« Previous Page Table of Contents

[Page 59]

40. Jewish Robbers

The shtetl of Ternivka was far from any railway. The closest train station was in the village of Zholonok a distance of about 15 miles (South–West of Ternivka). The big city, the metropolis of the whole large area, was the city of Uman. It had about forty thousand residents of whom about twenty–five thousand were Jews. Transportation was only by wagon – Jewish wagon owners who transported passengers there and back and Ukrainian wagon owners who mainly transported merchandise. About five Jewish wagon owners would leave Ternivka for Uman every day – on nice days in their carriages and on muddy days in regular wagons. Wagon owners would also leave Ternivka for other shtetls in the area, each wagon owner to a different shtetl.

To the large shtetl of Bershad, a distance of about thirty miles, where it was hard for a wagon owner to return on the same day because of the great distance, the wagon owner would leave and return only every two days. The “Balagule” (wagon owner) on the Bershad route was an elderly man whose right thumb had been cut off. This is how it happened. When he was a small boy, his mother once spotted “Khappers” (kidnappers of young Jewish boys to prepare them for service in the Tsar's army) nearing her home to kidnap her son. She immediately grabbed a cleaver from the kitchen and cut off his right thumb. When the “Khappers” burst into her home, it was already too late and they didn't take the boy since he was now disabled and disqualified from service in the army of Tsar Nikolai I (1825–1855).

By the way, this elderly wagon owner once received a couple of hundred dollars from his son in the United States for his fare to America because he was about to join his son there. He traveled to the bank in Uman in order to withdraw the money. This became known to the Ternivka wagon owners and in the evening, when the elderly wagon owner returned from Uman, they, along with wagon owners from Uman, their partners in crime, lay in wait for him at the side of the road near the forest. They disguised themselves and attacked him, tied him up and stole all of his money from him. In the end, they caught the wagon owner robbers and they were sentenced to prison terms and to fines.

[Page 60]

41. The Old “Vasser Tregger” (Water Carrier)

Chezkel (Yechezkel), the elderly “Vasser Tregger” (water carrier), like the elderly “Balagule” (wagon owner), also had the thumb of his right hand cut off. In a similar manner, when his father saw that the “Khappers” were nearing his home to kidnap his son and hand him over to the army of Nikolai I, he hurriedly grabbed a kitchen knife and cut off the thumb of the boy's right hand so that he would be disqualified from the army.

Chezkel supplied the residents of the shtetl with water for decades but barely survived. If it weren't for the little “Chalot” (Sabbath loaves) that his customers would give him every Sabbath Eve, in addition to his measly salary, and from which he was nourished the whole week, his existence would have been seven times as wretched.

He was very proud of his young daughter who was somewhat of a Russian teacher. She knew a bit of Russian and this bit of Russian she would impart to poor children for a paltry fee of a few kopeks. But even though the fee was paltry, the honor was great in the eyes of the “Vasser Tregger.”

By the way, there were a few poor children whose parents did not even have a few kopeks to pay this teacher. The educated daughters of well–to–do people would come to their aid and would teach the poor children to read and write Russian at no charge. I remember two poor children who would also come to our home twice a week and my two sisters would teach them Russian and Arithmetic.

42. “Arka Povozka” (Arka “the Cart”)

“Arka Povozka,” “Aharon the Mover,” was a household name in Ternivka. Everyone needed his creaky wagon and his poor horse. Arka was the only mover in Ternivka and he had no competitors. If a well–to–do Jewish man bought a bag of flour at the flour store, who would transport this bag of flour so that his wife would not have to walk all the way to the flour store and then schlep the satchel of flour home every week, if not “Arka Povozka?” And if someone moved, who would transport their possessions – the pillows, the quilts, the chairs, the table, etc., but not all at once God forbid? Who would move them if not “Arka Povozka?”

[Page 61]

Everyone needed “Arka Povozka” and they would often “grease his palm” if he would only hurry up and deliver the load. Only sometimes, when someone needed to transport a large load and all at once and that was greater than the “horse power” of Arka's poor horse, would he hire a Ukrainian with two horses and a large wagon to transport his heavy load.

Since “Arka Povozka”s horse was not, God forbid, a thoroughbred, a “Belgian horse,” but a poor little horse, nothing but skin and bones, after a short period of time transporting cargo for Arka, this horse would, if you will excuse me, “spread his legs” (a play on the Hebrew term for going bankrupt) or “gather up his legs” (a play on the Biblical term for dying) and die. Such events would periodically happen to Arka.

It was rumored that when his horse would die, that he would not mourn excessively over the horse because he would often receive more for the hide of the dead horse than the live horse had cost him. And also, that when Arka's horse would die, that he would not be in any rush to buy another horse, but would go on strike, rest and remain idle.

He would claim: “I have nothing.” He had no money to buy another horse because he had spent the amount that he had received for the hide for his sustenance. The storekeepers of the shtetl had no choice but to chip in and buy him another poor horse because if they didn't buy him a horse, there was a danger, God forbid, that business in the shtetl would be paralyzed.

“Arka Povozka” was not a strong man and his strength was no greater than the strength of his poor horse. He would say: “I swear that I want to die. My strength is failing me. I am tired of it all – the moving business, the wagon, the horse, and I am even tired of ‘Arka Povozka.’ I swear that I want to die!”

43. The Jewish Postman

During the days of the Tsar, no Jew in the shtetl served in the civil service, but there was one exception. It was a Jewish Postman who was partially paralyzed and would drag one foot, “Herschel the Pochtalyon” (Postman). Because he was a young man with a family, he searched for sources of livelihood. He would buy tens of copies of the Yiddish newspapers “Heint” and “Moment” and he would sell them on a payment plan, but he barely earned a living.

[Page 62]

With the outbreak of the First World War, when Warsaw was captured by the Germans, he was left without newspapers and without a living, so activists intervened with the Director of the Post Office in the shtetl and requested that he give this poor Jewish man the job of distributing the mail to the Jews.

Since the Ukrainian Postman had just then been drafted into the War, the Director of the Post Office agreed to give the Jewish man the mail that was addressed to the Jews. The Jewish Postman did not receive a government salary so there was no “loss” to the Director of the Post Office. He would survive on the handouts that the Jewish recipients of the mail would give him. By the way, even though he dragged one foot, he was quicker in delivering the mail than even the previous Ukrainian Postman!

44. The Ukrainian Who Put on “Tefillin” (Phylacteries)

It was difficult to find a Ukrainian who was a tinsmith or a barber or a tailor, but it was not difficult to find a Ukrainian who was a shoemaker. For some reason, the young Ukrainians were drawn to this profession more than to other professions. Usually, these Ukrainians learned this profession from Jewish shoemakers. Since they worked with them for many years, they also learned from them the Yiddish language and Jewish customs.

Among those who worked in their youth for Jews as shoemaker apprentices was a certain Ukrainian by the name of Mikhas, a bearded redhead who would wear a Jewish style hat without the shiny visor that was the custom of the Ukrainians. He knew Yiddish perfectly just like a real Jew. When he came in contact with Jews in order to make a purchase, etc. it was his custom to speak only in Yiddish and not in his own language. He especially liked to speak in Yiddish in the presence of fellow Ukrainians who would listen in astonishment to his fluency in the language of the Jews.

One day, Mikhas traveled to the distant shtetl of Krivoye Ozero (about 60 miles South of Ternivka) to the “Yarid” (market day). There, he entered the home of a certain Jewish man whose daughter had married a man from Ternivka (B.K.) who owned a large and centrally located inn. Mikhas introduced himself to this Jewish man as a Jewish “Balagule” (wagon owner) from Ternivka and he gave him regards from his daughter, her husband and their children. It was morning and he asked the Jewish man to give him a “Tallis” (prayer shawl) and “Tefillin” (phylacteries) so that he could pray the Morning Prayer since he had left Ternivka before dawn and did not have an opportunity to pray.

[Page 63]

Of course, the Jewish man willingly gave him the “Tallis” and “Tefillin” as he could not even imagine that he was not a Jew. Mikhas, who had for years observed how the Jewish shoemaker covered himself in the “Tallis,” put on “Tefillin” and said his prayers, now imitated him nicely and he also covered himself in the “Tallis,” put on “Tefillin” and pretended to pray from the prayer book that was given to him, in the melody that he had so often heard the shoemaker use. When he returned to Ternivka, he went to the son–in–law, the owner of the inn, gave him regards from his father–in–law and his family and he related to him with great laughter the prank that he had pulled and how he had fooled his father–in–law in Krivoye Ozero. By the way, this “Ukrainian Jew” was not necessarily a lover of Jews!

45. “Shmerel Schreiber” (“Shmerel the Letter Writer”)

There were a number of writers of letters of appeal in the shtetl who earned a nice living from this trade. Most of the people who needed them were village Ukrainians who would often become involved in quarrels. Vodka and brandy played a large part in these quarrels. The courthouse where the different cases were heard was in the nearby shtetl of Teplik (about 15 miles North–West of Ternivka). Sometimes, when the cases from the Ternivka area were numerous, the judge would take the trouble to come to Ternivka for a day or two to judge the litigants in the “Volost,” the village administrative office.

The main writer of letters of appeal was “Shmerel Schreiber” (“Shmerel the Letter Writer”). He was called that because of his beginnings. Initially, he taught the Jewish children to read and write the Russian alphabet and enough basic knowledge of the language to write an address in Russian. But later on, he left this profession which provided a meager income and he became a writer of letters of appeal to the courts and different government institutions which brought in a good income and also gave him a more respected status.

“Shmerel Schreiber” had an impressive appearance. He was tall, had a black moustache and wore a “pince–nez” in order to make an impression and elevate himself above the illiterate Ukrainians who would come to him. He had beautiful handwriting and he would write with both hands. That is, he would write with one hand and would place his other hand on the hand that was writing. This was either because his writing hand would shake or it was in order to make an impression on the illiterate Ukrainians.

[Page 64]

Once a year, the accredited writers of letters of appeal were permitted to personally appear in court in order to defend their clients. When “Shmerel Schreiber” would appear in court to defend his client, his face would be radiant with happiness and a sense of importance. He would imagine himself an important lawyer, like Kupernik or Gruzenberg, the famous Jewish lawyers in Russia.

“Shmerel Schreiber” who owned “the Statute Books of the Russian Empire” would study them in front of his clients in order to create an impression. By the way, he would often boast that he had even written letters of appeal to His Majesty the Tsar!

“Shmerel Schreiber” had a brother in the shtetl who was a “Melamed” (teacher of young boys). His name was Pesach–Hersch and he would brag about his brother the “lawyer.” When this “Melamed” would quarrel with someone, he would threaten: “Be careful. I have a brother who knows how to write.” – a thinly veiled hint that he might write a letter of complaint to the authorities.

