Incursion in the life and history of the Jew Community in Timisoara.
The Jewish Community from Timisoara could never be looked at as a distinct entity. In good periods of time, but equally in times when people’s minds seemed to be clouded by the virus of anti-Semitism, its evolution mixed very naturally with the city life. And the inhabitants of the city on the Bega river showed, over the years, not only the so-called “tolerance”, which puts you spiritually in the unpleasant state of “being tolerated”, but respect, friendship and, many times, a sincere admiration. While we cannot speak generally about the bad thinks, we cannot absolute the good ones. Even in this multi-cultural city, someone can see a strayed swastika on a wall or a neo-Legionary manifest, but the cultural city of Timisoara, the intelligentsia, and the students and, not at last, the local leaders show interest and openness towards the members of the Jewish community. I don’t know how many cities, not just in Romania, but in the whole world, have so many cultivated people, non-Jews, of course, capable of knowing in detail the Jewish holidays, the significance of the Hanukah candles, the reason of Passover Seder, or the importance of Yom Kippur. I don’t know in how many cities the media so objectively reflects the manifestations organized by the Jewish community in Timisoara. “Renasterea Banateana”, “Agenda Zilei”, “Prima Ora”, and “Timisoara” are the four newspapers always present, through their journalists, responding to the invitations made by first Rabbi Doctor Ernest Neumann, whose personality fully exceeds the boundaries of a closed community. He is unanimously known as one of the most important members of the local community. Certainly, Timisoara would fit anytime in such a hypothetical top.
We tried, in this material, to translate from a long gone world, when the community had 12,000 persons and approximately ten percent of the local population total, to the community living today, grouping only 600 souls. This meansâ€¦ 0,2%! Beyond an inherent assimilation, beyond a majority rate of mixed marriages and aging and sometimes a collective amnesia, this community persists in surviving in the shadow of old time glory.
Even if the traces of a Jewish presence in Banat date back to II-nd and III-rd centuries AD, the existence in Timisoara of a Jewish community had been mentioned in the documents concluded in 1716 on the occasion of the surrender of the fortified town between the Turkish army commander and his Austrian counterpart, prince Eugeniu of Savoia. In the old Spanish-rite cemetery there are graves dating from the Turkish occupation, the oldest of them belonging to Azriel Assael, Rabbi and surgeon deceased in 1636. A century after his death, Rabbi Meir Amigo and another four Jews from Istanbul were allowed to settle in the city. With the beginning of implementing citizen rights in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jew community rises in number in Timisoara, reaching almost 7,000 persons, in the period of the Great War (almost 10 percent from the population).
In the “gallery” of Timisoara Rabbis, an extremely important figure was Oppenheim or Oppenheimer Zvi Hirsh ben David (1821-1859), also known as “Gaon Rabbi Herschele Temeswarer”. He was a religious personality, who enjoyed European recognition, and his mausoleum-build grave became a pilgrimage place for Jews or non-Jews. The first Rabbi of Timisoara was a Sefard, Iacob Moises (1739 – 1741). Iacob Wolf – who shepherded in the first synagogue of the fortified city, or “Judenhof”, for both Askenads and Sefards- became, in 1764, “Oberrabbiner of Transylvania”, at Alba Iulia, the center of Judaic life for that time, where 3,000 Jews were living there. Between 1879 -1908, Rabbi Mauritiu Lowy, savant, shepherded in the fortified city synagogue, and was followed, until 1970, by Maximilian Drechsler. In the Orthodox Temple of Iosefin celebrated, successively, first Rabbis Shuck, father and son.
Professor Oscar Schwartz mentions in his work “The past and the present of the Jewish community life in Timisoara and Banat”: “the Second World War, followed by the persecutions of the Jews, took its toll of hatred on Timisoara Jews, as it was the case for the whole Jewish community in Romania”. In this context, let’s just think to the 2,833 persons sent to force labor until 1943. Those humiliation camps, the hate, the ferocity showed their teeth, almost all the time, torn people apart from their professions they use to practice before the war, changing their fate for ever.
