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[Page 31]

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Gravestones on the mass graves from among the martyrs at the cemetery in Yedinitz

The gravestone on the right was the first to be erected; 85 people are buried under it they were killed [Yiddish adds “shot”] on the 13th of Tammuz [Yiddish adds 1941]. They were thrown into a ditch prepared by the murderers in advance.

[Yiddish adds:] The epitaph is in Hebrew, and was composed by R. Yeshayahu Elkis. It says: Here are buried the dead who were killed in the sanctification of the Holy Name by the fascist murderers on Friday, 13 Tammuz, 5701 [1941]. [The calendar shows, however, that the 13th of Tammuz was July 8, 1941 and was a Tuesday].

Left: The gravestone erected later over the graves of dead whose bones were retrieved from various locations. As R. Yeshayahu Elkis, a ritual slaughterer, explains (he moved to Israel in February, 1972 [sic], the two stones disintegrated over time, underwent repair, and the inscriptions were redone. See the heading, “Yedinitz Today”. Below: the last gravestone, which has an inscription in Russian.

[Page 43]

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Russian Orthodox priests academy, photographed in the winter. Today it is a Russian high school (up to 10th grade)

 

[Page 45]

The Shtetl Landscape:
Aroma of Gardens, The Spirit of the Shtetl, and the Fearful Bells

By Pinchas Mann-Meidelmann

Translated from the Hebrew by Naomi Gal

The steppes stretched all-around town and behind some houses was the apple orchard of Zhilovky. In the Spring everything bloomed and the plants showed their many colors and wonderful fragrances. There were orchards of apples, pears, cherries, and plums. Birds sang, and the meadows were green in the summer months. In the sea of autumn gold, a wind blew and spread out into the surrounding forests. In winter, there was sleigh riding on a horse-drawn sled with two horses speeding along in an all-white world under the moonlight.

But despite of the wonderful landscape, Yedinitz was one of the most out-of-the-way places in a far-off province that “sits” on the border of two nations.

When it came to traffic and communication, the town was frozen, like living in medieval times. The closest train station was 18 kilometers away and there was not one decent paved road that connected the town to its surroundings. You always knew when you left on your way but never knew when you would arrive especially during the rainy fall months and in Spring, when the snow melted and the roads became a drowning swamp, where the horses sunk in the mud harnessed to the “carriages” reaching to their stomachs. This was a place where the blood arteries through which flew the communication with the world were quite ineffective.

While disconnected and isolated from the world, the town endured an economical and spiritual crisis in the forceps of both world Wars, which determined its final fate.

The pastoral exterior of the town did not always match its inner landscape. The real panorama was, alongside with the eight synagogues standing locked and deserted at the edge of town, down the hill, and in their center where stood the unfinished, two-storied, spacious “Shul” made of red bricks, the all-around darkness and poverty. For sure, here was once upon a time a center of Torah, faith, and man's prayer. Time had passed since the poet sang: “There are still extinct towns in the diaspora, where our old candle smokes in secret”. Here, no one was left, and the place inflamed only children's imagination with spirits and demons and midnight lamentations of the Temple's destruction – and death. On the other hand, at the center of the Jewish town, anxious and frightened Goyim built their own cloister, high, bright, and shining with its steeples and numerous crosses. They brought here their living and their dead and rang the alarming bells into the confused town. On cold, snowy days, flocks of black ravens found a haven on the church's high campaniles and from there descended on the town with deafening screams – they harbinger evil only, only evil.

 

The Gendarme's Regime

Under the influence of transfer from one regime to another, accompanied by an inner economical and spiritual crisis, I lived the town's life for several years between the two World Wars.

[Page 46]

When Bessarabia fell into Romanians' hands, two factors determined the treatment of the authorities towards Bessarabia's Jews in general and the fate of small towns in particular:

  1. The fear of the big and strong neighbor across the border and the dread that the loot they took is not secure and will not last.

  2. The traditional hatred of Jews plus suspecting them as being foreign and disloyal elements.

These two factors affected the town's life from the very beginning of the occupation. The persecutions and harassment harmed the town's inhabitant's way of life before antisemitism celebrated its official victory in the country.

The small towns were practically under military regime throughout all the Romanian rule and Yedinitz was maybe more so than any other town; it was the playground for outbursts of dark, sadistic impulses. The town was exclusively under the government of the brute gendarme, the “Chef de Post”, who was sort of an only ruler with all the residents prone to his grace or wrath. He made the law and was the judge and the executor while his mental state and the number of glasses of alcohol he consumed had a crucial impact on the well-being and safety of the town's people. The “Chef de Post” was in charge of the town's morale and its economy. He controlled its social life and culture. He was the one deciding about meetings or canceling them, and also dispersing meetings to which he consented; he was the one determining theater shows and evenings' entertainments, and locked people up and released them. He was everything.

To this day, I see the frightening pictures of Shabbat's nights when most of the young and adults came out strolling leisurely on “Potchtova”, the main, long street, and the nicest in town. The “Potchtova” was the only place for entertainment (the authorities managed to destroy the boulevard, probably assuming it harms the public's heath). This was the meeting place for young men and women. This is where you saw the latest fashion. Here while strolling, a first love bloomed. And here, ideas were exchanged on politics and about the new book borrowed from the “bibliotheca”, the library. And it so happened that the “Chef de Post” came out drunk and sulking and screamed in a high-pitched murderous voice – “everybody home! (Toata lumea acasa!) and everyone, like frightened sheep, scattered into side streets.

