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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.
Today, this building is the home of the Anton Chekhov Theater, which presents plays in Russian; but until 1940, this is where the cantor of the Choral Synagogue used to sing. The synagogue was opened in September 1913. As part of the festivities, those who were present sang “God, protect the tsar!” – the hymn of the Russian Empire.
Historical photos show the imposing building, which was also called the choral temple, as a typical synagogue building of that time, with a dome and facade in Moorish style. Rows of dark stones and light-colored bricks gave the synagogue its striking appearance. Nothing of that can be seen today.
Originally built as part of the Jewish community´s Talmud Tora School, the synagogue quickly became a central religious site for Jews in Chişinău. Bella Chanina, born in 1923, described in her Centropa interview how important the Choral synagogue was to her family:
My parents always celebrated Jewish holidays. 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. My father had a small tallit that he put on on holidays. Sometimes they took me with them. I sat on the balcony with my mother. The synagogue was very beautiful and there were many people in it. The rabbi of the Choral synagogue, Izhak Zirelson, was a public activist. He was a deputy to the Romanian Parliament. I saw him, but I don’t remember what he looked like. Zirelson perished in the first days of the war. They said, a bomb hit his apartment.
Riva Belfor, born in 1934, also remembered religious life in Chişinău before World War Two:
In 1939 our family moved to Chişinău. There was a vacant position for a shochet, a ritual animal slaughterer. We rented a small three-room apartment. There was a shed in the yard where my father did his job. My elder brother Motle helped my father so he could learn from him. Motle finished cheder, which was customary for the boys. Father and Grandfather Ihil spent a lot of time teaching him. My brother prepared for his bar mitzvah, and the rite was carried out by Rabbi Zirelson in the Choral Synagogue. After that Motle went to a yeshivah, where he was taught by educated and religious Jews such as Rabbi Zirelson and Uncle Joseph Epelbaum.
The Choral Synagogue was barely damaged during the war, and the Shoah survivors who stayed in Chișinău hoped to use the building again as a religious center – but to no avail. The Russian Anton Chekhov Theater received the former synagogue building as a venue.
In 1966 the building was completely rebuilt, in the spirit of Soviet rationalism. That´s why the current building of the Anton Chekhov Theater has nothing in common with the building from 1913 – apart from the location.