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Wartime Correspondence

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Letter from Kopel Nachbar to Alfred Weiss and Mollie Levin

Brothers Kopel Nachbar and Alfred Weiss lived thousands of miles apart when World War II began. Taking his mother's maiden name, Alfred had moved to Germany to work in his brother Salomon's clothing factory in Leipzig in 1929. He managed to flee to the United States in 1938, where he eventually became a naturalized American citizen. Kopel, meanwhile, stayed in his native town of Kołomyja in southeastern Poland.1

After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, a secret agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union led to the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland.2 Kołomyja was occupied by Soviet forces, who immediate sought to "Sovietize" this region and incorporate it permanently into the Soviet Union. Opponents (or perceived opponents) of new policies were persecuted and risked forced resettlement, prison, labor camps, or worse. Targets of the new Soviet regime included Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Jews, as well as all others who were seen as working against Soviet interests.

In April of 1940, Kopel wrote to his brother Alfred and his wife Mollie Levin in New York. He was no longer in Kołomyja, but rather 1,200 miles southeast in Tsulukidze, Georgia.3 He informed Alfred that he had "left" Kołomyja for the Soviet Union, noting that "many people migrated to the southern parts of the U.S.S.R. for various jobs." He made it sound like he had voluntarily taken this journey. However, it is possible that he was deported against his will. Kopel must have been aware that the letter would be read by censors. This may be why the tone of the letter is very positive, and why the descriptions of his new Georgian surroundings and people sound almost too perfect. The cryptic reference to a family member who is suffering "at their hands" could be a coded message to his brother in New York.

Kopel was subsequently drafted into the Soviet Red Army, and he died in battle against German forces. All of Kopel's and Alfred's siblings—Mordechai, Salomon, Regina and Rivka—died in the Holocaust.

The town is today known as Kolomyia and lies in Ukraine.

Soviet rule in this area lasted for a little bit less than two years until late June 1941, when German forces attacked the Soviet Union and conquered this region. For a standard scholarly treatment of this short period in the history of eastern Poland, see Jan Gross, Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Belorussia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

Today Khoni, Georgia.

Yiddish for Kolomyya.

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April 6, 1940

Dear Alfred and Dear Mala,

First of all, I want to inform you of my well-being and wish that I hear the same from you. Now I want to share some news about me. You should know that on March 16th I left Kolomey. After the annexation of [the territories of] former Poland to the Soviet Union, many people migrated to the southern parts of the U.S.S.R. for various jobs. I also decided to do the same. I joined a transport that was traveling to the Caucasus, that is the Republic of Georgia, near the Black Sea, and I went with them. You don't have to pay any money for this because the government covers all of the migrant's costs. The trip took 17 days by train. I've been here already for 5 days. I haven't worked yet because we have a week to rest. Next week we'll begin to work. We'll be working on tea plantations. I hope that later I'll be able to work within my own trade. The local population is friendly to us. It is a little hard with the language because they speak Georgian here, but with time this will also come. I also have many acquaintances here from Kolomey1 and there are many families from Germany. I hope that over time I'll get used to it. Here in a small village where I live, there is a large city, Kutaisi, only 20 miles away, and I'll be able to travel there on a free day. I am curious, how are things with you? Have you had any letters from dear Sala? I am very troubled over the fate of dear Sala. He has completely sacrificed himself for his home, and now he has to suffer so much, poor thing. It would be the greatest happiness for me to hear that he is already out of their hands. I also wrote to him at home, but it will surely be one month before I receive an answer, since it's so far. I will be very glad to get a letter from you, but please write a registered [letter] when you write. When I receive a letter from you then I'll write more.

Otherwise I will end today with the best of greetings for you, as well as for the whole family.


Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 10.173
Date Created
April 6, 1940
Author / Creator
Kopel Nachbar
Khoni, Georgia
Tsulukidze, Soviet Union (historical)
Reference Location
Kołomyja, Poland (historical)
Kolomyia, Ukraine
Kutaisi, Georgia
Kutaisi, Soviet Union (historical)
Document Type Letter
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