Interviewer: Svetlana Kovalchuk
Date of interview: February 2002
you know how old I am today? It is in the militia that they ask you the
year of your birth, but for ordinary people it's good enough to know
how old you are. I turned 94 in September 2001. And in my soul, I feel
very young. I'm an artist, caricaturist by specialty, a humorist, and
also an actor. My daddy's surname was Gutnomen-Gutman. It was in the
Soviet times that we simplified it, abridged it to Gutman. My father's
full name was Israel Solomonovich Gutnomen-Gutman, and he was born in
1873. He died in Kharkov in 1919, at the age of 46, of a heart attack.
He was old, in my childish view.
I know very little about my
grandfathers and grandmothers. They traded in wood and lumber, mainly
in Latgalia. About my daddy I can say that he was a good businessman.
He wore rimless glasses, smoked Zefir cigarettes, and always knocked
down a small glass of vodka before dinner. He was a lumber trader, but
then he bought a cinema in Dvinsk. It was called Grand Electro. He
bought the equipment for his cinema in Germany. This I remember very
well. And when the front was very near Dvinsk, during World War I, my
father was in Dvinsk all the time – the profit was quite good. There
was a front zone, a large garrison. The Germans couldn't seize Dvinsk
for three years. Only in 1917, when the Russian army fell apart, only
then Dvinsk was taken.
About 1915, my father sent our family –
mum, me and my two brothers, to Zilupe, formerly Razumovskoye. And
later we lived in the vicinity of Moscow, in Pavlovski Posad. There I
studied at school. We were three brothers. The eldest was Yakov and
then came my twin brother, Solomon, and I. Solomon, or Salya, as we
called him, was 20 minutes older than me. I was very small – no bigger
than a scoop. Daddy took mum to the maternity house. Later, when he
went back there on a cart to find out who was born, he was told, ‘A
boy!' – and he answered, ‘Okay, that's fine!' Then, a couple of hours
later, he went there again asking, ‘Well, how's that boy?' And they
told him, ‘You've got another one!' Daddy apparently told the carter,
‘Just don't you go in that direction again!' That was later told as a
joke. Yakov was two years older than we, born in 1905. We had a
governess in Dvinsk.
My elder sister Nyuta, born Anna
Israelevna in 1903, had a sick leg. Mum took her to Berlin for medical
treatment. She was eleven years old then, and on the eve of the war mum
took her to Switzerland, and my sister stayed there. She learned German
and French in Switzerland. Daddy helped her financially. When the West
was cut off completely, my sister helped there working in mountain
sanatoriums around Lausanne. She worked as much as she could to justify
her stay in the sanatorium. She returned to Riga, to our uncle's place,
via Finland in 1921. We only met in 1923.
Before we left for
evacuation, we lived on 20 Rizhskaya Street in Dvinsk. Once, when mum
was seeing her sister Tirtsa off to Vilnius [today Lithuania], she took
me and Salya to the station. They were standing in front of the railway
car and talking and had temporarily forgotten about us. And we didn't
know what to do. We were six years old at the time. Salya was a dashing
guy and he said, ‘Let's go!'. So we addressed the cab driver, ‘Hey, old
man, have you seen our mum?' – ‘What does she look like?' – ‘She is
tall and beautiful.' – ‘No, I haven't.' – ‘Take us home then.' And off
we went to 20 Rizhskaya Street, right down the road, near the station!
It seemed to us a long way to walk, but very close on a horse-cart.
Just imagine, my mum turning around at the railway station, and both of
us being gone! She cried, panicked and was scared to death.
mum's name was Berta Borisovna; her maiden name Aronovich. Her mother,
my grandmother Sheina Aronovich, was married three times. All her
husbands died one after the other. Mum was a single child from my
grandmother's first marriage. With her second husband, Velvel
Israeltan, my grandmother had a whole bunch of children – my mother's
stepbrothers and stepsisters. She lived with her last husband in
Copenhagen, Denmark, but returned to her daughter from the second
husband, Aunt Tirtsa Koldobskaya, nee Israeltan, to Vilnius. There she
lived and there she died. Aunt Tirtsa's husband was a prominent
businessman. Grandmother died in the summer of 1931. Mum went to
Vilnius to attend the funeral. Aunt Tirts_ died in Vilnius in 1936,
before the war.
Let me tell you about the Israeltans, the family
of my mother's stepbrother. They are the most apparent victims of the
Holocaust of all my relatives. Bella Karpovna, nee Rabinovich, my
uncle's wife, called me around 20th June 1941, and asked, whether it
was possible for them to leave with me. And I didn't know myself what
My uncle's name was Solomon Velvel – they also called
him Solomon Vladimirovich – Israeltan. The state of Israel wasn't yet
established, but the surname already existed. We called him Uncle Sam.
