The Family Is Not Rich But They've Got Integrity ” ,
or, A Few Leaves From The Genealogical Tree

I would be hard pressed to define the genre of these notes which I now offer to the reader. This is so even though I feel duty-bound to publish them, my duty being owed to the people among whom I was born and raised. Perhaps these are indeed “leaves” plucked from my family's genealogical tree. I am proud of them, hopefully with good reason, even though personal pride is hardly an emotion worth parading in public; decent people should keep their pride quiet .

I have other reasons for this publication. First of all, the title phrase perfectly captures the foundational moral principle of both families I want to describe. I must quote here the words of the great [Russian actress Faina] Ranevskaya: “I am so old that I still remember people of integrity.” I myself am not quite that old but can still claim, without a shadow of a doubt, that the ethical caliber of my forebears was impressive, not only to me but also to others who remember them and who, thank God, are still around. Secondly, as fate would have it, many of my family members have been involved in various important developments of the last hundred-odd years, so that the family stories preserved in my memory may be of interest not only to history buffs but also perhaps to professional historians.

The Bunimovichs

Bunimovich, Israel, 1848 ( ? ) - 1929, Vilno, see photo

The 1897 directory of members of the merchant estate (St. Petersburg, p. 11) provides the following information: “ Bunimovich , Israel Benyaminovich, age: 49, education: home schooled, holds the merchant title since 1887. Resides in Vilno. Runs a banking company in Vilno. Resides with: wife: Elizaveta Moiseevna; sons: Tobiash, 25; Mark, 24; Ovsey, 22; Ilya, 21; David, 15; Efim, 14; and daughters: Bertha, Elena, and Zinaida”.

I used David's date of birth, which I knew from Irina (Esther Krinski), to determine the dates of birth of the other sons. According to daughter Zinaida , Israel Bunimovich had been born in a poor water carrier's family. She believes that he built his “seed” capital from his own profits (possibly in part from smuggling) as well as his first wife's dowry. By the end of his business career (he retired before WWI) he owned a bank. V. Sekhovich wrote in the Belarus Business Gazette:

Right before and during the war the large capital flows into Belarus increased once again, as the banks of St. Petersburg and Moscow turned on the local banking companies. In 1913, the Vilno banking company of Israel Bunimovich, the largest in the North-West region, with offices in Oszmiana and Smorgon, was bought out by the St. Petersburg International Commercial Bank (see link ).

At that time Israel Bunimovich also owned a candy factory “ Victoria ”, which had won the gold medal at the 1900 World Fair in Paris , and some real estate in Vilno. He was known for his charitable work, building a shelter for poor Jews and contributing large sums of money to it; in 1926 he was elected honorary chairman of the board of the shelter in recognition of the 40 th anniversary of his service on the board. At the end of the XIX c. he chaired the Vilno branch of the Society for Affordable and Sanitary Housing operating under the aegis of the Jewish Colonization Association. In the beginning of the XX c. he was chairman of the board of the Vilno Jewish hospital, and in the 1920's, together with his son Tobiash, he served on the board of the charitable Jewish canteen of Vilno .

The historian of the “Lithuanian Jerusalem”, G. Agranovsky, writes:

Bunimovich entered the history of Vilnjus [Vilno] not only by reason of his money but mainly thanks to his extensive charitable works… He was … president of the Great Synagogue , etc .”

Professor Ben - Zion Dinur wrote about him :

Bunimovich began as a clerk in a business office at age 13 and lived to become a wealthy man of property, a genius of sorts. Bunimovich did much good for the Jews, supporting Jewish efforts in commerce, home building and land buying, and in so doing he helped a certain part of the Jewish population out of the slums.” (details here ).

His daughter Zinaida recalled that often, when her father came out of his house, Jews would rush up to him to kiss his hand. In 1912, when he decided to retire, he returned his depositors' money rather than pass the bank down to his children, saying: “Poor Jews entrusted their money to me, and I must return it intact, as I do not know what my children would do with it.” According to the story in the Vilno newspaper Our Time dated 22 November 1938, he returned all deposits with interest. Of course, he did not leave himself destitute: besides cash assets of over 2 million rubles in gold, he also owned several houses in town, estates in the country, etc. He sold his bank to the St. Petersburg Bank. In some ways, for instance, in his relationship with his son Evsey, he was a lot like the protagonist of Maurice Druon's Les Grandes Familles . As a Jew he was far from religious, a man of rather tolerant views who related to his sons' Gentile wives on the basis of their personal qualities rather than religious affiliation; yet he observed the major Jewish traditions. He was so well-known in the Western region that the son of the governor of Vilno Lev Lyubimov in his memoirs In Exile , describing his father's difficulties in navigating Vilno's ethnic diversity, recalled that he had to schedule his appointments on official holidays so as to receive the top officials of the Orthodox and Catholic churches and one of the wealthiest men of the Western krai, the banker Bunimovich with his beautiful wife, all at different times in the day to prevent any one of them feeling slighted or offended. Bunimovich was made an honorary citizen, received several awards, and was an elector to the First State Duma. Bunimovich lived with his family in a house he owned on Bolshaya Pogulyanka street (now Basanavichjus st, 5) and kept a private coach and a wine cellar. He had an innate good taste and sense of beauty which were reflected in his house. The Bunimoviches liked to entertain (Zinaida recalled seeing the writer Scholem Asch at one of their evenings and hearing him read his works). At the beginning of WWI he moved to Moscow with his wife while his house in German-occupied Vilno was used for a club for officers of Kaiser's army, which, naturally, took a heavy toll on the wine cellar. When Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union , which set up a Bolshevik regime, the building housed the ministry of culture, and his plush, formerly oak-paneled office was used by the minister himself.

First wife of Israel Bunimovich: Hannah (Anna), maiden name unknown, 1847 (?) – 1885, San Remo, Italy

Virtually nothing is known about her. The only document that may relate to her is an article on the history of the Foce cemetery at the famous Italian resort of San Remo ( http://www.genealogia.ru/necropolis/tes 3/san_remo.html ). It provides a list of people buried there, including “Bunimovich, Anna Moiseevna, 38, Vilna 26.3.1885; plot 664 campo 11”. By comparing the age listed here with the dates of birth of Israel Bunimovich's children we may assume that this listing indeed relates to his first wife.

Children: Tobiash, Mark, Evsey, Ilya, David, Boris, Efim, Bertha

1. Tobiash, 1867 (or 1871, according to the 1897 directory of members of the merchant estate) – 1938, Vilno, see photo )

He owned a bank founded in 1922 and had large real estate holdings, including rental housing, in addition to being a co-owner of the candy factory “ Victoria ”. Like his father, he was known for charitable works. In 1930 he ran for the Polish Diet as a candidate from the Grodno province (see link ). The Yiddish-language book by Abram Karpinovich The Back Alleys of Vilno includes a story about a hairdresser who operated out of the house owned by Israel Bunimovich on Pogulyanka street . The hairdresser occasionally saw Tobiash in the cafe “Strale” and once told him about his intention to deposit money with his bank. Tobiash talked him out of it. The next day the bank was declared bankrupt, and soon thereafter Tobiash killed himself. His contemporaries insisted that the default had come as a complete surprise to everyone, as no one had seen any prior signs of financial troubles .

Nevertheless, according to the Vilno newspaper Our Time, an independent audit performed shortly before then had in fact found a large shortfall and even suggested that Tobiash declare bankruptcy. He supposedly had replied: “No bankruptcy as long as I live!” Alas, Tobiash's words came true: the bankruptcy was declared after his suicide. The real culprit was the bank director, one Kashuk, along with several employees: Stupel, Kabachnik, Yutel, Ioffe and Dashevsky, all of whom were arrested. The investigation showed that Kashuk had systematically embezzled the bank's revenues and had personal bank accounts abroad totaling over a million and a half zlotys. The trial was scheduled to take place simultaneously in Vilno and Warsaw in September 1939, but the start of WWII, triggered by Germany 's attack on Poland on 1 September, irrevocably changed the course of events. The bank's debts were settled in various ways, including via the sale of Tobiash's vast real estate holdings as well as his priceless six thousand-volume library and collection of records of classic operas performed by soloists of the Milan opera “La Scala”. The latter seems to me indicative of the family's overall lifestyle and values.

Wife: Elena, nee Zaidel; she divorced Tobiash.

