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On June 1, 1948, an event unheard of by Soviet standards took place in Chernivtsi. The divine service in the choral synagogue “Beit Ares”, located in the very center of the city, turned into a noisy manifestation on the occasion of the formation of the State of Israel.

Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs in the Chernivtsi region Burkin and the deputy chairman of the regional executive committee Markin were horrified: they had missed the preparation for such an openly Zionist celebration!

Among the organizers of the event was the rabbi of the choral synagogue Juliy Izrailevich David. The incident was immediately reported “where it should be”, from Kiev to Moscow, adding even more incriminating materials to the files of the rabbi and the synagogue's board.

The Minister of State Security of Ukraine Savchenko reported that Rabbi David not only did not stop a political event within the walls of the religious institution, but the next day, as if nothing had happened, sent a greeting telegram on behalf of the community to Stalin.

Those present, which included a large number of young people and military personnel, hoped that the Soviet leadership, which in words supported the creation of an independent Israel, would allow them to travel to the Middle East to fight for their own home.

The UMGB in the Chernivtsi region arrested Rabbi David on January 27, 1949. MGB captain Mametyev arrested David at his place of work, in the Sotsobedinenie cooperative, where the rabbi was listed as a soap maker.

Juliy Izrailevich David was from northeastern Transylvania, which became part of the Kingdom of Romania after the First World War. He was born in 1893 in the city of Betlen (now Beklyan) into a “spiritual” Jewish family. According to personal data, in 1921 he graduated from a yeshiva in Betlen, and settled in Chernivtsi in 1928, after marrying a local girl Yanetta-Sheina Hirsch.

According to the arrested, in Chernivtsi, he helped his mother-in-law, the owner of a grocery store, in trade, and also made ritual knives for kosher slaughter of livestock and poultry.

With the advent of Soviet power, the family's store was taken away, and David remained to work in his own knife workshop, which became an artel. A relatively quiet life lasted until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. Returning to the city, the Romanians suspected Juliy of having connections with the Soviets, arrested and severely beaten in the building of the secret police. After this execution, David became deaf in one ear. The Romanians released Juliy David only after a large ransom in gold had been paid for him.

In September 1941, the whole family: Juliy, his wife and 8-year-old son ended up in the local ghetto. The Romanians made separate lists: for deportation and forced labor in Chernivtsi. As a good mechanic and locksmith, David was lucky to stay in the city with his family.

In 1944, after the liberation of Chernivtsi by Soviet troops, religious life began to gradually recover in the city. The Soviet authorities hoped that with the departure of the majority of local Jews to Romania, no more than two synagogues would remain in the city. However, a massive influx of Jews from the eastern regions of Ukraine, Moldova and other Soviet republics to Chernivtsi suddenly began. The new residents not only did not become the conductors of Soviet ideology, but they themselves began to join the Jewish religious communities.

The head of the restored Chernivtsi rabbinate considered Juliy David, who had never served in a synagogue before, but had a good religious education and knew well the pre-war Jewish leaders, the best candidate for restoring Jewish life in the city.

Such a traditional religious structure as the rabbinate was not provided for by Soviet laws, therefore, after repeated demands of the Council for Religious Affairs, the rabbinate was dissolved. Religious authorities did not accept such innovations in the practice of Judaism and tried to get out of the situation. Juliy David declared himself the authorized representative of the Jewish faith in the Chernivtsi region and, on behalf of all Jewish believers, sought recognition of this position from the communists. The redecoration of the rabbinate did not suit the Soviet government either. The seal and letterheads were taken away from David, and until his arrest he was listed only as the rabbi of the choral synagogue.

In the late 1940s, Chernivtsi had little resemblance to a typical Soviet city. Circumcision of newborns or chuppah at a wedding was a common thing for local residents. There was a large mikvah in the city, and the Gorkomunkhoz could not take control of the Jewish cemetery. At the choral synagogue, led by David, the Word of God was taught to children, and the community government besieged the commissioner for religious affairs with petitions for the opening of a cheder.

This situation unpleasantly shocked the party members from the eastern regions. In December 1948, three synagogues in Chernivtsi were closed at once. Rabbi David tried to petition for the cancellation of these decisions, but in vain. The last straw for the authorities, which led to the arrest of the rabbi, was the celebration of Israel's Independence Day.

Back in a January 1948 report, Burkin, Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, characterized David as one of the best rabbis in the area and an honest man. However, his characteristics, applied to the case, soon became diametrically opposite.

