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[Page 51]

My memories

by Hadassa Rachel Birman

Translated by Sara Mages

Hadassa Rachel Birman, daughter of Asher Yitzchak Wolfowitz, was born on 3 Kislev 5636 (1876) in the village of Belerfeld not far from Ekaterinoslav. She studied Hebrew since childhood, and after she moved with her family to live in Ekaterinoslav she got closer to the Zionist circles that were led at that time by Menachem Ussishkin.

She continued her Zionist activities after she got married and established a traditional home. She didn't stray from this way even during the Soviet regime, and her home served as a center for the Zionist circles who continued to exist in secret. Moral and material help came from Mrs. Birman home during those difficult years.

In 1932 she immigrated to Israel with her family and settled in Rahovot. Also here, despite her advanced age, her home serves as a center for our townspeople who respect, admire and love her. She hasa large part in the “Yekaterinoslav-Dnepropetrovsk” book.

I was born and raised in a traditional home. My father, R' Asher Yitzchak Wolfowitz, was educated in the Yeshivot of Lita. There, he befriended R' Binyamin Zakheim who was later a rabbi in Yekaterinoslav. My father z”l immigrated to this area in Southern Russia and settled in a farm near the Egran Station. At that time, my father joined “Agudat Achim,” which bought land east of the Jordan River. He sent his brother-in-law to prepare all that was needed for the family's immigration, but as we know, this settlement didn't materialize.

In 1886, his father-in-law, R' Chaim-Yehusua Shapira, came to our village. He only talked about Eretz-Yisrael, working the land, life of austerity and the Hebrew language. He began to speak Hebrew with his family and even with the animals. He was ridiculed in the area: “Shapira is talking to the cow in the Holy Language.” He influenced my father to let me study Hebrew with my brother. To my happiness, a good teacher was found for that, but there were no reading books. When I found that there is a Hebrew library in Ekaterinoslav, I traveled to the city and signed up for it, and by doing so I met interesting people. A short time later I learned that the library was about to close for lack of funds. I decided to go to Ussishkin who received me very well. I explained to him that if the library will be closed the city and its surroundings would remain without a Hebrew book. He promised me to look into the matter, and thanks to him the library wasn't closed.

Chaim-Yehusua Shapira greatly influenced me all those years. He made sure to provide me with books in Hebrew and also invited me to Zionist meetings when he was in the city. Once, he informed me about a meeting at the home of Dr. Angel, and when I entered I found a large number of guests there. Among them was Mr. Michel Meidanski z”l, the representative of the Yekaterinoslav region. When I entered, he received me with the greeting – here's our veteran Israeli. Mrs. Paulina Yafa also participated in the meeting. She proposed to open a high-school for girls – a matter that was implemented later.

 

B.

In 1900 I married my husband, Yosef Birman, and we moved to live in Yekaterinoslav. It was an industrial city with many large factories. Since it sat by the Dnieper River the timber trade, which was sent north by rafts, was widespread in the city. There was also a grain trade that was sent abroad. Yekaterinoslav was in the Pale of Settlement and many flocked to the city from the small towns to find a source of income. There were many institutions in the city: three “Talmud Torah” schools, a Yeshiva which had a two-story building, and a dormitory. The Yeshiva had many supporters and donors like: Karpas, Yudelson, Emanuel, Meidansky, Karezov and others. The head of the Yeshiva was R' Dov from Bobruysk and the overseer was Rabbi Halperin. Rabbi Gelman has done a lot for the development and expansion of the Yeshiva.

From the other institutions I will mention the Jewish Hospital which moved from its previous location in Bulniznaya Street to Sufskaya Street. There, a block of stone buildings, which was surrounded by a red brick wall, was built for all the departments of the hospital and also apartments for the employees. A “cheap kitchen,” which was built from the donation of Mr. Karpas, was located on Banya Street. The community management offices were also located there. There were two orphanages for 80 children which were maintained by the community management. A women's committee took care of these institutions. Mr. Karpas established and maintained an orphanage for 40 children. It was a beautiful building that was surrounded with a red brick wall. In general, the social work was highly developed and a number of women's organizations devoted themselves to it.

At that time there were several schools for Jewish children in Yekaterinosla. From them: Cohen's vocational school for girls who studied sewing and other handcraft,

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the two schools of the Shechter brothers, Matiletzky's school, and others. Evening classes were also held in these schools. Later, Wexler's high-school for boys was established in Kazanskaya Street, and at the beginning of this century – the high-school of P. Yafa and Yudkevitz. Classes weren't held in these schools on the Sabbat and during the Jewish holidays.

 

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H. R. Birman

 

There were several libraries in Yekaterinoslav. One was opened in 1895 in accordance with a license obtained by Ussishkin. The librarian was Yosef Markovsky who later immigrated to Israel with his family. This library also served as a place for meetings. There was also a small library next to the Choral Synagogue where it was possible to find a selection of new literature, and the librarian was H. Axelrod (immigrated to Israel). H. Litvak served in this position before him (his daughter Chinga – is in Israel). A large library, which was worthy of its name, belonged to the “Federation of Jewish trade assistants.” At first, it contained books in Russian and Yiddish and later also in Hebrew. The librarian was Mr. Yitzchakin. Sometimes, this federation organized balls with varied programs (music, readings) for members and guests, and it was possible to find the community leaders there.

Among the first booksellers were Avraham Rogov and his son, and Y. Henkin. Their small shops were always full of shoppers because there was a great demand for reading books. The “Pakent-Regers,” as they were called then, bought all types of

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reading books in Hebrew and Yiddish, prayer books and more, and brought them as peddlers to the Jewish homes in the towns and villages.

The Zionist activity in Yekaterinoslav greatly expanded after M. Ussishkin married the daughter of S. Paleim, one of the important Jewish residents in the city, and settled there in 1890. Indeed, several members of “Hovevei Zion” were very active before his arrival, and among them: M. Meidansky, Avraham Harkabi who wrote for “Ha-Melitz” [the first Hebrew newspaper in Russia] and others. However, the activity increased only after Ussishki's arrival. Meetings were held and the famous preachers, Yevzrov and Maslians?i who later settled in Yekaterinoslav, visited the city often. The synagogues, in which they've preached, were filled and many young people flocked to hear them.

Cheder Metukan” [reformed Cheder], which was under the management of H.K. Zuta, was opened about 1898 and among the teachers was also H.Y. Shapira. A lot was done for the strengthening and existence of this Cheder (Mr. Zuta wrote about it in his book “Baresit HaDerech”). The association “Safa Chaya” [“Living Language”] was established in 1901 and its energetic and devoted members were: Z. Rabinowitch, Peitelzon, Zuta, T. Shlonsky, Y. Veksler and many others. They gathered and spoke Hebrew at the homes of M. Ussishkin, the dentist Angle and others.

 

C.

We were very pleased when Dr. Shmaryaho Levin came to serve as the community rabbi after a long struggle with his predecessor – Shachor. Dr. Levin captured the heart of everyone with his charming personality and fiery speeches. It's hard for me to remember and express in writhing all the respect and affection that he acquired. In Hanukkah of that year, a party, in which pictures of Israel and its landscape were presented, was organized at the municipal theater. It was filled to capacity with teachers and their students. It was rare that so many Jewish children, who felt warmth, freedom and happiness, gathered together.

Two newspapers were published in Yekaterinoslav: one was close to the right, and the second was edited by the lawyer Zeitlin and the local Russian intelligentsia participated in it. Important cultural work was conducted by the “Association for science” which was located in a four-story building in Tzetzkebeka. There, it was possible to hear lectures on various topics from scientists and professors from the “Harari Institute” in Yekaterinoslav. In addition, various concerts and other activities were also held there, and we attended them frequently.

In 1905, on 21, 22, 23 October, pogroms, which were under the auspice of the army and the Cossacks, broke out in Yekaterinoslav. The rioters robbed, looted and killed many. The lawyer Zeitlin walked and recorded the details in all corners of the city. His newspaper published a sharp article in which the Russian intelligentsia declared that they're ashamed to be called Russian if such acts are done in the country. The yard, in which we lived, belonged to a Russian and he saved seventy people. Also his daughter, who lived in another street, stood by the gate and didn't let the rioters to enter. Our self-defense was very active and peace returned on the evening of the third day of the riots. We returned to our home, heated water and washed the babies. We were only able to talk after we drank tea because the speech was taken from us before that. On the same day my teacher, R' H. Y. Shapira, came to say goodbye because he decided to immigrate to Israel with his family.

In 1909, Dr. B. Z. Mossinson came to our city and greatly impressed us with his appearance and his speeches that he gave in Russian and Hebrew in a Sephardic accent. He tried to convince us to register our children to “Gymnasia Herzliya.” In those years Bialik, Ansky, Pasmanik and Jabotinsky visited Yekaterinoslav. There were also several concert of Jewish music.

We spent anxious days during the Belies' trial. We lived in constant fear because we knew that the mayor and his staff, who were anti-Semite, were getting ready to destroy us with all the tools of destruction. Their men of destruction stood ready and waited for the “signal.” A miracle happened to us because God saved us from their hands. The names of Rabbi Maze, [Moscow's Chief Rabbi], Gruzenberg and others were always on our lips.

 

D.

There were two rabbis in our city: Rabbi Binyaminka Zkhaim for the opponents, and Rabbi Bere-Wolf Kozhevinkov for the Hassidim. I've never heard a misunderstanding or unpleasantness between them or their followers. There were additional rabbis in the suburbs of the big city and also a “rabbi” (a good Jew).

After the death of the two chief rabbis the opponents appointed the genius, Rabbi Pinchas Gelman z”tl, who was friendly, pleasant, popular and active. A “Talmud Torah” with decent dedicated teachers, who were under his supervision, was located in the yard where I lived.

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The “Yeshiva,” that a seminar for teachers was added to it later, was also under his supervision. Rabbi Gelman hoped to immigrate to Israel and establish a faculty of law there, but he was unable to do so because to our great sorrow the rabbi passed away when he was only forty years old.

