Table of Contents

[Pages 335-346]

The Terrible Bloody Kalarasher Pogrom

by Yaakov Chiplester

(Originally published in ROM-SIG news, Vol6, #2, Winter 1997-98.)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Yaakov Chiplester, a citizen of our town, describes in this pamphlet, that was published[1] after the events, a horrifying eyewitness account of the pogrom.

By a wonderful chance, we managed to get hold of this pamphlet, as a 'brand plucked from the fire.'[2]

Signs of Impending Trouble

The youth of Kalarash, as in the rest of the towns of Russia, went out to celebrate on October 17, 1905, the day the proclamation of the Czar was publicized. On that morning, about 50 youths gathered in the Market Road, near the city library, and from there they flowed to the streets of the town. They asked the workers of the town and the apprentices to stop their work and to participate in the celebration of the event.

Immediately, all the workers of the place joined them, and went outside with great joy. In many places the crowd gathered, and speeches were heard which ended with shouts of “Hurrah.” Many of the apprentices and the workers, who had up to now not participated in this movement, were compelled to participate, and they came to the town hall. There the gathering stopped and there were further speeches and trumpet blasts. All the employees of the town hall went out to the street, and gave their blessings to the gathering. This, of course, gave support to the throng, and with greater strength and joy they continued to celebrate the great day. They had not yet waved flags nor sung songs, but when they left the town hall, and went toward the market, where most of the residents were gentile, the joy and enthusiasm increased. A red flag was waved, and they began singing. On that day, by chance, there were many farmers in the city, that lingered after these events, but no signs of hatred were yet seen.

Suddenly, several Christians, members of the intelligentsia, and followers of the anti-Semite Krushevan[3], joined the festive crowd, lingered by the gathering, and began to chastise the older people. They complained that it was not proper to permit the younger people to incite the farmers, but at the same time, they themselves began to incite the farmers against the Jews. Many Jews who left the town on that day attempted to hide from the farmers, who tormented them as they returned to the town. The Jewish elders immediately realized that something was going to happen, but the youths mocked them, and made light of their concerns. They believed that from now and forever people would live in peace, tranquility, and plenty, and the sun would always shine its rays equally upon everybody.

To our great distress, we immediately realized the great error. At 4 P.M., when the gathering was still in the street and our own youth were still participating in the speeches and there were still heard shouts of “Hurrah,” a black cloud descended and enveloped our town. A deathly fear fell upon everyone. The train that had arrived from Kishinev brought with it the terrible news that a pogrom against the Jews had started. About 20 youths went to the train station, and headed toward Kishinev to try to help their brethren. The next day, on October 20, many Jews arrived from Kishinev with their wives and children and they had horrible stories to tell. Our brethren, the Jews of Kalarash, became preoccupied with tending to the arrivals from Kishinev, and they forgot to concern themselves with their own problems.

On Shabbat, October 22[4], the news spread in our town that the next day the events of Kishinev would take place in Kalarash. Our people began to discuss how to protect our city from the pogrom. To our great dismay, we began to worry about this too late. All day we talked, but could not reach any agreement. The older residents and the rich people believed that bribing the organizers with money would help. The youths began to organize defense units. To our dismay, they were delayed in their actions, and could not accomplish much. They did not even have enough time to organize properly and to obtain the necessary weapons for civil defense. The defense therefore had to face the wild murderers with empty hands, but had it not been for the civil defense there would not have been a memory of our town left.

The Day Awash in Blood

On Sunday October 23 in the early morning hours, many farmers from the neighboring towns came to the town fair. The crowd was calm and peaceful, as on any fair day. The business between the Jews and the farmers in the market took place as it did on any other day. The store owners remained in their stores and sold their merchandise as usual. Everyone was busy with their business, the weather was ironically perfect, and the sun shone as on a bright summer's day. Everyone was active and glad, and the town was engaged in its usual business.

Suddenly, at around 10 A.M., the time that the train from Kishinev arrives, a band of hooligans appeared in the market, having made its way from the train station. Several of the civil defense participants that were in the train station had immediately recognized in the band many of the hooligans who were already infamous from Kishinev. The youths hurried into the town, and gathered the rest of the civil defense, and began to prepare for the battle. There was no police force in the town, because the mayor had left the town the preceding Friday.

