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[Page 165]

Shimshon: The Man and the Activist

by Yosef Magen-Shitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Dafna Meltzer

Eulogy translated from the Hebrew by David Goldman

Donated by Robin Hammer in memory of my grandmother, Evelyn Kwasha Goldstein, her sister, Berta Kwasha Stein, her mother, Basia “Bessie” Bronstein Kwasha Ceppos, her uncle, Shimshon Bronstein, and her grandfather, Yekhiel 'Alta' Bronstein. May their memories be a blessing.

Taken from the eulogy given on the Shloshim (thirty days) from his passing:

Shimshon Bronstein, z”l was a rare example of an idealistic and consistent public activist. He combined the wonderful but destroyed traditions of Russian Jewry. He was imbued with the spirit of Jewish and general liberalism that existed in Odessa before the Revolution. He went through the smelting furnace and pressures of the Days of Spring following the Svoboda [Freedom] Movement after the fall of the Czar. He was also inspired with a deep Jewish nationalism that sprouted in his native Bessarabia – a land filled with simplicity and forthrightness, loyalty, and friendliness, just like its fields and forests, its mountains, muddy rivers, and rugged roads; and just like its colorful villages and dusty towns that struggled for daily existence in the hot summers and buried in knee-deep snow in the winters.

He was born in Bessarabia in the town of Sokyriany, in the home of merchants well versed in Torah but without fanaticism. From here we take that his simple dedication to Judaism, to its people, and to the hope for redemption comes from his parents' home. He tied his life and his fate to a second family: the family of the woman of his youth, Golda Kozminer, whom we all admired as he did, from a family of educated artists and enlightened teachers.

 

Yed0165.jpg
Protest in Warsaw: in the newspaper of the Poalei-Zion organization (right) in Poland “באפרייונג ארבעטער שטימע” (Warsaw) on June 10, 1932, there was a notice about a protest against the terror in Romania (following the torture of our comrade Shimshon Bronstein in Yedinitz)

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From here originated his affinity to working people and his conviction that we must stand with them, the struggle for the betterment of their lifestyle within the local possibilities, and to the fight for a better and just future for humanity.

In Odessa, before the First World War and at the time of the revolution, he learned to recognize the workers' movement, the yearning for social reward, and the attraction of socialism. In the same liberal Odessa, he absorbed the uncompromising loyalty toward the principles of democracy and freedom. Here, combined with his ideals of socialism and democracy.

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Odessa was in those days, as in the past, also an incubator of Jewish and Hebrew culture, religious and secular, at the same time. Odessa was also the cradle of “practical” Zionism. The port of Odessa was one of the main gateways to the Aliyah of the members of the Second Aliyah. From this, his adherence to the advanced Jewish-National aspirations anchored in the modern Jewish Culture that were created in the two national languages of the Diaspora, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and in a Zionism of performance, immigration, and labor.

When all these sources of spirituality combined, it was natural that Shimshon would find his own public way to the Zionist-Socialist movement, the “Poalei-Zion,” faithful to Zionism and to Democratic Socialism, to the immigration to Israel, to connections with the labor organizations in young Israel, to the affinity to “the working people” and so forth, and the admiration of popular culture, both in Yiddish and Hebrew.

 

Yed0167a.jpg
 
Yed0167b.jpg
Shimshon Bronstein z”l and Golda (nee Kozminer) z”l

 

Yed0167c.jpg
Yehiel Bronstein,
father of Shimshon Bronstein z”l

 

Shimshon Bronstein z”l

Biographical details

Shimshon Bronstein was born in 1892 in Sekoran (today Sokyryany) to grain-merchant parents, Yehiel (who died in the Holocaust) and Yenta (died in 1935). He studied basic Jewish and general studies in Sekoran and continued in Odessa. There he joined “Poalei-Zion” and participated in the Russian revolution. At the time the parents lived in the village of Golen, near Yedinitz. Shimshon, who returned in 1918 from Russia to Bessarabia, lived in Yedinitz. In 1924 he married Golda nee Kozminer. In Yedinitz Shimshon immediately became one of the first activists involved in public and Zionist activities. He started a branch of “Poalei-Zion” in the town and was able to see the expansion of the movement when former members of “Hatechiya” joined. In 1930 he was elected to represent Bessarabia in the First World Congress for Israel that took place in Berlin. In 1932 he was arrested by the Romanian gendarmes, was accused of communism, was severely tortured, and spent many weeks in different hospitals. The incident created strong waves even outside the country. After a short period being active in the movement in Chernivtsi, Shimshon returned to Yedinitz for a brief period and then moved with Golda to Israel in 1936, where he suffered some disappointments until he was able to find work; at the end, he found work in “Keren Hayesod.” As a result of the torture while he was jailed Shimshon always felt “weak”; as a matter of fact, he never fully recovered from the torture until the day he died. In Israel he was also active in the Histadrut, Mapa”i, among those from Bessarabia, and in the organization of Yedinitz émigrés; he was one of the organizers of a committee to write the book. He passed away after a prolonged illness on the ז” טבת תשכ"ה (January 6, 1968). He was 76.

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After World War I, the movement “Poalei-Zion” was not well organized in Bessarabia. There remained some pockets, or individuals, who kept in their heart the memory of belonging to an all-Russian movement. There were some of those also in our town, in Yedinitz, who brought with them such memories from other parts. As far as myself is concerned, I am a witness to this because my father and teacher, Moshe, who was called Moshkeh Shitz, z”l, was active in “Poalei-Zion” in my birthplace, Soroki, where he worked with one of the veterans of the movement, Professor Shalom Goldelman, who was then, in the “Fifth” revolutionary year, still a young student. My father used to tell often of “Shulka” and “Borie” (Borochov) whom, I think, he once heard a lecture. Shimshon brought his experiences to us, belonging to “Poalei-Zion” from Odessa.

