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[Page 561]

The Illegal Progressive Workers' Groups
The 'Left' and the Communists in Yedinitz

by Moshe Shuster[a]

Translated from the Yiddish by Leslie Train

The Illegal Progressive Worker-Circle

I remembered one summer's day. The sun was shining high in the clear blue sky. In Yedinitz, everyone had already finished eating their Shabbat morning stew, and the older people were now asleep, while the younger ones went around the alleys and the courtyards. It was a big day for me. I was told in the utmost secrecy that there would be an illegal meeting held somewhere outside the city past the Moldavian Mahala[1], to the left of the cemetery on a meadow behind a hill.

This was my first and unforgettable illegal meeting. Besides a couple of workers and seamstresses, sitting among them were the scions of the bourgeois as well as a few high-school students, future doctors, engineers, and lawyers.

[Page 562]

Altogether, about 50 to 60 young men and women, among them I was the youngest. The meeting went off without a problem. We read and discussed I.L. Peretz and A. Reisen, and it was absolutely delightful.

That meeting was held at the home of the Yampolski sisters, Shaindel and Rokhel (who, after leaving for greener pastures left a more interesting ambassador, Doba Yampolski, their brother's daughter), and most of the others were held either there or at the home of the Kupits', Sarah, and Yankel Libman, Braineh Schwartz, the sisters Rokhel and Riveh, etc. That particular meeting, as well as the others, had a profound positive effect in awakening the yearning for justice, freedom, and cosmopolitanism among the aware and actively attentive youth of the shtetl, because in Yedinitz, at the time, were no workers' clubs and no 'Culture League' as found in the neighboring shtetls. There wasn't even a special Jewish library, only numerous Zionist organizations such as “Gordonia”, “Hashomer Hatzair,” “Poalei Zion”, etc. The only library was the “Tarbut” library. Doba Yampolski played an especially important role in the workers' movement of the shtetl.

These were my first memories concerning the illegal Jewish progressive circles in Yedinitz. If I am not mistaken, they started to appear in the early 1920s.

[Page 563]

Moshe Spielberg, an honest and hardworking man, with a gentle soul and a pleasant singing voice, was the very first in the above-mentioned groups if one does not consider the revolutionary circles before the Russian Revolution and before the occupation of Romania.

The very friendly, clever Joshua Kolker, father of Israel, Leah'ke, and Yosel Kolker, would often tell us about the revolutionary circles of 1905, where he took part, making his modest contribution to the movement.

The pogrom against the Jews in Yedinitz, which took place in the inter-revolutionary period of 1917, was still fresh in everyone's memory. As a small boy of 5 or 6 years old, hid along with my groaning mother and grandmother by Christian neighbors while the Jewish men took part in the Self-Defense group, in those years it was the so-called 'Revolutionary Committee,' which was much talked about, stationed in Yedinitz.

Several members of the committee left the shtetl together with the Russian Revolutionary Force. The others left behind in the shtetl after the occupation of Romania, had but one wish: that people would just forget about them so that they would not attract the attention and the repression from the returning Romanians.

I was still a little child. At first, I would borrow a book for my grown-up uncle, Sholom Sherman. Then slowly, I became a seriously interested reader. The VIPs at the time – Sheindel and Rokhel Yampolski (the former is in Brazil, the latter in New York), Moshe Spielberg (living today in Kishinev), Zonenshein, Ruzhkeh Baron (today living in Israel), Yenkel Libman and his sister Sarah'ke, Moshe Kupit (today in New York) and his sisters Malka and Shprintze, took pains to make me feel comfortable.

Those years were for me the most beautiful and the most romantic. I read a lot and learned a lot, and as soon as I could, I started to teach in other circles that had been already organized. We discovered a beautiful world, great writers, and thinkers. We dreamt of equality, justice, and freedom, which we lacked, but needed to have as one needs air to breathe.

The times were dark and threatening. The economic and social life of the Jews in our shtetl, as in Bessarabia, was intolerable. The cultural and economic conditions were backward. Entire families had no work and went hungry. If it were not for the aid that many received from their relatives in North and South America, their situation would have been unbearable.