The band of hooligans began the pogrom. First, they gathered by the stand of a Jewess who was a bread saleswoman, and one non-Jew grabbed a loaf of bread without paying. The Jews nearby realized immediately that this was a pretense, so they scattered into the entire town and called the residents to lock their stores and to be prepared. But before the first three stores succeeded in closing, the tumult had begun in earnest. Already there was the sound of explosions and broken glass, and the victorious voices of the hooligans could be heard. The pogrom had begun.

All the farmers, together with their wives and children, began to escape, along with the Jews, with weeping and shrieking. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the town had emptied of the fanners. They scattered, and lingered by the entrances of the town to see what would happen. The band of hooligans was in the heart of the market, and one of them made a speech which ended with “kill the Jews.” The band fell like wild wolves on the town and began to destroy the houses and shops of the Jews. In a short time, some non-Jewish workers and officials came to the aid of the Jews, and the civil defense chased out the hooligans, who were forced to the edge of the town, near the town hall.

There the hooligans took a stand between the town hall and the church. For about two full hours, the few Jewish youths fought valiantly against the hooligans near the town hall, but to their dismay the band of hooligans grew, and they were armed with hunting rifles. The number of rifles increased until there were 40. A barrage of fire rained down on the heads of the Jewish youths, who were forced to retreat when some of them became wounded. About six or seven men, armed with pistols, remained to fight with the murderers, but finally even they faltered, and then the hooligans began to viciously fall on the town with no one to stop them. The farmers who had just a short while ago fled from the place in panic and bitter weeping began to return, egged on by the hooligans. Within the next two hours they pillaged the entire city, including its shops, storehouses, and houses. After that they ignited everything with fire. Whoever stood in their way, in the streets or in the homes, was murdered. Whoever succeeded in saving himself from the fire was killed by gunshot. It was impossible to save anything. Some were killed with blows from axes. They showed no mercy on the elderly, the women, or the children, and those who hid in the attics or basements were burned alive. A few Jews, including women and children, who had fled across town in order to take refuge at the bogs near the river were murdered after terrible torture.

One woman was struck in her head with a crowbar and fell immediately in a pool of blood. The murderers thought she was dead and abandoned her. Thus she remained, lying face down as if she was dead, and she managed to save her life. Many farmers passed her by, and searched her pockets, taking her for dead. Still alive, she witnessed horrific events. Numerous Jews were murdered before her eyes, among them her uncle and his wife. The murderers raped a young, pretty woman, and afterwards gouged out her eyes and left her bare naked. The next day she was taken to Kishinev, where she died. One mother with her three children arrived at the bogs, where they sank in the deep mud and remained for two days without food and water. On the third day a farmer brought them to his town, in exchange for two rubles. Their feet were frozen from the cold, and they had to cut the shoes off their feet.

One Jew by the name of Chaim Brand escaped to a village and asked for refuge from a farmer who had been a friend of his, but the farmer acted as though he didn't know him, and chased him from his yard. The Jew pleaded, and gave him all his money. The farmer took all his money, about 3,000 rubles, and then slit his belly with a knife. To our misfortune there was in every yard, as there always was in the autumn, many barrels of wine, and the farmers and the hooligans got drunk on the best of wine. Afterward, they broke the bottoms of the barrels, and the wine spilled out and wet all the streets. As can be understood, the drunkenness caused the most horrific of incidents. Near the general store, where there was a large reservoir full of gasoline, a gang of wild drunkards gathered who pillaged everything, and afterward emptied the reservoir of gasoline onto the store and ignited it. They drew the gasoline from the reservoir with pails, and continued to pour it on the fire, accompanying their activities with wild shouts. It is impossible to describe the frightful flames of fire that engulfed everything. More than 300 kilograms of oil were poured out. Suddenly, they saw a woman and a girl of 16 or 17. They were grabbed by the wild drunkards and dragged to the large conflagration. The gang surrounded them in a circle. One took out a harmonica and began to play “Kaztchok.” The wild gang insisted with laughter that the two poor women should dance the “Kaztchok.” The women were forced to comply with the request of the gang. For upwards of four hours they danced in the mud, and the wild ones accompanied them with clapping of hands, until the two fell to the ground from exhaustion. They were then taken by their arms and legs by the hooligans, shaken to and fro accompanied by shouts of “odio odio” and tossed into the fire.

