The earliest memories about my family are going to the pre-war years when my parents, Genya and Lev Vaysman, and I lived in Kishinev, in my grandmother Tseytl's house, several years after my grandfather Yoil's death.
Tseytl Averbuch (Meites)
The city of Kishinev was first mentioned in 1436. After the war with Napoleon in 1812, Kishinev and all of Bessarabia became a part of the Russian Empire until 1918. After the First World War, it was taken by Romania. In 1940, due to the rearrangement of the European territories between Germany and the
USSR, Bessarabia (now called Moldavia) became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (one of 15 republics of the USSR. Then, it gained independence as the state of Moldova in 1991.
Grandfather Yoil Meites came from a family of rabbis, and grandmother Tseytl was (by a family legend) a descendant of the famous rabbi Ben Sarah who was born in 1791 in Poland.
Yoil Meites was born in the town of Balta, Bessarabia (near Odessa, Ukraine) which was a small outpost on the northern border of the Ottoman Empire (in Turkish Balta means an axe). From the 18th to the 20th centuries, most of the townspeople were Jews. The city survived two pogroms, a plague and a major flooding during this time. According to the Bessarabian archives, Meites family moved from Balta to Kishinev in the late 19th century.
Grandfather Yoil had a family business that mainly consisted of collecting, utilizing and selling secondary materials (mostly clothes) to factories. After his death (around 1925), his wife Tseytl and the children (mostly his son Kolman) were running the business. I remember the piles of worn clothes in the backyard and the workers who, with primitive machines, were packing it into countless bags. I also recall the animal bones that were processed into bone coal and sold to a sugar factory as an adsorbent. Grandfather Yoil ran his business together with his half-brother Yosef. While on a business trip in Warsaw, Yosef was accidentally killed by police in crossfire with bandits.
My great-grandmother Esther was married twice, once to a religious widower with children, and Yosef was a son from a previous marriage. Esther herself ran the business trading lubricants. She died at old age of pneumonia. Yosef had four children. His wife Aidl died young of cancer. After her tragic and unexpected death, the care of Yosef's family was placed on Yoil's shoulders, who by then already had 3 sons, Yankel, Eliyahu, Kolman, and two daughters, Clara and Genya. Successful business allowed Yoil not only to provide the food for a large family but also to educate all the boys. Even one of his nieces, who had shown interest in knowledge, completed 4 grades of the elementary school even though education for girls was not popular in those days.
Meites' house was located on the outskirts of Kishinev, on Pavlovskaya Street, next to the railway station Visternicheny, on a small river Byik. There were large rooms filled with heavy wooden furniture. Each summer Yoil sent his family out of city. In 1903, this custom saved Meites from the famous Kishinev pogrom, known as pogrom on Asian Street. The pogrom was triggered by the murder of a 14-years-old boy for which the newspaper 'Bessarabetz' blamed the Jews. As a result of the pogrom, 49 people were killed, 586 were wounded or injured and over 1500 houses that made up one third of all households in Kishinev were destroyed. The Kishinev pogrom received a great public outcry in Europe and Russia in the beginning of the 20th century. A famous Russian writer Lev Tolstoy and professors of the Moscow University Vladimir Vernadskiy and Sergey Trubetzkoy accused the Russian state of acquiescence of the murderers.
In the United States, my daughter met Mabel Meites, a widow of Professor Joseph Meites, my second cousin. In 1920, his father immigrated to the United States along with his family. Prof. Joseph Meites became a major American neurophysiologist who studied the processes of aging. His studies served as the basis for his students Guillemin, Schally, and Yalow, the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1977. Prof Meites' brother Samuel became an American biochemist, historian of medicine and specialist in lab diagnostics.
Now let's go back to my grandfather Yoil Meites. His second son Kolman, who was also involved in the family business, was a solid man with a smile. I remember his petite wife Pesya wearing her colorful robe. On the July 28, 1940, after the Soviets occupied Bessarabia and entered Kishinev, Kolman Meites and his wife were arrested and sent into exile where Kolman died of typhus in the town of Samarkand (Uzbekistan). Grandmother Tseytl escaped such a fate because, luckily, she was not at home when the NKVD1 arrested her son.
The eldest son of Yoil Meites, Ilyusha (Eliyahu Meitus, a famous Hebrew poet in the future), displayed great interest in literature and was sent to study at the Sorbonne University in Paris which he later left unfinished due to the outbreak of the First World War.
