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Periods

Translated by Sheli Fain

 

Each Community and its Destiny

The Jewish community of Kishinev was the heart of the Bessarabia Jewish people. This heart was soaked in tradition of the Jewish way of life and was longing for redemption from times immemorial until the Zionist movement. This community is recognized in history because the Pogroms it suffered in 1903 when several tens of people were murdered (how small was this event compared to what is yet to come!) and the entire world became enraged and reacted.

The Pogrom had an immense influence on the ideological development of the European Jewry and on the strengthening of its ties with Eretz Israel.

In one of his speeches, Theodore Hertz declared that the events in Kishinev were a mirror of the Jewish life all over the world. Kishinev was the symbol of Jewish development in the tsarist time, but this event became an important ground of the Second Alyiah to Eretz Israel.

Each community and its fate! There are communities whose history will be inscribed forever and there are communities that were completely forgotten. The Kishinev community before the Pogrom became forgotten even thought it was for many years a flourishing and a vigorous Jewish centre, creative and full of initiatives, a centre for Jewish living in Southern Russia and after that also in Romania.

The Jewish Kishinev with its organization, institutions and diversity was destroyed and ruined in the Holocaust. A community which numbered more than fifty thousand people was uprooted from the Earth and a pile of stones were left in its place to tell about her ruin.

In November 1941 the majority of the Jews were marched to their death in Transnistria. In this book, you will find a number of testimonies about the last days of the Kishinev community and about the cruel annihilation of the Ghetto.

 

The First Period

Historical documents mention that Kishinev [1], the capital of Bessarabia, was once a small village on the banks of the River Byk, in the Lapushna District, founded by Vlaicu, the uncle of Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare).

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Ion Nistor quotes a document from 1436 where Kishinev is mentioned for the first time. Later documents (1576 and then 1617) describe that the village Kishinev was sold a number of times to relatives of the kings of the period. In a document (ispisoc) of Duca Voda, from 1666, Kishinev is mentioned as a town. The development from village to town represents an important step in the history of Kishinev. The documents mention that Istrate Vadia Daviza elevated the status of Kishinev from village to town in 1661–1665.

The first Jewish merchants who came to Kishinev at this time were the first to establish a Jewish way of life.

About the same time, Kishinev was destroyed by the Tatars, but it was rebuilt afterwards. One of the Romanian documents that mention Jews in Kishinev is the Chronicle of Dimitrie Cantemir (1673–1723), one of the important Romanian historians. He describes Kishinev as a small town with a mixed population of Christians, Armenians and Jews. Unfortunately it is difficult to determine exactly when the Jewish community became organized.

In the 17th century Moldova and Bessarabia were strongly influenced by Russia, especially starting with the reign of Vasile Lupu (1634–1653) and after the Bogdan Khmelnytzky (1648–1649) uprising, the Decrees of 5608, 5609 and the exodus of the Jews from the Ukraine to Bessarabia and Moldova. This influence increased even more in the time of Peter the Great when Dimitrie Cantemir, the ruler of Moldova, had to sign a secret treaty [2] with Russia. As a result of these ties, the number of Russian Jews increased in Moldova and Bessarabia, especially in Kishinev. There are no specific dates of arrival of the Jews in Kishinev, although some documents from the middle of the 18th century mention Jews in Kishinev.

The Romanian historian, I. Vianu [3] found a legal ruling from the year 1742 in favor of the Jew David from Kishinev regarding goods which were stolen from him. It required that the accused pay a penalty and return the goods to the Jew David.

In his book “Old Documents of Romanian Law”, 2nd volume, page 428, the noted historian Nicolae Iorga mentions a document from 1743 which indicates that the Kishinev Jews were required to pay every year an

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additional 5 Lei to the taxes, compared with the rest of the citizens.

The traveler, von Rennes, mentions in his book, vol. 1, page 83, that in the year 1793 Kishinev was a small town with a mixed population of Moldovans, Greeks and Jews.

