Zlata Tcaci

Chișinău, Moldova

Zlata Tkaci este o compozitoare renumită din Moldova. Înainte de a-i face o vizită m-am uitat în Enciclopedia muzicală publicată la Moscova în 1991 unde am citit că este autoare de opere, balet, cantate, sonate, etc. Zlata m-a întâmpinat îmbrăcată într-un pulover făcut de ea și o fustă milticoloră. E o persoană iute și mică de statură, o femeie dolofană cu un păr pufos, roșcat. Zlata are un mod aparte de gândire, unul propriu , un character deschis, încântător și artistic. Sunt puține detalii păstrate din istoria vieții sale, doar niște reculegeri emoționale, mai degrabă, niște amintiri personale a evenimentelor de atunci. După moartea soțului Zlata a trăit singură într-un apartament cu patru camere, proiectat de a crea impresia unei locuințe spațioase. Jucăușa pisică, Asia, animalul de companie al Zlatei, se crede a fi stăpâna apartamentului. Un pian se află în biroul ei la care Zlata mai lucrează și dă lecții celor câtorva studenți ai ei. Am vorbit în salonul unde sunt dulapuri pline de cărți, fotolii, o canapea și un covor ce se așterne pe podea. Deasupra canapelei pe perete se succed portrete grafice și artistice ale stăpânului și stăpânei casei, realizate de prieteni de familie, artiști din Chișinău. După interviu, Zlata m-a servit cu pește umplut și liqueur de casă; totul era nespus de delicious.


Interview details

Intervievat: Zlata Tcaci
Intervievator: Natalia Fomina
Data interviului: Martie 2004
Locul: Chișinău, Moldova



Originea familiei mele

Bunelul din partea mamei mele, Mendel Kofman, s-a născut în anii 1870 în Chișinău și și-a trăit aici toată viața sa. Când eram mică, am locuit în apartamentul bunelului meu cu patru camere de pe strada Lankasterskaia, în partea de jos a Chișinăului. O stradă care deja demult nu mai există.Bunelul meu era un om de afecere și ca mulți alții avea succese și insuccese. Era profund religios , se ruga de două ori pe zi, dimineața și seara, purtând talit și tefilin. El se retrăgea într-o cameră pentru a se ruga, dar eu eram foarte curioasă și îl urmam în secret, fiind interesată de procesul propriu-zis. Nu știam daca se duce în fiecare zi la sinagogă, dar cu siguranță o făcea de sărbători. Acasă întotdeauna purta o iarmulka. Se îmbrăca permanent elegant și cu acuratețe, bunica având grijă de hainele sale. Fotografiile bunelului meu s-au pierdut și nu țin minte dacă avea barbă sau nu.

Bunica mea, Riva Kofman, era cu câțiva ani mai tânără decât bunelul. Nu-mi amintesc numele ei de fată, dar era o gospodină impecabilă. Țin minte ce curățenie ideală se afla în casa lor, sută la sută perfectă. Buneii mei au vorbit idiș și acum datorită lor înțeleg limba. Ambii au murit înainte de Marele Război pentru Apărarea Patriei (vezi Marele Război pentru Apărarea Patriei) [1], de la mijlocul anilor 1930. Bunelul murise primul și bunica îl urmase nu mai târziu de un an. Nu mă îndoiesc de faptul că au fost înmormântați conform ritului evreisc, dar aveam șapte ani și, cu greu, îmi amintesc de acele evenimente. Cu toate acestea, părinții mei m-au protejat de emoții negative și în timpul funeraliilor m-au lăsat cu niște cunoscuți de-ai lor. Buneii mei au avut două fiice. Sora cea mai mare a mamei mele era casătorită cu Mordekhai Lerner. Și mătușa Esther trăia la Chișinău. Fiul ei Aron era cu opt ani mai mare. Înainte de război Aron studia vioara la Conservator.

Mama mea, Fania Kofman, s-a născut la Chișinău în 1905. Ea absolvise școala de gramatică unde se număra printre elevii cei mai buni și silitori. Avea auz muzical și cânta foarte bine. Era mediu înaltă, avea păr cafeniu, fața rotundă și ochii negri. Cea mai remarcabilă trăsătură a ei o constituia blândețea. Mama mea era o femeie frumoasă , dar ajunsese un pic cam dolofană când devenise adolescent, din motive inexplicabile. Nu era obligată să lucreze. S-a căsătorit cu tatăl meu, fiind foarte tânără, astfel ajungând să fie gospodină.

Buneii mei din partea tatălui de asemenea au trăit la Chișinău, dar nu știu unde s-au născut. Nu l-am cunoscut pe bunelul meu, Bențion Berehman. El a murit tânăr în 1910. Acesta se ocupa cu producerea prunelor uscate pe care le prelucra în satul Lozova, localitate ce se află aproape de Chișinău. Cumpăra prune de soi vengherka pe care le usca în cutii loznița (cutii speciale pentru uscarea prunelor). Bunelul era proprietarul unui complex întreg de producere a prunelor. Afacerea lui fiind una profitabilă, deoarece prunele uscate erau la mare cerere în țară și chiar o parte din ele erau exportate peste hotare. Bunica mea, Kenia Berehman, a preluat afecerea după moartea sa. Ajunsese o imperioasă femeie de afaceri. Avea în posesie casa de pe strada Lankasterskaia, două sau trei case nu departe de noi. Locuința bunicii avea șapte camere și un coridor. În curtea mare a casei se afla o pivniță, porți ce duceau în grădină și în aceasta din urmă creșteau mure, locul meu preferat de joacă. Jumătate de casă era dată în chirie pentru a obține un venit adițional. Nu pot să-mi amintesc dacă bunica avea sau nu servitor. Dar sunt sigură că reușea să le facă pe toate datorită energiei pe care o deținea. Și-a crescut doi fii ai săi.

Fratele meu mai mare, Isaac, a studiat peste hotare ca mulți alți tineri din Basarabia [2]. El a absolvit Facultatea de Drept din Italia și a lucrat avocat la Chișinău. Unchiul Isaac era căsătorit. Numele soției sale era Janna. El a murit în 1973. Janna murise un pic mai înainte. Fiul lor Boris a trăit în Chișinău.

Tatăl meu, Moisei Berehman, s-a născut la Chișinău în 1902. Moștenise dorința puternică și energia extraordinară a bunicii Kenia. Avea harul muzicii și a absolvit vioara la Conservator. Și de asemenea a învățat instrumete muzicale de suflat la Conservator. A cântat la trompetă, trombon, cornet. După absolvirea Conservatorului, tatăl meu a predat vioara la Conservator și dădea lecții particulare. El a fondat o orchestră mică alcătuită din studenții săi. Tatăl meu era un om chipeș și firesc că femeile erau atrase de el. Și, ca orice fire de artist, era iubăreț, ca rezultat mama va trăi timpuri grele din acest punct de vedre.

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Copilăria

Nu știu cum s-a întâlnit, dar știu cu siguranță că părinții mei s-au căsătorit din dragoste. Aceasta s-a întâmplat în 1927. Mama mi-a spus că ei au avut o nuntă tradițional evreiască cu chuppah. M-am născut pe 16 mai, 1928 la Lozova, raionul Nisporeni unde bunica mea Kenia a ținut o afacere și, probabil, părinții mei au trăit un timp acolo. Când am împlinit 3 ani ne-am mutat la Chișinău împreună cu părinții mamei mele. Ei au avut un apartament la etajul doi. Apartamentul avea un coridor mare, o bucătărie , câteva camera și un closet. Buneii și părinții mei aveau dormitoare separate. Mai era o sufragerie mare și un salon unde se afla pianul la care tatăl meu preda orele. Și eu am dormit în salonul acesta: aveam o masă și o canapea în colț. Lecțiile particulare de pian aveau loc când eram la școală. Aveam o femeie ce trebuia să țină casa curată și să aducă produse alimentare. Mama nu pleca la magazin.

Familia mea ducea un mod de viață tradițional evreiesc și-mi plăcea orice legat de tradițiile evreiești. Era ca și cum trăiam învăluită de-o poveste. E minunat când două sau trei generații trăiesc împreună. Șase dintre noi ședeau la o masă triunghiulară, cred că bunica și bunelul, tatăl și mama mea, eu și sora bunicii mele. O față de masă albă acoperea masa cu argintărie pe ea. și acum mai am o lingură de argint ce îmi amintește de timpurile când ședeam la masă și cei mai mari mâncau încet, total diferit de modul în care astăzi noi ciugulim repede mâncarea.

Îmi amintesc cum de sărbători bunelul Mendel citea o rugăciune stând în capul mesei, astfel creând o atmosferă solemnă și plină de sfințenie, ceea ce mă făcea pe mine să cred atât de mult. De Paște mâncam dintr-o veselă ce se afla închisă într-un bufet tot anul. Apropo, eu aveam propia mea veselă de Paște și hilin (Așkenazi o tradiție evreiască: ustensile de bucătărie pentru fiecare zi). Îmi aduc aminte cum părinții mei mă învățau acele kaș, patru întrebări ce trebuiau să fie adresate de Paște: Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol halaylot în ivrit, cu toate că nu cunosc ivrit încă mai țin minte câteva frânturi din kașe. E uimitor cum rămân în amintire niște lucruri, deși nu-mi amintesc alte detalii.Mai târziu războiul mi-a șters foarte multe lucruri din memoria mea.

Părinții mei mergeau la sinagogă la fiecare sărbătoare. Câteodată mă luau cu ei și eu ședeam cu mama și alte femei la balcon, dar bărbații la primul etaj, ceea ce îmi amintesc foarte bine. Nu țin minte cum arăta sinagoga, însă îmi amintesc celebrarea Anului Nou -Roș Hașanah, cu feluri speciale de mâncare pe masă: mere, miere și challah rotunde. Chanukkah era sărbătoarea cea mai veselă cu mulți oaspeți, jucării colorate și ghirlande cu care bunica împodobea camerele.Dansam și ne distram mult. Ne dădeau cadouri și nu țin minte dacă și bani, dar nu –mi păsa de asta.

Purim de asemenea era o sărbătoare minunată ce îmi plăcea foarte mult cu hamantașen delicious și fluden: alune fierte în miere, tari și dulci și-mi plăceau ma mult decât hamantașen. Ne veneau oaspeți și oameni mascați și eu aveam un costum de Pinocchio.

Tatăl meu era muzician și mama era foarte muzicală, și întotdeauna muzica dăinuia în casa noastră. Când am împlinit trei ani tatăl meu a început să mă învețe la vioară. Aveam o mică vioară Quaver, un instrument foarte rar. Când devenisem mai mare începusem să învăț pianul. Profesorul meu era domnișoara Kaplun. În fiecare duminica dimineața aveau loc partituri împreună cu orchestra tatălui meu în salonul nostru. Eu cântam la pian și mama mă acompania uneori cu vocea, era atât de festiv. Devenise o tradiție, un fel de festival familial care acum cu regret s-a pierdut. Talentul meu în muzică s-a manifestat devreme, la vârsta de patru ani deja concertam pe scenă. Dar nu țin minte unde, însă cu siguranță îmi amintesc mica mea vioară și scena.

N-am avut dădacă, mama m-a educat și a avut grijă de mine. Era o mamă minunată, dedicată, gingașă și înțeleaptă. Tatăl meu era pasionat de sport, facea înnotul și parcurgea distanțe lungi. Țin minte cum venea pe jos de la Lozova până la Chișinău. Și-a dorit să mă facă sportivă, când împlinisem șase ani începuse să mă învețe să înnot. Am mers la o piscina de lângă gara feroviară unde am înnotat ținându-mă de spatele tatălui meu. Odată s-a întâmplat să lunec de pe el și am început să mă înec. M-a ridicat în sus, dar reușisem să înghit multă apă și de atunci înainte mi-e era frică de apă.

Părinții mei vorbeau și ivrit, și rusa cu mine acasă, dar am învățat să scriu mai întâi în rusă. Am început să învăț limba română când frecventam școala cu predare în limba română de pe strada Harlampevskaia. Țin minte foarte bine prima mea zi de școală. Ne-au alineat în curtea școlii, directorul nostru, Bugaeva, provenea dintr-o familie nobilă rusă. A ținut un discurs frumos și s-a apropiat de fiecare dintre noi, ne-a mângâiat pe cap, spunând că începem să avem niște resonsabilități care trebuie a fi luate în mod serios pentru a deveni oameni decenți. Totul era atât de solemn ca la inaugurația unui președinte. Noi purtam uniforme negre și șorțuri albe, părul era prins cu bucăți mici de cauciuc. Am prins româna foarte repede și am avut rezultate foarte bune. Bugaeva ne-a predat lucru manual. Am învățat să împletesc, să brodez și să pregătesc mâncare. De asemenea ne-a învățat cum să ne îmbrăcăm și să ne purtăm. Era o doamnă încântătoare, prietenoasă și cu tact.

După absolvirea școlii primare am plecat la o școală de gramatică, Regina Maria de pe strada Podolskaia. Aveam o română foarte bună la acea vreme și eram o elevă exemplară și foarte silitoare, cu note excelente aproape la toate disciplinele. Nu eram prea bună la obiectele socio-umaniste, dar reușeam destul de bine la altele. Cea mai mare notă o dețineam la matematică. Profesoarea noastră de matematică era o femeie dură. Când cineva răspundea greșit ea spunea: „Ai un cap plin de paie și o gaură în el”, dar totuși toți profesorii erau educați. Puține fete de origine evreiască frecventau școala de gramatică, însă nu am întâmpinat nici o atitudine prejudicioasă din partea celorlalți. Probabil că nivelul înalt de educație al profesorilor le explică pe toate. Și copiii de asemenea proveneau din familii bune, Regina Maria era considerată a fi o școală prestigioasă cu o disciplină strictă. O altă școală de gramatică se afla în oraș, Principesa Dadiani unde se prteda franceza. Cu părere de rău, nu am studiat prea mult timp franceza și din această cauză nu o cunosc prea bine.

Pe lângă școală făceam ore de vioară și pian astfel nu prea aveam timp liber. În momentele rare de timp liber apărute părinții nu-mi dădeau voie să mă joc cu ceilalți copii din curte care probabil că aveau o altă mentalitate. Dar, în schimb, mă duceau la cofetăria de pe strada Aleksandrobskaia, stradă principală în Chișinău, unde mâncam înghețată. Strada Aleksandrovskaia era pavată cu pietriș ca majoritatea altor străzi din Chișinău și tramvaiul circula pe acolo. Case cu un etaj, unele din ele destul de drăguțe, multe magazine foste proprietăți ale evreilor se aflau pe acea stradă. Chișinăul avea puține pieți și parcuri, unul din cele mai vechi cu monumentul lui Ștefan cel Mare (domnitorul Moldovei din 1457-1504, care dus o politică de unificare a țării). Țin minte că s-a întâmplat un cutremur teribil în Chișinău, 1940. A avut loc noaptea, dormeam în colțul meu de lângă peretele de-afară. Tatăl meu m-a înșvăcat și-a alergat afară în momentul în care peretele lângă care dormeam se surpase pe patul meu.Mi-a salvat viața.

În anii 1930, când Cuziții [3] au venit la putere s-au început necazurile, părinții mei erau foarte preocupați de faptul că au apărut elemente de anti-semitism. Tinerii au ieșit în stradă să mărșăluiască și au apărut ciocniri de forță. Poate că de aceea părinții mei au fost foarte bucuroși că Basarabia a fost anexată la Uniunea Sovietică (vezi anexarea Basarabiei la Uniunea Sovietică) [4]. Pe lângă toate acestea nu aveam nici o idee ce părea să fie URSS. Ni se spunea că fiecare este egal, dar suna atât de naiv. Eram doar curioasă la cei doisprezece ani ai mei. Îmi amintesc de trupele Armatei Roșii când intraseră în oraș, mărșeluind pe stradă. S-a format o nouă administrație. Se făceau glume pe seama soțiilor militarior, care cupăraseră măsline pentru a face magiun. Desigur ca soțiile militarilor sovietici nu aveau o cultură foarte înaltă. Se pare că viața familiei mele nu s-a schimbat prea mult, tatăl lucra profesor și noi locuiam în apartamentul nostru. Totuși bunica a lăsat o parte a casei sale pentru chiriași fără a cere bani de la ei. Ea spunea: lăsați-i să trăiască aici, eu nu am nevoie de plata lor. În clasa a șasea am plecat la o școală cu predare în limba rusă.

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Perioada războiului

Pe data de 22 iunie 1941 a început războiul. Familia noastră a avut diferite păreri cu privire la evacuare, unii erau pro, alții contra. Unchiul meu, Mordekhai, era categoric împotriva evacuării. El spunea:Nu plec de aici, astfel rămânând a murit în ghetou-ul din Transnistria [5]. Fiul lor Aron a fost mobilizat de Armata sovietică chiar în prima zi de război, supraviețuind și întâmpinând ziua Victoriei în Ungaria. După război a revenit la Chișinău și-a lucrat la Orchestra Simfonică de Stat a Moldovei. S-a căsătorit și-au avut o fată. A murit de cancer la vârsta de 53 de ani, la începutul anilor 1970. Fiica lui Janna trăiește la Chișinău, dar fiica ei Lisa s-a mutat in Israel.

Tatăl meu a demonstrat tărie și acțiune, el a aranjat pentru mama, bunica, Kenia, și mine să părăsim Chișinăul cu trenul. A avut loc un raid aerian lângă Chișinău și refugiații și-au înșfăcat lucrurile, sărind din tren. Cineva spunea că era mai bine să se ascundă sub vagoanele de tren, dar tatăl meu ne-a scos în câmp și acest lucru ne-a salvat viețile. O bombă a lovit vagonul nostru. Îmi amintesc foarte bine cum am ajuns în nordul Caucazului pe o platformă de tren descoperită, pe drum mâncam orice putea fi schimbat pe lucruri personale. Am coborât în Ordjonikidze, tatăl a fost mobilizat în armată și trimis la punctul de distribuire din orașul Prohladnoie de lângă Ordjonikidze. Mama plecase să-l vadă. Linia de front se apropia de oraș fapt ce ne-a determinat să ne mutăm.

Trei dintre noi am luat trenul de marfă ce se îndrepta spre Makhacikala [1700 km de la Chișinău], port situat la Marea Caspică . Aproape de Mahkacikala ni s-a spus să coborâm menționând că:”Acesta este sfârșitul căii ferate. Puteți ajunge cu camionul sau orice altceva”. Câteva familii s-au unit, și-au închiriat un camion în schimbul unor lucruri pentru a achita călătoria. Șoferii erau ceceni sau de altă naționalitate și vorbeau o limbă pe care n-o înțelegeam. Unuia dintre oameni nu i-a plăcut comportamentul lor, probabil că-și doreau să ne jefuiască și să ne abandoneze pe drum, dar, spre marele nostru noroc, trecea o coloană de camioane ce pleca în partea opusă. Bărbatul a sărit din camion și- a vorbit cu militarul despre situația lor. Militarul ne-a oferit transport pentru a ajunge la Makhacikala : întotdeauna se găsesc oameni minunați. Era groaznic la Makhacikala, sute de oameni așteptând corabia pentru a pleca în Asia Centrală.

