Reconstitution of an Absence: The Jewish Community of Alba Iulia in the Context of Urban Development

15 December 2021

Author Daniel Dumitran, 1 Decembrie 1918 University of Alba Iulia
Author Tudor Borșan, 1 Decembrie University of Alba Iulia

The study addresses the issue of reconstituting the heritage of the Jewish community in Alba Iulia (Romania), starting from several documentary and topographical sources from the first part of the 20th century. The choice of this case study is justified by the importance of the city for the history of Jews in Romania, as the only city in Transylvania (historical province integrated into Romania in 1918) where Jews received the right to settle as early as the 17th century. The main documentary source used is a list of Jewish properties in Alba Iulia declared confiscated in 1941, in the context of the anti-Semitic policy promoted by the regime of Marshal Ion Antonescu (Leader of the Romanian state during 1940-1944). Correlating it with the cadastral plan of the city drafted in 1914 and applying the georeferencing method reconstitutes the position of the still existing buildings and those that disappeared as a result of the systematization policy during the communist regime, in the central area of ​​the city. A more complex approach is also proposed, based on the use of the GIS methodology, whereby the topographic information can be associated with the documentary and epigraphic sources referring to the Jewish cemetery in the city. The issue of the relevance of the Jewish heritage for the current urban strategy is also discussed, starting from the city’s development documents in force.

Alba Iulia, Jewish heritage, Romanianization, georeferencing, urban history

[1] Marta Duch-Dyngosz, “Jewish Heritage and Cultural Revival in Poland,” in Naomi Seidman, ed., Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), online version accessed on 15.11.2021, For a more ample debate on the issue, see Ruth Ellen Gruber, Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe (Berkeley - Los Angeles - London: University of California Press, 2002), 1-23.

[2] The issue was addressed by the international conference Urban Jewish Heritage: Presence and Absence, organised in Krakow in 2018 by the University of Birmingham – Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage and by the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, during which a first version of the present text was presented.

[3] For the chronology of the urban evolution in Romania during this period, see Nicolae Lascu, “Modernizare și distrugeri în istoria postbelică a orașelor românești” [Modernisation and Destruction in the Post-war History of Romanian Cities], HU III, 1-2 (1995): 171-177. For general evolutions in the European states under Soviet influence until early 1960s: Irina Tulbure, Arhitectură și urbanism în România anilor 1944-1960: constrângere și experiment [Architecture and Urbanism in 1944-1960 Romania: Coercion and Experiment] (Bucharest: Simetria, 2016), 16-56.

[4] Tulbure, Arhitectură și urbanism, 155-157. For a case study on the densification policy: Ioana Rus-Cacovean, “Urban Planning in the Area of Alba Iulia Fortress in the Years 1965-1988: Completed Projects and Abandoned Proposals,” AUA hist. 24, I (2020): 196-202.

[5] Daniel Dumitran, “Identitate pierdută? Proiecte de sistematizare urbană a orașului Alba Iulia după anul 1918 (I)” [Lost Identity? Urban Systematisation Projects of the City of Alba Iulia after 1918 (I)], AUA hist. 22, II (2018): 222-242.

[6] “Legătura către nord este realizată pe traseul străzii Tudor Vladimirescu, ale cărei fronturi arhitecturale sunt determinate de noi blocuri de locuințe.” [The connection to the north is made on the route of Tudor Vladimirescu Street, whose architectural fronts are determined by new blocks of flats.] Ibid., 236.

[7] The term post quem for the establishment of a Jewish community in Alba Iulia could be considered as the privilege granted by Prince Gabriel Bethlen, in 1623, whereby the Sephardic Jews from the Ottoman Empire were invited to settle in Transylvania, multiple commercial, legal, fiscal and religious liberties being ensured. Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, Istoria evreilor din Transilvania (1623-1944) [History of Jews in Transylvania (1623-1944)] (Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică, 1994), 53-55.

[8] After the 1868-1869 Jewish Congress of Pesta, the community in Alba Iulia adopted the Orthodox orientation, and since 1886, the Status quo ante, the change not affecting its Orthodox character. Ana-Maria Caloianu, Istoria comunității evreiești din Alba Iulia (sec. XVII-1948) [History of the Jewish Community in Alba Iulia (17th Century - 1948)] (Bucharest: Hasefer, 2006), 62-63.

