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In the Ring of an Era

Mikhail Bergman

Dedicated to my father, my mother, grandfather and grandmother, brother Leonid and grandson Yanik.

My Hometown – by Monya Bergman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Mikhail Bergman for allowing to translate and publish this excerpt from his book on our website

In The Ring of An Era Mikhail Bergman. Moscow 2001

I was born two years before the middle of the century. This era would later be called the bloodiest in the history of the Russian empire and the world. Who would have believed that the wheel of history would turn the way it did? If someone had told my mother: “Listen, you will live to the time when Joseph Stalin would be ejected from his mausoleum like an errant cat. Your son, Monya, would witness people spitting on the graves of the leaders of the nation”. She would have been scared to have even heard these words. After all, the time was such that it was necessary to report this to the authorities, or someone would have reported you.

Not only my mother! If someone had told me, when I was a boy running through the quiet streets of the provincial town of Tiraspol (where I was careless enough to be born), that I would become a colonel in the Russian Army and the military commandant of the town, that I would be inscribed in the Guinness Book of Records - I would have burst out laughing. If I were a fantasist I would have added that the whole world, in the early 1990s, would have been speaking about the battles in Tiraspol and the Dniester River. Our entire street would have giggled about this. The street was called Sobornaya 1 , but the Bolsheviks renamed it Lunacharskogo2 , although, Lunacharskiy himself had never been to Tiraspol!

Of course, it is all about Tiraspol, not Odessa, the city well-known all over the world. Odessa – is a song, it is a way of life and a way of thinking. Jews settled there from the early beginning, and, maybe even before that. But few people know that the Tiraspol Uezd 3 was founded even before Odessa. Everything was turned upside down later, but it is history and a very interesting and informative one at that. Today, in spite of borders and customs, these two towns are on good terms. Where does Tiraspol end? On Odesskaya Street - seamlessly leading to the Odessa road. Where does Odessa begin? Guess! Of course - at Tiraspol Street.

Cheerful and resourceful Jews of Odessa-mama 4 created many songs about their hometown. Who today does not know about Jewish Odessa, the Jewish Hospital, (as in the song “the house on this street is yellow// the Jewish Hospital is called…”), Myasoyedovskaya 5 [street] or Moldavanka 6 ? It is the legend of many generations. Eras changed, but the streets of Odessa did not!. Often, when I was in restaurants in the former Soviet Union, I would hear about Miasoyedovskaya or Mishka Yponchik 7. What about Tiraspol? It is not as rich with folkloric songs in spite of the fact that in Tiraspol there were no fewer Jews than in Odessa - maybe even more. The Jews had settled in this southern town many years ago. Tiraspol was established in 1792 by the great Russian general A. V. Suvorov. Today, in the central square, there is a memorial to the Count of Rymnik8 . He was the victor in many wars. The face of Alexander Vasilyevich [Suvorov] can be found on paper money of the self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria. There is also an excellent cognac named Suvorov - 80 proof.

Jews began to settle in the town as soon as it was founded. In 1795 there were 385 Jews representing 16% of the population. Four years later the total was 465. Jews were not only merchants, but they also had land in town. In the beginning of the 19th century the following families owned land and houses: Zelik Serebyannik, Volko Verlinger, Moshko Vetman. Many shops were owned by Jews: Mendel Gondshteyn, Volko Krasnopolskiy, Yosya Mekhlyarevskiy, Lenzer Lvovskiy, Khaim Shapochnik and others. In the middle of the 19th century – a hundred years before I was born in Tiraspol - the population of the town was 4670, 1745 of which were Jews. This is more than 30%. A higher percentage than in Odessa!

In the last century, Tiraspol was part of the New Russian area. Apparently, the Jewish colonists began to appear in Tiraspol and its vicinities after January 27, 1792, when the rescript of Catherine the Great was promulgated. In 1816 there were already seven Jewish colonies in the Tiraspol area. From where did the Jews come to town and the surrounding area?

At first, they came from Podolia and Volyn Provinces. The resettlement was successful and by 1870 out of a population of 16,692 there were 3616 Jews. At the end of the 19th century, although the percentage of Jews decreased, they were still 25% of the total - one in every four! This fact left an impression on the life of the town.

It is interesting to note that in 1906, in the Tiraspol area, Jews were the second largest group - 14 927 people. Religious life was led by the Rabbi. According to reports, in 1863 there were three synagogues – stone buildings - in addition to a private Jewish school. In 1907 there was also Atran male Jewish School that was located at Kolodeznaya 9 street. There was also a one-class public school 10 called Talmud Torah at 32 Privoznaya 11 Street.

