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[Page 60]

The pogrom in Akkerman in 1905

by Mendel Kumorowski

Translated by Sara Mages

Many factors prepared the ground and ripened the conditions for a pogrom in Akkerman and other cities in Czarist Russia. A prolonged agitation among the masses, the bloody march of 9 January 1905 to the Czar's palace under the leadership of the provocateur Gapon, the sailors' revolt in Kronstadt, and the extreme decisions of the “zemstvo” (institution of local government), etc. As is well known, the Czar surrendered to the pressure of the masses after the railway strike, and on 17 October announced that he would grant a constitution to the country.

As we know, at the same time the monarchists didn't sit idle and established the “League of the Russian people” which came to be known as the “Black Hundreds.” Their main tactic was – to direct the masses' revolt not against the government, but against the scapegoat – the Jews. They were aided by the “Third Department” of the Ministry of the Interior, and by the press which preached and incited against the Jews. This reactionary organization opened tea houses which served as meeting places for the rabbles in each “Pale of Settlement.” The incitement in these places against the Jews was obvious and well known. The Jews' property was confiscated and promises were given that the rioters against the Jews, and their property, would not be prosecuted. In addition, marches, accompanied by patriotic cries: “Beat the Jews – save Russia” were held in the streets.

The rioters' club in Akkerman was one of the best equipped and its driving force was Purishkevich, the extreme reactionary. Akkerman should have served an example for other cities in Bessarabia, and was chosen for this purpose in view of the fact that there was no serious liberal group in the city that would stand up to the wave of anti–Semitism and the lawlessness of the members of the “Black Hundreds” and their followers.

 

Mendel Kumorowski

 

The Jewish self–defense (samoodbrana)

We, the young Jews in Akkerman, were aware of the gravity of the situation. We felt what awaited us according to the behavior of the farmers. We also felt the change in the attitude of the intellectual circles toward the Jews, and began the organization of self–defense that would help us in time of trouble. We were not sure that our meager means would stand for us. I remember, that after my secret visits to our defense groups, I came to the conclusion that we fall far short of our enemies, both in terms of quantity and the equipment at our disposal, but, we didn't want to be like “sheep that is led to the slaughter,” and preferred to defend ourselves. As the commander of the self–defense I announced that those, who were afraid, could leave the organization, and it should be noted that no one left. The morale of our members was high, which should be attributed to the Zionist recognition that prevailed in those days among the Jews. We learned a lesson from the pogrom in Kishinev and knew by heart Bialik's famous poem, “The City of Slaughter,” which was written after this pogrom and was beautifully translated into Russian by Jabotinsky.

In January of that year, Dov–Ber Borochov and Hana Meisel visited our city. The latter encouraged us to act and to protect ourselves, and in our eyes she looked like the modern figure of Deborah the Prophetess. She was soft and gentle in her manners, but gave fiery speeches and her eyes flared when she

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spoke of the need of self–defense of Jews against the rioters. She had a hypnotic effect on us and aroused in us a spirit of heroism and courage. In her words she emphasized our moral advantage over the farmers and the mob that incited against the Jews. In one speech – she had a tremendous impact on us.

We began to organize and prepare, but we didn't imagine that the bloody clashes would take place at such a rapid pace. On Monday, 17 October 1905, the Czar's declaration of constitution was issued and aroused great joy, but, that evening, the rioters launched an attack in Odessa which lasted three days. We, in Akkerman, learned about the Czar's declaration the following day, on 18 October. I remember that the gymnasium students held a public meeting to mark the Czar's declaration and didn't encounter opposition from the local educational institutions. There was a festive atmosphere.

On Wednesday, 19 October, the postal service from Odessa was renewed and only then we learn of the bloody events there. We were aware of the imminent danger. After what happened in Odessa, the capital – what can we expect? An emergency meeting of the local council was held, but it ended without any real results. It seemed that no one was willing to deal with this issue. When Leon Asodorov spoke of the imminent danger of the “Black Hundreds,” which was planning a pogrom against the Jews, a commotion broke out and the meeting was suspended.

