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Coat of arms of Bessarabia as the Russian government
Bessarabia in Europe
Bessarabia, 1940
Historical Bessarabia and today's Republic of Moldova

Bessarabia ( listen to ? / I ; Romanian Basarabia , Ukrainian Бессарабія , rarely also Басарабія , Russian Бессарабия ) is a historical landscape in southeastern Europe , bordered by the Black Sea in the south and the Prut rivers in the west and the Dniester / Dniester in the east. The former Bessarabia today largely coincides with the part of the Republic of Moldova to the west of the Dniester , only the south ( Budschak ) and the extreme north (around Chotyn ) belong to the Ukraine . For centuries the country was a buffer region between the great powers Austria , Russia and the Ottoman Empire . In 1812 the Principality of Moldova ceded rule to Russia. After that, the region, which was mostly inhabited by Romanians, was part of the Russian Empire until 1917 as the Gouvernement of Bessarabia . In 1918 Bessarabia was briefly independent. In the interwar period it was the eastern province of Romania and after World War II it was annexed to the Soviet Union . Audio file / audio sample


The name "Bessarabia" (Romanian Basarabia , Gagauz Basarabiya ) is derived from the Wallachian dynasty Basarab , who ruled there in the 13th and 14th centuries, and has nothing to do with Arabia . Originally, only the southern third of the country was known as Terra Bassarabum (lat.). With the Russian takeover in 1812, Russia extended the name "Bessarabia" to the entire area between the Prut and Dniester / Dniester rivers .

coat of arms

Coat of arms of Bessarabia

The coat of arms of Bessarabia is the aurochs , which is surrounded at the top by a five-pointed star , on the left (heraldic: right) by a rose and on the right (heraldic: left) by a crescent moon . The representation of the coat of arms (drawing on the left) comes from a document in which the national general assembly of Bessarabia ( Sfatul Țării ) declared on April 9, 1918 that the area would be annexed to Romania for eternity .

The aurochs is the symbol of the Principality of Moldova , to which Bessarabia belonged until its separation in 1812.

Land and agriculture


Herd of cattle with shepherd in the Budschak steppe , 1940

Bessarabia was a stretch of land on the Black Sea between the Prut rivers in the west and the Dniester in the east and in the transition from the Carpathian Mountains to the Eastern European steppe . With an extension of approx. 450 km × 100 km, the area was around 45,000 km². The southern third ( Budschak ), as well as the north-western tip around the city of Chotyn belong today to Ukraine (in the east of the Chernivtsi Oblast ). The rest of the northern two-thirds and the central part are now part of the Republic of Moldova and make up the main part of the national territory.

Bessarabia can be divided into three landscape zones. North Bessarabia is a foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, a lightly forested plateau of about 400 m above sea level. This part of the country is covered with oak and beech forests and cut through by deep gorges. Central Bessarabia is also covered by forests (from which it also bears the name Codrii , meaning “forests”) and gradually merges from Tighina into the steppe-like area of ​​the Budschak in southern Bessarabia, a gently rolling hill country with a tree-free landscape about 100 m above sea level. Fertile black soil lies beneath man-high steppe grass . All rivers flow in a south-easterly direction with a slight gradient and flow into the Black Sea. In summer the small steppe rivers almost dry out.


The area has a continental climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters. In the south there is a dry steppe climate with low average rainfall (300 mm), which leads to poor harvests in agriculture in poor rainy years without artificial irrigation. At the same time, there can be severe flooding during downpours when the small rivers overflow. In the more forested north, 600 mm annual rainfall is common.


Peasant women at the harvest, 1941
Cattle trough at a steppe well, 2005

Bessarabia's wealth was the humus-rich , fertile black earth with a thickness of up to 1.5 m, which enabled the high-yielding cultivation of wine, wheat, millet, maize and fruit. As a purely agricultural country, Bessarabia mainly exported wine, fruits (melons and pumpkins), vegetables, tobacco, grain and wool that came from widespread sheep farming, especially the fine-wool Karakul sheep (the lambskin is known as "Bessarab" in the tobacco trade) . Even today, agricultural products are of great importance. These make z. For example, Moldova made up around 40% of the gross domestic product and two thirds of all exports in 2000 .

The farmers transported the export products to the Black Sea port of Odessa (Ukraine). After the connection to Romania (1918), however, sales via the then Soviet Odessa were lost and sales to the Soviet Union also suffered greatly. A small compensation for this was the sale of oil fruits and soybeans at fixed prices in the German Reich in the 1930s . In livestock farming, cattle were more common than horses. The Moldovan farmers mainly used oxen as draft animals when tilling their arable land , but the Bessarabian German farmers only used horses.

Due to the poverty of energy sources, commercial, industrial production was only available for local needs, mainly agricultural implements. The country's natural resources were saltpetre and marble . There was a production of sea salt in lagoon-like limes of the Black Sea.


