Zlata Tkach

Zlata Tkach with her mother Fania Berehman and her friends (1930).

Chisinau, Moldova

Zlata Tkach is a well-known composer in Moldova. Before visiting her I looked into the Musical Encyclopedia published in Moscow in 1991 where I read that she is the author of a few operas, a ballet, cantatas, concerts, sonatas, etc. Zlata met me wearing an original sweater that she had made herself and a long multi-colored skirt. She is short and quick in her movements, a fatty woman with fluffy reddish hair. Zlata has an independent way of thinking, she has a bright, artistic and charming character. There are a few details of her everyday life in her story. Her story is full of emotional recollections. She remembers her reaction to events rather than the content. After her husband died, Zlata has lived alone in a bright four- bedroom apartment designed to make an impression of being spacious. Zlata’s pet, the playful cat Asia, thinks of herself as the mistress of the apartment. There is a piano in the study where Zlata works and gives classes to her few students. We talked in the living room where there is a big carpet on the floor, a set of bookcases full of books, armchairs and a sofa. There are graphical and artistic portraits of the master and mistress of the house on the wall over the sofa: they are works of the friends of the family who are artists of Kishinev. After the interview, Zlata invited me to have gefilte fish and homemade liqueur; everything was delightfully delicious.


Interview details

Interviewee: Zlata Tkach
Interviewer: Natalia Fomina
Date of interview: March 2004
Place: Chisinau, Moldova



My family background

My maternal grandfather, Mendel Kofman, was born in the 1870s in Kishinev and lived there all his life. When I was small, we lived in my grandfather’s big four-bedroom apartment on Lankasterskaya Street, in the lower part of Kishinev. This street no longer exists. My grandfather was a businessman. Like any other businessman he had his ups and downs. He was deeply religious. He prayed twice a day: in the morning and in the evening, with his tallit and tefillin on. My grandfather secluded himself to pray in a room, but I was inquisitive and used to follow him there secretly. I was very interested in the process. I don’t know whether he went to the synagogue every day, but he certainly went there on holiday. He always had a small yarmulka on at home. He dressed smartly and accurately, and my grandmother took care of his clothes. My grandfather’s photographs have been lost, and I don’t remember whether he had a beard.

My grandmother, Riva Kofman, was a few years younger than my grandfather. I didn’t know her maiden name. She was an impeccable housewife. I remember how ideally clean she kept the house, it was just perfect. My grandparents spoke Yiddish and I understand the language thanks to them. They both died before the war [see Great Patriotic War] [1], in the mid-1930s. My grandfather died first and then my grandmother followed him less than a year later. I have no doubts that they were buried in accordance with the Jewish rites, but I was about seven years old and I hardly remember anything. Besides, my parents protected me from negative emotions, and during the funeral I think I stayed with some acquaintances. My grandparents had two daughters. My mother’s older sister Esther was married to Mordekhai Lerner. Aunt Esther also lived in Kishinev. Her son Aron was about eight years older than me. Before the war, Aron studied in the violin department at the Conservatory.

My mother, Fania Kofman, was born in Kishinev in 1905. She graduated from grammar school where she was a good and industrious pupil. She was musical and sang well. My mother was of average height, had brown hair, a round face and black eyes. Her most prominent feature was meekness. My mother was a beautiful woman, but she grew plump when she was young, for some unexplained reason. She didn’t have to go to work. She married my father when she was young, and was a housewife.

My paternal grandparents also lived in Kishinev, but I don’t know where they were born. I didn’t know my paternal grandfather, Bentsion Berehman. He died young in the 1910s. My grandfather dealt in selling prunes that he produced in the village of Lozovo near Kishinev. My grandfather purchased ‚vengerka‘ plums that were dried in loznitsa boxes [special box for drying plums]. My grandfather owned a whole prune production facility. This was a profitable business. Prunes were in great demand and were even shipped abroad. My grandmother, Kenia Berehman, took over the business after he died. She was an imperious businesswoman. She owned a house on Lankasterskaya Street, two to three houses away from where my mother’s parents lived. There were seven rooms and a big corridor in the house. There was a big yard with a cellar in it, there was a gate to the garden, and in the garden there was a raspberry yard, my favorite playground. My grandmother rented out one half of her house for additional income. I can’t remember whether my grandmother had housemaids. I believe she managed everything herself, so full of energy she was. She raised two sons.

My father’s older brother, Isaac, studied abroad like many other young men in Bessarabia [2]. He graduated from the Law Faculty of the University of Rome and worked as a lawyer in Kishinev. Uncle Isaac was married. His wife’s name was Zhanna. He died in 1973. Zhanna died some time before. Their son Boris lives in Kishinev.

My father, Moisey Berehman, was born in Kishinev in 1902. He got his strong will and extraordinary energy from my grandmother Kenia. He was gifted in music and finished the violin class at the Conservatory. He also learned to play brass instruments at the Conservatory. He played the trombone, tuba and the horn. After graduating from the Conservatory my father taught the violin at the Conservatory and gave private classes. He founded a small orchestra consisting of his students. My father was a very handsome man, and naturally, women were attracted to him. Like many artistic characters my father was amorous, and later my mother lived through many hard times in this regard.

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Growing up

I don’t know how my parents met, but I know for sure that they had a love marriage. This happened in 1927. My mother told me that they had a traditional Jewish wedding with a chuppah. I was born on 16th May 1928 in Lozovo in Nisporensk district, where my grandmother Kenia had her business, and my parents probably lived there for some time. When I turned three, we moved in with my mother’s parents Mendel and Riva Kofman in Kishinev. They had an apartment on the second floor. There was a big hallway, a kitchen, some storerooms and a toilet in the apartment. My grandparents and my parents had their own bedrooms. There was also a big dining room and a salon with a big piano where my father gave his classes. I also slept in this salon: I had a desk and a small sofa in the corner. My father’s students had their classes when I was at school. There was a woman in the house who must have cleaned the house and brought food products from the market. My mother didn’t go to the market.

My family led a traditional Jewish way of life and I liked everything associated with Jewish traditions. It was like I lived in a fairy-tale wrapped in love. It’s wonderful when two to three generations live together. The six of us sat at a big rectangular table. There was my grandmother and grandfather, my father and mother, I, and my grandmother’s sister I think. The table was covered with a snow-white tablecloth and there was silverware. I still have a silver spoon reminding me of the time when we sat at the table and the adults ate slowly, which is different from how they nibble on food quickly nowadays.

I remember how on holidays my grandfather Mendel recited a prayer standing at the head of the table. This was very solemn, and holy, and I believed it all so much. On Pesach we ate from special crockery kept in a locked cupboard during the year. By the way, I always had my own crockery for Pesach and hullin [Hebrew, in Ashkenazi tradition: everyday kitchen utensils]. I remember how my grandparents taught me the fir kashes – the four traditional questions to be asked on Pesach: ‚Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol halaylot‘ in Hebrew. Though I don’t know Hebrew, I still remember some extracts of fir kashes. It’s amazing how memory keeps some things, though I remember no other details. Later, the war erased so much from my memory.

My parents went to the synagogue on all holidays. Sometimes they took me with them and I sat on the balcony with my mother and the other women. The men sat downstairs, I remember this well. However, I don’t remember what the synagogue was like. I remember the celebration of New Year – Rosh Hashanah. There were special dishes on the table: apples, honey and round challah. Chanukkah was the merriest holiday. We usually had many guests. I remember color toys and garlands that my grandmother decorated the rooms with. We danced and had lots of fun. There were gifts, but I don’t remember been given money – I didn’t care about money.

Purim was also a wonderful holiday. I liked it very much. There were delicious hamantashen and fluden: walnuts boiled in honey, hard and sweet, and I liked them more than hamantashen. There were guests and masquerades and I had a Pinocchio costume.

My father was a musician and my mother was very musical and there was always a lot of music in the house. When I turned three, my father began to teach me the violin. I had a little quaver violin: a very rare instrument. Pupils usually start with a quarter, then a half, three quarters and then an integer violin, but I was little and had a little quaver violin. When I grew older, I began to learn the piano. My teacher was Mademoiselle Kaplun. Every Sunday morning we had morning parties in our salon where my father’s orchestra also took part. I played the piano and my mother sang sometimes. This was so festive! These were family music festivals, a tradition that has now been lost regretfully. My talent in music showed up early. At the age of four I already performed on stage. However, I can’t remember where it was. I remember going onto a stage to play the little violin.

I didn’t have a nanny. My mother educated me and walked with me. She was a wonderful mother: devoted, tender and wise. My father was sporty. He was fond of sports. He swam and walked long distances. I remember how he sometimes walked from Lozovo to Kishinev. He wanted to make me sporty. When I turned six, he began to teach me swimming. We went to a swimming pool near the railway station. I sailed on my father’s back. Once, I slid down and began to drown. He pulled me up, but I had swallowed a lot of water, and I’ve been afraid of swimming since then.

My parents spoke both Yiddish and Russian to me at home, but I first learned to write in Russian. I started learning Romanian when I went to a Romanian elementary school for girls on Harlampievskaya Street. I remember my first day at school well. We lined up in the school yard. Our director, Bugaeva, came from a noble Russian family. She made a nice speech to us. She approached each one of us, stroked our hair saying that we were taking up some responsibilities which we had to take seriously to become decent people. Everything was so solemn like at an inauguration of a president. We wore dark uniform robes and white aprons and wore our hair in gauze hair pieces. I picked up Romanian fast and studied well. Bugaeva taught us crafts. In the course of four years I learned to knit, embroider and cook a little. She also taught us taste in dressing and good manners. She was a friendly, tactful and charming lady. She loved me for some reason.

After finishing elementary school I went to the grammar school ‚Regina Maria‘, on Podolskaya Street. I had a good conduct of Romanian by that time and was a good and industrious pupil. I had almost all excellent marks. I didn’t do so well in humanities, but I was good at certain subjects. I always had the highest marks in mathematics. Our mathematics teacher was a rough woman. When somebody gave a wrong answer she would say, ‚You have a straw head and a hole in it.‘ However, our teachers were well-educated for the most part. There were a few Jewish girls in the grammar school but I didn’t face any prejudiced attitudes. Perhaps the high level of education of our teachers explains this. The children also came from educated families: ‚Regina Maria‘ was considered to be a prestigious grammar school. There was strict discipline in the grammar school. There was also a Romanian grammar school, ‚Principessa Dadiani,‘ in town, where French was also taught. Unfortunately, I didn’t study it for long and have poor knowledge of French.

Besides school I also attended my violin and piano classes and hardly had any leisure time left. In the rare moments of leisure my parents didn’t allow me to play with other children in the yard who probably had a different mentality. Instead, they took me to the confectionery shop on Alexandrovskaya Street, the main street of Kishinev, where we had ice cream. Alexandrovskaya Street was paved with gravel like the majority of the streets in Kishinev, and there was a tram running there. There were one- storied houses, some of them were nice. There were many shops owned by Jews on Alexandrovskaya Street. There were a few markets and many gardens and parks in Kishinev. One of the oldest parks was the park with the monument of Stephan the Great [the ruler of the Moldova principality from 1457-1504, who conducted the policy of centralization]. I remember there was a terrible earthquake in Kishinev in 1940. It happened at night. I was sleeping in my corner by the outer wall. My father grabbed me and rushed outside, when the wall collapsed right on my bed. My father saved my life.

I remember that the late 1930s, when the Cuzists [3] came to power, were troublesome years. My parents were very concerned as the elements of anti- Semitism began to emerge. Young people marched in the streets and there were collisions. Perhaps for this reason our family was happy when Bessarabia was annexed to the USSR [see Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union] [4]. Besides, we had no idea what the USSR was like. We were told that everybody was equal there, but this sounded so naive. I, a twelve- year-old girl, was just curious. I remember watching the Red army troops marching along the streets, when they came into town. There was new administration. There were jokes told about the wives of the military who bought olives to make jam. Of course, the Soviet military and their wives weren’t highly cultural. It seemed to me that the life of our family didn’t change. My father was a teacher and we lived in our apartment. However, my grandmother Kenia let a part of her house to her tenants without charging them. She said, ‚Let them live here, I don’t need their fees.‘ I went to the sixth grade of a Russian school.

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During the War

On 22nd June 1941 the war began. Our family had different views regarding evacuation: some were for it and some were against it. My uncle Mordekhai was adamantly against evacuation. He said, ‚I’m not leaving here.‘ They stayed and perished in a ghetto in Transnistria [5]. Their son Aron was mobilized to the Soviet army on the first days of the war and this saved his life. He was at the front during the war, survived and met the Victory Day in Hungary. After the war Aron returned to Kishinev and worked in the State Symphonic Orchestra of Moldova. He got married and had a daughter. Aron died of cancer at the age of 53 in the early 1970s. His wife Zhanna lives in Kishinev, and their daughter Lisa moved to Israel.

My father demonstrated strength and activity. He arranged for my mother and I and my grandmother Kenia, to leave Kishinev by railroad. There was an air raid near Kishinev and the refugees grabbed their bales and jumped off the train. Somebody said that it was best to hide under the railcars, but my father dragged us to the field and this saved our lives. A bomb hit our railcar. Then, I remember this well, we headed to the Northern Caucasus in open platforms. On our way we ate whatever we could get trading our belongings for food. We got off in Ordzhonikidze. My father was mobilized to the army and sent to a distribution point in the town of Prohladnoye near Ordzhonikidze. My mother went there to see him. The front line was approaching Ordzhonikidze and we had to move on.

The three of us took a freight train heading to Makhachkala [1700 km from Kishinev], a port on the Caspian Sea. Near Makhachkala we were told to get off the train. They said, ‚This is the end of the track. You can get a lift on trucks or whatever.‘ A few families got together and hired a truck trading some things for the ride. The drivers were Chechen or somebody else speaking a language we didn’t understand. Somehow the men who were with us didn’t like their attitude. They probably wanted to rob us and leave us in the middle of nowhere, but fortunately there was a column of trucks moving in the opposite direction on our way. The men jumped off the truck and spoke to some military men telling them about our situation. The military offered us a truck to take us to Makhachkala: there are wonderful people at all times! There was something awful in Makhachkala. There were crowds of people waiting for a ship to go to Central Asia across the sea.

We stayed in the open air for a few days. I remember one episode. It was getting dark and it was rather cool and uncomfortable. I was lying on our packs of luggage. Right before where I was the lights went on the first floor. I looked in there and couldn’t take my eyes away. There was a table set in a bright cozy room with two girls sitting at a table: a nice homely scene. I looked there and tears poured down my face. Boarding on the ship was announced. I followed the others, when I was horrified to discover that there was no mother or grandmother beside me. I got lost. I began to scream, ‚Mama! Mama!‘ Somebody said, ‚Your mama is on board already.‘ I was 13 and should have guessed that my mother would never board a ship without me, but I believed this and went up. My mother and grandmother stayed ashore. A Tatar woman, who had two children, shared her miserable food with me on this ship.

I got off in Krasnovodsk [today Turkmenbashi – 575 km from Makhachkala]. From there we were taken to an aul village. I stayed with this family but I don’t remember their names. It was thought that they would send me to a children’s home later. There were low saxaul trees in this aul. Their branches served for stoking in this area. There was flat bread made on the fire. There was little food, even mill cake [milled and pressed sunflower oil production wastes] were hard to get. I decided to leave this family and go to Namangan [1625 km from Krasnovodsk], which was about 30 kilometers from this village to find a children’s home there. When I got to Namangan I fortunately bumped into a Jewish woman. She happened to be the director of a children’s home in Drogobych [Lvov region]. Her name was Rosa Abramovna, but I’ve forgotten her surname. She was arrested in 1945 or 1946, I don’t know for what charges. She had a rare kind heart. She took me with her.

So I began to live in the children’s home and go to school. We had sufficient food, four to five of us slept in one room. At this age it was no problem for me. It’s nowadays that I don’t like to share my room with anyone in a recreation home. I told Rosa Abramovna that I could play the piano and violin, and she engaged me right away. I formed a small band of the children from this children’s home, found some patriotic poems and composed the song ‚Red army troopers‘. We learned this song, and I even staged dances. My father’s energy emerged in me. Later, our band went to the Olympiad of Children’s Amateur Arts in Tashkent. We were a great success and took the second place. Rosa Abramovna was very happy and provided additional rations of food for the ‚artists.‘ It was amazing but I don’t remember any of these children.

Life in the children’s home was totally different from my life in Kishinev, but it wasn’t that bad for me. I was 14 years old, I was full of energy, had my music and joined the Komsomol [6]. Imperceptibly I became an atheist like all Soviet children. Rosa Abramovna helped me to search for my mother and grandmother. She wrote to Buguruslan in Orenburg region [today Russia], where they opened an evacuation inquiry office, and my mother finally responded in 1943. As it happened, my mother and grandmother were in Kokand [about 100 km away] near Namangan. My mother had been looking for me all that time. She and my grandmother were exhausted and miserable. They moved to Namangan. Rosa Abramovna employed my mother as a tutor in the children’s home. My mother had meals in the children’s home and took food for my grandmother. They rented a room and I lived with them.

My father served in an orchestra platoon. However, he had venous congestion and wasn’t fit for military service and they demobilized him in 1943. He went to Tashkent where he was hoping to find us, but it wasn’t that easy. When my father was sitting at the railway station one of our acquaintances from Kishinev called his name, ‚Moisey! Do you know that your family is in Namangan?‘ Just imagine! One chance in a thousand! In Namangan my father went to work in the School of Military Musicians evacuated from Moscow [today Russia]. He taught the tuba, French horn and horn: he was much valued for knowing to play brass instruments. We reunited. Our relatives began to move to Namangan: my father’s brother Isaac, and my grandmother Kenia’s distant relatives. Life was very hard and we had miserable food. There was a terrible disease called ’shpru‘ raging in this area. It may have been dystrophy. The hunger resulted in durable diarrhea and death. My grandmother Kenia tried to support us. She said she had had enough food and gave her food to her sons. She fell ill with ’shpru‘ and died. My grandmother was buried in the town cemetery in Namangan.

When re-evacuation began, Zlobin, the director of the School of Military Musicians, tried to convince my father to move to Moscow. He also offered my father an apartment but my father only wanted to go back to Kishinev, ‚I want to go to my homeland, to Kishinev.‘ In August 1944 the Soviet army liberated Kishinev and we returned home, but there was no home left. Kishinev was ruined. There was a pile of stones left from my grandmother Kenia’s house. In the house across the street, a Moldovan woman kept chicken in a room with a window in the ceiling. She let us live in this room. We cleaned it, whitewashed the walls and moved in there. Later, we had another small room built. It looked like a corridor, but there was a window in it. Our prewar tradition to set the table covered with a snow- white tablecloth faded away and Jewish traditions were forgotten: we were just surviving. My father went to teach in a music school, he had no private classes, and our life was hard.

I finished the ninth grade while in evacuation. When we returned I bumped into my former mathematics teacher, Lidia Samoilovna. She remembered me well and taught at elite school # 2 [7]. She said, ‚Let’s take this girl to our school.‘ So I went to the tenth grade in this school, and also, began to work in kindergartens as a music tutor. They didn’t pay well but they provided meals and I could even take some food home with me. I composed music for children. I remember the song ‚Little leaves‘: ‚Swing with me, my little golden leaf. Little leaves, green, maple leaves‘ – ‚Listiki‘, ‚Pokachaysa nado mnoy, moy listochek solotoy. Listiki, listiki selonie klenovie.‘ The children liked it. The war was over. Victory Day [8] is a big, a very big holiday. There was a meeting at school. However, for me Victory Day is associated with the song ‚The Day of Victory‘ by Tukhmanov [David Tukhmanov, a Jew, a popular Soviet composer of popular songs]. I think it’s just a brilliant song.

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Post-war

My father was happy that I worked with music and had a positive attitude to my composition experiences. He was happy that we had survived, but we were so bothered looking for food. We starved. I’m not ashamed of this word. We all starved. I needed good food: butter and milk. There was no food like this and I fell ill with bronchoadenitis, but thank God, there was a pulmonary doctor, Fishov. He brought me to recovery free of charge. However, I developed chronic bronchitis that has bothered me ever since. I finished school. At my graduate exam in mathematic I solved mathematic problems for the whole class. I finished school with a golden medal and decided that my vocation was to be the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics. I had no problems with entering Kishinev University, which had just been founded [1945]. However, it was a disappointment. Probably, the lecturers there weren’t so good.

At that time Leonid Simonovich Gurov, a renowned pedagogue and composer, came to work in the Kishinev Conservatory from Odessa. My second cousin sister Dora Fridman was a musician and advised me to show my compositions to him and I did so. Leonid Simonovich listened to my songs. They were probably naive but they came from my heart and had nice tunes. He liked them and told me to enter the Preparatory Faculty of the Conservatory. I tried to study at both the University and Conservatory, but it was too hard and I quit the University.

After finishing the Preparatory Faculty I entered two Faculties at the Conservatory: the violin class of Iosif Lvovich Dailis, and the Music History Faculty. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get in Gurov’s class of composition: his class was full. I was hoping that later there might be a chance, but there wasn’t. There were two anti-Semitic campaigns: the struggle [campaign] against cosmopolitans [9] and the Doctors‘ Plot [10], when I studied in the Conservatory. We understood that these were fabricated campaigns and we followed the events, but we were more bothered about our hard life. There was a card system in the country and we were hungry. I remember sitting in class, and there was a bakery store under the windows of the Conservatory building, and we couldn’t focus on the subject of studies as we looked through the window trying to guess whether the bread had been delivered to the store. Our teacher reassured us, ‚They haven’t delivered the bread yet. Sit still.‘ When the card system was cancelled and it became possible to buy bread and sugar, there was so much happiness. I remember my fellow student, Yefim Bogdanoskiy, sitting at the table to have a cup of tea, ‚How many spoons of sugar do I put? One, two, three… Hey, I’m all confused, let me start again.‘

The Jews we knew were happy about Stalin’s death [1953]. There were talks in Kishinev that there were trains waiting to deport all Jews to Birobidzhan [11]. However, on the outside this was mourning. There were fanatics who thought that nothing could happen without Stalin. I still believe that we can’t cross out this figure. Besides all cruel features he did a lot of good. Well, perhaps if he hadn’t done them, the others would, but there were things about the Soviet regime that are gone for good: free medicine and free education. One can’t forget such things. As for what Beriya [12] was doing, I don’t think it was a secret to Stalin. I think he knew. This was Soviet fascism. Speaking about this subject I can say that when at the Twentieth Party Congress [13] Khrushchev [14] denounced Stalin, it wasn’t staggering news for my husband or me. We knew it at the back of our minds.

I met my husband, when I was a third year student, in 1949. In summer every week in the Alexandrovskiy garden [Town Park in the center of Kishinev] the conductor of the Kishinev Philharmonic, Boris Milutin, and the Philharmonic orchestra, gave symphonic concerts. They were very popular in the town, and we, students never missed one of their concerts. I paid attention to one guy during a concert. He was different and had such a spiritual face, when the orchestra played Mozart. I liked him and he also paid attention to me. His name was Yefim Tkach and he studied in the flute class at the Conservatory.

Yefim was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Beltsy in 1926. His father, Mark Tkach, was a fur specialist, and his mother, Nehama, helped him. Yefim studied in a grammar school. His younger brother Yevgeniy graduated from elementary school. When the war began, they left Beltsy on foot. The German troops caught up with them in Kryzhopol in Vinnitsa region and they were taken to the ghetto in Kryzhopol. They survived since they knew Romanian and there were Romanian guards in the ghetto. Yefim’s mother was a cook for a Romanian officer and his father also worked for somebody. When in 1944 Soviet troops approached Kryzhopol, the Romanians escaped. Yefim’s family returned to Beltsy. Yefim finished school and studied at the Pedagogical College in Beltsy. He didn’t like it and went to Kishinev where he entered the flute class at the Conservatory. His parents moved to Lvov. They died in the 1970s. Yevgeniy graduated from the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics at the Pedagogical College in Beltsy, and was a mathematics teacher. Now he is a pensioner and lives in St. Petersburg with his wife. They have no children.

Yefim and I got married two years after we met, on 4th December 1949. We just registered our marriage and our closest relatives got together at home. I didn’t have a veil or a white gown. We had a modest dinner. We resided in the annex with a window. In 1952, I finished the Conservatory and got a mandatory job assignment [15] to teach in a music school. I worked there for a few years. I inherited my father’s pedagogical talent. I still like teaching. In 1953, our son Lyova [Lev] was born. It was hard to have no comforts at home, but my mother helped me a lot. However, I was so full of energy that at night we would build the walls to make a two-room apartment where our shed was. Yefim was very handy and did the water piping, made a toilet, and even steam heating. We also fenced a small yard and lived there till 1970.

My parents lived in two rooms nearby, which we had refurbished a little. My mother helped me to do the housework and cooking. I worked at the music school and was very busy, but I continued to compose music and felt that I lacked special education. In 1957 I entered the Faculty of Composers to Gurov’s class and I only studied my specialty. In 1962 I graduated from this faculty and went to work at the Conservatory. I lectured on solfeggio, harmony, analysis of music works and reading of symphonic scores. Later, I gave up teaching solfeggio since I had to sing a lot with students and developed a catarrh. Now I teach composition, orchestra, instruments for symphonic orchestras, and choir arrangement which I like so much.

Lyova was a cheerful and sociable boy. I remember his morning parties in the kindergarten. Our neighbor, the father of one of the children, and I dressed up in fairy-tale costumes and made performances for the children. We were young and enjoyed it as much as the children. Lyova went to a music school where he also studied general subjects. My father worked at this school. My parents loved my son and he returned their feelings. He adored his grandfather calling him ‚dyedushk‘ [Lyova pronounced the word ‚dyedushka‘ wrong]. He had many friends and I liked it when they came to our house. Later, they moved away, but Lyova still keeps in touch with some of them. Two of them live in the USA. They correspond and call each other.

My father loved teaching. He particularly liked working with little children. He formed a violin ensemble with his pupils at school and they often played at children’s concerts. His pupils loved him, and his work was very effective. One of his postwar pupils, Lidia Mordkovich, was a laureate of numerous music contests. She lived in Israel and now she lives in England. Another one is Galina Buynovskaya, director of a music lyceum in Kishinev, and violinist Mila Volnianskaya who lives in Israel now. Once I looked through his archives and found a number of photos of his students with inscriptions, ‚To dear beloved Moisey Bentsionovich…‘

In 1967 I wrote my first opera for children: ‚A nanny goat and three kids‘. It was staged in our Opera Theater. I joined the Association of Composers of Moldova [a professional creative association of composers]. The chairman of our union was Vasiliy Georgievich Zagorskiy, a student of Lev Gurov. He was Russian, born in Bessarabia and he knew Romanian well. He was a nice person. It was to his credit that there was no anti-Semitism in the Association of Composers. He created a very good creative atmosphere. There were many Jewish composers: Shapiro, Aranov, Fedov, Mooler. There were hardly any Moldovan composers. Since we lived in a very small apartment, I enjoyed trips to the House of Creativity of Composers [specialized recreation homes to create conditions for creative work], where I could forget about everyday routines and dedicate myself to work. We communicated with composers all over the Soviet Union at congresses of composers. I traveled a lot to hear the works by Georgian, Armenian, Moscow and Kiev composers. Soviet composers and performers arrived in Kishinev. I was fortunate to meet Dmitriy Shostakovich [Shostakovich, Dmitriy Dmitrievich, (1906-1975): one of the foremost 20th-century Soviet composers] at a meeting in the 1960s. He wasn’t only a genius, but also, a wonderful, humble, and intelligent person.

One can say that I’ve accomplished a lot, but I took a huge effort to reach it, it was very hard. Firstly, because there were many jealous people, which happens in the creative environment, secondly, because I’m a woman, and there aren’t many women composers, and thirdly, because I’m a Jew. This became a problem for me when numbers of Jews began to move to Israel, but I must say that Yefim and I never considered departure. It’s hard to say why, perhaps, it’s just an inner conviction that a person must live where he was born and where his ancestors were buried. Perhaps, one lives with this never questioning it. The establishment of Israel in 1948 instigated the feeling of happiness and inner pride that Jews got their own country, finally. Since then I’ve considered Israel to be my country.

We often had friends at home celebrating the first nights [of performances], birthdays and just having gatherings. I’ve always enjoyed having guests. Nobody taught me to cook at home, I was protected and spoiled, but when I went to recreation homes I liked going to the kitchen to talk with the cooks. I just adored them, common wise people. They taught me to cook, ‚Here, Zlatochka [affectionate for Zlata], this is how it must be.‘ I learned a lot, but the thing I can’t do is baking. I mean I bake, but it’s nothing special. However, I must say that I have a taste for the Jewish cuisine. I make gefilte fish tasting exactly as the fish I had in my grandmother Riva’s home. Once in the recreation home in Sortavala [a town in Karelia, a climatic resort] I made it for Soviet composers. That year Sviridov [Sviridov, Georgiy (1915-1998): Soviet composer, pianist, public activist] worked and rested there. He was a fond fisherman. He and his young wife caught 21 pikes.

Somebody mentioned to him that I could make good Jewish fish and he asked me to cook the pikes. At first other dames wanted to assist me, but they dispersed seeing that it was hard work. Only one of them stayed, my assistant, a composer from Baku, and we finally did it. It was delicious and there was a lot of it, but we smelled of onions and went to take a shower. In the bathroom I felt dizzy from fatigue. I fell on the cement floor, hit my head and fainted. She dried me with a towel, helped me into my clothes, and called the others who took me to my room: there were cottages where we stayed. I was fortunate that her father was a doctor, staying with her. He examined me – there was a bruise on my head. He told me to stay in bed a whole week, and they had the delicious gefilte fish. They liked it, and I gained the title of an excellent cook.

In 1970, we received a four-bedroom apartment with all comforts for me, my husband, my son, and my parents. My mother saw it and we bought chandeliers for all the rooms, but my mother didn’t enjoy living in this apartment. She died that same year. We buried her in the Jewish cemetery without following the Jewish ritual. After my mother died, I composed a concert for violin and orchestra and dedicated it to her memory. Lyova finished school in 1972 and entered the music history department of the Conservatory in Kishinev. After finishing his first year he decided to go to Moscow Conservatory. It was hard, but he managed. At that time I had to have training in Moscow for six months. We both stayed in the hostel of the Conservatory on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street. I had a room for myself, of course, and Lyova shared his room with two guys from Central Asia. They are all excellent cooks, and the guys taught Lyova to cook. He makes such delicious plov dishes! [Editor’s note: Plov is originally an Uzbek dish, rice mixed with boiled, or fried meat, onions and carrots (and sometimes other ingredients such as raisins).]

After he graduated from the Conservatory Lyova was taken to the army. He served in the music band of the Moscow regiment. He sang in the choir. After the army he married his former co-student Mila Gordiychuk, a Ukrainian girl. Mila and her mother lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Moscow. Her father had left them a long time ago. There was a wedding in Moscow, in Mila grandmother’s apartment. I bought many pink roses that I kept in the bathroom of the hotel room where my husband and I were staying. After the wedding, Lyova and Mila moved to Kishinev. Lyova went to teach in a music school. We rented an apartment for them. In 1979 my granddaughter, Yulia was born. Then Lyova was offered an administrative position in Moscow in the All-Union Bureau of Propaganda of Soviet Music. Mila’s mother moved in with Mila’s grandmother, and Lyova and his family got her a one-bedroom apartment. I missed them a lot and traveled to Moscow whenever I had the chance.

In the early 1980s, a Moldovan writer Bukov [Bukov, Yemilian (1909-1984): Bessarabian poet, wrote prose after the war], offered me to compose music for the ballet after his fairy-tale ‚Andriyash.‘ Somebody told him that I was the best composer to write it and he was very insistent. Frankly speaking I wasn’t quite sure that I could handle this genre, but I have a decisive character. Oleg Melnik, chief ballet master of the Kishinev Opera and Ballet Theater, was going to stage this ballet, but when the score was ready, he happened to be chief ballet master in Samarkand [today Uzbekistan], he somehow had problems with the administration of the Kishinev Theater. I was confused, but he called me, ‚Mail me your score. I’ll stage the ballet in Samarkand.‘ I did so. Some time later Melnik sent me an invitation to the first night. I went there two days before the performance. Since there was no direct flight to Samarkand, I had to take the flight Kishinev-Tashkent with stopovers in Tbilisi [today Georgia] and Ashgabat [today Turkmenistan].

In Tashkent I was to take another plane to Samarkand. There was fog in Tbilisi and there was a delay, then there was another delay in Ashgabat due to poor weather conditions, and I was afraid that I wasn’t going to make it to Samarkand on time, when all of a sudden I heard, ‚The crew of the plane apologizes, but we need to force-land in Samarkand.‘ One wouldn’t believe it. From the airport I rushed to the theater. I went to the dress rehearsal. Then I went to wash and change in the hotel and rushed back to the theater. The first night was successful. I took a tape of the performance and brochures and went back to Kishinev. I showed these to the director of our Opera theater and he got very interested. He started preparations for the performance. To cut a long story short, ‚Andriyash‘ was staged in Kishinev and I was awarded a State Award of Moldova in 1982. [State awards of the Union Republics were awarded in the Soviet Union since 1966 by special committees for outstanding accomplishments in science, technical fields, literature and art.]

We were used to the Soviet way of life. I didn’t care about politics and I didn’t join the Party. As for our spiritual life, Yefim or I never felt any suppression. My husband collected classical literature. I’m very fond of foreign classics. My creative activities were closely connected with Moldovan literature and we often discussed works by Moldovan writers: Aureliu Busyok [Moldovan Soviet writer, based on his novel ‚My Parisian Uncle‘, Zlata Tkach wrote an opera in 1988], Dumitriu Matkovskiy, a Moldovan writer and poet, and Grigore Vieru – a Moldovan poet, who was a friend of our family for many years. We went to all the performances in the Opera Theater, and symphonic concerts. Many popular musicians came on tours to Kishinev, I remember Yevgeniy, Mravinskiy, a conductor from Leningrad, Oleg Krysa, a violinist, Soviet composers: Khachaturian [Khachaturian, Aram (1903-1978): Soviet-Armenian composer], and Khrennikov [Khrennikov, Tikhon NIkolaevich (1913): Soviet-Russian composer, public activist]. We didn’t often go to drama theaters in Kishinev as Yefim wasn’t fond of them. We only went there when producers whom we knew invited us to the first nights.

My husband and I lived for 52 years together, longer than a golden jubilee. I think I’m a happy woman who had a happy family life. I married for love, we lived in harmony and we were united by profession. Yefim was a smart and wise man, talented in his field, and he cared about my success. Yefim taught in the music school for many years and later worked in the Philharmonic. He lectured on the history of Moldovan music in the Kishinev College of Arts. He specialized in Moldovan music, wrote many articles for the press, presented regular radio programs in Moldovan that he knew well. He had a strong will and had a goal to polish the Moldovan language to perfection. He understood that this was the only way for him to describe the cultural life of Moldova in every detail.

My husband and I never cared about everyday comforts: we were more interested in spiritual life. We only bought a ‚Ganka‘ set of furniture [Soviet-Moldovan furniture brand] for the housewarming party in 1970. It was rather difficult at that time. The owner of the furniture store, whose son, a pianist, entered the Moscow Conservatory with our son Lyova, helped us to get it. He made arrangements for me to buy this set of furniture without having to wait in line. I bought another carpet for my living room before the New Year [2004], just because the old one got very shabby. I received a bonus of one thousand rubles from the Conservatory. And I decided: now or never. My student’s mother helped me to take it home in her car.

When Gorbachev [16] came to power and perestroika [17] began, for me it was a possibility to give freedom to my thoughts and turn 180 degrees to Jewish life. I’ve composed music my whole life. I was born in a Moldovan village, lived in Moldova and had an ear for Moldovan music, while I’ve never had an expressed need to write Jewish music. Life was difficult: the war, evacuation, and the Soviet reality kept me within certain frames. As soon as I felt free for expressing myself, I felt like writing music for my own people. Music is always in the genes. My husband helped me with it. He found a rare book by Berezovskiy for me: ‚Jewish folklore.‘ I began to use arrangements of Jewish pop songs in my works.

Unfortunately, the beginning of perestroika was marked by a tragic event in my life. My father died in a car accident in 1985. He outlived my mother by 15 years. We buried my father in the Jewish sector of the ‚Doina‘ international cemetery. I made arrangements for my mother’s reburial near my father’s grave. It was hard, but I managed. Now they are together under a black marble gravestone where their names are inscribed, a candle and a violin are engraved. My parents‘ death had a huge effect on me, and my thoughts turned to God again. After my father’s death, I decided to compose a concert of two flutes and dedicate it to him. This was the first work where I used Jewish motives and tunes. There was Irina Mishura, a wonderful vocalist. She is non-Jewish, but her husband is a Jew of Kishinev. She wonderfully performed the works by Bitkin, a Jewish composer. When I heard her, I felt like writing something for the vocals. I had a collection of poems by Ovsey Dreez [Dreez, Ovsey (1908-1971): Soviet Jewish poet, author of a collection of lyrical poems, and fairy-tales and poems for children] in Yiddish, which my former student gave me. I wrote a vocal cycle based on his poems. Therefore, I began to write Jewish music in vocal cycles, instrumental music, music for a quartet and an orchestra. I have a number of pieces of Jewish music that I composed.

My son worked in the Bureau of Propaganda of Soviet Music till the breakup of the USSR in 1991. The Bureau was closed and Lyova was jobless for almost three years. By that time it was my turn in the line to buy a car. [In the USSR people who wanted to buy a car had to wait in line for years before their turn came.] I bought it, and Lyova took it to Moscow and earned money by working as a cabdriver in a cooperative. Later, he worked as a director of the collection fund of musical instruments, and now he works in the Glinka [18] State Central Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow. His wife Mila works for a real estate company. She is the breadwinner of the family. My granddaughter, Yulia is 25, she didn’t want to study music. She took a two-year course of language studies and now she is a tour guide.

For me perestroika was a good thing, but there were also negative features. When the USSR broke up, all creative relations between the former republics fell apart. As for me, this made my creative life poor, though I continued to work at the Conservatory. The leading musicians and orchestras don’t come to Kishinev on tours. Regretfully, our television adds to the negative side of it showing vulgar unprofessional clips. There is no serious symphonic music on the screens since nobody pays for it. There is only the ‚Mezzo‘ channel, a French channel, but it also has a tendency to worsen. I used to listen to the ‚Symphony of Psalms‘ by Stravinskiy. But now they broadcast some jazz fragments. Being a musician, it’s hard for me to have no music replenishment. My husband left a big collection of classical music. My son gave me a nice music system, and I listen to music. I listen to what I like. This is all I have.

In 1992, I traveled to Israel with a delegation of Moldovan musicians at the invitation of the Kishinev composer Kopytman, who was one of the first to move there. He had an important position in the Rubin Musical Academy in Jerusalem, and Maria Bieshu [Moldovan singer (lyrical-dramatic soprano) soloist of the Kishinev Theater of Opera and Ballet, laureate of international contests]. We spent a week there and stayed in a hotel. This was a busy week: concerts, meetings and many tours across Israel. We visited the Wailing Wall, and I left a note there, of course. This was like a fairy-tale! Israel is a wonderful and beautiful country. I sensed its amazing aura and I felt like traveling many decades back, I felt an inner connection with the history of my people. I was very impressed by this tour. I visited Israel again in 2001 at the invitation of Izolda, the daughter of Kishinev conductor Boris Milyutin. She lives in Bat Yam near Tel Aviv. Life in Israel is progressing.

My husband and I witnessed the rebirth of the Jewish life in Kishinev seven years ago [1997]. Yefim began to collect material about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. He had cancer and hurried with his work. Two other activists of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Moldova, Aurel Guzhel and Yefim Levit, worked with him. They prepared and published with the help of Joint [19] four collections of documents and articles on this subject under the title ‚We won’t forget,‘ in Romanian and Russian. My husband was chief editor of this collection. Yefim died in April 2003. On the day of his funeral I saw how much he was loved in Kishinev: by Jews and Moldovans alike. Many people came to pay their respects to him. We buried him near my parents‘ graves. Employees of Hesed [20] Yehuda, our charity center, helped me to make all necessary arrangements. I invited a rabbi and he recited the Kiddush. I installed a red granite gravestone on his grave to match my parents‘ gravestone.

I’m alone but my son often visits me and I teach at the Conservatory. I have a few students. At the invitation of Joint I teach talented Jewish children composition. One of the officials in Israel said, ‚the accomplishments of the Jews of the Diaspora are the achievements of Israel.‘ Hesed Yehuda provides assistance to me: a volunteer comes to clean my apartment once a week and I also receive food packages.


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Glossary

[1] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o’clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th May 1945.

[2] Bessarabia: Historical area between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, in the southern part of Odessa region. Bessarabia was part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917. In 1918 it declared itself an independent republic, and later it united with Romania. The Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union but the Soviet Union never accepted this. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR. The two provinces had almost 4 million inhabitants, mostly Romanians. Although Romania reoccupied part of the territory during World War II the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed their belonging to the Soviet Union. Today it is part of Moldova.

[3] Cuzist: Member of the Romanian fascist organization named after Alexandru C. Cuza, one of the most fervent fascist leaders in Romania, who was known for his ruthless chauvinism and anti-Semitism. In 1919 Cuza founded the LANC, which became the National Christian Party in 1935 with an anti-Semitic program.

[4] Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union: At the end of June 1940 the Soviet Union demanded Romania to withdraw its troops from Bessarabia and to abandon the territory. Romania withdrew its troops and administration in the same month and between 28th June and 3rd July, the Soviets occupied the region. At the same time Romania was obliged to give up Northern Transylvania to Hungary and Southern-Dobrudja to Bulgaria. These territorial losses influenced Romanian politics during World War II to a great extent.

[5] Transnistria: Area situated between the Bug and Dniester rivers and the Black Sea. The term is derived from the Romanian name for the Dniester (Nistru) and was coined after the occupation of the area by German and Romanian troops in World War II. After its occupation Transnistria became a place for deported Romanian Jews. Systematic deportations began in September 1941. In the course of the next two months, all surviving Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina and a small part of the Jewish population of Old Romania were dispatched across the Dniester. This first wave of deportations reached almost 120,000 by mid-November 1941 when it was halted by Ion Antonescu, the Romanian dictator, upon intervention of the Council of Romanian Jewish Communities. Deportations resumed at the beginning of the summer of 1942, affecting close to 5,000 Jews. A third series of deportations from Old Romania took place in July 1942, affecting Jews who had evaded forced labor decrees, as well as their families, communist sympathizers and Bessarabian Jews who had been in Old Romania and Transylvania during the Soviet occupation. The most feared Transnistrian camps were Vapniarka, Ribnita, Berezovka, Tulcin and Iampol. Most of the Jews deported to camps in Transnistria died between 1941-1943 because of horrible living conditions, diseases and lack of food.

[6] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.

[7] School #: Schools had numbers and not names. It was part of the policy of the state. They were all state schools and were all supposed to be identical.

[8] Victory Day in Russia (9th May): National holiday to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the end of World War II and honor the Soviets who died in the war.

[9] Campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘: The campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘, i.e. Jews, was initiated in articles in the central organs of the Communist Party in 1949. The campaign was directed primarily at the Jewish intelligentsia and it was the first public attack on Soviet Jews as Jews. ‚Cosmopolitans‘ writers were accused of hating the Russian people, of supporting Zionism, etc. Many Yiddish writers as well as the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were arrested in November 1948 on charges that they maintained ties with Zionism and with American ‚imperialism‘. They were executed secretly in 1952. The anti-Semitic Doctors‘ Plot was launched in January 1953. A wave of anti-Semitism spread through the USSR. Jews were removed from their positions, and rumors of an imminent mass deportation of Jews to the eastern part of the USSR began to spread. Stalin’s death in March 1953 put an end to the campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘.

[10] Doctors‘ Plot: The Doctors‘ Plot was an alleged conspiracy of a group of Moscow doctors to murder leading government and party officials. In January 1953, the Soviet press reported that nine doctors, six of whom were Jewish, had been arrested and confessed their guilt. As Stalin died in March 1953, the trial never took place. The official paper of the Party, the Pravda, later announced that the charges against the doctors were false and their confessions obtained by torture. This case was one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents during Stalin’s reign. In his secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 Khrushchev stated that Stalin wanted to use the Plot to purge the top Soviet leadership.

[11] Birobidzhan: Formed in 1928 to give Soviet Jews a home territory and to increase settlement along the vulnerable borders of the Soviet Far East, the area was raised to the status of an autonomous region in 1934. Influenced by an effective propaganda campaign, and starvation in the east, 41,000 Soviet Jews relocated to the area between the late 1920s and early 1930s. But, by 1938 28,000 of them had fled the regions harsh conditions, There were Jewish schools and synagogues up until the 1940s, when there was a resurgence of religious repression after World War II. The Soviet government wanted the forced deportation of all Jews to Birobidzhan to be completed by the middle of the 1950s. But in 1953 Stalin died and the deportation was cancelled. Despite some remaining Yiddish influences – including a Yiddish newspaper – Jewish cultural activity in the region has declined enormously since Stalin’s anti-cosmopolitanism campaigns and since the liberalization of Jewish emigration in the 1970s. Jews now make up less than 2% of the region’s population.

[12] Beriya, L. P. (1899-1953): Communist politician, one of the main organizers of the mass arrests and political persecution between the 1930s and the early 1950s. Minister of Internal Affairs, 1938-1953. In 1953 he was expelled from the Communist Party and sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of the USSR.

[13] Twentieth Party Congress: At the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of secrecy from what had happened in the USSR during Stalin’s leadership.

[14] Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971): Soviet communist leader. After Stalin’s death in 1953, he became first secretary of the Central Committee, in effect the head of the Communist Party of the USSR. In 1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev took an unprecedented step and denounced Stalin and his methods. He was deposed as premier and party head in October 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the Party’s Central Committee.

[15] Mandatory job assignment in the USSR: Graduates of higher educational institutions had to complete a mandatory 2-year job assignment issued by the institution from which they graduated. After finishing this assignment young people were allowed to get employment at their discretion in any town or organization.

[16] Gorbachev, Mikhail (1931- ): Soviet political leader. Gorbachev joined the Communist Party in 1952 and gradually moved up in the party hierarchy. In 1970 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, where he remained until 1990. In 1980 he joined the politburo, and in 1985 he was appointed general secretary of the party. In 1986 he embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalization under the slogans of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical reexamination of Soviet history. The Congress of People’s Deputies, founded in 1989, voted to end the Communist Party’s control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president. Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and granted the Baltic states independence. Following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, he resigned as president. Since 1992, Gorbachev has headed international organizations.

[17] Perestroika (Russian for restructuring): Soviet economic and social policy of the late 1980s, associated with the name of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev. The term designated the attempts to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized, market-oriented economy. Industrial managers and local government and party officials were granted greater autonomy, and open elections were introduced in an attempt to democratize the Communist Party organization. By 1991, perestroika was declining and was soon eclipsed by the dissolution of the USSR.

[18] Glinka, Mikhail Ivanovich (1804-1857): The first important Russian composer. He wrote the first Russian national opera, A Life for the Tsar, as well as overtures, symphonies and orchestral suites.

[19] Joint (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee): The Joint was formed in 1914 with the fusion of three American Jewish committees of assistance, which were alarmed by the suffering of Jews during World War I. In late 1944, the Joint entered Europe’s liberated areas and organized a massive relief operation. It provided food for Jewish survivors all over Europe, it supplied clothing, books and school supplies for children. It supported cultural amenities and brought religious supplies for the Jewish communities. The Joint also operated DP camps, in which it organized retraining programs to help people learn trades that would enable them to earn a living, while its cultural and religious activities helped re- establish Jewish life. The Joint was also closely involved in helping Jews to emigrate from Europe and from Muslim countries. The Joint was expelled from East Central Europe for decades during the Cold War and it has only come back to many of these countries after the fall of communism. Today the Joint provides social welfare programs for elderly Holocaust survivors and encourages Jewish renewal and communal development.

[20] Hesed: Meaning care and mercy in Hebrew, Hesed stands for the charity organization founded by Amos Avgar in the early 20th century. Supported by Claims Conference and Joint Hesed helps for Jews in need to have a decent life despite hard economic conditions and encourages development of their self-identity. Hesed provides a number of services aimed at supporting the needs of all, and particularly elderly members of the society. The major social services include: work in the center facilities (information, advertisement of the center activities, foreign ties and free lease of medical equipment); services at homes (care and help at home, food products delivery, delivery of hot meals, minor repairs); work in the community (clubs, meals together, day-time polyclinic, medical and legal consultations); service for volunteers (training programs). The Hesed centers have inspired a real revolution in the Jewish life in the FSU countries. People have seen and sensed the rebirth of the Jewish traditions of humanism. Currently over eighty Hesed centers exist in the FSU countries. Their activities cover the Jewish population of over eight hundred settlements.

 

Shlima Goldstein

Shlima Goldstein with her husband Dmitriy Goldstein (Chisinau, 1948).

Chisinau, Moldova

Shlima Goldstein and her husband met me in the yard of their house. They live in a nice two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a five-storied brick apartment building. Shlima introduced herself and said that she was more used to being addressed by her second name of Dora. She is a short, sweet, round-faced slender lady looking young for her age. Her husband is a short, friendly and nice man. He asked us about our work and the objective of this interview with great interest. Their apartment is clean, bright and cozy. There was a smell of cookies spreading from the kitchen: Shlima is a wonderful baker, and she still spoils her husband making all kinds of cookies and cakes for him. Their pet, a shell parakeet, regularly interfered in our discussion.


Interview details

Interviewee: Shlima Goldstein
Interviewer: Zhanna Litinskaya
Time of interview: July 2004
Place: Chisinau, Moldova


My family background

My life started from a tragic event in our family. I was born the day after my father, Shloime Gersh, died from tuberculosis. My mother named me Shlima in his memory. Shortly after I was born, a young wealthy man visited my mother. He asked her to name me after his wife Dvoira, who had died a short time before. He offered my mother some money, and she promised to give me the second name. The man insisted that I was called Dvoira every day and my mother unwillingly kept her word. That’s how it happened that I have two names: Shlima and Dvoira, but I’m more used to the second name. I’ve always been called Dora, while my name Shlima is written down in my passport.

My tragic appearance in this world had an impact on my childhood and girlhood. My father’s parents, brothers and sisters actually turned away from our poor family. I know little about them, as it happens. My grandfather, Moishe Gersh, born in the 1870s, was a hereditary shoemaker. I don’t remember my grandmother’s name. They were both born in the main town of Bessarabia [1], Kishinev. Moishe and his family lived in a big two- storied house on Pavlovskaya Street in the center of the town. I remember their house. My mother used to take me there on Sabbath. There were candles burning in a big room – it was always dark there as there were heavy velvet curtains on the windows. I enjoyed breathing in the sweet smell of the candles. My grandmother used to make delicious Jewish food on holidays: stuffed fish, chicken broth and stew, tsimes [2], pies and cookies. I enjoyed eating the food, always being hungry. Regretfully, I only visited my grandfather’s house a few times.

My grandfather had a shop on the first floor of his house where he worked with his sons who followed into his footsteps. Moishe was a very religious man, a Hasid [3]. He had long payes and always had a head piece on: a kippah at home and a wide-brimmed hat to go out. Moishe went to the nearby synagogue of shoemakers every day. My grandmother was a housewife. She had to take care of the house, their vegetable garden, poultry yard where they kept chicken and ducks in the back yard, so my grandmother had a great deal of things to take care of. She was also religious. She went to the synagogue on Sabbath and on Jewish holidays, of course. They strictly observed Jewish traditions at home, followed the kashrut and celebrated Sabbath and all Jewish holidays. They raised their children according to the rules followed by all Jewish families at the time. The boys went to cheder and when they grew of appropriate age, they started assisting their father, helping him in the shop. The girls were involved in housework.

There were five children in the family: two sons and three daughters. My father Shloime, the oldest in the family, was born in 1904. After him came his brother Gersh, sister Sima, sister Ester and another sister, whose name I don’t remember. They were born two to three years one after the other. Uncle Gersh was a shoemaker, like my father and grandfather. His wife Ida, a Jew, was a beauty. They got married in 1940. They had no children before the Great Patriotic War [4]. Gersh was recruited to the Soviet army and fought at the front line. Ida stayed in the occupation. She and her sister, Tsylia, also a beauty, were raped by fascists. Ida was very ill for a long while, but she survived. When Gersh returned from the war, he couldn’t forgive her for becoming a victim of brutal beasts, and left her. Gersh married Frida, a Jewish woman from Kishinev. They had three children. His children Mikhail, Haya and Lev moved to Canada in the 1990s where Gersh died in the early 1990s. Ida, his first wife, didn’t live long after the war. Her humiliation and Gersh’s betrayal were too much for her to handle. She became mentally ill and died in a psychiatric clinic a few years later.

My father’s sister Sima was also married. Her family name was Roitman. Her daughter, Sarah, was born in 1935. Sima’s husband perished during the Great Patriotic War. She and her daughter were the only ones in the family to evacuate. After the war Sima remarried and had a good life with her second husband. She died in 1984. Her daughter Sarah moved to Israel in the early 1990s.

I can hardly remember my younger aunts, but they had a tragic life. Grandfather Moishe and his younger daughters decided against evacuation. My grandfather remembered the Germans from the time of World War I. He and many other Jews thought the Germans weren’t going to do any harm to the Jews. Besides, he was sorry to leave his house and everything he had earned by working very hard. They stayed in Kishinev and were taken to the [Kishinev] ghetto [5]. The fascists raped and brutally killed the girls before my grandmother’s eyes. My grandmother couldn’t bear it and began to scream. One fascist just killed her and my grandfather.

