by Y. Mazor
Translated by Roberta Jaffer
Bălţi Bessarabia is the product of a joint effort to reconstruct the history of the Jewish community of Bălţi and craft its image, as depicted by the former residents of this town, She'erit Haplita its surviving remnants, who are in Israel.
The task was difficult, due to lack of access to archival sources. We were compelled, therefore, to make do with material drawn from the Jewish press, over various time periods, in Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish, and Romanian, and with research on Bessarabia from the Tsarist, Romanian, and Soviet periods.
In contrast, the portrayal of contemporary Bălţi has been rendered based on the recollections of the townsfolk, including veteran functionaries in Bălţi's Jewish public life. An important contribution to knowing Bălţi's history was made to us by Prof. Eliyahu Feldman, the authority on the annals of Bessarabian Jewry. Without a doubt, there is great subjectivity in the personal records of those taking part in this book.
The distress caused by what the people of that land, the Romanians, did to the Jews of Bălţi during the Holocaust period does not allow for a rational perspective regarding that community's past.
The perspective of a Bălţian who left the city before the Holocaust arrived will be different from that of one who experienced Jewish Bălţi's Holocaust personally. In the eyes of the former, the world of yesterday will seem idyllic, perhaps due to nostalgia for their youthful days, which are tied to this town, whereas, in the eyes of the latter, it will seem dismal and anxiety-provoking.
But, nonetheless, the attempt being made here has an important mission, which is erecting a monument a memorial to a glorious Jewish community, which no longer exists. And it shall be like a shining lighthouse for the next generations.
This book includes a comprehensive review of the history of the city of Bălţi, the evolution of its Jewish community since its founding, of Bălţi during the Tsarist period, Bălţi under Romanian rule, between the two world wars, of the 1940/41 Soviet period, the deportations to Siberia, the outbreak of the war in 1941, the Holocaust and the Transnistrian exile. The book encompasses all areas of life: The economy, education, religion, culture and art, activity in the municipal and parliamentary spheres.
An extensive chapter is devoted to Zionist activism, the Zionist youth movements, immigration to the Land of Israel, and the contribution made by the people of Bălţi to the country's upbuilding, in the War of Liberation and Independence and in the establishment, molding, and development of the State of Israel. The book also includes a chapter on Bălţians in the war against the Nazis, in the undergrounds in Europe, on the Allied front, and on the Russian front.
The central idea that lies at the foundation of this work is that this is not just a commemorative book; this is a book whose purpose is to bring about awareness that we belong to a generation that aspired, well before the Holocaust came, to have its own state, that witnessed its nation's Holocaust and rose again from
its ashes, a generation of dreamers and fighters whose path stretches from the beginning of Hebrew education in Bălţi, through the aliya [immigration] to the Land of Israel, to realizing the idea of Jewish statehood, a generation of Holocaust survivors who reached safe harbor and rebuilt their home in their Jewish land the Land of Israel.
by Y. Mazor
Translated by Ron Skolnik
Bălţi was not a beautiful city, neither architecturally nor in its natural landscape. It did not have broad avenues in the manner of the period's large cities, be that in Russia or the West, and it did not have plazas with monuments or fountains at their center, and it did not have magnificent public buildings.
The whole of its natural landscape was the Răut River and the ancient Turkish stone bridge over it, on the way to the big-old train station. In proximity to this bridge, the core, from which the city would develop, was established.
The Răut River flowed lazily within an expansive prairie. With low banks and no drainage, the river produced marshes. As the snow thawed in the springtime, when it overflowed its banks, it flooded portions of the lower city, which hurt the residents of the outskirts, among them poor Jews. This is where the name Bălţi, which in Moldavan means marshes, originated. The city indeed became famous for its muddy quicksand, at a time when roads and paving were uncommon. There were low hills within the city limits; here and there, there were a few meager woods scattered about the prairie. It was a distinctly agricultural region with grain crops, corn, wheat and sunflowers, pasture fields for flocks of sheep and goats, vineyards and orchards with fruit trees, which climbed the hills northward, eastward, and southward toward the codrii (the woods in Moldavan), an area famous for its plums, grapevines, and wines.
This was what Bălţi was like at the end of the last [i.e. 19th] century. A large town, which had grown out of a village, turned into a regional center for fairs that gained renown. It slowly evolved into a city, but for years still maintained a rural, semi-urban flavor, especially on the outskirts of town. Against this backdrop, a Jewish community arose in Bălţi at the end of the 18th century and over the years it became vibrant and prospered.
There are various estimates as to the number of Jews in Bălţi. The number ranges from about 15,000-24,000 people, according to official Romanian data, to 32,000 per a 1941 German report. The Jewish community constituted more than half the population: From the outside, it looked like a Jewish city. In the middle of town were the Romanian administrative buildings, Romanian administration having replaced Russian administration following World War I.
The municipal and district institutions were as follows: The municipality and the prefecture (district governor), the police, the secret police and the courts, while in the city's southwestern sections were the barracks of the Romanian garrison. At the town's center, which stretched out over the ridge of the hill, above the Răut, towered the ancient church, the Sobor. In time,
when the Holocaust arrived, the first Jews were executed in the public garden at the foot of that church.
At the end of the 1780s, the Jews came to settle at the site at the invitation of boyars, Moldavian princes and landowners, and from that time they contributed to the area's development. They succeeded in the economic sphere by creating an agricultural industry and sales network, which found markets for Moldavian agricultural goods in the wide world.
And what was the ending for the Jews of Bălţi?
The locals repaid Bălţi's Jews with hatred and malice. Hundreds of the Jews of Bălţi were brutally and despicably put to death in the summer of 1941 by the Moldavians, the district's villagers, Bălţi's Jews' partners in commerce.
