Craiova – Our Dolj reality

  • Short history – of 400 years – of Craiova Jewish Community
  • A world preserved only in memories
  • A few dozen names, from the thousands
  • Interview with Prof. Univ. Dr. ION PATROIU, the chief of history department at the Craiova University
  • O.T.E.R. – a promising start
  • “AIUS” publishing house – holder of Craiova editorial and multi-ethnic tradition

    Short history – of 400 years – of Craiova Jewish Community

    Today, the Craiova Jewish Community is united from a religious and cultural point of view. But, centuries ago, the city Sefards and Ashkenads were living in separate communities, with separate synagogues. The first testimony about the existence of the Craiova Jews is a 1650 document, followed by a series of acts that, after 1700, report land selling, bought by the community from the Horezu Monastery.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, in Craiova, there were three sacred places, and in 1920, there were 215 Sefard family leaders. We don’t have precise data about the evolution of the “Evrei Leh” Ashkenad community, as they presented themselves, probably from their initial origin, as immigrants from Poland. (In 1900, this ethnic group reorganizes and calls itself “Comunitatea Israelito-Romana de Rit Occidental” – The Israelite-Romanian Community of Occidental Rite).

    The Coral Temple, built in 1832 (restored in 1887), is still standing today. The town’ Jewish cemetery is at least 200 years old, and it was built by Sefards. Unfortunately, a fire, in the late 19th century, destroyed the community archive, and in 1977, the earthquake destroyed the Sefard Temple.

    An important part of the archive reorganized in the period between the two disasters is now held at F.C.E.R. Before 1940, there were about 5,000 Jews in Craiova, accordingly with the estimates made by the few survivals of this important community. Today, there are only 88 members in that community, including 40 Jews. The others have been or are part of mixed marriages. (Just three couples exclusively Jewish).


    A world preserved only in memories

    Between 17th-20th centuries, in Craiova there was a big Jewish community, a world with rich and poor, actually more poor than rich, and “the Jewish” neighborhood stood near the Gypsy neighborhood, also poor. Still, the charity was a rule between the Jewish industrialists and merchants, regardless of the ethnic aspect.

    “There was a shop with the sign «Englezul», and the owner’s name was Lazar Dunkelblum – says Mr. Solomon Finkel (76). Every year, in the week before Christmas, the owner brought in his shop the entire Israelite school (meaning 15 students) and the entire «Deleanu» school, attended especially by the Gypsy kids (circa 70-80 students), dress them up, from head to toe, giving them cloths, shoes and underwear. Almost 70 years ago, there was «Mendel’s Mill», with dozens of workers. The length of the carts lining up was a kilometer at least. The mill had machines brought from Switzerland and it was settled in a seven-store building. Mendel helped everybody. There was no man – Jew, Romanian, and Gypsy – who would come to the mill with a bag, or a pillowcase asking for help and not leaving with his bags full. Next to him, pretty close, there was my grandfather Mendelbaum’s bakery, settled right in the Jewish neighborhood, offering bread to any poor man who passed it by”.

    Because of their old age, the Craiova Jews, still living in the city, don’t remember pretty much of their childhood years, spent in the atmosphere of the old Jewish society. Over them came the war, the deportations and then the communist regime that seriously perturbed the community life. Still – recalls Mr. Gerald Locusteanu -, “even during the war, the life of the community carried on. The «Lumina» Israelite lyceum was closed in 1941. But the then community freed a few rooms in which the actual headquarter of the community functions, in the Temple’ yard, and we made four primary classes. In this room, in which we stand today and which is located in the community secretariat, I attended the first year of school. After finishing the four classes, simultaneously with the end of the war, I had to sustain a couple of exams to attend the public schools and all of us passed them with good marks. The «Lumina» class was beautiful. The Germans took our building and transformed it in the «Goebbles Haus». (Not even today, the community hasn’t received the «Lumina» building back, although there is a document signed by the former premier Radu Vasile, that gives us back the building). I recall that, in 1943, a community artistic team staged a unique show, a revue, «Pour vous, Madame»! It was later showed at the «Apollo» cinema”.