[9] In 1866, there were 934 Jews registered in Alba Iulia, 776 in Cluj and 418 in Târgu Mureș. In 1869-1870, Alba Iulia had 1,221 Jews, Cluj 3,008, and Târgu Mureș 773. In 1900 there was recorded the highest count of the Jewish population in Alba Iulia (1,647 inhabitants), in the same year in Cluj being recorded 4,747 Jews, and in Târgu Mureș 1,701. By the end of the inter-war period, Alba Iulia recorded a slight decrease (1,558 inhabitants in 1930), while Cluj recorded an increase of almost four times over (16,771 in 1941), and Târgu Mureș more than three times (5,693 in the same year); for 1941, there is no data referring to Alba Iulia. Ladislau Gyémánt, Evreii din Transilvania în epoca emancipării (1790-1867) [Jews in Transylvania in the Emancipation Era (1790-1867)] (Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică, 2000), 29-30, 441 (for the data referring to 1866 and 1869-1870); Árpád E. Varga, Erdély etnikai és felekezeti statisztikája [Ethnic and Denominational Statistics of Transylvania], online version accessed on 30.11.2021, erd2002/abfel02.pdf, http://www., konyvtar/erdely/erd2002/msfel02. pdf (for the data referring to the other years).

[10] Michael K. Silber, “Paneth, Yehezkel,” accessed on 30.11.2021, https://yivoencyclopedia. org/article.aspx/Paneth_Yehezkel.

[11] Caloianu, Istoria comunității evreiești, 210.

[12] Rudolf Klein, Synagogues in Hungary 1782-1918: Genealogy, Typology and Architectural Significance (Budapest: Terc, 2017), 620. See also Aristide Streja and Lucian Schwarz, Sinagoga în România [The Synagogue in Romania] (Bucharest: Hasefer, 2015), 240-241, where it is described as a small type synagogue.

[13] Klein, Synagogues in Hungary, 168-170, 174-177. The first one was erected in 1779 or 1795, the second one in 1795.

[14] Ibid., 61.

[15] Gyémánt, Evreii din Transilvania, 92-95; Caloianu, Istoria comunității evreiești, 284-291, 294-297. The school operated with a few interruptions due to the opposition of the local community, the longest one being between 1854 and 1857.

[16] Caloianu, Istoria comunității evreiești, 211.

[17] This distinctive note was highlighted in extremely coarse, not at all admirable touches by Nicolae Iorga, at the beginning of the last century: “Leneș și urât, târându-și abia zilele de azi până mâne, stă jos orașul, o băltoagă de evreime.” [Lazy and ugly, hardly dragging along just to last the day, the city lies down, a puddle of Jewry.] N. Iorga, Neamul românesc în Ardeal și Țara Ungurească la 1906 [The Romanian People in Transylvania and Hungary in 1906], edition by I. Oprișan (Bucharest: Saeculum I.O., 2009), 145.

[18] Monitorul Oficial, no. 74, March 28, 1941, online version accessed on 30.11.2021, For the context of issuance of the decree, see Caloianu, Istoria comunității evreiești, 140-143.

[19] Tablou cuprinzând imobilele urbane proprietatea evreilor persoane fizice sau societăților evreești cari intră deplin drept în patrimoniul Statului Decret Lege No. 842 publ. în Mon. Of. 74-941 [Table Containing the Urban Properties Owned by Jewish Individuals or Companies that Rightfully Pass to State Patrimony, Decree-Law No. 842 Published in the Mon. Of. 74-941], 7 fol. r-v, Fund X, no. 37, Arhiva Centrului pentru Studiul Istoriei Evreilor din România “Wilhelm Filderman” [Archive of the Centre for the Study of the History of Romanian Jews “Wilhelm Filderman”], Bucharest (henceforth cited as CSHRJ-WF Archive).

