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[Page 809-810]

Mohilov (Mogilov)

All Translations Within this Section by Miriam Dashkin Beckerman

This city lies on the left bank of the Dniester across from the Bessarabian city Otek (Otaki) was called, in Russian, Magilov-Podolsk. The Ukrainians called the city Mohileo. Rumanish (Modavian) has an old word for the name of the city, Mohileev. (In the district there are, or were, Moldavian peasants). This name corresponds to the old Yiddish name for the city in the mouths of the Ukrainian and Bessarabian Jews – Mohilev or, or in their dialect: Molev. But during the deportation, the majority of the Jews, not only Buksoinians (in German) but also Bessarabian Jews called the city its official Russian name: Mogilov.

We have used in our work, both names, Mohilev and Mogilov, as the case was.

As we have previously mentioned, one convoy of the Yedinitz deportees managed to come to Mohilev. The family of Yoel Lieberman was amongst these. Another convoy also, in which Frieda Kuzimer found herself, also reached Mohilev. In the convoy of the Chernowitz Jews that arrived in Mohilev there were tens of Yedinitz families, amongst them the Premislov family, Chayim Hurwich and his family, Moishe Feurman, Yitzhak Borochin and others.

Movilov was a province capital and there the powers concentrated masses of Jews from various places. It was no pleasure to find oneself in a place where there were several thousand deported families.

[Page 811]

  Translation of the epitaph:

For the eternal memory, for all times of
The destruction of an eternal people
In the cursed valley, let us not be silent
about the tragedy of the tens of thousand of the people of Israel,
without any close one, without a rescuer;
Fathers and children, young and old,
(honored ones) in the brother graves,
Together to the end;
The starved-to-death, the frozen-together ones,
The wanderers in deportation and robbed of freedom.
Holy martyrs, victims of tyranny;
In their life and in their death – they are bound
Amongst the thousands of well-known people,
Are also those whose names are engraved here….
God will revenge their blood.
(May their souls be bound in the bond of life).

Picture of memorial stone in the Jewish cemetery in Barshad lager (Transnistria). IT READS:

Here are buried thousands of deported Jews who perished from hunger, cold and epidemics and who were murdered by beastly humans. Amongst those who perished – hundreds of Yedinitzers.


[Pages 811-812]

With some of the convoys, as happened with the convoy of Frieda Kuzimer, only seven came from the city. They weren't allowed in lest it be 'too good for them'….

“As a stop-station we were left near the Jewish cemetery. We were told: 'Rest a bit'.' We looked around. There were few of us left. We started to 'settle.' We found ourselves outdoors, beneath the sky. The autumn rain showed us no pity. We wanted to eat so we tried to make our way to the fields to search for food. Whoever got caught was shot. In a few days some Germans appeared. They thought it necessary to order us to lift stones, line up one opposite another, and in this pose they took pictures of us. In two weeks time we were taken to an abandoned military camp. There we found cases of ammunition. We threw away the bullets, and the cases, tins, etc. we put to use. Every day we were taken to Mogilov with the excuse that any day now we would be sent home. We were led to the brink of the Dniester and in the evening we were brought back to the lager. This went on for several days – back and forth, a distance of some twenty kilometers. The aim was to vex us.”

[Page 813]

Other deported groups, after spending time in the area of Mogilev, were transferred to the shtetl Skazinetz. Here they were put up in abandoned military structures that were already packed, when they arrived, with deportees from all kinds of places. The new arrivals were hungry, but they weren't given any food. They looked like shadows and were like crazy. Many ate the fallen leaves from the trees. In a few days time the new arrivals were gathered and returned to Mogilov. Then once again to Skazinetz and again back to Mogilov. There were many in these back-and-forth 'excursions'. Those few who survived this peaceful experience 'lived to' reach the stability lager -- Mogilov.

The large capital city Mogilov was destroyed by the German bombings, and the houses – half ruined – had practically no doors or windows, but even these wrecked houses were overcrowded . The deportees slowly made some “order” in the houses; cleaned out the filth, pasted paper on the window space, filled the holes with rags, so as to enable them to somehow withstand the winds that penetrated the homes. From the scrap metal, “stoves” were made, that were heated with anything that came to hand, in order to somewhat warm the exhausted ones a bit in that hard winter of 1942. People spread papers and rags on the floor and sat on them. There were no toilets so people eliminated wherever they could. They had already lost their sense of shame in front of one another, as though it had been like this since the first six days of Creation.

