eja Ajalugu

Mark Rybak

The Jews, victims of the red terror in Tartu, 1919.



12.4.1917 Decree of the Russian Provisional Government, according to which the province of Estonia was united with Estonian speaking areas of the Livonia province (Tartu, Võru, Viljandi, Pärnu and Saaremaa). The provincial-level legislative body became the Provincial Assembly. The provincial commissioner - Jaan Poska.
2-3.8.1917 Provincial Assembly elects a Land Council headed by Jaan Raamot (later Konstantin Päts).
2-21.10.1917 In the frame of the First World War, German Navy conquers Saaremaa, Hiiumaa and Muhu islands.
9.11.1917 Tallinn bolsheviks disperse the Land Council. Jaan Poska transfers power to the representative of the bolsheviks Viktor Kingissep.
6.1.1918 The Committee of Elders of the Land Council decides to declare Estonian independence.
24.2.1918 The Committee of Elders of the Land Council publishes the Manifesto to all Peoples of Estonia, that proclaims the independence of Estonia. The Provisional Goverement, lead by Konstantin Päts, was established just a few hours before occupation of Tallinn by the German troops.
4.3.1918 The whole Estonia is under German occupation.
2.11.1918 German forces strike back the attack of the Red Army in Narva.
11.11.1918 Estonian Defence League (Kaitseliit) is established.
21.11.1918 The beginning of mobilization to Estonian army.
28.11.1918 Red Army with the Estonian Bolsheviks conquer Narva. Start of the War of Independence.
22.12.1918 Tartu is conquered by the Bolsheviks. Start of red terror.

"Maaliit" writes in it's 10.1.1919 issue: "Although the Bolsheviks speak wide-mouthed about freedom, seizures become more and more frequent every day. As it looks, seizures have a dual purpose: first, to remove people hostile and harmfull to bolsheviks (at least in their own opinion) and secondly, to extract money from wealthy men. The last purpose seems to be even more appealing to bolsheviks sometimes.
Already on the third day after the Bolsheviks had captured the city there were 40 arrested people. Now the number has already risen several times, so that all places used for detention, are overcrowded. The wealthy get ordered to pay big redemption money. For example, the owner of the pawnshop Kurk was released for 40 000 marks."

"Although the bolshevik's newspaper "Edasi" [the only allowed paper. MR] does not write a word about shootings, there were several of them in Tartu lately. The shootings take place at the end of Turu str., behind the sawmill of Kahn".
"Who was shot is not known yet.     ...    The corpses of shot people supposedly are thrown into Emajõgi river".

As a response to this article, "Edasi" published the very next day 01.09.1919 the list of shot people:

"The following people were shot by the Tartu department of the Estonian committee for fighting Counter-revolution.

  1. August Meos, secret distiller and seller.
  2. Abram Schreiber, who came to Tartu with false documents, named himself as a Soviet official and communist, managed to enter the revolutionary committee and to release an important prisoner for 6000 rubles.
  3. Woldemar Rästa, who was working as a feeler for the white guards until the red army came to Tartu, afterwards entered the revolutionary city defence, hiding the fact that he was with white guards, and, during the search, stole money.
  4. Ber Joel Stark, who regaled Germans with sausages when they entered Tartu and later, at Estonian Provisional Goverement time, organised white guards.
  5. Baron Tiesenhausen, Paul. German white guard organizer and spy.
  6. Voldemar Ottas, and
  7. Johannes Ottas, both baron Tiesenhausen's helpers and chiselers.
  8. Mihkel Kure, volunteer and active white guard military man.
  9. Friedrich Päts, provocator and spy.
  10. Bruno von Samson,
  11. Arnold von Samson,
  12. Gustav von Samson, white guard spies.
  13. Rudolf Kippasto, white guard organizer.
  14. Johannes Orro, white guard officer, spy.

