HAARETZ PRINT EDITION BOOK REVIEW
Holocaust studies / Inevitable fragments of nostalgia - Haaretz Daily Newspaper
Ghosts of Home:
The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory
by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer
University of California Press, 392 pages, $39.95
As time goes by, the Holocaust and the ordinary lives lived by Jews throughout Central Europe before the 1930s recede as experience remembered. The witnesses and survivors diminish in number dramatically each year. But even for survivors who were young when the war ended in 1945, the trauma of expulsion, flight and brutalization was compounded by the exceptional fate of survival in the face of mass terror and murder. This made recollection and storytelling about the war and the world that it destroyed more complicated, selective and unreliable than retelling generally is.
A synagogue in Czernowitz in the 1920s
|Photo by: "Ghosts of Home," courtesy of the authors|
Talking about the past among the families of survivors was particularly difficult. Why did some make it when most did not? No matter how witnesses dealt with the past, whether in silence and secrecy or through obsessive engagement and idealization, the generation that followed, the children, felt overwhelmed as much by what was left unexplained, by the gaps and contradictions, as much as by what was said.
For children born during the war and shortly thereafter, the challenge was to construct a coherent history that approximated the verifiable and simplistic sense of the past shared by children with families and homes that were comparatively intact. Delving into the past became imperative, if only to reject it. This predicament led the authors of this book, distinguished scholars who have spent much of their lives dealing with memory and history, and both of whom are themselves children of survivors, to write about Czernowitz, the place from which their parents, and their parents’ closest friends, came and about which their parents spoke constantly.
The authors brought their aged parents back to Czernowitz, today a city called Chernivtsi, in Ukraine, after the fall of the Soviet Union. They returned without them several times as they gathered material for a book, researched the Jewish history of the city, joined other survivors and children of survivors in a group “roots” trip, participated in the burgeoning online community of descendants, and worked to establish a museum that would document prewar Jewish life in Czernowitz.
One particularly compelling part of the book describes how the authors, after completing their initial visits and research, then re-examined prewar and wartime family photographs in an effort to better understand the predicaments their parents faced and how they responded.
At the core of the book is a familiar paradox. Czernowitz was a thriving center of Jewish life and culture from the mid-19th century until World War II. The Jews in the city and its immediate environs, in the region of Bukowina, included traditional and religious Jews, activists and pioneers in the world of Yiddish culture and politics, all manner of Zionist organizations and proponents of the Hebrew language, acculturated German-speaking citizens loyal (in the spirit of Joseph Roth) to the Habsburg monarchy, Jews who were communists, and to a far lesser degree, Jews who embraced the Romanian culture rather than the German. The astonishing variety and vitality in Jewish life before 1939 speak to the multi-generational stability and health of the community, notwithstanding the ever-present anti-Semitism among aristocrats and peasants of all ethnicities, notably Ukrainian and Romanian.
One of the most difficult things for any Jew alive today is to understand and accept with empathy how normal and how rooted Jews were in Eastern and Central Europe, particularly under Habsburg rule, in the era before Hitler. Those who immigrated to America and Palestine between 1880 and 1938 were a minority. For most of the Jews living in Czernowitz − and indeed all over Europe − the Holocaust, despite Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s prophetic warnings, was not a predictable historical inevitability, a catastrophe that could have been foreseen if only Jews, particularly those comfortably integrated into the middle-class culture of educated German-speaking urban elites, had possessed a more candid and pessimistic understanding of the radical implications of late 19th-century European anti-Semitism.
The variety of Jewish reactions − first to the rise of fascism, particularly Nazism, and then to the threat and reality of war − correlated with differences in class and geographical location, and with the ways Jews defined themselves culturally and politically. The way the victims thought about what was happening and what might happen − the choices individuals believed they faced − in turn mirrored expectations drawn from different constructs of the history and place of the Jews. Zionists and Communists reacted differently from each other, and those with allegiances to the legacy of a more benign Habsburg dynastic politics had yet another response.
A lost, almost mythic home
But Hirsch and Spitzer’s book is not about what happened and why. Rather, it is an effort to reconstruct the world before the destruction, more through the prism of survivor recollection than through historical research. The book does offer some straight history as well, such as a long overdue account of the brutality of the Romanian participation in the persecution and extermination of Jews. Written by authors born during the war years who have no direct memories of that period, “Ghosts of Home” seeks to paint a picture by negotiating memory as distorted by nostalgia, denial, shame and fear. The authors’ goal was to gain an image for themselves of a lost, almost mythic home and heritage.
As someone born after the war in Europe of Eastern European Jewish parents, I empathize with the impulse eloquently and unabashedly put forth by the authors, a husband-and-wife team. They were both brought up with a language from a home they never knew. They heard endless tales of a place they could only conjure in their imaginations, constructed at best with the help of a few photographs that chronicled individuals who, for the most part, did not survive. They tasted the food and absorbed the habits and prejudices of a world at once sentimentalized and reviled. Much as the authors would like to resist the temptation to become sentimental and selective, by taking as a starting point the process of survival, the extension of memory and the return of their parents to the place they once called home and in which they had been young, they cannot help but leave readers with an image of Czernowitz that raises more questions than it answers.
For all the authors’ effort to interpolate a more comprehensive and less blatantly subjective account of the past, the personal is not transcended, neither by attempts at theoretical musings on the nature of memory nor by close critical readings of the tales of survivors themselves. But this is not a criticism, for the book is about the present and our struggle with defining the past. To deconstruct the personal would have demanded a heartlessness and distance Hirsch and Spitzer thankfully lack.
By now the children of survivors are themselves quite advanced in years. Most members of this second generation live in the United States, Israel, Canada or Australia. What they have in common is the experience of unanswered questions and extreme contradictions. How can the violent destruction of Jews and Jewish life between 1933 and 1945 be reconciled with the inevitable fragments of nostalgia and the sense of loss that emerge from the idealization of a pre-war culture, language and community life whose history extends back to the late 19th century? And how can one describe the experience of families before the restoration of ghettos, and the creation of concentration camps, that does not conform to a reductive picture of European Jewry?
That simplified account portrays Jews as either deluded by the promise and reality of acculturation (notwithstanding Gershom Scholem, the actual functioning symbiosis of middle-class Jews and German culture), or as paralyzed, poor, provincial and profoundly traditional (whether or not they are Hasidic) – the sort of Jews S. Y. Agnon so brilliantly brought to life in his novels. How does one reconcile the murder of family members and the loss of all worldly possessions with fond memories of cafes, pastries and cute idioms that evoke the use of German as the language of intimacy?
These questions led the authors to write an unusual book, organized by a mix of past and present. Much of the narrative is in the first person, structured by their visits to Czernowitz, the first of which took place in the 1990s. Their subject was once a multilingual city, many of whose Jewish inhabitants were middle class and German-speaking. The city itself was, until 1918, an important but provincial outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In that period, Czernowitz saw itself as a diminutive Vienna. Some Jews remember it as having a sense of grandeur, while others saw it as limited, its aspirations notwithstanding. After 1918, the city became part of Romania; the Soviet Union took control of it briefly, in 1941; and then it again became part of Romania. Ultimately, it fell under Nazi occupation and became part of the Soviet Union until the establishment of an independent Ukraine.
What justifies wider interest in Czernowitz and Bukowina is the remarkable contribution to literature made by writers from the region, not only in German but in Romanian and, in the case of Aharon Appelfeld, in Hebrew. The most famous of these writers was Paul Celan, arguably the greatest German poet of the second half of the 20th century. If Franz Kafka − a Jew from Prague, a city distant from the center of German-speaking Europe − has sparked interest in the social and cultural history of that city’s Jewry, Celan has drawn attention to Czernowitz and the history and culture of its Jews, if for no other reason than to shed light on his origins and influences. This book makes clear how much any language can gain from being used by people living far from a major city and who are surrounded by many different languages, all used interchangeably. This point was made powerfully by the young Fritz Mauthner in the philosopher’s memoir of his own childhood in Prague.
To the authors’ credit, they are explicit in warning the reader that their intent is not actually to find answers to the nagging and impossible questions about the process of destruction itself, or even about what was destroyed. What lends the book its coherence is an attempt to probe the process of memory and, more significantly, the logic of recollection. The Czernowitz that Hirsch and Spitzer seek to recover through memory was largely defined by language and the middle-class Jewish allegiance to all things German. The city was defined by its role as a distant outpost of Habsburg culture and its architectural and culinary evocations of Vienna. By following the fate of a few families, the authors reveal the self-appointed role assumed by many Jews as defenders of that Habsburg identity. Hirsch and Spitzer communicate the shocking realization of powerlessness brought to the Jews of Czernowitz through their persecution by the Nazis, Romanians and Soviets.
