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Translated by Yael Chaver


The castle in Khotyn

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Khotyn – A Town in Bessarabia

Outline of Khotyn's History

We have no exact founding date for Khotyn. It is thought to have been established by the leader of the Dacians – Kotiso or Khotiso – in the 6th century B.C.E., whose name the town bears.[1] The name “Bessarabia” is thought to derive from “Besser,” a term for Thracian wanderers in the 7th century B.C.E. The Romans retreated from Dacia in 278 C.E., following the invasion of the region by the Western Goths. Various tribes passed through the region during the Migration Period, without leaving a trace anywhere.[2] The Slavs who lived in the northern Carpathian Mountains began to spread during the 7th century and settled the entire area of the steppes north of the Black Sea, to the Gulf of Finland, making their way through areas covered in ancient forests and broad rivers that functioned as the region's commercial roads. Kyiv became the main city of the Varyag kingdom, and the powerful Count of Kyiv ruled the entire region and collected tributes in the form of furs, grain, honey, wax, and slaves. Khotyn was a Slav fortress and became part of Kyiv Rus, along with the rest of Bessarabia.

In the 12th century, the Russians withdrew northward under the pressure of invading peoples, and penetrated Poland and Lithuania. One segment settled around Moscow; Novgorod was the most important center of the Russian kingdom. When the kindom of Kyiv fell, Khotyn became part of Galicia (Galicia-Volhynia), and an important center of handicrafts and commerce.

In the 13th century (1240), Kyiv was overcome by the descendants of Genghis Khan – known in Europe as Tatars or Tartars –who drove the Turks as far west as Hungary; the Mongol horsemen reached Italy and the Adriatic Sea in 1241.[3] They invaded Poland, and their forces in the south conquered the eastern Muslim world, including Aleppo, Baghdad, and Damascus. However, the Mongol forces gradually drew back into the steppes of Asia after 1243. The western Mongol kingdom (known as the Golden Horde) continued to exist in Russia until the 15th century.

Khotyn was a historical fact as early as the 13th century, when it was widely known as the Khotyn Fortress. The fortress itself seems to have been constructed by the Genoese, who took over the town and made it a center of commerce on the banks of the Dniester River.[4] It provided protection for every power that ruled the city. After Khotyn was conquered by the principality of Moldavia, its ruling Prince Ștefan cel Mare (1457-1504) enlarged the fortress as a shield against invasion by the Turks, at the end of the 15th century. After his death,

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the Turks took the fortress; it played an important role during the wars of Poland and Russia against Ottoman Turkey, in the 17th and 18th centuries. King Jan Sobieski of Poland (1629 – 1696) attacked the Turks from the fortress, and caused them many casualties. In the 17th century, after the Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir fled to Russia, the Turks overpowered the fortress again and renovated it with the aid of French engineers. In 1739, Münnich conquered the fortress, which was handed over to the Turks under the Treaty of Belgrade.[5] During the war of 1768-1774, the Russians conquered Khotyn, but returned it to the Turks under the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774). The forces of the Russo-Austrian Alliance took Khotyn, but returned it to the Turks according to the Treaty of Iași (1791). During the war of 1806-1812, Mehmed Pasha retreated from the Khotyn fortress, under the Treaty of Bucharest.[6] This marked the beginning of the city's decline. In 1856, it lost all significance as a strategic fortress, and became a historical monument to ancient times.

Daily life in Khotyn was not directly affected by World War I. In 1918, it (along with entire Bessarabia) became part of the Kingdom of Romania. It became the center of a revolt against Romania during January 23-30, 1919. However, the Romanian authorities quelled the revolt and regained control.


Geographical Details

Khotyn is located in northern Bessarabia, between the Prut and Dniester rivers, 283 km (as the crow flies) from Chisinau and 554 km from Bucharest. The train depot, which connected to Iași, Bălți, Lipcani, and Czernowitz, was 35 km from the town.

The fortress stood, shield-like, at the northern border with Poland and Russia, once the northern border of Romania. The town of Soroca lies to the east of Khotyn, with Belc in the southeast, Dorohoi in the south, and Czernowitz in the west.

The region's coat of arms was a fortress near a river, with two swords crossed above a silvery crescent moon, on a red background. The image refers to the Khotyn fortress, on the bank of the Dniester river, and the wars between Christians and Turkish Ottomans. The entire area (3782 square kilometers) was flat, with only an occasional small mound or a forest.

According to the Modern Romanian Encyclopedia, the administrative and juridical map of the Khotyn environs shows hundreds of villages. The following villages were also part of the Khotyn region: Chelmenți, Clișcăuți, Dinauți, Lipcani, Secureni, Sulița, Bricenii, Novosel'tsii, Neporotovo, and Yanauts. The census of July 1937 showed 425,627 residents in the Khotyn region; it was the most densely populated province in the entire county. 70% were Romanian, 16.5% were Slavs, and 13.5% were Jews. The average year-round temperature was 8° C, and below 0°C in winter. The summer temperatures averaged 25-28°C. The only rivers were the Dniester and the Prut. Runoff from rain and snow collected in lakes, some of which evaporated in summer.

The Khotyn region subsisted mainly by agriculture, which also provided the basis for local industry. The residents kept beehives, and planted their fields with grain, vegetables, and sugar beet. They also owned orchards, vineyards, and forests. Flocks of sheep and herds of goats roamed the pastures. The peasants kept pigs near their homes. Food and animal pelts from Khotyn were exported. Three banks in the region supported the economy.

According to the 1937 census, the population of Khotyn proper was 15,287, consisting of 7,344 men and 7,943 women.


