Sunday, August 30, 2015

Romanian Jews -Part of Ottoman Empire

Nadene Goldfoot
Romania, a part of Eastern Europe, had stone age cavemen who were hunters living there in about 8,000 BCE.  That was way before Abraham who was born about 2,000 BCE of the 2nd millennium BCE.  These cave people learned to farm and then to make bronze tools, then finally iron.  In 600 BCE the ancient Greeks traded with these Getae who founded settlements on the coast of Romania.

 The Romans called them Dacians.  Trajan, the Roman Emperor in 101-102 fought against them, By 105-106 they crushed the Dacians.  Afterwards they became a Roman province.  People from other parts of the Roman Empire were brought in to live there and the locals became "Romanized."  They spoke Latin.  By the 3rd century, the cost of defense was too great and Emperor Akurelian removed the Roman soldiers to south of the Danube.
Waves of new immigrants came to Romania.  The 5th century saw the Huns arriving.  The Avars followed in the 6th century and in the 7th were the Slavs.  A feudal order was created.  In the 10th century, the Magyars, a fierce people who were ancestors of the modern Hungarians, arrived in Transylvania, but most of the population were Romanian peasants.  Germans had also been persuaded to live there.  Radu Negru in 1310-1352 united some Romanians and formed Wallachia.   Jews were one of the first to settle in the land to become Romania.  A major wave of Jewish immigrants came upon Wallachia, which is a Romanian principality founded around 1290 after being expelled from Hungary in 1367.  After that they were among the first settlers of the city of Roman in 1391.

Later in the 14th century, Moldavia, another principality, was formed.  The peasants became surfs which were between slaves and freemen, and were ruled by aristocrats called boyars.  The 15th century brought the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.  Both Wallachia and Moldavia fought the Turks and Vlad the Impaler.
Jew of the Ottoman Empire
The 16th century had Transylvania becoming part of the Turkish -Ottoman Empire with a little autonomy of their own.  In 1593, Michael the Brave became ruler of Wallachia and he fought and defeated the Turks in 1595.  Then in 1499 he defeated the Transylvanians and became the prince of Transylvania.  In 1600 he conquered Moldavia and was its prince, also.  Then this brave man was killed in 1601 and the union of the 3 places ended.  There were Jewish communities in several Moldavian towns such as Jassy "Iasi," Botosani, Suceava, and Siret.  After the Chmielnicki massacres in 1648-49 it caused more intensive waves of Jews to enter Romania.  By 1683 the Turks were defeated at Vienna and in 1687 the rulers of Austria, the Hapsburgs, took Transylvania.

During this period, some Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition came to Walachia from the Balkan Peninsula.  A few were physicians and even diplomats at the court of the sovereigns of Walachia.  Walachia just happened to be sitting on the trade routes between Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire.  Many Jewish merchants traveled through Moldavia, the 2nd Romanian principality in the northeast which was founded in the middle of the 1350s.  Some settled there and were favorably received by the rulers of this less populated principality.

During the 1500s Joseph Nasi and Solomon Ashkenazi were important Jews of this era.  It was to be 100 more years when Jews would receive legal status from the princes.
The 17th century brought domination by the Turkish Ottoman Empire to Wallachia and Moldavia.  By the 18th century, they had puppet rulers under Turkish control.  So while the Pale of Settlement was under Russian control, Romania was under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire. Ukraine and Belarus were part of the Pale of Settlement.  The 1700s brought in Moldavian rulers who granted special charters just to attract the Jews. By 1740 there were important Jewish communitires at Bacau, Barland, Galati, and Roman.   While Jews were living in Poland, they were sold a bill of goods about the advantages of living in in Moldavia like exemption from taxes, land for synagogues, ritual baths and cemeteries.  They were invited either to re-establish war-ravaged towns like Suceava in 1761 or to enlarge others like Focsani in 1796. 

Jews suffered a great deal from both sides in the many Russo-Turkish wars taking place in Romania.  between 1769 and 1812.  Large numbers of Jews came from Poland to the region, especially to Moldavia and played an important part in transforming the old feudal system into a modern economy.  From Russian occupation in 1828 to 1916, Jews were subject to discriminatory legislation, violence and arbitrary expulsions.  They were divided into foreign subjects, under protection of a foreign consul, and native born, to whom citizenship was also refused.  There were 200 laws just for Jews that made it difficult for them to earn a livelihood, and there was no unemployment insurance as the USA has.  

