« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 354]

Memories about the Colonies
After the Revolution

 

The Colonies during the Days of Calamities

Translated by Moshe Kutten

During the year 1905, after the new constitution was issued by the Russian Czar [Nikolai the 2nd], the authorities reconsidered and regretted their liberal policies which they had promoted in a moment of weakness. They decided to go back and oppress any symptom of the revolution, and as far as the Jews were concerned – “they were always suspect of starting revolutions – and they needed to be taught a real lesson”. It was hinted to the local authorities that a free hand should be given to the haters of the Jews. A wave of pogroms soared against the Jews under the slogan “Hit the Jews and save Russia”.

These were the days of autumn. The threshing work in the barn had been already completed, and we started to prepare for the winter. Horrible news began to arrive about pogroms in cities and towns throughout Russia. News began to circle around, by word of mouth, about dead and wounded people in various places, about robbery of property, rape of women, destruction and devastation. The atmosphere was filled with fear and became more dense and gloomier by the day. News arrived that in the neighboring Christian villages, the peasants were preparing to follow the commandment of the revenge against the Jews, with the expectation of enjoying the loot from the robbery of their property. It was believed that they would break into the colony at any moment and conduct a pogrom in it.

With torment and fear in their heart the women labored to hide clothing, silverware, dinnerware and pillows in hideouts and prepared hideouts for their family, while the men prepared to stand up for their lives and property.

Except for a single handgun rusted from lack of use (a property of one of the farmers), there was no other firearm. Since there was no available weapon, the men turned to making knives in the smithy from iron. These were pointed knives with long blades – a weapon which was very difficult to define. It was unclear whether it was a knife or a spear, but in any case, it was more effective than a regular stick. Every suitable piece of iron was quickly brought from the yards to the smithy, and converted there into this “weapon”. Not more than two or three days later, every man in the colony possessed this primitive defensive weapon. The peasants in the area, who sensed the preparations for self–defense in the colony, changed their mind, and at the end did not dare to attack. That was how our colony [Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Ktana], and the neighboring two colonies [Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Gdola and Bobrovy–Kut] were spared from the pogroms of 1905 (as a side note, twenty four years later, during the 1929 riots [in Eretz Israel], while I was a member of Moshav Nahalal, we faced again a severe shortage of weapons. I remembered the knives of Sdeh–Menukha, and we produced similar knives for the men in Nahalal who lacked firearms).

Concerning the single handgun in the colony – his owner tried to shoot it several times and failed, probably because of the rust that accumulated in it over the years while

[Page 355]

it was not used. Angry and disappointed at his Shlumiel–ic [Jewish nickname for somebody who just does not have it together – a slang for useless] weapon, the farmer went into his house, and while holding the gun in his hand, he complained to his wife about the unresponsive and stubborn tool. Just to prove that he was right, he lifted the gun and squeezed the trigger. Precisely then, the tool rejuvenated, and with a loud sound, released a bullet that whistled very close to the head of the farmer's sister who has just happened to enter the room. The frightened wife grabbed the handgun, quickly ran to the river and threw it into the water.

At the end of the First World War the Czar was forced to abdicate his throne, the army fell apart and the soldiers abandoned the front in masses, and wandered on the roads back home. They were shocked and disappointed at the military failures and defeats, and placed their trust in the gun, bayonet and machine gun, which they carried with them when they ran away from their crumbling units.

In Russia, the Civil War raged between the “Reds” who strived to enact the revolution, and the “White” generals who fought to save the country and its former rulers from the claws of the revolution. The regime passed from one hand to another, chaos prevailed and might was right. Within this disarray, the hatred for the Jews intensified. Petliura's militias who fought for the independence of Ukraine and the militias of General Denikin who fought to protect the regime of the Czar – more than they invested efforts to achieve their declared goals, they directed their strength and energy to conduct cruel pogroms among the Jews. In addition to these “formal” armies, other gangs raged. Despicable people, thirsty for murder and robbery, joined these gangs, which were named after their leaders. The gangs wandered throughout the vast Ukraine and brought devastation and destruction upon the Jewish population. Any time a rumor spread about an approach of such a gang to a Jewish settlement, the peasants from the neighboring villages prepared to join them. The Christian residents of the towns were also eager to receive the benefits from the robbery of [Jewish] shops and homes. All of the Jewish settlements in the Kherson province experienced a Holocaust. Horrible news began to arrive at our colonies about the murder of Jews who resided in Christian villages and about the destruction of [Jewish] communities in various towns.

In general, there was a difference between the farmers in the colonies and the people who resided in towns. Among the people who worked the land there were many broad shouldered and muscular farmers, who were accustomed to holding a pitchfork or an ax and in a fight with a gentile in the market or in a fair they would not run away, but would grab a pitchfork or a wagon's shaft and hit their rivals with them. Even if they would be hit, they would not surrender. The days of 1905 were still fresh in the colony's memory, due to the keenness to protect life and property against attacks. Now with the new eruption of the annihilation lava that threatened Jewish settlements, self–confidence weakened. We doubted that any individual colony could defend itself against gangs armed with firearms, joined by hundreds or thousands of the neighboring farmers, armed with axes and hatchets. After consultations, it was decided to elect a defense committee common to the three colonies – Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Ktana, Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola

[Page 356]

and Bobrovy–Kut. Two of the members elected to the committee, had been sentenced to a long confinement period during the days of the Czar because of their socialistic views and were released from jail during the revolution. The third member was the author of this article. We prepared a complete plan of organization, however, we knew that its value would be limited if we did not acquire firearms.

We travelled to the provincial city of Kherson and appeared before the authorities. We explained the dangers that the three colonies were facing. We presented our application for a permit for self–defense and the purchase of firearms. Indeed, the license was granted and we were then faced with the problem of securing funds for the purchase of the firearms. My friends returned to the colonies to try to raise the required money and I stayed behind in the city to look for sources where the weapon can be purchased from. The farmers in the colonies did not agree to contribute money for the purchase of firearms. They claimed that the risks involved in self–defense based on firearms were greater than the risks without them. A handgun held by a warm–headed young man could result in an accidental discharge of a bullet even during a private fight, and then the entire colony would have to defend itself against the revenge attack by the gentiles. The colony's youths were furious about the refusal of their fathers to acquire firearms – a refusal for which the real reason was, according to our opinion, stinginess and the unwillingness to spend money on anything that was not needed for the farm. Since we did not have a choice, we worked on organizing and equipping ourselves with cold weapons. By the way, the license that we had succeeded in obtaining was not in vain. It was used to acquire firearms for the self–defense of the Jews in the city of Kherson.

The agitation in the region intensified. Horrible news arrived about the murder of one hundred and thirty people in the colony of Novopoltavka. In the colony of Dobroye, thirty people were murdered. The atmosphere was electrifying and it seemed that they [the gangs] would attack us as well. We decided that the time has come to demonstrate our force. Every day, about five hundred youths rode and galloped their horses through the fields guarding the surrounding areas. The act impressed the area villagers and the gangs in the area did not dare to attack us with inadequate forces. They probably assumed that we were armed with firearms and they made preparations to strengthen their forces. Although our weapons were sticks and farm tools, we saved the colonies from an attack by a good organization and demonstration of force.

The threat passed but the fear was renewed. A battalion of [General] Grigoriev established a stronghold in the train station at Sneigirovka, some 20 kilometers away. His soldiers were in army uniforms. They were well armed and maintained an orderly military regime. Was that battalion associated with Petliura who was notoriously known in his hateful attitude toward Jews? From our bitter experience we knew that if this was a formal military battalion – its soldiers would not deny themselves the opportunity to rob, rape, hit and even murder. Our fears strengthened when the battalion's soldiers captured two youths from the colony that they encountered near the train station. They threw one of the youths into a 60 meter deep well and the other was found later after he went through cruel tortures. He was unconscious for a whole month and he did not talk since.

[Page 357]

Fear descended on the colonies. What was the worth of a self–defense based on sticks against murderers armed with firearms? The farmers began to pack their belongings and hide in their yards and fields. There were also those who planned an escape to the nearby cities, where many Jews resided. As my family was in the midst of their hurried preparations for an escape, I decided to check the situation in Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Gdola and Bobrovy–Kut, which were closer to the Sneigirovka train station than our colony. I mounted one of our best horses and set out in the direction of these two colonies.

Another young rider joined me in Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Gdola and we turned to Bobrovy–Kut. We entered the main road and were astonished. There was not a soul in the yards. It looked as if everybody was dead. Against this emptiness, the airspace was shuddered by the mooing of the cows in the cowsheds. It was a mooing full of horror and supplication for the owners to relieve their udders from the pressure of the accumulated milk. Our hearts broke seeing the flight of the farmers and their families even before the appearance of a single thug in the street. We understood that if the colony people, who were hiding in cellars and attics, would hear the sound of our horses' hoof beats they would think that the thugs had arrived, and their fear would intensify. We stood in the middle of the street and began to shout in a loud voice, in Yiddish: “Fellow Jews, where are you, show yourself… we are Jews…there are no thugs here…”

One after the other, trembling pale figures with wrinkled clothes began to show up. When they saw us, their fear lessened somewhat. They hurried to the cowsheds to milk the cows. Some of them returned to their houses.

The night passed and then one day and another. The people calmed down somewhat. While everything was ready for an escape, they took care of the farm and cooked. Life became “a life of the fleeting moment”. Observers were placed to watch for any approach of the enemy, so that the people could abandon everything and flee to the hideouts.

Indeed, the signal has been received. A company of the battalion, headed by its officers, entered Bobrovy–Kut. The soldiers did not murder or rape anybody, but engaged themselves in looting. From there they moved and entered Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola and there they loaded their wagons with looted food products – flour, poultry, preserves and anything else they got hold of.

The colonies' residents quickly decided to confront the officers with a proposal: It would be better if the farmers would provide the battalion with produce according to an agreement, rather than the soldiers taking whatever they got hold of without any order and coordination. Following some negotiations and some bargaining, an agreement was reached about the quantities of food which had to provided, as well as the ransom money in cash. Upon the signing of the agreement, the commanders ordered their soldiers to stop the looting. As fate would have it, a messenger from the battalion commander Grigoriev arrived with an order for the company to return to the train station at once even before the produce quota, promised by the farmers, could be collected. Perhaps they received news about the approach of the Red Army.

