Date of the interview: March 2006
Interviewer: Ella Levitskaya
Morris Schiff is living by himself. He suggested being interviewed in the premises of the Jewish community of Estonia as he might feel uncomfortable for the mess in old bachelor’s house 1. Morris eagerly agreed to tell about his life and the life of his family. His tale was long and detailed. Morris is of short height, bald, with childish gullible eyes. He is very sociable and easy-going. In spite of having finished five grades of compulsory school, Morris read a lot. He was especially keen on history. It is interesting to talk with him. His views on many things are unconventional. Morris daily goes to the synagogue. There are a lot of his friends there. He does not have relatives. Morris studies the history of his family. He also asked me to convey the following message in his biography. His grandmother’s brother Morris Klein, after whom Morris was named, had lived in Vienna, Austria, until 1930s. Then he immigrated to the USA. This is all Morris Schiff knows about Morris Klein. He would like to find out more about the person, after whom he had been named. Morris Schiff would be happy, if someone could tell him about Morris Klein.
My family background
There was time when I was interested in origin of my surname, Schiff. In German Schiff means a ship. This surname is common in many countries where German is spoken, but mostly Jews carry it. In my opinion, the surname originated in Frankfurt upon Main. I was in the Jewish block of the city Frankfurt upon Main in Germany, and noticed that there were drawings instead of numbers on the building. There was a house with a picture of ship. I was told that if the person used to live in that place and then left he was given the nickname «Schiff» – «ship». It think it must be the origin of my surname. I also found out that about 400-500 years ago there was rabbi Schiff in this district. All my ancestors (up to the line of my paternal grandparents) were the subjects of Hungarian and Austrian Empire. My paternal great grandmother Mrs Klein, was a businesslike woman and owned one of the best leather haberdashery stores in Vienna. There is hardly anything I know about great grandfather. He died at a rather young age, when his kids were small and great grandmother raised all her children and managed to come into money.
Grandmother’s parents had one son and a lot of daughters. I even do not know how many sisters grandmother had. My grandmother Adel Elisabeth Klein was born on 8 December 1879 in Vienna. Great grandparents were Jews, but all their daughters were baptized for some reason, though their son remained a Jew. I do not remember what his name was exactly: Moritz in German or Maurice – the French way. I hardly know anything about him. I do not know when he was born and when he died. Morris was wealthy. That wealth was the merit of paternal grandmother, and after her death Morris was the main heir. He inherited one of the best leather haberdashery stores in Vienna and shares of train station. I cannot tell when he exactly left Vienna, either when fascists occupied Vienna or before that. At any rate he settled in America before the outbreak of Great Patriotic War. Being sagacious, Morris did not have to flee in the 1930s like other European Jews. He even managed to take his capital out of the country. In America he became even richer. Morris remained single and had no children. Of course, there were a lot of heirs after his death- nephews and nieces. My grandmother, his only direct heir had been dead by that time, so nobody informed us of Morris’s death. This is all I know about Morris Klein. I would like to know more about the person after whom I had been named: his correct name, his birth place, date of his death and his burial place. I would be happy, if someone could tell me about him.
Great grandmother was very businesslike and entrepreneurial. She worked very hard and finally she became the owner of the posh store in the center of Vienna. Great grandmother did not rely on manager and ran the store herself. She purchased the goods, and serviced the most respectable clients herself. According to the family legend, the paramour of heir of the throne, the son of Emperor Franz Joseph II,was one of her customers. I think, great grandmother’s store really must have been the best, if such person went there.
Of course, my great grandparents looked into good education for their children. At any rate, my grandmother, apart from mother tongue, German, she spoke fluent English and French. My father said that she composed verses in three languages. I think that she knew some more foreign languages. French was her favorite.
In childhood grandmother had some deceased (I think it was scarlet fever), which resulted in hearing problems. She was not deaf, but just dull of hearing as they say. That is why it was hard for her parents to marry her off.. Finally my future grandfather Heinrik-August Schiff wooed to her. Grandfather was much older than grandmother; he was born on 3 January 1870. For some reason, grandmother did not like him and she refused to marry him. It was very hard to argue with great grandmother. She was a dictator, and it never let unpunished those who were against her. Grandmother said that great grandmother always used to tell her daughters that she gave them life and they were ought to do what she said,but grandmother was flat and even took some poison, which did not help. Doctors saved grandmother, but she became completely deaf after having taken the poison. So, great grandmother had my grandmother marry grandfather. Their wedding was in Vienna on 10 March 1898.
My great grandmother was a real dictator and had her daughters get married without their accord. There was only one of her daughters who had love wedlock. I do not remember her name. Grandmother said about her sister that she hade mother’s character – was very decisive and tough. She refused from her dowry and inheritance, and married a poor man, whom she loved. She was the only one from the sisters who had a happy marriage. Great grandmother did not feel her fault for ruining her daughter’s life. She felt that she was guilty only because of one daughter. Great grandmother married one of her daughters off to a bankrupt aristocrat, who was allured by the dowry. Money even made him forget that his future wife was a baptized Jew. When he married her, he constantly reproached her for that, even beat. Once, he hit her head with a whip so hard that she became insane and had to stay in the mental asylum till the end of her days. Great grandmother tried to redress her wrong-doing and put her daughter in the best clinic, but still it was of no help.
The family moved to Estonia before my father was born. We settled in Valga, in the town bordering on Latvia. At that time all that territory, both Latvia and Estonia were part of Russian Empire. German and Russian were spoken there. German was a mother tongue for grandmother, but she did not know Russian at all, but in spite of her deafness she managed to learn the language. Grandmother was a housewife, which was customary for those times. My father Max Schiff was born in Valga on 30 November 1903. His full name was René-Maks-Aleksander-Johann. In 1910 father’s younger brother was born in Valga. I cannot recall his name. The matter is that we never talked about him in the family. Both of them were baptized when they were born.
Before the outbreak of World War One my grandfather kept a café at the train station in Valga. In 1914 World War One was unleashed. Neither grandfather no grandmother had Russian citizenship; both of them were the subjects of Austrian and Hungarian empire. They were not affected by that before the war and did not see the sense in getting Russian citizenship. During the war their family was deported to Irkutsk [far north of Russia, about 4500 km from Moscow] for the being the citizens of bellicose to Russia country. They stayed there during the war and then moved back to Estonia, but not in Valga, but Tallinn. It was the period of war for Estonian independence 2, and only during that time3 grandmother and grandfather got Estonian citizenship. My father and his brother were subjects of Estonia, since there were born there.
I would not say that the family of father’s parents was rich, but they were well off rather. They did not have their own lodging in Tallinn, so they rented a big apartment in the center of Tallinn. In spite of the fact that grandmother had big hearing problems, they had two grand-pianos and she could play the piano very well. She took care children and of the household, while grandfather earned money. Grandfather kept had a small café in Tallinn in Chernogolov club (there was an aristocratic club). Grandparents were very different. Grandmother must have been like her mother- tightfisted, but grandfather knew how to maker money and how to spend them. He was a womanizer, he liked guests and feasts. It is strange that they had lived together for such a long time. It seems to me that in 1939 grandfather divorced grandmother, but he often called on her to have a cup of coffee. He lived with a lover, who was much younger than he was. She was about 30. Grandfather died in 1941 couple of weeks before Germans entered Tallinn. He had an easy death- his heart stopped beating. He was much luckier than many Tallinn Jews – he was not killed, but died at the eleventh hour, not to see the atrocity of German occupation.
