Entrance, Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Entrance, Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Most recent graves, Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Resident puppy, Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Jewish cemetery, Tirgu Neamt, Romania

Detail of carved gravestone, Tirgu Neamt Jewish cemetery, Romania


...Nearly 1100am, walking along the long street from the railway, several blocks, a dirt road with puddles, everyone trudging along in little groups, huddled against the bitter wind. The town centre consists of drab modern buildings. There’s a market in full swing, mainly selling produce, clothing, tinned and packaged foods.

I wander round the town for at least three hours, searching for the schul, which the guidebook describes as a totally non-descript looking building in one of the isolated remaining old streets of the former shtetl now surrounded by concrete housing blocks.

On the far side of town there is a large area of older style houses, lining dirt roads covered in puddles and guarded by stroppy geese, ducks and chickens. An ancient lady comes out of her vine draped gate and offers me a bit of sponge cake squashed in her grubby hand. We exchange a short muddled `conversation’ then she farewells me as if I was a long lost granddaughter.

I think I must traipse up and down some streets three or four times, but eventually give up, and decide to look for the cemetery instead. As usual there are no maps on sale in any of the kiosks, so I take a chance and ask a taxi driver to take me to Cimitar Evraisc. It’s now about 1615. We take a hill road to a settlement above the town. At the end of a lane I see a cream building with an inscription `Cimitirul Israelit’ and green gates topped by Star of Davids. Mission successful!

I enter through the gates, and a hoard of children and puppies greet me. A peasant family live in the building, have a small farmlet, and look after the grounds. I start looking round the graves, accompanied by an especially mischievous black puppy, who takes a fancy to the bread I have with me. In the end one of the children ties a rope round him and takes him back to the house.

The first rows of graves are all new ones, a couple from earlier this year, and the other five or six all since 1997. If, as the guidebook said, there was only a minyan of elderly men remaining a few years ago, then perhaps they have all gone, and the synagogue has been pulled down or utterly transformed, hence my difficulty in finding it.

The stones are in relatively good condition, in a picturesque setting, row upon row of them, going back for an eternity until finally ending with a hedge and a cornfield beyond. The carving is very deep, some with traces of colour, and the inscriptions would be a goldmine for a family historian. If only they could be recorded and published. The earliest gravestones date to around 1680.

Towards the end of my visit the puppy bounds back in high spirits, having escaped his tether. Then there’s an almighty fuss over calling me a taxi, the entire family gathered round. The father goes down the road to call the taxi. When he fails to return the grandmother wanders down the lane looking for him.

Meanwhile the mother arranges a taxi chit, and then everyone, dogs, children, and even an official from the adjacent meteorological station from where the phonecall was made, wait out on the street to make sure it arrives. The activity sets the local dogs and roosters off which in turn brings the neighbours out to see what is happening. What a performance! In the end, the taxi driver refuses to accept the chit, and I have to pay a second fare anyway.

According to my guidebook, until 1985 there were nine synagogues still standing in this small town, but then eight of them were torn down in the urban renewal that transformed Tirgu Neamt into a carbon copy of almost every other town nearby. Jews probably came to the town in the late 1400s, but were expelled in 1579. They didn’t return for some two hundred years.

There were a number of blood libel accusations and other antisemitic incidents during the course of Jewish history in Tirgu Neamt. Prior to the war there were some 3000 Jews in the town, which had shrunk to less than fifty a few years ago. Now, maybe none remain.

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