Chernivtsi (City), Ukraine

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Chernivtsi was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It became part of Romania after World War I, was occupied by Russia for a year in 1940, and then by the Nazis. Czernovitz had a large Jewish population before World War II, and Jews were active in running the infrastructure--the water system, the electrical works, the railroads, etc. Chernivtsi was unique in that the Romanian mayor, Traian Popovici, persuaded the Romanian authorities to grant papers to remain in the City to almost 20,000 Jews on the basis of the city's need to keep the infrastructure running. Thus he saved their lives and the lives of their families. The other Jews in the city were sent to labor camps in Transnistria where many died of starvation or disease or were murdered. The Jewish population now is about two to three thousand.

The Hapsburg's attitude was live and let live; they allowed all forms of religious worship. So Orthodox Jews and secular Jews and various Hassidic sects were drawn to the area.

Chernivtsi today is an attractive city. The town square is pleasant and there is a long pedestrian shopping street and some attractive parks and churches. The city was not bombed during World War II and the Nazis did not destroy Jewish buildings and the Jewish cemetery as they did in Lviv. The former main synagogue is now a movie theater. There is a small Jewish museum located in what was a Jewish communal building. Their exhibitions ended at the beginning of World War II. The Ukrainian government does not want to draw attention to Ukrainian's collaboration with the Nazis during that war.

A group of people who either as children were residents of Czernovitz before the War or whose parents were survivors have formed an organization primarily through the internet. They raised money for a plaque to honor Traian Popovici and the plaque is now placed on the building where he lived. Their next project, along with other groups, is to clear away the vegetation which has overgrown the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is located just outside the main area of the city; it is enormous. It stretches for blocks and blocks in all directions. The sapling trees and the weeds have been cleared from some of the tombstones but there is much more to be done.

Other interesting things in CZ, as the group refers to the city. There is a huge market place near the railroad yards, and people from all over the area come there to buy food and other staples. And there is a University with a large student body and interesting architecture.

Before leaving for the trip to Chernivtsi for research, it is suggested to email surnames you are looking for in the archives so that the archivist could get started. Records from the Hapsburg era (the golden years of Czernovitz they described them) are in German. The headings are printed; the information on the individuals is in handwriting. Some of the words are obvious to an English speaker and some are not.

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