My Third Journey to Bukovina -2013

By Michael Augustin
Published by the author in the Bukovina Society of the Americas Newsletter,
Vol. 23, No.3 September, 2013

My first visit to Bukovina took place in 2008 with my friend Peter Grunikiewicz on the occasion of the sexcentenary, or 600th birthday celebration, of the city of Czernowitz; the second was in the year 2009 together with my uncle Franz Augustin and my wife Bärbel. On both trips we explored the homeland of our forebears with Gurahumora as our home base and Roland Loy from Suczawa, now a resident of Ulm, as our translator, chauffeur and tour guide. On the third trip Roland, Peter and I wanted to visit several places, which we had not previously seen (e.g., Karlsberg and Buchenhain [Poiana Micului]). Another objective was to attend the Orthodox Easter festival, which is often cited as especially ceremonial and magnificent. In addition we also wished to photograph documents in the National Archives in Suczawa and the tombstones in the cemeteries, and also visit some of the Moldavian monasteries, none of which we had yet seen.

Determined respectively by the Gregorian or the Julian calendars, the dates of the Orthodox and Christian Easter celebrations can differ by as many as four weeks. This year the Orthodox holiday fell on May 5, and that was the major factor on which we based our trip, feeling reasonably certain we would avoid cold and nasty weather, which in fact proved to be the case. In any event accommodations in the vicinity of the Moldavian monasteries at the time of the Easter festival were either booked solid or unreasonably expensive. Only after we decided to accept accommodations at a somewhat greater distance in Suczawa did our plans begin to crystallize.

At this point I will continue by presenting several especially interesting experiences. These individual accounts do not make a cohesive whole and therefore can be read in random order.


Editor’s note: in this context, the word “Episcopal” alludes to the authority of the office and authority of a Roman Catholic bishop.

For our third journey to Bukovina we learned that the best connections with travel time totaling only four hours were from Stuttgart via Vienna to Iaşi. The old university city of Iaşi lies in northeastern Romania only 20 kilometers from the border of the republic of Moldavia and is the capital of a district with the same name. This was the most important city of the historic duchy of Moldavia and with its approximately 280,000 inhabitants, serves as cultural capital of Romania. From the genealogist Traudl Siewi we additionally learned that the Episcopal archives of Iaşi has church records relating to the German communities in Bukovina from the time before the resettlement, which we wished to examine and copy, if possible. Reminder: the original church records of the German communities accompanied the 1940 resettlement of Bukovina’s ethic Germans to Germany and, to the extent to which they have been maintained, they are today preserved in the ‘Zentralstelle für Genealogie’ (Central Office for Genealogy) in Leipzig.

It was in the Hotel Trajan, lying at the end of the Bulevardul Štefan cel Mare Ši Sfânt, that we found accommodations. It is noteworthy that Gustave Eiffel, the famed builder of the tower in Paris, which still bears his name, designed this hotel. Immediately after our arrival we wandered over this magnifi cent boulevard with its four churches and historic buildings and came almost inevitably to the Catholic Church and the nearby Episcopal archives. Finding a priest who spoke a little German, we were also able to explain our purpose and were told that we could see the church records the next morning without a problem. He was there as per our agreement when we arrived with our camera equipment full of high expectations. We explained our objectives anew and were advised to direct a written request to the Bishop.

This we did and in about one-half hour the priest, whom we had met the previous evening, conducted us to a large sitting room where the archivist received us. The archivist had several of the Fürstenthal and Radautz church books with him. These proved to be copies, which had already been prepared at the time of the early settlement and then sent to the Episcopal archives in Lemberg. After the annexation of north Bukovina by the Soviet Union, the communities, and with them also the relevant records, came under the jurisdiction of the Bishopric of Iaşi (1940). These copies were either filed under the words copia or extract and are distinguished by their excellent state of preservation and their neat and clearly legible writing. This is attributable to the fact that the documents were little used and specially prepared for the Episcopal archives. The collection involves individual booklets, some of which have a slightly different format, which were sewn together and then bound into the registries.