Am stat în aer liber câteva nopți. Mi-amintesc despre un episod: se însera, devenise rece și neconfortabil. Stăteam culcată pe bagajele noastre și în dreptul locului unde mă aflam s-au aprins lumini la primul etaj. M-am uitat peste fereastră, neputând-mi lua ochii de la scena casnică ce se petrecea în fața mea: o masă într-o cameră luminoasă și roz cu două fete șezând la ea. M-am uitat la ele și două lacrimi mari mi-au apărut pe față. Îmbarcarea pe corabie a fost anunțată i-am urmat pe alții, fiind îngrozită de faptul că nimeni nu era lângă mine nici bunica și nici mama. M-am pierdut. Și-am început să strig: „Mama! Mama!.” Cineva mi-a spus: „Mama ta e pe corabie deja.” Aveam treisprezece ani trebuia să fi știut că mama nu s-ar fi urcat niciodată fără mine, dar l-am crezut și-am urcat. Mama și bunica stăteau pe mal. O tătăroaică, care avea doi copii cu ea, a împărțit mâncarea cu mine.

Am coborât în Krasnovodsk [astăzi Turkmenbași -575 km de la Makhachkala].De acolo am fost luați într-un sat (aul). Am locuit cu acea familie , dar nu le țin minte numele. Se credea că ei mă vor trimite mai târziu la un azil de copii. Creșteau copaci saxaul în acel aul, crengile cărora se foloseau în alimentație în acea regiune. Din ele se cocea o pâine plată pe jeratec. Aveau puțină mâncare, chiar și brichete de resturi de răsărită presată era greu de găsit. Și-am decis să părăsesc această familie pentru a pleca la Namangan [1625 km de la Krasnovodsk], care se afla 30 kilometri de acel sat cu scopul de a găsi un azil. Când am ajuns la Namangan spre noroc ma-m ciocnit de o evreică. Se întâmpla să fie directorul unui azil pentru copii din Drogobici [regiunea Lvov]. O chema Rosa Abramovna, dar i-am uitat numele de familie. Ea a fost arestată în 1945 sau 1946, nu știu din ce cauză. Avea o inimă plină de bunătate și m-a luat cu ea.

Astfel am început să trăiesc la azil și să frecventez școala. Aveam suficientă mâncare, dormeam câte patru-cinci copii într-o cameră. La vârsta mea nu era o problemă. Acum nu-mi place să împart camera cu nimeni la sanatoriu. I-am spus Rosei că pot cânta la vioară și pian și ea m-a însărcinat imediat să formez o trupă de copii de la azil, a găsit câteva poezii patriotice și a compus cântecul Trupele Armatei Roșii. Am învățat acest cântec și chiar un dans pentru scenă. Am moștenit energia tatălui meu. Mai târziu trupa noastră a participat la Olimpiada de Arte pentru amatori din Tașkent. Am avut un succes mare și-am ocupat locul doi. Roza Abramovna era foarte fericită și ne-a oferit o porțiune adăugătoare pentru artiști. Era uimitor , dar nu-mi amintesc nici un nume de copil.

Viața de la azil era total diferită de cea de la Chișinău, dar nu era atât de rea pentru mine. Aveam paisprezece ani, plină de energie și muzica mine, m-am înscris în rândurile Komsomolului [6]. Pe nesimțite am devenit ateist ca oricare copil sovietic. Roza Abramovna m-a ajutat să-mi găsesc mama și bunica. Ea a scris în Buguruslan, regiunea Orenburg (astăzi Rusia), unde a fost deschis un birou de investigații și, în sfârșit, 1943 mama mi-a răspuns. Așa se întâmplase că ele se aflau în Kokand [aproximativ 100 km depărtare] lângă Namangan. Mama mă căutase tot timpul. Ea și bunica erau epuizate și mizerabile. S-au muta la Namangan.Rosa Abramovna a angajat-o pe mama în calitate de dădacă la azil. Mama primea hrană la azil și-i aducea și bunicii. Ele au închiriat o cameră și eu am plecat să trăiesc cu ele.

Tatăl meu și-a făcut serviciul militar în orchestra plutonului. Deși avea congestiune venoasăși nu se potrivea pentru serviciul militar și a fost demobilizat în 1943. A plecat la Tașchent sperând să ne găsească, dar nu era atât de ușor. Când tatăl meu sedea la gara feroviară un cunoscut de la Chișinău l-a numit pe nume, Moisei! Știi că familia ta e la Namangan? Imaginează-ți! Unul dintr-o mie! În Namangan tatăl meu a mers să lucreze la Școala Militară de Muzică evacuată din Moscova [astăzi Rusia]. El a predat clasa tobei, trompeta franceză, franceza: era foarte apreciat pentru faptul că știa să cânte la instrumente de suflat. Ne-am reunit familia. Rudele noastre au început să se mute la Namangan: fratele mamei mele, Isaac și rudele îndepărtate ale ale bunicii mele Kenia. Viața era destul de grea si aveam puțină mâncare. O boală teribilă se răspândise în zonă, se numea șpru. Putea să fie distrofie. Foametea genera o diaree de lungă durată și moartea. Bunica noastră Kenia încerca să ne susțină, spunând că are multă mâncare și le-o dădea toată fiilor săi. Ea s-a îmbolnăvit de șpru și a murit. Ea a fost înmormântată la cimitirul orașului Namangan.

Când a început reevacuarea, Zlobin, directorul Școlii Militare de Muzică, a încercat să-l convingă să vină la Moscova, Vreau să întorc acasă, la Chișinău. În august 1944 Armata Sovietică a eliberat Chișinăul și noi ne-am întors acasă, dar nu a mai rămas nimic din casa noastră. Chișinău era ruinat. Doar o grămadă de pietre mai au mai rămas de la casa bunicii mele Kenia. În casa de vizavi o moldoveancă își ținea găinile într-o cameră ce avea o fereastră în tavanul casei. Ne-a lăsat să trăim aici. Am făcut curat, am dat cu var pereții și ne-am mutat în acea cameră. Mai târziu, noi am avut o altă cameră mică, care arăta ca un coridor, dar avea o fereastră. Tradiția noastră de dinaintea războiului de a așeza o masă acoperită cu o față de masă albă ca zăpada a dispărut precum și tradițiile evreiești: noi supraviețuiam. Tatăl s-a angajat la o școală muzicală, nu avea lecții particulare și viața noastră devenise grea.

Am absolvit nouă clase în evacuare. Când am revenit m-am ciocnit de profesorul de matematică, Lidia Samoilovna. Ea mă ținea bine minte și preda la o școală de elită nr 2 [7]. Mi-a spus: S-o luîm pe această fată la școala noastră. Astfel am ajuns să învăț în clasa a zecea și de asemenea am început să lucrez caeducator muzical la o grădiniță. Nu plăteau mult, dar ne dădeau mâncare pe care o puteam lua acasă. Compuneam muzică pentru copii. Îmi amintesc de cântecul Frunzulițe: Покочайся надо мной, мой листочек золотой. Листики, листики зеленые кленовые. Copiilor le-a plăcut. S-a terminat războiul. Ziua Victoriei [8] este o zi foarte, foarte mare. S-a organizat un careu la școală. Totuși pentru mine Ziua Victoriei se asociază cu cântecul День Победы de david Tuhmanov [David Tuhmanov, compositor de origine evreiască, un compozitor sovietic renumit]. Cred că e un cântec extraordinar.

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Perioada postbelică

Tatăl meu era fericit că lucrez în domeniul muzicii și avea o atitudine pozitivă față de experiența mea compozițională. Era bocuros că am supraviețuit, dar eram obosiți de a căuta mâncare. Eram flămânzi, nu mi-e rușine de aceste cuvinte. Aveam nevoie de produse bune, pâine și lapte. Nu puteai găsi astfel de alimente și ca rezultat m-am îmbolnăvit de bronșită, dar mulțumită lui Dumnezeu, am găsit un pulmonolog bun, doctoral Fișov. El m-a tratat fără plată. Cu toate că am căpătat bronșită cronică care mă deranja tot restul vieții. Am absolvit școala și la examenul de matematică am rezolvat probleme pentru toată clasa. Am terminat școala cu medalie de aur și am decis că vocația mea e să studies la facultatea de Fizică și Matematică. Nu aveam nici o problem cu admiterea la universitatea din Chișinău care abia a fost fondată [1945]. Dar m-am dezamăgit, probabil că lectorii nu erau prea buni.

În acel moment Leonid Simonovici Gurov, un pedagog și compositor renumit, a venit să lucreze la Conservatorul din Chișinău de la Odesa. Verișoara mea de-a doua Dora Fridman era muzicant și mi-a recomandat să-i arăt compozițiile mele și așa am și făcut. Leonid Seminovici mi-a ascultat cântecele. Poate că erau naive, dar veneau din inimă și aveau un ritm drăguț. I-au plăcut și mi-a spus să vin la Facultatea de Pregătire a Conservatorului. Am încercat să învăț și la Universitate și la Conservator, dar era prea greu.

După absolvirea facultății de Pregătire a Conservatorului am fost admisă două facultăți: clasa vioarei, Lvovici Dailis și Facultatea de Istorie a Muzicii. Din păcate, nu am putut urma clasa lui Gurov, fiindcă era supraaglomerată. Speram că va apărea vreo șansă, dar nu a fost așa. În perioada când am învățat la Conservator au avut loc două campanii anti-semitice: lupta împotriva cosmopoliților [9] și Complotul doctorilor [10]. Înțelegeam foarte bine că au fost fabricate și noi am urmărit evenimentele, dar mai mult eram preocupați de viața noastră grea. Ne eliberau produse alimentare pe taloane și simțeam o foame permanentă. Țin minte cum ședeam la oră și un de posit a unei brutării sub ferestrele Conservatorului, și nu puteam să ne concentrăm la subiectul lecției, fiindcă eram preocupați de încercând să ghicim dacă pâinea a fost livrată la depozit. Profesorul ne asigura că pâinea încă nu a fost adusă. Ședeți liniștiți. Când modul de procurare a produselor alimentare pe bază de taloane a fost anulat și a fost posibil de acumpăra pâine și zahăr eram atât de fericiți. Îmi amintesc prietenul meu, Efim Bogdanovskii, șezând la masă și servind ceai m-a întrebat câte lingurițe de zahăr să-ți pun? Una, două, trei.. Vai mă simt atât de confuz, să încep din nou.

Evreii pe care-I cunășteam erau foarte fericiți că a murit Stalin [1953]. Se vorbea la Chișinău că erau trenuri în așteptare pentru a deporta toți evreii în Birobidjan [11]. Dar totuși oamenii erau în doliu. Părea fantastic cei care credeau că nimic nu se poate întâmpla fără Stalin. Și încă mai cred că nu putem să trecem peste această figură. Pe lângă toate trăsăturile sadice pe care le avea el a făcut multe lucruri bune.Bine, poate dacă el nu le-ar fi făcut alții le-ar fi putut face, dar erau și lucruri bune în timpul regimului sovietic: medicină și educație gratuită. Nimeni nu poate uita astfel de lucruri. Cât despre ceea ce făcea Beria [12], nu cred că era secret pentru Stalin. Cred că știa. Curat fascism sovietic. Vorbind despre acest subiect nu pot să nu spun că la Congresul al XX-lea al Partidului Sovietic [13] Hrușciov [14] l-a denunțat pe Stalin, nu era o noutate izbitoare pentru soțul meu sau pentru mine. Noi știam în mintea noastră.

L-am întâlnit pe soțul meu când eram student anul trei, în 1949. Vara, în fiecare săptămână în grădina Aleksandrovskii [Parcul orășenesc din centrul Chișinăului] conducătorul Filarmonicii, Boris Milutin, și Orchestra Filarmonică dădeau concerte simfonice. Erau foarte populari în oraș și noi, ca studenți, niciodată nu am pierdut nici un concert. În timpul concertului mi-a atras atenția un băiat. Arăta diferit și avea o față atât de emoțională în timp ce orchestra îl interpreta pe Mozart. Mi-a plăcut și el la fel mi-a acordat atenție. Numele lui era Efim Tcaci și era studenta la clasa flautului la Conservator.

Efim s-a născut într-o familie de evrei bogați din Bălți în 1926. Tatăl lui, Mark Tcaci, era blănar și mama lui, Nehama, îl ajuta. Efim a studiat la o școală de gramatică. Fratele lui mai mic a absolvit școala primară. Când a început războiul ei au părăsit orașul pe jos.Trupele germane i-au ajuns din urmă la Crijopol, regiunea Vinița și au fost plasați în ghetto-ul din Crijopol. Au supraviețuit datorită faptului că știau limba română și puteau comunica cu gardienii români. Mama lui Efim era bucătăreasa unui ofițer roman și tatăl lui lucra pentru cineva.Când trupele sovietice s-au apropiat de Crijopol românii au evadat. Familia lui Efim s-a întors la Bălți. Efim a absolvit școala și apoi a studiat la Colegiul Pedagogic din Bălți. Nu i-a plăcut și a venit la Chișinău unde a fost admis la clasa flautului de la Conservator. Părinții lui s-au mutat la Lvov. Ei au murit în anii 1970. Evghenii a absolvit Facultatea de Fizică și Matematică de la Universitatea Pedagogică din Bălți și-a lucrat profesor de matematică.La moment el e pensionat și trăiește la Petersburg cu soția sa. Și nu au copii.

Efim și eu ne-am căsătorit doi ani după ce ne-am cunoscut, pe data de 4 decembrie 1949. Tocmai ne-am înregistrat căsătoria și ne-am adunat cu cele mai apropiate rude acasă la noi, având o masă destul de modestă. Pe lângă acestea, nu aveam nici voal și nici rochie de mireasă.Trăiam într-o anexă cu o singură fereastră. În 1952 am absolvit Conservatorul și am avut îndreptare [15] de a lucra într-o școală muzicală. Am lucrat acolo câțiva ani. Am moștenit talentul pedagogic al tatălui meu și-acum îmi place să predau.În 1953 s-a născut fiul nostru Leova [Lev] și era destul de greu fără comodități în casă, dar mama m-a ajutat foarte mult. În ciuda greutăților aveam o energie enormă de puteam ridica o casă în locul aceleia în care trăiam. Efim era dibaci de felul lui și singur a instalat un robinet, closet și chiar sistem de încălzire pe apă. Am aranjat o mică grădină și am trăit până la 1970 acolo.

Părinții mei trăiau în două camere de-alături, pe care le-am renovat un pic. Mama mă ajuta pe-acasă în timp ce eu lucram la școala muzicală, cu toate că eram foarte ocupată continuam să compun piese muzicale și am simțit lipsa unei educații speciale. În 1957 am fost admisă la Facultatea de Compoziție Muzicală, clasa lui Gurov și-am studiat doar specialitatea mea.În 1962 am absolvit această facultate și am rămas să lucrez la Conservator. Am predat solfegiul, acompaniamentul, analiza lucrărilor muzicale și lectura notelor simfonice. Mai târziu, am renunțat să predau solfegiul, fiindcă trebuia să cânt mult cu studenții ca să le dezvolt vocalul. Acum predau compoziția, orchestra, instrumentele simfonice pentru orchestră și aranjamentul coral care îmi place atât de mult.

Leova era un băiat sociabil și vesel. Îmi amintesc matineele de la grădiniță. Vecinul nostru, tatăl unuia dintre copii, și eu ne-am mascat în personaje din povești și le-am arătat un spectacol copiilor. Eram tineri și ne-am distrat la fel ca și copiii. Leova a frecventat o școală muzicală unde a studiat și obiectele de cultură generală. Tatăl meu a lucrat la această școală. Dragostea buneilor față de nepotul său era mutuală. El l-a adorat pe bunelul său numindu-l dedușca [Leova pronunța incorect diedușca] și-a făcut mulți prieteni care venea pe la noi acasă. Mai târziu ei s-a mutat cu traiul, însă Leova mai ține încă legătura cu unii dintre ei. Doi dintre ei trăiesc în SUA, din când în când sunându-se și corespondând.

Tatălui meu îi plăcea să profeseze și, în special, cu elevii mici. El formase un asamblu de copii cu care participa la concerte. Discipolii săi îl iubeau foarte mult și munca sa avea rezultate mari. Una din elevele sale de după război, Lidia Mordkovici, devenise laureat a numeroase concursuri muzicale. Ea trăia în Israel și acum trăiește în Anglia. Galina Buinovscaia, directorul Liceului Muzical din Chișinău și violonista Mila Volnianscaia care trăiește în Israel acum. Odată când mă uitam prin arhivă am găsit niște fotografii ale studenților cu inscripții pe ele:” Mult iubitului Moisei Benționovici …”

În 1967 am compus prima mea operă pentru copii: Capra cu trei iezi. A fost pusă în scena Teatrului de Operă. La acel moment am devenit membru al Asociației Compozitorilor din Moldova ( asociație a compozitorilor profesionoști). Președintele uniunii era Vasilii Gheorghievici Zagorschi, studentul lui Lev Gurov, rus de origine, născut în Basarabia și care vorbea bine româna, o persoană destul de plăcută. Datorită lui nu apăreau conflicte anti-semitice în cadrul Uniunii Compozitorilor, creând astfel o atmosferă plăcută de lucru. Foarte mulți compozitori de origine evreiască se regăseau la uniune: Șapiro, Aranov, Fedov, Muler și mai puțini cei moldoveni. În timp ce trăiam într-un apartament foarte mic puteam să mă bucur de călătoriile la Casa de Creație a Compozitorilor (casă specială pentru compozitori) unde uitam de rutina vieții și mă dedicam muzicii. Comunicam cu mulți compozitori din toată Uniunea Sovietcă la diferite congrese. Călătoream foarte mult pentru a asculta lucrările compozitorilor georgieni, armeni, moscoviți și kieveni. Mulți compozitori sovietici soseau în Chișinău, astfel având ocazia să-l cunosc pe Dmitrii Șostakovici [Șostakovici, Dmitrii, 1906-1975: unul dintre cei mai remarcabili compozitori ai secolului al XX-lea] la o întâlnire din 1960. Nu era doar un geniu,dar și o persoană minunată, modestă și inteligentă.

Se poate spune că realizasem multe, dar depusem mult efort pentru a le atinge. În primul rând, se iscau multe persoane geloase, care activau în mediul creativ, în al doilea rând, deoarece sunt femeie și nu prea se întâlneau compozitoare și, în al treilea rând, din cauza originii mele evreiești. Devenise o problemă pentru mine când începuse migrația spre Israel, însă Efim și eu nici nu ne gândeam la faptul de a pleca. E greu de explicat de ce, probabil, că sunt convisă că o persoană trebuie să trăiască acolo unde s-a născut și sunt înmormântați strămoșii lui. Posibil că trăiești cu aceasta în suflet fără a pune întrebări.Instituirea statului Israel în 1948 mi-a provocat emoții de fericire și de mândrie că evreii și-au format, în sfârșit, propia țară. De atunci înainte Israel se considera a fi țara mea.

Deseori ne vizitau prietenii cu care sărbătoream primele spectacole puse în scenă, zile de naștere sau doar ne întâlneam pentru a petrece. Întotdeauna eram bucuroasă de oaspeți. Nimeni nu m-a învățat să pregătesc bucate, tot timpul eram protejată și răsfățată, dar când mergeam la Casa de Creație îmi plăcea să mă duc la bucătărie și să discut cu bucătăresele. Le adoram, simple și înțelepte. Ele m-au învățat să gătesc: ”Iată, Zlatocika, așa trebuie să fie”. Învățasem multe în afară de copt. Adică coc, dar nimic deosebit.Totuși am o predilecție față de bucătăria evreiască.Gătesc pește umplut exact ca și bunica mea Riva. Odată la sanatoriu din Sortavala (un oraș din Karelia, stațiune climaterică) am pregătit-o pentru compozitorii sovietici. În acel an, Sviridov [Sviridov, Gheorghii, 1915-1998: compozitor sovietic, pianist, activist public] lucra și se odihnea acolo. El era pasionat de pescuit, prinzând împreună cu soția sa douăzeci de știuci.