The Hassidism's rabbi was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson z”tl. His Hassidim never denigrated the honor of Rabbi Gelman. I heard it myself. Of course, R' Schneerson worked quite a bit in his company. I knew his wife, the Rebbetzin, who knew Hebrew and spoke it to me when I met her. However, one day she told me that she doesn't speak Hebrew… Their youngest son was Leibale, and according to his mother he studied the Talmud at the age of five. We were very happy when our children were able to enter him to the Zionist movement. HaRav E. Broshtein (the previous community rabbi) educated his talented son, who studied the Talmud, in the Zionist movement, but in the end he was caught by Communism … It was told, that when the two of them met, R' E. Broshtein complained before R' Schneerson about his sorrow and disappointment that his favorite son became a communist. R' Schneerson answered him: like me, when I learned that my son Leibale became a Zionist…

 

E.

And now, the First World War broke out with all its horrors and hardships. The deportees from the border settlements and the refugees arrived to our city. Many settled in our city because it was located in the Pale of Settlement. The rabbis, who were imprisoned as hostages, were also brought to our city. The townspeople welcomed them with warmth and took care of all their needs. Actually, despite all the sorrow, it was a blessing for our city because it was infused with a new Jewish blood. During those years, (1915-1916), Yekaterinoslav has been enriched by genuine Jewish power of the Jews of Lita and Poland. The Yeshivot of Lida and Slabodka moved here (later it moved to Yelisbetgrad). The voices of Torah scholars rang from all the synagogues. Also the gymnasium of P. Cohen came from Vilna with is blessed cargo – the lofty teachers: Dr. Y.L. Baruch, N. Pins, P. Shiffman (Ben-Sira), Kostrinsky, Kantorowicz, Dr. Lichtenstein, and others. Gymnasia “Tarbut” was opened and the Teachers Union was strengthened. The teachers who took part in it were: Wilenzik, Polonsky, Litvak, Shragorodsky and others. From the Yidisha'im: Kazakevich, Dworkin, Robinson, Bugoslawsky, and others. Two seminars, one on of behalf of “Tarbut” and the second under the supervision of R' Gelman, were founded. Two kindergartens were also opened, one in Hebrew under the management of Mrs., Chaya Lichtenstein-Weizmann and the second in Yiddish. The Zionist propaganda was intense and comprehensive, and the study of the Hebrew language was expanded. The Yidisha'im also didn't sit idle and opened a disrespectful propaganda. In addition, lectures were held for all the teachers. I visited several of them, and Mr. N. Pins was the living spirit in them.

The public work was extensive. We took care of the soldiers' wives, the refugees and their children. In addition to the kindergartens we also organized a “kirkara” (playground) for the children under the guidance of the kindergarten teachers Chinga Litvak and the daughter of the teacher Kantorowitch. I collected the children from my neighborhood and later returned them to their homes.

By chance, I befriended a family from Pinks who came from there together with the bank. Through this family I met Yosef Bergman, the brothers Eisenberg and others from Pinks who were active and dedicated Zionists. A welding workshop, in which the student received a small salary and lunch, was opened under Ehrlich's management. At that time, the brothers Moshe and Yehezkel Zaks, who were student in “Gymnasia Herzliya” and returned to study in Yekaterinoslav, lived at my home. Their Hebrew speech left an impression on me and they taught my children to speak Hebrew.

 

F.

And here is the Balfour Declaration! It's difficult to describe the joy, excitement and hope in our city! The public work hasn't weakened and Mr. Kochanovsky's Hebrew Gymnasium was opened on Opornaya Street. Among its teachers were: the Levin brothers (today, Yehudi Leib is the Chief Rabbi of Moscow), Aresh – father of the “Habima” actor Avital, Kochanovsky's three daughters and his son-in-law. There was no lack of students and the parents committee, to which I also belonged, has done a lot to improve the Hebrew lessons and the school. Despite the danger of the civil war we organized a party for the children on Lag BaOmer. We walked in a procession through the city's streets to a forest where we organized games, sing-along and more. The Zionist activity gradually expanded and with it also the study of the Hebrew language. In Cohen's Gymnasium all the subjects were taught in Hebrew, a matter that wasn't easy to carry out.

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The allocation of 1000 Ruble from the philanthropist S. Barslavsky gave “Tarbut” the possibility to expand the scope of its work. Lecturers and readers gathered every week in “Tzeirei Zion” club on Opornaya Street, and the young forces – Y. Idelshon, Y. Ritov and M. Lev – took an active part in it. The brothers Gorowitz from the Pinsk group and Zalman Lubovsky were very active. Libai, who was an excellent speaker, joined later. Avraham Gutman moved to Yekaterinoslav and took an active part in the Zionist activities.

 

G.

Gloomy days arrived, and every day brought a curse worse than the last. A civil war, a robber leaves – a killer takes his place. Again and again. The roads are dangerous also in the city. Everyone is only talking about food and clothes. The trade ceased, the shops were closed and all the employees were laid off. I think that there wasn't a normal academic year, because everything was destroyed and nothing was rebuilt. Denikin's soldiers, who came after the German troops took what they wanted, robbed and killed. Everyone traveled to the villages – to exchange items for a small quantity of grits and flour. Our work didn't stop under these conditions and from time to time we gathered at the home of Dr. Y. Dolsinsky. When it wasn't allowed to study Hebrew we organized a school at the home of H. Shochat. Mordechai Gover and his wife Rivka taught there and one of the students stood on guard. Another group studied Hebrew in my apartment with Gover. Over time, Yona Kesse, his brother Mendel, Yeshayah Shar, N. Lev, Zalman Rabinowitch, S. Frumkin, Sprinzak and others joined the teaching staff. Despite the danger we organized parties in Hanukkah, Tu Bishvat, and other holidays. Once, we arranged a big Simchat Torah party at the home of Dr. Ginzburg and Natan Ternavsky, who was later exiled and was last seen in prison in Arkhangelsk, gave a lecture. A special committee took care of the finance and its members were: Moshe Risin. Ziama Yafit (Yufit} and others.

In 1921 the refugees started to return to their places. In 1921-1922 came the great drought and the famine related to it. In 1923-1924 came the arrests of the Zionists in our city. The first victim was the young man Moisyev, an only son to his parents who fell ill and died in exile. Among those arrested were: H. Reichman, Daniel Beresovsky, Tzvi Bokrinsky, Leah Lev, Rivka Volodarsky, Lioba Ginodman, Aharon Puzin and others. Some of them were released and some sentenced to expulsion. Later, their verdict was replaced by a departure to Israel. The arrests continued in the following years, and in 1927 Eliezer Tripolsky, my son Yehudah and others were arrested. The Zionist activity among the youth continued all these years, and those who conducted it with great energy were: Sara Milerowitz, the Orlov sisters, my daughter Miriam and others. The children were very dedicated and despite the danger they recruited new members for the movement. Our apartment was one of the places in which meetings and lectures took place.

Dr. B. Chanis was very active during the famine years. He received money from abroad to help the needy and especially for the rehabilitation of the Jewish Hospital and the clinic on Charkovskaya Street. He also helped those who turned to him, but in the end he was exiled. There was also a group of adults who gathered from time to time. Among them: Rozinov, Avraham Gutman, Kissin, Mostovlenski and others. The previous community rabbi, E. Burstein, who was sick and lame, occasionally visited our synagogue on Novosleniai Street. He encouraged us and strengthened our hands and our spirit. Several children studied the Torah in this synagogue and Mr. Zuker took care of their needs. We printed the movement's flyers in my apartment and in the apartments of Shlonsky, Rosovsky and Kostrinsky.

On the occasion of my illness I received a treatment at the clinic on Charkovskaya Street where Dr. Cohen-Berenstein worked. Later he moved to the hospital. My daughter, who came to visit me from Poland, brought him greetings from his daughter, the actress Miriam Cohen-Berenstein. When we came to visit him I saw the place where he lived – a large room that was divided in two by a curtain, and a kitchen which was located in a dark corner near the entrance. He was already sick and his wife left a good impressed on me. She was always busy taking care of her home. We had several talks about Israel etc., and he was very restrained. Sometime later I learned from Mr. Toporowsky that Cohen-Berenstein passed away. There weren't any notices in the city and only a few people knew about it.

Emissaries came from the center in spite all the dangers. One day I was informed that a meeting would take place in my apartment with the representative of the center. My apartment became the meeting place for the local Zionists after my husband moved to Moscow. We prepared places to sit from wood planks, brought potatoes,

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watermelons, pickles and tomatoes from the cellar. We peeled and cooked, and had a pleasant and cheerful meeting. The emissary was Sioma Lioberski. Once, at the request of my son Yehudah, I gave Stagier permission to hide in my apartment for a month.

In 1932 I left Ekaterinoslav with my husband and immigrated to Israel. We parted from Batya Berkowski, a devoted and faithful soul who risked her life for the movement. She sewed undergarments for the market to support her elderly parents. Everyone who came from the movement, found assistance and a place to sleep in the room that she lived with her parents. She corresponded with some of the deportees and sent them everything that they asked for. Before my journey she told me: I'm keeping a “minyan” here, meaning, that she had 10 friends who were loyal to the movement. She used to send two or three young men or women to Moscow, and others came to her from there to strengthen the movement. At the end, she was arrested and sent to Northern Siberia (today she's in Israel – after years of imprisonment and hardships).

We always lived in fear and tension. We were ready, loyal and dedicated to each other. Despite all this, it was a very interesting period and I mention it with longings.


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Defense in October 1905

by V. Dalman[1]

Translated by Sara Mages

The pogrom

The pogrom began in Ekaterinoslav a day or two after it started in other cities. We had no idea what was happening in other cities because of the postal strike. We still didn't have a normal service and letters and newspapers didn't arrive.

On Thursday, October 19, in the evening, the first sign was given that a pogrom is approaching. On the same evening, about 9 o'clock, we learned that a group of rioters concentrated at the entrance to the community center. The rioters, who participated earlier in a march down Prospect Street, fired several shots at those who walked out of the hall, and dispersed. Most of the assembled also left the place.

After I learned that, I joined the member Pinye and we arrived to the community center together. The discussions already ended there, and a registration of members from various organizations was carried out in several rooms on the ground floor. We were getting ready for self-defense.

Both of us received a specific role from our members, and we made our way to the defense's main assembly point on behalf of our organization.

About 150 members, who answered the call of the organization's committee, already gathered in an empty yard of one of the synagogues. The member Michael conducted a members' roll-call in a loud voice, distributed weapons and sent the groups to their locations.