We did not see a catalog or gain a general overview, nor were we allowed to take pictures of the books. Consequently we could only photograph some selected pages. Since there was a personal computer in the room with a connection to the Internet, we showed the archivist the digitalized church records of the Czech archives, which are accessible for everybody under as an example, and which concerns itself with funds and means of procuring them from the European Union. This latter point seemed to evoke the archivist’s special interest. Even if in Iaşi perhaps “only” incomplete transcripts and copies are stored, there is undoubtedly a valuable source of genealogical research material here, which has yet to be tapped.


Our project was set in motion by an article in Der Südostdeutsche. In the last issue before our trip (April 20, 2013) a descendant of Baron von Kapri noted that he had visited the former estate of his forebears in Iacobesti, a village in Bukovina, and how he then tried to maintain it. This awakened in the memory of my friend and traveling companion, Peter Grunikiewicz from Stuttgart-Büsnau, the recollection that his maternal grandfather (Alois Straub, 1861-1925) had been a friend and neighbor of the Kapri family and had thus been granted the privilege of burial in their private cemetery. Several of Peter’s family friends had supposedly visited this cemetery years ago but no signs of the graves could be found.

Our first investigative journey to Bukovina led us immediately to the small village of Iacobesti, which lies halfway between Radautz and Suczawa on the right side somewhere across the E85. Even our friend and tour guide Roland Loy was unfamiliar with this neighborhood although he owns a house in Suczawa and knows the area very well. We found the remains of the estate without any difficulty. The main house is still standing but has succumbed to ruins. The nearby house is occupied by a Romanian family and is well maintained. We forged a conversation with the owners of the neighboring properties, who told us that the cemetery, which one can see on the left side of the main street in the direction of Radautz, is the former private cemetery of the Kapri family, and that it is currently used by the general public. From Google maps on the Internet one can well discern the layout.

We entered this cemetery, although it had rained the night before and the grass was still wet. I immediately proceeded to the foremost left section, where I, as the people in the estate house had said, also found among the wild lilacs and other bushes the remains of old graves whose inscriptions had been totally obliterated. In the meantime Roland and Peter found a man in the rear left area of the cemetery to whom they expressed the purpose of our visit. He led us straightaway to the back left section of the cemetery where, entirely hidden and in a place which we ourselves could never have found, we came upon two well-maintained grave monuments. One artifact—a heavy and well-preserved plaque in the ground—was on the grave of a religious sister from Bavaria, who over a century ago found her eternal peace with the community’s prayers. The other, an almost man-sized sturdy crucifix with a still legible inscription, was on the grave of Peter’s grandfather, Alois Straub. Needless to say, Peter was beside himself with joy since this represented for him the apex of our entire trip. And of course, Roland and I rejoiced with him.


On this trip ample time was also devoted to visiting former German cemeteries. In total we went to a dozen cemeteries, specifically those in Arbora, Fürstenthal, Iacobesti, Illischestie, Marginea, Poiana Micului (Buchenhain), Putna, Radautz, Solka and Satulmare.


The cemetery in Arbora seemed relatively the same as it was on our last visit four years ago. The nearby monastery, however, is not well maintained yet from the outside is nonetheless still attractive and worth a visit. Here there was nothing new for us to discover. The few preserved graves with German names (Gebert, Kuffner, Prosser, Reitmeier, Hanus) can be found on the eastern side of the cemetery, which leads out of town.


The most activity since our last visit has taken place in the cemetery of the Fürstenthal community, so to say the ancestral settlement of the Augustin family in Bukovina. The owner of the sawmill, Vasile Zaremba, who also maintained the old Catholic church, has in the meantime and at considerable expense restored the seldom used Catholic cemetery at the periphery of the Orthodox cemetery. The originally unsecured entrance road is now neatly paved, there is an attractive entrance gate, the cemetery is completely fenced in, and a nicely paved path leads from front to back. The showpiece, however, is a stately chapel for the deceased, so that the cemetery can and also will again be utilized. In addition all the graves were clean and well maintained and at the side opposite the entrance all the old tombstone fragments that could still be found are carefully piled up. In any event only two such stones still bore inscriptions.


