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[Page 194]

The Holocaust

 

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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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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The Flag

by Shmuel Miniali (Netania)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Who, among the Akkerman Jews, does not remember the blue-white flag that was carried high during every important public event and in the front of all the national parades and Zionist demonstrations? This flag touched all Jewish hearts in Akkerman and filled them with pride.

As the rumor said, this flag was made illegally at the time of Herzl and the first Zionist Congresses by the few Zionists who lived in our town. It was made of expensive silk, the Star of David was of golden color and it carried the inscription “Carry to Zion the Flag, the Flag of the Camp of Yehuda.” This flag symbolized for us the national revival and the hope for a Jewish State.

 

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A respected resident of the town, perished in the Holocaust

 

During many years was the flag kept in the “craftsmen's synagogue” and it was impossible to describe the feeling of happiness felt by those who happened to carry the flag, which was quite heavy, while leading a procession. The strongest youngsters were chosen for this task. As a student in the high-school, I often had the opportunity to argue with the attendants of the synagogue (Yashpun, Shayke Shlein and Chaim Leib Speevak), asking to borrow the flag for a parade. Sometimes it was not easy to make a decision.

Several times I had the privilege to be the carrier of this flag at the head of a parade and salute the authorities who were standing on the official platform on Michaelovska Street near the public park. At the head of those parades, always walked the High-School orchestra, directed by the Brothers Palikov.

In 1940, as the Soviets occupied the town, the flag disappeared and nobody was interested to know its fate. I had the good luck to see it for the last time, one or two days before the war broke out – the last days of the Soviet rule in Akkerman. This is the story:

At that time I was living in the Kwitko House, not far from the Craftsmen's Synagogue. One day, I passed near the synagogue and noticed that the door to the basement near the gate was open. I thought that I should look in, to see what was hidden in the cellar, which was familiar to me since my childhood, when I was part of the choir that accompanied the cantor of the synagogue Moshe Kogan z”l and we would change our clothes there before our appearance. My eyes noticed immediately, that our dear flag had been thrown on a pile of waste, old and dirty. My hart ached seeing the humiliated flag, whose fate was similar to the fate of the Akkerman Jews.

Scared and full of fear I left the place, hoping that the flag would be crowned again sometime.

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[Page 213]

A Miracle did not Happen in Karnitchka

by Berurya Har-Zion

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Many holidays and other events were celebrated in our school in Akkerman, but etched in my mind is the memory of the holiday of Lag Ba'omer. It is not one of the major Jewish holidays, but I remember from those far years all its details, as if it were today. Maybe the reason is the memory of our parade through the streets of the town, which touched our hearts and filled it with Jewish pride. Indeed we had parades in honor of the Romanian national holidays as well, and our school excelled in organizing them, but we never received the highest grade among the other schools.

Not so on Lag Ba'omer. This holiday was all ours, created for us, part of our history and our heritage. The preparations would begin long before the holiday, and on the morning of Lag Ba'omer the principal of the school would walk between the rows of students, check if the shoes were shining, if the buttons of the shirts were in place, if the shoelaces were tied well, etc. – exactly as before a general Romanian holiday. I confess, that all these procedures annoyed me and I would think: what can be the connection between this Jewish holiday, which symbolizes the heroism of the Jews, the Bar-Kochba revolt, Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, and the strange procedures of the holidays of the Gentiles? But I would forgive the principal, after I heard his speech, which I remember well, since he repeated it every year and no wonder that we remembered it…

In the neighborhood of our town there were many places with beautiful fields, full of fruits and vegetables, but everybody knew that on Lag Ba'omer our aim was only one place – Krinitchka. Indeed, this was a place which was, apparently, created for Lag Ba'omer. There were many legends about the nearby spring, the tall cross, the many events that had happened there etc. One legend I remember well:

Many years ago, a group of fishermen lived there, whose sustenance depended on fishing alone. One day, the well that served the inhabitants of the town dried up. People died of thirst, babies perished, epidemics broke out. As the situation got worse, almost all residents decided to leave the place. Only very few remained, and all winter they drank snow water. When spring came and the snow began to melt, someone noticed some water under the snow. They followed the little stream and found a spring with sweet and clean water. At the place they erected a small building with a big cross on the roof, as thanks to God Who sent them water. This legend accompanied me through my entire childhood.

