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Translation of Bricheni chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania
Translation of Bricheni chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
Published in Jerusalem, 1980
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 344-347, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
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Translated by Ala Gamulka
In Romanian and in Russian it was called Bricheni. This was a village in the district of Khotin,
12 km from the Vascautsi train station, near the Lapatnic River.
|Year||Numbers||% of Jews
Formation of the Community
The first proof of the existence of a Jewish community in Bricheni comes in 1760 when estate owners in the area invited Jews to settle there in order to enliven commerce.
The Society for Assistance to the Poor served as an alternative to a Jewish community even before WWI. The Society was founded in the 19th century and mainly dealt in giving aid and in organizing institutions in the Jewish community in the area. Under the supervision of the Society were the Jewish Hospital which had 15 beds, a Matzo factory and the old Talmud Torah. The Society even supported an Old Peoples' Home and the library. Its income came from the Meat Tax, membership fees and the Maot Hittim. The Society did not have members from different parts of the community and very few of them even paid membership on a regular basis.
On a parallel plane, the craftsmen had their own union, the Fahrein, which was, at first, intended to serve the needs of its members. Eventually, its purpose changed and the general population was given economic assistance and medical help.
The Fahrein also established the first secular Jewish school in 1909. Its activities ceased at the beginning of WWI.
In addition to the Society for Assistance to the Poor and the Fahrein there were other charitable organizations, especially in the 1930s when the economic situation in Bricheni deteriorated. Charitable Lodging helped the needy with medications and welfare; Clothing for the Poor, a restaurant for children established with the help of Former Residents now living in the United States. The restaurant provided meals daily, on a free basis, to 100 students.
In 1934 the first organized community was established. The Society for Assistance to the Poor was disbanded and its institutions were transferred to the official community in legal and public ways. In addition, the community had departments for education, welfare, religious affairs, Meat Tax, health issues, finances, courts as well as a Hevra Kaddisha.
In addition to dealing with ongoing affairs the community also had to give financial and legal help to hundreds of residents whose citizenship was in danger of being cancelled on orders of the Romanian authorities in 1938.
The annual budget of the community reached over 1 million Lei and its income came from direct taxation, funds from the government, Meat Tax, baking of Matzo and revenue from the Hevra Kaddisha.
The cemetery located outside the town was supervised by the Hevra Kaddisha.
During the existence of the Jewish community until 1940 its president was Dr. A. Trakhtenbroit. He was also the leader of the Zionist organization in town. He was deported to Siberia in 1940, during the short Soviet regime, because of his Zionist and community activity.
Synagogues and Rabbis
The ancient synagogue in the center of town was established at the 18th century as the community started. Another synagogue Gates of Zion was founded by the Zionists in town early in the 20th century. In 1926 the Great synagogue was built. It was destroyed in 1940 by the Soviet Union when Bessarabia was annexed. The building also contained two small chapels for everyday prayers. There were also, in Bricheni, 14 small houses of worship- some designated for different craftsmen (tailors, furriers, shoemakers, water drawers, etc.)
Among the important rabbis was Hershel Steinhouse. The last rabbi in Bricheni was R. Yaakov Efrati who accompanied his congregation in its exile and who died in Transnistria.
The most veteran Jewish educational institution in Bricheni was the Old Talmud Torah. It was established in 1827 and was intended for poor children only. It was a regular Heder with old-fashioned tutors. The Talmud Torah remained open until 1940 without any changes in its methods and curriculum.
In 1909 the Fahrein of the craftsmen opened the first Jewish public school in Bricheni. It was closed at the beginning of WWI when the activities of the Fahrein were terminated.
In addition to the Heder there was also a public school with two classes. The language of instruction was Russian. The students who attended were those whose parents wanted to give them a secular education.
After several attempts failed, the local Zionists renewed their efforts to establish a Hebrew school in 1917 and in 1920. However, these schools did not last long. In 1920 a private high school was opened by Rosa Dicker. The language of instruction was Romanian and in the first years Hebrew was also taught. Its founder, who was also its principal, was killed in Transnistria.
