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Babushka Khaya's letter

Translated from Russian by Moshe Porat Perlman

Edited by Judy Montel

This letter was found among some family papers in Paris on November 2001.

It was just after the funeral of Jose, my sister Sonia's husband. We were turning the pages of the photo albums. Among the old pictures and writings we found two remarkable family documents. The first was the late Jose's father's handwritten translation from Hebrew into French of a speech he had heard at a Volozhin memorial event in Tel-Aviv. The second was a beautiful letter written in a good Russian handwriting by our babushka Khaya. We were excited to read it and the names we recalled vaguely came suddenly to life.

This is a fragment of Jewish life in our grandmother's family – loving words from the old world that no longer exists . We thought it would be interesting to others with roots in Volozhin .

Babushka Khaya-Reeva[1] wrote it in Volozhin to her children in France on April 22nd 1941, exactly two months prior to the German invasion into the Soviet Union, one year after her daughter Etia's family was expelled to Siberia and some 10 months after the Germans occupied Paris. All Grandma Khaya's sons and daughter families (Osher, Izia and Zina)[2] who lived in France had probably already left Paris at this time.

Scanned fragment of the original letter


Dear children! I received your letter-dated 22/III. I am happy to learn that you are in good health. I would like to know if you have to buy garments and underwear to replace all you had left in Paris. Papa (Father) was with me only a couple of days during Passover.

Malka, Yossif's mother was also with us. She spent this winter in Moscow at her daughter Fania's house. She came here to liquidate her property on the holiday eve. Soon she would return to Moscow, not to much desiring it. Poor Malka I have pity for her. Yania[3], her widowed son in law got married to Brokhke Perski, Velvl Shmuel's sister in law. As for her grand children, Yani's two sons: Monia[4] remains with him, Dania is studying in Minsk Conservatorium. He married a girl from Bobroysk recently; She's a Pianist too. That's the story of shviguer Malka and her family.

Dear Osher I'm reading your letter again and again. I'm searching a piece of hope to see all of you again. It would be for us, old people a comfort, but to our sorrow, its accomplishment seems to be very far. Until then we should be satisfied with your letters.

I'm glad that Daliusha is growing up becoming tall like Osher and that Susanochka develops very fine. Please send us her picture. Motia, in his letter, is asking for it too.

I'm receiving letters from Etia[5]. Her children too are adding a couple of sentences. I would send you some letters, but they are written in Yiddish and they may not reach you. Monitshka[6] writes very fine letters in Russian, Polish and Yiddish. Those letters are highly praised by his comrades in Volozhin. If he had a chance to continue his studies he would certainly succeed and arrive far away, but unfortunately his fate turned otherwise. Etia writes that he's a devoted son.

Zinotshka, you're asking about what we send them. Beginning from flour, fats, sugar to the last details including money too. Poor Etia, she is so unfortunate, I have no words to describe her painful life. And add to it that she does not know from Yossif[7] anything until now. Reading her letters, the heart becomes flooded with blood, and the sole help we can offer is the posting of parcels.

We receive letters from Motia[8] and Irka. Motia is working 2 weeks on the field and 2 weeks in the kibbutz office.
Izia writes that he's satisfied with his new work He praises his son very much. Rita became pregnant. She is not like French women, and God will help her.

Dear Olinka, we received a letter from your father in Konotope. I'm writing him each year on the Passover eve asking him to go to the graveyard on the day of our daughter Ola's death. He's fulfilling my demand and I'm grateful.

Please, write often and about all. We wish you health and good luck.

Strongly embracing all of you,

Khaya, Your mother,

I'm very glad to read Suzanotshka's regards, written by her little hand. We are thanking her for making happy her Diedushka and Babushka. I kiss her strongly.

Some notes regarding the persons involved background and destiny.

Bierezno 1929: Clockwise: Babushka Khaya Reeva, Monitshka,
Diedushka Eliyahu-Hirsh, Izia, Etia, Motia, Zina, Yossif

Volozhin 1935: Clockwise: Babushka Malka Perlman,
Sonitshka and Monia (Etia's Children) Dania and Monia (Yani's children)

  1. The grand parents Khaya Reeva (born Marshak) and Hirsh Malkin remained in Volozhin after the Germans occupied the town. They were flung into the Ghetto and were murdered at the second mass slaughter near the Volozhin Grave Yard on May 10th 1942. Return

  2. Osher, Zina and Izia Left Paris before the Germans invaded the town. They survived the war under faked names in the not occupied South of France territory. Their families live now in France. Return

  3. Yani Garber was nominated as head of the Volozhin Youdenrat already after the Germans took control of Volozhin. They ordered him to assemble 200 Jews as though to work. Discovering that they had been brought to extermination he asked to be shot together with his congregation members. It was the first mass slaughter in Volozhin on October 28th 1941. Return

  4. Monia, Yani's Son. Was arrested and sent to Goulag by the Soviets. When released, he joined the General Anders unit of the Polish Army. He arrived with his unit in Italy and fell fighting the Germans in the Monte Cassino battle in 1944. He was 22 years old. Return

  5. Etia , The Malkins' eldest daughter with her two children was “ressetled” by the Soviets into Siberia a month after her husband Yossif was arrested. Return

  6. Etia's son “Monitshka”, was mobilized by the Soviets in Siberia, first into the work-battalions and thereafter into the Red Army as infantry soldier. He finished the war meeting the alien western forces on the Baltic coast near Rostock. Freed from the Soviet Army on May 1946, he undertook his long route to Israel where he arrived on the “Altalena” boat and joined the Israel Army on June 1948. Return

  7. Yossif, Etia's husband was arrested by the Soviets as “Capitalist” in Volozhin on March 1940. He was imprisoned in a Soviet Concentration Camp. He had never returned from the Soviet Goulag. His family had never had any news about him. He was 42 years old. Return

  8. Motia, the Malkins' youngest son with his wife Irka went to Israel as a “Haluts” (pioneer) in 1937. His son Eytan participated as paratrooper officer in the Yom Kippur war. He fell on the battle camp in the Sinai desert on October 1973. He was 32 years old. Return

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