[20] Of these, two properties, located in Mihai Viteazul Square and George Coșbuc Street, were owned by the Commercial Bank, and in the third one, located on General Eremia Grigorescu Street, operated the Cluj branch of Transilvania Bank. Tablou, fol. 3v, 4v.

[21] This is about the factories and mills located on Vasile Alecsandri (owners Edith and Vilma Glück), Regiment 24 Dorobanți (owner Ludovic Samuel) and Unirii streets (owners Isac Herman and Sidonia, born Altmann), as well as an agricultural farm on Eternității Street (owner Iuliu Jonas) and the three properties on the Platoul Romanilor, assimilated to rural properties given that they had land cultivated with vines (owners Carol Tanner, Berl Tanner and Iuliu Jonas). Ibid., fol. 2v, 6r and 4r, 5v. In the case of the alcohol factory on Fabricii Street, owned by Iuliu Jonas, it is mentioned as tabulated in the name of Dr Ioan Popa and his wife; the two also appear as beneficiaries of another property owned by Iuliu Jonas on Regiment 5 Vânători Street, where there also was, according to the record, a cemetery for poor Jews. Ibid., fol. 4r and 6v-7r. In the case of the former property owned by Gizela Dr Ostfeld, born Nathan, on General Eremia Grigorescu Street, the name of the new owner is not mentioned. Ibid., fol. 4r.

[22] Ibid., fol. 6r and 2r.

[23] Ibid., fol. 5r.

[24] Fund VI, no. 405, fol. 2 r-v, CSHRJ-WF Archive. Mentioned here were the buildings of the society and that of the Jewish community on Morii Street, another building of the society on Călărașilor Street, bought for the purpose of setting up a hospital, the buildings on Vasile Alecsandri Street administered by the Jewish community, another building of the society on Regiment 5 Vânători Street and the building on Regiment 24 Dorobanți Street assigned to the same community to serve as housing for its clerks. For the evolution of the lawsuit, see Caloianu, Istoria comunității evreiești, 141-143.

[25] Tablou, fol. 3r-5r, 6r-v.

[26] Ibid., fol. 2r-v. For details, see Daniel Dumitran, “Jewish Cemeteries of Romania: Alba Iulia Case Study,” AUA hist. 19, II (2015): 238-245.

[27] Tablou, fol. 3r.

[28] Tablouri despre firmele comerciale existente la 6 sept. 1930 și înscrise între 6 sept. 1930 - 6 sept. 1940 [Tables on Existing Commercial Companies as of September 6, 1930 and Registered between September 6, 1930 - September 6, 1940], fund Camera de Comerț și Industrie din Alba Iulia [Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Alba Iulia], no. 58/1930, Serviciul Județean Alba al Arhivelor Naționale [Alba County Service of the National Archives]. I extend special thanks to Mr Valer Moga for providing this document.

[29] Gyulafehérvár DN.IX.7.a.i., no. 2616/914; DN.IX.8.a.e., no. 2615/914, Primăria Municipiului Alba Iulia [Alba Iulia City Hall]. The plans used, completed on March 23, 1914, represent sections of sector IX of the cadastral plan of the city (Bitofadomb) [Gallows’ Hill] (Arhiva Oficiului de Cadastru și Publicitate Imobiliară Alba [Archive of the Office for Cadastre and Real Estate Publicity of Alba County], w. no.).

[30] Both were storeyed buildings, and in the second there were also the offices of the Alba Iulia Police Headquarters. Tablou, fol. 3v.

[31] Two of the buildings registered in the list are not found with topographic numbers in the cadastral plan.

[32] Daniel Dumitran, “Addenda to an Exhibition: About Urbanism and Heritage in the City of the Union,” AUA hist. 24, I (2020): 277, fig. 37, 279, fig. 39.

[33] Alexandru Mircea Imbroane, Sisteme Informatice Geografice [Geographic Information Systems], vol. I, Structuri de date [Data Structures] (Cluj-Napoca: Presa Universitară Clujeană, 2012), 150.

[34] Mircea Băduţ, GIS Sisteme Informatice Geografice – fundamente practice [GIS Geographic Information Systems – Practical Basis] (Cluj-Napoca: Editura Albastră, 2004), 76.

