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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into the rich Jewish heritage of these two European cities.
This AudioWalk on Jewish life of Chişinău in the 20th century was developed and produced by the Jewish historical institute Centropa and the Büro für Erinnerungskultur Babenhausen.
The AudioWalk, which was developed in cooperation with the Jewish community of Chișinău, Maghid – Jewish Heritage Moldova and EcoVisio, uses archive material that was historical research by Irina Shikhova, Diana Dumitru, Holger Köhn, Christian Hahn and Maximilian von Schoeler.
The AudioWalk focuses on various locations of Jewish life; and offers users an insight into the Jewish history of Chișinău. The AudioWalk combines the historical context with personal stories shared by thirteen Jewish Holocaust survivors who were interviewed by Centropa. They take us to the Chișinău of their childhood and youth – and they share with us the unique atmosphere of this multi-ethnic city before World War II. We also learn about the horrors of the war, the years under Soviet rule until 1991, and the revival of Jewish life after Moldova´s independence.
This very personal insight into the life of Jews from Chișinău brings the Jewish history of this city back to life by linking the past with the present. Jews have been living in Chişinău since at least the beginning of the 18th century. In 1774, around 600 Jews lived in the Moldovan city, which had about 7,000 inhabitants by 1800. At the time, the small town was under Ottoman sovereignty. Between 1812 and 1918, Chişinău then belonged to the Russian Empire, and was the administrative seat of Bessarabia.
Chişinău was a multi-ethnic city where Jews, Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, as well as Poles, Germans, Armenians, Greeks and Roma lived. The city grew rapidly in the 19th century – and the Jewish share of the population grew as well : In 1847, over 10,000 Jews lived in Chişinău, which corresponded to a share of about 12 percent of the total population; by the 1897 census, when the city officially had around 108,000 inhabitants, the number of Jews had quintupled to over 50,000. At the turn of the century, Jews were the largest population group in Chişinău.
With the industrialization, factories sprung up that were largely Jewish-owned. But the workforce was also largely Jewish. Jews were represented in all walks of life, and the Jewish community played an essential role in the development and the social and economic life of the city.
The anti-Jewish pogroms in 1903 and 1905 had far-reaching consequences for Jewish life in Chişinău. There were already anti-Semitic riots in the Russian Empire in the 1880s, but not as dramatic as the excesses of violence around Easter 1903, when 49 Jews were killed, over 600 injured, hundreds of houses and businesses were destroyed and burnt down. The Chişinău pogroms represented a turning point far beyond Bessarabia. In the following pogroms in 1905 another 19 Jews were killed. The impact on Jewish life in Chişinău is discussed in the AudioWalk.
During World War One, Jews were victims of Russian governmental policies and mass deportations from the war zones. From 1918 Chişinău belonged to the Kingdom of Romania. Although Jews were discriminated against by the Romanian administration, Jewish community life flourished in the interwar period.
David Wainshelboim, born in Chişinău in 1928, shares his childhood memories of Jewish life in the 1930s in his interview with Centropa:
Chişinău was a rather big city, when I was a child. It had a Moldovan, Russian, Jewish, Greek, Armenian, Bulgarian, Polish population. We lived in the Jewish area in the central part of the town. Jews were involved in crafts and trades, there were also Jewish doctors and lawyers, and 65 synagogues and prayer houses. Besides religious institutions there were Jewish schools for boys and girls, children’s homes for orphan children and children from poor families, elderly people’s homes, a Jewish hospital and a developed charity network. Young Jews were fond of Zionist ideas. Although we observed traditions and celebrated holidays, my father very much believed in science and education. He belonged to the progressive Jewish intelligentsia and worked as a children’s doctor.
Polina Leibovich also tells us about the busy and complex Jewish life in Chişinău during her childhood:
There was an upper and a lower town. The lower town was a poor and dirty neighborhood. The upper town was a fashionable place. There were posh stores on Aleksandrovskaya Street. One of the biggest stores was the Barbalat garment store. […] Its owners shipped their goods from France and other European countries. […] These stores were for wealthy people. There were also small stores. Most of them belonged to Jewish owners, but there were also Russian-owned stores. […] Chişinău residents used to walk along Aleksandrovskaya Street near the Triumphalnaya Arc. Mothers and nannies took little children for walks on the boulevard.
Starting in the summer of 1940, Soviet authorities controlled Chişinău for one year. Over one thousand Jews were deported to Siberia, particularly Zionists and well-to-do business people. On July 16, 1941, German and Romanian troops arrived in the city. Hundreds of Jews were murdered in the following months, over 11,000 forced into the ghetto erected, and deported from there to Transnistrian camps. Only few Jews from Chişinău survived these camps.
After the war, there were around 5,000 Jews in Chişinău. In Soviet times, only one synagogue existed in the city, and Jewish life was suppressed, although the number of Jews living in Chişinău grew to 50,000 in 1970. In the 1970s, thousands of Jews emigrated, mostly to Israel. When Moldova declared its independence in 1991, approximately 35,000 Jews lived in the capital.
Today, only a few thousand Jews remain. Since 1989, however, Jewish community life has again become more vibrant. This is also thanks to the support by Jewish aid organizations. Throughout the city, monuments and memorials serve as reminders of the once prosperous Jewish life in Chişinău — and of the darkest moments in the city´s Jewish history.
Explore the rich Jewish history of Chişinău – we hope you will enjoy our AudioWalk!