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[Page 184]

With the “Chalutz”

by Yitzhak Zvirin

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Yitzhak Zvirin was born in 1904 and died in 1983. He was imprisoned as a Zionist. He immigrated to Palestine in 1927 and lived in Tel Aviv. He was a prominent member of the organization of the natives of Minsk in Israel.

My home was a religious home. My father was very much opposed to the idea that his sons would be immigrating to the land of Israel. He would usually say to us “why do you have to be amongst the first to go. Wait until they develop the area a bit and then go”. My brothers would not listen to him, in 1919, when Minsk was under Polish rule, they moved to Vilna and from there they immigrated to Palestine in the year 1921. I stayed in Minsk which became part of the Soviet Union.. I joined the Chalutz (the left wing, which was legal). Our activities were mainly studying the history of the Zionist movement as well as the geography of the land of Israel and other subjects, which had to do with the land of Israel. After some time those activities became illegal in the Soviet Union and we were forced to meet underground, in private homes and sometimes even in the cemeteries.

In order to be effective at the time that we made Aliyah to Israel, we trained in collective agricultural living. In Minsk we were trained in a blacksmiths warehouse. Some members went all the way to Crimea, where they were trained in the farms of the Chalutz.

In 1923 I was sent as a representatives of our branch, to the congress of the Chalutz which took place in Moscow. After the congress the organization was declared illegal by the Soviet authorities. The Jewish Moscow theatre performed in Minsk. Shlomo Mikhailitz was the star of the show. He also had a series of lectures about the Yiddish Theater. I, together with most of the Jewish men, attended every lecture. We sent him a note with a question: “what do you think of the Hebrew language?” he answered “The poet Bialik was the last breath of the dying Hebrew language”. People would visit us from the center of the Chalutz in Moscow. I remember Eliyhu Epstein (Eilat), who was an active member in Minsk and also Mania Starkman Valinsky who was a member of the more rightwing branch of the Chalutz. Later on she became a judge in Haifa.

The conspiracy was not a strong one and maybe because of this provocateurs started rising. The fact is that during arrests of the members, people of the soviet secret police would arrive with exact addresses and lists, as if some insider had given them some information. Every few months they would arrest people. But these arrests did not stop the movement. Young people, our students, continued with the Zionist activities. They all wanted to escape from the communist “Garden of Eden” and make aliyah to the land of Israel.

During the period of our imprisonment, Every Saturday we would be taken to the bathhouse. During our walk, we would see numerous members, of various Zionist organizations, who came to look at us from afar. It looked like Zionism was a prevalent movement. The chief investigator who interrogated us was Andrayev. He was very knowledgeable about the divers branches of the Zionist movement. Very seldom he would ask us to inform about members who were not in prison yet. May be he assumed that we were not going to inform him about them or maybe he concluded that eventually they would fall into their hands anyway. During my investigation I admitted that I was a member of Ha Chalutz. Prior to that time it was customary to release the accused for a short time, to prepare for exile. They didn't do the same with us. They immediately announced that we would be escorted with guards into exile. So together with Solomon Orvitz, Mania Shtarkman, Eli Shapira and Yitzhak Yavneh, we organized a hunger, this strike didn't have any effect on the Soviets. We were still sent into exile.

We arrived in exile in the region of Comy. We lived together. Occasionally new exiles arrived. Some were Zionist members, others were political prisoners. We sustained our selves by working. For example Yitzhak Villinchok worked as the engineer for the town. Today he is an engineer for ”Mekorot” Israel . We also received some help from home. Eventually Itzhak Villinchok escaped form exile. He was able to use a slay to escape across the frozen river. After his escape they made new rules and twice a day we were ordered to come for assembly, where the GPO would ensure that everyone was present. I stayed in this camp for two years. With the legal help I received from Pechkova, in 1927 I was able to leave the Soviet Union and immigrate to the land of Israel.

[Page 206]

Fragments of Memories

by Dov Lipov

Translated by Sara Mages

The interviewed, Dov Lipov, was born in 1905 in the town of Horodok. From 1915 - in Minsk. Prisoner of Zion. Immigrated to Israel in 1925. Served as secretary of the Dead Sea Workers' Council. Secretary of Mapai in Jerusalem. Secretary of Jerusalem Workers' Council. Published a book about “Nachman Syrkin and his Doctrine,” Mapai Publishing House, 1950.