After the war, when Bessarabian Jews were cut off from the Russian Jews, the Bessarabian Jews started seeking a connection to the rest of the Jews in the “Greater” Romania. They sought, and they found. In Bessarabia, they created the independent centers of the entire social rainbow of Judaism and Zionism. However, there was no organized center for “Poalei- Zion.”

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There was a lack of something like a labor union for the working Jew, which was the social basis of “Poalei-Zion.” The issue of labor in Israel was carried by “Ze'irei-Zion” (Zionist Youth) who were organized immediately after the war and were very active; they attracted the youth and created the “Halutz” (pioneer). The first Halutzim (Pioneers), particularly the refugees from Ukraine, belonged from an ideological point of view to “Ze'irei-Zion.” In “Ze'irei-Zion” were the ones who started the daily Jewish newspapers (in Yiddish) in Kishinev. They carried the burden of Hebrew education, which fell as a victim to Romanization; to them belonged the Hebrew teachers who were almost everywhere (and there wasn't a single Jewish community without a Hebrew teacher) and were members of “Ze'irei-Zion.”

However, both in Bukovina and in the capital of the old Austrian province, Chernivtsi, which was annexed like Bessarabia to the “Great” Romania, existed an important center of “Poalei-Zion,” a vestige of the old Austrian-Galician movement. The rift between “Poalei-Zion-Right,” a socialist democratic party close to “Ahdut Avodah” in Israel, and “Poalei-Zion-Left” that sought an entry into the world of Communism, took place there.

In Chernivtsi during the years of the split, in 1921-1922, there were actual street fights accompanied by the taking of clubs and their contents between the two fractions of “Poalei-Zion.” For the most part, the leaders (I will mention here one, Dr. Shlomo Bikel[a]) and the “members” switched to “Left.” This “Left” eventually was absorbed by Communism. On the other hand, the Right, even though it ended up with fewer members, reorganized and continued its existence and waited for the opportunity to expand. Let's mention a prominent personality of “Poalei-Zion-Right” of those days: Ze'ev Sharf[b], youth organizer, who moved to Israel in 1926. He was one of the founders of socialism in Israel and engaged in a wide range of social, security, and public activities.

Remnants of “Poalei-Zion” in Bessarabia looked for, and found, a connection to the center in Chernivtsi.

Shimshon found immediately a connection to Chernivtsi. He would receive from there the Zionist newspapers, circulars, and pamphlets which at the time were party-specific (the “Poalei-Zion” pamphlets were red) to distribute in the town and its surroundings. Shimshon was also in touch with the remnants of “Poalei-Zion” members that were still in town, and who among them, as mentioned, was also my father Moshe.

I remember, when I was a young boy of about 13-14, that Shimshon came to our house to discuss with my father the issue of the distribution of the “Poalei-Zion” literature.

I cannot speculate whether my connection to “Poalei-Zion” derives directly from my father's home. Indeed, there I heard for the first time about the organization and its principles. My own path to Labor Zionism was by way of the youth movement “Hatechiyah.”

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From the moment all the branches of “Hatechiyah” in Bessarabia combined with “Gordonia” under the influence of “Ze'irei-Zion,” we, the branch of “Hatechiya” in the Hotin county, connected after a short period of independence with “Poalei-Zion” in Chernivtsi and stayed there. Even though I was the primary force behind the split[1], Shimshon Bronstein was the intermediary between this fraction and “Poalei-Zion.”

Shimshon participated in almost all of the conferences of “Poalei-Zion” in Bukovina even before the organization was officially founded in Bessarabia. Once, when my father was in Chernivtsi for business while a conference of “Poalei-Zion” took place, Shimshon prevailed upon him to participate in it as a representative. I remember that my father told us at home what was said at this conference, and with admiration.

Being a party member, Shimshon participated in all fields of activity, both in general and Zionist in the town, collecting dues, holding meetings, working on “culture” and in the library; distributing literature even when a “single pamphlet” was established; and also, in activities for Israel. During the elections for the Zionist Congress in Bessarabia, he was instrumental in his efforts for the Labor Eretz Israel list (at one time this list was called “ערד און ארבעט” [earth and work]) which represented in those times only Ze'irei Zion, Hahalutz, and the youth organizations leaning to Ze'irei Zion.

Shimshon was involved in all aspects of public life. Besides his participation in Zionism, as aforementioned, he was also active in the area of aid to the needy. He was aware of the plight of the individual and was eager to help his fellow man. Not just his heart, but also his pocket was open to helping.

We, the young members of the organization who came from “Hatechiya” (rebirth), brought to the veteran “Poalei-Zion” a Chernivtsi style. It was one that was burdened with reminiscing. It was a stranger to our simple and uncompromising position. It gave us an openness to Zionist awareness, with no quasi-Marxist phrasing (even though this approach was called “Borochovism”) a leaning to Hebrew and pioneering. We erased from “Poalei-Zion” the conflict between socialism and Zionism, a legacy from the period of the split, and pushed the movement toward unification with “Ze'irei Zion,” which took place in the year 1935.

And indeed, we expanded the organization. In Bessarabia and Regat[2], we built it from nothing. In Bukovina, we reorganized[3] it as noted above. Shimshon suddenly saw how the movement had grown. He became the main leader in all of Bessarabia. And he won the elections to become a representative of “Poalei-Zion” from Bessarabia to the First World Congress of the Labor Israel party which took place in Berlin in 1930. When he returned, he told us wonders about the congress and its leaders. I remember how he described the look of Ben Gurion: “small, not fat, with gray hair, exactly like Dr. Zilberman from Yedinitz…”

He loved to appear and lecture. He acquired a reputation as a good orator and was frequently asked by the branches to appear and talk.

