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[Page 102]

Mogilev
(Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Ukraine)

48°27' 27°48'

by Simcha Weissbuch

Translated by Moshe Devere

A city on the Dniester River, which was an important industrial and commercial center.

In 1926, there were 9,622 Jews living in Mogilev, comprising 41.8% of the population. The city was captured by the German-Romanian army on July 19, 1941. Already at the outbreak of the war, all the Jews of recruitment age left the city with the Red Army, and only the elderly, women and children were left. Many of them were murdered by the occupying army, and others were expelled from the city.

During the second half of September 1941, after the entire region between the Dniester River and the Bug River passed under Romanian rule, many convoys of deportees from Bucovina and Bessarabia arrived in the city. At that time, there were still 3,733 Jews living in poverty and misery, organized in a community with no means. Floods striking the city flooded many homes.

According to official figures, 55,913 deportees passed through the city during the four months between September 15, 1941 and January 15, 1942. They were not allowed into the city and were housed by the gendarmes in ruined and filthy barracks with no doors and windows that had turned into a transit camp. Those who brought money bribed the Romanian authorities and settled in abandoned ruins. Some rented rooms from the local Jews and lived 15-20 people in a room.

Some organized groups, like the one from Suceava, got for a decent fee, vehicles

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that transported them to various places in the province, such as Shargorod, Murafa and Djurin. Still, between 12,000 and 15,000 people remained in Mogilev.

The Jews who came from Burdujeni and Iţcani took upon themselves, together with Mr. Katz, their former manager, to re-establish the sugar factory in Vindiceni near Mogilev. The future workers in the factories (a power station and a foundry) received licenses to live in the city together with their families. Thus, 2000-3000 Jews were allowed to stay.

An additional 8,000-10,000 Jews lived in the city in extreme poverty and without permits. They were under constant threat of being sent to extermination camps on both sides of the Bug [River]. On November 30, 1941, the governor of Mogilev Province ordered forcibly evicting all those who did not have a permit to live in the city. Despite the repeated evictions carried out until the end of 1941, the number of Jews did not decrease. Because instead of the evacuees, other deportees who fled from various places infiltrated, and so on January 15, 1942, 15,000 deportees were found.

 

Living conditions in the ghetto

Most of the Jews who lived in Mogilev were penniless. Before leaving for Shargorod, the Jews of Suceava organized an old-age home in a building that had previously served as a school, and housed the elderly and the sick. But living conditions there were so bad that 25-30 people died every single day. On the days when the deportees were not forced to work, they tried to look for work. As long as they had personal belongings, they sold them to local Christians or exchanged them for food. A few Jews who got a job with peasants in the surrounding area. earned their livelihoods through manual labor.

 

Typhus epidemic

At the end of December 1941, the first cases of typhus were recorded. Although the Jewish Committee informed the authorities and the provincial sanitation service of the situation, they did not take any measures to curb the spread of the epidemic.

The three huts erected one after the other near the Hospital for Infectious Diseases were lacking in disinfectant facilities and medicines. The three of them had only 54 beds, which could only serve a tenth of patients. In January and February 1942, the pandemic worsened and reached huge proportions. In February, 25 doctors fell ill at once, and hundreds of patients remained in the care of one doctor. In March 1942, the epidemic peaked and during the same month, 806 deaths were recorded. Orăşanu, the commander of the Gendarme Legion, appointed to his position

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in April 1942, was astonished by the extent of the epidemic, which also threatened military personnel and officials, and decided to provide assistance to the Jewish Committee. At his order, besides the three existing huts, a quarantine hut was established, into which 165 of the most seriously ill patients were placed. From April 25 to June 10, 1942, special teams carried out disinfectant work in 528 homes.

Indeed, apart from a few cases in winter, no more such cases appeared.

According to official figures, Mogilev had 4401 cases of illness, from which 1254 died, including 400 children. In fact, the number of casualties was much greater because when the epidemic reached its peak, patient registration stopped. It is estimated that there were 7,000 sick, of which half died.