Continuing his education in Petrograd University, Ilyusha joined the other Jewish poets of Russia led by Khaim Bialik, a poet who wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish. During the revolution, Ilyusha was on the Interim Government's side but grandfather Yoil saved his son from the upcoming upheaval in Petrograd by transferring him to the Odessa University closer to home.
After the so called Brest Peace Accord2, Bessarabia (Moldova) was ceded to Romania, and Ilyusha was told to return to Kishinev immediately to stay with his family.
By that time, he had been married, but his wife Betty had not wanted to follow her husband and stayed on the other side of the Russian border. Eliyahu
Meites became a Director of the Jewish gymnasium3 in Soroki in 1921, and then went to Palestine with his second wife Lisa in 1935.
There, he worked as a teacher, and also published his poems and translations. The first poem in Hebrew ('Lilith') was published in 1910 in the magazine 'haShiloah' with support from Khaim Bialik. In Palestine and later, when it became the state of Israel, he published several poetry books, a large anthology of contemporary poetry, and memories of his childhood and youth years in Kishinev. He also gained popularity as a translator, mainly from Yiddish. Among his translations into Hebrew are Baudelaire's 'Fleurs du Mal' (Flowers of evil) and two volumes of military memoirs of Charles de Gaulle. I remember my mother repeating lines from his lyrics: 'You're so tender, you're so gentle, as if you were woven from the rays of the moon...' We possess a book of Eliyahu's sonnets 'On the edge of the Second Bridge' written in Hebrew. Here is a translation of the sonnet 'I am like a living gem...' by Sheli Fain from Canada:
I am like a living gem in a fog of the Universe
Stuck in the darkness of the Ecumenical Tower,
I am rising forward behind God,
I will not fall: my palm is in His hand.
Look, I did not escape the wanderer's fate,
The road got entangled in the net of the foreign Moon.
But give me time and we will stay in the doorsteps
Of the sacred Palace- the point of beginning.
There has been blazing eye fire,
There is a warm ray of light in the depths of amber,
There is the silence of forests and seeds of meadows;
Always will come the right day among the stream of days,
In spite the fog on the mirror of the Universe,
The grieving soul shall arise, of course.
Once uncle Ilyusha arrived in Kishinev, he brought a colorful oriental dress for my mother and a book of postage stamps for me. This caused me to begin collecting stamps, although the first collection unfortunately completely disappeared during the World War II. In 1946, I started collecting again. Now, my collection has thousands of stamps and is waiting for my disciples.
Eliyahu Meitus Street in Tel Aviv
During the war and especially the harsh post-war years, we repeatedly received parcels from the Red Cross with clothing and food, and, it seemed to me, all that was coming from my uncle in Palestine. However, that was not the case. My uncle Ilyusha explained that, while working as a teacher and financing his own books, he was not able to help us. I remember how my father sent a few packages with paper to Palestine for the publishing purposes.
The youngest Yoil's son Yankel died at the age of 20 of complications following his bike accident. Yoil's daughter Klara died of childbirth, leaving a baby girl Esther in the care of her father. In 1939, Esther was visiting us in Kishinev, and I felt in love for the first time in my life. By then, my father had rented a 4-bedroom apartment on Prunkulovskaya Street (which continued as General Inzov Street).
House on Prunkulovskaya Street (photo by Steinchik)
General Inzov was a Governor of Bessarabia during the famous Russian poet A. Pushkin's exile in Kishinev. Esther had visited us at the time when my father bought a wagon of apples in Romania for resale, and the entire apartment was soaked in a fragrant odor and packed with numerous boxes. Later, our family had learned the tragic story of Esther's death. At the age of 16, she had married a Romanian engineer. In 1940, the fascist regime of General Antanesku came to power in Romania. In 1941 or 1942, Esther and her husband tried to escape from the regime on a ship that sank in the Black Sea. Perhaps, it was the Bulgarian ship 'Struma', that was evacuating the Jewish refugees to Palestine but was hit by a Soviet submarine on February 24, 1942.
The story of the Meites family ends with my mother Genya, who was called Anna most of the time. My father affectionately called her Kutzala, from the Romanian name Anikutza. The exact date of birth of Anna Meites is not known. Although her passport had her date of birth in the year of 1906, I think that she was born at the beginning of the century because she remembers episodes related to the 1903 pogrom.
Genya (Anna) Vaysman (Meites) 1970, Sholokhovskiy
1 NKVD - People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs during the era of Joseph Stalin, the primary state ministry responsible for the mass terror.