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In Lipcani, for example, he once lectured at the “Poalei-Zion” commemoration of the First of May; this was a brave thing to do in those days. Someone took his picture, and he used to show that picture with pride: Shimshon stood on a chair or something similar, above all, with a hand raised and his mouth open, as if calling out to the people.

In Yedinitz he also liked to mention, on the First of May, that he remembered that day… he would walk the streets and remind any acquaintances he crossed paths with, friends and foes as if he were celebrating.

This same attitude might have contributed to his arrest by the local gendarmerie, a few days after the First of May in 1932 when there were “preventive arrests” of people known as communists. He was accused of Communism. He was cruelly beaten and severely tortured; he was injured, and as a result of the torture, he spent an extended time in different hospitals, but mostly in Chernivtsi.

I was not in Yedinitz at the time of the arrest and the torture that followed it. Mordechai Reicher recounts that when he visited the hospital, Shimshon showed him the injured bottom of his feet, the flesh torn to the bones. To me, he showed his bandaged legs.

This affair received a great deal of attention in Romania, and it became an international scandal. There were diplomatic “interventions” abroad, in Europe and the United States. There were complaints from Jewish and International bodies in the defense of human rights and it was even brought up in the British Parliament. Representatives from the “Jewish Party” brought up this issue at the Romanian Parliament. Dr. Meir Avner, who was then a member of the Parliament, a Jewish and Zionist personality, a representative at almost every Zionist Congress starting with the First Congress (died in Israel in 1956), movingly described in our newspaper that was published in German, the “Yiddishe Zeitung” (Chernivtsi), his visit with Shimshon at the hospital and how overnight Golda's hair, his suffering wife, turned white.

Later, there was a trial at the county courthouse in Chernivtsi. I was present at the trial and wrote to the newspaper “Poalei-zion” in Warsaw about my observations. Unfortunately, I lost all the copies. I don't remember who convened the trial. The accused were the heads of the gendarmerie in Yedinitz and at the headquarters above them in Yedinitz.

Shimshon was represented, with great ability and powers of persuasion and personal charisma, but also with love and charm by a member of the organization from Hotin, the attorney Moshe Feldman (who passed away, I am told, after being deported to someplace in Siberia). The other attorney on Shimshon's behalf was Dr. Max Diamant, from Chernivtsi (an interesting personality – Zionist and extreme Yiddishist who never forgot that he was one of the founders of the “Yiddish-speaking Conference” that took place in Chernivtsi in 1908). He did not know Romanian and disturbed the proceedings with his mumbling. Dr. Diamant tried to prove that a Zionist absolutely cannot be a Communist because Zionism is a “bourgeois” ideology, a claim we, members of “Poalei-Zion” did not like.

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Dr. Diamant read from a book written by the head of the Siguranţa (secret service) in Romania, sort of a guide to the police as to the leftist and revolutionary organizations. The book, which had a strange title of “Soviet Russia” included also a chapter about “Poalei-Zion.” And it was even noted that there were two factions of “Poalei-Zion.” Dr. Diamant emphasized his client belonged to the right-wing faction of “Poalei-Zion” and therefore far away from communism.

I do not recall exactly the outcome of the trial. I believe the accused were exonerated for “lack of evidence…”

Since then, he would come often to Chernivtsi. In 1933, when we founded the “Brit Halutzei Poalei-Zion” (Unification of the Pioneers of Poalei-Zion) and with the expansion of the movement, he stood with us and helped with the organization and funding of activities. He participated at every meeting of the party and was active in the last joint conference (which took place in Bucharest) where the unification of “Poalei-Zion” and “Ze'irei-Zion” was announced. I was Secretary-General of the United Party.

He immigrated to Israel with Golda in 1936.

And in Israel, his situation did not improve. For some time, he had no employment. However, despite his difficult financial situation, he helped new immigrants in any way he could. I visited Shimshon and Golda at one of their first apartments in Tel Aviv (near Kikar Dizengoff) the year I arrived, in 1938, and slept, like many others, in their apartment.

After a while, he found work at Keren-Hayesod in the Employment Department, a difficult task, but one he fulfilled with his usual devotion; but more than once he complained to me, in one of our rare encounters, about his lot in life, having to spend all his life scrounging as a volunteer abroad and with pay in Israel.

After we settled in Tel Aviv, we met more often. He used to visit our home. We chatted, argued. He was active in the different committees of the party Mapa”I ([Mifleget Poalei Eretz Yisrael – The Workers Party of Israel]). He was always ready to defend every action in Israel. He even found justification for things that were not so “smooth” as it often happens. He was a faithful patriot and loved Israel without reservations.

 

Feldman Esq. z”l vs his opponent Alexianu

A very interesting fact: the accused, members of the gendarmerie who tortured Shimshon, were represented by Prof. Alexianu (by the way, he was my Constitutional Law professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Chernivtsi where I studied). To support his claim, Dr. Feldman cited a book written, among others, by Alexianu himself. This drew the attention of the judges and the public. This Prof. Gheorghe Alexianu was named by the Romanian government of Antonescu as Governor of the occupied territory of Transylvania during the years of the War and the Holocaust. After the war and the fall of the Nazis and Romania, Alexianu was tried by the new Romanian government that was established after the Russian invasion, was sentenced to death, and was even executed.

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He was the perfect husband to Golda and an outstanding family member. He became the patriarch of the Kozmir (sic) family. He treated Fridka[c], the youngest of the Kozminer girls who arrived in Israel after the Holocaust as the last remnant of the entire family, as if she were his own daughter, and her children as if they were his. He was ready to sacrifice himself for them and their future. In addition to all that, he loved life. He loved happiness and kept up his spirit against all odds. He tried to enjoy a dinner table, a quenching drink, and a good joke. He read extensively. He was outstanding.