Jews in Khotyn

According to one speculation, Jewish settlements may have existed in eastern Europe and the Balkans as early as the time of Herod the Great, at the end of the Second Temple period, but there are no specific indications to support this theory.[7] A town like Khotyn, on the bank of the Dniester, certainly

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conducted important commercial relations in antiquity, and attracted many powers that fought for control of the region. Many documents, which might have indicated more clearly when Jews appeared in the area, were lost during the tumultuous times of persecution by Christians. According to Rosanes (Divrei yemei yisra'el be-togarmah [A History of the Jews in Turkey and in the Orient]), the first Jews arrived from Hungary, twenty years before the Turks conquered Bulgaria.[8] In 1376, King Ludwig I of Hungary issued an order allowing only the practice of Catholicism in his country. Jews who lived there and were unwilling to adopt Catholicism had to leave the country, but were permitted to take all their property with them. Jews actually emigrated to Poland at that time, and some wandered further, into the Khazarian kingdom.[9]

One speculation is that as early as 1467, an important Jewish merchant from Istanbul, named David, traveled through Khotyn with his agent Yosef. However, the first document to mention the Jews of Khotyn as a community dates to 1497, when Prince Stefan of Moldavia wrote about them to Prince Alexander of Lithuania.

From 1500 on, Jews used the trade route that led through Bessarabia (and the towns of Akkermann, Izmail, Kiliya, Reni, and Khotyn) and linked countries in the East, especially on the shores of the Black Sea, with those in the north, particularly the commercial center of Lemberg. At that time, Jewish traders from southeastern Poland (Galicia) would travel to fairs in Bessarabia. Jewish settlements were gradually established in northern and central Bessarabia. These settlements saw development in the wake of the pogroms of 1648, whose refugees found safety in Bessarabia.[10] The Jewish population in Khotyn began to increase starting in the 16th century. Jews from Poland and Germany began to migrate to Bessarabia; many settled in Khotyn. At that time, they paid taxes to the rulers of Moldavia.

In his study, Rosanes presents evidence that the Jews collaborated with the Turkish armies. Jews from Turkey fought in Turkish wars. They dedicated large sums of money to help the European Ottoman empire, as they could practice their religion safely under that regime. The Turkish authorities protected them from persecution. Jews who served in the Turkish military always had a special love for their homeland, and defended it against its enemies.

In 1651, Khmelnytsky destroyed the Jewish community of Khotyn. The town began to grow once again when the Turks returned to power. The Jewish quarter was built near the city walls, where the Old City was located in later years. The 17th century was politically unstable, and the Jews were affected by the frequent changes of power. One ruler caused the Jews to despair, while another brought hope. By the early 18th century, there were stable Jewish communities in several Bessarabian towns where fairs took place regularly; at the end of that century, many Jews lived in the towns, and in many villages whose landowners invited them to settle; the Jews were expected to help develop their properties. Like the rest of the population, the Jews were at the complete mercy of the local Prince, who had a free hand. In 1726, there was a blood libel in the town of Onițcani. On the whole, Jews suffered less in places that were under the direct rule of the Turks.

In the 19th century, after Russia annexed Bessarabia (1812), an edict (1818) forced the Jews to join one of three classes: merchants, town-dwellers, or farmers. They usually had the same rights and obligations as the general population. The only restrictions concerned working in government offices, and buying land from the peasants. The long-standing privileges that the Jews had been granted by Moldavian princes continued in effect. Thus, the Jews of Bessarabia were in a special situation: they were not subject to the decrees and restrictions that affected the other Jews of Russia. This continued until 1835, when the laws affecting Russian Jews were applied to Bessarabia as well. In 1839, Jews were ordered to live at least 35 kilometers away from the western border. Jews began to be conscripted into the army in 1851, like all other Russians. Over the second half of the 19th century, Jews came to be included in the legal system affecting all the Jews in Russia (Entsiklopediya Ivrit).[11]

Czar Nikolai issued an anti-Jewish edict that required Jews to supply a specific number of soldiers annually.[12] As a result, even 12-year-old boys were conscripted

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A page from the Jewish Encyclopedia, St. Petersburg


and taken for army training in places remote from any Jewish settlement. Jewish institutions had to provide a specific number of “detainees,” and thus became partners in the snatching of Jewish boys for military service.[13] Merchants, artisans who were members of guilds, factory mechanics, and seniors in government schools were exempt from military service. The Jews of Khotyn also paid this expensive tax. Children were wrenched out of their mothers' bosoms, and sent away as “detainees.”

The Jews of Khotyn experienced nothing of the “Springtime of Nations” of 1848.[14] On the other hand, the Jewish population increased four- and five-fold. The 1847 census reported that there were 1067 Jewish families in the town, organized in various societies. The most important of these was Khevras Ezra.[15] Later records of YIVO (presented here with permission) show two great Jewish centers in Bessarabia: one in the south (Chisinau), and the other in the north, on the bank of the Dniester near the Austrian border. The records begin with a general estimate of the Jewish population of Bessarabia, in percentages of the total population, as follows:

In 1870, Jews comprised 9.09% (98,114) of the total population of 1,232,082.
In 1875, Jews comprised 11% of the total population.
In 1881, Jews comprised 12% (180,000) of the total population of 1,185,875.
In 1880-1881, Jews constituted 63% (10,229) of the total population of 16,173. They comprised 63% of the population – 13,871 out of a total population of 21,858. In the same years, the Jews of the villages in the Khotyn area constituted 3.5% of the total population.

The census of 1897 showed that the Jews of Khotyn constituted 50% of the town's total population: 9,291 Jews out of a total 18,126. There were 16 schools in the town, three old-age homes, two libraries, and a hospital. There were 2,984 houses in the town.