2The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a separate peace treaty signed on 3 March 1918 between the new Bolshevik government of Russia and the Central Powers (German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire), that ended Russia's participation in the World War I.
3Gymnasium is a type of a common school for the general education of children.
My Roots: Vaysman family
My grandfather Mendel was a strong and respectful man. He led the entire family where everybody grouped around him. Each Saturday, all the relatives would seat together around the huge table and grandmother Heyved (Yekheved), who was taller than her husband, would stand near him with a bottle of wine that grandpa Mendel drank after praying on the bread. Then, he would wipe his moustache, and Shabbat began. I remember how the table was full of massive geese and turkeys, fish and pastrami, all cooked by my grandma and numerous relatives participating in the meal. Grandpa Mendel was a merchant. He was buying grain from Moldavian farmers and selling it to the mills. Grain was delivered on big wagons and stored in a huge barn in the backyard. This yard stood side by side with my mother family's yard. Grandpa Mendel had established very good relationships with the farmers. When they would bring grain, he fed and treated them with wine, and the peasants respected him. He was very religious and belonged to the synagogue that stood across the road.
My father Lev Vaysman was the fifth, or, possibly, the seventh, child in the family, but all the prior children died very early in life. He also had three younger siblings, David, Ita and Kopel.
My father graduated from a Jewish school that coincidentally was named after a Vaysman, unknown to us. He started to help grandpa Mendel in his business buying grain and selling it to the mills. At some point, grandpa, wishing to get his son more education, sent him to Vienna Polytechnic Institute that my dad had not finished for an unknown reason. He came back to Kishinev to continue working as a trader. When time came to serve in the Romanian army, grandpa Mendel took advantage of the law that allowed him to pay off his son's service. He gave the senior officer some money and a horse, and my dad became a second lieutenant and was released from the duty. However, this ridiculous episode played an ill joke with my father later, when the Soviet authorities charged him with espionage based on his service in the Romanian army that actually never happened.
Aunt Ita died young leaving two daughters to her husband, Galya and Raya. He lived in Bulboki near Kishinev.
Ita Vaysman and her husband Lazer Shpigel
The Meites and Vaysman families lived side by side, and after my parents got married, they stayed in grandmother Tseytl's house where I was born in 1928. I was named Yuliy after my grandfather Yoil. When I was 3, we moved from the Meites' house to the two-bedroom apartment on Prunkulovskaya Street in the yard of Mr. Katz. In this apartment, my brother Fima was born in 1934. Soon after his birthday, we moved to the four-bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor in the same building. At the age of 4, Fima fell from the second floor window. It seemed that he lost his balance while I had turned away. I tried to grab his leg unsuccessfully, able to catch only a shoe that stayed in my hand. He fell directly into the flower pot, which obviously softened his fall. I ran outside and brought him home. Luckily, uncle Kopel had walked by, and so he called Dr. Urbanovich, our family doctor. There were no consequences to the fall, except for a scar. This outcome significantly diminished a sense of guilt that I experienced after this accident.
As a child, I had a nanny named Nastya. Nastya often took me to the Pushkin Park where she would meet with a young priest. According to my mother, I had curly hair and wore fashionable sailor's suits in those times.
Having the opportunity to move to a more prestigious area, my father chose the central part of Gogol Street, opposite of the famous Cathedral and the Triumphal Arch built in honor of the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. It was a type of middle class apartment with four bedrooms and a piano in one of them. Renting this apartment meant that my father had reached a certain level in his commercial enterprise. My mother always had a maid and we lived happily until 1940 when the Soviets arrived in Bessarabia.
Uncle David, my father's brother also participated in the business of my grandfather Mendel, albeit, to a lesser extent. Being a handsome young man, he loved to be surrounded by beautiful women. His future wife Ester was one of them. My uncle's fate turned out to be similar to the fate of my father - they both were arrested by NKVD. In the beginning of the war, uncle David was sent to Siberia for participating in the Zionist movement and for the so called economic counter-revolution. After his release way after the war, he settled in Lvov, Ukraine, where his family lived at that time.
Let me turn to the memories of uncle David's daughter Bima who writes: 'Dad was arrested in 1941 by the NKVD for Zionist activities. According to him, he was an activist of Maccabi society. This Kishinev organization actively supported the repatriation of Jews to Israel, and dad was helping people moving to Palestine with fake documents.
