Translation of Balti chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania
Translation of Balti chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1969
Published in Jerusalem, 1969
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
to put this material on the JewishGen web site.
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania,
Volume 2, pages 336-339, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1969
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Translated by Yossi Yaniv and Ala Gamulka In Romanian it is called Balti; in Russian - Beltsy.
Balti was a provincial capital in northern Bessarabia on the banks of the Reut River (it flows into the Dniester). It was situated at the intersection of railroads of the area. Balti was the second largest city in the region in terms of its general population as well as its Jewish population.
Beginning of the Jewish Population
The first evidence of the existence of the Jewish community in Balti is from 1768. In that year Cossack rebels arrived from Zhaporizhia and demanded of the Turkish regime to extradite all the Jews who had come to the town from Ukraine and Poland. The Turkish officers refused to fulfill the Cossacks' demand. The Cossacks killed them and set the town on fire.
In 1779 Constantine Morusu, the Moldovan ruler, gave permission to the wealthy landowner in town to settle the Jews who had come from neighboring countries. There are also some archival documents that indicate that the Jews were among the founders of Balti.
A traveler who visited Balti in 1840 describes the town as a busy center trading in animals and grain. He also mentions that most of the merchants were Jewish. The Jewish merchants also traded in clothing and they transferred goods to and from the center of town. Around the town lived Jewish farmers who owned vineyards and fruit orchards. In the second half of the 19th century the Jews established factories manufacturing oil, soap, candles and alcohol.
In 1861 there was one large synagogue and 7 small houses of worship. As the community grew, in the 1930s, there were 28 synagogues and many more houses of worship.
The Economic Situation
The Jews of Balti worked, mainly, in the grain, animals and oil trade. Some owned sheep (especially for export to Germany, Romania, England, France and the United States.) The Jewish merchants bought agricultural products from the farmers in the area and sold them in town. There was a grain exchange in town. Many Jews owned factories producing sugar, soap, oil, beer and alcohol.
In 1918- when Bessarabia was annexed by Romania- Balti became an important trade and transportation center in the area. Even though the government tried to limit the Jewish economic development the standard of living grew. All the bank branches in town were owned by Jews. These were the Bank of Romania, Bank of Bessarabia, and bank of Moldova, Credit Bank and the Bank of Marmaros-Blank. There was also a credit fund which served the merchants and craftsmen as well as a Savings and Loan Bank.
In the 1930s Bessarabia suffered an economic crisis. Many Jewish families needed social and economic support. The Jewish community opened public food kitchens and also distributed clothes to the poor. Three banks, with the support of the community, gave loans without charging interest. The Jewish craftsmen society opened (in 1930) an orphanage and (in 1935) an old people's home and two institutions to support the needy. Bikur Kholim, Gordia (sports organization) and Jewish National Fund were also active in town.
In Balti there were also a hospital, charitable organizations, a Hevra Kaddisha and a cemetery 3 km from the town center.
Education and Cultural Life in Balti
In the 19th century the Jewish children studied in the Heder while in the second half of the century the Enlightenment movement opened a Jewish Day school. Unfortunately, it did not last. In 1897 a Talmud Torah was founded for poor Jewish children. The school also provided them with food and clothes. Before World War One, Rav Shmuel Lipson opened a Yeshiva and a private boys' school.
In 1918 the Jewish Parents Society of Balti was founded. It provided new patterns for Jewish educational institutions in town. This society opened an elementary school, a gymnasium for boys and one for girls. The language of the school was mainly Hebrew, but some subjects were taught in Russian. The school emphasized Jewish studies. It was supported by tuition, the municipal council and the Joint. In the 1920s two kindergarten classes with 120 children operated within the school.
The total number of students in these institutions, united as the Hebrew Lyceum of Balti, reached 1200 annually. Although the school was recognized as an independent school, it was still part of the Tarbut network. It had its own building and included laboratories, a Hebrew library and a large general library. The Hebrew Lyceum of Balti was the largest Jewish school in Bessarabia.
Hebrew and Yiddish textbooks were published by Levtov Company. In 1935-1938 a monthly periodical in Hebrew appeared. It was called Shurot (Lines) and dealt with literature and education. Its editor was L. Coopershtein. The periodical was, at the time, the sole Hebrew publication in all of Bessarabia. The Minister of the Interior stopped its publication in 1938. In 1938-39 this prohibition was circumvented and the same editor published two Hebrew collections called Udim. In 1940 an anthology of Yiddish poetry came out.
The Zionist Movement
At the beginning of the 20th century branches of most of the Zionist parties were established, followed, a few years later, by their youth movements.
Two agricultural preparatory farms operated in Balti. Over 100 young Bessarabian Jews were trained there by an agronomist.
Brit Trumpeldor was founded in 1930 and published a periodical called Der Camper. In 1932 it also opened an institution for defence counselors. They had been trained by teachers who had received instruction in Eretz Israel.
