Aba Kaviner was born in 1921 in Derazhnya, where he was able to receive a Jewish education, first in a heder and then in a clandestine yeshiva. His father worked as a cooper and his mother was a homemaker. In 1939 he was drafted into a military school in Leningrad. He remained in the army until 1946, serving in the Baltics and in Moscow. After the war he returned to Derazhnya, but soon thereafter moved to Khmelnytskyy, where he eventually found work as the director of a carpentry workshop.
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In the early 1950s, as official policies of antisemitism intensified, new attempts were made to close down synagogues and arrest religious activists in even the most out-of-the-way small towns. Sometimes the official reasons for the closing of synagogues and arrests were patently absurd. In the city of Khmelnytskyy, Aba Kaviner remembered: “In ’51 the entire Jewish community—the caretaker of the synagogue and all of its members—were arrested as German and American spies. To inflame the antisemitism even more, they added that in the synagogue where the holy ark was, a radio transmitter was set up, from where they would broadcast military secrets from the synagogue to America and to England.” Kaviner laughed at the idea that these Jews, some of whom could barely communicate in Russian, let alone English, would have been privy to Russian military secrets and capable of transmitting them abroad. The false accusation that synagogues were fronts for spies and treasonous activity, though, was serious, and became a common trope of Soviet antisemitism.