 

Transports to the camps

Despite the losses, there was no change in the number of Jews in the city, as Jews continued to infiltrate from nearby ghettos and camps. In the summer of 1942, there were about 12,000 deportees and 3,000 local Jews in the city. The local Romanian authorities resumed their attempts to evacuate some of them. On February 16, 1942, the provincial governor ordered preparations for the evacuation of 4,000 Jews and to send them to Skazintsy, 7 km from Mogilev. The list also included ten doctors, ten rabbis, ten sanitary workers, ten midwives, five dentists and 50 different craftsmen. The Jewish Committee was also tasked with providing the deportees with food supplies for three days, bedding, tools, and seeds for farm work.

Living conditions in the camp in Skazintsy were like an extermination camp, and soon many perished. One night, 35 children who were orphaned by both parents were removed from there and returned to one of the orphanages in Mogilev.

On September 12, the camp was liquidated. Of those who survived and returned to Mogilev, there were about 1,500 professionals. Others were dispersed to ghettos in Voroshilovo, Tyvriv and Krasnaya. In October 1942, 2,400 deportees and 600 local Jews were evacuated to Peciora.

The evacuees were stuffed into freight cars, about 80 people to a car. Afterward. the doors and windows were closed [sealed?]. The weakest of them choked [to death], and those who survived were taken off the train station in Izrailovka, 14 km from Peciora. From there, they made their way on foot to the extermination camp. For four weeks, from October 12 to November 8, the transport of convoys of evacuees, which included 1,500 people, continued.

Peciora was one of the worst camps in all of Transnistria. Except for 50-60 people who escaped and return to Mogilev, almost all of those sent there perished.

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Forced labor

According to the need for manpower, men were indiscriminately caught on the street and sent to forced labor. In exchange for their work, they did not receive payment or food. On November 11, 1941, Order #23 of Marshal Antonescu appeared, setting the status of the Jews in Transnistria and the conditions of forced labor they were to engage in.

By order of the local authorities, the Jewish Committee conducted an official census and, based on the numbers received, the Ministry of the Jewish Labor Organization began operating. The instructions given in the above order were to provide the employees with food stamps for their work worth one soup per day for unskilled laborers and of two soups per day for professionals and experts.

Mogilev had 30 state institutions. Jews worked in all of them. Among the institutions were the Municipality, the office of the District Commissioner, the Government Prosecutor's office, the Gendarme Legion, the Post Office, the Railway Ministry, the Office of the Disinfectant Station, a bank, the Transportation Service, the bakery, the airport, the district hospital, the sanitation service, a vodka factory, a butter factory and others.

On January 26, 1942, all the men, even the elderly and sick, were taken to work in the bitter cold to replace railway tracks 15 km from the city. On August 18, 1942, the District Commissioner ordered the demolition of 100 homes, as well as the synagogue on the banks of the Dniester. A group of 200 Jews was sent across the river to Ataky to clear the city of the rubble.

On October 2, 700 Jews were recruited in the city and sent on foot to the Ciubotarca Forest near Kryzhopil, some 80 km [away] to cut down trees. Many of them sickened, others froze to death. They were returned to Mogilev after two months and after 47 perished.

In the spring of 1943, 200 people were sent to dig ditches in Bilajevca, in Odessa province. Wherever the Jews were sent for such work, they were accompanied by gendarmes who brutally tortured them. On May 1, 1943, 555 Jews were taken from Mogilev by the Germans to work on the constructing a bridge over the Bug River between Troiţa and Mykolaiv. Two months later, the Germans returned those who were injured while working and those unsuitable for physical work. They [The others] were sent to Nestervarka and continued to work under the same inhumane conditions until the end of November 1943. They were returned to Mogilev after all the work was completed.

Meanwhile, from June 20, 1943 onward, all the men and women who remained in Mogilev were recruited to build a bridge over the Dniester between Mogilev and Ataky. Throughout the deportation period, Jewish women and girls were employed in cleaning work in the streets, offices and washing underwear for the army.

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The Jews also worked in factories such as the power plant, nail and soap factories, and others. This ensured livelihoods for them and their families. The foundry was also reopened, with about 700 people working there. Together with their families, this amounted to 3,000 people.

