And laughingly calls me the wide road far-running,
The winds of the plain bathe and roll in my breast.
How far to the master? It’s far to the Master.
Don’t rest.

These lines from a poet—his name I did not keep in memory—I read in the summer of 1918. We spent that summer in a dacha in Malachovka, about an hour by train from Moscow. Feodor Chaliapin, the singer, occupied the neighboring, larger, summer house. That summer a Jewess, a member of the Social Revolutionary Party, made an attempt to kill Lenin, wounding him, and this act was followed by a policy of terror on the part of the Bolsheviks.

It was already the end of the summer; I sat alone on a bench opposite a field and thought poetry, when a note on a small piece of paper was handed to me. It was sent from a place of detention of the Cheka, the highly feared secret police,1 and was from a young man named Birk, a student employed to visit new members of Sheerith-Israel to collect sums due for their shares. He had only slight success in his task, before he was arrested and a full list of names of members of this group was discovered on him. Yet he found a way of sending a note to me. In it he let me know in all brevity that under interrogation he had named my father as the head of the group; he urged my father to flee Moscow.

It was the second day of Rosh-Hashana, the day which, as I think now, was memorable in my father’s life. The Haftara, or reading from the prophets before the congregation, is on that day from Isaiah and contains the words about Sheerith Israel, the remnants of the people of Israel, upon whom the Lord will have mercy. When my father first came to Vitebsk, and when he first came to Moscow, and when he, in the beginning of World War I, came to Odessa on his way to Moscow from Switzerland, he was honored by being asked to read these verses—a sign of respect and esteem. In Odessa this invitation was extended to him by the congregations of Ussishkin, Klausner and others. He used to read it incomparably, his voice being very melodic yet forceful, and invariably he moved his listeners deeply. It was from this Haftara (Isaiah ) that he drew the name Sheerith Israel for the group which he hoped would comprise many of the nation. Delivery of the wastes of the land of Israel from the eighteen centuries of neglect was but part of the activities of the planned groups, with humanitarian activities of general character as the other part. But the work was cut short in the beginning.

It was certainly audacious and imprudent to gather every week another group of people in our home to give them a lecture on the land of Israel (which was my task), to let them join the groups of Sheerith Israel, and to collect money for redeeming the land—in the very year of the Bolshevik revolution, dictatorship and terror. The payments were made in uncut sheets of Kerenki, the inflationary money printed without numbers and even without dividing the sheets into individual bills of forty rubles each. Yet it was not actually against the law to participate in such activities. Under the Communist regime the policy was not yet formulated—so, for instance, the Hebrew theater Habima was patronized by Lunacharski, minister of education in Lenin’s cabinet. The elected cashier was the civil engineer Cooper; but I brought the money to Izhak Goldberg and exchanged it for drafts on a London bank, an operation saving them from utter devaluation and thus directing the funds for their future purpose in Palestine—an operation certainly not officially permitted under the Bolsheviks. Thus we were taking a risk, and now the whole matter was in the hands of the Cheka, with the list of members taken from Birk. We had no way of knowing the steps that would ensue in the atmosphere of terror that followed the unsuccessful attempt on Lenin’s life.

From that moment there was to be no more peace of mind for me until I would be able to take my parents to the Ukraine. I had to find my father; then we had to go into hiding. He did not sleep with us that night in our dacha; nor any of the following nights. He slept with the in-laws of my elder brother, not far from our summer place. My father never again entered our apartment in the city, nor did my mother. Our apartment was in an old aristocratic house, with N. Berdiaeff, the religious philosopher, and Prof. Focht, the famed cardiologist, as some of the tenants. Nothing, neither furniture, nor personal belongings, were saved from there; it was closed. My books were left behind; my diaries, about thirteen tomes, that I had written daily for seven years, from the age of sixteen, I left at the apartment of my brother Daniel, innocent of the thought that they could serve as indiscreet reading for his wife, Genia, or for anyone else who cared to read them. I was too open in them about my thoughts, my religious yearnings, and in my accounting of everything that accompanies the development of a boy into a youth. I should have destroyed these diaries. On the contrary, I continued to make my daily entries during our travels.

For about three weeks my parents slept in different places, and during this time all efforts were made toward leaving Moscow and going to the Ukraine, then separated from Soviet Russia by the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed by Trotski with the Germans, victors in the war. A few times I went to our home to take a few things. It certainly appeared to me that somebody was on the lookout for my father: once I saw a woman watching, half hidden under the staircase; another time I noticed a man on watch on the opposite sidewalk.