In 1916 the accountant of the Tiraspol Savings and Loan Cooperative, B.I. Lev, established the Jewish Primary School and Reveka Zelterman established an elementary school. Reveka also founded a Jewish school for girls. The Rabbi of the area at the beginning of the 20th century was I.N. Zeiliger. At the same time, he was the chairman of the Help for the Poor organization.

Undoubtedly, the spiritual centers of Jewish life in Tiraspol were the synagogues. At the beginning of the 20th century, one synagogue stood close to the Girls’ School, another was on Dvoryanskaya 12 Street in the direction of the Evreyskaya 13 Street. The third was on Sobornaya Street (later this street was named Lunacharskogo), the street where I was born. In 1916, there were, in total, eleven synagogues and Houses of Worship. All these synagogue and schools were closed after 1917 by the Bolsheviks. Two years before I was born, the Jewish community tried to have at least one synagogue, but, of course, the authorities did not allow it. This was in full accordance with the ideas existing in the USSR about freedom of religion and internationalism.

Tiraspol had, as did Odessa, its own Jewish hospital (one of three hospitals in town). There were many Jews among the famous doctors in town. When it comes to pharmacies – all of them belonged to Jews: N.M. Averbuch on Dvoryanskaya Street; G. E. Limonnik on Pokrovskaya 14 Street (he also owned another pharmacy nearby) and another pharmacy at the corner of Dvoryanskaya and Bazarnaya 15 streets. There was also a pharmacy that belonged to Mrs. Shvadler, pharmacists Bronshteyn, Vaynshteyn, Oksman and the pharmacy store of S.S. Luboshits. Quite a list!

Commerce was a widespread occupation among the Jews of Tiraspol. Judge for yourself: In the tenth All-Russia census there were registered 446 merchants, of the 3rd guild rank, and 326 of them were Jews. All the main streets in town were filled with Jewish merchants. On Pokrovskaya Street, main street of Tiraspol, there was grocery-tobacco and flour shop of Ya. L. Groysman. On the corner of Pokorovskaya and Privoznaya streets was located the saloon of P. Feldman. On the corner of Pokorovskaya and Kolodeznaya, M. Valersheyn sold cold drinks. In Guberer’s house on Pokrovskaya street, there was, in 1910 or so, a dairy and coffee shop belonging to M. Vaysleyb. On Pokrovskaya street, in Kogan’s house, there was a beer warehouse, managed by M. Gotskozik. On Pokorovskaya street, in the house of Burnusuz, there was the large shoe store of S. Fishman. On Pokorovskaya street there was a large furniture store which contained a wallpaper and upholstery workshop. The workshop belonged to A. Gor and A. Rudashvskiy owned the store building where the workshop was located. He also owned orchards in town. Near the Illusion 17. Even I remember the building.

On the corner of Pokorovskaya and Dvoryanskaya Streets there was a famous landscaping contractor’s office for arranging sidewalks, for planning and tiling paths to yards with granite shards and stonework. This office was run by three Jews - Kh. Ginsburg, A. Nemirovskiy and I. Ravve.

On Semenovskiy Boulevard, famous in our town, there were kiosks with varied merchandise. They belonged to Erlikh. The kiosks that dealt with pasting flyers on the boulevard were managed by I. Zeilikovich.

Bazarnaya street was constantly busy with commerce. Many stores belonged to Jews. B. Rashkovskiy had a metal shop and the common bathhouse was managed by A.T. Deykman. Near the workshop of B. Rashkovskiy there was another shop, owned by P. Rubinsteyn, for sewing ladies’ garments. On Bazarnaya street, corner Vokzalnaya 18, in the house of G.L. Faynbrok, there was a warehouse of lumber materials and agricultural tools. On Bazarnaya street, in the house #102, was the textile shop of I. M. Goldfarb. A similar store belonged to I. Tsibulskiy, E. Epelbaum and Sh. Yanovskiy. Kolik in the next-door shop was selling plumbing supplies. There was a watchmaker working at Khaim Cherner’s house located at 17 Bazarnaya Street. Cherner also owned a shoe store located on the same street. S.G. Kizer worked from his own home, on that street, and sold tobacco. On Kolodeznaya Street there was a workshop for carriages of M. Marakhovskiy. In the house of K. Cherner there was the “Warsaw” store of N. Khatskelevitch where gold, silver and diamond jewelry were sold. On the corner of Kolodeznaya and Pokrovskaya streets there was a clothing manufacturing shop that belonged to a trading house called “Vodlinger-Dorfman-Gofman-Khaselev”.