Cineva a menționat că eu pot pregăti pește evreiesc și astfel m-a rugat să o fac. De la început și alte doamne au vrut să mă ajute, dar s-au împrăștiat spunând că e prea greu.Doar o singură persoană a mai rămas, o compozitoare din Baku, cu care am terminat. Peștele era un deliciu, dar noi miroseam a ceapă și de aceea am plecat să luăm un duș. În camera de baie mă simțisem obosită și căzusem jos pe podeaua de beton, pălindu-mi capul. Ea m-a șters cu ștergarul, m-a ajutat să mă îmbrac și i-a chemat pe alții să mă ducă în camera mea, stăteam în cabane. Aveam noroc că tatăl ei era medic și se afla cu ea. M-a examinat, mă pricopsisem cu o vânătaie pe cap. Mi s-a spus să stau toată săptămâna în pat, în schimb ceilalți au savurat peștele umplut făcut de mine. Le-a plăcut foarte mult, astfel câștigând titlul de bucătar excelent.

În 1970, noi am primit un apartament cu patru camere cu toate comoditățile incluse pentru mine, soțul meu, fiul și părinți. Mama mea l-a văzut și noi împreună am cumpărat lustre în toate camerele, însă ea nu s-a bucurat prea mult, căci murise în același an. Am înmormântat-o la cimitirul evreiesc, dar nu după canonul religios iudaic. După ce murise mama mea, eu compusesem concert pentru vioară și orchestră în memoria ei.Leova a absolvit școala în 1972 și a fost admis la specialitatea istoria muzicii de la Conservatorul din Chișinău. După absolvirea acestuia a decis să plece la Conservatorul de la Moscova, era dificil , dar totuși reușise.La acel moment participam la un seminar de șase luni și am avut ocazia să trăim împreună la căminul conservatorului de pe strada Malaia Gruzinskaia. Stăteam într-o cameră aparte, în timp ce Leova trăia cu doi băieți din Asia Centrală. Erau niște băieți pricepuți la gătit mâncare și l-au învățat și pe Leova să pregătească pilaf [pilaf este un fel de mâncare uzbec, orez cu carne fiartă sau prăjită, ceapă, morcov și uneori stafide].

După absolvirea Conservatorului Leova a fost luat la armată.El și-a făcut serviciul militar în trupa muzicală a regimentului de la Moscova, cântând în cor. Ulterior s-a căsătorit cu o fostă colegă de conservator, Mila Gordiiciuk, o fată din Ucraina. Mila și mama ei trăiau într-o cameră la Moscova, tatăl lor i-a abandonat mulți ani în urmă. Nunta a avut loc la Moscova, în locuința bunicii Milei. Am procurat mulți trandafiri de culoare roz pe care-i țineam la baia hotelului în care ne-am cazat. După căsătorie Mila și Leova s-au mutat la Chișinău. Leova s-a angajat la o școală muzicală, noi le-am închiriat un apartament și în 1979 s-a născut nepoata mea, Iulia. Apoi lui Leova i-au oferit o funcție administrativă la Moscova la Biroul de Propagandă a Muzicii Sovietice. Mama Milei s-a mutat cu bunica ei și lor le-au dat apartamentul cu o cameră. Mi-era dor de ei enorm și călătoream la Moscova oricând apărea vreo ocazie.

La începutul anilor 1980, un scriitor moldovean Bucov [Bucov, Emilian, 1909-1984: poet basarabean ce a scris proză după război], mi-a propus să alcătuiesc muzică la baletul poveștii Andrieș. Cineva i-a spus că sunt cea mai bună compozitoare și a insistat foarte mult. Sincer vorbind, nu eram sigură că ma-ș fi descurcat cu genul acesta de compoziție, dar eram destul de hotărâtă. Oleg Melnic, maistru de balet al Teatrului de Operă și Balet din Chișinău, trebuia să pună în scenă baletul dat, însă când partitura era gata, el devenise maistru de balet la Samarkand [astăzi Uzbekistan], avuse niște probleme cu administrația teatrului de la Chișinău. Rămasem confuză, dar el m-a sunat și mi-a spus: Trimite-mi partitura baletului, o voi pune pe scena din Samarkand, și așa am și făcut. Ceva vreme mai târziu, el mi-a trimis invitația la lansarea baletului și-am plecat cu două zile mai înainte de spectacol. Deoarece atunci nu era zbor direct la Samarkand, am luat cursa Chișinău –Tașkent prin Tbilisi (astăzi Georgia) și Așhabad [astăzi Turkmenistan].

În Tașkent trebuia să iau un alt avion până la Samarkand. Din cauza ceții cursa fusese anulată și la Așhabat, la fel, fusese anulată din cauza condițiilor meteorologice nefavorabile. Mi-e era frică să nu reușesc să ajung la timp la Samarkand, când dintr-o dată am auzit: Echipa de bord a zborului își cere scuze, dar trebuie să aterizăm în Samarkand. Nu-mi venea să cred. Am alergat la teatru, m-am dus la repetiție.Și-apoi m-am dus la hotel să mă spăl și să mă schimb. Premiera baletului a avut succes. Mi-am luat o casetă înregistrată cu spectacol, o broșură și m-am întors la Chișinău. I-am arătat directorului teatrului nostru de operă și i s-a părut foarte interesant. Astfel au început pregătirile către spectacol. Să mai scurtez din povestire, Andrieș a fost pus pe scenă la Chișinău și i s-a decernat Premiul de Stat al Moldovei în 1982 [Premiul de Stat al Republicilor Unite era decernat în Uniunea Sovietică din 1966 de către comitete speciale pentru realizări în știință, tehnică, literatură și artă].

Ne-am obișnuit cu modul de viață sovietic. Nu-mi păsa de politică și nu eram membru de partid. Cât despre viața noastră sufletească, Efim și eu nu m-am simțit reprimată. Soțul meu colecta literatură clasică și eu sunt pasionată de clasicii străini. Lucrul meu de creație era strâns legat de literatura moldovenească și, deseori, discutam operele scriitorilor moldoveni: Aureliu Busuioc [scriitor moldovean sovietic, Zlata Tkaci a scris operă în 1988 bazată pe nuvela sa Unchiul din Paris], Dumitru Matcovschi, scriitor și poet moldovean, Grigore Vieru –poet moldovean, prieten de familie de mulți ani. Mergeam la toate spectacolele și concertele simfonice de la Teatrul de Operă. Mulți muzicieni simfonici veneau în ture la Chișinău, Evghenii Mravinski, conducătorul din Leningrad, Oleg Crîsa, violoncelist, compozitori sovietici:Haceaturean [Haceaturean, Aram, 1903-1978: compozitor sovietic de origine armeană], și Krennikov [Krennikov, Tihon Nikolaevici, 1913: compozitor sovietic rus, activist public]. Nu plecam la teatrele dramatice din Chșinău, fiindcă Efim nu era pasionat de ele. Ne duceam doar când regizorii ne invitau la premieră.

Eu și soțul meu am trăit împreună 52 de ani, mai mult decât un jubileu de aur. Cred că sunt o femeie fericită, având o viață reușită. M-am căsătorit din dragoste și-am trăit în armonie, fiind uniți de aceieași profesie.Efim fuse un om deștep și înțelept, talentat în domeniul său și a avut grișă de succesul meu. Mulți ani a predat la școala muzicală și, mai târziu, trecuse la Filarmonică. A mai ținut lecții despre istoria muzicii moldovenești la Universitatea de Arte din Chișinău. El se specializase în muzica moldovenească, a scris multe articole pentru presă, a prezentat programe radio regulat în română. Avea o dorință puternică și un scop de a-și perfecționa limba română. Astfel înțelegea că e unicul mod de a descrie viața culturală a Moldovei în detalii.

Soțului și mie nu ne păsa de comfortul de zi cu zi: ne interesa viața noastră spirituală.Am cumpărat doar un set de mobilă Ganka [mobilă sovietică la modă pe atunci] pentru inaugurarea casei din 1970, fiind destul de dificil la acea vreme. Proprietarul depozitului de mobilă al cărui fiu intrase la Conservatorul de la Moscova cu ajutorul fiului nostru Leova, ne-a ajutat să o procurăm.El a aranjat să cumpărăm mobila fără a sta în rând. Cumpărasem un covor nou pentru camera de zi înainte de Anul Nou [2004] din motiv că cel vechi se uzase.Am primit un bonus de o mie de ruble de la Conservator și am decis acum sau niciodată. Una dintre mamele studenților mei m-a ajutat să-l duc acasă.

Când Gorbaciov [16] venise la putere și Perestroika [17] a început pentru mine devenise o posibilitate să dau frâu liber emoțiilor și să mă întorc la 180 de grade spre viața evreiască. Am compus muzică toată viața mea. M-am născut într-un sat din Moldova , am trăit în Moldova și mi-am format urechea muzicală față de melodiile moldovenești fapt ce a determinat nevoia de a nu scrie muzică evreiască. Viața era grea: războiul, evacuarea și realitatea sovietică mi-a impus anumite limite. În momentul în care m-am simțit liberă să-mi exprim gândurile, scriam muzică pentru poporul meu. Muzica curgea prin venele mele și soțul m-a ajutat mult , găsindu-mi o carte foarte rară de Berezovski: Folclorul evreiesc. Și-am început să utilizezi acorduri evreiești în lucrările mele.

Cu părere de rău, începutul Perestroikăi a fost marcat de un eveniment tragic din viața mea, tatăl meu murise într-un accident auto. El a trăit mai mult decât mama cu cincisprezece ani. L-am înmormântat în sectorul evreiesc al cimitirului internațional Doina . Am aranjat ca mama să fie reînmormântată lângă tatăl meu, fusese destul de greu , dar reușisem să o fac. Acum se află sub aceiași piatră funerară unde sunt înscrise numele lor și gravate o lumânare și o vioară. Moartea părinților mei m-a atins profund și gândurile mele iarăși s-au întors spre Dumnezeu. După moartea tatălui meu am decis să scriu un concert de flaut, dedicându-i-l. Fusese prima lucrare în care folosisem note muzicale și motive evreiști. Irina Mișura, o vocalistă minunată, nu e evreică, dar soțul ei da. Ea interpreta minunat lucrările lui Bitkin, un compozitor rus. Când am auzit-o simțisem nevoia de a scrie muzică pentru vocea ei. Aveam o colecție de poezii de Ovsei Dreez [Dreez, Ovsei, 1908-1971: poet sovietic de origine evreiască, autor de o colecție de poezii lirice, povești și poezii pentru copii în ivrit], pe care foștii mei studenți mi le-au dat. Am scris un ciclu vocal bazat pe poeziile sale. Așadar, începusem să scriu muzică evreiască pentru vocal, muzică instrumentală, muzică pentru cvartet și orchestră. Am câteva piese de muzică evreiască pe care le-am compus.

Fiul meu lucra la Biroul de Propagandă a Muzicii Sovietice până la destrămarea Uniunii Sovietice în 1911. Biroul fusese închis și Leova devenise șomer aproape trei ani. Până atunci mi-a venit rândul la mașină. [În URSS oamenii care-și doreau să cumpere o mașină trebuiau să aștepte ani buni până le venea rândul]. Și mi-am cumpărat automobilul pe care i l-am dat lui Leova la Moscova, lucrând ca taximetrist pentru a câștiga bani.Mai târziu, lucra în calitate de director de colectare a fondurilor pentru instrumente muzicale, dar acum lucrează la Glinka [18], Muzeul Central de Cultură Muzicală din Moscova.Soția lui, Mila, lucrează într-o companie privată. Ea este capul familiei. Nepoata mea, Iulea are 25 de ani, nu și-a dorit să studieze muzica. A trecut un curs de limbi străine de doi ani și acum e ghid turistic.

Pentru mine Perestroika fusese un lucru bun, dar s-au întâmplat și multe rele. Când URSS s-a destrămat, toate relațiile dintre fostele republici s-au rupt. Cât mă privește pe mine, faptul acesta mi-a făcut viața mea de creație săracă, deși continuam să lucrez la Conservator. Muzicieni cu renume nu mai veneau în ture la Chișinău. Cu părere de rău, televiziunea derula clipuri muzicale de o calitate proastă. Nu apărea muzică simfonică de calitate până ce nu plătea cineva pentru ea. Era doar canalul Mezzo, un canal francez, dar avea tendința de a bruia. Îmi plăcea să ascult simfonia lui Stravinski, dar acum difuzează fragmente de jazz. Fiind muziciană era greu să nu am o sursă de aprovizionare muzicală. Soțul meu mi-a lăsat o colecție mare de muzică clasică. Fiul mi-a dat o combină muzicală la care ascultam muzică, ascultam ce doream. E totul ce aveam la moment.

În 1922, am călătorit în Israel cu o delegație de muzicieni la invitația compozitorului chișinăuian, Kopitman care fusese unul dintre primii ce se mutase acolo. Avea o poziție importantă la Academia Muzicală Rubin din Ierusalim și Maria Bieșu [cântăreață din Moldova, soprano lirico-dramatică, solistă a Teatrului de Operă și Balet, laureat al concursurilor internaționale]. Am petrecut o săptămână acolo și am stat la hotel. Fusese o săptămână ocupată: concerte, întâlniri și multe excursii în Israel. Am vizitat Zidul Plângerii și desigur am lăsat o scrisoare acolo. Fusese ca o poveste! Israel e o țară frumoasă și minunată, simțisem aura uimitoare a lui și mi s-a părut că am călătorit mulți ani înapoi. Am simțit o legătură interioară cu istoria poporului meu. M-au impresionat excursiile. În 2001 am vizitat încă o dată Israelul la invitația Izoldei, fiica conducătorului Boris Miliutin. Ea trăia în Bat Yam lângă Tel Aviv. Viața în Israel progresa.

Soțul meu împreună cu mine am fost martori ai renașterii vieții evreiști din Chișinău șapte ani în urmă [1997]. Efim începuse să colecteze materiale despre Holocaust și anti-semitism. Avea cancer și se grăbea să adune cât mai multe. Doi alți activiști ai Organizației Asociația Evreilor din Moldova, Aurel Gujel și Efim Levit au lucrat cu el. Ei au pregătit și publicat cu ajutorulJoint [19] patru colecții de documente și articole despre acest subiect cu titlul Nu vom uita , în română și rusă. Soțul meu era editorul șef al acestei colecții. Efim a murit în Aprilie 2003. În ziua înmormântării văzusem cât de mult fusese iubit în Chișinău și de moldoveni, și de evrei. Venise multă lume să-i arate respectul. L-am înmormântat lângă mormintele părinților mei. Angajații Hesed [20] Iehuda, centrul nostru de caritate, m-au ajutat să fac toate aranjamentele. Am invitat un ravin care a recitat Kidduș. I-am instalat o piatră funerară roșie pe mormântul lui ca să se potrivească cu ai părinților mei.

Sunt singură, dar fiul meu mă vizitează și continui să lucrez la Conservator. Am puțini studenți. La invitația Joint predau copiilor evrei compoziția muzicală. Unul dintre oficialii din Israel m-a spus: “Realizările evreilor din diaspora sunt reușitele Israelului.” Hesed Iehuda îmi oferă ajutor, un voluntar vine să-mi facă curat în apartament o dată pe săptămână și de asemenea primesc câte un pachet de mâncare pe săptămână.


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Glosar

[1] Marele Război pentru Apărarea Patriei:pe 22 iunie 1941, la 5 dimineața Fasciștii germani au atacat Uniunea Sovietică fără a-i declara război. Acesta a fost începutul așa- numitului Marelui Război pentru Apărarea Patriei. Blitzkrieg-ul german, cunoscut ca planul Barbarosa, aproape că au reușit să pătrundă pe teritoriul Uniunii Sovetice. Nefiind pregătite, forțele sovietice au pierdut toată armata și o cantitate vastă de echipament la atacul german în primele săptămâni ale războiului. Către noiembrie 1941 armata germană a acaparat Republica Ucraineană, a asediat Leningradul, ca mărime al doilea oraș, și a pus în pericol Moscova. Pentru Uniunea Sovietcă războiul s-a terminat pe 9 mai 1945.

[2] Basarabia: Spațiu istoric dintre Prut și Nistru, aflată în partea de sud a regiunii Odesa. Basarabia era parte componentă a Rusiei până la Revoluția din 1917. În 1918 Basarabia a declarat independeța și mai târziu s-a unit cu România. Tratatul din Paris (1920) a recunoscut unirea, dar Uniunea Sovietică nu a acceptat niciodată. În 1940 România a fost forțată să cedeze Basarabia și Nordul Bucovinei Uniunii Sovietice. Cele două provincii aveau aproape 4 milioane de locuitori, majoritatea români. Deși România a pus stăpânire pe o parte din teritoriu în timpul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial , tratatul de pace din 1947 a confirmat apartenența la Uniunea Sovietcă. Astăzi –Republica Moldova.

[3] Cuzist: Membru al organizației fasciste numită după numele lui Alexandru C. Cuza, unul dintre cei mai fervenți lideri fasciști din România care era cunoscut pentru șovinismul crud și anti-semitism. În 1919 Cuza a fondat LANC ce a devenit Partidul Național-Creștin în 1935 cu un program anti-semitic.

[4] Anexarea Basarabiei la Uniunea Sovietică: la sfârșitul lunii iunie 1940, Uniunea Sovietică i-a cerut României să-și retragă trupele de pe teritoriul Basarabiei. România și-a retras trupele și administrația în aceiași lună, între 28 iunie și 3 iulie, Sovietele au ocupat regiunea. În același timp România a fost obligată să renunțe la partea de nord a Transilvaniei Ungariei și Sudul Dobrujei Bulgariei. Aceste pierderi teritoriale au influențat politica română în mare măsură în timpul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial.

[5] Transnistria: Teritoriu situat între Bug și Nistru și Marea Neagră. Numele derivă de la numele românesc Nistru și a fost creat după ocuparea trupelor germane și române în cel de-al Doilea Război Mondial. După ocuparea teritoriului Transnistria a devenit loc pentru deportații evrei români. Deportările sistematice au început în septembrie 1941. În decursul următoarelor două luni, toți evreii din Basarabia și Bucovina și o mică parte a populației evreiești din România au fost expediați de-a lungul Nistrului. Primul val de deportări a ajuns la 120 000 la mijlocul lui noiembrie, 1941 când era stopată de Ion Antonescu, dictator român, la intervenția Consiliului Comunității evreiești din România. Deportările au reînceput la începutul verii anului 1942, afectând aproape 5000 de evrei. A treia serie de deportări din marea Românie a avut loc în iulie 1942, atingând evreii care au evitat decretul de muncă forțată, atât și familiile lor, simpatizanții comuniști și evreii basarabeni care se aflau în România și Transilvania în timpul ocupației sovietice. Cele mai fioroase lagăre de concentrate transnistriene erau Vapniarka, Rîbnița, Berezovka, Tulcin și Iampol. Majoritatea evreilor concentrați în lagăre au murit între 1941-1943, din cauza condițiilor de trai oribile, bolilorși lipsei de mâncare.

