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[Page 559]

Chapter 7

Holocaust

 

[Page 560]

The High-School during the Soviet Period

by Mordechai Motia Kogan

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

Moti Kogan

 

In June 1940, the Romanians left Bălţi [Beltz] and the Russians occupied it. This change of rule created immediately a new situation, which, although expected, was a total surprise for the Jewish population and its leaders. They had no answer, from any point of view. The shock paralyzed any thought of confronting the new situation or taking measures. Membership in a Zionist movement became a black spot, and at any moment everyone could be asked to present documentation of his way of life. Phrases like “Blocks of ice still float in the sea of the Revolution, but the sun of Stalinism will melt them fast” were heard at the many street-gatherings. Several leaders were arrested and the Zionist members who were still high-school students were shocked and disappointed. The ideological differences disappeared as if with a magic wand, the differences of opinion and the hot discussions were forgotten, and a sort of spiritual ghetto was created. We could not be happy with their victory because it did not represent the fulfillment of our own ideas and dreams, but on the contrary: they represented a negation of our Zionist belief and aspiration and we were not a “desirable” or “respected” society. One of the results was, that the dividing walls between Gordonia, Beitar, Hashomer Hatza'ir fell down and a new society was created, which in its mere existence was a challenge for the new regime and an enemy that must be taken out of the way. The regime could not endure intellectual competition of any kind.

In those days, the summer of 1940, moves were made to change the educational system. Almost all the Romanian schools did not accept Jewish children. The schools became co-educational, some high-schools turned into “Moldavian” schools, some into “Russian” schools. The “Teachers School” did not change. The fate of the Jewish High-School remained undecided, the tendency being to change the language of instruction to Russian –which would make it easier for students to enter the higher institutions of learning in Moscow, Leningrad etc. A Parents' assembly was called, the hall was full. Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, without prior preparation or organization, students with national and Jewish feelings who were Zionists in their hearts burst through the doors and windows shouting “Yiddish, Yiddish,” against the small number of activists in the Communist Youth. The public was swept by this nationalistic wave, which at that time was part of the general talk about the liberation of nations, heralded by the Soviet Union; it was expressed also by the crowd of parents, who soon joined the shouting Yiddish, Yiddish. It was decided to add to the curriculum the study of Yiddish grammar and literature, in particular literature from after the revolution.

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A Jew from Odessa, named Girshman, was appointed Principal and as head of the official youth movement was Kisa Averbuch from the Ukraine, and his assistant was the teacher Gefter, a veteran teacher who had been fired because of his leftist or communist views. Surprisingly, Weintraub and Gleibman, who were also considered leftists and were fired as well, have not been incorporated in the Educational System. Their “sin” was that they were identified as Social-Democrats, which was as grave in the eyes of the new regime as it was in the eyes of the old one. Refael Katz, the principal of the school, was removed and arrested, but his wife continued teaching with the veteran teachers Gruzman, Ostrovskaya, Hecht; new teachers were Ahronson, Ehrlich. History teachers were brought from the Soviet Union: Tchemer and Kotchegin, who, in addition of teaching were charged with supervising the activity of undesirable elements, as they called them. The most serious problem from the political point-of-view occurred at the beginning of the schoolyear, when elections for the class heads (among the students) were held. The directors of the school, under the influence of political circles, suggested as leaders students with political views, who were members of the “Communist Youths” and were not known by the regular students. For the first time, as innocent and naïve young people we met face to face with the new regime, while we had thought that we were supposed to vote for the best we knew, according to the rules of democracy.

 

The Kogan family: The parents Avraham and Gitl, the sisters Chava and Rachel

[Page 562]