Besides “Shmerel Schreiber,” there were three other writers of letters of appeal, among them a “Yeshiva” (seminary) student by the name of Alter Trazay who lived under his father–in–law's roof and since he didn't have a profession, he became a writer of letters of appeal.

46. The Beilis Blood Libel Trial

During the Beilis Blood Libel Trial (September–October, 1913) the whole shtetl was of course on edge and tense. There were several readers of Russian, Hebrew (“Hatzefira,” “Hazeman) and Yiddish (“Heint,” “Moment”) newspapers and they would provide the rest of the Jews with information on the process of the trial. It is true that all of the newspapers that were published, the Russian ones in St. Petersburg and the Hebrew and Yiddish ones in Warsaw and Vilna, arrived in the shtetl only on the third day after they were published and their content was already somewhat stale but that did not at all diminish the great interest in this trial.

The idle in the “Beit Hamidrash” and the “Kloyz” (synagogues) discussed and prayed over every word of the prosecutor, the defense lawyers and the experts on Judaism in this trial and they seriously interpreted their words.

[Page 65]

Everyone waited anxiously for the end of the trial and the verdict. The good news on Beilis' release did not become known to the Jews of Ternivka from the newspapers since they arrived to their readers after a long delay. The privilege to announce this good news about the release of Beilis fell to a young man from Ternivka who was working as a clerk in Odessa. As soon as the news article on the release of Beilis was published, he immediately sent a telegram to his parents in Ternivka in Yiddish in these words: “Beilis bafreit” that is, “Beilis has been freed.” The telegram arrived in Ternivka at 11:00 at night (Tuesday, October 28, 1913).

Even though Yisra'el Chorny, the father of the young man, was already in bed, he got up and got dressed and hurried to pass on the good news to his neighbors and acquaintances and they passed on the good news to the other residents of the shtetl. Within less than an hour, all of the residents of the shtetl knew about this important event and almost all of them came out of their homes and took long or short walks in the streets of the shtetl and conversed in groups about this joyful good news and the miracle that happened to the Jews. If Beilis had been found guilty, God forbid, the members of the Black Hundreds (an anti–Semitic organization) would have expressed their joy in anti–Jewish pogroms!

47. Nightmares

The Rabbi of the community and his sister and brother–in–law lived in the house next to ours. The brother–in–law had a dry goods store in the shops district which was far from our house. One day, he had the opportunity to buy an apartment in the building in which the store was located. He took advantage of this opportunity and he bought the apartment and he sold his old apartment to a barrel maker who offered him the best price. The Rabbi was very much opposed to the sale of the apartment to the barrel maker, not necessarily because it was below his dignity to live with a “tradesman” but because barrel making is a noisy trade and causes a disturbance.

All day long the barrel maker splits wood in order to make staves for the barrels, saws and planes and hammers on the barrel hoops, etc., activities that are not conducive to reading a book or resting. Because of this sale the Rabbi severed his relations with his sister and brother–in–law for a long time.

[Page 66]

Actually, the blame for the sale did not fall on his sister and brother–in–law but on the mother of the brother–in–law, a tyrannical and domineering woman who was the owner of the apartment and the store and this, her only son and his family, were dependent upon her for their livelihood. She did not at all consider the feelings of the Rabbi and his close relationship with his sister and brother–in–law, but only the nice bundle of money that she received from the barrel maker.

Once, about a year after the new neighbor moved into his apartment, my brother and I were sleeping on the porch of our house on a hot summer's night. The houses of the shtetl were almost all of one storey and the porch had a roof on it so that there was no chance that the dew would get us wet at night. This custom of sleeping on the porch on hot summer nights was also the custom of several other residents of the shtetl. Suddenly, at midnight, screams and groans erupted from the porch of the new neighbor, the barrel maker Yissachar (Sucher in Yiddish), a quiet and pleasant man. When we were awoken by the screams and we asked our neighbor who was also sleeping on the porch of his apartment the meaning of his screams and groans, he told us this shocking story.

When bloody pogroms, pogroms of plunder and destruction, broke out in South Russia in hundreds of Jewish communities in the 1880's, provoked and sponsored by the Tsarist government, Balta the town where he lived was also affected. One night, when he was still a small child, about six years old, pogromchiks thirsting for blood and plunder burst into their home and dealt murderous blows to his parents and to his brothers, fatally wounding them and also looting and plundering and destroying their property.

At the sight of this horrendous scene, the boy who was suddenly awoken from his sleep, burst into terrible and frightening screams. Ever since then, for decades, so he told us, at this insane hour, terrible screams and deep and heart rending groans would erupt from him while he sleeps. His poor wife was already accustomed to these screams in the night and now since he was sleeping on the open porch it is no wonder that we also heard his screams. By the way, he told us that over the many years that had gone by since then, that he had sought the advice of different doctors, but they couldn't suggest any remedy for his nightmares, the nightmares of his childhood.

[Page 67]

48. A Town Located on a River (the Udych River)

Ternivka was located on two rivers (two branches of the Udych River), a small river on the edge of the shtetl next to which stood the old bathhouse and a large river next to the village of Ternivka (where the Ukrainians lived). These two rivers provided some of the fish that the shtetl consumed in honor of the Sabbath. Because the shtetl was located on a river, it was considered suitable for the conducting of divorce proceedings (according to Jewish Law). There were nearby shtetls that didn't have a river and couples would often come from them to the Rabbi to get a divorce. Because our home was next to the home of the Rabbi, my elder brother was often called to be a witness to the granting of a divorce. I also often accompanied him and saw the divorce ceremony and often saw tears in the eyes of the divorced couple!

49. The Ice Dippers

The old bathhouse was very rickety and about to fall down so they started to build a new bathhouse but because of a shortage of money the building dragged on for many years and in the meantime there was no “Mikveh” (ritual bath) in the shtetl. In the summer, those who were ritually required to immerse themselves in a “Mikveh” would fulfil their duty by immersing themselves in the river. But, in the winter when the river was frozen, many pious women who were required to immerse themselves in the “Mikveh,” would travel to a nearby shtetl and immerse themselves there in the “Mikveh.” The ultra–orthodox men would immerse themselves in the frozen river.

How would they do that? A few of the pious Jews would equip themselves with warm blankets and warm and large fur cloaks and also with heavy axes and spades. On Friday, on a day of biting frost, this group of pious men would go to the frozen river to immerse themselves in honor of the Sabbath. They would dig a hole in the river ice with the work tools that they were carrying. On the warm blanket that was spread out at the edge of the river and with the help of the wide and large and warm cloak, each one would take his turn to quickly undress and jump into the hole in the ice (the water was not very cold because the ice covering protected it) and immerse himself in the “Mikveh.”

When he came out of the water, his friends on the river bank would immediately throw the large and warm cloak over him and he would quickly get dressed as his bare feet that stood on the warm blanket were quickly inserted into warm felt boots.

[Page 68]

That was how all of this group of “ice dippers” would conduct themselves. These “ice dippers” were heroes to the other pious men who did not dare to endanger themselves by immersing themselves in the “ice Mikveh” and the butt of jokes by the secular Jews. I remember three of these “ice dippers” – Eliyahu G., Shmu'el– Abba G. and the “Shoychet” (“Kosher” slaughterer) Yeshayahu that we have already mentioned (Chapter 36).

50. The Poor

As in many shtetls and cities in the Diaspora, poor people would also come to Ternivka and go from door to door to ask for charity. Among these poor people there were different types: “professionals” who would brazenly demand money and humble poor people whose faces revealed that they were not used to asking for charity and had only been forced to ask for charity by a change in their luck.

There was a “sanctuary” in the shtetl, a hostel for these wandering poor. They were permitted to stay at the hostel for about a week. In certain circumstances they could stay longer. The director of this hostel was an elderly Jewish man whose wife had been in her youth the wife of the (Israeli) writer–translator Elimelech Ish–Naomi, but they later separated.

Every day this Jewish man would also distribute notes to the poor notifying each one of them with which well–to–do family they could eat the afternoon meal. It was not necessary to distribute notes for the Sabbath Eve because the poor people would come to pray in the various synagogues and every well–to–do person would invite a “guest” to eat at his table. Often there were more invitations than there were poor people to accept them.

In addition to these poor people, wandering Jews called “Beidlech” in Yiddish, would come to the shtetl, but only rarely. They would arrive with their women and children in two or three wagons covered with canvas. They were apparently called “Beidlech” because of the “Boyd” or dome–like covers on their wagons. They would spread out in the shtetl in groups or families and demand “what was coming to them…” The truth can be said that the people of the shtetl looked upon them with a jaundiced eye. They also suspected them of stealing. Seeing them was like going back to the days of Mendele Moycher Sforim (S.J. Abramowitch, 1835–1917) who described these beggars so wonderfully well.

[Page 69]

51. “Blind Chezkel”

A Jewish man with somewhat poor vision lived on one of the last streets of the shtetl. He always wore dark glasses. Everyone called him “Blind Chezkel” even though he wasn't at all blind. He owned a house and a small grocery store. Since his wife, a woman of valor, was the storekeeper, he was unemployed. In order not to be idle, he found himself a unique source of income.

He would travel by train and at one of the stops he would suddenly “faint.” When the passengers present crowded around him and aroused him with difficulty from his swoon and asked him why he had fainted, he told them as he wept bitterly, that he had in his pocket a wallet containing a few hundred rubles with which to buy merchandise for his store. When he got off the train to buy something to eat in the station snack bar, he became aware that his money had been stolen from him. And upon telling this, he would “faint” again.

The travelers who were mostly Jews, took pity on the poor storekeeper, especially since he was slightly disabled, and together they collected a nice sum of money and gave it to him so that he could buy the merchandise that he needed. He did this for a long time, “fainting” in different stations and accumulating nice sums of money. Of course, each time he had to wander farther and farther to more distant stations. For a few years all went according to plan until finally the secret was out and he was revealed as a “professional fainter” to the train passengers that he would run into at the different stations and they stopped having pity on the “poor man” and granting him donations of money.

After he had collected a goodly sum of money and after he realized that the “game was over,” “Blind Chezkel” became sedentary and stayed home and helped his wife a bit in the grocery store and would never again “faint” in the different train stations…!

52. The Story of a “Prikazchik” (Salesman)

The sons of tradesmen and poor people would learn a trade after they finished their “Cheder” studies, usually when they reached “Bar Mitzvah” (13 years old). They would learn a trade from various tradesmen and craftsmen like tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, barbers, etc.

