For now the stone walls stand tall, an empty shell, but in time these too will succumb. It is a reminder, too, of our own fragility. It shows that even our temples, stout buildings of iron and stone, can, in the space of just a few short decades of disuse, soon be dismantled, dismembered, and re-digested by the flora we so readily take for granted.
With a population somewhere just under half a million, Chisinau is not a large capital. It is a city that, prior to my first visit, I had felt — in all honesty — quite indifferent about meeting.
I simply knew nothing about the place… other than the fact that in travelling from Bucharest to Kiev, I was going to need to pass through it. I had already taken the train through Chisinau on two separate occasions peering out the window at rows of drab concrete buildings — what the Germans might call Plattenbauten before I ever stopped to explore the city.
By the time I finally did though, I would find it a thoroughly rewarding experience. My third visit to Moldova — my first extended stay in the country — came at the end of August. It was a road trip, a small group of friends on our way to see the Independence Day parades in the neighbouring breakaway state of Transnistria. We stopped for the night in the Moldovan capital en route, and this time I was keen to do it justice. The Jews of Bessarabia The city of Chisinau was mentioned in history books as early as the 15th century, and featured a significant Jewish population from the 16th century onwards.
It was then the capital of Bessarabia — a province of some 45, square kilometres, stretching from the Danube Delta and the Black Sea in the south, as far north as the River Dnieper that flows through Kiev. After its liberation from Ottoman rule, Bessarabia was absorbed by the Russian Empire and would remain under its control for more than a century.
Abraham Polnovick, a survivor of the pogrom, reported: Dead bodies were everywhere, many of them horribly mutilated, and in most cased with the clothes torn off. There were ears, fingers, noses lying on the pavements. Babies were tossed in the air to be caught on the points of spears and swords.
Young girls were horribly mistreated before death came to end their torture. I saw these things with my own eyes, no pen or tongue can add anything to the fiendishness of the mobs who swarmed through the streets, crying: Spare not at all! The local Jewish population, meanwhile, was still increasing.
The tides of war were turning, though… and when Hitler set his sights on the USSR, Chisinau was soon caught in the crossfire. Thousands were killed in raids by the German Air Force, who used incendiary bombs to set huge swathes of the city alight. Many of these Moldavian Jews were killed during the invasion.
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One survivor, Matatias Carp, later wrote: Other Jews were transported elsewhere to be murdered. Some disappeared into the hands of the Gestapo, while many were taken from their homes in military trucks, to the outskirts of the city — where they were shot in the back before being thrown into hastily dug pits.
The ghettoisation of the Chisinau Jews began on 24th July, as an effort to bring some kind of order to this chaos of looting and death. Here, amongst the bombed-out ruins left in the wake of German Air Force raids, they were fenced in and the Chisinau Ghetto was born. The ghetto in Chisinau was one of ten such sites established in the wake of the invasion, to accommodate those Jews left behind after the initial slaughter. There are believed to have beenJews interned in these camps, out of which the Chisinau Ghetto housed a population of 11, people.
While the German Einzatzcommand favoured extermination, the Romanians had considered Bessarabia as their protectorate, and had insisted on dealing with its citizens — Jewish or otherwise — in their own way. These good times would be relatively short-lived, however.
By the time the Soviet Red Army returned, taking Chisinau in August and installing a communist government, it is believed the Nazis had committed the systematic murder of as many asJews across the areas of Bucovina, Bessarabia and Transnistria.
Walking through clean, quiet streets of s Soviet architecture, we found the site of the former ghettos easily enough. A wedding party passed us by, led by a white limousine that cruised down the boulevard with a bride and groom sat up top, singing loudly and waving a bottle of champagne from the open sunroof.
Strange to think that seven decades ago, these same streets were a prison. But the bold, brutalist architecture of Chisinau, its socialist-realist monuments, look forward towards a utopian future as prophesied by the former Marxist regime. They do not look back. Nevertheless, deep in the backstreets of the former ghetto stood one building that might have remembered the times before.
It was a shell of white stone, a bombed-out skeleton stood back from the road across an empty yard of dust. Trees had burst through the foundations, to sprout inside and around the old walls.
It had been a Jewish synagogue and yeshiva, I would later learn — a casualty of the air raids. The resilience of the human spirit apparently knows no bounds, however; and even here, where twice in a century Jewish communities have been subjected to the very worst kinds of soulless brutality, there is yet fresh growth.
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Turning a corner onto a narrow backstreet as we cut our way through the blocks, heading for the city centre, we stumbled across the heart of the contemporary Jewish community in Chisinau.
I almost walked straight past the Chabad Lubavitch Synagogue… a humble, nondescript building that, save for a small plaque written in Hebrew script, did very little to advertise its presence. The Old Market area of Chisinau had disguised its past well: At the open gates, an elderly woman tried to sell me flowers. I gave her the money without taking a bouquet.
Inside the gates, it was near impossible to gauge the size of the cemetery. It spread out in three directions, paths disappearing between stones and shrines and mausoleums that grew increasingly more green, more dilapidated, as my gaze followed them into the distance.