This could have brought about the election of a former member of one of the Zionist movements. But it would not have been accepted by the political school management, seeing it as an open revolt against the regime, treason, sabotage, anti-revolutionary act and other crimes which have turned into shameful words: Trotzkist, social-democrat etc. … There were hot debates during class-assemblies, hands pointing in the direction of the prison, shouting: “This is where the enemies of the nation and of the revolution are sitting, and there they know how to deal with the enemies of the people.” The debates would last for hours, and were joined by the teacher Gefter (the educational director) and the Principal of the school Gershman, who saw in every movement – and in particular in this discussion – an anti-revolutionary and Trotzkist phenomenon, which the Soviet Regime will – and should – fight and will know how to handle. No argument or reasoning about democracy, freedom of speech, Lenin's and other leaders' teachings helped. After a long and difficult discussion and arguments accompanied by open threats, the management of the school was approved. This was the first real lesson that we have received about democracy and our place in the system. Participation in a school demonstration in the streets – and there were many of these – came with a threat from the Principal of the school that we should be careful because there are eyes that are watching. Around the middle of the schoolyear they began to call the leaders of the former youth movements to investigation by the security people, with a “request” to observe the words and deeds of our former friends in the Movement and to report in detail anything that was harmful to the Soviet Union, which, as was known, was surrounded by capitalists, Trotzkists, anti-revolutionaries and other enemies. We did not understand at the time that the simple fact of our being together in a Jewish school constituted in the eyes of the rulers an opposition to the new regime; the number of students in our school was over one thousand, a fact that was not known in former years. As always, the school excelled in appearance during the various parades, cultural activity, a string instruments orchestra, performances of plays for the public. The outbreak of WWII ten days after the end of the schoolyear and the heavy bombings put an end, physically, to the existence of the school and the institution that had loyally served the Jewish population and has educated generations in the national Jewish spirit. The former Beltz residents can be proud that they had established and sustained in their town a cultural institution of such a high degree. No less proud should be all those who studied there and managed to graduate, in spite of so many difficulties and tests.


[Page 563]

The Soviet Period in Bălţi
Until the Outbreak of WWII

by Tziporah Ungar-Mazor

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

Tzipah Ungar (Mazor)

 

As the Soviets entered Bălţi (Beltz), a change came very soon. The authorities closed all private businesses and thousands of Jews remained without a sustenance, which meant without a piece of bread. At the time, my father z”l was close to fifty years old. True, he was used to hard work – all his life he worked hard, any work that could honorably maintain his family; he went to work as a porter in a wood warehouse – very hard work, but he did it without a single complaint. Our relatives from the Vergulis family were the owners of a hotel on Proporgeska Street, the “Hotel du Nord.” One day, they received an order to evacuate the place, and found themselves in the street. They remembered the Mazor family, who lived in two small rooms in the courtyard of the gentile Serbu, a clerk in the Court of Justice, who was always drunk. It was on the Stara Potchava Street.

The Mazor family received the Vergulises with open hands. They have not forgotten that they have been helped by the Vergulises during difficult times. The family – the parents and the two daughters – went to live with the Mazor's. The father Vergulis was broken; he was not able to go to work. In every home there had to be installed a “Russian Corner” with a picture of Lenin, as an icon.

There was a new recording of the population, and the new identity cards caused a great distress. If it was written in the card that the carrier was a son or a daughter of a “merchant” – it became an indelible black mark and a threat of exile to Siberia or, in easier cases, it caused limitations in obtaining work.

On 22 June the war broke out. There were bombings all night, and we hid in the yard, and then father decided that we should run out to the fields; we did, and father remained home to watch the house. From the field we could see that the entire town was burning. Confusion was everywhere. Next day we returned to town and we found Father. The parents loaded on a wagon what they could, and we all started to retreat in the direction of the town Floresti. We met aunt Malia from Zagoritza and uncle Zisi. All decided to return to Beltz and loaded the wagon with the pillows and household things. Father urged everyone to escape quickly from town, because, if the Germans will come they will kill everybody. The Vergulises refused to leave, they hated the Soviets. Perhaps they hoped that with the Romanians they would be able to find a way to live.

My parents fled to father's town of birth, on the Dniester. Uncle Shika and the children arrived as well. They managed to cross the river before the great tragedy began, and reached the Jewish shtetl Kaminka. First they took the children and then the parents arrived as well.

We spent the night at the home of one of the peasants, but soon this population was also deported by the Russians. In the morning they were told that the Germans

[Page 564]

were approaching – and so the journey toward the unknown began.

They ran, without food and without money. Wherever they could, they took the train. In every station, father would go off the train and try to buy some food, in exchange for household things. Several times he got lost but was found again and so we managed to reach the Caucasus. We stayed there for some time. Tzipa became sick. Again we sold things in order to save Tzipa – we did not find the medicine that we needed.

We reached Voroshilovsk. The local Soviet took care of the refugees and found shelter for them with one of the local families. In the place there was a factory of violins, but they wouldn't accept the new arrivals for work, unless they registered in the Kolkhoz. They had no choice, so they registered in the Kolkhoz called “Ordzhenikidza.” They remained there for a while, but had to leave as the danger of the Germans threatened again.