The Economic Background
The Bălţi community was created as a commercial center by merchants and craftsmen who, as noted, were invited to settle the site, the goal being to develop commercial-economic activity in the region.
The immediate vicinity had a rural character. Many of the Jewish residents integrated into Moldavian village life and took on a similar lifestyle, while maintaining their religious-Jewish uniqueness. Jews also leased plots or purchased land and engaged in agriculture. These were the Jewish possessors or arendars (leasees). The most famous of them was the landowner, Rabbi Hanania Halperin; he bequeathed a portion of his lands to the Bălţi cemetery and is considered the greatest philanthropist of Bălţi's Jewry. Many of the Jewish educational and charitable institutions in the city existed thanks to the estate he left.
The livelihood of the Jews of Bălţi was based primarily on agricultural produce trade in all its phases. At a more advanced stage, the farmers went over to trading in the commodities exchange. There were two commodities exchanges in Bălţi, one for crops and agricultural produce, and one for shmoishlech, those patches of fur and hides, trading in which was common in Bessarabia and almost completely in Jewish hands. The agricultural products were diverse and included grains, seeds, poppy seed, honey, beeswax, milk, wool, wines, chickens and eggs, livestock, horses and pigs, et al.
A number of Jews engaged themselves in working the land, and that included growing wheat, and working vineyards and fruit trees. In the years prior to World War I, many Jews engaged in tobacco growing.
Gradually, the Jews transitioned from commerce to industry that was based on agricultural raw materials; the Jews established flour mills, oil, sugar, and grain alcohol plants, and more. Bălţi was the greatest center in Bessarabia for the sunflower oil industry, and among the most important in Romania. This industry's products were exported to Western Europe and even overseas.
A vital stage in developing a modern economy was the creation in Bălţi of a banking system that was run by Jews Bălţi thus became, thanks to the enterprise of its Jewish component, a powerful commercial and industrial center in the Kingdom of Romania in the period between the two world wars.
The city maintained its commercial character throughout its entire existence; it was a creation of the Jewish middle class, of the Jewish entrepreneurs, the people of means and the owners of industries, the great merchants, traders, importers and exporters, all people of action. And they should be remembered as such.
Commerce in Bălţi got its start at the fair, which was famous as far back as the 1840s. It was a regional livestock fair that took place once per month. Over time, the tradition of holding a general-regional fair once a week, on Tuesday, took root. The maidan (public square) was the assembly spot for the fair, and therefore the numerous workshops were concentrated in near proximity.
On market days, as well as all year round, those coming to Bălţi required hostels, the khans or the einfurs, which were under Jewish ownership. Adjacent to these lodgings there were also the pubs, China teahouses, and restaurants for the fair-goers.
The Jews also owned modern hotels, one of them sizable. Fancy restaurants with musicians, which primarily served the nobility and those in the government and the officers' corps, were under the ownership of Jews as well as Christians.
Jewish artisans engaged in needlework, producing ready-to-wear clothing for men and ladies (confectia),
haine gata in Romanian, and made to order; there was a well-developed shirts and hats industry in Bălţi.
Furriery was a thriving branch that included workshops for expensive furs for export, though most of the furriers sewed sheepskins, which were items of clothing designed for the peasants.
Tanning was also a well-developed branch in the city and provided for many of Bălţi's Jewish families.
Most of the Jewish merchants engaged in retail. Dozens of stores belonging to Jews made a living from this commerce, and were spread throughout the streets bordering on the fair and on the piazza, as the retail market was called. On the nearby streets were larger stores, for groceries, for tools for the home and for agriculture, for paints, for haberdashery and fabric, writing implements and paper, perfumery, and several large, modern pharmacies.
Bălţi was also a great center of the wholesale trade, especially of grocery products, for all of north Bessarabia. Bălţi had warehouses crammed full of goods made in the country and imported, primarily grocery goods, or coloniala, as they called it. Bălţi was also an important center for wholesalers in wood, boards, building materials, lime and bricks, fabrics and textiles. Agencies of famous manufacturers were in Bălţi, for example the Bohush clothes industry, leather and hides, shoes (Dermata), housewares, and agricultural tools.
Industry in Bălţi
It was mainly agricultural industry, although it had two mechanical factories, that of Shenkar and that of the Rosenthaler brothers. The latter also owned the power station generating electricity for the entire city. The Rosenthalers were affluent Jews who also engaged in public affairs.
The bulk of agricultural industry was the sunflower seed oil and oilcake industry. It was a modern industry at that time, equipped with advanced manufacturing systems for producing the oil via a method of extracting and refining the oils for consumption. The lion's share of this industry's output was directed to export.
Jewish laborers worked at the Hasmanski sugar factory, one of the largest in Romania, upon the banks of the Răut River. In time, Hasmanski allowed the Gordonia chalutzim (pioneers) in Masada, nearby Bălţi, to undergo training at his factory in preparation for their aliya (immigration) to the Land of Israel. Among the other factories, we will note the ones that produced grain alcohol, hard liquor, liqueurs, and vodka, and that produced soap, candles, cotton wool, sweets and candies, noodles, sausage, cheeses, soft drinks, and canned fruits and vegetables.
Bălţi's prosperity was the result of the initiative of the members of the Jewish entrepreneurial class, who invested their capital both in commerce and in industry.
Treatment by the Romanian Government
The Romanians knew to appreciate Bălţi's importance to Bessarabia's economic development, and therefore encouraged commercial and industrial initiative in the city. For the Jewish entrepreneurs, this encouragement was expressed through not clipping their wings. However, the Romanians did not make available to them the requisite financial resources. At the end of the 1930s, the authorities began to harass the Jewish merchants and industrialists, which led to a shriveling of commerce and industry. That was the official line, which sought the Romanianization of commerce and industry and their removal from Jewish hands.