Daughter: Nyusya

2. Mark, 1872 ( ? ), Vilno – 1960 's , Venezuela
Wife: Ìarusya, of Spanish descent (see photo )
Children : ? ?

3. Åvsey, 1874 ( ? ) , Vilno - ?
A building contractor. His business failed twice: the first time, his father paid off his debts; the second time, shortly before WWI, Evsey killed himself. There is a copy of a document dated August 1908 showing Evsey to be an “authorized representative and attorney-in-fact of the Vilno office of the Brockhaus and Efron Corporation”.
Wife: Franya ; son: Vova (?) - 1919, killed by the forces of [the Ukrainian warlord Symon] Petlyura.

4. Ilya, 1875 (?), Vilno - ?
After Israel Bunimovich sold his bank to St. Petersburg Bank, which turned it into its Vilno branch, Ilya was made director of the branch .
First wife: Tsilya
Son: Edek (killed in France at the end of WWII )
Second wife: Margot ( Armenian ), see photo
Margot, as beautiful as she was kind, of Armenian descent, was much loved in the Bunimovich family. According to some sources, between 1920 and 1940 Ilya and Margot lived in France . The papers of the Paris Memorial to the Victims of Deportation supposedly mention the deportation of an Ilya Bunimovich to Auschwitz in 1942. But then, how did Margot, on the eve of WWII, turn up in Vilno where after the Nazi occupation she helped Israel Bunimovich's second wife Elizaveta in the ghetto and later buried her? Margot's presence in Vilno is confirmed, because right after the liberation of the city from the Nazis she met with Nadezhda Nadezhdina, the creator of the renowned Soviet dance ensemble “Beryozka”. Nadezhdina was the daughter of doctor Vygotsky, a prominent Vilno personality and a friend of the Bunimoviches, and she later told Zinaida Ratner, daughter of Israel and Elizaveta, about the meeting.

5. David
( see photo ), 1879, Vilno - 1941, Vilno

Engineer by training, a graduate of the Konigsberg university. At the very beginning of WWI he was hired as a technical director of a factory producing armor-piercing bullets that had been created in St. Petersburg by the Rabinowitz family (see: Memoirs of Samuel Esterowicz ). He also was a co-owner of the candy factory “ Victoria ” and, after the death of his father, the executor of his entire estate. In 1933 he and his wife came to Eretz Israel for their daughter's wedding. Eliyahu Fromchenko, whom he had saved from execution at the hands of Petlyra's forces in Kharkov during the civil war, was then setting up in Tel Aviv his Elite candy factory that later became famous and offered him the post of chief engineer, but his wife refused to move [to Israel]. In 1937 he made another visit to Eretz Israel . He was executed by Hitler's forces right after they entered Vilno. There is a brief biographical note about him in the database of Holocaust victims of the Yad Vashem institute in Jerusalem .

Wife: Roza, nee Landau,1890, Grodno - 1976, Tel Aviv, see photo

The fate of this woman makes it tempting to believe in Providence . She spent the entire period of Nazi occupation in Vilno's basements. Twice she escaped death by a hair. The first time was when she moved from one basement to another, and soon thereafter the first one was destroyed. The second time was when the Red Army was approaching the city. She stepped out of her shelter, stumbled upon a German patrol and was marched to the wall, but the German officer, upon learning that her husband was a fellow engineer and graduate of the Konigsberg university, not only let her go but even escorted her out of the ghetto .

Until the end of Nazi occupation she hid in various places, even in drains and sewers. After the Soviet Army had annexed Vilno, she managed to smuggle herself out of the USSR . She was interned in an Austrian camp for displaced persons, because under British laws her daughter, a legal resident of Eretz Israel , could not bring her Holocaust survivor mother over. She was saved from there by her son-in-law's brother, an officer in the Jewish Brigade , who happened to be deployed to a British army camp that was located next to the internees' camp and who, after hiding her for a short period in a Catholic convent, smuggled her into Eretz Israel .

There is another incredible story linked to this woman, albeit indirectly. The family of Zinaida Ratner had been trying without success to find Irina Bunimovich, daughter of David and Roza, in Israel , since the end of the 1970's. In 1982, an international conference in one of the biological sciences, biochemistry I believe, took place in Moscow, and Israeli scientists attended it. Upon her return from Moscow , a conference attendee Tova Weiss was telling her friend on a bus ride down Ibn-Gvirol street in Tel Aviv: “You know, these Moscow Jews are all crazy. Imagine, this girl comes up to me during a break between sessions [ this was Natasha Ratner, an activist in the Moscow branch of the Zionist movement of the 1970's and 1980's . – U.M.] and demands that I find some Irina Bunimovich whose mother lived in Tel Aviv after the Vilno ghetto. I even asked the ministry of the interior: there is no Irina Bunimovich in Israel !” An old gentleman across the aisle, who could not help hearing the story, spoke up: “I believe I may be able to help you. Go to Spinoza street , such and such number. There is a woman living on the second floor; I think she took care of the mother of the lady you are looking for, who lived on the first floor. She will help you.” And so it was: the woman from Spinoza street gave them the telephone number of Esther Krinski (Irina Bunimovich) in Yokneam , Israel . Now doesn't this story sound a lot like some of the stories by Isaac Bashvic Singer!

Daughter : Irina ( Esther Krinski ), b. 1911, Vilno, see photo

A member of the Beitar [Revisionist Zionist] movement. In 1929 (?) she went to Nancy , France to study at an agricultural institute because she knew that Eretz Israel needed specialists in agriculture. At the institute she met her future husband. She got a referral from the institute to write her Ph.D. thesis in Eretz Israel , allowing her legal entry to the yishuv. Upon expiration of her residence permit in the yishuv she married a permanent resident of Eretz Israel. In Eretz Israel she worked on plantations. Throughout her life, she was active in the WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization) as the WIZO leader in the North.

After her mother, survivor of the Vilno ghetto, arrived in 1946, Irina, whose duties took her all over the North of Eretz Israel , hoped that the grandmother would look after her son, but the two women could not get along. Then Irina placed her son in kibbutz Mishmar Ha-Emek where he lives with his family to this day.

During the Israeli War of Independence of 1948 the basement of her house was used as a weapons storehouse and hospital. Sometime in 2001-2002 all Israeli media outlets talked about a dangerous find: the cache of weapons and explosives dating from the War of Independence was found in the basement of Irina's house. Irina recalled that she had told the authorities for years about the cache but they had shrugged it off as an old woman's tales. Only after another veteran of the 1948-1949 events spoke out in her support, the authorities began a search. Once again, Irina's information was proven accurate! (See link )

Husband (divorced): Êrinski, Emmanuel , 1911, Konigsberg – 1985, Tel Aviv, see photo

Son: Yigal, 1937, Afula see photo
Wife: Nitza, nee Peled, 1937, Afula

Inbal, b. 1960, Afula . Husband : Dar, Paul , b. 1956, Oran, Algiers
Children: Lee , b. 1987, Tel Aviv
Eidan , b. 1992, Tel Aviv
Gani , b. 1997, Tel Aviv

Limor , b. 1965, Afula
Her children: Îr , b. 1999, Kfar-Saba
Ìayan, b. 2004, Yokneam

Uzi, b. 1973, Afula
Wife: Lisa Marie , nee Birchall, b. 1971, Paraparaumu , New Zealand
Son: Gefen, b. 2003, Haifa

6. Boris, 1881 ( ? ), Vilno - ?
Killed by a gendarme officer over romantic rivalry.

7. Efim, 1882 ( ? ), Vilno - ?
Wife: Sima
Daughter: Lilya

8. Bertha, ? - ?
Husband: Lurie , Max
Children: Ànna, Beata , Vera

Anna :
Husband: Kelber , ?

Beata, ? – 2002, Paris, France
Husband: Verillac , ?
Son: Ives

Husband: Rosser Lyn Evans
Daughter: Katya
Husband: Enrique Muris Flores
Son: Iker Muris, 1979 (see photo, see website)
Daughter: Solange


Second wife of Israel Bunimovich: Elizaveta, nee Levina, 1860 (?), Kamenets-Podolsky - 1941, Vilno, see photo )

A teacher's daughter and graduate of the school of mathematics of the Kiev Higher School for Women. According to their daughter Zinaida, Israel Bunimovich first saw his future wife in court in Kiev as one of the defendants in a political trial (most likely, this was one of the Narodnaya Volya trials of the mid-1880's, although it is unclear what Israel Bunimovich would have been doing in court at this kind of trial), fell in love and paid her bail, even though the family did not like to advertise that fact. Marrying into a large family, she managed to build very good relationships with her husband's children, who were not much younger than herself. After the Soviet occupation of Vilno she thought about moving [to Moscow ?] to rejoin her daughter Zinaida but age and possessions combined to prolong that process until the arrival of the Nazis. She died in the ghetto of pneumonia. As mentioned earlier, Zinaida learned about her last days from the founder of the famous dance ensemble “Beryozka”, Nadezhda Nadezhdina, daughter of the prominent Vilno doctor S. Vygotsky whose family was close with the Bunimoviches. There is a brief biographical note about her in the database of Holocaust victims of the Yad Vashem institute in Jerusalem .