Another band of hooligans and farmers broke into the large synagogue. Among them were several of the town's ruffians who were familiar with the order of services of the synagogue. Among them was the Shabbas goy, who used to wait for the conclusion of the services on Shabbat and the High Holidays to put out the lights. He stood by the chazzan 's bima, wrapped himself in the chazzan 's chazzan 's tallit, and with the melody of a chazzan began to recite “atta hareita”[5] and then went to the holy ark, removed the Torahs and called out the names of all the Jews, as he was accustomed to hearing on Simchat Torah when they removed the Torah scrolls from the ark, that they should be honored with carrying the Torah scrolls, and thus did he divide up all the Torah scrolls among the hooligans and farmers. Afterwards he arranged “hakafos“[6], and they danced with the Torahs as the Jews were accustomed to doing on Simchat Torah. During the dancing they went out into the streets with the Torahs in their hands, and they tore the scrolls to pieces. They spread parts of the scrolls on the mud, and made pathways. They repeated this activity in the Beit Midrash that was next to the large synagogue. In the two synagogues they tore and desecrated 40 Torahs.

In one courtyard of houses, 18 victims were found, mostly with scorched bodies. On the steps to the courtyard a widow and her granddaughter (13 or 14 years old) bound together some of their silver possessions at the beginning of the pogrom, and began to run through the courtyard looking for a hiding place. Their gentile neighbor recognized them and met them with an axe, and murdered them after stealing their package of silver. After the fires broke out, they tossed them into the flames, still alive at the time. The next day they were found among the embers embracing one another, with signs of the injuries on their bodies.

In that same courtyard lived an elderly couple. The woman was ill, and confined to her sickbed. For the | duration of these events, the man did not leave his wife's sickbed, even though he could have easily saved himself. His pity for his wife, with whom he had lived for more than 50 years, did not permit him to leave her bedside. When the fires broke out they attempted to leave the place. The husband carried his wife on his back and began to run with her toward the train statioa The deep mud impeded his progress. He removed his boots and continued running barefoot. Suddenly several hooligans appeared from behind and struck the elderly woman's head with a crowbar. She fell to the ground and lost consciousness. The murderers took her for dead, and then struck the man and killed him. One Jew was in hiding with his wife and children; when they heard the voice of the hooligans near their hiding place and were not able to silence the cries of their infant, they grabbed his throat to silence him and the child was strangled.

One Jewess and her children found refuge in a storehouse in a courtyard. The fire engulfed the storehouse from all sides, and the Moldavians with their axes did not permit the woman and children to leave the storehouse and they were burnt alive. One Jew, Dov Berkovitz, a rich man, was known throughout Bessarabia as Berel Libes. He was murdered by the Moldavians, who took 7000 rubles out of his pockets and then murdered him with great ferocity. They cut out his tongue and pulled out his teeth and struck him with death blows until they could barely recognize him at the cemetery. Many more such events took place in the outskirts of the city without disturbance. A deathly pall fell on all the Jews of the place who had hidden in attics, basements, etc. Wild gangs, when they saw that there was no one to stop them, took part in deeds that would make the hair stand up on end by hearing about them.

To the luck of the residents of the town, the vice governor with 55 soldiers arrived from Kishinev at 4 P.M. The gangs dispersed and left the town. The Jews thought that the danger had passed, and they slowly began to emerge from their hiding places. One Jew, Abraham Morgenstein, broke out in great joy when he recognized the captain and his soldiers. He approached the captain, kissed his hand, and then sank down and died with the words on his mouth “baruch Hashem.”

But at nightfall the terrible murderous activities resumed. The hooligans and Moldavians broke into the city again, and with further ferocity repeated the activities of the day. They pillaged the buildings and the largest stores and burnt them, among them the Beit Midrash and the large synagogue. The city of Kalarash appeared as one terrible conflagration. A deathly pall fell all around. The Jewish population scattered and hid in various places, but no one was able to save anything, for fear of their lives. Every so often there could be heard the sound of shattering glass, accompanied by shouts of “hurrah” and a deathly pall fell on the Jews. Everyone went to sleep in his hiding place, weeping over their misfortune. Many slept in basements, without knowledge of the happenings outside, and were burnt alive.