My father finished cheder and worked with my grandfather and Gersh in the shop. Once he saw my mother, and he fell in love with her. A few days later a matchmaker visited them and my parents got married. This happened in 1924. I didn’t know my maternal grandfather. According to what my mother told me, my maternal grandfather, Ruvim Reznik, born in the early 1870s, and my grandmother, Malka, were rather wealthy. My grandfather was a successful businessman. He was a sales agent who traveled to China, where he sold goods from Europe and purchased oriental goods: sweets, fabric, jewelry and souvenirs. My grandfather was thinking of moving to China with his family. He built a house in China, took a picture of it and brought the photo to show it to my grandmother in Kishinev. This wasn’t to be.

Almost on the first day after his arrival, my grandfather fell on the street and died from infarction. My grandmother had to take care of their three children. She was born to a wealthy family in Kishinev in 1875. She married my grandfather when she was young. He provided well for her and she didn’t have any problems. They rented an apartment in a small one-storied house on Aziatskaya Street, but they were rather well off. When my grandfather died in 1926, my grandmother had to go to work and she worked till the end of her days. She went to a bakery early in the morning to buy rolls and buns by wholesale prices to sell them on the streets. She picked any job she could: she cleaned and did the washing for wealthier people, and nursed elderly people. My grandmother was a kind person. She had many Jewish and Moldovan acquaintances. My grandmother told me that during the Kishinev pogrom in 1903 [6], her Moldovan neighbors gave her and her two children shelter in their house. My grandfather was on one of his trips, as usual.

Malka had three children: the sons, Srul and Isaac, and my mother Polia, born in 1906. Srul was much older than my mother. He was very ill and didn’t live long. Srul died shortly after my grandfather died. Isaac was a sales agent like my grandfather. He was married. I don’t remember his wife’s name. Their daughter’s name was Anna. Isaac disappeared during the Great Patriotic War. I don’t know whether this happened on the occupied territory or elsewhere. His wife and daughter managed to evacuate. I saw Anna once after the war, but I don’t know anything else about her.

My mother, Polia, graduated from a Jewish elementary school. She could read and write in Yiddish. My mother rarely saw her father, who always traveled. My grandmother, who was very religious, raised my mother to become a real Jewish girl respecting and observing Jewish traditions. We still keep old silver candle stands that belonged to my grandmother. She lit candles in them on Sabbath. Recently, I gave them to my daughter to keep the memory of our Jewish ancestors. At the time when my mother was a child Bessarabia belonged to Russia and my mother could speak Russian. My mother was a beautiful girl. Her thick hair that she wore in plaits was particularly attractive. Matchmakers didn’t take a long time to marry her. My mother and my father’s families were rather wealthy and there were no problems with agreeing about the wedding. The wedding was traditional Jewish and took place in the most beautiful synagogue in town, with a chuppah, and a klezmer band, and the tables were covered with traditional Jewish food.

I guess everything nice and good ended with my mother’s wedding. She and my father settled down in a small apartment on Alexeyevskaya Street. Nine months later, in 1925, my older sister, Sarah [Alexandra], came into this world. In 1926, my father was recruited to the Romanian army, but he didn’t serve there for long: the doctors discovered that he had tuberculosis, and he was demobilized. When my father returned home, my mother was glad at first, but then, when he became bed-ridden, our family lived the hardest years of our life. In 1927, my brother, called Ruvim after my grandfather, was born. After the Great Patriotic War my brother changed his name to the Russian [Common name] [7] name of Grigoriy. By that time my mother, my father and the children moved in with my widowed grandmother. On 16th February 1930 my father died. On 17th February 1930, the day after he died, I, Shlima Dvoira Gersh, was born.

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Growing up

After my father died my mother didn’t recover for a long time. However, she had three kids and she had to provide for us. My grandmother worked hard selling buns and rolls, and doing her daily work, but she couldn’t provide for all of us. My father’s relatives incited my aunt, Sima, to tell us that it was my mother’s fault that my father had died because she hadn’t taken good care of him. She said that they weren’t going to support us and that their kin ended with my father’s death. Only rarely did they allow my mother and us to go visit them. We were starving and my mother had to send all three of us to an orphanage. My brother was sent to an [Jewish] orphanage for boys and I went to an [Jewish] orphanage for girls in Kishinev. The director of my orphanage was Tsylia Mikhailovna and Pograbinskaya was a nurse. There was also a janitor in the orphanage. His wife was a cleaner. The two of them were Moldovan.

The orphanage was established in a two-storied house. There were two bedrooms on the first floor, one for older girls and one for small kids. There was a big dining and living room on the first floor where we had meals, played and where older girls did their homework. We wore black uniform robes with white collars and had them washed once a week. We also had a shower once a week in the orphanage. Once a month we went to a public bath. In the bath our clothes were treated to protect them from lice while we were taking a bath. Once, I stayed in the bath until late and was late for dinner. The cook gave me the leftover soup: it was thick, with noodles, beans and the meat and I ate to my heart’s content and remembered this soup for a long time thinking how lucky I had been.

We didn’t have sufficient food in the orphanage. We mainly had cooked cereals like porridge, pearl barley, millet, and at lunch we had thin soup with a slice of bread, but with no butter or oil, this was low calorie food, and we got little of it, we rarely had meat or fish – only on holidays. I remember I always dreamt of having as much food as I wanted, and the other girls felt the same. We had meals at set hours and even had drinks at the same time. We lined up to take a sip from one mug. We used to cling to the cup to drink water, but then they grabbed it from you to give it to another girl. In the afternoon we were supposed to take a nap, but we weren’t allowed to go to the bedroom and had to lie down wherever we could manage.

We didn’t feel like sleeping, but the older girls watched on us saying that those who didn’t go to sleep would get no afternoon snack. I learned to dodge them. I didn’t sleep, but when it was time to get up, I stretched my body and yawned as if I had just opened my eyes. We had a slice of bread and baked apple slices that tasted like a delicacy to us. Apples were picked in the garden which belonged to the orphanage. There was a high fence around it and we could only see the top branches of the old trees. We weren’t allowed to go to the garden. When we began to study religion, I learned about hell and paradise. I imagined this garden was paradise and I wanted to go there so much.

We observed Jewish traditions in the orphanage. On Friday we went to the synagogue. The older girls stood at the entrance with big mugs where parishioners dropped money for the orphanage and we stood beside them. In the evening the older girls lit candles in the orphanage and we celebrated Sabbath. We also celebrated Jewish holidays in the orphanage. On Chanukkah we had potato pancakes, doughnuts with jam and were given little gifts. If only they had given us more pancakes and doughnuts – I could never have enough food. On Purim we had costumes made for us: paper collars and masks, and we sang merry songs about Purim, had fun playing with rattles and ate hamantashen.

My favorite holiday was Pesach. A few days before the holiday the janitor and his wife whitewashed the building, changed the curtains and tablecloths and we knew the holiday was forthcoming. We sat at the festive table and waited for the patroness of our orphanage, Helena Babich, and her husband. I don’t know what her husband did, he may have been a businessman, they just always came together. He was a handsome man: tall, smart, and neatly dressed. They always came in for the first seder to read the Haggadah and prayers and celebrate with us. I don’t remember whether there was all food according to the Haggadah on the table, but we were happy to have hot beef broth, chicken, eggs, potatoes – there was plenty of food to make us feel happy.

Girls had the bat mitzvah ritual when they turned 13. They also fasted on Yom Kippur walking pale and swaying a bit as if they hadn’t eaten for a month. My sister was with the older girls. She felt jealous about me since when my mother visited us at the orphanage I climbed onto her lap begging her to take me home. My mother got angry and hushed me, and my older sister pinched me pulling me down. I didn’t understand how hard it was for my mother to know that I was so unhappy in the orphanage. I envied my little brother who was at home. He couldn’t stay in the orphanage. He cried even more than I did. One day my grandmother went to the orphanage and saw him so small, thin and weak. He might have been disposed to tuberculosis having been born from our ill father. He was crying repeating, ‚Grandma, take me home.‘ She grabbed him and took him home and he stayed there. My grandmother visited me more often bringing buns and rolls, cuddling and kissing me. Sometimes she came with my brother, whom I loved dearly. When my grandmother met the older girls coming from school to the orphanage she always gave them something for me.

At the age of seven I went to the Jewish vocational school. We studied in Yiddish, but we also knew Romanian. We studied general subjects for four years and did a vocational course during our fifth year at school. My sister studied dressmaking. I was to become a carton folder, but I never went to study this course – the Soviet regime was established. Our dear patroness, kind and fair Helena died in 1936, but her husband continued her charity initiative.

We lived a rather secluded life in the orphanage. Later, I heard about Zionist organizations and clubs for young people that were numerous in Kishinev, but we had no access there. We went to the Jewish Theater once or twice in all those years. So we didn’t know about what had happened in Bessarabia in the late 1930s – about the fascist party of the Cuzists [8]; we became aware of their anti-Semitic demonstrations much later. Therefore, I didn’t know why people were so happy to greet the Soviet army on 28th June 1940. We went to Alexandrovskaya Street wearing our robes where we joined the exultant crowd shouting, ‚Here come our liberators!‘ That same day my mother rushed to the orphanage. She hugged Tsylia Mikhailovna, my tutor, who was also happy to greet the Soviets.

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During the War

I didn’t know about the situation around or that the Soviet authorities had arrested and deported many leaders of Jewish organizations. There were some changes in the orphanage. We didn’t have to sleep in the afternoon or, if we felt like having a nap, we were allowed to go to the bedroom. But most importantly, they opened the gate to the garden and I ran there climbing a tree and breathing in fresh air thinking that this was ‚paradise.‘ However, we had to say ‚good by‘ to our religious ideas as the Soviets declared a war [struggle] against religion [9], and we were told there was no God, but I’ve always had Him in my heart. We became pioneers [see All-Union pioneer organization] [10] at the ceremony in the new House of Pioneers in the center of the town where we went as frequently as we used to go to the synagogue before.

In November 1940 all children’s homes were clustered, both Jewish and Romanian. We were taken to a big orphanage in the former German colony [11] in Alexandrfeld district. The Germans had been deported before we arrived there. [The forced deportation of Germans in the Soviet Union was carried out without exception in 1940. Men between the ages of 16 and 60 were sent to ‚Trudarmija‘ a special prison camp, where they were treated as enemies of the state. Their possessions were seized and they weren’t permitted to return to their communities.] I cried so bitterly saying ‚good by‘ to my mother, as if I knew I wasn’t going to see my relatives for a long time. In this new orphanage we were assigned to groups and each group stayed in a house. My sister was also there, but we rarely saw each other, as she was in a senior group. In September we started our studies in Russian. It was hard to learn new words or understand what they were saying in Russian. We only spoke Yiddish and sometimes Romanian to one another.

That was where we were, when the Great Patriotic War began. I remember this bright summer day. There was some tension in it. The older girls were whispering to one another. We didn’t know what was happening. We were told to go to bed in our clothes. We were awakened late at night. There were oxen-harnessed wagons in the yard. The younger children were told to get into wagons and we moved on. I didn’t even have time to say ‚good by‘ to my sister. We were taken to the railway station, when an air raid began. We scattered around seeing horrible black planes. When the raid was over there were dead people on the ground, but fortunately we all survived. We were scared seeing death on the first day of the war.

We were told to board a train. We boarded a passenger train. There were trains full of soldiers going past us. They shouted something and waved their hands to us. We also shouted to them our warm words wishing them victory to come soon. Everybody believed the victory wasn’t to be waited for long. Two days later we arrived at a children’s home in the town of Ananyevka, Odessa region. We washed ourselves, had a meal and got new clothes. The war seemed to be far away. I missed my mother and grandmother. I didn’t know where they were. A few days later the older girls arrived. My sister was with them. I rushed to her and asked her to let me stay with her, but my strict and cruel sister strictly told me to go back to my junior group. She didn’t want to let me stay with her for at least a few days.

I was so overstressed that I fell asleep for almost 24 hours, when I went back to my junior group. We stayed in this children’s home for a few weeks. It was warm and everything seemed to be all right. I also believed that my mother would be there soon looking for me. In July we evacuated again. This time the children from Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan children’s homes lined up together to march to the east. The food ration – a little bread, margarine, dried bread, cookies, tinned beans – that we received, was gone very soon and like hungry pups we scattered into the field as soon as we saw something edible there like tomatoes, cucumbers or sunflowers. We walked during the daytime and stayed at places overnight. As soon as we settled down for the night another air raid began. Somebody spread the rumor that the chief of this column was a traitor who had signaled to the German planes with his torch.

I don’t know whether this was true or not, but only 350 out of 1,200 children reached the destination point, Dnepropetrovsk [420 km from Kiev] having covered 250 kilometers, the rest died from hunger, exhaustion, or perished under the bombs. They were left in roadside ravines. I had a thorn in my foot that caused a big abscess. If we had had to walk further I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Everything comes from God. He wanted me to survive. In Dnepropetrovsk we boarded a freight train to move on. I don’t know how long the trip lasted, but I remember the horror and fear of the bombings. We arrived at a settlement. I think this was a resort in Rostov region. We were taken to the public bath, where we had our hair shaven and were given new clothes. When we came out of there we couldn’t recognize each other as we looked so awful. We were treated well.

We were provided with three meals a day, but we were so starved that it was never enough. So, we went to the backyard of the kitchen to pick any food leftovers we could find. We stayed in this village from August till November 1941. In November we moved to the East again. We arrived in the village of Ladovskaya Balka in Stavropol region. We were freezing during our trip. It was almost winter-time, but we didn’t have warm clothes. We were kept in an isolation ward for almost a month. When we were allowed to come out of there, it was the New Year. There was a Christmas tree brought for us, miserable wanderers. We were so happy. I recalled the central park in Kishinev where there was always a Christmas tree put up on New Year. [In the Soviet Union, a Christmas tree, deprived of its religious meaning, was put up for New Year.]

We stayed there till July 1942. This was probably the best time of my wartime wanderings. We went to school and had suitable meals in the children’s home. In July 1942, the fascists came close to the village and we had to evacuate in a rush. We walked in a single file, mostly at nighttime. We were told that we were heading for Armavir, 80 kilometers from there, where we were to take a train to be safe. One morning we came near a village and approached a bridge, when an air raid began. There were our and German planes flying in the sky and bombs seemed to be falling from everywhere. We were running around on the bank, and the military shouted to us that we should run away. We ran over the bridge and when we crossed, it collapsed. The retreating Soviet troops blasted the bridge. We hid in a corn field.

There was fighting all around us. There was a horrific battle in the vicinity of Armavir. As it had happened before, I fell asleep from fear. When I woke up, it was dark. The battle was over and my friends and I left our shelter. We walked on, trembling from fear, little homeless kids caught in the war. We were even more scared than those children whose mothers, grandmothers or whatever relatives were with them. We reached a trench where there were people hiding. They started yelling to us to go away before the fascists saw us. A woman called us to come closer. She asked us who we were and where we were from and we stayed beside her. She was a common Ukrainian woman, kind, fair-haired. She had a kind face. Her name was Yelena Ivanovna. From then on we stayed with her. We followed her like ducklings following their mother duck. There were ten of us. She took us out of the combat area. We met retreating Soviet troops on the road. Yelena Ivanovna talked with an officer for quite a while. He advised her to go to a village where we might be safe. He said the army was retreating, but that they would come back.

We found a haystack to stay in overnight and got going at dawn. We walked a whole day till we reached the village of Slobodka in Krasnodar region. Soviet authorities had evacuated: the chairman of the local kolkhoz [12] and secretary of the party unit. We were accommodated in the vacant hut of the chairman. The locals brought beds from the local school; we stuffed the mattresses with straw and settled down to live there. Yelena Ivanovna and the older girls went to work in the village, and I also joined them to go there. I had just turned twelve and was the youngest in the group. The rest of the girls were no older than 15. There was one thing that made me different from the rest of the girls – I was the only Jew in the group. Most of the villagers were former kulaks [13], whom Soviet authorities had deported from central Russia. These villagers were looking forward to Hitler’s forces and gave them a cordial welcome. So it happened that we stayed in the occupied territory.

On the day the fascists came to the village, Yelena Ivanovna told me never to mention that I was a Jew. I could hardly speak any Russian, so we decided that I would feign a Romanian, though I had a clear Jewish accent. Yelena Ivanovna told me to stay away from the fascists and avoid them as much as I could. She also told the girls that if one of them ever spoke out that I was a Jew she would tell the fascists that this girl’s father was a communist. The fascists also killed communists. Fortunately, the fascists only occasionally came to the village. On the first days of their regime they placed an order to report on military prisoners, communists and Jews or they were going to kill those who didn’t. Of course, the villagers could guess I was a Jew by my looks and accent, but they didn’t give me away. The locals supported us as much as they could by bringing eggs, a piece of meat, vegetables, potatoes – whatever they could share.

We also did some cleaning for them and helped them to harvest their crops – they had vegetable gardens. They treated us well and pretended they didn’t know who I was. Many times in those long years of occupation they warned us, ‚Germans are coming‘ and I rushed into the fields to take hiding in the fields of corn, haystacks, or in the attic or basement. About one month after the occupation began we heard machine guns firing in the village, when we were in the fields. One woman said the Germans were shooting Jews in Mikhailovka, a village nearby. When I heard this, I dropped the tomatoes I was gathering into a basket. Yelena Ivanovna hugged and kissed me and said she would take care of me. Since then I called her ‚mama.‘ As it happened, the fascists killed Jews in a Christian chapel. They didn’t fear the closeness of God.

Yelena Ivanovna was a smart and strong woman. I wasn’t the only one she helped. Soldiers of the Soviet army, who were behind their units, and wounded, happened to be in the rear of the enemy, also came into the house where they could always have a meal and stay overnight. Partisans also came into the house. We were growing fast and understood that we weren’t supposed to talk about it. We learned to keep silent. The girls and I were happy when those soldiers stayed overnight. We believed that our forces weren’t far away and were going to liberate us. Once, the girls and I watched Yelena Ivanovna giving food to one such soldier. His name was Yuri. He was thin and unshaven. He finished his soup, wiped his mouth and looked at me from the corner of his eyes. ‚Is she a ‚zhydovka?‘ [kike], Yelena Ivanovna replied that I wasn’t a ‚zhydovka‘, but a ‚yevreyka‘ [Jewess]. Yuri said he hated ‚zhydy‘ [kikes].

We listened silently to Yelena Ivanovna shaming the visitor. He left and we forgot about this incident. Some time later, one of our girls came to the field where we were picking tomatoes. She told me to hide away. She said Yuri was a policeman serving for the Germans, and now he was looking for me. Yelena Ivanovna told him that the Germans had taken me away quite a while before. I was hiding in the field until Yelena Ivanovna came for me. Yuri came again after the New Year, 1943. Yelena Ivanovna hid me in the attic and went to meet the visitor with a bottle of homemade vodka as if he was a dear guest. Yuri asked her at once, ‚Where’s the ‚zhydovka‘? I want to make her bleed!‘ I heard it all, being there in the attic. I started praying that God helped me and Yuri didn’t find me. He said, ‚I’ll be back, Yelena Ivanovna, but if I find her, you’ll be lying beside her.‘ She was a brave woman. She said, ‚Our troops are coming back, they will hang you on the first rope at hand.‘ ‚No, they won’t. I know what I’m doing‘ – and he left.

When he left, my adoptive mother took me to the poorest woman in the village. She knew that the Germans, if they came, stayed in wealthier houses ignoring the poorer ones. This woman accommodated me in the shed and I fell asleep embracing the calf. In my sleep I felt so warm and nice – as it happened, the animal warmed me with its warm urine. In the morning the woman took me back to Yelena Ivanovna, she didn’t want to take the risk of keeping me at home. The next day Yuri sent a local policeman, a villager, whose name I don’t know, to find me. Yelena Ivanovna offered him a drink and talked him out of looking for me. There were many such incidents; it’s hard to remember them all. Before the Soviet army, the Romanian units came to the village.

I quietly translated what they said to Yelena Ivanovna. They heard this and I had to tell them I was Romanian. I introduced myself as Valia Berdici, recalling a Romanian girl in our children’s home. They were so happy to hear this: they hugged me and called me their sister. They decided I should go with them. Yelena put me in hiding again. In March 1943 we heard distant roars of the battle, and then Soviet tanks entered the village. I cried, oh, how I cried – Russian tanks, our troops are coming. We rejoiced, cried, laughed and hugged our liberators. When they saw me, they exclaimed ‚She is a Jew!‘ Yelena Ivanovna replied, ‚Yes, I’ve rescued her.‘ They said, ‚You are a heroine then.‘ She replied, ‚No, I’m a common Ukrainian woman.‘ Policeman Vania was arrested, but Yuri wasn’t found – he had left with the fascists.

Yelena Ivanovna helped the girls to go to work and sent me to a children’s home in the village of Konstantinovka, Kurgan district, Krasnodar Krai. She also went to look for her son and mother whom she had lost during the war. Saying ‚good by‘ to me, my adoptive mother promised to take me away from the children’s home, but this didn’t happen. I stayed in this children’s home for three years. The tutors were very good to me. I was very obedient and humble having grown up in an orphanage where I learned to obey adults. However, here I was also the only Jewish child, and some children abused me, though the tutors stood up for me and shamed the offenders. I received a letter from Yelena Ivanovna. She found her family in the town of Yeisk and lived there. This was the hard period of life: we had no sufficient food or clothing. We studied at school before lunch, and in the afternoon I had to shepherd cows.

At first, I was a little afraid of cows, but then I liked to take them far away from the village. The village housewives sent their cows for me to take them to pastures and paid me with food: eggs, milk or bread. So this was how I managed. I was constantly hungry. I’ve starved my whole life. I used to sit, when the maids were giving us bread and looked. I often addressed God – this is how we were taught, when we were small children – God, please make it so that there was bread on the table and that I wasn’t hungry any longer. I remember the Victory Day [14]. We were asleep, when our tutor ran in, turned on the light and shouted, ‚Victory!‘ My heart started beating faster from happiness. I didn’t think I could live over this moment. The next day there was a meeting in the village, the people were rejoicing, but all I could think about was where my mother was.

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Post-war

In 1946 all girls between 14 and 16 years were sent to various vocational schools. I was sent to the cotton spinning factory in the town of Balashikha near Moscow. I studied in a vocational school and was also an apprentice at the factory. After finishing the vocational school I became a worker at the factory. Students were provided with food and uniforms. I lived in the dormitory where I shared a room with nine other girls. We got along well and helped and supported each other. At the age of 16, I already worked eight to twelve hours like an adult worker. We ate potatoes, bread and macaroni. We only had meat on big holidays, but I was no longer starving. I had forgotten my native Jewish language [Yiddish] by then. I could only speak Russian.

One of our friends went to visit her friend, a student of another vocational school in the town of Ramenskoye. She met a girl from Romania, who asked her about me. This was Raya Falkman, my friend from the Kishinev orphanage. I went to see Raya. We were so happy to have found one another. Raya and I spent a weekend together talking about our wanderings during the Great Patriotic War. Raya and I lost each other during the battle near Armavir. Raya and other girls from the orphanage were taken to a ghetto. The only thing that saddened our reunion was that due to the transportation problem I went back to Balashikha too late and didn’t go to work the next day. At this time one could be taken to prison for such failure, but the foreman of the shop where I worked, Khadzimurat, a man from the Caucasus, told me off for my absence at work and sent me to work at the most hazardous site – in the painting shop. There was yarn and fluff flying around and also, there was the smell of paint. Many workers had tuberculosis as a result. I thought this was all the punishment for my absence.

A week later Raya came to see me again. She had received a letter from her friends in Kishinev. They wrote that my mother was looking for me. Raya gave me my mother’s address in Kishinev. It’s hard to describe the overwhelming joy I felt. So, God had heard me and had mercy on me. My dear ones were alive. I wrote my mother a letter. It’s easy to say – I wrote a letter. I wrote the lines while crying, tore the paper and then rewrote the letter till I finally did it. Shortly afterward I received her response. She wrote that she, my grandmother and my brother had been in evacuation – I can’t remember exactly where they had been, somewhere in Siberia. She had been looking for me and had also written to the central inquiry office in Buguruslan and they replied that Shlima Gersh had disappeared in the vicinity of Armavir.

My mother wrote that my brother, Grigoriy, was coming to take me home. One night the janitor of the dormitory woke me up, ‚Your brother is here!‘ A handsome slender guy was standing by my bed. He had curly hair, bright eyes and had a pilot’s cap on. He was handsome, but he wasn’t the same person I remembered. Furthermore, I had forgotten my grandmother’s name during the occupation. All I remembered was that my mother’s name was Polia. The other girls woke up and we sat down to have some tea. I was trying to get used to the thought that this handsome guy was my brother. I asked him about the family. He said they had no information about our sister Sarah. Grigoriy slept on my bed and I slept with one of the girls. In the morning my brother told me to go quit my job and we would go to Kishinev.

I wrote a letter of resignation, but Khadzimurat wrote on it, ‚She isn’t to be dismissed since she is under investigation.‘ This way I found out that a criminal case had been instigated against me for my absence from work. I went to the women’s council at the trade union office of the factory and while sobbing, I told them my story. The chairman of the trade union, a strict Russian woman, called a doctor asking him to help me. She told me to lie to the doctor, saying that I had a stomach ache, when I was absent from work. The old gray-haired doctor smiled and issued a certificate stamping it by the date of my absence. Khadzimurat grumbled when he looked at the certificate, ‚Well, haven’t you outwitted me!‘ I resigned from work and my brother and I headed home. This happened in 1947. I can’t remember whether it took us two or three days to get home.

I remember that we arrived in Kishinev at night. My mother and my grandmother rented an apartment in Romashkovka [an old district of the town], my brother and I walked home. How happy I was to be in my hometown! I didn’t recognize it – it was in ruins and besides, I had left it when I was just a child, but this was my homeland. My mother cried and kissed me. My grandma couldn’t say a word between her tears. She looked so small and old to me. My mother spoke Jewish [Yiddish] to me, but I couldn’t remember a word. We sat down to dinner. I hadn’t had meat for so long, and I almost fainted inhaling the smell of the real Jewish stew. However, I was a little shy to eat too much. When my mother threw the leftover meat to the dog, I felt like taking it away from the dog. Then she took me to the bath. She washed me and cried again.

A few days later, my mother helped me get a job at the confectionery in Kishinev where she was working. I was an apprentice and my instructor was the best confectioner in Moldova. I was a good student. I probably had a talent to this vocation. In due time, I replaced my tutor and became one of the best confectioners. My hands could make lovely confectioneries: for party and governmental officials, for various exhibitions, cosmonauts – my creations were awarded the best diplomas on international exhibitions. This only happened later, when I became a famous master confectioner.

When I was still an apprentice, there was a company of young men showing signs of attention to me. I distinguished a handsome short guy among them. He was Dmitriy Goldstein, who was a worker in our shop. On 1st May 1948 he invited me on a date. We walked along the festive Lenin Street [former Alexandrovskaya Street]. We saw each other for half a year. I got to know more about him and we fell in love with one another. He was born in Kishinev in 1929 and was given the Jewish name of Mordechai at birth. Dmitriy’s father, Zelman Goldstein, was engaged in book publication and sales, and his mother, Zlota, was a masterful seamstress. Dmitriy’s family was religious and observed Jewish traditions. He studied in a Romanian school. In the 1930s Dmitriy’s family lived in Bucharest. They moved to Kishinev as soon as the Soviet regime was established.

During the Great Patriotic War, Dmitriy’s father was drafted to the army. Dmitriy, his mother and sister evacuated to Nizhniy Tagil. After the liberation of Moldova [15] the Goldstein family returned to Kishinev. Dmitriy introduced me to his parents and sister and our relatives already thought us to be engaged. On 18th December 1948, Dmitriy and my brother, Grigoriy, were recruited to the army. I promised Dmitriy that I’d wait for him. A few days later Dmitriy returned home. He weighed 47 kilograms while the minimal allowable weight for a soldier was 50 kilograms. The medical commission demobilized him. We dated for another three years. We were seriously preparing for our future life as a family. We even bought a wardrobe from our few months‘ savings. We had the wedding appointed for 31st March 1951, when a few days before the wedding Dmitriy was summoned to the military registry office again. He had gained sufficient weight and was fit for the military service.

31st March 1951 was a Saturday. I was allowed to finish work a little earlier, and Dmitriy and I registered our wedding at the district registry office. We took each other’s hand and walked home like we were used to walking holding hands. So we’ve gone through life hand in hand. In the evening we had a wedding party at Dmitriy’s home. There were Jewish dishes on the table. Our mothers borrowed some money and cooked sweet and sour stew, staffed fish and salad with beetroots and prunes. There was no music; we just sang popular Soviet and Jewish songs sitting at the table. Our wedding was more like a farewell party.

On 2nd April Dmitriy was regimented to the army. My husband served for three years and eight months. I looked forward to his coming home. I became an activist and joined the Komsomol [16]. I had grown up in the children’s home and was a big patriot. I believed everything the communists promised. I remember how our staff at work and I grieved after Stalin died in March 1953, how I cried at the mourning meeting. I was waiting for Dmitriy to return home. When I read the order on demobilization I rented the shed that our neighbor had prepared for a goat in our yard. The shed was whitewashed and very clean. However, the windows were small and there was tape instead of glass. I bought a bed, a floor mirror, hung nice curtains, and met my husband in our apartment. Probably, we had the happiest time in this little hut of our own.

In November 1955 our daughter, Ella, was born. The delivery was very hard and I was begging the Lord to have no more children. Ella is our only daughter. I remembered how our mother had to send us to the orphanage due to poverty and I didn’t want any more children. I wanted our only daughter to grow up happy in the family and in wealth. I didn’t know a thing about cooking or housekeeping. When my grandma added carrots and onions to the broth, I thought, ‚why is she doing this?‘ I didn’t know about cooking having grown up in the orphanage. So, when I was cooking, I thought, why waste money, when I have to pay 150 rubles rental fees. So I was saving on carrots and onions.

When I had the baby, I thought why waste money on milk, when I could save by buying a bottle of soda. I didn’t know that the baby couldn’t drink soda water. It took time to learn. It was slow and difficult to learn. I went to work one month after Ella was born. My mother, my mother-in-law, and my grandma took turns to take care of Ella. Life was hard. We had small salaries and there was nobody to support us. At times we didn’t even have money to buy bread before our payday, but we never gave up and fought through the hardships. Gradually life was improving. Our factory was recognized for its performance and we began to earn more.

We didn’t observe Jewish traditions in our family. However, my mother and my grandmother followed the kosher rules, celebrated Sabbath and went to the synagogue till their last days. We also joined them to celebrate Jewish holidays paying tribute to family traditions. On such holidays we just got together for a meal. When my mother returned from the synagogue, she served the table with traditional Jewish food. My husband and I enjoyed the family eating together. There were no rituals or prayers in our presence. My mother and my grandmother also celebrated Sabbath, lit candles and prayed over them, but I never joined in.

My grandmother helped me a lot, particularly when our daughter was born. She was cheerful and hardly had any health problems, though by the end of her life she lost her hearing and almost grew blind. She didn’t hear the approaching train crossing the railroad track, and the airflow threw her under the train. This happened in 1961. She died at once.

My mother married Volodia Nudelman, a Jew, the janitor of our confectionery, in the late 1960s. They lived for eight years together. He died in the late 1970s. My mother fell severely ill. She died in 1980. My second mother, Yelena Ivanovna, also died in 1980. We had corresponded, maintained warm relations and sent each other treatments and gifts. We also visited each other. I’ve always remembered that I owe my life to this common Ukrainian woman.

I’ve only seen my sister once in all those years. In 1947 my mother received a letter from Alexandra Sergeyevna Chahlova. She wrote that she knew where my sister was. My mother wrote back and then it turned out that this Alexandra Chahlova was my sister. I still can’t understand why she hadn’t written at once. Sarah married Chahlov, a Russian man. He must have been a real anti-Semite. My sister didn’t only change her name, but also her nationality. She always wrote in documents that she was Moldovan. They lived in Tomsk, Russia. My sister didn’t get along with her husband and remarried twice. None of her husbands was Jewish. Her second husband’s surname was Mikhailov, and the third was Kravchenko. In the mid-1950s Alexandra visited Kishinev with her daughter Nathalia. We were different people and my sister didn’t even pretend that we were a family. She despised Jewish traditions or any talks on Jewish subjects. This was the only time I saw my sister. She corresponded with my mother. When I wrote to her that our mother had died, she blamed me for this and wrote that she didn’t want to know me any longer. My brother’s wife and I called her in 1984, but Alexandra said she had no relatives in Kishinev. So this is all I know about my sister or her daughter.

My brother returned to Kishinev after the army. He married Bella, a lovely Jewish girl. We were friends. Regretfully, Bella fell ill and died at the age of 48. Cancer ‚burned‘ her down in one month. My brother never remarried, though recently he started living together with an old woman. He worked at the aerodrome. He had many friends among pilots and technicians. Recently, my brother had a heart attack. He is in hospital. His daughter Anna lives in the USA and his son Semyon lives in Tumen in Russia.

My daughter, Ella, studied well at school. After finishing school she decided against entering a college. Anti-Semitism was strong in those years and a Jewish girl had no chance to enter a higher educational institution unless she bribed the officials, but we had no money for bribes. Ella went to work at a computation center in a design institute. At that time the first computers were commissioned and Ella maintained them. She went to a resort in Odessa where she met Vladimir Denisov, a Russian guy from Moscow. He fell in love with her. He visited us in fall and then began to visit us frequently. They got married and my daughter moved to Moscow where Vladimir had an apartment. Ella’s husband was a great metal artist, a jeweler. He worked with precious metals, and in the Soviet times the state had a monopoly for the manufacture and treatment of jewelry, and any private business in this regard was forbidden.

Most likely, their neighbors reported on my son-in-law and one night, when my daughter was in the maternity hospital, he was arrested. The apartment was searched and whatever belongings they had was retained. Vladimir was allowed three months of delay till Ella had the baby. This was their second child. Their son Denis was born in 1979. In 1982 Dina was born. At the trial the attorney managed to have the verdict of deportation to distant areas. My daughter had to raise two children alone. My husband and I worked overtime to send her whatever we could earn. I could never afford to go to the Caucasus or Crimea [primer resorts in the Soviet Union] on vacation. We could only afford local resorts where we could go for free. I sent my savings to my daughter.

I dreamt of the sea and resorts where my friends went, but I comforted myself that I felt well wherever with my beloved husband at all times, and this is true. Vladimir returned a few years later and began to feel jealous about Ella, he even hurt her. Though Ella had waited for her husband for a few years, she lost her patience and applied for a divorce. They got a divorce. Ella didn’t want to return to Kishinev. She had a nice apartment after her divorce and she worked as a technician in a design institute. Ella only asked us to take Dina to live with us. She was four, when she came to Kishinev. My husband and I were happy and thought that we would have another daughter. I worked and managed to raise a nice girl. Dina lived with us for twelve years and we hoped that she would never leave us. But then something that nobody expected happened: the break-up of the USSR, and it became difficult for the Russian-speaking girl to study here.

All Russian schools were closed; there were only Moldovan schools left. She didn’t know the language. We also lost our savings like many other people. [The disintegration of the USSR in 1991 also resulted in the newly independent states introducing their own national currencies. Soviet Ruble ceased existing. Many people lost their life-time savings.] When Dina turned 16, she moved to Moscow. She graduated from a hairdresser’s school. Now she is a professional hairdresser. She is married, but has no children as yet. Denis studies in a college and dates a nice girl. They will be married soon. My daughter has also found her happiness. She remarried. Her second husband is Russian. His name is Sergey. I didn’t ask his surname since Ella kept her family name Denisova.

My husband and I have lived a hard life. We worked hard and hardly ever had a rest. We had to refuse ourselves many things for the sake of our daughter and grandchildren, but our love and mutual understanding has always been with us, we’ve enjoyed being together. We hoped to be able to visit our daughter and spend vacations together and see our grandchildren. When the Soviet Union collapsed, this became impossible. The price of the cheapest ticket to Moscow was twice as much as my pension. We’ve lost our savings. My daughter and grandchildren also can’t visit us often, and this is a real problem. I grew up in the children’s home, and have always been sociable.

I’ve been enthusiastic about all communist ideas of equality and fraternity, I’ve been a patriot and I can’t get used to this breakup of the Soviet Union. We’ve never considered moving to Israel, because we are patriots. We felt ourselves to be a part of a big country that was the Soviet Union. The only thing we are happy about is that Jewish communities have revived in the independent Moldova. There are charity organizations: Joint [17] and Hesed [18], they help us to have a decent life. We’ve come back to the observation of the Jewish traditions that we’ve known since childhood. We celebrate all Jewish holidays with our friends whom we meet in Hesed. Besides the material support we can also feel the closeness and support of Jews all over the world.

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Glossary

[1] Bessarabia: Historical area between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, in the southern part of Odessa region. Bessarabia was part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917. In 1918 it declared itself an independent republic, and later it united with Romania. The Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union but the Soviet Union never accepted this. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR. The two provinces had almost 4 million inhabitants, mostly Romanians. Although Romania reoccupied part of the territory during World War II the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed their belonging to the Soviet Union. Today it is part of Moldavia.

[2] Tsimes: Stew made usually of carrots, parsnips, or plums with potatoes.

[3] Hasid: The follower of the Hasidic movement, a Jewish mystic movement founded in the 18th century that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God’s presence was in all of one’s surroundings and that one should serve God in one’s every deed and word. The movement provided spiritual hope and uplifted the common people. There were large branches of Hasidic movements and schools throughout Eastern Europe before World War II, each following the teachings of famous scholars and thinkers. Most had their own customs, rituals and life styles. Today there are substantial Hasidic communities in New York, London, Israel and Antwerp.

[4] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o’clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th May 1945.

[5] Kishinev Ghetto: The annihilation of the Jews of Kishinev was carried out in several stages. With the entry of the Romanian and German units, an unknown number of Jews were slaughtered in the streets and in their homes. About 2,000 Jews, mainly of liberal professions (doctors, lawyers, engineers), and local Jewish intellectuals, were systematically executed. After the wave of killings, the 11,000 remaining Jews were concentrated in the ghetto, created on 24th July 1941, on the order of the Romanian district ruler and the German Einsatzkommando leader, Paul Zapp. The Jews of central Romania attempted to assist their brethren in the ghetto, sending large amounts of money by illegal means. A committee was formed to bribe the Romanian authorities so that they would not hand the Jews over to the Germans. In August about 7,500 Jewish people were sent to work in the Ghidighici quarries. That fall, on the Day of Atonement (4th October), the military authorities began deporting the remaining Jews in the ghetto to Transnistria, by order of the Romanian ruler, Ion Antonescu. One of the heads of the ghetto, the attorney Shapira, managed to alert the leaders of the Jewish communities in Bucharest, but attempts to halt the deportations were unsuccessful. The community was not completely liquidated, however, since some Jews had found hiding places in Kishinev and its vicinity or elsewhere in Romania. In May 1942, the last 200 Jews in the locality were deported. Kishinev was liberated in August 1944. At that time no Jews were left in the locality.

[6] Kishinev pogrom of 1903: On 6-7 April, during the Christian Orthodox Easter, there was severe pogrom in Kishinev (today Chisinau, Moldova) and its suburbs, in which about 50 Jews were killed and hundreds injured. Jewish shops were destroyed and many people left homeless. The pogrom became a watershed in the history of the Jews of the Pale of Settlement and the Zionist movement, not only because of its scale, but also due to the reaction of the authorities, who either could not or did not want to stop the pogromists. The pogrom reverbarated in the Jewish world and spurred many future Zionists to join the movement.

[7] Common name: Russified or Russian first names used by Jews in everyday life and adopted in official documents. The Russification of first names was one of the manifestations of the assimilation of Russian Jews at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. In some cases only the spelling and pronunciation of Jewish names was russified (e.g. Isaac instead of Yitskhak; Boris instead of Borukh), while in other cases traditional Jewish names were replaced by similarly sounding Russian names (e.g. Eugenia instead of Ghita; Yury instead of Yuda). When state anti-Semitism intensified in the USSR at the end of the 1940s, most Jewish parents stopped giving their children traditional Jewish names to avoid discrimination.

[8] Cuzist: Member of the Romanian fascist organization named after Alexandru C. Cuza, one of the most fervent fascist leaders in Romania, who was known for his ruthless chauvinism and anti-Semitism. In 1919 Cuza founded the LANC, which became the National Christian Party in 1935 with an anti-Semitic program.

[9] Struggle against religion: The 1930s was a time of anti-religion struggle in the USSR. In those years it was not safe to go to synagogue or to church. Places of worship, statues of saints, etc. were removed; rabbis, Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests disappeared behind KGB walls.

[10] All-Union pioneer organization: a communist organization for teenagers between 10 and 15 years old (cf: boy-/ girlscouts in the US). The organization aimed at educating the young generation in accordance with the communist ideals, preparing pioneers to become members of the Komsomol and later the Communist Party. In the Soviet Union, all teenagers were pioneers.

[11] German colonists/colony: Ancestors of German peasants, who were invited by Empress Catherine II in the 18th century to settle in Russia.

[12] Kolkhoz: In the Soviet Union the policy of gradual and voluntary collectivization of agriculture was adopted in 1927 to encourage food production while freeing labor and capital for industrial development. In 1929, with only 4% of farms in kolkhozes, Stalin ordered the confiscation of peasants‘ land, tools, and animals; the kolkhoz replaced the family farm.

[13] Kulaks: In the Soviet Union the majority of wealthy peasants that refused to join collective farms and give their grain and property to Soviet power were called kulaks, declared enemies of the people and exterminated in the 1930s.

[14] Victory Day in Russia (9th May): National holiday to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II and honor the Soviets who died in the war.

[15] Moldova: Historic region between the Eastern Carpathians, the Dniester River and the Black Sea, also a contemporary state, bordering with Romania and Ukraine. Moldova was first mentioned after the end of the Mongol invasion in 14th century scripts as Eastern marquisate of the Hungarian Kingdom. For a long time, the Principality of Moldova was tributary of either Poland or Hungary until the Ottoman Empire took possession of it in 1512. The Sultans ruled Moldova indirectly by appointing the Prince of Moldova to govern the vassal principality. These were Moldovan boyars until the early 18th century and Greek (Phanariot) ones after. In 1812 Tsar Alexander I occupied the eastern part of Moldova (between the Prut and the Dniester river and the Black Sea) and attached it to its Empire under the name of Bessarabia. In 1859 the remaining part of Moldova merged with Wallachia. In 1862 the new country was called Romania, which was finally internationally recognized at the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Bessarabia united with Romania after World War I, and was recaptured by the Soviet Union in 1940. The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic gained independence after the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and is now called Moldovan Republic (Republica Moldova).

[16] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.

[17] Joint (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee): The Joint was formed in 1914 with the fusion of three American Jewish committees of assistance, which were alarmed by the suffering of Jews during World War I. In late 1944, the Joint entered Europe’s liberated areas and organized a massive relief operation. It provided food for Jewish survivors all over Europe, it supplied clothing, books and school supplies for children. It supported cultural amenities and brought religious supplies for the Jewish communities. The Joint also operated DP camps, in which it organized retraining programs to help people learn trades that would enable them to earn a living, while its cultural and religious activities helped re- establish Jewish life. The Joint was also closely involved in helping Jews to emigrate from Europe and from Muslim countries. The Joint was expelled from East Central Europe for decades during the Cold War and it has only come back to many of these countries after the fall of communism. Today the Joint provides social welfare programs for elderly Holocaust survivors and encourages Jewish renewal and communal development.

[18] Hesed: Meaning care and mercy in Hebrew, Hesed stands for the charity organization founded by Amos Avgar in the early 20th century. Supported by Claims Conference and Joint Hesed helps for Jews in need to have a decent life despite hard economic conditions and encourages development of their self-identity. Hesed provides a number of services aimed at supporting the needs of all, and particularly elderly members of the society. The major social services include: work in the center facilities (information, advertisement of the center activities, foreign ties and free lease of medical equipment); services at homes (care and help at home, food products delivery, delivery of hot meals, minor repairs); work in the community (clubs, meals together, day-time polyclinic, medical and legal consultations); service for volunteers (training programs). The Hesed centers have inspired a real revolution in the Jewish life in the FSU countries. People have seen and sensed the rebirth of the Jewish traditions of humanism. Currently over eighty Hesed centers exist in the FSU countries. Their activities cover the Jewish population of over eight hundred settlements.

 

Isaac Rozenfain

Isaac Rozenfain and his family. From left to right: Isaac Rozenfain, his son Sergei Berezovskiy (standing), his son Oleg Berezovskiy and his wife Lubov Berezovskaya (1956).

Chisinau, Moldova

Isaac Rozenfain is a lean man of medium height with fine features. He has a moustache and combs his hair back, giving way to his large forehead. He wears glasses with obscure glass. When talking he looks at you intently, but at times he seems to drift off into his own world, recalling something deeply personal, and is in no hurry to share what is on his mind. Isaac and I had a meeting at the Jewish municipal library. Isaac is a very nice, intelligent man with impeccable manners and a sense of dignity. However, he is rather taciturn and reserved: there are subjects he never discusses, subjects that he determined for himself based on his sad experiences in life. Therefore, he often used phrases such as ‚I don’t know‘ or ‚I don’t remember‘, particularly when it came to politics.


Interview details

Interviewee: Isaac Rozenfain
Interviewer: Natalia Fomina
Time of interview: Novmeber 2004
Place: Chisinau, Moldova


My family background

Unfortunately, I know nothing about my father’s parents. I didn’t know them and never saw photographs of them either. All I know is that my paternal grandfather’s name was Moisey Rozenfain and he lived in Nevel [a district town in Vitebsk province, 980 km from Kishinev]. We lived in Bessarabia [1], and Nevel belonged to the USSR [during the Soviet regime Nevel was in Pskov region, today Russia]“and my father’s relatives never traveled to Kishinev. My father may have spoken about his parents, when I was small, but I can’t remember anything. I have no doubts that my grandfather and grandmother were religious since my father was given a traditional Jewish education. I don’t know how many sisters or brothers my father had. I met only one of his brothers, who visited us in Nevel after the Great Patriotic War [2]. I have a photo taken on this occasion, but unfortunately I cannot remember my uncle’s name.

My father, Wolf Rozenfain, was born in Nevel in 1888. He must have had education in addition to cheder since he knew Hebrew. They didn’t learn Hebrew properly in cheder, and my father knew Hebrew to such an extent, that he simply couldn’t just have learned it in cheder. He also spoke fluent Russian. My father must have moved to Kishinev before 1918, before Bessarabia was annexed to Romania [see Annexation of Bessarabia to Romania] [3]. I don’t know what my father was doing then. My parents met in Kishinev, but I don’t know any details in this regard. My parents got married in 1920.

My maternal grandfather, Israel Kesselman, came from some place near Kiev. I don’t know my grandmother’s name. My grandfather and grandmother died before I was born. I know that they had to leave their hometown near Kiev due to the resettlement of Jews within the [Jewish] Pale of Settlement [4]. The family moved to the village of Eskipolos [today Glubokoye, Ukraine] near Tatarbunar in Bessarabia province [650 km from Kiev].

I remember that my mother’s sister Mania Shusterman [nee Kesselman] lived in Eskipolos. Aunt Mania was the oldest of the siblings. She was a housewife. I don’t remember her husband. Her son Abram, my cousin brother, was about 20 years older than me and always patronized me. Abram was a Revisionist Zionist [see Revisionist Zionism] [5], and a rather adamant one. He was one of the leaders of Betar [6] in Bessarabia, on an official basis: he was paid for his work; he was an employee of Betar. He was an engineer by vocation. He passed his tests extramurally in Paris. Abram had a hearing problem, which was the result of lightning that struck their house in Eskipolos in his childhood. It killed Abram’s sister, whose name I can’t remember. She had two children: Izia and Nelia, my nephew and niece.

Mama also had two brothers, whose names I don’t remember. One of them lived in Galaz in Romania. He died before World War II. The second brother moved to South America at the beginning of the century. He lived in Buenos Aires. I remember that my parents corresponded with him. My uncle had a big family: a son, Izia, named after grandfather Israel Kesselman, and three daughters: Sarita, Dorita and Berthidalia, in the local manner. Their Jewish names were Sarah, Dora and Bertha. I never met them, but I remember their rather unusual names. My uncle must have been a wealthy man. I was supposed to move to America to continue my education after finishing the technical school. Later, my family decided I should continue my education in Civitavecchia near Rome [Italy] and my uncle was to pay for it. My uncle died after the war, in the late 1950s, early 1960s. I didn’t correspond with my cousins. [The interviewee is referring to the fact that it was dangerous to keep in touch with relatives abroad] [7].

My mother, Fania Rozenfain, nee Kesselman, was born near Kiev in 1890. She lived in Tatarbunari before she moved to Kishinev. She must have finished a school of ‚assistant doctors‘ there. [Editor’s note: In Russian the term ‚assistant doctor‘ (from the German ‚Feldscher‘) is the equivalent of medical nurse. As a rule men were feldschers and women were nurses.] Mama got married at the age of almost 30, and I guess hers was a prearranged marriage.

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Growing up

After the wedding my parents settled down in a one-storied house with a verandah on Alexandrovskaya Street [today Stefan cel Mare Street] in Kishinev, where I was born on 28th October 1921. I remember this house very well. My mother showed it to me when I grew older. Later we moved to 29, Kupecheskaya Street [today Negruzzi Street]. We always rented two-bedroom apartments, but I don’t remember the details of this apartment. From Kupecheskaya we moved to Mikhailovskaya on the corner of Sadovaya Street.

My father was the director of the Jewish elementary school of the Society of Sale Clerks for Cooperation [founded in 1886] on Irinopolskaya Street. He taught Hebrew and mathematics at school. My father was short and wore glasses. When he returned home from work he enjoyed reading Jewish and Russian newspapers. My father subscribed to the Jewish paper ‚Undzere Zeit‘ [Yiddish for ‚Our Time‘]. We had a collection of books in Hebrew and Russian at home. However, the books in Hebrew were philosophical works and fiction rather than religious ones. We spoke Russian at home. Mama and Papa occasionally spoke Yiddish, but my mother’s Yiddish was much poorer than my father’s. Mama worked as an assistant doctor in a private clinic. She knew no Romanian and for this reason couldn’t find a job in a state-run clinic. Mama was tall and stately. She had thick, long hair that she wore in plaits crowning her head. Mama’s friend Manechka, a Jewish woman and a morphine- addict, who also worked in this clinic, had an affair with the chief doctor. For some reason I remember this, though I was just six or seven years old then. We occasionally had guests, but I don’t remember any other of my parents‘ friends.

We always had meals together at the same time. Papa sat at the head of the table. Mama laid the table. She cooked gefilte fish, chicken broth with home-made noodles, and potato pancakes [latkes]. The food was delicious. Mama was really good at cooking. Our family wasn’t extremely religious. I wouldn’t say that we followed all rules at Sabbath, though Papa certainly didn’t work on this day. Papa went to the synagogue on holidays, but he didn’t have his own seat there. I went to the synagogue with him. We celebrated Jewish holidays. I remember Easter. [Editor’s note: Mr. Rozenfain speaks Russian. In Russian the words ‚Pesach‘ and ‚Paskha‘ (Christian term) are very similar and Russian-speaking Jews often use ‚Paskha‘ instead of ‚Pesach‘.] We had special fancy crockery. Papa conducted the seder according to the rules. He reclined on cushions at the head of the table. There was no bread in the house during the holiday [mitzvah of biur chametz]. When I was five or six years old I looked for the afikoman, but I don’t remember any details. They say childhood events imprint on the memory, but that’s not the case with me. We had Easter celebrations till the beginning of the war, but I don’t remember myself during seder, when I was in my teens.

I must have been given some money on Chanukkah [the traditional Chanukkah gelt], but I don’t remember. On Purim Mama made hamantashen and fluden with honey and nuts. I also remember how we took shelakhmones to our acquaintances on Purim [mishlo’ah manot, sending of gifts to one another]. We didn’t make a sukkah [at Sukkot] and neither did any of our acquaintances, so I didn’t see one in my childhood.

Most of my friends were Jews, but when we moved to Mikhailovskaya Street I met Shurka Kapevar, a Russian boy, who became my very close friend. His maternal grandfather was a priest. Shurka showed me records of Shaliapin [Shaliapin, Fyodor Ivanovich (1873-1938): famous Russian bass singer], with the singer’s personal dedication to Shurka’s mother. When I grew older I incidentally heard that she had had an affair with Shaliapin when she was young.

My parents and I often spent our summer vacations with Aunt Mania in Eskipolos on the Black Sea firth. We went by train to Arciz [180 km from Kishinev], which took a few hours, and from there we rode for some more hours on a horse-drawn wagon. There was a lovely beach there with fine yellow sand. I enjoyed lying in the sun. I learned to swim and used to swim far into the sea and sway lying on my back on the waves. I also enjoyed spending time with my cousin Abram, whom I loved dearly. He often traveled to Kishinev on Betar business.

I went to the Jewish school where my father was director. We studied most subjects in Romanian, but we also studied Hebrew and Jewish history in Hebrew. Regretfully, I don’t remember any Hebrew. After successfully finishing elementary school, I entered the Aleku Russo boys‘ gymnasium [named after Russo, Aleku (1781-1859), Romanian writer and essayist]. This building on the corner of Pushkin and Pirogov Streets houses one of the university faculties now. This was the only gymnasium in Kishinev, which exercised the five percent quota [8] for Jewish students. [Editor’s note: as the five percent quota existed in Russia before 1917 it is possible that it also existed in some schools in Romania.] However, my father decided I should only go there – that’s how good it was. Our Jewish neighbors‘ son, who was about three years older than me, studied there and my parents decided I should try.