The order was given to prepare defense trenches and Father went to work. Mother and Tzipa went to work in the field. One day father rode on a horse, was thrown down and was wounded, but luckily he escaped with his life. When they heard that the women will also be called to dig trenches, they decided to move on. Two days they waited at the train station, without food, and as soon as the train arrived and the long “convoy” began to move, the order came to take all to the trenches work. In the fierce Russian winter all were forced to work – mother, father and Tzipa, digging trenches 3 meters deep and 5 meters wide. The fingers froze, and father managed to save his daughter's fingers by rubbing them with snow.

The situation became a little easier when permission was given to leave mother home, since two other members of the family, Father and Tzipa, remained at work. They worked from dawn to starlight. Part of the meager soup hey received at work they brought home to mother.

When they finished the work at the trenches, they found refuge in the house of a peasant, in the Georgevsk region. For the work at the trenches they received a special document, which enabled father to go to the Kolkhoz and receive the food that was due to him. With that document and a little luck, they decided to go on, toward mid-Asia. Father tried to do some trade in the bazaar, but one day he was caught, charged with black-marketing and arrested. They did not know about that at home. As he didn't come home in the evening, they went to investigate and so heard about the arrest. After much pleading he was released, but they received an order to move on right away and return to the Kolkhoz. They marched following the railroad line, up to its end, and there they hired a wagon and continued the journey. At night they slept in the field on a pile of straw, overhead rats running, but they reached finally a port on the Caspian Sea. There they met Zisia. Father and Zisia began commerce. They also worked as porters until it was their turn to board ship. They reached the beach on the other side, a place called Krasnovodesk. There was hunger in the place. Father became sick with diarrhea and only thanks to the efforts of Mother, who obtained a little rice and cooked it with water he was saved. The hunger forced people to eat heads of herrings, which were sold at exaggerated prices.

Again they joined the “convoy” and continued wandering, until they reached Zhambol. Father went out to check something, and suddenly the “convoy” began to move. Mother and Tzipa decided to leave and wait for father. When father returned, they decided to remain in Zhambol, but the local authorities refused to give them papers and sent them to the Kolkhoz. In the place there was a leather factory, and father and Tzipa went to work in a shoe workshop. Father worked also as guard in the legume warehouse of the restaurant. In addition, father and Tzipa made shoes (simple house shoes) and mother would go to the market to sell them.

This was already in Uzbekistan. The population constituted of refugees, who had been deported by the Soviet Regime and sent to mid-Asia.

Mother became sick with malaria and only the devoted care of father and Tzipa saved her. They managed to buy a shack and lived there, waiting for the war to end. Unfortunately, they had no luck. After Tzipa found work as an accountant in a warehouse and they managed to save some money, father became sick again

[Page 565]

with diarrhea, was taken to the hospital and did not return from there. The family was told that he had typhoid fever. This was in 1943.

In 1944, Tzipa was married and returned to Poland with her husband Itche and mother, and from there they made Aliya in 1950. Somewhere in the steppe of Kazakhstan, there is a lonely grave, without a memorial gravestone, just a plain stone with a name on it. Who knows whether the steppe sand uprooted it and threw it through the wind, and the grave was left open to the wild animals. Father was not privileged to see the victory over Nazi Germany and to reach the place that he was longing for all his life as a shelter for his family.

He had been full of energy all his life, did not rest even one day. He had no summer vacation and did not go to summer resorts. From his early childhood he worked to bring bread to his widowed mother and later to his wife and two children. He was a good merchant; at the beginning he sold salted fish in the market place, but after he was wounded while working and could not use his left hand he was fired. He received a small amount of money and a barrel of salted fish and sold them one by one in the market. How happy was he, when he managed to bring home some money, smelling of fish and oil, which enabled Mother to go next day to the grocery store and buy some food for the family.

He desired to become a big merchant. He kept at home letters with the addresses of suppliers of food from Danzig and other places – with whom the local wholesalers were in touch – but he did not succeed much in his endeavors. He tried his luck with a grocery store, then a vegetable store, had an argument with the neighboring store owner and even received a slap in the face from her. Finally he managed to open a meat store and a small restaurant, but failed there as well.