He had been to the USA several times and spoke good English. They lived
on _ntonievskaya Street in Riga, in a large beautiful apartment with
wall-paintings, ornaments and pictures. It is he who gave shelter to
Nyuta after she returned from Switzerland in 1921. And whenever I went
to Riga, I stayed in their apartment. He was the manager of a large
textiles shop, owned by Kazatsky, a Jew. This big shop was situated on
the corner of Krishyan Baron and Elizavetinskaya Streets. When the
Soviet power was established, he was appointed the shop's manager. The
relatives of his wife – the Rabinovich family – lived in Dvinsk and
were engaged in the trading business. Uncle Sam sent them the goods.
wife, Bella Karpovna, wasn't as beautiful as she was imperious and
clever. They had wonderful, educated sons Yulik or Yuly, and Vovik or
Velvel. They were proficient in German, Latvian and Russian, but they
didn't speak Yiddish. My uncle and aunt only spoke Russian at home.
Velvel married a nice girl in May 1941. I visited them on the occasion
and we had a lot of fun. He sent her to a sanatorium in Sigulda [a town
50 km from Riga]; she was pregnant then. You can imagine, the war
began, and she remained alone in Sigulda, expecting a baby. I was told
that Yulik and Vovik were shot by Nazis at the very beginning of the
war. Aunt Bella and Uncle Sam perished in the ghetto in Riga. In the
1960s I accidentally met their former housemaid in the street, Tanya, a
simple Russian woman with a Nizhniy Novgorod accent. It was she who
told me that my aunt and uncle had been in the ghetto and that she had
brought them food suppressing her fear.
My mother and
grandmother lived in Griva district in Dvinsk. Financially they lived
under very low standards, and my mother had to read books under the
blanket. She was persecuted at home for wasting kerosene and candles.
Daddy was much older than mum. I don't remember exactly how much older.
My mother's attitude towards my father wasn't so romantic. He bought a
carriage, a horse and used to take her for a ride. I learned that from
my sister. Mum communicated more with her than with us.
language at home was exclusively Russian. However, mum spoke good
Yiddish. As she was going to go abroad to bring my sister home, she
attended courses in French.
In 1917 daddy took us from
Pavlovski Posad to a resort on the coast of the Azov sea, in Berdyansk,
for six weeks, and there we ended up staying for four years – during
the revolution [see Russian Revolution of 1917]  and the Civil War
 in Russia. We lived poorly, having taken to Berdyansk almost
nothing, only my mother's fur coat, a coat of seal skin, which we sold,
and just enough food for the winter. Daddy wasn't a religious man, but
it was a generally accepted rule to visit the synagogue. When he
occasionally went to Berdyansk, where there was a choral synagogue, he
used to attend the service. He had a special silk cloak. I remember, he
would point towards us in the synagogue and say in Yiddish, ‘These are
the performers of my funeral rites'.
There was that turmoil in
Russia, and daddy still stayed in Dvinsk. In 1919 he was once more
making his way to us with a train transporting some Austrian captives.
The train was heading south. They robbed him of his purse and all his
documents. He couldn't do a thing, they would just throw him out of the
moving train. He was already sick, had heart attacks, and his whole
body was shaking. Traveling was no good for him, but he still kept
coming back to Dvinsk. So, during his last trip, he stopped in Kharkov,
at my mum's cousin. He was put into a hospital and he died there of
what they now call an infarct. Mum buried him in Kharkov. She went
especially from Berdyansk to Kharkov to be present at the funeral
ceremony. It was very difficult to get there.
We went to the
synagogue when daddy died. My brother and me would go there daily,
three times a day, to recite the Kaddish – the prayer of repentance. My
elder brother, Yakov, didn't go. There were situations during the Civil
War, when there was shooting, but all the same we used to attend the
synagogue. My brother Solomon was fanatically religious in those years.
He even read prayers for the night, lying in bed. But, you see, to
offer a prayer you need a kippah! So he pulled a blanket over his head
to say the prayer. Mum was religious, too. That was her family feature.
She spoke extremely good Yiddish. And we haven't learned to speak
Yiddish, whereas she taught all of her sons Hebrew. Wherever we lived,
a teacher came to us, we always had a teacher of Hebrew. Many words I
know up until today. A comrade taught us to read in Yiddish, when we
were in the Komsomol . He was a highly principled, noble lad. He had
taught us, and I felt somewhat comfortable at once. I still read in
In Pavlovski Posad we went to a secondary school,
and in Berdyansk to a grammar school. During the four years in
Berdyansk I saw everything – the Civil War, the landing of troops, the
anarchists of Makhno , the Red army, the White army , bombings.
If I could recollect it all, you could shoot a whole film about it. In
our Berdyansk home we met very interesting people. The second studio of
MHAT [the Moscow Academic Arts Theater] came for guest performances,
and the famous actors used to stay in our house – Stanitsyn [Viktor
(1897-1976), real name Geze], Khmelev and so on. The elite of the
Russian theatre. We had never been to the theater before, and they used
to take us. Fantastic impressions! My elder brother was sick, he
suffered from some mental disease. In 1921 my mother managed to obtain
a free ticket for a group tour and our entire family went to Moscow.
Imagine a free tour, at such complete poverty! We prepared for the
journey, took some crackers. The journey from Berdyansk to Moscow was a
whole epopee; too many details! We saw the starving people from Volga
region at the stations, small children corpses! We were robbed,
everything was stolen! We arrived in Moscow sick with measles, and that
illness was a final blow for the mental condition of my elder brother.