At that time, agitators for the revolution were able to undermine popular trust in the Czar. Rather than improving the lives of the oppressed and raising their economic and cultural status, the Czar expressed his fury by his treatment of the Jews. However, regardless of persecution, pogroms, and boycott, the Jews gained in confidence, whether thanks to the influence of revolutionary, or political Zionist agitation. The young people of Khotyn no longer felt comfortable in their hometown, and they strove to travel to faraway places. They cut ties with their parents, their homes and their town, and sailed across the oceans – to America and to the Land of Israel.

The Jews of Bessarabia were granted equal rights after the 1917 revolution. An assembly of Bessarabians convened in Chisinau that year and renamed the country The Republic of Moldavia, proclaiming it part of a future Russian Federation. Khotyn became the first recognized Jewish community (officially recognized by the Romanian government in 1929), and Jewish life began developing within that framework. However, Bessarabia became part of Romania in 1918, and remained so until 1940. In 1944, the U.S.S.R. once again included Bessarabia within its borders, and granted the majority of its area to the Republic of Moldavia. Jewish settlements

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in Bessarabia ceased to exist, and remained only as historical memories.

1931: A branch of Maccabi was established in Khotyn (5/18/1931).[16]
1932: The 50-year anniversary of the World Zionist Organization and the 30-year anniversary of the Jewish National Fund were celebrated.
1935: The community resolved to donate 30% of the taxes it collected from the Jewish population to needy Jews in southern Bessarabia.
1935: The “Democratic Attorneys' Front” was established in Khotyn, in response to the Romanian government's decree setting a quota on the admission of Jews to schools and universities.[17]
1935: Three lists are presented to the Jewish community before elections. The Zionist list received ten out of the total forty delegates.
1935: The community council resolved to send a protest to the government concerning anti-Semitic movements. In addition, a committee was set up to prepare a union of the Jewish communities in Bessarabia.
1935: The community became organized with new sectors, dealing with the following: the economy, culture, charity, health, religion, and the old-age home.
1936: Convention of the Kultur-Lige, focusing on problems of Jewish culture.[18]


The street on which Dovid Ber lived


Khotyn Between the World Wars

Geographically, Khotyn is located in Bessarabia. However, demographically, it was linked with Podolia (Ukraine) until World War I, because its hinterland lay on the other side of the Dniester, in the region known as Transnistria, from which it derived almost its entire livelihood. Ethnically, as well, the majority of the population was Ukrainian. Hardly any Romanian was spoken there before World War I. The dominant language, both officially and colloquially, was Russian.

The Jews of Khotyn led a rich community life. There were Jewish banks and cooperatives in the town. Yiddish and Hebrew schools were excellent. The young people were active in Zionist organizations and other community associations, and made efforts to emigrate to the Land of Israel.

The town received the first blow in 1914, and not on the battlefield. It was a complete surprise to the Jewish population. Khotyn was a transit station for the Russian soldiers making their way to the front lines. Its environs became a scene of battle; the Jews of the surrounding villages were driven out of their homes and became refugees overnight, without homes or means of making a livelihood.

The second blow was actually caused by the armies,

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which marched through the town twenty-four hours a day. They stole and robbed, mainly from Jews. Soldiers who were quartered in Jewish homes took away whatever they could when they left.

The third blow was the confiscations and taxes to support the war. Successive orders were issued for requisition of various goods; the soldiers were only too happy to carry these orders out. The authorities supplied receipts for the requisitioned goods, specifying their value. Horses, wagons, and all types of goods were taken.

Afterwards, the ruling authorities began to change in quick succession. Once the Russians were gone, the Austrians arrived, and were later replaced by the Russians once again. Finally, the Romanians came. After the war, the town was left ruined and impoverished. The Jewish population suffered the most. Almost all the Jews – merchants and small-scale artisans – were left with no means of subsistence.

Emigration was the only solution. The Jews began to leave for North and South America, where they organized themselves into associations based on their places of origin. This emigration paralyzed other activity of the local Jewish community. Eventually, Khotyn natives abroad began to send money home. Shortly before World War II, most of Khotyn's Jews needed help. The economy was constantly growing weaker. When Romania became allied with Germany, and the Nazi troops arrived, organized Jewish life in the town came to an end. Before long, some of Khotyn's Jews were murdered locally, and the remainder were deported to Transnistria. The Jewish community had been liquidated.

After Germany's defeat, the Russians returned, along with a small number of Jewish families, who were barely able to subsist. The few bits of information that have reached us indicate that there is still a small number of Jews in the town.


Khotyn In The Early 20th Century

Life in Khotyn was stagnant, due to its distance from lines of communication as well as to the strict Czarist regime. However, during the 1903-1905 period, even remote regions were swept into the political storm.[19]

Spoken and written propaganda were important means of disseminating various theories. Books, pamphlets, newspapers, and circulars were among the written products. Representatives of the political groups spread throughout the country, ranging from the extreme left wing to the extreme right wing, led by the “Black Hundreds.”[20] Light and darkness ruled together.

In 1904, with the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war, almost all the young men were mobilized. The liberal press in Russia mounted daily attacks against the government, due to the army's continuing defeats on the front line, although, quantitatively, the ratio of the armies was 3:1. Economic conditions in Khotyn were dire. Its proximity to the borders of Austria and Romania did not reap any benefits, as the town was far from the main road, and all the roads were in bad shape. Industry was minimal: one beer and brandy brewery, and a sawmill. Both peasants and the property-owners needed the services of Jewish money-lenders to maintain their households.

The Jews were discriminated against, politically and economically. Even the Jewish manufacturers did not want to employ Jews, for fear of the Gentiles' opinion. However, this did not prevent anti-Semitic propaganda from labelling Jews a “non-productive element,” idle people who made their living at the expense of others. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Jews took pleasure in the defeat of Russia at the end of the Russo-Japanese war.