At the end of 1915 I started to study at the “Bystrokhod” in evening classes for Hebrew. In theory, the “Bystrokhod” was founded for the children of the refugees who flocked to Minsk during the war. After many arguments with the “Bund,” on the language of teaching for the refugees' children, the Zionists won and Hebrew was established as the language of instruction. In fact, children from Minsk, who weren't refugees, also studied there. My teachers were: Menachem Itzkovitch; Mendelson, who later immigrated to Israel and was a teacher in Kfar-Saba; and also one, Abramowich, who was Rav Mita'am and came to Minsk with the stream of refugees. My head teacher was Kadushin. The teacher, Moshe Cohen, also taught there. He came as a refugee from Kovna and was the son-in-law of HaRav R' Avraham Tiktinsky, who was head of Mir Yeshiva. Later, Moshe Cohen returned to Kovna and was one of the editors of “HaOlam” [“The World”] and when he immigrated to Israel he continued editing “HaOlam.” We studies Hebrew and Bible with the interpretation, “Mikra Meforash,” the modern interpretation of Levin, Notik and Triwosch.

In 1917, I moved to study in “Heder Metukan” [modern Heder] of Haim David Rosenstein, father of Avraham Even-Shoshan, Avraham, who was our age, about 12-13, was a great scholar and already then helped his father teach. A drawing of Herzl hung in the classroom, the work of the eldest son, Tzvi Rosenstein, who was at that time a student in Kharkiv [Kharkov]. We learned only Hebrew studies there: Bible, language and grammar.

I remember the 1917 February Revolution. I came home and mother whispered to me: “Nikolai was removed from his throne!” Is it good or bad?” - I asked. “It is very good - mother answered - because Nikolai was a drunk and Jew hater.

Crowds, drunk with the joy of freedom, broke into the streets and disarmed the police. Mass meetings of various parties were held: the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Social Democrats Party, the Zionists, “Poalei Zion” and the “Bund.” As a boy I pushed myself into all these meetings and listened to the rousing speeches.

I remember the procession of “Hashomer Hatzair,” then the Scout Federation, which was headed by the boys - Herzl Berger a native of Minsk, and the refugee Dov-Ber Malkin.

I belonged to the association “Pirchei Zion” [“Flowers of Zion”] and later to a Hebrew association called “Bikkurim” [“First-fruits”]. Among the members of “Bikkurim” were also Mordechai Haimovsky, Leah Perlman and Rachel Rabinowitch, daughter of Michel Rabinowitch. We gathered and listened to lectures that each of us had prepared in turn. We numbered about fifty people. Generally we gathered at the Haimovsky's home in Lahovka.

Of the older Zionists I remember Avraham Kaplan, the permanent chairman of all the Zionist public meetings in the city. He was considered to be the father of Zionism in the city. When a fundraising campaign was held for Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, each pair of fundraisers wanted to get to him because they knew he would make a good contribution. Yitzchak Berger, Herzl's father, was an excellent speaker on political issues. Moshe Cohen also gave lectures. They all spoke in Yiddish.

[Page 207]

I remember that one Saturday Moshe Cohen lectured at the “Zion” booth at the corner of the streets, Koidnovskaya and Bugadilnaya, about the Bible and the impression of this lecture is still kept in my memory.

The teacher, Menachem Itzkovitch, was a very important Zionist activist in the city. He was dressed in a cape, his hair was well groomed and he spoke only in Hebrew. His wife also knew Hebrew well. Itzkovitch taught the Bible at “Bystrokhod” bareheaded!

I remember the elderly, Dr. Haim Churgin, only from his appearance - a man with a serious face. However, I did not know the elderly, Y. L. Nofekh, personally. In 1921, when I came to the home of Yehudah Nofekh, I saw him lying on the floor covered with a white sheet. I attended his funeral and eulogized him on behalf of the youth federation “Kadima.” Shlomo Sosenki z”l, who called himself, Shlomo the Russian, in Israel, eulogized him on behalf of “He-Chaver” [“The Comrade”].

Nofekh's library was the largest in the city after the library named after Pushkin. There were more books there in Yiddish and Hebrew than in the municipal library.

I remember a meeting that took place on one of the Saturdays at the municipal theater. The speakers were: Yerachmiel Weinstein and the famous Esther Frumkin. Esther was a native of Minsk and came from the Lifshitz family, a fairly wealthy family. Esther, who had a very charismatic personality, was accepted by the masses, the workers and the craftsmen. In the eyes of the masses she was seen as a personality willing to sacrifice herself for her ideas. At that time there was an ongoing discussion in the newspaper, “Der Veker,” about the dissolution of the “Bund.” Weinstein was in favor of the dissolution of the “Bund.” and Esther, who opposed it, published a series of articles called “Letters to my friends.” Eventually, she also surrendered and joined the Communist Party.