Economic Prosperity and the Positive Implications for the Jewish Community
As a result of the economic prosperity in the period between the two world wars, the material condition of Bălţi's Jews saw improvement; this enabled them to create and maintain an education, culture and higher education system, and a social assistance and welfare system,
which aimed to care for the needy ill, older people with limited means, and orphans, and to meet the religious needs of the Jewish population. The Jewish community of Bălţi was given recognition by the authorities back in the mid-19th century, and it was the community that took care of maintaining the ramified institutions under its control.
On the Character of Bălţi's Jewry
We have already said that Bălţi was not blessed in terms of its buildings or natural landscape. It was, on the other hand, blessed in terms of its human landscape. Bălţi's Jewry was a reflection of Bessarabian Jewry at its finest. It was a wonderful blending of those native to the place, the simple but warmhearted shafene yidn (creative Jews), with educated Jews from Ukraine, Podolia, and Lithuania, people with initiative, who had migrated southward from the poor cities and towns of the north, or had fled to Bessarabia from the pogroms of the 1880s and the pogroms in Ukraine following the Russia Revolution.
Bălţi, as we knew it in the 1930s, was no longer the same town from the end of the 19th century, when spiritual life still centered around the Batei Midrash, the houses of study. Incidentally, there was a small yeshiva in Bălţi for a number of years during and after the First World War, supported by Lipson, the philanthropist. In that period, Bălţi was still far from the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment movement); it was dominated by the old-time cheder (Jewish religious elementary school), which over time became the reformed cheder. Later, the Jewish state schools appeared in the mid-19th century and only toward the end of the century came the Talmud Torah, with a weak religious character. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Great and Small Talmud Torah turned into Hebrew schools, which had a Hebraic, secular, Zionist character.
At the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, Hasidism was still flourishing in Bălţi. Chabad Hasidism held the greatest sway.
Hasidism in Bălţi was quiet, not raucous and demonstrative. Shtreimels and kapotas were not to be seen in Bălţi, except for the days of Rosh HaShanah, when Rabbi'leh, as he was called, would come down to the Răut with several of his followers for the Tashlich prayer.
Chatzers (courtyards) of rabbis and tzadiks in the style typical of Poland were not established in Bălţi, although Bălţi was located in the vicinity of the chatzers of Rashkov and close to Sadigura; however, the followers of the Rabbi of Sadigura set up in the city their own kloize (house of study), similar to the Chabad synagogue (das shtibel), by the name of The Sadigur Shul. The rabbis of Kopust (Kopys), R' Hilik of Krilovich, and the Rabbi of Boyan frequently visited the city.
Hosting the rabbis was a special event and considered a great mitzvah. R' Valul Fuchs, father of Mishkah Fuchs of Haifa did this a great deal; the Rabbi of ?tefăne?ti would be a guest in his home, while the Rabbi of Bayon stayed by R' Berki Frank, who was one of his followers and supporters.
The Rabbis and Shochats (Ritual Slaughterers)
Bălţi was not blessed with famous yeshivas nor did it turn out well-known rabbis, though there were isolated displays of Jews there who excelled in the Torah, who also engaged in Biblical exegesis and published the fruit of their work. One of them was the dayan (rabbinic judge), R' Yisrael Yaffe, patriarch of the famous Yaffe family of Bălţi, who had come to Bălţi from Lithuania.
Bălţi would generally import its rabbis from the centers of Torah [study] in Lithuania, as it later imported from there its Hebrew teachers as well.
Bălţi was blessed with its synagogues, shtibels, and houses of prayer; among them were those founded some two hundred years ago, in the old section of the Jewish city. And Bălţi was also blessed with its cantors, some of whom became famous in the Jewish world, such as Nissi Belzer, Fusman, and Aharon Gomaniuk. They contributed greatly to the religious Jewish culture and to educating the youth to love song and cantorial singing. Several of those from Bălţi became well-known cantors in the United States.
Nevertheless, what characterized Bălţi's Jewry from a spiritual standpoint was the vibrant Jewish secular culture. Bălţi was known for its fondness for Yiddish theater. Famous troupes of theater actors would often visit Bălţi, among them the Vilna Troupe, that of Morris Schwartz, of Dr. Baratov. In the 1930s, Sidi Tal and Dina Koenig were most popular. They would visit Bălţi frequently, and have great success. At the theater in Bălţi founded by Feldman, in the Unirea Theater and later directed by Flom, the impresario, the small theater was always jam-packed for almost every show.
Amateur theatrical circles were active in Bălţi, performing plays, holding evenings of readings, and public/literary trials. Mostly, these activities were done at the initiative of the Culture League and the city's Yiddishists.
Isa Kremer, the Yiddish songstress famous in the Jewish world in the 1920s, hailed from Bălţi. Likewise, the Israeli Yiddish singer, Yitzhak Habis.
Bălţi gained notice for Hebrew literature thanks to Yaakov Fichman, and for Yiddish literature thanks to Ephraim Auerbach, Zelig Bardichever, and Leib Kazber (Vainshtein).
There were in Bălţi a number of libraries for the townsfolk in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian and, during the Romanian period, in Romanian as well, and they were kept up by Jewish and private institutions. That was in addition to the large municipal library.
Jewish libraries were also owned by the Culture League, and called by the name the Shalom Aleichem Bibliotek (library), which passed at the end of the 1930s to the ownership of Tzeirei Zion [a Zionist movement]; there was also a large public library by the Yiddishe Lei aun Shpar Kassa (loan and savings bank), and there was another public library next to the Jewish community [building?]. There were enhanced libraries in the Hebrew elementary schools and especially in the Hebrew Gymnasium. There was also Sternberg's private library, actually. For many years, a chess club operated in Bălţi.
