“Bricheva”
Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 2
(Briceva, Moldova)

48°07' / 27°39'

Translation of “Bricheva” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1980


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 339-343, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980


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[Pages 339-343]

Bricheva

Translated by Ala Gamulka

In Romanian it is Bricheva and in Russian – Brichevo.
It was a Jewish colony in the Soroka District, between the villages of Ghisdita and Baraboi.

Jewish Population

Year Numbers % of Jews
in Entire
Population
1897 1,598 97.2
1910 820  
1930 2.431 88.8

 

Until the End of World War I

Bricheva was founded by the Russian government in 1836 (some sources quote it as 1838) on an area of 289 Disiatin (1 Disiatin = 11 hectares). The first settlers, “the colonists” were Jews from Yekaterinoslav who were soon joined by newcomers, “the immigrants”, as they were called in the colony. As was the case with every other Jewish colony, the residents of Bricheva enjoyed some autonomy and were respected by the Russian police. Thus life was somewhat easier than in the towns and villages nearby.

The total area of the colony was relatively small in comparison with other Jewish settlements. At the end of the 19th century there were 83 families who owned 3.5 Disiatin on the average. 68 families had no land (44% of the population) and made their living by commerce and different crafts. Many families had small tracts of land. 21 families, in 1889, had 2-3 Disiatin, 22 families had 1-2 Disiatin while 14 families had less than one Disiatin. Only 20 families had more than 4 Disiatin. At the beginning there were no grazing land, vineyards or fruit trees. There were 241 Disiatin that were in common use for growing corn and wheat. The number of horses (the most important animal for the Jewish settlers) was 67, but 40.5% of all the families had none. The entire settlement had only one plough and two seeding machines. At the end of the 19th century the new settlers had 65 cows and 1190 sheep, according to the statistics of 1889. Also, 57.5% of the residents did not have any cows.

The number of merchants who dealt in grain and wheat was relatively high since the income was good. Towards the end of the 19th century there was a decrease in the volume of this trade. Competition from Jewish merchants from larger towns grew and the farmers began to sell their produce without needing middlemen.

In the colony, disputes began between the descendants of the founders who worked the land themselves and those who came later and leased their land or earned their living from commerce or as craftsmen. The “colonists” were not friendly with the “immigrants” who did not have any leased or owned land.

The new settlers were mainly craftsmen or cultivated animals. In the first case they closed the door to the veteran settlers in non-agricultural branches and in the second they made the grazing areas, already small, even smaller. The dispute could be seen in several ways, especially in the way taxes were distributed by the farming community. They had the right to do so, as did every rural community. The “immigrants” had to pay an additional tax to the colony, to be allowed to stay there.

The first colonists nicknamed themselves Razeshi – which means true original farmers as were the local Moldovan farmers.

The dispute between the two types of settlers was felt especially in Bricheva because it was located only 55 km from the Romanian border. It was an area where new Jewish settlers were not permitted to come. Still, Jews from nearby villages had to find refuge in two settlements, Bricheva and Valea-Lui-Vlad when they were persecuted by the Tsarist police.

On the one hand, the Russian authorities invoked many restrictions while, on the other hand, the economic situation of the farmers was dire and for these reasons the Jews of Bricheva gradually abandoned agriculture as a way to earn their living. The Jews turned more and more to commerce and various crafts. Factories were built in town and they provided a way to earn a living for many residents. There was a flour mill, oil plants, soap factory, two plants producing bricks; another one was making soft drinks in bottles, a large warehouse for ice, etc. A large majority of the Jews were small merchants, mainly dealing in wheat, corn, sunflowers, legumes and soya. There was also export of eggs, leather, sheep, cattle and flour to distant towns and even out of the country. The closest train station was 6 km away in the village of Tirnova. In addition to the various craftsmen there were also specialists in wool dying. These people would leave the settlement at the beginning of the week to go to different villages to complete the dye jobs and they returned home for Shabbat.

There were fairs every Wednesday and Sunday in Bricheva and they provided an income as well.

 

Organization of the Community and its Institutions

The community was organized in the 1920s. Up to that time, there was a Hevra Kaddisha and with it all necessary institutions for helping others – visiting the sick, food for the poor, etc. The Meat Tax subsidized several charitable institutions. The fees for slaughtering poultry were collected by people who paid for this privilege. These funds also paid the salaries of the ritual slaughterers, the rabbi and Jewish judge. Many people did not like this arrangement and the ritual slaughterers were not paid enough.

