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Bertha Glaser & Nison Makogon

Bertha Glaser and Nisan Makogon (Makgorn), 1930


                  Bertha Glaser & Nison Makogon


                    My grandmother Bertha Glaser was born Khaja-Dvoira Glaser on April 2, 1909 in Vishgorodok, Ternopol Gubernia, Ukraine. Her parents were Rav Itzhak Meer Glaser and Gitl Perelman. She was the first child in the count of eight.

          Khaja-Dvoira GlaserShe had a nickname: Bubaleh.  Her parents changed her name when she got ill in the age of 3, because according to old Jewish believe you can trick death by changing sick child name by another name, and child survived.  When she told me this story, she said, that in her opinion she survived because of doctor’s help, but still. She was non-religious at all; her life experience brought her to that point.  And she did not believe even in fate. Grandma used to say: there is no fate, but only man’s will.  

          As Bubaleh grew up, she changed her name to Bertha. In the family everybody called her Beba.

She was an active member of the right wing of the underground movement Hechalutz and worked in so-called commune (Jewish kibbutz in reality, it was located at the south of Krimea) to prepare youth to go to Palestine.   

After commune liquidation in 1928 (she was warned day before by some friend about  NKVD action and flew away on feet) she changed her last name to Brown-Glaser in order to hide from HKVD. Then she went to Moscow and legally worked in the city telephone station on information desk, her work number was “3”.

But her real job was to work with Ekaterina Peshkova (first wife of Maksim Gorky, the famous Russian writer; Ekaterina was the head of Committee of Help to Political Prisoners) and Peshkova’s associate Maxim L. Vinover in order to help arrested  comrades: Peshkova's committee did send them food, clothes and money to prisons and camps where they have been detained, and inform their relatives where they were kept.

Also, as Tova Perelstein (old Kupel habitant and closest friend of Glaser's family, she  died  in Israel at the age of 94, her phone in Israel was 972-3-731-2070) witnesses, Bertha got some people to Palestine through Peshkova's Committee. That procedure was called “exchange”, because for some arrested Zionists prison term was exchanged for permission to leave! (one of the Stalin’s mysteries) Soviet Union and move to Palestine. Person, who got “exchange”, was even granted a foreign passport and free ticket.  By the way, when Bertha got arrested himself and aplied for exchange, her request was denied by authoritites.  

Beba has met Nison Makogon, my grandfather, in organization and they had their only daughter Sara, born in March 25, 1932 in Moscow suburb. After Sara’s birth Bertha and Nison moved to Ukraine to hide from NKVD. They lived in Chasov-Yar, small town at the East Ukraine (Donetsk region) and Nison worked on local metal factory in supply department. 

                    Nison Makogon was born in 1906. He was an active member of Hechalutz too and got arrested for the first time in 1934, before Bertha got arrested.  He was sentenced to the work camp located on Far East of Russia. His mother Eva Makogon blamed Bertha for involving him in Zionists movement, but when they had meet, he was already the member of organization. The prisoners worked on so-called Baikal-Amur Magisterial (Main Line) – trans-Siberia railroad. It was first soviet attempt to build this strategically located railroad. In the time of WW11 railroad was demolished and rails (metall) were used for tanks, then in 1970-th it was build again.

          Nison worked as a manager of supply department and sent home the letters about beautiful land shafts. He could not write the truth. He had written Bertha: “We will meet again when we’ll grow old already”. They never had a chance to see each other again in this life. Nison came home in 1936, when Bertha was arrested and kept in Alma-Ata, the capitol of Kazakhstan (South-East republic of USSR), in exile. He was arrested second and last time on December 31, 1937 and never came back.  Nison was shouted in NKVD on April 26, 1938.

          After the first arrest of Nison and Bertha, in 1935 Eva Makogon, Nison’s mother got her granddaughter Sara (3 years old at that time) to stay with her and her daughters' Anna family.  This way she saved Sara from governments' so-called “Child Home” for the children of the prisoners. Anna and her husband Solomon Ravich were lived in Slavyansk, Ukraine. They worked as bookkeepers and had daughter Israelita born in 1938 and son Anshel (later renamed himself as Alexander) born on February 27, 1947. They took good care of Sara.

          After arrest Bertha was kept in Vladimir Central Prison, and then sentenced to live and work far away, in Alma-Ata, under NKVD total control.  NKVD gave her few days to visit her family as a political prisoner before to go to Alma-Ata and there is her picture with her daughter Sara just before leaving, when she didn’t know if she’s going to see her daughter again.

