Going deeper into Chişinău’s Jewish past

Day 2 of our trip through Bessarabia. The Jewish cemetery is certainly the most significant legacy of the Jews of Chişinău. In a long walk, we explored it.

In response to my yesterday’s post about the fragments of Jewish gravestones in the wall of the Christian cemetery of Chişinău (Kishinev) I received several interesting messages, of which I would like to share two.

Mordecai Lapidot has compiled some facts about the Jewish history of Chişinău and Bessarabia. They are important to understand the background of our present journey. That’s what Mordecai wrote:

You have arrived in a city that has a very sad history with regard to its multi-ethnicity on the one hand and the fate of its Jewish community on the other. About 113 years ago, on 6 April 1903, a riot against Jews broke out based on one of the infamous blood libels (It was Easter Sunday, I believe) and 49  Jews were murdered as well as over two hundred wounded. (…) It had a terrible effect on the world wide Jewish community and in particular on that in Russia and Eastern Europe. I would say it was one of the strong factors that strengthened the fledgling urge of Jews in that region to flee the pogroms towards America and Palestine. (…) How sad that a more horrible fate awaited the Bessarabian Jewish community only 38 years later, when it was deported almost in its entirety (…) to Transnistria, where hundreds of thousand perished. I suppose you will encounter quite a number of Memorial plaques and Monuments commemorating these atrocities while you wander through Bessarabia. But you will also find perhaps other relics of this once flourishing Jewish community.

This explains the background, why you can find Jewish gravestones in the wall of the Christian cemetery. From Iosif Vaisman I learned more about the details of the destruction of the old Jewish cemetery and therefore I share his message too:

The old Kishinev Jewish cemetery which was established in early 19th century is located on Strada Milano, north-west of city center. It was damaged during the WWII and in 1958 the larger (eastern) part of the cemetery was completely destroyed. The gravestones from the destroyed part were used to build the walls around other city cemeteries (that’s what you photographed) and pave the walkways in the city parks. The destroyed part of Jewish cemetery is currently Park Alunelul, fragments of the gravestones can be seen in some parts of park protruding from the ground.

Thank you Mordecai and Iosif, for sharing your knowledge with us! Everything you described, we found confirmed when we met today with Irina Shihova, the director of the Jewish Museum in Chişinău. Irina was so kind to take us with her for a walk through the two Jewish cemeteries. The older one was completely destroyed, only single stumps can be found. From there are the fragments that we saw in the Christian cemetery.

The newer cemetery is not far away on the top of a hill. Irina pointed to the names on the gravestones. We read Finkelstein, Cleiman, Bronstein. “One finds this name only on the gravestones of the cemetery now,” said Irina, “they are no longer to be heard in the streets of the city”. We passed the ruins of the former mortuary and found fragments of gravestones in the cemetery wall again. “That was state-organized vandalism” said Irina, referring the destruction of the older cemetery in 1958. At the mortuary Irina showed us holes in the wall. “Those are bullet holes, here people were shot – probably not Jews, who in 1943 had already been deported.”

At the outer end of the cemetery is his eldest part; it is also the part which is in the worst condition. The stones are all very similar – little decoration, large letters. They have something archaic. In a remote corner we met an old woman. “Since 40 or 50 years, she comes here every day and works a bit” said Irina. Today she has brought food for puppies that were born between the gravestones. Silently we went back to the entrance. What a place! Thank you, Irina, for taking us with you!

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