It was necessary to obtain a Ukrainian permit for entry. The courtyard of the Ukrainian legation was crowded by a throng waiting to be admitted. It was not easy to gain entrance into the building. My elder brother Daniel tried to reach the door but was not let in; then I tried and succeeded. Actually, a classmate of mine, Michail Ionoff, though not a Ukrainian, was employed in the legation, and he helped me to get inside the building. My father, seeing me enter where my brother, always very capable in getting things done, failed, acquired the confidence, as he told me later, to put his and my mother’s lives in my hands. And so it was I who was to accompany them on their way to the Ukraine. Daniel had a family of his own. Why Alexander did not go with us I found out only some years later: he was deeply in love—possibly unanswered—with the younger sister of Genia, Daniel’s wife. Also, he was studying chemistry at the Economic Institute, and there was no need for more than one of us to go with the parents.

I was about to begin my last year in the medical school of Moscow University. The class before ours left after only four years of study in view of the dire need for doctors. Our class might have had possibly only one term of the last year of medical training; but whether it would have taken till December 1918 or May 1919 in order to obtain my medical degree, not the slightest thought ever entered my mind to continue my studies instead of taking my parents out of Moscow; and it could have easily happened that by leaving the University and the country then I might never have obtained the degree.

Before leaving, an accounting and a protocol of the now-discontinued activities of Sheerith Israel had to be prepared, and this was done together with civil engineers Cooper and Elkind, who served as honorary treasurer and secretary, and for this I had to make various ways through the terror-stricken Moscow. One night I slept at the apartment of a young lawyer, Hershmann, whom I knew from our common interest in the Jewish Legion (of Jabotinsky), and who was a son-in-law of a member of the first group of Sheerith Israel, which had purchased Ruhama before the World War, in 1911. Hershman gave me his nightshirt to use on that occasion, and this remained in my memory because of the Iskariot role this Hershmann was later to play in this same affair.

Never before had I known a sleepless night—but during those weeks I would turn over on my bed at night, tormented by the thought: Would I be able to save my father from doom? Our exile started on September 23, 1918, when, after several contacts were made to obtain passage on a train—some officials of the railway even came to the apartment of Daniel—we (my father, my mother and I) boarded a train at the Brianski Station and headed toward the Ukraine. I do not remember whether it was the same or the next day that we arrived at the Russian-Ukrainian frontier. Leaving the car at a whistle stop, I ran to an official on the track at some distance who was giving the permits to leave—two words written in pencil. I showed him my passport to travel to Palestine, given me nine months earlier by the Bolshevik government; but probably even without this I would have obtained the permit. From there a distance of several kilometers had to be covered; my parents traveled in a wagon drawn by horses and I followed afoot. At that moment it appeared to my father that the guards were taking me into a forest, but it was not so.

We arrived at the Khutor Michailovsky, in the Chernigov Gubernia, not too far from Starodub in the same Gubernia where my parents met for the first time back in the 1880s. We found a place to sleep in the utterly crowded village, in the house of a peasant. Outside, the migrants made here and there a bonfire to keep themselves warm. Shots were heard intermittently. In the early morning, walking through this village, I heard the loud wailing of a woman who, in the middle of the broad village street, was bemoaning the death of someone dear to her, killed that night.

During that day I came to the place where the Germans were giving permits of admittance to the railway station—following the treaty of Brest-Litovsk the German occupation forces ruled the Ukraine under Hetman Skoropadski. People stood outside and a young German soldier was counting them from the steps by touching their heads not too gently with his baton. When I finally succeeded in reaching the station—the track ran there on an embankment— there were shots; somebody on the track was killed. My father, who was waiting below, was told by the people around him that a student had been shot to death. He was terrified by the thought that it was I. Human life was worth but very little.

The train finally took us away to Konotop and another train to Bakhmach. There we waited long evening hours and I was sadly impressed by the sight, in a silent and tired evening crowd of travelers waiting for their transportation, of a German soldier in his metal helmet courting a handsome Jewish girl who was not displeased by this situation.

When the unilluminated train on which we were to travel forth was put on a track and people stormed toward it, I felt in the dark that my documents were being pickpocketed as I was caught in the squeeze, but I noticed it in time to shout that thieves were at work, and they dropped my passport, my pocket Bible, and my wallet on the floor, where I collected them as they ran away. After a night of travel the train stopped at a station, and we had to wait for transportation to Poltava. This town was a kossack khutor, on a flat plain, with low houses scattered in empty orchards in autumn garb. The place was noted for the pogroms made by the kossacks not long before and, I believe, also remembered for the same since the days of Hetman Khmielnitzki in the seventeenth century, under whom hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered. We spent a day and a night there waiting for a train.

There my mother showed the first sign of a sickness that was to take hold of her soon after our arrival in Poltava.

It was my intent to go from Khutor Mikhailovski toward Odessa in order to find there a ship for Palestine. But my father decided that we should go to Poltava, where his brother Feivel, known to us as Uncle Pavel, lived. There my parents wished to rest and to wait until my brother Daniel would succeed in sending us some means, because we had left with very little money in our pockets. So I submitted.