In 1923 the New Talmud Torah was founded as a reaction to the refusal of the Old Talmud Torah supporters to use innovative teaching methods. The founders of the new institution were the local Zionists and they imbued it with a traditional nationalistic atmosphere. The curriculum included Hebrew language and literature, Bible and Jewish History in addition to secular subjects dictated by the government. There were attempts to unify the two Talmud Torahs, but they were unsuccessful and they continued to exist separately until 1940.
There are no specific details on the economic condition of the Jews of Bricheni and their division along occupational lines. Most of them earned their living as merchants and craftsmen and the others were teachers, rabbis, ritual slaughterers or they had no occupation at all. The economic and social situation of the Jews of Bricheni was greatly influenced by their connection to the agricultural community of twenty villages in the area. The farmers brought their produce to town and it was sent to other areas as well as being used for local consumption. In return, the farmers received food, clothing, implements, household needs, notions, etc.
Between the two wars trade in sheep, pelts for furs and export developed. There were Jews who leased lands from estate owners and worked them using the local peasants as laborers. During the Romanian regime the previous Tsarist law, forbidding Jews from owning land, was defunct. Many Je4ws them bought land or received it as part of the agrarian reform. One of the largest flour mills was owned by Jews. It provided flour for many settlements, near and far.
The Cooperative Savings and Loan Fund played an important role in the economy of the settlement. It had been established by the Jewish Colonization Association a few years before WWI. This Fund was a source of loans for the encouragement of commerce and craftsmen and had 1400 members.
Bessarabia's standing as a provider of wheat decreased after the annexation by Romania and the new authorities were out to degrade the Jewish population. As a result there was much poverty and this resulted in immigration overseas.
The Zionist movement in Bricheni was established in 1897. In addition to the synagogue it established there were also a Zionist club and a Reading Room. Early in the 20th century the following were founded: Hebrew Speakers and Lovers of Zion. Many meetings took place there and funds were collected.
The Uganda adventure and the death of Herzl paralysed Zionist activities. The educated youth turned its back on the movement. They even abandoned the socialist Jewish movement and joined the Russian revolutionaries. A change occurred in 1910-1912 when the Tehia and Ivria associations were formed. In those days several young people went on Aliyah, but they were stuck on the way and joined New Directions.
When WWI broke out there was a lull in Zionist activities, but they were renewed after the revolution. In 1917 Zeirei Zion was founded. It worked hard to organize the opposition of the Jewish to the Soviet census. The questionnaire included a section where the respondent had to describe the language used on the street. The Zionists felt that this was a ruse to get rid of the use of the Hebrew language. They wanted a different section where the term would be National language. This showed their wanting to open a recognized Hebrew school. In the end the census was cancelled.
After the annexation by Romania the activities of Zeirei Zion were renewed. The group also looked after the youth of the Ukrainian refugees and helped some of them to make Aliyah. The Hechalutz center in Kishinev opened a preparatory kibbutz in Bricheni for its members.
That year a branch of Maccabi was established as well as other youth groups such as Hashomer Hatzair and Gordonya. Many of the young members went to preparatory kibbutz and made Aliyah as pioneers.
In 1903, the year of the Kishinev pogrom, there were riots in Bricheni. The Jewish residents of the Blacksmiths Street returned the onslaught and the rioters were repelled.
In 1906 there was an attempted attack by policemen and peasants. The Jewish youth defended themselves and one of them killed a policeman with a wagon shaft. The community managed, after a great effort, to free him from jail.
In 1917, during the February Revolution, there was a pogrom on the Jews of Bricheni. A unit of Cherkessian and Turcoman horsemen camped in town. They, together with soldiers from the front, began to rob Jewish property and to abuse the Jews. All this happened in spite of the fact that the local Jews received them with open arms when they arrived. Among the organizers of the pogrom was the Russian Bakal, son of an estate owner in the area. At the same time self-defence was organized by volunteers who armed themselves with sticks and iron bars. The youth of town, among them Jewish soldiers, caught the organizers of the pogrom and killed them in the town square. Katya Ginsburg, head of the local Soviet, was arrested, but she was ultimately exonerated.