He was a friend of our family, mine and my wife Hannah, from before we arrived in Israel, in Yedinitz and Chernivtsi. He used to visit the home of Itzhak and Sonia Shochat in Chernivtsi (both died in Israel). Through him, I met my Hannah. It was fortuitous that we met again, after the war, when I crossed paths with her at an anti-Nazi rally when I was a soldier in the Jewish Brigade in Israel. She went through the Holocaust, and here we intertwined our future.

 

Yed0173.jpg
A group of young people of the generation of Shimshon Bronstein z”l in the early 1920s
From right to left, standingL Rivka Kozminer-Leiderman (died in Tel Aviv), Moshe Shpilberg (died in Kishinev after the war), Shimshon Bronstein z”l, Haya Bar-Simcha-Eizenberg (died in Tel Aviv), Noah Leiderman (perished in the Holocaust); Sitting: Yehiel-Abraham Snitkavsky (died in Brazil), Golda Kozminer-Bronstein (Tel Aviv), Israel Diamant (Brazil), Sarah Snitkavsky (Brazil), Moshe Yanovitz (died in Brazil); Bottom: Shoel Shterntal (died in Kishinev after the war)

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Shimshon celebrated his triumph even though it took him ten years from his event. In cases like these, – health doesn't reveal what it holds well, let's just say, that we are grateful whatever happens.

With Shimshon's passing – we all lost a personality. We lost a friend. A personal friend went to Heaven.

As usual in these circumstances, we say that we will always remember him. However, none of us will be here forever. The challenge is how to convey to the next generation, to our sons and daughters, and for some of us even to our grandchildren, that only thanks to that kind of people, like Shimshon, and they are many, many, to our joy, how do we say? “We got this far.”

No one would claim, G-d forbid, that the young generation lacks great men, without personal sacrifices, without ideology. On the contrary, I would fight with all my might so that the next generation would know the people in the old generation. So that our children and grandchildren would know the memory of Shimshon and will stay in all our hearts.


Original footnotes:

  1. Passed away in 1969, a writer and journalist of anti-communism reputation and supporter of Mapa'i, New York. return
  2. Today a Minister in Israel. return
  3. Fridka's Holocaust experiences are quoted at length in this book. return

Translator's footnotes:

  1. About this incident see the notes from Y. Magen about “Poalei-Zion” and “Dror” in Yedinitz. return
  2. Regat is land that was part of Romania before the First World War. This territory includes Western Moldavia, Northern Dobruja, Muntenia, and Oltenia (Wikipedia) return
  3. reorganized = reformed return

[Page 175]

Inquisitorial Oppression

by David Vinitsky

Translated from the Hebrew by Dafna Meltzer

It appeared to be a simple affair; however, it caught the headlines of the Jewish newspapers in Romania for many days and weeks, and even those of Jewish and non-Jewish newspapers beyond Romania. Suddenly, the clandestine activities of the Bessarabian government were revealed. And since its annexation to Romania was connected to international treaties after World War I, with the intervention of the then great nations to protect the rights of the minorities, those activities acquired great notoriety. The media spotlight was focused on the fate of a single individual who resided on a relatively large area in the Hotin region, noted on the map under the name “Yedinitz”.

According to the official census of 1930, the Jewish population was about 6,000 out of a total population of over 11,000 souls. Let's introduce the interested reader, if only briefly, to the details of this tragic event.

The affair took place in the Spring of 1932. The Romanian government was able to settle in the region and control it. The “Siguranţă” (the Secret Service) had its own procedures: diligently kept track of any underground communist activity; attacked quiet and law-abiding residents for the smallest infraction; “detained” them and demanded ransom, and so on and so forth. Usually in coordination with the Gendarmerie it would intensify its operations on the anniversary of the October Revolution and on the First of May. Sometimes, even if nothing particularly suspicious happened, they would declare themselves “saviors of the country.”

On the morning of May 1st, to the surprise of the residents of Yedinitz, two red flags appeared, one next to the synagogue and one next to the church. Since the local government was not able to identify the “criminals”, a special expedition from the Central Gendarmerie of Hotin arrived on June 4th, under the command of Captain Panishora for the purpose of investigating the issue. First, a farmer from Tîrnova, from the Hotin region, was brought to Yedinitz for interrogation. He revealed his conspirator in underground communist activities – one by the name of Nadolin, who used to be a local student at the Seminar, but who had been discharged, apparently for insanity. After several sessions of brutal torture, he decided to “disclose” the names of the communists who could have been involved in this “crime.” They were several local Zionist leaders: Rachel Kormansky,

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Yed0176.jpg
Segments of medical reports of the torture of Shimshon Bronstein
On top: Report from the national hospital in Terinky
In the middle: Report from the Jewish hospital in Czernowitz
At the bottom: transcript of the testimony of Shimshon Bronstein provided at the Jewish Hospital in Czernowitz

 

Yanovitz V. Ludmir, Gemainerman and others – and Shimshon Bronstein, one of the Zionists and head of the local “Poalei Zion” chapter. The first ones were beaten and tortured “properly,” but after two days they were released from lack of any proof against them and lack of testimony from them about others. Therefore, the Captain decided to pour all his ire on the last one, Shimshon Bronstein so he would confess all his misdeeds.

He was detained at around noon on May 7th while he was walking on the street and was brought to the Gendarmerie headquarters. Even before they started interrogating him, he received a “down payment” of violent beatings. And only after that he was asked pertinent questions. Because he had no idea what it was all about, he did not know what to confess except for the fact that he was a Zionist – that was all. According to the Capitan's orders he was immediately dragged to a wooden shed on the back of the courtyard – the place was prepared ahead of time for the torture of prisoners and the worst cruelties – and he was handed over to those whose specialty it was.

