Kholmech Sign and Book of Letters
Preface the second & final edition


 This final edition of Bessie's Letters contains more than twice the number of letters in the first. With the help of my father, Jerry Schechter, who read this manuscript several times and offered many thoughtful suggestions and criticisms, the order of the letters has also been significantly reshuffled. There are now only one or two significant letters whose placement remains uncertain. Though we are less confident about the precise dating of the letters-sometimes our mathematical calculation of the time elapsed between known "landmarks" just  didn't work out-we think we know the general range of years.  The Introductory Notes have also been rewritten and expanded.

 The last of the letters translated were wholly in Yiddish, and it was difficult to find a translator equal to the challenge posed by the handwriting of the various authors. We were fortunate to have finally found two very talented translators who were. All along I had the suspicion that somewhere in this last batch of untranslated letters there would be something extraordinary, perhaps a more vivid account of the family's travails. This suspicion drove me to complete the task which history had dropped into my lap. Moreover, my suspicion was confirmed.

 In newly-translated Letter #66, the unidentified author (probably one of Bessie's sisters) recounts the full story of the "robbery" alluded to in the first edition. It ends up being a chilling account of a pogrom. Perhaps the writer felt that such details could be more safely "encrypted" in Yiddish. We also learn in the new letters that another of Bessie's siblings, Chaim, the stalwart mainstay of our Russian relatives, had unsuccessfully sought to come to America. His efforts to emigrate to Palestine also failed. Apparently, Bessie's arrival, on the SS Campania,  on August 2, 1913, came just in the nick of time for all of us here. Just three-hundred and sixty-three days later, Germany declared war war on Russia and World War I began. The global conflict effectively closed German ports to Russian emigres and made the Atlantic crossing more perilous from any point of embarkation. The ill-fated SS Lusitania was the most famous but not the only passenger liner to be sunk by German U-boats. Not surprisingly, the number of Russian-Jewish immigrants to the the United States plunged from a quarter-million in both 1913 and 1914 to a tenth that in 1915. A year after the war, the figure had dropped to about 1400, never to rise again. Nativist immigration laws effectively locked the "Golden Door."

 Look through this keyhole. Here is part of the story of one branch of your family. There is nothing in these letters to suggest that this story is a-typical, where Russian Jews are concerned. Herein you will find preserved the tenacious efforts of one family to survive the tumultuous upheavals of war, revolution, famine, and anti-Semitic attacks. Add to these seismic events the more mundane shocks of life: isolation, boredom, loneliness, marriage, divorce, unemployment, childbirth. In the main, they were there for each other, these many brothers and sisters, though the relationship between the emigrant and those left behind ends up being far more complex than I had imagined.

 The completion of this project ends many restless nights for both my father and myself. To live with these letters as intensively as we have has meant much tossing and turning over every detail, large or small. Where does this letter go? What did Hanna mean when she said...? Who wrote this letter and what lies unsaid between the lines? Frame by frame, a family documentary was being created in our minds. How sad to realize that within five or so years after the last letters, with the Nazi invasion of western Russia, most of the authors of these letters and their children must have perished. Twenty million Russians died in World War II and our relatives were literally on the front line. For those who survived the invasion, there awaited the Nazi death camps, the largest complex of which were located in eastern Poland, just across the border of Byelorussia. The statistics are stark: In June 1941, the Germans captured the entire area of the former "Pale of Settlement" with its population of 2.7 million Jews. By February 1943, only 250,000 Jews were left. Of these, during the next two years, 100,000 were killed in the concentration camps. [As it turned out, this story had suprise ending].

 The moral of the story, if there is one? It may be nothing more than this: Life can be hard. Help each other. Family ties are important.

Bill Schechter

 As I read and re-read the letters, I can't help but be struck by the needs of the "prisoners" of Kholmich for something new and fresh in their lives. What did they think their relatives found in the ghettoes of Harlem or the shops they worked in?

Jerry Schechter

Introductory Notes

-Bessie Rapoport Schechter

 Bessie Schechter was my grandmother. In 1949, after my third birthday, my parents (Ruth and Jerry), my older brother (Danny), and I moved a few miles down Mosholu Parkway from our apartment on Decatur Avenue to our new Bronx home in the Amalgamated. This was a cooperative housing project sponsored by the textile union of the same name. This was also my grandmother's neighborhood. Here she had lived, ever since 1940, with my grandfather Max Schechter. At about the same time of our arrival, my grandparents moved into our building and lived five stories above our ground floor apartment.
 I came to know my grandmother as an effusively affectionate figure in my life. The fact that Grandma Bessie was so demonstrative in her displays of affection, combined with her well-meaning confusion of love and food (hence her constant insistence that I eat ("Es, es" and eat a little more!"), often caused me to retreat before her advances. Though we lived in close proximity, I cannot say I came to know her well. We never talked about ideas or feelings, and like many in her immigrant generation, she saw no sense in sharing with me the details of her painful past-nor had she with her own children. Oral history had not yet become fashionable.