At Gurahumora, some of the old graves have disappeared since our last visit. Viewed from left of the hill, these had been located at the upper entrance. Now one fi nds here some conspicuous, available, but thus far unused space.

Gura Putnei (Karlsberg)

This was our fi rst visit to the Karlsberg cemetery, which lies to the right of the village entrance. The view is dominated by the new, somewhat higher lying area with the older section ending at the bottom in a type of basin. This is rather extensive, and there are still relatively many old tombstones of various types and in diverse states of preservation. Some of them are very stylistically structured. In general the place is difficult to describe, very unique, but despite the ruins and the general disorder, has left us with a worthy and lasting impression.


The former private cemetery of the Kapri family is discussed earlier.


In my last report on the cemeteries in Bukovina I had still maintained that there were no relics from German gravesites in Illischestie. Irmgard Ellingson from Iowa corrected me on this point, and so this time we were determined to pursue our search for the German cemetery. Many people interested in helping us showed us the way, but nonetheless what we came upon was a Soviet military graveyard. The old German cemetery lies north of the community as one approaches from the direction of Suczawa from the main street and turns right at the heights of the former Protestant and the now Orthodox church easily following the street upward for about one kilometer. Here lies the “new” Orthodox cemetery, which a little further down the street leads directly to the old cemetery.

As does the cemetery in Karlsberg, the one in Illischestie has a very unique character but is nonetheless very different. It lies on a gentle crest with an expansive overview of the valley below. Notable is the vast stretch and the feeling of freedom and spaciousness which this place emanates. Here one also fi nds many relics of tomb artifacts in various states of preservation and strewn wildly over the entire area. In some places they lie closely together, in others one fi nds absolutely nothing. As is true of the other cemeteries, the engraved tablets with the names and dates of those buried here have simply disappeared, or the tombstone has toppled and already sunken into the ground.


As on our last visit, that time in pouring rain, we again tried to locate old graves in the cemetery of Marginea dating from the period before the 1940 resettlement. This again remained unfulfilled. As to the question as to whether a separate German cemetery ever existed in Marginea, we received contradictory replies. Perhaps there will be a response one way or another from among the readers of this article.

Poiana Micului (Buchenhain)

The cemetery in Poiana Micului lies directly next to the church. It is very spacious and divided into sections with old and new graves apparently lying arbitrarily spread out over the area and the new graves tending to be placed nearer to the church.


The cemetery in Putna is only listed here for the sake of completion. Here we did not search for the remains of graves from the time before the resettlement. Noteworthy was the magnificent grave of the Romankiewicz family.


At the cemetery in Radautz nothing significant had developed since our last visit other than perhaps that it is expanding further toward the city. Here, among other things, we visited the grave of Peter’s grandmother, Julia Grunikiewicz née Sporniak (1878-1925).


During my last visit to Solka I came upon the grave of Mihail Branza, the brother of my grandmother. Peter, on the other hand, who was visiting the cemetery for the fi rst time, found there a large number of his close relatives. As in Gurahumora, there is no sharp distinction between the old and new sections. Where there are older graves, they lie distributed amidst the new and are well maintained.


The above is not the capital of the district in northwestern Romania of the same name (German: Sathmar), rather it is a suburb of Radautz. Here we quickly found the cemetery. It is quite spread out but only the grave monument of Friedrich Manz is well maintained. Glancing across the property one can still find the remains of many other tombstones which, however, have fallen into ruin or in some cases have sunken into the ground. Here we found no more new graves.


