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My Dear Shtetl Mihaileni (Cont'd)

9. Back to Mihaileni

For a moment, I will skip forward in time. In fact some two decades later when, in 1958, after many years in the Soviet Union, I was granted the unusual permission to visit Romania.

At that time I lived in Kirkizia. For a long time after the second world war, I knew nothing about my family. I did not know even if there were any survivors. I got in touch with the International Red Cross and it took a few years before I found out that I still had two brothers and one sister in Mihaileni and in Roman. From them I found out that my parents and my sister Clara had passed away in Transnistria. Their letter was a terrible shock for me. I cried as if I could not come to my senses. I began to correspond with my brothers and sisters and we wanted to see each other. It was only with great difficulty that I received the permission to visit them and in the end we met again in Roman. From there, I went to Mihaileni with my brother Leib. Accompanied by Marcu Cocosh, the son of Iancu Cocosh (that one who was driving the carriage daily from Mihaileni to Dorohoi), we went to the town's Jewish cemetery. We paid our respects at the tombs of my grandparents Iosif and Ghitla Lebel.

We could not stay there for more than 24 hours, but this was sufficient to see and realize the destruction of the Jewish community. I was told that in Mihaileni there were only 31 Jewish souls left out of the 2000 that lived there before the war. Of them, 16 were born in Mihaileni, the others came from Dorohoi, Darabani, Bucecea. Among the last survivors of our shtetl at that time, there were Moishe Mordhai the tailor with his wife Lea and his daughter Sofia, married with somebody from Dorohoi; there were also Iosala Wagner, the son of Avrum Stoler (the innkeeper) with his wife Touba. I also met Iosala Cazac with his wife, one of the Regenstreif family, Srull Lopotnic, Shulam the shoemaker, Pitei (the one who used to paint beautiful carts) and a few others.

I went to Siret, where my cousin Izu Bergher lived at that time. He showed me the houses where my uncles lived before the war. They were not habitable, they were only ruins and empty fields. I was told that the bricks of those houses had been used to build the city hall of the town Siret.

While in Siret I met my childhood friend Avrame the gypsy. I told him a few gypsy words I had learned from him when I was a child and he could not believe his eyes when he saw me. He told me he was hired to sweep the city hall and that he had never been in prison. He invited me to pay him a visit at home and I did not want to refuse him that pleasure. He had some seven children in a small house, life was not easy for him, But he began to call me Sir, and there was no use to remind him we were friends from our childhood, he insisted to call me that. His brother Pitigoi came to see me too, I knew him from my childhood, and he reminded me that once we went out fishing together and the fish we caught were cooked by their mother who also made a very tasty corn bread.

From Siret I traveled to Radautzi and went to the street where my parents used to live until they were deported to Transnistria. There was not even a sign of what was once their house. Weeds were growing on the place. It is difficult to describe my mood at that moment. I asked myself where was my parents' beautiful old furniture, which had been brought from Vienna in 1910, at the time our house in Mihaileni was finished. Who robbed my parents' house and destroyed it as soon as they were deported to Transnistria?

During my visit in Roman I met Stefan Botez, during the war he was an Iron Guard {the Romanian Nazi organization} sympathizer, unlike the rest of the Botez family who were a honest hard working family. As I have heard that after the war he spent a few years in a prison in Kishinev. I invited Stefan to the pub, where we ate a steak and drank a few glasses of wine I told him about my life in the Soviet Union and when the atmosphere became relaxed I told him I wanted to ask him a daring question. He agreed and I said: “Stefanule (this is how I called him when we were children and launched kites together), look here, we meet after more than 20 years, I came from far away and went to the tombs of my grandparents, where they are resting since 1930. I don't know where my parents tombs are, they passed away in Transnistria, I do not know where is the tomb of my sister Clara. I do not know many things, there are many questions I have no answers for. But, one of them concerns you. What made you sympathize with the Iron Guards?”

I remember how he looked at me with his hand on his chin. His answer was very short. He said he sympathized them because it was the only way he could get a job. “But don't think, Zisule", he said, “that because I was a member of that party I had to become a wild beast. Do you remember the dentist Isac Stir? I saved him. I helped a lot of others, as well as I could, some of them don't know even today how I saved them in those times, when many things depended on me. I was thinking then how they felt and tried to put myself in their place. After I got arrested I had to part from my family and that was the greatest punishment I received".

When we parted, Stefan and me were very moved by our memories, I was not angry at him any more. We did not see each other since. Many years later, in Haifa, I was very happy to learn that he did not lie to me and indeed he helped some Jews in Mihaileni.

In Mihaileni I met the mayor Mitrash, and opposite his house I saw Mironescu the barber, he lived in the house that formerly belonged to Furman. While in Mihaileni I tried to see Mrs. Natalia Bontea, a Christian, a class mate and good friend of my sister Estera. I asked about her and was told that she lives in town, but unfortunately, I could not meet her. I remember her as a beautiful girl, with a very attractive velvety face. Last time I saw her she was 16-17 years old. My sister Estera was also beautiful and when the two of them walked in the street it was a pleasure to watch. Would I have recognized Natalia ? Who knows ? However I like to remember her and sometimes I talked about her with Estera.

Purim fell during the time I spent in Roman. For the holiday as well a to celebrate my visit, my brother organized a great festivity including a “Purim Spill”, such as I have not experienced in two decades. When I returned to the Soviet Union, I told all my Jewish friends and acquaintances about the Purim I spent in Rumania. Most of them never even heard about this holiday and were very interested in what I had to tell them.

