Interviewer: Zhanna Litinskaya
Date of interview: July 2004
I heard about Theodore Magder in the Jewish library of Kishinev. He was said to be an interesting conversationalist, but a rather difficult and very busy man. The people at the library assured me that he would never agree to an interview. I was thus surprised that it didn't take me long to make an appointment with Mr. Magder, though he mentioned that he was available for 30 minutes maximum at the Jewish community center that he heads. Theodore Magder is an old, thin, hunched man. He met me in his office. He wore a snow-white shirt and a suit despite the heat. Our meeting happened to be longer than expected. Mr. Magder agreed to give me an interview and we met two more times. Being a really intelligent man, well-raised and well-educated, Theodore Magder knows how to conceal his inner world hardly ever showing any emotions. Only when he talked about his son and his visit to the Promised Land his voice trembled. However, behind his seeming dryness I managed to discover the fine vulnerable heart of a man who had lived a long life and loved it. After our last meeting we went for a walk in the center of beautiful Kishinev. We went to the park and Theodore Magder told me about his youth. During this walk Theodore rescued a homeless kitten, which had fallen into a construction pit. He pulled it out and stroked its fur with tenderness. He said he loved dogs and cats, but after his wife's death he couldn't afford to keep a pet at home.
I don't know much about my maternal or paternal ancestors. We lived in different towns. My parents were rather shy and reserved and they hardly ever told me about their parents or childhood. My paternal grandfather, Yakov Magder, whom I never met, came from the Romanian town of Vaslui [c. 80 km from Kishinev]. I think he was born in the 1850s because in 1877-78, during the Russian-Turkish War 1, he was involved in the struggle for independence of Romania. When I was in my teens, I read a poem by a Romanian classic - I don't remember his name - who wrote about ten volunteers from Vaslui who distinguished themselves in the war, and one of them, who had a 'tempered heart', was my grandfather Yakov Magder. After the war a decree of granting political rights to the Jews who had distinguished themselves on the battlefield was issued in Romania, while Jews had had no citizenship in Romanian before. So my grandfather became a national of Romania. He and my grandmother, whose name I can't remember, lived in Vaslui all their life, and I never met them.
I don't know what my grandfather did for a living. He provided well for his family and gave his children excellent education, so I believe he was a wealthy and progressive man. I don't know any details of my grandparents' religiosity, but I can say they observed traditions, celebrated Sabbath and Jewish holidays. From what I know my father and his brothers didn't go to cheder. My grandfather wanted to raise his children to be progressive people and he managed it well. Grandfather Yakov died in 1926. My grandmother had died a few years before. They had four children.
My father's older brother, Adolf Magder, born in the early 1880s, suffered from a chronic disease since childhood. He was single for this reason. Adolf got a higher pedagogical education at Bucharest University. He was a teacher and a progressive activist in Bucharest. During the Great Patriotic War 2 he had an acute condition caused by his disease and was taken to the Jewish hospital in Bucharest where he had to stay a few years. He set up a nice library in the hospital. Adolf died in this hospital during the Great Patriotic War.
I was surprised to hear that the Jewish hospital was operating during the fascist regime in Bucharest, and I spent some time studying this issue. It turned out that Antonescu [see Antonescian period] 3, then Romanian leader, was tolerant to Jewish residents of Bucharest, but he mercifully exterminated residents of outside areas, primarily Transnistria 4. There were a number of anti-Semitic laws issued 5, restricting the rights and lives of Jews, but basically they presented no direct threat to their life. There was a Jewish Theater in Bucharest during the Great Patriotic War. Its director told me many years later that the German officers heading to the Eastern front also used to visit it.
My father's younger brother, Benjamin Magder, born in 1889, was also in Bucharest during the Great Patriotic War. Benjamin had distinguished himself when he served in the Romanian army during World War I. There's a mention of him in the book 'Jewish veterans of WWI', published in Bucharest. ['Evrei din Ruminia in Rhzboiyl de reirntregire a shrii 1916- 1919', issued in 1996 by HASEFER - Publishing House of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, Dumitru Hunke.] Benjamin was a well- to-do attorney and owned a house in Bucharest. His wife's name was Anna and his daughter's name was Beatrica. Being a veteran of the war, he was allowed to stay in his house with his family. Benjamin lived a long life, but for quite obvious reasons - living in the USSR - I had no contacts with him. [The interviewee is referring to the fact that it was dangerous to keep in touch with relatives abroad] 6 He died in the late 1980s in his own bed. His daughter Beatrica, whom I met when I visited Romania after 1990, still lives in her parents' house. She has six grandchildren. My father also had a sister, whose name I can't remember. She lived in Bucharest and died young. That's all I know about her.
