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[Page 231]

Chapter VII

Some True Stories

 

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The Interrupted Party

by Y.E.

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

These were days of the First World War, days of awful darkness and terrible despair. The police was raging: searching, investigating and falsely accusing. The detestable scheme came from on high that every Jew in Russia should be considered a spy who revealed state secrets to the enemy. There was no day that the police didn't find reasons to blame one of the residents of the town and falsely accuse him with various allegations. One night about twenty heads of family were caught as hostages and deported from the town.

In addition, there was the problem of those evading military service. In order to search for them a special company of police (who had special uniforms) arrived in town. They started immediately looking for the evaders and as the first step they declared a curfew at evening and night and woe to anyone who dared to leave his house at those hours.

However, the youth did not want to accept this decree. By various methods they fooled the police and violated the curfew. They found hidden paths, went through distant lanes and dark courtyards, climbed walls, jumped over fences and … met their friends and enjoyed themselves. The evaders – who wanted to be active and to be in touch with others – were very daring, and under cover of darkness would go out “to breathe some fresh air and see living people”.

At that same time a young man came to our town to seek refuge until matters settled down. Who was he? Why did he choose our town? Things like these were considered a secret and were not asked about; even where he was living in town was not revealed. Only one thing we heard from him, that he was an actor, a member of the one of the travelling Jewish troupes that during the war ceased performing for obvious reasons. After a few days that young man joined our group and became one of us. However, we learned that he had very limited funds and he was close to starvation, therefore we decided to hold a party of reading and drama. We immediately began making preparations for the party.

A party at that time? What were the initiators thinking? Was there any hope that such a gathering could actually be held? The suspicions of the authorities were so great and their attitude to anything Jewish, especially a Jewish cultural event, so grave, that it was impossible to believe that someone would take upon himself the responsibility of getting a license for a public Jewish gathering. And even if

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someone could be found who would dare to apply to the authorities in this matter, and perhaps with the help of a bribe would be able to persuade whoever was necessary and the license would be given, it would be conditioned upon the gathering being conducted in Russian. And certainly not in Yiddish, because there was a stern prohibition on the use of Yiddish in all of Russia. In addition, this young man was clearly not “kosher” and he must be careful of the “evil eye”… All of this was clear to us; we knew very well what difficulties awaited us and how many obstacles and problems lie ahead, but we were not deterred.

Therefore we decided that the party would not be public. After a search, we found a private home belonging to one of the members, Moshe Klibner, whose parents were willing – despite the danger – to allow us to use their home. Tickets were sold quietly, of course, very carefully and in absolute secrecy. The success of the event was virtually certain.

At the appointed time, the crowd gathered and we were just about to begin when the door opened and there appeared Y.A., a Jew close to the authorities, and three policemen who entered with him. They were clearly happy that they achieved two things: breaking up an illegal gathering and finding a number of military evaders.

Frenzy ensued. Many of the people tried to escape – some through the back door, some through the window, others hid in some of the side rooms, and some tried to go out the front door… Luckily the police and Y.A. were very drunk and we were able to appease them with sums of money, and thus the event was forgotten.

And the party? It was held two weeks later, after things had calmed down.


The Lynching

by Esther Amitzur–Steinhaus

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

The time is autumn of 1917. The glowing days of the revolution are gone. Again a lack of calm is in the air and worry for the future in the heart. On one hand, the Czarist generals rose up and tried to defeat the revolutionists, and on the other hand, the Bolsheviks increased their pressure on the temporary government. The soldiers at the front who were tired of war and full of longing for their home and family, despaired of waiting for the hoped–for peace and thus caused many divisions to fall apart. Deserting soldiers with weapons roamed the roads. The weakness of the authorities was felt in all areas and various dangerous elements became active. Pogroms against the Jews occurred in some cities and towns in Russia. The threat of pogroms hovered also on the heads of the Jews of Brichany.

