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.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Each person's death diminishes me

Every day I check the website of the Tompkins County Health Department to read the latest report on Covid in this area. I check the number of new cases, the total number of people who are currently infected, and any deaths. For a long time there were two deaths - two people who had been brought to our local hospital from New York City during the height of the pandemic in the spring and had died here. 

Then there was one death of a 95 year old man. 

And then we started hearing about infections among people at the local nursing homes - first of all, Oak Hill Manor. It became clear, eventually, that all of the residents were infected. Twelve residents have now died - twelve of our elders, of people beloved by their families, by their friends, by the people who worked with them at Oak Hill. We then, recently, heard about people who tested positive for Covid at Beechtree, another local nursing home.

In the last two days there have been reports of two additional deaths, one, yesterday, at an unnamed nursing home, and one, today, of a resident of Tompkins County, who was not living in a nursing home. Now a total of sixteen people in Tompkins County have died of Covid, all but two in a nursing home.

When the Health Department reports on the deaths, they never give the name of the person who has died. I look in the obituaries in the Ithaca Journal, but often there's very little information provided about those who have passed away. I understand the concern for privacy, and that it's up to the family to reveal when a loved one has died of Covid (or any other cause). I still wish I knew the person's name, and something about their life.

Why? As John Donne wrote: "because each man's death diminishes me."

Just before the passage in which that sentence appears, he writes, using a beautiful simile in which every human being is likened to a page in one volume: 

[A]ll mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

Each of us is "translated," that is, dies at God's hand, by old age, or illness, or in war, or by the operation of justice.

We all belong to one another. None of us is separated from the other. When one of us passes away from the world, we have all lost something. When one of us enters into the world, we have all gained something, a new person whom we may come to know and love. 

As Donne writes:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

The quotations from Donne are from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, published in 1624, Meditation 17.