by Eliyahu Feldman
by Shmuel Brilliant
Translated by Ala Gamulka
The following article, dedicated to the Jewish Community of Tarutino, requires an explanation.
At first, the former residents of Tarutino had intended to publish a special book about the village and its Jewish life. This way there would be a commemoration of all those who were murdered in the Holocaust. We quickly discovered that the task was too difficult for us. Some people tried to deter us since there was some indifference towards the topic. Also, much has been forgotten and whatever remained would not interest former residents of Tarutino. These allegations strengthened the hands of the group, but the first attempts came to naught. We were not discouraged since we felt the need to somehow honor the Jewish community of Tarutino and on we went. We continued to collect material and to encourage those who had difficulty writing. This is how we obtained what we did. It was not enough for a complete book about Tarutino so we were obliged to accept the invitation to include our articles in the Akkerman and Surroundings Yizkor Book. Tarutino was a neighbor of Akkerman. It was not only a geographic closeness, but also one of friendship and economics. The former residents of Tarutino who were consulted agreed to this proposal and this is how the following section was born.
It is probable that more could have been added to some topics, however, we were not successful in finding the appropriate material. We even tried to research the National Library and other places for books, but we could not find any. We saw the need for concentrating on those personalities that had contributed to Jewish life in Tarutino. We hope that our decision is acceptable. We especially thank the widow and the son of Dr. Yosef Lerner, zl, Judge Efraim Laron, who were able to provide us with notes of their husband and father about Tarutino. We also thank all those who participated in this section. May they all be blessed!
History of the Jewish Community in Tarutino
There is no trace of Jews in Tarutino and we do not see the need for research on the history of the village itself. We will add only a few lines about this topic. The village changed regimes and names in different times. It was originally known as Anchiokrak and then as Nagergrak and Agikrak named after the river which went through it and cut it in two. Tarutino is situated about 198 kilometers from Odessa on the AkkermanBessarabskaya rail line. It is about 6 kilometers from the train station in Rezina. The name Tarutino came from another village in the Kaluga district near Moscow. It had served as a military base of the Russians during Napoleonic times. The Russians used to reuse names that were connected to military battles under Marshall Kutuzov. This is how the ancient name was given to Tarutino.
In 1812 the Russians captured the village from the Turks who had ruled it previously. German farmers came to inhabit this area. Jews were not allowed to settle in Tarutino because it was near the border. Eventually, the regulation was lifted and Jews came to Tarutino from Poland, Lithuania, Podolia and other places. In the 19th century the Russians brought German farmers to about 100 villages and settlements near Tarutino. This was not a novelty, but still it resulted in the growth of the Jewish population in Tarutino at a greater pace than other settlements in southern Bessarabia, except for Akkerman. The growth was probably due to the German residents who developed the village from an economic and commercial point of view and thus drew more people.
In 1870 it was officially permissible for Jews to settle in Tarutino and at the beginning of the 20th century Jews constituted one third of the entire population. It, in turn, was mostly German. Eventually, Tarutino became the second center in southern Bessarabia, after Akkerman. It helped in the growth of other villages in the vicinity. It is obvious that the Jews who arrived in Tarutino were influenced by the level of development of the Germans and they learned much from them. In time, there was a division of tasks: the Germans worked their farms and in industry and the Jews dealt in commerce. It is noteworthy that the only German language newspaper in Bessarabia was published in Tarutino.
In contrast to what happened later, the German residents did not show signs of antiSemitism, in spite of the general hatred of Jews by the Russians. Relations between Germans and Jews were decent and even friendly. Nearly all the Germans in Tarutino knew some Yiddish and so the Jews were careful in conversations between them not to use words that could be understood by them. The expression The uncircumcised understands everything was quite common and served as a warning. When they spoke among themselves they used typically Jewish words such as in loyalty, For sure, etc. There is a story about two Germans from Tarutino who, on the way to Kishinev, stopped in a Jewish inn and ordered wine. As they were leaving the innkeeper asked for a specific price, but the Germans only offered half that amount. When the Jew asked what this meant, they replied: We heard how you gave our order to your wife and told her in Hebrew half water. So since you only served us half of the wine, we are only paying half…
The ability of the Germans in Hebrew and Yiddish also was a result of the fact that there were German youth who attended Heder together with Jews. We remember some of them: Sasha Bross who became a lawyer, Robert Hirshkorn, Bugner and others. We even remember a German called Vanka who used to bring goods from the train station and he would write notes in Yiddish to his Jewish customers…
The German priest, Haze, used to come to synagogue on the High Holidays to listen to the chanting of the cantor. During Nazi times, when German youth tried to bring in Nazi propaganda into the church, the priest forbade it.
