by Yeshayahu Kantor
Translated by Sarah Faerman
The First Years of the Revolution
After two years of the Civil War, in the winter of 1920, the Bolsheviks strenghtened their grip in our area and established a stable government. The Jewish community breathed a sigh of relief. They hoped that finally things would quiet down and life would return to normal. Many even exhibited a keen interest in the new regime and its revolutionary slogans. The illusion did not last long. After only a short period, all of the wishful thinking turned to naught and those who at the beginning had been drawn to the new regime soon realized that there would be no peace for Israel under the Communist rule. Whoever had the slightest possibility, began to consider fleeing from Russia altogether. And, if to flee, there was only one way to the other side of the Dniester River to Bessarabia.
Whoever had his assets in cash, lost it entirely. Because of the rise and fall of the various regimes and governments, the ruble no longer had any value. Those that possessed various types of goods or agricultural products such as nuts, dried prunes,etc. believed, in the beginning, that they would at least be able to save some of their resources. Their hopes were also dashed before long.
During the first honeymoon days of the new regime, the Bolshevik victors were busy hunting down deserters of the Denikinst army. Every day they would herd groups of these ex-soldiers, supposedly to interrogate them and these interrogations usually ended up with them being stood up against a wall. The Jews were not frightened by this particular sentencing as the Denikinst army had been Judenrein.
When the civil government began to get organized, their first project was Collectivization, that is to relieve owners of all their private, extra property. True, this was carried out by the lower echelons of the Communist regime many who were irresponsible, provocateurs, rabid anti-semites and even past pogromists that had weasled their way into the new ruling power and some were even able to climb to the highest levels.
Even worse than they, were the communists who were B'nei Israel our brothers- who, to prove that they were holier than the pope, acted with exaggerated severity toward any Jew who was suspected of witholding any of his property. The main point: Jews had to endure woes from both sides at the beginning of the Soviet regime, a time when the gentile population was relatively free from suffereing.
Units of the Red Army would go from house to house confiscating whatever they could lay their hands on, rarely giving a receipt, which in any case, had little worth. After this type of Socialist action, many families were left without blankets and cushions and on top of this, they were accused of hiding valuable items. After this first action, came the second operation to make lists of the surplus food and provisions and to transfer same to the central warehouses. This time, the evil decree included the gentile peasants as well. In the beginning, when people still had some faith in the new rule, many delivered their goods and received a statement that indicated how much they would be paid according to government prices. Later however, when it became apparant that both the promises and the receipts were worth nothing, the goods started to vanish.
There were frequent raids at the homes of the rich where thorough searches were made for jewellery and other valuables. I, myself was a witness at one of these raids that lasted around the clock. On a Friday night, a group of local agents accompanied by Red Army soldiers surrounded the home of Isaac Rosenfeld a man of high standing in Dubossar. He had no children and lived modestly. He also was not considered one of the wealthy ones in the community. Suddenly it was rumoured that Rosenfeld was hiding a treasure in his house. A Red Army unit cordoned off the surrounding streets and three local agents entered the home demanding of Rosenfeld and his wife that they should, with good will, hand over all of their hiddend diamonds and jewellery. When Rosenfeld told them that he had neither diamonds nor jewellery, the search began.
They searched furiously. Soon the soldiers came in to help. They actually did the hard work breaking up the floors, tearing out cupboards, pulling doors off their hinges, breaking down walls and when late at night, they found nothing, they dragged Rosenfeld down to the cellar. They spread him out on the ground and covered him with a pile of stones, threatening that if he did not disclose the whereabouts of the treasure, they would keep him there until he died. Rosenfeld, who by nature was a quiet man, did not answer. His silence infuriated them and they began to torture him. In spite of the fact that these Soldiers of Justice had closed the doors, the cries of Rosenfeld were heard outside.
Immediately the whole town knew what was happening in Rosenfeld's cellar and from every direction people ran to the house. The soldiers tried to chase them away but with no success. When the local agents saw that this could end with many casualties and after all their hunting, no treasures had been found, they finally decided, on Saturday night, to free Rosenfeld and to leave. True, Rosenfeld had a victory but he paid a heavy price. His health quickly deteriorated and after a short period of time, he passed away in terrible agony.
