Current name: Ruse, also transliterated as Rousse.
Alternate names and spellings: Ruse [Bulg], Rusçuk [Turk], Rusciuc [Rom], Russe [Ger], Roussé [Fr], Rousse, Rustchuk, Rustschuk, Rushtuk, Rushchuk, Rusciuk, Rustciuk, Ruschuq, Ruschuk, Roustchouk [Fr]
Ruschuk is the fifth-largest city in Bulgaria. The city is situated in the northeastern part of the country, on the right bank of the Danube, opposite the Romanian city of Giurgiu, 300 km from the capital Sofia and 200 km from the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. It is the most significant Bulgarian river port, serving an important part of the international trade of the country.
Map of Bulgaria and Ruse (Ruschuk).
Ruschuk in the late 19th century.
Excerpted from Wikipedia Wikipedia.org.
After it became part of modern Bulgaria on 20 February 1878, Ruse became one of the key cultural and economic centres of the country. By 1881, the city was a major economic hub. Ruse prospered due to its role as a major port on the Danube, its rapid industrial development and its well-established ties with Central Europe along that river. Intensive building during the period changed the city's architectural appearance to a typical Central European one.
In the newly liberated Bulgaria of the late 19th century, Ruse was a cosmopolitan city with a multiethnic population. According to the first census conducted in 1883, the total population was 26,156 inhabitants. The ethnic composition was as follows:
- Bulgarians: 11,342 (43%)
- Turks: 10,252 (39%)
- Jews: 1,943 (7%)
- Armenians: 841
- Germans: 476
- Greeks: 291
- Vlachs (Romanians): 231
- Russians: 170
- Serbs and Croats: 113
- 79 Romani, 76 Hungarians, 74 Tatars, 58 Italians, 58 French people, 32 English people, 19 Persians, 16 Poles, 16 Czechs, and 69 others.
Between World War I and II, after Southern Dobruja was lost to Romania, the economic significance of the city decreased. So did the population: Ruse was no longer the second-largest city in Bulgaria (after former East Rumelian capital Plovdiv), being quickly surpassed by Sofia and Varna.
Today, Ruse is known for its 19th- and 20th-century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture. It is often called the Little Vienna.
The Jewish community of Ruschuk.
The following is a slightly abridged version of an article by Joseph Covo published in Etsi, the Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Review, Volume 4, issue 15, December 2001.
I haven't been able to contact Joseph Covo for this article. Please contact me if you are the owner of this text.
Ruschuk had the third largest Jewish community of Bulgaria before the massive emigration of Bularian Jews after World War II. Like the rest of the Jewish population of Bulgaria, the majority of the Jews were from Sephardic origin. However, the community also included an important but much smaller Ashkenazi community.
About the duality of the Ruschuk/Russe name of the town: Founded by the Russian Prince Sviatoslav in the year 968 as Russe, the Turks who conquered Bulgaria in 1389 changed the name to Ruschuk. After Bulgaria was liberated by the Russian army in 1878, approximately 500 years later, the city reverted back to its old name, Russe, which is the name of the city today. However, due to the long occupation by the Ottoman Epire, most of the population and estpecially the Jewish population, which had more affinity and kinship with the Turks than the Bulgarians, kept the name Ruschuk. [...]
It can be said that the origin of the Jewish popuplation of Ruschuk reflects the origin of the Jews of the rest of Bulgaria, but for one exception. Because of the proximity of Romania just across the Danube river, which separates Romania from Bulgaria (the capital of Romania is closer to Ruschuk than Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria), the proportion of Ashkenazi Jews in Ruschuk was larger than in the rest of Bulgaria.
[...] When the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 settled in Bulgaria, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire, they found Greek-speaking Jews that they called "gregos" (Greeks). These were Romaniots, descendants of Jews whose ancestors had acquired the Greek culture and language under the rule of the Byzantine Empire (330-1453).
