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[Page 259]

With Jonavers in Exile in Siberia

by Yitzchak Ben-David (Burstein)

On the Sabbath of June 14, 1941, I left the house in which I lived on Uzaska Street in Kovno in order to go to work at the office on the Green Mountain near Petrovska. I walked in the middle of the free sidewalk. I was surprised to suddenly see dozens of army and civilian trucks laden with moveable objects, men, women and children, traveling in the direction of the train station accompanied by Soviet vehicles. All sorts of explanations of this matter came to my mind.

I arrived at the office. The Jonavers Rachel Levin, Tovia Kolbiansky (the son of Moshe and Rachel) and the director Shimon Merbiansky also worked there. It was through the latter that I was hired as chief accountant after I transferred to the Kemach factory where I continued my service for some time after the war.


Something was about to Transpire

An oppressive atmosphere pervaded the office. Everyone sensed that something was about to happen. I attempted to get in touch by telephone with my family in Jonava, but was not successful. Rumors spread that Jewish families were being sent to Siberia. I waited impatiently for the end of work. I hurried home to my sister Miriam Levin, with whom I lived for the final six months.

Two people were waiting for me at the entrance: The Comsomol member Leizke the Yellow, and a strange man who was a representative of the N.K.V.D. I was ordered to raise my hands. They searched my pockets, and searched through all of my personal belongings in my room. They informed me that I was a prisoner, and that they were bringing me to the train station in Jonava in order to reunite with my family along the way to Siberia.

My sister arrived in the meantime, and when she found out what was happening, she was smitten a second time. The first strike was that her husband Tzvi Levin was imprisoned when the Russians came to Kovno. He was held in the Yellow Prison, and she remained with two young children and with no means of livelihood aside from payments for the room and food. We parted without knowing if we would ever see each other again.

Meir Wolfovich lived downstairs in the house. He was the youngest son of Leiba, and studied in the gymnasium. We were put into a taxi and brought to Jonava, directly to the train station. I did not know at the time that my father was lying in bed sick. We passed by the Kemach. I requested that we stop so that I could pick up some personal belongings. They summoned Greenblatt who brought me suits, boots, coats and shoes. I had placed these there at the time the Soviets entered.


Family Meeting on a Cattle Car

The train station bustled like a hive with hundreds and thousands of people. A long chain of transport or cattle cars stood on the tracks. There were two Soviet guards next to each car. We were greeted by the N.K.V.D. official, my acquaintance and fellow townsman Shmuel Wichov. He seemingly apologized and said,

“Yitzchak, you will see that for you it will be better, for what will our fate bring? For the war is approaching.” We were brought to the car of Jonavers. A guard opened the lock and the latch and brought us up to the train car. Shmuel Chernman and Dr. Mordechai Wolfovich fell on my neck and kissed me. They poured vodka and said, “Drink, and it will be okay for you!” I emptied the cup. I looked around – and what did I see? In a corner on one of the shelves, my poor mother was sitting in agony. Father remained sick in the house, and who knew if she would see him again. Her daughters remained in Kovno, and what would be their fate? As she sat immersed in thoughts about the fate of the family members, suddenly her only son appeared as an angel from heaven! She hugged and kissed me with silent weeping. My sister Leah and her husband Dov Segalovsky with their year old child Uza surrounded me, as well as the other Jonavers in the train: Malka and Avraham Jochovsky, Batya (Perevoznik) and Nissan Goldshmidt, who had gotten married that year, Yochel and Shmuel Chernman, Teibel and Leiba Wolfovich with their daughter Bunia and sons Mordechai, Meir, and Tzvi with his wife Batya (Namiot), Moshel Monosevich (Greenberg), as well as a few people from Wilkomir, and some Lithuanian families, primarily teachers from the Gymnasia.

We accommodated ourselves in a crowded fashion on two levels of planks, and set out for our long journey. The lavatory was in the middle, next to the back wall, behind a thin partition. Disgusting odors filled the air of the train wagon. Anyone who could, would control themselves, and try to use the “facilities” during the night. The ventilation was insufficient: two small windows with metal grilles on the front wall.


Losses Along the Way

We spent the first night in the station, waiting for other people from the area. In the morning, I saw through the window the wagon driver Itzka transporting my father to the station. I was quite emotional, and followed after them. I saw father get out and speak to the officials. Apparently he wanted to join his family members. He was arrested by a sentry as he attempted to walk toward the railway car. Father became pale and emotional, as he was forced to return. He entered the station, and disappeared from my eyes forever.

The train set out toward Vilna. Our eyes were fixed to the landscape, going toward darkness and uncertainty: What would happen in the future? We were together in our tribulation. Our modest desire was that we not be separated, as it would be easier to bear the tribulations of exile together. A Russian adage states: at a time of trouble – open your gates wide.

We heard knocks on the door on the first night after midnight. A Lithuanian teacher was taken out and disappeared in the darkness of the night. We all trembled from fear about what was to come. A half an hour later, there was another knock, and a second Lithuanian teacher was taken out. We attempted to calm ourselves that these people were taken for interrogation, since they belonged to the Tautininkai nationalist party. After a few hours of quiet, it seemed that we heard knocks again. This time, a voice from outside ordered Tzvi Wolfovich to prepare to leave the railway car in ten minutes. The perplexity of the rest of us grew. During the first two nights, Berl Segalovsky, Avraham Jochovsky, and Nissan Goldschmidt left us – all of them young members of Beitar and the Revisionists who had gotten married that year. Nissan and Tzvi perished in the Reshety confinement camp in the region of Krasnoyarskaya in Siberia. Shmuel Chernman and Leiba Wolfovich were later taken from us. Three of us men remained: Dr. Mordechai Wolfovich, Yechiel Kerem of Wilkomir and I – with tense nerves. A deep mourning overtook all of us. Many questions drilled through the head: Where would the men be taken? Where were we being taken to? We did not want to utter the word Siberia on our lips – for a certain death from hunger and cold would await us there.


Stops Along the Way

The train moved along slowly. We wrote letters and scattered them along the tracks with a request to take them to a mailbox. We crossed the border into White Russia. At the first stop, we were ordered to choose three men to bring food, accompanied by a guard. I and two others exited the train. We breathed the fresh air into our chest. People who were simply dressed stared at us in curiosity. Sights such as this were not strange to them from previous years… We were informed that one of the trains that had just passed was full of men. I deduced from this that the men who had been taken from us were on that train. I found out that our train consisted of 20 cars – 18 for prisoners, a car for medical staff, and a car for N.K.V.D. workers. We received soup, meat and rolls according to the ration of 500 grams for an adult and 300 grams for a child. We returned to the train. We ate with an appetite, for it had been five days since we had eaten warm food.

Before we arrived at the Orsha Station, I found out that the war had broken out. The Lithuanians counted on a German victory and rejoiced that they would be able to return home shortly. We remain oppressed, for our hatred of the German Hitlerists was greater than our hatred of the current enemy.

The city of Orsha was a large railway junction. We stopped on a side track and once again left to bring food. We did not succeed in getting newspapers, for many people used the paper to smoke “makhorka”. We also filled up a bucket of “kipiatok” (hot water) and returned to the wagon with food; however we had no news to tell. Only as we continued our journey did I succeed in obtaining some sort of newspaper from which I learned that the situation on the fronts was not bright. Lithuanian cities were being abandoned, and battles were being fought near Minsk. I thought a great deal about the fate of our dear ones who were left behind.