Uncle Pavel met us with his horse-driven carriage at the station and took us into his house. He was one of the richest men in town, belonging to the little group of four or five wealthy men whose names were known to all. He started his career in life when my father called him from Mstislav to Smolensk to assist him and to be his partner: thus the hardships of the start from nothing had been carried by my father alone, who was five years older than his brother. Always there remained cordial relations between them, but my father regretted Pavel’s marriage to a daughter of a Poltava merchant, a family of hard dealing people. Yet relations were never clouded by any disagreement or neurosis, so common between brothers. Pavel had the greatest esteem for my father. Also in learning, knowing Hebrew only by his prayerbook, Pavel was by far inferior to my father. He had two sons and a daughter; one son, Peter, recently married, lived in Poltava. He was of a meek character. His younger brother, as also his mother and sister, maintained a household in Kharkov, a large city not far from the more agricultural Poltava. There they had a large apartment building, or several buildings, and a mansion for their own use. Thus Feivel lived most of the time alone in his Poltava house taking care of his soap factory.

A day after our arrival my mother fell ill with dysentery. With no specific drugs against this disease, it was a perilous illness. Feivel’s wife, Pasha, on receiving the message that “illustrious guests” had arrived from Moscow, wrote that she would come in a few days, and so she came. But finding the house in Poltava occupied by refugees, and turned partly into a hospital for my sick mother, she quickly changed her attitude and became impatient and hostile.

From my childhood I knew that my elder brother, at the age of three, had fallen sick with dysentery and that the doctors had given up on him; but then someone who knew folk remedies advised my parents to give the child an infusion of flowers of white clover mixed with a certain herb. Daniel survived, though he never again was the sturdy boy he was before. Now remembering this family tradition, I went outside of the town to some wet fields covered with October or November mist in search of clover, and went to mills and asked them to grind the herb. The tannin in those plants might have been the helpful ingredient. Dr. Gurevitch, a local practitioner, who later worked as a podiatrist in Palestine, a man of few words, told me that the chances for my mother’s survival were slim. There were also consilia, when more doctors conferred, helpless beyond prescribing bismuth. But finally my mother slowly recovered.

At the time that my mother was very ill, Pasha, instead of leaving for Kharkov where she had a house all for herself and her unmarried children, produced an hysterical grand fit by throwing herself on the floor, together with her daughter, true to her mother, demanding that my parents leave the house. There was no place to find for rent. The scene occurred when my mother was in bed, my father in his room, on the door of which the women banged, then dropped to the floor in cries; I was at the time not at home, actually looking for a place to rent.

Also outside the world was not at peace. Soon after we arrived at Poltava we heard that a movement started by Petliura had gathered momentum and an army of his was driving the Germans and the puppet Hetman Skoropadski out of the land. Petliura was approaching Poltava from Kharkov. Feivel occupied the upper floor of his house, the lower floor being rented to the town police. Cannon shots resounded for several hours; we sat in a corridor which was but slightly more protected than other rooms, and listened to the cannonade. When Petliura’s troops entered (shortly they would leave, only to come again) a police officer was seized by his antagonists, possibly his fellow police troopers, and beaten on the floor below us. This went on for hours, he ever weaker, crying for mercy, the blows by belts and clubs sounding in response to his cries, until he died.

But the rule of Petliura did not endure. More than once we heard cannonades shelling the town. And then, close to Christmas, the Reds took over the Ukraine, battling the armies of Petliura. In the foreshadows of a new change of power in town, Feivel and his wife married their daughter to a young “Don Juan,” the son of a rich owner of mills. He used to seclude himself with the girl, who had big black eyes and who, on her arrival from Kharkov, showed certain interest in me. Uncle Feivel had long since harbored the idea of one of us brothers taking his daughter, our cousin, to wife. Now the family wedding went on like a hidden affair in the dining room, my parents and I not being invited though we stayed in the same apartment; I slept in a small office room in the apartment, and saw the lights and heard the voices from the wedding room.

My uncle was a kind and goodhearted man, but he was entirely helpless against his wife, a boisterous woman; there was something very hard in her, and the younger brother of my father, Israel, used to call her grobovaya doska ("coffin lid” ), though not to her face. Israel, too, soon arrived in Poltava from Nizhniy-Novgorod (Gorky), deserting his business and property. He, too, was a man of means—a reason for fear under the new regime. Feivel’s other fault, besides his being submissive to the will of his wife, was his tight-fistedness. In my father there was an unusal broadhandedness; in Israel there was a mixture of this and of great care for order and of thriftiness. Feivel had only the latter, yet was willing and eager to make any effort if only he could help a person. He was tall and stooped, and had a melancholy look in his large eyes. He obviously suffered from the behavior of his wife toward his brother, to whom he owed much and whom he almost worshiped.

