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10 January 2014

The Jews of Moldova

The Jewish history of Moldova dates back to the 1400's when Sephardic Jews began using the area as a trade route. These merchants needed a way to travel between the Black Sea and Poland. Present day Moldova was part of an area known as Bessarabia, which was basically the area between the Prut and Dniestr rivers. As time went on the northern and central parts of the area became home to Jewish communities. Later the communities spread throughout the area.
By the 1700's several Jewish communities 
had been established. The majority of the Jews in these communities were traders or involved in the distilling of liquor. The communities grew to the point that by 1812 their was an estimated 20,000 Jews living permanently in Moldova.
In 1812, Moldova fell under Russian rule. At the time there were over a dozen Jewish schools and 70 synagogues. The community was truly striving. By the late 1830, the Jewish population had grown to almost 100,000 and more than doubled again by the end of 19th century.
For the most part the Bessarabia region was free from the Russian anti-Jewish laws, however that began to change by about 1835, when  Bessarabia began to lose its autonomy. This led to the anti-Jewish laws being applied to all Jews, including those in Bessarabia.
 At least 4 times, in 1869, 1879, 1886 and 1891 the government issued decrees forcing the Jews out of various cities. Even with this anti-Jewish rule, the population continued to grow, and by 1900, at least half of the population of Kishinev was Jewish. However in the early 1900's tensions between the Jews and non-Jews mounted leading to the massacre of Jews that took place in 1903 and 1905 in Kishinev. These massacres, and the fact that the soldiers did nothing to stop them started the emigration of Jews out of Moldova.
The Russian Revolution brought some peace for the Jews of Bessarabia, however in 1918, Romania took control and the Jewish communities really began to prosper. The Jews received Romanian citizenship and were permitted to build schools and hospitals. By the early 1920's there were well over 125 Jewish schools and 13 Jewish hospitals. The Jewish population had now grown to over 265,000 people.
The Germans invaded Moldova in July of 1941. The majority of the Jewish community was either deported to camps or massacred on the spot. The city of Kishinev alone had over 50,000 people killed. In August of 1944, the Russians retook the area. Under the communist rule, the Jews were not allowed to practice their traditions. By 1964, all but 1 synagogue was closed.
With the fall of Communism and Civil War within the country, most of the Jewish population has now immigrated to other countries, mainly Israel and the United States. Today, because of that the Jewish population is most likely under 5,000.

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