"My dear ones!! I am writing this letter before my death, but I don't know the exact day that I and all my relatives will be killed, just because we are Jews."
Fanya Barbakow wrote these words from a bunker in Druja, to her sister Chaya and her brother Manos.
Fanya Barbakow was born in 1923 in Druja, Poland (today Belarus). Her parents Ze'ev-Velvel and Zisale had two boys and five girls: Chaim, Manos, Sonia, Bluma, Chaya, Fanya and Sima. Ze'ev owned a flour mill, providing a good living for his family.
Fanya attended the local Polish schools, and in the 1940/41 academic year, while under Soviet rule, she was scheduled to complete her studies at the Russian high school.
The Barbakow family was incarcerated in the Druja ghetto together with all the town's Jews. Fanya's sister Chaya Kagan (Barbakow) recalls:
"In the ghetto, Fanya walked with her head held high, filled with an inner confidence. She encouraged the family and her contemporaries to present a proud Jewish front to the Germans. Fanya would often sing a song in Russian, expressing opposition to the Germans."
In the Barbakows' garden was a cellar used to store ice in the summer. The bunker where the family hid was dug out under the cellar. The hiding place was discovered during the liquidation of the ghetto in the summer of 1942, and all the people hiding inside were murdered.
The letter displayed here was written by Fanya over several days on a piece of paper in the bunker. On the reverse side, she added a few words in Yiddish, which were presumably written shortly before their hiding place was discovered. Miron Vassiliav, a Christian friend of the family, found the letter and gave it to Fanya's nephew, Zusia Berkman, after the war. Zusia survived hiding in the home of a Christian farmer and later living with his father in the forests with the partisans. Fanya's sister Chaya, who had been studying in Vilna, escaped to the Soviet Union when the Germans occupied Vilna, and survived. Her brother Manos was evacuated to Siberia by the Soviets together with his wife, survived, and lived in the Soviet Union until his death in the 1970s. Her brother Chaim managed to leave Druja and immigrate to Argentina before the war.
In 1979, Zusia Berkman submitted Pages of Testimony in memory of his family members murdered in the Holocaust: His mother Sonia Berkman (Barbakow), his sisters Rasia and Zeldaleh, his grandfather Ze'ev, his grandmother Zisale, and his aunts, Bluma Kruman (Barbakow), Fanya and Sima. After Chaya's death, her children found a bundle of letters, including Fanya's last letter, wrapped in cloth inside her wardrobe. In 2007, Chaya's children, Etta Feldman and Ze'ev Kagan, donated Fanya's letter to Yad Vashem to be preserved for perpetuity.
A farewell greeting to all before death, from Fanya and from all the members of the family.
My dear ones!! I am writing this letter before my death, but I don't know the exact day that I and all my relatives will be killed, just because we are Jews. All of our Jewish brothers and sisters were murdered and died a shameful death at the hands of the murderers… I don't know who will remain alive from our family, and who will have the honor of reading my letter and my proud greeting before death to all my beloved and dear ones tortured at the hands of the murderers.
Dear Chayaleh! Dear Monuska!! It is possible that you will remain alive. Live happily and well. We are all marching proudly towards death, for this is our fate.
As far as we know, Bluma and all her family have already perished. I cannot continue writing. All the relatives are crying and bemoaning their fate. I am leaving the letter with the best of our friends, who has done so much for us until now.
Fanya and all the family
We are all lying in one bunker. I am absolutely sure that you will all know the location of our burial. Mother and Father are barely holding on. My hand trembles and it is hard for me to finish writing. I am proud to be a Jew.
I am dying for the sake of my people. I have not told a soul that I'm writing a letter before our death. But!... How I yearn to live and reach some good in life. But all is already lost… Farewell. Your relative Fanya in the name of everybody: Father, Mother, Sima, Sonia, Zusia, Rasia, Hatza (Yehezkel).
And in the name of Zeldaleh the toddler, who doesn't understand anything yet.
In the concentration camp, before we will all be shot to death, in hiding.
Tuesday 4 AM
June 16, 1942.
Farewell to all.
God is just and His judgment is just. We have sinned. Our meager possessions are concealed at home. But we have lost our lives. It is all finished. Brothers from all countries, avenge us. We are being led like sheep to the slaughter.