Father and his brother studied at lyceum in Tallinn. Having finished lyceum father entered Tartu University. I do not know what department he entered. When he was a little over 20, being in the third year, it turned out that he had tuberculosis, at that time it was fraught with lethality. At that time almost all TB patients died.. Father quitted studies. My great grandmother from Vienna interfered. She was a very wealth woman and sent father to the sanatorium in Alps having covered all expenses. Tuberculosis was treated there,but they only took patients with healthy heart and stomach. The treatment cost a lot of money though it was without any medicine. The sanatorium was in the mountains. No matter how cold it was outside the patients had to stay outside all the time, wrapped up in the quilts. They inhaled mountain air and that the treatment. Another important constituent was nutrition. They had to eat a lot, even if people were not hungry, they were made to eat. There were stables by the sanatorium, where horses were milked for koumys. Apart from food, each patient had to drink one liter of koumis per day. People really got cured. My father had stayed there for half a year until full convalescence. After that he never had problems with his lungs. Though, in sanatorium he got in habit to eat a lot and his good appetite was always there.
After sanatorium father had spent one year in Vienna as great grandmother insisted. He liked Vienna very much. Great grandmother was entrepreneurial. She was the only who made money and she enjoyed respect of businessmen. As for her agents, the Christians, she could enter their place only from the back door, because she was a Jew. These were such humiliating rules for the Jews and even money could not change it. A Jew had no right to go to the ball room. My father was baptized and those rules did not apply to him. He was a habitué of the dancing parties. He was often invited there as he was considered to be a rich heir. Great grandmother was cruel. He did not let father live in her apartment, she rented some lodging for him.. Father told me about one case, which characterized great grandmother. Once father came home and saw that the door was burgled in. He came in the room and saw that his desk was open and papers were all over the floor. Father could not get what was happening. The neighbors told him that some old lady came, rang the door and when nobody answered, she called the janitor, pointed at the door and said: «Break!». Great grandmother came to see what her grandson was doing. She had the toughest character.
Only in Vienna father found out that he came of Jewish family and that his great grandmother was a Jew and her son Morris was a Jew. Father did not know anything about his Jewish origin before that. It changed his life. Probably in Vienna he decided that he would marry only a Jew. At any rate when he was back home, he started looking for a bride among Jewish girls, without telling anything to his parents. Grandmother would definitely be against that marriage. My father met mother by chance. Mother told me that during the shopping father came up to her and asked her why she had such accent when speaking Estonian. Mother lied to dad saying that she was from Russia. In actuality she was born in Estonian town Narva [about 200 km from Tallinn], bordering on Russia. My mother really spoke bad Estonian and her Russian was no so good. Narva dialect differed from typical Russia. Somehow mother felt awkward to tell father the truth. This is how they met and started seeing each other.
I do not know much about mother’s family. My maternal grandmother’s name is Gita, nee Garus. Her father’s name was Saul Garus in grandmother’s words, but in her birth record, which was lost during WW2, his name was Saveliy. Thus, I do not know what his name really was. Great grandfather had served in the tsarist army for 25 years 4. During Crimean war 5 he was awarded with St. George Cross 6 and was given honorary title « Hero of Sevastopol». I cannot tell for sure how many St. George Crosses great grandfather had, either 3 or 4. There was a law in tsarist Russia, according to which the cavaliers of St. George cross were granted land plots from the state. That rule worked for everybody, but Jews. Nevertheless, grandfather got the land. I do not know whether it was an award or offense as he was given the land without the right of entailment- he was not entitle to demise him or sell, but he had the right to use it. The land plot was in the remote place. The nearest house was three kilometers away. Besides, great grandfather was offered some position in the state,which was rare with the Jews. He was a light-keeper on Neva, in the vicinity of Ladoga lake. While great grandfather was working there, his family used that land. They had a cow and other husbandry. The family ate what they had grown.
There is little I know about Seviov. It is as pity. Grandfather, must have been a very good and unusual person. He was born in 1868 in the city of Gdov, Pskov, oblast, Russia, about [700 km from Moscow, close to Estonian border]. I even do not know if it still exists. Great grandfather was also the soldier of the tsarist army. He had served for 25 years. When he was decommissioned from the army, he married. There was a pale of settlement in Russia 7, and Jews were no allowed to live anywhere they were willing to. This did not refer to those Jews who had served in the army- they were permitted to chose from larger territory of Russia. There were several children, but I did not know them. Grandfather was a tailor. He moved to Narva from Gdov. I do not know how grandparents met. Probably it was a prearranged marriage. When they got married, grandmother moved to Narva. Grandmother, as most of the married Jewish women was a homemaker,. She gave birth to children, raised them and took care of the house. Grandparents did not have their own house. The rented the 2nd floor of the loghouse from one Estonian man. The first floor of the house was occupied by the landlord and his family. There were 7 children in the family. The eldest son was Isaac, then was daughter Esfir was born on, the third was my future mother Rebecca, born on 1 February 1906. At the end of 1907 son Lazar was born in son and in couple of years another son, Mulya, and then another one, Abram. The last child was daughter Ida.
All children got religious education. Boys went to cheder and daughters were taught by. All children went to the elementary school only. Only Lazar got a secular education, whom grandfather sent to lyceum. Lazar was very gifted since childhood. Grandfather paid his son’s tuition, but there was no money for the books. Lazar managed to become the second top student in the lyceum without having his own books.
Shortly after WW1 elder son Isaac left for Russia to seek fortune. When revolution took place in Russia 8, Isaac happened to be on the soviet territory and was separated from his family. First he wrote letters to the family, especially to Esfir, as they were bonded. Then it became dangerous for the citizens of Soviet Union to keep in touch with the relatives abroad 9, and they stopped writing to each other. Esfir was very worried thinking that Isaac was dead., but there were other people in Estonia, whose relatives were living in the USSR, and they also got no letters. Suddenly, one letter came from Isaac. It resembled the headlines of the soviet newspaper- eulogy to the soviet regime. The last phrase was: a lot of food, full abundance, especially there is much kadoches [editor’s note: in Yiddish kadoches mean trouble]. The last phrase contained the main message in the letter. The censorship let the letter go. It was great that the censor was not a Jew. There were no other letters from Isaac and did not know what was happening with him.