In 1934 the national meeting of the Gordonia youth movement took place in Balti.
In the 1929 municipal elections the Jewish list won 14 delegates and Bernard Walter a Jew was nominated as vice-mayor of the city.
In the 1931 parliamentary elections the Jewish party was annulled by the government due to formal defects. Nevertheless, when the Jewish leadership tried to organize a new list all the leaders were arrested. They were only liberated after the deadline for sending the lists had passed. In 1932, the Jewish Party of Romania was founded and soon a branch was opened in Balti with the assistance of the Zionists. A new list was presented and it received 3571 votes. In 1933 10 Jews were elected to municipal council. A Jew was appointed as vice-mayor.
In the elections for the commerce and industry bureau all the Jewish members on the list were elected. The locksmiths committee had 21 Jews and 6 non-Jews. The stock market mediators committee had 8 Jews and one Christian while the grain merchants group had 10 members all Jews. The committee of bookkeepers was composed of 5 Jews and one Christian.
Relations with the Non-Jewish Population
Generally, the relations with non-Jewish population in Balti were good and were based mainly on trade relations. The commander of the Romanian forces of Calinescu was in charge of all the administrative, police and juristic authorities. He prevented anti-Semitic manifestations. The annexation by the Romanian state took place without any disturbances or attacks on the Jews. Although the government was very harsh with all the people, there were no anti-Semitic intentions in spite of the propaganda against the Jews. The Bishop of Balti, Viserion Puyu, gave a part of the church budget to the Jewish hospital. When he was appointed as the archbishop of Bukovina he gave a donation of 160 000 lei to the Jewish institutions in Balti as a parting gift.
In 1920-1921 there were several cases of arrests of Jews on made-up pretexts. In 1921 the public prosecutor insulted a Jew who was on trial. All the lawyers in town went on strike in protest. The Ministry of the Interior punished the public prosecutor.
In 1928 the poet Itzik Manger came to give lectures in town. He was arrested and was accused of being a Communist spy. When the authorities discovered the incident, the secret service officer who was involved was dismissed.
On May 8, 1930 the Koza party gathered for a meeting of 20 000 peasants from the area. At the meeting Goga and Robu incited the audience with anti-Semitic speeches. However, the local police did not allow riots to erupt and saved the Jews.
On May 15, 1930 the Jewish cemetery was desecrated. A month later, on June 16, 50 hooligans attacked the Jewish houses on Market Street and on Gypsies Street. They broke windows, beat and injured Jews. That year there were many violent incidents against Jews in the streets.
Jewish students were expelled from the schools. Christian students beat the Jewish ones. When the Jewish High school students tried to participate in national Romanian ceremonies they were attacked and the Romanian flags were taken from them.
Incidents like these were the catalyst for pogroms against the Jews in the streets. The Jews had to prepare to defend themselves. There were meetings in all the synagogues and a committee was struck for self-defence.
The mayor of Balti went with a Jewish delegation to the Ministry of the Interior in Bucharest to ask for help against the hooligans in the streets. The Minister sent some clerks to investigate, but they threatened the Jewish leaders not to react to the pogroms. The public prosecutor himself participated in the riots and did not allow the Jews to defend themselves. He and other hooligans were arrested, but they were freed after a short time.
The Jewish schools were closed and the Jewish members of parliament begged the Minister of Education, Dr. Kostekestu, leader of the peasants' party, to reopen the schools. He said that the schools will reopen only on one condition: `They will teach what I order them to teach, not what they want to teach. `
In the villages, the Jews also suffered anti-Semitic incitements and pogroms as well as arrests. In Rozoia, a village 17km from Balti, homes of the ten Jewish families living there were destroyed. The Jewish party succeeded in bringing the culprits to trial.
The Jews of Balti tried to react to the persecution of the Jews in Germany by boycotting German goods and by trying to involve Romanian public opinion.
In 1932 Vladimir Novicov, a follower of Koza, was elected senator from Balti. He began a vigorous propaganda among the peasants. He made them vote for the anti-Semitic list of Koza. He promised that the Jews would be expelled and their property would be given to the peasants. On the other hand, the governor of the town threatened to expel the Jews if they did not vote for the government.
The instigators included some priests and a bishop who had been elected head of the National Christian Party. Many peasants joined Koza due to his influence. Some changed their minds and a fight ensued. As a result, a church was destroyed.
During the persecution Jews were dismissed from their jobs and their economic situation worsened. The community opened soup kitchens and organized legal help for the Jews who lost their citizenship. In 1938 all Jewish workers on the railroad were dismissed. The fact that the situation, emotional and social, was so poor can be evidenced by the fact that a Jewish woman who been on the job for many years committed suicide when she lost her job.
