Indiana University Bloomington

Online Exhibit: The Reinsdorfs

The Reinsdorfs - The Story of a Jewish Family Through Letters, Telegrams and Photos

Bella (Betya) Vaisman (née Reinsdorf) was born in 1924 in Berdichev. She was brought up in a well-to-do, intellectual family. Her father, Moyshe (Moisei), was a religious man who came to Berdichev in 1914 as a World War I refugee from Warsaw. Although he was unable to openly practice his religion in the Soviet Union, he still refused to work on Yom Kippur. He and his wife Sonya raised three children: Bella and her sisters, Esther and Zina (Zisl). Bella attended a Russian-language school, and though she spoke Yiddish at home, she never learned to read or write in this language.

In June 1941, Bella had just completed the eighth grade with honors, and she asked for her parents’ permission to celebrate by going on a trip with her cousin to visit her maternal grandparents in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov. This cousin, Zonya, was a law student and needed to go on the trip to take his final exams in order to graduate. They left on the June 20th, two days before Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Her cousin was able to make another trip back to Berdichev to bring his wife, child, and blind mother to Kharkov, but Bella’s immediate family was left behind. Her parents, two sisters, and paternal grandmother were murdered by the Nazis less than six months later. Zina, the youngest girl, was four years old.

The following exhibit contains letters, telegrams and photographs from Bella’s family that her grandfather kept and passed on to her to keep the memory of loved ones alive. Some texts are in Russian, written by Bella’s father to his daughter in Kharkov. Other letters, in Yiddish, were to be read aloud to Bella herself or were directly addressed to her other relatives. Not having learned the Yiddish alphabet, Bella has never read this latter correspondence. Remarkably, even in wartime conditions, the postal and telegram services were operational. This is especially significant as the Nazis set up a ghetto in Berdichev on July 15th, 1941. Through these letters, Bella's parents were able to convince her to stay in Kharkov, a decision that saved her from her family's fate in Berdichev.

Bella and her grandfather were eventually evacuated to Uzbekistan for the duration of the war and returned to Kharkov in 1947. It was then that Isaak Vaisman, Bella’s childhood neighbor, saw her name among lists of survivors and found her in the city. They were married shortly thereafter. Their first child was born in 1954.

The Vaismans were last interviewed by AHEYM in 2010 in Berdichev, the town they continue to call their home.


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