We got out safe and sound from the pogroms that engulfed the Russian Jews, that resulted in

[Page 358]

about 200,000 victims. The brave spirit of the people and the independent life in the colonies played a major role in that. If there were some signs of fear, escape, and hiding, it would be difficult to blame the people, who lacked appropriate defense, of weakness. They knew that the well–armed soldiers strived to rob and loot, rape Jewish women, or stick a knife or a bullet in the heart of a Jew who they just happen to meet on their way.

Mordekhai Simkhoni (Geva)[1]

Translator's Note:

  1. Mordekhai Simkhoni was the husband of Yehudit Simkhoni, native of Nahar–Tov. Their son – IDF Major General Asaf Simkhoni was the commander of 1956 Sinai campaign. He was killed on the last night of the campaign in a plane crash. Asaf's son Avner was killed in Sinai in 1968. return


[Page 359]

In the Hakhshara [Pioneer Training] in the Colonies

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

With the start of the 3rd Aliya [third wave of Zionist immigration to Palestine from Europe 1919–1923] and the establishment of the “He'Khalutz”, the need arose for agricultural training for the youth preparing to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. The Jewish settlement in southern Russia began to attract the youth from the cities and the towns in the area. For the first time we met people whose tie to the land was natural, like among the gentiles.

We – the urban youths, went to work with vigor and tried our best to be like the farmers and absorb their spirit, since we saw in them the symbol of the Jewish farmers in Eretz Israel whom we yearned to join. I would mention one detail as an example: The farmers and their sons were usually working barefoot during the spring and summer. We suffered tremendously when we walked barefoot in the stubble in the fields, which were called “Strinia” [In Russian]. Our feet became bloody and infected. We suffered but tried to hide our suffering from the farmers in order to hide the shame of our “urbanization”. We also tried to get accustomed to that habit. How else would we be able to live in Eretz Israel? After all, that was why we were in the Hakhshara. We did not put any bandages on our wounds. Some of us overcame somehow, but the rest had to return to the city shamed, because they could not stand on their feet. Some returned to the colonies two or three weeks later, and some gave up completely and never returned after that bitter experience in the life of farmers.

Another detail: Upon the arrival of the spring, the colonists used to plaster the outside walls of the house or repair the floor inside the house. They prepared a special plaster mixture for that purpose: They gathered on a single surface, a pile of horse dung, a pile of suitable clay and a pile of straw. They would mix all of that and with the addition of water would knead the mixture with their feet. That was the job of the women. They would lift their dress a bit (or more than a bit) and with bare feet they would knead the mixture until it became uniform and solid. The straw contained splinters and the clay – small stones, which injured the women's feet. Our female members, who did not wish to lag behind the colony's women, joined in that chore with their white and delicate feet. They worked like that until they bled – but continued.

Rumors about these details arrived at our families in the city and they started to shower us with letters demanding that we return home. They asked: “Was it worthwhile to graduate from high school with a gold medal to knead dung for strangers?” In their eyes the work was not only hard, but despicable.

However, we – the pioneers, had totally accepted our new status. Although we experienced quite a few failures and humiliations, they were forgotten quite quickly, because our work was in preparation for making Aliya to Eretz Israel, and that gave us satisfaction and purpose.

The hard work lasted from dark to dark. In the evenings, we were so tired that we fell asleep right after dinner. Only Shabbat was devoted to meetings, gatherings,

[Page 360]

hikes, bathing in the rivers and other activities. The flow of the ebullient youth that suddenly penetrated the conservative colonies had a major influence on the farmers and especially on their sons. These colony youths welcomed us with open arms and tried their best to ease our difficulties in adapting to the work. Many of them joined us and became members of the “He'Khalutz” [The Pioneer] movement and even made Aliya with us to Eretz Israel.

Except for a few cases, the pioneers were accepted to work for the farmers only during the busy seasons, in the spring, and especially during the summer crops harvest season. The fields stretched on distances of tens of kilometers away from the colony. In order to manage two harvested crop transports from the field to the threshing floor, it was required to wake up at two o'clock in the morning and work until nine o'clock at night. We could sleep quite a bit during the transports, since the trip, on the double ladder wagon, lasted for two hours, or even three. There was no need to direct the horses, as they knew the road to the field and back home very well. There was also no danger of rolling over either since the fields and the roads were flat and smooth.

I have seen many times a wagon loaded with sheaves entering the colony, turning into the yard and standing at the threshing circle near the harvested heap. The wagon would stand there for a long time, until the farmer's wife would go out by chance, look at the scene and start to yell, wake up and curse at her slumping husband sleeping on the loaded wagon. Another scene was common: The narrow field roads were enveloped on both sides by the tall and ripe stalks of crop. A fully loaded wagon laden with the crop sheaves, standing, and opposite it, another empty wagon directed toward the field was standing. The waggoneers in both wagons were sleeping. The two pairs of horses would face each other and fall asleep standing. Everything was sleeping – the air, the crops, the waggoneers and the animals. Only when a third wagon would appear and the farmer driving it would start yelling, waking the others up, and cursing, everybody would wake up. They would turn left and right and the whole entanglement would dissipate.

I was very proud when my farmer–employer turned to me once at noon and told me: “I am busy this afternoon. You go the field to transport the sheaves. Take your girlfriend with you and she would help you load”. Two people were always involved in transporting the crops. One person would lift the sheaves and the piles with the pitchfork and throw them into the tall wagon and the second person (usually a female) would arrange the crop on the wagon. I was very pleased by the farmer's trust, however, to my shame, I discovered that I did not know how to locate our plot. The whole area, as far as hundreds of kilometers, was one huge plain, without a hill or a mountain, with no bush or tree, a rock or even a single stone on the road. All of the plots were seeded with the same crop, according to the uniform colony seeds cycle, and all of the colonies were alike. One would travel in the fields like sailing in an ocean without a compass, surrounded by the stalks and the sky. I was embarrassed. The farmer laughed at me and said: “Don't worry, just rely on the mares. After all, they were there in the morning. They know the way. Just don't distract them. Tie the reins to the wagon and don't worry. You will find the blue teapot, we left in the plot, and bring it home”.

Worried, we left on our trip to the field. I knew that the trip would last about two and a half hours.

[Page 361]

We travelled and travelled some more, and it seemed to me that the time has passed already and we did not reach our destination; perhaps we passed the place and entered the fields of the Ukrainian village? I was ready to turn the wagon back and return, embarrassed, home. Nevertheless, I continued to progress, and all of a sudden, the horses turned left, progressed for several hundreds of meters, and stopped by the blue tea pot. We loaded the wagon, and returned happily to the colony at dusk.

The work in the colony, during three years, served me, and many others like me, like a corridor leading us to the agricultural work in our homeland. I would remember the kindness of the farmers forever.

Zeev Dor Sinai (Ein Harod)


[Page 362]

The “Volga Guard” Group

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

After many days of exploring the big labyrinth of the Soviet government's offices and institutions, the members arrived at the offices of the Ziemotdiel (Department of Agriculture). The negotiations were successful and we got work as a commune in a big vegetable and fruit farm called “Babkova”. We named the place the “Volga Guard” because it overlooked the Volga River which flowed 3–4 kilometers east of it. That farm (which was located 8 kilometers from the city [Saratov]) once belonged to one of the biggest estate owners. The farm grew mainly irrigated and unirrigated vegetables. Some varieties were grown in greenhouses. There were two fruit tree orchards at the western edge of the farm. One orchard was an apples and pears orchard and the other cherries and plums. A vineyard, which was equipped with defense means against the winter frost, was located near the orchards. The apartment houses allocated for our residence, nice wooden houses, were located inside the first orchard in the area bordering with the river. A silent water pool, hidden from the world, situated on a stream that ferried its water calmly, was located behind the orchard, in a square plot of thick and shady trees. The pool provided us with drinking water, and water for the rest of our needs. However, mainly the swimming in it, which was very pleasurable, was etched in my memory. We used to dip ourselves in it when we woke up, upon returning from work and even during our afternoon rest. A magnificent, wide and colorful view could be seen from the veranda of the outer house. The greenly river flowed on the horizon edge, silvery and bluish. Between it and the horizon, a narrow field band spread, green in the spring, golden in the summer, and orange in the fall. The river vegetation could be seen from the river ribbon inward. Anything that was sown and grew in the province was located along the river and westward: all sorts of grains, hays and legumes, all the way to a strip of land, close to us, which was covered by all sorts of vegetables. Groves were located on the south–west and north–east. One of the groves was large and dominant, and the other small and diminishing due to cutting. Lone farm houses, situated on their plots, most of which existed in the shadow of the vegetable farm, were scattered around. Only on the southern edge, a few villages sparkled. The place was filled with tranquility. The changes and tremors which took place throughout Russia were not evident within the sight of that blessed view, although they were substantially apparent in the farm itself.

Our work in that farm was based on a contract between us – “The Commune of Agricultural Workers” – and the “Municipal Department of Agriculture” (“Gorziemotdiel”). Among the usual contract clauses, there were also two unique clauses: Complete autonomy in the internal division of the work, as well as a statement about days of rest during the Jewish Shabbat and holidays rather than the Christian ones.

[Page 363]

(However, we had to notify the farm management, two days in advance, about every holiday and day of rest). These two clauses allowed our group to form an independent Jewish corner within the Russian sea.

The “Ziemotdiel's” officials took interest in our group. They inquired about our human resources qualities and probed the motives which brought us to agricultural work. We explained to them about the big issue of shifting the Jewish masses to productive work. We told them about the yearning and throbbing heart of the Jewish youth – towards agriculture and working in nature's bosom.