From the 13th to the 14th centuries , the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Venice vied for supremacy in trade on the Black Sea. A major goal was the import of food from there to northern Italy, but the route through the Black Sea was also the western section of the Silk Road until the conquest of Crimea by the Ottoman Empire in 1475 . Trading posts arose on the Black Sea coast, such as the fortress in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyj called Mauro Castro , and on the rivers. The Genoese maintained an unfortified trading post deep inland in Tighina (Bender) on the Dniester . Even in the later centuries, when Bender belonged to the Principality of Moldova , the city retained its role in the Black Sea trade.

The road network in the country was always underdeveloped and hindered economic development. In 1930 there were 800 kilometers of paved roads and 7000 km of nature trails that were only passable in dry weather. The first rail link connected the state capital Kishinev with the Russian Empire in 1871 . When Bessarabia moved from Russia to Romania in 1918, the entire 1,300 km long railway network was converted from the Russian broad gauge to the Central European standard gauge . This step was reversed with the incorporation into the Soviet Union . The shipping traffic was largely paralyzed, although the country was surrounded by the waters of the Prut , Dniester and Danube and also had part of the Black Sea. In 1920 26 barges sailed the 200 km navigable Pruth. Shipping traffic on the 700 km navigable Dniester was paralyzed after 1918 because of the border location between Romania and the Soviet Union.

Settlements and cities

Typical street scene in a village settlement, here Wessela Dolyna

Except for the Bessarabian capital Chisinau , Russian Kishinev , Romanian Chișinău , there were no major cities. Kishinev on the fringes of the Russian empire did not enjoy a good reputation in the empire in the first decades after the conquest by Russia , but was regarded as a transfer camp for the discontented and rebellious. The young Russian national poet Alexander Pushkin was exiled to Kishinev as a translator from 1820 to 1823 and wrote about the city:

“Oh Kishinev, oh dark city!
Accursed city of Kishinev, your tongue never tires of insulting you. "

From 1834 onwards, a generous urban development plan created an imperial cityscape with wide and long streets in Kishinev. Nevertheless, Bessarabia was an agricultural area with a majority of the population living in the countryside. As market communities, the larger towns were only semi-urban in character. The colonist villages (see photo above) were each laid out as a street village and were several kilometers long. In the wake of centuries of Ottoman rule , the type of oriental bazaar town came into the country. Many places therefore had large-scale market areas. Some place names in the south indicate the earlier Ottoman rule and Tatar settlement, e.g. B. Akkerman (Turkish for white fortress ), Bender (Turkish for the gate , today Tighina), Tatarbunar, Ismail, Tuzla, Kubey, Manuk-Bey.

Places with an urban character were in 1937 (with population):

  • Chișinău (Russian Kishinev, German Chisinau) 117,000, today the capital of Moldova
  • Cetatea Albă (Akkerman) 55,000, today Bilhorod-Dnistrowskyj in Ukraine
  • Tighina (Bender) 50,000, but from today in Moldova Transnistria managed
  • Ismail 45,000, today Ismajil in Ukraine
  • Bălți (Eng. Belz), 40,000, today in Moldova
  • Hotin 35,000, today Chotyn in Ukraine
  • Soroca 35,000, today in Moldova

The other larger towns such as Orhei , Chilia , Comrat , Tuzla , Cahul , Leova , Bolgrad and Vâlcov were only market towns with up to 15,000 inhabitants.


Ethnic groups in Bessarabia, 1930
Ethnic groups in Moldova on the territory of the former Bessarabia, May 1995


As initially specified by the authorities, the ethnic groups initially lived in their own villages in the 19th century. Originally there was even a separation into Evangelical Lutheran and Catholic settlements among the German colonists. In the 20th century there was no longer any purely ethnic or linguistic unity in the villages. Most of the villages were still predominantly inhabited by a single ethnic group, but the larger cities now had a mixed, multicultural population. The relationship between the different ethnic groups was a peaceful neighborhood relationship , although mixed marriages were rather rare due to the different language and religious affiliations.

year Total population Moldovans / Romanians Ukrainians Russians Gagauz Bulgarians Jews German Other
1897 1.94 million 47.6% ¹ 19.6% 8.1% 2.9% ² 5.3% 11.8% 3.1% 1.6%
1930 2.86 million 56.23% 10.97% 12.28% 3.43% 5.7% 7.15% 2.83% 1.39%

¹ The results of the 1897 census have been repeatedly challenged. Several historians are of the opinion that the proportion of Moldovans and Romanians was higher and over 50%. What is certain is that a Romanian majority existed at least until the middle of the 19th century.
² In the 1897 census, Gagauz only had the option of specifying Turkish as their mother tongue. 2.9% (almost 56,000 people) stated Turkish as their mother tongue, but a significant proportion of the Gagauz stated Bulgarian as their mother tongue, so that this number did not necessarily correspond to the actual number of Gagauz people.

Jewish population

In 1791, Catherine the Great forced almost all Russian Jews to resettle in western provinces, thus creating the " shtetl ". Their policy was essentially continued by the later tsars, making Bessarabia part of the Pale of Settlement after the Russian takeover in 1812 . However, until 1835 there was an autonomous status, so that normal Russian legal discrimination was not valid there (such as the ban on land purchase). Another group of newcomers were Jews from Germany and Poland, who, like Jews from other areas, spoke mostly Yiddish . As a result, there was soon a share of almost 40% Jewish population in the larger towns .