The women's committee also established “Visiting the Sick” who looked after needy patients.

 

Synagogues

The synagogues at the end of the 19th century numbered seven. Later the number grew to nine. The first, and evidently the oldest, was the Old Shul. The others were The Sadigurian, the new one, the Rashkover, the Tailors', the Zionists' and the Central Shul. The latter served as a central meeting place for Zionists and national groups because it was in the center of town. Their leader was Rabbi Yeshayahu Apelboim. Another synagogue, the largest one, was the New Rashkover. There was also the House of Yehiel named after a young son who died. (This synagogue was expropriated in 1940 by the Soviets. It became a hospital, with the addition of a small house nearby).

These synagogues were also attended by Jews from nearby villages.

 

Education and Schools

Prior to WWI there was a school in Bricheva similar to that of the “Propagators of Enlightenment” in Russia. It was established by the Jewish Colonization Association. Students learned Russian, some secular subjects and Hebrew. The principal was Lithuanian Jew. There were two classes, mainly filled by girls. During the war the school was closed and the principal returned home. Parents tried to give their children a Jewish education, in Bricheva, by using private tutors. Some children went on to high school in Odessa, Mogilev-Podolsk and Soroka. Groups of children learned Modern Hebrew with teachers from other Jewish settlements.

In 1913 a public library was opened in Bricheva. It had 180 books in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian. The economic situation of the library was poor. From time to time the committee had to find ways of creating income so as to cover expenses. For many years it was the custom to meet on Simchat Torah in the school or in a private home. Promises to pay in exchange for an Aliyah were made and the money was used for the library.

There were several Jewish banks in Bricheva. They gave loans to merchants and factory owners. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Haim Isroels was well known as a money lender. The Savings and Loan Fund was established in 1907 with the assistance of the Jewish Colonization Association. The Association was almost inactive during WWI and it renewed its work after the war. The establishment of the Fund propelled some young people to study accounting. They took correspondence courses with Jacob Mark from Leibova near Riga. The Fund also required grocers, small merchants and craftsmen.

 

Between the Two Wars

WWI did not hurt the Jews of Bricheva as it did other settlements. The economic situation even improved because the settlement was far from the Romanian front and it was not even on the road of military movement. Merchants from other settlements and from distant places came to Bricheva to buy oil and flour.

However, the war did not bypass the settlement. First to come were those who escaped from various places in Bessarabia and from the other side of the Dniester. After Romania entered the war in 1916 there were refugees from there as well. These were young Jews who escaped from their villages so as to avoid serving in the Tsarist or Romanian armies. There were also deserters from both armies. Bricheva was a purely Jewish settlement where the escapees could find refuge and shelter. Among them were well educated young men who were knowledgeable in Zionism and they helped in the Zionist circles in town. The newcomers often were embroiled in discussions and were involved in the study of the history of the Jewish people. They helped with organizing the youth. The contact local youths had with others from different areas helped to broaden their point of view and left its stamp on them. The Jews of Bricheva were successful in giving aid to Jewish refugees from Bessarabia and later from Ukraine. The Jews of Bessarabia were forced to leave their homes during WWI by the Russian authorities who ordered them to go because they lived too close to the border. Thus, Jews from Noua Sulitsa, Lipkany and nearby villages also found refuge in Bricheva.

During the upheaval the settlement organized itself for self-defence with a central command, arms and ammunition. In 1918 when there was great anarchy in all of Russia and before the Romanians arrived, the non-Jews from nearby villages, Tirnova, Baraboi, etc. tried to harass the Jews of Bricheva. They attempted to attack the settlement with wagons filled with axes and sacks, armed and ready to rob and kill. The Jews had bought guns from soldiers who had deserted from the front and they were ready to defend themselves. Young Jewish men, on horseback, guarded the settlement and kept order on market days. At night they took turns guarding the area. The armed hooligans tried to penetrate the settlement several times, but they were unsuccessful. The organized self-defence continued until the Romanians conquered Bricheva.