    This confession it is interesting because it shows the force with which the Jews resisted to the hardships of life. The year 1943 was a period in which a big part of the Jewish men were in deportation, in the camps of Moldavia! And those left home were under force labor. And still… As for the “Lumina” school, the documents attest it from 1865, when it started as a modest primary school, and evolving, during the years, to a lyceum with a high degree of pedagogical conduct. The teachers were both Jews and Romanians, and among the headmasters we mention M. Staureanu (author of Latin-language dictionaries), who held this position for 50 years.


    A few dozen names, from the thousands

    We owe you one… We didn’t write anything about the Craiova’s Rabbis, or about the community presidents, and also we notice that we didn’t write about the numerous men of culture: actors, directors and musicians etc. We will bring back this subject again.

    Whom we remember? With the help of Messrs. Dr. Ioan Sebastian Singer, Solomon Finkler, Martin Iosupovici we evoked some of the personalities of the last century. First of all, it is the figure of lawyer Iancu Zimel, who was for 45 years the community president. A name often coming in people’s memory is the one of the Eschenazy family. A family who offered Craiova two of the most important bankers of the late 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, but also doctors, lawyers, and various types of intellectuals. A great family of editors and typographers was the Samitca family. Dr. I. S. Singer evokes us the name of his great-grandfather, immigrated in Bohemia, doctor at the Dudu Monastery, after 1850, and surgeon sent to the battlefield, in 1877; of his father, Sigmund Singer, physician at the Social Insurance House, in 1926; dr. Schobel, one of the first Craiova radiologists. Son of Leon Eschenazy (eminent personality in the community) made Alia, coming up to be chief-physician with the Israeli Navy. Physicians Swilinger, Safir, Erbach, ex-director of C.F.R. General Hospital, dr. Sushman, dr. Schwoah, the first urologist in town, dr. Galna also a cantor at the Coral Temple, dr. Sternberg. There were also many Jewish pharmacists, including Schreiber, Copolovici, Nadler. Another doctor, Filip Eschenazy, settled in Israel, works today at the prestigious “Weizman” Institute for Researches. Sent, one day, in a medical mission to Korea, he had the opportunity to perform a “brit”, a circumcision, the first ever performed by a Jew in the Korea Republic history.

    Among the great merchants, there were the Mendel brothers, who had a big shop still functioning, for a short period of time, after 1948. It is interesting to know that even today a part of the “Bijuteria” shop’ furniture, in the center of Craiova, and also that of the glass house near by, comes from the Mendel shop. Among the craftsmen, we still think of tin worker Leibovici, specialized in roofs and drainpipes, but also the name of shoemaker Schesinger.

    From the artistic scene, there are well known the technical directors of the National Theatre, Max Akerman, who left for Israel, and Paul Somer, now in Germany, and the actors Eichard Rang and Lucille Chevalier. A distinct figure is Leo Baimer, a professional piano player, who, in Israel, turned to his other specialization of his, as engineer, and became an internationally acclaimed specialist in robotics, and has been invited to hold classes in Canada and France.


    Interview with Prof. Univ. Dr. ION PATROIU, the chief of history department at the Craiova University

    In the year 1997, at the Craiova University, within the Faculty of History, Philosophy and Geography, a new department has been created, of Judaic Culture, having as main specialization – general history, and as secondary specialization – the Hebrew culture and language. The department is part of the History section, chaired by Prof. Univ. Dr. Ion Patroiu, who gave us an interview.

    - Mr. Professor, for such a specialization, I think the problem is not finding a history specialist, but a professor able of teaching Hebrew. Did you solve this problem?