The Rosenfeld case did not deter the new authorities and they continued on with this method, which in some instances, yielded results for them. Co-inciding with these raids which were primarily carried out by the CHEKA (Soviet secret police), the government demanded contributions of the well to do according to a list of names that they had. Belonging to a group of youth close to government circles, we wre privy to some information that was hidden from the majority of the citizens. In this way, I discovered that my father was on this list and that he would be requested to hand over 15,000 rubles an impossibility for him to raise on his income. I immediately ran home to advise my father to disappear from town, to flee to Odessa until this black cloud would pass. The next morning, a letter addressed to my father arrived at the house from the Citizens' Executive Committee demanding the payment of 15,000 rubles within 24 hours. The town was in confusion. It was clear that any organized efforts to counter this edict had no chance of succeeding and everyone,therefore, tried to figure out a way to privately bargain with the CHEKA.
At the end of the 24 hour time limit, I appeared instead of my father at the headquarters. Participating in the hearing of this case was a friend of mine who whispered into my ear in Yiddish that he would be forced to arrest me if I did not have the money. I was soon informed that I was under arrest and was taken to the second floor of the big Loffers warehouse. Slowly more people were added, Jewish and gentile, who like me had not provided the money demanded of them.
The first two days passed without incident. I felt easy enough, thanks to the ties I had with some of the soldiers who were guarding us. On the third day, I and one of the soldiers stood in a nearby room looking out of the window into the yard. A soldier that was standing in the yard, picked up his gun for fun and pointed it at us. Suddenly a shot rang out and the soldier who had been standing next to me, fell to the ground, dead.
Such incidents in those days did not cause any great reaction especially if it was the result of an accident and not intentional. Nobody investigated the accident and nobody took an interest in it. I, however, who had been a witness to that tragic event, could not calm myself and in my heart, vowed to bring this matter to the authorities. First of all, however, I had to be freed. I sent a note to my friend who had arrested me, asking that he summon me to one of the CHEKA sessions. I was summoned. At the session, I declared that I have no money but that I would commit myself to provide them with 3 tons of tobacco. They accepted my offer and set me free. At home I described the incident of the soldier's death and my intention to bring it up with the authorities. My family became very frightened and made me swear not to do this:Enough that you were in danger for your life and came out safely! Instead of looking for justice from the Bolsheviks, better that you should recite the 'Goiml' prayer. (for escaping peril).
The next day, all the prisoners were sent out for forced labour: some to clean streets, some to repair damaged houses, some for field work. Each had to work a determined number of days to pay back the amount of contributions they had neglected to hand over. Forced labour was handed out to those that the Bolsheviks considered soft.The physically unfit and the middle aged were not spared from this.
I remember one episode of forced labour that made me especially sad. Chaim Finkelstein, the director of the huge warehouse Loffers was a very fine and upstanding person in Dubossar society. He was a learned man, a Zionist and a philanthropist. He showed respect to each and every person to all of his workers, Jews and gentiles. One day, as I passed by the Gypsy street, I came upon a group of Jews who were cleaning the street while soldiers tood guard over them. To my great astonishment, I saw Chaim Finkelstein among them. I went up to the oldest of the soldiers and told him who Finkelstein was. His answer was a laconic: He is a bourgeois, a bloodsucker.
I went to my friend in the CHEKA and begged him to do something. He deplored the treatment that Finkelstein was subjected to but he did not want to mix in. In truth, he disliked everything that was happening around him but he believed it was all temporary and that soon the situation would improve. We have to be patient, he would tell me, until this transition period is over. Not long after, he paid dearly for his belief in the new regime.
My friend came from a prestigious family. He was a fervent Communist but not a renegade. One day, he and other party members were invited to a Party purge. The custom at these purges was for each member to relate biographical details of his personal past history up to the time of his membership in the Communist Party and also to describe present activities as a Party member. In addition, the Party members were obliged to answer all questions put to them by the others. At that purge, my friend stumbled when he was asked if he goes to synagogue. In his honesty, he admitted that he attends synagogue two times a year on Yom Kippur and on the anniversary of his father's death in order to fulfill his father's will. For that 'sin' he was expelled from the Communist Party.
In the transition period which
stretched out over a long period of time, the highest positions in the local
government were held by ignorant and coarse individuals who during the
Revolution had clawed their way to the top. I remember one such person who was
sent to us as the local Military Chief. On a certain day, some unknown person
killed a CHEKA agent. The authorities declared the day of his funeral a day
of sorrow and prepared a funeral fit for royalty which included a burrial in
the City Garden. Among the people delivering eulogies was the aforementioned
Military Chief. When it was his turn to speak, there was at first a moment of
absolute silence as a sign of honour for the man who had held a very important
position. Then the Chief approached the grave and said: Be well, dear
friend. Sleep peacefully. It was no easy task to control oneself from
bursting out in laughter.