[35] Tudor Borşan et al., “Metodologia de punere ȋn practică a georeferenţierii utilizând transformarea afină” [Methodology of Implementation of Georeferencing Using Affinity], Revista Pangeea 15 (2015): 72.

[36] Strategia Integrată de Dezvoltare Urbană Alba Iulia 2014-2023 [Integrated Urban Development Strategy Alba Iulia 2014-2023], 299, accessed on 30.11.2021, uploads/fisiere/SIDU_ALBA_IULIA_2014-2023_consolidat_23_octombrie_2017.pdf.

[37] Ibid., 301. The diversity of the buildings included here, from Maieri II church, dating from the eighteenth century, to some buildings of the communist period (Trade Union Culture House) and the recent period (Principia Museum), but also the ambiguous status of this category relativises the significance of this list.

[38] Ibid., 300.

[39] Ibid., 389.

[40] Ibid., 382-383.

[41] Other ensembles, close to the area analysed above, are those on Mihai Viteazul and Octavian Goga Streets, to which are added a number of houses located on Calea Moţilor and Decebal Streets. Municipiul Alba Iulia. Regulament Local de Urbanism. Reactualizare 2012 [Alba Iulia Municipality. Local Urbanism Regulation. Re-update 2012), 123-124, accessed on 30.11.2021,

[42] Ibid., 127-129; Lista monumentelor istorice 2010 – Municipiul Alba Iulia [List of Historical Monuments 2010 – Alba Iulia Municipality]; Lista monumentelor istorice 2015 – Județul Alba [List of Historical Monuments 2015 – Alba County], 20-26, accessed on 30.11.2021,

[43] See in this regard interesting suggestions by Katie McClymont, “‘That Eccentric Use of Land at the Top of the Hill’: Cemeteries and Stories of the City,” Mortality 21, 4 (2016): 378-396.

[44] For the facilities offered by the GIS methodology in historical research, see Donald A. DeBats and Ian N. Gregory, “Introduction to Historical GIS and the Study of Urban History,” Social Science History 35, 4 (2011): 455-463.

List of illustrations

Fig. 1. The synagogue in Mád (Hungary). Source: Rudolf Klein, Synagogues in Hungary 1782-1918. Genealogy, Typology and Architectural Significance (Budapest: Terc, 2017), 158.

Fig. 2. The synagogue in Tarcal (Hungary). Source: Klein, Synagogues in Hungary, 169.

Fig. 3. a. The Old Synagogue of Alba Iulia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Source: Sorin Arhire, “Comunitatea evreiască” [The Jewish Community], in Alba Iulia: memoria urbis [Alba Iulia: The Memory of the City], ed. Laura Stanciu et al. (Cluj-Napoca: Mega, 2018), 229. b. The interior of the Old Synagogue in Alba Iulia, before the restoration. Credits: Daniel Dumitran, 2013.

Fig. 4. The New Synagogue in Alba Iulia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Credits: Remus Baciu Collection, today in the possession of the National Museum of the Union of Alba Iulia.

Fig. 5. The New Synagogue in Alba Iulia in the 1980s, shortly before its demolition. Credits: Alba County People’s County Fund, file no. 12/1984, fol. 6v, Alba County National Archives Service.

Fig. 6. Alba Iulia city plan, 1900, detail. Credits: Colecția de documente [Collection of Documents] Fund, no. 7406, Arhiva Muzeului Național al Unirii din Alba Iulia [National Museum of the Union of Alba Iulia Archive] (henceforth cited as NMUAI Archive).

Fig. 7. The plan of the interwar city Alba Iulia, detail. Credits: Colecția de documente Fund, no. 7407, NMUAI Archive.

Fig. 8. a. Gisella Palace in the early twentieth century. Credits: Remus Baciu Collection, today in the possession of the National Museum of the Union of Alba Iulia. b. Current image. Credits: Daniel Dumitran, 2015.

Fig. 9. Cartographic representation of Jewish buildings in the centre of Alba Iulia city, according to the cadastral plan of 1914.

Fig. 10. Cartographic representation of the Jewish buildings in the centre of Alba Iulia city, according to the current situation.