According to the few documents that have survived – the Jewish community of Kishinev has existed for about 250 years. In contrast to other communities in Bessarabia, such as Akkerman, Lapushna, Khotin, etc., which have documents that indicate they are over 500 years old, Kishinev is considered a young community in this region that only in the last century succeeded to develop and establish highly valued Jewish projects. The chronicler of the history of Jews in Bessarabia, A. Leon, indicates, based on the annals of the Jewish Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha), that in the year 1773 there were about 144 families living in Kishinev.

The political conditions of Bessarabia at the end of the 18th century did not allow the development of the community in Kishinev; a study of the community history indicates that only in the second half of the 19th century there is an increase of the Jewish population and an economic and cultural development.

In the table shown below it is possible to see the increases and the declines in the numbers of the Jewish population in Kishinev from the first appearance of this settlement.

 

Year Jews % Total
Population
1773 540 souls 7.0
1847 10,509 souls 12.2
1867 18,327 souls 21.8
1897 50,537 souls 46.0
1910 52,000 souls 42.0
1930 42,000 souls 38.0
July 1940 75,000 souls[4] 50.0
1947 5,500 souls 6.5

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The 19th century brought prosperity and thriving to the Kishinev community similar to many communities in Eastern Europe. The annexation of Bessarabia to Russia in the year 1812 and the close connections with Russian Jewry represented a valuable turning point in the life of the Jews in this region. Even the closed religious bastion of the Jews of Bessarabia which until 1812 was tied to the Jassy Rabbinate was broken down.

After the Annexation, the Haskalah movement tried to penetrate the Jewish street. In 1838, the Prince Vorontzev's government in New Russia (Bessarabia) supported the first Jewish school. [5]

From the 1840s an era of awakening in the development of the first social currents started in the midst of the Jews of Kishinev. The divergences between the Hasidim and the Maskilim are reflected in the journal Ha–Melitz as early as 5624 (1864). All aspects of life felt this tension that infused new blood in a community that was until then under the grips of the Hasidim and the community started awakening to a new dynamism and freedom.

 

Ruralism and Urbanism

Through the ages Kishinev became an economic and spiritual centre of Bessarabia, in the same time when the agriculture influenced the character of the Jewish community. This mutuality continued until the last days of the Kishinev community and it could be seen in the ruralism that accompanied the urban Kishinev Jew.

Simplicity, dedication, faithfulness and the basic primitive human characters were imprints of the Kishinev Jews' souls. They were the salt of the earth and their naivety was recognized everywhere their wandering took them. On the other hand the ruralism did not hinder the development of the Kishinev Jews, which were always in a continuous progress through the ages.

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The Hasidism and the Haskalah were not the only movements that found a fertile ground on the Jewish street, others, such as the religious reformism, the Argentina movement, and the Zionist movement, intensified the public tension of the community.

The rural Kishinev contributed its share not only to the national movement but it also established its place in the workers revolution. Starting with the middle of the 19th century, the Jews of Kishinev contributed many progressive movements which were influenced by the winds of freedom that blew in the midst of the community.

For more than 200 years Kishinev did not have any big industry. It was surrounded by vineyards, orchards and large fields and the Jews were not afraid to work the land. All this ruralism did not hinder the cultural life and the community studied Torah and elected great religious leaders such as the famous Rabbi Aryeh Leibush Melentzhut, Rabbi Moshe from Savran and others. The community also fought to ensure that the eminent Rabbi Y. L. Tsirelson (Zirelson) carry on as Chief Rabbi of Kishinev. These generations had the thirst for learning and the powerful will to broaden their horizons.

Because they might have felt a bit inferior to others, they were first to join the social movements, the Zionist movement, especially the Working Zionism that inspired the young generation.

The community did not lack deviations and periods of depression, but the spirit of freedom and progressive nationalism always won.

