“Dumbraveni”
Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 2
(Dumbrăveni, Moldova)

48°03' / 28°14'

Translation of “Dumbraveni” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1980


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to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 347-350, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980


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[Page 347-350]

Dumbraveni

Translated by Ala Gamulka

In Romanian it is Dumbraveni and in Russian –Dombroveni, a Jewish agricultural settlement in the Soroka District.
It was situated 18 km from Balti and 20 km from the train station in Markuleshty. The area was rich in wheat, tobacco and vineyards.

Jewish Population

Year Numbers % of Jews in
Population
1897 1,726 94
1910 1,132 87

 

A Jewish tobacco grower in the settlement

 

Until the End of WWI

Beginning of the Jewish Community

Dumbraveni was established in 1836 and eventually became the largest Jewish agricultural settlement in Bessarabia. Its area encompassed 1179 Disiatin (1 Disiatin = 11 Dunam). The land was purchased from the Moldovan Princess Cantacuzino. The first settlers came mainly from Podolia District close to Bessarabia. They slowly became used to the new conditions and earned their living by growing tobacco and vegetables, tending vineyards, caring for sheep, producing seeds and looking after bees and silkworms.

At first all the settlers dealt in agriculture and every family (out of 139) had 8.48 Disiatin on the average. Later on the “colonists”, as they were called, were joined by other Jews from nearby towns and villages. They came to the settlement to escape persecution or simply to become farmers. Many of them did not have any land and were craftsmen or business people. At the end of the 19th century there were 83 families without land. The new settlers, called “Immigrants”, and the “colonists” had strained relations.

In the village there were some Christians and almost all of them served as Shabbat Goy. They spoke Yiddish and were part of the Jewish life in the settlement. However, the Jews knew that at times of crisis they could not depend on them.

Dumbraveni was different from other settlements due its large area of land and the high number of highly developed farms. At the beginning of the settlement the land was evenly divided, but eventually there were some changes. Some of the settlers became quite rich while others were poor.

According to statistics from 1899 we know that three families owned 32 Disiatin each, 10 had 16 to 32 Disiatin and 20 owned 8-16 Disiatin.

The total area again did not suffice for the growing population and the work force of the settlement. In 1899 wealthy Jews who depended on their income from agriculture, leased land (2,130 Disiatin) from others in the area. They paid 4-10 Ruble per Disiatin. The price for leased land increased yearly due to the quality of Jewish work. The leasing was done by an oral promise and in the name of Christians since the 1882 regulations prevented Jews from leasing land outside the cities. The energetic agricultural work brought about an increase of 33% in the cost of land in the years 1860-1889 and by 100% by the end of the century.

Those Jews who had small areas of land or none at all also did other work. Many of the residents were day laborers in agriculture or in deliveries. Some families were in business and some landowners used laborers to work their land.

The fact that much land was in the hands of a few settlers had a bad influence on Dumbraveni. Until WWI broke out there was a popular method of leasing called Isfula-it was in exchange for half of the harvest. Most of the arable land was dedicated to the growing of wheat, fruit orchards and vineyards. At the end of the 19th century the farmers of Dumbraveni had 338 Disiatin of corn and 381 Disiatin of wheat. There were also experiments in the growing of other produce. This shows a wish to vary the flora even if it meant economic losses. As in the rest of Bessarabia, there were no modern methods in Dumbraveni until the end of WWI. Still, the Jewish settlers did their best to improve work methods. The Christian farmers used oxen as work animals, but the colonist in Dumbraveni had horses for all heavy tasks. In 1889 there were 178 horses in Dumbraveni (6.14 Disiatin per horse), but 36.7% of the families did not own any horses. There were many tools in comparison to other settlements. There was also a big difference in the cultivation of cattle between the land owners and other settlers. The latter had more heads of cattle. That year there were 196 cows and 3470 sheep. About 46% of the families did not have any cattle. Cattle were usually sold since there was not enough grazing land.

The growing of vines was then in its infancy and every year more vineyards were added. At the end of the 19th century there were 20 Disiatin dedicated to vineyards. The Jewish Colonization Association began to help farmers to overcome the diseases associated with vineyards.

Before WWI the settlers of Dumbraveni excelled in the production of seeds for beans, peas, cucumbers and watermelons. Dimenshtein from Dumbraveni grew high quality seeds for different produce and flowers. His products were always present in the state exhibition in towns in the district. He used products of the well-known company from Paris, Vilmorin, to cultivate the seeds. His products always won prizes.

Prince Urusov was the governor of Bessarabia after the pogrom in Kishinev. He visited Dumbraveni incognito accompanied by the Jewish researcher, Akiva Ettinger. He was interested in the work of the tobacco and vegetable growers and especially in the “teaching gardens” organized by the school. He was enthusiastic about their diligent work and was quite amazed by them. The growers used a “Bulgarian wheel” to pump water from the streams.

The period from the establishment of the settlement until the beginning of WWI can be described as the time of the small farmer who owned a mixed farm. He grew wheat, corn, vegetables and sometimes fruit and vines, owned one or two cows or 10-20 sheep in a common barn with neighbors. The owner and his wife, their sons and daughters all worked the land and even hired themselves out to other farmers.

The first Rabbi in Dumbraveni was R. Mendel Davidson, one of the founders of the settlement. The Sternberg rabbinic dynasty served the community during the existence of the settlement. The last was Rabbi Levi Sternberg, a native of Dumbraveni, whose influence on the community from a religious and spiritual point of view was extensive. He served the community for over 30 years. He was well-known in public life and as an excellent orator in all of Bessarabia. He participated in several Zionist Congresses as a representative of Mizrahi from Bessarabia.

