Port city on the Black Sea, in the Dobruja (Dobrogea) region of Romania. Named for a small Genovese local port from the twelfth century, Constanța (Gk., Tomis; Tk., Küstenje) was annexed to Romania in 1878. Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of a small Jewish settlement in the third century. Ashkenazic Jewish traders who accompanied the Russian army as suppliers during the Russian–Turkish war then reestablished Jewish settlement in 1828. In the 1830s, Sephardic Jews from Anatolia settled in the area, set up a community of their own, obtained a plot of land for a cemetery in 1853, and leased land to construct a synagogue in 1867. That same year, Ashkenazic Jews organized as a distinct community.
Modern Jewish education developed under the influence of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. In 1880, there were 344 Jews living in Constanța, of whom 60 were granted Romanian citizenship. In 1884, Jews coming from elsewhere in Romania were given permission to settle in the town; as a result, the Jewish population reached 957 by 1899; approximately 1,200 in 1910; and 1,821 in 1930 (totaling 3.1% of the population). They worked mainly in port businesses, trade, and the crafts. In 1903, a “modern” Sephardic temple was founded. Jews participated in municipal life from the end of the nineteenth century.
The Navons, a family of Sephardic Jews with ties to Bulgaria, on the occasion of the engagement of Ernestina (third from right), Constanța, Romania, 1919. (Centropa)
In 1920, following the emancipation a year earlier of the Jews in Romania, the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities combined to form an association that was eventually acknowledged as a legal entity. Each community preserved its specific nature, however. In 1939, the Ashkenazic community had two schools—one for boys and one for girls—while the Sephardic community had one. The town’s rabbi was Iosef Haim Schechter, author of a Torah commentary. The united community association funded a children’s camp and hospital in the neighboring spa town of Tekirghiol, helping Jewish children and needy Jewish patients from throughout Romania seeking treatment there.
There were several Zionist organizations of various orientations in Constanța, as well as a committee supporting emigration to Palestine. The port was a point of departure for ships carrying Jewish emigrants; it later played the same role during the Holocaust and after World War II until 1951. Among the town’s Jewish inhabitants were the historian Solomon Abraham Rosanes and the archeologist Carol Blum. Relations between Jews and Christians were generally favorable, except in 1930 when a local antisemitic group published the newspaper Strălucitorul (The Shiner).
In the autumn of 1940, a German military mission was established in the port, and the Jews’ access to it was forbidden. On 13 December 1940, Legionary groups took over Jewish shops. When Romania joined Germany’s side (22 June 1941), all Jews were arrested and confined in the camp of Cobadin. Five weeks later they were transferred to three smaller camps—Osmancea, Ciobănița, and Mereni. Both men and women were sent in hard labor detachments to stone quarries and to repair roads in Dobruja and Bessarabia. On 1 November 1941, the camps were removed and the Jews returned to Constanța, but they were restricted and forced to perform hard labor in the city. On the mayor’s office initiative, the Jewish cemetery was destroyed.
After 1941, the community was permitted to resume educational and social activities. That year, 2,067 Jews were living in Constanța; the numbers dropped, however, to 1,532 in 1942. There were 2,400 Jewish inhabitants of the city in 1947, during which time the leadership of the community was taken over by the Jewish Democratic Committee. The number of Jews has decreased gradually as a result of emigration. In 1956, there were 586; in 1969 there were approximately 300 (60 Jewish families). At the end of 2003, there were 104 Jewish inhabitants; one synagogue still functions.
Jacob Geller, Tsemiḥatah u-sheki‘atah shel kehilah: Ha-Yehudim ha-ashkenazim veha-sefaradim be-Romanyah, 1919–1941 (Tel Aviv, 1985); Theodor Lavi, “Konstantsah / Constanța,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 232–235 (Jerusalem, 1969); Dalia Ofer, Derekh ba-yam: ‘Aliyah bet bi-tekufat ha-sho’ah, 1939–1944 (Jerusalem, 1988); Silviu Sanie, “Judaic and Judaisant Elements in Ethno-Cultural Interference in Dacia and Moesia Inferior,” Studia et acta historiae iudaeorum romaniae 1 (1996): 21–44.
Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea