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.
Thanks for this moving post. Since my grandparents were in the Holocaust, it has special meaning for me. When I was in Europe, I noticed that so many of the Jewish cemeteries were in a state of disrepair. I wonder what it would mean (the significance for us internationally as well as for the locals) if volunteer groups gathered together to clean up these cemeteries throughout Europe.
I know in Moldova the small Jewish community there is trying to restore some of the other synagogues in town that have not been in use. In Moldova, as I suspect in many of the neighboring countries, it can be difficult as there are so few Jewish people living there. For locals, it’s a part of a tough and complex history that’s difficult or simply easier not to acknowledge.