Tzvi Friedland, a good public speaker, was one of the first “Poalei Zion” activists who moved to the communists. During that period the Christian churches carried out a fundraising campaign of gold and jewelry and he participated in it. The Jews claimed that a Jew should not participate in a fundraising campaign for Christian churches. I remember his appearance in Minsk at the former “Noblemen Assemblies” hall which later was the main hall of the Communist Party in the city. In this appearance Tzvi Friedland spoke about his reasons for leaving “Poalei Zion.” Leymah Rosenhaus appeared against him and claimed: “everything you claim, Tzvi, is old ideas, things that have been told to you and you repeat them like a parrot.

That Leymah was very witty. Once he said in a meeting at “Poalei Zion” club: we call ourselves the “Jewish Communist Party,” and in parentheses - P.Z. To what can this be compared? To a woman who inherited copper candlesticks from her mother. She had long since ceased to bless the candles. It is not nice to leave them at home, for the neighbors come and suddenly see copper candlesticks. She does not want to put them away, so as not to say that she is ashamed of her mother's inheritance. If so, they will continue to stand on the table. And so are we, we will continue to be called P.Z in parentheses, neither here nor there.

I remember the visits of activists from the outside. Kivin, from the P.Z center in Moscow, was a brilliant speaker and I loved listening to his speeches. Zrubavel also visited Minsk and in the notices it said: Yakov Vitkin will speak today, and in quotation marks, “Zrubavel.” He wore an elegant black suit, black shoes in galoshes and a black coat on his shoulders. He had a black beard in the style of Herzl's beard. In the days of the Bolsheviks, in 1917, he spoke in the hall of the “School of Commerce.” One of Zrubavel's sayings was engraved in my memory and I was a 12 year old boy then: “Tsar Nikolai was bad but the Bolsheviks are much worse.”

One day, Yosef Trumpeldor spoke in our city. He gave an interesting speech in Russian.

[Page 208]

I remember Michel Rabinovitz from a personal meeting. When I was accepted as a student to the gymnasium of Dr. Cemach Feldstein I needed books. I went with my mother to the store of Meir Halperin, father-in-law of Michel Rabinovitz. At that time Halperin was already a very old man and he, Michel, dealt with the buyers. I did not like one of the books and said to my mother: we'll go shopping at another store, and Michel replied: children of our time! They don't spare their mother's feet.

I heard Alexander Goldstein's brilliant speech at the municipal theater. He was a candidate for the “Constituent Assembly.” There were four candidates at the time: Alexander Goldstein, HaRav Maze and Y. Brutskus. Brutskus lived at that time in Minsk.

One day I also heard a speech of HaRav N. Z. Berlin in Minsk. It was during the Polish occupation. He spoke at the “Choral Synagogue.” It was a fiery speech.

Every morning notices, signed by the chairman Rotenberg and secretary Opensky, were published about the execution of people for the sin of counter-revolution.

In 1917, when we founded the circle “Bikkurim,” we needed a permit. We went to the “Narkompors” [People's Commissar for Education], which was housed at the home of the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, and there we received the permit from the commissar or his deputy.

Few are my memories of the German occupation. One bright day German soldiers entered the city in cohesive lines and took over the city without a fight. Many Zionist clubs were opened during the German period. The central club was in the communal hall, “Zion,” at the corner of Koidnovskaya and Bugadilnaya.

Gangs of bandits raged in the period between the Poles' escape and the arrival of the Bolsheviks. The residents sat locked in their homes and shouts were heard at night. It was said that the Poles robbed and looted before they left. There was a great joy when the first Bolsheviks entered the city. It was as though we had been redeemed from the occupiers and now, “ours,” control the city again. “The Great” - that's what we called the Bolsheviks at that time.

There was a group in the city called “Hitpatchut” [“Development”]. Among its members were actors from the Dramatic Circle: Moshe Tesman, Gedalyahu Ya'ari, Akivah Gordon brother of Yehudah Gordon, Sara Molotzinkov. It was a youth group for literature and art.