He was put into a hospital in Moscow, and there he died in 1922.
Berdyansk we sympathized with the White troops, the environment was
wholly bourgeois – shop-keepers, small retailers. And when from 1921 to
1923 we again lived in Pavlovski Posad, I became ‘Red' under the
influence of my comrades. We were publishing a newspaper! We collected
money for the construction of planes, when Curzon  announced the
ultimatum to the Red Russia. What a joy it was, when mum had finally
taken our money to Moscow, and they printed a list of our names in the
Salya and I liked to draw since we were
children, but he drew better than me. He used to copy pictures by
Russian artists from postcards. He liked water-colors, but he didn't
use water; he used his tongue instead of water. His lips were always
colored with paint. I copied flowers from cards. Mum found a drawing
teacher in Berdyansk. I also did some modeling. I used to draw my
teachers and schoolmates at lessons in Dvinsk.
We returned to
Riga in September 1923 the three of us – mum, my brother and I. We
arrived in Riga and stayed some time with my Uncle Solomon Israeltan,
and then moved to Dvinsk. Our cinema was still there, but it appeared
that the premises were already occupied. Mum tried to earn some money.
We managed to make ends meet somehow, with mum borrowing some money
The cinema attracted me and my brother. We were
known in Dvinsk as the family of Gutman – the former director of Grand
Electro – so they let us into the cinema free of charge. Once a
mechanic at _ppolo cinema entrusted me with turning the handle of the
manual film projector; his elder brother worked for my father in Grand
Electro. Now they don't do it anymore! And there was a problem: when I
thought the film was about to finish, I started to turn slowly, and the
spectators were indignant! Wow! That's how I let myself down – and I
stopped to go to the cinema from that moment on! It was really
We studied in a secondary Jewish school in Dvinsk.
All subjects were taught in the Russian language. Of course we had to
pay for the school. My brother and I participated in the Komsomol
movement in school. The Komsomol had a very strong influence in
Latgalia. The Komsomol organization was underground. Only the youth
clubs were legal; we attended those as well. I wasn't the most active
member, but I was in prison for some time, nonetheless! I was in Riga's
Central prison, in the solitary cell, but only for one month. In
Daugavpils [formerly called Dvinsk] I served a short term, too. I had
close connections with one comrade; we rented a room together. And when
the members of our central committee were arrested, they were searching
apartments and I was also put under arrest. They finally released me,
but I remained under the supervision of the police. Later I was
acquitted! In Riga, when I started to work, I had no links with the
Komsomol any more. But the police knew me. I was always shadowed.
when I arrived in Riga in 1928, my sister helped me to get a job with
the Jewish theatre on 6 School Street. Every inch is familiar to me
there. I'm the only living employee of that Jewish theater. All the
rest are dead by now! Michael Io – his stage name was Io, but his full
name was Ioffe – was the chief artist of the theatre. There were many
actors, I made sketches of them all. What wonderful acquaintances we
had! From America, from Poland, from different countries! In the first
season I worked in a workshop. I thought, let them think there, in
Dvinsk, ‘Wow, Simka is an actor in a theatre!' And in fact it was like
this: take a brush and do the wall-painter's job!
first year I worked in the decoration workshop, and the next year I was
offered the position of a stage property-man. What is a property-man?
Well, I was supposed to prepare everything: the tools, the guns and so
on. If they were going to eat on stage, I was to cut the bread. I
prepared the wine, but diluted it with water; it was just for
make-belief. Our guests included the American stage director Adler, and
Clara Young. She was 70 years old then, but behaved like a young girl
on stage. I met the local actors as well: Einas, Shapiro, Ronich, Peter
Surits. There were a lot of amusing episodes. The actor and director
Rubin once came from Moscow, from the theater of S. Mikhoels ; he
staged Sholom Aleichem's  ‘The Big Money' in our theater. That was a
great performance! All in the modern style – the decorations, the
actors' make-up, and the stage manager's fantastic ideas!
my life I was lucky to see in close up how the famous stars like
Mozhukhin [Mozhukin, Ivan (1889-1939): Russian-born actor, died of
tuberculosis in France]. In the middle of the 1920s the French director
Turzansky [Turzansky, Viktor (1891-1976): director, born in Kiev, today
Ukraine.], a Russian emigrant was shooting a film with Russian actors
Mozhukhin and Kovanko [Kovanko, Natalya (1899-1967): actress born in
Yalta, died in Kiev]. The film was based on the novel by Jules Verne
and was called ‘Michel Strogoff'. The film was shot in Dvinsk, they
thought that the nature was suitable there – Siberian! All the town did
nothing except watching how the film was being shot! The Dvinsk
garrison of the Latvian army participated in these shootings – they
played the Russian army. I took part, too!
