Shlomo Gurevich's Family Tree

Shlomo's main tree

Gurevich Line

Dragilev Line

Wolfson Line

Genkin Line



I do not know when one of the members of the Horowitz family who crossed the border of the Russian Empire and was registered by a scribe of His Majesty the Czar as Gurevich enaugurated the family tree, a branch of which passed to my great-grandfather. The history of our family which was told to me by my father, blessed be his memory, begins with him - my great-grandfather Moshe Gurevich.

Moshe Ha-Levi Gurevich lived in a town of Chislavichi, administratively a part of Mogilev Province, one of the islands of the Archipelago of Pale of Settlement (which after 1918 was administratively resubordinated to the Smolensk Region). Moshe owned an inn in Chislavichi, and, together with some of his brothers, a small tannery, and was listed as a Merchant of the 2nd Guild". His wife and my great-grandmother was called Liah (Leah). They had 4 sons - Khazkel, Kuleh, Simon (Shim'on - my grandfather) and Israel (Isroel) - and 2 daughters - Manya and Anya (russified names, their original Jewish names were probably Miriam and Chaya, respectively). The great-grandfather had died before my father was born (in 1918). The younger brother of my grandfather, Israel, who worked as a foreman at the family-owned tannery,was sent in 1905-1906 on business to Bialystok. While he was there, the pogrom, later known for the number of its victims, broke out, and Israel, a member of the Jewish self-defense organization in Chislavichi, joined the Jews who were fighting the pogrom's perpetrators, as well as the Russian police and troops who openly helped them. In the course of one of the clashes, he shot a policemen dead, was arrested and thrown behind the bars. Israel was facing a death sentence, but he managed to bribe a prison guard and escape. Probably, the same year he reached the coast of the United States. He stayed in contact with my grandfather by mail till 1930s, when Stalin terror regime made it life threatening to have relatives abroad. The correspondence stopped, and the Israel's subsequent fate remains unknown to us. All my efforts to find him or his descendants so far remain unsuccessful.

The two other brothers of my grandfather were Khazkel and Kuleh. Khazkel went to Lithuania and settled in Mozheika. He had 4 children, and one of them was my second aunt Tsiva, who after the war lived and worked in Tbilisi, Georgia (she was a well-known oncology doctor there) until her death in 1993. Khazkel and all his family perished in the Holocaust, only Tsiva miraculously survived (one of the Lithuanian guards who accompanied the column of Jews on their way to being shot was Tsiva's classmate from the Mozheika Gymnasium, and he ordered her to run away). Tsiva gave birth to two children: Otari, who lives in Tbilisi, and Dora, now a resident of Tel-Aviv. Both of them graduated from Medical Institute as doctors. Dora is continuing her medical career, and Otari works for the Georgian government. Their mother, Tsiva, in her youth probably had been a member of the "Beitar" organization: he knew Hebrew, and when I visited the family in Tbilisi in 1978, she recited by heart Bialik's poems, as well as songs: "The Jordan River Has Two Banks: This One Belongs To Us And The Other One Too". She dreamed of seeing Eretz Israel, but her dream was not destined to come true. Her granddaughter, Dora's daughter, Tamar, who graduated from the oldest Tel-Aviv gymnasium, Herzlia and studied medicine in Tel Aviv University, maybe will realize what Tsiva could not. Otari's daughter, Irina, graduated from Tbilisi University.

Until recently I knew almost nothing about Kuleh and Anya, one of my granfather's sisters. But, thanks to my research, I have read in Shimon Dubnow's autobiography, that Kuleh in that area was a diminutive for Yankuleh, Yankel, Yakov. So, Yakov Gurevich who lived in Mstislavl and whose son, Moisey, used to communicate to Tsiva, has been identified as my grandfather's brother. Except Moisey, Yakov had a son Kalman who fell in a battle during World War II, and a daughter Raya who lives now in Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg). Moisey had two sons - Stas and Gennady who emigrated to USA in 1990s. Anya (Chaya) had a daughter, Dina, who lives in Smolensk. Dina has a daughter, Anya, and Anya has two daughters - Galya and Julia, and a son - Dmitry. I met the the second sister of my grandfather, Manya, twice. After the war she lived in Brest and died there in the late 1970s. Manya was an uncompromising Bolshevik. She had two children: the son, Vilen (this name is abbreviated from Vladimir Ilyich LENin) who was killed in the war, and the daughter, Asya, who was a teacher and is now retired, living in Brest but actually every now and then going to visit her daughters. Both of them are teachers: Marina (she lives in Odessa) and Vilena (in Sochi). Marina has two daughters, Anna and Alexandra, and Vilena - one daughter, Ekaterina.

