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The Holocaust

 

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The destruction of Akkerman
(From statements at the gathering of former residents
of Akkerman in Tel-Aviv, November 1950)

by Tzvi Manueli

Translated by Sara Mages

We gathered today to honor the memory of our loved ones, the Jews of Akkerman, who perished in the great Holocaust of the Jewish people. We, the remnants of the destroyed Jewish community, came to lament the martyrs - parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends and acquaintances who weren't even awarded with a tombstone on their grave. There are no words in our mouth to recount and describe the great tragedy, but, I see it my duty to describe the great disaster because, at the present, I'm the only person in Israel who visited Akkerman after the war and saw the great devastation with his own eyes. I cannot find peace in my soul. I have to include you in the sights of horror, tell you what I've been told, and share the feelings, sights and impressions with you. Yes, I saw with my own eyes the few survivors who remained in Akkerman. I spoke, not only with the few Jews who remained in the city, but also with Christians, acquaintances and former neighbors. I tried to rescue the information about the bitter end, but, to my great sorrow, I couldn't write all the testimonies and all the things that I've heard because I've been warned that written words can cause trouble under the conditions of post-war Soviet regime. In retrospect, I regret that because I forgot many details. One episode is engraved well in my memory: it was on Yom Kippur 1943. I was staying with the brothers, Shaike and Beske Yeroslavski, who lived at that time as refugees in Vakabaz Kolkhoz, somewhere in a remote location in Uzbekistan.

In conversation, I've been told that Shaike corresponds with survivors from Akkerman who live all over Russia, and also manages the strangest “account book.” In this book, which I've seen with my own eyes, were pages of income and expense. Shaike registered each survivor from Akkerman in the income page, and each person who had perished in the expense page. Kind of a “bookkeeping”… Unfortunately, the “expense” was much greater than the “income”…

In my meetings with various friends (Leibele Shochat, Finya Tulchinsky, Mendel Gelman, David Berkovic and others), we tried to reach an estimate on the number of victims from our town, and the estimate was very bleak. Many families returned to Akkerman from Romania after the annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union, and it's likely, that in 1941 there were about five thousand Jews in Akkerman. When I visited Akkerman at the end of 1945, there were only 250 Jews in the city (children included). According to a conservative estimate, about two hundred and fifty people remained stuck in various locations across the Soviet Union. That is to say, that four thousand five hundred Jews perished in different ways - hunger, epidemics, during the evacuation, in the bombing and at the hands of the Nazis and their helpers. The liquidation was carried out in stages and the spiritual-cultural extermination began before the physical liquidation. All the Jewish institutions and organizations, including the educational institutions, charitable organizations and everything that was established and cared for by the Jews for dozens of years, was eliminated and dismantled immediately after the annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union. Only the houses of prayer and the cemeteries remained. It was kind of a cold blood pogrom which left its impression in every Jewish home and in each Jewish heart. A wave of arrests began immediately after the “honeymoon.” Suddenly, the activists, Zionists, and all who played a role in the Jewish public life, disappeared from the city. On the night of 13 June 1941, in the middle of the night, they “raised” hundreds of people and deported them to the plains of Siberia, Ural and Baikal. Among the exiles were: Moshe Hellman who served for many years as the head of the community, Yisrael Eibinderr, the Yeroslavski brothers, Kuty Vilderman, Shalom Teplizki, David Berman, Shmuel Gelbord, Yosef Kvitko, Hanina Krasninski and others. Only a handful of exiles held on and none of them returned to his hometown.

In June 1941, when the war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Jewish youth was recruited to the Red Army and labor battalions. It should be noted, that many of these recruits remained alive. However, dozens of them have fallen in the battlefields.

When the Red Army began to retreat from Bessarabia, many of Akkerman's Jews started to stream to nearby Odessa because it was impossible to travel in the other direction. Only about five hundred Jews remained in Akkerman. Most of them were members of “Beit HaMidrash” who developed a theory that when the Romanians will return to Akkerman they wouldn't hurt religious people who opposed the Bolsheviks.

Among those, who preached not to move from the place, were: David Brend, Henoch Shapira, Chaim Kaminker, Pisia Levin, Hersh Ternopolski, Hershel Blinder, Moshe Leker, Gernik and others. Apart from them, there were also many among those who were deported to the villages and their property was confiscated by the Soviets,

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These deportees, who received a passport with Article 39, also decided not to leave Akkerman. They hoped that they wouldn't be harmed because they were the victims of the Soviet regime. All of them made a tragic mistake in their calculation. Of all the Jews of Akkerman only two converts remained alive: Kalkin and Leuba Shmoish who converted to Christianity and married a Romanian. From them, and from local Christians, I was able to get details that shed light on what had happened in Akkerman after the withdrawal of the Soviets. It turns out that farmers from Papushoi and Turlaki began to stream to the city before the last soldiers of the Red Army retreated. They broke into the Jews' apartments and stole everything on sight. Robbers, from the local mob, murdered Idel Brand (son of Shalom) and Chaim Klorefeld. At the end of August and September 1941, the Romanian campaign of revenge against the Jews has reached its peak and the number of victims among the Jews is estimated at 800.