In the following decades the legal privileges gradually decreased. Still, until the complete abolition of discrimination after the October 1917 Revolution, there were some advantages due to its favorable location on the edge of the Russian Empire.

Color lithograph on the situation of the Jews in the Russian Empire, 1904

After the murder of the reform-oriented Tsar Alexander II in 1881, Tsar Alexander III. with the May Laws reinstated the old restrictions. With the exception of Bessarabia, where the majority population was a minority in Russia, there were now pogroms against the Jews in the entire south of Russia , leading to increased emigration of Jews. Finally, on April 6, 1903, a pogrom also took place in Kishinev in which 47 people died and which had been deliberately stirred up by the publisher of the only newspaper Bessarabez (Бессарабецъ) and showed signs of an organized crime. The response to documentation of this incident in the world press has been violent, even within Russia. In July 1905, for example, a US petition was presented to the Tsar, but this had no effect on his policy. Under the influence of the event, Chaim Nachman Bialik wrote several poems, including the famous 1904 poem Be-Ir ha-Haregah ("In the city of slaughter"). In 1905 there was another pogrom with 19 dead. During the Second World War , under German-Romanian occupation, massacres were first carried out among the Jewish population; later the survivors were deported on death marches to the Romanian-occupied Transnistria and the majority murdered.

Bulgarian population

As early as the end of the 18th century, individual Bulgarian families came as emigrants to southern Bessarabia, to the Budschak , in order to find protection from the attacks of the Pasha Osman Pazvantoğlu . Larger groups immigrated after the Russian takeover of 1812 and settled in the west near the city of Bolgrad and in the areas abandoned by the Tatars in the south. In 1819 the 24,000 Bulgarians living in the country were granted self-government and colonist status. A larger wave of refugees settled in Bessarabia in the course of the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829) , when entire regions of Thrace, west and south of today's city of Burgas , were depopulated and the population fled with the Russian troops from the approaching Ottomans.

The Dobruja , bordering the southwestern border of Bessarabia, was controversial between Bulgaria and Romania, as both Bulgarians and Romanians lived there, and Romania wanted access to the Black Sea . The Bessarabian Bulgarians were affected by this conflict, but also by the independence movement of Bulgaria from the Ottomans, since the Bulgarian April Uprising in 1876 . During the uprising, Christo Botew , a Bulgarian living in Bessarabia , captured a steamship on the Danube and joined 200 other Bulgarian exiles in the fighting against the Ottomans. Furthermore, in April 1877 Tsar Alexander II declared war on the Ottoman Empire with the aim of "liberating the Bulgarians and other Balkan peoples", which ultimately led to Romania's independence.

German population

Bessarabian German men with Romanian fur hats

German emigrants, whom the Tsar called into the country as colonists in 1813, lived in Bessarabia between 1814 and 1940. They lived as independent farmers on their own clod. In 125 years of settlement they had increased the original number of 24 mother colonies to over 150 Bessarabian German settlements . The number of around 9,000 immigrants had increased more than tenfold to 93,000. The privileges initially granted, including self-administration by the Welfare Committee based in Odessa , were withdrawn around 1870 when the colonist status was revoked. As a result of the introduction of military service, many colonists emigrated to North and South America (with a focus on North and South Dakota , Canada, Argentina, and Brazil). When Bessarabia was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940 as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact , almost all “ ethnic Germans ” living there were resettled to the German Reich . In September 1940, a special relocation agreement was signed with the Soviet Union. The main office of the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle was the organizer of this campaign under the motto Heim ins Reich . After staying in camps for up to two years, the resettlers were given farms in occupied Poland from 1941/42 , the Polish owners of which were driven out by the German military. When the Red Army advanced in 1944, the Bessarabian Germans fled west. The parents of the later German Federal President Horst Köhler were among the Bessarabian German resettlers .

Gagauz population

Today around 175,000 Christian Orthodox Gagauz live in southern Moldova on the soil of the former Bessarabia in the autonomous republic of Gagauzia with the capital Comrat . The ancestors of the Gagauz were probably Kumans , the western part of the Kyptschaks who lived in the east of the Balkan Peninsula . In the 13th century these became temporarily Catholic ( see also: Codex Cumanicus ). Shortly afterwards the Cumans merged with the Romanians north of the Danube. Between 1812 and 1845, Gagauz nomads migrated from Dobrudscha and what is now eastern Bulgaria to the Budschak , to places like Avdarma, Comrat, Congaz, Tomai and Cismichioi and, in some cases, further to the Crimea . In 1906 the Gagauz founded their own republic, which only lasted a few days.

Cultural monuments

Some important cultural monuments can be found in Bessarabia, although the country was a passage area for many peoples for centuries and, as a result of small-scale agriculture, had hardly any economic resources.