Children: Elena, Zinaida

1. Elena , ( ? ) , Vilno - 197?, Paris, see photo )

Husband: Ìintz, Jeannot , ?, Moscow ( ? ) – 1948 ( ? ) , Paris

Children: Dolly, Michel

Dolly, 1916 ( ? ) , Moscow , - 1946 ( ? ), Paris, died young of leukemia.

Michel, b. 1918, Moscow
Was in the French Resistance during WWII, which helped his parents survive the occupation because their neighbors told him openly that if he did not go into the maquis [French resistance] they would turn the whole family in to the Gestapo (!). After the war he became a prominent gynecologist .
Wife: Katu, nee Auger, ? – 1986 (?), Paris . Her father was the prominent French nuclear physicist Pierre Auger.
Children: Elizabeth, Sophie, and twins Natalie and Nicolas

2. Zinaida
, 1894, Vilno - 1983, Moscow, see photo, was the youngest daughter in the family. She had a motor tic from an early age which impaired her native good looks. She attended the Vilno gymnasia [primary and secondary school] , then Cheltenham Ladies' College in England. (Later, under the Bolsheviks, she would destroy all her diplomas, since at that time both were deemed to have been received abroad. That alone would have been seen as suspect in those days; combined with a mother residing abroad and other biographical “flaws”, it added up to a profile that threatened her very survival under the Bolshevik regime.) She had a gift for humanities: as a pre-schooler, she liked reading the Grand Larousse encyclopedia; late in life she could still remember entire genealogical trees of major as well as minor European royal houses, which allowed her to hold riveting “duels” in genealogy with her son-in-law I. S. Miller. Thanks to her incredibly wide reading, she also could weave a mass of interesting detail around any little “branch” in these genealogies. Her fluency in the three major European languages was such that, when she worked at the Moscow foreign exchange store “Torgsin” in the mid-1930's, a German ambassador shopping at the store asked when the “frau” had left Berlin.

In 1915 she married David Ratner. Before her engagement, her father, who had moved to Moscow because of the German military advances, spoke about her future in-laws in these terms: “The family is not rich but they've got integrity.” According to her friends and relatives, and even by her own later admission, she had been a rather spoiled and self-willed young lady. Her marriage was not a success, in part due to her temperament, in part due to a clannishness and ineptitude in family life that was common to some in the Ratner family. In 1921, together with the family of her sister Elena, Zinaida and her daughter was about to flee abroad when her husband caught up to them at the Verzhbolovo train station on the border and told them about the NEP [New Economic Policy] just instituted in Moscow which had changed everything. And, indeed, during the two weeks of NEP Moscow had been transformed from a desolate ruin back into a civilized city. Zinaida's husband, David, went into business with his brothers Grigory and Samuil. But he never bought his own apartment, considering it a luxury and preferring to live with the larger family (!).

In 1928, Zinaida's husband David and his brother Grigory were arrested as crackdowns on NEP business leaders began. They were defendants in the first trial, that of the Mutual Credit Society and the First Moscow and Trade and Industrial Societies. While David was serving time in prison in Erevan , Armenia , Zinaida and her daughter moved to that city. Thanks to their Moscow connections, they lived in the home of the Chairman of the Sovnarkom [i.e., head of government] of Armenia. There, Nadezhda contracted polio and could no longer walk. After her return to Moscow, Zinaida and her sick daughter lived with Roza's sister-in-law. Thanks to the money sent by her mother from Vilno, she was able to send her daughter for treatment in Berlin and Paris, and after an operation performed in Moscow by the great Russian orthopedic surgeon Priorov, Nadezhda was able to walk again: first, on crutches, then with a cane, which she discarded after they were evacuated at the approach of the Nazis. After her husband ' s arrest, Zinaida went to work again. Without a profession to draw upon, for the most part she relied on her fluency in three European languages. But, due to the awkward facts in her background (mother living abroad, husband a banished political convict), she could not keep any job for long. (I still recall the agony of filling out her application for an exit visa from Russia to Israel, since the Soviets required an exact address for all prior places of employment, of which she had over twenty).

After the war Zinaida returned to Moscow with her daughter. Soon thereafter she quit work and devoted herself to raising her grandson (who owes most of his good qualities to her), i.e. myself. Almost until her death, she kept a clear head, great intellect, remarkable zest for life and resilience, and a difficult temperament. She had such a striking personality that some of her grandson's friends came over specifically to visit “Zinochka” (as they referred to her between themselves). I remember her lively interest in all kinds of news and events, whether in politics, literature, or art. One of my early memories is from 1954-1955, when we made fairly regular visits to Gorky Street . There stood the bookstore “Druzhba”, which had opened in the beginning of the cultural and political “thaw” that had come in the aftermath of Stalin's death. The bookstore sold books published in the countries of the Soviet bloc, and there she bought virtually all the titles by Leon Feuchtwanger, in German, celebrating each purchase with great joy. She devoured the high-brow journals we subscribed to ( Novyi Mir [ New World ] , Inostrannaya Literatura [Review of Foreign Literature] , Znamya [Banner], Nauka I Zhisn [Science and Life]) and made very interesting comments on their contents. At the same time, she could still describe, in great detail, theater performances she had seen more than half a century prior: Stanislavsky as Famusov in the famous performance of Woe from Wit at the Moscow Academic Art Theater (“You can't imagine”, she would say, “how he conveyed his anxiety in the scene with Sophia! Nothing outward , nothing ! Buttoned and unbuttoned his vest, the whole time, and that's it. But you, the audience, you FELT it!”), or Mikhail Chekhov as Eric XIV whose performance at Studio One of the Moscow Academic Art Theater had so deeply touched her.

Husband: Ratner, David , 1887, Moscow - 1972, Moscow
Daughter: Nadezhda, 1916, Moscow - 1993, Kfar-Saba, Israel,  see photo

Husband ( divorced ): Miller, Ilya , 1919, Harbin, China - 1978, Moscow, see photo

Ilya Miller 's mother, Lyubov Gottlieb ( see photo ) , had lived with her parents, Solomon and Dora (nee Vinogradova), in Harbin where her husband was a bookkeeper with the Chinese Far East Railway.

Lyubochka, as she was known all her life, was so beautiful that she was dubbed the “rose of Harbin ” and was always invited to charitable balls, as her very presence drove up ticket sales. Then Lyubochka went away to school in Tomsk, where she met her future husband, wealthy jeweler and dealer Nekhama Borodavkin. Ilya was the son of that marriage.

His Soviet papers listed his date of birth as 8 June 1918 (e.g., this document ). In fact, he was born on 19 January 1919 . As he would explain later, in the 1970's, the date had been changed because in the early 1919 Harbin had already passed to the Whites, whereas in the summer of 1918 it had still been between regimes. And, of course, being born under the Whites did not tend to make for an easy life in the Soviet Russia.

But Lyubochka soon divorced her husband, an inveterate gambler who had brought her both feast and, [more often,] famine, and moved to Harbin to rejoin her parents. In the early 1920's the family returned to Soviet Russia, and Lyubochka married Solomon Miller, an old friend from her days back in Slonim ( see photo ), who adopted her son.

It is possible that the marriage came about in part thanks to Sergey (Solomon) Spiegelglas, an undercover Soviet agent operating in the Far East, including China , who would later rise to prominence in the Soviet intelligence network. He was a childhood and lifelong friend of Solomon Miller. We can imagine what Lyubochka might have felt, a young, very beautiful woman with a young child who had recently left her husband, as she listened to this old friend telling her how everything in the Soviet Russia was different now and how his friend had always been in love with her and was still waiting for her. I should note that Solomon Miller remained loyal to his friend's memory throughout his life, helping out Spiegelglas' unmarried sister who had always depended on her brother and who was left in dire straits, with two young children, after his execution.

