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Rafael Genis

According to the law on restitution we were given back the former premises of the prewar Jewish community. I sold that house and used the money to help poor Jews. Actually, the community is based in my house. I am the bookkeeper. I distribute the sponsors' aid coming from the Joint [18]. We celebrate Sabbath and Jewish holidays. I fulfilled my task: I put the monuments to the perished Jews on the places of their execution. I mostly used my savings for that as well as the money from the sponsors, collected by the relatives of the perished.
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Even though I was almost blind, I worked for many years. I retired in the early 1990s. Though since 1945 I have been getting a pension for the disabled, it is miserable. All those years my wife and I had been going to the places where Jews were executed to commemorate them. I thought of how to mark those places and put the monuments there. Besides, I couldn't feel indifferent towards those Jews, who survived the war, and now are scraping through. I decided to found a Jewish community in Telsiai and went to Vilnius to see the chairman of the United Jewish community of Lithuania, Alperavichus. He supported me. The community was founded in 1993 with me as a chairman.
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Krystyna Budnicka

I think there has been a great improvement here in the last few years. Once the system changed, everything became more above-board and hence more normal.
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Alexandra Ribush

My world view changed bit by bit. By the time perestroika started I was almost completely disappointed in everything we had been taught, in every single dogma that had been imposed on us. When the democratic changes began in this country with Gorbachev [18], I was ready to accept the changes and stopped believing in communism being our bright future. After the country fell apart we at first trusted Gaidar's government reforms and believed that he would be able to do something. Later all those political games began to bore us. I ceased paying attention to them. I simply live today, the moment. I see my friends and relatives though our relations develop in different ways.
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Eva Ryzhevskaya

When in the middle of the 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev [50] declared the new course of the party, perestroika [51], I was delighted by that. I hoped that it would be for the better especially seeing certain changes happening in the country. Freedom of opinion and press appeared. There was no censorship in the mass media. The Iron Curtain [52] fell, after having separated the USSR from the rest of the world for decades. Now we had the opportunity to go abroad, invite foreign guests. During perestroika Jewish life began to revive .Then the pace of perestroika started to decline and life was getting gradually worse. Our skimpy wages were rapidly getting devaluated. The most necessary products were vanishing from stores. Maybe the opponents of perestroika, the former governmental leaders, were doing those things for the people to get perturbed. They succeeded in that. All those things were crowned by the breakup of the USSR. Like many people of my age I regret that. We got used to the fact that all Republics were united and now all of them turned into independent states. [The Soviet Union was made up of 15 Republics (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) up until its disintegration in 1991.]. Economic and spiritual relations were torn. And what did we get in turn? We are separated from each other, and not only by boundaries. Many things had to be changed in the USSR, but there were good things as well. I think I'm not the only one who has such a point of view. Young people are prone to think differently.
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Henrich Kurizkes

I was rather positive about perestroika [55], initiated in the USSR by Mikhail Gorbachev [56] at the beginning. I was hoping that the USSR would become a really free and democratic country, and it looked so at first, but later I realized that these speeches were nothing but the camouflage for lack of action.

During the putsch [57] I followed everything that was going on. An airborne division arrived in Tallinn from Pskov in tanks and Soviet forces filled the town. Only the efforts of our government prevented bloodshed. It was a long trip from Pskov, and the troopers only had rationed food with them. Officers of the division were invited to the restaurant in the TV tower and the waiters were ordered to serve all the food they had available. A government representative went to the dairy where he ordered to deliver yogurts and cheese to the soldiers, and then they couldn't aim their guns at defenseless people. Meanwhile the breakdown of the USSR [in 1991] was announced. The officers of the Pskov division thanked the Estonians for their hospitality and departed to Pskov. Thus, there was no bloodshed.

I was very positive about the independence of Estonia [58]. I remember life in Estonia before it was annexed to the USSR and I knew we would do well. Thank God, my hopes became true. Estonians are very accurate people, and it didn't take long before our life improved. My wife and I were too old to start our own business, but there are good opportunities for younger people.

The Jewish community of Estonia was established during perestroika. This was the first Jewish community in the former Soviet Union. I think our community plays a very important role in the life of Estonian Jews. For eight years, I was Chairman of the Audit Commission of the Jewish community where I put in a lot of effort. At first the Joint [59] assisted us a lot. The Joint resolved all social issues that we faced.