[Page 70]

On the other hand, God forbid that the sons of somewhat well–to–do men would learn a trade or a craft in order to earn a living. They would instead be hired out to storekeepers as “Prikazchiks” (salesmen), usually in stores that sold dry goods. It is true that their salary, even after years of seniority, was meager and it was impossible to survive on it. But on the other hand, it was easy and clean work and with the passing of time, when the young man learned about sales and the different kinds of merchandise, he could get married to a woman with a dowry and he could open himself a dry goods store and travel to the “Yarid” (market day in another shtetl).

Among these “Prikazchiks,” was the son of a country Jew who worked in the large haberdashery of Avraham Yanovsky and would immigrate with his family to Palestine. This “salesman” took advantage of the trust that the storekeeper had placed in him and he would pilfer items of merchandise every time that he went home. Because the store and the warehouse were full of merchandise, the storekeeper did not notice this theft which went on for half a year. The salesman would sell this stolen merchandise to the Jewish owner of a small store. But since, in the end, “crime doesn't pay,” the thief was eventually caught with his stolen goods. After an investigation, he admitted to his “fine deeds” and even revealed who the “buyer” was and how much he had received from him.

When it became known that a Jew had knowingly bought stolen merchandise from another Jew, the shtetl was shocked. This had never happened before. So that the “buyer” would not be charged with a crime, he paid a “goodly sum” for the property that he had bought from the salesman and in that way the two of them, both the “buyer” and the salesman, were saved from many years in prison!

53. Menashe “Pyatkopyechnik” (“Five Kopeks”)

That's what he was called because he sold every item of his notions merchandise at the fixed price of five kopeks. He didn't have a permanent store but would carry a portable stand from “Yarid” (market day in another shtetl) to Yarid but, because this income itself was not enough for his survival, he added to his stand another unique source of livelihood, selling luck.

[Page 71]

Boxes with rolled up fortune notes written in easy Russian, that could be quickly read, stood on his stand. One box contained fortune notes for unmarried men. A second box contained fortune notes for unmarried women. A third box contained fortune notes for men with a family and a fourth box contained fortune notes for housewives. Each note in the boxes had a different message, predicting the fate of the buyer of the fortune note.

And how were the fortune notes drawn from the boxes? A handsome parrot stood on the stand and would loudly call out “Mazel, Mazel” (“Good Luck, Good Luck”). When someone (the buyers were all Ukrainian) would buy a fortune note, the parrot would draw a note from the appropriate box. Menashe would first determine the marital status of the buyer. When a Ukrainian boy read the fortune note (if he couldn't read, a knowledgeable member of the crowd would read it to him), his heart would overflow with happiness and joy. The fortune note promised him that he would marry a beautiful and shapely girl, hardworking and that she would bear him many strong sons.

When a Ukrainian girl bought a fortune note, he would promise her a handsome boy, strong and well established and most importantly that he would not get drunk and that he would not beat her. The Ukrainian girl would of course be happy without bound. The fortune notes also promised men with a family happiness and satisfaction from children, good yields and many cattle and pigs. The fortune notes never foretold bad luck, God forbid, but only good luck.

And so Menashe Pyatkopyechnik made his living from the selling of notions and luck. But his own luck was not that great since he was very poor all of his life!

54. “Sendrel the Woman”

He was never privileged to be called by his personal name only, Moishe, but only by his name and the name of his wife, Moishe P…'s. And why was that? Because she was in fact the “man” in the family and he was like “Sendrel the woman” (a character in the book The Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third by S.Y. Abramovitch). He was a weak, pitiable, naïve and idle Jew, divorced from worldly experience, who never earned a single penny by himself. She supported the family. She was the merchant, the haggler who would travel throughout her life to the various market days in the area. She didn't have a permanent store so she would wander from “Yarid” (market day in another shtetl) to “Yarid” to sell her wares to the Ukrainians who would attend the “Yarid.”

[Page 72]

She would sell white cotton cloth and cloth from Morozov of Moscow which was famous in Russia for its quality. In the evening, she would return from the “Yarid” dead tired and before dawn after a few brief hours of sleep she would again wander with her merchandise to another “Yarid.” And so all of the days of the week, all of the days of the year, all the days of her life, she attended the various market days in the frigid winter, in the sweltering summer and in the rainy autumn. She would set up her small stand at the “Yarid,” spread out the rolls of white cloth and advertise her merchandise and in order to prove to the primitive Ukrainians that the cloth that she was selling was superior cloth that would not wear out, she would stick her finger into the cloth to show that it didn't tear, God forbid.

As mentioned before, her whole life was spent attending market days and moving from place to place in wagons. It was rumored in the shtetl that she gave birth to all of her children in the wagon… And “Sendrel the woman” never accompanied her to even one of the market days, not even at least to make sure that none of the Ukrainians would be tempted to steal a piece of cloth. He would sit at home or near the stove in the “Kloyz” (synagogue) with the other idle men and would occupy himself with important matters… like the politics of the Russian Empire.

Sometimes, when his wife would return frozen and frost bitten on a cold winter's evening from one of the market days and would unload the rolls of cloth from the wagon in the dark, her husband would do her a favor and hold up a lamp to light her way as she unloaded the merchandise from the wagon. He would be bundled up in a fur cloak or in a warm blanket and would sigh: “It is really dangerous to be standing outside in this cold.”

His big opportunity came when the First World War broke out. Then, his hands were really filled with “work.” He, together with the other idle men of the “Kloyz,” would conduct “the strategy and war tactics” of the German High Command. Of course, he was among the leaders of the “German patriots.” As long as the German High Command obeyed his strategic advice, the Germans enjoyed great victories, but as soon as the Germans stopped heeding his strategic advice, they suffered one defeat after another in the War.

And that is how “Sendrel the woman” lived and operated!

[Page 73]

55. Fires

Quite often a fire would break out in the shtetl because Jewish houses could still be found whose roofs were covered with thatch as was the case with the Ukrainian houses. Only in more recent years, were almost all of the roofs of the Jewish houses covered with tin or with shingles.

Among the large fires that I remember was the fire that burnt the house and the large grocery store of a Jewish man by the name of Shmerel. Since it was not customary in the shtetl to insure property against fire, the man was left with nothing. The wealthy residents of the shtetl collected between them a large sum of money in order to rehabilitate him. And indeed, with this money he rebuilt his house and store and he returned to his former status.

There was also a large fire in the oil factory of the Gorodetsky family that was in the center of the shtetl. Since there was a great danger that if the fire ignited the barrels of oil and the bags of sunflower seeds that it would spread to the adjacent houses, many people endangered themselves and broke inside and rolled the barrels of oil outside. They also removed the bags of sunflower seeds. After much effort, the fire was put out after it had almost burnt the building down to its foundation. By the way, the roof of this factory was actually made of tin and shingles.

And then there is the story about a poor Jewish man whose pitiful hut was burnt and who loudly demanded that the community put a roof over his head and if not, he would move into one of the synagogues with his family. And indeed his threat worked and they rehabilitated him!

56. “The Guardian of Israel”

In normal times, before the Russian Revolution, during certain seasons of the year, a few Jewish men would take turns to go out at night and act as night watchmen in Ternivka. This nightly rotation is called “Obkhod” in Russian. The “Desyatnik” (foreman), who in fact served as an emissary of the Police, but wasn't dressed in uniform but in regular clothes, was proud of his two sergeants. He carried a large, thick stick and wore a copper armband on his sleeve on which his Police rank was written. He would come as an emissary of the Police with a list of names in his hand to recruit a number of Jewish men for guard duty. When one of those summoned decided to avoid the “Obkhod,” he would bribe the “Desyatnik” with a few kopeks and request that he release him this time “because he wasn't feeling well right now.”

[Page 74]

The “Desyatnik” would of course agree to his request and he would therefore recruit another Jewish man in order to fill his quota. These guards would do a round or two in the shtetl and would then sit themselves down on a bench near one of the houses and converse about “this and that” or they would take a little nap. Sometimes the “Desyatnik” or a real policeman would appear for an inspection. That is how they did guard duty in the shtetl on many nights…

In addition to this Jewish security, there was the additional security in the shtetl of a Ukrainian. The storekeepers of the shops district of the shtetl would hire a guard at their own expense. It was usually an elderly Ukrainian who was no longer working and was therefore free to sleep during the day and guard at night. This guard would receive a few rubles a month, enough for a meager subsistence. He didn't guard all of the stores in the shtetl but as mentioned before, only the stores in the shops district.

His “weapon” was a club with which he would hit an empty crate every two or three hours in order to announce to the whole world that the “Guardian of Israel” would not slumber and he would not sleep and that he would not, God forbid, be negligent of his duty, so that all of the robbers, thieves and burglars in the whole world would hear and see that he was standing on guard and would not allow them to touch, God forbid, the large amount of property that had been placed in his care to guard.

Occasionally, once every couple of nights, one of the storekeepers would take his turn to check and make sure that the night watchman was really watching, but quite often, the storekeeper found the elderly night watchman snoring frightful snores. Even so, they would not dismiss him from his guard duty.

When the storekeepers were asked why they didn't dismiss the night watchman who was negligent of his duty, they would give this unequivocal response that would put an end to all questions. The storekeepers would answer: If they hired a young Ukrainian as watchman in his place, there was a concern that the young watchman himself might steal. Not so this frail Ukrainian with trembling hands. There was no concern that he would break into a store and steal. Indeed, a logical point of view…!

[Page 75]

And so, this “Guardian of Israel” kept watch for years and years on the shops district without any incident. And in fact, nothing was stolen in all of the years of his night watchman's duty simply because… robbers, thieves and burglars were not in abundance in Ternivka and its surroundings…!

About one month before their recruitment into the army, it was the custom of the new recruits, draftees from the shtetl, to get together in the evenings and to “act up” a bit during the nights, to play various tricks and pull various pranks as already mentioned in Chapter 25, “Drafted Army Recruits.”

The new recruits, these jokers, would quite often tie up the old night watchman with a rope as he slept peacefully at night and would move him from his honored spot to some out of the way courtyard. Afterward, when the night watchman would awaken from his deep sleep, he would be confused and at a loss. He wouldn't at all be able to grasp and couldn't understand how he had ended up in this strange place with his hands and feet tied.

After he had recovered somewhat from his astonishment and from his confusion, the night watchman would first untie his hands with his teeth and afterward with trembling hands, he would untie his feet, get up and cross himself three times to remove from himself the “Satanic impurity.” And afterward, he would spit three times and drag his tired feet back to his former spot. And he would once again bang on the empty crate with his club, not only to scare and drive away the thieves and the robbers, but also to scare and drive away the “wicked demons and the evil spirits” who always lie in wait for innocent and honest people…!

57. Joyful Occasions and Entertainment in the Shtetl

Usually, the joyful occasions were family ones: a circumcision, a Bar Mitzvah, a wedding, a release from the army, the dedication of a new home, etc. Only on Simchat Torah (after the Festival of Sukkot) was the joy general. This joy was centered on the synagogues and the houses of prayer and around them. Then the Jews allowed themselves to drink some alcohol in order to increase their joy.