Later, in 1926 , Lyubochka and Solomon Miller had a son Georgy (“Zhora”, see: http://www.chelpress.ru/newspapers/persons/archive/6-98/719.shtml ; http://www.book-chel.ru/ind.php?what=card&id=1512 ; http://www.aloepole.ru/site/articles/1076931977/a-1149829326 ; http://unilib.chel.su:6005/el_izdan/kalend2006/opera.htm
http :// www . internetelite . biz / si / index . phtml ? path =/ si / si 2004/34_21_02_2004& rubric =& article =379. txt ) . Zhora excelled in humanities from an early age. At 13, he translated Shakespeare using an interlinear version, and his translation was highly praised by the prominent Russian Shakespear scholar M. Morozov (who himself was renowned as the boy in a well-known portrait by V. Serov). Zhora studied acting at the theater school of the Central Children's Theater, then opera directing at the GITIS [ Russian Academy of the Arts] under B. A. Pokrovsky. He was brilliant and talented but unlucky in practical life. He worked for years in various provincial theaters (at Kazan, Gorky, Chelyabinsk), staged many great shows and earned the respect and love of his colleagues but never received any recognition commensurate with his talent: no awards and no exposure in the nation's capital, although this may have changed after the fall of the Soviet regime. He was a voracious reader (a family trait) and a walking encyclopedia: he alone achieved what scores of professional chemistry teachers and scientists had failed to do, namely, managed to get the author of these notes – a liberal arts devotee in school – to understand the basics of the periodic law of Mendeleev .

But let us return to Ilya. He was, if anything, even more incredibly gifted and learned than his step-brother. I recall my amazement when, in the 1970's, he correctly gave the Tanachic provenance of some phrase that was far from common or idiomatic, quoting the source. Having completed 9 th grade, he decided to try for college (I suspect there were family circumstances weighing in favor of leaving home earlier). He passed his entrance exams with distinction (his examiner was P. Larichev, the author of a seminal math textbook) and was about to enroll at the math department of the Moscow Pedagogic Institute, but when it transpired that he lacked a high school diploma, he was told to come back in a year. In 1936 he went to the Moscow State University , to the newly created history department. He graduated in medieval studies under Professor V. I. Picheta, with honors, and his advisors suggested that he expand his bachelor's thesis (on the 1651 uprising in Poland led by Aleksander Kostka Napierski) into a Candidate's dissertation. He defended the latter in July 1941, after the beginning of WWII. He enlisted in a militia right at the start but, due to his fluency in German, was soon transferred to a school for military translators in Stavropol , which probably saved him from sharing the fate of most militiamen from universities who perished in the slaughter of the first months of the war.

Upon graduation from the Stavropol school, Ilya was sent to the frontline where he spent the war as a translator in the intelligence group of his regiment and ended up at Konigsberg. He saw a lot of action and was put up for decorations by his commanding officers, whose referrals (preserved in the family until it emigrated to Israel ), leave no doubt as to his bravery. Nevertheless, at least three military decorations – that of the Red Banner, the Patriotic War 1 st class and the Red Star, the latter a direct referral by his regiment commander, -- passed him by because of his characteristically Jewish name and the Jewish nationality listed in his passport ([unlike some,] he never tried to hide his Jewishness), and he finished the war with the rank of senior lieutenant, with another Red Star and several medals, including the medal “For Taking Konigsberg ” that was held in high esteem by veterans.

After the war Ilya Miller served as scientific secretary of the Fundamental Library of Social Sciences of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR , where his fanatical love for books earned him the favor of the then-president of the Academy, S. I. Vavilov. In 1947, he went to work for the Institute of Slavic Studies, newly created under the Academy, working his way up to section head. He started with the history of Poland , and specifically the uprising of 1863, then switched to the study of Russo-Polish social and revolutionary ties. He spent most of his time on archival work, overseeing the publication of multi-volume series of documents, and less on publishing his own work, even though each of his works was received with great acclaim. He always was very socially active and ambitious. His ambitions remained largely unfulfilled, at least in terms of official recognition, since in the USSR a Jew in the humanities could advance his ambitions only by selling his soul, so to speak, which Miller was not willing to do. He clearly feared that schizophrenic compartmentalization that becomes the lot of any man of integrity who wishes to remain socially active under a totalitarian system. He did join the Communist party at the front during WWII and then served for a long time as secretary of the local Communist party organization at the Institute of Slavic Studies.

After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when a pro-democracy movement was growing in the USSR , some Communist party members from his organization signed various pro-democracy petitions, [a courageous and dangerous form of political protest]. I remember him saying: “We must react quickly so it will be easier on them.” He quickly staged the [expected] meetings and resolutions [condemning the signatories], and by so doing, was able to keep everyone from actually losing their job. They used to say at the Institute that Miller was adored by researchers and janitors but hated by the management: he was always friendly and egalitarian with those who stood below him on the social ladder but reserved and “closed” with his superiors. He never tried to hide his Jewishness and, I think, deeply felt the ostracism directed at his fellow Jews in the USSR . His section must have had virtually no Jews, because he once said to his family: “ They [this from a Party secretary!] can handle one Jew, but two Jews are always a Zionist conspiracy.” He died early, less than 59 years old, after a fourth heart attack. Characteristically, one of the main triggers of that last heart attack was a discussion between a Jewish staffer he had recently hired and a non-Jewish lady Ph.D. The discussion, which had begun as an academic exchange, progressed to vicious personal attacks against the staffer (for the lady, as was the fashion in the USSR, went on to denounce him to the Central Committee of the Communist Party), as well as being later used by Miller's enemies in an all-out attack on him .

[It is also indicative of his ethical standards that] one of his closest colleagues was L. A. Obushenkova, whom he hired at a time when her husband, N. G. Obushenkov, had just begun serving a politically-motivated prison sentence (the trial of members of an “anti-Soviet group” allegedly organized at the MGU by Krasnopevtsev and Obushenkov, see here and here ) and whom he always supported.

At his funeral, I was deeply moved by words of his war-time friends who spoke about “Ilyusha” as though the thirty-odd years that had elapsed since the war did not exist. He had few close friends. One exception was his childhood friend Stepan Drozdov (who came from pre-revolutionary noble stock, a descendant of the infamous terrorist Stepan Balmashev, an “SR” ( Socialist Revolutionary ) who had shot the Czarist interior minister Sipyagin in 1902 and after whom he was named), an ethnic Russian who nevertheless possessed an uncanny resemblance to Stalin, which often led to various funny or not so funny incidents. Another was a friend from his MGU days, Georgy (“Yura”) Bauer, an ethnic German and the favorite student of the prominent Soviet archeologist A. V. Artsikhovsky. Yura volunteered for the front in the first days of July 1941 and was sent behind enemy lines as part of a special operations unit. We know that Yura died but the details of his death are not known. According to some sources, he was seen in 1944 in a POW camp in Italy , but this story most likely is apocryphal. Soon after Yura left for the front, his elderly mother and consumptive sister, along with other ethnic Germans, were banished to Kazakhstan . We know that Artsikhovsky tried to intercede on their behalf, without success. Yet another MGU friend was Aleksandr Grunt, a man who had overcome personal tragedy (he had been run over by a tram as a child and lost both legs) to become an outstanding, brilliant personality and a professional historian of the highest class. In the 1960's and 1970's, Ilya Miller's friends included Yury Shtakelberg, a brilliant historian and archivist from Leningrad who had twice been imprisoned in the GULAG and lost his eyesight there, and Yury Korotkov, a man whose talent and brilliance served him ill among his colleagues at the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, the “father” of the renowned literary almanac Prometei and the many volumes from the series “Lives of the Greats” – publications that had introduced a breath of fresh air into the stale world of Soviet ideology (some of us still remember the book of V. Lebedev on [Russian philosopher] P. Chaadaev that had made such waves) ( see here and here ).

Ilya Miller was a “closed” and reserved man, but also sincere and at bottom very emotional, although this was not obvious. I, for one, cannot recall him ever uttering a strong word. “Unattractive” was his preferred expression of disapproval; when he used it, we knew that his patience was being sorely tried. A couple of times I heard him say “very unattractive”, and that meant he was really angry! I still recall a story Nadezhda told us. In February 1953, rumors went about that all Jews would be deported to the Far North. One evening, she and Ilya were on their way home from friends' house, and Nadezhda, impressed by a refrigerator newly purchased by the hosts [ Tr: refrigerators were a novelty], said: “We should get one, too.” My father's reaction was : “ You fool ! You should be thinking instead of how we can hide Yura [i.e., myself, in case of deportation]!” This was the only instance I know he had ever used such language. By the way, a very close friend of my parents' (I am ashamed to have forgotten her name), an ethnic Russian, soon told them she would hide me if the need arose.