However, the Jews of Khotyn were well aware of worldwide events, especially as they affected Jews. Such events included Dr. Theodor Herzl's meeting in Jerusalem with German Kaiser Wilhelm II (1898), Herzl's meeting with Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid (1902), his trip to St. Petersburg to meet Russian minister of the interior Plehve (1903), an official interview with King Vittorio Emanuele of Italy in Rome (1904) as well as meetings with cardinals and Pope Pius X.

The Zionist movement in Khotyn was quite active in all areas. The local branch sent a delegate to the Zionist congresses beginning with the sixth congress. The members voted in the Palestine-Uganda debate.[21] The Khotyn delegate, Shimon Stefansko, joined those who opposed the Uganda notion.

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The street near the cart-drivers


This Was Khotyn

The town of Khotyn was in the northern part of Bessarabia. It was well-known as early as the migration period of the Middle Ages, and Jews can demonstrate that they have lived there for successive generations.

It is divided into two sections: the part near the Dniester is the oldest, with narrow alleys and old, sooty buildings (evoking the paintings of Marc Chagall). Most of the houses had a single storey, and were huddled against each other. The entrance was through dark, narrow wooden stairs. Inside, the rooms were spacious; some faced the street, whereas others faced the courtyard. The housewives were skillful; not only did they produce wonderful food, but they also kept the home spotless and the brass and copper pots gleaming.

The dark stores offered a combination of notions, fabrics, and other wares. A glance at one of these stores made obvious the poverty of the shopkeepers. But even in this suffocating atmosphere, clever eyes sparkled with the light of Torah study.

The Jews read Der Yid and Undzer Tsayt, and understood the articles about events in Romania and the Land of Israel. They were also familiar with the polemics between the Bund and the Zionists.[22] The Jews of Bessarabia followed the internal debates among Jews with interest. Though people expressed their own thoughts, the influence of the articles was clear as well as the conclusions of the writers.

Such was the part of old Khotyn where the poor lived, the workers who were full of hope and plans – if not for themselves, then for their children, who waited for certificates of immigration to the Land of Israel.[23] The other part of town resembled many other Russian towns: broad streets and sidewalks, with deep mud in winter and a thick layer of dust in summer. That was where the wealthy Jews lived, in large houses surrounded by orchards. Such houses, for one or two families, were typical of the patriarchal housing arrangements in Russia in general, and in Bessarabia

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in particular. The large living room also served as a dining room; doors led to the rooms of the homeowners, their children, the servants, and guest rooms.

As was typical of every Russian home at the time, the samovar stood at the ready on the table until late into the night, along with limitless quantities of tea and sugar. Russian “generosity” was noticeable among the Jews of Bessarabia as well, who were remarkable for their hospitality. A home was always open to everyone. This was the atmosphere in which the children were brought up.

The young people left town at the first opportunity, and sought employment or education, whether in the main city or in any larger town nearby. They would come home only for holidays; yet they felt an attachment to their home town, though they could not find work, or a rich cultural life. Yet the town survived for many generations, and would have continued to exist to this day, despite the urge to emigrate to the Land of Israel. However, when the Flood arrived, it submerged everyone, without exception.

During the first week of 1919, a peasant revolt broke out in northern Bessarabia. Fires spread in the environs of Khotyn and Soroca. Romanian officers were killed, soldiers were taken prisoner, and Romanian institutions were set ablaze. The roads were ruled by thieves and robbers, who flourished inside towns and cities as well. The Romanian government, which had not yet recovered from its defeats by the Germans and the upsets after the Russian army crumbled during the Bolshevik revolution, had to mobilize reservists and send them to the internal front lines in northern Bessarabia. The atmosphere was one of war, and the government knew that if it did not treat the revolt with a firm hand, the unrest would spread to other parts of Bessarabia as well as to northern Bucovina. Several regiments were then sent to the rebelling area, with orders to suppress the uprising ruthlessly. It was claimed that the revolt was Communist in character, but the discontent of Ukrainian peasants was stoked by agitators from the right bank of the Dniester.[24]

I was then serving as a non-commissioned officer in the 37th infantry regiment. Just then, I had been on furlough and was traveling north to find my regiment, which was en route to suppress the revolt. As I mentioned, it was the first week of the new year; the temperatures were as low as -20° C. The entire area was deep in snow, and the roads were blocked. Troops were not yet transported in motor vehicles, and it was very difficult to obtain horses and wagons. Soldiers and officers alike did not have proper winter clothing, and troop movements were difficult. The machine guns, which were cooled with water at the time, simply froze, and were useless. Rifles were the only weapons available to deter the rebels, who were organized as guerilla fighters. For a week, the army gained ground, setting fire to villages and killing the peasants who stood in the way of the exasperated Romanian officers. The army's provisions consisted of stolen chickens, sheep, and pigs.

The regiment neared Khotyn at 1:00 a.m. The town had a population of 30,000, half of whom were Jews. Once Khotyn was taken, the operation to crush the revolt was supposed to end. The commander issued an order to leave the residents alone, as long as they did not attack the army. If the insurgents in the town attempted to resist, they would be treated like the residents of the entire region. The Jewish population was fearful of the rebels as well as of the Romanian army that had come to coerce the town into submission, though the Jews had not been part of the uprising and even opposed it.

The front commander's adjutant was Major San, a refined Romanian officer. Thanks to him, the Jewish population was unmolested during the Romanian army's march into the town. He knew that the Jews were victims of the revolt, and warned the rebels against provocations. While our unit was searching for weapons in several Jewish streets, I established a personal relationship with the Major, and later became his adjutant. I became good friends with him and his wife, as we had common cultural values

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and similar opinions about current political events.