Grandfather was very religious. Narva Jew respected him, listened to his words, though he was a simple man. He was considered almost a saint. He kept the door open for people and almost anybody could come to him for a support. If the new-comer did not have a place to stay, he went to grandpa. He was given food and a place to sleep. Of course, grandfather always tried helping people the best way he could. He was the only bread-winner in the family, though the family was large. If grandfather could not help anybody himself, he went to other Jews and said: «Need help!». If grandfather said it, noboby refused him. There was a trarist regiment in Narva and there were some Jewish soldiers. They were given absence without leave, where could they go in a strange? Grandpa always had a door open to them, especially in Sabbath or on the days of Jewish holidays. We had a lot of people in our house on Jewish people. Some people forgot about grandfather, but he was friends with some of them. Once, one Jew, whom grandfather helped, left for America. He got settled well there and started suggesting grandfather move to America with the family. He also offered his support. Grandfather started processing the documents for departure. It was the year of 1913. Pictures were needed for the documents to be processed, and grandfather went to rabbi to ask where he could take picture for the photograph. Of course, rabbi gave him permission. It was the only photograph of grandfather that I have. Grandfather was 46 in that picture. When grandfather got the documents, WW1 was unleashed and they could not leave. In 1920 grandfather Iosif Seviov died. He was buried according to the Jewish rite in the Jewish cemetery in Narva. All Narva Jews came to his funeral. According to the Jewish law, the defunct cannot be brought in the synagogue with the exception of the prophets. The Narva Jewish community, which was rather large, made grandfather equal to the prophet, and brought him in the synagogue. They say it was very rare. Then they carried his coffin in hands for about 5 or 7 kilometers to the grave. It was a big honor for my grandfather for his living like a saint and helping people, taking care of those who needed support. Nobody helped the orphaned family. Grandmother remained by herself with five children. She did not have any profession, and she started working as a seamstress. There was not enough money and soon family turned into very poor. The family starved, had no money for the rent. They had lived for three years without paying for the rent. The Estonian landlord helped them a lot. He had not asked them to pay for accommodation. The eldest sister Esfir was the first to leave for Tallinn. Soon the whole family went there. Children started working and save money. One day they came in Narva and paid off the debt to the landlord. He told them: «Children took after their father ».
Mother had worked since childhood. First she helped grandmother about the house. When she grew up a little bit she sold the berries and fruit in the resort area of Narva. Mother went to dachas and offered berries for sale. Once, mother came to one dacha and the hostess wanted to buy the whole punnet from her. Mother honestly warned her that the berries on the top were nice and a little bit stamped at the bottom. The hostess, a very sweet lady, praised my mother for honesty and said to revert to her when she needed work later on in Tallinn and gave her address. When the family moved to Tallinn, mother came up to her and that lady helped her get a job of the manicurist apprentice. Nobody trained her, mother was just a maid. She cleaned the workshop and at home, was a baby-sitter for her children. When mother cleaned in the salon, she watched how the manicurist worked and gradually she learned this profession so well that the hostess offered her a job as a manicurist. With time, mother became one of the best manicurists in the city.
My parents did not date for a long time before father proposed to her. At that time father decided that his children should be the Jews, but he was baptized himself. Father went through giur and took Judaism along with circumcision. When father told his kin that he was going to marry, they were strongly against it. Mother was a poor uneducated Jewish girl. Grandmother did not think her to be the perfect match. Grandmother even offered my mom money for her to turn down father’s proposal. Of course, mother took no money. Father’s younger brother was a member of Estonian fascist party. When he found out that father turned to Jewry, he started instigating grandparent even more, but my father had always been mulish and persistent. Then there were incessant scandals at home, he just left the house without taking nothing home.
My parents got married in 1930. The wedding was very modest, but in accordance with the Jewish right. Then father borrowed some money and had the ad printed in the paper that Max Schiff was married Rebecca Seviov. He did it because his brother spread the rumor in town that my mother was not the wife, but the lover of my father. Thus father decided to do away with that. After wedding the parents rented apartment Tallinn’s suburb Nőmme, as they did not have enough money to rent the apartment in Tallinn.
At that time it was customary in Jewish families for women to be housewives. Husbands were supposed to be bread-winners. After getting married, mother decided to keep working. It was the right choice. Being one of the best manicurists in town, she had good clientele. Besides, she considered that lady should be independent in anyway. If she had no money, nor profession she was dependent. She did not want to be dependent of father. Of course, she did not work for some time after I was born. My grandmother Gita later started taking care of me and mother came back to work in the salon. I was born on 27 July 1931. I was named Morris after the brother of my paternal grandmother, the last agnate Jew. I do not know what father did for a living when he was single. When married, he became a traveling salesman. She was not a born salesman, but strange as it might be he did well. The merchants are businesslike people and they liked dealing with an honest man, whose word had weight. My father was the man for whom honor was dearer than life. But his character was very complicated. He was a dictator. It was easier to respect him than love. I do not know why, but father lost his job in a while. Fortunately, mother made pretty good money, which helped our family get buy. Father found a job only in a year.
Father did not keep in touch with his brother. In four weeks after getting married father had a heart attack, and grandmother besought grandpa to call on him and forgive me. After that parents’ relationship got better, but brother could not forgive father.
Probably, father loved me in a special way. He did not show it to me. He was very strict, even cruel at times- he never play with me, did not take me for a walk. He was very rigid even when I was a small child. He never repeated his instruction twice. If I failed to do what I was told the first time, I would get slapped in the best case. There were times, when father took a throng and beat me for 25 times in spite of the cries and tears of mother. After such chastisement I could not sit for couple of days. Usually we talked couple of minutes a day. Father put me in front of himself and told me to look in his eyes. He repeated once and the same the whole day: father said that I should remember that I was Jew and the second : his brother was no my uncle: then added that I should be interested in many things, study history, politics, but no joining any party.
We did not observe Jewish very strictly. Of course, on Sabbath mother lit candles and made a festive dinner. Jewish holidays were also marked in accordance with all traditions. Parents went to the synagogue on holidays. While we were in Nőmme, father did not take me with him. There was a synagogue in Tallinn, and parents thought it was too long of a trip to me. As soon as we moved in Tallinn in 1940 I began going to the synagogue with father. At times grandmother took me there. On holidays mother cooked traditional Jewish dishes. She had Pascal dishes, which were used once a year. In other times we did not observe kashrut. Of course, we did not eat pork, but we did not. have separate dishes for milk and meat. Mother said that rabbi came in our place one. He even did not want to have a cup of tea when he saw that mother did not have kosher dishes. She had to treat him to the cake that he brought to us as he refused from eating anything else.
When I reached school age, mother wanted me to go to the Jewish school. There was no such school in Nomme and we had to move to Tallinn. Father decided that I had to study in a state school, Estonian. Mother was not willing to argue with dad, and I went to Estonian school. I was fluent in Estonian and had no problem with that. I had another issue. I was a feeble child, which is apparently the reason for my small height. There were boys in my class, who teased, pushed me and hurt me when they had a chance. Other than that, I was treated fairly. The teachers liked me. I had two teachers- one taught compulsory subjects the other one –Bible. Being a Jew, I was not supposed to attend the latter. If it was the last class, I went home. If it was in the middle of the day, I gladly attended it. The things taught in that class I remember like engrossing fairy-tales.
I cannot say that there was anti-Semitism in Estonia. There were Jewish schools and lyceum. There were no restrictions for young Jewish people to enter educational institutions. The government gave Jews the cultural autonomy 10, which guaranteed their rights and liberties. There were practically no restrictions in the profession- trading, craftsmanship, medicine,law. There were equal ownership rights for Estonian and Jews. But there were prejudices. Officially there were no bans for the military officers, but actually were was not a single Jewish army officer. There was a top –secret instruction not to let the Jews become the officers. There were not only Estonians among the officers of the Estonian army − there were Russians, Germans, but no Jews. It was also hard for a Jew to serve the state. Thus, there was no full equality in Estonian republic. There was an interesting story. One Jew wanted to marry the officer of Estonian army. The government could not ban it. If for example the officer married a fallen woman, the marriage could not be banned, but he was dismissed. If he married a Jew, who would be baptized, he could stay in the army. If she remained a Jews, he would be dismissed. Probably it was almost like marrying a fallen woman. So, one lady married Estonian officer and got baptized. After baptism other Jews looked at her like at a traitor. So, she had no ties with Jewish community. They had a son. Then during occupation, her husband was the officer of German army and she had to hide in his parent’s house with her son. As a result, she stayed with her son, but her husband perished.