The Jews, who remained in the city, were concentrated at the Craftsmen's Synagogue and held there for three days without any food or water. Then, they were taken to the road leading to Shabo where they were murdered with machine guns. On Yom Kippur of 1945, at the time of my stay in Akkerman, David Berkowitch turned to the worshipers with a call to bring the bones of the martyrs to Jewish grave. I don't know if something has been done in this matter.

Captain Okishur, who was the city's commandant, initiated and organized the massacre. He was the chief executioner of Akkerman's Jews. His assistants were: Commissar Teodorescu, Penca Stompotolo, and several local Christians who specialized in the discovery of Jews who managed to find a place to hide.

Also those who, so to speak, managed to reach Odessa, didn't escape the bitter fate. The progress of the German Army was very fast, and at the end of August it already stood at the gates of Odessa. Many, including a large number of our townspeople, were killed in the bombing on the city and many were killed during the evacuation from Odessa.

The evacuation of the refugees from the besieged city was very slow. It was difficult to obtain an exit permit, and after the permit was obtained - it was difficult to find a place in the ships that were intended to evacuate the civilian population. The refugees constituted a heavy burden on the besieged city and the authorities didn't treat them kindly… No wonder, that there was kind of a fatalistic mood among the refugees: “come what may” - many said - “we will remain here!” Against this background, one can understand the reasons why most of Akkerman's refugees remained in Odessa (their number is estimated at more than 3000). Only 800-1000 managed to leave the city and wander for many weeks in long trains, in arduous and tedious journeys of thousands of kilometers, until they arrived to remote settlements in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Shakerya, etc.

The evacuation roads were also deadly, the trains were bombed and many were killed on the way. Two refugee ships, which also included Jews from Akkerman, were sunk in the Black Sea by bombers. Due to the terrible conditions in the various kolkhozy, the “lucky ones” weren't able to hold on. I have a long list of our townspeople who met their death in these places of refuge.

What happened to the Jews of Akkerman who remained in Odessa? On 12 October 1941, Odessa was captured by the German-Romanian Army and the terrible campaign against the Jewish population immediately began. On November 1941, there was a big explosion at the headquarters of the occupying army in Odessa. On November 17, in retaliation for this act, which was carried out by Soviet partisans, thousands of young Jews were hung on electric and telephone poles. Among them were also young people from Akkerman: Edika Brand, Idel Roizman, Averbuch (the watchmaker), Sopha Weisman from Tatarbunary, Sudkowitc, Sioma Erlich, Sonia Rubinstain, Dr. Ritenberg, Shmukler and others. One day, the occupation authorities issued a statement that all the Bessarabians, who wish to return to their hometown, should appear at special stations with their belongings, and from there they would be transported to Bessarabia. Thousands of Jews, among them many from Akkerman, crowded in long lines. All the “repatriates” were concentrated in Dalnik near Odessa. They were locked in huge ammunition warehouses and set on fire. I've read the Committee of Inquiry report on the massacre in Odessa. This committee determined that the warehouses burnt for three days and about 2500 Soviet citizens were burnt alive in them. This report doesn't say who these citizens were, but it's known that most of them were Bessarabian Jews. In the winter of 1942, dozens of Jews, including Jews from Akkerman, were sent to the camps in Transnistria. A tiny percentage of the deportees survived.

It should be noted, that several public figures from our city, especially Yosef Serper and Shaike Feldman, tried to organize any kind of help under the most horrible conditions. Many, of those I spoke to, commended the vigorous activity of Shaike Feldman for the benefit of the refugees from Akkerman who were in Odessa. Eventually, he and his wife died of typhus. His daughter Rosa, who lived in Bucharest, managed to obtain a special permit to take her parents out of Odessa, but she was too late. Only fifty Jews survived out of the 3000-3200 Jews who fled from Akkerman to Odessa. Most were in Transnistria, some came to Israel and they are here with us.

In this manner an entire Jewish community was annihilated.


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Wartime Memories

by Leyoba Asfis

Translated by Sara Mages

The light of the sun of the month of June flooded the city. The linden bloomed, the acacia blossomed, the city sparkled in its cleanliness and the bustle of people's voices mingled with the noise of cars and carriages. That Sunday, nothing heralded the impending disaster.

