By Abram Markovich Komissaruk
July 1988, Minsk
In the second half of XVIII century, before partitions of Poland, Byelarus was a part of Polish Commonwealth [Rzeczpospolita Polska]. Someplace in Byelarus lived a merchant Israel Levin. Jews called him Israel Shereshevsky [Szereszewski] by the name of Jewish small town where he was born. Polish called him "Jewish king" [Król Żydowski] because he always was ready to intervene on behalf of abused Jews. Those who knew him referred about him as about very decent and humane person. He was born, accordingly to my calculations, in 1762, year when Catherine the II toppled Peter the III and ascended to power. This man was my great-great-great-grandfather.
His daughter Sarah got married to a Jew from Bobruisk, Abram Paperno. This married couple became my great-great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather. About extended family of Paperno I know only that it was highly respected, but not wealthy. Abram and Sarah had sons: Yerahmiel, my great-grandfather, and Israel. About my great-grandfather I now the following. He had received religious education, i.e. graduated from Jewish religious school, Yeshiva (in Russian they call it incorrectly "Yeshibot") , and so successfully, that his fame went as far as to Polotsk. Jewish community of Polotsk, one of the most prominent in Belarus, offered him pulpit of Rabbi, but my great-grandfather, by the reason of his views, could not accept this offer and found employment as a clerk in some logging enterprise.
(I want to remind to a reader that someone dull or mediocre could not become a Rabbi. Only a bright young man was able to study Talmud. It means that title of a Rabbi is indirect proof of talents of its bearer. Both grandfathers of Carl Marx were Rabbis. He was not so smart by pure accident)
My great-grandfather Yerahmiel Abramovich married a maid, by name Miriam (Greek name - Maria) Yakovlevna [daughter of Yaakov] Epstein. In 1840 was born their youngest son Abram (1840 - 1904), who became my grandfather. Same year was born oldest son of Israel Abramovich Paperno, Abram-Yaakov (1840 - 1919), cousin of my grandfather. He later became a prominent Jewish writer and literary critic. Some people called him "Jewish Belinsky" [Famous Russian literary critic of democratic movement]. He wrote - in Hebrew and in Russian - prose and verses, translated Heine into Hebrew. I read some of his poetry and prose in Hebrew. At the beginning of XX century he published in Russian very interesting memoirs in volumes II and III of almanac "Life Experience". I have read volume III. This is from where I know what I wrote above about Israel Levin.
My great-grandfather Yerahmiel perished as a result of a tragic accident. Once it occurred to him to be in the woods during logging works, he was not careful enough, and cut down tree felt on him and killed him dead. At that time my grandfather-to-be, Abram, was not of age yet, but father-in-law of great-grandfather, Yaakov Epstein, was alive and well. Yaakov Epstein accepted his grandson into his family, formally adopted him, raised him up, and gave him his own last name. This is why descendants of grandfather turned out to be Epstein.
My grandfather, too, had received religious education, and, additionally, he new Hebrew very well. He used to be a clerk in various businesses for all his life. When his sons grew of age he set up a pine resin producing shop in the woods and ran it with the help of sons. So my mother grew up in the middle of pine woods.
In 1863 my grandfather took as a wife a maid Esther (Esfir in Russian) Zalmanovna (a daughter of Zalman) Frid (1847 - 6 of August, 1920). They settled down in small town Igumen - since 1924 it is called Cherven, administrative center of rayon in Minsk oblast. In 1954, in city of Kazan, I met an old woman - our relative by marriage - who remembered well my grandfather and grandmother. She recalled in very heart-warming words what a kind and peaceful person my grandfather was, how hard he worked, and how he used to spend every free minute to study something. Oftentimes it occurred to him to be unemployed, the family lived in poverty. My mother told me: she wore white stockings, as was a custom. Her shoes had holes, so she painted spots on the stockings over with ink to disguise holes. By the end of his life grandfather lost his eyesight. He was taken to his oldest son, who lived in Minsk, and there he died.
Grandmother Esther gave birth to eight children. From that number five survived: two sons and three daughters.
The oldest son, Yaakov (1868 - 1937) worked as a backer all his life. Out of his six children today is alive only one daughter.
The second son, Yerakhmiel (1882 - ?), served in military, emigrated to the United States, became a painter-decorator and worked as such. During the time of mass starvation in Ukraine in 1921-1922 he saved our family sending food parcels [with the help of American Relief Administration]. In 1934 his wife died and we lost connection.
