Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Letter from Soviet Russia - 1930

Souscha Chana (left) and
her step-sister Shayna Liba.
Photo probably from 1906-7.
A few days ago, I discussed a set of letters sent from Russia to Brooklyn New York ninety years ago, one of which described some of the hardships of life in Stalin's Soviet Union. Because of its general interest, I bring the translation here, in full. I am not sure who did the translation, but it was arranged by Cousin Ethel Klavan. I suspect that the translator had some problems with pronouns.

The letter was written by my grandmother's step-sister Sonya (Souscha Chana) Resnikov to her brother Yakov Bandes in Brooklyn. It is not clear where Sonya lived. She was not in Moscow or Penza (where her mother was).
My comments appear as footnotes.

30 September 1930

Dear Brother Yankev,1

May you and your wife and children live and be well!

I don't think it is necessary to tell you what a joy it was to get your letter. I got a letter from our mother which I am sending to you. You should know she keeps waiting to hear from you. If you would see how she looks, you would write to her often, as we do. I write to her twice a week, every week. If you wrote even once a month, it would ease her life in her old age.

Now I'll tell you the journey your letter took. First it went to Moscow to Bome2, as our son is called, and he sent it on to us in an envelope right away. When I wrote to him asking him to inquire at the post office as perhaps the letter had not yet been sent back. You will read the answer in Mother's letter. Now I will tell you why Bome got your letter and not Yoche3. Yoche, as you know, is a doctor. So she was sent away to a village to be a _________ in a sort of ________. One cannot refuse to go if told to. Her husband Monya is now in a "camp." He is an engineer but he is in the military reserve - a reservist commander and must go to a military camp every summer. Bome is in Moscow two years already, where he is a driver. Two years ago he took the examination for the university from which engineers and architects graduate. He passed his examinations but they did not accept him because he is not the son of a worker. Now he is a worker himself so perhaps they will accept him now. Meanwhile he is alone and doesn't have enough to eat. From here we can't send mail during the summer but an acquaintance of ours was going to Moscow so we sent him some food. That is why Mother asks if he received the parcel.

Now about us. We are living in a military area where Shaya4 is serving at this time. I am writing now because I have a chance to send the letter. For two years we really struggled. There were times when there was simply nothing to eat.  But now Shaya gets 100 ruble a month so he gives everyone what they need to buy in our cooperative - so we can live. One pound of meat costs 2 rubles and a pound of butter costs 25 kopecks and a glass of milk costs 20 kopecks and a pound of bread is 40 kopecks. A pair of shoes is 50 ruble. So you can see it is very hard to live but we are not dying of hunger. Bella5 is also serving. She wanted to study music but they had to sell the piano to live so she signed up and earns 30 rubles. So you can see, my dear brother, how it hurts me that my children have to work so hard.. But I hope that the children will still get the opportunity to go to Moscow and study there. Shaya would be able to get 100 rubles in Moscow too, and with Bella's 30 and Bome's 70 - but one room there costs 50 or 70 rubles a month and food also costs money - so they can't manage it. I hope my dear brother, you understand everything I am writing to you. Yoche sends mother 30 rubles. 

Mother writes in her letter that she received money from Bella from her salary. We all send a little. Twice a year Chaim Bentche6 sends $15. You realize she cannot live on that. That is the news here. Thank G-d I have very good children. They understand that they had to work. 

I thank you for your post card photos. If you can send a good photo - where we could see your faces well. It is hard to see the faces on them. One thing that we can see is that the children are tall. May they be well.

Jakov, if you want to send Mother money you should get Mother's address from Chaim Bentche. When he sends, it arrives with no problems. Write either to Mother or to Mera. Check if the money you sent before came back.

We wish all of you stay well. Regards from Shaya and Bella. Why don't you write to your sister? Answer right away. We look forward to getting your letters.

My comments:
The grave of Sonya, her husband & children
1. Yankev is a Yiddish pronunciation of Yaakov (=Jakob).

2. Bome (two syllables) is a common nickname for Avraham, which we know to be Sonya's son's name. He was born about 1911, so is not yet twenty when this was written.

3. I do not know who Yoche is. She is a doctor, as was Mera. And her husband was called Monya, surely a nickname.  Mera's husband is Max. So I thought Yoche must be (somehow!) Mera. But later Sonya mentions Mera by name, so Yoche must be someone else. I have learned that Sonya and Jakob had a sister - maybe that is Yoche. Mera is a half sister to both my grandmother and to Sonya/Jakob. ("Monya" is probably a bad transliteration and should be "Munya.")

4. Sonya's husband is Saveli (=Saul). The translator calls him "Shaya" (=Yeshaya") but looking at the Yiddish I see "Shiya" (=Yehoshua).

5. Bella is Sonya's daughter. Born 1914, so age sixteen when this was written.

6. Chaim Bentche is my grandmother's brother (aka Uncle Hymen), a step-brother of Sonya and Jakob. It is interesting that in discussing money, no one ever mentions either my grandmother Sarah (in Vandergrift PA) or Yenta's husband, Israel David Rosenbloom, who was with her in Penza.

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