Thursday, April 08, 2021

Yom Ha-Shoah - Mordekhai Falkon (originally published on April 25, 2006)

(Originally published on Tuesday, April 25, 2006)

Since today is Yom Ha-Shoah - the day of remembrance of the Holocaust - I thought I would mention briefly my grandfather's uncle, Mordekhai Falkon, who was murdered by the Nazis in Liepaja, Latvia (known also as Libau, Latvia), in the summer of 1941. Mordekhai corresponded with my grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses, from the mid-1930s through March 18, 1940 (just before the Russian conquest of Latvia). My grandfather was a doctor, living in Boston, Massachusetts, with my grandmother and their two children. He was contacted by Mordekhai Falkon and by another relative living in Jelgava, Latvia, Sima Shlosberg - both sought affidavits so that they could immigrate to the United States.

This is the text of Mordekhai's last letter (that is, the last one that I know of, which was saved by my grandmother for many years after my grandfather died).
Liepaja, 18th March 1940
My dear Nephew,

Not being sure, that my letter written about two weeks before, will reach you, I write you today again. My wife has been sick for a long time, but now she is again well up. Also I am well, but since January the 1st I left all my business and since then I am nothing doing.

I am thanking you very much for your kind will to help me get into U.S., but as long as it is possible to live here, I should not leave our old home. Should unforeseen circumstances induce me to leave, I shall not fail to inform you in right time. All papers received from you I delivered to the U.S. Consulate, which will inform me, when my turn will come.

I hope you and your family are all well and I shall be glad to hear from you as often as possible.

With kindest regards from me and my wife

Your uncle
M. Falkon

[on the back of the envelope is stamped: Stockholm 20.3.40]
For the text of Mordekhai's other letters, see Letters from the Past. You can also find there letters from Sima Shlosberg and from Mordekhai's sister, Gittel Falkon Kagan, who lived in Moscow.

As I found out from subsequent correspondence with a relative, Sima survived the war. She married and lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, for many years, before dying in the mid-1980s. We do not know what happened to Gittel and her family in Russia, because there has been no contact since the late 1930s with them.

According to the extensive database of Libau Jews developed by Edward Anders and his co-workers, Mordekhai was likely killed in July, 1941. As soon as the Nazis entered Libau on June 29, 1941, they began killing Jews. Mordekhai's wife, Dobra, was killed on December 15, 1941, along with almost 3,000 other Libau Jews during three days of murder at the Skede dunes along the coast, about 15 km north of Libau. (For photographs of the killings, see Skede executions. Warning: graphic and disturbing photographs; the story of the photographs can be found on the Yad Vashem site). Mordekhai's son, Abram, and his two children, Betje and Genia, were also killed in 1941.

May they rest in peace.


  1. You wrote a sad and thoughtful remembrance for your lost family members, may their memory be blessed.

    On another blog you wrote that you had discussed with me the issue of whether "the reason" for the Holocaust was that German Jews ate non-kosher food, failed to keep Shabbos, and started heterodox movements.

    I do not remember discussing this with you. If you still have the correspondence, please refresh my memory, or if you remember the gist of my argument, please tell me that. Thank you. As it happens, I do not believe there was any one reason or even ten reasons for the Holocaust, in the sense of reasons that can be perfectly fathomed and accepted by the human mind. So many innocent children and so many holy, rightous people died. It would be a defamation of their memories to claim that we know "the reason" and "they deserved it."

    Of course the Torah does contain a passage called the Tochacha, and that must serve as a partial -- but very partial, very incomplete -- source of study as to "the reasons" for the Holocaust.

    Recently I saw someone claim that "the reason" was the failure of Jews to go to Eretz Yisrael, and I saw that others blame the rabbis who failed to foresee the Holocaust and failed to warn their flocks. "Explanations" like these explain nothing, and take the blame from the people whose behavior is most blameworthy: the Germans themselves.

    If you wish to contact me off list my email address is

  2. Thank you, Toby. I remember an exchange, perhaps a year ago, mostly on Dov Bear's blog, on this issue, that connected the rise of the Nazis in some way to the Reform movement in Germany. We don't need to revisit it, I think. I agree with you that the people responsible are the German Nazis and their collaborators