This book is more about how we have chosen to remember the Jewish experience in the past than it is about what that past might actually have been like. But it is well worth reading as a powerful account of survival and exile, and of the impact those phenomena can have on children.
One learns more about Czernowitz the legend than about the real people, politics and culture of the prewar city. For that, those fluent in German should read Ilana Shmueli’s fine 2006 book, “Ein Kind aus guter Familie: Czernowitz 1924-1944.” But it is precisely the gaps between contemporary fragments and fictions and past realities that make this book fascinating and poignant. After all, the way modern Jewry in America and Israel construes the 20th-century European Jewish experience will continue to affect Jews’ image of themselves, and therefore their politics.
Prof. Leon Botstein is the president of Bard College and the music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
Review in Tikkun
A GREAT YEARNING FILLS THEM ALL…
GHOSTS OF HOME: THE AFTERLIFE OF CZERNOWITZ IN JEWISH MEMORY
by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer
University of California Press, 2010
Review by Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi
"These fragments I have shored against my ruins ... " The conclusion of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land" (1922) gave voice to what would become an entire century's experience of ruins. It was matched, seventeen years later, by Walter Benjamin's image of the angel of history who moves toward the future while staring at the "wreckage" of the past. The search for an aesthetic and epistemological language of representation out of the shards of lives that were destroyed first by "progress" and then by two world wars becomes increasingly elusive and desperate. Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer is one of the most eloquent culminations of that search and a powerful indicator of the physical and cultural traces that survive into the twenty-first century.
Of all the places that came under the sign of the swastika -- with the possible exception of Warsaw -- Czernowitz seems to have produced the most lasting cultural monuments. This book encompasses the story of a city that changed its national, cultural, and linguistic identity four times in the twentieth century alone: it entered the century as Czernowitz, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1774-1918) but was later incorporated into Romania as Cernăuţi with the collapse of the empire; invaded by the Soviets in 1940; overrun by the Nazis in 1941; recaptured by the Soviets in 1944 and incorporated into the USSR as Chernovtsy; and claimed by the Ukrainians as Chernivtsi with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
The story within the story is even more dizzying: since most of the survivors who identify themselves as "Czernowitzers" were born after 1918, the city they treasure was already something of a ghostly presence even in their own childhood. What the authors come to call "the idea of Czernowitz" is a place that "cannot be found in any contemporary atlas." Like so many other centers of Jewish culture -- Prague, Budapest, Galicia, and of course Vienna itself -- the Austro-Hungarian Empire had left its architectural mark on the landscape and its linguistic mark on the Jews who had become enfranchised into bourgeois European culture through their allegiance to the German language. Even if some of the most important Jewish writers and poets who hailed from Czernowitz and the surrounding region of the Bukovina would exchange their German for Yiddish, the language of the folk (as did Itzik Manger), or for Hebrew, the language of collective asylum and "rebirth" (as did Dan Pagis and Aharon Appelfeld), it is the German of Paul Celan or Rose Ausländer that most embodies the primordial loyalty to and struggle within the language that Ausländer calls her "motherland." As Celan (who wrote early postwar poems in Romanian and would live out his last decades in French) said publicly in 1958, when he travelled to Bremen to receive a literary prize, "there remained in the midst of the losses this one thing: language.... But it had to pass through its own answerlessness, pass through frightful muting, pass through the thousand darknesses of deathbringing speech.... Passed through and came to light again, ‘enriched' by all this."
Still, the enduring "idea of Czernowitz" is not only the well-deserved afterlife of a multilingual and multicultural city that had been incubated under the benign gaze of Franz Joseph. It is also due to one unlikely act by one man, a bureaucrat even more obscure than Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, who just happened to be in the right place at the right moment with the right qualities of heart and mind. The intervention of the city's mayor, Traian Popovici, with the Romanian fascist authorities in October, 1941, was the single most determining factor in the survival of nearly half -- some 30,000 -- of Czernowitz's prewar Jewish population, including Marianne's parents. Compare that with a survival rate of less than 30 percent of the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe as a whole.
But this is a story that can be stitched together from the extant testimonies and histories. What makes Ghosts of Home so unique is that it combines, almost seamlessly, the perspective of a historian (Leo) and a literary scholar (Marianne) with the first-person testimony of Marianne's parents, Carl and Lotte, who were born in Czernowitz between the wars and who accompanied their daughter and son-in-law on their first trip to the city in 1998. It also binds in the perspectives of other survivors, their children, and the voices that emerge from the archives. I say "almost seamlessly" because the ostensibly ragged juxtaposition of discourses is self-conscious and reflexive, and literally breathes life into the story. Lapses of personal memory are allowed to exist alongside bursts of recollection and carefully researched documentary evidence; "impersonal" photographs of hapless Jewish deportees thronging the banks of the Dniester in 1941 share these pages with a tiny photograph of Carl and Lotte as newlyweds walking arm-in-arm on the Herrengasse. The photo is marked "Cz. 1942" and gives a deceptive sense of normalcy, except for that tiny white smudge on Carl's lapel. Is it the yellow star? The reckless space where the star is supposed to be?
In their role as guides to the city in 1998, Carl and Lotte convey their own brands of emotional immediacy along with a sense of the burden and privilege of history, producing, at times, revealing conflicts: as Carl is telling the story of the compliance of a majority of the residents of the Ghetto with the deportation order (to, as it turns out, the desolate region of Transnistria, where tens of thousands of Jews would perish), Lotte interjects that a "Romanian soldier came to our door and said, ‘Ok, now you have to go.'" Carl, impatient, says: "We all knew. We have to tell the same story. The soldier is beside the point. The Jewish Council said, get ready." Then Marianne picks up the thread and ruminates: "Did a soldier come to the door to summon them to get out, or were they already prepared to do so anyway? Did it really matter? These were things we would have to sort out later, I knew."
She never really sorts it out. What we have here is a rare glimpse into the process of historical reconstruction, along with a self-conscious interrogation of agency and of both its world-historical and its very personal results. If Mayor Traian Popovici had not insisted to the governor that certain Jews were too important to be left to an uncertain fate; and if a neighbor hadn't come along while Carl and his extended family were waiting with their bundles to be transported to their yet-unknown destination, pulled Carl aside, and told him the rumor that some professionals were going to be allowed to stay in Czernowitz; and if Carl hadn't acted on impulse and taken the eleven members of his family back into the ghetto, where they would eventually return to their homes and survive the war; and if he had followed his best friend and sought refuge deep inside the Soviet Union instead of staying in Czernowitz ... would Marianne have been born?
Before dismissing such questions as trivial, please stop to search yourself: what are the contingencies that have shaped your life?
In many ways this is a book not about the inevitabilities of history, but about its contingencies, its impossible but fateful choices and its myriad small acts of chesed.
Like the last, technicolor scene in Schindler's List, but without the kitsch, this book is a story of the present. As the current Ukrainian administration put together its version of the city to celebrate, in 2008, the six-hundred-year anniversary of a place now called Chernivtsi, with very little room designated to represent the story of the Jews, and most of that devoted to religious relics, it is the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Carl and Lotte and their generation who carry its traces.
"Many of us thought, Romania is not Germany," Carl told us, [recalling the mindset of the Czernowitzers in the late 1930s]. We had interrupted our walk through the city in order to have coffee and a pastry, but continued to videotape Carl and Lotte as we carried on with our conversation. "We were hoping that war could be avoided."
Carl's narrative, which is often cast in the first-person plural, has the immediacy of memory and the force of history. But the interruption for coffee and pastry may be the most powerful testament to the "afterlife" of Czernowitz in the appetites and life projects of Carl's and Lotte's daughter and son-in-law. It is a modest counterpart to both the hapless pledge of the Jewish partisans during the war -- "mir zeinin do!" -- and the arrogant flag-waving of Israeli youth in Krakow or Auschwitz today.
There are three layers of history and memory represented in this book: prewar, wartime, and postwar. But it is the last that is the most gripping: the journey that Marianne takes in the wake of what she herself, as theorist of memory, calls her own and her generation's "postmemory." Born to the postmemory of a world that was already a ghostly presence in her parents' generation and then was completely obliterated, Marianne has, as her father says, "no Heimat." But she has something else. So many of us who were fortunate to have been born during the war but elsewhere, or during the war but survived, or after the war, search for physical remains in which to anchor memory. Those fragments Marianne would shore up against her ruins take the form of a few tiles from the stove that warmed Lotte as a child (I won't reveal to the reader whether she in fact succeeds in procuring them). For me it is a fragment of a tombstone from the overgrown Jewish cemetery of my mother's hometown of Ostrowiecz, Poland, that sits on my desk in Jerusalem. We invest these shards with the aura of authenticity and with what Yehuda Amichai calls, in reference to the broken gravestone on his desk, a "great yearning":
... The other fragments, hundreds upon hundreds,
were scattered helter-skelter, and a great yearning,
a longing without end, fills them all:
first name in search of family name, date of death seeks
dead man's birthplace, son's name wishes to locate
name of father, date of birth seeks reunion with soul
that wishes to rest in peace. And until they have found
one another, they will not find perfect rest.
