One of the few remaining photos of the streets of the town before the War
left: house of Kolker.
Girls: right, Bettika, daughter of Devorah Speier, died in the Holocaust. The other girl is the granddaughter of Simcha Graber, who is also no longer alive.
by Chaim Horowitz
Translated from Hebrew by Ala Gamulka
|Yedinitz lies in northwestern Bessarabia at the crossroads of the Provinces of Hotin, Beltz, and Soroca. It was about 100 km from the provincial capital of the times, Hotin. The only connection between the two towns was of an administrative legal nature. There were no paved roads. In autumn and spring, the dirt roads in Bessarabia became a lake of sticky, thick mud. Travel and transportation were quite limited there. The closest train station to Yedinitz was in the village of Dondoshan (today Donduseni), 35 km away. It was only in 1926, during Romanian times, that another station was built in the village of Rozhnitsa, 18 km away from Yedinitz. This helped with the commercial ties to close and far away places. From a legal point of view, the town was under the jurisdiction of the Provincial capital of Hotin, but its cultural and economic connections were with more distant places. During the Tsarist-Russian times, it was Odessa and Mogilev-Podolsk. After the annexation of Bessarabia by Romania, it was Czernowitz, the capital of Bucovina, as well as Iasi and Galatz in old Romania. The ties with Kishinev, the district capital, were always quite weak.|
Many difficulties beset the Jews of Bessarabia, but the majority existed in Yedinitz: riots, depression, and contempt from the authorities. Its population was between 12,000-13,000 souls. About half were Jews, and the others were Katzaps, Ukrainians, Moldovans, and gypsies, who turned from being nomads to permanent residents.
There was commerce, light manufacturing, and workshops that took care of the needs of the rural surroundings. The land of the area belonged in the previous century to the aristocratic family Kozitchin. The head of the family lived in St. Petersburg and owned much land. The owners were childless, and Casimir, a relative of the owners living nearby, looked after their possessions.
The first Jewish settlers came to town, it seems, at the beginning of the 19th century. There are no lists or documents, but relying on stories and memoirs of town elders, it must be said that the settlers came because of the positive attitude of the landowner to the Jews and the surrounding villages. Who, if not a Jew, would be appropriate for the development of the town? Plots of land were freely given to every Jewish settler. There was even help with the availability of construction materials. In a short period, the Jewish settlers managed to develop a commercial and craft center. The economic success brought settlers from other ethnic groups. The surrounding villages needed blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, furriers, harness makers, etc. These were occupations in which many Jews were proficient. The stores provided the modest needs of the villagers. The Jewish merchants bought their produce and sent it far away. The Jewish community grew and grew.
There is no census information, so it is difficult to know in what year exactly did the first Jewish settler arrived.
Based on information about births and deaths among the Jews, it is clear that in 1850 there was already an important Jewish community (see the article by Y. Magen-Shitz, How Old is the Shtetl and Its Jewish Population).
Most of the Jewish residents came from Podolia and Russia. Many came from the surrounding villages. The proof is that some of the veteran founding families had the name of the village they came from added to their last names. For example, the Yekil Lerner-Ramonder family, Shmuel Loibman-Drutzer, Nissl Veisman-Terebener, and the veteran old Vineshenker family, a large one and among the first residents. They came from the village of Rotunda, near Yedinitz. One of the sons was a supplier to the Russian army as it moved to the Turkish front in 1866.
Yedinitz was the collecting point for wheat, wool, furs, cattle, and herds. Commerce developed and reached north and south. Commercial ties were established with places near and far. The merchants and craftsmen had an upward growth every year. The economic growth did not bypass the villages. The farmers were able to buy more land. Both town and country progressed. The main obstacle was the distance from the railroad. Transportation difficulties with the movement of thousands of tons of wheat and merchandise in carts slowed the steady commerce. However, this difficulty brought a new source of income: the growth of businesses providing horses for the movement of goods. Those dealing in this business had a good income, and some even became rich. Over the years, Yedinitz had an important place in the commercial life in Bessarabia. The tobacco industry also bloomed in town in those days.
Large quantities of tobacco leaves grown in the area were brought to town, dried, cut, and sold in Yedinitz and surroundings to avoid paying taxes. We must not forget the taverns that quenched the thirst of the non-Jewish population from town and nearby villages. Of course, there were also Jews who liked to drink, but they did not get drunk.
In those days, the representative of the regime was the chief of police. He was the highest authority, and everything worked according to his decisions. Fortunately for the Jews, this chief, like any other Russian authority figure, accepted bribes. Sometimes he even received a monthly stipend. He pretended not to notice any tax evasions or circumventing the law. There were bands of smugglers to Moldavia and Austria right under the noses of the authorities.
Eventually, the Russian authorities increased their supervision abilities and their battles with the bands of smugglers. Many of them were caught and exiled to Siberia. The remainder were scattered and disappeared from the area. Many years later, there were still families with an additional nickname, the Siberians, because their heads of the family had been exiled to Siberia. These people had managed to escape and returned to town, on foot, after a long trip of several years. The department in charge of tobacco, liquor, and wine did not sit quietly either. This was a new authority that cut down the income of the Jews dealing in that commerce. Still, even these clerks did not refuse bribes and pretended not to notice anything in this field.
It is known that during the Russo-Turkish war in 1866 -1870, when the Russian armies passed the town on their way to Romania, there were already Jewish tavern owners. They supplied the thirsty army with liquor, wine, and other needed items.
Relations with other ethnic groups in town were not always ideal. There were attacks against the Jews, but there was no killing or physical harm, only thievery and destruction. The Jews thought this was a good situation. The best relationships with our neighbors were with the Katzaps, but not with the Ukrainians, who hated the Jews and did not like the Jewish success. The Katzaps were an ancient Russian Orthodox sect that had left the official Orthodox Church and was persecuted by Peter the Great. It is possible that when they were escaping the wrath of the church, they settled in this God-forsaken area. It is possible that the name Yedinitz (only, single) came from this event. They were talented builders and made their living in municipal construction. Their suburb was close to the Jewish one. The pharmacies, especially, benefited from this closeness. The Katzaps knew how to work and drink, and how to get completely drunk.
