Here you can read the transcript of the speech given by Dr. Julius Scherzer, who spoke about his life in Czernowitz.


Dr. Julius Scherzer was born and lived in Czernowitz, located in the province of Bukovina. He grew up under fascism and communism before, during and after World War II. Dr. Scherzer is the author of the book While the Gods Were Silent: Growing up Under Fascists and Communists.

Dr. Scherzer has a Ph.D. degree in chemistry and a Master degree in environmental engineering. Julius has worked in the academia and in industry, has published several scientific books, over fifty patents and over forty scientific articles.

Growing Up in Czernowitz


Good morning, everybody.

Well, as you all know, it is now one hundred years since the first Yiddish language conference took place in a city called Czernowitz, in August 1908. In these hundred years since the conference took place, that city and its inhabitants have seen quite a few changes, many of them dramatic changes, especially for the Jewish community of that city.

 I was born in that city. I spent my childhood and teenage years in Czernowitz, and I will try, in the time available to me, to give you a general view of what life was like in Czernowitz before, during, and after World War II.


I have written a book about my life in that city during that time period, and it’s available after the presentation …


But right now, I’m going to talk a little bit about the city, and life in that city from a Jewish perspective. The city of Czernowitz is about six hundred years old, a fairly old city, and during those years it has seen a lot of drastic changes in the life of its inhabitants. It has seen many masters, many rulers, just within the twentieth century. So, within the last hundred years or so, the city had half-a dozen masters.

Before World War I, the city was under Austrian-Hungarian rule. After the collapse of that empire in 1919, the province in which the city is located–the province was called Bukowina, and Czernowitz was its capital–was taken over by the kingdom of Romania. In 1940, the city was taken over by the Soviets. I’ll give more details as I go on. In 1941, about one year after the Soviet takeover, the Germans decided to invade the Soviet Union. Fascist Romania was allied with Germany, and that area, Czernowitz, and the northern area of Bukovina, was taken over by German and Romanian troops. In 1944 — March 1944 — the city was liberated by the Red Army, it came back under Soviet rule, and stayed under Soviet rule as part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine until the early nineties when the Soviet Union collapsed. That city became part of Ukraine, this time an independent country from the rest of what used to be the Soviet Union.


So as you see, within about eighty years, the city had about a half a dozen times a change of rulers. And each of these changes produced some oddities. For instance, I was born in that city. My mother was born in that city. One of my nephews was born in that city, but each of us was born in a different country. My mother was born in Austria, I was born in Romania, and my nephew was born in the Soviet Union. These things didn’t happen on this side of the Atlantic Ocean very often, but in Europe, borders and masters changed quite often throughout its history. Of course when these masters, these rulers, changed, that meant drastic changes for the inhabitants of the city. The official language changed, the bureaucracy changed, the money changed, the school system changed, very often the economic system changed, and it changed drastically. So this meant that for the inhabitants of the city, such a change in rulers created a very drastic change in their life. And they had to adjust quickly if they wanted to survive the new conditions of living under a new ruler, which were not always democratic, and not always kind to the local population. So there was never a boring moment for the inhabitants of our city throughout the twentieth century, especially after World War I.


The Jewish community of our city was a fairly large community. The city in the 1930s had approximately 100,000-120,000 people, and about a half of that population was Jewish. The other half was a mixture of ethnic groups. Some were Ukrainians, Romanians, Poles, Hungarians, some Germans, and some other minorities. There was not always a pleasant relationship between the different ethnic groups. But still, until the threat of fascism and the influence of Hitler’s Germany started to affect most of the European rulers, people got along fairly well with each other, in spite of the prejudice that existed from one ethnic group to another.




Parents Fanny and Joseph Scherzer,
with their children Bertha and Julius (age 1), 1929


There was a Jewish community of, as I’ve said, of about 50-60,000 people, and that Jewish community in our city in the 1920s, and through the early and mid 1930s, had a very active cultural life. This was a characteristic of many Jews, mostly middle-class Jews in the city, but also many working-class Jews, their considerable interest in culture. People used to show an avid thirst for reading books–there was no television in those days. Many didn’t even have radios. So people read books. Now most of the people read these books and talked to each other in German, because the German influence, going back to the Austrian rule–even under the Romanians–was still very strong. So in a sense, in my case at least, my parents spoke German at home, because when they grew up, they went to school under the Austrians and spoke German. Of course then they spoke German to us children. Although my sister and I were born in Romania, we spoke German at home. So our first language was German. When I talked to my grandparents, they spoke Yiddish, so this was the second language that I learned. I grew up in Romania, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea about the Romanian language until I entered grammar school, which was a public school. It was only then, at that point, that I had to learn the language of the country.