He served in Siberia (Republic of Komi, the city of Solikamsk) chopping woods for more than 6 years. In the harsh conditions of survival, he suffered from severe frost bites on the legs which affected his health through the rest of the life. He came back with no right to leave near the major cities, as people were saying, 'no closer than the 101 kilometer' (from Moscow). At the end, he was officially rehabilitated from all prior charges but the certificate came years later.
David Vaysman (left) and Lev Vaysman (right) with David's wife Ester and daughter Bima
(An interesting coincidence: dad was released and died on the Victory Day1, although years apart.) '
My father's younger brother, Kopel, was not repressed by the Soviets. However, his personal life has evolved very dramatically. He was married three times. His first wife Rosa came from a wealthy family.
Rosa (Rakhel) Merems and Kopel Vaysman, 28 July 1934, Kishinev
Rosa and Kopel lived nearby, on the Pavlovskaya Street. I remember a comfortable mansion with beautiful furniture. When the war began, Rosa was not able to flee Kishinev and ended up in the ghetto together with her little daughter Tanya, who was later brutally murdered by the Nazis.
Tanya Vaysman before the War
An elderly doctor working there helped Rosa to survive in the ghetto. After the war, Rosa became his wife out of a sense of duty, but they were soon repressed as unreliable survivors of the ghetto and exiled to Siberia. There, they had a boy, who died in early childhood. After the war, I saw Aunt Rosa just once, when she came to visit my mother.
As for uncle Kopel, he served in Iran in time of the war, where the Soviet troops occupied the northern part of the country. Together with the British troops, they carried out a corridor of assistance under the Lend-Lease2. I remember him in the American leather coat upon returning to Kishinev after the war. In 1944, Kopel managed to find us in Northern Kazakhstan through the Buguruslan Agency3.
Moreover, he miraculously found the addresses of two other brothers who were serving terms in Siberia and we, being in the Northern Kazakhstan, received a letter from my father. Obviously, the fate provided so that one of the brothers stayed free to bring back together all the Vaysmans who were scattered all over the country in those terrible years.
In peacetime, uncle Kopel worked in Zagotzerno4 together with my father.
There, he met his second wife, Maria, with whom he lived on the Pirogov Street. After Maria's death, uncle Kopel married for the third time. His third wife, Lea, had worked in the prestigious food shop on the Lenin Street and supplied all the relatives with scarce groceries. Uncle Kopel also worked in a grocery store on the Kostyuzheny Highway.
After the Aunt Lea's death, uncle Kopel stayed alone. My cousin Galya, who lived nearby, was helping him with the housework. One time, nobody opened the door. His Gipsy neighbors broke the door and found uncle Kopel seated in an armchair near a TV still turned on. He was dead. His difficult life and lonely death deserve regret and sympathy
Kopel Vaysman after war. Kishinev
Not to finish on a sad note, let's remember that the Vaysman brothers loved football and, together with us, the kids, and even with their wives, had not missed a single match at the Kishinev Stadium. I and uncle David rooted for Dynamo of Tbilisi, a Georgian team. My brother Fima's favorite was Dynamo of Moscow, and uncle Kopel preferred Spartak of Moscow. Altogether, they rooted for Burevestnik of Kishinev.
Kopel Vaysman, Lev Vaysman and David Vaysman
1The Victory Day - the Victory in WW2, in USSR was celebrated on the 9th of May.
2The Lend-Lease policy, formally titled An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States, was an American program to defeat Germany, Japan and Italy by distributing food, oil, and materiel between 1941 and August 1945.
3Buguruslan Agency - an agency in the town of Buguruslan, Orenburg region of Russia, helped people to find each other during and after the WW2.
4Zagotzerno - Bureau of Grain Procurement in the Soviet Union.
Change of Government in Bessarabia
In the summer of 1939, my father, Lev Vaysman, decided to take a vacation and for the first time brought me to the Romanian mountains of Carpaty. After an hour, in a train we arrived at the station Pozharito. I remember an empty platform early in the morning, the fresh scent of herbs and mountains, rare local residents, dressed in white clothes, offering housing and fresh milk.
Our host was Austrian. She fed us enormous number of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I still see freshly baked sweets served with tea and diversity of other stuff. Hiking in the mountains, we met my geography teacher Mr. Chekir who asked me about my summer homework.
Every day we were going to the railway station to buy a newspaper. On one occasion, I saw a train platform loaded with German tanks. I clearly remember black swastika painted on a green background. The military train headed south and my father decided to come back home immediately. To the surprise of my mother, we were back the next day. She met us at the door holding my little brother Fima.