Days of Hunger
Under the pretense that there could be no emergency food or produce near the border, the authorities confiscated all the area's food, crops and produce and sent them to Central Russia. After a short period, the entire region experienced a shortage of food and produce. The little that people had been able to hide was soon grabbed away by the many raids and searches of the authorities. In order to frighten the population, many who were discovered hiding food were sentenced to death.
One of the tricks that the officials used in acquiring staples, especially packaged tobacco, was the official 'purchase'. A delegation would arrive from Central Office issuing an order that whoever was in possession of tobacco was obliged to sell it to the government who would pay them with material. Needless to say, whoever possibly could, did his utmost to hide at least a portion of his tobacco. Unfortunately, the raids and searches were very thorough and whoever was caught with hidden tobacco was severely punished. Even the peasants could not avoid the regime's long arm. They bought from the peasants all that they possessed: wine, barley, dried fruit, horses, pigs,etc. They were given promisory notes indicating that they would soon be paid. These expropriations caused great bitterness. The severe punishments did not deter hoarding, however, and the black market flourished. Many paid with their lives for these economic sins and those that were not caught, lived in constant fear.
When even the emergency food and products were emptied out, the Jews, whose main occupations were trade and crafts, were left totally without the means to make a living. The peasants did not plough and did not plant because in any case their produce would fall into the hands of the confiscators. Soon, hunger began to rage among the population. Divine Providence, however, did not forsake Dubossar and help came from an unexpected source. At that time, there would appear in our town, guests from foreign places whose aim it was to reach the Dniester River. Not the river per se, but rather as a means of reaching the other side to Bessarabia which was in Roumania. Soon these foreigners became a source of income for some of the locals. Thanks to them, a new industry was born - stealing across the border. The first to latch on to this opportunity were the men of the underworld, quickly followed by other residents, not excluding high government officials.
The good news that one could cross the Dniester via Dubossar spread as swiftly as on wings and from far-off distances, masses of people streamed into Dubossar as this could no longer be kept secret. On certain days, the police showed up in force, gathered up all the foreign people they found in Dubossar and sent them back to wherever they came from. Those who had jewellery were arrested. Still it was difficult to maintain all the throngs of people who were seeking to rid themselves of the Soviet 'Paradise'. In spite of all the danger and the casualties suffered by those who were caught, the flow of refugees did not abate. Each had only one goal: to cross the Dniester at any price.
In the meantime the Soviet Regime consolidated its power and in town, various institutions were created - economic, military and political. The Central Command sent trusted individuals, faithful Bolsheviks to direct these institutions. A miracle would happen and most of the directors of these high institutions would suddenly disappear. As soon as one of these important people escaped, another would immediately take his place and usually this devoted person would soon follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.
Up until the Revolution, our family owned a large business specializing in milk products. When the terrible events broke out, the business closed down. When the Soviets occupied the town, they registered every past business and among them, ours. They decided to re-open our business and appointed me as foreman. A couple of days later, they sent down two officials (both Jews) from Odessa one as director and the other as his assistant. The two spent the next few days wandering around the yard, planning how to expand the enterprise. They planned for so long until they both disappeared as if the river had swallowed them both up. Two others were sent to replace them and they also followed the same pattern.
The CHEKA imposed terrible punishments on anyone who attempted to escape and people were frightened to death of them. Nevertheless the numbers of people who disappeared increased from day to day. The numbers managing to steal over the border reached astronomical proportions. High ranking Communists would often explain that the officials who had disappeared had actually been re-located to other posts but nobody believed them. It was an open secret what was really going on.
At the head of CHEKA in Dubossar, was a young man from Odessa Kaminsky. He chose an assistant from the local men Yuvika Gurevitch. Under their leadership, the CHEKA in our town reached new heights of cruelty. When Kaminsky was seen in the street, people imemdiately made themselves scarce in order not to cross paths with him. I, however, as a faithful Soviet labourer was not afraid of him. One evening, he and his assistant showed up in our yard. I invited them into the house and served them tea. All of a sudden a few fellows wearing CHEKA hats, showed up and invited my guests to accompany them. Kaminsky and Gurevitch parted with me in a friendly manner saying that they hoped to meet again soon. A couple of days later, we found out that these faithful Bolsheviks managed to get to Kishinev where they were arrested. Until today, I have no idea what happened to them.