As I’ve said, the Jewish community of our city had a very active, cultural life. There was a Yiddish theatre which was always filled to capacity. Middle-class and working-class Jews went to see the plays at the Yiddish theatre. We had a very good team of actors and directors in that theatre, and very often we also had visitors of Yiddish theatre troupes come. There were ensembles that came from other cities on a regular basis. For instance, we had the Vilna theatre group come to Czernowitz and perform. The Vilna Troupe, as you may know, was one of the finest theatre ensembles in Europe before World War II. We had literary evenings that were very well attended, where literature was recited in both Yiddish and in German. During these Yiddish literary evenings, there was always a full house. It occurred in a place called Toynbeehalle, a big auditorium which would fill with people–Jews, of course–where Jewish writers and poets would present their work. For instance, we had Eliezer Steinbarg, a fable writer who became famous in the Yiddish world, who was also a native of Czernowitz, present to us his latest fables in Yiddish…His works were published in Yiddish and were illustrated also by a Czernowitz painter Arthur Kolnik. And people loved these fables. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read them, but they are beautiful. We also had poets like Itzik Manger, who presented his poems in Yiddish, at these evenings. And we had musical evenings and performances, organized again mostly by Jews for Jews.


There was a psychiatrist in our city, a Doctor Ramler, who was a strong supporter of the arts. He organized weekly musical performances in his apartment. People, for instance a quartet, would perform mostly classical music there. This was really a form of culture which–I don’t know if it existed then in many other places, in other cities. But it existed in our city, Czernowitz.


It’s where a number of newspapers were published, in German and in Yiddish. As I’ve said, German was still the prevailing language in the city because of the Austrian influence. But there was also a significant segment of the Jewish population that spoke Yiddish and was interested in Yiddish culture and art. We had newspapers like the “Morgenblatt” in German, the “Allgemeine Zeitung”,and the “Tog.” They had Jewish publishers, but the newspapers were published in German. They also had Yiddish newspapers, like the “Dos Naye Leben,” “Oyfboy,” the “Yiddische Folksblatt,” which were read quite extensively by the Jewish population because many Jews who spoke German could also read and speak Yiddish.

photo: Members of the Jewish Hasmonaea fraternity of Czernowitz. Among those pictured, in the front row seated on chairs are: Lotte Gottfried (far left); Joszi Krauthammer (second from the left); Hedwig Langhaus Brenner (third from the left); Herbert Gabor (sixth from the left); Jusiu Nagel (eighth from the left); Kaethe Zallik (tenth from the left); Heinrich Teitler (in the row behind and to the right of Nagel); Gerhard Krauthammer (top row, far right).

From the US Holocaust Museum,, courtesy of Lottie Gottfried Hirsch.

We had chorals, Jewish chorals,” Hasamir”, that performed Yiddish, Hebrew, and German songs, always to a full house. We had Jewish student organizations. We had two organizations: Hasmonaea and Zephira, that met on a regular basis, on a weekly basis. They had literary evenings, literary and political discussions. I remember that my father used to take me occasionally on Saturday nights, when he met with his friends in a cellar-restaurant. It was not accessible easily from the street, and it was made deliberately this way, not to be exposed to the fascist hooligans that were already active in those years, in the latter part of the 1930s. And in that restaurant, there were also Saturday night meetings of the Hasmonaea and other student groups.

And they wore these nice student outfits. I don’t know if you know about this. It was customary among student organizations in those days, to wear a special little cap, a student cap. They also wore a sash across their chest. They gave speeches. Sometimes they came with a saber. This was customary among students in those days before World War II. You may know that very often students, if they had some disagreement, would ask each other to have a duel.


That sounds funny today, but this was very customary in the years before World War II. I’m not talking about Jews. I’m talking in general about other Europeans, especially German and Austrian students. So if a student got a cut on his face from a saber, he became a hero among the rest, and the girls admired these students. They didn’t have too many duels, but still, they carried the decorative saber, and Jewish students sang student songs in Latin, e.g. “Gaudeamus igitur”. Some of you may know it, and they also sang Yiddish and German student songs. So there was very lively activity, both cultural and political activity within the different major Jewish groups of students.


There was also a significant sports organization. Maccabi was a large Jewish sports organization, and they had their own sports arena in Czernowitz–in German we called it Makkabiplatz, where they practiced and participated in competition with each other. And there was also another sports organization Hakoah, but Maccabi, from what I know, was the larger one. Maccabi groups existed throughout the whole country, and they participated sometimes in national competitions. Sometime in the mid-thirties a Czernowitz member of Maccabi who ran in track and field competitions, won first place in the one hundred meter sprint. At the ceremony at the end, King Carol II handed him the prize in person, the first prize for winning the competition. So Maccabi was quite active and was quite successful in different sport competitions. As you can see, there was quite a lot of activity in the city in diverse areas of cultural and sportive endeavor.