I also remember another episode from 1940 when the Romanian newspaper was lying on my father's desk showing a huge printed portrait of a man with the inscription: 'The famous Russian revolutionary leader Lev Trotskiy was killed in Mexico'. I also recall reading news about war in Spain.
On July 28th, 1940, we witnessed the entry of the Soviet troops into Kishinev. Majority of the people came to this event as it was a celebration. We sat at the table on Alexander (later, Lenin) street, and watched how the Soviet tanks came from the east as the Romanian cavalry and infantry were living to the west. Not a single shot was heard.
Later, I learned that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact1 had secret chapters where Bessarabia was given to the Soviet Union. At the same time, the Soviet Union had annexed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Boys, including myself, climbed the tanks, lovely Soviet soldiers wearing black helmets were giving us coins, someone from the crowd was throwing flowers, but petty bourgeoisie, like my father, understood what this may lead to. In the evenings, a mobile cinema played the Soviet blockbuster 'Chapaev'. Boys, sitting on the floor, watched this amazing movie with amusement. Later, I was fortunate to see the 'Three tankmen' and 'Battleship Potemkin'. All of these took place in the summer of 1940 not hinting anything bad yet. However, the Soviet power in Bessarabia was true to itself, arrests and repressions had begun.
Before the Soviets, my father worked for a grain processing company. The Soviets put him in a management position in the same type of business named Zagotzerno. He had been actively involved in the work, but all this suddenly stopped due to a false envious accusation by his former school friend. My father learned about it in Moscow where he was brought after the arrest.
As a side note, I would like to give a little more time to my dad's life under the Romanian authority. As Lev Vaysman had been climbing the hierarchical ladder in his business, he was also moving to more prestigious neighborhoods of the town. In 1940, we lived in the central part of Kishinev.
'Battleship Potemkin' movie poster
My father was an elected member of the stock exchange, giving him certain privileges: using sleigh2 ride in wintertime, watching movies in the 'Odeon' cinema from a personal balcony, etc. I recall how the same movie would be played non-stop all day long, and the people were guided to their sits with a flashlight.
Lev Vaysman (right) with his brother's (David's) family
Here is an interesting episode in the cinema. I just finished the 4th grade of the primary school located on the street of Stephan the Great across from the Pushkin's park, and was enrolled in the first grade of the gymnasium of Mihai Eminescu, the famous Moldovan poet. The students of gymnasiums were forbidden from attending the public places after 7 pm even if they were accompanied by their parents. One day, my mom, ignoring the rule, took me to 'Odeon' where the movie 'Robinson Crusoe' was playing. We entered the hall accompanied by controller's flashlight and, after watching one part of the film, shockingly discovered that my school Principal was sitting next to us. He looked at me and my mom, so she understood that tomorrow she would have to visit the school for an apology.
Now let's go back to my father's fate. In the early spring of 1941, we heard a knock on the door. A strict male voice pronounced that they were our neighbor. When we opened the door, the first person who entered the room was indeed one of our neighbors who, as it turned out later, worked for the NKVD (The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs). Then, the people in uniform followed. They showed the search and arrest warrants. You can imagine my parents anxiety at the moment but we, the children, were little aware of what was going on.
Our apartment was searched, and my father was taken away. The next morning my mother ran for help and advice to my uncle's wife Esther but, it turned out, her husband David Vaysman was arrested the same night.
We were bringing parcels to the prison where Grigoriy Kotovskiy, a famous Soviet military leader and communist activist, was once held under the Tsar. (Coincidently, we lived across from that prison after the war.) Having lost my father's income, my mother started to work from home making embroidery for customers. We were strongly supported by my grandfather Mendel and uncle Kopel. There was only half a year left before the German invasion. All attempts to get any information about my father were failing. Only later, from his own words, we learned that after a few months in Kishinev prison he was transferred to Moscow where the trial was held. He was found guilty as an 'enemy of the people', the infamous section 58 of the Soviet criminal law, and charged with the economic counter revolutionary activities. The charges caused a natural question on how he might have participated in the counterrevolution activities while living in another country (before the Soviet occupation). The officials replied that he was robbing the peasants as a capitalist, and also served as a Lieutenant of the Romanian army. My father refused to sign the indictment, but he was told about a possibility of torture (putting needles under his fingernails), and so he signed. I learned this terrible truth from my father but my mother never knew the details. At Butyrskaya prison in Moscow, he accidentally saw his brother and realized that David was facing a similar fate.
