Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 2
(Orhei, Moldova)

47°23' / 28°49'

Translation of “Orgeyev” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1980


Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 327-331, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980

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[Pages 327-331]


Translated by Ala Gamulka

In Romanian it is Orhei and in Russian - Orgeyev. It was the capital town of the district on the banks
of the Reut River and it was located on the main road crossing Bessarabia, about 76 km north of Kishinev.


Jewish Population

Year Numbers % of Jews in
1847 1,960  
1897 7,144  
1902 6,000 47.3
1930 6,302  


Up to the Beginning WWII

History of the Community

The name of the town originated in Hungarian and came from the word Varhely – fancy area. In the 16th century a fortress was built there by Stefan cel Mare. In the 17th century the town was controlled by Genoa. In 1836 the Russian authorities named Orgeyev as a capital of the district.

There is ancient rabbinic literature which speaks about the fact that there were Jews in Orgeyev in the 16th century, their persecution and their relations with the local population. In a question and answer article describing testimony which would allow a woman to obtain a divorce, written by the rabbi from Lublin, it was said:” The witness, Israel, son of Shlomo, said that he was in Orgeyev and asked about those killed. Some idol worshippers spoke about the dead. One of them wore a Jewish head covering –which I recognized immediately...”

Most of the Jews had special permission to reside in Orgeyev given to them due to political or economic reasons. This is why any small political or economic change touched the Jews first of all.

Mihi Rakovitsa, Prince of Moldova, began a blood libel in the Orgeyev district, in order to obtain more money from the Jewish community. This event caused repercussions in the rest of the world. The Haham Bashi from Turkey brought about the intervention of the Ottoman authorities and those Jews who were accused were released from prison.

In 1812 Bessarabia was conquered by Russia and the Jewish population grew. The Russian army was followed by the arrival of many Jews. They had special privileges which were awarded to all settlers in Bessarabia.

In addition to convenient economic conditions there were also political reasons for the increase in the Jewish population in Orgeyev. These were the loss of citizenship for Jews during the reign of Catherine, expulsion of the Jews from rural areas and the orders by the Cantonists.



The Great synagogue of Orgeyev was built on the banks of the Reut River in the first half of the 18th century. It is said that the Baal Shem Tov prayed there and even used the Mikve during a visit.

The second synagogue in Orgeyev had two hundred seats, a small chapel and a study hall.

The Talne Hassidim had a house of prayer which the intelligentsia used. The first leaders of Hibat Zion were concentrated there, as well. A house of study was also established in the building.

At the end of the 19th century the following were established in Orgeyev: Chabad synagogue, the Beadles synagogue, the Market synagogue, the Tailors synagogue, a Yeshiva, the Builders synagogue, the Shoemakers synagogue, etc.


Formation of the Community

Until the second half of the 19th century there were several charitable institutions and a Hevra Kaddisha- which took care of the ancient cemetery. In 1886 a Jewish hospital was established. It lasted for 73 years and was enlarged and renovated several times. This hospital also served the non-Jewish population in Orgeyev and the surrounding villages as well. The same year an Old People's Home was founded. In 1897 Aid for the Poor was established by three of the town leaders.


Great Synagogue of Orgeyev

In 1917 when the Tsarist regime disappeared and with the encouragement of a group of active Zionists a temporary committee was organized. It prepared a constitution for each charitable organization and centralized their records.

At the same time there was a flood of refugees from Ukraine. The temporary aid committee became, in 1920, an aid committee. It handled social assistance to families, legal and economic advice, etc. In 1924 the community council renewed its activities and was successful in uniting all institutions under its umbrella. A temporary permit was obtained from the Romanian authorities and all institutions functioned freely for several years. The community was able to collect taxes directly (meat tax) and received a larger budget from city hall. All financial matters were given a public scrutiny. Educational institutions such as the Talmud Torah, the Yeshiva and the library were also included.

Eventually, the community was recognized as a legal entity.


Education and Culture

In 1884 there was a private Jewish elementary school in Orgeyev for boys and for girls. From 1880 there were 6 Heders headed by tutors. At the same time a Talmud Torah was established. It began with 7 rooms and 7 teachers and 112 students – mostly poor children.

In 1910 when there was a change of leadership in the community a new era began. The level of education became higher and the curriculum in the Talmud Torah was the same as that of the public schools. In addition to secular studies there were also classes in Hebrew, Yiddish and History. Many of the teachers were Zionists and members of the Socialist Yiddishist party, the Bund. At the end of the 1930s when civil rights were decreased the Talmud Torah had a Romanian principal and the school day was shortened.

At the beginning of the 1920s the Romanian authorities gave instructions to transfer the educational and cultural institutions, the Talmud Torah, the Yeshiva to the public school system. The institutions were closed for some time and were reopened eventually once the transfer was done. Romanian was taught in the Talmud Torah and a Romanian principal was appointed. The Yeshiva received permission to teach sacred subjects in the afternoons and its students continued their secular studies in the public high school. The Yeshiva still had Jewish teachers and principal.