Toward the end of the 1930s, the political situation in the country started to change. As I’ve said earlier, the influence of Nazi Germany also affected the political situation in Romania, and a series of fascist governments came to power….

  Dr. Scherzer talks about the anti-Semitism that existed in Czernowitz during Romanian rule. Listen to it, then read on….


But things changed unexpectedly in 1940. In the summer of 1940, the Soviet government gave an ultimatum to the Romanian government, telling them quite clearly, “we want back the province of Bessarabia,” which is a province in the eastern part of Romania. It used to belong to Czarist Russia before the First World War, but was taken over by the Romanians after the First World War. So the Russians, the Soviets, wanted it back. And they also wanted the northern part of Bukowina, including our city Czernowitz, because they said the majority of the population is Ukrainian, and therefore that area should belong to the Ukrainian-Soviet Republic, in other words, the Soviet Union. The Romanian government didn’t have much of a choice. When a small country gets an ultimatum from the Soviet Union, they have no choice but to comply. So in three days they had to clear out from these regions, from northern Bukowina including Czernowitz, and from Bessarabia. And the military, the Romanian bureaucracy, and many of the Romanian civilians had to leave in a great hurry. And then the Soviets took over.


It is interesting how the Soviets came in at that time, with their troops and….but I’m not going to go into these details now. The Soviets took over the city and immediately put in a Soviet administration. And the Soviet administration didn’t waste time. The first thing they did was to nationalize all the businesses, without compensation of course. So everything was taken over by the state, except very small businesses, like a tailor shop. Little stores with one employee, you could keep it.


They tried to create spread an atmosphere of happiness within the population, to convince them how great, how cheerful, life was in the Soviet Union. So they brought in a lot of ensembles of dance and of music that performed for free in open air, in open squares, for the population. I saw more art performances in the first week of Soviet occupation that I have seen in half my life. Everything was free. Hey, life was just great! How terrific, they had movies on screens mounted in the open squares. Well, I didn’t understand much of the Russian movies, of course, because I didn’t know Russian. But it was still nice to see them  for free. And this is the way it was then. They brought dance ensembles from Kiev, from Moscow, to perform for free. However, through that fog of propaganda suddenly cut through a grim reality. The reality was that, in a very brief time, after they occupied the area, everything that was available in the stores disappeared. Despite the propaganda that said that everything was available in abundance in the Soviet Union, the Russians and Ukrainians who came from the Soviet Union bought everything they could find in the stores. Anything they could find to buy, they bought, this showed us that everything is not that easily available in the Soviet Union. And indeed, the shelves soon became empty because the storeowners–the small storeowners–couldn’t replace the merchandise. They had no source of replacement. And then they started to bring in Soviet-made merchandise which was of a horrible quality compared to the quality of what we had previously in our stores. So life was not easy, because everything, regardless of how poor the quality of these things were, were never in sufficient supply. And to buy them, you had to stay in line. So this became a part of daily life. “Stoyte v ocheredi !” “Stay in line!” These were the first Russian words I learned. “Stoyte v ocheredi!” “Stay in line!” From bread to pencils, you had to stay in line if you wanted to buy it. So life was not very cheerful after nationalization, because of the disappearance of whatever we needed of the daily necessities.



There was one bright spot, and that was for us children. The Soviets introduced a school system which was drastically different from the school system that had existed under the Romanians. They introduced three kinds of schools, from a language point of view. There were Russian schools, where everything was taught in Russian; Ukrainian schools, because we were part of the Ukrainian-Soviet Republic, so there were Ukrainian schools; and they also opened two Yiddish schools. That was something very new for us in Czernowitz, to have Yiddish middle and high schools. The Yiddish schools went from grade one to ten. Tenth was the last grade in high school before university. So this was very nice, and these schools had excellent, local teachers who preferred to teach in our schools, for the simple reason that they couldn’t teach in a Ukrainian or Russian school because they didn’t know the language. So in a Yiddish school  they could teach, and all the subjects were taught in Yiddish. Geography, history, sociology, botany, physics, mathematics, everything in Yiddish. And we had Yiddish textbooks for all these subjects. This was still a time when Stalin–of course, it was under Stalin’s rule–allowed a kind of flourishing of Yiddish culture–but not Hebrew, never, G-d forbid, anything in Hebrew. But Yiddish, yes. This was also a time when many Yiddish songs were composed. I still remember this song, “Birobidzhan,” about the Jewish autonomous region in the Far East that the Soviets created. They had a movie “Birobidzhan.” That song became well-known, and we learned it in the school.


