by Nachum Yoshpeh
Translated by Aryeh Sklar
In memorializing the activity of the selfdefense organization in Zinkov, I have no great revelations to offer. Fortunately, we never engaged in bloody campaigns with raiders. While we did have some difficult times, when gangs of raiders threatened to breach the town, thanks to our wellorganized defensive activity and our closeknit and disciplined comradery, we evaded danger and instilled fear in those who would threaten the safety of our town.
From time immemorial, Jews in southern Russia, in the Ukraine, were never able to lie down, and none shall make them afraid. They always expected trouble, and it fell upon the SelfDefense Organization to serve as the shield against this trouble.
The Samoobrona began as early as late 1905, when I was but nine years old. In the wake of the failure of the October 1905 revolution, a wave of antiJewish pogroms washed over Russia. Jews lived in fear everywhere, but doubly so in our town, due to a rumor that the Katsasps in the neighboring village of Petrashi (Petriceni) were being incited to attack the Jews of Zinkov. The Katsaps were Russians, from central Russia, who had escaped Russia during the times of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, due to the religious reforms implemented by the Czarist authorities, and resettled in dedicated villages in the Ukraine. They were powerful and bold people, who made their living in a variety of trades, and more than a few of them were criminals. They intimidated not only the Jews, but ordinary Ukrainians as well.
Indeed, there were those who believed that on the merit of the two great rebbes, Reb Moshe'le and Reb Pinchas'l, no ill could befall our town, but when it came to the Katsaps, everyone understood the matter was serious, and the prevailing motto was Du tu, un Got vett dir helfin You do, and God will help.
To this end, Samoobrona was established, in secrecy of course. People would gather in my parents' shop and whisper. They spoke of taytlach (dates) [as code for manufacturing weapons]. Blacksmiths discussed the choice of iron for manufacturing cold weapons. I remember one time, having returned from a trip to Proskurov (Khmelnytskyi), my father had brought back two rifles, and another time, a pistol.
Several of the wealthier families moved out of town to weather the storm. Ourselves as well, i.e. my mother and us children, were taken by my father to stay in the nearby town of Solovkovitz for a while, while he returned to Zinkov.
The night in question, when according to the rumor, the Katsaps planned to attack the town, was of course a night of fearful watching and preparing. But the Katsaps never came. Because the warnings
sent by our people to the people Petrashi had the desired effect, and the Katsaps did not take up the call of the inciters.
The local Ukrainians, almost all of whom were farmers, posed no serious threat, especially at that time when Zinkov was governed by the Oriadnik Bratinki, an old and wily police Sergeant Major, who knew ahead of time of any theft or crime about to be committed. The town lay protected under Bratinki, and he was of course handsomely rewarded.
Meanwhile, a time of calm arrived. Life resumed normalcy, Jewish children and Ukrainian children learning together in school. There was no longer a need for Samoobrona, and it was all but forgotten.
Following the October 1917 revolution, public safety crumbled. Regimes and authorities were rising and falling, a state of anarchy ensued, enabling gangs of pillagers and plunderers to undermine public safety, and first and foremost, attack the Jews.
Bedlam set in in 1918, and by then I was already among the activists.
Once, as a company of Russian soldiers returning from the frontlines, set up camp in Kalinovka (Kalynivka), a village near Zinkov, several of them robbed our neighbor, the Sadikovs, at gunpoint, and warned all who saw them that they would destroy anyone who protested their actions. We did not yet know how to react to the robbery, and to the ensuing threats, but as we were formulating our response the next day, a Ukrainian showed up and informed us that that night the company was planning to mobilize through our town, and that they will undoubtedly attempt to perpetrate further robberies.
The message was late in arriving. A number of the town politicos convened and discussed a plan of action. They decided to alert the head of the militia, and to set up an unarmed patrol, and they called in young people who were in possession of arms, just in case, to participate and stand guard.
Near midnight, while the politicos still sat there devising their plan of action, gunfire began to rain down on the town, coming from the direction of Kalinovka. Many of the Jewish residents responded by taking up arms and rushing outside. But due to a lack of organization and discipline, commotion and confusion took the streets.