Neither was there any water. The filth and the lice ate away at us. Many who could no longer suffer the conditions took their own lives.

Here is what Matisyahu Karp recounts in the previously mentioned book:

“January 26, 1942 - In Mohilev all the Jewish men were taken out to work, without differentiating between age or physical condition. Most were naked. In a dreadful frost they got sent to work ten kilometers away from the city where they are kept at night. Many of them were brought back frozen to death.”

But all this was not enough in the eyes of those in charge of the fate of the unfortunate ones. Elders and lower ranking ones abused the bodies of the deported women and girls. In Karp's book he tells the following about this:

[Page 814]

“May 1942 - In all Transnistria locations where there were Jews, particularly in Mohilev, the ones in power take advantage of their authority to abuse and indulge all their desires, even the sadistic ones. Innumerable women and girls were raped in spite of their opposition and outcries.

“The Mohilev gendarmes even allowed themselves the pleasure of gathering a large group of lovely young women and girls, explaining that they had to conduct a medical inspection. All the women had to appear naked in front of the beasts.”

The vile rulers never ceased their inhuman behavior even when, in 1944, their armies on the front lost one battle after another and they knew that the Red Army was approaching Transnistria. At that last moment, the Rumanian authorities tried to chase after young Jewish females, in order to abuse them, having an intuitive feeling of what would happen to them, just on the brink of liberation there was success in running away to the forests where they hid until they heard that the Rumanian military had completely withdrawn. Only then did they return to the lager in order to join their relatives, if such survived amongst the remnants.


Exceptional Cases

Whoever reads about the horrible happenings on the long wanderings of the deported Bessarabian Jews, about the terrible living conditions in the temporary stop-stations, for there is hardly any difference between one lager and another, between the painful experiences of one deported convoy of Jews and another and that of another convoy should know that in spite of this there were some exceptions on the part of proud moral self-disciplined ones on the part of some of the deportees. While some were prepared to help one another, human weaknesses emerged, when some tried not to consider the blood of another, as long as they could save themselves or to satisfy their evil inclination in the sense of “Ani et nafshi hitzalti.” (I have saved my life.)

We shall sin against the historical truth if we won't mention at least a few exceptional cases, as a tragic reminder of those turbulent times.

[Page 815]

The Death Circle Around the Family of Advocate David Lerner

We have noted the tragic collective suicide of the noble Mutzlmacher family in the first days of the Rumanian withdrawal to Yedinitz and here we have in front of us the tragic case about the death of the whole family of the advocate David Lerner, Abraham Axelrod's son-in-law, that happened in the Transnistria lager Chukov.

Rochele Milner (Formerly: Fradis), who served as a medic (she had a diploma as a pharmacist) in this lager, wrote about this tragedy and it was published in Ilya Ehrenberg's “Black Book”:

“In the Chukov lager there were our friends from Yedinitz, advocate David Lerner with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. In the month of September when the order was issued to murder all the Jewish children, the Lerner parents hid their child in a sack. The child behaved quietly and wisely and because of this she was saved. For three days the father hauled the little girl to work with him in a sack. In three weeks they got stopped by the famous Kroshkeh, the one responsible for the whole lager, a scoundrel. He approached the sack and kicked it with his foot; the child let out a scream. That's how she was discovered. The hangman, Kroshke, broke out in a brutal rage and started to beat the father and the child. He took everything away from them, whatever they owned, and left the family without anything with which to cover themselves. Still, he didn't kill the little girl, and she remained in the lager. She suffered through a terrible winter, and the little one awaited death every day.

“On February 5, during the second 'Sonder-Action,' the child, together with her grandmother, was taken away. On the way something terrible happened to the unfortunate child. She let out a dreadful scream until her heart would no longer bear it. Her heart gave out. Then the screams ceased. The grandmother continued on her way to the pit, carrying the dead child in her arms. In this way the living grandmother and the dead child entered the prepared mass grave and were covered up.

When the unfortunate mother discovered the death of her child, she lost her mind and was shot to death. Not much time passed and the father met the same end: he too was shot.

