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Remembering Roza Goldstein

Roza Goldstein headstone     On a cold December day in 1878 a small child was born into the proud Goldstein family. Six months later they would be tearfully burying the little girl inside the small Jewish cemetery in the Valcele forest. ...Her short and voiceless presence on this earth was nevertheless mighty as to withstand the powerful forces seeking to obliterate the Jewish memory. Nestled within the serenity of the forest a single gravestone bearing Roza’s name stands alone as the sole reminder of their presence.

   A wall of massive pines and oaks forms the haunting backdrop. A deep gash ripped through the earth by the powerful forces of nature fronts the Jewish community’s final resting place. It is these and the many others unseen dangers of the forest that epitomizes the Jewish presence in this unstable world. The forest is a dark place that can erupt at a moment’s notice as it had in 1944, like a storm, with no escape.

    Until only recently dozens of massive headstones made their presence known, yet in this short period of time
has fallen into ruin and near extinction; not by the power of nature - but from the hand of man. The single marker to the child Roza Goldstein has weathered the storm, standing singularly alone as the sole reminder of a people that were once here.

             Base to headstone                       Roza inscription                         Cemetery view             

     At the time of Roza’s death the Jewish population in the small resort village of Valcece was a significant 38. They put down roots, they built homes and businesses and brought trade and jobs into the valley. To this day they are still fondly remembered by the declining elderly folk as the store owners where “we children used to run to get our candy”. In 1944 the Jews of Valcele were suddenly gathered up and transferred to the ghettos in Targu Mures to be catalogued before being shipped off to the unspeakable horrors of the concentration camps.

    What they built in the community has since been stolen from them and disposed of like common trash. Their presence in the village and contribution to its development is barely noted in the record books, yet their memory lived on, loudly acknowledged in the neatly carved Hebrew inscriptions along the graveyard markers nestled away in the secretively preserved forest cemetery – while that now too stands on the fringes of extinction.

    Villager Antony Cocosh, who knows the forest like it were his own backyard, recalls only a couple years ago when there were still dozens of markers guarded by an iron fence. “It was a large area filled with inscribed gravestones.” The iron fence has since been taken down, “stolen by the Gypsies”, claims Mr. Cocosh. The impoverished Gypsy community has a history of taking, with or without permission, recycling the old and unused – to put bread in the plates of their families.

   The old iron fence has been cut up, sent away and melted down. It’s gone forever; there is no doubt about that; the missing gravestones, however, have not been destroyed; they can still be found in the foundation under the four walls of an unscrupulous homeowner.

    Reusing the concrete monuments of generations before is history repeating itself. The practice goes all the way back to the Romans famously dismantling and reusing Greek monuments in their construction. Later, people of Medieval period and Middle Ages would pull down these same Roman structures to be used in building of defense walls, castles, villas and peasant’s one room shacks.


Before it’s Too Late

“This place was full with tombstone just a couple years ago. This one, Roza Goldstein, her marker won’t last another year,” predicts Antony Cocosh, “the Gypsies will steal it, just like they did the others.”

TzT working towards a solution:

     The stolen gravestones have not been destroyed. They remain whole hidden beneath floorboards…

     There are two ways to handling this delicate recovery. There is the way of the law which is a slippery slope fraught with roadblocks of a disinterested society, closed lips, incomplete results and the breeding of feelings of resentment 

– or - a more balanced route that neither destroys other people’s lives nor rewards perpetrators.

      We are trying to network our cause and gather the interested parties open to restoring the cemetery. We propose a simple buy back of the stones at minimal cost that will prevent homes that they support from crumbling


Citeing precedent

      Back in early 2000, to a time when the animal right lobby had successfully strengthened animal protection laws in Eastern Europe including the illegality of the Gypsy dancing bear performance. The dancing bear routine, a kind of traveling circus, had been the occupation of the Gypsies since the middle ages. It was an ethnic tradition yet more importantly it was also the main income of poor people with few opportunities. It was their bread and butter. Animal Right organization Vier Pfoten realized the necessity of the law yet also the damage it caused and so instead of pressuring law enforcement to resolve the matter with an iron fist, they took it in their own hands to offer the Gypsy bear trainers compensation, to restore their loss and create an opportunity towards finding a new income. The transition went smoothly and within no time the last of the dancing bears was rescued.

     By following this peaceful model the stolen tombstones can be found, removed from beneath the walls that are sheltering families and replaced with new block thus preventing any new, unwanted hardships. TzT seeks to return the Jewish people’s dignity and restore the old without crumbling the new.

by Chuck Todaro