My father, Solomon Magder, was born in 1887. I know that after finishing a Romanian state-funded gymnasium, he entered the Law Faculty of the University of Iasi. Like many students at that time my father gave private classes to earn his living. That way he met Israel Feinzilber, a grain dealer, who hired him to teach his younger daughter. My father met my mother, Sima Feinzilber, the older daughter, and they fell in love with each other. They got married around 1912.
My mother's father, Israel Feinzilber, was born in Iasi in 1860. I don't remember my maternal grandmother's name, perhaps, because I just addressed her as 'granny'. My grandfather provided well for his family, though his earnings were based on many factors like crops, market demand, etc. There were six children in the family, so supporting all of them wasn't an easy task for my grandfather. I visited my grandfather in my childhood, and I remember his house well. My grandfather rented an apartment from Bokin, a wealthy Jewish landlord, who had a house on Captain Palui Street in a row of similar stone houses. There were four spacious rooms and a kitchen in the apartment. There was polished furniture in the rooms. My grandparents had a piano for their children to study music. There were velvet curtains on the windows.
My grandfather had Romanian and Jewish acquaintances and had good relations with them. I remember the nearby synagogue. There was a significant Jewish population in Iasi and there were several synagogues for the guilds of craftsmen, traders, etc. My grandfather Israel and my grandmother were rather religious and observed all Jewish traditions. My grandfather wore a wide-brimmed black hat to go to the synagogue on Friday and Saturday. I liked going with him when I was there. My grandmother wore a wig like all Jewish matrons. She took care of the household, did the shopping and cleaning.
I cannot remember how all the holidays were celebrated in my grandfather's home, but Pesach was my favorite. We usually joined my grandparents on this holiday - this was a family tradition. I remember how my father dressed up and reclined on cushions at the head of the table. There was plenty of food that my grandmother cooked on the table besides the Haggadah dishes. According to the rules, my grandfather put away a piece of afikoman. I watched him and found it instantly, and one time I asked my grandfather to buy me a bicycle that I had dreamt of for some time. My grandfather bought it for me, of course.
My grandfather and grandmother spoke Yiddish to one another. Though I didn't study the language, I could understand them all right. In 1930 my grandmother and grandfather moved to Bucharest. They rented a small apartment there, I remember. My grandfather Israel died in 1939. He was buried according to all Jewish rules. My mother, father and I went to his funeral. I saw many religious people and the rabbi reciting a prayer. My grandmother died a few months after my grandfather, but I didn't go to the funeral. She was also buried according to the rules.
My mother's older brother, Mathey Feinzilber, lived in Paris and was a doctor and a writer, when I met him in the 1930s. He wrote a number of novels that I read many years later. I saw him several times when I was 14-15. We corresponded in French. I didn't know Mathey's wife. Mathey had two sons: Jamin Feinzilber, the older one, had kidney tuberculosis. He died before the Great Patriotic War. The other one, Samson Feinzilber, was a cinema and theater critic. He was an actor as well; he performed in French theaters. During World War II he was wounded in his back - probably during an air raid. That's all I know about him. Most likely, he died in a concentration camp. I saw Mathey in 1939, when he came to my grandfather Israel's funeral.
My mother's older sister, Tonia Rozenstein, nee Feinzilber, also lived in Bucharest. Her husband was a wealthy man. When the fascist regime of Antonescu came to power in Romania, he moved to Palestine with his family. He died there in the middle of the 1940s. His wife died a few years later. Tonia's son, Emil Rozenstein, perished in France during World War II.