Since they got local teachers to teach us, we got along very well with them. And this was very positive, and I would say even a pleasant, experience, from the Soviets for us children. As I’ve said, for the adults who had to stay in line to buy food or a pair of socks, it was not a very pleasant experience. For us the children, especially Jewish children, we were no longer harassed as we were harassed in the Romanian schools.


In the Romanian school, when I went to learn in the elementary school, I was often beaten up by my other “colleagues,” by other children, not Jewish children, because that was ‘normal.’ You know, if you saw a Jewish boy, you beat him up. And the teacher didn’t care. Sometimes when I went to the first year of liceum–which was like middle school here–there was a teacher who used derogatory remarks. More than once he called me “pui de jidan,” which means in English, “you little kike”–in a classroom, in the presence of all the other children. You can imagine the effect it had on non-Jewish children. Of course, they would always burst into laughter, and during the breaks, it was a good occasion for them to beat up Jewish children. This disappeared under the Soviets. There was no more harassment of Jewish children. And so, from that point of view, it was a serious improvement for us.




Well, this was going on for about eleven months, and then the population of the city had a big surprise. The Soviets started deportations, deportations of the so-called “enemies of the people” from our city…

  Dr. Scherzer talks how the Soviets began deporting Jewish citizens of Czernowitz. Listen to it.





It was June 22, a nice sunny, Sunday morning. My mother went shopping, as usual in the market. Usually she spent about an hour or so at the market before coming home. This time she came back about ten minutes after she left. I was with my father, and my mother came back and she was out of breath. So we saw that she had been running, which was quite unusual for my mother… And finally when she had recovered her voice, we asked, “What happened?”

  Dr. Scherzer talks about the day in 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and German bombers first attacked their city. Listen to it, then read on….

She said, “They just announced on the loudspeakers…”–the Soviets had installed loudspeakers all over the city, on the streets, where they usually broadcast Moscow radio, music, reports and news–they just announced on the loudspeakers that the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union. This was on June 22, 1941. The war has reached our city. And it was interesting because when my mother just said that, we heard an explosion. I ran to the window, and I saw on the horizon a black cloud of smoke rising from the direction the airport. It was the first visit of the German bombers to our city.

The following days and nights were times of total chaos. We had daily and nightly air raids. The German planes bombed our city, primarily the railroad stations and the airport area. But very often, even if they didn’t bomb the city, the German planes flew over our city, deep into the Soviet Union to bomb different targets in that area. And so we had constant air raid alarms which disrupted our sleep. Sleeping in a normal manner was out of the question. And the nerves of the people of Czernowitz were very tense. And during the day, there was total chaos in the city because everybody tried to buy whatever was available. They knew there was a serious shortage under the Soviets in peaceful times; they knew war meant a lot more shortages. So they bought whatever they could find–food, petrol, clothing, shoes, matches, candles, pots, pans, whatever was available, because everything that was still available would disappear very soon, and everything did disappear.


In the meantime, trucks with Soviet soldiers raced through the city in the direction of the border, south. This was the Romanian border, because fascist Romania at that time had joined forces with Nazi Germany in its war against the Soviet Union. This went on for about ten days, and then I noticed that the trucks with troops had started to reverse directions. They started to go in the opposite direction, away from the front. And then we realized the Soviet’s retreat had started. And indeed, the Soviet civilians who were in the city, packed quickly and were shipped out as soon as they could by the Soviet government, in trucks or in trains that were put at their disposal.


The Germans and Romanians then entered our city. The first day of the German and Romanian takeover saw terrible atrocities perpetrated against  the Jewish population by both the Romanians and the Germans–primarily by the SS units. As we learned later, these units were part of an Einsatzgruppe. Einsatzgruppen were special SS units set up by Himmler, the head of the SS, whose task was very simple: to round up and murder the Jews in the occupied Soviet Russian area.



And they went to work. I happened to be on the street at that time because the Soviets, when they retreated, put to the torch the center of the city where my family and I lived at the time. While we were trying to salvage whatever we could from our building, our neighbors’ buildings were burning all around us. We saw some of the things that happened when the Germans and Romanians entered. I happened to see when a German truck, military truck, stopped in front of the temple of our city. We had a magnificent temple built in the eighteenth century, a huge, beautiful building. The temple was on top of a hill, so it was visible from many parts of the city. And I just happened to be with my mother on the street when a German truck stopped in front of the temple and an officer got out. He stopped in front of the temple and looked like this, you know, at the facade, and then he ordered his soldiers to break down the entrance to the temple. Then they rolled out from the truck two drums–we realized later it was petrol or gasoline or diesel, whatever, fuel–which they took into the temple. They probably spilled the entire contents from these drums onto the floor of the temple, threw a match, walked out and left. Soon the whole temple was engulfed in flames. It burned the whole day; it burned the whole night. We could see it where I was because I, with my family, had to flee our building because of all the flames that were burning. So I was standing not far from the temple in one of my mother’s sister’s apartments, and I could see that, through the windows at night these huge flames coming out from all the windows of the temple and through the large dome, the magnificent big dome. And in the morning, I could see only the black girders of that dome….and the black walls of the temple still standing.