I wasn't a member of “Hitpatchut,” but I was one of the founders of the youth group “Kadima” [“Forward”]. We had a literary circle, a cover for a Zionist circle. One day, a young man named, Yosef Bader from Kazan, appeared in the city. He told us that he and his friends founded a federation called “Kadima” in Kazan. Its aim was to prepare people for manual labor as opposed to “He-Chaver” which was a federation of high school and university students. It is our duty, he said, to establish a “federation of workers.” He was a brilliant speaker and convinced us. Later, Bader immigrated to Israel and we remained like sheep without a shepherd. Bader's two friends, that we saw in them the representatives of the movement in Kazan: Gafnowitch now Gafni a resident of Nahalal, and Mordechai Nimchavsky who was killed a few years later in a road accident in Israel, kept quite. We set up a big movement in Minsk and the surrounding area and there was no sound and answer from our “center” in Kazan.

One day in a meeting, in which Gedalia Poleschuk (Ya'ari), Moshe Lifschitz, and Moshe Hodsman participated, a large parcel arrived from Kazan by mail. We opened it and our eyes lit up: a lot of material, circulars and more. This was our last contact with Kazan.

We opened branches in the entire area. A provincial center was established in Slutsk. We numbered two thousand. We had a great influence among the youth and the Komsomol did not have a foothold in a place where a branch of “Kadima” was located.

[Page 209]

We had branches in Slutsk and the surrounding area, in Staryya-Darohi. Osipovichi, Maryina-Gorka, Pukhovichi and more. I remember that a man named Leibowitz always appeared on behalf of the district committee of Starya-Darohi, and on behalf of the branches of Staryya-Darogi and Novo-Darohi.

We searched for locations for Hakhshara [training]. In Minsk we worked for the blacksmith, Kravitz, in an effort to get used to real physical work. Our aim was to emphasize the laborious line of our movement in contrast to “He-Chaver,” but there were hardly any jobs. As a result, disintegration began in “Kadima.” At that time a chapter of “HeHalutz” was established in the city by Gedalia Ya'ari. “HeHalutz” had greater possibilities of obtaining Hakhshara places. Dan Pines, emissary of the center of “HeHalutz” in Moscow, appeared in Minsk. We begged him not to lend a hand to the destruction of “Kadima” but, he didn't comply.

In our arguments with the Socialist Zionist, and with the Youth Socialist Zionist, they always claimed that we have to establish a non-political general youth movement. The party definition will come over time, with our immigration to Israel. We were sympathetic to the communists, to the romance of the revolution, and we were with the opinion that when we immigrate to Israel we would have to continue the revolution. We all admired Trotsky, the Commissar of the Red Army.

In 1922, we were arrested for the first time, not only the members of “Kadima,” but anyone who was suspected of being a Zionist. We sat for about a month, the entire month of Tishrei, in the GPU [Political police in Soviet Russia] cellar. In the end, we signed that we would cease our Zionist activity and we were released. The investigator was Aharonovitch, a man of the Yevsektsiyas [“Hebrew Section”], who was formerly a member of the Jewish Workers' Movement in the underground.

In January 1925, our group was arrested again. We sat for two months in the GPU cellars, together with criminals, until we decided to declare a hunger strike. Then we were informed of the verdict. Most of us were sentenced to deportation for three years, whether to Siberia or the Ural.

From the members of the Soviet government I remember Chervyakov, the Jewish sympathizer prime minister, and also V. Knorin, secretary of the Communist Party.

Knorin, a Russian, was a veteran communist even before the revolution, and also a wonderful speaker. I also remember Kerol, chairman of the “Revolutionary Tribunal” who judged the bandits. The court sessions were held in public, kind of a show for the masses. One day, Kerol visited us in jail. We showed him a slogan on the wall: “Death to informers!” and he burst out laughing. They said that he admired the rabbis and turned a blind eye to their actions.

I also remember Mariasin, a former Socialist Zionist who became a communist. On Yom Kippur he participated in an anti-religious demonstration in Minsk. After the demonstration his youngest son was killed in a car accident and then it was said: “The Finger of God!” During the period we sat in prison the commanders of the GUP were constantly changing. In our time were Baranow, Karakolev, and later Katz, a Jew.

In the end, our sentence was changed to deportation from Russia and we immigrated to Israel. It was in 1925.

[Page 210]

I Will Not Sign!

by Reuven Goldberg

Translated by Sara Mages

The interviewed, Reuven Goldberg (1908–1979). Prisoner of Zion. Immigrated to Israel in 1929. Worked as an accountant in Tel–Aviv.

