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Translation of Ismail chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities,
Romania, Volume II,
pages 331-334, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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Translated by Ala Gamulka
In Romanian it is called Ismail; in Russian – Izmayil
It was the capital of the province, located on the left bank of the Koloda River (a tributary of the Danube), about 80 km from the Black Sea. It was also on the railroad line to Arciz. Ismail is now in Ukraine.
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Before World War II
Towards the end of the 16th century, the Turks turned the village, called Smail, into a fortress. They changed its name to Ismail. From 1595 on the fortress served as the center of the province. Since the Russians reconquered it. The army, under the command of the famous General Suvorov, slaughtered all the residents. According to the Iasi Pact of 1791, the village was again in Turkish hands. The Russians conquered it a third time in 1809. In 1812, the Bucharest Pact left it within Russia together with the rest of Bessarabia. After the Crimean War, when the Russians were the victors, the Paris Pact of 1856 was signed. As a result Ismail, together with southern Bessarabia, belonged to the Princedom of Moldova. Moldova was still under the Turks. A new war between the two countries (1876-1877) caused the return of Ismail and southern Bessarabia to Russia. Between the two wars Bessarabia was part of Romania. In June 1940 the Soviet Union took over.
The population of Ismail was made up of Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Russians, Romanians, Gagars and others. There were very few Romanians. Until 1917 the port of Ismail was used to export wheat and this was the principal economic section in the village. Today Ismail is mainly an agricultural center. Wheat is grown and there are vineyards and fishing.
Beginning of Jewish Settlement
The first sign of the existence of Jews in Ismail appeared in 1767. Another piece of information from 1790 tells us there were 18 000 residents in Ismail and among them many Jews. There are no exact details, but it is known that in the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century there were many Jews in most urban areas in Bessarabia. It can be assumed that the situation in Ismail was similar. There were Jews who were expelled from Nikolayev and Sevastopol and settled in Ismail at the beginning of the 19th century.
When Bessarabia was annexed by the Russians in 1812, the town's economy and commerce began to develop. The new regime was interested in rapid population growth. There were advantages provided to new settlers such as no taxes for 25 years. The Jews benefited from these advantages. With the change in regime in 1856 the legal situation of the Jews worsened. The local residents could be divided into three groups: citizens, residents and foreigners. Citizens were those who had been sent to work on the construction of the fortress and had stayed after the job was completed. Residents were those expelled from Nikolayev in 1836 (by order of the Tsar). Foreigners were those who arrived in 1857 when southern Bessarabia was returned to Moldova. Those who came from Galati were nicknamed Galatzers.
Persecution and Riots
Al the years the Jews lived in Ismail they were persecuted for their ancestry. Often there were riots and pogroms. At the beginning of October 1864 a young Jewish girl was abducted in Ismail. Her father searched for her accompanied by a policeman and four other people. He heard that his daughter was in the village of Mikhailovsky. Its residents were members of a persecuted Russian sect called Raskolniky. When he arrived in the village, the residents hid the Jewish girl and brought out a Christian girl. They falsely accused the Jew of wanting to take her to use her blood for Jewish religious purposes. He was beaten badly. He returned to Ismail empty-handed. The father tried again a week later to find his daughter. He followed a rumor and came to Vlikov again accompanied by a policeman and other people. The story was repeated. The Jewish girl was hidden and a Christian child was brought out in her place. The mob had been incited and was prepared to attack the searchers. Fortunately, the army intervened and prevented bloodshed. The final result is unknown to this day.
