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Translation of Khotin chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania
Translation of Khotin chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 353-537, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
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Translated by Ala Gamulka
It has many names: Romanian-Hotin, Russian-Khotin, Polish-Khochim, also Khotim, Khotsim, and in Romanian literature it was also referred to as Khatim and Khutim. This was a border town in Romania before the war, a District capital in the northern part of the former Bessarabia. Today it is the capital of the Province of Khotin in the Czernowitz District of the Ukrainian Republic of the Soviet Union. It lies on the right bank of the Dniester River, 20 km south west of the Ukrainian city of Kamenetz-Podolsk and about 40 km from the train station. The area is rich in wheat, corn and sunflowers, sugar beets and has many herds of sheep and cattle.
The town was established by the Poles in mid 14th century and came under the authority of Moldova towards the end of the same century. The Romanian prince Alexander cel Bun transferred it back to Poland and in 1499 it came under the reign of Stefan cel Mare. During that time the town became a strong fortress for the Moldovan princes on the border of Poland and Ukraine. The Turks conquered Moldova and destroyed the fortress and the area surrounding it. In 1713 they rebuilt the fortress. By 1812 the entire area was part of the Russian Empire.
|Year||Numbers||% of Jews in
|1897||9,291 people||over 50.0|
Until the End of World War I
Beginning of the Jewish Community
The first testimony of the existence of Jews in Khotin District is found in a coin from the days of the Hasmoneans.
In the middle ages, Khotin served as a transfer point over the Dniester River on a route that led from southwest Europe north and west. In the farthest places on this route, Lemberg in the north and Akkerman in the south (Cetatea-Alba), there were Jewish communities in the 14th century. It is assumed that Jewish merchants came to Khotin in those days. Jewish merchants from Turkey arrived in Galatz, Reni, Kilia and even Kiev. The Romanian historian Nicolai Iorga pointed out the important role that the Jews of Turkey had in maintaining continuous trade contacts with Polish Jews.
In 1467 there was a well-known Jewish merchant from Turkey in Khotin – David and his son Yosef.
The first document alluding to Jews in Khotin comes from 1497. It is in a letter from the governor of Moldova, Stefan cel Mare, to Prince Alexander of Lithuania. In 1648/49 many Jews escaped to Moldova from Ukraine and Poland. At the same time there was a community of Karaite Jews in Khotin. They, most likely, settled there at the end of the 14th century or the beginning of the 15th. Many of these Karaite Jews were annihilated by the Ukrainian followers of Bogdan Khmelnitsky. The community register mentions the remembering the saintly Karaite souls who suffered in those days.
In 1756, Jacob Frank, leader of the Sabbetians, lived in Khotin with his followers. Since Khotin was located on the border between Poland and the Ottoman Empire it served as a refuge for escapees and criminals. However, the rabbis of Podolia did not leave them alone even after they escaped to Khotin. Even the Jews of Moldova complained to the Turkish authorities about them. Frank and his followers were forced to find a new place of refuge and they left on 21 July, 1759 to settle in Lvov.
The tax register of Moldova of 1765-1766 contains names of many Jewish merchants who exported goods into the country. Included is the name of the Jew Dov from Obluchitsa (Turkish name of Khotin). He brought four large packages of cotton. In January 1766, a Jew from Khotin, nicknamed The Tramp, brought six sacks of coffee, a jug of perfume and upholstery materials.
In 1768 the Cossacks from Zaporozhe came to Khotin and destroyed it.
There are some testimonials about Khotin Jews and their trades from the 18th century. In 1774 there was a dispute between a Romanian called Dumitrescu and the Jew Moshko from the District of Khotin. The latter had rented an estate, Krohalin, in that district. In 1782 a Pole called Mikosha passed through town and described it as a fortified place full of defence trenches and cannons and having many merchants: Turks, Armenians and Jews. In 1789 an Austrian geologist visited Moldova. He took part in the siege of Khotin by the Austrians who were allies of the Russians. This geologist says that Jews from Poland and Moldova concentrated around the Austrians in order to do business. An accounting book from 1801-1807 discusses the fact that two clerks were sent to Khotin to swear in Jews who had leased estates.
During the 19th century the Jewish community in Khotin grew and became established. There were several institutions, schools, synagogues, etc.
In 1886 the economic situation of the Jews in the area worsened and many residents of Khotin decided to work the land. About 100 Jews sent a request to the supervisor in the area to allow them to lease land and to work on it. The Minister of the District, as he was called by the newspaper Hamelitz, refused the request. The Jews then sent an emissary to the well-known philanthropist, Baron Rothschild, to ask him to assist them in purchasing land in the Holy Land and to establish an agricultural settlement on it. The group that organized itself for Aliyah had 80 families and joined others from Falesht and Kalarash. The Baron did help them to make Aliyah.
