The diary of a young Jew, Samuel Alterman
Vishki. Latvia
June/ July 1941

(This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, except for the Usdin, Platzinski, Dumesh and Gaga families( but the Gaga families didn't hide any Jew, at least, that's what Volodia told me in Vishki in 2008. My GGrandmother was Sarah Alterman but Samuel is fictif.... But that's how it happened in Vishki...)

Monday, June 23 1941

I bought this copybook from Zalman.
I think, that he stole it from the shul.
Father is repairing a watch. I am waiting for dinner. Khaika, as always, crawls on the floor and mother is preparing dinner.
We have chickens and geese in the backyard. I remember when father clipped their wings, well, one wing each. Now like Moshe the peddlar, they are all lame, but it doesn't stop them squawking all day long. Never mind, I prefer the cackle of my geese to the squeals of Sasha' s pig and I can say that even when he eats, he is noisy. But I am fond of the pig (not really of Sasha) and when I go there, I feel sorry to see him in a very small pigsty. I stroke him and I am sure that he likes me very much. The problem is that he smells so bad. May be it is why we don't eat them.
Everybody yells in this house.

After dinner father said that the Germans were in Riga at last. He said that at last a civilized race will get rid of all the communists (and he never forgets to mention, that he has read all of Goethe’s and Schiller's books.)

I feel very lonely. I can't stand my sisters. Berko my beloved brother is two years younger than I am. He has blue eyes like mom.

Tuesday, June 24 1941

Mother said "Go to the lake". I think, she was tired of her kids.
Sasha ( the son of the other Sasha who feeds the pig so that they can eat him around December) came to my house and said "Let's go to the lake"
To get out of the house we have to go through my father's workshop. Sasha's father has no beard.
I hate my father's beard.

Wednesday, 25 june 1941

Slept well but , Khaim asks for food all the time.
I still sleep above the stove and that is normal as I am the oldest. It is fine in the winter, but now it is very hot, and I am alone. Alone and not alone, because I am on my stove, I have my notebook and my pencil, and I can write.
I dreamt, that I drowned Khaika in the lake...and, that's probably what I'll do.

Mother said that she would go to Dvinsk in the afternoon to buy another wig. Father said, "No way", and she didn't answer as usual. Khaim was crying for food. And may be she could not say anything. I know that mom needs another wig because the only two she has are very dark, very black and with her blue eyes, they look quite strange. But father decides, and when it is "No", it's "No".
Father repeats all the time that the Germans will save us. He repairs watches and clocks and hundreds of times a day, he looks up, touches his beard and repeats this.

Grigori Petrovich visited again and asked for his watch. Father said that he will not give it to him until he has paid his debts. Grigori is not like my father. He has no beard and looks like a gentleman, like those I have seen in some magazines that we receive from Riga

Thursday, June 26, 1941

It has been raining all night long.
May be I will get down from the stove, because the roof is just above me and it is hot, very hot.
Though it is very hot, I am alone and when I am alone I feel good and free.
All my sisters and brothers sleep on the floor and they hear the rain much less than I do. (I think that I am right; according to what Rabbi Platzinski taught us...He calls this mathematics or arithmetic... I don't remember)
Khaika is always crawling on the floor and mother says nothing, even at night..

I do my best to hide my note book and the pencil. ( I forgot to say, that my pencil is very short. I found it last winter near Genokh's house in a puddle. I kept it as a treasure and it is always with me.)
When I go to swin in the lake I hide it.

Father has a lot of pencils and also one fountain-pen that he received from a cousin who lives in France. Someday, I'll steal it. Zalman stole my notebook in the shul, so I have the right to steal a fountain-pen... Mother is in the garden and doesn't heed Khaika and Khaim's cries.

Zalman is the son of our neighbours, the Grams. He is very short(  may be that's why he can steal from the shul).
I had my  Bar Mitzva three years ago. He will have his Bar Mitzva next year or, may be never.

I forgot to say, that I am 16 years old.

I hear the footsteps of my mother.
May be I will write tonight if there is enough moonlight. Thanks to the moon.

