Burech Bendit



I came across this postcard, published in Czernowitz around 1900, only a few days ago, just at the right time, as we shall see. The white-bearded rabbi’s picture would not be unusual in the contemporary postcard edition of Czernowitz which, under the title of “Bukowinaer Types”, abundantly shed the arranged ethnographic photographies, among them many Jewish ones. All the more surprising, however, is this secular setting, where the rabbi raises a wine bottle – oh, those slender, thick-walled, opaque green shining old bottles! –, and with the other hand points to it in a teaching gesture with an enigmatic meaning. Whether he wants to propagate the drink or call the attention to its dangers, the scene certainly seems a cuckoo’s egg in the orthodox canon.

Under the picture the name of the rabbi is also included: Burech Bendit. About him, however, the world wide web does not offer any more detail either in Latin or in Yiddish letters. We turn to our Hebrew expert Két Sheng, then, who offers us the following information:

I won’t say it. It must be some general Jewish stereotype, as “Uncle Kohn”. Burech Bendit is in fact a double first name (I almost said Christian name, unberufen!), as both the Yiddish Burech and the Latin Bendit means blessed. Burech Bendit – sometimes in the Hebrew form, Baruch Bendit – is a common Jewish first name, just like Zeew Wolf (both meaning wolf, the first in Hebrew, the second in Yiddish), or Tzvi Hersh (deer in Hebrew and Yiddish). So I do not think you should seek for a historical person.

But he who seeks shall find.


In this postcard the glass has been already handed from Reb Burech to a more bohemian member of his community, and the caption also makes its purpose more unambiguous: Reb Burech drinks toast, that is, he converts the double blessing inherent in his name into threefold. His gesture, however, remains enigmatic, as if he warned that too much is as bad as nothing at all.


And a third postcard also reveals us the name of the bohemian character: he is Schlojmy Bäcker, who proudly leads under the chuppah his fiancee, “die Kaly”. The names suggest that the figures of the scenes might have been very well known, at least to a local circle. But which circle was it?


The company of Simon Gross, which published these postcards, had its seat at Main Street 27 of Czernowitz, on the following fin-de-siècle map section in the black house above the double letters “s” of Haupt-Strasse, to the left of the Serbian church of St. Paraskeva, the first Orthodox church of the city. This was a convenient location. Above, in the Rudolfsplatz was built the pride of the city, the Philharmony, raised from the donations of the most prominent citizens in 1876. In Hormuzaki Street stood the palace of the wealthy Fanariote Hormuzaki Barons, whose generosity permitted to Franz Liszt and a number of other renowned European artists to repeatedly tour in the city. In front of the building branched off from the main street the Judengasse – today Sholem Aleichem Street – where there stood the Yiddis theater, the other pride of the city, whose inhabitants with great devotion nurtured their mother tongue: here they held in 1908 the first conference of the Yiddish language, which launched the still blooming “Yiddish Renaissance”. And further down, at the corner of Schulgasse and Türkengasse worked the highly popular Municipal Theatre, which would be relocated only in 1905 to its present stunning location, the Theater Square above the main square, in the neighborhood of the still standing Jewish National House.


The corner of the Hauptstrasse and of the Judengasse, starting down to the right. Left, the porched entrance of the city market, and then the palaces number 25-27, in the second the seat of Simon Gross’ publishing company.


We have good reason to think, then, that Simon Gross’ publishing company and bookshop, flanked by theaters, had in its profile to publish and sell the contemporary fashion genre, the postcards with the portraits of famous actors and singers. And part of this must have been the promotion of the comic characters of the Yiddish theater on the opposite side of the street. It is quite possible that Reb Burech, Schlojmy Bäcker and “die Kaly” were such kind of constant comedy actors of the Czernowitz cabaret, as Aprikosenkranz and Untenbaum of the pre-war Yiddish radio cabaret of Lwów, or Hacsek and Sajó of that of Budapest much later. Whether this was indeed so, we count on the help of our readers.

The “Balaton” Serbian-Hungarian-Gypsy (!) band performing in the theater of Czernowitz. Postcard published by Simon Gross

And once the thrice blessed Reb Burech checked in Río Wang at the end of the year, let him say a threefold blessing for the coming year. The first one is the original Yiddish-language version of the Lechaim also included in the Fiddler on the Roof, performed in the 60s by the Barry Sisters, founders of the “Yiddish swing”. The second is Trinkt Lechaim! – as Reb Burech does it – from the 10s, in the orchestration of Elmer Bernstein from the musical film Thoroughly Modern Millie of 1967 (into which some violin motifs are also interwoven from the Bukovina collection of Joel Rubin and Joshua Horowitz). And the third one is where the Messiah himself says a blessing on all the world.