Towards the end of the 19th century, when there were attacks on the Jews of Russia, a movement of immigration from Khotin began. Many Jews had immigrated earlier, beginning in the 1800s. They went mainly to the United States and to the American continent in general. In the 1890s there was an increase in the number of people going to the United States. Hamelitz informs us on July 31, 1888 that most of the immigrants were craftsmen and young artisans.
Khotin was situated quite a distance from the railroad and this fact slowed economic development. Another reason for the slow development was that Khotin became a border town when Bessarabia was annexed by Romania. The border remained closed due to the breakdown in relations between Romania and the Soviet Union. Until World War I most Jews in Khotin were merchants or craftsmen. They dealt mainly with farmers in the area on both sides of the Dniester. They bought their agricultural produce and provided them with other goods, clothing, etc. Khotin was more involved with Podolia in Ukraine than the rest of Bessarabia up to World War I. Most of Khotin's economic transactions were on the other side of the river. It was simpler to go from Khotin to Kamenetz-Podolsk than to the nearest railway station in Bessarabia. Most of the population in the area was Ukrainian and the language used was Russian. This was not the case in other parts of Bessarabia where the population and the language were Romanian (Moldavian).
The Jews resided in two sections of the town: the lower town, near the Dniester and the fortress had the craftsmen and small store owners, while the wealthy merchants, estate owners and renters, lived in the upper town. Some of these estates were spread over areas of thousands of hectares. The Jews of Khotin also dealt in wheat and leather skins. There were two breweries, a distillery, a sawmill and a flour mill where dozens of Jews worked. There was also a large printing press- the only one in area of hundreds of villages and hamlets. In a nearby village Jews opened a sugar refinery which employed many Jewish clerks and technicians. Among the Jews of Khotin there were peddlers who traveled with their good to the villages on market days.
During the Romanian reign (1918-1940) the economic situation of the Jews of Khotin worsened because the town was isolated from the area on the other side of the Dniester where they had economic ties. The Romanian authorities slowed down the progress of the Jews.
Organization of the Community and its Institutions
There were charitable institutions in Khotin even in the 18th century. In the book of the Eternal Light Society from 1790 it is stated that new members may not be accepted without the permission of the Hevra Kaddisha who subsidized it on a yearly basis. There are books relating to the membership of various crafts such as tailors and community workers which were kept until the Holocaust.
In Khotin there was a hospital, a senior's home, a modern Talmud Torah, etc. The Hebrew language newspaper Hamelitz describes, in its issue of December 12, 1872, the existing institutions in the 1870s and 1880s: A beautiful hospital was built and was well organized…the supervisors do good work…every person in need will be seen by a doctor. The House of Learning is also imbued with the same spirit – it is a lovely edifice and feels holy inside. In addition to the Day school for boys, many Jewish children will attend the public school and will study diligently. The school for girls has a total of 50 Jews. On the other hand, the House of Learning in the town square, called New Plan, is horrible. It is disorganized and is run down. It is expected that the community will know how to improve it.
On 1898 the local authorities established a school for apprentices, originally intended for Christians only. A representative of the Jewish schools in Khotin asked the authorities to allow Jewish boys to attend and his request was accepted. There were 52 Jewish students among a total of 101 at the beginning of its founding.
Early in the 20th century the Eternal Light Society built a fancy building in the center of town. It contained the synagogue, a modern school, a library, choir and orchestra. Children of the rich attended the school. There was a uniform worn and the poorer students received it for free. During World War I all members of the school orchestra were mobilized as a unit and the 30 of them served far away from the front.
After the Russian Revolution in 1917 an organized Jewish community was established. It was the best in all of Bessarabia. In 1929 it was recognized by the Romanian authorities as a legal entity.
Once the community was established all public activities were concentrated there and everything was highly scrutinized. All members of the community paid a direct tax according to their economic situation. The first chairman of the community was Michael Shore. He was also a member of the Romanian parliament.
At the beginning of the 20th century the following institutions were in existence: a hospital, a seniors' home, a place for the needy, two elementary schools for boys and girls, Tarbut School, Savings and Loan Fund (no interest charged), a public library named after H.N. Bialik. It was one of the best equipped in Bessarabia with many volumes in Yiddish and in Hebrew.