There were Romanian and Russian boys in my class, but only three Jewish boys: Kryuk, Balter and I. We had very good teachers. I remember Skodigora, our teacher of mathematics. His brother taught us natural sciences. Our Romanian teacher was Usatiuk, a member of the Iron Guard [9]. There were fascists in Romania at that time. Usatiuk gave me a ‚9‘ – we had marks from 1 [worst] to 10 [best] – for the Romanian language in the 2nd or 3rd grade, and this was a high mark, and he hardly ever gave such a high mark to anybody else. This was quite a surprise for me.

Once I faced the hidden antipathy of my peers. I can still remember this very well. One day in spring we played ‚oina,‘ a Romanian ball game. Two players standing in front of each other try to strike the third player running from one to the other with a ball. I stood with my back to a window of the gymnasium. The ball broke the window, but it was obviously not my doing considering that I was standing with my back to the window. Anyway, when the janitor came by, the other boys stated unanimously that I hade done it. Besides punishment, the one to blame was to pay for the broken window. I felt like crying. This actually showed they disliked Jews in my view. We weren’t allowed to speak Russian in the gymnasium. [Editor’s note: The reason for this was to introduce the Romanian language publicly as well as at higher educational institutions in the formerly Russian province.] Since we often spoke Russian at home I switched to it in the gymnasium. My classmate Dolumansi often threatened, ‚I will show you how to speak Russian!‘ By the way, he was a Gagauz [10], I’d say.

I had moderate success at the gymnasium, but I was fond of sports like everybody else. I went to play ping-pong at the gym of the Jewish sports society Maccabi [11] on Harlampievskaya Street. I also played volley-ball for the team of our gymnasium. There were competitions between the town gymnasiums for boys. They were named after Romanian and Moldovan writers: Bogdan Hasdeu [Hasdeu, Bogdan Petreceicu (1838-1907): Romanian scholar, writer, historian and essayist], Alexandru Donici [Donici, Alexandru (1806- 1865): Moldovan writer, translator, the creator of the Moldovan national fable], Eminescu [12]; by the way this latter gymnasium was called Jewish in the town, as many Jewish students studied there.

The Kishinev of my youth wasn’t a very big town. It had a population of about 100,000 people. [According to the all-Russian census of 1897, Kishinev had 108,483 residents, 50,237 of who were Jews.] The only three- storied building was on Alexandrovskaya Street on the corner of Kupecheskaya Street: its owner was Barbalat, who also owned a big clothes store. There was a tram running along Armianskaya, Pushkin and Alexandrovskaya Streets. One of the brightest memories of this time I have is of two dead bodies on the corner of Alexandrovskaya and Pushkin Streets, guarded by a policeman. This happened in the late 1930s, when the Iron Guards killed the Prime Minister of Romania [Armand Calinescu, Premier of Romania, was murdered in September 1939.] King Carol II [13] ordered the carrying out of demonstrative executions of leaders of the Iron Guard in big towns in Romania. In our town the spot for this was across the street from the ‚Children’s World‘ store, and people passed this location hurriedly or preferred to avoid it at all.

I loved cinema and wanted to become a film director. I often went to the Orpheum on the corner of Alexandrovskaya and Pushkin Streets, the Coliseum on Podolskaya Street, and the Odeon cinema. I didn’t want to miss a single movie. However, this was a problem. We weren’t really wealthy and a ticket cost 16 Lei [the price of a tram ticket was 30 Ban (0,3 Leu)], which was rather sufficient for a gymnasium student. I remember movies with Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. I particularly liked step dance and never missed one movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The gymnasium students liked walking along Alexandrovskaya Street, the Broadway of our town. We walked from Gogol to Sinadinovskaya Street, on the right side of the railway station. We made acquaintances, walked and talked. This love of walking played an evil trick on me. One afternoon, when I was supposed to be in class, I was noticed by a gymnasium tutor, who was to watch over the students. I was walking with a girl and I was smoking a cigarette. I was 15 or 16 years. I was immediately expelled from the gymnasium, and my father’s attempts to restore me there failed.

The family council decided that I should go to a technical school. I entered the construction technical school on the corner of Zhukovskaya and Lyovskaya Streets. My sad experience changed my attitude towards my studies and I became one of the best students in the technical school. This school was owned by a priest. Architect Merz, a German, was the best teacher. The recruitment age to the Romanian army was 20 and I didn’t have to go to the army before 1940. I was born the same year as the son of Karl II, Mihay [King Michael] [14]. This was supposed to release me from the army service, and also, I guess the month and the date had to coincide. I also remember the rumors that Mihay wounded his father’s lover and that she was a Jew. The situation for Jews got much worse then. I remember the New Year [Christian] celebration when Antonescu [15] was the ruler. There was the threat of pogroms and the celebration was very quiet. I don’t know how serious this threat really was, but the feeling of fear prevailed. I don’t remember whether they introduced any anti-Jewish laws in Romania [16] at that time, but there was this kind of spirit in the air.

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During the War

Perhaps for this reason we welcomed the Soviet forces, entering the town on 29th June 1940 [see Annexation of Bessarabia to the USSR] [17]. People were waiting for them all night long. I stood on the corner of Armianskaya and Alexandrovskaya Streets. There were crowds of people around. At 4am the first tanks entered the town. The tank men stopped their tanks and came out hugging people. When the Soviet rule was established, teaching at the technical school continued, only the priest stopped being its owner. Our teachers stayed. They knew Russian very well and started teaching us in Russian. A few other boys and I repaired two rooms in a building to house the district Komsomol [18] committee. We plastered and whitewashed the walls. I joined the Komsomol sincerely and with all my heart. I liked the meetings, discussions and Subbotniks [19], when we planted trees.

Then wealthier people began to be deported from Kishinev. The parents of one of my mates were deported, but he was allowed to stay in the town and continue his studies. The Stalin principle of children not being responsible for their fathers was in force [‚A son is not responsible for his father‘, I.V. Stalin, 1935]. Once, this student whose Russian was poor asked me to help him write a request to Stalin to release his parents. We were sitting in the classroom writing this letter, when the secretary of the Komsomol unit came in and asked what we were doing. I explained and he left the classroom without saying a word. Some time later I was summoned to the Komsomol committee and expelled from the Komsomol at a Komsomol meeting. Then there was the town Komsomol committee meeting that I still remember at which I was expelled. I couldn’t understand why they expelled me, when I was just willing to help someone. ‚How could you help an enemy of the people [20]?‘ I had tears in my eyes. I sincerely wanted to help a person and they shut the door in my face.

The Germans attacked the USSR in 1941 and Kishinev was bombed at 4am on 22nd June. One bomb hit a radio station antenna post in a yard on the corner of Pushkin and Sadovaya Streets. At first I thought it was a practice alarm. A few days later Mama said their hospital was receiving the wounded from the front line. We lived two blocks away from the hospital, and I rushed there to help carry the patients inside. Kishinev was bombed every day at about 11am.

I finished the technical school on 24th June. The school issued interim certificates instead of diplomas because of the wartime. I got an assignment [see mandatory job assignment in the USSR] [21] to Kalarash [50 km from Kishinev]. I took a train to the town and went to the house maintenance department. There was a note on the door: ‚All gone to the front.‘ I went back to Kishinev on a horse-drawn wagon. I arrived in the early morning. A militiaman halted me on the corner of Armianskaya and Lenin Streets. He checked my documents and let me go. This was 6th July and on the following day I was summoned to the military registry office that was forming groups of young guys to be sent to the Dnestr in the east. In Tiraspol we joined a local unit and moved up the Dnestr. My former co- students and friends Lyodik [short for Leonid] Dobrowski and Ioska [short for Iosif] Muntian and I stayed together. We crossed the Dnestr south of Dubossary. German bombers were fiercely bombing the crossing. We arrived at a German colony [22] in Odessa region where we stayed a few days. Then we joined another group from Tiraspol and moved on. On our way we mainly got food from locals.

One night, we arrived at Kirovograd [350 km from Kishinev, today Ukraine] where a restaurant was opened for us and we were given enough food to eat to our hearts‘ content. Then we were accommodated in the cultural center. We had enough hours of sleep for the first time in many days. On Sunday young local people came to dance in the yard. A few of us joined them. I asked a pretty girl to dance, but she refused. I asked another girl, but she refused, too. When the third girl refused to dance with me, I asked her ‚Why?‘ and she replied, ‚because you are retreating.‘

The next morning we got going. For two months we were retreating from the front line. At times we took a train, but mainly we went on foot. We arrived at a kolkhoz [23] in Martynnovskiy district, Rostov region. We stayed there for a month. I went to work as assistant accountant. Throughout this time I was dreaming about joining the army. Dreaming! In October, when the front line approached, we were summoned to the military registry office and then were assigned to the army. Lyodik, Ioska and I remembered that we were Bessarabians [the Soviet commandment generally didn’t conscript Bessarabians, former Romanian nationals], since we came from Tiraspol, another Soviet town, we kept silent about it; we wanted to join the army!

Ioska and I were assigned to the front line forces and Lyodik joined a construction battalion. Construction battalions constructed and repaired bridges and crossings. After the war I got to know that Ioska survived and Lyodik perished. I was sent to Armavir [today Russia]. We received uniforms: shirts, breeches, caps and helmets. We also received boots with foot wrappings that were to be wrapped around the calves, but then they slid down causing much discomfort. We received rifles and were shown how to use them. After a short training period I was assigned to an infantry regiment, mine mortar battalion, where I became number six in a mortar crew consisting of the commander, gun layer, loader and three mine carriers. A mine weighed 16 kilos: so it was heavy and for this reason three carriers were required. Some time later I was promoted to the commander of a crew since I had vocational secondary education. Our battery commanding officer was Captain Sidorov, a nice Russian guy of about 30 years of age. It may seem strange, but I have rather dim memories about my service in the front line forces. It’s like all memories have been erased!

In 1942 I was wounded in my arm near Temriuk [Krasnodarskiy Krai, today Russia]. I was taken to a hospital in Anapa. Six weeks later I returned to the army forces. However, I didn’t return to my unit. Instead, I was sent to a training tank regiment in Armavir where I was trained to shoot and operate a tank. I could move a tank out of the battlefield if a mechanic was wounded. All crew members were supposed to know how to do this. A tank crew consists of four members: commander, loader in the tower, a mechanic on the left and a radio operator and a gunman/radio operator on the right at the bottom of the tank. The radio operator receives orders and shots. The commander of the tank fires the tower gun. I was the loader, ‚the tower commander‘, as tank men used to call this position. Tank units sent their representatives to pick new crew members to join front line forces and replace the ones they had lost: ’sales agents‘ as we called them.

I was assigned to a tank regiment near Novorossiysk. The commander of my tank, Lieutenant Omelchenko, was two or three years older than me. He had finished a tank school shortly before the war. The tank and radio operators were sergeants and I was a private: we were the same age. They were experienced tank men and had taken part in a number of battles compared to me. Omelchenko was Ukrainian and the two others were Russian. At first I noticed that the others were somewhat suspicious of me, but then they understood I was no different from them. We were in the same ‚box‘ and we got along well. I was afraid before the first combat action, but I didn’t show it so that I wouldn’t give them a chance to say: ‚Hey, the Jew is frightened‘. I didn’t notice anything during the first battle since all I did was load the shells to support non-stop shooting. I was standing and placed the shells into the breech, heard the click of an empty shell and loaded the next one. All I heard was roaring, this maddening roaring. I might have got deaf if it hadn’t been for the helmet. The battle ended all of a sudden, and it all went very quiet. I don’t know who won, but the Germans had gone. When we were on our way back to our original position, the manhole was up and we were getting off the tank. I heard the sound of a shot and fell.

The bullet hit me in my lower belly and passed right through my hip. I was taken to the medical battalion where they wanted to give me food, but I knew that I wasn’t supposed to eat being wounded in my belly – I knew from Mama, who was a medical nurse. The doctor examining me decided he knew me. He thought I had been his neighbor in Odessa. I was taken to the rear hospital in Grozny by plane. This was a ‚corn plane‘ [agricultural plane], as people called it, and the wounded were placed in a cradle fixture underneath the plane. I remember that the hospital accommodated in the house of culture [alternative name for cultural center], was overcrowded and the patients were even lying on the floor. I was put on a bed since I was severely wounded. A few days later I got up at night and went to the toilet. I started walking and was on my way to recovery. After the hospital I was sent to a recreation center where Shulzhenko gave a concert on the second floor. [Shulzhenko, Claudia Ivanovna (1906-1984): Soviet pop singer, whose name is associated with the start of Soviet pop singing] I went to the second floor. I can still remember the stage and Shulzhenko in a long concert gown. She sang all these popular songs and one of them was ‚The blue shawl‘ [one of the most popular wartime songs]. There was a storm of applause!

I received my first letter from Central Asia from my girlfriend whom I had met in Kishinev before the war. Her name was Neta [Anneta]. She somehow managed to get to know my field address. Neta also gave me my parents‘ address. She wrote in her first letter that my parents had evacuated to Central Asia and were staying in Kokand, Uzbekistan. Mama worked as an assistant doctor and Papa was a teacher of mathematics at a local school. They wrote to me once a month. The field post service was reliable. At least, the letters made it to me wherever I was. A postman was always waited for at the front line. I don’t know about censorship, but I wrote what I wanted. My parents described their life in evacuation. When Kishinev was liberated in 1944, they returned to Moldova. Neta and I corresponded, and I visited her when I returned after the war, but I was already married by then.

When I recovered I was assigned to a reserve tank regiment. I stayed there a month before I was ‚purchased‘. We were to line up, when ‚purchasers‘ visited us and once I heard Kusailo saying, ‚this zhyd [abusive of Jew] will never join a tank unit,‘ but I did, and he and I were in the same SAM [mobile artillery regiment] unit where I stayed for over a year. A mobile artillery unit is very much like a tank, but it has no circulating tower on top of it. It was a 76-mobile unit with a 76-mm mortar. This was one of the first models of mobile units. Lieutenant Chemodanov was my commanding officer. I have very nice memories about this crew and our friendship. I was wounded again and followed the same chain of events: hospital, reserve unit and then front line unit again.

In summer 1943 I joined the [Communist] Party. The admission ceremony was literally under a bush: the party meeting was conducted on a clearing in the wood. I think it was at that time that I got an offer from the special department to work for SMERSH [24]. I’d rather not talk about it. Actually, there is nothing to talk about. As far as I can remember, I provoked this myself. I always said I was interested in intelligence work. I was young and must have been attracted by the adventurous side of this profession. This must have been heard by the relevant people. I was given a task: two soldiers had disappeared from our unit and I was supposed to detain them, if I ever met them… This didn’t last more than a year, but I must say that spies are quite common during the war. No war can do without intelligence people.

I served in the 84th separate tank regiment for the last two years of the war. I joined it in late 1943, when the Transcaucasian front was disbanded and we were assigned to the 4th Ukrainian front. We had T-34 tanks that excelled German tanks by their features. I was an experienced tank man. We were very proud of being tank men. Air Force and tanks made up the elite of the army. Tank men usually stayed in the near front areas and were accommodated in the nearby settlements. During offensives we moved to the initial positions from where we went into attacks. Sometimes tanks went into attacks with infantry, but we didn’t know those infantry men. My tank was hit several times, but fortunately there was no fire. Perhaps, I’m wrong here and other tank men would disagree, but I think if there was an experienced commander of the tank, the tank had a chance to avoid being set on fire. The thing is: if a tank is set on fire, what’s most important is to get out of the tank. The manhole was supposed to be closed and the latch was to be locked and this latch might get stuck. We closed the manhole, but never locked it. On the one hand it was dangerous, but on the other, it made it easier to get out of the tank, if necessary. The tank might turn into a coffin if the latch got stuck. Germans shot bullets at us and we believed that if we heard a bullet flying by, the next one was to hit our tank. Then we evacuated from the tank and crawled aside before the tank became a convenient target or hid behind the tank, if there was no time left to crawl to a hiding.

I had a friend who was a loader in another crew. I don’t remember his name, but I remember him well. He was Russian. When we were fighting in Ukraine he perished in a battle, when we were approaching Moldova. Some time later his mother, who was a military correspondent, visited us to hear how he had perished. She found me since he must have mentioned my name in his letters. When she started asking me the details, I was shocked knowing that she specifically arrived to hear the details of his death. In 1944, when our regiment was fighting within the 4th Ukrainian Front, the Soviet army entered Moldova. I had very special feelings about my homeland. I knew Romanian, and when we were in the woods the others sent me to nearby villages to exchange gas oil for wine. Gas oil was our tank fuel. The villagers were happy to have it for their kerosene lamps. And we were twice as happy since Moldova was known for making good wine.

Major Trubetzkoy, chief of headquarters of our regiment, perished in Moldova. He was everybody’s favorite in the regiment. He was young, 29 years old, brave and good to his subordinates. He was cultured and rather aristocratic, I’d say. I even think, he must have come from the family of Trubetskoy. [Editor’s note: The Trubetskoy family, an old family of Russian princes (14th-20th century), gave birth to many outstanding statesmen and scientists.] He was killed by a German sniper when he was riding his motorcycle going to the headquarters. He had all of his awards on though he had never worn them all before. Colonel Chelhovskoy, our regiment commander, followed the tanks on the battlefield on his motorcycle. The commander of the regiment intelligence was Captain Dyomin. Our regiment was involved in the Iasi/Kishinev operation [From 20th-29th August 1944 the Soviet troops liberated Moldova and Eastern Romania. Romania came out of action and on 24th August its new government declared war to fascist Germany.] All types of forces were involved in this operation. Our tank regiment passed Kishinev and its suburbs, and we could see how ruined the town was.

After the Iasi/Kishinev operation we entered Bulgaria via Romania. People welcomed us as liberators. On 24th September 1944 we arrived in the town of Lom. It was hot and I jumped out of the tank without my shirt on. A bunch of Bulgarian girls surrounded me. One of them gave me a bunch of field flowers. Then the bravest of them, Katia, asked me to get photographed with them. Her boyfriend took a photo of us. I gave Katia the address of my parents at their evacuation spot and she sent them the photo. From Bulgaria we moved on to Hungary across Romania. In Hungary our tank regiment was involved in battles near Szekesfehervar and Dunaujvaros on the Danube River. Our crew changed within a couple of days: someone was wounded or killed, a commander or radio operator. I only remember Nikolai, the tank operator. I remember the names of our regiment commander or chief of staff, but not of those who were with me in the tank: this is strange, but that’s how it happened. In 1945 we moved on to Czechoslovakia and then returned. It should be noted that we were given a warm welcome in Czechoslovakia, but they were also happy to see us leaving again. Or at least that’s the impression I got.

In Hungary I was slightly wounded again and that’s when I met my future wife Lidia Zherdeva in the hospital. She was a medical nurse in the army. Lidia came from Kharkov [today Ukraine]. Her mother stayed on occupied territory during the war. Her mother was mentally ill and Lidia thought she had perished, when one day, shortly before demobilization, she heard from her mother. She felt like putting an end to her life because it was extremely hard for her to live with her insane mother. She took morphine, but the doctors rescued her. We were together, though we weren’t officially married. It was a common thing at the front line. Occasionally there were orders issued in the regiment and that was it about the official part.

I celebrated the victory in Nagykoros, a small town near Budapest. We actually expected it… In the morning of 9th May we were told that the war was over. What joy this was! I cannot describe it. We didn’t shoot in the air since we had no guns, only carbines in tanks, but we hugged each other and sang! In the evening we drank a lot. Our regiment was accommodated in Budapest. Our radio operator, mechanic and I were accommodated in one woman’s house. The Hungarians were good to us, particularly the women. The Hungarian language is difficult and we mainly used sign language. One of us had a better conduct of Hungarian than the others and translated for us.

In late 1945 demobilization began. There was an order issued to demobilize those who had vocational secondary education first. I was a construction man and had a certificate on the basis of which I was demobilized in January 1946. Lidia and I moved to Kishinev. My parents were back home and my father taught mathematics at school. They lived in a small room on Sadovaya Street. I went to the executive committee to ask them about a job and some accommodation, but they replied, ‚there are thousands like you. And there are also invalids.‘ One of my father’s former students left Kishinev, and my wife and I moved into his hut on Schusev Street. Later we obtained a permit to stay there. This former student’s father was working in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Moldova and helped me to get employed by the industrial construction trust. In February 1946 I was already working as a foreman at the construction of a shoe factory on Bolgarskaya Street. In 1949 my mother died. We buried her in the Jewish cemetery, but not according to the Jewish ritual from what I remember.

In 1944 my cousin brother Abram Shusterman returned from evacuation. He had been in Central Asia with his mother and nephews. Some time later Abram was exiled to the North: he told a joke about the government and someone reported on him to the KGB [25]. Later he was allowed to settle down in Central Asia. After Stalin’s death [5th March 1953], he and his wife visited us in Kishinev. They had no children. He was my only relative, who thought he had to take care of me. I have no other relatives. He died in Central Asia, but I don’t remember in what year.

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Post-war

I didn’t live long with my first wife. I fell in love with Lubov Berezovskaya. She was an accountant in our construction department. I think she was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met in my life. I was offered the position of site superintendent at the construction of a food factory in Orhei. At first I refused, but when I heard that Berezovskaya was going there to work as an accountant, I changed my mind. We moved to Orhei together and got married in 1947. Our son Sergei was born there. My second wife was Russian. She was born in Kharkov in 1925. She moved to Kishinev after the war with her mother, Olga Antonovna Chumak. Her father, Boris Berezovskiy, died before the war. Olga Antonovna was a worker at the shoe factory in Kishinev. When we met, Lubov only had secondary education, but later she graduated from the Faculty of Economics of Kishinev University. She was promoted to chief accountant of the construction department.

There was a building frame on the construction site. Our office was accommodated in a small building next to it. In August 1950 the director of the construction department organized a meeting dedicated to Kotovsky [26]. I went to Kishinev at this time. We were driving on a truck and I was struck by the color of the sky over Orhei: it was unusually green. My co- traveler from a village said, ‚I’ve never seen a sky of this color before.‘ When I arrived at the construction department in Kishinev the people had scared expressions on their faces. It turned out that after I left Orhei a storm broke and the frame of this building collapsed over the office. I rushed back to Orhei. When I arrived, I asked, ‚Are there any victims?‘ ‚Fifteen.‘ Later a commission identified that this was a natural force majeure and this was the end of it. The director of the factory, a former KGB officer, resigned and went back to work at the KGB office.

In December this same year the chairman of the Trade Union Committee of the Light Industry reported this accident at the USSR trade union council plenary meeting in Moscow. There was the question: ‚Was anybody punished?‘ ‚No.‘ A week later I was summoned by the prosecutor and didn’t return home. I was interrogated for a day, and in the evening I was put in prison. They shaved my head before taking me to jail. I remember entering the cell: 25 inmates, two-tier plank beds. I was so exhausted that I just fell onto the bed and fell asleep. A few days later I was appointed crew leader for the repairs in prison. About two weeks later I was released. The Light Industry Minister, Mikhail Nikitich Dyomin, helped me. He knew everything about the construction of this food factory, and construction men called him a foreman. I remember going home from prison on New Year’s Eve with my head shaved.

In April 1951 I was summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office. I said to my wife, ‚Look, I’ll probably need an extra pair of underwear.‘ This happened to be true. There was a trial. I was convicted and sentenced to three years in jail for the violation of safety rules, and the construction chief engineer, Mikhail Weintraub, was sentenced to three years in jail as well. It turned out I wasn’t supposed to allow them to conduct the meeting in this annex. Dyomin arranged for us to be assigned to the construction of the Volga-Don channel [the Volga-Don channel, named after Lenin, connecting the Volga and the Don near the town of Kalach, opened in 1952]. There were mainly prisoners working on the construction of this channel. We lived in barracks for 20-30 inmates.

Since I was a foreman and supposed to move around visiting the sites, I was released from the convoy. I could move around within an area of 80 kilometers. I could also stay overnight in a guard house on the construction site. My wife often visited me. Fortunately, the chief engineer of the district knew me from back in Moldova. He worked at the construction of the Dubossary power plant and we met in Kishinev. When Lubov came to visit me she stayed in a room in his apartment for a month. A year later I was released, the conviction was annulled and I was awarded a medal ‚For outstanding performance.‘ When I came back home, I was sent to work at the CD-8 [construction department]. However, when I wanted to restore my membership in the party, I was told: ‚You can join the party again, but you can’t restore your membership.‘ This hurt me and I gave up. I didn’t avoid the war or prison in my life…

I was arrested at the time of the campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘ [27], but I don’t think that Mikhail or I fell victim to this campaign. The period of the Doctors‘ Plot [28] started in 1953, when I returned to Kishinev. I heard talks that Jews were bad and would kill, poison people etc., but there were no official actions of this kind. I can’t say whether any doctors were fired at that time.

I remember Stalin’s death well. I cried. I heard it either early in the morning or in the evening, because it was dark, when I was at home. Our friends felt the same. At war the infantry went into attacks shouting, ‚For Stalin! For the Motherland!‘ I didn’t believe what I heard during the Twentieth Party Congress [29] in 1956, when Khrushchev [30] reported facts that we had never known about. I don’t think I believe it even today. I cannot believe it, it’s hard to believe, you know. When a person has faith in something it’s hard to change what he believes in. If I had seen it with my own eyes…, but I only know what I heard. It’s hard to change what one believes. I still have an ambiguous attitude to it.

In 1954 our second son, Oleg, was born. When we moved back from Orhei we received a two-bedroom apartment. We bought our first TV set, ‚Temp‘, with a built-in tape recorder and a wireless. I was offered a plot of land to build a house, but neither my wife nor I wanted it. My mother-in-law lived in a one-bedroom apartment. We exchanged her one-bedroom and our two- bedroom apartment for a three-bedroom apartment in Botanica [a district in Kishinev]. My mother-in-law lived with us, helping us about the house and with the children. We hardly observed any Jewish traditions in our family. I entered the extramural Faculty of Industrial and Civil Construction of Moscow Construction College. I defended my diploma in Moscow. By the time of finishing the college I was a construction site superintendent. A construction site included two to three sites. I was in charge of the construction of a few apartment buildings, kindergartens, a shoe factory, a leather factory, a factory in Orhei and a fur factory in Belzi. Occasionally, when walking across town I think: this is mine and this one as well.

After my mother died my father married his former student. I don’t even want to bring her name back to my memory. I thought this was an abuse of my mother’s memory, and I kept in touch with them just for the sake of my father. Though my father’s second wife was a Jew, I don’t think they observed any Jewish traditions. I don’t think my father went to the synagogue after the war, not even at Yom Kippur, but we lived separately and I cannot say for sure. My father died in 1961. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery, but I cannot find his grave there.

Our family was very close. Our sons got along well. In 1954 Sergei went to the first grade. He studied in a general secondary school. Oleg was seven years younger and Sergei always patronized him. He was in the seventh grade, when Oleg started school. After school Sergei finished the Electrotechnical and Oleg the Construction Faculty of the Polytechnic College. My sons adopted my wife’s surname of Berezovskiy. They are Russian and there was no pressure on my wife’s side about this. I gave my consent willingly since it was easier to enter a higher educational institution with the surname of Berezovskiy rather than Rozenfain. As for me, I never faced any anti-Semitism at work. Everything was just fine at my workplace. Always!

My wife Lubov was a kind person. She was always kind to people. We lived almost 50 years together and not a single swearword passed her lips. We never had any rows and I believe I had a happy family life. We spent vacations separately. Starting in 1959 I went to recreation centers and sanatoriums and the costs were covered by trade unions at work. My wife also went to recreation centers, but not as often as I did. I traveled to Odessa, Truskavets, Zheleznovodsk. I also went to Kagul, Karalash and Kamenka recreation homes in Moldova. My wife and I went to the cinema together and never missed a new movie. I knew a lot about Soviet movies and knew the creative works of Soviet actors and producers. I liked reading Soviet and foreign classical literature. I had a collection of fiction: I still have over two thousand volumes. I liked Theodore Dreiser [1871-1945, American novelist]: ‚The Financier‘, ‚Titan‘, ‚Stoic‘ and I often reread these novels. I never took any interest in samizdat [literature] [31]. Once I read Solzhenitsyn [32], The Gulag Archipelago, but I didn’t like it. Now I read detective stories! I like Marinina [Marinina, Alexandra (born 1957): Lvov-born, contemporary Russian detective writer], but I prefer Chaze [Chaze, Lewis Elliott (1915-1990): American writer].

We celebrated all Soviet holidays at home. We went to parades on October Revolution Day [33], and on 1st May, and we had guests at home. We celebrated 8th March [International Women’s Day] at work. We gave flowers and gifts to women and had drinking parties. I congratulated my wife at home. Of course, we celebrated birthdays. We invited friends. There were gatherings of about ten of us when we were younger. The older we got, the fewer of us got together. Some died and some moved to other places. I sympathized with those who left the country in the 1970s. In 1948 when newspapers published articles about the establishment of Israel I felt very excited and really proud. I always watched the news about Israel. I admired the victory of Israel in the Six-Day-War [34]. It was just incredible that such a small state defeated so many enemies. I considered moving to Israel during the mass departure, but it wasn’t very serious. If I had given it more serious thought, I would have left. I had all possibilities, but I didn’t move there because I had a Russian wife.

In the 1970s, when I worked at the construction of a factory of leatherette in Kishinev, I went to Leningrad [today St. Petersburg] on business twice a month. The factory was designed by the Leningrad Design Institute. By the way, Chernoswartz, our chief construction engineer, was a Jew. He moved to Israel in the 1990s with his daughter. His wife had died before. He was ten years older than me and I don’t think he is still alive. I love Leningrad and always have. Not only for its beautiful architecture, but also for its residents. I think they are particularly noble and intelligent. This horrible siege [see Blockade of Leningrad] [35] that they suffered! They used to say in Leningrad: you are not a real Leningrad resident if you haven’t lived through the siege. They are such good people, really! And its theaters! Once I went to the BDT [Bolshoi Drama Theater] [36], where the chief producer was Tovstonogov [Tovstonogov, Georgiy Alexandrovich (1913- 1989): outstanding Soviet artist], a Jew by origin. When I came to the theater there were no tickets left. I was eager to watch this performance; I don’t even remember what it was. It didn’t take me long to decide to go to see Tovstonogov himself. I explained who I was and where I came from. He gave me a complimentary ticket. I remember this.

I had a friend in Leningrad. His name was Nikolai Yablokov. He was the most handsome man I’ve ever seen. He was deputy chief of the Leningradstroy [construction department]. I met the Yablokov family in the 1950s when I was working at the factory construction in Orhei. Nikolai’s wife worked on our site in Orhei and he joined her. I met him at the trust and we liked each other. We became friends though we didn’t see each other often. He was probably my only close friend in many years. He was a good person, I think. I always met with Nikolai when I went to Leningrad. He knew many actors. One night we had dinner at a restaurant on the last day of my business trip and went for a walk to the Nevskiy [Nevskiy Prospekt, main avenue of St. Petersburg]. This was the time of the White Nights when Leningrad is particularly beautiful. I left and one day later I was notified that Nikolai had died. [White Nights normally last from 11th June to 2nd July in St. Petersburg, due to its geographical location (59′ 57“ North, roughly on the same latitude as Oslo, Norway, or Seward, Alaska). At such high latitude the sun does not go under the horizon deep enough for the sky to get dark on these days.]

Some time after Nikolai’s death I got a job offer from Leningrad. My application letter was signed up and we were to receive an apartment in Pushkino, but my wife and I decided to stay in Kishinev after we discussed this issue. Everything here was familiar: our apartment, the town, the people we knew, and our sons. Sergei worked at the Giprostroy design institute [State Institute of Town Planning] and Oleg worked at the Giproprom design institute [State Institute of Industry Planning]. My sons got married. My daughters-in-law are Russian: Svetlana, my older son’s wife, and Tamara, the younger one’s wife. In 1969 my first granddaughter, Yelena, was born, the daughter of Sergei and Svetlana. Then Galina and Tatiana were born. I have five granddaughters. Oleg had two more daughters: Yekaterina and Olga. I worked at the factory of leatherette for 43 years: I worked at its construction and then became chief of the department of capital construction and I still work there.

When perestroika [37] began in the 1980s, I took no interest in politics living my own life. I had no expectations about it. I didn’t care about whether it was Gorbachev [38] or somebody else in rule. After the break up of the Soviet Union nothing changed. I kept working, but the procedure was changing. We used to receive all design documents within two to three weeks and we didn’t have to pay for them, but now it takes about two years to prepare all documents for the design, longer than designing itself. It also costs a lot. One of my acquaintances, a very smart man, who had worked in the Gorstroy, wrote a very detailed report where he described what needed to be done to return to the appropriate system of document preparation. [Editor’s note: Gorstroy is the Russian abbreviation for ‚gorodskoye stroitelstvo,‘ literally ‚city building/construction,‘ a municipal organization responsible for construction at the city level.] He was fired within a month. I receive a pension and salary. So, I’m a ‚wealthy‘ man. However, to be honest, my older son supports me a lot. Half of my income comes from him.

My wife died in 1998. After she died, my younger son Oleg, his family and I prepared to move to Israel. We had our documents ready when he died all of a sudden [2000] and we stayed, of course. I sold my apartment and moved in with my daughter-in-law and granddaughters to support them. My granddaughters are in Israel now and are doing well. Yekaterina, the older one, lives near Tel Aviv, she’s served in Zahal [Israel Defense Forces]. Olga moved there last summer [2003]; she lives in the south and studies. They are single. Another tragedy struck our family in 2002: Galina, Sergei’s second oldest daughter, committed suicide. Yelena, the older daughter, is a doctor. She lives in Rybniza with her husband. She is a gastroenterologist. Tatiana, the younger daughter, is finishing the Polytechnic College. I have my older son left: he is everything I have in life. He is an electric engineer and a very skilled specialist. He has worked in the Giprostroy design institute for over 20 years. When he travels on business I cannot wait till he calls.

Unfortunately, I know little about the Jewish life in Kishinev today. However, I’m deputy chairman of the Council of Veterans of the War of the Jewish Cultural Society. We, veterans, have meetings and discussions in a warm house… We usually sit at a table, and the lady of the ‚warm house‘ receives food products for such parties from Hesed [39]. We are close with regards to character and have common interests. I enjoy these meetings. Hesed provides assistance to me like it does to all Jews. I receive food parcels once a month and this is very good for me; this assistance constitutes 20-30 percent of my family budget. Hesed also pays 50 Lei for my medications. I can also have new glasses once a year. I’m very grateful to international Jewish organizations for this.


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Glossary

[1] Bessarabia: Historical area between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, in the southern part of Odessa region. Bessarabia was part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917. In 1918 it declared itself an independent republic, and later it united with Romania. The Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union but the Soviet Union never accepted this. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR. The two provinces had almost 4 million inhabitants, mostly Romanians. Although Romania reoccupied part of the territory during World War II the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed their belonging to the Soviet Union. Today it is part of Moldavia.

[2] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o’clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th May 1945.

[3] Annexation of Bessarabia to Romania: During the chaotic days of the Soviet Revolution the national assembly of Moldavians convoked to Kishinev decided on 4th December 1917 the proclamation of an independent Moldavian state. In order to impede autonomous aspirations, Russia occupied the Moldavian capital in January 1918. Upon Moldavia’s desperate request, the army of neighboring Romania entered Kishinev in the same month recapturing the city from the Bolsheviks. This was the decisive step toward the union with Romania: the Moldavians accepted the annexation without any preliminary condition.

[4] Jewish Pale of Settlement: Certain provinces in the Russian Empire were designated for permanent Jewish residence and the Jewish population was only allowed to live in these areas. The Pale was first established by a decree by Catherine II in 1791. The regulation was in force until the Russian Revolution of 1917, although the limits of the Pale were modified several times. The Pale stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and 94% of the total Jewish population of Russia, almost 5 million people, lived there. The overwhelming majority of the Jews lived in the towns and shtetls of the Pale. Certain privileged groups of Jews, such as certain merchants, university graduates and craftsmen working in certain branches, were granted to live outside the borders of the Pale of Settlement permanently.

[5] Revisionist Zionism: The movement founded in 1925 and led by Vladimir Jabotinsky advocated the revision of the principles of Political Zionism developed by Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism. The main goals of the Revisionists was to put pressure on Great Britain for a Jewish statehood on both banks of the Jordan River, a Jewish majority in Palestine, the reestablishment of the Jewish regiments, and military training for the youth. The Revisionist Zionists formed the core of what became the Herut (Freedom) Party after the Israeli independence. This party subsequently became the central component of the Likud Party, the largest right-wing Israeli party since the 1970s.

[6] Betar: Brith Trumpledor (Hebrew) meaning the Trumpledor Society. Right- wing Revisionist Jewish youth movement. It was founded in 1923 in Riga by Vladimir Jabotinsky, in memory of J. Trumpledor, one of the first fighters to be killed in Palestine, and the fortress Betar, which was heroically defended for many months during the Bar Kohba uprising. In Poland the name ‚The J. Trumpledor Jewish Youth Association‘ was also used. Betar was a worldwide organization, but in 1936, of its 52,000 members, 75 % lived in Poland. Its aim was to propagate the program of the revisionists in Poland and prepare young people to fight and live in Palestine. It organized emigration, through both legal and illegal channels. It was a paramilitary organization; its members wore uniforms. From 1936-39 the popularity of Betar diminished. During the war many of its members formed guerrilla groups.

[7] Keep in touch with relatives abroad: The authorities could arrest an individual corresponding with his/her relatives abroad and charge him/her with espionage, send them to concentration camp or even sentence them to death.

[8] Five percent quota: In tsarist Russia the number of Jews in higher educational institutions could not exceed 5% of the total number of students.

[9] Iron Guard: Extreme right wing political organization in Romania between 1930-1941, led by C. Z. Codreanu. The Iron Guard propagated nationalist, Christian-mystical and anti-Semitic views. It was banned for its terrorist activities (e.g. the murder of Romanian prime minister I. Gh. Duca) in 1933. In 1935 it was re-established as a party named ‚Everything for the Fatherland‘, but it was banned again in 1938. It was part of the government in the first period of the Antonescu regime, but it was then banned and dissolved as a result of the unsuccessful coup d’état of January 1941. Its leaders escaped abroad to the Third Reich.

[10] Gagauz: A minority group in the territory of Moldavia and the Ukraine, as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey. It numbers about 200,000 individuals. Their language is Turkic in origin. In the Ukraine their written language is based on the Russian alphabet. They are Christian.

[11] Maccabi World Union: International Jewish sports organization whose origins go back to the end of the 19th century. A growing number of young Eastern European Jews involved in Zionism felt that one essential prerequisite of the establishment of a national home in Palestine was the improvement of the physical condition and training of ghetto youth. In order to achieve this, gymnastics clubs were founded in many Eastern and Central European countries, which later came to be called Maccabi. The movement soon spread to more countries in Europe and to Palestine. The World Maccabi Union was formed in 1921. In less than two decades its membership was estimated at 200,000 with branches located in most countries of Europe and in Palestine, Australia, South America, South Africa, etc.

[12] Eminescu, Mihai (1850-1889): considered the foremost Romanian poet of his century. His poems, lyrical, passionate, and revolutionary, were published in periodicals and had a profound influence on Romanian letters. He worked in a traveling company of actors, and also acquired a broad university education. His poetry reflected the influence of the French romantics. Eminescu suffered from periodic attacks of insanity and died shortly after his final attack.

[13] King Carol II (1893-1953): King of Romania from 1930 to 1940. During his reign he tried to influence the course of Romanian political life, first through the manipulation of the rival Peasants‘ Party, the National Liberal Party and anti-Semitic factions. In 1938 King Carol established a royal dictatorship. He suspended the Constitution of 1923 and introduced a new constitution that concentrated all legislative and executive powers in his hands, gave him total control over the judicial system and the press, and introduced a one-party system. A contest between the king and the fascist Iron Guard ensued, with assassinations and massacres on both sides. Under Soviet and Hungarian pressure, Carol had to surrender parts of Romania to foreign rule in 1940 (Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR, the Cadrilater to Bulgaria and Northern Transylvania to Hungary). He was abdicated in favor of his son, Michael, and he fled abroad. He died in Portugal.

[14] King Michael (b. 1921): Son of King Carol II, King of Romania from 1927-1930 under regency and from 1940-1947. When Carol II abdicated in 1940 Michael became king again but he only had a formal role in state affairs during Antonescu’s dictatorial regime, which he overthrew in 1944. Michael turned Romania against fascist Germany and concluded an armistice with the Allied Powers. King Michael opposed the „sovietization“ of Romania after World War II. When a communist regime was established in Romania in 1947, he was overthrown and exiled, and he was stripped from his Romanian citizenship a year later. Since the collapse of the communist rule in Romania in 1989, he has visited the country several times and his citizenship was restored in 1997.

[15] Antonescu, Ion (1882-1946): Political and military leader of the Romanian state, president of the Ministers‘ Council from 1940 to 1944. In 1940 he formed a coalition with the Legionary leaders. From 1941 he introduced a dictatorial regime that continued to pursue the depreciation of the Romanian political system started by King Carol II. His strong anti- Semitic beliefs led to the persecution, deportation and killing of many Jews in Romania. He was arrested on 23rd August 1944 and sent into prison in the USSR until he was put on trial in the election year of 1946. He was sentenced to death for his crimes as a war criminal and shot in the same year.

[16] Anti-Jewish laws in Romania: The first anti-Jewish laws were introduced in 1938 by the Goga-Cuza government. Further anti-Jewish laws followed in 1940 and 1941, and the situation was getting gradually worse between 1941-1944 under the Antonescu regime. According to these laws all Jews aged 18-40 living in villages were to be evacuated and concentrated in the capital town of each county. Jews from the region between the Siret and Prut Rivers were transported by wagons to the camps of Targu Jiu, Slobozia, Craiova etc. where they lived and died in misery. More than 40,000 Jews were moved. All rural Jewish property, as well as houses owned by Jews in the city, were confiscated by the state, as part of the ‚Romanisation campaign‘. Marriages between Jews and Romanians were forbidden from August 1940, Jews were not allowed to have Romanian names, own rural properties, be public employees, lawyers, editors or janitors in public institutions, have a career in the army, own liquor stores, etc. Jewish employees of commercial and industrial enterprises were fired, Jewish doctors could no longer practice and Jews were not allowed to own chemist shops. Jewish students were forbidden to study in Romanian schools.

[17] Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union: At the end of June 1940 the Soviet Union demanded Romania to withdraw its troops from Bessarabia and to abandon the territory. Romania withdrew its troops and administration in the same month and between 28th June and 3rd July, the Soviets occupied the region. At the same time Romania was obliged to give up Northern Transylvania to Hungary and Southern-Dobrudja to Bulgaria. These territorial losses influenced Romanian politics during World War II to a great extent.

[18] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.

[19] Subbotnik (Russian for Saturday): The practice of subbotniks, or ‚Communist Saturdays‘, was introduced in the USSR in the 1920s. It meant unpaid voluntary work after regular working hours on Saturday.

[20] Enemy of the people: Soviet official term; euphemism used for real or assumed political opposition.

[21] Mandatory job assignment in the USSR: Graduates of higher educational institutions had to complete a mandatory 2-year job assignment issued by the institution from which they graduated. After finishing this assignment young people were allowed to get employment at their discretion in any town or organization.

[22] German colonists/colony: Ancestors of German peasants, who were invited by Empress Catherine II in the 18th century to settle in Russia.

[23] Kolkhoz: In the Soviet Union the policy of gradual and voluntary collectivization of agriculture was adopted in 1927 to encourage food production while freeing labor and capital for industrial development. In 1929, with only 4% of farms in kolkhozes, Stalin ordered the confiscation of peasants‘ land, tools, and animals; the kolkhoz replaced the family farm.

[24] SMERSH: Russian abbreviation for ‚Smert Shpionam‘ meaning Death to Spies. It was a counterintelligence department in the Soviet Union formed during World War II, to secure the rear of the active Red Army, on the front to arrest ‚traitors, deserters, spies, and criminal elements‘. The full name of the entity was USSR People’s Commissariat of Defense Chief Counterintelligence Directorate ‚SMERSH‘. This name for the counterintelligence division of the Red Army was introduced on 19th April 1943, and worked as a separate entity until 1946. It was headed by Viktor Abakumov. At the same time a SMERSH directorate within the People’s Commissariat of the Soviet Navy and a SMERSH department of the NKVD were created. The main opponent of SMERSH in its counterintelligence activity was Abwehr, the German military foreign information and counterintelligence department. SMERSH activities also included ‚filtering‘ the soldiers recovered from captivity and the population of the gained territories. It was also used to punish within the NKVD itself; allowed to investigate, arrest and torture, force to sign fake confessions, put on a show trial, and either send to the camps or shoot people. SMERSH would also often be sent out to find and kill defectors, double agents, etc.; also used to maintain military discipline in the Red Army by means of barrier forces, that were supposed to shoot down the Soviet troops in the cases of retreat. SMERSH was also used to hunt down ‚enemies of the people‘ outside Soviet territory.

[25] KGB: The KGB or Committee for State Security was the main Soviet external security and intelligence agency, as well as the main secret police agency from 1954 to 1991.

[26] Kotovsky, Grigory Ivanovich (1881-1925): Russian hero of the Civil War. He worked as an assistant to a manor manager. He was arrested several times over the years and was even sentenced to death, but this was later changed to penal servitude for life. In 1917 he joined the leftist Socialist Revolutionaries. He carried out a heroic campaign from the river Dnestr to Zhitomir in 1918 and took part in the defense of Petrograd in 1919.

[27] Campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘: The campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘, i.e. Jews, was initiated in articles in the central organs of the Communist Party in 1949. The campaign was directed primarily at the Jewish intelligentsia and it was the first public attack on Soviet Jews as Jews. ‚Cosmopolitans‘ writers were accused of hating the Russian people, of supporting Zionism, etc. Many Yiddish writers as well as the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were arrested in November 1948 on charges that they maintained ties with Zionism and with American ‚imperialism‘. They were executed secretly in 1952. The anti-Semitic Doctors‘ Plot was launched in January 1953. A wave of anti-Semitism spread through the USSR. Jews were removed from their positions, and rumors of an imminent mass deportation of Jews to the eastern part of the USSR began to spread. Stalin’s death in March 1953 put an end to the campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘.

[28] Doctors‘ Plot: The Doctors‘ Plot was an alleged conspiracy of a group of Moscow doctors to murder leading government and party officials. In January 1953, the Soviet press reported that nine doctors, six of whom were Jewish, had been arrested and confessed their guilt. As Stalin died in March 1953, the trial never took place. The official paper of the Party, the Pravda, later announced that the charges against the doctors were false and their confessions obtained by torture. This case was one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents during Stalin’s reign. In his secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 Khrushchev stated that Stalin wanted to use the Plot to purge the top Soviet leadership.

[29] Twentieth Party Congress: At the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of secrecy from what had happened in the USSR during Stalin’s leadership.

[30] Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971): Soviet communist leader. After Stalin’s death in 1953, he became first secretary of the Central Committee, in effect the head of the Communist Party of the USSR. In 1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev took an unprecedented step and denounced Stalin and his methods. He was deposed as premier and party head in October 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the Party’s Central Committee.

[31] Samizdat literature: The secret publication and distribution of government-banned literature in the former Soviet block. Typically, it was typewritten on thin paper (to facilitate the creation of as many carbon copies as possible) and circulated by hand, initially to a group of trusted friends, who then made further typewritten copies and distributed them clandestinely. Material circulated in this way included fiction, poetry, memoirs, historical works, political treatises, petitions, religious tracts, and journals. The penalty for those accused of being involved in samizdat activities varied according to the political climate, from harassment to detention or severe terms of imprisonment. Geza Szocs and Sandor Toth can be mentioned as Hungarian samizdat writers in Romania.

[32] Solzhenitsyn, Alexander (1918-): Russian novelist and publicist. He spent eight years in prisons and labor camps, and three more years in enforced exile. After the publication of a collection of his short stories in 1963, he was denied further official publication of his work, and so he circulated them clandestinely, in samizdat publications, and published them abroad. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974 after publishing his famous book, The Gulag Archipelago, in which he describes Soviet labor camps.

[33] October Revolution Day: October 25 (according to the old calendar), 1917 went down in history as victory day for the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia. This day is the most significant date in the history of the USSR. Today the anniversary is celebrated as ‚Day of Accord and Reconciliation‘ on November 7.

[34] Six-Day-War: The first strikes of the Six-Day-War happened on 5th June 1967 by the Israeli Air Force. The entire war only lasted 132 hours and 30 minutes. The fighting on the Egyptian side only lasted four days, while fighting on the Jordanian side lasted three. Despite the short length of the war, this was one of the most dramatic and devastating wars ever fought between Israel and all of the Arab nations. This war resulted in a depression that lasted for many years after it ended. The Six-Day-War increased tension between the Arab nations and the Western World because of the change in mentalities and political orientations of the Arab nations.

[35] Blockade of Leningrad: On September 8, 1941 the Germans fully encircled Leningrad and its siege began. It lasted until January 27, 1944. The blockade meant incredible hardships and privations for the population of the town. Hundreds of thousands died from hunger, cold and diseases during the almost 900 days of the blockade.

[36] Bolshoi Theater: World famous national theater in Moscow, built in 1776. The first Russian and foreign opera and ballet performances were staged in this building.

[37] Perestroika (Russian for restructuring): Soviet economic and social policy of the late 1980s, associated with the name of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev. The term designated the attempts to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized, market-oriented economy. Industrial managers and local government and party officials were granted greater autonomy, and open elections were introduced in an attempt to democratize the Communist Party organization. By 1991, perestroika was declining and was soon eclipsed by the dissolution of the USSR.

[38] Gorbachev, Mikhail (1931- ): Soviet political leader. Gorbachev joined the Communist Party in 1952 and gradually moved up in the party hierarchy. In 1970 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, where he remained until 1990. In 1980 he joined the politburo, and in 1985 he was appointed general secretary of the party. In 1986 he embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalization under the slogans of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical reexamination of Soviet history. The Congress of People’s Deputies, founded in 1989, voted to end the Communist Party’s control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president. Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and granted the Baltic states independence. Following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, he resigned as president. Since 1992, Gorbachev has headed international organizations.

[39] Hesed: Meaning care and mercy in Hebrew, Hesed stands for the charity organization founded by Amos Avgar in the early 20th century. Supported by Claims Conference and Joint Hesed helps for Jews in need to have a decent life despite hard economic conditions and encourages development of their self-identity. Hesed provides a number of services aimed at supporting the needs of all, and particularly elderly members of the society. The major social services include: work in the center facilities (information, advertisement of the center activities, foreign ties and free lease of medical equipment); services at homes (care and help at home, food products delivery, delivery of hot meals, minor repairs); work in the community (clubs, meals together, day-time polyclinic, medical and legal consultations); service for volunteers (training programs). The Hesed centers have inspired a real revolution in the Jewish life in the FSU countries. People have seen and sensed the rebirth of the Jewish traditions of humanism. Currently over eighty Hesed centers exist in the FSU countries. Their activities cover the Jewish population of over eight hundred settlements.

 

Esfir Dener

Esfir Dener with friends and her future husband Igor Golubin (on her left) (Nyrob settlement, 1957).

Chisinau, Moldova

Esfir Borisovna is a short lady with a girl’s figure and small aristocratic hands. She has a young slightly hoarse voice. One can tell that she has great inner strength and vital optimism. Her one-bedroom apartment, a little neglected, has seen better times: there is a light-colored parquet floor, and convenient built-in closet cabinets in the hallway. There is a couch, a low table and two armchairs in her room. There is a small pastel carpet square on one wall and a portrait of American writer Ernest Hemingway and a few landscapes on the other. There is a bookcase in the corner where a few shelves contain volumes of poetry. Esfir Borisovna has poor sight. During our conversation she slightly bent forward to meet my glance. She elegantly served tea and some modest treats on the low table. In the course of our conversation Esfir asked me to turn off the tape recorder a few times. She recited poems in these moments, with deep feeling, artistically and with a well-balanced voice. When talking she threw in phrases in Yiddish, German and Romanian.


Interview details

Interviewee: Esfir Dener
Interviewer: Natalia Fomina
Time of interview: June 2004
Place: Chisinau, Moldova

My family background

My maternal grandmother Esfir Gutman, nee Moldaver, lived in the town of Yedintsy in the north of Bessarabia [1]. My grandmother died before I was born and I was named after her. I knew my grandfather Haim Gutman. When I was small I sometimes spent a couple of weeks in summer with him. I’m not sure what my grandfather did for a living. Most likely, he dealt in some kind of trade. I remember that there was a vegetable garden and a garden near my grandfather’s house and he kept a cow. Probably one of his children was living with my grandfather at the time. I don’t remember when he died. I think it must have happened in the early 1930s.

My grandfather and grandmother had five children. I vaguely remember my mother’s sisters Ita and Dora. They didn’t have any education and were housewives. From what my mother told me I know that her brother Henrich finished the Medical Faculty of Prague University and worked as a doctor, but not in Yedintsy. The second brother, Zicia, was a pharmacist. I went back to Moldova in 1965 and made inquiries about my relatives. They all perished during the war [World War II].

My grandmother Esfir’s brother Iosif Moldaver from Falesti raised my mother and I believed him to be my grandfather. Grandfather Iosif and his wife Sarah lost their only son. He contracted scarlet fever at school during an epidemic in 1895 and died. Sarah could have no more children and thus my grandfather Iosif adopted his sister Esfir’s younger daughter Pesia, my future mother, who was three years old then. Actually, he took her into their house for about three weeks hoping that the little girl would mitigate their pain from the loss of their son, and then she stayed on with them in Falesti. They adored her and cared a lot for her. They didn’t even send her to school and she had classes with visiting teachers at home. When it was time for her to go to grammar school, my mother continued her studies at home and passed all exams at Odessa Russian grammar school as an external student. She sang beautifully, played the piano and was great at embroidery. My mother got married at the age of 18.

