Yefim Yamnitski


Interviewed by Carol Zuckert; Vera Kameneyva, translator
March 2, 1999

CZ  I'm interested in what your life was like, where you came from? Where did you come from in the former USSR? 

VM  From Ukraine. 

CZ  And the name of the city? Can you spell it? 

VM  Kharkov. 

CZ  OK, and when were you born? 

VM  May 20, 1913. 

CZ  OK, so you're 85, soon to be 86 years old. 

VM  It will be May 20. 

CZ  Oh, May 20. OK. Very good. How long have you been here? 

VM  Four years. 

CZ  Very good. And did you always live in the Ukraine? 

VM  Yes. 

CZ  And your education? 

VM  He graduated seven classes from school. 

CZ  Seven degrees? And which were they? 

VM  And after that he continued his education in the college for adults. 

CZ  Like engineering? 

VM  No, not engineering. He worked as a worker in the printing house as a typesetter. 

CZ  Typesetter? 

VM  Typesetter. Yes. 

CZ  Printing company. OK, very good. Tell me about his family. His mother and father to begin with? 

VM  You need the names. 

CZ  Well, not necessarily. When I come back to take a photo, I'll photograph that. 

VM  His father was in the first world war. 

CZ  OK, were they from the Ukraine also, from the same town? 

VM  They was from Ukraine also. All the time they live in Ukraine. 

CZ  Tell me about his wife, when did he get married? 

VM  He got married in 1939. 

CZ  And how many children, did he have any children? 

VM  His daughter passed away in the time of the second war. 

CZ  She was killed in the war? 

VM  No, it was a vacation in Kazakhstan. When they moved to Kazakhstan, his daughter was one year and eight months. When she died his wife sent him his daughter's hair in a letter. 

CZ  So we're talking about World War II. So he was in Stalingrad at that time. 

VM  And this hair he put in the pocket and he thinks the hair saved him during the war. 

CZ  How nice. That's very nice. 

VM  Now he married the second time. 

CZ  Where is the first wife? 

VM  She died. 

CZ  And when did he marry the second wife? 

VM  Six years ago. 

CZ  Oh recently. And the second wife was Jewish? 

VM  He said yes. 

CZ  There's a couple of things I'd like to concentrate a little on. One is his war experience and the second his Judaism, and let's do that first. Whether he as a young person, his parents practiced Judaism, whether he did, how secret it was, those kind of things we want to know. So, you know, what was his connection to Judaism, if any, because a lot of people don't have it because of Communism. 

VM  I ask him now. 

CZ  It's whether his family was Jewish, whether they did things on the Sabbath, lit candles, whether they did things on Passover, so you can see kind of the question. Whether his parents were Jewish, whether his grandparents were Jewish, whether his raised his... 

VM  He said that his father was an invalid from the first world war. In the time that the father was alive, they celebrate Sabbath and what else?

CZ  So you honored... 

VM  All the holidays. 

CZ  Did he go to shool? 

VM  Yes. His father died in 1 930 and when he was alive they honored Jewish holidays and the father goes to the synagogue and takes him with. 

CZ  I see, could you read Hebrew? 

VM  He studied Yiddish. 

CZ  Interesting. Same word, Heder, in Russian. It's a Yiddish word. 

VM  He said that he went to the Heder while the teacher was very old and very strong. 

CZ  Strict. 

VM  Yes, strict. And he beat him on the hands and one day he so hard beat him that his father saw it and afterwards he did not go to Heder. 

CZ  Wasn't that typical? Wasn't that usually what happened with the people that taught young boys, of course, that they were very strict. Wasn't that what always happened? 

VM  He said no. It was not in regular school but it was in private school, line heder. The teacher was very old and the boys were very young and they was ten boys in one house with this teacher and if their behavior was not so good... 

CZ  The teacher beat them. Good, not so good. 

VM  So after his father died he was 17 years old. 

CZ  His father was 70 and he was 17? 

VM  He was 17 years old. His mother, after father died, his mother continued the Shabas and she went to the synagogue and in his family the mama and the children, four children, they know the holidays and the Shabas. When the children was adults and created own families ... 

CZ  ...they lost their Judaism. 

VM  Yes, because before the second World War the synagogue was closed. 

CZ  Because of Communism? Because of the state religion? 

VM  Before war maybe in 1939 the synagogue in his town was closed. 

CZ  Because? 

VM  Because of Communism. And the children was in comsomol, you don't know? The young people... 