The hospital also provided medical help to patients who were in their homes. The community also organized, every summer, camps for poor children. These camps were supported by the Joint.
Maot Hittim (help for the poor), organized by the community supported 500 poor families and among them were 300 who received assistance in secret. The community also looked after the cemetery which had been fenced in. The gravestones were repaired and marked and some of them were even designated as historic ones. The Hevra Kaddisha was also run by the community. There was also a pension fund for the clerks employed by the community. The community contributed 50% and the clerks the other 50%. A third of the budget was designated for cultural and educational activities.
During the terrible drought in Bessarabia, 1929-1930, the Khotin community responded to requests by the central committee in Kishinev by contributing 50 000 Lei. When fires broke out in town in 1930-1932 the community helped those who lost their homes and who needed new ones.
During the riots in Eretz Israel in 1929 the Khotin community organized demonstrations and memorials for those slain. The community also reacted to the restrictions on Aliyah of Lord Fesfield in 1930.
The changes of regime in 1940 were not accompanied by attacks on the Jewish population. Many Jewish families retreated with the army and the Romanian authorities. When the Red Army entered town there were local Communists, Jews among them, who gave speeches. They denounced the bourgeois Romanian regime and promised the freedom of many. Many local Christians saw in these speeches the end of private ownership. Soon enough many stores owned by Jews were confiscated or robbed. The Jews were afraid to oppose because the liberators joined the thieves. On the night of July 13, 1940, the town was surrounded by the secret police and on the following day it was announced that the town was cleansed of haters of the people.
The cleansing activity in Khotin can serve as an example of what happened in Bessarabia in general in those days. We do not have much information on how the order to arrest or to exile the haters of the people and their families was given. These were people who were connected to the previous regime, active in various Romanian political parties, government clerks, the rich and property owners, leaders and bourgeois journalists, as well as Zionist activists. They were all exiled by the new regime. In Khotin the activities began on July 13, 1940 a short time after Bessarabia was conquered by the Red Army, at three am. Groups went from house to house, with a list, to inform those who were to be exiled. The groups consisted of a member of the Communist Party (often a Jew), another resident, a policeman or soldier. Those exiled were told to dress quickly, to take food for three days and to hand over keys and documents. Every family exiled thus lost their home. A truck was waiting outside and all the exiles were made to climb on it. The truck continued from one address to another. All the trucks that collected the exiles were brought to the police station. The next morning they were taken to the nearest railway station – Noua Sulitsa. There they were placed on freight cars and they waited, under armed guard, until July 15. In the evening they were separated into two groups: those who had serious accusations against them and the others who had lighter ones. The first group included all Zionists, politicians and government clerks. They were sent to a special camp, separating men from women. Most of them died. The second group, including the majority of the prisoners, remained on the freight cars and that evening, July 14, the train began its long journey to Siberia through Tuniliv, Jemerinka and the Ural mountains. The cars were shut and for 16 days no one was allowed to get off, not even to empty their bladders. The train stopped in several stations and food, prepared by temporary kitchens, was pushed through the windows. On July 29 the train stopped in an open field and everyone was allowed to disembark. In the evening the prisoners were transported on trucks to Sovkhon and on the next day they were taken further to the Yasetsky area in the District of Tomsk. There the prisoners worked for three months in cutting down trees in ancient forests. Their conditions were dire and hunger and mosquitoes weakened them daily. After some time, at the end of October, they were ordered to disperse and look for employment in villages in the area. They easily found work because most local men had been drafted in the army and thus they were able to eat. A year later they were gathered again and sent, by ship, to Alta where they worked in fish canneries. They were guarded constantly, but after the war life was a little easier.
In 1956 it was discovered that they could request to be returned to their original residences. The authorities approved requests, especially of the elderly and the sick who could no longer work. Many of them returned to Bessarabia and others remained in Siberia. They suffered for 17 years.
In Khotin the Soviet authorities gave them new identity documents. Some of them indicated, according to clause 39, the wealthy, the merchants, etc. These people suffered certain restrictions such as not being able to find work or to obtain food. Even their children in school suffered from these restrictions. In addition, there was the constant fear of arrests during the night leading to disappearances somewhere in Russia.
Slowly, the banks, grocery stores, educational institutions such as Tarbut school, the library containing books in Hebrew and Yiddish – all were closed or cancelled. The committee dealing with these closings had several Jewish members, among them a teacher and a pharmacist. The committee first closed the Tarbut School and requested all financial support, originally directed for the school by the community, to be directed to them. It was an annual sum of 10 000 Lei. One of the members of the committee even threatened the community leaders who remained in Khotin that they will be dealt with for the poison thrown at the children all these years. The Zionist and bourgeois books were taken to the courtyard and left there for the rains to fall on them until they became fodder for pigs. No one dared go to the courtyard in case he would be accused of being a Zionist.