In the national archives of Suczawa, little has changed since our last visit. “What should change in an archive?” asked the archival assistant, whom we had met on our two earlier visits. After we finished copying data from the church books, which we had projected as our task for this visit, I asked the librarian, who had been helping us, if working with Orthodox Church records is intrinsically difficult. She felt that this should not present a further problem and asked what I was researching. I showed her a copy of the birth certificate of my grandmother Victoria, born in Gurahumora on January 23, 1905, the first legitimate child of Theodor Branza and Rachila Scurtu. The lady requested the Orthodox church book with the wedding entries and together we paged backward from 1905. It proved helpful that the volume was in good condition and that the markers on the pages were fi rst in German using the Latin alphabet followed below in Romanian using the Cyrillic alphabet. To my great delight I then found the date of January 19, 1903 entered for the marriage of the parents of my grandmother. Moreover, I could also discover that my great grandfather, Toader Branza, was born on January 17, 1876 in Uidesti (somewhat south of Fâlticeni in the principality of Moldavia) as the illegitimate son of Caterina Branza. Further records are not available in Suczawa but can presumably be found in Iaşi. My great grandmother, Rachila Scurtu, was born in Gurahumora on February 7, 1868, the daughter of Vasile Scurtu and Ioanna Mintar. She was in fact nine years older than my great grandfather.


Our first awareness of the prospective Easter festival had been in Iasi. Here man-sized Easter rabbits adorned several places in the inner city. In fact they were no doubt Christmas manikins in Easter rabbit forms, comical figures in dazzling colors, draped with tinsel and illuminated at night. We even found the Easter market in Suczawa somewhat disappointing. It consisted of about a dozen wooden booths of which only half were open. Here foods and craft items were for sale, but not many people were interested in them. As a result the market, which should have been open from Thursday through Sunday, was closed on Saturday afternoon.

The prospective Easter festival at the monasteries and churches, which we visited, evoked our most intense feelings. Here we saw not only monks and nuns but also secular helpers engaged in the Easter preparations, which included mowing the lawn, vacuuming the tapestries, cleaning the windows, etc. As opposed to the otherwise always festive atmosphere in a monastery or a church, this presented a considerable contrast. Not even the private households, at least in the villages, could do as well. On Good Friday as we strolled from one end of Fürstenthal to another (a long-cherished desire, which I fulfilled on this trip) we were struck by the cleanliness and order in the village. The streets were swept, the courtyards were clean, and most of the houses looked as though they had been freshly painted. Everywhere one could see people decorating the churches and the cemeteries for the approaching feast of the Resurrection. The verdancy of awakening nature and picture perfect weather conditions also served to reinforce this impression.

On Easter Monday we went to Solka, where we visited Constantin (Costica) Branza, my father’s cousin, and his wife, Veronica. Both were beside themselves with joy to see us again. We had not told them we were coming in order to spare them any preparations; nonetheless, the table was soon filled with cold roasts, stuffed cabbage, Easter pastries, bread, bacon, ham, and of course also colored Easter eggs and the obligatory horseradish with red beets. Traditional “egg tapping” (Eiertätschen) was also performed here.

On the afternoon of same day and in a broader context we were able to experience at first hand the practice of these Easter traditions in the community hall of the village of Mănăstirea Humorului (Kloster Humor). That which Bukovinians worldwide often carry out only within their family circle at Easter breakfast is celebrated in Humor as a community festivity. During the afternoon young and old meet for the “egg tapping” dressed in festive attire, for the most part usually in national costume. First a commission tests the authenticity of the eggs, then couples are set up. The individual in each group, whose egg breaks upon impact, withdraws. The top winner receives a lamb, the second a rabbit, and the third a chicken. Not to be overlooked is how seriously the events were intensified by the presence of a television camera. With the performances of various folk dance groups the festivities drew to a close.

In order to experience the actual high point of the Easter celebration we would have had to spend the night from Saturday to Sunday in one of the numerous churches, and for this we were too exhausted from our numerous activities and undertakings during the day or – to state it frankly – simply too comfortable elsewhere.


Although the Orthodox Easter celebration fell a bit short of our expectations, this trip, our third to Bukovina, was again a complete success. As with our earlier visits, we owe its success to Roland Loy, our interpreter and tour guide. Peter and I agree that this was not our last trip to the homeland of our forebears.