Indeed, the disaster came abruptly. It burst from all directions like a mighty sandstorm, through wide open windows and doors, top to bottom. At night, the Germans bombed Brest and Kiev, and in the morning, of the same day, everyone already knew that the war broke out. The brilliance of the sun faded in an instant, people's faces wore gloom, grief burst to their eyes and to their life.

To my life, and I was then an eight year old girl, sorrow burst three days later, on 25 June 1941, when my father, Viktor, and his three brothers, Avraham Michael and Lyoska, were recruited to the war. The four of them were brave, fearless, and all the notorious thugs were afraid of them and their receiving end. At that time the recruitment hasn't yet started in Bessarabia, but the four brothers, who've “lost” their documents, registered at the Military Registration Committee as natives of Russia and for that reason they were sent to the front. They defended Odessa and Kerch, Sevastopol and Stalingrad, and pushed the Nazis westward.

The evacuation began in Akkerman. The Jews turned to those who advised them to flee from the city with an argument: Where do we escape? Where is the safest place of refuge? Can we leave the few possessions that we've accumulated after many years of toil? And what would the Germans do to us? Who knew what is known? As opposed to them, there were those who packed their belongings in large bundles, as they were weeping and wailing, crossed to Ovidiopol by ferry, and from there - to Odessa.

My parents, who were also among those leaving, hated the Romanians and didn't wait for the Germans. For three weeks we wandered in wagons. The Germans bombed us more than once and heavy rain fell down on us. We traveled together with people from Akkerman, the elderly, women and children. After an arduous journey and many tribulations we arrived to Rostov, and there, we were scattered to different villages. The Don Cossacks, who aren't considered to be very good people, received the Jews with kindness, they fed us and hosted us in their homes. At the same time, our Akkerman was already in the hands of the Germans. Odessa was in flames but still defended itself. My father fought there and was even wounded in his leg. There were eight men from Akkerman in his battalion: Issac Lublinsky, Sonya Yelin, Avrasha Katz and others whose names I don't remember. Six men were killed by grenade thrown to the place where my father was.

Odessa fell. The Germans bombed Ukraine while we were in Stalingrad. The first reports of the Germans' massacre of the Jews of Odessa began to arrive. Among those killed were my mother's nieces and nephews, the Talmazan family, the Kosoy family, and my father's relatives.

We lived in a Jewish kolkhoz in the vicinity of Stalingrad. All the duties, starting from the chairman of the kolkhoz and ending with the cleaning personnel and the stables, were in the hands of the Jews. Each and every one was subjected to his sorrow and grief but the small village, in which only a Jews lived, served as half consolation. Jewish women, who were used to life in the city, worked hard from dawn to late at night: they harnessed horses and oxen, plowed the fields, drove combines and tractors, and took care of the children and all the housework. At night, they cried as they remembered their husbands and their sons who weren't with them. Indeed, they were real heroes who didn't get a citation, but, of course, they deserved it.

It may seem strange, but the fact is, that pain and sorrow is also expressed in singing. On summer nights, after a hard day's work, when Stalingrad served as an arena for bloody battles, and also on cold winter nights - the women gathered in one of the homes and poured their bitter heart in Russian and Ukrainian songs. However, the sad songs in Yiddish especially fascinated me. It was a soft singing, in very low tones, so as, God forbid, not to wake the sleeping children.

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Anxieties and hopes serve interchangeably

1942. The High Holidays and the Jewish holidays arrived. I remember well the first day of Rosh Hashanah. There were no bombings on that day. The small houses dipped in the morning dew and the sun painted the trees in a shade of golden-emerald. That morning all the residents of the village walked to the house where the Rabbi of Kharkov and his wife, the Rebbetzin, lived. They went to the prayer dressed in holiday attire and the rabbi's house, which contained mahzorim and tallitot for the worshipers, turned into a synagogue. Everyone prayed for the welfare of their loved ones and their relatives, and for the end of the war. The same thing was repeated on Yom Kippur. Before Yom Kippur, a delegation from the district administration arrived with a demand that everyone, without exception, must go to work on the sacred day. However, all the Jews in the village refused to desecrate the sanctity of the holiday and went to pray. The arrests began the next day. The chairman of the kolkhoz was sent to the front, the activists were deported and the foremen were punished.

Odessa was liberated in 1944. We, the children, ran every morning to the district administration building to hear the official announcements on the progress of the army, and accordingly moved the pins on the map of the Soviet Union. People waited with tension and anxiety for the postman. Who can guess what he might bring in his satchel? Just not that - many thought - just not the official statement with the bitter news - “Fell as a hero defending the homeland”… Small joys accompanied the great anxiety with the liberation of well-known cities: Kharkov, Kiev, Vinnytsia, Poltava, etc. People's faces lit up each time we received a word about the liberation of a city, and it seemed, that mountains of grief disappeared from over their heads for a brief moment.

