top of page

In late November 1947, a man arrived in the city of Ananyev, the district center in the north of the Odessa region. The man immediately headed to the Ananyev district military enlistment office to obtain a military ID, which was issued to him in exchange for a certificate. The certificate stated that its holder, Mendel Aronovich Beylin, had been released shortly before arriving in Ananyev from the Sevdvinlag and had the right to settle in the Odessa region.

Experienced bricklayer Mendel Beylin was able to find work at a local orphanage as a laborer just a few weeks after his arrival. After working there for a year, in December 1948, he became a cashier-accountant in the shoemaking workshop of the cooperative "Kultpobut".

Hardworking and very meticulous, he got along well with his colleagues and was highly regarded by the management. However, on May 9, 1949, he was arrested by the employees of the Odessa Regional Directorate of the MGB on suspicion of committing political crimes.

During interrogations, the man remained firm and dignified. It was evident that the routine of being an inmate in Odessa Prison No. 1 and the lamp on the investigator's desk were not new to him. MGB Investigator Senior Lieutenant Antonovsky was bored; there was no need to "crack" Mendel Beylin, as a "repeat offender". In such cases, the evidentiary basis was secondary. Across the country, former political prisoners were being rounded up, most of them receiving new sentences for old cases and being sent into exile. The same fate befell Beylin: using materials from old cases for which the man had already served time several times, Antonovsky decided to bring him to justice for membership in an anti-Soviet organization and counter-revolutionary agitation.

A special meeting under the Minister of State Security with the Odessa security officers agreed. At the hearing held on September 21, 1949, it was decided to send Mendel Beylin to settle in the North Kazakhstan region. For Mendel Aronovich Beylin, this was already his fourth sentence. And once again – for Zionism.

Mendel Beylin was born in May 1913 in the Ukrainian city of Nezhin in the northern Chernigov Governorate. Aron Zalmanovich and Zelda Mendelevna Gindina had five sons: Levi-Gershon, Shalom, Dov, Avraham, and the youngest, Menachem-Mendel Tzvi, or simply Mendel.

The hundred-year-old parental home of Mendel Beylin was located in the center of the Jewish quarter. Adjacent to it was a small shop, which served as the family's main source of income. The Beylins also earned small additional income by renting out part of the house.

Beylin Senior was an observant Hasidic Jew, so Mendel observed the Sabbath from an early age. However, in addition to the traditional Kiddush, his father's visits to the synagogue in special attire, and the Sabbath meal, the Beylins also sang Hebrew songs on the Sabbath. This custom was introduced by Mendel's brother Dov, who in his youth joined the Zionist movement. Soon, other brothers joined him. The youngest, Mendel, eagerly listened to their conversations with their parents.

In the Beylin household, not only the brothers but also religious Jews who visited them on holidays talked about Eretz-Israel. One of them, a "sofer stam," a scribe of sacred texts, particularly enthralled everyone with tales of his visit to Palestine. Little Mendel especially liked the story about the "golden apples" – oranges – which no one in Nezhin had ever seen. At the age of 12, secretly from his father, Mendel began reading the works of the historian Heinrich Graetz, the writings of Chaim Nachman Bialik and Abram Mapu, as well as those of one of the early Zionists, Perez Smolenskin.

When Mendel turned five, he started attending a cheder, where he studied with his peers under the melamed Mordechai Esh. After the October Revolution of 1917, when authorities banned the study of religious disciplines and the Hebrew language, Esh's students switched to underground classes. In 1923, Mendel's parents sent him to a private tutor. There, he was able to study not only religious subjects but also mathematics.

At the outset of the Civil War, after the atrocities committed by the "Whites," Mendel's older brother Levi-Gershon passed away. In 1918, bandits raided the house, taking away all valuables and food; miraculously, the family survived. On another occasion, a group of White officers, billeted in the house across the street, got drunk and started banging on doors, demanding that the girls who rented rooms from the Beylins be brought out for their pleasure. While a civilian patrol approached, attempting to calm the soldiers, Aron Zalmanovich, who was trying to reason with them, was brutally beaten.

