Thursday, November 11, 2010


      I wanted to describe our visit to Moldova on our recent Eastern European trip. Also here are a few photos of the country.
Soroca, Moldova, built on the hills overlooking the Dniester River. Note the Communist style housing on the hillside. Soroca is built on several hills along the Dniester River.

     Our visit to Moldova was very personal in multiple ways. The country currently called Moldova  is located between the Prut and Dniester Rivers, and is bordered by Romania on the west and by Ukraine on the north, east and south. During its complex history this area has changed hands between Romania and Russia many times. It was also under the influence of the Ottoman Turks though not occupied by this Empire. In the early millenia of the Common Era, this area was part of Moldavia which with Wallachia and Transylvania made up the Romanian monarchy. This area between the Prut and Dniester was called Bessarabia after one of the first ruling dynasties founded by Basarab the Great, who in the 1300s became a vassal of the Hungarian empire. But then the Basarab fought against the Hungarians and founded the first Romanian royal dynasty. After Russia conquered the area in 1812, it was called Bessarabia for much of the time that my husband's family lived there.
Agricultural tranport is still done in this way. No money to buy petrol for other machinery.
     My husband's family lived in Bessarabia from at least the early 1800s. The Russian Czar Nicholas wanted to populate this area with people that would be loyal to Russia. He broadcast word that pioneers on this frontier would be given land, would be free from paying taxes for 2 to 5 years and in some areas would be free from military conscription. So the people came -- some of them German, some Polish, and many of them Jewish. In the early 1800s the Russian government further decided to help the Jewish pioneers establish agricultural settlements that would perhaps solve what was considered to be a problem with where to settle all the Jews that were coming. Dombroveni was the first such Agricultural Settlement established in Bessarabia and my husband's ancestors joined this community. During the 4 generations that lived in that village before its destruction during WWII, they endured poverty, discrimination against Jews, pogroms, conscription into the Romanian army, and conscription into the Russian army, and other social stresses. My husband's parents saw evidence of upcoming problems for Jews in the area and were simultaneously enthused in the local Zionist movement which sponsored youth groups in the small Jewish villages of Bessarabia. Though we knew many of these communities were destroyed either by the retreating Russians, by Romanian neighbors or by the invading Nazis, during our May, 2010 visit to Moldova (Bessarabia) we hoped to be able to find  where these communities were and what the lay of the land was at the very least.

Abacus used in Dumbraveni grocery store
       Our first visit related to Amos' parents was to Constantza on the Black Sea. Moshe, Amos' dad, had embarked from there to imigrate from Bessarabia (now Moldova) to Israel in 1932. We went through the local museum and found photos of the port and the adjacent downtown square from the 1920s. Though we could not get close to it the Maritime Authority building was present then and is still present now. It is almost certain that this is the building that Moshe and later his wife Bracha would have immigrated through. Also several of the buildings that are currently on the square were also present in a 1920s photo so Moshe would have seen them. One does feel close to a deceased ancester when one can view where they were and where they traveled when they were beginning such a big event as an immigration to another country.
     After touring Bucharest and then northern Romania, the area called Transylvania, we drove to the border city of Iasi (pronounced Yash) and crossed into Moldova. Moshe would also have been in Iasi where the office of the local  Zionist Jewish Federation was located. This was the nearest city to Balti where Moshe attended an agricultural camp which was designed to prepare immigrants to learn how to farm before going to Israel.  But Moshe had grown up in an agricultural household and knew what they were teaching at the camp, so he was put in charge of obtaining funds from the Jewish Agency in Iasi and later in Beltsi, purchasing goods for the camp and supervising their transport back to that camp. We did find a synogogue in Iasi that might have been there and active when Moshe was there. We also passed Beltsi where the camp was located though of course we didn't know exactly where the camp had been.
     We entered Moldova and met with our new Moldovan guide, and then we drove completely across the northern part of the small country to Soroca, where we stayed that night. Moshe had more sentimental connections with Sorocca. Moshe's father, Itzhak, died when he was 12 years old. His mother, Hanie, along with her several daughters worked to maintain the family business after Itzhak's death, but she really wanted her son to get a secondary education. So she arranged for Moshe to travel the 12 miles to Soroca and to stay with friends in order to attend a Jewish high school there. Hanie packed a weeks worth of food for Moshe including produce from the farm, bread, and preserves.  He would travel there on Sunday with a farm wagon that was making the trip, then stay the week with these friends. He wrote that his weekdays consisted of arising early and attending prayers at one of the local synogogues, then after prayers, he would stop at a local tea shop where he would order tea to go with the bread and preserves that his mother had sent with him. Then he would attend school and return to his home to study in the evening. On early Shabbat eve he would get a ride back to Dombroveni to be home with his family on Shabbat. Each week was a repetition of this pattern. On one occasion Moshe forgot his bag of food at home. Later that day Hanie appeared at the home where Moshe stayed; she had walked all the way from Dumbroveni with Moshe's food. Moshe begged her to stay the night and even went to talk with his landlord to see if there was an extra bed for her to sleep on. But she absolutely refused to stay, saying that she had to get back to take care of the business. Moshe recalled walking with his mother as she left the town, and then watching as she trudged out of town and disappeared from sight over one of the hills, striking tears from his eyes at her great devotion. We found the city of Sorocca to be a relatively modern city nestled between and on several hills along the Dniester River. We could easily envision Hanie walking the wagon rutted trail out of town to the south and returning to her home town of Dumbraveni.

