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Jewish Life in Khotyn

Translated by Yael Chaver


The Street of the Tailors

The street was later known as “Grivitsa,” but we continued to call it the Street of the Tailors. I don't know why that occupation lent the street its name, as other artisans lived there as well.

Decades ago, the street was the center of the town, and the most important members of the community lived there. It was also a significant spot in the economic life of the town, as it was where the roads to Kamenets-Podolsk and other points on the other side of the Dniester started.

Eventually, when new houses and new streets began to be built, the Street of the Tailors remained in its place, and it began to be called “the Lower Town.” It had a special tone, which set it off from the surrounding streets.

The street consisted of two rows of houses, both small and large, which touched each other. The wooden balconies extended in a virtually continuous line. Their tiled overhangs were full of holes, and seemed to us to be a single roof.

Jews were the only residents up to the Turkish Bridge. The residents on the other side of the bridge were of mixed ethnicities. In honor of Shabbes, the street took on a Jewish appearance. The house facades would be whitewashed, the balconies were cleaned, and the street in front of each house would be swept clean. The Shabbes candles would be lit in the homes, in gleaming brass candlesticks,

and challahs for the men lay on the tables. The women, dressed in their best, would talk across the balconies with their neighbors, and the children cracked open sunflower seeds.

During the High Holidays, there was a special atmosphere on the street. All the synagogues were full: the smaller ones, where ordinary people prayed, as well as the larger ones. The women would come a bit later, but always before the HaMelekh prayer, and continue to follow the prayerbook.[1] The children would munch on treats they brought from home. During the break, people would go home to have some food and to change clothes.

People really enjoyed Simkhes Toyre; they prepared for the processions with the Torah scrolls, and drank to each other's health. The synagogue managers became tipsy. The children carved lanterns out of melons.

After Kiddush, at the manager's house, the congregation sang and danced their way to the synagogue.[2] Even the Gentiles behaved differently. They enjoyed seeing the Jews a bit tipsy, too. A drop of brandy could erase animosity and bring a smile to the faces of Jews and non-Jews alike.

The joy was gone the next day. Daily life once again ruled the streets, and the burden of making a living fell on everyone once again. One hitched up his horse, while another hitched himself up, to earn money for bread –until next year…

This was the Street of the Tailors.

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How I was Sequestered by the Khotyn Police

An Accurate Description of the Election Terror in the Khotyn Region

The government offered a slate of people who were either not known, or too well known. As they knew that this configuration would not attract any votes, they appointed as prefect a person who was known to meddle in elections. The person had no legal right to serve in this function, and was used only for such missions! And, indeed, he carried out his mission to perfection.

Two days before the elections, they began to harass the delegates of all the opposition slates, as well as their assistants. They obtained their names from the tribunal, and each one was warned by the police commissars not to dare travel to the polling places in the villages, or even show themselves on the streets, as they would be arrested immediately.[3] These warnings were issued not only to notable citizens, but also to lawyers who were our friends, or delegates of the opposition's parties. It began with the lawyer Florescu (National Peasants' Party), who until one month previously had been the prefect of Khotyn. On Saturday morning, as he was just leaving his house, police commissars and sergeants surrounded him and wanted to arrest him. He sounded the alarm and ran into the Liberals' club, near his neighborhood. It was only this that saved him. That same night, heavily disguised, he vanished from Khotyn and hid somewhere in the district.

Early on Sunday morning, I noticed that police commissars were watching my hotel room. Unwilling to believe that such arbitrary acts were planned, I nonetheless went to the tribunal and informed President Teodorescu about events in the town and the district. He did nothing more than shrug his shoulders.[4] I understood that they could not help me. Looking out of the tribunal building's windows, I noticed that both entrances into the courtyard were being guarded by commissars. After talking with some acquaintances, I left through the small door of the tribunal and went into the low-lying streets. However, the commissar who was stationed there had never seen me, and the Jewish Liberals had not yet given him the photo of me that they had cut out of Undzer Tsayt.[5] I later found out that two Jewish sycophants, hoping to get a bone from the landowners, had sought to find me out that Sunday.

However, they were unsuccessful. The scoundrels, who to this day pretend to be self-righteous in the Jewish community while being informers, did their best to find me. I remained calm, only waiting for the dawning of Monday so that I could try to enter the polling place. The place was surrounded, not by a military patrol (as specified in the elections instructions) but by police commissars and sergeants. There were too few gendarmes to intimidate the entire town.

At 6 a.m. I was 20 meters away from the polling place. Hundreds of voters were already waiting there, and I was sure that they would not let me be arrested without resistance.

Unfortunately, the brute force, thoughtless terrorizing, and shameless arrogance of the commissars succeeded in stunning and paralyzing everyone. The first verbal exchange occurred between me and Commissar Vassily, about my right to enter the polling place and the fact that he had no right to be in the voting area. But my legitimacy was useless, as he had already given the order to arrest me. I protested loudly, and fought the arrest. However, sergeants, in uniform as well as in civilian clothes, attacked me physically, as though I was a criminal. (I was later able to identify the names of those in civilian clothes.) There was nothing more I could do, except for my protest and feeble physical resistance. One sergeant sounded the classic false accusation: “You cursed the king.” I let him know that he was not accusing the right man. He stayed silent until we arrived at the police station.