The trials he endured undermined his health. In 1928, Beylin Senior passed away. Soon after, Mendel's two older brothers, activists of the "HeHalutz" organization, were arrested and sent into exile to remote regions of the Soviet Union. Dov ended up in the Urals, while Avraham was sent to Kazakhstan. A year later, they were allowed to leave the country and repatriate to Eretz-Israel.

The responsibility of supporting his mother and managing the household fell on the shoulders of 15-year-old Mendel. After closing the family shop, burdened with exorbitant taxes, Mendel first went to work at a cucumber pickling enterprise, and then completed a course in training for construction workers. As a young Zionist, Beylin decided to purposefully go into construction: he believed that Jews should have useful skills to then build the state in Palestine with their own hands.

At the age of 17, Beylin moved to Moscow. He was invited there by a friend of Dov's, who shared the same fervent Zionist beliefs. After working as a porter at the railway station, Mendel found a job in the construction of the Moscow sewer system. Working eight-hour shifts in the cold, in the evenings the young man attended meetings with his new friends – activists of the underground Zionist organization "Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsa'ir."

The first counselor of the young man was Esther Krasnogorskaya, his brother Avraham's girlfriend. The group "Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsa'ir," to which Mendel Beylin belonged, was called "Snif." Each "Snif" cell consisted of four to five people. At the head of each cell stood an adult "counselor" who told his charges about the situation in Palestine and the entire Jewish world, about Jewish history and culture, decisions of the World Zionist Organization, and much more. In order to conceal their activities from the authorities and avoid leaks of information, members of one cell did not know who was in other cells and on which days their meetings took place.

Soon, Mendel Beylin was appointed as the leader of one of the cells. Beylin's Shomrim gathered once a month, each time in a different place. The leaders of the cells occasionally met separately. Representatives of the movement's center participated in these meetings, giving lectures and teaching counselors the methods of underground activity.

However, in the conditions of total denunciation and the infiltration of the youth environment by the GPU agents, all these precautionary measures turned out to be insufficient.

On January 16, 1931, Mendel Beylin, a member of the organization led by Nahum Fisher, Moshe Khoroshukhin, and Yakov Derbitsky, met in an underground apartment with Grisha Vysokyi, a member of the movement's center. Late in the evening, there was a loud knock on the door. Before Moshe Khoroshukhin could open it, GPU agents burst into the room and ordered everyone to stay where they were. All participants of the underground meeting found themselves in the Lubyanka prison.

During the search, Mendel's wallet was found in his pocket, containing a note describing Eretz-Israel and a sheet of carbon paper. After Lubyanka, he was transferred to Butyrka prison and placed in a cell with 96 people, where, in addition to Mendel, activists from the "HeHalutz" movement and a representative of the center of the Zionist movement in Moscow were held. Mendel spent about a month in the cell. It was especially difficult for him because he received no news from his mother. Later, it was revealed that his mother had come to Moscow almost immediately after his arrest and contacted "Politpom," an organization led by Ekaterina Peshkova, the first wife of the famous writer Maxim Gorky. They couldn't release the 17-year-old Zionist, but towards the end of his detention, he finally received a message and a small package from his mother.

On March 20, 1931, a Special Meeting found Mendel Beylin guilty of membership in an illegal Zionist organization and sentenced him to three years of exile in Eastern Siberia. The journey lasted four weeks. Upon arriving in Irkutsk with other prisoners, Mendel was transferred to the city prison for ten days, where political prisoners had to organize self-defense to protect themselves from criminals.

The final destination was the city of Yeniseisk. Political prisoners were allowed to move freely around the town and its surroundings, but once a week, they were required to report to the local branch of the OGPU. Living in a commune with Zionists Chaim Rudik and Shaya Glantz, Mendel initially worked at a sawmill, where logs from the surrounding forests were delivered. After several months of work, the friends organized a cooperative for house repairs.