On February 7, 1949, David was charged under Articles 54-3 (“Intercourse for counterrevolutionary purposes with a foreign state”) and 54-10 Part 1 (“Propaganda or agitation calling for the overthrow, undermining or weakening of Soviet power”) of the Criminal Code Ukrainian SSR.

The interrogations of the rabbi in the Chernivtsi internal prison of the MGB were carried out in Romanian with the help of an interpreter. David was fluent in German, Yiddish, Hungarian and Romanian, but he did not know Russian, so he signed all the protocols, only relying on the decency of the investigation.

How decent the investigation was can be judged by the testimony of the former chairman of the choral synagogue board, photographer Wolf (in the documents he also appears as Volko) Pechenyuk, who was involved in the same case. In his youth he was a member of Poale Zion and came to Chernivtsi with one purpose – to live among Jews and for Jews. It was he who came up with the idea to organize a solemn prayer on June 1, 1948 in honor of the formation of the State of Israel.

In a complaint filed with the Prosecutor General of the USSR, Pechenyuk indicated that he was twice beaten by the head of the investigative department of the UMGB of the Chernivtsi region, Major Klimochkin, who was conducting the case with David. According to Pechenyuk, David was also beaten and he was given protocols for signing, which he did not read.

The rabbi got the Article 54-10 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR primarily because of the aforementioned manifestation in honor of the formation of the State of Israel. At the end of May 1948, the rabbi received a greeting card from Lviv. Volko Pechenyuk, who left to live in Lviv at the end of 1947, congratulated Juliy with all his heart on a great day for all Jewish people. Soon Pechenyuk arrived in Chernivtsi and offered David to organize a solemn service in the choral synagogue in honor of the proclamation of Israel's independence.

Vigorously getting down to business, David and Pechenyuk quickly obtained permission from the authorized Council for Religious Affairs Nikolai Burkin to hold a solemn prayer service.

The evening service, which was attended by, according to Rabbi David, about a thousand people, very quickly turned into a political rally.

After the rabbi's speech, enthusiastic citizens began shouting Zionist calls. Some even suggested turning to Stalin, so that he would allow the volunteers to go to war against the Arab hordes, that decided to destroy the young Jewish state.

After a few months, in August 1948, David again committed, according to the investigation, a “digging” under the Soviet regime: he tried to publish a Jewish religious calendar. The regional department for literature and publishing - then censorship – reacted sharply negatively to the petition. Pechenyuk, an “orientalist” who well understood the wisdom of the Soviet bureaucracy, again became the chief negotiator. The parliamentarian first went to Kyiv, but was refused there. In the capital of Soviet Ukraine, they not only actively fought against religious associations and confessions that raised their heads after the war, but also launched an offensive against “rootless cosmopolitans” who, by a strange coincidence, often turned out to be Jews.

In such conditions, David and Pechenyuk decided to take a daring step – to apply to the Council for Religious Affairs under the USSR Council of Ministers in Moscow. From this trip, Pechenyuk also returned with nothing, except for the photographs he had brought: one of them depicted Golda Meir while visiting the Moscow Choral Synagogue, the other – a meeting of the Cabinet of the Council of Ministers of Israel, sitting under a portrait of Theodor Herzl.

Copies of these photographs, multiplied and distributed in the form of postcards and souvenirs among the Jewish population, became one of the main material evidence of the Zionist activities of Juliy David and Volko Pechenyuk.

Even a year before these events, everything was different. In August 1947, the choral synagogue received the go-ahead for printing the Jewish calendar without any problems. The circulation of the calendar, published in the local printing house, was 10 thousand copies. This was a clear violation: Commissioner Burykin allowed the community leadership to print no more than 300 calendars exclusively for free distribution to parishioners of the choral synagogue. Realizing his mistake late, the official tried to confiscate the print run, but found only 6,000 copies in the synagogue. The rest of the circulation, with the help of special couriers, David and Pechenyuk managed to distribute to the cities of the Soviet Union. The calendars ended up in synagogues in Odessa, Chisinau, Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv.

Among other episodes, confirming, from the point of view of the Chekists, David's anti-Soviet activities, was his help to the Jewish population. The community regularly received clothing and food parcels from the USA and Canada, which were distributed among the Jews of the city. Receiving aid was not in itself a criminal offense, but the MGB did not like the fact that the parcels came from the largest Jewish charitable organization “Joint”.

In addition, the competent authorities through their agents learned that Rabbi David was helping Jews who had returned from exile and convicted of Zionism. Despite the categorical ban of the authorities, the former prisoners often spent the night right in the synagogue building. Former exiles could also count on a small monetary subsidy, which the rabbi took from the community-based mutual aid fund, and sometimes even out of his own pocket.

