Tarashcha is a cantonal capital of 20,000 inhabitants, of which 7,500 are Jews (500 families), 22 versts from the railroad at Olshanitz. The city was not rich; for instance at Passover 30,000 rubles were distributed to the poor. The relations with the local bourgeoisie were peaceful but they were, of course, anti-semitic. In November 1918, the region of Tarashcha was the starting point of the uprising against the Hetman.
On June 16, 1919, the city experienced its fifth pogrom. They [sic] were caused by the band of Yatzenko, a native of the village of Kerdan, three versts from Tarashcha. All around are vast, thick pine forests, where it is easy to hide. Yatzenko is 24 years old and completed the course of the two-class school in Tarashcha. In March he declared himself for Petlura and immediately started an anti-semitic agitation, saying that "the Jews are all communists, they defile our sacred edifices, turn them into stables." In the Executive Committee of Tarashcha were many Jews, all local. The Extraordinary Committee had shot six local counter-revolutionaries not long before the June pogrom. Although there was not a single Jew in it (the Extraordinary Committee), the gang spread the report abroad that they had been killed by Jews, their tongues and ears cut off, etc., and that for these six slain, six thousand Jews ought to be demanded. When the city was taken they ordered the bodies disinterred.
This band, beginning in March, several times broke into the city and perpetrated pogroms, but they were comparatively trifling and were limited to pillaging and extortions. In May it was driven
out by a Soviet detachment, after which the Soviet regime lasted about a month in Tarashcha. But in the middle of June the band again approached the city in larger numbers (about 800 men). The garrison numbered not more than a hundred men and therefore withdrew. The band seized the town. It [sic] consisted of Yatzenko's men and some remnants of Grigorievists under Col. Nechai. Immediately plundering began and devastation, which lasted two days. The local bourgeoisie took no active part in this pillaging. A contribution of a million rubles was levied on the Jewish population. They succeeded in getting 300,000, and announced that if the rest were not furnished they would massacre everybody. At this point the sixth Soviet regiment arrived and the band departed. The Soviet regiment put a stop to the plundering of the city.
All the shops were smashed and plundered. The losses were more than ten millions. Two persons were killed.
Approximately on June 20 the rumor went around that the "villagers" ("village-workers") were again attacking the city. The Soviet Regiment withdrew, and with it departed almost the whole Jewish population. Four thousand Jews went to the town of Rakitnoe [9 miles north]. The rumor proved untrue, but not more than fifteen Jewish families remained in the city.
Testimony of Goldfarb, written in Kiev,
Hello Simochka*, my dear relative,
Simochka! I can tell you now that I am in good health.
Simochka! I am deeply grateful for your letter. At last, you remembered to write a few words.
Simochka, it seems that the saying "far from the eye, far from the heart" is also true of you. When you lived in Tarashcha, you wrote and considered me a relative. But when you left, you forgot about me, or you think that you should not consider me a relative.
Simochka, you write that you miss home. I can write to you that there is nothing to miss, because you know everything. Now it is even worse than before.
Before, if one had money, at least one could get flour, or bread, but now, one cannot get this even for money. Now we stand in line for a pound of bread. Sometimes, we stand and stand, but they run out of bread. And so, we go home without bread.
Simochka, my life is very bad now, because since Easter there has been no work at all.
Simochka, you write that you are studying. I am very glad about this. May God give you success in your work.
Simochka, please let me know what class you are taking.
Simochka, you write that I have nothing to envy you. So, dear Simochka, I repeat once more that I envy you, because you see my sister.
Simochka, I wish I could see my sister and my brother-in-law, even if through a tiny crack.
Simochka, you write that we should not think that my sister made demands on you. We absolutely don't think so.
Simochka, I only envy you, because you are there, while we have remained here to suffer.
Simochka, there will not be enough paper to describe to you my present torment.
Simochka, you ask me to describe to you how I spend my time. Dear Simochka, I can write to you that a hungry person cannot have a good time.
Simochka, if you have an enemy, may God see to it that he has as good a time as I have and that he lives as we do.
Dear sister Feyga and dear brother-in-law Kalman,
I can report to you that I am in good health. Dear sister, please write if Grisha has already arrived in America, or not. If he did, please tell him to write a letter.
And so, dear sister, please write how is your health. Dear sister, I miss you very much. There is nothing else to write about.
Your sister Fruma
Simochka, my relative, please give my regards to everybody.