We were asked again, whether there was already such an established movement among the Jews, or we were the first pioneers, since the communist movement did not find any sign of it. We told them about the Jewish settlement attempts in various countries and about the enterprise in Eretz Israel and its pioneering manifestations. We talked about the conditions under which we wished to work in the government farm and about the fact that we have submitted a request to be approved under the name “The Agricultural Workers Commune of ‘He'Khalutz’” [“He'Khalutz” – “The Pioneer” was an agriculture training movement founded by the labor Zionist movement – “Tzeirei Tzion” – “Youths of Zion”]. When the “Ziemotdiel” officials were explained about the meaning of the name and its translation to Russian, they gave us a sample of a commune's by–laws, so we use it as a guideline when we prepared our own by–laws. We used the sample by–laws and added our usual clause about our general objective, and the specific objective of the “He'Khalutz” commune: “The purpose of the 'He'Khalutz' commune is to shift the Jewish nation towards productive work, particularly agricultural work, based on the principles of a commune, and to prepare it to the establishment of a Jewish center of labor in Eretz Israel”. We added a special paragraph to the clauses which dealt with the activities of the commune: “The He'Khalutz” commune prepares its members to work in all sections of agriculture. It prepares a group of people to act among the Jewish masses, with the purpose of transferring them to productive work, in general, and specifically to agricultural work in communes”.

The second clause was received willingly and enthusiastically by the “Ziemotdiel”. Not so – the first clause. About that clause they told us: “What is it with you – idealistic youths who believe in the commune idea, and Palestine which is under the control of the world's reactionary forces – the British Imperialism?” We discussed again our movement and we tried to explain the value of Eretz Israel in the context of the Jewish revival and redemption enterprise. They still could not grasp the essence of that idea and they tried to convince us to abandon that romantics and devote all of our efforts for the benefit of Soviet Russia, the only place where the conditions existed to accomplish our aspirations – the revival of the Jewish life and the shift to agriculture based on communal foundations. They emphasized that proceeding in that way would secure a full support for our activity, throughout the entire country, by the Soviet authorities. The argument did not yield any results; however, the “Ziemotdiel” people did not withhold the required permit from us. The preparation for our departure from the city to the farm began on the day after Passover 5680 (1920) after receiving the approval of our by–laws and the “He'Khalutz” commune, and signing the contract between us and the “Gorzimotdiel”.

When we arrived at the place, we found neglect, dirt and filth – an inheritance from the military,

[Page 364]

who previously camped in the houses and yard. Our first action was to clean the yard, and then we proceeded to the apartments. We worked for two days – Thursday and Friday, and rested on Saturday. We left for work on the farm on Sunday.

The tasks that we performed initially were very simple, and did not require more than just a physical effort. One of the tasks was deep hoeing in the green houses using shovels. Farmers and their sons worked prior and alongside us. Their work progressed lazily and with substantial indifference. When somebody from the farm management reprimanded them, they responded: “We work according to the wages we receive”.

We came yearning for working the land. That was the road we talked about and dreamt about for a long time. That was the fulfillment of a dream, which its absence was like a curse to our people. And there we were, being tested. If we were successful – we would become pioneers worthy of the name. When our efforts did bear fruit, we were so proud. All of the longwinded debates about Zionism and Socialism, about the contradiction between them and possible bridges, seemed dull and detached. At once, we felt that we are above the storm that prevailed in the Jewish community of thirty thousand in the city of Saratov, with all of its parties, classes and currents…

We slowly moved on to various other tasks in the vegetable farm: planting, irrigation, hoeing and weeding. Some of us were fortunate to follow a plow, which for us – the natives of the ghetto – was the symbol of redemption. The village natives who saw us work, observed and wondered: “'Zhids', sons of Satan, perhaps the murderers of god – and here there are, people of labor, honest and calm like regular people”. Our effort and dedication to the work became a parable by the farm management. We were asked once: “are you working under a scope contract?”

Our farm manager – Ivan Vladimirovitz, a whimsy and educated villager, was amazed by our work. In the beginning he tried to explain our diligence by our devotion to communism. However when he realized that that was not the reason, he tried to obtain information about us from the people at the “Ziemotdiel” whom we also talked to, and directly from our representatives whom he talked to while the work schedule was handed out.

Slowly, the talk about us spread around from mouth to mouth. Stories reached the neighboring villages. One day we heard the villages' youths pointing as us: “these are the communists from Jerusalem”. There was a certain amount of wonder, suspicion and respect in these sayings. There were a few who treated us entirely friendly, recognizing the good in our lives. One of them was the vice farm manager – Nikita who was a member of the Communist Party.

As we had expected, besides the farm work, there were various other tasks at the house: food preparation, laundry, carrying food products from the city and the neighboring villages, and keeping the yard and the houses clean. All of these tasks, except the laundry, were partly done by the single person on duty who remained in the house and was working the whole day and night, with a break of only 3–4 hours for sleeping. The other part was done by all of the members either before work or after it. An exceptional effort was needed

[Page 365]

to maintain a commune life, not for the sake of “Babkova”, but in order to do it without accumulating deficits – the curse of all the communes during those days according to Zionist officials. When we needed to bring bread from Saratov, the person on duty would wake up one or two of the members at three o'clock at night so that they could travel to the city and carry the bread on their back before they went to work. When we needed to bring potatoes from the nearby villages, we would go there after the work–day and come back very late at night.

Life in the bosom of nature, making do with little and the non–stop effort cultivated our self–confidence and sense of daring. The efforts invested in the work, and the adaptation to it replaced the academic dispute about the Realization of Zionism[1], the abstract theories about the merging of Zionism and Socialism, and the futile discussions about the policies of the “Consensus States “ [Unofficial name give to the countries who fought against the “Central Powers” in World War I] regarding Eretz Israel.

Almost all of the members who went to “Babkova” knew Hebrew, and some knew it well. However [prior to coming to the farm], members used the language only in clubs and in matters that were not related to the day–to–day life. We tried to use the language during our work in the agricultural farm and found that the language we used was lacking. Among the members, there were those who used their knowledge from what they recalled reading in the books that were the buds of the agrarian literature in Eretz Israel and were willing to search for the missing expressions and words in these books. The Hebrew that we spoke, initially with stutter and dryness, was renewed and invigorated from the scent of the land and the graciousness of the view, until it became fluent among our small crowd. It is difficult to describe the efforts required to form a Jewish island within a Russian sea, with a limited number of Hebrew books and lack of any Hebrew press. We overcame all of that, and during our wandering, we awed people, who knew and talked the language, with our Hebrew talk.

Speaking Hebrew strengthened the ties between us and the Hebrew book, which was read during our free time. Our will to create a Hebrew way of life which would draw from the Jewish vitality of the past but would also face the future – the life of working the land in the Kibbutzim, was reinforced. We imagined that the group that was in Eretz Israel has already achieved that dream and we imitated that group in our imagination. During the general assembly on Friday evenings, we began by discussing our own minor affairs, moved on to the affairs of the movement, nation, work in the Kibbutz and relations among the members. The assembly was an important cultural venture in itself, although we did not know at the time to appreciate it. The communal singing after the assembly, which could be heard for long distances, was filled with Hassidic melodies and saturated with longing and yearning.

During the holidays, our corner looked completely different in everything: in food and drink, clothing, illumination of the rooms, as well as in the official and unofficial cultural activities that took place in them. At times, crowded balls took place in which youthful joy would erupt. In order to organize Shabbats and holidays in our corner, members were forbidden from leaving “Babkova” on Saturdays without a special permit from the group's secretariat. However, our regular weekdays were not grey either. The strenuous work

[Page 366]

was accompanied by times of rest, with discussions about world affairs faced by the pioneers' movement.

The relations among the members were simple and not sentimental: internal relations of respect through the elevated stature of the “He'Khalutz” flag, accompanied by mutual criticism and demands to behave appropriately as a group, and as individuals. From time to time, we would gather around a dull lamp for a mutual report on everything we have accomplished and read.

Our first celebration of Lag Ba'omer [33rd day of the counting between Passover and the Harvest holiday of Shavuot] ended in a gathering to which many guests from all movements and associations of the Zionist movement came. We heard many praises of the “He'Khalutz” movement; also from people that until then treated it dismissively. The news about us spread in all corners of Jewish Saratov. Even people who woke up early to pray and the people of the “Bund” [The International Jewish Labor Bund] talked about us respectfully. The news reached the “Yevsektzia” [The Jewish section of the Communist Party] who feared that the new force within the Zionist movement would shame them among the Jewish circles, and they started to undermine us. A hostile article was published in the local newspaper, but it did not make any impression. The “Yevsektzia” did not succeed to break up the good relations between us and the authorities. Our influence on the Jewish masses strengthened and the youth began to dream about work in “He'Khalutz”.

When our activity became known to the “He'Khalutz” center in Russia, they asked us about our affairs. We answered all the questions, but did not want to participate in conferences and conventions before we passed the test.

The calm did not last. During the [Hebrew] month of Tamuz, news about the areas taken by the Poles in the provinces of Western Russia and about the following wave of pogroms throughout the Jewish “Pale of Settlement” reached us. The Soviet Union issued a decree concerning the recruitment of Jewish volunteers to the war with the Poles. A volunteering movement among the leftist Jewish parties, from the “Yevsektzia” through “Poalei Tzion Left” [Marxist Zionist leftist splint which separated from the main Jewish Labor Party “Poalei Tzion” – “Workers of Zion”]. The propaganda in favor of volunteering aimed at preventing pogroms among the Jews. Doubts aroused: “Can we, at this time, continue calmly with our work on the banks of the Volga? Isn't it a disregard of the blood of our brothers?” The question was discussed in the general assembly during one of the evenings. Deep sorrow weighted on our conscience and our hearts. It felt like we have been disconnected forcibly from the camp of Eretz Israel's workers which we had joined in our imagination, and returned to Jewish Diaspora' s “Valley of Tears” [Psalm 84:6]. We arrived at the following conclusions following our discussion:

“Participation in a foreign army is not like self–defense, which is a duty that takes precedent over other duties. No action of helping the Jewish masses in the diaspora is more valuable than the activities of pioneering training, which harbors the only hope for the nation's survival. As a result, the single answer to all the disasters and calamities that take place is – strengthening the pioneering activity, deepening it and spreading it throughout the nation”.

Several weeks later another trouble appeared: a heavy army of Denikin [leading general in the “White” Army] camped afore the city and the whole area around the Volga was covered with troops preparing for battle. They did not skip our Babkova (“The Volga Guard”).

