Recollections of a Vanished World
On the 9th of November, 1924, in the small pastoral township of Răducăneni in Romania, I was born to Moshe Zvi and Bat-sheva Fruchter of blessed memory and was given the name Asher –Koppel.
Răducăneni lies between two large cities, Iasi and Husi. The landscape is rural and peaceful: hills, woods and fields, everything is green, everything blossoms.
In those days, about 150 Jewish families lived there. Most of their homes and businesses were in the centre of the township. Even as a child, I used to wonder at the sight of all the Jews concentrated together in one area of the township, all the streets full of gesheften (little businesses), an abundance of shops of all kinds, all Jewish. On the hills around, the goyim (Gentiles) lived, most of them agricultural workers.
Compared to other townships, Răducăneni was very developed. One could buy anything one pleased. There were 2 bread bakeries which competed with one another. One bakery sent a worker from house to house carrying on his shoulder a board with different kinds of bread, white bread, black bread, rye bread, for the customer to choose among them. The other bakery preferred customers to come there and enticed them by giving a roll or bagel free with each loaf of bread. Our tailor, Moshe Tatratz, lived at the corner of the main street: he sewed new suits and did repairs. The home of the wine-seller was in the township and owned by a Jew called Tevel. Customers used to bring a bottle, kept especially for the purpose, for him to fill with soda water and in seconds there was a bottle full of the frothing, bubbling liquid. In the evenings, people used to gather in the large café of Avraham Za'idas to drink coffee, eat ice cream, play billiards and gamble.
The streets were lit with oil lamps. The lamplighter was a worker called Franz, appointed by the local authority. Every day, he would lower the lamps using a crank rod, fill them with oil and return them to their places. In the middle of the township, there was a bus stop from which the locals could travel to Iasi and Husi. The same Franz owned a taxi and used to offer his services to anyone who wanted to travel in his "special", a private taxi.
A large church with a large bell tower stood high in the village. Every half hour, the bells would ring. The ringing of the bells was intended not only to remind people of the need for prayer but also to announce any special happening like a festival, a funeral or a wedding. There were four clocks, which could be seen from afar, one on each side of the church tower. Our neighbor, Eliezer Mencher, explained to me that the bells used to be rung according to the rhythm of the Yiddish tune "Zubrennt, zubrennt. Bevomen? Beim gal'ach " (There's a fire. There's a fire. Where? In the priest's home.)
Every Sunday, a large, covered market known as the Mayden was held. Non-Jewish farmers from the whole area used to bring their produce, excellent fruit and vegetables. The Jews used to sell fish, chickens, meat, sausages and smoked meats. Household utensils and clothes were also offered for sale. Each farmer piled his produce on stalls hired from the local committee. The fruit and vegetables were sold at ludicrous prices. Jews used to come and buy quantities in order to stock up until the next market day came around.
In Răducăneni, there was a hospital for the mentally-sick which extended over many kilometers. We, the children called it "the madhouse". Every Shabbat, in the afternoon, we used to go there. There was a high iron fence topped with barbed wire around the hospital. The inmates used to come to the gate freely and used to put on a show for us with many funny and queer antics. In return, we used to give them fruit, cake and sweets. There were also Jews among the inmates and whenever one died, without the authorities being able to locate his or her family, my father would be asked to come and collect the body and take it for burial to the Jewish cemetery. I remember no small number of such occasions. Răducăneni also had a regional hospital that served the whole area and was under the supervision of the Ministry of Health. Its maternity and surgical departments were considered to be excellent and, in general, it enjoyed a good reputation for the treatment of many illnesses.
There were 5 synagogues in the township, four of them concentrated in one area not far from the Zinger (Jewish) school Link while the fifth was in the street where my maternal grandparents, Aharon Yosef and Malka Reba of blessed memory, lived. It was only a few meters from the mayden (market) and the large town bakery.
