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Demographic Evolution of Jewish Population in Bacau

The Participation in the Economic Life
and Aspects of Relations with the Romanian Population

I. The Jewish presence in Bacau in the XVIIIth century.

“Bacau, like all the other medieval towns in Moldova, had its beginnings in an ancient rural setting, protected by forests and waters, at the junction of rivers Siret and Bistrita. Long before the actual development of the feudal state of Moldova, this rural setting became more important than the neighbouring villages, due to its location […] which enabled the population to develop a more active commercial life. This was the place where peasants from all neighbouring towns came to sell their products and to buy some of the necessities of their everyday lives. Mountain people and prairie people met here. It was a place of both passing through and rest for the merchants and carriers who used the transcontinental road that was parallel to the river Siret […]. The earliest documented mention about Bacau is found in the commercial literature from 1408 written by Alexander the Good to the merchants of Liov […]. In this document and in the following ones, Bacau is mentioned as a commercial and trade center. The continuous development of the economic life made it possible for Bacau to become the residence of some feudal lords […]”1.

The historians mention that Bacau existed since the XVth century as an important customs point on the road which transversed Moldova along the river Siret. “Until the second part of the XVIth century, the town progressed in development, but the Turkish economic monopoly […] stagnated the economic prosperity of Bacau. In the XVIIth century the economic development of Bacau as well as almost all other Moldavian towns slowed down.” 2.

Around the beginning of the XVIIIth century, Bacau became “a small town residing as an oasis on the river Bistrita”3. At the time, the town was located in the path of the Turkish and Russian armies, which were fighting on Moldavian ground. The destruction caused by uninterrupted battles was so great that in 1770, the Austrian Frank Joseph Sulzer declared that “Bacau is a big town, which is now empty” 4.

There is evidence that at the beginning of the XVIIIth century a Jewish population existed along side the native population, sharing the hardships of the times. The first to describe the existence of the Jewish population was Iacob Psantir, an avid researcher of Jewish history in Romania. In a book published in 1871, he mentioned: “The Jews must have lived in Bacau 200 years ago since I have found a tomb stone at the cemetery belonging to a Jewish person dated 167 years ago. Therefore, the Jews must have been here 30-40 years. before this date in order to bury their dead. In this cemetery there are many other tomb stones which cannot be read, since for some the letters are erased by time, while others are buried so deep that I could not dig them up to read. However, the one that I did find and could read has marvellous and legible letters, but somehow was never mentioned in any registry.”5. The cemetery he's referring to is the one found on the former Cremenei Street. Mr.I.Kara researched this location in 1936 and 1946 and found the tombstone mentioned by Mr.Psantir. He copied the inscription from the stone and published the text in a work where he underlines that this stone dated 1703 couldn't be the oldest one in Bacau, but it bears witness to the fact that at the beginning of the XVIIIth century there existed a Jewish population of numerical significance 6. The inscription from this tombstone (currently displayed in Bucharest at the Historical Museum of Jewish Communities) reads: ”This important man, honourable Aharon, son of departed Josef, died on the 29th of Ijar, buried on the 15th Sivan year 5464“ 7

It is still a mystery why so many days had passed between the death and the burial of Aharon, knowing that in the Jewish tradition it is disrespectful for the dead to wait that long before burying him. After careful consideration, Mr.Kara decided that he had to have died somewhere where there wasn't a Jewish cemetery, and he was buried there temporarily, but later exhumed and transported to Bacau for his final resting-place 8.

Regardless of what the reason was for this decision, what we are interested in is the fact that around the 1700's in Bacau there was a Jewish population and that they had their own cemetery.

However, the question remains with regards to whether the Jewish population in Bacau had existed before the XVIIIth Century. It is appropriate now to mention the existence of an 1887 monograph, edited by the president of the Jewish community of the time, A.D. Birnberg, requested by the historical society “Iuliu Barasch”. In this monograph regarding the history of the Jewish society in Bacau which has remained in its original form, Birnberg writes the following: “Our parents have told us that before the present cemetery, there existed an old cemetery that was abandoned because of the plague. The position of the old cemetery is given in two versions. Some say that it was situated under a hill where the Precista Church was, while others believe it was under the hill called Izvoarele” 9.