Kishinev served for many years as the exile destination of Tsarist Russia where they banished the accused leaders of the progressive revolutionary movements. In Kishinev they planted the seeds of turmoil and left a great impression on the Jewish community. The exiles also found a supporting and an understanding community in Kishinev. Many exiles where acquainted with the Jews whose great qualities, the simplicity and the devotion left an enormous impression on them. A famous exile was the poet Alexander Pushkin (1825–1827).

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In his Kishinev journal Pushkin recalls his first encounter with the Jews. [6]

 

Community Life

The beginnings of the Jewish community of Kishinev are covered by the mist of time. The earlier document preserved, dated 5633 (1773), is the Jewish Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha) Bylaws. The bylaws outlined internal rules of the Society and it's probably the first set of regulations of the Kishinev community that was ruled at the time by the Rabbinate of Jassy, the capital of Modova. [7] The bylaws also prove that each member of the community could participate in the management of community affairs, a fact that shows that Kishinev had a progressive and organized community life. Even without many documents it can be seen that the community was organized to respond to the people's religious needs.

The war fought by Russia and especially the Russia –Turkey war of 1818–1806 had a great impact in the life of the Jews of Moldova–Bessarabia, because they did not allow the community to develop specific social institutions which will help the Jewish population. A long quiet period developed after 1812, the year Bessarabia was annexed by Russia, which provided opportunities for development of various community institutions. Alongside the religious needs, the community started to care about social needs and therefore it provided help for the Talmud Torah schools where the poor children studied.

Just as the community started to develop, starting from the 1830s, the Russian regime imposed many decrees against the Jews. [8]

One of the decrees put an end to the independent management of the community affairs claiming that the regime could not allow

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a “government within a government.” The Jews were allowed to run their religious affairs, they were allowed to be involved in the economic life of the city, run for election for city councils and have access to government run schools (1840–1844). In the year 1839 the autonomy of the Jewish community was cancelled and the government started to check and decide how the taxes collected by the community for the kosher meat and for candles were allocated. The Kosher meat tax was a big shock to the community life. The government transferred the rights to kosher meat sale to a “lessee,” who usually was one of the “tough” ruthless guys without any consideration to the need of the community. The fight between the “lessees” and the community continued for many years. Some of the rich people appointed as advisers by the Kishinev city council arbitrated between the “lessees” and the community and were fixing meat prices that were more affordable by the community.

An article in Ha–Melitz of 1865 reports on the situation: “Thanks to the intervention of the progressive city advisers, the tax on the meat sales was set to more affordable levels and the prices were more protected. We have to recognize the efforts of these dedicated and trustworthy people: the old tycoon Rabbi Yehudah Polinovsky, the erudite Nachman Zidibtzky, the famous Rabbi Aharon Rabinovich, the marvelous Weinberg, Rabbi Efraim Teitelman, Alter Galantiru and Rabbi Chaim Lerner. Although the lessees and the meat sellers complained, the prices became affordable and stable and the weighing machines became accurate. This is an example to follow in all the city affairs and to secure fair practices.”

The method of money allocation from the Korobka (“puske” or “kupah” tax) for the various community projects was also a heated topic and caused frictions between those who wanted more money for “religious personnel” and those who wanted the money to go for supporting the city poor and to the eradication of hunger. The Ha–Melitz of 1802 published this letter from Kishinev:

“The members of the community do not respect the money from the “meat tax” which is already a sore topic and instead of using the money for important projects, use it for useless things. They hired 40 more judges (dianim) and rabbis (teacher of Jewish law), each shochet (ritual slaughterer) got a 20 Rubles monthly salary increase and 500 Rubles were allocated to a Cantor and a choir and nothing was left for the starving, who could care less for choir songs!”

All those who wanted to increase the “religious personnel” that was already a big burden on the meager community resources did not take in consideration

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the resentment of the community, because that was the situation of the Jewish community in the South of Russia.