On Thursday, 20 October, the rioters began to act openly. The markets were filled with farmers' wagons from the nearby villages. Kostia, Popov and Dinkowitz wandered among the farmers and in the “Black Hundreds” club, and incited against the Jews. That day I toured the city's streets. Many Jews stopped me and asked my opinion on the situation and what is in store for us. My answer was clear: we're about one step from a pogrom but the Jewish defense is ready and alert. I also said that anyone who can find a safe haven must do so.

That day, before dark, we began to stockpile weapons in my house. For security reasons the task of storing weapons was imposed on two boys aged twelve: Moshe Shteinberg and Gedalia Levit. The weapons at our disposal were – rifles, pistols, leather–whips, metal–whips, and bottles with explosives.

On Friday, 21 October, early in the morning, a group of self–defense members, 40 strong Jews, gathered in my house. Most were young and a few older. The headquarters announced that Matusis would be the commander of our sector. We placed a guard at the entrance to the house, set up a secret password, and began sorting and cleaning the weapons. The headquarters' announcements informed us of everything concerning the preparations of the rioters. Food was brought and we all ate something. Suddenly, the guard called me and asked me to come out. Moshe Levit, the father of Gedalia'ke who was one of our running messengers, stood outside and with tears in his eyes begged me to release his only son from his duty. His wife, he told me, was out of town and she would never forgive him if, God forbid, something would happen to their son. I explained to him that the service in the self–defense is voluntary, we do not force it on anyone and his son is free to leave. With the commander's permission, I took the boy out of the house and left him alone with his father so that he would be free in his decision. I heard that the father begged, wept and kissed his twelve year–old son, the son also cried, but he was firm in his decision to stay with the self–defense group and the father returned empty handed.

The young men, who gathered at my house, were in a good mood, as if we were not in danger of pogroms. Some were playing cards and some were drinking wine. The “Thief from Paris,” as one of the young men was called, was lying on his back and inviting his friends to show their strength and try to move him. There were those who tried, but they weren't able to. Shimon Chudak played tunes on the instrument in his hand – a comb, while others accompanied him with a song. There were no signs of fear and cowardice. Outside, the farmers continued to ride in their wagons and many of them roared. They were excited by the speeches of incitement they heard in the churches. Icons were placed in the windows of several houses so that the rioter would know that their inhabitance were Christians. We have been told that Jewish homes were marked with chalk. We were ordered by the headquarters to be up all night. When the day got dark we saw bright light in the eastern sky, the city of Ovidiopol was on fire. The tension grew, but half an hour after midnight came the command to disperse.

 

A feast day of the Russian Church

Saturday, 22 October, was a feast day in the Christian Church in honor of the Virgin of Kazan, and on this day our Christian neighbors chose to demonstrate their Christian “love.” Dawn came, the sun shone in the morning of that day, but we already felt that the sun didn't shine for us. All the synagogues were closed on that Sabbath. I don't know what happened in every Jewish home that morning, but I remember what I have done – I helped my wife and our baby boy to move to the home of Anna Nikolaevna, the principle of the girls' gymnasium. She was of an aristocratic family and was always friendly to my wife. She was a monarchist in her views, but she was too noble in her spirit and didn't join the people of the “Black Hundreds.” I took my mother to Lavrentyev's home which was built like a fortress. She gave everything she had: her two sons were in the self–defense units and her daughter at the first aid station. When I parted from her she hung a metal tray on my chest, sort of armor. I didn't object because I knew that this “weapon” might easily turn into a frying pan… We were instructed by our headquarters to give the young men a good meal, but at the middle of the meal the “sobor” (church) bells began to ring. They were accompanied by roars of the crowd who left the church at the end of the prayers. The scouts, that we placed, informed us that a procession of Christians was moving towards the city center, but, in the meantime, there are no signs of violence.