This was the first day that they came in. Other SS troops didn’t sit idle. They went with local informers–and unfortunately there were plenty of informers that were eager to point out to the German and Romanian troops where Jewish families lived. The Germans went to a section of the city, took out all the Jewish men from that section, formed them into a column, and marched them to a field outside the city, in a suburb called Bila. They gave them shovels, ordered them to dig a big ditch, and when the ditch was completed, lined them up along the ditch and machine-gunned them to death. They brought in another group of Jewish men to bury the dead and ordered them on penalty of death, not to talk to anybody about what happened. But, of course, later on we found out what happened in that field. The next day, the Germans continued this kind of operation in a different form. I cannot go into details–it’s described in the book–and again, several hundred Jewish men, taken from another section of the city, were murdered. This went on for several days in a row.


The Romanian troops, in the meantime, didn’t sit idle either. But they did the killings in a less organized way. The Germans did their mass murdering in a very thorough, organized manner. They would go to a section of the city, bring out all the men, put them in a column, take them to a field, give them shovels to dig a ditch, and machine-gun them. None of them escaped this way. The Romanians did it chaotically. They went from house to house, in different places of the city, led my informers, and wherever there was a Jewish family, the men were murdered right away on the spot. If there were young Jewish women, they were raped. The soldiers robbed whatever they could find of a certain value in these apartments, and then moved on to the next building and apartment. This went on for several days in a row.


It was summer. It was already July when the SS units and the Romanian army entered our city. Because so many corpses were lying all over the city, the stench of death started to spread over the city during these hot days. The governor installed by the Romanians–actually the military commander of the city, a General Dumitrescu — he was not governor yet–realized that if this continued, there was going to be an epidemic because of all the corpses lying around unburied. And this could affect also the non-Jewish population. So he gave an order to the troops that there should be no more rampage, no more shooting. He called in the heads of the Jewish community and ordered them to send a group of Jews to collect all these corpses that were lying all over the city, take them to the cemetery, and have them buried there. So the rampage stopped. Then the military commander started to issue orders. First of all, they issued these military decrees that were called “ordonantze” in Romanian, which imposed a curfew on the Jewish population.

photo: Julius’ grandparents, his aunt Ruchel and her new baby Eli, 1941. Notice the Star of David on his grandmother’s chest.


It said clearly that any Jew found outdoors after six o’clock in the evening and eight o’clock the morning would be shot on the spot — not arrested, not penalized, not put on trial. Shot on the spot. There was not too much legality involved in these actions. They also ordered that the Jews could do their shopping only at certain hours, only after the Romanian and the rest of the non-Jewish population had done their shopping in the market. And Jews were forced to wear yellow stars on the left part of their chest. They nationalized any Jewish property that existed, of course without any compensation. Jewish patients were evicted from the city hospital, including mental patients who were forced to move to the Jewish hospital of the city.



But the worse was to come. In October of that year, the military commander called the leaders of the Jewish community to his office early in the morning. He was brief. He said, “Tell your people to take whatever they can carry in their hands and move to the Jewish quarter of the city.” This was a certain, small section of the city which was called the “Jewish Quarter.” “That area,” he said, “will from now on be a Jewish ghetto. Any Jew found after six p.m. tonight outside that area, will be shot.” This was early in the morning. So he gave them about ten hours to move the whole Jewish population from different parts of the city, into this one area. The general gave the Jewish representative a map of the city in which with a pencil he has pointed out, “See, this is the area of the ghetto. So within that area, all of you have to live from now on.” So within ten hours, about forty thousand people moved from all over to the city into that small area which became the Jewish ghetto. And in the evening of that day, the gendarmes had already put up a wooden fence around the ghetto, and topped it with barbed wire. There were two entrances, both guarded by gendarmes, so you couldn’t get outside…We basically felt like animals in a cage. And that’s what they wanted. Life soon became terribly difficult. My family and I were relatively lucky, because one of my mother’s sisters lived in a very small apartment that happened to be in the area that was designated as a ghetto area. So we were able to move in with my mother’s sister, into a place that had one bedroom, with one kitchen. So did my grandparents, so did another aunt of mine, move with her family into that little room. There were about a dozen people who slept in one room at night. But at least we had a roof over our heads. Other people who had no relatives or friends, moved into stairwells or into dark cellars. They had to be within the area of the ghetto; they couldn’t stay outside. So wherever they could find a place, they moved in. The situation in the ghetto was aggravated by the lack of water. The Soviets, when they retreated, blew up two of the three water pumps the city had. So there was just one water pump for the whole city which allowed the city to have water for one or two hours a day. That was not sufficient. The people barely had enough water to drink, but not sufficient water to wash. Soap soon disappeared because there was nothing available to buy. So the hygienic conditions became terrible, and as a result, a typhoid epidemic broke out in the ghetto. Those who were most affected, as you can imagine, were the old and the very young. And the Chevra Kadisha was kept quite busy in those days in the ghetto area.





photo: Portrait of the Weidenfeld family wearing Jewish badges in the Czernowitz (Cernauti) ghetto shortly before their deportation to Transnistria., October 1941.