All I know about my paternal grandmother and grandfather is that my grandfather’s name was Shymon Dener and my grandmother’s name was Sarah. I think they died before the Russian Revolution of 1917 [2] since my sister Sarah, born in 1918, was named after my paternal grandmother. They came from Kishinev. My father’s older brother Yakov Dener lived in the Deners‘ family mansion in Kishinev sharing it with some other relatives. There were 13 tenants in the mansion. My uncle Yakov had four children: his daughters Etia, Maria and Viktoria and his son Semyon. Uncle Yakov was much older than my father since his younger daughter Viktoria was about 20 years older than me. My father also had two sisters, who moved to Argentina in the early 20th century, and the third sister lived in Koenigsberg in Germany, presently Kaliningrad. I know nothing about their fates.

My father was born in Kishinev in 1884. I never asked him about his education, but it’s evident that he finished a grammar school. He spoke fluent Russian, Romanian and German. He also had some professional education since he worked at the affiliate of the Bessarabian Bank in Falesti. He was a manager or chief accountant there. He married my mother, when she was 18. I have no doubts that they had their wedding ceremony under a chuppah because my step-grandfather was very religious. After the wedding they settled down in Grandfather Iosif’s house in Falesti. My grandfather built an annex with four rooms, a kitchen and back rooms to his house. It was actually an adjoining house. Besides, he gave his adoptive daughter a nice dowry: clothing, bed sheets, crockery, etc. I know that my father’s sisters from Argentina and the one from Koenigsberg came to the wedding and brought the newly-weds nice wedding gifts: furniture and a grand piano.

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Growing up

My parents‘ first son, my brother Yuzef, who was called Yuzik at home, was born in 1913; five years later my sister Sarah followed. I was born in December 1925 in Falesti where I lived for almost 16 years. Falesti is a small town about 28 kilometers from Beltsy. I think there were about 2-3,000 residents at the time. There were a few streets in the town and all houses were one-storied buildings. The main street was paved with cobble-stones. There were two synagogues on the main street. The one, where my grandfather and parents went, was located across the street from our home in the very center of town, and the other one was farther from the center. There were Jewish-owned stores on the main street: Pergament owned a shoe store and Berezin owned a haberdashery store; there were two big food stores, one owned by Isaac Barak where he worked with his wife and a clerk, and the other one owned by Dorfman. The most popular dressmaker Rozhanskiy lived and owned a store on the main street. My mother and sister Sarah had Rozhanskiy make their clothes and when I grew older he also began to make clothes for me. The shops were closed on Saturdays.

Jews mainly lived in the center. There were a few Moldovan families who had their houses in close vicinity to the church, near the school for boys, but the majority of them lived in the suburbs. The suburbs of Falesti reminded you of these picturesque Moldovan villages buried in verdure. There was a market on Thursdays and Sundays where Moldovan farmers sold their vegetables, food products and poultry. There was a tavern on the main street where they could enjoy a lunch and a drink after their products were sold. There was a railway station three kilometers from town. People usually got there by horse-drawn phaetons; there was no other transportation in Falesti at the time. When I was small we came to this station several times to take a train to Yedintsy to visit my mother’s relatives.

Our house was in the very center of town between a tavern and a pharmacy. It was a big white mansion with a tin roof. There were flower gardens on both sides of the house. We also had a wooden terrace. There were four rooms in our part of the house. There was a grand piano and two living room sets in our living room. One set was ebony wood with green plush upholstery and the other set was mahogany wood with pink rep upholstery. My father’s sisters from Argentina gave them to my parents for their wedding. Each consisted of a low oval table, two armchairs and two settees. There was a record player with a big tube on a marble table and a big mirror in a bronze frame on the wall. There was also a violin on the wall. My brother was a violinist. The grand piano occupied one third of the living room and there wasn’t much space left. Our dining room was big – 36 square meters. When we had guests or celebrations on Jewish holidays we unfolded the table, which could seat 24 people. Another table was brought in, if we had more guests. There was a nice bedroom set and two big wardrobes in my parents‘ bedroom.

We had a small children’s room with two beds for Sarah and me, and a couch for Yuzef. There was also a wardrobe and a chest of drawers in our room. When my brother turned 18, he moved into the dining room. My brother was 12 years older than me. He left home to study at a grammar school in Beltsy and then he studied in the conservatory in Bucharest. Then Sarah went to the Jewish grammar school in Beltsy and they only spent their vacations or holidays at home, so I had the children’s room at my disposal.

My mother took care of the house and had a housemaid to help her around. Our housemaids were girls or women from nearby villages. My mother did the minor laundry herself and had a woman coming in to wash the bed sheets every three months. My mother did the cooking herself since she strictly followed the kashrut. She bought dairy products and poultry at the market and also shopped at stores. Of course, she bought live chickens and had them slaughtered by a shochet. We never mixed dairy and meat products and had special crockery for dairy and meat products. My mother made menus for each day, so that we had dairy products – for example, soup with milk or pancakes with cottage cheese – one day and meat dishes on the next: meat with prunes and chicken soup with farfelakh. My mother went to the synagogue on all Jewish holidays.

My father was of average height, very dignified, with an upturned moustache, and a pince-nez with a golden rim. He worked at the affiliate of the Bessarabian Bank on the main street not far from our house. He also managed two big grain storage facilities at the railway station. This grain was purchased in the surrounding villages and shipped in freight railcars from the station. My father probably inherited those storage facilities from my grandfather Iosif, who no longer did any business at the time. I remember that other people called my father ‘the banker‘ for his management of the Jewish community mutual aid fund. My father was a well-respected man in town.

My father was a member of the Jewish Arbitrary Court [bet din] where Jews brought forward their problems and disputes. They addressed my father and each party sent its representative. I already knew that when my father ushered new people to the living room and looked at me strictly, it meant that I had to go to my room. In the 1990s I read in an article by a Jewish historian from Kishinev that my father had been engaged in politics in the early 1930s. He was one of the founders and later the leaders of the Romanian Jewish Party. In 1933 this Party had its own list for participation in the parliamentary elections. My father was the third on this list and lacked only a few votes to become a deputy of the Romanian Parliament. My father was a man of the world, but he went to the synagogue on Jewish holidays.

My grandfather Iosif Moldaver was the dearest person to me. He was very smart. In my long life I’ve never met another person of such wisdom, that’s right – wisdom. Since I was the youngest in the family, and seemed to be slightly ignored – at least many things were forbidden for me whereas my older brother and sister were allowed everything – I brought my ‘world-weariness‘ to my grandfather Iosif. He put me on his knees and had long discussions with me in Yiddish as if I was an adult. My grandfather was tall and broad-shouldered and had a big white beard. He always wore a long black kitel, a white shirt, a narrow black tie and a yarmulka. He prayed every day with his tallit and tefillin on. He went to the synagogue every day. As for my grandmother Sarah, I can hardly remember her: she was very nice and quiet and always wore dark clothes.

I remember one incident. There were two Romanian elementary schools in Falesti: one for boys and one for girls. There I began to study Romanian. In our family my parents spoke Yiddish and Russian, but I only knew Yiddish in my childhood. When I was in the 1st grade, we had a small morning party dedicated to the start of the academic year where school children danced, sang and recited poems wearing Moldovan folk costumes. I was to recite a fable by Anton Pann [Romanian poet and ethnographer, singer and author of music textbooks] in Romanian.

My mother made me a gorgeous costume; it was the best one at school. The moment I entered the school building my teacher grabbed me and Annushka, a local rich man’s daughter, and literally dragged us into an empty classroom where she ordered us, ‘Get undressed!‘, ripping off my belt, blouse, skirt and my decorative vest. She gave it to Annushka to put on and took her on-stage where she was to sing. I was standing there in my undershirt and didn’t understand what was going on. When Annushka came back, my teacher haphazardly helped me to put my clothes back on since it was time for me to go on-stage. The moment I stepped on-stage my ribbons went loose and I knew I was looking ridiculous. I was so confused that I forgot my words, burst into tears and ran off stage. When I came home my mother already knew what had happened. Somebody must have told her. She was furious, but in our family there was a rule to say no bad things about other people, so when I complained to her all she said was, ‘It’s all right, it’ll be better next time‘. I felt even more hurt and went to my grandfather to get some sympathy.

My grandfather put me on his knees and said, ‘Don’t be angry with the teacher. She wanted Annushka to look good and your costume looked better than hers. Let me teach you a thing about life, but you must give me your word that your mother, father, grandmother or your best friend will never know what we are talking about now‘. I firmly gave him my word and my grandfather said, ‘From now on you’ll be aware of everything happening at school, you will know everything your teacher tells you to learn. Do you know the ‘Tatal Nostru‘? [Our Father in Romanian, he is referring to the Lord’s Prayer]. I said, ‘Who doesn’t? Our classes at school start with ‘Our Father‘ every morning‘. He asked, ‘What if I woke you up in the middle of the night and said Fira [affectionate for Esfir], recite Our Father – would you?‘ ‘Of course‘, I replied. And he said, ‘Then, if you had known this fable as well as Our Father, you would have recited it so brilliantly regardless of problems with your ribbons that nobody would have ever noticed your ribbons. You must know everything for ‘10′. We had a 10-point system at school. And he concluded, ‘At the end of this academic year I will come to your school and we shall see who will have the laurel wreath on his head‘. The first school girls were awarded laurel wreaths.

Of course, at the end of the year I had a laurel wreath on my head. At that time the ‘Dimineata copiilor‘ [Children’s Morning in Romanian] magazine was published. Between 1st June and 1st September there were supplements of four sheets in this magazine containing photographs of the children of all elementary schools in Romania who had received awards, with their first and last names, the name of the school and the town indicated in captions. Of course, my name was in this magazine each year. When I received my award for the first time, my grandfather talked to me seriously again, ‘You’ve received your award. Now listen to me. Do you remember the fire across the street from where we live? The people lost their home. Someone had his purse stolen and somebody was robbed in the street. Everything can happen in life, but what you insert here – and he pointed at my head – will stay with you for the rest of your life. Nobody will ever take it away from you, under no circumstances‘. However, love makes people a little funny. When I finished the 2nd grade, they wrote ‘Ielena Dener‘ under my photograph instead of Esfir and my grandfather was so upset, just like a child. ‘How could they?‘ he hissed, and demanded that my father wrote an angry letter to the editor’s office requesting refutation, but my father just said, ‘It’s all right. When Fira receives her award next year, I will write to them in advance so that they don’t make this mistake again‘.

My grandfather educated me unobtrusively and gradually. I remember, when my mother and father gave me Chanukkah money [Chanukkah gelt] at Chanukkah, my favorite holiday, I went to share this joy with my grandfather. My grandfather judged by my looks that I had some capital, put me on his knees and asked me what I was going to buy for the money that my parents had given me. I told him that I was going to buy candy and sweets in the confectionery store across the street from our house. My grandfather asked me, ‘Do you know that there are children who have no grandmother or grandfather or even mother or father? I said I did and he continued, ‘Who are these children? Orphans. Your grandmother and I will also give you some money. What are you going to buy for it?‘ And I stared at him again, not getting his point, and said, ‘Chocolate this and that… And he said, ‘Tell me, will you enjoy eating it knowing that there are children who have nothing at all?‘ At that I replied, ‘No, grandfather, don’t give me money, give it to these children. But he replied, ‘No, you are my granddaughter and I must give it to you, but here is a box and you can put some money into it for these orphans so that they can buy some sweets. Then you will eat your candy, chocolates and cakes with a clear conscience‘. And after that I remembered for the rest of Chanukah, when my parents were lighting another candle, that orphans also had their sweets. I still have an old chanukkiyah that somebody gave me recently. It reminds me of my happy childhood and my beloved grandfather. I light the candles every Chanukah now.

We celebrated all Jewish holidays and Sabbath at home. Every Friday my mother lit two candles in silver candle stands. When I was in the first grade, somebody told me that Sabbath candles don’t burn your fingers, if you move one of them over a candle to and fro. Well, what do you think – could I help experimenting? So I came home, waited till my mother lit the candles and went to the kitchen to move my finger over the candle. My grandfather caught me at this standing in the doorway watching me perplexed. I ran to him and said, ‘Grandfather, it’s my fault, punish me! I know I mustn’t do it, I didn’t know you were looking! Punish me‘. You know, I’m an old woman now, but I do remember what my grandfather said: ‘Don’t be afraid if I see, fear that He sees.‘

On Sabbath my grandfather and grandmother usually visited us. They also celebrated all Jewish holidays with us. Before Pesach my mother and our housemaids did a general clean up of the house. They cleaned the carpets, changed the bed sheets and polished the furniture. My grandfather watched that all rules were being followed. I remember that he took us, kids, to the bank of the river where we turned our pockets inside out to shake off all crumbs. My grandfather explained to us that we were shaking off all sins. My mother took special holiday crockery from the cupboard and put away our everyday crockery. I remember this fancy crockery – dishes with pink edgings. In the evening we sat down at the festively set table. I remember candles burning and silver ware shining. We were dressed up and ceremonious. I cannot remember all the details, but I still remember the feeling I had at seder on Pesach. This was my family, my house and we were all Jews. My father conducted the seder. Yuzef asked him the four questions – fir kashes [in Yiddish]. I remember how we put away a piece of matzah [afikoman] and the one who found it received a gift. We stayed at the table till late and since I was used to going to bed at nine o’clock sharp I remember the last hours of seder as if in sleep. We ate matzah for a whole week. My mother made matzah, matzah puddings and matzah latkes. I liked chicken soup with matzah.

I remember Simchat Torah: I was small, wore a red velvet dress with a white collar and went to the synagogue with my mother. I had a little flag on a stick with an apple on it. The apple was hollow inside and there was a little candle inside. I walked proudly with my nose up. In the synagogue we kissed the Torah. Then there was Sukkot and we made a sukkah in the yard. There were prefabricated planks for the sukkah that were kept in the house afterward. We had meals in the tent for a whole week.

Purim was the merriest holiday. When my brother and sister, who also studied at the conservatory, arrived there were more festivities. Young people got together at our home, my sister played the piano and my brother played the violin. We sang and had lots of fun. They liked it when I sang to them. Now I know that I looked funny – a little girl singing love and tango songs in Romanian. However, I didn’t study music like my older brother and sister did. My father supported them while they were studying but wasn’t really happy about my sister and brother being in the conservatory. He wanted them to get legal education. Music was for the heart at that time; a musician couldn’t support a family and my father used to tell Yuzef, ‘Are you Paganini or Mozart, what’s this all about?‘ My father didn’t allow me to sit at the piano. He said, ‘If I see you there, I will cut the piano into pieces. As soon as you put a doctor’s or an attorney’s diploma on the table, our own musicians will teach you music‘.

We had three bookcases in the dining room – we were all fond of reading. My sister never went to sleep before reading 20-30 pages. Then she said, ‘Goodnight‘, turned off the light and went to sleep. If it was a historical or adventure novel, she left it on the sideboard, but when she put a book under her pillow, I knew that it was a love story. A forbidden fruit is always sweet and I secretly looked up the author and the title of the book, and when my sister left for Bucharest, I looked for these books in Romanian. If we didn’t have them at home, I went to the private library and asked for the book pretending it was for my mother. So, when I was 12-13, I read ‘The Pit‘ by Kuprin [3] and ‘Resurrection‘ by Tolstoy [4] in the Romanian translation. There was a wonderful book titled ‘Cocaine‘ by an Italian author that saved my life, I would say. Perhaps, it was a dime novel, but the author depicted the sufferings of cocaine addicts –addicts who had no money to buy drugs – so vividly, that it instilled fear and disgust of drugs in me for the rest of my life. I read all books in Romanian. In 1937 the Russian language was forbidden in Romania due to the termination of diplomatic relations between Russia [Soviet Union] and Romania. I grew fond of poetry and one of my favorite Romanian authors was Mihai Eminescu [5].

After Hitler came to power fascist movements expanded in Europe. There were Cuzists [6] in Romania. There were noted court proceedings against the Anti-Fascist Committee in 1936 in Kishinev. The head of this committee was Petru Constantinescu-Ias. He was a Romanian communist and the others were Jewish men – there were about seven of them. This was a resonant case and there were attorneys from France and England. My uncle Yakov’s daughter, Etia Dener, was on trial. She was sentenced by the Romanian Military Tribunal. She was kept in the main political prison, Doftan, in Bucharest for several years. She had no family. Her fiancé turned her down with the words, ‘I need a wife and a mother for my children rather than a political activist. I want a family‘. Etia’s brother Semyon was also a member of this committee, but he managed to escape to France with his fiancée Sonia. Semyon was a chemical engineer. He worked at a military plant. When the Germans occupied France, they arrested him and he perished. His wife Sonia and their little son survived. After the war the French Communist Party funded his son’s education. Uncle Yakov’s daughter Maria got married and moved to Palestine in 1935. I don’t know anything about her life. Uncle Yakov stayed with his daughter Viktoria. She finished the Medical Faculty of Prague University and married Israel Grinberg. Viktoria worked as a cardiologist.

In 1937 I was in the 2nd grade of grammar school. There was only a four-year grammar school for boys and girls in Falesti. I had a friend whose name was Colman Akerman. He studied in the 3rd grade. Colman lived with his mother and sister Lusia. Their father had already died. Colman wanted to study with me and tried hard to fail at two exams and then he missed the following three exams. He had to stay in the 3rd grade for another year. When I asked him why he wanted to stay in the same grade for another year, he replied, ‘How else could I visit you at home? But now we are classmates‘. He came to see me every day and always tried to surprise me. Once he brought a camera that his uncle from Iasi had given to him. He photographed me in the street and then he showed me where to look through and which button to press and I took a picture of him. When he brought the pictures, I put one picture in my notebook, carried it in my school uniform pocket and showed it to the other girls, saying, ‘I took this one myself!‘

My father was very strict and demanded that I behaved impeccably. I remember once our zoology teacher said that after having lunch at home we would go out of town to catch insects for the school insectariums. I was very thin and ate very little and my mother decided to take advantage of my being in a hurry to stuff me up. My classmates were waiting for me near the house. Colman whistled putting two fingers into his mouth. I ran to the window and shouted, ‘I’m coming!‘ That instant my father appeared in the dining room and asked, ‘Is this for you?‘ I replied, ‘Yes, I’m leaving‘. He slapped me, the only time in my life, on my face and said, ‘Remember, a girl shall not be called from Boris Dener’s house by whistles!‘ My mother snorted at him, ‘What’s happened to you? It’s not her fault.‘ But he remained strict: ‘I don’t know whose fault it is. You must remember that she will get married and people remember bad things rather than good ones‘. I remember my mother saying, ‘She isn’t even 13 yet and you are talking about marriage.‘ ‘Time flies‘, he answered. However, assault wasn’t really a common thing in our family, and later my father felt guilty for a long time and I took advantage of this as best I could.

Colman was 14 and I was 13, when his 18-year-old cousin came to see him from Iasi. They came to visit me. He was sitting on the sofa in the dining room looking at us haughtily, regarding us as provincial small fry. Then he suggested that we played ‘American bets‘. We had no idea what it was about and he explained, ‘If I ask you a question and you know the answer, you can ask me for anything I have and you can have it. But if you don’t know the answer, you will do anything I tell you‘. Then he turned to me: ‘Of course, the girl will go first‘. I took it easy: what could he ask of me, if I didn’t know the answer – to recite a poem or sing a song, maybe. He asked me a question about a boxer, whom I had not the slightest idea about. Then he said, ‘Well, here is what we will get‘, and he bent over and kissed me on the cheek. I was taken aback and jumped up. The worst thing was that Colman, my cavalier, burst into tears. That way I learned what a man’s guile was about. Colman said, ‘I will tell your mother‘. His cousin laughed and said with disdain, ‘What a kindergarten!‘ and left. I told Colman to leave: ‘Go away and never come back to me‘. I was probably crying all day long.

When Sarah came home, she invited her friends and they discussed their admirers and movies about love. It was popular to collect pictures of actors and actresses: Greta Garbo, Morris Chevalier, Marlene Dietrich… I listened to them chatting, dreaming about my first kiss. It was to happen in the evening, in a garden, with nightingales, and the moon. He would tell me of his eternal love and beg me for a kiss. And then I would allow him to kiss me on my cheek – and this would be my first kiss. But then, all of a sudden, a boy whom I didn’t know happened to kiss me. Besides everything else, I lost it all: the bench, the moon, the nightingales and the cavalier speaking of his love to me. But above all, I was to blame for it, you know.

About nine years later I met Colman’s mother in Chernovtsy. She told me that Colman had perished near Smolensk in 1942. She said, ‘They say you have a picture of Colman?‘ I showed her the picture and she wanted a copy. I gave her the photograph and said that her son’s breathing and fingertips were on it and that he had taken this photograph himself. She started crying, ‘I’m so sorry that you didn’t become my daughter-in-law‘.

In 1939 my beloved Grandfather Iosif died. According to the Jewish tradition they wrapped his body in a takhrikhim burying his face in it and put it on the floor in his house. Then his body was taken to the synagogue and from there to the Jewish cemetery where my grandmother Sarah, who had passed away a short time before, was buried. I don’t remember whether the relatives had their clothes ripped on the edges, but I remember clearly that we sat shivah for seven days.

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During the War

A year later, on 28th June 1940, the Soviet rule began in Bessarabia. My brother Yuzef and my sister Sarah happened to have stayed abroad in Romania and we didn’t know anything about them. In August the new authorities took away our house and we lost our home. They considered the house too large for a family of three. We rented a room and a kitchen from two Moldovan sisters in their house in the suburbs of Falesti. I went to the 8th grade of a Russian school. I didn’t know any Russian and had to study a lot, so my parents let me the room that was brighter and stayed in the kitchen. When my classmates began to join the Komsomol [7], I also applied to join, but there I got to know that I was a ‘socially hostile element‘ and that my father was a ‘bourgeois‘. When I told my mother about it, she wanted to go to school to talk about it, but my father stopped her. He understood everything about the Soviet power already.

In 1941, on the night of 13th to 14th June, two officers wearing NKVD [8] uniforms and two witnesses came to our home. They woke us up, searched our lodging and told us, ‘You have 20 minutes to get ready and leave the place!‘ We were taken to the railway station. There was a train there and most of the wealthier families of Falesti, most of them Jews, but there were also Moldovans. It happened so that the train was at the dead-end spur for 24 hours. Pyotr, a Moldovan boy, who became orphaned and whom my father had helped to learn accountancy, came to see us. In the morning, when it became known that we were to be deported, Pyotr’s grandmother cooked a chicken and sent her grandson to take it to us. My father gave Pyotr the key and sent him to pack some belongings. Pyotr took a tablecloth and packed whatever fell into his hands. When we arrived at our point of destination, the women joked, ‘We won’t die of the heat in Siberia: Madam Dener has got two fans‘. Pyotr had packed two ostrich feather fans and my mother’s ball gown embroidered with beads. My mother sold them to the Pushkin Theater from Leningrad, which was in evacuation in Tomsk.

Before we arrived in Tiraspol, they made lists of all men, heads of families, and on the night of 15th June they read out the list and the men were getting off the train. We never saw my father again. As we got to know later, all men were taken to a camp in Ivdel district, Sverdlovsk region. Our train went on and on our way we heard that Germany had attacked the USSR on 22nd June and that the war [Great Patriotic War] [9] had begun. We arrived in the town of Mogochin, Molchanov district, Tomsk region in Siberia. There they declared that we were sentenced to 25 years in exile. Mogochin was in the Siberian taiga, on the bank of the Ob River, which was over one kilometer wide in that location. The only way to Novosibirsk or Tomsk was along this river. We were accommodated in the houses of other exiled people from Ukraine and Russia deported in the 1930s during the time of the collectivization [10]. They had big families and we could only share a room with the owners of the dwellings. My mother and I moved from one house to the next, till we got lucky. Here is what happened: According to comrade Stalin’s order, if a member of an exiled person’s family perished at the front, his family was released from exile. Our landlady Katia came to exile in her teens. Her young husband perished at the front and Katia and her baby son were released. Though she had lost her husband, she was happy to be released and left her apartment to us: there was a little room with a Russian stove [11] and a shed in the yard. My mother gave her a golden ring for it.

At first we worked in the kolkhoz [12] in Mogochin, but later we were sent to work at the saw-mill. Women carried loads of bricks for the construction of a shop and girls worked as loaders loading planks onto a barge. We were lined up by our height: one girl had to put a cushion on the left shoulder, another girl on the right shoulder, and they piled four-meter planks to the height of a stretched up hand onto us and we carried them up the ladder onto the barge. Every two hours our supervisor announced, ‘Smoke break!‘ and we could sit down for ten minutes and then we got back to work. We worked 12 hours a day. It was such hard, but probably equally necessary work, that we received 800 grams bread per day, which was the ration of an adult worker. Bread was the only food we got. We exchanged clothes for potatoes. Bread and potatoes was our main food. We were usually allowed to go home for lunch. Once, going back to work from lunch, I heard the Evening Serenade by Schubert on the radio at the check-in point, and I stood still there. I loved classical music, and my sister Sarah had often sung the Evening Serenade. The lunch break was almost over. The janitor, a tall fat woman, ran outside and dragged me to the work site. ‘Listen here‘, she warned me. 21 minutes late for work at that time meant one year in prison.

I was 16 and was supposed to study in the 9th grade, but we weren’t allowed to go to school: we didn’t come there to go to school is what they thought. Our boys and girls there, Fenia Zilberman, Raya Berezina and Misha Bugaev, appointed me their delegate to the commandant because although I spoke poor Russian, I was the smartest. We came to the commandant and I decided to use his weapon: ‘What have we done wrong that they don’t allow us to follow the covenant of Illich [Lenin]: Study, study and study? They don’t allow us to go to school.‘ He didn’t know what to say and took us to the director of the saw-mill. He left us in the reception room from where we could hear their discussion. The director was yelling, ‘These bourgeois children aren’t here to study. There is a war and they are here to forge victory‘. The commandant replied: ‘Does your daughter go to school? Does your chief engineer’s son go to school? And those bourgeois children must forge victory for them, Komsomol members? They will go to school today!‘ He came out of the director’s office saying, ‘Go to school now, but you must only have excellent marks – I will follow up!‘ His surname was Mukhamadiarov – he was a Tatar man. Of course, somebody reported on him and soon he left for somewhere else, we didn’t know where.

We didn’t have passports, but a piece of paper with name, first name and patronymic, year of birth and nationality on it. Every ten days our mothers went to the commandant’s office to sign for us that we were there, since we were under age. In November 1941 my mother and I were called to the office. They told us that my father had died on 1st November 1941. I was standing by my mother and said in Yiddish, ‘a dank dem got‘ [Yiddish for Thank God]. The officer pricked up his ears: ‘What did she say?‘ My mother turned to stone; she just shook her head. ‘No, what did she say? What did she say?‘, the officer insisted. He thought it might have been something about ‘the father of the people‘ [Stalin]. ‘Nothing, it was Thank God that she said‘, my mother replied. But isn’t she his own daughter?‘ the officer was wondering. My mother said, ‘Yes, she is‘. He turned to me saying, ‘Why did you say this? And I replied, ‘Because he is no longer suffering‘. He gave me a mean look and said, ‘You viper!‘

After finishing school I made a copy of my certificate and sent it to the Medical Colleges in Tomsk and Novosibirsk – my father wanted me to become a doctor. I got invitation letters from both colleges. I went to the commandant, he tore those letters into tiny pieces, threw them into a garbage bin and said, ‘No studies! In three days you will go to the timber cutting site!‘ I ran away on one of these three days. That September happened to be warm in Siberia, which was a rare thing. I had to sail down the Ob to Novosibirsk. It was impossible to take a boat sailing to the south – they were thoroughly inspected. I took a boat sailing north and at the next stop I changed onto a boat sailing to the south. My mother blessed me and gave me a golden pendant for the road. There was a Swiss clock inside. My mother wanted me to sell it to buy warm clothes in Novosibirsk. However, it was my poor luck. There was a search on the boat and a young NKVD officer took custody of me. He saw that I had no luggage and that my only document was my school certificate. He knew who I was. ‘Two hours from now I will take you to the commandant‘, he said. I looked at the clock: how many hours of life did I have left. I decided to jump into the river – the commandant would leave me to rot. The officer saw the clock and liked it. I took it off and put the chain and the pendant into his hand. He let me go. I got off in Novosibirsk wearing a light dress, summer shoes, having no money, but most importantly, having no passport.

At the railway station I read an announcement about a course for medical nurses for the front. I went there. I said that I was in evacuation. A woman, a major of medical service, offered me to stay overnight in her apartment. It was her daughter’s birthday. There were boiled potatoes, cabbage and pork fat, and spirits on the table. I was starved and ate the food, when all of a sudden I felt sick. The mistress of the house didn’t understand what was wrong and I explained that we, Jews, didn’t eat pork fat. She said, ‘But you, Jews, are so fanatic‘. I stayed a few days with them and they were good to me. At that time the Novosibirsk Industrial College announced additional admission and they admitted me without even asking for my passport. They accommodated me in the hostel.

A few days later I bumped into a man and a woman talking in Yiddish in a shop. I ran to them and asked, ‘Are you Jews?‘ The man was the producer of the Minsk Jewish Theater, which was evacuated to Novosibirsk. I told them about myself. This man, his name was Boris, helped me. His daughter Elvira was three years younger than me. He made a copy of her birth certificate and an artist of the theater, also a Jew, forged this certificate putting in my name and information. Then they made a copy of this copy at a notary office. At that time people often lost their documents in evacuation and notary offices made copies for them. I submitted this false copy of a copy to the militia office to obtain a passport. They told me to come back two hours later and I went to a nearby movie theater. There was a popular Soviet movie showing: ‘V shest chasov vechera posle voyni‘ [At six o’clock in the evening after the war]. I was sitting there with my eyes closed crying: in two hours they would either take me to prison or give me a passport. When I came back to the militia office, they gave me a passport. Do you understand what this man put at risk: he could have been sentenced to ten or more years, and he had a wife and two children! Through Boris I set up correspondence with my mother. In 1946 I received her last letter. Later Boris got to know that she had died.

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Post-war

In college I made friends with Dina Varshavskaya, also a Jewish girl. She evacuated from Belarus with her mother and twin brothers. Germans bombed their train on the way. Dina’s mother and brothers perished. We lived in the hostel, had no clothes or shoes. Local girls lived at home and had at least some clothes. Then I heard that this hostel had vacancies for a cleaning girl and a linen keeper. Dina and I went to talk to the director of the hostel and were employed. We received a small wage and food cards. We sold some of the food that we got at the market to buy some clothes. Students could have meals at the canteen and we also did some work there cleaning the tables and had a bowl of soup or boiled cereals for doing so. During the war the best jobs were where there was food. We were young and Dina said every now and then, ‘Look, we never go out‘ and I comforted her, ‘Dina, we are young. Our cavaliers will wait for us‘. I didn’t know how short youth was.

I was a last-year student, when I was called into the corridor. ‘Dener, your brother has come‘, they announced. I left the classroom and understood everything immediately – a military was waiting for me. He just said, ‘Let’s go‘. We went to an apartment. There was a man sitting at the desk. They began to threaten me with arrest, but then tempered justice with mercy and offered me to work for them secretly. Every Friday I was to submit reports on the talks and moods in my college. Under the threat of arrest I signed what they gave me to sign and went to Boris from there. ‘What do I do now?‘ Boris knew about the Soviet regime and NKVD rules. He calmed me down. He said I had to pretend that I industriously fulfilled the task of the organs. He asked, ‘There must be boys and girls in your college, who don’t only kiss, but also have intimate relations?‘ I remembered that Lena and Lyosha were under 18 years of age, but were living together – it wasn’t allowed to get married before turning 18. ‘This will work, it’s ‘immoral‘ for the Soviet authorities and you will write about it.‘ Boris knew that this would do those folks no harm. ‘You will take this report to them on Friday and request a two-month leave to write a diploma. As soon as you receive your diploma, you must leave Novosibirsk before the morning of the following day‘. They gave me a leave and after obtaining my diploma I disappeared.

At the beginning I found shelter at Raya Berezina’s place. She was my friend from Falesti and was exiled with her parents. She studied at Novosibirsk Medical College. How did she manage to do that? Her uncle Motl Berezin got to know that his brother and his family had been sent into exile. Motl had money. He went to the Ural and paid ransom for his brother. His guards pretended that he had escaped. Somehow, probably also for money, Motl managed to rescue Raya, her mother and brother. He bought Raya a passport for 3,000 rubles in Novosibirsk and Raya could go to study at Medical College. I stayed with Raya for two weeks while she was passing her summer exams. Then we went to Chernovtsy where her parents had already rented an apartment. I lived with them for some time and they were kind to me.

Raya’s father and her brother Aizik were working, Raya continued her studies at Chernovtsy Medical College and I was looking for a job. Raya introduced me to her friend Shura Liberman from Kharkov. He went to the front after finishing the 10th grade and after the war he entered Medical College. Three weeks later Shura wrote me a letter saying that he loved me and wanted to marry me, but I decided for myself that I wasn’t going to ruin his life. He was a very nice person, he had been at the front and suffered so much. And I was an exile escapee and could be arrested any moment. I had a meeting in Chernovtsy once that I hate to recall, but since it had an impact on my future life, I need to tell you about it. One of my father’s Jewish acquaintances from Falesti, who had often come to our house, bumped into me in Chernovtsy and offered me an apartment and provisions to visit me every now and then. I was hurt deep down in my heart. He also explained to me that I was a burden for the Berezins family and that they might have problems because of me.

I left the Berezins and went to work as a rate setter at the reconstruction of the knitwear factory, ruined by German bombing. My boss Rostislav Ippolitovich Menchinskiy, a Polish man, was a wonderful person. He helped me to get a little room with a wood stoked stove in the hostel. There were 90 Hungarian and 200 German prisoners-of-war working at the reconstruction of the factory. They worked on one job site, but in different crews. They didn’t communicate with each other. In the morning the foreman issued a task and I put down personal scopes of work. By the end of the day the foreman and I checked the laborers‘ day’s work and calculated how much they had earned. For this amount we gave them bread. I hated the Germans, but my good manners didn’t allow me not to greet them in the morning; my father would have turned in his grave. So, I came onto the site saying, ‘Good day today‘, just stating that it was a good day. I spoke Russian to the superintendent, but he replied in German knowing that I knew German. Once he asked me, ‘Fraulein Fira, do you think there is a God?‘ and I replied, ‘When I got to know what you were doing to the Jews in Europe, I said there is no God. But when you, fascists, receive bread from my Jewish hands, as much as I write you should have, I say: there is a God!‘

I had different, warmer relations with the Hungarians. Their superintendent was a very intelligent man, a former editor of one of the main newspapers in Bucharest. My superintendent used to tell my boss Menchinskiy that ‘Fira flirts with all the Hungarians‘. One of them, a young boy of about 18 years of age, whose name was Gyula, was my interpreter. He spoke a little Russian. They called me Esztike, affectionate for Esther. I learned to say good morning in Hungarian: jo reggelt, and good day: jo napot. In the morning I greeted them in Hungarian and there was always a smile or a kind word for each of them. There were women selling milk at the entrance gate. Often Hungarians asked me to buy them milk and gave me money and pots. I enjoyed doing it and did it demonstratively so that the Germans could see it, of course! In 1947 the prisoners were released and about eight Hungarians wearing their uniforms without shoulder straps came to my office to bid me farewell. I was pleased.

However, there was always fear throughout this time. I woke up at night in horror, afraid they would come for me! Once I met with Sarah Fooks, someone whom I knew from Falesti. She said, ‘They arrested Fenia Zilberman last night and Misha Bugaev the night before. You must change your surname‘. I married Lyonia Korol, a Jew, who liked me. I married in order to change my name. He was a janitor at the factory. I obtained a passport with a different surname. Lyonia was a simple, uneducated guy, but I decided that if he happened to be a good man, I would try to help him with his studies. However, I didn’t love him and asked him to give me two weeks to get used to him. He didn’t listen to me and damaged our relations. I got pregnant. On 2nd April 1948 I gave birth to a seven-month premature boy and a stillborn girl – they were twins. I named the boy Boris after my father. He only lived for three months.

Then I went to work at the shipyard in Nikolaev where I was an apprentice to an electric welder. I had no idea that this shipyard was a military site and that there was an NKVD department there. They finally dug out who I was and that I was on the all-Union search list. Nine months later they came to the hostel with a search crew. They took away my mother’s last letter. I snatched it from the NKVD officer’s hands and said, ‘This is my mother’s last letter. She has died, and nobody but me is allowed to have this letter‘, but they took it away from me, anyway.

I was arrested and kept in the cell with criminals in Nikolaev prison. The investigation officer insisted that I wrote that I acknowledged myself guilty in my own handwriting. I said, ‘No‘. He didn’t let me sleep for three days. The warden was watching that I didn’t close my eyes in my cell. The senior prisoner in my cell wasn’t exactly my friend, but the investigation officer, whom they called ‘musor‘ [Russian for trash] was their enemy. And the enemy of my enemy simply had to be my friend. This senior prisoner sat on my plank bed and told three other women to sit before us, with their faces to the door where there was a big eyelet. She said, ‘Quiet! Put your head on my shoulder. Close your eyes, go to sleep‘. She let me fall asleep that way a few times a day. I was 25 years old. I was young. When the officer realized that this ‘no sleep‘ idea didn’t work, he sent me to a punishment cell for 15 days. I was staying in the damp cell for 15 days in winter. When they dragged me out of there I could only whisper. The officer thought I was cheating on him and took me to the prison hospital.

The otolaryngologist examined me and said, ‘She won’t talk for a long time. She has laryngitis, pharyngitis and tonsillitis‘. I didn’t know yet that I also sustained heart deficiency in this cell. I was waiting for the trial to tell this scoundrel of an officer everything I thought about him, but there was no trial. A warden took me to a room where there were four military men, one had a white robe on. Later I was told that they were prosecutor, chief of prison, military doctor and somebody else. They read my sentence that they had received from Moscow: ‘For the unauthorized escape from her settlement location Dener Esfir Borisovna is sentenced to three years of imprisonment in work camps and further return to the location of settlement for an indefinite term‘. This happened in February 1951.

They took me to another cell where prisoners whose sentence had been passed were kept. Then I was taken to five prisons on the way to my point of destination: Kharkov, Gorky, Kirov and Solikamsk and Nyrob. The most terrible prison was in Gorky. We arrived at a huge gate with steeples on them. The doors were sliding to the sides like curtains in the theater. I remembered the Dante’s Inferno: ‘Abandon every hope, you who enter‘. I think it was there that I met Martha, a young woman from Germany, who sang arias from ‘Silva‘ [operetta by Imre Kalman, a prominent Hungarian composer] in the cell in German. She told me her bloodcurdling story: In 1945, after the war, she, a German girl, married a young Soviet officer. A week after their wedding Stalin issued a ban on marriages with foreigners. Her husband’s friends advised her husband to disappear for some time and Martha’s relatives gave him shelter. When the NKVD came for him, he wasn’t at home and they arrested his wife. So she happened to come to the Soviet prison. She didn’t know what happened to her husband. I never got to know how her story ended. From Solikamsk prison in Perm region I was taken to the transition prison in Nyrob settlement. There was a barrack for women with about 30 inmates and about 20-30 vacant plank beds. There was a big camp for men behind the fence.

I was taken to the camp on bathroom day. Each of us was given a tin wash pan and a bar of soap. There was a woman sitting beside me on the bench. I washed myself and stood up to rinse myself with water, when I saw two big hungry eyes looking at me from the wall. I covered myself with the pan. My companion who had been there six years said calmly, ‘Why are you scared? ‘There is someone there…‘ I stuttered. ‘So, what‘, she said, ‘some men are gazing…‘ ‘How awful!‘ I exclaimed. ‘It doesn’t hurt‘, she said and continued, ‘Two years ago we bathed together. There was nothing about it. We, girls, were starving! And we had to go to work. Women managed somehow, but men were skin and bones. They were dying every day. Now they give us more bread and some cooked food. So look at them, male dogs! And let them look. You won’t get any worse from it‘. I understood then that men die faster from hunger than women do.

But this wasn’t the end of the day yet. In the evening, when it got dark, a warden came in and asked, ‘Who is Dener?‘ I already knew that when they were calling your name you were to give them your full name, article of sentence, term, its beginning and end. The warden took me out of the barrack, through a gate to a room with four men in camp robes. I wondered what this was all about. They had familiar faces – they were Jews! They had been there for years and were now working by their professions. One of them was a foreman at the brick factory, another one was an accountant and one was a rate setter. This rate setter had spotted the Jewish name ‘Dener‘ in the list. They didn’t understand what this Article 78 and sentence of three years meant. This was too short a sentence for political prisoners who were usually sentenced under Article 58. Three years was a sentence for pickpockets and minor thieves. They wanted to meet with me to see whether they could help me. They listened to my story, including that after my sentence was over I was supposed to settle down in Siberia for an indefinite term, they exchanged glances and decided to help me. There were two women’s camps: one was for pregnant women or women who had small children. The children were kept in the children’s home until they reached the age of two. Their mothers worked in the laundry, in the bathroom, in the shop and cleaned the barracks. Other female prisoners worked at the wood throw. They wanted me to stay in this camp where there was additional milk supply for pregnant women and the children’s home, and pioneers working at the wood throw also received a glass of milk and a bowl of milk soup each twice a week.

So they agreed that they would help me to stay at Shunia camp, when the warden ran in and urged them, ‘Hide her, I cannot take her back now – the senior officer and senior warden are inspecting the barracks!‘ There was a big box with some papers and files in the room. They took out the papers, turned this box with the lock to the wall and told me to get in there. I was thin, so I fit in there, pressing my knees to my chin. They closed the lid, put a chip between the lid and the box for me to be able to breathe. One of these four men sat on the edge of the box smoking. Those two officers came in saying, ‘Why are you smoking, it’s impossible to breathe in here! Chief, let’s go outside.‘ And they left. The warden came back and said that he could only escort me back to the barrack in the morning. I sat in this box for a whole night. Those people were putting their position in the camp at risk – later I called it ‘Hesed in the camp‘.

I don’t know how they managed it, but I really stayed in Shunia camp. I was kept in the barrack for criminals. This was terrible! They smoked makhorka tobacco and cursed terribly; they were just swearing all the time. They made lesbian love behind a sheet curtain and smoked hashish delivered from Central Asia. What was I to do?! Fortunately, there was a cultural/political unit where I could borrow books to read. There were shelves with books on them. I turned to the other side and, thought, ‘My God!‘ – Guess what I found there: Mihai Eminescu, among books by other writers. This was a sign of God – and it meant that I wasn’t going to stay there in the camp and in exile forever! I took this book into my shaking hands, put it on my plank bed, closed my eyes, saw the graves of my mother and father and swore an oath that I would never drink, smoke drugs, make lesbian love, and that I would never lose my humanity. Never! Because I had no father, no mother, and if I fell there would be no one to give me a hand.

I read in the evenings: there was a table with a lamp on it in the center of the barrack. Once a woman from the barrack with political prisoners came into our barrack. She saw me reading, called me outside and asked me who I was and what my sentence was. I told her my story. She was Tamara Logvinenko, a writer from Ukraine. She advised me, ‘Make an appointment with the chief of the camp, tell him that your fellow prisoners smoke a lot and that you cannot work properly and that you have problems with your lungs. Ask him to move you into our barrack‘. I did as she told me. When I came to the chief’s office he had my file on his desk. The chief of the camp – his surname was Ofitserov – listened to me and said, ‘What can we do for you? You know, those political prisoners have long sentence – 10 to 25 years‘. After some serious thought, he said, ‘There, you have my permission to visit this political barrack before the retreat. At ten sharp you must be on your plank bed‘. There were decent people among the camp personnel.

So I met those political prisoners. Some had worked for Germans, but most of them were decent women. I was lucky to meet Nathalia Ilinichna Sats. [Soviet producer, playwright, pedagog, a Jewess. She made a significant contribution to the development of Soviet theater for children. She was arrested in 1937, in prison and in exile for 16 years and rehabilitated in 1953. In 1964 she organized the Children’s Music/Opera Theater in Moscow. She also staged opera performances abroad.] We spent a few months together. She asked me whether I could sing. Hearing my answer was ‘no‘ she asked me to recite something: ‘You have a talent. I will work with you‘. She taught me about stresses and pauses and about the vocal organ. After those classes she told me that I could perform on any stage. ‘Why would I need to do this?‘ Her answer was: ‘To make them loyal you will recite poems or tell them stories in the evening. Of course, you won’t recite from Anna Karenina or War and Peace‘. My fellow inmates called me ‘friersha‘ – small fish – plus, I was a Jew. There was no anti-Semitism, but staying together in confined space provokes to entertain oneselve or tease somebody. My nationality was as vulnerable as somebody’s big weight, for example. So I recited poems or told them stories in the evening. The senior inmate, Zoya, ordered, ‘Silence! Keep so quiet that we can even hear a fly buzzing by!‘ They teased me a little, but they listened to me.

Once my fellow inmate Masha, a Moldovan woman, sentenced for murder under Article 156, asked me to write her request for parole. Her story was terrifying and it would take a long time to tell it. Anyway, she and I began to talk. Her five-month-old son Vovka [Vladimir] was born in the camp. ‘Masha, show me your Vovka‘, I begged her. She took me to the children’s home. I took this Vovka with his huge gypsy eyes into my arms and remembered my deceased baby son. I pressed him to my bosom and he wet me all over. Masha took my robe to wash and I was sitting under the blanket. Zoya, the senior inmate said, ‘Everybody has his follies. You need a baby. Look, you read to us… Let us do something good for you. There are young wardens here – you chose somebody and I will make the necessary arrangements‘. It took me a while to explain to her that I could do it this way, of course, but that a baby wasn’t a toy and that a child needed a father. The only thing it proved to her was that I wasn’t of this world.

I was in the camp for a year or a year and a half, when something happened that made me know that those criminals didn’t think badly of me. Saturday was our bathroom day. Afterwards we were lying on our plank beds. I was on the upper tier bed by the window. Sunday was a day off and we could sleep until 8am while on the other days we got up at 6am. After the bathroom day, in the evening, we were served tea. The inmate on duty was carrying hot tea in a bucket pouring it into the inmates‘ mugs from her mug. When she came to me, the door opened and somebody called her. ‘Just wait there, I’ll pour some tea for this zhydovka [abusive word for a Jewess] and come there afterwards.‘ I acted on impulse, you know, evil communications corrupt good manners. I lost control and splashed hot tea into her face. She cursed at me. Then one inmate jumped off her plank bed, then another, the third, the fourth… I thought, ‘What are they up to?‘ They turned to her: ‘Why do you violate the constitution? She is a Jew and you call her zhydovka, Galka is Ukrainian and you call her hohlushka [abusive word for Ukrainians], Kira is a Chuvash and you call her chuchmechka [abusive word for Chuvash people]. You’ll get it from us…‘ She was glad that they didn’t kill her and ran away. They turned to me: ‘How long will you continue to be a ‘friersha‘? If you had burned her with this tea you would have been taken to a punishment cell…. Couldn’t you just curse her?” I gave them a half hour speech explaining to them why I couldn’t curse.

Two days later the chief of the camp ordered me to come see him in his office. ‘They told me you read in your barrack. I replied: ‘Is it not allowed to do so?‘ ‘It’s all right, particularly since you read the classics. They say you dislike cursing. This means, you help with the education of other inmates. I think you should recite poems on Soviet holidays. You will make a list of what you are going to recite and show it to the censor, he needs to check it‘. So I began to recite poems at performances.

We worked at the wood cutting site. We got up at 6 o’clock in the morning. We had some cereal for breakfast and then left the camp. We had black wadded pants, quilted jackets and pea-jackets. We formed a line and every morning the convoy chief informed us, ‘A step to the right, a step to the left is a try to escape. I will shoot without a warning‘. There were wardens with machine guns and dogs on leashes. So we marched at gun-point to work in the woods. We worked hard from morning till night. We sawed wood with manual saws with wooden handles. At first we made a notch on the wood with a heavy ax and then we put a saw into this notch. We sawed into about a quarter of a trunk and then pushed the tree with picaroons into the direction where it had to fall. And this was us, women, doing this! Then we chopped off branches and boughs and then tractors hauled these trunks away. We had soup and kasha [pulp] delivered from the camp at lunch. We ate from aluminum bowls. Also, we didn’t have spoons and ate from the bowls with our hands.

I never started sawing another trunk before the end of a working day. The convoy never waited for us and we never knew whether we would come to the same job site on the following day. And a tree with an undercut could fall at any moment. I never took this risk. I remember standing by a big fire at the end of a working day, we called this fire ‘Tashkent‘ in the camp. I was drying my gauntlet gloves, when I heard the typical grinding sound of a falling tree. Where do I run? Right, left or back?.. I managed to slightly get on my feet, gain a grip with my fists and stretch as much as I could. The tree fell on my back and its crown covered me. There was much ado, the convoy rushed to me pushing away the tree. I was bleeding and there were scratches on my face, but I was lucky that it was the crown of the tree falling on me and that I was wearing thick winter clothes. The warden wiped the blood off my face with snow and said, ‘Wench, you were born under a lucky star‘. There was a twig sticking out under my left eye. You can still see the scar from the hole of it when I smile.

On 5th March 1953 Stalin died. I don’t know whether his death and Purim happened on the same day. But anyway, in my childhood Purim was in March. And this was the happiest Purim in my life! When I got hold of a Soviet newspaper with a photograph of Stalin in the casket I kept it for a long time like a relic. I remember that Hitler committed suicide on 30th April and in the same way I remember that Stalin died on 5th March. They are both the same kind of evildoers for me. Looking at him in the casket I felt pleased that he had died. I met with so many wonderful people in the camp – there were masses of political prisoners sentenced for no reason. They were sentenced for 25 years of hard work, for which they weren’t paid. Stalin plotted a system of credits, where one year was reckoned as three or seven years, and prisoners were happy that they worked off their 25 years in five or seven years, but they died before they were to be released. They either died from hard labor that was too much for them or they left the camps as cripples.

In 1954 my term came to an end and I was released from the camp, but I still had my ‘indefinite exile‘ left. I couldn’t leave Nyrob and I stayed there to work in the office. I was accommodated in a little room with a stove. At that time I met Igor Golubin, a prisoner from Kharkov. He was sentenced for what they call ‘commerce‘ nowadays: he bought or sold something and was sentenced for five years for profiteering. When he was released he came to me and confessed his love. He said he wanted to stay with me, though he could leave for wherever he wanted to. I asked him whether he had a family. Never in my life could I have been with a person who had a wife and children. My mother wrote in her last letter: ‘Never build your happiness upon somebody else’s unhappiness‘. This sentence was sacred for me. I asked him to have his mother write to me and confirm that he was single. She arrived at Nyrob and told me herself that she was happy for her son and that he wanted to marry a decent woman. We lived in civil marriage for three years, but Igor was drinking and I didn’t dare to have a baby. Igor died from cirrhosis in Kharkov.

In 1956, at the Twentieth Party Congress [13] Khrushchev [14] denounced Stalin and this had a direct impact on me – in 1956 I was released from exile. I was happy that they released me and I obtained a legal passport! My God! That’s still the most precious thing I have in my life. It was summer. I had a piece of a red polka-dot staple fabric. I designed a dress and took the fabric to a dressmaker to make a dress for me. I was walking in the street wearing this dress, when I saw the chief of the camp. He said, ‘You look like a strawberry. Look, let’s go to the cinema. No guns or dogs! Don’t be unforgiving. Whatever there was there was.‘ I said, ‘Remember this, man. I shall never have anything to do with somebody who convoyed me at gun-point‘. And I went on. I must say people treated me very well in the Ural. There was no anti-Semitism. I was a labor and salary engineer in repair shops in Nyrob and then I moved to Zlatoust in Cheliabinsk region.

I didn’t know anything about my brother and sister who had stayed in Romania, but I had relatives in Kishinev. I sent a letter to the address inquiry office in Kishinev and indicated their prewar address: 7, Fontannaya Street. I was hoping that somebody might have returned form the war. They sent me a note saying that my cousins Etia Yakovlevna Dener and Viktoria Yakovlevna Dener lived on 29, Armianskaya Street, Apt. 26, in Kishinev. I wrote to them and they replied. They wrote that Uncle Yakov had died in evacuation, that my brother Yuzef had perished in the ghetto in Transnistria [15] in 1942, and that my sister Sarah had survived and was working in the house of a composer in Bucharest. We began to correspond. In 1964, after her husband died, Sarah moved to Israel. They had no children. They offered her a job in a music school in a kibbutz, but she refused, ‘I lived my life in Bucharest and I can’t live in a village‘. She went to work in a restaurant where she washed dishes. Since Sarah knew six languages – French, German, English, Romanian, Russian, Yiddish and Latin –she went to work as a telephone operator on long distance calls within some time. Then she took a six-month training in Munich. All in all, she retired from her work as deputy chief of department in the Ministry of Communication of Israel. She lives in Ramat-Aviv.

My cousin Viktoria was asking me how long I was going to live in the Ural and wanted me to come back to Moldova. I finally decided to try, and moved to Kishinev in 1964. I stayed with Viktoria. Etia Dener had passed away before then. I went to work in the construction department in Krikovo near Kishinev and lived in a hostel. Six months later our department moved to Kishinev. In 1968 I received a one-bedroom apartment in Ryshkanovka, the greenest district in town. I received a good salary and bought furniture on installments: a living room set, a couch, armchairs and a TV set. This was my home hearth and I enjoyed arranging it. I was 44, I was strong and was thinking of adopting a boy. I went to the children’s home. There was a four-year-old boy there. His name was Andryushka and I was told that his parents had died in an accident. I went to see him four or five times. I brought him toys and sweets and went for walks with him. I had to collect a number of documents for adoption, including recommendations from work and a health certificate. I had wonderful recommendations, but in my health certificate they wrote: heart deficiency, surgery required. And they turned me down. Of course, Andryushka forgot me long ago, but I cannot forget this incident. I could have a son now.

