28 June 2011

Brick phantoms

In early March 2011 I returned to Czernowitz. The Cyrillic alphabet, the marks of the Soviet Union in everyday life, visible in cars and intercoms, the concerns of the people regarding their harsh daily life - all of this contrasts with the architecture of the city center - Austrian and Romanian heritage - as if that setting had absolutely nothing to do with the theater play that is now being represented.

Except the Romanian minority, which deplores even today, but silently, the loss of northern Bukovina and its capital Czernowitz to the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine at the end of World War II, the rest of the population seems unaware - and why should it be otherwise? - of inhabiting places that once shaped perhaps the most cosmopolitan city within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with its unique cultural effervescence.

I saw the Great Synagogue [picture above], built in the first half of the 19th century in a typical Galitian style, in the center of the old Jewish quarter, on Henry Barbusse street, now hosting a shop of doors and windows and other small businesses inside the backyard, such as a trade in crosses for cemeteries. The current owner seems to be treating well his property, even keeping a Hebrew inscription found above the main entrance. Since 1865, when the Jewish quarter was destroyed by fire, the synagogue has generated many legends about its miraculous power to come out unscathed amid the flames.

Behind it lie the ruins of a Jewish hospital [photo] built in the 1930s thanks to the donation of the famous German-Jewish tenor Joseph Schmidt, born in Bukovina in 1904.