Thursday, June 27, 1941

This morning I went to swimm in the lake with Leib and Nachman.
Sora wanted to go with us, but we don't need girls, above all our sisters.
On the way to the lake we met Evguenia Moll and we asked her to come with us. She looked away as if we were strangers. She was very well dressed and a very pretty girl.
( I don't know, but may be she is nor allowed to play with Jewish boys)

We both swam to the little island but Nachman swims better than I do.
I don't care, because I skate much better, than he does.
I shall have my revenge next winter.

 Friday, June 28, 1941

Father left very early this morning to Dvinsk.
Mother said that, at last, the Germans had arrived in Dvinsk and they would liberate us from the Soviets. She repeats exactly what father says.

I felt so happy. I ran to Rabbi Platzinski and told him, what my mother had said.
It was at about 2 PM. As always Rabbi Platzinski did not say anything. (I would like to be his son as he has no beard). Rabbi Paltzinski is a wise man who looks at you and never says anything which could hurt you.

We went together with Leib to swim in the lake. (Nachman was ill, at least that's what his mother said...His mother doesn't like me because she only has one wig, and my mother has two!)
On the way back we stopped at Usdin' shop to buy candies.

Itzik is never in the shop but his wife Dina always smiles and jokes, like no one else that I ever met in my life…

Here everybody knows that Itzik's children are gone. (all...They have only three children....We are in our home six children. I hate this.I am the oldest)
Everybody knows, here, that Itzik's children are away.
Khaim to Switzerland, Nachman to Palestine and Sonia to the Far East, or may be in France.
Boris, Itzik's brother( Mother says Boria but I think it is the same man) is somewhere in the  east in Russia.In a workcamp...
They have a telephone: one of only two in Vishki

 I also know Gita Usdin very well. She lives not far from us and is always in her shop.

The mosquitoes are coming. Father didn't come back.

Silence in the house.Mom is preparing the sholent.
I miss Father,even if I hate his beard.He said mom, that he'll come back on the morning.
The stove is not the best place to be in this house, especially in the summer but, as I said, I feel free and I am a solitary boy.

Tomorrow I shall cut my sidecurls.

Saturday 29, 1941

Shabbat, I know; that that should not be writing.
Yersterday father returned home towards end of the morning, just as he had said, and when I saw him I thought that I would never cut off my sidecurls. We, the boys and father, went to the shul.
As always we ended up at the market. All together, except for Khaim and Khaika, who stayed home with our niania.
Father didn't buy any smoked fishes, though I am sure that he would have liked to buy some. Rabbi Platzinski taught us that we can't buy anything on Shabbes. Mom spent hours talking with Beila, whose son was drafted in the army.
I remember his son. He had moustache and was always after one of the Dumesh girls.
Mother is preparing the diner. It smells so good. The sholent. Father, as always has his beard in his watches.
Khaim and Khaika are on the floor. I hid myself.

Sunday 30, 1941

It is about 10 AM. The shouting and terrible noise last night at about 2:00 in the morning, was it a dream? (I already mentioned the fact that my father is a watchmaker and the clocks are always ringing one after the other so that we do not really know what time it is.)
Last night some people came in to the house. Some spoke German, the others in Latvian.
I remained prostrate and hidden above the stove. They shouted "Schnell, Schnell, You are going to Daugavpils. Take all your money, silverware, clothes, and blankets. Don't leave anything here. Schnell, schnell, everything in the suitcases or bags. You'll need the money ... . Take your money"
I was terrified. My body trembled. What should I do? Get off  my stove to rescue mom?
I had no strength, I was so afraid of these horrible screams.
I lay above my stove, as always. The geese cackled even more loudly.

Where is Berko? Why doesn't he come to me? He knows where I am.

Everything is quiet.
I'll sleep.
I am waiting for my parents and my sisters and who will soon return. I'm sure of this.It must be just a joke or a nightmare.

I slept well.

I was awakened by  Natalia Sergueina, who  said to her husband or her sons" here, there is nothing to take, but the watches " . They said, that they would go to Itzik and  Boris Usdin, where there is a lot of colonial merchandise. It was about 11 PM.

Now, the night is coming and I am still there, on my beloved stove.
(I always keep a supply of candles in case I want to write... Don't say anything to Rabbi Platzinski....I stole them at the shul with the help of Zalman) By the way, Zalman didn't come today.... Though he is a robber (and me too!), I miss him and I have been  waiting for him all day long... He didn't come.
I feel so hungry but this stove doesn't give me the permission to get down from it.
What happened? Mom didn't come back, but I know, she'll be here to morrow.

