by Rabbi Shimon Efrati (Jerusalem)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
It was Thursday evening and I was praying the evening prayers when Motti Finkelshtein came to the synagogue and announced: I just heard on the radio that the Soviet Union gave an ultimatum to the Romanian minister Gafenka that Romania must vacate Bessarabia within 24 hours. This is to be done without harming any government property in Bessarabia. I finished my praying and I went home. There, my friend, Berel Abelman, son of Rabbi Yonatan Abelman of Bialystok, was waiting for me. He was a clever and energetic Torah scholar and we began to consult about our next step. I said that he should go, on the following day, to Iasi. He had deposited all his money in the bank there. However, he refused to do so saying that he could not abandon me, the rabbi. He would remain with me no matter where I went. At midnight we heard the first shots on the Dniester the border between Russia and Romania to this day.
On Friday, the eve of the holy Sabbath, there was much activity in town. Men and women ran from store to store carrying their purchases. Some had shoes and others clothes; some had sugar and others flour. There was great preparation for the arrival of the Red Messiah in our town. The people did not forget their rabbi. Some brought wine and others came with different products. No one wanted the rabbi to suffer during the first days.
At noon we heard the sound of trumpets the Red Army crossed the Dniester and was approaching our town. Many people, even those on the right, wore red ties and went to greet the Red Army. I stood at the window with old Arky the Chazzan in grandfather's synagogue and we looked at the army troops marching erect on the street and singing victory songs. They enchanted everyone with their victorious singing. In my heart I felt that it was an end of an era and the beginning of a new one. I was saddened to hear the song My Moscow. Moscow was happy and taking giant steps on the Don River, the central waterway of Europe. I was deep in thought when I suddenly heard the elderly voice of Arky saying: Rabbi, let us go to the mikve in honor of the special guest that is coming the Sabbath. I agree and I go down the steps in front of the Holy Ark on which I was standing. We go outside in the direction of the mikve. The streets are full with men, women and children all dressed in holiday clothes. Isaac Finkelshtein comes towards me and says: Rabbi, this is the day we were waiting for. We will no longer see the black ones who were the followers of Koza and Goga and who made our lives miserable. I nod as if saying let us hope you are not disappointed, you and all those who believe in the coming of their Messiah.
I returned from the mikve and I put on Sabbath clothes. I even wore my shtreiml in spite of the fact that Abelman was against it. I told him that I did not wish to show anyone that the rabbi was defeated. I went to the synagogue and I prayed.
Shabbat was a strange day. Many of the regulars did not come fearing that they will be accused of being obsolete. At the same time there were many newcomers from the Shaarey Zion synagogue. Their synagogue was one of the first to be closed because they did not want to be shown to be Zionists and haters of the people. I must also mention another event that happened. In the morning, when I arose early, I went to the gate to see if anyone was coming to recite Psalms, as was done every Shabbat. As I stood there a car passed full of Jewish youth. One of them, I believe the smallest one, when he saw me, yelled for the driver to go on. We then noticed a young woman who had worked as a clerk in a store. She was with her mother, dressed in Shabbat clothes. She told her mother in a loud voice look how they envy us. Later, during the war, I saw this young woman in eastern Asia. When I reminded her of that Shabbat she agreed that she believed then that justice and honor were coming to us, but she was disappointed.
On Shabbat members of Shaarey Zion approached me and asked me to look after the Torah scrolls and the Holy Ark from their synagogue. If the authorities saw that no one was taking care of these items they would confiscate everything. I agreed to their request and I promised to transfer everything from their synagogue to ours. In spite of it being Shabbat, stores were open and the residents brought them food and clothing.
The stores were open again. The authorities decreed that anyone who had Romanian money had to exchange it in the federal bank. The rate was forty Lei for one ruble. People hurried to the bank and stood in line to exchange their savings. It was rumored that the previous night there was a search made at the residence of Attorney R., former leader of the Revisionists. The search produced diamonds and other precious stones hidden in the cellar. He was arrested. Today, many of the wealthy residents came by themselves to the bank with money to be exchanged. They were prepared to donate their property to the state treasury. The offer was accepted. Today I had a visit from the former community leader, Mr. B., who told me he wished to cancel the communal property. This was the building of the Hebrew high school one of the most beautiful edifices in town and the Talmud Torah as well. There was also a rehabilitation center in one of the suburbs. He wanted to deed these buildings to the temporary municipal committee. This committee supervises all properties in town and expects our properties to be given over. He was disbanding the community and had already let go all office workers. The ritual slaughterers would continue their work as feather collectors in the cooperative of those who collect rags and other old items. The authorities are interested in the collection of feathers and allow slaughtering in the abattoir under the supervision of the cooperative. Anyone who comes to slaughter pays not for that task, but for the feather plucking that the ritual slaughterer usually does. The ritual slaughterer receives a membership card as a laborer and his salary is commensurate with this position. He is allowed to take Shabbat off as a day of rest. All the ritual slaughterers belonged to this cooperative since they could not enter the abattoir. There would be no more ritual slaughtering and no kosher meat. The schools were closed and only the cemetery remained in the hands of the community. He asked me if I wanted to take the responsibility for the running of the Hevra Kaddisha since there was no other member of the community who would do it. I have no other way of earning a living right now. I agreed to present myself on the following day in the community office when it would be disbanded and the Hevra Kaddisha would come under my jurisdiction.
He still did not know what would become of the building where the community office and the certified matzos bakery were situated. It could be that the building, too, would be confiscated or I would be given a job there. The cooperative of the disabled was interested in taking over the bakery, but that it was possible I would be allowed to use the office.
We will see tomorrow what will happen.
Today I transferred all belongings of Shaarey Zion and its Torah scrolls to our synagogue. I gave the keys to Tshizikov, the supervisor of all municipal property. From there I went to the community building where Mr. B., the former president, and Mr. M. were waiting for me. Soon, Mr. Krishtzenka, head of the disabled cooperative, arrived and informed us that he was taking over the machinery in the bakery as well as part of the office. He left me a small room for the running of the Hevra Kaddisha. The community books were housed there. I had to agree to these arrangements and so I became the director of the Hevra Kaddisha as well as its registrar. I had two workers who cleansed the bodies as well as a guard for the cemetery. In the middle of the discussion, Mr. Tshizikov came and informed us that according to the law the cemetery belonged to the town, but we were permitted to look after it this was my responsibility. I agreed to these conditions. Mr. Schmaltz, the former chairman of the cemetery, agreed to work with me as a member of the committee. I am satisfied with this result.
I went home. On the way I saw the soldiers of the Red Army going from store to store and buying everything. The shop owners had been ordered to sell all their merchandise and to put the money in the federal bank. Many shop owners brought keys from their stores and warehouses to the municipality saying they did not want to deal in foreign goods. The merchants walked with their heads down very unhappy with the big trade. They knew they would have to pay twice as much as they would take in.
Today I had a visit from the head of the N.K.V.D, i.e., the secret service. I was sitting in a room in my synagogue and he entered. He introduced himself and wanted to know who I was and what my position was. I replied that I was a Rabbi. When he asked me if I was a believer I said that I believed completely that there was a leader in the world and that it would not function without one. A ship needs a captain. He then asked me about dialectic materialism and I replied positively. He further asked why I did not follow their beliefs and after I explained he left angry and disappointed.
Today I began my new position as director of the Hevra Kaddisha. I prepared a budget with Mr. Schmaltz and I will be receiving 200 rubles per month. Still, I sold my watch today. The soldiers grab any watch as a real bargain. Nothing is as important in town as a watch and Jews are selling theirs. They get the equivalent in rubles (a rate of 40 Romanian Lei to one ruble). Everyone thinks they made 200 percent on the sale since they had bought the watch in lei. This may change soon, but in the meantime the Jews are selling and the soldiers are buying.