With the community life thriving, after 1867, the year of the Austro-Hungarian reconciliation, six synagogues have been built in Timisoara. “The Big Synagogue”- of Neologue rite – from the fortified city, was built between 1863-1864.
The local corespondent for “Ben Chanania” gazette wrote, at October 4th, 1865, about the value of the “Byzantine-Arab work- first of all, a work of art”. The emperor Franz Josef, who was in Timisoara in 1872 to see the damage made by the floods in this area, visited the synagogue, being greeted by Obberrabiner Hirschfeld. Built in Moresque style, unique of its kind in the city situated on the Bega River, the synagogue is a gem which, similarly to the Neologue one, with an inestimable value, situated in the Fabric district, has become today off limits for the faithful. Between 1906 and 1910, the Orthodox Synagogue was being built in Iosefin district, and is the only one in service at this moment. Today, the three synagogues are a great part of the city traditions, and it is very sad, for all the people who have seen them in their glory period, that with every day that passes by is a step towards their disappearance. They try to change the destination of the fortified city synagogue, transforming it in Philharmonic, which would have been a good idea for the local and Judaic community, but this initiative seems to have hit a dead point. The Fabric synagogue should be repaired, with great financial costs, and no one seems eager to give this money. Professor Oscar Schwartz noted in his work about the history of the Timisoara community: “Looking back at this past, touched by this sense of life ephemeral, we feel the urge to repeat the saying Sic transit gloria mundi…”. Still, something can be done, for the time not to wipe out at least the material traces. But we need the will, the opportunities and, first of all, the firm belief that saving these buildings is worthy of the effort!
Over the centuries, we can follow the role Jews played in the developing of the economic and cultural life of the city situated on Bega. Industrialists, leaders of big companies and banks, doctors, lawyers, renowned professors, newspaper and magazine publishers, the members of the Mosaic community completed the multi-ethnic landscape of those lands. For the merits showed by some representatives of the Mosaic community in Timisoara, they were honored with the title of “baron”. The most significant personality of the Jewish community in Banat was Baron Ignatz S. Eisenstadter, from Buzias, president of the Jewish community, in 1866, and of “Hevra Kadisha” organization. He was the author of many Mecena works and supported the social-cultural welfare of the city. 10,000 persons attended his funeral from Timisoara and surroundings, representing all the nationalities living in Banat. The first Jew deputy from Banat region was Frederic Hajdu, and Armin Breier was the chief-doctor for the Timisoara district. The Jews inclination for working in the media has been manifested in the most evident way and, at the beginning of the 19th century, Nicolae Lendvai was redactor-in-chief at the principal Magyar-language newspaper, and Samuel Kasztriener was director of the “Temeswarer Volksblatt”. The bank unit directed by Sigismund Szara created industrial complexes with over 1,000 jobs, which at that period contributed in the rising of living standards of the population. The Factory for Drugs and Chemical Products occupied a special place in the industrial developing of the city, and was led by Geo Brayer, who became a contractor for the Royal Court. Alexandru Naschitt and Victor Klein, directors with the “Wool Industry” Factory, were – at the same time – presidents of Banat Industrialists Association. They are part of a long list of economic units’ leaders, from which we only name Alexandru Bernstein, director of Glove Factory, Ernest Vermer, director of Hat Factory, Leon Gaus, director of Umbrella Factory, Oscar Szidon, director of the famous Beer Plant of Timisoara.
If in the present time, in Israel, United States, Canada, Germany there are numerous personalities coming from Banat, the little Jewish community from Timisoara has today some 600 souls, and there are some names who are representing with honor the whole community. Let us only think at professor doctor Benedict Menkes, professor of bio-chemistry, Doctor Geza Deutsch, doctor of hematology Gheorghe Rudas, professor of stomatology, Doctor Robert Nussbaum, professor doctor Mihai Elias, professor doctor Maria Neumann, a well-known mathematician, and historian Victor Neumann, researcher who studied, over the years, the history of Jewish community from Banat.