Far from the Front

Our train crossed the border from Europe to Asia at the beginning of July. We entered the Ural Mountains, at the Plada manufacturing region. One morning we stopped at a remote stop. The guards permitted us to go out for a few hours. Anyone who has never been imprisoned cannot imagine the extent of the joy that we all felt. We burst out and approached a small pond. The women did laundry, and the men and children bathed. We breathed clear air far from the front, and approximately 2,500 kilometers from our Jonava. When we returned to the car, the guards did not close the door. They were sure that nobody would escape. The tension let up somewhat. We left the door slightly open and breathed easily. We found out from the guards that we were being taken to Siberia.

We moved slowly, for the railway tracks were full of trains with soldiers, arms and supplies. We arrived in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia on July 8. This was a giant station, the largest and most important on the Trans-Siberian Line. The station bustled with throngs of people. The pressure of the war could be felt. Our train left the Trans-Siberian Line and turned southward, toward the capital city of the Altai Krai, Barnaul. From there we traveled along thick pine forests toward the city of Biysk. This city resembled a large village. If it was already decreed upon us that we must be in Siberia, we would have been content to remain in that place. But that is not what fate had in mind.


On Trucks to an Undesirable Place

We were ordered to remove all of our luggage, and we were informed that trucks would come to take us to kolkhozes and sovkhozes in the area. In the meantime, the N.K.V.D. men approached us and conducted an additional search of our belongings. A Finnish knife that was a souvenir from my visit to Helsinki, pictures, and other things were taken from me. The trucks then arrived. The representatives of the farms understood the “living merchandise”, our muscles. They searched for families that were not caring for children. We fell prey to the representative of the Karpovsky Sovkhoz of the region of Soloneshnoye, Rodkov the medic, who served as a physician and a veterinarian.

We loaded up our luggage and went out in a caravan of ten trucks. We crossed a bridge over the Ob River. Other trucks set out to other sovkhozes of the area. We crossed the Katony River in ferries. We spent the night in a youth hostel in one of the villages. When we reached the final village on the dry plain, the drivers filled up with petroleum in preparation for the venture into the mountainous region. A sudden rainfall dampened the roads. The wheels got stuck and began to sink in the mud. We were forced to return to our hostel in the village below. We returned soaked, except for the elderly and children who sat in the drivers' cabins.

We set out on our way again in the afternoon. This time, we succeeded in reaching the summit of the mountain. A wide, mountainous plateau spread out before our eyes. It was completely empty and filled with grass at the height of a person. There was no living soul, except for our caravan. We fell asleep. When I woke up it was dark. The people in the trucks slept, but the drivers snuck away and went to the village of Berezovka among the clefts of rocks to sleep. This was at the edge of the Soloneshnoye region, occupying an area of 100 by 80 kilometers. Through the years this region became my second home. I worked there for 15 years. I crossed its length and width, without permission to leave it.

We continued on our multi-faceted journey along the tortuous mountains. Throughout the entire time, the following thoughts never left our minds: Where are they taking us? What awaits us – a human life or a dog's life? We arrived in a remote and desolate village of Lyotyevo. This was a large town of wealthy people before the revolution. Later they were exiled from there, and a large area was left abandoned. During the mid 1950s, a tractor and combine station was built there to work the land according to Khrushchev's plan. I was then appointed as the chief bookkeeper. The town grew and even succeeded in getting electricity. In the interim we continued our journey and arrived in the Madbadivka Farms – one of the five units that comprised the Karpovsky Sovkhoz. Those traveling in the first truck were designated for that sovkhoz. They remained there at the crossroads. Most of them were Jews from Wilkomir, such as the Peltz, Yaffa, Chait, Riklansky, Janovsky, and Zaks families. The rest were Lithuanians. Of course, I wanted to remain there at the crossroads, where automobile connections were possible, but the reality was otherwise. We would also have preferred that all of the Jonavers remain together in one place, but blind fate also thwarted that desire. We arrived at Komsomolskaya Farm in the evening. All of the Specifraslanskas (our official designation) who were brought there and had traveled by wagon were set up in the small hall of the tiny settlement, which consisted of only seven homes next to the gorge of the small Sholovolicha stream. Among them, there were also Jewish families from Wilkomir – young Shapira and his wife, and Krikin and his wife. The tractor driver started the tractor, and we continued our journey to the Balshaya-Tucha Farm. Once again we ascended mountains and glided down trails until we arrived at the farm. The women and children were put up in the hall, and the men and unmarried women in empty granaries. The Jonavers were split up along the way: the Wolfovich family went to Pashchanka Farm to work in cutting trees and transporting them to the sawmill. In the morning, there was once again a thorough search of our belongings. We asked for permission to heat up the bath house so that we could wash up from the filth of the journey. When everything was ready and we prepared ourselves for our bath, we received a command from the director, the crafty Vizinsky, that we must report immediately to work. All of our pleading was for naught. The time was pressing. We must weed the fields and provide food to the front.


Work in the Heat during the Hot Season

We set out to the fields, a journey of five or six kilometers with the brigadier at the head. The following people were in the group: Yochel Chernman, Batya Goldshmidt, Malka Jochovsky, Moshel Monosevich and my sister Leah. The brigadier showed us the field which we were to weed. I was appointed as supervisor and was told that I was permitted not to work, and that I would receive four rubles per day. The quota for each person was four dunams. The field was filled with thistles and wild grass, to the point where it was hard to make out the oats. The women were equipped with parasols and gloves to protect them from the great heat and the prickly thorns. We had a measure of water. The women were immersed in worry, as were the men. Yochel advised that we rest every ten minutes. They lay down on the soft mat of grass and chatted as if they had come for a vacation. When I advised them to get up for work, all of them spoke up at once: “Look at him, how dedicated he is to the Soviet government…” The sun set and we had only cleared one dunam instead of 10 hectares (20 dunams). The area was indeed clear. Thus passed two days.

I had the opportunity to chat with a group of female workers, natives of the farm. They explained to me how they met the quotas. They would cut down the heads of the thistles with a scythe, and not concern themselves if they also cut down oats… We also attempted this method, but with our hands, for the use of tools was forbidden. I requested from the work director that I be transferred to another job. I was sent to work in preparing fodder for the winter.

I worked hard. The heat was great. Drops of sweat rolled down from my face and my body, which was half naked. There was a pail of cold water next to me. I would drink it with thirst. We built up the heap in the middle of the valley. When the base reached a height of two meters, a worker ascended and began to bind the fodder, which I then placed in the heap. As it grew higher, I exchanged the pitchfork for a longer one, which reached four meters in length. The work became more difficult and backbreaking. Our hands trembled, however, we made sure to bind the fodder well so that it would be properly preserved.


My Value Increased

From the first days of my work in that area, my name appeared on the chart of honor as a Stachonovich who fulfilled his quota by 200%. Of course this was not correct, but management wanted to set somebody up as an example so that others would increase their energy in their work. My bread ration was increased to 700 grams. The local residents treated me with honor, and I was appointed as the head of the group. Discipline was standardized and if anyone acted lazy, I would attack him with a fundamental, juicy Russian curse. This increased my value even more.