My oldest aunt Sarah (1864-1945) was very beautiful young girl and her family was respected, but she had no dowry. As a result she got married to a rich widower who had nine children from the first marriage. Aunt Sarah gave birth to six more. Today none of them is alive.
The second aunt, Liuba (1880 - February 2, 1942), too, got married to a widower with three children. [Not exactly clear what did he do for living] He was an educated artisan. He owned a small library of books in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. Aunt Liuba brought two daughters to him.
The oldest daughter, Rachel (14 January 1909 - 18 February 1929), was beautiful, smart, and very able. She was the best friend of my wife-to-be, who lived in the house that was next to one that was next to my uncle's house (all that in the town Cherven - Igumen). At the age 14 Rachel got ill with bone tuberculosis. She had been suffering for six years before she died at age 20. Her death was a great sorrow for both her and our families.
The youngest daughter, Dina (October 3, 1911 [- ?]), worked as an accountant all her life. Now  she is a widow, lives in Minsk, we are very good friends.
The youngest daughter of grandmother is my mother. She was named at birth Paltia. This is female form for male name from Bible: Palti or Paltiel. Ignorant Byelorussian Jews distorted this name to Pelta. Later, when my mother moved to Ukraine, relatives started to call her "Polia". In Soviet times this name became her official name and she became Polina Abramovna (1884 - 2 February, 1942).
My mother since early childhood was a very inquisitive girl. When my grandfather used to come back from work, she pulled his coat tails: "Teach me!" My grandfather taught her what he new himself: Hebrew and Jewish Scripture in Hebrew. Later my mother improved her knowledge under guidance of a specialist - author of a textbook of Hebrew grammar. This is how my mother became a teacher of Hebrew. My mother had a friend: very educated, by the standards of that time, girl. She tutored my mother free of charge in Russian, German and some other subjects, so my mother was able to pass examination for the certificate of Governess.
My mother had very neat hand writing manner in all of three languages - Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian - in which she used to write. (It's a pity that teachers have no training in calligraphy nowadays.) She obviously had literary abilities, and, may be, even talent. What she wrote was vibrant and enjoyable. I have seen a letter addressed to her from Isaac-Dov Berkovich, oldest son-in-law of Sholom-Aleyhem, with invitation to take part in literary almanac, published by Berkovich. Regrettably, my mother could not accept this proposition because of family reasons.
Sometime in the middle of 1930-s, responding to my request, she wrote memoirs in a volume of two thick notebooks. I dare say, it well deserved to be published.
At the beginning of XX century a revolutionary group of people gathered in Igumen. I guess, it was a part of Bund party, because all members of this group were Jewish. My mother became a member of this group, too. I do not know exactly what did they do, but they used to distribute leaflets - that's for sure. Once such an episode did happen. Grandma came back home from some trip and found leaflets where they did not belong. She summoned mom and said: "Daughter, look, how careless you are!" So mom hid those leaflets in the woodshed, under fire wood. Same day police came in with search [no legal niceties like search warrant needed at this time and place]. Officer in command had a "nagayka" - a kind of a short whip, and he said: "If I'll found leaflets, I'll beat you up!" They did not find a thing and there was no beating.
After defeat of revolution of 1905 the group felt apart. Mom worked as a teacher in some private school. Police authorities summoned woman - owner of the school and confronted her with dilemma: fire Epstein, or you school will be closed [again, no legal niceties]. So mom got fired. She moved to Yekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk) where she had relatives, and found a job in a private school. In Yekaterinoslav mom made acquaintance with my father-to-be and they got married in October of 1910.
My mom was my first teacher. She taught me Hebrew, Russian, and German. When she smiled, it lightened up the room. She was an intimate friend of her children. Me and my brothers owe to her for what good is or was about us. I wish there will be some time in the future among my descendants a girl - Paullina, and that in her reappear great qualities of her for-mother.
Lineage of my father
In the year 1808 by the order of Imperator Alexander I in Ukraine were organized Jewish agricultural colonies: 10 in Yekaterinoslavskaya guberniya [government of Yekaterinoslav], and 10 in Khersonskaya [governvent of Kherson]. Jews from Byelarus and Lithuania started to move to those colonies.