    - We had an apparently good start, with a teacher from Israel, who passed his examination for a history degree with acad. Dan Berindei, in Romania, and who worked with us for two years. But we had to put an end to this collaboration on reasons I don’t want to detail right now. Then we received support from the Israeli Embassy that recommended us an Israeli student attending his dentistry classes in Romania and now she teaches Hebrew for our faculty. We are very happy with her work. Still, the problem is that the former minister of Education, Andrei Marga, who strongly supported us in creating this department, has also approved three positions for academics and specialists, but we didn’t find the qualified personnel to fill these positions. This situation can have a negative impact on the department accreditation and, as a result, diploma issuing can be affected. To get out of this situation we would need the help of the Israeli Embassy in Bucharest, of the universities in Israel that can assure us a professor, with a science specialization, sent as a invited professor to teach Hebrew in our faculty. There is a government agreement in this respect, but it was not implemented in the last three years.

    - What is the training program for these students?

    - The students have special classes about the Romanian Jews’ history, the Jews’ general history, and the history of the Israeli State, and a literary module including the history of the Hebrew literature, the history of the Israeli modern literature and a history of the Jewish literature around the world. They also attend a class about Biblical archeology, in which we try to prove the real and historical base of the Bible. Of important impact are the classes about Hebrew language: there are four hours a week, for four years.

    - Did you sense some resistance to this new domain?

    - Not an important opposition, but there were some who rose their elbows. But I said to them: gentlemen, for 40 years the Arab language is being taught in this country, there are over 40 seats for this specialization, but tell me where and to whom will the graduates teach the Arabic? So why not to teach Hebrew and Jewish culture, especially when we have in Romania Jewish communities that have forgotten the language and we don’t have no one to teach them? We have enough students to hold the classes, there are students coming from other districts, and the interest in on the rise.

    A second part of this activity is the creation of a Center for studying the Jews history in South Eastern Europe. The Craiova University was assign by the Ministry of Education to represent Romania in the relation with other Balkan universities, so we thought it is normal to give a special attention to this ethnic component, with many representatives during the Balkans history. Those studies are being developed together with the Craiova Institute for Balkan studies. We now have a research grant for a study of the ritual and funeral monuments in Oltenia, and we have 2nd and 3rd year students and professors working on it. There will be a record card for every funeral monument existing in the 11 Jewish cemeteries in Oltenia, there are over 2,000 such monuments, but we will study all of them! This activity will also include all the Oltenia synagogues, together with an archive study restoring the history of the Jewish communities from that area. We will also study and mention on every record card the conservation statute of the Judaic rite monuments and we will send to the city halls a precise proposition in order to best preserving them. We are talking about a research that will be finished in two years. (A.B.)



    … As recalled by Stefan Ardeleanu, himself the first on this list, alphabetically arranged: Andrei Bart, Aurel Cernea, Baldovin Demetrescu, Harry Eliad, Ion Fantanaru, Lizica Lupan, Biluta Liberman, Avram Rozenstein, Nicolae Rozenfeld, Lulu Solomon, Hera Steinberg, Lazar Schinderman, Sarina Zavodnicu, Radu Sommer, Solomon Avram, Stefan Voicu.

    An attractive symposium
    “Jewish writers – laureates of the Nobel Prize for Literature”

    Since its inauguration, two and a half years ago, the Center for the Study and Research about the Jews History, Culture and Civilization in the South Eastern Europe, within the Craiova University, starts to bear fruit. Recently, the 3rd year students, history and Hebrew modern language specialization, presented during a public event organized together with the local subsidiary of O.T.E.R. (Organizatia Tinerilor Evrei din Romania – The Romanian Jewish Youth Organization) the theme “Scriitori evrei – laureati ai Premiului Nobel pentru Literatura” (Jewish writers – laureates of the Nobel Prize for Literature). Actually, it was the final part of the introduction to the Jewish modern literature class, studied from the 3rd year.

    There were mentioned Paul Heyse (1910 Nobel Prize laureate), the first Jewish German to receive this prize, the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1927), whose concepts influenced not only philosophy, but the French literature of the 20th century, the Russian writers Boris Pasternak (1958) and Iosif Brodsky (1987), the Americans Saul Bellow (1976) and Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978).