My boss Gennadiy Alexeevich Shevtsov knew that I had no children and swamped me with public activities. I was responsible for the training of young specialists who came to work at the department after college. He introduced me to them, ‘You can ask our chief engineer all work-related questions and address other questions to your tutor‘. They came to me with all their problems: regarding a hostel, an award, holidays in summer time, or an apartment, when they were getting married. I called them ‘my boys‘ and loved them in a ‘motherly‘ kind of way and they returned my love.

I was considering moving to Israel in the 1970s, when many people were going there, but my doctors told me that the climate wasn’t for me. Many of my friends and colleagues left then. I don’t remember the names. I remember numerous meetings condemning those people and putting them to shame. I sympathized with them, but I kept silent at such meetings. I already knew that sometimes it was better to keep silent.

In 1978 the doctors said I urgently needed a heart surgery and that there could be no delay. I wrote to my sister in Israel. I wanted her to visit me before the surgery. I sent her an invitation and collected all necessary documents, but the Soviet authorities didn’t give her permission to visit here. My cousin Viktoria Dener was a cardiologist in the Republican Polyclinic. She helped me to have the surgery done by assistant professor Vasiliev. She had to pull some strings for me because in the USSR one couldn’t choose a surgeon. When I was in hospital, somebody at work got to know that I needed blood for blood transfusions. Once the chief of department at Paskaryuk came into my ward and said, ‘Esfir Borisovna, a bus from your workplace brought 18 young men to give you their blood.‘ ‘Where are they, my boys?‘ I asked. ‘Don’t worry, we’ve sent them to the blood transfusion office.‘ he replied. I started crying, of course, sobbing, ‘What have you done. They didn’t bring me candy or kefir, they brought me their blood, but you didn’t even let me see them‘. The doctor didn’t want me to worry and joked, ‘You know, despite your hot temper 18 young guys are too much for you right now. Let them visit you one by one‘. This simple joke put a smile on my face. And he continued, ‘Another tear and you will have an intravenous injection. You mustn’t worry!‘ And later, the boys did come to see me.

After the surgery my doctors recommended me to have an apartment not higher than on the second floor and the construction department gave me another apartment in the same district. Every year I obtained a free stay at the cardiologic centers in Moldova, Palanga [Lithuania] and Kislovodsk [16]. I loved traveling and the Crimea was my favorite place. I usually went there in the middle of September, the ‘velvet‘ season, when it was warm, but not hot. A plane ticket from Kishinev to Simferopol cost 17 rubles. I took a trolley bus to Yalta. This was the longest trolley bus trail in the USSR [about 160 km]. In Yalta I rented a room, swam in the sea and went for walks in seashore parks. I also went on tours along the seashore: to the former czarist palace in Livadia, to Count Vorontsov Palace [17] in Alupka, to Gursuf, which Pushkin [18] had once visited. I remember a beautiful open air museum near Yalta – ‘The Meadow of fairy tales…‘ And of course, I read in my free time. I had a small collection of Russian and foreign classical books. I like Somerset Maugham.

In 1988, when the relations between the USSR and Israel got warmer during the rule of Gorbachev [19], my sister Sarah obtained a three-month visa. I was expecting her to arrive on 5th May, but she arrived on 4th May and I didn’t meet her at the station. She took a taxi. When I opened the door and saw her I exclaimed, ‘Mama!‘ We hadn’t seen each other for 48 years and I remembered her as a 22-year-old girl and when I opened the door, I saw my mother, the way she looked when I saw her for the last time in exile in Siberia. Sarah looked so much like my mother.

There was so much joy and so many tears on that day. Sarah brought me many gifts from my acquaintances from Falesti who had moved to Israel. She stayed in the apartment next-door because my neighbor went to Moscow for three months. We spent all our time together. She celebrated her 70th birthday here. I invited all of my acquaintances and arranged a party for her. Then we visited friends and there were feasts and parties. Sarah didn’t understand this; she would say, ‘This is the wrong way to live. We live differently. We go to a restaurant, have dinner and listen to music or dance, but to cook so much! We don’t cook so much.‘ She didn’t like the shop assistants here. They weren’t so friendly at that time. When we went to buy gifts for my acquaintances, Sarah was very nervous; and she was shocked by the fact that she wasn’t allowed to go to Leningrad and Moscow. The authorities explained that she only had a visa for Kishinev. ‘How can one live here!‘ she was indignant.

In the 1990s, after the break down of the USSR Sarah sent me two parcels with soap, shampoo and detergents. During her visit she had seen stocks of these in my neighbor’s bathroom and must have come to the conclusion that we were having problems getting these goods. Perestroika [20] had its impact on pensioners and we began to have financial problems. I spent my pension to pay my rent, but I always pay my bills for the apartment, power and telephone in a timely manner, so that they, God Forbid, don’t take away my apartment. I’ve had this fear in my blood since they forced us to leave our home, when the Soviet power here started.

However, I understand that perestroika made the rebirth of the Jewish life in Kishinev possible. They opened a Jewish library, the Jewish Enlightening University [Community lecture course], and the Jewish Charity Center Hesed Yehuda started its work. I attend lectures on the subject of Jewish life in the Enlightening University twice a week. They tell us how to celebrate Jewish holidays and hold lectures on Jewish history and literature: [Isaac] Bashevis Singer [21], for example. I also go to the warm house where I celebrate Jewish holidays with older people like myself and talk. But I’m not used to going to the synagogue. I went to the restaurant in Hesed every day before I had a micro stroke in the eye, but now they deliver meals to my home.

Four years ago [2000] I had a cataract surgery. To be blind would be terrible for me. I was alone in Kishinev. My cousin sister died in 1984, her son Yakov and his family moved to Augsburg in Germany. I borrowed money – it was a lot of money for me – on the security of my apartment through an acquaintance of mine. I wrote a request to the Assistance Fund of Hesed. The former director of Hesed said, ‘Make arrangements to leave them your apartment‘. Four years have passed, but I cannot think calmly about it. I wasn’t asking money for a coat, a dress or a visit to my sister. Loneliness and helplessness are the hardest things. There’s nothing more important than human relations and health. My former colleagues often call me and send me their regards on New Year’s, 8th March [Women’s Day] and Builders‘ Day [one of the professional holidays in the former USSR]. Recently I got a call at midnight: ‘Esfir Borisovna?‘ the voice asked. I replied, ‘Speaking, Tarakanov‘. I recognized his voice. This was Valera Tarakanov, one of my ‘boys‘. ‘How come you call so ‘early‘?‘ I asked. He said, ‘You know, I’ve recently come back from Israel where I was visiting my friends. Do you remember how you stood up for me, when I needed a room in a hostel?‘ … We talked until one o’clock in the morning.


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Glossary

[1] Bessarabia: Historical area between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, in the southern part of Odessa region. Bessarabia was part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917. In 1918 it declared itself an independent republic, and later it united with Romania. The Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union but the Soviet Union never accepted this. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR. The two provinces had almost 4 million inhabitants, mostly Romanians. Although Romania reoccupied part of the territory during World War II the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed their belonging to the Soviet Union. Today it is part of Moldavia.

[2] Russian Revolution of 1917: Revolution in which the tsarist regime was overthrown in the Russian Empire and, under Lenin, was replaced by the Bolshevik rule. The two phases of the Revolution were: February Revolution, which came about due to food and fuel shortages during World War I, and during which the tsar abdicated and a provisional government took over. The second phase took place in the form of a coup led by Lenin in October/November (October Revolution) and saw the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.

[3] Kuprin, Aleksandr Ivanovich (1870-1938): Russian writer. In 1919, during the Russian Civil War, he emigrated to Paris. In 1937 he returned to Russia. Kuprin is best known for the short novel The Duel (1905), a story of army life in a provincial garrison, and Captain Ribnikov (1906), a spy story.

[4] Tolstoy, Lev Nikolayevich (1828-1910): Russian novelist and moral philosopher, who holds an important place in his country’s cultural history as an ethical philosopher and religious reformer. Tolstoy, alongside Dostoyevsky, made the realistic novel a literary genre, ranking in importance with classical Greek tragedy and Elizabethan drama. He is best known for his novels, including War and Peace, Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but also wrote short stories and essays and plays. Tolstoy took part in the Crimean War and his stories based one the defense of Sevastopol, known as Sevastopol Sketches, made him famous and opened St. Petersburg’s literary circles to him. His main interest lay in working out his religious and philosophical ideas. He condemned capitalism and private property and was a fearless critic, which finally resulted in his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. His views regarding the evil of private property gradually estranged him from his wife, Yasnaya Polyana, and children, except for his daughter Alexandra, and he finally left them in 1910. He died on his way to a monastery at the railway junction of Astapovo.

[5] Eminescu, Mihai (1850-1889): considered the foremost Romanian poet of his century. His poems, lyrical, passionate, and revolutionary, were published in periodicals and had a profound influence on Romanian letters. He worked in a traveling company of actors, and also acquired a broad university education. His poetry reflected the influence of the French romantics. Eminescu suffered from periodic attacks of insanity and died shortly after his final attack.

[6] Cuzist: Member of the Romanian fascist organization named after Alexandru C. Cuza, one of the most fervent fascist leaders in Romania, who was known for his ruthless chauvinism and anti-Semitism. In 1919 Cuza founded the LANC, which became the National Christian Party in 1935 with an anti-Semitic program.

[7] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.

[8] NKVD: People’s Committee of Internal Affairs; it took over from the GPU, the state security agency, in 1934.

[9] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o’clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th May 1945.

[10] Collectivization in the USSR: In the late 1920s – early 1930s private farms were liquidated and collective farms established by force on a mass scale in the USSR. Many peasants were arrested during this process. As a result of the collectivization, the number of farmers and the amount of agricultural production was greatly reduced and famine struck in the Ukraine, the Northern Caucasus, the Volga and other regions in 1932-33.

[11] Russian stove: Big stone stove stoked with wood. They were usually built in a corner of the kitchen and served to heat the house and cook food. It had a bench that made a comfortable bed for children and adults in wintertime.

[12] Kolkhoz: In the Soviet Union the policy of gradual and voluntary collectivization of agriculture was adopted in 1927 to encourage food production while freeing labor and capital for industrial development. In 1929, with only 4% of farms in kolkhozes, Stalin ordered the confiscation of peasants‘ land, tools, and animals; the kolkhoz replaced the family farm.

[13] Twentieth Party Congress: At the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of secrecy from what had happened in the USSR during Stalin’s leadership.

[14] Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971): Soviet communist leader. After Stalin’s death in 1953, he became first secretary of the Central Committee, in effect the head of the Communist Party of the USSR. In 1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev took an unprecedented step and denounced Stalin and his methods. He was deposed as premier and party head in October 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the Party’s Central Committee.

[15] Transnistria: Area situated between the Bug and Dniester rivers and the Black Sea. The term is derived from the Romanian name for the Dniester (Nistru) and was coined after the occupation of the area by German and Romanian troops in World War II. After its occupation Transnistria became a place for deported Romanian Jews. Systematic deportations began in September 1941. In the course of the next two months, all surviving Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina and a small part of the Jewish population of Old Romania were dispatched across the Dniester. This first wave of deportations reached almost 120,000 by mid-November 1941 when it was halted by Ion Antonescu, the Romanian dictator, upon intervention of the Council of Romanian Jewish Communities. Deportations resumed at the beginning of the summer of 1942, affecting close to 5,000 Jews. A third series of deportations from Old Romania took place in July 1942, affecting Jews who had evaded forced labor decrees, as well as their families, communist sympathizers and Bessarabian Jews who had been in Old Romania and Transylvania during the Soviet occupation. The most feared Transnistrian camps were Vapniarka, Ribnita, Berezovka, Tulcin and Iampol. Most of the Jews deported to camps in Transnistria died between 1941-1943 because of horrible living conditions, diseases and lack of food.

[16] Kislovodsk: Town in Stavropol region, Balneal resort. Located at the foothills of the Caucasus at the height of 720-1060 meters.

[17] Vorontsov, Mikhail Semyonovich (1782-1856): Russian statesman and count, governor-general of Novorussia and Odessa from 1823-1844. His contribution to the development of Odessa is truly immense. Vorontsov was an energetic and dynamic administrator, happy only when he had some challenge to meet, and Novorussia provided enough of those. His wife, Elizaveta Vorontsova, is known for having had an affair with the famous poet Alexandr Pushkin, when the latter was exiled to Odessa due to his suspected anti-state activities. Pushkin dedicated a number of poems to Countess Vorontsova. In 1844 Vorontsov, by then 62 years old, was appointed governor-general of the Caucasus and commander-in-chief of the Russian forces there, in addition to his duties in Novorussia. He spent the next 10 years either in military action in the Caucasus or in developing economic projects in both regions.

[18] Pushkin, Alexandr (1799-1837): Russian poet and prose writer, among the foremost figures in Russian literature. Pushkin established the modern poetic language of Russia, using Russian history for the basis of many of his works. His masterpiece is Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse about mutually rejected love. The work also contains witty and perceptive descriptions of Russian society of the period. Pushkin died in a duel.

[19] Gorbachev, Mikhail (1931- ): Soviet political leader. Gorbachev joined the Communist Party in 1952 and gradually moved up in the party hierarchy. In 1970 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, where he remained until 1990. In 1980 he joined the politburo, and in 1985 he was appointed general secretary of the party. In 1986 he embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalization under the slogans of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical reexamination of Soviet history. The Congress of People’s Deputies, founded in 1989, voted to end the Communist Party’s control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president. Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and granted the Baltic states independence. Following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, he resigned as president. Since 1992, Gorbachev has headed international organizations.

[20] Perestroika (Russian for restructuring): Soviet economic and social policy of the late 1980s, associated with the name of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev. The term designated the attempts to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized, market-oriented economy. Industrial managers and local government and party officials were granted greater autonomy, and open elections were introduced in an attempt to democratize the Communist Party organization. By 1991, perestroika was declining and was soon eclipsed by the dissolution of the USSR.

[21] Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1904-1991): Yiddish novelist, short-story writer and journalist. Born in Poland, Singer received a traditional rabbinical education but opted for the life of a writer instead. He emigrated to the US in 1935, where he wrote for the New York-based The Jewish Daily Forward. Many of his novellas, such as Satan in Goray (1935) and The Slave (1962), are set in the Poland of the past. One of his best-known works, The Family Moskat (1950), he deals with the decline of Jewish values in Warsaw before World War II. Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

 

 

Tamara Koblik

Tamara Koblik and Buma Gandelman (Bukhara, 1944)

Chisinau, Moldova 

Tamara Koblik is a tall slender lady with thick short hair and fine regular features. Her movements are quick and she has a sharp tongue. She has excellent memory and her story is full of interesting details. Though she was operated on cancer recently, she looks very well. And only a bit later one can see that her physical condition falls behind her spiritual energy that nature generously endowed this charming lady with. Tamara gets tired and grows pale. She coughs, but she doesn’t want to stop telling her story. As for me, I felt like listening to her for eternity. Tamara and her husband live in a three-bedroom apartment in a 5-storied apartment building in a picturesque neighborhood in Kishinev, on the bank of an artificial lake, a favorite recreation area with the townsfolk. Tamara’s husband Monia, an intelligent and gentle person, a hospitable host, is devoted to his wife. He also had a surgery, but neither of them makes an impression of a sickly person. Their comfortable apartment is stylishly furnished, and this, for sure is an accomplishment of the hostess: nice furniture in the living room, many books in bookcases, a nice china set and a beautiful carpet of dim shades. One’s attention is attracted by a silver menorah displayed the cupboard. Tamara is a hospitable and creative person: she offers an assortment of jams that she has made herself. The one of white sweet cherries with lemon peels has a great taste.


Interview details

Interviewee: Tamara Koblik
Interviewer: Natalia Fomina
Time of interview: June 2004
Place: Chisinau, Moldova


My family background

I’ve never seen my paternal grandmother or grandfather. My paternal grandfather Gedaliye Podriadchik lived in Soroki [according to census of 1897 there were 15,351 residents and 8,783 of them were Jews. In 1910 there was a synagogue and 16 prayer houses in Soroki] in Bessarabia [1]. I don’t know what my grandfather did for a living, but he provided well for the family. My father’s mother died in 1915, when he was 11-12 years old. I don’t even know her name. My grandfather remarried. The stepmother did not love her stepchildren. I don’t know how many he had. I’ve only heard that my father had a brother. He lived with his family in Soroki. I remember that my father and his brother had a dispute about an old and a new houses. This must have been about my grandfather’s property or something. We had papers for these houses with us in evacuation during the Great Patriotic War [2], I remember the folder well. After the war mama visited Soroki. The houses were ruined. I have no information about what happened to my father brother’s family. My paternal grandfather Gedaliye died in the early 1930s. Mama told me that my father wanted to name their son, who was born then, after my grandfather.

My papa Elih Podriadchik was born in Soroki in 1903. Papa was gifted and studied well – the family could afford to pay for his education. He wanted to become a pharmacists, but after his mother died – he was 12 – he was sent to study tailor’s business. He stayed with his father for some time, but his stepmother was such a witch that she charged him for doing his laundry. When he grew a little older, he moved to Floreshty. Some time later he managed to get his own tailor’s shop. He met my mother in Floreshty.

My mother’s parents lived in Rezina [a town in Bessarabian province, Orgeyev district, according to the census of 1897 there were 3 652 residents in Rezina, 3 182 of them were Jews]. People called my maternal grandfather ‘David fin Kishinev’ – David from Kishinev in Yiddish. I think my grandfather moved to Rezina after the Jewish pogrom in 1903 [3]. My grandfather married my grandmother way after 40. He had six children from his first marriage: Leib, Berl, Haim, Leika, Riva and Golda. I think my grandfather’s second marriage was prearranged. My grandfather was a decent man. He owned a shoemaker’s shop. He and grandmother Sura had five more children. Grandfather David Trostianetskiy died in 1920. He caught cold during the ceremony of circumcision of his first grandson, Leib’s son Itzyk-Moishe. My grandfather David was buried in Rezina. My mother went there every year, as we say – to ‘keyveres’ [Yiddish for graves], till the end of her life.

I remember my maternal grandmother Sura Trostianetskaya a little. She came from Rezina. I don’t know her maiden name, but I know that her mother’s name was Tema. Grandmother Sura got married, when she was very young. My grandmother’s sister Enia married my grandfather David’s older son Leib. The father and the son married two sisters. However, it tool Leib and Ania some time to obtain a permit to get married. They visited several rabbis until one of them decided that they were not too close relatives and it was all right for them to get married. He only told them that their successors could not have any relationships of this kind since this would be incest. When my grandfather died, his and my grandmother’s children were still small. Keila, the oldest, was just 14 years old, my mother was 12, а and Isaac, the youngest, was 8. They went to lie with their relatives, which was a customary thing with Jewish families. After my grandfather died my grandmother began to bake Friday bread for Jewish families in Rezina and gained great respect of all Jewish housewives in Rezina. I remember visiting my grandmother in Rezina with my mama and my older sister Sheiva. Grandmother Sura was short and pretty – my mother was like her very much. There was a bunch of small children messing around her. I will never forget the way grandmother said: “Come here, I will make some the ‘supa de legume’ for you’. This word had so much magic in it for me until I got to know recently that it means ‘vegetable soup’ in Romanian. But it sounded do beautiful!

My mother’s stepbrother Leib, who was married to my grandmother’s sister Enia and was my mother’s uncle, therefore, had eight children: sons Itzyk-Moishe and Yasha and daughters Beila, Haika, Sosia, Gitl, Pesia and Tamara. Leib was a shoemaker. He owned a shoe shop where he made individual shoes. His older son Itzyk-Moishe worked with him. Leib had his permanent clients: wealthy and respected people in Rezina. Leib’s family lived in a nice two-storied houses. They had a ‘casa mare’ [this is how Moldavians call the largest room in their house]. Leib’s youngest daughter Tamara and her sister Pesia made beautiful dolls. They bought dolls’ heads, made their bodies and fancy gowns for them. They were single before the war. Both sons of my uncle Leib served in the Soviet army during the Great Patriotic War. The daughters and their father were in the ghetto in Rybnitsa. After the war they returned to their house in Rezina.

My mother’s stepbrothers Berl and Haim moved to Palestine before I was born, they must have been the chalutsim . All I remember is that there were some letters from them, also something about the property. Uncle Berl was said to be rich. My mama, papa, Sheiva and I got photographed to send him our photo to Palestine.

Now about Leika. Leika married David Portnoy. They lived in Kipercheny. Her husband was a baker. She had five children: Dora, Pesia, Gitl, Rivka, Tsylia. Aunt Leika and her family evacuated to Central Asia during the war. After the war they returned to Moldavia.

In 1918, when Bessarabia was annexed to Romania, my mother’s stepsister Rivka was visiting in Rybnitsa. When Rezina became Romanian and Rybnitsa became Soviet, she could not return to. Rezina. She stayed in Rybnitsa where she married Fishl Kushnir. He was a shoemaker. Rivka was a shoemaker. They had sons David and Fima and daughter Genia. We didn’t see her before 1941. In 1940, when Bessarabia was annexed to the USSR, we still failed to meet her and then the war began. Riva’s older son David was at the front where he was promoted to the rank of an officer. Riva and her family were in the ghetto in Rybnitsa. All of them survived. Aunt Riva died in Rybnitsa in the 1970s. Her children lived in Chernovtsy.
My mother’s stepsister Golda was mentally ill. She lived with grandmother Sura and I was a little afraid of her.

My mother’s older sister Keila also lived with grandmother. She divorced her first husband for his drinking problems and then she remarried.

My mother’s sister Eidl got married and moved to Beltsy. Her family name was Priest. During the war, during evacuation her two children were burnt in a railcar, when a bomb hit their train. She arrived in Central Asia where she found her older daughter Rita, who survived the air raids and was taken to a children’s home from where children went to beg for food in the streets and at the railway station. Aunt Eidl recognized her there. Rita said that Eidl approached her, lifted her dress –Rita had a birthmark on her leg: ‘You are my daughter’. She took her to the place where she lived. Rita had burn scars for the rest of her life and she was lame – – the war!.. After the war they moved to Rybnitsa. Later Rita got married, moved to Tiraspol and my mother moved there to live with her. Rita finished two forms at school and earned her living by sewing. She was a good housewife. She was a nice and open-hearted person. Her family was poor. Aunt Eidl died in Tiraspol in the 1980s. I went to her funeral. There was me and my mother’s sister Sonia at the funeral. Of course, if aunt Eidl had been rich, it would have been different… I saved money to install a gravestone on her grave.

My mother’s sister Sonia, born in 1910, married Grisha Gandelman from Tiraspol. He was a tinsmith. They lived in Orgeyev. During the Great Patriotic War he was at the labor front in the Ural since Bessarabians were not regimented to the army. [Soviet power did not trust the former Romanian citizens] During the war my aunt was with us in Makhachkala and Bukhara at first, but then she moved to her husband in the Ural where he worked in a mine. Her daughter Mania was born there. After the war they returned to Orgeyev.

My mother’s younger brother Isaac was born in 1912. He was a barber. He had a wife and two children: David and Genia. His wife Lisa was a beautiful plump woman, very cheerful and joyful. Isaac was recruited to the Soviet army in 1941. His wife and two children evacuated with Lisa’s family. Uncle Isaac came as far as Berlin with his troops and was wounded twice. After the war they returned to Orgeyev. Uncle Isaac had black hair, and there was a gray streak where a bullet had passed. He was handsome, always friendly and cheerful and much loved in Orgeyev.

My mama Beila Podriadchik was born in Rezina in 1907. She was the second daughter in the second marriage of my grandfather. Mama was just 12 years old, when my grandfather died, and her ‘feter’ [uncle in Yiddish], he must have been my grandfather’s brother, took her to his home in Floreshty. ‘Feter’ taught her his tailor’s business. He said: ‘she will work for me, and I will save for her dowry’. She was a poor relative, and she had to fetch water to their house for the period from 13 to 20 years of age. She was booming with health, a very pretty girl. Boys were gazing at her and bothering her. Once one of them asked her: ‘Girl, how many buckets of water does one have to fetch to become a dressmaker?’ Mama looked at him and replied: ‘As many as one is destined to fetch’. Another rascal intending to make a joke and said even a worse thing: ‘I’d rather lie with you than with typhus’. Mama felt very hurt, but she held back her tears and replied: ‘No, I’d rather have typhus’. Mama’s first love was in Rezina. His name was Ehil Spivak. He returned her feelings, but Ehil was the only son in a wealthy family. He was spoiled, and besides, his parents did not appreciate his connection to mama.

My mama met my father in Floreshty at the age of 20. He liked her at once, so pretty she was. They began to see each other. From what my mama told me, they walked to dancing in the neighboring village of Markuleshty, 3 km from Floreshty. Mama loved dancing and long walks didn’t bother her at all. When papa proposed to her, she only had 17,000 lei of dowry while the standard amount of the dowry was 20 thousand. Papa said: ‘I will add the remaining amount so that people cannot say anything about you having less than a girl is expected to have’. They got married in 1929. Papa rented his shop facility from Petru Turcan, the owner of an inn in Floreshty. He was Moldavian. Mama and papa lived in a room in this shop. My older sister Sheiva was born in 1930. Mama told me that when she visited Rezina a year later, she bumped into Ehil. There was so much pain in his eyes as he looked at her: ‘I’d rather Keila had this baby’. My mother’s sister Keila didn’t have children as yet. Mama loved him her whole life. She didn’t love papa.

Two or three years later mama had a baby boy, born in winter. There was a lot of snow and snowstorms. Grandmother Sura could not even visit mama. Mama wanted to name the boy David after her father, but papa wanted to name him Gedalie after his father. He said: ‘Your mother didn’t even come to the childbirth – we shall name him after my father’. Mama had a dream that night: a man in a hood, a very tall man, came into the room, approached her and began to throttle her. Mama screamed in Yiddish: ‘Don’t throttle me, I am giving names’. Next day the boy felt ill and died. This is what mama told me.

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Growing up

I was born in 1935. I was named Tamara. Uncle Leib had a daughter. Her name was Tamara and she was a lot older than me. There is nobody left to ask, but I think we were both named after my maternal great grandmother Tema.

We lived in the very center of Floreshty. We had two rooms: papa-s shop was in one room – he had 5 or 6 young employees and his clients visited him in his room. Papa made men’s clothes. His employees were young Jewish men and women. We spoke Yiddish at home and Moldavian – with our neighbors. There were sewing machines and big coal-heated irons. There was also a stove in this room. It was stoked with husk. Remember the box filled with husk. We had a portable steel stove on four legs where mama must have cooked our food. There was a rid on top where mama roasted eggplants and paprika. Mama also baked chicken liver on live coals. The Jewish rules require having blood removed from meat, and mama baked it on oiled paper. We surely followed kashrut. There was a door to a big box room in the corner. Actually, there were two doors, probably for heating saving purposes. There was some space between the doors. I remember that when mama made cookies for Sabbath, I stole some to eat them in this space, so that mama didn’t know. There was another big room, our bedroom. There was my parents’ bed, my bed, but I don’t remember where my older sister slept – probably on a little sofa.

There were two big stores across the street from our house: one was a fabric store owned by Dorfman, a Jew. There was an inn next to it owned by our landlord Turcan. Next to the inn was a photographer’s house on one side, and on another side – Ivanikha’s house. I can’t remember whether this was her surname or whether her husband’s name was Ivan, but I remember well that she had a nice big garden with beautiful flowers. I liked going there. Mama said I was a lovely child, and all neighbors liked me. Mama told me how Petru Turcan’s daughters taught me walking in autumn. One girl held a bunch of grapes teasing me and another supported me on my back. At some instant she let me on my own and I walked. They ran to tell my mama: ‘Your Tamara is walking’ – ‘How come? This can’t be!’ Mama ran outside to take a look and they showed her again. Then my father came home and we walked again. Well, I did eat lots of grapes then.

I was a lively child. Once I feel hitting my chin on a hot iron. I had a big burn. It was cold in winter. Mama wrapped me in warm clothes and allowed me to stand by the front door to breathe in fresh air. Chief of police was passing. Seeing my red chin he came to my mama and asked: ‘What’s the matter with your pretty girl? What’s up with her chin?’ Mama proudly told this story afterward: the very colonel, chief of police, came by asking about her daughter.

On Sabbath papa’s room turned into a fancy room. The sewing machines were covered with white cloth. Mama covered the table with a white fancy tablecloth. On Sabbath and Jewish holidays we celebrated in this room. Papa went to the synagogue on Sabbath. When he returned home, we had dinner sitting at the festively served table. Mama always lit two candles. She also covered her head with a lace shawl and prayed.

I remember Pesach well. Everything was cleaned and polished and checked for chametz. All everyday crockery was taken to the box room and a big box with fancy crockery was taken out of there. I remember little glasses with little handles – keysale. I also remember a ‘kara’ for matzah to be hidden on the first seder. It was like a round pillowcase. I’ve never seen any again. It was made from red satin, trimmed with fringes and decorated with inscription in Yiddish. It also had a lining. Mama had it with us in evacuation. When we returned to Bessarabia, mama gave it to a rabbi from Beltsy. On Pesach mama made a pudding using her own recipe, on chicken fat adding chicken liver. I have dim memories about the first seder: we were dressed up and sat at the table. Papa sits at the short end of the table telling us about the Exodus of Jews from Egypt. The candles are burning, and there is a glass f wine for Elijah the Prophet on the table. The door is kept half-open for him to come in. I cannot remember asking papa fir kashes, perhaps, Sheiva did this, being older than me …

I don’t remember the Sukkot at all. On Simchat Torah we, kids, carried little flags with apples on them. Boys played with nuts with a board, from which the nuts slid hitting other nuts on the ground. The winner was the one who hit the most nuts.

On Chanukkah we played with a dreidel.- a whipping top. Also remember the Chanukkah gelt. I remember that my sister and I got coins and I was very proud of having my own money. Then Sheiva suggested that we changed our coins for a smaller change. Oh, how disappo9inted I was – Sheiva got more coins than I! How I cried, when I came home! How hurt I felt! Now I always give all my grandchildren the same amounts on Chanukkah.

Mama made hamantashen on Purim. We took shelakhmones to our neighbors, and our neighbors brought us theirs. Our relatives from Rezina also sent us shelakhmones. On the last Purim before the Great Patriotic War [1941], we received a parcel from uncle Leib and grandmother Sura with oranges, fluden, hamantashen and handmade lace for my mother, my sister and me. Mama made us dresses and nightgowns. I had lace with one rim, mama – with three and my sister Sheiva – with two rims. Purim was a joyful and noisy holiday. Boys ran around with rattles – gregor. I also remember papa’s apprentices making a performance for us once. Mama didn’t want to let them in, because I was too young, but my sister and I convinced her to let them in. They were a merry bunch wearing masks and fur jackets turned upside down. I burst into tears and couldn’t compose myself till they took odd their masks and I saw familiar faces. Then I joined their dancing and singing.

Another bright childhood memory. Mama’s niece Gitl, the daughter of her stepsister Leika, was getting married in Kipercheny in the middle of a winter. There snowdrifts on the ground, but my parents decided to go to the wedding – they just couldn’t miss it. Sheiva and I went with them. Also mama cousin sister’s family of the Roitmans was with us. They also lived in Floreshty. We got lost on the way. The Moldavian cabmen went ahead trying to find the way. And they probably decided to scare a little these ‘Jidani’ [derogatory term for Jews in Romanian]. They turned their coats upside down and ‘attacked’ from a snowdrift. However, someone in our group guessed the trick and we had lots of fun instead of getting scared. It took us a lot of effort to get to Orgeyev and from there – to Kipercheny. We were 24 hours late and arrived on the second day of the wedding. We were served some wine, snacks and water, when all of a sudden I burst into tears: ‘mama, this is no gas water, this is plain water’. Everybody felt confused.

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During the War

In 1940 the Soviet power was established. At this moment papa was at the training in the Romanian army. Mama dressed me and Sheiva fancily and we went to the railway station to meet papa every day. When he arrived, he told mama that the Romanian military told them: ‘Don’t worry, we will be back a year from now’. Papa had education and was offered a position of director of the Center for domestic services. Papa went to work there. Mama turned his shop into a nice living room: she decorated it with carpets and nice curtains. Our neighbors came in to look at it, and the fabric store owner’s wife used to say: ‘Beila’s home is more beautiful than mine’. In 1941 I turned 6 and boasted that I would go to the pre-school kindergarten. Sheiva studied at school and I was awfully jealous. I couldn’t wait till I went to school.

In summer the war began. Papa, mama, Sheiva and I evacuated. We had our bags of luggage with us and traveled on a freight train. When we were crossing the Dnestr, an air raid began. I remember well how the train operator tried to maneuver: forward-backward, forward-backward … Mama covered Sheiva and me with blankets. It was light, though it was already evening. We arrived at Rybnitsa on the opposite bank. Mama said her sister Riva lived here whom she hadn’t seen since 1918, but the train passed without stopping. We arrived at Krasnodar. From there we were taken to the kolkhoz [4] ‘Verniy put’ [The right way] in Kropotkin district by truck. Mama’s niece Zhenia and her daughter Dora were with us, but I don’t remember, when they joined us. A beautiful young Russian woman, whose husband, a lieutenant, was at the front, took us to her house. She had no children. Mama went to work in the field. On the first day she burnt her hands in the sun and they were covered with blisters. She had a short-sleeved dress on. Papa went to work as a shepherd. I walked about the village looking for mama. Some drivers gave me a lift and then I could go back, if I felt like having a ride or a drive. I was pretty and plump and everybody liked me. I also remember the kittens that our landlady drowned in a bucket of water. I don’t remember whether I cried or not, but I could never forget this. Sheiva studied at school. She had a topographic map where she marked the frontline.

Few months later Germans approached the Krasnodar Kray [Russian administrative division]. Chairman of the kolkhoz told us: ‘You’ve got to leave. Germans are close, and you are Jews’. They gave us wagons and we rode to Krasnodar. From there we took a freight train to Makhachkala. We were to cross the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk. There were crowds of people. We were accommodated in a hostel where we met mama’s sister Sonia Gandelman and her daughter Haya. One night militia came to check our documents. They took papa with them. Later mama got to know that he was charged of deserting: he was supposed to obtain a necessary military permit in Krasnodar.

At that time we moved to another hostel since where we stayed was overcrowded. Sheiva and Haya were taken to another hostel and I stayed to watch out belongings. Mama and aunt Sonia were taking the luggage to the new hostel. I remember the corridor: there was an old woman lying on chairs, some other people and there was me watching our things. A man approached me and said in Yiddish: ‘Your mama sent me to take up your luggage’. I said: ‘Go ahead’. He took two bags, gave one to his companion and they left. When mama returned, I already realized what happened and ran toward her: ‘Mama, did you send somebody to pick up the bags? – I didn’t’. Mama began to scream and cry. There were our warm clothes in these bags. A militiaman came in, mama went to his office with him and made a list of our belongings. Mama and aunt Sonia cried all night through. Next morning she went to the militia office. They ushered her to a big room where there were heaps of clothes: ‘Take yours from out there’. She found our clothes. The militia happened to follow these thieves for a while. However, our documents were gone. I had a new birth certificate issued for me, but they wrote that I was born in 1933 instead of 1935.

Mama said we would not leave Makhachkala till she found out what happened to papa. Aunt Sonia and she rented a room and mama went to work to support us. We stayed there 5-6 months. Mama was trying to find out what happened to papa. Later she was told he was to be under trial as an ‘enemy of the people’ [5]. Papa was to be tried by the military tribunal. Mama managed to get to the court building. When papa came out of the building he managed to tell her in Yiddish: ‘Take care of the children. I am finished’. He gave her his watch and some money he had with him. Papa was sentenced to eight years, but I don’t know whether he had to serve his sentence in jail or in a camp. He was sent to Nizhniy Tagil. This was the last time we saw papa.

Mama and aunt Sonia worked at a factory. It was getting colder. Sheiva got pneumonia. She was 12 years old and she died. Makhachkala was a horrific town. I lost my father and my older sister there. Two years later Sonia’s daughter Haya fell ill and died, too. Later mama found out that the climate in Makhachkala was particularly hazardous for children: there were over a thousand evacuated children were buried in a short time. Some people told my mama: ‘If you have children, you have to leave this town’. Mama, aunt Sonia and I headed to Baku [Azerbaijan] to proceed to Krasnovodsk from there. There were thousands of evacuated people in Baku. There were people everywhere in the vicinity of the port in Baku, it was like on a big beach in Odessa. One night during an air raid there were searchlights turned on to blind the pilots. It became as light as day. We buried ourselves n the sand, so scared we were. I’ve never again saw anything like that in my life. It was autumn, but it was terribly hot. Mama took her wedding watch and some more things and she and aunt Sonia went to the town to exchange them for some food. Mama came to a watch shop where the repair man said to her: ‘Your watch needs to be repaired. Come back tomorrow’. When mama came back, this man pretended he had never seen her. So they took away mama’s watch. However, mama managed to sell a beautiful Moldavian carpet for one hundred rubles and three loaves of bread. It was hard to get water: mama sent me to nearby houses where they poured me a little water and I paid them. We finally took a boat to Krasnovodsk. From there we moved to Bukhara where Sonia husband’s brother Moisha Gandelman, his wife Fania and their son Buma had evacuated.

We went by train, but I don’t remember the trip. In Bukhara we settled down near the Gandelmans. Moisha was a tinsmith, Fania was a housewife. My mama went to work at the knitwear factory. We lived in a small room that we rented from an Uzbek family. There was a bed on bricks, there was a box full of dried apricots and a little table on shaky legs. There was a niche in the wall where we kept our clothes. Mama didn’t send me to school: I was to watch our belongings, but I think mama was reluctant to let me out of the house after the loss of her husband and daughter. I was her only treasure. I occasionally visited the Gandelmans. Fania was giving Buma bread a butter persuading him: ‘Have another bite for papa, one more for mama’. Once somebody called Fania, I grabbed one slice, and ate it later. I was very young, it was hard for me to stay alone and I asked mama to bring me some color pieces of cloth to play with them. She decided to bring me a cuff from a sweater. She had it on her wrist – workers wore long gauze sleeves to protect their arms from the heat. Mama was halted at the check point. They told her to come and see her boss next morning. Mama came home in tears. She and aunt Sonia began to sort out my clothes. Mama was afraid that she might be arrested and wanted to have everything prepared for me to stay with aunt Sonia. She didn’t hope she would keep her freedom. However, next day she returned home. She wasn’t arrested, but she lost her job. She went to work in a tailor’s shop. She was good at making trousers. She used to help papa. I don’t remember any Jewish traditions in Bukhara. Not once did I see matzah there. Cannot say whether mama fasted on Yom Kippur. We starved all the time there.

I was left alone in the room. I entertained myself moving the ‘furniture’: I put the box with dried apricots where the ‘table’ was, and moved the table to the center of the room. Our neighbors were Jewish families from Minsk, there was one Jew from the former territory of Poland [Annexation of Eastern Poland] [6], there were many Jews. Hey came to see me: ‘How have you shuffled the furniture this time?’ Aunt Sonia moved to her husband in the Ural. We didn’t hear from papa. Mama had a yellowed paper where the word Nizhniy Tagil: this was the only document associated with my father. Mama worked in the shop few years. I was 9 years old (12 according to my new birth certificate), and I asked my mother to let me go to school. In September 1944 I went to the first form of a Russian school for girls. I could speak Uzbek by that time, and I didn’t have any problems with picking Russian. I studied well. I remember my first teacher Valentina Sergeyevna: she was plumpish, very kind and nice. Though I was already nine years old, I was very tiny and mama even thought I might be a Lilliputian.

In spring 1944 Soviet troops began to liberate Bessarabia. There were many Jews from Bessarabia in Bukhara. Rezina sent a letter to Bukhara addressed to ‘Jews from Bessarabia’ calling them to come back to Bessarabia. The letter was signed by chief of the passport office Tamara Trostianetskaya, mama brother Leib’s daughter. Mama wrote Tamara. In her reply letter Tamara wrote that Leib and his family, grandmother with Keila’s family and Golda were in the ghetto in Rybnitsa. In late 1941 grandmother and Golda and Keila’s family were moved to Transnistria [7] along with a big group of other Jewish inmates. On their way there, in Gvozdavka [Odessa region], they were shot – about 500 people perished there. Uncle Leib and his children stayed in Rybnitsa and survived. Tamara wrote she would send us a permit to go back to Kishinev as soon as it was liberated. When mama heard that Kishinev was liberated, she said: ‘They’ve sent us the permit’. This was true – we received it two weeks later. During this time Jews from Bessarabia – most of them were doctors, arranged for two railcars to take us back home. Mama managed to make arrangements for us to go with the rest of them, though she had to pay that person, who could organize for us to take this train. These were freight railcars that on our way were attached to various locomotives moving to the west.

On the way somebody mentioned that it was a good idea to buy salt in Central Asia to sell it to the benefit in Kharkov. Mama bought a bucket of salt. When we were approaching Ukraine, mama and our co-passenger got off the train to get food cards by which we could get bread and some food at railway stations. They missed the train. Can you imagine the horror my mother felt considering that I was the only one she had in the whole world? Two days later we arrived in Kharkov. People were selling salt and somebody turned to me: ‘Tamara, you’ve got salt?’ They helped me to sell my salt. Our train stopped at the freight station and mama and her companion found me there. She walked over a pedestrian bridge over the railroad track – there were thousands railcars around, and mama was trying to find me. Somehow she said to her companion: ‘I’ll find my Tamara here”. And she saw me, when I was stepping out the railcar. She ran towards me. Somebody said: ‘Tamara, look who is here.’ This was my mama!

We finally arrived in Kishinev. There was a sanitary check point in the vicinity of the railway station. We gave our clothes for disinfection and received a bar of coal-tar soap. We washed away all lice: we had been in freight railcars for over two weeks, and mama and I had thick long hair. Kishinev was ruined: no trams, no cars, we could only ride on ‘caruta’ [Romanian for horse cart]. Mama went to the market trying to find a wagon to Rezina. One man, chief of a poultry farm in Rybnitsa, agreed to give us a ride to Rezina. We rode via Orgeyev and stayed overnight in Kipercheny. In Rezina uncle Leib and his daughters Tamara, Pesia, Gitl, Haika and Sosia met us. Sosia was with her husband, the rest of them were single. They lived in their prewar house. They gave us a warm welcome and invited us to stay with them. Mama said: ‘I’ll go to Rybnitsa to see Riva and then I’ll decide where we will stay’. Aunt Riva and her husband also gave us a warm welcome and convinced mama to stay with them. Mama also went to Floreshty to take a look at our house. She needed a sewing machine. There was nobody left there – our former landlords Turcans had moved to Romania. This was the last time I visited Floreshty. Mama went to work at the tailor’s shop. At that time mama met a man, (or did it happen in Bukhara?) he was in jail with papa in Nizhniy Tagil. He said they released papa after they finished their investigation of his case, but papa fell ill with dysentery and died in 1942. In 1945 mama was 40 and she was very attractive. Our relatives began to look for a match for her.

They arranged for mama to meet Shabs Uchitel from Rybnitsa. At the beginning of the war Shabs, his wife and their sons Senia and Boria were taken to the ghetto. Later they were taken to the terrible camp in Varvarovka [Nikolayev region, in Transnistria]. They escaped one night from there. Guards with dogs were chasing after them. They managed to get to Moldavia where a Moldavian family gave them shelter some place in the vicinity of Rybnitsa. Then they returned to the ghetto on their own. Every morning inmates of the ghetto lined up to go to work: those who had a craft, stood on one side and those who didn’t – on another. Shabs was a hat maker, but when he stood in the group of hat makers, they told him: ‘You go away, you are no hat maker’, there were such rascals there. When the Soviet troops liberated Rybnitsa, Boria and Senia were taken to the army. Boria was wounded and taken to the hospital. When Shabs’ wife heard that her son was wounded, her heart failed her – she suffered from heart problems – and she died.

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After the War

Mama and Shabs got married in 1945. Few years later Shabs adopted me, and I adopted his surname – Uchitel. He was good to me, but if this happened now, I would rather keep my father’s surname. We rented an apartment. We were poor, but mama tried to observe Jewish traditions. Mama’s relatives joined us on Pesach. I remember the first Pesach celebrations in Rybnitsa were interesting. Mama had special crockery for Pesach. She had her own recipe to make keyzele. She made matzah observing the proportion between flour and water. Two-three women got together to make matzah at home. Later the synagogue began to make matzah and mama made an order for matzah in January. There is a mourning day before Rosh Hashanah. Mama went to the grave of her father David Trostianetskiy in Rezina on this day. Mama fasted on Yom Kippur.

I went to the second form at school, but I didn’t know or understand anything. A week later I was assigned to the first form where there were other overgrown children studying, according to my birth certificate, I was born in 1933. I remember that my classmates were big boys and girls. I was the youngest and the tiniest one. I was told to sit at the first desk. We were studying multiplication by ‘three’ and the teacher asked: ‘How much is 3 multiplied by 5?’ I raised my hand and said: ‘3 x 5 is 15, and 15 divided by 5 is 3’. ‘Look, a little body often harbors a great soul!’ – somebody exclaimed from the rear. So I excelled at the very beginning. Later bigger children went to study in an evening school [secondary schools for working young people in the USSR]. I caught up other children in my class soon. I studied well. I was particularly good at mathematic. I also attended an embroidery and a dancing groups in the house of pioneers [pioneer club]. I liked dancing. I took an active part in school activities. I was a member of the students’ committee at school. I remember that we listened to the pupils who had bad marks. My schoolmate Vilka Kogan (a Jewish boy), whose father was director of a plant, had all bad marks. I remember having a strong position against him: ‘Let’s vote to expel him from school! Why making so much fuss about him?’ Then I joined Komsomol [8]. At first our school committee admitted me and then, when it was time to go to district committee, I got scared all of a sudden: ‘I don’t know much. I lack education’. And I ran away from there. Later they admitted me anyway. I finished the 7th form, when Senia Uchitel, my stepfather’s younger son, returned to Rybnitsa. He was to get married in autumn. I didn’t have a dress to wear at his wedding and I decided: ‘I shall enter a medical school, receive my first stipend and have a new dress made for me’. [students of higher educational institutions and vocational schools received monthly stipends in the USSR]. Of course, this was a very ‘reasonable’ idea!

When I picked my documents from the school, our teacher of mathematics came to see my mama: ‘Tamara is very good at mathematics, the best of all in her class, don’t do this’, but I was so eager to go to the medical school that mama decided to leave things as they were. I entered the medical school, but later I cried for three years, because my classmates went to the eighth form. I said they would finish school and enter colleges, and I will be a medical nurse for the rest of my life and would be taking out the night pots. However, I liked studying there and was good at practical trainings, but still, I felt hurt – why did I have to be a medical nurse? I cried a lot. Mama and my stepfather could not afford to support me. My stepfather retired, mama received 250-300 rubles in old currency [Tamara means the monetary reform in 1961, denomination of the ruble in the USSR]. Mama began to feed pigs to sell pork to save money for a new house. She managed to buy a small house.

At school I made friends with Yeva Tsatsa. Yeva and her family were in the ghetto in Rybnitsa during the war. Her father was an invalid, and her mother was making some wadded robes. While I had some kind of a coat before the war, but Yeva wore a ‘fufaika’ jacket [a dark cotton wool wadded jacket]. They were very poor. However, during our third year at school Yeva and I managed to get some new clothes for the stipend that we received. Yeva’s surname now is Swartzman, she lives in Israel. We are still friends with her.

Was hysterical, when Stalin died in 1953. Of course, I thought of Stalin like the majority of our people at that time. Our father! Soldiers went into attacks with his name, and we won! In our family we didn’t know anything about what was happening in 1937 [Great Terror] [9]. My relatives were craftspeople, far from politics. I believed that what had happened to my father was a tragic mistake. On that day I was walking to school tear-stained, when I bumped into Yeva’s mother. She got so concerned about me. She came to our school and called Yeva: ‘What happened to Tamara?’ Yeva said: ‘Stalin died’. But I need to confess – there was something else that upset me so. According to the Jewish calendar, I was born on the eve of Purim. One time the Purim occurred on 6 March and since then the family had celebrated my birthday on 6 March. Stalin died on 5 March, and this day was announced as the day of the mourning in the country. And I started crying on the early morning of 6 March: ‘I am so miserable, I will never again have a birthday, and the mourning will never end in my life, terrible, it’s a nightmare!’ Mama showed me my birth-certificate which stated that I was born on 10 February. Since 1953 I’ve celebrated my birthday on 10 February.

I finished my school with honors. Yeva and I received job assignments [10] in Teleneshty. We went to Teleneshty. All of a sudden I receive a cable from home: ‘come home immediately – you have to go to Kishinev’. One of my co-graduates, Galina, a Moldavian girl, she also finished the school with honors, found out that graduates with all excellent marks were admitted to the Medical College without exams. Galina went to the ministry [Ministry of secondary and higher education of Moldavia] and obtained a request for two people. She and I collected all necessary documents in one day. Next morning we hailed a truck hauling some food products to Kishinev. We submitted our documents and were admitted to the Pediatric Faculty of Medical College. When we returned to Rybnitsa there was a buzz around the town: ‘Tamara’s mama paid 25 thousand for Tamara’s admission!’ This was 1954. This was the first postwar graduation in Rybnitsa. Only three other graduates, besides me, entered colleges. They had finished our school with medals [The highest honors of school-leavers in USSR].

All I had to make my living was my stipend. Occasionally mama sent me jam that was actually my basic food. One of my senior co-students used to say: ‘Tamara, you won’t last long on jam’. I had to spend many hours studying in college. It was easier a little with special subjects that I studied at the school, like anatomy, but I had to spend more time studying general subjects, like physics and chemistry. I had particularly big problems with physical culture. My teacher was a ‘fascist’. He forced me to pass some sports standards to him after I had passed all of my exams and credits in the main subjects. Probably I already had poor lungs then since I just failed to follow the standard requirements in physical culture. I never missed one physical culture class through four years in college. This Fyodor Fyodorovich gave me my credit. Anyway, this was wonderful time and I enjoyed studying in my college. I lived in the hostel and was an active Komsomol member.

During the period of the ‘doctors’ plot’ [11] I was just a girl and didn’t understand much, but when it came to the 20th Congress [12] in 1956, and they published Khrushchev’s [13] speech denouncing all Stalin’s deeds, I was shocked. However, I was still actively involved in the Komsomol activities. I went to work at the virgin lands twice: in 1955, after my second year in college, and in 1956 – after the third year. [In 1954-1960 Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands program began – the intensive irrigation of the Kazakh steppe, Siberia, the Ural and the Volga region to develop agriculture. 41.8 million hectares of land were newly ploughed. Komsomol members took an active part in this work.] When there was the popular in those times song ‘Zdravstvuy zemlia tselinaya’ [Hello Virgin Land] on radio – my mama used to cry, when she heard the words of this song, her heart was tearing apart. We went to the Pavlodar and Petropavlovsk regions in Kazakhstan. We worked hard there. We worked at the grain elevator constructing the grain dryer. I was a group supervisor in our crew. Young workers often cursed there. We, girls, tried to teach them better: ‘If you curse, we won’t work with you’. They promised to improve, but then failed again, cursing, when running out of the mortar, or bricks… They came to apologize: «’But, girls, we are not to blame, our tongues just slip, we don’t even follow..’ But we actually heard the real curse language, when Vasia, a 60-year old man, old and thin, came. He spoke such dirty language that we could not bear to hear it. We fought one day, then another, and he didn’t come to work on the third day. He said to his crew leader: ‘I cannot work with those girls. They will put send me to prison’.

In the evening we arranged dancing parties with local girls and boys. We particularly liked Sasha Dubrovskiy, a local boy. After finishing the 10th form he went to work at the truck shop. His father helped him to get this job. This shop sold soap, toothpaste, tinned food, stationary, envelopes, all kinds of small items. Sasha also brought us our mail from the post office. In the evening he came there with his friend, who played the accordion, and we danced. There was a popular song ‘Moscow evenings’ and we sang ‘Kishinev evenings’, and the locals sang ‘Kazakh evenings’. We occasionally received parcels with fruit from Moldavia. Sasha was born and grew up in Kazakhstan and had never tried pears. The girls decided: if one of us received pears, we would give them to Sasha. Somebody received two pears and we gave them to Sasha to try.
Once one of our girls felt severely ill, and I accompanied her to Pavlodar. I took her to her train and went to the market where they sold grapes – 25 rubles per kilo. I asked 200 grams, gave the vendor 5 rubles and she gave me 20 kopeck change. I wore a cotton wool jacket and tarpaulin boots like all virgin land workers. I took this bunch of grapes and threw away few rotten grapes. The vendor looked at me and said: Girl, where do you come from that you eat grapes like this?’ I replied: ‘Two weeks from now I will buy two kilos for 5 rubles, 2.40 rubles per kilo, and will get 20 kopeck change. – Ah, I see’. After my first time in the virgin lands I was awarded a badge, an official one, with a certificate and I have a medal for the second year – ‘For opening up the virgin lands’. I bought a coat for the money I earned during the second trip there.