My grandfather, Aharon Yosef, was a ritual slaughterer of
and cattle, a ritual circumciser and the only cantor in the town. He
asked to serve other congregations. He taught his skills to my father,
Moshe Zvi of blessed memory, who in time became his son-in-law. At
father was a yeshiva student and only after my grandfather passed away
in 1934 was
my father appointed to take his place and became the ritual
circumciser and cantor in the large synagogue of the township, a
known as "Die Kitrarski Shul". (the builders synagogue)
My mother, Batsheva, of blessed memory, used to tell us, the children, how she met my father. She told us that the head of the Sasregen yeshiva (Talmudical college), who used to travel from place to place to gather donations for the yeshiva, came to Răducăneni and worked very hard to persuade my grandfather, Aharon Yosef, that he had a yeshiva student "like a diamond" for his beautiful daughter, Bat-sheva. My grandfather yielded to these advances and expressed readiness to meet the young man. And lo, one fine day, the head of the yeshiva appeared with no less than four yeshiva students, among them "the diamond", the student, Reb. Moshe Zvi Fruchter. Moshe Zvi studied in Sigat and slept in Sasregen, both in the region of Mamoresh, a distance of hundreds of kilometers from Răducăneni.
My grandfather rose and went into the room where his
Batsheva, was waiting and asked her,
"Which of these four takes your fancy? Which of them would you like to
marry? Without a moment of hesitation,
she pointed to Moshe Zvi. Thus the shidduch
(the match) was made.
Five children were born to my parents: three girls, Rachel, Toni and Malka , the manzinka (the child of their old age) and two sons, myself, Asher Koppel and Bezalel.
Behind our home, there was a long narrow garden with a big storehouse (shorea) in which there was a cellar. Ten steps led down to the cellar in which we used to store barrels of wine and foodstuffs. Because the air down there was so cold and damp, it was ideal for preserving the freshness of the foods.
We made the wine ourselves. Father used to buy kilograms of grapes from a non-Jew, the owner of a large vineyard. Why did we gather the grapes to make the wine ourselves? In order that, Heaven forbid, a non-Jew should not touch the grapes that, at some stage, would be used to make wine for religious purposes and thereby create yayin nesech (ritually impure wine). The day on which we made the wine was a special day for us. My father and all of us, the children, rode in the cart harnessed to horses to the village at the top of the hill. There, we gathered the grapes into baskets and large bags and finally pushed them all into a sack which we tied tightly. This sack, full of grapes, was placed inside a hollow tree trunk, rather liked a bath, which was raised at an angle. After he had washed his feet in clean water, my father would climb into "the bath" and tread all over the sack. Grape juice used to pour out into the container formed by the large, hollow, tree trunk and from there was collected into barrels. The barrels were then transferred to the cellar in our home. Whenever father wanted wine at lunchtime, we would go to the cellar and bring him wine from one of the barrels.
Behind the storehouse, there was a well, about 10 meters deep. Using an enormous pulley with a long chain and bucket, we used to draw water happily from the well. Once a year, the well had to be cleaned from the bits of earth and sundry rubbish that the wind used to blow into it and for this we hired the services of a non-Jew whose special skill was the cleaning of wells. He used to lower himself into the well and clean it thoroughly.
Behind the slaughter house and the well, there was our toilet, a wooden construction about one meter square.
Nearby stood my father's slaughter house, a room in which he would slaughter chickens, doves and turkeys. We called it "die kamer" (the chamber) One way to reach this "chamber" was through an alleyway which led from the road straight to the slaughter house. There, people would stand in line and my father would receive them in turn. Another way was intended for people who enjoyed special privileges. They didn't wait in line but went straight in through the long corridor that divided our house throughout its length.
My father received his salary from the congregation and most of the income of the congregation came from his slaughter of poultry and cattle. My father was not allowed to work unless his client could produce a special little note, a qvittel, which had been purchased from Tsifra, our neighbour. Tsifra had been appointed by the congregation to sell the notes. My father used to accumulate them in a special safe which only the "president" of the community was allowed to open, Once a week, the president would come to our house, open the safe, take out the qvittlech and make a reckoning of how much money Mrs.Tsifra had to give him.
Father cared for mother and spoiled her. He did not allow her to do any of the household chores like washing, ironing or washing floors. These jobs were done by a servant, a non-Jewish woman called Maritza. She used to come to our house three or four times a week and would receive instructions from mother, My father was very fastidious about the cleanliness of the slaughter house and of the yard around and accordingly, sometimes Maritza would get instructions from father to clean the slaughter house.
