The blog goes on maternity leave… 
That’s it for this year from Brasov! In December we’ll be back with updates to the JBAT website, including entries from material collected in Brasov and the Romanian language version of the site. Next year look for us in Targu Mures, Timisoara, Cluj, Alba Iulia, and Bucharest! 

The blog goes on maternity leave… 

That’s it for this year from Brasov! In December we’ll be back with updates to the JBAT website, including entries from material collected in Brasov and the Romanian language version of the site. Next year look for us in Targu Mures, Timisoara, Cluj, Alba Iulia, and Bucharest! 


Jewish Community Archives in Brasov, part III

I posted here and here about some of the material held in the archives of Brasov’s contemporary Jewish community. Today’s post will be a summary of the rest of their holdings.

First, apart from papers, the library contains numerous prayer books and paintings of past presidents. Above is a painting of the first president of the community, Aron Löbl, one of the founding members of the community (statutes signed in 1826) and president until 1851. It appears that the 1826 statutes exist in original, they were quoted in a recent publication, but unfortunately they cannot be located at the present time.

The oldest document other than prayer books and the painting is a book recording the minutes of board meetings, beginning in 1866 (see photos). The minutes books continue without interruption until about 1900, after which many years are missing. The information inside represents a veritable treasure chest for researchers looking at community life and construction of identity in the second half of the 19th century. The Brasov community underwent three waves of assimilation: records until about 1900 are kept in German, after which they are kept in Hungarian, and beginning around World War II, the language switches to Romanian. Though the language of record was often mandated by the ruling state, there was still a degree of personal choice in this multilingual region.

The community never assimilated 100% to one linguistic group or another – mixed in throughout the “Hungarian” period are German documents such as charts for determining the corresponding dates for solar and lunar calendars (for the years 1800-2000!) (photo) and a 1941 invitation to High Holiday services, which is only in German (photo). Perhaps most emblematic of the community’s fluid linguistic identity, inherent multilingualism, and border location are the trilingual requests to register as community members from the 1920s (photo).

Other documents of value to researchers are the numerous record books from the Jewish elementary school. Particularly fascinating is a book containing all school inspections beginning in the early 1920s (after Transylvania became part of Romania) and going to the 1950s. The Romanian government was intent on nationalizing its new minority populations as quickly as possible (see yesterday’s post as well) and the reports reveal official attitudes towards these populations, Romanianization measures taken, and the degree of cultural assimilation prior to the change in government. For example, the inspector who wrote the excerpt above (from 1922) is displeased with the fact that instruction takes place in Hungarian and German and expresses great astonishment that the nationality of some of the children is listed as Hungarian rather than Jewish. He also notes that by “keeping the school’s record books in Hungarian, the language of a foreign state, the educators of the school are put in a poor patriotic light.”


Paranoia and increasing anti-Semitism during the Interwar period

Unfortunately the Brasov town hall documents are not as efficiently indexed during the interwar period, plus index books from a number of years are missing. Nevertheless, the disorienting effects of the sudden change of government (Austro-Hungarian to Romanian) are clearly discernible from the documents that are available. The Romanian state had effectively doubled its territory and population in the wake of World War I. Complicating matters was the fact that the new territories contained considerable minority populations, whereas the Old Kingdom (Regat) had been primarily ethnically Romanian. For an exhaustive look at the Romanian government’s efforts to nationalize the new minority populations, see Irina Livezeanu’s seminal book on the topic, Cultural Politics in Greater Romania: Regionalism, Nation Building, and Ethnic Struggle, 1918–1930.