At that time, I happened to be in the center of town. I immediately ran home. On my way I encountered a fifteenyear old boy, who held a rifle, but had no bullets. I took the rifle from him and rushed inside to get a supply of bullets from my father. He let me in and, at first, tried to dissuade me from running out there alone. But when I told him the guys outside had no bullets, he gave me a pouch full of bullets, and then he kissed me and sent me on my way. I ran straight to the Obshivka. When I reached the home of the Krupnik (the groats maker) opposite the cemetery, I could see that the shots were being fired from that direction. I took a position beside the house and opened fire towards the source of the gunfire. I fired thirtyfive rounds. Then the gunfire ceased, it became still, and after a few moments I could hear the sound of people speaking. As I approached that spot, I found Yankel Petyotis and Shlomo Zekel, who had also been firing in the direction of the cemetery.
On the following morning, we found in the cemetery many shell casings. headstones that had been hit by our gunfire, and even traces of blood. It became apparent that we had, with three rifles, held off an entire company. More importantly, the company that had departed Kalinovka did not pass through our town, and the rounds they shot near the town as they passed it, had wounded one Jewish resident in the arm as he sat in his home, killed a horse, and shattered a hanging lamp.
That same evening, a youth meeting was convened, and Samoobrona was reestablished, under the command of Avraham Gusakov. The group was organized such that each member selected a secure and suitable partner who would not leave their side in an emergency. And each pair was charged with patrolling the streets on any market day, or any day when there was an army presence in town, and ensuring that spirits were not sold on those days. The pairs would not overtly carry weapons while patrolling. While there were plenty of weapons in town, and the militia was aware of this, they were not permitted to overtly carry weapons. Usually, I should note, whenever a riot broke out,
the militiamen would disappear, as they did not wish to get involved and appear as protectors of Jews. Therefore, in times of emergency, we had to rely only on ourselves. To fortify our defenses, we occasionally had a mounted unit appear, and once we managed to detain a gang of inciters and hand them over to the police.
Our Samoobrona gained a reputation in the region, and it was even called in once to a neighboring town, to keep the peace at market day. But our activity was only effective against civilian inciters and raiders; it would be helpless if we had to confront a marauding army.
And then, when the Germans invaded the Ukraine, they instilled Skoropadsky as Hetman, in charge of the entire region, as they viewed him as an effective shield against Bolshevism. Of course, this was followed by the establishment of the State Guard (Derzhavna Varta), and the formation of the Cossack Cavalier Divisions. In those days the Haidamakas instigated riots in a number of places.
But the really great calamity befell the entire region, including Zinkov, once Petliura rose up against Skoropadsky. The Jews became the scapegoat. Entire towns were destroyed during those savage times. In our area, the greatest massacres were perpetrated in Proskurov, Felshtin, and StaroKonstantinov (Old Constantine). Our town, distant from the center, escaped destruction, but occasionally, individual soldiers would appear, demanding a contribution. Jews have always been prepared, and we were no exception, to pay money to redeem lives, but we always added a show of strength when paying the money, prepared to defend ourselves should the soldiers get out of control.
There was also one incident where money was deceitfully extorted from our townsfolk. One fine day
the sound of continuous gunfire sounded. Panic broke out. The Ukrainians hitched their wagons and began closing their shops. Rumors spread that the army was entering town. The first pair of Samoobrona operatives who ran out towards the source of the gunfire, without rifles but with concealed pistols, were met by three mounted men, two of whom carried rifles, and the third a machine gun. They asked to meet with the mayor, and said the regiment had sent them to inform us to prepare a large contribution, and to surrender to them the weapons that had fired upon them. If this was all given to them, the regiment would not pass through the town.
In addition to the weapons that the Samoobrona and certain individuals possessed, we also had ten governmentissue rifles, issued to ten licensed men led by Yisrael Greenman, nicknamed Einkaufer. We decided to hand over the ten governmentissue rifles to the riders. and properly explain it, as we were powerless to object to the demands of the army. I and one more of our members brought the rifles. They accepted them, but they trained the machine gun on us and threatened to obliterate us if they were not given a large sum of money, ransom for the townsfolk. In order to avert danger, the money was collected quickly. Moti Feuerman, president of the community, arrived with the money and handed it to the riders. They invited him to their lodging for a drink, and even issued him a receipt for the money. They ate, they drank, and they disappeared. We later found the rifles, their breeches removed, and cast away into the mangers. The entire tale about the regiment had been a complete fabrication.