When I protested at the police station, and demanded to see an arrest warrant, they answered: “You caused a scandal in the voting area, and that is why you're being arrested.” On my own initiative, I started to write a declaration describing everything that had happened. Fifteen minutes later, another commissar, named Smedu, came running in. He invited me to go to the prosecutor, who was calling me in for questioning. Naturally, I did not suspect a trap, and went out to the courtyard. As soon as I noticed that the phaeton was not going to the tribunal but was headed out of town instead, I felt threatened by danger. I remembered how they had taken Max Veksler, the Jewish socialist from Iasi, into a

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forest and murdered him.[6] They killed Dr. Herman Aroneanu, a socialist leader, in a similar manner: he was assassinated in the autumn of 1920 in the Bacău garrison prison. You can easily understand why I decided to become [….][7]

I clung to the red gate of the police station, and with superhuman strength called for help. There were many people around the police station, yet no one dared to approach. The sergeants also drove them away, and did not allow too many people to gather. Commissar Smedu ordered another force of sergeants to place me in the phaeton forcibly. When I resisted, they grabbed me by the feet and brutally pulled my hands off the gate. Five sergeants and two commissars, Smedu and Kharzhak, picked me up and placed me in the phaeton.

As soon as the phaeton began moving, a young man came up, holding a rock, and yelled at the inquisitors in a booming voice, “Bandits, where are you taking him? So you want to kill him in the forest?”

I broke loose of the hands of the police, snatched the reins, and turned the horses back towards the police station. The young, likeable guy infused me with courage and energy. With a few more such youths, they would not have dared to take me to the village of Kopelevka, seven kilometers from Khotyn![8]

M. Landau
Undzer Tsayt, July 1931


The General Reveals Himself… Like Joseph to His Brothers[9]

I would like to recount an event from my years in Khotyn, one that is deeply engraved in my memory.

As is well known, in 1827, Czar Nikolai I issued an order conscripting Jews into the military. Recruiting then began. The community had to supply a specific number of boys as recruits. As they could never meet the quota, in 1853 there was a decree that Jews could be snatched and turned over to the army. Those caught, of course, were almost always unfortunate boys who had no one to stand up for them.

The snatched children were taken far away, so that they would forget their parents and their Jewish origins.

In 1908, the following event happened in Khotyn. There were two brothers, Avrom and Hirsh Kavuk.

The first had a grain shop, and the other was a tailor. One fine day, their 6-year-old brother Mendl was snatched and taken away. People wept and mourned, but to no avail. The years went by, other children were born in the family, and the calamity was almost forgotten. The parents, though, carried their grief in their hearts to the day of their death. The brothers and sisters went on living, working and running businesses. From time to time, they would remember their vanished brother. But as the phrase goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

But then this happened. Two rich Jewish merchants who had permits to travel throughout the country, were on the train to Moscow. A General and his bodyguard were in the same car. The General suddenly noticed two fine Jews with long beards. He immediately sent one of his men to invite them into his compartment. When they heard this, they nearly died of fright. This was no small thing! But when the General invites you, you must go.

The General instructed his guards to leave, and told the Jews – in Russian, naturally–not to be alarmed. “I won't harm you. I need your help. I want to tell you that I myself am of Jewish heritage, but you need to keep it a secret and not tell anyone. I was only six years old when I was snatched. I don't know the name of the town where I was born, but I remember my parents' last name: Roytman. I also remember that I had a brother: Avrom. I remember that my father would take me to dip in the river, beyond the town. Jews, please help me to find my hometown. You won't regret it. I will reward you.”

The two Jews immediately sent letters to Lipcani and to Khotyn, telling the Roytmans to go to Chisinau and send photographs of their family, as well as their life stories. They sent everything to the General, who recognized his parents and his brother Avrom. What excitement! It was like the biblical Joseph and his brothers. The police were ordered to prepare the Jew Avrom Roytmen (Kavuk) for the important visit of the General. They prepared as though before Passover: painting, decorating, washing, cleaning.

The General finally arrived, and

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revealed himself, like Joseph did to his brothers. It was an emotional meeting; they hugged and kissed. The celebration, which lasted for several days, was the sole topic of conversation throughout the town. Before the General left, he ordered the police to exempt his long-ago family from taxes.

From time to time, the General sent some photos of his wife and children. After his death, his family dropped their connections with their Jewish relatives. It was unseemly for Christians to have relationships with small-town Jews, at the edge of the country.


Khotyn Donors to Charity

Nokhem Roytman

Nokhem-Mekhl, the son of Yitzchok-Elye, owned a tavern in Khotyn, but the breadwinner was mainly his wife Sheyndele. Nokhem-Mekhl was always busy with charitable acts. Before holidays, he would volunteer to collect goods all over town for poor families, or wood for the winter. Naturally, he was never compensated; but he would hear unjustified insults and even curses.

He was known in the town for his honesty, and was often called in as an arbitrator. Even Rabbi Nokhem Strakovski preferred him as an arbitrator. Nokhem-Mekhl died in the camp of Kopegorod (Transnistria); his children stayed in the U.S.S.R.[10]


Noyekh Vaynshteyn

His name was Noyekh, and he really was pleasant to people, a naturally good person, who liked to do favors and help out people in need.[11] He was also quiet and never made a fuss about his charitable activities.