I, together with Pinye, were given the duty to join our members in the organization's main residence, which was located on Kazaziya Street, and we went there immediately.

The running around to find apartments for our groups, telephones, ammunition, weapons and others lasted until the late hours of the evening. The members were divided into groups, weapons were distributed, and bombs have been prepared. We finally fell asleep and woke up on Friday morning with the feeling that there is no need to worry about a pogrom. Life went on as usual in the city… but it only seemed so…

At 11 o'clock, when I thought that it wasn't necessary to do anything more for the defense, I went to the apartment of the member Pilka. Our members already gathered there and we talked about the pogrom. Around 1 o'clock, several members came and delivered the worrisome news: processions of rioters, under the direction of plain clothes policemen, are gathering in Chechlevka and Prospect streets near the municipality building and panic is apparent everywhere. I returned to the main residence where there was a lot of activity. Information came from the observation points, instructions and orders were given, and scouts came and left. In the meantime, one of our members came running with the news that a few minutes ago one of our scouts killed a rioter on Bazarnaya Street. We were horrified, it started – each one of us though – and something cold and terrible entered the heart.

Matters have evolved in a menacing way. A “patriotic” procession took place at the edge of the city, and it was clear, the pogrom will come. We tried to locate the place and concentrate our self- defense groups there. At 1 o'clock in the afternoon, one of our groups went up Sadovaya Street under the command of the member Motele.

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Several members of the defense joined it on the way. On the way up the group crossed the square diagonally. Suddenly, several rows of soldiers appeared near them and opened fire without a warning, at first in the air and then directly at them. The group withdrew running back, but the gates to the houses were closed under the order of the police. In these moments the members were in mortal danger and the only victim was the member Hershel Svirsky.

Motele's group dispersed, and after it called – open the gates! it gathered in a quiet street. There, a Jew opened his gate and happily let the group enter. After a rest the group left for the street and chased gangs of rioters who filled it from all sides.

The pogrom strengthened. I was next to the telephone, together with the member Pinye, and each report that we got was more difficult than the last. It was necessary to act, give instructions, direct people and divide the weapons. There was great confusion in the street and we had no time to look at what was happening there. An unclear noise came from a distance, and the houses on both sides of the road were robbed and destroyed. However, we weren't able to pay attention to it because we held in our hands all the strings that linked our 18 defense groups, and under the bed was the most terrible weapon of the revolutionary (bombs)…

Suddenly, we heard shots right next to us, voices and noise from people – about a hundred – under our windows. A group of rioter came running from behind the corner of the house opposite us. On their way, they roared like lions, stumbled, fell, and dropped the items that they robbed. Shots were heard behind it, about eight members of our defense stood at the street corner and fired incessantly. A few minutes later the crowd dispersed and the fighting group concentrated in the middle of the street.

I would never forget this picture! Several dozen strong young men stood around the commander of the fighting group, who explained the next action plan, and disappeared a few minutes later. Now we heard the trampling of measured steps – soldiers walked in straight lines on the sidewalks on both sides of the road and aimed their guns at the windows of the houses facing them. They were afraid of the bombs that might be thrown from the windows, and were ready to shoot at anyone who appeared in the window.

I'll not continue to give a detailed description of all the events of the pogrom, all the performances of “madness and horror,” but I will write about all the acts of heroism and nobility…

 

In the mist of the night

I'll tell about one of the most notable incidents of our war that all our members mention with pride. It happened on Sabbath eve. At 10 o'clock we were informed from all the locations that the pogrom is easing. On this day – the first day of the pogrom – the defense performed well and we managed to stop the riots in many locations in the city. We were satisfied despite the large number of victims. The groups were getting ready to rest and only the guards, who walked the streets and stopped passers-by, were on duty. We thought, together with Pinye, to rest. Suddenly, terrible news came to us from one of the points in the city's port. At 7 o'clock in the evening, a ship arrived to the port with many Jews who escaped from different locations up the Dnieper River for fear of the pogrom. A great number of rioters were waiting at the port to rob them.

 

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Victims of the 1905 Pogrom

 

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The passengers pleaded with the sailors to turn the ship back, but their request was denied. The rioters broke into the ship when it reached the dock and began acts of terror. Dozens were wounded and thrown into the water. Later, about ten bodies were pulled out of the river. The next ship was supposed to arrive at 7.30 in the morning, and we had to take all the necessary measures to prevent another disaster. We immediately informed the fighting group and suggested that it should use extreme measures at a certain hour of the morning. In addition, we began negotiations with the director of the shipping company and asked him to send a boat towards the ship in the morning to warn about the danger. And here, at that moment, we heard the loud ringing of the telephone. It was from Ulyanovskaya Street at the edge of the city, from the home of a Jewish merchant. We were informed that loud voices were being heard next to the house, at the corner of Hersonskaya and Skakovaya streets. Jews are probably being attacked there and they need our help. We called the commander of the fighting group, which included 32 members, and after a discussion he returned to his group. An hour later he came to us and his eyes were burning, he fulfilled the task, the rioters paid with their blood… However, the Jewish merchant continued to call, and according to his words – the riots didn't stop after the attack of our group. Indeed, it was quiet for a while, but the noise increased and the rioters were getting closer to Ulyanovskaya Street. It was necessary to take more vigorous measures.

We decided to concentrate four groups in two locations and to encircle Ulyanovskaya Street on both sides. Participated in the concentration: the fighting group under the command of Arkadi and Pitynzki, two regular groups from our organization which were under the command of Peretz and Pilka, and a mixed group that included our members and the people of the “Bund.” These groups had to concentrate at the corner of Voskresenskaya and Bazarnaya streets, and leave, in two detachments, for their mission on Ulyanovskaya Street.

Only three groups arrived to the meeting place. The fourth, Pilka's group, didn't arrive. At the same time the soldiers, who were standing in Bazarnaya Street, opened fire at our members who didn't see them through the fog. Our members left after several attempts to evade the shots and concentrated in two private apartments. Out of a misunderstanding, Pilka's group came to the corner of Praozanovskaya and Bazarnaya streets not to the corner of Voskresenskaya and Bazarnaya streets, and didn't notice the situation because of the fog. The group marched to Ulyanovskaya Street through the corresponding Starogorodnaya Street.

 

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Victims of the 1905 Pogrom in Ekaterinoslav

 

On the way this group met the neighborhood watch which was composed of local people. After it added these guardsmen, who were armed with handguns, to its ranks, it went directly to Ulyanovskaya Street, from which came the sound of breaking furniture and smashing windows. The group went up the street and from there opened fire at the rioters. The rioters, who fled immediately, left about ten dead in the street. The group came running to the house of the Jewish merchant, and from there we've received the encouraging news from Pilka that the help arrived on time… A day later, on Saturday night, the rioters took revenge and burned the house of this Jewish merchant. They found the appropriate time to remunerate the victims who fell from their side...

 

At the hospital after the pogrom

On Saturday night the authorities disconnected the telephone. We were told by the switchboard that the telephone was out-of-order… It was clear, that the “out-of-order” telephones were those that we used to contact the defense's main residence. Later, we learned that it was done under the order of Neidhart, the district governor, to interfere with our activities. The order was given on Sunday, the day he intended to end the pogrom.

Thus, the defense, as a body that all of its parts were in constant contact, wasn't able to continue with its activities. The city turned into a military camp, soldiers and Cossacks swarmed in all directions and didn't let our groups to contact each other. Houses and apartments, which belonged to Jews, stood out in the general background. It was enough to look at the doors and windows: if white crosses weren't painted on the doors, icons with “perpetual light” weren't seen in the windows and the curtains were drawn – it was a sign that human beings, who held their breath and were abandoned to the mob, were hiding behind them …

Now, the defense operated in a disorganized way and temporarily. The main residence, where I was, was closed because it was no longer needed. We were followed and our members, the scouts, told us that we had to leave the apartment and change the telephone number. Therefore, we left the apartment broken and exhausted, and moved to another building across the street, to the apartment of a simple Jewish family.

Our members came to visit us in the morning. They told us that the pogrom ended and notices, in which the district governor announced the end of the riots and asked the defense to hand over its weapons, were pasted in all locations.

I decided to go to the hospital because I heard that they needed help.

At about 2 o'clock in the afternoon I was called to go out to the corridor. Two well dressed men, whose faces were red with excitement, stood there.

– Are you Mr. D.?
– Yes, that's me.
– Can you speak on behalf of the defense organization?
– No, I can't.
– In God's name! This isn't the appropriate time for conspiracy!
– I'm associated with our organization's defense committee but it isn't active right now.
– The district governor demands that the defense will give its weapons and stop shooting in the streets. Only under this condition the procession, which is marching from the Sobor[2], wouldn't end in a new
pogrom.
– I doubt that there would be a new pogrom. It's entirely up to the district governor, not us. So, what do you want from me?
– We're going to the district governor and you have to promise us that the defense will hand over its weapons.
– I can't give you such a promise. But, in order that the public wouldn't blame us later, I can assure you on behalf of our organization, and it's the most powerful organization of the defense, that we'll only
take action when a new pogrom will break out.
– How can we ensure the district governor that your promise will be fulfilled?
– In my name, tell the governor that I'm so-and-so, I'm located in an unknown place, and if my promise wouldn't be fulfilled – he can arrest me.
Shortly thereafter, the steps of about ten people sounded from the stairs below. About 15 middle-aged Jews, laborers and small merchants, were brought wounded in makeshift stretchers.

Doctors and nurses rushed from all directions.

The pogrom started! It started again! Sounded from all directions.

It was the attack on the Schneider's house, the well-known attack in Ekaterinoslav's pogrom. Eighteen bodies were found there, the doors and the pavement were covered with blood. The inexplicable cruelty was “explained” in this manner – the police thought that the Schneider's house was the Revolutionaries' nest.

According to the official information, 126 Jews were killed in Ekaterinoslav's pogrom by the rioters and the soldiers' shooting, and 47 rioters were killed. According to our information – 63 rioters were killed.