Shooting took place on the river at the end of Turu (Market) Street. Clothes and boots were taken off from the killed people. Corpses were pushed into the ice hole. Meyer Smeloi was then 17-year old boy. He came to Palestine in 1923 after military service in Estonian army. He saw how the prisoners were taken to the Emajõgi river. And on the way, they were beaten with gunstocks and whatever was at hand. He went into hiding at the shore of Emajõgi, and he saw that the prisoners were shot there, then thrown into the ice hole. He saw that among them was a butcher Stark, father of seven children. If he himself would be seen, he would have been shot as well.

Abram Schreiber

Abram-Ber Schreiber was born in 1894 in Russia. His father Mikhail Schreiber lived temporarily in Estonia since 1886. In 1891 he married Maria Blum from Tallinn. They settled permanently in Estonia in 1918.

Arno Raag writes in his book "Kolm nädalat punast diktatuuri" (Three weeks under the red dictatorship), Tartu 1938:

"It is believed that Schreiber, who was ethnically a Jew, was himself a communist, but much more moderate, which is why he had clushes with the local husky bolsheviks. "Revaler Zeitung" (20.01.1919) writes:

"Russian Bolsheviks sent a commissar by the name of Schreiber from Moscow to Tartu, and gave him complete freedom to release people from jail in order to prevent unnecessary bloodshed and redemption money extortion. However, Estonian bolsheviks have arrested commissar Schreiber and shot him together with brothers Samson-Himmelstiern".

When we compare all information about the activities of Abram Schreiber, they will not be necessarily in contradiction, rather one will compliment another and we will probably get the following picture: Bolsheviks nationalized Schreiber's shop in Moscow, and he got into sharp conflict with them. This could probably cost him his life, so he had no other choice than to escape. As a counter-revolutionary he could be arrested anywhere in Russia, thus, to avoid this, he had to obtain a false passport. Probably this way he arrived in September 1918 to Estonian border, where, at that time, were still German occupational authorities. As his parents lived in Estonia, there were no difficulties with entering the country.

Now when the Bolsheviks invaded Tartu in December, then, as we have seen above, there was a mood of total hopelessness, many thought that the entire Baltic Sea coast will be soon invaded by red, which is why a number of citizens, who otherwise would have gone, as war refugees, to Viljandi or Tallinn, remained in place. Schreibers too remained in Tartu. Abram Schreiber probably thought that it will be better now to present himself as a Bolshevik and to hide his past. Here, where he was unknown, he started his activities as a communist and even managed to enter the Revolutionary Committee. Yet the Bolsheviks soon got more detailed information about Schreiber and his "career" came to short and tragic end".

Ber Stark

Kalman Ber Stark was born in 1879 in Tartu. His grandson Peter Stark (USA) remembers:

"My grandfather was a wholesale dealer in meat who supplied butcher shops. When the Germans occupied Estonia during World War I, Jews warned each other not to speak Yiddish on the street, because the local population might take it as a sign that the Jews were speaking German.

The Germans came prepared to stay, and Sholem remembered their ordering children to stand at attention in the schoolyard on the day they arrived, while the school was searched and Russian language textbooks were confiscated. The Germans had brought a complete set of German-language textbooks, which were issued as replacements. Thus Sholem remembered beginning the James Fenimore Cooper novel "Last of the Mohicans" in Russian, but having to complete it in German, because the Russian translation had been confiscated from the school libarary.

However, it turmed out that the local Estonian nationalists were more anti-Russian than anti-German, and they were also deeply anti-Semitic. Following the second Russia Revolution in 1917, in November by our calendar, there was a period of disorder and rioting, part of what eventually became an Estonian independence movement. In December, 1918, a period of recriminations and anti-Semitic terror began.