One day I received an invitation to appear in the main office of the central farm. I was freed from work, and I walked the ten kilometers by foot. The director received me politely, and invited me for a meal at his house. He treated me to vodka and a modest meal. Then he asked me to become the accounting director of the Komsomolskaya Farm. I agreed on the condition that he would give my family and me an appropriate dwelling. I was promised this, and two weeks later, I moved my mother, my sister and her daughter Uza to the new dwelling. It had a small corridor with a dirt floor. The room itself was nine square meters, with an oven and a shelf for sleeping and suitcases. This was a Garden of Eden compared to the previous conditions.

As I have stated earlier, the farm consisted of seven houses compressed into a narrow valley. Everything was neglected and abandoned on account of the casualness of the local people, and also of course due to the lack of working hands – for most of the men had been drafted into the army. We barely received any food provisions aside from bread. We decided to purchase a cow at any price. The price for the cow, “Burka” was 1000 rubles, a dinner jacket, dresses, pillow cases and sheets. We concluded the sale successfully at the end of August 1941. “Burka” sustained us throughout the war years and after.


Meeting with my Sister

I wrote to my sister in the Land of Israel at the time that I arrived. I received a telegram from the Land about one month later, stating that money and a letter were on their way. In the letter we found out that my sister Miriam with her two children were also in Siberia, near Biysk, approximately 200 kilometers from us. Rachel was in the city of Slogorod, also in the Altai Krai. Our joy could not be measured. However we also grieved over father's fate. Only after four years did we find out that he perished in the Stutthof Camp. I immediately wrote to my sisters with the addresses that I received from the Land. We received a response two weeks later that they were healthy and whole. I decided to gather the family around Mother.

In the winter I received a permit to visit my sister Miriam. I traveled in a sleigh hitched to horses. I was furnished with an authorization for an official mission, which enabled me to obtain a train ticket on the Biysk-Barnaul line. I also walked for some of the way. The joy upon meeting my sister was great. I spent two days with her. I went out to the forest with the Kovno natives to help them cut down trees, for I was expert at this – for my father was a forestry merchant. The snow was one meter high. The clearing of the area and cutting down the trees was a great effort, but I enjoyed the spectacular site of the pine trees. Miriam had to request a permit to move to us from Barnaul. We parted, and agreed that she would come to us when she received the permit.

One day we received an identity paper from the N.K.V.D. It was a simple piece of paper with personal data. It said that we were only permitted to move in the region of Soloneshnoye. We asked them: “For how long?” and we were answered, “Permanently”.


The Poorest Type of Medical Care

There were two families from Wilkomir with us on the farm: Hadassah and Shimon Shapira and the family of Chaim Krikin. We would gather together with that family every evening. Mr. Krikin, approximately 60 years old, was a jovial man with an important profession. He was an expert in harnesses and saddles. People would bring him saddles to repair from all the farms. The directors honored him greatly. We were honored with his voice every night. He sang to us all of the melodies from Jewish operettas and told us about life in South Africa, where he had spent many years. After he accumulated money he returned to Wilkomir in Lithuania, where he built a large flour mill and a bathhouse, known as the “Krikin Bathhouse”. He was a customer of the Kemach factory. We reserved a portion of the firewood from the forests around Wilkomir for him. He took ill in the winter of 1942 with urine retention. It was impossible to transfer him to Biysk at the time of the melting of the snow, and he died. Shimon and I dug a grave for him in the frozen ground on the summit of the mountain.

This first death shook us up greatly. We realized that the medical assistance was particularly poor. If we were to be afflicted by serious diseases – from whence would our help come? There was one medic for all of the residents of the sovkhoz (approximately 2,000 people) on the central farm.

My sisters Miriam and Rachel with their three children arrived at the end of spring. Our family now numbered nine people. I succeeded in obtaining a larger dwelling. That winter I visited the Jonavers on the Pashchinka Farm for working of forestry products – the Wolfovich and Chernman families. Despite the shortage of physicians, the N.K.V.D. did not permit Dr. Mordechai [Wolfovich] to work at his profession. Only after much intercession was he permitted to move to the central town of Soloneshnoye and be appointed as a physician in the regional infirmary.


Being Uprooted – and Order within Disorder

In the spring of 1942 rumors spread that we would be transferred to the Yakutia in the Far East. We had nothing to lose. The situation was intolerable, with food shortages, inadequate housing and crowding. The issue of firewood was even more pressing. We had to travel on a difficult path of 15 kilometers in order to cut trees – and there was a shortage of horses and oxen. Nevertheless, we had fears about what was waiting for us in the east, a distance of about 2,000-3,000 kilometers away. Indeed, the Wolfovich family and Masha Namiot (five people), and Batya Goldshmidt (nee Perevoznik) were taken to Yakutia in the month of June. Remaining in our place were our family, Yochel Chernman, and Malka and Avraham Jochovsky in Parshchinka. Avraham was freed by mistake at the time of the liberation of the Poles from internment camps.

The war continued on and the situation became more serious. All of the work was done by women, children and the elderly. The death rate among the flocks of cattle, sheep and horses increased due to the lack of fodder. The veterinarian invited me to accompany him in his inspection of the cattle flocks in order to help him care for them. My task was to surround the head of each calf and hold it tight as the injection was given. After the operation we would drink the spirits that were designated for the care of the sheep, and refresh ourselves with black bread, onions, and grains of salt that were designated for the cattle.

My director was exchanged and the new director watched the newspapers closely. There was a great competition among us on this subject. There were no radio receivers, for they had been confiscated at the outbreak of the war. We received all of our news from the newspaper, which came four days late.

Throughout this entire time we barely had any news about what was transpiring in the Jewish world. However, bitter thoughts bothered us and gnawed at the heart. Mother had one “meal offering” that remained for her a refuge from all of the searches and confiscations. For her the Sabbath was a source of inspiration. She would pray and weep, while this was a regular workday for the rest of the family. In 1943, Mother and our sisters decided to arrange a Passover Seder. There was a great deal of planning. With difficulty, we managed to obtain a bit of dark rye flour. We baked matzos whose appearance was of the darkness of Egypt and Siberia. The meal was simple but festive. Everything was in small portions, but in good taste. We invited several guests who came: the Krikin widow, the Yaffa sisters and Chait from Wilkomir who came from the central farm. We ate, discussed, and talked not about the Exodus from Egypt, but about our travails here in the mountains of Siberia.

In 1942, we found out about the location of Berl Segalovsky, the husband of Leah, who was in an internment camp near the main railway line in the Krasnoyarsk region; and Yosef Dushnitzky, the husband of Rachel, in the region of Archangelsk. Their situation was difficult, and we saw it as our duty to send them food packages. We were receiving packages in growing quantities from our sister Sara in the Land. These permitted us to support our dear ones in the internment camps, as well as easing our own situation. These packages contained clothing, thread, soap, tea and coffee – all items that could not be purchased with gold.

