Translation of Chisinau chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania
Translation of Chisinau chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1969
Published in Jerusalem, 1969
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania,
Volume 2, pages 400-416, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1969
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Translated by Ala Gamulka and Ofir Azrilovici
Edited by Toby Bird In Romanian it is called Chisinau; in Russian Kishinev. It was the capital of Bessarabia. On August 2, 1940 it became the capital of the Soviet Republic of Moldova. It is located on the Bik River, a tributary of the Dniester. Chisinau is connected by roads and by rail with the southern and northern parts of Bessarabia and with the city of Iasi. It was a very important industrial and cultural center.
of the Population
The first reference to the village of Kishinev is found in a certificate of the Moldavian Prince Alexander Dobre issued on April 25, 1420. The village is mentioned again in a certificate from 1436 and in others from later times (1576, 1617). In the 17th century Kishinev became a town. There is proof of this fact in a certificate from 1666. At the end of the 17th century, the town was destroyed by the Tatars. On the other side of the Bik River the new settlement of Riscani was established. Later, Prince Nikolai Mavrocordat gave the town to the monastery of Holy Friday located in the capital city of Iasi. At the same time, Kishinev became a place in which crafts and commerce flourished. In the 18th century, Kishinev was burned a few times in 1739 and 1787-1791 during the frequent wars between the Turks who ruled Moldova and the Russian Empire. Moldova and the Russian Empire became neighbors after the second division of Poland in 1793. When Bessarabia was annexed by Russia, its population was only 7000 residents. Just after the annexation, Kishinev became a big and important city and a commercial, cultural and industrial center. This continued through the 19th century.
Beginning of the Jewish Community and its Development
The first evidence of the existence of Jews in Kishinev comes from the 17th century. The proof lies in the fact that there was a Jewish cemetery in nearby Riscani at the time. It was located near the Church of St. Gregori. It is assumed that Jews came to Kishinev when it became a city, i.e. in the second half of the 17th century. The Jews traded there and wanted to settle in town.
The Moldavian historian, Prince Dmitry Cantemir (1673-1723) mentions Kishinev as a small town in which the Christians, Armenians and Jews reside.
After the decrees of 1649 many Jews escaped from Ukrainian towns and some of them came to Moldova. In 1735 Jews are mentioned In Lapusna. From 1739 until the end of the 18th century we have a series of reports about Jews in Kishinev. It can be concluded that Jews settled there even before these dates. In a trial in 1742 a judgement was given in favor of the Jew Duvid from Kishinev. In it the opposite side is forced to pay a fine and to return stolen goods. A certificate from 1743 states that every Jew had to pay a sum of 5 Lei in addition to the annual tax imposed on all Kishinev citizens. In 1743, the Hevra Kaddisha book from Soroka was written by Rabbi Israel Daniel from Kishinev. He served then as a Rabbi in Soroka and thus it is understood that Kishinev had people who studied Torah and produced Rabbis for other communities in Bessarabia.
The constitution of the Hevra Kaddisha from 1773, approved by Haham Bashi from Iasi, indicates it is the first one of the community. The Kishinev community was then under the jurisdiction of the Iasi community. The document is written in Hebrew and speaks about the existence of 144 families. The community decided to elect its own spiritual leader and chose Rabbi Zalman, son of Rabbi Mordehai from Shargorod. He was a student of the Baal Shem Tov. The constitution deals only in religious matters and in relations between members of the Hevra Kaddisha. The Pinkas (notebook) was probably lost during the Holocaust. The constitution was published in a Russian translation by the teacher and writer from Kishinev - A. Leon.
The Jews of Kishinev enjoyed comfortable political conditions, as did other Jews in Moldova. They and their properties were under the protection of the princes. They were permitted to buy and own property, to deal in commerce freely and to pursue any profession as craftsmen. Many regulations issued by the princes for the protection of the Christian community against robbery and theft helped the Jews as well. Almost all commercial venues were in the hands of Jews who also handled exports. Some Kishinev Jews also dealt in the rental of land and plantations belonging to the Moldavian noblemen.
The unrest which existed in Moldova in general and in its eastern section in particular did not allow the Kishinev community to establish itself and to open institutions. This was especially so during the Turko-Russian war in 1806-1812. After Bessarabia was annexed by Russia in 1812 a calmer period ensued and this brought about the development and growth of Kishinev and its Jewish community. It was even more so after 1818 when Kishinev became the capital of the region. The new Russian authorities provided the annexed region with regulations prepared by General Bachmatov and approved in 1818. The citizens of the town, including its Jews, received many privileges. The Jews even obtained a special status. They had to belong to one of the classes and they had to pay taxes like other citizens. The citizens were freed from paying taxes and until 1874 they were exempt from the draft. Commerce with western parts of Moldova was not restricted and actually grew in dimension. All privileges Jews had from Moldavian times remained except for one: Jews and gypsies could not work in the government. All these privileges, only available in Bessarabia, encouraged the development of the Jewish community in Kishinev. Merchants and craftsmen were quite successful. However, in 1842, Jews were not allowed to lease land from the estate owners or from free Romanian peasants (razesi).
In 1839 the authorities intervened in the way taxes received by the community were to be distributed. These taxes came from ‘meat tax’ and ‘candles tax’. The right to lease was always awarded to those who paid more. Usually the one who leased was a Jew who would not pay heed to the needs of the community.
On April 9, 1939 a declaration by the Tsar ordered that a 1925 law denying Jews the right to live within 50 viorsts of the border would be put into effect. Those Jews who lived within that area were allowed to stay, but newcomers would be expelled. As a rule, the expulsion did not take place, but the Jews of Kishinev were affected because Kishinev was not part of the area. Therefore, any Jew who had not registered in Kishinev before October 17, 1858 and had not purchased property could not stay there. Thousands of Jewish families were thus removed from various economic branches. Even those Jews who had permission to stay were highly scrutinized by the police on several occasions. Even a small change in the first name of a Jew could be a reason for expulsion.
After the Treaty of Paris of 1856 the borders of the area were changed. Parts of southern Bessarabia were returned to the Princedom of Moldova and locations not previously included were now part of the border area. The capitol was included. The large Jewish population of Kishinev was up for expulsion according to a regulation from 1843. However, a mass expulsion from this important center in Kishinev would have destroyed the economy of the province. For this reason, and other reasons, the authorities made a thorough change in local laws that pertained to the residence of Jews in the border area. On October 17, 1858 a new regulation was published. It allowed Jews to remain in the area if they had been permanent residents until then. New residents in the area, including Kishinev, could not stay. In spite of the law, Jews continued to settle in Kishinev with the tacit approval of the local authorities. However, in the 1860s the authorities began to insist on compliance with the law as it was stated. It was decided that all Jews in the border area would be expelled by March 25, 1869. The new decision caused much consternation among the Jews because many of them would be included in the expulsion. In the end, the expulsion did not take place. This was due to public opinion in the United States and Britain and because their governments intervened. Many world Jewish organizations also spoke up. The territorial change in Bessarabia in 1878 which returned the southern part to Russia caused a true easing of the situation in Kishinev. Since the borders changed, Kishinev and other towns were no longer in the border section designated in 1856.
In 1851 a new decree affected the Jews of Kishinev. The Tsar equated the Jews of Bessarabia with Jews in other parts of Russia and they were required to serve in the army. In 1847-1848 there was a census of the Jewish population and in 1852 Bessarabian Jews were drafted into the Russian army. The Crimean War brought an easing in the conditions for the draft because the area was in a difficult position during the war.
In the 1850s and the 1860s the authorities encouraged trade with Romania, Austria and Russia. The Jews who came from those countries were permitted to reside in Kishinev and other places and to deal and trade and be craftsmen. The permit was good for one year and could be renewed. Many Jews who were foreign citizens were able to deal in trade and to establish industrial plants and craft workshops. They were not eligible to serve in the army, unlike other Jews in Bessarabia. Since there were advantages for foreign citizens, many Russian and Kishinev Jews decided to renounce their Russian citizenship and to become Romanian, Turkish or Austrian. This way they could still reside in Bessarabia, but they would not be subject to the draft. However, in the 1880s the authorities began to pursue all foreign citizens and many were expelled. Others were denied the right to work or to trade. Their children were not admitted to government schools. In 1889-1891 these persecutions reached their height. Many Jews were obliged to renounce their foreign citizenship even if they were threatened with jail sentences as punishment. Those who were unsuccessful were expelled. In 1914-1928 hundreds of Jews who were foreign citizens were sent to Siberia and other remote places.
A wave of riots inundated southern Russia in 1881-1884, but it skipped Bessarabia. There was some incitement against the Jews in Bessarabia, but it was unsuccessful. On April 20, 1881 there was an attempt in Kishinev to riot against the Jews by a group of Russians from the Oriole District . (They were protected by the authorities.) A fight ensued between these rioters and Jewish butchers. One of the rioters was killed during the fight and everything quietened down. Disturbances continued in different ways. In 1889 the municipality of Kishinev decided to forbid Jews from ‘breathing fresh air and going for walks in the park at twilight’. At the same time, many Christians would walk arm in arm with their lovers and their acquaintances. This prohibition was canceled later by Mayor Schmidt who was well-known as a protector of the Jews. This was done after the representative of the Jewish community complained to the mayor.
The pogrom in Kishinev which took place during Passover (6-7 April 1903) did not surprise the local Jews. They were used to antagonistic attitudes towards them. What was special about this pogrom was the fact that the attackers were encouraged openly by the Russian authorities. These authorities wished to use Jewish blood in order to camouflage the impending revolution. Agents of the Ministry of the Interior and important personnel in the government of Bessarabia were involved in preparing the pogrom. Most probably, the Minister of the Interior, V. Plava, was a supporter.
When the background to the pogrom is discussed, it must be remembered that the Russians were in charge in Bessarabia. The majority of the people were not Russian. They were Moldavian (Romanian). The anti-Semitic incitement was planned to arouse the Romanians against the Jews. The inciters were mostly Russians and Ukrainians, but the Romanians were the followers. The Romanians did not have the initiative to do it on their own. Until the Russians and Ukrainians had arrived, the Romanians did not attack the Jews since, they, too, were ruled by Russia. However, when the Romanians saw that no one protected the Jews and their blood was cheap they, too, joined the attackers.
One of the chief instigators was the newspaper ‘Bessarabetz’ which began to appear in Kishinev in 1897 and was supported by the government. The editor, Pavlaki Krushevan, was Romanian, but he had undergone Russification. He led a group of journalists who organized gangs of hooligans who distributed printed proclamations against the Jews. Krushevan warned in his newspaper that the Jews were preparing to take over the whole of Russia and he also accused them of economic abuse of the Christians, blood libels, socialism and forced conversions. In this newspaper, the assistant-minister of Bessarabia, Ostrogov, published articles against the Jews. One of the worst attackers in print was the local police commander, Levendall. The local authorities, as well as the central ones, as it turned out, approved of the newspaper campaign against the Jews. It was led by the Krushevan group. Since this was the only newspaper in Bessarabia, the incitement was constant.
One must not forget that these were the years when the social-democratic party was rising in all of Russia. In 1896 the party reached Chisinau. In 1897 the party organized a bakers' strike. At its first meeting there were 200 participants. In April 1901 an illegal printing press of the newspaper Iskra was established. In March 1902 the Russian secret service discovered the press and shut it down. On September 24, 1901 the first political demonstration in Chisinau was held. On August 21, 1905 a general strike broke out. During clashes with the police about 100 demonstrators were injured. Another demonstration on August 18, 1905 drew thousands of people. This time the police did not intervene. Krushevan used the activities of the social-democratic party for propaganda purposes. He accused the Jews of being the leaders of the revolution.
At the beginning of 1903 Krushevan and his friends found a new reason for their rage. In Dubossary, Kherson Province, a body of a young Christian boy was found. He had been stabbed to death. It turned out later that the crime had been committed by members of his family who coveted his estate. However, the Jews were immediately accused of blood libel. The Bessarabetz newspaper published volatile articles accusing the Jews of murder and calling on Christians to avenge his death. There was an attempt to have a pogrom in Dubossary, but the Jews there stood their ground and averted disaster.
Another article in the Bessarabetz which incited the population was about a young Christian woman who committed suicide. She had been a patient at the Jewish Hospital. (Eventually, there was proof her suicide had nothing to do with the Jews).
According to the official report 44 Jews were killed, 92 seriously injured, and over 500 lightly injured. 700 homes, stores and warehouses were robbed and demolished. Property loss was estimated at 2.5 million golden rubles. 2000 Jewish families were left homeless. Russians, some from other areas, and Romanians were the attackers. Among them were students from the theological seminary and from top high schools in the city. The authorities did nothing to stop the attackers. There was a local army battalion of 5000 soldiers. They could have easily stopped the rioters. Not only did they not intervene, but they gave a free hand to the attackers. Even then it was quite obvious that the riots were planned with the active support of the authorities. We now know that they used these riots to slow the entrance of revolutionary ideas.
The pogroms brought about a wave of strong protests in the entire world. In several world capitals-London, Paris and New York- assemblies were held to protest the events. A letter was sent to the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, asking him to relay it to Tsar Nikolai. He refused to accept it.
The pressure of public opinion forced the Russian government to at least bring to trial some of the rioters. However, everything was done to minimize the breadth of the pogrom and to lower the severe impression it had made. There was an attempt to blame the Jews as abusers of simple folk. The verdicts issued by the court, after a closed-door trial, were very light. Even the defense lawyers walked out of court in protest against the inept conduct of the trial.
The Chisinau pogrom was an important event outside the local area. It was the first time a pogrom of such proportion occurred in Russia. There was not only property damage, but many people were hurt physically or were killed. The pogrom served as a warning to Russian Jewry that the government would not be satisfied with cold pogroms. These consisted of passing restrictive laws and economic hounding. The government was now prepared for physical attacks on the Jews.
The famous Russian author, L.N. Tolstoy, showed he cared about the victims and he accused the Tsarist government of being responsible for the pogrom.
Only two years later, on October 20, 1905, there were new riots which became a pogrom against the Jews of Chisinau. It began as a demonstration by the Patriots of the Black Century against attempts to make changes in government regulations. It degenerated into an attack on the Jewish quarter. 19 Jews were killed and 56 were injured. Many Jewish businesses were robbed and destroyed. The damages were estimated at 300 000 Rubles. This time, Jewish self-defence played an important part in deflecting the attackers. It was a difficult time for the Jews of Chisinau. In the years between 1903 and 1905 the Jewish population decreased from 60 000 to 53 243. Many people immigrated to the United States and others moved to different Jewish communities in Russia. All economic development was at a standstill.
Economy and Employment
Jewish merchants are first mentioned in documents from 1739. They are also mentioned, on and off, until the end of the 18th century. The main occupation of the Jews was commerce in the second half of the 18th century. Even then the city was an important commercial center of eastern Moldova. A report prepared in 1769 for a Moldavian aristocrat mentions that Chisinau is one of 6 Moldavian towns with merchants and shopkeepers. They sold honey, beeswax, meat, butter, milk, etc. Jewish merchants are listed side by side with Moldavians, Greeks and Armenians. The importance of the Jewish merchants can be seen in a contract drawn in 1797. It was an agreement between the merchants of Chisinau and the Galati monastery which owned city land. The contract was signed by 35 Christian and 27 Jewish merchants (their names were written in Hebrew). This contract and previous ones between the city merchants and the monastery included all the merchants including the Jews. The merchants worked together for their common interests when dealing with the monastery. The merchants of Chisinau, including the Jewish ones, imported goods from Russia, Austria and Poland. The English doctor, William McMichael, visited Chisinau in 1817 and he found imported goods such as raisins and apples in Jewish stores.
In addition, many Jews manufactured spirits and sold them in their saloons. We know from a bill of rights awarded by Prince Constantine Mavrocordat (1730-1769) and Prince Vivan Mavrocordat (1744-1747) that even in the 1730s and 1740s there were many Jews who manufactured spirits. Another branch of trade was leasing. Jews leased land, businesses and services. They also established flour mills in Chisinau.
In the years 1806-1812, during the Turko-Russian war, many refugees arrived in Chisinau. They came mainly from Poland and Ukraine. When Bessarabia was annexed by Russia the Jewish population increased. Its economic activity also grew. There were several wealthy people in town. Some of them were important suppliers to the government and the army. In 1811, Abramovich, a Jewish merchant, sent a large quantity of grain (over 40 000 tons) from Chisinau to the Russian army. In the early 1820s a well-known Jew leased the spirit manufacturing monopoly for 300 000 rubles. Other Jews provided lumber for the army. After the annexation by Russia the Jewish community in Chisinau continued to develop and grow. The 1817 census gives proof of the advances in the economy.
A set of regulations approved by the Russian authorities in 1818 kept the privileges awarded to the Jews in the province by the previous administration. On the other hand, there were some restrictions. The Jews were not permitted to work for the state, to rent or buy property in certain areas. However, they were allowed to trade freely in the province and in other parts of Russia. From then on, commerce became the main economic activity of the Jews of Chisinau. Most of the small shopkeepers and peddlers who did not belong to the guilds were Jews. In 1866, the Jews of Chisinau presented a petition to the governor of Bessarabia. In it they requested permission for the Jews to participate in elections to commercial courts. They maintained that the Christian merchants represented only 5% of the total number. There is no doubt that this was true about the small shopkeepers as well. The number of Jews among the big and middle merchants was smaller. The biggest merchants in Chisinau in 1846 were the Jews M. Vivodetsky and M. Plinovsky. Their turnover was over 100 000 rubles. In 1856 two other Jews had a turnover of 500 000 rubles each.