We had many difficult and dangerous adventures with the Cossacks under the command of Petliura, who would devise any way to cause us grief and extort exorbitant sums of money from the townsfolk. We also had many clashes with the local Ukrainians, especially on Fair Days, when large numbers of farmers from neighboring villages would all gather in one place. At times, these clashes were quite serious, but they never escalated to bloodshed. Most noteworthy were the people of the village Vrebky who were very open with their propaganda and incitement to massacre Jews. But because we were constantly on guard, we succeeded in thwarting their plans beforehand.
We stood bravely and showed great fortitude. We instilled fear in the inciters and raiders who thought they would find us weak. Besides the hot and cold weapons that we employed in case of emergency, we used sticks and bottles, and the Samoobrona strike force also had iron knuckle dusters. If you have not seen Yankel Petyotis in a fight, you have never seen a hero in action. He could strike at ten men at once, none of them able to hit him at all. There was also a guy, a water carrier who worked for David Wasserfeuer, a redhead, who possessed tremendous physical strength. He was a bit sluggish but immensely resolute. It was said of him that he could knock down a bull. He was capable of pushing back a crowd of people.
The power of the Samoobrona became especially apparent during one of the brawls that broke out between the Ukrainians and the haberdashers in the market. The brawl had likely been prearranged. It was a market day, and the square was crowded with people, mostly farmers from the neighboring villages. An unexpected frenzy broke out. Several of the Ukrainian shoppers attempted to escape without paying the merchants for the merchandise they were buying, and one of the Jews broke out shouting, Help! I'm being robbed!. The merchants began to hastily close up their shops. To call for help, several rounds were fired as well.
When pandemonium broke out, most of the Jews hightailed it out of there, but amongst the crowd were people,
among them some who were not young, and who were not Samoobrona members who are not accustomed to running from a fight; most of them were carriage drivers. There was Yehiel Tana, a broad and stout man, there was Berel Paysis, a muscular man, The Yantsis brothers, Chilikel the Litvakthey were the first to rush to the aid of the haberdashers. They snatched a new hat from one gentile, and grabbed a new hat off the head of another. A massive brawl broke out. The Ukrainians began striking the Jews. The Jews responded, blow for blow. The Ukrainians filled the market square, the incitement was overt. Some of the shops, whose owners could not close them up in time, were abandoned by their owners. These were small grocery shops that could not be robbed in a hurry. Gentiles began grabbing bars of soap, some stuck their arms into barrels of pickled fish. But even this, they did not get the chance to complete because, just at the right time, our considerable reinforcements arrived. Although we did carry weapons, they were mainly meant for intimidation purposes. Even the knives that both we and the Ukrainians carried, did not, fortunately come into use.
We used only sticks and bottles. The strike force members also had knuckle dusters.
If you haven't seen Yankel Petyotis and the way he charged the raiders, you have never seen a hero. Avraham the militiaman was also outstanding that day in his bravery. By then he was already a bona fide militiamanhe wore a governmentissued uniformbut his salary was paid by our community.
Eventually, the gentiles were vanquished, split up into little groups and chased by the Jews who outnumbered them. And when they began to flee, other Jews joined the Samoobrona people. We did not sustain any serious injury during that big brawljust the odd broken arm or leg, and scrapes and bruises.
This entire campaign took place in the vicinity of Zinkov's famous pottery market, which was entirely under control of the gentiles who, that day, had primarily suffered losses, because during the scuffle, and specifically during the retreat and escape, pots whose owners were not able to collect inside, were trampled. The following day, the potters proposed that they would contribute people to the Samoobrona, and in return we would position guard details near them on market day, to prevent damage to their merchandise. We rejected their proposal.
Generally, we were successful in those days in protecting our fellow Jews in Zinkov and their property. But we were helpless against the army, and if we did occasionally manage to survive clashes with the army, it was not thanks to force but, rather, thanks to the implementation of some artfulness and artifice. But one particular night, disaster suddenly struck, delivering a terrible blow to Samoobrona as a whole, and each of us individually. We were stunned and crestfallen. We sustained what one would call a direct hit.