I studied in a
number of art schools in Riga. I attended the arts studio of the Riga
graphic artist Roman Suta , I was his ‘disciple' and took part in
the exhibitions. One exhibition was in 1932. They chose some pictures
for the museum, including mine. I created it in my mind, when they were
taking me from Dvinsk jail to Riga central prison. It is now that they
transport prisoners in a special truck, but back then the guards were
just convoying me along the pavement. I kept the impression from that
walk for a long time! Sitting in the solitary cell, I began to draw
sketches of that image. In spring they let me out, and in summer I
finished the picture. And when there was an exhibition of our studio,
supervised by Roman Suta, my picture was bought for the Arts Museum.
The picture is entitled ‘Escorting of a prisoner'.
the studio of Yan Liepin on Mariinskaya Street, in the court yard. When
I went there, a few more or less skilled pupils were sitting and
drawing. I sat down, too, and took a sheet of paper. And here enters a
naked model! Holy smoke, I held my breath! I almost fainted! Well,
really! Boys use to spy, through a hole in the fence, and here she
comes out in what she was born! I started to draw, and during the break
I looked at the other sketches. And the other guys represented the
model not in her natural size, like me, but made her look stout – with
heavy legs and arms. I asked, ‘Where do you see such arms and legs? The
model is of quite normal stature!' And they answered, ‘You should draw
what you think, rather than what you see!' Well, that's the Latvian
style! Later I got used to it.
My brother was staying in
Dvinsk at that time. When he arrived in Riga, he found a job as an
ordinary transport worker, and used to carry heavy bags. Then he left
for Slovakia, the city of Brno. He studied there for about two years.
It was a rare thing for Riga Jews to get a higher education. And he was
studying to become a foreman in textile factories – he learnt how to
make carpets, tapestries. Having returned from Brno, he worked in
Dvinsk in a small textile factory. The bosses and owners of such small
factories were usually Jewish. And when the Soviet power was
established, he was appointed director of that factory.
1931 I got acquainted with my future wife, Ida Ruvimovna Kvasnik, born
in 1917. I met her in Stropy. The remarkable Stropy Lake! She was
sitting there on a bench near a kiosk for the holiday-makers, and I
approached her and started a conversation. I'm of a deleterious
character to women! I liked to fall in love back then. I had affairs
with women disregarding age. That's why I had two infarcts. Back then
it was a country-side romance – I took her on boat trips, though I
could hardly row at that time.
I was enlisted for the army
that year. She used to come down to the walls of the Dvinsk fortress,
where I served in Zemgalskaya division. Once I was punished for coming
late, thus violating the strict order, because I was spending time till
late at night with her! And I had a watch that I had won in a soldiers'
lottery – this watch worked all right while I was walking, but as soon
as I stopped, it stopped too. Oh, it was a romantic story! I had a very
good and beautiful wife. She was younger than me, but she's dead by
now; during her last years she was very seriously ill.
married in 1936. Did we have a chuppah? Let me just tell you this: I
wasn't religious, and to this day I am not. Her father, who came from
Lithuania, was religious. Her mum died two or three years before our
wedding, of breast cancer. Her father spoke Russian, as everyone from
Lithuania, with a very strong accent. Well, there was something like a
chuppah, but I preferred not to disclose this to people! We had a kind
of chuppah at some relatives' home, in an apartment. I yielded to their
request to avoid a scandal. My wife wasn't especially religious. She
spoke good Yiddish, but didn't go to the synagogue. They lived poorly,
although they ran a small grocery store, in the house where they lived.
The apartment was miserable. Her younger sister Rosa was plump and
chubby. Her brother looked kind of unhealthy.
We had no
property at all at first, we were renting furnished rooms, and only
once we stayed in them for the summer season. In summer we usually
rented a cheap cottage in Melluzhi, Yurmala. By that time, in 1938-39,
I had some savings, money I had earned as an artist, and I could afford
to rent the rooms in town in summer as well. We paid about 35-40 lats a
month. After we started to live together, my wife stopped working. We
could hardly afford buying anything. The first time we bought some
furniture was in 1940, in the Soviet times!
I had an
attraction for cinema, inherited from my father, and I went to work in
film advertising. They gave me photographs, and I made drawings for the
_RS company. That company used to show Soviet and American films. I
made posters for the Soviet films. The posters without text were used
all over the pre-Baltic countries. Later I gave the originals of my
posters to a cinema archive. Simultaneously, I made some additional
money as a caricaturist. I signed my pictures Gutman.
everybody knew how the situation was likely to develop. In 1939 Moscow
presented an ultimatum to Ulmanis  and there were Soviet military
bases at sea. The bases needed protection! The war was going on in full
swing all around, and the people's state of mind was quite predictable!
We knew that nothing good was going to come out of it. On 17th June the
Soviet troops entered Riga. On the 21st there was a demonstration at
the central prison: all communists were granted amnesty. On that very
day I decided to go to Riga from our summer residence. I saw an
incredible show! Crowds of people moving, carrying red banners. It was
something tremendous! Just recently, for a red cloth, thrown at night
on wires, you were sentenced to several years of imprisonment.
far from the prison, behind the railway, a crowd of people gathered
waving trade union flags. They were mainly Latvians. Suddenly a Soviet
airplane appeared, and there one elderly Latvian lady exclaimed, ‘Look,
our eagles are flying!' When I nowadays narrate this story to Latvians,
they cannot believe it! Later, communists began to come out of the
prison and the crowd greeted them warmly. Then we all headed for the
presidential palace and the presidential banner was hanging there. The
Latvians shouted, ‘Nost so kabatlakatinu!' [Remove that handkerchief!].