There was anti-Semitism in everyday situations. I was teased by the boys : «small green kike is running on the rope ». Yes, I was tiny, but why green. I had a green suit. I could not understand those words. Those who teased me probably, could not understand that either. Well, children! Where could they hear that- they could not have come up with that! I also remember one case when I was playing with my friend, Estonian girl, in the yard of our house. The neighboring yard was fenced. A young guy jumped over than fence with a pole. He was a sportsman. I was standing with my back turned to the fence and the girl cried out : watch out! I turned back and felt a prod in my back. That guy did it. I could hardly stand on my feet, and then the sportsman told me with spite «bloody Jew!». I was looking at him and could not get what my fault was. I will always remember how I was hurt. From that moment I had identified myself as a Jew.
The Soviet Invasion of the Baltics
In 1939 soviet military bases were constructed in Estonia 11. It is accounted for the fact that Germany was getting ready for war, and the bases were needed for defense. Then the bases were all over the country. But it did not affect the life of our family as well as the lives of other people in Estonia. In 1940 when Estonia was annexed to Soviet Union, the life of Estonian population was changed considerably. I do not agree with those who call this annexation occupation − as Estonian citizens had equal rights with Russians. Estonians held the main posts in the country, classes were taught in Estonian at schools and universities – what kind of occupants would have allowed that?! As usual, the occupants do not provided the same rights to the people of the country they occupy. The difference is huge. Of course, soviet people started to bring the same rules in Estonia as anywhere else in the Soviet Union. People were arrested, the property of the rich was seized, and people were evicted from their own houses. Then there was deportation of Estonian population 12 − on 14 June 1941 before the outbreak of war, Several thousands of Estonian and Jewish people were deported. Men were sent to barb-wired camp Gulag 13, where the lethal rate was very high. There were very few survivors. I do not have exact information, without which the estimate is very superficial. The families of Gulag prisoners were exiled. Some of them also died, but there were not as many deaths as in the camp. Probably the actions would have taken place further on and the attack of Germany on USSR on 22 July 1941 14 frustrated Stalin’s plans. He did not think of deportation at that moment. At that time we moved to from Nőmme and rented an apartment. Our family was lucky- we were rather well-off, but not rich as we had neither own house nor enterprise. Nobody was arrested nor exiled. They just took the money from paternal grandmother’s bank account. Maybe it was influenced by the fact that my uncle Lazar, mother’s brother, was the member of the banned communistic party in Estonian time. He was deputy commander of NKVD 15 of Estonia, the commander was Jakobson, also a Jew.
The family of mother’s elder sister Esfir also suffered from soviet regime. She was married to Abram Frank, whose family moved to Estonia from Latvia a long time ago. Fran’s eldest brother was wealthy. He owned textile factory in Tallinn. Two more brothers were very well-off. They had their own houses, only Abram worked hard to earn his bread and butter. He was a shoe-maker. He had his own workshop, so the family lived comfortably. Then he acted foolishly: moved to another district and lost his clients, and could get the new customers. The equipment and materials were purchased from loan. He failed to payoff the loan and went bust soon. He started working at a shoe factory and had to give his entire salary to the bank to payoff the loan, but still he could get out of that situation and early 1939 he managed to payoff all the debts and purchase workshop. Soon, the soviet regime cam to power and his workshop was sequestrated. He was lucky not to be sent in the camp. He went to work to the shoe factory.
My father was a traveling salesman- all commercial enterprises were owned by state, therefore his profession was not needed. He was offered a position of the director of store. Father had never dealt with such work, but he cope wit than. Then he was in charge of two stores. Tallinn denizens worked there in good faith. They did not steal in contrast to soviet people. So, father got along with them.
My uncle Lazar, mother’s brother, was a big cheese during soviet time. In 1936 entered communist party, which was banned in Estonia at that time. My uncle was an ardent communist, who were rare. When Estonia became soviet, he was promoted very swiftly, first in the party, then in trade. At that time in hard post soviet times, uncle never took advantage of his position. He also demanded that his subordinates were honest and decent.
There were few changes in my life. I went to state Estonian school. Though, during soviet regime the Bible classes were canceled and the history of USSR was added. I went to the 3rd grade, and we did not have that subject yet. Once the teacher came in the class and said that all children would be enrolled in Young Oktobrist 16. I remembered that father told me not to join any party and I decided to refuse flatly. I did not know what that young oktobrist was. When I grew up, I understood in what trouble my parents could get with such a refusal. Fortunately, our consent was not needed. The next day the teacher came in and said that our class joined young oktobrist.
During the war
My father, who was fluent in German, closely followed the events in Germany from the moment when Hitler came to power. Of course, he was informed in a much better way than most Estonian Jews. I remember that he turned the radio on and listened in Hitler’s speech. I remember it vividly as I could not sleep because of that. Only due to the father we were evacuated. Mother understood nothing in politics. In Estonia local Germans had a good attitude towards Jews. Mother said, when she was a child, once a rich German, bought her a pair of boots, having noticed that her old ones were falling apart. Mother thought Germans to be kind people. She did not fear fascists at all. Most Estonian Jews were not going to leave thinking that the war would be put to an end soon. They thought that Germans would bring better life as the one after annexation. Our Tallinn rabbi doctor Aba Gomer 17 is to be blamed for some many deaths of Jewish people in concentration camps, who decided to stay in Tallinn. He was from Germany, where he was taught for rabbi. When he got educated, he came in Tallinn. He was a very good and decent man, so Jews people took his opinion into account. He helped many people. I remember, when mother’s younger sister Ida, was getting married in 1938, her wedding party was in rabbi’s house. When the war was unleashed, Aba Gomer addressed to the Jews in the synagogue and said that for Jews life was hard in any time, and with Germans it probably would not be that easy. But Germans would not kill the Jews?! He advised Jews to stay in Estonia, and he also stayed there with his family. I was told that Germans arrested him on the first day of German occupation of Tallinn. They teased him, walked him on the rope in the street. and killed him finally. The entire rabbi’s family perished. I think that Doctor Gomer is guilty. He had the right to make the decision for his family, but he oughtn’t give any advice to the others to stay in the city.
My mother, was against evacuation, like most of Jews. Why leaving the place, going for inconveniences, if even rabbi advised to stay? Moreover, things were rather calm during the first day of the war. My father did not have the right to leave as he was supposed to be drafted in the lines. He persuaded mother not to linger with evacuation. Mother would not agree and father knew if mom was so much against something, it was really hard to convince her. Father managed to talk her into leaving. Mother said she could not get why Germans should persecute her. Father objected that she could persecuted for her brother. Lazar was the second deputy minister of commerce and in 1940 he took part in the nationalization of Estonian banks. Besides, he was a communist. Father assured mother that having such a brother would not be come unnoticed and she should leave. Finally, mother agreed and taked into her other relatives to leave. Grandmother Gita, mother’s sister Esfir with her children and Ida. Both mother’s brothers went to the front as volunteers. Lazar was refused as he did not go through medical examination commission by the military enlistment office: he was a very sick man. He had stomach ulcer, and renal calculi. To boot, he had a head trauma in adolescence and he was semi-deaf and had poor eye-sight. In general, the army did not need anybody like that. Lazar was persistent saying that his place was in the lines until Estonia was liberated and he happened to be in the lines. He went through the war and was wounded, but he came home alive. А younger brother Abram perished in 1941 in the battle for Tallinn.