Family of my grandfather from father's side was originally from Kovno (now Kaunas), family of my grandmother from father's side was from Vilno (now Vilnius).[About those city names: it is switch from Polish stile to Lithuanian stile.]
My ancestors settled down in colonies of Yekaterinoslavskaya guberniya. Not a small number of them were Rabbis, others worked on land. My ancestors in masculine line had last name Komissarov, but someone of them changed it to Komissaruk. [I share opinion that it was other way around: first existed form "Komisaruk", probably based on Polish "Komisarek", then at some moment one of them changed it to more Russian form "Komissarov"] My father had a second cousin, Lev Borisovich Komissaruk. It makes me think that their common great-grandfather was already Komissaruk. Son of that Komissaruk was called Menakhem-Mendel . I do not know what did he do for living. His oldest son, Pinkhos, (in Russian Bible this name is distorted to "Finees") - my great-grandfather - was a Rabbi [Actually, Pinkhos was a son of Shlomo-Zalmen, not a son of Menakhem-Mendel]. My father remembered him well. His first wife - my great-grandmother - was called Haya-Rachel. She gave birth to four sons and a daughter. The youngest son died in previous [19th] Century. The second and the third lived in colonies and worked on land. My mother witnessed that when she visited them. Both were called Komissarov. When later their children used to send photographs to my parents, they used to inscribe them: "To our dear brother Motia and sister Polia Komissarov". It means that they thought that we were Komissarov, too. Oldest son of my great-grandfather, Solomon-Zalman [or Shlomo-Zalmen] (1856 - 14 August 1920) became my grandfather. He received religious education, and, probably, some training in Russian language. I think so, because when he got drafted for military service in 1878 (reign of Alexander II), he was sent to the school of military medical assistants ["фельдшер" - Russian word, originates in German "Feldscher"]. He had been studying for 3 years, graduated, then had been serving as medical assistant for 3 years. He was discharged in 1884 (reign of Alexander III), took as a wife my grandmother-to-be and found a job as medical assistant in "zemstvo" [local social service]. Grandmother told that when it occurred to him to be summoned to a patient on Sabbath, he did not hesitate to go, even though he was very religious.
Then came the year 1888, when Alexander III and his prime-minister Count Ignatiev introduced infamous "Temporary rules" [rules relating to Jews] that remained in place until February revolution . On the ground of those rules all Jews were fired from service in "zemstvo". Grandfather lost his job, his private practice was not enough to provide for the family, so he became a shokhet [ritual slaughterer], and had been working as such until his death.
In one of the colonies lived highly regarded Rabbi Meshullam-Iosif Vaisman. He, too, was my great-grandfather. Name of his wife, my great-grandmother, was Yitka. (Some Jews think that this name is vulgar form of German name Ida. It is not correct. In middle ages Jews acquired some names from people among whom they lived. In particular they acquired Czech name Yitka. ) My father remembered them well. Their oldest son, Dov-Ber, did not reach position of a Rabbi, and became a shohet. Name of his wife, my great-grandmother, was Sarah-Rebecca. My father told they were very kind people. Once great-grandmother told in the presence of my father that she got married at age 13. She died in 1913. I was then 2 years old.
Those my great-grandfather and great-grandmother had three daughters. Youngest - Minna (1862 - September 8, 1937) - became my grandmother. She was miniature woman with blue eyes and auburn hair (in times, when I remember her from, she was already white-haired), very good-natured, and fair. She often used to say: "Do not judge anybody, before you have a solid proof of his guilt."
From her children survived three sons and five daughters. One of those daughters died at age 15 or 16, of tuberculosis (this had happened even before my father got married), others, except oldest son, I knew well.
Oldest son studied at Yeshiva in Kremenchug, graduated successfully, became a Rabbi in Novogrudok, got married there, and had two sons. He was poor, my parents used to help him. He died in 1919, and we lost track of his family.