[Page 816]

“You Still Think You're Something”

Chayka Mayansky (the sister of Yente) tells the following:

“…a heavy downpour accompanied us all the way. People got soaked to the bone. When the convoy entered the village Luchinetz, the rain stopped. The clouds vanished and the sun shone. Someone suggested bribing the accompanying soldiers to allow us to stop, if even for a few hours, in order to rest and perhaps to also dry our clothes so that it would be easier to continue. Everyone agreed to the suggestion and we started to gather the meager groshens. There were those, however, who didn't want to give money for this united effort. One Jew, from Chatin it seems, punished those who didn't want to part with their groshens. He threatened them: 'See how lowly you are….If you think that you're still somebody, you're mistaken'”

The Burial in the Moonshine

Who can tally the number of those who fell or died along the roads, in the lagers, whose bodies were eaten by the animals and birds, washed away in the rivers, covered by the snows and nobody knows what happened to their remains? Very few were privileged to get a Jewish burial with or without a marker.

The Gertzman sisters discovered that one of their brothers was in a kolkaz, so the mother and daughter Esther set out to find him. They found him sick with typhoid in a bad condition. He could only murmur: 'Save whoever you can.' In the evening he died. His body rested amongst all the other dead in the cellar of the building. Esther Gertzman took a sheet and wrapped up the body of her dead brother. She dug a hole and buried the body. The moon and the stars were the witnesses.

[Page 817]

Women Guard Their Honor

The terrible inhuman conditions in which the driven ones found themselves for weeks and months erased nearly all semblances of a normal life, atrophied every attitude toward such things as place and habitation, dress, footwear, food and work. The driven ones barely resembled human beings that once belonged to a Jewish community. It will be a big mistake, however, to assume that people lost their feeling of morality and honor. The women guarded themselves particularly strongly when it came to guarding their honor. We have already told about the girls who escaped to the forest before the Rumanians withdrew.

Sara Litvak tells about one of the many characteristic cases:

“Once I went through a street of Molochne when I suddenly heard someone calling me: 'Frau Gukovsky!'

“I looked around, and to my amazement, I saw the younger daughter of Yerachmiel Donyanski lying on the ground unable to move. She was around 18-19 years old, a local beauty. She wanted me to come near to her. She was whiter than chalk. All shook up, I approached her. She took out from a belt that was keeping up the rags she was wearing, a gold coin, gave it to me and said: 'Take this. Buy me some tea and bring it to me, I beg you.' In Molochne they used to sell boiled murky water with all kinds of leaves that were gathered in the field. This was called 'tea.' I brought her a glass of tea and returned the 'change' to her. She didn't want to take the change and said: 'Keep the change. I'm going to die, anyhow. I just have one request of you – promise to come to the same place tomorrow and make sure that those who bury me don't strip me naked…maybe you'll have to pay them for that.'

“When I arrived the next day to see how the girl was faring I didn't find her. The girl had vanished. It turned out that somebody who was passing by when the two of us were talking noticed that the unfortunate girl had a few golden coins in her hand that she had put into her belt. She must have disappeared because of her belt.”

[Page 818]

In God's Image

The facts are well known of how people lost their human form, how people, suffering from hunger, became like animals in order to get a crust of bread or a sip of soup. However, there were those who, even under the worst circumstances, didn't lose their “Tzelem Elokim” (Godly image), and even a minute before their death didn't want to stretch out their hand to beg for bread. That's how Yechiel Milner's elderly mother and his sister conducted themselves. The old woman said: “Even if I will die, I won't beg for alms…” and the old mother let out her last breath in the Kaseuz Forest. She was dressed in a warm fur coat. The daughter, though soaked by the rain, freezing from the cold wind, didn't want to remove the fur coat from her mother's dead body. She said: “I'd rather die from the frost than leave my mother's body naked.” The daughter, like her mother, died in that forest.

The Shattered Pot

As a result of walking almost barefoot, Chana Gertzman's feet froze. This caused her unbearable pain. The only way to save her frozen toes was with hot water. Luckily, a can was found on the way. It was filled with water, but with what could the water be heated? Wood was nowhere to be found, so all kinds of paper scraps were gathered which could be burnt. The warm water was put into an earthenware pot that was also found somewhere. And such a pot retains the heat for some time, so it served as a hot water bottle. It helped somewhat. Once, though, the pot slid out of the hands, fell on the ground, and broke. The whole family mourned over the shattered pot all night.