We had good fortune and we were able to obtain butter and honey. We also obtained onions, garlic and tobacco in necessary quantities. Our sisters brought the packages to Soloneshnoye or to Biysk, and they sent them by mail.


The Struggle for Existence

In the winter of 1944, I was transferred to the main office of the central farm as a statistical bookkeeper, and finally as a replacement for the chief bookkeeper. We received a large dwelling. The connection with Biysk was relatively easy, and our sovkhoz had three trucks. The trip in them took eight hours, whereas it would have taken three days by horse. I was close to the upper class of the sovkhoz, and I was able to obtain all types of favors. Miriam and Rachel worked in cleaning hides, sawing wood and clearing snow. In the summer, Miriam was appointed as a shepherd. Despite her fear, she went out to the sheep pasture, a distance of five kilometers from home. She would sound a bell to scare away the wolves. As she worked she would collect twigs for firewood, and she would return home in the evening with a load of wood on her shoulders.

The director later appointed her as the central cashier. Rachel continued on with the farm work. This enabled her to have some free time on occasion and travel to Biysk in order to send packages. She was our “foreign minister”.

Leah and mother were occupied with housework: caring for the four children, cooking, and laundry. In addition they tended to the cow, the chickens and the vegetable garden of the size of four dunams. The work in the garden was Mother's duty, and she did it with diligence, love and success. The carrots, beets and onions were first class. Aside from this, we had a potato field on the mountain slope, a distance of two kilometers from the farm. I would turn over the ground for two weeks during the month of May – before and after work, and on the day of rest. My sisters came to assist me. This was backbreaking work, but fulfilling, for the field supplied us with potatoes for the winter season. In the final months of the winter, when the supply diminished, I was forced to travel to the town of Solonovka, approximately 35 kilometers away in order to purchase approximately 300 kilograms of potatoes for food and planting, in return for various belongings. The negotiations would last for hours, for we had to go to many houses in order to obtain the necessary quantities. At this time, we would also purchase tobacco, and sometimes also wheat.


I Almost Lost my Life

On one such journey I almost lost my life. I traveled with a Russian refugee from Leningrad. The cold was more than minus 40 degrees. We reached the forest and went to sleep in the guesthouse of the sovkhoz. The negotiations lasted until the afternoon. We set out on our return journey. We wound our way atop the mountain on foot with a sleigh laden with 250 kilograms of wheat. The cold increased, burned our faces and made breathing difficult. We met a caravan that was passing near us; not in the set direction, but rather toward the higher altitudes of the mountain. They called and gestured to us from afar, but we did not understand anything and continued onward. We journeyed some distance, and suddenly before us was a flood of water and snow, and the path disappeared. We tried to cross the obstacle, but the sleigh sunk deeper and deeper. The horse escaped from the harness. We remained immersed in water, snow and fierce cold. I did not lose consciousness. From the sleigh, I jumped onto the horse from behind and attempted to place him back in the harness. However, the horse balked at the harness and fell into the water. My felt boots filled with water. The situation became serious. We had to rush, to leave behind the sleigh, to leave the water on the back of the horse and hurry to an inhabited place, for there was danger that my feet would freeze. I poured out the water from my boots, but they remained damp. He rode on the horse and I went by foot in order to warm up. Among the clefts of rock we found a broken and abandoned house. We collected twigs and lit the furnace, but it did not help. The cold worsened and I felt that my boots were frozen. We continued in the direction of the sovkhoz, a distance of seven kilometers. The journey was difficult, and the snow reached a height of a half meter. I moved with all my might. The lenses of my glasses were covered with mist inside and with snow on the outside, and I followed after the horse and its rider with difficulty. The Russian offered me the horse, but my instincts told me not to rest and to continue to move.

After a two hour journey, with my boots turned to pillars of ice and being barely able to feel my feet, I notice a light flickering in a window from afar. Here was the awaited settlement! We were saved! I called to the Russian. We entered the house and I called to mistress of the house, whom I knew: “Oksania, save me! My feet are frozen!” Her brother, a strong, aging man, advised me to lie beneath the burning furnace. He put my feet inside in order to melt the boots. It was only after a half an hour that I was able to remove the boots. I was fortunate, for only two toes of my right foot were still frozen. I scrubbed them with cold water. I was unable to sleep due to the great sensitivity and pain in my toes. I groaned silently. The gentile also did not sleep, for he was concerned that the wheat would disappear. As for me, my sole interest was about my frozen toes.

The owner of the house went out with us early in the morning in order to help free the sleigh. We equipped ourselves with axes and poles. When we reached the place, we found a frozen pond, sparkling with colors in the first rays of sunlight; however we did not see the sleigh. Suddenly we saw something sticking out of the ice. This was the front, high part of the sleigh. We were encouraged. We cut the ice with axes and dug out the sacks of wheat. We dragged the sacks to a dry place. We freed the sleigh with the help of ropes. We loaded the sacks, harnessed up, and continued on our journey. After this event I was laid up for a month. The medic tended to me with dedication and later I was able to resume my work.


Concern for Fodder and Fire Wood

Good news began to come from the fronts, which kindled the hope for liberation and return from where we came. The motto on the internal front was “to work harder” for the soldiers on the front. Aside from the office work, we also had to work in the fields, to prepare animal feed, fodder and silage for the herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. We went out to work with three wagons hitched to horses, and collected the fodder into piles. We would return home at around noon. During that season, there was a great deal of rain on the Altai Mountains. We needed to make use of the clear days. When I would urge the girls to arise from their rest and return to work, they would sing me the following ditty: “Witnesses from Above / the rain and precipitation / enough to soak everything / and we will be free from work.” However, when they worked, they worked diligently.

I also had to concern myself with fodder for our cow. I did this on my days of rest. I would go out with a sickle to cut the soft grass. My sisters would go out to help me collect the fodder.

We also had to assist in bringing in the harvest in the autumn. To do this, we would go out to the farms for a week and sleep in the fields. As winter approached we had to prepare reserves of wood. If you got an ox or a horse on the day of rest, you could collect only enough for two weeks. However it was not always possible to obtain these animals and sleighs, despite the will to assist. The weather was also not always appropriate, for there was great cold and snowstorms. This was a battle for existence. You would go out in the morning and return at night frozen, tired and hungry, but with a sense of satisfaction as you looked at the sleigh laden with birch wood – fuel for two weeks.

We had to ascend the summit of the mountain, clear the snow near the trees, and use the axe. However, the first blow would not penetrate on account of the cold. Slowly we would overcome the tall birch. I would load the branches with their leaves on the sleigh. The foliage dragging behind served as a brake during the descent from the mountain. Below we would cut the branches, saw the trunk into short blocks, and tie them to the sleigh with ropes. I would walk on foot, for the cold penetrated the bones. At times the load would overturn along the way, and we would have to reload everything. This was my lot and fate for days and years.


The Difference Between the Russian and Jewish Mentality

At times I pondered the difference between the Russian and Jewish mentality. The men were at the front, and who knew if they were still alive. At home there was want and backbreaking work – so what reasons were there to rejoice?! The Jew in this situation was immersed in worry and agony. When we arrived we purchased a bottle of fine wine that we found in the store. My sisters hid it away for the day of the liberation of Berl or Yosef. The Russian women behaved otherwise. Almost every two weeks some mistress arranged a celebration and invited guests. For days before, she would prepare beer from honey and hops. There would be small portions of food, but the drink was aplenty, and the party was accompanied by song and dance until dawn. There were times when we prepared the fodder for our private cows together according to the timing of the cycle from one party to the next. With the passage of time I began to understand them: life was difficult, there were many worries, and one needed to give salvation to the soul.