The first public school was opened in 1900 by the Jewish Colonization Association. In addition to this school there were also a Talmud Torah and various Heders. Hebrew and Russian were the languages of instruction in the school. At the beginning of the 20th century the principal of the school was the well-known teacher and author Abramovitch-Ginsburg. His friend, the young Rabbi Sternberg, helped to establish a school for teaching Hebrew in Hebrew, secular subjects and work in the “teaching gardens”. A special area was dedicated for this purpose. Later, Rabbi Sternberg made Aliyah.

 

Between the Two Wars

WWI disturbed the economic equilibrium of the settlement and actually pushed it back. The war also touched the stability of the prices and upset the daily work life. After the annexation by Romania in 1918 the residents earned their living only through agriculture. The Savings and Loan Bank (founded in 1902) gave loans at convenient terms and for lengthy periods of time. This fact helped in fostering the amount of growth dependent on investment and also to increase the fowl and barn branches. The bank opened a cooperative dairy and established rental for machinery.

The Romanian agrarian reform did not help the farmers of Dumbraveni. In fact, the opposite occurred. Some Jews lost their land. A special investigative committee from Bucharest concluded that there were special orders. The lands were taken not only from those who received them in 1918, but also from some who had owned them before the war.

Between the two wars only Jews resided in the settlement. The Moldovan farmers from nearby villages reacted well to them and there were no anti-Semitic incidents.

 

A family hungry for bread

 

During the civil war in Russia many Jewish refugees from Ukraine arrived in Dumbraveni. Local Jews assisted them generously.

At that time there were 5 synagogues in the settlement: “Kloiz”, “The Shul”, and “The Kloizel of the rich”, “The Tailors' synagogue”, and “The German synagogue”. The “Kloizel” was frequented by wealthy property owners and merchants. The Shul had the poor folk while the Tailors synagogue had different craftsmen: tailors, carpenters, shoemakers, furriers, etc.: The German synagogue brought in the intellectuals and was also a central point for the Rabbi and for various assemblies. The Rabbi gave his sermons and his Zionist speeches here. The Shul attracted mainly the members of one family – the family of R. Odel the Red.

During that period of time there were several Heders, a Talmud Torah for the poor, “Help for the Sick”, Loan Fund, bathhouse and Hevra Kaddisha. There were also two libraries- one of Gordonya and the other of the Bund – Culture League.

After the annexation by Romania, Romanian replaced Russian as the language of instruction together with Hebrew. In the Dumbraveni school only children of the settlement attended. Those who had means sent their children after graduation to continue their studies in Soroka where there was a Tarbut High School. In the summer dozens of high school and university students would return to Dumbraveni to visit their families. They organized, together with local youth, the leaders of Gordonya and Culture League many lectures, theatre productions, parties, literary trials, etc. about works in Yiddish and Russian. However, the Romanian authorities were suspicious of every assembly and organization. They believed them to be Communist in nature and against the state.

 

Zionist Activities

At first, only Zeirei Zion and General Zionists were founded. Eventually, Gordonya was added. The Bund also founded a small Culture League branch. By the end of the 19th century there were pioneers from Dumbraveni who made Aliyah. They came with the First Aliyah and were among the founders of Nes Ziona. They were experienced in the growing of tobacco and they tried to do it in Eretz Israel, but they were not successful since the methods were not suitable to the land.

The largest settlement in Bessarabia also added its contribution to the Third Aliyah. Pioneers experienced in working the land settled among the first members of Kfar Yehoshua and became day laborers in Petach Tikva, Kfar Saba, etc. The daughters and only son of Rabbi Sternberg also made Aliyah. The Rabbi, an enthusiastic Zionist, visited Eretz Israel, but he could not leave his community where he had served for 40 years.

Aliyah continued until the beginning of WWII. Until then there were always emissaries from Eretz Israel in the settlement who directed Gordonya members preparing for Aliyah.

 

Rabbi Levi Sternberg who died in Omsk around 1943

 

Holocaust

The retreat of the Romanian forces in the summer of 1940 did not harm the residents of the settlement. After the Soviets took over a public committee was formed. The committee offered Rabbi Sternberg a position as a bookkeeper as long as he would shave his beard and follow Communist orders. He refused and was placed under house arrest. A review committee arrived from Soroka and transferred him to prison there. He was exiled to Siberia where he died. Other people were exiled among them many of the leaders of the settlement during the Romanian regime. Properties were seized and all Zionist activities ceased.

When the Russian army retreated and before the German and Romanian came, the Moldovans from nearby villages went on a rampage. It began on a Shabbat, the evening of July 9, 1941. Most of the residents hid during the night in the fields until dawn when the Romanian soldiers arrived on motorcycles. The residents were ordered to gather in the school yard. Anyone who refused would be shot. Everyone came to the meeting place. The Romanian soldiers ordered them to hand over jewellery and money. After they collected the loot, they ordered the residents to leave the settlement or else they would be exterminated by the German troops arriving from the Dniester. The Romanian soldiers left and the residents began to go eastward in order to cross the Dniester. Those who went west met the Romanian soldiers who murdered nearly all of them. Some of those who reached the Dniester managed to cross it with the help of Soviet troops stationed there. Only a few of those who did cross the river were able to reach Russia as refugees and to survive the Holocaust.

When the Soviet army retreated the settlement land was distributed among the Moldovans. Some of the Jewish residents were caught by the Romanians and were sent to Transnistria where they were either killed or died of hunger and disease.

Nowadays the land of the settlement belongs to the Soviet authorities.

Z.A.G

 


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