When I was the 5th-year student mama sent me a parcel and 100 rubles from Rybnitsa. Monia Koblik from Rybnitsa, who came to Kishinev to buy some medications for his mother, delivered the parcel to me. I knew, who he was: in Rybnitsa people knew each other. Monia graduated from technical College in Odessa, specialization in refrigerators. All of a sudden he suggested: ‘Let’s meet in the evening!’ We did. He bought tickets to the Russian theater . In the morning he had to go back to Rybnitsa. It was his vacation. He said before saying ‘good bye’ to me: ‘I will come back in two weeks. Let’s do the same program’. We began to see each other. My mother said to me right away: ‘Don’t be a fool. He is a good guy and comes from a nice Jewish family’. My mother was concerned that I would jump into a marriage and give up my studies from the very beginning, and she was also afraid that I might marry a Russian guy. Later, when I was in the third, fourth and fifth year in college, she began to worry that I might remain single: all girls were getting married, but not me. She even cried at night. She worked near the church in Rybnitsa and told me afterward: ‘Every time there was a church wedding I cried, because my daughter was not getting married’. I was just looking around: this guy was not good for me, and that one didn’t suit me.

My husband Monia Koblik was born in Rashkov in 1928. Before the war the family moved to Rybnitsa. His father David Koblik was director of a store. His mother Etia Koblik was a housewife. His mother was a nice lady. He has an older brother – his name is Mikhail, and a younger sister – her name is Fania. During the great Patriotic War they evacuated to Kazakhstan. His father died there in 1942. After the war they lived in Rybnitsa. Mikhail worked as an accountant. His wife Mania was a teacher. He has two children: Galina and David. Fania was a chemical engineer. Her husband Valeriy Lastov was chairman of the Jewish community in Rybnitsa. They have two daughters: Irina and Mila. They live in Beer Sheva in Israel. The house where Valeriy and Fania lived in Rybnitsa is a community house named ‘Rachel’ after Valeriy’s mother.

We got married in Kishinev on 25 April 1959, when I was finishing the 5th year in college. On this day four of my co-students had their marriage registered. My group came to the registry office. This was at the time of a lecture in psychiatry that we all missed. After the civil ceremony we made a party for our friends in Kishinev, but we had a big wedding in Rybnitsa on 2 May. My relatives, and of course, my mother’s older brother Leib from Rezina came to the wedding. Mama wanted me to have a chuppah, but I was a Komsomol member, an activist, and a member of the Komsomol committee of my course in college. I said: ‘No chuppah!’ Mama took quite an effort to convince me: ‘Uncle Leib says he has never seen a Jewish wedding without a chuppah’. I was inexorable: «’Then let him leave!’ Mama didn’t tell him what I said, of course, but what was I to do? All in all, there was no chuppah, but as for the rest of it, it was a beautiful Jewish wedding. There were more than 100 guests, and a good orchestra. The guests danced and had fun: we arranged the wedding party in the firefighters’ office in Rybnitsa.

After the wedding we lived in Kishinev. We rented an apartment and paid for the whole year from the amount that we were given at the wedding. I got pregnant at once. I was 25 and being a doctor I knew this was about the time I had a baby. For me having children was more important than getting married: we often talked with my co-students that we would have children even if we never married. In winter I was already in the 6th month of pregnancy, I was having practical classes in the hospital in Rybnitsa. This was a big hospital. Once our chief doctor Zonis, a Jew, invited me to his office: ’Tamara Alexandrovna, Polischuk failed to come to his night shift, so you will take it. Go take some rest at home, take our ambulance car, and it will pick you up to take here later’. I stayed overnight. I was afraid of night shifts – you never know what patients to expect. At night a young guy from a hostel was delivered from a hostel: he had high fever, a terribly red foot. I immediately diagnosed erysipelatous inflammation, had him taken to a box in the hospital. In the morning Zonis came to work: he was an infectiologist. This was a rare diagnosis and as hard to identify. He examined the patient and said at the morning meeting: ‘A young doctor was on duty, she managed the situation well, diagnosed the disease, isolated the patient and prescribed the treatment correctly’. So he praised me. I worked in the hospital until the last day. I remember an old woman, a patient in the hospital, approached me. She didn’t know I was having a practical training since we worked like real doctors: ‘Doctor, dear, you are at work, when your belly has lowered’. On 16 March in Rybnitsa my older daughter Ella was born.

After the training I returned to Kishinev with my baby. At first Monia’s sister Fania stayed with me to help around, then my mother stayed with me. I passed my state exams and obtained a diploma of a children’s doctor. My husband worked in Odessa construction department. They were building the first 100T refrigerator in Kishinev. When the construction was over, he was offered to stay to supervise operation of this refrigerator since Moldavia didn’t have any operations experts available. They promised him an apartment in Kishinev. The Minister of Meat and Dairy Industry of Moldavia wrote a letter to the Minister of Health. He wrote that since Monia Koblik was a highly qualified expert and Moldavia didn’t have any refrigerator operations experts available, requesting to help his wife to find an employment. However, only a year later I was offered a position of a doctor in a kindergarten.

My husband did not receive an apartment right away either. We rented a room for 20 rubles per month, when his salary was – 90 rubles and we didn’t have any other income. Life was hard, but we managed. When I went to work, I left Ella in a nursery school near where we lived. We actually lived in the ‘Red corner room’ of the meat factory, the room was 28 square meters in area. There was a stove to heat it, but the temperature never went above 14 degrees. Ella was often ill. In 1964, when I was pregnant again, we received a one-room apartment with all comforts. In 1962 my stepfather died in Rybnitsa. He was buried according to the Jewish ritual, in a takhrikhim, and mama invited a rabbi. I always recall Shabs with gratitude, he raised me, and gave me a chance to get education, he was a good father. Mama sold her house in Rybnitsa and moved in with us in 1964. In summer my second daughter Sopha was born. Two years later we received a big three-bedroom apartment in Zelinskogo Street. Ella went to a kindergarten, and Sopha was in a nursery school. After my maternity leave I didn’t go back to my previous job. I wanted to work in a hospital. I went to work as a district doctor in Skulianka in the suburb of Kishinev. In any weather – in the heat or cold, rain and thaw I had to make the rounds of my patients: I had up to 30 calls per day. To take a short cut, my accompanying nurse and I often went across the reed bushes on the edge of the suburb. There I had my first pulmonary hemorrhage in 1967. I managed to get closer to the road where some people found me. Later these hemorrhages repeated. I went to the Institute of pulmonology in Moscow to consult them. They didn’t make the final diagnosis, but they ordered me to avoid exceeding cold or stress and take a mandatory rest in the south of the Crimea, when it’s not too hot there [the Crimean climate is favorable for people with lung problems]. I was 32 years old, I had two small children, and my goal in life was to live as long as 50. I begged the Lord to let me lie till I turned 50 for my children to have no stepmother. We spent all our savings for the Crimea. I went to recreation homes each year, or my husband, my daughters and I went there and rented a room. I had to take up a less tiring job: and I went to lecture at Kishinev Medical School.

When Ella went to school, Sopha still went to the kindergarten, and then Sopha went to school. They both went to a nearby school. They studied well: they were neat and disciplined girls. I attended parents’ meetings at school and spent time with the girls. They were sociable and had many friends of various nationalities. Like me, they never segregated people by their nationality. I enjoyed arranging my daughters’ birthday parties. They invited their classmates and neighbors. Mama and I made cookies and cakes, bought sweets and fruit. There was particularly plenty of fruit on Sopha’s birthday: she was born in summer, on 2 July. I made fruit cocktails for the children: these were the first cocktails in Kishinev, they were new to the people then. I asked Monia to buy me a mixer as an 8-March [Women’s Day] present. I bought tall glasses for cocktails – Czech glasses with musketeers on them. Cocktails were the high spot of the parties: somebody wanted a pink one, another wanted an orange cocktail, with cherry jam or apricot jam. I enjoyed those celebrations no less than my daughters and their friends.

I also liked, when my friends visited me. We celebrated birthdays and Soviet holidays: 1 May, October holidays [October Revolution Day] [14] and New Year, of course. According to our family tradition, we also celebrated Jewish holidays. My mama, who lived in Kishinev then, went to the synagogue, and had a seat of her won there. Each Jews is accustomed to have his own seat. On Rosh Hashanah they bring money in ‘schisl’ [basin, Yiddish], and mama always made a contribution. On Yom Kippur she stayed at the synagogue a whole day fasting. My girls and I came to take her home from there. My girls recalled after she died: ‘mama, do you remember how we accompanied grandma?’ I remember the synagogue was always overcrowded, when we came for my mother, but after 1989 there were few Jews attending it – many Jews had moved to Israel. One couldn’t fail to notice this. On Pesach mama bought a chicken at the market and took her to a shochet. She made a special liqueur and took out her Pesach crockery. She had a beautiful dish to serve pudding in it. On Chanukkah we gave Chanukkah gelt to our girls. I told them this childhood story of mine, when my sister and I got different coins. I always gave my daughters the same amount of money. On Purim mama and I made hamantashen. So my daughters knew all Jewish traditions.

In the 1970s, when Jews started moving to Israel, many of our relatives went there. My mother sister Sonia’s niece Mania Duvidzon was one of the first ones to move there, her husband and aunt Sonia went with them. Leib’s children moved to Israel: Itzyk-Moishe, Beila, Haika, Sosia, Gitl, Pesia and Tamara. Yasha, the youngest, moved to America. He lived in New York. Uncle Leib died in Rezina back in 1961. Aunt Riva died in the 1970s, and her sons Fima and David moved to Israel. Her daughter Genia moved there in 1991. My mother’s sister Leika, brother Isaac and many nephews and nieces were in Israel. Mama was eager to move there, but my husband and I decided against it since my daughters didn’t want to go there. So, it never came to it with us.

Ella studied well, but she had stomach troubles, and after she finished the 8th form I decided it was not necessary for her to have a higher education. She was beautiful and charming and I thought it was not to be long before she got married. Ella entered the Accounting Faculty of the Industrial and Economic Technical School. After finishing it she went to work at the design institute of meat and dairy industry. She was a smart and industrious employee. She held the position of senior engineer, but she needed a higher education to keep it. So we decided: ‘Ella, since you are not getting married, go to study’. She entered the Faculty of heating engineering of Dnepropetrovsk College of railroad transport. She studied by correspondence. 6 years later she defended her diploma brilliantly. She continued her work in the institute of meat and dairy industry. She was beautiful, she was smart, well educated, decent and neat. She had the reputation of the most educated girl at the institute, but she wasn’t married.

Sopha finished the 10th form with honors in 1981. Her father decided she had to enter the Mechanical Faculty of the Agricultural College that was believed to be the most difficult in Kishinev. I accompanied her to the exam in physics. There were eight groups, 240 exam takers. She was the only girl in a crowd of strong guys. Most of them had served their term in the army. Sopha went to the exam in the group of the first 6 applicants. She came out an hour later: ‘Four’. [here was a 5-point marking system in the USSR]. – Why ‘four’? – Mama, there were five ‘2’s before me’. She had ‘5’s in the rest of her exams. Sopha enjoyed her studies and had no problems with them whatsoever. Her co-students often got together visiting her. From the very beginning I noticed Victor Klochko, a handsome Russian guy in their company, – he particularly cared about Sopha. They got married before they were to get their diplomas and moved to Sokoleny where they had their job assignments. In 1987 Sopha’s daughter Yulia was born and they returned to Kishinev.

In 1988 I retired after turning 55 according to my documents [women retired at 55 in the USSR]. I continued to lecture part-time in the school and also worked as a tourist guide. In summer and winter vacations I guided tourists to different towns in the USSR. So I visited Kiev, Leningrad, Crimea and the Carpathians. I enjoyed being a pensioner, when in 1989 doctors diagnosed a terrible disease of my older daughter, she was 29. Three days later she had a surgery, and had two thirds of her stomach removed. The Professor told me everything was to be well, that there were no cancer cells left, but 29 years is the age, when things grow fast and I, being a doctor, realized how shaky the situation was.

Perestroika [15] began, the situation in the country was very unstable. I decided I had to take Ella to Israel to rescue her, but in early 1990 my mama fell severely ill. She died in July at the age of 83. Mama was buried in the Doina [cemetery in Kishinev], in the Jewish section of it. We observed the Jewish ritual. I invited a man from the synagogue, my relatives arrived from Rybnitsa, whoever stayed in Moldavia. The man from the synagogue had a beautiful service for mama. Mama was covered with a ritual cover that he took with him after the service. Then we sat Shivah for 7 days. Everything was arranged in the Jewish manner.

That year, when mama died, on Rosh Hashanah I said: I will do Rosh Hashanah and Pesach like mama did’. On Pesach I bought a chicken for 45 rubles at the market – this was a lot of money then! – and went to the shochet at the synagogue. There was a line for matzah at the synagogue. I was pressed for time, I had to go to my class at school. I asked him: ‘Please slaughter my chicken, I’ve got to go, you know, I have no time’. There was a long line, and he was the only one to serve them. I shouted: ‘You know, I cannot wait here, there are thirty people waiting for me at the lecture, I am going home!’ I couldn’t possibly be late and tell my students that I had been at the synagogue to have my chicken slaughtered. The shochet apologized to the others, went to his room where he slaughtered my chicken. So, I made everything like mama for Pesach: keyzele, mendele, everything according to the rules. Since then I’ve always done what is required. My grandson Maxim also loves this holiday. When he visited me on the new year when he was small, he asked: «Grandma, will there be candles lit tonight?’ explained to him that this was not a specifically Jewish holiday, but a general one, for all people.

In 1991 my husband, Ella and I moved to Israel. We stayed in Rehovot and went to study Ivrit in an ulpan. Then I had to take an exam to obtain a license to work as a doctor since I was 58 [in Israel women retire at 60]. Our professors of Israel were my examiners. I had to take the exam in Hebrew. I answered their questions and passed the exam successfully and obtained the ‘rishayon’ – a permit (in Ivrit). At this very time my husband and I were offered a job of taking care of two old people having marasmus. We were to stay in Tel Aviv. Their sons, very wealthy people, invited us for an interview and I agreed to work one month for them. Later they sent their old folks to an elderly people’s home, but one month later one of the sons called me: ‘Please come back. Papa doesn’t want to be there. Papa is crying all the time’. My husband and I discussed this and returned to this job. We worked for them for two years.

We paid the rent for the apartment in Rehovot where Ella stayed. She felt worse or better, quit her job and found another, but se never had a job by her specialty. In January 1995 Ella had metastases growing. My husband and I returned to Rehovot. Ella had four surgeries. During this period I visited Kishinev where Sopha was to have another baby. In spring 1995 Sopha’s son Maxim was born. One week before my departure I broke the neck of femor – I was taken to Israel on stretches and had a surgery there. After recovery I looked after Ella and never left her again. Shortly before Ella died Sopha, Yulia and 8-months-old Maxim visited us in Israel. In January 1996 my Ella died. Of course, we buried her according to Jewish traditions. My daughter, and her two children and her husband were there. We sat Shivah. A year after Ella died we returned to our younger daughter in Kishinev. Every year I went to Ella’s grave in Israel. The person lives as long as he/she is remembered. When I went to Israel I called my relatives and 15-20 of them got together: relatives, friends and neighbors. We laid the table and recalled Ella. In 2002 I visited Israel for the last time. I was to go there in 2003, but I had an acute attack of cholelithiasis and I had a surgery. In 2004 had a surgery on my lungs at the oncological institute. I must go to my daughter. I haven’t been there for three years. I promised her to come there each year.

At first my daughter Sopha’s family was having a hard time after perestroika in the 1990s. Sopha grabbed any job she could: she knitted, looked after some children of the same age as Yulia and Maxim, picking them from school and helping them to do their homework until Sopha’s husband opened a small BMW repair shop. This is their family business. Sopha works there as an accountant and Victor sister’s husband helps with repairs. My granddaughter Yulia has finished school this year and will continue her studies. Maxim will go to the fourth form. My husband and I are very attached to them and they return our feelings. My grandchildren visit me on Jewish holidays and I try to teach them what I know about Jewish traditions and the history of our family.

The Jewish life in Kishinev is very interesting now, as long as one gets involved in it. I attend many activities. Yesterday in the Jewish library we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the pensioners’ club. We have gatherings each month in this club. We listen to lectures on the Jewish history and culture and concerts of amateur artists. On Jewish holidays we listen to the history of each holiday and a traditional meal is served: whether it is Pesach or Purim. Our women’s club Hava also works in the library. This is a nice club – there are intellectuals there, of the same age, four-five doctors, and the rest of its members also have a higher education. We bring our treatments there: ice-cream and fruit. We agree in advance whatever each of us is bringing. Recently we had an interesting competition: ‘my mama’s dishes’. I made keyzele, a matzah pudding adding a little chicken fat and liver, like mama made it. I became a winner. We also have a Jewish Educational University [Community lecture course], working every second Sunday. 50-60 people attend it. We listen to great lectures on various subjects: music, literature, Jewish history and holidays. I am a permanent member of the Yiddish club. Ehil Schreibman, our classical writer of Kishinev, conducts it. He conducts classes in Yiddish. I know and love Yiddish, but there is nobody to talk to. The last time I spoke Yiddish was with my mama.

Hesed [16] Yehudah helps s a lot. We receive monthly food packages with chicken, cereals, sugar, tea, etc. Hey pay for our medications and occasionally give us clothes: I’ve got slippers and two sport suits from them. When I was in the hospital, the long-sleeved warm jacket from the suit happened to be very handy – it can be unzipped easily, which was particularly convenient when it was time to replace bandages. My former colleagues remember me. Recently director of the medical school where I taught brought me a huge bouquet of flowers and a gift on my jubilee.


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Glossary

[1] Bessarabia: Historical area between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, in the southern part of Odessa region. Bessarabia was part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917. In 1918 it declared itself an independent republic, and later it united with Romania. The Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union but the Soviet Union never accepted this. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR. The two provinces had almost 4 million inhabitants, mostly Romanians. Although Romania reoccupied part of the territory during World War II the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed their belonging to the Soviet Union. Today it is part of Moldavia.

[2] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o’clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th May 1945.

[3] Kishinev pogrom of 1903: On 6-7 April, during the Christian Orthodox Easter, there was severe pogrom in Kishinev (today Chisinau, Moldova) and its suburbs, in which about 50 Jews were killed and hundreds injured. Jewish shops were destroyed and many people left homeless. The pogrom became a watershed in the history of the Jews of the Pale of Settlement and the Zionist movement, not only because of its scale, but also due to the reaction of the authorities, who either could not or did not want to stop the pogromists. The pogrom reverbarated in the Jewish world and spurred many future Zionists to join the movement.

[4] Kolkhoz: In the Soviet Union the policy of gradual and voluntary collectivization of agriculture was adopted in 1927 to encourage food production while freeing labor and capital for industrial development. In 1929, with only 4% of farms in kolkhozes, Stalin ordered the confiscation of peasants‘ land, tools, and animals; the kolkhoz replaced the family farm.

[5] Enemy of the people: Soviet official term; euphemism used for real or assumed political opposition.

[6] Annexation of Eastern Poland: According to a secret clause in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact defining Soviet and German territorial spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Poland in September 1939. In early November the newly annexed lands were divided up between the Ukranian and the Belarusian Soviet Republics.

[7] Transnistria: Area situated between the Bug and Dniester rivers and the Black Sea. The term is derived from the Romanian name for the Dniester (Nistru) and was coined after the occupation of the area by German and Romanian troops in World War II. After its occupation Transnistria became a place for deported Romanian Jews. Systematic deportations began in September 1941. In the course of the next two months, all surviving Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina and a small part of the Jewish population of Old Romania were dispatched across the Dniester. This first wave of deportations reached almost 120,000 by mid-November 1941 when it was halted by Ion Antonescu, the Romanian dictator, upon intervention of the Council of Romanian Jewish Communities. Deportations resumed at the beginning of the summer of 1942, affecting close to 5,000 Jews. A third series of deportations from Old Romania took place in July 1942, affecting Jews who had evaded forced labor decrees, as well as their families, communist sympathizers and Bessarabian Jews who had been in Old Romania and Transylvania during the Soviet occupation. The most feared Transnistrian camps were Vapniarka, Ribnita, Berezovka, Tulcin and Iampol. Most of the Jews deported to camps in Transnistria died between 1941-1943 because of horrible living conditions, diseases and lack of food.

[8] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.

[9] Great Terror (1934-1938): During the Great Terror, or Great Purges, which included the notorious show trials of Stalin’s former Bolshevik opponents in 1936-1938 and reached its peak in 1937 and 1938, millions of innocent Soviet citizens were sent off to labor camps or killed in prison. The major targets of the Great Terror were communists. Over half of the people who were arrested were members of the party at the time of their arrest. The armed forces, the Communist Party, and the government in general were purged of all allegedly dissident persons; the victims were generally sentenced to death or to long terms of hard labor. Much of the purge was carried out in secret, and only a few cases were tried in public ‘show trials’. By the time the terror subsided in 1939, Stalin had managed to bring both the Party and the public to a state of complete submission to his rule. Soviet society was so atomized and the people so fearful of reprisals that mass arrests were no longer necessary. Stalin ruled as absolute dictator of the Soviet Union until his death in March 1953.

[10] Mandatory job assignment in the USSR: Graduates of higher educational institutions had to complete a mandatory 2-year job assignment issued by the institution from which they graduated. After finishing this assignment young people were allowed to get employment at their discretion in any town or organization.

[11] Doctors’ Plot: The Doctors’ Plot was an alleged conspiracy of a group of Moscow doctors to murder leading government and party officials. In January 1953, the Soviet press reported that nine doctors, six of whom were Jewish, had been arrested and confessed their guilt. As Stalin died in March 1953, the trial never took place. The official paper of the Party, the Pravda, later announced that the charges against the doctors were false and their confessions obtained by torture. This case was one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents during Stalin’s reign. In his secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 Khrushchev stated that Stalin wanted to use the Plot to purge the top Soviet leadership.

[12] Twentieth Party Congress: At the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of secrecy from what had happened in the USSR during Stalin’s leadership.

[13] Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971): Soviet communist leader. After Stalin’s death in 1953, he became first secretary of the Central Committee, in effect the head of the Communist Party of the USSR. In 1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev took an unprecedented step and denounced Stalin and his methods. He was deposed as premier and party head in October 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the Party’s Central Committee.

[14] October Revolution Day: October 25 (according to the old calendar), 1917 went down in history as victory day for the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia. This day is the most significant date in the history of the USSR. Today the anniversary is celebrated as ‘Day of Accord and Reconciliation’ on November 7.

[15] Perestroika (Russian for restructuring): Soviet economic and social policy of the late 1980s, associated with the name of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev. The term designated the attempts to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized, market-oriented economy. Industrial managers and local government and party officials were granted greater autonomy, and open elections were introduced in an attempt to democratize the Communist Party organization. By 1991, perestroika was declining and was soon eclipsed by the dissolution of the USSR.

[16] Hesed: Meaning care and mercy in Hebrew, Hesed stands for the charity organization founded by Amos Avgar in the early 20th century. Supported by Claims Conference and Joint Hesed helps for Jews in need to have a decent life despite hard economic conditions and encourages development of their self-identity. Hesed provides a number of services aimed at supporting the needs of all, and particularly elderly members of the society. The major social services include: work in the center facilities (information, advertisement of the center activities, foreign ties and free lease of medical equipment); services at homes (care and help at home, food products delivery, delivery of hot meals, minor repairs); work in the community (clubs, meals together, day-time polyclinic, medical and legal consultations); service for volunteers (training programs). The Hesed centers have inspired a real revolution in the Jewish life in the FSU countries. People have seen and sensed the rebirth of the Jewish traditions of humanism. Currently over eighty Hesed centers exist in the FSU countries. Their activities cover the Jewish population of over eight hundred settlements.

Ivan Barbul

Ivan Barbul with his relatives (1962)

Chisinau, Moldova

Ivan Barbul is a taller than average, broad-shouldered man who looks young for his age. He has thick gray hair, gentle features and expressive eyes. He has a low voice like that of a professional lecturer. The most dramatic part of our discussion is his story about how his parents, sisters and little brother perished during the Holocaust: he couldn’t hold back the tears in his eyes, and his voice was trembling. However hard it was for him, he insisted that he told the story to the end. His wife, Liana Degtiar, stayed beside him during our discussion. She was ready to offer him help at any given moment as Ivan has heart problems. Ivan, his wife and their grown-up son, Boris Barbul, live in a spacious three-bedroom apartment in Ryshkanovka, a green and well-organized district built in the 1960s in Kishinev. The apartment is furnished with plain, but comfortable furniture. They have a big collection of Russian books: fiction, scientific works and volumes on physics and mathematics. All members of the family are involved in science. One can tell that they love each other: they treat each other very gently and have a good sense of humor.


Interview details

Interviewee: Ivan Barbul
Interviewer: Natalia Fomina
Date of interview: June 2004
Place: Chisinau, Moldova


My family background

My maternal great-grandfather’s name was Abram Shafershuper. My uncle Yoil, my mother’s brother, told me that our great-grandfather served in the tsarist army for 25 years, some time in the late 18th or early 19th century. I don’t know whether my grandfather served as a cantonist [1], or if he was recruited for active service, when he became of age. When he was demobilized, the tsar granted him a plot of land in Bessarabia [2], in the village of Tsarevka near Rezina. Our family on my mother’s side originated from Tsarevka. Uncle Yoil told me that my great-grandfather was an extremely strong man. There were regular contests between the strongest men in the village, and my great-grandfather was unbeatable. These contests must have been very violent, as my great-grandfather was killed during one of them. My grandfather, Moisey Shafershuper, moved to Rezina [Bessarabian province, Orgeyev district. According to the census of 1897 there were 3,652 residents in Rezina, 3,182 of them were Jews]. He owned a plot of land where he grew grapes. My grandfather died before I was born. I think it happened in the 1910s. My brother, born in 1918, was named Moisey after my grandfather.

I knew my grandmother, Etl Shafershuper, well. She was born in Balta [Odessa region, Ukraine], to the family of Alper Neerman. My grandmother was short and sweet like all grandmothers. She always wore a kerchief. I remember that she grew grapes. We, kids, used to go to the vineyard to pick the ripest grapes. Grapes were used to make wine, which my grandmother sold. She also had a cow. She milked it and we would drink fresh milk right from the bucket. My grandmother had a nice big two-storied house on the bank of the Dnestr River. There was always the delicious smell of food and fresh milk in the house. There was a wine cellar in the basement. My grandmother’s daughters and their families lived on the first floor, and my grandmother lived on the second floor. My grandmother strictly observed Jewish traditions and so did her daughters. Nobody worked on Sabbath. They lit candles. My grandmother died during the Great Patriotic War [3], in evacuation where she went with one of her children. Grandmother Etl had seven children. I know little about them.

My grandmother’s next daughter after my mother was Zlota. She was married and lived with her family in my granny’s house. I think she had a son. I remember that he was ill and had some kind of hysteria. He had attacks. I remember visiting them one day, when I wasn’t allowed to go into his room: there was an old woman working against an evil eye put on him. I had to wait till she finished her recitals. Aunt Zlota died in evacuation during the Great Patriotic War. I have no details of how it happened.

My mother’s brother Yankel died in 1937 and this is all I know about him. I have no information about my mother’s sister Anna, either.

My mother’s brother Shmil was born in 1903. He was a wealthy man. He owned a bakery. His wife’s name was Haya. Their son Semyon was about five years older than me.

All I know about my mother’s sister Mariasa is that she was born in 1906 and lived in my grandmother’s house before the war.

My mother’s younger brother Yoil was born in 1907. He was a flour wholesale trader before Bessarabia was annexed to the Soviet Union [see Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union] [4]. His wife Riva was also born in Rezina, her parents lived in a big stone house in our neighborhood. After the war I found my uncle Yoil in Chernovtsy and he was the one to tell me a lot about the history of my family. During the war, Uncle Yoil shortened his family name from Shafershuper to Shuper. Later Yoil’s family moved to New York, USA. My uncle died in 2001. Riva and her son Mikhail live in New York. Riva is 92. She writes us letters in Russian.

My mother, Feiga Rybakova, was the oldest in the family. She was born in Rezina in 1899. She was tall, slender and quiet. I don’t know how far my mother went with her education. She could read and speak Yiddish and Russian and she knew Hebrew. I don’t know how my parents met. My father came from Rybnitsa, a town on the opposite bank of the Dnestr [left side of the river, the Transnistrian side]. I think they had known each other for a while before they got married.

I know little about my father’s parents. His father, Samuel Rybakov, lived in Rybnitsa. In the early 20th century he moved to the USA. My grandfather married twice. He remarried after his first wife died. My grandfather had more children in the USA, but I failed to locate them. I know nothing about his first wife: my father’s mother. My father’s older brother, Peisach Rybakov, lived in Odessa [today Ukraine] and so did my father’s sister Sheiva. Her husband’s name was Grisha [affectionate for Grigoriy] Kolker. Their daughter’s name was Polina. We didn’t have any contact with them before 1940, when Bessarabia belonged to Romania.

My father, Gersh Rybakov, was born in 1894. He finished school in tsarist Russia. He could read and write in Russian, he was an educated person and we had a big collection of books in Russian at home. My father must have finished a yeshivah since he was a teacher at the cheder in Rezina and he knew Hebrew. My uncle Yoil told me that in 1914, when World War I began, my father had moved to Grandfather Samuel’s in the USA to avoid service in the Russian army. My mother was his fiancee already. One year later he returned and they got married. They had a traditional wedding under the chuppah. It couldn’t have been otherwise at that time. After the wedding my parents settled down in Rezina. I don’t know how they lived through the revolution [see Russian Revolution of 1917] [5], but in 1918, when Bessarabia was annexed to Romania [see Annexation of Bessarabia to Romania] [6], they already had three children: Abram, the oldest, was born in 1915, my sister Anyuta was born a year later, and my brother Moisey was born in 1918. My sister Nehoma was born in 1922, Riva in 1924, then came Betia in 1926, and Shmil in 1936. On 12th December 1929 I was born in Rezina; my parents named me Isaac.

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Growing up

Rezina was a Jewish town. The majority of its population was Jewish. There were Moldovan villages surrounding the town: Stoknaya, which was less than one kilometer away, Chernoye on the other side of the town, and the Chernaya River. Jews in Rezina were mainly traders and craftsmen: tinsmiths and tailors. There were Jewish doctors. Doctor Grossman lived near where Uncle Yoil lived, in the center, and there was Doctor Rapoport, who moved to Soroki after the Great Patriotic War. There were stores owned by Jews in the center of the town. Jews didn’t work on Saturday and Sunday. There was a strong Jewish community in Rezina. Jews strictly observed all traditions. There was a market which was particular crowded on market days. My sisters helped my mother to do the shopping. There was a boulevard in the center, and a small monument either to Carol, the Romanian king [see King Carol I] [7], or to Stephan the Great [Stefan cel Mare, ruler of the Moldova principality (1457-1504)]. There was a big garden owned by landlord Pavlovskiy in the suburb of Rezina on the bank of the Dnestr. He must have been Russian. He only stayed in his mansion here in the summer. Mostovaya Street, where we lived, ran along the Dnestr, and there was Podgornaya Street up the town. In spring, the Dnestr flooded many streets. If you travel to Rezina now you’ll see that the town has spread onto the hill.

We lived on the first floor in a two-storied house. We bought this first floor from the owner of the house who lived on the second floor. However, she didn’t recognize our ownership. I remember this was some disputable issue for her and there was some tension between us. Aunt Riva’s parents lived in a beautiful big two-storied stone house next to ours. We had no garden or even a yard. There was a shed adjoining the house where my parents kept a goat. When the times became hard, the family sold the goat. There were three or four rooms, but only one room had a wooden floor, the rest had cemented floors. The rooms were damp. There was a bigger dining room with a table in the middle of the room, big enough for the family of ten to sit there. Kerosene lamps were used to light the rooms. I also remember a kitchen with a huge Russian stove [8].

We weren’t wealthy considering that ours was a big family. My father worked in a cheder and our relatives from the USA supported us. My father gave private lessons at home. The pupils were of different ages, but they studied together. My father made me attend their classes and I remember that all of them were older than me. The community and the boys‘ parents must have paid my father for his work. I still meet people, who tell me that my father was their teacher in the cheder. He was strict, but I don’t remember him beating his pupils. My father was short, and I don’t think he had a beard or moustache, though this doesn’t match with the image of a religious Jewish man. Neither my sisters nor I have pictures of my father. My father had religious and fiction books in Russian at home.

My mother was a housewife. She was quiet and hardworking, which she had to be, considering that she had so many kids. I remember that she read a lot and even filled in for my father at the cheder, when necessary. I think she knew Hebrew.

Every Friday my mother baked bread a week in advance. She also made cookies and I remember the smell of baking in the house. There were many of us and she had to cook a lot. When we sat at the table, we had to be quick to take our share as it didn’t stay long on the table. My mother cooked delicious food: chicken and beef broth with beans, and stuffed fish which she made like cutlets. She also often made chicken broth with homemade noodles. Clear soup with noodles is my favorite dish. My older sisters gave my mother a hand with the cooking. The family got together at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My mother covered the table with a tablecloth and each of us had a place at the table.

When my father came in we sat at the table as if after getting a command, though there were no commands, surely. My father recited the broche: I don’t remember whether he did it every day, but surely he did it on Saturday and on holidays. There was always meat on the table on Sabbath. On Friday morning it was my chore to go to the shochet to have him slaughter a chicken. I remember how the shochet took the chicken, slaughtered it and hung it by its tied legs to have the blood drip down. He also had beef for sale: there must have been a kosher slaughterhouse in Rezina. We spoke Yiddish at home. My father prayed in the morning and in the evening. My mother had a seat at the synagogue. On holidays I went to the synagogue with my father. I know only one synagogue in Rezina where we went. My mother sat on the second floor with the other women.

On Rosh Hashanah we went out to listen to the horn [shofar]. I also went to the synagogue with my father on Yom Kippur, when Jews had to fast for a whole day, but I was just a boy and my mother used to give me some food.

On Sukkot we had meals in the attic where the roof could open and we decorated it with tree branches to make a sukkah.

I remember Chanukkah particularly well. It was a merry holiday. We didn’t have a chanukkiyah. We cut a potato in half, took out the inside, poured some oil and inserted a wick in it. My mother placed these candles on the window sill so that everybody could see that we celebrated Chanukkah. I remember receiving Chanukkah gelt from my father and my uncles. My uncles didn’t have so many children as my parents and they could afford to give us some money. I saved what I got to buy sweets.

On Purim my mother made hamantashen. People dressed up and performed on the streets. Children ran around with rattles. My father took me to the synagogue to listen to Megillat Ester. The boys used to rattle and yell when Haman’s name was mentioned.

Pesach was the main holiday, of course. My mother did a general clean up. What a clean up it was! We had many utensils which my mother scorched. Before Pesach my father swept the chametz from the window sills. We had special crockery for Pesach. On seder my father reclined on cushions telling us the history of the exodus of Jews from Egypt. He also hid a piece of matzah under a cushion and one of the children was to find it as a gift. I also remember how we ate potatoes dipping them in salted water. One of my older brothers, Abram or Moisey, asked my father the four traditional questions. We all had a little wine. I had a little wineglass of my own. I used to dip matzah in this wine and eat it. It tasted a little bitter. The older children used to laugh at me.

I was a naughty boy, they told me. I used to hide away to eat non-kosher sausage. Our Moldovan neighbor Fedia had a pig farm and a store where he use to sell pork, cracklings and sausages. I bought a sausage from his store secretly saving the money that I got from the adults. I wasn’t the only one to buy a sausage. We kept it a secret from my father, but my mother shut her eyes to it knowing that the sausages and cracklings were good for children. However, we never had pork at the table: God forbid.

I remember well my first visit to Doctor Rapoport. I climbed the hill over our town and decided to check how fast I could run down the hill. At the very bottom my legs were running on their own on the narrow path, I fell and injured my head. I was taken to Doctor Rapoport’s house. He had a kerosene lamp with beautifully shaped glass on his desk. It had a special device to fix the width of the wick to regulate the brightness of light. I took so much interest in this lamp that I even forgot the pain. The doctor made me lie down on the couch to stitch the injury, but I twitched from pain, hit the table, the lamp turned over and the glass broke. The doctor had another lamp brought in to finish his job. I still have the scar on my forehead.

My older sister Anyuta moved to Palestine in 1935, or in 1936. She attended training sessions arranged by an organization [see Hakhsharah camps] [9] near Beltsy, where she studied farming. Before moving there she had a marriage of convenience since young girls or boys weren’t allowed to move there on their own. Her husband’s name was Grisha. In Israel they got divorced. Anyuta went to work and got remarried. Her husband’s family name was Rabinovich.

My older brother Abram finished a gymnasium in Rezina. In Bucharest [today Romania] he passed his exams for a Bachelor’s degree and became a teacher in a village. Abram was in love with Lusia, a girl from our town. Her father was a wealthy Jewish tobacco dealer. Abram and Lusia wanted to get married, but my father was against their marriage. He said that they belonged to different layers of society. Abram and Lusia couldn’t get married without their parents‘ consent: this was a rule with Jewish families. But when Abram came to Rezina he spent all his time at Lusia’s home. My brother Moisey finished a vocational school in Rezina and worked as a mechanic in Bucharest. My sisters Riva, Nehoma and Betia studied at school. In 1936 my younger brother Shmil was born. He was loved very much and was affectionately called Shmilik.

At the age of seven I went to an elementary school. My father wanted me to get a good education, of course. There were Jewish and Moldovan children at school. I had a Moldovan friend. His last name was Borsch. We started the day with ‚Our Father…‘, ‚Tatal Nostru…‘ in Romanian [Lord’s Prayer]. All children, including Jews, had to pray. I remember once I misbehaved during the prayer: somebody tugged at me or I pushed someone. I must have been a rather vivid boy. Our teacher of nature, Domnul [Sir in Romanian] Markov, whipped me in front of the class. This was quite a whip, let me tell you. This was a traditional school punishment in those years: they also made us kneel in a corner, on grains, hit us on the hands with a ruler, slapped us on the face or pulled our ears.

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During the War

When the Cuzists [10] came to power in Romania, anti-Semitism developed at our school just like everywhere else. A Jew could even be beaten for being a Jew. We heard about pogroms in Iasi, but there were none in Rezina. There were only posters reading ‚Only Romanian is spoken here‘ all around: in official and public places, in stores and in the streets. This was more likely the discrimination against both Jews and Russians since Russian was the main language of communication in the current Bessarabia. [Russian was dominant mainly in the cities: most of the Moldovan countryside was Romanian (Moldovan) speaking.] When the Cuzists came to power, we lived in fear.

In 1940, when Bessarabia was annexed to the Soviet Union, we welcomed the Soviet army as our liberators. I had finished the third grade and I remember the time well. I ran with the other boys to the Dnestr where we watched the Soviet troops crossing the river over the pontoon crossing from the side of Rybnitsa. Later, they restored the bridge on the river which had connected Rybnitsa and Rezina before 1918. Our school switched to the Russian language teaching curriculum. At my age I had no problem switching to Russian, particularly because my parents spoke and read Russian: we had Russian books at home. My brother returned to Rezina and went to work at Gorky vehicle plant in Russia. My sister Nehoma also went to work in Russia. She worked at the weaving mill in Ivanovo [today Russia]. Riva went for the tractor operator courses after finishing her school. After finishing the training course she worked as a tractor operator in the village of Tsarevka, I think.

My mother’s brother Shmil and his family and other wealthy families were deported to Siberia. Uncle Shmil died while in exile. His son Semyon got married while in exile and returned to Moldova with his wife and mother. The exile saved them from the fascists. Aunt Haya lived in Kishinev and Semyon and his wife lived in Strasheni. He died of a disease in the 1980s, and Aunt Haya moved to Israel. She has also passed away.

When the Great Patriotic War began in 1941, Abram evacuated to Uzbekistan with Lusia’s family. My parents, Riva, Betia, Shmil and I also rushed to evacuate. The bridge across the Dnestr had been destroyed by bombs, and we crossed the river on a boat to get to the railway station in Rybnitsa where we took a train to Razdelnaya station which was 60 kilometers from Odessa. From Razdelnaya [today Ukraine] we moved to Odessa where Uncle Peisach Rybakov, and Aunt Sheiva Kolker lived. When we went to Odessa, there was only Peisach and his family there. Aunt Sheiva, her husband Grisha and daughter Polina had evacuated by then. Sheiva and her family returned home after the war. Sheiva died in Odessa in the 1960s. Her daughter Polina and her family live in Jerusalem.

Uncle Peisach worked as a loader in the dock. When the siege of Odessa began, he went to the fighting battalion [11] with other dockers. His son was engaged in digging trenches. His wife Lidia and his daughter, whose name I don’t remember, stayed in the town. Uncle Peisach was wounded and evacuated from Odessa by sea. When he recovered, he went to the front. After the war he returned to Odessa where he remarried. I didn’t know his second wife. Uncle Peisach died in the 1950s.

In Odessa we stayed at Uncle Peisach’s home and later we moved to Aunt Sheiva’s apartment which was vacant. Odessa was surrounded at the time and the only way to evacuate from there was by sea. We were waiting for our turn to obtain a permit to board a boat, but our turn never came: the armed forces had first priority. We stayed in Odessa. After the Soviet troops left, the Romanian troops who had incurred great losses didn’t come into the town until after a day’s hesitation. I remember this day well. I was eleven. I ran around with other boys. I saw people near a basement of an apartment building and looked inside. There was a church nearby. People were carrying bags with dried bread from the storage facility in the basement and I got one bag. It wasn’t heavy and I carried it home. It came in very handy since we didn’t have any food stocks after leaving Uncle Peisach’s house where his wife shared their food with us. On 16th October the Romanian troops entered Odessa [see Romanian occupation of Odessa] [12]. They hung the first orders of the occupational authorities on the walls. The Romanians took my father and other Jewish men to the gendarmerie and he never returned. On 19th October the Romanians issued the order for all Jews to pack their clothes and food, leave their keys with their janitors and walk in the direction of Dalnik [a village 15 km from Odessa] where there were work camps to be formed.

We packed and went outside. There were five of us: my mother, Riva, Betia, Shmilik and I. There were many people on the streets already. We met Lidia and her daughter on the way. The Romanians and policemen were directing people from the streets and when we left the town, it looked like a river of human beings carrying their luggage and children and pushing the elders on carts ahead of them. There was a hollow rumble in the air that muted the yells of guards. When we reached Dalnik, they gathered us at some abandoned spot surrounded with wooden fences and towers with machine guns on them. The area had been lit with floodlights. Our father, who had been taken there from the gendarmerie, met us there. Everybody thought this was the end. People began to say farewell to their dear ones crying and screaming. At dawn the guards lined up all stronger men telling them they were to work at the construction site, but this must not have been very far away as we heard shooting soon after: they were all killed.

We were told to move on. Where were we going? There were masses of people walking, some were dying on the way from diseases or from the shock of those latest days. There were wagons riding aside the column of people: all those who felt like climbing on them were allowed to do so. I also wanted to ride on a wagon and so did Shmilik, but my father told us not to. Those who climbed those wagons never returned. The Romanians probably didn’t dare to kill people immediately before everybody’s eyes. I remember that once we stayed overnight in an empty cow-farm. It was fall and it was raining and cold. People were stuffed in the building and the smell of manure mixed with the smell of sweat and people’s bodies was evident. In the morning we moved on. The colder it got the faster we were forced to march. They probably did it to have more people die a natural death. Many were falling and never got on their feet again. Everybody dropped the luggage they had.

We finally reached Bogdanovka [In Bogdanovka all Jews in the ghetto were shot, by the Romanian gendarmerie, the Ukrainian police, and Sonderkommando R, made up of Volksdeutsche (local ethnic Germans)]. A huge area was fenced with barbed wire and there were pigsties all around. Our family got into one which had sows. There were cells for sows. Aunt Lidia, her daughter and I got into one such cell. We were told we could get some straw from the outside. We brought some straw to put on the floor. We didn’t know how long they were going to keep us there. It turned out that we were going to be there for a long time. We didn’t get any food. There was a well outside where we were allowed to get water. I made a passage underneath the barbed wire and used to run to a nearby cabbage field where I could dig cabbage stumps out of the frozen ground. I ate them. The others had nothing to eat.

All films about the Holocaust, however horrible the pictures are, reflect the reality only approximately. The reality was much more horrific. This was no ghetto in Bogdanovka. It was beyond comparison. This was an area with no rights or rules, where people were exterminated for no particular reason. Every day wagons hauled out hundreds of dead bodies. The inmates placed their dying relatives in passages between cells so as not to have them die in the cells where they lived. Often these dying people had no clothes on, since their relatives would pull off their clothes to trade them for food products. Villagers from Bogdanovka used to bring food to the barbed fence for the exchange. My mother and some other women found a hole in the fence and used to go to the village to get some food. My mother was ashamed to beg for food and she asked for work to do for food. Occasionally, people asked her to do washing for them and she washed their clothes in the ice-cold Bug River for bread or potatoes. She brought us whatever she could get. My father grew very weak and couldn’t get onto his feet again.

There was a senior Jewish man in our pigsty. He had a ‚burzhuika‘ stove [makeshift steel stove] with a stack for the smoke to exhaust through the window. He allowed the inmates to warm up by the stove. One day our pigsty caught fire. I don’t think it started from the stove, but whatever the reason might have been, it was burning. The guards told us: ‚You may move to another pigsty.‘ My father didn’t want to move, though my older sister Riva and I could help him. I saw him move a hand to my mother gesturing her to take care of the children. When leaving, I saw another old man moving closer to my father. He opened a religious book with a black cover. It must have been a prayer book. My mother took us to another pigsty. When the fire was over and there were only charring stones left, Riva took me to the site: ‚You remember this brick? This is where our cell was.‘

There were five of us left: my mother, Riva, Betia, Shmilik and I. Aunt Lida and her daughter had passed away. One day a woman told Riva to go to Bogdanovka to bury her mother. My mother went to the village the day before, and while she was doing the washing on the bank of the Bug, a policeman killed her with his rifle butt. Riva was eighteen by now. Somebody told her that the situation was better in Odessa and she decided we had to escape to Odessa. It was winter and there was a lot of snow. Betia could hardly stand on her feet, and Shmilik couldn’t move at all. I was more or less all right. We decided that Riva and I should go. When my brother heard that we were leaving, he didn’t want to let us go. I lifted him: he was as light as a dove. He couldn’t walk and Riva decided that we should go.

I don’t know how far away from Bogdanovka we walked, but Riva realized that I couldn’t walk any further. We stayed overnight at a farm. I remember the owner: Saveliy Ischenko. Riva asked him to keep me for a few days till she came back for me. If the situation with the Jews was better in Odessa, she would come for me and we would also take Shmilik and Betia with us. She left. A week later Saveliy told me that his neighbors had learned about me and he couldn’t keep me in his house any longer. I had to leave. It was January 1942: it was cold and there was snow. Saveliy rode me to Odessa in his sleigh covering me with straw. I knew that Riva was to be in Peisach’s apartment and went there. Our neighbor, who was an ethnic German, gave me shelter. It took her quite a while to convince me to go inside: I had lice. My fur collar on my coat was swarming with bugs. She put some straw into a carton box for me to sleep in. I’m grateful she didn’t report me to the authorities. She told me that Riva had come to Odessa. It was true that there were about ten days, when Jews weren’t persecuted, but it was only a trick that the Romanians played to set a trap for the Jews who had been in hiding. When the Jews came out of their hiding places, the trap closed. I knew these Jews had been taken to Beryozovka and killed.

I had nothing to do in Odessa and started on my way back. I was still hoping to find Riva, who was to go back to Saveliy’s house for me. I was hoping we would be able to help Betia and Shmilik. When I reached Saveliy’s place, he showed me a grave near his hut: ‚Riva ran in to ask about you, when their column was passing by. They killed her in the morning and I buried her here.‘ I said, ‚I have nowhere to go. I will go to where Betia and Shmilik are.‘ He asked, ‚Back to Bogdanovka? There is nobody left there. They were all killed.‘ I had just turned twelve, and I was alone in the world. So, I returned to Odessa, where I was captured and taken to the ghetto in Slobodka [neighborhood on the outskirts of Odessa].

The ghetto was in the building of a former Navy school. The yard was fenced with barbed wire and there were Romanian guards at the gate. There was a Romanian commandment and a Jewish head man in the ghetto. The tramps like me were taken to the room called the hoarder. I was kept there for seven to ten days, when the Romanians announced they were going to take us to a Jewish colony. The march headed to Beryozovka. I was very well aware what this meant. I escaped from the column. Where was I to go? If they captured me alone they would kill me. It was easier to go back to the ghetto, which I did by climbing over the fence. I was taken back to the hoarder.

Some time later they gathered the inmates to take them to the Jewish colony. Again I was in this group: I escaped again. This happened several times. On the way I talked to the Romanians. Some of them even gave me bread, but I wouldn’t say that they were better than the Germans. They were committed to their duty: they never failed to exterminate Jews. Who, but scumbags, would kill people for no reason? When the winter was over and it got a little warmer, I thought that I might live in a field. Can you imagine: alone, in a field, but I wasn’t afraid of predators or darkness. People scared me.

The last time I was taken to the hoarder, a boy found me there. He was Yefim Nilva. He said, ‚Let’s stay together. Let’s be friends.‘ Somebody had told him about me. Yefim wasn’t as exhausted as I was. He had been taken to the ghetto from jail. [In October 1941, the Jews of Odessa were imprisoned in Odessa central jail and stayed there till December.] His mother was killed in jail. Yefim boasted he had a German document stating that he was Russian or Ukrainian, I don’t remember for sure. He also demonstrated that he wasn’t circumcised while I evidently was. I thought he would be the wall that I could hide behind. And I could help him to escape since I was well experienced at this. The next time, we escaped together, but where were we to go? We knew there was a Jewish ghetto in Balta [180 km from Odessa] and we headed there.

We walked at night to avoid any confrontation. During the day we stayed in haylofts. Occasionally, we went to villages to ask for food. Yefim talked with the villagers since I burred and had to keep silent for safety. To identify a Jew, policemen use to order a person to say ‚kukuruza‘ [corn]. Burring was a sign of Jewish origin. We tried to get some work in villages. We made up a story that we were from a children’s home: I was Ivan Ischenko and he was Fyodor Nilvin, and since there were no children’s home any longer, we needed work to get some food. People probably guessed the truth telling us there was no work. We finally reached Balta, found the ghetto, but when we came to the fence, the inmates told us to get away as fast as we could since the guards were killing the newcomers.

We started on our way back asking for work in villages until finally we found work in the village office of Gandrabury [today Ukraine]. Yefim did the talking. He told them our names: Ivan Ischenko and Fyodor Nilvin. It was a big village with twelve kolkhozes [see Kolkhoz] [13] before the war. I was to go to work in the Voroshilov [14] kolkhoz and Yefim was assigned to the ‚Krasny partisan‘ kolkhoz. They were called communities during the Romanian rule and had numbers: community one, two, three, etc., while people called them ‚a former kolkhoz.‘ I was to be a shepherd and stay in an air brick and clay hut twined with osier at five to six kilometers from the village.

It was an old, but rather stable hut. The clay had fallen off, but the osier still kept the hut from falling apart. There was a sheep shed with 60 to 65 sheep near the hut. I was the shepherd and there were two janitors who took turns to stay in this hut. Once a week villagers brought me food: bread and potatoes which I cooked. Villagers also brought their sheep for me to shepherd and also brought me some food. This was the payment I got for my work. Yefim worked for a farmer and stayed in his house. Yefim’s master took less risk considering that Yefim had a certificate stating that he was Russian. During this period, between spring 1942 and fall 1943, Yefim and I only met twice.

In fall 1943 the retreating Germans and Romanians took the sheep with them. I was alone in this hut. Some villagers came by. They must have suspected who I was, but they didn’t report me. They also mentioned that there were childless families in the village, who might adopt me. I didn’t dare to go to the village, but one day I decided to go to Ivan Illich Barbul, who was a nice person. He lived with his wife Agafia and his or her old mother. They had no children. He registered me by his family name and named me Ivan. His wife Agafia told me to call her mother and her husband, father. It was hard for me, and then Ivan Illich said, ‚Just address her as Mistress, and me, Mister.‘ I didn’t get along with the old woman, as she kept grumbling about me. She died at the time when the Germans and Romanians were retreating and the Soviet forces were approaching. In spring 1944 the Soviet troops liberated Gandrabury. I stayed with my adoptive parents. My friend, Yefim Nilva, returned to Odessa where he had relatives. He found his sister, completed school and served in the army. He got married. His wife Bella is Jewish. Their son’s name is Alexandr. Yefim and I became lifelong friends. He is closer than a brother to me. We meet on Victory Day [15] every year.

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Post-war

After the liberation I went to the sixth grade at school. Ivan Illich was mobilized to the Soviet army. He perished in Iasi [today Romania] in fall 1944. Agafia was an epileptic and I had to stay with her taking care of her. She had attacks of epilepsy every two to three weeks and stayed besides her waiting for her to recover. I worked hard about the house and in the field with Agafia. Living in a village means working hard. I joined the Komsomol [16] at school. I was eager to study and liked reading. I borrowed books from the village library. I read all I could get. When I was in the tenth grade, I read about the establishment of Israel from newspapers and heard about it on the radio. The USSR supported this event and was one of the first states to recognize Israel. As I came to understand later, this support was based on the expectation that Israel would develop into a socialist state. When Israel took a different direction, the two states drifted apart. I think that the establishment of Israel is the only compensation to the Jewish people for millions of its deceased.

