The bloody history of the House of Yoffe

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Many pages of history of Bălți are associated with the Jewish community, which once represented the majority of the population in the northern capital [Bălți is colloquially called northern capital of Bessarabia/Moldova]. In the first half of the 20th century, there were Jewish schools in Bălți, a Jewish-sponsored hospital on a vacant land plot on strada Independenței opposite the university:

There were dozens of synagogues on the territory of Bălți, whose buildings, unfortunately, the people of Bălți can no longer see today. We can see how the synagogues used to hold services only from old photographs:

In our article, we would like to tell you about a beautiful colonnaded building at strada Ștefan cel Mare 57 [previously named strada General Schina], which today houses the [Moldovan] State Guard:

Until 1941 [before annexation of Bessarabia by the USSR from the Kingdom of Romania], this building belonged to David Yoffe, one of the most famous businessmen in Bălți, representative of the influential Yoffe [another suggested spelling: “Joffe” or “Ioffe”] family, which is now forgotten. Here is a rare photograph showing this building and members of David Yoffe’s family:

In the background, we see another remarkable building – the Bank of Romania building:

The house, as well as a very large plot of land that reached up to the Civil Registry building, was bought by the Yoffe family in 1918. This information was obtained from Mariana Mihalevschi, director of the Museum of History and Ethnography of Bălți.

The Yoffe family belonged to one of the most famous and influential families in Bălți at that time. In the photo taken at the beginning of the 20th century, you can see the Yoffe family clan, and in the centre of the picture is Rabbi Israel Yoffe in a hat, who at that time was a judge of the rabbinical court.

The crypt of one of the most important rabbis in Bălți, Israel Yoffe, was preserved in the Jewish cemetery in Bălți:

Unfortunately, like all historical sites in the city, the Jewish cemetery is in an extremely deplorable state. Israel Yoffe’s crypt has become a favourite haunt of vandals and drug addicts. Inside the crypt, fresh and used syringes can always be found, and the cemetery is used by drug dealers to place markers.

The Yoffe family were among the most active citizens of pre-war [pre-Second World Ward, epoch of the Kingdom of Romania] Bălți. In this photo we can see Yerachmiel Yoffe one of the most active of the Bălțiers. Also in this photo, in the middle of the second row, you can see Lazar Dubinovsky – the author of the “Mother-in-law” sculpture [built and still remaining at the entrance in Bălți during the Soviet epoch] and the Lenin sculpture [previously standing in the centre of Bălți at the entrance in the Central Public Garden of Bălți, now demolished].

Until 1941, the Yoffe family was present in the records of the Bălți City Hall. Owner of the mansion on the stradă Ștefan cel Mare 57 owned an oil mill, and his brother owned a mill in the area of the present food factory.

On 9 July [after annexation of Bessarabia by the USSR from the Kingdom of Romania further to Soviet ultimatum dated 28 June 1940], the 11th division of the Wehrmacht, made up of Romanian and German units, enters and places its headquarters in Bălți. From the beginning of the 20th century, anti-Semitic views were actively spreading in Europe. Thus, both Romanian and German units, with the help of forces from the local population, aggressive towards Jews, began mass purges, accompanied by torture, looting and executions.

During the Second World War, David Yoffe’s mansion gained a bad reputation because the Romanian security service “Siguranța” was located within its walls. Few inhabitants of Bălți have willingly come within the walls of this house. A torture chamber was set up in the basement of the mansion, where people were forced to confess. Moreover, there is documentary evidence of six murders, mostly of Jews, committed by the head of the Romanian security service Filipenco and police sergeant Gîtlanu in the basement of the Yoffe house:

In accordance with the protocols, in the basement of Yoffe’s house, a well-known Bălți businessman of Jewish origin Akkerman and his wife were killed. The murder of Mark Moses, also of Jewish origin, has also been proven.

Sadly, the fate of the owner of this beautiful mansion in the centre of Bălți was in the spirit of the terrible Holocaust. In July 1941, David Yoffe, then 63, was burned alive in the village of Pepeni in the Sîngereni district. Along with him, his wife Hana was burned. The Pepeni murder is a very serious page in the history of Moldova, which is usually silent on this subject, as both Romanian soldiers and the local population took part in the mass slaughter of the Jews, who later received, as a reward, the property of the Jews they killed.

Of David Yoffe’s descendants, remains one granddaughter, Mira Chernavskaya, a former professor at the University of Bălți, probably the great-granddaughter of Rabbi Israel. She knew that her grandfather, David Yoffe, and his brothers were highly respected people, leaders of the pre-war Jewish community. She knew the children of each of the Yoffe brothers. One of them is a well-known writer and editor of a literary magazine. Another brother’s daughter lived a very long life and was able to tell many stories about her relatives. About 18-20 years ago, a book called “Bessarabia” appeared in Israel, and one of the chapters is dedicated to the Yoffe family. There is a family tree of this family dating back to the 16th century. The family tree history was given to Mira by the nephew of the eldest brother.

Today, the Yoffe House, whose history dates back to more than 100 years, and was built as part of the Russian Empire, is not included in the Register of Historical Monuments of the Republic of Moldova.


Diana Grosu

Vitali Cozearschi

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