In 1919, the Lyceum of Israelite Confession was established in Timisoara, divided in an eight-year gymnasium education, and four commercial education classes. In the very beginning, there was an acute problem regarding the language of studying, the Zionists argument being that pupils had to be prepared in order to leave in Israel and who needed to know the language of their ancestors. But the majority was convinced that for a good social integration, for the pupils to become effective and useful citizens for the Romanian State, the only possibility was to learn Romanian. The arguments of the last have been decisive, and the Hebrew language was studied only two or three hours a week, and after a period of time, those lessons were followed by Hebrew-language study of Israel religion, geography and history. But the lyceum experienced many hardships. The biggest problem was that there were four distinct schools spread all over the city. This “pilgrimage” of the teachers came to an end with the construction – supervised by Mrs. Engineer Gida Neubauer – of the building supposed to shelter the school. In 1929, a boarding school was opened, in very good conditions for that period, marking the moment in which a lot of pupils came to this school from all over the country. Due to the knowledge cumulated during the school, many of the graduates became professors, lawyers, doctors, scientists and renowned artists. The encyclopedic study, away from the religious dogmatism, was the base of this exciting diversity of the professions. Over 90% of them had left the country in the years after their graduation, successfully integrating themselves in the Israeli society and in other countries. Let’s think just at Ioan Holender, the renowned director of the Vienna Opera, position hold, during the time, only by first class personalities. According to a recent memoirs book, the life waves took him to this important position and he is today the most representative personality from Timisoara abroad. In a very long list, from other graduates of the Jewish Lyceum in Timisoara who follow Holender, is Ezra Fleisher, researcher of Medieval Jewish poetry, who had a remarkable European career. In Israel ended their lives the following professors: Dr. Ligeti Samuel, not only professor, but also a curator president; Abraham Taub; Rabbi Abraham Schonfeld; Bela Vas; Dr. Arthur Weiss; Feodorna Weiss; Mordehai Wieder; Hugo Herschovits.
The first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann made his debut as a professor at the age of 24. He still remembers today, with great joy, of those years. Remembering a special event? When those who came from all the corners of Transylvania to take their exams, they were welcomed by the young master with ice-cream and cake brought from then well renowned sweet-shop “Mann”. A real revolutionary initiative, at least for that period! Besides first Rabbi, there are many others who remember that lyceum: Francisc Frucht (the poet Anavi Adam), Oscar Schwartz, Maria Neumann, and Ezra Bergler.
(Pogrom commemoration in Dorohoi, 1940, 1st of July)
“The Jewish Community from Timisoara is lucky to have him as a leader. And not only them, because the voice of first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann makes itself be heard in the whole Ardeal and Banat. Every time when he visits those communities, his word spreads light and offers joy for the parishioners’ hearts”. (Acad. NICOLAE CAJAL, from the R.E. cultural booklet – “Ideal and fulfillings”.)
Both for the local authorities and for the media representatives from Timisoara, first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann best symbolizes the Jewish community. His Excellency is not just the image of an exemplar mastership of a community in dramatic descent in numbers, but also the most evident example of inter-ethnic friendship. The prestige won by the first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann is, paradoxically, in inverse ratio to the very small number of the Jews, thus preserving in the center of the religious life a community that some sad estimates consider being almost extinct.
In 62 years of rabbinical career, the first Rabbi’s “bag” of memories contains thousands of names, events and meetings. His Excellency came in Timisoara after completing his rabbinical studies in Budapest, in 1941. Starting as a professor at the Israelite Lyceum, Dr. Ernest Neumann shortly became first Rabbi of the Neologue Jewish community, starting his work at the Fabric Synagogue, as successor to first Rabbi Dr. Iacob Singer. Shortly, the young Rabbi succeeded in wining the appreciation of his older colleagues and the hearts of Timisoara parishioners. His vast knowledge, eloquence and his diplomacy have established his influence from the beginning.
