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Neologue Synagogue Architectural Plans, Brasov 

During my first days becoming acquainted with Brasov’s immense and daunting town hall archives collection, I serendipitously stumbled across the architectural designs for Brasov’s Neologue synagogue. The plans date from 1900 and were drawn up by the well-known Hungarian-Jewish architect Lipot Baumhorn, who designed numerous synagogues across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Neologue (Hungarian Reform) synagogue is still in use today and was renovated in 2001.  

The folder also contains documents related to a legal case brought against the Jewish community by a neighbour who complained that the small wooden shed the community planned to build in their courtyard (last image) would block his stairway window. The town hall sided with the community stating that everything had been done according to legal requirements and in any case, “everyone is allowed to build as many sheds in their courtyard as they like.”

 

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Graduation Portraits  

Most national archive branches in Romania hold extensive school records. These collections generally contain class register books, faculty lists and training papers, and sometimes documents regarding the school’s history. The class register books, especially those kept during the Austro-Hungarian and interwar periods, can contain almost as much information regarding a pupil’s family background as birth registers – parents’ names and occupations, home address, etc. A much-overlooked (in my opinion) little gem often found within a school’s collection are diploma receipts. While the brief written text provides little more than the name of the pupil and (sometimes) their birth place, the receipts normally have photos attached to them, providing a welcome visual window into a world otherwise without images. 

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Birth record books in Brașov

 

As we wrote about in previous postings (here and here) during a short scouting trip to Brasov last year, civil record books can be of interest to more than just genealogists. If the scribe completed them comprehensively, they have the potential to reveal all sorts of interesting details about the community. In particular in southern Transylvania, where relatively little has been published whatsoever on local communities and few documents exist attesting to Jewish communal life prior to the mid-19th century, entries in civil record books can aid researchers in reconstructing, to an extent, the birth of the community and its early years. In Brașov, for example, the birth book shows that many Jewish families lived in the surrounding villages, a fact that is all but forgotten today. The first birth record book that exists (1851-1873) records families living in Tartlau (Prejmer), Tatrang (Tărlungeni), Csernatfalu (Cernatu, today incorporated into Săcele), Hosszufalu (Satulung, also incorporated today into Săcele), Tohan (today part of Zărnești), Bodola (Budila), and even as far away (and isolated) as Klosdorf (Cloasterf) (see image 1). A cursory survey appears to indicate that the village of Bodila had the most Jewish families (see image 2 listing three mothers from Bodila in a row); this village was also the residence of a Hungarian noble family. Since Jewish residence was severely restricted until the mid-19th century, it is likely that the families in Bodila were under the employment of the nobleman and received residency protection through him. Over several generations these village Jews moved to Brașov and today their presence in these villages has been long forgotten.

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We are back in the field for the next stage of the project! For the next several months we’ll be posting about documents (and places) related to Jewish heritage in Brașov, a medieval fortress town in Transylvania’s southern Carpathian mountains. Brașov, also known as Kronstadt in German and Brassó in Hungarian, was founded primarily by Saxon settlers, like Sibiu and the other Saxon towns of the region (Sighisoara, Medias). Unlike these other towns, however, Brașov lay directly on the border to the Ottoman Empire and as a result played an important role as a trade and market center. In addition to significant Romanian and Hungarian settlements outside the medieval fortress walls, there were also established Greek and Armenian communities and Turkish travelers were a common sight. A formal Jewish community was not established until the early 19th century, though there is evidence that Jewish merchants and doctors, mostly Sephardic coming from the Ottoman Empire, frequently passed through the town prior to this. The location on the border to Wallachia also affected the make-up of the Jewish community. Whereas in other Saxon towns most of the early community members came from neighboring villages or elsewhere in Transylvania, Bohemia, or Hungary (and more rarely Galicia), the 19th century community in Brasov noticeably includes people from south of the Carpathians – Bucharest or other towns in Wallachia. In addition, probably as a result of its status as an important trade center, merchants from Galicia appear often in the marriage record books where one sees weddings taking place frequently between Brașov women and Galician men.

Join us over the next few months as we explore the archives held by various repositories in Brasov.

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Our online catalogue is up and running - check out the site and see the results of our 2013 field work in Bukovina and Transylvania! This project has been extended for three years and we’ll be adding additional catalogue entries at the end of each fiscal year, so check for updates regularly. Beginning in March this blog will once again be lived with regular postings as the survey begins work in the beautiful Transylvanian town of Brasov. 

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If you are in New York City, don’t miss our public launch event for the new online catalogue! Tomorrow, Monday January 13th, 3:00 p.m. at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street. See the link for more details. 

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Read a report on our survey project in the LBI's fall 2013 newsletter - and for those of you in New York City, please mark your calendars for January 13th, when we will host an official launch event for the online catalogue at the Center for Jewish History

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Book of pressed flowers from the Holy Land, Sibiu Archives

This is the last official post for this stage of our project. Over the next few months we will be finishing the online catalog and preparing for its launch (probably in December or January). However, pending funding, the survey will be extended over the next few years and we’ll be back posting about intriguing, surprising, or just plain amusing discoveries made in the dusty archives of Transylvania and Bukovina and, we hope, inspiring others to explore them too!

This little find, made at the very end of my time in Sibiu, felt like an unexpected parting gift. The slender book is bound in wood and leather and is bilingual in German and Hebrew. One page describes various sites significant to Judaism in Palestine and the opposite page displays carefully arranged designs of pressed flowers. It is not dated but is probably from around the turn of the century.