[6] Comsomol: organizație politică comunistă de tineret creată în 1918. Sarcina Comsomolului era răspândirea ideilor comunismului și implicarea muncitorilor și țăranilor în construirea Uniunii Sovietice. Comsomolul avea scopul de a educa tinerii muncitori prin a-i implica în lupta politică, însoțită de educație teoretică. Comsomolul era mai popular decât Partidul Comunist, deoarece prin scopul lor de educa oamenii puteau accepta proletariați tineri neinițiați întrucât membrii de partid trebuiau să aibă un minimum de educație politică.

[7] Școală #: Școlile aveau numere, ci nu nume. Era o parte a politicii de stat. Toate erau școli de stat și se presupunea să fie identice.

[8] Ziua Victoriei în Rusia (9 mai): Sărbătoare națională de comemorare a victoriei asupra Germaniei fasciste, sfârșitul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial și celor care au murit în război.

[9] Campanii împotriva cosmopoliților. Campania împotriva cosmopoliților, spre exemplu, evrei a fost inițiată în articole de organele centrale ale Partidului Comunist în 1949. Aceasta era direcționată spre intelectualitatea evreiască și era primul atac public împotriva evreilor sovietici ca evrei. Scriitorii cosmopoliți erau acuzați de faptul că aceștia îi detestă pe ruși, susținând zionismul. Mulți scriitori evrei precum și liderii Comitetului Evreiesc Antifascist au fost arestați în noiembrie 1948 sub acuzația că ei au menținut legături cu zioniștii și americanii imperialiști. Ei au fost executați în secret în 1953. Un val anti-semitic al Complotului Doctorilor a fost lansat în ianuarie 1953. Astfel valul de anti-semitism s-a răspândit pe tot teritoriul URSS. Evreii au fost înlăturați din pozițiile de conducere și se vehiculau zvonuri despre deportările în masă a evreilor în partea de est a URSS. Moartea lui Stalin din martie 1953 a pus sfârșit campaniei împotriva cosmopoliților.

[10] Complotul Medicilor: Complotul Medicilor era așa-zisa conspirație a unui grup de medici din Moscova scopul cărora era să omoare liderii și oficialii de la guvernare și de partid. În ianuarie 1953, presa sovietică a raportat că nouă doctori, șase dintre care erau evrei au fost arestați și și-au recunoscut vina. Întrucât Stalin a murit în martie 1953, nici un proces de judecată nu a avut loc.Ziarul principal de partid, Pravda, mai târziu anunța că acuzațiile împotriva medicilor erau false și confesiunile lor au fost obținute prin tortură. Acest caz a fost unul dintre cele mai rele incidente anti-semitice în timpul conducerii lui Stalin. În discursul său secret la Congresul de Partid, XX-lea din 1956 Hrușciov a afirmat că Stalin dorise să folosească Complotul cu scopul să înlăture conducerea de vârf.

[11] Birobidjan: formată în 1928 cu scopul de a-i da evreilor sovietici o baștină și să crească așezările de-a lungul hotarelor din estul îndepărtat, spațiul avea statut de autonomie în 1934. Influențați de campania de propagandă și foametea din est, 41 000 de evrei sovietici s-au mutat la sfârșitul anilor 1920 și începutul anilor 1930. Dar către 1938, 28 000 din ei au fugit din regiunea cu condiții dure. Se aflau școli evreiști și sinagogi până la 1940 când reapare represia religioasă de după cel de-al Doilea Război Mondial. Guvernarea sovietică își dorea să-i deporteze pe toți evreii la Birobidjan până la mijlocul anilor 1950. Dar în 1953 Stalin a murit și deportările au fost anulate. În ciuda unor influențe idișe, inclusiv ziarul idiș, activitatea culturală evreiască din regiune a scăzut enorm din moment ce campaniile staliniste de anticosmopolitanism și liberalizarea emigrărilor evreilor din 1970 au scăzut. Evreii acum formau mai puțin de 2% din populația din regiune.

[12] Beria, L.P.(1899-1953): Politician comunist, unul dintre principalii organizatori al arestărilor în masă și al persecuției politice dintre 1930 și 1950. Ministru al Afacerilor Interne, 1938-1953. În 1953 el a fost eliminat din Partidul Comunist și condamnat la moarte de Curtea Supremă a URSS.

[13] Al XX-lea Congresul de Partid: La al XX-lea Congres al Partidului Comunist al Uniunii Sovietice din 1956 Hrușciov public l-a demitizat cultul lui Stalin și a ridicat valul de secret care era în URSS în timpul conducerii lui Stalin.

[14] Hrușciov, Nichita, 1894-1971: lider sovietic comunist. După moartea lui Stalin din 1953, el a devenit prim-secretar al Comitetului Central, ca rezultat șeful Partidului Comunist al URSS. În 1956, în timpul al XX-leaCongres de Partid, Hrușcoiv a făcut un pas fără precedent și l-a denunțat pe Stalin. A fost destituit din postul de prim-secretar și conducătorul Comitetului Central.

[15] Repartizare obligatorie în URSS: Absolvenții instituțiilor educaționale trebuiau să lucreze în mod obligatoriu 2 ani repartizați de instituția pe care au absolvit-o. După finisarea celor doi ani de lucru tinerilor specialiști li se permitea să se angajeze la discreția personală oriunde își doreau.

[16] Gorbaciov, Mihail, 1931-: Lider politic sovietic. Gorbaciov a devenit membru de partid în 1952 și treptat s-a urcat în ierarhia partiinică. În 1970 a fost ales în Sovietul Suprem al URSS, unde activase până în 1990. În 1980 el s-a alăturat Biroului Politic și în 1985 a fost desemnat secretar general de partid. În 1986 a pornit un program complex de liberalizare politică, economică și socială sub sloganul de glasnosti și perestroika.Guvernarea a eliberat deținuții politici, a permis creșterea emigrării, a atacat corupția și a încurajat reexaminarea critică a istoriei sovietice. Congresul Deputaților Poporului, fondat în 1989, a votat sfârșitul controlului din partea Partidului Comunist a guvernării și l-a ales pe Gorbaciov președinte executiv. Gorbaciov a dizolvat Partidul Comunist și le-a acordat Statelor baltice independeța. Respectând regulamentul Statelor Independete în 1991, el a demisionat. Până în 1992 Gorbaciov a condus organizații internaționale.

[17] Perestroika (din rusă restructurare): politica economică și socială sovietică de la sfârșitul anilor 1980, asociată cu numele lui Mahail Gorbaciov. Termenul însemna tentativa de a transforma conducerea economiei în stagnare și ineficientă a Uniunii Sovietice în una descentralizată și orientată spre relațiile de piață. Managerii instituțiilor industriale și guvernanții locali și oficialii de partid au încercat să democratizeze Partidul Comunist. Către 1991, perestroika a avut un declin și în curând a eclipsat prin desființarea URSS.

[18] Glinka, Mihail Ivanovici, 1804-1857: Compozitor renumit rus. El a compus prima operă națională rusă, Viața Țarului, precum și uverture, simfonii și suite de orchestre.

[19] Joint (Comitetul American Evreiesc Local de Distribuire): Joint a fost format în 1914 prin fuziunea a trei comitete americane evreiești de asistență care erau îngrijorate de suferințele evreilor în timpul Primului Război Mondial. La sfârșitul anului 1944, Joint a intrat pe teritoriile eliberate ale Europei și a organizat o operație masivă de eliberare. Aproviziona cu mânacre supravițuitorii evrei din toată Europa, furniza haine, cărți și rechizite școlare pentru copii.Susțineau activitățile culturale, aducând materiale religioase pentru comunitățile evreiești. Joint conlucra cu lagărele pentru refugiați unde au organizat programe de recalificare cu scopul de a-i învăța pe oameni meserii ca ei, la rândul său, să fie capabili să-și câștige existența, în timp ce activitatea sa culturală și religioasă a ajutat să restabilească viața evreiască. Joint de asemenea era implicat în a ajuta evreii să emigreze din Europa și țările musulmane. Joint a fost expulzat din țările Europei centrale de ani buni în timpul Războiului Rece și revenise după căderea comunismului. Astăzi Joint furnizează programe de asistență socială pentru supraviețuitorii mai în vârstă ai Holocaustului și încurajează dezvoltarea și renașterea comunităților evreiști.

[20] Hesed: Însemnând grijă și milă în ebraică, Hesed înseamnă organizație de caritate fondată de Amos Avgar la începutul secolului al XX-lea.Joint Hesed îi suținea pe evreii nevoiași să aibă o viață decentă în ciuda unor condiții economice grele și încuraja dezvoltarea identității personale. Hesed asigura un număr de servicii ce aveau drept scop susținerea tutor nevoiașilor și, în special, membrii mai în vârstă ai societății. Serviciile sociale majore includ: lucru în centrele de facilități (informații, publicitate despre activitățile centrului, legături străine și închirierea echipamentului medical); servicii la domiciliu (grijă și ajutor la domiciliu, livrarea produselor alimentare și meselor calde, reparații cosmetice); lucru în comunitate (cluburi, mese comune, policlinică, consultații juridice și de sănătate). Centrele Hesed au inspirat o revoluție în viața evreiască în țările post sovietice. Oamenii au văzut și simțit renașterea tradițiilor evreiești de umanism. Curent sunt mai mult de optzeci de centre Hesed în țările post sovietice. Activitățile sale acoperă populația evreiască din mai mult de opt sute de așezări.

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

Chișinău, Moldova
Interviator: Nathalia Fomina
Data interviului: Iunie 2004

Ivan Barbul e un bărbat înalt, lat în umeri, care pare mai tânăr decât vârsta pe care o are. Părul des e încărunțit, are trăsături blajine și ochi expresivi. Are vocea joasă, ca a unui conferențiar profesionist. Cea mai dramatică secvență a discuției noastre a fost relatarea morții părinților, a surorilor și fraților în Holocaust: Ivan Barbul nu a putut să își stăpânească lacrimile, iar vocea îi tremura. Chiar dacă i-a fost greu, a insistat să relateze istoria până la sfârșit. Soția lui, Liana Degtiar, a stat lângă el tot timpul discuției noastre. Întrucât Ivan are probleme cu inima, era pregătită să îi ofere ajutor în orice clipă. Ivan, soția lui și fiul lor, Boris Barbul, locuiesc într-un apartament spațios de trei camere în Rîșcanovca, un sector verde și organizat cum se cuvine, construit în Chișinău în anii 1960. Apartamentul este mobilat simplu dar confortabil. Familia deține o colecție mare de cărți rusești: literatură, lucrări științifice și cărți de fizică și matematică. Toți membri familiei sunt implicați în știință. Se poate vedea că se iubesc: se poartă unii cu alții cu delicatețe și au un simț al umorului bine dezvoltat.


Cuprins

Istoria familiei
Copilăria
În timpul războiului
După război
Glosar


Istoria familiei

Numele străbunicului meu matern a fost Abram Shafershuper. Unchiul meu Yoil, fratele mamei, mi-a spus că străbunicul meu a fost militar în armata țaristă timp de 25 de ani, cândva la sfârșitul secolului 18 sau începutul secolului 19. Nu știu dacă străbunicul a fost cantonist [1], ori dacă a fost recrutat pentru serviciu militar activ când a devenit major. Când a fost lăsat la vatră, țarul i-a acordat un lot de pământ în Basarbia [2], în satul Țarevca lângă Rezina. Familia mamei provine din Țarevca. Unchiul Yoil mi-a povestit că străbunicul a fost un om extrem de puternic. În vremea aceea se organizau regulat competiții între cei mai puternici bărbați din sat, iar străbunicul meu era imbatabil. Aceste lupte trebuie să fi fost foarte violente, fiindcă străbunicul a fost ucis într-una dintre ele. Bunicul meu, Moisey Shafershuper, s-a mutat în Rezina [O provincie din Basarabia din districtul Orhei. Conform recesământului din 1897 Rezina avea 3,653 de locuitori, din care 3,182 erau evrei]. Deținea un lot de pământ, pe care cultiva struguri. Bunicul a murit înainte de nașterea mea. Cred că prin anii 1910. Fratele meu s-a născut în 1918 și i s-a pus numele Moisey după bunicul meu.

Pe bunica mea, Etl Shafershuper, am cunoscut-o bine. Ea s-a născut în Balta [regiunea Odessa, Ucraina], în familia lui Alper Neerman. Bunica a fost scundă și scumpă ca toate bunicile. Purta întotdeauna batic. Îmi amintesc că cultiva struguri. Noi, copiii, obișnuiam să mergem în vie ca să culegem struguriii cei mai copți. Strugurii erau folosiți pentru obținerea vinului, pe care bunica îl vindea. A avut și o vacă. Când o mulgea, obișnuiam să bem lapte proaspăt direct din găleată. Bunica avea o casă frumoasă cu două etaje pe malul Nistrului. Casa era întotdeanua învăluită de un miros delicios de mâncare și de lapte proaspăt. În subsol aveau o pivniță de vinuri. Fiicele bunicii mele și familiile lor locuiau la primul etaj, iar bunica locuia la al doilea etaj. Bunica mea respecta cu strictețe tradițiile evreiești și așa făceau și fiicele ei. Nimeni nu lucra de Sabat. Aprindeau lumănări. Bunica a murit în timpul Marelui Război Patriotic [3], într-un centru de evacuare, unde l-a luat pe unul dintre copii ei cu ea. Bunica Etl a avut șapte copiii. Cunosc foarte puțin despre ei.

Următoarea fiică a bunicii mele, mai tânără decât mama mea, a fost Zlota. A fost căsătorită și a trăit împreună cu familia ei în casa bunicii. Cred că a avut un fiu. Îmi amintesc că a era bolnav, avea un tip de isterie. Avea crize. O dată, în timpul unei vizite, nu mi s-a permis să intru în camera lui: o femeie bătrână încerca să-l dezlege de un deochi. A trebuit să aștept până a terminat descântecul. Mătușa Zlota a murit în timpul evacuării din timpul Marelui Război Patriotic. Nu știu amănunte despre ce s-a întâmplat.

Yankel, fratele mamei, a murit în 1937. Atât e tot ce știu despre el. Nici despre sora mamei mele, Anna, nu dețin nici o informație. Shmil, alt frate al mamei, s-a născut în 1903. A fost un om bogat. Deținea o brutărie. Numele soției lui a fost Haya. Fiul lor, Semyon, era mai în vârstă decât mine cu cinci ani. Tot ce știu despre Mariasa, sora mamei mele, esta că s-a născut în 1906 și că înainte de război a locuit în casa bunicii.

Yoil, fratele cel mai mic al mamei, s-a născut în 1907. A fost comerciant de făină până când Basarabia a fost anexată de către Uniunea Sovietice [vezi Anexarea Basarabiei de către Uniunea Sovietică] [4]. Și soția lui, Riva, s-a născut în Rezina. Părinții ei locuiau într-o casă mare de piatră în cartierul nostru. După război l-am întâlnit pe unchiul Yoil în Cernăuți. El a fost cel care mi-a povestit foarte multe lucruri despre istoria familiei. În timpul războiului unchiul Yoil și-a scurtat numele de familie de la Shafershuper la Shuper. Mai târziu, Yoil împreună cu familia lui s-au mutat la New York, SUA. Unchiul meu a murit în 2001. Riva și fiul ei Mihail trăiesc în New York. Primim de la ea scrisori în limba rusă.

Mama mea, Feiga Rybakova, a fost cea mai mare dintre copiii. S-a născut în Rezina în 1899. A fost înaltă, suplă și liniștită. Nu știu cât de educată era. Putea citi și vorbi în idiș, în rusă și ebraică. Nu știu cum s-au întâlnit părinții mei. Tatăl meu provenea din Rîbnița, un oraș pe malul opus al Nistrului [pe malul stâng al Nistrului, regiunea Transnistriei]. Cred că se cunoșteau de ceva vreme înainte ca să se căsătorească.

Știu foarte puține lucruri despre părinții tatălui meu. Tatăl lui, Samuel Rybakov, a trăit în Râbnița. La începutul secolului 20 a emigrat în SUA. Bunicul meu s-a căsătorit de două ori. S-a recăsătorit după ce prima lui soție a murit. Bunicul meu a avut mai mulți copiii în SUA, dar nu am reușit să îi localizez. Nu știu nimic nici despre prima lui soție, mama tatălui meu. Fratele mai mare al tatălui meu, Peisach Rybakov, a locuit în Odesa [în prezent Ucraina], la fel ca și sora tatălui meu, Sheiva. Numele soțului ei era Grisha [nume de alint pentru Grigoriy] Kolker. Fiica lor s-a numit Polina. Nu am avut nicio legătură cu ei înainte de 1940, când Basarabia aparținea României Mari.

Tatăl meu, Gersh Rybakov, s-a născut în 1894. A terminat școala în Rusia țaristă. Putea citi și scrie în rusă, era o persoană educată și avea acasă o colecție de carți în limba rusă. Tatăl meu trebuie să fi terminat ieșiva, fiindcă era învățător la heder în Rezina și cunoștea limba ebraică. Unchiul Yoil mi-a spus că în 1914, când a izbucnit Primul Război Mondial, tatăl meu s-a mutat la bunicul Samuel în SUA pentru a fugi de serviciul militar în armata rusă. Mama mea era pe atunci logodnica lui. S-a întors un an mai târziu și s-au căsătorit. Au avut o ceremonie tradițională sub chuppah. Nu ar fi putut fi altfel în acele vremuri. După nuntă părinții mei s-au stabilit în Rezina. Nu știu cum au supraviețuit revoluției [vezi Revoluția Rusă din 1917] [5], dar în 1918, când Basarabia a fost anexată de către România [vezi Anexarea Basarabiei de către România] [6], aveau trei copiii deja: Abram, fiul cel mare, s-a născut în 1915, sora mea Anyuta s-a născut un an mai târziu, iar fratele meu, Moisey, în 1918. Sora mea Nehoma s-a născut în 1922, Riva în 1924, apoi a urmat Betia în 1926, și Shmil în 1936. Pe 12 decembrie 1929 m-am născut eu, în Rezina. Părinții mi-au dat numele Isaac.

Copilăria

Rezina era un oraș evreiesc. Majoritatea populației erau evrei. Orașul era înconjurat de sate moldovenești: Stocnaia, care era la mai puțin de 1km depărtare; Cernoie de partea cealaltă a orașului și de râul Ciornaia. Evreii din Rezina erau mai cu seamă negustori și meșteșugari: tinichigii și croitori. Erau și medici evrei. Doctorul Grossman locuia aproape de unchiul Yoil, în centrul orașului, și mai era și doctorul Rapoport, care dupa Marele Război Patriotic s-a mutat în Soroca. În centrul orașului existau magazine, care erau deținute de evrei. Evreii nu lucrau sâmbăta și duminica. Comunitatea evreiască din Rezina era puternică. Evreii respectau cu strictețe toate tradițiile. Exista și o piață, care mai ales în zilele de târg era aglomerată. Surorile mele o ajutau pe mama la cumpărături. Era și un bulevard în centrul orașului, și un mic monument, care era dedicat fie în cinstea lui Carol, regele României [vezi regele Carol I] [7], sau a lui Ștefan cel Mare [Stefan cel Mare, domnul Moldovei (1457-1504)]. În mahalaua Rezinei pe malul Nistrului exista o grădină mare, deținută de moșierul Pavlovsky. Trebuie să fi fost rus. Locuia în conac doar pe timpul verii. Strada Mostovaia, unde locuiam noi, era paralelă cu Nistrul, și apoi era strada Podgornaia în direcția centrului orașului. Primăvara Nistrul inunda multe străzi. Dacă vizitezi acum Rezina, vei vedea că orașul s-a extins pe deal.