It is not my intention to describe here in detail the cruel torture suffered by Bronstein during

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that fateful day, the 7th of May, well into the night, as it has already been described in the local and national media. I will confine myself to “dry” facts only, as Shimshon himself told them in the testimony he gave at the Czernowitz hospital, on the 15th of June, when his condition was still critical, and he was facing difficult transplanting surgeries. The specific details are left, therefore, to the imagination of anyone with a heart.

At first, they tied his arms and legs with ropes and chains. The

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knees were folded to the tied hands in such a way that the victim became a bundle of bones and skin. A wooden pole was placed behind the knees allowing the soldiers to elevate the “bundle” up in the air. According to the technical term used by instructors of torture, it was possible in that way to perform the practice of a “mill” – that is, to turn the “bundle” in the air using that pole, while the rest of the soldiers beat him incessantly with leather straps, everywhere they could reach on his body.

There was no respite until Shimshon lost consciousness, but after a few moments they started a new trick: extractions of nails and teeth while someone else stuffed rags in his mouth so his screams would not be heard. Afterwards they laid him on his back; while one tightened the rag to the mouth, two pressed down with their boots on his chest. Someone else sat on his midriff and a fifth one performed the “mitzvoth” of whipping the bottom of his feet. The whipping was performed with such cruelty that skin and flesh fell off. And even then, it was not enough. They even tried to stand him on his feet so… he would dance in front of them. However, Shimshon collapsed immediately and stayed unconscious for a long time. To cover his wounds and even to stop the bleeding, the “experts” poured water with vinegar in a bucket, into which they shoved his feet. Only after that his legs were “bandaged” … with strips of cloth dipped in salt.

This “treatment” brought Bronstein to the brink of death, to the point that even the Capitan was concerned and was forced to call at one o'clock in the morning, the doctor from the hospital. The doctor injected the victim and declared that he would not be able to hold on much longer, so they had no choice but to transport him to the hospital.

Early morning Bronstein was moved to the hospital in the town of Terinky, near Yedinitz. The doctor at the hospital was horrified by what he saw – a human being in the shape of a bleeding “ground beef patty”. By pressure from the Captain, he was even forced to write on the intake form the diagnosis: contagious disease. Only when Bronstein left this out in the country hospital and transferred to the Czernowitz hospital, only then the hospital in Terinky acknowledged, in its document number 236 dated July 5 signed by Doctor Branhaupt, that the subject was admitted suffering from serious gangrene on both legs as a result of an assault.

The Jewish media in Romania responded with great furor to the inquisitorial way the interrogation was conducted, which was the way of the Gendarmerie, and demanded the opening of an independent inquiry. The affair received notoriety among foreign newspapers. Thanks to the efforts of members of the parliament in the Jewish Party, the attorney Michael Landau was urgently called, the incarceration of Bronstein was voided, and he was rescued from the clutches of his captors to receive special treatment at the Jewish Hospital in Czernowitz. The intent was to ensure an objective investigation, both with respect to the false accusations against Bronstein and with respect to the behavior of the Gendarmerie, who crossed the line.

When the Gendarmerie realized that they went too far with crazy excitement and wild cruelty, it changed its “business as usual” and tried to bribe the suffering Bronstein to get him to blur the details regarding the investigative tools that were employed against him.

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In any case, it was an unsuccessful effort. In the meantime, the head of the Jewish Party in Romania and former senator, Dr Meir Avner from Czernowitz and a member of the Parliament, Dr Manfred Reifer, took it upon themselves to expose the evil workings of the Romanian Gendarmerie. They came out of their visit with Bronstein at the hospital deeply appalled by the look of his beaten body and worried for his welfare, and thus notified the heads of the government and informed public opinion.

Even the leaders of the World Zionist Organization in London were concerned about this issue and worked to get to the bottom of it. Colonel Yashia Wedgewood questioned the Assistant Minister Eidan, from the House of Commons, if he knew about the violence in Yedinitz - something that constituted a breach by the Romanian government of the international treaties regarding the protection of the rights of minorities. The answer was that the State Department had no knowledge whatsoever about this and gave instructions to the British Ambassador in Bucharest to provide a report about it. According to the Peace Accord, the British were responsible for the safety of minorities in several countries.

The head of the International Socialist in Zurich was also concerned by the severity of the event. In the letter from Engineer Enschel Reis (today in Israel) of June 15, 1932, in the name of the International Union of Poalei Zion, the organization decided to send to all the branches in all the countries information about this event (transcript of this letter we provide in full in Yiddish). It was known that even the Romanian Embassy in the United States recommended to the government in Bucharest to perform a thorough investigation, together with punishment for the guilty, to calm international public opinion.

In the end, Captain Panishura and others involved were court-martialed for their cruel behavior to S. Bronstein. The trial was set for the 18 of October in Czernowitz, and besides the Attorney General appeared on behalf of the victim Dr Meir Avner, Dr Max Diamand, Dr Zigfrid Rozenzweig and the attorney Feldman from Hotin, a member of Poalei Zion. There were present also in the room many newspapers and a large number of the general public. However, for some unknown reason, the main witnesses disappeared, the doctors at the Jewish Hospital, Dr Vilenky and Dr Miller. Therefore, the hearing was postponed to the 20 of December of the same year.

To our dismay, we were not able to find any material whatsoever about the results of the hearing in December. According to the version that reached us from reliable sources the charges were dismissed, but nobody remembers what was the reason. And indeed, this detail is not important. What is important is the fact itself.

Givatayim.