There was an attempt to encourage farming among the youths and classes in agriculture were given in the Talmud Torah. The students went out of town on a daily basis to spend two hours working the land.

In 1898 an agricultural school was leased with encouragement by the government rabbi, Dr. Rabinovitch. Its students were mainly from poor families and the school was also supported by non-Jews. These were land owners in the area who donated funds and land. Baron Ginsburg lent 350 Dunams from his estate. The curriculum was planned by the group “Distributors of Enlightenment”. There were also workshops for carpentry and the repairs of wagons. The school became an agricultural learning ranch. However, three years later parents began to withdraw their children from the school. They were replaced by orphans from Kishinev. Eventually, lack of funds caused the closure of the ranch in 1905.

The community also was involved in vocational education. In the 1830s shop studies were taught in the Talmud Torah.

In 1887 a separate vocational class was opened. The Talmud Torah had mostly children from poor families, but this new class attracted the wealthier students.

In 1923 two vocational classes, supported by Ort, were established in the Talmud Torah.

In 1924 the Savings and Loan Fund for craftsmen joined with Ort in the running of the school. They were supported by the Joint. The language of instruction was Hebrew and many of its graduates made Aliyah.

In 1927 Ort founded a vocational school for the manufacturing of furniture and a sewing school for women.

Tarbut from Kishinev encouraged, in 1920s, the opening of a school in Orgeyev. It followed a national curriculum. During the first five years the school was under the jurisdiction of the community. Its graduates continued their studies in public schools.

In 1925 a private Hebrew school was established.

IN 1930-32 there were classes similar to those in a Hebrew high school. The curriculum followed government directives in addition to Hebrew language and Jewish studies. The school was closed for budgetary reasons. In the time it existed there were 30 students.

A Hebrew kindergarten was opened in 1924 by a group of parents and with the assistance of the Tarbut center in Kishinev. It, too, was closed three years later due to budgetary issues.


An invitation to a Hanuka Ball organized by the Shoemakers Synagogue:
Choir - Children of Israel conducted by Pinhas Tsiserov


The Jewish library was founded in 1866. Its books were mostly in Russian and only some in Hebrew. The public Jewish library was established in 1907. In addition to books there were newspapers, some in Hebrew. During WWI it was closed and hundreds of books remained in the hands of its borrowers. When the Revolution broke out the library was renewed with the help of students. When the Jewish community was organized in 1924 there was a budget for the library. In 1927 and 1928 the library was supported by the Culture League and Yiddish books were added. The library had a Zionist bent and even served as a meeting place for Zionist youths.


Economic Situation

The Jews of Orgeyev earned their living from the sale of lumber, the tending of sheep for the production of milk and cheese, from craftsmanship and even from being shop owners. There were also some estate owners or land leasers.

When Orgeyev became district capital the farmers from the area began to come into town to the market. They brought agricultural produce, wheat, farm animals. The Jews exchanged agricultural produce for other goods. There were several families that earned their keep by producing hats and furs for local consumption as well as for export. In the 1890s when the economic situation worsened, many Jews left commerce and became farmers and vineyard workers.

In 1905 the Savings and Loan Fund for craftsmen was founded. It began with 56 members. Its activities grew from giving loans to cooperative purchases, gathering of products and distribution of dividends among its members. In 1936 the number of members grew to 1120.

In the early 1920s cooperatives of producers, hat makers, carpenters, barrel makers and harness makers were founded.


Zionist Movement

News about Hibat Zion reached Orgeyev in 1890, but actual Zionist activity- mainly collecting funds – ceased in 1892. In 1894 the movement was rejuvenated and the number of its members doubled. There were numerous meetings and literary evenings.

In 1918 Zeirei Zion was founded in Orgeyev while 1919 saw the establishment of a House of Pioneers. A piece of land was leased outside town to be used for the training of pioneers.

In 1918 the high school students organized themselves for undercover activities- fear of the Romanian authorities and their parents... They worked towards freeing Jews from life in exile and for Aliyah. Many young people joined this movement. The group called itself Sons of Israel and was not affiliated with any other organization or youth movement. Its members studied Hebrew, collected money for Jewish National Fund, fought against the Culture League and the Yiddishists and took care of the public Jewish library. They turned it into a center for Zionist youth. They also formed a choir that song songs in Hebrew brought from Eretz Israel.

In 1925 Maccabi came to Orgeyev and in 1927 60 youths organized a branch of Gordonia. The latter had a wide range of cultural and educational activities and many of its members made Aliyah before WWII. At the same time Hashomer Hatzair was established. In 1928 the first group of Poalei Zion was established in Orgeyev.

When the national farmers party became popular in Romania there was an improvement in the political conditions and Zionism was even more important. A Zionist club was opened and with its many activities it acquired many more members. There was also a branch of Haoved which prepared craftsmen for Aliyah.