[Page 819]

Bread Arrived

Rachel Milner (Fradis) during her wanderings came across the following scene:

“February 1, 1943, I arrived at the lager Zarudnitzeh to visit patients. A terrible scene appeared before my eyes: people with tattered rags on their bodies, covered with bloody wounds, barefoot, were completely apathetic about my arrival. They paid no attention to me whatsoever, though I could have helped them a bit. Suddenly, everything started to stir. Screams could be heard and people were jumping around. Sparks of life flashed from their eyes. Some were crying hot tears. What had happened? I asked. The bread has arrived. What luck. A loaf of bread for each one. Something unusual. Something new. It looks as though our salvation has come, the unfortunate ones encouraged one another. But in reality the Germans knew that an 'AKTZIA' was about to take place and that in the next few days they won't know anyhow how much bread they'll need for the lager because they don't know how many people will remain. It was for this reason that they decided to give more bread.”

Mendl Lieberman recounts another incident related to bread: how hungry Jews fell upon a wagon that was transporting bread to be distributed amongst the Yedinitz Jews who had arrived in the Ukrainian village Kianovkeh.

With the leader of the local kolkaz it was pre-arranged that the new arrivals should work in the local shops. The kolkaz sent a wagon with bread and apples. The arrivals who hadn't seen bread for a number of days, and fearing that there would not be enough for everyone, threw themselves upon the wagon, and each one grabbed whatever and as much as possible.

Afterwards, the people worked in the local kolkazes.

The conditions were harsh. Here, Rochel, the wife of Hershel Fishberg, died. As wel as Gitl. Tendrich, the wife of Zysye Grolnik, Henye Gutman, and others from Yedinitz. They were buried not far from the village.

[Pages 819-820]

How Did the Remnants Survive ?

The problem has been posed more than once; How did the remnants manage to survive the gehenom and continue living after the terrible hunger, deprivation, sickness and cruel treatment?

According to the witnesses of the survivors themselves, some internal subjective reasons can be given as well as some external subjective reasons.

Dabbe Gruzman (Cohen) says firmly:

“The greatest enemy of people, under such conditions which is also the cause of most of the deaths, was the apathy. Whoever succumbs to the terrible conditions, whoever accepts their lot, without any opposition of this fate, in whatever form it may be, whoever doesn't have the strength to endure, the survival instinct, under all conditions – and to this category belonged, to our great sorrow, the majority of deported Jews, that one was destined to die. The zealous weak ones were the first to die.

Rochel and Yechiel Milner were also of the opinion that they remained alive above all because they didn't lose hope of remaining alive. Those people who made a decision in their hearts not to succumb to the fear of death, did all that was possible and impossible in order to survive the dangers. Those craftsmen who wanted to work for the peasants in the surroundings were particularly capable of overcoming everything. They earned enough for their survival and even a little more.

The case of those who became apathetic to life fared badly as they came to terms with the hunger and filth in which they found themselves because they believed that 'there's nothing left to lose.' Such people sat and awaited death.

There were, however, those who took courage, mustered all their will power, developed all kinds of ideas and initiatives, even when this was connected with various dangers, in order to save themselves,, and no only themselves. We have already included such a case with Mendl Lieberman.

[Page 821]

A Home

Spring 1943, Erev Pesach – the period that symbolizes freedom and the passage from slavery to redemption. The news that reached us from the eastern front were indeed encouraging. We heard about the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad. We were filled with expectations and hope that soon the great hour would arrive when the barriers of the lagers will come down, from the place where we had been enclosed for three years.

But even this drawback of the German and Rumanian armies and the return of the Russian Army – did plenty of harm to the remaining survivors in the lagers.

Since the Germans blamed the Jews for their defeat they took revenge on us during their withdrawal. They murdered without any differentiation. To the Ukrainians they said: “Do as you like,” but the latter understood, suddenly, that they must appear in the eyes of the approaching Russians and “Tzadikim” (real good ones), so they were very careful not to harm the Jews. The Russians, upon returning, on the other hand, concentrated all the Jews whom they encountered on the way, in lagers, reasoning that the only reason they remained alive was because they had cooperated with the Germans and therefore they must now get their punishment. Many Jews were sent, at that time, to the mine shafts in Donbas to work and from there they never returned.