Tuesday, July 1, 1941

Mom is not here. Where is she?

I can't say what time it is because all the clocks and watches stopped running.
Yersterday I didn't write.
I am still above the stove.
I heard the voice of Elena Petrovna last night. She was in
  father's workshop.

She is a very elegant woman.
Not a Jew.
First I hated my father,because he walked around the town with his long beard and long black coats.

I am thirsty. It's hot.
Now my life is above the stove.
I don't know why.
I remember, that Dad had an apointment today with the Rabbi.
And my father never missed and appointment with Yankel Leibovich.
They are close friends, though Dad is not very religious, except for his beard, that I still hate.

Today I descended from my stove to look for food. I found black bread and red herrings that we bought at the market . Bread and herring .
The chickens were clucking in the backyard, but I don't know why, I didn't go out there. I am frightened and I don't know why. But I had the courage to go in my father's workshop.
You will not believe it but all the watches and clocks had disappeared. May be Natalia Sergueina took them or stole them. Father will be so angry but I'll tell him that Natalia and Elena came in the workshop. I open the drawer, where Father hides his money. No more money, no more coins but at the bottom I found the fountain pen.

Wednesday, July 2, 1941

I am not sure of the date. Is it tuesday or wednesday?
My stove is my home and mom didn't come back yet.
I am still terrified and hungry. I have to go in the backyard for eggs...
No eggs. And the geese had disappeared too.

I can't say what time it was but there is a terrible smell coming from Vishki.
Lots of smoke coming from the north .... I think of Kalnavishki. But I am not sure.

Khaya, should be here, though I don't like her.
And Khaim, though I don't like him. He should be here.

Thursday or..... I don't know.

This smell, I have never smelt anything like it before.
Nobody comes to me.
May be they  don't know where I am.
Or they just forgot me. Which means, that they never liked me.

I am lost. I don't know the date.

If it is Friday, I have to go to the shul.
Mom didn't come back. Where is she?
Probably in Daugavpils.

I shall not go to the shul.

I heard the voice of  Maria Petrovna.
She said " At last there are no more Jews in Vishki"
I don't understand anything.

It is night. I am sure, that mom will come back tomorrow.

On my stove I sleep very well.

May be today is Shabbes, but I am not sure.

According to what I think, it is about four or five in the morning. I can't sleep. So I write a little. I must save the matches and the candles, but above all the matches. Without matches - no candlelight. I am proud to have written this.... There is total silence here on my street. Even the geese do not cackle anymore. But, my dear diary, don't think, that I am silly. I know, that the geese don't cackle during the night. They sleep. But I can't. And where have our geese gone?

If it is Sunday, Moshe will come this morning. But now I don't know anything.
I forgot to say, that I found a knife near the bread the other day and just cut my sidecurls. Tomorrow, I'll look like  a gentleman and I'll go to America.

Sunday. I know it is sunday as I heard the bells.
Moshe the peddler (we call him "Moshe the cripple" as it seems that he has one leg shorter than the other) didn't appear or I didn't hear him though his voice is even louder than the sound of the geese.
I can't breathe. So much smoke and I don't know.... May be they are killing Sasha's pig.
Tomorrow I'll go to see Volodia Gaga. We are good friends, even though he is a goy and younger than me.


Volodia lives close to Kalnavishki at the end of the village, on the way to Daugavpils.
He and his parents were very surprised to see me. The smoke there is terrible and the smell awful.
I asked " What is this smoke?"
His mother answered, that they are burning bushes and woods.I wanted to go and see but his father didn't allow me.


They were burning the Jews, that they murdered.
I stayed at Volodia's until the end of the war. After the war I understood, that the Gaga family hidden me..
I didn't write in my diary anymore.
I kept it until now and also my father's fountain pen.
I lost the pencil on the ship to America. It was so short.

I live in Dublin, Texas. I married a lady from Zarasai, whom I met on the ship. Her parents, sisters and brothers had been murdered and burnt such as mine were.
We had two children, Berka and Khaika, who I named after my brother and sister. Here Berka is Robert and Khaika, Christina. But Berka was circumcised and had his Bar mitzva. I still correspond with Volodia, who lives in the same house in Vishki

Signed: Sam Man, alias Samuel Alterman. July 14, 2012

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