About the beginning of January 1919 the guns thundered, the bullets whistled, and the Reds took Poltava. Somewhere nearby people were killed and buried in the field. The rich were arrested and required to pay large sums, and Feivel was repeatedly under arrest, being one of the leading rich men of the city.

Only with the approach of the Reds did I succeed in finding a place to live for my parents and myself: two front rooms in the house of Vorozheikin and his wife. A gentile married to a Jewess, Vorozheikin had a very rich estate. The entire block of large hotels belonged to him. He was one of those Gogol type of estate owners who did absolutely nothing, spending his day on his couch. His wife was good-looking and younger than himself. They rented out the two front rooms so that they would not be requisitioned by the incoming troops, being by their economic status and political views very adverse to the communists. But a little time passed and a handsome, dashing Red army officer contacted our landlady and easily talked her into giving him our rooms; then he abruptly informed my parents that they would have to leave in a matter of hours. I was not at home and did not see the officer. When told of this I went to the department of “Living Space” and brought an official to see our place, then went to the headquarters of the commanding general, the conqueror of Poltava. I spoke to the general, a tall man, in a large room and made him put in his own handwriting his command to the officer to submit to the decision of the Department. He signed the document, “General Bondarenko.” I hurried home and there I sent for the officer, a debauching type of hero soldier. I told him in our hall to stand at attention since I would read him the order of the general, and when I read it the man was done and left, to the disappointment of Mrs. Vorozheikin. Some time later, possibly two or three months thereafter, I heard that he had been shot by order of his commanding officers, after a court martial for debauchery.

We lived three months at Uncle Pavel’s and about ten months at Vorozheikin’s . During these months the city of Poltava changed hands many times; every incursion was followed by terror, White or Red. From the very beginning my father, expecting a prolonged stay and in order to have income for living expenses, organized in partnership with two of Feivel’s young clerks a candlemaking workshop, he not taking part in the manual work, but asking me to participate. Thus I observed and learned candlemaking.

When money arrived in a Kharkov bank, sent by my brother Daniel, my father (we were still living at Feivel’s ) went to Kharkov by train and, having received there the poorly printed Ukrainian money, changed it in the same bank to English pounds—twenty banknotes of a hundred pounds each. Upon his return to Poltava, I expressed my fear that England would soon come on hard times—India, for instance, would fall away from the British Empire—and I went by train to Kharkov to try to return the British banknotes. The director of the bank refused to cancel the deal, and my father was prudent enough not to let me keep these banknotes with me; but we retracted an option for another thousand pounds. Soon the Ukrainian money was worth nothing.

Machno, a dwarfish robber who called himself an anarchist, also raised an army, established a front, and took Kremenchug, but did not reach Poltava. His warfare, like that of Petliura, was accompanied by pogroms. Then Denikin’s “White Army” swept up from the south and occupied Poltava. Again, one army left, killing hostages and other unfortunates, and drew out of town, and another entered, sparkling with sabres and bayonets. Poltava was spared from a large pogrom, but many other towns and cities of the Ukraine were not so fortunate. Reading of the massacre in Kremenchug and the rape of Jewish girls by soldiers, I wrote a poem to those unfortunates, “Pure in the House of Israel.” I sent this poem to Beka (Rebecca) whom I knew from the last year in Crimea and whose home was in Kremenchug, that she might console someone whom she knew, and she answered by letter that she had to console with my lines her own sister, age 17. I sent to Beka all the money I earned from candlemaking.

When seven months of our stay in Poltava had passed, Daniel arrived for a visit. It was about the time of Passover, 1919. These seven months had seemed endless. Daniel could come while Ukraine was united with Russia under the Reds. But then the Whites came, and as usual the hotels in Vorozheikin’s block were occupied by the officers of the victors. One evening while going home I was stopped by two or three soldiers of Denikin who attacked me as a Jew; but an officer passed by and ordered them to abstain. When I followed the officer in order to thank him, he said: “From a Jew I wish no thanks.” I had only a wound on the palm of my hand, but a greater wound in my pride.

For the Jews it was a time of suffering that naturally called forth Messianic hopes. Only a few days after our arrival in Poltava a man came to see us, we having newly arrived from Moscow. He had a ruddy complexion, broad face and forehead, and a large beard, not unsimilar to the image of Zeus as usually painted or sculpted. He was finely clothed in an expensive coat with a velvet collar. He had messianic ideas, and if what he said sounded exalted, that which he had in writing was not very coherent. He said he had to see Trotsky and actually, later, went to see him in Moscow. I was told that he was a farmer or a merchant of a village who had been very tight with his money, his charity, and his love of neighbor. Then something happened to him and he changed completely; I believe he gave away his property. He had in his mind a vision collected from the teachings of Tolstoy, from messianic hopes, and from communistic ideology. But only later, when his behavior became even stranger and his appearance less immaculate, and he was also occasionally arrested, I heard that he suffered from progressive paranoia which took the form of religious delusion, entirely appropriate to that time of great sufferings.