At the beginning of 1872 there were anti-Jewish riots in Ismail and the neighboring towns of Cahul and Vlikov. What sparked these attacks was the theft of religious items from a local church on January 2, 1872. The thief was a Lithuanian Jew who had converted to Christianity. His name was Moshe Samson (originally Yaakov Zilberman). He was a deserter from the Russian army. When he was caught he accused David Goldschleiger, head of the Jewish community, and Preissman, a tailor, of colluding with him in the robbery. They were both arrested as were two other tailors. The stolen goods were discovered in the home of one of the Jews. The Christian population accused all the Jews of Ismail with desecration. January 24 is the day of celebrating the unification of two Romanian princedoms. On the evening of that day, there were attacks on Jews in many parts of town. Many Jews were beaten and 60 homes were broken into and robbed. The riots continued until January 26 and spread to surrounding villages. Many Jews escaped across the Danube, hid in caves and rock crevices. Some even took refuge on an Austrian boat anchored in the port. It must be noted that the Greek residents and the Greek consul Mavrotis tried to defend the Jews. The local authorities were not only unhelpful, but they abetted the rioters and encouraged them to finish the job. The mayor himself helped the rioters and city clerks shared in the goods stolen from Jewish homes. The arrested Jews, including Rabbi Brandeis, were put in jail. They were shackled in irons and were tortured. On February 3, a military unit arrived in Ismail and a commission of inquiry was established. The Romanian government sent the Attorney General from Bucharest to investigate the bloody incidents. The government was concerned about public opinion outside of Romania. A few hours after his arrival, the Attorney General ordered the release of Rabbi Brandeis and Goldschleiger, the head of the community. The residents were not pleased. Finally, the real thief admitted his guilt and exonerated the co-accused. However, Rabbi Brandeis and Goldschleiger were arrested again in order to be brought to testify in front of a jury in Buzau. During the investigation, one of them, Preissman, was tortured by the Ismail chief of police. For two nights his hands and feet were tied to a rafter in the ceiling. He was then dropped down to the floor.
The story of the false accusation against the Jews in Ismail and the riots that followed caused a public opinion storm in Europe and the United States. It was even discussed in the Romanian parliaments. During the discussion two members of parliament caught some Jews and demanded their expulsion from Ismail. This was what the residents really wanted. The Minister of Justice defended the Jews and rejected the accusations against them.
The trial began on April 15 in Buzau. The convert Zilberman repented and admitted that not one of the Jews had participated in the robbery. He claimed that the accusation was made after he had been tortured. The Attorney General insisted that all the Jews, except for Zilberman, be freed. All the witnesses also testified to the innocence of the accused. Still, the court found all the Jews guilty. The thief was sentenced to five years in prison while Rabbi Brandeis, Goldschleiger and three tailors received a three-year term of hard labor. All five accused were transferred to Bucharest. In addition, 80 rioters were exonerated by the same court. The same happened to rioters in Vlikov and Cahul where there had also been riots. After serious intervention by several European governments, such as England, Holland and France, Rabbi Brandeis and Goldschleiger were pardoned and the others were also eventually freed. This took place on April 20.
Another event, published in the newspaper Hamagid on 13.8.1873, described a wrongdoing in another trial of a Jew and the fact the chief of police tortured the Jew for no obvious reason.
In 1878, when southern Bessarabia was annexed by Russia, the question arose about the right of the Jews to live so close to the border. In 1880 all Jews who were not included on the tax rolls were ordered to be expelled. However, the order was soon rescinded by the Minister of Interior. Soon, the loyalty of all citizens to Russia was questioned. Anyone who did not pledge allegiance to the new homeland was ordered to leave in 1881 or to obtain a foreign passport. The Jews were in trouble because even Romania would not accept them as citizens. Finally, after many complaints and delegations the Minister of Interior decided not to expel the Jews and to wait for new instructions. As a thank you, the Jews of Ismail, Chilia and Bolgrod decided to dedicate a Torah scroll in honor of the Minster of Interior of Petersburg. It was to be kept in a synagogue in Ismail.
Ismail was one of the towns hit by the riots of 1905. The riots began on October 23 and continued on the next day. The rioters slaughtered 50 Jews, robbed stores and destroyed Jewish homes. During the Pogrom the police stood by and did not intervene to save the Jews and their property. It was only when an order came from above to shoot at the rioters and after dozens of Jews were killed, that the murder and robbery spree was stopped. The Jews saved remained without anything. Two days after the riots, a committee to help the Jewish victims of the riots was formed. Funds were collected from the Jews of Peterburg and Odessa. The money was divided among the Jewish craftsmen. The property damage in Ismail was estimated to be over one million rubles.