It did not take long for the priest to be dismissed from his job. He committed suicide.
The German students in the Heder learned everything the Jewish ones did, but they were exempt from two tasks: putting on Tfilin and reciting Kiddush. From this point of view, Tarutino was unique in Bessarabia and perhaps in the rest of the world.
The change in relations between the Jews and the Germans occurred as Hitler came to power in Germany. Instigators came from Transylvania and Germany and they trained the local Germans in Tarutino in how to behave with Jews and how to disconnect relations with them. In addition, young people from Tarutino who had gone to study in Germany, returned full of antiSemitism. They did their best to cut any relations between the Germans and the Jews in Tarutino.
The majority of the Jews in Tarutino rented apartments from German landlords. I know of many cases when the Jews could not pay the rent on time, the Germans waited without resorting to the law. All this changed when the war broke out in 1939. There were closer ties with German groups in Transylvania. German cooperatives and workshops were established so there would not be a need to work with Jews. There was also military training on Sundays and holidays. A new atmosphere prevailed and relations between Germans and Jews changed completely.
Seated in second row from right to left: teacher Braz, Yosef Gnessin, Sosia Rosenberg, teacher Kripitz. Ida Falik, Yerucham Klorfeld, unknown
Standing in third row from right to left: unknown, Israel Ronzberg, unknown, teacher Gersh Zilberman, six unknown, Gershon Shlovitz, Zelig Wexler, unknown
All the houses in Tarutino were built of stone, which was uncommon in villages. Some stores were built with wood and stood on top of the bridges. It was rare to find a house built of wood. This was quite common in villages in Poland and Ukraine. There were some houses with several stories. Tarutino was also different from other villages by the fact that it had beer parlors, bakeries, bars, a ball club, etc. I recall that there was in the village a small diner owned by a bearded, tall Jew called Zalman Vineberg. The ice cream he served was renowned. He did not sell to Jews before 6 in the evening to make sure that anyone who had eaten meat at lunch would not have waited the required 6 hours.
Education and Culture
The first high school in Tarutino was founded by the Germans in 1912. Its language of instruction was Russian. Most of the students were Germans and a few were Jewish or other minorities. In 1919, when the regimes changed, the Romanians changed the language of instruction to German. One of the first Hebrew High Schools was founded in Tarutino, in the early 1900s by the beloved teacher Gersh Zilberman. In 1919 there was also an elementary Hebrew school 4 classes as was customary in Romania. The first principal of the school was Levi Fanish who returned from Eretz Israel in 1915 after he finished his studies in Herzliah High School in Tel Aviv. The Hebrew High School was closed by the Romanians in 1925. It was reopened a year later when its new principal was the lawyer Sperling a wellknown jurist. This is discussed in another article. The principal that followed him was Gedalya Rosenthal who was exiled to Siberia for being a Zionist.
Seated row 2 from left to right: Ovadia Kopilovitz, Hershel Kreizel, Herzl Lainzon, teacher Teperman, Principal Levi Fanish, teacher Lily Bronstein, Moshe Shtilman, Yosef Stromberg, and Zvi Gildish
The teaching of Hebrew to children was a primary concept and even those youngsters who did not attend Heder, before the establishment of the Hebrew Elementary school, were sent to special tutors. The writer of this article was taught Hebrew when he was six years old by the famous Zionist teacher Michael Kovlanov. May his memory be a blessing!
Tarutino was often visited by some of the best theater troupes from Bessarabia, Romania and Poland. Those I remember who performed between the two wars Vilna Theater with Ida Kaminska, Sigmund Turkov, Stein, etc., the Fishezon group from Kishinev, Azazel from Bucharest, Sidi Tal and various casts from Bukovina. There were also local troupes that put on mainly plays by Shalom Aleichem. There is a description in one of the other articles. The schools also encouraged artistic activities and would occasionally put on plays. Those were usually about Biblical themes with the students performing and the teachers directing. Most notable are the celebrations at Hanukah and Purim organized by the Hebrew High School. An article in Unzer Tzeit (Our Time) describes as follows:
On March 23 there was a costume ball for Purim organized by the Hebrew High School. Most notable were the costumes of Mrs. Brachot who depicted the importance of the local high school as an educational institution and of Mrs. Sh. Hellman. The latter portrayed the activities of the societal institutions in Tarutino. The ball was a financial success. The participants were Mesdames M. Hellman, R. Sirota, R. Shulman, Fisher and others. Messers I. Hellman, B. Sheinman, M. Katz, V. Leitman, Kh. Royzen, E. Schwartzman also contributed. In particular, Mr. N. Sirota was very helpful.