Opposite Khotyn lay the town of Zhvanets, on the bank of the Dniester, with the city of Kamianets-Podilskyi not too far away. I was posted at the border region, with the medieval fortress, which controlled the roads leading from the Ukrainian flatlands to the hills of Bessarabia. I would march through the streets with my unit, singing Romanian marches to the tune of the Marseillaise. The Jewish population knew that singing the anthem of the French Revolution in Czarist Russia was forbidden; if we sang the tune, people knew that the unit commander was Jewish…

After the region grew calmer, I was concerned with two things: becoming familiar with the Jewish institutions – community, Zionist organization, library -- and with the Jewish population itself. My connections with them strengthened later, after I relocated two of their Hebrew teachers to Iasi: Arn Vaysberg and Moyshe Shtern. These two, together with Yankev Botoshanski and Yankev Shternberg (who had moved to Romania earlier) began the Jewish movement. Hebrew began to be taught as a living language in schools. Arn Vaysberg, who was a long-time leader of the “Maccabi” sports organization in Romania, was able to emigrate to Israel, where he lived until his death. Moyshe Shtern was killed in Transnistria. I came into contact with activists such as Misha Shor, the head of the community, Yoysef Apelbaum (president of the local Zionist movement) and representatives of the younger generation such as the attorney Moyshe Feldman. Today, only a few people remain from that lively period. Some died naturally, and others were killed during the war.

With my Zionist upbringing, I made efforts to bring Jews from the other side of the Dniester to Bessarabia. As part of the border patrols, I was also in charge of the mill on the bank of the Dniester. The river was not deep, and Jews from Ukraine would arrive in Khotyn every night. Many of them emigrated to the Land of Israel.

It was an unforgettable time, though it lasted for several months only. After returning home and resuming my university studies, I maintained contact with Khotyn, and later – with all of Bessarabia, which became one of the decisive factors of my life. After less than a year, I was in Khotyn again. This time I was there to establish a Yiddish newspaper in Chisinau; stand as a candidate for election to the Romanian Parliament; deliver lectures on social and literary topics; and visit my Bessarabian friends. Each visit deepened my friendship and love for the people of the region, and I expressed my Zionist sentiments. I also encountered problems, especially during the elections, the harassing of Jews in Edineți, and the murders of refugees in Soroca.

The Jewish population of Bessarabia, especially in Edineți and Khotyn, returned my friendship warmly. These anxious people, frightened by the civil and military authorities, were not afraid to vote in large numbers for the Jewish list in the parliamentary elections. Living in a democratic country such as Israel, it is difficult to understand the importance of elections in an atmosphere of terror and persecution, which endangered personal economic interests. The main thing, however, was to see the Jewish candidates winning in the elections.

Like other towns with many Jewish residents, the town of Khotyn is an example of the rich past of Jews in the Diaspora, their deep love for the Land of Israel, and for the Zionist movement. Is the younger generation, born and raised in Israel, capable of grasping the immense disaster that overtook the Jewish people? Can all that has been written and said convey the greatness of those Jews who were exterminated in places where they had lived for centuries?

Such was Khotyn, and it must never be forgotten!

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The Onset of War: Jews are Driven Out of Their Homes

In the summer of 1914, I was a teacher in the village of Klinkovitz, near the Austrian border, where several wealthy Jewish families lived. One fine day, about one hundred soldiers appeared in the village. Hearing the tumult, the Jews came out of their houses. One of the soldiers shouted, “Have no fear, Jews! This madness will pass!” However, the Jews sensed that a disaster was in the making, and they feared the peasants around them. They proved to be correct. Suddenly, a representative of a village appeared and told the assembled crowd: “Take revenge on the Jews, Russia's enemies!” Soon, words were replaced by acts. Grisha, a Gentile in the crowd, attacked Sani Morgenshtern, one of the local representatives, and struck him on the head with a stick. Morgenshtern fell, and neighbors took him into a house. The crazed rabble began to rob Jewish homes. The Jews fled, leaving their property behind. None of the Gentile neighbors defended the Jews. Those who tried to oppose the robbers were savagely beaten.

The commander-in-chief of the Russian army, Prince Nikolai Nikolayevich, and his chief of the general staff, the profoundly anti-Semitic General Yanushkevich, considered the Jews a dangerous element, among other reasons because Yiddish, their language, resembled German, the language of the enemy. The government decided to expel the Jews from all locations near the border; this order was carried out in the space of 24 hours.


The street near the clock


During August and September of 1914, entire Jewish communities were driven out of their homes. We walked for a whole day – men, women, and children, and arrived in Clișcăuți, several kilometers past Klinkovitz. We were held in a stable overnight. The local Jews came to our aid, and the Jews of Khotyn invited us to their homes, treating us with true Jewish generosity. Those who had relatives in Khotyn stayed with them. The rest were looked after by a committee that was quickly created. I returned home, and my father, Reb Zushe, who was a community activist, made efforts to find a job for me.

Expulsion and persecution were the conditions under which World War I began; it determined the fate of countless Jewish communities.


Khotyn As Reflected In Postage Stamps

Khotyn is an old town, and its history is closely linked with the history of Romania. It also holds an important position in Romanian philately, which would make for a large, high-quality stamp collection.

In 1857, postmarks were adopted in almost all the countries of eastern Europe, including Russia, which then ruled Khotyn. A post office opened in the town in 1858, as was the case in all the other towns of the province. At first, each town, including Khotyn, was assigned its own number. Eventually, rubber stamps with town names replaced the numbers; Khotyn was among them.

World War I, the civil war, and the invasions by various forces who fought in the region led to disruptions of the postal service. Khotyn had no normal postal service until the establishment of a Romanian government. Temporary service was provided by private messengers, mostly Jewish cart-drivers. The Romanians activated postal services once again, using the service in Romania itself as the model. In 1928, ten years after Bessarabia was made part of Romania, a series of seven stamps was issued. Three of these stamps (of different denominations) bore the image of the Khotyn fortress. In the 1930s, a series of illustrated

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postcards appeared, one with a picture of the fortress.

