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Overview

Violent anti-Semitic movements in pre-World War II (WWII) Romania had their impact in its province of Bessarabia – the general region of contemporary Moldova.  The situation degenerated into government-directed pogroms and mass deportations leading to the concentration and extermination of Jewish citizens, according to the 2004 Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania chaired by Elie Wiesel.  By December 1941, Romanian forces with limited German participation had either killed the vast majority of Bessarabian Jews or deported them to concentration camps and ghettos located in Romanian‑occupied territory in southwestern Ukraine stretching all the way from the Dniester River to the Bug River, which Romania’s wartime regime labeled “Transnistria.”  The Wiesel Commission Final Report notes that in 1941, between 45,000 and 60,000 Jews were killed in Bessarabia and the former Bukovina, another former Romanian-administered province now divided between Ukraine and Romania.  An additional 105,000 to 120,000 Romanian Jews, mostly from Bessarabia, perished or were murdered following their expulsions into Romanian‑administered territory between the Dniester and Bug rivers.  While fewer than 1,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in Bessarabia, some 14,000 Bessarabian Jews survived incarceration in camps and ghettos in wartime Transnistria.  The Wiesel Commission Final Report cites some expert estimates that a total of approximately 200,000 Jews who lived in the territory that now falls within the Republic of Moldova were killed during the Holocaust.

According to the World Jewish Congress, between 7,500 and 20,000 Jews currently reside in Moldova.  The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany confirmed that it distributes financial assistance to approximately 466 Holocaust survivors in Moldova.

Despite recent progress in addressing longstanding issues important to the Jewish community in Moldova, the government has not enacted comprehensive restitution legislation for communal or private property confiscated during the Holocaust nor arranged for proper financial compensation to the Jewish community.  Moldova endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the related Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010.

Moldova became an observer country to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2014.  In January 2019, the government adopted a decision on “Condemning Anti‑Semitism and Promoting Tolerance” and approved for official use the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.  To date, the government has not announced any plans to upgrade from observer status to liaison member. 

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Moldova’s 1992 Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Reprisals mandates the restoration of rights and compensation for material damages for victims of the totalitarian regimes that controlled Moldovan territory between 1917 and 1992 and for citizens who were subject to reprisals based on political, national, religious, or social grounds.  The law specifically refers to private property restoration for victims of the Soviet regime but makes no mention of Holocaust-era property confiscations.  The 1992 law was the subject of several complaints sent to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on non-enforcement of domestic restitution and compensation awards.

The country does not have laws on restitution of communal property or Holocaust-era heirless property.  In Moldova, in cases where there are no legal heirs to property, ownership passes to the state.

Synagogues, Jewish community buildings, and other religious sites within the borders of the current Republic of Moldova suffered severe damage during the Holocaust from war actions as well as from anti-Semitic activity.  Much of what remained of these buildings was then destroyed, left to fall into disrepair, or repurposed for other activities during the Soviet period.  As a result, few pre-World War II synagogues remain in the country.  Jewish cemeteries have also been desecrated.  A 2010 report published by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad catalogued 100 Jewish communal properties in Moldova, including cemeteries, monuments, houses, hospitals, colleges, and other buildings.

A few properties, such as the Hay Synagogue in Chisinau and the Cahul Synagogue in Cahul, have been returned to the Jewish community.  In 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief found that, in the absence of legislation, return of communal property in Moldova “differed according to religious community.”  The report noted that while some religious communities had received title over their confiscated properties through litigation or other means, the Moldovan Jewish community “had reportedly been forced to purchase back community properties.”  These included historic properties such as the Wooden (or Lemnaria) Synagogue and the Rabbi Tsirelson Synagogue and Yeshiva, both in Chisinau.

There are seven active synagogues in Moldova: one in Balti, two in Transnistria, and four in Chisinau.  In 2018, following a multi-year property dispute, the Jewish community received permits to rebuild the Rabbi Tsirelson Synagogue and Magen David Yeshiva in Chisinau, both of which had fallen into severe disrepair.  All seven synagogues hold religious services, host Jewish community activities, and provide meals for elderly community members.  The synagogues outside Chisinau serve small congregations and often cannot attract the quorum of 10 adult males needed for services, even on high holy days.  In August 2019, Jewish community members, officials, and diplomatic representatives attended the reopening of the Wooden Synagogue located within the Jewish Community Center (KEDEM) in Chisinau.

In October 2018, as part of the government’s 2017-2019 Action Plan to Implement the Declaration of the Parliament on Acceptance of the Elie Wiesel Commission’s Report on the Holocaust, the government approved the renovation of the Chisinau Jewish cemetery, the establishment of a National Holocaust Museum, and the introduction of a high school curriculum on historic lessons of the Holocaust.  According to the local Jewish community, the government has made substantial progress on fulfilling the Action Plan and has demonstrated an increased willingness to address concerns regarding the rehabilitation and preservation of the country’s Jewish cultural heritage.

Cemeteries in Moldova are public property, and the government is responsible for the protection, maintenance, and security of the tombstones and graves.  In 2018, Moldova rehabilitated Chisinau’s 30-acre Jewish cemetery that is one of the largest in Europe, with more than 40,000 graves.  The cemetery had languished in serious disrepair for years.  Jewish community representatives reported that the initial effort to rehabilitate the cemetery actually damaged or destroyed several gravestones.  The government approved a new contract for the maintenance of the cemetery, but no further work has commenced.  Most Jewish cemeteries across Moldova are not properly maintained or protected from acts of vandalism and natural deterioration.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property

Moldova does not have laws on restitution of or compensation for movable communal or cultural property expropriated during the Holocaust, nor are there any official reports available on the status of any claims.  Jewish community members report that they do not believe Moldova conducts provenance research regarding art or other items that may have been confiscated or looted by the Nazis.  Moldova did not participate in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets.

The Department is not aware of any claims regarding Judaica or Jewish cultural property.

Access to Archival Documents

Government archives are open to the public.  Archives related to the Jewish community include birth, marriage, divorce, and death records; early censuses of the Jewish population; cartographic materials indicating home ownership; lists of merchants and traders; personal files of Jews who lived in and owned property at different time periods; documents containing property dispute decisions and sales; and documentation of forced labor by Jews in concentration camps.  In 2002, Moldova’s Security and Intelligence Service agreed to open part of its archives and allow the copying and transfer to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum of files on crimes perpetrated against the Jewish population in the territories of Moldova and Ukraine during WWII.  So far, there have been dozens of transfers amounting to several hundred thousand pages of documents under this agreement.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

As part of the 2017-2019 Action Plan referenced above, Moldova established January 27 as National Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Each year, Moldova organizes several events dedicated to the Holocaust, including exhibits, round tables, and other commemorations held during Holocaust remembrance week.  The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research developed an optional high school curriculum on the Holocaust, which was introduced during the 2019-2020 academic year.

In October 2018, Moldova announced plans for a Jewish Museum in Chisinau with an incorporated Jewish library and education center.  Discussions with the Jewish community over the location of the site are ongoing.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Moldova
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future