Surviving the Romanian Holocaust

In October 1941 and in June 1942, 32.435 Jews were evacuated from Cernowitz, Bukovina (according to official records of the time). The Jews were seized at night by “evacuation squads” composed of a clerk (the delegate of the Government), a trainee guard and a delegate of the police. Those who were seized had the right to take only some hand luggage containing the necessary minimum. They were forced to sell their valuable belongings to the State, receiving “compensations” paid in German marks specially issued for the occupied territories in the East (which did not constitute a valid currency anywhere else). Any object found undeclared would be confiscated. They were not allowed to carry Romanian “lei”, nor any other currency except for the afore-mentioned German marks. Moreover, the Jews had to pay their taxes before their “departure”! They were boarded on overcrowded trains and taken to Transnystria, where they were forced to live in ghettos.

In September 1942, only 16.390 Jews were still recorded in Cernowitz (out of whom the authorities expected to further deport 6.234). Among those who remained in town were the family of jeweler Jacob Schaerf. He had been kept in Cernowitz in order to assist in evaluating the jewels that had been appropriated from the deported. It was common practice for the authorities of the time to forcibly use Jews in order to destroy other Jews or the manifestations of their culture (as was the case with using Jews to destroy Jewish cemeteries).

Jacob Schaerf had a special work permit (being an employee of the “Argenta” enterprise), which meant that he could “enjoy all the rights and advantages granted to the Jews used in labor activities”. The permit also contains the names of his wife (Lina), his daughter (Ruth) and his parents-in-law (Isac and Henie Ziegler). The photograph on the document includes Gisia Ziegler, cousin of Jacob’s wife, who had been an orphan since the age of 4 and was living with the Schaerfs.

Another member of the family who possessed a special work permit was Isac Ziegler. He ran a workshop of clerical clothes and was the tailor of the bishop, who lived in a building called “Rezidenz”. (The Schaerfs lived at 9, University Street, opposite to the bishop’s residence.) When the deportations to Transnystria began, the bishop issued a letter asking for permission to keep his personal tailor (and also the Residence’s) in Cernowitz. This is how Isac, Henie and Gisia Ziegler received the certificate for being “used in labor activities” – a real “life permit” during those troubled times…

But not all the members of the family were able to stay in town. More than 30 were deported to Transnystria, where death awaited most of them. (Jacob Schaerf would send money to whomever he could, even to people that did not belong to his family.) Those who did come back had no place to stay, so they lived for several months with Jacob Schaerf and Isac Ziegler (the former lived on the 3rd floor and the latter on the 1st floor of the same building on University Street).

During the war, Lina Schaerf’s brother tried to cross the border to Romania; but he was caught and placed under arrest. In order to have him released, Lina’s family had to let the key of her brother’s place (with everything inside) to the physician of the penitentiary, a certain Mrs. Lenova (who was Jewish).

Jacob Schaerf’s younger brother, Moritz, had gone to study in France, where he had got his degree as a mechanical engineer. He had married Marie (a Christian) and had settled in Lyon. At the end of the war, Jacob Schaerf found out that Moritz had perished at Auschwitz by the hand of the odious dr. Mengele, through a petroleum injection. He then forged the golden brooch shown here in order to keep the memory of his lost brother alive.

We wish to thank architect Ruth Schaerf Sharvit (Haifa, Israel), Jacob Schaerf’s daughter, for kindly having provided the Jewish Romanian Heritage project with these pictures and testimonies.