Only this stone lies calmly on my desk and says "Amen."
(Open Closed Open, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld)
Ghosts of Home collects the fragments of one place and provides us with an artifact that is as close as we will ever come to "perfect rest."
Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi is professor of comparative literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2007, she became a Guggenheim Fellow for her current project on "Jerusalem and the Poetics of Return."
Source Citation: Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven. 2010. "A Great Yearning Fills Them All." Tikkun 25(6): 64
Reviewed by Monica Szurmuk
Almost a decade ago historian Natalie Zemon Davis wrote about the differences in the “hunger” to know about the past, positing a conflict between the descendants of those who had suffered a traumatic experience and the curiosity of the professional historian, who came to the same material with different questions. Aware of this emotional gap, historians and cultural critics have been grappling with finding ways to tell compelling stories that are true to the archive and the hard facts but also evoke the individual experiences of those who were part of the past. As a result, academics have been bringing their own empathic responses into their texts, telling stories that are not only true to their sources (in the case of history) but also interesting to read as literature. For many historians, spinning stories is as important as researching them.
Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer’s monumental book “Ghosts of Home” is a stunning marriage of intellectual curiosity and personal search. In the process, Hirsch, a literary critic, and historian Spitzer stretch the limits of academic writing. This volume, along with their recent works “Family Frames” and “Hotel Bolivia,” have been explorations into embodied cultural history, cultural studies at its best. While most academic writing still relegates the personal to the acknowledgment page, Spitzer and Hirsch have been making their readers privy to some of their family history for over a decade.
We know that Hirsch and Spitzer are a married couple, children of European Jews who escaped the Holocaust, Spitzer’s in exile in Bolivia, Hirsch’s in Romanian Cernãuti. We already know some of their family history and have seen personal family photographs that acquire importance in the context of “Ghosts of Home.”. In this work, they bring the experience of previous research – Hirsch’s work on photography and memory; Spitzer’s on exile and memory and German culture – into material that both allows and requires a more personal involvement as well as thorough library and archival research.
The idea for “Ghosts of Home” came during a trip with Hirsch’s parents to Czernowitz, the city where they lived the first part of their lives, as children of emancipated Jews in the easternmost German-speaking metropolis of Europe. Lotte and Carl Hirsch guide their children through the city where they were born, a place where Jews had been awarded possibilities and status within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a political entity, Czernowitz ceased to exist in 1918, but it remained alive in the memories and the writings of the German-speaking Jews who called it home. After First World War, the city fell under Romanian authority, and after WWII under Soviet rule. It is now a part of modern day Ukraine but it is still holds different layers of history, languages, and memories, a place where in the words of Czernowitzian poet Paul Celan, people and books lived.
“Ghosts of Home” reads with the poignancy of memoir, yet in a collective voice. Spitzer and Hirsch wrote the book together and their voices merge and mingle into each other. The overarching authorial voice is nuanced and reflective but also informed. The researchers embark on four different trips to the city: the first one with Hirsch’s parents in 1998, and the last one in 2008 for the celebration of Czernowitz’s six-hundredth anniversary. During one of the visits they also visit the region of Transnitria where Jews were deported during the Holocaust. The research on the Vapniarka camp is amazingly detailed and throws light on the special characteristics of the Holocaust in Romania, and on the distinctions between extermination and work camps.
An interesting tidbit in the book is the analysis of one of photographs of the Hirsches during the war. In one of them there is a spot on Carl Hirsch’s lapel that the writers think might be the Star of David that Jews were required to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe. Hirsch and Spitzer do extensive research on the use of the Star, interview different survivors, read memoirs, and keep enlarging the photograph until it is a blur, an approach reminiscent of the obsession of the translator-photographer in Julio Cortázar´s brilliant short story “Las babas del diablo.” The spot never reveals itself unequivocally to be a Star or not. The haunting ambiguity about the past – what was, what could have been — is present throughout the text. We all know that memory is selective, capricious, fastidious. Some elements are forever lost, while others endure and are passed on.
“Ghosts of Home” is a testimony to Czernowitz and its inhabitants, but also a homage all the Jews at the turn of the twentieth century who embraced modernity and civic life with ardor and passion in Europe and in the Americas. It shows the nuanced ways in which emancipation marked a generation, and defined its life, before, throughout, and after the Nazi terror. But it is also a book about buildings, about books, about the theatre, the opera, and political activism. It is a fascinating reconstruction of a place throughout the twentieth century, with a special emphasis on the power players who dominated it – from Austro-Hungarian Czernowitz to Romanian Cernauti, Soviet Chernovsty, and Chernivtsi in the Ukraine. Above all it is a book about home, family, and loss.
Mónica Szurmuk is Professor of Literature and Cultural Studies at the Instituto Mora in Mexico City. She is the author of “Mujeres en viaje: escritos y testimonios,” “Women in Argentina, Early Travel Narratives,” “Memoria y ciudadanía,” and co-editor of the “Diccionario de estudios culturales latinoamericanos.”
REVIEW IN MEMORY STUDIES
Memory Studies 4(3) 336–352Book reviews © The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1750698011403118 mss.sagepub.com
Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer Ghosts of Home:The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. 392pp. $39.95. ISBN 9790520257726
Reviewed by: Judith Friedlander, Hunter College, CUNY, USA
Ghosts of Home reconstructs the memories of Jews who survived the Second World War in Czernowitz (Cern••u••i), a city located in Northern Bukowina, which belonged to Romania during most of the war. Known as Chernivtsi today, the city now is part of Ukraine. Generally speaking, the Jews of Romania survived the war in greater numbers, proportionately, than did Jews in most other parts of Eastern Europe, but not in borderland regions such as Bukowina. With the singular exception of 20,000 Jews in Czernowitz, the Jews of Northern Bukowina suffered the full impact of Hitler’s genocidal campaign. As Hirsch and Spitzer put it:
[D]espite an elaborate plan announced in Bucharest in August 1942 to make Romania entirely judenrein by sending all Jews to Belzec, and despite a longstanding history of virulent Romanian anti-Semitism, a majority of Jews who inhabited the Romanian Regat – the heartland – survived the war … The Jews of the border regions, on the other hand, especially those living in Northern Bukowina that had been annexed by the Soviet Union under the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1940-41, suffered a much harsher fate. (p. 172)
The Jews of Czernowitz owed their relative good fortune to the courageous intervention of the city’s mayor, a remarkable man by the name of Traian Popovici. Against extraordinary odds, Popovici protected at least 20,000 Jews, including Marianne Hirsch’s parents, the experiences of whom the authors describe in vivid detail throughout the pages of this fascinating book. Carl and Lotte (née Gottfried) Hirsch grew up in the city during the interwar period. As the authors describe Carl and Lotte’s Czernowitz years, they offer a rich and nuanced portrait of the wider community of assimilated Jews to which Marianne’s parents belonged, using excerpts from historical docu•ments, memoirs, novels, poems, photographs and interviews conducted in the city during the late 1990s and the early years of the 21st century. Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer made four visits to Czernowitz between 1998 and 2008 – the first time with Carl and Lotte.
Inspired by writers as varied as Eva Hoffman and Art Spiegelman, Hirsch and Spitzer have made a new and significant contribution to a large body of literature by and about ‘children of the Holocaust,’ more specifically to works by children who travelled back to the places where their parents grew up and/or survived the war. In making these symbolic ‘returns’ Hirsch and Spitzer wanted to walk the streets with Carl and Lotte, to see the buildings and touch the tiles of places Marianne had tried to visualize over the years as she listened to her parents describe the city before and during the war – as if ‘being there’ herself would give new meaning to the haunting memories she had inherited. Hirsch and Spitzer call memories such as Marianne’s and those of other children of survivors ‘postmemories’.