Another committee that dealt with the annihilation of the community was headed by one of its former leaders. This committee demanded that the Zionists return all funds given to them by the community in the past few years – a sum of 126 000 Lei. Their reasoning to justify this demand was that the Zionists had a great deal of influence in the community in the past few years. The committee accused the Zionists of taking money for different purposes such as inscribing in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund, renovations of the community building, subsidies to young people who made Aliyah, etc. The requested sum was repaid by seven Zionists who each contributed 18 000 Lei. It was hoped they would be permitted to remain in their homes and would not be deported to Siberia.
When the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out in June 1941, Khotin became a target for bombings by German aircraft because it was located near a bridge spanning both sides of the Dniester. The bridge was not damaged, but the town suffered much destruction from these bombings. The local hospital was hit and about 60 children and their mothers were killed. There was great tumult in town and the authorities drafted men, women and even youths to dig anti-tank trenches. The work was done mainly at night because there was always a threat of bombing. Many young men were conscripted into the Red Army.
The bridge and the old border between Bessarabia and the Soviet Union were constantly guarded. Jews who tried to cross over the bridge to Ukraine were repelled by the Red Army. The chaos grew when Jewish refugees, from near and far, especially from Bucovina, Noua Sulitsa, Czernowitz, Storojineti, Sadigura, etc., began to arrive in Khotin. They, too, wanted to use the bridge in order to escape the Germans and Romanians. The Soviet authorities not only did not allow them to escape, but in many cases they even used force to stop them. There is testimony that the Soviet authorities used many ruses to deny the citizens, among them Jews, the possibility of crossing the Dniester and saving themselves from the Germans and their collaborators, the Romanians. Many Jews went to Ataki, also on the Dniester, where there was a temporary bridge built by the authorities prior to retreat. They were able to cross at that point. Ataki was also a target for aircraft bombings and many people were killed on or near the bridge, on both sides. Anyone who succeeded in crossing the Dniester went to the nearest town, Kamenetz-Podolsk where there were many Jews. However, because the Soviets slowed their progress, they were unable to go far. Looking at the map showing the retreat of the German army it can be seen that the attacks were done in arcs from North to South and reached northern Bessarabia. The Germans caught most of the escaping Jews from northern Bessarabia and almost all of them were annihilated. Among those who escaped from Khotin, no one remained alive.
The bombings continued in the town itself and caused a relatively small number of victims. Before the Russian army retreated Khotin was lit on fire and it burned for several days. The entire Jewish street, from one end of town to the other, was completely burned.
On July 7, 1941 Khotin was conquered by the Romanian army. The Romanian soldiers went through the town searching for the Jewish street. Any Jew they met on the way was immediately shot. About 50 Jews were caught hiding near the market and they were all shot in place. Some German units entered Khotin and at first they did not participate in any killings. The Romanian soldiers managed to kill about 2000 people when they entered town. The survivors were placed in houses still standing. There were 5-10 families in each house. Many people hid in cellars or with Christian friends in town or in the surrounding villages.
The second phase of destruction began with the gathering of Jews in the courtyard of the Shensky High School. Romanian soldiers went to each and every house and pulled out Jews who were inside. The soldiers also looted the houses and took everything they saw, mainly watches, gold and silver. When the looting was over the Jews were handed over to another unit of soldiers who beat them mercilessly. When nearly all the Jews from town and nearby villages and from Bucovina-about 3000-were gathered in the courtyard, the well-oiled German killing machine entered. They did not care for the primitive methods of the Romanians. A German officer, probably from the Einzatzgruppe, spoke to the Jews and quietly and politely asked if there were any intellectuals, doctors, teachers, rabbis and ritual slaughterers among them. He asked them to line up in a special line. Many people who could not be counted among these groups also joined the line hoping they would be given lighter work. Two hours later they were all taken outside and made to march towards the old border with Poland. There was a deep trench waiting for them. They were all shot to death and thrown into the trench. Among them were Rabbi Mordehai Twersky and his son Aaron from Ozarinets.
In town, the house to house searches continued, looking for those who were hiding. Three German and Romanian soldiers accompanied by a Christian resident called Trenka Katsap, who knew all the Jews, took out anyone hiding and shot them in place. About 180 people were killed in this ‘activity’.