Thanks to our proximity to the Dniester River, we were often privileged to see famous Cantors and entertainers among them the renowned Cantor David Roitman zl. They came to perform for the people of Dubossar but another reason was because we were close to the border. One day we received the wonderful news that the Moscow State Theatre was arriving to perform in Dubossar. On the first night, the troupe performed Andreyev's The Days of Our Lives and the hall was overflowing. Before the curtain was raised, an official of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, with great passion told the audience that this government of the Workers and Peasants was providing the opportunity for those who toil and are unable to come to Moscow, to see, in this their own town, the great Moscow Theatre. He greeted the actors and wished them a good beginning in their mission to bring pleasure to the labouring masses in far flung corners. On the second night, they performed the piece: Sylva and after the show, instead of going to the hotel, the artists quietly crept away to the Dniester River to cross over to the bourgeois side.
The hunger increased from day to day. The black market flourished although there was practically nothing to buy or sell. Thin pieces of bread went for fantastic prices. The main dish was a porridge of corn-meal flour called zhandre. This dish was made of corn- meal flour, mixed with water and cooked without salt or sugar. At that time, salt was three times as expensive as sugar and very few could afford this. It wasn't long before even the wealthy were going hungry. These newly poor went from door to door not to beg for charity, but rather for a few spoonfulls of warm zhandre just to keep the soul alive. Soon these unfortunates numbered in the hundreds every day. In spite of the fact that we lived outside of the town and it was not easy to make their way to us, our door was never shut to them as so many made their way to us. There were times when we did not look them in the face as we did not wish to shame them.
One misfortune brought another. There was another new food oil cakes. This was the offal and left over oil that was used for feed for the animals. When the hunger was overwhelming, this was often the only food in some homes. This product caused stomach typhyus and whoever became ill from it, did not recover.
The greatest hardship was in the winter of 1921-22. All the work animals cows, sheep, chickens were either eaten or died of hunger. In order not to have to witness the sujffering of the horses, the farmers would drive them away to far off fields. There was also a shortage of heating materials and people fell like flies from hunger and the cold. Every day, scores of people died in Dubossar. The militia would gather together the corpses and would mobilize the 'supposed' healthy ones to transport them for burial.
One evening, my father sent me to fetch two pounds of corn-meal flour in order to cook a zhandre for the needy who came to our door. On the main street I saw a little girl, ten years old, who was leading her father. I was a few feet ahead of them when I heard the screams of the little girl. I turned around to see what had happened and saw that her father was slowly sinking down to the ground. The little girl tried to pick him up but it was useless. At home, I told them about the incident and I ate myself up because I had not gone to help the man. My parents tried to comfort me by saying that in any case I could not have helped him.
At home, father gave the strictest attention to the distribution of our food so that we would not be overcome with hunger. If not for father's strict control we would not have lived through those bitter times. In the morning, each of us would receive a thin piece of bread and two dried prunes for our tea as a substitute for sugar. My younger brother, Joseph, who later disappeared without a trace in the Siberian tundras, would hide his portion of bread from morning until the afternoon in order to eat two slices at once and thus to quiet somewhat his pangs of hunger. For lunch, we had a cooked prune soup and zhandre. We actually did not lack for wood as near our house was a large orchard and vineyard. We would uproot the trees and have wood for the overn. Compared to others were were among the fortunate ones.
Many of those who wandered
toward the North in their search for food, perished on the way. This also was
the fate of our good neighbour, the gentile Ivan Mazor. One day he told us
that he had decided to go to Mogiliov in the Poldolsk region, 200
kilometers away where he hoped to find some feed for his horses that he was
trying so hard to save. He offered to bring something back for us. My
father,zl. was happy with the thought of enlarging our food supplies and gave
him a big, fur coat to trade. On his way there, one horse died and on the way
back, his second horse and then he himself, perished. Jews and Gentiles risked
their very lives to cross over the border to bring back a loaf or two of bread.
Finally in 1922, the Soviet regime allowed in food from America via JOINT
(Jewish relief organization). Large quantitites of food packages began to
appear and our people were saved from a certain death from hunger.
Perilous Escape Attempts
The woes in escaping from Soviet Russia did not begin nor did they end on the night that one crossed over the Dniester. In truth, the plan began with the thought to leave Russia and ended with leaving Roumania as well unless the fugitive intended to settle in Bessarabia.