On the day when the chairman of the economic cooperative would return from Biysk with a large barrel of liquor, which happened no more than once every three months, the saleswoman would arrange a party. I was always among the guests. The saleswoman had stocks of white flour, meat and butter, and we would eat to our fill, since we were generally always hungry. They would replace the bottles of liquor that were taken from the barrel with water.


We Also Drank

At the end of 1942, Avraham Jochovsky was transferred from Parshchinka to Solonovka, and after that to the city of Biysk. Only Yochel Chernman remained in the place, childless and forlorn. She devoted all of her energy to collecting food in order to send it to Shmuel who was imprisoned in the Reshety internment camp. She would carry the packages on her shoulders to the post office in the town of Soloneshnoye, a distance of 35 kilometers through winding upgrades in the mountains. She would tarry with us for rest. I tried to convince her to take care of her health, but she did not listen to me. She weakened in 1944 and moved to us in order to get medical assistance. She took ill in the spring of 1945. We cared for her for more than a month. The women Chait, Levi and Yaffa from Wilkomir assisted us. We arranged a rotation to stay with her during the nights, but it did not help. She died, and we buried her in the Russian cemetery in the town of Karpovo. Shmuel Chernman was freed from the internment camp and came to us. He stayed with us for about a week, received the “inheritance” left to him by his late wife Yochel, and moved to Biysk. He got married there, got a job, and remains there to this day.

In January 1946 we received a telegram that Yosef Dushnitzky, the husband of my sister Rachel, was freed from his internment camp. The joy in our house cannot be described. He arrived emaciated and pale, but he recovered. The director wanted to appoint him as an official in the office, but he refused and went to work in a smithy. We invited guests, and finished off together the bottle of wine that we had saved for this purpose from 1941.

The issue of sending packages troubled us greatly, with the concern for a permit and travel to Biysk. However, in February 1945, Leah received a permit and moved with her daughter Uza to Biysk. From that time, it became easier for us to send packages.


Time and Emotions Did their Work

In the winter of 1941, refugees who evacuated Leningrad and Moscow came to us in the sovkhoz. Among them there were two young, educated women with children. One of them, Galina Michaelova, was appointed as my office assistant. I will admit that the local women were not attractive to my heart. They lost their femininity because of the difficult work. In addition, they were simple, with a low, provincial level of intelligence. Suddenly an intelligent, young, pleasant woman appeared before me, with bright eyes and hair, cute dimples and a pleasant smile…

At first, of course, we maintained a business relationship. It was appropriate to keep my distance. However time and emotions did their work: a 35 year old bachelor falls in love like a young man! A cautious approach, a light caress, and many compliments. A quick kiss. She became friendly with my sisters and family. It was pleasant to chat with her. She understood our spirit. Her mother remained in Moscow. Her husband, an engineer, was in the Kolima region of Siberia. Because of his legal status, she did not say whether or not he had been sent to hard labor. She corresponded only with her mother.

With the passage of time we became further connected with intimate relationships. She remained in my place as the director of accounting when I moved to work in the central farm. Every Saturday after work I would walk by foot through the mountain paths, a distance of 5 kilometers, to visit my beloved. I would pick aromatic flowers along the way and give them to the mistress of the house, who accepted them with thanks and love. Galina had a sweet voice. She would sing folk songs, and she accompanied her songs with the guitar. She tried to make my day of rest pleasant with drink, food, and an abundance of expressions of love.


The Bright Star Disappeared

In 1944, a command was issued that all of the residents of Moscow must return to their places by a specific date. Otherwise, they would lose their rights of residency there. She had a dilemma, to remain in the remote mountains according to the pull of her heart, or to return to the capital city according to healthy logic. The push to return came from my advice. She corresponded with me for years. I knew her as a talented musician. Her songs that were dedicated to me were songs of truth and earnestness, and every letter was a virtual hymn. In 1947 I received a telegram from her from Novosibirsk in which she stated that she was traveling to Kolima and wanted to see me very much. She would be waiting in the train station. This was something impossible: to receive a leave from work, a permit, and transportation, would take more than a week. In the meantime, I would miss the train. With this, the contact was severed. A bright star had appeared suddenly in my sky in the darkness of my night, and disappeared into the horizon…

In the summer of 1944, after the liberation of Kovno, my sister Sara in the Land received a letter from Tzvi Levin, who was the sole survivor of his entire family. He was of course interested in the fate of Miriam, the children and the rest of the family. In the subsequent letters he wrote that he had received a position as the fuel director in Kovno. His supervisor was Eliezer Kagan from Jonava. Tzvi wanted to come to us to take Miriam and the children with him. However fate was otherwise. One dark night they knocked on his door, conducted a search, arrested him, and sent him to far off Ural. We waited in vain for letters. After some time they wrote to us that he was imprisoned, and they did not know way. A dark melancholy overtook the residents of our house and the question tormented us: “Why, to where, and for what?!” Finally, after a few months, the awaited letter arrived from Tzvi. He said that he was in the coal mines in the Sverdlovsk region and was waiting to be freed. He requested food packages.


The War Ended

It was Sunday morning, May 10, 1945. I traveled to cut branches to make a fence around our vegetable garden. The twigs of the old fence were used for firewood. I wound my way behind the wagon, immersed in thoughts. Suddenly I heard the shouting of a woman from among the rocks.

“What is it, miss?” my voice echoed through the mountains.

“I have just heard that the war ended,” she shouted to me with an emotional voice.

Thus is it was in the far off mountains. Without a telephone or a radio, news traveled with the speed of lightning. I hastened back to inform the community and my family of this news. On the farm there was tumult and emotion. People left work and gathered together. I tarried a bit and returned to my journey.

On the journey I was engrossed in all types of visions: we were liberated, and we could go home. Those who were imprisoned in internment camps would follow behind us. We are again in Jonava and Kovno. How good and pleasant will it be for brethren to dwell together. But all of this was a dream… while awake. We later had reason to sense that it was not the time to engage in false hope.

In the evening, when I returned home, the joy and exultation was great. Honey and liquor were placed on the table. We gathered together, drank, sang and danced.

After the war, the supervision by the N.K.V.D. became more intense. Was it decreed upon us that we must remain in this place for eternity?

Joy came to our house in April 1947. Tzvi Levin was liberated and came to us – pale and emaciated, but healthy and whole. Mother and his wife Miriam took good care of him, so that he would return to his strength and recover from the suffering of the internment camp. He arrived on an official passport and was permitted to travel anywhere he wanted, but his wife and children were not allowed to leave the region. We found out that the N.K.V.D. was going to confiscate our passports, and we made sure to thwart them. We spoke to acquaintances who transported him that very evening – the day before the N.K.V.D. was to come – to the town of Solonovky, 35 kilometers away. From there he traveled by truck to Biysk, and from there by train to Moscow and Vilna.


