A View on the Geography, Topography and History of the City of Radautz
He who investigates the history of the Jewish Community in any settlement has to know it quite well: its environment, mountains, valleys and streams, as well as its original population throughout history. Observing the city (called Radevitz by its Jews, Radautz under the Austrian rule, Radauti by the Romanians) from a bird’s eye view, he will discern a fertile valley, which is actually a broadening of the basin of the Suceava river, which originates in the forests of the Carpathian Mountains. In this valley, between the 391 meter high Cross Mountain (Dealil-Crucel) in the east and the 482 meter high Osoiu Mountain in the west, extends the City of Radautz, 373 meters above the Adriatic. Radautz is surrounded by villages of which the population is mostly German, Hungarian or Romanian. In earlier times this valley was moorland, producing swampy vegetation; only in the beginning of the 19th century the swamp was drained and the lands of the valley dried. A fertile soil was thus created and roads built, which would facilitate in due course the development of the city. The area was surrounded east, north and west by dense forests. The forest east of the Osoiu Mountain was called the Osoiu Forest and the one between Radautz and Fratauti – the Shalkau Forest.
North-west of the Osoiu Mountain originates the Pachina stream, diverging when close to the take-off strip called Hutweide in two arms: the northern called Saha and the western – Temnik. Both tributaries flow into the Suceava River. South of the Osoiu Mountain originates a stream called Topliza. It flows through marshlands, crosses the City of Radautz and joins the Temnik stream near the paper mill (later the Boler Station). In days of torrential rains, the stream uses to overflow its banks, sweeping away with its devastating floods whatever stands it its path: vegetation, property and even animals. In the 30’es and 40’es of the previous century the Topliza looked more like a sewage canal than a stream with current fresh water. The climate of Radautz is continental: pleasant, beautiful springs, warm summers, but intensely bitter winters, laden with cold, fierce winds blowing from the Siberian steppes, piling up mounds of snow, which handicap traffic. Severe blizzards claim even human lives.
How Did the Settlement of Radautz Come into Being?
In ancient times the land of Bukovina (the name means Land of the Beech Trees) was settled by Scythian and Getaen tribes, replaced later, following gory wars, by the Dacians, who were eventually subdued by the Romans. This region constituted part of the Roman province of Dacia. Some researchers of ancient history claim that Rathacenium, a town mentioned in those times, is actually present-day Radautz; however, this allegation has not been substantiated.
The Roman rule of this region found its end with the appearance of the Germanic tribes known as Goths. In those days Bukovina was a transit land for Slavic and Tartar tribes, who rioted, plundered, murdered and left behind a scorched land.
In 1343, King Ludwig of Hungary sent his army against the Tartars, who had used repeatedly to invade the territories of his kingdom. This army, commanded by Dragos the Vallachian of Marmorosh and his son Giola-Sas, destroyed the Tartar force and drove it beyond the Dniester river. This is how Dragos and later on his son Giola-Sas were nominated governors of the region.
The military leader Havivod Bogdan invaded the area in 1348, disposed Giola-Sas and founded the Principality of Moldavia.
Where now extends the City of Radauyz, there was then a small nameless settlement, which belonged to a land owner called Radomir.
With the occupation of Bukovina by Bogdan the Vallachian, Radomir’s ownership of the settlement passed on to him. He transferred his siege to Radomir, named himself Radomir I and built a church (between 1360 and 1364), which was supposed to serve himself and his heirs as their eternal resting place.
A document written in Slavic script from 1393 mentions the settlement for the first time under the name Radomiroslav, meaning Radomir’s village.
A few years later the Slavic suffix mir was replaced by the Vallachian suffix uti (pronounced “oots”) and the settlement of Radomir became Radauti (pronounced Rado’oots) and under the Austrian administration it became known as Radautz.
Although it used to be a bishopric for 380 years, boasting a splendid cathedral – Radautz did not develop much under Moldavian rule, probably because of the absence of access roads, which impeded traffic and risked the passengers travelling the unpaved tracks.
The Jewish Population of Radautz and its Organization
The creation of the Jewish population in Radautz paralleled that of the city itself.
Due to its geographic situation the settlement of Radautz constituted a kind of reservoir of mountainous produce – timber from the surrounding forests, livestock and dairy products – hence an attraction for traders from both the near and distant environment, who used to bring grain, agricultural tools and haberdashery stuff. Among these merchants there were also Jews from the Bukovinian towns as well as from Galicia and under Austrian rule – also from Moravia.
A few Jews settled down in Radautz already in the days of the Moldavian Princes’ rule in Bukovina; however, due to the frequent wars taking place in the area, during which quite a few settlements were destroyed – the handful of Jews were forced to leave the settlement in days of calamity; they returned when times became peaceful again. This is why there are no written records documenting the history of Radaitz’s Jews in those remote days (the 14th through 18th century). However, one may deduce from the knowledge gathered about Jews in the older cities of Bukovina – Chernovitz and Siret, mainly regarding their status and community organization prior to the annexation of Bukovina by Austria.
Petru Rezus’s book from 1975, which was based on D. Dan’s book called Cronica episcopiei de Radauti, dated 1907, notes that Jews lived in Radautz already in the 15th and 16th centuries. According to the author, they were of Sephardi origin and traded with Danzig and even with England. The Jewish Community – so the book – is as ancient as the Communities of Siret and Suceava; the tombstones in the graveyard prove this.
In 1453, with the occupation of the region by the Turks, a change in the status of the Moldavian princes took place; the Turkish Sultan was the Supreme Ruler now and the princes – called now Gospodars – became subject to him and only with his consent could they wedge war. Although due to this change there were fewer wars, in 1509 Bukovinian settlements were plundered and burnt by Polish forces (led by Hetman Kaminezky) - and after Chernovitz was burnt down in 1538 too, Gospodar Alexander Lupusneanu the Moldavian was nominated responsible for the region and issued terrible decrees against the Jews. Only following the intervention of Don Joseph Nasi, also known as the Duke of Naxos, by the Sultan, the situation of the Jews improved.
It is noteworthy that the Turks, who used to kidnap boys in the countries conquered by them in order to raise them as janissaries (soldiers) skipped Jewish boys.
Until 1600 (outbreak of the Polish-Turkish war) - during a period characterized by relative peace – trade in this area increased and attracted merchants from several regions. Numerous Jews from Western Europe turned up then in Bukovina, fleeing persecutions in Germany. They brought with them the Yiddish language, common in German speaking areas.
Following the pattern prevailing among the Polish Jews, Community Committees were erected in that period in the Bukovinian cities and towns. Such a Community was called Kahal by the Jews and Brasla Zhidoviaska – the Guild of the Jews - by the Moldavian Authorities. The Head of the Community was called then Staroste, who was aided regarding the management of the affairs of the Community – the Kahal’s – by a Committee of Notables among the Community.
Both the Staroste and the Rabbi were elected by the Jewish residents; however, only after receiving the Moldavian Prince’s consent – the nomination became valid.
The Kahal enjoyed a limited autonomy, which did not prevent arbitrary actions generated by the rulers. The fact that the Jews of Moldavia, including those of Bukovina, spoke the same language and wore the same clothes like the rest of the population gave them no advantage whatsoever.
Following the pogroms perpetrated by the gangs of Khmelnytsky among the Jews of the Ukraine and Poland, the survivors fled to what was then Moldavia and some of them settled down in Bukovina; they brought along with them grass-root Jewish ways and cultural traditions, which enriched the spiritual life of the communities.