Noi locuiam la primul etaj al unei case cu două etaje. Am cumpărat acest etaj de la proprietăreasa casei, care locuia la etajul al doilea. Însă ea nu a admis că era proprietatea noastră. Îmi amintesc că acest lucru reprezenta pentru ea un litigiu și era o stare destul de încordată între noi. Părinți mătușii Riva locuiau într-o frumoasă clădire de piatră cu două etaje, care era situată lânga casa noastră. Nu aveam grădină și nici măcar curte. Exista o șură, care era lipită de casa noastră, în care părinții mei creșteau o capră. Când au venit vremurile grele, familia a vândut capra. Erau trei sau patru camere, dar doar una dintre ele avea podele de lemn, celelalte erau de ciment. Camerele erau jilave. Aveam o sufragerie mai mare cu o masă în mijloc, suficient de mare pentru ca familia noastră de zece persoane să șadă acolo. Foloseam lămpi cu petrol ca să luminăm camerele. Îmi amintesc și de bucătărie, în care aveam o sobă rusească uriașă. [8]

Având în vedere că familia noastră era numeroasă, nu eram înstăriți. Tatăl meu lucra într-un heder și rudele noastre din SUA ne susțineau. Tatăl meu dădea și lecții private acasă. Elevii lui erau de diferite vârste, dar învățau împreună. Tata mă obliga să particip la aceste lecții și îmi amintesc că toți elevii erau mai în vârstă decât mine. Probabil că părinții băieților și comunitatea îl plăteau pe tata pentru munca lui. Încă întâlnesc oameni, care îmi spun că tata a fost învățătorul lor în heder. Tata era strict, dar nu îmi amintesc să îi fi bătut pe eleviii lui. Tata era scund, și chiar dacă această descriere nu corespunde imaginii unui evreu religios, nu cred că purta barbă ori mustață. Nici surorile mele nici eu nu avem o fotografie cu el. Tata avea acasă cărți religioase și literatură în limba rusă.

Mama mea era casnică. Era tăcută și conștiincioasă, și trebuia să fie așa, fiindcă avea mulți copiii. Îmi amintesc că citea foarte mult, iar când era necesar îl înlocuia chiar și pe tatăl meu la heder. Cred că știa ebraică.

În fiecare vineri mama cocea pâine pentru toată săptămâna. Făcea și prăjituri, și îmi amintesc de mirosul de mâncare din casă. Eram mulți și trebuia să gătească mult. Când ne așezam la masă, trebuia să fim rapizi și să ne luăm porția, fiindcă mâncarea nu stătea mult pe masă. Mama pregătea mâncare delicioasă: supă de pui sau de vită cu fasole, și pește umplut, pe care îl prepara ca și cotletul. Făcea și supă de pui cu tăiței de casă. Supă clară cu tăiței e mâncarea mea preferată. Sora mea mai mare o ajuta pe mama la gătit. Familia se aduna la masă la micul dejun, la prânz și la cină. Mama întindea o față de masă și fiecare dintre noi ocupa un loc la masă.

Când tatăl meu intra în sufragerie ne așezam la masă ca și cum am fi primit un ordin, deși cu siguranță nu ni se dădea nici un ordin. Tata recita binecunvântarea: nu îmi amintesc dacă o făcea zilnic, dar știu sigur că o spunea sâmbăta și de sărbători. De Sabat era întotdeauna carne la masă. Vineri dimineața era de datoria mea să merg la șohet ca să taie un pui. Îmi amintesc cum șohetul lua puiul, cum îl sacrifica și apoi cum îl atârna de picioarele legate ca să i se scurgă sângele. Avea de vânzare și carne de vită: trebuie să fi existat și un abator cușer în Rezina. Acasă vorbeam idiș. Tatăl meu se ruga dimineața și după masa. Mama mea avea un loc la sinagogă. De sărbători mergeam împreună cu tata la sinagogă. În Rezina cunosc doar sinagoga la care mergeam noi. La sinagogă mama ședea la etaj împreună cu celelalte femei.

De Roș Hașana mergeam să auzim sunarea din corn [shofar]. La sinagoga mai mergeam cu tata și de Iom Kipur, atunci când evreii trebuie să postească toată ziua. Eu eram doar un băiat și mama obișnuia să îmi dea ceva mâncare.

De Sucot mâncam în podul casei: acoperișul se putea deschide și noi îl decoram cu ramuri de copaci ca să facem o suka.

Deosebit de clar îmi amintesc de Hanuka. Era o sărbătoare veselă. Nu aveam o Hanukiya. Tăiam un cartof pe jumătate, îl scobeam, turnam puțin ulei și puneam un fitil înăuntru. Mama punea aceste lumănări pe pervaz, în așa fel încât să vadă toată lumea că sărbătoream Hanuka. Îmi amintesc cum primeam Hanuka gelt de la tata și de la unchii mei. Unchii mei nu aveau așa mulți copiii ca și părinții mei, așa că își permiteau să ne ofere nouă ceva bani. Eu economiseam ce primeam, ca să îmi cumpăr dulciuri.

De Purim mama făcea Hamantaschen. Oamenii se costumau și ieșeau pe stradă. Copiii se zbenguiau zornăind cu pârâitoarea. Tata mă lua cu el la sinagogă, ca să ascult Cartea Esterei. Băieții obișnuiau să pârâie și să strige când era menționat numele lui Haman.

Pesah era sărbătoarea principală, desigur. Mama făcea curățenie generală. Ce curățenie era! Aveam multe ustensile pe care mama le fierbea. Înainte de Pesah tata mătura hameț-ul de pe pervazurile ferestrelor. Aveam veselă specială pentru Pesah. De Seder tata se sprijinea de perne povestindu-ne istoria exodului evreilor din Egipt. Ținea ascunsă sub o perna o bucată de pască, iar acela dintre copii care o găsea, o primea cadou. Îmi amintesc cum mâncam cartofi, dupa ce îi înmuiam în apă sărată. Unul dintre frații mei mai mari, Abram sau Moisey, îl întreba pe tata cele patru întrebări tradiționale. Cu toții beam puțin vin. Eu aveam un mic pahar de vin doar al meu. Obișnuiam să înmoi pasca în acest vin și apoi să o mănânc. Avea un gust amar. Copiii mai mari râdeau de mine.

Mi s-a spus, că eram un băiat neastâmpărat. Obișnuiam să ma ascund ca să mănânc cârnaț care nu era cușer. Vecinul nostru moldovean avea o fermă de porci și un magazin, în care vindea carne de porc, jumări și cârnați. Mi-am cumărat un cârnaț de la magazinul lui cu banii economisiți în secret de la adulți. Nu eram singurul care cumpăra cârnați. Ascundeam acest lucru de tata; mama închidea ochiii știind că cârnații și jumările sunt bune pentru copiii. Totuși nu am avut niciodată carne de porc la masă: Doamne ferește!

Îmi amintesc bine prima vizită pe care i-am făcut-o doctorului Rapoport. Am urcat dealul de lângă orașul nostru, ca să verific cât de repede pot să alerg la coborâre. Când am ajuns la poalele dealului picioarele alergau singure pe poteca îngusta. Am căzut și m-am lovit la cap. Am fost dus la casa doctorului Rapoport. Pe birou avea o lampă cu petrol, a cărei sticlă avea o formă frumoasă. Avea un dispozitiv special pentru fixarea lățimii fitilului, care regla claritatea luminii. Așa de tare m-a captivat această lampă încât am uitat complet de durere. Doctorul mi-a spus să mă întind pe pat ca să coasă rana, dar de durere am sărit de pe pat, am lovit masa, lampa a căzut și sticla s-a spart. Doctorul a adus o altă lampă ca să își termine treaba. Încă mai cicatricea pe frunte.

Sora mea mai mare Anyuta e emigrat în Palestina în 1935 sau în 1936. A frecventat cursurile unei organizații [vezi taberele Hakșarah] [9] lângă Bălți, unde învăța agricultura. Înainte să emigreze s-a căsătorit de conveniență, fiindcă fetele ori băieții tineri nu avea voie să emigreze pe cont propriu. Numele soțului ei era Grisha. În Israel au divorțat. Anyuta și-a găsit un servici și s-a recăsătorit. Numele de familie al soțului ei a fost Rabinovich.

Fratele meu mai mare, Abram, a absolvit un gimnaziu în Rezina. În București [România] s-a licențiat și a devenit învățător într-un sat. Abram era îndrăgostit de Lusia, o tânără din orașul nostru. Tatăl ei era un negustor de tabac bogat. Abram și Lusia vroiau să se căsătoarească, dar tatăl meu s-a împotrivit. A spus că aparțineau două straturi sociale diferite. Abram și Lusia nu puteau să se căsătorească fără aprobarea părinților: aceasta era o regulă în toate familiile evreiești. Dar când Abram venea în vizita îa Rezina petrecea tot timpul în casa Lusiei. Fratele meu Moisey a absolvit o școala profesională în Rezina și a lucrat ca mecanic în București. Surorile mele Riva, Nehoma și Betia învățau pe vremea aceea la școală. În 1936 s-a născut fratele meu mai mic Shmil. A fost foarte iubit; îl strigam cu afecțiune Shmilik.

La vârsta de șapte ani am început să merg la școala elementară. Tatăl meu dorea ca să primesc o educație bună, firește. La școală erau copiii evrei și moldoveni. Am avut un prieten moldovean. Numele lui de familie era Borș. Începeam ziua cu rugăciunea ‘Tatăl nostru’, spusă pe românește. Toți copiii trebuiau să se roage, inclusiv copiii evrei. Îmi amintesc că o dată nu m-am purtat cum se cuvine în timpul rugăciunii: cineva m-a tras de mânecă ori eu l-am împins. Cred că eram un băiat neastâmpărat. Învățătorul nostru de științe ale naturii, Domnul Markov, m-a biciuit în fața clasei. Și vreau să va spun că era un bici serios. Pe atunci asta era o pedeapsă tradițională în școli. De asemenea ne puneau să stăm în genunchi la colț, pe grăunțe, ne loveau în palme cu rigla, ne pălmuiau sau ne trăgeau de urechi.

În timpul războiului

Când cuziștii [10] au venit la putere în România, anitsemitismul s-a extins și la noi în școală, ca de altfel peste tot. Un evreu putea fi bătut pentru simplul fapt că era evreu. Auzeam despre pogromurile care se întâmplau în Iași, dar la Rezina nu a fost nici unul. Erau doar afișe pe care scria ‘Aici se vorbește doar românește’, care erau răpândite peste tot: în locuri publice, în magazine și pe străzi. Era mai degrabă o discriminare atât împotriva evreilor cât și a rușilor, fiindcă limba rusă era limba oficială în Basarabia. [Limba rusă era predominantă îndeosebi în orașe: în mare parte a regiunilor rurale limba folosită era românește (moldovenește).] Când cuziștii au venit la putere, am început să ne simțim în primejdie.

În 1940, când Basarabia a fost anexata de Uniune Sovietică, i-am primit pe soldații sovieticii ca pe eliberatorii noștri. Tocmai terminasem clasa a treia — îmi amintesc acele momente foarte bine. Am fugit împreună cu ceilalți băieți la Nistru, ca să vedem trupele sovietice trecând din partea Rîbniței râul cu bacul. Mai târziu au reconstruit podul care înaite de 1918 lega Rîbnița de Rezina. Școala noastră a schimbat planul de învățământ trecând la limba de predare rusă. La vârsta mea nu am avut nici o problemă ca să schimb limba, mai ales că părinții mei vorbeau și citeau în limba rusă: aveam cărți rusești acasă. Fratele meu a revenit la Rezina și a mers să lucreze la fabrica de automobile Gorki din Rusia. Și sora mea Nehoma a mers să lucreze în Rusia. A lucrat la țesătoria din Ivanovo [în prezent Russia]. După terminarea școlii Riva a optat pentru un curs de tractoristă. După absolvirea cursului a lucrat ca tractoristă, cred că în satul Țarevca.

Fratele mamei Shmil împreună cu familia lui și cu alte familii înstărite au fost deportați în Siberia. Unchiul Shmil a murit în exil. Fiul lui Semyon s-a căsătorit în exil și s-a întors apoi în Moldova împreună cu soția și cu mama lui. Deportarea i-a salvat de fasciști. Mătușa Haya a trăit în Chișinău și Semyon împreună cu soția lui în Strășeni. A murit din cauza unei boli în anii 1980, iar mătușa Haya e emigrat în Israel. Și ea a murit.

Când a început Marele Război Patriotic în 1941 Abram a părăsit Moldova și s-a mutat cu familia Lusiei în Uzbekistan. Și părinții mei, Riva, Betia, Shmil și cu mine, ne-am grăbit să părăsim regiunea. Fiindcă podul peste Nistru fusese distrus de bombe, iar trebuia să ajungem la gara din Rîbnița, am trecut râul cu barcă. Din gară am luat trenul spre Razdelnaia, care era la 60 km depărtare de Odesa. De la Razdelnaia [în prezent Ucraina] ne-am mutat la Odesa, unde locuia unchiul Peisach Rybakow și mătușa Sheiva Kolker. Când ne-am mutat la Odesa doar unchiul Peisach și familia lui locuiau acolo. Mătușa Sheiva, soțul ei Grisha și fiica lor Polina părăsiseră deja orașul. Sheiva și familia ei s-au întors după terminarea războiului. Sheiva a murit în Odesa în anii 1960. Fiica ei, Polina, împreună cu familia ei locuiesc în Ierusalim.

Unchiul Peisach lucra ca hamal în port. Când a început Bătălia de la Odesa a luptat într-un batalion de luptă [11] împreună cu alți hamali. Fiul lui participa la săparea tranșeelor. Soția lui Lidia și fiica lui, a cărei nume nu mi-l amintesc, au rămas în oraș. Unchiul Peisach a fost rănit și evacuat din Odesa pe mare. Când s-a însănătoșit a mers pe front. După război s-a întors în Odesa, unde s-a recăsătorit. Pe cea dea doua lui soție nu o cunosc. Unchiul Peisach a murit în anii 1950.

În Odesa am locuit în casa unchiului Peisach, apoi mai târziu ne-am mutat în apartamentul mătușii Sheiva, care era vacant. Pe atunci Odesa era încojurată, iar singura modalitate de a fugi de acolo era pe mare. Așteptam și noi aprobarea de îmbarcare pe vapor, dar rândul nostru nu a mai venit: forțele armate aveau prioritate. Așa că am rămas în Odesa. După ce trupele sovietice au plecat, trupele românești care suferiseră pierderi mari, nu a intrat în oraș decât după o zi de așteptare și ezitare. Îmi amintesc de această zi foarte bine. Aveam unsprezece ani. Mă jucam împreună cu alți băieți. Am văzut oameni în apropierea pivniței unui bloc și m-am uitat și eu înăuntru. În apropiere era o biserică. Oamenii luau din pivniță saci cu pâine uscată. Am primit și eu unul, nu era greu, și l-am dus acasă. A picat la momentul potrivit, fiindcă după ce am părăsit casa unchiului Peisach, unde soția lui împărțea mâncarea tuturor, noi nu mai aveam nici un fel de provizii. Pe data de 16 octombrie trupele românești au intrat în Odesa [vezi ocupația românească a Odesei] [12]. Au lipit primele decrete ale autorităților ocupante pe pereți. Românii l-au luat pe tatăl meu și pe alți bărbați evrei la jandarmerie, de unde nu s-a mai întors. Pe data de 19 octombrie românii au emis un decret care dispunea ca toți evreii să-și împacheteze hainele și mâncarea, să lase cheile locuințelor în grija portarilor sau a administratorilor și să se îndrepte spre Dalnic [un sat la 15 km de Odessa], unde urmau să fie organizate lagăre de muncă.

Ne-am făcut bagajul și am ieșit. Eram cinci: mama, Riva, Betia, Shmilik și cu mine. Erau deja mulți oameni pe străzi. Pe drum am întâlnit-o pe Lidia și pe fiica ei. Românii și polițiștii direcționau oamenii de pe străzi, iar când am părăsit orașul, arăta ca un râu de oameni, care își cărau bagajele și copiii, și bătrâniii pe cărucioare. Era o zarvă asurzitoare care acoperea până și strigătele paznicilor. Când am ajuns la Dalnic ne-am adunat într-un loc abandonat împrejmuit de un gard de lemn și de turnuri de apărare cu mitraliere. Zona era luminată de reflectoare. Acolo l-am întâlnit și pe tata, care fusese adus de la jandarmerie. Toată lumea credea că acesta va fi sfârșitul. Oamenii își luau rămas bun de la cei dragi, plângând și țipând. În zori de zi gardienii i-au aliniat pe toți bărbații mai puternici, spunându-le că vor trebui să lucreze pe șantier. Acest șantier nu trebuie să fi fost foarte departe, fiindca nu după mult timp am auzit împușcături: au fost uciși cu toții.

Ne-au ordonat să mergem mai departe. Însă încotro mergeam? Eram o mulțime de oameni care mergeau; unii mureau pe drum din cauza bolii ori din cauza șocului suferit în ultimele zile. La un moment dat au trecut vagoane pe lângă coloana de oameni: tuturor celor care doreau să se urce, li se permitea să urce. Și eu am vrut să urc într-n vagon, chiar și Shmilik a vrut, dar tata nu ne-a dat voie. Aceia care au urcat în acele vagoane nici nu s-au mai întors. Probabil că românii nu îndrăzneau să omoare oamenii imediat, în fața tuturora. Îmi amintesc că o dată am înnoptat într-o fermă de vaci părăsită. Era toamnă, ploua și era frig. Oamenii au fost înghesuiți în clădire. Mirosul de bălegar s-a amestecat cu mirosul transpirației oamenilor. Dimineața am mers mai departe. Cu cât se făcea mai frig cu atât mai repede eram forțați să mergem. Probabil că ne obligau să mărșăluim ca să moară câți mai mulți oameni de moarte bună. Mulți cădeau și nu se mai ridicau. Toți își aruncau bagajul pe care luaseră de acasă.

Într-un final am ajuns la Bogdanovca [În Bogdanovca evreii au fost ținuți captivi de către jandarmeria română, de către poliția ucraineană și de către Sonderkommando R format din localnici de etnie germană]. Era o suprafață uriașă împrejmuită de un gard cu sârmă ghimpată și cu grajduri de porci. Familia noastră a primit un loc într-un grajd, în care fuseseră ținute scroafe. Erau încăperi pentru scroafe. Mătușa Lidia, fiica ei și cu mine am primit o astfel de încăpere. Ni s-a spus că putem aduce paie de afară. Am adus așadar paie și le-am pus pe jos. Nu am știut cât timp ne vor ține acolo. S-a dovedit că vom sta pentru o perioadă lungă. Nu primeam mâncare de nici un fel. Exista o fântână din care ni se permitea să scoatem apă. Iar eu am reușit să sap o gaură sub gardul de sârmă ghimpată, pe unde puteam merge la un câmp de varză din apropiere. Acolo scoteam din pământul înghețat cioturi de varză. Le mâncam. Ceilalți nu aveau nimic să mănânce.

