Table of Contents

[Page 12]

The formation of a Jewish settlement
in the twin town of Novoselitsa

Translated by Sara Mages

A small city in Bukovina that up to the First World War was in a geographical triangle, sort of a wedge that marked the border between the countries of the three big and mighty nations: Austria, the country that included Bukovina, Russia and Romania before the outbreak of the First World War. This place, which wasn't a village or a town, was crossed by the Prut River that served as a natural border between us and Romania. Another stream, a smaller one (Rekitna), which was easily crossed without wetting the knees, was the border between us and Russia, meaning: Bessarabia. Actually, it was one town, even though the borders crossed it and divided it between Bukovina and Russia.

Novoselitsa - means: a new village, in other words, a relatively new place with a young Jewish settlement. Few are the details that I was able to raise from the elders of the place, and even these details are just hearsay. The Jews started to gather there in the 1880th. A few came at first, and a larger number followed them - all came from the Austrian provinces of Eastern Europe. All of them developed business and trade relations with the residents of the Russian side of the town. All the land, apart from the estuary area of the Prut River, belonged to a Baron by the name of Dr. Zutu. This Baron established a residential neighborhood along the street that bordered the Austrian customs house. He established this neighborhood on both sides of the street, and only a dirt road separated the houses. These were crowded residential apartments, which were glued to each other without any buffer. The shops were on the facade and the living rooms were in the rear. A vast square in the middle of the neighborhood served as a market. On market days the farmers brought the produce of their farms and gardens, their livestock and all kinds of poultry. In the middle of the square was a well of fresh water that supplied water to the residents.

One day a fire broke out and ate the whole street, and the density of the construction helped this “basic” fire. Needless to say, that all the houses were made of wood. The rent that the Baron collected from the residents was quite high and ranged between ten to fifteen Guilders per month, which means, a third of what a family needed to live on. When the customs dispute broke out between Austria and Russia, and the trade was paralyzed for a long period time, the Jewish residents were the first victims who lost their source of income. Since the amount due for rent accumulated

[Page 13]

to large and significant amounts, many residents left in the middle of the night to avoid paying their debts.

With the resumption of the trade relations between the two countries, the town's leaders decided to take the initiative in their hands. They acquired land from the Baron, the landowner, and established elegant neighborhoods of villas and houses with courtyards, and without the previous density. Ornamental gardens started to bloom next to the houses and surrounded the town with greenery. Later, roads were paved and communal institutions were established: schools, banks, hotels, post office, synagogues, sauna, and a mikveh. Gradually, this place was given the form of a revised Jewish community that took care of all the diverse needs. A Jew always served as the town's leader, but for equality, the deputyship was given to a farmer, who in most cases was unable to read or write.

Until the outbreak of the First World War, the town developed into a flourishing settlement, mainly Jewish (there were 250 Jewish families and about 300 non-Jewish families before the outbreak of WWI). The merchants' organization established a magnificent building and a club, in which traders and brokers from both sides of the border met, exchange information, completed transactions, etc. Almost all the newspapers, which were published in Austria and Germany, were found in the club. There was a telephone room, a conference room, a mail box for each member, and a uniformed guard always stood by the entrance. Parties, banquets, weddings, Zionist conferences, youth meetings and others were held in the club's hall. A solitary policeman imposed his authority on the place, and a dark cellar in the council building served as a prison for criminals of all kinds.