In the winter of 1921 I disclosed to my parents, wife and active friends of the Zionist organization in Dubossar, my secret plan of making my way to Eretz Yisroel. Visoky at that time was already on the other side of the border and the dentist Misha Diner was one of the prominent activists in town. I began to liquidate everything that I could possibly sell in order to raise money for the journey. I kept only the most necessary belongings for me, my wife and three month old child to take on the journey and on a Friday we left for Yagorlik in a wagon. We went to the home of Raphael Rampel (who was murdered only a couple of months later by the CHEKA), as had been planned earlier. We put down our belongings and went to visit my relative Shmuel Pochis, David Pochis' brother from Ein Ganim. During our evening meal, Leah Reznick (she now lives in Eretz Yisroel) came in to warn us that men from CHEKA had burst into Rampel's house and we had to disappear. Rampel was arrested and we hid for 3 weeks at the home of a man called Alter. When Rampel was freed he came to us and told us that for now, we must return to Dubossar. I decided that I alone would return. On the way back, I found out that two Jewish families were murdered in their attempt to cross the Dniester Jacob Pilchokov's daughters and their husbands, Bershodsky and Jacob Grossman. Only one boy of ten years survived.
This terrible tragedy had a great impact in town and some of my family members vehemently opposed my plan to cross the border. The situation in Russia, however, was worsening from day to day and gradually the horror of what had happened to the Grossmans and Bershadskys faded away. Rampel was arrested a second time and they transferred him to the central CHEKA headquarters. In spite of the terrible danger that accompanied crossing the border, my resolve to leave Russia became stronger each day. I made arrangements with a Moldavian gentile who was known as an honest and trustworthy smuggler to deliver me, my family, my cousin Mayer Rash with his younger sister (now living in Rishon L'Tzion) and their little brother.
One day, the smuggler came to me and asked if we were ready to cross the border that night. I was not prepared and requested that he postpone the event for another night. My cousin and his group refused to consider postponement and they left with him that same night. To their great misfortune, somebody informed on them to the CHEKA and they sent out agents to intercept the attempt. When the boat was a short distance from shore, the agents began to shoot at them and they were forced to return. All in the boat were arrested except for the smuggler who managed to escape by swimming over to the other shore.
The CHEKA agents were disappointed when they did not find me among the arrested. This alerted me to the fact that CHEKA was spying on me and I had to be more careful. During the day I ran away to Groselova, 50 kilometers from Dubossar. A week later, I secretly came back and my neighbour, who worked for the CHEKA told me that my references were not good and he advised me that the sooner I crossed the border, the better. He offered to take me himself. We decided on a night that he had to cross the border anyway in order to bring back military documents. A few other people were included in the operation and when it became dark, we made our way to a hill where we spread out on the ground to await the boat.
From the other side of the Dniester on the Bessarabian shore, we could see the town Golkarni. We could see the lights from houses and from far off, we could hear the songs of the local young peasant men and women. In the silence of the night, we could make out the conversations of the townspeople as well as the barking of dogs and mooing of the cows. On our side, not far from the hill where we were waiting was the town of Kutchiyer where I had grown up until my ninth birthday. The town was enveloped in silence. There was no barking from a dog, no neighing from a horse, no mooing from a cow. A melancholy sorrow hung over the town. The distance between the two towns was a mere 200-300 meters, yet these were two totally different worlds. With great longing, the heart yearned for the other side the well lit side and great was the desire to reach that shore.
The boat didn't come and we all went home with our belongings. The border crossing attempt was postponed for a few days. Finally, on the specified day, another person joined our group - Moishe Tchaplik, the oldest son of the famous Chaim Isser. This time we were sure we would succeed because Eliezer, Tchapnik's son, was with the CHEKA and he was standing guard for us. As soon as it was dark, our whole caravan gathered at the border. The smuggler told me that twenty people were waiting to cross the river but the boat had room for only five. However, he said, I would be the first one on. When I was already sitting in the boat, Moishe Tchaplik came over to me and ordered me out of the boat. The reason was that he, his wife and daughter as well as a couple of brothers must be the first ones into the boat. Because of his great prestige (namely, his son from CHEKA) I understood that there was no room for discussion and I disembarked.
Hardly five minutes passed when we heard a suspicious noise and then stifled screams. The boat turned over and everyone in the boat was pitched into the river. Those of us who were standing on shore, disappeared immediately so as not to fall into the hands of the border police. I ran breathlessly not even aware of where my feet were taking me. The night was so dark, I couldn't figure out where I was. With the onset of dawn, I recognized the path that leads to our town. Dead tired, I dragged myself to the home of a relative and knocked on the door. Frightened, they opened the door and took me in. In response to their questions as to why I was out at this hour, I burst into tears and for a while was unable to utter a word.
That morning, it was told in town that Moishe Tchaplik and his little girl drowned in the river. When Moishe's son, Eliezer the CHEKIST, heard this he went to Yosef Wargon (the contrabandchiks said that he was the owner of the boat), dragged him out of the house as he was eating his breakfast, pulled out a revolver and shot him several times. Then he went to my parents and told them to find me, promising them that no harm would befall me.