I loved to spend time with the rabbi of Slobodka, as he was called, because he was a rabbi refugee from that famous place of learning in Lithuania. He resided that year in Poltava, and a few times I spoke with him, meeting him in the empty loft of a synagogue, he trying to introduce me to the works of Maimonides, but without much success.

In Poltava there were three synagogues, one next to another. One was Sephardic, for the oriental way of worship, though I wondered that there should be such worshipers in Poltava. Was the oriental worship a heritage from the movement of Shabbatai Zvi, the seventeenth-century messianic claimant who ended as an apostate and convert to Islam? One of the other synagogues in the group was Hassidic. Once a young cantor came to town and into one of these synagogues. He did not sing as cantors usually do, but spoke the prayer. Never before or since have I heard such conversation with God in public, never such a way of saying words, and I have known the celebrated actors of the Moscow Arts Theater, and have heard a number of times Chaliapin saying his monologue in Boris Godunov, and have seen Sarah Bernhardt on stage. The crowd was as still as if there were not a living soul in the synagogue save the cantor speaking to God for his people. The young cantor left town and was never heard of again.

Several times I tried to arrange our departure toward some place from where we could proceed to the land of Israel. But by now it was becoming more and more dangerous to travel. Once when I made plans to leave with my parents the city of Poltava, where we were rooted now for so long, five or six Jews who had been killed in trains were brought to Poltava, displayed at the station, and then were carried in a cortege followed by a few hundred, or even thousand, Jews to the cemetery, the gentiles gazing from their windows. I participated in the cortege. The rabbi of Slobodka came to our home to dissuade us from traveling. All four routes from Poltava were equally dangerous.

At this rabbi’s I was witness to a gentile man in his forties who came with his son to become Jews. He came from some place outside Poltava, and had the very fine face of a sufferer dedicated to his inner call. He was a man of some manual profession—a carpenter I believe. As is usual in such cases, the rabbi first used his eloquence to dissuade the man from his plan: the Jews are not only disinclined toward missionary zeal, but are adverse to having proselytes in their midst. But I was very strongly impressed by this man and his young son, age ten or eleven, who was following his father wherever he went or whatever he did. I met them again on the street, the man still going through the throes of his irrevocable decision; it was an hour of dim light, before evening, and the messianic expectations in the man, his boy at his hand, were close to madness amidst the wide stretches of the Ukraine, darkened in a craze of torture and blood.

In Poltava my father met Israel, his younger brother who, as I already said, arrived in town after us, coming from Nizhniy Novgorod, later named Gorki. After years of separation my father again became close to him. Being infirm on his legs, Israel usually carried a folding chair with him; a gentile woman of Caucasian origin, Sosieva, took care of him and was also his companion. We left Poltava later than he did, but he reached the land of Israel before my parents, by way of the Black Sea.

Before we left Poltava we talked of my father’s plan for organizing cooperatives of land and farms in Israel for the Jews who congregated there as refugees, many of them from Vilno in Lithuania; but we took no direct part in the material or financial part of the cooperative. Its participants decided to start a business with the cooperative’s funds to save them from devaluation, but this was the end of the plan because before the ware arrived (they were wool spinners, for the most part) they were already heading each in a different direction.

We, too, made a mistake. My father, seeing the money (not exchanged, as mentioned before) losing its value, bought some real estate, a group of tenement houses. The negotiation was made during Sukkoth (Tabernacle). I spent a sleepless night. Now, when I was hoping to get out of this place, it was as though, with the purchase of this property, we had chained ourselves to the town. But a few weeks passed and, leaving that property behind, never to have anything from it, we left Poltava for Kharkov.

It was a labor of love, preparing for this trip of a few hours, the first leg of a journey away from a 13-month-long frustration, some way or somehow toward the land of Israel. Under the “Whites” a Jew could not travel in a train unprotected without risking his life, almost forfeiting it. Therefore White officers were sought to accompany the travelers. There was in town a Jew, a military tailor on one of the main streets, who was supposed to know the officers and be able to procure their services. He acquainted me with a young officer for this purpose, but we did not travel with him. Some of the Vilna Jews hired several officers and a box car, used for cattle or for cargo—the manner of travel then ubiquitous in Russia—and one day, with others of the group and all protected by the hired officers of the White Guard, we traveled to Kharkov, usually a distance of only a few hours.