From various sources, the state security received information about the non-random nature of such assistance and the Zionist past of David himself. Using the testimonies of people and snitches in the cells, the investigator tried in every possible way to prove that David had collaborated with the Romanian gendarmerie and Siguranța even before the war, and continued to work for Romanians during the occupation. This, they say, explains the fact that David was not deported.

On July 23, 1949, an indictment was brought against the former rabbi of the choral synagogue. The wording was still the same: cooperation with the Romanians and Zionist activity.

David, who lost his family and friends during the occupation, categorically dismissed all accusations of cooperation with the Romanian army, gendarmerie or secret police. In response to loud accusations about working as a food supplier for several military units that had been stationed in Chernivtsi before the war, the rabbi gave a banal explanation: all Chernivtsi were shopping in a grocery store owned by his wife's family.

As for documentary evidence, in the Romanian documents seized by the Soviet troops it was written in black and white that Juliy David, a specialist, was used by the Chernivtsi magistrate for forced labor.
The role of Karl Khandzhi in the arrest of Rabbi David and other members of the choral synagogue board was apparently one of the key ones.

At the end of September 1947, Khandzhi, a member of the synagogue revision committee, dismissed by the community and trying to take up his position again, wrote to the regional prosecutor and chairman of the Chernivtsi regional executive committee “about the outrages that are happening in the Chernivtsi Jewish community”. Khandzhi complained that Rabbi David and his right-hand man, Pechenyuk, took over all financial flows, including humanitarian aid, the distribution of which was not reported. Under the printed letter, a postscript was already made by hand: “Khandzhi is an Employee of the State Security Service. Colonel Zhonov will tell about me”. Khandzhi urged an audience, as the letter says, “for personal communication”.

In addition to Khandzhi, other secret agents worked alongside David. When in 1947 Burkin, Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, tried to remove from work the secretary of the community, Kleiman, who had been caught on a number of violations, including teaching the Jewish faith in the synagogue's gatehouse, the “neighbors” – the State Security Directorate – advised him to leave Kleiman alone.

Witnesses Khandzhi and Kleiman could not be summoned to court “for operational reasons”, therefore the investigation case against David was considered by a Special Meeting at the USSR Ministry of State Security.

David pleaded guilty only to organizing a rally in honor of the formation of the State of Israel and providing material assistance to those repressed for Zionist activities.

The prosecutor of the Chernivtsi region Donchenko agreed with the investigative unit and suggested sentencing the rabbi to 10 years in forced labor camps with confiscation of property. On October 1, 1949, Juliy David was sentenced to 10 years and at the end of October sent to the city of Bratsk, where Ozerlag No. 7 was located.

After the conviction of the rabbi, fear seized all the parishioners. The audit committee and new chairman of the board, Kuperman, immediately resigned. The remaining members of the board repeatedly tried to organize a meeting of believers in order to elect other members of the board and the audit commission, but people were afraid to cross the threshold of the synagogue.

On May 3, 1949, the choral synagogue was deregistered and closed. The reasons being the “outrage and violations of the legislation on houses of prayer” and the arrests of members of the synagogue board. In 1952, a boxing hall was located in the building of this choral synagogue.

On April 30, 1953, the rabbi's wife sent a petition to Beria to review her husband's case. Juliy David, a man with poor health, languished in the camp at the Vikhorevka station for more than 4 years, and spent most of this time in the prison hospital. The authorities refused to review the case.

On July 12, 1953, the last rabbi of the Beit Ares Chernivtsi Choral Synagogue died in the camp.
Up until 1939 there were about 50 synagogues in Chernivtsi, in 1948 – before the arrest of the rabbi – only 6 remained. Despite the harsh Stalinist regime, Juliy David basically refused to leave Chernivtsi, trying to restore the Jewish community in the city. For him, there were no Eastern or Western Jews, Zionists or Communists – the rabbi helped everyone.

The Chekists managed to put Juliy David in prison, but they never succeeded in destroying the Jewish spirit in Chernivtsi. And until the collapse of the Soviet Union, this city openly celebrated Jewish holidays, and its inhabitants, in spite of everything, continued to rise to Eretz Israel.

On the basis of the law of Ukraine “On the rehabilitation of victims of the repressions of the communist totalitarian regime of 1917-1991” on May 27, 1992, Juliy David was rehabilitated. Everything fell into place – the anti-Semitic communist regime was called criminal, and the fighters against it and its victims were called innocent. But no law is able to resurrect a person, to return a son to a mother, a father to children, and a shepherd to the flock.

Juliy David

1893 – 1953

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