[Page 367]

One bright morning, a military company took over our residences and we were forced to leave with our belonging on our back. In haste we moved to the farm of “Gusiolka” where a group of students worked. We found work there for several days, but then the work ended. We began again to negotiate with the “Ziemotdiel” about a place of work for us. Although it was during the harvest period, and it was not difficult to find work, the conditions we placed on our residence and our unique demands about the work conditions in the farm weighted on the search (our demands included rest on Shabbats and Jewish holidays in return for working on Sundays and Christian holidays as well as the demand for internal autonomy in the division of work).

We spent several weeks of forced idleness in Gusiolka, experiencing a difficult economic situation and a dark mood. In the meantime, Denikin was defeated, and we received harvesting work in the farm “Gornaya Poliana” according to our conditions.

Loaded with bundles, packages and tools we traversed the distance of eight kilometers and arrived at the place. A day later we started with piling the crops, loading the wagons and unloading them on the threshing and treading floor. We were pleased, since that was the first time we were exposed to real farming of field crops and were able to learn about the big threshing machine and the tasks associated with it. The work was tiring; however, the work hours were not longer than eight per day. In the beginning, the commune people did not trust us, but several days later the attitude improved.

That place did not resemble “Babkova” in the splendor of its view. It was not a place where first dreams about the group operation were weaved. Therefore, it was not etched in our memory as an Eretz Israel settlement on the Volga prairies. A Jewish family, whom we found working in the farm, as well as the “Sobbotniks” [Russian sects of Judaizers of Christian origin] from the neighboring area, who treated us respectfully, called us “Israelis” and demanded that we fulfilled all of the required 613 commandments, were etched in our memory.

On the eve of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) we left “Gornaya Poliana” and returned to the city, pleased with anything we have accomplished and wondering about our future. During the first few weeks we made plans to make Aliya. We devoted the money left in our savings–box to the Aliya fund. However, when it became clear that there is no hope for making Aliya in the near future, we had to separate in order to make a living.

The activity in the branch of the “He'Khalutz” union replaced the “He'Khalutz” commune. We devoted our time in Russia to training towards our new role. The professional aspect was clear to us, and we progressed in that direction to the best of our ability. Against that, the question about the character of the social–spiritual training came to light. At the “He'Khalutz” union they did not treat that question as a priority. They were satisfied with learning Hebrew and adapting to life with social interactions. However, we could not be satisfied with that. We wanted training not just for the Jewish masses, but amongst them. Not as preachers and official counselors, but as friends at work and as people who give direction in action. We decided to establish an agricultural corner, in the next season, whose gates would be open to every Jew who wanted to train in agricultural work for Eretz Israel and in which pioneers would

[Page 368]

be the living spirit. We decided not to stand out as a separate group and not to do anything which could be interpreted as an act of imposition against the general will. With all of that, every member of “He'Khalutz” had to remember, without assemblies or special meetings of the branch, his or her honor oath, and that all of his or her behavior and actions at home and in the field should be in accordance with the spirit of pioneering, so much so that that spirit would be dominant in the entire camp.

About three hundred Jews expressed their wish to join us. Among them there were people from all circles: starting from Zionist youth and ending with heads of families struggling to make a living; some were craftsmen and some were occupied in useless occupations [in Yiddish – Luft–Geshsheft – “business of air”]. Some were learned people, alumni of “Beit Ha'Midrash” and others were of “Istra Balagina” type [an expression in Aramaic, translates as “a coin in a jag” or “much ado about nothing”]. There were also some pioneers of inner Russia who craved for agricultural training and pioneering surrounding. After a process of selection, eighty people were fortunate to get to work in the farm and seventy completed the season.

We yielded to the general assembly of the people who were going for the Hakhshara (which we called for by posting advertisements in the streets and publishing advertisements in the local newspapers) the authority to decide on the format of the Hakhshara. It was decided that the format would be a commune, a format which was desirable for us. We did not impose any special attitude towards the Hebrew language on the people who joined us. However, every one of them wished to become knowledgeable in it. Everyone began, after a short period of time, to look at Eretz Israel and agricultural work as the only way for Jewish life and at the end of the summer submitted applications to become members in the “He'Khalutz” union.

The negotiation with the authorities brought us back to Babkova which we missed. A group of members went out there for preparations. The work was in full force after Passover. Our work in the previous year awarded us with certificates of praise from the province authorities. The attitude toward us was friendly, despite all of the verbal and written slandering by the Yevsektzia. Generally the people acclimated to the work and the pioneering spirit we were so worried about. The hope for Zion opening her gates for the masses strengthened. The belief in the opportunity for the nation's salvation and the society's revival was reinforced and with it our confidence and willpower. Opposite the views of the shallow “Marxism” that was spreading in the markets and streets, which rejected the human willpower as a driving force of history, our recognition of the value of willpower was paramount.

During the second summer we adapted to additional agricultural tasks: working with animals, furrowing, plowing and chopping. We were determined to continue the pioneering activity in that place. The idea that not all the members should make Aliya at once was raised, and thereby the need to split the camp into an Aliya group and “the remaining” group which would continue the activity.

During the [Hebrew] month Elul, we announced about the opportunity of submitting applications to the “He'Khalutz” union, and almost everybody in the commune submitted applications. We began to review the applications during the “He'Khalutz” gathering which took place on Tishrei 5681 [September 1920] in one of the rooms, under the weak light of a small oil–lamp, which we called “the smoke riser”. Every person submitting an application had to justify his or her wish to join the “He'Khlautz” movement and the applications were discussed in the gathering. Twenty five members were accepted, in addition to pioneers from other branches who also joined

[Page 369]

our branch. All of the members of the Aliya group were later elected by the branch and also among themselves. Almost everybody who joined the commune earlier became members of the Aliya group, and the rookies were given the task of continuing [the pioneering effort].

The Aliya to Eretz Israel was planned to take place through the Caucasus region. Entering the region was not that easy to begin with, not to mention exiting from it. We decided to use the opportunity of a “legal” permit which we happened to receive. Hebrew teachers were transferred to Caucasus under the permit of the Education Ministry. Since we had some Hebrew teachers and also people who were knowledgeable in Hebrew our group was included among the people who were sent to Caucasia. The story about our Aliya through the Caucasus spread in the Jewish community. “Mi She'Berakh” prayer [“He who Blesses” – a public prayer or blessing for an individual or group] was chanted in the synagogue for the people who would make the Aliya, and the faces of the Jews filled with tears… A farewell ball was also organized by “Tzeirei Tzion”.

The trip from Saratov to Petrovsk and to the Caspian Sea was usually taking place on the Volga River. However, during our trip, the sea froze and we had to return and travel by train. On the way, the whole group fell sick with Typhus, a disease that repeats itself. Whoever took care of a sick person the day before would become sick a day later. The disease with all of its recurrences and strains tortured the group until the arrival to Petrovsk. In the city the group could finally find rest, aid and treatment in the Moradov house until most of the members recovered and went to work.

The work in the vineyards and wineries was very hard, in poor conditions. The members would drink too much wine, which was readily available, instead of eating bread which was not available. The struggle for sustenance, and the lack of prospect for a near future Aliya, had an impact. The members' spirit dimmed, and the relations among the members soured. Three of the members left, among them the founders of the group. Contrary to that, the group acquired experience and a realistic view of life. We mocked the amusing childhood dreams in the “Volga Guard”, and the aspirations and plans which were based on faith and will only. Due to lack of prospects for a quick Aliya, people despaired. There was no use of staying in Caucasia. When the members got the news that there were some prospects of arranging Aliya through Moscow, they left for the city. They began to work in construction on a house with a name that attested to its size – “Volikan” (Giant in Russian) – one of the biggest buildings in Moscow.

The members who stayed behind on the banks of the Volga River, did not go idle, and tried to justify the expectations placed on them by the people who left. During the winter, they embarked on a vigorous cultural activity in studying literature, Eretz Israel geography and Eretz Israel history, as well as involving themselves with discussions about the issues of the time. The group that remained inherited the joy of pioneering that prevailed in the “Volga Guard”.

We were a camp of 60–70 people, many of whom were commune members who saw themselves as candidates for the “He'Khalutz” and some were members of the “He'Khalutz” from other branches. We received a farm which we called “Naveh Sheket” [“Tranquil Oasis”]. That farm was more suitable for us, as a place for pioneering training, than Babkova. It consisted of several hundred disiyatins [1 disiyatin =2.702 acres] of crop fields, a big fruit orchard and a vegetable garden. The new members were able to learn from the experience acquired in the previous years. The prospects for economic success were favorable at the beginning of the season, since besides the earnings from the work, we expected some income from the vegetable plots, which we cultivated in the evenings on our own time and account. During those same years the fields on the Volga Rivers were marred by an arduous draught. Not every seed sprouted, and whatever sprouted did not grow, but yellowed out

[Page 370]

and withered before it could be harvested. As a result, hunger descended on the entire province. The commune members who were not pampered with satiated and nutritious food for years and for whom a high quality food was essential due to the hard work in long days (usually 12 hours long) in the government farm and the “additional” vegetable gardens – weakened. Their loud singing – which could be heard throughout the surroundings – quieted. The public and private debates ceased. The members' vigor diminished and the question of wandering around was raised…

In our Aliya camp a rumor was spread, which was based on unfounded good news: The place to go was Caucasia. We packed our belongings before the end of the season, abandoned the fruits of our work and followed our members who went to Caucasia. In Petrovsk we received a contract work in an abandoned vineyard. The ground was hard as a rock due to the lack of rain and neglect. The conditions of the contract were bad and we had to work from dawn to dusk. There were some members who were meticulous and they fixed their “pick–axes” (this is how we called the Russian “mutigai's” – hoes) during the afternoon break and before the night sleep time.

Several weeks later, the economic situation in Caucasia worsened and the prospects of finding work diminished. One of the reasons for it was the fact that Russian masses flooded the area when they heard that they could find a piece of bread there. Our work was about to be ended. Foreign and alien, uprooted and isolated, we resided in a cracked–roof stable near Petrovsk. Despite our effort to find work, we were not successful. The way to Eretz Israel was also blocked. It became clear that we need to go back – but where? Our situation was desperate. Only under the roof of the Moradov family in Petrovsk we found some encouragement.