On 23 August came the news that rocked our hearts: Akkerman was liberated! We started to make arrangements to return home and also started to search for our relatives. The search was drastic because, as we were looking for them - they were looking for us. We knew that when we return to Akkerman we would only find the ruins of our homes.

 

The great change

On 25 June 1945, we finally approached the shores of the Lemen River. We sailed in a ferry between empty wine barrels,, barrels of herring and wagons loaded with straw. We felt the unique smell of the water of the Lemen River, and saw, with our own eyes, the famous fortress. However, the city greeted us with “thundering” silence and the wilderness of the destroyed houses. We felt as we were treading on a “cemetery.” Mounds and ruins and ashes of fires. It's impossible to describe what took place in our hearts when we saw the images before us.

We were lucky. My father and all my uncles returned from the war, but there were many families who lost their loved ones. Hundreds of families were shot in the suburbs of Akkerman, and hundreds of Jews from Akkerman, who sought refuge in Odessa, perished there. We were happy with every Jew who survived and returned, and cried bitterly when we remembered the many who did not return.

Life continued to flow its course despite everything. People worked, ate, when there was something to eat, cleared the rubble, rebuilt the city and renewed its face. A new generation grew. We, the children of the 50s, were far from Judaism. No one told us about the Maccabim and Bar Kokhba, the name Herzl didn't say anything to us, and the same was for names like Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, Weitzman and others. We had no interest in Zionism and Judaism because we weren't educated in that direction. We weren't even excited by the name Israel. And yet - we were Jews. We searched for Jewish friends, sang songs in Yiddish, even though we didn't speak in this language, we ran to concerts of the actress Sidital and performances of actors from the Jewish theater in Moscow. We were excited by the singers Ana Guzik and Nechama Lifshitz, and enjoyed the records of Emil Gurevich and Appelbaum even though only a few understood their Yiddish. So were things.

Years have passed. The Six Day War in Israel removed the cataract from our eyes, pulled the curtain, and the world behind the Iron Curtain was unfolded before our eyes. We started to think about ourselves, about our essence and our Judaism. At that time we also started to correspond with our relatives who left the Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel in 1957. We started to take interest in everything that was said and written about Israel in the newspapers, and also tried to read between the lines. We discovered ourselves. We discovered that the Jews have their own country, a homeland with all that involved in it and arising from that. We told that it to our ten year old son. At first, he didn't show much interest in our stories. He had his own world. The Soviet regime left its mark on the course of his life and his thoughts. He was a young Russian in everything. The turning point came six years later, when he was sixteen, after the death of his beloved grandfather and the Yom Kippur war in Israel. This turning point was helped by his clash with a police officer who threw in face “Here isn't Golda Meir's government.” He became interested in the State of Israel and read the letters of our relatives who lived Israel. We understood that his eyes opened, that the seed of Judaism was sown in the furrows of his heart.

 

Farewell forever

1975. The sun of the month of June is warming our old city, and the linden and acacia are blooming again. There's peace and quiet around. The four of us are walking around the city: I, my husband my son and daughter. We're passing the same roads that we've passed in our childhood and nourish our eyes in everything around us.

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The city's park is clean and well maintained. The birds greet us with their lovely singing and the goldfish swim around the pool and shake their heads and tails. The fountain's water jets spray fresh water on us, an orchestra is playing a new-old waltz on a small stage, and for some reason I feel that they play the song in our honor:

Many years have passed
and our weeks ran away.
I'm no longer young
and you're not a little girl
in a white dress.
White sneaks to my temples
and also your hair is graying slowly---
So it was. Indeed, our hair hasn't yet turn white, but we didn't stay as we were in the distant past

When we left the city's park we passed by the school on Mikhailovskaya Street, which is now called Lenin Street. I once started to study there and now my husband works there. The friendship between my husband and I was tied at that school. Our love was born here and now our children go to this school. We pass by the institute (previously a school for boys) and remember our student's days. Our ears attuned to the quiet waters of the Lemen River and our eyes are raised in the direction of the ancient fortress. It seems that the sailboats separate from us like pure seagulls. We walk in familiar streets and we have no power to part from them and the many buildings who tell of our childhood. We arrive to the cemetery - the last stop of every person on earth. Above the stones we see the pictures of our relatives. We part from them forever. We feel as if they accompany us with a blessing for our new path. Yes, we are traveling to Israel. They, our loved ones, weren't awarded to do that, but, they accompany us with a silent blessing.

On 27 July 1975, we left Akkerman, our birthplace, forever, but wherever we would be, they'll also be with us. We'll carry their memory everywhere. To this day the name Akkerman is ringing in our ears, echoes, like the first cry of a newborn baby, like the first word, “mother,” of a little child, like the first kiss, like the first waltz. Echoes, and reminiscent of what has been forgotten.