Dad and uncle David were sentenced to 8 years in Siberian camps. Dad was sent to the town of Verkhoturie where the temperatures dropped to minus 60 degrees Celsius (-76 F). At first, my father was a logger, the most difficult work in the camps, on equal terms with most of the prisoners. After the war began, the camp started to produce skis for the army. Considering his profession and leadership skills, the camp authorities put my father into an office position where he started to perform the clerical work. A person in charge of the camp was very ferocious but a fair general. At the end of the fourth year, he called my father and said that he intended to save his life because he will not survive any longer due to poor health and inability to do hard physical labor. He sent him to the doctor. My father visited the doctor who gave him a silk thread with an advice to smoke it on the eve of the day when the Medical Commission was coming from Moscow. This annual commission was the only hope for an early release. The doctor warned that my father will feel strong heartbeats after smoking but he had to bear. Dad followed the advice and stood in front of the Commission of 5 medical doctors. One of them listened to the father's heart, spoke with the other doctors, and then my father was informed that his health no longer allowed him to stay in the camp, and he would be released.
When I think about the miracles that accompanied our family during the five years of the war, it seems that a supernatural power had saved my father and uncle David. Who knows, what could have happened to them if they were not sent to Siberia. Because of the arrest and imprisonment, they, being Jews, evaded the Holocaust. On the other hand, many camp prisoners were shot to death during the war as potential traitors. This was especially applied to the real criminals while my father was ironically speared even though he was an 'enemy of the people'.
In 1941, our family ran away from the coming Germans, and in 1944 we were living in a remote village of Vozvyshenskiy, in Northern Kazakhstan. That year, my father sent us a telegram saying that soon he will be released. My mother, together with other women, had worked in a farm taking care of the cattle, milking cows, bringing water from the well, while I was helping her shoveling grain, working as a motorist assistant, transporting gasoline on the bulls, etc. One day, after receiving the good news from my father, while working in the field with my mother, I saw a silhouette of a man descending to the village from the mountain and intuitively shouted, 'Dad is coming!' A few minutes later my mom cried, 'Lev!' and I ran toward my father. Thus, after a long wait and uncertainty, we were together again.
1The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a neutrality pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939.
2Sleigh - a sled drawn by horses, used in winter.
I studied in a gymnasium for one year. To get in, I had to pass a math exam and read aloud a poem by Mihai Eminescu, a prominent Romanian poet. The gymnasium was named after him, and his initials were engraved on our uniform hats. We also had to wear a personal number on the left shoulder, so I was number 47. My father paid for the tuition, and I became a student.
In Kishinev, there were many gymnasiums and lyceums1 in which boys and girls studies separately. Men's gymnasiums usually were named after poets (Bogdan Hasdeu, Alexander Donich) and women's after princesses (Princess Maria, Princess Dadiani). My cousins, Raya and Galya, with financial support from my father, entered the General Bertelot's Gymnasium. In this place, all studies were conducted in French.
In the Romanian schools, there were no place for sloppiness or dirty clothing, teachers fought for the calligraphic handwriting and discipline. Smudge in the homework would lead to punishment. There were the old corn cobs on the floor in the corner of the classroom where the students had to kneel when they disobeyed the rules. Moreover, the students would get lashed by a ruler on their knuckles as a punishment.
One time after checking the homework, my Romanian language teacher Mr. Ursulesku demanded to see the parents. My mother came and he demonstrated a smudge on a homework paper. Then he gave her a new empty notebook and requested that I duplicate that assignment on each of the sheets as a punishment.
My mother did not leave my side for several evenings serving hot chocolate so I was able to stay awake and finish the task before the deadline. Finally, I brought the notebook to Mr. Ursulesku who smiled happily at me.
We were checked for the clean neck, nails and hands every morning at the school doors. We also were supposed to have two clean handkerchiefs.
I remember how our first French class started: chubby men came, we all stood up, and Mr. Drew asked something in French. Most of the class was stunned not knowing what was said, but those students who were introduced to French by their governesses, came to the rescue. From that moment on, everybody had to communicate with the French teacher, who did not know a word in Romanian, in French only. As a result, I learned French very quickly, and to this days can read an excerpt from the Lafanten's 'The Crow and the cheese' by heart. My father loved to buy me books, especially by Jules Verne, and I can probably hold a record of how many Verne's novels I read. I also knew Russian very well, and it was easy to study at school.