On Wednesday afternoon there was a celebration for the students with their parents subsidized by the public institutions. The Principal, Mr. G. Rosenthal, opened the festivities with a beautiful speech in which he emphasized the importance of the educational institution from a national point of view as well. On the program were songs sung by the choir, recitations, live pictures and sporting events
Zionist activities in the village
It is essential to discuss the many Zionist activities in Tarutino. Unfortunately, there are no documents that survived. Although we have some testimonials it is difficult to describe clearly and succinctly these activities. It must be emphasized that the Jewish community always had a distinct trait Zionism.
In the diary of Dr. Yosef Lerner, zl, we find more proof of the Zionist flavor of the Jewish Community. Even before 1899 (year of birth of Dr. Lerner) there was Zionist activity organized by many businessmen who spent their time developing Zionism in the village and among the youth. We remember in this context: Y.L. Baratz, Yekutiel Rosenberg, David Schwartzman, Nachum Sirota, I. L. Grinberg, Moshe Cooperman, Yeshayahu Itzkovich, Levi Fanish, Gersh Zilberman, M. Sperling, G. Rosenthal, Rabbi Bronstein, Israel Haham, Avraham Haham, Avraham Rotenberg, Mordehai Haklai (Kuris), and others. It is noteworthy to mention that the first group of Hovevei Zion in Bessarabia was founded in Tarutino on the eve of Yom Kippur 1884.
Standing left to right: Yeshayahu Friedman, Ozer Rotberg, Yosef Lerner (Laron), Mordehai Rosenblatt, Zev Friedman (Velvel)
In the chapter about the Zionist movement in Bessarabia, Israel Kloisner writes about its beginnings in Tarutino:
In the German Colony of Tarutino, where there were about 300 Jews, a group of Hovevei Zion was established at the end of 1885. On the eve of Yom Kippur the group placed bowls in the synagogue and collected 34 rubles. There was also income from membership dues and other sources: engagements and weddings, circumcisions, and pledges on Simchat Torah. The group decided to try to get revenue from the collection of cattle bones in town.
In a letter from the first day of Hol Hamoed Succot 1885 addressed to the head office of Hovevei Zion in Warsaw, Yehuda Leib Baratz proclaims in the name of his group: Our income is growing from day to day and has reached 150 rubles. The committee is not sure where to send the funds, either to Petach Tikva, to Warsaw or to Petersburg. It is amazing that there is no sentiment towards it in Kishinev (Israel Kloisner).
Standing: Mordehai (Monia) Levitt, Avraham Rotberg, Yeshayahu Itzkovich, Yosef Leib Grinberg, Eliezer Berger, I. Kh, Reznik. 1925
Prior to the Katowitz Hovevei Zion conference the group sent its recommendations to Warsaw. These were: choose a wealthy man to be the executive director in the central committee, all business of the movement should be handled by this central committee and the smaller groups should only be involved with collecting money. It is important to note the following: representatives of Zionist movements in Tarutino took part in the first congress of the Zionists of Russia which occurred in Warsaw in 1898. In Av 1900 a representative of the Tarutino Zionists, Israel Haham, came to Bendery to a conference. Also, in Tishrei of the following year, I. Haham participated in another conference there. Activities for the benefit of Jewish National Fund began at the turn of the 20th century. At certain times, the funds collected in Tarutino for Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod were greater than those received in Akkerman.
In Tsarist Russia there was a prohibition against Zionist activities. Any such meetings only took place in synagogues. The only group active at the time in Tarutino was Hovevei Zion.
In 19191920 about 60 members of Hovevei Zion from Tarutino made Aliyah. Among them were: two Schwartzman brothers (sons of David Schwartzman), Yeshayahu Perper, Mordehai Kochuk, Haim Goldstein, Ben Zion Kreber, Avraham Sofer, Pivnik, Yosef Rotberg, Mordehai Haklai, Dubobis, Efraim Averbuch, Zev Stoliar, A. Malamud, Yaakov Zaltshendler, Efraim Poliakov, Toporov and others. Some of them participated actively in the establishment of settlements and the development of various institutions. There were some who came back. Until the end of 1900 there were about nine different Zionist groups in Bessarabia and one of them was in our Tarutino. On 25.11.1906 there was a gathering in Tarutino and the collection of funds for Jewish National Fund was started. Some of the attendees at this gathering were the tailors in the village. A week later there a meeting of the store owners and a discussion about a tax levy in favor of JNF.