 I did pass some happy hours in my grandparents' apartment during my frequent Monday absences from elementary school. We watched TV and, over and over again, I looked at slides of their cross-country trip to national parks through an old Viewmaster. Best of all, I was allowed to rummage through their dresser drawers where they had some wonderful knick-knacks and mementoes. It was during one of these rummaging expeditions that I came upon a bundle of old letters in languages I couldn't read. These are the letters that you now find translated in this book. I'm certain my grandmother told me that the letters were from her Russian family.  But my discovery certainly did not inspire her to tell me more. My vague recollection is that any questions I asked were turned away as foolish. Why would I want to learn about such unhappy things? Perhaps my grandmother was also trying to forget.

 Bessie came to America in 1913. Her boat arrived on August 2, and she spent a night in detention, presumably on Ellis Island, until a cousin or uncle claimed her the next day. When she entered America on August 3, she became one of the almost two-million Eastern European Jews who had emigrated to this country since 1881. According to a letter-and confirmed by the Passenger List-she was accompanied by her Aunt Niham Galpirin and her four children. Her uncle, Moishe Galpirin (later, Halperin) had come to America first, and was listed as Bessie's sponsor. [See the Appendix for the ship manifest]. During her first years here, Bessie lived in the apartment of Uncle Aaron and Aunt Rachel Friedman and their children. My father recalls the location as the second or third floor of a tenement on E. 108th St., between Park and Lexington, in East Harlem. Two years later she met Max Schechter, who had emigrated from Russia in 1910. They were married on May 21, 1916. Bessie worked as a hem stitcher in a garment factory from 1913 until 1917. (Two childhood memories: seeing a mark on her nail where a sewing machine needle had pierced her finger; and asking her why she always chewed a piece of thread while sewing and being told, in a very matter-of-fact manner, "So I don't sew up my brains.") She belonged to the Socialist Party, the Workmen's Circle, and to Local 25 of the ILGWU. When her sons Jerry and George (born 1918 and 1919, respectively) began to attend the W.C. Shule #4 on Daly Ave. and 180th St., she became a "farvalter," or member of the school board. For a time in the late 1920's, she worked as a finisher (a handsewer) in a dress shop, getting paid piece work.

 She did not have an easy life. Jerry recalls that the family lived in a top floor walk-up two bedroom apartment. Sometimes a boarder lived in the second bedroom. By necessity, they moved frequently, often just a step ahead of an angry landlord. My father remembers being sent many blocks away from home to buy food, so that the neighbors wouldn't see him cashing in government food coupons. This was during the Great Depression.

 My grandfather was a presser of ladies garments who worked when work was available.  He was a dedicated member of the ILGWU for which he served as an organizer, business agent, and executive board member. He served on several strike committees. He also participated in the NRA strike in the 1930's, and once came home bloodied by company thugs. (I have in my possession the gold pocket watch that his grateful union local presented to him.) He was also a recording secretary of his Yiddish-speaking Workmen's Circle branch and belonged to the Socialist Party and the "Yarmolinitzer" landsleit organization (which bound together emigrants from his birthplace in Russia). The fact that he sometimes couldn't find work and that he occasionally forgot to leave his chess club in time for dinner made my grandmother's life more difficult. But they certainly seemed devoted to each other.

 Max Schechter died in 1966. Bessie, who had been born on May 27, 1893, passed away on December 4, 1980. She died after a long illness at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Co-op City, Bronx, New York. They are both buried in the Workmen's Circle section of the New Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey.

-On the Family & the Problem of Names

 Grandma Bessie had a large family, consisting of a father, a step-mother (name unknown), and at least 9 (and perhaps 10) siblings. According to one letter, her sisters Michlya, Baylya, and Sonya were born of the step-mother--the actual words were, "of the aunt." There are only a few references to "mother" in the letters; it may be that in other passages she was being referred to as "aunt." (At one point, for example, a sibling tells us, in passing, that mother is "feeling better.") In another letter, Aaron Moishe Rapoport reports that he and "Maylech" are working hard in his store-this is after most of the children have already married and left. He says they "know what needs to be done." This is the only time that this name is mentioned. Is this the step-mother? In one the letters first translated, we were told that Hanna has named her daughter after "the mother."  Then, in one of the last letters translated, we learn that Hanna named her daughter "Golda." Since Jewish tradition discourages naming children after living relatives, which would have included the step-mother, the possibility is strong that Bessie's mother and my great-great grandmother was also named Golda.

