Chaya-Rachel (née Kahane) and Moshe-Yosef Scharf lived in Sighet. They had nine children: Arye-Leib (b. 1906), Etta (b. 1907), Yeshaya (b. 1908), Israel-Eliezer (b. 1909), Yehezkel (b. 1910), Yehuda (b. 1911), Menachem-Zvi (b. 1912), Shmuel (b. 1919) and Yitzhak-Mordechai (b. 1921). Moshe ran a business trading in grocery goods. The family maintained a religious Jewish lifestyle, and was affiliated with the Vizhnitz Hassidic dynasty. Shortly after Yitzhak was born, Moshe passed away, and Chaya was left widowed with nine children, the oldest of whom was 15. She continued to run the family business, but in 1935, they moved to Iași due to financial difficulties. The same year, Yeshaya immigrated to Eretz Israel.
Etta married and immigrated with her husband to Eretz Israel. Arye-Leib married Hinda and they had five children: Pessia, Yitzhak, Moshe and two children whose names are unknown. In 1940, they lived in the village of Ivankoutz on the outskirts of Czernowitz, under Soviet rule. Arye-Leib was a teacher and Shohet (ritual slaughterer). In 1936, Menachem married Esther Spitzer. They lived in Oradea, which reverted to Hungarian sovereignty in August 1941, and was called Nagyvárad. Yehuda lived in Sighet, which was called Máramarossziget under Hungarian rule.
In summer 1940, Shmuel (who was about to be drafted to the Romanian Army) and Yitzhak fled Iași and went to Czernowitz. From there, they reached their brother Arye in Ivankoutz. After a few months working in agriculture, they returned to Czernowitz. They joined a group that went to work in a steel factory in Stalingrad, and worked in several other places in the Soviet Union and Kazakhstan. Chaya remained in Iași with two of her sons, Israel, who married Miriam and Yehezkel, who married Betty. In 1941, Yehezkel and Betty had a son, Simcha-Bunem. Israel and Yehezkel both found work in the textile industry in Iași.
With the rise of Ion Antonescu to power in Romania, the organized persecution of the Jews of Iași began: forced imprisonment, torture, bribery, confiscation of property, appropriation of businesses and factories, trials based on trumped-up charges of affiliation with the Communist party, and more. In November 1940, two of the most ornate synagogues were destroyed on the orders of the "Iron Guard". In February 1941, Arye-Leib sent a postcard to his sister Etta in Eretz Israel, in which he expressed his concern for their mother in Iași:
My dear Ettu,
I received your letter. I ask you not to leave me letter-less for weeks on end. I got a very sad letter from our beloved mother! Not that I'm surprised, since over there in Romania, the Jews' situation is indescribable! Hair-raising barbarism reigns. Here, all is well with us. Everyone has work… The State supplies everyone with a job. The children [Shmuel and Yitzhak] write from Stalingrad. They are working and studying, and may register for university. I have a farm here: a field measuring over a hectare [10,000 meters], cattle… Let me know how Yeshaya is doing. How you are doing… In light of the financial situation, please write at least once a month, and more often to Mother, to cheer her up. Kisses and heartfelt wishes to all of you from all of us.
This postcard was the last sign of life from Arye-Leib, his wife Hinda and their five children. In 1941, they were deported to Transnistria, and are presumed to have been murdered while crossing the Dniester River.
In late June 1941, pogroms against the Jews of Iași in which thousands of Jewish men were murdered in their homes and on the streets, were perpetrated by Romanian and German soldiers, policemen and many locals. The survivors of this massacre were gathered from all corners of the city, crammed into sealed cattle cars and sent hundreds of kilometers away from Iași. Thousands died of asphyxiation or thirst in the trains. Approximately one third of Iași's Jews were murdered in the Iași Pogrom, over 14,000 people, most of them over two days, 29 and 30 June 1941. The pogrom was also the scene of robberies, rape and wholesale destruction.
Chaya, her sons and their families survived the Iași massacre. Israel was drafted for forced labor and vanished without a trace. In November 1944, after Iași had been liberated, Yehezkel, his wife Betty and their son were killed in a train crash. Left alone in Iași with her daughter-in-law, Chaya moved to Bucharest. Menachem, who had stayed in Nagyvárad (Oradea), was caught in the summer of 1944 while hiding in a bunker with other Vizhnitz Hassidim, and was deported to his death in Auschwitz. During the war, Yehuda reached Budapest. In 1945, he sent a postcard to his family from Budapest, but was never heard from again.
Shmuel and Yitzhak survived in the Soviet Union. At the end of World War II, after five years of silence, they managed to contact their mother by mail and clarify what had befallen their siblings. Their joy at discovering their mother's survival was tempered by profound grief at the fate of their brothers. In 1947, Shmuel and Yitzhak obtained permits to leave the Soviet Union, and returned to Romania. Shmuel joined the Mizrahi movement, where he had been active in Iași before the war. He underwent Haganah training, headed Hachshara kibbutzim, and became a prominent Aliyah activist for Mizrahi. His mother and his brother Yitzhak immigrated to Israel in 1948. Shmuel married Rela Hochman-Orenstein, a Transnistria survivor, and they immigrated to Israel in 1950.
In 1999, Shmuel Scharf submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of his brothers Arye-Leib, Israel, Yehuda and Menachem, his sister-in-law Hinda, and other relatives. In 2009, Shmuel donated documents and family photographs to the Yad Vashem Archives, some of which are displayed here.