By Meir Grinberg zl, Attorney (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Two cycles denoted the annihilation of the Jewish Community of Bender. The first one was begun by the Fascist Rumanian regime which arose after Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. It broadened its influence during five-six years until 1938. In general, the persecution of Jews grew during that regime and in particular, the Jews of Bender suffered even more. This was due to the fact that during their reign they considered the Jews as Bolsheviks as the city was close to the Dniester. The Soviet town of Tiraspol was situated on the other side of the river. Although the Jews of Bender were considered loyal citizens of Rumania, they were occasionally summoned to the office of the Siguranza to answer questions or to explain leftist actions of which they were totally innocent. This situation deteriorated so much that Jews were afraid to venture out in the evenings. They anticipated terrorist attacks of the right who acted in the name of the notorious Iron Guard under Romulus Bertianu(?). The Jewish youth organized itself for self-defence purposes.
These persecutions reached a peak when the Jewish lawyers were thrown out of the Law Society. Among them were the well-known Yefim Borisovich Rovshavsky(?), Ziska Zmora, Pincus Grinberg, Boris Titiner and others. After they lost their privileges they did not dare enter the court house.
This cycle of persecution had not yet closed when a second one began for the Jews of Bender. This happened when Bessarabia and Bucovina were conquered by the Soviet Union on June 28, 1940. The tragedy was that the Jews of Bender were considered Bolsheviks by the Fascists, but were seen by the Soviets as untrustworthy Trotskyites. This did not only happen to the bourgeois Jews- the businessmen. Even those Jews who identified themselves with the Communist faction within the Jewish Community were not received any better. These were people like Radiboim(?), Isaac Kofman, Yoske Galperin, Berel Spivak from Kaushan.
The Soviets did not only reject the Jews. They would not accept other local Communists like the brothers Bichkov and Ivan Kopofnanko. To everyone's surprise, many others found themselves in a very difficult situation. They were terribly disappointed by these saviours with whom they had always identified.
In one year- from June 28, 1940 to June 22, 1941(when Germany suddenly attacked its ally, the Soviet Union) - the Jewish Community of Bender was destroyed. Friends and acquaintances of long standing became strangers to each other. One was suspicious of the other due to their insecurity in the work-place under Communist rule.
The NKVD did its work. Every so often one Jew or another would disappear. When the bad news came no one dared approach the authorities to question or to help those considered innocent until proven guilty. Any inquiry was interpreted as a political action. Those who were still free stayed away in order not to incriminate themselves. They were obliged to turn their backs on their friends in spite of their pain and sorrow. They had to pretend that everything was clear to them and that they should not question anything.
The first to disappear were Yosef Halperin, Attorney Yefim Rubashky, Moshe Zufshteyn, Misha Kishinovsky, Fishel Bendersky (from the iron goods store In Kripostnoy) and others.
The abuse of the Jewish Community reached its heights on the unforgettable terrible day June 13, 1941. On that day, at dawn, the NKVD squad attacked like a pack of hungry wolves (as they did in all towns in Bessarabia and Bucovina). They arrested, brutally and without cause, many innocent people.
At the same time there was a conference of lawyers of the Republic of Moldavia in Kishinev. Those from Bender who participated were Grinberg, Kroscon and others. When they returned home at the end of the sessions they heard about many arrests among the Jews of Bender. Those arrested were exiled in cattle cars, separated from their families. The men were in one car while the rest were in another one. It was clear to everyone that this was sadistic cruelty planned by the twisted inhumane minds. Among those arrested were: Ilya Abramovich, Shebtel Merisis(?), Sara Sheinfeld, Gendelman, Pincus Grinberg and others.
I do not have the strength to describe the suffering of our members and their inconceivable conditions. We saw the inhumane separation of families and wondered how long man can suffer. We will bring out some details and we will leave the rest for the reader so he can reach his own conclusions.
Fathers heard the screams of their wives and children from the second car (attached to their car) and could not help them. They suffered horrible emotional and physical hardship for many days. Adults had to relieve themselves in front of children due to the crowding. The cattle cars were closed on all sides. The oppressive heat that June forced men, women and children to be semi-naked. As if all that was not enough, these people were forced to stay in the train station for three days so cargo from Bender Provaia could be loaded. Hundreds of Bender residents came to say good-bye to their relatives. They did not know where their families were being sent and whether they would ever see them again. They did not know if this was a one-time event or if it was part of a plan. There was no one to give them answers. The Jews of Bender did not yet know that this was only the beginning and that the next step would be the emptying of the city of its Jews and the annihilation of the community.