The farm of the landowner Dr. Zutu

The great estate of the landowner Dr, Zutu, which was located at the back of the town, then almost a village, is preserved in my childhood memory. There was also big castle in it. It was surrounded by a beautiful manicured garden of ornamental trees, flowers and bushes. Paths lined with shells crossed the garden, and water fountains were here and there. Needless to add, that there was also a vast garden of various fruit trees. The area around the garden was fenced by boards and poles at the height of two meters to prevent the intrusion of unwanted visitors. And if the fence wasn't enough, there was also a guard with a dog who walked with his animal to a great distance. However, all these efforts didn't deter us, the children, because great was the temptation of the various fruits, which winked and motioned us to get closer and enjoy their delicious taste. Therefore, we approached the fence in secret, dismantled a section from one of

[Page 14]

 

nov014.gif
The landowner Baron Dr. Zutu

 

the boards, and pulled and dragged out the coveted fruit with the help of a stick with a handle. And we need to admit, that the fruit responded without any “problems” and fell in abundance to the lightest touch of our “device”. The farmyard was in an area of a few dozen Dunam and contained: cowsheds, chicken coops, various pens and many structures for the workers. A Jewish agent was in charge of the farm's produce (cheese, butter, eggs, etc.), and transferred it to the town and the surrounding area. The buyers were mostly Jews since most of the other population, the non-Jewish, owned tiny agricultural farms. Also the farm's general manager was a Jew, an agronomist by training. This “administrator” was assigned a spacious comfortable apartment in the farm. And since the estate owner, the “squire,” was always out of the place, and spent his time carousing and squandering his income, the “administrator” was responsible for the management of the farm.

In general, the Jews filled an important role in the local estates that belonged to the Gentiles, whether as the lessees of the estates, their managers, or the lessees of the taverns that belonged to the landowners. Even my father of blessed memory, leased a tavern for many years in the village of Rovna north of Chernovtsy the capital of Bukovina. He supported himself with respect until that fateful bitter day, in which another Jew appeared and undermined him.

[Page 15]

The “squire,” who respected my father for his integrity, couldn't resist the temptation of higher pay for his tavern. He took the livelihood from my father's hands and handed it to the other Jew, the competitor, who added a considerable amount of money to the rental contract. Also the grievances of the farmers, who liked my father for the way he was treating them, didn't help. When my father's source of income was broken, he was forced to abandon the place and search for a source of income elsewhere. And so he arrived to Novoselitsa and settled there.

Since there were no vacant apartments in Novoselitsa, our family settled in the nearby village of Boian, a place that became famous for its Hassidic dynasty and for its Admorim. It was an hour's cart ride. Every Sunday my father left for Novoselitsa and lived there with a cousin, who arrived earlier and settled there. During the week he engaged in negotiations and in trade, and on Friday afternoon he returned to the bosom of his family who took care of six children.

At the same period of wandering and change in values, the seventh child - the youngest son - decided to come out into the world in the same village of Gentiles, where there were almost no Jews. It was at the end of the 19th century, 1897, exactly eight days before the holiday of Passover, when the preparations for the holiday were underway. My father didn't return for the whole week, and took care of the mother and the preparations for the circumcision. This event was celebrated in the rabbi's court, the Admor of Boian. On Passover eve, in the midst of the preparations for the “Seder”, within the hassle of baking “Matza Shemora” and the reciting of “Hallel” [praise] in the Hassidic version, the Admor, Rabbi Yitzchak, the son of the son of the Ruzhini, found the time to be my sandak. His Gabai, R' Yisrael Margalit, filled the role of the mohel. And so it happened to me, that at that event, the opinions were divided about my future fate. Some said that I would be a superlative Hassid and God-fearing, but my uncle, who was a secret member of “Hovevei Zion” [“Lovers of Zion”], predicted, that since the year of my birth is the year of the [Zionist] Congress, I'll definitely be a great Zionist, and maybe I'll be among the builders of Israel - and for that will stand me the right of my grandfather who is buried in the holy city of Safed.


[Page 15]

The town versus Punia

Translated by Sara Mages

The difference between the two parts of town, Bukovina on one side and Russia on the other, was very noticeable. On our side, Austria Bukovina, were paved roads, cleanliness, handsome buildings, trees, and everything that was beautiful and elegant. But across the border, in the Russian territory: squares filled with mud and slime, standing water in many different corners, rancid swamps in the winter and plenty of dust in the summer, wooden sidewalks that tripped

[Page 16]

the leg that walked on them, low wooden houses, shabby and overcrowded, dirt roads, deep ditches - things that had ugliness in them.