We arrived in Kharkov about midnight. Rain was pouring from the dark sky. We found an open, flat platform on wheels, unprotected from the rain, hired the vehicle and its man and horse, put the two trunks on the platfrom to use as seats, and then started looking for a hotel or guest house. On the Moskovskaia Ulitza, an old two-story house with a sign “hotel” made me cross the street, stepping into deep water, but the dimly lit place had no rooms free. Likewise a large hotel on the Ulitza had no vacancy. We passed in the rain a lone building on a square, and strangely loud music was blaring from the illuminated but otherwise as though uninhabited place. The streets were all empty, the windows were dark, the city was asleep; we were drenched. Then, after traveling along the streets for what seemed hours, my father ordered the driver to direct the vehicle toward the house of his brother Feivel. There in front of us stood a tall apartment building belonging to Feivel, and in the back his mansion. We rang at the door of the mansion and Uncle Feivel, poor of sleep, came down and opened the door; he let us in, arranged for us mattresses and covers on the floor of a big living room, and took care of us. In the morning I left early to look for for a place to move. My parents were still asleep, and my uncle asked me to have tea; I, however, answered while going down the staircase: “I will not eat or drink until I find some place for my parents"—and asked him to protect them until I returned. I went first to a far-removed relative but was not admitted since his daughter was ill with scarlet fever. Then I found a room in the same large hotel I had visited during the night.

I immediately took my parents to our new quarters, a corner suite in the hotel. From there I went to the muddy autumn open market to buy victuals. This I continued to do in the days following, as I had done the whole year in Poltava, in order to relieve my mother, still weak after her sickness. From the peasants I could buy milk in clay jugs, bread, and other food. But not two weeks passed before Kharkov was in an uproar.

The Red Army once more rolled southward. It took Belgorod, north of Kharkov, on the chalk hills, and advanced on Kharkov, the capital of eastern Ukraine and the largest industrial city south of Moscow. The two-room corner suite which we occupied in the hotel—with windows on two streets—was, as we were told, occupied by the Red Army chief-of-staff the previous time the Reds held the city. It was unwise to remain there. And actually we considered Kharkov a transit point of short duration on our way to the land of Israel. The way from there led to Rostov, and from Rostov to the Caucasus.

Soon after our arrival at Kharkov we were visited by a man, white-haired and sad and very likeable; his name was Janovsky. I believe he was from Grodno in Lithuania. He had a portion in Ruhama. His wife, if I remember correctly, had killed herself in a fit of melancholia during his wanderings in the Ukraine. He had a daughter and a young son in Russia, and two daughters attending school in Israel. He strove to reach them. He told us of a group of halutzim—or pioneers—that had convened in Vladikavkaz (later renamed Ordzhenikidze) in the Caucasus, on their way to the land of Israel. I believe he told us that his daughter was in that group.

Thus the direction was clear to me—via Rostov on the Don to Vladikavkaz. Now the task was to obtain passage to Rostov, not an easy thing because there was a stampede to get out of Kharkov. One of the Vilno wool merchants, who came from Poltava with us, went to the railway station to make arrangements but was snared by an agent of the Osobiy Otdel, the terrorizing secret police of the Whites; he was taken to the Otdel, questioned, and freed only after being relieved of his money. Still agitated and frightened, he came to our hotel to tell of his effort and to warn us not to try to obtain passage via the railways. Though running away from the Reds could not be looked upon by the Whites as anything but legitimate, yet it was—in the absence of law—thought a crime to try to obtain passage when only the military and the privileged were first to be evacuated.

I went with Janovsky to some distant office to ask for evacuation. Neither he nor I had reason to flee before the Reds, but our desire to reach the land of Israel dominated us entirely, and with the frontier moving over our heads, we feared that our goal would be cut off from us. I went also to the railway station, though warned not to do so. On my way there, in an overcrowded tramway car, I was pressed suddenly from all sides, and then my Bible was gone from my breast pocket; yet I found it on the floor, dropped by a disappointed pickpocket. In the station building I looked for an opportunity and found it: I saw there the young officer who was introduced to me by the military tailor in Poltava as one who was “honest” and ready to sell his services. I spoke to him and he told me to come to his address and bring money for the passage and for his services. Then I saw, not far from the hotel where we stayed, on the sidewalk, with his face to the throroughfare, a white-haired general in a red-breasted coat, the usual garb of generals in Russia. I boldly approached him and asked him to help me and my parents get passage to Rostov. Certainly he was to leave in a private railway car. He was kind to me and told me to come to him the next morning. This was a perfect opportunity. But I was so eager to reach the Caucasus, the group there, and Palestine with them, that I made the mistake of going to the young officer at his hotel. It happened to be the same dark building that I had visited by chance two weeks earlier on that first night in Kharkov while looking for a room, stepping knee-deep into water. I was met by a soldier, and soon there were two, who told me to wait while one went to call the officer; soon I was with him and three soldiers, all of the regiment of General Shkuro of Denikin’s army. This regiment was famous for its cruelty. They closed the door with a key, and I understood that I was trapped.