Cemeteries are perfect examples of what Foucault called the heterotopia; places that exist outside of normal social space, where boundaries are ritualistic and time can take on new dimensions.
There are somewhere in the region of 23, interments at the Chisinau Jewish Cemetery, dating from as early as the 17th century.
Here though, near the entrance, the graves were much more recent. Many featured dates in the s and 70s; the freshest I could find read It was written that only 86 Jews remained in Chisinau after the war… but rather than fading out, the graves here told a different story. There were consistent burials throughout the following decades, seemingly growing in number over the years.
Some of the newer graves had been carved in Latin letters, alongside others marked in Hebrew and Cyrillic script. As I moved deeper into the wooded areas in the furthest corners of the necropolis, pushing branches and creepers aside to pass down long-disused paths, the landscape itself was changing, undulating in great waves of green. It was a surreal feeling — until I was brought sharply back by the sound of a dog growling.
I saw the first one peering at me from beneath a veil of brambles… and then another behind that, and I think, perhaps, a third. They were probably harmless. Homeless, hungry strays, threatened by the intrusion in this otherwise private place.
As the pack leader started squaring off against me though, baring its teeth in a deep, throaty growl, I lost my nerve. Logic was telling me to stand firm, stare it out — but instead I found myself running. It was too high to climb, so I followed it… keeping close to the barrier as I looked for some way to scramble up and over, out of reach. Instead, I found a building — it seemed to come from nowhere, a large brick structure looming at me suddenly from the undergrowth.
For a moment it gave the impression of having floated up out of a sea of vegetation, torrents of greenery clinging to its sides like water streaming down the flanks of some beached leviathan.
Around the corner I found a metal door set into a stone frame, partially obscured behind a mound of rubble. Leaning against the inside of the door I caught my breath; and as I did so, I looked up to find myself inside the ruins of an abandoned temple.
It was built several hundred years after the first graves were dug, opening in the late 19th century. Some sources call it a synagogue; others say it served only for the preparation of bodies for burial. The wrought iron pulpit inside, black metal clinging to the side of a crumbling pillar, seemed to suggest, at least, that the building had once been used for religious services. Long after the dogs had stopped barking, for certain; and longer still, as I breathed in the old air, absorbed every detail of the weathered carvings, the rusted stars on the metalwork.
It is a story of horror, and of resilience.
This sacred ruin, this beautiful corpse, stands for more than just a portrait of natural decay. The vast majority of dates, facts and figures in this article come from the following three sources: The Bohemian Blog is bigger than it looks. Check out my page on Patreon to find out more about the perks of getting involved. A Story of Urban Removala one-hour documentary chronicling the urban renewal of downtown Kingston.
In the s and early s, urban renewal devastated Kingston, Poughkeepsie and other Hudson Valley cities, but Newburgh likely suffered the most, given the scale of destruction and the nature of what was lost. Approximately 1, buildings were demolished, annihilating the downtown commercial district, which dated back to the s.
Nine streets were plowed under, including Clinton Square, a triangular confluence of streets that was punctuated by a bronze statue of George Clinton. With a population that was nearly half minority—the city of 28, had 8, blacks and 4, Puerto Ricans—Newburgh was representative of the challenges and restiveness of what was then referred to as the Negro ghetto and the inequities endured by blacks.
Mitchell resigned inafter he was cleared of bribery charges, and subsequently became head of the White Citizens Council. Certainly, the city exemplified the crisis of urban America. Its decline had been dramatic, even as remnants of its former beauty persisted in its architecture and the still-stunning views down the Hudson. Built on steam technology, the city had prospered in the mid and late 19th century manufacturing boilers, generators, train wheels and other components, according to city historian Mary McTamaney.
The merchant class, along with wealthy New Yorkers seeking a respite from the heat and dirt of the city, built commodious mansions on the bluff overlooking the river. Newburgh became a showcase of Victorian architecture and in fact was at the vanguard of the new eclectic style, thanks to native son Andrew Jackson Downing, a national trendsetter who heralded and promulgated the Romantic movement. From his turreted mansion on Broad Street, where his family had begun a nursery business, he wrote a series of articles and best-selling books advocating for charming Gothic, Italianate, or Swiss style domiciles nestled in leafy gardens and park-like settings.
His widely disseminated house plans transformed wealthy estates and residential neighborhoods into a fairyland, resulting in the first suburbs; picturesque Gothic cottages sprouted up in every town and city. He was on his way to Washington, D. Downing had attracted top architects and craftspeople to his hometown, including Alexander Jackson Davis, who designed the monumental Dutch Reformed Church, which was modeled after ancient Green temples; Calvert Vaux, who emigrated from England to work with Downing in his design studio; and Frederick Clarke Withers.
Along Grand and Liberty streets, many big homes were occupied by doctors, lawyers and other professionals, who used the downstairs as office space. By the midth century, Newburgh had evolved into a solid working-class town. Pocketbooks also became a core Newburgh product, produced at the six-story Regal Bag Company and in small sewing shops around the city.
A massive Dupont plant that made coated fabric for car seats employed and Stroock and American Felt companies employed hundreds more. The city was served by a passenger railroad, regular ferry service across to Beacon, and regular bus service that precluded the need for a car.