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The principal of the Russian Gymnasium

The sentry at the front door called me to come out. It turned out that the principal of the Russian Gymnasium stopped her carriage next to my house on her way from the church and she wants to talk to me. I was confused. Courtesy obliged me to invite her into my house, but for obvious reasons I could not do it and found some excuse. She gave me a penetrating look and said in a quiet tone: everything will be fine and, by the way, she suddenly asked me: are you at least well armed? Her cunning question confused me a little, but I answered her carefully, we, madam, are ready for anything. This is how her visit ended. Later, I learned that she joined the procession at city hall and delivered a passionate patriotic speech from the balcony. Meanwhile, our scouts continued to report that the procession had not yet dispersed and was moving toward the suburbs Popusoi and Turlaki. Dr. B.M. She'ar arrived to my house. He converted to Christianity many years ago and lived among the gentiles. Now, in time of trouble for the Jews, he returned to his people and offered his services as a commander of a riflemen unit. He looked at the weapons at our disposal and said – a splendid company. He spent some time with his fellow doctors and moved to another defense position.

The young man, N., turned to me and whispered quietly: “this march will return to the city.” Poor fellow, he got caught in the idea that if he could get his sister's ring – he would be able to save the Jewish people. In the end he lost his mind.

The orders from our headquarters began to arrive one after the other and quickly: Get ready! Prepare the weapons! The password was – “Torah.” We have to go to the synagogue's courtyard. Our commander, Matusis, divided us into small units and we were instructed to walk, on various routes, in the direction of the synagogue in order not to attract attention. I left with the last unit without locking the door to my house. We walked down Nikolaevsky Street and moved quickly. There were no people on the street. A frightened woman crossed the street and immediately disappeared. Like straw in a storm – I thought in my heart. Suddenly, I noticed a carriage advancing toward us. I was shocked when I saw my wife with the baby inside the carriage. They moved in the direction of our abandoned house. I quickly got them out of the carriage and together with them I went back to our defense group. My wife told me what had happened. When the principal of the gymnasium returned home from the church she said sweetly: tell me, my dear, are not you afraid to stay in this place? My wife fainted when she heard her question, and when she regained consciousness she immediately left the place which was meant to be a refuge for time of trouble.

Our column moves toward the corner of Nikolaevsky and Jevrejski streets. The only open door is that of Vilkomirsky's pharmacy where our first aid station is located. I leave my wife and the baby in this place and advance, together with my unit, in the direction of the synagogue.

All our defense units gathered in the synagogue's courtyard. We were a little confused when we heard that all our forces were reorganized. We didn't know the nature of the “reorganization.” Kiselewski is trying to establish a fighting squadron, but without success. A command, in a loud voice, is heard from Yeshayahu Brodsky: “stand in three rows!” He also ordered one of the companies to stand under the pillars of the Great Synagogue, and two other companies to take positions in the courtyard. Brodsky stands in the center of the courtyard and Leon Esvodorov (not Jewish) and Dr. She'ar (the convert) stand beside him. Brodsky demands absolute silence and strict discipline. He updates us all with the information he receives from the scouts. Most of them are young Christians who mixed among the masses of farmers, and the most prominent among them was Beibik Brownstein, a courageous guy that a smile was always on his lips. After completing a mission he returned to us riding a horse he had released from a wagon while the owner of the wagon, the farmer, was looting… Among the volunteers in my unit was a Polish wine merchant from Warsaw who happened to be in Akkerman for his business. He asked for a pencil because it occurred to him that he had to write his will. One of the young men lit up a few matches and the wine merchant wrote his will to light of the burning match…

Now, the roar of the mob outside began to reach us. We hear clear shouts: “Vanka, come here!” “Vanka, hit”. We also hear the sound of explosions. They smash windowpanes in the houses. Flames are visible west and south of our position. People are beginning to grumble in the defense units: when will we start the operation? But Brodsky demands and commands: “Quiet! For the time being there are only fires. There are no casualties. It is necessary to control the nerves. Rumor has it that one of the rioters was poisoned in Vilkomirski's pharmacy. But the truth is that the young woman, Fanya Steinberg, committed suicide in this pharmacy.

