Solidarité Ukraine

European Memories

of the Gulag

BioGraphie

13
×

Rafails  ROZENTĀLS

Rafails Rozentāls was born to a highly educated Jewish family in Riga in September 1937. His father was a successful lawyer, his mother was an educationalist and at home they spoke Russian and Yiddish.

Some months after the USSR’s annexation of Latvia, his father was denounced for having chaired a Zionist association when he was a student at Riga law faculty. He was arrested and sentenced to forced labour on the night of 14 June 1941. Rafails and his mother were deported to a village in the Tomsk region of Siberia. The rest of the family stayed in Riga and died in the ghetto, some were shot in the Rumbula forest, where all the Latvian Jews were murdered a few months after the Nazis arrived.

A year later Rafails’s father was released from the Solikamsk labour camp in Perm region. He managed to find out where they were and join them. In 1946, the three of them went to live in the city of Krasnoyarsk. His father found a job as an accountant and they managed to find a small flat.

Rafails registered at the Krasnoyarsk faculty of medicine. This was where from 1952 many leading lights of Soviet medicine were banished after the “doctors’ plot” affair, many of them Jewish, accused of murdering members of the Politburo. Rafails had the good fortune to study with many of them.

In 1956, Rafails Rozentāls’s family was released from the requirement to live in Siberia and returned to Riga where Rafails completed his studies and began his career as a surgeon. He became a major international specialist in liver transplants.

See MEDIA
Fermer

Arrest

“It was early in the morning, and I heard men walking around the house.

[…]

Very practical woman, my mother stuff a whole load of things into suitcases, and this all turned out to be very useful once we got to Siberia.

My parents had heard about the deportations but no one expected them.

I remember… when we were taken to Šķirotava station, there were goods wagons where they piled people in. That same evening they separated the men and women and I can still hear the women’s crying. What I remember most from the long journey to Siberia was the smell of hot water, an expression that recurs in most of these stories, because it was such a symbol of the only “facility” on these journeys, the hot water they gave us to drink at stations. I remember the soldiers between the wagons… It was summer, it was warm, the journey was fairly comfortable. Yes, we were being deported, but my mother was with me although my father had already been taken away.”

Fermer

Arrest

Fermer

The reasons for his father’s arrest

“For one academic year, my father had been the chair of a Zionist organisation, Hasmoneja, which supported the return of Jews to Israel. When the Soviets arrived, this organisation was forbidden and dissolved. From that point, my father had no further contact with the organisation. But during the Soviet period, when everyone began informing on everyone, a member of the organisation who knew my father well, wrote a letter of denunciation mentioning my father’s membership of the Zionist organisation. It was on that basis that my father was arrested.”

Fermer

The reasons for his father’s arrest

“For one academic year, my father had been the chair of a Zionist organisation, Hasmoneja, which supported the return of Jews to Israel. When the Soviets arrived, this organisation was forbidden and dissolved. From that point, my father had no further contact with the organisation. But during the Soviet period, when everyone began informing on everyone, a member of the organisation who knew my father well, wrote a letter of denunciation mentioning my father’s membership of the Zionist organisation. It was on that basis that my father was arrested.”

Fermer

 First childhood memory
Arrest and deportation

“My memories begin with the day of deportation. It was a lovely day and we were due to go to the dacha. When in the morning I woke and saw strangers in the flat, I thought they had come to take us to the dacha. But our destination was somewhere completely different.

So that’s all I remember, because I was only three and a half. I also remember our flat, my teddy bears, one for daytime and one for nighttime. We were comfortably off. My father was a highly successful young lawyer, he had completed his studies at the University of Latvia, he spoke perfect Latvian and he could have had an excellent career.”

Fermer

 First childhood memory
Arrest and deportation (English version)

“My memories begin with the day of deportation. It was a lovely day and we were due to go to the dacha. When in the morning I woke and saw strangers in the flat, I thought they had come to take us to the dacha. But our destination was somewhere completely different.

So that’s all I remember, because I was only three and a half. I also remember our flat, my teddy bears, one for daytime and one for nighttime. We were comfortably off. My father was a highly successful young lawyer, he had completed his studies at the University of Latvia, he spoke perfect Latvian and he could have had an excellent career.”

Fermer

“The Communists saved our lives”

 

“My grandmothers and grandfathers stayed behind in Riga. They were all murdered in the ghetto.

You know, I want to stress the fact that we stayed alive thanks to the Communists. Because if the Communists hadn’t deported us, we would have died in the ghetto. My father would never have left, because my mother was very ill and they were very close; he would never have left her. That’s why the Communists saved our lives!”

 

 

Fermer

“The Communists saved our lives”

 

“My grandmothers and grandfathers stayed behind in Riga. They were all murdered in the ghetto.

You know, I want to stress the fact that we stayed alive thanks to the Communists. Because if the Communists hadn’t deported us, we would have died in the ghetto. My father would never have left, because my mother was very ill and they were very close; he would never have left her. That’s why the Communists saved our lives!”

