Family History






Translator's Notes

To Melbourne's Jewish Holocaust Museum's Head of Archives, Ursula Flicker

2 January 2004

Dear Ursula,

Following your suggestion during today's telephone conversation I'm jotting down some observations about the translations and issues flowing through them.

1.     My first problem was to manage to place the letters in chronological order which proved rather complex. Whilst some letters were clearly dated, a substantial number of them carried the Hebrew day and month but not the Jewish year. Some only referred to the parsha of the week as the only time post and as the Torah portions are repeating every year I managed to approximate the corresponding month of the general calendar, but [was] unable to pinpoint the year unless the text hinted on it. A considerable number of letters are not dated and I had to divine from the text where possible, some approximation of time. Considering that many letters are repetitive in their content, the undating does not materially affect the story.

2.      For the discerning reader the letters convey a reasonable insight into the state of mind of the individual writer and can serve as a reliable sample for understanding the process of gradual decline of the socio-economic canvas of Szczuczyn Jewry during 1937-41. Keeping in mind that it starts off from a low point to begin with. Furthermore, this particularity can confidently be translated into the generality of the state of Polish Jewry in the eastern part of the country.

3.      The main character of the epic is undoubtedly Wolf Kayman, about whom some observations are in order. To start with he is the main letter writer and bears witness to the drama of the Kayman family, the portrait that unfolds from the correspondence is of a typical religious Jew living in a small town between the two World Wars. His devotion to his children and grandchildren is paramount. He can't help himself but wear his heart on his sleeve. The departure of Lozer and family hit him very hard and he is unable to shake himself out from the sense of loss and his intuitive knowledge that he will never see them again, even if outwardly he never gives up hope. The hardest part is the absence of the grandchildren. In his emotional references to their departure he uses expressions that repeatedly confirm his inability to make peace with this reality even if he knows in his heart that they are all so lucky having left. He is a tragic figure, as a human being, as a family man and provider and the reader can't help but have empathy for the hopelessness of his existence.

4.      An outstanding aspect of the letters is the revelation of the degree of Jewish learning of Wolf, his son-in-law Yedidi and his younger son Nison. The number of quotations taken from Hebrew texts is impressive, always hitting their mark and are faultless in their spelling. One can't help but reflect, how in a small community like Szczuczyn, and such towns could be counted in the hundreds on the eastern rim of Poland, with such limited resources, such a standard of Jewish learning was the norm rather than the exception. The Kayman family has every reason to be proud of the background of their forefathers.

5.      The general introductory information regarding the family as contained in Selina's letter to you are on the whole correct. However, one historical aspect has to be added to the above outline. The Germans occupied Poland twice, not once. The war started on 1-9-39 and Poland was totally occupied within three weeks. However, his occupation was of only ten days duration, because according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop dismemberment of Poland, its eastern part which included Bialystok, Lomza, Szczuczyn etc. belonged to the USSR and the Germans had to vacate the territories, which they did in early October 1939. Thus began the interlude of the Russian occupation of eastern Poland which lasted until June 1941 when the Germans began their invasion of Russia. In other words there was no ghetto in Szczuczyn during the period of the letters in hand.

6.      Nison's letter dated March 1941 is seminal in the sense that it confirms that Wolf died of natural causes not from starvation as assumed.

7.      Finally, the chance of these letters ending up on my desk which I gladly translated has an additional personal dimension. It so happens that I knew Nochum's son Ben Rosenbaum and his wife since my arrival here. The lived in a house in Windsor and the next house to theirs belonged to Chaim and Moshe Dorevitch, the latter was the one to bring me out from Shanghai to Melbourne in May 1946. I remember him well and used to meet him from time to time communally after he retired to his house in Melbourne permanently.

Israel Kipen

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