There was a bunch of dare-devils, who tied an Ulmanis portrait to a
bicycle, wrapped it in a prisoner's uniform and were riding along that
way! All these historical events were tremendous! But I noticed angry
faces in many windows as well. It should be remembered, you know, the
climax was yet to come!
In 1940 there were meetings with many
well-known Soviet artistic figures. We received a prominent Soviet film
director Grigori Aleksandrov and actor Lyubov Orlova. Then we had a
meeting with writer Mikhail Zoshchenko . I worked with the Riga
magazine Crocodile then.
I didn't care about nationalization.
They did what they considered necessary, but I kept my distance from
it! The New Year celebrations of 1941 were very cheerful! We all
gathered in the house of the Jewish community, on School Street; there
was a remarkable ball!
There was a Jewish newspaper in
Yiddish, a communist newspaper, and I was drawing good caricatures for
it. Ulmanis expected the events and declared, that in each house there
should be a pair of top-boots and a shirt, as reserves for the army. I
remembered that declaration! And I made a caricature, which consisted
of two parts. Part one – Ulmanis shows the boots, and part two – the
boot of history, the Soviet boot, kicks him out! That caricature didn't
survive, but apart from that I have a large number of caricatures at
home! Especially from ‘The Soviet Latvia'!
1941 – the smell of
a thunder-storm hung in the air! I remember that morning, Sunday, 22nd
June [the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War] , I was
in our office. I remember the speech delivered by Molotov . And
then we hid in a cellar as the Germans were bombing the city. On
Wednesday the 25th the Fifth Column riflemen started to fire from
roofs! From all roofs! It was horrible! Everything was prepared! We
were sitting and asking each other, especially Jews, ‘What now?!'
Everyone was panic-stricken!
In our film company we had our
own transport base. Mister Gudkin, a Jew, was in charge of that base.
He later went to Israel, I don't know if he's still alive. He worked as
a film mechanic with the ‘Cinema-Town', and then he got that transport
supervisor position. And so, here comes a truck, and my wife and I
approach it. We were told that all men were supposed to stay and defend
Riga! But where were the rifles?! Everybody kept looking at each other!
The truck stopped and my wife boarded it with a bag and pillow, among
other women and children. I stayed. Then came Gudkin and said, ‘There,
pal, get in the truck, if you want to go.' We both wrote some kind of
passes for each other, saying that we were accompanying the groups,
otherwise they wouldn't have let us out! That's how we left with the
On the way we passed by ‘Cinema-Town'. There were
crowds of people! They raised their hands! But it was impossible to
take everybody! It was a dramatic scene! So we headed for Pskov along
the highway. We saw dead bodies on the road. Somewhere far away, planes
were flying low. In Pskov, in turmoil, I got over to the truck in which
my wife was. Bombing began. The Germans were bombing Pskov. Later we
reached the railway station, got on a train and went in the direction
of Yaroslavl, Gorky. Finally, we found ourselves in Sharya, Gorky
The heat was awful, we were thirsty all the time. We
were assigned to a wood-processing plant to work. We were accommodated
in a school and given some bed linen. We worked for several weeks,
preparing the logs. What for, do you think? Logs for Donetsk [the
biggest coal basin in the Ukraine]. The front needed coal! In August a
message was received, saying that men from Latvia were ordered to join
the Latvian Battalion. I was enlisted as well. There came the moment of
farewell! We went to Gorky. I swear to you, when the train was
approaching the station, the howling of the women was unbearable! A
nightmare! In no country do women scream as loud as in Russia when they
see their men off!
From August till December I was in
Gorokhovets camps. The Latvian Battalion was being formed there. Our
everyday life? Nothing worth talking about! We took a hot shower in a
tent. Four of us at a time – standing. Those who were taller than me
were all right, but I was left only with dirty water dropping down on
me! Then we were jumping out, barefoot, in October, running through the
woods over cones and thorny grass. The same pot that we used for dinner
we used for washing ourselves, too. The commissary in charge was
arrested later and tried in the military tribunal.
December 1941 we approached the city of Naro-Fominsk, where the Latvian
Division was fighting. I was a private and remained in this rank until
the end of the war. My first impression of the war was when I saw young
inexperienced soldiers in a truck coming from the front line – all
blood-stained and bandaged! When I saw it, I understood what it was all
about. Shortly after I fell ill with an acute form of dysentery. It was
hard to feel sick in the frost and while on the move! When we came to a
halt, I told the commander that I felt unwell. But the military have no
such word in their vocabulary – unwell that is. You are either okay or
wounded in the army. So we were lying there and then the ‘Katyusha' [a
powerful Soviet rocket artillery unit] suddenly struck! Such an
explosion, so many flames! I was moving with my last ounce of strength.