Translated from Russian: N. Amitai

 

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I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
{Psalms 121:1)

(Drawing of the artist Ben)

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The 1903 pogrom in Kishinev

 

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On my way home

by Miriam Zamir

Translated by Sara Mages

On July 1941, the war between Germany and Russia broke out and the Jews of Akkerman were forced to leave their homes. Our Christian neighbors mocked us: “You're running away together with the Communists, but we have no reason to flee, we're in our home.”

At the same time my brother returned from the prison in Odessa. He lost a lot of weight and aged beyond recognitions. The only way to escape was - through Odessa, but my brother insisted and claimed: “Death is better than to return to Odessa.” Since he lived for some time in the German colonies in Bessarabia, it never occurred to him that they could be so cruel. However, after he realized that everyone was fleeing, he had no other choice and joined us together with his family. When we got to Odessa he didn't want to move from there, and ultimately, his fate was the fate of 135 thousand Jews of Odessa - annihilation.

My family decided to continue our flight. We looked for a way to get on a ship and sail from Odessa. On 10 September, a ship sailed with 3500 passengers, most of them were wounded in the war, but on the following morning it was bombed by the Germans and sank. On 18 September, we managed to get on a ship and sailed under the cover of a smoke screen but, sometime later, a squadron of German planes spotted us and started to bomb us. When the anti-aircraft guns didn't let them to sink us, they aimed their fire against Odessa and saw the city go up in flames from the ship's deck.

Our ship, whose name was “Krim,” turned in the direction of the Crimean Peninsula, not for from Novorossiysk. In the morning of the third day of our sailing, the ship was hit by a naval mine. Fortunately, the damage was on the side of the food storeroom and not in the ship's bow. About one hundred people, who were standing on the deck, were thrown into the sea from the intensity of the blast. Sailors lowered lifeboats and started to save women and children. It's difficult to describe the nightmare that we had gone through. The boats, which dried in the sun, filled with water and began to sink. The captain called for help by radio. Motor boats sailed towards us from the Crimean Peninsula and their sailors somehow managed to plug the gap that opened on the ship. When the boats arrived, people started to jump into them and the cries of children and mothers were heart-rending. Due to overcrowding on one side of the ship, the ship tilted on its side and miraculously didn't roll over. Sometime later, a towboat arrived and towed us to the shores of Novorossiysk. Thousands of people gathered on the beach to see the survivors. We were taken off the ship exhausted, shaken and soaked to the marrow of our bones.

The residents of Novorossiysk, most of them Russians, tried to help the refugees. They served us food, a hot drink, etc. I became friendly with a woman, and when I told her that I know how to sew and want to earn a living from this craft, she took me to her home. I mended old clothes, sewed new ones, and in exchange for my work I received cooked food that I brought to my family.

One day, it became known to me that a train, with wounded from the front, is getting closer to the city. I, my husband, my son and my elderly mother (our daughter died on the way to Odessa), climbed on one of the cars without permission. The train, which stopped frequently, was bombed by planes and young and old jumped out of the car in panic to save their lives. From time to time, this train suddenly began to move and left many people in the middle of the field. There is no way to describe the terrible tragedies that took place. I remember that one of the mothers took three of her children off the train, and when she went to get the fourth - the train suddenly moved and separated the mother from her three children. Shouts and cries accompanied us until we arrived to Stalingrad. We didn't get an enthusiastic reception when we arrived to Stalingrad. Many lived in the streets, the hospitals and the public buildings were filled to capacity. The city was in a state of chaos. Thefts and robberies were daily occurrence. Government officials came quickly from Kamyshin and from the kolkhozy in the vicinity and started to recruit professionals. We were also

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recruited. We were told that they would take us to a village in Upper Volga and give us the homes of the Germans who were exiled to Siberia. We saw ourselves lucky and hoped for the best. In the morning, after an overnight stay in the village of Gamlenky, they took us to various kolkhozy in the surrounding area.

The “houses” that were given to us were nothing but clay huts. The windowpanes were removed from the windows and the doors were pulled off their hinges after the previous occupants left. The floor was also made of clay. We were told: you may choose any apartment you want. Before we managed to get organized we saw a notice in this wording: “Those who do not go to work - will not get bread!” The bread that was given to us was inferior and many became ill with gastric diseases. Sugar, salt, onion etc. - were nowhere to be found. Red beets served as sugar, and also the babies didn't get sugar. We held on for the entire winter despite the unbearable conditions When the Germans got closer to Stalingrad, entire kolkhozy and villages were evacuated and their residents started to arrive to Gamlenki and to the neighboring villages.

The kolkhoz's officials liked the huts that we worked so hard to renovate, and after we were evicted from them, we moved to a grain warehouse which served as a place of residence for four families.

