Josef Schmatnik was born in 1868. He is my second great uncle.

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Josef Schmatnik, Tischler

A 1898 Czernowitz business directory shows a Josef Schmatnik working from #23 Schulgasse (view in Google maps). His profession was “Tischler” or a carpenter – a maker of wooden furniture, a joiner, a table-maker. The street changed names to Bozhenka in the Soviet era, and then Sh’kilna, in Ukranian/present day.

Josef married Khana Lebel (or Lobel), born in 1873 to parents Iacob and Beile, who lived in Czernowitz at #3 Dimitri Cantimir.

Radauti to Mogilev

Josef and Khana had one son. Leon Arie, was born on May 6th, 1904 in Radauti (sometimes spelled Radautz), where Josef and his wife had moved. Radautz was located in Suceava county, near Czernowitz, and was surrounded by dense forests to the east, north, and west. Nearby rivers and streams made for fertile, beautiful land. During Austro-Hungarian times, Jews established and were employed at industrial plants, owned ninety percent of the commerce in town, and made up the majority of the professionals such as doctors and lawyers. Before WW2 there were 23 synagogues in the town.

Thirty-some years later, Radauti, Romania, was a hostile place for Jews to live. The Romanian National Archives tell of the harsh measures put in place against the Jews. For example, if you were Jewish, your property was liked to be ‘transitioned’ to the state – this law was called “The Decree-Law for the Jewish Properties Transition to the State Ownership.”

On October 11, 1941, all Jews of Radautz were ordered to leave the town within 48 hours and start marching towards Transnistria. Anyone who did not leave would be shot. Only hand baggage was allowed, and their monies were to go into government banks with no receipts given.

Josef and Berta ended up in Moghilev, Podolskiy City, Vinnitsa, Ukraine (Transnistria). In Moghilev, skilled workers were housed in a labor camp inside the Dimitrov factory on the western side of the city.  A gassing and cremation facility was planned but the project failed.

Moghilev was liberated by the Red Army in June 1944, but  Josef died several months earlier, in April.

Leon Arie Schmatnik

Josef and Khana’s son Leon married a Zizi (Chichi or Trili) Itzkovitz , who was born in Ploesti, Romania in 1910. Ploesti (now called Ploiesti) is north of Bucharest, in Wallachia.  They resided in Bucharest, where he was a dentist.

Leon and Chichi set sail on the Struma, a Bulgarian ship which set out for Mandatory Palestine, in December 1941 with 791 Jewish refugees aboard.  They planned to apply for visas in Turkey.  The first day out to sea, her engine failed and she was towed by a tug to the port of Constanta. The crew was unable to start the engine and a Romanian tug returned, and their accepted the passengers’ wedding rings as payment to repair it so they could continue to Istanbul.

Struma remained anchored in Istanbul harbor while British diplomats and Turkish officials were at an impasse for months over the fate of the refugees.  They were not allowed to enter Turkey and the British authorities informed them they would not receive visas to Mandatory Palestine.  The engine could not be made to work and Turkish authorities towed Struma out and abandoned the ship in the Black Sea, where she she was mistakenly torpedoed by a Soviet submarine on February 24, 1942. No rescue came for the refugees.

The one survivor was 19-year-old David Stoliar (view his testimony). In 2015, the Turkish BIA News Desk reported that a commemoration ceremony was held for the first time for the victims of the disaster.


Links of Interest

Struma Documentary “No Way Back”

The Search for The Struma (Video)

2015 First Memorial for the Victims of the Struma

UHMM Link to document: “List of Jewish Specialists available in Moghilev County”, generated by the Mogilev Jewish Labor Committee, dated 16 June 1943. The list indicates current location of Jew and their profession. Josef is listed #43 on this list, and his specialty is listed as “dulgheri” or Carpenter, and location “Moghilev”