Sources for the Shimshon Bronstein affair:

“Est Yidddishe Zeitung” (in German), Czernowitz, May-December 1932
“Tzernavitzer Alegemiane Zeitung” (in German) 28 May 1932
“Ita” bulletin no. 132 from 14 June 1932
Bulletin News of “Jewish Morning Journal” from 13 and 16 June 1932
“HaOlam” 16 June 1932 and 23 June 1932
Exchange of letters with the London Zionist Organization of the same time

[Page 177]

Who Shimshon Was[1]

by Ephraim Shvartzman-Sharon

Translated from the Hebrew by Paul Bessemer

Donated by Robin Hammer in memory of my grandmother, Evelyn Kwasha Goldstein, her sister Berta Kwasha Stein, her mother Basia “Bessie” Bronstein Kwasha Ceppos, her uncle Shimshon Bronstein, and her grandfather, Yekhiel 'Alta' Bronstein.
May their memories be a blessing.

From the days of our youth until this day the name of Shimshon Bronstein has been etched in our memories as an exemplary Zionist leader, one who taught us during the period of our youth about the national spirit and Jewish culture until we left the township and immigrated to the Land of Israel. And today, even though some 40 years have passed since then, we fondly remember Shimshon, his life, his actions, and his deeds.

Shimshon was granted powers of speech and persuasion that few others possess. But he wasn't only a speaker of the highest ability and a lecturer on questions of Zionism, pioneering, Socialism and sport; he was also beloved of every person who met him and every Zionist youth organization, regardless of their political stance or outlook.

And that wasn't all: at the same time, with his youth educational activities and the Zionist advocacy, Shimshon knew that it was necessary to prepare the groundwork for settlement in the Land of Israel and its redemption in the sense of “one dunam at a time,” and of the 'shekel' and 'half-shekel'. And apparently in these little things, as well, he saw the supreme act of being an emissary, and in the name of its realization, he volunteered to act, and act he did, with his whole heart and soul.

If he had to act, to appear before groups to explain, he preferred to do it among “the people,” among the workers and the tradesmen to whom he felt drawn and for whom he had a special affection; he didn't merely want to draw them toward the Zionist movement, but also to elevate their spirits, their sentiments, and their belief in life. It was no coincidence that he was one of the founders of the “Po'alei Zion[2] branch in the township and one of the party's chief activists[3] throughout the area.

Shimshon arrived in our midst from Odessa near the end of the First World War and although he was born in Sokiryan,[4] he settled in our township. During the period of great upheaval (za'zu'im) and the great migration following the war when refugees from the pogroms and killing in Ukraine came to us in the dozens and then in the hundreds, Shimshon found a wide field of activity for these refugees. He was the head of the committee to help the refugees that had been organized in the township, and it was he, who concerned himself and worked to ensure their needs and very existence. Few of them immigrated to the Land of Israel, others immigrated to their relatives in America, and many remained in Romania, and while it was difficult for these refugees lacking identity papers to obtain immigration passports, it was again Shimshon who was the person who took care and succeeded through “secret gifts” to get forged identity papers for these “children without a homeland.”

[Page 178]

Once something happened and Shimshon returned in the wagon, full of joy, from the township of Vertuzhan[5] (that's where he received the forged identity papers). On the way, robbers fell upon those riding in the wagon, including Shimshon, and robbed them of everything they had. This included the bag containing the identity papers. He wasn't upset about having his clothes, money, gold watch, and such stolen, but he was particularly sad about the loss of the identity papers that they had so been looking forward to. And he then witnessed a miracle, truly a divine miracle. One day a farmer appeared at the pharmacy of Yechiel Nimchenitzer with a package in his hand and explained that “someone” had sent him with this package, to put it into the hands of the pharmacy owner and that he, the farmer, would without a doubt receive a fair wage for his troubles. And that's how the identity papers reached their respective owners.

To Shimshon's many-branched activities in the Zionist and public arenas should be added that he was one of those who also concerned himself with the cultural image of the township. He lent both his opinion and his hand to the establishment of an educational-athletic-cultural institution, together with businessmen like Hillel Dovrov, Yitzchak Borochin, Pinchas Grobman, and others that would serve as a library of “culture”, in which the adults, youth, and children of the city found their spiritual fulfillment through reading books and spending a pleasurable hour within a pleasant cultural environment.

Even after he married Golda, of the Kozmenir family within our city, may she be granted a long life, he didn't cease his public activities and neglect his personal affairs: the shipping of imports to the country's large commercial centers. Most of the time and effort he devoted to public affairs and the Land of Israel.

Shimshon suffered personally and physically from his activities in the leftist, albeit, also Zionist Workers' party, “Poa'lei Zion”. I recall the incident that threw the entire world into turmoil. In the year 1932, he was arrested by the Siguranţ ă[6] (whose bad reputation preceded it) and by the gendarmerie as a “Communist” or as one who gave aid to Communists. He was brutally tortured, received bad physical injuries, and almost paid with his life.

Shimshon was allowed to immigrate to the Land of Israel in the year 1936. Even there, he found a wide field for his activities. And he continued there to work for Zionist funds. And most importantly, how happy it made him, to meet with the hundreds of young students-cum-friends who were realizing his life's work of building the land; they are loyal to him, and they harbor feelings of friendship, esteem, and respect toward him.