Footnotes

  1. From an article published in 1907 in Kovetz (Cepn), Moscow. It was written by Vladimir Fabrikant, an activist in the “Jewish Socialist Workers Party.” Translated from Russian by Y.G, Return
  2. Sobor – the main Orthodox Church in the city. Return


[Page 60]

Zionism in Ekaterinoslav

by Y. Ben Menachem

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

A. From the First Congress

M. Ussishkin, the head of the Ekaterinoslav Hovevei Zion movement, who was invited in 1897 by Dr. Th. Herzl personally to the first Congress in Basel, was the first to bring the idea of political Zionism to the Ekaterinoslav Zionists. Ussishkin, who accepted in Basel the new Zionist idea, convinced his friends to acknowledge it as well, and since then the Zionist movement in Ekaterinoslav began working in the new direction.

The first activity was propaganda and recruiting new members to the movement. Ussishkin and his friends invested in this activity a great deal of work and effort. Meetings were called in private homes; many members and sympathizers were invited and the members of the movement explained to the guests the principles of political Zionism. Sometimes, with the permission of the authorities, public meetings were held in order to bring the information to the general public as well.[1] The main speaker at these meetings was in most cases M. Ussishkin. Such meetings were held mostly before the Zionist Congresses, sometimes after them, and the returning delegates reported about the debates and decisions of the Congress.[2] At the public meeting that took place on 15 November 1801, before the 5th Congress, several decisions were taken, and the delegates were asked to propose them to the Congress. The delegates that were elected were M. Ussishkin and Baruch Toporovski.[3]

In order to expand the Zionist activity in Ekaternoslav and surroundings, Ussishkin called a Zionist meeting of representatives from the Ekaterinoslav and Tavrida Districts. The meeting took place in July 1900 with 55 delegates. Several decisions were taken, their purpose being to strengthen the organizations in the various localities.[4]

Regularly and methodically, the Zionists were also active in the sale of the Zionist Shekel and, according to information, before the 5th Congress 2,000 Shekels were sold and the money was transferred to Kiev. About 4,000 propaganda brochures, in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish were sold, 2,000 Rubles were collected for the Worker's Fund in Eretz Israel and 773 shares of the Colonial Bank were sold as well.[5]

When the Keren Kayemet (JNF) was founded, the Ekaterinoslav Zionists began to collect donations. The town was divided into 60 regions and young boys and girls visited the homes, sold JNF stamps, collected donations and sold Zionist literature; 1,100 Rubles were collected.[6]

The activity begun by Hovevei Zion, which included Hebrew language study and promotion of Zionist education, as well as the activity of the small Hebrew library, did not stop. Mr. Ussishkin invited the famous teacher Ch. A. Zuta to open the first Cheder Metukan [improved Cheder] in Ekaterinoslav. It was founded in 1899 and the local Zionists were responsible for its maintenance and regular activity.[7] On Lag Ba'omer, festivities for the pupils of the Talmud Tora and the private Jewish schools were organized in the municipal park, including a parade in town. On Chanuka and Purim, the Zionists organized parties, which left a strong impression on the children and parents.[8] Literary banquets for the general public were organized as well, in order to strengthen the national feelings among the people, at a time when the tendency to assimilation increased more and more. The Rabbi of the town, Dr. S. Levin took part in the organization of all these activities, mainly by obtaining the required permissions from the authorities.

Dr. Herzl's call to “mobilize” the communities echoed in the hearts of the Ekaterinoslav Zionists, headed by Ussishkin. Since it was time to elect a new rabbi (the rabbi was elected once every three years) it was decided to recommend Dr. S. Levin, who was known as a Zionist and a very talented speaker. After a quite stormy campaign, he was elected and served 6 years (1898–1904). Indeed, Dr. S. Levin has not disappointed his people: the community received a rabbi who made it proud, and the Zionists – a powerful helper who reinforced the national and Zionist ideas.

The Ekaterinoslav Zionists sent delegates to all Zionist Congresses; Ussishkin was elected to every congress. Sometimes stormy meetings, where various suggestions were presented, preceded the election of the delegates. For example, Tze'irei Zion once suggested holding the elections according to lists, but their proposal was rejected.[9] The following delegates from Ekaterinoslav were elected to the Minsk Congress: M. Ussishkin, Dr. S. Levin, Eng. M. Bruk, Shimon Stanislavski, Shapira, Orlov.

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In general, the Zionist activity in the Ekaterinoslav District was led, very energetically, by M. Ussishkin. The town was one of the most organized in Russia and its achievements – by the conditions of that time – were impressive. In addition of the Hovevei Zion people, a group of active members gathered around Ussishkin: Mechl Maidanski, Chaim Levanda, Avraham Harkavi, Shimon Stanislavski, Baruch Spivak, his brother–in–law Moshe Bruk, Dr. Yakov Dolzhenski, Yakov Vitalin, Yakov Berezovski, Baruch Toporovski, Shapira, Dubin, Orlov and others.

Thanks to them, the influence of the Zionists on the community increased and they improved the national education of the children in the community. We could observe the result during the election of the “appointed rabbi,” when the Zionists, after a relatively easy campaign, received many more votes and Rabbi Menachem–Emanuel Brustein was elected after Dr. S. Levin left his post. Rabbi Brustein, a loyal and devoted Zionist, joined the active Zionist group and participated in its work.

The Ekaterinoslav Zionists fought assimilation – which was strong in Southern Russia – in addition to the regular work of spreading their ideas and acquiring new members, especially from among the young students. For this purpose they organized public appearances, distributed national and Zionist literature and arranged meetings and lectures. They demanded from the Jewish and private school principals to introduce national subjects in the curriculum – and they often succeeded. They also continued to collect donations for the settlement in Eretz Israel and sent the money to the Odessa Committee.

After the Russia–Japan war, as the freedom movement in Russia prevailed, the Ekaterinoslav Zionists took an active part in consolidating the national strength. They demanded that the community, in the name of the Jews of the town, address the Central Government asking to remove all limitations and restrictions imposed on the Jews. M. Ussishkin and Dr. Bergin[10] (teacher of religion in high–school) spoke on this matter at many assemblies and meetings.

At the elections to the first Duma (Russian Parliament), the Zionists succeeded in their efforts to establish a national list and a Jewish representative was elected. In spite of the opposition of the leftist, assimilated circles, Att. M. Sheftel from Petersburg was elected delegate to the first Duma.[11]

 

B. Between Two Revolutions (1905–1917)

After the 1905 pogroms, the Jews experienced difficult times. The period after the abortive uprising in that year was difficult for the Russian public and more so for the Jews. In particular in the Zionist circles, despair, lack of confidence and disappointment was felt – at the public meetings as well as in the life of every individual. In addition, the Jews suffered from the anti–Semitic attitude of the authorities and the vandalism of the hooligans, who were free in the streets. In 1906 Ussishkin moved to Odessa, which was an additional factor in the decline of the Zionist activity in town.[12]

However, the Ekaterinoslav Zionists recovered, albeit slowly. They were headed by Ussishkin's brother–in–law Eng. Moshe Bruk, who managed to assemble a group of hard–working people from among the veterans, as well as mew members who had joined the Zionist movement. The organizational activity was renewed, so was the collection of money, distribution of Zionist and national literature and subscription to the Zionist weekly Рассвет [The Dawn], which appeared in Petersburg in the Russian language. The activity of the Hovevei Sfat Ever [lovers of the Hebrew Language] was renewed, as well as the active participation in the elections to the Zionist Congresses. The authorities were not consistent in their attitude toward the Jewish community – sometimes they issued permission for a Zionist meeting, sometimes not. Public Zionist meetings were organized anyway, the lecturers coming from other places, as Dr. B. Z. Mossenson, Dr. Daniel Passemnik, Zev Jabotinski, Dr. Yehoshua Buchmill, Chaim Grinberg and others. These lectures attracted a large public and left a strong impression. At times, public banquets, in the national spirit were organized very successfully.[13] A report that was read on Chol Hamoed Pesach [intermediate days of Passover] 1910 at one of the public meetings stated that from September 1908 to April 1910 the sum of 514 Rubles was collected by selling the “Zionist Shekel,” 720 Rubles for the JNF [Keren Kayemet], and shares of the Agricultural Bank were sold as well.[14] The Hovevei Sfat Ever organization continued to organize courses of Hebrew language and lectures on various subjects. Among the lecturers were: M. Shlonski, M. Freiman, Z. Rabinowitz and others. Rabbi P. Gellman joined as well, when he settled in Ekaterinoslav.

[Page 62]

Much attention was given to the school children. The assimilation movement in the schools was strong, and the Zionist activity in this area bore fruit. In 1908, a circle of Zionist students, by the name of Nechdei Zion [grandchildren of Zion] was established in Jonah Wechsler's Jewish private school, headed by the principal's son Daniel Wechsler. This group included the elite of the Jewish youth in Ekaterinoslav and some of its members became Zionist leaders. The Tze'irei Zion movement had many sympathizers among the local young intelligentsia and students; its representative Daniel Wechsler was elected delegate to the first Tze'irei Zion Congress in 1912 in Lodz. The movement developed quickly during the next few years, so did its influence in Ekaterinoslav. Among its active members were: Olonetzki, Israel Idelson (later I. Ben–Yehuda, minister in the Israeli government), Beba Idelson (in Eretz Israel), Mordechai Bekesht, Arie Gafenowitz (later Dr. Arie Ben–Gefen, in Eretz Israel), Efraim Mitlin, Eliezer Levin (Eretz Israel), M. Wolfovski (Eretz Israel), and others – most of them acting in partial–underground conditions. They fought assimilation and even conversion to Christianity, which spread at the time among young Jewish students, who were not allowed to register at the universities. In 1913, a public letter written by high–school students was published in the Russian Press, in which they express their strong protest against their friends who converted in order to be allowed to enter the Russian universities.[15]

In time, other active members joined the movement: Avrahan Berezovski, Zev Vloderski, who served also as the secretary of the District Committee, Shlomo Braslavski, Theodore Vidrin, Israel Motzkin, Mendel Pevzner, Sergei Faley, the “appointed (by the authorities) rabbi” Emanuel Menachem Burstein and others. Dr. Yakov Dolzenski was the chairman of the Local Committee.