When all were gathered in the courtyard of the high school, a few hostages, young and strong, were selected. They were brought to the Yutka synagogue under guard where other soldiers were waiting for them. No one was allowed to come to the synagogue to offer them food or blankets. A few days later the hostages were sent to do hard labor: street cleaning, clearing burned houses, repairing the road to Ataki, sending lumber on the Dniester from Darabani to Ataki for the bridge to be built. Instead of using 4 horses, 60 Jews were used to pull, against the current, the lumber rafts to Ataki. All the Jews who remained in the school yard were registered and each one was given a paper, in Romanian, saying ‘Free’ or ‘Registered’. No one understood the difference.
For three weeks before the deportation, the entire Jewish population had to do some work such as cleaning streets, clearing burned out houses and even serving as valets to police and army officers, helping out in the local hospital, etc. Women of all ages were sent out to cut the grass.
On July 30 the order came to leave. Thos Jews who were kept in the synagogue were freed at 5 in the afternoon so they could get ready. The men who were on work assignments were freed in the evening and were ordered to prepare to be deported. There were dozens of carts with horses. The women prepared matzos on the night before they left and the men packed their remaining belongings, especially food. At 3 am on July 31, Tisha B'Av, Romanian soldiers removed the Jews from their homes and brought them to the town square, near the clock. The soldiers surrounded the square and kept watch. When the Jews were taken out of their homes, Romanian soldiers again were looting and took whatever had been packed for the trip. Former neighbors of the Jews crowded the side streets and waited for the Jews to leave their homes. As soon as everyone was in the square, they too, began to loot and take whatever was left.
The Jews were put on carts, 4 per cart and the convoy left town. At the flour mill they were met by Mayor Shrotnovoy and the police captain Oprescu and they distributed a loaf of bread weighing 300 grams to each Jew. It was a sort of payment for everything they left behind.
There were 25 Jews left in town because the local authorities believed they were needed for their craftsmanship.
On the way attacks continued by soldiers and residents. A horseback unit ran into them and beat and killed Jews. On the roads there were villagers who waited for them, mainly Ukrainians and they robbed the Jews assisted by the soldiers accompanying the deportees. The cart drivers removed the Jews from the carts claiming that the horses were tired and then they ran away with the belongings. In addition, an endless rain began to fall. Walking through mud was difficult, especially for the elderly and the young children and the many injured and sick. After 20 km an order came to stop. It was decided they would spend the night in the village of Romancauts, in an open field. They were guarded by soldiers and by some of their young who were conscripted. They used the stop to rape the girls and the young women. There were cases where the soldiers shot those women who fought them or the husbands and parents who tried to stop them. Other women were shot after they were raped. On the following day the soldiers were even meaner to the Jews. Anyone who was too slow or who bent down to drink water from puddles was shot immediately. Among those who were killed on the second day of the journey were Rabbi Porky who was paralysed and his son who carried him.
On the way the deportees met a convoy of Jews exiled from Lipkany who were in their eighth day of traveling. These Jews managed to cross the Dniester and were brought back by the Germans. The two convoys became one and they continued to Secureni. The Jews of Khotin shared whatever they had with their brothers who seemed even weaker after the difficult journey. They were all shoeless, their feet were swollen and they were exhausted. Still, they believed the officers who told them they were being taken back home. On the way to Secureni they saw dead bodies of Jews who became food for pigs and could not be identified. When they passed near the Dniester the Romanian soldiers decided to get rid of some of the Jews. They pushed 400 people into the river and drowned them. Anyone who tried to swim was shot.
In Secureni, a location chosen by the Romanian gendarmerie to serve as a camp for the Jews from the district of Khotin, there were 12 000 Jews on two streets. An official document from July 1 1941 says there were 10201 Jews there and that many died on a daily basis. In Secureni the fate of the Jews of Khotin was the same as that the rest of the Jews in the camp.
Only 300 people survived from the original 6000. Men under 45 years of age were immediately drafted into the Red Army. Women and girls were sent to work in the coal mines in Donevs or other places such as Sverdlovsk and Krivoi Rog. From those who were drafted very few survived after the war. Many of them were crippled. Even in Donevs very few survived. After the war about 200 Jews arrived in Lipkany (from 500 families) and they were crowded into 10-15 houses that remained standing on two streets. Two years later, in 1947, many of them were allowed to move to Romanian and the majority continued on to Eretz Israel.
A.I.SH: O-3/ 1104, 1736, 1920; O-33/803,936; PKR/II, M-1/E-1270/1235, 1577/1463; M-1/Q-1215/63, 1931/441.
The Khotin Community Book, Tel Aviv, 1974.
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