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Ghosts of Home

Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory

Marianne Hirsch
Leo Spitzer
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Ghosts of Home
    Book Description:

    In modern-day Ukraine, east of the Carpathian Mountains, there is an invisible city. Known as Czernowitz, the “Vienna of the East” under the Habsburg empire, this vibrant Jewish-German Eastern European culture vanished after World War II—yet an idealized version lives on, suspended in the memories of its dispersed people and passed down to their children like a precious and haunted heirloom. In this original blend of history and communal memoir, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer chronicle the city's survival in personal, familial, and cultural memory. They find evidence of a cosmopolitan culture of nostalgic lore—but also of oppression, shattered promises, and shadows of the Holocaust in Romania. Hirsch and Spitzer present the first historical account of Jewish Czernowitz in the English language and offer a profound analysis of memory's echo across generations.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94490-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    • ONE “Where are you from?”
      (pp. 3-19)

      On our first walk through the city once called Czernowitz, a woman stopped us on the street. She spoke Russian, then switched to Yiddish. Her dyed light-red hair, with gray roots showing, her heavy makeup, the threadbare outfit she was wearing, and her worn-out shoes were as striking as the fact that there were Jews, speaking Yiddish, on the streets of this Ukrainian city. “Where are you from?” she asked my mother. We were carrying cameras and looking at maps—obvious tourists—and she no doubt wondered whether we were from Israel, the United States, or Germany. In response, my...

    • TWO Vienna of the East
      (pp. 20-52)

      In the overcast early afternoon of our second day in Chernivtsi we again met Rosa and Felix, as well as Rosa’s friend Matthias Zwilling, and continued our explorations of the city. Also with us was Othmar Andrée, a German friend who had come to join us in Chernivtsi to make some connections between the present city and the past life of Czernowitz Jews, on which he had begun to do extensive research. In the years after the end of the Second World War, many Russian-speaking and Yiddish-speaking Jews from other parts of the Soviet Union and Moldavia had come to...

    • THREE Strolling the Herrengasse
      (pp. 53-71)

      On our third day in Chernivtsi, Lotte suggested that we return to the Herrengasse and stroll along its sidewalks as she had so often done in her youth. We agreed, of course, looking forward both to the walk and to her further recollections of the past. There are many photos of the young Lotte on the Herrengasse in our family albums and photo boxes—photos in which she is always fashionably dressed, usually with one or more companions, and in which she appears glad and unhurried, smiling at the camera, happy to be seen. When we planned our trip to...

    • FOUR The Idea of Czernowitz
      (pp. 72-98)

      “I knew that Romanian students were beating up Jews, but I went to school with many young Romanian men, and I could never associate them with such acts,” Lotte explained as we came into sight of the building that had housed the Cernăuţi University, and where some departments of the Jurii Fed’kovych University are still located. We had asked Lotte and Carl if, after our Herrengase stroll, they would take us to see their former schools and the site of the private girls’ school that Lotte’s sister Fritzi had started in the 1930s and where she met her future husband,...

    • FIVE “Are we really in the Soviet Union?”
      (pp. 99-121)

      “I was right here in this very spot on the Ringplatz when the Red Army marched into Czernowitz in the summer of 1940,” Lotte told us on our fourth day in the city. As on previous days, the taxi from the hotel had left us off on the city’s main square. By now we were familiar with the central area of the city and knew how to find our way to some of the sites of my parents’ childhood and adolescent years, to their schools and the homes of their friends and relatives. We had spent the previous days walking,...

    • SIX The Crossroads
      (pp. 122-144)

      If there is one story from Carl and Lotte’s wartime experiences that needed to be visualized in a specific place, it is the fateful moment on October 15, 1941, in which they evaded deportation to Transnistria, the region where two-thirds of the Jews of Cernăuţi were forcibly relocated and where more than half of those met their death.¹ We had both heard that story repeatedly, and we knew it well: it is a story they liked to tell. In fact, I had always envisioned that place—where they turned right instead of left—as the life source from which I...


