burg was wonderfully hospitable, and phoned Mrs. Finkel right away for me. Mrs. Finkel had been expecting me since receiving the letter from Dr. Rinzler. Though I knew she had agreed to help me, I didn't know what sort of assistance she would be able to provide. She spoke no English, so we had language barriers to overcome. On my arrival, I found that she had already arranged for a translator, the very friendly Inna Zeltser, a Jewish woman who teaches English at a local college. Inna never asked for any type of compensation (though I left her with a generous gift), and she stayed by my side for three days straight, 8 hours per day, in unpleasant heat and humidity. After several hours of discussion and planning, Inna, Evgenia, Alex Traci (a local friend of Dr. Rinzler's) and I headed by taxi to Sadagura.
In the years prior to World War I, Sadagura was a market town with population under 12,000, 80% Jewish, about 3 miles from the center of Czernowitz. It was the home of the Sadagura Rebbe, Rabbi Israel Friedmann of Ruzhin, who settled in Sadagura in the mid 19th century and established a Hassidic dynasty which is still active to this day. Not all residents of Sadagura were followers of the Hassidic Rebbe. My great-grandfather Hersh Reisch emigrated from Sadagura to the United States about 1914, and though he was orthodox, he was not Hassidic to my knowledge.
On our arrival in Sadagura, we stopped at the house of Mayer Yosefovich Kaushansky, one of the five remaining Jews still living in Sadagura. Mayer is a retired doctor and a very cheerful spirit with a warm smile. He hopped in the now very crowded taxi and showed us the way to the cemetery. My entourage and I ambled through a field full of broken tombstones to see the grave of the Sadagura Hassidic Rebbe. The gates surrounding the Hassidic dynasty's burial plot had been recently vandalized and lay on the ground. It hadn't been like this the last time Mayer had been here. The group was ready to leave when I negotiated a few extra minutes (perhaps 30?) to walk through the areas with intact stones. I couldn't come all this way, and not look for a few Reisch stones, could I? While the group sat in the shade, I took my camera in hand and walked through areas adjacent to a school yard and a military installation looking for readable names. Of all the stones with Hebrew letters, perhaps 10% also had writing in German. Of those in German I found two by the name RINZLER - a nice reward of information and photos for Dr. Rinzler. A few moments later, I struck gold with a REISCH stone, followed quickly by two more.
I returned alone to the cemetery the next morning. I now knew the way, and negotiated my own taxi ride, despite the language difficulties. We found the cemetery, and I had the taxi wait 2 hours while I walked systematically among the stones. This wasn't easy as the weather was warm and humid, the grass wet, and the plant life around the stones terribly over-grown. Each step taken might go down into a hole, or land on a hidden stone. On this visit, on a warm and humid morning, I found additional REISCH monuments, and others with the names KERNER and BENDIT, other family names from this area. Though I haven't as yet connected any of these Reisches with my own family, I at least learned that the family REISCH must have been very large to have so many stones (a total of 10 found!) still standing with the name REISCH.
Later that afternoon, I returned to Sadagura with Professor Chervenyuk of Chernivtsi State University and a native of Sadagura, and with Inna and Alex. He is the process of writing a history of the ethnic groups of his home village and was glad to meet with me when Mrs. Finkel phoned him from her office. The Professor showed me the remaining Jewish homes and Jewish sites. The great Temple stands in ruins, just an intact shell which is now abandoned but had been a machine shop under the Soviet era. The Rebbe's house next door, which had been a municipal office until at least 1995, now stands abandoned as well, and is deteriorating from accelerating water damage. A sign on the rear door says "Synagogue Sadagora Center of Chernovtsy, Str. Marissa Theresa 192" in English, Russian, and Hebrew. But this office is obviously not in use. These and other sights of the small shtetl houses, and the active bazaar type market in the town center, shed some light on how things used to be in the difficult times at the turn of the century. Life even now is very difficult in the Ukraine - I saw abundant signs of poverty and heard stories of unemployment and unpaid back wages everywhere.
Professor Chervenyuk showed me a large old house which he remembered had been a Reisch family house years ago. Chaskell Reisch the shoemaker had lived here, practicing the same profession as that of my great grandfather. Though I can't be sure, this was a likely ancestral home for my family, and I took lots of photos. Mayer Kaushansky gave me the names and addresses of a Reisch family which had emigrated from Sadagura to Israel about 8 years ago. I've written to them and perhaps they will know more about my family.