Yet, between one business and another, life went on. He did manage to improve the situation of the family, repaired the home where they were living, were dressed nicely and gave the children a good education; one of them went to the Jewish High-School and the other to the ORT vocational school. He was the example of the Jewish working man, diligent and happy with his lot, who did not succumb to fate and believed in the future.

May his Memory be blessed.

 

The parents Moshe and Chana Mazor, Tzipa and Yosef

 

[Page 566]

 

Munia Ackerman

 

[Page 567]

My Bălţi (Beltz)

by Menachem (Munia) Ackerman

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I was born on 14. 4. 27 in Bălţi (Beltz), in the home of my parents z”l, Sonia and Meir Ackerman, on the King Carol Street, or, as it was called in the language of our ancestors, Petrogratzkaya Street No. 238.

During 14 years and 58 days, until 13.6. 1941, the thread of my life turned around the streets and alleys of Beltz. At the above date, at two after midnight, it took a sharp turn. We heard loud knocks on the door, knocks that will follow me to the end of my life. The door was forced open and 3 representatives of the Soviet regime burst in: a captain of the NKVD accompanied by 2 soldiers, armed with bayonetted guns. Without any explanation or written document, they ordered us to leave our home. They threw us into a truck that was waiting outside and took us to the train station “Pomentin.” They imprisoned us, some 4,000 of the Beltz Jews, like animals, in the long row of sealed train cars and took us through Russia, to the far and threatening land, the frozen Siberia exile.

This was how I parted – sharply, in 15 minutes only, from my shtetl Beltz, the shtetl where I was born and grew up, from the warm and caressing home, of which each corner whispered love and devotion, from my friends and all that was important and dear to me up to that time.

That damned night, the representatives of the Bolshevik regime put an end to my wonderful childhood, robbed my freedom and threw my future and my life into a fog. That night of 13 June 1941 my world collapsed and with it my shtetl Beltz turned into ruins.

Next day the train began to run, and in the crowded and sealed car I understood that with the noise of the wheels on the rail my shtetl Beltz was disappearing from my life.

It is probable that every person has a hidden place in his soul, a dark corner where experiences and memories from the past are kept. And in a moment of despair, when one feels that he stands on the brink of an abyss, one draws from this personal archives a bit of experience or memory and tries to build around it his or her life to this point in time. So it happened, that in the nights when I almost choked from heat and bad smells, from the cries of hungry children and the weeping of desperate women I dove into my own soul and drew from my archives memories of my town Beltz – its qualities and its faults – and this was what helped me to overcome that horrible time.

Beltz is, first and foremost, the home of my parents z”l. I raise here their memory with awe and with a tremor of holiness, lest I offend the purity of their souls. My father was an unsophisticated Jew, honest, diligent and devoted. He loved his fellows and was always ready to help when needed, even if it was life–threatening. My mother was the “Yiddishe Mame” [“the Jewish mother”] in the full sense of the word.

[Page 568]

She was famous in town for her hospitality; she always found what to serve the guests and knew how to make their time pleasant. Our home was always full of visitors.

The love and devotion of my parents gave me experiences and feelings of a happy childhood, although we lived in Bessarabia, a border region between Russia and Romania, which was always a source of border disputes between the two countries; the region was also known as the land of persecutions and pogroms, the land where the “cup of bitterness” that its Jews drank was very bitter indeed.

For me, Beltz was the kindergarten where I went to, with its teacher Mrs. Lerner. In this kindergarten we were taught about the Jewish Holidays and there I tasted the fruits of Eretz Israel for the first time, on the holiday of “Tu Bishvat” [15th of the month of Shevat – the holiday of trees and planting]. In this kindergarten I learned, as I was 5 years old, about the heroism of the Maccabees, Shimshon, Mordechai, the Exodus from Egypt, Moses, the Torah and our Land. In this kindergarten, the roots of belonging to an old nation began to grow; these roots deepened more and more when I grew up and became a regular student in the local Hebrew High–School.

More than anything, Beltz was for me its splendid Hebrew High–School. Almost my entire life was connected with that school, the Principal Tumarkin and after him Katz, the teachers Bord, Langerman, Tzesis, Kuperstein, Mrs. Yakobson and the music teacher Tashenko, a gentile who taught us to sing Hatikva [the Hebrew national anthem] and many more Hebrew songs.