They, together with their wives and adult children, used to spend Sundays (their payday) in the taverns. Their pay did not always make it home but remained in the cash register of the tavern. Despite their diligence and income, their area was the most neglected in town.
The lives of the first residents of Yedinitz were quiet and primitive. The estate owner tried to ameliorate the cultural situation in town. In 1890 he built an elementary school as well as a community center with a library and a theater. This place eventually became the high school building. In the new marketplace (separate from the old one in the center of the Jewish quarter) there was an annual exhibition. He also established a tea house in the center of the new marketplace. On market days, it supplied free hot water to everyone. Monday, a market day, was a source of income for the entire town. Thousands of farmers came from villages, near and far, to sell their products and to buy their supplies. Market day was also an opportunity for merchants who came from distant places to buy cattle, sheep, horses, furs, leather skins, and other agricultural products.
Casimir, heir of the estate and his representative, was a liberal and progressive man according to the times. He gave scholarships to study in distant and big cities and to gifted students whose parents could not afford to pay for their education. Many were able to get an education and a profession with his help. Zipporah Dobrov, z l, (nee Koifman) for example, traveled to Warsaw on such a scholarship. Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was under Tsarist Russian rule at the time. She graduated from a Kindergarten teachers' seminary and became the first kindergarten Hebrew teacher in Yedinitz. When she returned to her hometown, she, together with her husband Hillel Dobrov, z l, founded the first kindergarten as well as the first Hebrew school. They established the modern teaching methods which had not been seen before.
Beginning the oil production
The town lagged in industry. It was only in 1903 that the first industrial plant was built by Aharon Promislow. It was a factory for the production of oil. He was a Jew from Podolia who had traveled to Caucasus and other distant places in Russia for business reasons. When he was searching for new market locations, he arrived in Bessarabia. He saw that this area, with fertile land, was not well developed. He decided, therefore, that the area was good for the growth of sunflowers. In those days, these were the raw material to produce edible oil. He brought sunflower seeds, the best from Central Asia, and worked hard to convince the farmers and estate owners to grow them. During the following years, the growth of sunflowers in Bessarabia was rampant and the products were exported. Once the growing of sunflowers was established, factories were established to process the oil. They replaced the primitive oil presses. Thus, there was work for people, and the oil was transported to distant locations.
At the beginning of the century, there was already an indication among the youth groups that life should be on a different path. One should dream of getting an education, a profession, and knowledge. Since it was not possible to obtain these in town, many young people traveled to larger centers, where there were appropriate educational and cultural institutions in Jewish communities and under government authority. These offered external studies and the opportunity to pass final exams. Some even began to dream of university studies despite the laws limiting the number of Jews in federal educational institutions. This was called protzentaya norma, numerus clausus. The high school and university students who came home during vacations developed interesting cultural activities. They organized reading and declamation evenings.
In 1890, a theological school, the seminary for Russian Orthodox priests, was established. Those attending came from the surrounding area. They were young Christians who eventually became the source of anti-Semitism in town. Christmas and Easter eves always brought riots with the breaking of windows and the throwing of stones at Jews. Often it originated from the head priest.
Translated from the Hebrew by Ala Gamulka
|During Tsarist rule, the local leader, the elder, was similar to a mayor. He was a Christian, and working with him were representatives of various groups. It was their job to represent their group in front of the authorities and to serve as tax collectors.|
In 1900, the Jewish community had its first leader. He was Hirsch Veisman, who was followed by David Shechter. The latter was a tavern owner and conducted his business from his store. The elections for the position were held, naturally, in the synagogue. Even then, there was no lack of election fraud with all kinds of juggling and conspiracies. These were accompanied by banquets, and sometimes, even fistfights. Twice a year the district commander would visit the town, and this was one of the most important events in our life.
The Social Composition
The main social strata in the Jewish population were:
Synagogues and charitable institutions
The center of Jewish social life was, of course, the synagogue. In town, there were several charitable and aid institutions but most of them did their work in secret. Many people needed assistance. Sometimes they were honorable businessmen who went bankrupt or were in dire financial straits. Aid was given to them without publicity. When funds were collected, the donors were not told where the donation would go.
There were 16 synagogues in town. They were all filled to the brim on the holy days. However, on weekdays, sometimes prayers were canceled because there was no minyan. One synagogue, called The Big Shul or simply The Shul, was a large building, spacious, and with a round dome. It had been constructed in the previous century (editor's note: in the 1880s), like others in larger cities. However, it was never finished and it stood this way until the town was destroyed. The building lot had been donated by the estate owner when the town was small, poor, and with a small population. When it was built, it was in the center of the Jewish community.
It is important to mention the synagogue of Shmuel Loibman (Drutzer). He was a wealthy Jew, childless, and he invested his money in building a fancy home according to those times. He also built on the main street a magnificent two-story synagogue. There were, of course, many Shtiebels, just because.
The son-in-law of Loibman, Heinich Lerner, also a wealthy man, built a synagogue, but it was more modest.
Days of WWI
When WWI broke out in 1914, an economic crisis hit all towns in Bessarabia in general, and Yedinitz, in particular. The farmers were drafted by the army. The fields were only partly used due to a lack of workers. Commerce almost stopped and the town returned to sleepy days. There was a serious lack of income. It was only when the army passed through, that the town came to life, and commerce was renewed, for a short time. In addition to economic woes, there was also the problem of the draft. It was an intense situation and our people invented various ways of avoiding it: using sickness and disease excuses. The young people who avoided the draft and were hidden were nicknamed hares.
For three years, the town was frozen in its tracks. It was sleepy and almost completely separated from the rest of the world. There were rumors or news items from rare passersby's or a newspaper arriving late. Rumors chased rumors and were distributed everywhere: a military defeat, rebellion in the army, and a revolution in Russia.