10. Away from Home

In 1936, when I was 16 years old, I left my parents' home and went to Roman. I found a job quickly and my first job was at Mr. Falticeanu's book shop. Among other things, I had to walk the patron's little girl, whom he had adopted from his wife's sister in Falticeni. My boss's wife was a little ill and I had to gather leaves for her, from the nut-trees in the garden. The lady used the leaves for bathing her feet. I was also carrying books, notebooks and other stationery to schools.

My second job was at Matei's haberdashery shop, which belonged to one of my distant relatives, a cousin of my sister-in-law. I also worked for the cloth trader Moishe Shechter. There I used to buy bread every day, sweep the shop, went shopping with my landlady in the market and carry the basket for her. The salesman in that shop was an elder boy, who, for unknown reasons, was nicknamed Titulescu. Once, the shop was robbed and Titulescu was investigated by the police several times. I told the boss that if he did not trust Titulescu, I do not want to work for him. So, I moved to Lazarovici's grocery on Independence Street. The grocery had a big cellar and I had to work there days on end. I had to cut cheese, put it in barrels and spread salt on it in order to turn it into salty cheese.

In 1938 I left Roman and went to Radautzi, in Bucovina, where I lived and worked for two years. That town was not new for me, I have been there many times, I had relatives in Radautzi. The first time I visited Roman was when my sister married Leon Drasinover, a luxury tailor in that town. I was very fond of my brother in law Leon. He was a pleasant man, a good craftsman, hardworking and respected. Through him, I met his uncle too - he was about 60. He was a merchant and sometimes he used to take me in his cart when he left for places around Radautzi to buy the future fruit crop (root acquisitions, as they used to call it at that time). The owner used to receive an advance payment, the rest to be paid after the harvest. The harvest was made carefully, by means of high ladders, in boxes that were carried to a big garden and were kept there until late in the fall when the white frost came. From there, the boxes were carried to a huge cellar on one of the main streets of the town, near the Bisericii Street (Church Street, called Kirchengasse in German). In winter, the fruit were sold at a price several times larger than that of the buying price. I think that was fair enough, because he who had bought the fruit had to invest money in the fruit themselves, in the harvest and the transport, assuming many risks.

When all the fruit were stored in cellars, I ended my seasonal job and my brother-in-law Leon helped me find a new job. This is how I became a salesman at the Hirsch and Schafer perfumery shop. There I worked together with Gusta, Mr. Schafer's wife, a woman of about 30, with a pleasant face and a beautiful body, when she was moving she seemed to float. When she happened to touch me while passing by (the shop was narrow) she made me shiver, I became electrified. In the shop store there was another small room, where Mrs. Gusta went to tidy from time to time and, when I saw she was cleaning that room I used to look for something to do there too. Mrs. Hirsch's sister was also working at the shop as a cashier. She was 40 and a spinster.

It was at that time that I fell in love for the first time. It was a nice girl with beautiful eyes, called Jeni, who came often to the shop. She was13 or 14. Her family used to send her to buy eaux-de-cologne. I was thinking only of her, I was doing everything I could to see her as frequently as possibly and to be near her. One evening, she invited me to her home and brought me in her room. Her elder sister was sleeping in the same room; she was in bed and I was aware she was pretending to sleep. Jeni told me to undress and come in bed with her. I was a shy boy and not very used to things like that. Jeni got angry, gathered my clothes and sent me away from her room. I put on my clothes in the hall and went home very excited, decided to never see her again. Next day, I told my boss that I am resigning. Difficult times were beginning for Jews. Romanian language became compulsory in public places. One day, Mr. Schafer (one of the owners of the shop where I worked) was on the terrace of Meth confectionery on Kirchengasse, opposite the police station and the City Hall. He was eating a cream cake and when he saw an acquaintance of his, he addressed to him a few words in German. A young man, who was sitting next to him, told him he had to pay a fine of 500 lei (a lot of money at that time) because he did not speak Romanian in a public place.

Mr. Schafer felt offended. -- What do you mean? Should I pay a fine for telling to a friend “Servus!” or “Gris Got!"? he asked.

The young man threatened to bring him to the police if he did not pay the fine.

-- What were the foreign words I used? continued Mr. Schafer to ask.
--“Servus” and “Gris Got!” (“Salute God”) answered the young man.
--But you sir, are you an antichrist? asked my former boss.
--I believe in God, but not in Christ, came the answer.
--And what is your family name?
--And what was your name before?
--How are you going to write my family name on the fine receipt?
--Schafer, the young man answered
--You see, you should write my name in Romanian: “The Caretaker". Briefly sir, I said two words in German, but you also uttered two words in German: “Schwartz” and “Schafer". Mr. Schwartz - Black go away from here and, if possible, also depart from Radautzi. Let me not see you again and hear you saying we should speak only Romanian in pubs, offices and other public places. Don't forget our boys are pampered with the name Bubi, would you like us to call them “Dog"? Or to name Mr. Weis “Mr. White” and Mr. Grin to be called “Mr. Green"? It worked for you, you turned your name from Schwartz into Black and it fits your occupation, you are a black creature that cannot bring something good. And I warn you that if I ever find you again threatening people and asking for fines I am going to take you to my good friend -- inspector Cudla from the police station of Radautzi -- to ask him open your file and find out some other families you cheated before coming here. I'll take care to prevent you from fulfilling a racial order signed by an Iron Guardist scoundrel. And so many other things Mr. Schafer told him! His idea was that Romanian was a beautiful language but it should be used to transmit human feelings, warm words and not words meant to generate hostility. And why in the world should other languages be forbidden?