In Tavan, a village near our town, lived the adopted son of the nobleman the owner of an estate, called Bakal. He was known in our district for his wild lifestyle, and even more for his great hatred of the Jews. When the revolution started the young man disappeared and no one knew his whereabouts.

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Then he returned to his village without fear and caused incitement among the farmers and the military units, who were stationed nearby, against the revolution and the Jews. He was joined by Kasian, a known thief and drunk. The two were active for weeks and freely incited others until they managed to organize many farmers and some soldiers. One evening they entered the town intending to perpetrate a pogrom. Immediately were heard the famous shouts, “Beat the Jews – save Russia!”, accompanied by gunshots, breaking windows and doors, and robbing stores. The Jewish youth fought against the plunderers, the Soviet called up the army in the area – who were faithful to the revolution, and the pogrom was subdued. That very same night the Soviet conducted searches and Bakal and his cohort Kasian were caught. They were imprisoned in one of the rooms of the Soviet and a few young men guarded over them.

The excitement in town was very great. People didn't go to bed and the streets were filled with people all night. The next morning a huge crowd of soldiers amassed and demanded that the Soviet hand over the troublemakers and they would deal with them as they saw fit. The Soviet refused and tried to calm the crowd to no avail. The inflamed soldiers attacked the workers of the Soviet who had to retreat and escape through the back door. Then the soldiers broke into the Soviet building, took out the young Bakal and Kasian into the street and attacked them with sticks and the butts of their rifles until they were dead. Only then did the soldiers start to disperse.

Here we must mention Katia Ginzburg.

She was one of the central figures in town. She was a trained midwife yet all her free time was devoted to socialist and revolutionary activities and she was called by all, the “Grandmother of the Revolution in Brichany”. She greatly influenced the youth and the many workers; her ideas about socialism were accepted by all without any doubt. In the beginning of the 20th century she had already started to organize the workers in our town, starting with study groups and autodidacts, then progressing to professional cells. In 1905 she even established a workers council and organized a one day general strike and march against the Czarist government. After the failure of the revolution that occurred that year, she continued to be active and maintained a network of secret groups to study the problems of socialism and the workers movement. Obsessed with her ideology and a courageous fighter for her ideas, she toiled unrestrained to instill them in the widest possible groups, and her successes were notable. Like most of the Jewish socialists of her generation she was assimilated and an extreme opponent against Zionism in all its forms.

The height of her activity came in 1917 after the break out of the revolution. She was appointed head of the local soviet – workers council, the soldiers and the intelligentsia in Brichany, which tried to extend its rule on all areas of life – social, economic and cultural, in our municipality. However, then she met the vigorous resistance of the strong Zionist organizations who had strengthened their influence on the people.

When the Romanians conquered Bessarabia, the matter of the two who died in the lynch case again erupted.

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The Romanian authorities arrested Katia Ginzburg, and blamed her for this lynch trial. She was imprisoned in the prison in Hutin and accused of murder. From the beginning, the district authorities intended to emphasize the political aspect, but for some reason the general prosecutor refused to do so and she was indicted on criminal charges.

Katia was incarcerated in prison for 17 months awaiting trial. The people of the town, her friends and acquaintances, made great efforts and lobbied for her among the personnel in the district authority in order to cancel the trial, or at least, to release her on bail, but they didn't succeed. This matter elevated above the district level – questions were raised in Parliament and in the Senate, senators intervened and lobbied the Ministry of Justice. But nothing helped.

Good lawyers represented her at the trial, among them the writer Konstantin Stara, a well–known lawyer from Bucharest and a representative in Parliament, who in his youth shared Katia's views and now volunteered to come to her defense. The trial continued for four consecutive days and seventy witnesses were heard. However, the jury deliberated only a few minutes and found Katia innocent.


The First Keren Hayesod Delegation

by M. Amitz

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

The many activities of the Zionists in our town, and especially in the area of national funds, was known and appreciated by the Zionist center in Kishinev. Even more so they were impressed with the cordiality with which the people of our town received the Zionist emissaries. These emissaries were happy to visit the town and many of them even made friends among the Zionists of Brichany.

