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[Page 72]

Courageous Men of the People in Lipkany

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Daniel Feldman

At the time of the anti-Semitic Ruski Soyuz [Union of the Russian People]
before the First World War and in the days of the pogroms after the Revolution of 1917

As much as I remember, the air in Lipkany [Lipcani, Moldova] always was infected with the anti-Semitic microbes. The microbes did not always remain asleep. Sometimes the anti-Semitic microbes became very active and wanted to show their “teeth and nails.” Simply wished to carry out a bit of a pogrom in the Russian manner of those times. I do not know how Lipkany Jews always would sense in advance that something unpleasant was being prepared for them somewhere. They did not know exactly when, but [at those times] Lipkany Jews no longer slept (literally did not sleep) and prepared to welcome the unwelcome guests in an appropriate manner. They prepared all kinds of treats, cold and hot, one with a revolver, one with a club and another with a long knife. And it really was a true holiday for the Lipkany Jews. They slept during the day and were awake the entire night until everything again became quiet or until the Lipkany Jews quieted the hooligans, they sobered then up and restrained their appetite for a pogrom. Such outbursts happened very often. And Lipkany Jews were on watch entire nights and did not sit in their houses until the Shamas [assistant to the rabbi] came to call them, but on such nights they walked through the streets and waited for the hooligans.

I remember very clearly the times after the Kishinev pogrom, the times of [Pavel Aleksandrovich] Krushevan, may his name be erased, the main pogromist in Bessarabia. I was not more than six years old then, but I remember how bearded Jews, fathers of adult children, would walk around with various weapons and prepare for whatever misfortune would occur.

This was in the time of the lost war with Japan and of the fraudulent “constitution” for the people.

As usual in such times, the Jews were the scapegoat and victims for the sin that someone else had committed. A wave of anti-Semitic excesses flooded all of Russia then. And we always had to be ready to endure blows and to give them back. As I was a little older, I remember, how Lipkany

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Jews would speak among themselves about the “Black Hundred.” They were called Chornaya Sotnykes in Russian. This organization thought up all kinds of blood libels against the Jews and publicly agitated the Christian population to carry out pogroms.

They had divisions in every city and shtetl [town] in Russia. From them came the blood-libel trial against Mendel Beilis in Kiev in 1911. The leaders of the Black Hundred were none other than the prominent middleclass members of the Russian population: priests, teachers, writers, doctors and so on. Lipkany was no exception. As I heard mentioned the names of those, who were at the head of the Lipkany Black Hundred, Czulinkovsky – the director of the four-grade school, Muydiniuk – the chief writer of the administrative subdivision, Petya Pilikarps – the manager of the landowner's estate, the priest, and others, I was simply panicked and amazed. While I knew them, I could not imagine that they would have something to do with such a pogrom organization such as the Black Hundred. In life they appeared to be very intimate with the Jews, particularly the manager of the landowner's estate, Petya Pilikarps. He would carry on sizeable business matters with Jewish merchants and act as a close friend of the Ginzburgs and other rich Jews from around Lipkany. But what is the saying? God is God and whiskey is whiskey… However, this is beside the point, no physical pogrom took place against the Lipkany Jews that was managed by the Lipkany Black Hundred. And perhaps this was because they knew that the Lipkany Jews would not let themselves be pushed around and they would pay back such cases with much more than a blow for a blow. They remained innocent. One could easily infer why from the lecture that would be repeated every autumn when the 21-year olds would have to report for military service and masses of peasant and their young sons from the surrounding villages would be drawn to Lipkany and Khotin where the recruits had to pass through the medical commission. Then the young gentiles, tipsy, tried to have a good time as the expense of the Jews. However, it did not take them long to learn that they had made a mistake in their calculations and it was a very bitter mistake. So the scenes would be repeated year-in and year-out. Lipkany Jews knew that they could fight back and it appears that the Lipkany Black Hundred understood this well at their get-togethers.

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Therefore, they tried to carry out a boycott against the Lipkany Jewish shops. Lipkany had a large Christian clientele that consisted of priests, landowners and bureaucrats from in and around Lipkany, particularly for food products. They bought the most beautiful and the best. Price was not a drawback. The shopkeeper Moshele Grinberg, or as he was called Moshe Yekhiel's [son of Yekhiel], was a specialist in this area. He provided them with the best goods in the country and from abroad. Thus for years and years, when the priest came to Lipkany to buy food products, he did not know of another place to enter, but in Moshele Grinberg's shop. Moshele Grinberg and his wife, Sura, were people of a genteel character and they were esteemed by their Christian customers.

