Chaim (Efim) Aleshkovsky was born in 1899 in the town of Mozyr (in present-day Belarus), in a well-off Jewish family. His father owned a house and a farm. As a youth, Chaim took part in the Russian Civil War and helped to establish Soviet power in the steppe regions of Kazakhstan. He went on to finish military school, qualifying as a military engineer. After completing his education, he was posted to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. There, he married Vera (Dvoire; born 1902), who was an accountant. They went on to have two sons, Yosif (b. 1929) and Mark (b. 1933). Their eldest son was named after his grandfather. Eventually, the family moved to Moscow. Vera enrolled in the Mechanical and Mathematical Department of Moscow State University, but later quit her studies to take care of her family.
1n 1939-1940, Chaim fought in the Soviet-Finnish (Winter) War. According to the recollections of his son Mark, he was shot through his peaked cap, which would go on to become a family heirloom. Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German War on June 22, 1941, Chaim and his family were evacuated from Moscow to Omsk (Siberia), where, with his experience in tank engineering, he began to work at a large tank factory. However, he was soon sent to the frontline. Chaim was made a 3rd rank supply officer, and went on to serve as deputy head of a mobile tank repair plant. He was later promoted to major. His main duty was supplying provisions to the workers of the plant, and procuring tools and machines to ensure its continuous operation in frontline conditions. In 1943, Chaim was awarded the Order of the Red Star for his service.
After the end of the war, Chaim, as a career military officer, was sent to China, staying there for several months. He then moved to Lithuania with his family. However, he soon retired from the Red Army and returned to Moscow. This turned out to be a very fortunate decision indeed, since, shortly after their departure, their former garrison was nearly wiped out by the anti-Soviet Lithuanian partisans, who waged a guerrilla war in the recently Sovietized Lithuania in 1944–1953.
Chaim went on to work at a small sausage factory in Moscow until his death in 1957. Both of his sons achieved fame: Yosif became a celebrated author (writing under the pseudonym Yuz Aleshkovsky), who eventually emigrated from the USSR to the USA; while Mark was a major historian and archeologist specializing in the Middle Ages. Chaim’s grandson Pyotr has also become a writer, one of whose works is a book of memoirs about his childhood and family titled Little Secrets.
An excerpt from the memoirs of Aleshkovski nephew
Father's mother, Vera Abramovna (also known as just Abramovna), my second grandmother, lived in a huge prewar house on Leninskiy Prospekt, “near the Kaluzhskaya Metro Station,” as she used to say. There, she occupied a room of 20 square meters in a large communal apartment. The room seemed empty to me: a table, a dressing table, a wardrobe, and a bed hugging the corners. Since Abramovna had no books or toys, I would feel lost in her room, having no idea how to occupy my time. The wall was adorned with a photograph of my grandfather Efim, who had died two years before my birth. A thin smile; the lips pressed around a pipe, like the one smoked by the Soviet Vozhd, whom he had served faithfully. Grandpa Efim had fought in all the Soviet wars. During the Civil War, he galloped through the Kazakh steppes; as a memento of those days, we had a blurry photograph showing a group of Red Army soldiers arranged picturesquely around a wagon. From the Winter War, we had his mascot – a peaked cap shot through by a Finnish cuckoo sniper. According to Father, it used to hang on the wall for many a year, but it must have been removed before my time. Grandpa finished World War II in Manchuria, having traveled there in a heated freight car across Eurasia, straight from conquered Germany. He came home from Manchuria, having rattled off a brief telegram to his wife: “Coming on such-and-such, meet me at Belorussky [railway station]. Efim.”
Father would recall how they hurried to the station and stood on the platform, following the moving carriages with their eyes and searching for Grandpa. Finally, he appeared, looking unaccountably somber and tense, with pursed lips, in a clean military uniform, with a large star on his shoulder straps. He stood in the doors of the carriage, his hands resting on two enormous sacks. Not a smile, not a word of greeting. Finally, the carriages shuddered, and the train halted, its buffers screeching. Grandpa first handed them the heavy sacks, then climbed down to his wife and sons, who were dumbstruck with joy. Suddenly, he opened his arms wide and bared his teeth, laughing uproariously: “Here I am!” All of his teeth were golden, and they shone like a soldier's polished buckle. He had managed to surprise them. Vera Abramovna began to wail, while the children clung to their half-forgotten father. “Mind you don't spill the rice!” — ordered the seasoned Major, holding on to the precious sacks. Taught by the experience of previous wars, he was convinced that there was famine in Moscow, so he brought rice from China.
From: Petr Aleshkovsky. Little Secrets. Moscow, 2020. P. 39.