As Russia was beginning to descend into civil war, the Estonian nationalists struck: in one evening, all male adult Jews were dragged out of their homes and held for ransom. Jews were accused of having helped the Germans, and in Kalman Ber's case, though all his supplies had been comandeered by the Germans, a defrocked pastor (Estonia is mostly Lutheran) who had earlier rented a room from the Starks told the Estonian nationalists that "the Germans confiscated, but the Jew gave willingly, unlike true Estonians."

Father's oldest brother, Leon, was grabbed also, but he managed to tear loose, jump out a window and hide. The grandmother sold everything she could in order to raise the ransom, but when she paid it, all that happened was that she was told where the bodies could be found. The men had all been killed by the mob immediately, and the ransom was merely a ruse. Leon Stark had to fish his father's body out of the local river. My father was 9 when this occurred.

Mrs. Stark was left with 7 children, plus she was about to give birth to an 8th child. The family scrimped, and the two oldest children were sent to America in 1920. They earned money until another group, including my father, whom a cousin renamed "Sidney," arrived in 1924. At that point, free immigration to the US ended, and the 5 in America found that not only did they need to buy tickets for their mother and the youngest children, they also had to pay bribes to the US Consul in Estonia, who was selling the visas under his control and pocketing the money. They managed to raise enough money by 1929, and (luckily before the stock market crashed), the bribes were paid, the tickets bought, and the remainder of the family came to the US. All eight children were at their mother's funeral in 1976; she had been a widow for 58 years".

"Maaliit" 11.1.1919: The imprisonment of Jew Blumberg.

Tinsmith and businessman Jakob Blumberg

The Jew Blumberg was detained at his home and was taken between two horses to Hotel London before the Bolshevik authorities. A lot of people gathered into the square in front of the Hotel. Before going in, the Jew turned toward the people, and said: "Dear people, the servant girl has been with me for 12 years, journeymen 8 years. If I were a bad host, they would not stay with me for so long. If you do not have anything good to say about me, then at least do not say anything bad".

And indeed, none from the crowd went to complain about the Jew. From the Hotel London the Jew was transferred to the Town Hall, where the Executive Committee was situated. Mr Blumberg says himself: "When I entered the place, then suddenly everything went black in my eyes and my head started to spin".

There, he also lost his judgment, and turned toward each prisoner brought there, bowed low and said: "Sir, throughout my entire life I did nothing wrong and I believe, that you will not do me any harm and will let me go".
Of course the state of the Jew caused some laughter at these embarassing moments.
As it is known, Mr Blumberg was later released for a ransom".

"Maaliit" 12.1.1919: "According to some reliable reports from Tartu, the Russian Bolsheviks have left Tartu and only Estonian Bolsheviks, among them from Narva, have remained. Tartu life these days is extremely troubled: about 400 persons of all nationalities are said to be captured, among them also women. They are said to be in the rooms of the Suur Gild and Police. Police premises are said to hold 100 persons".

The next mass murder in Tartu took place on 14th of January. Shortly before the Red Army fled the city, the Head of the Special Committee Alexander Kull ordered to kill another 19 people held in the basement of the former German Credit bank. Among these people were several renowned Tartu citizens, as well as four estate owners and five clergymen, among others, the Estonian Orthodox Church Bishop Platon (real name Paul Kuulbusch), who in 2000 became the first ethnic Estonian Orthodox saint. Among those executed was also a businessman Susman Kaplan.

For some of the people of Tartu, Estonian troops arrived just in time, for others - not fast enough. About 305 people were shot by the Bolsheviks during the occupation. On 14th of January, the Bolsheviks held about 200 prisoners, including 80 women, in the basements of the Police headquarters and of the Credit bank at Kompanii street. At a time when the Estonians stormed the city, the Bolsheviks began to carry out executions of the hostages of the Credit bank. The Bolsheviks executed twenty-three people, but the swift arrival of the Estonian troops rescued the remaining 177 (Baltic Military History Newsletter, January 2014).