This is one of his quiet actions: every year after Passover, when wood was at its cheapest, he would buy about ten thousand poods and store it in his yard.[12] After Shvu'es, he would hire someone to chop the wood up[13]. Later, in the fall, when mud was deep, the price of wood went up, and poor people could not afford it. That was when Noyekh opened his stores and sold the wood at no profit, only covering his expenses. This was a tremendous help to the poor.


Dovidl the Painter

Painting was hard and dangerous work, but Jews did not avoid it, because the pay was good. However, almost all painters died young, because the chemical substances poisoned their lungs.

Dovidl Morgenshtern, the painter, was a well-known figure in Khotyn. People said of him that he gave more money to charity than he earned by painting. He ran quite a bank, though he did not keep books and required no interest. No one who came to him for charity or a loan was turned away. If the loan was not repaid on time, or was not repaid at all, he always found a justification: as the debtor didn't repay the loan, he probably didn't have the money.

Zusya Bronshteyn, the renowned charity-giver and community activist of Khotyn, would often come to Dovidl the painter, who helped many people to emerge from crises. If a merchant needed a quick loan and couldn't obtain it, he ran to Zusya; Zusya immediately went to Dovidl Morgenshtern and got the money. This was kept secret.

Dovidl the painter died in winter. The snow was deep and it was extremely cold, yet about half the town came to the funeral. Among those who gave eulogies were Yoysef Apelboym, the president of the local Zionist organization, and Zusya Bronshteyn. It was only then that people realized the extent of Dovidl Morgenshteyn's generosity throughout his life. Men and women wept, saying that their provider had died.

During the seven days of mourning, Nokhem Roytman, the deceased's best friend, recounted that a few days before his death, he had asked Dovidl to leave him a list of debtors. However, Dovidl didn't want to do that, saying that he didn't want his relatives to quarrel with the debtors. He knew very well that some people were just waiting for his death and for their debt to die as well. Yet that did not bother him; he didn't want to leave behind any disputes. People knew that he was owed a total of approximately 200,000 lei; there were individuals who owed him up to 25,000 lei each.

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The Fate of an Anti-Semite

Morozovski, the pharmacist, a Christian and a Pole, was known throughout Khotyn. He lived in the center of town, near the Jewish neighborhood. He was tall and impressive, with a long beard. Regardless of the fact that nearly all his customers were Jews, Morozovski was one of the leaders of the Black Hundreds in Bessarabia; he spread anti-Semitic propaganda and incited against Jews.[14]

The Jews boycotted his pharmacy, but they themselves did not take it seriously, and it was therefore unsuccessful. Morozovski, however, was punished in a different manner, and felt first-hand what a pogrom was like.

Every year, in February-March, a regiment of Cossacks would come from the Don region to carry out their winter maneuvers. Their arrival always threw the Jews into a panic. As was their practice, the Cossacks robbed Jewish stores and beat up Jews on the streets. Jewish women did not dare to leave their houses when the Cossacks were in town.

Once, a group of Cossacks was on the street and could not find a single Jew on whom to inflict their savage wrath. Suddenly, they saw Morozovski, who was walking calmly. They thought he was Jewish. He was badly beaten before convincing them that they were making a mistake, and his beard was torn out. The more he tried to resist them, the worse he was hurt.

He was brought home with severe injuries, took to his bed, and never emerged again…


A Quiet Treaty

The Khotyn boulevard was famous for its beauty, its wonderful trees, and its flowers.

Jews would stroll there on Saturdays and holidays, summer and winter, from late afternoon until late into the night. Some would sit on the benches that lined the boulevard. The women and girls wore silk dresses and hats in various styles, and carried elegant parasols with silver handles.

True, the word zhid was also heard on the boulevard, but Christians rarely appeared there on Saturdays and holidays.[15] That was why Jews were never seen there on Sundays and Christian holidays, as though adhering to a silent treaty– as if the wonderful fragrance of the trees and flowers could be split between Saturday and Sunday, between Jews and Christians.


Mindl, the Ritual Slaughterer's Wife, Goes to the Rebbe[16]

There were various characters in Khotyn, as everywhere, whose personalities lent color to the community. They were mostly ordinary Jews, simple people, neither wealthy nor scholarly.

Naturally, we are proud of such leaders as Khone Rays, Yoysef Apelboym, Ayzik Barak, and Itzik-Meir Tisenboym, and others. However, I would now like to mention a simple woman, known to everyone in town: Mindl, the ritual slaughterer's wife. The wife of the ritual slaughterer, was unique. Every home in Khotyn, especially those of the poor, knew her. Her generous heart was evident everywhere. If she knew a family that didn't have enough food, she wouldn't rest until she helped them. On Friday afternoons she would make the rounds of the town, collect challah, fish, and meat, and sometimes an article of clothing as well, and take it to a home that she knew was in need. Mindl also saw to it that poor girls would be able to have weddings, and made sure that the young couple would be able to subsist. She was an institution of one.