After finishing school I went to Rezina for the first time hoping that one of my older brothers had survived. I had hopes, but I also feared that there were no survivors. In Rezina I was told that my brother Moisey lived in Kishinev. I found him right away. Moisey told me about all of our relatives. Moisey had been mobilized to the Soviet army at the very beginning of the war. He was at the front until 1945. He had been severely wounded in Poland and taken to hospital. After recovery he went to Uzbekistan to look for Abram. He found Lusia. Lusia and Abram lived together without getting married. Lusia told Moisey that Abram had volunteered to the front and had perished in Konigsberg [today Russia] in 1945. Moisey returned to Rezina in 1945. He had no information about me and thought that we had all perished. Moisey married Nina, a girl from Rezina. He graduated from a law school, but he never worked by his specialty. I don’t know the reason; perhaps, it was the Item 5 [17]. He worked at a shoe store in Kishinev. He had a daughter called Faina, and a son called Grigoriy. Faina married Grigoriy Rosh after finishing school. Grigoriy finished secondary school and got married. His wife’s name is Yelena. Moisey had a surgery in the 1980s to have splinters, which had been inside since the war, removed as they were troubling him.

My sister Nehoma was in Ivanovo during the war where she got married. Her husband, Semyon Abramovich, is a Jew. They had no children. They moved to Chernovtsy after the war.

After finishing school I entered the Faculty of Mathematics of Kishinev University, but then I fell ill and had to quit my studies for the time being. Later, I switched to the Pedagogical College since I could stay in the hostel there. Then I got a transfer to the extramural department getting a job as a teacher of mathematics in Raspopeny in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This was the period of the struggle against cosmopolitans [see Campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘] [18], I remember the murder of Mikhoels [19], and the Doctors‘ Plot [20]. However, I have my own point of view on it. I don’t refer to this as anti-Semitism. I don’t think Stalin was an anti-Semite. Stalin was a politician and he was removing his opponents. He killed more Russians and Georgians than Jews.

I think that the Doctors‘ Plot had its political base. Perhaps, it had to do with the establishment of Israel and with the fact how popular Golda Meir [21], the Prime Minister of Israel, was with Soviet Jews. I don’t think anybody would be able to tell you the actual reason: one has to dig into the archives for it. I think these talks about the state-level anti- Semitism are a bit exaggerated. The ratio of Jews was low in the total population, but if you look at statistics, you’ll see that there are many more Jewish doctors, teachers and engineers than those of any other nationality. [Editors‘ note: The interviewee probably means that the proportion of higher ranking professionals and intellectuals was higher among the Jews than any other nationalities in the Soviet Union.] For example, I am a Jew, and I’ve never concealed that fact, and I studied and faced no prejudiced attitudes towards me.

I remember the day of Stalin’s death, how people cried. I was calm about it: I wasn’t going to exhaust myself for this reason. The Twentieth Party Congress [22] in 1956, and the publication of the Khrushchev’s [23] report, made me learn many new things. Like many others, I had no idea about the extermination of the leaders of the party, I didn’t know about the number of camps [see Gulag] [24], and the number of prisoners or how many people perished there. It was a shock for me. It was a shock to learn that the people moving from Moldova [Romania] across the Dnestr to the USSR, who were communists, were taken to Stalin’s camps. The situation in the country changed after the Congress, and I joined the Party in 1956.

After finishing my college I began to work as director of the school in Raspopeny. I often went to see my brother in Kishinev and met my future wife, when visiting my distant relatives. She rented a room from them. Her name was Liana Degtiar. I liked Liana at once and I met with her each time I went to Kishinev. In summer 1961 we went to the Crimea by boat. We sailed to Yalta [today Ukraine] and then traveled across the Crimea. We stayed in Gurzuf, climbed mountains for two days, walked to Alushta and went to Yevpatoria. We got married in spring. Liana is three years younger than me. She was born in Bucharest in 1933. Her father, Elih Degtiar, was born in Soroki in 1903. He graduated from the Cannes University in France and worked as chief engineer in a company in Bucharest. Her mother, Sophia Degtiar, was born in Beltsy in 1908 and finished a gymnasium there. After getting married she worked as a typist at the railroad in Bucharest.

When Bessarabia was annexed to the USSR in 1940, Liana’s family returned to Soroki. During the war they were in evacuation in Kurgan, Tuba region, Tajikistan. In 1944, the family returned to Soroki after it had been liberated by the Soviet forces. Liana’s father was a lecturer in an agricultural school, and her mother was a housewife, when we met. Liana graduated from the Faculty of Physics of Kishinev University and worked as a scientific employee at the laboratory of the Scientific Research Institute of Electric Instruments. We had a quiet wedding. Our friends and my wife’s colleagues came to the registry office. Then we had a small party in Liana’s room. Then we went to Liana’s parents‘ house in Soroki and celebrated with the family and their acquaintances. After the wedding I moved in with Liana.

My sister Anyuta’s visit from Israel in 1962 was a great pleasure for me. She took a plane to Odessa and from there she traveled to Kishinev. This was shortly after our wedding. This was our first meeting after she had moved away. I told her the story of our family. Anyuta brought me Shmilik’s photograph. Anyuta had a husband and three sons: Noah, Judah and Zvi. They lived in Rishon Le Zion [today Israel]. Anyuta’s husband grew and sold oranges and their sons helped him. You can imagine how concerned I was about my relatives during the wars in Israel: the Six-Day-War [25], and the War of Judgment Day [see Yom Kippur War] [26]. I listened to BBC and The Voice of America. In the early 1970s my sister Nehoma and her husband Semyon Abramovich moved to Israel. They lived in Rishon Le Zion. Now I’m worried about each event, every terrorist act in Israel more than they are. I admire Israelis: they live and work despite terrorist attacks. They have fear, but they don’t panic.

When I was director of the school, I was offered a job at the District Party Committee, but Liana believed that I should stick to science. She insisted that I entered a postgraduate course. I enrolled in the postgraduate course of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences in Moscow [today Russia] and lived in a hostel in Pluschikha [a district in the historical part of Moscow] in the early 1960s. There were postgraduate students from all over the USSR and we had a full international student body: from Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and I was a Jew from Moldova. Our scientific tutors and employees of the Institute of Mathematics teaching techniques were highly qualified specialists. They got along well both with postgraduate students and lecturers. I went to study in the State Library of the USSR named after Lenin [presently called National Library of Russia]. Highly skilled bibliographers helped me to find the books I needed or ordered them from other places, if necessary. If the book was a rarity, they sent a copy of it. I also studied at the library of the Ushinskiy Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. There were also scientific consultants working in the library to provide assistance to postgraduate students on various subjects. I consulted a specialist in mathematics teaching techniques in Polish schools. I’m still very grateful to many of the specialists for their great support.

Our son Alexandr was born in 1963. Liana was working and I received a stipend of a postgraduate student. Liana’s parents supported us a lot. Liana often traveled to Moscow on business trips, and her parents took care of Alexandr during this time. We were always happy to see each other. We went to art exhibitions, theaters or just walked around Moscow. Liana spent the money I saved to last for a month in those few days.

After finishing the postgraduate course I returned to Kishinev where I went to work as a senior scientific employee at the Scientific Research Institute of Pedagogy. I dealt in mathematics teaching methodology. I was involved in the scientific research work. I published a book: ‚Elements of geometry in primary school‘. In 1968, I defended a candidate’s dissertation [see Soviet/Russian doctorate degree] [27] in Moscow. Our scientific research institute belonged to the Ministry of Education of the USSR that initiated the introduction of new mathematics curricula in schools based on the experience of French schools under the guidance of Academician Kholmogorov [Kholmogorov, Andrey Nikolaevich (1903-1987): Soviet mathematician, founder of the scientific school in the probability theory and theory of functions].

The old syllabus and textbooks in mathematics underwent radical changes, starting from the first grade. Elements of higher mathematics were introduced in the senior school: set theory, integral, derivative, etc. The changes of this kind required training of teachers. I got involved in teachers‘ training: prepared lectures, instructional letters, read lectures, I mean, I got directly involved in the teachers‘ training and the development of new school textbooks. There was a lot of work to do, but unfortunately, there was opposition to this reform in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. It was only effective for ten years: 1967 to 1976, when the schools switched back to the previous curriculum. At present, a new curricula and textbooks have been introduced, and again this reform is based on the influence of French schools.

Besides working at the Academy, I read lectures in the In-Service Teachers‘ Training Institute, and in Tiraspol Pedagogical College. I used to travel to Tiraspol for a day to deliver lectures to students. It took me one hour by train. The ticket cost three rubles. I returned to Kishinev in the evening. I liked teaching and got along well with my colleagues and students. I meet some of them now. After work I always spent time with Alexandr, teaching him things. My pedagogical experience happened to be very handy. Alexandr finished the first and second grades in one year, but my wife thought I was overloading the boy. However, I know that if the child manages, it’s all right. It’s not good, when things are too easy or too hard. When I noticed that Alexandr coped with his load in the first grade and was starting to lose interest in classes, I transferred him to the second grade. It took him some time to catch up with his classmates but he managed very well. His teachers praised him.

I taught Alexandr to follow a strict timetable: at ten o’clock he had to go to bed. At one time in the fifth grade he was having problems: played in the yard and failed to do his homework. ‚I can’t go to bed, I have to do my homework‘ he said. I told him that it didn’t matter. He had to go to bed then. I also told him that he should have done his homework earlier. This taught him to do his homework on time. Teachers are very important at school, and the attitude of school children to them is important. In our family we always tried to support the authority of teachers. Alexandr was good at mathematics and we transferred him to a mathematics class in another school. He was a sociable boy and had many friends.

Liana was the supervisor of her laboratory in the institute and was working on her candidate’s dissertation. In January 1969 she achieved a degree in technical sciences. In December this same year, our second son Boris was born. Boris was an individualist in contrast to Alexandr. He didn’t want to go to the kindergarten and whatever efforts of even my colleagues to convince him to agree to attend a kindergarten failed. However, he went to school without any problem, but he fell ill, when he was in the third grade. He had mumps, quite a common disease with children, but had complications and fell into a coma for a long time. Thank God, the doctors managed to save him. After the disease he studied no worse than his older brother and even went to a mathematics class.

Our family spent the summer holidays together. Our favorite place was Odessa and the suburbs of Odessa: Chernomorka, Sergeyevka, and Karolino- Bugaz. Sometimes Liana’s parents went there with us. We also traveled to Sochi, Sukhumi and Yalta renting a room like everybody else at the time. We sometimes went to Odessa on weekends: my colleagues and their families got together, rented a bus and went to the seashore for a weekend. Transportation, food and travel were inexpensive. We read a lot during vacations. Reading was very popular: we read newspapers, magazines and fiction. We gathered a big collection of books in Russian. Liana and I had many scientific manuals and guides in our collection. Now that we are considering moving to Israel, Liana and Boris argue a lot about what we should take there with us. Liana sends Boris to a paper utilization office to take the books she thinks aren’t necessary, but he brings them back home and calls his mother an inquisitor of the 21st century, jokingly.

In 1978, Liana’s parents exchanged their apartment in Soroki for an apartment in Kishinev and moved here. Her mother, Sophia Degtiar, died in late March 1988, we buried her in the Doina [cemetery in Kishinev], in the Jewish section. Liana’s father died in February 1992. He was also buried in the Doina cemetery.

Alexandr finished school in 1979 and we wanted him to continue his studies. He was good at natural sciences and mathematics. He entered the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University.

When he was a fourth-year student, he married his co-student Tatiana Yailenko in January 1983. She is from Donetsk [today Ukraine]. Her mother is Ukrainian and her father is Greek. They had a small wedding party: their fellow students, Tatiana’s parents, Liana, Boris and I got together at the wedding party. We arranged the party at the canteen of the hostel. They received a room at the House of postgraduate students [one of the comfortable hostels of Moscow University]. I laughed as I looked up at the rear of this hostel [twelve-storied building]: one can see diaper’s and children’s clothing hanging on lines – not so bad for students! In December 1983 my grandson Leonid was born. Tatiana was a fifth-year student and took an academic leave to take care of the baby. Her mother arrived from Donetsk to help her. Alexandr was very attached to his son and even argued with his mother-in-law about training his son at times. Sasha [affectionate for Alexandr] finished a postgraduate course in Moscow, and in 1988 he and Tatiana moved to Kishinev. By this time we had paid for a three-bedroom apartment and gave our previous two-bedroom apartment and the furniture to the children. Sasha went to work at the Academy of Sciences of Moldova. In the late 1980s Liana and I were of the retirement age [pension age for men in the USSR – 60 years, for women – 55 years], but we continued working.

After finishing school Boris entered the Faculty of Physics of Kishinev University. Upon graduation he went to work at the Scientific Research Institute of Electric Instruments where Liana worked. He still works there and is very fond of his job. Boris isn’t married.

In 1992 my sister invited me and my wife to Israel. Anyuta bought us tickets. We took a plane to go there. My sister and her family met us at the airport of Tel Aviv [today Israel]. You can imagine this meeting! It was the reunion of our big family: my nephews Noah, Judah and Zvi, their wives, their wives‘ parents, many children and grandchildren. I couldn’t even count them all. Anyuta is a great grandmother. The parents gave each son pardes i.e. a plot of land with an orange garden. Once we got together at Noah’s 56th birthday. We had another reunion at Judah’s place. He has a big yard and a sorting machine for oranges and tangerines. He had tables installed for this whole big family to fit in his yard. There I had a feeling, it’s hard to describe what it was like, hard to find words. I remembered our big family, when we sat at the table, I knew I was no longer alone: I have so many dear people, who love and remember me. However, I was a little embarrassed that there was a language barrier between me and my numerous relatives. They speak English and Ivrit, but I don’t know these languages. Anyuta and I spoke Romanian and Yiddish a little. I promised my nephews that when I visit them next time, I would know English or Hebrew.

Liana and I stayed in Israel for two months. We traveled all over the country. Sometimes Noah drove us in his car. He showed us his office at the dock: he deals in the export of oranges. We traveled to Jerusalem and went to Yad Vashem [28], and to the Wailing Wall. The only place we didn’t go to was a kibbutz, though I was eager to visit one since my sister worked at one, when she moved to Palestine. My acquaintances working in a kibbutz told me the kibbutzim are going through hard times now, but they are still the agricultural base of Israel. In 1992 my older brother Moisey, his wife Nina, their children Faina and Grigoriy and their families moved to Israel. They settled down in Nathania. Nina died in 2003. I visited Israel again in 1995, and in 1998. I stayed with Moisey in Nathania. I haven’t learned English or Ivrit. It’s hard to study languages at my age. However, Moisey’s children and grandchildren remember Russian and they were always at hand to help me.

In 1993 our son Alexandr moved to Leningrad and went to work at the biophysical laboratory at the Academic Institute. He divorced Tatiana and left the apartment to her and their son. We keep in touch with Tatiana. She is a nice person. Our grandson Leonid often visits us. He is a student of the Faculty of Mathematics of Kishinev University. Alexandr remarried in Leningrad. His second wife Olga Ivanova is Russian. Their salaries were hardly enough to make ends meet. One day representatives of Israel arrived at a scientific conference in Leningrad. They offered Alexandr a job at the University of Tel Aviv. Olga followed Alexandr to Israel. In 1997 their son Ilia was born. Liana went to Israel to take care of the baby. She stayed there for three months and met with her relatives: her father’s sisters and her nieces and nephews live in Israel.

After perestroika [29] the Communist Party was forbidden [Editors‘ note: In fact the Communist Party of the USSR ceased to exist in 1991, after the breakup of the USSR.] in Moldova and the authorities started altering the history on the wave of anti-communism. There was an issue of annexing Moldova to Romania. Mass media praised Antonescu [30] and were even going to build a monument for him in Kishinev. There were discussions and they even collected money. They called the Romanians, who came here in 1941 with German troops, liberators. Imagine how I felt: these Romanian ‚liberators‘ exterminated my parents, three sisters and my six-year old brother plus thousands of Jews. I think that Gorbachev [31] and Yeltzin placed their own well-being at a higher priority than the well-being of the state. Of course, there were many reasons for the breakup of the USSR, but how could they do it when 76 percent of the population voted for the USSR at the referendum? [The turn out on the referendum whether to preserve the USSR as a single and indivisible state on 17th March 1991 was 174 million (80 percent of the total population). Out of that 112 million or 76.4 percent voted for preserving the USSR].

The Jewish life began to revive in Kishinev after perestroika in the 1990s. During the period of the USSR, an association of former Jewish and non- Jewish prisoners of ghettos and camps was established. Later, it fell apart and now I’m a member of the Jewish association. Later, Jewish organizations were established in Kishinev: the Jewish cultural center and the community center. Jews began to celebrate Jewish holidays together. The Jewish life particularly revived, when communists obtained the parliamentary majority in Moldova. [The interviewee probably means that communists being internationalists ex officio pay better attention to the co-existence of the different nationalities.] I think the Jewish situation has improved. It wasn’t that good before, when in many areas activities were separated from the rest of the population of Moldova.

When the communists came to power, the Moldovans also started thinking about the victims of fascism. Our local Jewish newspaper, ‚Yevreiskoe mestechko‘ [The Jewish Town], wrote about the local amateur museum of Holocaust in Yedintsy. It is amazing that this museum was established by a Moldovan director of a local school. I think it’s important since Jews have always been active citizens in Moldova: doctors, teachers and craftsmen. Now research work has been undertaken in other Moldovan towns where Jews were exterminated. They find the righteous men [see the Righteous Among the Nations] [32], who rescued Jews and establish museums like this one.

The Hesed [33] Jehudah, a Jewish charity organization, is very efficient. At times I hear or read in newspapers about people grumbling about the food that they don’t find to be so good. I think they have no grounds to complain. Hesed does a great job. Its numerous volunteers work hard and help thousands of Jews. My wife and I receive food packages each month. We refused this for a long time believing that there were Jews who were in a worse situation than us. I also receive a pension from the Claims Conference [Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. It was founded in the 1950s to provide assistance to victims of the Holocaust.], as a former underage prisoner of a ghetto. All our relatives live in Israel. We are also considering moving to Israel.


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Glossary

[1] Cantonist: The cantonists were Jewish children who were conscripted to military institutions in tsarist Russia with the intention that the conditions in which they were placed would force them to adopt Christianity. Enlistment for the cantonist institutions was most rigorously enforced in the first half of the 19th century. It was abolished in 1856 under Alexander II. Compulsory military service for Jews was introduced in 1827. Jews between the age of 12 and 25 could be drafted and those under 18 were placed in the cantonist units. The Jewish communal authorities were obliged to furnish a certain quota of army recruits. The high quota that was demanded, the severe service conditions, and the knowledge that the conscript would not observe Jewish religious laws and would be cut off from his family, made those liable for conscription try to evade it.. Thus, the communal leaders filled the quota from children of the poorest homes.

[2] Bessarabia: Historical area between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, in the southern part of Odessa region. Bessarabia was part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917. In 1918 it declared itself an independent republic, and later it united with Romania. The Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union but the Soviet Union never accepted this. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR. The two provinces had almost 4 million inhabitants, mostly Romanians. Although Romania reoccupied part of the territory during World War II the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed their belonging to the Soviet Union. Today it is part of Moldova.

[3] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o’clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th May 1945.

[4] Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union: At the end of June 1940 the Soviet Union demanded Romania to withdraw its troops from Bessarabia and to abandon the territory. Romania withdrew its troops and administration in the same month and between 28th June and 3rd July, the Soviets occupied the region. At the same time Romania was obliged to give up Northern Transylvania to Hungary and Southern-Dobrudja to Bulgaria. These territorial losses influenced Romanian politics during World War II to a great extent.

[5] Russian Revolution of 1917: Revolution, in which the tsarist regime was overthrown in the Russian Empire and, under Lenin, was replaced by the Bolshevik rule. The two phases of the Revolution were: February Revolution, which came about due to food and fuel shortages during World War I, and during which the tsar abdicated and a provisional government took over. The second phase took place in the form of a coup led by Lenin in October/November (October Revolution) and saw the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.

[6] Annexation of Bessarabia to Romania: During the chaotic days of the Soviet Revolution the national assembly of Moldavians convoked to Kishinev decided on 4th December 1917 the proclamation of an independent Moldavian state. In order to impede autonomous aspirations, Russia occupied the Moldavian capital in January 1918. Upon Moldavia’s desperate request, the army of neighboring Romania entered Kishinev in the same month recapturing the city from the Bolsheviks. This was the decisive step toward the union with Romania: the Moldavians accepted the annexation without any preliminary condition.

[7] King Carol I: 1839-1914, Ruler of Romania (1866-1881) and King of Romania (1881-1914). He signed with Austro-Hungary a political-military treaty (1883), to which adhered Germany and Italy, linking this way Romania to The Central Powers. Under his kingship the Independence War of Romania (1877) took place. He insisted on Romania joining World War I on Germany and Austro-Hungary’s side.

[8] Russian stove: Big stone stove stoked with wood. They were usually built in a corner of the kitchen and served to heat the house and cook food. It had a bench that made a comfortable bed for children and adults in wintertime.

[9] Hakhsharah camps: Training camps organized by the Zionists, in which Jewish youth in the Diaspora received intellectual and physical training, especially in agricultural work, in preparation for settling in Palestine.

[10] Cuzist: Member of the Romanian fascist organization named after Alexandru C. Cuza, one of the most fervent fascist leaders in Romania, who was known for his ruthless chauvinism and anti-Semitism. In 1919 Cuza founded the LANC, which became the National Christian Party in 1935 with an anti-Semitic program.

[11] Fighting battalion: People’s volunteer corps during World War II; its soldiers patrolled towns, dug trenches and kept an eye on buildings during night bombing raids. Students often volunteered for these fighting battalions.

[12] Romanian occupation of Odessa: Romanian troops occupied Odessa in October 1941. They immediately enforced anti-Jewish measures. Following the Antonescu-ordered slaughter of the Jews of Odessa, the Romanian occupation authorities deported the survivors to camps in the Golta district: 54,000 to the Bogdanovka camp, 18,000 to the Akhmetchetka camp, and 8,000 to the Domanevka camp. In Bogdanovka all the Jews were shot, with the Romanian gendarmerie, the Ukrainian police, and Sonderkommando R, made up of Volksdeutsche, taking part. In January and February 1942, 12,000 Ukrainian Jews were murdered in the two other camps. A total of 185,000 Ukrainian Jews were murdered by Romanian and German army units.

[13] Kolkhoz: In the Soviet Union the policy of gradual and voluntary collectivization of agriculture was adopted in 1927 to encourage food production while freeing labor and capital for industrial development. In 1929, with only 4% of farms in kolkhozes, Stalin ordered the confiscation of peasants‘ land, tools, and animals; the kolkhoz replaced the family farm.

[14] Voroshylov, Kliment Yefremovich (1881-1969): Soviet military leader and public official. He was an active revolutionary before the Revolution of 1917 and an outstanding Red Army commander in the Russian Civil War. As commissar for military and naval affairs, later defense, Voroshilov helped reorganize the Red Army. He was a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1926 and a member of the Supreme Soviet from 1937. He was dropped from the Central Committee in 1961 but reelected to it in 1966.

[15] Victory Day in Russia (9th May): National holiday to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II and honor the Soviets who died in the war.

[16] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.

[17] Item 5: This was the nationality factor, which was included on all job application forms, Jews, who were considered a separate nationality in the Soviet Union, were not favored in this respect from the end of World War WII until the late 1980s.

[18] Campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘: The campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘, i.e. Jews, was initiated in articles in the central organs of the Communist Party in 1949. The campaign was directed primarily at the Jewish intelligentsia and it was the first public attack on Soviet Jews as Jews. ‚Cosmopolitans‘ writers were accused of hating the Russian people, of supporting Zionism, etc. Many Yiddish writers as well as the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were arrested in November 1948 on charges that they maintained ties with Zionism and with American ‚imperialism‘. They were executed secretly in 1952. The anti-Semitic Doctors‘ Plot was launched in January 1953. A wave of anti-Semitism spread through the USSR. Jews were removed from their positions, and rumors of an imminent mass deportation of Jews to the eastern part of the USSR began to spread. Stalin’s death in March 1953 put an end to the campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘.

[19] Mikhoels, Solomon (1890-1948) (born Vovsi): Great Soviet actor, producer and pedagogue. He worked in the Moscow State Jewish Theater (and was its art director from 1929). He directed philosophical, vivid and monumental works. Mikhoels was murdered by order of the State Security Ministry.

[20] Doctors‘ Plot: The Doctors‘ Plot was an alleged conspiracy of a group of Moscow doctors to murder leading government and party officials. In January 1953, the Soviet press reported that nine doctors, six of whom were Jewish, had been arrested and confessed their guilt. As Stalin died in March 1953, the trial never took place. The official paper of the Party, the Pravda, later announced that the charges against the doctors were false and their confessions obtained by torture. This case was one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents during Stalin’s reign. In his secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 Khrushchev stated that Stalin wanted to use the Plot to purge the top Soviet leadership.

[21] Golda Meir (1898-1978): Born in Russia, she moved to Palestine and became a well-known and respected politician who fought for the rights of the Israeli people. In 1948, Meir was appointed Israel’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union. From 1969 to 1974 she was Prime Minister of Israel. Despite the Labor Party’s victory at the elections in 1974, she resigned in favor of Yitzhak Rabin. She was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in 1978.

[22] Twentieth Party Congress: At the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of secrecy from what had happened in the USSR during Stalin’s leadership.

[23] Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971): Soviet communist leader. After Stalin’s death in 1953, he became first secretary of the Central Committee, in effect the head of the Communist Party of the USSR. In 1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev took an unprecedented step and denounced Stalin and his methods. He was deposed as premier and party head in October 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the Party’s Central Committee.

[24] Gulag: The Soviet system of forced labor camps in the remote regions of Siberia and the Far North, which was first established in 1919. However, it was not until the early 1930s that there was a significant number of inmates in the camps. By 1934 the Gulag, or the Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps, then under the Cheka’s successor organization the NKVD, had several million inmates. The prisoners included murderers, thieves, and other common criminals, along with political and religious dissenters. The Gulag camps made significant contributions to the Soviet economy during the rule of Stalin. Conditions in the camps were extremely harsh. After Stalin died in 1953, the population of the camps was reduced significantly, and conditions for the inmates improved somewhat.

[25] Six-Day-War: The first strikes of the Six-Day-War happened on 5th June 1967 by the Israeli Air Force. The entire war only lasted 132 hours and 30 minutes. The fighting on the Egyptian side only lasted four days, while fighting on the Jordanian side lasted three. Despite the short length of the war, this was one of the most dramatic and devastating wars ever fought between Israel and all of the Arab nations. This war resulted in a depression that lasted for many years after it ended. The Six-Day-War increased tension between the Arab nations and the Western World because of the change in mentalities and political orientations of the Arab nations.

[26] Yom Kippur War: The Arab-Israeli War of 1973, also known as the Yom Kippur War or the Ramadan War, was a war between Israel on one side and Egypt and Syria on the other side. It was the fourth major military confrontation between Israel and the Arab states. The war lasted for three weeks: it started on 6th October 1973 and ended on 22nd October on the Syrian front and on 26th October on the Egyptian front.

[27] Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees: Graduate school in the Soviet Union (aspirantura, or ordinatura for medical students), which usually took about 3 years and resulted in a dissertation. Students who passed were awarded a ‚kandidat nauk‘ (lit. candidate of sciences) degree. If a person wanted to proceed with his or her research, the next step would be to apply for a doctorate degree (doktarontura). To be awarded a doctorate degree, the person had to be involved in the academia, publish consistently, and write an original dissertation. In the end he/she would be awarded a ‚doctor nauk‘ (lit. doctor of sciences) degree.

[28] Yad Vashem: This museum, founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, honors both Holocaust martyrs and ‚the Righteous Among the Nations‘, non-Jewish rescuers who have been recognized for their ‚compassion, courage and morality‘.

[29] Perestroika (Russian for restructuring): Soviet economic and social policy of the late 1980s, associated with the name of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev. The term designated the attempts to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized, market-oriented economy. Industrial managers and local government and party officials were granted greater autonomy, and open elections were introduced in an attempt to democratize the Communist Party organization. By 1991, perestroika was declining and was soon eclipsed by the dissolution of the USSR.

[30] Antonescu, Ion (1882-1946): Political and military leader of the Romanian state, president of the Ministers‘ Council from 1940 to 1944. In 1940 he formed a coalition with the Legionary leaders. From 1941 he introduced a dictatorial regime that continued to pursue the depreciation of the Romanian political system started by King Carol II. His strong anti- Semitic beliefs led to the persecution, deportation and killing of many Jews in Romania. He was arrested on 23rd August 1944 and sent into prison in the USSR until he was put on trial in the election year of 1946. He was sentenced to death for his crimes as a war criminal and shot in the same year.

[31] Gorbachev, Mikhail (1931- ): Soviet political leader. Gorbachev joined the Communist Party in 1952 and gradually moved up in the party hierarchy. In 1970 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, where he remained until 1990. In 1980 he joined the politburo, and in 1985 he was appointed general secretary of the party. In 1986 he embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalization under the slogans of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical reexamination of Soviet history. The Congress of People’s Deputies, founded in 1989, voted to end the Communist Party’s control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president. Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and granted the Baltic states independence. Following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, he resigned as president. Since 1992, Gorbachev has headed international organizations

[32] The Righteous Among the Nations: Non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

[33] Hesed: Meaning care and mercy in Hebrew, Hesed stands for the charity organization founded by Amos Avgar in the early 20th century. Supported by Claims Conference and Joint Hesed helps for Jews in need to have a decent life despite hard economic conditions and encourages development of their self-identity. Hesed provides a number of services aimed at supporting the needs of all, and particularly elderly members of the society. The major social services include: work in the center facilities (information, advertisement of the center activities, foreign ties and free lease of medical equipment); services at homes (care and help at home, food products delivery, delivery of hot meals, minor repairs); work in the community (clubs, meals together, day-time polyclinic, medical and legal consultations); service for volunteers (training programs). The Hesed centers have inspired a real revolution in the Jewish life in the FSU countries. People have seen and sensed the rebirth of the Jewish traditions of humanism. Currently over eighty Hesed centers exist in the FSU countries. Their activities cover the Jewish population of over eight hundred settlements.

 

Sarra Shpitalnik

Sarra Shpitalnik with her parents Beila Molchanskaya and Shlomo Molchanskiy (1937)

Chisinau, Moldova

Sarra Shpitalnik is an intelligent and gentle lady of average height. She has a nice low voice and wears her hair in a knot. During our conversation she looks at me intently through her glasses. I enjoyed talking to her very much. Sarra is a wonderful story teller. She willingly answered my questions. She is a person of great erudition. Sarra lives in one half of a one-storied house in Bayukany, a district of private cottages in Kishinev. There is a small garden near the house and a few fruit trees, which had been planted by Sarra’s husband Moisey Shpitalnik. Sarra’s husband died about a year ago, in 2003. Bianka, a sweet little dog, keeps Sarra company. The dog is infinitely devoted to her mistress. There are two rooms and a kitchen in the house. One room serves as a living room. There are bookcases, a TV, a small sofa and a table by the window. There is a collection of dolls in national costumes, which Sarra and her husband collected, in two huge glassed stands in the room. Sarra and her husband bought some of them on their trips and their friends gave them some as well. Sarra treats me to sweet cherries from her garden.


Interview details

Interviewee: Sarra Shpitalnik
Interviewer: Natalia Fomina
Time of interview: June 2004
Place: Chisinau, Moldova



My family background

My maternal grandfather, Srul Orentlikher, came from the town of Starokonstantinov in Ukraine [a district town in Volyn province; according to the census of 1897 it had 16,300 residents and 9212 of them were Jews]. I even have a document confirming that he was a common citizen of Starokonstantinov. Grandfather Srul finished a private Russian gymnasium as an external student and was a private teacher of the Russian language. My mother told me that my grandfather was a follower of Baal Shem Tov [1]. When my grandmother was pregnant with my mother, my grandfather perished during the Russian-Japanese war in 1905. He only left a message to call the baby Beila, if it were to be a girl.

My grandmother, Hava Orentlikher, daughter of Shmuel Brick, was born in Bessarabia [2], in Kishinev, in 1878. She had many brothers and sisters, but I only knew two of them: sister Sura-Feiga and brother Srul Brick. Srul suffered from diabetes and had his arms and legs amputated. I remember my father carrying him on his back. He died, when I was a young girl. Srul had a son, who was an actor of the Jewish theater. He lived in Dnepropetrovsk [today Ukraine] in the USSR.

My grandmother’s older sister Sura-Feiga Zilberman had a dairy farm near Kishinev. During a pogrom in 1905 the pogrom-makers drowned their cows in the Byk River [this river flows in Kishinev] which was deep at that time. [Editor’s note: a lot of pogroms took place all over the western provinces of Russia after 1905. When the Kishinev pogrom broke out in October, the first Jewish self-defense groups [see Jewish self-defense movement] [3] stood up to pogrom-makers.] Afterward, Sura-Feiga moved in with her daughters, whose names I didn’t know, in Odessa. However, this wasn’t the end of her misfortunes. Her daughters died during some epidemic. Sura-Feiga returned to Kishinev. One winter day she fell on the street and died. It must have been a heart attack. Sura-Feiga had many children, but I didn’t know them. Her daughter Sonia was very close to our family. My mother loved her like her own sister.

I don’t know how my grandparents met. I think they took things closer to heart in their time. When my grandfather perished, my grandmother lost her hair and forgot how to read and write: she suffered so much. She already had a son and was pregnant again. The tsarist government paid her a pension of three rubles. After Sura-Feiga died, she entered into a marriage of convenience with Zilberman, who worked at the slaughter house Beit-ha- Shkhita on Popovskaya Street, present-day Tsyrelson Lane; this building no longer exists. This is what my mother told me, I don’t know any details about this marriage. All I know is that my grandmother didn’t change her surname. Zilberman helped my grandmother to get a job as a cashier in the slaughter house. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment in the slaughter house which the community gave her.

My mother’s older brother Haim was born in 1897. At the age of 17 Haim moved to Palestine. He secretly took a train to Constanza and from there took a boat to Palestine where the British drafted him into the army. He was to fight against strikers, but he couldn’t fight against his own people and from there he escaped to France. He married Fira, a Jewish girl, who had come from Odessa. He changed his name to Philip. In 1928 his son Serge, who was a few months younger than me, was born. I’ve never seen any of them, but I remember that in 1937 my grandmother Hava visited Philip in Paris: there was a world exhibition there at the time. I was nine years old and remember this well.

My mother, Beila Molchanskaya [nee Orentlikher], was born in Kishinev in 1905. Since she had lost her father she was entitled to free education. At first, she finished an elementary Jewish school and then studied at the Skomorovskaya private gymnasium. They studied in Russian, but there was Jewish history and Jewish traditions taught at the school. My mother spoke Yiddish at home. Old Zilberman loved my mother more than his own children as she was a very kind and sweet child. My mother returned his feeling. During her exams to the eighth grade at the gymnasium she signed her first written work with the surname of Zilberman. Unfortunately, she failed her exams and didn’t take other exams and so it happened that she finished only seven grades of the gymnasium.

My mother got a job as a cashier in a store. She was very sociable and had many friends. My grandmother leased one room to make ends meet. Once, a young provincial man came in. He wanted to rent a room. At first he didn’t quite like the room with its ground floor, a trestle bed covered with a clean white sheet, and plain curtains on the window. He left, but returned some time later: something drew him back to this house. He was my father, Shlomo Molchanskiy.

My paternal grandfather, Meir Molchanskiy, was born in Bessarabia in 1854: I don’t know the exact location. He lived in the Jewish farming colony in Dombroveni [Jewish farming settlement in Soroki district, founded in 1836. They grew tobacco and sheep. According to the census in 1897 there were 1,815 residents, of them 1,726 were Jews]. My grandfather Meir rented and later purchased a plot of land. I don’t know any details of their everyday life, but I know that Grandfather Meir was deeply religious. When he visited us in Kishinev I always went to the prayer house in the yard of our house to call him for dinner. He prayed there with his head and shoulders covered with a tallit and had a tefillin on. He wore a long black tunic and a cap on his head. My grandfather had a big white beard and a moustache. His sons studied in cheder. I think that my grandmother, Haya Molchanskaya [nee Tsukerman], was the head of the family.

My grandmother Haya was born in Vertyuzhany near Dombroveni in 1860. She observed Jewish traditions and wore a wig. I remember when Grandmother Haya visited us in Kishinev, she used to press her hands to her cheeks while she watched Grandmother Hava and my mother do the housework, and she would say, ‚Women, women, how you live and how I live‘ She had a very hard life: cooking, washing and fixing her husband and sons‘ clothes. My grandmother came to Kishinev wearing her only velvet dress. She also said when she died and the Lord asked her, ‚Haya, what did you do on Earth?‘ she would say, ‚Before the potatoes got cooked my sons ate them and when I baked loaves of bread, they were gone before I put them on the table.‘

I visited Dombroveni twice when I was a child. My grandparents lived in a big village house with a big yard and a well in the yard. There were trestle beds covered with Moldovan hand-woven rugs. There was a good library of Jewish books in Dombroveni. Some residents were advanced readers in Yiddish and they almost arranged readers‘ conferences. I remember playing with other children there. I don’t know whether there was a synagogue, but there was a cheder and a rabbi. His name was Steinberg and he perished during the Holocaust. Grandmother Haya died in 1939. She had problems with her liver, perhaps, it was cancer. My father went to see her in Dombroveni before she died.

My father had six brothers. They were farmers like their father. In the 1920s four of them moved to America. Srul lived in Pittsburgh in the United States. Brothers Velvel and Shmuel moved to Argentina. Leizer, the youngest one, lived in Sao Paulo in Brazil. I know little about them. Leizer made his way in life, but the others were very poor. Srul bought a house in Pittsburgh, but failed to pay for it and lost it. He was the only one who found us after World War II, and sent parcels with clothes and food through the Red Cross.

Haim, the oldest son, and his wife Montia lived in Dombroveni with my grandparents. They had five children: Iosl, Leib, Huna, Shyfra and Perl. In the late 1930s Iosl illegally crossed the Dnestr [the border between Romania and USSR] to the USSR and we didn’t hear from him for a long time. My father’s brother Avrum and his wife Golda lived in Vertyuzhany. I don’t know what Avrum did for a living. He had eight children. The family was very poor. Rachil, one of his daughters, also moved to the USSR in the late 1930s. Grandmother Haya tried to help them and sometimes she even sold a piece of land.

My father, Shlomo Molchanskiy, was born in Dombroveni in 1897. My father was a very interesting person. He wanted to study instead of farming. He went to cheder where his teacher was Steinberg. At the age of eleven he became an atheist based on some conclusions that he made after studying some discrepancies in the Tanakh. His teacher Steinberg use to say that even if such a decent person was an atheist, it was alright. My father’s brothers were against my father’s intentions to continue his studies. He had a conflict with them and moved to the neighboring village where he taught Hebrew, the Torah and prayers that he already knew. He stayed one week with one family, and the next week with another, having meals with them. He was paid little, as one year later he visited home with just a bag of prunes and two new shirts.

Later, my father moved to Soroki and entered a Jewish gymnasium there. He rented a room from the Kerchman family. Mr. Kerchman owned a mill. My father told me that this mill was damaged during a flood. He had an affair with one of his landlord’s daughters. My father didn’t like to talk about it, but I know that this girl, I think her name was Mina, was a communist and an underground activist. She involved him in studying Marxism. In Vertyuzhany and Dombroveni there was a teacher. His name was Samuel Abramovich Magin and he came from Kherson, and propagated Marxism. He and his wife, Liya Isaacovna, were popular people in this area. My father remained life-long friends with them.

In 1918 Romanian forces came to Bessarabia. [see Annexation of Bessarabia to Romania] [4] Some were marauders. One soldier took away a watch and some other belongings from the Kerchmans, but my father remembered him and when he saw this soldier on a military parade in Soroki, he pointed out this soldier to the officer: ‚This soldier robbed my landlords.‘ I don’t know what happened to the soldier, but the officer told my father, ‚You must leave Soroki within 24 hours.‘ My father came to Kishinev with no money, but he found his fellow countrymen there and they helped him. One of them was Samuel Abramovich Magin, who was living in Kishinev. He was an official in the EKO [5] Jewish colonization association funded from London. Samuel Abramovich hired my father to teach his sons, Dodik and Nyuka, Hebrew. He had always wanted to be a teacher and enjoyed teaching the boys, but to be able to earn more he took up a course in accounting. He hated accounting, but worked as an accountant till he died.

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Growing up

src=“https://trans-history.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Shpitalnik_MOSSH006-Sarra-Shpitalnik-with-her-parents-and-their-friends.jpg“ alt=“Sarra Shpitalnik with her parents and their friends (1930)“ width=“948″ height=“700″ /> Sarra Shpitalnik with her parents and their friends (1930)[/caption]

Shortly after he rented a room from Grandmother Hava, my parents fell in love with each other and got married in 1927. When I was born in 1928, my parents rented an apartment in the house across the street from where my grandmother lived on the corner of Tsyrelson Lane and Oktavian Gog Street. This house belonged to former Russian aristocrats: the Meche-Nikolaevichs. Maria Petrovna Meche-Nikolaevich liked our family, and I was her favorite. She had two good-for-nothing sons. Though I was only three years old, I remember how adults said that one was gay and the other one a card gambler. To cut a long story short, they brought their mother to bankruptcy. Fleshel, a Jewish man, bought this house and the annex in the yard. We lived there till I turned seven.

Those were happy years. There was a neglected garden near the house where our neighbors‘ children and I played Indians and made a great wigwam in the bushes. There was also beautiful ‚bull-de-neige‘ in the garden [decorative bushes with ball-shaped white flowers], very rare in Kishinev. In the backyard there was a big scary dog on the chain. When I was two I once wandered there alone and the dog bit me on my cheek. My mother and her friend, who also rented a part of the house, soaked my cheek with a wet towel while they waited for the doctor. The doctor was everybody’s favorite in Kishinev, Doctor Slissel, he said, ‚Great that you didn’t call for me at once, or I would have seamed the injury and she would have a scar, but now it will heal all right‘. My father always tried to raise me as a brave child. Since the doctors told my mother that she could have no more children, he saw in me all of his unborn children: he loved children. For example, he put me on a two-wheel bicycle in my early childhood. By the way, I never learned to ride a bicycle. Well, my father wanted me to get rid of this fear of the dog and about a year later he took me to the back yard: ‚Don’t fear this dog, it’s a good dog and you might have just slipped on the chain.‘ Well, then the dog almost tore off my father’s lip and this time the doctor had to seam it.

I was a rather capricious and naughty child. I gave my mother a hard time and she sent me to various children’s institutions. I went to a Jewish kindergarten for a year: for some reason it was called a ‚Hebrew‘ kindergarten. All I learned there was counting to four. There was no Hebrew there. They taught us music. Once I conducted a noise orchestra where the children played various wooden trinkets on the stage of a club. I had a lovely marquisette dress on, which was pinned. Well, I gesticulated so hard that it got unpinned and fell off me leaving me in my panties in front of everyone. They drew the curtain, but I was so distressed about all the shame, particularly in front of the boys whom I liked: Boria Fleshel, our landlord’s son and his friend, Syoma Leiderman.
My mother’s health condition was very poor. She had problems with my birth: she suffered three days before the doctors pulled me out with forceps. As a result of this hard delivery she almost lost her sight. She took treatment in the Tumarkin private eye clinic. Doctor Faina Chegorskaya gave her injections in her eye: they were very rare at the time. To distract my mother’s attention she told her various stories. She became a friend of our family. The doctors in Kishinev advised my mother to go to Vienna with her sight problems. My father somehow managed to get some money and we all went there and stayed there for a few weeks. I was five then.

I remember Schonbrunn [palace], Prater [amusement park in Vienna], and the bed of Maria Theresa [Austrian Archduchess (1717-1780) of the Habsburg family] in a museum. My parents went to the Vienna Opera House and I stayed in the hotel room. I remembered Vienna very well. When we went to Chernovtsy after the war I said right away that it resembled Vienna a lot: and this was true since it was an Austro-Hungarian town, too. In Vienna my mother was told that she could continue her treatment with doctor Chegorskaya, who went to Vienna for annual trainings.
My father worked as an accountant in a few offices to make ends meet. He also took part in public activities and worked for a number of Jewish organizations: he was a member of ORT [6], and worked for the League of Culture – Kulturliga [Jewish Kulturliga in Kishinev – public organization. It was spreading modern enlightenment among Jews.] My father had some ties with the communist underground movement. He wasn’t a member of the communist party, but he supported communists: they used to type some communist posters on the hectograph in the slaughter house. It was said at home that even Anna Pauker [one of the leaders of the Romanian communist movement, Jewish] was hiding in the slaughter house.

My father also had some contacts with Zionists. He subscribed to a Zionist newspaper in Yiddish in Kishinev, ‚Unzere Zeit‘ [Our time]: it was a must in each Jewish house to have it. We spoke Yiddish and Russian at home. I also remember that my father always somehow got the ‚Izvestiya‘ [News, daily communist newspaper issued in Moscow]. I learned to read from this newspaper asking him, ‚Which is this letter? And this one?‘ At the age of three I could read in Russian. My father was a sociable man. When we took a walk in the town, every minute someone stopped to talk to him. Somehow all kinds of people, craftsmen or very educated people, knew him. Our acquaintances from Dombroveni and Vertyuzhany always knew that they would find food and accommodation in our home. Our home was like a caravanserai.

My mother was very kind and found good in all people. If someone called another a complete fool, she commented, ‚Right, but how nicely he treats his wife’s relatives.‘ She never felt jealous or angry. I called her a ‚Tolstoy follower‘ because she was so fond of Tolstoy [7]. My mother was five when Tolstoy died and she remembered that day for the rest of her life. All the people in Kishinev repeated, ‚Tolstoy died, Tolstoy died.‘ She didn’t know then who he was, but remembered this. Despite her poor sight she used to reread his work, ‚War and Peace,‘ and knew various extracts by heart. She was also fond of Galsworthy [John (1867-1933): English novelist and playwright, best known for his novel series, ‚The Forsyte Saga‘] and ‚Jane Eyre‘ by Charlotte Bronte. My mother was a kind and jolly woman. She used to burst into a loud laughter which sometimes grew almost into hysterics. She and my father had a smooth loving relationship. I think if somebody had hurt my mother, my father would have killed him. Grandmother Hava treated her son-in-law with respect. In general, we were respectful towards each other in the family.

At the age of six I went to a Romanian elementary school. I had a very good first teacher. Her name was Yelena Bogos and I think she belonged to the local Russian aristocrats. On the first day she called my mother to school and indicated to her that the only thing I could say in Romanian was a greeting. My mother replied, ‚Let her stay and then we shall see. Unfortunately, I can’t help her since I don’t know Romanian, and her father has no time to teach her.‘ People in smaller towns knew only Moldovan. Grandmother Hava knew Moldovan, but my mother didn’t. However, I picked up the language promptly. I was much better at languages than my mother. After finishing the first grade I was awarded for being the best pupil.

By that time my father was earning well. When I was seven, we bought an apartment in the building in the yard connecting Yekaterininskaya Street and Chasovennyi Lane. There was running water, electricity and gas in the house. There were 26 apartments in the building and all tenants were Jews by some coincidence. It was a whole Jewish settlement: a real eshuv. There were all classes of Jews: from one who married a prostitute to very intelligent educated families. They spoke Yiddish, but knew Russian and many spoke Romanian. We had an apartment on the second floor which comprised four rooms: two had windows on the ceiling, always dirty. My grandmother, who worked and lived with us, had her own room, my parents had a bedroom and there was a living room. I slept in the living room, and had a desk covered with green cloth in my parents‘ bedroom. One of our relatives, who later perished during the Holocaust, had made this desk. My parents had a nickel-plated bed decorated with shining balls. The rest of the furniture was plain. We had many books in Russian and Yiddish at home. I had my own collection of books in Romanian and Yiddish.

My mother’s cousin sister Sonia Gerstein, nee Zilberman, her husband and sons lived on the first floor. Her husband Haim was a bookbinder. Her sons Shmuel and Ershl were much older than me. Aunt Sonia was a housewife. She was a cheerful and charming dame. She and her husband took no interest in politics whatsoever. The Gersteins liked parties, guests and playing poker. We celebrated Jewish holidays together and were friends before and after the war. In late 1930, when Hitler came to power a depressing atmosphere settled all over Europe. There were fascists in Romania. Anti-Jewish laws were issued: Jews could only work for Jews, Jews couldn’t have Christian servants and there were other restrictions. We heard about what was going on in Europe. We knew that Mr. Baron, the owner of the hotel in which we stayed in Vienna committed suicide before the deportation of Jews. Then my father said we had to move closer to the Gersteins.

At first, the Cuzists [8] failed with their first putsch. On our way to the gymnasium we saw dead bodies of Iron Guard [9] members, on the corner of Pushkin and Alexandrovskaya Streets. There was also a poster with the inscription threatening that this was what was to happen to all traitors. We were very inspired thinking that this was the end of fascism, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. My parents‘ friends had continuous political discussions, debates and arguments at home. Some were anglophiles and some Zionists, but all of them liked the USSR and believed it to be the country of happiness. Most of our friends were Jewish. The Goldstein family was the closest to us. Zalman Goldstein was a printer and an active underground communist. In 1928 he took part in the trial of 114 that started in Cluj on 10th September. He and other prisoners went on a 45-day-long hunger strike to get amnesty. One of the political prisoners, Haya Lifshitz, starved to death. After the war, when I grew up, I asked Zalman, ‚Why were there so many Jews among the communists?‘ and he replied, ‚We just involved our friends in this underground movement, but there were Romanians and Russians there, too‘.

Though my father was an atheist, he knew and honored Jewish traditions. He was a real Jew deep in his heart. He had a good conduct of Hebrew and Yiddish and was interested in everything Jewish. He read books mainly in Yiddish: Mendele Moiher Sforim [10], Sholem Aleichem [11], [Itshack Leibush] Perez [12]. My father was friends with Yakov Sternberg, a wonderful Jewish poet, who lived in Bucharest [today Romania]. Yakov Sternberg was born in Lipkany, and so were other writers and poets like Eliezer Steinberg, Moshe Altman. Bialik [13] called this group ‚Lipkany Olympus.‘ Yakov Sternberg was also one of the founders of the Jewish [State] Theater in Bucharest [14]. He visited us whenever he came to Kishinev. I remember how he taught my mother to make coffee the Romanian way.

We celebrated Jewish holidays at home, though my father didn’t go to the synagogue. Grandmother Hava played an important role here. She was very religious and observed all Jewish traditions: she followed the kashrut and didn’t work on Sabbath. The rest of the family didn’t follow the kashrut. We ate treyf food. On Jewish holidays my grandmother went to the choral synagogue. She fasted on Yom Kippur and spent a whole day at the synagogue. I would run there to see how she was feeling. My mother also fasted.

On Pesach we always had matzah at home and celebrated seder with the Gersteins. Aunt Sonia’s husband, Haim Gerstein, conducted seder according to the rules: He read the Haggadah; his sons Shmuel and Ershel posed the four questions [mah nishtanah] and searched for the afikoman. I remember my father muttering that Haim messed it all up on our way back home. I also remember learning these four questions in Yiddish, I remember I had asked them somewhere, but I can’t remember the place.

We celebrated Rosh Hashanah. My parents had many friends, they visited us for a meal and then we went to the town park. This was the season of nuts and grapes. We drank freshly squeezed grape juice. It foamed and was wonderfully delicious.

We also celebrated Chanukkah with Aunt Sonia: this was her birthday. I don’t remember money, but Grandmother Hava always made latkes and dumplings filled with cottage cheese and potatoes.
On Purim we made shelakhmones, filled baskets with hamantashen, and other sweets, to take them to our relatives and acquaintances, but there were no performances.

I also remember Khamishoser bishvat, called Tu bi-Shevat at present. We always had Israel fruit on this holiday: raisins, dates, almonds, figs and horn tree pods. Pods had a divine taste, and they looked like acacia pods.

My grandmother and mother cooked delicious food: clear soups, borsch [a traditional Ukrainian beet soup], green soup, dumplings and of course, gefilte fish. My grandmother went to the market, but my mother went to the shops and took me with her. I remember the posh Fishman’s store on Alexandrovskaya Street where we bought two sardines for my sandwich. We also bought sausages and I enjoyed watching them slice it. Alexandrovskaya Street changed its name several times. Now it is Stefan cel Mare Street [named after Stephan the Great, the ruler of the Moldova principality between 1457-1504. He conducted the policy of centralization]. In Moldova and Bessarabia everything changed with the arrival of new leaders: names of streets, leaders, regime and the country.

There was a big shoe store of Lapshuk on Alexandrovskaya Street. On Pushkin Street, Karaims [followers of the sect of Judaism founded in the 8th century] owned a ‚Pamona‘ store, which sold citrus and other exotic fruits. There were smaller stores in the lower tower i.e. the haberdashery store of Matracht owned by Lukstick, and another store owned by Leiderman. There were excellent confectioneries in Kishinev. There was one owned by Gohman near where we lived. This building still stands on the corner. They served orange juice and Italian ‚tutti-frutti‘ wrapped in aluminum foil, and also chocolate chestnuts. We went there occasionally, but I didn’t have a sweet tooth. I liked bananas, which were expensive, but my parents used to buy me one banana.

There were horse-drawn carts and trams in Kishinev. Only wealthy plant owners like Shor had cars. Shor, a Jew, owned a distillery. There were a few libraries in the town: a municipal library in primaria, the Moldovan National Library was based in it. There is a rare books department in it. There was a Russian library of clerks on Mikhailovskaya Street: I used to read books in Russian there, when studying at the gymnasium. There were school libraries. There were two vocational Jewish schools for girls and many Jewish schools for boys: and all of them had libraries. People read a lot due to lack of other entertainment. There were two big cinema theaters: Odeon and another cinema; I don’t remember the name. We even watched Soviet movies during the Romanian rule, ‚Merry guys‘, ‚Alexandr Nevskiy‘ and ‚Happiness hunters‘ [(1936), about the establishment of Birobidzhan [15] in the Far East] that was shown under the title of ‚Emigrants‘.

