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Survey of Romanian Archives Shifts Focus to Jewish Community Records

Wed, May 3, 2017

A survey of archival material related to the Jewish history of Transylvania and Bukovina will begin a new chapter based on important discoveries by project director Julie Dawson, who found rich unprocessed information in Jewish community archives.

Since 2013, with funding from the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, Julie Dawson has completed inventories of material in the Romanian National Archives for the Bukovina and Transylvanian counties of Suceava, Sibiu, Brașov, Cluj, Mureș, Alba, and Timiș, as well as repositories related to these regions that are located in Bucharest. However, she found that much of the richest information on Jewish life in the region remains in the possession of local Jewish community archives not previously accessible to the public. Accordingly, she and her team have begun efforts to preserve and catalog these long-hidden materials, which will be the new focus of their work beginning in 2017.

For instance, record books from the Jewish Community of Alba Iulia include a guide to the cemetery with burials starting in 1839. The records from the Alba Iulia community, once the largest in Transylvania, are often written in German using Hebrew script, complete with umlauts over the alefs.

Graphic materials depicting Jewish life were discovered in the Cluj Neologue Synagogue and have since been digitized, including a collection of re-printed zincographs (metal stamps used for printing photographs in newspapers and books from the 19th to the mid-20th century), artworks, and photographs.

Finding aids are also being created for paper material discovered in the Cluj synagogue. Between eight and ten linear meters of material was cleaned, processed, and put into archival storage boxes. It can now be viewed at the offices of the Cluj Jewish Community. The majority of the contents relates to the reestablishment of the community and Jewish school during the immediate post-war period, but there are also documents from the interwar period and the second world war. Extensive sheet music was also found in the synagogue. One collection is of hand-written cantorial and choir music, while the second contains printed and handwritten scores and orchestral parts for the interwar Jewish “Goldmark” orchestra, named after the prominent 19th-century Hungarian-born Viennese composer, Karl Goldmark. The Cluj Goldmark orchestra was founded and conducted by Alexander Boskovich, who would go on to become a well-known composer in Israel. The collection includes what is likely the only extant copy of a work by Joachim Stutschewsky (a Viennese-based composer and spokesperson for the Neue Jüdische Schule) in an orchestration by Boskovich.

Strides were also made to preserve and make accessible material held by the Lugoj community in Romania’s Banat region. These include social and professional correspondence with the rabbinical offi ce dating from the 19th century, extensive administrative paperwork and correspondence related to community cultural organizations, and a sizeable collection of photographs dating from the 19th to the mid-20th century.

Beginning in July 2017 and running to July 2019, a new grant from the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe will support further work focusing on “hidden” Jewish community collections like the ones described above. Dawson and her team will clean, process, preserve, and make accessible to a wider audience this invaluable documentary and visual material, stimulating scholarship about and interest in Jewish history and heritage in Transylvania and Bukovina.