One of the odd facts about Moldova is that it’s home to Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery. On the outskirts of the capital city, Chisinau, it’s a place many Moldovans I spoke with vaguely knew existed but had never visited. In a city with so few sites of touristic interest it was a bit stunning that this place where 23,500 people lay is nearly forgotten.
Prior to World War II, Moldova (then “Moldavian SSR“) was home to nearly 110,000 Jewish people before the Axis powers in 1941, including Romania, began an invasion of the Soviet Union. Estimates of the those who died as part of the Holocaust during the 3 years before the Soviets were able to occupy present-day Moldova vary widely. According to the Romanian government, 280,000-380,000 Jews may have been killed in what is a very complicated regional story. Like the history of this synagogue, only pieces of the story remain. And it seems there may not be enough left for it ever to be accurately reassembled.
Walking around the grounds of the cemetery can easily take more than an hour as it did for me; especially if you walk toward the graves that are quietly being eaten by the surrounding earth and trees deep inside. Several headstones stuck out, a pilot’s with a large propeller atop for instance, along with this synagogue that barely remains. Aside from the few beers bottles around and those who had drank them, it’s evident these graves don’t get many visitors.
Entry to the cemetery is free and to find the synagogue you’ll have to make an immediate left and walk about 10 minutes following the exterior wall.