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The destruction of Akkerman

(From statements at the gathering of former residents of Akkerman in Tel-Aviv, November 1950)

by Tzvi Manueli / Translated by Sara Mages

Note: This article originally appeared in the Akkerman Yizkor Book, published in Tel Aviv in 1983

We gathered today to honor the memory of our loved ones, the Jews of Akkerman, who perished in the great Holocaust of the Jewish people. We, the remnants of the destroyed Jewish community, came to lament the martyrs - parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends and acquaintances who weren't even awarded with a tombstone on their grave. There are no words in our mouth to recount and describe the great tragedy, but, I see it my duty to describe the great disaster because, at the present, I'm the only person in Israel who visited Akkerman after the war and saw the great devastation with his own eyes. I cannot find peace in my soul. I have to include you in the sights of horror, tell you what I've been told, and share the feelings, sights and impressions with you. Yes, I saw with my own eyes the few survivors who remained in Akkerman. I spoke, not only with the few Jews who remained in the city, but also with Christians, acquaintances and former neighbors. I tried to rescue the information about the bitter end, but, to my great sorrow, I couldn't write all the testimonies and all the things that I've heard because I've been warned that written words can cause trouble under the conditions of post-war Soviet regime. In retrospect, I regret that because I forgot many details. One episode is engraved well in my memory: it was on Yom Kippur 1943. I was staying with the brothers, Shaike and Beske Yeroslavski, who lived at that time as refugees in Vakabaz Kolkhoz, somewhere in a remote location in Uzbekistan.

In conversation, I've been told that Shaike corresponds with survivors from Akkerman who live all over Russia, and also manages the strangest “account book.” In this book, which I've seen with my own eyes, were pages of income and expense. Shaike registered each survivor from Akkerman in the income page, and each person who had perished in the expense page. Kind of a “bookkeeping”… Unfortunately, the “expense” was much greater than the “income”…

In my meetings with various friends (Leibele Shochat, Finya Tulchinsky, Mendel Gelman, David Berkovic and others), we tried to reach an estimate on the number of victims from our town, and the estimate was very bleak. Many families returned to Akkerman from Romania after the annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union, and it's likely, that in 1941 there were about five thousand Jews in Akkerman. When I visited Akkerman at the end of 1945, there were only 250 Jews in the city (children included). According to a conservative estimate, about two hundred and fifty people remained stuck in various locations across the Soviet Union. That is to say, that four thousand five hundred Jews perished in different ways - hunger, epidemics, during the evacuation, in the bombing and at the hands of the Nazis and their helpers. The liquidation was carried out in stages and the spiritual-cultural extermination began before the physical liquidation. All the Jewish institutions and organizations, including the educational institutions, charitable organizations and everything that was established and cared for by the Jews for dozens of years, was eliminated and dismantled immediately after the annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union. Only the houses of prayer and the cemeteries remained. It was kind of a cold blood pogrom which left its impression in every Jewish home and in each Jewish heart. A wave of arrests began immediately after the “honeymoon.” Suddenly, the activists, Zionists, and all who played a role in the Jewish public life, disappeared from the city. On the night of 13 June 1941, in the middle of the night, they “raised” hundreds of people and deported them to the plains of Siberia, Ural and Baikal. Among the exiles were: Moshe Hellman who served for many years as the head of the community, Yisrael Eibinderr, the Yeroslavski brothers, Kuty Vilderman, Shalom Teplizki, David Berman, Shmuel Gelbord, Yosef Kvitko, Hanina Krasninski and others. Only a handful of exiles held on and none of them returned to his hometown.

In June 1941, when the war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Jewish youth was recruited to the Red Army and labor battalions. It should be noted, that many of these recruits remained alive. However, dozens of them have fallen in the battlefields.

When the Red Army began to retreat from Bessarabia, many of Akkerman's Jews started to stream to nearby Odessa because it was impossible to travel in the other direction. Only about five hundred Jews remained in Akkerman. Most of them were members of “Beit HaMidrash” who developed a theory that when the Romanians will return to Akkerman they wouldn't hurt religious people who opposed the Bolsheviks.