My Family Members Leave Me

On June 15, 1947, two months after Tzvi's liberation, we once again had good news. Berl Segalovsky returned to his wife Leah and her daughter Uza in Biysk after six years of backbreaking labor in the taiga of the Krasnoyarsk Region. He also came to us and told us that he survived thanks to the food packages that we provided him. He assisted us in preparing fodder for our cow. He stayed with us for about a month and then decided to return to Biysk and from there to Vilna. After he would establish himself he would bring his wife and daughter. In September of that year I confided with Director Vardnikov, who was a proper man, that he should allow me to transfer my mother to Biysk to be with her daughter Leah, where her life would be easier, even without an official permit from the N.K.V.D. He gave me his agreement. On account of the rain that began to fall, the trucks only reached the Madovdivka Farm. I was forced to seat her on a calf and transport her there through mountains and mud. This was her final journey of her wanderings, and she was 75 years old. From Madovdivka, they took her straight to Biysk by truck.

That autumn, Leah secretly obtained train tickets without her neighbors knowing, and she left Biysk and the Altai Krai permanently along with her daughter and mother. Then came the turn of Miriam and her children. She requested permission from the N.K.V.D. to move to Biysk. The pretext was the education of her son. The requested permit arrived. I bid farewell to Miriam and her children. I was like a father to them during the war. From Biysk they set out directly to Vilna. Rachel and her family also went there from Novosibirsk.


I Remained Alone – But Not Alone

I was the only one left of all the Jonavers in the exile in the Soloneshnoye region of the Altai Mountains. I was connected to family life – a wife, without the bonds of a marriage ceremony. After Galina Michaelova of Moscow left the sovkhoz, other women attempted to take her place. Among them, Zoya Konstantinova Gromka of Leningrad stood out. She was 27 years old with an eight year old child. Her husband, an army captain on the front, married another woman and cut off contact with her. Zoya moved to my house and assisted me in conducting our private farm: Burka the cow, the ducks, the chickens and the vegetable garden.

In 1948, I was appointed as the accounting supervisor of 40 kolkhozes, and we had to move to the central town. My salary was lower than that in the sovkhoz, where I also had received all types of provisions. Here, I was like a synagogue mouse…[1]

I wandered from one kolkhoz to the next, most of the time by vehicle, but sometimes on foot, a distance of 40 kilometers. I worked in that position for two years. I saw the people of the kolkhozes at work, in their houses, and in their times of joy. I knew that their lives were not easy at all. As a result of this, they related to their work with indifference. After all the inspections, I reported the findings to the director of the kolkhoz. A general meeting would then be called, and I, Yitzchak the son of David, preached words of reproof to the local Ivans.

I returned to my office after each inspection. Zoya, who worked as a secretary in the financial office of the director of the region, would type my report with a typewriter. It would then be discussed by the local council.

In the months of August and September I was busy, along with other officials, in the preparation of fodder for the horses that were owned by our office. We would put up huts out of branches and straw, similar to tents. We lived in them. We cut the grass with sickles. I would cut for our own cow at night until midnight, and also in the morning. In addition, we had to work at various communal endeavors, such as removing the ice from the channel that brought water to the hydroelectric plant, so that there would be no interruption of the flow of electricity.

I was dismissed from my job in 1950. I was satisfied with this, for I was tired of the sleeping over, the journeys and the walking to strange places on snowy, muddy and icy days and during snowstorms, when the river water rose and I could only cross by lying on my horse who swam across the water, with the danger that we might be swept away by the current.

Later I found out that that the first secretary of the party in the region was opposed that I – the spoiler of rights and from the bourgeois class – should be the inspector of kolkhozes and find out too much about what was doing with them and what their situation was, which was evident at every inspection.


New Places of Work

I was accepted as the accounting director of the restaurant of the consumers' union. My economic situation improved. My salary increased significantly, for the restaurant exceeded its plans by 150% each month, and we received gratuities. I was able to receive my food provisions and eat at low prices.

Before that there were many thefts. There was no such event throughout the two years that I worked there. I conducted audits. I spoke earnestly to the staff, urging them to fulfill their duties and thereby profit. Indeed thus it was. Their salary increased, and they were satisfied. The sudden inspections of the N.K.V.D. were in vain. From that time, they would send me out for an inspection at any incidence of corruption in the region. Since I had worked in the sovkhoz for seven years, it was not hard for me to uncover any cunning tactics. Workers of the sovkhoz, who were jealous of the drunks and thieves, would come to my assistance and provide me with information. The source of the theft was the excess that was hoarded by the keepers of the warehouses. They would take that to the black market.

At the end of 1952, I was appointed as chief accounting director of the new tractor station in the town of Lyutayevo, approximately 40 kilometers from the regional town along the way to Biysk. This was during the year that Khrushchev decided the scope of labor.

At that time, the N.K.V.D. began to follow us more closely, because no small number of people like us uprooted themselves from their places of exile and escaped back to Lithuania. Among them were my mother and sisters. Therefore I wrote to my family in an indirect manner. They searched after them in Vilna, and Leah was imprisoned twice. Finally they became disgusted with the entire matter, and they moved to the city of Frunze in Kirgizia: the Levin, Dushnitzky and Segalovsky families – 11 souls – led by mother. All of this was made possible by the assistance that was provided to us by our sister Sara in Israel


I Went a Bit Further Afield

We had to move to the designated location, Lyutayevo, before the October holiday. We loaded our belongings and the cow on a truck. Zoya was next to the driver and I was on top. We set out on the journey in the snow and cold. We arrived at midnight. The head of the office set us up in our dwelling. After about a month we moved to a new office, whose walls and floor were full of cracks due to the hasty construction. Wind would blow through the cracks. Zoya got a cold and a cough, but she continued to work in order to make up the balance sheet. I had to travel to the city of Barnaul and give it over to the chief director of 200 tractor stations in the Altai Krai. A small crack was opened for me, and I began to go a bit further afield.

I found out about the events of the world from the following newspapers: the Altai Truth, Pravda, and Izvestia. From them I found out about the War of Independence and the State of Israel. The articles were brief, but supportive of Israel.

I digested the news. I did not have anyone with whom to discuss the events. I would reconstruct them in my mind in my bed at night.

My first stop in Biysk was at the home of our fellow native, Avraham Jochovsky. At night I knocked on his door, which was locked with seven locks. The joy of our meeting was great. After a meal and glasses of liquor, we sat and chatted until dawn. The topic was the Land of Israel. He knew much more than I.

I was a regular guest of the Abramovich family in Barnaul. There, I would listen to the radio and hear the news from Jews about the Jewish State.

When I returned, I was occupied and immersed in the small town reality, with its problems that had become my problems. There was no small number of negative characters who came to the region among the volunteers. Some squandered the money that they had received in advance and attempted to escape. I had an additional job – to pursue the wanderers and initiate legal proceedings to have the money returned.

As time went on, they built a two room house for me. The economic conditions improved. I received a salary of 1,200 rubles and Zoya received 600 rubles. We continued to maintain our own auxiliary farm. We would prepare fodder and bring it with a tractor.

The year was 1953, the year of the Doctors' Plot[2]. The atmosphere was very tense and oppressive. Many people were fired from their jobs at that time. I do not know to this day how I succeeded in retaining my high position.