 

The Holocaust

Brodsky invites a few of us for a consultation and after that a third of our force was sent, under the supervision of Dr. She'ar, in the direction of Izmailovsky Street. When we started walking there our commander ordered us to shot once in their air. The psychological impact of this shot is enormous. Now we feel the soldiers who are ready to kill and be killed. In the corner of Sofievsky Street we were surrounded by a group of rioters and started to shoot at them. Two of them fell and the rest dispersed. We removed the burning material from the houses and shops which have not yet been torched. The market is burning before our eyes and we can barely stand the rising heat. Piles of goods are placed in the street corner. We saw the looters with piles of looting in their hands. They fled as we approached them. Here and there are also corpses. We divided into two groups. One turned down Izmailovsky Street to Georgievsky Street, while the group, to which I also belonged, turned left down Moskovsk Street, and again left in the direction of Nikolaevsky Street. In the corner of Sofievsky Street

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we ran into a crowd that looted Gutnick's shop. The leader of this gang was Kostia Popov. Later, we heard that his mother pleaded before him not to set fire to the bank since his father's store was also in this building which belonging to a Christian. His answer was: mother, this is not your business, do not interfere.

When the situation worsened, a third group of defense members, under the command of Liuba Shapira and Duba Lifshitz was ordered to take action. The information we receive is diminishing. There is a rumor that Kuznetsov, the chief of police, was shot by the rioters because he interfered with their actions. It seems that the army took command and the police joined the looters. One unit returns with the body of Michael Shternberg who was found dead.

Again, my group was ordered to go into action. There are sixty strong young men in the group and we started to move. Next to Druze's fish shop we saw a figure darting through the flames. It turns out that this is a Jew who went insane during the pogrom. We took him with us. We crossed market square from southwest to northeast. As we got closer the rioters began to run shouting: run away, their defense came! Again, we march down Nikolaevsky Street. In this quarter the situation is grave as in the market square. Houses are in flames and piles of goods are strewn in the street. As we passed next to Kogan's hat shop that half of it had already been burned, we heard the sound of a woman screaming from a building whose roof had been set on fire. We broke the locked door and found about twenty women with babies and children in the building. We moved them to Vilkomirski's pharmacy. Now we came into direct contact with the rioters. Neta Lifshitz's shop is wide open and we see the “intelligentsia,” high school teachers and like them, among the looters. They dispersed after a few of our shots and only a few of them took shelter in various buildings in the area. A number of our men were ordered to locate them. Meanwhile, several members arrived with the prisoners, the villain Djokovic, agent of the “Black Hundreds.” He almost managed to set fire to the pharmacy where our women and wounded had found shelter.

A few wanted to tie his arms and legs and throw him into the flames, but the order was – to cover his eyes and take him to the synagogue's courtyard. Our unit headed to Starobazarney Street, on our way back to our defense position. The thunder of army drums reached our ears. It must be that the regular army is behind us. We speed up our steps and cross to the other side of the street. When the first lines of our group reached the corner of Jevrejsk Street we heard three rounds of shots. Niunia Cohen, Moshe Klarfeld and Pinchas Sherira were seriously injured and Tzvi Weiser was slightly injured.

We, and also other units, returned to the synagogue. The question that stood before us: how the army would react? Will the soldiers attack us when we are in the synagogue's courtyard? Brodsky orders us to lie on the damp ground and keep quiet. In the darkness I try to locate Levonitz, who was sick with tuberculosis, and spread some garment under his body. This young Christian, the son of a Bairamcea's farmer, joined our defenders despite his poor health. Surely, strong moral motives have probably brought him into our ranks. In this respect, it seems to me that he is the greatest idealist of all of us, for there was no danger to him and his people.

I went to the hospital to check the effectiveness of the medical treatment. In the hallway I saw Shternberg's body. Inside – a vigorous and effective action. Dr. Izik Josipovich Shapira operated through the night without a break. I watch him as he was turning his face to the side and wipe the sweat off his forehead. His normally angry face seemed to have taken on another expression, a light of compassion and nobility was rising from his eyes.

