back button




מאַרק שאַגאַל

Hannah's great-grandmother
born c. 1869 in Dvinsk, Latvia

A groyse gedile hot mir getrofn. A big deal it happened to me. I hit the jackpot. Ikh bingeborn gevorn. I got born.

In Dvinsk I got born, with the name Leah Alterman, Vulf'sdaughter. Thirty-five versts from Riga we live. The Czar, he owns our land, he tells what we can keep on it, what we can't keep. Just four goats and some chickens means a lot of trouble. The Czar's men come whenever they want, spit on our scholars, take the women to the fields and roll on us, make us dirty like animals, like them.

Children give a little bit of joy, sure. But after fourteen winters, I've seen plenty die before they get to their first day of school. Girls we sometimes lose before they can mind the littler ones. Winters are cold, very cold. We have the one stove only, and two beds for all the children, eight of us, plus a little mat made of hay. Because I'm the only girl who lives, I get the mat. Sure, it's hard for me, to be the only girl. Some nights, so cold they are, I bring in a goat to share my mat, keep me warm.

My dear father, my tatte, he works in the tannery. He gets a little bit of rubles from it. My brothers go with him, of course. In the summer we sell eggs from our chickens at the market. In the fall we trade our extra for apples. Tatte, he likes my tzimmes, my stew, even without raisins. On Shabbes he takes my brothers to shul, to study Torah with Reb ha-Cohen.

Mamme and I, to wash the linens and the clothes, we carry them with the scrubbing board to the lake. In winter, we wash through a hole in the ice. Sometimes on the way back, my brothers' pants turn to ice. A whole verst it is--nearly a mile. We get home, I fork hay to the goats, Mamme starts the cooking. On the string near the stove, I put the laundry to dry.

Night and day, we haul water from the cistern out back. To cook and wash the pots for eight people means a lot of buckets. On the days we bathe, vey iz mir. You don't want to hear what I have to say about that.

My mother is a shtilinke, a quiet one. Which is to say she doesn't complain much. What else is to talk about, but complaints? She works all the days. She eats a little, she sleeps a little, she goes back to work. She has Shabbes of course. After blessing the candles, she whispers each of our names, so God is reminded of us. So, then she has a day for rest.

I think we are a pretty family. Dark eyes we have, dark curls, and sturdy bones. If you take a look behind the eyes, anybody can see, my tatte and my brothers are sharp, good with the books. Me, I am a short girl. But from all the water I haul, I have good muscles--like a donkey. And, when our new goat won't let her baby nurse, I'm the one who clears her teats each morning, and gets the little kid to drink from my bowl.

Like I say, I am the only girl who lives. The one before me, Golda, had only two years. The one after my brother Avram, Sora, she lived through a bad, bad winter, then took sick in the spring. She had maybe ten winters, and the best giggle in all of Dvinsk.

So, even though I'm a girl, to Mamme, I am a blessing. I am her help.

When I am nearly an old maid, nineteen winters, a neighbor girl whose aunt is Yente Malke, she says there's a man with an eye on me. For a few days, while I cook and wash and haul the water, I have little birds in my bosom. Like dreams. I wish for a man with eyes that tell me to him I am beautiful. A man who will buy from the Yiddish book peddler, and read books with me after sunset with help from candles. For this I wish.

Then my father tells me, ya, in two weeks I will have a wedding.

"Who is it?" I ask him.

"Who is it? It is a man," he says. "A good man, a wise scholar. You'll see."

Mamme is quiet, quiet. I think, for her this is not so easy. She thinks she will be alone with the work now. "Mamme," I say. "I will live near enough, right? We can still go together to the lake, right? And it will be a while before I have babies. So I can still help you at the market, too."

"We'll see," she says. Tatte has left the room.

The night before the wedding, Mamme and I are alone, making the challah. Mamme is heavy, sad like the dough after you punch it down. We each braid a long loaf, put them in to bake. Where Tatte usually sits, in our one chair with arms, she sits. So, I sit too. I think, maybe she has a blessing for me. I know talking for her is not easy. So, I wait. My heart feels like a flower, wide open. I wait to hear something nice, something beautiful.