The Evreyskaya Street (or Ribnaya) ran parallel to Bazarnaya Street and it had a variety of wine cellars, taverns and stores to serve the public.

On my street, Sobornaya (Lunacharskogo), there were, at one time, two synagogues and it was where Rabbi U. M. Zeyliger also lived. On the corner of Sobornaya and Pokrovskaya streets fashionable dresses were sewn in the workshop of Ternopolskaya-Milerman. On Sobornaya, in #46, military and civilian hats were made by V. I. Zaltsman.

In the house of M. Moldavskiy there was a hat manufacturer where fittings were also made. It belonged to I.Kh. Kutser. Nearby was the shop that belonged to Graboks. Furnished rooms on Dvoryanskaya street belonged to E. Roytburd.

When the electrification began in the town (Jews were also in charge of it), the Russian Electric Joint-stock company Dynamo founded the Tiraspol Construction Company. It was headed by E.M. Sandelman.

At the beginning of the 20th century, newspapers started being published in Tiraspol. The majority of those involved were Jews. For example, the newspapers “Tiraspol Life” and “the Dniester Corner” were published by I.S. Zelikovich and “Tiraspol Leaflet” – G.S. Krasniy. G.S. Krasniy lived at the corner of Pokorovskaya and Privoznaya Streets and opened a newspaper editorial business at his home. Yudilevich also had a printing press in his house.

Historically, Jews lived in the center of town on Pokorovskaya, Sobornaya, Bazarnaya, Evreyskaya and Kolodeznaya streets and in alleys off them. My parents were born in this area at the dawn of the 20th century. There were 30 000 residents in Tiraspol (today there are around 200 000) and Jews influenced in many aspects the life of this southern town and its residents.

My grandfather was well known in town until his death. He had a pair of bay horses and a wagon and he transported many residents of Tiraspol of that era. He traveled distances, comparable to around the world distances. When cars came to town, grandfather still continued the transports in his wagon. I remember well his last horses. He used to get up every morning, at dawn, to clean the horses and feed them. He would pat them and speak to them the way he spoke to us, the kids, softly and with goodness. It seemed to me that they understood him. At home grandfather was called Nyusya, but his full name was Nyusya Shlemovich. His last name was Polodyak and he and his parents lived in Tiraspol as long as he could remember. My grandmother was called Betya. My grandmother never worked and depended on her husband. Her duties were the running of the household and the upbringing of the children. My mother, Faina Solomonovna Polodyak, was born into this family in 1915 in Tiraspol.

Unfortunately, they no longer found Jewish life to be flourishing in Tiraspol. The Soviet takeover destroyed everything that had been established by previous generations. The former way of life was replaced by the stringent rules of the Soviet regime. A glass container factory was built on the grounds of the Jewish cemetery. Although a small area was left for future burials in a new Jewish cemetery, no traces were left of the grandeur of the former cemetery. The Jewish streets, the Jewish hospital the Jewish schools all disappeared. My grandmother and my mother rarely spoke Yiddish at home, but, we, the children, did not understand it. This is how, during my generation, all ties to Jewish culture and tradition were erased. They were buried in deep antiquity.

My grandfather, Nyusya Shlemovich, at the beginning of the 1941-45 war, was too old to be drafted into the army. What was to be done? My grandfather, grandmother, my mother - already 26 years old - and her sister decided to evacuate. Life in the future was not only an unknown factor, but it was also dangerous. They decided to travel to Uzbekistan. They were among the few lucky ones who managed to escape the advancing German machine. This was in spite of our weakened forces. They were also fortunate that their train was not bombed. However, in Razdelnaya 19, they experienced all the horrors inflicted by enemy airplanes. Only God knows how they survived. Bad luck overtook them in a small station near Kiev. This time the German airplane was more precise. Messerschmidts reached them and attacked train car after train car. Junkers dived on the train cars that were taking defenceless, peaceful seniors, women and children deep in to the country.