In the tragic years of the war, in the years of communism and in the Revolution period, he equally succeeded to walk the fine line of equilibrium, being a convinced ecumenist. The Romanian Presidency, local, national and international organizations offered him with prestigious decorations and this long series of appreciation for his activity over the years will continue. The words of the Banat Metropolitan bishop Nicolae Corneanu, included in the “Cultural Booklet R.E.”- “Ideal and fulfilling” (volume edited by Iulia Deleanu)- are best expressing his personality: “People as his Eminence first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann are more than necessary in those times, as the ones who are representing an exceptionally moral guide mark for all of us”.
Recently, in Israel came into being the United Organization for the Romania Natives. The task of the organization is to bring together leaders of other organizations and independent figures from the Romanian Alia. Between the proposed objectives were: creation, in Israel, of a Judaic museum from Romania; organizing, in 2003, an international congress of the Romania native Jews who live in Diaspora; preserving the Judaic traditions in Romania; studying the contribution of the Romanian Alia in the developing of Israel; new ways of representation of the Romania born Israelis in the relationship with domestic and international organizations.
The participants at the meeting chose the OUOR leadership: Moshe Nativ – president; Itzhak Artzi – president of the boarding committee; Menahem Ariav – co-president; Moshe Nagor – vice-president; Zvi Bendov – secretary; Moshe Zellinger – treasurer.
At 92, Oscar Schwartz is the man who still manages to conquer someone, no matter what age might be, with his tonic spirit. With his kind and friendly smile, he welcomes any young person who wants to ask something, that being his greatest joy after a life dedicated to the searching of Judaic community history without being able to share his knowledge with the young people. Little knowledge or ignorance does not scare him. Even today, he keeps writing and working on daily bases. As he discretely puts it, it is not easy for himâ€¦ Until recently, he was co-parishioner at the Fabric Synagogue, where he seconded, in a perfect symbiosis, the first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann.
But who is this man to whom most people come to as to a big hearted grandfather? He was born in September 1910, in Vienna, where he took the classes of the Economic Science Academy and the Faculty of Philosophy. He started his didactic career in Sighet but, fortunately, he left this city before the tragic events that took a great toll on the Jewish community there. In Timisoara, he is the one who “sat afoot” two gymnasium schools (The Technical Medium School and the Technical School of Economic Management). An enthusiast of mathematics, literature and history, he studied the Jewish life in Europe, concentrating especially on these lands. You can always find him in the world of ideas, studying a formula, or translating into Romanian language the poems written by Nicolaus Lenau or, most of the time, reading thousand of pages about the Jewish history.
Timisoara youth is not, as some may think, kind of a “crazy” wing, full of untouchable initiatives.
In Timisoara, the youngsters take part in the community evolution, a need that the first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann understood it as something natural. If, not such a long time ago, the number one priority was the chorus, now, thanks to O.T.E.R. Club, the activities vary a lot. Not a week passes without celebrating Oneg Sabbath, unaffected by the fact that there are 8, 15 or 40 persons. The mixed club for young and middle-aged people is a space impossible to ignore. Andrei Schwartz, Tina Sas, Jana Codreanu, Laura Vulcanescu, many others and myself have the conviction that this club can live only if we think about it as being our second home. To this atmosphere, the presence of Jewish “Joint” volunteers – Moriah and Danny Farkash – is of great importance, catalyzing the Jew youth movement in this city. If you don’t invest confidence, attention and, more prosaic, material resources in the young generation, the future of this community may be doomed, thus giving the pessimists the last word. We are sure that the one who takes care of the young people in the Timisoara community, Mrs. Sari Hasan supports this idea, open-heatedly endorsing all their projects.