The Events of the Second Day

It was Monday, October 24, before dawn, and all was dark and quiet. The sky was beginning to show signs of light. Thick clouds of smoke were hanging in the air, obscuring the surrounding area. Rays of sunlight came through the black dark mountain on occasion. As the day broke, the sun moved, as if to hide behind the thick smoky clouds. It was as if the sun was embarrassed to behold what had happened on earth. The Jews who had hid all night in various places began to come out onto the street. Suddenly they beheld a spectacle which no one on earth could have imagined. It was terrifying to behold such a horrific sight, which can only be compared to the era of the Middle Ages at the times of the Crusades, or in the days of Bogdan Chmielnitzky, Gonota Zoloniak, etc. Three-fourths of the city was destroyed. The smoke and ashes choked one's breath. In most places there were still flames, and people were scurrying in the streets. Their faces were blackened, and nobody could recognize one another.

Heart-wrenching screams could be heard from all sides. Here a person was wounded in the arm, another was wounded in the leg, a third was wounded and bruised all over. Some covered their bodies in children's clothing, and others in women's dresses. Many gathered up rags from the mud. Corpses were strewn in all the streets, as it would have been during a war. There was a man with half his body scorched, and a group was vainly trying to identify him. His son recognized the boots and belongings of his father— and he fell and fainted. Nearby was the body of a woman who had been beaten viciously, and her face was sunk in the mud. They vainly tried to identify her. The same youth who had fainted previously arrived and identified her as his mother. Across the street stood a Jew near a destroyed building. The building was still spewing out smoke, and the embers were still burning. A Jew was standing in the middle of the rubble, gathering into his sack singed bones. He finished his job, tied the bag of bones, and wept bitterly, “My mother and my father, both together!”

Near a second destroyed building people were standing beside the scorched bodies of a woman and a 13 year old girl, who were found among the burnt embers. They were embracing each other as if they were kissing. They identified them: a grandmother and her grand-daughter. The horrifying picture pointed to the moment when they were separated from each other.

In the middle of the street, in the deep mud, a wagon moved along, laden with the corpses of the fallen. Several Jews were following the wagon silently. Several wept tears which fell into the deep mud and mixed with drops of blood that dripped from the bodies on the wagon. “Who is being carried there?” — the shout was heard from among those people who were standing by the rubble of their houses digging through the embers. “We don't know who they are, we cannot identify them.”

Many more such heart-wrenching scenes took place that day. People scurried looking for their houses, and they could not recognize the place of their burnt houses. Jews ran with heavy breath, and each one stopped his friend to ask many questions. Some asked about their father, some about their mother, some about their child, some about their baby. Each was hoping to receive an answer that someone saw their father, mother, child. But it was in vain, the questions remained unanswered. Suddenly there broke out a scream, and heart-wrenching cries that reached unto the heavens. “What is new?” 'The pogrom has begun again —we can hear it from ail sides —they are stealing again!” “Where?” “Near the train station,” they screamed. 'There it has started again.” They ran to get the military guard and hurried to the place of the disaster.

“Hurrah!”—the voice of the hooligans and the farmers, and sounds of breaking windows and glass, voices that were intermingled with the heart-wrenching cries of women and children. The military guard arrived, and the hooligans were busy with their work. A Jewish youth was running among the hooligans, and looking for a hiding place. The hooligans and the farmers were chasing after him, stopping him in his tracks. The army fired shots, and two farmers fell dead, along with the Jewish youth. The rest of the hooligans and the farmers dispersed.

The population was more and more distraught, as everyone thought that their missing friends were dead. Hundreds of people ran to the train station, and there were scenes of joy when one recognized another alive, and hugged and kissed from joy, for everyone had thought that his friend was among the dead. The throng increased. A military commander gave the throng permission to organize in the government distribution office that was near the train station. The throng began to go in that directioa A panic started. Everyone was running in front of the next person in order to ensure space. People were pressed against each other to escape from the cold of the day, and heartwrenching cries of women and children ascended to the heavens. From afar could be seen the train as it was arriving at its stop. Everyone tried to filter into the coaches, but they were impeded. The prestov called the names of the wounded from a list. Sentries appeared, and carried into the coaches many of the wounded. Many feigned injury in order to get a chance to escape. The official train with the wounded left the station.

