The Sabezinski Family - Riga, Latvia

In 1941, Israel and Riva Sabezinski and three of their children were murdered in the killing pits outside Riga. Their son Grisha was killed while serving in the ranks of the Red Army. Only their daughter Sonya survived.

Israel and Riva Sabezinski lived in Riga, Latvia.  They had five children: Grisha (b. 1920), Anja (b. 1922), Sonya (b. 1924), Dora (b. 1926) and Natan (b. 1930). The family owned five stores, a kosher sausage factory, and two beachfront houses in the vacation resort of Jūrmala west of Riga.  In addition to running his businesses, Israel also wrote Yiddish songs.

In the summer of 1941, all the Sabezinskis went to Jūrmala, except for Sonya.  A gifted athlete, 17-year-old Sonya was in a sports training camp in Burtnieki, northern Latvia that summer, in preparation for the sports competitions that were scheduled to take place in the Soviet Union.

On 22 June 1941, the first day of the incursion into the USSR, the Germans crossed the border into Latvia, and Riga was occupied on 1 July.  By 10 July, Latvia was entirely occupied.  Public transportation to Riga was cancelled, and participants in the training camp couldn't return home.  They were sent by train, in open wagons, deep into the Soviet Union via Estonia.  On the way, the Christian Latvians amongst them escaped and returned home.  The Jews and Russians continued towards the Urals.

In Estonia, the Estonians bombarded the train.  The wagons fell off the tracks, and some 200 passengers were killed.  Sonya found herself lying underneath one of the bodies.  She survived the attack, along with another 50 people.  She was transferred to another train, and reached the Urals, where she was taken in by a Kolkhoz and worked in the fields.  She eventually moved to Leningrad, where she met and married Chaim Gavartin. In 1942, Sonya and Chaim were working in a military hospital in Leningrad.  Sonya organized physical exercise for the patients, and Chaim worked as a hairdresser there.  In 1943, they reached Stalingrad together with the hospital staff.

After liberation, Sonya and Chaim obtained permits to return to Riga.  When Sonya arrived at her family home, the Latvian cleaning the yard said: "How can it be that Sabezinski's daughter survived? After all, they killed them all!"  The woman had belongings that she had taken from Sonya's home, which Sonya managed to retrieve after a Red Army soldier intervened.  She was informed that her family had been incarcerated in the Riga ghetto and murdered in 1941 in one of the Aktions.  Her brother Grisha was killed in 1942 while serving in the ranks of the Red Army.

In 1945, Chaim and Sonya's son Iza was born, and in 1951, they had a daughter, Rina.  Rina immigrated to Israel in 1972.  Her parents followed five years later; Iza moved to the United States.

In 1988, Sonya Gavartin submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her parents, Israel and Riva Sabezinski, her siblings Anja, Dora and Natan, and other relatives.  In 1999 she submitted a Page of Testimony in memory of her brother Grisha.  In 2014, Sonya donated items to Yad Vashem as part of the national project "Gathering the Fragments": family photographs and musical scores for two of her father's songs: "Farges Mich Nicht" (Don’t Forget Me), and "Di Farfirte" (The Deceived), which he wrote in the 1930s to melodies by Oskar Strok.  Sonya found the scores after the war in her father's music store.