When I moved to Siret, that town was familiar to me. From all the places close to Mihaileni, it was Siret that I liked mostly. I went there often to visit relatives. For me, it was a walk of six or seven km. The path was crossing the remnants of a railway which has been out of use for a long time, since the time when Siret still belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

In 1940 I worked for a while in the shop of my cousin Iancu Berger. He owned a sort of a universal shop. Among other things, I used to provide the oil. I had a few metal casks that I to put in a cart and I brought them to the gas station where I filled them. The owner of the gas station was an invalid with only one arm. I did not pay him, I did not sign any paper. Everything was based on trust. I only received a bill which I gave to Iancu.

A few of the main clients of the shop were those serving in the Third Regiment of Frontier Guardians. One early morning, a Romanian officer, a major, entered the shop and talked to Iancu. It was during the days when, as a consequence of the Soviet ultimatum, the Romanian Army began to retreat from Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina.
-- Mr. Berger, this letter has to be handed to a Russian officer who is going to come at the entrance of the village Sinautzi de Jos, at exactly 10 o'clock in the morning.

I was given that envelope to convey and I left towards the village Sinauti de Jos, near Mihaileni. I knew the way very well, but it was raining cats and dogs. I was wearing the black overall that I used to wear in the shop and the letter was wrapped in order to be protected. On my way I met a lot of Romanian soldiers. I reached Sinauti and at 10 o'clock a Russian tank approached. A fair young officer came out of the tank and I gave him the letter. I told him in German that it was raining very hard, which he must have certainly noticed for himself. He answered in German too, that they were going to enter in Siret the next day. After one hour I was already back in Siret and entered the Headquarters, opposite the City Hall. I found the major quickly and told him that the next day the Russians would be in the town. He asked me to tell Iancu to hide in the cellar some of the goods in the shop, especially the sweets. That day I ate chocolate and sweets more than ever. The same day, during the afternoon, all the policeman in Siret went to Radautzi.

Next day, at 10 o'clock in the morning, three Russian tanks entered Siret. They did not stay long and retreated. My cousin advised me to leave the town, together with my cousin Gusta and her husband Ozias, and indeed we all left for Chernovitz.

11. The War

In 1941, I was in Chernovitz. German and Romanian troops were on their way to occupy the town. The Red Army was preparing to retreat and local population was in turmoil. Many people, Jews and non-Jews, were afraid of revenge and repression when the German and Romanian units will occupy the town.

I did not have anything to hide, but I was afraid and decided to depart with the Red Army. I gathered all my clothes that I kept at my sister Ester, a suit, a few shirts, a pair of shoes , I put on my coat, and those were all my belonging. At the time I also stole something from Ester -- I hope she did not get angry with me and understood my motives -- I took from her all the family photos that she had.

With my sack on my back, I started to walk along with the retreating soldiers of the Red Army. Somewhere near Hotin we crossed the Dniester. It is difficult to describe what I saw during those days. The soldiers were retreating on foot, in lorries, on horses, in tanks, on motorbikes and even on bicycles. A thick dust was rising and covering the sun. The air was difficult to breathe, you could feel the dust between your teeth, and your mouth went dry. From time to time, we had to find shelter from the raiding German airplanes. This way I walked tens and tens of kilometers.

Suddenly I saw three boys from Radautzi in the retreating column. Iancu and Leizer, Natan's brothers, and Iancala. I went to them, told them I was Natan's friend and asked them to walk together. After three days we reached the Ukrainian town Kamenetz Podolsc. Our first worry was to find bread, as we had nothing to eat any more. Meanwhile, we met a cart with one horse led by another boy whom we knew from Radautzi, as far as I remember his name was Ioil Itzic. That cart was full of sacks and suitcases. We asked him to allow us to add our bags to his cart, as we did not want to carry them in our hands. It was not a good idea. After a while we lost the cart and we were left without clothes, dressed only in short trousers and an undershirt.

But there was no time to rest. The German planes came in again and began to bomb the railway station and the railway in Kamenetz. The people panicked, they were running away to hide wherever they could. We decided to depart, on foot of course, towards Dunaev. We reached the place after a few hours, but we found a town that seemed dead. The houses were closed. Not a soul seemed to live there, not even a dog could be heard to bark. After a long time, we found a little house with a tobacconist's shop, where we could buy some food.

We decided to go on walking, to get further away from the front line. The nearest railway station was at Griceni, where we hoped to find a train towards Propcurov. Eventually we caught a freight train, full of soldiers. We climbed on a platform on which there was a barrel with sour cabbage -- that was our food for a while. We stayed a long time in the stations, the train was hardly moving. There were several German air-raids again. When the planes got close, we ran into the field and hid among the corn. We were lucky. They bombarded the train while it was moving, but they missed it. When we reached Griceni, it turned out that the railway station had been destroyed. There were a lot of victims, most of them from among the refugees. We did not stay long and moved on towards Dniepropetrovsk. Meanwhile, some of the carriages had been hit by the shells, I saw there were dead and wounded people; we were lucky that time too. There were more air-raids, day and night, but we survived.

We reached Dniepropetrovsk during the night -- exactly when a series of German air-raids began. We threw ourselves in a trench. There seemed to be endless thunderbolts strikes. Near the railway station (which was burning) I saw a high corn silo stricken by a bomb.

