Port city on the Danube River, located in the Moldavian region of Romania. Written records of Jewish settlement in Galați (Galatz) include information from the seventeenth century. The town’s oldest standing Jewish cemetery dates back to 1774, though earlier cemeteries apparently existed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Great Synagogue, mentioned in documents in 1780, was rebuilt in 1813. Galați’s communal register dates back to 1812.
Records from 1803 show that 72 Jews were noted as taxpayers. The population of Jews in the city then increased as a result of the port’s development, growing from approximately 7,000 in 1841 to 13,992 in 1899. Emigration patterns and World War I caused the numbers—11,461 in 1924—to fall, but levels then reached 19,912 in 1930 (representing 20% of the city’s population). Jews were involved in trade, banking, industry, and crafts. In 1834, the community founded a home for the ill that was turned into a hospital in 1846. The first modern elementary school for boys was set up in 1860.
A Reform Choral Temple was founded in 1863, and a committee of the Alliance Israélite Universelle was established in 1864. The Înfrățirea Zion (Zion Brotherhood) association created a lodge in 1873, eventually affiliating with B’nai B’rith. The Association of Jewish Craftsmen was established in 1875.
In 1876, the Committee of the Israelite Hospital, School, and Charity Societies replaced the corporate organization of the community. A Jewish community association was created in 1895 and was acknowledged as a legal entity in 1906. In 1894, a second elementary school for boys was opened, followed in 1898 by a trade school (turned into a high school for boys in 1919). Other educational institutions included an elementary school for girls, founded in 1899; and a housekeeping school that opened in 1901. The community also supported two ritual bathhouses, an orphanage, a home for the elderly, and a canteen for the poor.
After the emancipation of the Jews in Romania and the community reorganization of 1919, the board of the Jewish community was elected by direct vote. There were political rivalries for leadership among Zionists, representatives of the Union of Romanian Jews, and representatives of Romanian political parties. In 1928, Baruch Zosmer, a Zionist, became vice mayor of the city.
By 1914 there were 20 synagogues, a heder, and a Talmud Torah. The city’s most important rabbis were Avraham Margulies, Yitsḥak Shapira, Avraham Ya‘akov Derbaremdigher, and Ya‘akov Margulies. The Hasidic courts of Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel Friedman and Ya‘akov Yosef Halpern were also located in Galați.
In 1881–1919, Galați was the center of the Zionist movement in Romania; the Revisionist Zionist organization of the country was set up there in 1926. In the interwar period, Zionist youth organizations and Yiddishist associations were active, as well as the sports associations Maccabi and Hagibor. Jewish publications of various orientations were published in Yiddish, Romanian, and German.
Among the outstanding Jewish personalities of the town were the industrialist Max Auschnitt; the Zionist activist Samuel Pineles; the painter Reuven Rubin; the writers Hirsh Mendel Pineles, Joseph Brociner, Barbu Nemțeanu, Sebastian Costin, Nina Cassian, and Edgar Reichmann; the pianist Radu Lupu; and the parachutist Abba Bardicev.
Relations between Jews, the local administration, and the Christian population were not always smooth. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, conflicts emerged between Greeks and Jews, culminating in the destruction of several synagogues during the Greek Revolution (1821). Pogroms took place in 1846 and 1868, and they subsided only after foreign consuls intervened. In 1859, an accusation of ritual murder was made against Jews, of murdering a Greek child and using his blood to prepare matzot for Passover. Several Jews were arrested. The mob attacked the Jewish quarter, killing some Jews. The anti-Jewish troubles, organized by the authorities together with the mob, continued for three days. The troubles ended after the intervention of foreign consuls present in the town, most notably the French consul. In 1922–1923, several antisemitic groups organized demonstrations, and in June 1940, when several Jews crossed the border to Soviet-ruled Bessarabia, an incident between them and the Romanian frontier guards resulted in a pogrom. After Romania entered World War II on 22 June 1941, Jewish men aged 18 to 60 were arrested and imprisoned; they were eventually transferred to several camps within the city of Galați and forced to perform hard labor.
The number of Jews in Galați dropped from 13,511 in 1941 to 12,946 in 1942. When Romania joined the Allies’ side in the war on 23 August 1944, German soldiers set fire to the town, and several synagogues were destroyed. In 1947 there were approximately 15,000 Jews living in Galați; its leadership came from the Jewish Democrat Committee. Though Jewish schools were nationalized in 1948, Yiddish was still taught in two of them. A Talmud Torah continued to function, and in 1969 courses in Hebrew and Judaism were organized. The number of Jewish inhabitants gradually dropped as a result of emigration. In 1969, there were approximately 2,000 Jews left; and by 2003 there were just 241, with one functioning synagogue.
Theodor Lavi and Dorah Lita’ni, “Ga’la’ts (Galați),” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 90–99 (Jerusalem, 1969); Osy Lazăr and Solomon Weinberg, “Din istoria comunității evreilor din Galați,” in Studia et acta historiae iudaeorum romaniae 6 (2001): 11–27; Zum Baue und 25 jährigen Bestehen des Israelitischen Chor-Tempels in Galatz, 1863, 1885–1910 (Galați, 1910), anonymous booklet published by the congregation of the Choral Temple of Galați.
RG 1109, Lemuel Levitt, Papers, 1890-1920s.
Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea