Nikhama Peisakhovna Frumkina
Interviewer: Eugeny Udler
Date of interview: February 2002
Nikhama Peisakhovna gives the impression of a very cultured person,
she speaks slowly, carefully choosing her words.
Apparently, she enjoys talking about her ancestors and in particular about her father.
- My family background
I, Nikhama Pavlovna Frumkina, was born in Bryansk in 1929. I have no family of my own, and now I live alone in the city of Bryansk. I was the single child in the family, and Mum became a housewife after my birth. My real Jewish name is Nikhama, but in the family I was called in the Russian manner, Nina 1.
My paternal grandfather was Elimelekh Frumkin. He came from the small city of Pogar in Chernigov province [today Bryansk region]. He was born approximately in 1860, had religious education, and all his life was a melamed. But because there were other melamedim in Pogar’s cheder, he wandered around various villages and settlements and taught children traditions.
He was a deeply religious man, studied the Torah and Talmud all the time and knew the Hebrew language perfectly. His first wife, whose name I don’t know, died early from some illness, leaving him with a daughter, Hana. Unfortunately, my granddad died when I was four years old and I can hardly remember him. All I know about him are the few things that my father and mother told me.
His second wife, my grandmother Dveira Chaimovna [1870s-1935] was 17 years younger than Grandfather and, being a housewife, brought up nine children: eight of her own and her stepdaughter Hana. For the most part of their life they lived in Pogar, but after the revolution in October 1917 2 they moved to Bryansk and until 1929 rented a separate apartment.
At the beginning of the 1930s Elimelekh had a serious leg injury, but refused to be treated in the hospital for religious reasons [since he considered an illness a manifestation of the will of God, with which one cannot interfere].
He died of gangrene in 1933.
- Growing up
I remember Grandma much better than Granddad. She always brought us some ‘gribenеts’ – goose cracklings – and treated me. In her last years she lived with some of her elder children in Bryansk and died in 1935. I was six years old then. I remember that I wasn’t permitted to fully participate in the funeral ceremony, but I well remember the special stretcher, on which Grandmother was lying wrapped in a shroud. She was certainly buried in accordance with religious customs.
My grandfather Elimelekh had a brother named Alter Raikhinshtein. Daddy told me, that earlier Grandfather also had the surname Raikhinshtein, but in his youth he changed it to Frumkin, ostensibly with the purpose to be exempted from the army service 3. This uncle, unlike Elimelekh, led a secular life. Until 1941 he lived with us, and before the war he left for Kiev [today Ukraine] and perished there. Most likely, he died there during the fascist occupation.
My maternal grandfather, Moisei Goz, came from Radul, near Kiev. He was a pharmacist and died under unknown circumstances in 1918. The history of his death was always concealed in our family [An educated and rich man he had probably become a victim of Red terror or a gangster attack.]
His wife, my grandmother Ita Markovna Goz, nee Faibusovich, was born in 1861 in Radul, Kiev province, and after the death of her husband was compelled to flee with her four children from Radul to escape from Galaka’s 4 gang to the district center of Mglin in Chernigov province, nowadays Bryansk district. Later she moved from Mglin to Bryansk, and in her last years lived in the house of her elder son Semen.
I often disputed the existence of God with her. Being a young pioneer 5 I was telling her – a religious woman – that actually God didn’t exist, and she was nervous and tried to prove the opposite. Grandmother had an old prayer book that she used for praying every day. When I think of her, I imagine her portrait from the photo I have: an old woman in a dress that she seemed to have been wearing forever. Ita Markovna died in Bryansk in 1937 at the age of 76.
My grandmother’s sister, Feiga Markovna, had no children of her own and was occupied with the education of one of Grandmother’s sons, Aron. During the war she didn’t want to be evacuated and stayed in Bryansk. When the city was occupied, three Germans settled in her house, who, knowing that their landlady was Jewish, didn’t touch her. Probably, those were respectable and well-bred Germans. But later two Russian sisters, the Chebotarevs, Komsomol 6 members, who lived in the neighborhood, betrayed her. They complained to the German authorities about a Jewish person staying in town. The fascists rushed into the house, seized Feiga and stabbed her with their bayonets in a nearby ravine. After the war the Soviet authorities sentenced the Chebotarev sisters to ten years in prison.
My father, Pavel Markovich [Peisakh ben Elimelekh] Frumkin, was born in Pogar in 1902, though 1903 is written down in his birth certificate. From the age of three he studied in a cheder in Pogar, upon the termination of which he was sent to study in a yeshivah in another town, and he became a yeshivah bocher. Father told me, how with other yeshivah bocherim they went to have dinner in ‘makhuntek,’ that is in various Jewish families. [This is an old Jewish tradition according to which the poor yeshivah bocherim dined in Jewish families, because the yeshivah couldn’t really feed them. Besides, it was considered an important religious commandment for any Jew to feed a poor yeshivah boy – who would probably be a rabbi in the future.] It was in accordance with an important precept called tsdaki, but in different families it was followed with different degrees of generosity: some people invited them to their own table, others let them eat with the servants
It was the time when Jewish youth was eager to educate their peers. One high school girl started to study arithmetic with Daddy and as a result he left the yeshivah, causing a great scandal in his religious family. Father also undertook serious studies of the Russian language, because he had a very poor command of it from childhood – he spoke Yiddish – with the help of private tutors. Later he took lessons of Mathematics from the well-known teacher Grabovsky in Bryansk. Father didn’t go to school.
Granddad, having learnt of his son’s studies, was very upset and sent him to get ‘a real education’ to their very distant relative in the borough of Seredina Buda, telling him, ‘Take this goy and make something good out of him!’ I think Father was separated from his family for quite a while and then, after some time, came back.
To punish the young man, his father took him to one forestry enterprise in the small town of Seredina Buda, where he forced him to work as a contractor. Father lived there for a rather long time until pogroms began in the city. The rich owner left town with his family leaving the workers to the mercy of fate. Father recollected how he was chased by the Black Hundreds 7, one of the anti-Semitic gangs making Jewish pogroms in the territories of today’s Eastern Ukraine and pre-border Russia, shooting at him, but missing, and Father was saved.
- During and after the war
After the revolution he moved to Bryansk, studied hard and entered accounting courses, after finishing which he continued studying in the All-Union Correspondence Finance and Economics Institute of Narkomfin of the USSR [Narkomfin: People’s Commissariat of Finance] with a major in ‘Finance and Crediting’ from 1935 to 1938, acquiring a diploma as economist and financier. Simultaneously Father worked as a bookkeeper in various organizations.
In the 1920s Daddy took an active part in the Zionist organization ‘Poalei Zion’ [Hebrew: ‘Workers of Zion’] in Bryansk, headed by a well-known Zionist, Abba Medvedev. For that activity Father had to serve a one-year term in prison, and Abba Medvedev was exiled to Palestine. There he tragically died at one of the construction sites of the Jewish settlements.
Studying at the accounting courses Daddy got acquainted with Mum, courted her for five years, and in 1927 they got married. My parents had a real chuppah, according to all rules of a religious Jewish wedding, organized in Feiga’s apartment, the sister of Grandmother Ita Markovna. Feiga and her husband Neukh were well-off people, they had no children. Neukh offered his help regarding chuppah arrangements in his home and paid all the bills. He died one year after my parents’ wedding, before I was born.
A few days before my birth Mother had a dream: the deceased Uncle Neukh was complaining, ‘Now, when I’m dead, no one even thinks of remembering me…’ Having woken up, Mother decided to name her future baby in honor of her uncle. A girl was born – and was given the name Nikhama. Another thing I remember from my mother’s words is that when the bride was supposed to weep at a certain moment under the chuppah, showing her grief due to parting with her parents’ home, Mother couldn’t help bursting out laughing…
After their marriage my parents lived with my paternal grandfather and grandmother, and in 1929 they received a room in the apartment with a shared kitchen 8, in an old wooden two-storied house which has survived until now. It is there that I was born.
From 1941 to 1945 Daddy was at war 9. He served in the engineering troops and finished the war in the rank of captain in Vienna. Daddy frequently told me, that he was amazed by the internationalism of soldiers and officers at war, there was not a trace of anti-Semitism there. He served with the 50th Army, formed in Bryansk, which freed the city of Bryansk in September 1943.
After the end of the war he began to work as the chief accountant of a regional trade department. Later he got a job in the State Bank: the post of head of the crediting department for the local industries in Bryansk. In 1963 he retired. Father possessed a good knowledge of Hebrew and being retired frequently read old religious books, visited the prayer house, and tried to observe Saturday and celebrate the Jewish holidays. He died in Bryansk in 1986.
All of them, all of my father’s siblings, certainly, were brought up in a religious atmosphere in their families, but further on, had a poor connection with the tradition. Daddy’s elder sister Hana was Grandfather’s daughter from the first marriage. She lived somewhere in Bryansk district and traded various small articles in her booth. Her granddaughter’s family now lives in Israel, but we, unfortunately, don’t keep in touch.
Father’s elder brother’s name was Eine. He made hats and caps all his life and helped to support all our family with his earnings. His two sons, Veniamin and Faivel, have always lived in Bryansk. Faivel died about ten years ago, and Veniamin is in advanced years now and lives with his children and grandchildren in Bryansk.
Father’s sister Sora-Mere had a most interesting destiny. She married her cousin named Isaak and for some reason left to live in Kharbin [Far East, today China]. I remember, how Aunt Sora-Mere sent me a dress of unusual beauty, which fit me perfectly, though she didn’t know my size. In the 1930s, together with her husband and son Mosya, she immigrated to Australia. They regularly wrote us from Australia after the war and even sent us parcels, although via Czechoslovakia.
I know that Mosya kept a bookshop there in the 1950s-1960s, and they lived in a large two-storied house. In 1952 a son, Philip, was born to Mosya, whose bar mitzvah they widely celebrated in 1965 in one of the Australian synagogues. They even sent us a photo of that event. Now, unfortunately, I don’t correspond with them, but I don’t think my Aunt Sora-Mere or Uncle Isaak are still alive. Someone from my relatives informed me, that one of Philip’s sons is now studying in Israel, at the Tel Aviv University.
Father’s brother Iosif was always seriously ill. I don’t remember what his occupation was. His wife’s name was Haya-Dveira. He was unable to return from evacuation, and Haya-Dveira married a Zhytomyr [today Ukraine] Jew after the war. Father’s sister Pesya was always single and was involved in trade in Bryansk. As far as I remember she lived together with her sister Genya and that sister’s husband Samuil Kats. Another sister, Chasya, lived in Moscow for a long time before the war and was the secretary to Lazar Kaganovich 10. There she married Abram Iosifovich Khazanov, who was killed at the front.
Their son Mark Khazanov lives in Bryansk now with his sons and grandchildren. Father’s sister Fruma-Riva died in the course of a pogrom soon after the revolution, but her husband Mark Getmansky managed to escape and rescued their two daughters, Zhenya [Eugenia] and Chasya. Zhenya later married a Russian boy, and they had a son. But in the 1970s she died soon after the death of her son. Chasya Markovna lives in Bryansk with her children and grandsons.
My mum, Gita Moiseevna Goz, was born in Radul, Kiev province, in 1903. She was one of four children in the family [Gita, Semen, Zalman, Aron]. Having moved to Bryansk with her parents after the revolution, she finished accounting courses, and worked as a bookkeeper in one company, but after my birth in 1929, Mother became a housewife and was taking care of my education. In my childhood I somehow made friends only with non-Jewish children, and I’ve never felt any anti-Semitism. My acquaintance with the Jewish traditions was going on indirectly, only through communication with my grandfathers and grandmothers. I heard nothing of Zionism when I was a girl: my father’s Zionist past had always been thoroughly concealed from me. I spent the biggest part of my childhood in evacuation and it is of this period that I mostly have recollections.
During the war Mum and I were evacuated first to Stalingrad, then to Ust-Katav in Chelyabinsk region. We sailed down the Volga from Stalingrad to Ust-Katav for a whole month. We headed for this town because it was there that Father’s elder brother Eine lived with his family. I can clearly remember that his son Pavel [Faivel] was involved in very exhausting physical labor at the local military plant. He used to come home early in the morning, very pale, went to sleep, and in a few hours he was picked up by his co-workers to go to work again.
Later we moved to the town of Yutazy, Tartar Soviet Republic. Being in evacuation, Mum worked in a state farm 11 organized by the wives of officers who were at the front. I remember the Tartar family, with who we lived. For many years after that I retained the opinion, that all Tartars were terrible anti-Semitists.
The situation was very tense there and in fall 1943, immediately after the liberation of Bryansk we returned home. Our house was in the city center and remained intact, since it accommodated some German establishment during the occupation. Our apartment, too, didn’t suffer, although neither our furniture, nor home utensils survived. Nearby our home there was the central cemetery, and after the war they set up a park and a stadium there. Soon I resumed going to school, which I finished in 1948.
In 1948 I entered the Moscow Regional Pedagogical Institute named after Krupskaya, the French language department, and graduated from it in 1952. In 1953 I continued training in the same institute, but in the correspondence department of German language. At the same time I was teaching French at School № 2 12 in Bryansk. In 1965 I was invited to teach German and French to the students of Bryansk Institute of Transportation and Mechanical Engineering. In that institute I worked up until my retirement in 1984.
Mum was always saying, ‘Everyone in the Goz family dies at the age of 76.’ And indeed, Grandma Ita Markovna and all her children, except for her son, who perished at the front, died at 76. Mum was not an exception: she died in Bryansk in 1979, when she was 76.
My mother’s elder brother, Semen Moiseevich Goz, lived with his family in Radul before the war and worked as a pharmacist. In his youth he was a soldier in the Imperial Army, but during the revolution his regiment took the Bolshevik side 13, and Semen with his unit took part in the storm of the Winter Palace [residence of the Russian tsars]. After the war he moved to Bryansk and worked as the manager of the central drugstore in town. He had no family. Semen Moiseevich died in Bryansk in the 1970s at the age of 76.
Mother’s brother Zalman also lived in Radul before the war and worked in a drugstore. During the war he died at the front. His son [Abram] moved to Bryansk after the war, and in the middle of 1990s he left for the USA, Manhattan, with his family.
Another brother of my mum, Aron Goz-Livshits, was brought up by the childless sister of my grandmother, Feiga, who gave him her surname.
Since 1996 I began to attend to the Bryansk Jewish Charitable Centre ‘Hesed Tikva’ 14 and soon became a volunteer. I’m still doing volunteer work.