His illness took a heavy toll on him and his emotional control, but we could see that he tried his best to remain his usual self. Nevertheless, I know two areas where he left an outlet for his feelings: his beloved card games (as far as I know, he played only “for love”) and soccer, of which he was a great enthusiast. Our family were devoted “fans” of the Moscow soccer club “Spartak”, and to this day I remember how, around 1951-1952, my father would take me to the Dinamo stadium, along with all the men of the Miller family, buying candy on the way. A Pavlovian training session followed: if Spartak scored a goal, I would get a piece of candy, and if they missed, I was supposed to eat the wrapper. Which I did, drawing stares. To the credit of “Spartak” of that day, these unpleasant moments were rare.

Ilya's s on: Georgy ( Uri ) , b. 1947, Moscow, see photo
Georgy's wife: Roza, nee Bayvel, b. 1948, Moscow , see photo
Their son: Dmitry (Danny, b. 1976, Moscow, see photo

The Ratners

The Ratner family had lived in Moscow since the 1880's, since we know that in the early 1890's, when the governor of Moscow expelled all of Moscow's Jews, the Ratners were sent either to Slutzk (whence they had originally come) or to Kaluga, but after a while were allowed to return.

In the early ÕÕ th c. they owned a textile shop on Solyanka street, and before WWI, jointly with their friend Plotel, they bought the Butikov factory. During WWI, the family made a lot of money by supplying woolen cloth to the Russian army, for which they had won a competitive contract.

[ More about the factory and its prior owners :

The Moscow merchant Ivan Petrovich Butikov, in the middle of the XIXth c., bought a plot of land in Moscow near Prechistenka street and built a large textile factory. In around 1851, he received the title of merchant of the 2 nd guild and served as treasurer of the Khamovniki branch of the benevolent society. His shop, which bore his name, was located on Myasnitskaya street while Butikov lived in a house he owned on Prechistenka. He left town every summer, either for his country house in Kuntsevo or for his estate in Akishevo, which was prettier but more remote. His factory in Moscow employed 3,200 workers, included cotton, wool, and silk spinning and dyeing operations, and produced such fabrics as serge, sateen and camlet. Its revenues came to about a million rubles. After the death of I. P. Butikov, in the early 1880's, his estate passed to his only son Stepan Ivanovich. The latter took over his father's work and even received his own merchant title in 1881, but his business did not prosper, and he had to sell parts of it off ( see here ) for more detail.]

The Ratner family as a whole was characterized by integrity and a healthy ethnic pride. By the latter, I mean a sense of their Jewishness as something God-given (despite an overall secular lifestyle) and respect for God's choice combined with respect for all other people groups. The family had lots of friends and never made ethnic distinctions between them. The family always observed the Jewish Passover, not a year passed that they did not have matzah in the house, but none of them would pass up a kulich bun on Orthodox Easter, either, not to mention the Orthodox pancake festival of Maslenitsa! Nevetheless, I still remember my 13 th birthday, which was celebrated with a more than usual lavishness. Only later did I realize that that had been [their way of marking] my bar-mitzvah.

There is a story that has been passed down from one generation to the next and which describes them well. Some time after the death of the founder of the dynasty, Haim, his children needed a rather large loan for their business. They contacted a potential creditor, who, without saying a word, laid out the necessary sum, no questions asked, and did not even ask them to sign a note! In response to the the Ratners' amazed reaction, the creditor said that he regularly saw them taking walks around Chistye Prudy with their mother, and that was the best guarantee he could hope for. “People who honor their mother do not cheat!”

Haim-Elie Ratner, ? - 1910?, ?, Germany; buried in Berlin, see photo

In his son David's birth certificate, ¹ 347 of 18 April 1913, signed by a Moscow rabbi Y. I. Maze based on the register of births, entry ¹ 168, column “Males”, part 1, listing Jewish births in Moscow and other towns of the Moscow gubernia [governorate] for 1887, Haim-Elie is listed as a “merchant, 2 nd guild, of the town of Slonim.” This was clearly outdated information because Jewish merchants were allowed to live in Moscow only if they were members of the “1 st guild of the city of Moscow ”, as he was.

Wife: Feyga, 1855 - 1922, Moscow, see photo

Children: Grigory , Berthà , Samuil , Boris , Roza , David , Lev

1. Grigory (Girsh), 1874, Slutzk -1967, Moscow, see photo

Family legend has it that he was married off in all haste after a ticket to the races was been found in his pocket. He had no professional or higher education, which did not stop him being a fan of [classical] music and regularly attending opera. After the death of his father, he took over the family textile business. After his trial (see note on David for more detail) his right of residence in Moscow was revoked, and he lived first in Erevan, then in Orel. In 1936, he moved to a village Zavety Ilyucha near Moscow where he worked as a bookkeeper for the resort co-op “Nefterabotnik”.

Wife: Bertha , 1875, Byalystok - 1947, Moscow

Children: Mikhail , Anna

Mi k ha i l , 1901, Moscow - 1978, Moscow, see photo
Mikhail was a very handsome and, like most Ratners, trim and elegant man. In his younger days he was part of the “golden youth” of Moscow : his later memories included card games and restaurant dinners during the NEP years, with actors M. N. Prudkin and M. Yanshin of the Moscow Academic Art Theater and Armand Hammer who was just beginning his Soviet adventures. Mikhail knew masses of people, among them the Starostin brothers . In the 1920's, upon graduation from law school, he became a trial lawyer and made a name for himself in a number of well-known trials. I remember him in the early 1960's literally shouting at our family gatherings about the “bandit” Khruschev, who had ordered the execution of [foreign currency speculator Yan] Rokotov, in violation of all legal rules. Among other things, I remember him talking about some counterfeiters from Georgia for whom he acted as defense counsel. Apparently, their mastery of their craft was highly acclaimed, not only by himself but also by the KGB. There is a story (and I hesitate to name Mikhail as its source since I may have heard it from someone else) that after the trial these masters were used by the KGB to successfully destabilize financial markets in the West.

Wife: Silich, Matilda , 1905, Krasnoyarsk - 1997, Moscow

She was descended from Poles banished to Siberia after the uprising of 1863 . She worked for the State Institute of Nitrogen Industry. Her first husband, a prominent Sovnarkom official, was executed during the Great Purge.

Anna, daughter of Grigory Ratner, 1905, Moscow - 1995, Mountain View, California, USA, see photo

She was a biology student at the MGU but for some reason dropped out in her 4th year and never got her diploma. This later hurt her career, and she had to be demoted from head of a clinical laboratory to a mere lab technician.

Her daugther: Irina, 1930, Moscow; moved to the USA in 1994, see photo

A graduate of the 1 st Medical Institute of Moscow (today, Moscow Medical Academy), along with her husband.

Husband: Prupis, Nikolay , 1930, Moscow - 2006, Mountain View, California, USA .

He was a prominent Moscow anesthesiologist and worked for many years at a Vishnevsky Surgical Institute. He knew many famous people: astronauts Y. Gagarin and V. Komarov, chess player M. Tal, movie director and actor R. Bykov, literary critic I. Andronnikov, movie director A. Mitta, actor V. Nikulev, composer V. Basner, etc.

Children: Elena, Viktor

Elena, b. 1954, Moscow; lives in the USA since 1990
Her first husband ( divorced ): Zuev , Sergey, b. 1954, Moscow
Son: Mi k ha i l Zuev, b. 1977, Moscow ; lives in the USA since 1990
Her second husband (divorced ): Nikitin, Aleksandr, b. 1956, Moscow ; lives in the USA since 1990
Son: Dmitry Ratner, b. 1986, Moscow ; lives in the USA since 1990

Viktor , b. 1958, Moscow ; lives in the USA since 1989
Wife: Tverskaya, Julia , b. 1959, Moscow ; lives in the USA since 1989
Children: Å katerina, b. 1984, Moscow ; lives in the USA since 1989
Nadezhda, b. 1986, Moscow; lives in the USA since 1989


2. Bertha, daughter of Haim Ratner , 1879, Moscow ? Slutzk ? - 1961, Moscow, see photo

She was a person of great intelligence and sensitivity, a true Russian intellectual, and remained remarkably kind to the end despite a personal tragedy (the loss of her only daughter). For five years in 1953—1958, the author of these notes, together with his grandmother Zinaida, shared her room on Gusyatnikov street, then called Bolshevistsky street, near Myasnitskaya street. This was a single room in a large “ communal ” apartment formerly owned by the Ratner family. Through this experience, she became for him another grandmother. That period has been engraved in his heart, not only as a happy childhood memory due to the love and care that flowed from both grandmothers but also as a time of substantive learning. The grandmothers helped him reinforce his reading skills using a [rare] Bible with illustrations by Gustave Dore and a deluxe edition of Lermontov's poetry dating from before the revolution .