The two parts of town lived and made their living from each other, openly and clandestinely. The local residents received certificates which gave their owners permission to cross the border. And so they walked and crossed, day after day, from here to there and from there to here - but only between the hours of nine in the morning and seven in the evening.

It was also possible to transport various commodities in unlimited quantities between the two sides. From there to here: tea, tobacco, cigarettes, vegetables, poultry, bread and more, and from here to there: haberdashery, clothing, handkerchiefs and more. At the customs station every passerby was questioned about his cargo, and his pockets and his lap were searched. Anyone caught violating the allowed amount paid a fine to the customs. Citizens who were known by the customs officials were not searched at all. Near the border and along it, were streets with plenty of shops of haberdashery and clothing. Buyers from Russia, across the border, came here. They selected what they needed and ordered what they chose to their homes. Many young women made a living smuggling these goods on their bodies. They received 10-20 Kopeks per piece. They crossed the border five to six times a day, and to ensure that the customs' devil won't inform them, they gave a “donation” to the Russian customs officials.


[Page 16]

The Market

Translated by Sara Mages

The market sprawled over a large area in the center of the Russian town. Rows and rows of wooden structures, without regime and order, all kind of huts and stalls that looked like boxes the size of 2-2.5 and the height of a man. In front, lengthwise, was half a wall that rested on legs when it was lowered. This wall was used as a counter for all sorts of merchandise and products that the sellers presented to their customers. The stall owner stood and announced the quality of his merchandise, or sent boys to attract customers to him.

Of course, there was no shortage of strange problems. Distinguished guests crept and appeared unnoticed between the customers. It was a community of billy-goats and a society of goats, which by reason of “Peter Rechem” [first born] walked freely through the town. They toppled the supports from under the counters, everything rolled on the ground, and then, they grabbed delicious delicacies to their mouth: fresh bread and all sorts of fruit. Immediately, chaos and panic, urgent running, scream, noise and skirmishes, broke out between the victim and the owners of the goats. And most of the audience, especially the children, stood by laughing and rejoicing, as if gloating.


[Page 17]

The Red Rooster

Translated by Sara Mages

It was a regular appearance: from time to time fires broke out, especially in the crowded market that was cluttered with wooden structures. This especially happened on Friday nights, either because the sellers left pots of burning coal that they used to keep themselves warm in days of cold and frost, or they were the acts of their Christian rivals.

The fire spread in an instant, encircled the whole square, and everything inside it became a pile of ash.

 

nov017.jpg
Spending time in the Tea House next to the samovar, 1913

 


[Page 18]

The Tea House

Translated by Sara Mages

The residents of Russian Novoselitsa weren't exceptionally rich. Their occupations were similar to those who lived in other Jewish communities in the area. Since it was a border town, a large number of them earned their living from the transit trade, which gave a decent existence to those who engaged in it.

Apart from them, most of the residents belonged to the middle class. Among them were those who leased gardens of fruit trees from the “squires,” the local landowners. There were shopkeepers, assistants (practitioners), small artisans, clerks in religious institutions, currency exchangers, porters, smugglers of haberdashery and clothing into the country (after they crossed the border), idlers who lived at the expense of their in-laws and spent most of their time traveling to the rabbi, and just the unemployed whose existence depended on a miracle. The latter, often bothered the Rabbi for advice and salvation, the rabbi thought and finally said: and why don't you open a tea house, try, and if so, God will come to your aid.

And what is the nature of this work?

This type of a business doesn't require a vocational training, doesn't require a government license, municipal license, or even a large operating capital. If you own an apartment facing the street, and there is a corridor or a balcony in the apartment, your success is guaranteed.