Mindl was also a fervent adherent of the rebbe of Sadhura, though her husband was a Czortkow Hasid.[17] It was not unusual for husband and wife to belong to different hasidic sects. Khotyn was home to followers of the Sadhura, Chortkow, Zinkiv, and Kopychyntsi rebbes, and others. Before a holiday, people would start preparing to travel to the rebbe and spend the holiday there. The preparations could take weeks. As there was no train in Khotyn, they had to reserve a spot in a cart. This caused an uproar. The hasidim would complain loudly that the cart-drivers were robbing them, and demanded additional fees, as there was no shortage of passengers.

The worst tragedy was when a driver would seat followers of two different rebbes in the same cart. There was swearing, and people said that they would not travel with him. Eventually, the driver had to give in, as he did not want to lose his livelihood.

Once, before a holiday, Mindl the ritual slaughterer's wife

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decided to travel to Sadhura, to her rebbe. However, it was late, and the drivers who were bound for Sadhura had no more space. It seemed that Mindl wouldn't be able to go.

Mindl, however, did not give up. She had a bag full of petitions for her rebbe, and she had to get there.[18] What could she do? First, she begged the cart-drivers, explaining that after all, she was going for their sake, to ask the rebbe for a blessing that would ensure them a good livelihood and good health. The cart drivers, poor things, wanted to help her; they knew her and her good deeds. But they really had no room. Faytl the cart driver, they said, did have room, but his cart was carrying hasids who would never agree to travel with a woman.[19]

Mindl went back home, defeated; but she did not lose heart. She had to leave the next morning, and thought about what she could do. Suddenly, she thought of a plan. She dressed and ran to Faytl's late at night, asking that he be roused. Faytl came out, all sleepy: “What do you want, Mindl? I need to rest before my difficult trip tomorrow. I would carry you on my shoulders, but I cannot, as you know.”

“Don't worry, Faytl. Things will work out. Loan me your big fur coat–I'll wrap myself up in it, and no one will recognize me. We're going, Faytl!”

Faytl, half-asleep, gave Mindl his fur coat, and thought no more about it. The next morning, Mindl sat in the cart with the hasids, and went to visit her rebbe.


Yankl Zhorzh

In the good old days of peace, there was a Jew in Khotyn named Yankl Zhorzh. He came from a good family, known throughout the town. This Zhorzh was a strong, virile man, with one weakness: he would bow and scrape to the non-Jews, especially if they were intellectuals. He was the type of Jew who felt inferior to non-Jews was servile to them. We know there are many such among our brethren.

Yankl Zhorzh made efforts to make the non-Jews and their wives like him. He was like a dog, eager to serve his master. While the landowner was still extracting a cigarette from his pocket, Yankl was ready with a match. He would carry loads for them from the market, and do all kinds of chores in their homes, all so that they would like him. The landowners allowed him to enter their homes, and gave him food, but regarded him with contempt. It was they who gave him the nickname Zhorzh, fit for a dog. He really was the proverbial negative stereotype of a Diaspora Jew. On the other hand, they also beat him cruelly. They did this as a sort of sport, to pass the time. The onlookers were happy to see him being beaten, and they enjoyed his cries.

However, after being beaten, Yankl served them as he did before. Not even one non-Jew or landowner stood by him. All were sure that he deserved the beating and that this was his fate. Once, he was so badly injured that he had to be taken to the hospital, and in fact died there.


Memories of Khotyn

I became familiar with Khotyn thanks to my relatives, the children of my uncle Mendl Sadovnik, who lived there. There was no modern synagogue in our town of Novoselec, and we did not know Russian well. Accordingly, we went to Khotyn to learn “sklonyaen,” so that we could hold our own with others.[20] We envied the Khotyn students of the Kruzhak synagogue's elementary school, which had been established by the wealthy Khone Rays. We envied their clothing, their orchestra, and their music. In Novoselec, we were still studying in a dark kheyder, and felt the effects of the teacher's disciplinary whip…

My uncle, Mendl Sadovnik,was an old-fashioned Jew; but my aunt Sheyne-Khaye raised the children in the Russian manner.[21] My uncle dragged me to his hasidic group, while his children went to the fortress, to see the basements that the Turkish regime had established….

Some of the Khotyn intellectuals were inclined towards Socialism, and wanted to “go to the people, “Russian style”.[22] Girls went to Odessa, to study in the “courses.”[23] Others were inclined towards the nationalist Jewish movement, Zionism.

After 1905, and after the pogrom in Kishinev and in other towns, a new generation rose that began advocating for the Land of Israel.[24] I would like to mention Malamud, the teacher, Ayzik Barag, Yoysef Apelboym, Yitzkhok Gargun, Moyshe Shtern, Yoysef Zeltzer, Tsvi Strakovski, and others. Some young folks left for the Land of Israel

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as Zionist pioneers. Among them were my brother-in-law Ezra Zeltzer and his brother Eliyohu.

Following the 1917 revolution, during the Kerensky regime, there was much activity within the Jewish community of Khotyn as well.[25] People began preparing for elections to the community council. I remember one morning, when I was reading a poster announcing a public meeting of the Bund.[26] This appealed to us, young Zionist-minded people that we were. About ten of us went to the theater hall where the meeting was held, and occupied an entire box. A tall, thin girl, wearing glasses, appeared on the stage and began singing the Internationale. We immediately countered with HaTikvah. An uproar began in the theater, and neither song was sung to its end. However, the matter did not end there. One of the attendees began talking about the “blue-and-white flag.”[27] The uproar in the hall recurred, this time with shouts of “Down with it! Red mask!”