That night, Petliura forces entered the town. The instructions, given by Samoobrona, were for everyone to lock themselves inside their homes, as usual, at night, and to not open up for anyone, not to respond to any order from the army or the police, and should anyone attempt to force their way in, they were to begin shouting, to alert our people, who would then endeavor to arrive there from wherever they were grouped, and address the situation. This maneuver was usually effective, and the assailants would flee before they could act.
That night, we did not hear any shouting. I arose the next morning to find out that Petliura's men had assassinated Avrahamke, who was the central pillar of Samoobrona. They had attempted
to rape his sister, and when he forcefully prevented them from committing this vile deed, they killed him.
The savage army had meanwhile left town, leaving us stunned, crestfallen, orphaned, deep in mourning over Avrahamke, who literally was the Samoobrona. Sure, Gusakov was the commander, and Hendzels his secondincommand, but we never saw either of them in any dangerous situation. But Avrahamke would always turn up, and his very presence instilled in everyone a sense of security. When he said, let's go!, anyone would follow him anywhere, no matter the danger.
This time, he had been alone and was unable to singlehandedly contend with armed despicable thugs from Petliura's army.
May his memory be blessed!
by M. G.
Translated by Yael Chaver
The purpose of our memorial book is to write the history of our murdered town. We must recount and narrate, as best we can, everything we know about life in Zinkov before the great destruction, and provide a documentary image of the bloody tragedy itself, based on the witness statements we possess. Examining the few memoirs that we have, we see that no one has provided materials about the period after the civil war, when the Soviet regime was establishing itself in our area.  The reason for this absence is very simple. During the civil war, when various armed bands stormed through our region, our town slowly lost its residents. Many died during the epidemic.  There was a time when three or four deaths would occur in a single night. The young folks, seeing no future for themselves in the town, left for the wide worldother countries, or the large cities of Russia; some went to Kiev, others to Odessa. Even later, when the regime stabilized, the stream of Zinkov natives leaving the town continued. It was then still possible to receive passports to leave the country. Even people who had lost their status (storekeepers with no stores, merchants with no merchandise) went to the large cities. They wanted to adjust to the new economy, either as clerks in a government shop or as managers; the Soviet government needed the long experience of the former merchants. Others went to work in the factories. Those who stayed behind also underwent a long process of adjustment. Worker and artisan cooperatives were formed. People from other towns started arriving in Zinkov, as well as Jews who had previously lived in villages. A difficult process of economic development began.
Over the years, contacts between those who had left the town
and those who stayed faded. Everyone was busy establishing their positions and fashioning their lives under the new conditions. During the 1930s, a heavy silence fell over people. Those who still had correspondents wrote only about their health and family. No one wrote about life in Zinkov in general or about specific events. However, we will quote from the little information that has reached us from that time, and compare it with information about previous and later periods. For example, we know about the difficulties that faced Jewish youth who wanted to get a higher education under the Czarist regime, the economic problems of storekeepers and small merchants, and the sad state of poor artisans. True, the number of Jewish illiterates was much lower than among the peasants of the region. But at the same time, the older people did not know the official language of the country. Only few had newspapers and books, even among Jews. Of course, there were enough people in our area who knew a verse of Torah or a chapter of the Bible; there was also a small number of scholars. Many handed their children over to private tutors. Young people strove to educate themselves; but it was hard to attain higher, or even secondary, education.
What were things like during the 1920s, under Soviet rule? It is well known that general education in schools was obligatory. There were schools everywhere comprising grades 17 or 110, where studies were almost of gymnazya standard.  Previously, only a few children could study at Sumnievitsh's twoclass school, where a priest would teach the children religion (God's Law). He would terrify the children with his long black coat. The Christian children had to kneel and cross themselves, while the Jewish children stood frightened and confused, not knowing what they should be doing. Now, however, each child (regardless of ethnic origin or religion) could go to any school, free of charge. The young people really devoted themselves to studying. Zinkov had a special school where Yiddish was taught; it existed until the Stalinist edicts. 
