Tortured in Soviet Province, Refugees Report on Arrival in Palestine
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Tortured in Soviet Province, Refugees Report on Arrival in Palestine

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From the inner recesses of Asia, small groups of ragged, half-starved Jewish refugees are arriving in Palestine with tales of terror and physical torture which in gruesome details rival stories of the Middle Ages.

The methods of the medieval Inquisition are being used by Soviet Russian officials against the Jews of Bokhara, Russian province bordering Afghanistan, north of India, according to the accounts of these fugitives. About 200 Jewish refugees from Bokhara have reached Palestine. Most of those arriving in recent weeks have been women and children, seeking the husbands and fathers who fled before they did.

The Bokharian Jews’ troubles with the Soviet Government, recounted to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by Nissim Yonossof, one of the leaders of the Bokharian Jewish community here, began when Josef Stalin ascended to the dictatorship of the U.S.S.R. Previously they had not been molested by the Soviet regime under the late Nicolai Lenin, Mr. Yonossof said. The Jews in the city of Bokhara, whose forbears had come from Baghdad, were almost all prosperous merchants and manufacturers, and some were very wealthy, he said.

From the time Stalin became dictator of the U.S.S.R., Mr. Yonossof asserted, the Soviet authorities began demanding that the Jews turn over their possessions to the State. According to his account, their homes and shops were searched. Some of the Jews hid away gold and jewels, drawing a bit out from time to time to purchase food and other necessities. OGPU (Soviet secret police) spies visited the community and purchased some of the jewels, in this way discovering those who had hidden belongings. Soon afterward the community was raided and those who had been thus detected were arrested.

Some refused to disclose the hiding place of their valuables. These, Mr. Yonossof said, men and women alike, were beaten to force them to speak. Those who still remained silent were forced to sit on hot Primus stoves. Others were stripped naked, manacled hand and foot and thrown into the mid-winter snow to freeze to death. Their bodies were then delivered to their families with a warning that a similar fate awaited those who failed to comply with the authorities’ wishes.

One merchant, Simon Ben Yahuda, who has now escaped into Palestine, a man of rugged physique and great powers of endurance, withstood the Primus stove torture without speaking, Mr. Yonossof said. He was then subjected to the "water cure," in which the victim’s nose is held closed and he is forced to gulp great quantities of water, according to the account.

Those fleeing from this reign of terror, Mr. Yonossof said, found refuge at first in Afghanistan. The Afghans, who claim descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, welcomed the fugitives for a time, but later this welcome grew cold, and other emigrants were driven back. They turned towards Palestine as their only hope.

Refugees began trekking the 1,800 miles from Bokhara to the Holy Land, part of the way by donkey, part aboard trucks, part afoot. They traveled via Baghdad, traversing in their journey the Turkoman Republic, Persia, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, crossing deserts and mountains. The few personal belongings they had managed to carry with them were stolen on the way or taken by Arab smugglers as the price of transporting them to Palestine.

Among the refugees, is Abba Simkhialyoff, at one time one of the wealthy men of Central Asia, owner of a wool factory, an oil refinery and a soap factory. He is at present more fortunately situated than most of his people, for his father, who came to Palestine many years ago, built a house in Jerusalem, and Simkhalyoff now lives on the rentals. Most of his fellow-fugitives live in poverty, working as porters and in other low-paid jobs when they can find employment. The Bokharian Jewish community helps them as much as it can, and a few receive small sums from relatives in Europe and America.

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