The Weidenfeld family survived the war.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, , courtesy of Jack Morgenstern.


Soon after that, after several days in the ghetto, came another piece of news–the news was always going from bad to worse. Several days after the people moved into the ghetto, the new Romanian governor, a General Calotescu, decided to start deporting the Jews of Czernowitz to an area that was east of Romania before the war, that was part of the Soviet Union, but now during the war, was occupied by the Romanians. It came under Romanian administration. It was called Transnistria, and was located between the river Dniester and Bug, east of pre-war Romania. The deportations began on October 14, 1941. The gendarmes cordoned off a section of the city, took out all the Jewish families, lined them up in a convoy in the street, marched them down to the railroad station where cattle-car trains were waiting, and loaded them into these cattle cars. When the trains were full, the cars were sealed, and they took off to Transnistria. This was a devastated area…Many of the people who were Jewish and deported to Transnistria died there, especially during the winter months, from the freezing weather. They had to stay in homes that had been dilapidated. There were homes that belonged to Jews who were murdered, Soviet Jews who were murdered during the first days of the war. The houses that they left behind were vandalized by the peasants. They ripped down the doors, ripped out the windows, ripped out the plumbing, and into these vandalized homes moved the Jews that were deported from our city. In order to live they had to eat, and what could they do? They couldn’t, of course, work at the time. It was a devastated area. The only way they could survive was by bartering some of the clothes that they were able to bring with them in their suitcase, in their rucksacks, with the peasants for food. So they got for a pair of pants, a bag of potatoes. For a blouse, you got a bag of apples, and so on. But when winter came, shortly afterwards–as I’ve said, deportations took place in October–they had already bartered away these few pieces of clothing, winter clothes, that they had brought with them. So they had no more clothing. They lived in buildings, in homes, that had broken windows, broken doors, and many didn’t even have a stove. The winter of ’41-’42 was one of the harshest winters of the twentieth century. And people just started to die. They could not survive under these conditions. There was very little food, very little heat, and with no proper clothing they could not survive. Additionally, to make things worse, typhus broke out because they didn’t have soap and couldn’t wash. So about half of those deported from our city in 1941 died in the winter that followed, the 1941-2 winter.




But, at some point, the deportations from our city were stopped. And they were stopped by a very decent human being. He was the mayor of the city. His name was Popovici, Traian Popovici…..

photo: Traian Popovici, major of Czernowitz

  Dr. Scherzer talks about Traian Popovici’s efforts to save many Jews in Czernowitz from certain deportation. Listen to it, then read on….

So they temporarily stopped the deportations and started to issue resident permits. Jews got two types of permits. Some were signed only by the mayor; others were signed by the governor. At the beginning, both permits, those signed by the mayor and by the governor, were fine for those who had them. They were not deported. Those who didn’t have a permit were deported later that same year. In the Spring of ’42, the governor felt that the mayor had been way too generous with his permits. He gave out too many permits. All those who had the permits issued by the mayor–it was called the “Popovici Permit”–after the name of the mayor–they were all deported, and this time the gendarmes went with lists of people, because they knew who had these permits issued by the mayor. They collected the people, and they were deported once again in cattle car trains to Transnistria.

There were three transports in 1942. There was one on the seventh of June, another on the fourteenth of June, and the last one on the twenty-eighth. The one on the twenty-eighth had the most tragic fate, because most of the people who were deported on that transport ended up in German hands. Many of them were sent, forced by the Romanians, to an area of Transnistria close to the River Bug. Now the River Bug separated Transnistria, which had been under Romanian rule, from Ukraine that was under German rule and occupied by the Germans. The Germans needed manpower to work, in construction, in the building of bridges, the building of roads. And the Romanians happened to have that transport. Most of the people from that transport ended up across the River Bug, sent to the Germans. Without going into detail, all these people were murdered in one form or another. Again, there’s no time to go into detail about what happened to them. You can find it in the book. Only a handful–very, very few–were able somehow, almost miraculously, to escape at night, crossing the River Bug, swimming up the river to Transnistria, staying in hiding there, where it was easier to hide, until they were later on liberated by the Red Army. And they told the story of what happened to the Jews across the River Bug, who were in German hands.