Synogogue in Soroca

Inside the Soroca Synogogue. Small active congregation.

     The people on the street in Sorroca were anxious to help us find respresentations for former Jewish life in the city. At one time there were 12 synogogues in the city, but now there is only one. It is small and poor but it still functions. A passerby on the street told us how to get there. We found the small synogogue locked up, but another passerby offered to ride with our driver to find the man who would be able to open it for us. He was soon back and then the religious leader of the synogogue also came by to allow us into the main sanctuary. We are not sure if this was a synogogue that Moshe would have used or not.
Unpaved main street, Dumbraveni, raining. 
     After Sorroca, we drove to Dumbraveni, Moshe's home town. We were surprised to find that there was such a village remaining. Apparently most of the homes had been destroyed during WWII along with at least 3 of the 5 synogogues that had been in town. But two synogogues that were made of stone still survived though now used for something else entirely and in poor repair. Many of the homes had been rebuilt and taken over by non Jewish Moldovans. We hoped to find the cemetery and look for names on stones. As we left the main road into the town, we noted that the roads were not paved and there had been lots of recent rain so it was rather muddy and messy. Our guide by this time had learned how we wanted to proceed -- find a passerby or local townsperson and see if they could direct us to Jewish sites that remained from before WWII. A very Eastern European woman was walking along the muddy road wearing a long multicolored skirt, long jacket, rubber boots and a scarf on her head. I think she would have been called in Russian, a "babushka." We stopped to aske her what she could tell us. She immediately said, "Ah, Yehudim. You need to speak with Costia. He knows all about the Jewish times." She asked us to follow her over two blocks to Costia's house.
Costia's house in Dumbraveni
The remains of the DeutschShul Synogogue, Dumbraveni
(Costia is a diminutive for Constantine.) His wife was seated in the front door of their small home and our lady guide told us through our interpreter guide that she was paralyzed, but Costia was out in the separate kitchen behind the house. She went to look for him and soon he returned huffing and puffing to talk with us, immediately lighting up a cigarette. In questioning him through our guide, he reported that he remembered my husband's family, knew that a couple of the sisters had married and moved to Sorroca. He even remembered a couple of their first names. Then he told us that he would take us to see the old synogogue that was still standing. He led us down a slippery dirt drive over one block and down two blocks. Costia was huffing and puffing. He said he had "asthma" but it was clear that the reason for his shortness of breath was emphysema related to his smoking. As we walked, Costia puffed harder. I stopped him, put my hand on his arm and told the guide to tell him I was a doctor and I was worried about his breathing. I suggested that he just point out how to walk and he didn't have to lead us to the synogogue. But Costia turned to me and said "Thank you," in English, but he continued in Romanian, " I must do the right thing."
       After a short further walk, we entered a little field and there at the end of the property stood a large stone shell of  a building with no doors and windows and in poor repair. Costia told us the Nazis had used it as a repair shop and storage for military equipment, later as a blacksmith and by the Russians as a storage for farm implements and most recently to store building supplies. Costia told us that recently (maybe in last few years) someone bought the property and wanted to destroy the synogogue. Costia said, "I, Costia, told this man that that building had been a Jewish Holy House and if he destroyed it, he would surely die." It was not destroyed and Costia said he didn't think it would ever be destroyed. He would later show us a smaller stone building that was in better repair with windows and doors, now being used for a different community purpose which had also been one of the local 5 synogogues. Unfortunately Costia told us that there was not much at the cemetery. He said vandals had destroyed most of the stones and they could not be identified. We could not walk up there to the top of the hill where it was because of the muddy paths. We gave Costia some money and thanked him profusely.