 Leaving this mystery aside, it is still difficult to know, even after reading the letters, just who all the family members were. The task is made more difficult by the fact that Russian names can be declined into many forms of diminutives expressing different degrees of affection. In addition, the siblings are sometimes referred to by their Yiddish names, and this language involves a whole different set of diminutives. It is still unclear, for example, if one of Grandma's sisters, Michlya, is also "Mirrile," or if this is another sister entirely, or even if it refers to her brother Mikhail. I am fairly confident that "Hanna" and "Khaya" are different people, but I'm not sure.

 Incidentally, in all of the documents examined, Bessie's last name is spelled in several different ways. In this book, the Russian spelling used by the writers of the letters is used.

 What follows are my best guesses concerning the main cast of characters in this family drama:

In Russia

Aaron Moishe Rapoport...father or "Poppa"
Yakov, Yankel, Yanke...a brother
Chaim...a brother
Mikhail (Mirrile?/Mirushka?)...a brother
Neesen/ Neesle...the eldest brother
Hanna, older sister
Sonya, Soni, Sonka, Sonichka...a middle sister
Khaya, Khaika (Haika)...a sister
Baylya, Belya, Balka/ a younger sister
Mikhlya, Mininchka, Michelekhka,
        Michelichka , Milechka, Michoocha (Mirrile?)/  a sister
Liza, Laya, Leah Beksner/ Mikhail's wife
Shaynka/ Mikhail and Liza's daughter
Israel/ Hanna's husband
Golda/ Israel and Hanna's daughter
Manya/ Chaim's wife
Zhenya/ Neesen's wife

 In addition to the immediate family, there was a wide-circle of "aunts" and "uncles" in Russia. As these terms are sometimes applied to brothers and sisters, and perhaps also cousins, it's hard to know the exact family relationship involved. But the following people are referred to by this family or affectionate title: Aunt Tsirya. Aunt Shayna, Uncle Gershon, Aunt Reeba, Uncle Cherniak, Uncle Abram, Uncle Nachim, Aunt Myrstal, Uncle Zelek, Uncle Leibts, Aunt Minoul, Uncle Aaron, Uncle Joseph, Aunt Rivka Raisel.

In America

Barshchina, Basya, Baskya, Baska, Basinka [in Russian], BatSheba, Barsheva, Barshevbi [in Yiddish] Moisevna Rapoport ...Bessie Rapoport Schechter
Menachem...Max Schechter
Yakov, Yankel, Yankele, Yashka, Yanka...Jerry Schechter, son
Gershon, Gershenke, Gershunka...George Schechter
Label or Lufka Chernyak...Louis Shearn, a cousin
Uncle Aaron (Aron) and Aunt Rakhil (Hiroka, Rachel)...the Friedman's.
        This aunt was the sister of Grandma Bessie's father
Tsilka, Bolya, Nusya...the Friedman children, first cousins
Galpirins...the Halperins
               The father was a brother-in-law of Moishe Rapoport.


-Family Background
 Grandma Bessie was one of the older children in the family, probably the oldest sister. Her brother Mikhail writes at one point that he knew her best, having lived together with her the longest. Other children speak of her devotion to them through difficult times. It appears that she helped to raise the children after her mother died.

 According to Jerry Schechter, Bessie's older son ("Yashka" in the letters), the following circumstance contributed to my grandmother's emigration from Russia. Sometime after her mother died, her father remarried. Bessie did not get along well with her step-mother. This factor, in combination with others no doubt, led her to become the only member of her large immediate family to emigrate to America.

 We know from the letters that Bessie's father did work in the small fabric/tailor shop that the family owned, but only occasionally.In his later years, he sought to become a teacher "again." Apparently, after the children grew and left home, he ran a small food store. As for Bessie's brothers, Yankel was always off working or studying somewhere and seemed to have little connection with the family [Ironically, a search service we engaged found a tracing of no one except him, when he was located living at  Moscow's Stalin University in the 1920's; Chaim was a leather worker and salesman; Mikhail worked for the Soviet government selling boat tickets on a pier and later as a bookkeeper at a drug store; his wife Liza was a dentist; at times, Neesen, the eldest son, worked with Chaim, though was often unemployed. Hanna was an expert seamstress and she taught her skills to her sisters; Sonya, Khaya, and Baylya helped out in the family shop. Sometimes, family members made money by buying goods for later re-sale. There are many references to the members of the family helping each other when times got tough.

