22 September 1997
Dear Mr Elin,
I’m a friend of Alex Faitelson, even if I never met him. Maybe you heard of me through him and here is a short summary of my story: I’m a French grandmother aged 65. My father (whose parents came from Lithuania, but himself was born in 1901 in Hebron) was deported in 1944. He left France in the transport Nr. 73, with 900 others Jews, and that transport was the only one (out of around 80) which went in the Ninth Fort of Kaunas. He never came back. You know at least part of that story, as you mention, in the chapter you wrote in “The Black Book”, the writings they left on the walls of the cells in the Ninth Fort.
Around fifty years later, having heard of Alex’s book, I waited for the English version and I read it. Then, I proposed Alex to translate his book in French, for free, in memory of my father, and to try to publish it in France. I’m still looking for a publisher, which appears to be much more difficult as I thought. But this is another story!
Well, after having read that book, after having translated it (which means that I know almost each line of it), after having added all the additions wanted by Alex, after having corresponded with him during almost two years by fax (and with problems of Hebrew translation which I could resolve on a very funny way, since it’s an American cousin of mine who translated them in English and who sent the translation back to me by fax too!!!!), well, after all that work, I’m very confident in everything which was told by Alex.
The problem is that I heard many persons who don’t agree with the story of Alex, especially with his account of the daring escape of the Ninth Fort. It began with a French woman who had read A. Tory’s book (“Surviving the Holocaust”) and who pretended, after her reading, that Alex wasn’t the organizer of that escape. Then, as I’m dealing with Jewish genealogy’ on the Internet, I had the opportunity of corresponding with a Saul Isarof, and we wrote one another about different subjects, among which was Alex’s book. Saul Isarof too told me that Alex wasn’t the organizer of that escape. He pretends that it was Veselnicki (= Vesselnitski = Vassellenko). As I’ve read in “the Black Book” that this latter died in 1989, I suppose that it’s easy’ today’ to say such things that one can’t prove.
Well, it seems that here and there, in USA or in France, people do not want to believe that Alex was the organizer and the chief of that escape. Each time the conversation (either verbally or in letters) is dealing with that subject, I use to fight against people who don’t agree, and I claim that Alex wrote the truth, only the truth, about everything which happened with that escape.
The fact is that all these people who don’t agree weren’t witnesses, and they only know the story from this one, who himself knows it from another one, etc.
On my opinion, as I told all these people, Alex’s book wasn’t welcomed in Lithuania because he told the truth. It’s likely that some Lithuanian people aren’t either happy or proud to see the name of their father (for example) when that father killed Jews, in such a book as Faitelson’s one, published in several languages all over the world. And maybe the Lithuanians are now fighting against Faitelson’s book because they are ashamed he told the truth, I don’t know if I’m right, but why not? I believe that some Jews are trying to help the Lithuanians by diminishing their bad actions during that period, I’m not used to politics (I hate politics!) but I believe that it’s a politic matter, as well in Lithuania, in USA and in France. Even if these people are Jewish, they seem to try helping Lithuanians by diminishing their bad actions during that period.
As you were a witness, I should like to have your opinion on that whole problem. Of course, I’ve read “The Black Book”, in the French version which was published in 1995, and which is said to be “translated from the Russian text”. But now, I know that translators and publishers can very easily modify the texts or several ways (either in cutting some parts, or is writing something else), especially when they know that the original writer won’t ever read the translation. That’s how I doubt if the translation of “The Black Book” is really an accurate one.
For example, were the notes written by yourself? The chapter which title is “The Forts of Death near Kaunas”, written by M. Elin contains 23 pages. There are notes as this one (I’m re-translating the French text in English!!):
“The main organizer [of the escape] was the chief of a group of prisoners name “Sachka the Corporal”, Alexander Podolski (Khailovaki), a war prisoner who came from Leningrad. He was in the Ninth Fort since 1941 and as he was working as an electrician he could sometimes freely move along in the Fort, and he perfectly knew the Fort.
One doesn’t know all the members of the committee of organization of the escape. Sources mention A. Podolski, I. Vesselnitski, T. Plovnik, A. Diskant, M. Zimelevitch, R. Chakhov, T. Fridman and A. Faitelson.”
There are other notes, interesting too, but not for my problem.
Why didn’t you write clearly that A. Faitelson was the organizer of that escape?
Why is there so many people who do not want to believe that Alex was really the organizer of that escape?
Looking forward to hear from you very soon, and thanking in advance for your reply.
E.L. Blum nee Cherchevsky
Dear Mr. Blum,
I received your letter dated 22 September and now reply after some delay because of the state of my health.