My mother's younger sister, Sonia Feinzilber, married a Mr. Nadler, a Romanian Jew. They moved to Egypt. They lived in Alexandria where her husband owned a confectionery. I visited Sonia at the age of 12. I was struck by the eternal beauty of Egypt. There was a rather big Jewish community, a synagogue and Jewish community activities in Alexandria. During and after the Great Patriotic War Sonia and her husband lived in Switzerland. They died in the early 1950s. Sonia had no children.
My mother's younger brother, Simon Feinzilber, also finished the Medical Faculty in Iasi and lived and worked in France like his older brother. Simon was single. That's all I know about him.
Emil, the youngest brother, became a businessman. He owned a textile factory. He lived in Iasi and then in Bucharest. In the late 1930s he moved to Palestine with his wife, whose name I don't remember, and their son, Edwin. Emil and his wife died after the war. I have no information about my cousin brother Edwin.
My mother, Sima Magder, nee Feinzilber, was born in Iasi in 1889. Mama had a private teacher at home and then finished a Jewish or Romanian gymnasium. My parents spoke Romanian to each other for the most part, but they knew Yiddish as well. My mother learned to play the piano and did so quite well. She also studied foreign languages. She was quite well-educated for her time. Neither my father nor my mother knew Hebrew. My parents got married in Iasi in 1912. My grandfather Israel insisted that they got married under a chuppah and had a traditional Jewish wedding.
After the wedding my parents rented an apartment. In 1913 my father and his brother were drafted to the army. When my father's term of service was over, World War I began. He finished an officer school and went to war. One of those years my mother gave birth to her first baby named Emmanuel. Unfortunately, the boy died of scarlet fever at the age of five. I don't know when exactly my father was demobilized, but he moved to Kishinev immediately. He may have been offered a job there. My mother followed him.
Before I was due my mother went to her parents in Iasi, and I was born there on 30th October 1921. My name, as well as my relatives' names, seems to be of Romanian, French or even Spanish rather than Jewish origin. I was a long-expected child, particularly since my parents had lost their first baby. Though my father wasn't religious, he obeyed his relatives and I had my brit [milah] ritual on the eighth day. At home I was affectionately addressed as Theo, and this became the name that my family used for me. My first childhood memory is of my mother sitting on the sofa, calling my name and stretching her hands out toward me - she probably taught me to walk thereby.
Another one of my memories is our house, or apartment, I'd rather say, which my parents rented on 16 Pushkinskaya Street. We had four rooms: a living room and a piano in it, my parents' bedroom, a children's room and my father's study. Mama spent all her time with me. She read me fairy tales and poems by Romanian authors, and she took me for walks in the beautiful town garden [in Kishinev] that is still there. There was a visiting housemaid, who did the shopping, cleaning and cooking at home, but my mother tried to do as much housework as she managed herself: at that time the progressive intelligentsia, which I think my parents belonged to, inspired by democratic ideas, tried to avoid using hired labor. My father worked a lot. Lawyers usually had their offices at home. My father was working and I liked watching him as he was sitting on the sofa. There were armchairs, high bookcases with thick volumes in them, and a desk in the center of his room. When my father had visitors, I had to leave his study. He was basically rather strict, but not my mother who was spoiling me.
My parents didn't observe Jewish traditions. My grandfather Israel usually told me about Jewish traditions and holidays, when I visited him in Iasi. My father didn't go to the synagogue and was an atheist, but he had ties with the progressive Jewish circles and defended Jews in court. Leaders of Jewish Zionist organizations often visited him at home and they had discussions in his room; even a rabbi visited my father once to consult him. My father wrote articles mainly on the eternal Jewish issue. I heard the word 'anti-Semitism' in my childhood, though I didn't know the meaning. My father was involved in civil, criminal and political cases. However, my father never discussed his work with me. I don't even know what kind of organizations they were; my father didn't tell me about them. Only much later did I learn about his support of Jewish organizations from his comrades and the media. I found out that my father was one of the founders of the Maccabi 7 local organization for young people in Kishinev. He also spent time with members of this organization. My father was a progressive attorney, supporting and defending those who struggled with the regime for a bright future. He didn't belong to any political party, but his views were close to the socialist ideology. My father also wrote articles about the Jewish history. I learned this, when I studied the history of my family in the 1990s.