[Page 76]

The joy was particularly great at the home of a newly elected “Gabbay” (Director of a synagogue). Many of the worshippers at that House of Prayer would come to his home and would be treated to “all good things” that were served to them by the wife of the “Gabbay.” In recent years, it was also the custom for a few “Yeshiva” (seminary) students to come to the home of the Rabbi in the afternoon hours of all of the festivals in order to have a good time there. They would order wine at their own expense and would sing Chasidic songs and cantorial music until the evening.

There were no places of entertainment in the shtetl. Once a “cinema” was brought to the shtetl. This was at the beginning of the development of motion pictures. Many streamed to the hall to see this “wonder.” There was no cinema in the shtetl in the years before the Revolution and for years after it.

Sometimes they would bring a carousel (“Kachali”) to the shtetl and children and young Ukrainian villagers would get dizzy on its wooden horses. The carousel did not operate on electricity but simply by hand power. The person who volunteered three times to operate the carousel by hand would afterward get to ride the carousel once for free.

They would also entertain themselves in the winter with sleigh rides. The wagon owners of the shtetl would for a certain fee, on nice winter Saturday evenings, take their passengers in their sleighs for a few turns around the shtetl. The passengers were mostly young men and women. Children would skate on the ice with their skates.

One year a “dance instructor” appeared in the shtetl and offered dancing lessons in one of the halls. Apparently the news of the success of the “dance instructor” reached another “dance instructor” and one fine day another “dance instructor” appeared and he too offered dancing lessons. At first there was competition between them, but afterward they made peace and cooperated, and the competition ended.

And in that way they “entertained themselves” in the shtetl!

58. The Nature Lover

Even though the Jews of Ternivka, which is in fertile Podolia, were closer to nature, to the field and to the garden, more than the Jews of other provinces, except for the Jews of Bessarabia from whom emanated the fragrance of field and vineyard, gardens next to the houses of the shtetl were almost not be found, except for those of a few of the wealthy that were taken care of by their Ukrainian employees.

[Page 77]

It was inconceivable that any thinking Jew would stop his learning, his trading and his working at his craft and would occupy himself with trees and lawns and would say: “How beautiful is this tree, how beautiful is this meadow!” – like the non–Jews, God forbid…!

That said, there was one man in the shtetl who was unusual, an enthusiastic lover of nature who had a beautiful garden next to his home that he took care of all by himself, with devotion and great love. This unusual Jewish man's name was “Re'uven Schneider” (“Re'uven the Tailor”). He was a woman's tailor, but not just any tailor. He was an artisan tailor with few who could match him. The wives of wealthy men and the wives of the many landowners in the vicinity of Ternivka “stood in line” for him because they well knew that there was no superb tailor like him, even in the nearby city of Uman.

He was a religious Jew with a beard, easygoing, modest, not talkative and introverted. Even though he dealt exclusively with women, many of them young and beautiful, he paid no attention to them but regarded them as “white geese” like Rabbi Gidal in the Talmud. Re'uven was wealthy and owned two large homes. At one time, the Hebrew school of Natan Shargarodsky that we already mentioned (see Chapter 6), was located in one of them. A doctor lived in the other house which was near the hospital.

He educated his sons both in religious and secular studies. One of them was the painter Heinich, who as mentioned above (see Chapter 11), painted the “Eastern Wall” (where the Holy Ark is situated) of the Great Synagogue. His pretty daughter Sonia also studied together with his sons in the Hebrew school that was located in his home and she knew a bit of Hebrew which was quite rare for the girls of the shtetl. His sons did not associate, “God forbid,” with the sons of tailors and tradesmen but with the sons of the well–to–do. His wife, a woman of valor, would always brag that she was not the daughter of a tradesman but the daughter of a “Gemara Melamed” (a teacher of the Talmud), “almost a Rabbi,” but because they were hard up, her father was forced to marry her off to a tailor… “Heaven protect us.”

She would show everyone who came to her home the enlarged patriarchal photo of her father that hung on the “Eastern Wall” of her salon. Re'uven, even though he was always inundated with work with a number of young seamstresses working for him, would often abandon his “urgent sewing work” and go out into his garden and with love and compassion would take care of his trees, bushes and flowers or he would simply stretch out on his lawn in the shadow of one of the trees and lie there and dream.

[Page 78]

He also raised many pigeons in the dovecote in his garden and he would take care of them with love and devotion and he would listen to their cooing with strong emotion as they flew into their pigeonholes. The pigeons, the trees, the flowers and the grass were dear to him and more precious than anything.

His wife would loudly complain that he was occupying himself with the activities of young girls – trees, bushes, flowers, grass, pigeons, etc. and neglecting his lucrative trade and losing a fortune. But Re'uven, as an enthusiastic lover of nature, kept on with his devoted caring for his garden and his pigeons. In those hours, he would feel a supreme satisfaction, a lightening of corporeality and a rising above his gray and boring life, a life of needle and thread, a life of rattling and nerve wracking sewing machines.

The garden, the trees, the flowers, the pigeons were the joy of his life, the life of “Re'uven Schneider!”

59. The Fortune Telling Shoemaker

There lived in the shtetl a shoemaker, “Moishe Schuster” (“Moishe the Shoemaker”). He wasn't an artisan shoemaker but would put patches on shoes and he was very poor. In order to increase his meager income, he adopted another “trade,” that of fortune telling. Naïve Ukrainians, both men and women, would sometimes come to him and ask him to “read their fortune” and this provided him with some additional income.

He lived at the edge of the shtetl in a pitiable shack, half of which was sunk in the earth, and whoever entered it had to bend his head. One day, the “Fortune Telling Shoemaker” decided to erect over his shack, whose roof was covered with thatch, a frame of wooden posts and a roof of tin. Because he didn't have enough money to buy all of the posts and beams and tin that were necessary, he would from time to time buy a wooden post and a piece of tin. And in that way, over a period of a few years, he accumulated all of the wooden posts, beams and pieces of tin necessary for the frame and the roof.

When this structure was erected over the shack, it looked like someone had put a giant hat on the head of an infant. Eventually, he and his family members made mud bricks and built walls onto this frame.

And so “Moishe Schuster,” with “patience of steel” and “the industriousness of ants,” built his new home!

[Page 79]

60. The First World War

When the First World War broke out, the population was in shock. It was “Tish'a B'Av” (“The Ninth of Av”, the anniversary of the destruction of both Jewish Temples), 5674 (August 2, 1914). And indeed, the sadness of “Tish'a B'Av” prevailed in the shtetl. The husbands and sons of many families were taken into the Army. A few of these recruits were later wounded in the War and a few were made prisoners of war.

About one year into the War, one of the young recruits, the son of Nachman Kozidoy the “Shamash” (sexton) of the “Schul” (Great Synagogue), returned with an amputated hand. His hand was not severed in the War but in an accident while he was working in a factory as a prisoner of war. During an exchange of disabled prisoners of war between Russia and Austria, he was also exchanged and so he returned to the shtetl.

During the War, the authorities recruited many men, both Jews and Ukrainians, to dig trenches at the rear of the War front. The authorities at that time permitted the civilians who had been recruited to send paid workers to replace them. Well–to–do Jews took advantage of this opportunity and hired Ukrainian workers who received, for the times, a high wage. There were cases where workers did not return and died there…

Because the Russian Army feared that it would have to retreat from Galicia, they paved, just in case, roads in our area on which the Army could retreat. Thousands of farmers were recruited with their wagons and they transported material from the hills in the area with which to pave the roads.

Since the road that was being paved was supposed to pass through one of the streets of the shtetl where there was a deep well that the “Zemstvo” (local government authority) had dug just a few years earlier (see Chapter 20), they demolished the well and sealed it and the road was built over it. In the end, they never used the road. Later, the War front disintegrated, and the heavy weapons and the equipment of the Russian Army were abandoned on the battle field.

61. The Russian Patriot

A Jew, a giant of a man, a redhead, a simple and popular Jew who everyone, both Jew and Ukrainian, called Berka Ternivsky, Dov of Ternivka. And why did he especially have the privilege of being named after the shtetl Ternivka?

[Page 80]

Because he once left Ternivka and settled in a village in the vicinity of Ternivka and the Ukrainians called him “Berka Ternivsky” after the shtetl from which he was from. When he returned to Ternivka, this nickname “Berka Ternivsky,” stuck to him also in Ternivka itself. He was childless and so he adopted the son of one of his relatives in the shtetl who was blessed with many children, God protect them from the evil eye.

The apartment of “Berka Ternivsky” was unusual in the shtetl. There were no windows in its walls because his apartment was pressed between two neighboring apartments in the same house and its walls also served as the walls of the neighbors. There were stores at the front and the back of this house which stood between two parallel streets and among them his flour store, such that no direct ray of light penetrated his apartment. What did Berka do in order to illuminate the darkness of his apartment which was shut up from the front and the back and the sides? He cut out windows in the ceiling and in the roof and through them the sunlight penetrated into his apartment.

During the First World War, when the worshippers of the “Kloyz” (synagogue) prayed, like the majority of Jews, for the downfall of the Tsar and his tyrannical regime and all were “German patriots,” “Berka Ternivsky” was unusual in the “Kloyz.” He was a “Russian patriot.” He proved with signs and wonders that the Russians would flatten the Germans. The “German patriots” who conducted the “strategy and the war tactics” of the German High Command from next to the stove in the “Kloyz” (synagogue) wanted to actually devour the “traitor,” “Berka Ternivsky” for “helping” “Fonye Ganef,” the Tsar, who decreed harsh decrees against the Jews.

But Berka remained one–pointed that it was for the good of the Jews that the “Deitsch” (German) should not win because the “Deitsch” does not tolerate any “funny business.” He only knows the “Gesetz” (law), the dry and hard law and it is impossible to bribe him the way it is possible to bribe “Fonye Ganef,” and without bribery, so claimed “Berka Ternivsky,” the Jews cannot survive among the non–Jews. The Jew, even in those countries in which there is supposedly equal rights for the Jews, cannot survive under their laws and the Jew is often forced to circumvent the law, either with the aid of bribery or in some other way, and under the “Deitsch,” this would be harder than the “parting of the Red Sea!”

And so, these arguments between the “Germans” and the “Russian” continued throughout the First World War between “Mincha” (the afternoon prayer) and “Ma'ariv” (the evening prayer), until the Germans and the Austrians invaded Ukraine in 1918.

[Page 81]

Strictly speaking, they invaded supposedly to help the Ukrainians repel the Red Army. Ukraine was then divided between German and Austrian rule. Ternivka fell under Austrian rule.