Again, the town was inundated with fear and tension. Armies returned from the front, but they were undisciplined and disorderly. Among those who returned were rebels and those devoted to the regime. They meandered throughout Bessarabia. They left scorched earth behind them. Estates were burned down, and their owners were killed. The Jews were not spared. The villagers joined the rebels. They were interested in Jewish property.
These fearful days continued until the end of 1917. Then, without knowing the source of the equalization, a self-defense group was founded in the town. There were rumors that the idea was proposed and supported by the leader of the Cossacks, Pavlyuk. For some reason, he felt sorry for the fearful Jews. When the Cossacks left town, the Jews were left with pistols and guns. The young people, the butchers, and bakers who were known for their courage, organized themselves. They had stopped the attacks by villagers on market days in the past. In charge were the brothers Matityahu and Avraham Koifman. The town was divided into sections and guarding was done carefully. It was enough to dissuade the rioters from touching Jewish property. They were not always successful and there were some days of pogrom, of thievery, burning of Jewish property. I will not give details since others will describe them.
Translated from the Hebrew by Dafna Meltzer
|The concern about the return of the violence in town continued until March of 1918. On the 8th of March, the Romanian army appeared. The Jews rejoiced and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, there would be an end to the chaos that existed, and a stable government would take its place.|
|However, the Romanians were strangers to the Bessarabian citizens in their language, their lifestyle, and their pathetic army. Some of them were barefoot, holding a variety of weapons that did not look at all like the ones of the Russian army. But instead of order and security, the Romanians brought terror, oppression, death, and violence against the Jewish population, and others too, not just the Jews in the first few years of the Romanian annexation.|
This situation started on the very first day when they arrived. As soon as the rumor spread that the Romanian army was approaching, town residents stood at their front, with the elders holding Torah scrolls, bread, and salt as it is the custom, and went out to greet the new rulers. They stood at the entrance to the town to welcome the savior army. This was a detachment of gendarmes under the command of a Major by the name Dimitresku, who did not, as it was the custom, get down from his horse to receive the bread and salt that was presented to him and thank those who came to greet him. Instead, he touched the bread with the whip in his hand, and without returning the greeting, gave an order to disperse the population. This is to say, he turned away from those who came to welcome him.
On the spot, he announced a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Afterward, the crowd dispersed with heavy doubts in their hearts about the future.
Others have written extensively about the government's abuses in the first days after their arrival, so I will not dwell on this denigration and suffering.
Shortly after the well-known terrible events of the Seventh day of Passover in 1918 (which are described elsewhere in this book), a gendarme was shot on his way to a nearby village by an unknown assailant. A punishment squad surrounded the Katzapes Quarter, and ten residents were executed so that the people would see and know. However, this Dimitresku went overboard. After a while, he was replaced by his second-in-command, Capitan Dimitriu, who followed in his predecessor's steps but stayed clear of murder and blood spilling for no reason.
Everyday life started to return to its routine when the skies again lit up over Bessarabia. In December of 1918 partisan groups under the command of Kotovsky attacked Bessarabia. They crossed the Dniester River, conquered several villages, and advanced to the edge of Ocniţa. For three weeks the partisans managed to hold off the Romanian army, but in the end, they were forced to retreat to the other side of the Dniester. Again, the Romanians poured their fury on the Jewish leaders under the excuse that Kotovsky was a Jew born in Bessarabia.
The truth was that Kotovsky was born in one of the Christian villages in the Hotin region and was not Jewish.
Slowly things calmed down. The new government settled down, emergency measures were relaxed, and life started to change. A big change happened also in the life of the town. New contacts were established with other urban centers.
A close relationship was created with the city of Chernivtsi, the capital of Bucovina. Russian Jews who were used to suffer from discrimination, persecution, and pogroms, learned what free Jewish life could be. Chernivtsi opened a kind of window to Europe for Bessarabian Jews.
Commercial ties with the Romanian city of Iaşi, an important textile center, were strengthened. There, was also a large and organized Jewish community.
The integration of the Jews into the Romanian government, society, and customs was difficult the first few years because of several reasons:
Administrative system and civilian government
The new Romanian government established an administrative system of its own. During the transitional period and until the general elections happened, separate municipal units were created for each ethnic group. At the head of each such unit stood a Primar (city mayor), who in coordination with the government and a staff of clerks managed the affairs of his community and was the intermediary in front of the regional authorities. This system helped the Jews during that period. In the wake of the bloody events and the violence against the Jews in Podolia and Ukraine, groups of refugees started fleeing in the direction of Bessarabia. Even though the border was strictly guarded, professional smugglers in exchange for a large payment were successful in getting the refugees to the Romanian side. The border patrol was in cahoots with the smugglers. The leaders of the Jewish community were able to record in the city ledgers the names of the refugees, and thanks to their newly acquired documents, they were able to settle anywhere in the country. Young men subject to the conscription also benefited from this local government, so when the doors to Europe opened up, they were able to emigrate to the United States and South America, countries of freedom and wealth. The Primar was allowed to provide permission for a passport and with that, by falsifying the date of birth, they were able to evade army conscription and managed to leave the country. Commerce also improved. Commercial venues were improved, and new markets were created. The economy reached its zenith during the 1930s.
New clusters of Jewish organizations were formed in the town. The institutions, the parties, and the Zionist organizations were very active. All the Zionist fractions were active here and branches from all the youth movements were established: HaShomer HaTzair, which did not take root even though it was started in the year 1921 by Eliezer Reich (Ro'i) from the village of Zobrichan (Zăbriceni); Hatchyia from which Gordonia sprouted on the one hand, and Poalei Zion youth on the other; Beitar, etc. Others wrote about this at length elsewhere in this book.