I came from a religious home. My father was a member of “Agudat Yisrael.” Zionism was unacceptable to him. I attended a religious high–school, half a day in general studies in Russian and half a day in sacred studies in Yiddish. It was during the Polish rule in Minsk and it lasted for another year, also during the Soviet rule. The high–school was located in Koidnovskaya Street and in the same yard was also the Hebrew kindergarten of the well known Zionist teacher, Menachem Itzkovitch (HaLevi). As children, we absorbed the sounds of the Hebrew songs that came from the kindergarten and were drawn to them.

Very quickly they closed the high–school of Agudat Yisrael,” closed the Hebrew kindergarten. The teacher, Itzkovitch, secretly opened courses for the study of the Bible and Hebrew literature. I enrolled in these courses and so I arrived, under the influence of my classmates, to the federation “Kadima Hatzair.”

Members of the synagogues in Minsk, rabbis and members of “Agudat Yisrael,” opposed the Zionist movement, both for reasons of principle and for fear of the authorities.

We had no places to hold our meetings because our religious parents objected to this activity. We took over synagogues, broke into the women's section and held our meetings there. The Gabbaim and the rabbis threatened to hand us over to the GPU [Political police in Soviet Russia]. As a result, we wandered from synagogue to synagogue until we moved our meetings to private apartments. In this manner we continued until the teacher Itzkovitch, and many of his students, have been arrested. The federation “Kadima Hatzair” was liquidated and most of its members moved to “Kadima.” I continued to be a member of “HeHalutz Hatzair,” a youth organization that trained people for immigration to Israel.

There were many Jews in Minsk who belonged to the middle class: shopkeepers, service workers and independent craftsmen. With the establishment of the Soviet regime in the city they were deprived of their rights. They were considered an unwanted element and were persecuted. Their economic and cultural distress was great. They were especially abused by the Yevsektsii [Jewish sections of the Communist Party], who confiscated synagogues and conducted public binges and parties on Yom Kippur eve. There was also great confusion among the children of the “petit–bourgeoisie.” They weren't allowed to study, they weren't allowed to work. Their fathers were portrayed as criminals. However, immigration to Israel was still possible at that time. Those who received a certificate were able to immigrate. Encouraging letters arrived from Israel. It was during the boom year in Israel, before the 1924 crisis. Is it any wonder that everyone aspired to immigrate to Israel? The Jews knew that immigration to Israel was involved in belonging to “HeHalutz,” Hence, the great influence of “HeHalutz” on the Jewish youth in Minsk. All the Zionist parties organized classes in Hebrew. The classes were small, 4–5 people. They studied the history of Israel, knowledge of the country, the kibbutz, the kevutza [communal settlement], the Histadrut [General Organization of Workers in the Land of Israel], etc. “HeHalutz,” which was legal in Moscow, received the newspaper “Davar” and in indirect ways the newspaper also reached us. We also received Jewish newspapers from Poland. They were sent to the communist newspaper editorial board, and from there our members smuggled them to us.

[Page 211]

From our centers in Moscow and Leningrad we received circulars, pamphlets and literature. When we received printed material from Israel, or “Davar,” it was a holiday for us, we even read the advertisements and in our eyes each advertisement was like a greeting from Eretz–Yisrael to which we longed.

Apart from the meetings we gathered in classes two–three times a week. We also published polemic booklets in three languages: Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish.

In the last two years before my arrest I have been in close contact with Sheftel Baskin (today Sabbatai Beit–Zevi) and was his helper. He excelled in verbal and written propaganda and organized all the activities of the local sector. Students functioned among students, high–school students – among students, workers – among workers. We left for the forests and we heard Sheftel's lectures on ideological issues: Marxism and Jewish reality, Borochov's theory, etc. When he was arrested I took care of his needs and he passed to me, via his laundry, hand written articles and pamphlets. We printed his articles in a hectograph at the apartment of a girl who was later discovered to be a provocateur. We printed up to 30 copies, read them in meetings and sent them to local branches: Slutsk, Kampala Gruzuv and more.

Baskin also organized the ASKG, “Yiddishe Sozialistische Kinder– Grupen,” meaning: socialist groups of Jewish children. We published a newspaper in easy language and distributed it among the elementary school students. There was an echo to our activity because the tendency toward Israel was great. This continued until news reached us about the crisis in Israel and the GPU [Political police in Soviet Russia] began with arrests.

And so the GPU acted: someone was arrested, he was promised education and a good job provided that he would give a declaration for publication in “Der Veker” that he realized that Zionism is an agent of the bourgeoisie and the imperialists. Most prisoners were not tempted and didn't give statements.