Printing and Publishing Houses
Bălţi was also noteworthy for Jewish and Romanian printing houses, among them Pinkenson's modern printing house, the second most important in Bessarabia. Segal Printing was a Hebrew Jewish printing house and housed a Hebrew literary journal edited by Leib Kuperstein, Shurot (Lines) and Udim (Firebrand) in the years 1935-1938. Also printed in that printing house were Zionist material, bulletins, and publications of the Revisionist movement.
The Bălţi Almanac, whose editors were Messrs. Ziegberman, Tzvi Heinichs, and Haskelevich, also appeared.
Other than that, Bălţi got to be the seat of a Hebrew-language textbook publishing house. P. Lev-Tov book publishing published textbooks in Hebrew that achieved great success and were used in all the Hebrew schools in Bessarabia and Romania.
One can conclude from all the abovesaid that the prejudicial view that the Jews of Bălţi, like the rest of their Bessarabian Jewish brethren, were boorish and ignorant is incorrect. There was in Bălţi a broad stratum of well-educated Jews, involved in Jewish culture and Yiddish culture, including members of the free professions, most of whom were educated in the spirit of Russian culture. Upon the arrival of Romanian governance, a portion of Bălţi's intelligentsia quickly adapted to the new culture.
There were private schools for learning to play music (Eckerling's school). The violinist Bernstein, among the first members of the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1930s, was a pupil of Eckerling.
Much of the Jewish intelligentsia was generally involved in community life, while having a close connection with the general public with the Jewish hospital, the boards of the Talmud Torah schools, the board of the Hebrew Gymnasium (secondary school), with OSE, ORT, the loan and savings bank, the old age home, helping the poor, and professional training for the children of the poor. They represented the Jewish population in the elections for municipal institutions and for the Romanian parliament. And in particular, they headed the Zionist activity in the city or were among the Yiddish and Bund activists. And when the Holocaust came, the representatives of Bălţi's Jewish public stood alongside their brethren at the hour of need. They drank the cup of poison to the bottom.
Philanthropists and Public Activists
Bălţi was notable for its benefactors and donors, and they were many: Hanania Halperin, the Lipsons, the Neyshtadts, the Rosenthalers, et al. Philanthropists from this affluent stratum made possible the education of the poor children; among the heads of Jewish public life in Bălţi at the beginning of the 20th century and in the period between the two wars, one should mention with veneration Dr. Vesterman, a wonderful personality, and R' Shmuel Lipson, R' Gedalia Lipson, R' Avraham Gefter, Leivush Golobati, Mendel Massis, Eng. Yerachmiel Yaffe, R' Chaim Rafa'el Yaffe, Dr. O. [?] Gurfel, A. Krasiuk, A. Dachtiar, Avraham Kogan, Avraham Goichman, Dr. Gendler, Lazar Gick, E. Itzkowitz, Pinkenson, Neyshtadt, Furer, Dubroskin, Bernard Walter, Tzvi Heinichs, R' Yechiel Kark, Royt, Buma Feuerstein, Meimis, and others.
Among the most prominent in the city's charitable activities was R' Hirsch Auerbach.
The Jewish Community in the 1930s
The Bălţi community reached the peak of its flourishing in the years 1935-1939. In that period, the community was headed by Eng. Yerachmiel Yaffe, a man of great talents, of noble spirit, and accepted by all the circles in the Jewish population. The Jewish community was chosen legally and had already received the approval of the Romanian authorities at the end of the 1920s. It was the beneficiary of a monetary allocation from the Ministry of Religions, and that in addition to the taxes it would collect from the Jewish populace, such as the tax on meat and others. An important source of revenue were the contributions that the community received from private entities and individuals. The Jewish community's genesis was back in the Tsarist period. In the first years of the Romanian regime, a struggle, usual in most of the Jewish Diaspora, was waged between the representatives of the religious public and the secular public over the community's leadership. It will be said in praise of Bălţi's Jewry that this struggle was not violent and always ended in compromise. Almost all those years, the community's leadership was headed by a broad coalition in which the Zionists had a majority.
All the strata of the Jewish public were represented in the community: The holy vessels and people of the synagogues, on one hand, and the Bund-style free people on the other, and in the middle the Zionists, of all streams.
The public's representatives operated in harmony, although there was no lack of verbal battles, mutual vilification, and accusations that went as far as informing and investigations by the authorities; overall, though, it can be stated in a positive assessment that the actions of the Jewish community were carried out to the satisfaction of the Jewish populace. In Bălţi's Jewish community, there was a sort of kernel of autonomy for the city's Jewry, religious, cultural, and in terms of public assistance and services.
Migration of Academic Jewish Youth to Western Europe
Between the two world wars, an interesting phenomenon was the migration of Jewish student youth, especially the non-Zionist, left-leaning, to the West. To France and to Belgium. For the most part, these were children of the affluent families who had the capacity to pay for the travel and studies of their sons and daughters at Western universities. These young people did not always continue to study, and settled down there. Others returned to Bălţi at the conclusion of their studies as physicians, engineers, pharmacists, or teachers in the Jewish schools; in World War II, the Bălţians in France and Belgium took part in the underground against the Germans and many of them were caught and murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
At the beginning of the century in Bălţi, and right after the Russian Revolution, there was self-defense, the Samo Oborona as it was called, similar to other Jewish communities in Russia, after the Jews realized that it was impossible to rely on the protection of the Tsarist police. Among those who headed the self-defense in Bălţi were the owners of the smithy in the maidan, Oleinik and sons and Pariser.