As Hirsch puts it:
My ‘memory’, is a ‘postmemory’. Mediated by the stories, images, and behaviors among which I grew up, it never added up to a complete picture or linear tale. Its power to overshadow my own memories derives precisely from the layers – both positive and negative – that have been passed down to me unintegrated, conflicting, fragmented, dispersed. (p. 9)
Ghosts of Home is a clear must for scholars and general readers interested in studies of individual and collective memories. This review will focus primarily on the book’s contribution to a large body of works published since the Second World War on Czernowitz and on the various ways people have recreated the collective memory of the city. Hirsch and Spitzer compare and contrast these different representations as they try to make sense out of what they call the ‘idea of Czernowitz’. In a recent review by Aharon Appelfeld of another book about Czernowitz, the Israeli novelist noted:
It is doubtful that another small city in the world has inspired so many books and articles as Czernowitz … In Germany, Austria and other places in the world, among Jews and non-Jews alike, the name Czernowitz evokes great amazement, as though possessing some captivating charm … The Jews were the yeast that created the ferment; about 50,000 of them lived in Czernowitz before World War II, approximately one-third of the population. They led a vibrant public life – and included among them assimilationists, Zionists, Bundists, Yiddishists, and a large Hasidic Community. There was a splendid Reform-style temple but also many small synagogues. The press, theater, and the literary music worlds were all in the hands of Jews. They saw to it that their children attended the best secondary schools and that on completion of their studies attended university. Many would leave for Vienna, Berlin or Paris, but a considerable number returned to Czernowitz upon earning their degrees. (Appelfeld, 2008)
In the early years of the 20th century Czernowitz defined the northeast border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the last frontier, in the eyes of many at the time, of civilized Europe. Called the ‘Vienna of the East’ the official language of the city was German, but the vast majority of the inhab•itants spoke other languages as well: Yiddish, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian (Ukrainian) to name the most common. Czernowitz was the kind of city, to quote Tony Judt (2010), ‘where cosmopolitanism [was] not so much an identity as the normal condition of life’. And the list of such urban centers, Judt reminds us, was impressively long. Some of these cities were large, such as Sarajevo, Alexandria, Tangiers, Salonica, Odessa, Beirut and Istanbul; others smaller such as Czernowitz and Uzhhorod. Whatever the size, each one of them had ‘multiple communities and languages often mutually antagonistic, occasionally clashing, but somehow coexisting’ (Judt, 2010).
After winning the war in 1918 the allies dismantled the Austro-Hungarian Empire and gave Bukowina to Romania, one of the 13 new states created by the Versailles Treaty. For people like the Hirsches and Gottfrieds, this new political reality did not alter their cultural allegiances. Lotte and Carl may have gone to Romanian-language schools in the interwar period, but their families continued to speak German at home and identify themselves with the literary and artistic fashions emanating from Vienna.
According to the map of interwar Europe, the inhabitants of Czernowitz now lived in the Romanian city of Cern••u••i. The streets all had Romanian names too, but young assimilated Jews like Carl and Lotte made dates to meet friends on what they still called the Herrengasse. It mattered little to them or to members of their parents’ generation that the street sign now read Iancu Flondor. In June 1940, several months after Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression pact and divided Europe between them, Cern••u••i became part of the USSR and its name changed again to Chernovtsy (written in Cyrillic script) – at least for a year. Twelve months later the Nazis declared war on the Soviet Union, invaded Chernovtsy and returned the city to their Romanian allies, who immediately changed its name back to Cern••u••i. And so the city remained until 1945, when it became part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine and assumed once again its Russian identity. Finally, when Ukraine declared its independence from Russia in December 1991, Chernovtsy’s name was translated into Ukrainian. Contemporary maps now identify the city as Chernivtsi, and locate it within the borders of the new state of Ukraine. Today the official language of the city is Ukrainian and the names of the streets mark Ukrainian historic places and heroes.
For the most part, ‘the idea’ of Czernowitz described on the pages of this book is the German-speaking city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a place remembered lovingly by assimilated Jews who remained faithful to the language and culture of Franz Josef. It was almost as if the culture of the old empire protected the Jews of interwar Cern••u••i from the wounds of anti-Semitism inflicted on them regularly in the Romanian language, not in German. The culture with which they identified was represented by poets such as Paul Celan who continued to write in German, even after the Second World War, in contrast to novelists such as Aharon Appelfeld, who aban•doned German for Yiddish and Hebrew. Although they both wrote bitterly about the world they had lost, their languages and inflections were different. When Appelfeld wrote nostalgically about Bukowina, he remembered the ‘premodern rural, maternal world in the countryside, the Yiddish shtetl life of his grandparents that offers warmth and joy, and a small degree of protec•tion from the ruins of the cosmopolitan diaspora that surround his child protagonists’ (quoted in Hirsch and Spitzer’s book on p. 292).
The Jews of Czernowitz, Appelfeld reminds us, had different ways of identifying themselves as Jews and these differences had an impact on how they remembered the city. Hirsch and Spitzer carefully describe this diversity, pointing out, for example, that even Marianne’s father had joined Hashomer Hatzair, the Socialist-Zionist movement that urged Jews to speak Hebrew, but paradoxi•cally, Marianne observed while interviewing her father, ‘“the Hashomer seemed to consolidate your allegiance to German language and culture.” (He) did not disagree’ (p. 85).
In the case of Appelfeld, however, who was orphaned during the Second World War, he rejected the German language that his parents had also taught him and their world of assimilated Jews. For people like him, the idea of Czernowitz evoked the multi-lingual Jewish community, chosen as the site of a famous conference in 1908, where Jewish intellectuals and political activ•ists gathered to determine whether Yiddish should become the national language of the Jewish people. The participants in this historic gathering came from many different provinces and states; the most prominent of them were from centers of Jewish culture in Czarist Russia. After heated debates the assembled agreed to recognize Yiddish as only one of the possible Jewish languages, along with Hebrew.
Why did Jewish nationalists hold their meeting in Austria-Hungary? Because Franz Josef was more tolerant than Nicholas II on questions of cultural diversity, even though he refused to recog•nize Yiddish as a national language. Debates were raging across several ‘national’ communities in Austria–Hungary at the time. According to the eminent sociolinguist Joshua Fishman, ‘many seg•ments of [Austria–Hungary’s] hitherto significantly Germanized Jewish intelligentsia were already struggling to revise their attitudes toward Yiddish – a struggle that was particularly crucial for that period in Austro-Hungarian cultural politics vis à vis Germans, Poles, Ukrainians/ Ruthenians, and Jews in the Bovina and in Galicia as well’ (1983: 375). But why hold the meeting in Czernowitz, rather than in a better known center of Yiddish culture? Because the main convener of the conference, Nathan Birnbaum, had decided to leave Vienna and make Czernowitz the center of his political/linguistic campaign.
Aside from the obvious personal reasons, Hirsch and Spitzer defend their decision to concen•trate on Czernowitz’s German-speaking Jewish community, because, they claim, these Jews were the most significant group in the region in the early years of the 20th century:
For the majority of Bukowina and Czernowitz Jews until the end of the [Austro-Hungarian] empire, German remained the predominant language of choice in communication and the acquisition of cultural capital. Ranging broadly across the political and social spectrum, these included political moderates, who believed that anti-Semitic upsurges, exclusions and brutalities were passing aberrations, as well as democratic socialists and ‘Golus’ or ‘diaspora nationalists’ – those who opposed assimilation and wanted Jews accepted as a culturally and religiously self-directed, if not self-governing, distinct national group within the framework of the Habsburg multinational state. (pp. 42–3)
Demographers might want to challenge the authors’ claim that German was the predominant lan•guage among Jews in Bukowina at the time, even if the census supported it. As Yiddish was not recognized as one of the national languages spoken in the empire, the Jews were forced to identify themselves on the census form with one of the languages that was. On the other hand, it is generally agreed that the leaders of the various Jewish nationalist movements spoke predominantly Russian (in Czarist Russia) and/or German (in Austria–Hungary) among themselves. In many cases the Austrian champions of Jewish national languages spoke Yiddish and/or Hebrew poorly, if at all, including Nathan Birnbaum. What is more, in promoting language nationalism, intellectuals like Birnbaum also embraced the philosophical traditions of German Romanticism that justified the exclusion of the Jewish people from Austrian and German society. As Hirsch and Spitzer aptly put it: ‘Even in their opposition to German and other national languages of assimilation, Zionists and diaspora nationalists had absorbed German Romantic notions about the indelible spiritual bond between language and Volk – the very same assumptions indeed that were used by German-exclusivist nationalists to keep out “others,” especially Jews, and to draw a circle of inclusion around their own’ (p. 43).
The authors of Ghosts of Home did not set out to write a complete cultural history of Czernowitz, but to reconstruct the world inhabited by Marianne Hirsch’s family. This they do beautifully, in much of its cultural and political complexity, enhancing the personal narrative with material writ•ten by and about other assimilated Jews such as themselves. The book also explores the ways the children of Czernowitz survivors appropriated, interpreted and transformed the memories of their parents, both shared and imagined, as they tried to understand what their mothers and fathers had experienced. In Ghosts of Home, Hirsch and Spitizer walk the streets with Carl and Lotte and see the places they had heard about many times before, but had never experienced with the same level of intensity. The visit was deeply moving for everyone.