This implies that the Jewish population in Bacau dates back far before the 1700's. Unfortunately many other elements, which would validate Birnberg's claim are missing. Therefore we don't know whether in 1699, under the reign of the king Ioan Antohi, the Jew named Lazar was living in Bacau or just came there to solve a monetary conflict he had with a landlady of Gherghel Dumitrasco 10.

There is however, a lot of information attesting to the existence of a local Jewish community in Bacau before the 1800's. There are documents that show that in 1742, the ruler of Moldavia, Constantin Mavrocordat, ordered the sheriff of the county of Bacau to assist the Jews Avram and Boroh in establishing themselves in Bacau. It is worth mentioning “The Defence Book” (probably meaning passport) given to these two Jews which said “I give this book to protect you two Jewish men, Avram and Boroh against anybody who tries to infringe upon your land by horse or carriage. I give them permission to establish themselves in Bacau.” In addition, in 1742, the same ruler asked the mayor of Putna to order his employees not to collect taxes from the remaining family of Boroh who lived there 13. In the cemetery on Cremenei Rd., Mr. I. Kara found a stone dated 1763 with an inscription, which he later translated and published. “[...] the rabbi from Sepetovca, our teacher, Rabbi Ischer Dov, the son of our teacher, the late Rabbi Iehuda Leib. He died in 2 Adar in 5524 by the Jewish calendar (1723). May his soul rest in peace in eternity” 14.

A document dated January 1766, which represents the book of customs from Movilau mentions Moses the Jew from Bacau who paid 25 Grosi for merchandise brought in from abroad. The Jew seems to be “the drunken wolf from Bacau” who doubled as a horse trader, bringing into the country a horse for which he paid 75 Grosi 15.

From documents dated from the eighth decade of the century we find information regarding the number of Jews living in Bacau at the time. This document represents the census of the Moldavia population done between 1772-1774 when Moldavia supported the Tsar's army against the Turks - a war that ended with a peace treaty at Kuciuk-kainardji. The results of this census completed by the employees of the ruler of Moldavia, were preserved in a Muscovite archive, and were published in Kishinev 16. The information referring to Bacau, indicated only 69 houses in the community, out of which there were 5 Jewish merchants: Hersh, Avram, Leibu, Marcu, and David17. All this information was possible only in communities of at least 20-30 Jewish families.18 The oldest record in the book of Hevra Kedosa dates to 5534(1774) but the anagram of the title page gives the number 5531 meaning 1770. The Hevra Kedosa book contains a lot of information from the XVIIIth century, especially 1785, 1792, 1797 etc. In an English work (“Yivo Annual”, X, 1955 p313) I. Kara reproduced some of those writings. Here is an example from 1798 “Today there was a new member elected to the Hevra Kedosa, the illustrious Zeev Wolf, the son of Ithak Segal. During the first three years he will not have voting rights, and will be very humble. Hol Hamoed Sucot 5558 in the orthodox community of Bacau”. Another example is from the spring of 1799: “Today, Monday, the first day of Hol Hamoed Pesach, 5559, we the voters of Hevra Kedosa from Bacau, appoint Manase, the son of Mordehai, as treasurer of the society and Shalom, the son of Iehuda as his assistant, and loyal (neeman) to the society.”

There is another document from the XVIIIth century, dated July 23rd, 1794 which states: “We, the citizens, together with Tanasie, the Judge of the city of Bacau, signed this document prepared by the Jew Leib the lawyer, certifying that the house in the alley behind the Jewish school belongs to Leib the lawyer by decreeing that six meters in front and ten meters in the back is all his. To enforce this document we put our names and fingerprints today 1794, 23rd of July. Me, the Judge Tanasie,; me, Andronic; me Iacob Mocanu; me, Ion Crasmar; me, Ionita Falca; me, Stefan Barana; me, Albul; me, Anton Aflori; me, Iuje; me, Mihai Toma; me, Gheorghe Verce; me Mihai Colta. I wrote on their behalf Alexandru Rusu(?)”19

This document is significant in a few ways. First, it signifies that the Jews in Bacau could get approval from the local administration of that time for building houses. It also gives the name of the lawyer representing the Jews in Bacau as Leib. Therefore, it proves that the Jewish community of Bacau was organised, being represented by a lawyer recognised by the local authorities. Finally, it proves that the Jews of Bacau had a “Jewish school” - therefore a house of worship, a synagogue. It was probably of wooden construction, because as mentioned by Dimitrie Cantemir in “Description of Moldova” the laws of the time gave permission to the Jews to have only wooden Synagogues far away from Churches.20