Sima, tell yours not to forget what they had said. Many, many kisses to my sister and my brother-in-law.
Am waiting for an answer.
Regards to all of you from all of us.
*Celia Sevransky Baum, a.k.a. Sima
(letter contributed by Simochka's son, Richard Leonard Baum)
The town of Tarashcha possessed one of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Kiev County in which it was located. The town consisted of two parts: the upper streets and the so-called "lower street."
The loveliest street in the city was Dvorlanskaya Ulitse (Nobleman's Street). This street stretched the whole length of the town, from the east side, straight as a string, with beautiful, wealthy homes. Every house was surrounded by either a large or a small courtyard of trees and grass. Located on "Dvorianskaya", in addition to the houses of the municipal functionaries, were also all kinds of city and government offices, whatever a town needed: the police, the treasury, the court, the city hall, the prison, the municipal school, and various other institutions.
From "Dvorianskaya" a chain of streets and lanes led to the center of the city, where most of the Jews lived. Streets and lanes also led to the area where there were very few Jews. In general, Dvorianskaya looked like the heart of the city, from which arteries spread out in all directions. The whole city, except for the "lower street", was on a hill, which in many places seemed cut off like a wall, and in other places the hill sloped gradually down to that part of town called "lower street", although it wasn't just one street. The "lower street" was various lanes, some of which had names and some didn't, but all were located in that part of the city that was behind the hill.
The "lower street" was a city unto itself. As small as Tarashcha was, there were still people in the upper streets who had never in their lives been in the "lower street", except to go to the sweat baths or to the mikve. And when someone from the upper streets descended into the lower streets, he felt as if he were in a foreign city, and the people there also looked at him as if he were a stranger and not someone from the same city.
The marketplace, the business center of the city, was also in the more elevated area of the city. Jews, as the urban element, were for the most part involved in business and lived, naturally, in and around the marketplace, because it was from this and surrounding areas that the Jews derived his [sic] livelihood. As was customary in former cities and towns, the marketplace was heavily built up with shops, stalls, kiosks, rooms, inns and other places of business. The Christians lived at the end [sic] of the city and in the outskirts of the city, where it was really lovely, spacious, comfortable, uncrowded. There were courtyards, gardens, and orchards. [This area] was surrounded by fields, rivers, and pine forests. In spring, the trees of the pine forest and the surrounding orchards bloomed; the plants in the gardens and the grass in the meadows turned green, and the city truly looked like a vacation place. The air was delightful and fragrant, with the aromas of the Garden of Eden.
The Jews of Tarashcha, unfortunately, did not benefit from the wonderfully healthy air. Conditions were such as did not permit them to enjoy the loveliness of nature or its open spaces: many Jews worked in the "under street", whose small houses stretched along its own narrow, crooked streets that received insufficient sunshine and where a blade of grass was something rare. They lived there, because rent was cheaper than anywhere else or because they had inherited those small houses from their parents. Those who lived in the market area or around the market could not build large, roomy courtyards, because there the rents were higher, and whoever had land of his own saw to it that it should be income producing: another room, another small shop, another alcove to bring in more income. This was not done because they were greedy, because they wanted to amass more [money], but simply because Jewish livelihoods were very uncertainpie in the sky, and people wanted the money to assure their old age, their later years.
A certain doctor in Tarashcha (Rickman), who had been the city's doctor for several decades, was connected to everyone, knew everyone's grandfather and his grandchildren, knew very well how uncertain Jewish livelihoods were. When he saw musicians accompanying a bride and a groom to the wedding canopy, he would sing: " Hop, hop, obe spektor, obe kramer" (Either a teacher or a shopkeeper).
That is not to say that Jews were involved only with these two poor means of earning a living, but with those few words the clever doctor meant to express the uncertainty of those poor Jewish livelihoods and how unprepared the couple was to face life's struggles once the dowry ran out and the married young man had no choice but to become a teacher of small children or a shopkeeper, or both things: he a teacher and his wife a shopkeeper, because both of those jobs did not require much of an investment. Teaching Torah to small children didn't require much Torah knowlwdge, and being a small shopkeeper did not require much merchandise, and, thank G-d, they could be certain of the poverty that both of these jobs led to.
Of course, these two jobs were not the only ones with which the Jews of Tarashcha occupied themselves. Tarashcha was actually a business town, and Jews there were involved in all kinds of businesses, but the city was situated far from a
train, far from a large riverthings that help business and commerce. The wealthy men in town weren't all that rich and had small businesses, small enterprises, and employed few people in their factories.