Yisrael Yaakov Pagir


Visit to Frunze

In 1954 I took a two month leave and received permission to travel to Frunze to visit my mother and sisters. I traveled with Zoya. This was not an easy journey at all. We traveled by truck and trains. We sat on our suitcases for about ten hours until we found a place in the cargo cars of the train, which were nicknamed “the joyful train” by people. Many youth were traveling on it. The doors of the cars were open. They sat with their feet outside and sang songs accompanied by accordions and mandolins. Then we transferred to another train and arrived in Frunze at midnight. Berl Segalovsky, Tzvi Levin and Yosef Dushnitzky with their children greeted us. The joy was great. The city was adorned with greenery. We stopped next to a wooden house with electric lights, with a large apple orchard beside it. Everything seemed to me like a summer dream. There was Mother; there were my sisters with their sons and daughters whom I had cared for. All of them greeted me with great warmth.

We spent a month in Frunze. We walked through its streets. We visited its markets that were full of fruit, vegetables, watermelons and food items about which we could only dream in Siberia.

(Continued on page 273)

[Page 272]

The first letter that arrived from Tzvi Levin after the liberation of Kovno by the Russians (abridged).

Kovno, August 19, 1944

I do not know how to begin. I lack words. From all of our large family only I remain… Some perished in the ghetto and others were hauled to Germany. I survived by a miracle.

I found out five months ago that the Gestapo was plotting to arrest me because I was involved with smuggling young Jews to partisan units in the forests of the area. I succeeded in escaping from the ghetto, and I hid with farmers in the villages of the region as well as in Kovno.

It is a sufficiently gloomy picture. Of the 38,000 Jews who were concentrated in the Kovno Ghetto, only about 500 survived. The ghetto was burnt and bombed by the Nazis.

Now, about my last hope, what is the fate of Miriam and my two children? If they are alive, you certainly have contact with them. Please tell me the entire truth, good or bad.

Please answer quickly


Hirsch Levin


The story of the photocopy:

… My first visit in the Land was with my childhood friend Shimon Zak in Jerusalem.
During the conversation he turned to me and said:
“Did you find the picture of the opening of the University which was hanging on the wall of your room in Jonava?”

“No, and no. Everything was lost.”

“After 40 years from the founding of the University, I saw that exact picture in a photographer store window display on Ben Yehuda Street.”

We went there.

The photographer showed us two pictures and said.

“My father took this picture. I will not give up the large picture under any circumstances, but you can have the small one.”
I paid some money and took it as a souvenir.

And here it is before you.

Yitzchak B. is noted in the center of the photograph *

* See the top of page 275




The first letter of Yitzchak Burstein from Siberia to his sister Sara in Israel (abridged)


August 10, 1941
Komsomolsk Farm (Siberia)

To my dear ones.

We reached here on July 10. We left Jonava on a “special train” on June 17. With me are Mother, Leah and her daughter Uza. We are healthy and working. Father was ill and remained at home. Dov Segalovsky along with other men traveled on a different train in a different direction. Along with him were Aryeh and Tzvi Wolfovich, Avraham Jochovsky, Nissan Goldshmidt and Shmuel Chernman. Rachel and Yosef Dushnitzky were “taken” from Jonava on June 14. I went to their house in the evening and found it closed. Miriam Levin and her children apparently remained in Kovno. We are located 130 kilometers from the train station of the city of Biysk. We and almost all of the Jonavers are located in the Karpova Sovkhoz. These include: Batya Goldshmidt (nee Perevoznik), Malka Jochovsky, Yochel Chernman, Mordechai, Bunia, Teibl and Meir Wolfovich, and Masha Namiot, the wife of Tzvi Wolfovich.

… I am concerned that Father and perhaps Miriam and her children remained under Nazi rule… I understand that neither you nor we can get in touch with Father. We will wait until Hitler is defeated at the end of the war.

Your brother Yitzchak

Jonavers in Vilna and in the Land. In Vilna – taking leave of Yitzchak Burstein:
Chaya Leah Druker (Monosevich), Shlomo Druker, Shlomo Ber Meirovich, Leizer Glazer, David Friedman and his wife, Avraham Jochovsky, Batya Namiot, Yitzchak, the wife of Shlomo Ber, Rivka Simchovich, Batya Goldshmidt-Perevoznik, Malka Jochovsky

In the Land at the wedding of the daughter of Nachum Blumberg



The First postcard that arrived in the Land from Miriam Levin-Burstein from Siberia


Realshoz, October 15, 1941
To my dear ones:

I am with my children Shlomo and Yehoshua in a settlement for wood-chopping in the Altai forests, Troitsky region. We are healthy and well. I have not seen Tzvi for more than a year, since he was imprisoned, and there is no news from him. Yitzchak and Leah with her family were also deported, but we do not know where they are. Rachel and her family were also deported. Father remains ill in Jonava. Our friend “Meistans” we do not see (Editor: an innuendo that there is no meat). “Fiana” (that is milk) we receive on occasion.

Please let me know the address of family members if you know them.

Peace to you
Your sister Miriam

[Page 273][3]

We liked Frunze. We returned to our place and requested a permit to move to Frunze. In October 1955, we set out on a journey in a truck belonging to the tractor station.


Farewell to the Altai Mountains

When the truck ascended the final snowy peak, before gliding down to the desert, I asked the driver to stop. I went out and shouted out in a strong low voice:

“Farewell to you, Altai Mountains! Thank you for the bad and the good!”
After 15 years of ascending and descending the Altai Mountains I remained alive, healthy and whole, and I succeeded in reuniting with my family – that is why I felt the duty to do what I did.

We remained in Biysk for two days with Jochovsky and met Chernman, who in the interim had remarried.

From there we traveled to Barnaul. We stayed with the Wolfovich family. The mistress of the house Teibl was no longer alive, but I found a Jonavan atmosphere. We shared memories with Leiba, Mordechai and Bunia.

We finally arrived in Frunze. Mother had obtained for us a room with a kitchenette, 12 square meters in area. I found work in the Ministry of Building, and continued to work there for approximately ten years.


The Voice of Israel and the Voice of Comfort

Here I heard for the first time, after 15 years, Kol Yisrael (the Israel radio station) in Yiddish. This was at 8:00 p.m.. On most days I went into my mother's room at 9:00 p.m., set the channel, and listened to the voice of our homeland for 15 minutes. In this manner I absorbed the news of Israel every evening for ten years. In May 1964, my sister Sara in Israel subscribed me to “Kol Haam”, which was permitted to be distributed in Russia until the Six Day War. Communism disseminated in the Hebrew Language was less untouchable for me. I also read between the lines. The newspaper broadened my knowledge of the Hebrew Language.

Nechama Lifschitz came to Frunze. I purchased a ticket and went to listen to Yiddish folksongs in the theater after a hiatus of 15 years. I will never forget that evening. When I saw the hall full of Jews applauding enthusiastically, the impression on me was very great. I wept. I was unable to stem the tears. The second time she came to us she was brazen enough to sing a Hebrew song. The thunderous applause roared through the air for several minutes.