 

The respite

The soldiers didn't attack the synagogue. There's kind of a respite from the rioters. How long? Brodsky orders everyone to enter the synagogue, to warm up and rest. He turned to me, shoved a slice of bread in my hand, and announced that I had to attend the night watch. I reported to my position. The yard is empty and quiet. It is hard to get used to this quiet after the riots. My ears catch the sound of approaching footsteps. Someone is coming. I demand from the approaching figure to identify itself. He utters the password but, it is not “Torah” that comes out of his mouth, but “To–ro–ra,” because of the cold or the excitement. It was one of our scouts – Markus, the son of a teacher and a Zionist. He was wounded in the Russo–Japanese War and recently returned home. Indeed, his homeland prepared a beautiful reception for him…

Dawn came. It is still quiet around. I ponder in my heart: who is watching over Levonitz, the sick volunteer, and who is guarding the murderer Djokovic? Both are gentiles, but, how great is the distance between them!

I listen to the conversation of two Russians returning from the banks of the Leman River. Interestingly, they talked about fishing and usual things, as if the days were ordinary days and nothing had happened. I struggle with the weariness that overtakes me. Brodsky approaches my position. I learned from him that the city is now under a military regime and therefore it was decided to disperse the volunteers. The dispersion begins immediately. Before the dispersion is completed, fathers and mothers come to the synagogue and anxiously looking for their sons. How good that I was able to assure them that nothing would happened to their loved ones!

It was also my turn to leave. I move, together with my brother, toward Learntube's house where my family is located. It turns out that shortly before I arrived to this house my mother and my wife sent someone to look for us. He went to my house and returned with a pair of rubber shoes and a skullcap which were interpreted as a sign of disaster. They breathed a sigh of relief when we appeared.

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Sunday, 23 October 1905

Leon Asodorov turned his specious house in Nikolaevsky Street to a place of refuge for the victims of the pogrom. He also tried to get the municipality's big hall for this purpose. We do not know yet how many families were hurt. Some are still hiding in the villages and others are hiding at the homes of non–Jews in the city. They had to pay protection fees in return for shelter in Christian homes, and the rate increased several times during the night. Hundreds of families, who lived in the city center, were hurt and property losses reached hundreds of thousands of rubles. Efraim Leib Fishman was brutally murdered. The homes of Moshe Peker from Popusoi, the brothers Schwien from Turlaki and Krichevsky's flour mill were burnt down. There is still no accurate and comprehensive report. The streets are flooded with curious gentiles. Simcha Itzkowitz leaves his house on Novobazarnia Street, tears his shirt and turns to the crowd of gentiles who gather there. “Here I am, shoot me, you miserable cowards!” They retreat and disperse in every direction.

 

Monday, 24 October 1905

Only today we managed to organize food supplies for the victims. The supply is run by women in the synagogue. Several pious Jews oppose it, but I manage to silence them. In the market I meet Ben–Zion Gorin and Moshe Reifman inspecting the ruins of their shops. I have no words to comfort and encourage them. Suddenly, the short bearded Shlomo Serper appears, his face is shining and he says” – these bloody events herald the coming of the Messiah. As stated: “Akabta Demishha…”

The assumption is that there will no longer be organized pogroms. However, we must be vigilant against individual attacks. It was decided that volunteers would guard the streets during the night.

 

Tuesday, 25 October 1905

Rumor has it that the local post office is flooded with telegrams from the United States, but most of the recipients are not in their apartments and therefore it is impossible to provide them with the telegrams intended for them. I hurried to the post office and among the pile of telegrams I found a telegram intended for me. I also helped other people to find their telegrams. The fact, that far from here, in the land of security and peace, there are people who are concerned for our safety, encouraged and comforted us during the difficult hours that pass on us.

