Prisoners of Zion from Bălţi, Romania

After the war, hundreds of thousands of Zionist Jews were left in Romania. Israel's declaration of independence and the fact that Anna Pauker, the foreign minister of Romania, was Jewish, encouraged them in their Zionist activities, even during Romania's communist rule. At the beginning of the 1950s, following signals from Moscow, persecution of Zionism and Zionists in Romania began. Hundreds of Zionist leaders and activists were tried and sentenced to imprisonment. Most of the Prisoners of Zion that did not die in Romanian jails were released after a few years, and emigrated to Israel.

During the 1960s and '70s, many requests from Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel were turned down, and a great number waited for years for exit visas. Refuseniks that demonstrated against the delays were arrested and imprisoned, or exiled to far-flung places across the USSR. A number of countries put pressure on the Soviet authorities to release them, and their struggle was publicized in the western press. Public figures, politicians, artists and philosophers all joined the struggle to bring Jews out of the USSR. The last of the Prisoners of Zion left the Soviet Union beginning in 1986 following the Glasnost policy of Michael Gorbachev.

"Prisoners of Zion" is the name given to Jews and to Refuseniks imprisoned for their Zionist activities.

Dr. Yeshayahu Tumarkin

Yeshayahu Tumarkin was born in 1891 in Vitebsk, Lithuania, and qualified as a lawyer. In 1919, he traveled from Kishinev to Mărculeşti, a Jewish agricultural settlement in Bessarabia, where he established the Hebrew Gymnasium (school) and became its principal. In 1924, Tumarkin moved to Bălţi to run the Hebrew Gymnasium there. In both schools he became a respected figure by both the students and the parents. Tumarkin was an active Zionist in Bălţi, and one of the founders and leaders of Maccabi in Bessarabia.

In 1940, with the annexation of Bessarabia by the USSR, Tumarkin left Bălţi and moved to Bucharest, where he worked in law and as the chairman of Maccabi Romania.

After diplomatic relations were established between Romania and the State of Israel, Tumarkin was appointed Legal Advisor for the Israeli mission in Bucharest. In April 1954, Tumarkin was sentenced with 40 other Zionist leaders to five years' imprisonment for his Zionist activities. He sat in Romanian military prison for two years, and in 1957 emigrated to Israel with his wife Esther. Despite his age and the suffering he endured in prison, Tumarkin managed to rebuild his life in Israel. In 1960 he passed the Israeli Bar, and worked as a lawyer in the Ministry of Justice and the Jewish Agency.

Yeshayahu Tumarkin passed away in Tel Aviv in 1973.

Lazar Lubarsky

Lazar Lubarsky was born in Bălţi in 1926, and studied at the Hebrew Gymnasium. He belonged to the Gordonia youth movement in the town.

Following the German and Romanian invasion of the Soviet Union, Lazar, his parents, Moshe and Shifra, and his sister, Rachel, fled from Bălţi towards the east. Other family members went with them: his uncle and aunt, Alik and Sonya Lubarsky, and their daughters, Rifka and Ita; Alik's mother Nacha; and Sonya's mother Sheba Zibenberg. Moshe and his family continued eastwards, and arrived in Kazakhstan. The others were delayed by acquaintances in one of the villages near Bălţi, fell into the hands of the invaders and were eventually brought to the Bershad ghetto in Transnistria. At Bershad Sonya fell ill with scarlet fever, and was put into isolation. While in isolation, her family was deported from Bershad and murdered. Sonya survived.

In 1943, Lazar Lubarsky was recruited to the Red Army and fought on the frontlines. His parents and sister survived. In 1948 he was released from the military, and went to study communications engineering at Odessa University. He lived in Orel and then moved to Rostov, where he married Galina née Jacob. The couple had two children.

In 1970, Lazar Lubarsky requested an emigration visa to Israel. The authorities refused his request, and a short while later Lubarsky joined the protest activities of other "Refuseniks." In 1972 he was prosecuted and sentenced to four years imprisonment. Many people joined the efforts to release him, among them Ed Koch, the future mayor of New York.

In 1976, Lubarsky's longed for emigration visa arrived, and he and his family left for Israel, settling in Tel Aviv. After learning Hebrew, Lubarsky went to work for the Ministry of Communications. When he retired, he began to write in Yiddish and Russian about Jewish figures in non-Jewish literature. His articles are published in Yiddish and Russian magazines and newspapers in Israel and around the world.