I wouldn't say that my father spent little time with me. He read to me, taught me about arithmetic and nature. At the age of five I actually completed the syllabus of the 1st grade of elementary school. I was to take an exam in front of a big commission and this was the first exam in my life. My father was sitting in the conference room where I was standing before the commission. There was the 'intuition' subject in the first grade, something close to natural sciences [Editor's note: the subject certainly had a different name than 'intuitsiya' (Russian), but its content could have been similar to science classes for children of this age.] So the commission asked me to name home pets. I named a dog, a cat, a cow, a duck, etc. When they asked me which of them was my favorite, I said 'duck' and explained that it walked in a funny manner. I even demonstrated how it walked and the commission and my father burst into laughter. The commission gave me the highest mark and explained to my father that I was a smart boy and had an original way of thinking. So I became a pupil of the 1st grade. My grandfather and grandmother already lived in Bucharest, and we didn't join them on Jewish holidays. When I turned 13, my grandfather got angry with my father: my father refused to arrange a bar mitzvah for me. My grandfather didn't talk to my father for almost a year.
I went to the Romanian gymnasium [Lyceum]. There were 40 pupils in my class, seven or eight of who were Jews. Other classes had about the same ratio. By the middle of the 1930s the Jewish population of the town was about 80,000 people. [Editor's note: In 1930 the 41,405 Jews living in Kishinev constituted over 36 percent of the total population numbering 114,896.] There were 65 synagogues and prayer houses and a developed network of Jewish organizations in the town. There were Jewish schools, gymnasiums, and vocational schools preparing young people for repatriation to Palestine. There was a network of Jewish charity organizations, orphanages and a Jewish hospital. There was a Jewish newspaper called 'Neue Zeit' ['New Time' in German/Yiddish] published in Kishinev.
I didn't take part in any Jewish activities and, like my father, identified myself as a Romanian to a bigger extent. It should be noted that before Romania became fascist, Jews had no problems in their relations with other nations. There was no segregation in the gymnasium: when Christian children had their religious classes, Jewish children studied the history of Judaism and Jewish history. This was an elective course and my father didn't force me to attend it, but I did as I found it interesting. Later it was closed.
I began to take interest in politics, when I was rather young. By the age of twelve I clearly defined my own political interests. I had Romanian, Jewish and Russian friends. Anti-fascism was our common view. Fascism was spreading in Romania through such organizations as the Cuzists 8 and the Legionary Movement 9, but there were also anti- fascist organizations. Constantinescu, a professor of Kishinev University, was at the head of this movement. He was also the head of the Society of Friendship with the USSR [a local society]. In 1935 he was brought to trial and my father spoke as his attorney. This movement also involved gymnasium students. Two of my classmates were arrested for their participation in the underground Komsomol 10 organization. My father couldn't defend them in court to avoid being accused of bias considering that they were my friends. The guys were sentenced to six months in prison, though they were just 15 years olds, and they were expelled from the gymnasium. When they were released, I continued meeting them and shared their views, but I never joined the underground Komsomol organization.
I took a great deal of interest in the Soviet Union like all young anti- fascists; we tried to learn as much as we could about this country. Of course, we had no information about the mass persecutions or arrests, occurring in the USSR at the time [during the so-called Great Terror] 11, though the Romanian press occasionally mentioned large political trials - against Kamenev 12, Zinoviev 13, etc. Later I read records of these trials in a book published in the Soviet Union in many languages. I received one copy of the book in French translation, 'The book you know not about', and when I read the trial records and the words of confessions of espionage and all deadly sins that Lenin's comrades had committed, I couldn't believe this had happened and asked my father to explain. Papa told me strictly that I had no grounds to doubt that what was published in newspapers and books was true: as long as Lenin's former comrades confessed, this meant they were enemies.