When the social movements reached the Jewish street in Bessarabia1880–1890, the community started to question its direction and characteristics. The Zionist movement, the Bund and the religious parties started to compete for the community's attention – the only organization that was running the community affairs.

This struggle was visible in the life of the community but as long as the Tsarist regime was in power, no change was possible. The regime did not allow the community any additional power and did not allow that the taxes for the Jewish institutions be a proportionate tax for the entire population. It was known that many evaded the meat taxes and that the poor had to carry the burden for everyone. The community wanted to change this situation by securing free elections and give a new democratic look to the leadership.

The Revolution of 1917 put forward the possibility of building a democratic community and the Jews of Kishinev were ready to receive the changes. Unfortunately, the changes did not last long, because for the next 20 years, until the Holocaust, the Kishinev Jewry had to continuously fight, but without great results, for their basic rights.

 

The National Identity

Jewish Kishinev considered itself from the beginning an inseparable part of the Jewish nation. The national solidarity feeling was always harbored by the Jews of Kishinev and the national concerns were also their concerns. Kishinev was the first community in Russia that thanked Moshe Montefiore for his dedicated work to save the Jews of Morocco. Here are the letter the Kishinev community sent to Montefiore and his reply:

“Kishinev, 26 Adar Sheni, 5624 (1864).

Long live our master, the glory of our nation, our crown prince, Sir Moshe Montefiore!

From a far away land, from Kishinev in Bessarabia we thank you and we bless your name for all the good deeds you did for our people on those days in our time.

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You saved their souls from dangers and you turned their grief to joy and happiness and we all heard this. It cheered our hearts and we the people of this town want to bless you for your goodness and your charity, for your compassion and your gentle heart. This is the blessing that we send you in the name of our entire community: “Bless be he our almighty G–D, master of the universe, the one who will look upon you from the heavens, he will guard you and will reward you for all your efforts and will bestow on you honors and glory, long life, blessings and peace and all the gifts from heaven! You, Moshe, are a saint! You are a philanthropist for our brothers and a savior to all our people and a blessing to all! We, your brothers, the sons of Jacob, we love you and we will remember you as long as we live and your good deeds will be inscribed on our hearts and we will remember you forever. Amen!” (The letter was signed by the Chief Rabbi and three sages and the city dignitaries).

Moshe Montefiore's reply:

London, Monday, 12 Nissan 5624 (1864)

Long live the honored Rabbis, the leaders of the Jewish community of Kishinev.

The blessings you sent me on the name of all brothers greatly pleased me, because I recognized in them your good name and your fear of G–D. I know that your heart is devoted to G–D, so I only have to say to you that He is the supreme kindness and we should praise His goodness. And now we have to turn our hearts to G–D in heavens and thank and bless him for all his goodness he imparted to our brothers. May G–D continue to have compassion on our people and we shall say: G–D is great in all His actions!

These are the words of your servant Moshe Montefiore”

 

First Sparks of Zionism

The disagreements between the Jewish intellectuals in Kishinev against the cosmopolitan tendencies of the Haskalah, against the assimilation that tried to instill in the masses a false believe of a solution to the problems, started as yearly as the 1880s. These views became stronger because of the Pogroms that the Jewish community suffered at the time. The two ideologies are reflected in the press of the time:

“After the events, we woke up from the great elation of the Haskalah…we understood that we are not like every human being on this Earth, we are Jews and therefore the souls among us decided that we need another direction: a different education, Judaism, history of Israel, Hebrew language.

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In our midst we have people connected to the world. They trusted that through education all problems will be solved and that the Jewish Question will disappear, “the wolf will lie down with the lamb,” but it will take generations for this to happen. These visionaries are convinced that the Jews are emissaries of the world, the light among the nations. The truth is that the world does not want our teaching and they repay us with disasters. It is difficult to think that you are an important guest, when they show you the door. It is also not correct to declare that the education is not needed. We are a wandering people, education is necessary for us and for the external world. We do not want to remain ignorant and clueless. We need to be smart, use our Jewish wisdom, the Hebrew language, our work to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) and remember that our world is full of light, grace, brightness and reverence for G–D” [9].