Translated by David Goldman
Note : Among the community leaders (beginning in 1923), the following died in the Holocaust: Avraham Saltsman, Mottel Blomelstein, Yosef Speier, Itsik-Hersh Tchak, Avraham Axelrod, Zeide Zingman; Meir Horowitz (father of the author of this article) died in Yedinitz before the war. Lipa Felberg and Yeshayahu Lamatshinsky died in South America; Yaakov Greenberg died in Israel.
The relationship between the Zionist parties (Poalei Zion, Tzeirei Zion, Zionim Klalyim and others) was good, except for the election wars for the Zionist Congress. That is when the differences in ideology were shown. Every fraction worked tirelessly to raise more money than their opponent.
In the picture was also the Communist Party. Even though their numbers were less than in other towns, somehow Yedinitz took an important place in the blacklist of the Romanian secret service. The seeds of revolutionary communism arrived with those who came back from manufacturing centers in the bigger cities.
Most of those who espoused communism in Yedinitz were in the fringes of society, in poor economic situation and disillusioned, who held on to a charming idea of equality and freedom.
However, even some good families embraced this idea. From the beginning, they were salon communists, who spent their evenings in discussions about Marxism-Leninism.
But during the 1930s some of them joined revolutionary activities, mostly through the distribution of pamphlets and hanging of red flags.
The spiritual father of the movement in Yedinitz was Israel Rosenberg. This man, an agronomist by profession lost his job because of his religion, and while unemployed, would sit glued to his chair every day and talk about the ideas of Lenin and those like him. His broad knowledge and adherence to the Marxist theories were better than anybody else's and he was considered the unofficial leader of the Communist Party in the area.
Despite the persecution, the arrests, and the suffering of members of this movement, they remained faithful with a loyalty worthy of respect, even though they were arrested from time to time by the secret service, and many of its members spent time behind the walls of the Romanian prisons.
On the 1st of June in 1931, Prof. Iorga was elected Prime Minister. He was one of Romania's most prominent intellectuals, a history professor, and a fierce Jew-hater. This enlightened man was different from other nationalistic leaders in only that he did not preach violence and wanted to throw them to the sea and was satisfied only with claiming that the Jews should be stripped from their positions as outsiders on Romanian soil.
From the 1920s
With his election, he embarked on a campaign of persecution and oppression against leftists, communists, and assorted suspicious groups. A victim of this endeavor was the leader of Poalei Zion in Yedinitz, Shimshon Bronstein, who was jailed and tortured severely for three days in the basement of the Gendarmerie, and when he was rescued from this inquisition, was left without feeling in his legs (About this event and S. Bronstein others wrote in this book). Luckily, this government did not last long. In August of the same year, King Carol II removed Nicolae Iorga as Prime Minister. The liberal party under the leadership of Vintilă Brătianu took over the government. Once more, there was a measure of calm in the Jewish life, and public and national activities returned to their normal prior routine.
The Jews of Yedinitz lived a quiet and calm life until the end of 1937. Even though the Law of Debt Waiver that was passed in 1934 because of the drought that afflicted Bessarabia and Romania for three consecutive years to help the dire situation of the farmers hurt particularly hard the Jewish merchants, to whom the farmers owed money for merchandise, loans, and advances given on future crops. However, after a while, they were able to recover.
Translated from the Hebrew by Ala Gamulka
|On December 18, 1937, King Karol II transferred the power to the leaders of the Anti-Semitic party, to the enemies Cuza and Goga. The first order by the government was the strict checking of the citizenship of all Jews residing in Bessarabia and Bucovina. Every Jewish citizen had to prove, with official documents, that he was a permanent resident of his home on March 8, 1918 (the day Bessarabia was annexed by Romania). Justices of the Peace were authorized to approve or to deny these papers. Those examined could lose their citizenship and their properties would be appropriated. Jewish lawyers were not allowed to represent them in court.|
The government even planned to transfer businesses to Christians. Many Jews in Yedinitz had been born in Podolia or Russia, and it was difficult to prove their citizenship. Also, many families were refugees from Ukraine in 1918 and their citizenship was also in doubt.
Unfortunately, the local judge died. People had looked to him to alleviate the condition of many Jews. He was born in a village nearby, studied in Yedinitz, and was a Justice of the Peace there for many years. He even liked Jews. In February 1938 rumors spread that the new justice would be Al. Crocus. The only thing known about him was that he had been born in Kishinev and was a Russian with a Greek background. There was strong speculation about him. The fate of the community would be in his hands. Was it good or bad for the Jews?
The campaign for rescuing the situation and finding contact with the authorities in charge of the matter was done by the leaders of the community. Its chairperson, Lipa Felberg, z l, worked hard to achieve success. It was well known by everyone that there was no use, even starting on this campaign, without money, i.e., bribery. It was decided to collect a large sum. A head tax was levied on every head of the family (each one according to his ability). In addition, messengers were sent to those families that had moved elsewhere from Yedinitz. For administrative reasons, they still belonged to the town. Among them were many refugees from Ukraine, who were deemed to be residents of Yedinitz, but had done well financially. A great deal of funds streamed to the community. The technical work, the legal counseling, directing, and help were concentrated on the community premises.
That year I was working in Beltz. On February 20, 1938, I received a telegram from the chairperson, Mr. Felberg, to come immediately to Yedinitz. There was no explanation. In our home members of the board were already waiting for me. They informed me that Crocus had been appointed as Chief Justice of the Peace in our town. I was also told that I must oversee organizing the community in citizenship matters as well as to be the representative of the community to the authorities. It turned out that I knew the designated judge from Beltz. He had been a neighbor of my family in whose house I resided. When he came to Yedinitz for his first visit, he wanted to know if I was there. This led the leaders to the conclusion that I was the right person for this position. I knew the justice of the peace, and I had the right background for the position. I undertook the task.