The Austro–German commander who governed the shtetl was like every German, super strict about the rules of hygiene in the shtetl. He would make “crazy and strange” demands. For example, to neatly sweep around each house, to not throw garbage into the street, to not dump sewage on the sidewalk, to not shake out empty sacks in the street so as not to create a lot of dust, to not pluck chicken feathers near the house so that the wind would not spread them throughout the shtetl, to install proper toilets so that their smell would not be wafted to a distance, etc. and other such “evil decrees.” And the commander would fine anyone who violated these “decrees” with a heavy monetary fine.

More than one Jew in the shtetl would then sigh and complain the complaint of the Jew in the writings of “Sholem Aleichem” (humorous writer in Yiddish): “I don't understand. The house is mine. The sidewalk next to my house is mine. The sewage is mine and when I dump my sewage on my sidewalk next to my house, a policeman comes and gives me a fine. Have you ever heard of such a scandal in your life?”

During Russian rule, if ever, once in a blue moon, “Ivan” the policeman was about to issue a fine for violation of the laws of hygiene, it was possible to bribe him with a glass of vodka or with a few kopeks and he would cancel the fine, but that was not possible with the foolish and strict German. There was no “funny business” here. You had to pay all of the fine that was imposed on you.

How did many then sigh over the heaviness of the yoke of this rule, that of the foolish “Deitsch,” that wants no more and no less than that the Jew should be strict about hygiene every day as if it were Passover Eve when the “Chametz” (leaven) is burned. Then would “Berka Ternivsky” celebrate his complete victory and say: “Nu, didn't I always tell you that for us the Jews ‘Fonye Ganef’ is one hundred times better than the foolish ‘Deitsch’ who is strict about every jot and tittle of the law, the ‘Gesetz.’ You prayed for his victory. You wanted him. You looked forward to him, the ‘Deitsch.’ You yearned for him and here he is in all of his glory and stupidity!”

And the faces of the “German patriots” in the “Kloyz” grew white. They hid their faces in shame and were now very sorry that sitting next to the stove in the “Kloyz,” they had “helped” the German with his “strategy” to defeat the Russians!

[Page 82]

62. The Revolution is Coming

When the February, 1917 Revolution broke out and the Tsar was removed from his throne, Ternivka also welcomed the Revolution with joy. A young lad of about 16 years of age by the name of Aharon, of blessed memory, a native of Ternivka, became so excited about the Revolution that he was moved to write a Hebrew song in honor of the Revolution. I still remember the first stanza of this simple song that was sung by his friends to the tune of the Marseillaise:

“Flags of glory are waving from our hands. Today is a holiday of liberty. The old regime has been totally cut off. It has descended into the abyss.”

The heads of the Jewish, Ukrainian and Polish communities decided between them to hold a festive parade in honor of this historic event. The parade, in which large crowds of people participated, passed through the main streets of the shtetl and stopped at the houses of worship of all of the religions. Torah scrolls and crosses and icons were carried in the parade. Speakers from all of the communities and a young army officer, a social–democrat, gave enthusiastic speeches about the Revolution, about “freedom, equality and brotherhood,” about “the wolf dwelling with the lamb,” etc. Musicians whose music had gone silent during the period of the War, even at weddings, played their happy melodies and of course also the Marseillaise.

The first sign that equality was indeed now in effect was that a Jewish lad was accepted as a trainee postal clerk in Ternivka. His name was Grisha Kishinevsky who later (in 1920) immigrated to Palestine with the first group of pioneers from Ternivka. Here in Israel he served in the post office all of his life and was even promoted to Director of the Post Office in Haifa. His name in Israel was Tzvi Barkoni.

In the beginning, there were also a few Jewish members of the militia. Many boys and girls thronged to high schools in other cities as there was no high school in Ternivka at that time. In those days, a “Soviet” (workers' council) was established in the shtetl, most of whose members were Jews. The role of this “Soviet” was mostly to protect the various salaried workers, both Jews and non–Jews. The political authority was still in the hands of the Provisional Government and not in the hands of the “Soviet.”

[Page 83]

63. Zionism in the Shtetl

Even though the Revolution opened the gates of “equality of rights” to the Jews of Russia and many opportunities were revealed for the development of their Jewishness, the Jews did not take their hearts and minds off of Zion, and the Zionist Movement in Russia took giant steps in its development. Zionism took root also in Ternivka and a “Zionist Organization,” whose activists were principally from the Wortman family (the author's family), was established in the shtetl. A small “Po'alei Tzion” (“Workers of Zion”) group also existed but its activity was almost not felt in the shtetl. There were no non–Zionist movements in the shtetl. A Hebrew speaking sports organization with the name “Maccabi,” headed by the above mentioned “Grisha” (Tzvi Barkoni), was also established.

Ya'akov Moldavsky was among the outstanding and interesting personalities in the Zionist movement in the shtetl. His was a personality that was at once both well rounded and full of contradictions. He was a “Shoychet” (“Kosher” slaughterer) and as a person with a secular education he served as the Zionist Movement's “rabbi.” As a religious and God–fearing man, he was close to the religious community, but as a secularly educated and modern man, he also socialized with the younger generation who were freer in their thinking and brought them close to him.

He was also a “Chazan” (Cantor) and was often invited by neighboring shtetls to lead the prayers there during the “Days of Awe” (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) accompanied by a choir that he had organized. When the new “Kloyz” (synagogue) of the “young people” was established, he became its Cantor and Torah Reader. He was much respected and loved by the public because of his noble qualities.

With the “Third Aliyah” (third wave of immigration to Palestine, 1919–1923) he and his family also immigrated to Palestine and settled in Haifa. It pained him to see the “fraternal quarrels” in both the “Yeshuv” (pre–state Israel) and in the State of Israel and he even published a manifesto against this “unjustified hatred.” He died suddenly in Haifa. May his memory be blessed.

In the summer of 1918, Tzvi Bumfeld, the Zionist activist who was well–known in our area, was brought to Ternivka. He was a jurist and a talented speaker, a member of the Zionist Center in Ukraine and the head of the Zionist Organization in Uman.

[Page 84]

After his wonderful and rousing speech in the evening to a large crowd that packed into the new “Kloyz,” the Zionists invited the shtetl “Klezmer” (Jewish band) to accompany him from the new “Kloyz” to the home of his host, one of the Koifman brothers, at the edge of the shtetl. They played various Zionist melodies and among them, of course, “Hatikva” (Israel's national anthem). Large crowds accompanied him to his lodgings. Here in Israel, Tzvi Bumfeld was active in the Revisionist Movement (right wing movement), but not for long, as he passed away before his time. May his memory be blessed.

When the day arrived to vote for the All Russia Constituent Assembly (November, 1917), all of the Jews of the shtetl voted for the Zionist slate, headed by the well–known Rabbi Ya'akov Mazeh (1859–1924) and the famous lawyer Oskar Gruzenberg (1866–1940). The Jews of Russia gratefully remembered their wonderful and courageous defense of Mendel Beilis (1913), the victim of a “Blood Libel” in Kiev (see Chapter 46). As is well–known, the Bolsheviks seized power and forcibly dissolved the Constituent Assembly even though they only represented a small minority in it.

64. The Balfour Declaration

When the Balfour Declaration (1917) became known in Ternivka, respect for the Zionist activists in the shtetl greatly increased, since it was “thanks to them” that this Declaration had been granted to the Jewish People. The Jews of the shtetl considered this Declaration a declaration of the founding of a Jewish state and the newspapers even published a list of the members of the “Government of the State of Israel:” “President” – Louis Brandeis (American Supreme Court Justice); “Prime Minister” – Max Nordau (co–founder of the World Zionist Organization); “Foreign Minister” – Nachum Sokolov (Secretary General of the World Zionist Congress); “Minister of Culture and Education” – Chaim Nachman Bialik (Hebrew poet); “Minister of Defense and Security” – Ze'ev Jabotinsky (soldier and future Zionist Revisionist leader); “Minister of Agriculture and Labor” – Menachem Ussishkin (Secretary of the First Zionist Congress), etc., etc.

The Jews of Ternivka were proud of this distinguished “government” in which were represented the greatest Zionists and Jews. “A government like this will not be put to shame by even the governments of mighty nations,” declared secularly educated “Yeshiva” (seminary) students. The excitement was especially great when they read in the newspapers about the huge demonstration–procession of the Jews of Odessa in honor of the Balfour Declaration. Many of the Jews of Ternivka waited impatiently for the opening of the exit gates from Russia and the entry gates into the Land of Israel.

[Page 85]

One Jewish man, the owner of a dry goods store, the Rabbi's brother–in–law, a frail and somewhat simpleminded man, begged the Zionist activists in the shtetl to tell him if the government of the Jewish state would permit him, when he would immigrate God willing to the Land of Israel, to open a dry goods store, since he didn't have the strength to be a farmer and plow the earth. That every single Jew who would immigrate to the Land of Israel would be a farmer and a sower of seeds was not doubted by anyone in the shtetl!

And that is how the Jews of the shtetl dreamt about a Jewish state in the Land of Israel when the Balfour Declaration was published…

65. Between Regimes

When the Bolsheviks seized power and the War front disintegrated, many soldiers deserted. At that time, as the War front disintegrated, various nationalist armies organized themselves – Ukrainian, Polish, Latvian etc. During this period at the end of 1917, a fully armed Polish division passed through Ternivka from the front. It camped for one week in the large square near the Catholic church. It was well disciplined and the Polish soldiers did not harm the residents of the shtetl. A few young Poles, both local and from the vicinity, volunteered to serve in this Polish army. The intention of this army was to return to the Polish homeland which was then under German rule.

During the change of regimes, there was almost no rule of law in the shtetl and everyone did as he pleased. Quite often, especially in the evenings, rifle shots, for no particular reason, could be heard because every deserting or immobilized soldier had a rifle. At one of the “Yarids” (market days) some riff raff that came in from the villages attacked the Jewish stores and the pedlars, mostly of dry goods, and looted them. Suddenly, a few shots were heard and all of the visitors to the “Yarid” fled for their lives back to their villages.

At the next “Yarid,” the storekeepers organized a kind of “civil guard” of about one hundred “riflemen” or more. Most of the volunteers to this “civil guard” were Ternivka Ukrainians who, of course, were well paid for their security services at the “Yarid.” And indeed, from then, on the “Yarids” were held peacefully with no acts of plundering or looting happening again.

[Page 86]

After the Ukrainian “Rada” (Council) declared Ukrainian independence and the Bolsheviks expelled it from Kiev and seized power (February 8, 1918), the Ukrainians asked the Germans for help and they expelled the Bolsheviks from Ukraine. But the “Rada” was also not in power for long, because under the influence and protection of the Germans, estate owners, the “Khaliborov,” got together and instigated a right wing revolution (April 29, 1918) that put in power the Hetman (Commander) Pavel Skoropadsky, the owner of a large estate.