My four captors were armed with rifles, pistols, sabres, and daggers; and if that was not enough, they were four against one. They tried to frighten me with their sixteen pieces of weaponry. I said: “Comrades, stop it!” (Tovarshtchi, prosite), and this was a slip of the tongue; though tovarishtch was a word much used among friends in our school days, presently it was a designation applied by communists or socialists to others of their kind. The officer, the scoundrel with a snubnose and shifting eyes who put me in the trap, started to repeat in a singing way: tovarishtchi, tovarishtchi, and his three men did the same. There was a mental struggle—for they kept me, I believe, for an hour or more; I do not remember what was said in detail, but I know that I did not humiliate myself; just the opposite—if I was not beaten or killed then and there, it was because of my bearing. They searched me for money and took that which I had brought for the passage. Then the officer ordered two men to take me to the Osobiy Otdel to be questioned further and then killed, and the two took me to the street. It was evening. We crossed Moskovskaia Street and I looked up at the hotel where my parents were waiting for me. The six-story building was dark, but the corner windows of my parents’ rooms had light. The hotel, which only two weeks earlier had been filled to the last room, was deserted now because its occupants had run away. After crossing the street, we passed along the very walls of the hotel building, and in my thoughts I parted with my parents; their future without my return could not be anything but desperate. We went only a short distance—a block or a block and a half—when I spoke to the two soldiers; one was of Caucasian or southern origin. Would they let me go? And I may have mentioned my parents. “Let him go,” said one to the other. I often thought, later, that in the mental struggle of that evening was born in me the future psychotherapist. They certainly saw me superior to them; my striving to go south and not be left in Kharkov indicated my not being a communist. But hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the Civil War without any reason or proof. I did not think of all this then. I went, liberated, not straight back to the hotel, but made a circuit around the block in order to calm myself before seeing my parents. I wanted to look at my watch—I had on me a little steel watch of my mother’s—but it was gone; when I was being searched, one of my captors had stolen it without it coming to the notice of the others or of myself.

When I came to my parents, I did not tell them what had happened; but soon my mother asked what the time was, and I had no watch on me. She had already wondered why I was away for so long; now, with her unerring instinct, she guessed that I had been in a trap. She announced that she would not travel; we must remain in Kharkov—it was too late. I disagreed, determined to obtain passage through the general, in the morning. But in the morning when I looked upon my mother’s pale and tired face—she hardly slept that night—I surrendered. The thirteen-month-long longing to go southward in the direction of Israel was left unrelieved, and we were faced with the prospect of staying in the Ukraine for an undetermined time longer.

I left the hotel in the morning to look for a more permanent place to stay: we were told that the hotel would probably be closed—the Reds were almost on the outskirts of Kharkov. I went on the same sidestreet on which I was led the evening before, then I turned left and saw a large platform truck. It was loaded with dead human bodies; the loaders put one row of corpses one way, the other row on top of the first, the other way, across. I lifted my eyes to the building from which they were being carried out—a large sign read “Osobiy Otdel.” For only a few seconds I observed the scene, then turned and went away. It was the place to which the soldiers had been leading me twelve hours earlier; I did not know then how close we were to the goal when they let me go.

I went toward the residential parts of the city and wandered about two miles; at several places I saw furniture or valises on the street, belonging to people making a last hour evacuation. Finally, seeing pieces of luggage being carried out from an apartment building, I asked the people whether they would rent their apartment; in the rush of evacuation, practically of escape, the people let me into the place and gave me the keys. Their name was Soloviev, and he was professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Kharkov University. Probably I made a reliable impression, but in their hurry they could not deliberate much, and an empty apartment would immediately be seized by the incoming Bolsheviks. They also left their maid servant in the place.

I brought my parents from the hotel. My father occupied a small room with a glass door, my mother the Solovievs’ bedroom, and I made my place in the dining room; but after a while my mother, feeling the small dark bedroom depressing, exchanged with me. The Bolsheviks were in town. The first posters were signed with Stalin’s name, Stalin being in the vanguard of the army, but at that time having a much lesser name than Trotsky, the organizer and commander of the entire Red Army.

In his room my father wrote his autobiography; in longing for the land of Israel, which he had not yet seen but for which he worked devotedly all his life, he sang a song which he composed—words and melody—to Ruhama, the farm which had been founded by his efforts—as if she were his daughter. It was a melancholy song. In the kitchen the maid sang a loud song, and sang it again and again. I put my feelings into the words of a poem about the sufferings of the Jewish people, and I adapted the Ukrainian melody of the maid to my song, and it suited it exceedingly well. The two front rooms, with gynecological instruments, we gave to a civil engineer with his wife, a gynecologist, who turned up by chance—and this we did since these rooms would certainly have been requisitioned, in an apartment occupied only by the three of us. After a while the maid made an attempt to steal some valises stuffed with valuables hidden in a storage space by sending an accomplice with forged instructions, as if from the Solovievs, to hand over the things. When this did not succeed, the maid disappeared.

