by Yehayahu Kantor
Translated by Sarah Faerman
Like most of the Jewish communities in Russia, the Jewish community in Dubossar by the Dniester River, over many yearswove its own distinctive ways and patterns. Dubossar served as a centre for the outlying towns and villages. The murderous Nazi axe that descended on the head of Jewish Europe and wiped out one third of our folk during the second World War also cut down the Jewish lives in our town. After the war, trusted witnesses described to us how the Nazis herded almost all of the Jews of Dubossar and the surrounding towns to one of the hills nearby and in the thoroughly bestial manner that only the Germans are capable of, massacred all of them.
Along with the holy ones from all of the Jewish communities that were annihilated during World War Two, we remember with love and honour the heroes of our town that heroically fought off aggressors of all stripes, pogromists and hooligans who attempted to attack our town during the stormy period of World War One and during the difficult days of the revolution and counter-revolution, defending with courage and dedication Jewish lives and Jewish honour.
In the following sentences I will attempt to draw out from the depths of my memory some of the finest chapters that have been woven with golden threads into the history of the Dubossar community.
For the first nine years of my life, I lived in a village four kilometers from Dubossar. From my carefree childhood years, I remember wonderful stories that the local Jews and gentiles would tell about the Jewish Dubossar heroes. (One of the legends that circulated about the Dubossar heroes was that each one of them was capable of killing a whole village af gentiles). Dubossar was a city that provided shelter for Jews that were hiding from the powers that be, for refugees fleeing pogroms &ä150; an oft repeated occurance in Czarist Russia. I heard many stories about these heroes during my childhood and their names are vivid in my memory. The most famous were: Aaron Shmuel's son, Chaim Isser's son, Laybele Dishovke, Mendele Patran, Shaul Sakai (the knife), Yidele Katrazhan, Yosele Bezh, Laybele Katzap and many others. Any Jew who could claim to be a relative of one of this famous group could be sure that no hooligan would dare to lay a hand on him. So great was the terror that theycast on the enemies of Israel in the whole district, that it was enough to remind them that in 1902, other enemies of Israel fabricated a blood libelblaming the Dubossar Jews of murdering a Christian boy in order to use his blood for a Passover ritual. At the time, the whole area was inflamed by hate propoganda and lies, yet the pogromists did not dare to assault the Dubossar Jews.
The young heroes were not learned men nor did they have much education. However, they were simple and honest people. They did not differentiate between Jew and gentile. However, when a Jew was wronged because he was a Jew, then their national pride would ignite and the need for revenge would burn like a fire. Jewish honour was very important to them. That is the secret behind the heroism of the Dubossar Jews throughout the many years until the day when the Nazi murderers annihilated out town along with hundreds of other Jewish communities that were slaughtered and wiped out in Nazi occupied Europe.
After the defeat of the first Russian revolution in 1905, a stronger mood favouring pogroms prevailed. In response, a Self-Defensegroup was organized headed by the teacher, Golani (Yagolnitzer), Pinye Bassin (Baruch Bassin's father) and Shaul Sakai (Tzvi Sakai's father). Legends abounded regarding the bravery of Shaul. Of the three, Shaul evoked the greatest terror amongst the local gentiles. It happened that a relative of his (Mendele Patran's uncle) was attacked and beaten by the gentiles. One day, Mendele told Shaul that he had invited these same hooligans to his house for a glass of brandy. Of course, on the way to Mendele's house, they had to pass the home of Shaul. Mendele and Shaul made a plan to make sure the two visitor would receive a warm welcome. And so it was on the appointed day. As the hooligans came closer to Shaul's house, he was ready and waiting for them. They were soon lying on the ground, bloody and beaten until one of them managed to pry himself loose and'hendus pendus' ran to Mendele's for help. Until he reached Mendele's house and until Mendele made his way over to Shaul's house, Shaul had finished off the troublemakers and even the police refrained from interfering when Shaul was thus occupied. He put a halt to his holy work when Mendele ran up and begged for mercy, pleading that Shaul should release his friends who were coming to his house as guests.
