In the 15th century, Sephardic Jewish merchants began to move to Bessarabia, a region of Eastern Europe bounded by the Dniester and Prut rivers, as a trade route between the Black Sea and Poland. The area quickly became an important center of Hebrew and Yiddish culture and literature.
The beginning of the 20th century marked a period of hardship, characterized by violent anti-semitism and economic strain. Between 1903 and 1905, the Kishinev pogroms, a series of riots instigated by an anti-semitic press, left scores dead and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses burned. This event became a major focal point of the early Zionist movement.
In 1920, there were 267,000 Jews living in Bessarabia, 140 Jewish schools with 19,746 pupils, and 13 hospitals. With the Nazi invasion of 1941, hundreds of thousands of Jews perished in deportations, mass shootings, ghettos, concentration camps, and the Einsatzkommandos massacres, leaving the Jewish community of Bessarabia nearly annihilated.
Soundwalk, in collaboration with Centropa, collected hundreds of recorded tapes of the survivors of Bessarabia, and embarked through the region to conduct field recordings of the 27 towns where these communities existed to place the sound sources in context with their historical environment, from Kishino in Moldavia to Tiraspol in Transnistria to Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi along the Black Sea to Chernovtsy in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine. The field recordings were all made in the depths of night, as an echo of a vanished world that will never rise again.
The sound installation Bessarabia Ghost Tapes will be presented as a mix of field recordings, unearthed vintage 78 records, and overlaid oral testimonies collected on tape by Centropa from Jews of the former Bessarabian region. The sound piece is a reflection on the contrast between the permanence of nature sounds, bound to a territory, and the disintegration of the human sounds that populated these places in a time and space, and creates a meditative and hypnotic reflection on the indifference of nature towards our barbarianism and cruelty, and our never-ending cycle of inflicting pain on each other.