          Then, since 1937, Stalin had cut off the special regime for political prisoners and Bertha among thousands comrades has been sentenced to GULAG for 5 years. She was kept in concentration camp in Reshoti, Siberia, Krasnoyarsk region until 1942. 

          There were horrible existence conditions for all prisoners and very hard work with practically no food and medical help. A lot of people had died because of starvation in front of Bertha, especially former communists, because their families left them officially. Grandma told me, that death was so common, it happened every day in very easy way – like she was sitting and talking to some woman, and turned away just for a minute to somebody, and when she turned back, that poor woman was already dead.  But Bertha sometimes got the food and clothes packages from her sister Yenta Glaser (Gorenshtein), so she could survive.

          In 1942 Bertha’s term with GULAG was done, but the jailers didn’t let her go. They made her work as a guard of the vegetable field belonged to concentration camp. Bertha had to sit there overnights with a rifle but no bullets. So, her sister Yenta (she lived in Novosibirsk with husband David Gorenshtein, ingeneer) went to that camp to ask to release Bertha as a sick person. Yenta was so lucky not to be arrested, thanks to only reason that a commander of the camp happened to be a Jew. He had brought her home to stay one night with his family and gave her short meeting with Bertha another day. That commander had a wife and a kid and he put them on the very high risk by doing so.

          Yenta told me, that she couldn’t stop crying, when she got look at Bertha, she was in so bad shape  and very, very hungry. Yenta left the camp area not arrested and in few months grandma was released with a lot of restrictions: she could not live in city or town, only in the villages and she should be checked out every week in the local militia. Finally she reunited with her only daughter Sara, who was in town Leninsk-Kuznetsky, Kemerovo region, West Siberia with Makogon and Ravitch family since 1941 (family luckily escaped Germans by relocation from Ukraine to Siberia).

                    In October 1941, when Germans came closer, her daughter Sara was evacuated with her grandmother Eva Makogon and Anna and Solomon Ravich family to Leninsk-Kuznetskiy, Kemerovo region, West Siberia.  Another Eva’s son, Joseph got a permission to evacuate his family from Donetsk, but his Russian wife decided to stay with their son under Germans (and they survived occupation), so he gave up this space to his mother and her family. After Bertha’s release from GULAG in 1942 they all reunited. Because it was not permitted for Bertha to live in the most of the towns and cities after the imprisonment, she lived in some village in 7 kilometers from Leninsk-Kuznetskiy and walked that distance every day off to see her daughter and bring her some food and money.  In that village Bertha worked as a clerk at soap factory that cooked soap from herrings.

                    By the end of WWII and very long years after Yenta and David Gorenshtein admitted Bertha with daughter Sara to stay in their 2-rooms apartment in Novosibirsk. Till 1953 Bertha had to register her passport in some villages near Novosibirsk, because it was restricted for her to live in the city. 

          In 1953 Sara became already the German language teacher in the evening school for soldiers, returning from WWII, and with the help of some of her students she arranged “clean” passport for her mother Bertha. That student happened to work in a passport department of the local militia. So, from that very moment Bertha could live and work in Novosibirsk without fear. She worked, as a sales person, in the small grocery store, where she was the only worker and did all job needed, including loading and unloading heavy boxes.

                    In 1966 Bertha got marriage proposal from retired bookkeeper Solomon Ravich, widower of Anna Makogon, the sister of Bertha’s first husband Nison.  They got married and lived as happy as possible in Kramatorsk, Ukraine till Solomon Ravich death on January 16, 1988.


                    Bertha (Bubaleh) died in peace in her bed on August 30, 1990 in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, attended only by me, her granddaughter Nina Bolshakova that day. All of a sudden about 11:30 P.M. she got high palpitation and heart fibrillation and when Emergency Help Car arrived in 20-25 minutes she was already dead. In about 1.5 month before that she had a stroke, spent a month in the hospital and it was third week at home. Her last day was very warm and sunny and she seemed to feel better. She almost couldn’t speak after the stroke and when I went to her to kiss good night, she pointed at my nightgown and smiled. What happened, that day I made a big laundry, brought some clothe to the yard to dry and back to an apartment. So, I didn’t iron my own nightgowns jet and so I put on hers clean one.  I explained her that and said that I going to wash it tomorrow, but she did let me know by gestures that she’s giving me it as a gift. I still have this nightgown, her last gift.