I also remember an incident that happened during that period [and contributed to my ethical development]. One of my elementary school classmates was Efim Ratner's stepson Zhenya Korzun, a good and smart kid even then (he has retained these qualities to this day) but also a first-rate troublemaker. (Another classmate and friend, by the way, was the now prominent actor and director Ivan Dykhovichny, with whom yours truly shared a puppy love for a classmate named Tanya Zhdanova.) Sometime in first or second grade our teacher, not known for her intellectual or teaching qualities, who knew that I was related to Zhenya, after one of his pranks directed me to inform his parents about this conduct unbecoming a Soviet student. Bursting with pride, I came home and told my “auntie [Bela? Belya ?]” (Bertha) about the mission entrusted to me. She yelled at me as never before (or after). “We have never had stool pigeons in this family!!!” This was a lesson I learned forever .

Husband: Àrkin, Semyon , 1871 - 1952, Moscow, see photo
A top-notch doctor, he served in the Russo-Japanese war as an officer in the frontline. He was known as an eccentric with odd habits, yet had a wonderful marriage. We know that he taught his daughter Hebrew; the name he gave her is also revealing.

Daughter: Òîrà, 1915, Moscow - 1929, Moscow, see photo
A smart and pretty girl; died of scarlet fever.


3. Samuil, son of Haim Ratner , 1882, Moscow - 1927, Moscow, see photo

A prominent Socialist Revolutionary Mark Vishnyak, who was friendly with the Ratners in his younger days, write in his memoir A Tribute to the Past that Samuil was a classmate of the future Social Revolutionary party leader Abram Gotz. Samuil had an incurable kidney disease which was the ultimate cause of his death.

Wife: Vera , nee Monoszon, 1886, Moscow - 1957, Moscow, see photo

Children: Efim , Boris

Åfim, 1911, Moscow - 1974, Moscow, see photo
He was, without a doubt, not only a remarkable physicist and specialist in lighting solutions but also a remarkable personality. Although he never got a doctorate and remained with the degree of Candidate of Science, he was director of a laboratory and trained dozens of Ph.D's and C.S.'s (see here). Among his non-classified works are the lighting systems for the red stars of the Kremlin and the Moscow metro, of which he was justifiably proud and for which he received a Stalin Award. Among his friends were academicians S. A. Lebedev and V. I. Veksler. Efim must have been very gifted in languages, because the family has preserved the myth that “Ima” (his family nickname), in his youth, had taught himself English with the sole purpose of reading detective stories, of which he was very fond, in the original .
Wife: Korzun, Irina, b. 1914, Kolpino (Peterburg gubernia), see photo . She was the first Soviet woman mountain climber to reach an altitude of close to 7,000 m (6,910, to be precise) as part of the 1937 expedition to the Pamir. She wrote a wonderful memoir .
Daughter: Natalya, b. 1956, Moscow ; lives in Israel since 1988 , see photo
Husband ( divorced ): Ìagarik, Alexey, b. 1958, Moscow, see photo
Children: Åfim ( “Fika” ), b. 1985, Moscow, see photo. See also his paintings
Michael , b. 1989, Jerusalem, see photo

Boris , b. 1918, Moscow , see photo
A nuclear physicist and graduate of the Moscow Institute of Energy. He was part of the team led by V. I. Veksler that developed the first Soviet synchrophasotron (see his memoirs about that period ). He worked for many years at the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences , then at the Nuclear Research Institute . He authored one of the first (in the USSR) books for the general public about nuclear particle accelerators (see here ). During WWII, he was an aviation technician and officer in the air force regiment in the Far East . See also :
B. S. Ratner, On Energy Spectra of Photoneutrons Emitted From Medium and Heavy Nuclei, NRI AS USSR, Moscow
An Anniversary Greeting for B. S. Ratner, NRI, 2003
B. S. Ratner, The Story of a Discovery, RAS NRI, Jule 1998
B. S. Ratner, The Creation of the First Russian Synchrotron, NRI RAS, October 2003

Wife: Anna , 1918, Òulskaya oblast [region] – 2000, Moscow, see photo
Daughter: Òà tyana , b. 1958, Schelkovo, Moscowskayaoblast, see photo
Husband ( divorced ): Zalnikov, Vladimir, b. 1954, Moscow
Daughter: Åkaterina, b. 1981, Moscow
Daughter: Dasha, b. 1999, Moscow


4. Boris, son of Haim Ratner, 1883, Moscow - 1961, Moscow, see photo

A graduate of the 5 th Moscow gymnasia, along with his childhood friend Ìark Vishnya k. Upon graduation from the law department of the Moscow University ( he had had trouble getting into it because of the “ negative quota ” for Jews that was then in force) he clerked for the law office of N. K. Muravyov, one the leading Russian lawyers of the early XXth c. (see here and here ) together with N. P. Bryukhanov (see here and here ) and R. P. Katanyan.

There is a story about his graduation. Boris was in his last year of law school when his younger brother David was trying to get into it. David had passed the entrance exams but was kept out by the aforementioned negative quota. Then Boris went to see the rector and said that, since he had practically completed his course of study, he was prepared to withdraw from the university, yielding his place to his brother and writing in for his final exams. The rector responded by ordering the younger brother admitted as well as letting Boris complete his studies .

In the 1910's he was defense counsel in a political trial of one of the leading Bolsheviks, possibly Dzerzhinsky himself, a fact that would later play a role in the family's history, even though Boris in his views and personal associations was closer to the Constitutional Democrats. In March 1916 he was on the defense team of the celebrated trial of the “Tolstoyans” [anti-WWI protesters] (see here ). Interestingly, the Moscow branch of the family have preserved a portrait by P. I. Kelin, dated from about that time, where Boris is shown wearing a characteristic “tolstoyan shirt” ( tolstovka ). During the same period, he was defense counsel in a trial of a group of inmates – escapees from the women's prison, an affair that involved [the famous Russian poet Vladimir] Mayakovsky. Legend has it that Boris had sent a suit of clothes to the prison, to one of the defendants, which became the means of escape, and that Boris was arrested and spent a few weeks in prison (the times were relatively liberal). In prison he met a cellmate, Akim Ginzberg, who later became a frequent guest in the Ratner home and in 1915 married Boris' sister Roza .

After the October coup, when N. P. Bryukhanov became the People's Commissar for Food Supplies, Boris was made legal counsel of that Commissariat. He knew the leaders of the “first wave” of the Bolshevik regime, which later would help his brothers at their trial. From April 1918, he was a member of the law commission of the Moscow Political Red Cross. This society, created by a group of Moscow intellectuals, existed until the second half of the 1930's and was headed first by N. K. Muravyov, then by E. P. Peshkova.

The Political Red Cross (PRC), or Moscow Society for Aid to Political Prisoners, was located on Sobachya Ploschadka street and formed on 22 April 1918, i.e., four months after the Bolsheviks had declared their “red terror”. The Bolsheviks had come to power in effect only after the forcible dispersal of the Constituent Assembly on 8 January 1918. The law commission of the PRC was comprised exclusively of lawyers. Below are the names of these fearless men: V. I. Avraamov; S. B. Eisenman; Y. G. Berlyand; A. Z. Burzi; M. I. Bogdanov; P. V. Vsesvyatsky; A. D. Godin; M. Y. Goldman; A. M. Dolmatovsky; I. V. Ilyinsky; B. A. Podgorny; A. L. Patkin; B. E. Ratner; A. Y. Rapoport; A. B. Rosenblum; S. P. Simeon; N. V. Teslenko; E. A. Falkovsky; and G. L. Tsetlin.