After a while, an iron smithy, a carpentry shop and a garage were opened near the foundry, as well as a bakery and soup kitchen where workers and their families received bread and soup. A sanitary service, pharmacy, dental clinic and general clinic were also established.

In June 1942, the administration set up a four-classroom elementary school. The language of instruction was Romanian. The school was attended by 190 children of the workers, as well as 144 children of ghetto residents. The latter received breakfast and clothes at school. As the Nazis' defeat approached, the Romanian authorities allocated land to the Jewish Committee for cultivation. The foundry provided the tools. [Some] 40 workers worked the [land] and raised vegetables that were delivered to the soup kitchens and orphanages.

 

Self-organization

A Central Jewish Committee was established for the whole Mogilev Province, including the city, to deal with Jewish problems and to represent the Jews before the authorities. At the time, there were about 80,000 Jews in the district. On November 15, 1941, the Committee members convened for the first time and elected a five-member Management Board. The Management set up 5 committees for administration, welfare, finance, economy and orphans. Most of the committee members were former community leaders. All of them were from southern Bucovina, except for one who came from Bessarabia.

Various services were established. The Tax Office collected from those who could donate to the welfare projects. The Identification Bureau handled identifying people who were occasionally transferred money from their family members in Romania, but could not redeem it for lack of ID. The Bureau of Statistics recorded the fluctuations in the Jewish population, issued birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, etc. The Ḥevra Kadisha treated the collection, identity, transfer and burial of the dead in separate graves or mass graves in the Jewish cemetery.

 

Welfare institutions

On November 23, 1941, the Committee dispatched a secret envoy who sent letters to the Communities Association of Romanian Jews, describing the difficult situation the deportees were in and asked for urgent help with money and medicine.

The first financial aid was officially received on February 18, 1942, and

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continued almost constantly until the liberation, but help was far from meeting their needs. In order to establish various welfare institutions, the Committee appealed to those among the deportees with the means, and so it could organize the first community kitchens, hospitals, etc. The first soup kitchen established provided a daily bowl of soup and slice of bread for 5,000 people. A second kitchen, which strictly observed kosher laws, provided food for another 1,000 people. In September 1942, all resources ran out after the authorities toughened procedures for transferring aid from Bucharest, and the soup kitchens temporarily ceased operations.

The Committee established two hospitals, one for infectious diseases and the other for general diseases. All of them were missing the required equipment. At the Infectious Disease Hospital, which was packed to capacity, there was a constant shortage of beds. April 4, 1942, the Committee established an orphanage for children orphaned by their parents during the typhus epidemic in the winter of 1941-1942. When it opened, 50 children were housed there. After the evacuation to Skazintsy, the number increased to 450, because their parents preferred to leave them instead of taking them with them to the death camp.

In August 1942, a second orphanage was established for 200 additional children. A third orphanage for sick children was established in December 1942. In November 1943, 153 children were regularly hospitalized there, and 516 others lived there. By January 1943, the number of orphans had risen to 1138.

 

Religious and cultural life

Despite the poor condition of the deportees, they could cultivate a spiritual life. Mogilev was a city with a longstanding tradition and many synagogues existed until the outbreak of the war. So, the Jews who came from Bucovina were given the opportunity to keep up religious customs and religious worship.

The rabbis and ritual slaughterers who came together with their congregations, organized and opened synagogues where many quorums prayed every day. On Yom Kippur 5702-1942, the men came to prayer straight from their workplace but were given permission to only take part in the Yizkor Prayer, and immediately returned to work.

The children's studies took place in the orphanages. Orphanage № 1 had a 4-grade elementary school with a handicraft class. It had 317 pupils. Orphanage № 2 had two elementary classes and a kindergarten with 164 pupils. Similarly, the ghetto had a Talmud Torah where 150 pupils studied. In all schools, emphasis was placed on the study of the Hebrew language, religious studies and Jewish history.