Proudly and with great risk we raised the national blue–white flag of the high–school at the festive parades through the streets of the town, while the hooligans tried to snatch it from us and to beat us. All these are the real roots of my Jewish education, which have withstood, as I later realized, all the tests of time through the storms of my life. My Beltz was a great workshop of Zionist education.

When I was six, Moshe Fuchs took me to a strange place, and explained that it was called “The local BEITAR Branch.” There, Jewish children were taught to stand up and keep a noble spirit, be honest and polite, but more than anything be proud sons of the Jewish nation, who has, somewhere in a far place, a one and only homeland and there is no other. True, two thousand years ago we have been exiled from that land, but our aim was to return to it by all means and establish there our sovereign Hebrew Homeland.

In this Branch I have seen for the first time upright and proud young men doing military drilling exercises, behave like soldiers and proudly sing the anthems – the BEITAR anthem and Hatikva, our immortal National Anthem. Here I felt that a new generation of the Jewish people was being born, a generation of fighters and not only of dreamers; a generation that, when the right time comes, will carry arms, burst open the gates that had been locked by the British and set its homeland free. All this was charming me. I wanted to be one of the movement's soldiers and I joined BEITAR enthusiastically. I pledged allegiance to the movement and I strictly kept all my life the traditional BEITAR oath.

In 1938, Zev Jabotinski, the head of BEITAR, visited Beltz. Thousands of Jews assembled for the reception, and my commander at the time, Yosef Mazor, chose me to recite the poem “One Truth and not Two” by the poet Uri Zvi Grinberg. I was placed on a high platform made of two tables and I began reciting in a strong but a little trembling voice, making a great effort to pronounce everything correctly. Suddenly the head of BEITAR approached me and said: “I am sure that you learned perfectly by heart the poem, but I would like to know whether you understand correctly its content”, and then I gathered all my strength and explained the content of the poem as best I could. He was impressed, caressed my head and said words of praise. There was not one in the world happier than me at that moment – and I was only eleven years old.

When I was Bar–Mitzva I was already the leader of the “Young BEITAR” movement and I was explaining to 19–12 years old children the BEITAR ideas.

On 26 June 1940, the Soviet government sent an ultimatum to the Romanian government, asking to retreat from Bessarabia in 48 hours. The Soviet government was supported by the communists who were organized in underground units, among them young students in our Hebrew High–School. The Russian ultimatum was sent with the approval of the Russian government and Romania had no choice but to leave Bessarabia. On 28.6.1940, Russian planes flew over the town Beltz and after several hours tanks and infantry arrived as well.

[Page 569]

The first step of the Russian rulers was to destroy the Jewish life of the Community in town. The Jewish High–School was closed, the Jewish flag went underground, the school principal, Mr. Katz, was imprisoned and the school teachers dispersed. All Zionist activity was prohibited. We all went underground.

I shall always remember the last assembly of the BEITAR branch in Beltz. A feeling of holiness engulfed us, as we sang silently the BEITAR anthem. Then we approached the flag, one by one, and we kissed it, in tears. And we parted from our flag (perhaps temporarily?) and, praying silently, we carried it out of town and buried it in the Beltz soil, believing that one day we shall take it out and carry it proudly to our true and free homeland. In an “atmosphere of silent mourning” we covered the “grave” and dispersed…

The Jewish High–School turned into a communist college. We studied there another year, learning the lies of the Stalin (the Sun of Humanity) theories, until the dark night of 13.6.1941. Somebody informed on me, relating that I was a member of BEITAR and I was forced to pay the full price, although I was only 14 years old.

Even in my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined parting so suddenly and cruelly from our beloved shtetl Beltz…

My life changed entirely. Suddenly I found myself in the Siberian virgin forests, with my sister Riva and my mother. My father was stolen from us through a lowly stratagem. In one of the stations on the way to exile, the heads of the family were ordered to leave the train in order to report various identification details. They were put in the last ten cars of the convoy. The cars were later disconnected and all traces of our fathers disappeared.

In Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, we were taken off the train, half fainted, hungry, dirty and in total despair and we were loaded on several giant rafts tied to ships, and taken far away, into the depths of frightening Siberia.

There they announced that we were 'special prisoners” sentenced to 20 years of forced labor.

