Languages in Moldova and Moldovia #bessarabia

Anna Reuter <anna94306@...>

Hi Yefim:

Thanks for explaining the Moldavia/Moldova Confusion.  

Could you also give us your take on the languages used in the two regions over
that 200 year period? Among and between Jews,  Yiddish (German Dialect) would
be spoken, of course. And if they were literate,  they would write Yiddish with
Hebrew letters. 

How about the divide between Romania and Bessarabia  (when it was part of the
Russian Empire)? My father, born in Bessarabia in 1905, claimed to speak Russian
in addition to Yiddish.   But Bessarabia was closer to Ukraine.  Would his version
of Russian with the Cyrillic Alphabet be more similar to Ukrainian?
Ukrainian and Russian Languages share some commonality with Cyrillic letters,
but there are differences.

Then there is Romania and/or the Moldavia Principality. They would speak
Romanian, of course, and use  a Latin Alphabet but with 31 letters.
Romanian is a Romance Language with roots in Latin.

Please correct me if I did not get this right.


Anna Reuter
Palo Alto, California

Yefim Kogan

Hi everybody, it is a great discussion. I want to thank everyone who
participated. I would be glad to let you know my take on Languages.

200 years ago: 1812 - Russia annexed the Eastern part of Moldova
Principality, and that whole region between rivers Prut and Dniester and
Danube in the south became part of Russia, the oblast and later Gubernia
(Province) of Russian Empire.

Let's divide these 200 years in three periods:
1812 - 1917.
People in the land used to know Romanian Language. The language roots go
back to 16 century. What is also interesting according to a number of
sources, including
"The online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages", Romanian
Language used Cyrillic alphabet until 1860! I think that the Latin
alphabet started to use after Romania declared full independence from
Ottoman Empire. Also in some of the sources, the Romanian Language used in
Transylvania used Latin alphabet...

Jews as always used the language of the land - Romanian, but also many knew
Yiddish, and some Hebrew. Russian Empire did whatever they could to russify
their population. In 1835 they started to register Jews. The Birth, Death,
Marriages had to be written in Hebrew/Yiddish and in Russian, and two copies
of these books had to be kept. Revision Lists started in Bessarabia in 1820s
were written in Russian.
Jews were drafted into Russian Army, and some of the regiments were placed
in Bessarabia. Military Jews could go to the closest shteitle on Shabbat
and were welcomed by local Jewish communities. These soldiers definitely
spoke among other languages - Russian. Jewish Merchants who were allowed to
live anywhere in Russian Empire (1st gild - anywhere and without time limit,
and 2-3rd gild in some places for some time). These people most likely knew
Russian to promote their business and speak with non-Jewish clients. The
other category of Jews who spoke Russian were educated emancipated Jews,
some of them graduated >from Russian schools or universities.

Anna, it is usually the case that people born in the beginning of 20c spoke
Russian. My grandparents born 1899, 1905 spoke well Russian. You are also
asking about Ukrainian versus Russian. Russian and Ukrainian are two
different languages, with some similarities and of course in the north of
Bessarabia in Khotin uezd Jews would know Ukrainian because local population
were Ukrainians and spoke that language. Also Russian was spoken in larger
towns, Kishinev, Bendery, Beltsy, and very little in villages and shteitlakh
were Jews used to live.

Couple more comments. Remember our discussion about German colonies in
Bessarabia. German is another language some of the Jews spoke... those who
lived in these colonies. For example in Tarutino at the beginning of 19 c
were about 1600 Jews, some of them studied in German school and I found
among students of that school. Also in Bessarabia were Bolgarian villages,
and locals spole Bolgarian, like one large village between Bendery and
Tiraspol - Parkany, which was always a Bolgarian town, but I am sure that
Jews had business in that place, and possible spoke their language.

A second period is 1917-1940.
That is a time when Bessarabia was under Romania rule. Of course in that
time Russian was not a language on the street and who every read Russian
books, considered communists, and Russian spies. Jews spoke Yiddish,
studied in Hedders, Jewish schools in large towns. Many of such schools
were in Kishinev, also in other major towns.
People who were born after 1915 did not know Russian, and spoke Romanian and
Yiddish. In this period many Jews studied in non-Jewish schools, partially
maintained by the government, but in many of them 70-80% of students were
Jewish. There are many stories about such school I put at our
website/Memoirs section written by my mother. The Moldovans children
usually studied until 3-4th grade and after that worked at home and in the
field with the parents.
When Russians came in 1940 many Jews who studied in schools (non-Jewish)
lost 1 or 2 years of studies because they did not know Russian at all...
that period lasted only 1 year and the Great Patriotic War started.

Third period is after the war 1945-1990.
That period I remember well. Jews spoke Yiddish at home, and also on the
streets. On the main street in Kishinev - Lenin Street, and in parks where
people walked on Sunday nights after the theater or a movie, you could hear
more Yiddish when Russian or Romanian. We did not study Yiddish, but we
could speak it, at least some of us. My father knew how to read and write
in Yiddish, and much later in 70s he taught me writing, and we started to
write each other letters in Yiddish (I lived in Moscow).
Just a side note, I remember an Yiddish theater in Kishinev in late 60s,
and even at some point troupe was divided and established the second Yiddish

The official language of Moldova Republic was Moldovan, and official
language of USSR - Russian. After 1917 the language was named Moldovan and
Soviets re-introduced Cyrillic into it. I have studied Moldovan language in
Russian school (most Jews went to Russian schools - most of schools in
Kishinev were Russian schools!)

I remember in 1970s I wrote to the publisher of Sovertish Haimland, a
Yiddish magazine published in Moscow, why there is no Yiddish in Soviet
schools? The answer was that the Jews in 1950s decided NOT to study
Yiddish! I thought at that time that this is a propaganda >from the Soviet
magazine, but after studying history of Jews in Russian and USSR, I believe
that in fact Jews were so afraid in 1950s to study Yiddish and keeping
Jewish alive that they may not want that for their children... remember
beginning of 1950s, process of Jewish doctors, other, it was clear the
Soviets want to move all Jews to Birobidzhan... and only death of Stalin
stopped this plan...

I probably should stop now...

Please ask more questions, and participate in this discussion.

All the best,
Yefim Kogan
Bessarabia SIG Coordinator
Bendery, Tarutino, Akkerman, Kiliya - all in Bessarabia, KHAIMOVICH in
Galatz, Romania, KOGAN in Dubossary, Moldova, SRULEVICH in Shanghai, China

-----Original Message-----
From: Anna Reuter []
Sent: Friday, December 13, 2013 10:06 AM
To: Bessarabia SIG
Subject: Languages in Moldova and Moldovia

Hi Yefim:

Thanks for explaining the Moldavia/Moldova Confusion.  

Could you also give us your take on the languages used in the two regions
over that 200 year period? Among and between Jews,  Yiddish (German
Dialect) would be spoken, of course. And if they were literate,  they would
write Yiddish with Hebrew letters………..