This group did not limit themselves to discussions and started to implement their goals by founding the Society of Lovers of Hebrew Language (Hovevei Sefat Ever) with the participation of Dr. J. Bernstein–Cohen, Dr. Muchenick, Dr. Greenberg, Dr. Efrati, advocate Yoselevich, pharmacist Perlmuter, and others.

The goals of the society were: 1) to educate the children in the spirit of Judaism, 2) to hire teachers to teach Hebrew, Jewish history and religion in the government schools, 3) to promote the Hebrew language in schools, 4) to found a Jewish library, 5) to hold training sessions for Jewish History and Judaism, 6) to found special schools for Hebrew language and literature.

This movement spread very quickly and its influence grew in Kishinev. Hovevei Zion and many others who did not give up the national dream joined this movement.

 

The Reactions to the Pogroms

The suffering of the Kishinev Jewish community continued practically without a break for a long time, although only the Pogroms of 1903 and 1905 are the most notorious events to outsiders. When we study the community life of this period it's easy to see that the incitement against this community during the Tsarist period and until the Romanian regime never stopped and that there were many riots which were prevented in the last moment. There were instances when the rioters stopped when they saw that the community is determined to defend itself, although the authorities were fast to call the army to stop the Jewish self–defense force. Not too many people know that in 1881, the year of the Pogroms in many Russian cities, even Kishinev was slated, but the rioters were dispersed

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by the courageous attitude of the local Jews. Dr. Bernstein–Cohen reports on these events [10].

“… The people of Kishinev organized themselves for the riots. Despite the claim that “the orders are coming from above,” noted citizens such as Abraham Greenberg, Dinin, Kuperwaser, etc. set up a fund to bribe the authorities in order to stop the Pogrom and the Jewish butchers sharpened their knives and axes in order to repel the attackers. Strange looking characters dressed in army uniforms or civilian clothing roamed the town and villages calling on the Christians to come and sign up an petition to banish the Jews and kill them if they did not leave the place… Because not all the Modovans joined this petition, many volunteers were brought in from far away locations such as the Oriol district. They had a great time and were getting drunk on the government payroll. On Sunday morning a big gang of drunkards from Oriol appeared in the market by the butcher stores. One very drunk hoodlum entered the store of Noah Kozhushner, knocked on the counter with a big iron bar and said: “Zhidova! (You Jew), come butcher and give me your money!” In the same time his friends attacked the nearby butcher stores and started a great riot. Noah Kozhushner stared at the drunkard with a killer's look, raised his cleaver and threw it on the assailant's head. The brains of the assailant gushed from his skull and he fell down dead. The rioters came to his help, but the butchers attacked them and pushed them into the slaughterhouses (not to the police station). The police had a hard time to set them free and then sent them home the same evening with a police escort. The same day, Noah Kozhushner, who found a radical solution and saved many lives, disappeared and later he was helped to go to America. Everyone was interested in Noah, the butcher who saved the Jews of Kishinev from the first Pogrom and for many years he was hailed as a hero in Bessarabia.”

After 30 years, in April 1903 a terrible Pogrom happened in Kishinev and this time there were 49 fatalities and many more wounded people.

The reactions of the Jews of Kishinev to the Pogrom were mixed which

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may explain why the poet Hayim Nakhman Bialik portrayed the Jews as cowards lacking self esteem and national integrity in his 1903 poem “The City of Slaughter.” These harsh words caused a lot of trauma to the people of Kishinev, especially to the nationalistic youth.