 Though the Rapoports did not seem to be an especially religious family, they seemed be on a first name basis with God. Faith appeared to be integrated into their everyday lives, and references to the "Eternal One" are made easily throughout the letters. At least twice, "going to temple" is mentioned. It may be these were special occasions or, conversely, that worshiping was too routine to deserve frequent mention. (We know that there was a wooden synagogue in the neighboring town of Rechitsa, where Uncle Gershon lived.) Shevuous, Succoth, and Pesach are mentioned many times, and these holidays certainly provided important occasions for the family to re-assemble. To celebrate the holidays, family members returned home when possible. Correspondence also played an important role in keeping this scattered family together within Russia.

-About Places

 The family home was in Kholmich or Kholmech ("Choimetz" in Yiddish, "Cholmec" on modern maps), a small shtetl in the "Pale of Settlement." Most Russian Jews were required to live in the Pale until 1917. Here the family operated its small shop, with the assistance (periodically) of a few hired helpers. Clearly Kholmich was a small, drab provincial village, and was referred to by one bored sister-Hanna-as "the back of the beyond." She desperately longed for liberation from it, and this came about, finally, with her rather "late" marriage, after her 25th birthday.
 Grandma Bessie spoke of coming from Kiev, a large city in the Ukraine. In Tsarist times, only Jews with special skills could qualify for an official permit allowing them to live in the city. However, there is no evidence in the letters that the family ever resided there. Only one or two visits are mentioned in the letters. It may be that Bessie, knowing that no one had ever heard of Kholmich, and, tired of trying to explain where it was, simply gave the name of the best-known city near it. Actually,  Kholmich, and several of the places most frequently mentioned in the letters,  are not in the Ukraine at all, but rather in the neighboring region of  Byelorussia or "White Russia," now the independent country of Belarus. According to the YIVO Institute in New York, Kholmich is located in Minsk Province. It had 962 residents in 1885. By 1897,  the population had grown to 2315 residents, 1380 of whom were Jews. This was four years before Grandma Bessie was born.

 Other places that figure in the letters are larger cities to which family members either moved or periodically traveled to work: Gomel, Reygitz/Rechitsa, Yekaterinoslav (these are most frequently mentioned), Mariopol, Babruisk, Moscow, Klemov, and Brest-Litovsk. As with personal names, the reader will note the variant spellings in Russian and Yiddish of towns and cities.

-Historical Context

 If our relatives could have taken a sabbatical from their humble fabric shop to spend several years in the British Museum researching the worst possible location in which to live, they could not have come up with a worthier choice than the small village of Kholmich in Byelorussia. Who knows what winds blew them into this remote and desolate corner of the world, this "back of the beyond." Who knows but that this was merely a joke played on them by the God they routinely invoked in their every day conversation (and whom they never cursed). Perhaps their fate was just the "Jewish luck" that doubtless caused them to shrug their shoulders, gesture with their hands, and stoically exhale, "Nu!"

 Consider what occurred in their neighborhood. Forget the trials and tribulations of the 19th-century when Poland and Byelorussia (White Russia) were partitioned and re-partitioned, and when Jewish boys as young as ten were drafted. The letters tell us nothing about this earlier period. But this much we do know: in 1914, World War I began and in 1917 Russia was shaken by revolution. A year later, Lenin negotiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to extricate the new Soviet Union from the world conflict. At this moment, we read that some of our relatives were facing the draft or were going into "Soviet service." We hear of a neighbor's boy poisoning himself. Between 1917 and 1921, as a result of the treaty, a large part of Byelorussia was given to Germany and Poland, including the Kholmich/ Gomel area. Our relatives reported that now both Germans and Poles were "giving us grief." Only after the Polish-Soviet War of 1921-22, did they once again live on Russian soil.

 World I, the Revolution, the Civil War, the conflict with Poland, and the deportations that followed-all these recall the "Time of Troubles" of 17th-century Russia, a similar period when everything went wrong. As before, the turbulence caused a massive collapse of government authority and a serious disruption of agriculture, particularly in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the nation. The Ukraine was also riven by nationalist struggles. Taken together, these realities translated into violence, pogroms, famine, and epidemics.

