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Wartime Correspondence

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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 it achieved independence 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 his 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. The family became part of the large wave of evacuation that transferred millions of Soviet citizens eastward, out of the German army's reach.2 Eventually, Boris was drafted into the Red Army, and was sent to attend a military school in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, before deployment at the front.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 1,500 miles north of Bukhara.

Boris sent a series of letters to his family from Bukhara. They were all inspected by Soviet military censors, as the stamp on the letters testified, and as Boris and everyone else was surely aware.4 Even so, Boris wrote candidly. In one letter, he makes mention of "kolkhoz crooks"—referring negatively to Soviet collective farms. He also worries whether his sister is receiving sufficient food rations from her position at a state-owned enterprise. Hunger was a persistent problem, and he discussed it one way or another in every letter. His own mother died in part due to malnutrition.5 

Sent in the spring of 1943, the featured letter illustrates many general aspects of wartime Jewish communication despite its specific context. Beyond hunger, Boris was safe for the time being, as were his mother and siblings (though the letter expresses concern over not hearing from them). But a sense of loneliness and anxiety about the future make this letter similar to many other Holocaust letters and other written communication from this period. As he is not threatened by the occupying German army (though still in contact with those directly affected), there is no immediate sense of doom. Still, Boris's short letter reflects a sense of danger common for many Jews caught up in the war.6

A reference to "Garfinkel" 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 German forces took Jews from the ghetto to be shot. As Boris relates, "not knowing what happened to his family" was by then a familiar experience.

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 and later immigrated to Israel.

Latvia was an independent republic from 1918–1940. In 1940, 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 until 1990.

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 Allied and Axis powers, censored 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 captured by the German forces. The death rate of Soviet prisoners of war was higher in late 1941 and early 1942 than that of Soviet Jews in general, and Jewish Red Army soldiers were doubly vulnerable. For more on Germans' treatment of Soviet prisoners of war, see the related items in Experiencing HistoryPhotograph of Prisoners Forced to Exercise and Labor Deployment of Soviet Prisoners of War.

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.

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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.



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
Boris Gurevich
Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Bukhara, Soviet Union (historical)
Reference Location
Riga, Latvia
Riga, Soviet Union (historical)
Document Type Letter
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