East of Bălţi

Bălţi is located in the heart of the Bessarabian shtetl land. Today we went eastwards to visit the Jewish cemeteries in Alexandreni, Mărculeşti, Floreşti and Tirgul Vertiujeni. We found very different locations and conditions.

The day began with bright blue weather, but the sky quickly darkend again and black clouds hung over Bessarabia. In front of us was a long day on the road.

Alexandreni is a small village, just a few kilometers from Bălţi (Beltsy). It was easy to find the Jewish cemetery, friendly locals guided us. The cemetery is typical for what we have seen so far in Bessarabia: Old and new gravestones, overgrown and maintained sections, destroyed and preserved areas. The cemetery is small and is located in the center of the villagre. Next to it a farmer was working on his farm machinery. The cemetery touched me because of its abandonment and vulnerability.

We drove further to Mărculeşti (Markuleshty), a few kilometers to the east. We asked an old man in the village by the way – without realizing that we were already almost in front of the cemetery. The old man was happy to help us and we were grateful to him – almost no  stranger visits Mărculeşti. The Jewish cemetery offers a shocking sight. Many gravestones have been destroyed or have been toppled. In the background we saw rundown apartment buildings and decaying industrial plants. The place is glum.

Further east is Floreşti (Floreshty), a substantial town. The Jewish cemetery is located next to Christian one, but it was apparently created only after the war. The cemetery is well maintained and is still in use. I do not know whether there is still somewhere an old cemetery or whether it was destroyed.

It was only noon and we decided to do more than we had planned originally. Our map told us that Vertiujeni was close, a former shtetl. What looked like a short distance, turned out to be adventure. Our road map proved to be inaccurate, we got carried away, finally found the right way on bad roads and muddy tracks. It turned out to be a blessing to have rented a Jeep. The landscape is breathtaking – hills, tree-lined roads and open fields with wide views. Vertiujeni is located high above the banks of river Dniester and offers a fantastic view. Unfortunately we were in the wrong place – we learned that the Jewish cemetery is in neighboring Tirgul Vertiujeni.

Finally, we found the cemetery. At the entrance stands a massive monument to the murdered Jews of the shtetl. Their traces are still visible in the village: houses that are not the typical Moldovan farmhouses. Many of them are empty and dilapidated. The cemetery overlooks a wide loop of the Dniester and is largely destroyed. Only a number of tombs from the postwar period is maintained, the rest is in ruins or disappeared. We looked down into the valley of river Dniester – this place speaks of total destruction, like no one we have seen during this trip before.

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