I rose and asked to speak. The president invited me to the stage, and I spoke for the blue-white flag. The audience was won over, and the Bundists were forced to leave the hall. The evening became a Zionist affair, and everyone sang HaTikvah. The young folks applauded me for the victory I had achieved.


Avrom-Leyb Nerman

Whenever anyone needed a medical practitioner, they sought out Avrom-Leyb.[28] He was always to be found on the street or in the tavern; Avrom-Leyb loved his alcohol. On the other hand, he was always sober and never used the wrong remedy. He also had a talent for acting and directing. He would walk around with a large pouch that contained his remedies. If necessary, he also defended the town against pogromists. That is how natives of Khotyn remember Avrom-Leyb.


A Tenth for the Minyan

The cart-drivers of Khotyn often had non-Jewish coachmen. One cart-driver, Pinye, had a coachman named Vanya. He knew Yiddish well, and was familiar with all the Jewish customs.

On one occasion, Vanya stopped the cart in Zvanits.[29] The local Jews happened to be lacking a tenth man for the minyan, and the person whose loved one was being honored was happy that he had found … a Jew.[30] Vanya entered the synagogue, said Amen when necessary, later drank to everyone's health, and wished the soul of the deceased soul elevation in Heaven. He climbed happily onto the cart, and continued on his way.

There are precedents in Jewish texts: “Rabbi Eliezer entered a synagogue and did not find a quorum of ten. He liberated his slave, and completed the quorum of ten” (Mishna Berachot, 47b).


“And Haman Came” – The Anti-Semite Kuza Visits Khotyn[31]

In early 1938, when the anti-Semitic government of Goga-Cuza came to power in Romania, the country was flooded with anti-Jewish decrees.[32] The civil rights of Jews were destroyed, and a campaign of “Romanization” in all economic areas began. Jews were fired from their jobs in various companies, and Romanians were hired instead. Naturally, the edicts applied to Khotyn as well. There was a pogrom atmosphere in the town. When they heard that Cuza himself, the founder of the nationalist, anti-Semitic party, would come to Khotyn, the non-Jews were overjoyed.

The non-Jews of the town gathered in the church courtyard. Romanian flags and images of Cuza were everywhere. It was Sunday, and all the church bells were ringing. The non-Jews were celebrating, and the Jews were mourning. Each movement of the crowd aroused the fear that it heralded a disaster for the Jews.

“And Haman came”; the guest arrived, and entered the church immediately. He spent thirty minutes there, with his flock of believers, and then positioned himself on the church stairs, where he began railing against the Jews. At the conclusion, he called on the masses not to employ terror tactics, but to leave it exclusively to the government. Anyone who took matters into his own hands, he warned, would pay a high price.

But the Goga-Cuza regime did not last long. I remember the night when Shloyme Feldman knocked at the door, around 10:00 p.m., and shouted happily, “Why are you indoors?

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Cuza is out of power! The flags have been taken off the churches, along with his images. All the Jews are out on the streets. The Jews are enjoying gladness and delight!”[33] We roamed the streets until 3 a.m. No one felt like going home. The non-Jews, on the other hand, were walking around hanging their heads.


“The Voice of Joy and the Voice of Gladness, the Voice of the Bridegroom and the Voice of the Bride”[34]

Jews always held weddings in synagogues, as the place of prayer had the power to bring people closer together, and bring the congregation as a whole closer to God. The synagogue was also the location of various community events, conferences, and meetings. People felt more comfortable there, and mingled better. Most of the weddings in Khotyn were held in Shmuel Yofeh's small synagogue. Rabbis, cantors, and sextons led the weddings, and were well paid by the parents of the bride and groom. This supplemented the salary they received from the community.

The badkhen played an important role.[35] His mission was to dispel sadness and introduce real joy. The badkhen Dovid-Ber filled the role to perfection. The moment he appeared at the door, all faces began to beam. People shed tears of joy. He himself was small, thin, and unassuming–but his eyes would sparkle when he pulled his red scarf out of his pocket, and started wisecracking; he was very eloquent. Imagine the scene when he danced with the bride!

No wedding could take place, of course, without musicians.[36] They helped carry out the age-old custom of entertaining the bride and groom, as well as the guests. Hersh-Yoyne Mednik had a band, consisting of his own sons. They played fiddle, flute, trumpet, and drum. They all played remarkably well, though nearly all of them were disabled in some way. Yoyne, with his wooden leg, was the conductor. Each of the musicians, incidentally, also had another profession: Yudl (contrabass) was a furrier, Leyb-Itsik Frankfurt (the lame) sold bagels. We should also mention Yankl, the accordionist, Yosl Pivnik and his son Yankl (who played the fiddle), Khayim-Mendl the blind, who was called “Khayim-Mendl with the marrow-bone”, and Leyb Rokhman, with his wooden leg. In addition, there was Alyosha, the non-Jew, who played an important role in Hersh-Yoyne's band. He could play all the instruments, and substitute for any absent musician. He lived near the Jewish ritual bath, and in fact spoke Yiddish like a Jew.

There was another band in town, which was non-Jewish. This was Patek's band. Patek himself used to be a staff sergeant in the 8th Jaeger battalion, that was stationed in Khotyn.[37] Jews also sometimes played in this band.