My mother was married not long before the war. She carried my older sister in her arms- born on March 17, 1941. I can imagine how the tiny girl looked at the roaring iron birds above her head. These were the last sounds she heard distinctly during her lifetime. Mother, daughter, grandfather, grandmother and sister were in their own train car. After one of the bombardments by the German air force they discovered that the next car was hit. What luck that the bombs did not land a few meters away! Someone died immediately, my family survived, but my sister carries inside herself the results of this bombardment for the rest of her life. The deafening explosion shattered her eardrums. The girl, frightened to death, either could not shout or perhaps she did yell, but she could not hear her own voice. Mother turned to her child and saw that there was blood flowing from her ears. It was difficult to take care of the injury at that time. They all felt lucky to be alive! It was only a year later that they remembered this terrible time in their lives. Mother understood that the child had lost her hearing and her speech.

They were fortunate during their evacuation that they were given a shelter and did not die of hunger. I do not know how they lived there and how they earned a living, I truly regret that I never asked my grandfather about these times. They were all able to return in 1944 to our town destroyed by the Romanians, Germans and our own air force. Only then did my mother find out that her first husband was killed at the beginning of the war. One had to begin life all over -with a small child in her arms, in a ruined town and with elderly parents. Still, they were lucky because they had survived. That was most important.

Relatives on my father’s side were not so lucky. The Bergman family also lived in Tiraspol for many generations. My grandfather Abram Bergman was not able to evacuate. He was not so fortunate. He was caught in the cauldron of the Germans advance. What could one do? He returned to town. In the first days of occupation the Germans announced that all the Jews were to present themselves for a special registration at the command post. It was soon clear why this registration was necessary. The Jews were taken to the train station and placed into cars. Grandfather Abram Bergman, together with my grandmother Leika and their three children (Aleksey, Esther and Mikhail) became part of these evacuees. At first, they were told that they would live separately, and they had to leave all their belongings in Tiraspol. They only had a few bundles. By then Aleksey had three sons: Boris, Yan and Mikhail. His wife also joined them in the train car. There was a rumor that they would all be shot. The women were afraid of what awaited their children. The elderly walked with empty eyes since they thought their lives were finished. It was most difficult for the younger ones. They really did not want to believe that the end had come. When people were being sent to the train cars there was a rumor that they would be sent to Germany to work. At that time no one knew that in Poland and in their own country the Fascists had built concentration camps with gas chambers. They still hoped to remain alive. However, the transport was not destined for Germany. The train stopped in the Vinnitsa station and Romanian soldiers ordered everyone to disembark. The ill-matched column, under Romanian guard, slowly reached its next stop. This place was the ghetto in the town of Bershad, District of Vinnitsa. Not many of these people were fortunate to survive the horrors of 1941. Periodically, the Romanians, as ordered by the Germans, would conduct a cleansing of the ghetto of the unwanted prisoners. One time, my grandfather and grandmother fell into this group. At the start of autumn of 1941, a column of these undesirables was taken out of the barracks. My grandfather understood that this was the end of the road and he tried to calm his wife. Grandmother was walking and crying. A Romanian officer was next to them. He seemed to be sorry to kill a woman. He just could not do it. He knew she had three children and a husband. He felt pity for her. At one of the bends in the road he motioned to her - go back, quickly. What to do? Should she leave her husband with whom she had lived so many years, or should she abandon her children? No one would need them after she dies. They were destined to die of hunger. Her mother instincts were strong, and she turned away from the column, returning to the ghetto. Many years later, I found the name of my grandfather Abram on the memorial to the victims of the shooting in the Bershad ghetto. His oldest son Aleksey’s family had a tragic ending: Aleksey’s wife and three sons died of starvation. Uncle suffered greatly the loss of his family, and in 1942 he decided to escape towards the Red Army. Had he been told that he would survive 1400 kilometers without food, warm clothing and in danger of being caught by the Germans, he would not have believed it. However, it is in such fateful moments that one’s inner self comes forth and a second wind is found. When my uncle Aleksey managed to arrive in Kiev, he saw that the Germans were also there, a strange power overtook him. He again decided to reach his own people and spent many sleepless nights covering great distances until the first light of dawn. He had to listen to barking dogs, wait for Germans transports to pass and avoid sounds of foreign languages. The closer he got to the front, the more dangerous conditions he encountered. German forces were close to him, but he was propelled by the desire to avenge his father, his children, his wife and for all those who remained lying near Vinnitsa, in the ditches, riddled with bullets. He had a reason to go and he did. He had to survive, and he did. The poet Konstantin Simonov wrote: “To spite all the deaths…” By the time he crossed the frontier and reached our side, he was pure skin and bones. His eyes shone with hatred of the fascists. Military counterintelligence staff could clearly see that he was a victim, not a spy.

