My paternal grandmother, Ettel Blei, was born on 15 December 1902 in Sadagora, Bukowina, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her parents were named Gusta Sandberg and Salomon Selig Blei, with siblings (from oldest to youngest) Mina, Regina, Ettel, Samuel, Adolf and Isidor. The youngest, Sigmund, died at age two.

Father Salomon died in 1941. His father’s name was Chaim Blei, born in 1844 in Bushoff, Poland. Mother Gusta (Sandberg) Blei died 19 August 1934 (Hebrew name Golde) and died in 1936. She is buried in Chernovitz (Area 133/Parcel 21D, Plot 23). Information is courtesy of the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry. Gusta’s mother’s name was Faga Sunburg, born in 1850, in Bushoff, Poland. In her daughter Minna’s burial record, Gusta’s name is listed as Shimshon Zelig. A quick Internet search for ‘Bushoff, Poland’ turns up nothing. Was it part of Galicia? Bukovina? It’s baffling, so many spelling changes, pronunciation changes due to differing languages and anecdotal history…I found a list of former cities of Poland, and I come up with nothing.

Minna Blei was born in 1898 in Sadagora and died Minna Reinstein. Date of death is 19 July 1932, aged 34, Hebrew name Mindel. Information is courtesy of the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry. Minna married Moritz Reinstein in 1920 in Czernowitz. Moritz appears in the 1927 census with address #74 Cuciurul Mare. Interesting fact – I see a marriage record for him the same year Mina died – 1932. He married Juta Kreider the same year. Regina Blei was born in 1900 in Sadagora, and in 1921 married Filip Honigsberg. Her daughter Henriette was born in 1924, and Friederike (Fritzi) in 1926. Carl was born in 1919 or 20. Carl and Friederike died in Transnistria. Regina also died, but she was already paralyzed from an illness when she was deported to Transnistria with her family.

From L: Gusta Blei, Samuel Jr. Adolf, Ettel, Samuel Sr. (torn out)

Samuel Blei was born on May 9, 1901 in Sadagora. He married Freida Schneider in 1926, and died on September 24,1944 in the Mittelbau-Dora camp of Buchenwald. Adolf Blei was born in 1904 in Sadagora. Isidor Blei was born in 1906 in Sadagora. I located a burial record for him in JewishGen – date of death was 28-Jul-1922, in Târgu-Mureş / Romania. There was a Tirgu-Mures ghetto. Sigmund Blei was born in 1907 in Sadagora. He died when he was two years old.

Ettel’s Childhood

My own memories are full of her stories. She lived in fear of her father, who had a fierce temper. She recalled him leaning over and saying threateningly “Etela, comme hier!” with  frequent beatings. Though Nana Esther always had a flair for drama, so she would perhaps call a spanking a beating. Not to speak ill of the dead, but my understanding was that he was cruel to her mother.

And I’m sure living in poverty and danger during a great war didn’t help anyone’s temper.

She recollected, “When he would come to give us a nickel for the movies, or candy, I never took“. She recalled being quite poor, and going with her siblings to pick up coal from the train tracks, and then when the train came, once jumping inside the tracks to lie down and have the train run over, as there was not time to get away safely.

She recalled the dangers of living in Poland during that time, of pograms where her older sisters were hid in the oven so they would not be raped.

Life in Sadagora

The entire Bukovina region was part of Moldavia until until in 1774 the town was annexed into Austria. Before this time, during the Russo-Turkish war around 1770 a mint was established in the area, minting coins displaying the coats of arms for Moldavia and Wallachia. Jewish merchants moved into this new settlement and constructed a synagogue. This settlement was part of the Austrian Empire until 1918. The new residents were pressured to become farmers by the Austrian government. Though there were struggles, the area was more Jew-positive than many others, and from 1863 to WW1, the Jewish community leader was also the mayor.

Founders of the Czernowitz Conference, 1908, the year Sigmund was born

Before WW1 there were over 5,000 in the Jewish population of the town. The town became the center of the Hasidic dynasty. In 1914, the Archduke to the Austrian throne was killed. Russian forces advanced westward towards the region. The two main bridges over the Prut river were blown up. Residents of Czernowitz and Sadagora moved south and west. Bukovina surrendered and the remaining citizens were trapped. In early 1915 the Austrians were back in power and mostly remained there until 1918 when the area went to the Romanians. The Jews were not before this point recognized as Austrian nationals.