CZ  Oh, the young Communists. 

VM  It was mandatory. 

CZ  Sure, absolutely. 

VM  And they have... 

CZ  They have no choice. 

VM  Yes. And when the synagogue was open they cannot go to the synagogue, it was a crime. 

CZ  Do you think that was throughout the Ukraine? The state, country, Ukraine? Then, or was it only his city or was it pretty typical? Let me try that a different. Well, it's not important. So, how many sisters and brothers did he have? 

VM  One sister, she was born in 1902. 

CZ  And she's not alive anymore. 

VM  No. She died. After the second world war. 

CZ  Did he have any brothers? 

VM  Two brothers, he had two brothers. The older brother, Constantine, he was born in 1906. 

CZ  Did they have children? 

VM  He, one, alive. 

CZ  He's the only one alive. How about nieces and nephews? 

VM  His brother died in Leningrad after the world war? 

CZ  And did they have any children? 

VM  The daughter, his brother's daughter lives now in San Francisco. 

CZ  Is she the only relative he has? 

VM  His nephew lives in Kharkov now, in Ukraine. In Israel he has two nephews. 

CZ  So when the time came for him to immigrate here how come he chose here rather than Israel? What were his decisions on coming to the United States when he had relatives in Israel too? 

VM  Anti-Semitism. He has here a son. 

CZ  Oh, you have a son, in Tucson? 

VM  Yes, in Tucson. A son and one grandson and one granddaughter. 

CZ  I thought the young lady that died was his only child but not so. 

VM  No, not so. Yes, from his first wife. 

CZ  I see. So, I got a little confused. I thought that was his only child. So we need to know, we need to know when his son came. Oh look, he's got wonderful pictures. Look at these pictures, they're wonderful. This is your son? And his name? 

VM  His son wedding in Kharkov, his son. This is grandson, grandchildren. 

CZ  And these two in Tucson, and the rest? Where were you when this was taken? 

VM  It was in Moscow before they immigrated. 

CZ  So right before you immigrated you had that picture? That's very nice. I wanted to know if they came together, whether they all came here to this country together and what the son's name is. Oh, more pictures. I'm going to turn it off for a minute. [turn off tape] 

VM  It is a not so close relatives. 

CZ  Distant we say. This is your son? 

VM  Grandson. This is the second grandson in Tucson. This is the granddaughter, his granddaughter from his son and the first wife of his son. 

CZ  What happened to her? 

VM  She's in Tucson and study at University. 

CZ  What is his son's name. 

VM  Michael. 

CZ  And his last name the same? 

VM  Yes, the same. 

CZ  Very nice. We saw that picture. Is that your son? Michael. First wife? Looks like her. 

VM  His wife and he. 

CZ  And this is you? And your first wife? 

VM  Yes. It is a daughter of his mother's sister. 

CZ  Cousin. Whose car was that in the photo? Whose automobile? 

VM  He was in military and he has this car but not his own. 

CZ  Not his own, it's the military's car. 

VM  This is his mother and father. 

CZ  Be careful, the paper is tearing. 

VM  His first wife when she was a child, she was young... He is in Russia, in a resort...His two brothers. One brother died in Leningrad. The other brother died when he was in military school. All the students were shot some medicine and the twelve students, it was before the war, in 1932, and the twelve students died. 

CZ  From medicine? 

VM  From the injection. And he said it was from the German diversion. 

CZ  But it was an accident that they died? Or was it intended? They intended to kill them? 

VM  Yes. 

CZ  Why? 

VM  It was a German diversion. 

CZ  And did this have anything to do with their religion? 

VM  No. 

CZ  No, because they weren't religious at that point. 

VM  He came to the United States because his first wife's brother lived in New York and he helped him to come to United States. 

CZ  I see. And how come Tucson? Was it because of the son or was the son with him? 

VM  He doesn't know why in Tucson because at first it was Baltimore. 

CZ  How long? Short time? 

VM  In Moscow, they received the papers from the immigration center...Maria, his wife, entered. 

VM  They wrote where they have to immigrate into. In what town, in what city. And in his paper it was Baltimore. Afterward they changed and said that they have to go to Tucson. They did not know why. 

CZ  So you came to Tucson with your son? 

VM  All together. At first, he came to Tucson with his son and his grandchildren? And after that he called his wife and his wife has a married son and he has a boy, his son, his wife has. Maria has a son. 

CZ  Maria, that's your wife's name? 