In 1919-1920 Bricheva became an important transit point for Jewish refugees from Ukraine. The Jews tried not only to give material help to their brethren from Ukraine, but also to obtain residence permits from the Romanian authorities. Bricheva also provided permits to refugees from Ukraine who stopped in Vertujeni and other places. For example, it became known to the Jews of the settlement that Bialik was in Mogilev waiting to go to Bessarabia. Since there was a deadline for the issuing of permits the council filled out a request for Bialik, as if he were part of the refugee group. They actually obtained a permit for him and kept it for several months until they heard that Bialik had arrived in Odessa and left it in another way. A group of pioneers arrived in Bricheva, first from Yampol in Podolia and then from Slavita. They spent some time there until they left on Aliyah.

 

Education and Culture

After the annexation by Romania a public elementary school with 4 classes was opened in Bricheva. At first the language of instruction was Yiddish and later there was a Hebrew middle school of 4 classes. In addition to a Tarbut school there was also a kindergarten. Parents sent their children to Balti, Kishinev, Soroka and Baraboi to continue their studies at the high school level. Those who studied in Baraboi suffered from overt anti-Semitism from the teaching staff and their fellow students. This fact encouraged the Jews to establish a local high school. The principal of the school in Baraboi openly threatened the principal of the Jewish school and did not allow the school gates to be opened. The Jewish children in Baraboi paid a high tuition while the Christian students had free schooling. The Jewish school remained open for only a few years because the Romanian Education Ministry, influenced by anti-Semitism in the district, ordered it closed in 1930. There was another attempt to open a technical school for sewing in Bricheva. The language of instruction was Yiddish.

After WWI an additional library was established in Bricheva by the Culture League. The books were sent from America. There was a bit of competition between the two libraries, reflecting the struggle in Eastern Europe between Yiddish and Hebrew. The Yiddishists and the Culture League were prominent in the settlement. Thanks to their activities Bricheva became an important center which drew lecturers, writers and other Jewish intellectuals. Three of the biggest Yiddish writers visited the settlement – Eliezer Steinberg, Itzik Manger and Moshe Altman. There were some attempts to publish in Hebrew, e.g. The Star, but that did not last.

In the 1920s another bank was opened in Bricheva – Sfatul Negustoresc and later a branch of the Bank of Bessarabia. It looked after the needs of the bigger merchants. The head office in Kishinev usually appointed a Jewish director for its branch in Bricheva.

 

Open Anti-Semitism

As in any other highly concentrated Jewish community, the Jews of Bricheva suffered from anti-Semitism in many ways. It must be noted that this was an almost purely Jewish settlement. The majority of the population was Jewish and only very few – clerks, policemen, a few teachers – were Romanian. The Jewish settlement drew attention from the authorities and was a convenient target for the anti-Semites in Bessarabia. There were various ways in which hatred was shown in all walks of life, economics, culture and everyday life.

In 1930 there were several anti-Semitic attacks. The Jews tried to defend themselves and 9 of them were arrested. They were brought to trial, found guilty and were sentenced to 4-8 years in prison. They were later freed after an appeal. On December 25, 1935 an anti-Semitic hooligan was killed. Goga requested a parliamentary inquiry of the Jews who supposedly desecrated a Christian body. This was the same Goga who called for an anti-Semitic conference in Czernowitz. The anti-Semitic riffraff, about 500 farmers who walked on foot to the conference, wished to go through Bricheva. It was a Jewish settlement that aroused their hunger for robbery and looting. The Jews, especially the young ones, went to defend themselves and hit back. The anti-Semitic group was dispersed. These events were used for anti-Semitic propaganda in the Romanian press and parliament.

The persecutions in Bricheva continued and the Jews organized some sort of self-defence. This fact was discussed in parliament by the anti-Semitic representative Mumuianu when he inquired about the battles in Bricheva between the “Yids” and a group of Romanians.

On January 8-9, 1932 six Jewish youths from Soroka were murdered. They had fallen under the charm of a Romanian corporal who had encouraged them to cross the Dniester, for payment. One of the two girls who were murdered was an elementary school teacher in Bricheva.

In 1936 the anti-Semitic movement grew around Bricheva. The Jews were attacked by hooligans in February 1938 and a few were arrested. However, some of them were immediately freed and in the end they were all liberated by order of the Court of Appeals.