At long last, after many similar adventures we came to a kolhoz, Tchervona Krasnoarmeirstchi, near the Miaso center. We worked in the fields harvesting corn, and in return each of us received a daily ration of a piece of bread and a cup of milk. We had to work at night, because of the continuous daily air-raids. The German army was advancing and so we did not linger too long at that kolhoz. We went on and we reached Krasnodar in the Kaukaz. There, we were sent to a kolkhoz where we had to perform different jobs. We got a room for the four of us. We lay straw on the floor, on which we slept, and we covered ourselves with an old quilt that we found in a deserted house.

In the kolkhoz I suffered an accident. A plough fell on me and hurt me very
seriously. I spat blood and the boys took me to the hospital in a cart. I recovered relatively quickly and on the Yom Kippur day, the four of us received the order to join the Red Army. We enlisted and were supposed to join a battalion that was to be formed.

My friends did not want to join the army and deserted. They climbed a lorry that was leaving towards the kolkhoz where we had worked before. For a long time I did not know what happened to them. It was only here, in Haifa, that I learned that they found food at the kolkhoz and they walked a lot, they traveled by trains and ships (across the Caspian sea) and they reached Tashkent. Eventually they reached Israel. I do not give the full names of those three friends. I think it was a mistake to avoid fighting against the Nazi army. By now they may have children, grandchildren or grand-grandchildren who might be ashamed to learn that their fathers, grandfathers or grand-grandfathers deserted in the war against the Nazi Germany. After I reached Israel too, in 1973, they avoided me, I think they were ashamed or afraid. When I visited my sister Ester in Petah-Tikva, I found out that Natan was living in that town too (he was the brother of two of them). I visited him, I talked with him, but he did not want to tell me where his brothers lived.

Let me come back to the time of the war. At that moment in my life I remained alone. I felt I had to fight against the Nazis, as much as I was able to. Had everybody ran away, what would have happened? I know it was risky. But if people would not have fought, the Nazi Germany had continued to advance. After a few years I heard that, during the first period of the war, only 3% of the young soldiers survived. Many Jews were among the causalities. The military messages advising of a loved one's death brought much sorrow to many families. Even worse, many families did not receive a message at all, their beloved just did not return and nobody could tell if and where he had a tomb. I was among the lucky 3% who survived to see the end of the war. I prayed to God all the time to help me survive those difficult challenges of life and God awarded me the greatest possible award: the fact that I survived that great catastrophe. I came out of it not only alive, but whole and without any wounds. I repaid this "award” in my own way, with honest work, by being useful to people around me and by providing the daily food for myself and my family.

After enlisting in the Red Army, we left towards Rostov on Don, our aim being to reach the front line where the intense fighting took place. I belonged to a unit that dug trenches and anti-tank ditches, 3m deep and 4m wide. Meanwhile the winter came and with it the freezing cold weather. I had no warm clothes to wear. While crossing a village, a woman took pity on me. She gave me an old fur coat with many patches and a cap to cover my freezing ears. It was during the great battle at Stalingrad. We woke up at 4 in the morning, the temperature outside was40 degrees C below zero. We dug into the frozen earth, without gloves. We dug 12-13 hours a day, and we had a norm:3 cubic meters a day. Those who could not achieve that norm got a diminished ration of bread, which was normally 400gr. Few people from our age group (1918-1922) survived.

From Rostov on the Don we were sent to a town called Kamashin, about 300 km from Stalingrad. I belonged to the 136th Battalion Mina Inginernoi from the 4th Brigade Gvaredeiasci Armii. The column consisted of about ten thousands young men that walked on foot, towards the front line, making about 50 Km a day. Above us, German planes flew towards Stalingrad to attack that town. Sometimes they threw some bombs on us too.

On January 3, 1942, we left the forced labor battalion and set off back towards Rostov-Tiharetzk. Battles were raging all over the place. We slept wherever we could, in the attics of some schools, in stables, sometimes the dwellers of the town invited us to sleep in their houses, on the floor, not in beds. In one of such houses the hostess told us that her daughter died a day ago of typhus fever. In those days cleanness was a rare thing. Underclothes went unchanged for months. There were lice and great misery on the background of the daily threats of the surrounding war. Nobody wondered and nobody was ashamed any more. Disease and dirt were part of life in those times.

I got ill too and I was taken to a hospital in the town Frodovstantzye. I do not know how much time I laid there. It is difficult to describe what I saw there. I saw young people burnt, without arms or legs, or people who lost their sight. My clothes were burnt at the hospital, because they were full of insects. For several months before reaching the hospital I did not take a bath. I got other clothes -- I do not know whose they had been. I got a thick coat, a pair of trousers, a shirt, shoes (instead of the big peasant's sandals that I had worn and which I used to fill with straw).

From that hospital I was sent (with three more persons) to another hospital in the town Rostov. On the way to Rostov, in a place about 14 km before Rostov, we had to remain for the night. We were in a village, near the railway station, and we knocked on a door. A young woman answered. She had a little girl. We asked her to let us sleep in the house. The woman received us, but she warned us the Germans were going to bomb. We said we survived some other air-raids and we had no choice. She offered us bread and milk. We went to sleep, deadly tired.

We could not sleep for long, since soon the air-raids started. We run out of the house to get as far as possible from the railway station. We knew there were military units in the railway station and we assumed the planes were going to aim at the station. In the courtyard I stepped on a cow dung and fell down. Perhaps that dung was my good luck, because one of the bombs fell on a fuel carrier which exploded and generated a series of other explosions of weapons and munitions. The night was lit, debris were flying all over the place, and burnt flesh smell pervaded the air. It was horrible. If I had not been lying on the ground, I would have been hit. I crawled towards some trenches where other people from the village took shelter too. Some of them had guns with which they shot at the German planes, but they missed them. After that night, it took a few days to carry away the mangled corpses of the men who had been in those units.