After some time, Mendel received a letter from his uncle Dov-Ber from Nezhin, his mother's brother. From it, he learned that his mother had received a certificate sent to her by her older sons and had gone to Palestine to be with them. In 1927, Shalom went there as a "replacement," followed by Dov and their mother. Of the entire family, Mendel Beylin was the only one left in the USSR.

Dreaming of rejoining his family, the political prisoner repeatedly submitted applications requesting his punishment to be replaced with exile to Palestine. However, by this time, such "replacements" were granted very rarely. Mendel's requests were denied.

In his free time during exile, he studied Russian and mathematics. Among the new exiles who arrived in Yeniseisk were Zionists who quickly became his closest friends: Hillel Kaplinsky and Shmuel-Yosef Lyabuk. In September 1932, the Yeniseisk branch of the GPU sent Mendel and Yosef to Yartsevo, a remote village 400 kilometers from Yeniseisk. There, fellow Zionists also lived, but there were serious problems with employment. Mendel, receiving no help from outside, learned to live on six rubles and fifteen kopecks per month – such money was issued to political exiles as unemployment benefits. Only after extensive searching did he manage to find work: loading logs onto rafts, which were floated down the river for 30 kilometers to the nearest port.

Life in Yartsevo was extremely difficult. The young Zionist couldn't bear to watch as the Chekists fed their dogs bread, while intelligent people, exiled there, were dying of hunger. Mendel himself was on the brink of death many times – he toiled away at backbreaking work in the bitter cold, and once he nearly drowned in icy water when a barge smashed his raft to pieces.

In April 1934, Mendel Beylin was released from exile and, after much struggle, settled in the Moscow region with his cousin Sima, the daughter of his uncle Dov-Ber from Nezhin. It took a long time to find work – everywhere he was rejected due to lack of a passport and permanent residency. He had to move to the city of Mozhaysk in the Smolensk region. However, he had nowhere to live. Realizing he had nothing more to lose, Mendel went straight to the OGPU and demanded a passport. The chief was astonished by his audacity and, likely out of respect for the young man, wrote a note to the local police station. He was given a passport, albeit with a prohibition on living within a 100-kilometer radius of Moscow.

In Mozhaysk, Beylin met his friend from exile, Chaim Baron, a Zionist who arrived from Eretz-Israel in 1926 but was exposed by the authorities and sent to Siberia. Together they found work as builders. Mendel started receiving letters and sometimes Palestinian liras from his mother and brothers. He was finally able to buy himself decent clothes and shoes. Occasionally, distant relatives living in Moscow helped him.

Mendel refrained from Zionist activities. The authorities intensified their persecution of Zionists, and the membership of organizations such as "HeHalutz" and "Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsa'ir" gradually declined. Another reason was a request received by Beylin from his brothers. He filled out the application attached to the letter and submitted it to Intourist, the agency handling visa issuance. A year after applying, he received a rejection.

Learning of the grim news and losing his job at the construction site, Mendel decided to go to Kursk in June 1935 to visit his fellow exile, Hillel Kaplinsky. It was relatively easy to obtain registration and find work in Kursk, so many former exiles, including Zionists, arrived there. Mendel, Kaplinsky, and their friend, the son of a rabbi who had come from Siberia, Moshe Vinogradsky, began living together in a rented apartment. Together with Hillel, Mendel found employment at a construction site. He developed a romance with Hillel's younger sister, Sara Kaplinsky.

In March 1936, Mendel Beylin suddenly received a military draft notice. This was quite strange given his biography, but the document contained a clear demand: to report to the draft office. Taking leave from work to bid farewell to Sara, Mendel went to the draft office. The doctor who examined him flipped through his file and asked, "What were you exiled for?"—"For Zionism." The doctor merely shook his head, and after the medical examination, the military commissioner dryly stated, "You're free. If needed, you'll be called."

The army forgot about the conscript forever, but the NKVD didn't. On the night of April 30, 1936, all the occupants of the rented apartment were arrested. Mendel Beylin, Hillel Kaplinsky, and Moshe Vinogradsky found themselves in solitary cells in the Kursk prison, crowded with political prisoners. The friends were charged with attempting to create a Zionist movement. Mendel consistently responded to interrogations: "I'm just a construction worker, and you're trying, without any basis, to turn me into the leader of a rebellious movement. My mother and brothers live in Palestine, and I aim to join them. I have no interest in politics whatsoever."

