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[Page 229]

Personalities and Characters
of blessed memory

 

[Page 231]

Our Ministers

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

(Introduction in Hebrew)

Our town Akkerman had the privilege to possess two ministers “of its own,” both of them Jews. One was A. Ravotzki, who was minister in the Kranski government and the other, S. M. Gutnik, was minister of commerce in the government of the Hetman [military commander] Skoropedski. We saw fit to bring in this book some biographical details of both, as well as a chapter of Ravotzki's book (in Yiddish) “During Ukraine's Difficult Days” (Memories of a Jewish minister), which reveals the relationship between “our” two ministers, as well as an interesting and almost unknown affair from the days prior to the Bolshevik revolution. The chapter is given below in the original Yiddish.

On the same First of January, after the talk with Tchechovski, I went to my Bessarabia Landsman the esteemed M., where I was invited to New-Year's lunch. In town they already knew about my scheduled arrival. During lunch, M. introduced me to a blonde middle-aged lady and said:

- This is Sergei Michaelowitz's wife.

- Which Sergei Michaelowitz? – I asked quickly.

- Naturally, Gutnik, smiled M. to me. S.M. Gutnik – the Jewish financier, the minister of commerce in the Hetman's government, was almost a landsman of mine; he came from Akkerman, Bessarabia Gubernia, where his father had a small bank. I didn't know him well personally. During the war I saw him a few times in the offices of the Odessa newspaper, where I worked at that time. After the fall of the Hetman, Gutnik, who had been one of his most reactionary ministers, disappeared, and the new regime looked for him everywhere.

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So, as the French say, I put on a pleasant face for a nasty game, and I used one of the sentences that people use when they have company and have nothing to say, or when there is something that they do not want to talk about:

In the middle of the short discussion, I asked quickly:

- So, your man is, it seems, already on the other side of the border?

- Naturally.

My conscience calmed down.

Several months later, after I left my position, while walking on the street in Odessa, where the “Freiwillige” ruled at the time, I met the same good M. He was happy to see me and invited me to his home. Suddenly he said:

- Do you remember how in Kiev I introduced you to Mrs. Gutnik?

- Yes, I remember.

- And do you know that Gutnik was at the same time right in the next room?

I was really surprised and remained silent.

- Yes, Gutnik was hiding in my place, and for three weeks he did not leave the locked room. Later we razed his beard and entirely changed his appearance, so that even his own mother would not have recognized him, and I took him from Kiev to Odessa. We used to joke about the fact that a Hetman minister would hide in the same apartment where a minister of the government used to be a regular guest, who was looking for him as a great criminal…
The same day that I related to one of my Odessa friends this piquant episode, he asked me:
- Tell me, if you had known that Gutnik was in the next room, would you have informed the authorities?

Would I have done that in the case of a threat of the death punishment?

It was a difficult question…

Theoretically, I would have certainly done it, although I would have seen it as my duty to make every effort to avoid a death sentence. Practically, however, it would have been much more difficult. I am still too much of a “Freedom-Socialist” and the idea of “informing” – even for the benefit of a progressive power, even for the defense against reactionary persons – would have scared me very much. And besides that, by doing so I would have put my host M., who hid Gutnik, in a difficult situation. However, if I decided not to divulge the fact of my meeting, I would, in any case, present my resignation; or rather: I would simply give up my candidacy. It is, naturally, impossible that a minister, member of the cabinet, provide cover, even by keeping silent, to one of the most important criminals.


 

[Page 233]

Yakov Shmuel Halevi Trachtman z”l

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

 

He was born in 1831 in Ovrotch (Wolhyn District) and in his early youth he came to live in Akkerman. He was a scholar, was ordained as Rav, and a known writer at the time, known by his pseudonym “Ish Tam.” He was familiar with the Russian literature and a devoted communal worker. He published many books in Hebrew: Agada Achat [One Legend] (Odessa 1870), Or Tora [The light of the Torah] (Warsaw 1881), Sha'arei Gan Eden [The Gates of Paradise] (Jerusalem 1909), Sukat David Hanofelet [David's fallen Sukka] (published in the journal “Talpiyot” Berdichev 1895) as well as books for young people as: Haduda'im, Baruch Mibanim and others. He published tens of articles and hundreds of reports in the Hebrew newspapers Hamelitz, Hatzefira, Hachavatzelet and other Hebrew periodicals. Apart from that, he published articles in the Russian press, and it became a sort of tradition that before every Jewish Holiday the local Russian newspaper published an article by Y. S. Trachtman, in which he explained the history and the importance of the Holiday. These “Holiday” articles were very popular and were read by the Christian readers of the newspaper as well.