At last I reached the hospital where we had been sent. When they saw how weak I was after the disease, they included me in a group that was sent to Siberia, to the mining center Molotov Ugoli in a place called Osinke. We were about twenty young men in that group, and we were supposed to work as miners after recovery. The journey took about three weeks, and during all that time we traveled by freight trains. When we reached the railway station of Kandalep in the town Osinke, half of the group was sent not to the mine, but to a sovkhoz that needed working hands. The sovkhoz director, Trosishke, told us to dig holes in the earth in which we had to gather grass to store for the animals to eat during winter. They offered us a stable which we turned into the bed-room of our group. Some girls that were working in the sovkhoz helped us too. The stable/bedroom was near a forest where we used to gather “saranca” -- a sort of an onion which we found at about 40cm below ground. We knew its leaves and found it easily. We boiled saranca and if we added milk to it, it resulted in a meal which was relatively tasty for war times. During our daily journeys to different places where the sovkhoz sent us, we passed across gardens and when we returned we also took a few potatoes to boil at home.

Towards the fall, our group was sent to the town Osinike in Kusbask, in Kemerova district, where there were ten mines. The coal taken from those mines was sent in big freight wagons to the different regions of the Soviet Union. There was a great need for this coal since the Donbas (the region that had provided most of the coal before the war) was occupied by the Germans.

The place where I was sent had a first class supply center, only the best food was sent there. I was sent in the town Belova to buy potatoes from kolkhozes. I arranged the provisions of 1200 tons of potatoes, for the miners and for the schools as well. During that time I also continued to learn. First I had to learn Russian, without which I could not make any progress, and after two years I already spoke Russian quite well, as if it were my native tongue.

The jobs I had after leaving Mihaileni proved useful to me, as they helped me adapt easier, find solutions in new situations. From that center they began sending me in different towns and this way I came to know almost all Russia. I was in Novosibirsk, Omsk, Irkutzk, Krasnoiarsk, Ural, Vladivostok and many other places. While I lived in the Soviet Union, between 1940 and 1973, I also traveled through all the Assian Soviet countries: Tashkent, Frunze, Alma Ata, Buhara, and others. Each trip left traces in my memory with which I could fill many notebooks.

12. Thirty Three Years in the Former USSR

In the town Osiniki in Siberia, in the Kemerova district, there were many families from Bessarabia. There were also young people from other Romanian regions and from Poland. Many of them worked in the coal mines -- that was a hard work, but well paid. However it was almost impossible to buy anything without a ticket, because the prices were too high. For instance, in the market, a black bread of 700 gr. cost 400 rubles. A pair of shoes was 2000-3000 rubles and a pair of boots was 4000-5000 rubles. Even a little salt in a match box cost a lot of money. The monthly wage of a clerk was 800 rubles.

The boys with whom I worked for a while settled quite well. One of them, Ruven Iankelevitch, was arrested and accused that part of the goods he had in his care were missing. He was not condemned, but he was sent to the front. He fought until he reached Berlin, he even received medals. I learned all this from a Christian girl-friend of his. She lived in the town and he wrote to her and from time to time he sent her clothes and other things, as well as pictures. I also wrote to him and we began to correspond. After a while his answers came from Tighina, where his wife lived. They found each other after five years of separation, during which they did not know anything about each other. I do not know what happened then with his girl-friend. What I do know is that life is sometimes very difficult. But I am very glad that God united them a second time for many years.

In Osiniki, my bosses were kind people and I am pleased to remember especially two of them: Vasiuc Piotr Sidorovici and Tzivin Efim Marcovici.

At the beginning of 1944 I was sent to a job to an acquisition center in Prokopevsk in the district Kemerova,. I had to work in the office that dealt with the food provision for the workers. Practically, I had to contact different centers in the town and especially outside the town, from which I took different products. For instance, once I was sent to Ulan Ude to receive 11 wagons of salty fish from the Baykal lake, reserved for the miners. It was a very responsible job, it was not easy to assure the food for the workers and I had to take care of everything, including to prevent stealing. Another time, I was sent to Vitchiuga from Ivanova to bring great quantities of white cloth for Kuzbasscombinat. From Semipalatinsk and Alma Ata I brought hundreds of wagons with watermelons, from Tashkent I brought hundreds of tons of fresh and dry fruit, from another town I brought silk. I had a certificate from the center in which they confirmed my rights to represent them. Among other things, I had the right to hire different people to watch the wagons, to prevent opening the sealed boxes and the robbing of the wagons. My activity was very much appreciated and I received prizes several times. The reward that I will never forget was a brown leather coat, 3m dark blue Boston cloth, a pair of shoes, suit cloth and a few shirts that were given to me by Gorlov Vasile Petrovici, a deputy minister. My prizes were also inscribed in my work book. The suit I had ordered on that occasion was also my wedding suit, when I got married on May 9, 1947. My bosses then were Paliakov Vasile Iacovlevici and Goluboev Abram Ilici.

