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[Page 140]

“I remember the days of old”
(From a letter from Siberia)

by Efraim Abramowitch, Siberia, the Soviet Union

Translated by Sara Mages

It's our mitzvah to tell, and not just a mitzvah, but an obligation to tell about the founders of our Hebrew School in Akkerman. The young generation must not think that everything came to us ready, as a gift of God above. It's the fruit of hard work of many people who devoted their life to one goal: educating the young generation. Indeed, in Israel, no one wonders when kindergarten children appear in a play or in a radio program in Hebrew. It's natural and obvious. However, imagine in your souls: a city in Southern Bessarabia, far from the center, the dominated languages in the area are Russian and Romanian, and within this environment the kindergarten children of our school appear on the stage in fluent Hebrew.

I now remember events from fifty years ago, and I was then a boy of five. Our kindergarten class prepared the play “Yitzchak and Rivka” in Hebrew, and although more than fifty years have passed since then – I remember to this day the words and melodies of this play. I see before me the hall full of people, the parents who draw satisfaction from their children, and our teacher – “aunt Manya” (so we affectionately called Manya Sharira who died a few years ago in Kishinev at the age of 93). She used to peek behind the curtain and followed the play, on which she invested a lot of work, with great excitement and anxiety.

Why did I start my memories from kindergarten? because it was the first link to the school that was established by “Tarbut” association in Akkerman. The initiator and founder was Yakov, son of Shmuel Berger z”l. He worked together with a dedicated group of teachers who tried to create something out of nothing. However, the birthright mainly belongs to – Berger. He knew how to instruct and guide in the right direction, was very knowledgeable in all areas of Judaism, knew foreign languages, and of course, all these helped him in carrying out his job. He was the organizer and coordinator of the “educational process” – meaning, the daily education program.

I remember how I looked at him with admiration. He knew everything. Here he appears in our class and gives us a Bible lesson, and a short time later he returns to us and teaches us the doctrine of laws. The treasure of his knowledge aroused a lot of wonder. To this day I remember his lessons and lectures about Shalom Aleichem and other writers of his time. Also his public activity was very extensive. The goal, which he placed before him, was that the school, under his management, would also be an educational institution that will help the students to foster their own personality.

We will not deprive the rights and contributions of other teachers. Is it possible to forget the lessons of our literature teacher Meir Grozman? Or the math lessons of our teacher Yeshayahu Neiman? I'm jumping from one to the other because the chronological order isn't the determining factor. I just wanted to highlight the impression that the school had left on me, and for sure, also on each of the students. We grew, matured, and the chain of life continues. We became parents and grandparents, but the school's place in our life remains firm and abiding, as a lighthouse from the days of our youth.

The last years, 1937–1940, were very sad years. In 1938, the Goga–Koza government rose to power and the school was closed. It was a difficult blow to the Jewish population. Among the decrees of that time was a decree which required each Jew to prove that he was born in the place. It was a condition for citizenship. In those years I've seen Berger in his work at the Jewish community as Rav MeTa'am [the rabbi on behalf of the government]. He had to search hundreds of documents. Dozens of people visited him every day because many were afraid to lose their citizenship and rights. He worked hard, above his powers, and tried to help those who turned to him. I see him with a satchel full of documents. He rummaged through them after he returned home from a day of hard work.

The Goga–Koza government fell and its evil decrees were abolished. Many appreciated the great help that they've received from Berger during the difficult period.

[Page 141]

I envision Berger's work room and the large bookcases along the walls. He was always absorbed in his work and I've never seen him idle. In July 1940, when we separated, he left me several books as a gift, among them were the history books of Dubnov. He was 48 years old when he was expelled from Akkerman. In an instant, all that has been achieved over many years was destroyed.

Until the beginning of the war he worked as an accountant in a place that was a distance of 40 kilometers from our city. Somewhere it's said that whoever planted a tree or left behind a student – his life had not been wasted. Berger's memory will never be forgotten because he didn't leave one student, but hundreds of students who will always remember him. Although his burial place is unknown, his tombstone is stable because each one of his students who survived carries his memory with him.

When I happened to be in Akkerman together with David we went to visit the school building. Now this building is used as a hospital. Indeed, this is also a vital and important institution, but I said to my son at the time: look, this was the nest of our education, the spring from which we drew our youth, and now – it's destroyed and gone.