Acclimatizing to Frunze

There were approximately 5,000 Jews in Frunze at the time, including approximately 30 families from Lithuania. There was also a small synagogue in a residential dwelling. After my mother passed away in 1964 I got to know almost all of the worshippers, since I went twice a day for 11 months to say Kaddish.

I must admit that anyone who wished to go to worship or to circumcise his son was not bothered by the Soviet authorities. Nevertheless, I must also state that the Star of David that was hanging at the entrance of the courtyard of the House of Worship suddenly disappeared, and in 1964, the recitation of “Next Year in Jerusalem” after Yom Kippur ceased in accordance with a directive from the government authorities for religious matters. Apparently this was in reaction to the wave of national awakening of the Jews.

I became acclimatized to Frunze. I had a fruit garden that required care. Berl Segalovsky and I dedicated each Sunday, the official day of rest, to that end. We were not short of firewood. We also plastered our own walls. It was impossible to hire professionals for such work due to our low salaries.

The three families from Jonava – Burstein, Segalovsky and Levin – lived as neighbors, with Mother at the head. On Sabbath eves we would sit at the table, covered with a white tablecloth, adorned with candles. I would recite Kiddush in father's tune – of course with aberrations and dissonance.

In the winter of 1957, my wife's son, who concluded his studies, arrived from Novosibirsk with his wife and stayed with us. We lived together in a 12 square meter room: we on the bed and they on the floor. In 1960 I enlarged the dwelling to 20 square meters. I knocked down the wall with my own hands, and dug the excavation and poured the foundation myself. Similarly, I did all the painting and glasswork. I was assisted by other builders and by a friend for other work. I received the building materials from the ministry for a cheap price.


Family Meeting

Sara came to Moscow in the summer of 1963 in order to visit Mother and the family. She was not permitted to travel to Frunze. We had no choice but to go to her in Moscow. I arrived by airplane and was put up with acquaintances. Mother and my sisters traveled by train for three exhausting days through the Kazakhstan desert (“The Desert of Famine”) in excruciating heat. I rented a large room in a national hotel in the suburbs for them. I met my sister, and we traveled by taxi to meet the rest of the family in their hotel. My sister Rachel and her daughter also came from Kovno for the family gathering.

We remained in Moscow for a week. We went every evening to mother in the hotel, ate together and discussed memories. The day of parting arrived. Mother wept silently, as if she suspected that this was her final meeting with Sara. We returned to Frunze by airplane – a five hour flight. This was mother's last journey. She died in May 1964. A few days before her death she adjured me to attempt to leave Russia, to go to the Land and to gather together all of the members of the family.


Parting from my Friends and from my Girlfriend

The day arrived, November 11, 1965, and I was on a railway car from Frunze to Vilna, on my way to the Land. All of the members of the family from Frunze, my girlfriend Zoya, her son Boris with his wife and daughter, friends and acquaintances – all came to see me off. My sister Miriam was with me in the train. She accompanied me to Vilna. Many hoped to see me again in the Land. My girlfriend Zoya wept bitterly, for this parting would be forever. After twenty years she remained alone, broken and ill. She was a proud and upright woman. She did not want to burden me, for this contradicted her personality. Members of my family and Zoya accompanied me to the nearby station. There were warm kisses, and the train departed.

[Page 275]

Pictures of my Life Passed Before Me

I lay on my bed on the upper berth and immersed myself in thoughts. Pictures of the film of my life passed before my eyes: My native village of Kaplice, at the Carlebach Gymnasium in Kovno. Classes were conducted in German, but Hebrew studies occupied many hours. Rabbi Yudel “The Yellow”, who knew the entire Gemara clearly, taught me various sections of it. The days of the German occupation – when I received Russian lessons from the teacher Libshin. I concluded the gymnasium in 1922, at the age of 17 and a half. We moved to Jonava. My communal activities were cut off in 1923 when I was accepted as a student at the upper level school in Vienna. There as well I was active in the Zionist Hechaver student organization, and was later appointed as secretary of the organization. (The chairman was Binyamin Aktzin, today the rector of the University of Haifa.) In 1925 I was among the three delegates who were selected by the organization to participate in the opening ceremonies of the [Hebrew] University in Jerusalem in 1925. I visited the Nahalel in the valley, which had been settled very shortly before, with its residents living in bunks; the winepress of Rishon Letzion where I was treated with cellared wine; I spent an evening in the Casino nightclub in tiny Tel Aviv, whose foundations are embedded in the sea.

Then there was the festive celebration, conducted with great emotion: Before my eyes were the great ones and spiritual leaders of the nation (see the photo after page 272).

I was once again in Jonava. I continued my variegated activities, and I assisted Father in his business.

I fell in love with Rosa Kagan, the beautiful brunette with modest “sex appeal”, a scion of a good family and a cultured girl. Only a tremor in the corner of her upper lip gave expression to her hidden desires, to the modest beginning of motion on the volcano. I courted her for two years. The only thing that was lacking was a formal engagement. Suddenly events took their course – and we parted. We remained friends. My heart always aches for the fact that she did not succeed in her life, by going after the fiancé of her youth.

I was also unlucky. Out of my great despair I fell into the arms of a married woman, a demonic woman with blue eyes, with an overflowing and immodest sex drive, lacking discreteness. I was attracted to her because there were no other options, based on the adage “and she will rule over you”. Her family life was stormy. I attempted to calm her with intimate relations, and I spoke to her heart for her to desist, but she did what she wanted. After some time she again snared me with her spread-out spider web. This stolen love lasted for ten years. Stolen waters might become sweet. The end of this era came only at the time of the arrival of the Russians…

How pleasant it is to remember events of childhood, youth, and young adulthood!


I Again Boarded the Train

The train arrived in Vilna. Miriam and I stayed with our sister Leah. I met the survivors of Jonava, and spent a week with my sister Rachel in Kovno. When I returned, the Jonavers arranged a farewell party for me at the home of Mrs. Namiot. Leizka the Yellow turned to me and said:

“Yitzchak, do you remember when I, as a Comsomol member in Jonava, went to Kovno in order to send you to exile in Siberia? This time I will accompany you and seat you in a train that will take you to the Land. He said it and did it. The next evening, at the time of parting at the train station, he came to the fore from the side, grabbed me in his strong arms, and brought me up to the train. The train was taking me and Shlomo Levin, the son of my sister Miriam, to Minsk. From there I would go to Moscow on my own. After much toil, which is a story in its own right, I ascended the threshold of the Embassy of Israel. Behold, I was in the lobby of the embassy. Nobody was there. On the small table there was an abundance of periodicals and brochures. Everything was in Hebrew. Was this a dream or reality? I forgot the reason that I had came and immersed myself in reading. Nobody came. There was a bizarre quiet.

I knocked on one of the doors and entered. An embassy employee greeted me and asked me to sit down. He clarified for me that the address of the embassy was written in my passport. He advised me to fly by airplane but I preferred to travel to Warsaw by train, and then to go to Vienna via Czechoslovakia. On December 23, [1965] I arrived in Lod on an El Al airplane.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Similar to the English expression, “poor as a church mouse”. Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors'_plot Return
  3. Page 273 is missing in the NYPL scans (Page 275 was repeated twice in error). Return


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