All this was happening around 1st January. I wasn't sent to
hospital at once. I had been to a couple of first-aid posts first. On
1st January 1942 we were passing some sanitary unit, and they gave me a
bowl of hot tea with a lump of sugar! I haven't ever drunk a tastier
cup of tea! It was hot, it was sweet! Finally I reached the hospital.
It was the hospital for infectious diseases of the Western front.
Practically all the staff was from Belarus. The commissar, having
learned that I was an artist, ordered at once, ‘Leave him here! We need
him.' A country woman from an adjacent village worked as a nurse there.
She prepared the bed for me in the following way: she lifted me with
her left arm and made the bed with her right one. That's how weak I
was! Afterwards I stayed in the same hospital for a long time, until
summer, with the attendants team. I was in charge of linen in the
laundry. It was necessary to control the cleanliness of linen very
strictly. If the boss saw an insect, you were dismissed. Then we were
brought to the region of Vyazma, to the front line. I was enlisted to
the Urals division; I was reluctant to go to the Latvian Battalion
On 12th September 1943 I thrust myself out from the
trench, and was hit on my left arm. Bleeding profusely I crawled to my
comrades and they gave me first aid, bandaged me – my arm was twisted
the wrong way and broken. I was taken by cart to a sanitary unit. Then
I got on a sanitary train, and found myself in Kuibyshev region, the
station of Shantala, in a hospital. In that hospital I stayed from
September to February 1944. Then I went to my wife in Stalinabad [today
My mum, my sister and Salya's family set
off from Riga on foot. A friend, a military officer, helped them. Nyuta
had always limped, so she was put on a horse. And Salya had two boys by
then. How we found each other after the war, I cannot recollect. Fact
is, that I had visited them, my mum and sister, in Chelyabinsk region
in 1943. The family of my brother went somewhere further. My wife went
via Tashkent to Stalinabad. There she found work in the directorate of
a power station construction project. She had a room there. I joined
her after I recovered.
From Stalinabad I returned with my wife
to Riga in March 1945. We had an apartment on _k_s Street. Mum and
Nyuta joined us in the fall of 1945. In November 1946, on the eve of
the November holidays, my mother died in a hospital; she was extremely
exhausted from the time in evacuation. My sister was very devoted to my
mother, and mum suffered greatly from the fact that she had to leave
her alone. She worked as a nurse in a polyclinic. She was often sick
and was frequently treated in hospitals. My sister never married. She
had a boyfriend, as she told me shortly before her death, a businessman
from Dvinsk. He courted her for quite some time and seemed to be in
love with her, but when he understood that she had nowhere to live, he
broke up with her and she didn't see him again. My sister died five
years ago. She was 90 years old when she died.
Many of my
friends had no children before the war! But after the war the situation
changed sharply. The law of nature! My son was born in May 1945, just
before Victory Day . My son's name is Lyova, or Lev, a name
inherited from our Jewish grandfathers, almost all of them had double
names. My brother's name is Solomon, but in honor of our grandfather
his real name is Zalman-Mendel. I'm Simon, but in honor of our
grandfather I'm Simom-Shleme. Lyova was first called Ruvin-Leibe, like
the father of my wife, but then we decided to give him a name in honor
of Leo Tolstoy . He graduated from the Polytechnic Institute, the
power faculty. In the army he served in Kaliningrad region. He worked
here, got married and has a daughter. After some time his wife had the
idea to leave for the USA. They lived in Houston. He worked under
contract. Then they moved to Colorado, the State of Denver. He now
works as an interpreter in the Hague, Holland, translating from English
to Russian. But he divorced his wife. His daughter must be around 23 by
My second son, Naum, was born in 1951. He is named in
honor of grandfather Nakhman, on my wife's side. He is very devoted to
me. I always consult him, I consider him to be the boss. Not I am the
boss, but he is the boss for me. Naum failed to enter the Academy of
Applied Arts, he didn't get enough points at the exams. He worked as an
artist in the Aurora cinema, but when all the cinemas were closed, he
actually remained without work. He is married and has a son.
twin brother was absolutely different from me. But somehow we always
had similar ideas. He was taller than me. In the beginning he was
frantically religious, but when we both changed our views in Pavlovski
Posad and Dvinsk, he became an outermost left-winger. He was
politically more to the left than me, but he was never touched by the
police. I was a less active Komsomol member and still I managed to
serve several terms in prison somehow. He was severe, strict, and very
erudite. In his apartment there were a lot of books. He was very
interested in politics. His appearance was unlike mine.
the war he came to Riga and worked in the advertising department of a
film company, made large posters for cinema, and worked in the
Lachplesis cinema. He worked there for a long time and had a good
reputation. He didn't like melodramas, broken hearts and things. For
example, he was contemptuous of the film by Sergei Bondarchuk, ‘Fate of
a Man'. Emotional break-down! Fie! He didn't care much about himself,
but he was very devoted to children!