 

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Efraim Abramowitch on his visit to Akkerman in 1981
Against the fortress' background

 

[Page 142]
Childhood and youth in Shabo and Akkerman

by Baruch Kamin

Translated by Sara Mages

The story of my life – the days of my youth

From my youth I remember the thunder of the cannons of the Red Army who retreated to the eastern side of the Dniester River, and the thunder of the cannons of the Romanian Army which entered the town of Shabo, a distance of 5 kilometers from Akkerman. In the cellar of the house of my grandfather, who was a rabbi and a slaughterer, I saw my frightened family and…I was afraid with them. It was dark in the cellar and only faint rays of light penetrated into it. At night, a lantern threw dim light and black shadows which increased the feeling of fear in me. Our days and nights were difficult and scary. After a few days we left the cellar and returned to our homes, to the yards and the streets that were full of sand. Silence prevailed in the area… the sun rose again for us and there was light. Romanian soldiers rode their horses through the streets and threw candy and sugar – commodities that we didn't have during the days the war.

We, the children, ran through the streets and collected the candy and sugar cubes. We were very happy to see the beautiful horses of the Romanian cavalry. My father, mother and I returned to our apartment which was at the upper part of town. Next to the apartment was a large sandy square and in its center stood a deep well. A large wooden bucket was tied to a long pole and large stones were attached to one of its ends. The bucket was lowered into the well and cold fresh water, which revived the soul of a man and beast, was drawn from it. Next to the well was kind of a wooden sink which was used to water the animals. The children always found interest around the cold water well, especially in the horses and cows that stood next to it. In the building where we lived (a new building with many apartments), one of the apartments was confiscated for a Romanian captain, a commander of a company of soldiers. Twice a day he conducted a roll call in the sandy square as he was riding his beautiful horse. All the neighborhood children watched the spectacular parade and all of us wanted to be a captain riding on a beautiful horse, dressed in magnificent uniform and adorned with gold and silver medals. At night, we dreamt about soldiers, horses, guns and waged wars…

Shabo was an interesting town in terms of its beautiful nature and diverse population which included several thousand Russian and Ukrainian residents, and also about sixty Jewish families. The environment was rich in vineyards which stretched for tens of kilometers. The soil was fertile and produced wheat, corn, fruit–trees, watermelons, melons and vegetables. Along the way, from Akkerman to Shabo, there were vineyards with a special variety of medicinal grapes. Near Shabo was a Russian–Ukrainian–Jewish town, the “Colony,” which was name after the Swiss colonists who spoke German and French and were Lutherans, Catholics and Calvinism. Each religious sect had its own church. The Lutherans, who were the majority, had the largest church in the middle of the colony. The Calvinism had a small and modest church at the entrance to town. The colony was beautiful, well planned, its streets were wide and straight and beautiful trees lined both sides of the street. The beautiful buildings were built in a western Swiss style with big yards and wide warehouses… The yard of the big Provoslavit Church separated the town of Shabo from the colony. All the residents of the colony had a yard with chickens, horses, cows, dogs and cats, all by example and pattern of Western–Europe. The entire colony was immersed in greenery. The Swiss brought with them many varieties of fine grapes which acclimatized well in Shabo's sandy soil. Fish was also in abundance. Different species of fish were raised in artificial ponds at the mouth of the Leman River. They were used as food for the many vacationers who flocked here during the summer season. The smell of wine and fish rose from each yard. Traders came in droves from all over the country and even from abroad (especially from Poland and Czechoslovakia), and conducted large export businesses in fish and wine. Among them – many Jews who were interested in kosher wine. My grandfather, who was a rabbi and slaughterer, was also among the kosher wine producers because the income from the rabbinate and slaughtering was insufficient to support his large family of seven children. A large warehouse, which was used for storing hundreds of liters of kosher wine, stood in the yard. The wine was produced by Jewish workers and under my grandfather's supervision. Most of Shabo's Jewish residents engaged in trade and wine production, and only a few engaged in craft.

[Page 143]

I remember two shoemakers. One of them, Yitzchak Veler, was short, plump and highly active in public and cultural life. He was a talented actor in the Yiddish theater that was established in the place. Over time, the town of Shabo and the colony got closer to each other. The educated young people married each other, and the adults traded and worked together. On winter evenings, young people from the town and the colony climbed on top of the hill to watch the magnificent scenery of the Leman River and its frozen waters which glistened in the moonlight, or to skate on the frozen lake. On Sunday and holidays they played “cricket” in the town and in the colony. This game was brought from Switzerland and became the primary game of the place.

On the shores of the Leman, a distance of a few dozen meters from grandfather's house, were ornamental trees, tall reeds and natural recreation and bathing places. During the spring and summer we were able to sail and swim in the Leman, while in the winter the Leman was covered with a thick layer of ice and snow and strong cold winds blew from the river. This area was used as a place of crossing for the Communists who fled to the Soviet side and quite often shots pierced the air. More than once the bodies of the victims were left lying on the ice till dawn. Thereby, the river was a source of calamity for nature and man.