Jerusalem


Translator's footnotes:

  1. This is the name of the piece in the Table of Contents, but “Shimshon: A Character Sketch” might be closer to the original… return
  2. Turn of the century Marxist-Zionist workers movement/party formed in 1901 after the Marxist “Bund” refused to adopt Zionism as part of its platform. Active primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe. return
  3. מפעיליה הראשיים Could also mean 'motivators/activators/operators', but all those sound a bit awkward in English. return
  4. Also spelled Sekuryan, Sokiryany, and Securani, in the various languages of the region. Due to border changes over the past two centuries, it has at various times been a part of Russia, Romania, Bessarabia, and [currently], the Ukraine (on Moldova's northern border). return
  5. Currently the town of Vertiujeni, Moldova, on the Dniester River. return
  6. The Romanian Security Services/Secret Police. return

[Page 181]

The Shimshon Bronstein Affair

by Yosef Magen

Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ

The affair of Shimshon Bronstein, his arrest, and torture by the gendarmes reported by the Hotin Circle and the Yedinitz “Post” raised rumors across the entire world at that time. Jewish deputies brought the international police into the Romanian parliament. The world press reported widely about this affair, and in the British parliament, the labor deputy Wedgewoodson addressed the British external minister demanding that he conduct a protest intervention at the Romanian Foreign Ministry. In some places, there were protest gatherings that sent protest resolutions to the Romanian diplomatic representatives.

At that time, I was the secretary of the so-called “Poalei Zion” of Romania, located in Czernowitz. I remember the corresponding office of the Poalei Zion in Warsaw, (the manager of the office at that time was the engineer Anshel Reis, who now lives in Israel) asked us for details about the affair. As I remember further, I sent clips from Jewish newspapers that were published in Czernowicz to Warsaw (in particular, the “East-Jewish newspaper,” which was edited by the familiar Zionist leader and then parliament deputy Dr. Meyer Avner, of blessed memory, and who reported widely about the affair.) Based on the newspaper clips, as well as in our letter, the union bureau sent out a memorandum to the Socialist International with the request to organize a protest movement in the entire world. The socialist world press published protest articles and the socialist parties sent protests to the Romanian representatives and their counties. Unfortunately, all the material around this issue was not collected.

The Poalei Zion press, understandably, was very involved with this issue.

[Page 182]

We bring here a more detailed report about the memorandum from the Poalei Zion to the Socialist International, which was published in the “Freedom of the Workers' Voice,” the Poalei Zion organization from Warsaw, June 24, 1932. Shorter reports and longer articles (below are several correspondences from the author of these lines) were published earlier in the aforementioned newspaper. Later, there were articles about the trial against the police, Shimshon Bronstein's torturers. Sadly, these articles did not remain in our hands.


Caption: Translation of Hebrew and Yiddish:
The original documents are found in the Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem. In that same place, there can also be found a rich letter exchange of the Zionist executive (Londan) about this affair.

[Page 183]

The report which we are reprinting carried this title:

“Terror against Poalei Zion in Romania”

Let us be aware that we do not have to believe all the facts of the phrases as being strictly authentic: Not all the dates are exact. But in general, the language provides an exact picture of the incident.

From searching in the fragments of the archive documents (taken, primarily, from newspaper cutouts), we extracted several details:

* Arguments in the Romanian parliament were presented by: in the senate – Dr. Meyer Avner; in parliament – the Jewish deputies, lawyer M. Londan (today principal of Mifal Hapayis, Tel Aviv) from Kishinev (the Jewish Party), and Dr. Beno Shtroicher from Czernowitz (Union of Romanian Jews).

 

(According to “Kuriel Israelit” of June 19, 1932)

* In March 1933, it was learned that the internal ministry, after an administrative investigation, ordered that the police captain Penisoara, who conducted the cruelties upon Shimshon Bronstein, be put before for a “council of discipline.” However, he and his partners were declared free of guilt (“Akitatzi”; “Action”).

[Page 184]

* Another report states that in 1933, the court case against Penisoara and his partners began. The case went from instance to instance, and a newspaper report in the year 1934 said that the handling in the Court of Appeals in Czernowitz was delayed for the ninth time!

* As I remember, in the court case in Czernowitz, the following were present: representing Bronstein (of the Civil Party): Lawyer M. Feldman from Hotin (a Poalei Zion director; perished); and lawyer Max Diamant from Czernowitz (from the Jewish Party). The police were defended by my professor of constitutional rights on the Czernowitz Jewish faculty, George Alexiano (later he became the bloody Romanian civil governor of Transnistria, 1941-1944; he was sentenced to death by the pro-Soviet regime in Romania, and then was executed.)

* The case ended with nothing. No evidence was found against the police tormentors, and Shimshon Bronstein received no ruling.

(Other details about the case of Shimshon Bronstein are presented in the article by Dovid Winitzki in Hebrew: See also my eulogy on the shloshim after the death of Shimshon Bronstein, and other articles, also in Hebrew.)

[Page 183]

Terror Against the Poalei Zion in Romania

by Yosef Magen

Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ

Material from the Union office of the Poalei Zion to the Socialist International regarding the torture of our friend Shimshon Bronstein from Yedinitz, Bessarabia, which was published in the Warsaw Poalei Zion newspaper the “Befreiung Arbeiter Shtime” on June 24, 1932.

“The Union office of the Poalei Zion (united with the Zionist Socialist) sent over to the secretary of the Socialist International an exact report from the Zionist Communist from our brother party in Romania regarding the Romanian gendarmes' persecution of the Poalei Zion and its gruesome acts against the Jewish population in Romania.

[Page 184]

This is not the only incident. We read in the letter of an animal-like behavior of the reactionary Sigurantsa regarding the socialist movement in the country, particularly concerning the Jewish socialist movement and the Jews in general. It is difficult to describe what our friends went through and for those who remained faithful to the socialist views. The unions, even the culture unions, were locked up. The gatherings, even those that were purely science-oriented, were not permitted. Still the smallest appearance of an agent provocateur was enough for the “guilty ones” to be subjugated to inhuman persecutions and punishments.”

[Page 185]

The letter shows, in the end, how urgent it was for the socialist press around the world to raise a sharp protest against these barbarians and that the socialist parties should raise their protest against the representatives of Romania and in all other countries.