When the Romanians entered the district in 1918, anti-Semitism increased in Bricheni. The officers and local representatives of the government were callous in their attitude to the Jews. They would hit them and even arrest them on bogus charges. The police and the taxation clerks abused the small merchants trying to obtain bribes from them. A difficult event was the return to Ukraine of 100 Jews who had escaped from there to Bricheni. They were ordered to return by the border patrol commander, Major Constantisceu.
In 1926 the agents of the secret service in Bricheni arrested 43 young people during a dance in the Culture League house. They were accused of spreading Communist leaflets. They were freed after intervention by Jewish members of parliament, among them Nathan Lerner from Bricheni. Those who were responsible for the arrests lost their jobs, but only for a short time.
In Zionist circles there were government appointed rabbis such as, Rabbi Bratshevsky and Rabbi Moshe Givolder. They were active in the Zionist movement at a national level. Others were Dr. Trakhtenbroit, Isaac Barg, Leib Roitman (a Yiddish author), and Yossel Lerner (a Yiddish poet).
On the eve of the Holocaust the number of Jews in Bricheni was about 10 000. In June 1940 the Soviet Army entered town and this was followed, immediately, by the expropriation of homes, property, stores and public buildings. An organized opposition by local Jews prevented the expropriation of the Great Synagogue for another purpose.
A few days later, in the middle of the night, the secret service gathered about 80 Jews and sent them to do hard labor in Siberia. These were community leaders and their entire families. Very few of them survived. When Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union, in June 1940, many Jews who had previously escaped to other parts of Romania had returned home.
A month after the start of the war several units of the Romanian army came to town. The Jews planned to receive them with open arms, but the officers refused to accept the bread and salt they were offered. Instead, they announced that a special punishment unit was on its way that would take care of business with the Jews. It arrived soon afterwards. The soldiers expelled the Jews from their homes and took them over. The next day a signal was given and peasants arrived with their wagons. Together with the soldiers they began to riot and to loot all belongings-furniture and dishes. At the same time the authorities declared a curfew for the Jews. These events created fear in the minds of the Jews about what the future would bring. This fear now united with the suffering of abuse and hunger.
In those days all Jewish men 16-60 of age were ordered to present themselves at 6:00 am to unload ammunition from trucks and to reload it on carts that were to take it to the other side of the Dniester. They were not given any food while they worked.
The feeling of trepidation grew when the authorities began to gather hundreds of Jews, escapees from nearby villages, in Bricheni. These Jews came from Lipkany, Secureni and other villages near them. They arrived in Bricheni exhausted and abused and were soon sent on to Edinets.
On July 28, the Jews of Bricheni were gathered during the night, from 2:00 am till dawn, in a lot of the fire brigade in the center of town. Among them were sick people who were bed ridden and mental patients. The authorities promised that the Jews would not be deported and so they did not take any belongings, not even food. Their non-Jewish neighbors mocked them.
The Difficult Travel Route
From Bricheni the deportees were taken towards the Dniester. Their Romanian escorts beat them and shoved them to make them move faster. The deportees had to walk on foot and their wives, children and the elderly followed. Some of the sick people were placed on wagons that were leased by their relatives to make it easier for them. This fact was used by the escorts who pushed the walkers to follow the wagons and to move faster. The Jews were beaten, tortured and shot very often by their escorts.
Soon after the march began, David, the son of Rabbi Shalom, collapsed under the heavy weight he was carrying two sacks filled with holy books. He would not abandon them.
The caravan arrived in Secureni late at night. The deportees were not allowed to rest and they were forced to continue on their march. Young men from Secureni attacked the deportees and stole their meagre belongings. After a few hours of rest in a field the deportees continued on their way to Ukraine. On the road to the village of Kozlov they crossed on a temporary bridge and their escorts would not allow them to stop in the village so they could obtain food and water. That day they were all placed in a ploughed field without any protected areas. They were surrounded with barbed wire and were prohibited from going outside the fence. Anyone who tried to do so was shot. For two days a torrent of rain fell on the deportees and the weaker people did not survive. The others were hungry and thirsty and were lying in mud. They no longer resembled human beings. Only on the third day did they manage to bribe a Romanian officer and to convince him to divide them into groups of 1000 and to allow them to go to nearby villages. Even there their luck did not improve. One group arrived in a communal settlement and they were all crowded into a filthy warehouse for the night. In the morning they attempted to go to the houses of the peasants to obtain food. However, two German officers ordered them to join caravans returning from Mogilev. Another caravan arrived in a nearby village where the deportees were housed in the school building, but before they were able to change from their wet clothes several German officers arrived and ordered them to leave. The Jews were sent away, beaten with sticks, to a field outside the village where they were joined by others and they were all sent to Mogilev.