 All these sad facts are reflected in the letters. We read of the attempts to escape: of Chaim cooking up a scheme to find a way into America or Palestine, or of Hanna planning to come over, at least to visit. They also seek to escape into marriages, not all of which ended happily. Through it all, they keep doggedly putting one foot in front of the other, trying not to think too much about the past, focusing instead on the next meal or the next job, always preoccupied by their prayerful hope: "to be healthy." Incredibly, they speak of being "bored." (There is no reference in the letters to the internal struggles shaking the Jewish community. For example, Gomel was a regional center of the competing Zionist, Jewish Bund, and  communist movements. After the Soviet consolidation, Jewish communal life in Gomel was ended. Synagogues were closed, and the percentage of Jews living in that city decreased from 55% in 1920 to 44% in 1926). We are reminded that, despite all, these brothers and sisters had their personal lives, their own frustrations, dreams, longings. Perhaps they survived by keeping heads down and eyes downcast. By concentrating. By being practical. By not worrying too much about what they couldn't control. Perhaps they felt that if they didn't stare reality too directly in the face, they too would pass unnoticed. Remaining inconspicuous has its privileges.
 On January 22, 1921, reality came to Kholmich with a vengeance, in the form of a pogrom. Hiding in ditches and in their basement, running "ten miles on the road," our relatives narrowly survived, though 15 Jews from their small village, including "Wolbe, the shoemaker," were not as fortunate. Research shows that this raid on Kholmich was part of a much larger pattern. From 1917 to the early 1920's, as civil war engulfed the Soviet Union, devastating pogroms were unleashed by nationalist, anti-Bolshevist forces throughout the Ukraine. Thirty-thousand Jews were killed immediately, and an estimated 100,000 more died later from wounds. The violence spilled over into neighboring provinces. Anti-Jewish attacks in Byelorussia were more sporadic and apparently conducted by roving gangs of "bandits." The worst attack on Jews in that region took place in 1919-1920 in the city of Brest, where 60,000 Jews had lived, comprising 70% of the total population.  Most of the survivors scattered and never returned. (This kind of violence in Bessie's neighborhood was not new. In 1908, when she still lived in Kholmich, a pogrom struck Gomel, only 30 miles away. Eight Jews were killed and many wounded).

 In his book "Shores of Refuge," historian Ronald Sanders cites this contemporary American-Jewish relief report:

Kholmich is only about 300 miles (or 532 kilometers) due east of Brest.  Again, these facts find resonance in the letters, from references to famine to Mikhail's near fatal case of typhus.
 After this period came the Stalinist repression. We hear in the letters of those "lucky few" who escaped to Poland before the area came under "Soviet control." We read that several managers of Chaim's factory were "sent to Siberia." We are reminded by one family member that they were "limited as to that we can say in letters." They can tell us only that "you are well aware of the situation in Russia."

 Then it was on to World War II. After the invasion of 1941, the Germans marched right through the Kholmich/Gomel area. No doubt the Rapoport house was right on the invasion route. Between the immediate massacres and, later, the death camps (and just for good measure Stalin's subsequent deportations of any survivors who had had contact with the German occupiers), few Jews lived to tell the tale. Shortly after the war, an American observer called the region "the most devastated area in the world." The Jewish population of the former Pale declined from almost three million to less than two-hundred thousand.

 If the Rapoport clan had managed to survive the drunken Cossacks of the Tsarist era, World War I, the Revolution, the Polish conflict, famine, the pogroms, unemployment, deportation, World War II, and Auschwitz, history still held one further unpleasant surprise for them. On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the Ukraine exploded, releasing 200 times as much radiation as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts combined. This was the greatest nuclear accident in history, and scientists reported that 70% of the radioactivity released blew directly over the Gomel area [See the map in the Appendix and the clippings at the end].

 Finally, there was America, where freedom allowed Bessie's descendants to assimilate into...into what? But that's the subject of another book.

 "Jewish luck?" Nu! Can we still laugh through our tears?

-On the Letters

  One-hundred and two letters were translated. Most are in Russian, some are in a Russian/Yiddish combination, and a few are in Yiddish only. (See samples in the Appendix.)  Incidentally, references in the letters to weekly correspondence during various periods suggest that there were once many more letters than were saved or found-or which never arrived.