While, usually, the parents are those guiding their children, when it comes to Jewish education in Timisoara, the rule seems to be inverted. First the kids came, and learned in classes the history, the customs and the songs, and then they returned home and “taught” them to their parents. But now, some king of a brisk up of the middle-aged representatives can be noticed, who get to be coordinated by Mrs. Mariana Marcu, and they are rediscovering together a world they have estranged from, by fear or because of every day worries.
Poet, author, professor, Francisc Frucht- known in the literary world of Timisoara as Anavi Adam – he is one of the picturesque figures of the city. In spite of being at the venerable age of 94, he is as brisk as in his youth years. With a mind always clear, critical and creative, Anavi Adam, ignoring the lack of funds for the culture, tries to see his playwrights on the stageâ€¦ A year ago, the local council rewarded him with an honorific title for life achievement in the literary activity, that lead to the rising of Timisoara prestige.
“Madam Cimponeriu”, “Madam Bela” and only for the brave ones, meaning the Israeli volunteers Moriah and Danny, “Bela” is the one who knows everything, coordinates everything and monitors absolutely all the events. Some fear her loud voice, but most of them know she always has the best intentions. The secretary of the Jewish community in Timisoara is a kind of walking archive, never beaten by the hardships laid before her by this period and these timesâ€¦
In the hope of making the elderly not to feel just the assisted of a social welfare system, but as part of a bigger family, in Timisoara, those who reach an impressive “round” age have begun to receive visits. The leader of this initiative is Mrs. Aurora Constantinescu, the coordinator of the Assistance Service, the one who convinced the representatives of the young and middle-age generation to go in person to congratulate on engineer Andrei Spira, who recently reached 90 years of age. A symbolic gift and a postcard written by first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann were accompanying the verbal congratulations. We hope that this is just the beginning in a long series of similar events.
Olimpia Cirimpei is a young woman who enthusiastically arrived in our community, in order to take part in all the activities. Not a long time ago, she became the president of A.C.P.R.I. and intends to develop a series of activities, in cooperation with our community, but also with the help of the civil society representatives. Book launching, Hebrew classes, film releases- are only a few of the projects she wants to implement in the near future. The community can only support her in this step, included in the best tradition of Timisoara.
Those pages could not have been written without the information and documents given to us by Professor Oscar Schwartz, who dedicated his time in putting together a chronology of the Timisoara community, a summary of the celebrations, and who has an impressive quantity of information that can be use anytime for a historic or sociologic documentation. Thank you from our hearts!
The Timisoara mayor – a never-failing guest
Together with the Timis prefect, sub-prefect, leaders of the local and departmental council – in the first rows of the synagogue benches sits, on every important celebration, the Mayor of Timisoara, GHEORGHE CIUHANDU, a man with liberal views, who for years is promoting the inter-ethnic friendship in the city on Bega. He kindly answered our request to say a few words about the importance of the Jewish community for his city.
“By history and tradition, the Jewish community in Timisoara has always been a positive part in Timisoara, with a great contribution to the history of the city, especially in the last 300 years. After 1716, at the beginning of the modern history of Timisoara, the Jewish community strongly took part in commercial activities, hand-made goods and banks. The community members had here a good climate for developing, created confessional schools, three synagogues surviving to our days. Unfortunately, due to the events that took place in World War II and especially after 1945, with the establishment of the communist dictatorship, the most part of them emigrated in Palestine and then in the newly established Israeli state. Unfortunately, year after year, this community decreased in numbers and today there are only few Jews in our town. But those who stayed are actively involved in the city life and, first of all, I would like to speak about first Rabbi Dr. Ernest Neumann, “honorary citizen” of our town and who helped in promoting the city on new coordinates after the Revolution. I also know there is a cultural activity of the young people of the community, and in them is the hope, but also in those who left, yet still maintaining the contact. They can return one way or another, even if they don’t move back here, but are establishing their business or promoting social initiatives. We could only gain from the fact that the Timisoara has such a diverse ethnic population, including the Jewish one”.