On August 4 they arrived in Mogilev where they were forced to stand in the town square, in the blazing sun, without any food or water. They had to wait for orders. They remained there for three days. There were other Jews from Bricheni with them. The Germans began to do a selection. The elderly were taken out of the line-ups with the pretext that they would be transferred to the hospital and many of the young people were sent to work. Their job was to dig trenches where the elderly were buried.
From Mogilev the deportees were returned to Bessarabia. Some came to Ataki and others to Vertujeni. From there they returned to Ukraine through the Soroca forest. On the way back to Bessarabia and Secureni, as they crossed the Dniester, many of them jumped into the river and drowned.
In Ataki the deportees were gathered in a field and residents from Khotin joined them. These people had suffered from hunger, torture and hazardous travel and many of them could not survive. Dozens died daily. Suddenly there was a rumor that they would be permitted to return to Bricheni. The guards had disappeared and, innocently, they started on their way. However, Romanian soldiers waited for them outside the town. They beat them and pushed them towards Secureni. In the confusion many families became separated. The deportees were not allowed to walk on the roads, only in the trenches beside them. When they climbed up a hill the policemen remained in the valley and shot anyone who stumbled. When they reached bridges over rivers they were not permitted to use them. They were forced to swim and anyone who was unable to do it, drowned and perished.
The deportees from Bricheni were able to stay in Secureni for some time where they were gathered in a few lanes in the ghetto. This respite allowed them to enjoy some rest and to receive help from the ghetto committee.
Two months after their arrival in Secureni they were again taken out and sent to Transnistria. They were forced to walk in a new tortuous route to Mogilev on the way to the Dniester. One of the Jews of Bricheni, Yehiel Gorodsky, carried a small Torah scroll. Every day when the Torah should be read he would do it for the deportees. He perished on the way to Mogilev and was buried with his Torah scroll. The last spiritual leader of Bricheni, Rabbi I. Sh. Efrati suffered greatly. He was constantly beaten and was abused until he perished in Transnistria.
The deportees were not allowed to remain in Mogilev and they were sent to Kopaigorod. Another group of deportees was taken to Vertujeni. The dire conditions in the ghetto there caused about 200 of the Bricheni Jews to die. A third group went to camps near the Bug River and no one knows its fate. Others were taken to Lesnitsa in Ukraine through the Soroka forest. It was a difficult trek, filled with dead bodies. In the Soroka forest the younger, stronger men were told to leave. They were promised work, but they never returned. The remainder arrived in Mogilev and again they were sent to Vertujeni or Lesnitsa.
After the war about 1000 of the Bricheni deportees managed to return to their destroyed village. They were joined by several thousand Jews from Bucovina who were stranded there on their way back from Transnistria. The houses not destroyed in the war were now occupied by local Christians. The Romanians turned the Great Synagogue into a wheat storage place.
When the Jews from Bucovina received permission to continue on their way they left the village. At the same time, many Bricheni Jews also left their homes. A considerable number of them settled in Czernowitz.
Upon their return, the Jews revived Jewish life and renovated the synagogue. The Torah scrolls had been saved by a priest from the town. He had hidden them in his attic before he, too, had escaped. Prayers were held daily in the synagogue.
In 1944-1946 about 2500 Jews arrived in Bricheni, some of them from the village and from nearby villages.
The cemetery which had been destroyed during the Holocaust was rebuilt after the war.
A. I. Sh.: O-33/961; PKR/II III; P 6/35: 116-128, 133-139, 183.Bibliography
Jewish Bricheni in the Middle of the Last Century. Organization of Former Residents of Bricheni, Tel Aviv, 1964.
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