When we were leaving Tallinn, it was still calm in the city, no shooting. Evacuation was well organized, the echelons were at the stations. I remember that the train was moving very slowly as there were long stops at the stations. Besides, there were unplanned stops. During evacuation each person was allowed to carry 15 kilos of luggage. We had not got used to the Soviet union style and to break the rules without being punished. Mother weighed the luggage very scrupulously when packing our things, but in actually we could take more as long as we could carry it. Those, who took more things, lived more or less comfortably as compared with us. They could sell their things or exchange them for products, but we had to starve a bit. We came in Nizhnyaya Uvelka not far from Krasnoyarsk [Russia, about 3000 km from Moscow], where most of Estonian citizens were evacuated. I do not remember exactly how long it took us to get there, but it was definitely more than a month. Nizhnyaya Uvelka was a settlement in Taiga, consisting of one long street. We were temporarily housed in the building of local school. In a while, all evacuees were housed in with the locals. We got some food cards 18, but it was impossible to get by with that ration. Grandmother and other ladies went to the forest to pickup mushrooms, berries and some roots. Mother worked in the field. I had to go to school. I finished 3 classes of Estonian school but I had to go to the first grade of Russian school in Nizhnyaya Uvelka. I was about 11 years old. Children always easily learn foreign language and by the time I started school. Mother and grandmother spoke better Russian than Estonian as they used to live in Narva, which was a Russian spoken town.
Soon mother’s elder brother Isaac accidentally found us. He left Russia for Tashkent before revolution of 1917. One of all USSR papers Izvestia [one of the most popular communistic papers in the USSR, issued in the period of 1917- 1980s, with the circulation exceeding eight million copies] the article about Lazar was published along with his picture. Isaac saw that paper and wrote to the publisher. In their reply to him it turned out that it really went about his brother. Isaac managed to find us via inquiry bureau for evacuees. He sent us the letter and asked to come. Mother’s sisters decided to leave later, but mother, grandmother and I headed there. It was a long way. There were no trains available at that time, only locomotives. We had to sleep on our suitcases. Then grandmother’s suitcase was stolen. Isaac met us in Tashkent. Mother was very little when he left, so it was as if they got acquainted once again. Isaac turned out to be a very good person. We moved in his place. He found a job for mother, and helped us with anything he could. Apart from money and food card mother was also fed at the canteen, which was very handy for us at that time. I cannоt say that we had enough food to eat, but we were not starving as hard as most evacuated people. Soon, mother stopped working there as the person in charge of the canteen started demanding that mother should become his lover. Mother turned him down and he fired her right away. Our family started having really hard times. Mother found a job, but it was not enough for us to get by. Mother and grandmother were practically starving trying to give extra piece of food to me. Isaac was drafted in the army at that time and the three of us stayed together. Then,
mother’s sister came. Eldest son of Esfir was drafted in the lines, when he was in Nizhnyaya Uvelka.. Esfir and Ida found lodging not far from our place.
We had eaten mostly pomice, sunflower seed cake, for couple of month. Pomace was the cheapest product and mother often bought it on the market. Now I cannot imagine eating it, but at the time it was the only food we could get. I had chafed tongue due to eating sunseed hull, which was the major component of sunflower seed cake. It was easier for us when they started to hand out bread and cereal by food cards. It still we were starving. People died like flies. They did not die by hunger, but because of having feeble organism, not being able to resist disease and famine. There was another adversity- lice. Soap was such a great luxury. If someone could get a small bar of soap one the market, it was used very economically. Water was also a luxury item. We had to walk for once kilometer to get to the water pump. There was another trouble in winter time- fire wood. There was a round iron stove in the middle of our. We had to buy fire wood in the wintertime to heat the room. A small bundle cost a lot of money. So, we were constantly freezing in wintertime. All of us understood what war was like. We were not the only ones, whose life was difficult. There were people who were in much worse conditions than we were. A lot of evacuees came in Tashkent and not everybody could find a place to live. Some people had to stay straight at the train station, and died there in lice and rags.
When we came in Tashkent, mother put our clothes and footwear aside. We put local ‘rags’ on. It we were really starving, mother took some of our clothes and sold on the market, to buy some food with that money. There were a lot of paupers by the market. Nobody gave them arms, some people even teased them. I saw somebody putting a stone in the box of the blind lady. There was only one time when I saw people give somebody to the pauper. It was an amazing case. When I was on my way to the market, I saw a person without two legs who was at the patched mat. There were a lot of cripples during the war, and people remained indifferent. The pauper was with his back turned to the passersby and it was amazing, but in that position one could tell that he was a decent man, whose life made him ask for alms. There was a hat by his mat and people came up and put money there. The pauper did not even take it right away. The hat happened to be full of money. I saw that pauper only once.
There was another case in Tashkent, which I will always remember. I was on my water to the water pump and saw a four-wheeler (something like we had in Tallinn, though it was covered with the yellowing Tashkent dust. I stopped and started looking. The horse looked terrible it was so meager that its bones were protruding like spears. That ‘skeleton with the skin’ was hardly moving. The top of the four-wheeler was open and there was a lady there with her arms flung open. It was sultry and the son was shining directly at her. The coachman was sleeping. The horse reached water pump and stopped. The coachman woke up, took the bucket and gave water to the horse. I think water was all that horse could get. Having been watered, the horse moved on. I looked at it with my mouth open. The horsy reached the next water pump and stopped, the coachman watered it once again. I asked passersby what it was and I was explained that it was the “ambulance” !
I had to go to the 1st grade once again in Tashkent. I was short, though I was the oldest in the class. I was not a very good student, taking no interest in studies. All I cared was to be transferred in the next grade. When I was in the 3rd, we were to join pioneers 19. It was not the same way as it was with the young octobrists, each candidate for pioneers was to be discussed by the whole class. Having remembered father’s words, I refused from joining pioneers. First, my teacher and pioneer leader had a talk with me. Then the principal of the school taked to me. Thus, three adults again one boy. They called me on the carpet, trying to convince and threaten me. I was adamant and had not agreed to become a pioneer. If my dad told me not to join any party, I should obey him.
My father and I wrote letters to each other. Father was mobilized in the army after our departure for evacuation, but Stalin’s government did not trust the inhabitants of Estonia, recently annexed to USSR, and all mobilized in the army were sent in the labor camps 20. There the mobilized were in the position of the camp prisoners. They were given skimpy food for them just to stand on their feet. They were exhausted with physical labor. Many guys, even the young ones died by hunger, beriberi. Father was made to work with cement-mixer. I do not know how he managed to survive. In 1942 Estonian corps was established 21 in Red Army and saved those Estonians who had to trudge in labor camps. Father was also drafted there as a supply officer. He had great organizational skills. He was supposed to receive the freight in the rear and accompany them to the front. Fathers’ rank was the captain of Red Army. Once father managed to come to Nizhnyaya Uvelka, but we were gone. He found out from mother’s sister Ida that we had moved in Tashkent. He visited us there when he got a chance. It was a very short visit, he was just passing by. The second time father came in Tashkent was in 1944 when we had already left for Tallinn. That visit was doomed for father. He caught typhus fever there and died in the hospital on 19 December 1944. There was a typhus fever epidemic in Tashkent and people were buried in common graves. We even do not know where father was buried.