“Come, now, and I will bring thee to their lairs
The privies, jakes and pigpens where the heirs
Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,
Concealed and cowering,–the sons of the Maccabees!
The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!
Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,
So sanctified My name!
It was the flight of mice they fled,
The scurrying of roaches was their flight;
They died like dogs, and they were dead!
And on the next morn, after the terrible night”

(“The City of Slaughter” in Complete Poetic Works of Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Israel Efros, ed. (New York, 1948): 129–43 (Vol. I)

The people of Kishinev did not deserve these harsh words from Bialik given the situation of the Jews at the time.

Dr. Bernstein–Cohen wrote in his memoirs: “At four the police came and dispersed the Jewish defence, stripped them of the weapons and arrested them. The police claimed that they were protecting the Jews from the angry mob. On the same evening the Pogrom erupted and the murderers were free to kill and destroy. Due to these conditions the defenceless Jews could not be blamed. If the Jews of Kishinev had the possibility to defend themselves, perhaps the situation would have been different like in the time of Noah Kozhushner in the 1880s. The Jews could not fight against the army and the rioters organized by Krushevan and approved by the regime in Petersburg at the same time. In his memoirs [11], Prince Urussov, who was appointed Governor of Bessarabia immediately after the Pogrom in 1903, blamed the Tsarist government for the Pogrom and mentioned that the Jewish defence prepared some primitive weapons against the rioters.

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The Pogrom of 1905 almost had identical conditions, but during the next 35 years, because the riots were not directly organized by the government, the attempts failed. The Kishinev Jews were now prepared to defend themselves.

After Bessarabia was annexed by Romania, the anti–Semitism did not stop and although there were many like Krushevan and riots, they did not amount to Pogroms. The grandchildren of Noah Kozhushner might have scared them!

During the winter of 5685 (1925) the Cuzist (fascist party in Romania) students organized riots in Bucharest and Jassy and the press publically incited against the Jewish community in Romania, but the rioters did not touch Kishinev, knowing very well that the community has organized self–defence and that they will be met with force.

 

The Ukrainian Refugees

The years 1919 to 1922 were difficult years for the Jewish community of the Ukraine, when entire communities were destroyed by the armies of Petliura, Denikin and various other gangs and thousands of people were victims of war and famine. Due to these events many sought refuge in Bessarabia, crossing the Dniester in great danger in hope that they will make it to Eretz Israel or to America.

After the first groups successfully crossed the river, many thousands of dispossessed and dejected people followed. The Jews of Bessarabia received them with a genuine brotherly love and helped them the best they could. Many made it to Kishinev where they hoped to find more help for their plight.

Kishinev community was the first to face the problem of how to help, restore, direct and prepare the thousands of refugees despite the difficulties they themselves faced in that period. After the WWI, Kishinev had many families facing poverty, many families who were grieving for the relatives lost in the war and many widows and orphans who needed help and it was necessary that the community organise relief for them. The pressure was immense and the responsibilities endless.

From the beginning the Relief organizations from abroad made the distinction between assisting the refugees and helping the war casualties. The Kishinev organizers did not agree to the discrimination between brother and brother, or this family and that.

The Joint decided to set up two separate relief committees; one to deal with the refugees from the Ukraine, chaired by Dr. Jacob Bernstein–Cohen, and another one for helping the war victims, lead by N. Aharonovich.

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Beside the chairman, the Ukraine Relief Committee had the following members from the best of the Kishinev community: Helena Babich, I. Sanilevich, N.M. Roitman, the shochet (ritual slaughterer) V. Alexandrovich (killed in 1941, in the Kishinev Ghetto), D. Shechter, L. Trachtenberg, the writer Shlomo Hilleles (who is now in Israel) and many others and Rabbi Yehudah Leib Tsirelson who did an outstanding work for the Releif committee.

To better assess the situation and to help with the relief work, the committee sent Ben–Zion Belzen and Shochetman (Aligur) to the Ukraine in 1919.

