Synagogue at Siret, Romania

Old Jewish cemetery at Siret, Romania

Old Jewish cemetery at Siret, Romania

Old Jewish cemetery at Siret, Romania

Old Jewish cemetery at Siret, Romania

Old Jewish cemetery at Siret, Romania

Old Jewish cemetery at Siret, Romania


....Getting on the small local train from Radauti to Siret. A blind man, his white stick held out horizontally in front of him, lugging a sack of vegetables and holding another bag, obviously with the intention of clambering up the high side of the train on his own. I go to help, but a young man beats me to it. Like much in Romania, pitiful but brave.

I change trains at Dornesti. But here, as expected, I hit a snag. There are only two trains a day to and from Siret, which is on the Romanian Ukrainian border. One in the morning, another in the afternoon, and they go straight there, then turn around again within a few minutes on their return journey to Dornesti.

I decide to take a chance and make the trip, although I doubt Iíll be able to get into town and see the renowned Jewish cemetery, founded in the 16th century, and one of the oldest in Romania. Siret was the 14th century capital of Moldavia. It also had one of the earliest Jewish settlements in this region, dating from the early 1500s. My guidebook says there are only about a dozen Jews remaining in Siret.

We arrive about 1445, the return train due to leave at 1451, just time for the engine to `change ends.í I sit on the platform wondering what I can do. The guard sits beside me and I try to explain my predicament. Finally he understands, and asks the station master for a solution.

The station master, called Gigi, says he can return to Dornesti about 1600 when he finishes work and offers to take me, in his dusty red Dacia. I accept with elation, and quickly depart for town. I now have 65 minutes to get into town, find the cemetery, take pictures, and get back to the station for my `taxií ride.

Off on the run, past a logging mill and up a hill to the centre. This is the border town, and an international train passes through here heading for the old Soviet Union. Near the main intersection I ask a middle aged woman if she can tell me where the Jewish cemetery is. She knows the answer, but insists I pay her. I tell her to forget it and take up the hunt on my own.

Around the corner, and I find a plain blue box-like synagogue beside a shady park. I walk round the town, almost despairing of finding the cemetery, taking a road down into the valley, the last direction still unsearched. A short distance down the road, a high stone wall ahead, and over the top of it a grassy peak emerges, scattered with carved gravestones.

The wall too high, so I follow it until I can climb over. Residents of the adjacent houses staring with, as I felt it, a degree of hostility. Many old gravestones, richly carved, some partly buried or on a lean, and standing quite randomly like an impatient crowd.

They seem to have been catalogued as they all bear code numbers painted in red along their sides. Sadly I canít linger long here, as I have just enough time to make my way back to the station. Climbing over the ten foot high part of the wall, and hurrying back up the hill.

On the way back, I get a bottle of fruit juice, so I can break a 100000 lei note and pay Gigi some petrol money for his trouble. Itís around 18 kilometres back to Dornesti...

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