In late autumn of 1942, my 52 year old husband and my 19 year old son were drafted to military service and I was left alone with my elderly mother. In the winter of 1943, we received an evacuation order. One night, we were loaded onto a truck and taken to the train station in Gamlenky. At the same time, a silo full with grain went up in flames and the smoke, which rose from there, chocked us. We couldn't even eat.

Several days later, a freight train, which was loaded with tanks and spare parts for damaged planes, arrived from the front. Some of its cars were used to transport coal. We climbed on it and traveled without knowing where. Several cars were disconnected at different stations and people got stuck in places like: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. Our fate was to be thrown in Uzbekistan, a godforsaken region where backwardness and poverty were really desperate. We were thrown together with forty people and were told to wait for a ship that would carry us forward. I ran to the nearest village to get some food and during my absence my elderly mother took off her shoes and fell asleep. During her na,p her shoes and her suitcase, in which she kept the shroud that she prepared for a time of need, were stolen.

Finally a ship arrived and took us to the city of Przheval'sk in Kyrgyzstan. From there, we were transported to all kinds of remote places. I, my mother, and an elderly couple from Odessa (Ziglis), arrived to a place, which wasn't a village or a city, and its name is Tyon. The local residents were prisoners who were sentenced to 20-30 years imprisonment because they were - bourgeoisie. We were given shelter with a family of four children who lived in one room. The father of the family was in the battlefront.

I noticed that there was a manual sewing machine in the apartment and offered to sew all kinds of clothes so we'll sell and buy food with the money. When the landlady heard this proposal she responded: “God Forbid! I cannot allow a Jewish woman to make a living from my sewing machine. After all, it's the Jews' fault that we were brought to this remote location.”

It's difficult to describe the suffering and our hard work. Our job was - transporting wheat from place to place. We barely held on. I started to make attempts to locate my family members who were scattered in different locations.

Translated from Russian: Nisan Amitai


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Between anxieties and hopes
(Chapters of memories)

by Rosa Weitzman (Gordon) – (Kibbutz Hanita)

Translated by Sara Mages

1939 was intended to be the year of my immigration to Israel. I finished Hakhshara at “Masada ” near Bălţi and returned, out of a sense of security, to my home in Akkerman to start preparing for the expected immigration, but it was not as I imagined. All matters - not just mine - received another turn in that historic year that sealed the fate of millions. As soon as I arrived to Akkerman I felt an alarming unrest. Everyone was expecting different developments and the rumor said that the Russians are about to conquer all of Bessarabia. Musia Shapiro, one of the of the communist youth leaders, who later became an omnipotent ruler in our city, remembered our old friendship and came to warn me that I must leave Akkerman as soon as possible because after the regime change I will have a lot of difficulties and wouldn't be able to emigrate. I was confused and frustrated. The members, with whom I went through Hakhshara, were immigrating to Israel with Aliyah Bet, and I was still waiting for the announcement of my legal immigration date. I finally got the message I was expecting from Gordonia's main leadership in Bucharest that I should come to the capital immediately regarding my upcoming immigration. I parted from my family and traveled to Bucharest. I have been told that there was a chance that I would immigrate soon and I should be ready to leave for the road. There was no limit to my happiness. I sent a telegram to my mother and my sisters and told them the news.

At the very last moment there was a change. I was asked to give up my turn for the benefit of a sick young woman from the “Buslia ” federation who had to immigrate immediately with her husband. I was told that it was only a few weeks delay, and I agreed to give up my turn. I returned to Akkerman to be with my family in the few weeks left until my immigration.

I felt the tension in the city. We did not know what lies ahead. Musia, my friend, told me that it would have been better if I had waited in Bucharest for the date of my emigration because a serious turn in the conditions and circumstances may come any day. However, he saw the need to add while patting my shoulder: “don't be scared, we won't touch you. ” A message arrived again from Bucharest: we haven't forgotten you, you have to wait patiently.”

Where do you take patience when the war in Europe is spreading in full force and everyone predicts that there will be drastic changes in our regime?

In June 1940, Soviet troops invaded Bessarabia and, as a result, all the Halutzim who were unable to immigrate were in great distress. We meet every day, talk and consult. David Cohen z”l, Musia Rotenshtern z”l, Efraim Abramowitch May he live, myself and another member are trying to find a way to save ourselves. Something is emerging on the horizon. Hope and despair mix together. Everything is vague. Bucharest announced that someone had been sent to bring me there, but unfortunately he was caught by the Russians and exiled to the depths of Russia. I remained stuck.