The cemetery guard came next. He is a simple Russian who has been in this position for 13 years. When I asked him How are you, Comrade Marco? He innocently replied: I don't know what the term Comrade means. You are the Rabbi and I am Marco. His sons already addressed me as Comrade Rabbi and I replied accordingly.
Today the shops were eliminated. The owners had to transfer to the municipal committee all goods still in their possession as well as the money collected in the sales since the Red Army entered town. They thus began to use the wealthy. The few factories in town were taken over by the workers. Committees were formed and each committee had to get approval from the secretariat of the party. The secretariat was located in the fancy building of the former governor. There is talk of nationalizing large private homes, i.e., those with more than 700 sq.m in area. Many owners of large homes are searching for smaller ones in the suburbs and there is much bargaining over any house with two rooms.
There are threeperson committees going around town and listing all tenants. The main questions on these printed forms are: What is your occupation? How large is your apartment (how many rooms)? Where are you from (What did your father do)? Do you belong to the Party (an active member)? They also announced today that as of next Sunday every citizen will be given an Identity Card. Every citizen must bring any documents he has and they will be exchanged for Soviet citizenship.
Everyone wants to receive the new documents and to be inscribed in group 1 as a worker. It was explained to me by a Jew from the other side of the Dniester that there were three groups: the first group were workers the ideal; the second group were clerks who were considered loyal to the regime; the third group was the lowest merchants, factory owners and estate owners. In their document the description was kulak which means a user. These people were to be exiled to a different country. I trusted in Gd and knew my fate was determined by him. I cannot say that I was maltreated, but I was still not treated well. I was dressed in rabbinic garb using a cane and people looked at me as if I was a deformed creature that had to be allowed to live and earn my living. They were certain they would defeat me. In city hall, where I have to go often to deal with the chairman of municipal property, I am not viewed as an enemy of the people. It is because there are many young Jews working as clerks there who have not been turned against me yet. Some are afraid to ask how I am and to speak with me in public. For example, attorney B, a friend, now crosses the street when he sees me. I am not angry with him. There is a saying that explains this gesture he, too, is in dire straits. Soon, lawyers will also be purged and he is afraid for his life.
Today, the department of lodging began its work. It was headed by the crude Jew named Shpigel. The first victim was Z.K., a gentle Jew. He was a cattle merchant with an aristocratic appearance and a generous soul. He was so distraught when he was evicted from his home that he suffered a heart attack and died. I had to arrange the funeral. All participants, laborers among them, walked with their heads down, bent with sorrow; even the Chassidim mourned his death. They said that man must control his soul in order to reach redemption. If there are victims, we must accept the fact. After the funeral I was approached by K.I. who had worked for him as a clerk. He cried bitter tears and said: They came to free me from Z.K. Who asked them to do it? I continued my work in the name of Gd.
I was so happy when Shabbat came! I arrived in the synagogue, rested, in the morning before prayers began. My friends were waiting, ready to chitchat. There was much comfort in this prayer service. After services I went for Kiddush to my mother's house and then to visit my brothers and sisters. Shabbat was ours to enjoy. I am still afraid that things will change.
M.L. came during my sermon and announced that A., owner of the soap factory, committed suicide. He was an honorable man and a generous one. He was one of the first to give money to anyone who came to ask. He never refused a request on behalf of public institutions or funds. Although he was not among the richest, he was still important. He, himself, worked in the factory and had five laborers who adored him. He left a letter for his wife asking forgiveness for his act. He said he had no other choice since he could not continue to live in this hateful atmosphere.
I was the director of the Hevra Kaddisha and it was my duty to go to the cemetery to prepare a new row for those who commit suicide. I did it, but I was fearful. Jacob was afraid of two things: the first was when he was almost killed during his circumcision and the second when Esau brought him food. He did not know which was worse. For me it was life under Bratianu, the Romanian Prime Minster and fear of Koza Goga or the present situation. Only Gd knew the answer to the question.
Today the purge of the lawyers began. The biggest and most important were eliminated. Every candidate was investigated and if anything objectionable was discovered, he was disbarred. Lawyers were not allowed to have private offices where they would receive their clients. There was only to be a general office. Every lawyer who was approved had to serve in this group. The group was headed by A. and he was trusted. The only cases accepted were those that dealt with crimes against government regulations. There were no commercial cases since there was no private business. For instance, on the first day in court a man was accused of selling eggs to a bakery. He had bought these eggs from farmers and resold them at a small profit. This was a crime calledspeculation. The man was not earning a living through his own labor. The fact that the man was feeble and could not do labor and was poor did not interest anyone. He was arrested. His wife came to the general lawyers' office and paid a sum of money to the chairman so that a lawyer would be sent to court. The lawyer could not do much since he was a government employee. He could only ask the judges for forgiveness. These judges were called Peoples' judges. There were three of them: the chairman was a qualified judge and the other two were chosen by the municipal committee from among its laborers. They all wanted to show their loyalty to the regime and judged accordingly. They did not consider the truth. This poor man who realised a small profit by reselling eggs was sentenced to 8 years. There was a popular saying that when a man went to work his wife would say to him: my Husband: go in peace and come back in peace, but don't get any 'years'.
Thus it was not important that the lawyer be someone wellversed in the law. It was only necessary for him to be acceptable. An old deaf man was accepted. He had no longer practiced as an attorney during the Romanian period. He only wrote appeals. His sons were members of the Party and he was allowed to continue as a lawyer. His brother who was a brilliant and experienced lawyer was not accepted because he had been president of the Jewish community. The lawyers group was headed by a loyal Party member. I once had to go in front of the committee and the deaf lawyer stood up and gave me his seat. I still received a negative answer. The deaf lawyer subsequently spoke to me and told me he had been told off by the chairman for giving a seat to the rabbi since he was anenemy of the people. They hated religion. However, the week passed and another Shabbat was coming. The Mikve was shut down and there was a rumor that they wanted to destroy it and to build a new bathhouse. It was no longer acceptable for our use.
The second Shabbat under the Russians passed. The synagogue was half full, but there are now two Holy Arks containing Torah scrolls: one on the east wall and the other brought from the Shaarey Zion synagogue and placed on the west wall. We put there all the spoiled scrolls. We had more benches, but fewer worshippers. Our hearts were full of sadness. What will happen if the remaining synagogues are also eliminated? Where would we put our Torah scrolls and other religious items? There were already four synagogues that were shuttered and I had to move the Torah scrolls to us.
The butchers' synagogue, a magnificent building, is to be given over to the municipality. The town secretary requested a letter signed by all worshippers attesting that they are ceding the building. The municipality is planning to establish a community centre there. Everyone will sign because they are afraid not to do so. There is a magnificent holy ark there and we need to arrange to obtain it with all the books.
Last night, during the Shabbat meal, a representative of the municipality came with an invitation to visit the town treasurer. I visualize the large building that was founded by my sainted ancestors being destroyed. I know there is a plan to eliminate all synagogues in town, but Gd is my witness that I will not hand over our synagogue. It was built and founded by my late grandfather. I will refuse to do so as long as there is a breath in my body.
Today, after prayer services, I was obliged to go to the police to hand over my identity card. I had to request the protection of the Soviet government. I stood in line with my coreligionists even though some offered to give me their place. I refused since I did not wish for them to suffer because of me. They could have been denounced to the authorities as followers of the Rabbi. I waited for my turn and I entered the director's office. He saw that I had been a Polish citizen and informed me I would be awarded Soviet citizenship. He was certain I would be delighted. I was to return in a few days to receive the documents.