When the war ended, and I was then a boy of four, our family moved to live in the county city of Akkerman, while my grandfather's family continued to live in Shabo. My grandfather had seven sons and daughters and my father was the eldest. My grandmother was a beautiful woman, a diligent worker, and her children and grandchildren enjoyed her excellent food. She was a devout and observant and at the same time also progressive. She accepted the changes of times and advanced in everything that was related to the children's education. Grandfather was a scholar, the son of Rabbi Velvel from Zhabokrich (Podolia), and grandson of HaRav Pertz who came to Bessarabia to serve as a slaughterer and established a home and a family there. He got up at dawn to study the Torah and the melody of his Gemara blended in perfect harmony with the chirping of the birds. I liked to lie in bed in the morning and listen to the melodies and the chirping, and with them, the strong smell of the morning and the blossoming acacia trees. After the prayer and the meal, grandfather slaughtered chickens that the local people brought to him, and around 10 o'clock he devoted himself to the production of kosher wine. At four o'clock he went to the slaughterhouse and when he returned home he brought “pieces” from each animal that he had slaughtered [legs, liver, intestines, heart, tongue, lungs etc.) which, according to custom, belonged to the slaughterer. Grandmother sold some to the neighbors and used the rest to prepare tasty meat dishes for the entire family. The menu on Sabbath was varied: “holodez” [jellied meat], “pizya” [chicken wings in lemon sauce], liver, knishes, intestines, etc.

During the inflation, after the war, my father bought a large building with seven apartments on 35 Kischinovsky Street in Akkerman. It was across from the Russian bathhouse of the Gentile Bishlaga, who was rarely sober.

 

akk143.jpg
One of the fortress' towers

 

Behind the bathhouse, across the street, lay the Leman River, a tributary of the Dniester River. Most of the apartments of our building faced the street and a wide circular yard surrounded them. There were large warehouses in the yard and the fishermen used them to store fish. The tenants also used the cellar, especially on hot summer days. One of the warehouses was leased to the soap factory. North of the Russian bathhouse, across the street, on the shore of the Leman, was an artesian well with a hand pump that supplied water to the residents. During the winter, when snow storms raged on the shores of the Leman, it was difficult to draw water from this well. South of the bathhouse, across the street, was a large empty plot and pigs ate the tall weeds that grew there. The neighborhood children rode on the pigs and organized racing competitions. The pigs immediately felt the uninvited guests who were riding on their back and started to gallop and jump. Whoever sat the longest on the pig's back – was the winner of the race. The Jewish children were always carful that their parents wouldn't notice them because riding on a pig was also considered an offense.

The fishing village of Turlaki was three kilometers from our building. The reeds that grew there were used to cover the roofs and also to heat the ovens on cold winter days. The Leman was a good source of income and hundreds of fishermen left day and night to fish in its waters. At the same time, the Leman was a place for bathing and recreation. Thousands of people spent time, ate, swam and rested on its long beach. Sailing a sailboat or a rowboat was an impressing sport, and it was a pleasure to see the many white sails on the horizon. We always had to remember not to cross the four–kilometer area of water

[Page 144]

which belonged to the Romanians, and not to enter the Soviets' territorial water. In the winter, the Leman was also used as a place for ice skating. To sum up: the Leman was a natural treasure, an asset to all the residents of Akkerman and the surrounding area.

During spring and summer the sound of singing came from the river day and night. The area was well–guarded by border guards because it was a border region. At night, the lights of Turlaki, Iaki at the mouth of the Dniester, and Ovidiopol on the Soviet side of the Leman winked at us from a distance. The southern end of our street, Kischinovsky, reached the foot of the ancient fortress that the city was named after – the white fortress – although the fortress ceased to be white and blackened over time from all the wars that were raged around it and on it. The water of the Dniester River surrounded it on three sides and the water channels, which were blocked over the years, tied it to the shore. The area of the fortress was huge, there were residential areas, military batteries and mysterious underground caves. Various legends circulated about the fortress and excited the imagination of young and old, and especially the women who believe… These legends passed from generation to generation and became an inexhaustible source of stories that were told by veteran fishermen and sailors.

In this area, at the bosom of nature, I grew and absorbed the love of landscape, nature, water, vegetation, fisheries, history and romance. It was an inspiration for my small and large acts for others. In my thoughts I often return to Kischinovsky Street in Akkerman, my place of residence in the distant past, and I draw from its special atmosphere.

 

akk144.jpg
Gordonia's summer colony in Bodki – 1934

 

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