Meanwhile, the new regime began to show its true colors. The “capitalists ” were exiled and all their businesses were confiscated. The activity of all youth movements ceased, as did all social-party activities. Everyone feared for his life. The communists in the city rose to prominence. They were headed by Musia, who traveled in the city streets in an open car and sealed the fate of each person. I started looking for any kind of work because I had to prove that I was a productive element. I started to work as a cashier in a restaurant that was confiscated from its owner. My Zionist past did not make me feel safe even though Musia came to our house and tried to reassure me that nothing bad would happen to me (in the end he also went through a period of suffering. Apparently he was disappointed with the regime, which did not find him reliable, and was also exiled). We knew we were being followed, all the more so after Efraim Abramowich was arrested together with his family. This imprisonment shocked me. I pondered in my heart if, sooner or later, I would also go through a period of trouble and suffering.

Meanwhile, the war broke out between Germany and Russia. In the city - disarray in all areas. Many are leaving the city and only a few delude themselves that the war would end quickly. The city is slowly emptying from its inhabitants. Many flock to Odessa in the hope of finding refuge there. You can't leave Akkerman

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without permission, but my mother, my sister Sonia and I, do not receive such a permit. The reason is probably in our Zionism. We want to leave, at any cost, and only on the last day, at the last hour, we were also given permission to leave Akkerman.

Our first stop on the way to Odessa was Ovidiopol. In this city we received a very “warm ” welcome - a heavy bombardment with many victims. Miraculously, Dodik Cohen z”l appeared as a messenger from the High Providence and with his help we arrived at the train station. When we arrived, after many hardships to Odessa, we became refugees with all the implications of this concept. Those who had relatives - went to them, and those who did not - sought refuge wherever they went and expected the mercy of others. I remember that hundreds of Akkerman's residents gathered every day in a public park in Odessa to hear the news, to receive coupons for bread and share stories of sadness and grief.

It was clear that within a few days Odessa would be captured by the Germans. Time has worked to our detriment. Many of Akkerman's residents left Odessa and advanced, in all sorts of ways, toward the depths of Russian. Every day I met with Musia Rotenshtern, Yakov Ziglwaxs, Gitia Brend and Mischa Zalkind, but in these meetings we couldn't alleviate our distress (Mischa was recruited, participated in battles in Odessa and was killed). As the shelling intensified, and after we began to see German cannons when we stood on a high floor of a building, we came to the realization: there is no point in staying in Odessa, we must flee.

To my happiness, a rumor spread that there's one way to escape, but it's very dangerous, through a mined sea. We decided to gamble on this option even though we had been warned that the risk was very high. We had nothing to lose. My mother and sister said it was crazy to go out in such a dangerous way, but there was no other choice. We were able to get a truck and arrived with our belongings to the port of Odessa, but we entered the ship without our belongings which were thrown into the sea.

On our journey we had to pass through a heavily mined area. For two days and nights I did not know where my mother and sister were. But, in the end, we all got to Novorossiysk. There, too, we were greeted with a heavy bombardment. We continued our journey and reached Stalingrad. Many of the passengers stopped there, but we continued to travel to get as far as possible from the front. On 13.10.1941 we arrived in Karaganda Kazakhstan and stayed in Siberia until 1945. I was cut off from all my acquaintances and friends and only had some contact with Ephraim Abramowich who sat in prison. I served as a teacher and secretary in a Russian school, and was eagerly waiting for the day that I could renew the relationship with my friends and Eretz Yisrael.

At the end of the war we left for Kishinev, because my sister married a native of this city who served in an important role in this city and was called by the Russians to return there. I worked in bookkeeping, but all my thoughts were focused on one single issue: to get in touch with my friends from the movement and find a way to get to Eretz Yisrael.

Among those, who came to see us when we returned to Kishinev, was also Munia Feldman. He was the first to bring the news: a certain young man came from Bucharest and he's trying to get in touch with former members of the movement and resume the activities, but underground. All efforts were directed at the attempt to illegally cross to Romania. I will confess, and not be embarrassed, that I have treated this message with such suspicion that I asked him to stop talking to me about it. I have never been a great hero, and all the hardships I had gone through during the war added fear to my natural fears. So I continued to work and tried to get used to the new circumstances, but I did not give up and a glimmer of hope kept shining on me.

I continued to treat with great suspicion every piece of news about connections with the “outside, ” and yet I did not stop hoping for a change. One day - and it was on May 1, 1946 - in the midst of May Day celebration, Rabinowitch from Chiţnãu approached me and whispered to me: get out of the lines. There's a young man here who wants to see you. You must come to meet him at the home of the Portnoy family from Uriv [Orhei].

And again, hope mixed with fear. I ran home impatiently to consult my family, whether to go to a meeting with this man who came on a certain mission, not knowing the nature of it. Maybe it's just a trap?