Such episodes and similar ones did not occur infrequently in Dubossar and generally would end with a sulcha (forgiveness) and pardon. Following such incidents, the reputation of the Jewish heroes of Dubossar travelled far and wide. On the other side of the Dniester, eight kilometers from Dubossar, is the town of Moshkovtzi where 80 Jewish families lived. At the beginning of the 20th century, when the air was thick with hatred toward Jews, hooligans of that town made a pogrom against the Jews and robbed them of their possessions. When the people of Dubossar heard the news about the pogrom, the sons of Aaron Shmuel and Chaim Isser (two sons each) decided to pay a visit to Moshkovtzi and to teach the hooligans that Jewish property is not free for the taking.
When the inhabitants of the town became aware of the visit that was awaiting them, they became very frightened and a delegation, including the head of the town (chief) himself, arrived in Dubossar bearing a letter to Rabbi Abel from the village priest. The chief pleaded with the Rabbi to influence the four young men to cancel their plans and vowed to return the stolen property to the Jews. They also promised that this would not occur again in their town.
News of this and similar incidents would spread as quickly as lightening among the towns, far and near, and prevented many a hot-head from starting up with the Dubossar gang. Dr. Bernstein-Cohen, in his memoir Dubossar, mentions several times the Self-Defense organization in Southern Russia. I will quote the following fragment:
Not only in Kishinev but also in Dubossar did the Jews with their own strength put a stop to the pogroms. The government listened to the advice of the Moldavians and sent in the local militia on a robbing action in the Jewish community. That night however, they were bitterly cut off. In the military report it was reported that 16 soldiers disappeared, intimating desertion. A week later, near the border, the Dniester River spit up their dead bodies. In Dubossar there were no further pogroms not that year and not later even though waves of pogroms continued to flood the whole South West of Russia. Needless to say, the entire Jewish population of Dubossar was overjoyed and for years after, praised with gratitude the heroes and their families who had resorted to the only possible, logical tactic.
The Dubossar police chief would rein in his police and prevent them from confronting the 'gang' (Self-Defense) for whom, it appears, he actually felt sympathy. There was a story about one of Chaim Isser's sons (Nachum, a mechanic by profession) who dealt suchhefty blows to two gentile attackers that their souls departed on the spot. The police chief gave Nachum a wink and Nachum took the hint, immediately fleeing over the border. The Dubossarers and in particular, the gang couldn't reconcile themselves to the absence of such a treasure as Nachum.
During the years 1917-20 in our district, one government followed another and various marauding bands raged undisturbed. The greatest panic was generated by the bands that were led by thesword brandishing Cossack chiefs: Zabalotny, Titiniuk, Zheliane, Grigoriev, Popov and others. None of them had a political agenda but all were anti-semites and robbing and murdering Jews was a daily activity for them. In many towns and villages in Ukraine, Jewish blood flowed like water but they did not dare to set foot in Dubossar. And if it did happen that one of the bands did try to advance toward our town, they had the good sense to retreat at the last moment. Sometimes, however, there were incidents that had the distinct appeance of government approval. At times it was the Bolsheviks and at other times, the Petlyura or the Denikin rulers. Later several of these incidents will be described.
During the first World War, the Russian military built a bridge over the Dniester River forthe purposes of war. At the beginning of the war, as the soldiers were closing in on the Romanian front, the Jews used this opportunity to do some business with them. With the outbreak of the Revolution, whent the front started to crumble and the Czar's soldiers retreated in a state of great disorganization, many soldiers formed themselves into bands in order to rob and murder. The main path of retreat from the front was over the bridge near Dubossar and our town was therefore often the target of these marauders. To protect our town from their attacks, a Self-Defense organization was formed. Unfortunately, they had very few weapons.
In those days, the well known adventurist Mishke Yapantchik organized a Jewish regiment in Odessa, assembled primarily with fellows from the underworld. Their goal was to protect the Jewish community and to teach a lesson to the pogromists. Not only did they defend Odessa's Jews but they also sent help to the nearby communities. Dubossar's Self-Defense group appealed to themfor help and the commander sent over a unit of 30 men under the leadership of officer Korlandsky. Many Dubossar young men joined up with this unit. They obtained weapons and after a short while Dubossar became a power to be reckoned with one that could hold its own against a regular military regiment.
