Bălţi During the Interwar Period

Jewish youth at the municipal tennis courts, Bălţi, 1939

Jewish youth at the municipal tennis courts, Bălţi, 1939

In 1918, the Government of Romania absorbed Bessarabia into its borders, dissolving the community councils in Bessarabia, in violation of its commitments in the peace treaties drawn up at the conclusion of WWI. Only in 1928 did the Jewish community receive permission from the Romanian authorities to renew operations. It held democratic elections to choose a leadership and was awarded a state budget in addition to the levies it managed to collect from the community and donations from philanthropists.

Due to the important role played by the Jews in the town's economy, the Romanian authorities took steps in keeping public order and endeavoring to contain antisemitism in Bălţi. The Jews were the majority in the town, and in a number of cases a Jewish militia was successful in reining in antisemitic outbursts. The authorities were convinced that the Jews of Bălţi were not drawn to communism. However, despite all of this, a number of serious incidents of antisemitic violence took place in the 1920s, including instances of murder. By contrast, liberal and Christian members of the population included local Jews in municipal matters, and the head of the church in Bălţi even donated money to the Jewish community and its institutions.

In the interwar period, Bălţi flourished and the financial situation of its Jewish population improved. The Jews set up factories for agricultural products and a chain marketing Moldovian agricultural produce overseas. They also developed the town's banking facilities and established a "Bank of Loans and Savings," turning it into a powerful center of trade and industry.

The improvement in the economy allowed the Jews of Bălţi to establish educational, cultural, support and religious systems. Among the social services set up was a Jewish hospital, old age home, help for the poor and training for underprivileged children. These institutions were aided by the "ORT" and "OSE" organizations, as well as by a number of philanthropists. Many of the educated and wealthy youth went to Western Europe for university studies. Some returned to Bălţi, where they worked as doctors, pharmacists, engineers or teachers in the Jewish schools.

The global economic depression of the mid-1930s brought down the price of grain considerably. The Jews were blamed for this, despite the fact that their income, based on agricultural trade, was so badly damaged. Consequently, the community and its institutions were badly hit. With the annexation of Bessarabia to the USSR in June 1940, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement, the Jewish community was shut down by the Soviet authorities.

Before WWII, there were 15,000-20,000 Jews in Bălţi.

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