There was a group of Jews standing outside and arguing about who would be given a proper document and who would receive a blemished one. Among them stood Yankel the wagon driver. He was broadshouldered and taller than the rest. When he saw me he said: No! Our rabbi would not be given a blemished document. He is the rabbi of the poor. I went to see him when my horse died. The rabbi and Dov Abelman gave me their own money and I was able to buy a new horse. Not one of the wealthy members of the community would even give a penny. From the police I continued to city hall to see the secretary. He asked me to prepare a list of all synagogue treasurers. I did not agree and I told him that these names were available in the archives of the community and I would not know the answer. There obviously was an inquiry as to who was loyal to the regime. In the corridor I met a Pravoslavian priest. He, too, was probably summoned for the same purpose. The priests, too, walked with their heads down. Today was the first Sunday they were not allowed to ring their church bells.
Today, the confiscation of houses began. Committees of three people, accompanied by the party secretary and holding nationalization documents came to confiscate houses. Already, 80% of the houses in town had been confiscated. This included every house that had more than 2 rooms and affected all craftsmen and businessmen. It was so dire that almost every house that had a store or if the owner even lived somewhere else, was confiscated. The margin was anything over 700 sq.m, but they did not pay attention to this rule. One clerk was in charge of several houses and was to supervise the homes and the tenants who were to pay the rent and look after any repairs. Sometimes the tenant was able to reach the department for approval for repairs. Our house, too, was confiscated in spite of the fact that there were many heirs involved. I tried to appeal to the department director, but it was of no use since it was the rabbi's house.
Today he invited me to his office to discuss other synagogues in town. I discovered that the house next to our synagogue was confiscated and would be used as a hospital for the sailors on the Dniester. They wanted to invest a great deal of money and would probably need our synagogue building in order to enlarge the hospital. I told the director to forget his idea. I would not give up our synagogue building and they had no hope of enlarging the hospital.
Today I went to the small office in the old community building and I found many people waiting there wishing to erect stones on the gravestones of their ancestors. They knew that at this moment I still had the cement and stones needed. Most likely if I were to ask the authorities for this material later I would be refused. There was a great demand for gravestones and the bakery manager, in the same courtyard, was upset that there were so many people passing through there. I told him that he took the bakery by force. He threatened me saying he would push for my removal from there. I decided to transfer my office to a room in my synagogue, but I wanted first to receive permission from the director of municipal property. I went to him accompanied by Mr. Schmaltz. We were upset about what was happening to us.
Was it not enough that property of the community, worth millions, was confiscated? The beautiful building of the Hebrew high school, the Talmud Torah facilities, recently refurbished, the sanatorium in the suburbs and our matzo bakery a large building with machines, all were taken away. The offices of the Jewish community became an apartment for the bakery manager and we were given a small room for 5 people. Schmaltz and I waited for the arrival of the director, but suddenly, Schmaltz became ill and he died on the spot. Everyone congregated and the entire town heard about his death. We transferred the body to his apartment. This is how we lost a loyal and honest member of the community.
The whole town was affected by the sudden passing of Schmaltz. He came from a poor home and always like to tell us that he learned to save from childhood. He put penny to penny and was finally able to save enough to go to Odessa. He worked there as a laborer in the port. At the same time he learned how to be a locksmith and he returned to Bendery as a master of his trade. He got married and opened a locksmith shop. He managed to save money and eventually erected the first factory in Bessarabia dedicated to woodwork. He treated his workers as if they were his children and they loved and respected him Jews and nonJews alike. He taught them to follow his example and not to cheat on their wives or to get drunk. He became an important member of the community and always contributed to all institutions. He did not close the locksmith shop located in his home and he loved to putter about in it when he came home from work or from the community. He was a pioneer of industry in Bessarabia and aspired to make Aliyah. When the Soviets entered Bendery his factory and homes were confiscated. He expected to be evicted from his apartment and just could not handle the situation. His funeral was well attended. He was also eulogized by one of his workers, a Russian nonJew who loved him. I, too, added my comments. May he rest in Peace! The Hevra Kaddisha absorbed the cost of the funeral since he was a dedicated worker in it.
Our lives followed a new path and many people were able to adapt. Many people became night watchmen and they received the salary of a laborer since every institution needed them. During the Romanian period there were two watchmen on the main streets with all the large stores, but now every store and institute needed a watchman. This was a result of the revolution when counterrevolutionaries tried to harm government property and thus watchmen were required. This profession was good for Jews who kept Shabbat since they did not have to work on that day. Even our R. Berel Abelman became a watchman for the office in his house. Every night he entered the office, turned on the electricity in his former dining room and studied his books. In this way he watched government property. Even those who had money saved from before or had something to sell looked for some work. They looked at the unemployed as parasites. One of Stalin's tenets was The one who does not work, does not eat. Even B. Abelman who sold his belongings on a daily basis tried to find a decent job. He was not young and not strong and so a watchman position was appropriate. He really could not live on his meagre earnings. When asked what he lived on he replied that he ate benches, watches, tables and household goods. This is how one became accustomed to a new life, a life without money or respect.
|R. Dov (Berl) Abelman|
We saw new faces today. In Kishinev, the capital city of the Republic, there were many people who were not trusted to be loyal to the new regime. These were previously wealthy and leaders of various political parties. Among them, of course, were the Zionists. Young or old, healthy or sick, they were taken out of their homes and sent to Bendery. Some were mentally ill, such as the industrialist B. How could he be an enemy of the Soviet regime? We did our best to find lodging for them. We knew it was only a beginning and that more were to come. After inquests, some over a million people would be sent to the interior of the country. In Kishinev, Zionist leaders were arrested. Among them was the leader of Mizrahi Rabbi Levi Sternberg. He was accused of having contact with foreign governments. Editor Rozenhaft and D. Vinitsky were also arrested. In Bendery, the former mayor, a gentle person, was arrested. He had also been arrested during the Koza regime having been accused of being a Shabbat Goy. He was good to our community and helped to refurbish the Talmud Torah building. As I write these words I found out that he committed suicide. Thus, one of the righteous among the nations has died.
Today, I. Blank, a Zionist leader in town, came to see me. A wonderful man, he opened his heart and told me he felt our destiny will be the same as that of the Jews of Kishinev. The persecution was being done slowly. Gd will have to protect us.
New worshippers came to our synagogue from other places that had been closed. They came from the Butchers' synagogue and other houses of worship. There is great pressure to stop worshipping, but sometimes we have among us Red Army officers who outwardly seemed to be only observing the prayer services. However, if one looked into their eyes, one would see them awed by being in a house of worship. It was evident that their souls were craving prayer just as did the secret Jews under the Spanish Inquisition.
Today, during services there was discussion of the rumor that the municipality is planning to levy heavy taxes on synagogues thus forcing the treasurers to shut down. Almost all synagogue treasurers have resigned by now and only the very elderly are willing to undertake the position. However, if it turns out that the treasurers are responsible for the high sums being levied, even they will resign because they would become personally liable. I would then be obliged to call a meeting of all treasurers. It is still too early to go to the tax office to find out the actual sum and who is responsible. Today, new refugees arrived from Romania who came to live under Soviet jurisdiction. They were born in Bessarabia, but had lived in other parts of Romania. They now had the opportunity to return. They had left properties in Romania when they escaped.
Today a new rumor was circulated and it frightened us. That which we fought against wholeheartedly has come. Mixed marriages have occurred in our community. Old Sh.'s granddaughter married a mean, darkhaired nonJew. There is also talk of another Jewish girl who is to wed an army officer. We had kept the barrier, but now there is a break in it. There are no more Jewish schools for our children. There is no mikve and no keeping of Shabbat. Now mixed marriages where are we now?