    Also, it was mentioned and presented the personality and the work of Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1966), eminent representative of the Hebrew literature, but also two important female writers, who took a stand against racism, by evoking the persecutions horrors – the German-language poetess Nelly Sachs (1966), who then became a Swedish citizen, and the South-African novelist Nadine Gordimer (1991), daughter of two Lithuanian Jews immigrants.

    There were also evoked two writers close to our region – the Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert (1984) and Elias Canetti, Sefard Jew born in Russe, Bulgaria. The event moderators thought necessary to present, in this context, the personality of our contemporary Elie Wiesel, from Sighet, survivor of the Auschwitz camp, laurate of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

    They also announced that, during the facultative class entitled “Jewish writers in the Romanian modern and contemporary literature”, the Felix Aderca presentation will take place at the “Alexandru si Aristia Aman” district library, where an exhibition has been opened: “Felix Aderca – 110 de la nastere”. F. Aderca – who spent 22 years of his life in Craiova – was the focus of the Centenary events, marked by a symposium with the participation of eminent personalities of the Romanian literature.



    O.T.E.R. – a promising start

    Candidate for a doctor’s degree, professor-associate, engineer Mircea Ardeleanu is, from October 2000, the coordinator of O.T.E.R. Craiova subsidiary. “Our subsidiary has 20 young people and, although we are a few, we think that we can organize a diverse and interesting activity for those who joined us. With the help of the Community, we received a room, a headquarter of our own, where we installed our state-of-the-art PC, recently received, and soon we will also have a video system, in order to organize cultural evenings, film seeing, etc. We also intend to organize a round table with the theme «The Jew writers in Romania», a follow-up to the one held a year ago, dedicated to «Jewish writers, laureates of the Nobel Prize ». For our members, we started Hebrew classes, directed by Mr. Ady Schwartz, from the Craiova University. We also started to make contact, through O.T.E.R., with young Jews living in other cities and we already have a good cooperation with Romanian, German and Italian youth organizations from Craiova”.


    “AIUS” publishing house – holder of Craiova editorial and multi-ethnic tradition

    Established in 1991, the “AIUS” publishing house tried to impose itself on the post-1989 book market, through its works published during its existence. Promoting mainly local cultural-scientific values (of Craiova and Oltenia), but also reference names of national and international culture, not having a specified direction, the publishing house, through its collections, offers both children literature and textbooks, but also far-reaching works from different domains as humanist sciences, medicine, social, techniques, art albums etc.

    I would mention the work “M. Blecher – Intamplari din irealitatea imediata. Inimi cicatrizate. Vizuina luminata”, launched right at the office of the Jewish Community Federation from Bucharest. The publication of this book is part of our editorial plan to publish, under the name “NOUL CANON”, a series of experimental novels illustrating the high modernity already existing in the period between the world wars according to the European conceptual model and which represent sound arguments for a necessary change in the literary dogma. Those non-typical, eccentric writings isolated but profoundly esthetic, are competing with the methods used by today psychological or realist literature. Thus, we will re-publish the works of Mihail Sebastian, H. Bonciu, Felix Aderca, C. Fantaneru, Dan Petrasincu, V. V. Martinescu. Also, we have on print a volume of H. Bonciu, including an uncensored edition, edited by the literary critic Constantin M. Popa, and two novels: “Bagaj” and “Pensiunea doamnei Pipersberg”.

