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The TBE Blog

Malvina Fisch b. 1926 d. 2017

Malvina was born in Yaroslav, a relatively large town in Eastern Poland. Her parents were store owners, and they lived a comfortable pre-war life. Yaroslav was literally on the border of the infamous Molotov/Ribbentrop line, which divided Poland between Germany in the West and the Soviet Union in the East when hostilities began in September 1939. Malvina’s family, apparently sensing what was likely to be their fate under Nazi rule, fled to the Soviet side of the line, a decision that likely saved many of their lives. Though the KGB arrested her parents, maternal grandfather, and an uncle, they were eventually released by the authorities.

The Fisch family became unwitting members of the group known as “Stalin Jews”. In the winter and spring 1940, in what had been eastern Poland, some local Jews—an arbitrary mix of merchants, shopkeepers, Zionists, the Orthodox, and the (only apparently) plain unlucky—who were just adapting, more or less successfully to novel Soviet rule, were deported in four waves to areas in the Russian heartland and Siberia. There they resided in holding camps under difficult conditions, with both fellow Jews and Polish non-Jews, who retained much of their previous hostility towards their compatriots-in-exile. However, by this “twist of history”, these Polish Jews escaped the exterminatory German onslaught that followed the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Indeed, as one young Zionist activist succinctly stated: “The Soviet deportations were not planned to save Jewish lives. However, that is what transpired.”

And so, the Fisch family was deported thousands of miles to Siberia, where they lived for several years as internees at a holding camp. Conditions were harsh, but they eked out a living as best they could.

These evacuees and deportees were granted a Soviet “amnesty” in August 1941, which led to the gradual release of most from detention. Given relative freedom, those released from labor camps or prison colonies were able to settle elsewhere, far away from the war zones. Many chose warmer climates and the more hospitable environment of Central Asia, far from the onslaught of the Nazi armies.

Malvina and her family settled in Bukhara, in what is now Uzbekhistan, in 1941. Malvina’s mother was a baker, and once in Bukhara was able to receive shipments of flour and condensed milk sent by her brothers in America. Malvina helped her father sell the bread and sweets baked by her mother in the streets of the city and went to school, studying 6 languages. Years later, she would describe this period to her family as adventurous – her dog defending her from a potential knife attack, for example – rather than full of hardship or deprivation.

After the war, like many Jews the Fisch family attempted to return to Jaroslav. But the animosity of the Polish people was too great, and they migrated to Paris in 1946, Her uncles were able to secure their papers to emigrate to the United States, and they arrived in New York in 1950, where Malvina first worked in her uncle’s laundromat and later became a beautician. During this time her parents started a dry-goods store. Malvina met and married Israel Gajer after a 6-month courtship in 1951.