During the day my wife's sister arrived in the city with her husband and also the rest of the members of the Gershon family. Their homes in the village of Divizia went up in flames and all their belongings were stolen. For three days and nights they hid among the crevices and the rocks along the shore of the Black Sea. On the third night the guards stopped two wagons that had arrived from Bairmacea. In one cart sat my aunt Haika as she was supporting her wounded husband, my uncle Gabriel Wallman. In the second cart sat Sara, daughter of the slaughterer Shimshon Kleinman, as she was also supporting her wounded husband, Yisrael Buganov. These two men fought with real heroism and now they are being taken to the hospital.

 

Wednesday, 26 October 1905

Dr. Trahtman told me that my uncle, Gabriel, has only a few hours to live and he is about to die. I stand at his bedside, see his agony and console myself that he is already unconscious. Suddenly he opens his eyes, he sees me and mutters: this is bitter! and again, loses consciousness. I spoke with Dr. Trahtman about my uncle's condition, but he left no room for doubt. There's no hope. This Dr. Trahtman is a brilliant intellectual. He is assimilated and a friend of Anna Nikolaevna, the principle of the gymnasium. Now he had suffered an unbearable disaster. How could he return to the parties at the home of the principal who was also caught in circles of the “Black Hundreds?” How could he stick to his theories and love the Russians?

 

Thursday, 27 October 1905

My uncle Gabriel passed away. He gave his life to protect his community. The local authority demands an autopsy. All my efforts to prevent it – failed. I took his body to one of the abandoned shops. I lit candles and gathered a group of people to recite Psalms according to custom. A handful of people accompanied him on his last journey and in the cemetery another nightmare awaited us. We had to wait for Dr. Kostirin and his assistant – both typical anti–Semites and from the leaders of the “Black Hundreds” gangs, to perform the autopsy. I felt as if my uncle Gabriel had died a second death. A grave was dug up for my uncle Gabriel next to the fresh graves of Efraim Leib Fishman, Michael Shternberg and Fanya Steinberg.

When I returned to the city in the evening the synagogues were already open and worshipers came and went. Afterwards, this location was designated as a memorial area for the martyrs. There were eight monuments. I wrote, were, because after the Second World War there was no trace of them.

(January 1955)


[Page 65]

Memories from the days of the pogrom

by Yehoshua Harari (Berger) z”l

Translated by Sara Mages

I was a six–year–old boy then and this pogrom is etched in my memory. Apparently, this is the first event I remember from my childhood.

It was Saturday before noon. The shutters (which were inside and not outside) were closed. Father moved the shutters a little, picked me up, and I saw a lot of people marching in a procession (“procesja”) and waving flags in their hands. They were led by priests with large crosses. That's how it began. On Saturday night there was already a lot of confusion at home. My eldest brother, Yakov z”l, who was already fourteen years old then, went out often and brought news. Apparently, he was already in touch with the self–defense (“samoodbrana”) which was located not far from our house, in the synagogue's courtyard. Suddenly, I heard the sound of “cymbals,” it turned out that these were echoes of shattered windows. It was a few days after my mother gave birth to my sister Chana. Father decided not to take a risk and began to move us to the yard of our Greek neighbor, Manoles, who had a bakery in our neighborhood, at the beginning of Izmailovska Street. Behind the bakery was a large fenced yard and behind it were stables for horses. Women and babies gathered in a small room near the stables while the adults crowded in one of the stables next to the horses.

I remember that in the middle of the night my father took me out of the small room to relieve myself, and I saw that the sky was red from the flames that rose from the market. In the morning we all had to leave our temporary quarters at Manoles, and move to my grandmother's house in Michalowsky Street because it seemed to be safer there.

We moved to the house that behind it were grandmother's shops, close to the second market. I remember that also here we saw shops going up in flames in the second market, and the smoke rising from the burning wooden houses.

Seventy years have passed since then, and to this day I cannot free myself from the experience of the first pogrom I witnessed as a small child.

 

“For these things I weep; my eye,
my eye runs down with water”
(Lamentations 1:16)

 

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