In addition to the wealthy and successful merchants in Chisinau there were many poverty-stricken people according to the 1817 census. Being poor was considered a profession with its own guild. It was already in existence in 1823. As the community grew, this group increased. By the end of the 19th century its actual numbers were high.
At the beginning of 1820 all craftsmen in Chisinau belonged to guilds, as was the custom in Moldova. There was even a guild for Klezmer musicians. The members of these guilds, in addition to the Romanians, were Jews and Russians. The number of Jewish craftsmen in Chisinau grew quickly: from 600 in 1838 to 825 in 1835 and to 1927 in 1846. That year they included 250 tailors, 242 shoemakers, 178 construction carpenters, 139 tanners, 102 house painters, furriers, hat makers, blacksmiths, manufacturers of candles and soap, bakers, goldsmiths and silversmiths. In 1861 there were 5742 craftsmen in the province and of these 4190 were in Chisinau. The ethnicity or religion of the craftsmen is not listed, but it was obvious many were in Jewish occupations so the number of Jews was high. Dr. Zucker, a Christian traveller who visited Chisinau in 1830, writes about the high number of Jewish craftsmen among the residents (Germans, Russians, and Moldavians). Thirty five years later, in 1865, the governor of the province informed his superiors that most of the work in all branches was done by Jewish craftsmen in Chisinau in particular and in Bessarabia in general. This was due to their highly developed skills. They even did work which required hard physical labor.
In the first half of the 19th century industry was still not in the hands of the Jews. Some of the workers were Jewish. There were also some small manufacturing plants owned by Jews. Two plants processing wool were established in the 1830s. There were two big abattoirs and two plants producing beeswax and candles were opened later.
Up to the end of the early 1850s the Jews of Chisinau, in particular, and those in Bessarabia, in general, benefitted from the general growth in the province. In the 1860s and 1870s they were mainly merchants and craftsmen. However, in the early 1880s the situation worsened when the authorities began to persecute the Jews. The Temporary Regulations of May 3, 1882 were followed by a mass expulsion from border areas. Those expelled from the villages were left homeless and without any means of support and were obliged to wander from town to town. This resulted in a decrease in the sources of income and to a worsening of the economic conditions of the veteran residents. Chisinau had a large Jewish population and was a magnet for the many refugees. Some of them were absorbed in various economic branches, but many joined the poverty-stricken groups.
In addition to the above mentioned difficulties there were also external reasons for the economic slowdown. The severe agricultural depression in Russia resulted in a large decrease in the price of wheat. Poor economic conditions ensued in Bessarabia, including Chisinau. The wheat merchants and the craftsmen who worked for the farmers were seriously hit. Also, there were several waves of drought in Bessarabia at the end of the 19th century. These events brought about the following: in 1898 1494 Jewish families registered as needing food (14.9% of the local Jewish population). Firewood was distributed to 1006 families (10% of the Jewish population). Many Jews made Aliyah or planned to emigrate. In 1881 a group of 100 Jewish families was organized in Chisinau to immigrate to Argentina. Two representatives were sent to investigate conditions there. They met with Baron de Hirsch in Paris and held some talks with him, but no concrete results emerged.
The Jews of Chisinau managed to overcome the difficulties, in spite of persecutions and the external conditions and continued to run their businesses. Agricultural produce from all parts of Bessarabia was brought to town and export to other parts of Russia and foreign countries flourished. The craftsmen continued to ply their trade. In 1885 they included tailors, dressmakers, hat makers, linen sewers, tanners, surgical cotton producers, shoemakers, belt makers, gold and silver weavers, painters, bookbinders, typesetters, artists, photographers, watchmakers, seal makers. Musicians, toymakers, chimney sweeps, water pumpers, lumberjacks, porters, cantors, sextons, ritual slaughterers, metal workers, carpenters, brick makers, glaziers, house painters, tobacco manufacturers, millers, judges, butchers, bakers, barbers, bathhouse attendants, wagon and cart makers, laborers, clerks, makers of combs, candles, soap, glue, ink, shoe polish, wine and spirits, vinegar, yeast makers- a total of 9892 Jewish craftsmen.
The 1897 census the total number of those employed represented 35% of the Jewish population in town. The number of craftsmen was especially high. In the clothing industry alone there were 3072 workers. Most of the industrial plants and businesses were owned by Jews. A survey in 1898 showed that 29 of 38 industrial plants in Chisinau belonged to Jews. It is noteworthy also that many Jewish workers were involved in agriculture (The 1897 census shows 190 Jews were farmers). Chisinau was a central point for Jewish vintners in 1895 there were 95 vineyards. About 500 Jews worked in winemaking. The tobacco industry growing and processing had 5 out of 7 plants owned by Jews.
The 1903 and 1905 pogroms caused havoc in the economic life of the Jews of Chisinau. 2000 stores and homes were destroyed in 1903 and thousands of families were left homeless. Most of those hit were poor. In 1905 there was a mass destruction of Jewish properties. It took years to overcome the difficulties. Two thousand people immigrated to the United States and South America and some made Aliyah.
In the years 1908-1914 the economic situation of the Jews ameliorated somewhat. They had a larger part in commerce, craftsmanship and other economic branches. There was also an increase in the number of businesses owned by Jews. There was more activity in wholesale trading in cloth and materials. The merchants of Chisinau also provided goods for shops in Podolia, Kherson and other parts of Bessarabia.
World War I put a stop to all of the above. The war years represent a total economic freeze even though the city itself did not suffer much damage. The end of the war and the change in government found the Jews of Chisinau in a dilemma. They had to leave a comfortable way of life and to get used to new authorities the Romanians. This brought about new ways and a new language for many.
Culture and Literature
Chisinau lagged behind other Jewish centers in Russia in this field. It was only in 1884 that the first Jewish printing press was established. In the 1880s and 1890s the books printed there were mainly about biblical themes. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century there were some talented writers among the Jews of Bessarabia. However, they were not drawn to Chisinau, but to other Jewish centers. The Jews of Chisinau were not really influenced by them.
At the beginning of the 20th century the first sparks of Jewish education can be found with the establishment of an elementary day school by Israel Berman. Hebrew was its language of instruction most of the time.
As secular education developed, the public image of the Jewish community changed. There was some tendency to assimilate. There were rumors that youths studying in secular schools were moving away from their traditions. An intelligentsia group, mostly made up of free professionals, emerged. These people spoke Russian and were imbued by Russian culture. Others, who had their early education in traditional schools and were pursuing secular education, were not drawn to the first group. These two groups formed the Jewish community of Chisinau at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1892 there was an attempt at producing a Jewish newspaper. It was a weekly called Yevreiskaya Cronika (Jewish Chronicle) written in Russian and edited by Y. Rozomovsky. It did not last and its publication ceased in 1913.
In 1886 Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) was founded in Chisinau. Actually, there was a similar group a few years earlier. Among its leaders was Avraham Greenberg (chairman of the Odessa council after the death of Dr. Pinsker). Another leader was Meir Dizengoff who was elected president of the new group. The new group had many difficulties because the religious circles, especially the Hassidim, opposed it vigorously. In 1887 Dizengoff was a member of the Druzganok committee as the representative from Chisinau. He brought to the committee a detailed plan for the organization of the movement. In 1888 Dizengoff left Chisinau. His position in the movement was taken up by Dr. Yaakov Bernstein-Cohen. In April 1890 six delegates from Chisinau, together with Dr. Bernstein-Cohen participated in the first congress of the Hovevei Zion in Russia. It took place in Odessa.
A new impetus for the national movement in Chisinau came with the emergence of political Zionism. Prior to the first Jewish Congress Yehoshua Heshel Bukhmil was sent to Chisinau by Theodore Herzl to ensure the participation of Chisinau Zionists in the Congress. In spite of the opposition of some Hovevei Zion members, Dr. Yaakov Bernstein-Cohen took part in the congress as the representative of the Zionists of Chisinau. After the Congress, Chisinau became, for a short time, one of the most important Zionist centers in Russia. Dr. Bernstein-Cohen was elected as one of the Zionist leaders of Russia. In 1897, in the Vladivostok conference, it was decided to establish, in Chisinau, under the direction of Dr. Bernstein-Cohen, a distribution center (post office). Its purpose was to centralize all publicity activities in all Zionist circles in Russia. Informative booklets were composed and distributed. The center had a wide sphere of activities, but some of the booklets met with fierce opposition. Dr. Bernstein-Cohen resigned his position in 1900 and the booklets were no longer published. The Chisinau center was closed in 1901.
Early in the 20th century other Zionist political parties appeared in Chisinau. A group of young people, formerly involved with revolutionary parties, became part of Zeirei Zion. Several of the members of this group eventually had major roles in the Zionist movement in Eretz Israel and the Diaspora: Haim Greenberg, Yosef Baraz, Israel Gurfinkel, Yosef Rabinovitch and others. In 1905 Yosef Shprintzak moved to Chisinau and became a member of the group. Thus this group had a more socialist image than in other towns. This was reflected in the program proposed in the 2nd congress of Zeirei Zion in 1906. There was also a Zionist-socialist group called Poalei Zion. The general Zionists were represented by the group entitled We will do and we will listen.