Yes, he was a “Supreme King” who ruled exclusively the town's unprotected, helpless citizens.

 

Concerns of the Youth About their Future

As outside pressures of a hostile administration on the town became tighter and tighter trying to uproot all joys of life by using an economical straitjacket accompanied by heavy imposing taxes intending to undermine the physical life of the town, the town was caught in a social and spiritual crisis; its signs being the crumbling of the traditional Jewish life at home and outside.

[Page 47]

The known idyll when young men and women get married and build their home next to the family nest dissipated forever when the parent's livelihood was disintegrating and it was no longer possible to incorporate sons and sons-in-law in the parents' upkeep, not in commerce nor in labor.

Inside the homes grew the gap between traditional parents tied to past customs and entrenched in their beliefs, and their sons who felt the earth shake under their feet and wondered about their way of life and their future.

The feeling most of the youngsters shared was that here in this town the way things were happening meant that they had no future. While wondering, there seemed to be three ways for the youth to find a solution for their way of life.

  1. A part of the youth took to the road as persecuted Jews had done for centuries, looking for their future as individuals and isolated in faraway, foreign, unknown countries. They headed to Brazil, Peru, Chile, and other countries across the ocean to try their luck there (North America's gates were closed for many years) but the stream of immigrants in the across-the-sea countries was relatively small, also because immigration to these countries entailed great difficulties.

  2. Not all saw a possibility of solving their problems by immigration. A large part of the uncertain youth was hanging on a messianic tread – the one well known from our people's history in times of distress. It is an imaginary messianic belief that sprouts wings and soars high and away from the grim, bitter reality of the town. With the enthusiasm of the Hasidim and the hatred of the objectors who faithfully believed in the dedication of the martyrs, they lived a legend, although they thought it to be a realistic belief based on scientific facts and historical determinism.

  3. And maybe this is one of the paradoxes of the Jewish anomalies, that domesticated and romantic Jewish youth living faraway from industrial centers joined the proletarian way of life trying to save their lives from remoteness and disintegration, mentally embracing the world's proletarian, the class about to conquer the supremacy in the future society and living in the illusion that they had found the road to redemption.

These youngsters lived mainly lives of leisure since there was nothing to do, living on their parents' expenses the war against capitalistic society, expressed by waving secretly a red flag on an electric pole on May 1st, by distributing handwritten “Proclamations” on October's Revolution Day and by preaching in “Political Meetings” to some tailors' apprentices. They read Plekhanov and Bukharin, Marx, Engels, and Lenin. At their parties they sang revolutionary songs and read from I. L. Peretz, who for some reason was considered a cosmopolitan and heretic, or they read “The 13 Pipes” by Ehrenburg. They tried to dismantle the regime's foundations, and what is interesting is that the authorities treated them with all seriousness and harassed them as one would do with real revolutionaries, as if they really posed a risk to the rulers.

[Page 48]

One must admit that there was a lot of charm in their way of thinking, in their actions and their youth's enthusiasm, which they invested in their beliefs. It is a shame that part of this wonderful youth was lost in the Nazi inferno and the part that was granted entrance to their “redemption” gates felt cheated, disappointed, and desperate, people who lost their faith twice.

 

Zionist Youth

Out of the buds of youth movements which begin with “Hibbat Zion”, that had not yet found their path in clear ideological patterns or paved roads to fulfillment, came together during the second half of the twenties; Zionist youth movements whose essence, education and thinking, were influenced by the reality in Israel and the political and settlements policies that were being established there.

The General Youth movements Histadrut and “Hatehiya” in those years was not able to respond to the ideological demands of the different movements that existed and led to two youth movements: “Gordonia” and “Freiheit”. Later, came “Betar” and the “Mizrahi” youth. The youth movement “Maccabi” became a shelter for the Zionist “Golden Youth” of those days.

The Zionist youth movements attracted a multitude of the town's youngsters:

  1. Since they were rooted in formation and tradition despite the disintegrating of many links there, still remained a lot of the warmth and “juiciness” of the Jewish home and way of life. The Shabbat in town, the preparations for Passover, and Passover “Seder”, the gaiety and mischievousness of “Simchat Thora”, the High Holidays, and the rest of the Jewish Holidays, were still deeply etched in the youth's state-of-mind despite losing a large part of their religious influence. Hence, there they lived in the conscious and sub-conscious of most of the town's youth the Jewish legacy they imbibed in the “Cheder” and in Hebrew School. All these were an excellent background to the growth of a large number of Zionist Youth Movements.

  2. But the main strength of the youth movements was their ability to transform the vague yearning of every youth to navigate his own lifeboat while integrating into a large camp which set patterns, fostered procedures, moral principles, and human relationships. The youth movements instilled a sense of confidence in the youngsters who joined them, taught them to organize their lives and reconnected them with nature, dissipated the despair of the dark reality around them, and granted them faith in a better life.

The strengthening of the youth movements peaked during the thirties and became the core and content of life of all the town.

Many hundreds of young men and women were already organized in youth's unions, dozens of the older ones were now in training, and some of them had made Aliya. No doubt that if fate would have added around ten more years of activity to the youth movements, we would have witnessed the town void of her youngsters, while most of them would have headed to Israel.

Kibbutz Nir-Am

 

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