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[Page 379-380]

Yisrael Zhofer (Yoffe)[1]

Translated by Howard Adelman

Donated by Eleanor B. Rothman and the Yaffe family

The Editorial Board of the Newspaper “Yiddishe Shtime” [Jewish Voice], 1924
Right to left, standing: Yaacov Feigin, Yisrael Zhofer (Yoffe), Moshe Rabinowitz, Eliezer Shibolet
Seated: Natan Goren [Grinblat], Rosa Hazan-Feigin, Moshe Cohen, Reuven Rabinowitz, Morris Helman
“Yisrael Yoffe was considered as one of the permanent members of the editorial board of the newspaper, Idishe Shtime, first and foremost among the Jewish newspapers in Lithuania. This newspaper, founded in 1919 by the General Zionist Organization in Lithuania, was the only source of news from the general world for most of the Jews of Lithuania during those years, when there still was not yet a hint of radio broadcasts, and the first primitive radios were displayed in public halls like magic boxes…”[2]

Rachel Rabinowitz: Yisrael Yoffe, my mother's brother and son of Reb. Eliyahu, miller of Dusiat, was known as Yisrael Zofer, a name given to him by the Germans during the WWI. In June 1941, when the Germans swept into Lithuania, my uncle Yisrael left his house in Kovno and I never saw him again thereafter. In the Kovno Ghetto, we were told that he was seen on his bicycle on the way from Vilna to the Russian border. Mania and her son Alik remained in the Kovno Ghetto, hiding in a malina[3] and were saved. All the years of war aunt Mania believed that her husband Yisrael was alive.

Alik (Albert) Yoffe: After the war it became known to us that my father managed to flee to Russia. His friend from the city of Minsk helped father locate us, and thus we learned of his fate: father was sent to the Ural Mountains, to work in a copper factory in the city of Revda, work that exempted him from service on the front.

Mother was lucky enough to hear that father was among the living. However it took a long time until he got our address, and when he reached Kovno in the spring of 1946 with the purpose of taking us to the Urals, by then mother was no longer alive. Mother died in September 1945.

Raya Krut: We met Yisrael and spoke with him. To all of us it was clear that he was treading on very delicate ground, and the Russians would not let him be for too long. He was known as a Zionist.

Alik Yoffe: Despite this, father changed his plans and decided to take suitable steps to return to Lithuania. He traveled to the Urals in order to resign from his job, and expected to return in about a month, but failed to arrive and contact with him was lost.

I don't remember how much time passed until father returned to Kovno and told us why he had been delayed and what had happened to him. While on his way by train from the Urals to Lithuania, he was attacked by bandits and was crushed between two cars. The trains in those days were crowded with passengers, among them many bandits. The seats above and below were taken and people also sat between the cars, as did father. He was injured and taken to the hospital. I remember when he returned the wound was still open.

After Mother died, Rachel took care of me, a woman who during the Soviet period was exiled to the distant north and remained without a family. And now father joined us, and lived with us. He began working as a deputy principal of a vocational school and afterwards worked in a factory in the administrative department. One morning he left for work but did not return. When they came and searched the house, we understood that he had been arrested. All our documents and photographs were taken from us, and not one family picture remained in my hands.

Father was imprisoned in Vilna where he was interrogated during a period of nine months. They allowed Rachel to visit him only once.

The Troika[4] sentenced father to ten years in jail. This was in 1950. Father was sent to Tayshet (in the Kazakhstan Republic). In the winter of 1952, we learned that father had died. His death certificate stated that he died of pneumonia in his house in Kovno…

In 1951 I moved to Vilna where I studied in the conservatory. In 1971 I made aliya to Israel with my wife Luiza [Louise], and with Rachel [Wolf].

Alik-Albert Yoffe, violinist in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, with his wife Luiza-Lucy (Livschitz)
Footnotes

  1. After his death, the State of Israel officially recognized Yisrael Zofer, under the name Leon Yoffe, as a Prisoner of Zion (Asir Zion). Return
  2. [42] Chasman, Rafael, Jewish Literature and Journalism in Lithuania, from Yahadut Lita, Vol 2, p. 254. Return
  3. The hideouts used during the war were called malinas. Return
  4. Group or association of three persons holding power or authority, including that of issuing the death penalty or a life sentence. Return

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