From that period I remember an uncommon adventure. Once I was in Moscow with a delegation from the center, led by the director. We had to come back by a small plane. I think we were 12 people. But on the way the plane landed at Sverdlovsk, to take on one more person. Somebody in our group, the man who was responsible with the accommodation problem (he used to make all sorts of jokes) began to tease the newcomer -- for instance he said he was going to be late for an important date because of the newcomer. When we reached the Kemerova airport, the man from Sverdlovsk said good bye to us and told us he had just been appointed first secretary of the district. The joking man seemed unable to get up from his seat. A few million people lived in the Kemerova district, among them many miners, metallurgical workers and workers in the chemical factory. My boss at the Kemerova Center was Vishnevski Aron Markovitch. On May 9, 1945 I was at Semipalatinsk. I had reached that town by train only a few days before. I went to a hotel with only one suitcase that contained my whole property (a few clothes). I had had another suitcase too, but it had been stolen in the train. The second suitcase was stolen in the hotel. One night at that hotel cost seven ruble. Next day I went to the police to report the robbery. They told me to go every day to the market and notice if anybody is selling any of my belongings. If I found the thief, I should advice the police and they would come to arrest him.

On September 3, 1945 -- the day when Japan surrendered -- -- I was in Tashkent. I suddenly felt a strong toothache and my jaw swelled up. I went to a clinic and asked about a stomatological center. I entered there and found a girl of about 19-20 who was reading a book. I told her my trouble and she asked me to take a seat on the stomatological chair. I opened the mouth without noticing that she had a scalpel in her hand, and she opened my abscess with it. It was a lot of pus coming out. I became sick and fainted. The young lady revived me and put me in front of a ultraviolet lamp. On finding out where I came from and where I was going to, the young lady -- who was called Raisa -- advised me to remain in Tashkent for a few days, until the swelling receded. But I had no patience to wait and left immediately for Frunze, in Kirkizia, from where I phoned to thank her. I still remember her phone number: 30936.

You can probably guess what followed. I phoned her again several times and then I looked for something to do in Tashkent again. I paid her a visit at the clinic and waited until she finished her work. I went with her to the tramway station Voskresenskaia Bazar, near the Opera House. After that I returned many times and after about a month I had a pleasant surprise: she invited me to pay her a visit at home. That was an occasion for me to meet her parents and for her parents to meet me. During that first visit I learned that the Tonkonogaia family (Raisa's family) was a Jewish family. This way, my joy to be in her house was doubled. I got even closer to Raenka, as I now call my lifetime wife, and at the same time I found there a little of the Jewish atmosphere of my own home, an atmosphere that I missed during the war years. We had a traditional marriage, under a hupa, and we still have our marriage certificate.

I only knew my mother-in-law. She was a war widow. She had to raise alone her two daughters. One of them, my wife, became a stomatological physician. The other one graduated in law and was sent to work as a lawyer in Kirghizia. Her husband was a high ranking officer at the military court of justice. My wife has a cousin who is a retired engineer in San Francisco, with a big family. A cousin of my wife, a teacher, an expert in atomic physics, lived in Darmstadt, Germany; she is dead. Her husband, Prof. Krozen, had the same profession. The had three sons, teachers of physics: one of them lives in Germany, the other two live in Sweden. Unfortunately, they are assimilated and they do not know any more about their roots in a family of religious Jews -- Kublitch Gaisin, from the district Vinitza in Ukraine. Their grandfather was David Sokolovski, a well known merchant, and very religious.

The life of young married couple was not easy for us. I wanted to have the same profession as my wife, and I began to learn. I obtained the diploma of a dental physician after graduating the Superior School of Medicine in Tashkent (two cycles between 1944-1952). In 1948 I obtained the diploma of dental technician in Tashkent -- which enabled me to work and support myself and my family, while I continued to study to become a physician. Next year I attended in Tashkent the stomatology course at the Institute of Orthopedic-Traumatology -- which was also my working place. In 1963 I had some disagreements with a local boss and so I graduated from the Superior School of Medicine in Frunze as roentgen technician and after that, as a of physiotherapist. These professions were very helpful after my immigration, since I could work as a radiology technician at the Rambam Hospital, until I finished the courses that allowed me to practice stomatology in Israel.

It was just after the war that I realized that the Soviet government discriminated its citizens. In 1945, I was working at the acquisition department in Kuzbas when I was told there came an urgent telegram asking for a young energetic clerk to be sent to Moscow, and from there to be sent to Buzau for the acquisition of clothes and silk in the framework of the war compensations that Romania had to pay to the Soviet Union. Two people were proposed: me and Jelezmakov. As I was told, that telegram was signed by the deputy minister Uiatcheslav Molotov, at that time foreign minister of the USSR and one of Stalin's main collaborators. I was given good clothes and I left for Moscow. There, at one of the NKVD offices, I was received for an audience that ended with the result that I was not going to receive a passport for Romania. I still had relatives there, and they were afraid I could remain in Romania. It was at that time that I realized I lived in a closed country, where people were suspected all the time and deprived of rights. What could I do? I decided to mind my work, to learn and have a professional carrier.

Let me come back to my life in Tashkent. While I learned, I had to work too, because the rent for our house was 300 ruble a month, while our salary was only 650 ruble a month.

Talking about the rent, I am going to tell a story about our landlady Ghena, or Ghenotchka, as she was called. We had to pay the rent for six months in advance, which was not easy, but we had no choice and accepted this condition, that was not unusual in Tashkent at the time. After we moved in, Ghenotchka came to us one day with a big bag on her back. She was a strong woman and was able to carry heavy things. She asked us to keep that bag in our house over night. She said that in that bag there were cloths and silk pieces that belonged to her brother, who was the director of a shop in Turkestan (a town near Tashkent). She also said her brother had troubles at his job and he was waiting for a financial control from the official inspectors in Tashkent -- a control which might end with the confiscation of his belongings.