The government’s paranoia regarding all things Jewish-related comes through loud and clear in the handful of documents which are accessibly indexed in the town hall archives. There are “confidential” requests from higher authorities for the names of rabbis and number of synagogues in Brasov as well as new legislation prescribing how rabbis may be chosen. There is a 1921 note stating, among other things, that Jews from Yugoslavia and Hungary, “well-known to be in league with Bolsheviks, unable to settle anywhere, and ill-received in all countries,” are trying to get passports for Romania, as they were born in the newly acquired territories (document 1, above). Another dispatch (1921) from higher authorities announces the impending visit of British Zionist fundraisers to Brasov. It instructs the Brasov municipal authorities to allow the fundraisers to carry out their work without hindrance, but also to maintain close supervision on the Zionists’ activities and prepare a report of the same for the higher authorities (doc. 2).

Another document (doc. 3, also from 1921) sets out the new national (secular) holidays (Independence Day, royal birthdays) and instructs the town hall to inform the synagogue [communities] that the holidays be observed with a religious service and that no other holiday observances are allowed. This dispatch was also sent to other religious communities and presumably the other “holidays” which were forbidden referred to similarly secular holidays formerly celebrated under Austro-Hungarian rule – not religious holidays.

Gradual and subtle changes in the wording of government decisions signify the increasing anti-Semitism during the interwar period. A file from 1936 contains several documents curbing the period during which the kosher butchers were allowed to slaughter (7:00-9:00 am) in order to “prevent visitors to the slaughterhouse from witnessing the disgusting spectacle presented by the ritual slaughtering” (doc. 4).


100 posts! And Brasov’s Orthodox Synagogue

In the early 20th century, Brasov’s Jewish Orthodox community was experiencing growing pains. A few years after building a mikvah near the military hospital, they submitted plans to build a larger one on their property in Burggasse 64 (today Str. Castelului, see photos); the same year they also constructed a new kosher slaughterhouse in the courtyard at the same address. Soon they began petitioning the city for additional property so as to build a proper synagogue, explaining that their current space used for the house of prayer was too small. The town hall collection contains a number of petitions from the community suggesting various plots of land – the property behind their current address leading up to and past the old city wall, an old gas works property, and so forth. These requests were denied by the city on various grounds. Finally, in 1920 the community submitted a construction permit request to tear down walls within a building on the same property in the Burggasse so as to create a larger space for worship. These plans (see photos) do not correspond exactly to the synagogue located there today, but there are similarities. Unfortunately I came across no further construction plans or permit applications in the town hall collection for the Orthodox synagogue. Beginning in the early 1920s the indexing system previously used became much less organized and thorough – perhaps the plans exist but are not properly indexed and therefore are essentially lost.

Sometime during the mid-late 1920s though, the community succeeded in enlarging their house of prayer and making it into a synagogue (it is still referred to as a house of prayer in government documents from 1924, whereas the Neologue shul is called a synagogue), apparently settling on a vertical expansion on the same property in the Burggasse. Today the building is condemned and may not be entered, having suffered structural damage during an earthquake so it is impossible to say for certain how the interior was arranged. From the outside it appears to have been built above the mikvah. The main entrance is reached via a stairway which is in turn accessed through a residential building on the property.

Today marks 100 posts for this blog! Thank you for reading! 


Forgotten sites of former synagogues in Brasov

The two synagogue buildings standing today in Brasov were both built in the 20th century. We posted about finding the blueprints for the Neologue synagogue here and later this week I will write about the Orthodox synagogue. But where did the community and, after the Neologue/Orthodox schism, communities meet prior to building the imposing structures we see today?

A book published in 1874 entitled Aus Kronstadts Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (From Brasov’s Past and Present) by Friedrich Philippi contains the first indication of 19th century shul locations that I’ve come across thus far. Philippi writes that the municipal authorities, after arranging to trade the Protestant community one of their older churches and adjacent property for a new, larger piece of property (so they could build a larger church), thereafter “in 1862 leased what had been a protestant church until then, to the Mosaic community for use as a temple” (see photo of book excerpt). Though today in the west one may see former shuls becoming churches or vice versa, I was rather surprised to learn that such an arrangement was acceptable to all parties in the mid-19th century. Unfortunately this building doesn’t stand anymore. The map included in Philippi’s book indicates where the building would have stood (see photos) but in that place today one large building takes up the entire block and definitely does not look like it would ever have functioned as a church or synagogue (see photos).