 

 

Fermer

"If we hadn’t been deported, we’d have been killed in the ghetto"

 

“That’s exactly it. If we hadn’t been deported, we’d have stayed in Riga during the war and we’d have been killed in the ghetto. That’s one of life’s paradoxes. Really. There were no other possibilities. Otherwise my parents wouldn’t have left. All the others stayed. My parents thought as I do, of course. There’s nothing else to be said, that’s how it was! Because in Riga, all the others were killed, with a few exceptions.”

 

 

Fermer

"If we hadn’t been deported, we’d have been killed in the ghetto" (English version)

 

“That’s exactly it. If we hadn’t been deported, we’d have stayed in Riga during the war and we’d have been killed in the ghetto. That’s one of life’s paradoxes. Really. There were no other possibilities. Otherwise my parents wouldn’t have left. All the others stayed. My parents thought as I do, of course. There’s nothing else to be said, that’s how it was! Because in Riga, all the others were killed, with a few exceptions.”

 

 

Fermer

Reception in Siberia

“We rented two rooms in a house where the owners were very kind. I must say that in general the Siberians had good relations with the deportees. There was no one who was hostile to us. They knew we were deportees. But, I repeat, out there, the people are not nasty out there. We had been taken there, so we had been taken there.”

Fermer

Reception in Siberia

“We rented two rooms in a house where the owners were very kind. I must say that in general the Siberians had good relations with the deportees. There was no one who was hostile to us. They knew we were deportees. But, I repeat, out there, the people are not nasty out there. We had been taken there, so we had been taken there.”

Fermer

How his father and mother kept in contact

“…then, out there, the enquiries. He had been sentenced to deportation, not prison. And my father wrote my mother a letter and that’s how they found each other.”

Fermer

How his father and mother kept in contact

“…then, out there, the enquiries. He had been sentenced to deportation, not prison. And my father wrote my mother a letter and that’s how they found each other.”

Fermer

I have no bad memories. I have known no other life


 

Fermer

I have no bad memories. I have known no other life


 

Fermer

The “doctors’ plot”

“I remember that time, when there was the ‘doctors’ plot’ affair in late 1952. My father was in Moscow at the time. He came back from Moscow, completely cast down.

He said that if he hadn’t had children he would have committee suicide. He was afraid of the sequel. Personally I didn’t feel that way. I had a friend in my class, another Jew, we got on well with people, no one attacked us for it, or spoke to us about it. The whole thing was made up in the centre, when Stalin wanted to send all Jews to Birobidzhan. But that I didn’t know.

I just remember how my parents were affected. I just remember the day I came home from school, it was full of people.”

Fermer

The “doctors’ plot”

“I remember that time, when there was the ‘doctors’ plot’ affair in late 1952. My father was in Moscow at the time. He came back from Moscow, completely cast down.

He said that if he hadn’t had children he would have committee suicide. He was afraid of the sequel. Personally I didn’t feel that way. I had a friend in my class, another Jew, we got on well with people, no one attacked us for it, or spoke to us about it. The whole thing was made up in the centre, when Stalin wanted to send all Jews to Birobidzhan. But that I didn’t know.

I just remember how my parents were affected. I just remember the day I came home from school, it was full of people.”

Fermer

Excellent professors

“At Krasnoyarsk, when I went there in 1954, there were some very good Jewish professors who had had to leave after the ‘doctors’ plot’.

They were thrown out in 1953 when the affair blew up.

There was one professor who had worked with Koch, the man who discovered the tuberculosis bacillus.

Fermer

Excellent professors (English version)

“At Krasnoyarsk, when I went there in 1954, there were some very good Jewish professors who had had to leave after the ‘doctors’ plot’.

They were thrown out in 1953 when the affair blew up.

There was one professor who had worked with Koch, the man who discovered the tuberculosis bacillus.

Fermer

Shared flat

Fermer

Shared flat

Fermer

A repressed memory - My father always said: you have to study

“What interests people is the tragic dimension of this experience. I understand that… but I have had a successful life, I work, I head an extraordinary team, we all get on very well here. You know, the burden of deportation, I didn’t really feel it, I must say that my parents never really went on about it. My father always said, you must study, you must work. But, of course, each family had its own destiny.”

 
Fermer

A repressed memory - My father always said: you have to study (English version)

“What interests people is the tragic dimension of this experience. I understand that… but I have had a successful life, I work, I head an extraordinary team, we all get on very well here. You know, the burden of deportation, I didn’t really feel it, I must say that my parents never really went on about it. My father always said, you must study, you must work. But, of course, each family had its own destiny.”

 
Fermer

A repressed memory - We did not want to speak about

“Neither Mum or Dad would talk about it. They died ten years ago and I hardly ever heard them talk about it. What I know is what I enquired about or established from documents.”

 
Fermer

A repressed memory - We did not want to speak about (English Version)

“Neither Mum or Dad would talk about it. They died ten years ago and I hardly ever heard them talk about it. What I know is what I enquired about or established from documents.”

 
Fermer

Relations with Jews in Latvia

Fermer

Relations with Jews in Latvia (English version)