Toate filmele despre Holocaust, cât de teribile ar fi ele, reflectă realitatea doar aproximativ. Realitatea a fost mult mai oribilă. Acest loc din Bogdanovca nu era un gheto. Era de neasemuit. Era un loc fără drepturi și reguli, unde oamenii erau exterminați fără motiv. În fiecare zi vagoanele cărau sute de trupuri neînsuflețite. Ca să nu moară în camerele în care locuiau deținuții își amplasau rudele muribunde pe hol. Deseori acești muribunzi nu aveau haine pe ei, fiindcă rudele lor le luau hainele ca să le schimbe pe mâncare. Sătenii din Bogdanovca obișnuiau să aducă mâncare la gardul de sârmă ghimpată ca să facă acest schimb. Mama mea și alte femei au descoperit o gaură în gard și mergeau în sat ca să aducă mâncare. Mamei mele îi era rușine să cerșească pentru mâncare, așa că se oferea să muncească. Ocazional sătenii o puneau să spele, iar ea, în schimbul pâinii și a cartofilor, le spăla hainele în apa rece ca gheața a Bugului. Ne aducea orice putea să facă rost. Tatăl meu a slăbit așa de tare încât nu a mai putut să se ridice în picioare.

La noi în grajd locuia un evreu în vârstă. Avea o soba ‘burjuica’ [sobă de oțel improvizată] cu un horn care scotea fumul pe geam. El le permitea deținuților să se încălzească la soba lui. Într-o zi grajdul nostru a luat foc. Nu cred că a fost din cauza sobei, dar oricare ar fi fost motivul, grajdul ardea. Paznicii ne-au spus: ‘Puteți să vă mutați în alt grajd.’ Chiar dacă sora mea mai mare, Riva, și cu mine l-am fi putut ajuta, tatăl meu nu a vrut să se mute. L-am văzut făcându-i un semn din mână mamei să aibă grijă de copiii. Când am plecat, am văzut un alt om în vârstă apropiindu-se de tata. A deschis o carte religioasă cu copertă neagră. Trebuie să fi fost o carte de rugăciuni. Mama ne-a dus în alt grajd. Când focul s-a stins și au mai rămas doar pietrele carbonizate, Riva m-a dus la locul incendiului și m-a întrebat: ‘Îți amintești de cărămida asta? Aici a fost camera noastră.’

Am mai rămas doar cinci: mama mea, Riva, Betia, Shmilik și cu mine. Mătușa Lidia și fiica ei muriseră. Într-o zi a venit o femeie care i-a spus Rivei să meargă în Bogdanovca în sat ca s-o îngroape pe mama. Cu o zi înainte mama mersese în sat, iar în timp ce spăla hainele pe malul Bugului un polițist a omorât-o cu patul puștii. Riva avea optsprezece ani. Cineva i-a spus că situația stă mai bine în Odesa, așa că a decis că trebuie să fugim la Odesa. Era iarnă și era multă zăpadă. Betia abia putea sta în picioare, iar Shmilik nu se putea mișca deloc. Eu eram mai mult sau puțin în regulă. Am decis ca Riva și cu mine să mergem. Când fratele meu a auzit că vom pleca, nu a vrut să ne lase mergem. L-am ridicat: era ușor ca o pasăre. Nu putea merge. Riva a decis să mergem.

Nu știu cât de mult ne-am îndepărtat de Bogdanovca, dar Riva a observat că nu mai pot continua să merg. Am înnoptat la o fermă. Îmi amintesc numele proprietarului: Savelîi Ișenco. Riva l-a rugat să mă aibă în grija câteva zile până se va întoarce după mine. Dacă situația evreilor din Odesa se va adeveri a fi mai bună, atunci se va întoarce după mine și vom merge să îi luăm și pe Shmilik și pe Betia cu noi. A plecat. După o săptămână Savelîi mi-a spus că vecinii au aflat de mine și că nu mă mai poate ține în casa lui. Trebuia să plec. Era în ianuarie 1942: era frig și era zăpadă. Savelîi m-a dus cu sania lui acoperindu-mă cu fân. Știam că Riva trebuie să fie în locuința lui Peisach, așa că m-am dus acolo. Vecina noastră, care era de etnie germană, m-a adăpostit. A avut nevoie de mult timp ca să mă convingă să intru: aveam păduchi. Gulerul de blană al hainei mele mișuna de insecte. Mi-a aranjat câteva paie într-o cutie de carton ca să dorm. Sunt recunoscător că nu a dat informații despre mine autorităților. Mi-a spus că Riva trebuie să vină la Odesa. E adevărat că au fost în jurul a zece zile în care evreii nu au fost persecutați, dar era doar un șiretlic făcut de Români pentru a le întinde o cursă evreilor din ascunzători. Când evreii au ieșit din ascunzișuri, cursa s-a închis. Am aflat că acești evrei au fost duși la Beriozovca și uciși.

Nu aveam de făcut nimic în Odesa, așa că m-am întors de unde am venit. Încă speram să o găsesc pe Riva, care trebuia să se întoarcă după mine la casa lui Savelîi. Speram că împreună vom putea să-i ajutăm pe Betia și pe Shmilik. Când am ajuns la ferma lui Savelîi, m-a dus și mi-a arătat un mormânt lângă cabana lui: ‘Riva a venit să întrebe de tine chiar în momentul în care coloana lor de marș trecea pe aici. Au omorât-o dimineața și am îngropat-o aici.’ I-am spus: ‘Nu am unde să merg. Voi merge unde este Betia și Shmilik.’ El m-a întrebat: ‘Înapoi la Bogdanovca? Acolo nu a mai rămas nimeni. Toți au fost uciși.’ Tocmai împlinisem doisprezece ani. Eram singur pe lume. Așa că m-am întors la Odesa unde m-au prins și m-au dus în ghetoul Slobodca [un sat la marginea Odesei].

Ghetoul se afla în clădirea fostei școli navale. Curtea era împrejmuită de un gard cu sârmă ghimpată iar la poartă erau paznici români. Exista un comandament românesc și un responsabil evreu în gheto. Hoinari ca mine erau duși la o cameră numită tezaurul. Am fost ținut acolo între șapte și zece zile, până când românii au anunțat că ne vor duce într-o colonie evreiască. Marșul era în direcția Beriozovca. Știam foarte bine ce însemna acest lucru. Am fugit din coloană. Unde era să merg? Dacă mă prindeau singur, m-ar fi omorât. Era mai simplu să mă întorc în gheto, unde am intrat sărind peste gard. Am fost dus din nou la tezaur.

Mai târziu i-au adunat pe toți deținuții ca să îi ducă într-o colonie evreiască. Am fost luat din nou și eu: și am evadat din nou. Așa s-a întâmplat de mai multe ori. Pe drum vorbeam cu românii. Unii dintre ei mi-au dat pâine, dar nu pot spune că erau mai buni decât germanii. Erau devotați datoriei lor: nu eșuau niciodată în exterminarea evreilor. Cine, în afară de niște ticăloși, ar fi omorât oameni fără motiv? Când a trecut iarna și s-a mai încălzit, m-am gândit că aș putea trăi pe câmp. Vă puteți imagina: singur, pe câmp, dar nu îmi era frică de animale sălbatice sau de întuneric. De oameni îmi era frică.

Ultima dată când am fost dus la tezaur m-am întâlnit cu un băiat. Era Yefim Nilva. Mi-a spus ‘Hai să stăm împreună. Haide să fim prieteni.’ Cineva i-a povestit despre mine. Yefim nu era așa de extenuat ca și mine. A fost adus în gheto de la închisoare. [În octombrie 1941 evreii din Odesa au fost încarcerați în inchisoarea din Odesa ținuți acolo până în decembrie.] Mama lui fusese ucisă în închisoare. Yefim se lăuda cu un document german, care atesta că era rus ori ucrainean, nu îmi amintesc prea bine. De asemenea mi-a demonstrat că nu e circumcis, pe când eu eram. Am crezut că el va fi zidul după care mă voi putea ascunde. Iar, fiindcă aveam experiență, l-aș fi putut ajuta și pe el să evadeze. Data următoare am evadat împreună, dar unde era să mergem? Știam că era un gheto evreiesc în Balta [la 180km de Odesa], așa că ne-am îndreptat într-acolo.

Am mers noaptea ca să evităm orice posibile confruntări. În timpul zilei stăteam în șuri. Câteodată mergem în sate ca să cerem de mâncare. Yefim vorbea cu săteni fiindcă eu graseiam “r”-ul. Pentru siguranța noastră eu trebuia să tac. Ca să identifice un evreu polițiștii obișnuiam să ordone unei persoane să spună ‘cucuruz’ [porumb]. Rârâitul era un indiciu al originii evreiești. Am încercat să găsim ceva de lucru în sate. Am inventat povestea că proveneam de la orfelinat: eu eram Ivan Ișenko și el era Fiodor Nilvin, iar fiindcă orfelinatele nu mai funcționau, aveam nevoie de mâncare. Probabil că oamenii își dădeau seama de adevăr, așa că ne spuneau că nu aveau de lucru. În sfârșit am ajuns la Balta, am găsit ghetoul, dar când am ajuns la gard, cei de acolo ne-au spus să ne îndepărtăm cât de repede putem, fiindcă gardienii îi omorau pe toți nou-veniții.

Ne-am întors pe drumul pe care veniserăm căutând de lucru în sate, până când am găsit de lucru la oficiul comunei Gandraburi [în prezent Ucraina]. Yefim era cel care vorbea. Le-a spus numele noastre: Ivan Ișenko și Fiodor Nilvin. Era o comună mare, formată înainte de război din doisprezece colhozuri [vezi colhoz] [13]. Eu am primit de lucru în colhozul Voroșilov [14], iar Yefim a fost trimis la colhozul ‘Krasnîi partizan’. Pe vremea ocupației românești comunele primiseră nume și fuseseră numerotate: comuna unu, doi, trei, etc, pe când oamenii le numeau ‘fostul colhoz.’ Eu urma să fiu cioban și să locuiesc într-o colibă de cărămidă și de lut împletit cu răchită, la cinci kilometri de comună.

Era o colibă veche, dar destul de stabilă. Lutul căzuse, dar răchita încă ținea coliba în picioare. Lângă magherniță era un staul cu 60 până la 65 de oi. Eu eram ciobanul, și mai erau doi oameni de serviciu, care obișnuiau să stea pe rând în colibă. O dată pe săptămână sătenii îmi aduceau mâncare: pâine și cartofi, pe care îi găteam. Sătenii aduceau și oile pe care eu trebuia să le îngrijesc și îmi aduceau și mie de mâncare. Aceasta era plata pentru munca mea. Yefim lucra pentru un fermier și locuia în casa acestuia. Stăpânul lui Yefim nu își asuma așa de multe riscuri, având în vedere că Yefim avea un certificat care atesta că era rus. În această perioadă, între 1942 primăvara și 1943 toamna, l-am întâlnit pe Yefim doar de două ori.

În toamna anului 1943 germanii și românii în retragere au luat oile cu ei. Am rămas singur în acea colibă. Câțiva săteni au trecut pe la mine. Probabil că au bănuit cine sunt, dar nu m-au dat în vileag. Mi-au spus că în comună există familii fără copiii, care m-ar putea adopta. Nu am îndrăznit să merg în sat, dar într-o zi am decis să merg la Ivan Ilici Barbul, care era o persoană onestă. Locuia împreună cu soția lui Agafia și cu încă o persoană vârstnică, mama lui sau a ei. Nu aveau copiii. M-a înregistrat pe numele lui de familie și mi-a dat numele de Ivan. Soția lui Agafia mi-a spus să o numesc mamă, iar pe soțul ei tată. Mi-a fost greu; așa că Ivan Ilici mi-a spus ‘Spune-i atunci stăpână și mie spune-mi stăpân.’ Cu femeia în vârstă nu m-am prea înțeles, nu înceta să tot bombăne despre mine. A murit pe vremea când germanii și românii erau în retragere, iar trupele sovietice au eliberat Gandraburi. Am rămas la părinții mei adoptivi. Prietenul meu, Yefim Nilva, s-a întors la Odesa, unde avea rudenii. A regăsit-o pe sora lui, și-a terminat școala și și-a făcut serviciul militar. S-a căsătorit. Soția lui Bella e evreică. Numele fiului lor e Alexandr. Sunt prieten de-o viață cu Yefim. Mi-e mai apropiat decât un frate. Ne întâlnim de Ziua Victoriei [15] în fiecare an.

După război

După eliberare m-am dus la școală ca să închei clasa a șasea. Ivan Ilici a fost mobilizat în armata sovietică. A murit la Iași [în prezent România] în toamna anului 1944. Agafia era epileptică și a trebuit să stau ca să am grijă de ea. Avea crize de epilepsie la fiecare două sau trei săptămâni, iar eu stăteam lângă ea, așteptând să își revină. Lucram mult în gospodărie și la câmp împreună cu Agafia. Să trăiești la sat presupune muncă grea. Fiind la școală m-am alăturat Komsomolului [16]. Eram dornic să învăț și îmi plăcea să citesc. Împrumutam cărți de la biblioteca comunei. Citeam orice pe ce puteam pune mâna. În clasa a zecea am citit în ziar și am auzit și la radio despre fondarea statului Israel. Uniunea Sovietică a încurajat acest eveniment și a fost printre primele state care au recunoscut Israelul ca stat. Am înțeles mai târziu că acest suport era fondat pe speranța că Israelul va deveni un stat socialist. Când Israel a luat-o în altă direcție, cele două state s-au înstrăinat. Cred că fondarea statului Israel este singura despăgubire a poporului evreu pentru milioanele de morți.

La Rezina m-am întors pentru prima dată după încheierea școlii cu speranța că unul dintre frații mei mai mari au supraviețuit. Aveam speranțe, dar mă și temeam că nu voi întâlni supraviețuitori. În Rezina mi s-a spus că fratele meu Moisei locuiește la Chișinău. L-am găsit imediat. Moisei mi-a povestit despre toate rudeniile noastre. Moisei fusese mobilizat în armata sovietica chiar la începutul războiului. A fost pe front până în anul 1945. A fost rănit grav în Polonia și internat la spital. După însănătoșire s-a dus în Uzbekistan ca să îl caute pe Abram. A găsit-o pe Lusia. Lusia și Abram trăiau împreună fără să fie căsătoriți. Lusia i-a spus lui Moisei că Abram a mers voluntar pe front și că a murit la Konigsberg [în prezent Rusia] în 1945. Moisei s-a întors la Rezina în 1945. Nu știa nimic despre mine și a crezut că am murit cu toții. Moisei s-a căsătorit cu Nina, o tânără din Rezina. A absolvit facultatea de drept, dar nu a profesat niciodată. Nu cunosc motivul. Probabil din cauza articolului 5 [17]. A lucrat într-un magazin de încălțăminte în Chișinău. A avut o fiică pe nume Faina, și un fiu Grigorii. După terminarea școlii Faina s-a căsătorit cu Grigorii Roș. Grigorii a terminat școala secundară și s-a căsătorit și el. Numele soției lui a fost Yelena. Moisei a fost operat în 1980, ca să-și îndepărteze schijele, pe care le avea încă din timpul războiului și care îl deranjau.

Sora mea Nehoma a locuit în timpul războiului la Ivanovo, unde s-a și căsătorit. Soțul ei, Semion Abramovici, a fost evreu. Nu au avut copiii. După război s-au mutat la Cernăuți.

După terminarea școlii am fost admis la facultatea de matematică de la universitatea din Chișinău, dar m-am îmbolnăvit imediat după admitere, așa că a trebuit să întrerup temporar studiile. De vreme ce puteam locui în căminul colegiului pedagogic m-am transferat mai târziu acolo. Apoi m-am mutat la departamentul fără frecvență, având în vedere că în anii 1940 și 1950 am lucrat ca profesor de matematică în Raspopeni. Aceasta a fost perioada luptei împotriva cosmopoliților [vezi campania împotriva ‘cosmopoliților’] [18]. Îmi amintesc de uciderea lui Michoels [19], și de Complotul Doctorilor [20]. Cu toate acestea am părerea mea despre ce s-a întâmplat. Nu aș denumi ce s-a întâmplat ca anitsemitism. Nu cred că Stalin era un antisemit. Era un politician și își îndepărta oponenții. A ucis mai mulți ruși și georgeni decât evrei.

Cred că Complotul Doctorilor a avut un temei politic. Poate a avut de a face cu fondarea statului Israel și cu popularitatea pe care Golda Meir [21], primul ministru al Israelului, a avut-o în rândul evreilor din Uniunea Sovietică. Nu cred că există cineva care să cunoască adevăratul motiv: trebuie scormonit în arhive pentru a afla un răspuns. Cred că aceste discuții despre un antisemitism la nivelul statului sunt puțin exagerate. Numărul evreilor era scăzut în proporție cu întreaga populație, dar dacă privim la statistici, vom vedea că doctorii, profesorii și inginerii evrei era mai numeroși decât cei de orice altă naționalitate.[Nota editorului: Intervievatul probabil că vrea să spună că numărul profesioniștilor și al intelectualilor de etnie evreiască din pozițiile înalte era mai ridicat decât al cel al celorlalte naționalități.] De exemplu, eu sunt evreu, și nu am ascuns niciodată acest fapt; am studiat și eu, și nu îmi amintesc de nici o atitudine preconcepută față de mine.

Îmi amintesc ziua morții lui Stalin, cum plângeau oamenii. Eu eram calm în privința asta: nu am avut de gând să mă obosesc din cauza asta. Datorită Congresului al XX-lea al Partidului din 1956 [22] și a publicării Raportului Hrușcev [23] am învățat multe lucruri noi. Ca mulți alții nu am avut habar despre ideea exterminării liderilor partidului, nu cunoșteam numărul lagărelor [vezi Gulag] [24], nici pe cel al prizonierilor, ori câți oameni au murit acolo. A fost un șoc pentru mine. A fost un șoc să aflu că oameni care, fiind comuniști, treceau Nistrul din Moldova [România] în Uniunea Sovietică, erau duși în lagărele lui Stalin. Situația din țară s-a schimbat după Congres, iar eu am intrat în partid în 1956.

După absolvirea facultății am început să lucrez ca director la școala din Raspopeni. Călătoream des la Chișinău, ca să îl văd pe fratele meu. Acolo, vizitând rudele îndepărtate, am întâlnit-o și pe viitoarea mea soție. Ea închiria de la ei o cameră. Numele ei era Liana Degtiar. Mi-a plăcut de Liana imediat, și mă întâlneam cu ea de fiecare dată când mergeam la Chișinău. În vara anului 1961 am mers la Crimeea cu vaporul. Am călătorit cu vasul până la Yalta [în prezent Ucraina] apoi am parcurs toată Crimeea. Am stat la Gurzuf, am urcat pe munți două zile, am vizitat Alușta, și am mers la Ievpatoria. Ne-am căsătorit în primăvară. Liana e mai tânără cu trei ani decât mine. S-a născut în București în 1933. Tatăl ei, Elih Degtiar, s-a născut la Soroki în 1903. A absolvit Universitatea din Cannes în Franța și a lucrat ca inginer șef la o companie la București. Mama ei, Sophia Degtiar, s-a născut în Bălți în 1908 și a terminat gimnaziul acolo. După ce s-au căsătorit a lucrat ca dactilografă la compania de transport feroviar din București.

