The Magnificent Jewish Population of Sadegura
Sadegura, a town in the Carpathian Mountains, was known throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire as the operating site of a Rabban Osseh Nifla’ot (Hebrew for “Our Rabbi the Magician”). It is located north of Chernowitz and the Prut River is running between the two settlements. The Muskau Stream runs around it and it is surrounded by forested mountains.
As a matter of fact, Sadegura was cut off the traffic routes and even the railway ignored it. The nearest train station was in the Rohozna village, some two kilometers away. It was the town’s municipality, which was responsible for the long distance from the station. When the track of the railway was planned, the municipality applied to the planners and requested them to keep it clear of the town, in order that the peace of the residents, especially the children’s, wouldn’t be disturbed by the whistling of the locomotives; also the sparks, which might land on the wooden tiles of the roofs could cause the burning down of houses and the property of their dwellers.
The idyllic seclusion did not disturb the residents - and traffic to the City of Chernowitz, only 8 kilometers away from the pastoral town, was maintained by coaches and later by busses. It was a typical Jewish town since 250 years, of which the name was given by a Russian general of Baltic origin named Gartenberg, who called it The Slavic Sadegura, but I see before my eyes only the Jewish Sadegura, and I feel obliged to erect – if not a memorial monument for its sake – than at least a Jewish tombstone, since I am one of the last surviving Jews from this town, in which I was born and served both as Head of the Jewish Community and the Mayor’s deputy.
The town’s years of prosperity continued until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 – and the first catastrophe occurred when the Russian Soldatska sacked the town’s Jewish homes. The downfall of the Jewish Community started with the collapse of the Austro Hungarian Empire and the beginning of the Romanian rule.
16 additional Jewish settlements around Sadegura were integrated into the town’s Jewish Community and this affiliation was established in the days of the Austrian Regime. These settlements were thus subject to the Head of the Jewish Community in the County’s Capital and they used the services of the District’s Court. The Jews of these settlements regarded themselves as proud members of the Sadegura Community, which was served by the Community’s Rabbi. As already mentioned, the Hassidic court of Our Magician Rabbi was situated in the town; he was descendant of the Dynasty of the Rabbis of Rozhin, which enjoyed a tremendous popularity, especially in Sadegura, but also in the whole of Bukovina. The Admor (Hebrew abbreviation for: Our Master, Teacher and Rabbi) lived in a palace built in Moorish style, surrounded by buildings in which lived members of his court (i.e. his disciples and followers). The Synagogue in the Court was the biggest in town and featured 1000 pews. Its walls were decorated with masterpieces of art; the Parokhet (curtain of the synagogue’s arc) was embroidered with gold threads and set with precious pearls, while crystal chandeliers were lit by natural gas, operated by a special device. The refectory contained 1000 seats too.
The Rabbis’ family maintained a way of life according to strict rules of ceremony, as practiced in royal courts, and the Hassidim (the followers) used to turn up in droves in the Court in order to get Our Rabbi’s blessing for their businesses and his council prior to the taking of every crucial decision in their lives. Numerous pilgrims used to appear in the Court of Our Rabbi in holidays in order to pray with him and get his blessing.
The wealthy of Russia used to go on a pilgrimage, richly dressed in the black Hassidic attire and the philanthropists used to donate huge amounts of money, on the other hand, the poor arrived too, in order to find a shelter and a hot meal and hang around in the shade of the Rabbi.
Parallel to the growth of the population in both the town and the villages around it, Sadegura included eventually also the villages of Rohosna (Barnovka), Neu-Sochka and Untersrauz (Slovodka). The borders between these settlements became obliterated with time, and they became one town – Greater Sadegura, which boasted around 13,000 Jews, 10,000 of which in the town proper and 3,000 in the integrated villages.
Along with the change of regimes following the First World War, a significant emigration of the Sadegura Jews took place - about three quarters of them left the town, only some 2,000 remained. Among the victims of the conquest by the armies of the Russian Tsar were many Jews, who were expelled from their homes and compelled to walk all the way to Siberia. Only one single Jew, Hersh Lutinger was lucky enough to return after the war to tell about the hardships encountered underway.
The majority of the Sadegura Jews were involved in craftsmanship and commerce, and in the villages around town – with agriculture and the growing of cattle. In addition, Jews used to either manage estates in the neighboring villages or rent them. Numerous horse-cart owners were occupied with the transport of goods, while the proprietors of coaches used to transfer passengers to the big commercial center of Chernowitz. The town was a hub for horse trading and every year a market for purebred horses was held there; some of them were smuggled from Russia, while the Austrian authorities were looking the other way. The Jews were famous for their industriousness and even the poorest among them earned their livelihood as hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Quite a few among the Jewish professionals were organized in professional associations, such as The Jewish Teachers Associations of which the members used to teach in kindergartens and elementary schools or as tutors in talmuday torah and Yeshivot (religious teaching institutions). It is noteworthy that the teachers used to experience an economic distress due to their meager salaries. Each association erected its own synagogue; e.g. in Shilagsa Street there were 11 small synagogues belonging to professional associations as well as a central big synagogue. In addition, there were khaiders (Yiddish, literally: “rooms”, religious classes for young children).
Among the Jewish intellectuals there were a considerable number of lawyers and bank employees, constituting part of the society’s middle class. Until the First World War most mayors were Jews, who used also to fulfill simultaneously the role of Head of the Jewish Community.
The town was also a site for the Zionist movements, and after the First World War a Hebrew school financed by Baron Hirsch was founded there, in which the youth used to learn Hebrew as part of their Zionist activity.
1940, as the Red Army entered Northern Bukovina; most of the Zionist activists were arrested by the Soviet Secret Police, the NKVD, and deported to the steppes of Siberia where many of them perished due to starvation and cold. With the Nazi occupation the Romanian and German troops aided by their Ukrainian accomplices led by the teacher Russo, murdered 186 Jews. After the liberation of the region this Ukrainian Assassin was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Carried out by the Red Army, murder, plunder and robbery were continued for two days. Until arrival of the authorities the surviving Jews found shelter in cellars and the depths of forests.
1941 was the year of death for the magnificent Jewish population of Sadegura. The survivors were deported to concentration camps in Transnistria; the death march on foot and vehicle to these camps continued for months and in its course the caravan reached the Dniester River where quite a few found their death. Only a few survived the concentration camps, none of them have ever returned to Sadegura. The remaining few settled in the City of Chernowitz, from where they moved to Romania in order to emigrate later on to Israel.
Jewish life in Sadegura, which ceased being a Jewish town, has thus been extinguished. Its cemetery was desecrated, the tombstones were taken to build roads and the synagogues were looted and destroyed.