I write in Yiddish, which is my best language. I am replying to your letter concerning Alex Faitelson’s book.
I became involved with the subject of the Ninth Fort immediately after Kovno (Kaunas) was liberated on 1 August 1944. I was the first to visit the scene together with a group and copied several graffiti. Amongst them were many by French Jews, brought from Drancy on the 18th of May, 1944. Alex records this in his book, in 1945 the Jewish anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow commissioned me to write an account of the death forts around Kaunas. I was given a month to carry out this assignment, although the “Black Book” was ready to go to print. I wrote in Yiddish. The test was badly translated in Moscow. Moreover, the text was shortened and “edited” in accordance with prevailing Stalinist principles. No one person was to be mentioned personally, so that if anyone was declared “non-kosher”, this could have led to the book being deleted from all libraries.
The escape from the Ninth Fort was to be shown as a collective effort, carried out under the direction of Komsomols and communists. To give an example: In the 1984 Yiddish edition of the “Black Book”, published by Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, there is an article I wrote for the It. I originally proffered it in 1945 in Moscow. In it I listed the members of the group involved in the planning for the escape. The final name was that of Alex Faitelson. Immediately after his name was written: “… Faitelson, representing the Komsomols and the ghetto fighters, incarcerated in the fort during the preparation for resistance by the prisoners”. Moscow deleted the sentence in its entirety.
What happened in the end to the “Black Book” was depressing. The proofs were sent to a paper factory to be processed. … Documents have now been found to the effect that orders had been given not to have the book distributed. They only emerged from Stalinist red tape in 1946. that year, the manuscript of the book came into the hands of the Chairman of the Soviet-Israel Friendship Society, for publication in Hebrew. In view of the fact that Moscow had placed an interdict on the book, that Society did not proceed with a translation. It was only in 1980 that Yad VaShem published it in Russian, using a copy of the manuscript that the translators had retained. However, the section dealing with Lithuania was missing. It would appear that the translator for that section was no longer in the land of the living.
For the publication of the “Black Book” in Yiddish (in 1984) it was possible to restore the section dealing with Lithuania, because the basic literature for it had been written in Yiddish and copies of it had been discovered with the authors: A. Sutzkever (Vilna ghetto), A. Yerushalmi (Shavil Ghetto) and myself (“The Death Forts around Kovno”), plus certain materials by authors who had survived and were now living in Israel and Lithuania.
Now to examine the objections to Faitelson’s book.
A. Torry left the ghetto at the beginning of November, 1943. The escape was at the end of December, so that at the time of the arrival of the escapees in the ghetto he was no longer there. Therefore he could not have spoken with Haim Yellin nor Vassilenko (Vassinlitsky). He could only have derived the information from the survivors of the fort after the liberation of Lithuania.
The comment of the classical Russian author concerning such witnesses are well known: “Ten people can witness an occurrence, but when the time comes to repeat what they had seen’ each one delivers himself of a different version”. Vassilitsky belonged to a small circle in the fort who did know of the escape but hardly participated in the preparations towards it. The reason is that he was assigned non-stop to the excavator which disclosed the mass graves. On the other hand, Faitelson, who served as an auto-mechanic, was free to go everywhere on the territory of the fort. This privilege, coupled with his dynamism, brought Alex to be active and moreover to be the dominating force in the planning and execution of the escape. Thanks to his excellent memory he describes it all in great detail in his book. Vassilenko (Vassilnitsky) simply played on the respect accorded to him as a “Captain” in the Soviet Army (which he claimed to be). By the way, it is worth recording one fact: he published his own false version of the escape in a well-known Lithuanian weekly. He begins with an account of how, after the escape, he and a group of prisoners-of-war came out on the highway in a suburb of Kaunas. He says they stopped a German army truck, killed the driver and used the truck to join the partisans in the forest. He didn’t write a single word to the effect that they were all Jews, not a single word how he was brought into the ghetto and saved and finally brought out in trucks with other prisoners from the fort to join the partisans. They were driven there by Haim Yellin, who headed the Anti-Fascist Fighters Organisation (AKO).
The whole truth of the matter is set out in Faitelson’s book.
A. Podolski, nicknamed “Sashka the Brigadier” (as works foremen are called in Russian), was appointed to be in charge of Soviet prisoners-of-war incarcerated in the fort. They had little confidence in him, because he had hindered a previous attempt to organize an escape. In laying plans for a new escape attempt, Faitelson was able to persuade him to assist the escape. In fact, as the book records, in several instances he did render assistance towards the successful completion of the enterprise.
The particular role played by each individual in the organization of the escape is never indicated in the list of names set out in the “Black Book”.