We should mention that there were also Jewish thieves in Khotyn. The truth is that, taking into account the extreme poverty of the town, there weren't many thieves – two in all.

Filke the thief “worked” mainly at the fairs. He was a pickpocket. Though he was the only one of his kind in Khotyn, and though everyone knew him and the police kept an eye on him, he did not leave the “profession.” He was a professional thief.

Abeh, Berishke's son, “worked” in his own way. He would enter through the window of a house and take whatever he could. If he was caught in the act by the owners, he would frighten them so much that they began trembling all over, and let him get away with everything he had stolen.

When the Soviets took over Bessarabia, he paid dearly for his crimes. They drenched him with gasoline and set him on fire.


Names and Nicknames

As we know, Jewish names have many origins. Some are derived from the father's name, with the addition of “-son,” such as Mendelson. If the mother's lineage was more distinguished, that would be reflected in the name: for example, Shimon-Khayim Etkes.[38] Often, the name hinted at the village or town from which the person came. Members of the same family would sometimes have different names, derived from their nicknames.


Moyshe Dybbuk[39]

No one in Khotyn knew Moyshe Landa, though this was

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the name that was entered in all the state offices. However, everyone knew Moyshe Dybbuk.

What was the reason for this nickname? This is what happened. Yosl, Moyshe's brother, a tailor, was famous for his dancing talents. Once, while he was working for another tailor, he suddenly felt like dancing. He walked up to the tailor's wife and invited her to dance. The frightened woman yelled out, “Dybbuk!” The name stuck to the entire family.


Moyshe Blacksmith

He was called so because he really was a blacksmith. He was never called by a different name; it's possible that he did not even have a different name.


Moyshe Colt and Volf Colonel

As is well known, Khotyn was located 30 versts from the train station.[40] Who would walk that far, especially as there were, thank God, many cart drivers who needed to make a living? Once, Volf Colonel was on his way to the train station on Moyshe Colt's cart. It was a fine day; the air was fresh; the road lay among beautiful trees and green fields, and all was well. The two began a simple conversation. Volf Colonel asks, “Tell me, Moyshe, why are you called ‘Colt’?” The latter is annoyed and retorts, “And why are you called Colonel?” Volf realizes that he has gone too far, and who knows what could happen. So he plans to appease the other guy. “Listen, my dear,” he says, “I think we'll stay as we are until we die; it's hopeless. You'll never become a horse, and I'll stay a colonel and never become a general.”

Moyshe Bebeleh was nicknamed Moyshe Six-fingers because he had six fingers on one of his hands. He is described in this volume in a different chapter about cart-drivers in Khotyn.

Shloyme Sherevitser was termed Shloyme Goy, as he was as strong and healthy as a non-Jew…

Moyshe Pirl was in charge of sending visitors to the local hostel. Howevaer, he made his livelihood by pasting up notices in the town announcing important community events. He would call these notices papirl; as he spoke very rapidly, the pa part of the word was inaudible, and people would hear only pirl.[41] That became his name.

Shloyme Red got that name, according to rumor, because his nephew was a Communist, a “Red.” It's more likely that he was called that because of his red nose, due to drinking too much alcohol.


Yehuda-Volf with the Bandage

Yehuda-Volf was a member of the rabbi's intimate group. Once, a circus came to Khotyn, and set up their tent on a vacant lot, near the town clock. The circus crew lodged with Isser Epelboym, who lived nearby. When they found out that they were expected to work on Shabbes, Rabbi Shaulikl sent Volf to request the guests not to work on Shabbes in a town in which the majority of the residents were Jewish. Volf went to the circus director and let him know his mission. The director immediately agreed, and apparently wanted to reward him on the spot. A half-naked circus girl suddenly arrived. She hugged Volf and kissed him on the cheek. Volf was so embarrassed that he wrapped a bandage around his cheek, and never took it off, always going bandaged…


Moyshe Tammuz

The people of Khotyn did not know how Moyshe Tammuz got his nickname, though he turned a bit strange in his forties.[42] He was a scholar. Once “Tammuz” became his nickname, people quickly forgot his real name.

Below is a list of nicknames of Khotyn Jews.

Moyshe Hand's-reach; Khayim Cooperative; Nekhe Widow; Moyshe Bodny; Volf-Yehuda with the Bandage; Itsik Dyuk; Moyshe-Leyzer with the Thoughts; Hirsh-God; Avrom-Yitzchok Goose-chick; Alter Busybody; Yosl Impulsive; Moyshe and Yosl Dybbuk; Yisro'el Nuisance; Motti Rag; Leyb Canvas; Velvele's Reuven and Yankev; Moyshe Feeding-trough; Gitsi's Yisro'el Kharif (Village-elder); Yisro'el-Ber Little Torah; Avrom Tshigalehgaleh; Moyshe Colt; Rokhl Tall; Sumer Tall; Moyshe Brainy; Shayeh Corn-cake; Khaye-Sore Corn-porridg; Moyshe Nose; Volf Soldier; Moyshe-Arn Cream; Simkhe Prempe; Motke Landowner; Volf Colonel; Yo'el Prosecutor; Nokhem Little Horse; Avrom Purim; Avrom Stuffed Cabbage Leaf; Yankl Pinchirinchi; Moyshe Pirl; Nachmen Hypocrite; Yankl Gypsy; Nokhem and Khayim Little Comb; Yisro'el Potato; Garlic; Shaye with the cats; Avrom Kolenik; Khayim-Yosl Tomcat; Hirsh Fedora; Shloyme Red; Hirsh Cart-driver; Mindl the Ritual-slaughterer's wife; Khaye Black; Shmuel Scoundrel; Yankl Zhorzh.[43]

[Page 228]

A Witness for the Next World

Many elderly Jews traveled to the Land of Israel, so that they could be buried in sacred soil and be spared torments after death.[44] The entire community would honor these elderly men, and some would even envy them.