Besides politics I was also fond of literature. I read Romanian, French and German books in the original language. I studied these languages with private teachers. I also read the following Russian classics translated into Romanian: Tolstoy 14, Pushkin 15, Chekhov 16, Dostoevsky 17. I didn't know Russian. At that time it was even forbidden in Romania. There were announcements that Russian wasn't allowed in public places. I wasn't fond of Jewish literature. I only read Sholem Aleichem 18 in Romanian. I also wrote essays and they were published in our gymnasium newspaper. After visiting my aunt in Egypt I wrote a few travel notes. I wrote critical articles and journalistic essays. My fondness of literature helped to pass my exam for the 'Bachelor's degree' very successfully. [Editor's note: In Eastern Europe the term 'Bachelor's degree' refers to the graduation after taking the final exam at high school.] This was a very important exam: about 140 incumbents from all gymnasia of the town had to come to a big hall. The commission included teachers and professors from Bucharest, whom we didn't know. We were to name a writer and be ready to answer any question regarding his life or work. I chose Caragiale 19 a complex and contradictory author. However, I answered all questions and was awarded my Bachelor's degree.
I finished the gymnasium in 1939 and had to think about the future. I decided to go to a medical college - firstly, I was fond of medicine, and secondly, doctors belonged to the wealthy level of society. I went to Bucharest where I stayed with my mama's sister Tonia. Uncle Emil was in Bucharest at that time. He spent a lot of his time with me. I submitted my documents to the Medical Faculty of Bucharest University. Applicants had to sit in alphabetic order at the exam. My companions were Makariy and Manchur, non-Jews, of course. I finished my test and did theirs. We passed the written exam and were allowed to take the oral exam. Makariy and Manchur demonstrated their friendly feelings toward me. Between exams we walked around Bucharest together. One of the guys, a landlord's son, invited me to his mansion, and the other one promised to introduce me to his sister and arrange for me to marry her. During the oral exam I answered very well, but I didn't find my name in the list of students. This was the first time I faced anti- Semitism on the state-level. My 'friends' turned away from me immediately. I had a real depression - I was extremely upset about my first experience associated with the realization of my national identity.
I didn't know where to go or what to do. Wandering about the streets in Bucharest, I saw an announcement of admission to the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy. Since my medical career was over before it started I took my documents there. There was a rather big competition for this faculty. Besides, I was to take exams in subjects that I wasn't particularly ready to take. However, I managed well and became a student of Bucharest University. Throughout this year I attended lectures by the best professors in Romania and acquired invaluable knowledge. One of the best professors was Nicolae Iorga 20, a prominent Romanian historian. He spoke 42 languages fluently and was an honored member of many European and American Academies of Sciences.
This was the period of the boom of fascist parties in Romania - Cuzists and others. They had similar programs propagating racial hatred, anti- Semitism and fascism. Today it seems strange that many young people were fond of racial theories and were members of these parties. After the Great Patriotic War they changed their opinions, understood their mistakes and became a part of world literature and philosophy. One of them was Emile Cioran 21, whose works I admire. It should be noted that there were no direct anti-Semitic demonstrations at university. I even remember a case when one of the lecturers, a member of the Legionary Movement, who didn't conceal his views, speaking depreciatingly about Jews, gave me the highest mark at an exam, despite my Jewish identity.
After passing my exams for the first year, I went on vacation to Kishinev in June 1940. My father was recruited to the Romanian army in 1940 and was away from home. The Soviet Army arrived in Bessarabia 22 on 28th June [see Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union] 23. I stayed in Kishinev, and my studies at university were over - Soviet citizens weren't allowed to travel abroad. This was a hard period. I was alone with my mother, with no earnings, without my father, and besides, I knew no Russian. About a month after Bessarabia was annexed to the USSR, a man from Romania found me to tell me the tragic story of my father. He was released from the army like all other Jews. My father was in Romania, had no contact with us, and facing the crash of his views - democracy and respect of people - and understanding that he couldn't stand to live under a fascist regime, he committed suicide. This was a hard period for me. I decided to keep it a secret from Mama and she kept hoping to see him again and didn't give up this hope and love for my father till the end of her life.
I knew I was the only man and breadwinner in our small family. I knew I had to get an education and to do this I had to learn Russian. The best place to learn Russian was the Faculty of Russian Literature and Language. I gathered my courage and went to see the rector of the Pedagogical College that had opened in Kishinev shortly before. Makar Radu, the rector, was quite a young man. He was surprised and even angry about my impudence - I wanted to enter this faculty without knowing Russian and become a teacher three or four years later! The rector turned me down at first, but I managed to convince him to admit me on condition that I would quit, if I failed my mid-year exams. The rector approved my application for admission.