At about the same time we received good news in a letter from the “Aliya group's” members which stayed behind in Moscow. They told us about their good arrangement with work and invited us to join them.

The “He'Khalutz” center also advised us to go there, so that the groups could be unified, and also because the prospects for making Aliya seemed to them as being more promising from there. We had to go through the weariness of the road again but we have not regretted it. The “exceptional” work conditions of the members made a great impression on us. They had a sufficient amount of bread. After all, that was our goal even in the “Volga Guard”, the fruits of which we cherished later on during our days in Caucasia…

During the first Shabbat after our arrival it was decided in the general assembly to unify the groups and a “Unification Ball” took place with the participation of the members of the “He'Khalutz” center and close friends in Moscow.

Israel Heller

Translator's Note:

  1. The dispute between the modern Zionists and traditionalists who believed that redemption would only come with the Messiah and claimed that attempts to immigrate to Eretz Israel were hastening redemption. return


[Page 371]

A Stack of Letters from the Colonies

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Ktana, 7 September 1930

…As to the question about the old settlements, I won't be long. There is nothing new to report about the last half a year. As an example, I would bring the colony of Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Ktana, where I passed through not long ago. The farmers hoped that with Stalin's new agrarian policies, they will see the end of the hardships they had experienced as a result of the collectivization. However, the situation was not improved, even by a bit. Although, formally, they were allowed to leave the collective, the number of farmers who dared to do it is small, because they are afraid of the consequences…

The farmers, who handed over their entire live and inanimate inventory, and are working hard in the collective, are getting a daily wage until their account is settled. An experienced farmer receives one ruble and 25 kopeks per day; however, usually a member receives 75 kopeks per day and 15 poods [1 pood 16.4 kg = 36 lb] of bread per year.

The colony of Freiland is located 25 kilometers from the colony of Effengar (Yefeh–Nahar) and 1.5 kilometers from the colony of Novopoltavka. Freiland is a daughter colony to Yefeh–Nahar, since it was founded by its farmers.

In 1921, during the redistribution of land in the province of Kherson, the officials of the anti–Semitic “Zimautdil” (The Department of Lands) confiscated some of the Yefeh–Nahar lands in favor of the Ukrainian villages adjacent to it, and instead they “awarded” the colony an area located 25 kilometer away as if they were mocking the poor for their misery. This strange exchange caused many difficulties in the cultivation of the remote land. In 1923, 30 families left Yefeh–Nahar and established in new colony in the place, calling it Freiland. The settling of these families on the land was not easy. They did not receive any real assistance from anybody, and had to live in huts or clay houses. Only during the years 1925 – 1926 brick houses were built in the colony with the help of the “Joint” [“JDC” – “American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee”] and “J.C.A” [“Jewish Charitable Association”]. The main agricultural sector in the colony was crops; however, vineyards were also planted, a sector which was very successful. In 1928 – 1929, the farmers' situation improved and they planned to expand their farm and introduce new sectors.

During the last two years, the situation of the colony deteriorated substantially. Heavy taxes and the violent means, by which the regime accomplished the collectivization in the area, resulted in migration out of the colony. Farmers began to wander around and look for work, some in the nearby city and some in Donbass (a [Western Ukrainian] province of coal mines around the Donets River basin).

[Page 372]

Only three families remained in the colony today. The houses are crumbling and are being sold by the regime's officials as construction material. The destruction and neglect raise gloomy thoughts about the enormous Jewish property and the immense efforts which were invested and are now going to waste. There is no guarantee that the three remaining families would not leave the place soon.

Pale and worried, the people run from their houses to the Villages' Council and from there to the “RIK” (Russian acronym of the “Rayoni Komitat” – the District [Executive] Committee) and back to their houses…

I met an acquaintance, a young man of 25 years, whom I knew as early as in 1925, during my work among the settlers. When I asked him about what happened in the colony he told me:

“I, my brother, my sisters and the entire family joined as members of the kolkhoz. We gave them everything, and they demanded more wheat as taxes, better–quality wheat for seeding and more money. They imposed anew, a tax of 100 poods of wheat (besides the wheat they took from me a while ago). I began to look for sources for these 100 poods. After leaving some wheat for seeding, barely enough, I brought over 20 poods of wheat. However, all of my evidence and pleas proved to be futile. They began to threaten me that they would throw me out of the kolkhoz, and then what would I do? I hurried to my grandfather and my uncles and managed to gather another 19 poods of wheat. I was sure that with that I fulfilled my duty, but I made a big mistake. Only a few days passed (these were the days of the hastened collectivizing) and a panic ensued in the colony. Armed riders arrived, and following them, about 200 farmers–prisoners from our neighboring Ukrainian villages. Some people said that these prisoners were thugs; other said that these were contra–revolutionaries that were being sent to [the gulag of] Solovki Islands. However we immediately understood the reason for their arrival. Fear and fright fell on all of us. Every one decided: we would take our last shirt off our back, only not to meet the same bitter fate of those poor farmers. I forgot to tell that besides the wheat, I also paid a tax of 20 rubles. A day later, they called me to the “RIK” [the Regional Committee] and suggested that I should bring the wheat I still owed – 61 poods; otherwise my fate would be the same as the fate of the prisoners that passed through our colony the day before. I pleaded, swore, and appealed that we do not have bread to feed the people of our household, but all of my pleas were in vain. They offered me a pair of horses and a wagon to go and gather the rest of the wheat.

What could I do? I did not want to go to Solovki or any other remote places. I harnessed the horses to the wagon, loaded all the pillows and eiderdowns, as well as other belongings, and traveled to the colonies of Lvovo and Bobrovi–Kut where the harvest was better that year than in our colony. In short, after I pawned everything we owned, I brought an additional 40 poods. I thought that the authorities would be satisfied with that but I was wrong. When I returned home, I found an invitation to bring an additional sum of 120 rubles. I brought the money to the “RIK” and told them: ‘Now you can send me to Solovki because I do not have anything left’”.

[Page 373]

A few days later I visited Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola again and I happened to read the issue of the “Pravda” newspaper with Stalin's article “Dizziness from all the Triumphs”. My acquaintance smiled but his smile was a bitter smile: “our communists are the leftists of the leftists. Despite the article and all of the pamphlets, they continue with their action, although it is evident that they are giving up”. A women's gathering took place yesterday in Sdeh Menukha Ha'Ktana. They insistently demanded to get their poultry and cows back and dissolve the collective farm. They continued with their revolt until 4 o'clock in the morning. The local residents claimed that there wasn't such a noisy and rebellious gathering in Sdeh –Menukha Ha'Ktana since the establishment of the Soviet regime. A policeman arrived from the “RIK” and demanded that the women should disperse otherwise he would arrest 40 of them.

 

Sdeh–Menukha, May 1930

…There is no strength to endure any more. Many are leaving the farm and the colony and going to Donbass [coal mining area] and other places. Perhaps they could find work there. After we sold the entire content of our house to pay the taxes, they came, one bright day, and forcibly took our horses and cows. Deep grief fell on the colony. They took the most important source of our sustenance. They started to distribute milk. A family of five, with small children received 3 – 4 cups of milk a day. The cows are losing weight day by day. The horses are not recognizable any more. There is no will left to go to the field to work…and in the midst of that, a women demonstration was organized in trying to get the cows back – an uprising. Several women took their cows out of the council's yard and brought them back home. A general assembly takes place in the evening – noise and commotion. One of the farmers stands up and announces: “We should not miss the opportunity. Stalin's article forbids the communists from doing what their [predecessors] have done to us”. All the farmers broke out of the gathering and everyone took their cows. The people of power – the Jewish communists, feared more serious consequences, and kept silent about that “revolt”.

 

Sdeh Menukha Ha'Gdola, January 25, 1931

The situation in the colony is very tense. They began to coerce the farmers to join the collective. Is there any other choice? We must join – otherwise the authorities would impose such high taxes that we would not be able to afford.

We haven't joined as of yet, but there was nothing that could help us to stay independent. We will soon need to submit an application to join the collective, and believe us, we really do not want to do it, the same as we do not want to die…

During the same time a decree was issued for us to supply beef. They take our two cows away. This would be an indescribable blow. The cows are our major source

[Page 374]

of sustenance. Without milk we would not be able to acquire sugar, salt, kerosene and other things.

There is no solution to this situation!

 

Znamenka, May 1931

I had to spend a whole day in Znamenka during my travels. Znamenka was one of the central stations in Ukraine. I met there eight Jewish families who were returning from Crimea. They attracted my attention with their faces and especially with the sight of their children's faces: hungry, with torn clothes, they trolled around the station: On my questions as to why they were leaving their place of settlement they replied that their endurance was over. They could not tolerate the living conditions of the Jewish colonies in Crimea, which were under the supervision of the “Komzet” (The Government Committee for Assisting Jewish Agriculture).

I inquired about details: Some of these families were originally from the Mohilev area and some from the Berdichev area. They were sent by the “OZET” organization [Society for Settling Toiling Jews] in 1930 to settle in Crimea. “We decided to start new lives there although we knew how hard these were”. In Crimea they sent us to one of the new kolkhozes. They had us do hard and grueling work. The sanitary conditions in the Kolkhoz were dreadful. We received only 300 grams of bread a day. Family members, who did not work, except the children, did not receive anything. I remarked that it was not possible for people who do a hard physical work to get only 300 grams of bread a day. They replied that in the new Kolkhozes, there is no supply of food like the one available in the cities. Every new kolkhoz'nik receives 300 grams of bread a day, and various other foods. Only after the season is over, the kolkhoz'nik gets what's owed to him in bread and money.

Except for the 300 grams of bread (black, not baked properly, similar to a bun made of un–sieved flour), the kolkhoz member receives only tea in the morning, soup (groats in water) and porridge at noon and again tea with a piece of sugar and soup in the evening. There was no way anybody can do hard work and survive with these foods.