Many will welcome this work as a significant contribution to memory studies and the literature of return; others as providing little known details about the lives of some of the 20,000 Jews of Czernowitz who escaped the fate of tens of thousands of Jews throughout Northern Bukowina, thanks to the city’s mayor. Traian Popovici succeeded in saving these particular Jews by claiming to the authorities that he could not run the city without the skilled labor of its Jewish population. He could not, however, stop the deportation of 30,000 others, half of whom died in camps located nearby in Transnistria. Hirsch and Spitzer visited Transnistria as well with the hope of finding traces of these internment centers, which they eventually did, despite the efforts of most of the people they met to deny that the camps had ever existed. Even by the shameful standards of the time, living conditions in the camps of Transnistria were horrifying.
Marianne Hirsch’s family – parents, grandparents and other members of the extended family – spent most of the war years living in their own apartments. In October 1941 they were forced briefly out of their homes and into the city’s hastily constructed ghetto, but a few weeks later they returned. While living in the ghetto, Carl and Lotte received permission from the Romanian police to go to Cern••u••i’s City Hall to get married by a judge in an official civil ceremony.
Marianne’s father was an engineer, a much needed profession in wartime Cern••u••i. He had work; the family had food, not in abundance to be sure, but they did not starve. Life was terrible and gratuitously humiliating during this time, but virtually all members of the Hirsch and Gottfried families managed to get by. Carl and Lotte walked freely in the streets, wearing the hateful yellow star, but they lived openly as Jews. Although they had several close calls, their daily lives by and large had little in common with the reality of the vast majority of Jews struggling to survive in Eastern Europe. At times Carl and Lotte delighted in defying the laws that discriminated against Jews, or so it seemed on a photo, taken of the couple on the streets of Cern••u••i in 1942 by a profes•sional photographer, in which neither one of them was visibly wearing the yellow star (p. 165).
Carl and Lotte Hirsch were clearly very lucky, but what makes their story particularly compelling is that they were not alone. Hirsh and Spitzer report that there were between 60,000 and 70,000 Jews in Cern••u••i before the Second World War. After the Hitler–Stalin Pact, when northern Bukowina became part of the Soviet Union, Romanians fled in both directions. Some went south, into fascist Romania, including some Jews, who feared communism more than fascism; others fled north, par•ticularly those committed to various forms of socialism. People such as Marianne’s father welcomed the communists with enthusiasm, but Carl soon changed his mind, after living in Czernowitz under Stalinist rule, during which time he witnessed the deportation of Jews and Gentiles to Siberia. When Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union the following year and ‘liberated’ Cern••u••i in June 1941, thousands of people fled once again. Many retreated with the Red Army. Carl would have gone too, despite his reservations about Soviet Communism, but Lotte’s family wanted to remain.
According to Traian Popovici, on whose demographic information Hirsch and Spitzer rely heavily, by August 1941 there were about 50,000 Jews left in the city. Approximately 30,000 Jews were deported in October and November of 1941 and an additional 4,000 in 1942. Half of them perished. Using census figures and ration-card records Popovici estimated that he succeeded in keeping 16,000 Jews in Cern••u••i legally and another 4,000 illegally.
In 1945, after the Soviet army liberated Czernowitz, Carl and Lotte moved to Bucharest, in an effort to escape living under communism again. Two years later Romania became a communist state as well. Eager to move either to western Europe or the USA, the Hirsches began the endless process of applying for exit visas, which they finally received in 1961.
Marianne was born in 1949 in Timi••oara, a city located in western Romania. A few months later, the family moved back to Bucharest, where they remained until they left the country. Marianne attended school in the Romanian language, but following the tradition of assimilated Jews from Czernowitz, she spoke German at home.
The book is organized around the four visits the authors made to Chernivtsi between 1998 and 2008. On the first trip with Marianne Hirsch’s parents, the authors accompanied Carl and Lotte back to the famous streets whose names Marianne had learned in German, to hear once again about the events that took place on this corner or that under Romanian street signs. By the time she and Leo saw these very same streets the signs, of course, were in Ukrainian. The authors visited the apartments where Carl and Lotte lived – a few things were still the same, a stove here; some tiles there. They saw the corner where Carl made the split-second decision that saved the family from deportation, which was no longer a corner; and the bridge over which the survivors of the camps in Transnistria returned to Cern••u••i. They also met a few cousins who had never moved away and were still living in the city.
During the later trips without Carl and Lotte, Marianne and Leo did archival research, walked the streets again, and conducted more interviews. In 2000, for example, they went to the offices of the Registry of Marriages and Births, located on what the authors still stubbornly called the Herrengasse. There, with the help of a Ukrainian employee, they found the entry indicating that Marianne’s parents had married on 18 October 1941 in City Hall (casa comunal••). The document gave the home addresses of the couple’s parents, even though their families had just been evicted and were living in the ghetto at the time. It also gave their ages and occupations – Carl Hirsch 29, construction engineer of the Mosaic faith and Lotte, 23, student of the Mosaic faith. Mentioned as well were the names of the couple’s parents and those of Lotte’s sister and brother-in-law, who had been witnesses at the marriage. Hirsch and Spitzer returned triumphantly to the USA with the document (prepared for them in a Ukrainian translation!). To their amazement, however, Carl and Lotte did not share the same sense of excitement:
[W]e were taken aback by the fact that they hardly looked at it. Obviously, this official corroboration of their history – signaling their continued documentary presence in today’s Chernivtsi – meant a great deal more to us than to them. And, in fact, when we later looked through the documents they had brought along with them from Romania, we found an official marriage certificate, not from 1941, but a copy issued on December 30, 1950 in Timi••oara, stamped with Romanian Socialist Republic stamps’. (p. 179)
In 2006 the authors attended a reunion of survivors and their children; in 2008 they returned for the 600th anniversary celebration of what was now the Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi, during, which the history of the city’s Jews was virtually forgotten, even though 2008 was also the centenary year of the famous Czernowitz conference. Throughout the different parts of the book, Hirsch and Spitzer seamlessly weave together their historical reconstruction of the city, with evocative literary pas•sages, memoirs, interviews with survivors and the ‘postmemories’ of their children.
For this reviewer the least successful sections of the book are the authors’ theoretical reflections on ‘postmemory’. They interrupt the power of the multi-layered narrative Hirsch and Spitzer have so beautifully constructed, the compelling details of which seem to defy this kind of theorizing. Hirsch and Spitzer are more effective in their use of theory when they talk about poetry and fiction. Their discussion of Appelfeld’s work is particularly interesting; for example when they describe how ‘Appelfeld has inherited the “idea of Czernowitz” – the multicultural and cosmopolitan humanism that defines the assimilationist aspirations of Czernowitz Jews – only to the extent of exposing the false sense of promise to which Jews have turned out of naiveté, perhaps, or out of a sense of ignorance’ (p. 292).
What conclusions have Hirsch and Spitzer drawn? Writing this book seems to have shaken their ‘idea of Czernowitz’ as well. Had the war never happened, the city might have lost much of its importance in the collective memory of assimilated Jews of the interwar generation, many of whom had already been eager to get out in the mid-1930s. As Lotte Hirsch put it: ‘I could not wait to be old enough to leave. It was not to happen until after the war, but we traveled a great deal dur•ing my youth, and after visiting Vienna, Paris, and Berlin, Czernowitz seemed like a backwater.’ Her father and his friends would have most likely lived elsewhere as well: ‘By the mid-1930s … Carl and many of his friends had left to study and work in Romania. Would they have returned had the war not broken out? Perhaps the “idea of Czernowitz” which is, after all, largely an effect of its loss, tells only one side of a much more contradictory story’ (p. 291).
Appelfeld A (2008) A city that was and is no longer. A review of My Czernowitz, by Zvi Yavetz. Haaretez, 6
March. www.haaretz.com/news/a-city-that-was-and-is-no-longer-1.240681-cached Fishman J (1983) Never Say Die: A Thousand Years of Yiddishin Jewish Life and Letters. The Hague: Mouton
Publishers. Judt T (2010) Crossings. The New York Review of Books, 25 March, p. 15.
Downloaded from mss.sagepub.com by guest on July 7, 2011
REVIEW IN SHOFAR
Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory, by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. 362 pp. $39.95.
