Where was I born? Where did my parents live? Roots trip Baruch Eylon (Originally Alper); January 2014
For me I'm "almost a Sabre". All my life I knew I was born in Satu-mare, Romania in 1949, to my parents, of blessed memory, Shalom and Lina Alper, Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel (with me) in 1951 on board the ship, and then we were sent in an open truck directly from the ship to Kiryat Shmona (in the Upper Galilee). Although in Kiryat Shmona there were people who spoke Romanian, our house spoke Yiddish and Hebrew, and from my point of view, the listing my Israeli identity card - that I was born in Romania - was the only thing that linked me to that area.
As a son of Holocaust survivors, the next generation, I never liked to and did not want to hear about the Holocaust, even though my parents, especially my mother, tried more than once to tell me about the Holocaust and what happened to them; I always stopped them .... In this process I must have absorbed names and stories that were recorded in my mind and waited until the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day 2013.
On 2013 Holocaust Day eve, unlike previous years (and I don't know why), I found myself watching television and listening to stories. I do not remember exactly what was said but the next day I found myself thinking that probably I missed something - I know almost nothing about where my parents grew up and lived in - how it looks, how people are, what exactly they did there, from what did they live and of course - it was probably not OK that "I did not let them express themselves and unload from their hearts "what they wanted to tell.
I "slept" on it for several days and decided I'd at least like to visit the place and learn about what still can be learnt, after my parents and their generation whom I knew died a long time ago. I decided to offer my two sons, Gal and Ziv Eylon to join me and I was happy that they have agreed without hesitation. Thus was born the idea of a roots trip.
OK, traveling - but where? What to look for? How to search?
The "simple thing" we've decided about was the time frame. My sons have young children (my two grandchildren and my granddaughter) and they do not want to leave their wives and children alone for too long - therefore we agreed to allocate one week for the trip. This constraint and flights availability helped us to easily summarize the dates. We closed on departing on Saturday night and returning from Bucharest on Thursday night, July 6-11, 2013.
What will we do in this week?
I tried to remember the names of all the places which I thought I heard as a child. I wrote down every place without really knowing where it was, what it was, what is the distance between the places, what is more important and what is less and so on. So I brought up my birthplace - Satu-mare, Banila (on the river Siret), a village where my parents lived, Transnistria / Mogilev, the concentration camp to where my parents were deported by foot from Banila and other places (including Bukovina and Suceava) that I excavated from my memory and a portfolio of documents that my mother kept after suing the German government for their suffer in WW2, in which I found schedule of events and places in their lives, in which I had never before really been interested in. In this way I added to the list Radautz (in Romania) and in Ukraine - Storozhynetz, Chernivtsi and even Boyan - the birthplace and residence of the grandfather (mother's side) of my son's wife - Merav. Until these searches we had no idea that our parents / grandparents lived not far from each other.
The next step was to search Google for any of the places and bring all the places on a map (Google Maps) and try to build our route. Here several surprises awaited me...
The first and simplest surprise was to discover that some places are in Romania and some others in Ukraine (Yes, this is how ignorant I was !!). At first we thought to rent a car and drive ourselves. When we realized that we don't speak both Romanian and Ukrainian it became clear that without a driver / guide we will not get along (we do not speak the language and do not even know the letters ☺). The conclusion was that we have to find a guide and luckily I got to Ciprian Slemco (email@example.com), in short -Chip, that we discovered was an excellent instructor, excellent "Macher" and well-connected everywhere, that helped a lot in "shortening process" on the road, and especially - crossing borders.
The second surprise was when I found that Satu-Mare is in the north-west Romania (Transylvania), while all the other places were in north-east Romania, Bukovina. The distance between the places is ~600Km + a "small" obstacle - the Carpathians. Something did not work out for me - how come they are all in the East and I was born at the edges of West Romania??? Anyhow, we gave up on visiting Sat-Mare.
I continued to further search Google and to my surprise I discovered not far Radautz a village called Satu-Mare... I thought I had found the more sensible real place where I was born .. and that (so we thought) allowed shortening the route to converge into our planned timeframe. The little map below shows the village Satu-Mare (In Romanian it means Big Village).
With this list of places we agreed with our guide to visit Bucharest, fly to Suceava (only one flight per day), which we'll make an "anchor" for our visit, and then we'll go to different places - details to be firmed up with the guide (Chip) on site ....