The Committee also sent a delegation (Dr. Bernstein–Cohen and the Senator Alexandri, a friend of General Averescu) to Bucharest to deal with entry permits and to ease the entry of refugees to Bessarabia. This delegation got the needed results when the Prime Minister, General Averescu gave entry permissions for three month to the refugees to come to Bessarabia, until the riots of Petliura and Denikin stopped. The General hoped that this humanitarian deed will look good in the eyes of the Europeans and asked Dr. Bernstein–Cohen to make sure that Paris, London, etc. are informed of his action [12].

The refugees were allowed to enter Bessarabia in a life saving action, and avoid getting murdered as in 1920 after they were turned back in the middle of the way. It helped to bribe the authorities, the “secret weapon” used by thousands who crossed into Bessarabia.

The Ukraine Committee faced a serious task to provide minimal assistance to the refugees, therefore they appealed to the Jews of Bessarabia, Romania and communities in Eretz Israel for help. The cry for help from Kishinev reverberated among the communities and money started to pour into Kishinev from abroad.

The Ukraine Committee in Kishinev, which until 1920 was the Central Committee for the entire Bessarabia, organized all the action, coordinated the activists in the location where the refugees congregated and provided assistance to thousands of refugees [13].

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The biggest achievement of the relief campaign was the show of unity and brotherly love that accompanied all activities for the Ukraine refugees. The Kishinev Jews, from rich to poor, accommodated thousands refugees in their homes giving them food and shelter.

Dr. Bernstein –Cohen went to Paris in order to inform the world about the plight of the refugees and opened an information office to coordinate the relief efforts for the Ukraine refugees.

More efforts for helping the refugees were done at a Conference in Prague with the participation of the writer Shlomo Hilleles and I. Alterman. Shlomo Hilleles lectured on the plight of the refugees and about the terrible situation of the Ukranian Jews and encouraged to send immediate help to the Ukraine. One first relief shipment was shipped immediately to the Ukraine, but because it did not reach the Jews, it was necessary to stop future shipments.

During the next year the JOINT took responsibility to help the refugees who wanted to go to Eretz Israel or to America. In 1921 Vladimir Tiomkin, from the Jewish Relief Committee in Paris, visited Kishinev and encouraged the actions of the Kishinev committee which faced an increased number of refugees every day.

1922 became a difficult year for the refugees. The authorities started to seriously safeguard the borders and the refugees crossing became impossible; the Romanian government persecuted them in order to make them leave the country and took drastic measures to return them to the Ukraine or to chase them from place to place. The activists in Kishinev made enormous efforts to ease the plight of the refugees and have them remain in Romania, but the majority was forced to continue their wanderings.

In 1922–1923 the situation of the refugees worsened due to the oppressing actions of the Romanian regime. During this period ICA (The Jewish Colonization Association) actively worked to

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solve the refugee problem by encouraging emigration and, in a way, it succeeded.

At the end of this tragic and glorious chapter, it's important to notice that Jewish Kishinev not only help the refugees, it also received spiritual and social compensations. Kishinev which was closed to Russia for more than hundred years was now separated from her brothers. The Ukraine refugees brought to Kishinev the possibility to exit from isolation and to become a spiritual centre for Romanian Jewry and to show power and initiative to withstand all these enormous tasks.

These tasks became a blessing for the Kishinev community. Kishinev gained community leaders, public activists, writers and educators and a big number of pioneers from Zeirei Israel from the midst of the refugees. Even though their stay in Kishinev was short their influence was enormous in the organization of social institutions. Some even found a way to remain longer and their activities were well recognized by the community.

The relief efforts of the Jewish community of Kishinev toward the Ukraine refugees represent a wonderful chapter in the history of the community.

 

Within the Jewish Community of Romania

The end of World War I brought a redesign of the boundaries of many European countries; Kishinev and the entire Bessarabia were annexed by Romania. The Jewish community of Romania of about 800 thousand people was not a unified body. There were various political currents, different language and cultural diversity according to the local conditions. At the beginning the Jews from Transilvania and Bucovina that were in the past part of Austro Hungary found it difficult to mix with the Jews of Russia.

