Title page of the pinkes of a Bessarabian gemilut ḥesed (charitable society), Bacău, Bessarabia (now in Moldova), 1836. (YIVO)

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Town in northern Moldavia, at the confluence of the Bistrița and Siret Rivers. Oral tradition claims that the first synagogue was erected in the late fifteenth century, but the oldest documentary reference to the existence of a Jewish community is a tombstone from 1703. In 1742, the Moldavian prince Constantin Mavrocordat granted two Jewish merchants from Hotin (in Bessarabia) the right to settle in the town and exempted them from taxes. Prince Ioniță Sandu Sturza, who encouraged the settlement of Jewish merchants, adopted a similar policy in 1823.

The number of Jews continued to grow until World War I: there were 233 in 1803; 544 in 1831; 1,740 (55% of the total population) in 1838; 3,819 (42.5%) in 1859; 6,122 (48%) in 1880; 7,902 (48.3%) in 1899; 8,209 in 1910; and 11,500 (60%) in 1915. According to the 1930 census, there were 9,593 Jews (30.8%) living in Bacău, of whom 50.8 percent declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. According to community statistics of 1896, the Jews of Bacău were categorized according to their profession as follows: 1,529 craftsmen, 550 merchants, 402 employees in the trading houses, 114 carters, 94 workers, 55 middlemen, 7 building contractors, 7 doctors, and a lawyer. In 1903 there were 654 Jewish licensed craftsmen (66% of the total number).

Most Jews in Bacău were merchants, craftsmen, or workers in the textile, oil, and forestry industries. In 1882, M. Margulies introduced a printing press that was also equipped with Hebrew characters, while the photography shops of Max Agatstein and Segal were making color pictures as of 1877–1878. A. I. Löbl published Prezentul (The Present) in Bacău, the first Jewish newspaper edited in Romania with any real continuity (1876–1878) and focused to a large extent on the Jews’ struggle for emancipation and on their patriotism during the war for independence in 1877.

The traditional institutions had been established for a long time: the pinkas of the burial society dates to 1771, the Talmud Torah was founded in 1828, the gemilut ḥesed (mutual aid society) in 1836, a hospital in 1862. The first modern Jewish primary school that taught in Romanian was opened between 1863 and 1865, managed by the teacher Iosef Haim Grimberg; other schools for boys and girls were established in the late nineteenth century. The wooden synagogue that had been built in 1794 burned down in 1853; the number of synagogues increased from 14 in 1864 to 21 in 1890; and the first modern temple was established in 1899. During the interwar years, the community also had a kindergarten, two primary schools (for boys and girls), a hospital, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, mutual aid associations (Marpe le-Nefesh, Fraterna, Înfrățirea, and Providența), 30 synagogues, and a mikveh.

The first known rabbi, who retained his position for 55 years, was Yitsḥak (Ițhac) Botoşaner (1803–1858); he was followed by his student, Alter Ioines, author of Divre Mosheh (printed by his sons), who held the position until 1873. Two Hasidic rabbis were also of note: Rakhmune Derbaremdiker (1825–1846) and Yisra’el, from the dynasty of Yisra’el of Ruzhin and Sadagora, employed in 1895, and who had his own synagogue on Leca Street. In 1887, Rabbi Alter Löbel, son of Ḥayim Leib from Botoşani, obtained the right to issue certificates for religion classes to Jewish students attending public schools. Rabbi Betsal’el Ze’ev Şafran (1867–1929), appointed in 1905, was the most important halakhic authority in Romania; his responsa were published in Warsaw in 1930 by his son Ḥanokh Henikh Şafran. Betsal’el’s other son, Alexandru-Iehuda Şafran, replaced him as head of the rabbinate of Bacău from 1934 to 1940, and was then elected chief rabbi of Romania. The last rabbi was Yitsḥak (Ițic) Me’ir Marilus, who served from 1952 to 1961, when he became a rabbi in Bucharest.

Pre-Herzlian Zionism existed from 1881 when several families from Bacău were among the first pioneers to settle in Rosh Pinah and Zikhron Ya‘akov in 1882. During the interwar period, young people were grouped in several Zionist associations. Branches of the Union of Romanian Jews, the Jewish Party, B’nai B’rith, and other cultural and sports organizations were also active in Bacău.

In 1932, Iosef Feldher, an industrialist, member of the National Peasant Party, and vice president of the Jewish community, was elected vice mayor. Relations between Jews and Christians were relatively satisfactory, although there were moments of tension: an accusation of ritual murder in 1824, persecutions in 1864 when 500 Jewish families were forced out of neighboring rural communities, and acts of violence in 1884 perpetrated by a gang instigated by Radu Porumbaru, manager of the Letea paper mill. In 1940, all Jews (approximately 1,000 families) were expelled from the adjacent villages and most crowded into Bacău, where the community offered its support. The number of Jews increased to 10,333 in 1941 and to 13,038 in 1942. Jews were victims of discrimination and spoliation, and men were sent to Bessarabia and southern Transylvania to provide forced labor. After the war, Jews from northern Bucovina, which had been occupied by the USSR, settled in Bacău. In 1947 there were 18,000 Jews, but, with emigration to Israel and elsewhere, just 600 families remained in 1969 and 173 persons in 2005.

Among the natives of Bacău, the most outstanding were the writers Marius Mircu (Israel Marcus), Marcel Marcian (Marcus), Henry Marcus, Lipa Rudich-Radulescu (in Yiddish); Volf Iser (in Hebrew); the lawyer Eugen Aroneanu; the mathematician and linguist Solomon Marcus; the artist Nicolae Vermont; the violinist Silvia Marcovici; and the actors N. Stroe and Rozina Cambos.

Suggested Reading

Ițic Kara, Obştea evreiască din Bacău (Bucharest, 1995); Theodor Lavi and Dorah Lita’ni, “Ba’ka’u / Bacău,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 10–17 (Jerusalem, 1969); Marius Mircu (Israel Marcus), La noi, la Bacău (Bacău, Rom., 2000); Iosif Voledi-Vardi, ed., Oraşul de pe Bistrița: Bacău, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1988–1989).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 116, Territorial Collection: Rumania, , 1836-1945; RG 938, First Bacauer Sick and Benevolent Association, Records, 1905-1976.



Translated from French by Anca Mircea