Pogroms, the Holocaust and emigration have reduced Bucharest's once 70,000-strong Jewish population to around 3,500 today. Nevertheless, the Jewish community in the Romanian capital is vibrant and dynamic, and has an excellent cultural centre, three working synagogues, a school and a superb theatre.
A Brief History of Jews in Romania
The story of the Jews in Romania is not a happy one. Relatively small until the mid-19th century, the size of the Romanian Jewish community - predominantly urban - grew from the 1840s onwards as large numbers of Jews sought refuge in Moldavia and Wallachia from persecution in Tsarist Russia, and by the mid-1860s there were more than 150,000 Jews nationwide. Alas the Jews fared little better - initially - in Romanian lands than they had in Russia, with strict laws enacted preventing them from wearing traditional dress, sending their children to school and even becoming Romanian citizens. There were frequent attacks on Jews and their property (particularly in Iasi) while there was a major anti-Jewish riot in Bucharest in 1866, when large numbers of Jews were beaten and the Choral Temple (rebuilt soon afterwards) desecrated and destroyed.
There was another wave of Jewish immigration in 1903-5 following the Chisinau Pogrom of April 1903 (Chisinau was at the time part of the Russian Empire), and while the plight of the Jews improved considerably as their numbers and political influence grew, it was only in the aftermath of World War I that Romanian Jews were awarded full civil rights, later guaranteed in the 1923 Romanian Constitution. It was during the 1920s that the number of Jews living in Romania reached its peak (at around 730,000), around a third of whom lived in Bessarabia (today the Republic of Moldova). Bucharest’s Jewish population peaked at around 70,000 in 1930: as much as ten per cent of the city’s population.
Romania was not, however, immune to the anti-Semitism of 1930s Europe, and the rise in popularity of the fascist scum Legionnaire Movement and its horrific paramilitary wing, the Iron Guard, can in part be explained by its violently anti-Semitic policies. By the time the Iron Guard joined the government of military leader Ion Antonescu and formed its Legionary State in September 1940, much anti-Semitic legislation had already been passed, and the Legionnaires were allowed to persecute Jews with impunity.