We made a positive decision despite the risk involved, and I set out to meet the anonymous emissary. The conversation was short. After making sure that I was Rosa Gordon, he introduced himself as Zelig Weitzman and told me that he was working on establishing a contact between former members of the movement and the illegal crossing of the Russian border in order to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. He asked if I was willing to join while emphasizing the risk involved and the need to keep it a secret. I was shocked and frustrated. I was not ready to give him an answer right away and asked for time to consult with those closest to me.

When I told my family about it, my mother ruled immediately: destiny has summoned you this young man and you have to trust him. I was in a serious dilemma because it was just for me and older people were not taken into account. I was very attached to my mother,

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to my sister Sonia and her husband. I couldn't imagine life without them. On the other hand, I knew that this might be the last chance. The emissary, Zelig Weitzman, who later became my husband, helped me make the decision. Slowly, members I knew from the Gordonia Hakhshara period, as well as members from other locations, started to come to our house and in this manner the home of my brother-in-law and my sister became the center of the underground activity. Zelig had forged papers and in Kishinev he was “a guest who stayed overnight. ” During the day he had meetings with members and at night he slept on a bench in a public park in the city center. My brother-in-law, Avraham Gunmacher, a very noble and faithful man to the family, couldn't come to terms with his condition and invited Zelig to live in his apartment despite the danger.

One day, I was summoned with four members to come immediately to Chernivtsi in order to cross the border. I got up and traveled without thinking much, but, unfortunately, something happened at the last minute, as it happened to me often, and the border smuggling was postponed. I returned to Kishinev and felt the change in the attitude towards me in my workplace. They began to suspect me and probably my sudden trip, without permission, cast suspicion on me. I also heard a rumor that they were going to put me on a members' trial and my only hope was that I would be able to escape before that.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 1946, I received a message from Zelig that I should come immediately to Chernivtsi. When I got there, Zelig met me at the train station and informed me that he had to join our group because they started to follow him and we were leaving at night. His frequent trips from Kishinev to Chernivtsi raised suspicion, his papers were forged and he had the feeling that the zero hour has come for him. We met in Dvora Blinovitch's room and received the last instructions from Zelig. In our group were: Aharon Bratini, Shimon Rabinowitch, Zelig and I. Of course, the papers in our hands were also forged and we had to declare, in case we got caught, that we were some kind of medical committee assigned to a particular mission... We walked a long road full of obstacles and I occasionally choked with fear. The sounds of the border patrol, and the barking of the tracking dogs, echoed in our ears. We knew very well what we can expect if we were caught. We reached an electrified fence that Zelig passed the members through one of its opening, and we also passed through this opening.

We breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed the Romanian border and reached the town of Siret south of Bukovina. From there, after a short stay, we left for Bucharest and met Meir Zait and Baruch Kamin who worked for the movement. I won't even try to describe the excited meeting. They looked at us as if we have come from another planet. Everything seemed to be in a different light. We began to believe that we would achieve what we dreamed of for many years.

In consultation with Zelig and the “Bricha ” operatives, it was decided, despite all the dangers, that Zelig must once again travel to Russia to collect more members for the same mission. Zelig, of course, accepted the “movement's judgment ” and set off and I, already his fiancée, had to wait for him in one of the Hakhshara points. Sometime, after Zelig left for Russia, alarming news began to arrive. A number of members had been arrested and Zelig's life was in danger. And again, I agonized with anxious anticipation. Am I doomed to go through torment again?

One day, Zelig miraculously appeared. Our wedding was held in Bucharest and was attended by many of our members who came from Russia. In the meantime, we began to feel that we were being followed, and we had to leave Romania before it was too late. Together with Baruch Kamin and his wife, we fled to Hungary, but even there we couldn't sit peacefully because we were being followed. We fled to Italy where we finally breathed a sigh of relief. In Italy we met Issachar (Iscah) Haimovich who served as an emissary from Israel. I was very excited because I owed him thanks for the material and mental help he had given us during the war. He made sure, every month, that I would receive a food packet that kept us from starving in the harsh and bitter days.

In Italy we were with a group of about forty members who escaped from Russia, and we continued to live together as a big united family. Zelig and I were able to immigrate to Israel with Aliya Daled, whose living spirit was Shulamit Arlozorov, and arrived at the place we longed for - Hanita. There was no limit to our happiness, but there were also shadows that clouded this happiness: news came about members who were caught on their way from Russia and received five to seven years in prison. Among them was also my brother-in-law, Avraham Gunmacher, who literally sacrificed himself for the common cause. People, who were with him, told me that he was very happy when he learned that I arrived safely to Israel. He did not achieve that, he died in the Diaspora. After a lot of hardships, my sister, his wife, managed to get to Israel. My mother also lived with us in Hanita for a few years and those were the most beautiful years of her life, but that's another story.

Now, that I am already a grandmother to grandchildren, I often tell them the sad stories of those days, but they are an important chapter in the history of my personal Zionism, and also of others.

 

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