As soon as the town was notified that a delegation of Keren Hayesod was planning a visit, a committee was formed to receive them and to organize activities. The matter was publicized among the township and preparations were made for the arrival of the guests.

Also we, members of Maccabi, participated in the preparations getting our membership ready for the reception. We began practicing drill exercises, prepared uniforms – white shirts, dark blue slacks and a blue and white belt, a national flag was hung, and a literary–artistic evening was planned. There was a feeling of festivity in the air.

The day arrived. Beginning in the morning a cheerful atmosphere was felt in town. The youth were joyful and merry as they ran through the streets completing their preparations. Many of the Zionists organized to go out to in carriages to greet the guests and even a band was provided. Many of the residents hung up flags and decorated their houses with carpets. I think that there had never been such a festivity in our town, except maybe, the joyful parade during the revolution. The members of Maccabi were supposed to gather in the early afternoon on the fireman's field and from there to go out together passing through the streets of the town. Everything was ready, and the heart was full of joy…

When I went out into the street, after a quick meal, to go to the march, I noticed

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bri237.jpg

The Maccabi Committee in their new uniforms with its flag on the day that the first delegation of Keren Hayesod arrived, 1922
Seated (Right to left): Likerman Yeshayahu, Guzman Yitzhak, Gevalder Shaul, Shiller Baruch.
Standing: Cherkis Shalom, Lerner Yosef, Cherkis Michael

 


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A Speech for an Audience of One

by Y.E.

Translated by Esther Mann Snyder

The day of the opening of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was on 4 Nisan 1925. We decided to mark the day with a celebration. First, because of the importance of the event, it isn't a simple thing to establish the only Hebrew university in the world and also its location – Jerusalem.

Second, we saw it both as a source of encouragement and lifting of the spirits for the Zionists themselves and also for the masses of Jews, after years of depression and disappointment that were caused by the grand hopes raised by the Balfour Declaration.

We made comprehensive plans, whose details I don't remember, and began implementing them. However, the situation quickly brought us back to reality – we were not allowed to celebrate as we had planned due to the refusal of the authorities to grant the necessary license. Only after much lobbying the authorities finally agreed to allow us to hold a festive prayer service in the great synagogue during the morning, with one or perhaps two speeches, plus a celebratory party in the evening in the hall of the New Talmud Torah (Hebrew school) on condition that no speeches would be given.

Therefore, the plans were greatly reduced, its character and contents were completely altered, but since we didn't have a choice, we had to make the best of it although without much enthusiasm. Many of us doubted whether the masses would actually come to the prayer service. It was said that the mere fact of holding the celebration was not so important to the people and not many would appreciate the opening of a university for our people. In addition, the service would be held in the morning hours on a regular weekday when the residents were busy with their affairs, and who would close their stores or shops and come to the synagogue for something that happened so far away?!

The morning arrived. The people – men, women and children – thronged to the great synagogue and completely filled the seats. Some Psalms were sung and two speeches were given, by Rabbi Efrati and Moshe Gevalder, who served as the rabbi appointed by the government. The atmosphere was festive and inspiring, and many greeted each other with the words, “Next Year in Jerusalem”.

We also had doubts about the festive celebration that was to be held that evening. A Zionist party – in honor of such an important event – without a speech – how can that be?! The essence of our goal was to publicize the Zionist idea. We didn't want to cancel the event as some advised, but it was necessary to limit the number of invitees so that only people like us, Zionist activists, would participate. Again, we were proven wrong. Many came and among them some we didn't believe would participate in a Zionist event. And if we could not have Zionist content as we wanted, we invested time and effort in decorating the hall and put up many lights.

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Baruch Yakir, one of the teachers in the Hebrew school, was in charge of the arrangements although he was not one of the Zionist activists.