Lithuanian dissatisfaction with Faitelson’s book comes as no surprise especially nowadays when those who murdered Jews are styled as fighters for the liberation of Lithuania. They overlook the fact that the Nazis, too, had no intention of giving them a free state… In his book Faitelson cites numerous documents, exposing the Nazis as enslaving not only Jews but other peoples. Alex shows up Lithuanian Nazis for the Hitlerite lickspittles they were, the bloody murders they carried out on German orders. He not only describes their horrendous deeds, but publishes actual documents, confirming their actions. Faitelson does not blame the entire Lithuanian people. He found instance of Lithuanians rescuing Jews and their children, though he does not discuss this matter.
Yes, the author did belong to the left wing of the Resistance camp. He stresses this, and with total objectivity describes cooperation with those, whose opinions differed from his. He confirms his account with citations taken from books published in Israel.
Of course, a book describing events and the actions of people still living today, can bring out people who feel aggrieved that their contribution to the common cause has not been sufficiently evaluated, or that they haven’t even received a mention. It leads to the expression of their grievances vis-?-vis the author. This happens following the publication of a book like Faitelson’s. Perhaps there are several, but only several instances or conclusions of the author with which one can disagree. Nonetheless, taken as a whole, the book is a considerable and genuine achievement on the part of the author. He dug deep in authentic sources such as archives, museums, and centers for collecting data in Israel, Germany and other countries to collect evidence for his thesis and conclusions. He dug deep and found authentic and reliable accounts from personal witnesses, examining archives and the press. He dug deep and uncovered incredibly important documents about the bloody crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, documents which heretofore had never been published till he found them. The book encompasses many aspects of the Holocaust in the different territories in which the Jewish tragedy took place.
This book is a valuable and important weapon in the hands of those who struggle against those who deny the Holocaust ever took place, and who, alas, spring up more and more in so many countries.
You should be congratulated for the initiative and the effort you have put into the translation, and now, in the even more difficult task of bringing forth the French edition.
Finally: I have a personal request to make, which I am sure you will carry out. Please do not publish my letter anywhere or extracts from it anywhere, including the Internet. I suffer badly from a heart condition and must avoid being burdened by questions, discussions and correspondence. My letter is only addressed to you personally, as a token of respect for the idealism you have shown this enterprise.
Eve Line BLUM
Fax:(33) 361 53 36 94
8 November 1997
Many thanks for your fax with the translation of Meir Elin’s letter.
Now, I’m beginning to have quite a large file concerning that problem, and I have “weapons’ to answer those people who can only repeat what they have heard, or read superficially.
M. Elin’s letter is very eloquent. He explains very clearly those things that I had understood not so clearly (I rather “felt” them) from all the documents I read until not. It’s quite clear now, I don’t understand why he seems so frightened: Stalinism isn’t there, and moreover he lives in Israel. Is there really some danger for him if he write something “wrong”? I can’t believe it.
One thing is still puzzling me: in the letter written to you by Saul Isarof on last 20 October (and which you copied for me in your own fax dated 25 October), he wrote:
“What I have is part of a M.A. dissertation by a Robin O’Neil on Partisans of the Kovno Ghetto. It is based on the English translation of the Russian translation from the original Yiddish publication that M. Yelin and D. Gelpernis wrote in 1948.”
then, a bit further:
“He has not been able to find a publisher for this. He is apparently attending the opening of the Kovno ghetto exhibition at USHMM. I’m enclosing a copy of the introduction which will explain more.”
First of all, I should be glad if you could send me a copy of that introduction.
But the main question for me is WHY M. Elin and D. Gelpernis, who are still living, who seem to know that they wrote things in 1948 with which they don’t agree anymore in 1997, so WHY don’t they ask for their manuscript NOT to be published now?
How old are M. Elin and D. Gelpern?
Good luck to Sima: only still 5 days before being “free” again!
Have a nice Sunday.
Best regards to both of you.
Eve Line Blum, France
To Mr Meir Elin – Care of Alex Faitelson
12 November 1997
Dear Mr Elin,
I thank you very much for your long letter. As Alex told you, I was unable to translate it, since I don’t understand Yiddish, and that’s why I hadn’t thanked you for it sooner.
Now I understand everything in that long story.
There is still one thing I don’t understand: why the manuscript written by M. Elin and D. Gelpern seems to surface in USA, since you said that what is written in it is not the truth? Some American people seems to believe that this manuscript IS the truth.
I don’t want to bother you anymore with my questions. Maybe Alex will answer this one?
Anyway, I want to thank you again for having written such a long and interesting letter to me. I wish you a very good health and a very peaceful life.
Best regards from France.
Eve Line Blum