Today I transferred my office from the former community building to my room in the synagogue. I will stay here and not venture out. I know people who pretend they do not know me the enemy. There are others who are still connected to me, but when I walk outside I do not recognize them and I avoid them as they avoid me.
On the corner of the main street there is a cellar of the coal maker. He is an observant Jew who keeps Shabbat. Every time I passed his cellar he would greet me with: Good morning, Rabbi! However, today, in order to avoid his greeting, I crossed the street so he would not see me. Officers who passed by looked at me to see if I am the one called Rabbi. This is why I moved my office and I stayed there. Today the Old People's Home was closed. It had been a good place for the elderly who had no family. The atmosphere was caring and Jewish. Those who had relatives were ordered to go to them and the others were sent to another Home where there were nonJews. No one wanted to agree to this, but these elderly people are either in relatives' houses or in nonJewish Homes.
Today I went to Kishinev to visit Rabbi Tsirelson the chief Rabbi of Bessarabia who was eventually killed. I was confronted by a horrible scene. Even this elderly man was not spared and he was moved from his large apartment. The Beit Din building was confiscated. Rabbi Tsirelson was left with one room where he placed his large library. He was all alone. His wife had died two weeks earlier and he had no children. There is no one who could take care of him. A few congregants managed to find an old woman who came to cook his meals. The Rabbi did not complain about all this. He was only worried that he had written a book which had not been published yet. He asked me, if I were to be freed, to publish it. It is his last book and he put much of himself into it. Of course, I promised I would and even asked him to come to me in Bendery where I could look after him. He replied that he was already old and ready to die and wanted to be buried next to his wife. She had always made sure he could do his work in peace and to study Torah. His tears were flowing as he spoke. I, too, cried when I remembered his reputation as a great Jewish leader.
I spoke to the remnants of the Jewish community in Kishinev and asked them why they did not visit the old Rabbi. They replied that they were afraid of the authorities since Rabbi Tsirelson was considered to be Enemy #1. I noted that their conditions were even worse than were ours in Bendery. Kishinev is the capital and everyone is being watched. I returned home depressed and angry.
Today I received, in the mail, the newspaper Red Star written in Yiddish. The content was all proletarian and only the language was Jewish. Every article came from Russian newspapers. Topics were discussion about the Kolkhoz and how those working there can take care of their families. All the news items were about events in the Soviet world and compliments to Papa Joseph (Stalin).
What concerned me most was the rave review of the film Khmelnitsky. Bogdan Khmelnitsky had killed many Jews in 16481649, but now he was described as a hero who fought for his people. I asked myself: how low have conditions reached that this evil man who murdered so many Jews is now a hero. There was no mention of his deeds against our people. His cruelty was legendary. He would cut open bellies of Jews and place cats in them. He then sewed the cut so they could not even die in peace. Where was this newspaper printed? Not in Honolulu, but in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. This is the Ukraine where every village has a cemetery dedicated to those who were murdered at that time. There were many brides and grooms who were murdered by Khmelnitsky's soldiers. Now the government was interested in this propaganda to show a close relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Supposedly, Khmelnitsky wanted these close relations between the two states. We have reached a terrible stage in our lives if Khmelnitsky is being lauded for his horrible deeds. [The writers of these articles were Jews who, no doubt, had heard about these atrocities in their childhood.]
Today I went to the police to obtain my identity card. I managed to get it based on section 38 of the citizenship law. Others were judged on section 39 which was far worse. These people could only reside in small towns and not in capital cities. They also could not get employment in government offices and could be exiled to Siberia. I felt for them since among them were many fine people, observant and kind. Their only crime was to have owned stores. The new authorities did not wish to hear that these shop owners had been under the Romanian regime. They could not work in government offices and had no choice but to open a business. Communists always said: Moscow does not believe these tears and these words. Moscow was suspicious of them that they would be against their regime.
I went to the tax department to be informed about taxes levied against synagogues. I saw there the son of our formerly wealthy townsman who had all his property confiscated. He was now obliged to pay 100,000 rubles to the treasury. This son stood with tears running down his face and begged saying that their entire wealth consisted of real estate and it was no longer theirs. Where could he find the money requested? Besides, if the property now belongs to you then you are now liable for the taxes. The clerk, unmoved, replied: You have to pay and if you don't the court will send you to prison. The son was sobbing, but it was no use. They do not believe me in Moscow… My turn came and I gave the clerk my name. He said, with a sneer: I can see that you do not want to leave your position as a rabbi. You know that you will have to pay 40% of your salary while other clerks and workers only need to contribute 2%. I told him I no longer was employed as a rabbi, but worked for the Hevra Kaddisha as a clerk. He then said: The Hevra Kaddisha is not a government institute and you must pay 40%. He added that he wanted to assess the synagogue with an insurance fee since the edifices belonged to the government and they need to be insured. It is up to us to pay the fee. I did not reply. When I left he said: One way that can help you is if we obtain more synagogues in town, your fee would be smaller. I told him that I could never arrange for them to get the synagogues in which our ancestors prayed. I walked out deep in thought. Was it possible that after the destruction of the Jews of Poland the Bessarabian community would also disappear? I then met the elderly R. Zvi Goldis who understood my mood. He told me: Rabbi, don't give up hope. It is written that you will be not destroyed for bad deeds this is Gd's promise.
|Front cover of the Hevra Kaddisha of Bendery ledger
(National Library, Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
A typhus epidemic broke out in town and there were many victims. Among them was my Beit Din colleague, the late Rabbi Avraham Haim Ashkenazy. He was a descendant of a famous rabbinic family. I had to take care of the burials. There were occasions when the hospital refused to send us the bodies for a Jewish burial. I did not rest until I was able to succeed by pleading with the municipal director of the department. There was even a case of the suicide of H. K., one of the most important merchants in our town. He was traveling by train to a nearby village and fell out. They did not want to give us his body, but I forced the issue and managed to bury him in a special row for suicides. I had prepared this row when the Red Army came to town. Our custodian, Marco, told me that the day before workers from the municipality came and took the wooden boards I had piled up. I planned to use them to build coffins for the dead.
I had also prepared stones obtained from private people to be used for the graves. I complained to the director about the removal of the boards. He replied that they were needed for building roads for the army. I warned my custodian not to allow anything to be removed without my presence. I would make them sign for anything they take. This was in case they asked for a report on items bought with funds from the institute. I felt my life was now in danger.
|Overturned stones in the cemetery of Bendery
(collection of Rabbi Efrati)
by Zvi (Gersh) Sobol (Hadera)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
In 1936, the Romanian Foreign Minister, Titulescu, had close ties with the Soviet Union and as a result, the bridge across the Dniester was rebuilt. It had been destroyed when Bendery was conquered by the Romanians. A train without passengers travelled back and forth in the direction of BenderyTiraspol.
Four years later, on June 28, 1940, the Russians conquered Bendery as they took Bessarabia and Bukovina. Six months later members of the NKVD arrived in Bendery, accompanied by soldiers. They arrested the citizens they considered disloyal elements and kulaks (Jews and Christians). They ordered them to prepare food for two days, pack their belongings and they then sent them, with their families, in convoys to exile in Siberia. Among the exiles were Israel Blank, the important Zionist leader and his wife Sonia, Moshe Prokopetz, Tuvia Avergun, Yaakov Otoshansky All Zionist organizations were eliminated Maccabi, Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonya, etc. Those Jews who were not yet touched managed to find jobs in public institutions and in government owned shops.