The Germans dispersed the “Rada” in the name of the “Revolution” and the Hetman imposed order in Ukraine. But with the defeat of the Germans on the Western Front (November 11, 1918) and the exit of Germany from the lands that it had conquered, including Ukraine, the “Rada” once again seized power and the days of commotion and confusion returned.

66. The Petliura Pogroms and the Gangs

The “Ukrainian Directorate,” the executive committee of the “Rada,” again seized power (February, 1919). In fact, power was mainly in the hands of Symon Petliura (1879–1926) and his associates. He knew well that the Ukrainian farmers did not have any Ukrainian national awareness and that they saw themselves as part of the Russian People. Petliura, therefore, decided to tug at the heartstrings of the Ukrainians through Pogroms against the Jews. Jewish blood would, therefore, serve as the lubricating grease on the wheels of Ukrainian independence. He then carried out the terrible slaughter of the Jews of Proskurov (February 16, 1919) in which about 5,000 Jews were murdered. He also carried out Pogroms in other cities and shtetls. About three hundred thousand Jews were murdered or wounded in Ukraine by Petliura and the Gangs. In the Summer of 1919, the Klimenko Gang broke into Ternivka at night. That was the first murderous gang in Ternivka. They robbed and murdered a few Jews. The following morning, Klimenko convened a meeting of the Ternivka farmers in the square of the “Volost” (center of the village authority) and he gave a speech advocating for a Pogrom against the Jews because they, the “Zhido–Communists,” were destroying Christian churches, smashing crosses and holy icons, killing Russian Orthodox priests and intending to steal the lands of the Christian farmers and turn them into slaves and serfs of the Jews.

[Page 87]

Everyone who wanted to save the motherland and the Christian religion should, therefore rise up against the “Zhido–Communists” and join his men, the saviors of the Motherland. No sign of agreement could be heard or seen to his Pogrom advocating speech. The Ukrainians of Ternivka took a dim view of murderers and robbers coming to their town to murder and rob “their Jews.”

During all of the years that Jews had lived in Ternivka there were good neighborly relations between the Jews and the Ukrainians. The economic situation of the Ukrainians of the town was many times better than that of those in the more distant villages because the locals earned a good living in transporting the merchandise of the storekeepers and the shtetl served as a market place for their agricultural produce. When the gang realized that the local farmers were not at all enthusiastic about their “fine plans,” they removed themselves from the shtetl.

Later, more gangs arrived. The rumor reached them that the local farmers took a dim view of their “heroism.” In all of the years of the Pogroms, not one local farmer participated in the robbery, not to mention, the murder of Jews. The gang leaders would then summon the heads of the Jewish community. Among them, Moishe–Nuchum stood out. He was a well–to–do Jewish man and an enthusiastic follower of the Talner Rebbe (Chasidic Rabbi). He was a bit like “Reb Sender the Rich Man” in the theatrical play the “Dybbuk.” By the way, his son Mordechai was among the group of students who immigrated to Palestine in 1913 to study at the “Gymnasia” (high school) in Jaffa.

The gang leaders would say to the heads of the Jewish community: “We know that you ‘Zhidi’ (Jews) of Ternivka are not Communists like the others Jews who are abusing our Christian ‘brothers’ and murdering them and that you live in peace with the ‘people,’ that is the Ukrainians. We will therefore not kill you or rob you but we will impose upon you a ‘contribution’ for the maintenance of our army so that we can fight to liberate the Christians from the ‘Zhido–Communists!’ You must therefore give us by a certain hour, a certain number of pairs of boots, a certain amount of tobacco, a certain amount of cloth, a certain amount of salt, etc., etc. If you don't, we will take it ourselves!”

The heads of the community would maintain, and rightly so, that the Jews of the shtetl had become impoverished from the abundance of “contributions” that had been imposed upon them by various “armies” and besides, it was impossible to obtain this merchandise because of the disruption in transportation and the breakdown of trade. But the gang leaders demanded a “contribution” and would not hear otherwise. After much bargaining, they somehow reached a compromise with them and this repeated itself with every gang.

[Page 88]

Often, the gang leader would place his sword on the neck of Moishe–Nuchum and threaten to kill him if he didn't fulfil his demand.

That said, compared with other shtetls in the area, where hundreds of Jews were killed, Ternivka got off easily, even though about fifteen Jews were also murdered in Ternivka during the time of the Pogroms of the Gangs. Ternivka was considered an “oasis of peace” by the Jews of other shtetls and many Jews who fled from the Gangs to Ternivka, settled there, until things calmed down in their own shtetls.

Various armies passed through Ternivka, such as the army of the anarchist Nestor Makhno which didn't do much harm to the shtetl and also the cavalry of Semyon Budyonny, the Cossack leader of the “Red Army,” who pursued the Poles who were retreating from Ukraine after Petliura had asked them for help against the Bolsheviks.

The soldiers of Budyonny didn't harm the residents of the shtetl. The heads of the community greeted them at the “gates” of the shtetl with bread and salt and distributed cigarettes to every soldier. By the way, among the retreating Polish soldiers (they weren't in Ternivka itself but in the vicinity) a Jewish soldier deserted and stayed in the shtetl a few weeks, until he could be smuggled into Romania on a forged passport. From there, he immigrated to his relatives in the United States.

Commerce and trade almost came to a standstill in all of the shtetls because of the anarchy, lawlessness, murder and robbery. The economic situation in Ternivka also worsened to the point where many of the residents of the shtetl had to make themselves “suits,” but especially pants, from sacks of wheat and sugar. Many also wore wooden clogs, especially in the summer, because leather shoes were very expensive at that time. In those days of scarcity, many young men and women, even from the wealthier class, went out into the fields to weed between the beds of sugar beets and they earned whatever they could.

[Page 89]

67. Breslov Chasidim

During the tumultuous days that prevailed at that time in Ternivka, when the roads were too dangerous to travel, three bearded men and a boy suddenly appeared in Ternivka. They were different in their dress and in their Yiddish speech from the rest of the Jews of Ukraine. They were Jews from Poland who had, at great danger to their lives, traveled on foot and by catching rides on wagons to the nearby city of Uman where their “Rebbe” (Chasidic Rabbi), Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772–1810) of blessed and saintly memory, is buried. They were “Chasidim” (disciples) of this “Rebbe” and they decided to prostrate themselves on his grave, even at great danger to their lives.

What did they care about gangs of murderers?! What did they care about regiments of enemy soldiers compared with the supreme joy of “conversing” with the “Rebbe,” Rabbi Nachman, and pouring out their hearts to him?! Because, as everyone knows, Rabbi Nachman is not dead, as it is written in the Talmud: “The righteous in their death are considered alive,” and he will surely hear the prayers of his disciples. Other Chasidic Jews mocked the Breslov Chasidim and they called them “dead Chasidim” since the “Rebbe,” Rabbi Nachman, didn't leave a successor to perpetuate his dynasty.

Their journey to Uman took about a year. After they spent a few weeks in Uman, they returned to Poland via Ternivka. They refused to listen when the residents of Ternivka warned them that there was great danger in venturing out onto the road and suggested to them that they wait in Ternivka until things calmed down. One day, they disappeared and left Ternivka, without fear, because the virtue of the “Rebbe,” Rabbi Nachman, who keeps a watchful eye on his disciples, would protect them from all trouble. Whether they ever reached Poland, no one knows.

68. Denikin's Army

Amidst the various gangs and the various and strange “armies” that often visited Ternivka, Denikin's army also appeared one day. This “White Army” came to “restore the former glory” and to enforce “law and order” in Russia and its motto was “One United Russia.” They behaved like a regular and organized army and they didn't cause any disturbance (this was before they suffered any defeats).

[Page 90]

The headquarters of the regiment was in the home of the wealthy Koifman brothers. They also confiscated other rooms, and among them, the clubhouse of the “Zionist Organization” and they housed officers in them. In order to prove that they were enforcing “law and order,” they hung a few young Ukrainians whom they suspected of being Bolsheviks. In order to be “even handed” with the hangings, they caught a young Jew who was a bit mentally unbalanced, the son of a tinsmith, who was just wandering around in the vicinity of the camp of the regiment and they hung him in the center of the shtetl as a “Communist spy.”

They also apprehended another young Jew from a respected family who had been working in Moscow as a pharmacist and had returned to Ternivka because his father Herschel Dintzis had been murdered in a Pogrom by one of the murderous gangs. Since he had come from Moscow, he was suspected of being a Communist and they were going to hang him. The Koifman women fell at the feet of the officers and swore that he was not a Communist, which he indeed was not. They begged them to have mercy on him and they told the officers about the Petliura gang that had murdered his father. In the end, they softened their hearts and they freed him.

When Denikin's regiment departed for the front, they left a “civilian government,” a “Pristav” (Police Chief) and a new police force. Not many days passed and a “new army” appeared out of nowhere, not quite a gang, not quite an army platoon. The soldiers of this platoon, Ukrainians, were disposed toward the Bolsheviks. They immediately apprehended the “Pristav,” took him out of the shtetl and shot him. Before he died, he begged the soldiers and asked them to have mercy on his eight children who would become orphans and he proved to them “with signs and wonders” that he had never fought in any army and especially not in Denikin's army, and that he was only a civilian official. But, they paid no heed to his words and they murdered him. And in fact, this “Pristav” was a quiet and modest middle aged man and not a Denikin Pogromchik.

And so the shtetl was in a state of fear and terror until finally, the Bolshevik Government established itself. From time to time, a Bolshevik regiment under the command of the officer Goretz would appear and he would attack the gangs that wandered around in the area but after Goretz departed the gang would appear again. A few ranchers who owned small estates in the area of Ternivka also organized themselves into a gang under the command of one of the ranchers, “Chernovol” (“Black Ox”) and they would mostly attack institutions of the Bolshevik Government and small squads of Bolshevik soldiers. Afterwards, they would run away and hide.

[Page 91]

Many Jews migrated to the interior of Russia, to industrial areas, because of the bad economic situation in the shtetls and they did as best they could there. Many also emigrated from Russia to Palestine and to other countries, endangering themselves by stealing across borders. Only about half of the Jews remained in the shtetl where they lived a meager and modest existence until the Second World War.

69. The “Puritz” of the Shtetl

As already mentioned in one of the first chapters, the “Puritz” (landowner) of the shtetl of Ternivka was of Greek origin. The last link in this line of landowners was a man in the prime of his life, a disabled bachelor. He was like a “white crow” when compared with the other landowners in the area. The vast majority of them were of Polish–Catholic origin, a remnant of Polish rule in Podolia before it was annexed to Russia in 1793. The Greek landowner did not belong in the company of these landowners, not by religion which was Greek Orthodox and not by nationality. He was therefore alone in observing his holidays. Even though he had much property, he was very miserly (his estate in Ternivka was spread over two thousand “Desyatin” or about 2,000 hectares of choice land including a few hundred “Desyatin” of forest). He never donated anything to any cultural institution whether Jewish or Christian.

