Jewish Community Archives in Brasov, part I

The archival situation in Brasov is unique : not only is there a national archives branch, but the local Jewish community maintains a small archive of its own. This is unusual in Romania and thus that much more valuable to researchers. The vast majority of Romania’s still existing communities no longer have any documents dating prior to about the 1990s. Perhaps more troubling, there is rarely someone within the community that knows what happened to older documents. The typical response is that materials were “destroyed in the war.” But in southern Transylvanian, where there were no deportations and persecution was limited to expropriation and, in some places, forced day-time labor, it is unlikely that materials were destroyed. More probable is that they were moved or removed at some point in time over the past decades. Select materials from some communities can be found in the central archives of the Jewish community in Bucharest (which will be included in this survey project in 2015), others could be in national archival holdings and remain unprocessed. It is quite feasible that local leaders, upon emigration in the 1950s and 1960s, took some documents with them. These documents, now in private ownership and scattered around the world, are probably forever inaccessible. Finally, most tragically, some items were eventually thrown away while, more hopefully, others were stored somewhere and simply forgotten. This was the case for the archives of the Medias community, which were discovered several years ago in the course of a synagogue clean-up effort (see photos). Those archives are now the target of a cataloguing and preservation project this year and, once processed, will be available digitally on LBI’s JBAT website.

But back to Brasov. The small archive of the Jewish community here is maintained in safe conditions within the community offices. Over the next weeks I will occasionally post about documents from this archive. Last week I began looking through the Jewish school records, which date from the 19th century (more on the older records later). My most curious discovery was in an elementary school grade book from 1946. These record books were distributed by the state, so the information gathered was at the behest of the government. Each child’s record includes an assessment of the child’s living situation, including such categories as follows:

Distance from the school (close, far, very far)

Conditions of home (sanitary, mediocre, insanitary)

Persons per room (1, 2, 3-4, 5)

Who is the child’s caretaker (both parents, father, mother, grandparents, other relatives, adoptive parents, third-parties, orphanage)

Cleanliness [of the child] (very clean, clean, dirty, with parasites)

Nutrition (satisfactory, insufficient)

Health of the family (healthy, extremely healthy, pellagra, tuberculosis, Grave’s disease, malaria, syphilis)

Child’s clothing (very good, good, insufficient, poor)

Parents’ occupation (intellectual positions, artisans, farmers, workers)

Financial situation of parents (stable, wealthy, poor, very poor)

Educational level [of the parents] (university, secondary school, elementary school, illiterate)

Role of the child in the family (no role, helps in providing service, cares for siblings, works in the fields)

Flaws in the child (stubborn, doesn’t listen, lies, steals, runs away from home, lazy, bad behavior)

Though I initially assumed these books would have little data relevant for a researcher, I changed my mind after seeing these charts – one can learn a lot about the social standing of community members in the immediate post-war years from these forms.