 

Upper row, from left to right: Meir Ackerman, Chaia Lachtman, Israel Lachtman, Riva (Ackerman) Blaustein
Sitting from left to right: Mayka Lachtman, Ida Lachtman, Menachem (Muni) Ackerman, Sonia Ackerman

 


[Page 570]

Menachem (Munia) Ackerman

by Misha Fuchs

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Munia Ackerman was born in 1927 in Beltz, grew up in a traditional Jewish home, went to the Hebrew High-School and was a member of the Zionist movement BEITAR.

As the Russians occupied Bessarabia in 1940, it was annexed to the USSR. In June 1941, the NKVD officers raided the Jewish quarters in town and many thousands were exiled to Siberia and sentenced to 20 years of forced labor.

Among the exiles was the Ackerman family, headed by Meir, a small businessman who dealt in grains and rice – a “sin” which became their sustenance in Siberia; the forced labor and the escape attempts are related in detail in a book that Munia wrote.

This book is an exemplary document of a family who survived the “valley of death” where millions of innocent people perished, in the terrible cold and in the virgin forests.

Munia succeeded, towards the end of WWII, to study and to serve in the Red Army. The entire family survived and took the road back to their town. Only a few houses had remained standing in Beltz and very few of its Jews returned. The head of the family decided to leave Beltz and move to a place far from his former home and town. The family went to Cernowitz, and then to Romania. Munia resumed the Zionist activity, was active in BEITAR, ETZEL and the “Brikha” (lit. flight = the “remnants' escape from Europe after the war) and headed the group of 800 illegal immigrants on the illegal ship “Pan Crescent” which was caught by the British and taken to the Cyprus Camps.

In Cyprus he established a BEITAR Youth Village, recruited soldiers for the Etzel movement and in 1948 went with them to Eretz Israel.

The family established itself in Haifa and his first work after being released from the army was as an accountant in a beverage company.

After a short time Munia found the strength and courage to establish an independent Beverage Company –Menachem Ackerman LTD – today one of the biggest companies of beverage import and marketing in Israel.

Munia added his son and his daughter to the directorship of the company, as heads of the Tel Aviv branch and of the secondary agency in Jerusalem.

Munia Ackerman was elected as member of the Haifa Municipality and is active in many committees, in particular in the areas of economy, commerce and development.

Today he is director of the Bank Carmel, and the president of the Ackerman Company.


[Page 576]

Memories from the Suffering
of the Jews evacuated from Beltz

(On 13-14 June 1941)

by Dr. K.

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Dr. K. relates

Dr. K., one of the doctors who, on the “black days” of 13 and 14 June 1941 accompanied a transport of evacuees from Beltz, relates:

As a doctor I accompanied a transport of 40 train cars, carrying about 2,000-2,200 evacuees, 80% of them Jews from Beltz.

Among them were: doctors, lawyers, political and public activists, rich and well-to-do, house-owners, craftsmen, workers with a “flaw” in their political background, employees, merchants, shop owners (even not rich ones), agents, stock-exchange agents – men and women, among whom many were not politically affiliated to one party or another or belonged to a particular political group.

The convoy moved slowly and stopped often at desolate stations. After crossing the Dniester the command came: separate the men from the women and children. Panic arose, women and children embraced the men, crying and shouting – some were hysterical and some fainted. They begged not to be separated, but in vain. His command was executed, in some places with the help of NKVD, who threatened with their rifles.

The journey took four weeks. In the first few days, they opened the cars 2-3 times daily to distribute the food. With the outbreak of the war on 22 June 1941 and the bombardments by the enemy, which irritated the NKVD, they opened the doors and gave food only once in two or even three days.

The conditions were terrible. The crowded cars and the heat caused much suffering and people shouted, cried, and asked for some air, but in vain. “Order” was strictly kept…

Great pain was caused also because of lack of drinking water and drink in general, after the prisoners ate salted cheese and herring, included in the food rates. Thirst tortured the poor people to the point of madness. Cries “water, water” pierced the Heavens. The knocks on the wagon walls were deafening, and it seemed that the crying of the children made the world tremble. But the head of the “security keepers” was indifferent to the poor victims. His attitude toward them was pitiless, his heart hard as stone, and he treated them harshly. Every “crime” was severely punished, according to the strict “commandments” in the Stalinist “Code of Law”… and its barbaric treating of the “dangerous elements” – “the enemies of the Revolution”… It should be noted, that all this happened at the time the war was raging

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and the Soviet Army was retreating under the pressure of the Fascist murderous attacks.