[Page 564]

Yed0564.jpg
'Revolutionary Youth', somewhere outside of the shtetl,
in the years 1935 – 1936

In the picture: Mina Yanovitch, Pessy Veisman, Buzieh Chayes, and Aharontchik Helfgott
Picture and text: Moshe Shuster, Paris

 

It goes without saying, that the poverty and the backwardness were also greatly felt by the Christian population; the government was very cruel to the poor. A greater darkness afflicted the Christians – ignorance and illiteracy. The prevailing conditions served well the antisemitic organizations, which whipped up hatred against the Jews, putting all the blame on them for their condition. Marches organized by the antisemitic Cuzist National – Christian party would take place in Yedinitz, with thousands of peasants taking part, presaging the approaching storm. However, many then closed their eyes.

[Page 565]

The First Strike in the Shtetl

The reign of terror of the Romanian 'Siguranta' and the armed police force never stopped raging. Everyone trembled before them and was held captive under the heel of the Romanian Boyar military dictator.

The new ideas of friendship between different nationalities made their way into our shtetl as well: from the East after the October Revolution; and from the West, where nations were engaged in dealing with the reactions to it.

If life was hard for everyone, it was even worse for those who worked from dawn until late in the evening, summer, and winter, often until midnight.

The first task of the new set-up worker-movement WSA was to organize the workers. After some time, the action started to show preliminary results. The first successful strike we had in the shtetl took place in the fall of 1926 or 1927. A lot of us strikers were beaten quite severely by our own also-impoverished Jewish employers. However, we celebrated our first victory, because from that day on workers only had to work a ten-hour day. They set up mixed committees to settle labor disputes, and the workers believed in their own power. Obviously, the 'Siguranta'-agent Frekula could not remain indifferent to this strike nor to the great threat posed by the not quenched thirst for knowledge and political freedom that resounded in our shtetl, like an echo of which took place in the great, wide world. Consequently, Fekula started to keep his ears open, and his eyes peeled even more than he had before.

From time to time, the shtetl was inundated with revolutionary bills and posters, especially on the eve of workers' holidays such as the first of May, the first of August, on Peace Day, on the seventh of November, etc.

The shtetl had already been feeling the tangible effects of the revolutionary worker movement. They discussed it in all circles. Some gave it their blessing; others cursed it. But nobody could ignore it. Zionists and Communists would often engage in discussion. I remember one discussion with very active members of “Poalei Zion”: Joseph Shitz, Sholom Serebrenik, and his amiable brother Chaim, Israel Kolker [then still a Zionist], Shimshon Bronstein, and others.

[Page 566]

Yed0566.jpg
A group of 'Revolutionary Workers'
Second from left to right, seated, is Moshe Shuster. All the others came together from surrounding shtetls to Yedinitz: Chaim Magalnik from Rishkan, Avrohom Katashanski (from Britchan); the others were from Rishkan and Novoselitz.
(Picture and caption sent in by Moshe Shuster, Paris)

 

Evening Courses and the Drama Circle

The culture club, created by us, held a very important place in our activities. A type of 'Culture League,' it offered evening courses to learn Yiddish, Romanian, Jewish history, and literature. The club was situated across from Chaim Rabinovitch's store in the courtyard.

The club opened new perspectives, not only for the many young workers, both male, and female, but also for the under-aged, progressive, and Yiddishist cultural intelligentsia.

This club held interesting lectures and literary readings on different topics, which had a brief life due to the repressions.

[Page 567]

We must mention the following motivators and cultural activists carrying out the difficult cultural mission: Moshe Kupit and his sister Malka, Yosel Kerik, Dovid'ke Koifman, Misha Kogan, Izzy Bronstein, Chaim Teperman, Meir Broitman, Isaac Sternberg (fallen in battle), Feigeh Shneiderman, Avrohom'l Ashkenazi (died in Brazil), Joseph Feinstein (died in Odessa), Liza Weizman (died in 1939 in Paris), Yentl Guttman, Moshe and Hanna Gelman, Netl Valievitch, Nina Mitman, Mina Baron, the author of these lines, and many, many others, whose names, to my great sorrow, have escaped me. They were laborers, high school students, girls, and boys from all levels of society who gave all to the cause.