All of us had suffered from hunger, but it was the hardest on grandmother. She was very pious and had observed kashrut for a long time, even during the war. Even if she was to die by hunger, she would not touch non-kosher food. As the rest, they did not think of kosher or non-kosher- the only thing that mattered was how to survive. I was very feeble, got sick very often, so mother and grandmother gave some of their food. Life was also hard on mother, but she was young and healthy, but grandmother got feeble because of hunger and practically did not get out of bed. She died in 1943. I think she died by hunger. She was buried in Jewish cemetery in Tashkent, to be more exact it was Jewish section of the city cemetery 22. There were quite a few Jews, including the local ones. There were minian, and rabbi, who did things in accordance with the rite. We came to the cemetery in two days, but could not find her grave. There were so many people buried daily that they could put nameboards on time.
Only shortly before our departure from Tashkent, mother found a well-paid job. We had a feast on the day, when mother got her monthly salary: we bought potatoes and mother make the so-called stew from unpeeled potatoes. She boiled potatoes, added fried onion and some flour at the end. It was so delicious that I still remember that taste. It was very rare though. Usually life was very hard,.but nobody complained as we understood that it was the war. Notification on somebody’s death was worst than famine. When the mailman appeared, everybody was standing still, hoping that the news was not for them. We got those notifications twice. At the very begging of war mother’s brother Abram died in the battle near Tallinn. He was less than thirty. In the fall of 1943 mother’s elder brother Isaac died during Stalingrad battle 23.
We were constantly following the news from the front. When three were battles in Estonia, we listened to every roundup. We were so agog to come back home. As soon as the troops of Estonian corps liberated Estonia, mother and I started planning our return home. We only were the first to go. Mother’s sisters had to stay in Tashkent. We had been on the road for two months. We crossed Estonian border at night, when the train arrived in Narva, native city of my mother. We stayed there until dawn. When I looked out of the window, there was nothing I could see but the ruins. There was not a single building left in Narva. During the battles in Narva artillery was shooting incessantly from both sides and local people left the city. Very few people came back, therefore postwar Narva population consisted mostly of new-comers. Later when I was in Narva, I went to Jewish cemetery, where my grandfather Iosif Seviov was buried, but I could not find his grave. All of them were upturned by tomb raiders, who were seeking gold. I do not know if they found anything, but there was no grandfather’s grave.
After the war
We came in Tallinn. The house, where we used to live before the war, was still there. It was a wooden house in the center of city. Before war we rented an apartment there, but during soviet regime it was nationalized. We used to occupy three rooms, all of them were passage ones. That apartment was for one family only, but when we came back the apartment was turned into communal one 24 where three families wee living: one room was taken by mother and I, the second one by mother’s younger sister Ida and her husband, the third one by some Estonian family. It was very hard for everybody- we had to walk though somebody else’s room. Before evacuation Ida lived in the house of her husband’s father. When they were going in evacuation, her father-in-law, was against leaving. He said that he was sick old man and Germans would not touch him. He stayed in his place. When Germans came in for a search, he was in hiding and came back when Germans left. Once Germans came and did not find anybody. When they were about to leave, the neighbor ran after them and said that an old Jew was hiding next door. He was found and executed. When Ida and her husband came back and found out about it, they could not settle there, and decided to live with us.
Upon our return mother went to the place where my paternal grandmother used to live. Grandmother’s neighbor told that granny’s and father’s brother had died. My father’s brother perished in 1944 in the battles for Narva. He was a German officer during the war. He also was a member fascist party. He even managed to get some certificate saying that he was pure-blooded Aryan. Probably there were some rumors about my father having giur and his brother was to prove all the time that he was not only a good officer, fascist, but that he was the best to beyond suspicion. Probably that was the reason why he faced bullets. He was killed when the soviet troops were on their way back having liberated Narva. Grandmother also died because father became a Jew. She was very old and sick. Her legs were so swollen, but she could not walk. She was also as deaf as a doorpost. The neighbors said that a group of Estonian guys came to get grandmother. They cried out «Bloody Jew!», beat her, threw her from stairs and then demanded that she should go with them. She could not walk and they shot her straight in the yard. It happened in September 1941. Thus probably God does not forgive treason …
Mother started working as a manicurist in the salon and I went to school. I had completely forgotten Estonian during the years of evacuation, so I had to go to Russian school. I was down-in-the-mouth for being the eldest child in the class, though Tallinn. I was lice-ridden. We had tried to fight them in evacuation for three years without any result. Then I started having normal food in у Tallinn, they vanished. Then I was told, that lice did not like sated people, they breed on feeble and hungry people. Probably I got sick because of them. I was lucky that it happened in Tallinn. I would have died in Tashkent. I barely survived in Tallinn hospital being unconscious for 10 days. Then mother took me home and gave me good food. I missed almost two months of school. It was hard for me to study. Frankly speaking I was also rather lazy. Languages were the hardest for me. I spoke good Russian as I learnt it in evacuation, but my writing was poor. The teacher was surprised to see my mistakes as they were so untypical. As for Estonian, both oral and written were literate, but I did not have a very good vocabulary stock. My handwriting was poor. I was pretty good with humanitarian sciences, where I could retell things, but I it was hard for me to remember names and dates. It was also hard for me to learn poems by heart. I was bad at drawing. I had no ear for music. Before the war the music teacher in Estonian school told me to sit quiet and keep my mouth shut. Alas, I had no capabilities. Finally, I started cutting lessons. Mother knew nothing about it of course. Only by the end of the fifth grade, she found out that I had poor marks in 5 subjects, and she went after me. When I came back home from school,, mother gave me some food, and had me study right away. She sat next to me and checked my homework. Though, I was not a gifted student, but such diligence was fruitful: I had good marks in almost all exams. I did not want to study when I was in the 6th grade. I told mother that I wanted to learn some profession. In 1947 I became apprentice of clock mender. It became my profession for the lifetime.
In 1946 mother got married. Her second husband Arthur Kartner was Estonian. I do not know how they met. All I know is that Arthur’s first wife was also a Jew,who perished during the war. He was a dictator, a very obstinate man, but faithful. He was really reliable and honest. Arthur never prevaricated. He was the officer in Estonian republic, lieutenant colonel of Estonian army. During the war for Estonian independence he fought against Bolsheviks 25, and was awarded with a Cross. When the Soviets came to power, he got notification form the military enlistment office. He indicated his name and the fact that he fought against Russians. He was given the title of sergeant in the army. Arthur was perturbed and filed a report: if his previous rank- lieutenant colonel - was not confirmed, that he was ready to be rank and file soldier rather than having the rank of his sergeant. Finally the commanders decided that he almost beyond draftees’ age and decide to that it was easier to decommission him from the army than solve the issue with the ranks. During the war Arthur was appointed representative of Estonia 26 in some city,where Estonians were evacuated. I saw how Genz, the representative of Estonia, lived in Tashkent – as if there was no war. His family had everything they need. The representatives of Estonia distributed humanitarian aids, which came from other countries and lived pretty comfortably. Arthur was an honest man. He could have died by hunger having the bags of food next to him. This is how maximalistic he was! He was so famished in evacuation and after war he had to be treated from dystrophy. He was very decent man, but there were very few women who could live with him. He even washed dishes himself as it seemed to him that mother did it worse. He liked to put things in order in mother’s purse.