My brother got married
even earlier than I. He was a good artist. Our father could only play
the accordion and our mother could sew. There wasn't anything artistic
in their characters. Salya's son, Naftoly Gutman, is also an artist, an
old man by now, too. And Naftoly's son is an artist as well. Salya's
daughter chose a musical career, although she was reluctant to study
music as a girl and her parents had to push her. Anyway, she has become
a good musician. She's a teacher in a music school. She has left for
Germany with her second husband and children. My brother died a few
years ago, of pancreas disease. His widow lives in Germany now. The
eldest son of my brother, Sergei, was kind of a ne'er-do-well fellow.
They found a job for him, in a commodity railway terminal, but he was
squeezed to death between carriages there. He was only eighteen.
invited me to work in the cinema company in 1945. I stayed there all
the time, up to my retirement age. I became a member of the Union of
Artists of Latvia and took part in many exhibitions. There were
exhibitions of caricaturists, placard-artists, and performances by the
front artists. Readers of The Soviet Latvia of the elder generation
know me very well. My caricatures were constantly published. The
caricatures were political. During the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in
1967 [see Six-Day-War]  I was telling everybody, that I wasn't
Simon Israelevich, but Simon Aggressorovich! Yes, I'm a humorist, an
actor, a film director, and when I feel high emotionally, I can write
verses. I wrote verses not so long ago. When I worked at the
film-studio, I composed poems for amateur performances. I retired
rather late. My labor experience is 45 years. My wife worked in the
ticket office at the Pioneris cinema for a long time.
Russian Revolution of 1917: Revolution in which the tsarist regime was
overthrown in the Russian Empire and, under Lenin, was replaced by the
Bolshevik rule. The two phases of the Revolution were: February
Revolution, which came about due to food and fuel shortages during
World War I, and during which the tsar abdicated and a provisional
government took over. The second phase took place in the form of a coup
led by Lenin in October/November (October Revolution) and saw the
seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.
 Civil War (1918-1920):
The Civil War between the Reds (the Bolsheviks) and the Whites (the
anti-Bolsheviks), which broke out in early 1918, ravaged Russia until
1920. The Whites represented all shades of anti-communist groups –
Russian army units from World War I, led by anti-Bolshevik officers, by
anti-Bolshevik volunteers and some Mensheviks and Social
Revolutionaries. Several of their leaders favored setting up a military
dictatorship, but few were outspoken tsarists. Atrocities were
committed throughout the Civil War by both sides. The Civil War ended
with Bolshevik military victory, thanks to the lack of cooperation
among the various White commanders and to the reorganization of the Red
forces after Trotsky became commissar for war. It was won, however,
only at the price of immense sacrifice; by 1920 Russia was ruined and
devastated. In 1920 industrial production was reduced to 14% and
agriculture to 50% as compared to 1913.
 Komsomol: Communist
youth political organization created in 1918. The task of the Komsomol
was to spread of the ideas of communism and involve the worker and
peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The Komsomol also aimed at
giving a communist upbringing by involving the worker youth in the
political struggle, supplemented by theoretical education. The Komsomol
was more popular than the Communist Party because with its aim of
education people could accept uninitiated young proletarians, whereas
party members had to have at least a minimal political qualification.
Makhno, Nestor (1888-1934): Ukrainian anarchist and leader of an
insurrectionist army of peasants which fought Ukrainian nationalists,
the Whites, and the Bolsheviks during the Civil War. His troops, which
numbered 500 to 35 thousand members, marched under the slogans of
‘state without power' and ‘free soviets'. The Red Army put an end to
the Makhnovist movement in the Ukraine in 1919 and Makhno emigrated in
 Whites (White Army): Counter-revolutionary armed
forces that fought against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.
The White forces were very heterogeneous: They included monarchists and
liberals - supporters of the Constituent Assembly and the tsar.
Nationalist and anti-Semitic attitude was very common among
rank-and-file members of the white movement, and expressed in both
their propaganda material and in the organization of pogroms against
Jews. White Army slogans were patriotic. The Whites were united by
hatred towards the Bolsheviks and the desire to restore a ‘one and
inseparable' Russia. The main forces of the White Army were defeated by
the Red Army at the end of 1920.
 Curzon (of Kedleston),
George Nathaniel Curzon (1859-1925): marquess, foreign minister of
Great Britain 1919-24, conservative. The youngest viceroy of India in
history (1899-1905). During the Soviet-Polish war in 1920 he demanded
that the Red Army should stop the offensive at the line known as the
Curzon line, which was recommended to become the Eastern border of
Poland. The post-WWI border between the Soviet Union and Poland was
largely drawn along the Curzon line. In May 1923 the British government
issued an ultimatum written by George Curzon, thus known as the Curzon
ultimatum, to the Soviet Union, which was defied by the latter.