All the arrests were the product of informants. Over time I became a member in ASIP, a relatively left–wing movement among the Zionist groups which incorporated the Marxist perception with Zionism.


Title page of the second issue of ASKG newspaper, “The ASIP Guard”


[Page 212]

In our ASIP (or by the initials in Russian: YSSM) was a young woman that her brother was communist and married to a gentile. She had plenty of money and a big apartment, and the center of our movement in Minsk was in her home. Emissaries who came from Moscow, from the center, people who came from nearby towns to receive material, all passed through this provocateur's home. The GPU learned from her about our people and she decided, according to her own consideration, who and when to arrest.

In interrogations we had one line of behavior; we didn't make Zionist declarations or arguments against Zionism. We said: we don't know anything. The interrogator had to get our signature and since we didn't sign, he was left empty–handed.

When I was arrested in 1917, they accused me that we, a group of eight men, which included a member of the “Bund,” a member of “Yevsektsii, a Trotskyist [advocate of Trotsky's ideas], a non–communist journalist named Preson, and three members of YSSM – that we conspired against the Soviet regime. I didn't know the defendants at all except for the provocateur and Tzvi Friedland, a university graduate and member of our movement. When they read before me the list of my partners in crime, I burst out laughing because I didn't know what they wanted from me.

Of course, we could not admit to something that didn't exist. Then, we were offered to make the well known statement. Five of us signed, among them the member of the “Bund” and the Trotskyist. Three of us remained from the entire group: the journalist Presson, Tzvi Friedland and me. We were sentenced to deportation to To'rtko'l [a city in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan].

When we were detained at the GPU, they interrogated us at night. We were locked down in the cellar and suddenly they called us for questioning. Once, I met almost all the rabbis of Minsk and the surrounding area in the waiting room, they were waiting for questioning. Two days later we received “Der Veker” and “Zvezda” and there was published a statement, which was signed by forty rabbis, more of less in this language: The Polish press published about a conference of Jews, in which false accusations were made against the authorities in the Soviet Union that they persecute Jews for their religion, we declare that this is not true! The Polish Jews are nothing more than servants of imperialism and the Jews in the Soviet Union enjoy all the rights…

I claimed bitterly before the detainees: here I am, a Jewish boy, going to deportation and refusing to sign, whereas, 40 rabbis, the spiritual leaders of the community, signed a lie!!!

For half a year we wandered and passed through ten prisons until we reached the place of deportation. In prisons we met Jews who were accused of being economic criminals. When someone bought bread or sugar – he was accused of being a criminal. These Jews were orthodox and disapproved of us, the Zionists.

In our wanderings to the place of deportation we reached the city of Tula, the famous samovars city. We thought that it was a city full of gentiles. It was Passover eve and only the religious Jews among us had matzo for the holiday, they took the matzo with them before they left for deportation. But we, who were free in our opinions, had no matzos. And then, in the afternoon, the doors opened and a voice called out: who are Jews here? The oldest among you will follow me! It turned out that there was a Jewish community in Tula, and it made sure to provide the needs of the Jewish prisoners during Passover. And indeed, we had a proper Seder in prison in Tula.

In deportation we lived in communes according to party affiliation. We, the Zionists, had a common fund. The commune received support from Ekaterina Pashkova, Gorky's wife, and other sources. Usually, we lived a life of hunger.

There were farmers in To'rtko'l who had fields and sheep. The tax imposed on the farmers was according to the size of the land and the number of heads of sheep in their possession. The people of the Ministry of Finance, communists, who had been expelled and sent to fill the administrative functions of the place of deportation, were drunk and negligent in their work. So we gave the tax collection work to the commune of Russian prisoners and from them we got some of the work.

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We also worked in various physical jobs: collecting cotton, irrigation and the work of porterage. The area was dry and the irrigation was primitive. A sakia [water wheel] driven by a donkey raised buckets of water, we carried the buckets to the fields and watered them. It was exhausting work. In addition, we received a monthly salary from the government in the amount of 6.25 rubles. One lunch in a restaurant was 5 rubles.

There were members of various movements in the commune, and there was no end to the arguments. My wife and I left the commune and went to live alone. We were far from a settlement and didn't know when a Jewish holiday was taking place. According to our calculation it was time for the holiday of Purim and decided to hold a Purim party in our home.