"Postimees" 15.1.1919: "During the night and the following days more and more people were brought in: from countryside, from town, from streets. They were captured during the night and during the day, by chance and on a basis of talebearing. Days and nights passed by before the investigation began. Prisoners' mood was good at the beginning; common fate created a rare consensus, the presence of educated or rich men was not felt. However, when 3 or 4 of the most cheerful young men were released and part of the prisoners were transfered to Kompanii str., and when one evening the owner of a clothing shop Kaplan came back from two-hours interrogation with a beaten bloody face, tears in his eyes because of anger and humiliation - then the mood fell abruptly and became serious and depressed. The interrogator Tsirkel had threatened Kaplan with revolver and hit him several times".

Susman Kaplan was a merchant in Tartu. He was born in 1853 in Lida, then Lithuania. When he came to Tartu, we do not know, but it is known that in 1878 he opened a clothing store at Aleksandri str. 8. His apartment was there as well (later he lived at Alexandri str. 32). In 1884, he married Rachel Lea Son and in the same year, the first son - Josef was born.

In 1898-1903 he studied in the dentist office in Smolensk, and in 1903 passed the exam for becoming a dentist in the University of Tartu. It seems, however, that he has not ever worked as a dentist ... The family had 5 children (actually seven, but two died in infancy). The two eldest sons were doctors, Josif was a doctor in the military (see below), Kalman - a dentist in France (his biography deserves a special narration). The third son became a well-known French filmmaker Dmitri Kirsanoff    (http://eja.pri.ee/Culture/Kirsanoff.html).

"Maaliit" 23.1.1919. Who were these performers of the terrible atrocities? First of all, just the Esonians themselves as Russians didn't show too much zeal for death decision making, extortion, imprisonment and house of God vituperation. For example, a Russian commandant of the Tartu Russian Church gave a worship permission on the Epiphany day, but the Estonians dragged the Priest out of the church. The bloodiest figures from the time of the fear goverment seem to be Anvelt and Käspert, but one of the most low-minded show-offs and self-extollers was A. Vallner. This guy took himself the resounding name of "proletarian teacher", often preached with blown-up words presenting to people his own identity.

Jacob Kaplan recalls: "Some of the prisoners of the Credit bank basement were saved. Among them was Dr Josef Kaplan (the eldest son of Susman Kaplan) and Alfred Hirschberg. Kuperjanov partisans and armored trains were already entering Tartu. Padlocks were in front, and then came Tartu school boys and smote them with iron muck bars. Among them was my uncle, Michael Bakscht, he was 15 years old then".

Dr. Josef Kaplan, the son of Susman Kaplan, killed in the basement of the Tartu Credit bank, was born in Tartu in 1884. In 1909, he graduated cum laude from the medical science department of the Tartu University. 1909-1912 worked as an assistant in the Tartu clinic.

At the beginning of the World War I, he was mobilized into Russian army. Awarded with several medals of the Tsarist Russia. Exempt from military service in June 1918 due to illness.

In January 1919 he was arrested by the Bolsheviks, and placed in the basement of a Credit bank of Tartu, from where he managed to escape.

Took part in the Estonian War of Independence (Division I infectious deceases flying squad; Sanitary captain). Awarded the Estonian Independence War memorial sign.

Killed by Nazis in Tartu in 1941.

Alfred Hirschberg was born in Riga, Latvia in 1899 in the family of a dentist. He graduated the Riga City Gymnasium and in 1918 entered the medical department of the Tartu University.

Two months later, in January 1919, he was arrested by the Bolsheviks, but managed to escape (or was saved by the Estonian army).

In 1920 he moved on to the law-commerce department.

After graduation, he lived and worked in Riga.

Alfred Hirschberg was arrested by the Soviets on 14.06.1941, and was last seen in Narym, Aleksander district in the winter. They were taken to the camp, which was 1,000 kilometers away, apparently to Tomsk. He was charged that he had stolen 750 grams of fish. The exact date and place of his death are not known.

None of the above-mentioned Jews die in their own bed...

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