As the wave of people trying to cross the border increased, the greater the vigilance of the CHEKA. In order to put the CHEKA off my track, I spread the rumour that I was already on the other side of the Dniester River in Bessarabia. Once again I tried my luck. This time, my brother-in-law accompanied me a boy of twelve years. Through circuitous routes, we made our way to the village Goyani that borders the town of Yagorlik where I had realtives. We visited one uncle, then another uncle but nobody offered us a morsel of food. I did not request anything because I understood that if they did not invite us to the table, it was because there was nothing in the house. In the end, we went to Shmuel Pachis. He was the most well to do in our family. There I waited for a messenger who was supposed to bring me money from home. At two in the afternoon he arrived and told me that tonight the smuggler would be waiting for us in the town of Koshnitzy. Everything was ready. However Koshnitzy was 30 kilometers from Yagorlik. How would we get there without horse and wagon? There wasn't too much time left to think. I took off my boots and heavy coat and in spite of the bitter frost, I started on my way in my thick socks. It was my luck that a strong wind was blowing and I was sure that in this weather the patrol guards would not be found on the roads.
I was already two and a half hours on my way and I had at least another hour to go. I pushed myself to get past the crossroads of Dubossar/Grigoriopol/Kishnitza before sundown as robbers had recently killed seven Jews in that area. At that time I saw the murdered victims and this terrible picture was very much on my mind. The closer I got to this tragic place, the more vivid was my recollection of this horror. As much as I tried to force it out of my mind, the scene remained before my eyes. I became very fearful. Soon I felt that someone was getting closer and closer and I was certain that it was one of the patrol guards. Avoiding him was already impossible. The man came right up to me and asked me my name. He took me by the hand and led me on. It turned out that he was one of the smugglers and had been on the lookout for me.
After an hour and a half, we arrived at the river. My guide told me to lie own between the shrubs and not to fall asleep in case one of the guards would discover me. he went off to find the other smugglers. I was so tired that I could not overcome my fatigue and did doze off. When I woke up with a start, someone closed my mouth. it was the same man from before. he told me that the smugglers hadn't arrived. I was to go home with him and spend the night there. In his home, he took me up to the attic and brought me a blanket to cover up with but he gave me no food. The next day, he woke me up and informed me that I had to leave the house as he was under surveilance. I was to return at night. From afar, he pointed out a Jewish home. I went quickly to the house and sat down on the doorstep. The owner opened the door and asked me what I wanted. I told him that I had to wait there until nightfall. He ushered me into the house and directed me to the stove, saying:please crawl up on top and lie there quietly. He then went off to town to take care of his affairs.
It was a Friday. His wife woke up and started to prepare Shabbes dishes. The delicious aroma of the cooking taunted me and my hunger pains tormented me. She did not offer me any food. When the man returned home, the first thing that he asked her was whether she had offered me any food. Before long, the wife brought me something to eat. As soon as I saw her, I recognized her and called her by name. She was the sister of my friend Zaitchek from Dubossar. When she recognized me, she turned red from embarassment and apologized for not being able to offer better food. I thanked her with my whole heart. That small amount was enough to still my hunger.
When it became dark out, I parted warmly from them and went back to the appointed place. Soon the smugglers also arrived. This time everything went as planned. Crossing the river took no time at all. In one hour I was sitting in the house of a peasant in the Bessarabian village of Onitzkani.
The troubles of a refugee were not over once he reached the other side of the Dniester. In Kishinev, the capital city of Bessarabia, there were 80% of the Jewish refugees from Russia. Many of them decided to remain in Roumania and with money were able to buy Roumanian citizenship. For others though, Roumania was only a transit station. They signed up with the Jewish Committee that had been organized by the Jewish community to assist the refugees. The Committee had lawyers that were connected to the Roumanian authorities and they assisted the refugees with the legal procedures and documentation that was required. By law, each refugee was required to appear before a military court to stand trial for entering Roumania illegally. Many were sentenced to various periods of time in jail while with others, entry was denied and the order was to return to Russia.
After a few months in Roumania, I had my trial and was sentenced to three months in jail. Fate had it that the day before my trial, my family my wife, may she rest in peace, my one year old son and my ten year old brother arrived in Roumania. They did not sign up with the committee but rather waited until I was released from jail. After my three months in jail, I was brought before the judicial enquiry where the verdict was that I must return to my place of origin. In the meantime, I had to return to jail. The Refugee Committee handed over my case to a well known Roumanian lawyer and after energetic interventions on my behalf as well as guarantees from Rabbi Tzirelson, Dr. Bernstein-Cohen and Madam Babitch, I was set free on condition that I must leave within the month and emigrate to Eretz Yisrael.
