The Story of Our Immigration

Story posted on March 12, 2009 at 4:00 AM

To begin with, we didn’t have any of our birth certificates. To all our requests we received the same negative reply: "All the documents were destroyed during the war." Instead, we received a document from the civil records office of the Volochinsk district, then in the Kamenets-Podolsk oblast of Ukraine, confirming the place and date of birth of my husband—based on our own statements.

My husband Chaim Bader was a noted Yiddish poet, literary critic and author of reference books. For the previous twenty years he had been deputy editor of Sovietische Heimland, the only Yiddish publication in Moscow. Bader was born in Kupel’, a shtetl in Volochinsk district. I was born in the shtetle of Volochinsk and our birth certificates were issued by the local records office at Volochinsk. Those stetls were at the old Polish border and the Germans were there in the second week after the start of the war. People couldn’t save their lives, to say nothing of the archives… But bureaucrats in Moscow were not used to thinking logically, or rather they didn’t want to remember the tragedies of 1941-1945. It was then that my patience ran out and I demanded our documents back, declaring that I would stop our application process. They thought the better of it then, and they resolved all the issues positively. Then we started getting nervous about how we were going to take out of the country the enormous literary archive which Bader collected piece by piece over the previous 20-30 years. I started sending out books from Bader’s enormous, mainly Yiddish-language library. At the post office, there were plenty of inspectors. Az och un vey, none of them knew any Yiddish, and I had to tell them who they were, Sholom Aleichem, Mendele Mocher Sforim and Abraham Goldfaden. (Great playwright Abraham Goldfaden was born in the Jewish shtetl of Starokonstantinov, which is now in Khmelnitsk oblast. The small house of clockmaker Leib Goldfaden still stands in Medzhibozhskaya Street in Starokonstantinov. His son Abraham was born in that house in 1840.) Goldfaden died in America in 1906.

The inspectors realized that that literature was completely over their heads, and I managed to mail 40 packages of Yiddish books to my sister’s address in Brooklyn. The books arrived safe and sound. The core of Bader’s archive consisted of seven ready-for-publication manuscripts, drawn from numerous sources which he used in his work.

Over the previous two decades he had been collecting materials about Yiddish writers of the Soviet period, 1917-2000. He didn’t let a single name of those who had anything to do with Jewish culture disappear. There were over 700 persons, including poets, writers, journalists, literary critics, artists and playwrights.

At the Lenin State Library, there was a special commission reviewing the entire archive. Only materials published after 1948 were allowed to be taken out of the country. And what about the Polish Yiddish newspaper Dos Yiddish Vort, dating from the end of the 19th century, as well as many other valuable publications? We paid an enormous sum of money—and it all got through.

Our invaluable archive was packaged into six enormous bags, which also contained three plates, three spoons and three forks, as well as a few items of clothing.

Customs officials were also quite curious about this strange luggage, but my son paid them off promptly and, at last, we were FREE!!!

We arrived in America on October 31st, 1996. In Yiddish literary circles, Chaim Bader was well-known and he was warmly received and immediately accepted. For the next two years, he was editor in chief of the journal Tsukunft-Future, published by the World Congress for Jewish Culture. Bader’s life ended at the peak of creativity. He passed away on December 7th, 2003.

Over the ensuing months, as I sorted through his archive, I donated to the YIVO Yiddish Institute 23 boxes of Chaim Bader’s archival materials, for which I received letters acknowledging my gifts.

I donated the main archive, consisting of materials and ready-for-publication manuscripts, to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, for which I also received a letter of gratitude as well as a notice that it remitted $10,000 to the account of the World Congress for Jewish Culture for the purpose of publishing the catalogue of Yiddish literature of the Soviet period 1917-2000, authored by Chaim Bader. It will be his monumental memorial. Sponsors were found who made their contribution, since publishing the catalogue was an expensive undertaking. The editorial board expects to present the book by winter 2007.

July 2, 2007