A story was told about him in the shtetl. Once a wandering beggar came to him and asked for a donation and said: “Please have mercy on me for I am disabled.” The landowner answered him and said: “I myself deserve mercy for I am also disabled.” And he didn't give him any charity. It is no wonder, therefore, that this landowner was not particularly loved by anyone. And when one night, his young housekeeper, who was not from this area, ran off with twenty thousand rubles that she stole from his safe, many residents of the shtetl were happy at his loss.

There was a legal dispute over property that lasted many years between this “generous” landowner and a Jewish tailor in the shtetl by the name of Leizer (Elazar, the brother of Re'uven, the ladies tailor mentioned in Chapter 58).

[Page 92]

The crux of the matter was this: Leizer the tailor claimed and proved with “signs and wonders” that his house, like most of the houses of the shtetl, stood on an “old” lot owned by him in perpetuity and that he was therefore liable to the landowner for only symbolic leasing fees like all of the “old” houses in the shtetl. For his part, the Landlord claimed that the tailor's house stood on a “new” lot and that even though he had paid for it in full, it was still only a leased lot like many of the “new” lots on which many houses had been built and that he was, therefore, liable for annual leasing fees and not just symbolic ones.

As mentioned, this legal dispute over property lasted many years and impoverished the tailor but he, as a member of a “stiff necked people,” was stubborn and said: “I will fight to the last kopek against this dog of a landowner and I will teach him a lesson.” If it weren't for the Revolution that happened in Russia in 1917, this legal dispute would no doubt have continued.

When the Bolshevik Revolution broke out, a military regiment of the Eighth Red Army, that was known for its wildness, and was famous for its poor discipline and the lawlessness of its soldiers, came to the shtetl. Instead of maintaining order and protecting the safety of the residents from the various gangs and robbers, they themselves needed to be watched and supervised because they often engaged in looting and robbery.

The commanders of the regiment immediately apprehended the landowner as a feudal counter–revolutionary and were intending to shoot him but he was freed the next day because he bribed them with a huge amount of ransom money. After he was released, he left the shtetl and escaped by the skin of his teeth to the metropolis of Odessa where there had long been many Greeks. He melted into their midst and even secured a government position. In those days, the first days of the Communist Revolution, days of chaos in Russia and in the government apparatus, when the civil servants of the Tsarist government declared a kind of “sabotage,” it was not hard for him to get along and “lay low” until things calmed down.

And indeed, after a few months, the “Whites,” the army of Denikin, captured Odessa from the “Reds” and passenger ships and freighters once again sailed between Odessa and Constantinople. The landowner, the “Soviet civil servant,” took advantage of this opportunity to return to his Greek homeland, that he had never seen.

And that was the end of the story of the landowner who didn't know how to enjoy his wealth!

[Page 93]

70. During the “Military Communism”

At the beginning of the Bolshevik period, during the “Military Communism,” the residents had not yet gotten used to the urgent and frequent orders, commands and prohibitions that the Bolsheviks would frequently issue. The residents weren't particularly strict about fully implementing them, especially when the bad economic situation often compelled them to violate these decrees. In those days, a young Jewish man with a family, a native of Ternivka, bought a ton of sugar at one of the sugar factories in the area. It is true that officially, all of the sugar factories had been nationalized, but the factory clerks ignored this and permitted themselves to secretly sell sugar because the wages paid to them by the Communist Government were not enough, even for a meager living.

When this Jewish man transported the sugar by wagon to the shtetl, he encountered agents of the Cheka (Bolshevik Secret Police). They immediately confiscated the sugar and arrested him. After a short trial in the city of Uman, they shot and killed him. By the way, they didn't lay a hand on the sugar factory clerks or the Ukrainian man who hauled the sugar. This incident shocked and stirred up the shtetl and filled it with fear and terror.

71. The Immigration to Palestine of the Ternivka Pioneers

In those terrible days, about ten young men in Ternivka organized themselves and decided to immigrate to Palestine, despite the dangers they would encounter on the roads and at the borders. They hired a Jewish wagon owner to transport them to the (Romanian) border, the Dniester River. They traveled for about three days on back roads until they arrived in the shtetl of Kamienka, about 200 miles from Ternivka and there, a group of pioneers from Kamienka joined the Ternivka group. With their help and on their recommendation, we made contact with a young Jewish smuggler and he, with the help of Moldovan non–Jews and by bribing the border guards, safely transported us in a boat at night to the other side of the Dniester River, to Bessarabia, Romania.

Among these pioneers from Kamienka was the veteran agriculturist Ya'akov Shechtman from Balfouria (Palestine) and Shmu'el Kahana, the owner of the well–known theatrical bureau in Jerusalem.

[Page 94]

After passing through various shtetls and cities of Bessarabia, we arrived at the port city of Galatz (Romania) and we sailed from there to Constantinople (Turkey). When we arrived, we were housed in the Jewish agricultural colony, “Mesila Chadasha” (“New Path”) that was founded by the Jewish Colonization Association. During the period of our stay, the residents became fewer and fewer. A few immigrated to Palestine and a few immigrated to the United States. Very few were left.

The wonderful Rabbi of the Colony, Rabbi Shapira, took care of the pioneers like a father and saw to all of their needs. Afterwards, he immigrated to Palestine. After a few weeks, when the immigration certificates arrived, we sailed for Palestine aboard the ship “Mahmudiye” and disembarked in Haifa with many other immigrants. We arrived on the Eve of Chanuka, 5681 (December, 1920).

72. The Winding Life Path of an Orphan

A young woman was murdered during the murderous attacks of one of the gangs, leaving behind two small orphaned girls. Her husband traded in leather goods. This family, the Nathanson family, was descended from the well–known Rabbi from Lvov, Yosef Sha'ul Halevi Nathanson (1810–1875). At the time that many Jews were streaming toward the Romanian border, a sister of the murdered woman was among them. In order to make it easier for her brother–in–law the widower, she took with her one of the orphaned girls whose name was Shifra and who was about ten years old. At this time, representatives of a philanthropic institution of German Jews called “Ezra” (“Help”) came to Bessarabia (Romania) in order to adopt a few of the orphans of the Pogroms in Ukraine for the institution. Shifra, the orphan from Ternivka, was included among these orphans.

She received a good education at this institution which was of a religious–traditional nature and she graduated from high school with great success. Since she excelled in her studies and in her good manners, the directorate of the “Ezra” institution decided to send her to Palestine to study education at the “Mizrachi” Girls' Seminar so that when she returned to Germany, she could teach in that institution.

When she finished her studies at the Mizrachi Seminar, she decided that she was not inclined toward education but to the study of medicine and with the institution's permission, she and her husband M. Ernst, whom she had met in Palestine, traveled to London to study psychiatric medicine. A few years after the establishment of the State of Israel, after having practised in London for many years, she decided to return to Israel and together with Dr. Batar, founded and directed the Institute for Psychological–Psychiatric Consultation of the City of Haifa.

[Page 95]

Two years before her untimely death, she traveled to Russia, to Odessa, to be reunited with her only sister, whom she had not seen in forty–five years. In 1968 she became seriously ill and died. She died at the age of 58 leaving behind a husband and two married daughters living in England. May her memory be blessed.

73. The Teacher–Educator

One day in the year 5673 (1912/1913), a lad of about 14, the son of the “Shoychet” (“Kosher” slaughterer) brother of Rabbi David Kruglyak, the Rabbi of Ternivka, came to the Rabbi from the shtetl of Bohuslav in the District of Uman (actually in the District of Kanev). This lad, Motl Kruglyak, an only child, was sent by his parents to Rabbi David to study with him Torah and the fear of the Lord. This lad was “unusual” among the lads of Ternivka. He wore a “Kapoteh” (long coat), grew his “Peyos” (side locks) and “just to irritate,” he prematurely grew a beard. He was very studious and all day long he immersed himself with his uncle the Rabbi in the ocean of the Talmud and its commentaries.

The Rabbi who was very pleased with this nephew, predicted great things for him and considered him a future great educator among the Jewish People. About a year after World War One broke out, his parents returned him to their shtetl. They were afraid that in another year, they would take him into the army, because during the War, the government was conscripting younger soldiers, even an only child, and so his parents decided, in order to save his life, to enroll him in a Russian “Gymnasia” (high school) so that his conscription into the army would be delayed until he finished his studies and by then, the War would be over.

Even though Motl barely knew what a Russian letter looked like, with the help of a teacher, within a short period of time, he prepared for the entrance exams and did well and was accepted as a student in the “Gymnasia.” His parents were absolutely sure that he would not go wrong in the “Gymnasia,” God forbid, and that he would not stray from the straight path, the path of the Torah, and that he would behave like the Talmudic Rabbi Me'ir, who “found a pomegranate, ate its contents, and threw away its peel,” but it didn't turn out the way they imagined.

Motl peeked and was smitten: He peeked at the teachings of Darwin and the teachings of the astronomer Kant–Laplace, etc. and his eyes “were opened” to see that the creation of the universe and of man were not at all as depicted in the Book of Genesis. He then abandoned his religion and became an atheist.

[Page 96]

Because his education up until the age of sixteen–seventeen had been one–sided, ultra–orthodox, and he knew absolutely nothing about a secular Hebrew education, this extreme and sudden transition from the naive world of religion to the world of secular knowledge shook him to his very core and he became “someone else.”

When the February Revolution broke out in Russia in 1917 and various political parties appeared in the Jewish street, Motl was one of the followers of the “United Party” (S.S + Y.S) or “Syemovtsym.” They preached a secular culture in Yiddish and Jewish autonomy in the lands of the Diaspora and were totally opposed to Zionism and the revival of the Hebrew language. And he was one of the most extreme members of this party.

Motl Kruglyak returned to Ternivka in the summer of 1918 during the vacation months at the government colleges. He didn't return to study the Talmud and its commentaries, God forbid! He returned to give private Russian lessons to young Jewish boys in order to earn some cash for the continuation of his studies at university. Those who knew him before, didn't recognize him now: He wore a short coat, shaved his beard and cut off his side locks and wore a hat with a shiny visor (like a Ukrainian).

When his uncle the Rabbi saw him thus, he was horrified. His heart wept inwardly that this lad who had been on fire for the Torah, this prodigy, the son of his brother, had gone so wrong. Even though Motl was also this time the guest of his uncle the Rabbi, there was almost no spiritual intercourse between them. I would often meet with him and we would take long or short walks and talk about this and that. I would talk to him in Hebrew and he, even though he knew Hebrew well, would, “on principle,” answer me in Yiddish. After a few months of teaching, he left the shtetl and disappeared from view.