Now we had to find a solution for my family who were not even listed with the Committee. The lawyer Dr. Landau was the liason between the Refugee Committee and the authorities. I asked him what to do. He did not ponder it too long and said: Come with me to the police station. We came to a room with many closets stacked high with files. There was one official in the room and Dr. Landau requested to see my file. There it stated clearly that I had been sentenced to three months in jail for illegal entry into Roumania; that I had then served an additional period of time in jail and was obligated to leave Roumania within one month to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. In the meantime, the official left the room and Dr. Landau took the file and next to my name, added the names of my family. The official came back and Dr. landau handed him my file. We parted from the official and left the building.
Outside, Dr. Landau told me that the whole transaction had cost 20 Lai (a shilling according to money values at that time). I just could not believe my ears. A few days later when I received an appointment to pick up my travel documents, I was convinced that Roumania was A Golden Land with unlimited opportunities.
The years 1920-1922 mark a tragic chapter in the history of Dubossar under the Soviet regime. The hopes for salvation that were in the very atmosphere during the years of 1917-20 were now gone. Persecution by the CHEKA, requisitions, contributions, hunger, need and the formidable efforts to escape from the Soviet Paradise created a chain of pain and suffering.
My escape from Russia, in spite of all the tribulations and failures that I had to overcome, finally had a good ending. Many refugees, however, did not even live to cross to the other shore. Many were killed in the boats; many drowned before reaching the other side; many were robbed and then murdered even when they reached the longed for shore and many were sent back by the border guards or the Romanian officials. Many found their deaths in the waters of the Dniester and no-one ever found out what had happened to them.
May these words serve as a monument and in memory of the thousands who perished the men, the women and the children those whose names are known to us and those who are anonymous - who in their struggle to free themselves from the Soviet Paradise died during this stormy, raging period be it from hunger, epidemics, the sword or the depths of the River Dniester.
May their memory be honoured.
by Harry Scheer (New York)
Translated by Sarah Faerman
In the years 1901-2, for the first time, immigrants from Dubossar who were living in New York got together and laid the foundation for our own Landsmanshaft (fellow townspeople organization). The loneliness and isolation that each immigrant feels in a strange land makes him cling to other immigrants, his fellow townspeople who share with him many memories, a similar childhood and similar customs. Thus, there sprang forth on American shores, dozens of Landsmanshaften of Jews from Eastern Europe and this was also the motivating factor in establishing our own association.
At the end of 1918, when Moshe Feldman returned from his military service with the Jewish Legion, the organization embarked on several endeavours in aid of the Jews remaining in Dubossar who, although impoverished during World War 1, became totally destitute after the Bolshevik Revolution. Throughout all of the years, the spirit and strength behind these efforts of our Society was Moshe Feldman who poured his heart and soul into this work.
Moshe Feldman belongs to that class of people, who, from an inner sense of duty, take it upon themselves to be the shepherd of a community and to respond to its needs. Nor did he hesitate to call upon those who had been spared from the bitter fate of annihilation, to help in the name of those unfortunate ones who had been the victims of bestiality at the hands of the evil ones. He was molded of the very clay that providence itself assigned to him so that with his restless soul and fiery words, he would accomplish the feat of creating a memorial for the Martyrs, saying Kaddish (prayer for the dead) for them and providing a record for the coming generations. He was one of the few that is summoned by destiny and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora there have been too many occasions to be the mourner of the destroyed communities.
He traveled throughout America and with Diogenes' lantern searched out the names of the forgotten the living and the dead who were still in Dubossar as well as in the countries where fate brought them. Moshe Feldman never married. Who knows? Perhaps he left his dreams of a family behind in his hometown and brought only his bachelorhood, his solitude, to this strange new land, where, in spite of the dozens of years that he lived here, he was unable to lay down roots in America. He even preserved a certain Dubossar manner and style and did not seem capable of fitting into the day to day, grey, practical American way of life. He always lived in the world of the Dubossar past until he became the founder and inspiration behind the Dubossar Society's Emergency Relief Committee to provide for the Dubossar survivors. This campaign, into which he poured his very soul, assuaged, in part, his solitary, lonely life.