At the beginning it was difficult to negate the diversity and to find commonalities, but slowly it became clear that the Kishinev community and the entire Bessarabia Jewry influence the Romanian community for the best. It elevated the Jewish national spirit, the movement toward achieving

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political rights, the pride of the Jewish minority and the dedication to the Zionist movement that was fighting for the emancipation of the Jewish person. It mobilized the youth and encouraged them to join the He–Halutz movement. It promoted the Jewish education and culture and encouraged a healthy Jewish atmosphere. The Jewish educators and Zionist community activists from Kishinev brought to Romania a new tune, the nationalist Zionist progress that slowly changed the attitudes of the Romanian Jewry. Many Romanian Jews recognized that the wind that blew from Kishinev and Bessarabia is a danger to the assimilation movement which they embraced. Secretly or openly they supported the assimilation movement when the Jews of Kishinev suddenly arrived and changed the status quo. The Romanian Jews were divided in two political groups; one that respected and followed the Jewish values and education and was organized by the Zionist Union and after that by the Jewish Party and the “assimilationists” group organized by “Uniunea” immediately after the WWI.

Between 1918 and 1940 the Kishinev Jews had an important influence in the strengthening of the National Zionist current until the Romanian fascist vandals obliterated a community with a 200 years history.

It is very sad that exactly when the influence of the Kishinev Jews was at its peak and the community achieved a major place among the Romanian Jewry that all activities and public life were stopped by the outbreak of WWII and the Holocaust.

When the Russian returned to Kishinev in 1944 another chapter of suffering and troubles started for the Jewish community. This period is not the subject of this work, but it will be inscribed in the history of this Jewish community that for many generations was an important centre for the Jewish nation in the Diaspora and fought for its survival and aspired for freedom.


Footnotes

  1. Ion Nistor, Istoria Basarabiei (History of Bessarabia) (Romanian), Czernowitz, 1923, pages 146–148 Return
  2. M. Reifer. Selected Historical Writings (German), Czernowitz, 1938, page 79 Return
  3. I. Vianu. Romanian Manuscripts (Romanian), page 560 Return
  4. On June 28, 1940, the Red Army entered Bessarabia and caused thousands of Bessarabian Jews to flock to Kishinev from cities in Romania. They feared remaining under the pro–Nazi government of Romania which was about to join the war on the side of Germany. Thousands of Jews from the frontier localities in Bessarabia and many villages and cities also settled in Kishinev. This concentration came mainly because of the economic crisis. This large number, 75,000, is an estimate. Some didn't stay long. A large number was saved in June 1941 by the Soviet Army who moved them to far places. Most of the remaining population was exterminated during the Holocaust in 1941–2 by the Romanians and the Germans. Return
  5. A. Leon. Chronicle of the Ideological and Social Development of Kishinev Jewry, 1773–1890. (Russian), Kishinev, 1891 Return
  6. D. Zaslavsky in the Evreyskiy Letopisi (The Jewish Chronicle), vol. 1, Petersburg, 1922 Return
  7. See the chapter Documents: Bylaws of the Jewish Burial Society of Kishinev, 1773 Return
  8. Sh. Dubnow. History of the Jewish People (Hebrew), vol. 9, pages 128–134. Return
  9. An article from Kishinev (Sh. D.) in Ha–Melitz 1890 Return
  10. Sefer Bernstein–Cohen (Hebrew). The Book of Bernstein–Cohen. Edited by Miriam Bernstein–Cohen and Yitzchak Koren, 3d Chapter, pages 67–78. Return
  11. Urussov, Zapiskiy Gubernatora. 1903–1904 (Journal of the Governor) Kishinev, pages 82–111. Return
  12. The Book of Bernstein–Cohen (Hebrew), pages 185–190 Return
  13. See in chapter Documents: Report of the Ukraine Committee in Kishinev 1919–1921. Return

 

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