1860 to 1806 was a liberal period towards Jews, but anti-Semitism became a part of internal Romanian policy.  Even the Americans noticed this in 1872 when the US representative in Paris  termed the Romanian persecution of the Jews a  disgrace to Christian civilization.  

The Berlin Treaty of 1878 was created which demanded equal treatment for the Jews.  This was evaded on the pretext that even the native born were not Romanian citizens.  Jews tried but failed to bribe the officials.  Most of the Jews were very religious, Hasidim, and bitterly fought any attempts at modernization.

 The Jews were encouraged by the landowner to found commercial centers, the so-called burgs.  One nice privilege offered was the right to be represented on the local council.  Sometimes the Romanians tried to attract other Jews from over the borders.  When Bukovina was annexed by Austria, their neighbor in 1775 and Bessarabia by Russia in 1812, the Jews from these countries preferred to move to Romanian Moldavia where they were not harassed by the authorities and had both family and business connections.

Jewish merchants exported leather, cattle and corn.  Many of the Jews were craftsmen, such as furriers, tailors, boot makers, tinsmiths and watchmakers.

Cuza brought reforms in Romania including abolishing serfdom.  He was, however, very unpopular with conservatives and in 1866 was overthrown.  Prince Carol replaced him.  Finally, in 1881, Romania became a kingdom with Carol I its first king.                        

Jewish family in the 1880s in Romania

Romanian Jews left for Palestine as told in the book, THE SETTLERS by Meyer Levin, a novel based on facts, where Russian Jews met up with Romanian Jews as neighbors at the turn of the century.  More than 70,000 Jews left Romania from 1900 to 1906.  After WWI, from 1918 to 1919, equal rights were granted to Jews, but anti-Semitism continued anyway.  Aaron Aaronsohn, famous botanist who moved to Palestine in the 1896 at age 20 and came from Bacau, Romania.  He discovered the original mother of  all wheat plant  in Palestine.
1942 and these Romanian children were discovered in Paris and deported to be killed.  
Henric Streitman, Romanian Labor camp where Jews slaved, Spring 1944
 Hitler's effect all over Europe too effect and in 1937 the Octavian Goga of the National Christian party led to a series of anti-Semitic decrees.  Jews could have no citizenship.  They were deprived of their Hebrew and Yiddish press and the opportunity to practice their professions.  Massacres took place after 1940.  This is when ordinances like the Nuremberg Laws were in effect.
 800,000 Jews were in Romania at the start of WWII.  385,000 had been exterminated before liberation in 1945.  Here in July 1941, the Germans had done their damage and left Balti Jews in the hands of the Romanians when they left.
 There were then 400,000 Jews since some returned from Aushchwitz and Transnistria and 50,000 from Soviet-annexed territory at the end of WWII in 1945.  .
Now abandoned with only 50 Jews remaining after a population of 2500 in 1941, the Grand Synagogue in Constanta, Romania, built in 1911.  
 Communism was another danger that came along by 1946 which led to a liquidation of Jewish organizational life.  From 1948 to 1952, the government stopped emigration.  125,000 had left for Israel.  At first the Romanian government treated the Jews harshly, but as they became independent, their attitude was more relaxed.  The same treatment happened with Israel.  I remember buying Romanian jam in the supermarket, so there was trade going on, a good sign, or it could have been Bulgarian, too.

Romania had become the only eastern European country that maintained relations with Israel after the 6 Day War of 1967.  

By 1991, less than 20,000 Jews were still living in Romania.
Update:  4:46pm  Jews were required to keep birth, death and marriage registers in 1831, and many had been doing so voluntarily earlier.  Jewish communities were required to keep such lists in about 1850.  Registers were not required in Transylvania which was part of Hungary until 1895.

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia by Tim Lambert
Novel, THE SETTLERS by Meyer Levin
Finding Our Fathers-a guidebook to Jewish genealogy by Dan Rottenberg

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