Yedinitz at this time also had a drama circle. Although a modest one under the directorship of Yuzi Lande, it staged a few plays with outside help, to much critical acclaim. The shows usually took place on the property of the supportive family of the Milman sisters, on Taylor Street.

 

The First Arrests

The first arrests took place in the years 1929 – 1930. While moving a sack of illegal literature, the two Christians, Sokolov and Petie were arrested. Later, Joseph Feinstein, Yosel the Shvartser (his actual surname slips my mind), and the author of this article were arrested. These and later on arrests can give some insight into the significance of the movement at the time in Yedinitz; it wasn't just Jewish workers, high-school-age students, college-age students, and intelligentsia that were involved; many groups had been organized in the areas where Russians lived, petit-bourgeois, and Moldovans, and even in many of the surrounding villages.

Later, tight counter-conspiracy controls were brought into the organization.

The conspiracy measures helped the movement to develop, despite the constant of the so-called 'preventative' arrests of well-known revolutionary activists, minimum 5-6 times a year, usually just before a workers' holiday. There was also a solid mass organization – the MOPR[2] (comprised of sympathizers that had the goal of aiding the politically arrested.

In the years 1933 – 1934, took place major arrests. The movement was playing an important part in the lives of the shtetl youth – Jews and Christians alike.

As I recall, there wasn't a single Jewish house that hadn't been touched by the revolutionary movement in one way or another.

[Page 568]

Jewish youth contributed in a major way, to the general campaign for a better, more beautiful world, and for the brotherhood of all people.

The situation lasted until 1940 when Bessarabia reverted to the Soviet Union. But in those later years, I was already far from Yedinitz; first in Czernowitz, and later in Bucharest, from where I wandered, in 1937, to Paris.

* * *

Understandably, these few pages of the memoir are far from a definitive history. It can give only an inkling idea of a vibrant and impetuous life that was extinguished, first of all, by the murderers, Romanians, Germans, and village hooligans on the heels of the invasion by the German-Romanian forces against the Soviet Union, and later, in the Romanian-Hitlerian death camps upon the deportation to Transnistria.

But these were also years of bravery for a large portion of Yedinitz residents who fought against a common foe, the Nazism, for the honor of the Jewish people, whether in units of the Red Army alongside the allied armies or in the heroic ranks of the Jewish Brigade from Palestine, parachuting into occupied areas behind enemy lines in the very center of the World War.

 

Two Magnificent Personalities

I would like to finish my overview by mentioning a pair of magnificent revolutionary figures, a credit to the shtetl.

An important place in the International Brigade of Volunteers in Spain was held by our landsman, student, and talented young man, Berl Konderar, whose name has been inscribed in the history of the Romanian workers' movement.

Berl Konderar and the husband of Buzi Chayes came with us to Paris after they had convicted us in the great trial of 1935– 1936 in Czernowitz. Other prominent Yedinitz revolutionaries were Israel Kolker (today living in Lvov with his wife Mina Baron), Liza Weitzman, Kalman Landau (today in Paris), and others, also found guilty.

Konderar came to Spain from Paris as a volunteer in the International Brigade. After Franco's victory, Konderar was imprisoned in France, later in Algeria, and finally repatriated to the Soviet Union.

[Page 569]

According to reports I received, he parachuted behind the Romanian front lines just before the re-liberation of Bessarabia and Romania, fell into the Romanian hands and was horribly tortured, and then, either shot or hanged.

As I later learned, the Romanian firing squad executed the convicted revolutionary fighters Yenkele Sternberg and others in the Doftana Prison the day before the government was to change over.

[Page 570]

Again, in Transnistria, Yenkl Rosenberg distinguished himself by maintaining contact with local partisans while living under the most horrible conditions.

I would like to add that another Yedinitzer, Pavel Babucz, son of a shoemaker living in Roma Street and a leading revolutionary activist, became a deputy in the Romanian parliament after the liberation. He later served as an ambassador to Belgium, and in London, he worked in Romanian foreign affairs for years.