The interrogations lasted for about a month, during which the investigators tried to extract from Mendel the names of all his Zionist acquaintances. Failing to obtain anything from the arrested man, the investigation was declared concluded. Shortly thereafter, Mendel Beylin was sentenced to exile in Petropavlovsk, the regional center of North Kazakhstan in the Kazakh SSR.

Hana Shapiro and her husband Shmuel Kachnov, experienced exiles, initially sheltered the newcomer in their home. However, Mendel soon managed to rent a room and find work at a construction site. His fiancée, Sara Kaplinsky, planned to join him in exile, but Mendel considered it untimely.

Mendel Beylin remained in Petropavlovsk until the end of the summer of 1937. Then he was sent to the village of Bulaevo. In his new location, Mendel earned a living by building ovens. On the night of November 16, 1937, the apartment where Mendel lived with other Zionists was raided by agents. From Bulaevo, the arrested individuals were taken back to Petropavlovsk and thrown behind bars.

Mendel Beylin found himself once again in prison, where thirty inmates slept on the floor in a small cell. Most of them were ordinary citizens accused of Trotskyism, even Russians who had no idea why they were detained. During interrogations, Mendel was repeatedly asked about the Zionist stance towards the authorities, but he persistently reiterated that he only wished to reunite with his family. The troika of the NKVD of the North Kazakhstan Region found him guilty of the crime under Article 58-10 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR ("propaganda or agitation containing appeals for the overthrow, undermining, or weakening of Soviet power"), sentencing him to ten years of imprisonment in a corrective labor camp.

In January 1938, 24-year-old Mendel, along with hundreds of other detainees, was taken to the station and sent into the unknown. The journey eastward lasted for over two weeks. Mendel Beylin ended up working on the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM). The construction of the railway through the permafrost was initiated by prisoners, and only many years later did BAM become a romanticized project of the Komsomol... Mendel and his comrades' main task was laying the central communication lines between Lake Baikal and the Amur River. At dawn, the prisoners were awakened by the gong accompanied by the shouts of the overseers: "Wake up! Get up!" Then came the grueling labor until complete exhaustion, followed by a short sleep that barely helped to regain strength for the next day. Many of those who arrived at the stage with Mendel died from exhaustion and various illnesses, but he didn't lose hope and fought with all his might. After much deliberation, he wrote to Sara suggesting they end their relationship. He could die any day, and he faced ten years of hard labor ahead –a daunting prospect. He didn't want the young woman to wait for him in vain.

At the end of 1939, the prisoners from the Far East were transferred thousands of kilometers to the northern border. Construction was underway for a railway between Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, intended to transport ammunition to the Soviet-Finnish front. Mendel spent all the years of the Soviet-German war near Arkhangelsk, cut off from any contact with his family. In the summer of 1945, he was transferred again. It later revealed that he was sent to a special camp where people were tasked with converting old military uniforms into clothing for prisoners, all because of a usual camp denunciation. The authorities embedded him among the prisoners and granted him freedom of movement to secretly monitor his actions. In the end, the Chekists found nothing suspicious, and Mendel was transferred to the camp's administrative management as a master builder of ovens. It was a privileged job with several benefits and a completely different attitude from the authorities. But the greatest joy for the political prisoner was the opportunity to read books again.

One morning, Mendel received an order to report to the Camp Administration located in the town of Velsk near Arkhangelsk. Mendel didn't expect anything good from this summons, especially when he saw the young officer waiting for him there. The officer began by speaking about the great victory of the Soviet people over Nazism and quickly got to the point: "We need your help to detain and neutralize a fascist group operating in the camps of this region... We know that you help them pass letters, and we want to know what's written in them."