I want to cite a passage from my father's letter about his grandfather on his mother's side:

"My grandfather on my mother's side Yicheh-Bereh Shmerovich (Yitzhak Ber ben Shmaryahu) was born in the town of Chislavichi into the family of a shoemaker. He was a tall, broad-shouldered lad, extraordinarily strong and kind. He did his military service in Warsaw, in a Lithuanian Guards Regiment. He took part in the Russo-Japanese war and was decorated with the Cross of St. George. After the army he became a shoemaker. But he always wanted to be a farmer. He was able to make his dream come true after the Bolshevik revolution: he was allotted a strip of land and began to cultivate it. By that time he had 5 sons and 2 daughters (one of them was my future mother). His sons were strong, diligent men, and, consequently, he did not need to hire farm hands, and in fact he had none.

Notwithstanding this, in 1931 he was dispossessed as a kulak and together with his two sons deported to the area of Nizniy Tagil east of the Ural Mountains. Two years later he was released by reason of his age (he was 86 years old), and he came to us to the town of Yelnya, Smolensk Region. In 1933 we all moved to the town of Sarapul, Udmurtia, and in 1937 he went to Smolensk to his second daughter. Grandfather died in 1941, at the age of 94, a couple of days before the outbreak of the World War II, and he was buried in Smolensk.

My grandmother's name was Channe-Chaye. She died young and was buried in Chislavichi."

The names of three out of Yicheh-Bereh Dragilev's five sons were Leib, Yakov and Yosef. Leib's only daughter, Dasha, lives in Dedovsk (Moscow Region); her only son Yury has two children. The two children of Yakov, Lev and Raya live in Dedovsk as well. I used to visit with the family, when their mother, Zhenya (Genya) was alive. Neither Lev nor Raya has children. Yosef had two sons (Binyamin and Abram) and two daughters, Raya and Fenya. I met Binyamin (Nyoma) when I was a boy, he entertained me with funny toys which he made from a button and matchboxes. He passed away before time and left after him a son, Arkady, who lives now in Germany, and a daughter, Olga, a resident of Rishon-le-Zion, who has a daughter, Lisa and the twins-Daniel and Evelene. I met Abram at my father's funeral, he lived in Moscow and taught at one of Moscow's institutions of higher education. He had one son, Leonid. Raya and Fenya live in Sarapul. Raya's son, Boris, has one son, Dmitry, and her daughter, Luba, has one daughter, Lena. The only son of Fenya, Mikhail, has two sons, Aleksey and Vitaly.

One of Yicheh-Bereh's two daughters was called Roneh, she was my grandmother. The other was Manya (Malka), after the war she lived in Smolensk, and in the middle of 1960s my father and I visited her at her home. Manya's daughters - Fanya and Tsipa live in Kazan, Russia and have no children.

Thus, my father's parents were Simon (Shim'on ben Moshe Ha-Levi) Gurevich and Raya (Roneh bat Yitzhak Ber) Dragilev. They were born about the end of the 19th century. I never met either of them. I only know that my grandfather, as well as his brother Israel, worked at the tannery in Chislavichi (some shares of which he owned and which, at some point, was expropriated by the Bolsheviks), fought during the Civil War in the Red Army (apparently with Budenny's artillery). After the end of the Civil War he returned to Chislavichi, worked at the tannery, and (as noted above), moved with the whole family to Elnya, and from there - to Sarapul. After the World War II he lived near Moscow. He died in 1954 and was buried at Serpukhov cemetery. My grandmother died a some years before, but exactly when and where she was buried I do not know. It is known that during the war she lived in the town of Tolguchin (Novosibirsk Region), to where she had been taken by plane by my father from Dedovsk in 1941 when German troops approached Moscow.

