Town in northern Moldavia. Mihăileni was established in 1792, subsequent to the opening of a customs station between Austria and Moldavia. The town was originally named Vlădeni, but eventually the Moldavian prince Mihail Sturdza (r. 1834–1849) changed it into Mihăileni and, aiming to turn it into an important trading center, encouraged the settlement of Jews from Galicia, exempting them from taxes.
Very active in trading and crafts, the Jewish community of Mihăileni recorded significant demographic growth throughout the nineteenth century and a constant decline in the twentieth century. The numbers grew from 516 Jews in 1820 to 734 in 1831, to 900 in 1838, to 2,472 in 1859 (representing 67.6% of the total population), and to 2,886 in 1886. The numbers then fell (most likely because of economic factors) to 2,447 in 1899 (65.7%), to 2,134 in 1910, to 1,490 in 1930 (32%), and to just 1,301 in 1941 (27.1%). In 1910, among Jewish inhabitants there were 108 merchants, 35 tailors, 32 cobblers, 15 carpenters, 4 blacksmiths, and 148 other craftsmen.
The community, reorganized in 1897 and officially acknowledged in 1932 pursuant to a new law on the statute of communities, owned (during the interwar period) nine synagogues, a mikveh, a cemetery, and a primary school (founded in 1899). In 1930, the Jewish Party presented a list for elections to the municipal council and obtained an absolute majority (300 of the 424 votes), but the authorities nullified the election results.
In the nineteenth century, the most renowned rabbi of Mihăileni was Shabetai Segal (d. 1900), author of a collection of responsa; in the twentieth century, Yitsḥak (Ițic) Me’ir Marilus (1903–1986) served as communal rabbi from 1933 to 1940 and again from 1944 to 1952. Mihăileni was a center of Hebrew culture, and the town’s most prestigious personality was the maskil Mordekhai Strelisker (1808–1875). Others who were born there include the Yiddish-language writers Iacob Groper (1890–1966) and Leon Bertiş (1897–1980), and the Hebrew writers Idov Cohen and Yisra’el Levanon (b. Leivandman), the latter two of whom eventually became political leaders in Israel.
In the summer of 1940, after the occupation of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina by the USSR, Mihăileni was situated near the Soviet border. Subsequently, persecutions conducted by the military and especially by the chief of the gendarmerie, a certain Captain Mihăilescu, began to occur; the latter organized unannounced searches in Jews’ homes, seeking weapons and Bolshevik manifestos. Approximately 100 Jews, among them Rabbi Marilus, were accused of promoting Communist propaganda and were imprisoned.
On 21 June 1941, on the eve of the Soviet attack, all Jews were forced to leave the town within a half-hour period; their possessions were in most cases stolen by neighbors and by peasants from nearby villages. Jews were forced to walk tens of kilometers to Bucecea, then to Dorohoi, until 8 November when they were deported, with other Jews from the region of Dorohoi, in closed cars to Mogilev in Transnistria. In 1944, only limited numbers of Jews returned to Mihăileni; there were just 680 in 1947. The town lost its Jewish inhabitants very quickly as they settled in larger cities before emigrating, mainly settling in Israel. The last Jewish inhabitant died in 1998.
Idov Cohen, Shikheḥah ve-leket (Tel Aviv, 1976); Zisu Lebel, Mihaileni: My Dear Shtetl, 2 vols. (Haifa, 1998), also available at jewishgen.org/yizkor/Mihaileni/Mihaileni .html; Theodor Lavi and Dora Lita’ni, “Mikhai’leni / Mihăileni,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, p. 180–181 (Jerusalem, 1969); Yisra’el Levanon, ‘Am seride ḥerev (Jerusalem, 1995), pp. 237–261; David Shelomoh, ed., Dorot shel yahadut ve-tsiyonut: Dorohoi, Saveni, Mikha’ileni, Darabani, Hertsah, Rada’uts-Prut (Kiryat Byalik, Isr., 1992–2000), see vol. 1, pp. 155–204; vol. 2, pp. 155–176, 299–326; vol. 3, pp. 233–282, 285–310; vol. 4, pp. 201–226, 359–398; vol. 5, pp. 239–265, 351–397.
Translated from French by Anca Mircea