At the urging of fellow travelers and genealogists, the Gavises, I also decided to try a visit to the Z.A.G.S. Archives for the City of Chernivtsi. Though I had been lead to believe there would be nothing there for Sadagura, I was handsomely rewarded for my efforts with the finding of the exact 1885 wedding date for the marriage of great grandfather Hersh Reisch and Sussel Feuerstein. There was nothing more in this register than the names and date, but it gave me a warm feeling to see this >100 year-old record with my own eyes. If you go to the archives to research records for Sadagura and surrounding communities (Rohozna, Neu-Zuckza, etc.) the following two ledgers of records are available: Marriages in the Sadagura/Rohozna region for 1877-1890, and death records for 1885-1904. I was told they did not have a ledger for births in this period. There may also be additional records available for the post 1900 period. Officially, the policy is to charge 20 griven (about $10) for each record, and they may not be photocopied. Only a Ukrainian transcript of the record may be provided. Before I left, though, they had softened their policy and the polite young woman in the office showed me 50 Reisch birth records, of which I bought 3 which were transcribed from German into very good English for me.
With all the detailed planning for my trip to Sadagura, I had done relatively little planning for my trip to Radauti. In the years prior to WW1, Radauti was about 35% Jewish, and the town had large numbers of Germans and Romanians as well. However, my 88 year old cousin who grew up in Radauti, Mendel Halpern (see http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/transnistra/transnistra.html), gave me the name of a friend of his whom he hoped might still be alive. From other JewishGenners, I had the address and phone number of the Jewish Community Office in Radauti, and the addresses for three synagogues, including the Great Temple of Radauti, a gift of the Kaiser to the Jewish residents of this town, built in the 1880s.
The morning before my departure from Czernowitz, I spoke by phone with Prof. Tania Grinberg of the Jewish Community Office of Radauti. She directed me to Hotel Azur (a new hotel on the main road to Radauti from Czernowitz via Dornesti). Once I settled into this hotel ($17/night for a pleasant room with some shortcoming like an exposed electrical outlet, and a missing toilet seat), I found my way with the help of a local policeman, to her office. She welcomed me very warmly, and was a constant source for information throughout my visit. My knowledge of French and German was very useful in Radauti.
Prof. Grinberg offered to open the doors of the Great Temple for me - a stunning sight in the center of the village. The building was in surprising good condition with gold ornamentation highlighting its architectural features. I later learned that it had been renovated about 17 years ago. The interior was stunning as well, and I photographed it extensively. My cousin Mendel helped to re-build the Bima and benches after WW2, so I photographed these areas in particular. This was a moving experience to be in the Great Temple, which I knew to be just down the street from a family home. Today, it is the only remaining Temple in Radauti, serving a community of just 94 people, mostly elderly. I went to Shabbat services on Saturday morning, held in a prayer room just inside the main doors. I was one of only five men in attendance. They were quite friendly and curious about me. I took photographs of Mr. Benyamin, Mr. David and his son, and Mr. Koffler and sent them copies for the New Year.
I mentioned to Prof. Grinberg the name of my cousin Mendel's friend, Shike Stenzler. She recognized his name immediately. It was a real thrill to find a living connection to my family. Though now 90 years-old and blind, Shike could remember my great-grandmother Hinde Brucker Schachter, and others in the family of my Radauti great-grandfather Leiser Schachter. I now have Israeli addresses for these families (given to me later in the trip by Prof. Grinberg), from whom I am certain to learn more.
Shike's son Daniel spoke English quite well and agreed to interpret for me the following day. In Radauti, I planned to visit the archives and cemetery, and to try to find ancestral homes. With Daniel's help on day 2 in Radauti, my visit was successful in all these objectives. Since the archives were busy on a Friday morning, they advised us to return in the afternoon. Daniel then took me to find the cemetery caretaker. He took us into the apparently unlocked cemetery on the eastern edge of town. The cemetery was in fairly good condition, not ruinous like the one in Sadagura. Tania checks on the cemetery each month and tells the caretaker what needs doing! With the help of photos of my great grandparent's graves, given to me by a relative about 3 weeks before I left, the caretaker found these two gravesites within about 30 minutes. They were both in amazingly good condition. My camera was clicking away, as I photographed these stones and many others with the names SCHACHTER, BRUCKER, and KASTNER (for a dear cousin). Even Daniel found his grandparent's monuments as we wandered about. The domed Temple at the entrance to the cemetery is now a storage area for odds and ends like old iron fences and bales of hay. The monument to the victims of the Transnistrian holocaust is found to the right as you enter the cemetery. It is a striking and beautiful structure.
My visit to the archives later that day was unexpectedly successful. In January 1998, I hired a professional genealogist, Prof. L. Gyemant <firstname.lastname@example.org> of Cluj Napoca University in Transylvania, to research the pre-1890 records housed in the regional archives of Suceava, near Radauti. Prof. Gyemant provided me with a report in early June, 1998, prior to my departure. Since the post 1890 records are found only in the archives in Radauti, I planned to research these records on my own. For each record, I requested, the look-up process was somewhat tedious, and it was apparent that the Radauti city hall archive was not accustomed to receiving visitors interested in their family history. It was clear, though, that they had many of the pre- and post-1890 records of the Jewish community in this archive. I found birth records for my grandmother and most of her siblings but I failed to find two of the marriage records I sought. I also found the death records for my great grandparents, but failed to find any death records for their parents. Perhaps they died at another location during WWI? Most of the records found were in German, and the post WW1 records were in Romanian. I was not permitted to photocopy the records; instead, I hand copied the German records, and Daniel copied the Romanian records. There was no charge for any of this work and I thanked them warmly.
On my last day in Radauti, I braved another visit to the archives without a translator for one more record. Using a bit of German to communicate with the archivist, I found a death record which led me to the exact street address of a family home. I had suspected which home it was earlier in the trip, but the archival record confirmed this for me. I went back to the location, and asked in German for access to the courtyard. The woman in the storefront remembered that it had been a bakery many years ago, and this was the profession of Mendel's father - this was surely the house where Mendel and some of my other family members grew up. Despite the presence of two very concerned dogs, I persisted in entering the courtyard. After a few photographs, I turned around and left with great satisfaction at having found the house which I had heard so much about. Another family house around the corner had been demolished long ago, however. A neighbor could describe it, but all I could see was a vacant lot. The homes on the street were likely similar to this family home, so I took pictures of those as well.
THE CARPATHIANS AND GURA HUMORULUI:
The Bukovina scenery was enchanting: Beautiful rolling hillsides, horse drawn carts, cows grazing on the roadside, and sometimes in the middle of the road, and then the stunning beech and spruce filled mountains to the west. The architecture was also very pleasant, and the water wells of Bukovina were the ornate types of fairy tales. My great Aunt once told me stories of Gura Humorului, a town south of Radauti but on the other side of a range of the Carpathian mountains. Suspecting that it might be the home of my Schachter great-grandfather, I paid a visit. I was lucky enough to meet two of the remaining seven Jews of this town, Mr. Hescovici and Mr. Iuni, the Community President. Mr. Hescovici showed me the cemetery which was in relatively good condition, in a stunning setting above the river on a gorgeous pasture and forest-filled hillside. Most of the stones have numbers stenciled on the sides, indicating that someone has been here surveying or indexing the site. Here too, I found and photographed many Schachter monuments. I cannot yet find a link with my family and any of these burials, but this side trip to one of the very stunningly beautiful villages of Bukovina, and my chance meeting with two elderly Jewish residents, was well worth the visit.
Should I ever have the chance to once again visit the Bukovina region, I'll still have lots to do. I am sure that the archives and cemeteries of the region still harbor much more information about my family history. But this one visit, even if it turns out to be my only opportunity, will forever be etched in my mind.
IF YOU GO TO BUKOVINA:
Bring lots of cash as credit cards are very rarely used, ATMs are non existent, and traveler's checks are hard to cash. I recommend that cash be carried in a security pouch.
HOW TO GET YOUR VISA:
Visas are required for U.S. citizens entering the Ukraine. Romania only requires a passport for entry. For your visa application, you will need an invitation or confirmation of a hotel reservation which the Cheremosh can fax to you. Contact the Consulate of the Ukraine well in advance for information on Visas. Costs and requirements vary from year to year.
of Ukraine in New York
240 East 49 Street
New York, NY 10017
3350 M. Street, NW
Washington, CD 20007
phone 202-333-7507 (08, 09)
Fax: 202 333 7510
LODGING NEAR SADAGURA:
Komarova Blv. 13-a
Tel Country code 380 city code 3722 4-75-18 or 4-75-39
Fax: 380 3722 4-13-14
Ask for an English speaking guide if calling by phone. The Cheremosh only started to use credit cards (Visa) in July 98, so check before you go.
The Tourist Bureau in the Cheremosh can help with plane and train tickets. They will also arrange for drivers and interpreters (Approx. $7/hr. for a driver with car within the city or $8/hr. outside city limits, $6/hr for an interpreter/guide). I found it much less expensive to take a cab and I managed to communicate somehow with the drivers. A map of the city and the region (in Russian) is available for purchase at the front desk.
IMPORTANT NOTES FOR VISITORS TO SADAGURA:
For interaction with the Jewish Community:
Mr. Joseph Burg
Sheptyzki Str. 13/9
Tel and Fax: 380 3722 2-06-01
It is best to write in Russian or German. He will reply if you send two international reply coupons. Mr. Burg is an active Yiddish writer and a gem of a person.