Besides my father, Simon and Roneh had one more son - Moisey (Moshe ben Shim'on Ha-Levi). He was born in 1923, and was a very talented boy and did very well in school. In 1941, soon after the outbreak of the war, he was called up for military service. He served in the Railway Troops. That same year he contracted typhus and died in a military hospital (according to the document which was sent to my father from the military draft board, he died because of exhaustion on 1.1.1943). He was buried in a common grave near the village of Lipinskoye, Nelidovo District, Tver Region. When I arrived to Israel, I entered his name into the lists of those who perished during the Holocaust at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, and he was posthumously granted the honorary Israeli citizenship.

My father, Khazkel Gurevich (Yekhezkel ben Shim'on Ha-Levi) was born 1.06.1918 in Chislavichi. Like many Jewish boys of that period, at the age of four he attended the cheder, and at the age of 8 - a Soviet school. My father's family was representative of that generation of Russian Jews who had been uprooted from their Jewish traditions. On the old family photograph I found my grandfather, my father and his brother Moisey without skullcaps on their heads, and my grandmother without hat or wig. Jewish tradition was not observed in our family, and with passing years my father even began to forget Yiddish. Nevertheless, my father retained a strong Jewish identity and always reacted emotionally to anti-Semitic provocations.

Standing: my father Khazkel(left) and his brother Moisey, sitting: my grandfather Simon and grandmother Roneh.

My father was very gifted man: he studied well at public school, played the mandolin and took up boxing and aerial sports. Aerial sports apparently affected his choice of profession - in the late 1930s he enrolled in the Kazan Aviation Institute. But as part of the country's preparations for the war students in their early years of study began to be transferred to the military schools. My father was sent to the Ulyanovsk Signal School, from which he graduated with the rank of lieutenant, and immediately began service during the Finnish campaign.

In 1941 during the early days after the German attack against the USSR my father was sent to an air assault sabotage unit whose mission included the demolition of bridges and railroads, the seizure and defense of bridgeheads until the arrival of the main forces, etc. The group which my father commanded provided communications. During one such operation, because of a mistake in navigation, the unit was detected by the Germans and encountered heavy anti-aircraft and machine-gun fire during the parachute landing phase. My father was wounded in the stomach, and was carried by his soldiers across the front line. It was not his last wound - in the course of the war he was wounded once more, this time - in his right arm, and contused (that time it was sheer luck that he survived and only because at the last moment before being buried alive in a freshly dug grave, somebody detected his heartbeat).

Father fought on many fronts, and he survived primarily due to his good physical condition and sports training. During the famous Kharkov encirclement he saved his life by swimming across the Severny Donets River in full battle gear and with documents. During the Battle of Stalingrad my father and his soldiers, under heavy shelling, set up and secured the communication line across the Volga. For this operation my father was recommended for the Hero of Soviet Union award. But subsequent events prevented him from receiving it.

As I have already mentioned, my father was intolerant of any manifestation of anti-Semitism. Very often during his school years he got into fights, giving full due to the offenders and protecting other Jewish boys who could not defend themselves. On the night of 31.12.1942, during the New Year's party at his regimental headquarters, one of the attendees, a colonel from the Special Department (KGB unit in the army), after a good dose of booze, began to bother one of the telephone communication girls who was under my father's command. My father, politely and quietly, asked him to behave in a manner befitting a Soviet officer. The colonel turned purple with rage, his eyes rolled out of their orbits. In a voice full of hatred he roared: "Shut up, you kike!" My father reacted instantly. Without hesitation he grabbed a bottle of vodka from the table and bashed it against the colonel's head. He fell, and, when moments later those near the colonel snapped out of their stupor and ran to him, he was dead. My father was court-martialed, and, according to the military law, he should have been shot for his action. But because his actions resulted from an offense against his nationality, to which there were numerous witnesses, my father was demoted to private, stripped of all medals and sent to one of the "penal battalions", special units which were generally assigned the riskiest operations, and where average life expectancy was a matter of a week. In 1944, during fierce fighting for a railroad station somewhere in Ukraine, my father assumed command of a small group of soldiers still alive who continued the defense until reenforcements had arrived. For this feat my father was summoned to headquarters to a general who embraced him and asked: "Well, my hero, what will it be: a star on your chest or a star on your shoulder-board?" Father thought a moment and decided that he would never see the gold star of Hero of the Soviet Union, like then in Stalingrad, but to receive back an officer rank and return to his unit was quite real. This decision proved to be right, my father ended the war with the rank of captain. At the end of the war he was among the troops who stormed Konigsberg and somehow survived as if by a miracle - the Red Army took very heavy casualties in that operation. In 1969 my parents and I visited this area. I remember how impressed I was by the walls of the houses which were more then a meter thick. The Germans converted every one of them into a fortress. The fighting had been very tough, and the Russian Army had had many casualties before they brought into action their artillery which destroyed a half of the city. I remember the wide empty piece of land in the city center and the Cathedral with the grave of the philosopher Emmanuel Kant in ruins in the middle of the city, an area the local residents would meet for dating-mating and also use as a public toilet. I remember a giant sign written with white paint on the Stock Exchange building: "Wir Kapitulieren Nicht" ("We Won't Surrender").