A winter night. From the eastern part of town, shots were heard. A significant sized group of retreating soldiers were quartered there and proclaimed that they were now the Red Army, heading toward Central Russia. These particular Red Army soldiers however, did not mind a little robbing and killing on the side. That night, a group of them attacked a house at the edge of town and murdered a father and son. The shots and screams spread a panic amongst both the Jews and the soldiers. The Jewish commander Korlandsky and his men mounted their horses and rode off to headquarters to find out what had happened. They were arrested on the spot and badly beaten with the excusethat the Jews had killed 2 soldiers. In the meantime, the volume of gunshots had accelerated and both sides appeared to preparing for a slaughter. The city council, comprised of 40 men, half of them Jewish and led by Rabbi Abel and Yosef Visoky Ram (who died 3 years ago in Jerusalem), seeing that Kolandsky and his men had not returned, quickly convened an emergency meeting.
The shooting went on throughout all this time and we even increased the fire with the hope that it would frighten off the other side. I was in my position and lying next to me was Averbuch, one of the Odessa group. Suddenly I noticed a stranger crawling closer to us. Before I even had a chance to tell Averbuch, the stranger was already at our side and requested that two from our side accompany him. He was striding in the direction of the pogromists and telling them to hold their fire. Our men also stopped shooting. Averbuch ran after the stranger. He had recognized his voice.
When the pogromists saw two men approaching, some of them went to meet them. One thrust the butt end of his gun on Averbuch who, with an acrobatic jump, deflected the blow. The man accompanying him grabbed one of the pogromists by the arm and yelled into his face: Don't you recognize me? In one second the situation changed. The other gave a command to his men to cease firing while Averbuch gave the same order to our people. Both went off to the City Council to meet with the pogromists.
In the meantime I received a message that I should immediately go home. My family lived near the small fountain, in a suburb in north Dubossar and the 'front' that night was in the eastern part of town. In the suburb Lunka, every bit of unexpected news caused worry and panic. I didn't waste any time and went directly home. However, onthe way, near the City Council House, I met my parents. They told me that soldiers had forced themselves onto our farm and my parents had run for their lives. I calmed down somewhat and went closer to the City Council House to find out what had happened in the meantime at the meeting.
A big crowd was gathered around the City Council House. I looked in through the window and saw the stranger who had insinuated himself into our position. He was talking to the City Council and Averbuch stood next to him. Suddenly my father whispered into my ear that he knew that man. He was the leader of a robber band and my father, along with other Jews who had been travelling to Kishinev, had been attacked and robbed of all their money by this band. The coachman of the wagon that was robbed, was Yosele Bezh and it appears that he was a partner in this business. Some time later, my father was summoned to court to identify the robber. At the last moment my father decided not to identify him. On the other hand, Israel Rampal, who had 259 Rubles stolen, did itentify him and his name was Kotavsky.
I returned to the Council House just when the meeting ended with a peace pact between the Red Army and the Jews of dubossar. At the end of the meeting, Kotavsky approached Rampal and invited himself over for the evening meal. Rampal pretended that he was very pleased at the honour and invited him home. The guest brought Averbuch along. At the meal, the guest asked Rampal if he remembered him. Reliable witnesses later said that if Kotavsky hadn't reassured him on the spot than nothing would happen to him, Rampal would have fainted on the spot. At the end of the meal, the guest thanked his host and quickly ran off.
Nobody knows how Kotavsky managed to get out of town. Korlandsky and his assistant came back severly wounded from the blows they had received from the Red Army and it took a while for them to recover. For a long time after that night people in town did not cease bringing up Kotavsky's name and crediting him with saving Dubossar from a pogrom.
At this opportunity, I would like to provide a few details about this Kotavsky in order to explain what kind of a man he was. He came from a refined family and he had a higher education. Ideologically he considered himself an anarchist and in keeping with this, he formed a band that worked in the Bessarabian forests. He would attack the passing coaches to rob the rich in order to distribute their money to the poor. It is told of him that one day he met a peasant riding by in a broken down wagon pulled by two worn out old horses. Kotavsky gave the peasnat a sum of money to buy two good horses. Upon parting, Kotavsky called out after the peasant: Don't let me see you again with those two carcases!