In my childhood I used to spend my free time in the park near our house where there was a Christian church. We played ‚one tsar gave another soldiers‘, and ‚geese, geese, come home.‘ We also went to the town garden where there is a monument of Pushkin [16], but after 1938 it became dangerous for Jews, as young Romanian fascists, and Cuzist followers, had gatherings there. They were aggressive. Theaters from other towns came on tours to Kishinev: for example, the ‚Vilner Truppe‘ from Vilnius. My parents went there, but I stayed at home. Jews lived everywhere in the town, but there were many in the lower part: the poorer part of town. Wealthier Jews resided uptown.

After finishing the fourth grade I entered Regina Maria, a Romanian gymnasium. We had good teachers. 25 percent Jewish children were allowed. There were 100 students in our ‚A‘ and ‚B‘ classes and among them, twelve Jewish girls in the A class and 13 in the B. We had strajer [17] uniforms. Strajeria was a student movement, something like boy-scouts. We wore dark blue culottes which were knee-length, white blouses and dark blue sweaters, belts with steel badges like the military had and many other badges: the Romanian emblem, etc. Every morning my grandmother helped with my clothes: pinning the badges and muttering in Yiddish ’noch a zwod, noch a zwod‘: ‚one more nail and another one‘.

We had religious classes. Christian girls had their own classes, one Catholic girl had a Catholic teacher and we, Jewish girls, studied prayers with a rabbi. We studied double Italian accounting from the first grade. Boys studied Latin and Ancient Greek, but we didn’t. We studied French from the first grade and German from the third grade. In 1940 my father decided I had to study Hebrew. Since he had no time to teach me my parents hired a private teacher. Her name was Hana Levina. I often recall her. When my parents asked her how talented I was she replied, ‚She has no special talents, but she is a very intelligent child.‘ I studied the Hebrew alphabet, but soon we had to terminate our classes. In summer 1940 the Soviets came to power. [see Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union] [18]

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During the War

In 1940 the Jewish population of Kishinev increased significantly: many Bessarabians working in Romania returned to Bessarabia and many arrived from Transylvania [19]. We had to share our apartment with Jews from Transylvania. They spoke Hungarian and didn’t know a word in Yiddish and my mother couldn’t talk to them. Many Jews arrived from Russia [then USSR] and from Tiraspol, Odessa [today Ukraine]. We had no fear of the Soviet power: we were rather sympathetic. My father’s acquaintances used to say a long time before this happened, ‚Ours will be here soon,‘ and some tradesmen thought, ‚when ours will come, we will become clerks in our stores.‘ However, my father got disappointed with the Soviet power pretty soon. He went to work in the Glavlessbyt timber sale office. When his new boss saw his new ball pen that Uncle Philip had sent him from Paris, he took it away saying, ‚Is this a ball-point pen? It used to be yours, but now it is ours‘. My father found this very strange.

Then arrests began. Our acquaintance Milstein, a tradesman, was arrested. The main cause of his arrest was that the new authorities liked his mansion. My father was a brave man. He went to the NKVD [20] office and said that Melstein had contributed money to the communist party, but they responded, ‚Just be grateful that you are free and take your good leave.‘ About 60 years later a French-speaking man came to the Jewish library where I worked. He introduced himself: ‚I am the artist Milstein.‘ He turned out to be the son of this man that my father had stood up for. He lives in Paris and recently sent me an album of his pictures.

Everything was new in 1940. Adults talked in whispers and the kids were like Pavlik Morozov [21] seeing kulaks [22] in all people. Our gymnasium like all others became a school. Students who finished the second grade of the gymnasium went to study in the sixth grade. I made one mistake in my first Russian dictation: I wrote the Russian word ‚redka‘ [‚turnip‘] with a ‚t‘. I got an ‚excellent‘ mark. The teaching switched to the Russian language. Our French teacher moved to France, as she said: for religious motives. Some teachers arrived from the USSR. I was eleven and a half and I fell in love with our teacher of history, Pyotr Demianovich, from the USSR. He taught ancient history: it was fabulous; it’s hard to describe his classes.

In 1941 the war began [see Great Patriotic War] [23]. My father wasn’t subject to recruitment any longer. Grandmother Hava, my parents and I decided to evacuate. At first we went to Vadul lui Voda with our luggage, but we had no passes and weren’t allowed there. Then my father stood in line to obtain these passes that nobody ever looked at. I need to mention here that it was possible to evacuate from Kishinev. Only those who remembered World War I and thought that the Germans weren’t going to do any harm stayed there. Many others were confused by receiving letters from Romania where their acquaintances wrote, ‚We get along well with our new neighbors.‘ Many of my classmates stayed and perished with their families. After the war I only met two or three of them: Zlata Tkach, nee Berehman, from the parallel class, she is a composer in Kishinev, and Tova Nemirovskaya, nee Kalekstein, she lives in Los Angeles and calls me every second week since I became a widow.

Well, we evacuated. At first we stopped in Tiraspol where my father’s office gave him his last salary and then we started on our long journey to the Northern Caucasus, literally under the falling bombs. We got to Ordzhonikidze, present Stavropol Krai. We stayed in a village in the house of very nice people, whose son was at the front. They gave us food saying, ‚Perhaps, somebody will help our son as well.‘ We stayed with them for a month, but my parents didn’t want to overburden them: ‚We have to support ourselves.‘ And we went to a sovkhoz [24]. There was a possibility to go to work. My father and grandmother worked in a field. My mother did the housework and I went to school, but then the front line approached and we moved on. From Makhachkala [today Russia] we took a boat across the Caspian Sea and farther to Uzbekistan from the coast.

We spent the winter in Fergana. My father worked as a loader at a plant. We rented an apartment from a Moldovan family. There were many Moldovan people there [Editor’s note: nationality in the European part of Russia, Orthodox Christians]. My mother fell ill with pneumonia, but since they had icons in the house they didn’t allow her to do her toilet in the house and having high fever she had to go outside. In spring, we found out that the Gersteins were in Bukhara and we moved there. We rented a room in the women’s part of an Uzbek house, and our landlords moved to the men’s part. The Gersteins lived in another room. My father was recruited to the Labor army and sent to the railroad construction in Cheliabinsk region [today Russia]. He sold his bread ration and sent us this money to support us. He ate his potato ration. My mother went to work as a cook in an office where she received white flour and no food products. We made noodles and ‚zatirukha‘ [water added to flour cooked in the frying pan] from this flour.

My father respected my grandmother a lot and believed her to be a strong woman. He sent her a letter in Yiddish: ‚Please take care of my family.‘ Grandmother Hava was very weak at the time. She was a diabetic like her older brother Srul. She had gangrene and then dysentery. She looked terrible and had lice, but she still gave us her bread ration which she was given in hospital. My grandmother died in 1942, we buried her in the Jewish cemetery before Yom Kippur. During the season of rain we found my mother’s cousin brother, my grandmother’s brother Srul Brick’s son. He was an actor at the Jewish Theater in Dnepropetrovsk [today Ukraine]. He had a beautiful wife, also a Jewish actress, and a daughter of my age, but she was so arrogant that I couldn’t be friends with her. I believe the subject of her pride was that they were wealthier than us.

I studied in a Russian school during evacuation. Our teachers were either evacuated or those who had been exiled in the 1930s, [during the Great Terror] [25], which wasn’t to be mentioned aloud. There were local and evacuated children. I made close friends with Salomeya Kapor, a Jewish girl from Kaunas [today Lithuania]. Her parents were doctors. She was very talented and intelligent. Twenty years after the war my husband and I met with her in Kaunas. Salomeya was a good pianist. Her husband was Lithuanian and they had a son. Several years later Salomeya moved to England and I never heard from her again. I also remember my classmate Sima Zhytomirskaya. They were Ashkenazi Jews, but had lived in Bukhara for a long time. There was also a group of Bukhara Jews [26].

I also remember a very pretty girl, whose last name was Dolidze. Her mother was Georgian and her father was a German, who had been deported from the European part of Russia during the war. I don’t know whether anti-Semitism existed in Uzbekistan at the time. Of course, some boys ran after my grandmother shouting ‚zhydovka‘ [abusive word for Jewish females]. This might have happened, but generally one needs to understand that the locals gave us accommodation and food. I think they were rather loyal and tolerant. As for school, almost all the teachers and students were Jewish, so there was no question of anti-Semitism. I joined the Komsomol [27] in Bukhara.

The death rate in Bukhara was high. At one time I worked as a statistics operator in Bukhara. Each morning I received information about the number of people who died of typhus or enteric fever. I was only 15 years old and I couldn’t bear to work there. It was hard to know this. My father returned to Bukhara in 1945, after the victory. He was sent to work as a manager for straw stocks for the front at a station in the Bukhara region where the trains stopped for one minute. I worked for him as an assistant accountant and there were two Uzbeks pressing straw. Our friend Doctor Bregman sent us an invitation permit to go back to Kishinev and we went home. The town was ruined: one could walk across yards from the railway station to Alexandrovskaya Street. The uptown was in better condition, but the lower part, which was a ghetto during the war, looked awful [see Kishinev Ghetto] [28]. Our house had been torn apart. We stayed at Doctor Bregman’s hospital at first, but it was impossible to live like that much longer.

My father got information about his relatives. Grandfather Meir was 80 when the Great Patriotic War began and he refused to evacuate. He said to his older son Haim, ‚Whether one is poor or dead doesn’t matter. I will stay.‘ We don’t know any details about how my grandfather perished. The whole population was Jewish and all local residents were killed. Haim, his wife Montia and their younger daughter Perl left Dombroveni with a horse-drawn cart, but the Germans captured them. Our neighbors said they made them dig their own graves. Leib and Huna perished at the front near Stalingrad. Iosl perished in the Gulag [29]. His daughter lives in Bochum in Germany. Haim’s daughter Shyfra lives in New York.

Avrum and his wife perished. Only three of their eight children survived. Rachil was taken to jail in Tiraspol and sent to the Gulag. In the Gulag a Jewish doctor employed her as an attendant at the hospital and thus saved her life. Rachil got married in exile and had two daughters: Sofa and Muza. Rachil is 90 now. She lives in Israel, in the town of Ashdod. Avrum’s daughter Ida lived in Kurgan in the Urals where she worked at a mine. This is all I know about her. Efraim moved to Israel in the late 1940s. He has passed away already. After the war the sovkhoz board moved into my grandfather’s house in Dombroveni. Everybody told my father, ‚You are an heir: go get what is yours,‘ but he replied, ‚I don’t want to go there, when there is no one there.‘

The fate of our relatives in France during World War II was also tragic. Uncle Philip took part in the Resistance. His wife Fira perished in Auschwitz, her English citizenship didn’t save her. They left their son Serge with a French man and he survived. Philip married a French woman who was in the movement with him after the war. We didn’t know her. They lived in the south of France. Philip died in the 1960s. His son Serge lived with his mother’s sister. After his father died they moved to America where he left the Orent part of his surname. I know that he lives in New Jersey State, and he is married with three children. He is a computer manager. My mother died 15 years ago, and Serge and I have lost contact since then.

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Post-war

Sarra Shpitalnik and her husband Moisey Shpitalnik (Chisinau, 2001)

In 1946 I finished the tenth grade and wanted to study languages. I entered the French department of the Philological Faculty of Chernovtsy University. My parents and I moved to Chernovtsy. At the end of the war many Ukrainian families left the town following the retreating Germans and there were vacant apartments available. After the liberation of Transnistria [30], Jews from the ghetto rushed to Chernovtsy: we were a little late having stayed in Kishinev for a year. Those who came there in 1945 lived in nice apartments. Chernovtsy is a beautiful town. Our faculty resided in the former Metropolitan’s residence, in the beautiful building of red bricks.

I lived the best years of my life when I was a student. We were divided into two groups. I was in a stronger group where all students were Jews and only two Ukrainians. Almost all students in our group were either veterans of the war or former inmates of ghettos in Transnistria. The political situation was rather severe: there were Bandera [31] gangs in the area. One day we went to the university and got to know that all third-year students had been arrested. The authorities had found out that they had Bandera flyers. At this time the campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘ [32] began. Ilia Gordon, a Jewish lecturer on foreign literature was sent away from Kiev [today Ukraine] to work in our town. The Party Bureau taped his lectures to review them later. We felt sorry for him and did our best to study his subject and obtain good marks in it.

Another demonstration of state anti-Semitism was that they closed the Jewish Theater in Chernovtsy. Actually, this was the Kiev Theater [founded in 1928], but after the war they weren’t allowed to return to the capital and had to move to Chernovtsy. They were always sold out since Chernovtsy was a Jewish town then. Some actors went to work in Russian and Ukrainian theaters, but many lost their jobs after it had been closed down. I also remember another incident: the university announced a party for local young people. I thought since I was a Bessarabian girl I was to be a local resident, but they didn’t let me in, or any Jew for that matter. Only Ukrainians were allowed to attend it. However, there wasn’t much impact of this kind on our studies. Our group was very close. We often had parties, celebrated birthdays, went to the theater and cinema. Our groups welcomed the establishment of Israel. We were ready to move to Israel as volunteers. Our co-student Anatoliy Kogan, who later became a writer in Kishinev, could play the piano very well. He occasionally played the ‚Hatikva‘ [33]: there was a piano in the corridor of our faculty. Of course, we were a little afraid, but we were young and we were happy about Israel. Later, twelve former students of our group moved to Israel. Four still live there.

When I was in my fifth year of studies I went to Kishinev on vacation. I stayed with my aunt Sonia Gerstein. When I visited my acquaintance, I met a fifth-year student of the Agricultural College, who rented a room from her. His name was Moisey Shpitalnik. We liked each other and began to correspond. Moisey finished his college: students of the Agricultural College had graduate exams before we did since they were to do seeding in the fields, and received a job assignment to Floreshty [see mandatory job assignment in the USSR] [34]. He came to Chernovtsy and said we had to get married immediately, so that I could get my job assignment in the same town. So we did.

My husband’s father, Girsh Shpitalnik, was the manager of a timber storage in Rybnitsa; he was a high-skilled specialist in the woodworking industry. His mother, Sura Shpitalnik, was a housewife. Moisey’s older brother, Israel, born in 1919, finished the Railroad College in Dnepropetrovsk. In May 1941 he got married, and in June the war began. Israel was a lieutenant during the war, taken into captivity and executed. His wife Tania and his parents were taken to a ghetto. My husband’s sister Hana was born in Rybnitsa in 1922. My husband was born in Rybnitsa in 1928. Moisey went to a Jewish school. In 1937 the school was closed down and its director was arrested. The children were taken to a Ukrainian school. During the war the family made an effort to evacuate. They moved on foot and had a cow with them. Near Balty in Odessa region, they got in encirclement and were taken to a ghetto with other Jews where they were kept until 1944.

My husband told me that once Romanians beat him hard for having dropped a beam that was too heavy for him. He stuttered for a long time afterward. Later, he worked in a shop where they made valenki boots [traditional Russian winter felt boots]. He had a trophic ulcer from the sulfuric acid used for valenki making. Moisey said there were underground activists, who made valenki in such a manner that they fell apart promptly in the frost, but the Germans couldn’t tell the difference. Israel’s wife Tania died from typhus in the ghetto and the rest of them survived. Moisey’s mother died in 1948 and his father died in 1955. His father came to our wedding with his second wife: she was a relative, who survived in the Odessa ghetto, while her family perished in the ghetto. Moisey’s sister, Hana Vapniar, lived in Rybnitsa and worked as a medical nurse. She had no children. Hana died in 2001.

We got married in 1951 and moved to Floreshty where we lived for five years. I was a French teacher at school and my husband was a senior agronomist. There were 90 Jewish families in Floreshty at that time: a significant number considering that this was the postwar period. In our Moldovan school almost all the teachers were Jews: Lev Shoichet, mathematics teacher, he had graduated from a university in Bukhara, Shapiro – the Russian language and literature teacher, Schwartzman – biology teacher, Riva Chamelis – chemistry teacher, and Liya Darkhova – history teacher. Only one Moldovan teacher and a history teacher in the senior classes were non-Jewish. I don’t think that I was a good pedagog: my students walked over me. When writing my diploma thesis in our university library, I got acquainted with bibliography and I started thinking about it. After I went to Floreshty my parents returned to Kishinev. At first, they stayed in a through room in their relatives‘ apartment, but later they collected some money. I translated the novel by Polevoy, Boris [35], ‚Gold‘, into Moldovan and received a significant fee for this work. We paid this money to the owner of an unfinished house in Bayukany, as he needed money to finish the construction, and we bought half of this house from him.

We lived in Floreshty, when in 1953 the Doctors‘ Plot [36] began. However, it wasn’t so severe in Moldova. Brezhnev [37], secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Moldova at that time, was rather mild. There were a few arrests, but they resulted from actual medical mistakes. Though the general atmosphere was depressing, it was still not as severe as in Moscow and Leningrad. However, there appeared rumors that Jews were to be taken to live in barracks in Siberia and Altayskiy Krai. When Stalin died in spring 1953, there was a meeting in Floreshty and I cried, of course. We were very concerned about our future. We knew a lot about 1937 and we weren’t so shocked, when in 1956 the Twentieth Party Congress [38] took place and Khrushchev’s [39] report was published afterward, though of course, it brought us hope for a better life and more democracy.

In 1956 my husband and I moved to Kishinev, to my parents. I had a higher education, five-year teaching experience and I also finished an extramural course in English. I went to district education departments, but they refused to employ me due to my nationality [see Item 5] [40]. They just replied that they had no vacancies, even though they did have them. Then a friend of mine who worked at the Medical College, called me: ‚You know they need a person who knows foreign languages in our library.‘ The Kishinev Medical College was founded on the basis of the Leningrad Medical College that had evacuated to Piatigorsk during the war. After the war they weren’t allowed to return to Leningrad. The college functioned during the German occupation for half a year, and then the authorities blamed its employees for this. It moved to Kishinev.

This library had a good collection of foreign books that the college partially received as part of German reparations: a significant part of it belonged to Richard Koch, a Jewish doctor, who got political asylum in the USSR before World War II and lived in Piatigorsk. When I went to see the human resources manager, he got indignant, ‚Who is this you’ve brought in here? Israel has attacked Egypt‘ [After Egypt entered into a military pact with Syria and Jordan for aggression against Israel, on 29th October 1956 Israeli forces attacked the Egyptian positions on the Sinai Peninsula]. Can you imagine any links between me and the Israeli attack on Egypt? However, he employed me, as he didn’t have an alternative because I knew French and English, and had a rather good conduct of German. Later, I was sent to a two-year extramural training course for librarians and after finishing it began to work as a bibliographer.

We lived with my parents and I built up my marital life: my husband and I were friends. We managed to provide for ourselves and we remembered about ‚cutting your coat according to your cloth.‘ In the late 1950s the situation with food was bad: I remember bread with peas. My husband worked as an agronomist in a sovkhoz in Gratieshty where he could buy cheap vegetables and fruits. My father worked as an accountant in hospitals or kindergartens. I worked and received additional income for my knowledge of foreign languages. We were given our first television as a housewarming party gift in 1958; it had a lens.

My husband and I were fond of classical music and had season tickets to the Philharmonic. When the opera theater opened in Kishinev we went to all the premieres. We also went to drama performances and the cinema. My husband and I often went on vacations together to Northern Caucasus, Poland, the Volga and to Pushkin’s places. We particularly enjoyed this tour since we were both very fond of Pushkin. My husband was rather a prosaic man, but there he couldn’t help reciting poems. This was at the time when Geichenko was director of the Pushkin preservation and he organized everything in the best way. We visited Mikhaylovskoye and Trigorskoye, the Sviatogorsk monastery where Pushkin was buried. This tour ended with spending ten days in Leningrad. Our friends in Kishinev comprised about ten Jewish couples. Moisey and I were the youngest in this company. We were more Soviet-minded while the others came from former Zionist organizations during the Romanian rule: Betar [41], Gordonia [42].

We often got together, celebrated birthdays, Jewish holidays and the European New Year. We always followed the events in Israel closely on television and radio. I remember when the Six-Day-War [43] began, my father turned 70 and we wanted to celebrate this birthday, but he said, ‚Not while this is happening in Israel.‘ We were very concerned and couldn’t believe that a small country like Israel could win. When all of a sudden victory came! Our friends got together in our home without any pre-arrangements and we had a feast. Moisey was quite a phenomenon in this respect: he could lay the table within 15 minutes and there was plenty of food on it. Moisey was very good at making great cakes. Our friends called one of his cakes ’shpitalnyi‘ [Shpitalnik’s cake] after him. His gefilte fish was particularly popular. I wasn’t as good in the kitchen as he was. In the circle of our friends we often said that when we move to Israel, Moisey would be a chef there, but he replied, ‚I only like to cook for my friends.‘

My father died in 1970. This happened on 22nd April, on the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birthday. My father fell very ill and we sent him to hospital where he died on the night of 1st May. We buried him in the Jewish cemetery. When in the 1970s Jews began to move to Israel, most of our friends left. At that time I was the director of the bibliographic department and I was so fond of the Medical College that I couldn’t even think of quitting. Moisey couldn’t leave his sovkhoz, and my mother didn’t want to leave home. She used to say, ‚I won’t have sufficient space there.‘ Why did she say so, when she hardly ever went out at all? There was no logic in it, but her point of view was important for us and we decided to stay.

I worked at the Medical College for 34 years as director of the bibliographic department and I also held the position of junior employee translating articles from foreign magazines after work. I was good at foreign languages, and even translated from Dutch. One of my friends in college used to say, ‚She knows everything, but Hungarian.‘ Many lecturers in the college are still very grateful to me: many candidates and doctor dissertations [see Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees] [44] went through my hands. I remember one of them: he suddenly bumped into a medical book in Japanese and somebody told him, ‚Well, why don’t you talk to Sarra Shpitalnik.‘ My reputation was working for me.

I liked literature and often conducted reviews of literary works in senior groups of students: curators of groups invited me. Most often I spoke on the subject of ‚The character of doctors in fiction.‘ Later, I prepared and issued an annotated guide: ‚Medical workers in fiction literature.‘ My second big bibliographic work in the Medical College was: ‚Writers-doctors‘ about Russian, Soviet and foreign writers, who were doctors. Later, I published articles about fiction literature, medical workers during the Great Patriotic War in the ‚Medical worker‘ the institute paper, articles in our professional magazine, ‚Sovetskaya bibliografiya‘: ‚Soviet bibliography‘ [published in Moscow since 1933] and other periodicals. I liked my work. It distracted me from thinking about our problem: we had no children.

We were a team in the library and there was no anti-Semitism. We celebrated birthdays and Soviet holidays together. The library wasn’t far from my house and I walked to work. There was an affiliate of our library in Malaya Malina, a distant district. Once someone told me that our director said, ‚We shall send this zhydovka to Malaya Malina and get rid of her.‘ She worked in my bibliographic department at first and was a party member and when the director of the library retired she replaced her. She was a little jealous that all the lecturers addressed me with their problems: just because I knew medical definitions, and languages. When she said, ‚Sarra, you will go to work in Malaya Malina‘, I was prepared and replied, ‚Great, there is bus 9 stopping by my house: it goes straight there,‘ and she was discouraged. Later, I returned to the central department and retired from there.

In 1984 I became a pensioner, but I stayed at work part-time. My mother broke her hip and could only get up from her bed when Moisey and I supported her. She spent most of the time in her room reading and watching television. When perestroika [45] began, my mother watched all information programs, particularly, when Gorbachev [46] spoke. She treated him with great sympathy and when he appeared on the screen, she said, ‚It’s like one’s own father comes into the room.‘ As for me, I lost my respect for him, when he interrupted Sakharov [47] at the congress of deputies [The Congress of People’s Deputies, founded in 1989, voted to end the Communist Party’s control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president.] However, we were enthusiastic about perestroika. There were many interesting publications in the press, something that we could only discuss with our closest friends, and there were books published which had been banned before.

My mother died of cancer in 1989. We buried her in the Doina, in the Jewish sector since the Jewish cemetery had been closed by then.

By this time the Jewish society appeared in Kishinev. It was something very different for us. There were lectures on Jewish traditions where material and courses in Hebrew were available. In the 1990s the rest of our friends moved to Israel. In 1990 my husband and I decided to move to Israel. We studied Hebrew for half a year. We obtained a visa, when all of a sudden I was overwhelmed with fear. Our friends weren’t very encouraging: ‚You have no children. You won’t have anything to do here. Moisey wouldn’t be able to find a job with his occupation, and you wouldn’t get any allowances since you’ve not come of proper age.‘ This had such an impact on me that when we went to the cemetery to visit the graves of our dear ones, I said, ‚Whatever you decide I’m not going.‘ He said, ‚All right, if you don’t want to go.‘ He went back to work though he was a pensioner, and I saw an announcement that our library needed a person who knew Romanian and Yiddish. I went to work there.

My husband and I visited our friends in Israel twice: in 1996 and 1999. We lived in Bat Yam near Tel Aviv. The telephone kept ringing: my former fellow students from Chernovtsy University and our friends from Kishinev wanted to talk to us. We went on tours to Jerusalem, Haifa, Zefat, on the Kineret Lake and I sobbed by the Wailing Wall. My husband was shocked that they managed to grow a garden on stones. Besides, our friend took us to the cactus garden in Holon. This was an amazing view: there were little cactus plants and huge trees and they were blooming beautifully. We took our second trip on a boat from Odessa since my husband could obtain a free ticket as a former ghetto inmate. We bought a ticket for me. We stayed with our friends in Haifa. During our first trip we were in Yad Vashem [48] late in the evening and didn’t see anything. In 1999 we went there for the second time. When the tour guide heard that my husband was in the ghetto, she treated us particularly warmly. Israel is very impressive; I believe one has to visit there.

When the charity center Hesed [49] Jehuda opened in Kishinev, I went to work there as a volunteer. Before they got their own building they worked in our library partially. They generated the lists of needy Jews, distributed matzah, or clothes. Every month I lecture on Jewish literature for them. Now I’m working on a lecture on Kanovich, a Jewish Lithuanian writer, who lives in Israel now. We’ve had a club of pensioners in Hesed for ten years and I’m an active member there. In 1995 I celebrated the presentation of my book ‚Jews of Moldova‘ at the library; it’s an annotated guide in Romanian. In 2000, its extended and added edition was issued with a resume in English. Here in the library we celebrated my 70th anniversary [1998] and my husband and my golden wedding [2001]. Our colleagues asked Moisey to make his outstanding gefilte fish, and it was great. Moisey died two years after this anniversary. I buried him in the Jewish cemetery near my father and bought myself a place there.


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Glossary

[1] Baal Shem Tov (The Besht) (1698-1760): The founder of the Jewish mystic movement called Hasidism. Born in Okup, a small village in Western Ukraine, he was orphaned at the age of 5 and was raised by the local community. He would often spend his time in the fields, woods and mountains instead of school. He worked as a school aid and later as a shammash. He got married and settled in the Carpathean mountains not far from Brody. He studied alone for seven years and began to reveal himself in 1734. Moving to Talust, he gained a reputation as a miracle worker and soul master. Then he moved to Medzhibozh in Western Ukraine where he lived and taught for the remainder of his life. His teachings were preserved by his disciple Yakov Yosef of Polonoye.

[2] Bessarabia: Historical area between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, in the southern part of Odessa region. Bessarabia was part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917. In 1918 it declared itself an independent republic, and later it united with Romania. The Treaty of Paris (1920) recognized the union but the Soviet Union never accepted this. In 1940 Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR. The two provinces had almost 4 million inhabitants, mostly Romanians. Although Romania reoccupied part of the territory during World War II the Romanian peace treaty of 1947 confirmed their belonging to the Soviet Union. Today it is part of Moldova.

[3] Jewish self-defense movement: In Russia Jews organized self-defense groups to protect the Jewish population and Jewish property from the rioting mobs in pogroms, which often occurred in compliance with the authorities and, at times, even at their instigation. During the pogroms of 1881-82 self-defense was organized spontaneously in different places. Following pogroms at the beginning of the 20th century, collective defense units were set up in the cities and towns of Belarus and Ukraine, which raised money and bought arms. The nucleus of the self-defense movement came from the Jewish labor parties and their military units, and it had a widespread following among the rest of the people. Organized defense groups are known to have existed in 42 cities.

[4] Annexation of Bessarabia to Romania: During the chaotic days of the Soviet Revolution the national assembly of Moldavians convoked to Kishinev decided on 4th December 1917 the proclamation of an independent Moldavian state. In order to impede autonomous aspirations, Russia occupied the Moldavian capital in January 1918. Upon Moldavia’s desperate request, the army of neighboring Romania entered Kishinev in the same month recapturing the city from the Bolsheviks. This was the decisive step toward the union with Romania: the Moldavians acceptedthe annexation without any preliminary condition.

[5] EKO: Short for ‚Yevreyeiskoye Kolonizatsionnoye Obshchestvo‘, the Jewish Colonization Association, founded in London in September 1891. At first its aim was to help in the colonization of Argentina by Jews from the European East. In 1893 EKO opened its branch in St. Petersburg, Russia (Central Committee). At the beginning of the 1890s an EKO committee was established in Kishinev. Starting in 1898, unlike in the first years, when the main aim of the EKO activities was to move Jews out of Russia, the association began to work among the Jewish population inside Russia. The Central Committee of EKO in Russia tried to stimulate agricultural work, to develop professional education, to secure loans and to help Jews to emigrate from Russia.

[6] ORT: (abbreviation for Rus. Obshchestvo Rasprostraneniya Truda sredi Yevreyev , originally meaning „Society for Manual [and Agricultural] Work [among Jews],“ and later-from 1921-„Society for Spreading [Artisan and Agricultural] Work [among Jews]“) It was founded in 1880 in St. Petersburg (Russia) and originally designed to help Russian Jews. One of the problems which ORT tackled was to help the working Jewish youth and craftsmen to integrate into the industrialization. This especially had an impact on the Eastern European countries after World War I. ORT expanded during World War II, when it became a world organization with branches in France, Germany, England, America and elsewhere, in addition to former Russian territories like Poland, Lithuania and Bessarabia. There was also an ORT network in Romania. With the aim to provide „help through work“, ORT operated employment bureaus, organizes trade schools, provided tools, machinery and materials, set up special courses for apprentices, and maintained farm schools as well as cooperative agricultural colonies and workshops.

[7] Tolstoy, Lev Nikolayevich (1828-1910): Russian novelist and moral philosopher, who holds an important place in his country’s cultural history as an ethical philosopher and religious reformer. Tolstoy, alongside Dostoyevsky, made the realistic novel a literary genre, ranking in importance with classical Greek tragedy and Elizabethan drama. He is best known for his novels, including War and Peace, Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but also wrote short stories and essays and plays. Tolstoy took part in the Crimean War and his stories based one the defense of Sevastopol, known as Sevastopol Sketches, made him famous and opened St. Petersburg’s literary circles to him. His main interest lay in working out his religious and philosophical ideas. He condemned capitalism and private property and was a fearless critic, which finally resulted in his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. His views regarding the evil of private property gradually estranged him from his wife, Yasnaya Polyana, and children, except for his daughter Alexandra, and he finally left them in 1910. He died on his way to a monastery at the railway junction of Astapovo.

[8] Cuzist: Member of the Romanian fascist organization named after Alexandru C. Cuza, one of the most fervent fascist leaders in Romania, who was known for his ruthless chauvinism and anti-Semitism. In 1919 Cuza founded the LANC, which became the National Christian Party in 1935 with an anti-Semitic program.

[9] Iron Guard: Extreme right wing political organization in Romania between 1930-1941, led by C. Z. Codreanu. The Iron Guard propagated nationalist, Christian-mystical and anti-Semitic views. It was banned for its terrorist activities (e.g. the murder of Romanian prime minister I. Gh. Duca) in 1933. In 1935 it was re-established as a party named ‚Everything for the Fatherland‘, but it was banned again in 1938. It was part of the government in the first period of the Antonescu regime, but it was then banned and dissolved as a result of the unsuccessful coup d’état of January 1941. Its leaders escaped abroad to the Third Reich.

[10] Mendele Moykher Sforim (1835-1917): Hebrew and Yiddish writer. He was born in Belarus and studied at various yeshivot in Lithuania. Mendele wrote literary and social criticism, works of popular science in Hebrew, and Hebrew and Yiddish fiction. In his writings on social and literary problems Mendele showed lively interest in the education and public life of Jews in Russia. He was preoccupied by the question of the role of Hebrew literature in molding the Jewish community. This explains why he tried to teach the sciences to the mass of Jews and to aid the people in obtaining secular education in the spirit of the Haskalah (Hebrew enlightenment). He was instrumental in the founding of modern literary Yiddish and the new realism in Hebrew style, and left his mark on the two literatures thematically as well as stylistically.

[11] Sholem Aleichem (pen name of Shalom Rabinovich (1859-1916): Yiddish author and humorist, a prolific writer of novels, stories, feuilletons, critical reviews, and poem in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian. He also contributed regularly to Yiddish dailies and weeklies. In his writings he described the life of Jews in Russia, creating a gallery of bright characters. His creative work is an alloy of humor and lyricism, accurate psychological and details of everyday life. He founded a literary Yiddish annual called Di Yidishe Folksbibliotek (The Popular Jewish Library), with which he wanted to raise the despised Yiddish literature from its mean status and at the same time to fight authors of trash literature, who dragged Yiddish literature to the lowest popular level. The first volume was a turning point in the history of modern Yiddish literature. Sholem Aleichem died in New York in 1916. His popularity increased beyond the Yiddish-speaking public after his death. Some of his writings have been translated into most European languages and his plays and dramatic versions of his stories have been performed in many countries. The dramatic version of Tevye the Dairyman became an international hit as a musical (Fiddler on the Roof) in the 1960s.

[12] Perez, Itshack Leibush (1851-1915): Yiddish outstanding writer and essayist. He was brought up in traditional Jewish family in Poland. Perez wrote first in Hebrew, since 1888 – in Yiddish. Poem „Monish“ (1888), bock of stories „Familiar pictures“ (1890) and „Travel notes“ ((1891). Stories „Silent Bontsy“, „The messenger“, „In basement“, „Weaver’s love“ (1890s), „Hasidic Stories“, „Folk legends“ (1904-1909). Died in Warsaw in 1915.

[13] Bialik, Chaim Nachman (1873-1934): One of the greatest Hebrew poets. He was also an essayist, writer, translator and editor. Born in Rady, Volhynia, Ukraine, he received a traditional education in cheder and yeshivah. His first collection of poetry appeared in 1901 in Warsaw. He established a Hebrew publishing house in Odessa, where he lived but after the Revolution of 1917 Bialik’s activity for Hebrew culture was viewed by the communist authorities with suspicion and the publishing house was closed. In 1921 Bialik emigrated to Germany and in 1924 to Palestine where he became a celebrated literary figure. Bialik’s poems occupy an important place in modern Israeli culture and education.

[14] Jewish State Theater in Bucharest: It was founded in 1948 as a result of the nationalization of all performing institutions, including the Jewish theater. It staged classic plays of the Yiddish repertoire, but also traditional Jewish dance performances. Nowadays, because of emigration and the increasing diminishment of the aging Jewish population, there is only a small audience and most of the actors are non-Jews. Great personalities of the theater: Israil Bercovici (poet, playwright and literary secretary), Iso Schapira (stage director and prose writer with a vast Yiddish and universal culture), Mauriciu Sekler (actor from the German school), Haim Schwartzmann (composer and conductor of the theater’s orchestra). Famous actors: Sevilla Pastor, Dina Konig, Isac Havis, Sara Ettinger, Lya Konig, Tricy Abramovici, Bebe Bercovici, Rudy Rosenfeld, Maia Morgenstern.

[15] Birobidzhan: Formed in 1928 to give Soviet Jews a home territory and to increase settlement along the vulnerable borders of the Soviet Far East, the area was raised to the status of an autonomous region in 1934. Influenced by an effective propaganda campaign, and starvation in the east, 41,000 Soviet Jews relocated to the area between the late 1920s and early 1930s. But, by 1938 28,000 of them had fled the regions harsh conditions, There were Jewish schools and synagogues up until the 1940s, when there was a resurgence of religious repression after World War II. The Soviet government wanted the forced deportation of all Jews to Birobidzhan to be completed by the middle of the 1950s. But in 1953 Stalin died and the deportation was cancelled. Despite some remaining Yiddish influences – including a Yiddish newspaper – Jewish cultural activity in the region has declined enormously since Stalin’s anti-cosmopolitanism campaigns and since the liberalization of Jewish emigration in the 1970s. Jews now make up less than 2% of the region’s population.

[16] Pushkin, Alexandr (1799-1837): Russian poet and prose writer, among the foremost figures in Russian literature. Pushkin established the modern poetic language of Russia, using Russian history for the basis of many of his works. His masterpiece is Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse about mutually rejected love. The work also contains witty and perceptive descriptions of Russian society of the period. Pushkin died in a duel.

[17] Strajer (Watchmen), Strajeria (Watchmen Guard): Proto-fascist mass- organization founded by King Carol II with the aim of bringing up the youth in the spirit of serving and obedience, and of nationalist ideas of grandeur.

[18] Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union: At the end of June 1940 the Soviet Union demanded Romania to withdraw its troops from Bessarabia and to abandon the territory. Romania withdrew its troops and administration in the same month and between 28th June and 3rd July, the Soviets occupied the region. At the same time Romania was obliged to give up Northern Transylvania to Hungary and Southern-Dobrudja to Bulgaria. These territorial losses influenced Romanian politics during World War II to a great extent.

[19] Transylvania: Geographical and historic area (103 000 sq. kilometre) in Romania. It is located between the Carpathian Mountain range and the Serbian, Hungarian and Ukrainian border. Today’s Transylvania is made up of four main regions: Banat, Crisana, Maramures and the historic Transylvanian territory. In 1526 at the Mohacs battle medieval Hungary fell apart; the central part of the country was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, while in the Eastern part the autonomous Transylvanian Principality was founded. Nominally Transylvanian belonged to the Ottoman Porte; the Sultan had a veto on electing the Prince, however in reality Transylvania maintained independent foreign as well as internal policy. The Transylvanian princes maintained the policy of religious freedom (first time in Europe) and recognized three nationalities: Hungarian, Szekler and Saxon (Transylvanian German). After the treaty of Karlowitz (1699) Transylvania and Hungary fell under the Habsburgs and the province was re-annexed to Hungary in 1867 as part of the Austrian-Hungarian compromise (Ausgleich). Transylvania was characterized by specific ethno-religious diversity. The Transylvanian princes were in favor of the Reformation in the 16th and 17th century and as a result Transylvania became a stronghold of the different protestant churches (Calvinist, Lutheran, Unitarian, etc.). During the Counter- Reformation and the long Habsburg supremacy the Catholic Church also gained significant power. Transylvania’s Romanian population was also divided between the Eastern Orthodox and the Uniate Church (Greek Catholic). After the reception of the Jewish Religion by the Hungarian Parliament (1895) Jewish became a recognized religions in the country, which accelerated the ongoing Jewish assimilation in Transylvania as well as elsewhere in Hungary. After World War I Transylvania was given to Romania by the Trianon Treaty (1920). In 1920 Transylvania’s population was 5,2 million, of which 3 million were Romanian, 1,4 million Hungarian, 510,000 Germans and 180,000 Jews. According to the Second Vienna Dictate its northern part was annexed to Hungary in 1940. After World War II the entire region was enclosed to Romania by the Paris Peace Treaty. According to the last Romanian census (2002) Hungarians make 19% of the total population, and there are only several thousand Jews and Germans left. Despite the decrease of the Hungarian, German and Jewish element, Transylvania still preserves some of its multiethnic and multi-confessional tradition.

[20] NKVD: People’s Committee of Internal Affairs; it took over from the GPU, the state security agency, in 1934.

[21] Morozov, Pavlik (1918-1932): Pioneer, organizer and leader of the first pioneer unit in Gerasimovka village. His father, who was a wealthy peasant, hid some grain crop for his family during collectivization. Pavlik betrayed his father to the representatives of the emergency committee and he was executed. Local farmers then killed Pavlik in revenge for the betrayal of his father. The Soviets made Pavlik a hero, saying that he had done a heroic deed. He was used as an example to pioneers, as their love of Soviet power had to be stronger than their love for their parents. Pavlik Morozov became a common name for children who betrayed their parents.

[22] Kulaks: In the Soviet Union the majority of wealthy peasants that refused to join collective farms and give their grain and property to Soviet power were called kulaks, declared enemies of the people and exterminated in the 1930s.

[23] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o’clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th May 1945.

[24] Sovkhoz: state-run agricultural enterprise. The first sovkhoz yards were created in the USSR in 1918. According to the law the sovkhoz property was owned by the state, but it was assigned to the sovkhoz which handled it based on the right of business maintenance.

[25] Great Terror (1934-1938): During the Great Terror, or Great Purges, which included the notorious show trials of Stalin’s former Bolshevik opponents in 1936-1938 and reached its peak in 1937 and 1938, millions of innocent Soviet citizens were sent off to labor camps or killed in prison. The major targets of the Great Terror were communists. Over half of the people who were arrested were members of the party at the time of their arrest. The armed forces, the Communist Party, and the government in general were purged of all allegedly dissident persons; the victims were generally sentenced to death or to long terms of hard labor. Much of the purge was carried out in secret, and only a few cases were tried in public ’show trials‘. By the time the terror subsided in 1939, Stalin had managed to bring both the Party and the public to a state of complete submission to his rule. Soviet society was so atomized and the people so fearful of reprisals that mass arrests were no longer necessary. Stalin ruled as absolute dictator of the Soviet Union until his death in March 1953.

[26] Bukhara Jews: Bukhara Jews are an ethnic group of Jews residing in Central Asia. They are descendants of Mesopotamian Jews and speak the Bukharan language which is basically Judeo-Tadzhik. Their religious rite is Sephardic. Most of them repatriated now to Israel.

[27] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.

[28] Kishinev Ghetto: The annihilation of the Jews of Kishinev was carried out in several stages. With the entry of the Romanian and German units, an unknown number of Jews were slaughtered in the streets and in their homes. About 2,000 Jews, mainly of liberal professions (doctors, lawyers, engineers), and local Jewish intellectuals, were systematically executed. After the wave of killings, the 11,000 remaining Jews were concentrated in the ghetto, created on 24th July 1941, on the order of the Romanian district ruler and the German Einsatzkommando leader, Paul Zapp. The Jews of central Romania attempted to assist their brethren in the ghetto, sending large amounts of money by illegal means. A committee was formed to bribe the Romanian authorities so that they would not hand the Jews over to the Germans. In August about 7,500 Jewish people were sent to work in the Ghidighici quarries. That fall, on the Day of Atonement (4th October), the military authorities began deporting the remaining Jews in the ghetto to Transnistria, by order of the Romanian ruler, Ion Antonescu. One of the heads of the ghetto, the attorney Shapira, managed to alert the leaders of the Jewish communities in Bucharest, but attempts to halt the deportations were unsuccessful. The community was not completely liquidated, however, since some Jews had found hiding places in Kishinev and its vicinity or elsewhere in Romania. In May 1942, the last 200 Jews in the locality were deported. Kishinev was liberated in August 1944. At that time no Jews were left in the locality.

[29] Gulag: The Soviet system of forced labor camps in the remote regions of Siberia and the Far North, which was first established in 1919. However, it was not until the early 1930s that there was a significant number of inmates in the camps. By 1934 the Gulag, or the Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps, then under the Cheka’s successor organization the NKVD, had several million inmates. The prisoners included murderers, thieves, and other common criminals, along with political and religious dissenters. The Gulag camps made significant contributions to the Soviet economy during the rule of Stalin. Conditions in the camps were extremely harsh. After Stalin died in 1953, the population of the camps was reduced significantly, and conditions for the inmates improved somewhat.

[30] Transnistria: Area situated between the Bug and Dniester rivers and the Black Sea. The term is derived from the Romanian name for the Dniester (Nistru) and was coined after the occupation of the area by German and Romanian troops in World War II. After its occupation Transnistria became a place for deported Romanian Jews. Systematic deportations began in September 1941. In the course of the next two months, all surviving Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina and a small part of the Jewish population of Old Romania were dispatched across the Dniester. This first wave of deportations reached almost 120,000 by mid-November 1941 when it was halted by Ion Antonescu, the Romanian dictator, upon intervention of the Council of Romanian Jewish Communities. Deportations resumed at the beginning of the summer of 1942, affecting close to 5,000 Jews. A third series of deportations from Old Romania took place in July 1942, affecting Jews who had evaded forced labor decrees, as well as their families, communist sympathizers and Bessarabian Jews who had been in Old Romania and Transylvania during the Soviet occupation. The most feared Transnistrian camps were Vapniarka, Ribnita, Berezovka, Tulcin and Iampol. Most of the Jews deported to camps in Transnistria died between 1941-1943 because of horrible living conditions, diseases and lack of food.

[31] Bandera, Stepan (1919-1959): Politician and ideologue of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, who fought for the Ukrainian cause against both Poland and the Soviet Union. He attained high positions in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN): he was chief of propaganda (1931) and, later, head of the national executive in Galicia (1933). He was hoping to establish an independent Ukrainian state with Nazi backing. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the OUN announced the establishment of an independent government of Ukraine in Lvov on 30th June 1941. About one week later the Germans disbanded this government and arrested the members. Bandera was taken to Sachsenhausen prison where he remained until the end of the war. He was assassinated by a Soviet agent in Munich in 1959.

[32] Campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘: The campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘, i.e. Jews, was initiated in articles in the central organs of the Communist Party in 1949. The campaign was directed primarily at the Jewish intelligentsia and it was the first public attack on Soviet Jews as Jews. ‚Cosmopolitans‘ writers were accused of hating the Russian people, of supporting Zionism, etc. Many Yiddish writers as well as the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were arrested in November 1948 on charges that they maintained ties with Zionism and with American ‚imperialism‘. They were executed secretly in 1952. The anti-Semitic Doctors‘ Plot was launched in January 1953. A wave of anti-Semitism spread through the USSR. Jews were removed from their positions, and rumors of an imminent mass deportation of Jews to the eastern part of the USSR began to spread. Stalin’s death in March 1953 put an end to the campaign against ‚cosmopolitans‘.

[33] Hatikvah: Anthem of the Zionist movement, and national anthem of the State of Israel. The word ‚ha-tikvah‘ means ‚the hope‘. The anthem was written by Naftali Herz Imber (1856-1909), who moved to Palestine from Galicia in 1882. The melody was arranged by Samuel Cohen, an immigrant from Moldavia, from a musical theme of Smetana’s Moldau (Vltava), which is based on an Eastern European folk song.

[34] Mandatory job assignment in the USSR: Graduates of higher educational institutions had to complete a mandatory 2-year job assignment issued by the institution from which they graduated. After finishing this assignment young people were allowed to get employment at their discretion in any town or organization.

[35] Polevoy, Boris Nikolaevich (pen name of Boris Kampov) 1908-1981): Soviet writer, participated in the Soviet-Finnish War (1939-40). During World War II Polevoy was a war correspondent for Pravda. Polevoy’s most famous work is ‚The Tale of a Real Man‘ (1946) which was later made into a film, a true story about Hero of the Soviet Union pilot Meresyev who returned to active service on a flying fighter aircraft after his feet were amputated.

[36] Doctors‘ Plot: The Doctors‘ Plot was an alleged conspiracy of a group of Moscow doctors to murder leading government and party officials. In January 1953, the Soviet press reported that nine doctors, six of whom were Jewish, had been arrested and confessed their guilt. As Stalin died in March 1953, the trial never took place. The official paper of the Party, the Pravda, later announced that the charges against the doctors were false and their confessions obtained by torture. This case was one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents during Stalin’s reign. In his secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 Khrushchev stated that Stalin wanted to use the Plot to purge the top Soviet leadership.

[37] Brezhnev, Leonid, Ilyich (1906-82): Soviet leader. He joined the Communist Party in 1931 and rose steadily in its hierarchy, becoming a secretary of the party’s central committee in 1952. In 1957, as protégé of Khrushchev, he became a member of the presidium (later politburo) of the central committee. He was chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, or titular head of state. Following Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964, which Brezhnev helped to engineer, he was named first secretary of the Communist Party. Although sharing power with Kosygin, Brezhnev emerged as the chief figure in Soviet politics. In 1968, in support of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he enunciated the ‚Brezhnev doctrine,‘ asserting that the USSR could intervene in the domestic affairs of any Soviet bloc nation if communist rule was threatened. While maintaining a tight rein in Eastern Europe, he favored closer relations with the Western powers, and he helped bring about a détente with the United States. In 1977 he assumed the presidency of the USSR. Under Gorbachev, Brezhnev’s regime was criticized for its corruption and failed economic policies.

[38] Twentieth Party Congress: At the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of secrecy from what had happened in the USSR during Stalin’s leadership.

[39] Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971): Soviet communist leader. After Stalin’s death in 1953, he became first secretary of the Central Committee, in effect the head of the Communist Party of the USSR. In 1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev took an unprecedented step and denounced Stalin and his methods. He was deposed as premier and party head in October 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the Party’s Central Committee.

[40] Item 5: This was the nationality factor, which was included on all job application forms, Jews, who were considered a separate nationality in the Soviet Union, were not favored in this respect from the end of World War WII until the late 1980s.

[41] Betar: Brith Trumpledor (Hebrew) meaning the Trumpledor Society. Right- wing Revisionist Jewish youth movement. It was founded in 1923 in Riga by Vladimir Jabotinsky, in memory of J. Trumpledor, one of the first fighters to be killed in Palestine, and the fortress Betar, which was heroically defended for many months during the Bar Kohba uprising. In Poland the name ‚The J. Trumpledor Jewish Youth Association‘ was also used. Betar was a worldwide organization, but in 1936, of its 52,000 members, 75 % lived in Poland. Its aim was to propagate the program of the revisionists in Poland and prepare young people to fight and live in Palestine. It organized emigration, through both legal and illegal channels. It was a paramilitary organization; its members wore uniforms. From 1936-39 the popularity of Betar diminished. During the war many of its members formed guerrilla groups.

[42] Gordonia: Pioneering Zionist youth movement founded in Galicia at the end of 1923. It became a world movement, which meticulously maintained its unique character as a Jewish, Zionist, and Erez Israel-oriented movement.

[43] Six-Day-War: The first strikes of the Six-Day-War happened on 5th June 1967 by the Israeli Air Force. The entire war only lasted 132 hours and 30 minutes. The fighting on the Egyptian side only lasted four days, while fighting on the Jordanian side lasted three. Despite the short length of the war, this was one of the most dramatic and devastating wars ever fought between Israel and all of the Arab nations. This war resulted in a depression that lasted for many years after it ended. The Six-Day-War increased tension between the Arab nations and the Western World because of the change in mentalities and political orientations of the Arab nations.

[44] Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees: Graduate school in the Soviet Union (aspirantura, or ordinatura for medical students), which usually took about 3 years and resulted in a dissertation. Students who passed were awarded a ‚kandidat nauk‘ (lit. candidate of sciences) degree. If a person wanted to proceed with his or her research, the next step would be to apply for a doctorate degree (doktarontura). To be awarded a doctorate degree, the person had to be involved in the academia, publish consistently, and write an original dissertation. In the end he/she would be awarded a ‚doctor nauk‘ (lit. doctor of sciences) degree.

[45] Perestroika (Russian for restructuring): Soviet economic and social policy of the late 1980s, associated with the name of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev. The term designated the attempts to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized, market-oriented economy. Industrial managers and local government and party officials were granted greater autonomy, and open elections were introduced in an attempt to democratize the Communist Party organization. By 1991, perestroika was declining and was soon eclipsed by the dissolution of the USSR.

[46] Gorbachev, Mikhail (1931- ): Soviet political leader. Gorbachev joined the Communist Party in 1952 and gradually moved up in the party hierarchy. In 1970 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, where he remained until 1990. In 1980 he joined the politburo, and in 1985 he was appointed general secretary of the party. In 1986 he embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalization under the slogans of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical reexamination of Soviet history. The Congress of People’s Deputies, founded in 1989, voted to end the Communist Party’s control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president. Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and granted the Baltic states independence. Following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, he resigned as president. Since 1992, Gorbachev has headed international organizations.

[47] Sakharov, Andrey Dimitrievich (1921-1989): Soviet nuclear physicist, academician and human rights advocate; the first Soviet citizen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1975). He was part of the team constructing the Soviet hydrogene bomb and received the prize ‚Hero of the Socialist Labor‘ three times. In the 1960s and 70s he grew to be the leader of human rights fights in the Soviet Union. In 1980 he was expelled and sent to Gorkiy from where he was allowed to return to Moscow in 1986, after Gorbachev’s rise to power. He remained a leading spokesman for human rights and political and economic reform until his death in 1989.

[48] Yad Vashem: This museum, founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, honors both Holocaust martyrs and ‚the Righteous Among the Nations‘, non-Jewish rescuers who have been recognized for their ‚compassion, courage and morality‘.

[49] Hesed: Meaning care and mercy in Hebrew, Hesed stands for the charity organization founded by Amos Avgar in the early 20th century. Supported by Claims Conference and Joint Hesed helps for Jews in need to have a decent life despite hard economic conditions and encourages development of their self-identity. Hesed provides a number of services aimed at supporting the needs of all, and particularly elderly members of the society. The major social services include: work in the center facilities (information, advertisement of the center activities, foreign ties and free lease of medical equipment); services at homes (care and help at home, food products delivery, delivery of hot meals, minor repairs); work in the community (clubs, meals together, day-time polyclinic, medical and legal consultations); service for volunteers (training programs). The Hesed centers have inspired a real revolution in the Jewish life in the FSU countries. People have seen and sensed the rebirth of the Jewish traditions of humanism. Currently over eighty Hesed centers exist in the FSU countries. Their activities cover the Jewish population of over eight hundred settlements.