In our generation, Moshe Feldman was the most knowledgeable about Dubossar. He would recall the charm of the Dubossar landscape, the pristine surroundings not yet developed, the streets and alleys, the naive, simple small-town way of life, the quarrels and the peacemaking, the struggles to make a living, the Jews in the market place, the storekeepers and tradesmen, the rich merchants and the paupers. All these were his spiritual world, and like a veil, it obscured the American landscape and the human practical necessities. The American Hoo Ha was foreign to him; the notion to make a living or time is money didn't govern him. He lived outside of this time and place. Physically, he lived in America spiritually, in Dubossar. Even when he fought in the Jewish legion for the kingdom of Israel, he did not cease to be a citizen of Dubossar and so until the very last day of his life.
And, because he always listened to the voice of Dubossar in him, he carried with him an alert conscience and a sorrow for the people of Dubossar. That is why he went from door to door for years on end, urging always that we do something for our landleit from Dubossar
The war ended. The Holocaust was revealed in its full extent of atrocities
seven ciphers: six million buried alive, shot, gassed and burned.
From the ashes of hundreds of towns and villages came the shrieks of the
never ending Jewish catastrophe. The remnants, the survivors scattered in
every direction, wandering and clamoring for help.
One fine day, Moshe came to this author and to the Levines. Distressed and sorrowful, he expressed his complaints: Why are we silent? We must immediately form a relief committee of the Dubossarers in America to address the needs of those that are still alive our Dubossar brothers who are spread out in Russia and in other countries.
We did not have the addresses of all the Dubossarers, but trust Moshe Feldman's sixth sense to locate Dubossarers miles away. He gathered them like individual stalks and they began to gather around him, responding to this holy debt.
The Dubossar Landsleit in America responded warmly. Not only we, the old activists, but now new recruits added their strength and threw themselves into the work. I would like to give special honour to the young lawyer, Abraham Shimon Sobel who came as a child to America with his parents. Here he grew up and became a licensed lawyer. This Abe Sobel threw himself into the campaign with a youthful energy and expanded it to cover Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities as well as making the connection with Dubossarers in Argentina. Thanks to him and the other Landsleit, by 1949 the committee had sent 5,000 parcels of food and clothing to the Dubossar needy in Russia, Poland, Romania, Germany, France and Israel.
The New York Emergency Relief Committee was in contact with approximately 150 families of the 200 that had been evacuated to the Asian part of Russia. From this contact, we slowly accumulated information about the tragic fate of our relatives and fellow townspeople of Dubossar.
As a result of the knowledge accumulated by the Dubossar Emergency Relief Committee, a souvenir journal was produced in 1950. This was mainly due to the efforts of Moshe Feldman, Abie and Rose Sobel as well as the author of these lines who served as chairman of this journal.
One of the most important projects of the American Dubossar Society was the planting of 18,500 trees in the Jewish National Fund's Martyr's Forest in the Jerusalem Hills to commemorate the 18,500 Jewish inhabitants of Dubossar who were mercilessly slaughtered. (I must mention here that the Philadelphia branch was very active in the planting of the first 10,000 trees). To our great sorrow, Abraham Sobel who had devoted himself totally to this undertaking, suddenly, at the young age of 48, had a heart attack and died. To this day, 8,500 souls wait for trees to be planted in their memory in Israel's earth.
On his way to my factory over a period of weeks and months, Moshe Feldman developed the idea of a Yizkor Book that would reflect the multi-faceted, colourful life of Jewish Dubossar over the generations; where the dreams of the youth as well as the wisdom of the old could be passed on to the coming generations who would learn about the life of this Jewish community in South Russia by the Dniester River. The book would portray the week days, the Sabbaths, the holidays, the unique and the general; the old and the young; prominent people and ordinary ones; the camaraderie and the hominess.
Night and day we dreamt the Yizkor Dream not noticing in the meantime how days, weeks and years sped by. The ranks of Dubossarers was thinning out. Just yesterday, the young became old and today they wish to live peacefully in their old age, in their own quiet corner .
And suddenly, in the year 1961, Moshe Feldman became seriously ill. He took to his bed and there he remained. From his sickbed he once again developed his dream of the Yizkor Book. Unfortunately, he did not live to see it published.
I accompanied my dear friend, Moshe Feldman, to his burial and felt myself dreadfully orphaned. I did not become discouraged however. Right after his death, I realized that the great responsibility for the book now rested on my shoulders. Luckily, the Dubossar Landsleit in Israel took on the task of gathering material and organizing the book.
The Yizkor Book where these very lines appear along with the other writings from America, is a fact a memorial for a Jewish community that lived, that created, that dreamed, that was joyous, that battled and tragically was decimated along with hundreds of other Jewish communities by the evil butcher who raised his murderous hand against them.
There was a Jewish community in Dubossar and it is no more. May this book be a memorial for Dubossar.
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