The governor of Bukowina, General Calotescu, had decided to clean out all the Jews from the city in the next Spring and Summer of 1943. But something happened at the end of ’42 and early ’43 that made the governor–and the Romanian government–have second thoughts. What happened was the Battle of Stalingrad. And at Stalingrad, deep inside Russia on the River Volga, the Germans suffered a crushing military defeat. There were several hundred thousand men killed. The Russians captured twenty-four German generals. They captured a German field marshal, the first time in German history. It was Marshal Paulus, who was the commander of the German sixth army that was totally annihilated at Stalingrad. This kind of disaster happened to the German army. The world was watching, and so was the Romanian government. They started to see what was happening and they had second thoughts. They said to themselves, “It’s not so sure the Germans are going to win this war. So we better be careful.” Of course, they thought to protect their own neck in the first place. Since they were allied with Germany, if Germany lost the war, the Romanian government would obviously also be held responsible for the crimes they committed in the Soviet Union, as well as the crimes committed against their own Jews. So the first thing they decided was that there should be no more deportations. So the Jews who were still in the city–including my immediate family (my parents, sister and myself)–were spared from deportation in ’43. But still, the ghetto conditions persisted. Jews had to wear a yellow star. Jewish children couldn’t go to school, Jewish teachers couldn’t teach, and Jewish businesses were non-existent. Jews had to do their purchases only between certain hours of the day in the market, after all the non-Jews were finished. Of course, Jewish professionals, such as engineers or lawyers, could not practice their profession. My father was an attorney, and of course he could not practice. So these conditions persisted. But still, on a relative scale, it was better than what happened to those deported to Transnistria. So we managed to survive until March of 1944 when we were liberated by the Red Army. The deported people started to come back from Transnistria. The city then had a burst of life. Unfortunately, not a single member of my family–there were about twelve or fifteen people that were deported–survived. None of them survived because they were in that transport that was shipped over to the Germans, and they were all murdered.



When the Soviets came back, they again installed a Soviet regime in our city, though the war had still not ended. It took another year before the war came to an end, in May ’45. They once again established Yiddish schools and we attended them. This time I entered the tenth grade, the last grade of high school. The Yiddish schools had some very good teachers. I would say excellent teachers. We had a teacher for Yiddish language and literature. This was the teacher Ginninger, who later on went to the U.S.. He later on became active in YIVO in New York in Yiddish cultural activities. One of my colleagues in school was Mordche Schechter. You may know him. He came also to the United States and became very active at Columbia University and in other circles in promoting Yiddish language and literature. He was my colleague in tenth grade. And we really had teachers who were excellent, especially Ginninger who really wanted to open our mind, not just to Yiddish culture and literature, but to universal culture. These teachers knew how to tell you about these things. I had a math teacher called Hushky Segal who dedicated half of the hour to Jewish culture, Jewish philosophy, and Jewish history. From him we learned about Hillel and Maimonides and Spinoza and Baal Shem Tov, which we would not have known about otherwise. I finished high school under the Soviets, and a year later in ’46, my parents took the opportunity to move to Romania when the Soviets opened the border for a couple of weeks for the former Romanian citizens. It was, “Well, if you want to move to Romania as a former citizen of Romania, you can move.” So we moved to Romania, and left the city of Czernowitz. Well, that starts a new chapter in my life, living under the communist Romanians. But that’s another miseh, another story which I won’t go into here.


As you see, the Czernowitz of my childhood doesn’t exist anymore. That city is completely gone. Maybe the streets still exist, and the gardens still exist, but the people are completely different, even the small Jewish community that exists over there today in Czernowitz is mostly Jews who arrived from different parts of the former Soviet Union: from Ukraina, from Russia. The former Jewish population that grew up under the Austrians, or under the Romanians, is gone. As I said, those who survived–and about half of the people deported to Transnistria survived–when they had the opportunity, left Czernowitz for Romania, and from Romania they went later on to Israel and to other parts of the globe.


So this is basically how life was in Czernowitz. I have now given you a general idea of what life like shortly before the war in the 1930s in Czernowitz, for the Jewish population during the war, and then briefly after World War II. ◙

More from Dr. Scherzer during post-lecture questions:

The Soviets sent those who were found guilty as being an “enemy of the state”–as I’ve said, if you were the owner of a factory, of a bank, of a building, they sent you into the Arctic north, in the region of the river Pechora of northern Russia. Their families, however, were sent into central Asia, into what is today Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And they were able to survive easier in central Asia. Of course, they could never have a high professional job. They were only offered the lowest level jobs…Many of those who were shipped to the Arctic north, with the extremely harsh climate, had to do hard labor, meaning that they didn’t sit with their feet on the table, twiddling their fingers. They had to work hard–to cut down trees that were shipped down the river Pechura to factories. So many of these people did not survive.