Akkerman Fortress

The medieval fortress in Akkerman (Turkish for white city ), today Bilhorod-Dnistrowskyj in Ukraine, in Romanian times Cetatea Alba (Romanian for white castle ), is located at the mouth of the Dniester to the Black Sea . The princes of the Moldavia built further fortifications against Tatar incursions on the Dniester in Chotyn , Soroca , Orhei and Tighina as well as against the Turks in Kilija on the Danube.

Archeologically worth mentioning are the Kurgane occurring in southern Bessarabia . The Scythian horsemen buried their leaders together with some richly decorated horses in the burial mounds, which were piled up to a height of 30 m . Of the two 120 km long Trajan's walls (Lower and Upper), which were ascribed to the Romans, there are still five meter high walls in places. Important cave churches and monasteries were built between the 12th and 17th centuries and are carved into the rock on the banks of the Dniester and Răut rivers . In a roughly 100 m high rock in Țipova ( Rezina district ), 19 caves are connected to one another and form an ensemble of hermit cells, a bell tower and a church. In Saharna (Rajon Rezina) there are traces of building on a rock that date back to the 2nd century BC. Chr. Range. Other historical buildings are ruins in Orheiul Vechi ( Orhei Rajon ) from the Tatar period in the 14th century, which are associated with the Golden Horde . It is believed that the westernmost Tatar capital here was Shehr al-Jadid.



In 2010 artifacts of the Acheuléen were discovered on the lower Dniester near Dubăsari ( Transnistria ) , which were dated up to 800,000 years ago. The two sandstone choppers and the four pieces of flint were therefore considered to be the oldest human traces of Moldova and the Ukraine as well as western Russia.

The cave of Duruitoarea Veche in northern Moldova

In Bessarabia there are a few Middle Paleolithic sites, the oldest of which was the Duruitoarea Veche cave. The artifacts there have now been dated to around 70,000 years. The Ofatinti site, which dates back up to 125,000 years, is now considered to be older.

Ancient and Middle Ages

Statue of Prince Neagoe Basarab in Curtea de Argeș in Wallachia

The oldest historically documented people in Bessarabian territory were the Scythians , who were nomadic horsemen in the 6th century BC. Immigrated from the eastern steppe areas. Even in pre-Christian times, Greeks ( see also: Tyras , ancient Greek city) founded colonies on the Black Sea coast and mentioned the Germanic tribe of the Bastarnen, who settled in central Bessarabia . Dacians (Geten) were also mentioned here (Tyragetae). From the 1st century BC Bessarabia was part of the empire Dacia . In the 1st century, the Roman Empire conquered parts of the country. He is credited with securing the land through the Trajan's Wall . During the migration period between the 3rd and 11th centuries, Bessarabia was a transit area for migrating peoples, including Goths , Huns , Avars and Magyars . In the 7th century the Bulgarians settled in the south of Bessarabia, in the delta area of ​​the Danube , and founded the Bulgarian Empire . In the 13th century, Tatars of the Golden Horde settled in the northern Black Sea , but their traces in Bessarabia disappeared shortly afterwards. Several centuries before that, Bessarabia was under the rule of the Pechenegs . Towards the end of the 13th century, the southern region belonged to Wallachia. The area between the Prut and the Dniester / Dniester has belonged to the Principality of Moldova since the 14th century. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, Moldova was the sphere of influence of the Ottoman Empire (the forerunner state of Turkey ). The south of Bessarabia (the Budschak ) had been under direct Ottoman rule since the end of the 15th century.

In the Middle Ages , various Wallachian and Moldovan princes, including Neagoe Basarab (1512-21), Negru Vodă Basarab and Ladislas Basarab , were influential here. They ruled the area for around 150 years in the 13th and 14th centuries. They maintained contacts with the Kievan Rus , with Hungary and Poland .

Ottoman time

Withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire (1683–1923) from the Balkans and the areas north of the Black Sea

After the Ottomans had conquered the fort built by Prince Stephan the Great in Akkerman (see also Odessa Oblast ) on July 14, 1484, the Ottoman period began. From around 1511 the whole of southern Bessarabia was conquered by Sultan Bayezid II and was populated with Tatar shepherds of the Nogaier horde . They called the southern part of the country Budschak , which means angle, and stands for the triangular shape of the piece of land between the Prut , Dniester and Black Sea . In 1538 Tighina (Bendery) also became Ottoman.

