I was born in a beautiful town in the Bucovina, then Romania, now Ukraine, called Czernowitz. I enjoyed a wonderfully carefree childhood until World War II broke out, and the rest is history.

Czernowitzers got deported, killed and the ones who survived left the city to all corners of the world. Strangely enough, wherever we are now, somewhere in the US, Canada, Europe,  Australia, even Africa, we still remained Czernowitzers. We cling to our past in a way which is hard to explain.

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It’s true, we have a very interesting past and maybe this is the reason we can’t let go. Our first language was German, we went to Romanian schools, hosted the Soviets for long periods twice, they came and went like unwelcome guests, and finally we realized with great sadness that we have to leave.

So we did. But in truth we did not. There is an unbreakable bond which unites us in person, by phone and mostly by e-mail. We talk to each other constantly, almost daily. Outsiders would think it weird if they knew what we talk about. One of the last subjects we discussed quite heatedly was Czernowitz superstitions.

“Did we throw salt over our shoulders? Did we avoid meeting a black cat? Did our grandmothers use incantations and what were they?” But this is only a small part of our debates!  

“Now what was the name of the street you lived on? The initial German name, and then the Romanian name, and lastly the Russian name?”

“Did you know my uncle Otto? He lived on the same street and was a well-known lawyer!”

“You are wrong,” writes one member, “the house number 8 belonged to my grandfather and I spent much of my childhood there, so I should know! This was not a movie house!”

We agree and disagree and submit new and old information and actually enjoy ourselves.

Messages go back and forth and when I get up in the morning and find my monitor black with e-mails, I am happy to find myself again among my people!

“Do you have Ruth’s Czernowitz cuisine cookbook?” someone asks, “no one cooked as well as Czernowitz housewives! And the food at Friedmann’s restaurant? I can still remember the taste of his marvelous vegetable soups and his cakes, oh God, how can we live without them?”

And then one morning we decided it’s time to talk about Czernowitz art, our poets, alas so few, painters – and now we have our own art gallery on the internet – we discuss writers who still write with love for the city, a good example being my friend Hedy who only two years ago, at the age of ninety plus, wrote the book My old Czernowitz in our mother tongue, German. She too has left her native city many decades ago but still seems to live there!

We also have our own photo album with pictures of all our members reaching 400 or more I think, so you can see what the person looks like who sent you a nasty remark last week.

The Czernowitz sickness is genetic and inherited. Our group is joined by children and grandchildren who never set foot in the Bucovina but intrigued by stories heard, they feel the need to go and see and reconstruct the past which cannot be forgotten by their elders.

Now one of our inventive members has decided to categorize us in numbers: A number 5 Czernowitzer is someone who was born there, spoke German initially and went through the whole agitated era up to World War II and after. Categories go down all the way to number 2, represented by indifferent Czernowitzers who have only a limited knowledge of the city and don’t really care that much.

According to my friend’s categorization, I am a number 5. Wow! This makes me so proud!

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