His name rang out over the whole district and the governers offered a cash reward for his capture. Kotavsky, however, had many friends even among his victims because he always acted in a friendly manner with everyone. Also they knew that his robberies were not motivated by self-gain but for the poor and needy. Finally he was captured by the regime but even then they did not treat him as an ordinary criminal. When the Revolution broke out, he was serving time in the Odessa jail. When they set him free, he joined up with the Bolsheviks where he performed many courageous deeds. After his death, the Soviets memorialized him in various ways, among them a film that was even seen in Israel.
During the whole period of the military retreat, we were under constant tension and had to keep constant vigil on the army. In the meantime, the Odessa group became bored with remaining in Dubossar. They were used to more action in the big city and they decided to return to Odessa. To sweeten the pill, they told us that we were now sufficiently experienced and capable of defending our town on our own. The true reason, however, was their desire for greater adventures. Later, we found out that on their way home to Odessa, they tried to 'settle accounts with ourprevious attackers, as they deserved. Exactly how this action worked out, we do not know to this day.
We would have been able to brag that in the history of Dubossar, not one pogrom took place were it not for one tragic time when thegentiles in the surrounding areas decided to join forces with a large regiment of soldiers retreating from the front. On a certain day there appeared in our towna group of Cossacks known by the name of The Wild Division. They hadorganized the peasants from the surrounding areas and together planted themselves in the centre of town in order to disrupt our defense units. The pogromists entered Dubossar with their wagons in which they were intending to load Jewish property and goods. The Cossacks, in the meantime, stood guard so that no harm, God forbid, would befall them while the peasants looted and plundered from the Jewish shops. To celebrate their victory, the Cossacks got drunk (there was no lack of strong liquor as this had been stolen from the shops). They stationed someone to guard over the stolen goods and off they went to drink. In order to frighten the townspeople, they periodically shot into the air. The shots became fainter as more and more Cossacks passed out.
When we were certain that only a small numer of cossacks were awake, we attacked. The pogromists awoke in a panic and began to flee, leaving behind their loot. The drunken soldiers, also frightened, fled behind them. The cost to us was one victim, Pinchas Sirkin, who died protecting his shop against the pogromists. The next day at his funeral, not one gentile from all of the surrounding areas, showed his face in town.
Later, the commander of the division came to the City Hall and apologized for the tragic event. He proposed that he would withdraw his soldiers from Dubossar if we signed a statement that they had peacefully passed through our town. The Mayor signed the statement thus averting an even greater tragedy. The division left town in military formation, their flags fluttering in the wind displaying the words. Kill the Jews. Save Russia.
After The Wild Division left Dubossar, the Mayor contacted the governors in Tyraspol and Kishinev and requested help from them. The next day, a Ukrainian squadron came from Tyraspol and a Bolshevik one from Kishinev. Soon they were arguing over which group should remain in Dubossar. In actual fact, neither side could be trusted as they were cut from the same cloth as the pogromists. We were happy when we rid ourselves of both groups' favours. Only then did we begin to search thoroughly in the local gentile homes where we recovered most of the plundered goods and we returned these to their Jewish owners. Many of the gentiles expressed regret that they haad allowed themselves to be swept along in the pogrom. After that time, I do not recall that any of the local gentiles participated in any further attacks agains the Jewish community.
The army division left and they were in any case milder than the previous military presence. There was reason to hope that the situation was improving. In order to give the youth some relief from the tension of the last few months, plans were made for a big party with dancing. In the midst of preparations for this event, notification arrived from Kishinev that General Semyanov with his White Guards were seen heading in the direction of Dubossar. This particular group was constituted mainly of officers and no less anti-semitic thanthe previous pogromists. The only distinction was that they were disciplined military soldiers. They were also better equipped with all types of weapons. Semyanov's plan was to join up with Denikin's army that was in the process of getting reorganized with officers who had been in the Crimea and the Caucasus.