The persecution continued in economic circles as well. For 85 years there was a weekly market day. However, the propagandists from the parties of Koza and Goga pressured to transfer the market to the nearby village of Baraboi. As a result, the economic situation of many Jews worsened and many remained without a means of support. The Jews approached the representatives of the Liberal party and asked them to interfere since the transfer of the market was done without permission of the central authorities. The representatives belonged to a party that did not openly promote anti-Semitism, but they still refused to intervene. The community and the craftsmen's union approached former residents of Bricheva in the United States and Brazil and asked them to come to their aid. The funds received were given to the charitable institutions.

In spite of the open anti-Semitic propaganda the farmers understood the situation that ensued as a result of transferring the market from its original location. Many of them dared to come to the settlement to do their shipping even though it was not allowed. However, they were attacked by bands of hooligans led by Novitsky.

 

Holocaust

Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union in June 1940. No major events occurred as a result. The economic situation of the Jews and the attitude to them were very difficult in the last few years in Romania and they hoped that the new regime would be superior to the previous one. However, this was not the case. The change in regime brought difficult times for the Jews of Bricheva – times of a dire economic situation and constant fear. Three days after the new regime came in private property was abolished, stores and businesses were closed and flour mills and oil factories ceased production. The craftsmen were organized in unions. Most of the residents had no income and lived on their savings and from the sale of their belongings. All community institutions and cultural groups ceased their activities partially or completely. Many synagogues were closed. All the Hebrew books in the public library were burned and only Yiddish and Russian volumes were left. The Hebrew schools became public ones and the language of instruction was Romanian. The population suffered also from denouncements.

Some of the youths who could not find work in the settlement were sent to Donbas. In May 1941, late at night, 11 of them were arrested and sent to Siberia. They were considered to be rich or enemies of the regime. Many of them died and very few returned.

When the war broke out in June 1941 and as the front came closer the Romanians living in nearby villages began to organize themselves for attacks on the Jews of the settlement. The Jewish residents of Riscani fled with their wives and children to Bricheva after their village burned down as a result of bombing by Germans and Romanians. The people of Bricheva greeted them with open arms and every house was filled to capacity. In nearby Tirnova the Russians destroyed all the wheat silos and fled towards the Dniester without directing the residents, whether to flee or remain. There was utter chaos. The peasants from nearby villages attacked the village and began to steal whatever they could find. A group of young Jews organized themselves for self-defence during the nights. It was decided to greet the new regime – the Romanian and German armies- with salt and bread. Two Jews were chosen for this task.

The first to enter the settlement were the Germans. They did not hurt the two Jews who greeted them. One of the Germans even told them that the Romanians were preparing a revenge operation. The Romanians followed the Germans. The first victim was a Jew innocently crossing the street as the army arrived in the settlement. He was shot and killed in place. Within a few hours after their entry into Bricheva the Romanians managed to do whatever they wanted. They robbed and stole from every house and raped the girls and young women. The peasants from nearby villages returned and also attacked the Jewish houses, protected by the army. The commander of the Romanian army unit invited the Rabbi to see him and ordered him to organize the Jews to dig large trenches outside of the settlement. Rabbi Yehiel Shiah understood the commander's intentions and refused to follow orders, even if he were to be killed on the spot. He was slapped, but was not killed.

The civilian Romanian authorities replaced the army and ordered the residents of Riscani and all foreigners to present themselves at the police headquarters and to leave the village. Searches were made and about 1000 people were gathered. They were sent, on foot, under guard, back to Riscani. The Jews from both villages had an emotional parting since they did not know what awaited them.

