[February 2009] See photos and more history. Bulgaria's largest port city on the Black Sea can be traced to Odessos, a 6th century BCE Greek colony controlled by Thracians, Persians and Romans. Eventually part of the Byzantine Empire. Varna was named by Slav tribes that founded the settlement in the 6th century CE.  Ottoman Empore captured Varna in 1399 and ruled for almost 500 years. Shumen, Silistra, Ruschuk (Ruse), and Varna were the four Ottoman strongholds in NE modern Bulgaria. The first railroad opened in 1866 between Varna and Ruschuk bringing economic development and increased population. In 20th century, Varna was the third largest city of Bulgaria with more than 300,000 inhabitants and a thriving economy of international trade tourism at the Golden Sands.

Jewish Varna dates from the beginning of the 19th century. The first Jews to settle as merchants and artisans and later, as industry developed, were  handworkers, clerks, or exporters. The Ottoman rule ended.  The organized Sephardi community and small Ashkenazi community grew from 255 in the late 1870's to 719 in 1880, less than 1% of the total population of the city. During the 1885 war with Serbia, the Varna Jewish community provided funds to equip the Bulgarian army., served in the Bulgarian army . Some women even served as nurses. In 1888, about 760 Jews were among a total population of 25,000+. Jewish population: 1,308 in 1903; 1,706 in 1910; and 1,615  out of 37,417 in 1913. The 1926 census registered 1,806 Jews. The 1934 census shows only 1,596 Jews making Varna the fourth largest Jewish community in Bulgaria. On the eve of WWII, about 2,000 Jews in Varna includied Jewish refuges from regions of Bulgaria as well as other countries.

The Jewish community in Varna had two synagogues. The Sephardi synagogue established at the end of the 19th century had a room for morning and evening prayers during weekdays. Ashkenazi Jews had a smaller synagogue. Both the Bulgarian authorities and the Jewish leadership permitted two separate communities. The majority Sephardi community owned a community center with a large meeting hall and operated a Hevrah Kadishah, a cemetery and charity organizations.

Photos. [February 2010]

OLD Jewish cemetery:  Near the seashore, this cemetery functioned until 1935 until it was confiscated and a city garden planted instead. [February 2009]

NEW cemetery:  Opened in 1935, but known still as the Old Cemetery because after the closing of the first cemetery, the community erected a memorial wall with the engraved names of several hundred people whose gravestones were in the first cemetery. This wall still exists. See photo. [February 2009]

Last Updated on Friday, 19 February 2010 12:12