The settlers who came to Crimea 4 – 5 years ago and sustained themselves, albeit with substantial difficulty, until the last year, are leaving their farms and returning to their native towns, since they do not have the strength to continue with their the work in poverty and half hunger.

 

Horostaipoli, Kiev Province

A Jewish collective exists near that town for three years now. Its area, about 600 acres, was provided by the “Zimautodil” (The Department of Agriculture”) from the land reserves. Fifty families joined the collective when it was established.

[Page 375]

Many necessary tools are missing, and the authorities are not providing them to the settlers despite many requests. The authorities do not provide any assistance for the farm development either. The collective has been requesting a tractor for two years now. A tractor has been promised, not once, but until today, they have not received it.

The representatives of the farm were called to come to Kharkov in the winter of 1931. The members of the collective were happy. They hoped that the authorities would finally give them the promised tractor. The collective sent a delegation to Kahrkov. However, they were astounded when the representatives of the Ukrainian Agricultural Komissarion suggested to them to turn to natives of Horostaipoli in the USA with a request to send them a tractor as a gift. The delegation went back home frustrated.

Not once, decisions were made in the general assembly to ask the authorities for assistance with tools and needed foods; however the authorities supplied the collective only with promises for the future, but until today, they have not provided the farm with anything valuable.

In the meantime, the collective members are weakening from one year to another from hard work and unsuitable sustenance. The collective members spend most of the winter nights in the dark for lack of kerosene. The social and cultural situation is not encouraging. The excessive exploitation of the members at work and the frequent friction with the farm management resulted in a depressed mood.

There is no cultural activity, worth of its name, taking place. There are “preachers” who come to lecture about the “political situation”, once in a while. People ask them, sometimes, ”Why are the residents dying from hunger? Why do we need to sit in the dark at night without kerosene, and this is after the kerosene quota was fulfilled 100% according to the Five Years Plan?” and other questions. The lecturers had only one answer to these questions: “The people who are guilty are the Contra–Revolutionists who hinder the Soviet government in accomplishing its wonderful plans to benefit the workers and the farmers”….

Submitted to Print by Yehuda Erez (Tel Aviv)


[Page 376]

The Colonies after the Revolution

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

As part of my role from 1917 and on, I was visiting many of the Jewish settlements, among them some colonies in Kherson. I am putting in writing my memories and my impressions about the colonies in which I visited and worked.

In the colonies, like in the rest of Russia, and especially throughout the Jewish “Pale of Settlement”, the effect of the revolution was enormous. New forces, mostly young, that have risen out of all of the nation's classes and particularly out of the intelligentsia, began to change the colonies' way of life. The youth became more active in the parties, which were established by the elder farmers, most of whom did not distinguish between the S.R. [Social Revolutionary Party], and the S.D. [Social Democratic Party]. In that respect there were several curiosities – like the political propagandist who was sometimes registered with the Social Revolutionists as well as with the Social Democrats in the same province. There were almost no revolts in the colonies against estate owners for a simple reason – there weren't any estate owners among them. Only in one colony – Yefeh–Nahar, several farmers took part in a robbery, organized by the neighboring village, against a liquor factory. Only when the Soviet regime became established, after several years of regime changes and attacks by gangs (Makhno, Grigorov and others), “Komentsmod's” (Committees of land–poor farmers) were established with the leadership of the district and provincial authorities, and a sort of a “class–war” with the few local wealthy commenced.

The February Revolution manifested itself in the colonies as a state without authority and management. The “Uriadnik” ([district] police commander) disappeared and nobody had replaced him. However, it should be noted that people of the underworld did not emerge in any of the colonies, and the thefts or fights have not intensified like in the neighboring villages. The village leadership was elected in personal elections in almost every colony and without a regular political system. People with organizational skills emerged as the heads of districts. When the regime was finally ready to operate orderly and handle the organization of the villages and the colonies, the center's envoy for colony affairs would find there a regime structured democratically, with organized departments of agriculture, education, and other departments. In structuring the local organization, the J.C.A. [Jewish Charitable Association] organization played a major role. The J.C.A was centered in the colony of Novopoltavka, where it had a farm and an agricultural school (in particular, the agronomist Leizer Aharonovitz–Shteinberg was active in the public life. It turned out later that he was an assimilated Social Democrat, and when the movement of “Tzeirei Tzion” [“Youths of Zion”] strengthened in the colonies, we worked very hard until we succeeded in removing him from public activity).

[Page 377]

The colonies experienced a lot until the year 1924 and the labor Eretz Israel movement, which included the “He'Khalutz” [“The Pioneer”], “Tzeirei Tzion” [“Youths of Zion”] and especially the Z”S [“Zionist–Socialists”], was very active. We were not successful in introducing Hebrew as the teaching language in school. The conflict between “Tzeirei Tzion” and the “Zionists–Socialists” contributed to that failure to a certain extent; however, the main factor was the shortage of teachers knowledgeable in the Hebrew language. We were successful though, in introducing studying of the Bible as well as the Hebrew language and its literature as compulsory subjects (in some colonies the practice lasted for two or three more years after the rule passed to the hands of the communists). [Branches of the] Zionists parties and the “He'Khalutz” movement were formed in all of the colonies and during the years that [the Zionist] movement became illegal, also some assistance and supportive groups were established.

 

Novopoltavka

Novopoltavka stretched over rather a wide area near the railroad line of Nikolayev – Kharkov and therefore was the home of many crops–merchants and expeditors, agricultural machines repair workshops, where many employees worked (non–Jewish among them), several big merchants and white color professionals, such as pharmacists, medics, nurses and clerks and even a music school. Many youths traveled every day to their high school in Nikolayev. There were some students who studied in Kiev or Odessa. However, most of the residents were farmers (there were 2520 residents and about 200 farms in Novopoltavka in 1917). Due to the proximity to the railroad, the colony experienced two dreadful years. None of the gangs skipped over it. There were some gangs who stayed in the colony for several weeks. They destroyed the farms, conducted pogroms and left behind tens of murdered people.

There was a member of the Nikolayev branch of the “Zionists–Socialists” party whose name was Tzelik Sakhanovski. He was an expert metalworker who worked in a ship–building factory – ”Nevel”. He looked like a Ukrainian and spoke fluent Ukrainian. In 1918 – 1919, when the factory closed, Tzelik went to Novopoltavka and found work with an agricultural machines repair workshop. When the Makhno gang attacked and stayed in the colony for a long time, Tzelik introduced himself as a Ukrainian, befriended the Makhno gang members and learned how to drink without getting drunk. He knew how to sing Ukrainian songs, and was liked by the gang members. Secretly, he hid several young women in his apartment, and often acted to protect people and property of the residents, most of whom ran away from the colony. When the members of the Makhno gang left the Nikolayev area, a committee for assisting the refugees and people who suffered from the pogroms, was established. Tzelik appeared before them and handed over a great number of watches, rings, diamonds and a large amount of cash, which he managed to take away from the Makhno's when they were drunk. That contribution became the basis for the committee's assistance fund. When the communist regime became established, somebody told about Tzelik that he was one of the Makhno gang's members. He was arrested by the Cheka (the Soviet secret service). We barely managed to free him by providing the Cheka the list of members of the “Zionists–Socialists” party from the years 1918 – 1919 that contained the name of Tzelik (to Tzelik's claims

[Page 378]

how could a Jew be a bandit, the Cheka investigator replied: “You are an anarchist aren't you?”).

 

Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Ktana [The Small Field of Tranquility] (Nevel)

The riots in the city and the regime changes hardly ever arrived at Sdeh–Menukha. It was a small Ukrainian village, whose life style was very different from the life in Christian villages, Jewish towns and even from the life in other Jewish colonies. Silence and tranquility prevailed in the streets of the colony, in the farmers' homes and in their hearts. Although the elders mostly wore “kapotes”, it was difficult to find anything in them that was different from the Mozhiks [Russian peasants]. The Jews of Sdeh–Menukha were different from the towns Jews. They were sturdy, tall, and healthy with quiet eyes, assured body movements and without nervousness.

When I first met with them they impressed me as being some sort of an evangelistic religious cult. I was amazed when I later realized that the longings in the eyes of the farmers were longings for Zion – for their own homeland. Most of them were religious and observant. At dawn, before leaving for the field, they would pray, in public, and even in the field they made an effort to pray the Minkha prayer [afternoon prayer] with a “minyan” [a quorum of 10 men above the age of 13, required for a Jewish public prayer]. They were tolerant of the youths, who, following the revolution, disassociated themselves from their parents' lifestyle. It seems to me that the reason for that tolerance was the fact that the youth inherited their longings for Zion.

The look of the houses and the yards, the low fences, the small brick benches near the brightly shined yards, as if attested to their rooted and secured existence on their land. The front of the residence apartment was typically covered with a tin or tile roof with big and clean windows. In the yard on the left, the solid cowshed building was located. In the depth of the yard stood a barn, a crop storage warehouse, and a covered stable and deeper yet the threshing structure with the primitive threshing machines. At the door of every entrance, a big “mezuzah” was prominent. There were three or four rooms in every apartment, a big kitchen and a spacious corridor, which separated between the rooms and the kitchen. The furniture was semi–urban. In the kitchen stood a table covered by a tablecloth, embroidered by one of the girls or the housewife, with chairs and a buffet with embroidered towels. Hanged on the walls were pictures of the Rabbi from Liadi [Rabbi Zalman Shneur – founder of the Khabad Hasidic movement], the Gaon from Vilna [Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman] and Dr. Herzl. There was an absolute cleanliness in the apartment throughout most hours of the day and night. The dedicated handling by the girls or the housewife was apparent. Every yard was surrounded by a low stone–fence, which served as a barrier for the livestock in the yard. The residents of the colony worked only in agriculture. During my stay in Sdeh–Menukha I did not see even a single store in the colony. When I asked about it, I was told that there are only two people who worked as shopkeepers, and that their stores are in their houses. I did not find anybody in the colony who smoked. When I wanted cigarettes, a friend had to send his son to ride to the nearby colony (Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Gdola [the large Sdeh–Menukha] also named Tatarka), to get them. During the winter months, the farmers of Sdeh–Menukha were busy preparing for the seeding season and repairing the machines, wagons and farm structures. Some had a side occupation, working as glaziers

[Page 379]

in the colony and neighboring villages, or transporting freights to and from Kherson, the neighboring colony and nearby villages. There were some who transported their summer harvest to the city markets in the winter.