The second son - my father. He was born on March 17, 1887, new style [March 4 old style] in the village Egorovka. Before revolution my father in all official papers was called "a colonist of colony Grafskaya" (this colony was founded in 1848). At the beginning of XX century my grandfather with his family lived in the village Vasilkovka in Pavlograd uyezd of Yekaterinoslavskaya gubernia (presently the center of a rayon of Dnepropetrovsk oblast ), on the banks of Volchya river. I recall this village as a small place in Paradise. This is, in essence, my homeland, even though I was born in Yekaterinoslav. As my father remembers, relations with neighbors - Ukrainians were very friendly. Neighbors re-named grandfather and his children, replacing Jewish names with Christian ones. In particular, patronymic name of my grandfather, as I mentioned before, was "Pinkhosovich" They renamed him, by the first letter, to "Petrovich" and called him so talking to him or about him. My father was named at birth Mordekhai, name taken from Bible. (In Russian Bible this name is disfigured to "Mardohey") This name originates from the name of Babylonian god Marduk. When my father had grown up a bit, neighbors renamed him to "Marko". This name stuck to him and after revolution he became officially Mark Solomonovich.
The third, youngest, son of grandfather, Isaac (1896 - May 12, 1939) was a hansom (all of them were hansom) and able young man. In 1914 he got drafted and sent to front. In the firs battle he got wounded with three bullets and got disabled for life. After revolution he worked as a member of a cooperative of disabled war veterans in Pavlograd (center of a rayon of Dniepropetrovsk oblast). There he got married. Two daughters were born to him: in March 1928 and in March 1936. In 1939 uncle died of intestinal illness. Aunt [my father forgot to mention her name, but it is stated in the note to the picture in the family album as "Pasha, his wife", meaning "Isaac's wife"] and both my little cousins perished in 1941 from hands of Germans.
Fate of my other aunts was not much better.
Oldest, Aniuta, worked hard through all her life and died in 1938 of grave illness.
Second one, Liuba (1894 - 1941), perished with her husband in the town Krasnoarmeyskoye, Donetsk oblast.
The third one, Estherka [Esther] (1899 - 1968), escaped, moved as war time refugee from Pavlograd to Kizil-Orda, worked there as a nurse at a hospital, died in 1968 of grave illness.
Fourth one, Yitka (1901 - 1941) died giving birth in town Krasnoarmeysk just before Germans captured this town.
So, of eight children of my grandmother only two reached old age: my father and aunt Esther.
Survived a son of aunt Liuba Zinovy Samuilovich Zilberov (born in 1926) and a daughter of aunt Yitka Sarah Moiseevna Shagas, nee Shehter (born in 1925). Both of them fought in war, fighting made their way to Germany. Sarah got wounded. I have their picture [I do not have that picture], but do not know them personally.
Jews-colonists used to live in very good relation with their neighbors - Ukrainians, but in year 1919 scam of Ukrainian nation, bandits of Makhno and Petliura began to raid Jewish colonies and massacre population. From the hands of Makhno bandits perished all nephews of my grandfather (I remember them well). When it became unsafe to live in the village, grandfather moved to Pavlograd. In year 1920 there was an epidemic outbreak of cholera in Pavlograd. Grandfather was not careful enough and died on 14 of August 1920 by sudden death. In the morning of that day he was healthy man, and by night he laid on the floor under the black shroud. Grandma remained in care of the youngest son, Isaac. She lived another 17 years and died on 8 of September 1937.
Myself and my brothers
I have written before about how my parents came to know each other in Yekaterinoslav and got married in Vasilkovka. There they settled down. Mother began to teach Hebrew. Not without her help father did do the same. When the time had come for me to be born, father, foreseeing difficult delivery, took my mother to Yekaterinoslav, to charitable obstetrical facility, sponsored by a group of local dames of nobility. Old Doctor Amchislavsky was in charge of this hospital. He delivered me. Delivery, indeed, was long and difficult. I was extracted with forceps, blue, and without breath, but Dr. Amchislavski brought me to life, so me and my mother, we owe our lives to him. It happened on 23 of October, 1911, new style.
When mom had gotten somewhat better father brought us to Vasilkovka. There grandfather introduced me to Covenant of Abraham with his own hands. In the birth certificate my name was written in form "Abraham", but father all his life called me "Avram", and mother and brothers called me "Abram". This is why I started to call myself in all official documents "Abram".
I spent my first years in Vasilkovka. There on 24 of February 1914 Mother gave birth to my brother Yonia (Iosif, named in memory of our great-great-grandfather).
