A Former Shtetl in the Carpathians

Once again, we tried  to visit the New Jewish cemetery of Suceava – this time with success. Then we went on to Gura Humorului, a former shtetl in the Carpathians. A trip back into the winter and into the past.

Yesterday we tried in vain to reach the Jewish cemetery of Suceava, today we had more luck. The door was not open, but the guard saw us, waved to us and asked us to come in.

The cemetery covers a century of Jewish history. The oldest grave stones we could find are from 1900, the most recent are from the immediate present. Even some recent grave stones have German inscriptions. The condition of the cemetery is varying – while the parts of the post-war period are maintained, the older parts are lost in dense vegetation. Spring has not begun yet. Now the cemetery is accessible – in a month this will change.

We left Suceava and headed towards the Carpathians. The road was good, we quickly reached Gura Humorului after 35 kilometers. Snow-capped mountains spread out. Gura Humorului is a tourist access to the Carpathian Mountains. There are hotels and apartments. In a small street we came across a very different town. Next to the well renovated synagogue, one thinks to be in a shtetl – a shtetl high up in the mountains. Small but beautifully decorated houses from the Austrian period are close together in the tiny streets.

The Jewish cemetery of Gura Humorului is located outside of the town on a steep slope. The house of Angela Maria is in the middle of the cemetery, it divides the new from the old part. You enter the new part of the cemetery through Angela Maria’s barn. The old lady is the guardian of the cemetery. She welcomed us with beautiful Bukovinian German, showed us the way and made aware of special grave stones – for example, the one of Sara Schmidt, the mother of Joseph Schmidt. Joseph Schmidt was a famous tenor in the interwar period. Born in Czernowitz, he studied in Berlin and was one of the great stars of German cinema. After the Nazi seizure of power he tragically died in a Swiss internment camp for refugees from Germany and Austria.

“Before the war many Jews and Germans lived here,” said Angela Maria. “The Germans went in 1940, all the Jews were deported in 1942 to Transnistria. A few came back, but today there are no more Jews in Gura Humorului.” About many places in Bukovina the same story could be told.

We left Gura Humorului in northern direction to visit one of the famous Moldavian monasteries, for which the region is famous. They are famous for its wall paintings in Byzantine style, with which they are decorated not only inside but also outside. Snow fell during our trip – what falls as rain in the flat lands falls as snow here in the mountains. The first storks were sitting in their nests and cared for their feathers.

The Monastery of Mănăstirea Humorului is indeed breathtaking. The paintings on the weather side are partly destroyed, but those on the other side, are well preserved. The Byzantine saints line up in an endless comic strip.

The wind was now pungently cold and there was snow again. We decided to quit our program for today. We have seen enough history.

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4 thoughts on “A Former Shtetl in the Carpathians

  1. I visited Gura Humorului in July 1998. On the street with the old synagogue, I visited with several of the “last” Jews of Gura Humorului. It’s sad to know they are no longer with us. The cemetery is one of the most beautiful ever. I

  2. Christian…

    Great post, outstanding photos! As a reward and encouragement to you in wintery snowy times, I’ve changed the editorial program of our Czernowitz Book Corner by antedating as (Second) Book of the Month, April 2015, the book “Remembering the Jewish Cemeteries”:


    This illustrated book, released by FEDROM, the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania, comes just in time, hopefully at least not to late for your ongoing journey. It covers the following items:

    A Reason to Remember the Jewish Cemeteries [7]
    The Jewish Cemeteries – A Look Upon Reality – Photos [18]
    The Jewish Communities in Romania – Listing [31]
    The Jewish Cemeteries in Romania – Listing [38]
    Every Person Has a Name – Photos [49]
    Remember! – The Respect and Duty for Those Who Passed Away [52]
    Tomb Stones – Explanations of the Inscriptions [60]
    Tomb Stones – Photos [72]
    Prayers – Kadish tatom, El male rahamim, Izkor [79]
    Glossary – Romanian [84]
    Responsability and Duty – Thinking the Future [94]
    FEDROM Appeal [102]

    Bon voyage to you (and Petra and Achim)!
    Edgar Hauster

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