On June 22, 1941, when the Germans attacked Russia, more Jews from Bendery were exiled as disloyal elements.
On July 4, 1941 the Germans entered Bendery and conscripted the youth for military tasks. The recruitment office was located in the former Schwartzman High School building. During the battles the fortress (Karpost) was destroyed and the town was burning. Flames could be seen in Tiraspol across the Dniester.
|The pier on the Dniester
(In the background is the bridge on which an empty train passed daily from Bendery to Tiraspol)
Before the German conquest the Soviets announced on the radio: Anyone wishing to leave Bendery could join the convoy set for this purpose. Most Jewish residents were spared from the Germans by escaping on these Soviet trains. Sick people were transferred on gurneys and wagons to the train. Among the escapees was R. Eliezer Sobol who was ill with cancer. He died on the road near Dnieperpetrovsk and was buried there by his sons.
In July 1945 I was discharged from the army and I returned to Bendery. I found it in ruins since the Russians had been shooting at the Germans and Romanians. I found about 100 Jews and a few more who came from Abkhazia.
In 1958 many Jews were forced to leave Bendery because food did not reach them. It was directed to Moscow. Whatever food did come their way was extremely expensive. Others returned to their hometowns.
Bendery became a rehabilitation resort again.
Today there are a few miserable Jews left in Bendery.
by Mira Geva (Mira Geva is the granddaughter of Haike Kogan (nee Immes))
Translated by Ala Gamulka
The Romanians entered Bendery on June 22, 1941.
Grandmother Haike Kogan (nee Immes), the wife of Hersh Kogan, together with her grandson Liova and his wife were preparing themselvesas were most of the residents of the town to board a train taking all those who wanted to do so to Abkhazia, in central Russia. When they arrived at the convoy, to join the large group waiting for the train, Liova's wife remembered that she had forgotten some item at home. She estimated that there was enough time for her to go back home, take the said item and return to the train. Grandmother said that she would not go alone and would wait for Liova and his wife. Unfortunately, the train left before they returned and they remained under the Romanians. The Nazis were then entering Bendery.
The German Fascists at first gathered all the elderly Jews in town and took them to the fortress. Grandmother was among them. She walked shoeless for a distance of six kilometers. When they reached the fortress the elderly, among them Shmuel Immes, were shot and buried in a mass grave. Then the remainder of the Jews were gathered and killed. They were buried nearby.
This valley of slaughter near the fortress was the Babi Yar of Bendery.
|The ruins of the old cemetery of Bendery|
by Dr. T. LaviLevinstein
Translated by Ala Gamulka
The Romanian army crossed the Prut River on July 2, 1941 and the whole of Bessarabia was conquered only on July 26. On July 5 there was a slaughter in Yeditz 500 Jews; July 6 60 dead in Novoselitsa; July 7 10 in Parlitza, Balti region; July 6 Bricheni and Lipkany. The list is endless… In Balti the first massacre took place on July 11, so continue the chronicles of the events.
The expulsion of the Jews of Bessarabia happened in one action in September 1941. During the first months of the war over half the Jewish population was eliminated or were expelled from Transnistria. This was a new title for the areas between The Dniester and the Bug.
On August 30 an agreement was signed in Tighina (Bendery) between the Germans and the Romanians on the subject of Transnistria. The Romanian representative was BrigadierGeneral Tatrianu and the German one was MajorGeneral Haufi. The agreement was between two military commands and not between two states. This is emphasized by Brust.
The first section of the agreement established that Romania is responsible for security, administration and economics in Transnistria. Transportation, according to section 3, is under the German command. This is not all. According to section 4: A Romanian will be the administrator of Transnistria. However, in the common interest of the warring parties, he will be dependent on decisions of the senior military command…An advisor from the German command will be attached to the top Romanian administrator.
As to the Jews: It is not yet possible to transfer the Jews east across the Bug. Therefore, they should be kept in detention camps and they are to be used for labor until their transfer will be possible.
Max MIntz had written a doctoral thesis in law. He claims that the Tighina agreement forced the Romanians to transfer the Jews to detention camps. It is odd that there are still those who ask who invented the expulsion of the Jews to Transnistria. Brust is convinced that the plan to expel the Jews to Transnistria under terrible conditions was hatched by the Romanians. In fact, the German influence could not be found there.
There is one fact that Brust admits: the Germans liked these plans. He had the chance to research a handwritten note by General Hansen, chief of the German military delegation in Romania. On August 17, 1942 Hansen reports on a meeting with Marshall Antonescu. The Romanian leader gave him news that will certainly please Hitler and will result in his goodwill towards Romania. In addition to the news of the constant efforts made by Romania in military and economic fields for the common goal, Bessarabia and Bukovina are now completely clean of Jews. He adds that he knew it was not exactly true.
As is well known, the Final Solution was decided upon at the famous Wansee conference on January 20, 1942.
Truthfully, the Romanian army and the civilians took part in all pogroms. These pogroms took place on the actual battle fields. It is easy to reach an additional conclusion: It was not only the low life of the civilian population and the peasants, but also the Romanian soldiers who decided that it would make sense to eliminate the Jews since they were doomed already. They thus fulfilled the intentions of their German masters, but they also enjoyed everything they stole from the Jews.
Still, the Romanians wished to shirk responsibility for the extermination of the Jews. In section 3 of the second part written in August 1941 it is said:
The Romanians expelled thousands of handicapped people, including children and those who were unable to do hard labor from Bessarabia to areas under German command. As a result, 27,500 Jews were sent back to Sventia, MogilevPodolsk and Yampol. Looking at a map tells us that Yampol and Mogilev are situated on the eastern side of the Dniester, across from the district of Soroki, at the entrance to Transnistria, north of Bessarabia.
In section 7 of the Tighina agreement it is said: the transfer of the Jews eastward across the Bug is not possible at this time. This sentence indicates that there was readiness on the part of the Romanians to give over the Jews to the Germans. One of the reasons was that the Romanians wanted to have local residents on their side in Bessarabia and in Transnistria.
It is no wonder that in spite of the fact that there was a Romanian governor in Transnistria as of August 19, 1941 and the fact that there was an agreement signed on August 30 with Romania, the Einzatzgruppe continued to report about exterminations performed by the Germans.
(From In the Land of Bessarabia. Tome 1, pages 151157)
In the Detention Camp of Transnistria (1943)
On 30.8.1941 the Tighina agreement was signed in which we were to be ethnically cleansed. The Jews were to be expelled to the new territory under Romanian administration and German command Transnistria.
(The Jews of Bessarabia, page 482)
…the Tighina agreement about Transnistria was only signed on August 30, 1941. The Romanian authorities demonstrated their plans clearly. On July 3, 1941 Mikhai Antonescu, Deputy Prime Minster, spoke to the Romanian delegation sent to Bessarabia and Bukovina, including the administrative managers. He said: The ethnic cleansing will be done by expelling or isolating in labor camps. These will be places where it will not be possible to change the situation as far as Jews and other nationalities are concerned. These are people whose loyalty is in doubt. In order to complete the cleansing it may be necessary to do forced expulsion of Jewish elements in Bessarabia or Bukovina. They have no place there.
(M. Karp, The Black Book, vol.3, page 91)
(Ion Antonescu also made a declaration about this topic on July 8, 1941)
On 1.9.1941, the general commander of the police informed the gendarmerie in Tighina, by telegram, that as of September 6 expulsions of Jews will begin. This will be done in groups of 1000. He asked him to prepare units of gendarmes as escorts as well as wagons for luggage.