Only a few readers of the word “Czernowitz” will think of a present-day city in the Ukraine such as Lviv, Charkiv, or Kiev. Since “Czernowitz” is the German language version of Chernivtsi, for many a myth will come to mind, a myth that has to do with the poets Paul Celan and Rose Ausländer, with numerous newspapers in the city’s languages of Yiddish, Romanian, Ukrainian, Polish, and German, with the place of Erwin Chargaff, Joseph Schumpeter, Nathan Birnbaum, Itzig Manger, Eliezar Shteinbarg, Shlomo Bickel, Mihai Eminescu, Joseph Schmidt, Karl Emil Franzos, Zhu Bailan, Aharon Appelfeld, and many others, with the Yiddish language Conference in 1908, with the Chassidic rabbi dynasty of Sadagora, the numerous “Kaffehäuser,” a multicultural scenery, and much more. The dark side of this history is the center of this book’s research: the 1941 Ghetto of Cernăuţi and the deportation of more than 20,000 of its Jews to Transnistria during World War II. The authors ask why it is that so many of the generation of those who fled or were born only after their parents had left Czernowitz are today still fascinated or even obsessed by the German-Jewish culture, language, and history of this former Habsburg town. How do the former Jewish residents remember the city and the traumas of the German-Romanian occupation in World War II that brought a violent end to the German-Jewish history of Czernowitz?
Hirsch and Spitzer are very aware that this myth is not an object of historical facts alone but also of subjectively communicated feelings, emotions, and social forms of remembrance—especially if one is a member of this globally scattered diaspora of “Czernowitzers,” as Marianne Hirsch can claim (she was born after World War II of Czernowitz parents in Romanian Timişoara and raised in Bucharest; Leo Spitzer is from a Vienna background and was born in exile in Bolivia).
What the authors do is to examine the seams and patterns of Hirsch’s parents’ memory on a visit with them to Chernivtsi in 1998. In the architectural remnants of an almost undamaged former Habsburg town they explore how “real life” was for Hirsch’s parents in Romanian Cernăuţi before and during WWII and investigate how the history of the place intertwined with her parents’ lives. Many voices are heard in the growing choir of their relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, names, photographs, buildings, tile stoves, courts, the river Prut—they all offer different approaches to a gripping story of a happy middle class living in a busy town and hard survival in times of terror and war. The authors base much of their historical background of Jewish development on the two volume Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina (ed. Hugo Gold), which was published as a type of “Yizkor”-book in Israel in 1958 and 1962. Written from the perspective of surviving Czernowitz Zionist activists such as Mayer Ebner, the two volumes do not reflect too much on the political divergences between Zionists, Bundists, Yiddishists, Poale Zionists, etc. after WWI. On this part the history and very splintered political situation in Cernăuţi during the Romanian interwar period of Czernowitz is presented in a rather plain manner.
However, Hirsch and Spitzer dwell intensively on what the sound of the past means for themselves as the next generation. Hirsch has developed the notion of “postmemory” to describe the odd status of the children of former “Czernowitzers” who were raised and formed in their families with a permanent memory and discussion of a city and its Jewish life they actually had never seen so that they could recall all the former street and family names, the magazines, synagogues as a kind of “ghosts of home.” Through very careful hints we may gain awareness of how difficult it may have been for those next generation children to identify with the real places in their life such as Bucharest, Jerusalem, Chicago, or Melbourne.
After their first trip the authors go to Chernivtsi on three more occasions, the last on the occasion of the 600-year festivities of the city, during which they take part in the inauguration of a small Jewish museum. In 2006 they go to the first reunion that the internet group of worldwide Czernowitzers held in the city they are unable to forget. This virtual community (www.czernowitz.ehpes.com) wants to reunite as a real group of human beings with Czernowitz memories. On this occasion the authors accompany some participants who go to Transnistria, the land between Dniestr and Bug that in World War II was the place of the “silent Holocaust” where thousands of deported Bucovinian and Bessarabian Jews died of typhus, shooting, hunger, and cold. Hirsch and Spitzer develop a deeply reflective psychology and ethics of the memory of the trauma. It is one of several highlights of this outstanding book when the Ukrainian mayor of Shargorod, a town where many of Bucovinian Jews died in a camp, talks to a small group of survivors in simple but moving words about neglect and forgetting and asks them to accept a deeply felt apology.
What make this book a milestone in the research of the historical events in Romanian times and the afterlife of Czernowitz are its well adapted theories on how the Czernowitzers mourn loss and try to live on, how the history and psychology of this process can find its necessary closing narrative. Concentrating on the personal lives of a group of Czernowitzers and their migration and connection to other Czernowitzers all around the globe, this masterly written “story” gives the reader a vast horizon of what one can know today about the Jewish segment of a formerly multicultural Habsburgian and then Romanian town and its afterlife.
Marianne Hirsch, Leo Spitzer. Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. xxiv + 362 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-520-25772-6.
Reviewed by Andrei Corbea-Hoisie (University Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Iasi)
Published on HABSBURG (June, 2010)
Commissioned by Jonathan Kwan
Eine "Idee" von Czernowitz
Dass ein falscher Eindruck von dem Sinn ihres Unternehmens entstehen könnte, indem ihr Buch lediglich die Erfahrungen mehrerer Reisen auf der Suche nach ihren Wurzeln in der heute zwischen der Ukraine und Rumänien zerrissenen historischen Region Bukowina und besonders in deren Hauptstadt Tschernivtsi / Cernauti / Czernowitz zu sammeln scheine, leuchtet den beiden Autoren, dem Komparatisten-Ehepaar Marianne Hirsch und Leo Spitzer freilich ein. Das bekannte Rezept zahlreicher Produktionen dieser Sorte ist eigentlich einfach: die (Wieder)-Entdeckung von Orten und Objekten soll den Anlass anbieten, in der bekannten madeleine-Manier die Reflexe der mémoire involontaire und dadurch das retrospektive Aufrollen vergangener Zeitsequenzen auszulösen. Die übliche Montageart des Erinnerns von Geschichten in Berührung mit Gedächtnisorten blendet meistens die Warnung von Pierre Nora aus, der nachdrücklich auf eine Gefahr des Durcheinanders zwischen dem subjektiv geprägten menschlichen Gedächtnis und der Geschichte hingewiesen hatte, wenn es sich um die allgemeine Wahrnehmung zurückliegender "Fakten" handelt. Gerade eine ähnliche Problematisierung begleitet auch den Ansatz von Marianne Hirsch und Leo Spitzer, als sie eine ganze Reihe von Fragen aufzählen, die sich in Bezug auf die an sich lobenswerte Absicht stellen lassen, im zeitgenössischen Tschernivtsi ein Museum der lokalen jüdischen Geschichte einzurichten. Ein Dialog zwischen der Gegenwart und der Vergangenheit kann nicht--so die Autoren--ohne das Bewusstsein geführt werden, das eine Erklärung dafür, warum die ehemalige österreichische, rumänische und dann auch sowjetische Provinzstadt im Mittelosteuropa einen besonderen Platz im jüdischen Kollektivgedächtnis einnimmt, von zahlreichen Paradoxien, Widersprüchen und kontroversen Interpretationen gezeichnet ist, was von vornherein nicht nur eine strenge Kritik der schriftlichen, mündlichen und bildlichen Quellen, sondern auch eine hermeneutisch fundierte Reflexion über den von Erfahrungen und Erwartungen der Vermittler (in letzter Instanz Marianne Hirsch und Leo Spitzer) bedingten Vermittlungshorizont erfordert. Die ernsthafte Auseinandersetzung mit dem einspurigen Mythos setzt in dem vorliegenden Buch einen methodischen "Entzauberungs"-Willen voraus, der u.a. auch eine vielschichtige Prüfung der unvermeidlich bruchstückhaften Historien und Bilder mit all ihren umständlichen Bedingtheiten bewerkstelligen würde, aus denen sich letztendlich die unwiederholbare Einmaligkeit der Zeitläufte ergibt.