At the end of the war my father found himself in the Far East, where in August 1945 he took part in the encirclement of the Japanese Army in Manchuria. From that war remained as a souvenir a soldier's blanket with Japanese hieroglyphs which I especially loved to cover myself as a child.

The war made a deep impression in my father's memory - he spoke about it a lot, read military memoirs, corresponded with former comrades-in-arms and participated in all veterans' meetings and other events connected with the war. Besides the wounds, numerous decorations and medals remained from that war which he pinned on his uniform while in service and on a civilian jacket at solemn ceremonies after demobilization from the army.

My father Khazkel Gurevich

In 1946 my father enrolled in the Budyonny Military-Engineering Academy for Communications in Leningrad, there he met my mother: he rented a room in the house which was owned by three or four Jewish families who lived there. One of them was the family of my mother's sister, Sonya. My grandfather's brother Chaim lived there with his family as well. I remember that house, we would stay here at Sonya's when we came to Leningrad to visit my mother's family (until my grandfather had remarried and moved to another part of the city): the two-story wooden, unpainted house, the vegetable garden, the shed. The house stood at the edge of a small pine forest called Sosnovka. I remember even the smells - pine, onions, damp wood: when it rained, I used to play battleship under the steps. My memories of that house are closely connected to the memory of my mother's family, so it is time to say something about them.

My mother's surname before her marriage was Wolfson, her first name was Genya, and her second name was Feigeh. But this I came to know about only after her death - when she was alive everybody called her "Fanya". Her parents' first names were Moisey (Moses, Moshe) and Zelma (or a Russian equivalent, Zhenya, which is a shortened form of Evgenia). My grandfather was a son of Girsh Wolfson, an owner of cloth's shop in the town of Monastyrshchina which, like Chislavichi, was part of Mstislavl District of Mogilev Province.

Besides my grandfather Moisey, my great grandfather Girsh had two more sons: Velvl and Chaim, and a daughter, Galya. Velvl perished in the Holocaust: he was hanged when the Germans occupied the Western part of Russia. Chaim had two sons: Lev and Vladimir. Vladimir was chronically ill and his life ended at an early age. Lev had an important position in construction industry. Today he is a pensioner living in Germany. Both of his two sons, Sergey and Mikhail, are electronics engineers working in Dusseldorf. Galya had a daughter, Frida, who lived in Sukhinichi, Kaluga Region of Russia. Her only daughter, Galya, has two sons.

My great grandfather, Girsh Wolfson and great grandmother (sitting), their children (standing, from left to right): Velvl, Chaim, Galya, Moisey