The initiator only needs to purchase a samovar or a kettle in the dimensions of 40-50 liter. He should boil it and make sure that the water boils all day long for the opportune moment. On the other hand, a resident of the town, who wakes up at dawn and rushes to his job, doesn't need to worry about making tea for himself. He simply sends his child to the nearest tea house with a kettle that contains 8-10 cups of water, and for the price of half a Kopek or a whole Kopek, he receives a kettle full of boiling water. His father takes it from him, pours for himself and for the members of his family, adds brewed tea from a small kettle into which a pinch of tea leaves was thrown, sits at the table and drinks cup after cup while a hard sugar cube, large enough for 2 to 3 cups, is under his tongue.

If guests come to you, and it's difficult for you to give them refreshment at your home, you invite them to the tea house. Its owner puts on the table, in front of you, a shiny samovar made of nickel or brass - "manufactured by Tula" - which contains a number of cups, and you pour straight from the tap. First, you offer boiling water to your guests, and then you take the small kettle, which is situated inside a perforated crown on top of the samovar, and add brewed tea to the cups. Sugar will be served to you in a special box, which contains hard lumps that only melt in your mouth after 3-4 cups.

And so you sit for your pleasure, chatting with your guests and enjoying life. If in the meantime the samovar cooled and the embers died out, the owner of the samovar appears,

[Page 19]

brings it down and with the help of his boot, that he places on top of the steam vent, he fans the embers until they turn into a burning hot flame. You want a morning meal, a roll or fresh bread, a soft boiled egg, a herring tail and fruit marmalade, and here you have a breakfast for the price of no more than 5 Kopeks. And don't forget that this service includes a towel to wipe the sweat, because the Russians tend to drink boiling tea - summer and winter - which nearly burns the tongue.

At noon, the same business owner offers you hot borscht with fresh and tasty mamaliga [Romanian porridge], or flour pancakes in the form of dumplings stuffed with cheese or jam. And the holy rabbi may he live long and happily, was right, he who gives life gives food, and with God's help the Jews make their living from each other.


[Page 19]

Smugglers and Deserters

Translated by Sara Mages

A Jewish gang, which dealt with the smuggling of live goods, operated in our place. It was composed of fine young men, Hassidim, who traveled to the “Rabbi” to enjoy the splendor of his face and grab “leftovers” from his table.

There was never a shortage of such “goods”: deserters from the Russian army, fleeing revolutionaries with “dangerous“ literature in their bags, etc. The transfer of a person cost 3-5 Rubles. These smuggling operations usually succeeded, and I only remember a few cases of failure. The smuggler received his payment only after the person signaled that he arrived at his destination and paid the middleman.

Our authorities, the Austrians, treated these acts of smuggling with great tolerance and closed eyes. On our side, when a person was caught crossing the border without permission, he paid a small fine for breaking the law and was released a short time later. And it should be noted, that during the pogroms in Russia, at the beginning of the century (1905), the authorities opened the border at night, and allowed panic Jews to cross it and stay on our side until the rage was over. At that period, during the Russo-Japanese War, many deserters from the Czarist army arrived to our place and to the whole region. They were received with sympathy and great warmth. They were housed in public buildings, and also special apartments were rented for them. The community dignitaries walked from house to house and collected samovars, tea, sugar, drinking vessels, canned food and bread, and distributed them among the escapees. On Saturdays they were invited to the homes as guests for the Sabbath.

These deserters stayed with us for months and months, and their main occupation was: card games, endless political debates,

[Page 20]

and there was no shortage of fights. For that reason, work was found for them in order to get them out of this empty idleness. And so, they were employed in hoeing the potato and cabbage fields that belonged to the “squires.” It was a unique sight to see, every morning and every evening, a convoy of Jews marching with hoes on their shoulders and a song in their mouth. “What are we, we are - we are Halutzim” [pioneers]. The appearance of Jewish workers was uncommon for us, and for that reason it aroused a lot of attention.