The Principality of Moldova , to which the later Bessarabia belonged, was a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire from the beginning of the 16th century until 1859 . Grain deliveries to Constantinople ensured internal autonomy . Instead, the Sultan did not build mosques in the Danube Principality and granted him protection from external threats such as the Russian and Habsburg urges for expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Russian time

Illustrative map for the province of Bessarabia, 1856 (Russian)
Bessarabia 1896, (Russian)

The consequence of the Russian urge to expand towards Constantinople was the 6th Russian Turkish War , which began in 1806 . During the war, around 1810, Russian troops resettled parts of the Turkic peoples who were nomadic in Budschak to the Crimea ; a large part had already fled with the Ottomans and evacuated to Dobruja . In 1812 the Russian Tsar Alexander I pushed for peace to focus on the upcoming war with Napoleon . In the Treaty of Bucharest , Russia was granted the eastern half of the Principality of Moldova , while the western half remained under the influence of the Ottoman Empire . From 1812 the border between the Ottoman Empire and Russia no longer ran along the Dniester , but 100 km to 125 km further west, on the Prut . In the assigned area, Russia established the Bessarabia governorate , the smallest of the empire . The capital became the Central Bessarabian Kishinew (Chișinău). Mikhail Semjonowitsch Vorontsov became the governor general of New Russia and Bessarabia in 1823 .

When Russia took over the land between the Prut and Dniester rivers with an area of ​​around 45,000 km² in 1812, it extended the term Bessarabia, which originally only applied to the southern part, to the entire area. The tsarist empire wanted to create a new Bessarabian identity in order to historically secure its own claims to power on the Romanians living in it. Russia acquired five fortresses, 17 cities, 685 villages and 482,000 people. According to the first Russian census of 1817, the population consisted of:

  • 83,848 Romanian families (86% of the total population),
  • 6000 Ruthenian families (6.5%),
  • 3826 Jewish families (1.5%),
  • 1200 Lipovan families (1.5%),
  • 640 Greek families (0.7%),
  • 530 Armenian families (0.6%),
  • 241 Bulgarian families (0.25%),
  • 241 Gagauz families (0.25%).

The Russian rulers initially granted autonomy and did not intervene in the internal structure of society, but later increased the pressure of Russification by introducing Russian as the sole official language after the autonomous status of the region had been lifted in 1828. The land was mainly in the hands of large landowners, the boyars . The majority of the population were small farmers who produced for their own use. After the conquest of Bessarabia, many fled west across the Prut River for fear of the coming introduction of Russian serfdom , which at that time was only practiced among the Roma in Bessarabia , but in the rest of Russia still comprised all ethnic groups and was very widespread .

Between 1856 and 1878, the southwestern part of Bessarabia ( Cahul, Bolgrad and Ismail ) came back to Moldova and Romania (from 1859) as a result of the Crimean War .


The Russification process in Bessarabia was primarily directed against the native Romanian majority population. During the Russian rule in Bessarabia, the proportion of Romanians and Moldovans decreased massively. This process took place in different ways. On the one hand, foreign ethnic groups were recruited to settle in Bessarabia. On the other hand, the Romanians were supported to settle in other regions of the Russian Empire (especially in Siberia and the Kuban region). In addition, there was a restrictive Russian-language policy by the government, which induced part of the population, especially the emerging middle class, to assimilate into Russian culture.

In 1812, during the negotiations in Bucharest, Russia promised wide autonomy for Bessarabia, in which the region would continue to be ruled by the Moldovan boyars. However, after only 16 years this autonomy was lifted and Bessarabia was transformed into an ordinary governorate . In 1829 the use of the Romanian language in the administration was banned. Since 1833, services were no longer allowed to be held in Romanian and all Romanian church records were burned. In 1842 the Romanian language was replaced by the Russian language in all grammar schools. In 1860 Romanian lessons were even discontinued in primary schools.


After the Russian expulsion and resettlement of the Tatars around 1810 from the southern part of the country, the Budschak , the Russian colonization of the previously sparsely populated region began in 1812 . The Russian crown recruited colonists in Russia, today's Ukraine and through advertisers abroad, with guaranteed privileges such as land donations, interest-free loans, tax exemption for ten years, self-government, freedom of religion and exemption from military service.

From 1814 a total of about 9,000 German emigrants immigrated, who later formed the ethnic group of the Bessarabian Germans . They founded a total of 150 German settlements, mainly in the Budschak steppe area (see also History of the Russian Germans ). In addition, there were numerous Bulgarians who had fled from the Ottoman troops to the territory of the Russian crown. Since the usual prohibitions for Jews in agriculture did not apply in Bessarabia, 17 Jewish villages were created in the north, where more than 10,000 people lived from agriculture in 1858 and thus represented a tolerated exception throughout Russia.

The Moldovan-Russian border from 1856/1857 to 1878

In addition to reclamation , colonization also led to a change in demographic conditions in Bessarabia; the proportion of the Romanian majority population fell sharply.

Assignments of territory

The Russian defeat in the Crimean War 1853-1856 led to the Paris Peace of 1856. As a result, part of the southern Bessarabia, which Russia had won in 1812 in the area of ​​the mouth of the Danube (about a quarter of the total area) with the districts of Cahul, Bolgrad and Ismail began again Principality of Moldova . Seven European states took over the protectorate of this area, through which Russia lost the strategically important access to the mouth of the Danube. However, Romania had to cede this part of Bessarabia back to Russia in the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 .