The influence of the local intelligentsia was not felt in the colony's public life. The “Schultz” [The head of the village] was one of the farmers, the village clerk was an owner of a farm, and the teachers were also owners of auxiliary farms. Nevertheless, there were people with a high school education among the youths and the young adults (particularly among the females). There were also some Yeshiva students (particularly the Yeshiva established by the Lubavitz–Hasidim). These people became active in the farms of their parents. In 1917, during the Kerensky's Revolution, and in 1923, during the Soviet rule, I knew only one political movement in the colony – the Zionist movement, particularly the Zionist–Socialist party and the “He'Khalutz”. When the Yevsektsia people [Jewish Communists] gained control of the colony, the colony was forced to give up its local rule.

In the fall of 1923, when the Zionist movement, with all of its factions, was already illegal, I had to organize a list of “supporters” who wished to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. An opportunity to secure a limited number of “certificates” became available. I knew that the people of Sdeh–Menukha were ready to make Aliya at any moment, especially those who had a part of the family already in Eretz Israel. [At that time] it was [already] dangerous [for a Zionist activist] to travel to Sdeh–Menukha and every foreigner would attract attention. It was therefore agreed between me and the representative of Sdeh–Menukha (the member Leibl Kahanov, [later] a resident of Kfar Yehoshua), to meet at another colony – a larger one, where we also had members. Moshe Ninburg, z”l as well as Leibl Kahanov and Ya'akov Erev, may they live long, came to the meeting. We met at a friend's house, whose main entrance was on the side of the colony, and the back entrance was on the side of the village that was unified with the colony. We placed a guard outside. The owner of the apartment looked out the window, and noticed that a foreign person, who was not from the colony, was watching the house. I left by the back entrance toward the village and turned to a trustworthy friend in the village (the home of Yehudit Simkhoni's parents). As they feared that people who may have followed me would reach their house, they transferred me to the house of their friend, a woman who was not suspected of being a supporter of Zionism. In the meantime, the local people went out through the front entrance and turned to the inn where they left their wagon and the horses. The foreigner watchman, who was probably waiting for me, stayed put and did not move from his position. In the meantime, Ninburg harnessed the horses and went out to the field on the road to Kherson. We arrived at his wagon, everyone in a different way, and Ninburg proceeded to gallop the horses. Ya'akov, who sat facing backward, said that he saw two riders from afar. The crops stood erect in the fields, at their full height. Ninburg did not think twice and turned the horses into the crops. We passed through the field, on its entire width, and entered a Ukrainian village. Ninburg turned to a house of a farmer, a good acquaintance of his. He whispered to him, and the farmer welcomed me into his house, placed me above the fireplace, and covered me with all sorts of things. The farmers and my host went out to the yard to drink orange juice and wait for the chasers. About half an hour passed and the chasers have not showed up. The Ukrainian farmer went out to the field, riding his horse, to investigate where the chasers were. When he came back, he said that he saw them from afar on the way

[Page 380]

leading to Nevel (Sdeh–Menukha). Ninburg harnessed the horses again, and despite his tiredness and the tiredness of his horses, he brought me to Kherson – a distance of 80 kilometers.

 

Yefeh–Nahar (Effengar in Russian)

Yefeh–Nahar was the only colony in the Nikolayev district which was distanced from the railroad. As such, it dodged the visits by the gangs and served as shelter for the refugees from other colonies, when the gangs were active in the area. The colony was called Yefeh–Nahar, probably because of its proximity to the Inguletz River [actually the River Ingul] which ran nearby through a wide and amazingly beautiful valley. The colony did not have muddy soil because it was built on a mountain, which had a sandy soil. The two neighboring colonies were drowning in the autumn mud. The houses in the colony were built on straight lines. Three streets climbed up from the slope to the peak of the mountain. The German quarter was located at the main entrance to the colony. The houses were whitewashed and their stone fences were also whitewashed. Fruit trees and flowers were planted near every house. The Jewish houses did not have that uniformity. Houses and yards looked neglected, along with some of the houses, here and there, that were neat. There were no trees or vegetation by the Jewish houses.

During my first visit, in the summer of 1917, during the days of Kerensky's, there were about 2000 residents in the colony, with only 150 – 160 farms. Many of the local residents were working in trade as merchants, small manufacturers, haberdashery traders, shoemakers and wheat traders (of the local farmers and of the neighboring Ukrainian villages). Others were occupied in industry – flour mills, seeds oil factory, soda water factory and in crafts – tailoring, shoe repairing, blacksmithing and carpentry. The intelligentsia occupied an importance place in that colony. It included a physician, a medic, a midwife, pharmacy owners and teachers as well as religion officials (a rabbi, slaughterers, cantors, synagogue administrators, and “melameds” [religion teachers]). I also found there people who worked in untraditional professions for Jews such as builders and specialists for building rural heaters (including one expert who was very famous in the area, and who received from the Soviet regime, at his old age, according to what I was told, an honorary title of “The Hero of Work”).

After many petitions by the officials of the local authorities, under the initiative of “Tzeirei Tzion” [“Youths of Zion”] and following our meeting with the agronomist Luberski, the JCA people, whose center was in the neighboring colony of Novopoltavka, began to visit Yefeh– Nahar. They planned planting of vineyards, established the seeding of oil seeds and handled the improvements in the cowsheds. However, during that crazy period – with the frequent regime changes, the takeover of Ukraine by the Germans, the gangs of the Hatman, Reda and Petliura and all other gangs and the “independent Republics” (the neighboring village of Bashtuka announced itself as an “independent Republic” and demanded from its neighboring villages, including Yefeh–Nahar to surrender) – the colony could not develop. When the Bolsheviks returned to power, “communsemos's” (poor villages committees) were established and during the “military communism” period, they began to confiscate

[Page 381]

the harvests. The head of the “communsemos” was forced to lead the “confiscation battalions” into the farmers' homes. The work ceased and everyone developed an expertise in finding hiding places for their property.

When the Yevsketsia began to handle the Jewish colonies, I was forced to cease any ties with Yefeh–Nahar. I was told that a single Jewish kolkhoz was established there during the forced collectivization and later on, “for economical” reasons, the colony land was distributed among the neighboring villages, whose land bordered with the fields of Yefeh–Nahar. Two or three mixed kolkhozes were established, and Yefeh–Nahar ceased to exist as a Jewish colony. Most of its farmers immigrated before the war mainly to the cities. Sadly, only a few managed to make Aliya to Eretz Israel.

 

Dobroye

Dobroye was situated near the train station on the Nikolayev – Kharkov line and served as the center for the crops export from the neighboring Ukrainian villages. Many of its residents made a living from crops trade. Based on the size of its population, Dobroye was considered the largest [Jewish] colony in the Kherson province. However, there were relatively only a few farms (about 170 – 180) there. Most of the residents worked in craftsmanship, trade and in offices handling governmental affairs. The number of people who worked in occupation in white color jobs was larger than in other colonies. The colony had a number pf physicians, pharmacists, nurses, midwifes, office clerks, operation personnel, mail clerks, train station clerks (residents of the neighboring large Ukrainian village – Yavkino, were regular visitors in the colony), teachers (in three schools), and a large number of religious officials: rabbis, slaughterers, cantors, and about ten “melameds” who operated “kheders” [religious school for young boys].

Nevertheless, Dobroye was an agricultural colony, and its way of life was different from the one in Ukrainian towns. The attitude towards physical work was an attitude of respect. That fact can be attributed to the influence of the distinguished families, who were the leaders of the public life, the attitude of the colony's regime, which they also headed, and the customs of the daily life. Dobroye was blessed with a village head that persisted from the days of the Czar, through all the revolutions and was always re–elected, until the Bolsheviks took over. He was an intelligent and learned Jew who was liked by the public, and an old–timer Zionist. During normal times, the public–social life was bustling. It contained essential institutions such as a supermarket, cooperative bank, drama club and regular lectures.

In 1917, Dobroye served as a center for agriculture training for the “He'Khaluz” people. However, every regime change and every gang who operated in the area left deep wounds in the life of the colony. Dobroye and Novopoltavka (both situated near the railroad) experienced many pogroms. Luckily, clerks who worked in the train station had many friends among the colony Jewish residents. Every time when a notice about a train, suspected of carrying a gang, was obtained from the nearest station

[Page 382]

they would quickly send a warning to the colony's Jewish residents, and they would prepare their wagons and horses for an escape to the fields, or to the more remote colony of Yefeh–Nahar. Dobroye was often left empty of its residents for several days a time, therefore, if I am not mistaken, there were not that many people who were murdered as compared to Novopoltavka. Only the property was looted many times. Some of the farmers in the neighboring villages robbed most of the agricultural tools, and the gang members robbed everything they found in the homes. When the Soviet regime became established, Dobroye was left without the minimal means of sustenance. Most of the farmers did not have enough bread, and they lacked farm animals and tools. Thus, many left the colony, and despite the hunger that spread all over the country, they moved to the nearby cities to look for work.

During the “NEP” [Lenin's New Economic Program], when life has returned to normal, more or less, many returned to the colony where young people who had remained in the colony, were skilled in establishing life anew. Many turned to agriculture. Those who owned a farm rebuilt it and others, who had not worked in agriculture before, turned to the local authority and received plots of land or abandoned farms (often against the opinion of the cummunesmos). For some reason, Dobroye, who had quite a few learned people from the older generation, has not been successful in instilling the passion for education among the youths. The number of students in high schools (even during the Kerensky period) was very small. Since my ties with Dobroye ceased, as I became an illegal activist, I do not know how the colony developed after the “NEP” period. There are almost no natives of Dobroye in Israel, except the Bar–Droma–Galilli family, whose father was a dedicated Zionist and managed to bring his whole family to Eretz Israel.