The great defeat in the Russo-Japanese War brought in its wake a general pardon to the deserters. It aroused joy among the deserters because they have been given the opportunity to return to their homes. Of course, there were several bad weeds among them who caused quite a lot of mishaps. There were those who got married in our town - without revealing that they left wives and children in their homes. They disappeared one fine day leaving their poor wives behind.


[Page 20]

Interference across the border

Translated by Sara Mages

In those turbulent days, days of pogroms against the Jews of Russia, gangs of the “Black Hundreds” movement appeared in Russian Novoselitsa. They were angry men, strong thugs with long hair, wore red shirts, daggers hung from their wide belts, and their faces expressed: robbery, murder, destruction and rape. Panic gripped the city's Jewish residents, the majority in the city, especially after the authorities turned a blind eye from the rioters' preparations.

Meanwhile, the horror increased from day to day because the thugs didn't even try to hide their intent to murder and rob. During the day they wandered between the stores, choose whatever came to hand and took the goods without paying - and everyone knew the reason: in any case, tomorrow, or the day after, everything will fall in their hands. For the day of riots the rioters prepared: ropes, knives, axes and all sorts of deadly weapons.

Because of the unrest in Russian Novoselitsa, masses of women and children appeared at the border at dusk, before the border was closed, and crossed to our side. They scattered in the town and were graciously accepted. Each apartment was occupied by them. They slept on the floor tightly packed. In the morning only the children remained with us and all the rest returned. One night, when a fire broke out on the other side, the Russian, the Austrian authorities opened the border and huge crowds streamed to us.

And indeed, the pogroms finally arrived, but they were cut short. The rioters broke into the houses, and the well-known image was also repeated here: destruction, robbery, flying feathers, sounds of explosions and screams, escape and persecution. However, a self-defence group was organized here in advance and

[Page 21]

its members, who stood by the gate, drove the rioters away. The rioters quickly fled for their lives, like real heroes. There were no fatalities, but later it turned out that the fires were the acts of the Russian customs officials. After they robbed the transit warehouses and completely emptied them, they burnt them to remove all signs of robbery.


[Page 21]

Almost a diplomatic incident

Translated by Sara Mages

In my youth I also experienced the Russian Novoselitsa experience. At the age of 16, equipped with a passport and a certificate, which gave its owner free movement between the two sides of the border, I marched with pride and self confidence towards the checkpoint near the Russian border. The Russian guard, meaning, a giant idiot, greeted me with the routine question: “What is your family name?” I told him my family name, and showed him the certificate that I was holding in my hand. He turned the certificate front and back (he couldn't read or write), and mumbled: “go the customs house!” I did as he commanded. There, I was received by an official who wrote my name and questioned me for the reason of my visit. I told him that I was a student and I want to visit my friends, students like me, and I also want buy Hebrew newspapers (and indeed, there was a lively

 

nov021.gif
A certificate. A monthly pass for movement between the borders

 

[Page 22]

social life there: theatrical performances, lectures, newspapers in Hebrew, Yiddish and all other languages, clubs for all the political parties, etc.). He sent me to another official who felt my entire body, while my arms were raised, to check if I was smuggling prohibited goods. Only then he released me. I walked to the town after I left my certificate in his hands. Fearing that a policeman will stop me in the street and ask for my certificate, I ran to the town's rabbi, my father's friend, and told him the whole matter. He advised me to go to the Austrian envoy that lived in the town and hated of the Russians.

I went to the envoy and complained before him about the incident while explaining the purpose of my visit. He spoke on the phone with the customs official and even reprimanded him. When the latter didn't answer with the proper courtesy, he took a carriage and traveled there with me. He called the official to come out, scolded him properly, claimed that he harassed a decent Austrian citizen illegally, and he will complain about it to his superiors. The official became alarmed and asked for my forgiveness. I thanked the envoy and returned home. My parents were very worried because it was already close to the border closing time. Only later it became known to me, that the official acted that way because I didn't shove a bribe of half a Ruble into his hand as it was customary by others.

 

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