The subject of my first lecture was antic literature. I didn't understand a word of it. I sat beside a pretty girl and continued to sit beside her at classes from then on and started learning the Russian language. It didn't take me long to pick it up, though I kept writing in Latin letters. I passed my midyear exams with excellent marks and became a student of the college. The girl and I became friends and then fell in love with one another. Her name was Asia Shnirelman. She was born into the Jewish family of a doctor in Kishinev in 1922. We would spend the rest of our lives together.
On Saturday, 21st June 1941, I was spending time with my co-students. We had passed our summer exams and enjoyed ourselves dancing, singing, and drinking wine. I returned home at 1 o'clock in the morning. At five we woke up from the roar of bombing: the Great Patriotic War began. I knew Jews had to evacuate. I made Mama promise that she would evacuate with my fiancee Asia's family. We knew we would become husband and wife to spend our life together.
On 6th July I was recruited to the army. I took my college record book and a student's identity card - these were my most valuable belongings. I served in the rear units following the front-line forces. We were to install temporary ridges and crossings. I covered this doleful road of retreat with the Red Army. In each town our unit passed I found a pedagogical college, asking its lecturers to be my examiners. They were looking at me as if I was crazy, but they couldn't turn down a soldier who might actually die any moment. I found libraries or archives, which at times had been turned into scrap heaps, and was looking for the textbooks I needed. I studied at intervals between marches and battles - my goal was studying.
In late 1941 all Bessarabians, including me, were demobilized - the Soviet people didn't trust its new citizens. This distrust hurt me, but now I understand how fortunate I was - it helped me to survive. I was in Krasnodar [Russia], 1,500 kilometers from home. I asked the people in the evacuation inquiry office to give me information about my mother's whereabouts. My mother, Asia and her family were in a village in Kuban region, near Krasnodar, not far from where I was staying. I went to join them there. On the way patrols halted me a few times since I was wearing my military uniform. I showed them my demobilization certificate and they let me go. When I found my mother and my fiancee, we were boundlessly happy to see each other again. We stayed in Kuban for a few months and then moved farther to the east, when the front line approached.
We stopped in Dagestan for some time waiting for a boat. I was captured in a raid, one of many to be checked for 'men fit to serve in the army'. They checked my documents and let me go. From there we took a boat to cross the Caspian Sea with thousands of other people who had left their homes like us. Then we took a train to Uzbekistan. It was a freight train; it was a long trip. When the train stopped, we exchanged clothes for food. We arrived at Tashkent where my fiancee's father got a job offer to work in a hospital in Bukhara. So, we found ourselves in Bukhara, 3,500 kilometers from Kishinev. When Asia and I decided to register our marriage, I was recruited to the Labor army [mobilized to do physical work for the army]. I had to go to a mine in Sverdlovsk region. I was trained to work as a rigger in a mine. This was hard work, but I was young and didn't fear hard work. I lived in a hostel with other young workers. We received bread cards [see card system] 24 and got sufficient food for them. In 1942, the hardest period for our country and army, I joined the Komsomol and it was a sincere step on my part. I didn't work long in the mine. I fell ill with typhus. After I recovered, I was released from hospital and from work. I returned to my family in Bukhara.
This was in fall 1942. I went to the Russian Faculty of the Uzbek Pedagogical College. I also went to work as a German teacher at school. We all lived in one room. We had to stand in line to get bread at night. However, this was quite common at the time. The Uzbek people had never heard about Bessarabia before we came to their town. We were like from a different planet for them. I was struck by the low educational and cultural level of the population that seemed to have been stuck in the middle ages. They thought that Germans would never be able to cross the 'wide water', as they called the Caspian Sea. They respected me and the rest of us for having managed to cross this 'water obstacle'. I liked Uzbek children and enjoyed teaching them. It didn't take me long to pick up the Uzbek language.
In late 1943 my mother fell ill and died. I never told her what had happened to my father, and she never lost hope to see him again. We buried Mama in the local cemetery without observing Jewish traditions since she wasn't religious. Shortly after my mother's death, Asia and I registered our marriage in a registry office. We became husband and wife and she became my only and dearest person.
