HIAS Chicago Commemorates Victory Day
The Day We Must Remember
by Maya Gumirov
More than 27 million Soviet Union residents perished during World War II. Victory Day commemorates the victory over fascism and remembers the sacrifice and bravery of those who made this victory possible at the cost of their life. Most of the Russian-speaking people who live in Greater Chicago speak about these times in personal terms: “my grandfather was killed in the battle for Stalingrad”, “my mother and I suffered through the Leningrad siege”, “while my dad was fighting the Nazis at the front line, my father’s village was burned and my family went to the ghetto”...
On May 10th at Temple Judea Mispah in Skokie a special program was held to pay tribute to the family members who some of us never knew because of this war, and to those others who survived and gave us life…
This commemoration was a program sponsored by Jewish Child and Family Services (JCFS), EZRA, CJE Senior Life, HIAS Chicago, and Holocaust Community Services of JCFS, supported by the Peter Polsky Freedom Fund and the Bright Future International Fund.
…When I think about World War II, I’m thinking about my Grandpas – both of them, Grandpa Zachary and Grandpa Moisey, fought on the same front lines all war long. They called it though differently: for my grandparents as for all Russian Jews who heeded the call of duty to protect their country it was a Great Patriotic War.
When Nazis swept through the Soviet Union in 1941, some half a million Jewish men and women donned Red Army uniform and learned how to use guns and heavy artillery to throw themselves at the Nazi war machine. Yet, the Soviet propaganda was good at stereotypes: they said Jewish don’t fight on front lines, in best case scenario -propaganda called Jewish soldiers Soviet soldiers.
By the end of war more than 200,000 young Jewish service men and women had given their lives fighting for the Soviet motherland.
My grandfathers were fortunate to survive the war and live to Victory day in 1945. They come back home only to learn about the devastation of the Holocaust that affected every Jewish family and took a toll on my family as well.
I never saw my Grandpa Moisey; he died shortly after the war from a head contusion and other wounds he got on the front line. To preserve a legacy of Moisey my parents named me Maya after him. Just one letter in our names is the same, but I was told he had a soul of a caregiver, and so do I.
Grandpa Zachary lived long enough to share some stories with me and his other 15 grandchildren. Grandpa Zachary did not like to talk about the war; he was always saying that kids should not know what horror he went through, and that’s why he always made his stories humorous, or lighthearted, so we would not be scared. Grandpa died on Victory Day, May 9 of 1987, so for my family it is really a day of celebration of the Victory day over Nazi and commemoration of my Grandpas.
My kids come from school these days telling me about the World War II they learned about in school, and I understand they know so very little. They also don’t know what experiences during the war their family had…what devastation that war caused to people in Europe and the Former Soviet Union. Therefore, today it’s important for me to speak up on behalf of those 36,000 refugees and immigrants from the Former Soviet Union wh,o for the last 30 years, have been resettled in Chicago. Of this community, one third were directly involved in the war and two thirds were affected by it.
The 67-th Anniversary of Victory Day gathered together about 200 people from the Former Soviet Union. They paid a special tribute to the brave Soviet Jewish soldiers and their families who fought and sacrificed their lives in World War II. These heroes still live among us; they are our grandparents and great grandparents who fought not only for their freedom from Nazis, but also for our chance to be born and continue a Circle of Life. May their lives be honored and cherished.
Restitution for Holocaust Survivors
Community Support Services Through Holocaust Community Services
While growing older poses new challenges and opportunities for individuals, Holocaust Survivors suffer additional complications during the aging process including experiencing feelings of loss of control and reliving painful memories. Our community is committed to providing a range of services to Holocaust Survivors to support their independence. Since 2000, Holocaust Community Services, a collaborative effort of JCFS, CJE SeniorLife and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, in partnership with HIAS Chicago, has provided supportive services to the Chicago Holocaust survivor community and their families.
HIAS Chicago works as part of the coalition of Holocaust Community Services to fully enhance the lives of Holocaust Survivors. When appropriate, referrals are made to other members of the coalition team to provide help with home services, group or individual counseling and support, or financial assistance.
Assistance in applying for reparations from Germany
In the past several years, some new programs have been developed to compensate victims of the Holocaust for a variety of losses they experienced, including bank accounts, insurance policies, art and the loss of their labor without compensation. HIAS Chicago staff has stayed informed and involved with each of the programs as they have become active, and provides direct assistance to individuals who are eligible to apply for new programs.
For a complete listing of programs available to Holocaust Survivors and more detailed explanation of the criteria for the programs mentioned above, visit www.claimscon.org.
HIAS Chicago staff can assist those in the Russian speaking community who believe they are eligible for either the Claims Conference Hardship Fund and/or the Claims Conference Article 2 Fund to complete the required applications, and guide them in gathering the required documentation of their suffering at the hands of the Nazis.
For assistance, in English or Russian, please contact HIAS Chicago at 312.357.4666 or Holocaust Community Services at 847.745.5409
“For all the bad that happened to survivors, these volunteers made themselves available for something good”
Russian Speaking Volunteers Help Survivors from the FSU, HIAS Chicago & Holocaust Community Services
Like many things in the world, life happens by chance, but with purpose. Igor Litvak, a HIAS Chicago caseworker recently recalled such an experience at the volunteer driven workshop he attended to assist Russian speaking Holocaust survivors. They were filing for restitution for the suffering they endured during WWII.
One of Igor’s clients entered the room with stacks of precious documents carefully folded, stained and well- worn with age. In glancing at the papers, he was astonished that the woman sitting in front of him, who he had never met before, had actually lived within steps of where he had lived in Moscow. If he had not come to this workshop, their paths may not have crossed.
Her story was like his family’s. They were forced to flee during the War, far away to the Ural Mountains by train which took many weeks. Food was rationed, many starved and quite often the cold was unbearable because of limited access to heat and medical care. As he listened to her story and others like hers, he could not help think that how so many lives had instantly changed not only because of the War, but doubly because they were Jews.
Stories like these also meant a lot to a group of 8 young Russian-speaking volunteers who gave of their Sunday on March 26th to do something meaningful for others. It opened doorways to emotion, to pain, to memories of their grandparents and to the many who perished. It reminded them of those who had survived and were burdened with the scars of losing loved ones, of having their properties confiscated and of having little opportunity to make their stories known to the world.
For Larissa, a volunteer and granddaughter of a Rabbi in Belarus who perished during the Holocaust, it was a way to honor his life and a portal to learn more about themselves and their families in the process. “Being Jewish and providing this service to Jews makes it very special. It brings us back to our roots,” said Larissa, who came to the workshop with her husband, Eugene, and his sister, Yana, and her fiancé, Matt. “We came together to know more about who we are and what our families collectively experienced. We came so we would not forget.”
Igor told how he usually asks the survivors he assists a similar question, “If you got this money, how would you spend it? “ There are 3 answers he commonly receives:
“I would give it to my grandchildren”
- “I would donate it to my synagogue or a Jewish cause. Coming to this country helped me learn about my Jewish heritage.”
- “I would travel and feel what it is like to be free.”