Mobilization of the Youth at the Beginning of the War
When the war broke out all the young people were mobilized immediately. The draft meeting place was the Boys Federal High School. We spent eight hours there. Through the windows we could see German aircraft bombing the railroad tracks between Bender and Tiraspol. At the same time, all the families were ordered to present themselves to the railway station in order to be sent out of town. This was the first train to leave Bender. There were others later. It is difficult to describe our situation as we thought all our dear ones were exterminated. Some people grabbed bicycles and rode to see what was happening. They returned to tell us all were still alive.
After about 250 people had gathered in the school we were transferred to the Schwartzman Gymnasia. More people joined us there. We reached a total of 500 and since there was not enough room we were taken back to the Boys Federal High School (Kazionaya Gymnasia). As we arrived, a bomb hit the Schwartzman Gymnasia and destroyed the building. We breathed a sigh of relief since had we stayed there no one would have remained alive. The total darkness did not stop the Germans from finding Jewish institutions and locations where there were mobilized men. It is important to note that few in the population were interested in designating specific locations to the Germans. As a result all the synagogues were bombed.
A month later, the Central Headquarters of the Soviet Army ordered the release of all soldiers from the conquered territories. They were transferred to work in military industry. This showed a lack of trust in the population of the territories annexed by the Soviet Union after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. There were many deserters from the army.
My family had reached Odessa and I continued to search for them. I arrived at the train station and I found myself in a crowd of more than 50 000 people. Many refugees had come to Odessa before the Germans had bombed the railroad station.
Bender was emptied in one night.
It was impossible to cross the bridge to Tiraspol without permit (Komendirovka). Since I was the regional chairman of one of the Law Societies, I tried to give permits to everyone in spite of regulations. Many people were saved this way. Attorney Balatzianu- formerly Minister of Industry- helped me a great deal. He worked with us in a department located in Rudshavsky's store.
Many family tragedies occurred during these passages. For instance, Yosef-Haim Levitt left Bender and his family remained. Many families were separated and heard nothing of each other. Of those who escaped, some were saved, but others were killed by the Nazis. Among them were Abelman and his wife who were buried in the middle of the street (according to testimony of the locals).
The Jews of Bender had two options. They could go to Stalingrad or to Petrovskaya. However, the Germans advanced rapidly and by the end of October 1941 the Jews had to flee from these places.
In the port of Makhachkala on the Caspian Sea there were 300 000 Jewish refugees and there I found my mother and my sister. From there we went to Sami-Platinsk.
The tragedy was the length of the trip. After a month and a half, we reached the last stop with great difficulty. We had travelled continuously without washing or changing our clothes. We lived on bread and water we obtained in stations on the way. Lice pestered the people and practically ate their flesh. Due to the lack of minimal sanitary conditions Typhus spread and killed many people.
When we reached Sami-Platinsk people were being sent to kolhozes. I was appointed regional director of the Law Society and so we tried to survive. I stayed there with my family until September 1944 when I received a telegram from the Minister of Justice of the Soviet Union to return to Moldavia. I was to appear in front of the Minister of Justice of Moldavia. The road to Kishinev was difficult. Usually, one would move only a few kilometres per day. However, due to the telegram from the Minister of Justice we had no trouble and we reached Bender in good time. I disembarked and my family continued on to Kishinev.
It was difficult to recognize the city we had left behind. The central section (Horovinskaya) was destroyed except for the Weissman house. The first person I met was Manya Tomshpolsky who used to sell bread in the building. Next came Shtopelmn's brother-in-law who used to sell medications prepared with boiling red wine. Our house was gone except for a few steps.
Then I met Mrs. Gingis and I gave her regards from her son who was with me in Sami-Platinsk. She had believed that he was no longer alive.
I met little Imes, Zifshteyn's son and Levinson. They told me that I had relatives in Bender who were living in a railway car and were starving. I met with them and I decided to leave Bender. I went with them to Kishinev to join my family.
July 1941 was the month when the Jews of Bender were dispersed. September 1944 was their time of return from all parts of Russia. Unfortunately, only a few returned.
(Dictated by Attorney Meir Grinberg zl to Y. Raviv, April 1970)
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