I never met my grandmother, she died long before I was born (in 1934). She was the daughter of Carp Genkin who lived in Roslavl, Smolensk gubernia. She had four brothers: Abram, Solomon, Isaak, and Max. Max moved to Moscow, his only daughter Anna died in the early 1990s. Her only son Alexander lives in Moscow. He has one daughter, Yulia. Isaak had three sons: Ephraim (Roma), Carp (Kostya) and Solomon (Salya). Roma was badly wounded in WW2, as a result suffered from chronic heart problems, and passed away in 1953. His only son Mark is a dentist in Moscow. Mark has two daughters, Rita and Yulia and a son, Roman. Yulia and Roman live in Moscow, Rita lives in Haifa. She has one son, Ilya. The closest to me of them all was Kostya. I met him and his family many times, often visiting them at their home in Moscow. He was a well-known engineer and scientist, doctor of technical sciences and professor, a world-class specialist in gas engines. He dreamed of leaving for Israel, but his dreams never came true. He died in the late 1970s. I remember him, and will always remember, with an earphone in his ear. The walls could collapse around him, but he would continue to listen to broadcasts from the free world. His only daughter, Rimma, is a French-language specialist and lives in Moscow. Her only daughter Katya graduated from Moscow University and lives in Moscow. Kostya's brother, Salya, was an aircraft designer, towards the end of his career he worked at Chelomey's aircraft design bureau. After he retired, he devoted himself to painting. He died in the second half of the 1980s. He had a son, Valentin, and a daughter, Ira. Valentin is an electronics engineer living in Moscow. He has a son, Sergey. Ira is an architect living in Jerusalem. My grandmother's fourth brother, Solomon, lived in Leningrad. He had a son, Grisha, who died early. Grisha had a daughter, Sima, who lives in St. Petersburg. Sima has a daughter. There was one other branch of the family with which we were acquainted. It goes back to my grandmother's cousin - Akim Dvorkin who had a son, Carp, and a daughter, Lisa. Carp was well-known chemist, Lenin Prize winner in chemistry in 1960s. He had one son, Sergey. Lisa had a son, Arkady, and a daughter, Galya. Arkady is a Russian Navy officer, he has two sons. Galya lives in St. Petersburg, she has a daughter, Lisa. I and my cousin, Zhenya, Sonya's older daughter, were named in honor of my grandmother.

My grandfather, Moisey Wolfson and grandmother, Zelma

As a young man my grandfather was a fireman, later - a Soviet office worker. My mother was born in Monastyrshchina, Smolensk Region on the 5th day of Hanukah in 1918. As noted above, she had a younger sister, Sonya, whom she took care of after grandmother died. In the 1930s the family moved to Leningrad where my mother enrolled in the Leningrad Institute of Technology. Grandfather remarried, his second wife was a relative of the famous Russian Jewish poet Samuil Marshak. She had early become a widow. Her first husband was an art lover and collector, and she inherited many works of art, antique furniture and old books. These filled her and my grandfather's small apartment which I used to visit as if going to a museum. Apparently it was from this collection that my mother inherited (after the death of my grandfather and his wife) the photograph taken in Yafo in 1911 of a young beautiful woman in oriental dress with a jug on her shoulder.

The woman in the picture was rumored to be a well-known actress, that's all I knew about her, but this picture encouraged me in moments of despair which I sometimes had to endure during my refusenik years (but about that later). Just after this chapter was written, a half a year ago, I discovered that the mysterious woman on the photograph was not an actress but S. Marshak's wife, Sophya Milvidskaya whom he had just met on board the ship during his travel to Eretz Israel as a reporter.

During the war, when Leningrad was blockaded and hundreds of thousands of its population died of starvation and diseases or were killed by German bombs and shells, my mother's family was saved by the fact that they lived in the outskirts of the city where bombs and shells did not fall, and potatoes, onions and other vegetables which grew in their garden helped them very much during those hungry years. In 1943 the family was evacuated to the Urals, where my mother continued her studies at the Moscow S. I. Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Engineering which had been evacuated as well. After the war my mother was sent to Germany to its chemical plants for on-the-job training. Some Meissen china statuettes in our cupboard which she brought from there remind us of that period of her life.

My mother Genya-Feige

My parents married in 1948, and in two years I was born - on 20th of April 1950. Afterwards, when I joined the Jewish aliyah movement, I came to know that on that special day, the 3rd of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, Israel celebrated its second Independence Day (by reason of the Sabbath the celebrations took place two days earlier). Consequently, in recent years I have celebrated my birthday on Independence Day.

After my father graduated from the academy in 1952, he was sent to work at "Kap'yar", the anti-aircraft missile test range which was so called because of the nearby village named Kapustin Yar in Astrakhan Region, 100 km from Stalingrad across the Volga. Its technical personnel, mainly military engineers like my father, technicians and other servicemen and their families lived in a special military settlement surrounded with barbed wire and a checkpoint at the entrance. The town had several scores of two-story high brick apartment houses for 12 families each and one-story wooden "finnish" houses, a school, a kindergarten and a hospital. The test range itself was located several kilometers from the town, and every morning my father and other personnel went there by bus. Kap'yar played an important role in the defense system of the USSR. High-ranking technicians, officers and generals, who occupied key positions in the Soviet government and the military command structure and were responsible for the army's state-of-the-art equipment, would come there to witness the new missile tests. Among them were Marshal Biryuzov, the famous rocket designer S. P. Korolyov, aircraft designers S. A. Lavochkin, A. N. Tupolev, ministers and the Party leaders: A. I. Mikoyan, N. A. Bulganin and, as best I can remember, even N. S. Khrushchev came twice.