At the beginning of 1915 our family moved to Yenakievo in Donetsk oblast, but summer of 1915 and 1916 I spent in Vasilkovka, with my grandpa and grandma. In Yenakievo my parents continued to teach Hebrew. In March or at the beginning of April of 1915 grandma Esther, my mothers mother, came to live with us. Before that, since my mother moved from Igumen to Yekaterinoslav, she lived with her second daughter Liuba Charny. My father treated her with hospitality and respect. Grandma spoke Russian correctly, with no accent, but the word "это" she pronounced in Belorussian way: "гэта". In the middle of some summer day in 1919, to my surprise, grandma made her bed and laid down. She stayed in bed for a year and died on 6 of August of 1920.
During Civil war the town Enakievo has had been captured and re-captured many times by opposite forces: sometimes "Reds" are in town, other times "Whites". Many times we had to hide in the basement during shelling, twice shells did hit neighboring houses.
In year 1919 father went to Pavlograd and found there employment at some big mill. He started to come home to Enakievo only from time to time. In Pavlograd father got sick subsequently with three forms of typhus, but even when he was not sick, but town was in hands of "Whites", his life was in a grave danger.
On 18 of October 1920 mom gave birth to the third son. He was named Solomon in memory of grandfather Solomon-Zalman, but because people mostly called grandfather with his second name, we always called our youngest brother "Ziama".
In 1921 father brought all our family to Pavlograd.
There were three spoken languages in our family: parents spoke to kids mostly in Hebrew, sometimes in Russian. Between themselves parents spoke mostly Yiddish, sometimes Hebrew. Me and brother Yonia, between us we spoke mostly Russian, sometimes Hebrew. When I visited Vasilkovka, I spoke Ukranian outside of the house (both my parents were fluent in Ukranian). My father always readily spent money for books, and in Enakievo we accumulated pretty large library. Books were mostly in Hebrew, some in Yiddish and Russian. I mastered Hebrew (reading, writing and grammar) long before I mastered Russian. I remember well that in summer 1920, when I was eight and a half years old, I read fluently serious books in Hebrew without diacritical marks. In Pavlograd I finished 4th and 5th grades, In 5th grade we began to study Algebra, Geometry, and Physics. Algebra fascinated me very much and I fell in love with Mathematics for life.
There was no work for mom in Pavlograd, so in 1923 we moved to Igumen, where aunt Liuba Charny lived. A year after this town was renamed to Cherven. There were two schools: Byelorussian and Jewish. I entered in 6th grade of seven in Jewish school, mother became a teacher in lower grades of the same school. In that same school mom worked until Germans came to Cherven in 1941. (On September 1 1938 all Jewish schools in Soviet Union were re-organized into Russian)
I have to say that it was beginning of the time when knowledge of Hebrew was considered as a sign of political dissension. Our family had to conceal our knowledge of that language and replace it with Yiddish in speech and writing. Since that time and until the end of life of my parents I spoke and wrote to my parents in Yiddish only.
In 1925 I graduated from seven-year school. I was unsuccessful in attempts to get enrolled to some higher school. During next two years I finished ten-year school study by self-education. On 1 of September 1927 I started to work as a clerk in the same Jewish school where my mother worked as a teacher. In December of that year I became a member of a trade union. By now I have been a member of a trade union for 61 year.
Every summer I made attempt to get enrolled into some place for higher education, but, to my great fortune, unsuccessfully; they did not let me in, even though I used to pass all tests well. I say: " to my great fortune", because I poked my nose into all wrong places.
It was the time when slogan of the day was: "Create Proletarian cadre", and clerks were frowned upon. I decided: if it is necessary to be a worker, I'll go for it. On 18 of March 1930 I arrived to Minsk and in a couple of days found employment as unskilled worker at construction site of University campus. I had been working as unskilled worker for a year. My wages was my only income, I was naked and barefoot. Winter of 1930/31 was very severe. I got frost-bitten toes. Rejection of frost-bitten tissue began, soars got developed. At the end I got cured, but next two winters I suffered from hellish pain, like from drill, in frost-bitten places.
In April 1931 I got enrolled into class of so called "Central Institute of Labor", which trained plumbing workers of lower qualification. We graduated in August of the same year. It was time of great poverty, I counted every kopeyka, but it was the time of a great piece of mind. In no time and in no place in my life before or after I lived in such piece of mind, free of worries, as then.
After graduation from class I found employment in City Plumbing and Sewage Service and had been working there since 1 of September 1931 until 14 of April 1932. In response to my application trade union sent me to a class for those who wanted to prepare themselves for higher study. It is notable that class was situated at the main University building, at construction of which I worked in 1930. Now A.M. Gorky Pedagogical Institute [teachers college] is situated there. I worked there as a Docent until retirement.
