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Wartime Correspondence

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Letter from Kopel Nachbar to Alfred Weiss and Mollie Levin

In April 1940, Kopel Nachbar sent a letter from Tsulukidze in Soviet Georgia (today Khoni in Georgia) to his brother Alfred Weiss and his wife in New York. Kopel and Alfred were from the southeastern Polish town of Kołomyja (Kolomey in Yiddish), today Kolomyya in Ukraine. Alfred had taken his mother's maiden name, moved to Germany to work in his brother's Salomon's clothing factory in Leipzig in 1929, and managed to flee to the United States in 1938, where he subsequently became a naturalized American citizen.

Kopel, meanwhile, stayed in his native town. After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the secret provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact stipulated the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland. In accordance with this secret annex of the treaty, the Soviets annexed eastern parts of the country, including Kołomyja. The Soviet rule in this area lasted for a little bit less than two years, until late June 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and conquered this region in the first days of the war.1

Kopel Nachbar's letter was thus written more or less in the middle of Soviet rule of his native town. Moscow sought to "Sovietize" this region and incorporate it permanently into the Soviet Union. This process was violent, as it aimed to restructure society, forcibly dismantling old institutions and introducing new ones. Large numbers of opponents (or perceived opponents) of these policies were persecuted, and risked forcible resettlement, prison, labor camps, or worse. The victims of the new Soviet regime included Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Jews, as well as all others who were perceived to work against Soviet interests.

Kopel wrote from Tsulukidze, a town in Soviet Georgia, some 1,200 miles southeast from his native town. He informed his brother in New York 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 taken this journey of his own free will. This is certainly a possibility; it is also possible, however, that he was deported, and that he had no say in the matter. Although the letter was in Yiddish, Kopel must have been aware that it was subject to censorship; it is perhaps for this reason that the tone of the letter is very positive, and 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 the only coded message to his friend in New York.

Kopel was subsequently drafted by the Soviets into the Red Army, and died in battle against the Germans. All Kopel's and Alfred's siblings—Mordechai, Salomon, Regina and Rivka—perished in the Holocaust.

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).

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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 Kolomey 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
Nachbar, Kopel
Khoni, Georgia
Tsulukidze, Soviet Union (historical)
Reference Location
Kołomyja, Poland (historical)
Kolomyya, Ukraine
Kutaisi, Georgia
Kutaisi, Soviet Union (historical)
Document Type Letter
Description Letter that Kopel Nachbar sent from Tsulukidze (today Khoni in Georgia) to his brother Alfred Weiss in New York.
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