In later years, the attacks on Jews continued, notwithstanding which regime was in charge. At the end of September 1928 a group of hoodlums came from out-of-town, incited by city hall workers. They ran wild through the streets, beat up Jews, robbed homes and desecrated the synagogue. Finally, local dignitaries intervened to put an end to these attacks.
Ismail was a center for wheat trade and the Jews earned their living mainly as merchants and craftsmen. When Bessarabia was annexed by Russia in 1812 economic development grew rapidly. Governor Mernatzev asked the Russian government, in 1825, to ease restrictions on Ismail merchants and to give them special permits to launch their boats. In 1853 the port of Ismail was used to send goods, mainly wheat, to the value of over two million rubles. Ismail held sixth place among the ten ports of southern Russia. There were even Jewish porters working in the port of Ismail. Jews owned 10 small stores, notions shops and about 40 inns. They were all opened after the annexation in 1878.
Although the Jews were not the wealthiest or the owners of large businesses, they were still persecuted and they were accused of wishing to control commerce in town. Truthfully, the biggest wheat merchants were mainly Greeks and Bulgarians. In 1880 all the Jews who were not on tax rolls and had foreign passports were forced to close their businesses and to leave the country. This was according to the law that did not allow them to live in border settlements.
In May 1881 Ismail Jews were accused of selling liquor illegally in houses built on leased land. During the trial, the Jews claimed that the leasing was legal and was done before the annexation by Russia. However, the court decided the Jews could only sell liquor in houses built on land owned and not leased.
The economic attacks continued after Bessarabia was annexed by Romania. In November 1928 Jewish merchants who closed their stores on Shabbat were brought to trial. They were sentenced to a year in prison and were given a heavy fine. The chairman of the union of Jewish communities in Romania, Wilhelm Fielderman, intervened and the sentence was cancelled.
Community and its Institutions
It was only in 1926 that an organized community accepted by the authorities and with legal standing was established. However, community institutions such as charitable, health and educational groups existed prior to that year. In 1825, when the Jewish population began to grow, a synagogue was built in Ismail. It was called the Great Synagogue. In 1826 an institute of learning was built next to it.
Even at the beginning of the 19th century there were Heders. The enlightenment movement reached Ismail after 1866 when a group of teachers came to town. It was led by Akiva Kahana of Brody. He founded a private school for the children where they could learn secular subjects and especially Romanian. (Hamagid 19.05.1869) Akiva Kahana also founded a school for boys. All expenses were covered by income from the Meat tax. However, the ultra-Orthodox and the Heder teachers opposed in principal this secular education. They intervened with the mayor to close the school. They were not afraid to use violence against the modern teachers and secular schools. The mayor agreed to their demands and removed the Jewish children from these schools. He transferred them to Christian schools. A priest taught them the Romanian language and the Christian religion. Akiva Kahana was disappointed and abandoned his dreams of secular education. He left Ismail.
Even later the ultra-Orthodox continued to boycott the modern schools. Rabbi Yom Tov Lippa Landa, the son of R. Yosef Landa, chief Rabbi of Iasi, was the chief Rabbi in Ismail. He influenced the ultra-Orthodox and other zealots to attach the school established by the enlightened teachers from Brody. They destroyed everything they found inside. This battle caused a rift in the community. The community was divided into two groups and a Rabbi was appointed for the enlightened group. The battle continued even after the regime change in 1878. A year later, after a denunciation by one of the religious teachers, some Heders were closed. The government intensified its supervision of the other Heders and the students. The rift caused the closure of the modern schools.
In 1878 a Talmud Torah was founded. This was initiated by some members of the community. In January 1873 there were over 100 members of the organization running the school. In this Talmud Torah there were 35 students from poor homes. They were also given clothes and shoes. The curriculum included Hebrew and Romanian.
According to an official report for the year 1884 by the Kishinev province authorities there were 17 Heders in Ismail and surroundings. The Talmud Torah continued to develop in subsequent years. In 1887 there were 100 students aged 7-12. They also came from poor homes. A year later the school was closed by the authorities who claimed there was no permit. The authorities opened a public middle school. In 1883 there were 23 Jewish students in it. They represented 20% of the total school population. In 1900 there were two private schools in Ismail. One school was for girls and the other, for boys, was run by Rabbi Vizin. Only 25 students paid full tuition.