Another important contact:
Mrs. Evgenia Finkel, Secretary (Mr. Burg is President)
Chernivtsi Society of Jewish Culture "E. Shtainbarg"
Teatralnaia Pl. 5 Room 30
phone 380 3722 24170 or home 21258
Mrs. Finkel was expecting me and did so much for me it was unbelievable. She even lined up a young Jewish women who teaches English to translate for me.
For research on Jewish vital records in Sadagura and surrounding communities, go to:
Kobilyanska Str. 31
274000 Chernivtsi Ukraine
Tel.: 380 3722 2-52-25
Enter the building courtyard, and climb the stairs in the wing to your left to reach the Archives office.
(Please note - Jewish vital records have been moved in 2001 to the Oblast Archives. See the database at the Routes to Roots Foundation for more up to date information. In addition, the Jewish vital records in Chernivtsi are being microfilmed by the Mormon/LDS Libraries. See the summary of Resources for Jewish Bukowina Research for more information.)
If you go to Sadagura,
you must see the Great Temple and castle of the Sadagura Rebbe:
Str. Marissa Theresa 192
Look for it behind the trees and shrubs along the street.
The cemetery is near a school on Nalepky Str.
on the history of Sadagura, contact:
Professor Grigori Ivanovich Chervenyuk
Chernivtsi State University
(address available from author, in Cyrillic)
Prof. Chervenyuk is writing a history of the ethnic groups of Sadagura. He will appreciate your photos and information on your ancestors.
ON THE WEB:
For information on Sadagura, visit http://www.kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/sadgura/index.html
For information on Radauti, visit http://www.kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/radauti/index.php
LODGING IN RADAUTI:
In Radauti, I
stayed at -
Str. Cernauti, Nr. 29
Radauti, 5875 Romania
Tel./Fax: country code 40 city code 30 464718
Reasonable rooms for under $20 night, with TV, bath room down hall.
In Suceava, there
is an English speaking tourist agency which can reserve Suceava hotels, book
train tickets, etc.:
Ask for Christien Janos or "Teddy" at
Strada Stefan cel Mare 24
Tel 40 302 223259
Fax 40 302 520223
It is possible to stay in Suceava (where, for about the same price, Hotel Alice has much nicer accommodations than Hotel Azur in Radauti). It is only a 45 minute drive to Radauti from Suceava; train and bus service is available as well.
IMPORTANT NOTES FOR VISITORS TO RADAUTI:
To contact the
Jewish community in Radauti:
Prof. Tania Grinberg (speaks some French and German)
Comunitatea Evreilor (Jewish Community Office)
Aleea Primaverii 11
Block 14, Apt. 1
office 40 30 561333
home 40 30 562713
Great Synagogue of Radauti: Str. Uno Mai 2 (must not be missed!)
for the Jewish community are kept in the City Hall archives division:
Primaria Municipiului Radauti
Str. Piata Unirii nr. 2
cod. 5875 Romania
Facing the main entrance, the archives are on the first floor, make a left turn and it is the last door on the left. They can "translate" old street names and numbers into their current street addresses.
Appendix: An Assortment of Tips for Travelers:
How to Prepare for Your Shtetl Visit
- Check visa and passport requirements far in advance.
- Can you do this trip on your own, or will it be better to go with an organized group such as JewishGen ShtetlSchleppers? Decide this first. Consider your previous travel experience, language abilities, and dietary and health needs.
- Find someone who has already done this - don't try to re-invent the wheel. Start with the JewishGen discussion group and/or your local genealogical society. I was the recipient of excellent advice.
- Find addresses for Jewish communities in advance, and contact them so they know you are coming.
- Do as much of the archival research as possible, in advance. How would you feel if, after your once-in-a-lifetime trip, you later learn that your great-grandfather was actually born in a nearby town, but you didn't know so you didn't go there? If you have the financial resources to go, you should also consider hiring a professional to do some of your family history research before you depart. This may take many months to complete, but the benefits are well worth it. Few travellers will have the time (or even the language skills!) necessary to fully research the archives overseas on their own. Time spent in the archives is also time taken away from visits to the local sites and contact with the local community. A professional may provide you with leads on old family home locations that you may want to visit when you are there
- Plan in advance - what shall you take and still be able to travel light. Camera? Tape recorder? Note pads? Old family photos? Family charts (may be very useful in Ukrainian archives which ask for proof of relationship before they will do a search)?
- Find older members of the community, Jewish or not, who might remember your family.
- Gifts - everyone likes them. Candy for the kids!
- Credit cards and traveler's checks are out - cash is in. But take security precautions - e.g. money belt. Check in advance with your hotel before you assume they will take a credit card.
Copyright © 1998 Bruce Reisch