When Bessarabia was liberated in early 1944, my father-in-law started making arrangements for us to obtain a permit to return to our hometown. In Kishinev many buildings that I had liked so much were destroyed. There were only few buildings left in the center, and the monument dedicated to the great Pushkin was there as well. A new stage of my life began. I went to work in the Moldovan department of the TASU [Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union], and also studied in my last year at college. I usually worked at night, receiving news by telegraph and preparing it for the morning broadcast. I attended lectures in college and then passed my state exams successfully. I was also involved in editing and journalistic work, and, in time, I became chief of the foreign department.
For some time there were no demonstrations of anti-Semitism; even in the early 1950s, during the burst of anti-Semitism on a state level, we only knew about the Doctors' Plot 25 from newspapers. I never concealed my nationality. When I received my first postwar Soviet passport I thought about my nationality. The officer at the passport department was struck when he heard my question regarding the procedure in choosing the nationality. He said it wasn't based on religiosity, since we were atheists, or racial, since we were not racists, but it might be that the mother tongue determined the nationality. And I said, 'Then write 'Jew', please', knowing that my mother tongue was Romanian, though.
I joined the Communist Party in 1949, and I did so knowingly. I had been raised in the family of an anti-fascist man and communist ideas had been close to me since my boyhood. I felt real grief when Stalin died in 1953, and the denunciation of his cult by Khrushchev 26 was a sort of crash of ideals for me. I was involved in the coverage of the Twentieth Party Congress 27 in Moscow and was horrified to hear about the crimes of the leader. My trust in the Communist Party was broken.
In 1950 our son was born. We named him Victor in honor of the victory of the USSR in the war. Victor studied well at school. He finished it with a medal. Victor entered the popular faculty of the prestigious Electrotechnical College in Leningrad [today St. Petersburg, Russia]. I rented an apartment for my son. Some time later my son's friends informed me about strange things happening to my son: he fainted occasionally without any obvious reasons. Victor never mentioned it to me. I went to Leningrad and took my son to different doctors. They couldn't find the reason for what was happening. I made an appointment with a prominent neuropathologist, general of the medical service. He examined my son and told me that the ecology and climate of Leningrad were disastrous for my son and he had to move away from there. Victor wanted to stay, but I picked his documents and we returned to Kishinev.
Victor entered the university in Kishinev and studied well until he became a 5th-year student. He married Rita Vaksman, his co-student. Their daughter, Ada, was born in 1973. All of a sudden my son was expelled from university for immoral conduct. I wanted to know the truth: my son was a nice young man and he was devoted to his family. I heard rumors that Victor was expelled after someone reported having seen a map of Israel in his room in Leningrad where Victor had marked relocations of the Israeli army during the Six-Day-War 28. This was nonsense, but I failed to prove anything.
When he was expelled from the last course at university, my son decided to move to Israel. At first, my wife and I were against his decision, but then we understood we couldn't force him to stay and signed a permission for him to depart. As soon as I had signed this permission, the party committee summoned me, and then there was a meeting. The issue on the agenda was my expulsion from the Party, but they decided that a strict reprimand for failure in the upbringing of my son was sufficient. I understood that, according to the rules and morals of the time, all relatives of those who had moved to Israel were subject to ostracism. By the way, the authorities were loyal to me: they didn't fire me, but just asked where I wanted to work. Therefore, having worked for the TASU for 29 years I quit my job there. My wife, who was head of the editor's office of a magazine, was also fired from this position due to our son's departure. She was transferred to an editor's position.
I went to work at the publishing house of the Academy of Sciences, where I worked a few years before I went to work at the 'Tribune', a small and unpopular magazine. Then, the chief engineer of the Moldavhydromash industrial association, which was engaged in the industrial machine building and included three big plants and scientific research institutions, approached me. He offered me to write a book about the association on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. I thought it over and agreed. I visited this enterprise, familiarized myself with documents, and I understood that I couldn't write a proper book from the outside. I quit my work with the magazine and went to work as a laborer at this enterprise. I wrote the book in cooperation with the employees of the plant newspaper. Later the management offered me to establish and become the director of the museum of this enterprise. The museum I established got the status of people's museum and became very popular in Kishinev. We received many national and foreign delegations.
