“Secureni”
Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 2
(Sokyryany, Ukraine)

48°27' / 27°25'

Translation of
“Secureni” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1980


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 382-386, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980


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[Pages 382-386]

Secureni

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Romanian: Secureni; Russian: Securiani

It was a village in the Khotin District near the railroad from Balti to Czernowitz, about 2 kilometers from the Dniester River.

Jewish Population

YearNumbers%
Jews
18975,04256.1
19304,20072.9

According to popular belief the name originates in a Ukrainian word meaning axe since the shape of the village resembles it. Secureni was situated in a valley and was surrounded by deep swamps.

 

History of the Jewish Community

It is believed that the beginning of the Jewish community in Secureni was in the years 1814-1826. The area on which it was founded belonged to an aristocratic Russian family – Lushin. They had been granted the land by the Tsar in recognition of the distinguished service of one of its members, Nikolai Nikolayevich, in the war of 1812. In order to develop the area, the owner invited Jewish craftsmen, merchants and lessees who came from various surrounding villages. As all other Jewish settlements in Bessarabia, Secureni developed in the years 1825-1855 during the reign of Tsar Nikolai I. Many Jews arrived from other parts of the province and from Podolia.

 

Emergence of the Community

Until 1890 there was no government-appointed rabbi in Secureni and all births and deaths were registered by the official rabbi in Bricheni.

All public affairs were conducted by leaders and intermediaries and an organized community was only established in 1918. The religious personnel received their salaries from tax income. There were some philanthropic institutions such as “Help for the Poor”, “Visits to the Sick” and “Beds for Charity”.

The synagogues in Secureni were organized mainly along professional groups such as the “Tailors synagogue”, “Shoemakers synagogue” and “Furriers synagogue”.

In 1922 the Gates of Zion synagogue was built near the Zionist club.

At first the beadles were in charge of burials in the cemetery and in the 1890s a Hevra Kaddisha society was established.

In 1918-1920 many refugees arrived in Secureni. They came after the riots in Ukraine. Their numbers grew and equalled the total of the permanent Jewish residents. A committee was struck to organize help for the needy and they even provided the refugees with documents that allowed them to stay in Secureni. Some of them even settled in the village, but many of them continued on their way to Eretz Israel, United States and other countries.

 

Education and Culture

Until the 1870s the children of Secureni attended Heders. The children of the poor went to a tutor and learned to read and write, prayers and blessings. However, the children of the wealthier Jews were sent to a Gmara teacher who also taught them arithmetic and grammar. Secureni did not produce any teachers of its own at that time and the tutors had to be imported from areas on the other side of the Dniester.

In 1898 a Jewish elementary school was opened in Secureni and it lasted for a year. Later there was a second attempt at opening another school. This one lasted two years. In 1905 a “Supplementary Heder” was established.

Early in the 20th century two schools were founded: a Tarbut institution and a high school based on the “Supplementary Heder”. It included the elementary classes. In these schools the language of instruction was Hebrew. Tarbut had students from poor homes, but the other school had the wealthy ones.

A Hebrew kindergarten was also established.

The educational institutions in Secureni remained open in spite of political prohibitions until June 1940.

Hebrew language and culture were more popular in Secureni than in other communities. Proof of this comes in the speech given by R. Skivrsky, member of the central committee of Zeirei Zion, as he greeted Dr. Haim Weitzman in Kishinev in 1926: “You, Mr. President, have just returned from America where you, no doubt, obtained funds for Keren Hayesod. We, the residents of Bessarabia, are poor and we cannot compare ourselves to wealth of America. However, we present to you the village of Secureni where the sounds of Hebrew are heard in every corner.”

Until the 1880s it was not possible to obtain books in Secureni. Then, the first bookseller in the village offered women and girls books for reading. At the beginning of the 20th century the bookbinder opened, in his house, a library with Russian and Yiddish literature.

The first public library in the village was established in 1922 by Zeirei Zion. It had 300 volumes and 8 periodicals. A reading room was opened next to it. In 1926 the library was moved to the Zionist club and in 1934 to the House of Culture which had been just built. By then there were 4000 volumes. In 1939 the library was closed. In 1930 the Culture League had opened a library, but it did not last.