Die eigene Einstellung gegenüber der Czernowitzer Vergangenheit definieren die Autoren als eine Art "postmemory", mit anderen Worten als eine über die Erinnerungen der unmittelbaren Zeugenschaft überlieferte Erinnerung "zweiten Grades", deren gestaltende Fähigkeit nicht zuletzt auch von der Beharrlichkeit der in der weltweiten Diaspora herumirrenden Eltern verstärkt wurde, den Kindern die distinktive Deutschsprachigkeit der jüdischen bürgerlichen Milieus der "Heimat" einzuprägen. Diese vielfach imaginierte, aber nie erlebte "Heimat" war das Ziel der ersten Reise von Marianne Hirsch und ihres Gatten nach Czernowitz im Jahre 1998, als sie Mutter und Vater Lotte und Carl Hirsch, die die Stadt im Jahre 1945 verlassen hatten, auf ihre kurze, zwiespältig empfundene Rückkehr "nach Hause" begleiteten. 2000, 2006 und 2008 führten die Wege der beiden Autoren wiederum in die ehemalige Bukowiner Hauptstadt, aber diesmal auch nach Transnistrien, in jene Gegend, in der während des 2. Weltkriegs die rumänischen Alliierten Hitlers die dorthin--mit wenigen Ausnahmen--vertriebene Gemeinschaft der Bukowiner Juden durch Terror, Hunger und Krankheiten grausamst auszurotten getrachtet hatten. Die verschiedenen "Spuren" der Vergangenheit werden im Laufe der Expeditionen als puzzle-Teile eines allgemeinen Gedächtnises sorgfältig registriert und ihrer Relevanz nach in die Chronologie integriert: zum Beispiel soll die Auswahl der Bücher in der Privatbibliothek der in Czernowitz verbliebenen Cousine Rosa Zuckermann (die spätere "Heldin" des Czernowitz-Films von Volker Koepp) sowohl von der "Resonanz und Persistenz" als auch von der "Zerstreung und Auflösung" einer spezifischen Kultur zeugen, die von jener Schicht der Czernowitzer Stadtbevölkerung getragen wurde, die sich mit der Blüte der dortigen urbanen Zivilisation identifiziert hatte--das deutschsprachig-jüdische Bürgertum, das schon in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts dank einer eigentümlichen geschichtlichen Konstellation und infolge eines langwierigen Emanzipations- und Akkulturationsprozesses sich das Ideal des liberalen homo austriacus am östlichen Rand der Habsburger Monarchie zu eigen machte. Hauptsächlich aufgrund ihrer Deutschsprachigkeit hatte Karl Emil Franzos, als er in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts seinen herben Spruch über Osteuropa als "halb-asiatische Wüste" fällte, die zur "Kulturoase" gekürte Bukowina von diesem Schmach ausgenommen; die mitteleuropäisch geprägte Bürgerlichkeit versprach noch bis zum 1. Weltkrieg und trotz aller sich zuspitzenden nationalen und sozialen Gegensätze,--wobei diejenigen zwischen religiösen und freisinnigen Juden, zwischen Zionisten und Bundisten, zwischen den Anhängern des Jiddischen und den Getreuen der "deutsch-jüdischen Symbiose" keine geringe Rolle spielten--, den mit Bildung, Toleranz und Pluralität geschmückten Fortschritt. Jenseits der besagten Gegensätze würde die gedankliche Projektion der in dem kleinen Privatarchiv von Lotte und Carl Hirsch gesammelten (und dem Holocaust Museum in Washington gestifteten) Strassenphotos von Leuten in Czernowitz in die sich bis heute relativ gut erhaltene Architektur der ehemaligen Herrengasse die komfortable Normalität eines (sich auch nach 1918, nach dem Anschluss der Bukowina an Rumänien, re-produzierten) bürgerlichen Alltags fügen, worin man trotz Gefahren und Bedrohungen mit der Illusion weiter leben wollte, die Beständigkeit des sich imaginierten "Westen" im Osten--die "Idee" von Czernowitz--sei von jeglicher Barbarei unantastbar.
Eben die Frage des Überlebens dieser "Idee" von Czernowitz in der Kollision mit dem Grauen einer unerbittlichen Geschichte beschäftigt die beiden Autoren in jenen Kapiteln des Buches, wo das Schicksal der Eltern, ihrer Verwandten und Freunden an jener "Epochenschwelle" rekonstituiert wird, als man ihnen von heute auf morgen die Grundlage ihres sozialen, kulturellen, selbst menschlichen Selbstverständnisses zunichte machte. Die sowjetische Besatzung Czernowitz' 1940-1941, die von vielen Juden in der Stadt (wie Carl Hirsch) begrüsst wurde, denn sie hegten die Hoffnung, von jetzt an in einer vom Antisemitismus befreiten Gesellschaft dasein zu dürfen, begann mit Enteignungen und der Angst vor der NKWD und endete mit den Deportationen "feindlicher [d.h. bürgerlicher] Elemente" nach Sibirien; die von den Sowjets "befreiende" Schreckensherrschaft der Deutschen und den Rumänen brachte für die Juden den sofortigen Verlust der Zivilrechte, die erneute, rassebedingte Enteignung, Pogrome, das Ghetto, die Zwangsarbeit und die mörderischen Deportationen nach Transnistrien, obwohl es gleichzeitig auch mutige--wenn auch zu wenige--Hilfssversuche gab, wie jener des Bürgermeisters Traian Popovici, der tausende von Juden (wie z. B. die im Ghetto verheirateten Lotte und Carl Hirsch) als "unentbehrlich" für die Stadt erklärte und sie auf diese Weise von der Vertreibung schonte; schliesslich rettete die siegreiche Offensive der Roten Armee den Erbeuteten das Leben, jedoch die Wiederherstellung der sowjetischen Ordnung in der Nordbukowina bedeutete für viele--einschliesslich für Lotte und Carl Hirsch--die Gewissheit, dass "ihr" Czernowitz nur noch in der Verklärung des Gedächtnisses überdauern könne, und damit den Anlass, definitiv ins "Exil" zu gehen.
Marianne Hirsch und Leo Spitzer verstehen es gut, dieses kaleidoskopische Geschehen höchst spannend und in seiner komplexen und nicht selten widersprüchlichen Vielstimmigkeit zu inszenieren. Das "Wissenschafliche", das im Buch ein breites Forschungsfeld deckt, hält sich stets hinter dem narrativen Diskurs, der mit einer Art nüchterner Empathie der Leserschaft zweifelsohne rechnen kann. Unseres Wissens handelt es sich um das erste Werk, das das Czernowitzer "Phänomen"--auf einem anderen Weg als John Felstiner in seinem Buch über Paul Celan (Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew,1995)--dem englischsprachigen Publikum in seiner ganzen Spannweite darstellt. Ein Erfolg wird sicherlich nicht ausbleiben.
"In this rigorous and beautifully written account, Hirsch and Spitzer chronicle a search for a vanished world and, through the terrible lacuna of the Holocaust, discover the life before and after. Simultaneously a history of a fascinating Central European town, an excavation of a thriving culture, and a journal of several returns, Ghosts of Home adds both scholarly and human dimensions to our knowledge of the Holocaust, the vicissitudes of memory, the predicament of the second generation, the poignant impossibility of recapturing the past – and the need to understand and honor it in its full complexity."—Eva Hoffman, author of Time
"This exemplary masterpiece of cultural memory interweaves the thoughtful reflections of the post-memorial family memoir with astute historical recontextualisation of one family's experiences of the complex Jewish negotiations of cultural modernity and shifting political dominions in Central Europe. Built around the figure of the journey that takes the reader back and forth across the layered histories of the city of former Czernowitz the text explores the fabric of memory in places, images and things which have the affective power to undo amnesia. This book re-engages us not only with an important fragment of 'the past' but asks us to think about what it means to carry lost histories, intergenerationally, and to transform 'the past' by tenderly and thoughtfully reinserting such memories, often transmitted by images and objects, into the still fragile picture of the experience of European Jews across the long twentieth century."—Griselda Pollock, author of Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive
"Ghosts of Home is a compelling cross-generational memoir of Czernowitz, once a vital center of a fragile German-Jewish cultural symbiosis in the outer reaches of the Habsburg Empire. Hirsch and Spitzer have created a remarkable narrative of live voices, documents, photographs, travelogues, and memorabilia out of which emerges the 'idea of Czernowitz,' ghostlike and filled with gaps, but like a promise of another history which was not to be. This is embodied cultural history at its best."—Andreas Huyssen, author of Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory
"In Ghosts of Home, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer have written a remarkable inter-generational memoir of Czernowitz and its remarkable German-Jewish cultural world, vanished in the Holocaust. With grace and precision, they use both history and memory to shape a profound set of reflections on loss and survival. Anyone interested in reading a verse of Celan or a short story of Appelfeld should start here. What a gift to join these two scholars on their moving, penetrating journey back to what was once home, somewhere in the now-vanished Jewish world of Czernowitz."—Jay Winter, author of Site of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History
"In a very fine intertwining between the private and the public, this book evokes landscapes of memory animated by ghosts emerging from the past. Hirsch and Spitzer provide us with a multifaceted image of the complex universe of memory. This volume is an important contribution to our way of conceiving the practice of history, its meaning and methodology, its struggle against the unknowns of memory and its choice to give up the claim to omniscience. It is also a delicate and moving story of how individuals connect to each other in the effort to give us back the richness and frailty of the past. For us readers, like for the children of survivors, a passage of memories takes place that allows us to say 'it's our story now.'"—Luisa Passerini, author of Memory and Utopia: The Primacy of Intersubjectivity
"This is an engaging and exciting multilayered, guided tour through the city of many names—Czernowitz/Chernivtsi/Cernauti—that perhaps never existed except in memories, dreams, and nightmares. Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer's work is an experiment in story-telling, part history and part dialogical memoir that incorporates voices of parents, survivors, and witnesses and is full of precise and poignant details."—Svetlana Boym, author of The Future of Nostalgia
AMAZON CUSTOMER REVIEWS
First a confession.My mother was born in Bukowina and spent most of her youth in Czenowitz.She used -and still uses- to tell me various stories from that dark period of the years 1940-1945.From time to time I let her know about some new items, articles or things that appear about Czernowitz.There are many things she has in common with most people mentioned in this new book,but the most significant fact for her which she always emphasized to me and others was that of the German culture which was to be the dominant factor in her life then.To tell the truth, Czernowitz has remained in her heart and soul and I am sure she will always be a Czernowitzer.The pride of her being able to recite from memory many poems and whole parts of plays which were written by such eminent literary figures such as Heine,Goethe or Schiller as well as the Romanian genius Eminescu causes the past to become even more prevalent in her daily life.Having asked her why she would not ever visit there,she replied that it would be a pity to see the city as it looks today and would definitely spoil her good memories from those times.Indeed ,there were also happy years and not everything was black.
