Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Romanian celebration at JFK

I am sitting in the Delta terminal at JFK waiting to board my flight to Bucharest. Turns out this is Delta's inaugural flight [non-stop] from NYC so there is a party going on.

The have a trio [violin, accordion, bass] playing Romanian music. So much of it sounds just like Israeli music from the early days of the Yishuv.

There is a certain nostalgia in this trip. The only other time I visited Bucharest was in 1972. It was not on my original agenda but when the KGB kicked me and my traveling partner out of the USSR from the city of Czernocvitz they put us on a train to Bucharest.

Bucharest then was under the rule of Ceausescu. The country was poor and I remember it as dimly lit no matter where you went.

Ceausescu was letting Jews leave quietly for Israel. [He got paid handsomely.] Under the leadership of Rabbi Rosen, the Chief rabbi, Jews lived in a "grey zone." They were left alone as long as they did nothing political.

It was a nervous community that was ill at ease with us. This will be a very different trip.

One small anecdote which reminds one how fluid that part of the world is:

When we first arrived in Czernovitz our Intourist guides [they worked hand in hand with the KGB] said: Czernovitz was liberated from Romania in 1944.

When arrived in Bucharest it was the first day of Sukkot. We went to the synagogue. The Jews [mainly elderly] asked us where we were coming from. We said: "From the USSR. From Czernovitz." They responded: "USSR?? Czernovitz is not the USSR. That's occupied Romania."

Then when I returned home I told a friend's elderly grandmother that I had been in the USSR in Czernovitz and how Romanians considered it part of Romania. She said: "USSR? Romania? Czernovitz is part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire."

Anyway enough about Czernovitz.... Off to Bucharest.


nick said...

Good day. I was reading with interest about your trip and your experience in Cernovitz.
My mother's family comes from there and had to leave following the Molotov Rippentrop pact and the Soviet's 'aspirations' regarding the Bukovina. Our family was Romanian with Polish - Austrian roots and they spoke Romanian, Yiddish (because of close business relations with the Jewish population there) and German, and evetually left for Austria rathe than risking life under Stalin.
I have never been to, but heard a lot about Cernowitz from my grandmother. In her time the towm was called the 'Vienna of the East'and the demographics were around one third Galician Jews, one third Romanians and the rest Polish and ethnic Germans, with some Ukrainians for good measure.
How is it today?
(I also happened to be in Bucharest for a day sometime in 1987 - and yes, it was grey and dimly lit!)

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Thanks for the personal family history. It's fascinating. I can't tell you how Czernovitz is today, I have not been back since then.

BTW, it's Ribbentrop.... He was a SOB, so let's at least make sure we get his name right!

nick said...

Thanks for your reply.
I should have called it Hitler-Stalin pact. At least I am certain of the spelling of these SOBs.

Good luck for your trip.