But then with a fist she pats her mouth. "Leah, Leah," she says. Little tears come down. "It's Yeshia Zeitlin your father arranged for you to marry. The scholar."

I don't know the name. Mamme, she keeps looking at me, not talking. Her eyes are dark like an iron skillet with a thin layer of oil. I smell the challah just then, giving the air a bit of sweet.

"Yeshia Zeitlin . . ." I say. With his name on my lips, I recognize. "YESHIA ZEITLIN!?! Yeshia Zeitlin has five children! A widower he is--from a wife dead only two months!"

Mamme nods. "The oldest is Tamara, your age. You know her, ya? She'll be your help."

My hands, my heart too, they turn to nervous fists. I want to shove Mamme out of Tatte's chair. I am ashamed to say it, but maybe you can understand. I have nothing but a womanish brain after all: I want to shove her out so I can sit in that chair with arms. So if I live twenty years more, at least I'll have this little bit of comfort for my memories.

from Katie Singer's novel "The wholeness of a broken heart"

Katie Singer family tree Her Great Grandfather on her maternal side was Jacob Usdin

Katie Singer's website


Vishki was a very small borough bestead by even smaller villages and farms. This is why Jews living in Vishki were craftsmen or owned small shops selling various commodities and first necessity goods. All the Jews spoke Yiddish, most of them Latvian and just a few German or Russian. When I was a kid, I only spoke Yiddish and Latvian.

Our family had a house that wasn’t too big, but was newer and better-built then most of the houses in Vishki, with a garden and a vegetable garden in the back yard. My father, Israel Dumesh was a shoe-maker; he was cutting out leather billets for shoes, boots and moccasins for men, women and children. He was working at home, where he had had an equipped workshop and met his clients. My mother, Bluma Dumesh, was a dressmaker; she was sewing dresses and coats. Israel and Bluma always had plenty of work, we weren’t rich but neither were poor and parents always worked very hard to make sure that we (children) have all that we need.

But as normal as our life was, I think my father always dreamt of moving from country-side Vishki to a big city like Dvinsk (Daugavpils), Rezekne or even Riga. That’s why when in June 1940 the Reds (Soviet Army) came, he closed his workshop, went to Dvinsk on foot and took a train to Riga to look for a job. There he found a job in a tannery, found a place to rent, and after 4 months came back to Vishki to move the family to Riga. We had spent winter in Riga, fascinated by the beauty of the big city. But after 7 months after our arrival, WWII started; Israel was 36 at that time.

Somehow, perhaps from rumors spreading in Jewish neighborhoods, my father knew what would happen to us if Germans were to come. He joined the Workers Guard, an armed civil militia under control of the Red Army, but only because families of the Guardians were subject to evacuation upon demand. On June 22nd war started, and on the 27th June father forced us to take a bus to evacuate to Russia; on our way to the bus we also took my mother’s sister and her 2-year-old daughter. Only 4 days later, on the 1st of July 1941 German forces had entered Riga.

Father couldn’t evacuate, stayed in Riga and was sent to the Ghetto. But he was a working man with skillful hands; Germans were using people like this for work. When in November 1st mass executions had started, he among about a hundred other Jews was transferred to Mezhapark (woods close to Riga, where a concentration camp Kaisenwald was located). He stayed there until October 1943, when together with war prisoners they were taken to Germany by Baltic Sea in big barges.

He then was imprisoned in a concentration camp by Stuttgart, which in March 1945 was liberated by the Soviet soldiers. Many survivor Jews after liberation hurried back home, but my father again proved to be a wise man and took a moment to think the situation over. Latvia by that time was already under a Soviet Occupation, Stalinist repressions and ethnic cleanings were raging. Any war prisoner that had survived German captivity was treated as a traitor, who "supposedly" collaborated with Nazis in exchange for their life. Same judgment applied to Jews who got through concentration camps alive, many of them were imprisoned and deported to Siberia without any investigation or trial. To avoid such a faith, Israel joined Red Army and was fighting against the Nazis up until the end of the war when he was demobilized and returned to Riga as a hero and a liberator. He was even conferred a decoration upon the "Victory over Germany".