This class left in me most warm and pleasant memories. That winter I worked in open field, suffered from cold as a dog, and, when in class, I was in a warm, bright-lighted room, among very nice young boys and girls. Teachers, most of them, new their subjects well. They were students of high years of University and Pedagogical Institute, respectable in appearance, some of them with some baldness, family people, with some teaching experience behind them. Class used to last four hours. For the first two hours I used to be active and alert. After second hour I used to hide behind my neighbor's back and sleep for two hours like I was dead. Nobody ever woke me up. Students and teachers new in what conditions I worked. (I guess, I did not snore then like I do now. )
We graduated without final tests at the beginning of April, and on April 12 of 1932 I got enrolled as a student of division of Mathematics of the faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Byelorussia State University. This was the last extraordinary enrollment. The first day of study was 16 of April, and on 14 of April, on the last day, hour and minute of my work, I got so hard blow in the face with an iron hook that I lost consciousness. The blow hit me on the left chick-bone and eyebrow. It cut tissue to the bone. Luckily, the eye was not damaged. As a result I appeared at University with a bondage over my head.
Four years of my study had began. I studied with a great enthusiasm and soon I found myself among the best students. But those were years of a great hunger. I was hungry 24 hours a day, and dreamt about a piece of rye bread. During winter season I wore a raw-cotton lined jacket and a cap, made of oil-skin. I had no gloves, of course. Once our Communist party organizer noticed my blue and swollen hands. He procured for me some money assistance from trade union, and I bought myself a raw-cotton lined winter coat. I remember how I laughed with happiness when I did put it on and felt again long forgotten warmness. In 1934 things got better. In Minsk was opened trade with [so called] "commercial" bread [it means: in addition to rationing system]. The price was 1 rubel for a kilogram. First "commercial" bread I ate with greater appetite than I have now when eating cake. Same year in University were established personal scholarships. I was awarded one of them and had been receiving it until graduation.
In July of 1934 I came home for summer vacation. There came together a group of young people. We read books and walked around together. I made acquaintance with Eugenia Ilyinichna Rytova (born 29 of July 1907 [passed away on 8 of March 1990]). Her grandfather Dov-Ber used to be a Rabbi. It was told about him, that sometimes in the public bath he used to give his clean underwear to some poor man and come back home in dirty underwear. His oldest son, Ilya (1870 - 1945), before Revolution used to be an "official Rabbi", it means, he was registering births, deaths, marriages and divorces. At Soviet times he worked as an accountant until his death. Genia (Eugenia) was his second of three daughters. She was the most talented of all Cherven girls, and among boys not many could rival her. In 1925 she got enrolled into division of Nature Science of Pedagogical faculty of Byelorussia State University in Minsk and graduated in 1929. In years 1929 through 1933 she worked as a teacher in a Jewish school in the town Gorodok, in Vitebsk oblast. In 1933 she entered aspirantura [ post graduate study] at Academy of Science of Byelorussia in Chemistry. Our dating began in Cherven and continued in Minsk. Academy gave to Genia a one-room apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom shared by many tenants. This event made it possible for us to marry.
Year 1936 was significant in my life. On 5 of February we registered our marriage; on 19 of June I presented my final thesis, got highest grade and thus graduated from University; a short time after I got accepted into aspirantura in Geometry at same University; on 18 of November was born my first-born son, Vitaly, may he lives, [I feel that this is some customary Hebrew formula in Russian]. Same summer Genia graduated from aspirantura, but without having dissertation presented (as I remember, her research advisor got arrested). She was appointed junior scientific associate at Institute of Chemistry of Academy of Science.
Let us go a bit back in time. On December 1 1934 a great disaster happened in our country: by an agent of NKVD [secret police], on secret command of Stalin, in Leningrad got assassinated S.M. Kirov. Same day Presidium of Central Executive Comity of Soviet Union under chairmanship of Stalin's lackey M.I. Kalinin passed lawless decree on terrorism. From that day on investigations of cases of suspected acts of terrorism have to take not more than 10 days, trial had to take place without participation of competing sides, i.e. prosecutor and counselor of defense, death sentence had to be executed immediately. Many students of University were arrested, sentenced with lightning speed and executed. In University and in the whole country sat up atmosphere of fear, paranoia and suspicion. Once occurred such an episode. Somebody was telling to somebody else about one of our students who got arrested. A girl - G. V., student from our group was present and said "ah!". This "ah!" was interpreted as expression of doubt in inerrancy of NKVD. Some vigilant Komsomol [Young Communists Union] member reported her to authorities. As a result this G.V. got expelled from University, Komsomol and Trade Union. Later, on intervention of Mariya Ilynichna Ulyanova [Lenin's sister], she was restored in her rights, but what ordeal she went through!
