History of the Moldovan Jewish Community
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History of the Moldovan Jewish Community

The first Jewish communities appeared on the territory of today’s Moldova in the 14th century. By the end of the 18th century numerous Ashkenazi Jewish settlements had appeared in the state, their inhabitants mostly dealing in commerce. In 1812, the territory between the Prut and the Dniester was annexed by Russia and named the province of Bessarabia. In 1917-1918 this territory proclaimed itself the independent democratic Moldavian Republic which joined  Romania in 1918. In 1940, the territory of Bessarabiajoined the USSR as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, situated mostly within the former province, except Budjak in the south and Khotin district in the north, belonging to the Ukrainian SSR. In 1991 the Moldavian SSR declared its independence and took the name of the Republic of Moldova.

Out of all the regions of the former USSR, this one had the highest density of Jewish population, estimated at 10.6% of all its population. According to the first general census in 1897, there were 228.2 thousand Jews living in the province of Bessarabia. After the USSR annexation in 1940 there were about 350,000 Jews in Moldova. 263 thousand Jews, both local and brought in from other Eastern European states, were killed in the Holocaust in Moldova and the so-called Transnistria – the territory between the Dniester and the Southern Bug.

In 1959 there were 95,100 Jews residing in the Moldavian SSR, with Yiddish as the native language for more than half of them. According to Soviet censuses, the Jewish population of the republic decreased consistently since 1970: there were 98,000 Jews in 1970, 80,042 – in 1979, and 65,672 – in 1989.

About 50,000 Jews left the state during the period of mass emigration in the late 1980s – early 1990s. A significant part of the Bendery Jewish community (about 1,400 people) was evacuated to Israel in the heat of the Transnistria conflict in June 1992. Currently the Jewish population of Moldova is estimated at 15,000 with 7,000 living in Chisinau, 1,000 – in Beltsy, and about 2,000 in the unrecognized Moldovan Republic of Transnistria.