The majority of the university professors, like Soloviev, ran away, and the only way open was to Rostov. But the University started to function with the remaining faculty. I registered in the medical school: since I could not travel farther, I intended to use this time to finish my medical studies, cut short by our departure from Moscow. I especially remember three teachers. The pharmacologist, Prof. Postoeff, was the dean. Before I started medical studies years earlier, I deliberated whether I wanted to study chemistry and pharmacology, feeling an aversion to this last subject. Now I studied it in the book of Kravkov, and admit that never had I seen so interestingly written a textbook. I went repeatedly to Postoeff at his home for examination, part by part, of the subject. The lectures and laboratory work in criminal medicine were given by a professor with a Latin name, an elderly man with a big bald head, who was on intimate terms with one of his laboratory assistants. The course in psychiatry I took with a young lady examiner, and the course in surgical anatomy with a stern professor who, unmindful of the revolution and the new liberties, sat while examining the students, whom he made to stand in groups of four.

Some time passed, and my brother Lelia (Alexander) arrived. I was going up the staircase to our apartment and there he stood ringing the bell. He was lean, and his shoes were worn. He came to us after being released from prison. We had not been informed by Daniel of what had happened. My two brothers had continued their business and sold shipments of oil to some old customers. In one place there were, as it seems, parties in strife, and intrigues, and arrests; Alexander, who was more of a factotum, was accused of selling ware unregistered in the kommissariat, which issued permits for all manufacturing and trade activities. I do not know whether I correctly narrate here the cause of his arrest, but he was in a Bolshevik prison for several months. There typhus exanthemus was rampant: the cots of the prisoners were in rows, one near the other, and lice crawled all over them; yet Alexander did not get the disease, though in places next to him others had lain sick with it, with high fevers. The prisoners were reduced in number—new ones always arriving—by summary executions: repeatedly the prisoners were put in rows in the courtyard and every seventh, or fifth, or tenth, as the case would be, would be taken out of line and shot. Alexander was chosen by his fellow inmates to be their head, or chief; this would free him from certain duties, like carrying out the heavy pails of urine, but he would not take advantage of this privilege of the unwritten law of the prison. Daniel worked furiously to get Alexander free. Finally there was a court hearing. The justice was not above reason and human interest in the case. Alexander was freed. All this was told by him in the most unpretentious way.

Time went on. I do not remember going to any show, or movie, or concert in Kharkov. A Jewish philosopher, Ish-Horovitz, who in his time created a controversy by attacking another Jewish philosopher (Ahad-Haam), visited my father occasionally; and there was a circle in which Jewish problems were discussed. It convened in the house of one Hillmann, his son being the leader of the group.

The winter, spring, and summer of 1920 passed. In Kharkov I stopped writing my diary which I had been keeping since the age of sixteen, the beginning of the seventh “class” in gymnasium, for about eight or nine years. At some moment (possibly already in the first weeks of our stay in Kharkov) when there was danger of a change of power, with the usual searches, I gave the booknotes I wrote during our stay in the Ukraine to an acquaintance—a person whom I do not remember and knew only slightly—to keep for me, never to see them again.

In August 1920 we received a message from Moscow that Daniel had been arrested. I left for Moscow. By the time I arrived there, Daniel was already free. He had some diamonds he wished to sell and fell into a trap, but his wife Genia had “connections” and succeeded in freeing him. When in Moscow—for perhaps ten days or less—I obtained a certificate from the University and, with the courses absolved in Kharkov, I was presently admitted to start the final examination for my medical degree.

Then I met a young acquaintance, Kimmelfeld. I had a message for him from his father, who was languishing in a cell of the Cheka in Kharkov. Once my father passed by on a sidewalk when this man, who had once been a rich man in Moscow, noticed and recognized him, and let him know from his iron-barred cellar window of his plight. But I found the son entirely indifferent to his father’s fate. His brother was in exile in the isles on the White Sea, and he himself might have been punished by the Bolsheviks. Were I a novelist, the little I observed of this family since the age of seven or eight would have inspired me to write a sketch.

In Moscow I also provided myself with a kommandirovka, or a statement that I was delegated to travel to Vladikavkaz—without a kommandirovka one could not travel; I obtained mine from a department where I had a friend. The department was that of mining, and the kommandirovka was for studying the mineralogical deposits of the Caucasus. It was my intention to take my parents and Alexander there: the Caucasus up to the ridge of the mountains was now in the hands of the Moscow regime. Daniel accompanied me to Kharkov to take leave of our parents, since we (my parents, Alexander, and I) intended to obtain Palestine via the Caucasus. After a few days in Kharkov, we parted with Daniel at the station, he being desirous to join us on our way. He then returned to his wife and child.


  1. Cheka is a shortened form in Russian for an organization with the full title of All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for the Suppression of Counterrevolution and Sabotage.