Arrests and executions continued. All professors of the faculty of Mathematics and Physics were arrested. There were only two of us, aspirants, specializing in Geometry. Our research advisor was a member of Academy of Science of Byelorussia,
C. L. Burstin. He used to be a member of Communist Party of Austria and came to us from Vienna. It [i.e. his foreign origin] was a sufficient reason to arrest him. He was arrested in the middle of 1937 and died in prison a year after [at the age of 50]. A month [after Burstin's arrest] later our administration invited to be the research advisor for us a professor from Moscow, A.M. Lopshits. He was burning with energy and ignited enthusiasm in all people around. But his style of guidance was very different. As a result of all that we graduated from aspirantura without presentation of dissertations. Ministry of Education appointed us to be senior lecturers at chair of Geometry of Byelorussia State University.
In 1939 was issued new law about military service. On the ground of this law I had no more postponement until 1941 which I had by the old law. I got drafted. I had time to finish to teach class "Foundations of Geometry" for students of 5th year of Mathematics, and on 18 of November, the third birthday of my son, departed for my regiment.
Now I will go back to my brothers.
Both showed great talents since early childhood. Yonia graduated in 1928 from Byelorussian seven-year school. One year he wasted. In 1929 he entered into Jewish Professional Shool of Chemistry. Shortly after this school was re-organized into mid-level engineering school of Chemistry. He graduated as one of the best in his class and was appointed junior scientific associate at Industrial Institute of Science and Research of Byelorussia. Some years later [probably in 1936] he entered as a student of faculty of Mathematics and Physics of University of Leningrad and graduated in 1941. During all time in University he had no other grades but "excellent". In 1939 were established personal scholarships in the name of Stalin (500 rubl a month), to be awarded by cabinet of ministers of Republic. He was one of the first "Stalin scholars". I have seen an issue of a local newspaper of his faculty. In an article, written by well-known professor, it was said that Yonia is a brilliant experimenter. When he had graduated he was invited to aspirantura, but war broke out, and he said: "We have to expel enemy first" and volunteered for service in [so-called] "Popular militia". He became a gun-layer of a
45-mm anti-tank gun. In November there was no more him and no more of the whole his regiment.
Ziama graduated from a Jewish seven-year school, then, in 1937 from Byelorussian ten-year school. He entered as a student into Medical Institute in Minsk. He was not just a student of all excellent grades. He showed promises to become a surgeon "By God's Grace". For practice he walked around different hospitals, assisted deliveries, fixed broken bones etc. Once he put in a cast broken bone of some old women in the presence of his professor, and professor said that his assistant would not do it better. He had "first category" [rank in sport] in chess.
In summer of 1941 he was with mom in Cherven [on vacation]. Being a student of 5th year he was performing duties of a doctor in local hospital. For inexplicable thoughtlessness they did not get out. [It is inexplicable, if one knows about Nazi Germans what we know now, but Soviet propaganda before war did not tell Soviet Jews about German attitude toward Jews, and after conclusion of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact all anti-Nazi propaganda stopped alltogether] On 2 of February 1942 Ghetto of Cherven got exterminated. 2000 Jews perished. Among them were my mom, my aunt Liuba Charnaya, my brother Ziama. In 1968 at the place of their mass grave was erected monument. Money was raised among relatives of victims [State that erected countless humongous monuments all over the country did not find money for this one].
My father for some time worked in Cherven as a worker at mill. At that time there was a great unemployment. Left without a job, father traveled to various towns, for sometime he worked in Karelia [region next to Finland]. War found him in Pavlograd. From there he and his sister Esther moved as war-time refugees into town of Kizil-Orda.