    Among the recently published books, we mention the monograph “Viata lui Victor Papilian”, by Titus Balasa, the poetry volume “Camasa de forta”, by Aurelian Zisu, the work “TEZAUR, cartea veche romaneasca 1557-1830″, by the researcher Aurelia Florescu, etc. On the other hand, the publishing house acts as a pole for the cultural-multi-ethnic life in Craiova, and a prove for that are the books published by our publishing house about the Samitca editors and typographers dynasty, about the origins of the Italian, German, and Greek communities and the “Excelsior” magazine, for the Dolj Cultural Inter-Ethnic Forum. In fact, a year ago, together with “Alexandru si Aristia Aman” library, has been published a “Dictionar al personalitatilor din judetul Dolj”, including, among the 600 names, those who were part of the Jewish community, and they are many, proving the contribution of the Craiova Jews and the real Semitism which existed in Oltenia. Here are only a few names that said everything: F. Aderca, I. and Ralian Samitca, Filip Lazar, Eskenazy, D. Schewach, S. Singer, Lazar Saineanu. In such an environment, the “AIUS” publishing house also supports the publication of new cultural magazines. In only three years of existence, “Mozaicul” magazine has already a very impressive curriculum, considered as an authorized voice in the Romanian cultural media. The birth of the “Mozaicul” magazine was accompanied by the publication of “Colocviile revistei «Mozaicul»”, that became, on their third edition, traditional for the Romanian spiritual life.
    GEORGE SORIN SINGER, director of the “AIUS” publishing house, Craiova



    In the first half of the 19th century, Iosif Samitca was a book “transporter” in Craiova. He went from door to door to sell books! With the money won, penny by penny, in 1847, he bought the printing house of Constantin Lecca, painter and 1848 revolutionary, becoming himself a typographer, at the beginning, and then editor and librarian. In those times, of the beginnings, Craiova had 11,500 inhabitants, including 82 Jewish families with almost 500 members. Iosif Samitca and later his sons, Ralian (1846-1911) and Ignat (1857-1925), developed the publishing and the printing house over the decades, built new edifices, brought modern machines from abroad and gained an international acclaim. When the king Carol I visited Craiova, in 1884, he bought some books that he donated to the lyceum library, the only lyceum existing in the city in that time. The partial catalogue of the books existing in the public libraries, edited by the soon to be called “Institutul de Editura si Arte Grafice «Samitca»”, comprises 259 entries, and dozens of newspaper and magazine titles. From the Samitca family was also the great philologist Lazar Saineanu, married with Cecilia, the older daughter of Ralian Samitca. In 1896, Lazar Saineanu published in Craiova, at the family publishing house, his famous “Dictionar universal al limbii romane”, used even today by the philologists, after more than a century of its publication. Lazar Saineanu also published there many of his works, until 1900, when he immigrated to Paris. He left the country because, although he was born here, was laureate of the Academy Prize, and received numerous prizes and grants, after 12 years of fighting in the courts, the Romanian governments decided not to give him the Romanian citizenship. Not to grant him “naturalization”.

    Nicolae Andrei, Gabriela Braun and Albert Zimbler published a complete history of the Samitca family and its work at the “AIUS” publishing house in Craiova, whose activity is presented by its director in an article published in these pages.



    Lecturer, Dr. Corneliu Sabetay – descendant of the oldest Jewish family in the town – is, for four years, the president of the Jewish community in Craiova. “I accepted this honor – he said – not because I wanted another position or salary. I agreed from a sense of duty towards my ancestors, towards my father, who was also president of the Sefard community in Craiova, from respect for the work done here by Iancu Zimel, who dedicated 45 years of his life to guide this community, from the belief that we must have good relations with all God-fearing people and with whom we lived during the centuries and we are still living today”.

    Corneliu Sabetay was born on April 1st, 1944. As his father, brother and later his son, he graduated the “Fratii Buzesti” lyceum, always with maximum marks, took his license in medicine in Timisoara and, after stages in Plenita and Bucharest, he came in 1975, after a competitive examination, at the Hospital no. 1 in Craiova, where he performed 25,000 pediatric surgeries till date. In 1978, he became university teacher, and today he holds a lecturer position. Between 1992-1996, he was local councilor, and in 1996, he became district councilor. From 1997, he is member of the Pediatric Surgery Societies from France and Greece.