At that time, an additional stamp had to be added to the postal stamp; this was by order of the government, and meant to fund the purchase of airplanes. These additional stamps included a pink line with the name of the town in which the letter originated. Some time later, this system was closed down, and special airmail stamps were issued. Another illustrated postcard was issued to mark a royal visit to the town, with an image of the fortress and a portrait of the king; it is now a philatelic rarity.

Bessarabia reverted to Russian rule in 1940 and was ruled by the Soviet government. Khotyn became part of Chernivtsy province in the Ukrainian republic.[25] The postmark was in Russian. A propaganda series of five stamps was issued by the U.S.S.R., representing the liberation of western Ukraine, western Belarus, Bessarabia, Bukovina, etc. These stamps, like other Soviet stamps, were sold at the Khotyn post office.

In 1941, Bessarabia was occupied by Fascist Romania. On July 16 of that year, a series of stamps appeared commemorating King Carol I; the stamps were sold at the Khotyn military post office on a postcard with the image of the fortress, stamped “Khotyn is in our hands.”

A long time later, a new series of stamps appeared, titled “The Holy War Against Bolshevism.” One of these stamps consisted of two sections, one depicting the Khotyn fortress and the other with the Akkermann fortress. The series also bore the inscription “Odessa – October 16, 1941.” That same year, two more series of 25 stamps, each on the same theme, were issued; five of them were dedicated to the Khotyn fortress.

In 1942, a series of three stamps with the Khotyn fortress as the background was issued; the stamps depicted King Mihai I, Marshal Antonescu, and Ștefan cel Mare, a past ruler of Bessarabia. In 1944, Bessarabia was once again annexed by the U.S.S.R., and Khotyn was again made part of the Chernivtsy province of Ukraine. To this day, the Soviet post office has not issued stamps with the Khotyn fortress. All the stamps issued by the U.S.S.R. are available for purchase in Khotyn.




Self-Defense in Khotyn in the Early 1920s

Anti-Semitism and pogroms are closely linked. Draconian laws deprived the Jews of ways to lead normative economic lives . The fact that Jews were forbidden to buy land forced them to become tenant farmers and leaseholders of the Gentile landowners, or short-term peasants. Any Jew who did buy a plot of land had to register it to a Christian, in spite of the danger that the latter would deny the existence of the arrangement and ruin the Jewish family.

Jewish landowners usually employed non-Jewish workers, whom they paid poorly. The workers took out their fury on the Jewish “exploiters,” as they were then termed. Although Jewish landowners were a tiny minority, they were hated more than Gentile landowners.

Another economic field in which Jews were active, for lack of other options, was lending money at high interest rates.

[Page 128]

The lender was “crowned” with various nicknames such as leech, bloodsucker of the poor, of the people, etc.

The poor material conditions of Khotyn's residents, resulting from their distance from major hubs of communication, incited the Gentile, who entered a warm, brightly lit Jewish home on Shabbes in order to light the oven in return for a piece of challah, to envy and hatred of the Jews. The government encouraged and supported these feelings, because it wanted to steer the workers away from feelings of rebellion and convince them that the Jews were to blame for everything, as exploiters and robbers of the people. The masses, who resented Jews, were encouraged to express their anger towards the Jews rather than join those who agitated for a revolt against economic and political repression, in the spirit of the times.

As early as 1887, the anti-Semitic Krushevan began publishing the newspaper Besarabets, in which he published materials fomenting anti-Semitism.[26] The newspaper was supported by Vice-Governor Ostrogov, who published his own anti-Semitic articles there and directed popular outrage against “the aliens.” Pogroms broke out as soon as they were permitted, beginning in 1902, with the tacit approval of the Czar's servants.[27] They intensified along with the Russian freedom movement. The best known of these riots was the one in Chisinau, the capital of Bessarabia.

The government offices themselves distributed the Besarabets throughout the population. It was not long before signs of the venom became evident. Our nemesis, Krushevan, had adherents in Khotyn as well; they began agitating, calling for a boycott of Jewish tradesmen and Jewish shops. Hatred was surging, and the stench of a pogrom was in the air.

Haim Nahman Bialik's epic poem “Be-Ir Ha-Harega” (In the City of Slaughter), a protest against the Chisinau pogrom, made a powerful impression on the young people of Khotyn.[28] There were rumors that the hooligans of Khotyn were planning to attack Jews, and had set a specific day. People in the town were asking themselves not only “What can be done?” but also “How can we respond?” Bialik's poem stimulated a psychological change in the young people of Khotyn. It was no longer possible to “flee like mice, hide like fleas,” as the poet raged. Fists needed to be raised – there was no opposition to the organization of self-defense regardless of the cost. No one wanted to wait passively with folded arms, until the savagery began and it would be too late. All supported self-defense. With each day of waiting, the spirit of self-defense spread further until it enveloped everyone.

The disturbances began before the scheduled day. Gangs of hired ruffians appeared almost daily and carried out beatings in the suburbs, causing widespread anxiety. When the panic spread to the main highway, shopkeepers closed their businesses and the streets were emptied of passers-by. There were terrible rumors: “They're already slaughtering!” However, people were encouraged by Bialik's exhortations not to flee like mice. When their patience was exhausted, they resolved to resist the gangs. I would like to mention two simple people, the brothers Me'ir and Yisro'el Kirzhner, who attacked the ruffians heroically and gave them a good beating. On that occasion, the Jews were victorious.