Once the military group entered town, the thought was to cancel the party. When the commandant became aware of this, he insisted that the event proceed as planned and in fact many officers attended as well. Undersandably, this was not the type of evening we had desired but we had no choice and carried on with it. Suddenly, before the party was over, the officers received a command to leave the hall. This seemed very suspicious to us and we all left to take up our positions. To our great joy, nothing sinister happened. The unit had simply received notification to leave town.
After that, no further organized divisions of the disintegrated Czarist army came to Dubossar. From time to time, individual soldiers would show up trying to sell their weapons or horses in order to make some money for their journey homeward. For a few months, there was relative quiet.
After the capitulation of Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany there was once again a stormy period of unrest. The German army left Russian and every type of gang surfaced and started to organizeinto new marauding bands. Once again there was no stable governing power. Whoever could organize a band, ruled. Governments arose like mushrooms after a rain; there were many peripheral battles and the lack of a central ruling power made it possible for every type of band to wreak havoc all over Russia. Often they didn't use their own names and it wasn't always clear with whom one was dealing. The Jewish Self-Defense had no alternative but to once again take up arms.
One fine morning, a brigade of 100 men showed up in Dubossar. They presented themselves as the vanguard of the Red Army that was outto conquer all of Russia. They let us know that the staff of the Bolshevik Army was located 100 kilometer from Dubossar and their task was a technical one toprepare for the advance of the Red Army. Not more than a couple of hours passed when the vanguard advised Rabbi Abel, z'l, that in the name of the Red Army, he expected a contribution from the localJewish population of one million rubles as well as 49 pairs of boots. This sum of money and the boots were to be delivered within a few hours. With this command,the officer admitted that he was representing only himself, otherwise the command would have fallen on all of the local inhabitants, not only the Jews.
By nightfall, when it became apparant that the command would not be fulfilled, an order was given forbidding all the Jews from leaving their homes. We were prepared for that and the whole community was confined to their yards. All except Mendl Batalsky. He paid no attention to the command and went out into the street. Immediately two armed soldiers apprehended him and headed over to the commnadant's office. On the way, walking between the two of them, Mendl grabbed the head of one with his right hand, the head of the other with the second hand and with great strength, banged their heads together until they were both sprawled out on the ground. He quickly disappeared into a side street.
Not far from there, near an opening of a cellar, was Froikele the thief, who had been watching the whole 'spectacle'. When he noticed that the two soldiers got up and started to run to the commandant, he lost no time, ran over to a church and began to ring the churchbells -this being the accepted alarm signal. Immediately, a volley of bullets went flying into the yard of the commandant. When the commandant staff saw the two bloodied soldiers and heard the shots, they panicked and these heroes ran off as fast they could from the scene. Our people went out into the street to cut off their retreat but no-one could be found except for the two that Mendel had taken care of and who were hiding in the hospital. This piece of business was completed in the Dniester River.
A thorough search of the town led to the discovery of Jacob Fishman's entire family tied up. When they were freed from the vanguard 's bonds, we found there sacks of goods and property that the soldiers were intending to steal. Nothing was missing. In their panic, they had left everything behind.
Fleeing the scene, on the road the soldiers met Motl Nitzkaner driving two wagonfulls of sugar. They bought his entire stock and told him to demand from Rabbi Abel the payment for his goods from the million rubles that were coming to them. For a long time people in town joked about Motl's business deal. However, healso was relieved that the encounter had ended with the loss of money only.
One after the other, different armed units started to show up, each claiming to represent the vanguard of this or that army. One day, one such group appeared and taking advantage of the fact that the whole police force was concentrated at the Magistrate's Halldue to an important hearing, they captured allof the police, the chief of police, the magistrate and the city councilmen, proclaiming a curfew in town. In the notices that they put up, they announced that they were the deputies of the Petlyura Central Government.
The whole night, the whole town was wrapped in suspense. In the morning, when it became apparant that the whole occupation army consisted of only one small unit, we decided to free all the prisoners from their captors. The band sensed that we did not fear them and began negotiations with the Mayor. They agreed to free allthe prisoners except for the chief of police because he was of the White Army, namely, a criminal and all such as he must be handed over to Central Command. In the meantime, we were preparing to liberate the town by force in the event that the negotiations fell through. When the leader of the band became aware of our intentions, he and his friends fled.