Mikhoels, Solomon (1890-1948) (born Vovsi): Great Soviet actor,
producer and pedagogue. He worked in the Moscow State Jewish Theater
(and was its art director from 1929). He directed philosophical, vivid
and monumental works. Mikhoels was murdered by order of the State
 Sholem Aleichem (pen name of Shalom
Rabinovich (1859-1916): Yiddish author and humorist, a prolific writer
of novels, stories, feuilletons, critical reviews, and poem in Yiddish,
Hebrew and Russian. He also contributed regularly to Yiddish dailies
and weeklies. In his writings he described the life of Jews in Russia,
creating a gallery of bright characters. His creative work is an alloy
of humor and lyricism, accurate psychological and details of everyday
life. He founded a literary Yiddish annual called Di Yidishe
Folksbibliotek (The Popular Jewish Library), with which he wanted to
raise the despised Yiddish literature from its mean status and at the
same time to fight authors of trash literature, who dragged Yiddish
literature to the lowest popular level. The first volume was a turning
point in the history of modern Yiddish literature. Sholem Aleichem died
in New York in 1916. His popularity increased beyond the
Yiddish-speaking public after his death. Some of his writings have been
translated into most European languages and his plays and dramatic
versions of his stories have been performed in many countries. The
dramatic version of Tevye the Dairyman became an international hit as a
musical (Fiddler on the Roof) in the 1960s.
 Suta, Roman
(1896-1944): Latvian graphic artist. At the end of 1924 three young
graphic artists – Roman Suta, his wife Aleksandra Beltsova, and
Sigizmund Vidberg – opened an art studio, Baltars, in Riga. The style
of Roman Suta was nation-building in its essence. He used both folk
motifs and sketches of everyday life of the Latvian people on china and
porcelain. In the 1920s, the works of the studio were very popular in
Western Europe and the United States, but by 1930 the collective of
Baltars fell apart because of financial difficulties.
Ulmanis, Karlis (1877-1942): the most prominent politician in pre-World
War II Latvia. Educated in Switzerland, Germany and the USA, Ulmanis
was one of founders of Latvian People's Council (Tautas Padome), which
proclaimed Latvia's independence on November 18, 1918. He then became
the first prime minister of Latvia and held this post in several
governments from 1918 to 1940. In 1934, Ulmanis dissolved the
parliament and established an authoritarian government. He allowed
President Alberts Kviesis to serve the rest of the term until 1936,
after which Ulmanis proclaimed himself president, in addition to being
prime minister. In his various terms of office he worked to resist
internal dissension - instituting authoritarian rule in 1934 - and
military threats from Russia. Soviet occupation forced his resignation
in 1940, and he was arrested and deported to Russia, where he died.
Ulmanis remains a controversial figure in Latvia. A sign of Ulmanis
still being very popular in Latvia is that his grand-nephew Guntis
Ulmanis was elected president in 1993.
 Zoshchenko, Mikhail
Mikhailovich (1895-1958): Russian satirist, famous for his short
stories about average Soviet citizens struggling to make their way in a
world filled with red tape, regulations and frustration. Zoshchenko was
attacked in Soviet literature journals in 1943 for ‘Before Sunrise',
which he claimed was a novel whereas it appears to be more of a
personal reminiscence. The Central Committee of the Communist Party
condemned Zoshchenko's work as ‘vulgar' and he published little
 Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5
o'clock in the morning Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without
declaring war. This was the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic
War. The German blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly
succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed.
Caught unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast
quantities of equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of
the war. By November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian
Republic, besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union's second largest city,
and threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th
 Molotov, V. P. (1890-1986): Statesman and member
of the Communist Party leadership. From 1939, Minister of Foreign
Affairs. On June 22, 1941 he announced the German attack on the USSR on
the radio. He and Eden also worked out the percentages agreement after
the war, about Soviet and western spheres of influence in the new
 Victory Day in Russia (9th May): National holiday
to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II
and honor the Soviets who died in the war.
 Tolstoy, Lev
Nikolayevich (1828-1910): Russian novelist and moral philosopher, who
holds an important place in his country's cultural history as an
ethical philosopher and religious reformer. Tolstoy, alongside
Dostoyevsky, made the realistic novel a literary genre, ranking in
importance with classical Greek tragedy and Elizabethan drama. He is
best known for his novels, including War and Peace, Anna Karenina and
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but also wrote short stories and essays and
plays. Tolstoy took part in the Crimean War and his stories based one
the defense of Sevastopol, known as Sevastopol Sketches, made him
famous and opened St. Petersburg's literary circles to him. His main
interest lay in working out his religious and philosophical ideas. He
condemned capitalism and private property and was a fearless critic,
which finally resulted in his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox
Church in 1901. His views regarding the evil of private property
gradually estranged him from his wife, Yasnaya Polyana, and children,
except for his daughter Alexandra, and he finally left them in 1910. He
died on his way to a monastery at the railway junction of Astapovo.
Six-Day-War: The first strikes of the Six-Day-War happened on 5th June
1967 by the Israeli Air Force. The entire war only lasted 132 hours and
30 minutes. The fighting on the Egyptian side only lasted four days,
while fighting on the Jordanian side lasted three. Despite the short
length of the war, this was one of the most dramatic and devastating
wars ever fought between Israel and all of the Arab nations. This war
resulted in a depression that lasted for many years after it ended. The
Six-Day-War increased tension between the Arab nations and the Western
World because of the change in mentalities and political orientations
of the Arab nations.