The years prior to WWI represent a freeze in the activities of the Zionist movement in Chisinau. Many leaders made Aliyah and the persecutions by the authorities eliminated the remaining members. The community did not take to the movement and the number of the remaining activists was quite smaller. The masses remained on the sidelines and those were mostly ultra-religious. They were opposed to Zionism. As of 1910 the leader of this opposition was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Tsirelson who was the chief rabbi of Chisinau. He was a central figure in ultra-religious circles and was a founder and a leader of Agudat Israel. Even before the 2nd world congress Rabbi Tsirelson, together with other rabbis, proposed the establishment of a rabbinic council to assist the executive committee of the Zionist party in all religious and cultural matters. The proposal was refused and Rabbi Tsirelson resolutely stood against the Zionist movement in spite of his love for the idea of a Jewish community in Eretz Israel.
Culture and Learning
The conditions under which the Jewish community in Bessarabia developed in the 18th century did not encourage the growth of spiritual and cultural life. The Jews of Bessarabia were scattered and the Jewish community of Chisinau was small and unsettled. There were no cultural and spiritual centers except for institutions for learning Torah.
Although the economic development of the Jews in Chisinau was rapid, their spiritual growth was quite slow. The Jews of Chisinau were simple and almost ignorant. They did not dwell on world events, but were more involved in plying their trade. They followed their religious traditions and relied on the more righteous among them for guidance. There were no great scholars among them and they even followed the Hassidim from surrounding areas.
In the first half of the 19th century Hassidism was the unifying force in the religious and cultural life of the Jews of Bessarabia. The town rabbis were all Hassidim. The flood of immigrants to Bessarabia at that time strengthened the love of Hassidism among its Jews.
The Righteous of the Generation was the title given to these Hassidim. These were people who led joyous physical lives. The Jews of Chisinau were truly happy when some of the Hassidim came to stay among them. (Encyclopedia of the Diaspora, Vol. 11, page 84). Most of the Hassidim of Bessarabia followed the righteous ones who lived further away in Ukraine, in Rashkov, Sovran and Podolia.
The change in government in 1812 brought about permutations in the spiritual life of the Jewish community. The Enlightenment movement began to develop in Russia and reached Chisinau. As a result, an opposition to Hassidism grew in the 1830s. There was a group of enlightened people who came to Chisinau from other places. Among them was Zvi, son of Avraham, Rabinovitch from Brody. He was well-educated, knew Russian and French and did translations from these languages into Hebrew. Another scholar was Kalman, son of R. Haim, from Czernowitz. He was also a wine merchant.
In those days there were very few enlightened people in Chisinau and in Bessarabia, in general. In the middle of the 19th century there were more confrontations between the Hassidim and the enlightened. The main bone of contention was the opposition of the enlightened to the permanent residence of the leader of the Hassidim in Chisinau. The famous Rabbi Israel of Rozhin escaped from a Russian prison and decided to settle in Chisinau. The opposition was fierce and he was obliged to move to Iasi and then to Galicia. One of his sons tried to settle in Chisinau in 1852 and he met with a similar fate. The population of Chisinau had been influenced by then by the enlightenment movement and its customs changed. There were now more Jewish doctors and teachers and other academicians. They were heavily influenced by Russian culture. Economic development also helped the movement grow. The children of the merchants made up the majority of the school population in Chisinau. It must not be forgotten that the enlightened people were only a small part of the general population in town and in the rest of Bessarabia. There were still many Jews in the small towns and villages who had never heard of the movement.
Early in 1839 a secular Jewish school was opened in Chisinau. It was among the first in Russia. A similar institution had been established in Odessa in 1826. Its first principal was Betzalel Shtern a well-educated teacher from Tarnopol. He had previously been principal of the Jewish school in Odessa. The opening of the school caused difficult confrontations between the enlightened founders and the rest of the population. They were totally against the establishment of the secular school. The actual opening of the school was delayed. It finally opened in 1837, two years after the application was sent.
The school in Chisinau was organized along the lines of the one in Odessa. The curriculum included Hebrew, Russian, German, History, Geography, Mathematics and Calligraphy. There were four grades and two preparatory classes. Some of the teachers included the poet and mathematician Yaakov Einkhenbaum, Dr. Gurvitz and Yaakov Goldenthal. They came from the enlightenment movement. In 1848 there were 40 students in the school. However, some Jews were suspicious of the school and were not prepared to support it.
The Russian authorities decided to encourage the establishment of secular government schools. In November 1844 a law was enacted about the establishment of these schools. There was an attempt to close the Jewish school and to turn it into a government institution so that there would be more supervision of these schools. In February 1850 the school no longer existed as a public Jewish school. Two new government-run Jewish schools took its place. One was a Class A school while the other was Class B school. The road was paved for the establishment of a private school for girls was opened with 47 students.
There were still many Jews in Chisinau who feared the influence of these schools on the religious beliefs of their children. For example, a group of respected Jewish merchants in Chisinau agreed to send their children to the government Jewish schools after they were promised that the children would not have to sit through religious classes. Thousands of Jewish children continued to study in Heders and Houses of Study. In 1855 there were, in Chisinau, 74 Heders and 61 Houses of Study. There were 188 students in the Jewish government schools while 1097 studied in traditional schools. The numbers of Heders do not reflect the true picture since only those registered with the authorities were included. The actual numbers were greater. In 1864 there were 100 registered Heders. According to an article in Hamelitz in 1887 there were 300 religious teachers in Chisinau at the time. Only 20 of them had certificates allowing them to teach in Heders.
Traditional education in Bessarabia in general and in Chisinau in particular grew in the second half of the 19th century. A large yeshiva opened in 1860. It served as a learning center for young men from Moldova, Podolia and Ukraine. In 1876 there were 11 religious teachers and 280 students. Later on the yeshiva was headed by R. Shabtai Moshe of Chabad. R. Avraham Ber of the Karlin Hassidim ran the yeshiva for 40 years. IN 1900 the yeshiva moved to a new building donated by R. Shalom Perlmutter. It was renamed the Perlmutter Yeshiva.
The government Jewish schools did not have the full confidence of the majority of the Jews in Chisinau. The number of students remained low. The class B school had only 30 students in 1864. After the new regulation was published on 16.3.1873 about reforms of these schools- most of the schools in Bessarabia were closed. In 1884 only one government school remained in Chisinau.
Most of the Jewish population remained true to traditional ways in the second half of the 19th century. The Jews of Chisinau were influenced, as were all Jews in Russia, by spiritual changes. There was even some assimilation. Tsar Alexander II published reforms in the 1860s and 1870s which led to Russification. Many people in this group came from other areas, mainly Lithuania. The leader of the enlightened in Chisinau, the wealthy merchant Avraham Dinin, was a Lithuanian. Even Rabbi Leib Kharik came from there, as well as many teachers. Some of the enlightened people sent their children to Russian schools. These Jewish students became alienated from Judaism and tradition. They followed closely the ideals of the Russian intelligentsia. Still, it can be stated that in the final 20 years of the 19th century general, secular education spread in Chisinau. This fact changed the lifestyle of a small, but important segment of the Jewish population of Chisinau. Even traditional education was affected by this wave. Several enlightened merchants assisted in the establishment of an official Talmud Torah with government approval. They were organized along the lines of government schools and the curriculum included Russian language and arithmetic. Such a Talmud Torah was opened in Chisinau in 1872. In 1876 the school had 80 students and its curriculum included Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish. In 1880 a shop section was added to the Talmud Torah. Its purpose was to allow students to acquire new skills. Some schools had special sections for the teaching of the growing fruit and vegetables. However, the most important institution established by the intelligentsia in Chisinau was the Professional school for girls, in 1893. The founders group was specially formed for this purpose. The school's five year program included, in addition to general subjects, sewing of linens and clothing, fashioning hats, embroidery and knitting. In 1899 the Colonization Association in Paris awarded the school the sum of 2100 rubles for expansion of the building and the purchase of equipment and an additional sum of 2140 rubles annually for three years for operational costs. In return for this support, the school committee was to obtain official government certification and to increase the student body. In 1898 there were 157 girls in the school and by 1902 the numbers were up to 202.
On a parallel path to the opening of these Official Talmud Torah schools there were also Renovated Heders . In them, in addition to religious subjects, students were taught general subjects, mainly Russian. At the end of the 1890s the first Renovated Heder was opened in Chisinau. A special one was the private Heder of Fishel Shtern.