David Tribman (Tel Aviv)


[Page 383]

The Rehabilitation of the Jewish Agricultural Colonies
in Southern Ukraine

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Sdeh–Menukha Ha'Ktana, 7 September 1930

Following the destruction caused by the Makhno and Petliura gangs to the Jewish agricultural colonies in Southern Ukraine, the process of devastation continued due to the harsh drought of 1921. Most of the areas of Ukraine, except the province of Chernigov and its environs, did not harvest that year and did not even gather a single seed, and there was no pasture for the cattle and sheep. Masses of people died from hunger in the villages and towns, especially in the province of Kherson.

In the Jewish agricultural colonies the cattle consumed the straw which covered the roofs of the houses and in many houses, the roof boards were sold to buy sacks of flour. I saw hundreds of freight trains loaded with farmers and their belonging that arrived in the Chernigov province, during the beginning of the summer of 1921, to exchange their belongings for flour or wheat seeds, so that they could sustain their families. also some Jewish farmers from the colonies still had some valuables left. Among the people who suffered from the hunger calamity were all of the Jewish colonies in the province of Kherson – Dobroye, Novo-Poltavka, Yefeh-Nahar, Nahar-Tov, Romanovka, Bobrovi-Kut, Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Gdola, Sdeh-Menukha Ha'Ktana, Libovo, and Novo-Berislav, about 2500 families.

The disaster in the Jewish colonies worsened even more, because after the revolution, the regime discontinued the activity of the JCA [Jewish Charitable Association established in 1891 by Baron Hirsch], whose center was in France, and the association's leaders were helpless, particularly because they were suspect of collaborating with foreign companies. Some of the farmers tried to leave the colonies, but there was nowhere to go. Hunger and unemployment prevailed in the cities. During that tragic time, the “ORT” organization [the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor, established in Russia in 1880], came to the rescue. The role of the “ORT” organization in Russia, especially in the Ukrainian cities, was to teach craftsmanship to the Jewish youth. For that purpose, the association established technical schools, with workshops for children of ages 13 – 14. The “ORT” organization continued its activity in Russia after the revolution; however, the authorities nominated Jewish communists to head the activities of the schools and the workshops. At that time, the center of the association was located in Berlin.

The agricultural department of “ORT” established its center in the Ukrainian capital of Kharkov and its center of activity in the Jewish colonies was in Nikolayev, which became the province capital replacing Kherson. As the head of the department for the assistance to the Jewish colonies, situated in Nikolayev, the authority nominated Elimelekh Eresh who was a communist, but was removed from the

[Page 384]

ranks of the party due to his nationalistic tendencies. He was a clever man with a warm Jewish heart. Another member of the management was a communist by the name of Shmulevitz, a native of the colony of Yefeh-Nahar, who visited the meetings, held once a month, and was helping us [the Zionists] at the colonies, and would frequently save us from snitching about preaching for Zionism. There was another member of the management, by the name of Shumakher, who was dedicated in his heart and soul. He was also active in the Jewish public in Nikolayev.

I was the agronomist of the association for its activity in the colonies, and was tasked, along with the rest of the members of the management team, with the colonies rehabilitation. As part of my role as an agronomist, I was moving from one colony to the other, and was returning, at the end of each month, to the center in Nikolayev, where we held meetings and consultations with the members of the management. Equipped with resources and resolutions, I would return to the colonies for the entire month.

One of the activists at the center in Kharkov, was Golde, who was previously a member of Kvutzat (kibbutz) Kineret in Eretz israel. I found about that “stain” in his past, from Ben-Tzion Israeli z”l, only when I came to Eretz Israel in 1927 when I visited Kvutzat Kineret.

The first activity at the end of the summer of 1922 was to provide seeds for the autumn seeding. The settlers were reorganized, with the help of the “credit union” which was in operation in the early days of the J.C.A., under the assistance of which the fields were prepared for the autumn seeding. The seeds, which arrived from Romania, were distributed on credit, and the fields' owners would repay the price of the seeds through the credit union when their situation would allow.

The Berlin “ORT” association first sent the needed resources for the purchasing of horses – a horse per family, and sometimes a single horse for two families (while the actual requirement was a pair of horses per farm). Following that, the resources for acquiring the cows and seeds for the summer crops – wheat and barley, became available.

Due to lack of agricultural knowhow, and due to the desire to provide quick assistance, a large amount of vegetable seeds, tools for cultivation of vegetable gardens and machines for corn peeling were sent without consulting with us. These resources were never used, or were hardly used.

At the end of the spring seeding period, the time has come to fix the roofs of the houses, namely – to arrange the wooden boards before the crops would be harvested and straw from the threshing would become available to cover the roofs. We prepared lists and the “ORT” company ordered the boards, which arrived on time, before harvesting began.

After these initial urgent actions, we turned to improving the situation in the colonies. All the colonies, which were close to rivers and other sources of water, were supplied with Bulgarian water pumps to irrigate the vegetable gardens, which were prepared for the commercial market and were cultivated by the cooperatives, consisted of the members of the colonies. The production of yellow cheese which was sold in the big cities was reintroduced. The economical state of the colonies' farmers began to improve. One of the vital acts was to bring the farmers closer to their distanced lands.

[Page 385]

The number of families in the colony reached 400. The settlement was concentrated in a rather small area and its lands stretched out to distances of up to 18 – 20 kilometers from the houses. For that reason, the farmers were forced to remain in the fields and lodge there for weeks during the cultivation and seeding period and return home only for Shabbat. The main difficulty was transporting the crops and the hay from the distanced fields to the thresher in the yards, which lasted several weeks. At the end of the transporting effort, they turned to threshing and later on, rearranged the piles of straw in the shape of tall buildings with sloped roofs.

After consulting with the farmers' committees, it was decided to split the settlement in the large colonies into two parts, redistribute the lands and establish new settlements consisting of half of the farmers, who would agree to re-build their houses and the farm structures at the center of their lands.

Based on our recommendation, the “ORT” organization agreed to provide the construction materials and resources for establishing the new settlements. Wells were repaired, and new wells were dug out. Plans were prepared and the redistribution of the lands was implemented, so that some of the plots that were close to the old settlement would be available to the farmers there, and the distanced plots would be concentrated around the new settlement.

Following two years of fruitful and effective activity of the “ORT” organization, which managed to substantially improve the state of the farmers in the colonies, the organization ceased its temporary operation in the spring 1924 and handed over the responsibility to the people of the Agro-JOINT [The branch of the JOINT - Joint Distribution Committee in the Soviet Union, established after the revolution, aiming to settle “nonproductive” Jews]. In 1924, delegations in behalf of the American JOINT organization who were interested in the agricultural settlement of Jews from the cities of Russia began to visit in southern Ukraine and Crimea.

The situation of the city Jews, most of whom were merchants, was very harsh. Representatives of groups of Jews would arrive, from time to time, to the office of “ORT” in Nikolayev asking to help them to transfer to agriculture, and thereby ensure sustenance for the families.

Fertile and productive lands, which remained after they have been confiscated from the large estate owners in Ukraine and northern Crimea, abounded. The buildings that remained in the estates could initially serve as a place of residence for people and animals, and could accommodate the new settlers right away without many preparations, and they could begin to work as a collective. Later on, when the plans for the settlement became available and distributed, private homes were built on the settlers' lands.

The “ORT” people were forced to help groups of Jews, here and there, to settle on the land even earlier. However, that activity was incidental, since it was not included in the charter of the temporary agricultural activity of the “ORT” organization.

The Hakhshara [training] farms established by the He'Khalutz movement during the years 1922 – 1924 (“Tel Khai” [“Hill of Living”], “Ma'ayan” [“Wellspring”] and “Mishmar” [“Guard”]), served as evidence to the American JOINT's activists that the agricultural settlement in Crimea was possible and advantageous. These farms were profitable and operated on a high professional level thanks to the organization

[Page 386]

and dedication of their members – the members of the “He'Khalutz” movement who worked tirelessly, without receiving any compensation from the farm other than the minimal expenses needed for their sustenance. The largest among the “Hakhshara” farms – “Tel Khai”, with an area of 20,000 dunams [about 4940 acres], developed the cultivation of seeds in cooperation with the Ukrainian company “The Seed”. That farm was the one which enhanced, by selection, and granted the Crimea agricultural market the wheat species called “Cooperturka” as well as the Sudanese hay.

A new settlement movement in Ukraine and Crimea commenced in the year 1925 by the Agro-JOINT. Tens of new settlements were established in Crimea, around the “He'Khalutz” farms, and in the Ukraine, in the area of the existing colonies. These new settlements served as a lever for a wider settlement enterprise in 1926.

In the winter of 1925 – 1926, a special committee was established in Crimea, consisting of three agronomists: a representative of the government, a representative of the “GEZERD” organization [“The Society for the Agricultural Organization of Working Class Jews in the USSR&148; — “OZET” in Russian and “GEZERD” in Yiddish], which cooperated with the “Agro-JOINT” organization, and the author of this article, as the representative of “Agro-JOINT”. The committee was tasked to implement the settlement. An area, which was more or less contiguous and concentrated, of about 70,000 disiyatins (about 770,000 dunams [about 190,000 acres]) was selected. The area was approved following a difficult struggle, and against the resistance by the Crimean-Tatarian regime. The Yevsektsia's representative H. Marzhin, did not get involved. When I explained to him that I selected a concentrated area to strengthen the defense capabilities of the settlement in case of pogroms, Merzhin responded that that was a Zionist political excuse. In spite of his view, he did not dare to side with the Tatarian regime, which demanded to scatter the settlements.

In the spring of 1926, hundreds of settlers settled on the land. Every family received 30 disiyatins (330 dunams [81.5 acres]) for field crops cultivation as well as a large piece of land which could be used for a multi-sector farm. In Crimea, houses built from white stone (similar to Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Bricks), were built. The bricks were ordered in 1925 and arrived, in time for the construction, in spring 1926.

In the midst of that operation, I was arrested and sent to Siberia. I did not have sufficient material to write about the continuation of the settlement enterprise in Crimea.

Agronomist B. Gorshtein (Tel Aviv)

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Jewish Farmers in Russian Fields     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Binny Lewis
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 7 Nov 2018 by LA