I – goes on Dr. K. – could not remain indifferent to such a terrible regime and as a doctor I tried to help and improve their fate. I used the instructions of the Ministry of Health concerning hygiene, and asked the help of the NKVD officer to keep minimal conditions – to keep the train cars clean and airy and provide for the prisoners at least drinking water. All my requests were rejected, as if I was speaking to a wall.

In these conditions, it is easy to understand that the death rate among the prisoners was high. Every day brought new victims. Often, the train stopped at a side-station, and secretly the dead were buried somewhere… According to my data, says Dr. K., more than 100 people died during 4 weeks, because of the terrible conditions, thirst and lack of hygiene, and children mostly of measles, dysentery and other diseases.

It is easy to understand that in these conditions of transport, especially of children and babies, being accompanied by a doctor was no more than fiction. My help was minimal, since there was no possibility to check them in time, the cars being under strict guard and totally shut for days long. I could visit the sick only when the cars were opened, and this was only at the time of the distribution of the food.

The entire convoy was like a moving prison, where the situation was terrible, even for animals. The brutal and cynical officer of the NKVD who was responsible for the transport was full of feelings of revenge and sadistic pleasure. He came from the underworld, had no conscience at all and was totally devoted to his master and teacher, his idol “the father of the nations.” Innocent and helpless people – elderly, women and children – he considered “anti-Soviet elements,” haters of the Soviet rule”, “anti-revolutionary,” socially dangerous and enemies…. This was what they were taught by the “great Stalin”: all these elements should be treated mercilessly and eradicated, uprooted and destroyed by whatever means…

At the time of the distribution of food, when I had the possibility to enter one of the cars to give medical assistance, I saw a terrible sight, my heart ached and my blood froze in my veins: people were lying on the floor like old rags and broken dishes close to each other like herrings in a box. Members of the upper classes, public activists and the intelligentsia had been broken spiritually during the first days of their imprisonment and were lying down in despair, apathy and helplessness, staring and full of questions in their extinguished eyes, broken by feelings of shame and the fatal knowledge that this was their last road. Old people became extinguished like candles, poor pallid mothers, trying in vain to save their children who looked like skeletons, while the angel of death was approaching…. All were my friends and acquaintances, but I could not help: my hands were tied by the cruel regime.

The Soviet civil authorities also looked on shamefully, how they tortured innocent people, and, like me, were hurting because of the criminal and sadist attitude of the “security officer” toward the victims. He, the Stalinist, introduced the brutal behavior toward the “enemies of the revolution.” Neither I, nor the other Soviets could change this, in spite of our good will. Only in very rare cases could we help the poor souls with a pail of water “out of the norm” or move a bit the door of the car without anybody seeing, to let in a little fresh air. We were afraid to ask too much, for fear of the consequences….

Well – continued Dr. K. – in this transport and similar such transports many Jews were tortured and died through much suffering, whether from hunger, thirst or disease, or from depression and degeneration, or from the German Messerschmitt bombers that in this way helped to destroy “the enemies of the people and the revolution,” on the sad way to Siberia, to the forced labor camps.


[Page 578]

“Prisoners of Zion” [Asirei Zion] Residents of Beltz

by Tz. Heinichs

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

With the occupation of Bessarabia by the Soviets at the end of 1940, the first action of the NKVD (the communist police) was, as usual, to “clean” the town of “dangerous elements” who can endanger the “fruits of the victory” of the ruling party: real estate and other property owners, merchants and shop owners (even those who “earned their bread by the sweat of their brow”), the clergy, “the bourgeois intelligentsia” – all of those who aroused the suspicion of the regime.

The attitude toward the intelligentsia – teachers, lawyers, doctors – was very strict. It was enough if some criminal, out of hate or jealousy would hint in the ears of a policeman or a member of the Party that a person was not too sympathetic to the communist idea or that he opposed the Stalinist theories – to determine his fate right away: at night he would disappear without a trace…

While “cleaning” the town of “dangerous elements” and displacing them, the rulers were also eager to “repossess” the property of the “bourgeois.” This was done, apparently in an orderly manner, while conducting an “inventory.” The workers could not overcome their bad habits and some of the merchandise would find its way to their pockets and homes.

The authorities, the police and their helpers directed their anger in particular against political and public activists, most of them Jews, headed by the Zionists. The latter were sooner or later imprisoned, questioned cruelly at night through long months and finally found guilty, sentenced and exiled to labor camps, according to the decision of the infamous Moscow “Troika.”