There were also provocateurs in the deportation. There were two brothers among us. They were ordered to sign a declaration, and they refused. They were separated and the younger brother, Shura, was sent to a remote and terrible place. His entire body developed festering wounds and the young man broke down and announced that he would sign. Then, he was returned to us, to To'rtko'l. We did'nt stay away from him, on the contrary, we brought him closer and explained to him the meaning of his signature. Then, he changed his mind and anounce to the GPU: I will not sign, even if you send me back to the place where I came from. A provocature, one of the deportees, came and said: I have money and I will buy wine for the party but only if you invite Shura to the party. All of us gathered at my home and I told about the holiday of Purim. The provocateur gave us all a drink and waited for the police to arrive. And indeed, knocks were heard, and a company of policemen broke the door. The provocateur showed the policemen that Shura was also at the party. All of us were taken to the prison, we were accused of preparing to escape from the place of deportatio and that we sabotaged Soviet property. We didnt admit. They held us in prison for two months. When the provocateur's true face was revealed, I informed the police that the initiative for the party had come from him. We were released from prison and since then we no longer saw his face.

By chance, a member of the “Bund,” who was in the Russian commune, was released from deportation. When he arrived to Moscow he told Pashkova that young men were arrested in To'rtko'l and were being abused for no fault of their own.

We didnt know anything about it. One day I was called to the office and was informed: we learned that you are an imperialist agent, they sent you money but you're not going to get it. We will confiscate it. I didnt know what the interrogator was taking about. And he added: we give you an extension of half a houre to come and sign, otherwise, your fate would be bad and bitter! They brought me back to the prison. Half an hour later the door of my jail cell opened. I was ordered to take all my possesions. It turned out that a check of two hundred ruble for travel expensses, which had been sent from Pashkova, arrived for us in the mail. Visas were also sent to us by telegraph. We traveled to Moscow and came to Pashkova to thank her for everything she has done for us. From there we immigrated to Israel in 1925.


In deportation in Tashkent, 1929
15. Reuven Goldberg. 3. His wife, Sara Goldberg

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From “Bikkurim” to “HeHalutz

by Mordechai Haimovsky

Translated by Sara Mages

The interviewed, Mordechai Haimovsky, was born in Minsk in 1907. Prisoner of Zion. Immigrated to Israel in 1925. Certified accountant in Tel–Aviv.

My joining the Zionist movement was a direct continuation of my education at home. My father was an educated man who knew Hebrew. He wasn't religious, but also not anti–religious. He prayed daily and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. I started my studies at the Heder and later moved to study at the Jewish gymnasium, not Hebrew, of Cemach Feldstein, a Zionist who later moved to Kovna. However, I knew Hebrew from home because we spoke Hebrew at home.

In the city there were reputable Hebrew teachers, among them the writer Yaknehaz (pseudonym of Isaiah–Nissan Hakohen Goldberg). We, a group of children turned, at our initiative, to the well–known Hebrew teacher Haim– David Rosenstein (father of Avraham Even–Shoshan), and learned Hebrew in his home.

It was already after the revolution. My father worked as an accountant in the education section of the Commissariat for Education which was headed by the well known Esther Frumkin, former member of the “Bund,” Dov Lipov and I had the audacity to submit a request to the “Narkompors” for a permit to establish a Hebrew association called, “Bikkurim” that its aim was – teaching the Hebrew language. The association was established and operated until it broke up on its own. At the beginning of the revolution the authorities had not yet persecuted the Hebrew language.

After “Bikkurim” broke up I moved to “Kadima.” It was an extensive Zionist youth association. We developed our own ideology: monism. It meant that we bound the historical materialism and communist ideology, and from here we came to affirm Zionism because our socialism wasn't detached from reality and the solution to the Jewish question was – Zionism.

We developed an extensive cultural activity. We left for trips and, of course, had Hebrew lessons underground. Our underground didn't rule out the Communist regime, but since we were persecuted we went underground and were careful not to fall into the hands of the GPU.

We met with members of other Zionist parties and debated with them. I remember that members of the Socialist Zionist movement published a polemic booklet in which there was evidence from various proofs that we were “misguided.” On the other hand, we mocked the Socialist Zionist movement who hung poster in the synagogues. We said: we must go to the masses, not to the synagogues.

We were all united despite the contradictions and disagreements among the members of the Zionist movements in Minsk. Everyone helped his opponent as best he could. We never reached a state of unrelenting hostility in which a member of one underground movement turned over members of another underground movement to the authorities.