During WWI, the Zionist activity intensified, in spite of the war conditions. The town, which was far from the battle–fields, attracted many of the Jews who lived close to the front line, as well as refugees, who escaped from the dangerous places or were evicted by the authorities. Among them were many Zionists, who joined the Ekaterinoslav Zionists and worked together. They found ways to overcome the limitations imposed by the authorities: they organized public lectures, held meetings and discussions in private homes, collected money for Zionist activity etc. We shall mention the Pinsk group with Mr. I. Bergman, the teachers of Cohen's high–school, Dr. I. L. Baruch, Chaia Weitzman–Lichtenstein, Pinchas Shiffman (later Ben Sira) and others. The number of the Tze'irei Zion members increased and its activity extended. The local Zionists participated in providing aid for the refugees and had arguments with the “Yiddishists” concerning the language of instruction in the schools for the refugees' children.[16] They also participated in the discussions about the current questions on the Zionist agenda – activism, the Hebrew Regiment etc. A considerable Zionist power emerged within the Ekaterinoslav Jewish community.

 

C. The February 1917 Revolution

With the revolution of February 1917, all limitations of political activity were removed and political and personal freedom, which was absent until then in Russia, was established. For the first time, after years of working underground and partial underground, it was possible to appear in public and present the idea of Zionism, as well as to respond and react to the many adversaries in the Jewish Street itself.

The first step of the local Zionists was to call a public assembly and present the Zionist program, with the understanding that the Russian revolution cannot provide a solution to the Jewish problem, and only Zionism can and will do it. The assembly was to take place on 6 March, but the number of people who came was so great that the hall was too small to accommodate them, and it was decided to hold the meeting at another date in a larger hall. The people who came congratulated the group of Zionists that had been arrested on 26 February for collecting money for Eretz Israel, and were released with the advent of the revolution. The second assembly took place on 26 March, in one of the largest halls in town. Some 3,000 people attended. The assembly was a great success and many registered as members of the Zionist movement.[17]

During the Holiday, Zionist speakers visited the synagogues. On 5 April, Dr. A. Goldstein spoke on the subject “Zionism in our time.” The next day, a public discussion about Zionism was organized, with the participation of Dr. Goldstein and representatives of other parties, as the “Bund,” the Socialist Zionists and others.[18] The strength of the Zionists and their influence on the Ekaterinoslav Jews increased, and the fear that the tendency to assimilate would grow due to the revolution proved to be false.

[Page 63]

One of the characteristics of the times was the great number of public assemblies, called by the various political parties, in order to advance their own ideas and recruit new members, at the same time fighting the ideas of their opponents. Yet it was the custom to give the right to speak to a member of the rival party as well. The Zionists followed the same procedure and organized meetings in various parts of the town. The lectures were in Russian and Yiddish and the lecturer was often asked to participate in a rival assembly as well and conduct a debate with members of the rival party. This system demanded talented speakers, able to defend their ideas against the arguments of the opponents. It was not easy – however we should mention that talented people were indeed found and sent to the various assemblies to defend their cause.

The Tze'irei Zion movement expanded considerably. It organized courses for the studying youth and the working youth, as well as for the Jewish intelligentsia and, under the leadership of Israel Idelson it acquired a considerable status and influence in the Jewish Street. On 8–11 June 1917, a meeting of the representatives of the districts of Ekaterinoslav, Kharson, Poltava and Tavrida was organized, and decisions were taken concerning work in various places, elections to the communities, the municipalities and the Jewish All–Russian Congress, organization of Jewish co–operatives and collection of money for JNF and the Hechalutz.[19] Among the active members we shall mention: B. Idelson (now in Israel), Israel Ritov (now in Israel), Efraim Mitlin, Dr. Shlomo Levin, Moshe Yakobson, Yeshayahu Pevzner (now in Israel), Freidin, Olonetzki, Khitrik, Wachsner, Chodorovski, Mordechai Bakshet, A. Gottlieb and others.

The studying youth organized as well: among the active high–school students we shall mention A. Pevzner z”l, Epstein z”l and I. Polonski (now in Israel). Part of the high–school students were members of Tze'irei Zion, others were organized in the Hechaver group, headed by Dr. Chaim Kugel z”l, later the principal of the Munkacz high–school and in Israel the mayor of Holon.

The Ekaterinoslav Zionists did not have (before the revolution) regular offices. The office of the District Committee, for example, was located in the apartment of the secretary Zev Voldoderski. Now, with the new conditions, large and organized offices became a vital necessity. A solution to the problem was soon found: a group of Zionists, who bought a large building on the main street with the intention to open a bank, gave the building to the Ekaterinoslav Zionists and they transferred all their offices.

 

Eka063.jpg
Copy of a “Zionist Shekel” 1917

 

It was a 3 floor building, which included the offices of the municipal and the district committees, as well as the offices and the club of the Tze'irei Zion movement. Courses in the Hebrew language, geography of Eretz Israel etc. were also given there. The building was alive all day, with students, members and visitors from out of town.

As was the custom in those days, the Zionists sent their representatives to various organizations, and often it was necessary to discuss general political problems and give the delegates proper instructions. On this background disputes and clashes between the General Zionists and Tze'irei Zion sometimes occurred.

A meeting of representatives from the Ekaterinoslav and Tavrida districts was set for 4–6 April 1917. 66 delegates from 45 places participated. The subjects they discussed were elections to the community, the Jewish national school, the national demands, organization and financial means. The decisions taken at that meeting became guides for the future.[20]

The District Committee published a journal in the Russian language:
Известня Екатеринославского Районного Сионистокого Комитета

[News of the Ekaterinoslav Zionist District Committee], as well as the Евреиский Путь. These journals provided information about the Zionist activity. Several propaganda brochures appeared as well, as

[Page 64]

“Building the Community” and “The Balfour Declaration” by Pinchas Schiffman in Hebrew and Yiddish, “The Basel Program” by Toporovski, “The BILU movement” by Shalit in Yiddish, “Marksism” by A. Idelson in Yidish. Tze'irei Zion published a bi–weekly on Zionist thought, Folks Wort.[21]

All this varied work – spreading the Zionist idea among the Ekaterinoslav Jews, fighting the opponent left parties, public appearances, activity for the benefit of the Hebrew language, elections to various institutions as the municipal council or the community council – required hard work of a wide circle of members, and indeed, their number increased. Financial means were also necessary, naturally, for the maintenance of the offices and for organizing the elections. The members' fees were not enough, and only the donations by well–to–do members enabled smooth work. We should mention the great help of S. Braslavski at maintaining the Po'alei Zion institutions.

In May 1917, a large delegation of Ekaterinoslav Zionists participated in the seventh All–Russian Zionist Congress, among them: M. Bruk, A. Berezovski, S. Braslavski, Z. Wlodarski, Ch. Lichtenstein–Weitzman and others. A representative of Tze'irei Zion participated as well.

At the elections to the Ekaterinoslav municipality, the Zionists established a “Jewish front” whose purpose was to keep and defend the interests of the Jewish public in town. Their effort, however, did not bear fruit, since the Jewish leftist parties worked together with the socialist parties, except Po'alei Zion. The result of that situation was that out of the 19 Jews elected to the Municipal Council the Jewish group of the Zionists, Tze'irei Zion and religious members had only 9 representatives.[22]

At the next elections, to the Russian General Assembly, the Zionists tried to present a Jewish list, with the hope to elect a delegate from Ekaterinoslav. The candidates were: Moshe Bruk, Alexander Goldstein (member of the Zionist central office), David Smorgoner (a local activist, member of the “Volkspartei” [people's party] and Eliezer Kaplan from Tze'irei Zion. In spite of the efforts, none of the candidates of that list was elected.[23]

 

D. Going Underground

The spring and summer months of 1917 marked a peak in the Zionist work in Ekaterinoslav. The great efforts invested in the previous years and during the months of the revolution finally bore fruit: the Zionist movement ruled the Jewish Street and the Jewish public in town accepted its ideas.

However, this period soon ended. The October 1917 revolution brought new fears, in particular as the anti–Semitic Ukrainian movement expanded. Yet, on 5 December a Zionist congress was organized and 25 delegates from 15 localities in the Ekaterinoslav District participated. The meeting authorized a list of Zionist candidates for the elections to the Ukrainian Rada [parliament]: M. Bruk, I. Bonfeld, M. Duchan, I. Tribus, I. Fischer and A. Kaplan.[24]

In November, after receiving the news about the Balfour Declaration, The Zionists organized a demonstration through the streets and held several public meetings, where they explained the importance of the declaration. A brochure on the subject was issued as well.

On 8 February 1918 elections to the community council, including Tze'irei Zion, were held and Mr. M. Bruk was elected president of the Community.

During the first few months of 1918 there were frequent changes of government – Bolsheviks, Ukrainian etc. – and the government stabilized only by the end of April 1918, when the Austrian army entered the town and the Hatman Skoropedski took power. The spring and the summer were relatively quiet and life went on. The Austrian rule was more or less liberal, and a certain amount of public activity was permitted, by the Austrians as well as by the Ukrainians.

After a short pause, the Zionists resumed their activity. They organized again lectures and evening courses of the Hebrew language; the Tze'irei Zion club also resumed its activity and money was collected. The connection with the central offices in Petrograd was cut off, due to the civil war that broke out in Russia, but the connection with the office in Kiev was maintained. From these offices they received instructions and news about the happenings in the Zionist world, and there they sent the money collected. After the army entered Odessa and a rumor about the possibility to go to Eretz Israel spread around, a special section of the office was established, where people could register for Aliya. Several hundred people registered – craftsmen, laborers, merchants, and others.

The Ekaterinoslav Zionists achieved a great victory at the elections to the National Assembly of the Ukrainian Jews. The delegation included: I Idelson, Dr. I. L. Baruch, M. Bruk, S. Braslavski, Z. Vloderski and P. Schiffman. M. Bruk was elected chairman of the assembly.

These were the last months of systematic Zionist activity in Ekaterinoslav. During the winter of that year,

[Page 65]

the town passed several times from hand to hand, and life became harder and harder, which prevented regular work. In the summer of 1919, at the time of Denikin's rule and the rough conditions in town, the Zionist activity was very sporadic.