    • SEVEN Maps to Nowhere
      (pp. 147-161)

      When Art Spiegelman, in the first volume ofMaus, describes his parents’ escape from the ghetto of Srodula to evade the deportations to Auschwitz, he draws the intersection of several roads in the shape of a swastika. At the bottom of the image he depicts his parents, Vladek and Anja, two mice walking along an empty road, holding hands, contemplating the different directions they might take. The white paths are set within a desolate landscape. An ominous black building with four chimneys is visible on the horizon. “We walked in the direction of Sosnowiec—but where to go?! It was...

    • EIGHT The Spot on the Lapel
      (pp. 162-196)

      It is the only photograph of my parents taken during the war years and it is tiny, 2.5 by 3.2 centimeters, about the size of a 35 millimeter negative, with unevenly cut edges. I have always loved this image of a stylish young couple—newlyweds walking confidently down an active urban street. The more difficult it was to make out the details of the faded and slightly spotted black-and-white image, the more mysterious and enticing it became to me over the years. In it, my mother is wearing a flared, light-colored calf-length coat and attractive leather or suede shoes with...

    • NINE “There was never a camp here!”
      (pp. 197-231)

      From the memoir of Nathan Simon:¹

      I was told to get dressed. They handcuffed me and I was forced to face the wall while they searched my room. . . .

      In the street I saw that, besides myself, my sister, my brother, two cousins who lived in the neighborhood, and a young woman whom I only knew by sight, had been arrested.

      . . . After arriving at headquarters, they led me to a room where the chief of the secret police sat at a table. In a most friendly tone he asked me for a statement and placed...

    • TEN “This was once my home”
      (pp. 232-256)

      It was the middle of the night when we returned from Transnistria, exhausted by the physical hardships and the intense emotions of the day. We had intended to spend the night in Moghilev, but the only hotel we could locate was so unprepossessing that we preferred to brave the long drive back. The three of us slept through the latter part of the bumpy journey, grateful to Russlan, our driver, for bringing us safely back to the Cheremosh, where a night guard let us in. Those hard mattresses had never seemed so comfortable.

      The next morning, we retraced our steps...


    • ELEVEN The Persistence of Czernowitz
      (pp. 259-289)

      The Dniester flows quietly this late afternoon beneath the white concrete outlook terrace adjacent to a small, well-kept park in Moghilev, Ukraine, where we had arrived a few hours earlier. Everyone in our Transnistria group is scheduled to gather for dinner soon in a nearby restaurant, but while we await their arrival, the two of us, together with David Alon and his adult son Danny from Israel, stand near the terrace edge looking at the dark green waters of the river and at the landscape on both of its banks. We’ve walked to this outlook after checking into our overnight...

    • TWELVE The Tile Stove
      (pp. 290-300)

      “What if the Holocaust had not happened? What would my life have been like?” Asher asked this question again when we saw him in Jerusalem in 2007. Although not an academic, he attended every session of an international conference on Transnistria organized by Florence Heymann at the Centre de recherché français de Jérusalem, the first scholarly conference on this subject. Asher came with Yehudit, Rita, and Arthur; they were joined by their spouses. He still had more questions than answers, he told us. His research was not complete.

      Is Asher’s question the one that preoccupies all survivors and their children?...

  8. EPILOGUE, 2008

    • Chernivtsi at Six Hundred
      (pp. 301-318)

      On October 8, 2008, the city of Chernivtsi celebrated its six-hundredth anniversary. Major planning for the commemorative events was several years in the making. Residents of the city might well associate the anniversary with the date of the actual foundation of the city. But in fact October 8 merely recalls the date when the first written mention of “Chern” was recorded in a manuscript presented in 1408 by the Moldavian prince Alexander Dobryl (the Good) to merchants from Lviv. For Chernivtsi’s current municipal administration, however, the months leading up to this six-hundredth anniversary, and the October 4–10 celebration itself,...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 319-342)
    (pp. 343-352)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 353-362)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 363-364)