 

Economic Life

The Jews of Secureni were small merchants, grew tobacco and beets, leased forests for lumber, had flour mills and dealt in sales of horses, sheep, fruit and vegetables. Among them were also craftsmen such as carpenters, shoemakers, furriers, locksmiths as well as cart drivers, water carriers and waiters. There were also religious personnel.

Since Secureni was close to the Dniester, trade came from the East in the direction of Mogilev which was situated 37 kilometers away. The distance from other towns made Secureni the center for many villages on both sides of the river. The farmers brought their agricultural produce and the village supplied them with groceries, services, clothing and shoes.

When Bessarabia was separated from Russia after the annexation by Romania in 1918, Secureni had to direct its commerce to Balti and Iasi.

When Secureni became a border settlement it suffered from its separation from villages on the other side of the Dniester. Soon, however, contact was re-established through illegal trade. Around Secureni there were many estate owners who left and leased their land to Jews from Secureni. They left due to the agrarian reforms and fear of the local peasants. The Jews did well on these lands. At the same time the trade in kid leather grew in Bessarabia. Its leaders were Jews from Secureni and eventually the village became a commercial center in this field.

A few years later the illegal trade was stopped and the economic growth of Secureni did not continue. An era of bankruptcies and immigration of local residents to Brazil and other South American countries began. The situation worsened when the Romanian government opened groceries in the villages and they competed with the Jewish-owned stores. The government also established depots where they bought products from the farmers. There was a law about the forgiving of debts owed, by farmers, to banks and merchants in 1930. This caused bankruptcies among many of the Jews in Secureni.

 

Zionist Movement

A Zionist atmosphere was felt in Secureni since the days of Hibat Zion (Love of Zion) and it intensified after the Balfour Declaration. The General Zionists were active in the village and their influence was mainly on the Jewish youths. In 1922 a branch of Zeirei Zion was established. They opened a Zionist club and held there classes in Hebrew language. They also organized the collections for Jewish National Fund. Other groups also organized the Zionist young people and in 1923 they united in the “Tehia” movement, centered in Kishinev.

In the spring of 1926 the second conference of “Tehia” in Bessarabia was held in Secureni. Delegates came from many parts of Romania and representatives of Zeirei Zion and Tehia also attended. During the conference there was a dispute and many of the delegates from Secureni- mainly their leaders who were high school students – left and joined Hashomer Hatzair. Those who remained and other new members from Tarbut high school went to Gordonya. A branch of Beitar was also founded by graduates of the local Talmud Torah.

In 1933 the “Working Youth” was organized and in 1935 the Bussalia – a younger section of Zeirei Zion.

A branch of Dror was also organized that year – the younger members of Poalei Zion. In 1939 two preparatory groups were formed – one for Gordonya and the other for Dror. The sports organization Maccabi was active in Secureni from the early 1920s.

WIZO- the organization of Zionist women worked with Zeirei Zion in planning public Zionist activities.

Many graduates of Gordonya in Secureni settled in Eretz Israel.

 

Anti-Semitism

The Jews of Secureni had stable relations with their neighbors, but they suffered from the attitude of the government.

At the end of 1921 on the eve of Yom Kippur, Jews walking on the streets were arrested. Many men, women and children were forcibly taken from their homes and brought to a field outside the village and were watched by armed guards on horses. After midnight the Chief of Police, other officers and a doctor appointed by the government came to the field. They wanted to take into custody two refugees who had crossed the Dniester supposedly as spies. If not, they would deport everyone from the village. The soldiers abused the Jews, but they did not give up the two refugees and everyone went back home.

 

Holocaust

On July 6, 1941 the first soldiers of the German-Romanian army entered Secureni. Leading them were two Romanian tanks under the command of the Russian Tsiurov who announced “Death to the Jews”. Behind the army was a band of peasants headed by a priest that served in the nearby villages.

An empty lot in front of the memorial statue was the venue for a large assembly of the people. The speakers incited the masses to take revenge on the Jews. At first, the residents of Secureni argued in favor of the Jews and against the peasants. However, when the soldiers began to enter the village and a rumor spread saying that the Soviets were retreating and had already crossed the Dniester, the residents of Secureni joined the rioters and went out to rob Jewish property and to vandalize their stores.

The attacks began in the silversmith's store in the market street and from there the rioters went from house to house and from store to store. Windows and doors were broken during the next three days and furniture was removed. Nothing was left in the houses. The Jews tried to escape and they hid in fields, gardens or cellars. If they tried to find shelter with their Christian neighbors they were refused. The first Jewish victim fell that day when he was shot by a Romanian soldier who coveted his shoes.