On 25 of July of 1941 my wife with little Vitaly, her younger sister Rachel (1912 - 1968) and their father moved to a small village, Chernavka, in Saratov oblast. [I do not know details about how my mom got united with her sister and father, but she escaped from Minsk on foot with Vitaly in arms. Officially recognized date of fall of Minsk is July 28 1941, but there is some indications that it happened as early as July 26. On July 25 there was total chaos.] Some time later she together with Vitaly moved to town Volzsk in Mary Autonomous Republic and found job as chemist engineer at a plant that produced cellulose and paper. Her brother-in-law, husband of her elder sister Liuba (1904 - 1957), worked as chef engineer at that plant.
In November 1939 I got to 139 Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment of Reserve in town Bronnitsy. After course of training I was appointed gun crew commander (it was a gun of a caliber 76.2 mm, or, in old measurement, 3 inch; later 85 mm ) In February 1940 our battery was deployed to Rybinsk and re-organized into 377 Stand-alone Anti-aircraft Artillery battalion. By the end of April our battalion and several others were deployed to Batumy and made a part of 466 Anti-aircraft Artillery regiment of Anti-aircraft Defense [branch of Armed Forces]. There I served as a gun crew commander. When war broke up I was appointed a squad commander of Gun Fire Control Instruments squad. [The mission of their regiment and the whole brigade was to protect oil refineries, and they accomplished this successfully, not allowing a single bomb to be dropped on the plant ] In 1943 I received training as wireless operator and put in charge of battalion radio station. In October I was sent to city of Baku to officers school for short term class. After this class I came back to my regiment and was appointed platoon commander of Gun Fire Control platoon. On January 1 of 1944 I was commissioned junior lieutenant. In February of 1945 I was sent to Kamenets-Podolsk, to 34 Training Regiment of Officers Contingent of Anti-aircraft Artillery for advanced training. I graduated with all excellent grades and was discharged in October 1945.
When I came back to Minsk I went to work at University. Six months later I brought back in Minsk from Volzsk Genia and Vitaly. We were given a place to live in, 6 square meters in provisionary building infested with big rats. There on 2 of March 1947 was born my youngest son, whom I named Iosif on memory of my brother. Six months later we moved into more tolerable dormitory. At the same time I changed my job and started to work at A. M. Gorky Pedagogical Institute and had been working there 28 years before retirement. Genia found a job as a junior scientific associate at Research Institute of Food Industry. In 1952 anti-Semitism of Stalin and Beriya reached culmination. On 12 of August 1952 were shot most prominent Jewish writers, then all Jews in positions of any prominence got fired. Genia lost here job, too. She found a job as a teacher of Chemistry at evening school for working young people and continued to work there until retirement in 1963.
In 1950 me and my father found each other with the help of Shwernik, then Chairmen of Presidium of Supreme Counsel of USSR [of course, not Shwernik personally, but his office]. Since that time I used to send him money once a month. Father and aunt Esther visited us a couple of times, I visited them, too. In 1968 aunt Esther died. In 1969 my father was not able to live alone any more. I brought him to us. In 1970 he suffered 3 strokes (January 1, April 19, Noember 27) and died on 3 of December 1970.
My elder son, Vitaly, graduated from ten-year school, with Gold Medal, in 1953, then studied in Leningrad Institute of Precision Mechanic and Optic from 1953 to 1959, graduated with distinction. Since April 1959 he has been working in Kazan Optical Institute. [now he is retired] He is Candidate of Technical Science, senior scientific associate. He married Isabella Iosifovna Frolova, alumnus of the same institute and his co-worker. They have a son, Lew, born on 7 of December 1964, and a daughter Dinah, born on 14 of February 1967. Lew got married to Elena in 1985, his daughter Ekaterina was born on 2 of July 1986.
My younger son, Iosif, graduated from school in 1965 and from Faculty of Mathematics of Byelorussia State University in 1970. He is a computer programmer. He got married in 1974 to alumnus of same faculty Mariya Meyirovna Agrinik. Their son Mark was born on 5 of October 1976 (named in memory of grandfather.)
In the end of May 1954 I presented to Scientific Counsel of Kazan University my dissertation and was recognized as Candidate of Physics and Mathematics. Dissertation was prepared under guidance of my dear teacher Abram Mironovich Lopshits (May 27 1897 - May 22 1984). In 1958 I was appointed Docent.
I have published ten or so articles on geometrical net theory and three text books on Affine and Projective Geometry. After the last one got out from print I retired at age of 64.
Abram Markovich Komissaruk
July 1988, Minsk
Research Contact: Chaim