Monday, May 16, 2011

Moldova -- Survey of Jewish Heritage Sites is Now Online

Ruined synagogue, Vadul Rashkov. Photo: U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The first and most complete survey of Jewish heritage sites in Moldova has been published online on the website of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. It includes synagogue buildings, Jewish cemeteries, Holocaust memorials and sites of mass burials, Jewish communal buildings and other sites.

The survey was carried out by Igor Teper, and Sam Gruber, who oversaw the survey, carries a long report on the process -- with lots of pictures -- on his blog.
Few countries in Central and Eastern Europe have as rich a Jewish history and collection of Jewish history sites as small Moldova, nestled in between Romania and Ukraine. Long a crossroads of cultures, modern Moldova today, however, is little known and rarely mentioned. Jewish communities and Jewish heritage sites in neighboring countries garner more attention and more tourists, though most of the Jewish sites in the region are starved for funds for basic maintenance, let alone restoration. Seven years ago the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage, of which I was Research Director, teamed with the Joint Distribution Committee to identify, document and survey as many Jewish historical and Holocaust-related sites as possible within a year.
 Sam also posts his introduction to the Survey -- a summary of the history of Jewish sites in Moldova, as well as the typology of sites and their condition.

Prior to the Holocaust, the area that is present-day Moldova was home to a thriving Jewish culture that built and maintained a large number of community buildings for religious, educational, and charitable purposes. In addition, there were many Jewish cemeteries throughout the country serving Jewish communities. The second half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries witnessed the greatest growth of organized Jewish institutions and that is the period from which most surviving buildings date. These include synagogues and community buildings such as schools, hospitals, and old age homes. Some of these institutional buildings are the Jewish sites that have survived best because the facilities have been most easily adapted and reused by successor institutions, often providing services similar to the original.

The destruction wrought during the Holocaust, when German and Romanian occupiers destroyed many synagogues and other Jewish sites, was severe. Further destruction continued during the nearly half century of Soviet rule when scores of buildings were either demolished outright, or were destroyed over time by neglect; and when hundreds of buildings were confiscated by the state and adapted to new uses. It is only in the past several years that efforts have begun to identify all these sites. One important reason is to negotiate the return of many community properties to the Jewish community, or to arrange for proper financial compensation for many others which are not easily returned.

 My friend, the Swiss diplomat Simon Geissbuhler, has written about some of these places in his book "Like Shells on a Shore: Synagogues and Jewish Cemeteries of Northern Moldavia."

Bob Cohen posted a wonderful description on his Dumneazu blog about going home to his ancestral shtetls, Telenesti and Orhei.

Jewish cemetery, Telenesti. Photo; U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad

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