I think that they could not have chosen a better place for our outings. The usual fine weather in the month of May, clear skies, green trees all around, intoxicating bloom, chirping birds, blue water of the Liman – all this fused with the surrounding landscape. No wonder that the Lag Ba'omer songs echoed during our parade with enthusiasm and youthful beauty: many weeks before the holiday we anticipated the experience and longed for it.

In the afternoon, after the lower-grades pupils returned home, the upper grades would gather with their teachers under a large tree and have a long discussion. The teacher Tcherniavskki would mix his tales and songs with Russian words, and I remember in particular the Hebrew song Al tira avdi Ya'aov [do not be afraid, my slave Yakov], inlaid, like a gem, with stories.

Sport events, bicycle races, various games – were the special agenda of the day. The echoes of our songs were heard all around, and even the Christians knew what this holiday meant for the Jews. Only late afternoon, when the sun began to set and a violet-greenish light would spread at the edge of the sky – we began preparations to go back to town.

[Page 214]

After more than thirty years, in 1966, I visited Kishinew and met my kindergarten teacher Mania Sherira, and we reminisced about the Lag Ba'omer festivities. We sat in a room with the shutters closed and remembered those old days. How sad it was to hear, that Krinitchka, where Jewish children would gather with songs on their lips to remember Bar-Kochba and the heroism of the Jews – was the last station of thousands of Jews from Akkerman, who perished there with the words Shema Israel, and not Al tira avdi Ya'aov on their lips. I said to Mania: Why did the powers of nature not react? Why did the lake not erupt into the air? Why did the trees not tremble at the moment of destruction, the same trees in whose shade we sat on Lag Ba'omer? How could all these be silent witnesses to those indescribable things?

Indeed, the miracle that happened so many generations ago has not repeated itself. The soil, which in those far days of Lag Ba'omer festivities drank the songs of our youth and the burning of our hearts – now drank the blood of our beloved. The place, which had symbolized youth and hope for the children of Israel, now symbolizes for all of us the bitter end of the Jews of Akkerman and surroundings.

 

By mistake, the wrong picture was printed on page 214.
Below is the correct picture:

akk214a.jpg
Memorial service for the Shoah victims at the Akkerman Meeting

 


[Page 215]

A Story of a Name

by Asher Shwartzman

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I wouldn't tell a personal story if I hadn't thought that it would be of interest not only to me. In any case, I learned a great deal from this tale – the story of my first name.

Asher was the name given to me at my Brit Milah [circumcision]. But in fact, I never used this legal name of mine. There were many reasons for that: I was ashamed; I was afraid of the reaction of my friends on the street and at the playground, and my teachers, who might mock this strange name; I was afraid of the reaction of the various officials when I had to fill forms in some office. When I reached the age of 14-15, the shame with my “strange” name turned into real pain. It became an obsession. I began comparing my name to Russian, Ukrainian and other names. I longed to understand the problem – why was my name worse than other names? Why should I be ashamed with the name that was given me at my birth? The result that I came up with was that a Jewish name could not be equal to other people's names. Jewish names were names of a nation of merchants (although my father was a laborer and my grandfather was a cobbler), a nation of weak people (my father was a proud soldier in the Red Army and fought the Germans and fell in battle with his weapons in his hands), a nation who remained in Tashkent the length of the war… My inferiority complex in face of other nations grew deeper.

This was not easy for me, maybe because of my character. After some time, I discovered that many Jews changed their names and took Russian names, but my own character was strengthened by the reality, the surrounding conditions and the neighbors and I abandoned the idea of changing my name. My name remained proudly written on my identity card, my matriculation diploma, my army card, my university diploma and my marriage document. However, I gave in at the end, following two things that forced me to change my “unhappy” name. The first happened after I graduated from the university and I began working as a teacher at a teachers college. It was not easy to be a teacher when your name is Osher Osipowitch… The second case – after my first daughter was born, I thought to myself: What is the fault of my children? Was it not enough that I was suffering? I decided to change my name and I chose the name Leonid. This name was printed in my identity card, so my children could use it, and the old name Osher remained on all other documents.

When I made Aliya, my new name – Leonid – was on my “immigrant card“ and my new identity card. I decided to adopt back my original name Osher but a new problem arose: many people, who knew me as Leonid, were wondering about the Hebrew name and I had to give lengthy explanations. For me it was not a minor change, but a return to my origin. I belong to my name and my name belongs to me and with it I feel that I am myself.

