Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory

Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory

Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory

Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory


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, suspend 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.


Czernovitz expelled its Jews, and so did Vienna, Prague, Budapest,
and Lemberg. Now these cities live without Jews, and their few
descendants, scattered through the world, carry memory like a
wonderful gift and a relentless curse.

Aharon appelfeld
“Buried Homeland”

This is a book about a place that cannot be found in any contemporary atlas, and about a community for whom it remained alive “like a wonderful gift” and “a relentless curse” long after its disappearance. It is a historical account of a German-Jewish Eastern European culture that flourished from the midnineteenth century until its shattering and dispersal in the era of the Second World War. But it is also a family and communal memoir spanning three generations that explores the afterlife, in history and memory, of the city of Czernowitz.

Nowadays, of course, Czernowitz is nowhere. As a political entity, it ceased to exist long ago, with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire in 1918. Its name now is Chernivtsi—a city located in the southwestern region of the Republic of the Ukraine, east of the Carpathian Mountains, on the River Pruth, some fifty kilometers north of the present-day border of Romania. After the First World War, when it fell under Romanian authority and became part of Greater Romania, it was called Cernăuţi. Subsequently, under Soviet rule after the Second World War, it was renamed Chernovtsy.

But for many of the surviving Jews who lived there in the decade before the First World War and in the interwar years—now “scattered,” as Appelfeld notes, “through the world”—the place forever remained Czernowitz, capital of the outlying Austrian-Habsburg imperial province of the Bukowina, the “Vienna of the East,” a city in which (in the words of its most famous poet . . .

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