(for more detail, see Àlexander Levintov, Sobachya Ploschadka

In the middle of the 1930's, Boris kept a low profile, becoming counsel to the Moscow branch of the Union of Artists, which probably saved his life during the Great Purge. When R. P. Katanyan became assistant general prosecutor of the USSR overseeing the NKVD, Boris used their prior association in order to help people [arrested by the NKVD]. The family has preserved a story about an old rabbi whose son was arrested. The old man regularly came to see Boris, asking him the ritual question: “Boris Efimovich, have you spoken with K… “ (the old man was afraid to say aloud the name of the all-powerful Katanyan). “Not yet,” was the answer. “I wish you joy,” the old man would say on his way out. In the end, Boris was able to get the rabbi's son out of the prison camp. Later, when Katanyan himself was arrested, Boris sent packages [with food, books, and other essentials] to his old classmate in the camps .

He was well-known and appreciated among Russian artists. His friends included painters R. R. Falk ; P. V. Kuznetsov ; N. V. Kuzmin ; Ò. V. Mavrina ; P. I. Kelin (a student of Serov who painted all the Ratners. Because paintings were not allowed to be taken out of the USSR, his large portrait of Zinaida now is in the Tretyakov Gallery, and his charming small portrait of little Nadya is in the Zvenigorod museum); S . V. Gerasimov ; and the “court painter” À. Ì. Gerasimov . I remember once, thanks to Boris' good offices, my mother and I received a [coveted pass for a summer vacation] at a resort owned by the Union of Artists on Lake Senezh . There we were assigned a table in the dining room with the brilliant graphic artist and very nice man Aminadav Kanevsky and his wife, as well as the family of a UA bureaucrat, one Ilyin. The latter, unlike Kanevsky, at first was very rude to us, but became all politeness on learning that my mother was the niece of Boris. Artist Lev Syrkin told us that Boris was a “legend among artists” and that he himself often heard Boris talked about even though Syrkin had joined the UA after Boris had retired .

Integrity was the main moral and ethical criterion of the Ratner family. Boris, an emotional man, [felt it to be beneath him to conceal his true feelings about the regime.] The family remembers how, at the height of Stalin's purges, he could burst into their “communal” apartment (which had belonged to the Ratner family, and in which, after the revolution, the Bolsheviks had left them only three rooms, and that only because Boris' residency permit was tied to it), slam the door of their room and begin vituperating about some high-placed “scoundrel”. Thankfully, their neighbors turned out to be decent people and never turned him in.

His common-law wife : Velikovskaya, Evgenia, nee Monoszon, 188? - 1976, Moscow, see photo , sister of Vera, wife of Samuil Ratner.

She was known for her cantankerous disposition: the family told a story, probably apocryphal, about a time she was having home repairs done in the 1950's and so annoyed the house painter with her complaints about shades of paint that he jumped out of the second-floor window, did not charge her a penny, and never returned. At the same time, she was an expert on petroleum-derived lubricants, receiving in 1946 the Stalin Award for developing a machine oil for the Katyusha rockets. Sometime in 1939 she was fired from the Stalin automotive factory, but not arrested, for tearing up an order from the narkom [People's Commissar, i.e., minister] that she did not like. When she attended a meeting of her collegium at the ministry, she was capable of declaring to one and all that the deputy minister had an appalling sense of taste to be wearing socks of that color! When she died, her funeral was delayed until a high official, her student forty years prior, could make it, as he insisted on attending.

She had a daughter from her first marriage, Lenochka, who signed up for the militia during WWII and died in the war. Evgenia was friends with T. L. Mansurova, Lilya Brik, and the poet Mayakovsky, but always considered Osip Brik a government stooge. Boris Ratner and Evgenia moved in together only after Lena 's death, even though their relationship went a long way back. After both of them had passed on, people from the neighborhood told Nadezhda about their vivid memory of that handsome couple, especially Boris who every day would come to meet Evgenia at the metro station with a bouquet of flowers. (Although she drove him crazy, too, [he remained faithful to the end]. Not long before his death he said to Nadezhda: “I won't leave home in my old age, like some kind of Lev Tolstoy !”)


5. Roza (“Rosha”), daughter of Haim Ratner, 1886, Moscow -1971, Moscow, see photo

A 1915 graduate of the school of medicine of the Higher School for Women (later renamed 2 nd Moscow Medical Institute). She worked for a long time for the Moscow Institute for the Study and Cure of Tuberculosis at Sokolniki. Her words which she said to someone who was not at all a safe recipient of such revelations have entered family lore: “Our family has always been in opposition to any government!” For that reason alone, after the birth of her son she refused to give her baby stroller (which she no longer needed) to Rykov, one of the leaders of the new regime, for his newborn daughter.

Husband: Ginzberg, Akim , 1876, Î dessa (?) - 1920, Moscow, see photo.
He was a prominent Moscow lawyer. Before the revolution, they owned an apartment in the “house of the greats” of later fame on Sheremetevsky street (renamed Granovsky street under the Soviets) in Moscow . He won an important case in 1908-1909 defending the will of the Moscow industrialist N. P. Schmit, who had willed his entire estate (worth millions of rubles) to the Bolsheviks, from Schmit's heirs who claimed that Schmit was mentally incompetent. Not only did Ginzberg win the case but he also personally brought the gold to Lenin. Later, after the Bolshevik coup, this fact was to play a role in the fate of several members of the family.

Children: Boris, Marianna

Boris (“Boba”), 1916, Moscow - 1942, Kaluzhskaya oblast [region] see photo
As a child, he was physically frail: difficulty breathing after breaking his nose in a fall and weak lungs. Nevertheless, he grew up to be a very talented and well-educated man and wrote poetry. Nadezhda Ratner kept his photograph, signed by himself with these words: “How can a man with a face like this ever meet the Fair Stranger?” (a reference to [the mysterious lady of ideal beauty from a poem by Aleksandr] Blok. Upon graduation from the history department of the MGU, where he was a close friend of Ilya Miller, husband of Nadezhda Ratner, he went to work for the Institute of Marx-Engels-Lenin (in common speech, IMEL) but soon thereafter was drafted into the army.

Strangely, his physical frailty was not taken into account, and he was sent to Zabaikalye where he scrubbed cavalry horses. In the beginning of WWII his unit was transferred to the defense of Moscow , where he was killed. Some light was shed on the circumstances of his death in the mid-1960's when the newspaper Izvestia ran a story in its regular feature on the search for unknown victims of the war describing documents found in a shed in a village near Sukhinichi (Kaluzhskaya oblast [region]). The documents belonged to Soviet soldiers who had died in that shed in a battle against the Germans in early 1942. Among them was a certificate from the IMEL issued to Boba.

Ilya Miller, Boris Ratner, Boba's nephew Akim Ginzberg and the author of this chronicle went to the village and learned from the local historians that the fighters who died in the shed had belonged to a unit of the Special Infantry Brigade. Some of the eyewitnesses were still around. But the SIB was overwhelmingly made up of security forces with professional sports backgrounds, so that Boba's presence there is hard to understand even though the fact of death is undisputed. Then, in 2000, we found out from some newly published materials on the wartime operations of Soviet security forces that the NKVD had a practice of issuing identity papers of already dead people to SIB units prior to operations. Thus, we may assume that Boba had died earlier, but how or where – that remains a mystery.

Ìarianna , 1918, Moscow - 1982, Moscow see photo
She was very beautiful and intelligent, none of which helped her in her family life. She was considered an expert on synthetic fibers .
Son : Àkim , b. 1 939, Moscow, see photo
His first wife: Ìà rkova, Natalya, b. 1949 ( ? ) , Moscow ( ?)
Son: Boris, b. 1973, Moscow, see photo
Wife: Irina
Son: Kirill
Akim's second wife: Dyukova, Galina, nee Doctor, b. 1943, Magadan, see photo
Daughter: Marianna, b. 1986, Moscow, see photo


6. David, son of Haim Ratner, 1887, Moscow - 1972, Moscow , see photo

He was a man of great kindness which at times took some odd forms, earning him in his youth a family nickname “Little Jesus”.

I recall his story about the time a classmate of his in the Moscow gymnazia, son of a merchant of the 1 st guild Chikin, called him a “dirty Jew”, naturally causing a fight. Both were brought before the school principal who handled the incident with laconic leniency, saying: “Ratner, fighting is not the answer in any case. As for you, Chikin, your language and manners are a disgrace to your station. You should never forget that our Lord and Savior Himself was a Jew!”