The Barry Sisters: Le Chaim! (2'49")


Elmer Bernstein: Trinkt Le Chaim! Wedding song (4'23") (From the film Thoroughly Modern Millie)


Klezmatics: Shnirele perele (6'11") (From the CD Rhythm & Jews)

“Baruch – Blessing.” King David drinks a toast in the Kaufmann Haggadah, first published by us in the internet. (Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

2013 Is Your Year!

(poster of an accounting software company with champion boxer István Kovács / Kokó)

The Crisis Is Over. 2013 Is Your Year!
For you, Kokó. We are killed by the taxes!


We wish a much happier New Year
to all the readers of Río Wang
and of course to ourselves.

Kőbánya




On the splendor and fall of Kőbánya we have already written, but we will also write more soon.

Dissolving

Cave homes in the Iranian Kandovan

Barcelona, Casa Battló, Gaudí

Kamenets-Podolsk


“Como si un tornado hubiera barrido las casitas alrededor de la enorme torre de Stephen Báthory, de siete pisos, al lado de la Puerta de los Vientos. Esta torre fue construida en otro tiempo, bajo dominio de un rey húngaro, un extraño en el trono de Polonia, que quiso conquistar las tierras ucranianas de Podolia. Y ahora, en 1943 (como cuenta Elena Lukyanova), los nazis ejecutaron junto a la Puerta de los Vientos a siete mil destacados hijos de Hungría que no querían colaborar con los invasores fascistas. La Gestapo no se atrevía a matarlos en Budapest, por lo que los envió a morir aquí, en este pequeño pueblo ucraniano.”
Vladimir Belyaev: El viejo castillo (1952)

Esta entrada de resumen, tendrá su continuación en otras más detalladas. Se publica en preparación de nuestro viaje a Czernowitz-Odessa, en abril de 2013.
Hay nombres de lugar que, después de una tragedia particularmente dura, se desgajan, se independizan de la tierra y vuelan por el mundo como pájaros negros: Auschwitz, Katyn, Sobibor… Solemos olvidar que el espacio que designa el nombre sigue existiendo y que allí amanece cada día más allá de la tragedia: las gentes que lo habitan nacen y se casan, organizan las fiestas de su ciudad, protegen y muestran a los viajeros sus monumentos. Pasa en Dachau, una delicada ciudad del Renacimiento y una eminente colonia de artistas alemanes. En Srebrenica, ciudad montañera de Bosnia, con sus minas de sal y su apreciado balneario. Y del mismo modo en Kamenets-Podolsk.


Para la mayoría de húngaros Kamenets-Podolsk es conocida por una cosa: en el verano de 1941, las autoridades húngaras –aprovechando la oportunidad ofrecida por los territorios de Galizia, desde poco tiempo atrás bajo ocupación alemana– intentaron deshacerse de al menos una parte de los judíos de su territorio trasladando ahí, al otro lado de la frontera, a quienes no pudieran probar su ciudadanía húngara. En realidad, en Körösfő / Yasinya, el nuevo control fronterizo con Hungría, fueron entregados a los alemanes que, en poco tiempo, los ejecutaron a todos: casi 18 mil, aunque el número exacto todavía no se conoce.

Y vinieron después tiempos extraños: la gente tenía que demostrar su ciudadanía y nacionalidad, presentar certificados de nacimiento.
Los antepasados ​​de [el gran escritor] Szomory habían vivido al menos doscientos años en Hungría, pero no podían demostrarlo, ya que no tenían ni un solo documento oficial…
Él se encogió de hombros: «Yo no lo pruebo. Todo el mundo sabe quién soy». Emil, desesperadamente: «Dezső, van a deportarle, le llevarán a Kamenets-Podolsk». Él no se alteró: «Bien. En cualquier caso, nunca he estado allí. ¿Es una ciudad bonita?»
Andor Kellér: Escritor en la torre (1958)