The Jewish Bullyboys in Bălţi
It is only fitting to also mention the ruffians among the city's Jews. They were well-known characters, liked by the Bălţians. They struck fear into the rampaging gentiles on holidays and fair days, when the propagandists of the anti-Semitic Cuzisti parties would try to inflame the masses and incite them to stage pogroms against the Jews. Their plots usually did not succeed, because they scattered in all directions after they felt the mighty blows landed by the Jewish butchers, blacksmiths, izevoshcheks (draymen), and bindyuzhniks (wagon owners) of Bălţi. Among the bullyboys, stood out the figure of Itzik Burstein, nicknamed chazirnik because his business was to raise, fatten, and export pigs (chazirim), Itsikl der tikerins, Paisi Lober, and others.
The jewel in the crown in the cultural life of Bălţi's Jewry was Zionist Hebrew education. Bălţi was considered a Zionist Jewish city. True, the Zionists in the city did not belong to the various Zionist parties institutionally, but the Zionist spirit that pulsed among the Jews of Bălţi could be felt during the visits of Zionist leaders, which were always successful.
Visits of Zionist Personalities
Visits of leaders such as Dr. BernsteinCohen, Shmaryahu Levin, Sprinzak, Hayim Greenberg, Kaplan, Hazan, Luvianiker, Meir Grossman, Yechinson, Skvirsky, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, and others roused the Zionist spirit of the people of Bălţi.
Jabotinsky visited Bălţi three times in 1912, 1925, and 1938. These visits electrified the city's Jewish public and were etched deep in the memory of many of the people of Bălţi; and although there was a segment of Jewish population in Bălţi that opposed Zionism, like the people of the Bund and the Yiddishists and leftists of various types who operated clandestinely, it was affection for Hebrew education that predominated on the Jewish street, in the Hebrew elementary schools, the high schools, and the Hebrew Gymnasiums.
The Zionist Youth Movements
Following upon the Hebrew education, broad and well-established Zionist youth movements were formed in Bălţi. The start of the Zionist movement in Bălţi goes back to the ?ibbat Zion period, in the mid-1880s. That continued until World War I, with intermittent breaks. Bălţi's Zionists operated in the framework of the Russian Zionist Organization and its [sub-]organizations, which were centered in Odessa. This activity gained strength during the First World War and grew in power after the Russian Revolution actually. Close relations were formed, on a personal basis, between Ussishkin, who led the Zionists in Odessa, and Zionist leaders in Bălţi, like Mendel Massis and others.
Bălţi as a Training Center for the HeChalutz (The Pioneer) Movement
Thanks to Bălţian Jewry's good economic situation, its material contribution to the Zionist funds, the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) and Keren HaYesod (The Foundation Fund) was considerable. Bălţi also was privileged to maintain in close proximity the pioneering training center
in Bilicenii; afterwards in Masada, and gave an option for training pioneers in the city itself as well. Dr. Gurfel's farm likewise served, for a while, as a training location for the Beitar movement's volunteers.
Immigrations to the Land of Israel Immigrating to the Holy Land
Among the people of Bălţi were those who immigrated to the Holy Land in order to spend their final days there. R' Noah Sofer, the prodigy of Bălţi, who settled in Jaffa, did so. Later, Rebbe Shmuel Lipson, the community elder and philanthropist, also did; he lived in Jerusalem and engaged in charity (tzedakah) and mitzvahs, and died alone.
The First Immigrations from Bălţi
Bălţi was notable for immigration not by a mass of Zionists but by only a few. At the beginning of the century, in 1912, the poet Yaakov Fichman, one of Bălţi's favorite sons, who immortalized Bessarabia and his city in his poetry, including its landscape and Jewish people, and Ephraim Auerbach, he, too, a man of Bălţi, who was a famous Yiddish poet in the United States, immigrated to the Land of Israel. Auerbach went up to the Land of Israel as a pioneer in the Second Aliyah on the eve of World War I and enlisted in the Jewish Legion.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the first pioneers from Bălţi arrived: Eizenshtat Barzilai, a farmer in Kfar Saba, and Shuster. Later, Shalom Massis, who was a member of the HaShomer HaTza'ir movement and among the founders of Kibbutz Merhavia, immigrated. Among the few Zionists who immigrated to the Land in the mid-1930s, one must mention the activists Beitdin, Tzvi Heinichs, the Zionist craftsmen of Bălţi: Yoel Schechtman, Ripstein, and D. Oleinik. A number of Bălţians immigrated within the framework of the Maccabi movement and Maccabiah Games, Sodek, Zitterman, Wertsman, Mendel. Of the Hebrew teachers in Bălţi, Tzesis, the teacher, and his family, the widow of Weinstock, the teacher, and her children, and the widow of Schwarz, the teacher, immigrated. Years beforehand, one of the first teachers at the Gymnasium immigrated: Mintzenbacher.
Youth and Student Immigration
There were also immigrants at the end of the 1930s in the framework of the Youth Aliyah organization: Ehrlichman, Dubinovsky Chayosia, Burstein, Gedalia Tennenboim. In the framework of family unification Itzik Kenner immigrated, and in the student immigration: Shlomo Trachtman (the Hebrew University), Moisika Sissman (the Hebrew University), Benzion Stiebelman (the Technion).
During wartime, Yosef Mazor, Zerubavel Scliar (Seker), a native of Căpreºti, immigrated as students to the Hebrew University. Pupils of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Bălţi David Tennenboim (Tenne).
The primary immigration from Bălţi was fed by the pioneering [movement] immigrations, until 1938, the year when the illegal immigration began.
Immigration by Gymnasium Teachers, During and After the War
Incidentally, the immigration of teacher L. Kuperstein, amidst the war, and the immigration after the war of the former principal, Y. Tumarkin, and the teachers from the Bălţi Gymnasium, Herschko David (Tzvieli), Fanya Gutman, Carmelin, the Latin teacher, need to be noted.