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The subjects of plays and poems composed by the teachers and students in Hebrew and Yiddish dealt with topics from their daily lives: “The Beggar” “The Typhus Lice Song”, “The Touts”, “Welcoming the Shabbat”, “We are emigrating to Eretz Israel,” and more. During the last Passover, Orphanage № 3 held a Seder for the children. The youths continued their Zionist activities and organized into small groups according to their youth movement affiliations. There they held activities, heard lectures and took part in Hebrew classes.

A delegation arrived from Romania, including the late Yitzchak Herzig (Artzi) who came on behalf of the Zionist Youth. He worked extensively and assisted the local Zionist counselors, and added 15 of the pioneering youth to a group of orphans that had been returned to Romania. They published an underground flyer containing news of the Zionist movement, poems and jokes. In addition, the pioneer youth for a time even published a handwritten newspaper called “The Ghetto Magazine” in which news and explanations of what was happening in the ghetto were presented.

 

Help and visits from outside

From February 1942 until March 1944, the Assistance Committee from Romania sent 5 million Lei to the Jews in Mogilev. Besides the official sums, the Committee also sent funds with secret emissaries. Raw materials were also transferred to the city for factories, agriculture tools and tools for craftsmen.

In early January 1943, a delegation from the Bucharest Assistance Committee, headed by Fred Shraga, arrived in Mogilev. The visit was held in the presence of representatives of the local authorities. 54 people attended the meeting held in the city, including representatives from elsewhere in the district. When Dr. M. Teich of Suceava, chairman of the Jewish Committee in Shargorod, hugged Fred Shraga, and placed in his pocket a report on the situation in Mogilev Province in all its details.

When the delegation of the Assistance Committee to Romania arrived, it recruited the entire Jewish population to send donations of money, medicines, groceries and clothes to the Jews in Transnistria. In March 1943, with the money they received, the Committee established two huts for the sick children, where they received special treatment. Every child was provided with clothing. From April 1943 onward, mortality in orphanages decreased until in June 1943, no further deaths were recorded.

In December 1943, three months before the Soviet army entered Mogilev, a committee of the International Red Cross headed by Charles Kolb visited, together with the Romanian Red Cross. Despite the steps taken by the authorities, the Jewish representatives were able

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to provide the delegation with qualified information about the actual situation. Again, Dr. M. Teich gave a detailed report and that Charles Kolb forwarded it to the Assistance Committee in Bucharest.

On June 1, 1943, Dr. W. Fielderman, along with his wife, was deported to Mogilev on special orders by Marshal Antonescu. For two months, he stayed in Mogilev and dealt with public affairs and with various problems of the deportees. The most serious problem was that of the orphans who were still roaming the streets naked and barefoot. Dr. W. Fielderman worked to save them. In countless memos to the authorities, he tried to improve the conditions of the forced laborers.

When three young men were shot on charges of leaving the ghetto, after returning to Bucharest, Dr. W. Fielderman got permission to remove the bodies from their graves and transfer them to the Jewish cemetery in Mogilev.

 

Phases of the liberation

In December 1943, the Romanian government agreed to return the immigrants of Dorohoi Province to Romania. There were 3198 deportees in Dorohoi and its surroundings in the ghetto, and another 3,002 were scattered across the district. Between December 17 and 23, 1943, 6107 Jews crossed the Dniester [River], 5944 of them from Dorohoi Province, almost all of whom survived among the 10,000 expelled from Dorohoi and the Province. After their departure, 12,836 deportees from Bucovina and 348 from Bessarabia remained in the ghetto along with about 3,000 local Jews.

On March 14, 1944, partisan groups entered the city, and the next day the Soviet army entered.

On the streets of the city, orders appeared, stating that all Jewish army veterans were to report to the recruitment office and, after a few weeks of training, they were put on coaches and sent to Soviet territory. Those remaining were subjected to bombing by the German army beyond Dniester, many of whom were killed.

In April 1944, the deportees left to return to their homes, but when they arrived in Bessarabia, the Soviet authorities detained them in Brichany. It was in the spring of 1945 that the deportees returned to Romania under an agreement signed between the Soviet authorities and the Romanian government.

 

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