During the first two days of the conquest 90 Jews were murdered.

After three days the authorities announced that they would give a loaf of bread to every Jew. However, anyone who came out to obtain it was shot and the women were raped. A terrible hunger was experienced by the Jews. Some tried to bake bread from flour mixed with ashes they found in the local mill.

Several Jews were accused of stealing guns from a Romanian soldier and they were arrested. They were not released, but were deported to a special camp.

At the end of three days the Romanian army commander ordered all the Jews of Secureni to come to the cemetery under the pretext that they had shot at a Romanian pilot. He ordered his soldiers to surround the Jews and to shoot over their heads. He then allowed them to return to their homes naked, shoeless and starving. The next day the men were again summoned to the cemetery where they were told to lie on the ground. Shots rang again, but no one was hurt and the Jews returned home. The following day the commander gathered the adult men and they were forced to carry heavy crates filled with arms from Secureni to the village of Volodkov. It was a distance of 10 km and the carriers were urged on by soldiers on horseback who beat those who were slower.

During the second week of the conquest the Jews of Secureni were taken to the street of the synagogues where they were “sold publicly”. Every peasant bought himself a Jew and was allowed to remove his clothes, his shoes and do whatever he wished with him. The men were beaten and the women and the girls were taken inside the synagogue and raped. The rioting continued for two weeks. They robbed, killed and raped and anyone who happened to be in their way paid a dear price.

The Jews ran from one hiding place to another to try to save themselves.

A temporary committee was established, but it never had a chance to do anything because deportation orders were given. People were taken out of their homes and were brought, after being beaten by their German escorts, to Bricheni. It was a 20 km walk through fields and forests. Anyone who was slow was shot and killed. On the way they slept in Vaduz. Even there they were attacked and beaten.

The Jews of Bricheni received the deportees warmly and shared their last slice of bread with them. The Jews of Secureni spent eight days in Bricheni until they were ordered to return to their village. They walked all night on the way to Secureni. In the morning, when they arrived at the gates of the village, they were arrested and sent towards the Dniester. They were exhausted and hungry.

After crossing the river they arrived tired and broken, towards evening, in the village of Kozlov. There was pouring rain and the deportees were left outside all night. That night several of the elderly and children who could not function under these dire circumstance, perished. The local peasants refused to give them shelter and they had to lie on the ground without any food or water. Anyone who dared lift his head was shot on the spot. It was only three days later that they were allowed to go to a nearby stream to get some drinking water.

From Kozlov the deportees were sent, in groups of 2000 people, to different villages in the area. Some went to Neslevchi on the Dniester where they sat outdoors or 5 days. The women received corn and the men a bit of tobacco. They were not allowed to be in contact with the local residents. However, anyone who managed to escape and reach the village was well received by its farmers. Many of the deportees died of starvation and those who collapsed with exhaustion were shot by the Germans. The bodies were thrown into the river.

A few days later the deportees from all the villages were gathered and sent to Mogilev. On the way they stopped in Scazineti where they were surrounded with barbed wire. The Germans shot at them and many were killed.

When they reached Mogilev they spent three days without any food and again they were not permitted any contact with the local residents. However, the guards were not too efficient and many deportees escaped and returned to Secureni. As they reached the abattoir those in charge only permitted them to enter the village after they handed over any jewellery in their possession. Finally, they were allowed to go to distant alleys in the villages. They stayed in Secureni for only two days and on the third day they were ordered to be deported to Edinets. There they were placed in the ghetto in emptied Jewish homes. The local peasants were allowed to come near the fence for two hours a day to sell food to the deportees. In exchange they were given clothes and jewellery that they had been able to hide from their previous attackers.

Four weeks later the Secureni residents were deported from Edinets. They walked for 32 days to Yampol. On the way they sustained themselves by eating grass and rotten beets. Many perished on the road. They stayed in Yampol for two days and they were then sent to Camp Pavlovka.

About 300 people were housed there in a pig sty without doors or windows. Their captors abused them constantly. One night two horsemen burst into the pig sty and made the people lie down. They then rode their horses over them. Those who survived were forced to dance over the dead bodies.