On this occasion there was total understanding between the Jews and the gentiles. The leaders of the Christian community admitted that the stance that the Jews had takenhad been logical and brave. Thanks to this action, the chief of police had been saved from a certain death.
The next morning, we received the information that the same band had carried out a pogrom in the townof Okna, 40 kilometers from Dubossar. At this, no-one doubted any longer that the land was now totallyplunged in chaos and anarchy andthat we must stand guard against every band that advanced toward Dubossar.
In winter of 1919, Petlyura reigned over Ukraine and founded the Independent Ukraine Republic. In order to win the backing of the Jewish population, he created a Jewish ministry in his government under the leadership of the known businessman A. Revatzky. Actually though, he gave a free hand to the anti-semites and pogromists that had infiltrated into his army and they had no restraints in their persecution of the Jewish population.
That winter we had to stand on guard duty many nights. We were also unable to change our clothes for a week at a time. Those who were in the Self-Defense organization were prepared for every and any eventuality. Approximately two weeks before Passover, standing at my post while on patrol duty outside of town, I noticed a suspicious movement beneath a hill. Through one of our collaterals, I sent word immediately to our commander of the Self-Defense.
As usualin situations like this, all the inhabitants of the town big and small went out into the streets dressed in their holiday finery in order to make a good impression. Very soon, my suspicions were confirmed. A large, armed unit of 200 men on horseback advanced toward our town. From the blood- thirsty anti-semitic songs that they were singing, we knew that they were part of the professional pogromists in Pelyura's army. Coming into town, they were startled by the festive reception we had prepared for them. They stood still in the Market place and the whole situation appeared very suspicious to them. They had heard that they must be very careful in Dubossar; that Dubossar was not like the other towns. Usually when they would enter a town, the streets would be empty, the horses and yards locked and barricaded while here, to the contrary, even the shops were open, the people were all in the streets and even the children gazed at their horses without fear. Never mind, said several of them, we'll grind them into dust.
While the Magistrate was assigning the soldiers to various houses where they could sleep overnight, the unit received an order from their commandant to head out to the German farm that was situated 4 kilometers from Dubossar. They had discovered in the cellar, barrels of wine and feed for the horses.
When they were gone, the town quickly changed its appearance. The streets cleared out and the youth began to prepare for the imminent attack that was sure to occur. Spies were sent out to ascertain how well equipped the band was and what weapons they had, in order to assess what we were up against. The spies sent back word that there were at least 200 wagons carrying food and they were already 2-3 kilmeters from Dubossar. The Christian population organized 70 men under the command of Officer Kozlovitch, who suggested that the Jewish Self-Defense unite with them to fight off the attack of Petlyura's men. The strategy of the Christian group was to capture the wagons and to hide them in Loffer'shuge tobacco warehouses.
The night passed in feverish activity. The gentile group, as planned, captured the food supplies as well as the Chief of the local militia, an ex officer, who was given an ultimatum to put himself at the service of the town's defense. By the way, in Dubossar, the militia was comprised of 30 men, half of whom were Jews.
The whole night, the Petlyura men celebrated their anticipated victory in drunken revelry. The next day at dawn, in military formation, they marched into town. The Self-Defense was prepared for them and as soon as the Petlyura unit was spotted, an alarm signal was set off. The bells of all the churches started to ring and the Self-Defense sprang forth for the assault. Our boys took the few weapons that theyhad with some rounds of ammunition and went forth to meet the enemy. Our first victim was the rider at the head of their column. The battle was of short duration. The pogromists, seeing that they had serious opponenets, began to flee, leaving behnd on the road a considerable amount of weapons and supplies. Some of them fell in battle and others tried to swim across the Dniester to the Roumanian side. All day we pursued them and only in the evening did we head back home where a superb reception awaited us. The whole night we dance in the streets to celebrate our victory. Among the goods that we had recaptured from them, were boxes of Matzot, clothing, Talitim, Tefilim and other holy articles.
