Click or tab on image to enlarge

My father, who was a native of Minsk, came from a wealthy family. His mother graduated from the dental academy in Warsaw. My father was such a hard worker … his family had a tavern and was engaged in trade. He had a brother who served as an officer in the Red Army, and his sister was a ordinary woman. We lived on Kalektarnaya Street, which was once known as the “Jewish Street” (Yevreyskaya), because it led to the Jewish cemetery. My father’s name was Nikolai Efimovich, while my grandparents were named Efim Erukhevich and Berta Efimovna (her Hebrew name was Beila).

My father was arrested in 1940 because of a false accusation based on a denunciation and imprisoned. Many people were envious of him, because he was well-known in Minsk and very successful. The city was small – prior to the war, there were about 300,000 people living in Minsk. I remember how he came up to my stroller when I was a baby, and said goodbye. The next time I met him was only when he came to call for me in Vilnius four years later, when the war ended.

The Chekists, the Soviet secret police, kept my father in solitary confinement but did not beat him. He was a heavyweight champion and did a lot of weightlifting and athletics, so he was very strong. They patted him on the shoulders and said, “You are strong, we will make you talk.” But they were afraid to beat him, because the Chekists were also periodically purged by the Soviet regime. One of my father’s friends, Sedykh Vasily Yakovlevich, was interested in his case. Before the war, he was the chairman of the Supreme Court and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Therefore, these guys from the special services probably understood that it was necessary to be careful with my father and to not hurt him.

As far as I remember, my father was very humorous and knew a lot of anecdotes, so he likely got accused of making jokes about Stalin. And he listened to the non-state radio, which was illegal. My father did not like to talk about the war, but he did tell me that when he was on the front line, he was very thirsty and had to drink water from a puddle that had a corpse lying in it.

My father returned to Minsk as a disabled man. For 10 years, one of his arms hung at his side like a whip. There was an annual commission that decided on whether people could receive disability support. They told my father: “You don’t need two hands to work as a trainer.” So they deprived him of his disability status – this was the attitude of the Soviet authorities. Just before he died, he was granted the disability status once again.

I remember when we first came to live on Engels Street. It was filled entirely with German fighting vehicles. A German came into our room, and he saw a portrait of my father hanging on the wall. When he looked at it, he said: “Jude.”

More Photos from Georgij Birger

Georgi Birger’s father
      The Respondent (Georgi Birger) at Work
      • with audio description
        Georgi Birger’s father on the athletics track
            Georgi Birger’s parents
                Georgi Birger’s grandmother
                    Georgij Birger and his pigeons
                        Georgi Birger with his father
                            Georgij Birger with friends (?)