When my father returned to Riga, he found us right away; we have returned from evacuation by that time and were staying with some friends of my mother, where in a room of 20 square meters about 15 people were sleeping. We were granted an apartment in the centre of the city, and a normal life finally started. I went to school, before that I had only learned for one year in Hedera in Vishki. Father never spoke about what he had experienced during the war, all the horrors of ghetto, concentration camps, death and famine. He always said that knowing that he had saved his family was the only thing that was keeping his heart warm. But as all Holocaust survivors, he had had a deep psychological trauma for the rest of his life.

After returning to Riga, father had opened a small shoe-making workshop in the center of the city. He was managing the workshop, there were 3 other shoe-makers working with him, all Jews. They were doing pretty good. Father spoke Russian pretty well, but his written Russian wasn’t so good, so I was helping him out with book keeping. His workshop was working until 1951, when my father’s unique ability to foresee dangers worked again. In the early 50’s Soviet Union started to fiercely eliminate any kind of private ownership; many entrepreneurs, partnerships and enterprises were nationalized and its managers often imprisoned or deported. Same faith would await Israel also, hadn’t he closed his workshop and moved to work for a state-owned shoe factory. He was working there for 25 years, had made a good career from a simple worker to the head of one of the production units and retired in 1974.

That’s in short about my father Israel Dumesh. I have always been very proud of him; he was a strong man who went through a lot in order not to perish and save his family. A real hard worker respected in the community and loved by the closed ones.

Told by Leizer Dumesh, recorded and translated by Vadim Dumesh .Dumes site in Bruce writes: " As it turns out, not all the Dumesh families were related, as can be the case where the surname comes from a place name. According to Alexander Beider in A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, the name "Dumes" and "Dumesh" were from the village of Domashi, about 35 miles from Višķi in what is now Belarus. We have verified this by DNA tests between Bruce Dumes and Vadim Dumesh, great-great-grandson of Genoch, listed in the 1897 census."

look at Dumes page





































































































I can't resist to place here a Jewishgeners dialog in may 2007:


Mark S... asked: "While searching for my relation, Abraham the
1891 British Census, I found a neighbor on Tenter St, Spitalfields, a
Rebecca S..., widow, occupation: Cat's meat vendor! That's a new one to



May be it was a transliteration of Katske, it is Polish (and also used in Yiddish)
for a duck and I believe that in Yiddish it is also used for general poultry.

So it could be that she didn't know well English and meant to say to the
authorities that she sells "Katshkes" which the authorities interpreted as Cats.

And why not? Cats (and dogs) both eat meat and I doubt that canned or
frozen cat/dog meat was on the shelves of your local Walmart/Tesco in 1981.

Somebody's got to do it. And for a widow, a godsend. We came to the  UK from
Germany in November 1938 and needed to save every penny to  furnish a home and to
help other family members come over. We were  surprised to see how reluctant the
British were -- even the Jews -- to  eat offal. We bought kosher lights (lungs)
for 2 pennies a pound,  liver for six pennies, heart, brains etc somewhere in
between.  And of  course when meat was rationed, we were able to have a meat
meal at least once a day for 350+ days a year.
==I assume the widow collected left-over meat from butchers, kosher  and not.
She may have resold it from her home, or had a list of  customers to whom she
delivered. Beats begging!
==In the 18th and 19th century, a large proportion of the Jews in German villages
and small towns were middlemen, buying up scraps from specific traders and
producers, and reselling it to those who would convert it: fats to soap boilers
and candle makers, hides to tanners, hairs and bristle to brush makers,bones
for glue, rags for paper, metal to smelters and foundries . .  .

British readers of a certain age are likely to remember Matthew Mugg, a friend of
Dr Dolittle in Puddleby, who was a cat's-meat man.

There is a picture of an east end cat's meat man from 1902 here:

And this was apparently a good business:,9171,737980,00.html

Readers of Charles Dickens may recall a reference to a "dog's meat man" in the
Pickwick Papers.  There were also apparently less specialised vendors who sold
both cat's and dog's meat.