Când Basarabia a fost anexată de către Uniunea Sovietică în 1940 familia Lianei s-a întors la Soroki. În timpul războiului au fugit la Kurgan, regiunea Tuba, în Tajikistan. În 1944, după ce Soroki a fost eliberat de către trupele sovietice, familia s-a întors la Soroki. Când ne-am întâlnit tatăl Lianei era lector la o școală agricolă, iar mama ei era casnică. Liana a absolvit Facultatea de Fizică din cadrul Universității din Chișinău, și a lucrat apoi ca și colaborator științific în laboratorul Institutului de Cercetări Electricotehnice. Am avut o nuntă liniștită. Prietenii noștri și colegii soției mele au venit la oficierea cununiei civile. Apoi am avut o mică petrecere în camera Lianei. Apoi am mers la Soroki în casa părinților Lianei, unde am petrecut împreună cu familia și cu cunoștințele lor. După nuntă m-am mutat la Liana.

Vizita sorei mele Anyuta din Israel în 1962 a fost o mare bucurie pentru mine. A zburat până la Odesa, și de acolo a călătorit la Chișinău. Asta s-a întâmplat imediat după nunta noastră. Era prima revedere de când emigrase. I-am spus povestea familiei noastre. Anyuta mi-a adus o poză cu Shmilik. Anyuta era căsătorită și avea trei fiii: Noah, Judah și Zvi. Locuiau în Rișon Le-Țion [în prezent Israel]. Soțul lui Anyuta cultiva și vindea portocale, iar fiii lor îl ajutau. Vă puteți imagina ce îngrijorat eram pentru rudele mele din Israel în perioada războaielor: Războiul de Șase Zile [25], și Războiul de Ramadan [vezi Războiul de Iom Kipur] [26]. Ascultam BBC și Vocea Americii. La începutul anilor 1970 sora mea Nehoma împreună cu soțul ei Semion Abramovici au emigrat în Israel. Locuiesc la Rișon Le-Țion. Acum sunt neliniștit de fiecăre întâmplare, de fiecăre atac terorist, mai mult decât sunt ei. Îi admir pe israelieni: locuiesc și lucrează în ciuda atacurilor teroriste. Trăiesc cu frică, dar nu se panichează.

În timpul în care am fost director de școală, mi s-a oferit o poziție la Comitetul Raional al Partidului, dar Liana considera că trebuie să mă concentrez pe știință. A insistat să urmez cursuri postuniversitare. M-am înscris la cursurile postuniversitare ale Academiei de Științe Pedagogice din Moscova [în prezent Rusia] și am locuit într-un cămin în Plușiha [un district în partea istorică a Moscovei] la începutul anilor 1960. Acolo erau studenți la cursurile postuniversitare din toată Uniunea Sovietică, așa că formam un grup internațional complet: din Tadjikistan, Kazahstan, Ucraina, și eu un evreu din Moldova. Profesorii noștri, care erau angajați ai Institutului de Tehnici de Predare a Matematicii, erau specialiști extrem de bine pregătiți. Se înțelegeau bine și cu studenții și cu lectorii. Eu studiam în Biblioteca de Stat a Uniunii Sovietice numită după Lenin [actualmente Biblioteca Națională a Rusiei]. Bibliografi extrem de pricepuți m-au ajutat la găsirea cărților de care aveam nevoie, ori dacă era necesar la procurarea lor din altă parte. Dacă cartea era rară, îmi trimiteau o copie. Am studiat și la biblioteca Academiei de Științe Pedagogice Ușinski. Și acolo lucrau consultanți științifici, care oferau ajutor studenților în diferite probleme. Am consultat un specialist în tehnici de predare a matematicii în școlile polone. Încă le sunt recunoscător multor specialiști pentru suportul lor.

Fiul nostru Alexandr s-a născut în 1963. Liana lucra, iar eu primeam o bursă de studii postuniversitare. Părinții Lianei ne-au susținut foarte mult. Liana mergea des la Moscova în călătorii de afaceri, timp în care părinții ei aveau grijă de Alexandr. Întotdeauna ne bucuram de revedere. Mergeam la expoziții de artă, la teatru sau ne plimbam prin Moscova. În acele câteva zile Liana cheltuia toții banii pe care eu îi economisisem în ultima lună.

După ce am terminat cursurile postuniversitare m-am întors la Chișinău, unde am lucrat ca și colaborator științific senior la Institutul de Cercetare Științifică a Pedagogiei. Mă ocupam de metodologia predării matematicii. Eram implicat în munca de cercetare științifică. Am publicat o carte: “Elemente de geometrie în școala primară”. În 1968 mi-am susținut lucrarea de disertație [vezi gradul de doctor sovietic/rusesc] [27] în Moscova. Institutul nostru de cercetare științifică aparținea Ministerului Educației al Uniunii Sovietice, care sub îndrumarea academicianului Kolmogorov [Kolmogorov, Andrei Nikolaevici (1903-1987): matematician rus, fondatorul școlii științifice în teoria probabilității și teoria funcțiilor] a inițiat introducerea unui plan de învățământ nou în predarea matematicii în școli, bazat pe experiența școlilor franceze.

Vechiul plan de învățământ și manualele au fost schimbate radical, începând cu clasa întâi. Elemente de matematici superioare au fost introduse în ciclul secundar: teoria mulțimilor, integrale, derivative etc. Asemenea schimbări au impus pregătirea profesorilor. Eu eram implicat în pregătirea lor: pregăteam cursuri, scriam scrisori de aplicație, țineam cursuri, vreau să spun că eram implicat direct în pregătirea profesorilor și în dezvoltarea noilor manuale. Era mult de lucru în această direcție, dar din păcate a existat și opoziție la aceste reforme din partea Academiei de Științe a Uniunii Sovietice. Această reformă a fost în vigoare doar zece ani: din 1967 până în 1976, când școlile au revenit la vechiul planul de învățământ. În prezent a fost introdus un nou plan de învățământ și manuale noi, și din nou această reformă se bazează pe influneța franceză.

Paralel cu munca la academie, predam și la Institutul de formare continuă a învățătorilor, și la Colegiul Pedagogic din Tiraspol. Călătoream la Tiraspol pentru o zi, ca să țin cursuri studenților. Îmi lua o oră cu trenul. Biletul mă costa trei ruble. Mă întorceam la Chișinău după masa. Îmi plăcea să predau și mă înțelegeam bine cu colegii și studenții mei. Mă întâlnesc cu unii dintre ei și acum. Întotdeauna după servici petreceam timp cu Alexandr, învățându-l lucruri. Experiența mea pedagogică mi-a fost foarte de folos. Alexandr a terminat prima și a doua clasă într-un singur an, dar soția mea considera că îl suprasolicitam pe băiat. Oricum, știam că dacă copilul se descurcă, totul e în regulă. Nu e bine, când lucrurile sunt prea ușoare ori prea grele. Când mi-am dat seama că Alexandr se descurcă cu solicitărilei clasei întâi și că începe să-și piardă interesul la ore, l-am transferat în clasa a doua. I-a trebuit ceva timp pentru a-i ajunge pe colegii lui din urmă, dar s-a descurcat foarte bine. Învățătorii îl lăudau.

L-am învățat pe Alexandr să urmeze un program strict: la ora zece trebuia să meargă la culcare. O dată în clasa a cincea a avut probleme: s-a jucat în curte și nu și-a făcut temele. ‘Nu pot merge la culcare, trebuie să îmi fac temele,’ mi-a spus. I-am spus că nu contează. Așa că l-am trimis să meargă la culcare. I-am spus că ar fi trebuit să își facă temele mai repede. Asta l-a învățat să își facă temele la timp. Învățătorii sunt foarte importanți la școală, și atitudinea elevilor față de ei e la fel de importantă. În familia noastră am încercat întotdeauna să susținem autoritatea învățătorilor. Alexandr a fost bun la matematică, așa că l-am transferat la altă școală la profilul de matematică. Era un băiat sociabil și avea mulți prieteni.

Liana era supervizorul laboratorului în institutului unde lucra. În paralel își pregătea lucrarea de disertație. În ianuarie 1969 a obținut diploma în științe tehnice. În același an, în decembrie, ni s-a născut cel de-al doilea fiu, Boris. Spre deosebire de Alexandr, Boris era un individualist. Nu dorea să meargă la grădiniță și orice efort al colegilor mei de a-l convinge să accepte să meargă la o gradiniță oarecare a eșuat. Totuși, a mers la școală fără nici o problemă, dar s-a îmbolnăvit când era în clasa a treia. A avut oreion, de altfel o boală obișnuită la copiii, dar a făcut complicații și a căzut în comă pentru mult timp. Slavă Domnului că doctorii au reușit să îl salveze. După această boală a învățat la fel de bine ca și fratele lui mai mare și a reușit chiar să intre într-o clasă de matematică.

Familia noastră petrecea vacanța de vară împreună. Locul nostru preferat era Odesa și suburbia Odesei: Cernomorka, Sergheevca și Karolino-Bugaz. Uneori părinții Lianei veneau împreună cu noi. Vizitam și Soci, Suhumi și Ialta, închiriind o cameră, așa cum obișnuia să facă toată lumea. Câteodată mergeam la Odesa la sfârșit de săptămână: colegii mei împreună cu familiile lor se adunau, închiriau un autobus și mergeau în weekend la mare. Transportul, mâncarea și călătoritul nu erau scumpe. Citeam foarte mult în timpul vacanțelor. Cititul era foarte popular: citeam ziare, reviste și literatură. Am strâns o colecție mare de cărți în limba rusă. Liana și cu mine aveam și manuale științifice și cărți de referință în colecția noastră. Acum că ne gândim să emigrăm în Israel, Liana și Boris discută mult cu privire la cărțile pe care ar trebui să le luăm cu noi. Liana îl trimite pe Boris la depozitul de reciclat hârtie cu cărțile pe care ea le consideră de prisos, dar el le aduce înapoi acasă și o numește pe mama lui în glumă un inchizitor al secolului 21.

În 1978 părinții Lianei au schimbat apartamentul lor din Soroki pe unul din Chișinău și s-au mutat aici. Mama ei, Sophia Degtiar, a murit la sfârșitul lunii martie 1988, și am înmormântat-o la Doina [cimitir în Chișinău], în secțiunea evreiască. Tatăl Lianei a murit în februarie 1992. Și el a fost înmormântat în cimitirul Doina.

Alexandr a terminat școala în 1979, iar noi am dorit să își continue studiile. Era bun la științele naturii și la matematică. A intrat la Facultatea de Biologie la Universitatea de Stat din Moscova.

Când era student în anul patru s-a căsătorit cu colega lui Tatiana Yailenko în ianuarie 1983. Ea este din Donețk [în prezent Ucraina]. Mama ei este ucraineancă iar tatăl ei este grec. Au avut o petrecere de nuntă mică: la petrecere au participat doar colegii lor, părinții Tatianei, Liana, Boris și cu mine. Am aranjat petrecerea la cantina unui cămin studențesc. Au primit o cameră în Casa postuniversitarilor [unul dintre căminele confortabile ale universității din Moscova]. Am râs când m-am uitat la etajele superioare ale acestui cămin [o clădire de doisprezec etaje]: se pot vedea scutece și haine de copiii atârnate la uscat — nu e rău pentru studenți! În decembrie 1983 s-a născut nepotul meu Leonid. Tatiana era în anul cinci. Și-a luat concediu maternal ca să aibă grijă de bebeluș. Mama ei a venit de la Donețk ca să o ajute. Alexandr era foarte atașat de fiul lui și câteodată chiar se certa cu soacra lui în privința educației băiatului. Sasha [nume de alint pentru Alexandr] și-a terminat studiile postuniversitare la Moscova, iar în 1988 s-a mutat împreună cu Tatiana la Chișinău. La vremea aceea cumpărasem un apartament cu trei camere și dădusem fostul nostru apartament de două camere și mobila copiiilor. Sașa a început să lucreze la Academia de Științe din Moldova. La sfârșitul anilor 1980 Liana și cu mine ajunsesem la vârsta pensionării [în Uniunea Sovietică vârsta pensionării pentru bărbați era de 60 de ani, iar pentru femei de 55 de ani], dar am continuat să muncim.

După terminarea școlii Boris a urmat Facultatea de Fizică la Universitatea din Chișinău. După graduare a lucrat la Institutul de Cercetări Electricotehnice, unde lucra și Liana. Încă lucrează acolo și îi place foarte mult munca pe care o face. Boris nu e căsătorit.

În 1992 sora mea ne-a invitat pe soția mea și pe mine în Israel. Anyuta ne-a cumpărat biletele. Am zburat cu avionul până acolo. Sora mea și cu familia ei ne-au așteptat la aeroportul din Tel Aviv [în prezent Israel]. Vă puteți imagina ce întâlnire! A fost reuniunea familiei noastre mari: nepoții mei Noah, Judah și Zvi, soțiile lor, părinții soțiilor lor, mulți copiii și nepoți. Nici nu i-am putut număra pe toți. Anyuta este străbunică. Părinții le-au oferit fiecărui fiu ‘pardes’, adică o parcelă de pământ cu o grădină cu portocali. O dată ne-am întâlnit, când Noah a împlinit 56 de ani. Altă dată ne-am adunat la casa lui Judah. Avea o curte mare și o mașină de sortat portocale și mandarine. A montat mese ca să poată încăpea toată familia în curtea lui. Atunci am simțit ceva, e greu de descris cum m-am simțit, e greu de găsit cuvintele potrivite. Când ne-am așezat cu toții la masa, mi-am amintit de familia noastră mare, de faptul că nu mai sunt singur: am așa de mulți oameni dragi, care mă iubesc și care își amintesc de mine. Totuși, am fost puțin jenat că exista o barieră lingvistică între mine și rudele mele numeroase. Ei vorbeau engleză și ebraică, dar eu nu cunosc limbiile acestea. Anyuta și cu mine am vorbit puțin pe românește și pe idiș. Le-am promis nepoților mei, că data viitoare când îi voi vizita voi vorbi engleză și ebraică.

Împreună cu Liana am stat în Israel două luni. Am călătorit în toată țara. Uneori Noah ne conducea în mașina lui. Ne-a arătat biroul lui din port: face afaceri cu exportul de portocale. Am călătorit la Ierusalim și am mers la Yad Vashem [28], și la Zidul Plângerii. Singurul loc pe care nu l-am vizitat a fost un kibbutz, cu toate că eram curios să văd unul, având în vedere că sora mea a lucrat într-unul când a emigrat în Palestina. Cunoștințele mele care lucrau în kibbutz mi-au povestit ca kibbutzim trec printr-o perioadă grea, dar că încă reprezintă baza agricolă a Israelului. În 1992 fratele meu mai în vârstă Moisei, soția lui Nina, copiii lor Faina și Grigorii împreună cu familiile lor au emigrat în Israel. S-au stabilit la Netania. Nina a murit în 2003. Am vizitat Israelul din nou în 1995 și în 1998. Am locuit la Moisei în Netania. Nu am învățat engleză ori ebraică. E greu să înveți o limbă străină la vârsta mea. Însă copiii și nepoțiii lui Moisei își aminteau încă limba rusă și erau întotdeauna dispuși să mă ajute.

În 1993 fiul nostru Alexandr s-a mutat la Leningrad și a început să lucreze în laboratorul de biofizică al Institutului Academic. A divorțat de Tatiana și le-a lăsat apartamentul ei și fiului lor. Păstrăm legătura cu Tatiana. E o persoană prietenoasă. Nepotul nostru Leonid ne vizitează des. E student la Facultatea de Matematică la Universitatea din Chișinău. Alexandr s-a recăsătorit la Leningrad. Cea de-a doua soție, Olga Ivanova, e rusoaică. Abia reușeau să se descurce cu cât câștigau. Într-o zi, la o conferință științifică în Leningrad, au fost prezenți și reprezentanți ai statului Israel. I-au oferit lui Alexandr o poziție la Universitatea din Tel Aviv. Olga l-a urmat pe Alexandr în Israel. În 1997 s-a născut fiul lor Ilia. Liana a mers în Israel ca să aibă grijă de bebeluș. A stat acolo timp de trei luni și s-a întâlnit cu rudele ei: surorile tatălui ei, nepoatele și nepoțiii ei locuiau în Israel.

După perestroică [29] Partidul Comunist a fost interzis în Moldova [Nota editorului: În realitate Partidul Comunist al Uniunii Sovietice a încetat să existe în 1991, după disoluția Uniunii Sovietice.], iar autoritățile au început să modifice istoria urmând valul de anticomunism. A existat un decret de anexare a Moldovei la România. Mass media l-a lăudat pe Antonescu [30] și chiar urmau să-i construiască un monumet în Chișinău. Au fost discuții și chiar au strâns bani. I-au numit pe românii, care au venit aici împreună cu trupele germane, eliberatori. Imaginați-vă cum m-am simțit: acești români ‘eliberatori’ mi-au ucis părinții, trei surori și fratele în vârstă de șase ani, plus mii de evrei. Cred că Gorbaciov [31] și Elțin au așezat propria prosperitate mai sus decât cea a statului. Desigur, au existat destule motive pentru disoluția Uniunii Sovietice, dar cum au putut-o iniția, dacă 76 procente din populație a votat pentru menținerea Uniunii Sovietice? [Participarea la referendumul din 17 martie 1991 cu privire la menținerea Uniunii Sovietice ca stat unic și indivizibil a fost de 174 de milioane (80 de procente din populația totală). Din toți participanții 112 de milioane sau 76.4 procente au votat pentru menținerea Uniunii Sovietice].

În anii 1990, după perestroică, a început să reînvie și viața evreiască din Chișinău. În timpul Uniunii Sovietice a fost fondată o asociație a foștilor deținuți din ghetouri evrei și de alte etnii. Mai târziu, a fost desființată, iar acum sunt membru al asociației evreiești. Ulterior au fost înființate și organizații evreiești în Chișinău: Centrul Cultural Iudaic și Centrul Comunității. Evreii au început să celebreze împreună sărbătorile evreiești. Îndeosebi după ce comuniștii au obținut majoritatea în parlamentul Moldovei viața evreiască a renăscut. [Probabil că intervievatul vrea să spună că comuniștii, fiind internaționaliști din oficiu, au fost mai atenți la coexistența diferitelor naționalități în stat.] Cred că situația evreilor s-a îmbunătățit. Înainte, când în multe domenii de activitate evreii erau separați de restul populației Moldovei, nu era bine.

Când comuniștii au venit la putere, moldovenii au început să se gândească la victimele fascismului. Ziarul nostru local, ‘Yevreiskoe mestechko’ [Orașul evreiesc], a scris despre o inițiativă privată a unui muzeu al Holocaustului în Edineț. Este extraordinar că acest muzeu a fost înființat de un moldovean, director al unei școli locale. Cred că e important, având în vedere că evreii au fost dintotdeauna cetățeni activi în Moldova: medici, profesori și meșteșugari. Acum s-au inițiat cercătări și în alte orașe, în care au fost exterminați evrei. Se caută cei drepți [vezi Drepți între Popoare] [32], care au salvat evrei și se înființează un muzeu ca acesta.