Already at the time when the movement was in the underground, on 20 Tamuz, a large–scale memorial service was held for Dr. Herzl at the Great Synagogue, the most magnificent synagogue in the city. All the members of the movement were invited. The adults also came: Michel Rabinowitch, the teacher Haim Tenezer and others. And here, the secret police arrived, closed the doors, compiled a list of those present and left us alone.

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Avraham Czerniak, member of ASYP (Jewish Socialist Youth Alliance) in deportation in 1925


We were enthusiastic and there were powerful theoretical people among us. It happened that my friend, Tulia Ovsivitch, was examined in Moscow by a professor and stayed with him for a long time. Everyone was sure that the professor had failed him in the exams. Later it turned out that the exam had long since been over and the two of them, the professor and the examinee, were discussing the historical materialism and its conclusions.

Our center was in Moscow, but we had young men in Minsk who weren't ideologically worthless: the same Tulia Ovsivitch who remained in deportation, L. Levita and Avraham Czerniak who immigrated to Israel and others.

We published a newspaper in Minsk in a hectograph and sent it to Moscow. In Moscow, they printed a hand–written newspaper and sent it to us. Since we were short of money we sent our publications by mail. Of course, the GPU followed the recipients of the packages in the mail and discovered all our members.

We were also active among the students. One day, the authorities decided to cancel the high schools and establish a school of seven years of study. They also determined that nine years of study were sufficient to enter university. Courses for general education were opened to complete the education, at first – to young people of privileged origin, and then, also to young people of non–privileged origin and also the bourgeois.

In the courses for general education we met, all the young people, the Zionists and members of the Komsomol. There have never been any public arguments between us and the members of the Komsomol. Only in Slusk a group of members from “Kadima” was arrested and a public trial was held for them. We, on our part, published the secret circulars of Yevsaktzia on the course of the trial, and it became clear to everyone that our young men stood up to the task. Since then the public trials have stopped. The arrests were carried out discreetly, in the middle of the night, and they no longer gave them publicity.

Until the Soviet regime we didn't have a university in Minsk. The Soviets opened a university and among the departments was the Department of Oriental Studies. At the head of the department stood the professor, Nikolai Nikolski, a gentile who knew Hebrew. Among others he published a book about Jesus Christ in which he proved, according to Soviet ideology, the Jesus didn't exist. This professor initiated a seminar for the study

[Page 216]

of the Bible, specifically in the Sephardic accent. The lecturer was Merlis and students, and not students, registered and studied Hebrew. When the arrests began they came to the lecturer's house and checked the list of students who studied Hebrew. He was a sickly elderly man and on that night he had a stroke and died. I was arrested apparently because of a young woman, a provocateur, who was a member of our movement. In 1924, an ASYP conference was held in Minsk and members also came from Moscow. I returned home at a late hour. I didn't have the time to get undress and there was a knock on the door. The men of GPU entered and searched on the grounds that I was a member of an underground movement. The found nothing but a legal Hebrew issue of “HeHalutz.”. Despite that, they arrested me.

We all sat in prison for several months. We were informed of our verdict: deportation, and then they released us temporarily to prepare for the journey. We had to reach our place of deportation on our own. It was on the night of the Seder. However, the day after the Seder they arrested us again. An order arrived from Moscow that the deportees would be transported to the deportation site accompanied by a guard, “etap,” in a foreign language.

We were transferred in a closed car. During the breaks in the journey they put us in a prison on the way. In this manner I went through about ten prisons until I reached the place of deportation intended for me in Siberia.

The head of the local GPU was a gentile. I was the first Zionist to arrive to Petropavlovsk. He called me and asked: Why did they send you here? You want to conduct propaganda here? From what movement are you from? I told him that I was from “HeHalutz,” and if I came to conduct propaganda I would have bought a ticket and didn't need imprisonment to arrive to Petropavlovsk.

I remained in the city and wasn't sent to a desolated village as was customary in those days. I knew that if I would obtain a certificate my deportation to Siberia would be change to deportation to Eretz–Yisrael. And indeed, the movement acted and obtained a certificate with great efforts. It was in 1925. The head of GPU tried to influence me not to travel to Eretz–Yisrael. He told me: there's a young man here who returned from Eretz–Yisrael, and when you hear what he has to say, you would see that it's not worth going there. The young man came and told that people live in the huts in Eretz–Yisrael. There is no water supply to the houses and a person must carry water in tin cans to his house, etc. Since I was not convinced, they arranged a passport for me within three months and allowed me to travel. Then I immigrated to Israel.


Deportation in Petropavlovsk in1925
Third from the right – Mordechai Haimovsky


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