These trades seems to have escaped wide notice;  for example, they are omitted


"The cat's-meat-man used to make a business of rat-catching for the
millers and farmers as ..."

and  "cat's meat' being sold for dog food


  "To Londoners, ''Beep! Beep!'' is the familiar cry of the cat's meat
men, picturesque peddlers who sell to thrifty housewives not the meat
of cats but little skewers stuck with carefully diced meat for cats"

Thanks to all who replied to my inquiry regarding whatI thought was an odd
occupation, cat's meat vendor. Yes, I admit I was picturing someone selling cat's
meat for human consumption (and I realize this would not have been kosher).

Actually, many people in poorer neighborhoods kept cats to control the rodent
infestation. They needed to be kept fed and there were vendors who would purchase
scraps from butchers, unfit for human consumption, and prepare these on skewer's
as pet food. These skewers might also have contained horse meat.

Also, I misidentified the Tenter Street cat's meat vendor from the 1891 census as
Rachel S... Her name was actually Rachel S.... Apologies to the late Mrs
S... and to her descendants.








































































"Uncle Mosey"by Leizer Dumesh(Bruce Dumes 's relative of Riga)


Finally I’m writing to you about my Uncle Moisey and how he helped us during the WWII.
On the June 22nd 1941 the war had started, my dad Israel came from work and said that in 4(!) hours we have to evacuate to Russia. On the 1st of July Germans entered Riga and on 4th of July synagogues with people inside had been burning already. Think about these dates... I’m still amazed by the wisdom of my father, his responsibility and courage in caring for his family, while he was still only 35 years old back then.
After dad told us about evacuation, my mother Bluma packed a small bag, we couldn’t take much with us. I and my siblings were very little: I was 11 years old, sister Fanya was 6 years old and my brother Vulf was only 2 years old. We went on foot towards the bus station around Hanzas street. On our way we stopped by mother’s sister Berta and took her and her 2 year old daughter Hana with us. We also visited another mother’s sister Genya, but her husband refused to leave the city despite all mother’s efforts to persuade him. Germans are a cultured and enlightened nation, he said, there’s nothing to be afraid of and for sure won’t he go to primeval and barbaric Russia. All their family perished in the Ghetto.
Dad took us to the bus, but didn’t get on himself. I asked him why wasn’t he coming with us and he assured me that he’d take the next bus. There were only children and women on the bus.
We took Pskov highway towards Pskov (Russian city on the Russian-Latvian border). Our bus was just a part of a very long column, full of trucks, buses and light vehicles stuffed with people. There were a lot of soldiers with us and even a few light tanks. I didn’t know if they were guarding us or retreating, but when on Latvian and Estonian territory our column was shot at for a few times, tanks were rushing to attack and the shootings would stop.
This is how we got to Pskov. I must admit that in Pskov everything was very well organised, no panic. Everyone was interviewed, registered, given out food and papers with directions for further evacuation. We had spent there 3 days, were sleeping on the train station’s floor. My mother found warm blankets somewhere, so it was bearable. During the day mother and Berta were going to the registration checkpoints to find out where we were going to be sent next. I was left to keep an eye on the kids and to entertain them.
In about three days a train echelon of cargo containers was formed and all the refugees where sorted out to the wagons to go deeper into Russia.  We were going for 10 days, on the way there were short stops organised to give us food and water. On stops like this we were met very well, people were coming to the train station to ask where were we from, brought milk, bread, potatoes and other products.
Ah, yes, I forgot to tell you that while we were still in Pskov and mother was with us, so I didn’t have to watch the kids, I was going around the station looking for my father. He told me that he was taking the next bus, so I wanted him to find us faster as there were so many refugees there.
All in all, this is how we made it to Russia, we were brought to Chuvashia (a small region in central Russia mostly populated by a folk of Siberian descent Chuvashi) and spread out to villages and farms. We got to small village close to the town of Kanash. Our and Berta’s family were settled with a Chuvashi family that had about 10 kids (everyone had many children there). We were met quite friendly, everyone understood that war is breaking out, all men aged to 40 in the village were drafted to the army. We stayed in a small summer house with a few trestle-beds and stove-benches on which we slept. Mother and Berta were off to the fields to work for food during the day and I was staying with the kids.