We are therefore justified in our belief that towards the end of the XVIIIth century, the Jewish community in Bacau were of a significant number and that more and more Jews were coming to establish themselves there. In fact, during that period, the nobility as well as the ruler of Moldavia were creating advantageous conditions for foreign merchants and tradesmen, many of them Jews, to come and establish themselves in the region. The nobility was interested in populating the villages and small towns emptied by the wars, in order to have the natural richness of the land restored. The rulers encouraged the establishment of merchants and tradesmen in these cities since they constituted an important source of revenue. This process continued in the first few decades of the following century.

In this spirit, the July 23rd document regarding Bacau, ordered by Ioan Sandu Sturza becomes important. This document strengthens the privileges of the citizens and also contains laws meant to attract the foreign merchants and tradesmen of any nationality, some of them Jewish. The Document gave them permission not only to establish themselves in Bacau, but also to own land and to obtain wood for construction from the adjacent forest21. It was a judicial act that favoured the development of new economic relations, specifically the economy of trading and had important consequences: growth of the population, expansion of the borough, and the involvement of the new social categories of citizens in the administration of the city.

Information regarding the number of Jews in Bacau at the end of the XVIIIth century is obtained from a fiscal document dated 1803, called “Condica Liuzilor” – The Registry of the contributors, which mentions 58 Jews as contributors. We presume that there were at least 58 families of Jews meaning that at that time the Jewish population was circa 230-250 people. A similar number, 232 Jews in 1803 is also mentioned in a different source 22.


Footnotes

  1. Dumitru Zaharia, Emilia Chiriacescu, Guide to the States Archives, Bacau County, Bucharest, 1979, p. 37. Return

  2. Ibid Return

  3. Dimitrie Cantemir, The Description of Moldavia, Bucharest, 1936 Return

  4. F. J. Sulzer, Geschichte des Transalpinischen Daziens, 1781, vol. I, p. 219 Return

  5. Iacob Psantir, Sefer divrei haiamim Ieartot Rumenie – History Book for the Romanian Counties – Iasi, Bidfus H. Goldner, 1871, p. 23-24. Return

  6. Itic Svart (I. Kara), Testimonies from earlier times, Bacau, 1947, p. 5 – 10. Return

  7. Sources and Testimonies regarding Jews in Romania (I.M.E.R.), vol. II/1, 1988, doc. no. 11, p.10 Return

  8. I. Voledi-Vardi, The town on the banks of Bistrita river, vol. I, Tel-Aviv, 1988, p. 14 Return

  9. A.D. Birnberg, The Antiquity of Jews in Bacau, The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, R.M./269, Jerusalem Return

  10. Gh. Ghibanescu, Sources and Testimonies XIV, XLI, p. 27-28 and I.M.E.R., vol. II/I, doc. no. LXXV, p. 233-234. Return

  11. I.M.E.R., vol. II/1, doc. no. 169, p.144

  12. N. Iorga, Studies and documents regarding the history of Jews in Romania

  13. I.M.E.R., vol II/1, doc. no. 190, p. 157 Return

  14. I. Svart, op. Cit., p. 9 Return

  15. I.M.E.R., vol. II/2, Bucharest, 1990, doc. no. 49, p. 60 and The registry of Customs in Moldavia 1765, from ”Ioan Neculce Bulletin”, II/1922, p. 192-272 Return

  16. P.G. Dimitriev, Moldavia in the Feudal Era, vol. VII, The Census of the Moldavian People between 1772 –1774. Return

  17. I.M.E.R. , vol. II/2, doc. no. 84, p. 122 Return

  18. I. Svart, literary works, p. 11-18 Return

  19. States Archives of Iasi, Tr. 381, work 398, brief 104, file 21 and I.M.E.R., vol. II/2, doc. no. 285, p. 413 Return

  20. Yearbook for the Jewish Community, year XIV, Bucharest, 1890-1891, p.212 Return

  21. Towns and boroughs of Moldavia, 1960, series A, vol. II, no. 59 Return

  22. Eugene Tatomir, Contributions To The Study of Jews As Productive Element in the National Economy, Bucharest, 1937, p. 22 Return

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