(M. Karp, The Black Book, vol.3, page 85. Also document #73, pages 11617)
In report #88 of 19.9.1941 there is a discussion about the condition of the Jews of Tighina. They were gathered in camps and were given work. Some were to be exterminated. In general, the Romanian population was quite antiJewish.
(The Jews of Bessarabia, Diaspora Encyclopedia. Page 474)
By Meir Grinberg zl, Attorney (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Two cycles denoted the annihilation of the Jewish Community of Bender. The first one was begun by the Fascist Rumanian regime which arose after Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. It broadened its influence during five-six years until 1938. In general, the persecution of Jews grew during that regime and in particular, the Jews of Bender suffered even more. This was due to the fact that during their reign they considered the Jews as Bolsheviks as the city was close to the Dniester. The Soviet town of Tiraspol was situated on the other side of the river. Although the Jews of Bender were considered loyal citizens of Rumania, they were occasionally summoned to the office of the Siguranza to answer questions or to explain leftist actions of which they were totally innocent. This situation deteriorated so much that Jews were afraid to venture out in the evenings. They anticipated terrorist attacks of the right who acted in the name of the notorious Iron Guard under Romulus Bertianu(?). The Jewish youth organized itself for self-defence purposes.
These persecutions reached a peak when the Jewish lawyers were thrown out of the Law Society. Among them were the well-known Yefim Borisovich Rovshavsky(?), Ziska Zmora, Pincus Grinberg, Boris Titiner and others. After they lost their privileges they did not dare enter the court house.
This cycle of persecution had not yet closed when a second one began for the Jews of Bender. This happened when Bessarabia and Bucovina were conquered by the Soviet Union on June 28, 1940. The tragedy was that the Jews of Bender were considered Bolsheviks by the Fascists, but were seen by the Soviets as untrustworthy Trotskyites. This did not only happen to the bourgeois Jews- the businessmen. Even those Jews who identified themselves with the Communist faction within the Jewish Community were not received any better. These were people like Radiboim(?), Isaac Kofman, Yoske Galperin, Berel Spivak from Kaushan.
The Soviets did not only reject the Jews. They would not accept other local Communists like the brothers Bichkov and Ivan Kopofnanko. To everyone's surprise, many others found themselves in a very difficult situation. They were terribly disappointed by these saviours with whom they had always identified.
In one year- from June 28, 1940 to June 22, 1941(when Germany suddenly attacked its ally, the Soviet Union) - the Jewish Community of Bender was destroyed. Friends and acquaintances of long standing became strangers to each other. One was suspicious of the other due to their insecurity in the work-place under Communist rule.
The NKVD did its work. Every so often one Jew or another would disappear. When the bad news came no one dared approach the authorities to question or to help those considered innocent until proven guilty. Any inquiry was interpreted as a political action. Those who were still free stayed away in order not to incriminate themselves. They were obliged to turn their backs on their friends in spite of their pain and sorrow. They had to pretend that everything was clear to them and that they should not question anything.
The first to disappear were Yosef Halperin, Attorney Yefim Rubashky, Moshe Zufshteyn, Misha Kishinovsky, Fishel Bendersky (from the iron goods store In Kripostnoy) and others.
The abuse of the Jewish Community reached its heights on the unforgettable terrible day June 13, 1941. On that day, at dawn, the NKVD squad attacked like a pack of hungry wolves (as they did in all towns in Bessarabia and Bucovina). They arrested, brutally and without cause, many innocent people.
At the same time there was a conference of lawyers of the Republic of Moldavia in Kishinev. Those from Bender who participated were Grinberg, Kroscon and others. When they returned home at the end of the sessions they heard about many arrests among the Jews of Bender. Those arrested were exiled in cattle cars, separated from their families. The men were in one car while the rest were in another one. It was clear to everyone that this was sadistic cruelty planned by the twisted inhumane minds. Among those arrested were: Ilya Abramovich, Shebtel Merisis(?), Sara Sheinfeld, Gendelman, Pincus Grinberg and others.
I do not have the strength to describe the suffering of our members and their inconceivable conditions. We saw the inhumane separation of families and wondered how long man can suffer. We will bring out some details and we will leave the rest for the reader so he can reach his own conclusions.
Fathers heard the screams of their wives and children from the second car (attached to their car) and could not help them. They suffered horrible emotional and physical hardship for many days. Adults had to relieve themselves in front of children due to the crowding. The cattle cars were closed on all sides. The oppressive heat that June forced men, women and children to be semi-naked. As if all that was not enough, these people were forced to stay in the train station for three days so cargo from Bender Provaia could be loaded. Hundreds of Bender residents came to say good-bye to their relatives. They did not know where their families were being sent and whether they would ever see them again. They did not know if this was a one-time event or if it was part of a plan. There was no one to give them answers. The Jews of Bender did not yet know that this was only the beginning and that the next step would be the emptying of the city of its Jews and the annihilation of the community.
Mobilization of the Youth at the Beginning of the War
When the war broke out all the young people were mobilized immediately. The draft meeting place was the Boys Federal High School. We spent eight hours there. Through the windows we could see German aircraft bombing the railroad tracks between Bender and Tiraspol. At the same time, all the families were ordered to present themselves to the railway station in order to be sent out of town. This was the first train to leave Bender. There were others later. It is difficult to describe our situation as we thought all our dear ones were exterminated. Some people grabbed bicycles and rode to see what was happening. They returned to tell us all were still alive.
After about 250 people had gathered in the school we were transferred to the Schwartzman Gymnasia. More people joined us there. We reached a total of 500 and since there was not enough room we were taken back to the Boys Federal High School (Kazionaya Gymnasia). As we arrived, a bomb hit the Schwartzman Gymnasia and destroyed the building. We breathed a sigh of relief since had we stayed there no one would have remained alive. The total darkness did not stop the Germans from finding Jewish institutions and locations where there were mobilized men. It is important to note that few in the population were interested in designating specific locations to the Germans. As a result all the synagogues were bombed.
A month later, the Central Headquarters of the Soviet Army ordered the release of all soldiers from the conquered territories. They were transferred to work in military industry. This showed a lack of trust in the population of the territories annexed by the Soviet Union after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. There were many deserters from the army.
My family had reached Odessa and I continued to search for them. I arrived at the train station and I found myself in a crowd of more than 50 000 people. Many refugees had come to Odessa before the Germans had bombed the railroad station.
Bender was emptied in one night.
It was impossible to cross the bridge to Tiraspol without permit (Komendirovka). Since I was the regional chairman of one of the Law Societies, I tried to give permits to everyone in spite of regulations. Many people were saved this way. Attorney Balatzianu- formerly Minister of Industry- helped me a great deal. He worked with us in a department located in Rudshavsky's store.
Many family tragedies occurred during these passages. For instance, Yosef-Haim Levitt left Bender and his family remained. Many families were separated and heard nothing of each other. Of those who escaped, some were saved, but others were killed by the Nazis. Among them were Abelman and his wife who were buried in the middle of the street (according to testimony of the locals).
The Jews of Bender had two options. They could go to Stalingrad or to Petrovskaya. However, the Germans advanced rapidly and by the end of October 1941 the Jews had to flee from these places.
In the port of Makhachkala on the Caspian Sea there were 300 000 Jewish refugees and there I found my mother and my sister. From there we went to Sami-Platinsk.
The tragedy was the length of the trip. After a month and a half, we reached the last stop with great difficulty. We had travelled continuously without washing or changing our clothes. We lived on bread and water we obtained in stations on the way. Lice pestered the people and practically ate their flesh. Due to the lack of minimal sanitary conditions Typhus spread and killed many people.