The educational institutions of the community were organized after 1927. An elementary school called Tikva and a kindergarten were opened. The school was closed, from time to time, by the authorities (1927, 1930, and 1936). The kindergarten was also closed in 1936. The Jews of Ismail were considered to be assimilated and that is why there were no Hebrew educational institutions until 1927, i.e. School, kindergarten, library, etc. That year several merchants and craftsmen planned to open an elementary school.
At the end of the 19th century there were very few wealthy people in Ismail. The first initiative to establish charitable organization came from local youths. In 1891 they offered help to the poor. In winter the poor were given wood for heating, clothing, shoes, etc.
The years of drought in Bessarabia that happened from time to time, hit the poor families everywhere, including in Ismail. The Jews earned their living then by dealing in wheat and other agricultural products. In 1889 the drought ruined the wheat trade and the Jews were left with no income. Many were starving. In 1900 154 families were registered for assistance. Several wealthy Jews and even one Christian donated flour to save the hungry. The Kishinev assistance committee sent help and funds arrived from Moscow. The number of families that were helped then was 280 (950 people). A soup kitchen distributed two meals a day to 100 children. Meals were also sent to poor homes.
In 1935-36 the Jews of Ismail were again starving and a Jewish organization from Romania came to their aid.
The Christian Charitable Assistance Institution refused to help Jews so a Jewish charitable group was founded in 1900. Its constitution was not approved by the state authorities since the fund was meant for Jews only. In 1921 the Craftsmen Union was established. It became partly a charitable organization and distributed funds and food to the tune of tens of thousands of Lei.
The Women's Committee, founded after World War I, looked after Tuberculosis patients and poor new mothers. The Jewish Hospital was established in 1869.
The Chief Rabbi of Ismail was R. Yosef Yaakov Yitzhak Spivak (1830-1847). He was a follower of the Tzadik from Sovran and always turned to him for advice and guidance. After his death R. Abraham Bior Yoel Rabinovitch took his place until 1864. He had been a Rabbi in a congregation in Podolia. He stayed in Ismail until he died. In the 1860s the chief Rabbi was Yom Tov Lippa Landa. In 1893 there were elections for the position of chief rabbi. Rabbi Moshe Vizin, an educator, was chosen from among the four candidates.
The battle between the group of enlightened people and the ultra-Orthodox brought about the appointment of a Rabbi for the enlightened. Later, there was a rabbinic dynasty that served the town for 70 years. They were the Reicher family. The first was Rabbi David Yitzhak Reicher (1872-1889). He was followed by his son, Reuven Reicher (1889-1909). Rabbi Yeshayahu Reicher (1909-1942) wrote essays on biblical interpretation. He published books about the Bible. He was exterminated in a German concentration camp on the other side of the Bug River, after the exile.
Zionism and Aliyah
The pogroms in all of southern Russia produced a steady stream of emigration and Aliyah from Ismail. In 1882 300 families prepared themselves for Aliyah. It is unknown how many fulfilled their dreams. In 1887 several families immigrated to the United States. In 1890 some families were enticed by a crook to immigrate to Argentina and to settle there. This man fooled them and left them destitute in Argentina. However, these families did not despair. When their situation improved they wrote letters home about their good life. In 1891 additional families joined them. Between the two wars only a few Jews made Aliyah.
Branches of the Zionist movement opened in Ismail after 1927. In June 1928 a branch of Gordonia was established. There is no exact information on branches of other movements, but they did exist in Ismail.
Many Jews in Ismail were considered wealthy or enemies of the people. They were transferred to other areas by the Soviets, especially Bolgrod. Some Jews were exiled to Siberia. After the war broke out many Jews in Bolgrod were slaughtered by the Germans. In Bolgrod there were also Jews from other towns: Reni, Chilia Noa, and Chilia Veche. Some Jews from Ismail were brought to Vadui Lui Traian and were shot to death by Romanian soldiers. There is no information on the fate of Jews who escaped before the Romanian and German armies came to town.
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