I worked in the museum until 1990. Then something happened that had an impact on all of us in one way or another: perestroika 29, the breakup of the Soviet Union. The premier [Snegur, Mircea, president of Moldova from 1991-96] of the first government of independent Moldova 30 offered me to take part in the establishment of the department of national issues. I was so dedicated to my job as director of the museum of the plant that I accepted this offer on condition that I could keep my position at the plant. I worked in the department for national relations for ten years. I had very good relations with the premier. He also involved me in diplomatic work. I did a lot for the Jews of Pridnestroiye, when the war began there [see Transnistrian Republic] 31. [Editor's note: In a nearly-forgotten corner of the former Soviet Union, a region of Moldova sandwiched between the Dniester river and Ukraine is celebrating twelve years of unrecognized independence. Despite economic hardship and diplomatic rejection, the self-proclaimed Dniester Moldovan Republic - recognized by the world as the Trans- Dniester region of Moldova - appears determined to preserve the traditions of its recent past. The Trans-Dniester region, with a population of less than a million mostly Russian and Ukrainian speakers, unilaterally declared independence from the then-Soviet Republic of Moldova on 2nd September 1990 as people became increasingly alarmed at the prospect of closer ties with Romania. Fighting broke out in the turmoil following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with hundreds dying before the introduction of Russian peacekeepers in mid- 1992.] 1,400 people, who had lost their home and relatives, were to be transported to Israel. We arranged for the buses for these Jews to pick them up at the border of Moldova. They were accommodated in a hotel in Kishinev and given free meals. Those who had documents were sent to Israel promptly. As for those, whose documents had disappeared, burnt in the blasted houses in Bendery and Tiraspol, I prepared a solicitation to the government of Moldova for its approval of simplified procedures for these victims. Two months later they took a train to Bucharest and from there traveled on to Israel.
There were no flights to Israel, and I need to say that I contributed to the resolution of this issue. At my work I had meetings with an American diplomat of Jewish origin. He asked me whether the president of Moldova, Snegur, would come visit if he received an invitation to Israel. I promised him that I would find out what Snegur thought about it. When the President gave his consent for a visit, I verbally passed this message on to the American diplomat. The President's advisors confirmed his decision. I convinced the President to expand the circle of issues to be resolved - the problem of diplomatic relations, airlines, economic issues - and, in the long run, I headed a delegation of ten people to Israel. Our delegation spent ten fruitful days in Israel and resolved a number of issues.
I also met with my son whom I hadn't seen for 18 years, since 1973. My darling wife Asia never saw our son again. She died on 8th August 1989. My son told me his touching story: He had arrived in the country with his wife Rita and their one-year-old daughter, Ada. At that time departure to Israel was only possible if one had an invitation from some people of straw, who declared they were relatives, and with the support of some international Zionist organizations. I don't have the slightest idea how they did it, but somehow these invitations reached the destinations. When my son was asked at the airport in Israel whether he had relatives, he mentioned this man who had signed his invitation. Of course, he had never seen him and the name was the only information he had about this man, or Israel for that matter. My son was given a car with driver, who took them to a specified address in a town. It was night, it was raining, and Victor, Rita and Ada were standing by the door of a stranger in a strange country. The owner of the house was at home. He remembered that he had signed an invitation one day, invited my son's family inside, accommodated them in his house and supported my son and his family for some time at the beginning. I thank this man from the bottom of my heart. My son is doing very well. He works for a big company. Ada got married and has two children, a son named Odet and a daughter named Sarrah - my great-grandchildren. In 1982 my son's daughter Ilana was born. She recently returned from her service in the army. So, in the long run my son took the right decision to move to Israel.
As for me, I've always associated my life with my homeland - Moldova - and my favorite town, Kishinev. In 2001 the government changed and I quit my post. In the past I was executive director of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities, had ties with Joint 32 representatives and accepted the offer to become full-time director of the Jewish community center. I'm not a religious person: I've never observed Jewish traditions or gone to the synagogue. However, I dedicate myself to the revival of Jewish culture, traditions and the upbringing of young Jews, and I'm content with the place I have in life. I don't feel like quitting my job or my life, I understand I need to train a good and decent successor, who can take over my place in the Jewish life of Kishinev.