Chernivtsi was a pleasure ship with a with Ukrainian-Romanian crew, German officers and Jewish passengers on board, which, under the Austrian flag, constantly kept its course between West and East. A city is located in the southwest of Ukraine, in the eastern Carpathians, on the border between the Carpathians and the East European Plain, 40 km from the border with Romania.
Aside from its Ukrainian name of Chernivtsi, the city is also known by several different names in various languages, which still are used by the respective population groups much as they used to be throughout the city’s history, either in connection with the rule by one country or another or independently from it: Romanian : Cernăuți; German: Czernowitz; Polish: Czerniowce; Hungarian: Csernovic, Yiddish: טשערנאוויץ, Romanized: Tshernavits, Russian: Черновцы́, romanized: Chernovtsy, (In Russian until 1944: Russian: Чернови́цы, romanized: Chernovitsy).
Chernivtsi was inhabited by Ukrainians, Romanians, Poles, Ruthenians, Jews, Roma, and Germans. During its affiliation with the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Chernivtsi enjoyed prosperity and culture as the capital of the Bukovina crown land. Until 1918, the main language of the city was German, which, in addition to the Germans, was also spoken by Jews (together they made up half the population of the city) and even partly by Ukrainians, Romanians and Poles. In 1908, the first international conference on the Yiddish language took place in Chernivtsi.
When Austria-Hungary dissolved in 1918, followed by two years of political uncertainty in Europe due to the aftermath of World War I. During those two years, even most city residents did not know of which country they were citizens, with most assuming Czernowitz still belonged to Austria-Hungary. In 1930, the city’s population was: 26.8% Jews, 23.2% Romanians, 20.8% Germans, 18.6% Ukrainians, the remainder Poles and others.
A characteristic feature of Chernivtsi “golden age” was the absence of antagonism between cultures and their harmonious coexistence. As the well-known Austrian journalist Georg Heinzen wrote: “Chernivtsi is a city where Sunday began with Schubert and ended with a duel. This city – halfway between Kyiv and Bucharest, between Krakow and Odessa – was the unspoken capital of Europe, where the best sopranos sang, and cab drivers argued about Karl Kraus … where there were more bookstores than coffee houses. This is the city where dogs were named after Olympian gods and where chickens raked Hölderlin’s poems out of the ground”.
After World War II, the Shoah and Porajmos, and the resettlement and expulsion of the whole ethnic groups, this status was diminished. Today, the Ukrainians are the dominant population group.