Bukovina and Transylvania, two historic Central European territories that were formerly part of the Habsburg Empire and are now primarily located within contemporary Romania, were once home to a remarkably diverse population that included Romanians, Germans, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Jews, Armenians, Poles, and Roma. Until World War II, sizable Jewish communities were to be found throughout these regions. The history of these communities, however, remains relatively underrepresented in scholarship, largely due to the challenges involved in identifying and accessing primary source materials.
Over the next six months (spring and summer 2013), two Leo Baeck Institute archivists, Julie Dawson and Timothy Ryan Mendenhall, are conducting a systematic inventory of archival holdings related to German-speaking Jewish communities in Southern Bukovina (the region of historical Bukovina currently located in Romania) and Southern Transylvania, where the Jewish communities were primarily German-speaking due to the influence of the German cultural environment. Their work, supported by funding from the Rothschild Foundation, will result in a user-friendly and globally accessible online catalogue of archival holdings pertaining to select Jewish communities of Central Europe. The objective of this project is to facilitate greater access to collections that have been virtually hidden since World War II and thereby stimulate research in the Jewish history of these areas both locally and at a European and international level.
Like most of Central and Eastern Europe, these territories, currently under Romanian government, underwent numerous regime changes over the course of the 20th century. These shifts wrought havoc on local archives, both in terms of physical preservation and organization. Today documents relating to the Jewish communities and history may be housed in municipal or county archives and may occasionally be found in abandoned synagogues or the offices of those still existing Jewish communities. Moreover, the wealth of material held in each county’s state archive branch is catalogued using a multi-tiered cataloging system, which results in many documents or items of interest being “hidden.” Additionally, the cataloging system requires vast amounts of time (inventories, which can contain thousands of individually listed items, are rarely searchable by computer) and knowledge of the Romanian language. Consequently, much of the Jewish history of these territories remains unexplored and in this sense, Transylvania and Bukovina, along with the other territories within the former Eastern bloc, arguably represent the final frontier in European Jewish scholarship.
Leo Baeck Institute is currently building a bilingual (English-Romanian) searchable online database for the results of this survey; the database will be launched for public use later this year. This portal will be a valuable tool not only for national and international scholars but also for students, youths, and other interested parties within Romania by providing teachers and educators with a concrete means for promoting research of local history.
In the meantime, Ms. Dawson and Mr. Mendenhall are reporting on their work in the field on Tumblr at http://jewish-transylvania-bukovina.tumblr.com/ and on twitter @lbistsb. Occasional updates on their work will also be featured here at www.lbi.org.
About the Project Leaders
Julie Dawson has been an archivist at the Leo Baeck Institute since 2010, prior to which she worked in Romania and Germany for 9 years. She holds an MA in Jewish Studies and a Certificate in East Central European Studies from Columbia University. She speaks German, Romanian, and Yiddish. If you have questions or comments about this project, you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timothy Ryan Mendenhall received a B.A. in Germanic Languages and Literatures from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, including one year abroad at the Humboldt University in Berlin. While completing coursework for an MLIS at Queens College, City University of New York, he joined the staff of the Leo Baeck Institute in 2010 as Assistant Project Archivist for Digitization.