It is hard to believe to what lengths we went to prepare these documents, even to invent proofs of the residence of a person living in Yedinitz at the specific time. For example, there were statements by the sexton of the synagogue that a person had attended since a specific year and that he inherited his seat from his father, who had gotten it from his father; or a document from the Chevra Kadisha that a monument of his father or mother or grandfather stood in the cemetery and who had died in Yedinitz in a specific year; or that a real estate deed from a certain year was signed in front of a local rabbi or Dayan, etc. All these arrangements were done with the approval of the chief justice, who had promised to accept the documents as true and legal.
This chief justice of the peace should be recognized among the Righteous of the world and have an honorable place in the history of Yedinitz. He helped, with loyalty and commitment, the Jewish community in difficult times.
The two sections of Yedinitz, at the Jewish town ("Targ") and the non-Jewish village ("Sat") were part of a rural council. Every section was a "village" from a municipal point of view. This is where the odd name of the Jewish section originates: Municipality of the village Yedinitz, the town.
The Anti-Semitic Fascist government of Cuza-Goga did not last. After six months, it was replaced by the King with a Liberal Party headed by Duka. The latter had a proper attitude towards the Jews, but he was shot in the Bucharest train station by a nationalistic student. His successor, Vintila Bratianu, did not cancel the law but it was not so forcefully enforced. The last files to be issued were done at the end of 1939, but there were still court cases pending in district courts even in 1940.
On Thursday, 26 June 1940, it was announced on radio Bucharest that the Soviet government had given an ultimatum to the Romanians. They were to get out of Bessarabia and Bucovina within two days. As the last Romanian soldiers were making their way back home, the first Russian tanks appeared. There are other sections of this book that describe the fate of the Jews of Yedinitz during Soviet times.
This was the end of a beautiful era in the history of the Jews of Yedinitz. A new story began, one of terrible suffering, tortures, and death in foreign lands.
[Page 67 - Hebrew] [Page 115-Yiddish]
by Eliyahu Naor-Bitchutsky
Translated from the Hebrew by Naomi Gal
|Donated by Bruce and Shayna Steinfeld and their families in memory of his Great-Grandfather, Swraga Forvish Lerner and Great-Grandmother, Chaya Rapoport, and their Yedinitz Lerner family: Rose, Anna, Aaron, Avram, Moshe, Zachary and Simon and the families of Avram and Moshe, who lived in Yedinitz during the Shoah and were deported to Transnistra, some who survived and some who perished; may their memories be a blessing.|
|August 1914. We moved to the new house we built near the church in the center of town (in Torhovitsa). That same day, as we finished moving all our possessions to the new house, we heard people talk about the draft call-up notices that had appeared on the streets. In the evening, Alik the announcer accompanied by a drummer proclaimed that all citizens of a certain age group had to appear the next day at the draft registration offices. We, the children, ran after Alik, the announcer, and the drummer, without yet knowing what the news meant. This children's game and the harsh experiences of the drumbeats informed the village that World War I had begun. I was 7 years old.|
In 1916 they confiscated our bakery and made us bake black bread mixed with barley flour and dried in the oven. If I remember correctly, they brought thousands of empty bags we had to fill with these black dried rusks, hard as rocks. The bags were loaded on carriages, which were confiscated too, and taken to the train station 18 kilometers away from the village.
Drafting into the army was now at an earlier and earlier age. Some young men maimed their bodies or gave the enlisting committee money so that they would not have to serve. Some youngsters wandered around at night without food and living on tea and crumbs so that they became too thin to be enlisted in the army. I remember them coming to our bakery in the evenings sitting around and sipping tea, others just paid a ransom.
In those days, horror stories circulated about the war and the people used to curse the Austro-Hungarians and Emperor Wilhelm.
We were really shocked the day my mother's cousin came back from the battlefield missing a leg. He stayed in bed at our house for a month until he could go back home.
Moshe, my brother, turned 17 then and the rumor was that they intended to draft 17 years-old boys. Our home became despondent. Mother traveled with Moshe to Odessa and paid a large sum of money so that he will be accepted at an ammunition factory which made sure he will not be sent to the front. This was a crucial turning point, which took him away from home, from his family, and his Jewish heritage. At the factory, he received a communist education, and for a while, he was one of the biggest revolutionaries who took part in conquering Odessa and taking the city away from the White Russians. He stayed in Odessa as a faithful revolutionary, and according to rumors, this is where he raised a family. But he never came back to us, and we lost all trace of him.
The war was spreading with all its might, and its echoes reached our village. One summer evening that year we were lying on the ground, that is what we did, fearing shootings and shelling when we heard the cannons roar. That summer, it was 1916, all the village citizens were enlisted, Jews and Goyim, to dig trenches to protect us from airstrikes.
We heard through the grapevine that the front was getting closer to us.
One day at the beginning of February 1917, the revolution broke. Suddenly, we were sent home from school before noon. The village was full of sounds and fury. Panicked policemen were running around the streets. Shouts from all sides reached us: Freedom and Red. A policeman came running into our bakery, got hold of Emperor Nikolai's picture which was hanging on the wall, tore it to pieces, threw it on the ground, and jumped on it while cursing the emperor, screaming Death to the Emperor and Long live freedom! After several days, a revolution parade against the Czar was held and a big celebration too, accompanied by an orchestra and fiery revolutionary speeches in the public garden.
Troops of soldiers passed the village on their way to the battlefields in Romania and others came back from the fighting. One of these battalions was somehow stuck in the village, and the soldiers were lodged in Jewish homes. In our home, we had three officers and a Tatarian sergeant.
And again, a parade was held in the streets, this time organized by the different branches of the revolution, but the soldiers and the officers participated in it as well. Every now and then they shot in the air. The Tatarian sergeant was a good-hearted guy. He loved me very much and took me to the parade. He held me close to him and shot now and then with his gun in the air, as did the other soldiers, and he let me push the trigger, too. This is how the revolutionary parade went on, accompanied by an orchestra, shooting in the air and shouting: Death to the Emperor, Long Live Freedom! In some streets, stages were erected, and from them Jews and Goyim gave speeches, but most of them were Jews. I was ten and a half years old back then.