 In general, the letters dwelled on the personal; as mentioned, they were subdued when it came to political matters despite the dramatic historical context. No direct mention is made of the Russian Revolution, and the word "Soviet" appears only a few times (e.g., "Soviet money"). Only rarely did the correspondents mention current events. The relatively few references to war, revolution, and pogroms are veiled or implied, though these do shadow the letters and occasionally break through in a more direct way.

  Few of the letters were dated. However, cross references to marriages, holidays, and other events allowed us to sequence most of them. For example:  Bessie Rapoport ("Basya") married Max Schechter ("Menachem") in 1916, three years after her arrival in America. Her son Jerry was born in 1918, and her son George in 1919. Therefore, all letters which contain greetings to "Yashka and Gershunka" must have been written after 1919. The placement of a few letters is still problematic.

 Over what range of time were the letters written? The first letters are written in 1913 on the eve of Grandma Bessie's departure from Russia. There is a letter dated 1922. In another letter, Bessie is criticized for not having written for two years, and, in two others, it is stated that she had finally broken her silence after ten years! Two letters are dated 1925. Using these facts and making some simple calculations, I estimate that the last letters had to be written between 1931 and 1935. At this point, the letters just stopped and this large family was never heard from again.

 Well, maybe not. I think that I remember my grandmother telling me that a long-lost sister had just written to her. This was in the 1950's. There was an attempt to make contact, though it had not succeeded. Was I making this up? Had these letters merely excited my imagination? Since writing this last line, I have been assured by my father, Jerry Schechter, that memory has not failed me! As this manuscript entered the  final stage of preparation for the first edition, he told me the true story. However, dear reader, you will have to wait until the Postscript to find out what actually occurred! The Holocaust map in the Appendix probably provides the more general explanation for why the flow of letters ceased.

 Why wasn't Grandma Bessie a more faithful correspondent? Why did she fail to write for long periods of time, causing her Russian family great pain, anger, and anxiety? Certainly this seems perplexing behavior for one whom we knew as so family-centered. There is no way to know the answer. Possible explanations include the following:

 This mystery remains, though there is another way to look at this problem, which is also suggested above. Grandma Bessie did maintain fairly continuous contact for more than ten years, sending a very large family letters, packages, and money. (Perhaps she did a better job of keeping in touch than her descendants, with their telephones, fax machines, and e-mail). With a few exceptions, Bessie's Russian relatives were very tactful in asking for help, but requests were frequently made or implied. It may not be a coincidence that the ten-year silence commenced with early years of the Great Depression in the United States when Bessie and her own immediate family were themselves forced on the "home relief" rolls.

-About the Translators

 These first group of forty-two letters, which constituted the first edition of Bessie's Letters, were translated by Elena Lapitsky who emigrated from Russia almost two decades ago. She now makes her home in Ashland, Massachusetts. The Schechter family is indebted to her (and to her father who translated a few of the Yiddish letters) for the highly professional, intelligent, and conscientious manner in which she approached her task, which included the deciphering of very difficult penmanship and the syntax of uneducated persons. We thank her.

 The second group of  nineteen letters were translated by Olga Surchkov, once a student of mine at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School and now a student at Wellesley College. She approached the challenge of translation in the same sensitive, meticulous manner. Olga wrote out her Russian translations in her beautiful longhand. Thank you, Olga, for your generous contribution to the gathering of my family history.

 The final group of letters forty-one letters-all in Yiddish-were translated by Esther Ritchie with the assistance of her mother, Chasia Segal. Their translation overcame the formidable challenge of reading Yiddish in very varied and stylized scripts. They did a wonderful job. Again, our thanks.

 Except for brief Yiddish notes included in some of the Russian correspondence, all known letters have now been translated.



Here the demand for remembrance,
here the notes of betrayal and joy,

here the family entanglement,
stronger than emigration,
revolution, or war. Here the voices

Here Neesel returns from the army,
and Mikhail announces his marriage.
Here Sonya goes cold in winter,
and Hanna dreams of a world
beyond Kholmich.

Here hard times recounted,
and days in the shop
"that are each like the other."

Here Yankel goes off to Moscow,
here they weep at Passover with
your pictures spread on the table,
with the cries, "Do not forget us!"
and "You must live!"

Here little Baylya "grows round" like a woman,
and Chaim makes plans for Palestine.

Through it all, gratitude
and reprimand. Through it all,
a call for letters and the prayer,
"to be healthy, to write frequently,
to tell everything."

Through it all, an insistence
on love, until a world disappears
and falls silent forever.


 B. Schechter


Title Pages, Dedication, Frontispiece
Preface, Introduction, Poem
Letters: Early years
Letters: Middle years
Letters: Later years