The eastern front was broken. The returning Russian powers finally announced that everyone can go wherever they like. The magic word spread: Home.

[Page 823]

But there were very few to return home – what did they look like? It was a shattering scene. They looked like shadows of former selves, in tatters and rags, barefoot. Exhausted and worn out, they dragged themselves on the road home. Just the fact that they were returning home gave them the strength to continue and to reach their birthplace.

[Pages 821-822]

Traders, Partisans, Goyim

There were, regrettably, those who discovered other means of saving themselves – anything, just so as not to get caught. These people found some ways of dealing. There were some whose “stock” was of a valuable nature and they offered a rich “choice.” There were some who had a talent for getting food products on order to sell them. There were others who dealt with stocks, cash, gold and silver coinage. Where did they get it? What was their source? This is a mystery. Some of these men actually became quite wealthy.

And there were some – according to witnesses as Y. Kafri, Chaya Mayanski, Roza Chockmavich, Clara Kalmanovich and others – who went to work for the peasants from around the lager in order to get something to eat and to save a little of this food for their family. In a district where others were partisans some of the young people joined them.

There were those who went amongst the houses of the peasants and begged for a piece of bread. There were quite a few cases of good goyim who saved Jews from certain death. Yehuda Kafri and Chaya Mayanski tell that: “We were saved from a certain death by the human kindness of goyim who gave the hungry ones a piece of bread, a few potatoes, beets or some other vegetables with which to ease their hunger somewhat.

“I'll never forget Chayidin, this goy was very poor himself, but he always put aside a piece of his meager bread in order to quiet the hunger of my young daughter,” Chayke Mayansky, amongst others, tells us.

Back in Yedinitz

Very few of the Yedinitzers survived. Lone ones from families.

How did the ruined shtetl appear to the returnees? What follows are the impressions of two of them.

Yekl Gold tells:
“The shtetl was in ruins. We entered the few houses that were more or less alright. In the shtetl the houses and streets were unrecognizable – ruined. Some of the returnees remained in the shtetl. Others continued on their way to Chernowitz. Their aim was to get closer to the border in order to reach Eretz Yisroel.

[Page 824]

“In Yedinitz some 70-80 families remained. They started to more or less “settle down.” Some opened stores; co-ops got organized according to the style of the 1940s. Hardly any youth returned.

“It was told that during the German occupation only one Jewish soul remained in the shtetl – Saskye, Schmuel Hersh's, the cobbler's, daughter. She lived with a Christian until the return of the Soviets.

“The returning Soviet powers consisted of foreigners, not former shtetl dwellers. The local Jewish communists even tried to regain power, but without success.

“The whole Jewish community life centered around the 'kloiz' (shul), but this didn't prevail for very long. In order to use a house as a shul it was required to pay a high tax and so the kloiz was closed.

Frieda Kuzminer adds:

“We were several hundred souls. In comparison with the remnants of other shtetlach who returned home Yedinitz seemed less stricken than they. Though the streets were smashed up and the houses wrecked.

[Page 825]

The goyim had removed the doors and the rooms and the wrecked houses looked like broken skeletons. We visited the Jewish cemetery. It was also neglected and shattered. We looked around deploring what had become of us. For us the foremost question before us was: What now?

Most of the remnants left the shtetl, the land the continent. Only a handful of Jews remained in the shtetl.

Editorial Comment

The article, “The Martyrology of the Yedinitz Jews,” was written by Mordecai (Motty) Reicher z”l, according to witnesses who survived, research and archival documents. Motty himself gathered the major part of the material and did the largest part of gathering witness' material. A few witness accounts (for instance Rochel Skolnik z'l and A Chochmoiech) was carried out by Ephraim Shwartzman-Sharon.

The editor, in his time, in consultation with other co-editors of the book, decided that in Yiddish everything would be included in the book, and in Hebrew, an abbreviation which M. Reicher himself prepared before his death.

The gravestone in the burial ground of Avraham Yehuda, son of Yisroel-Moishe Zaiv
(from the shoichtim family Elkis) who died in the month of Tevet 1875.

It is a sample of the original Yiddish local folk-art.


Monuments in the Jewish Cemetery of Yedinitz, as found by the returnees
The remains of the “shtetl for the dead” and of the entry to the cemetery   Eli Rosenberg z'l


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