Romanian interwar period (1918 to 1940)

The declaration of unification of Bessarabia with Romania
Territories claimed by Soviet republics in March 1918
Bessarabia as part of Romania (German map from 1926)
Bessarabia as part of Romania (Romanian map from 1933)

In the Russian governorate of Bessarabia, revolts at the beginning of the 20th century heralded the overthrow of the tsarist regime. On 6 jul. / April 19, 1903 greg. and 7th jul. / April 20, 1903 greg. , the first day of Easter, a major anti-Semitic pogrom broke out in Chișinău, the center of Jewish life, killing 47 to 49 Jewish residents. An estimated 400 were injured. Hundreds of households and businesses were looted and destroyed.
On August 22, 1905, there was another bloody escalation in the city when the police opened fire on around 3,000 demonstrating farm workers. This tragedy is comparable to the St. Petersburg Bloody Sunday , which took place on January 9th July. / January 22, 1905 greg. occurred in Saint Petersburg; around 1,000 demonstrating workers were killed there.

After the outbreak of the Russian revolutionary turmoil, a national general assembly called the National Council ( Sfatul Țării ) with its seat in Kishinev took over the government in November 1917 . At the end of 1917, the National Council consisted of 156 members, 67.3% of which, i.e. 105 people, were ethnic Moldovans / Romanians. This was significantly higher than their share of the total population, which was just under 50%.

On December 2nd, Jul. / December 15, 1917 greg. the Regional Council of Bessarabia proclaimed the Moldavian Democratic Republic , which at that time was not yet striving for full independence, but was to remain part of a new, reformed Russian state and to have extensive autonomy. Other parts of the Russian Empire now also demanded more autonomy or pushed for independence.

The situation in Bessarabia was chaotic, because the Russian front of the First World War had dissolved, in Russia itself a civil war was raging between the Bolsheviks and the White Army and the power of the Moldovan Provincial Council was initially rather limited. Communist troops of Rumcherod occupied Kishinev on January 5, 1918, so that Bessarabia came under the control of the Bolsheviks. On January 18th jul. / January 31, 1918 greg. the short-lived Soviet republic of Odessa with its center in Odessa was founded from Bessarabia and parts of the Cherson Governorate . The National Council (Sfatul Țării) called on January 24th jul. / February 6, 1918 greg. the country's full independence and asked Romania for military assistance. Romanian troops then marched into all of Bessarabia and, after brief, intense fighting, brought it under their control. After the end of the fighting, the Romanian troops no longer withdrew, but remained in the country, which was seen by most of the residents of Bessarabian as a sign that they would soon be annexed to Romania.

On March 27, the National Council, which at that time consisted of 135 MPs, officially voted on a union with Romania. The Council formulated eleven conditions that should be guaranteed in the event of unification, including agricultural reform, local autonomy and the protection of minorities. 86 MPs voted for the association under these conditions, three voted against and 49 did not vote. Most of the MPs who abstained did so as a boycott, as Romanian troops were already in the country and they therefore saw the union with Romania as already decided. Of the 86 "for" votes, only two MPs were of non-Romanian origin.

On April 9, 1918, Bessarabia declared its annexation to Romania for eternity with the consent of large parts of the population . In November 1918 the Sfatul Țării voted with only 44 MPs present for unconditional union with Romania, so that, except for the agrarian reform, all 10 of Bessarabia's 11 conditions on Romania were given up, including the demand for autonomy. Since far fewer than half of the MPs were even present, this vote is now considered illegitimate. In the same month the union with Romania was officially completed and the National Council disbanded. From the perspective of the Soviet Union, which did not recognize the annexation to Romania, it was a staged separation from Russia and a planned annexation by Romania.

In 1920, the annexation of Bessarabia to Romania was recognized as legal by France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan in the Paris Treaty . The United States, however, did not recognize this, criticized the non-involvement of the Soviet Union in the negotiations and designated Bessarabia as a territory under Romanian occupation. The Soviet Union did not give up its claim to Bessarabia either. In 1924, she called for a referendum to be held in Bessarabia on future state membership. When Romania refused to do so in 1924, the Soviet Union called Bessarabia “Soviet territory under foreign occupation”.

On the east bank of the Dniester , on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR , the “ Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic ” (MASSR) was founded in 1924 to support the claims to Bessarabia. A significant Romanian-speaking (Moldovan) minority lived in this region, but the majority of the population were Ukrainians.

Romania relied on a centralized administration and divided Bessarabia into nine districts (Județ). In the interwar period from 1918 to 1940 there was an economic development and Romanians strongly advocated the expansion of the infrastructure in Bessarabia. Through an agrarian reform of 1920 with the expropriation of large landowners (with more than 100 hectares) many landless farmers were able to get their own land. The implementation of this reform lasted until the 1930s and was hampered by corruption.