The community provides assistance to the lonely and elderly people. Many of them have lunches in the community, and the community delivers food to those who never leave their homes. Community health workers do cleaning, washing and buy food for these people. These provisions are vitally important to many people.
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Isroel Lempertas

I had worked in the university by 1989, before the outbreak of perestroika. I had defended candidate theses [Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees] [31]. When the independence of Lithuania was restored [32] I confirmed my title. Now I am the doctor of History. I should say I did not accept perestroika at once. It was hard for me to object all those ideas I was sincerely devoted to- the ideas of socialism and communism. Being the nee of Lithuania I understood very well that Moscow was alien in our country. Now I completely agree with the term 'soviet occupation, when it goes about soviet regime. I support the independence of my country, its membership in European Union. I hope that Lithuania will overcome temporary obstacles and become a flourishing European country.
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Dina Kuremaa

First I didn't take perestroika seriously. Then I felt how much easier it was for me to live. Maybe it was harder on me from a materialistic point of view, but I felt free. It was officially allowed to go abroad, correspond with people from different countries, to say unfalteringly what you wish in any company. We had feared that for years. We were afraid to tell a joke, speak our minds on the articles we read on events. We have dreaded that since 1940 and it seems to me that we got so used to that we didn't even notice that we were deprived of liberty.

Estonia was revived during Gorbachev [33]. Jewish life flourished. Our Jewish community of Estonia was founded when he was at power. I think perestroika has brought a lot of positive into our lives. I don't regret the breakup of the Soviet Union and Estonia becoming independent. Frankly speaking, I didn't have a bad life during the Soviet regime. I was lucky to have a good job and team, to have money, have enough to eat, friends - in a word - there was nothing I lacked. I have lived 50 out of my 79 years in Soviet times and I am really used to all conventionalisms and restrictions that I could not even picture that it might be different. I was just used to this life. Estonia regained its independence in 1991 [34]. It's a pity it has not happened earlier. I had a happy childhood in independent Estonia, and I am happy that I spend my old years in a free country.
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Leon Glazer

I remember the fall of communism. To tell the truth I was afraid that something unpleasant might happen to me because I was supposedly a communist. Here's Solidarity, and this and that. And those anti-communist slogans and so on. And I was afraid, that who knew whether they might not take my army pension off me? I was worried about that. Really, that they were going to root out that I'd been a political officer. After all, they wrote in the papers about how political officers were fervent enemies and so on. I was afraid of the beginnings of Solidarity, although there were a few Jews in Solidarity too. And the reaction of the church to Jews, and then all that anti-Jewish stuff and the clergy's speeches. How many times has Jankowski [54] come out against the Jews? Several times.

I was convinced that I would have problems because I have a military pension and I am a Jew not a Pole. But afterwards I came to terms with it all. My fears were unfounded. But they were well founded in relation to some of my friends. Yes, that they had their combatants' privileges withdrawn, and for that reason all sorts of benefits were taken off them too.

I know this guy, who lives in Wroclaw now, but before that worked in Luban in the structures of the so-called Zwiad. And he hasn't got combatant's rights any more because he was connected with the secret security. He worked to protect the border, in the WOP, and was involved in intelligence among the civil population in order to gather information about possible border crossings or intentions to cross the border for spying or even smuggling. They had these informers of theirs among the civilian population, just like in every intelligence or counter-intelligence organization. They could sometimes be criminals persuaded to co-operate, who get their crimes 'forgotten' in return. So they worked to the detriment of the Polish state, as they now put it - they worked to protect the border. I knew those people, who were totally loyal to everyone. And that they acted to the detriment - of who? Hard to say of who, but apparently of the Polish state. And that's what's happened to them. It didn't happen to us, fortunately, and it won't happen to me now before I go to my grave. Even now there are so many trials in relation to people who aren't even here any more.
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Aleksander Ziemny

If I were to comment on the events of 1989 [27], I have to admit that I sympathized with that clown Walesa [28], but initially I wouldn't have given a crooked ha'penny for his abilities and knowledge.
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Cilja Laud

In 1991 Estonia became independent again [40]. Perestroika was ardently resisted by those who were used to that the Party decided everything, that the life in a huge country was governed by the Party. Of course, they did not welcome the reforms. There were cabals. Old communists sought power. They managed to make a military d'etat [42] to get rid of Gorbachev [41] and restore dictatorship. It was horrible that those things could reemerge. We understood that they might be violent. There was no information. Messages of the GKCHP were broadcast on TV and in the intermission we saw the ballet by Tchaikovsky [43], 'Swan Lake.' A tank division arrived from Pskov. It was good that there was no bloodshed. The government of Estonia invited the newly arrived to take a rest and meanwhile they got a message from Moscow that the putsch was suppressed and the GKCHP were arrested. The tanks swerved and left.