When Sultan Bayazid II (1481-1512) opened the gates of the Ottoman Empire to the Jews expelled from Spain, these found a substantial Jewish population from Ashkenazi descent. Some of them were Jews who had fled Hungary in 1349 to persecution by King Louis the Great (1342-1382). Because of easy access, these Jews fled and settled along the Danube river.
At the end of the fourtheenth century in 1384, Charles VI expelled the Jews from France and some of them fled east to the Balkan peninsula. In 1470 Ludvig X expelled the Jews from Bavaria, and they too fled east and settled in the Ottoman Empire. Because of the perecutions of Pope Pius V in 1572, Jews from Rome and other parts of Italy settled in Belgrad and later some of them moved east and settled along the Danube.
Family names such as Unger, Madjar, Tadjer (Daicher), Eisner, Ashkenazi, Tsarfati, Graciani and Finci releflect and atest the varied origins of Bulgarian and Ruschuk Jews. However, following the arrival of the Spanish Jews after 1492, Sephardic Jews became the majority in the Ottoman Empire. They included the ones who settled in the area known today as Bulgaria and their Sephardic culture became the predominant one.
In the seventeenth century, Ukrainian Jews fled the pogroms of Bogdan Chmelnicki and some of them settled in Bulgaria. Jews from Moldavia and Vlahia also fled the constant agression of the Russian army and they too settled in Bulgaria along the Danube river. [...]
The beginning of the Jewish community in Ruschuk
According to the historian Salomon (Shlomo) Rozanes (1862-1938), who was born in Ruschuk, the first Jews settled there only in 1788, ninety years before the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878. [The community of Nicopol (Nicopolis) and Vidin, both on the Danube river, east of Ruschuk, were established in the eleventh and fourtheenth centuries respectively.][...] It is worth mentioning that while Vidin and Nicopol Jewish communities declined, Ruschuk community continued to flourish until the end of World War II. It became the third most numerous Jewish community of Bulgaria, after Sofia and the Plovdiv communities, and the most progressive one. In the years 1948-1949, most of the Ruschuk Jews, like the rest of the Bulgarian Jewry, emigrate to the newly declared State of Israel.
According to the list "Hakolel" in the book "Istoria de la komunidad Israelita de Ruschuk" published in 1914 by the historian Salomon (Shlomo) Rozanes, 42 families lived in Ruschuk in 1810. Some of these families bore the same name so that at that time there was only a total of 22 families with different names. According to another list [...] published in the same book, a total of 214 families lived in Ruschuk in 1852 (five times more than 42 years earlier), but only 38 new family names appear in the list.
[In 2001], the Jewish community of Ruschuk [numbered] about 150 people). [The community] holds two marriage registers: one written in Solitreo (a Sephardi cursive form of the Hebrew alphabet) and one in Bulgarian language from 1929 to 1948. They contain the names of the bride and the bridgeroom and the date of the marriage. They also keep a register of all families, written in Solitreo with a Bulgarian index according to the first and not the family name. A third list, also written in Bulgarian language contains all the decesased people between the years 1829 and 1952 indexed according to the first name, but without the corresponding date of death.
The Nobel Prize winning author grew up in Ruschuk and describes the city around 1905 in his memoirs "The Tongue Set Free: Remembrance of a European Childhood".
I include a few excerpts below as I believe they offer a vivid description of the world the Abraham brothers knew.
Note: the page numbers refer to the French edition, and the translations are my own.
p.12: Ruschuk [...] was a marvellous city for a child. [...] People from various origins lived there and one could hear seven or eight different languages during the day. Aside from the Bulgarians, most often from the countryside, there were many Turks who lived in their own neighborhood, and, next to it, was the neighborhood of Spaniard Sepharads, ours. One met Greeks, Albanians, Armenians, Gypsies. Romanians came from the other side of the Danube. [...] There were also some Russians, although not very many.
p.13: Most of the Spanish Spepharad had kept the Turkish nationaliy. It is true that they never had had to suffer from the Turks. [...] Many of them were wealthy merchants [...].
p.42: One spoke seven or eight tongues in our town. Everyone understood a little bit of each language used; it was only the young girls from the countryside who only knew Bulgarian, so they were said to be dumb. Everyone counted the number of languages they knew, it was very important to know as many as possible.