At the end of 1919, the town came under Soviet rule, which restricted all political activity, and indeed the Zionist had to stop their work, especially as the Jewish communists were the supervisors. At the beginning of that period it was still possible to hold meetings from time to time, and Hebrew lessons were given in half–underground conditions, but not in a regular fashion. The first arrests of local Zionists also occurred at that time. They were soon released, but the general situation deteriorated. Many Zionists began leaving town for fear of persecutions – some of them made Aliya, some relocated to other places. Very few remained, and these participated in organizing help for the hungry in the years of hunger, as well as material and moral aid to those who continued, in spite of the grave situation, a restricted Zionist activity, as holding Hebrew lessons in private homes and synagogues. Among them we should mention the former “appointed rabbi” Emanuel Brustein and Israel Motzkin, brother of the chairman of the Zionist executive committee Leon Motzkin.[25] But some of the former activists distanced themselves entirely from any Zionist activity, for fear of the watching eye of the authorities. Some of them were arrested.

During the NEP [New Economic Policy] period, when it seemed that a change occurred in the regime and relative freedom was reinstated, the Zionists renewed their activity and the Zionist movements (Tze'irei Zion, Hano'ar Hatzioni) could extend somewhat their work. They acquired new members, distributed Zionist literature and periodicals as well as news about Eretz Israel (received from the Centers in Kiev and Kharkov), organized Hebrew evening courses etc. Many young people joined the Zionists, as they realized that even now, in the Soviet State, the communist doctrine did not find a solution to the Jewish problem. The activity required good speakers, knowledgeable in the communist teachings as well as in Zionism. Such people were indeed found, and they worked with the Jewish intelligentsia, craftsmen and laborers. The meetings were held in private homes – the owner of the home at risk in case the police discovered that a meeting was taking place. In spite of that, many offered their homes and the discussions about the Jewish Question and the Zionist program continued. The synagogues also served as meeting places, and Zionist newsletters and announcements were distributed. The authorities, especially the “Yevsektzia” did not approve of these public gatherings, and arrests soon followed.

In 1922, at the time of the great hunger, the Zionist movements mobilized their members and with great devotion participated in the aid activities and filled important and responsible positions in the institutions established for that purpose.

The C.S. movement, after accepting in 1920 the new program in Kharkov and after its split, continued the activity among the Ekaterinoslav Jews and even expanded it. It recruited new members, distributed literature and established a youth organization “Young C.S.” Sometimes its members appeared in public assemblies against the communists. For some time a club was active, but soon the authorities closed it, and also began a series of restrictions and arrests. After Israel Idelson, Beba Idelson, Israel Ritov and Eliezer Levin left Ekaterinoslav, work was continued by P. Epstein, M. Bakshet, A. Gottlieb, Moshe Gordon, Danowitz, Katz, Yitzhak Levin, Fima Michailovski, Koritzki, Kirzner, Kruk, Rieger and others.

After the split with C.S., Tze'irei Zion continued to recruit members, and in their activity stressed Hebrew language and culture, as the conditions allowed. They established a Members Club, which was visited by sympathizers as well and turned into a Jewish national spot in Ekaterinoslav.[26] Among the active members we shall mention Moshe Olshanski (now in Israel), Moshe Rissin z”l, Mordechai Guber (now in Israel), Azriel Zelivenski z”l, Shlomo Teslitzki (now in Israel), Zalman Yupit z”l, Chanaya Reichman (now in Israel), (in 1923 members of the Committee) and others. We should add that in those years the Hechalutz movement in Ekaterinoslav was founded and several of his members made Aliya to Eretz Israel.

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The Jewish national Zionist youth movements in Ekaterinoslav (the Organization of the Jewish Zionist youth, Hashomer Hale'umi, Hashomer Hama'amadi, Hatechiya,[27] Hamaccabi) wrote a brilliant chapter, full of self–sacrifice as well as loyalty and devotion to the Zionist cause. Some paid with exile and long arrests and some paid with their lives. They had to overcome huge external obstacles (the authorities, as was well–known, restricted all political–education activity) as well as internal obstacles (not all parents allowed their children to be members of an illegal movement; yet, many parents indeed helped the movements in their activity). The main obstacle, however, was the influence of communism in the Jewish Street, especially among the youth.

Young men and women around the age of twenty were those who bore the main activity on their shoulders. They organized the groups, visited the parents, found locales for the meetings, brought Zionist literature from other cities, acquired the necessary means etc. etc. If one of them was arrested, another took his place, rebuilt the contacts and continued the activity. Some of it was similar to the Scouts activity – trips, and the like – often masked by a parade in town or surroundings. These activities included several thousand of the Jewish children in Ekaterinoslav and left their mark on them.[28]

This period, however, was not long. The authorities began persecuting the members of the various groups and restricted their freedom. The arrest sentences, which at first were light, became more and more severe – many years in prison, exile to distant places etc. They began closing the few clubs that had remained, stopped the activity of the Maccabi (begun in 1917) and terminated the Hebrew evening courses.

The wave of arrests in Russia, including Ukraine, on 2 September 1924 included the Ekaterinoslav Jews and many were arrested. After that, arrests occurred often, and the Zionist groups lost many members. Some Zionists were sentenced to long terms in prison, some were exiled to distant places in Asian Russia (the first Zionist victim was Yakov Mosseyev, who was exiled and died in exile.[29] Others followed, and only few of them were later permitted to make Aliya. After the prison term ended, some returned to their town, some relocated to other places, some remained in Asia, some died during imprisonment.

In spite of all that, when a leader was arrested, another came and tried to restore the activity of the movement. It was not easy; yet the struggle between the authorities and the Zionist movements continued several years; finally, after a great deal of suffering and many victims, the authorities won. The arrests in Ukraine left the movements without leaders, the fear prevented sympathizers to join and help, and the Zionist activity dwindled. By the end of the twenties, only few people remained who were interested in Zionism and news about Eretz Israel, or were concerned in helping the imprisoned and exiled.

Undoubtedly, the Zionist activity in Ekaterinoslav during the Twenties was very important: it saved many young people from communism and educated them in our national spirit.

Until WWI, few Ekaterinoslav residents made Aliya; during the Soviet regime, few managed to leave. Some families, citizens of other countries, left during the hunger years; some left legally, as their prison or exile sentence was replaced by an Aliya permit. All these constitute now the “Ekaterinoslav colony” in our country. In general, they took roots here and occupy important positions in the life of the State and in the public life in general.

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Eka067a.jpg
Tze'irei Zion in Ekaterinoslav in 1923
From right to left: Moshe Olshanski, Azriel Zalivenski, Zalman Yupit, Chananya Reichman, Moshe Rissin, Shlomo Taslitzki

 

Eka067b.jpg
Active members of C.S. in Ekaterinoslav in 1920
1.Kuritzki, 4.Mrs. Kruk, 6.Moshe Michailovski, 8.Rigay, 10.Eliezer Levin, 11.Rivka Idelson, 12.Israel Idelson, 13.Beba Idelson, 15.Chodorovski, 16.Pesach Epstein, 17.Mordechai Bakshet, 18.Arnold Gottlieb, 20.Katz (a man), 25. Danowitz, 27.M. Kirzner

 


Footnotes

  1. Восход 1900 Но. 19 Return
  2. Недельная Хроника Восхода 1898 Но. 20 Return
  3. Восход 1901 Но. 73 Return
  4. Будущность 1900 Но. 79 Return
  5. Восход 1901 Return
  6. Hamelitz 5662 (1902) No. 181. Return
  7. Ch. A. Zuta: The Road of a Teacher. Return
  8. Hamelitz 5663 (1903) No. 73. Return
  9. Hamelitz 5663 (1903) No.181. Return
  10. Хроника Еврейской Жизни 1905 Но. 100 Return
  11. Восход 1905 Но. 40 Return
  12. Еврейская Мысль 1907 Но.6 Return
  13. Рассвет 1908 Но.17 1910 Но.8 Return
  14. Ha'olam 1910 No. 24. Return
  15. Рассвет 1913 Но.31 Return
  16. Еврейская Жизнь 1916 Но 20 Return
  17. Еврейская Жизнь 1917 Но 12–13 Return
  18. Еврейская Жизнь 1917 Но 14–15 Return
  19. Рассвет 1917 Но.4–5 Return
  20. Еврейская Жизнь 1917 Но. 14–15 Return
  21. Jewish Publications in the Soviet Union. Return
  22. Рассвет 1917 Но.8 Return
  23. Рассвет 1917 Но. 17–18 Return
  24. Рассвет 1918 Но.2 Return
  25. H. R. Birman, From my memories in this book. Return
  26. C. I. Kostrinski, Moshe Rossin z”l, in this book. Return
  27. A. Becker, The revival in Ekaterinoslav, in this book. Return
  28. A Millstein, The Beginning of the Road, in this book. Return
  29. C. I. Kostrinski, Yakov Mosseyev z'l, in this book. Return


[Pages 68-69]

The Community in Ekaterinoslav

By Dr. Yakov Kostrinski

Translated by Sara Mages

A Russian Jew, who before and after the changes of the revolution was out of the Jewish public life there, was struck by the sight of the drastic changes in the structure of the Jewish society when he returned to the Ukraine during the Ataman period.

After my release from the Russian Army in which I served as a “First–class volunteer” in the Czar's Army, an officer during the Kerensky period, and later, after the October Revolution, as a secretary in the Department of Organization of the Red Army in the city of Mtsensk in Oryol Oblast, I arrived, by roundabout roads (there wasn't a real border between Russia and Ukraine), to my family in Ekaterinoslav. How immense was the difference between the Jewish public life in both places!

In the Soviet regime in Russia, outside the framework of the ruling Communist Party, there was no social and political organization of any kind, and in the Jewish street the traitorous Yevsektsii[1] set the Jewish character across Russia. In contrast, I found in Ekaterinoslav a lively and vibrant Jewish community in the form of parties, newspapers, meetings, lectures and various conferences. The Jewish community served as the center of the vibrant communal life, sort of a Jewish parliament on a small scale.

All the political parties of that time participated in the community – first and foremost “HaTzionim HaKlaliym” [General Zionists], after them “Tzeirei Zion”, “Folkists[2] (the people of the “Folkspartei” along the lines of the “Voskhod” in Petrograd), the “Bundistn” and more. They were represented by the balance of power of the Jewish community in Ekaterinoslav. The community building was in Zelaznaya Street, in a low building, not big and very modest. However, it was always full to capacity during the hours of the day and in especially in the evenings. During office hours – people who needed help from the various departments of the community. In the evenings – representatives of the parties and just Jews, who came to the community building to discuss various matters and the debates, because of the difference of opinions between them, were quite turbulent. .

