Discover Jewish life in Chişinău
This AudioWalk brings Chişinău’s Jewish history back to life. Explore the unique atmosphere of this multi-ethnic city, which was known for its large and vibrant Jewish community. Places of violence as well as cultural exchange become visible, as you listen to the memories of thirteen Jewish Holocaust survivors. Their personal stories, which they shared in Centropa interviews, connect the past with the present and guide you through the city.
The Chişinău AudioWalk was developed by Centropa, the Büro für Erinnerungskultur, the Jewish community of Moldova, Irina Shikhova from Maghid – Jewish Heritage Moldova and EcoVisio.
About the Chișinău AudioWalk
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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. 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 Second World War, however, thousands of those who had been evacuated before the war, returned to their home. 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!
All stations from the Chișinău Audiowalk
“This cemetery was demolished after the war when Soviet authorities were trying to destroy the memory of the Jews who lived in this town. Now there is a park on the spot, which has almost become part of the center of Chişinău.” – Boris Dorfman
This monument commemorates the violent events during the antisemitic pogroms of 1903.
„I remember well that on holidays my father put on his black suit and went to the Choral synagogue, the biggest synagogue in Chişinău, with my mother […] The synagogue was very beautiful and there were many people in it“ – Bella Chanina
The Gleizer Shil played an important role for Jewish life after 1945, since Chişinău’s Jews were only allowed to use one religious room during the times of the communist government.
The former Lemnaria Synagogue was constructed in 1835 and was one of the city’s central synagogues for over 100 years. Today, it is the home of the Jewish community, a Jewish cultural center as well as various Jewish charities and youth organizations.
“Alexandrovskaya Street was paved with gravel like the majority of the streets in Chişinău, and there was a tram running there. There were one- storied houses, some of them were nice. There were many shops owned by Jews on Alexandrovskaya Street.“ – Zlata Tkach
The former Jewish hospital was founded in 1817. As the Jewish Community grew, it was expanded and included a poor house and a synagogue until the hospital’s nationalization in 1940.
The orphanage for Jewish girls opened in 1920 and was the home of Centropa interviewee Shlima Goldstein until its closure in 1940.
The building of “Liceul Dadiani” was erected in 1901 as a girls’ high school. After the second World War, it served as the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party until 1964.
“After graduating from elementary school, I went to the French Jeanne D’Arc gymnasium. It was a private gymnasium, the most prestigious and the most expensive in town.” – Polina Leibovich
The girl’s grammar school “Regina Maria” was founded in 1864 as a private school for girls from distinguished families in Chişinău. Among their students were Centropa interviewees Sarra Shpitalnik and Zlata Tkach.
In 1941 over 11,000 Jews – men, women and children – were rapidly forced into the ghetto. This monument was erected in their memory in 1993.
A stumbling stone, embedded in the wide sidewalk, commemorates Moise Berliand, who was deported to and murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The school was founded in 1885 on the initiative of Bessarabian elites and played an important role for the poorest Jewish families: The training was free, the best students received fellowships, and the school organized free summer camps.
“Young people went for walks in the town park where there was a monument of Stefan the Great. I liked going to this park to sit on a bench with a book and then I secretly watched the enamored couples.” – Polina Leibovich
The monument, erected in 1982, commemorates the Jewish victims of fascism throughout Bessarabia.
A stumbling stone, embedded in the wide sidewalk, commemorates Bunia Bron (1890 – 1941).
Villa Kligman was the home of one of the most famous Jewish families from Chişinău. It was built in 1898 on behalf of the lawyer Moses Kligman.
Only an imposing ruin testifies to the building of the former poor house, built at the beginning of the 20th century.