In the 6th century BC, Milesian colonists founded a settlement named Tyras
on the future location of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi
The town changed hands and names many times:
Of no great importance in early times, in the 2nd century BC Tyras fell under the dominion of native kings and later in Roman hands in 56 BC who called it Alba Julia
Destroyed (by Getae, Goths and Barbarians) and rebuilt several times, the Byzantines built a fortress that was named in different times Asprocastron
("white castle" - a meaning kept in several languages) and Maurokastron
In 14th century the city (called Moncastro
- an italian corruption depending on the source, of Maurokastron or Bocastro - abbreviation of Albocastron) was briefly controlled by the Republic of Genoa and by King Louis I of Hungary.
Sfântul Ioan cel Nou (Saint John the New), the protector of Moldavia, was martyred in the city in 1330 during a Tatar incursion. In 1391, Cetatea Alba
(white citadel in Romanian) was the last city on the right bank of the Dnister to be incorporated into the newly-established principality of Moldavia, and for the next century was its second major city, the major port and an important fortress, serving as the capital of Tara de Jos (the "Lower Country"), one of the two divisions of Moldavia (alongside Bukovina).
In 1484, along with Kilia, it was the last of the Black Sea ports to be conquered by the Ottomans who named it Akkerman
(turkish for white fortress) and ruled it until 1812 when it was incorporated into Russia as Akkerman
along with the rest of Bessarabia (Russia conquered the town in 1770, 1774, and 1806, but returned it after the conclusion of hostilities).
The city was occupied by the Romanian Army on 9 March 1918, after heavy fighting with local troops led by the Bolsheviks. Formal integration followed later that month as Cetatea Alba
, when an assembly of the Moldovan Democratic Republic proclaimed the whole of Bessarabia united with Romania. In the interwar period, projects aimed to expand the city and the port were reviewed.
Romania ceded the city to the Soviet Union on 28 June 1940 following the 1940 Soviet Ultimatum, but regained it on 28 July 1941 during the invasion of the USSR by the Axis forces in the course of the Second World War and had it within its boundaries.
On 22 August 1944 the Red Army occupied the city once again. The Soviets partitioned Bessarabia, and its southern flanks (including Bilhorod) became part of the Ukrainian SSR, and after 1991, modern Ukraine.
Since 1944 the city has been known as "Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi"
, while on the Soviet geography maps often translated into its Russian equivalent of "Belgorod-Dnestrovskiy"
, literally "white city on the Dniester".
In Jewish sources, the city is referred as Weissenburg (German), Ir Lavan (Hebrew) both meaning "white city" and Akerman (Yiddish).
Karaite Jews lived there since the 16th century - Polish rabbis of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mentioned a rabbinic court functioning in Akkerman -. Some claim the existence of khazars Jews in the town as early as the 10th century.
In 1897, 5,613 Jews lived in the city (19.9% of the total population). The town Jewish community was influenced mainly from the Jewish community of nearby Odessa. During a pogrom in 1905, eight Jews living in the city were killed.
In 1906 Akkerman had two public synagogues, three private prayer-houses and seven Hebrew schools.
As of 1920, the population was estimated at 35,000. 8,000 were Romanian, 8,000 were Jewish, and 5,000 were German. Additional populations included Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians and Russians.
During World War II, most of the Jews living in the city fled to nearby Odessa, where they were later killed. The 800 Jews who were left in the city were shot to death in the nearby Leman river. Around 500 of the prewar town Jews survived the war, and around half of them returned to the city.
In 1953, the last synagogue was closed in Belgorod-Dniester. In 1970, the Jewish population of Belgorod-Dniester was 1,400 people (4.3% of the population), in 1989 - 800 (1.5%).
By 2001 most of the Jews of Belgorod-Dniester immigrated to Israel and went to the United States, Germany and other countries. According to the 2001 Census, 200 Jews (0.3% of the total population) lived in Belgorod.
The end of 1990s and early 2000s sees a revival of Jewish life in Belgorod-Dniester. In 1995, the Jewish community is formed and started functioning a society of Jewish culture "Shalom". There are Jewish kindergarten, Jewish day classes, Sunday school. A Chabad Synagogue opened.
Sources: Yivo Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Jewish Encyclopedia, Migdal Center