Afterward a passenger train arrived, and before it came to a halt, men with their wives and children fell onto the coaches, each one grabbing onto the back of the person in front until all the coaches were filled, and some people tried to find places on the roof of the coaches. Lucky was the person who succeeded in getting a place on the train. The train began to move and the crowd escaped to Kishinev.

The Villages Surrounding Kalarash

Immediately after the wild hooligans had finished their vicious acts on the 23rd of the month in the city, the farmers returned to the villages and there they began to “take care” of the Jews. In all the villages surrounding Kalarash, the night of the 23rd and the day of the 24th were most horrific. The farmers began to pillage the property of the Jews and to smite any Jew who could be found in the village. The Jews of the villages who did not know what was happening in another place began to scamper from village to village, thinking that they would find refuge in the other village. To their dismay, they escaped from the skillet into the fire, hi all places they met destructive forces that, without mercy, injured and destroyed the Jews and their property. This was the lot of the Jews in the surrounding villages: Timilotz, Oniscani, Gorodeshti, Izineshti, Shishlan, Pitisheni, Shipoteni, Strashon, Varzeresht, Sadova, Dalna, Shiresht, Varni-shan, and many others.

A Jewish youth was travelling with a farmer on October 23 from Timilotz to the city. On the way they were met by a farmer who had returned from the pogrom. He tossed the Jew off the wagon, freed one of the horses from the wagon, and tied the youth in the place of the horse, and began to whip the youth so that he would run along with the horse. The cries of the youth could be heard from afar. Thus did the farmer torture the youth until he reached his village of Timilotz. We don't know what became of this youth. He disappeared.

In the village of Oniscani, two Jews were murdered and buried in Telenesht. In Gorodeshti, two Jewesses were murdered and buried in Kalarash. A Jew by the name of Nasan Moshe Brechtman was traveling from the village of Vinaturi to the city, and when he passed the village of Pitisheni he was murdered by the farmers. He lay dead for two days in the street of the village, and all the children of the farmers gathered around him and kicked his body as if it were a carcass.

The Jews of the villages began to wander all night with their wives and children, naked and barefoot in the fields and forests, the valleys and hills, until they succeeded in reaching the city, and they stayed in Kalarash. Some returned to their villages, but they remained there with fear and trepidation. In many villages the farmers did not permit the Jews to return to their homes. They were greeted with sticks, and the Jews were forced to flee again to the city.

The Cemetery

For three full days the bodies of the murdered people were carried to the cemetery. Every so often, more corpses were found in basements and among the embers of the rubble. Heart-wrenching scenes took place in the cemetery. In a long row lay the murdered, burnt bodies. Bundles of burnt bones, and around them gathered a large group of men, women and children and the tears flowed like an overflowing well, and the terrified voices and weeping could be heard from all sides. Here a mother recognized her children, there a father his son, here a woman her husband, a sister her brother, a brother his sister, children their father and friends. Many lay slaughtered, torn apart after torture, women whose breasts had been cut off, children who had been strangled and crushed. Suddenly more screams and wails: new corpses were brought from the surrounding villages. Every Jewish heart melted from agony and weeping. Not only were the relatives mourning for their dead, but the entire community wept bitterly. Even a stone would weep at such a sight.

The corpses remained uncovered in the cemetery for several days. Hair stands on end from the descriptions of what happened on these days. Whoever was not at the cemetery during this time would not be able to imagine the horrible scenes, scenes that a silent pen cannot describe on paper. Worse than everything else was the final scene: on one side the chief of police, a doctor, and a sentry were busy cutting up the bodies: they cut up each body into pieces; and on the other side of the row, a group of Jews who had dug long graves to bury the cut-up crushed bodies and the burnt bones.