We sat and sang Zionist songs, enjoyed the refreshments but the people weren't enthusiastic. The silence that was imposed on us was annoying and depressing. One of those sitting at the head of the table offered to give a speech since there was no representative of the government present. However many opposed. During this discussion, Yaakov Steinhaus faced Haim Gold, who was one of the heads of the opposition to a speech, and spoke to him about the renewal of Hebrew culture and about the role of the University in this process. So as to create a sense of a private conversation, Steinhaus turned to Haim Gold using his first name and thus these words turned into a celebratory speech, which significantly improved the feeling of bitterness.

Suddenly there was a change of atmosphere in the room. The people woke up and broke out in song, went hand–in–hand, arm in arm, the feet lifted up as of their own accord, and dancing caught on. With inspiration and spiritual uplifting, we enjoyed ourselves until late at night.

immediately a big change. Armed Romanian soldiers were spread out on the main street. The sergeants shouted orders to remove the flags and the carpets and they didn't allow the people to walk in groups. The members of Maccabi who were wearing uniforms were sent home, some of them were beaten. Oh, what are they doing to us? Didn't the Colonel–Commander promise that he would ignore the event?!

It turned out that the command came from higher up as a result of a despicable informer. Everything was cancelled – the reception, the display, the party – just a pain burning in the heart remained. The arrival of the delegation into town was postponed and its members, Dr. Shvartzman, Shlomo Berliand and Rabbi Shternberg from Dombrovni were arrested in the nearby town and kept until night.

However, the practical activity for Keren Hayesod was not disturbed. Just the opposite, actually because of what happened the fundraising was more successful than expected.

But, the heart was bitter for a very long time, and even today the insulting and depressing incident is remembered.


 

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Organization of Former Brichany Residents in Israel

by M. Amitz-Tcherkes

Translated by Pamela Russ

In Israel, there are a great many former Briceni residents. Some of them came here long before the establishment of the State of Israel. These were mainly young immigrants, influenced by Zionist thought and by the Pioneer (Chalutz) movement. They came with fixed and determined views. Even while living outside of Israel, they already belonged to specific Jewish movements in which they pictured themselves coming to Israel. Because of that, there was no need then to establish another organized corporate body for them, other than a landsmanschaft (brotherhood organization for residents of the same town).

Those who came after the establishment of the State of Israel appeared totally different, with a large flow coming with the first Aliyah. Yet, even though their numbers were large, they felt foreign in the beginning, facing the difficult challenges of new immigrants. With their own strength, they had to pave a way to fit into their new realities.

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bri248.jpg

Committee of the Irgun of Briceni Residents in Israel – 1961
Standing: Horvicz Yosef, Ibn Ezra Menachem, Choresh Shmuel, Amitzur Yakov, Gansin Yehoshua.
Seated (right to left): Weisberg Shlomo, Mrs. Hochman Dvora, Mrs. Richter Esther, Amitz Michel (deceased)

 

Each one of them experienced days of hope and disappointments, and worked very hard – so it seemed – in hopeful searches.

For them it was important to establish the “Organization of Former Residents of Briceni” that would help the new immigrant as much as possible – both with their morale and with material needs.

The push to establish this organization came through the visit of Yosef Kesler (Kestelman), the son of Chava and Itzy Shuchat.

Yosef Kesler has great experience behind him. Aside from the fact that he was a very successful community worker in several Zionist and Jewish Labor institutions in America, taking nothing for his personal use, for many years he was at the head of the Briceni Relief organization in New York. He also instituted prolific and multi-branched activities for the benefit of the community institutions in Briceni before the war and for the refugees after the war (details described in the article about the Relief and his activities).