Ayzikl Holtsman the tailor, an imposing figure with his beard and sidelocks, emigrated to the Land of Israel at 70 years of age. All the Jews of Khotyn came to say farewell. His relatives said that one of the few objects he took with him was a board from his cutting table. He asked for that board to be placed in his grave along with his body, to bear witness that he had been an honest worker.


The Story of a Pair of Candlesticks

Yisro'el Shor married the daughter of Kolpatshky, from a nearby town. His father-in-law came to visit a few months later. He started asking random questions in order to find out whether his son-in-law was an observant Jew. So as to be quite sure, he hid the candlesticks in the young man's prayer-shawl bag.

The father-in-law returned home. When candle-lighting time arrived on Friday – there were no candlesticks. They looked everywhere–they're gone! They write the father-in-law to ask whether he might have put them somewhere during his visit. The father-in-law replied that he knew nothing; but that when an object couldn't be found, it was a good idea to check the mezuzah and the phylacteries.[45] At first, the son-in-law didn't understand, but when he took up his prayer-shawl bag, which contained the phylacteries as well, everything became clear. It also became clear that Yisro'el Shor had not prayed wearing his phylacteries the entire time…



For decades, a male matchmaker and a female matchmaker reigned in Khotyn. Most young people married with their help. Woe betide the couple who dared to marry without the aid of these matchmakers!

Such a match would not last. The matchmakers used all their talents and might to destroy it. They would intervene boldly, and drive a wedge between the prospective bride and groom, until the couple separated.

* * *

Khotyn had a branch of the Jewish Party, headed by the lawyer Moyshe Feldman.[46] The vice-presidents were Yoysef Epelboym and Yankev Tutelman; the secretary was the lawyer Mark Barak. Others in the leadership were Leyb Royzman, Leybish Ludmir, Dr. Arn Stolyar, Yankev Frenkel, and Leyzer Furman.

This party included Zionists of all trends, as well as Zionists who were unaffiliated with any trend. Before long, almost all the Jews of Khotyn were members of the Jewish Party. All the political parties had to consider the Khotyn region, as it always sent a Jewish delegate to the Romanian Parliament. Other important activists of the Jewish Party were Nokhem Roytman, Moyshe Landa, and Leyzer Furman.

* * *

During the last term of the National Peasant party's rule (1937-1943), the Jewish population of Khotyn was represented in the municipal elections by a large number of leaders in significant positions. Lawyer Moyshe Feldman was the Vice-Mayor, Leybish Ludmir was the representative of the civilian office, lawyer Mark Barak was president of the inspection commission, and Miron Derzhy was the chief bookkeeper. There were also many Jewish advisors.

* * *

There were four important Jewish landowners in Khotyn, who held large agricultural areas. These were Shor, Rays, Dikhter, and Barak.

* * *

Several women of Khotyn were active in Jewish community affairs. They formed several groups, and also organized various demonstrations to benefit the general population. Let us mention Sonya Feferman, Henrietta Shor, Ida Rozentsvayg, Mrs. Tsimerman, Tova Eplboym, Ita Derzhi, Rulia Derzhy, Polya Shabelman, and Gitl Shekhter.

[Page 229]

Right to left: Meir Gitsis (may his memory be for a blessing), Katriel Gargun (may his memory be for a blessing), Gitsis (may his memory be for a blessing), Arn Shtibl, Furman, Nerman (may their memories be for a blessing)


Following is an episode concerning the Khotyn children who studied at the town's Talmud-Toyre. They played in the school's wind orchestra.

In 1916, during World War I, a cavalry division (domestic division) came to Kamenetz-Podolsk. The division commander approached Khone Rays and demanded that they hand over the orchestra's instruments. They reached an agreement: the instruments would be turned over along with the musicians, who were of draft age. This is how boys from Khotyn turned into Cossacks overnight…

In addition to carrying out their military service, our boys were able to help the Jews of Proskurow. When the revolution broke out in 1917, the domestic division took over guard duty in Proskurow. However, they came from the Caucasus and knew no Russian. Therefore, a Jewish soldier was attached to every six cavalrymen. Other soldiers were responsible for the telephone connections between the town, the region, and the division's headquarters. Thanks to them, the difficult periods ended without harm to the town's Jews.


Vaynshtok the Teacher

The teacher Vaynshtok gave lectures about Jewish history on various occasions such as Purim, Hanukah, etc. He would provide an interesting explanation of the historical importance of the holiday, and was happy to respond to all invitations, carrying out his mission very successfully.


Mazur the Conductor

He would successfully lead the musical segments of all events that had a national character.