But this sweet freedom did not last. The Czar regime expired. Serbia, as a province of the Russian Empire, was very far away from the center and the main political events. The known order was uprooted, and anarchy sprouted, germinating like weed after rain.
The scapegoats of the regime's changes and dismantling were always the Jews. The previous local government was expelled and there was not yet a new, stable one that could protect and guard the safety of all the inhabitants of the village. Dark social forces came out of the shadows as if they waited for the opportunity to take revenge on the Jews. The start of 1918 brought forth trepidation and problems for the Jews: the pogroms began.
On February 17, there were rumors that a pogrom was about to take place in the village. They said in the synagogue (we prayed in Hosotin) that defense groups against the rioters were being organized.
The same day, the rumors proved to be true. Echoes of screams, cries, beatings and the breaking of doors and shutters could be heard. They came mainly from the eastern part of the village, where the Jews lived the pogrom had started. The rioters came mostly from the Christian neighborhoods on the outskirts of the village. It was said that the butchers and the carriages' drivers, equipped with iron and wooden rods, went out to fight the rioters, preventing them from approaching the houses. In the other parts of the village, an escape and panic began. People locked themselves in and waited for their impending fate. We did not sleep that night. It was a night of great fear. Family relatives from distanced streets came to us, to the center. We went up to the second floor of the house and sat all night wrapped in coats and blankets. The women were weeping, and we, the children, were dazed and did not utter a word.
In the morning the stores were still open, but life did not go back to normal. The atmosphere was oppressed and full of gunpowder. We got detailed information about what happened in the evening and at night on the eastern part of the village that was robbed, and about which of the Christian friends looted as well. The Christians went on to torment and promised that this is just the beginning, and the main course is on the way.
There was an army battalion camped next to the village. Some said they camped on the boulevard. These were soldiers who returned from the front between Romania and Bulgaria. It was said that the battalion's commander refused to help the Jews. Another rumor claimed that on Thursday evening the pogrom would spread to the village's center. And indeed, this is what happened, and even worse.
On Thursday evening it was communicated at the synagogue that we should all convene in the house of one of our neighbors so that self-defense could be organized. My brother announced he was going to the meeting and that he does not know when he would be back. I understood he was going to the self-defense meeting. I followed him without his noticing. I entered quietly to that house and listened to what was said. All the weapons the Jews had were a few guns and one shotgun with bullets. It was decided to go out to the neighboring streets to face the rioters so that they could not get to the center. I followed my brother, keeping my distance, so I could see what was going on, not knowing exactly what to expect. The streets were empty, and I lost sight of my brother. Suddenly, I found myself all alone in the street. I burst out crying. Luckily, a woman (Pearl Hohenberg) passed by and took me home. Of course, at home, there was panic and fear for my safety, and everyone was delighted to see me.
At home, I found relatives and neighbors with their children. To be on the safe side, we again climbed up to the second floor. The lights were turned off and all of us were in the dark. In the bakery downstairs, below us, work went on as usual. Suddenly, we heard wild screams and curses in the street. The rioters managed, despite the guards, to reach the village's center. That is when my brother came back with his gun. We felt a relief. The rioters penetrated our house, but when they saw that bread was being baked, they did no damage anything and continued toward the neighbors' houses and shops. We looked through the windows watching what was going on down in the street, and it was shocking: the breaking of the shops' doors, pillaging and grabbing whatever they found. One group arrived across from our house at the line of the shops that were all under the same roof, 18 stores and homes. Some people lived on the first floor. The group began with the first store (Avraham Gandler's store) on the right and looted it. Then, they broke into the haberdashery store owned by R' Moshe Lerner, and when they went in, we saw them pouring liquids from bottles on the merchandise that they had not yet been taken out and lit it. The fire burst fiercely, and at once spread to all the adjacent buildings that were mostly made of wood. Once the fire began, it spread rapidly from one store to the other. The Jews ran outside and tried to extinguish the fire, but the Christian rioters prevented them from doing so.
Unexpectedly, a man riding a horse arrived, a Jew whose name as far as I can remember was Brazin, and he held two handguns. This sudden apparition surprised the rioters, who were frightened and began to escape. The work of containing the fire started, but the meager means the fire extinguishers had, could not help prevent the spreading of this hellish fire. The fire raged all night and even the whole next day. Everything crumbled and burned. The line of what were stores and houses became one shocking debris.
In the evening, again Russian soldiers arrived. It was Shabbat's Eve, and the pogrom continued still in different parts of the village while at the center of town there was a respite. A group of drunk soldiers and officers entered our house. One soldier loaded a gun and aimed it at my Aunt Golda. My mother began screaming hysterically. Luckily, one of the officers grabbed the gun and, on top, granted the soldier some colorful Russian curses. After they were treated to hot tea, they left the house and went on.
On Saturday evening, again a group of Jews assembled for self-defense. It was said that some Christians joined the defense. They blocked several streets in the farthest neighborhoods and prevented the rioters from entering the village. The next day, on Sunday, many Jews began to escape to the surrounding villages, believing that they would be safe there. Other Jews went to the synagogue to say psalms. In our house, many women gathered and began reciting pleas and different prayers. In the afternoon the pogrom was renewed in the rich part of the village, on Posta Street. The main pillaging was at the big store belonging to Yehiel Kligman. Only on Monday did soldiers arrive again and intervened to halt the pogrom. The looting and robbing stopped.
Although life went on, the atmosphere was heavy with horror and fear of the future.
One day, at noon, three Circassian riders approached our home, making all kinds of antics and stunts on their horses. The Circassians rode their horses up the stairs leading to the bakery. A neighbor alerted the council members that they had weapons. One of the officers ordered my father to supply bread for his whole battalion, free of charge. My father claimed he did not have that much bread. Another officer pulled a handgun, pointed it at my father's chest, and said: Bread or death. Luckily, at that moment, a group of the council members arrived holding weapons, took the officers outside, and somehow managed to assuage them. Hence, we lived days and months of fear, terror, and trepidation from the unknown, until the new rulers, the Romanians, arrived.
