by Shmuel (Milya) Gurfil
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Artsyz was half village half small town, its geographical location in the Akkerman district, southern Bessarabia, at a distance of 67 hours travel by train from the big and famous city Kishinev. The traveler from Kishinev to Artsyz would change trains at the Bassarabyeska station and after two hours of travel would reach Artsyz. The beautiful train station was encircled by a wooden fence. Carriage owners would usually be stationed nearby, waiting for passengers, most of them Jews. Some 500600 meters from the station was the main street of Artsyz, several kilometers long.
The Artsyz streets did not have names nor were the houses numbered. These were not needed: here everybody knew everybody.
The trip in a carriage through the streets of Artsyz was no great pleasure: the swinging and swaying of the carriage could cause pain through the entire body. In the summer a cloud of dust would follow the wheels of the carriage, in the winter black mud would be scattered by the wheels and the horses not the type of gallant horses…
Whoever happened to come to Artsyz could gather, from the carriage owners, all the local news. They were an unlimited source of jokes and sayings as well. They knew, at first glance, where to drop every passenger. And if they spotted that you were not one of the local people, they would take you straight to one of the two inns in Artsyz, where there would always be room for a passing guest [the latter would, obviously, not expect to find there any modern luxury, as in our time today…].
Two widows were the owners of the two inns. One was Mrs. Schwarzman, whose apartment was situated in Zev Yankelewitz's courtyard, the other was Mrs. Sara Altstein, in the courtyard of Reuven Fischman.
Livelihood and Survival
The population of Artsyz was mainly German Christian Protestants. There were about 250 Jewish families in town, and the relations between the two minorities Jews and Germans were correct. The Jews erected in town a commercial center with houses built of stone as well as barracks, and one could obtain anything in the various shops including agricultural machines, porcelain dishes etc. On Tuesdays, which was market day in Artsyz, the Jews would buy vegetables, fruits and fish for Shabat. Since refrigerators did not exist in Artsyz, they kept the food in the cellar situated in the courtyard of the house. In the cellar one could find barrels of pickled cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelons, as well as wine.
Artsyz was the home of many Jewish craftsmen of all kinds: cobblers, harness makers, tailors, furriers, hatters, sodawater bottlers, etc.
The town had two coffeehouses, which also served as domino and backgammon playing places, as well as meeting places of the grain traders, or plain idlers.
In the neighborhood of Artsyz there were villages of Germans, Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians and Moldavians. The Artsyz merchants would buy from them eggs, poultry and grains and sell them in the big cities. The greatest eggstrader was Asher Reznik, a warmhearted Jew, active in public affairs and a great Zionist (lives today in Netania). The length of the main street was lined by pubs and taverns, mostly owned by Jews, but the customers were local or neighborhood Christians. Many Jews also liked the taste of alcohol, especially the wagon and carriage owners. During cold and snowy winter days, they usually could not afford to buy a drink or food to wash down the drink, so they kept in their pocket a piece of herring and after each sip they would take it out and lick it, then put it back into the pocket, to keep for the next round. No need to mention that the piece of herring was not wrapped hygienically. The Artsyz wagon owners did not pay much attention to hygienic stuff…
In the morning, at sunrise, Artsyz resounded with the noise of the whiplashes of the cattle shepherd. This was the signal for the cattle owners, most of them Germans, that it was time for the morningmilking and for taking out the cattle to pasture. In the late afternoon the shepherd would return the cattle to the owners, raising a cloud of dust through the entire town.
In the center of Artsyz, opposite the commercial quarter, stood a German Protestant church built in 1880, with a huge bell in its tower. A cemetery was situated in the backyard of the church, mainly for the rich and privileged. Flowerbeds, cared for by a special gardener, decorated the front of the church. A sidewalk paved with concrete, near the church, served the Jewish youths as well as the others. A tall pole carried on top a lighting installation called Petromax. It was filled with gas or petrol and lit, and it spread its light around. Here young couples took their walks, ate sunflower and pumpkin seeds and talked over the politics of the day. At night it was pitchdark, since electricity had not yet reached Artsyz in those days, and only the barking of the dogs could be heard in the stillness of the night.
On Education and Charity
Artsyz had a big and beautiful synagogue that fulfilled the religious needs of the 250 Jewish families. It had a beautiful Holy Ark of the Torah and, of course, a Women's Section. On weekdays and regular Sabbath Days, the cantor was usually the Artsyz Rabbi, R'Yeshayahu Mendel Geiser zl or the Shochet [slaughterer] R'Leizer Kolomiski zl, and during Holidays they invited a special cantor, mostly it was the local cantor R'Avigdor Polonski, who also owned a grocery shop. The shamash [attendant] of the synagogue was R'Idel zl and after he died the position was inherited by his soninlaw R'Michael Kaganowitz zl, who was a cobbler. At a distance of about 700800 meters from the synagogue, was the slaughterhouse for cattle and near the synagogue a smaller place for slaughtering chicken and geese.