When we reached Sami-Platinsk people were being sent to kolhozes. I was appointed regional director of the Law Society and so we tried to survive. I stayed there with my family until September 1944 when I received a telegram from the Minister of Justice of the Soviet Union to return to Moldavia. I was to appear in front of the Minister of Justice of Moldavia. The road to Kishinev was difficult. Usually, one would move only a few kilometres per day. However, due to the telegram from the Minister of Justice we had no trouble and we reached Bender in good time. I disembarked and my family continued on to Kishinev.
It was difficult to recognize the city we had left behind. The central section (Horovinskaya) was destroyed except for the Weissman house. The first person I met was Manya Tomshpolsky who used to sell bread in the building. Next came Shtopelmn's brother-in-law who used to sell medications prepared with boiling red wine. Our house was gone except for a few steps.
Then I met Mrs. Gingis and I gave her regards from her son who was with me in Sami-Platinsk. She had believed that he was no longer alive.
I met little Imes, Zifshteyn's son and Levinson. They told me that I had relatives in Bender who were living in a railway car and were starving. I met with them and I decided to leave Bender. I went with them to Kishinev to join my family.
July 1941 was the month when the Jews of Bender were dispersed. September 1944 was their time of return from all parts of Russia. Unfortunately, only a few returned.
(Dictated by Attorney Meir Grinberg zl to Y. Raviv, April 1970)
by Rabbi Shmuel Bronfman (Jerusalem)
Rabbi in Bendery 194560
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Prior to WWII there were about 5,000 Jewish families (18,000 souls) in Bendery, on the Dniester, near the ancient Turkish fortress. The town had 18 synagogues, a Jewish hospital, a seniors' residence, several schools, kindergartens, a Talmud Torah and a Hebrew high school. There were also many public institutions in the fields of culture, economics and social assistance.
As a rule, life in the Jewish community was similar to that of other such places in the rest of Czarist Russia. In 1918 the Romanians conquered Bessarabia and took over.
Jews dealt in commerce, small industry and crafts, free trades or they were synagogue employees, etc. Many worried about making a living and were quite poor. In addition, there was the constant fear of the authorities (during Czarist Russia) and the Romanian commissars). The authorities always watched the earning sources of the Jews and managed to take money from them.
I was born in 1915 and I can serve as an eye witness to the condition of the Jews of Bendery during the Czarist Russia times and the Romanian occupation. I studied in a Beit Midrash until the arrival of the Red Army. I heard from many residents that they prayed for the arrival of the Soviets. Gd listened to them and the Soviets conquered Bessarabia. For awhile, the Jews of Bendery could rest after the frightening pursuits by the Romanians.
In 1941, when the GermanRussian war broke out, hordes of Jews began to escape the Nazis going towards Soviet Russia. The Soviet authorities enabled the escape and thousands of Jewish and nonJewish residents used the opportunity to go into Russia. It was especially easy for the Jews of Bendery to go into Russia since they were on the banks of the Dniester. This was a natural border between Romania and Russia. Thanks to this advantage many Jews were able to escape the Nazis. In comparison to other Jewish settlements, the Jews of Bendery were more fortunate, but there were still several hundred victims of Nazi persecution.
Among them were the elderly and the young. May Gd avenge their murders!
When the war was over the refugees and the remnants began to return to their former homes from exile.
In November 1945, I was liberated from the labor force and I returned to Kalarash, my home town. I found it in ruins. I had no opportunity to settle there and I agreed to the proposal of Rabbi Yosef Apelboim from Kishinev to move to Bendery. The community needed a spiritual leader.
What was the situation in the Bendery community at the time? When the survivors returned to Bendery they first went to the cemetery where they prostrated themselves on the graves of their dear ones and sobbed and screamed. As they recuperated somewhat the Hevra Kaddisha was reorganized and Shabbat services were put in place. There was only one synagogue building left intact the Sadigura. The Nazis had used the building to house their horses.
The Jews immediately began to refurbish the synagogue building by cleaning it and preparing it for suitable use. There was a women`s section as well. Mr. Shuster, a veteran of the war, was invited to be the cantor during the High Holidays. For the first time since WWII the Jews of Bendery were able to conduct services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 1945 in the sole synagogue in town.
Soon the Jewish leadership was organized. Among the leaders were: Yaakov Kochuk, HaimMoshe Fishov, YosefMoshe Goldmacher, Meir Hochman, YehudaLeib Alter, Alter Itzkovich, Efraim Sudit, Avraham Finkelshtein (Chirelis). In addition, several young handicapped people returned from the war and pitched in. The chairperson was Yaakov Kochuk who had been the bookkeeper in Zeidel Katzap`s business. He was a fine person, generous and nationalistic. It is thanks to his devoted service and with help from others that the Jewish community was reorganized.
After Succot, Yaakov Kochuk was invited to the municipal committee where he was told to register the community in the Interior Ministry of the Moldovan Republic in Kishinev. He was also ordered to appoint a spiritual leader according to Soviet law. I was officially installed as spiritual leader of the Bendery community on 15.11.45.
In those days the leaders of the community were: Yaakov Kochukchairman (he died in 1949); Yosef Moshe Goldmacher first treasurer (he made Aliyah in 1956 and died there in 1967); Shlomo Burstein, and YehudaLeib Alter (moved to Riga in 1958 and died there). The steering committee consisted of: Alter Itzkovich (left Bendery later); Avraham David Giterman a good person (lived in Bendery for many years) and Noichovitz.
He died of a heart attack.
After the synagogue building was refurbished the community undertook the organization of the two cemeteries the old one in the lower section of town, near the Dniester and the new one, in the upper section. The old cemetery had been ruined by the Nazis and the Romanians and the Russians completed the job. During my service as chairman of the community (19471957) the Soviet authorities came many times and demanded from me to willingly sign over the old cemetery to the authorities. They intended to annihilate it. I categorically refused . The authorities did not pay attention to my refusal and confiscated the cemetery. It became a location for pigs, without our knowledge or agreement.
One day a disease struck the pigs. Hundreds of them perished and the remainder were evacuated from there. When we saw that the old cemetery was completely ruined we announced, in the synagogue that anyone who had relatives buried there would be able to transfer the bodies to the new cemetery. The community moved the graves of our sainted members of the Wertheim family to the new location and built a tent over the new graves. It still exists to this day. The Christian neighbors used the gravestones to build houses. The authorities erected a fence from some of these stones around the municipal sports field. They later apologized saying it was the Romanians who had done it in 1943.
|Rabbi Israel Bronfman with his family (Rabbi, ritual slaughterer 19451960),
in his backyard on Potshtovaya Street, corner Michaelovsky
During the Stalin regime the authorities were quite strict and mean to the Jewish community. Several times members of the community were called in and given new instructions about the administration of the synagogue, the cemetery, baking of Matzo and even inviting cantors to lead services.
In 1948, after the founding of the State of Israel, the authorities conducted a thorough search in the synagogue. They looked everywhere and at everything. I did not know the purpose of the search. However, the results were positive and nothing forbidden was found. Sometime later I discovered that there were such searches in many other Jewish communities on the same day. It seems that it was connected to the arrival of Golda Meir in Moscow. She was the first Ambassador from Israel to the Soviet Union. Many Jews then decided to apply for immigration visas to Israel and the NKVD was suspicious that the Jewish communities were behind these requests.
During Stalin's reign the NKVD did not interfere with the inner working of the communities and allowed them to elect their officials without any special permit. On the other hand, there were characters (special agents) that frequented the synagogues and reported on all happenings. On the High Holidays it was possible to even find Christians among the worshippers NKVD clerks dressed as civilians. There was no special pressure at the time and no interference in religious matters such as circumcision, Jewish wedding ceremony and kosher slaughtering. I, as a rabbi and ritual slaughterer, had to pay very steep taxes. The members of the congregation helped me and contributed funds for these taxes. In general, my congregants took care of me and I was careful there should not be any reason for the authorities to find fault with me. Gd really protected us.