Itta Feldman-Lerner

She was the only Jewish woman who was an agronomist, and worked in the Khotyn agricultural office for many years, in the entire region.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. The prayer that begins HaMelech (the king) opens the High Holiday prayers. Return
  2. Kiddush is the blessing over wine, as well as a small repast held on Shabbat or festival mornings after the prayer services and before the meal. Return
  3. “Commissar” usually refers to high-ranking officials; here, it seems to indicate policemen. I have retained the original term. “Tribunal” might refer to a court of law, here, too, I have retained the original term. Return
  4. I could not identify President Teodorescu. Return
  5. I could not identify this Yiddish-language newspaper. Return
  6. Max Veksler (Wexler) (1870-1917) was a socialist activist and journalist, who was murdered in a forest while in the custody of the Romanian police. Return
  7. The end of this paragraph is missing in the original. Return
  8. I could not identify this place name. Return
  9. A reference to the biblical story of Joseph, Genesis 45. Return
  10. I was not able to identify this camp, and have transliterated the Yiddish name. Return
  11. The Hebrew noach basically means “rest.” The Hebrew adjective is used in a traditional phrase recommending that a person should be “pleasant to people and pleasant to God.” Return
  12. A Russian pood is equivalent to about 16.5 kg. Return
  13. Shvu'es is seven weeks after Passover. Return
  14. The Black Hundreds was a reactionary, monarchist and ultra-nationalist movement in Russia in the early 20th century. They were noted for extremism and incitement to anti-Semitism, pogroms and other xenophobic beliefs. Return
  15. Zhid is a pejorative term for Jew. Return
  16. The honorific Rebbe is used for a Rabbi who is the leader of a Hasidic sect (it is also used for the teacher of boys in a religious school). Return
  17. The Hasidic dynasty of Sadhora (Sadigora in Yiddish, in Bukovina). The Czortków dynasty (Yiddish Chortkov) is in present-day Ukraine. The two dynasties were related. Return
  18. A rebbe's followers would often hand him a written petition asking for his blessing, either in general or in a specific matter. Return
  19. Ultra-Orthodox Jews will generally not be in close proximity to women. Return
  20. Sklonyaen is a mispronunciation of the Russian term for declension, sklonenye. The remark apparently refers to Russian grammar as a whole. Return
  21. I could not determine the meaning of “Russian manner” here. Return
  22. The 1870s movement in Russia known as khozhdenie v narod (“going to the people”) impelled hundreds of young intellectuals, dressed in peasant clothes, to canvass rural regions and incite the peasantry to rise against the system. Return
  23. People not affiliated with any established advanced school could study in individual courses. Return
  24. In 1905 there was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire. The pogrom of 1903 in Kishinev (present-day Chisinau) focused worldwide attention on the persecution of Jews in Russia. “The Land of Israel” is used here for the traditional Jewish term Erets-Yisra'el, referring to the area that was then part of the Ottoman Empire, and became known as Palestine after World War I. Return
  25. The reference is to the first revolution of that year, in February, after which Alexander Kerensky headed the new regime. Return
  26. The Socialist Bund (“Jewish Labor Bund”) was founded in Vilna on October 7, 1897. Return
  27. The Zionist flag colors were blue and white. This flag was later adopted as the flag of Israel Return
  28. Medical or surgical practitioners without full professional qualifications (known as feldshers) were common in areas where professional care was unavailable or extremely costly. Return
  29. I was not able to identify this place name. Return
  30. Minyan is the term for the minimum number of males (10) required to constitute a representative “community of Israel” for certain liturgical purposes. Return
  31. Esther 6,6. Return
  32. Octavian Goga and Alexandru Cuza were the leaders of a short-lived Romanian government headed by the right-wing National Christian Party. A series of severely anti-Semitic rules was implemented. This government lasted only 45 days, in late 1937 and early 1938. Return
  33. The last phrase is adapted from Esther 8, 16. Return
  34. This phrase, from Jeremiah (33, 11) is part of the wedding ceremony and is often sung or danced to. Return
  35. The badkhen was the entertainer at the wedding, who improvised humorous rhymes and recitations. Return
  36. The Hebrew-derived klezmer literally means “instruments of music.” Return
  37. Jaeger battalions consisted of light infantry. I could not identify the unit, as the text provides no other information. Return
  38. Etke's son. Return
  39. A dybbuk is a malicious possessing spirit believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person. Return
  40. A verst is about 0.66 miles. Return
  41. Papirl means a piece of paper. Return
  42. Tammuz is a month in the Jewish calendar. Return
  43. Bodny could have an association with ‘soil’ or ‘bathing.’ I was unable to translate Tshigalehgaleh, Prempe, Pinchirinchi, or Zhorzh. Return
  44. According to some Jewish traditions, the soul of a sinner undergoes torments after the body is buried. The intrinsic sanctity of the Land of Israel grants the soul a head-start in purity. Return
  45. The mezuzah is a parchment inscribed with religious texts and attached in a case to the doorpost of a Jewish house as a sign of faith. Phylacteries (tefillin) are cube-shaped black leather boxes with leather straps that Orthodox Jewish men wear on their head and their arm during weekday morning prayer. Return
  46. The Jewish Party of Romania was a right-wing political party representing Jewish interests. It originally followed an undercurrent of Zionism that promoted communitarianism as a prerequisite to settling in Palestine. Return


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