After the annexation of Bessarabia by the Soviets in 1940, the first Russian soldiers entered Balti on the 28th day of July 1940. The Jews were fortunate that the retreating Romanian army did not touch them. Many Jews, especially the wealthier ones, abandoned their homes and properties and escaped to Bukovina. In the beginning, the Soviets treated the Jews fairly, but soon they closed all the Jewish community offices and the Jewish schools. Instead, they opened public schools under their supervision. The properties of the industrialists, bankers, merchants and store owners were confiscated by the government and nationalized. Many Jews became impoverished and were without any income.
Six months after the entrance of the Soviets, Zionist leaders and bourgeois Jews were expelled from the city. Young men from the Communist Party (Comsomol) came to their houses in the middle of the night. They had prepared a list of names and they separated women from their husbands and children from their parents. All the Jews 2000 strong- were taken to the train station and sent to Siberia. On the train cars a sign saying travelers of their free will was hung. In the station, loud music was played to drown out the sounds of the crying children and women.
When war broke out between Germany and Russia in June 1941, two-thirds of the houses in town were destroyed by bombing from the air. Every afternoon the planes would come and bomb the town. Fires extended from one quarter to another. The Jewish quarters were especially hit. In the evenings, the planes returned to bomb again.
Many Jews were killed and others escaped to nearby villages. In Balti, only the elderly and the sick remained in their homes. The Jewish fugitives could not take with them their few valuables. Those who did were robbed. Romanian peasants and soldiers on their way to conquer Balti robbed, killed and raped. Thousands of Jews who tried to hide in the villages were killed.
On July 7, 1941 in the village of Vlad, near Balti, gangs of Romanian peasants, armed with sticks and scythes, attacked places where Jews were hiding. They robbed and killed them. Those who had some valuables with them were beaten and their hiding place was burnt.
On the next day, July 8, a unit of 20 Romanian soldiers, on their way from Taura Veche to Taura Noua, encountered a group of Jewish fugitives (42 adults and 8 children). They forced them to undress, took all their valuables and pushed them into a swamp. They forced them to lie down so their faces would be covered with swamp water. They then shot the adults and beat the children to death. Only two young women were saved by German soldiers and were taken by them to hospital in Chiscareni.
Balti was conquered on July 9 by Division #11 under the command of German General Von Schubert. He established his headquarters there. The town was conquered with the help of the Romanian army.
Colonel Von Kuler and Captain Frast and the German military police commanders called on the Jews to return to town from the villages.
814 Jews were sent to do forced labor. The only group that was not sent to Transnistria was brought to Giurgiu. The rest of the Jews who had returned from the villages were put into two camps. One was on the grounds of the Moldova Bank and the other in the Temporary Prison.
On July 10th the Romanian army gathered 400 Jews in town in order to shoot them. The German commander was opposed to this because he feared losing discipline among his soldiers. It was then agreed that only 50 Jews would be killed. On July 11th 10 more Jews were brought to the church yard and they were shot. The excuse was that the Jews had shot at the German soldiers.
Captain Frast ordered a committee of 12 members to be established. It was to be headed by Bernard Walter. The committee looked after food and sanitation in the two camps. On July 15 the committee was brought to headquarters. Captain Frast demanded of the committee to bring him a list of 20 Communist Jews who would be shot. If the committee refused to do it the Germans would kill them and other Jews. The committee refused to oblige and they were all arrested.
On the same day, the Jews on the grounds of the Moldova Bank who had some valuables on them were assembled near the fence and were then tortured in front of their families. The German soldiers even took photos of the whole scene. Then the Germans brought another group of 44 Jews (among them the members of the Jewish Committee). They were made to climb on two trucks and taken to the Plaminda quarry outside the town. There they were divided into 3 groups and forced to dig their own graves. When they finished digging they had to lie down in the graves where they were shot. Some died immediately, but others were who were injured begged the soldiers to shoot again to stop their suffering. The last group covered the bodies with earth. Only Bernard Walter was left alive due to the intervention of Romanian government officials.
On July 15th 1941 the Germans killed 20 Jews in the churchyard claiming the Jews had shot at German soldiers.
At the end of July the German military units and the Gestapo left town. The Jews were left in the hands of the Romanian Captain Ion Gradu and Major Falescu (military police commander), Dmitri Agape (police chief), Moria Filipescu and Vasily Sprechgiliu (secret police).
Soon, Captain Ion Gradu transferred the Balti Jews to a camp near the Rautel forest 12 km away. The Jews were imprisoned there in very difficult conditions surrounded by soldiers who guarded them. Starvation and disease produced many victims. The Jews were not even allowed to buy food from the peasants in the area. The mayor, Arlitsianu, sent daily two sacks of corn meal, oil and vegetables for the exiles.
On August 30th only 3000 Jews remained alive. They were taken to Marculest (40 km from Rautel forest). On the way they were not given any food or water and the peasants were not allowed to give them any. Many died on the way and those who did survive were taken to Transnistria.
After the war those responsible for these events were accused of murdering 100 Jews and sending 30 others into the hands of the Nazis. They were put on trial in Bucharest. All, except one, were given life sentences and sent to do hard labor. Sprechgiliu was given a sentence of three years.
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