 

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[Page 216]

The “flag-Day” ['tag-day']

by Beruria Har-Zion

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I remember, when I was a pupil in the lower grades of school, my desire was to be one of the carriers of the “blue-white box” on the “tag day” (when we collected money for the JNF and every donor received a little blue-white tag to pin it on his/her shirt). At the time I did not know what the real meaning of the “blue box” was, but my relation to it has not diminished. Knowing that it was very dear and very important was enough for me.

We went out in pairs, one of us carrying a large cardboard in the shape of a star-of-David with the tags arranged on it like flowers and the other carrying the box. It was Sunday and the street was full of people. We were assigned the stretch between Michalovski Street and the town park, where there were many Jewish shops. Our instructions were to approach every person and enter every shop, Jewish and non-Jewish. When we came near one of the stores, my partner told me that I will have to go in myself, not telling me the reason. I entered the store of Mrs. Constantiner and the owner received me with shouts: Again you came to beg?? I asked many times not to come to my store. Go to your Palestine, you insolent and dirty youngsters, the Arabs will slaughter you there. Don't come here anymore!

I was stunned. I was not ready for such a “welcome.” I didn't understand why she said “dirty.” I tried to say something, but this increased her fury and shouts, and I ran away, ashamed.

My next “tag-day” was Tu Bishvat. This time I knew more about the Box and its purpose. Again I was assigned the same street as on Lag Ba'omer. When I reached the Constantiner store, my heart began to beat strongly. I peeked into the store and saw two people: a young officer and a lady. I decided to go in, and offer the young couple the tag. The owner started to yell again, but I was ready and managed to say: “Sorry, we did not come to you, but to the people in your store. I approached the pair and offered them a tag, explaining the purpose of JNF, as we had been instructed. The officer responded politely and gave a nice contribution. The owner of the store was furious again, but I felt that I won and thanked them, as I was taught to do. But I also felt the need to take revenge on the lady owner; when I was at the door I said to her: We shall always visit your store, but you should know that we are not coming to you, but to your customers, whom we already know…

 

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[Page 217]

The Akkerman Jews
during the War and after it

by Kwitko Michael

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Very often I find myself thinking about the bitter fate of the Akkerman Jews. A while ago I heard from my friend S. Rosenthal that no more than 12-15 families are living in Akkerman nowadays. The town itself has grown and developed, but its 5000 Jews have perished. Why did the Akkerman Jews “drink the poison cup” in its entirety? Why was their fate so cruel? Why did they not flee and escape before the end came?

I think that there were several reasons, which depended on the Jews themselves. I would like to mention some of them. In 1918, when Bessarabia left Russia and became united with Romania, the Akkerman Jews lost the center town that they loved, Odessa, which had remained in the hand of the Russians; but little-by-little they got used to live without Odessa and accepted the fact that Akkerman was under Romanian rule. Moreover, they learned to make maximum use of this fact. The Romanian anti-Semitism, which was felt very well in other towns, was almost not felt in Akkerman, and during 29 years, until 1938, the Jews could lead quietly a regular life. I think that this quiet life was, partly, the reason that did not hurry to leave the town when the days of the Holocaust came. There are testimonies that the Jews who gathered around the Bet Midrash listened to the attendants and leaders and decided not to leave the place. This influenced others as well and they didn't move out.

A second reason, and maybe this was the most important one, which convinced the Akkerman Jews not to move out from Akkerman, was the great disappointment from the Communist regime. Many have felt this disappointment, even among those who had been members of the Communist Underground. Very few maintained the hope that the communist regime would save the Jews from the danger of Nazism and bring them peace. The Jews did not trust the Soviet rule at all; some of the moves of the Soviet political leadership were considered by the Jews anti-Semitic schemes planned in advance.