After the Pogrom

Over a month elapsed until the community began to reorganize and return to the city. At the time they returned, they were barefoot and ill clad, with their wives and children. From Kalarash to Kishinev, and from Kishinev to Kalarash. They were afraid of every fanner they met on the street. The few who remained overnight in Kalarash would gather into groups of 10 or 15 in one house and would stay awake all night. Many people rented dwellings in Kishinev and remained there. Others emigrated to Rumania, Austria, America, and Palestine. It is impossible to describe the fear that overcame the Jews of our city during that terrible time. Those whose houses were destroyed remained without a roof over their heads, barefoot and naked, without any sustenance. A committee was formed to take care of the destitute and to find them food and dwelling. But the community was nevertheless afraid to return to the city. Thus was destroyed the city of Kalarash, and the community of 1500 families, that was famous in the business community of Bessarabia, and world famous as a center of agriculture: plums, nuts, wine, etc. Of the 300 buildings, including the largest stores and all that was contained therein, all were left as a mountain of ashes and a heap of rubble. Many storehouses, full of fruit and other products were destroyed. The damage was estimated at upwards of two million rubles.

The Sorrowful List of the Murdered Who Were Buried in the Cemetery of Kalarash:

Name Age
1. Eliezer Deitch 56
2. Yenta Deitch (his wife) 45
3. Yaakov Kramer 65
4. Dov Berkovitz (known as Berl Libes) 85
5. Dr. Ber Eliezer Finkel 30
6. Yosef Dumai 70
7. Aaron his son 38
8. Bryna Gotbrand 70
9. Yocheved (her granddaughter) 12
10. Nesi, woman who was guest of her Uncle Issachar Osnat 30
11. Avraham Moginstein 65
12. Avraham Paus 46
13. Yisrael Baron 70
14. Miriam his wife 66
15. Yudel Shamash 43
16. Wife of Meir Chazan (name unknown) 60
17. Shlomo Baiter 53
18. Selig Greenberg 75
19. Mirka Reizes, wife of Leib Molshinetz 40
20. Elke 15
21. Chava 5
22. Tziril, wife of Aaron Kitzis, brought from Gorodeshti 45
23. Shmuel Keizer (a child) 4
24. Sena Lokomska 55
25. Baker from Telenesht (name unknown)  
26. Avraham Aaron Melamed 40
27. Yeshoshua Tzvi Weinberg  
28. Aba Fiksel 70
29. Tzvi Tzitman 65
30. A Jew who was guest of his son-in-law Berl Zelnik  
31. A burned woman who was unidentified  
32. Yitzchak Gulkis 45
33. Perl Distirak, brought from Gorodeshti 65
34. The wife of Shimon Siputner  
35-38. 4 burned Jews who were unidentified  
39. Shimon Freiman 50
40. The wife of Avraham Fridman (name unknown)  
41. Pinchas Utshitel 23
42. Yitzchak Basman 23
43. Nathan Moshe Prechtman (brought from Pitisheni) 45
44-45. Alter Gelman and his wife Tova (both burned, their bones were buried) 70
46. Child of Elkana Lam  
47. Child of Zalman Siputner  
48. Child of Michael Shneider  
49. A Jew who was a stranger  
50. Chaim Brand 60
51. Mordechai his son 22
52. Yaakov Lerner 55
53. Child of Moshe Tshurles  
54. Chava Bi 50

All these were shot, murdered, or burnt. In addition to the above victims,
many more died of their injuries within five weeks after the pogrom.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The pamphlet “Kalarasher Pogrom” by Yaakov Chiplester was published in Odessa in 1906. From the number of ayins in the pamphlet's title page (the only page that is reproduced in the yizkor book), it apparently was written in Yiddish originally and then translated into Hebrew for the yizkor book. return
  2. This phrase is a quote from the biblical book of Zecharia, chapter 3, referring to something that has survived a catastrophe. return
  3. P. Krushevan was a well known notorious Bessarabian anti-Semite and pogrom instigator. He was a member of the Russian parliament for a time. See the article about him in Encyclopedia Judaica. return
  4. October 22 was a Saturday according to the Julian calendar, which was still in use in Czarist Russia at this time. It would correspond to November 4th in the Gregorian calendar. It was the Saturday of Parashat Noach. Simchat Torah was on a Sunday two weeks previously – a fact which will become important further on in the story. return
  5. A prayer recited on Simchat Torah, during evening and morning services, before removing the Torahs from the ark for the processions. return
  6. Simchat Torah processions. return

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