The children of Zinkov began going to the higher schools. Those who completed their studies could be accepted for a government position, or as officers in the Soviet army. They entered industry, and became physicians, engineers, and scientists in all areas of Soviet science. This was a great change from the days of external students and the quota system of Czarist times, when many Jews were forced to convert in order to advance themselves.  Places where Jews were once forbidden to
set foot, such as Holy Moscow with its 160 churches, or Kiev, now welcomed everyone equally, including many Jews.  Many Zinkov survivors now live in Kiev.
We also heard of electric lights that had been installed in Zinkov itself, as well as regular cinema showings. We were told that Pinchesl's house had become a theater, in which pictures were shown on a screen. A club was founded for lectures as well as a library. We heard that a kolkhoz had existed in Zinkov before the destruction; unfortunately, we have no further details. 
We know nothing about the conditions under which people lived in Zinkov for the twenty years preceding the destruction, because they were all murdered by the Hitlerite killers. Yet, let us not forget after all that Zinkov still exists as a geographical location in the U.S.S.R., and that several Jewish families still live there. It may be possible for a Jewish community to develop there. Who knows? Let's hope for that. Jews always live with hope. They believe with all their hearts that Messiah will come, and they dream about a distant, bright future. And while we're expressing hopes, let's hope that Jewish culture will once again live and flourish on the soil of Zinkov, and that our heritage of two languages will be nurtured along with our folkways.  Who knows, our memorial book might reach the Zinkov library, and Jewish children of modern Zinkov will be able to read this book and get an idea of how we lived during the difficult, tragic period, and what Zinkov used to be like.
by Moyshe Garber
Translated by Yael Chaver
It was when the spring storm of revolution raged the length and breadth of great Russia, when the enslaved masses shook their chains so that the foundations of the rotten Czarist order were shaken.
Eventually, breezes and sounds of the great revolutionary turmoil reached Zinkov. New young people, students and workers, appeared; they had been sent out from the larger towns in our area, such as Proskurov, Vinnitsa, and Kamenetz. Their mission, as they expressed it, was to awaken the workers of Zinkov from their lethargy, educate and organize them, inform them how exploited they are because they work for negligible wages and inhumanely long hours. The working class of our town consisted of apprentices of tailors, shoemakers, carpenters; and a few tinsmiths and blacksmiths, as well as a few
clerks. There was also a prominent group of milliners and glovemakers who sewed cottonpadded undershirts for the peasant women. 
A long series of secret meetings followed, secret propaganda as they were termed. In summer they were held in the fields, in the deep valley; in winter they took place in a house on a side street, so that the police would not find out. Excited people crowded in, listening with tears in their eyes when the agitator described the bitter conditions of working people. For the first time in their lives, they heard words such as revolution, battle, exploitation, freedom, and the like. 
|Shlime the baker, Binem's wife, with her family|
People quickly learned revolutionary songs, and a library of Yiddish books was actually set up in our house. This is why I remember the episode of the Zinkov worker's movement so vividly, and the birth of the Jewish Revolutionary Workers' Organization the Bund.  The workers in Zinkov began to be called bundovtses.  The leaders of the Bund in Zinkov were Avrom Abramovitch (or, as he was called, AvromAlter, SaniYitzchok's son), Noyekh Shpilerman (or Noyekh, Khaykl's son),
Yoysef Shtrakhman (or YoysefPeretz, Yehuda Leyb's son), Berenzon (KhayimItzik Shaye's brother), and several others.  When the leaders saw that conditions were right, they decided to mount an open battle and call out the Zinkov working class for a strike, or, as it was then termed, a zabastovke.  One fine morning, all the workers upon a signal from the leader set down scissors and irons, and went out to the streets like soldiers mobilized for war. The bosses were stunned, and had no idea what was happening. They had never in their lives heard the word strike. The strike committee assembled the bosses and clarified the strikers' demands: shorter work hours and higher wages. The bosses wouldn't even listen and categorically rejected these demands. For their part, they declared war on the strikers and their committee.