Under the Romanians Rule
The Romanians began their rule cruelly and murderously, not only toward Jews. Here are some examples of their brutal actions.
One day, a rumor spread that they are looking for a red-bearded Jew suspected of plotting against the authorities. My father, who unfortunately had a red beard, had to hide for two days on the second floor of the house, not daring to venture outside. One morning, soldiers were checking the cleanness around the houses and the stores. Next to one of the stores, near the Hosotin Synagogue, they found scattered papers. The owner of the store, a Jewish woman, was summoned to the police station. Her punishment was 25 lashes.
It was announced that each citizen who owned weapons and ammunition had to bring them to the police and whoever ignored this decree could pay with his life. To find out if there were firearms, the authorities conducted surprised searches in Jewish homes. Berl Rimmer (Berl the cobbler) lived near us. He used to buy from the army surplus special leader belts with holes for machine gun bullets. The neighbors warned Berl he should get rid of this kind of merchandise in these dismal times and that there was no justification or logic to keep such belts at home. Berl, on the other hand, laughed and claimed: but these do not shoot! The soldiers conducted thorough searches in all the houses. When they entered Berl Rimmer's house, they found the belts and demanded the bullets as well, no more no less, proclaiming he had them too, and that he must give them at once. It did not help that Berl said time and again that he knows nothing about the bullets. He was arrested and condemned to death by shooting. I remember the terrifying sight when they came to take him from his house. They shackled his hands, and Bhatia, his wife, was crying bitterly, as well as the children and all the neighbors. They led him chained along Posta Street, outside of town, where they were going to execute him. It was only with a huge sum of ransom money that it was possible to save his life at the very last minute. Truth be told, quite a few Christians were executed for conspiring against the new regime.
Close to Passover, it was said that a high-ranking officer from the central government arrived at the village to check the situation of the local Romanian rulers and their treatment of the population.
On the eve of the seventh day of Passover was published a proclamation in the synagogue, which said, that on the following day at eight in the morning all the town's citizens, Jews and non-Jews, should convene near the authorities' offices to file their complaints to the high-ranking officer so he could punish those responsible for the cruelties toward the residents. Two camps were formed among the Jews, one for filing the complaints and the other against. Shimon (I forgot his last name) the mayor, prayed in our synagogue. When they found out about the proclamation at the synagogue, the mayor got up I remember it as if it were yesterday his face pale, shaking, and begging the congregants not to dare go there because it was all planned ahead and that the consequences were going to be dire. On the seventh of Passover in the morning, when I arrived at the synagogue, I found it completely empty, only one man was there, Rabinowitz, who lived across the street from us and owned a fabric store. He was putting on his Tallit and prayer book on his stand. I asked him where all the others were. He said they went to demonstrate and file complaints to the high-ranking officer who arrived against the Commandant, the village ruler, and that all the inhabitants went united. I accompanied him to Posta Street and when we reached the corner next to Dudel Kolker we saw two Jews coming, an old white-haired man and a Yeshiva student (I forgot their names) who were arriving from the public bath. Rabinowitz stepped off the pavement and joined the two, and the three of them went up the street. I was still a child and I walked on the pavement, and so I reached Korochkin's movie house. I could not find my father there. There was a multitude of people, thousands of them. Suddenly people started to run frantically. I saw from far away horsemen riding horses. I ran home as fast as I could. My father was not yet there. Meanwhile, we found out that soldiers riding horses surrounded the demonstrating masses, and other soldiers began catching whoever they could lay their hands on. The feeling was dreadful. After an hour my father returned and said that a soldier was already holding him, but since it was so crowded with people escaping, he managed somehow to free himself of the soldier's grip and run home.
They said that the soldiers caught 30 Jews. They led them outside of town, next to the river. The first thing they did was to bestow each one of them with 25 lashes, then, they decided to shoot them all. They were already brought to their knees. A delegation of dignitaries went at once to the new commandant, and after an exhausting negotiation and a large payoff, he agreed to shoot only three of them. Each tenth by count will be executed, he ruled. And the three who were murdered in cold blood were Rabinowitz, the old man, and the young one. Among those thirty was also Reuven Perez Grossman, our neighbor, who was saved by a miracle from certain death, and afterward, every year on the seventh day of Passover held a saving party.
This article arrived at the editorial a few weeks before Eliyahu, Dov Dondoshensky-Dori, and two of their friends stepped on a mine that Arab terrorists hid in the banana plantation of Kibbutz Masada, which took their lives on March 29, 1968.
by Aryeh Barad
Translated from Hebrew by Asher Szmulewicz
|I am a Yedinitzer although I was not born in this town, even not in Bessarabia. I was born in Zamchov, Ukraine, whose Jewry was also annihilated during the Holocaust of our people. This memory is in retrospect a kind of remembrance for its martyrs. I became a permanent resident of this country, the one so-called Bessarabia, in 1924. And since then, I have found a love for its simple working Jews, scholars, and educated people.|
I keep a special affection in my heart for Yedinitz and its Jewish inhabitants; they welcomed me heartily and helped me to become one of its citizens. I got acclimated very fast and I became one of its Jews. Thus, I feel I have the right and the duty to recall some things from this blessed period when I lived there the Jewish life, full of strength and vigor, full of Zionism and energy.
I felt since I came to the town that I lived among my people. When I arrived in Yedinitz, it was just after it was conquered from the Russians by the Romanians, when they murdered in cold blood three Jews who did not do anything wrong. The event is well known. The Romanians used to whip various offenders, even criminals. One of those who was whip-lashed by the Romanians was my father-in-law, Reb Chaim Shechter, may his soul rest in peace, or how he was known by the town inhabitants: Chaim Yenkel Helers.