In the morning of 8 July 2013, after walking in Bucharest all previous day, we met Chip. We told him what we're interested in, and he promised us that he was an expert in the Bukovina region and has led many campaigns of Jewish roots in the region, and even visitors of other nations who for some reason were interested in (Poles , Germans, Canadians and even Japanese...). I understood more about it only after we returned and continued the exploration and study.
We started the journey in Romania (the roads in the region, especially in Ukraine, make the journey/trip exhausting!) in the trip to Radautz and then to the village Satu-Mare. In the municipality office in Radautz and then in the village Satu-Mare I tried to find my birth certificate - but to no avail. It was nice to talk to the "village elderly people" and with municipal officials - but it came to nothing - except these nice pictures (and many others like them) ... explanation why we have not found anything will come later.
With Chip's warm recommendation we decided to travel from there to Ukraine - Storozynetz and Banila. Border crossing experience was unique and showed us the capabilities of Chip. Otherwise we would spend many hours there.
We arrived to Storozynetz. A place that was once a great upscale place looks now miserable and depressing. Especially - the building that was once a synagogue is now a Gypsy market in which these people show their wares. We continued to walk and we saw houses that look good in the environment and Chip told us that this was a Jewish environment and the houses are typical of Jewish homes.
From there we continued on the road to Banila, that has increasingly become a collection of pits and obstacles. So it looks ...
Being there I knew nothing about where my parents lived. An old lady from (see in the picture above) remembered that Jews once lived there and even that there is a Jewish cemetery there ... It took us two hours to find where "this" is ... and it looks like this .... in the middle of the forest, along a muddy path and in the raspberry bushes are gravestones, in relatively good shape, with Hebrew letters ...
This show probably lit a spark in me that we should do something. Before it's too late ...
We arrived back at Suceava at about 23:00 and we realized that we have to give up some of the places. We decided we leave early in the morning to Transnistria.
The next morning we left towards Transnistria. The route requires crossing from Romania to Moldova (at Lipcani) and again at the border crossing in Ukraine, in Mogilev-Podolsk - the transition is over the Dniester River, where many Bukovina Jews were drowned and killed. The route we took is shown on the map below.
The long track (200Km each direction) reminded me of my parents and my grandmother, my mother's mother, that got frozen while walking to Transnistria. They have done this route by foot and in bad freezing weather. Our route (see the map above) has been largely the deportation track, but they walked and we were driven in a nice car (and we complained about the length of the road and its bad condition).
In Mogilev we went to see the Jewish Museum, but we got there 5 minutes after closing (closes at 15:30).
From there we went to watch the Dniester River (seems so "innocent" and the city across the river so relaxed, despite the Gypsy castle in the opposite side of the river) and visit the Jewish cemetery. Unlike Banila, the place is well known, note of the graves were taken and some of the stones were renovated. Next to them there is an even newer Jewish cemetery, that appears to be active and in fair condition.
The trip was a catalyst. The view of the graves in the forest that almost no-one knows about its existence and condition prompted a process of investigation and search. My sons raised at the airport on the way back the question: OK, we've seen it, what do we do about it? Ignore it or do something?
I do not know yet what will be the outcome at the end, but in the meantime I got in touch with the World Organization of Bukovina Jews, I learned (slightly) what is Bukovina, I contacted Mr. Dov Shai (co-editor of a book on "The Holocaust of the North Bukovina Jews") and during a conversation with him I learned that we even are relatives!
He remembers my parents, their return from Transnistria to Storozynetz and then back to Romania, to Transylvania, to the City Satu-Mare, where I was born, where he held me on his hands ... it explained to us all why we did not find my birth registration in Radautz or in the village Satu-Mare ...
I still do not know my parents' address in Satu-Mare but at least now I know the route my parents took until their arrival in Israel in 1951, but maybe someday we will visit there too.
About the graves - we have initiated a project to locate, document, restore and preserve cemeteries and other Jewish heritage sites in Bukovina, Transnistria and sites in Bessarabia, oon the deportation route from Bukovina to Transnistria. This project is in process - look atBukovina Jewish Heritage Sites and the more you think about it (and especially the necessary budgets) this task seems more and more difficult. I very much hope that we will find the energy and we'll harness more "crazy ones" so we can realize this important project.
This page is hosted at no cost to the public by JewishGen,
Inc., a non-profit corporation. If it has been useful to you,
or if you are moved by the effort to preserve the memory of
our lost communities, your JewishGen-erosity
would be deeply appreciated.