VM  Yes. Maria, she has a son, a married son. And she came with her son from Ukraine. 

CZ  And she speaks some English, I know that. Very good. 

[beginning of tape 2] 

CZ  When did you retired? 

VM  He used to work, after he was retired and received the pension, fifteen years more. 

CZ  When did you retire, at what age? 

VM  He was retired when he was 60 years old, and then he continued to work 15 years more, until the age of 75 years. 

CZ  In what position were you before you retired? 

VM  He worked as a manager of a small factory. 

CZ  And now, going back to Michael, your son, what is Michael do? 

VM  He is an engineer, but here he works on different jobs. 

CZ  He speaks English? 

VM  Yes. 

CZ  And what about Michael's children? 

VM  His son is a twelfth grade student and works part time. 

CZ  And Michael's wife is working? 

VM  Yes. She works on the telephone station. 

CZ  And now I would like to know about your war experience. 

VM  He was an officer. 

CZ  What about the anti-Semitism in the army during the war? 

VM  It was not anti-Semitism in army during the war. 

CZ  What was your activity in the army? 

VM  He was an intendant, and supplied the army with different materials. 

CZ  Where did you finish the war? 

VM  He finished the war in Rumania. And in Rumania they found maybe five tons soap that was made from the .... 

CZ  Victims. How did he know for sure, that it was soap? That the soap was from the Jewish people? 

VM  On each bar of the soap was writing. 

CZ  What did it say exactly? What did it say? What were the words on the soap? 

VM  Yiddish fat. 

CZ  How did you feel about that. In Rumania? Oh. 

VM  He brings one piece of soap 

CZ  As a souvenir. 

VM  He brings one piece of this soap and gives to the synagogue in Ukraine. 

CZ  And so the synagogue was opened again after? 

VM  It was a special house where we has the prayer. 

CZ  And so it was open because you said earlier it was closed. 

VM  It was a house where they pray. 

CZ  So, why did you decide, how did you decide to come to the United States? Why did you decide? 

VM  It was the great anti-Semitism. 

CZ  What happened? 

VM  One example. When he stay in the line for the meat and his turn came up, the people said Jewish does not get any meat. It were many, many things like that. 

CZ  So, you had the opportunity to come and so decided it was a better life. 

VM  Yes. It was really terrible to live in that situation. Very terrible. [YY talks a long time in Russian] He want to remember about the time of the second World War. He was in the army but his family and his wife returned from Kazakhstan. They came back. And she could not find the job because it was a great anti-Semitism after ... 

CZ  After the war. 

VM  It was still the war, it maybe was 1944. And he was in army and his wife wrote him a letter that she cannot find a job. 

CZ  She wouldn't find a job. 

VM  Yes, because she is Jewish. 

CZ  She couldn't find a job or he couldn't find a job? 

VM  His wife could not find a job. And he received her letter and wanted to help his wife and wrote to his chief and they let him go to the Kharkov and gave him a lot of food. His chief gave him a permit to go to the Kharkov. And the army gave him the passes, it was the time when foods was very expensive and scarce. And he went to Kharkov and found his friends from the Communists. When it was so great anti-Semitism, he can help his wife only with help from the Communist Party. And when he came to the factory the chief from the employment department said "No, I cannot take her to the job because she's Jewish. It's forbidden." The Communist Party said that we cannot take the Jewish people for the job. 

CZ  Even the Communists, when religion wasn't supposed to matter? That's a very interesting story. How do you feel about being in Tucson? [conversation about delicious potato dish] 

CZ  OK, well, we need to finish with this tape. So you're happy. Is there anything - I'm not offering, I'm just asking for the purpose of the Archives, the library - would there be something that you could see being done that wasn't done for you? A hard question. 

VM  Maybe the better medical services. Not so good for him, the medical services. In Russia he was an invalid of the war and they pay no attention to these people. 

CZ  That's interesting. I'm not here to find out specific problems but just in general. 

VM  In general it's fine. 

CZ  No, but for me to even know about the medical issue, that's good for me to know. OK, one more question. Are they affiliated right now, do they do anything, go to synagogue or anything of that nature? 

VM  Yes. 

CZ  Where? 

VM  To the Anshei Israel. 

CZ  Does your son go to services? 

VM  Not so much. 

CZ  And their children? 

VM  His son's children graduated from Tucson Hebrew Academy. 

CZ  And he sings? Who does, you do? His grandson. I think that really covers it. I'm just going to turn this off...