Side view of Dorohoi synagogue, Romania
Back view of Dorohoi synagogue, Romania
Side view of Dorohoi synagogue, Romania
Graffiti on apartment door, Dorohoi, Romania
....Another day of struggling with exasperating Romanian train timetables...Arriving in Dorohoi, very slowly, around 1625. Out of the railway station and find a friendly taxi driver. I try to explain my predicament, in essence that having arrived here, there is no return train back to the rail junction to connect with the train to Suceava, where my hotel is. I have to catch the Suceava train at 1825 from Leorda station or I’m stranded for the night.
We strike a deal which will save my day. 120 000 lei for him to drive me the twenty kilometres from Dorohoi to Leorda. We’ll rendezvous in the main square at 1745, where he will wait for me. He drops me off in the town centre at no charge, and parks in the Piatra Unirii to await my return.
According to the guidebook, the Synagogue is on Piatra Unirii. I look all round the surrounding streets, including one area of very old and dilapidated houses, one with the roof caved in. Tiny two storey places, right upon the pavement, a number with small shops, mostly closed. Maybe the last surviving remnants of the old shtetl. Concrete blocks have taken over almost completely here.
Polish Jews arrived in Dorohoi, located on trading routes linking the Baltic and the Black Sea, in the 1600s. The community was predominantly Hassidic, and consisted of tradesmen and craftsmen. Prior to WW2 about a third of Dorohoi's population was Jewish, but most of them, numbering over 5000, were deported to Transnistria in 1941.
I can find no sign of a synagogue, and begin to wonder if it has been pulled down. As I have less than an hour to find it, I ask a young man who turns out to be extremely helpful. He takes me across the square, and through a passage between apartments, which opens out on a courtyard, totally surrounded by tall concrete blocks of flats.
There, hidden away from the world, clustered together in the centre of the courtyard, are two small synagogues. My guide speaks to some men working on a car in a garage beside the synagogues, and one of them takes me round to the entrance. The door is open, and two old gentlemen are working there. They agree to show me round. The older of the two men, Mr Rosen, is 94. Thankfully he speaks German, albeit with a very thick and Yiddish-strewn accent.
We enter a small entrance room, half stacked with logs of wood for winter heating, and with a dusty wooden planked floor. Mr Rosen says there are now only nine or ten Jews left in Dorohoi. To the left a small prayer room, low-roofed, a couple rows of pews, with individual and numbered lecterns in front, all of wood. There are several round white glass lamps which feature memorial inscriptions to deceased members of the community in striking black lettering. They hang quite low in the centre of the room.
The wooden doorsteps are worn away with the passage of the years. Mr Rosen says this schul is ninety years old. He doesn’t say anything about the other synagogue, adjacent to this one.
I am then ushered into the main part of the synagogue, and climb up on a tressel table to turn the light on as the old fellow can’t reach the switch. The walls are high, with windows at regular intervals, each covered by a barred grill. The room is painted cream/white, with a design in light green and gold stencilled all over it.
There is a central Bimah with a wooden bench, and more of the distinctive memorial lamps, both in the centre, and elsewhere in the room. On the walls, between the windows, are framed memorials listing names of those who have died, some recently, and some who were victims of the Transnistria camps in 1942. All are crafted with great colour and decoration.
The Ark is quite small, of wood I think, and featuring a golden double-headed eagle and tablets on the top. The old velvet curtain hangs across the Ark secured by three or four hooks. Mr Rosen informs me that the Torah is only about ten years old, and that they only have one.
At the back of the room, in each corner, are traditionally tiled wooden stoves, reaching to about three quarters of the room’s height, the destination for all the firewood stored in the entrance room. There are two large colourful woven mats on the floor and I help the other man unroll one of them and straighten it. They’re preparing the schul for the High Holy Days. On the back wall are two or three glass doored cabinets filled totally with decaying old prayer books, a poignant sight.
As I leave, Mr Rosen has returned to work, using a tiny hand saw to trim a thin piece of wood. His face is red and swollen with the cold, an open sore on his cheek. I offer to hold the wood he is cutting, but he indicates it is easier on his own. I also ask him if I might take a photo of the exterior. `Nein, he tells me gravely, `Das ist verboten.’
I thank him and he returns to his sawing. Reflecting on the difficulty of my journey here, I decide to record the synagogues on film despite Mr Rosen’s warning. Once he and the handful of other elderly Jews are gone, what will become of this place? I have to record it in case its days are numbered.
Soon, there will be no-one left to protect or maintain it and it will just be one more site ripe for redevelopment, as one of the ubiquitously cloned Orthodox churches which are being constructed absolutely everywhere perhaps. Going back through the apartment building, I notice swastikas chalked on a door.