(Filed from) Paris

[Pages 569-570]

Revolutionary Songs in former Yedinitz

We find it necessary to include two songs that the 'Revolutionary Circles' of Yedinitz would sing in the years right after the Romanian occupation of Bessarabia (1918). We found these songs in the book 'Main Shtetl Yedinitz', by Golda Gutman (Krimer) published in Buenos Aires 1945, on pages 148-149. The first song is a parody of a folksong concerning a discussion between a Hasid and a 'philosopher'. Every party adapted the song to fit its purpose, something very easy to do, owing to the structure of the song. Characteristic is the confusion surrounding the terms 'bundists' and 'communists' (in the first song) and the confusion between 'wanting to be Romanians' in the first song ('Bundist Da-ism'), and the antipathy to the 'Romanian Gypsies' in the second song ('The Communist Pro-Soviet Identification')

(editor)

Railways are we a'building

Railways are we a'building, yeah, we shall surely build.
What the labor union understands,
The Zionist has no clue...
Oh, you foolish Zionist, with your few brains,
Come over to the worker, to the Bundist,
He'll give you an education...
We don't want no Zion,
So why be Zionists,
We prefer to stay in Bessarabia,
We want to be Communists!
We don't need no Jerusalem,
Where we would only starve,
We'd prefer to be real Romanians,
We want our liberation...

'Woe unto you, Romania'
This song was widespread among the workers in the oil mills

Romania, woe unto you,
You seized Bessarabia without resistance.
You've destroyed our lives and poisoned us.
Yet the day will come,
When we will pay back in kind,
We'll pay you back in full.
Don't think for a minute, you murderers, you Gypsies,
That we laborers, peasants, and Jews,
Are cowards and will take things lying down!
With our bare hands,
With the fire of our beliefs,
We will drown you in your own blood...


Original footnote:

  1. The author of the article was active in the illegal labor and communist circles of Yedinitz from his early youth on. For his underground activities, he was sentenced to serve time in Romanian prisons. From 1935 – in Czernowitz and Bucharest. Since 1937 – in Paris, where he continued his activity in the Jewish communist circles. During the Second World War, he volunteered in the French Army, was captured by the Germans, and spent a terrible two years in a prison camp. He managed to make his way out of the East Prussian prisoner-of-war camp back to the unoccupied zone of France, where he joined the resistance movement. After Liberation he returned to Paris, where he once again became active in Jewish Communist circles. He is a member of the editorial board of the Parisian Yiddish daily “Progressiver Folks-Zeitung” (Communist) “Naie Presse.” return

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Parts of the village closed for strangers return
  2. International Organization for Aid to Fighters for Revolution, or International Red Aid – Russian acronym for Mezhdunarodnaya Organizatsia Pomoshchi Bortsam Revolutsii - Междунаро́дная организа́ция по́мощи борца́м револю́ции ) return

[Page 571]

Natives of Yedinitz in Paris

by Moshe Shuster

Translated from the Yiddish by Leslie Train

It goes without saying that Jews dispersed and scattered throughout the world. The reasons for this phenomenon are poverty, need, and the reaction to the horrific antisemitic chicanery and pogroms – whether occurring in Poland, in Czarist Russia or Romania and especially, in Bessarabia, which particularly suffered humiliation under the lash of the gendarmerie and the Siguranta. These factors pushed masses of Jews to leave their long-established homes and to look for new horizons in new lands, in order to live in equality with others.

A large contingent of the Jewish youth in Bessarabia left for Palestine to build the new Jewish homeland. Another part fought for a new order against the reactionary regimes, and for this reason languished in jails, often side by side with people of other nationalities such as Moldovans, Russians, Russians living in Ukraine, and others. Many wandered off to other lands. This accounts for encountering Bessarabian Jews; merchants, laborers, peddlers, and also writers, poets, and artists, In all parts of the world. Outside of Israel, we find them in the United States, Latin American countries, and, to a small extent, in western Europe. Their number in France was always limited; you could count them on the fingers of your hand.

Among the older Yedinitz ex-pats in France, mainly in Paris, one must acknowledge the Revkolevskis[a] , a prominent family came from Yedinitz, Dr. Golergant, who studied here, Leibush (Leon) Weinschenker, who completed his engineering studies here, the Lawyer Schinderman, Leibush Groisman, Reuven Koifman, and others. There are probably others whose names I cannot presently recall.