He was a smart Jew, with a sharp eye and a sense of humor and a large education; no wonder that he was appreciated by the Jewish as well as by the Christian population. He served the public not only by his pen, but also by his speeches at every important public event. His 50th birthday was celebrated in Akkerman with much splendor. In the 147 issue of Hatzefira from 1913, M. Startz relates about the Jubilee party that was held in his honor: “These days our community celebrated the jubilee of the veteran Hebrew writer, the last of the pioneers and fighters of the Enlightenment, the wise Rav R'Shmuel Halevi Trachtman, on the day he was 82 years of age and 60 years of his public and literary work. The leaders of the town, the intelligentsia and many of the local residents gathered in the “Culture House.” As R'Trachtman walked through the entrance he was presented with a bouquet of flowers and Mrs. Shoshana Litvin gave him a picture album and greeted him in Hebrew. The cantor Mr. Rabinowitz sang “Welcome” [Baruch Haba] and other songs. The teacher M. Startz congratulated him in the name of the Hebrew readers and described shortly his activities and his devotion to the education of the young generation. He spoke about R'Trachtman's literary work and mentioned his articles published in Hatzefira and his books. A young man, B. Keplauch, presented him with greetings written in Hebrew “in the name of the young people of Akkerman who read Hebrew.”

Y. S. Trachtman lived a long and peaceful life, and experienced happiness with his children. One of them, Immanuel, occupied the important position of general manager of JCA in Bessarabia.

He died at the age of 99. Many of the Jewish and Christian Akkerman residents accompanied him at his funeral as he was taken to his eternal rest.

I. Schildkraut

Havatzelet, Jerusalem 1909, published Trachtman's piece “The Jewish handkerchief.” We bring here a few passages:

“…The Jewish handkerchief, the “handkerchief of the people of Israel” is a sort of “hold-all” or “all-in-one,” a tool for holy as well as for secular use. Besides its main function – keeping one's nose clean – it serves many other functions, in public and in private:

  1. The Jew uses it to cover: his holy challa [special bread] on Shabat, his three special matzot reserved for the Pesach Seder, the dish in which he puts the presents that he sends on Purim to his friends and neighbors, his own face – against mosquitoes and flies on the Sabbath day while taking a nap after the kugel for the 'pleasure of the Sabbath,” or, finally, as a head cover against rain and snow.
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  1. Transforms it into a “sponge” and uses it to wash his body, his face, his hands and his feet with hot water in the bathhouse.
  2. Uses it to wipe his eyes – on Yom Kippur and Tish'a beAv, so he would look as if he were shedding tears; to wipe dry his glass, his knife and fork, his mouth and his hands after washing them for the blessing after meal; also before the Asher Yotzer blessing; to clean the crumbs from his table and the dust from his clothes.
  3. Wraps it: around his neck during weekdays against the cold, and around his leg on Shabat, in order not to trespass the commandment that prohibits to carry things on Shabat; around his face, eyes, cheeks or head – against a head ache or tooth ache; on a wound, burn or blow, God forbid; around his middle, during prayer, instead of a sash.
  4. Gathers in it charity money from the townspeople.
  5. Uses it at weddings while dancing in honor of the bride.
  6. Carries in it: meat from the butcher, fish, onions from the market and other foods.
  7. Ties knots in it, to remember things and be saved from forgetting, – and this is a true and well-tested method.
  8. Spreads it on the edge of his table like a little table-cloth, when he eats alone and is in a hurry, in his home or his shop or in the market, or when he sits in the train and eats comfortably and leisurely, together with other Jews like him.
  9. Wraps in it his Tallit, and his big prayer book.
And other uses, which I would not want to specify.

And our Rabbi, Gadi, did more than all that: he turned his handkerchief into an apron on his knees – an invention that we hadn't known up to this day.

 

Sergei Michailowitz (Israel) Gutnik

He was born in Akkerman to his father Michael Gutnik. He was a typically assimilated Jew and he kept away from Judaism and Jews. His father, Michael, was a manager of a commercial bank in Odessa and would come to spend the weekend in Akkerman with his family after a week of work in Odessa.

Israel studied Law in Odessa and opened an attorney's office there.

Since he was fully assimilated, he was of the opinion that being a Jew obstructs his progress in the Russian society. And one day in 1912 he informed his father that he intends to adopt the Christian religion. His father tried to prevent that, and a compromise was reached: his father will give him money to enter in business, and he will change his name from Israel to Sergei…

With the collapse of the Russian front in the Ukraine in 1917 The Germans and Austrians occupied the region, and they appointed a puppet-government headed by the Hetman Skoropedski of the “White Russians.” Sergei Gutnik served as minister of commerce in Skoropedski's temporary government.

When the Revolution broke out, the German and Austrian armies retreated from Ukraine and the puppet-government dispersed. Gutnik escaped and fled to Bucharest.

In 1926, he ran for Parliament in the party of General Averescu and was elected. According to the testimony of Zvi Manueli (Miniali), Gutnik spoke at an election meeting in Akkerman and, among others, addressed the assembly with the following moving words: “I am Srul Gutnik, resident of your town, I know all of you in this town and all of you know me. Those of you who are older than I know how old I am, and those who are younger than I – I know how old they are…”

His political career was not long and he quickly disappeared from the political map – and it is not known where his fate has taken him.

Written by N. Amitay, from information supplied by Z. Manueli and Alexander Shapira

 

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