Only the elderly Arik Tsukrov employed five or six people in his large store, and paid a clerk five or six rubles a week. The oldest clerk, who had already worked in that store for over thirty years, he was already getting ten rubles a week, which at that time was the highest salary that any employee in Tarashcha was getting. In other towns in the surrounding area, employees were getting even less. Some stores didn't have employees; they didn't need them, because their wives and children also worked there. When it got to the point that they needed to hire someone, they managed with servants or a young servant, that is, a boy.
Early every Sunday morning, one could see the following picture on the roads out of the city: all kinds of Jews were leaving town. Therse were not beggars, not mendicants; these were impoverished Jews who were looking for a way of earning something. Each one had his area [of expertise], his neighborhood in which he hoped to earn, whatever it may be, for his meager expenses, for his wife and children. Each one had his village of peasants that he knew, who bought from him or for whom he was working. The Jewish glazier was carrying a box of glass with him in the event that he came across any broken panes in the small windows of the farmer's cottage, earning a few kopecks for his efforts. The tailor, the fur coat maker, the furrier, carry their scissors and iron tools, needles and thread in the hope that G-d would send him a few fur coats to repair with patches.
These Jews spend the whole week in the villages, sleeping at the peasants' homes or in the brothels, or in an inn, getting by on a piece of bread, an onion, or a potato. On Friday, they drag themselves back to town for the Sabbath, or they get a ride with farmers that they know. The Jews, whether riding or walking, take back with them that which their circumstances permit. For the several guilden that the craftsmen or workers earned, they buy some provisions some flour, several eggs, a chicken for the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the only day of the week when a tired Jew can straighten out his bones and throw off the yoke [of responsibility] of the life he has the rest of the week.
Not in vain did the immortal German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, compare Jewish life to a dog's life during the week and to a lord's life on the Sabbath. The Jew, in old Russia, did indeed lead a dog's life during the week, and on the Sabbath, after shedding the responsibilities of the work week, he felt as free as a prince. In the Sabbath atmosphere he enjoyed the pleasure of the Sabbath and felt himself to possess the "extra soul" of the Sabbath. [note: It is said that every Jew acquires an additional soul during the Sabbath.]
No matter how poor the Jews of Tarashcha were, they somehow managed to get by, and very few of them applied for charity, because all food and anything else one needed to live on was inexpensive. Most Jews had little apartments of their own, didn't have to pay rent and could still afford to take out several rubles [from the bank] for a cubicle. The Tarashcha Jews did not live lavish lifestyles; they got by as best they could, and did whatever they could not to have to ask anyone for money. Paupers choked on their poverty and hid it inside their four walls, not taking it out into the street.
This condition persisted until the Minister of Internal Affairs (Vnutryel Dyel), Count Ignayev [see Count Ignatiev] issued his temporary regulations ( vryemyey praviles) concerning the Jews, which caused hundreds of thousands of Jews to beg for bread.
The whole regime of the Russian Tsar, Alexander the Third, was a chain of evil decrees, subjugations, pogroms, and extermination of Jews. Every functionary interpreted the laws
pertaining to Jews as he liked his business in graft as his hatred and antipathy of Jews dictated. Even though Tarashcha did not suffer directly from pogroms, the poverty of the Jewish population became greater and greater. Every day, every week, people became aware of newly impoverished Jews, recent paupers. The starved and the hopeful waited for a miracle, ulay yirakheym (perhaps G-d would have mercy), and send something. But when hunger began to pound strongly on the door and they could not quiet the small children, who were screaming, wailing for bread, the secret of their poverty was made public or at least known to their nejghbors. Whether they wanted to or not, they were forced to accept the modicum of assistance the city could offer.
The city could only give meager welfare payments; those were collected every week for the poor, who had not yet fallen so low as to ask for charity, but suffered starvation in silence. Every Friday two members of the community would go from one shop to another, from one house to another, collecting this monetary assistance. Every homeowner would contribute a kopeck or more to this relief fund; the wealthy gave five or ten kopecks. Arik Tsukrov contributed the most two guilden (thirty kopeks). The weekly fund was about twenty roubles, distributed to the needy in half rouble portions.
This is the picture of Tarashcha as I remember it in those times of sixty some odd years ago.