Immigration by Capitalists from Bălţi
Of the capitalists of Bălţi who immigrated, one should mention Eng. Yakov Gefter, who immigrated in 1926, engineer Mendel Yaffe, in 1938, and Fisch, the engineer. Some of Bălţi's wealthy managed to get out of there before
the Russians entered the town. They received certificates and immigrated to the Land of Israel at the end of 1940, and they are: Eng. Yerachmiel Yaffe, Itzik Melech Yaffe, Yona Friedman, Israel Wolman, Berko Frank, Vasserman and Brestchecko. They indeed saved their souls, but they left behind their substantial property, factories, houses, and assets. It needs to be noted that, very unfortunately, significant immigration by Bălţi's middle class did not materialize. The immigration of Jews from Bălţi to agricultural settlement, in the moshavas (private agricultural colonies), as was planned at the inception of ?ibbat Zion in Bălţi, fell short.
The Zionist Immigrations of the Youth Movements
At the end of the 1920s, some 10 members immigrated, but already in the early 1920s, in 1923 as noted, pioneers from Bălţi immigrated in the framework of the Maccabi movement.
HaShomer HaTza'ir was the most cohesive group among the Zionist youth of Bălţi. They were some of the first pioneers who immigrated to the Land and it was they who served as gar'inim (settlement seeds) for the establishment of the kibbutz collectives Ma'abarot, Sha'ar HaAmakim, Dalia, Ruhama, Shamir, and Reshafim. The second wave of HaShomer HaTza'ir pioneers immigrated in the early 1930s, with 15 members who joined Sha'ar HaAmakim. After that the Dalia people immigrated, and in the mid-1930s immigrated HaShomer HaTza'ir pioneers who founded Ruhama in the south and Shamir in the north. Many of them immigrated at the end of the 1930s as part of the illegal immigration (Aliya Bet) and some of them enlisted for the war against the Germany army. After the war, a number of HaShomer HaTza'ir members from Bălţi, part of She'erit Haplita, the surviving remnants, reached the Land, and they, too, joined kibbutzim.
Parallel to HaShomer HaTza'ir immigration was a Gordonia immigration, and they were among the founders of Hulda, Masada, Hanita, Avuka. The largest group of Gordonia pioneers from Bălţi was a group of pioneers who founded Nir Am. A group of pioneers from Bălţi also immigrated as part of the Zionist youth movement, Boselia, which was affiliated with Gordonia.
Mizrachi, HaNo'ar HaTzioni, Dror, Maccabi
Likewise, a minimal number of chalutzim (pioneers) from Bălţi immigrated as part of the youth movements of Young Mizrachi, HaNo'ar HaTzioni (The Zionist Youth), Dror, and a group that was included in the framework of HeChalutz HaMaccabi (The Maccabi Pioneer).
Throughout this period, there was very limited immigration of pioneers on behalf of Beitar, when Beitar was still part of the official Zionist movement and was granted few certificates only. Small was the number of Beitar members who got certificates, their number reaching about 10, until the coming of the illegal immigration in the framework of Af-Al-Pi, which brought some twenty Beitari immigrants from Bălţi in the ships, Katina, Parita, Astir, Sakaria.
The Jewish community regarded this as adventurism. But, surreptitiously, young Beitar members set out from Bălţi, like from other places, to wander over the seas, risking their soul, and in their heart the powerful aspiration to free themselves from the malaise of the Galut (exile), to break the suffocating grip and reach the homeland.
In their wake, members of the other Zionist youth organizations of Bălţi, HaShomer HaTza'ir, Gordonia, Boselia, HaNo'ar HaTzioni, Maccabi, went on illegal immigration, what was called Aliya Bet in the language of the Zionist institutions. Prior to Bessarabia being severed from Romania and annexed to the Soviet Union, the number of immigrants from all the Zionist youth movements who succeeded in immigrating to the Land of Israel was equal to all the chalutzic (pioneering) immigrations from Bălţi since those began. Per an estimate,
some 80 people immigrated in the illegal immigration. The whole of the immigration based on certificates amounted to about that same number. These youth did not yet know and did not foresee what no one foresaw, that, by immigrating to the Land, they saved themselves from annihilation before the coming of the destruction over their childhood home.
Numerically Tallying the Immigration from Bălţi
Per an estimate, the number of immigrants from Bălţi up until the Aliya Bet wave of immigration in 1939/40 came to roughly 140 people, including about 90 settlement pioneers and some 50 regular immigrants, and those include the immigrants of Beitar, Maccabi, HaNo'ar HaTzioni, Mizrachi, HaOved (The Worker), Youth Aliyah, students, the wealthy, and the elderly, who came here to spend their remaining days in the Holy Land. Roughly 70 immigrants from Bălţi came in the illegal immigration and another 30 or so immigrants arrived during the war after they managed to reach Bucharest before the Russians entered Bălţi.
It appears that, all told, some 300 immigrants arrived from Bălţi by the end of the Second World War. That is a very meager balance sheet compared to a Jewish population of about 30,000, at least some 5,000 of whom being youth at the age of adulthood. After the war, with the large wave of immigration of survivors from camps in Transnistria and with the returnees from the evacuation and from Siberia, about 150 Bălţians immigrated. A large immigration of Bălţians recommenced in the early 1970s with the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union. Some 200 immigrants reached Israel in several waves; a portion of them left the country, making their way to the United States and other destinations.
In summary, over the entire time, the total of immigrants from Bălţi came to no more than 600-700 people. That being the case, did the Jewish community of Bălţi not disappoint in terms of immigration to the Land of Israel? That the situation was similar in all of Israel's Diaspora does not comfort us.
Explanations for the Small Amount of Immigration from Bălţi
Bălţi was notable for extensive Zionist activity. On the Jewish street, the Zionist youth movements predominated. It is possible that, had they felt what was happening beneath the surface, things would have looked different. In Bălţi, there were leftist youth movements that operated clandestinely. They sought pathways to the Big Brother in the east. On the other hand, there were also youth in Bălţi who aspired to a life with a career, a mundane salon life. They made efforts to blend into Romanian culture and still believed that there was a future for Jewish youth in Romania if they just managed to reach the status of academic degree holder and practitioner of a free profession.
Zionism appealed to the Jewish youth, but not to those in the middle class, the industrialist promoter, the building contractor, the banker, and the member of a free profession, in order to encourage them to immigrate to the Land of Israel. Of course, the conditions for economic absorption in the Land were difficult, and it did not have the same economic hinterland as there was in Bălţi. Perhaps, too, in the 1930s, antisemitism was not yet felt in Bălţi as they already felt it in Central Europe and Poland, with Hitler's rise to power. Hence, there was not the same urge to immigrate as was felt in Poland, though in the last years before World War II, a depletion occurred among the Jewish public, primarily in the middle class. Indeed, during his historic visit to Bălţi, toward the end of World War II [sic], in 1939 when Hitler's sword of extermination was already threatening Eastern European Jewry, Jabotinsky warned of the approaching Holocaust when he appeared in the city, although he did not foresee its dimensions.
Like a prophet of doom, he prophesied from upon the stage of the packed-to-the-rafters Scala theater, and coined the famous phrases, as he did in tens of Jewish cities in his journey across Europe, preaching for the evacuation plan if you do not liquidate the Exile, the Exile will liquidate you. But the doorposts and thresholds in Bălţi did not shake, as likewise this did not happen in other places, which were even closer to catastrophe.
Af-Al-Pi Immigration from Bălţi
Only a few tens of nationalist-Zionist youth sensed the import of the word of Jabotinsky and answered the challenge, to go up to the Land of Israel swiftly and by any way possible. That was the beginning of the Af-Al-Pi immigration, the illegal immigration.
For decades, the Jewish community of Bălţi maintained a Hebrew education network, purely Zionist, to which there was little akin in the Jewish Diaspora outside the Land of Israel.
Bălţi's Jewry knew how to create foundations of exemplary secular Hebrew education. It upkept the integrative Hebrew school, which was purely in Hebrew, all by itself, out of its own resources, with very little budgetary support on the part of the authorities. Hebrew education in Bălţi extended from kindergarten through elementary school, and it included complete educational Haskalah (liberal, rationalist education) in the framework of the Hebrew Gymnasiums, for boys and for girls.
The Hebrew Gymnasium
The jewel in the crown of Hebrew education in Bălţi was the Hebrew Gymnasium, an institution that gained renown throughout the Jewish Diaspora. Credit will forever belong to R' Avraham Gefter, the father of the idea for the Gymnasium, who translated it from theory into practice.
The Hebrew Teacher's Image
In our eternal memory shall remain the Zionist-Hebrew teacher and educator, who set the identity of Bălţian youth in the image of: The principals, Dubinsky, Tumarkin, and Katz; the Hebrew teachers, Reidel, Schwarz, Krimski, Tzesis, Langerman, Bord, Schuster, Dubinovsky, Weinstock, Kilimnik, Kuperstein, who were the educators of hundreds of Bălţi's youth. They fully put their heart into Hebrew education.
In our memory shall forever remain the image of the educator, Hebrew Gymnasium principal, Dr. Yeshayahu Tumarkin; a Prisoner of Zion in Romania, he immigrated to Israel at an advanced age and, through great effort, succeeded in acquiring Hebrew. He integrated into the civil service and was vital and active in society and cultivated close ties with former Gymnasium students. He passed away at a ripe old age. May his memory be blessed.
Gymnasium Students Immigrate to the Land of Israel
The Hebrew Gymnasium made its main contribution to cultivating Zionist education in the city. The development of the Zionist youth movements in Bălţi cannot be imagined without the Hebrew school and without the Hebrew Gymnasium, out of which came most of the madrichim (counselor-leaders) of the Zionist youth movements, of Maccabi, HaShomer HaTza'ir, Gordonia, and Beitar. Many of the Gymnasium's pupils carried on with their studies at universities and returned to Bălţi as physicians, engineers, pharmacists, and lawyers, though a large share of the pupils went in the direction of Zionist pioneering. Many left their studies, near their completion, in order to immigrate to the Land as pioneers.
Jewish Youth Joins Communism
During the Romanian period between the two wars, there were Bălţians, mainly among the Jewish leftist youth, who were persecuted by the Romanian secret police. Some sought sanctuary over the border, beyond the Dniester, in the Soviet Union. A central figure was Lyonia Oigenstein, who in time became the ideologue of the Communist movement in Romania, under the Romanian name, Leonte Răutu; together with another Bălţian, Kishinovsky, who was the aide to the Jewish prime minister, Ms. Ana Pauker. Another Bălţian, Moshe Levin, a member of HaShomer HaTza'ir, would become senior political officer in the Romanian division
named after Tudor Vladimirescu, which was assembled from Romanian prisoners in Russia, [who] underwent communist indoctrination, and fought to liberate Romania from the German occupation; he reached the rank of Romania's ambassador to Italy, became disappointed with the new regime in Romania, immigrated to Israel, and worked for many years on the editorial board of a local Romanian-language newspaper.
And although some of the Bălţian communist youth moved up in the hierarchy of the new regime in Romania, after World War II, many were indeed exiled to Siberia during Stalin's period, accused of espionage and Trotskyism, and perished in concentration camps in the deportation zones.
Contribution of Gymnasium Students to Israeli Culture in the Land of Israel
Yea, we are proud of the alumni of the Hebrew Gymnasium who continued in the Hebraic spirit in Israel, too, the same Hebraic spirit that they absorbed in the Diaspora in Bălţi. And they are the lyrical poet, Prisoner of Zion in the Siberian exile, Y. K. Bertini; among the Gymnasium students, David Tenne, Hebrew Language professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Prof. Elkanah Margalit, professor of contemporary Jewish history and well-known researcher of the Zionist movements, reached academic stature in Israel. And lecturers in the colleges of the hityashvut (settlement) movement, S. Ben Dor and S. Yovel (Stromwasser).
Bălţi was blessed to be represented in the field of Hebrew and Yiddish literature by the poets, Yaakov Fichman and Ephraim Auerbach, and author, Chaim Hochman, winner of the Fichman Prize, among the first Gymnasium pupils to immigrate to Israel as part of the immigration from the Soviet Union in the 1970s; and writers and literature critics, L. Kuperstein, Hebrew literature teacher and editor of literary journals in Bălţi, and his renowned pupil, A. B. Yaffe, literary editor, author, and literary critic.
The Gymnasium's students were among those who realized their ideal in practice, did grueling labors, dried up swamps, burned with fever, turned wasteland into flourishing farms. They were of the founders of glorious kibbutz and kvutza collectives.
Prisoners of Zion from Bălţi
Many Bălţians were among the Prisoners of Zion who were exiled to Siberia by the Soviets. They went through the seven circles of hell, and withstood the inhuman torments, with the Song of Zion in their heart.
Bălţians in the Fight Against the Nazis
A number of young men hailing from Bălţi took part in the fight against the Nazis in the framework of the Allied armies, including: Lionia Schachter, Monya Burdman, Aly Zaslovski, Mishka Fuchs, Ripsman, Izia and Davidkeh Dinari (Frank), survivors of the Struma [illegal immigration ship]. Meanwhile on the other side, on the Russian front, Bălţians fought as part of the Red Army: A. Turchin, Chaim Gorochovski, M. Kora, Mosia Landes, Oleinik Itche, Haim Gleibman, Yaakov Fichman (Oren), and others. Cooperman and Aharonchik Gleibman of blessed memory fell in the battles on German soil, close to the war's conclusion.
Few got to reach the homeland; these are they: Munia Ackerman, Fanya Trachtman, Dr. Tzvi Heinichs, Malamut, Lozar [sic] Gick. But most of Bălţi's public activists who were deported did not get to see their life's dream come true. They perished on the Siberian steppes. Here they are: Gymnasium principal Rafael Katz, Goldstein the attorney, a former Latin teacher at the Hebrew Gymnasium. Or they perished in the evacuation Langerman the teacher, and others.
The Holocaust of the Jews of Bălţi
Until now, there has not been much writing about the Holocaust of Bălţi's Jewry. From the little we were able to compile on the Holocaust of Bălţi's Jewry at the beginning of the war, in the camps of Transnistria, in the evacuation, or in the Siberian exile, a shocking picture emerges. It embodies the Jewish fate in all its cruelty.
Outstanding Bălţians Serving the Nation in the Homeland in the Foreign Service and Economy
The people of Bălţi also contributed to creating the foundation of the Israel Defense Forces Degani, Wertsman Almog. There is someone who got the privilege of being among the preeminent in the nation and elected to the Knesset, that is the State of Israel's parliament, and that was Gershuni Pinkenzon, of blessed memory, a man of Kibbutz Nir-Am who served his nation faithfully.
Bălţian natives operated in service of the state in an emissary capacity in the foreign service as commercial attachés and consuls for economic affairs in Britain and the United States: Elkanah Margalit served in Bucharest and in London, and Yosef Mazor in London and in New York.
The Bălţians who were successful in the economic sphere and contributed to the fortification of Israel's economy are an honor to us, and they are: Ruby Zimmerman from Canada, who resides in Israel, and his brother, Michael; Ruby is a well-known Jewish philanthropist in the Jewish world, contributing greatly to cultural and research institutions in Israel and the Diaspora.
Eng. Yakov Gefter, among the pioneers of the textile industry in the Land of Israel; Yakov Ben Nathan (Yasha Chalfin), who started out as an engraver laborer, today maintains a conglomerate of factories for industrial equipment and machines and gained the title, the darling of Israeli industry; Moshe Granzberg, an expert and consultant for workforce productivity; and Moti Kogan, who did a great deal developing economic enterprises in Labor Zionist settlements.
Misha Fuchs served the nation of Israel faithfully in settlement, in the war against the Nazis, in the Israel Defense Forces, in culture, education, and in hasbara [public diplomacy] in exemplary fashion.
The Book's Aim as a Message to Next Generations
We have a duty to commemorate this sacred community, commemorate the members of it, its institutions, its prominent personalities, and its glorious past. Bălţi's world of yesterday is no longer. It was an effervescent and pure Jewish world. It was cut short, annihilated, went up in pillars [original reads maneuver, but probably a typo] of smoke, in blood and fire. Our fathers, brothers, sisters, and kinfolk were exterminated, thousands of them, at the hands of the Nazi-Romanian oppressor, in cold blood.
Whoever did not manage to run for their life to inside Russia at the outbreak of the war was obliterated, whether in the city or its environs, whether in the camps of Transnistria. Many fell in the evacuation, at the edge of Russia, and there is no marking of their burial.
For all these martyrs, we have a duty to erect them a memorial monument, and that is being done in the form of this book, which contains the chronicle of the glorious Bălţi community and the telling of the deeds of that community's people.
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