My mother had the proverbial "golden hands". She sewed all kinds of clothes for all the children using a Singer sewing machine . She bought the cloth from the shop of Julius Sussman. I particularly remember the kind of trousers that were popular in those days in Răducăneni: it was customary to leave an opening both in the front and the back of the pants so as to save the need to open and close them at the toilet. Mother sewed trousers like these for Bezalel and me when we were little ones and our shirts used to peep out from these openings in the front and the back (we called them "shwantzelich")
My mother was also an expert cook and baker. I will never forget the taste of her mammaligge with brinze (sheep cheese) We used to eat it with sour cream. There was also the delicacy known as "fluden" a minced mixture of nuts and dried fruits which was used to fill hamantaschen (little 3-cornered cakes eaten at the Purim festival).
In the apartment to the left of our house lived Brucha, a widow with a shop that sold everything and a close friend of my mothers. She often served as our baby-sitter. On my last visit to Răducăneni with Leah, Tami and Avri, the non-Jewish lady, who now lives in what was our home, mentioned Brucha's name. She told us that Brucha had stayed in Răducâneni for a long time during the war years after the rest of her family had been expelled until the soldiers finally drove her out too.
At an age when most children go to kindergarten, I studied in cheder (Hebrew classes) with Rabbi Yisrael. After that I went to the Zinger (Jewish) school Link in the township. My father was the chief cantor and from the age of 6, I used to sing solo with him even in the prayers on the High Holidays. I will freely admit without shame that on a number of occasions my father slapped me in public in the synagogue because I had missed a solo, a solo prepared carefully and after hard work because I had preferred to play with my friends outside rather than wait by the prayer stand for my cue.
When I was 7, I started to accompany my father to the selichot prayers (the prayers for forgiveness on the days preceding the new year festival). We used to get up before dawn, take a torch and walking stick and set off, passing through the alley ways of the township where the Jews lived. I used to knock on the doors and announce in a sing-song, "Jews, Get up for selichot and service to the Creator of all things? On the night preceding Yom HaKippurim (the Day of Atonement), I used to go with my father as he went from house to house slaughtering the chickens (according to a custom that in this way one could be absolved of sins) The Jews of the township paid the slaughterer handsomely for his services and used to add a piece of cake to the money they paid him. I used to fill my bag with pieces of cake and run home, empty the bag and go back again for more.
The visit of well-known rabbis to Răducăneni made a special impression on me. The expression "Give respect to the Torah" became part of our language. Once a year the rabbis from Vaslui, from Mapsakani, from Mabotoshni or Mabuhosh came, every one in turn. They would be accommodated in the homes of the richer members of the congregation in order to facilitate the collection of funds for their yeshivot.
As soon as the congregation got word that a visit was planned, a special committee would be set up in order to prepare the reception (in Yiddish akegen fahren). Announcements would be issued concerning the arrangements for the arrival of the rabbi and his court. Among other things, the reception was enlivened by an orchestra and a procession, the heads of the community riding in decorated carriages drawn by horses with ordinary, simple Jews walking at their side.
The reception began in the Christian village of Bazga, two kilometers distant from Răducăneni and continued to the main venue of the event - the home of one of the leaders of the community in the center of town. The procession with the orchestra at its head made a great impression (and a great noise!) People danced before the visitor and the heads of the community stepped down from their carriages and joined in the dancing. When the procession finally reached the township, all the remaining Jews came out of their homes to join in the happening.
Usually, the rabbi prayed in the Kloiz synagogue
where my grandfather,
Aharon Yosef, of blessed memory, prayed. On these Sabbaths, worshippers
the other four synagogues would also come to the Kloiz. (located
In the centre of the prayer hall, the rabbi had a special room where he could be alone. When the Amidah prayer was recited, an interesting custom was followed: the cantor did not begin the repetition of the Amidah prayer until the rabbi had given a sign that he was ready by knocking on the handle of the door. We children used to stand near the door waiting to hear the sound of the knock. The seudah shlishit (the traditional third Shabbat meal) was a real experience. The congregation used to organize it in one of the synagogues in the presence of a large crowd of people. It was customary to place 12 small plaited rolls under the big loaves of special Shabbat bread and the crowd used to gather around the table and wait. At the moment when the rabbi had washed his hands and had taken the breads to bless them, raising them high, those who were nearest to the table used to stretch out their hands and grab a roll.