Sometime later, in the middle of the night, Romanian soldiers came and demanded gold from the deportees – or else they would kill them. They were not satisfied with what they were given and they shot some of the Jews. The deportees suffered from unquenchable thirst. There was a well nearby, but an armed soldier stood guard next to it and he did not allow anyone to obtain water. Some people walked several kilometers to the forest to find water in the stream. Many of them sank in the snow and were buried there.

In contrast, the local Ukrainians behaved well towards the Jews. Around 300 of the Secureni deportees remained alive in Camp Pavlovka due to their help.

Those who were unsuccessful in fleeing Mogilev suffered a bitter fate. They were deported again and wandered in fields and forests for a month until they reached Camp Obodovca. On the way they were brought to Coshautsi forest where they remained for 3 days without any food or water and were prone to abuse by their guards. A committee arrived in the forest and demanded from the deportees to hand over all the money and gold in their possession. They even did body searches and managed to kill a few people. The deportees were not allowed to bury the dead. Anyone who tried was badly beaten or shot in place.

From Coshautsi forest the Secureni deportees were brought to Obodovca where they were housed in a windowless pig sty. They were not allowed to come out. The cold, hunger and diseases felled many deportees. It was not permissible to take the dead bodies out for burial and the living had to share the space with them for 14 days. From Obodovca some of the deportees were sent to Chichelnik where they were placed in houses. An outbreak of Typhus killed some of them. Others were brought to Dubina and the rest went to Bershad. There they were crammed into ruined, windowless houses and remained there until the end of the war.

 

The Camp

After the Jews were deported from Secureni the town became a large camp for about 30 000 Jews who were brought there from other areas. The camp residents were divided into 3 groups according to their hometowns. The group from Khotin had 20 000 members while the one from Noua-Sulitsa had 1000. The third group had people from different places and numbered about 9000. Every group had its own committee and some sub-committees representing smaller sections. There were 300 people from Edinets.

A central committee was organized and it had representatives from all three groups. The committee was in contact with the authorities to obtain food and lumber and tried to ease conditions in the camp. The group committees distributed bread and executed decisions made by the central committee.

From time to time it was necessary to provide laborers for projects in distant places. In August 1941 the commanders of the local army unit contacted the central command in Czernowitz to inform them that the Einzatz Commando 10 requested 27 Jews from the camp to work for them. The second time a request was made the Romanians replied that they needed a reason for the German request.

The governor, also the mayor, took bribes and eased the situation somewhat. He enlarged the area of the camp. It took up almost the entire town, except for the main street. He supplied flour so that the bakers among the deportees could bake bread. Each person was allotted one quarter of a kilo. In addition, there was a supply of sunflower seeds which had been left by the Russians. The residents of the camp were allowed, three times a week, to go out to the market to buy food. The hours were 8 to 10 in the morning. The latecomers were beaten. The Jews were able to barter with the farmers. They received food in exchange for other things. The craftsmen, such as shoemakers, tailors, etc. managed to leave the camp secretly and worked for the farmers for a few days at a time. They would return with money or food. Some residents were able to produce soap and candies. Bribes permitted them to work for weeks outside the camp. There were services for the High Holidays.

The majority of the residents were unable to even buy the daily ration of bread that was inexpensive. It often happened that the farmers were not allowed to bring food to the Jews. Many starved to death. Medical help, organized by resident doctors, was insufficient since there was little medication and conditions were unsanitary. The guards, the gendarmes, raped women and young girls even in front of their families. Many of the deportees committed suicide.

When the first rumors about the happenings in Secureni reached Bucharest the Federation of Communities tried to receive permission from the authorities to help the deportees in the camp, but they were unsuccessful. The camp remained open from the end of July 1941 until October 3 of that year. On that day all the residents of the camp were transferred to Transnistria in two ways. Before their transfer the people were forced to lie down on the ground and submit to searches of their bodies and clothes. They were abused and anything of value that was found was confiscated.

From 5000 residents of Secureni prior to the Holocaust only 500 remained alive. At the end of the war some of them returned to Secureni which was in ruins. Very few of them remained in town, some moved to Czernowitz and many made Aliyah.

ADP – ZAG

Yad Vashem Archives: 0-3/1460, 1925; O- 33/966; PKR/III

Bibliography

Secureni as it was built and ruined, Tel Aviv, 1954
Carp, Matatias: Cartea Neagra, vol. III, Bucharest, 1947, pp.39, 82, 83-90, 100-103, 115, 118, 3, 2


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