The fact is, that during an entire year of Soviet rule, n o t h i n g was said (in the press or by the authorities) about what had happened to the Polish Jews who lived in the area occupied by the Germans, nothing about what was expected to happen to the Soviet Jews if the hand of the Germans would catch them. Great speakers who came to Akkerman indeed spoke about the danger of war against the Germans, but not one word was said about the great danger for the Jews in particular. No wonder that many still believed that it would be possible to make arrangements with the Romanians through various “payments,” as was the custom to do. This was why it happened, that in contrast to the flight to the interior of the Soviet Union, which many have chosen, the Akkerman Jews preferred to remain in place rather than take the risks of evacuation. This was the reason they perished. Even those who reached Odessa did not reach a safe heaven. The Romanians caught them and they perished as well. Some of them (like the mother and sister of Dr. Shaul Palikov and the parents of Riva Axelrod) did arrive at far-away places, but the cruel hand of the Nazis reached them there as well. Only a small number of Jews, who reached, after great suffering, Asia, survived.

After the war, the Akkerman Jews who survived preferred not to return to their town, but chose other Russian cities (Cernowitz, Kishinev and Odessa) because from there it was easier to go to Romania and then to emigrate to USA or Israel or other countries. This was the reason that so few of the surviving Akkerman Jews returned to their town of origin.

The fateful day was, as it is known, the 28 of June 1940, when, following a Soviet ultimatum, the Romanians were forced to leave Bessarabia according to the agreement and enable all the Bessarabians to return from Romania to their homes. The Jews preferred to endanger their property and remain where they were and not join the returning Romanians.

[Page 218]

Those who did return to Bessarabia (Akkerman included) were not followers of the leftists-communists, as for example Eng. Trachtman, former director of JCA in the Balkans or Eng. Grushmsn, director of JCA in Romania and former chairman of “Maccabi” in Akkerman. They died (the first on the roads of Bessarabia, the other committed suicide by hanging after his wife, his daughter and his grandson fell in the snow while running and remained on the side of the road. Among those who did return, were Jewish doctors, who succeeded in Bucharest, but preferred to leave their wealth and their professional success and return to Akkerman (Dr. Karadonski, Yellin and others), taking with them only a few packages and suitcases. None was sorry about the property that was lost. They tried to get used to the new conditions, hoping that in time they will overcome the difficulties. Soviet citizens, who came to Akkerman, began to buy everything from the stores, and formed long lines, never seen in Akkerman before. It was possible to notice at first sight the lust for money of the Russian officials who had come to town. However, during the beginning of the Soviet occupation it seemed as a paradise on earth. Actors came from Odessa and performed theater pieces and reviews, fat lady singers sang Soviet songs, but unfortunately together with the artistic groups came people of the NKVD who made nightly raids and arrested “suspected elements”: former merchants, Zionists, public activists, Hebrew teachers and the like. And so life went on: in the morning they were making jokes and at night every person feared for his own life and the lives of his family members – who knows who will be the prey of “the black crow” tonight?

Towards the New Year, the authorities gave us a “present” – paragraph 39 of the Soviet Law, which defined the place of residence of the citizens and forced many to relocate in 3 days to a village which was at least 30 km. from the former residence in the city center. This was a smart move, which enabled the new residents to get good apartments and working places.

As a son of a wealthy person, I too received the “present”. I decided to check the justice of the Soviet law and I appealed to the general Attorney of the area. He listened, then asked me whether I know the Russian saying that “when one cuts wood, splinters are flying around”…. This was the end of our discussion and I was ordered to leave my town, my home and my work and relocate to a village, without taking with me my things, when my wife was six months pregnant. Thus I had the opportunity to understand the meaning of the Soviet Communism…

It didn't take long, and the Nazi soldiers invaded almost all of Europe, from Greece in the south to Norway in the North. The Nazi “Barbarossa Plan” was activated and the great strategist, the “Sun of the Nations” did not listen to the warnings of an invasion of Russia by the Germans coming soon. Ten days before the invasion they “took measures”…On the night of 12 June Jewish old and sick people (among them my mother, who was sick and blind) were awakened from their sleep and, defined as “dangerous anti- Soviet elements” were taken to investigation or chased out of town. The German residents in town were not touched. Neither were the Ukrainians, who, as was well known, immediately began collaborating with the Germans. The evacuated people were not allowed to take their clothes and not even medicines. It is easy to imagine how the Soviet justice looked in their eyes. It is worth mentioning, that many communists and former underground fighters were deeply disappointed from the Soviet regime – they felt well this “justice” on their own bodies…

When war broke out, on 22 June 1941, the Romanian prime-minister Antonescu spoke to his Romanian citizens, saying: Romanians, cross the River Prut and liberate our Bessarabia, punish the Jewish population for its bad behavior and attitude toward the Romanian army and kill 10% of the Jewish population! On 29 June the authorities took “measures” and, among others they accused the Jews of the city of Yassy [Iaºi] that they signaled the Soviet airplanes and shot through their windows at German soldiers. They carried out a terrible pogrom in town and killed over 12,000 Jews. This was a general rehearsal before the Romanians invaded Bessarabia.

