The “Jewish Home” Comes Back Home

A spectacular historical building taken by the Nazis finds its way back into Jewish hands

By Yossi Aloni | | Topics: Holocaust
The "Jewish House" in Czernowitz, Ukraine. In Hebrew it's known as "House of Israel." Photo: Courtesy Chabad

Eighty years after it was taken by the Nazis and then nationalized by the Communists – the “Jewish Home” which served as the center of the Jewish community for tens of thousands of Jews in the Czernowitz district of Ukraine, formerly Bukovina, will be returned to the Jewish community.

The regional governor, Sergei Osachuk, made this surprise announcement during a memorial event commemorating the “80 years of tragedy” in memory of the victims of the Holocaust in the district. The events were attended by hundreds of dignitaries, public figures, members of the Jewish community, led by Chief Rabbi Menachem Mandel Glitzenstein, Community President Leonid Milman and Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Yoel Leon.

The five-story building and basement was built in 1908 and served as a center for the Jewish community. During the Holocaust, the 114-year-old building was taken over by the Nazis and hundreds of Jews were gathered in the plaza outside the building from where they were taken to a ravine and murdered. During the war a large picture of Hitler hung on the façade of the building.

After the Holocaust, the building was nationalized by the Communists and served as a general cultural center. The façade of the building reads “The Jewish House” in German, and “House of Israel” in Hebrew. The building is decorated with artistic columns and spectacular sculptures. For years, the Jewish community sought to reclaim the property, but it was only now that the provincial governor surprised everyone by his statement that the building will be returned to the Jewish people.

Now, with the governor’s announcement, the community is preparing to take over the building even though everyone understands that this will not happen overnight. It still requires the approval of a town hall meeting. The community plans to transfer the district’s Jewish school, community offices, museum and more to the building. The building will also serve as an educational and cultural center for the benefit of members of the community, its remnants scattered around the world, and for tourists. There are currently about 4,000 Jews living in the area. It should be noted that the Bukovina region was very well known in the Jewish world before the Holocaust, and quite a few well-known Israelis came out of it, including Member of Knesset Yuli Edelstein, the parents of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, the father of one of Israel’s most popular singers Shlomo Artzi, and many more.

A depiction of the “Jewish House” before World War II.

After the governor’s announcement, he met with the Israeli ambassador to Ukraine, Yoel Leon, who requested that Czernowitz’s magnificent and historic Temple building also be returned to the community. The Temple was the Great Synagogue of Czernowitz that was partially burned down in 1941 and turned into a movie theater. The governor promised he would “do everything we can to get it back soon.” Both the “Jewish Home” and the Temple are exceptional structures built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ambassador Leon told the mayor that it is impossible that the city center has two buildings so symbolic that everyone knows they belong to the community that has not regained them in 30 years of Ukrainian independence.

Among the events that took place in Czernowitz last week – there was also a “historic memorial meeting” on the corner of Bryanska and Piscolorna streets, where the Maccabi Stadium was once located, from which thousands of Czernowitz Jews were deported in 1941 to their deaths in ghettos and camps in Transnistria. A commemorative sign was posted and moving speeches were given by Ambassador Leon and German Ambassador to Ukraine Anka Fahladhan, as well as the governor.

Other events included:

  • A memorial meeting in the square from which thousands of other Jews were led – exactly 80 years ago – to the ravine of killing;
  • The “Yizchor” prayer was recited in the killing ravine near the town of Bila, led by the city’s rabbi and Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine;
  • An historical exhibition was offered by the local Jewish Museum under the direction of Nikolai Kushner;
  • An intellectuals’ forum for the history of the Holocaust of the Jews of Bukovina was held with the participation of the Chairman of the Bukovina Jews Association Yohanan Ron, as well as politicians, intellectuals and journalists; and
  • A Holocaust film festival focused on the memory of the Bukovina Holocaust was also held.

Many of these events took place in the historic Jewish home building.

“These events have another purpose,” explained Czernowitz’s chief rabbi and Chabad emissary to the city, Rabbi Menachem Mandel Glitzenstein. “Beyond commemorating the martyrs of the Holocaust and marking the events, we must look boldly at the spread of antisemitism in the world and do everything we can to make sure such a tragedy never happens again. We must celebrate our Judaism with pride, without fear and without dread, to spread light and make the darkness disappear. The number and intensity of the events currently being held in the city, with the participation of government representatives and guests from around the world, proves that this is possible and in our hands.”

Tens of thousands of Jews from the city of Czernowitz and the Bukovina province are currently scattered around the world. Many of them are thirsty for information about their roots and relatives who lived in the city. In order to serve them, the Jewish community in the city has established a project that helps them in a variety of ways to commemorate their loved ones and discover information about them.

The community can be contacted at the following email: [email protected]

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