And it came to pass, the Lipkany Black Hundred decided to organize and themselves open such a shop, á la Moshele Grinberg, and in the same street, in the same neighborhood, and with more splendor and pomp, and it would be one hundred percent Christian.

They did not lack for money. The only thing they lacked was a place for the shop and an experienced Christian manager for such a business.

It did not take long for them to solve both problems. No Christians lived on the street in which they wished to open the shop from whom they could rent or buy a place for a shop. But a Jew, M.Sh, the owner of the most beautiful commercial building on the street on which he himself owned the largest haberdashery and shoe business in Lipkany, rented a half side of his brick building to them – for a purely Christian shop. And real Russians from somewhere in Russia were brought as a manager and clerks. And the most beautiful and the best goods were brought to the shop. The shop had an innocent Russian name: Obshchestvo Potrebitel'skaya Lavka [Society Consumer Shop]. In Yiddish it can be called: krom far algemeyne baderfenishn [shop for general needs]. The name is completely innocent. But it greatly harmed the Jewish shopkeepers. It harmed Moshele Grinberg the most. He was completely ruined. From great grief and heartache from seeing how his old, loyal customers were passing him by and then carrying out entire packages of goods from the Russian shop, he sold everything and moved to Odessa where he previously had

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business connections. He never returned to Lipkany.

* * *

When the trial of Mendel Beilis took place and the anti-Semites all over Russia sharpened their teeth against the Jews, the enemies of the Jews in Lipkany did not sit with their hands folded. They prepared. They waited only to hear the sentence – guilty – in order to have a ready justification. Meanwhile, they prepared the people through sermons in the church and in the gentile schools. Lipkany was a border city (with Romania), a division of soldiers was stationed there as a border guard. On Sunday they would be free from service, they would go to church and spend time with their acquaintances in the city until night. The military headquarters was located a little bit out of the city. They were favored in the church; in addition to prayers, it appears that their anti-Semitic education, which they were given, stuck pretty well.

I remember as if it were today how on an autumn Sunday night three soldiers went home to report to their military duties. They were very cheerful, desiring to end the day with a little bullying of the Jews. It simply was a gentile mitzvah [commandment]… The three Fonyas [derogatory word for Russia or Russians] walked on Tsigaynerish Street down from the church. They bothered each Jew in the street with Russian curses. No one answered them. Thus the [soldiers'] insolence grew greater and from “oral handiwork” they turned to “hand handiwork.”

There was a Jewish hat maker, Avigdor Shapashnik. Wooden blocks stood in front of his door and old hats were pulled over the blocks, a sign that a hat maker was located here. The soldiers began to throw the blocks and the hats into the middle of the street and, at the same time, cursed the Jews with all of their strength. Shmerl the tailor, not a frightened young man, arrived at this scene. Avigdor Shapashnik himself also was not a helpless child and Leib the tinsmith lived across from Avigdor. He [Leib] was called “Leib Tsigayner [gypsy]” because of his dark complexion. In addition to his natural dark complexion, he also was tanned from the sun because his tin business consisted of him covering churches and the landowner's court with tin roofs. This was summer work. He stood exposed to the sun. Therefore, he was pitch black. This Leib the tinsmith was a man of

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middle height, but a Jew, a strong man. Hands – like iron tongs. One word led to another and the three Jews began to [beat] the three soldiers so that they would never forget what kind of world they inhabit. It is worth mentioning that because it was Sunday the soldiers had not carried any weapons with them.

There was a racket and an uproar. More soldiers, who already were in the city came running. Jews closed their shops at once. More Jewish young men who could provide a gift from their hands came running. The street became dark with people. Dozens were embroiled in the fight. There were all of the characteristics of a pogrom. The fight lasted a few hours. There were a large number of wounded. More of the soldiers were among the wounded.

The fight ended when the soldiers had to report for duty and began to withdraw toward the cordon that surrounded the city. It again was quiet in the city. Courageous Jews had not permitted a true pogrom happen. It was fortunate that the soldiers did not have any weapons while it is certain that there would have been deaths in such a battle.

* * *

There was a chaotic situation in Lipkany as there was in general in all Bessarabia for several weeks during the winter of 1918. This was the time when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Kerensky government and took power. The Russian military left the front and ran home, some to parents, others to wives and children. They were tired of four years of war and simply yearned for a bit of their home environment. This running home caused great disorder.