Next, we bring the report from the Romanian Poalei Zion:

“With the approach of May 1, the Romanian Sigurantsa and gendarmes created a great terror against the workers. Before and after May 1, terrifying incidents took place particularly in the courtyards of Bender, Orhei, and in Hotin, but with the most horrible event happening in the Hotin courtyards, in the town of Yedinitz.

Until these latest times, it was difficult to find out information about the occurrences in the Hotin courtyards. There were wild rumors and little information. They told of young girls in Telenesti who were beaten badly, and just as if in an operation, they had to drain pus from the girls' breasts, with the condition of one of the girls being extremely serious. They told of how people's feet were put into mentholated alcohol. But the reports missed the places where the worst incidents took place. The terrorized people were too frightened to speak. Only now they started to talk, having the feeling they had nothing to lose.

On May 1, a red flag was found in Yedinitz in the synagogue and the church. The person who committed this crime was unknown. The town leaders immediately removed the flags and informed the gendarmes. On May 4, in Hotin, a punishment expedition went out, being at the head the chief of police named Penisoara and the mayor Mikolescu. First, they arrested a certain Nadelin, who, because of insanity, was removed from the priests' seminary in Yedinitz. Under beatings and thrashings, he cried out the names of residents of the city as suspicious individuals who belonged to the communist party. Those names were Karmanski, Raks, Yanowitch, W. Ludmir, Gemeinerman, and more, all of whom were immediately arrested. After a two-day imprisonment and inquisition, they released them because of a lack of evidence. To describe what the treatment was like, the best incident to illustrate is the fact that when the gendarme Babei did not want to beat Ludmir, who was a well-known resident of Yedinitz, Captain Penisoara slapped the gendarme, and with his own greatest brutality, he completed the “task.”

[Page 186]

But the “guilty” one was not found. The captain was forced to go back to Hotin without any suspects and was described in the eyes of his superiors as incapable. He began the search once again, arresting Reb Shimshon Bronstein on May 7, bringing him to police security.

Not losing any time on questions, they locked Bronstein's hands and feet into chains, placed a pole under his knees, and then began to spin him in circles. This torture, which received the technical name “Mil” under the Sigurants, went on for so long until Bronstein lost consciousness. They let him rest after that and then asked him to whom he gave the $700 which he changed in the Bessarabia Bank. Bronstein answered it was very easy to verify that he never actually had such a sum of money in the bank.

Then one gendarme sat on his head so that his feet were raised high up. The gendarmes Khitiga and Babei began to beat the bare soles of Bronstein's feet as per the orders of Captain Penisoara. Very soon, the soles began to gush with blood, with the skin and muscles hanging down askew, but the captain screamed: “Harder! Harder!” They tore off the nails of Bronstein's hands and feet, tore off one of his ears, then they trampled over him. He lost consciousness many times. Each time, they would wait until he regained consciousness, then begin to torture him once again.

In order that his cries would not be heard they stuffed rags into his mouth. When Bronstein asked for water, they placed a bowl of water near his lips, and then laughingly they would quickly snatch it away as soon as he would try to get close. After many hours, the gendarmes would become tired. They removed the chains from Bronstein, put him on his feet, then demanded that he dance even with the ripped soles. Since he was not able to do so, they filled his mouth with salt, then put rags soaked in salt and vinegar into his wounds.

These details, which the victim slowly narrated, were completely validated by the gendarme Khitiga. “What could I have done?”

[Page 187]

Yed0187.jpg
Photo from the 1920s

1. Shimshon Bronstein, of blessed memory. 2. Noach Leiderman, may his blood be avenged. 3. Efraim Eines (son of Berl the Shochet, in the United States). 4. Hillel Dubrow, of blessed memory. 5. A. Turkaspo (Israel). 6. Velvel Ludmir, may his blood be avenged. 7. Moshe Rabinovitch (brother of the murdered one on the 7th day of Passover). 8. … Gruzman. 9. Leizer (son of Dina and Berl) Eines (grandson of Yonah, the ritual slaughterer, and verifier of kashrut of the animal)

 

As Shimshon told the reporter of “Unzer Zeit”, who published this article in Kishinev, “Captain Penisoara ordered me to do that; had I not complied, he would have beaten me up, just as he did the gendarme Babei.”

In the end, the gendarmes were afraid when they saw that Bronstein's terrible condition was so severe. At night, when he was still breathing, they came to an agreement with the police colonel. A delegation of the residents came to the prefect Georgio and pleaded for help. The prefect gave the group a scolding speech and instead of listening to them, he spoke of further actions. The lynched men themselves brought a doctor who had to give Bronstein two injections. He told the gendarmes that their victim would likely not survive the night. Then Bronstein was brought to the hospital, not in Yedinitz but to the village of Trinka, which was 12 kilometers farther. It was the quick and excellent treatment by the doctor that saved Bronstein's life.

Now Bronstein was taken to the Jewish hospital in Czernowitz. He became gray, looked like a skeleton, and the fear of death was always in front of him. Three weeks after he was hospitalized, his high fever had not yet broken.

[Page 188]

The doctors considered performing a skin grafting on the soles of his feet as absolutely essential, but it would still be questionable whether he would ever be able to walk again even if his health would improve.

The house search that took place in Bronstein's home did not provide any significant evidence. At the same time as Bronstein's arrest, a student was arrested having been accused of participating in a communist gathering. She immediately explained that she was away for several days, proving it with the signatures of professors in her student attendance book. It was impossible for her to be in Yedinitz on that same day. They told her to bring her attendance book in about two days, meanwhile, they interrogated and beat her because of belonging to those suspicious organizations. After she presented the attendance book, she was released.

The police force began their investigation of this student by mentioning Bronstein and his family's money so that they could confuse the issue. “The guilty ones are going around freely, and we are preparing new investigations.”

 

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