There was a Baltic chain: the citizens of the three republics - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia - were standing shoulder to shoulder with lit candles. Everybody was singing - Estonians, Jews, Russians. They sang the songs about their long-awaited freedom. My husband and I were on the way back from a trip, and we also lit a candle in our car. We stopped on the outskirts of Tallinn and joined in.

The next day I saw a white-blue-and-black flag on the citadel tower of the old city. It was the flag of the First Estonian Republic. There was a red flag with a blue wave and white stripes when Estonia was Soviet. Now there was our Estonian flag! I was overwhelmed with happiness, people were standing and looking at the flying banner and cried from happiness. I also cried.

When I came back home, I told Mom what I had seen and she said, 'You see, I lived to see that !' By the way, what is the story behind it? The flag was preserved by a lady, the Estonian language teacher who worked for our Jewish lyceum. Many people knew about and respected her for that. During the Soviet times Estonian Jews helped her a lot and mostly because she was the keeper of the Estonian flag. Estonia regained independence. The day is as great of a holiday for our family as the day of Israeli independence.

I never regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union. I think that none of the people who inhabited Estonia before 1940 regret it. We regained the right to decide to live the way we wish in our country.

The breakup of the Soviet Union made our lives better. I am glad it happened. The world became open for us. People could travel and communicate. Now life depends on us and it is very important as before there was not such a notion as personality, there was only a common notion - Soviet peoples. The freedom does not only infer democratic values, but makes the human being the biggest value. It is the most important that we have a democracy. Of course, it should not allow permissiveness. Not all things were bad in Soviet times. There were free education and medicine, cheap books, affordable theaters, but there was no choosing of one's life path, which was the most important.
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Liya Kaplan

When the putsch started in 1991 [49], we were glued to our TV sets and followed the news blow by blow. There were tanks in Moscow. People were shot and killed. Nobody knew the outcome and dreaded to think what would happen next. It ended in the breakup of the USSR. My first reaction to that was boundless surprise. I needed time to get used to the thought that it had really happened. Now we see that it was real. It's good that it happened. Every country should be free, allowed its own political views. The most important thing is to tune the economy. That's why any state should strategically count on its neighbors and the global economy not to go down. It's the most important thing. Estonia succeeds in that.

Of course, it's harder from a material standpoint. Pensions are skimpy and prices are going up. We were promised our pensions would be increased, but if pensions were raised, prices would be increased as well. It's one and the same thing. We're aware that we are living in hard times and our government does its best. Recently I got to know a pleasant piece of news from my community. Our parliament adopted a resolution to increase pensions for those who had been evacuated, as they would be considered having suffered in Stalin's time. I've already submitted all the necessary documents.
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Estera Migdalska

On 4th July 1989, I stood in line before the consulate to cast my vote in those memorable elections. [Editor’s note: On that day, Poland’s first free parliamentary elections after the war took place]. I returned to Poland on 5th June, at the moment of those great changes that I welcomed with joy, because my problems with the passport were finally over, earlier I could neither go to visit Noach, nor was I at Izia’s wedding, nor did they let me go and visit Hania. I never received the passport at the first request. And now it’s in my drawer. I can also invite people to visit me here. Most of my relatives I saw for the first time. Even my grandchildren I knew initially only from photos, though happily I was able to meet them even before 1989.
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Yankl Dovid Dudakas

After Lithuania gained independence [20], my life became easier in the material and moral way. I work for a private company now. I’ve faced no anti-Semitism. I speak Lithuanian to Lithuanian people and Yiddish to Jewish people. I’ve become an active member of the Lithuanian Jewish community. I haven’t become a religious person, but I feel like supporting the community. There are fewer than 300 Jews left in Kaunas, and soon there will be hardly anybody left to attend the synagogue. I go to the synagogue for the morning prayer, and on Saturday my wife and I go there together. I keep telling my wife that we need to move to Israel and I believe she will give her consent one day, and then my dream to live in the Promised Land will come true.
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After Lithuania gained independence [20], my life became easier in the material and moral way. I work for a private company now. I’ve faced no anti-Semitism. I speak Lithuanian to Lithuanian people and Yiddish to Jewish people. I’ve become an active member of the Lithuanian Jewish community. I haven’t become a religious person, but I feel like supporting the community. There are fewer than 300 Jews left in Kaunas, and soon there will be hardly anybody left to attend the synagogue. I go to the synagogue for the morning prayer, and on Saturday my wife and I go there together. I keep telling my wife that we need to move to Israel and I believe she will give her consent one day, and then my dream to live in the Promised Land will come true.
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