By profession I am a teacher of English and a historian as well.My area of expertise is the Cold War and the role that intelligence services played during those times.Still,I got curious to know more about the city and its culture,and after having read some reports,books and articles which can easily be deemed as not serious and superficial, I made up my mind to finally read something which was well researched.
Luckily, I came across this new book written by the two authors, both of them academics.Right from the beginning it was clear to me that book would be entirely different from what I had read so far.
This volume embraces the approach of Alltagsgeschichte, or everyday history which has become so popular among many historians who prefer this style over the positivist approach which dominated the field of historical reseach, but which became marginal during the last three or four decades.It is a well-known fact that the new approach originates mainly in the French tradition called the Annales school.Those familiar with the terms need no elaboration on this.It would only be wise to state that this approach includes not only the exploration of various written sources but also the incorporation of testimonies rendered by people who lived through a certain historical era ,or in other words:oral history.
This is exactly what happens in this book.This is not a book which one could easily classify according to a certain genre,be it historical,literary or anything else.It is not only a family chronicle,as the authors state in their introduction, but,in their words,it is "as hybrid in genre-as an intergenerational memoir and as an interdiciplinary and self-reflexive work of historical and cultural exploration.It engages many individual voices,including our own,within a web of narratives,recollections and interconnections,together with other historical and cultural source materials".
Add the fact that there is a continuous dialogue between the past and the present and you will get a much more complicated yet richer picture of the key questions posed by the writers,among them being: how come that a small provincial city produced such a rich and urbane culture? Why have the Jews in Czernowitz preferred the German culture over other ones? How have the memories of the Czernowitz Jews pass down to the next generations? What was so special about the 600-year old city that was barely to be found in other similar loci?
After all, the Holocaust of Czernowitz can easily be labeled as a part of the forgotten Holocaust of the Romanian Jewry.This happened because of the monopolization of the Holocaust by many Polish and Russian historians, authors and their collaborators in Israel and other academic or research institutes.It was only during the last 25 years when the Romanian Jewry Holocaust started to emerge to surface -and this due to some factors that are not relevant in our discussion here.
To resolve these main issues, the authors have relied on historical and literary source materials and used official and private contemporary documents,public and archival materials, letters, memoirs, photographs,newspapers, essays, poetry, fiction,Internet postings and other testimonial objects.The result of all this is to be found in three main parts which constitute the core of the book and an epilogue.The result is impressive and the rich narrative and analysis attest to the fact that this is going to be one of the best-ever written books on Czernowitz,a city(and the memories and evoked) which was dissected, deconstructed and re-constructed by both writers .It was a very good idea to point out to the reader the various contradictions and unsolved issues concerning some personalities who played their part on the stage of history during the dark years of the Holocaust.
However,let me mention my reservations about Chapter 11 of this opus where the authors refer the readers to various Internet sites that include materials on Czernowitz.In an academic work like this,it would have been much wiser to tell the reader about those sites in a detailed appendix, where everything regarding the city could be elaborated on.Ditto for the fact that the authors include a list of who met whom and when while visiting the city on various occasions and you get a reunion-style report which is totally unacceptable here.Second, the detailed and engrossing story of Vapniarka(Chapter 9)comes at the expense of other ghettoes which are mentioned only casually,such as the Moghilev ghetto.Albeit this,I can heartily recommend this book-which is a multi-layered interdisciplinary microhistory- not only to the Czernowitz
Jews (who, despite the advanced German culture surrounding them of which they are so proud of, had not been able to produce eminent figures such as an Einstein or another Freud), but to anyone who is interested to find out about a lost culture which will probably be an inseparable part of some people's psyche in the future.
A superb book, January 1, 2010
I have nothing substantive to add to the comments above, but I want to give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to a book that is fascinating, moving and informative, both historically and psychologically. Its most powerful passage, at least for me: the authors' account of a family member's return at the end of the war to the apartment of relatives in Czernowitz - she now safe, but her parents, husband and child all dead - an unforgettable portrait of anguish and grief. But the book is not a downer - for that there is too much resilience, and even some goodness. And the book itself is wonderfully intelligent and (to the extent that it is ever possible to know) honest.
A Superb Reading of the Mind and Place, January 15, 2010
A journey through another family's memory can often be difficult to grasp, but this superbly written book takes a firm hold of not only your mind, but also your heart. This book goes well beyond others in this genre and marries the vivid and incredibly enlightening description of a bygone era with the memories of those living in the present. The use of real-time memory in literally tracing the footsteps of a past series of events through this city's finest moments and darkest hours offers a unique approach to uncovering the inner light of the author's parents in constructing this compelling narrative. Parsing these memories into components ranging from horrific trauma to youthful exuberance, it permits the reader to feel the full range of emotions of not just the characters in the story, but also the writers. This book clearly provides us not simply with a history of a city as much as it provides us with a history of people's memories of a city, some of whom were experiencing its streets, apartments, cemeteries, and cafes some 70 years after the memories were initially made. In joining the memories of those who experienced the ups and downs of this period with the memories of those who first experienced them through indirect storytelling and then through directly tracing the footsteps of the past, the book provides the reader with a valuable blueprint for understanding how we remember and re-remember. I did not come away from this book either depressed or sickened despite the often deplorable events both witnessed and experienced during this time of radical change. Rather, I felt a hope that even after living through one of the lowest points in modern history, humanity and family finds a way through the telling of stories and the sharing of experience. I may have finished the book, but the book will never be finished with me.
•••• From Ananya Khabir, University of Leeds
I have read Ghosts of Home from cover to cover. It was riveting, informative but at heart, very, very moving. At one point I had to get up from my table at the Cornerhouse Cafe, where I was all day reading the book, to pretend to go to the bathroom, because I had tears welling up in my eyes. There were actually several such moments. Congratulations for producing such a coup de coeur, if there is such a term.
••••From Dr. Cornel Fleming, London
The book arrived in the mail this morning and I have just finished
••••From History PhD Student Svetlana Fruntchak, University of Toronto
I have just finished reading your wonderful book that I have been
•••• From Elke Heckner, University of California, Berkeley
Congratulations on the reading and on the extraordinary book!
•••• From artist Sylvia de Swaan
Dear Marianne & Leo
••••From Edith Nichols, Baltimore
It was in desperation that I began reading "Ghosts of Home: The After Life of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory." My 101-year-old father was suffering from a deep depression. The woman he'd shared his life with for seven years had died, leaving him bereft, nearly blind and terribly hearing-impaired. My father, a cultured former physician who'd left New York City in the 1930s to go to medical school in Vienna and who still spoke Yiddish and German fluently was stricken by the fact that he'd simply lived too long. He sat on his sofa sighing, speaking little and wanting only to die. And yet his intellect remained intact. Lost for any way to help, I suddenly remembered this Hirsch-Spitzer volume that my husband had brought home about the Jewish culture that once thrived in Czernowitz. Why not try reading it aloud to my father? I knew he'd been in Czernowitz twice during his years of study in Vienna when he visited his grandmother and aunts who'd never left the schtetl in Rumania. He'd spoken to me often of that marvelous city, its thriving markets, its smells of roasting eggplant and its beautiful main street. And so I began reading. And suddenly, my father came alive. He began talking and smiling again as this beautifully written book, full of history and images, stirred his memories of a far off past and revived his interest in the present.
•••• From Larry Herrman, Oak Brook Illinois
Thank you … for writing “Ghosts of Home”, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I’ve been an aspiring genealogist for years, with a particular interest in my paternal grandfather’s home town of Burdujeni (near Suceava), and Czernowitz – where most of the family moved to in the early 20th century after my grandfather emigrated to the US. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity over the years to “interview” a couple of relatives who survived the war years in Czernowitz and Bershad (Family name Herscovici/Hershkovitz). Much of the family perished at Bershad.