    Travelling in Oltenia, we stopped in Calafat, city-harbor with great historic and economic traditions in the south of Dolj district, situated on the left coast of Danube, and which today looks confidently to the future, waiting for the bridge building that will link the Central Europe and the south-eastern part of the continent.

    We were in Calafat, asked by the mayor of the city, engineer Traistaru, and by the Municipal Council, headed by the distinguished Hospital director, Dr. surgeon Stelica Voinea, and we want to thank them for their kindness and for mentioning us about the existence of some old Jewish community vestiges, that lived in this Romanian space. With them and many other friends from the town (we take the liberty of calling them such), we went on the traces of this old community past.

    “Anywhere ten Jewish families settled – said once Professor M. Staureanu -, their first concern is to build a school, a synagogue and to find a place for the eternal house”. All those “institutions” were present in Calafat. In a monographic work about Calafat, written by an ex-mayor, I. S. Dragulescu, it is mentioned the fact that, in 1897, a Rabbi and an army officer built a synagogue. The construction of this synagogue has cost 16,000 Lei, and the money came from local Israeli community donations. About the existence of the Israelite school we find out by oral tradition. At 91, Constantin Resteanu, colleague in the Romanian school with sons of Jewish merchants, remembers that those boys attended, in parallel, Israelite classes at a school situated on Avenue Tudor Vladimirescu, and in the schoolyard was also a synagogue. Other sources say that a Jewish rite house was built on Jiu Street.

    About the character and the moral attitude of those merchants we find out again by oral tradition. The tailor Mateescu St. Aur remembers with nostalgia of the times when he worked for the Jewish merchants: “…the Jews were honest, I don’t remember of being involved in lawsuits. If you entered their shops on Mondays, when they made «handsels», you would leave with all the things you needed at a small price or on credit”. We also find out that Solomon, the grain seller, brought to Calafat 30 pairs of ox, selling them on credit to the peasants. The Jews were also involved with the grain commerce, manufacturing, they were clockmakers and jewelers. The Jewish women stayed home as housewives. As for the cloths – they dressed decently, no different from the others.

    In the 1918 census, we find the following Jewish names: Iacob Elias (2), Emmanuel Magder (3), Iancu Moise (4), Ona Calef (2), Rubi Jarchy (4), F. Pincas (1). In the 1930 census, the community was on the increase, with 56 members.

    Here they are a few names preserved in the local memory: Rubi and Sandu Jarchy – manufacturers; Jani – grain seller; Solomon – grain seller; Avram Simon – merchant; Moscu Lewi – merchant, he had some proprieties (the house in which he lived is still standing on Avenue Tudor Vladimirescu). There were also grain houses represented by Jews: “Draichus-Zeiner” house, “Dulman-Blanck” house.

    Some other names remembered by the Calafat octogenarians: Marcel Calef, Adolf Klein, Yahnick, Alagem Elias, the Haim family, and the Bernardt brothers. In the memory of these places there is also the name “Dealul Ovreiului” (The Jew’s Hill), today just a hillock at the entrance in Calafat, from Ciupercenii Vechi. The most proving evidence of the existence of a Jewish community in Calafat are the funeral monuments in the cemetery. From a couple of centuries, in the Jewish cemetery rest the bones of the people that died as heroes, as representative personalities of Calafat, or as simple people coming from history, without identity, only the names on the tombstones telling us something about their Sefard origin. Due to time passing by, from the 60 monuments, a big part of them is deteriorated, restoring works being necessary, for which we asked for help the Calafat Mayor’s office.

    During “The European Days of the Judaic Culture” (2000), organized by F.C.E.R., within the Museum for Jews History, in Bucharest, proves have been presented, along with archive documents, about the positive role played by the Jewish community for the benefit of the Romanian people; and what we just said here represents a common history page in a little corner of a district – the Dolj district.

    Lecturer Dr. CORNELIU SABETAY,

    President of the Craiova Jewish community


    4th year student, Craiova University, Faculty of Philosophy-History-Geography