At the end of Shabbat, after havdala (the prayer that marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the secular week), the rabbi would receive anyone who had a special request. A shamash (an attendant) in charge of order would write the request on a slip of paper (a kvittel). The rabbi would read it, ask a number of questions and finally spread out his hands in blessing. Both the rabbi and the shamash received a "deposit" (sum of money) for their efforts.
No account of everyday life in Răducăneni would be complete without a mention of its own special brand of humour. This humour had its origins in the life of the Jewish community and drew sustenance and body from Jewish culture and prayers. We used to play language games using the prayers and everyday expressions in Hebrew to create amusing definitions and acronyms.
From Asher Fruchter, From Raducaneni to Kfar Chassidim.
Translated from the Hebrew by Dr.Stella Statman.
Rǎducǎneni. It is amazing that people still remember it. And with nostalgia. I, myself, am not entirely without nostalgic yearnings. Although it was, more or less, a safe place in a sea of anti Jewish feelings in Romania, and Jews made a living there between the two world wars, it was a miserable life. The Jews had to hire a night watchman, who walked the street all night and whistled from time to time to show that he was on the watch and not sleeping. This whistle still rings in my ears. In the winters it was dreadfully cold. Heat came from a wood stove. One had to prepare wood from the summer and it was expensive. In 1939-40, the Jews were expelled, chased away with only what they could carry to the larger towns. I was 5 years old, and we were the last family to leave because my mother was waiting for my father who was away and was afraid to travel because Jews were thrown off the trains. So my mother hired a wagon, packed a few belongings and we left for Vaslui where my mother had a brother. It was a Sunday. I remember this because as we passed the first hamlet and the people came out of the church, they started berating our driver for carrying "the killers of their redeemer". Ashamed, our driver got out of that hamlet and abandoned us on the road. There we waited, my mother and I and our few belongings till nightfall when another wagon came and took us to Vaslui, but not before plundering our bags and possessions.
There are a lot of memories interwoven in which the bad overwhelms the good.
I am sure I did not
tell you anything new. This website is
a remarkable thing, trying to build an everlasting memorial to Jewish
showing the struggle to survive and how some made good in
Link to Rabbi Menashe Rabinzon
My father, Haim Rabinzon, was a great poet, who is still remembered by the older members of the Romanian Jewish community. In the war years, he served as a teacher of kabala to one of the chief bishops of Romania, a man related to the king. This bishop took my father out of the transports to Transnistria. But he was not saved the horrors of the war. He was put to work in a group and forced to bury people killed in the pogrom, sometimes even to bury living bodies. He wrote a number of poems describing in detail what happened there and naming the people who had taken part in the atrocity. This information, encoded in symbols and metaphors understood only by the Jewish community in Istanbul, was sent through the good offices of one of the embassies sympathetic to the Jewish community to Istanbul, where the committee for saving European Jewry had its offices. Many years later, when Romanian Jews wanted to apply to the Canadian authorities for the extradition of Jan Trifa, a well-known criminal, member of the notorious Iron Guard, Itzhak Arzi, then a Knesset member, read one of my father's poems in the Israeli parliament.
My father had been ordained as a rabbi, but he did not serve in the rabbinate: he was a teacher and lecturer. He knew ancient languages like Sumerian and Acadian and helped archeologists around the world. He was considered a Gaon (a brilliant man) for his excellent memory and he knew philosophy – both general and Jewish philosophy - and was in touch with great philosophers around the world. He received two literary prizes - The Groper Prize and the Fichman prize. He translated and researched ancient religions. He had wide knowledge of many fields and received recognition from many universities around the world. As he had lost records of his university degrees in World War II, he went with me to study in the university in the 60's. As many of the professors were his ex - students, they asked him to sit in the library and do research work, as he always corrected them during the lessons. Gershom Sholem was his friend and was impressed by his complete knowledge of kabbala and rabbinical writings. He was sent to the Sorbonne to advise on Jewish studies. His research works are still in the Sorbonne in the library of the ancient Middle East.
My mother, Shulamit German Rabinzon, Link was a teacher - she taught in the network of adult education and was also a wonderful Hebrew teacher in embassies. In Romania, she also managed a children's theatre and in the early years of the movie industry, her plays were even filmed as children's movies. Both my parents, especially my mother, were devoted to me and gave me a lot of love. I look back on them both with a great deal of respect and affection.