Among those, who preached not to move from the place, were: David Brend, Henoch Shapira, Chaim Kaminker, Pisia Levin, Hersh Ternopolski, Hershel Blinder, Moshe Leker, Gernik and others. Apart from them, there were also many among those who were deported to the villages and their property was confiscated by the Soviets,

These deportees, who received a passport with Article 39, also decided not to leave Akkerman. They hoped that they wouldn't be harmed because they were the victims of the Soviet regime. All of them made a tragic mistake in their calculation. Of all the Jews of Akkerman only two converts remained alive: Kalkin and Leuba Shmoish who converted to Christianity and married a Romanian. From them, and from local Christians, I was able to get details that shed light on what had happened in Akkerman after the withdrawal of the Soviets. It turns out that farmers from Papushoi and Turlaki began to stream to the city before the last soldiers of the Red Army retreated. They broke into the Jews' apartments and stole everything on sight. Robbers, from the local mob, murdered Idel Brand (son of Shalom) and Chaim Klorefeld. At the end of August and September 1941, the Romanian campaign of revenge against the Jews has reached its peak and the number of victims among the Jews is estimated at 800.

The Jews, who remained in the city, were concentrated at the Craftsmen's Synagogue and held there for three days without any food or water. Then, they were taken to the road leading to Shabo where they were murdered with machine guns. On Yom Kippur of 1945, at the time of my stay in Akkerman, David Berkowitch turned to the worshipers with a call to bring the bones of the martyrs to Jewish grave. I don't know if something has been done in this matter.

Captain Okishur, who was the city's commandant, initiated and organized the massacre. He was the chief executioner of Akkerman's Jews. His assistants were: Commissar Teodorescu, Penca Stompotolo, and several local Christians who specialized in the discovery of Jews who managed to find a place to hide.

Also those who, so to speak, managed to reach Odessa, didn't escape the bitter fate. The progress of the German Army was very fast, and at the end of August it already stood at the gates of Odessa. Many, including a large number of our townspeople, were killed in the bombing on the city and many were killed during the evacuation from Odessa.

The evacuation of the refugees from the besieged city was very slow. It was difficult to obtain an exit permit, and after the permit was obtained - it was difficult to find a place in the ships that were intended to evacuate the civilian population. The refugees constituted a heavy burden on the besieged city and the authorities didn't treat them kindly… No wonder, that there was kind of a fatalistic mood among the refugees: “come what may” - many said - “we will remain here!” Against this background, one can understand the reasons why most of Ackerman's refugees remained in Odessa (their number is estimated at more than 3000). Only 800-1000 managed to leave the city and wander for many weeks in long trains, in arduous and tedious journeys of thousands of kilometers, until they arrived to remote settlements in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Shakerya, etc.

The evacuation roads were also deadly, the trains were bombed and many were killed on the way. Two refugee ships, which also included Jews from Akkerman, were sunk in the Black Sea by bombers. Due to the terrible conditions in the various kolkhozy, the “lucky ones” weren't able to hold on. I have a long list of our townspeople who met their death in these places of refuge.

What happened to the Jews of Akkerman who remained in Odessa? On 12 October 1941, Odessa was captured by the German-Romanian Army and the terrible campaign against the Jewish population immediately began. On November 1941, there was a big explosion at the headquarters of the occupying army in Odessa. On November 17, in retaliation for this act, which was carried out by Soviet partisans, thousands of young Jews were hung on electric and telephone poles. Among them were also young people from Akkerman: Edika Brand, Idel Roizman, Averbuch (the watchmaker), Sopha Weisman from Tatarbunary, Sudkowitc, Sioma Erlich, Sonia Rubinstain, Dr. Ritenberg, Shmukler and others. One day, the occupation authorities issued a statement that all the Bessarabians, who wish to return to their hometown, should appear at special stations with their belongings, and from there they would be transported to Bessarabia. Thousands of Jews, among them many from Akkerman, crowded in long lines. All the “repatriates” were concentrated in Dalnik near Odessa. They were locked in huge ammunition warehouses and set on fire. I've read the Committee of Inquiry report on the massacre in Odessa. This committee determined that the warehouses burnt for three days and about 2500 Soviet citizens were burnt alive in them. This report doesn't say who these citizens were, but it's known that most of them were Bessarabian Jews. In the winter of 1942, dozens of Jews, including Jews from Akkerman, were sent to the camps in Transnistria. A tiny percentage of the deportees survived.

It should be noted, that several public figures from our city, especially Yosef Serper and Shaike Feldman, tried to organize any kind of help under the most horrible conditions. Many, of those I spoke to, commended the vigorous activity of Shaike Feldman for the benefit of the refugees from Akkerman who were in Odessa. Eventually, he and his wife died of typhus. His daughter Rosa, who lived in Bucharest, managed to obtain a special permit to take her parents out of Odessa, but she was too late. Only fifty Jews survived out of the 3000-3200 Jews who fled from Akkerman to Odessa. Most were in Transnistria, some came to Israel and they are here with us.

In this manner an entire Jewish community was annihilated.

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