Very little, if anything, is written about mestechko, the small towns or townlets in Eastern Europe with fewer than two thousand Jewish residents.  There is almost nothing about such places in Jewish scholarship.  If lucky, one may find that Jews lived there in a certain year, and that a synagogue or a burial society was created in another year.  For some small towns, there might be a line about Nazi atrocities.  There are some exceptions, for example an 800-page book There Once Was a World.  A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok, written by Yaffa Eliach[1].

Many Yizkor Books were written in the 1950s about the larger towns, with stories about Jewish life from the beginning of the 20th century throughout World War II.  Most of them were published in Israel by societies connected to a town or a region[2].  These books are great testimonies to Jewish life in Eastern Europe.  One of the major Jewish genealogical sources,[3], affiliated with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, has thousands of volunteers creating a memorial for the Jews who once lived all across Europe.   A section of JewishGen, KehilaLinks[4], includes websites for many towns, sometimes very small communities in Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldova, Hungary and other countries.  All these websites were developed by volunteers with connections to these places; they usually include a history of the town, a history of the Jews in that town, old town photos and maps, memoirs of the residents, testimonials from the survivors of the Holocaust, reports of recent visits to these places, discoveries of cemeteries, or synagogues hidden close by and more.

I have a special interest in the Bessarabia[5] region because I was born in Kishinev[6], which was once the capital of Bessarabia oblast and gubernia[7].  My parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were all born and lived in Bessarabia.  In my 2006 Hebrew College course “Through Their Eyes” with Professor Jay Berkovitz, I engaged in a study of Jewish life in the whole region of Bessarabia/Moldova.  My final paper for the course was “A geo-historical and cultural overview of Jewish life in Bessarabia/Moldavia region up to the beginning of the 19th century.”

In addition, I have an interest in pursuing my own Jewish heritage.  Because of the political situation of the 1940’s to 1980’s I had been unable to pursue that interest when living in Kishinev and in Moscow.  Only after emigration from the Soviet Union in 1989 was I able to study Jewish subjects and be involved in historical and genealogical Jewish research.

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1 Eliach, 1998 Eliach, Y. (1998). There once was a world. A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok. Boston, New York, London: Little Brown and Company.

[2] Many of the Yizkor Books are available online at NY Public Library:



[5] Bessarabia is a region between Rivers Prut, Dniester, Danube and the Black Sea.  The name originally applied only to the southern part of the territory, and only in 19c under Russian rule the whole region was named Bessarabia.

[6] Capital of Moldova,  the republic of the Soviet Union, and currently the capital of Republic of Moldova.

A large part of Bessarabia was included after WWII into the Republic of Moldova, and southern and northern parts became part of the Ukraine.

[7] Oblast, gubernia – province in Russian Empire.


Yefim Kogan was born in Kishinev, Moldova. After he emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1989 he did extensive genealogical and historical research. In 2012 he received Master of Jewish Liberal Studies from Hebrew College, Boston with focus in Jewish Cultural History.  He is active in Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston. Yefim taught classes on Jewish Genealogy for the local Jewish and Russian communities of Brookline and Boston. He developed a website for the towns of Kaushany, Dubossary and Kamenka, Moldova and Tarutino and Serpneve (Leipzig) in Ukraine. In 2011 Yefim organized Bessarabia Special Interest Group, developed its website:  Most important projects he was leading and coordinating are the Bessarabia Revision List, where already 145,000 records are translated, and the Bessarabia Cemetery project, where 76 cemeteries were located in Bessarabia/Moldova where Jews are buried and 45 of them are already photographed and indexed with more than 45,000 Jewish burial records.

Since 2009 Yefim presented at the International Jewish Genealogical conferences.  Here are several highlights (find excerpts at

2016, Seattle, “When, Why and Where did the Jews arrive to Bessarabia/Moldova”,

2015, Jerusalem, “The Jewish Surnames in Bessarabia / Moldova. What makes our Surnames Unique”

2012, Paris, “Estate and other categories of Jews in Bessarabia, Russia in the 19th century

2009, Philadelphia, “History of Jews in Bessarabia (Moldova) in the 15th to 19th Centuries. Geography, History, Social Status”.

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