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At the welcoming evening in Tel Aviv in honor of Mr. Yosef Kesler, May 5, 1951, there were tens of Briceni, and there the plans were laid to establish the “Organization” (Irgun) with the objectives of finding ways and means to ease the acculturation of the newly-arrived immigrants. At that very evening, a temporary committee was set up headed by Mr. Noson Lerner, of blessed memory, a former Deputy in the Romanian parliament. The other members: Sonya Gelgar, Yosef Hurvicz, Tuvia Wartikowski, of blessed memory, Shloime Weisberg, Shmuel Choresh, Yakov Amitzur (Shtaynhoiz), and Ester Rechter (Koifman), voluntarily offered to participate in this task. Later, the following were elected for committee work: Michel Amitz, Dvoire Hochman (Donja Safir), Eliezer and Yehoshua Redenski – this last person was the representative of Briceni in Haifa and surrounding areas.

The Organization was registered officially and by-laws were set by the government.

Also, the Ministry for Social Affairs recognized this organization as a corporate body that would benefit from the Ministry's support and social ventures.

 

Gemillas Chesed (Community Charity) Funds

There are two community charity funds in the Organization:

The first fund was established by the Relief in America right after Mr. Yosef Kesler's visit to Israel. For this fund, the landsleit (members of the landsmanschaft) in America sent approximately $2,000 (3,600 lires). Much of this was from the contributions of Mr. Hershel Wartikowski (Harry Warten), of blessed memory, and Pinchas Spivak, of blessed memory. The latter – born in Ukraine, but his wife was from Briceni – did much for the Relief fund voluntarily and was the secretary. When he came for a visit to Israel, he actually brought this sum of money with him.

Until the year 1961, this fund (the Gemillas Chesed fund) dispensed 160 loans for a total of 17,350 lires, almost all of which were given for constructive projects such as acquiring a home, setting up and improving a house, emigration for relatives, work and earning a livelihood, as well as for medical help, and many other things.

One hundred and sixty Briceni immigrants received help and support from the community charity (Gemillas Chesed) fund in this manner.

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Social help that the Committee provides goes in two directions:

First, the Committee has assumed the responsibility of getting help for the needy of Briceni who are in Israel and who approach the Committee with all kinds of situations. Help is given in many forms: financial help, medical help, and so on. For the Passover holidays, the Committee distributes the goods and monies that the New York Relief sends over. The Committee was also instrumental in setting up (with the active help of Mrs. Mina Amitz) an elderly and lonely Briceni woman in a senior's residence, a task for which it was very difficult and very challenging to acquire the large amounts of monies required.

Second, the Committee does a lot for the Briceni landsleit who are in the Soviet Union and in Romania. For them, as much as possible, packages are sent through the Magen David Adom. Hundreds of packages have been sent to specific addresses, bringing greetings from their own people and townspeople, but also bringing a substantial ease to the material difficulty.

 

For Eternity

Aside from this book, which was published after much challenging and exhaustive work, the Organization also has an annual gathering of the Briceni now living in Israel, where a memorial service is held for the victims of the Nazi animals and their helpers – for those who died during the expulsion, in the camps, and in pain-filled ways. During the gathering, memories of events, chance occurrences, and various people are remembered as well.

Our Organization was of the first – and therefore a model for others – to build a green memorial for these victims, by planting hundreds of trees in “holy forests” with the names of the fallen Briceni.

The Organization is always in close contact with Briceni in Israel and outside of Israel.

A Channuka evening was celebrated with great success, enjoying a program of literature and music.

In cooperation with the Organizations of the surrounding cities, there were several Purim parties. The main goal was not only the actual event, but it was also to provide personal, warm, and friendly meetings of close friends and acquaintances.

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Meetings and welcomings were held for those Briceni who came to visit Israel from all different places.

The Organization maintains a regular correspondence with the Relief foundation in America and with individual Briceni all over the world: in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and other places that are involved with the Organization and that help with the activities.

The Organization participated in the publishing of the book “On the Ground of Bessarabia” (Al Admas Besarabia), and the work of the former president of the Knesset in Israel, and well-known director of the labor movement, Mr. Yosef Sprinzog, of blessed memory, who, as is known, was part Bessarabian, and began his Zionist and social activities there.

M. Amitz-Czerkis

 

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