Pero Kamenets-Podolsk, la ciudad, no merece tener su nombre atado a esta tragedia. De un lado, porque si bien éste era el destino oficial de las deportaciones, buena parte de los asesinatos en masa tuvieron lugar durante el recorrido hasta aquí, sobre todo en Buchach, a unos setenta kilómetros, uno de los centros intelectuales judíos de Galizia, cuna de la familia de Freud, de Wiesenthal, y del primer ganador hebreo del Premio Nobel de literatura, Agnon. «Y allí se encuentra el vuestro», nos dijo el abogado polaco que nos acompañó al cementerio judío de Buchach, señalando desde la colina las dos fosas comunes en las que yacen miles de «apátridas» judios húngaros, y cuya existencia hubo que mantener oculta durante la era soviética. Después de todo, incluso Belyaev, el autor de nuestra cita de entrada, tuvo que recordar la tragedia alterando los detalles y omitiendo cualquier referencia a los judios en 1952, cuando los juicios-espectáculo contra los «doctores sionistas» se encontraban en plena ebullición en la Unión Soviética.


Y del otro lado porque Kamenets-Podolsk –respondiendo a Dezső Szomory– es realmente una ciudad hermosa. Muy hermosa, con una compleja historia y una enorme riqueza de monumentos. Además, su historia ya antes de 1941 había tenido que ver con la historia de Hungría.


El nombre de la ciudad significa «roca», y se debe a su insólita ubicación. Se extiende sobre una gran colina rocosa, ovalada, de un diámetro medio de un kilómetro, cuyo perímetro acantilado está rodeado completamente por el meandro del río Smotriych, un cañón inexpugnable salvo por un pequeño istmo que sirve de puente de entrada a la ciudad. El puente está protegido por un castillo medieval de siete torres perfectamente cuidado y reforzado durante siglos hasta que Stephen Báthory, príncipe de Transilvania y rey de Polonia, le dio el aspecto actual de cuento de hadas. El recuerdo del príncipe también alienta en otra pieza impresionante del antiguo sistema de fortificación, la torre Báthory de siete plantas, firmemente asentada al final de la calle de la Pequeña Armenia, a pocos minutos a pie desde el mercado polaco.



De hecho, Kamenyets-Podolsk siempre fue ciudad de frontera: en ello estaba su fuerza y ​​su debilidad. En el punto de encuentro del antiguo reino polaco-lituano con el imperio otomano, tenía que resistir sobre sus propios muros los ataques renovados de los turcos cuando lograban quebrar el dispositivo de defensa a lo largo del Dniéster, a sólo cuarenta kilómetros hacia el sur. Es por eso que se construyó como la fortaleza más fuerte del país. La ciudad, llave del reino polaco, estuvo en peligro varias veces y su conservación fue siempre un grave problema para los sucesivos monarcas, pero los asedios rechazados con éxito sucesivamente dieron también fuerzas renovadas a luchas aún mayores, como ocurrió en la década de 1680, cuando el rey Jan Sobieski, después de la liberación de la línea de castillos locales, con el mismo impulso fue hacia Viena para evitar que la ciudad fuera ocupada por los turcos, y poner en marcha la liberación definitiva de Hungría del dominio otomano.

Kamenets-Podolsk, en un breve período (1672-1699) de dominio otomano. Grabado parisino de Nicolas de Fer (1646-1720) con indicación de los edificios importantes y las distintas etnias de los barrios de la ciudad, 1691

Sin embargo, la situación de frontera también fue la razón del singular carácter de ciudad mercantil armenia de Kamenets-Podolsk. Los comerciantes armenios procedentes del imperio otomano a través de la «Ruta de la Seda del Este de Europa», después de cruzar la frontera polaca se quedaron aquí por primera vez y juntaron sus bienes con los armenios que ya se habían asentado en el imperio polaco, llegando a Lwów, Cracovia y Breslau. Así es como tomó forma el barrio de los armenios todavía existente en la ciudad: con su imponente torre-fortaleza en la catedral católico-armenia, y la pequeña iglesia monofisita. De hecho, Kamenets-Podolsk fue la única ciudad polaca, donde, además de la iglesia de los armenios unidos a la Iglesia Católica, pudo erigirse otra iglesia armenia para los monofisitas armenios originales, aquellos comerciantes venidos desde el Imperio otomano y que pronto volverían allá.