Uncle did not want to stay in the rear, but he was asking to be sent to the forefront to fight. He soon came to an area near the front of the war. Solder Aleksey Bergman went all the way to Berlin and came back alive. However, his sister, Ester, who remained in the Bershad ghetto, was not so lucky. She died of hunger at the end of 1942. My father then realized that the same fate awaited him- death by starvation or shooting, if he remained in the ghetto. Decisions had to be made and, finally, in the autumn of 1943, under the darkness of night, he left. He, too, roamed around the German rear. For a whole month he was going as far away from Vinnitsa as possible. He found his own people somewhere about 300 kilometers from Moscow. Like his brother Aleksey, he ended up in the infantry and was one of the liberators of Belarus. Then followed difficult battles in the area of the lake Balaton in Hungary. Father ended up in the second Ukrainian front under the command of R. Ya. Malinovsky. On 26 October 1944 he took part in the battle for Budapest. At that time Hitler insisted on the return of Hungary, at any price, since it delivered almost 80% of the oil for Germany. Its loss would mean a total collapse. Our troops were ordered to hold onto the bridgehead at all cost and to enable entrance into Austria. This was where the Germans held 600 enterprises which produced, annually, about 9000 airplanes and more than 800 tanks - not to mentions guns. The Red Army was confronted by the “Yug” and “F” troops. The Fascists threw at our forces selected SS commandos. This infantry, where my father served, suffered a massive hit. Not many infantrymen remained alive and they were awarded medals. Among them was my father, Mikhail Bergman. He finished the war in 1945 in Czechoslovakia and there he received his medal. In 1946, as part of the 59th Guards Motor Rifle Division, he returned to Tiraspol. He was there demobilized as part of the rank-and-file. He met my mother who had survived the Bershad ghetto. My father, having lived through battles and the ghetto, did not wish to speak of it. Nor did he watch war films. He had had enough of this in his life.

I never asked where my father and mother met. At first glance this was an odd couple. My mother was 7 years older than my father. She already had a daughter, maimed during an attack by airplanes. Father had never been married, but, like my mother, had gone through great suffering. The mutual experience of these terrible times helped them to understand something important- to establish and maintain family life after the war.

My mother had studied accounting. Father came back from the war without any profession. He wanted to be a tailor. He had served three years in the army and he knew all about uniforms (it was often necessary, on the front, to mend one’s clothing). He decided to specialize in army uniforms. He had to be trained for this occupation, but funds were needed for that. In addition, father had an elderly mother who was dependent on him. It was a difficult situation. Our family received a lot of help from grandfather Nyusya Podolyak. After he had returned from the evacuation, he was able to save money and he bought a light carriage. Soon he also bought horses. Grandfather began to work as a carriage driver and his earnings fed two families.

After the war, life was hard for everyone in destroyed Tiraspol. However, they had to go on. My parents must have been optimists because during these difficult times they were thinking about the future. My older brother Arcady was born on October 7, 1947. I followed a year later.

1.Cathedral Street

2.Lunacharskogo street was named in honor of Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunacharsky, who was a Russian Marxist revolutionist and the first Bolshevik Soviet People’s Comissar, responsible for Ministry and Education, as well as active playwright, critic, essayist, and journalist throughout his career

3.Uezd is an administrative district in Russian Empire

4.Odessa-mama is a term that is used by Odessa residents to lovingly call their home town mama - mother.

5.Myasoyedovskaya street possibly named after Odessa merchant Dementiy Myasoed

6.Moldavanka is infamous borough of Odessa.

7.Mishka Yaponchik whose real name was Moisey son of Volf Vinnitskiy, was a well-known gangster

8.One of Suvorov’s titles

9.Well Street

10.One-class public school or Zemskaya School was the most common type of primary school of the Russian Empire from the late 1870s to 1917. These schools were educational institutions with a three-year course, where children of all three years of study (divided into three branches) were simultaneously engaged in the same classroom with a single teacher.

11.Privoz is a large market in Odessa.

12.Noble Street

13.Jewish Street

14.The name of this street most likely is derived from the name of a day in Slavic calendar when it was celebrated the meeting autumn with winter

15.Market Street

16.Illusion – first movie theater

17.Most likely this is a typo and the photographer’s name was Arenberg

18.Railway Station street

19.Town in Odessa region

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