After war Arthur worked as a joiner. He was obviously very hard-working. He could not make money though. While most people worked to live, Arthur lived to work. He was a very interesting man with his positive and negative traits. When mother’s got married, we moved to Arthur. When I became independent having started working in the clock workshop, I decided to return in our apartment. Arthur treated me very well, but he wanted me to be his copy. It was very hard for me. When I moved, we still were keeping in touch. Arthur took care of me, helped me with all he could. I know he treated me like his own son, though Arthur had never talked about it. In general, he did not like rant. He even did not say the words of love to mother. When mother got sick, there was nobody who would take better care than Arthur. He was a very kind man. He liked and understood animals, and they treated him likewise. Though, he did not get along with very well.
In 1948 when cosmopolite processes started 27, anti-Semitism became state politics. At that time Jews were dismissed from leading positions and assigned Russians. Anti-Semitism became particularly strong during doctors’ plot 28. Though, it was not as common with Estonians, as most of them hated Stalin, and soviet regime as a whole. Estonians even said: «who could not those doctors assassinate Stalin, if they wanted it?». Soviet regime was blatantly anti-Semitic. They fired Jews. People with Jewish appearance could be insulted in the street. My uncle Lazar, mother’s brother, gladly welcome soviet regime starting from the fist days. He was a convinced communist. The party enrolled uncle for 2-year party courses, upon completion of which he could get higher education in commerce required for management positions. We had studied in Leningrad for two years, and also managed to obtain diploma in economy apart from those courses. When he came back in Tallinn, he held different posts in commerce. When doctors’ plot was took place Lazar was in charge of trade department by the ministry of commerce. He always worked for three people and was very strict with his subordinates. When the doctors’ plot started, his subordinates stopped listening to him as they understood that he would be dismissed soon, but he was not dismissed. It was his decision to resign. Even the minister did not want to let him go. Finally, he was talked into staying. He was not touched after Stalin’s death. As far as I understand, it was not so dangerous for uncle Lazar to lose his job, he feared expulsion from the party. It did not happen. Uncle was happy as at that time many Jews were fired.
Mother and I did not understand how dangerous it was for us, but Arthur understood it clearly. I remember him saying once: «I would never leave you ». Then I got what he was talking about, when mother showed me two packed bags. Arthur got them ready in advance in case Jews would be exiled in Siberia. There were rumors like that, and there were grounds for them. I remember,
Arthur went to the train station every day to see if the trains were ready for deportation. He understood that it was realistic. I am sure he would never let mother go by herself, and would join her in exile. Luckily in March 1953 Stalin and we signed with relief. It happened on the day of Purim. I still regret not getting drunk on the day when we were exempt from that felon- not a mythical Amman, but real person. Tallinn people took Stalin’s death differently. Aboriginal population of Estonia did not mourn, as they had reasons for it, but new-comers from USSR did, as if they actually lost a close person. I remember once a Russian lady came in the clock shop, where I was working, and brought watch to be repaired. While her watch was being repaired, she was sitting and crying over Stalin as if he was her son. It was very funny for me, but I could not laugh. I turned my back to her and put my hand to the mouth until she left. I took Stalin’s death as a holiday. At first, I did not know anything about things happening in USSR in late 1930s, about mass repressions 29, executions. Late on, during the cosmopolite processes I started reading on the history of USSR. Then I understood that Stalin was a murderer. I cannot understand how people living in USSR, and witnessing all those crimes, could not get that Stalin was a murderer. How did I understand it? It was simple. All military leaders did not spare their life for their country and were killed by Stalin: Tukhachevskiy 30, Yakir 31, Bluher 32 etc. All Lenin’s33 brothers-in-arms, with who he made revolution− Trotskiy 34, Kamenev35, Zinoviev 36 and many other people were executed as per Stalin’s order. All people who were outstanding during Lenin’s time, being famous party activists, turned out to be traitors and peoples‘ enemies. How can one believe in that? There is no logic! Then I started to understand that he was a murdered. Then I started reading about collectivization 37, kulaks [kulaks] 38, mass exile of peasants in Siberia, famine of 1932-33s 39. I was getting more and more information and was appalled with that. That was the power of fraud. Hitler was always called a villain. Yes, he treated other nations much worse than Stalin did. But Stalin treated his people much worse than Hitler did. The thing built by Bolsheviks did not resemble socialism. It was a dictatorship, extermination of everybody who had his own opinion, and even ability to think.
In 1964 Arthur Kastner died. In 1966 mother got married once again. Her husband was a Jew Ruvim Rubinstein.. Mother was 60. Ruvim as almost 15 years older than she, but he looked good- tall, slender and brisk, with thick grey hair. He was a very handsome man with a good posture. Women liked him when he was old. Ruvim was very well educated and tolerant. My mother was his third wife. He got divorced twice. My mother was against divorces considering that a lady was entitled to get married only being a widow. She considered divorces to be even. This is the way she was brought up in her family.
Ruvim was born in Warsaw, Poland. His father was a very rich dealer. When he was conferred with the title of the merchant of the first guild 40, the family moved to Russia, Saint Petersburg. There were a lot of children in the family and all of them got a good education. Ruvim went to private lyceum, where the children of famous Russian people were studying. When Ruvim finished lyceum and wanted to continue studying at the university, he was not admitted. At that time there was admission quota for the Jews in higher educational institutions – 5% out of the total number of students 41. Ruvim went to Belgium and graduated from legal department of the university. He came back in Russia in 1917. Ruvim told that when the cabman took him hope, they were stopped by policemen and told to take a bypass road from Nevskiy avenue. Ruvim asked the policemen what happened that he replied that there was some revolt. But it was October revolution ! Ruvim lived at home for a bit, and then understood that he would not survive the new regime and left for Estonia. His family refused to immigrate from Russia. Ruvim did not know what happened to them. He began working as a lawyer in Tallinn. He did so well, that soon Ruvim purchased a large house in the center of Tallinn jointly with his companion. When soviet regime came to power, their house was seized. The funniest thing was that even after sequestration they still had to pay the house tax. Ruvim was not exiled. Maybe they merely did not have time. He was in evacuation during the war, and then he came back in Tallinn. After war soviet regime did not have any claims against him. He worked as a legal counsel until retirement. Of course, mother and Ruvim differed a lot, both from the point of upbringing, education and character, but sill they were happy together. Ruvim observed Jewish traditions and mother started lighting candles on Sabbath, mark Jewish holidays at home. On holidays mother and Ruvim went to the synagogue together and I also joined them for festive dinner.
I was very small and feeble and was not supposed to be drafted in the army. When I turned thirty, I was told to go to the military enlistment office. It was the first and the last time I went there. My military career did not last long. During one month I cleaned the gun following the instruction of the officer. I was not allowed to shoot even once. Then I saw a tank, even looked in the hatch, but I was not willing to get in there. Then, I was given the military card, where it was written that I was an expert in tank electric equipment. Though, all I can do with electrics is to change a light bulb. Other soldiers treated me well. I had two nicknames in the army: «brave soldier Schweig», and the second – «professor», maybe because I was the only one wearing glasses. All of them were educated, but I dropped studies in the 5th grade. For some reason, all of them came up to me with questions, asking me to tell them something. Often they even suggested doing something instead of me so that I would tell them a story in the evening. Officers did not hurt me. On my first day I was straightforward enough to say that I would not become the defender of motherland and added that I was not interested in military science. Other thing if I were the war with Germany, when Htler’s troops attacked Soviet Union. In general, I did not have any patriotic feelings and was no going to defend that regime. Though many Jew, especially the Russian ones, sincerely considered themselves to be patriots, but not me. Estonia was my motherland, not Soviet Union. I served in the vicinity of Kiev, and once when I had absence without leave to see the city. My military service passed by very quickly and I came back in Tallinn. There I regained work of the clock mender.