In 1934 Zeirei Zion opened a branch of Boslia and in 1936 a Hahshara group was organized. That year, the highlight of Zionist activities was the visit of Yosef Shprintzak. There was excellent cooperation between different Zionist entities during this visit.


Yosef Shprintzak in Orgeyev



In the 1880s, Russian laborers, working in construction in the area, tried to organize riots against the Jews of Orgeyev. However, the Jews defended themselves and were able, with the help of the local authorities, to stop these agitators.

In 1903 there were rumors of rioting against Jews in other parts of Bessarabia. The Jews organized themselves for self-defence and groups of youths patrolled city streets until the threat was gone. Orgeyev was spared the pogroms of that spring that had plagued Bessarabia.

In 1925 a young Zionist was killed on the street having been accused of distributing Communist leaflets. The murderers were members of the secret police. An inquiry was requested by the Jewish community, but it was stopped and the accused were not brought to trial.

In April 1929 soldiers from a nearby village broke into Jewish homes, robbed and destroyed them. No one was killed.

A Christian teacher, Mektzin, walked the streets in 1930 armed with a pistol and threatened the Jews. He even killed one of them. In the inquest he declared that he was an anti-Semite.

In April 1936 riffraff from the Koza movement broke into the synagogue and desecrated it. One of them was arrested.



In June 1940 it was rumored that the Russians gave an ultimatum to the Romanians to leave Bessarabia. Fear of what could happen when there is a change in regime brought the youths to organize themselves for self-defence. At midnight on June 27 the Romanians vacated the town. During the evacuation there was anti-Semitic unrest among the Christians who had some Jewish neighbors. The Jews put up their shutters and the night passed without any casualties. As soon as the Romanians left the Communist party leaders occupied city hall and other public institutions. During the first week of the Russian regime many wealthy Jews were removed from their homes in the middle of night. Many were sent to Siberia and were never heard from again.

The economic situation of the Jewish population worsened since many people could not continue to own stores and did not receive any income. At the end of June 1941 when the Germans conquered the town, Orgeyev was bombed from the air.

That day convoys of refugees began to arrive from the north- on their way to the Dniester. The retreating Red Army helped the Jewish residents to escape. On July 7 at 8 PM, many citizens of Orgeyev arrived in Kriuleni on the Dniester. A bridge was erected and the men were told to cross first, before their families. Before the men were able to complete the crossing, the German air force bombed those who were still waiting. Many citizens of Orgeyev were killed. The others remained in Kriuleni without anything.

There was a sudden rumor that the Germans had left town and that it was possible to return home. Many of the escapees did come back, but they discovered that the Red Army had left only scorched earth in the town. They returned to Kriuleni and continued their flight from there.

Many families wandered for many months in different parts of Russia on foot, in wagons and on crowded trains. They were practically naked, barefoot in cold and in rain. Often, they were bombed by the Germans. Many diseases spread and felled them. Many others died on the road injured, lice-ridden and starving. The remainder arrived in Stalingrad where they were sent to collective farms. However, they still could not rest because the Germans soon arrived in Stalingrad. The refugees, among them those from Orgeyev, were sent away to the Ural Mountains and from there to eastern Asia and Uzbekistan. Many of the refugees ended up in Tashkent where some of them were able to stay. They became day laborers and peddlers. The women worked in cotton fields. They were paid with 300 grams of wheat daily.


The Ghetto and the Lot of its Inhabitants

The lot of those who remained or returned was even worse. When the Germans and Romanians entered town on July 8-10 1941, a committee welcomed them with bread and salt. However, all members of the committee were immediately killed.

The Germans gathered the remainder into a crowded ghetto. The only food given was rotten beets and many Jews were dying of starvation on a daily basis. Some were sent to work in the fields and were killed there under the pretext that they had refused to work. The elderly and women were forced to clean toilets. One Jew who refused to get undressed when ordered by the soldiers was shot to death together with his wife. On August 6, the soldiers of the 23rd regiment of the Romanian army killed 200 Jews and threw their bodies into the Dniester. The killings were supervised by Major Phillip Baki of the Romanian army. He personally participated in the torture and murder of children.

In 1942 all residents of the ghetto were sent to Tiraspol in Transnistria. The expulsion was done to sounds of gypsy music and the elderly in the group were forced to dance. At the edge of the forest the young were separated from the elderly and they were brought to valley for torture. Many were shot to death by the soldiers who were accompanying them. One Jew who was a member of the Hevra Kaddisha was ordered to dig a grave for those killed. When he finished the task he was thrown into the grave still alive. Many others died on the way and in the camps of Transnistria. Very few survived.


The Remnants

Many of the Jews of Orgeyev who survived the war settled in Kishinev. Very few returned to Orgeyev, but other Jews from the area did settle in town.

In 1957 there were 450 Jewish families in Orgeyev. They earn their living mainly as craftsmen, clerks or are self-employed. The Kapestie synagogue was rebuilt and serves as a meeting place for the Jews. The cemetery, which was not destroyed, is in use again.


Encyclopedia: O33/1153; PKR/II


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