In our town we had an eightgrade Tarbut Hebrew school and a Hebrew kindergarten. All community institutions were centered near the river. A building that was in the past a flour mill and was almost destroyed by fire, was renovated and enlarged, and became the school. Mrs. Mosia Chananovna Bilostotzki zl, the wife of the local doctor, served for years as the principal of the school. Most Jewish children went to the Tarbut school, and only a small number of parents, who did not come to an agreement with the community concerning tuition, sent their children to the government school, where most of the pupils were Germans. The Hebrew School was under the supervision of the Community council.
In Artsyz we had institutions, or rather public charity committees, of help for the poor, visiting the sick, help for poor brides, burial society [Hevra Kadisha] and others. The Artsyz Jews excelled in their work and donations for the National Funds (JNF and Keren Hayesod). Many were those who performed the commandment of Matan Baseter [giving secretly], the most outstanding being R'Avraham Gurfil. He never argued about the sum of money he was required to give. He would ask only: how much?
In the area of culturalartistic activity we should mention the association of members and supporters of the Theater, and the WindInstruments Orchestra under the direction of Shika Aharonowitz zl, who became famous as a conductor not only in Artsyz, but as conductor of orchestras in the capital Bucharest. After Bessarabia became part of the Soviet Union, he directed the official Orchestra of the Moldavian Republic.
The Community organized special dinners for various charity enterprises, in particular during the holidays of Chanuka and Purim. The women would bring cakes and other delicacies that were sold at the party. It is worth mentioning that all local Jews responded gladly to these charity drives. The local orchestra helped, by playing for the pleasure of the guests. I remember that the director of the orchestra, Chaim Schwartzman zl played the trumpet, Efraim Braverman zl the violin, Moshe Kleitman the saxophone, Shmuel Gurfil the accordion, Shmuel BenChaim Bodyeski the guitar, Freink Shmuel the mandolin, Syoma Korol the drums, Chaim Frank the violin, and there were others, whose names I could not remember.
There were three Jewish doctors in town: Dr. Bilostotzki, Dr. Gordon and Dr. Korol, and two pharmacies one owned by Yasha Gamoshewitz and the other by Pasternak. There were also two dentists (Mrs. Notov and Mr. Averbuch), and we shall not forget our devoted midwife Mrs. Sochmalinova. She was Christian, of a noble family. When the Bolshevik revolution broke out she fled from Russia and settled in our town. She had Jewish friends and spoke well Yiddish. The postmaster of the town, a German by the name of Schmidtka, spoke fluent Yiddish as well. This was no wonder, since he came in constant contact with Jews.
R'Chaim Freink served as president of the community until World War Two, and his deputy was Asher Reznik. The chairman of JNF was R'Yosef Yankelewitz zl, the chairman of help for the poor was R'Avraham Gurfil zl. The religious institutions in town were represented, beside the rabbi and the shochet by R'Mordechai Beider zl, Mordechai Braverman, Hillel Apelboim, Goldinger, Pevzner, Yitzhak Averbuch, Shimshon Zhabgoreski and others.
The first Halutzim [Pioneers]
One night in June or July 1941, at midnight, the authorities assembled all Jewish leaders in Artsyz and send them to concentration camps in Central Asia. Most of them died there of hunger and diseases.
The Zionist youth movements in Artsyz were: Gordonia, Hashomer Hatza'ir and BEITAR. There was also the chaliastra (a nickname given to communists and leftists). As a former commander of the local BEITAR branch, I can tell that we were helped by the BEITAR branch in Sarate, in particular by Zvi Schechter and Yechezkel Altman. We kept also close contact with the town Starbonar.
The first Halutzim from our town made Aliya in 19241925: Israel Beider, Mordechai Bodyeski and Zvi Tzirolnik may their memories be blessed, and Chaim Lerner, may he long live. Some of them returned after a short time. The last to make (illegal) Aliya, on the ship Astor on Passover 1939, were: Menachem Mendel Kaganowitz (lives in Ashkelon) and Yosef Gurfil (now in Dimona). After WWII, some of the chaliastra members also managed to come to the country. It is worth mentioning that Professor Yehuda Pevzner zl, an expert on heart surgery at the Belinson and Tel Hashomer hospitals, was a native of our town. One can find former residents of Artsyz on the Kibbutzim, in agricultural villages and other various localities in the country.
Artsyz was a small Jewish town, but it was dynamic, lively and very Zionist. The Russian occupation brought an end to the Jewish life and activity in Artsyz. It ended and continued no more. Only the memories of those days remained, and they are bringing light to our lives to this day. May these pages be a memorialcandle for the Jews of Artsyz and their life, for our parents and parents' parents, who have planted in us the prized values that have brought us to this point.
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