In spite of our victory, we were not at peace. Our unrest proved to be valid. A few days went by and our intelligence people informed us that a huge military batallion was advancing toward Dubossar. The Christian townspeople that had collaborated with the Jewish Self-Defense in the previous battle knew that their position was already compromised so they energetically joined us in preparing for the next assault. This time the pogromists sent their supply wagons by a different route and with increased manpower entered our town. The Mayor quietly sent them a warning to get out of town if they didn't want to have a brilliant victory like their friends had. The band understood the hint and were driven off.
In the meantime, the holiday of Passover was getting closer. We hoped that after these two victories we would be left in peace to celebrate our beloved holiday. The first seder went by peacefully. The next day, however, going to shul, my father and I were informed that a telegram had arrived from Plosk stating: KOZOVSKY IS GOING FROM TYROSPOL TO DUBOSSAR. SEND HELP IMMEDIATELY. The telegram had been sent to Rabbi Abel who was already in Shul. As soon as he received the telegram, he hurried off to the market. He got up on a table and warned the town to go out and meet the enemy.
The news descended on the town like thunder on a sunny day. The synagogues all emptied out and all the worshippers gathered in the market square. With the speed of lightning, the defense was organized. Horses and wagons were mobilized to carry men and provisions to Plosk. Eighteen horseback riders and several dozen wagons loaded with courageous youth, weapons and ammunition left that night to meet the pogromists. A unit accompanied them that would carry provisions. I would like to mention here the good Dr. Laybele Polinkovsky who assembled students from the higher classes of the Gymnasia and instructed them how to administer first aid.
This time the attitude of the Christians was different than before. Some time earlier, they had been secretly informed about Kozovsky's visit with the recommendation they be prepared to rob the Jews after his men were through with the pogrom. This time the gentiles stood to the side and made fun of the Zhides who were playing at being soldiers. They were certain that Kozovsky's assault on the town would demolish the Jewish defense.
The next day, the second day of Passover, the Dubossar men arrived at the front. A battle erupted between Petlyura's rear guard army who numbered in the thousands under Kozovsky's command and against our men together with the Plosk peasants. Against the resistance of the combined forces of Plosk and Dubossar, Kozovsky had no alternative but to give up his plan of revenge in Dubossar. He ordered his men to retreat to the Dniester.
This was the last attempt of Petlyura's men to attempt pogroms in our district. Thanks to the brave young men of Dubossar and the Plosk peasants, Dubossar was spared the horrors of a pogrom.
Atthis opportunity, I would like to mention a few details about Plosk. Plosk was a big village of several thousand families, all Russian. In our district we called them Katzapes. Not one Jew lived there nor did anyone of any other nationality. After the revolution, the people from Plosk refused to recognize any of the regimes that were constantly supplanting the others. They established their own autonomous government as well as a local army consisting of their own village residents. They were wealthy peasants and were powerful both materially and militarily; thus they were able to withstand pressure for a long time. More than once did they bravely repulse armies that were sent in to take over their town until the Bolsheviks sent in a division named 'Marusia' (named after the commander) with the order to conquer Plosk no matter what the cost. Here also the village fought with great courage and the revolt ended after the leaders of the village were allowed to cross over the river to Romania.
The village of Plosk is linked to a tragic event in which ten innocent young men lost their lives. When Denikin came into powerafter the defeat of Petlyura's army, all young men of military age were conscripted. We and the young men from Grigoriopiol set out for the conscription centre in the capital city of Tyraspol. We, the Dubossar group, presented ourselves at noontime and those that were released immediately set off for home by foot, not waiting for those from Grigoriopol who were behind us. Dubossar is 60 kilometers from Tyraspol, 18 kilometers further than Grigoriopol.
That day Plosk revolted against the Denikin Army and by evening they had occupied Malayeshty, 15 kilometers from Tyraspol in order to cut off communication between Tyraspol and Dubossar. When we arrived at Malayeshty, the Ploskers allowed us to continue. However when the Grigariopolers arrived after usonce they had completed their registration for conscription, the Ploskers captured them and brought them to their commandant who sentenced them to death on the spot. This was carried out that very night. We had been allowed to go free because the Dubossar people were known to be anti-Bolshevik. The Grigoriopolers were executed because they were believed to be Red.