In the 1890s there was an internal breakdown in the enlightenment movement. Many of the enlightened of Chisinau were horrified by the pogroms in Odessa and they opposed the process of moving away from Jewish values and the view that assimilation was the only solution for the Jewish problem. The writer Shlomo Dubinsky published a series of articles in the Hebrew press. In them he wrote that he was against the trend to assimilate that was spreading among the Chisinau intelligentsia. There was a group of people who agreed with him and tried to strengthen the knowledge of Hebrew. They founded Lovers of Hebrew Language . At its opening meeting the following leaders participated: Dr. Yaakov Bernstein-Cohen, Dr. Muchnik, Dr. Greenberg and others. The group's purpose was to teach children Jewish values; to appoint Jewish teachers to teach Hebrew, Jewish History and religious subjects in government schools; to disseminate the Hebrew language in these schools; to offer lessons in Jewish subjects.
The pogroms in Russia had an unexpected influence in a different way. People came to Chisinau searching for a solution to the Jewish question by introducing changes in religious practices and by getting closer to the Christianity. It was an uncommon approach, but it generated many arguments and discussions at that time. In 1884, Yosef Rabinovitch, a native of Orhei, arrived in Chisinau. He had had a traditional Jewish education, but he was interested in secular subjects. He organized a group called Israelites of the New Covenant . This group aimed to search for new solutions to the Jewish question. Rabinovitch even went to Eretz Israel, but he returned discouraged and disappointed in what he had seen. He then converted to Christianity and became close to some priests. He opened a house of worship for his followers many were members of his family. They even had a special cemetery. However, he found himself isolated from both worlds. The Jews saw him as a bad influence and several articles were published in 1884 in Hamelitz against him. On the other hand, the Russian authorities were angry with him because he chose to convert to the Lutheran church instead of the Russian Orthodox one. He died a lonely man in 1889.
Another group that had a great influence on the Jews of Chisinau was the revolutionary movement. In the 1890s several Russian revolutionaries were exiled to Chisinau. Their impact on the Jewish intelligentsia was considerable. Many of this group joined the revolutionary movement and were among its most active members. At the beginning of the 20th century the Bund was organized in Chisinau as a separate entity. It became eventually a very important group in town. In the elections to the Jewish community council just as the Romanians annexed Chisinau the Bund won 12 of 60 seats.
Between the Two Wars (1918-1940)
The annexation of Bessarabia by Romania in 1918 gave the Jews of Chisinau equal political and civil rights. However, their economic condition suffered adversely. All the Jews of Bessarabia who were present on the day of annexation were automatically given Romanian citizenship. They were no longer subject to the Tsar's regulations against them. They could freely participate in municipal and state affairs. Several Jews became city councillors. Usually the vice-mayor of the town was a Jew. The Jews of Chisinau were able to join different Romanian political parties, especially the newly-formed Jewish party. Rabbi Tsirelson sat in the Romanian senate as the Jewish representative for many years.
This seeming equality did not remain in place and soon there were clear signs of official state anti-Semitism. The Jews of Chisinau and of all Bessarabia were suspects in the eyes of the Romanian authorities. They were thought to be lovers of Russian culture and followers of Communism. In fact, all government positions were closed to Jews. It was impossible to enter the judicial, police or state departments. The overt anti-Semitic parties, particularly the one headed by Koza, conducted an active hate campaign. It grew stronger in the 1930s and even official government policies began to show a clear anti-Semitic bent.
As previously stated, the annexation by Romania in 1918 caused great economic problems. The majority of the Jews of Chisinau earned their living as merchants and exporters of agricultural produce to the rest of Russia and other foreign countries. After annexation by Romania, Bessarabia and its capital Chisinau were disconnected from their principal markets. Romania was a typical agricultural country and did not need Bessarabia's agricultural products. Nearby Romanian towns (Iasi, Galatz) competed with Chisinau with their products. Interest rates went up, goods became more expensive and the buying power decreased. The Romanian government made the situation worse by levying heavy taxes on commerce since it preferred commercial centers in Old Romania. The Romanian State Bank gave loans to factories in Old Romania at lower rates of interest and it also lowered the cost of transport fees. In addition, there was a lack of trust in the merchants of Chisinau by outside interests since the city was close to the Soviet border. Merchants and banks in other areas did not wish to provide credit or to build new factories. Wealthy Polish Jews preferred to establish textile and knitting mills in Old Romania and Bukovina. There they employed hundreds of Jewish workers from Bessarabia. This happened in spite of the fact that it would have been cheaper to do it in Chisinau. Hundreds of young Jewish men and women had to leave their homes in order to seek employment in other cities in Romania.
For all these reasons commercial activities in Chisinau decreased. The Jews were the pioneers in private enterprise and were the ones to suffer the most. Two out of three breweries closed (both owned by Jews). Also, two of the five large flour mills owned by Jews were shut down. In addition all financial activities of the Jews lessened. Many wealthy Jewish merchants lost everything. Some of them committed suicide by hanging themselves to avoid the shame of bankruptcy.
Chisinau did not only suffer from its isolation from other parts of Russia. It was also separated from important wealthy sections in Bessarabia itself which attached themselves to other parts of Romania. In the 1920s the markets of Bessarabia were inundated with better and less expensive goods coming from other wealthier areas with a higher standard of living. As a result there was a large decrease in manufacturing of shoes, clothing, straps, barrels, chemical laundries, printing presses, etc. Still, a good portion of commerce and production remained in Jewish hands. In 1924 82% of the stores in the city belonged to Jews. In some branches of commerce such as leather, furs and raw wool, Jews owned 100% of the shops. In important areas such as wheat trade and textiles, 90% of the businesses were owned by Jews. No commercial section in Chisinau was less than 50% Jewish-owned.
Jews played a large part in industry: 75% of all factories belonged to Jews in 1924. There was no great loss in the number of Jews in industry and commerce, but, for political reasons, there were economic changes. These were generated by the Romanian authorities. In addition there were droughts in 1926, 1929, 1935 and 1936 and there was a global depression in the 1930s.
Cooperative loan institutions came to the aid of the Jewish craftsmen. They had been developed and supported by the Joint. Equipment was purchased with their help. In 1922-1930 the cooperative union approved loans for craftsmen at a total of tens of millions of Lei.
The economic difficulties caused a need for help on a larger scale. Uza, Joint, and Colonization Association aided the Jews of Chisinau by providing funds and arranging immigration. Local charitable institutions increased their activities. New institutions were established Homes for the Aged, Orphanages, Soup Kitchens, etc. Immigration to other cities, mainly Bucharest and outside the country, increased dramatically.
The Jews of Chisinau were especially hurt by the law which required proof of citizenship for all the residents of the areas annexed by Romania after World War I. Every Jew had to prove that he was actually in Bessarabia on that specific day or he would lose his citizenship and his ability to earn a living. There were many Jews who were forced to close their stores or to abandon their trades. In addition, the generally poor economic condition of the 1930s was orchestrated by the authorities. (The economic condition of the Jews of Chisinau, already weakened by the estrangement from Russian centers, became very poor). The economic breakdown was also reflected in the great decrease in the Jewish population in town. According to census figures, in 1930, there were only 41 405 Jews in Chisinau. The number of Jewish deaths was higher than the number of births. In a six months period of 1933 the number of deaths was 25% higher than the number of births. In 1938 the number of deaths was 44% more than the number of births.
The condition of the free craftsmen among the Jews also worsened after annexation by Romania. Many of them were unwelcome because they did not speak Romanian. Many Romanians from Old Romania settled in Chisinau and the authorities were interested in their advancement as lawyers, teachers and doctors. Hundreds of young Jews from Chisinau who studied in Bucharest, Iasi or Czernowitz were unable to find work upon their return home.
There was a large group of the poor and the indigent and many unemployed Jews joined it. Many young people were forced to receive welfare funds.
The Jewish Community was reorganized in 1918. Romanian law recognized the community as a central body for all Jews in town. It took care of its own unique religious needs and managed considerable sums of money obtained from taxes, directly and indirectly. In 1929 a new constitution of the Jews of Chisinau was approved by the Romanian Religious Affairs Ministry. The constitution established that community institutions would hold general, representative and secret elections every four years. (Voters had to be at least 21 years old). The central committee had 71 members and met twice a year. It carried out all activities in the community. Money for these activities came directly from assessment of the members of the community, from the government, from tax on ritual slaughtering and other services provided by the community.
The community became the center of public and political life for all the Jews of the city. The elections were hard-fought among the different factions which represented many interests.
The separation from Russian Jewry and the changes in the political and economic conditions of the Jews of Chisinau after annexation altered the spiritual image of the community. Two parallel trends stand out: Movement towards assimilation, especially among the student population and the strengthening of the national movement.
After annexation the doors of the public schools opened to the Jewish youths and they came in droves. Sometimes the number of Jewish students in the public schools reached 50%. These young people were educated along secular lines and had no connection with their own nation. They no longer spoke Yiddish and lost touch with other Jews.
Parallel to this trend the national Hebrew education flourished. The Tarbut movement became an active part of education. Soon Tarbut established schools where Hebrew was taught. In 1921 a faculty for training Kindergarten teachers was opened and in 1923, with the help of Rabbi Tsirelson, the Hebrew high school Magen David- opened. It existed until 1935 and educated a generation of young people who spoke Hebrew.