And they did not just run from the front, but also from far from the front. It was anything goes. During those chaotic days all of the Russian military ran from Bessarabia and all of Bessarabia remained abandoned, without the military and without a civilian government. It appeared that many had left and had forgotten to take Bessarabia with them. When the soldiers ran home, they sold whatever they could: a coat, a pair of military boots, a rifle, a revolver, bullets. Jews bought a great deal with the thought that they would have weapons and the hope was that they would not be needed. There is no telling what could happen at such a time. And it actually did happen: village gentiles from around Lipkany

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with the help of several remaining and a few returning Russian soldiers began to prepare a pogrom against the Lipkany Jews. The news was brought by a village peasant, an older one, and warned that [the Jews] should prepare because they [the village gentiles] were getting ready to attack at night.

Lipkany young people did not lose any time. A Jewish self-defense group was organized immediately. Several returning Jewish soldiers, who still possessed their weapons, also were in Lipkany. They also joined. The chief organizers of self defense were Sidarof, a Jewish soldier from Kiev, an intelligent man with a combative nature, who could not return home, Shlomo Pajsekh and Rachmial Potshtar's son, one of the well-known Lipkany sons.

The self-defense group was well armed. They stood on watch for several consecutive nights, divided in groups at each entrance to the city because they did not know on which road they would arrive. Each group possessed a trumpet for letting it be known that the “guests” were coming. Every few hours the watch changed. Those outside came to the central [headquarters] and rested and warmed themselves with a glass of tea that was constantly ready and others took their place until daybreak.

It is irrelevant now to record all of the names of those in the self-defense group. It is simply impossible to remember everyone. However, I will make an exception for one of the people's guards. While I write these lines, he truly stands before my eyes with his entire heroism and boldness. While the gentile fury against the Jews was ample enough, the Jews felt much more confident because Hanania was present – one of Yehuda Hersh Rimer's eight children. He was the youngest of four brothers. He was a harness maker just like his father and his two oldest brothers, Perec and Shimeon. A man of the people in the full sense of the word. In the local Bessarabian, language that is: a true, good brother, both in joy and in suffering. He was a young giant, a complete athlete. There was no one for whom Hanania was afraid. He played a large role in the self-defense group because he had just returned from being a soldier; he was still in his military clothing and he knew how to handle weapons very well. Every Jew on Britshaner Road, where Hanania lived with

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his mother and two sisters, slept well at night with the knowledge that Hanania was on guard outside.

The streetlights were extinguished all over the city that night. It was very dark. The gas lanterns burned only at the marketplace and it was well lit. This was a well thought out strategy by the self-defense command: if the pogromists would come, they would probably go right to the market place, enter the Jewish shops and loot them. Therefore, let it be light so that the self-defense group could see them from afar.

And that is how it was. On that night the “beautiful guests” arrived, armed and with wagons to take away the looted goods. They came ready for anything and did go directly to the market as the self-defense group had expected. There were hundreds of them. But the members of the self-defense group lay in the dark, in the alleys, under porches and in cellars and they, too, were not without weapons. And when the pogromists gave the first blow with an axe to Ayzik Shneiderman's shop in the center of the market, the self-defense group began to shoot from its hiding places. The pogromists became so confused that they did not know where to run. They even shot back, but they did not see anyone among the self-defense group and did not know from where the bullets were coming. They shot aimlessly.

The battle lasted for a few hours. The pogromists were not given any opportunity to carry out a pogrom on even one Jewish house or shop. They [the self-defense group] made a ruin of their ranks and the end was that they had to load their killed and wounded into the wagons that they had brought on which to load the looted Jewish possessions and escape to where they had originated. When it grew light outside, one of the killed, whom the pogromists had not noticed in the darkness, had been left behind. He lay near the stairs to the tailor Shmuel Mitun's cellar.

The news was received in Lipkany a few days later of the gratitude of the Briceni kehile [organized Jewish community] 21 kilometers from Lipkany where all of the wounded pogromists were located in their hospital.

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On that horrible winter night the Lipkany self-defense group saved not only Lipkany from a terrible pogrom but the entire Khotin County that had been abandoned then.

This was a good lesson for all of the surrounding villages. Afterwards, it was not heard that any kind of pogrom had taken place in the entire Khotin County. Their [the anti-Semites'] appetite had been curbed.

Several weeks later, Romania annexed all of Bessarabia, declared it a Romanian province and began to implement a Romanian regime. But that is a separate story.

 

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