As a master in stove repair, Mendel frequently traveled to various camps in the Arkhangelsk region and indeed passed on letters, as requested by the prisoners. He couldn't even imagine the consequences of this. The officer continued, "Every time someone passes a letter through you, you must copy it using the means we provide, and pass us a copy, without informing anyone." It took great effort for the Zionist to refuse this offer. He had no intention of becoming a snitch for the Bolshevik oppressors. For this, Mendel Beylin was once again sent to work on the railway embankment. Once again, he had to push carts filled with sand through marshy land, meeting unattainable production norms and receiving meager rations for his hard labor.

In October 1947, at the age of 34, Mendel Beylin was released from the camp in Velsk. For many years, he couldn't receive letters from his brothers and mother, nor did he have a home to return to. Thus, he found himself in Ananievo, where his camp comrade Israel Aizenberg invited him, and where in 1949 the Soviet authorities remembered him once again.

In Ananyev, a long-time resident started a family. His wife became Lyuba Khanyes, a young widow, an accountant at the shelter where Mendel Aronovich began working upon arriving in the city. He had to say goodbye to this job at the end of 1948, after his trip to relatives in Moscow. During the visit, he, along with Bella, his cousin, went to the Moscow synagogue hoping to see and hear Golda Meir there. Golda didn't come that time, but other representatives of the State of Israel arrived. When Mendel returned to Ananyev and went to work, he was informed that the KGB had come and reprimanded the management: "Do you realize what anti-Soviet you hired!?"

Then there was another job, arrest, and investigation in Odessa. After the announcement of the fourth verdict and Mendel's transfer to Kazakhstan. Beylin found himself again in Petropavlovsk, where he had already come in 1936 as an exile. In the regional center, he was released from custody and told that he would have to live and work in a state farm for the rest of his life.

In the state farm, Mendel became the director of the store, where he was practically forced to work. The previous director was dismissed, and as the most literate person, Mendel was appointed to this position, he had no choice in his position. In the spring of 1950, his wife and Valery, her son from her first marriage, came to him. For about six years, the family lived in a Kazakh state farm. Their eldest daughter Leia was born there, and two years later, the twins Miriam and Ruth. The exiled Zionist insisted that the girls carry Jewish names – to emphasize the connection that he himself felt with his people.

At the end of 1954, a year after Stalin's death, Beylin was allowed to return from exile. The family went to Ananyev, where Mendel Aronovich worked as a manager in various stores until retirement. Almost the only one in the city, Mendel Aronovich observed Jewish traditions, reading prayers from a prayer book he received from a rabbi in Kursk, reciting Kaddish and prayers at funerals. The Soviet authorities allowed Jews to pray at funerals and observe mourning dates but actively persecuted circumcisions, the chuppah, and other holidays symbolizing community life.

Mendel Beylin's brothers, who managed to escape from the USSR, reestablished contact with him and invited him to Israel. In 1990, after many years of suffering for the Jewish people, imprisonment, and exile, Mendel Beylin, with his large family, repatriated to the Land of Israel. Shortly before this, by the decision of the prosecutor of the Odessa region, Mendel Beylin was rehabilitated under the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR dated January 16, 1989, "On Additional Measures to Restore Justice in Relation to Victims of Repression during the 1930s-1940s and early 1950s." The state acknowledged that a person simply desiring to live in their own country could not be considered a criminal for that reason alone.

Until the very last moment, he did not believe in the possibility of leaving, well aware of the KGB's tricks, ready to annul the "permission" at the very last moment. But the plane with the Beylins did indeed take off to Bucharest, and from there – to Ben-Gurion Airport.

Even more exciting was the meeting with his brother Dov, whom he had not seen for over 60 years. The brothers, old Zionists, remembered their childhood and fallen friends all the following years, who did not live to see the return to Zion. When he first arrived in Jerusalem, he went to the Western Wall, recited prayers from the prayer book and Kaddish – in memory of those who perished in the camps and exiles in the former Soviet Union.

Mendel Beylin passed away on October 15, 2008, at the age of 95. In the Land of Israel, he was destined to live for the whole 18 years, surrounded by his relatives and his people. He was recognized as a Prisoner of Zion by the Jewish Agency.


Mendel Beylin

1913 – 2008

bottom of page