One day in the year 5731 (1970/1971), after fifty years and more since he had disappeared from my view, I happened by chance once more upon the name Motl Kruglyak, but not in person. Mrs. Esther Rosenthal–Schneiderman who had immigrated to Israel years before, published her memoirs about her past as a Yiddish teacher in the 5731 edition of “Ha'Avar” (“The Past”).

[Page 97]

Among other subjects, she also mentions Motl Kruglyak and this is what she writes: “At the time, I didn't know the names of the speakers at the first “All Russian Congress of Jewish Activists” on the methodology of socialist education that took place in Moscow in 1926, but I remember well one of them who gave a fiery speech. He was the non–political Motl Kruglyak, the son of a “Shoychet” (“Kosher” slaughterer) from a small shtetl, zealous in his devotion to left–wing Yiddish culture and he himself, a great scholar, who as a young man had the reputation of being a prodigy. I couldn't forget his name because I later studied with him at the “Institute of Jewish Culture” in Kiev and afterwards we worked together there and published a few papers.

Today, Motl Kruglyak is a member of the Communist Party and a Professor of Psychology at the Pedagogical Institute in Niezhin, Ukraine. He publishes papers on Pedagogy and Psychology in the Ukrainian and Russian journals. Before the Communist Party uprooted the network of Jewish education, he wrote a lot for the Jewish pedagogical journals. He was the author of text books in Yiddish and did research work in the Jewish schools.

Such is the story of a young religious boy who dwelt with his uncle in Ternivka in the world of Torah. The Rabbi hoped that he would eventually become a teacher–educator among the Jewish People and indeed Motl did become a teacher–educator, a Ukrainian Communist teacher–educator!

74. The “Apikoros” (The “Heretic”)

When the Bolshevik regime became established in the shtetl, “heretical” propagandists, “Bezvozhnik”s (atheists), would come to the shtetl and would conduct anti–religious propaganda. Among those who were swayed by this cheap propaganda, was an ignorant and illiterate Jewish man. He was a middle–aged part–time wagon driver and part–time cattle merchant with a family. In order to demonstrate his “heresy,” he stopped going to the synagogue to pray, even on “Yom Kippur” (“Day of Atonement”). And just to irritate people, he also raised pigs!

[Page 98]

And then one “Yom Kippur,” when he couldn't sleep and he arose early at dawn, he saw to his amazement, a certain young man, the son–in–law of a certain Moishe, leave the shtetl on foot, followed at some distance by a Ukrainian farmer's wagon and on it “English scales” to weigh grain and also many empty sacks. When the “Apikoros” (“Heretic”) asked the Ukrainian where he was going and to where he was transporting this load, the Ukrainian innocently replied that he was going to the “Yarid” (“market day”) in Troyany (about 15 miles South–East of Ternivka) and that the young man who hired him, would get on board the wagon outside of the shtetl.

The young man apparently went with the approval of his father–in–law, since the son–in–law and the father–in–law were partners in the grain business. It would appear that the young man purposely traveled to the “Yarid” on “Yom Kippur” so that he would be, as the saying goes, “the only one at the Fair.” He knew very well that no other Jew would come to the “Yarid” and that he would have no competition and would therefore do a good business. Now, the ignorant “Apikoros” found an opportunity to pay back and take revenge on the “beautiful Jews” who deceive both man and God.

Later, he sent a small boy to the synagogue in which the father–in–law Moishe was praying and when all of the Jews were standing wrapped in their “Tallises” (prayer shawls) and in their “Kittels” (white robes) (the Bolsheviks had not yet closed all of the Jewish houses of prayer) and pouring out the bitterness of their hearts to their Creator. The small boy entered the synagogue and told the worshippers that the son–in–law of Moishe the grain merchant, who had traveled that morning to the “Yarid” in the village of Troyany, had been murdered on the road and that his money had been stolen!

Both turmoil and fear prevailed in the synagogue. Fear over the murder of a young Jewish man and turmoil over this disgraceful and embarrassing act, that a Jew, the son–in–law of Moishe the grain merchant, an observant Jew, would travel on “Yom Kippur” to the “Yarid” in order to do business. It is understandable that the mourning and the moaning and the weeping in the family of the “victim” was great, as was the disgrace and the shame. This strong flurry of emotions prevailed throughout “Yom Kippur” until the evening when the young man appeared in his home, stealthily of course, sound of body, healthy, alive and flourishing!

Thus the “Apikoros” took revenge on the “beautiful religious Jews.” He bragged in front of everyone about how he had “fixed” the liars and the hypocrites and he strutted around like a rooster with pride and a great sense of importance!

[Page 99]

75. The Faithful Religious Man

Among those Ternivka Jews and the Jews of other shtetls who migrated into the interior of Greater Russia, was a native of Ternivka by the name of Zelig, one of the great–grandsons of Rabbi Ya'akov Wortman and a son of the “Shoychet” (“Kosher” slaughterer) Yeshayahu who has already been mentioned (see Chapter 36). He was a religious and scholarly man. Zelig had a daughter, an only child. When she was a student at the University of Leningrad, she fell in love with a student who was not Jewish. When this became known to her father he created a fuss and he declared that he would never give his daughter to a non–Jew but she refused to sever relations with him as her father had demanded.

Once when he was walking with his daughter and discussing this subject with her and she refused to accede to his pleading that she sever her relations with the non–Jew, he jumped onto the tracks of an electric tram and tried to commit suicide. The driver of the electric tram was miraculously able to stop so as not to run him over and kill him. This created a disturbance and a commotion and the police had to intervene in the matter. The daughter then swore to her father, that she would sever her relations with the non–Jew and would marry a Jew, and she kept her promise and is now a doctor.

76. The Destruction of Ternivka

When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), the Jews of Ukraine, Russia and the other areas knew little about the horrific acts of the Nazis against the Jews. The Stalinist regime, which had signed a “friendship treaty” with the Nazis (1939), was reluctant to publicize in the Soviet Union the “nice acts” of its “ally.” So when the Nazi army invaded Ukraine and Russia, almost no Jews fled to the interior of Russia. The vast majority remained where they lived.

The Jews thought that the German Army that was now invading the Soviet Union was like the German Army that was in Ukraine during the time of the Hetman (1918). The Nazis, who deceptively and secretly burned the Jews of Europe in the gas ovens of Auschwitz, did not behave similarly in Ukraine by sending its Jews to Auschwitz. They knew well that they didn't have to “be shy” in front of the Ukrainians and cover up their horrific acts as they did in the countries of Western Europe.

[Page 100]

Here in the bloody land of Khmelnytsky (1648–1649), Gonta–Zheleznyak (1788), Petliura and the murderous gangs (1919–1920), they had nothing to hide. Here it was possible to commit their horrific acts in public and in the full light of day and even with the blessing of the Ukrainians, so they murdered the Jews of Ukraine wherever they found them and in full view of the Ukrainians.

One day, the Germans recruited both Ukrainians and Jews to dig trenches outside of the shtetl. The workers thought that they were digging defensive trenches as is common during times of war. But, the following day, the real reason for the trenches was revealed. The Germans issued an order using Nazi town criers who went through the streets of the shtetl and announced that all of the Jews of the shtetl, both young and old were, were on pain of death, to gather the following morning in the “Stapok,” the large square next to the Catholic Church at the edge of the shtetl.

At eight o'clock in the morning, when all of the Jews of the shtetl, who had never even considered the horrific tragedy that was awaiting them, had gathered together, the Nazis ordered them to leave the shtetl and walk to the village of Posukhivka, a distance of 3–4 miles (to the East), where they would be temporarily staying. That is how the Nazis deceived them.

When these wretched souls passed by the trenches outside of the shtetl, heavy gunfire from machine guns suddenly rained down on them and all of the Jews of Ternivka, both young and old, were cut down and slaughtered and their bodies fell into or were thrown into those trenches. Only three Jews succeeded in escaping from this valley of death to one of the villages in the area but the Ukrainians of that village murdered two of them. Among them was Yosef Troyanovsky whose grandson, Kalman son of Levi, fell in Israel's War of Independence (1948–1949). Only the third man who survived as an eye witness to the terrible slaughter was able to tell about it and the bitter and abrupt end of the Jews of Ternivka.

When the Nazi murderers returned from their blood bath to the shtetl, the tens of Bavarian Germans who had settled as colonists on the rich soil of Ternivka prepared a joyful party for the “Nazi heroes,” a party with music and singing and dancing and gluttony and drunken debauchery, a party of “victory” over the slaughtered Jews of Ternivka, men women and children.

This terrible slaughter took place on Wednesday, the 11th day of Sivan in the year 5702 (May 27, 1942).

[Page 101]

Thus did the cruel annihilator descend on this modest, deep–rooted shtetl that had existed for about one hundred and thirty years (1813–1942) and had woven its humble life in the spirit of the Jewish People and in the spark of the ancient hope, the hope for the redemption of the Jewish People in its ancient homeland.

After the defeat of the Nazis, a few of the Jews of Ternivka who had scattered across Russia got together and returned to the shtetl and they are surviving there a meager existence (as of 2008 only one Jew, Khaim Shtein who is married to a Ukrainian woman, is still living in Ternivka).



As I write down on these pages the chronicles of our shtetl Ternivka up until its tragic, bitter and sudden end, I see before my eyes the words of our national lamenter (Jeremiah): “I have restrained my sorrow, my heart is sick within me” (Jeremiah 8:18). I have therefore restrained the sorrow of my soul and the sickness of my heart. I have held back my pen and my spirit and I have lectured about the history of the shtetl and its chronicles simply and dispassionately, but now, with the completion of the last chapter, the chapter in the chronicle of Ternivka about its destruction and extinction, I can no longer hold back my raging spirit and my yearning soul and from my aching heart bursts forth the lamentation of the national lamenter : “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for all of my people who have been slaughtered” (Jeremiah 9:1) – the slaughtered of a humble Jewish shtetl whose simple and honest Jews preserved throughout the ages and in the midst of the impurity of their cruel enemies the image of God and man, a beloved Jewish shtetl in which was preserved the splendor and the simplicity of the spirit of ancient Israel, a shtetl that was the life blood of the Jewish People, that caused fresh and healthy energy to flow into the body of the Jewish People that preserved it from degeneration and exhaustion. This wonderful Jewish shtetl is no more because it has been erased from under God's heavens by the impure bearers of the swastika. May God avenge their blood!


« Previous Page Table of Contents

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.

  Ternivka, Ukraine     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 22 Jul 2015 by LA