Father, when putting us on a bus in Riga told my mother to write to my uncle Moisey to Gorkiy as soon as we settle in evacuation.
Father’s brothers Shlema (Solomon in Russia), the oldest, and Moisey left Vishki in 1915, during the WWI. They were scattered across Russia, but didn’t loose the contact with one another. Shlema finally settled in Gorkiy, became a good tailor, famous men master.  Mosiey was trying to make ends meet be getting by different jobs until he was drafted to the Red Army in 1918. He went through all Civil War, was wounded in 1922 and demobilised. After that he finished the school and entered Medical School in the city of Saratov. After finishing the med. school, Moisey was working as a general physician, then as a chief doctor of the hospital. In 1934 – 1936 he was promoted to take over a sanatorium close to Saratov, where a lot of high-ranked Soviet bureaucrats and Party workers had been treated.
In the early 1937, he was promoted even higher, to city of Kirov to serve as a head of all health care sector of the region. In 1938 he was arrested and accused in deliberately mistreating, poisoning and creating conspiracy against the Party members while working in the sanatorium in Saratov. For a year he was kept in a solitary prison cell, questioned daily (mostly during the nights) to confess on these ridiculous accusations. Moisey did not crack and did not confess even partly and finally in 1939 he was released and rehabilitated, which meant he got his job and Party membership back. He didn’t want to stay in Kirov after having gone through all that, and using his connections in the medical network moved to work as a deputy head of medical institute in Gorkiy, where his brother Solomon lived.
We in Vishki knew that Moisey lived in Gorkiy. I don’t know how my father knew that, because there was no correspondence between our families – we were living in Latvia, a foreign country and all communication with outside world was blocked by the Soviets. When we came to Chuvashia, mother wrote a letter to Moisey, describing where we are and asked him to help us, if possible. She didn’t know the exact address, so she wrote “Gorkiy, to Moisey Dumesh” hoping that Dumesh is a rare family name in Russia. And, to our surprise, after about a month we got a letter back from Moisey. Despite the war and Germans approaching Moscow, post office was working fine and the letter reached him.
He wrote that he will try to get us to Gorkiy and asked Bluma to send him our credentials, including those of Berta and her daughter, which was exactly what she did. It was very hard for him to organise a transfer of refugees to Gorkiy. City was a closed one, war was taking place and on top of it all we were from Latvia – a collaborationist state. Moisey, using his connections, went all the way to the chief city’s war commandant, and made him approve the transfer of his brother’s family.
About a month and a half later, two Russian nurses from Moisey’s medical institute came to out village, they were supplied with all the necessary documents and money. They took us and Berta to the town of Cheboksari, from there we took a boat down Volga to Gorkiy. Berta and her daughter stayed with uncle Solomon, we stayed with Moisey.  He and his family lived in a two-story house, occupying a whole 1st floor. He had four rooms, one of which (about 15sqm large) he gave to us. Moisey’s family consisted of 4 people, he had 2 sons: Israel born in 1927 (he left in 1943 to join the marine core in Baku, Armenia, finished his service and after the war had risen to the rank of a captain) and daughter Lilya, same age as me.
So we stayed at Moisey’s place, he couldn’t help us any more than that: there was a war and he had his own family to take care of. My mother went to a sewing factory to work as dressmaker, where she received coupons for food. About one every three weeks, Moisey was bringing a bottle of medical spirit from his work, mother was dissolving it with water to make vodka and then with her co-workers was going to the villages and marketplace to change this vodka for food and other products.
This is how thanks to Moisey’s courage, will and determinacy we spent this horrible war in the warmth of this family. After the war, Moisey returned to Riga to visit my father Israel. They went to Vishki and using the directions of local Latvians found the place were their father Genech was shot by the Germans. They dug out the body and reburied it on the Jewish cemetery, were it belongs to. What my father, Israel, went through in order not to perish in the Holocaust you know from my previous stories.
Told by Leizer Dumesh

Leizer Dumesh

(photo taken by Bruce in Riga.August 25,2007)

Written and translated from Russian by Vadim Dumesh