Below are the names of the Beltz “Prisoners of Zion” (in alphabetical order):

  1. Abramowitz Baruch, a merchant, head of the General Zionists in Beltz. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison in forced labor camp. He managed to serve his time and return to his family in Beltz.
  2. Bronstein Misha, a young and talented lawyer; active in the BEITAR movement; a brilliant speaker. He was sentenced to 8 years. He served his time and returned to his parents in Beltz.
  3. Goldstein Mendel, lawyer and teacher of the Latin Language in the Hebrew High-School in Beltz, member of the
[Page 579]

    Tze'irei Zion Movement, a talented speaker in Romanian and Latin. He “got” also 8 years in the forced labor camp and there he died.
  1. Dr. L. Gurfel, a physician, public activist and important Zionist, head of the Revisionist Zionist organization in town. He was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment in labor camp.
  2. Geinichs (Heinichs) Zvi, a lawyer and journalist, public activist and Zionist, founder of the Tze'irei Zion-Po'alei Zion organization in Beltz and one of the heads of Tze'irei Zion organization in town. He was sentenced to 10 years in a special and very strict forced labor camp. He served his time and was lucky to make Aliya to Eretz Israel in 1957. In Israel he is active in the World Organization of the Bessarabia Jews.
  3. Gick (Hick) Elazar, Jewish public activist. He headed most of the Jewish institutions in town and was close to the Tze'irei Zion-Po'alei Zion organization. He was sentenced to 8 years forced labor. He served his time and with the help of his friend the writer and poet Yakov Fichman z”l he managed to make Aliya in 1955 or 1956. He died in Israel.
  4. Derdik Sonia, member of Tze'irei Zion-Po'alei Zion. Excelled in her work for the JNF. Was exiled to Siberia, returned to Beltz and managed to make Aliya.         
  5. Hoffman Hirsh, a famous and respected attorney, member of the Romanian Parliamen. He was close to the Tze'irei Zion-Po'alei Zion organization. Was sentenced to 8 years in forced labor camp. After serving his time he returned to Kishinev, worked there as a male nurse and died there.
  6. Katz Refael, principal of the two Jewish High-Schools in Beltz. He was exiled with his wife to Siberia and died there.
  7. Lipson Gedalia, an important and respected Zionist activist. For a certain time was head of the General Zionists Organization in town. Was exiled to Siberia and died there.
  8. Milgrom Berl, Zionist activist, head of the Tze'irei Zion-Po'alei Zion. In 1936 he relocated to Kishinev and worked there at the central offices of Tze'irei Zion and at the editorial office of the Yiddish weekly Erd un Arbet [Soil and Toil]. He was sentenced to 10 years forced labor in a camp in Siberia and there he committed suicide, out of despair and as a tragic demonstration against the cruel regime.
  9. Finkenson Yakov, owner of a printing shop, public and Zionist activist, member of the respected family Finkenson-Bronstein, was exiled to Siberia and died there.
  10. Krasiuk Aharon, a farmer, member of Tze'irei Zion-Po'alei Zion, was sentenced to 8 years forced labor in Siberia, there he died under very difficult conditions.
  11. Rabbi I. L. Sternberg, from the town Dombrovioni, public and Zionist activist in Bessarabia; a very talented public speaker, known by his blessed action for the benefit of Keren Hakayemet and Keren Hayesod, very active member of the religious Zionist organization Mizrahi. He was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment in a labor camp in Siberia. He could not withstand the cruel life conditions in the camp and died there.
  12. Scheinberg Boris, industrialist. He was a member of the General Zionists organization in town, and excelled in his work for the JNF. For some time he was the secretary of the Jewish Community in Beltz. He was exiled to Siberia and died there.
  13. Tumarkin Yeshayahu, a lawyer, was director of the two Jewish high schools in Beltz. With the annexation of Bessarabia to the USSR in 1940 he left Beltz and relocated to Bucharest (Romania) and later worked as a lawyer at the Israel Embassy. He was arrested and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in Romania; succeeded to make Aliya in 1956 and after a few years died.
-- If there are “prisoners of Zion” who were not included in the above list, I am asking their forgiveness. The reason is not bad intention, God forbid; it is only that I did not know about the arrests or that my memory did not serve me well: fifty years have passed since the arrests…

 

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