We had no choice. We accepted to help her, and the same night we carried that bag to my brother-in-law, who studied law and lived on the same street. From his house, the bag arrived to an aunt of his, who came from Bielorusia. Her name was Ester and sometimes she sold jam and sugar. It was only afterwards that we learned the truth about the content of the bag. In that bag, there were bills of 3- (“golden” bills, as they were told) that could be changed into rubles any time. The nominal value of a bill was 200 ruble, but to buy it you had to pay a few ruble more. Once in three months there were special drawings of lots, and with luck the owners of those bills could get an additional gain. The value of the bills in that bag was a quarter of a million ruble! I saw all of them a few months later, when the owner of the bills (Ghena's brother) asked for the bag. We carried it back during the night again, and when he got it he checked its content. The story sounds like the story, from the novel “12 Chairs” by Ilf and Petrov. It involved great risks (ten years of prison) and caused us great stress. In fact, Ghena got us involved in order to help her brother hide stolen goods. We were naive and we took the risk as well as involving other people too in order to help a thief. We were sorry for what we did and we decided that we will never again get involved in such an affair, which may endanger the entire family.

I already mentioned an aunt that was in business with sugar. She used to stay in queues where people could buy half a kg of sugar and she amassed a stock from which she sold it at a higher price, in order to supplement her poor pension which otherwise was not enough for her to survive. One day, she got a hearth attack and died at home. The police sealed her house. When it happened, we thought about what might have happened if the bag with a quarter of a million ruble had been in her house when the police arrived.

On February 20, 1948, our first child Shaie was born. I gave him my father's name. I had great troubles with him: he got sick with dysentery. On Mondays I used to take him to Prof. Ghershenovitch and on Thursdays to the Dr. docent Gleizer. Shaie recovered, but continued to be a child with health problems. Dr. Jurovski advised us to move in another town, to give up the heat of Tashkent for a cooler place. He said that this was the only way the child would be able to recover completely. I took his advice and began to write applications to the Republican Ministry of Health. Among other places, my wife and I were offered two jobs in the district of Talash, some 600km from Tashkent. This is the way we reached the town U Tchem Tcheak from the Leninpol district, a town with a population of 40000 people that had never seen stomatological physicians! It was in 1952 and the stomatological situation of that district was very bad. In that region, people mined a substance called arsine, which had a bad influence upon the teeth. During six years we carried out pioneer work there. They provided for us very good conditions. On the first day, they paid us advance money from our wages, to help us buy things we needed. We received a house, 15 “prajina” of land (meaning about 90 square m) and we received coal for the whole winter. The land was taken care by a hired woman. There were little specialist physician in the district. It was only us and a neurologist, Frida Borisovna, who were Jews. The physicians in Talash made a very close knit group, who met frequently and spent the holidays together. Some of the leaders of the district used to join us too. The people of Leninpol were of German, Dutch, and Kirghizian origin, only a few of them were Russians. At that time, they also brought there Tchetchenians, Ingushes and Karotchais. The people lived in harmony, there were no nationalistic hostile manifestations between them. But the dictatorship was deeply felt. For instance, nobody was allowed to move to another place without the approval of the officials. From this point of view, we, the physicians, had a privileged situation. The military commander who had to approve leaving the town was my patient and he did not refuse our applications. I began to be asked to make interventions, that is to arrange a protection for other people who wanted to pay visits to relatives or friends in villages at a few kilometers distance. The commander never refused my requests. To my surprise, I began to receive presents for the help I offered!

In 1953, during the "physicians affair” (Stalin accused some Jewish physicians of a plot to kill him and some other Soviet leaders) we were protected by our colleagues and acquaintances. They arranged things in such a way as to accompany us in order to avoid provocation. As we were the only stomatologists in the district, we began to be in great demand. We worked very much, as for two norms each. We also earned more money, and in two years we could afford to buy a Moskvitch car that cost 8600 ruble.

I did not have a driving license, so the car was driven up to Lenipol by Rainebek, the driver of the hospital. It was he who also offered to teach me to drive. Next day, he told me to sit in front of the wheel and showed me how to start the motor. He gave me some other explanations and then taught me how to set the car in the first gear. I set off and did not know how to stop. I circled several times a nearby corn stack (while people around made a lot of fun of me) and in the end I hit the corn stack and the motor stopped by itself. I took some more lessons and in the end I got the driving license. I was the second private person in the district to own a Moskvitch car and this fact attracted the envy of some people who were not ready to work so hard to save the money for a car. We already felt some signs of envy earlier, after my wife and I had bought elegant clothes from Moscow. Among the envious people, there was the wife of the first secretary of the party in Leninpol. She was a nurse at the clinic where we worked. I suppose she was especially irritated by Raenka's black fur coat.

After a year, we bought still another car, a smaller one, with which I traveled to further places of the district to treat people. There was no electricity there at that time and we worked at home by the light of an oil lamp, and the drilling machine had to be operated by pedal. At that time we could achieve a maximum of 600 revolutions a minute, and now the electric drill achieves a few thousand revolutions a minute. But the most important thing was that the boy recovered. Raenka and I were young (27 and 30), we had strength to work, could work even during the nights, and we gained money with which we could buy the cars and clothes. That was a prosperous period, but the our life during the period of the fake trials of the “murderous physicians” was a warning sign that we could not forget. Our second son was born in 1954, fortunately he had no special health problems.