David's w ife Zinaida remembered how she and her husband had come to Petrograd during WWI, and at the Nikolayevsky train station a little man rushed to embrace her husband, clamoring: “David Efimovich, my dear!” When the man was gone, Zinaida asked who he was. David said: “Protopopov.” This was the Interior Minister of Russia , famous for his closeness to Rasputin. It turned out that the Protopopovs owned a store on Solyanka street next to the Ratners .

I have already mentioned that the Ratners, before WWI, had become co-owners of the Butikov factory, which made the family quite wealthy. I remember an episode related by Zinaida that, I think, illustrates David's character as well as the overall situation in the country. In October 1917, right after the coup, the Bolsheviks announced that all banks would be nationalized and, specifically, the contents of all private safe deposit boxes stored therein would be confiscated. The Ratners owned a safe deposit box, where they kept a ladies' purse woven from platinum floss and filled with cut diamonds, as well as a million rubles in Provisional Government bonds of the Liberty Loan series. A bank employee told David that he could sneak out either the purse or the bonds but not both. David chose the bonds ! Zinaida could never forget it. I think that this reflects the then widespread belief that the Bolsheviks would not last long in power .

In my younger days I often discussed the “days of yore” with David Ratner and in my rashness often asked him what I now know to be a meaningless question: “How could all of you let them into power?” His answer always was: “We lost Russia in a card game!” David recalled that on the evening of [the Bolshevik coup of] 25 October 1917, according to the old calendar, he had been playing cards at the house of Akim Ginzberg on Sheremetevsky street. According to him, none of those present could imagine the events about to unfold.

This story matches the recollection of the great operetta singer and connoisseur Grigory Yaron in his book My Beloved Genre about the events of that evening in Petrograd . He recalls giving a performance that night as usual at a theater located not far from Nevsky Prospect, to the sound of gunfire – a sound long familiar to the people of Petrograd , and which that evening was not any louder than usual. After the show the artist took a walk down Nevsky Prospect which teemed with life, restaurants and cafes were filled with customers… Only the next morning did Yaron learn from his family that the Bolsheviks had come to power!

In 1921, Zinaida, along with her daughter, fed up with the destitution of Moscow life under “wartime Communism”, was about to join her sister Elena and family in their flight abroad, but her husband David went after her, met her at the Verzhbolovo train station on the border, and convinced her to go back by telling her about the NEP just instituted in Moscow which had changed everything. And, indeed, during the two weeks [of NEP] Moscow had been transformed from a desolate ruin back into a civilized city. David went into business with his brothers Grigory and Samuil. But he never bought his own apartment, considering it a luxury and preferring to live with the larger family (! ).

In 1928, David's brother Grigory was arrested as crackdowns on NEP business leaders began. David was not arrested but surrendered to the authorities in place of his gravely ill brother Samuil who was also [named in the warrant]. They were defendants in the first NEP trial, that of the Mutual Credit Society and the First Moscow and Trade and Industrial Societies. The case was tried in Moscow by the criminal chamber of the Supreme Court of the USSR on 20 March—14 April 1928. The 49 defendants included large merchants and business owners. All were charged under article 58.7 of the Russian Criminal Code (economic counter-revolutionary activities). This was the first large-scale show trial. It ran almost concurrently with the “ miners' trial ” but, unlike the former, was not well publicized.

Mutual credit societies had been set up by the government in 1922 to regulate transactions involving private capital. Now, these societies were accused of misusing government funds to create private factories and shops, flooding the market with unsecured notes, and bribing a Narkomfin [finance ministry] official. The court found that they had extended too much credit to private enterprises and in so doing had undermined the foundations of the Soviet economy. They were accused of causing losses to the state totaling millions of rubles. The prosecution demanded that private societies be “crushed and dismantled”. This trial marked the first step toward the demise of the NEP. The court sentenced 7 defendants (chairmen and board members of private societies and the Narkomfin official) to death and the others to extended prison terms. One defendant was acquitted. According to Zinaida, a Paris newspaper opened its report on the first day of the trial with the following words: “If you only knew the grief and sorrow of Moscow life!” Grigory Ratner, a member of the board of the Trade and Industrial Society, was sentenced to the “extreme measure of punishment” – the death penalty; David, to 8 years in prison. Friends of the family managed to obtain a special hearing at the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (!) which found that the family had provided valuable help to the “ movement” (note the language, and this was five years before the Nazi accession to power in Germany!), and Grigory's death sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison; a few years later he returned to Moscow. I do not know whether any of the other death sentences were commuted. David spent the rest of his life as a disenfranchised convict (a lishenets), living in the remote city of Kotlas until 1968 when he moved to Moscow to rejoin his daughter. Many of the Ratner family members were evacuated to Kotlas during WWII; ironically, as far I know, the Nazis had planned to capture Kotlas before Moscow !

By a mysterious coincidence, I was walking to work one winter Jerusalem morning, sunlit and pleasant, and turned from King George street to Keren Kayemet LeIsrael Street , past a construction site, where I literally stumbled over a big sack of construction materials standing on the sidewalk, which said, in large Cyrillic letters, “Kotlas Cellulose and Paper Factory”! A blast from the past, in the center of the Holy City, half a century after David Ratner had retired as legal counsel of that factory.

After his sentencå was commuted, David served time in a prison in Erevan , Armenia. Zinaida and her daughter moved to that city. Thanks to their Moscow connections, they lived in the home of the Chairman of the Sovnarkom [i.e., head of government] of Armenia. There, Nadezhda contracted polio and could no longer walk. After her return to Moscow , Zinaida and her sick daughter lived with Roza's sister-in-law. Thanks to the money sent by her mother from Vilno, she was able to send her daughter for treatment in Berlin and Paris, and after an operation performed in Moscow by the great Russian orthopedic surgeon Priorov, Nadezhda was able to walk again: first, on crutches, then with a cane, which she discarded after they were evacuated [at the approach of the Nazis].

Wife ( divorced ): Zinaida , nee Bunimovich, 1894, Vilno - 1983, Moscow, see photo

Daughter: Nadezhda , 1916, Moscow - 1993, Kfar- Sa ba, Israel, see photo ; lived in Israel since 1987.

She enrolled in a biology program at the MGU but soon realized that her health would be an impediment in her studies, especially in lab work, and transferred to the history department. There, she studied Southern and Western Slavs under Professor Z. Needla, an immigrant to the USSR, and her Candidate's thesis advisor was academician V. I. Picheta. She worked for many years at the Fundamental Library of Social Sciences of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. In 1961, she transferred to the Institute of Slavic Studies where she worked until her retirement.

Husband ( divorced ): Miller, Ilya , 1919, Harbin – 1978, Moscow, see photo

Son: Georgy ( Uri after 1987), b. 1947, Moscow, see photo . Lives in Israel since 1987. His parents named him “Yura” (Georgy) after their close friend and fellow history student at the MGU Yura (Georgy) Bauer.

Wife: Roza, nee Bayvel, b. 1948, Moscow, see photo . Lives in Israel since 1987.

Their son: Dmitry (Danny), b. 1976, Moscow, see photo


7. Lev, son of Haim Ratner, 1891(?), Moscow - 1983, Leningrad, see photo

Lev attended the 5 th Moscow gymnazia together with Mayakovsky and was the classmate of Alexander Pasternak, brother of [famous Russian poet Boris] Pasternak. He went to law school at the Moscow State University but never graduated .

Little is known about his life during the Civil War, but he mentioned to me that he had served in a mechanized army unit (clearly, in the forces of the Provisional Government) and witnessed the massacres perpetrated by Bela Kun in Crimea . From the 1920' s he lived in Leningrad , surviving the brutal Nazi blockade during WWII .

I remember that back in the 1960's he said that the [1934] murder of Sergei Kirov was an ordinary criminal killing, adding that Kirov had been a notorious womanizer. He recalled his first reaction upon hearing about that fateful gunshot at the Smolny [government building] on 1 December 1934: “We're all in for it now!”

His marriage was rocky but he adored his son, and was adored by him, and for his sake he never divorced his wife. Yura was mortally wounded in a battle on the Neva river and, dying in the hospital in his father's arms, begged him not to leave his mother. Lev honored his request. In fact, even after his wife had passed away and he was left all alone in Leningrad, Lev could not imagine leaving Yura's grave there and moving to Moscow where all his relatives lived. He never left .

Wife: Valentina , 1896, ? - 1961, Moscow
Son: Yury (“Yura”), 19 17, Moscow - 1942, Leningrad, see photo


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