Town in northeast Romania in the area of the former principality of Moldova; administrative center of the county that shares its name. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Jewish merchants were already present in Botoşani, (Yid., Botoshan), known for its fairs and located at the crossroads of economic routes from Poland to the Danube. Jewish numbers increased as a result of emigration from Galicia and Ukraine. This tendency was stimulated by the geographic location of the town, which permitted trade with both Bucovina and Bessarabia, as well as by the relative religious tolerance prevailing in Moldova.
Among the occupations of the 1,477 Jews recorded in Botoşani in 1832, a significant percentage was represented by crafts intended to meet the increasing demand of the surrounding rural areas. By 1899, there were 16,817 Jews living in Botoşani, representing 51 percent of the total town population; in 1905 Jews accounted for 75 percent of all merchants active in the town; and a statistical report dating from 1906 revealed that slightly more that 68 percent of the artisans registered with the chamber of commerce and industry were Jewish. Although lacking civil rights and being vulnerable to administrative restrictions and antisemitic attacks—in 1907 rebellious peasants invaded and pillaged the Jewish district of the town—many Jews invested their capital in emerging regional enterprises involving food, textiles, wood, and building materials.
With respect to communal life, traditional Orthodoxy competed with the partisans of the Haskalah. Social and philanthropic activities developed from a very early stage; a Jewish hospital already functioned by 1817, and Jewish secular schools for boys and girls admitted students beginning in 1865 and 1896, respectively. Many Jews from Botoşani fought in the Romanian army during the Second Balkan War and World War I.
After 1920, the acquisition of civil rights initially had favorable effects on the Jewish population of Botoşani, which, according to a 1930 census, listed 11,840 Jews out of a total population of 32,355. In 1923, Jews accounted for almost a third of all students attending the local high school. Jewish participation in local political life, with representatives elected to the municipal council and even holding offices as aldermen, did not prevent many Jews from supporting the Zionist movement, which enjoyed a long-standing tradition in Botoşani.
The hostility of antisemitic forces clearly emerged when the Iron Guard assumed power in September 1940, resulting in the implementation of racial laws. As a consequence, there was an even greater effort on the part of communal institutions (e.g., hospitals and schools) to strengthen social and cultural solidarity. When large numbers of Jewish families were banished from the neighboring rural areas, the Jewish population of Botoşani had risen to 15,502 by 1942.
After Romania joined World War II, Jewish men were conscripted and sent to hard labor detachments in Moldova and Bessarabia. A total of 148 people from the town were deported to Transnistria. Following the occupation of the town by Soviet troops and lasting until the Romanian government signed the armistice, an autonomous municipal administration was established in April 1944 that included a group of Jewish experts. At its height in 1945, the Jewish population of Botoşani was nearly 20,000. However, massive immigration to Palestine and Israel in 1956 reduced the numbers by half. In 1990 there were still approximately 200 Jews living in Botoşani, though in 2003 these numbers had fallen to 92.
Tiberiu Crudu, ed., Botoşanii la 1932 (Botoşani, 1932); Artur Gorovei, Monografia oraşului Botoşani (Botoşani, 1926); Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 29–39 (Jerusalem, 1969); Elias Schwarzfeld, Din istoria evreilor: Impopularea, reîmpopularea şi întemeierea tîrgurilor şi tîrguşoarelor din Moldova (Bucharest, 1914).
Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea