by Sonia (Faiershtayn) Katz, Washington 1984
Translated by Pamela Russ
[ ] translator's remarks
In the month of June 1941, the tragic story took place, the famous pogrom against the Jews in the city of Iasi, Rumania. It was marked in world history by the name of Bloody Sunday, Baie de Sange.
The second tragedy during the same period of time was the death train. Jews were locked into hermetically sealed wagons, taken in inhuman, worse than for animal conditions, to the destination of Iasi-Frumos Tg., [Targu Frumos, a town in Iasi], there and back, within three days, in an abnormal ride, with the shaking wagons containing the imprisoned Jews, tossing them back and forth, or with sharp movements accompanying the stops, with thirst, and without air to breathe, completely depleted. The result was that several thousand Jews perished, among whom was my best friend Esther-Vika Faynblum from Balti. In the transport medium, the so-called modern hell of Rumanian murderers, they simply killed people with hellish sufferings. The thirst of the Jews who were locked in was so huge, that some even tried to deal with their thirst by drinking urine.
During that same period, I was witness to a third tragedy of Jews from Balti-Bessarabia. They were chased out of Balti on foot, in the direction of Iasi Rumania. They were in Sukola for three days, locked in, tightly cramped into a shul and a school.
Together with Beltzer, with Sholom son of Zissu Mesterman's wife Kuke, and Zibenberg's wife, we brought all kinds of help, clothing, and medicines to all the miserable, exhausted people.
Those people who had been chased out of their homes were so drained, they were not to be recognized. They begged, as young children, for a piece of bread, some food, soap, a towel, and so on. Among these tragic people who were chased out of Balti, there was Zheni Gulka, Zheni Buberman. The butcher, a neighbor of my father, called my father, of blessed memory, by name. Someone else got me very frightened, saying that Moshe Leib Faiershtayn, my brother, was also here, in a corner. I found him, with his wife and child, embittered and in a terrible state. Moshe Leib was almost naked, wearing torn underwear. In the evening, I ran home
to get them help, clothing, food, and other necessities. I was only able to get these things to them in the early morning, after they had already been chased outside into the rain, but I and Zibenberg were unable to buy out our brothers and sisters. Here they only released Muni Rozentaler's daughter and her two children and mother-in-law. Here there was also the family Suruker. Klara Suruker tells that the Jews from Balti, in the month of July 1941, were taken like animals in freight wagons to Giurgiu.
After two months of similar transports in freight wagons, they were taken to Marculesti, Bessarabia. From there, they were once again herded to the Dniester. Many holy victims died during these horrific times of herding these ill-fated people, as they spent a night in Kasautii, in the forest, and many of these refugees were left to die there in the cold. The fate of Transnistra was even worse, or as is recited in the text of Kol Nidrei [prayer on Yom Kippur], some were designated to live, some to die. Moshe Leib Faiershtayn and his child perished here.
I was able to visit Balti in 1962. My father's house was destroyed, vanished. The entire area was gone. When I went to the Jewish cemetery to visit the grave of my parents, I saw, as the artist Leonid Pinczewski describes: abandonment, neglect, broken walls, tombstones, dirt, empty bottles of whiskey among the ruins, evidence that the drunkards had partied here, disturbed everything, not from the standpoint of anti-religious propaganda, but purely as vandalism. They also destroyed the proud lineage of the deceased that was etched [into the stone], when the tombstones had been attended to and cared for.
How sad is the fate of the Jews. During their lives, they are not left alone to enjoy a peaceful life, the same after their decease, as their tombstones are destroyed.
With these refreshed memories of those tragic times for the Jews, I wish to perpetuate in these lines, the memory of those who perished, and among them, my brother Moshe Leib Faiershtayn, his child, and my best friend, Esther Vika Faynblum. May their memories be blessed.
by Y. Mazor
Translated by Ben Zion Shani
I had a retrospective view of the cycle of my life from the age of four years to the age of eighteen, the days of my childhood, and the days of my adolescence, in a town where we were reared in Jewish culture, a town where we were reared upon political Zionism, and where we acted out of instinct and good intuition, out of youthful enthusiasm for an ideal we executed to fulfilment, and have the privilege being a free people in our homeland, to every extent of the term.
This great satisfaction that makes the heart swell, knowing that providence has smiled upon us, that we followed the right path, that we lived to see our dreams come truecan anything in life be more gratifying (barring the gratifications that come with having a family)?
I became more Zionist, a greater lover of the land than ever, after this visit. I believe that Shifra and I shared in this, such as we have never before shared our beliefs, and I hereby recommend to all my friends who originated there, to make the effort and go back to see their roots.
You arrive at a place that bears no resemblance to the place you left and, were it not for points of reference such as the cloister, the cathedral, the municipal park, the Armenian church, the church by the prison, the Dominica Ileana and Ion Creanga high schools, the house owned by our landlord, the bridge across the river Reut (Răut), the Samensky factory, I could not have found my way around town.
And what haunted me the entire time?
I was born during the time of the Ukrainian pogroms of 1918 and 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution. My mother originally came from Ananyev, which is between Kiev and Odessa. My father was born in the Jewish agricultural colony in Vârtojani (Vertiujeni), on the banks of the river Dniester, in Soroca County.
After my father returned from Austrian captivity in World War I, he and my mother settled in Ananyev, with my mother's family.
Then came the thugs of Petliura and Makhno, who wreaked havoc throughout southern Russia. My parents miraculously survived. I was an infant in the cradle when my parents decided to escape the pogromists and cross the Dniester to Vârtojani, where my maternal grandmother, a widow, lived with her four daughters and two sons.
Risking their lives, in the dark of night, they would sneak across the Dniester where they could be caught by the Romanian Gendarmes who, with extreme brutality, would slaughter the Jewish refugees coming from the Ukraine.
There is a Romanian proverb: Fămă, mamă, eu noroc, Şi macar maruncăn foc.
That is pretty much how my life developed.
As my mother used to tell it: My father arranged with a smuggler to take us across the Dniester. The group that included my parents travelled on foot for long spells, and at night they would hide from the pogromists. The mosquitos would bite the baby. When they were aboard the boat, half way across the river, the smuggler discovered there was a baby on his mother's lap. He demanded that the baby be cast into the river lest he begin to cry and put the refugees in danger. My mother pleaded for the life of the baby, and promised that he is a good boy and would not cry. Indeed, the baby suckled on quietly at his mother's breast.
The refugees crossed the river and scattered amongst the tall reeds that were on the Bessarabian bank of the river. They continued to lie there amongst the reeds, and the baby remained silent.
At dawn break, the convoy of refugees proceeded to the road to Vârtojani. Where they encountered the gendarmes.
Fortunately, thanks to my father being fluent in Moldavian, he was able to convince his captors that he was from the colony, not a refugee from the Ukraine.
And now, two generations later, I am back in the Ukraine, at the invitation of the Ukrainian government, received with honors, a car and a chauffeur put at my disposal to drive me along the same route of escape and rescue, from Ananyev, through Odessa, towards the Dniester and across it to Soroca, near Vârtojani.
Could anything be more gratifying than this?
Thoughts engulfed me the entire time, about what would have happened, had I not left Bălţi in the nick of time. Throughout, I was thinking about what befell my friends and pupils. I would certainly have been arrested as a Zionist activist and as a Revisionist, and exiled to Siberia. Physically frail as I am, I surely would not have survived there.
Another possibility: When the Germans invaded, I surely would not have escaped with the Soviets, and stayed put. The result would certainly have been that which befell all our brethren of Bessarabia, either put to death by the Germans and Romanians, or murdered en route to exile in Transnistria. And if I did make it to Transnistria, it is doubtful that I would have made it out of there alive.
I am constantly plagued by a concept of guilt. I fled the battlefield, leaving my family, and all of the Jews of Bălţi, to their fate; survivor's guilt.
In my mind's eye, I pictured, in the square at the foot of the church assembly, the images of the Jews of Bălţi being put to death.
And from Bălţi back to Kiev, along the via dolorosa of the Transnistria deportees.
You pass Dondușeni and see the signs to Jadinitz (Edineţ), to Soroca, you pass Drochiathen a railroad junction, and now a center of the food industryand you arrive at Ataki (Otachi), upon the Dniester. The few Jewish homes that remain, inhabited by the nonJewish locals.
And I think of my friend Mussia, and his memoirs of this town that used to bustle with Jewish life; you cross the new bridge across the Dniester, to the county capital MogilevPodolski (MohylivPodilskyi), which served as transit center for the deportees from Bessarabia, from Bukovina, and from the Regat, to the valley of the shadow of death that was Transnistria.
Everything is all so new and in good repair. The church turrets glimmering in the setting sun, and an abundance of fruit trees, peace and tranquility, and not a trace of the Jews and their suffering.
It is as though this chapter of the Holocaust of the Jews of Bessarabia, was torn out of the pages of history.
You travel through the open spaces of Bessarabia and Podolia, northern Bessarabia, and you see, to the right and to the left, the fields, the hills, and the fertile valleys. Here thrived Jewish agricultural colonies, and Jewish towns, and Jewish families spread out to the villages and the railroad junctions, Jews operated factories and flour mills, or traded in the agricultural products, identifying markets throughout the world, thus contributing to the development of the Moldavian agricultural economy. Everyone at that time lived in harmony as good neighbors.
In the scorching summer days, as the golden sunflowers ripen, smiling at you from both sides of the road, farther than the eye can see, it is all so idyllic, but it is all so Judenrein, and the heart cries within its depths.
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