Now a series of denunciations and blows began. In return for a glass of brandy, the bosses hired the Zinkov underworld to fight the workers. These scoundrels got drunk on Shabbes, attacked any workers they encountered in the synagogue or on the street, and beat them up. Soon after that, the Bund organized a beating brigade, a kind of strongarm squad, consisting of young men who could give as good as they got. This commando was headed by a carpenter's apprentice named MoysheKhayim (Snowstorm's son) or Moyshe Natanzon.  This Moyshe was a decent, hardworking laborer, who was proud and grateful to have become educated and understand what was happening in the world and in the proletarian revolutionary movement. After a hard day's work he liked to have a good wash, put on his nicest clothes, pick up a book, and walk the streets of Zinkov. If people asked him, Moyshe, where are you going? he would proudly answer, To the filitek.  When the workers saw that the bosses were unyielding, continuing to rampage and make denunciations, they decided to take stronger measures. First, the brigade itself spread fear among the professional brawlers. They sought out the informers on their Shabbes walks, or at their homes, while they were napping after the Shabbes meal, and beat them up. That put a stop to the denunciations.
But the bosses would still not yield
an inch, and the strike committee decided to employ a new strategy. There was a carpenter's apprentice named Mekhl (SoreKhantse's son). This Mekhl was a precise copy of the character of Jimmie Higgins created by the American writer Upton Sinclair.  In this novel, Sinclair described a type of worker and Party member who is totally devoted to his organization, and always ready to take great risks, even death, if the Party required it. He was unremarkable, asked no questions, gave no talks, but blindly carried out whatever the leaders requested. This was Sinclair's portrait of Jimmie, and this was Mekhl the carpenter. Once, during a strike on the eve of Passover, Mekhl came to visit us and saw my mother, may she rest in peace, preparing chickens for the holiday meal. He said, Rokhl, do me a favor, don't throw away the inner organs, that is, the chicken offal. Surprised, Mother asked him, What do you need it for? He smiled and said, What do you care? I need it. He went outdoors and soon returned with two earthenware pots, filled them with all the offal, and left.
Early the next morning we heard an uproar in the streets; the whole town was agitated. My father, may he rest in peace, went out to the market as usual, but soon came back saying that last night, during the first Seder, someone had thrown pots full of offal through the windows of Leyzer, the misshapen leatherworker, Nachman the tailor, and someone else whose name escapes me. The pots landed right on the Seder table, ruined the entire meal, and scared everyone to death.
The upshot was that during Passover week the bosses met with the members of the strike committee, and reached an understanding. Work conditions were greatly improved; the workers were better paid and their hours were shortened. The main thing, though, was that from then on the workers felt that they were not at the mercy of the bosses and that they were an organized force. The bosses realized this, and started dealing with the workers respectfully, man to man, and not like lords to slaves.
by Moyshe Garber
Translated by Yael Chaver
Mayday finally came. People in Zinkov knew by now that May 1 was a holiday for all the workers of the world. Preparations for the festive holiday lasted for weeks. When the day came, everyone dressed in their finest, attached red ribbons to their lapels, and assembled on the butchers' meadow behind Dr. Garbotovsky's fence. I was then a small boy, curious to know, see, and hear everything. So I didn't go to cheder that day and joined in all the festivities. The mood was merry and elevated. The high point of the event was when four tall guys were set up in facing pairs. Two more guys were placed on their shoulders; they joined hands and formed a kind of chair. That was meant to signify the czar's throne (the royal seat), on which the czar sat. That was either Meir, Leybe's son (Meir Horovitz). One of the workers gave a festive speech. A red flag was unfurled and a resounding shout was heard: Down with the czar! The throne collapsed and the czar fell down so hard that the ground trembled. But it did not end there. Fashionable young men then wore very tight pants. Poor Meir fell from the throne with such force that the back seam of his pants ripped, and he was too embarrassed to stand up… When the audience caught sight of this, the solemnity of the occasion was forgotten, and they broke into resounding laughter that echoed across the fields and forests for a long time.
But who at that time could figure that only a few years later the mockery of the na´ve Zinkov young men and women would develop into a bloody reality… The czar and his rotten organization was indeed overthrown. But everything that followed flung the world into a bloody mess for a long time, and the greatest victim of this violence was once again our Jewish people.
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