The Zionist movement enjoyed a freedom granted by the Romanian authorities. It was based on the economic breakdown which had affected the Jews of Chisinau. The movement penetrated many layers of the Jewish population. The number of members was not large, but the atmosphere in the community showed a great love for and a trend for the renewal of the national dream. In May 1920 the first convention of Zionists in Bessarabia met in Chisinau and it was decided to establish a Zionist center there. The center was to organize all Zionist activities in the area. In the early 1920s youth movements were organized: Hatkhia (for the non-affiliated), Maccabi, Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonya, Dror, etc. The main Zionist parties also began their work General Zionists, Mizrahi, Poalei Zion, and Zeirei Zion. In summer 1921 Hechalutz was founded. It educated thousands of young Jews for life in Eretz Israel. In 1920-25 many of the Funds began to operate.
The years 1920-1940 were also years of growth for Jewish journalism in Chisinau. At the end of 1919 a Yiddish daily Life in Bessarabia appeared. It did not last. In 1920 another daily appeared The Morning . It, too, did not last. The same year, the Zionist daily The Jew came out as well as the weekly Earth and Labor . It lasted for 15 years as a journal for Poalei Zion. After The Jew stopped publication in 1922 another daily Our Time was started. It remained the main journal of the Jews of Chisinau until 1938. The Cooperative World was published in 1925 and had a supplement entitled For Bessarabian Farmers . The youth had monthly publications For Jewish Children in Yiddish (1925) and Clusters in Hebrew (1927, Tarbut).
In addition, there were various publications one-time editions, bulletins, monthlies, etc. put out by different institutions, societies and political movements. These were People and Land (1933) of the General Zionists, Officer of the Week (1927) of the Revisionists, The Week of Agudat Israel, Our Way of the Zionist youth, etc.
In 1938 the government disallowed the publication of journals in Yiddish or Hebrew. This put an end to Jewish journalism in Chisinau.
The Community and its Institutions
During the first years of the Russian reign there was no change in the autonomous organization of the Jewish population. This framework which had existed under the Moldavians was the same in Russia. It was recognized by the authorities and was called The Community . In Russia there also existed special arrangements which levied taxes on kosher meat. The main change, however, was the loss of contact with the Iasi religious leader and the lack of freedom for the community leaders.
In 1844 the kahal (community) society was annulled throughout Russia as well as in Chisinau. Now all matters previously supervised by the Jewish community were in the hands of the local authorities. Actually, the Jewish community still existed as a separate entity with jurisdiction in religious affairs (election of rabbis, supervision of synagogues, etc.) and financial ones. The Korobka (box) also continued to exist as a venue for the collection of special taxes levied on Jews. There was an internal struggle between the two groups. First it was among the competing collectors of funds and towards the end of the century it extended to social circles. This reflected the cultural and spiritual trends in the Jewish population in town.
Poverty was rampant especially towards the end of the 19th century. In 1897, 1500 families or 15% of the Jewish population required assistance. Different charitable organizations, supported by public donations, were created to channel the help needed. The first was the Jewish hospital established at the beginning of the 19th century. In mid-century there were only 30 beds and it was in a dire financial situation. However, its situation improved when the meat tax money was used by the hospital. In 1897 the hospital was expanded to 110 beds. In 1869 an Old Peoples' Home with 15 spaces was added.
By the end of the 19th century there were several organizations helping those in need. Women's groups assisted new mothers; Maot Chitin provided matzos for Passover, etc. In 1900 an orphanage was established and in 1903, after the pogroms, an educational institution to teach poor children was opened.
In addition to charitable organizations there were also facilities for mutual help. In 1886 an association of business clerks was organized and by 1886 it had 100 members. In 1901 a Savings and Loan Fund was established to help merchants and craftsmen. It became a basis for a cooperative in Chisinau and it soon became one of the most important and well-established financial institutions of the Jewish community. It served as a model to other such institutions in many cities. By the end of 1903 it had 3284 members and in 1909 their numbers increased to 4394.
The economic difficulties forced many Jews in Chisinau to immigrate to faraway lands. In the early 1880s immigration to the United States slowly began. It grew and continued non-stop. In the 1890s many Jews in Chisinau became keen on immigration to Argentina. IN 1892 the Colonization Association opened an office in Chisinau. It organized the immigration of several hundred families to Argentina.
According to the 1930 census there were 41 405 Jews in Chisinau out of a population of 114 896 36% of the total. During the Soviet rule (July 1940 June 1941) the number of Jews in the city grew. Many Jews from other parts of Russia arrived, especially from Ukraine. Some of them had government jobs and others were independent. Several Soviet articles, e.g. in the Yiddish newspaper Unity , cite the number of Jews to be 60 000. It is probably an accurate figure. On May 20, 1942 the Romanian authorities held a racial census of the Jews. It was an important census since there were severe penalties on those who tried to hide their identity or their Jewish ancestors. According to this census the number of citizens with Jewish blood was 99! This means that in less than one year over 50 000 Jews disappeared. Where did they go? Was it the fault of the Germans or the Romanians or both?
On the morning of June 21, 1941 the city was bombed by the German Air Force. They mainly targeted the center of the city where most of the Jews resided. Thousands were killed many of them were Jews. The Germans used incendiary bombs which caused huge fires. Many people were left with nothing. The civil authorities began to flee and there was great disorder. They did not even try to hide their panic. This made the situation worse for the Jews. The Soviet authorities also were to blame for the tragedy that befell the Jews. It was rumored (although there is no written proof) that the top Soviet leaders ordered the removal of Jews from dangerous areas and their evacuation deeper into Russia. In fact, no such order was ever given and no one explained how this was to be done. It is difficult to believe that in areas so close to the front, Chisinau in particular and Bessarabia in general, newly annexed by the Soviets, that they would give preference to the evacuation of Jews.
In the great disorder that followed many families were separated. Parents lost their children and children could not find their parents. Different units of the Red Army retreated through the city in disorganized manner. The Soviets who mainly came from other parts of Russia congregated in the railway stations and on the roads leading east. They were joined by new citizens of Soviet Bessarabia, mostly Russians and Ukrainians, who had moved there during the Soviet rule. Everyone wanted to flee the dangerous area. It was difficult for the Jews who wanted to escape. There were thousands of men, women and children on the roads being bombed from the air.
When the war broke out hundreds of Jewish men were drafted by the army and thousands were used to defend the city. These people were mostly Jews who worked in industry and in government-owned businesses.
There was another aspect to the situation in Chisinau and other towns in Bessarabia which added to the trepidation and fear that gripped the Jews. The residents of the area were mainly Romanians (Moldavians) and they saw the Germans and Romanians as liberators and not as conquerors. Very few of them escaped eastward. They hid in cellars or nearby villages as they waited for the Red Army to retreat. Some threatened the Jews saying that judgement day was coming. Many robbed the homes of the Jews who had left town- their former neighbors. Thousands of Jews left the city in wagons and on foot and tried to distance themselves from the front lines. Some walked along the roads leading eastward and others trudged through fields to get around the roads which were being bombed and also to avoid the incoming armies. Those Jews who did encounter German or Romanian army units were quite unlucky. The German and Romanian armies came from the north on the Sculeni-Chisinau road while the Hancesti entered from the south. Many Jewish refugees were caught between the two sides and were killed. The number of victims is unknown, but it is estimated to be about 10 000. On July 16 (according to the Soviets) or July 17 (according to the Romanians) the German and Romanian armies entered Chisinau.
Some people saw no purpose in running away. There were families that did not want to be separated. Young people would not leave their parents and the elderly, the sick and others did not have enough time to leave town. They hid in homes, cellars, warehouses, public parks, abandoned buildings and even in public toilets.
The annihilation of the Jews was accomplished in several phases. Battle units were the first to enter the city. The German soldiers, and especially the Romanian soldiers who spoke the local language, killed any Jew they encountered. After them came the Romanian garrison forces and Einzatzgruppe D unit, together with einzatzcommand 11A. They were under the command of Stormtrroper SS Paul Johannes Zapp (June 1941- July 1942).
The Einzatzgruppe D was then with the 11th German army and it, together with Romanian armies 3 and 4, conquered Bessarabia. Chisinau and the area to its south were assigned to Einzatzcommand 11A. In addition to the SS there were also military security personnel, criminal police officers and other security forces. The Polizeibatallion, under Lt. Bernhard, joined them. There were about 180 men in total. The Einzatzcommand, together with other units of Einzatzgruppe D, came through Vienna, Pressburg and Sighishora. They were then divided into two groups: 11A and 11B were transferred, in July, to Barlad. The Einzatzgruppe 11A, by agreement between Ohlendorf and General von Schobert, remained in Barlad. When the war broke out the unit, together with Division 54, moved towards Chisinau. The unit had attacked the Jews in Barlad even when they spent two weeks in barracks near the airport. A work unit made up of Jews from Barlad was assigned to clean the barracks and the area nearby. The Jews were badly beaten by the SS and they were forced to work non-stop. Some were hitched to heavily loaded wagons and made to pull them by the Germans; others had to carry heavy stones back and forth. All work had to be done at a running pace while being beaten. Finally, they were forced to bow down and to pray in a loud voice so as to amuse the SS. The list of cruel deeds performed on the Jews of Barlad by this unit is very long. Still, it pales in comparison with the cruelty shown to the Jews of Bessarabia and southern Ukraine when war broke out.