The situation changed with the death of Stalin. During the reign of Khrushchev the NKVD became the KGB. We no longer had agents in the synagogue, but the candidates for leadership had to be approved by the Ministry for Religious Affairs. This fact interfered with the autonomy of the community. The subsequent leaders were affiliates of the KGB.
|Rabbi Bronfman (second from left), chairman of the community Monblit (second from right)
In 1957, I was ordered by the Ministry for Religious Affairs to resign my position as chairman of the community. In 1960, I was forbidden from serving as rabbi of the community. I left Bendery and moved to Odessa.
A Conversation with Rabbi Israel Bronfman (30.4.72)
In spite of great interest, it was not possible to prepare a list of the victims in Bendery who were murdered by the Nazis and buried in a common grave on that terrible day. Many of their relatives did not return to town and although everyone knew whom they had lost, a list was not available.
After some Jews about 300 families (800 people) returned to Bendery, Rabbi Bronfman tried to get permission from the authorities to erect a memorial on the common burial place. The engineerarchitect, H. Bronfman, even designed a plan for the gravestone 18 meters in size. However, Mayor Isayev who actually went with the plan to Kishinev was unable to receive permission. When the Rabbi approached him he rudely replied: Don't bother me!
It seems that D.B. Abelman was one of the last to be murdered in the murder pit between the fortress and the Dniester because when the Soviet authorities returned to Bendery, his nephew, close to them, tried to find his body. He found it wrapped in his vest and his Talit Katan and even his identity card. It was then possible to transfer his body to the new cemetery and to bury him.
On Abelman's grave it was written:
During the horrors of Hitler you, too, were murdered. Your friends will never forget you.
When the decision was made by the authorities to destroy the old Jewish cemetery, Rabbi Bronfman was unable to sleep. Even when he walked on the street he saw the images of the broken gravestone of the rabbis and good people of Bendery. It was only after he transferred the tombs of YehudaLeib Wertheim, R. Itzikel, R. Shloimke and R. Levi Darbrimediker to the new cemetery that he stopped seeing these images. He still could not sleep. It was only after the special tent was erected over these tombs and an eternal light placed there that he could rest.
|The Sadigurian Synagogue (Collection of Rabbi Sh. Efrati)|
The Jewish hospital and the attached seniors' residence were transformed by the authorities into a nursing school.
The Sadigura synagogue became a sports club.
The butchers' synagogue was now a dairy producing milk and butter.
The grand synagogue was connected along the basement to the Shaposnick synagogue and it became School #3.
The Talmud Torah a large building became a music school.
Schwartzman's Hebrew high school was now a factory manufacturing shoes.
|A Page from The Ledger of Psalm Sayers of Bendery (1844)|
by Shmuel Delmetzky (Haifa)
(Impressions from a quick visit to Bendery in 1966)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Anyone who ever visited Bendery must return for a second time. There is something unexplainable that draws a visitor to this town. The southern sun caresses you, the streets are long, straight and endless, and the white houses are surrounded by green gardens. Our hearts are pulled by a special force and we become enchanted with this town on the banks of the Dniester.
These enthusiastic lines we read in a nice pamphlet written in Russian and dedicated to Bendery. It was published by the tourist department Intertours from Kishinev.
It is a wonder that in spite of the publicity and campaign to encourage tourism, foreign tourists are not permitted to enter Bendery. However, we, the Israelis, who are based in Kishinev during our tour of the Soviet Union only an hour's drive from Bendery refused to give up. We wanted to visit our birth town where we had taken our first steps.
We decided to request permission to visit Bender even if only for a few hours. We were allowed to come after we explained that we wished to go to the cemetery to visit the graves of our ancestors.
In a car that was assigned to us three Israelis started out accompanied by a top representative of the tourism office, in addition to the driver. The tourism person was meant to guide us, but he apologized saying he could not be with us all the time since he had to go to Tiraspol. We soothed him saying we were certain we could manage.
It was a hot summer day in 1966. All along the road we looked at everything we could see while the Russian guide pointed out, with pride, the green fields and the factories.
The guide found that his Israeli companions were interested because they had their own story of green fields on desert land and the building of a nation. Our conditions had been slightly different.
We looked ahead, but we remembered the distant past of Jewish Bendery: the Hebrew high school with its teachers and students (where are they now?), the youth movements full of life where young people dreamed of Aliyah, active Zionist parties, synagogues, especially the Die Naye Shul (Great Synagogue) where famous cantors performed (from Roitman to Leybele Glantz), the town parks where we spent wonderful times.
I recall how we used to congregate as youths in the new park in the center of town armed with sticks and stones. We were ready for the arrival of the members of the Iron Guard who were rumored to be coming. They did not appear because foreign visitors were not welcome at the time.
Memories engulf me of the infamous Romanian security services that left their mark on the Jewish youth. The gendarmerie where Jewish youth were taken and beaten for belonging to the youth movements they were accused of being Bolsheviks.
What awaits us in town? We are not expecting any surprises since we know how things are, more or less. All we want is to meet some friends and acquaintances that have survived.
One of us ( I believe it was our friend Mordehai Sever) asked our guide to allow us to see the Babi Yar of Bendery the place between the bridge and fortress, where about 700 Jews, men, women, the elderly and the young, were cruelly murdered.
We have now reached the entrance of the town. We see the famous Borisovka and we pass the fortress. An armed guard stands at its gate a reminder of old times.
In the wide field between the bridge and the fortress there is no sign of the cruel massacre that was inflicted on hundreds of our brethren. When we continued the rest of our visit to the Soviet Union we did not find any signs of such massacres even in Babi Yar in Kiev…
We drove on the bridge spanning the Dniester (half of it was under water after the Russians bombed the bridge as they were retreating during the civil war) and look at the river banks. We recall those days when the bridge separated warring states and its frozen waters served as a route. Young men went towards the revolution while hungry Ukrainian peasants came the other way to escape forced collectivism.
Much water has flowed on the Dniester since that time and now the river separates two friendly towns. Its waters are used for bathing by both populations as if nothing has happened since we left Bendery. Today we have come to honor those who are no longer with us.
We reach the center of town and we say goodbye to our guide agreeing to meet again at a designated hour in order to return to Kishinev.
True to our promise, we turn towards the cemetery. Indeed, if you wish to refresh your memory of the past you should visit the cemetery. There, the Hebrew letters on the gravestones will remind us of all the people who represented the town in their lifetime. The gravestones some truly magnificent stand as a reminder of a beautiful Jewish community that is no longer.
We return to the center of town and each one of us is interested in what matters to him. After all, the purpose of our visit is to touch base with our friends who are still there. We easily find them and the happiness is indescribable. These friends that we knew before the flood are the last generation that still knew Yosef. They belong to the past that is gone and will not return. Our social atmosphere that we knew so well some years ago has disappeared. There is no institution that symbolises Jewish existence…
The town has changed and even the famous trenches filled with water and mud have disappeared. Here and there one finds large apartment buildings that resemble our public housing. The main street, named after Lenin originally Harozinskaya is clean and wide and there are many buildings on it.
After a warm reception in Jewish homes, quick conversations and heartwrenching goodbyes we leave Bendery full of memories of our friends. They remain with us to this day.
In the meantime, our guide has returned to take us back to Kishinev. On the way he asks us innocently: Isn't it wonderful to visit again with friends and relatives?
We politely reply: Yes, it is nice.
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