Feedback

Advanced Search Filters

In addition to or instead of a keyword search, use one or more of the following filters when you search.

1 of 15 items in

Wartime Correspondence


Bookmark this Item

Letter from Boris Gurevich to his Mother and Sister

Gurevich, Boris letter 1943
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Boris Gurevich was born in Latvia in 1922, shortly after the Baltic republic became independent in the aftermath of World War I.1 He grew up in Riga, where he lived with his parents, a brother and a sister. It is not clear what happened to the father, but the rest of the family managed to flee the city after the German invasion of the Soviet Union (including the Baltic republics) in 1941. They became part of the large wave of evacuation, which transferred millions of Soviet citizens eastward, out of reach of the invading German army.2 Eventually, Boris was drafted into the Red Army, and was sent to attend a military school in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, before being sent to the front lines.3 His sister Lea (Elizaveta) and mother Maria ended up as refugees in Andijan, a city also in Uzbekistan but 500 miles east of Bukhara. His brother Samuel was also in the army, serving in Cheliabinsk, Russia, some 1500 miles north of Bukhara.

Boris sent a series of letters to his family from Bukhara. They were all inspected by a Soviet military censor, as the stamp on the verso of the letters testified, and as Boris and everyone else was doubtlessly aware.4 Even so, Boris was candid in his letters. In one, for example, he refers to the "kolkhoz crooks," referring to the Soviet collective farms, and worries whether his sister is receiving sufficient food rations from her position at a state-owned enterprise. Hunger, in fact, was a persistent problem, and he discussed it one way or another in every letter. The severity of the problem is also revealed in his letters: his own mother died due at least in part to malnutrition.5 

This letter, sent in the spring of 1943, illustrates well many aspects of wartime Jewish communication in writing, despite originating in a very specific context significantly different from many other Holocaust situations. Notwithstanding hunger, which could and did become an urgent issue, Boris was safe for the time being, as were his mother and siblings (though the letter expresses concern over not hearing from them). However, issues of dislocation, uncertainty, and anxiety about the future make this letter similar to many other Holocaust letters and other written communication from this period. As he is away from the occupying German army (though still in contact with those directly affected, as in the oblique reference to Garfinkel), there is no immediate sense of doom; still, this short letter reflects major themes that Holocaust writers addressed.6

The mention of Garfinkel is interesting because it is a reference to a specifically Jewish person and issue; it suggests that Boris and his family were part of the larger Jewish refugee network in the Soviet Union, sharing news about family, friends, and neighbors, and that they cared for specifically Jewish issues that did not affect other Soviet citizens as directly. It is likely that Boris's "friends from Riga" were all or almost all Jewish. It is also likely that Boris’s mother and sister knew that "the forest" referred to the Rumbula forest outside of Riga where Nazis took Jews from the ghetto to be shot and that "not knowing what happened to his family" was by then a familiar experience for her, meaning a family had been deported to a camp or killed. 

Boris Gurevich was killed in battle in 1944. His brother Samuel (Musik) Gurevich (1917-1969) survived and returned to Riga after the war. His sister Lea Gurevich (1920-2007) returned to Riga after the war, but subsequently emigrated to Israel.

Latvia was an independent republic from 1918-1940, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union and became the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 until 1944, when it was liberated by the Red Army and incorporated into the Soviet Union.

For an overview of the Soviet wartime evacuation, see Rebecca Manley, To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival in the Soviet Union at War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009). For a general history of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, see Yitzhak Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union (Lincoln and Jerusalem: University of Nebraska Press and Yad Vashem, 2009).

Uzbekistan had belonged to the Russian Empire since the 19th century and became the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924.

All of the nations involved in World War II, both Allies and Axis powers, engaged in postal censorship of civilian and official mail. In the Soviet Union, as in Nazi Germany, mail might have been censored for ideological as well as military reasons.

For more information on the Gureviches, including the letter in which Boris speaks of his mother’s death, see Emil Kerenji, ed., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Vol. IV, 1942-1943 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 219-22.

As a Jew in the Red Army, Gurevich would certainly have been executed immediately if he had gotten into the hands of the Germans. The death rate of Soviet prisoners of war was higher in late 1941 and early 1942 than that of the Soveit Jews in general; and Jewish Red Army soldiers were doubly vulnerable.

The First of May is International Workers' Day, an important holiday in the Soviet Union. It commemorates the Haymarket affair, a large 1886 rally in Chicago for workers’ rights, organized by labor unions, communists and anarchists. It was violently suppressed by provocateurs and the police. Since the end of World War II, it has become a national holiday in most European and many other countries.

Close Window Expand Source Viewer

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: .

May 2, 1943

Greetings, my little bits of sunshine! I wish you a happy May 1!1

I'm a bit late in writing you, but better late than never. About myself, I won’t say very much. I'm doing fine, I'm healthy, and I'm studying and working. I don't have enough letters from you. Meanwhile I haven't received a single one, and that's why I'm sending this one by registered mail. I'm downright frightened by your silence. Are you in good health? What are you eating? How is your financial situation? I'll give you my address again: Uzbek SSR, Bukhara, Podolsk Artillery School (PAU), Boris Iakovlevich Gurevich. I've already been away from home for five and a half months; I've been at the artillery school for three of them. It's already hot here in Bukhara, but we can easily tolerate the heat. Today, May 2, participants in an amateur group, and I among them, are taking part in the choir, giving a concert for the command personnel. I hope my words don't sound bitter to you, but I would be very hurt if your stomachs don't give you an opportunity to think about concerts and, in general, about incidental things. My dear ones! Just hold on for four more months, and then I will be a strong support for you. I know this is a long time, but try to find a way to kill this time! After all, it's summer now, and prices are probably "cheaper." I saw my friends from Riga. I learned from them that Garfinkel from Hebrew school died in the forest, and it's not known what happened to his family. This is a clumsy letter, but my thoughts are not very neat and well-rounded either—they run about, and are out of sequence.

With a big kiss, I love you, Boris.

[verso]

Registered

Uzbek SSR, Andizhan (old), No. 22 Tashkilat Street., Bravshtein

[Stamp] Inspected, Military Censorship, Bukhara

[Above repeated on another side, with added words] Uzbek SSR, Bukhara, 212 Lenin Street, for Gurevich

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2010.125.1
Date Created
May 2, 1943
Author / Creator
Gurevich, Boris
Language(s)
Russian
Location
Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Bukhara, Soviet Union (historical)
Reference Location
Riga, Latvia
Riga, Soviet Union (historical)
Document Type Letter
Description A letter that Boris Gurevich, a trainee in the Red Army in Bukhara, wrote to his mother and sister in Andijan (both in Uzbekistan, USSR).
How to Cite Museum Materials