Con todo, los lujosos palacios aún en pie en el centro de la ciudad polaca no dan la impresión de una zona fronteriza. A la ciudad llegaban rápidamente las últimas tendencias intelectuales así como las novedades de moda y los actores de Varsovia. El barrio judío –que había sufrido terriblemente bajo el levantamiento de Bohdan Khmelnytsky y las invasiones subsiguientes de los tártaros– también se abría a las nuevas ideas. Poco después del movimiento mesiánico de Shabbatai Tsvi, fue Kamenets-Podolsk quien encabezó las enseñanzas de este movimiento entre el frankismo, cuyos representantes quemaron el Talmud en la plaza principal de la ciudad en 1757. Aquí nació y mantuvo una lujosa residencia Joseph Yozel Günzburg, uno de los más ricos banqueros judíos rusos del siglo XIX, filántropo y fundador de la Sociedad de Promoción de la Cultura Judía. Y aquí también nació Mendele Mocher Sforim, uno de los padres de la moderna literatura yidis y hebrea; y el actor Zvee Scooler, el rabino de la versión cinematográfica de El violinista en el tejado.



Dentro de la ciudad siguen aún en pie, uno al lado del otro, los mercados polaco, ucraniano y armenio; las iglesias católica, ortodoxa, greco-católica, católica-armenia, monofisita-armenia y la sinagoga, e incluso resiste el minarete dejado por el breve dominio turco: la pequeña meseta de Kamenets se complica en un laberinto de torres medievales, palacios renacentistas y barrocos y calles seductoras dibujadas por varias naciones. En nuestro viaje pasando por Czernowitz hacia Odessa pararemos en esta ciudad fabulosamente bella. También para hacerle justicia y conocer su cara más atractiva, para no quedarnos sólo con la triste reputación asociada a la tragedia de 1941.


Kamenets-Podolsk


“As if a hurricane had swept away the tiny houses around Stephen Báthory’s huge, seven-storey tower, next to the Windy Gate. This tower was once built on the command of a Hungarian king, who was a stranger on the Polish throne, and wanted to conquer the Ukrainian lands of Podolia. And now recently, in 1943 (as Elena Lukyanova recounts it), the Nazis shot to death next to the Windy Gate seven thousand excellent sons of Hungary, who did not want to collaborate with the fascist invaders. The Gestapo did not dare to kill them in Budapest, so they sent them to die here, in this little Ukrainian town.”
Vladimir Belyaev: The old castle (1952)

This summary post, to be followed by a number of detailed ones, was written in preparation of our Czernowitz-Odessa tour in April 2013.
There are places, whose names after a particularly shocking tragedy separate from them, and fly alone in the world like dark birds: Auschwitz, Katyń, Sobibór. We usually forget that the place belonging to the name continues to exist and to live its life independently of the tragedy: they are born and get married, they celebrate and hold city days, they protect and show to the tourists their monuments. Like Dachau, the Renaissance little town and prominent German artists’ colony. Like Srebrenica, the Bosnian mountain town and resort place. And, of course, like Kamenets-Podolsk.


To most Hungarians Kamenets-Podolsk is known for one thing: that in the summer of 1941, the Hungarian authorities – seizing the opportunity offered by the Galician territories since recently under German occupation – wanted to get rid of at least a part of the Jews in Hungary by relocating there, across the border those of them who could not prove their Hungarian citizenship. In reality, at Körösfő/Yasinya, the new-old Hungarian border station, they gave them over to the Germans, who within a short time executed them all, nearly 18 thousand, but their exact number is not known.

“And then strange times came: people had to prove their citizenship and nationality, submit birth certificates.
The ancestors of [the great author] Szomory had lived for at least two hundred years in Hungary, but he could not prove it, as he did not have a single official document…
He shrugged: “I do not prove it. Everyone knows who I am.” Emil, desperately: “Dezső, you will be deported, taken to Kamenets-Podolsk.” He did not get upset: “I have never been there anyway. Is it a nice city?”
Andor Kellér: Author in the tower (1958)


However, Kamenets-Podolsk, the city does not deserve to connect its name only with this tragedy. On the one hand, because although this was the official target of the deportations, a part of the mass murders took place already on the way here, above all in Buchach, some seventy kilometers from here, one of the intellectual centers of Galician Jews, the birthplace of Freud’s family, the Wiesenthals, and the first Nobel Prize winner Hebrew author Agnon. “And there lay yours”, told my guide, the old Polish lawyer, after the visit of the Jewish cemetery, pointing to the two mass graves, under which thousands of “stateless” Hungarian Jews lie, and whose very existence had to be concealed in the Soviet era. After all, even Belyaev, the author of our starting quote had to remember the tragedy by changing the details and omitting any reference to the Jews in 1952, when the show-trials against the “Zionist doctors” were in full preparation in the Soviet Union.