According to witnesses, the Germans and Romanians divided Chisinau between them to make it easier to destroy and to kill. The Einzatzcommand kept the upper section of the city. This is where the professionals, i.e. doctors, engineers, etc. resided. The Romanians went to the poorer sections in the lower part of the city. The Romanian soldiers and officers of low rank also became thieves and robbers. It is difficult to pinpoint the number of people murdered, but it can easily be surmised that many tens of thousands of them were killed. The first wave of murders went on, non-stop, for two weeks. The assassins followed two systems : as they broke into homes, cellars and yards they shot to death whole families found on the premises; or they gathered the Jews and transported them, after a beating, to the Gestapo headquarters in the NKVD building the old Sigurantza (Romanian security) location.
On July 24 a new phase in the annihilation of the Jews of Chisinau began. Romanian soldiers spread in the city and went from house to house. They surrounded homes and called for the Jews to come out to the street with a promise that they would not be harmed. The frightened Jews came out of hiding. It was a week of killing and thievery, a week of starvation and fear and they had no choice but to come out. They gathered in the streets and were warned not to take anything with them not even to get dressed. They only had to present themselves. In some neighborhoods they were permitted to carry some items, as long as they could hold them in their hands. The streets were filled with long lines of Jews, young and old, men and women, some sick and depressed, feverish without a drop of water to satisfy their thirst. Many people were dressed in underwear and shirts only- as they were found by the Romanian soldiers. It is estimated that 11 000 people were gathered survivors of the first murderous wave. They marched in the middle of the street accompanied by an army escort. The soldiers beat the weak and those who stumbled. Many threw away their belongings, fell and rose again. Everyone was brought to the lower part of the city. All this continued on the next day. The Jews were gathered in the Old Market of the lower town where the poor Jews had resided. It was an open area and there was no water and definitely no food or shelter. The ghetto was not fenced in. On the first day July 24, 1941 they all stood, on a hot day, without any food or water. The soldiers aimed their rifles at them. The Einzatzcommand wanted to immediately kill all the Jews. Something then happened which became a bone of contention between the Germans and the Romanians. Bessarabia was considered to be part of Romania and the Romanians wanted to take care of the Jews in their own way, following directives from the military authorities or from Bucharest. They did not want to follow orders from a lowly German officer. One of the Romanian officers who took part in gathering of the Jews informed the Germans that the Romanians had to follow directives issued by their own government. It seems a telephone message had been sent from Bucharest ordering them not to kill the Jews. The Jews remained in the open area all through that night. They were afraid of what would happen to them. The next day the ghetto was formed. A German office was established there. Officer Ion Paraschivescu of the 23rd Division of the police was in charge of the ghetto for 15 days. He told the Jews that they had been destined to die, but that the king himself had intervened and they were spared.
The ghetto encompassed the following streets: Pronopolsky, Griorgeyevsky, Voronovsky and Ekaterinsky around the Old Market. Most of the houses on these streets had been burned and destroyed either by the Russians as they were retreating or by bombings. There were only ruins left. The homes of the Jews had also been emptied by thieves. It is difficult to describe how families pounced on the ruins they were assigned. It was a very small space to accommodate 11 000 people. (Soviet sources, which, as usual, do not specify that these were Jews, just Soviet citizens, give the figure as 25 000). Anyone who could still stand rushed to find some shelter. Every, corner, cellar and storage space were filled with people. There were 25-40 people in every room and families were separated. There were no sanitary facilities and no water. The authorities did not allow anyone to leave the ghetto for any reason not even to get food.
As the Jews entered the ghetto, Romanian officers took from them any belongings they had brought. The soldiers went into houses and stole anything that seemed to be of value. They also looked for young Jewish women and girls. The Romanian officers viewed the visits as a time for having fun. When the property of Officer Paraschivescu was searched later there was a full warehouse of stolen furniture, carpets, dishes and hundreds of odd cups and colorful glasses. (He was in charge of the ghetto for 15 days). There were signs that some officers did not wish to participate in the robberies, but the situation still did not improve.
The Jews barely had time to settle down and rest, find their children and satisfy their thirst with water and a new directive came from the German command. It was located in the upper town. The Romanian ghetto command was ordered to provide 2000 Jews, men and women 15-40 of age. They especially wanted professionals, such as doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, etc. These people were to do urgent work. The Romanian soldiers spread in the ghetto and began to drag people indiscriminately. Shouts were heard, petrified children cried, mothers would not part from their husbands or their children. The Romanian commander asked the Jews to fulfill the order without opposition. He hoped everyone would return to the ghetto after the work assignment was completed.
We know now that the commander of the Einzatzgruppe D, Ohlendorf, ordered officer Tsap of Einzatzcommand 11A to begin the killings. The Romanians were unable to gather 2000 people there were only 500 (551 according to German sources). The Jews were placed on trucks and taken out of town, to a location 5 km away. The trucks stopped near deep excavations with tanks standing by. Four divisions of the Exekutionskommando about 40 soldiers were waiting for them. They were part of security division, Waffen-SS and the Schutzpolitzei. The Jews waited to be shot about 10 m from the excavations. They were all shot in the back. It seems Officer Tsap was angry when he saw Romanian soldiers robbing and killing Jews in the streets and leaving the bodies there. He got in touch with the Romanian commander, Colonel Tudosi, and ordered him to establish the ghetto. The German commander understood that according to the Fuhrer's orders, which he had personally witnessed before the war in Pretch Institute, all those in opposition were to be killed, starting with the Jews.
This information was discovered during the trial of the commanders of 11A Johannes Tsap, Leo Karl Eugen, Count von der Recke, Noa Karl Heinrich and Mohlmeyer Georg Hermann in Munich in February 1970.
Another annihilation action, personally supervised by Tsap, took place at the end of July, beginning of August. This time the victims were 450 Jews of the intelligentsia of the city. They were doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers and pretty young women chosen by him. They were told they were being transferred to a different location. They, too, were taken out of town. There were two deep excavations in a place personally chosen by Tsap. The earth removed from the excavations was piled around the holes in such a way that the Jews who stood 30-40 m away could not see what was happening. Lieutenant Bernhard was in charge, as requested by Tsap. There were four divisions in charge of the killing. One was comprised of 6-8 Romanian soldiers who did the actual shooting. The other 3 were policemen or SS men of 11A. The victims stood inside the excavation and were shot in the chest. Women who had kerchiefs tied them around their eyes. When they were all killed earth was used to cover the bodies. On one day 68 Jewish men were shot to death. They had been held in the detention camp of the Einzatzcommand. Lieutenant Bernhard supervised, under orders by Tsap. The group of shooters consisted of 6 German policemen. The Jews were placed 6 abreast into an excavation 5 meters long and 2 meters wide and then they were shot in the face. Some of them did not die immediately and they had to be shot a second time.
Soviet sources describe many murders in Chisinau. They do not say that Jews were the victims, just that they were Soviet citizens. Almost always these Soviet citizens were really Jews (sometimes the Germans called the Jews Communists). According to these Soviet sources it was even difficult to decide who actually committed the murders since they refer to the killers as Nazis or Fascists. At the end of July 1941, 400 citizens were brought to the agricultural center. They were forced to dig their graves and then they were shot. The graves were covered with whitewash and then with earth. Witnesses reported that the earth was still damp three days after the killings. At the beginning of August 1941, 700 citizens were killed and were buried in two graves near the horse ranch, on the 5th kilometer on the road to Orgeyev. The Jewish cemetery was also used as a killing ground of citizens . The same sources also report that 837 people were shot in the cemetery. (The actual number was determined after the war when the graves were dug up.) The municipal council of Chisinau which investigated the murders committed by the Germans after the war reported: …some of the Jews were buried alive with their hands bound. This was proven by witness accounts and by a judicial-medical inquiry.