I know the head of the youth organization Hashomer Hatzair of Czernowitz, a left-wing organization, named Abrasha Gimpelmann, who guided my sister and her friends. He was extremely smart and intelligent, and because he was a leader of a Zionist movement, he was among those deported by the Soviets. He was an “enemy of the people.” He, unfortunately, did not survive. Other leaders of the group were deported. Some of them survived; some came back to Czernowitz after the war.


It was interesting that, in Poland, there was a similar situation. I had a large family in Poland in the city of Zaleshchiki, which was very close to what used to be the Romanian border, between Poland and Romania. I had visited them once. We had a large family; now none of them survived. They were all murdered by the Germans, with one exception. A distant cousin of my grandfather survived. Why? Because he used to have–before that area was taken over by the Soviets as a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact–a small store with several employees. That city, Zaleshchiki, came under Soviet rule when Poland was divided between the Germans and the Soviet Union, and of course, he, having several employees, was an “enemy of the people.” So the Soviets deported him to Siberia. And he was able to survive. So this way, it’s ironic, that he was the only survivor of my family, because those who were not deported were murdered later on by the Germans.


After the Second World War, I went to Suceava, Romania, as I ended my story. The first years were extremely difficult for us, because we arrived in a depressed area. First of all, we were robbed at the border by the Soviet border guards. When we crossed the border, we crossed with just a trunk of pots and pans, and some old clothing, and old shoes. You couldn’t take anything of value. At the border, we sold whatever we could. My father had the money in rubles, the Soviet currency, that he collected from selling our goods, our household goods before we left. He had them in his wallet when we arrived at the border. A peasant took us there with a horse and buggy, to the border. And the border guard told my father, “Pay the peasant.” And when my father took out his wallet to pay the hundred rubles to the peasant, the guard grabbed the wallet, took out all the money from it, and gave my father back the empty wallet. The guard took one bill from the money and gave it to the peasant, and we were formally robbed. We didn’t have a single penny when we crossed the border. Nothing, zero. We couldn’t even pay a peasant across the border to take us to the place that my father wanted us to go to. Not that we had any relatives or friends there. None of my father’s family survived in the city of Suceava, which is also in Bukovina, but is in the southern part.

photo: Julius Scherzer,
age eighteen.

 Fortunately, there were people from HIAS and from the American Joint Committee who were present at the border. They knew that Jews were totally robbed by the Soviets, so they gave us some money in Romanian currency, leus, so that we could pay a peasant to take us from the border to the city where we wanted to go, Suceava. There the living conditions were horrible. There was simply no place to live, because there were many who did as we did–we moved out from Czernowitz into other areas of Bukowina–and we ended up in that little town of Suceava. We couldn’t find a room to live in. We ended up in a storage room with a cement floor, with broken windows, and that’s how my father suffered and became ill. We had to sleep on the floor. We had no mattresses. Nothing. We slept on newspapers on the cement floors. We had a thin blanket on the floor that we used as a mattress. You can imagine the conditions that we had to live under, and the constant draft that would come through the broken windows. We simply could not find any better place to live in. We finally later on were able to find a room in a ladies’ house that had been vandalized, and the room was in terrible condition. Well, my father died afterwards under these conditions.

I was able to continue my studies. I took equivalency exams so I could continue my studies in the Romanian schools. I then went to the University of Bucharest, and I was able to graduate. I worked at the university for a number of years because  the university had good qualified graduates train the new students who came in who had a sound, social background. These students were the sons and daughters of peasants and of workers–Romanians, of course–and they needed qualified professors, instructors, and assistants at the university. So they kept me, in spite of my bad autobiography because my father was an attorney, which in a communist system means you belong to the exploiting class. And because of this, children of a member of the exploiting class, had no future in a communist society. But out of necessity, they kept me. And I was aware of it. Later on, when I applied to leave the country, I lost my job. I then had to work as a laborer. I was eventually bought out by relatives from the West who paid x amount of dollars for me, because the government sold its Jews like cattle, at that point in the 1960s. l arrived later in Vienna. I worked at the University of Vienna for a while. I could have stayed there, but I decided not to, because I realized in the few months I was in Vienna that there was still very strong anti-Semitism. The Austrians were very enthusiastic supporters of Hitler. And I had a choice at the time, so I chose the United States, and I then came to the U.S. and started work at Brown University.

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Dr. Julius Scherzer’s is the author of the book, “While the Gods Were Silent: Growing up Under Fascists and Communists.” The book can be purchased from or from the publisher.i-Semitism. The Austrians were very enthusiastic supporters of Hitler. And I had a choice at the time, so I chose the United States, and I then came to the U.S. and started work at Brown University. ◙