As happened in other settlements reconquered by the Romanian army, representatives of the regime who had been obliged to leave in 1940 were sent back to Bricheva. This happened as Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union. This is how Bura, the representative from the village of Ghisdita who was a well-known anti-Semite, returned. He was an extremist who used to beat the Jews and to encourage the Christians to abuse them. Whatever had not been completed in earlier attacks was now accomplished with Bura's return. Even the doors of the houses were pulled off. Ciubotaru, a teacher and a principal of the public elementary school for several years who had managed to hide his hatred towards the Jews, now showed his true colors. He was very active in organizing the deportation of the Jews from the settlement. He informed the Jews that they had to prepare themselves for a long trek, that it was time to cleanse the village from the “Yids”. The next day the Jews were taken out of their homes, lined up and directed towards the Dniester, under armed guard. They were taken from village to village, walking all day and part of the night. The local population along the route and the gendarmes accompanying them abused them. The escorts tried to lead them on through the villages so that the locals would enjoy themselves. A few days later they stopped at a camp in the Rublenitza forest that was enclosed with a barbed wire fence. At the entrance to the camp they were badly beaten. Jews from Dumbraveni, Edinetz and Lipkany were already at the camp. They had been placed in pig sties. Dozens of Jews died daily and were buried in the forest in an area designated for the purpose. On the first day of Elul the Jews were taken away from there. They left behind many victims –women, children and sick people – and they were taken, on foot, over the period of many days and nights to Vertujeni on the Dniester. At the time there were no Jews there. Anyone who lagged behind was shot to death by the Romanian gendarmes. The survivors were taken to available empty houses. Many children, elderly and women died in an epidemic that broke out there.

In Vertujeni the Jews were separated into two convoys. One was brought to Coshautsi Forest and the other went in the direction of the village of Rezina on the Dniester. In Coshautsi there was a selection and the strong, young men were taken, supposedly, to work. In truth, they were shot to death by the Romanians. After the war, the Christians in the area said that these young men were forced to dig their own graves before they were shot by the Romanians. German officers supervised the event. From the forest the Jews of Bricheva and survivors from other villages were all brought to the Dniester and from there they were transferred to Ukraine, to Transnistria. Before the transfer they were obliged to listen to a speech by a Romanian officer who maintained that the Jews were to blame for their terrible lot because they had made fun of the Romanian army when it left Bessarabia to allow the Russians to occupy it in June 1940. Afterwards, they were brought in groups, by ferryboat. The Romanian soldiers who supervised the transfer were careful not to approach the Jews who dressed in rags and were full of lice.

In Ukraine the deportees were housed, at first, in a camp in the Yampol forest. The local Jews were no longer alive. For three months they continued, in short intervals, to the Ukrainian village of Olshanka where they stayed until the eve of Yom Kippur. There they buried their dead and they prayed. From there they continued to Obodovca where some of the Bricheva Jews remained in the village and in communal settlements in the area while others continued to Bershad. In Obodovca many died from starvation and cold. Those who were taken to Bershad were placed in a pig sty in a communal settlement near the village. There they slept on a floor thick with ice and snow. In Bershad there were already many deportees – Jews from other villages in Bessarabia and Bucovina. The Jewish community of Bershad tried to help the deportees from Bricheva and the local ritual slaughterer, R. Eliahu Martshak, paid off the Romanian officer in charge so he would give permission to them to stay in the village and not to have to continue. The Jews of Bershad arrived in horse drawn carriages and put as many people as possible on them before transporting them into town. It was very crowded and everyone was extremely hungry. The number of Jews from Bricheva diminished daily, especially due to the dysentery that resulted due to lack of food. Soon Typhus also spread and there were many victims. The number of dead was so great that it was impossible to bury everyone. The earth was frozen and the number of spades was limited. There were also no really strong men who could dig graves. Many of the dead brought by carriage were thrown into the cemetery and were only covered by snow. Dogs attacked the bodies.

The area where the Jews were housed was surrounded with a barbed fence and was declared closed. No one was allowed to leave it. Still, the Jews found a way of sneaking out of the ghetto to work for the Ukrainians or to trade the few items they still had in order to subsist. Among the Jews deported to Transnistria and housed in Bershad, very few were alive on liberation day.

The second group of Jews from Bricheva were taken to Transnistria through Rezina and Rabnitza and of those only five survived. The others were shot by their Romanian escorts and they were placed in a communal grave. Among the deportees from Bricheva who were in Little Czernowitz, Chichelnik and Crijopol and Bershad, there were many victims who were shot by the Germans when they were being transferred across the Bug River.

After the war some survivors returned to Bricheva. The Jewish settlement was inhabited by Christians who occupied the houses and the land. Soon, all the Jews left and moved to Jewish centers in larger cities in Bessarabia and Bucovina – Czernowitz and Kishinev. Some orphans from Bricheva were brought to Romania from Transnistria by the Jewish community of Romania. They were hidden with other orphans from the Soviet authorities who wanted them back after they conquered Romania. They, with other orphans managed to reach Eretz Israel.

Z.A.G

 


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