However, it did not end then and there. The “Black Hundreds” movement was expanding. Murders and robberies happened daily. Chaos reigned in the town. Everyone lived in fear, especially as the Christian New Year approached. The atmosphere was one of pogroms. Rumors reported the imminent arrival of special “Black Hundreds” bands, to organize the peasants of the surrounding villages for attacks, robberies, and murders of Jews.

I remember the evening when it was decided to organize a self-defense. It was a Saturday night, in the Butchers' Synagogue, in the center of town. The synagogue was full of artisans: carpenters, cobblers, tailor, and butchers. Ordinary householders also attended. Rabbi Moyshe Khazan (may his memory be for a blessing) led the prayers with extra fervor. The words “Guard our departure and our arrival to life and peace” took on a special, comforting meaning.[29] Emotions ran so high that no one moved after the prayers were finished. Word suddenly spread that a spontaneous meeting was taking place in the travelers' hostel.[30] Earlier, merchants coming from the surrounding villages had reported that members of the “Black Hundreds” were calling for a pogrom against the Jews. It was unanimously agreed to mount a self-defense, for the sake of individual dignity as well as that of the people. A delegation was sent to the head of the community, Khone Rayss, to express the fear and alarm that had overtaken the town. The crowd supported the resolution to employ all the means necessary for self-defense. The speakers made several proposals, such as meeting with the artisans, holding conversations with the town's notables, etc.

[Page 129]

I'd like to mention the activist members who organized that historic meeting: Buzia Shrayber, Sholem Shrayer, Yoel Shnayderzon (known as Yoel Prokuror), Ziama Alperin (a member of the renowned family that was among the founders of the Hadassah organization in the Land of Israel during World War I), Pinches Royzman (son of the Rabbi of Khotyn, Khayim), Moti (Mordkhe) Miler (son of Leyb Miler, the wealthy manufacturer who was a Zionist activist), A. Kh. Shvayger (son of Zorakh Shvayger, an adherent of the Jewish Enlightenment movement, who was locally famous for his cleverness).[31]

Among the younger participants were Nisan Shatavski (who explored Socialist theories but did not abandon his profound national feelings, and was one of the founders of the Tse'irei Tsiyon movement in town), Rabbi Yitzchok-Me'ir Tisenboym, Moyshe Eydlman (a fervent Zionist), and Tsvi Bernshteyn.[32] Bernshteyn delivered the following message in the name of the youngest delegates: “As progressive Zionists and fervent national revolutionaries, we propose that the meeting address the rich people who head the community and demand that they work with us and provide us with funds to purchase arms. We pose no conditions whatsoever. We hereby announce that we are ready to defend every Jew, and to sacrifice ourselves in the name of God. However, in order to reduce the number of casualties as much as possible, we must be armed against the ruffians. And arms require money. Therefore, the wealthier members of the community must join us in bearing this burden.” The message was adopted unanimously.

The delegation appointed to negotiate with the wealthy members of the community included the teacher S. Shrayer. As a former soldier, who had served with distinction, he volunteered to teach people how to use weapons. We knew that owning weapons and learning to shoot was strictly forbidden, and asked the authorities for permission to organize a firefighters' association, headed by S. Shrayer. The authorities knew that Shrayer had been a soldier, and that he was the conductor of the Talmud-Toyre orchestra, whose performances were always very successful.

This was not idle talk. One fine day, we were invited to visit Sholem Shrayer at his home. Fifty-five shining new revolvers lay on the table. We were astounded, and immediately began learning how to use these weapons; our teachers were S. Shrayer and Y. Shnayderzon. The most responsible among us were entrusted with the weapons. Of course, everything was conspiratorial and extremely secretive. We formed groups of five. Sholem Shrayer came to the synagogue one evening, and showed us how to shoot. We were very impressed.

Our firefighting permit proved to be very useful. We purchased various important items, such as axes, iron rods, and metal helmets. A committee, headed by S. Shrayer and Yoel Shnayderman, and with the participation of Misha Shur, managed the entire operation.

Meanwhile, unrest in the Jewish neighborhoods increased. On Sundays and Mondays, the days of the weekly fairs, the members of the self-defense organization were especially vigilant. They heard all the gossip at the market, and watched the taverns. Positions were designated, and for some time we were constantly on watch. We were thus able to ward off the gang leaders and prevent organized pogroms. The Jews of Khotyn became less apprehensive.

This success was not due only to the members of the self-defense organization. We must remember the support of three people who did all the work behind the scenes. These people were very influential in the Jewish community – a major factor in such uncertain times; in addition, they could impact liberal Russian intellectuals, and had connections with Krupensky and Kasimir, the major landowners who then controlled Bessarabia. The three people were Khone Rayss, head of the community, an activist who was genteel, and a welcome guest at the great salons of Russia; Mish Shur, who owned much property and was the son of Yisro'el Shur, the political activist; and Butkowsky, the agronomist who held an important government position and ran all the agricultural institutions of the region in spite of the fact that he was Jewish. These three people convinced the authorities to avert the disaster.

The services of Sholem Shrayer, however, were truly valuable. He gathered the young people and stationed them in his house. More than once, they drove rampaging peasants out of town, using the sticks that Shrayer had prepared in advance. Shrayer himself always carried a revolver and a long knife, his faithful companions.

[Page 130]

Self-Defense in 1917

The country had no stable authority in 1917; the government changed constantly, and ruffians swung their fists. Armed robbers appeared in town and began ransacking Jewish-owned shops. Members of the self-defense force who had just returned from the front lines took up their weapons once again and turned out to guard the shops.

The October Revolution was accompanied by faith and hope for a better world, on the one hand, and by disillusionment, on the other hand. There were spontaneous passionate speeches one day, followed the next day by a regiment that appeared suddenly and began to loot Jewish shops.