In 1958 we moved to Frunze, the Kirkizian capital, where we bought a house which we furnished comfortably during the years. In 1973 when we emigrated to Israel we had to sell it. In fact, when I say we sold it I exaggerate, as we were obliged to give it almost for free. The money received for the house could barely pay the high exit visa taxes and the “compensations” we had to pay for the diplomas we obtained during the years in the Soviet Union, in order to be able to get the passport for Israel. In Frunze we worked in many places, beginning with the Republican Clinic no. 2 and ending with the clinic of a pilot school in a military base. I had many friends in Kirkizia, among them the chief physician of the capital and the minister of health in Kirkizia. But our good living standard, our good marriage, our friends -- all that could not compensate for my longing for the rest of my family, brothers and sisters. Raenka and the children understood me. So we soon began to think and dream about alyah.

Let me add a few more things about our profession. My wife and me, together, we worked one hundred years in stomatology! Each of us worked fifty years... For many years we worked with old facilities, activated by hand, in difficult conditions. We loved this profession, we could be useful to people and at the same time we could assure a living for our family. Our children have the same profession -- one in Israel, another one in the United States. We are glad to know that even some of our grandchildren learn to become physicians, stomatological physicians. Three generations of stomatologists! I do not know if there are any other families in which the young people chose this profession, the profession of their parents and grandparents as well. I am thinking with gratitude of the teachers that stimulated me by their words and activity and from whom I learned this beautiful profession: dr. Shtehman Lev Marcovici, Dr. Volodarski Bladimir and Dr. Kasamov, Dr. Dada Muhamedov and other teachers of stomatology.

In Frunze, I also had an unpleasant disagreement with the local authorities. I liked to work, so did my wife. We were always ready to work. We carried out our duty diligently at the places where we were hired. But for additional work we expected additional pay. The wages were very small, and we wanted a better standard of living: to eat better, to have better clothes, to buy a car. The network of the state clinics was unable to provide for the needs of the population and therefore they decided to allow private practice of medicine. On that basis, we also opened a medical cabinet in our own house. We were in great demand. People knew us as good professionals and in our free time, when other people used to rest or enjoy themselves, we worked. I myself worked with the gold during night, because this was the safest way to work. Other laboratory work was done by to technicians with whom we cooperated: Klintchinikov and Boris.

But some of the party activists were not happy with the expending private practice and resented the existence of the 13 private medical centers. One of those chiefs, called Imanbaev, succeeded in obtaining a decision to close those centers. He wanted to compel all of us to work only at the state clinics, where we could be under the total control of the party activists (including their financial control). I was annoyed by this decision, and, as I was young, I did not want to give them the satisfaction of unconditional surrender.

I knew the president of the district, a Kirghizian, I made for him golden dental caps. At that time the golden caps were in fashion, as a sign that the owner was a rich man. Once, I was stopped on the street by a Tartar lady. She told me she wanted me to make a set of false teeth for her, but she wanted them to be from Islamic people and not from Christians! She did not know that the prosthetic teeth were made in factories and she thought they were taken from dead people. I explained her there were no Islamic and Christian teeth, but I am not sure she believed me.

Somebody asked me once: Did you ever have some special cases among your patients? Yes, I did have even some dramatic cases. When I lived in Leninpol, I had an urgency: a neighbor, Viktor the driver, had a serious accident. While working on the car, the propeller hit him in the face and made a deep cut under his chin. It was as if he had a second mouth. He was brought to the hospital and dr. Petrova Xenia Uasilievna, director of “Urgency", asked me to come as soon as possible. She was a surgeon and I helped her “stitch” the wound, gather the pieces of tongue and to put back some teeth that seemed to float in his mouth. But before helping her. I fainted, I had never seen such a thing. It was as if in a dream that I heard Xenia saying: “Now it's not enough to save one patient, I have another one too to bring to his senses...” I recovered and I helped her administer the necessary first aid so that he could be flown by helicopter to the hospital in Frunze, the Kirghizian capital at 600 km from that place. The entire work was done by the light of an oil lamp which a nurse, Lidia Grigorovna, kept shining into the patients mouth. Dr. Vladimir Moiseevitch Borisovski also went in that helicopter, as he was responsible for the stomatological casualties in the republic. When he saw how we treated Viktor, he told us we were “great specialists". After a while, Viktor came back in Leninpol and I fitted him with special unusual dentures. I am curious if he still has them. One of Lidia's daughters was burnt to death in an accident after she poured gas in a stove. The life of Dr. Borisovski ended tragically. He was in Alma Ata, at a medical conference and he hanged himself in a hotel room. He was suffering from an incurable disease that gave him great pains in the stomach. At that time there were too few means to fight such a disease. An unusual reaction to that sad story came from dr. Anikov, the chief of the health department of the capital, he did not want to attend the funeral because, he said, it was immoral for a communist to commit suicide. Great is our God's garden!

Another unusual case, in Leninpol too, occurred to a woman called Zantzen. She went out with her cow on the field, to make her graze. The cow began to frolic and somehow she hit her in the jaw with a horn. I treated her, and had to make for her too special dentures and she recovered.

Also in Leninpol I had an experience was sad for the patient and very embarrassing for me. On my chair I had a patient called Iantzen (half of the population was called Iantzen). I was checking out the crowns caps for a bridge that I made for him. I had just put in a cast and asked him to “bite", when I heard strong shouts from another room where a young woman was delivering a child. Dr. Maria Platonovna Rus asked me to help her and when I came back to my room, the cast had set and got hard. It was very difficult to remove and because of my negligence, one moment of negligence, that man lost a tooth. He never came back to me and if he met me on the street, he crossed to the opposite side. It was a hard lesson for me: do not mingle in somebody else's business, take care of your own job!

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