During the time that General Denikin ruled in Ukraine, there were two opposing forces in our region the Bolsheviks and the Denikinsts. After Denikin's armies suffered a great defeat near Kharkov and they began to retreat from the entire front, we realized that it was the end of these inner battles and that the Bolsheviks had emerged victorious. The Jews were very happy with this outcome because in Denikin's army, in spite of his liberal political program, there were many pogromists who slaughtered Jews and the General could not control them.
The Denikinsts retreated to three areas -Caucasus, Crimea and Romania. On the way, they had to cross the Dniester River from Dubossar to Bendery. At the last hour, the Romanians did not allow them to enter and so the Denikin Army of approximately 120,000 men had to turn around and head northward.
One Friday, at the beginning of 1920, the entire Denikin army entered Dubossar and like a swarm of locusts, covereing the town. There was no house, no warehouse, no stable that didn't contain soldiers. For 24 hours we could not cross over from one yard to the next and we were totally cut off from each other. The problem was that amongst the soldiers was the Cossack Wild Division. This time, we thought, will be the end for us. Suddenly a miracle occurred. Two o'clock in the afternoon we heard the rat-at-tat of machine guns. When the sounds of shooting came closer, the soldiers panicked and started to run in every direction. All night we heard the sound of machine guns and the thunder of cannons.
In the morning, only when the sounds of shooting had ended, did we dare to go outside. The streets were empty. As we approached the Market, we saw from far away soldiers with red flags. This was the Bolshevik Army. This ends the story of the valour and courage of theJewish Self-Defense in Dubossar. From here on a new era began of fearful days and a new reality.
Everything related here is no more than a few of the details of the heroic chapter of the Self-Defense history of Russian Jewery in which our town Dubossar holds a place of honour among the other Jewish communities that were annihilated between the two world wars. The historians that will write of this period will surely find interest in this chapterof bravery recordedby the Dubossar Jews who faced mortal danger in defending the honour and the lives of their fellow Jews and their Jewish life.
May Their Memory Be Honoured
by Baruch Bassin
as told by A. Y. Golani
Translated by Sarah Faerman
Yosele Bezh was a coach man by profession in Dubossar but outside of our town he had other 'pursuits' as well. He was the head of a band that would rob merchants and other travellers on the country roads. To his credit, it must be stated that he never plied his trade around the vicinity of Dubossar.
One day, when the Pogroms were raging throughout south Russia, Yosele approached the head of the Jewish Self-Defense organization in Dubossar and said to him in these words: Listen here, I will not tell you where my men are but we have decided to give you two weeks of our time. Whatever you would like us to do, we will do.
Golani, as leader of the Self-Defense, listened to the offer and gave Yosele several barrels of benzine with the following strict instructions: You will use these barrels of benzine to set fire to those villages that the pogromists come from but only in the event that they are attempting to attack Dubossar. I warn you not to cause any provocation.
Yosele solemnly promised to obey Golani's command. Not even three days went by before Golani was summoned to the police station. The Chief of Police, who was knowledgable about the Jewish Self-Defense organization and supportive of it, gave a sharp reproof to Golani. It turned out that Yosele could not control himself and had set fire to one of the closeby villages.
Yidele Golyak was a thin little Jew but he possessed an iron strong courage. By nature he was quick to anger and was constantly involved in one brawl or another.
One day, Golani told me:
I was standing by the shore of the river where a passenger ship was
anchored. Suddenly I heard a commotion that had errupted on the ship. Gentiles
had grabbed hold of a Jew and were beating him up. All of a sudden, I see a
little Yidl running 'hendus pendus' and quick like a cat, he springs onto the
bridge of the ship and begins to deliver punches right and left. Immediately
the brawl on the ship died down. When Yidele stepped down from the
ship, continued Golani, I went up to him and asked: Tell me
Yidele, how do you happen to be so fearless? Yidele immediately
answered: I have a corn that is called 'Dos Pintele Yid' (expression:
the essence of a Jew) and when someone steps on my corn, I become wild and
distribute blows to everyone who has it coming.
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