I was curious to know how a Jew would react to such an insult. So with infinite precaution, I spoke about the event with my father-in-law, zl. I was amazed by his reaction, which was a kind of lessening the importance of the event. Here are his words: What can you expect from a nation that looks like a donkey? This attitude is typical of an observant Jew whose Jewishness is above everything, thus no insult can break his mind, which is strong as a rock.
In Yedinitz all the Zionist movements were active, starting from Poalei Zion to the Revisionists and the youth pioneer organizations: Gordonia, Dror, Jung-Bar, HaShomer Ha Tsair, etc I was in touch with all the organizations and movements.
Therefore, I would like to recall these people, the ones who were the Zionist organization leaders and which thanks to their blessed activities we are living now in our independent country.
I will start with the elder Zionist in Yedinitz, Reb Avram Milgrom, zl. He was part of the right-wing of the movement General Zionists.
Reb Avram Milgrom, zl, was known for his opposition to what was called the Workers of Eretz Israel. I remember him expressing his opinion by calling David Ben Gurion by the nicknameDoodel Green. Nevertheless, Reb Avram Milgrom, zl, was one of the great Zionists in Yedinitz, one who he did a lot in favor of the Zionist funds such as Keren HaYesod and Keren Kayemet. Although he was already seventy years old, he did not miss a single Zionist meeting. In his old age, he had the merit to make Aliyah. Once I had the luck to see him at my kibbutz, Yagur. In our discussion, he said that he changed his mind about his former beliefs on the Workers of Eretz Israel. He was interested in the living and working conditions adopted by the kibbutz and emphasized, that he was wrong in his opposition to the pioneers building the homeland.
Of course, I cannot skip the outstanding teacher Reb Hillel Dovrov, zl. He managed from his house in Yedinitz to institute a kind of full Eretz Israel life, and Hebrew was a living language in his home. He was an important person in the Zionist movement, a member of the Youth of Zion. In all small or big Zionist movements, the decisions would be taken according to his opinion. He succeeded in many ways where others did not: He made Aliyah with his family, his wife, and children. In Israel, he continued to work in his important and blessed enterprise. He educated his children, a son, and several daughters with the love of the nation. He passed away in Israel at an old age.
I need to recall Reb Yaakov Yankel Rabin, zl: An enthusiastic Zionist with liberal views, who was a member of the General Zionists, although there was a concern for his family and livelihood. Israel and Zionism were always at the forefront of his mind. He used to come to me, to the wood warehouse, and say: I came to buy from you, on the condition that we can speak a bit about the day-to-day matters. Reb Yankel Rabin did not have the chance to make Aliyah.
Reb Ben Tzion Teiman, zl, was heartily and spiritually fully devoted to Zionism. He was conservative in his views and did not excel to get close to the Zionist pioneer youth movement. However, he was involved in all events. For many years, he oversaw the United Jewish Appeal and coordinated all its activities. His dream of doing Aliyah did not come to fruition.
There was in Yedinitz a particular Zionist delegate, Levi Tsinman. He was not the regular type of Zionist; he was all fire and flame. Zionism was burning in all his bones. He participated in all appeals, also as a big donor, and in all Zionist activities although he was also, forgive his honor, a big recipient. Suddenly, he became a fervent revisionist.
I remember an episode that attested to his temper and generosity. It was during the period Yes we break from the Revisionists. The Revisionists forbade their members from contributing to all the Zionist fundraising. Every Chol HaMoed Pesach throughout Bessarabia there were popular fundraisings for the Pioneers and the Revisionists, who also prohibited their members from contributing to this cause.
Levi Tsinman approached me and told me: I owe you a debt. I remembered that some time ago I sold him wood from the warehouse, and he did not repay the balance of the debt. I wanted to draw his attention to his mistake. However, he went on before I could speak: You forgot that right now there is the Pioneers fundraising? I owe you a contribution. Levi Tsinman contributed his part, and I gave him a receipt. He only asked me not to expose his sin in public. Where are you, Levi Tsinman? Did you have the merit to be buried in Israel?
When speaking about Yedinitz, how can we not remember Lioba Gokovski, the energetic pioneer? Nothing was too difficult for him, and he took every work seriously, was in the service of the nation and the kibbutz, or was there to save his fellow Jews, etc. He devoted his life to these goals. He worked in a quarry, as a shepherd, was Lioba the secretary, Lioba the paratrooper landing in the Nazi enemy territory during World War II, Lioba with the illegal immigrants in Cyprus, Lioba preparing himself to travel for a mission for the movement in America. And then a tragedy happened. This fruitful life was cut in the middle. Of course, this shortlist does describe only a hint of Lioba's rich life full of contents. His full life is written in his book To What I was Called.
Seated: Hillel Dobrov (died in Israel), Manya and Shalom Kaspi (Herzliya), Bat-sheva Kliger (died in Brichan), Moshe Steinbrotz (died in the USSR)
And here our great friend passed away: Shimshon Bronstein. I recall the hasty and bitter day at the beginning of May 1931 when the infamous Security Services, the Sigurnitza, arrested him, accused him of being a Communist, and tortured him like during the Inquisition. He withstood with superhuman bravery the tortures. This event was published by all world newspapers and dealt with by the British Parliament. This event will be registered as a warning page in the Jewish and Zionist history.
I will not go on recalling people because of the limited space. Not only the active Zionists should be remembered, but all the Yedinitz Jews, simple naive people, people with the lust of life, people with hearts and wisdom, by their sweat brought subsistence to their family, and who knew how to overcome calamities and troubles.
Where are you, Yedinitz Jews? How were we to bereave? Is there from our pain an ailment? Is there a way to express the burning insult, orphanhood, and bereavement of an entire people?
Aryeh Leib Barad passed away, being seventy years old, on Kaf Tet Sivan Tav Shin Lamed Bet (June 6, 1972) in Kibbutz Yagur, whom he was a member since his Aliyah in 1935. (See the section: People and Personalities)
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