That was when two of our comrades took action and put the town in order: Yankl Gornshteyn, who had just returned from the front line, and Avrom-Leyb Nerman, the “paramedic.” These two defended the town. Yankl Gornshteyn was actually wounded in the foot. However, together they managed to drive the robber gangs away.


Diplomacy and Self-Defense

The good relations between Khone Rayss, the head of the Jewish community, and the Gentile leaders of the town were extremely helpful to the self-defense organization. I would like to mention one righteous Gentile, the attorney W. Tomaszewski, who came out against the marauders and even against the authorities.[33] He informed Rayss that the hooligans were preparing to come from Chisinau to Khotyn.

One day, people found out that the marauding gangs were on the train. While they were still inside the train car, Tomaszewski let them know that the Jews of the town had organized a self-defense group. When they heard this, they drew back. This was a victory without a battle.


Pinye Royzman, Tsvi Bernshteyn, Avrom Khayim Shvayger,
Yitzchok Me'ir Tisenboym, Leybish Ludmer


Translator's footnotes:

  1. There were several Dacian kings named Cotiso in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C.E. Return
  2. The Migration Period is considered to have been roughly 300-700 C.E. Return
  3. Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire. Return
  4. In the early Middle Ages, the Genoese established a series of economic and trade posts in the Mediterranean and the Black seas. Return
  5. Burkhard Christoph Graf von Münnich commanded the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish war of 1735-1739. Return
  6. Mehmed Pasha headed the Turkish navy. Return
  7. Herod the Great reigned over Judea in 37-4 B.C.E. Return
  8. Solomon Rosanes (1862-1938) was a historian who wrote chiefly on the history of the Jews in the Balkans. The work mentioned appeared in 1907-1914. Return
  9. Khazaria (roughly 650-970) dominated a large region of medieval Eurasia. Important segments of its population converted to Judaism in the 8th century. Although it no longer existed as a kingdom in the 14th century, the tradition linking it with Judaism survived. Return
  10. These pogroms against the Jews of Poland, Belarus, and today's Ukraine were part of the Cossack revolt, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, against the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth beginning in 1648. Return
  11. Ha-Entsiklopediya Ha-Ivrit (Hebrew Encyclopedia) began to be published in Israel in 1949. Return
  12. Czar Nikolai I reigned in 1825-1855. Return
  13. Jews found outside their designated districts of residence without valid passports became “detainees” and were obliged to start their military service immediately. There are no details of these “institutions.” Return
  14. This term was used for the political upheavals throughout Europe, beginning in 1848, which aimed to replace monarchies with independent nation-states. Return
  15. This was a charitable organization. Return
  16. Maccabi is an international Jewish sports organization, founded in 1921. Return
  17. Such a quota was also known by the Latin term “numerus clausus.” Return
  18. The Kultur-Lige (League for Culture) was a secular socialist Jewish organization established in 1918 in Kiev, Ukraine, to promote Yiddish language literature, theater, and culture in Eastern Europe and in Russia. In December 1920 Kultur-lige was forcibly taken over by the Communists, and by 1922by 1922 Kultur-lige branches almost everywhere had been turned into appendages of Soviet bureaucratic organs directed by Jewish Communists. Return
  19. This was a period of progressive and academic agitation for more political democracy and limitation of Czarist rule, and increased strikes against employers for economic demands and union recognition. The failed revolution of 1905 is considered a precursor to the revolution of 1917. Return
  20. The “Black Hundreds” was a reactionary, monarchist, anti-Semitic, and ultra-nationalist movement in Russia in the early 20th century. Return
  21. The Sixth Zionist Congress (1903) debated whether to create a Jewish homeland in a portion of British East Africa later known as Uganda, as a temporary refuge for Jews to escape rising antisemitism in Europe. Return
  22. Der Yid was a weekly Yiddish magazine, published in Poland in 1899-1902. Undzer Tsayt was a Yiddish Socialist weekly, published in Poland between 1921 and 1939. The Bund, formally known as the General Jewish Labour Bund in Lithuania, Poland and Russia, commonly called the Bund or the Jewish Labour Bund, was a secular Jewish socialist party initially formed in the Russian Empire, and active in Lithuania, Poland and Russia between 1897 and 1920. Return
  23. The British Mandate government established immigration quotas for Jews wishing to settle in Palestine, issuing certificates to those whose immigration was approved. Return
  24. The downstream bank of a river is usually referred to as “the right bank,” in this case – the western bank of the Dniester. Return
  25. Chernivtsy was also known as Czernowitz. Return
  26. Krushevan (1860-1909) was noted for his far-right, ultra-nationalist, openly anti-Semitic views. Besarabets means “The Bessarabian.” Return
  27. The Kishinev (modern Chisinau) pogrom occurred on 19–21 April, 1903. A second pogrom erupted in the city in October, 1905. Return
  28. The great Hebrew poet Haim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) visited Chisinau shortly after the pogrom and published his passionate epic poem in 1904, highlighting the passivity of the Jewish victims towards their assailants. It has been published in English as “In the City of Slaughter.” Return
  29. This is an excerpt from a daily evening prayer, praying to be able to lie down in peace at night and to return to life the following day. Return
  30. Jewish communities generally maintained a hostel for Jewish transients passing through their towns. Return
  31. The Yiddish “prokuror” means prosecutor, or sharp critic. Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America, is an American Jewish volunteer womens' organization, founded in 1912. Return
  32. Tse'irei Tsiyon was a socialist Zionist youth movement in Eastern Europe. Return
  33. The Talmud lists seven basic laws of human decency dictated by God to the descendants of Noah. The laws consist of a set of absolute values, which provide a framework for righteousness and justice. Those who follow these precepts are known as “righteous Gentiles.” Following the Holocaust, the term has come to refer to non-Jews who aid Jews. Return


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