The Vanishing Jews of Transnistria

Sept. 24 2019

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a small sliver of land on the east bank of the Dniester River broke away from the newly independent republic of Moldova and declared itself an independent state. A brief war established the new borders of Transnistria—as this new country styled itself—and since then it has functioned independently even if neither the UN nor any of its members recognize it as such. Supported by Moscow, it serves as a pro-Russian outpost on Ukraine’s western border. Transnistria’s Jews suffered extreme brutality during the Holocaust, and now the remnants of the Jewish community are leaving, writes Cnaan Lipshiz:

Of the eleven synagogues in [the capital] Tiraspol before the fall of Communism, only one remains. Housed in a residential building, a graying group of about a dozen men and women convenes there every Sunday. The younger generation consists of fewer than ten people.

Nowadays, freedom of worship is assured to Transnistrian Jews and anti-Semitism is marginal, local Jews say. But many still want to leave for economic reasons. Salaries here are half those on offer in Moldova, Europe’s poorest nation.

A 1930 census of Bender, [another Transnistrian city, then part of Romania], reported that half of its residents said their mother tongue was Yiddish. Thousands of non-Jews also spoke the language because of their close work and trade with Jews. . . . Most of the city’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust and the few survivors emigrated as soon as they could. None of Bender’s dozen synagogues is still in use.

As in Transnistria, Moldova’s Jewish population has also been decimated by mass emigration. Still, Jewish life has survived far better there, in part because it has absorbed some of the thousands of Jews who have left Transnistria. Chisinau [formerly Kishinev], Moldova’s capital, has four synagogues and about 3,500 members of its Jewish community.

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More about: East European Jewry, Russia, Ukraine

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