From a post regarding the Orthodox community’s rabbi elections here, I knew that the Orthodox had a shtibl (small prayer house) in Hirscher St. 9. This building still stands today, though there is no way of knowing which part of the building was used by the community. 


Făgăraș Synagogue and Cemetery

The Făgăraș (German Fogarasch, Hungarian Fogaras) community was one of the older Jewish communities in the region of southern Transylvania. In the past I have posted about documents related to Fagaras here. The synagogue, still standing but abandoned and in a state of advanced decay, is unusual due to its conspicuous steeple – a generally uncommon feature in synagogue architecture.

The cemetery is in relatively good condition, probably due in no small part to several sheep and goats which keep the grass low. Like the other communities in the area, the tombstone inscriptions are either in German or Hungarian (in addition to Hebrew) prior to World War II and, beginning in about the 1950s, sometimes in Romanian. I was a bit surprised to find that even the tombstone engraver from Sibiu left his name in German on one stone and Hungarian on another (see photos, J. Roubischek of Hermannstadt / Nagy Szeben). There was also a stone the like of which I have never encountered in any cemetery in Transylvania to date – with inscriptions on four sides in four different languages, Hebrew and the three languages of the regional inhabitants: German, Hungarian, and Romanian. The stone dates from 1889, a time when Romanians enjoyed few privileges and for the most part made up the peasant class, while the Hungarians and Germans belonged to the ruling class and the Jews were accordingly far more assimilated to the two latter cultures. The tombstone was made for Aron Speiser, who was born in Tarnopol in 1825 and died in Fagaras in 1889. He was a decorated captain in the Austro-Hungarian army and served as president for both the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) and the Jewish community of Fagaras. 

World War I
During the war years, the subjects of town hall documents related to the Jewish community differ from those during peace time. There are requests for donations to the war effort, respective responses, and special ordinances allowing Jews to burn candles for religious purposes (presumably otherwise rationed). The provision of matzah flour and matzah for both the community and the Jewish soldiers billeted in town is organized by the municipality; 300 kg of “Osterzucker” (Easter sugar), ie kosher for Peysakh sugar, is also specially ordered. It seems that the use of wood was also restricted during the war: there are formal requests from the communities to the town hall for oak branches to decorate the synagogue for Shavuos and, in the autumn, requests for branches for Sukkos.
Changes in the urban population as a result of the war can also be discerned. There is a note from the Feldrabbiner (Jewish chaplain) describing a house to be requisitioned by the army to house the Reform (Hungarian), Lutheran, Israelite, and Muslim military chaplaincy offices - a large and diverse army must have been stationed in Brasov for some time. Likewise there are notes from the municipality discussing how best to encourage the Galician Jews, who had arrived during the war, to vacate the city’s territory. 

 Processing and digitization project in Mediaș, Transylvania

The Leo Baeck Institute is working together with local organizations and individuals on a year-long project which will catalogue and preserve the found archives of the Jewish community of Mediaș, a historically German (Saxon) town in southern Transylvania. In addition to the invaluable work of archival preservation, the project’s goals include establishing an organization devoted solely to the sustainable maintenance and restoration of the synagogue, offices, and courtyard spaces and building ties within the local community by way of regular cultural and educational events and opening hours. One of LBI’s archivists is acting as a consultant for the project and our JBAT website will eventually host the digital archival documents (probably available in spring or summer 2015).

This project is just getting off the ground and today we began an initial overall survey of the archives. In addition to documents spanning the 20th century (and a few from the 19th), the former community spaces contained various items of a personal or ritual nature. During the synagogue clean-up several years ago, when the archives were discovered, we also found many tefillin (see photo), prayer shawls, and embroidered tefillin bags. Other ritual items in the offices included a small Chanukkiah and a hand-carved wooden Yad (pointer for reading the Torah) – see photos.  Personal items included a set of post-war diaries written by a young woman from Bukovina who was deported to Transnistria during the war but survived (her family perished), various secular books, photographs, and artwork.  

