The houses and the streets of Chernivtsi have not changed much since the pre-war period. The population, however, has almost completely been replaced. Anyone walking on the streets of Chernivtsi, when looking at the pavement can see on manhole covers which might say “Czernowitz”, “Cernăuţi”, and of course the current name of the city – “Chernivtsi”. The traces of the past are still there.
History has been cruel to old Czernowitz. From one day to the next it became part of a different country. What historians call a “changing history”, has been a catastrophe for the city’s population; The end of the world, as it was known to them.
Till World War 1, under Austria-Hungary it was Czernowitz, after World War 1, under Romanian rule it became Cernăuţi. In 1940 – after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – the Soviets took over the city. In 1941 when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the city again became part of Romania. In 1944 the Red Army re-conquered the city and made it part of the Soviet Union under the name of Chernovtsy. Since 1990 it is part of the independent Ukraine and named Chernivtsi.
Nearly each change of national government, brought for segments of the multi-ethnic population, discrimination, expropriation, loss of citizenship, and deportation. For ethnic Germans, in 1940 – evacuation “Heim ins Reich”. For the Jewish population, the largest ethnic group in the city, the return of Romanian rule in 1941, meant deportations and mass murder.
The old city, as it was, has a long afterlife in memoirs, websites and science. But its existence is not only virtual. It is still there behind the layers of paint on the walls and on the pavements. The stroller in the streets of Chernivtsi, should not look only upwards, to the beautiful facades, he should also look down at the pavement.
On the manhole covers you read “Czenowitz”, “Cernăuţi” and of course today’s Chernivtsi.
The city council of Chernivtsi has placed one of those old Czernowitz labeled manhole covers in front of the town hall. This is a nice gesture. It connects visitors with the past of the city and raises historical awareness among the locals.
Czenowitz, Cernăuţi – messages from the underground. Everything is still there.
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Thank you, Mimi Taylor, for correcting my poor English!