In Bessarabia, for the first time after 1812, the Romanian-speaking majority of the population was once again the official and school language of their mother tongue . On the other hand, the ethnic and linguistic minorities, who made up over 40% of the population, were now exposed to strong Romanization policies, which met resistance in many places. In large parts of Romania, Romanians and Moldovans were only a minority. In the mostly Russian-speaking city of Tighina, for example, there were several armed uprisings aimed at joining the neighboring Soviet Union. The long membership of the Russian Empire had left its mark and not all Romanian-speaking Bessarabians saw themselves as Romanians. A significant number of them clung to a separate Moldovan identity from the Romanians. A pro-Soviet mood was widespread in many parts of Bessarabia, so the local administration was often occupied by Romanians from other parts of the country, as many locals were viewed as potential sympathizers or spies of the Soviet Union. Many locals still saw themselves as second class citizens. Problems were also caused by the difficult domestic political situation in Romania, such as the rise of the ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic and fascist Iron Guard , which became the third largest party in the Romanian parliamentary elections in 1937. Since 1937 Jews were prohibited from buying land.

Unlike in the Russian Empire, there were schools in which languages ​​other than the official language were permitted, but their number was far lower than the proportion of the non-Romanian population and the Romanization of society was promoted. While many members of the ethnic minorities had negative attitudes towards Romania and were poorly integrated, others assimilated into Romanian society. Examples of this are the politician Iosif Chișinevschi or the writer Leonid Dimov , both of whom came from a Russian-speaking environment.

Soviet occupation 1940

After the end of the German campaign in the west with the signing of the Armistice at Compiègne on June 22, 1940, the Soviet Union saw the time had come to return Bessarabia after 22 years (from their point of view illegal) belonging to Romania. With the defeated France, Romania had lost its closest ally. On June 28, 1940, the Soviet Red Army occupied the territory of Bessarabia. Romania had previously received a 48-hour ultimatum for assignment, which it complied with without a fight. As agreed in the secret additional protocol of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939, the German Reich tolerated the occupation. In relation to the Soviet Union it expressed its disinterest in the Bessarabian question , but called for the resettlement " home to the Reich " of the approximately 93,000 Bessarabian Germans . Their relocation to the German Reich in autumn 1940 was made possible by the resettlement agreement signed on September 5, 1940.

Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldovan SSR)

On August 2, 1940, the Soviet Union divided Bessarabia and founded the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR) for most of the north and center of the country and added the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) to it east of the Dniester . The south and the area in the north around the city of Chotyn ( Chernivtsi Oblast ) went to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic ; Ukrainians also made up a majority of the population in these areas.

Immediately after the occupation, the Soviet Union collectivized agriculture, expropriated large estates, distributed land to landless peasants, and founded sovkhozes and collective farms . At the same time, a wave of repression against nationalist or anti-Soviet Romanians and Moldovans set in, which culminated in the deportation of up to 250,000 people. This policy was directed against the supposedly political opposition , such as landowners, kulaks (large farmers), large merchants, former White Guards and Romanian nationalists. Only the Bessarabian Germans were excluded from the persecution , who were under the protection of the German Reich and were resettled until November 1940, including to Austria, at that time part of the German Reich as Ostmark . Streets named after Bessarabia in German and Austrian cities are a reminder of the origins of the residents there.

Second World War (1941 to 1944)

Construction of a makeshift bridge by the 11th Army over the Pruth on July 1, 1941
Temporary bridge construction over the Pruth
Jews in a camp in Bessarabia, September 1941
Operation Iassy-Kishinev as a major Soviet attack in Bessarabia in August 1944
Bessarabia as part of the Soviet Union

The German attack on the Soviet Union began on June 22, 1941 with Operation Barbarossa , in which around one million Romanian soldiers of the Armata Română participated in the southern area of ​​the front . During the war-related retreat, the Soviets left scorched earth in Bessarabia and transported all movable goods to Russia by rail. At the end of July 1941 the country was again under Romanian administration.

Even during the military reconquest, Romanian soldiers with the participation of the population committed pogroms against Bessarabian Jews, killing thousands. It all started with the massacre near Sculeni , in which 311 Jews were murdered on June 27th. The hatred was based in part on the fact that the Jews were accused of making pacts with the Soviets, who in 1940 saw them as liberators because of Hitler's anti-Semitic extermination policies. At the same time, there were killings of SS - Einsatzgruppen (the task force here D) to Jews under the pretext that they were spies, saboteurs or Communists . The Romanian dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu wanted the political solution to the Jewish question through expulsion rather than extermination. The Jewish population (approx. 200,000 people) initially came to ghettos or reception camps in order to deport them on death marches in 1941/42 to camps such as Bogdanowka in Romanian-occupied Transnistria, which, unlike the Romanian motherland, is partly controlled by the SS has been. The Roma were another Bessarabian population group who fell victim to persecution and extermination, known as Porajmos , during the Nazi era .

After three years of belonging to Romania, in 1944 the German-Soviet front had again reached the eastern border on the Dniester . On August 20, 1944, the Red Army began a large-scale summer offensive called Operation Jassy-Kishinev with around 900,000 soldiers . With a pincer operation, the Red Army managed to capture the area of ​​historic Bessarabia in five days. The 6th German Army, newly formed after the Battle of Stalingrad, with around 650,000 soldiers, was wiped out in kettle battles near Kishinew and Sarata . At the same time as the successful Soviet advance, Romania terminated the arms alliance with Hitler and switched fronts. On August 23, 1944, Marshal Ion Antonescu was deposed in Romania and King Michael I was reinstated.