And on the other hand, because Kamenets-Podolsk – to give an answer to Dezső Szomory – is in fact a nice town. A beautiful town, with a great history, and rich in monuments. In addition, its history already before 1941 was in many ways entwined with Hungarian history.


The name of the city means “rock”, due to its quite amazing geographical location. It stands on the top of one single, huge, oval-shaped rock with a diameter of a thousand meters, whose vertical cliffs are almost completely flown around in a deep canyon by the Smotrych river, leaving only one narrow isthmus as an entrance to the rock. This isthmus is watched over by a beautiful medieval castle of seven towers, which was constantly reinforced for several centuries, until Stephen Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and King of Poland gave to it its today’s form of a fairy tale castle. His remembrance is preserved also by the other impressive surviving piece of the former fortress system, the seven-storey Báthory Tower, which stands firmly on the rock wall, at the end of the Little Armenian street, just a few minutes from the Polish Market.



In fact, Kamenyets-Podolsk was always a frontier town: this was the reason of its strength and weakness. At the clash point of the former Polish-Lithuanian kingdom and the Ottoman Empire, it had to hold up with its own walls the renewed Turkish attacks, if they managed to break through the fortress system along the Dniester, only forty kilometers to the south. This is why they built it out as the country’s strongest fortress. The city, the key of the Polish kingdom was repeatedly imperiled, and its conservation was always a serious problem for the current monarch, but the successfully repelled sieges also gave new force to the further fight, like in the 1680s, when King Jan Sobieski, after the liberation of the local castle line, with the same impulse went under Vienna to prevent the city from being occupied from the Turks, and to launch the definitive liberation of Hungary from the Ottoman rule.

Kamenets-Podolsk, at this time shortly (1672-1699) in Ottoman hands. Parisian engraving by Nicolas de Fer (1646-1720), with the indication of the important buildings and ethnic neighborhoods of the city, 1691

But the frontier situation was also the reason of the unique Armenian merchant city character of Kamenets-Podolsk. The Armenian merchants coming from the Ottoman empire through the “Eastern European Silk Road”, after crossing the Polish border, here stayed for the first time, and handed over their goods to the Armenians who had settled in the Polish empire, and who carried them forward to Lwów, Krakow and Breslau. This is how the still existing Armenian quarter of the city took shape, with the vast tower of the fortress-like Armenian Catholic Cathedral, and the smaller Armenian Monophysite church. In fact, Kamenets-Podolsk was the only city in Poland, where, in addition to the church of the Armenians coming to union with the Catholic church, another Armenian church could be erected for the followers of the original Armenian Monophysite confession, the merchants coming from the Ottoman Empire and soon returning there.



However, the luxurious palaces still standing in the Polish center of the city do not give the impression of any frontier zone. The city was quickly reached by the latest intellectual trends as well as the innovations of fashion or Warsaw performers. The Jewish quarter – which had terribly suffered under the Bohdan Khmelnytsky uprising and the subsequent invasions of the Tatars – was also open to any new ideas. Shortly after Shabbatai Tsvi’s messianic movement, it was Kamenets-Podolsk to became the center of the Frankism carrying on the Shabbatean teachings, whose representantives burnt the Talmud in the main square of the city in 1757. Here was born and maintained a luxurious residence Joseph Yozel Günzburg, one of the wealthiest Jewish bankers in 19th-century Russia, a noted philanthropist, and founder of the Society to Promote Jewish Culture. And here was also born Mendele Mocher Sforim, one of the founders of modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature, and the actor Zvee Scooler, the rabbi in the movie version of the Fiddler on the Roof.



In the city still stand next to each other the Polish, Ukrainian and Armenian market, the Catholic, Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Monophysite church and the synagogue, and even the minaret left by the short Turkish rule: the plateau of Kamenets is enmeshed by the labyrinth of the medieval towers, Renaissance palaces and charming Baroque streets erected by various nations. During our trip through Czernowitz to Odessa we will have to visit this fabulously beautiful town also in order to do it justice, and to know it from its attractive side instead of only the black reputation associated with the tragedy of 1941.