Hesed Jehudah [33], o organizație de caritate evreiască, e foarte eficientă. Uneori aud sau citesc în ziar despre oameni care bombăne despre mâncare, că nu ar fi așa de gustoasă. Eu cred că nu au motiv să se plângă. Hesed face o treabă foarte bună. Voluntarii lor numeroși lucrează neobosiți și ajută mii de evrei. Soția mea și cu mine primim pachete cu mâncare în fiecare lună. Timp îndelungat am refuzat să primim astfel de pachete, crezând că există evrei, care sunt într-o situație mai dificilă decât a noastră. De asemenea, ca fost deținut minor într-un gheto, primesc și o pensie de la Claims Conference [“Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany”. A fost înființată în anii 1950 pentru a asigura sprijin victimelor Holocaustului.]. Toate rudele noastre locuiesc în Israel. Și noi ne gândim să emigrăm în Israel.


Glosar

[1] Cantonist: Cantoniștii erau copii evrei, care erau recrutați de instituțile militare în Rusia țaristă, cu intenția de a-i forța prin condițiile de trai să îmbrățișeze creștinismul. Recrutarea pentru instituțile cantoniste a fost impusă foarte riguros în prima jumătate a sec. XIX-lea. Această procedură a fost desființată în 1856 sub Alexandru II. Serviciul militar obligatoriu pentru evrei a fost introdus în 1827. Evreii între vârsta de 12 și 25 de ani puteau fi recrutați, iar cei sub 18 ani erau plasați în unități de cantoniști. Autoritățile comunale evreiești erau obligate să respecte o cotă anume de recruți pentru armată. Cota mare care era impusă, condițiile severe ale serviciului militar, și cunoașterea faptului că cel incorporat nu va putea practica regulile religioase evreiești și că va fi rupt de familie, îi determinau pe cei care puteau fi recrutați să scape. Astfel, conducătorii comunității îndeplineau cota impusă trimițând copiii celor mai sărace familii.

[2] Basarabia: Zonă istorică între Prut și Nistru, în partea de sud a regiunii Odesa. Basarabia a fost parte din Rusia până la Revoluția din 1917. În 1918 a fost declarată republică independentă, iar mai târziu a fost unită cu România. Tratatul de la Paris (1920) a recunoscut unificarea, dar Uniunea Sovietică nu a acceptat-o niciodată. În 1940 România a fost forțată să renunțe la Basarabia și la nordul Bucovinei în favoarea Uniunii Sovietice. Cele două provincii numărau 4 milioane de locuitori, majoritatea români. Chiar dacă România a reocupat o parte a teritoriului în cel de-al Doilea Război Mondial în Tratatul de Pace din 1947 s-a recunoscut apartenența lor la Uniunea Sovietică. Astăzi aceste teritorii sunt parte din Moldova.

[3] Marele Război Patriotic: În data de 22 iunie 1945, la ora 5 dimineața, Germania nazistă a atacat Uniunea Sovietică fără să-i declare război. Acesta a fost începutul așa numitului Mare Război Patriotic. Blitzkrieg-ul germanilor, cunoscut ca Operațiunea Barbarosa, aproape că a reușit să distrugă Uniunea Sovietică în lunile următoare. Surprinse pe nepregătite, forțele sovietice au pierdut armate întregi și cantități uriașe de echipament în prima săptămână a asaltului german. În noiembrie 1941 armata germană a cucerit Ucraina, a asediat Leningradul, cel de-al doilea oraș ca mărime al Uniunii Sovietice, și amenința până și Moscova. Pentru Uniunea Sovietică războiul s-a încheiat la 9 mai 1945.

[4] Anexarea Basarabiei de către Uniunea Sovietică: La sfârșitul lunii iunie 1940 Uniunea Sovietică a cerut României să își retragă trupele din Basarabia și să renunțe la teritoriile anexate. România și-a retras trupele și administrația în aceași lună iar între 28 iunie și 3 iulie sovieticii au ocupat regiunea. În același timp România era obligată să renunțe la nordul Transilvaniei în favoarea Ungariei și la sudul Dobrogei în favoarea Bulgariei. Aceste pierderi teritoriale au influențat într-o mare măsură politica României în timpul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial.

[5] Revoluția Rusă din 1917: Revoluția prin care regimul țarist al Imperiul Rus a fost răsturnat, și înlocuit de conducerea Bolșevicilor sub Lenin. Cel două etape ale revoluției au fost: Revoluția din februarie, care a fost declanșată de lipsa hranei și a combustibilului din timpul Primului Război Mondial, când țarul a abdicat și un guvern provizoriu a preluat puterea. A doua fază s-a consumat sub forma unei lovituri de stat inițiată de Lenin în octombrie/noiembrie (Revoluția din octombrie) constând în preluarea puterii de către bolșevici.

[6] Anexarea Basarabiei de către România: În timpul zilelor haotice ale revoluției sovietice adunarea națională a moldovenilor convocată la Chișinău a decis pe data de 4 decembrie 1917 proclamarea unui stat moldovenesc independent. Ca să împiedice aspirațile la autonomie Rusia a ocupat capitala Moldovei în ianuarie 1918. La cererea disperată a Moldovei armata României învecinată au intrat în Chișinău în aceași lună recapturând orașul de la bolșevici. Acesta a fost un pas decisiv pentru unirea cu România: moldovenii au acceptat anexarea fără alte condiții preliminare.

[7] Regele Carol I: 1839-1914, Domnitorul României (1866-1881) și Regele României (1881-1914). A semnat cu Austro-Ungaria un tratat politico-militar (1883), la care au aderat și Germania și Italia, legând astfel România de Puterile Centrale. Sub domnia lui a avut loc Războiul de Independență (1877). A insistat ca România să participe la Primul Război Mondial de partea Germaniei și a Austro-Ungariei.

[8] Sobă rusească: Sobă mare de piatră alimentată cu lemn. De obicei era construită într-un colț al bucătăriei și era folosită la încălzirea casei și la gătit. Avea o bancă, care era folosită în timpul ierni de copiii și de adulți ca pat.

[9] Taberele Hakșarah: Tabere de antrenament organizate de zioniști, unde tinerii evrei din diaspora erau antrenați intelectual și fizic, în special în agricultură, pentru colonizarea Palestinei.

[10] Cuzist: Membru al unei organizații fasciste românești denumită după Alexandru C. Cuza, unul dintre cei mai fervenți lideri fasciști din România, care era cunoscut pentru șovinismul și antisemitismului lui fără scrupule. În 1919 Cuza a înființat LANC, care în 1935 a devenit Partidul Național Creștin cu un program antisemit.

[11] Batalion de luptă: Corp de armată în timpul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial format din voluntari. Soldații din care era compus patrulau în orașe, săpau tranșee și păzeau clădirile de raiduri aeriene din timpul nopții. În asemenea batalioane se înrolau de obicei studenții.

[12] Ocuparea Odessei de către Armata Română: trupele Armatei Române au ocupat Odesa în octombrie 1941. Imediat au aplicat măsuri anti-evreiești. După masacrul evreilor din Odesa, ordonat de Antonescu, forțele românești au deportat supraviețuitorii în lagărele din districtul Golta: 54.000 în lagărul Bogdanovca, 18.000 în lagărul Ahmetcetca, și 8000 în lagărul din Domanevca. În Bogdanovca toți evreii au fost împușcați, la acest masacru participând jandarmeria românească, poliția din Ucraina și Sonderkommando R, format din etnici germani. În ianuarie și februarie 1942, 12.000 de evrei ucrainieni au fost uciși în celelate două lagăre. În total au fost uciși 185.000 de evrei ucrainiei de către unități militare românești și germane.

[13] Colhoz: Politica colectivizării treptate și voluntare a fost adoptată în Uniunea Sovietică în 1927 pentru a încuraja producția de alimente, în același timp eliberând forță de muncă și capital pentru dezvoltarea industrială. În 1929, cu doar 4% din gospodări în colhozuri, Stalin a ordonat confiscarea pământurilor, uneltelor și animalelor țăranilor. Colhozul a înlocuit gospodăria de familie.

[14] Voroșilov, Kliment Efremovici (1881-1969): comandant militar și politician sovietic. A fost un revoluționar activ înainte de Revoluția din 1917 și un comandant remarcabil în Armata Roșie în Războiul Civil Rusesc. Ca și comisar pentru afaceri militare și maritime, mai târziu și de apărare, Voroșilov a contribuit la reorganizarea Armatei Roșii. A fost membru al Politburoului al Comitetului Central al Partidului Comunist începând cu anul 1926, și membru al Sovietului Suprem din 1937. A fost dat afară din Comitetul Central în 1961, dar reales în 1966.

[15] Ziua Victoriei (9 mai): Sărbătoare națională, care comemorează înfrângerea Germaniei naziste și sfârșitul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial, și onorează soldații sovietici care au murit în război.

[16] Comsomol: Organizație de tineret a Partidului Comunist al Uniunii Sovietice înființată în 1918. Misiunea Comsomolului era de a răspândi ideile comunismului și de a-i implica pe muncitorii și țăranii tineri în construirea Uniunii Sovietice. De asemenea Comsomolul intenționa să ofere o educație comunistă tinerilor muncitor implicându-i în lupta politică, care era suplimentată de educație teoretică. Comsomolul era mai popular decât Partidul Comunist, fiindcă țelul educării oamenilor putea fi acceptat și asumat și de către tineri proletari neinițiați, pe când membri de partid trebuiau sa aibă o minimă pregătire politică.

[17] Articolul 5: Acesta se referă la factorul naționalității, care era menționat pe cererile de angajare. Evreii, care în Uniunea Sovietică erau considerați o naționalitate aparte, nu au fost favorizați în această privință de la finele celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial până la sfârșitul anilor 1980.

[18] Campania împotriva ‘cosmopoliților’: Această campanie împortiva ‘cosmopoliților’, adică a evreilor, a fost inițiată în diverse articole ale organului central al Partidului Comunist în 1949. Campania a fost direcționată înainte de toate împotriva intelectualilor evrei și a fost primul atac public împotriva evreilor sovietici ca și evrei. Scriitorii ‘cosmopoliți’ erau acuzați că urau poporul rus, că suportau sionismul etc. Mulți scriitori de limbă idiș, ca de altfel și liderii Comitetului Evreiesc Antifascist au fost arestați în noiembrie 1948 sub acuzația că întrețin legături cu Sionismul și cu ‘imperialismul’ american. Au fost executați pe ascuns în 1952. Complotul doctorilor a fost inițiat în ianuarie 1953. Un val de antisemitism s-a răspândit în întreaga Uniune Sovietică. Evreii erau demiși din funcțile lor, și s-au răspândit zvonuri despre o iminentă deportare în masă a evreilor în partea de est a Uniunii Sovietice. Moartea lui Stalin în martie 1953 a pus capăt acestei campanii împotriva ‘cosmopoliților’.

[19] Michoels, Solomon (1890-1948) (născut Vovsi): Un mare actor sovietic, producător și pedagog. A lucrat la Teatrul Evreiesc de Stat din Moscova (unde a fost regizor începând cu anul 1929). A regizat lucrări filozofice, intense și monumentale. Michoels a fost ucis la ordinul Ministerului Securității Statului.

[20] Complotul doctorilor: A fost o presupusă conspirație a unui grup de doctori din Moscova de a asasina funcționari ai guvernului și ai partidului. În ianuarie 1953 presa sovietică a scris despre arestarea a nouă doctori, șase dintre ei fiind evrei, care și-au mărturisit vina. Fiindcă Stalin a murit în 1953, procesul lor nu a mai avut loc. Ziarul oficial al Partidului, Pravda, a scris mai târziu că acuzațiile împotriva doctorilor au fost false și că mărturisirea vinei lor a fost obținută prin tortură. Acest caz a fost cel mai grav incident antisemitic în timpul lui Stalin. În discursul lui secret la al XX-lea Congres al Partidului Comunist din 1956 Gorbaciov a afirmat că Stalin a vrut să folosească Complotul pentru a curețe vârful conducerii sovietice.

[21] Golda Meir (1898-1978): născută în Rusia, a emigrat în Palestina și a devenit un om politic foarte cunoscut și respectat, care a luptat pentru drepturile evreilor. În 1948 Meir a fost aleasă ca ambasador al Israelului în Uniunea Sovietică. Din 1969 până în 1974 a fost Prim Ministru al Israelului. În ciuda victoriei Partidului Muncii la alegerile din 1974, și-a dat demisia în favoarea lui Ițhak Rabin. A fost înmormântată pe muntele Herzl în Ierusalim în 1978.

[22] Al XX-lea Congres al Partidului Comunist al Uniunii Sovietice: La acest congres din 1956 Hrușciov a demascat în public cultul lui Stalin și a dat în vileag tot ce s-a întâmplat în Uniunea Sovietică în timpul lui Stalin.

[23] Hrușciov, Nikita (1894-1971): lider comunist sovietic. După moartea lui Stalin în 1953 a devenit secretar general al Comitetului Central, prin urmare conducătorul Partidului Comunist la Uniunii Sovietice. În 1956, în timpul celui de-al XX-lea Congres al Partidului, Hrușciov a făcut un pas fără precedent și l-a denunțat pe Stalin și metodele acestuia. A fost demis ca premier ca secretar general la partidului în octombrie 1964. În 1966 a fost înlăturat din Comitetul Central al Partidului.

[24] Gulag: Sistemul soviectic de lagăre de muncă forțată din regiunile izolate din Siberia și din Nordul îndepărtat, înființat în 1919. Abia începând cu anii 1930 a existat un număr însemnat de deținuți în lagăre. În 1934 Gulagul, ori Administrația Generală a Lagărelor de muncă forțată, pe atunci administrată de NKVD, succesorul lui CEKA, avea deja milioane de deținuți. Printre prizonieri se numărau pe lângă criminali, hoți, și alți criminali obișnuiți, și disidenți politici și religioși. În timpul lui Stalin lagărele Gulagului au contribuit semnificativ la economia sovietică. Condițiile de trai din lagăre erau extrem de aspre. După moartea lui Stalin din anul 1953, populația lagărelor a fost redusă semnificativ, iar condițiile de trai ale deținuților s-au mai îmbunătățit.

[25] Războiul de Șase Zile: Primele atacuri din Războiul de Șase Zile au fost efectuate de către forțele aeriene israeliene în ziua de 5 iunie 1967. Întreg războiul a durat 132 de ore și 30 de minute. Lupta împotriva Egiptului a durat doar patru zile, pe când lupta împotriva Iordaniei a durat trei zile. În ciuda duratei scurte, acest război a fost unul dintre cele mai dramatice și devastatoare războaie între Israel și toate țările arabe cu care a fost în conflict. Acest război a cauzat o criză economică care a durat mai mulți ani. Datorită schimbării mentalității și a orientării politice a statelor arabe în urma Războiul de Șase Zile s-a intensificat și tensiunea dintre statele arabe și Occident.

[26] Războiul de Iom Kipur: Războiul arabo-israelian din 1973, cunoscut și sub denumirea de Războiul de Iom Kipur sau Războiul de Ramadan, a fost un război între Israel pe de-o parte și Egipt și Siria pe de cealaltă parte. A fost cea de-a patra confruntare militară majoră dintre Israel și statele arabe. Războiul a durat trei săptămâni: a început în 6 octombrie 1973 și s-a încheiat în 22 octombrie pe frontul sirian și în 26 octombrie pe cel egiptean.

[27] Doctoratul în Uniunea Sovietică/Rusia: Stagiul universitar în Uniunea Sovietică (‘aspirantura’, ori ‘ordinatura’ pentru studenții la medicină) dura de obicei circa trei ani și era finalizat cu o lucrare de disertație. Studenților care absolvau stagiul li se decerna titlul de ‘kandidat nauk’ (literalmente doctorand în științe). Dacă cineva dorea să continue cu cercetarea următorul pas era să înainteze o cerere pentru titlul de doctor. Pentru decernarea acestui titlu persoana în cauză trebuia să fie implicată în domeniul universitar, să publice și să scrie o lucrare de disertație originală. În final i se acorda titlul de ‘doctor nauk’ (lit. ‘doctor în științe’).

[28] Yad Vashem: Acest muzeu, fondat în 1953 în Ierusalim, cinstește atât amintirea martirilor Holocaustului, cât și a ‘Drepților dintre Popoare’, ne-evrei care sunt onorați pentru ‘compasiunea, curajul și moralitatea’ lor.

[30] Anotonescu, Ion (1882-1946): Conducător politic și militar român, președinte al Consiliului de Miniștri din 1940 până în 1944. În 1940 a format o coaliție cu conducerea legionară. A inaugurat o dictatură în 1941, care a urmărit deprecierea sistemului politic românesc inițiat de Regele Carol II. Convingerile lui antisemite puternice au dus la persecutarea, deportarea și uciderea multor evrei din România. A fost arestat în 23 august 1944 și trimis la închisoare în Uniunea Sovietică până la începerea procesului, care a avut lor după alegeriile din anul 1946.

[31] Gorbaciov, Mihail (1931-): Lider politic sovietic. Gorbaciov a devenit membru în Partidul Comunist în 1952 și a urcat treptat în ierarhia partidului. În 1970 a fost ales Sovietul Suprem al Uniunii Sovietice, funcție pe care a deținut-o până în 1990. În 1980 a intrat în Politburo, iar în 1985 a fost ales secretar general al partidului. În 1986 a demarat un program cuprinzător de liberalizare politică, economică și socială sub sloganul glasnost (deschidere) și perestroica (restructurare). Guvernul a eliberat deținuți politici, a permis emigrarea sporită, a condamnat corupția, și a încurajat reexaminarea istoriei sovietice.Congresul Deputaţilor Poporului din URSS, fondat în 1989, a votat încetarea controlului deținut de Partidul Comunist asupra guvernului și l-a ales pe Gorbaciov ca președinte executiv. Gorbaciov a desființat Partidul Comunist și le-a oferit țărilor baltice independența. Imediat după constituirea Comunității Statelor Independente în 1991 Gorbaciov și dat demisia de la preșendinție. Din 1992 Gorbaciov a condus diferite organizații internaționale.

[32] ‘Drepți între Popoare’: Ne-evrei care au salvat evrei în timpul Holocaustului.

[33] Hesed: Hesed, însemnând îngrijire și milă în ebraică, este numele organizației de caritate înființată de Amos Avgar la începutul secolului XX. Susținută de Claims Conference și de Joint, Hesed oferă ajutor evreilor, care își doresc o viață decentă în ciuda condițiilor economice dificile, și încurajează dezvoltarea propriei identități. Hesed oferă diverse servicii destinate să suporte nevoile tuturor, dar în special a persoanelor în vârstă. Serviciile sociale majore includ: munca la centru (informare, publicitate despre activitățile centrului, întreținerea legăturilor cu străinătatea, și închirierea gratuită a echipamentului medical); servicii acasă (îngrijiri și ajutor acasă, livrare de alimente, livrare de mâncare gătită, reparații minore); munca în comunitate (cluburi, mese comune, policlinici, consultări medicale și legale); servicii pentru voluntari (programe de instruire). Centrele Hesed au inspirat o reală revoluție în viața evreiască în țările post-sovietice. Oamenii au văzut și au sesizat renașterea tradiției evreiești a umanismului. În prezent există peste optzeci de centre Hesed în țările post-sovietice. Activitățile lor acoperă populația evreiască a peste opt sute de așezări.

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.