In the ghetto, after the first wave of killings, an attempt was made to stop them. A temporary council was elected to be in contact with the Romanian commander of the ghetto. The council was promised that no more Jews would be handed over to the Germans for any purpose. In addition to bribes expected in such cases, it was also a question of prestige for the Romanian officers. They saw Bessarabia as a part of Romania and the fate of its Jews as an internal matter. The ghetto commander created his own work camps in order to occupy the Jews under the supervision of the Romanian soldiers. The ghetto residents were calmer after these events. Anyone capable of working, even the old and the infirm, left the ghetto every morning at 6 am and did different jobs. The Romanians, unlike the Germans, saw the Jews as a source of income. The relative quiet lasted for a month. The conditions in the ghetto were still difficult, but the murders stopped. The Jews tried to improve their life. They organized medical and economic assistance, food and clothing for those who were in need. The ghetto commander approved the creation of a council. Dr. Landau was an active member and it was chaired by Lawyer Shapiro. The council arranged for a census of the ghetto and was in touch with the leaders of Romanian Jewry, Dr. Fielderman and Rabbi Safran. They sent a detailed report on conditions in the ghetto. Chairman Shapiro, with the help of some Romanians he had known before the war, flew to Bucharest, dressed as a Romanian officer. He met with Dr. Fielderman and Rabbi Safran and told them about the danger of extermination hanging over the Jews of Chisinau. Shapiro could have saved himself by staying in Bucharest, but he chose to return to Chisinau. He died on the way to Transnistria.
In the meantime, funds from Bucharest, sent by illegal methods, began to arrive in the ghetto. They were quite useful. A market was created and farmers sold their produce twice a week from 10 to 12 in the morning. Prices were exaggerated. Even the men in the work divisions were able to bring back, from time to time, food or clothing. Those doctors, who remained alive after the selection of the Romanian intelligentsia, organized a hospital. However, due to the lack of medications and equipment they were not able to offer very much. There were also two synagogues established.
The main purpose of the ghetto council was to try to convince the Romanians not to give in to the demands by the Germans and not to hand over any Jews. It was evident that any Jew who was taken by the Germans never returned. It does not mean the Romanian soldiers behaved any better. In addition to the beatings and the robberies of all valuables, the soldiers would get drunk and come to look for young Jewish women. Many of these women would be found unconscious in the morning. Every Romanian division that passed through Chisinau on the way to the front wanted to have a good time in the ghetto.
The original Christian residents of the area continued to live in the ghetto. They were the main perpetrators of robbery of Jewish property. They were permitted to move freely inside and outside the ghetto. They would attack the Jews and take whatever they wanted, especially suitcases carried by the Jews to the ghetto.
At the end of August 1941 the head of the Gestapo came to visit the ghetto. During his discussions with the Romanian commander it became clear that the Germans wanted everyone, men and women, between the ages of 15 and 40. There were thousands of men waiting to go to work. When they heard the rumors about the intentions of the Germans, a few hundred were able to disperse in the ghetto while others managed to hide. Romanian and German soldiers surrounded the others to prevent their flight. A few hundred men remained. They were told they would be clearing earth on the railroad tracks. Of 350 men only 20 returned that evening. The rest were shot by the Germans after digging their own graves. The Jews who were not killed covered the graves with earth. Some of the remnant lost their minds.
On August 7, 1941, a Romanian transport officer was given 500 Jews to work in the Ghidighici quarry. In addition, 25 women were taken to prepare food for the workers. A week later, only 200 came back worn out and weakened. 325 Jews were murdered. A report by the 19th regiment of the Gendarmerie (#7 of August 27, 1941) makes clear that a Romanian military unit, on its way to the front, stopped in the Ghidighici railroad station. It somehow entered into a skirmish with the Jews and a few little Jews were injured. Nothing else was added. Nowhere is there a mention of the murder of 325 people. General Topor was the commander. At the beginning of September, 200 Jews were again taken out of the ghetto and killed. They were all 15 to 40 years old. After this date there were no more killing orders. The ghetto commander, who received his regular daily bribes, promised that no more Jews would be handed over to the Germans. It is assumed that around the end of August or the beginning of September the Einzatzcommand left town and moved to other areas in southern Ukraine. Also, since the front was getting closer, Bessarabia again became part of Romania and with it, Chisinau.
On the morning of Rosh Hashanah while everyone was worshipping in the two synagogues in the ghetto, the Jewish Council was ordered to present themselves to the commander. The members of the council returned to services, but they would not speak about the meeting. Everyone was shocked to hear that Dr. Landau and his wife wanted to commit suicide. That evening, attorney Shapiro was sent to Bucharest again with the help of a Romanian officer. The next day Shapiro returned to the ghetto after having met with Dr. Fielderman and Rabbi Safran. It turned out that the Romanian authorities in Bucharest had decided to liquidate the ghetto and to send all the Jews to Transnistria. They planned to do it in four transports of 2500 people each.
The authorities decided the first transport would leave the ghetto on Yom Kippur. Hundreds of horse drawn wagons entered the ghetto that morning. There was a plan for the liquidation and certain streets were pre-selected. When the Jews heard the plan many of them escaped. The commander and his assistants tried to calm the Jews promising nothing bad would happen to them and that the liquidation was for their benefit. The Germans wanted to eliminate the Jews and it would be better not to have too many of them in one location. The head of the council managed to postpone the liquidation for a few days. In the meantime, urgent message were sent to the Jewish leaders in Bucharest asking for help. Hundreds of telegrams, composed in cryptic language ( Father is very sick send medicine immediately ) were sent to the Federation or to relatives in Bucharest. The first group of Jews was sent out of the ghetto on October 4. On Succot, 1600 people were placed on wagons on the road between Orhei and Rezina, towards the Dniester. When the wagons left town everyone was ordered to get down for medical checkups . Clerks of the Romanian National Bank had been sent there and they asked all the Jews to trade any valuables for money that could be used in the conquered territories. Those who tried to hide their valuables would be killed. Everyone was thoroughly searched and all valuables were removed. The Jews were given 40 German Marks. Thus the Jews were robbed of all their remaining belongings.
In addition to those exiled from the ghetto in the first transport there were also patients from the Costujeni Mental Institute. When the Jews saw the rows of unbalanced people they were truly petrified. We do not have precise information on the fate of this first transport. The Jews remaining in the ghetto were told by a Romanian officer of German descent who followed the transport that everyone was shot to death as they crossed the Dniester. Some were thrown directly into the river.
The ghetto council tried various methods of delaying the deportation of the Jews. They hoped that their brethren in Bucharest would manage to have the orders annulled. They were able to decrease the number of deportees in every transport. Dr. Fielderman, chairman of all the Jewish Councils, sent a letter to Antonescu, dated October 11, 1941, in which he described everything that was happening in the ghetto including the deportations. He ended with the following sentence: This is death, death of innocents whose only fault is being Jews. Antonescu's reply came quickly. It was published in all the newspapers on October 19, 1941. The Jews were guilty of all crimes including the handing over of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union.
During October, 1941 the deportations from the ghetto continued. Daily, hundreds of Jews left the ghetto in long lines going towards Transnistria. The representatives of the Romanian National Bank were always present to collect any remaining valuables before the deportees continued their journey. On the way, the gendarmerie attacked the Jews. There were hundreds of dead Jews by the roadside. They had come on the first transports. The sick, the elderly and the children lagged behind and they were shot by the gendarmerie. Farmers waited along the roadside to rob the Jews. Sometimes the farmers bought the dead Jews from the gendarmerie. The farmers took any clothes they fancied off the dead bodies.
The last transports left the ghetto on October 25, 1941 1004 Jews and October 31 257 Jews. The Federation of Jewish Councils sent a Christian lawyer named Mushat hoping he would be able to stop the deportations. On October 30 he sent a short report by cable to Bucharest. He described the situation and the results of his intervention: I lost the case. All my clients were found guilty…
The ghetto was not completely liquidated even after this date. New victims were brought in as the ghetto continued to be the central location for Jews from Bessarabia who had managed to hide until then in the city, nearby or in towns of Old Romania. The streets where the Jews used to live as well as the ghetto itself looked as if they had undergone a natural disaster. The streets were empty and the houses were broken into by thieves. The synagogues were destroyed and torn Torah scrolls were strewn on the street. The well-known home of the Koritzer Rebbe was surrounded with parts of books that had been torn and stepped on by soldiers and passers-by. Soon the authorities managed to collect 200 Jews in the ghetto. In May 1942 the military commander of the city, General Konstantin Viculescu was ordered to eliminate all Jews from the ghetto. It was to be done by May 21- a special name day for St. Constantine and St. Helena. Among the deportees were orphans, sick people and 58 mental patients from the Costujeni Institute. On that day they were all brought to the command center where they were thoroughly searched for any valuables. Then they were put on train wagons and sent to Transnistria.
Feldman, Eliahu: The History of the Jews of Bessarabia up to the end of the 19th century- an encyclopedia of Exiles and Remembrance books, Vol. 11, Jerusalem, 1971, Pages 1-248.
Korn, Yitzhak: The Jews of Chisinau , Tel Aviv, 1950.
Vinitsky, David: Jewish Bessarabia between the two wars 1914-1940. Jerusalem, 1973.
Davidson, M, editor: Collection Bessarabia- Eretz Israel, Tel Aviv, 1938.
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Mircu, Marius: Progromurile din Bessarabia, Bucharest, 1947, pp. 17-24.
History of Chisinau (1466-1966): Federal University of Chisinau, Maps of Moldova, Chisinau, 1966.
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