The activities of Maccabi, founded in January 1918, are worthy of discussion. It was headed by Dr. Strechilevitch, followed by Mark Shalem. In the second decade of the century there were also sport groups, such as Victory and Forward.
In Tevet 1928, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Maccabi, Zvi (Hersh) Altzofein donated 25 000 lei to Zionist institutions in the village (a report in Our Time) . In the same newspaper, in the October 1923 edition, a list of JNF contributors was published. This was on the occasion of a Bris in the family of Yehoshua Leizerovitz: Israel Rosenberg (Yekutiel's son) and Michael Kovlanov (the teacher). In the Great Synagogue the following were the donors: Y.L. Baratz and David Schwartzman. In various editions of Our Time we found lists of donors to JNF at Bar Mitzvah celebrations and other occasions.
The Beitar activities are discussed in a special article by Eliezer Shulman.
Hashomer Hatzair in our village is described by Blumke SchwartzmanGlazer:
The founder of Hashomer Hatzair in Tarutino and its first counselor was, according to her, Zalman Yoeli (Sioma Shneirson). He now resides in Petach Tikva and was a member of the editorial board of Davar. He came to Tarutino in 1924 after he had established a Hashomer Hatzair group in nearby Romanovka. The leaders of the movement arrived from Kishinev. The members of the group used to meet in the evenings in the forest outside the village. They would sing songs from Eretz Israel, listen to lectures about pioneers and they dreamed of making Aliyah. The first to achieve this wish was Tema GochbergNudelman. She was quite young at the time. She joined Hechalutz where she also met her beloved and together they made Aliyah. They live in Kibbutz Hephzibah. All the other members of the movement were jealous of her because she was able to achieve her dream. Other members of Hashomer Hatzair who first went to a preparatory kibbutz were Yehiel Averbuch and Yosef Kochuk. The preparatory kibbutz was in Kishinev, but there were others in Prauni and Bereni.
Blumke's older sister, Rachel, had studied in Odessa. She brought in a lively spirit when she came to Tarutino the spirit of Eretz Israel being rebuilt. She recited poems by Bialik, sang songs from Eretz Israel and taught them to others. Blumke herself had attended a Hebrew Kindergarten (a rarity in those days) and she had continued in a Hebrew Day School. She was quite young when she was accepted at the Kishinev Teachers College. It was run by the wellknown educator Alterman (father of poet Natan Alterman). The atmosphere at home was Zionist as it was in many homes in the village. The emissaries from the various Zionist groups would lecture in the synagogues. After these enthusiastic speeches the listeners would donate money and women would hand over their jewelry.
There was also, in Tarutino, a Zionist Women's Organization. In one of the editions of Our Time there is an article about the Bazaar held by this group in the Maccabi Hall. We read in this article that at the opening of the bazaar, Mrs. M. Reznik emphasized the special importance of the participation of the women in the redemption of Eretz Israel. Others who spoke were B. Gurfel from JNF, Fanish on behalf of the school and I. Grogerman in the name of culture and the local high school.
In addition, the article continues, the secretary of the Women's Organization responded to the words of welcome and thanked the many guests who came to participate in this festive occasion. The honor of cutting the blue and white ribbon at the entrance to the hall was given to Mrs. Dina Grinberg for 800 lei. The total income from the bazaar was 10 000 lei. During this economic depression it was considered in Tarutino to be a large sum.
The Jewish Community and its Organization
Even before the Jewish community had organized itself there were some institutions in Tarutino that had been established independently: Mikvah, cemetery and synagogue. In 1910 there was also a hospital. When the community was organized (a separate article) a few more institutions were established: Assistance to the Sick, Fund for Poor brides, Food for the Poor and Help for the Indigent. This fact shows solidarity of spirit and a mutual help atmosphere within the Jewish community of Tarutino.
There were four synagogues in Tarutino the same as in Akkerman: the Polish, the Tailors', the Great and the Successful. There was also the same number of ritual slaughterers: Moshe Friedman, Yitzhak Rosenblatt, Falik Grinberg and Shlomo Malamud. Every synagogue had its own ritual slaughterer. Rabbi Bronstein prayed in the Great Synagogue.