[Page 572]

Just before the Second World War, other Yedinitzers arrived in Paris: Etl Weinschenker, Moshe Kupit (who left for America), the sisters Yenta and Eti Gutman, Lisa Weizman, Kalman Landau, Malka Botnik, Avrohom Gandelman (from Zãbriceni), Buzieh Chaies, Berl Konderar, Avrohom Ashkenazi, Roza Bronstein (from Terebna), the author of this article, and a few others.

Although limited in number, the natives of Yedinitz distinguished themselves with a sense of social and cultural activity. Worthy of mention is Berl Konderar, who had been hounded by the Siguranta back in Romania, then left his home and his university studies, and immediately upon his arrival in Paris volunteered to join the International Brigade in Spain, where Hitler's generals and Mussolini's officers were testing their aircraft and other weapons before they turned Europe into a funeral pyre.

Berl distinguished himself at the Republican front. After Franco's victory, Berl was imprisoned in France. Afterward, he was sent off to Morocco together with a group of Bessarabian and Romanian fighters who served in Spain and from there to the Soviet Union. From what we know, Berl Konderar fell sometime between 1943-1944 during the battles to free Bessarabia. He would have been killed as a parachutist behind Romanian front lines. The exact location and the conditions under which he fell are unknown. May his memory be respected!

As far back as September 1939, even before the general mobilization in France, many people from Yedinitz voluntarily enlisted for five years in the French Army to fight against Nazism. They served in three regiments of the RMVE (“Regiments des Engages Volontiers Etrangers,” Marching Regiment of Foreign Volunteers) that have since won renown (the 21st, 22nd, and the 23rd). The enlisted men were Avrohom Ashkenazi, Kalman Landau, and Moshe Shuster. After brief battles, Ashkenazi and Landau retreated with the remnants of their regiments. After the Nazis occupied France, they entered Switzerland, where they remained until the end of the war.

[Page 573]

My regiment, the 22nd, fought in the south of France at the Somme. The regiment lost a third of its men; however, it managed to stop the advance of the Germans. The rest of the regiment was finally surrounded by the Nazis and taken captive. Luckily, they never carried out their threats of executing Jews and other volunteers.

Behind barbed wire in the prisoner war camp in East Prussia, a resistance movement was organized to give aid to Jews. This chapter deserves its own dedication.

Thanks to the resistance movement, I made my way back to the south of France to preside over the resistance fight against the Nazis until the liberation.

Our fellow Yedinitz native Buzie Chaies played an important role in the resistance movement. During the war, she was abandoned in Marseilles, the second-largest city in France after Paris. There she played a prominent role in the underground civilian and military organization known as Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (French Sharp-shooters and Partisans).

[Page 574]

The members of the resistance valued Buzie, and she stayed on after the war. Buzie Chaies was the wife of Berl Konderar. She got revenge for him and for all Jews. For her heroic actions, they rewarded her with a major citation by the French Government.

After much suffering in the Romanian prisons, difficulties in France, and after a lingering illness, Liza Weizman died at a ripe old age.

Malka Botnik was deported to the Nazi camps, where she perished.

Eti Gutman was deported, returned, but was very ill. She died in Paris a few years ago.

Avrohom Ashkenazi left France around 1961, married in Brazil, and died there.

The lawyer Chaim Schinderman died around 1967.

The engineer Leon (Leibush) Weinschenker died in a motor vehicle accident in August 1971.

Paris.


Original footnote:

  1. Motl Revkolevski is now the chairman of the Bessarabian Association (Zionist bent) in Paris - editor return

[Pages 573-574]

Yed0573.jpg
Personnel of the Soviet Clinic (formerly “Loibman Hospital”)

This picture was sent in from Yedinitz by Genia Ludmir (5) (died 1950). She writes: We took our picture on August 25, 1949. Beside me – the accountant (15), behind me – Chief Dr. Mularatantsy (3) and the clinic secretary (4). All the others are nurse practitioners and nurses. New immigrants to Israel informed us that all in the picture are Christians except (5) Genia Ludmir, ob”m, (9) Moshe Katsav's daughter, and (10), a Soviet physician, who was Jewish.

 

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