The community management was composed of the Community Council which was elected in a proportional election on February 1918. As stated, it was represented by delegates of the main Jewish political parties, mainly the Zionist parties, and by an Executive Committee which represented the management. The president of the community was the engineer Moshe Brok, brother–in–law of Moshe Oshiskin. The chairman of the Executive Committee was the principal of the Jewish Gymnasium. His name was Pavel Isaakovich Kagan (Cohen) and he was “privileged” during the Czarist period in Vilna. Kagan's Gymnasium moved to Ekaterinoslav from Vilna when the institutions from the western provinces of Russia – Latvia, Lita, Polesia and others – were evacuated during the First World War (among his students in Ekaterinoslav were Dan Pines from HeHalutz in Russia ,the members of the Shlonsky family and others).

As chairman of the Executive Committee, P.A. Kagan, was the real director of the work of the community and its institutions. He was its driving force and left his mark on almost all of its operations. He was active, energetic and stubborn, and imposed an exemplary order and discipline. Because of his intelligence and discretion he knew how to manage all the affairs of the community with leniency. Even though he was the representative of a small minority (he belonged to the “Folkists”) he was elected chairman of the Executive Committee because of these qualities.

The secretary of the Community Council was Yisrael Lifshitz. He was modest, serious, energetic, restrained, quiet, remarkably punctual and disciplined. To his credit, so it seems to me, it's necessary to mention the exemplary way in which he managed all the community's affairs. After his immigration to Israel he served as the secretary of the committee of Hadar Hacarmel in Haifa.

Several departments managed the work of the community and its many institutions (hospital, orphanage, nursing homes, schools, welfare and others), and I'll mention those that I remember the most: The Department of Health and Social Services whose director was Dr. Boris Chanis[3] from HaTzionim HaKlaliym and its secretary, if I'm not mistaken, was Mr. Y. Ritov– one of the leaders of Tzeirei Zion in Ekaterinoslav.

[Page 69]

The Legal Department was headed by the lawyer Avraham Brozovsky from “HaTzionim HaKlaliym,” and its secretary was Yisrael Idelshon – of the leaders of “Tzeirei Zion” in Russia and one of the brilliant speakers of that period (he's Yisrael Bar–Yehudah z”l who was the Minister of Transportation in Israel). Out of the rest of the workers I remember Y. Rabinovitz who, I think, worked at the Department of Welfare. He later immigrated to Israel (he's known here by the name Dr. Y. Rabinovitz because of his fierce war against his federation during the elections to the municipality of Tel–Aviv at the end of the 1920s.

It should be noted, that the Jewish population of Ekaterinoslav grew, many times over, during the First World War by the absorption of thousands of refugees from the western regions of Russia. There was a great need to take care of them and the matters related to the aforementioned departments. In fact, the Executive Committee constituted the “municipality of Jewish Ekaterinoslav.”

The other departments of the community also opened a valuable and varied work under the difficult conditions of the exchange of regimes in those years (Petliura, “Whites,” Makhno), and lack of funds for the proper management of the community's work.

The writer of these lines had the privilege of working in the community of Ekaterinoslav as the deputy of the general secretary – after his return from the interior of Russia at the end of 1918 and until its final liquidation by the Soviet regime when it conquered the Ukraine.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yevsektsii – the Jewish sections of the Soviet Communist party. The stated mission of these sections was “destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement, and Hebrew culture”. Return
  2. Folkists – political party that sought Jewish national autonomy in the Diaspora. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Folkists Folkspartei – Jewish People's Party. Return
  3. Dr. Boris Chanis – http://archives.jdc.org/exhibits/in–memoriam/boris–chanis.html Return


[Pages 69-71]

The Jewish Polytechnic in Ekaterinoslav

By I.G.

Translated by Sara Mages

At the beginning of 1917, Jewish Ekaterinoslav has been enriched by an institution of higher education, and it is: “The Jewish Polytechnic,” or by its official name: “The Private Polytechnic Institute” – “частный Политехнический Инcтитут.”

 

What were the reasons for the establishment of this Jewish academic institution – the first in the Diaspora?

As is well known – Czarist Russia imposed severe restrictions on the admission of Jewish students to high–schools and universities. They were admitted by a certain “percentage” of those accepted, and it was different. So, for example: in the “Pale of Settlement”– a quota of 15% of Jewish students were admitted to high–schools and 10% to schools of higher education. Outside the “Pale” – 10% to high–schools and 5% to schools of higher education and in Moscow and St. Petersburg – the capital city – 3%–5%. Most of the schools of higher education were in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Every year the number of Jews who graduated high–schools rose, and only a limited number was able to enter schools of higher education in the country. Those left stood before the question – where can we continue our academic education? Some had a way out – to travel abroad, but it required sufficient means and not everyone was able to afford it. In addition, several schools of higher education limited the number of students who were accepted from outside the borders of their country. Also, the possibilities of earning a living in their place of study gradually diminished. The restrictions on admitting Jewish students to high–schools and universities worsened at end of the first decade and the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century. To their shame, there were also those among the Jewish graduates who have chosen the “easy way” – to convert to Christianity and enter a school of higher education legally.

This problem, to enable the Jewish graduate to continue his academic studies in a suitable school of higher education without the use of the “easiest way,” stood for several years before the Jewish public in Russia, and was often discussed in the Jewish press. With no hope to wait for changes or reliefs in this matter in Russia, they started to think of establishing a school of higher education for young Jews outside its border or in Russia itself.

This idea found many supporters among the various circles except for the Zionists, who opposed the establishment of a school of higher education for young Jews from Russia[1]. Negotiations were conducted with several public bodies in Russia and abroad for the fulfillment of this idea.

[Page 70]

And here, a solution was found to the question in Russia itself. According to a law from 1914, it was possible to establish schools and courses for “other nationalities” in this country. Therefore, it was also possible to establish a school of higher education for Jews[2]. Indeed, it will not have the rights of a school of higher education,

 

eka070.jpg
Study register from the Jewish Polytechnic

 

and the graduates will have to take government exams to get their college degree. But, they will study according to the program of accredited school, and when they graduate – they will be able to pass the government exams.

Therefore, it was decided to use this law. The engineers A Peres and L. Rabinovitz, who represented the activists of the capital city, submitted the appropriate application to the authorities. They asked to allow them to establish a technical college with a number of professional faculties and also a faculty for economic[3] in Ekaterinoslav. The reason for the establishment of a technical collage lay in the fact that there was a great demand for engineers in Russia and many studied the profession outside its borders. Ekaterinoslav was chosen as the location for this school because of its large and rich Jewish community. There were large factories there and, the most important thing – the Mining Institute – one of the most important schools of this kind in the country was also there. It was possible to invite its teachers to lecture in the new technical college and also use its advanced laboratories. It was obvious, that it was necessary to establish this school in the “Pale of Settlement” where the students will be able to live without any limitations and prohibitions.

The required license was given in mid 1916, and the necessary preparations for the opening of this school began. They started to collect the necessary funds despite the war conditions in the country at that time, and in a short time about half a million Rubles were collected. In addition, they started to negotiate with various lecturers.

At the meeting of the polytechnic's Executive Committee from 13 January 1917[4], which took place in Petrograd under the leadership of the lawyer M. Vinaver, it was decided to open the school year on 31 January 1917 (by the Julian calendar). The grand opening was postponed to the holiday of Purim. At the same meeting, Professor Zborowski (from the Mining Institute) was approved as the principal (director) of the polytechnic. The rest of the lecturers were invited from the Mining Institute and from among the Jewish scientists. Of them, M. Bernstein, a senior lecturer at the University of Kharkov, the engineers A. Peres (one of the founders), Y. Ratonovsky in the engineering professions, Y. Grossman (in time, a professor at the technical college in Haifa), Y. Ogievetsky (from Odessa), Y. Blumstein in mathematics, and in addition, also several Jewish and non–Jewish counselors in various professions[5].

The opening of the school year was held, according to plan, in the lecture hall of the Scientific Institute building in Chechlavka Street. Because of the transportation difficulties of those days, only several members of the Executive Committee, some of the professors, lecturers and students were able to come. 122 students, including several women, were accepted to the Faculty of Electro–Mechanics, and 78 to the Faculty of Structure Engineering. It was decided to open the Faculty of Economics at the end of the year. The tuition was set at 100 Rubles for half a year.

Some of the lectures were held at the building of the Scientific Institute in Chechlavka Street and some in the Mining Institute (when the lecturer was from there). For physics, they used the laboratory of the Trade School whose director was also the lecturer in this subject.

Before long, the revolution of March 1917 broke out and the restrictions for the admission of Jewish students to high–schools and universities were removed.

[Page 71]

And then stood the question – is there any point and need to continue the existence of a Jewish school of higher education? However, in a meeting, which took place on April 11, it was decided to continue to support it, taking into consideration the needs of the Jewish culture[6]. It's interesting, that a significant number of students supported it. Later, in an additional meeting, it was decided that, for now, the polytechnic will remain in Ekaterinoslav and in 1918 – to transfer it to Petrograd[7].

Meanwhile, the life of the students continued to materialize in this school as in other schools of higher education in Russia. A consumer association of students, for the supply of books, learning instruments, stationery, etc., was established. An association for mutual aid was also established. Representatives of the students began to appear before the Executive Board with several suggestions in regards to the curriculum, lecturers and more. Of course, a few also took part in the political life. The Zionists were organized in “HaChaver” and “Tzeirei Zion”, and there was no shortage of members in the various social movements, including the Bolsheviks, and in this manner they added a special color to the Jewish communal life in Ekaterinoslav.

The first semester ended and the registration for the second year was opened. 195 new students and 13 free listeners were accepted. The number of students, which included 39 women and 12 non–Jews, has reached 400. Lessons in the Hebrew language were added to the general studies and the teacher was the author Y. Lerner. The lecturer for history and Hebrew literature was Dr. Y. L. Baruch who also held a seminar in these subjects[8]. It should be noted that only a small number of students, who treated the lecturers and the lectures with indifference, attended these lectures.