The Jewish Community in Ruschuk (1905)
Description from www.jewishencyclopedia.com
The foundation of the present Jewish community dates from 1792, when some natives of Belgrade, which city had been captured by Emperor Joseph II. of Austria in 1788 and retaken by the Turks in the following year, sought refuge in Ruschuk to escape the reprisals of the latter.
The Jews of Ruschuk flourished commercially until the Continental blockade; but the sieges of 1807 and 1811 destroyed the prosperity of the community. The Russians converted the synagogue into a stable for their horses, and finally destroyed it by fire.
By the time peace was declared, almost the entire Hebrew community had removed to Bucharest. Some time later ten families of refugees returned with several families from Nicopolis.
The War of Greek Independence in 1828 drove several thousand Mohammedan emigrants from Rumania to Ruschuk; and a Jewish resident named Perez Alkalai generously provided the fugitives with all necessary supplies, receiving as a reward a "berat" from Vali Pasha which exempted him permanently from all taxation. In 1837 and 1845 the city was visited by the sultans Maḥmud II. and 'Abd al-Majid respectively, and the Jewish congregation was the object of the imperial bounty.
The Jewish community of Ruschuk, which is the most prosperous in Bulgaria, possesses an excellent library, which is a legacy from Chief Rabbi Shabbethai Behar Abraham. The city contains two synagogues: a large one, and a smaller one called "Ḳahallah Ḳadosh Shalom." It possesses also two schools, supported by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, with an attendance of 272 boys and 204 girls, as well as a Zionist society, a ḥebra ḳaddisha, a chief rabbi, and a rabbinical tribunal. There is likewise a small Ashkenazic community, which has an oratory of its own.
A Jewish press was established at Ruschuk in1894; and two Judæo-Spanish papers, "La Alborada" and "El Amigo," have been published there for some time.
In 1904 the Jews of Ruschuk numbered 4 030 out of a total population of 48 000. They were chiefly engaged in commerce and banking.
Another reference, from 1913, gave the Jewish population at 4 000, for a total of 33 632.
Excerpts from "The Jewish Community In Rousse" by Teodora Bakardjieva:
Whilst Jews in Rouschouk spoke Judeo-Spanish in their everyday contacts, all documentation of the commune was written in Hebrew.
At the end of the XVIIIth and begining of the XIXth century, the Jews settled permanently in Rousse. Good conditions of life and economic activity in the town caused the rapid increase of the Jewish community. Thirty-two Jewish families settled in Rousse until 1842. According to the register of the Jewish commune, Jewish households in 1852 was already 214. These data totally overlaps with the first official census results in Tuna Vilayet which show that the number of Jews living in Rouschouk amounted to 956 people.
The War of 1877/78 had no disastrous effect on the Jewish community in Rousse. Although a number of Jews left the town during the warfare, they came back to their homes soon after the war ended. The first national census in the Principality of Bulgaria points that the number of Jews living in Rousse then was 1943 people. In the years to follow, demographic indicators show a steady growth of Jewish population. The peak was reached in 1910 when there were 3 854 Jews permanently resident in Rousse.
A lot of Jewish factories and firms were set up, most of them engaged in the manufacture of clothes, hats, explosives, cellulose, paper, polish, dyes and glues. No less successful was Jewish participation in metalworking, woodworking, cabinet making, the production of sugar and sugar products. A Jewish Popular Bank was set up and contacts of Jewish merchants went beyond the limits of the Balkan market.
- References and Publications:
- The Jewish Community and Family Names of Sephardic Jews in Ruschuk (Russe), Bulgaria. Etsi, the Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Review, Volume 4, issue 15, December 2001.