Re-occupation and incorporation into the Soviet Union (1944 to 1991)

After Bessarabia was retaken by USSR troops, the Moldavian SSR was reestablished as a political entity and remained a republic until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In independent Moldova (1991)

The collapse of the Soviet Union also had an impact on the state organization in Bessarabia: the Moldovan SSR was divided into two parts. Most of the former Bessarabia formed the Republic of Moldova . The city of Bender (and its neighboring villages) became part of the internationally unrecognized Transnistrian Moldavian Republic ("Transnistria") - most of the territory of Transnistria, however, lies east of the Dniester River and was never part of historical Bessarabia, although there are significant Romanian-speaking minorities there to this day gives.


See also

Historical regions in Ukraine


  • Ion Țurcanu : Istoria Basarabiei , Vol. 1: Preludii. Din paleolitic până la sfârşitul Antichităţii , Chișinău 2016. (The 868-page history of Bessarabia ranges from the Early Paleolithic to Late Antiquity )
  • George Ciorănescu: Bessarabia - Disputed land between east and west. Jon Dumitru Verlag, Munich, 1985. Reprint: Editura Fundației Culturale Române, Bucureşti, 1993, ISBN 973-9155-17-0
  • Hannes Hofbauer , Viorel Roman: Bukowina, Bessarabia, Moldova - Forgotten Land between Western Europe, Russia and Turkey. Promedia, Vienna 1993, ISBN 3-900478-71-6
  • Ion Alexandrescu: A short history of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina. in: Romanian civilization . Romanian Cultural Foundation, Iași 1994, ISSN  1220-7365
  • Ute Schmidt : Bessarabia. German colonists on the Black Sea , German Cultural Forum Eastern Europe, Potsdam 2008.
  • Axel Hindemith: Bessarabia in World War II. in: Yearbook of Germans from Bessarabia. Home calendar. Aid Committee, Hannover 2004, ISBN 3-9807392-5-2
  • Ion Mardari: Miclești din Ținutul Orheiului: Monograph istorisită în 2001 , Editura Universității din Pitești, 2003, ISBN 973-690-140-8

Web links

Commons : Bessarabia  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Bessarabia  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia . Funk and Wagnalls, New York 1901-1906.
  2. - ( Memento from December 4, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  5. ^ Herman Rosenthal, S. Janovsky, JG Lipman:  Bessarabie, Jewish Agriculturists. In: Isidore Singer (Ed.): Jewish Encyclopedia . Funk and Wagnalls, New York 1901-1906.
  6. ^ Herman Rosenthal Max Rosenthal:  Kishinef, Anti-Semitic Riots. In: Isidore Singer (Ed.): Jewish Encyclopedia . Funk and Wagnalls, New York 1901-1906.
  8. NK Anisyutkin, SI Kovalenko, VA Buriacu, AK Ocherednoi, AL Chepaliga: Bairaki - a lower paleolithic site on the lower dniester , in: Archeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia 40.1 (2012) 2-10.
  9. Roman Croitor, Krzysztof Stefaniak, Kamilla Pawłowska, Bogdan Ridush, Piotr Wojtal, Małgorzata Stach: Giant deer Megaloceros giganteus Blumenbach, 1799 (Cervidae, Mammalia) from Palaeolithic of Eastern Europe_2014 , in: Quaternary International (2014) 326-326 , here: pp. 97 and 99.
  10. ^ Ion Nistor, Istoria Basarabiei, Editura Humanitas, 1991, p. 278, ISBN 973-28-0283-9
  11. Michael Bruchis (1996). The Republic of Moldavia: from the collapse of the Soviet empire to the restoration of the Russian empire
  12. Cristina Petrescu, "Contrasting / Conflicting Identities: Bessarabians, Romanians, Moldovans" in Nation-Building and Contested Identities, Polirom, 2001, p. 156, also footnote no. 23 on p. 169
  13. ^ Ion Nistor, Istoria Basarabiei, Editura Humanitas, 1991, p. 279, ISBN 973-28-0283-9
  14. ^ Charles King, "The Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture", Hoover Press, 2000, p. 35
  15. Marcel Mitrasca: Moldova. Algora Pub., 2002, ISBN 978-1-892941-87-9 , p. 131 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  16. Cristina Petrescu, "Contrasting / Conflicting Identities: Bessarabians, Romanians, Moldovans" in Nation-Building and Contested Identities, Polirom, 2001, p. 170
  17. - ( Memento from December 4, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  18. ^ Irina Livezeanu: Cultural Politics in Greater Romania. Cornell University Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-8014-8688-3 , p. 119 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).
  19. ^ Hayward R. Alker: Journeys Through Conflict. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001, ISBN 978-0-7425-1028-9 , pp. & 105 ( limited preview in Google book search).
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on March 24, 2005 in this version .

Coordinates: 46 ° 50 ′ 0 ″  N , 29 ° 0 ′ 0 ″  E