It was absolutely wretched place from the point of view of climate: endless steppe all around, piercing cold in the winter (up to -40 C ) and withering heat in the summer (up to +35 C) accompanied with swarms of midges which penetrated one's nose, ears, eyes - so it was impossible to walk outside without wearing a special gauze mask. Apparently, the harsh climatic conditions of Kap'yar and my mother's blockade years contributed to my poor health in childhood: I constantly suffered from pneumonia. The doctors recommended a change of climate. In 1956-1958 my mother took me to the Crimea for the summer. My father appealed to various military and governmental offices (including Khrushchev's), trying to get transferred from Kap'yar, but in vain. In the end, after my mother managed to meet Marshal Biryuzov and talk to him, my father was transferred to the Antiaircraft Research Institute No. 2 in Kalinin (now Tver), where he worked until 1967 (he received his Candidate's degree there as well). In 1960 he fell seriously ill (his entire right side was paralyzed) and after he recovered, he retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel-engineer but continued to work there as a civilian. In 1968 he became a lecturer on mathematics in Kalinin Polytechnical Institute where he worked until the late 1980s. The last years of his life he lived in Moscow, to where he moved two years after my mother's death and after my departure to Israel, when he married his former schoolmate. Twice my father came to Israel to visit us: in 1990 on the eve of the Persian Gulf War, when we lived in Haifa, and in 1994, to the Bar Mitzvah of his eldest grandson. The last time I saw him was in September 1997 in Moscow where I visited him, 3 months before his death.

The characteristic features of my father were, first of all, his unusual diligence, assiduity, conscientiousness, straightforwardness, honesty and devotion to duty. He was extraordinarily restrained, rarely raised his voice. I have just written above about his outstanding bravery during the war, but it should be said that in everyday life not once did he demonstrate any less courage. He was an absolutely unselfish person, money was almost nothing to him, he was content with a little and satisfied with what he had. He read a lot, in addition to military memoirs he liked adventure novels, especially those written by A. Dumas, and detective stories. He was a modest and kind man, and everyone who knew him gave due credit to these qualities. Father died on the 12th day of Tevet, 5758 (10.1.1998) and was buried at the Jewish cemetery of Malakhovka, beside my mother.

My mother's life after her marriage and my birth was entirely devoted to care of the family. For many years after my birth until 1962 she did not work. From 1962 to 1964 she worked as a chemist in one of the Kalinin gas and power engineering organizations, and after that, from 1964 to 1972 - as a chemical laboratory assistant at the Kalinin Medical Institute. Mother liked her work, she enjoyed helping the students, and many of them remembered her with warm feelings. My mother did virtually all the work in the family: she bought the furniture, laundered, cooked, cleaned the apartment (though my father and I helped her in that), took me to doctors, nursed my father when he was ill. It was my mother whom I have to thank for my education: she instilled in me a love of reading, constantly adding new ones to our home library. She took the initiative in getting me transferred to another class in my school to learn English instead of German, despite my resistance. How grateful was I to her for that afterwards in later life! Under her influence I became interested in the arts: she took me to painting galleries, museums, theater, opera. Unfortunately, the serious disease diagnosed in 1972 and from which she suffered for 13 years eventually killed her. She died on the 30th of Shvat, 5745 (25.2.1985).

My mother's sister, Sonya, was an English teacher, she died very young, at something more than 30. She left two daughters - Zhenya and Sveta. Zhenya lives in Petah Tikva, she works as a music teacher in a school. Her only son Alexander works for Israel Aerospace Industries and has a two sons - Michael and Tom, and a daughter Liron. Sveta lives in St. Petersburg where she works as an English teacher in the same school her mother did.

My mother, Genya-Feige, and her sister, Sonya