Second synogogue still standing in Dumbraveni, used for another purpose.
     After coming home we were able to find pictures of that old synogogue in the Yiskor book for Dumbraveni and we read about the synogogue in my father in law's short autobiography. He had been a member of this large synogogue while living as a teenager in Dumbraveni. He had learned Hebrew from a young man who boarded at their home and attracted the attention of the Rabbi of this synogogue who would have Hebrew discussion with my father in law. Of course, he left for Israel when he was 19, but it was very interesting to see this town, this old synogogue and the nature of this community where my father in law and 3 previous generations had lived and flourished.
     Later we arrived at Kishinev, the relatively modern capitol of Moldova and found my husband's grandmother's grave in the very large Jewish cemetery. We also visited Kolorash, the village of origin for my mother in law. This city is now quite large, but the small section which was the Jewish village adjacent to the gentile town was destroyed completely by the Russians just before the Nazis tookover Bessarabia, the Russians withdrawing.
     Moldova was always agrarian. It has always been very poor and is very poor to this day. There are large corn and grain fields but rusting Russian farm equipment sits idly in the fields because no one can afford petrol to run the equipment. Horse carts are used for transport, and dozens of women and children cultivate the huge fields by hand with hoes. Indeed, the rural parts of Moldova are a third world country. The countryside is very verdant with small rolling hills, but there is a long way for this country to make it into anything like Western European society.
     This visit has accomplished one great thing. It has prompted my husband to finally take a strong interest in his family tree. By having all these visitors this summer who are members of his family, we have learned several connection in his father's family and a nice complete family tree has been created. And we now have photos of the sites where these family members lived their lives and founded the Selzer family. It was indeed a genealogical trip.
Capriani Monastery north of Kishinev, Moldova 

Inside the newly renovated sanctuary.


  1. I was born on 12 / 24 / 89 and then on 6 / 6/ 89 I was adopted . My parents are very GOOD to me. We live in Catlettsburg Kentucky.

    My birth mother name was Dulgie Lukeria Fedorovna
    she was from Dumbrevini as far as we know. Do you know anyone in Moldova that could see if she still lives in Dumbrevini. I would appreciate it very much. I would like to met her. I do not was to cause her any trouble. My email address is danchaff5 Thank You very much. Daniel Chagrin.

    1. I am sorry that I did not answer you before. I just now found this question on Jewish Gen. I am very sorry but I do not know anyone in Dumbraveni other than Costia, and his health was very poor as was his wife's. I would have no way of getting in contact with anyone there. I know that there were only perhaps two Jewish families left in Dumbraveni and they moved there after World War II. There are no original inhabitants of Dumbraveni who survived there or returned there after World War II. Those that now occupy the town are Gentiles who have moved in and some have built new houses; others occupy the old Jewish houses. The author.