The Soviet propaganda hid from the public Antonescu's speech as well as the Yassy pogrom. It is possible, that if the Jews had known about those terrible acts, they would have understood what was awaiting them and would have reacted differently – they would not have believed in a possibility to “make an arrangement” with the Romanians and would have escaped in time.

All units of the Romanian army hurried to perform Antonescu's instructions concerning killing Jews, and as the soldiers entered the Bessarabia villages and towns their first acts were to rob the Jews and then kill them, men and women, young and old. In towns where the number of Jews was large, they gathered them in one place and murdered them without mercy.

The 35th infantry battalion, which had been stationed in Akkerman before the Russians came, returned to town. One of the captains, the son of a local peasant, born in Akkerman, Okishor by name, was responsible for

[Page 219]

killing the Akkerman Jews. During the first days of August 1941 they gathered all Jews in the Craftsmen's Synagogue after they had robbed their belongings. More than 1600 men, women and children were kept there several days without food, then they forced them to run through the main streets, in front the old man Feigin, naked, to the “Karnitchka,” where in the past we used to hold the Lag Ba'Omer festivities. By the command of captain Okishor all were shot and buried in a pit that they had themselves dug before. Another officer should be infamously mentioned, Freulich, son of a former German resident, who conducted the murder of the Shaba Jews. On 9 August this Freulich came to Tatarbonar and, together with the local commander of the ghetto captain Bato Jonas robbed and killed 451 Jews in the ghetto. On pages 71-72 of the Black Book by M. Karp, former secretary of the Jewish community in Bucharest, is printed the document that describes this event.

I, my wife and our baby miraculously succeeded to escape, thanks to our acquaintance with some rare and charitable farmers. The engineer Ivan Ivanovitch Baloban endangered his own life and helped me in the winter of 1942 to get from Odessa to Bucharest with my baby. The Christian Greek Saropolo hid me and my wife in Odessa during two months of the winter of 1941-1942 and so saved us from being sent to the concentration camp. I want to mention, with good blessings, he engineer Gregory Andonianetz from Akerman, who was the head of the Goltianesk Region. With his help, I succeeded not only to help myself but also to establish a Jewish Committee after the war. Dr. Feldstein was the deputy head of the committee and I was given the possibility to act through it for the benefit of the Jews. With the help of Eng. Andonianetz I managed to send to Bucharest a memorandum describing our situation and connect with Dr. Corneliu Iancu, deputy head of the Zionist Federation in Romania. Thanks to this connection we received from Bucharest financial aid, which helped us to open medical clinics, an orphanage, a pharmacy and several workshops that employed Jewish people. I managed to save, feed and educate 90 children, many of whom are now in Israel with us, as the sisters Gerzberg from Sarata. One of them, who is called now Lily Bardev and lives in Ashdod, I took out from the death camp Achmatchatka in a sack of bread. About a year later I managed, with the help of the Red Cross, to take Lily to Eretz Israel. Her elder sister came later, through Cernowitz.

After we were liberated from the camp, I managed to stay in Bucharest and I worked at finding the Romanian murderers and bringing them to justice. Among others, I managed to find the above mentioned Okishor; he was arrested by the Romanians and I testified concerning all his terrible acts in 1941 in Akkerman.

On the mass grave in Karnitchka, where over 1600 Jews are buried, there is no memorial stone.

Among the Jews who fled to Odesa and survived all the horrors of the war and returned to Akkerman: Dr. Yeshayahu Feldstein and his wife, his son Dr. Musia Feldstein and his wife and daughter, Dr. Tesia Elberg, Huna Kapelnikov with his wife and two children, Brand Soya and several others. Dr. Tchobotaru from Tatarbonar and his wife and children are now living in Kishinev. Eng. Brodeski with his wife and children are now living in Bucharest. Every one of them has a long story to tell about the road of suffering that they had to take and how they survived.

 

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