The Mediaș community was primarily German speaking until WWII and most of the records were kept in German until the late 1930s. Of course, being in Transylvania, Hungarian and Romanian were sometimes used and probably spoken or at least understood by many if not most members. The framed photo of famous Yiddish authors who attended the 1908 Yiddish Conference in Czernowitz (see photo) is somewhat unusual in this context, but may have been brought to Mediaș by native Bukoviners after the war, when many refugees from Bukovina settled in Transylvania or elsewhere in Romania.

For more on the Mediaș archives, see our posts from last year, when we digitized select documents. Posts: Sheet music; Statutes;  War-time registration forms with genealogy data; Death record book and cemetery map; Personal papers; Inside the synagogue; Minutes of board meetings. These documents are not yet on the JBAT website. We will publish them once this year’s processing project is complete and the entire archive can be presented at once.

If you are in the area and interested in participating or helping with this project, please write to the director of the JBAT project (see About page or “Contact us” in the footer for email address). A courtyard/garden clean-up event is being planned for the end of July and we are looking for participants! 


Growth and Infighting in Brasov’s Orthodox community, early 20th century

Currently I am still working my way through Brasov’s town hall collection and viewing all documents which relate to the Orthodox or Neologue community in some fashion. By undertaking a year-by-year survey such as this, one builds an impression of the concerns of and changes within the community over time. For example, it seems clear from the documents surveyed thus far that the Orthodox community was going through a growth spurt in the early years of the 20th century. Almost every year contains construction permit applications for some new community project – a mikvah, a slaughterhouse (see photo), residential buildings, a new fence for the cemetery. Hopefully the plans for the new synagogue, built in the early 1920s, will also be uncovered.

As is often the case, however, growth seems to have amplified tensions within the community – the more members, the more people with whom to disagree. The records also testify to various law suits brought by the community or individuals within the community against each other. The most heated case looks to be a dispute over the outcome of rabbi elections. The hefty file for this case contains legal briefs, the original voting attendance records, a copy of the community’s statutes, and various appeals to increasingly higher authorities (see photos).  In the end, the group that fought the election outcome lost. A later file contains an invitation (see photo) to the festive inauguration on October 8th, 1912 of the new rabbi, Dr. Jozsef Dohany, in the community’s prayer house in Hirschergasse 9. 


Jewish community archives in Brasov, part II

One of the older archival items held by the Brasov Jewish community is a beautifully bound book dedicated to Löbel Aronsohn, founder of the Jewish school, on the occasion of 40 years of activity. The book was presented to him by the students of the school and is dated 1891. There are three pages of text written by the community’s current religion instructor, Sigismund Steinhardt (also sometimes called Samu or Samuel Steinhardt), followed by the names of those who attended the Jewish school exclusively and those who attended other schools within Brasov, but received their religious instruction from Steinhardt.

The list of pupil’s names who attended the Jewish school reveals a far more diverse student body than other Saxon or even Transylvanian towns. Presumably because Brasov was the closest major town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Romanian border and the educational system had a strong reputation, it appears that Jewish families from the regions of today’s Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey sent their children to study in Brasov. Students’ home towns include Bucharest, Constanta, Constantinople, Sofia, Adrianople, Rustsek (Russe, Bulgaria), and even Jerusalem. Of course there are also students from Brasov and the surrounding villages and towns. The communities of the Balkan Peninsula and Wallachia were more Sephardic than Ashkenaz; the teacher, Steinhardt, hailed from Moravia and was trained in western-oriented Vienna; many of the other students were from small Hungarian villages in the region. Quite a linguistic and cultural mix!