Russians were not friendly treated by Estonians. There were strange things happening: Russians were called occupants, but they had to do all dirty and hard work. During the true occupation such jobs are done by local populations, while the occupants command. Here it was vice versa. Our workshop was in the corner of Tallinn department store. The building was large and there were several crews of` the janitors. There were hardly any Estonians among them. There were mostly Russians and Ukrainians. Estonian ladies were not willing to do that dirty work. There was a large construction company n Tallinn,where the workers were mostly Russians, and the managers were Estonians. In general all hard jobs were taken mostly by Russians. As for ideology, Estonians always wanted to empathize that they were not accepting soviet ideology. I noticed it in 1967 when Israel was having a six-day war 42. One Estonian worked with me, who was a terrible anti-Semitist, but when there was a six day war in Israel, she was worried for Israeli troops and followed the events. She was very happy when Israeli militaries defeated Arabs, «soviet clients» in her words. Many Estonians rejoiced Israeli victory.
I never was a religious man, but after my return from the army I ordered kipah for myself. There was a hatter in Tallinn, an old Jew, who knew my grandfather Iosif. I ordered it from him. I showed him grandfather’s picture, where he was wearing a black kipah and asked him to make the same for me. I still have it. I am atheist, but still I go to synagogue really. I put kipah on there. I never concealed that I was a Jew, moreover I spoke about it openly. In spite of having Jewish appearance, some people took me for Estonian. I those cases I always said that I was a Jew and behaved accordingly.
I had never been married. Ladies did not pay attention to me. I was very bashful when I was young and I did not know how to get acquainted with the ladies. Then I became a convinced bachelor. I am used to that. I am OK with that. My wife probably would be irritated by my arguments. I do not regret being alone. I am fine with my loneliness.
In 1991 I retired before the breakup of USSR. I felt as if my life was only beginning. I had my own lodging, pension, bank account. My aunt Ida, mother’s younger sister was childless and demised me about 20 000 rubles, which was huge for that time. Monthly interest was like the second pension to me. I was foretasting calm and happy life, thinking that I could do what I wished- read and communicate with my friends. I was hardly interested in politics. I could not even picture breakup of USSR. I hoped that it would happen one day, but not in my lifetime. It happened. I was born in independent Estonia, and was lucky to live in independent Estonia 43 in my old age. I cannot say that my life was unbearable for that time. I just lived. There were things that upset me. I disapproved of dictatorship of the Soviet Union, political persecution of the people who had their own option, persecution of writers, artists, whose works were not in line with the party course. I did not like the idea of peasants being forced to join kolkhoz 44. All those things did not affect me personally.
Probably it was good for USSR to collapse, but I personally do not care. I am living gat my place. I have no reasons for being a Russian patriot. I am not an Estonian patriot either. I cannot identify myself as Jewish patriot either, though I am ready to give my life for my peoples. If I knew that if I had to explode a car with myself and it would be good for my peoples, I could do that.
I am the citizen of Estonia, and my passport is Estonian. When I was exchanging it, I asked for a copy. There was no nationality line in Estonian passport. I wanted to have that copy where it would be documented which nation I belong to. I think if they start destroying Jews, they will find me without that line in the passport.
Our Jewish community was founded during perestroika 45, in 1988. We did not have a rabbi, and those people who knew Jewish traditions were supplying for him. My mother died in 1993. She was buried Jewish cemetery in accordance with the traditions thanks to the community They made minian like it was supposed. Now we have a true rabbi. I am unreligious. I cannot understand how people can believe in God after holocaust. I cannot deceive myself, I take interest in religion and traditions as without that religion Jewish people would stop existing. Jewish customs and traditions are interlaced with the belief and cannot be classified. I cannot believe in the deity. The issue is in my opinion belief petrifies, but the life goes on. Religion cannot keep abreast with the times. I do not see it possible for our belief to be closer to the modern life. Now there is such a trend as progressive Judaism and I think that it is a fake, a surrogate. It is too simplified and adapted. I do not like orthodox Judaism either as it is another extremity. I like many customs, but not all of them. I do not think it makes sense to observe kashrut nowadays. In due time it was to be observed at least from point of hygiene, but now it sis obsolete. And again the ban to use transport on Saturday, take money in hands. It was rational when the towns were small, when people could walk from home to home, from home to synagogue and now we have such distances that this ban is even harmful. As for ban to work on Saturday, I agree it is better not to work and to devote this day to God and oneself. What is work? Now some people even believe that opening a fridge and switch the light I also a job. These are extremities, there is a limit to dogmas! In general there are too many bans. I think that the word you cannot is the main one in Jewish religion. There should be some way to make our belief more adapt to modern life, but I do no know this way. It is very complicated … there are a lot of things I like in Jewish traditions. E.g., the rite to plant trees on Bi Shvat. I had never done that, and I do not have garden or a land plot. I like this rite anyway, and I think all people should follow it. Not only because there would be more trees, as the team of gardeners would do it quicker and faster, but if a person planted a tree, grew it, he of XVII-XIX centuries they did not find it necessary to wash hands before meal and they ate with dirty hands. As for Jews, washing hands was always a cult. They could pray only after having washed hands. Recently we were given torah in the community. I started reading it and was so absorbed that I could not notice that I spent half a night reading it. I liked it so much!
As compared to Soviet times there is hardly any anti-Semitism in Estonia. There is a different classification –citizens and non-citizens. I think that a certain share of anti-Semitism is useful. I think if there was not a notion like that, we, the Jews, would not survive. There would be no incentive to study better as every Jew understood that to get a job he should be a better expert than non- Jew. Of course there were as lot of victims of anti-Semitism, probably there are much more perished Jews than survivors, but still anti-Semitism was impetus, stimulus for survival and improvement of Jews, and it disappears we would probably stop existing as the nation. Though frankly speaking I do not consider Jews to be peoples, but the group of propinquity people. E.g., if comparing me and Moroccan Jews, the difference would be so vast, that we would not be reckoned as the representatives of one peoples. Our history is very complicated. Jewish history is a half of world history. Now there is a real threat of extinction of Jews, not because of physical destruction, but due to assimilation. The more there are mixed marriages, the quicker Jews disappear as the peoples. In my opinion, the Jew is not the person with Jewish blood, but the one who identifies himself as a Jew. Those whose father, mother, grandparents are Jews, but they are not trying to be the Jews, are they Jews? I do not think that we are any better than other people, but I cannot say that we worse than anybody else and should be exterminated. That is why I cannot accept holocaust and belief in God who allowed it. I do not think we deserved it.
Jewish community of Estonia means a lot to me. Of course, they do a lot of kind deeds- provide food, medicine, care etc., but still it is not the most important for me. Jewish community helps preserve the remaining representatives of Jewish peoples and this is the most essential for me. I want the Jewish peoples to exist and I am ready to do my best in that.