The polytechnic's curriculum was like the curriculum in schools of this type in the country, and so was the order of the exams, the work in the laboratories, etc. There was only one change – studies weren't held on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Among the lecturers were good and average. A number of lecturers, who had to come from out of town, weren't able to arrive to Ekaterinoslav because of the disruption in the train service. Others filled their place, but they weren't always suited for the duty. There were also some difficulties in the use of the laboratories of the Mining Institute. All this weighed heavily on the course of study, and representatives of the students came to the management with demands to correct, add, and change. However, the management wasn't always able to do something in this respect. Despite all these, many students continued their studies, took exams and worked in the laboratories.

The school's name was changed at the end of 1917 and since then it was called: “The Jewish Scientific Institute” – “Еврéйские Наýчный Институт.” All the studies were transferred to the Mining Institute, and additional lecturers came from there. The studies continued, almost as usual, despite the many changes of regimes that passed over Ekaterinoslav in the fall and winter of 1918–1919. The lecturers and the students came to the lectures, took exams and worked in the laboratories. There were certain difficulties in obtaining the required budget for the existence of the institution, and it took great efforts to raise it. The handful of those responsible stood this test. The contact with Petrograd and Moscow, from which the funds came previously, was severed and it was necessary to rely more on local sources. Thanks to the runaway inflation it was possible to obtain the necessary means. To this, it's necessary to add that a number of students were cut off from their homes because of the civil war that broke out in the country, and many were left without means of support. A few, who left for a vacation in their homes, weren't able to return. At that period the lecturer, Y. Ogievetskyi, took upon himself the great concern of the upkeep of the institution.

Despite these difficulties the third school year, 1919–1920, was opened and the registration of students was announced. The tuition increased and was set at 500 Rubles a year[9]. The days were the days of Denikin's regime of in Ekaterinoslav, and Makhno's gangs prevented regular studies. To ensure the necessary budget, Mr. Y. Ogievetskyi left for several cities in the Ukraine. He raised known amounts and returned to Ekaterinoslav shortly before it fell to the hands of the Soviets.

With the consolidation of the Soviet regime, the local authorities decided to annex the Jewish Polytechnic to the Mining Institute, and together they constituted the Polytechnic Institute in Ekaterinoslav. Thus, came to an end the first Jewish school of higher education in the Diaspora.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Рассвет – 1914 (14/15)
    [Hashahar – The Dawn – a Hebrew periodical published by Pretz Smolenskin] Return
  2. Еврейская Жизнь – [Jewish Life] 1916/20 Return
  3. Еврейская Жизнь – 1917 (7/8) Return
  4. Еврейская Жизнь – 1917 (15) Return
  5. Еврейская Жизнь – 1917 (7/8) Return
  6. Еврейская Жизнь – 1917 (17) Return
  7. Еврейская Жизнь – 1917 (19) Return
  8. Рассв ет 1917 (19) Return
  9. Еврейская мысль – [Jewish Thought] 1919 (16/17) Return


[Pages 72-74]

The defense in Ekaterinoslav in the years 1917–1919

By I.G.

Translated by Sara Mages

 

1.

With the signs of weakening in the regime and the possibility that it will fall in the last months of 1917, and with the news of pogroms against the Jews in several locations in the Ukraine, the fear intensified in Ekaterinoslav that also this city might be harmed by pogroms, both by local residents and outside forces.

Thus, they began talking about the need to organize self–defense. They wrote about it in the newspapers and discussed it in the national parties. Ekaterinoslav already had an experience in organizing a self–defense from 1905, so, also this time they began to establish it.

For various reasons, the Community Council in Ekaterinoslav, which was led by the Zionists, didn't take on itself the initiative to establish the defense in its name. Moreover, the office of Jewish affairs, which was adjacent to Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine [Supreme Council of Ukraine), opposed the establishment of self–defense. Therefore, this initiative was transferred to other organizations,

The first to establish a strong defense company was “The United Jewish Socialist Workers Party.” The company consisted of about four hundred men and its leader was P. Mirkin, a man of great organizational talent. The company was well armed with weapons it received from the authorities and weapons that were acquired in all sorts of ways. This company was composed of members of the party, former soldiers, townspeople, students and others. The authorities gave the company a two story building in Sadovaya Street which served as headquarters and weapons depot.

The second company was established by the “Alliance of the Jewish Soldier.” It was composed mostly by soldiers who previously served in the Russian Army, and a number of Jewish officers also participated in it. The company had weapons that it received from the authorities and acquired in various ways. It was given a big building with a yard in one of the side streets that were inhabited mostly by Jews. For various reasons, this company wasn't well organized and its impact in the city wasn't substantial.

Over time, out of competition between the parties, defense companies were also established by the “Bund,” “Poalei Zion,” and the “Mensheviks.” They received most of their weapons from the authorities, but they were very weak and had no defensive value.

Despite the concerns, there were no attacks on the Jews, except from cases of robbery, during the exchange of regimes at the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918. The Soviet regime, which became established in the city, didn't see the need of these defense companies. In addition, the regime was also influenced by the many anarchist groups in Ekaterinoslav who demanded to disarm the “bourgeois” organizations. The truth is, these defense companies disrupted the anarchists' extortion activities, meaning, with their threatening demands from the wealthiest in the city, among them many Jews, to give them money for their needs. Those, who were attacked, turned to the defense companies with a request to save them from their attackers and unpleasant collisions occurred on this background. The local Soviet responded to the anarchists' request and ordered the defense companies to disband. They agreed and handed their weapons, some to the authorities and some they hid. “The United Jewish Socialist Workers Party” refused to disband and appealed to the authorities. Then, the building of the headquarter was surrounded

[Page 73]

by the “Red Guard” and the anarchists who fired at the building. After one of the members of the company was killed, those inside the building succumbed, they were disarmed and the company dispersed. It happened in March 1918.

 

2.

During the German rule in Ekaterinoslav there was no need, or possibility, to organize a self–defense. However, after the German Army started to leave the city and the danger of disorder in the regime and pogroms against the Jewish community rose again, the question of organizing a self–defense stood once again on the agenda. In light of the bitter experience of the establishment of the defense companies in 1917–1918, the national youth organizations turned to the Community Council with a suggestion that the defense organization will be under its supervision and act on its behalf. After some hesitations the management agreed to this proposal.

This defense organization was established at the end of October 1918, and its name was “The Jewish Community Company” – “Рейской Общины Дружина Ев.” The company was established with the consent of the municipal administration which also gave the necessary budget for its upkeep. According to the municipality's request, the necessary weapons – guns and ammunition – were obtained from the army. The majority of the members of this company were soldiers from the Russian Army, members of “The Alliance of the Jewish Soldier.” At the beginning, several men with a questionable past, who used their duty to extort money and other items from the Jewish residents, infiltrated the company. When the matter became known, they were removed from the ranks of the company.

All the members of the company received a salary which was paid from a budget that was provided by the management of Ekaterinoslav Municipality. The company received a building in the main street – “Prospect” – which served as a home for the headquarters and a weapons depot. The company was organized as an army unit and was divided into two departments, each of about 110 men. Each department appeared for a guard duty of 24 hours and afterward it had a day off. It was out of cases when the entire company was mobilized.

 

eka073.jpg
A certificate issued by the Municipality of Ekaterinoslav to a member of the defense company of the Community Council

 

[Page 74]

The company's headquarters was composed of the commanding officer, A. Schreshber, who mostly handled the administrative side; the chief of staff, Reizer, a former combat soldier who took care of the military side – training, guard duty and more; Y. Goldbort who represented the Community Council and was responsible for the political side; Portnoy who was the headquarters' officer and the representative of the Municipal Security Committee, and the second Reizer was the chief storekeeper.

The company had the form of a typical military unit, which made a great impression on others, thanks to the fact that most of its members were former soldiers who received military training. The attitude of the Ukrainian Army, which camped in the city at that time, was good and the non–partisan nature of the company, in comparison with other defense units, was prominent. For that reason, this company was given the duty of guarding important places in the city such as the treasury and more. For a period of time, this company was asked to guard the Ukrainian headquarters because the Ukrainian soldiers got drunk often and abandoned their post.

The company headquarters tried to increase the amount of weapons in its hands in various ways, like acquisition and more. In order to increase the number of people, who will be able to go out with weapons against the rioters, the company organized defense groups in a number of neighborhoods in the city, taught them how to use weapons, and at times, also provided it to them.

This company existed from October 1918 to the end of March 1919. During this short period it fulfilled guard and security duties for the Jewish community and the residents of the city.

The defense company of “The United Jewish Socialist Workers Party” was reorganized at the same time. It was led again by P. Mirkin and contained up to 250 men. Even though it had a clear partisan character and received its budget, together with other groups, from the municipality, its role in joint guarding of the city was less significant.

In addition, defense groups were organized by “Poalei Zion,” “Tzeirei Zion,” “Bund,” the “Mensheviks” and the students. It should be noted, that one of the motives for the establishment of these groups was the possibility to enjoy from the municipality's budgets which were granted without a special distinction. These groups, except for the students and former officers and soldiers who served in them, were weak and their value in the defense was inferior.

With the occupation of the city by the Soviets at the beginning of 1919, all the defense groups disbanded themselves. Some of the weapons were given to the authorities and some were hidden. Difficult days have passed on a few members of the Jewish community defense company who were caught with weapons in their hands in places given to them, like the treasury. The Soviet soldiers wanted to execute them and only the rapid intervention of the members of “The United Jewish Socialist Workers Party,” under the leadership of P. Mirkin, saved them. With that, ended the self–defense activities in Ekaterinoslav, the members scattered, some enlisted to the Soviet Army and some moved to other pursuits.

A few months later, before the Soviet Army was about to leave the city and hand it over to Denikin's Army the concern of riots against the Jews rose again. In addition, shortly before that Ataman Grigoriev tried to attack Ekaterinoslav. It is clear, that the idea of establishing a defense company and purchasing the necessary weapons for it came up again. However, for various reasons they weren't able to realize that. There was a negotiation with the socialist organizations and the Mensheviks, who promised to give a few of their weapons, but the events that followed and the evacuation of the city by the Soviet Army came so fast, that nothing came out of this idea.

It is worth noting, that the fear of pogroms by Denikin's Army intensified in the days before the evacuation of the city. A small group of activists from the Zionist youth movements, which was headed by M. Rozovski, took on the role of organizing a self–defense company, and along with it, to obtain weapons. These weapons were given later to the workers of Ekaterinoslav, most of them members of the Communist Party, who took upon themselves the protection of the city until the entrance of the Soviet Army.

 

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