The Jews in Ploesti

Source: The Nahum Goldman Museum of the Jewish Diaspora
Provided by David Hart Wilder
Ploesti (Rum. Ploetsti). City in Walachia. South Central Romania.

The first Jews settled in Ploesti in the second half of the 17th century. There were so few, however, that they continued to bury their dead at the cemetery at Buzau. At the end of the same century they purchased ground for a cemetery, far from the city. Where tombstones have been found dating back to 1719-40. A second cemetery was confiscated by a landowner to enlarge his estate. A third established on ground acquired in 1818 by the "Jews' Guild", was also closed, being too near the city. Consequently, a fourth cemetery was established outside the city. In the early 18th century the synagogue was demolished by order of the ruler, and the Jews had to move two kilometers out of the city. However, their commercial importance was so valued that the cattle market and general market of the city were established in their neighborhood.

The road linking the Jewish quarter with the city became known as the "Jews' Street" till 1882. At the beginning of the 19th century, Sephardi Jews migrated to Ploesti from the Balkan States. Their neighborhood was called "The Spanish Street." In 1830 the Sephardim requested the Chakham Bashi approve the establishment of their own community, but the request was refused. Thus, Ploesti became the only Rumanian locality whose Kahal combined Ashkenazim and Sephardim in communal activities (although distinctions persisted in regard to separate synagogues and Chevra Kaddisha.)

From 280 Jews listed as taxpayers in 1831, the number reached 2,478 in 1899 (5.5% of the total population) and 3,843 (3.3%) in 1930, Five synagogues were eventually established, including one for artisans and another for Sephardim. The boys' school, built in 1875, was named after Luca Moise who granted funds for its building and maintenance. A girls' school was built in 1896. Among noted Rabis who served Ploesti were those of the Brezis family, Judah Aryeh Brezis (1869-1908) and Dr. Joseph Chayyim Brezis (1911-22). Menahem Safran officiated as Rabbi from 1939 to 1956. Rabbi David Friedman, a Chasidic Tzaddik of the Ruzhin Dynasty, lived in Ploesti unti lhis murder by the Iron Guard in 1940.

The Jews did much to develop the city by organizing the export of agricultural produce, leather, and other goods to Hungary and on to Vienna. From the middle of the 19th century many dealt in oil, developing Ploesti into a center for that commodity. After the emancipation of the Jews in Romania, Jews officiated as representatives on the City Council and for a time a Jew served as Vice-Mayor.

Immediately after the outbreak of World War II, Ploesti became a center of German interest because of its oil resources. Units of the German Army appeared in the city as early as the Autumn of 1940. After Antonescu assumed power in September 1940). Cojocaru, a member of the Iron Guard, was appointed commander of the Local Police. Immediately upon taking over the post he introduced serious measures against Jews, i.e., confiscation of their businesses and wide-scale arrests of merchants and community leaders. On the night of November 27/28 1940, 11 of the Jewish prisoners were executed in a nearby forest. Among those killed was Rabbi David Friedman. During the same period members of the Iron Guard destroyed three Synagogues and the Luca Moise School. They burned the scroll of the law taken from the Synagogues and transferred the furniture to churches. While the school equipment was taken to Rumanian educational institutions.

A number of Jews were sent to the Tirgu-Jiu concentration camp. After the outbreak of war with the U.S.S.R. (June 1941), all the Jewish men from ages 18 - 60 were arrested and sent to the Teis concentration camp. Youth from the ages of 13 to 18 remained in Ploesti and were mobilized into different forms of forced labor. In January 1942 men over the age of 50 were released from Teis and returned to the city. The rest were scattered throughout various cities in Rumania but were forbidden to leave their new locations.

Later on they were sent to do forced labor in various places in Bessarabia and Moldavia. After the war, practically all Ploesti's Jews returned to the city.

In 1947 the Jewish population numbered about 3,000, decreasing to 2,000 in 1950. By 1969 about 120 Jewish families remained. They had one synagogue.

Last revision: 3/20/1998

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