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[Page 653]

Travelogue:
Impressions of Beltsi and Bessarabia, 1992

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 true–can 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: Fă–mă, mamă, eu noroc, Şi macar m–aruncă–n foc.

[Page 654]

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 Beltsi 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 Beltsi, 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 Beltsi being put to death.

And from Beltsi 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 Drochia–then a railroad junction, and now a center of the food industry–and you arrive at Ataki (Otachi), upon the Dniester. The few Jewish homes that remain, inhabited by the non–Jewish 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 Mogilev–Podolski (Mohyliv–Podilskyi), 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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