After the 1917 Revolution when the Jewish Community was awarded certain rights by the Temporary Soviet Regime, there was great happiness. The Jewish Community was officially established. In 19171918 there was also a Jewish Self Defence group since in the upheaval after the revolution there was fear of attacks. At the same time a city council, with Russians Germans and Jews was founded.
When the Romanians came to the village in 1918 their first task was to disconnect everything from the previous Russian regime. There was even a prohibition against using Russian in the schools. The worst crime was Bolshevism.
Standing in row 2: Dorfman, Falik, Rosa Schwartzman(Retza), Frank, Goldstein, Krikun, Glickman, Yocheved Bronstein, Riva Shtilman, Freda Feisher, Batya Sternshus, Zilberman, Rotberg, Mussia Kushnir
When we scanned various editions of Our Time to find articles about Tarutino, we found, among others, that in May 1929 the Tarutino community donated 113 000 lei to the Hunger Committee while the Jews in nearby villages only gave 40 000 lei. In an edition from 1928 an article was published which speaks about the establishment of a Charitable Organization at the initiative of Yekutiel Rosenberg. The article, written by Haim Framan, discusses the attempt to found a new community along democratic lines.
The community institutions were helped tremendously by the women volunteers who often organized charity balls to benefit them. Quite often there was a selection of a beauty queen or a ball queen. These balls were held in a theater or movie house. Weddings were also held in these locations and lasted two days. This was especially true if one of the families was not local. On the evening following the official wedding there was a party called After the Festivities.
It was customary for the bride to weep at the chuppa. If she could not do so on her own, others would make her cry at a ceremony called Making the bride cry. Of course, the special entertainer took part in it. In Tarutino there was a special wedding orchestra. However, there was also another orchestra from out of town. It was directed by Haim the Blind One. He played the clarinet and was famous throughout southern Bessarabia for his expertise. Among the members of the local orchestra were Pinye Lainzon and Hisia Skolnik. The daughter of the donations collector in the village was married to the shoe polisher and the local women organized the wedding. It was a fancy wedding where the liquor was flowing and the orchestra was playing. There was no difference between this wedding and one of rich people.
A typical article about the Jewish community of Tarutino was published in the 18.5.29 edition of Our Time:
Recently there was a meeting in the Great Synagogue in order to elect two candidates for the Executive Committee of the community. The local rabbi spoke about the need to choose observant candidates who could defend the honor of the religion and the Torah. When he finished speaking he proposed two candidates. However, when he asked if someone objected to Mr. Shtilman (the wealthy man in the village) a riot broke out. Mr. Shtilman was present at the meeting and many people wanted the rabbi to do what is usually done. The rabbi was afraid that his candidates would not be chosen and he did not agree to elections where the candidate is not present. Some of his supporters understood the situation, but the rabbi stood his ground and found an original method of having his way. He asked those in favor of the candidates to stand on the one side of the hall, while those opposed would go to the other side. Is it any wonder that due to these tricks the rabbi's candidates were successful.
On the right: Yonah Shafir, Markovsky, teacher Teperman, Hava Zaltshendler, Clara Gochberg, Manya Kushnir, Retza Schwartzman, Yonah Zukerman, Mrs. Kiner
In Tarutino there were many factories and workshops. Among them should be mentioned the following: two metal casting plants, a paper factory, a beer distillery, two textile factories one for dying and the other for finishing cloth, printing press, factories for the manufacture of oil and of soap. One street in the village was completely filled, on both sides, with stores selling cloth. The owners of these stores had worked in their youth at the large commercial establishment of Rosenberg, Breitburd, Reznik and others. This is where they learned their craft and opened their own businesses.
There was also a large business which exported feathers to Germany and its owners and workers were Jews. Also, there was a syndicate for the collection of wheat in the villages and its sale in the Danube ports. This syndicate was also handled by Jews only. The heads of the feather export business were Brachot (Bruches), Krikun, Shternsis, Schwartzman brothers, Leitman and Tcherkis. The wheat syndicate was run by Kiner, Shalem, Imas, Slimovitz, Berman and others.
In 1906 an office affiliated with the United Jewish Cooperative in Bessarabia was established. In 1925 a Loan Fund was founded with 285 members: 17 farmers, 57 craftsmen and 172 merchants. Except for a few farmers, everyone else was Jewish.
Commerce in the village was in the hands of Jews in the first decades of the 20th century. One store was owned by a Russian and another by a Hungarian. Every two weeks there was a fair and hundreds of farmers from the area would stream to it with their produce.
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