In the summer of 1944, eight-year-old Rita Altman received a card from her father, Gregory, on the occasion of the beginning of her formal schooling. At that time, Gregory was serving in the Red Army, while Rita, her mother, Sasha, and her younger brother returned to Kiev from Kazakhstan, where they had lived during the war.
Rita-Rivka Altman was born in 1936 in Kiev, the daughter of Gregory-Grisha Altman and Sasha-Sarah née Arshanski. Two years later, her brother David was born. Gregory was an economist, and ran a factory in Kiev.
In July 1941, before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Sasha, Rita, David and other relatives left Kiev. Sasha's brother, Dr. Yakov Arshanski, who was a surgeon in the Red Army, helped them to leave, as rumors of impending war abounded. Together with Sasha's mother, Brandl, her sister, Tema Roitgarz, and Tema's two children, David and Rosa, they reached the Russian village of Chakino, near Tambov, and then moved to Stalingrad. Gregory Altman remained in Kiev to organize the evacuation of the factory, and then also traveled to Stalingrad. Sasha and Tema's younger brother, Boris Arshanski, who was a soldier in the Red Army, was wounded in the fighting, and hospitalized in a military hospital in early January 1942. After recuperating, he was granted a furlough, and went to Stalingrad to visit his mother and sisters. Gregory's brother, Michael, who managed to escape the slaughter of the Jews of Kiev, fled to the forest and joined the partisans. On the occasion of her sixth birthday, Rita received a card:
Happy birthday, darling Rita. I send my warmest wishes, that we may celebrate the coming birthdays of our wonderful children in the city of our birth, after we achieve the resounding defeat of the enemy in 1942.
16 May 1942
A big kiss for [...], Uncle Misha
Meanwhile, Gregory enlisted to the Red Army and Boris returned after his furlough. Sasha, her mother Brandl and the four children left Stalingrad and reached Shymkent, Kazakhstan, where they suffered from shortages and hunger as refugees. They remained there for some two years. Tema stayed in the Soviet Union.
After the liberation of Kiev, and fearing that they wouldn't last another winter on the meager provisions at their disposal, Sasha, Brandl and the four children left Shymkent and in early May 1944 they returned to Kiev, which had been liberated in January. There, they were reunited with Tema, and discovered that Yakov had been killed as early as 1941, and that Boris had fallen in the battles in the vicinity of Stalingrad. Rita hadn't gone to school during the war years. As the commencement of her formal schooling in Kiev approached, her father sent her a postcard:
My darling Ritunska,
Your schooling is starting under deprivation and difficult circumstances, but may your school years continue and end in a joyous, dynamic environment. That is my wish for you, sweetie. Be healthy and happy.
Your father, Grisha
My darling children! May this postcard always remind you that you should love each other, and that you should both love our darling mother, Sasha.
Sending you heartfelt kisses, your father, Grisha
In 1945, Gregory was released from army service after being wounded. In 1948, he succumbed to his injuries.
In 1991, Rita Iashinski née Altman immigrated to Israel with her husband and children. Her brother David followed in 2015.
In 1997, Rita Iashinski submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her uncles, Yakov and Boris Arshanski. In 2013, postcards and photographs of the Altman and Arshanski families were donated to Yad Vashem as part of the "Gathering the Fragments" national project, some of which are displayed here.