Author: Daniel Klionsky, webmaster, San Francisco
Editing: Janet Niece, Fairfax, VA, USA
Posted on: 12 Aug, 2010
Last Updated on: 12 Aug, 2010


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Иехил-Михел Михлин, 1920(?)
Of all the Cantors’ children, his son Iekhiel-Mikhel (I-M) Mikhlin has the most interesting biography.

He is the only one who managed to escape the hopeless poverty within the shtetl, but only for a short period of ten (10) years.

All the rest of his brothers and sisters were doomed to a life of misery and suffocating poverty.

As with all double names, Iekhiel-Mikhel was known as “Iekhiel” to some of his closest relatives, such as his younger sister Masya Katz, but to others, he was known by his second simpler name Mikhel or Russified “Mikhail”.

We reference him below as “Mikhel”, as that is how his children, Raisa and Agnessa, called him at home.

Before his marriage, Mikhel had been making money elsewhere working in Riga’s Hebrew school (kheder) as a teacher.

He married in 1900(?) to Balya Goretz (1879- April 16, 1941). Balya was an orphan from village Pochep, Byelorussia and before the wedding, she lived with her Uncle’s family. Mikhel and Balya had eight children.

Before 1917, Mikhel sold meat on farmers’ markets and nearby villages. During one of his business travels, Mikhel befriended the Katz family residing in the village of Kholmi (30 kilometers distance from Klimovichi). Mikhel was a matchmaker for his younger sister Macya (Masha) to Isaac Katz and his brother Moishe to Pasya Katz.

With the start of WW1 in 1914, Mikhel was drafted into the Russian Army. His youngest daughter Nelly Nemirovsky remembered his large military overcoat hanging on the wall next to a photograph of soldiers from Mikhel’s regiment. This photo was later lost. Fortunately, Mikhel served in the Army for a short period of time. In 1915, he was discharged due to the birth of his sixth child, Rakhil (Raisa) Chernetsova.

After 1917, Mikhel became a middle-class peasant (serednjak) and he built a grain mill in the village of Petrovichi. Nelly Nemirovsky remembers him as a strict father. The children were afraid not to listen to their father as opposed to their mother, Belya, who was very kind and considerate.

Mikhel’s children worked at their father’s grain mill. Shlema Mikhlin (Mikhel’s brother and grandfather of English translator of this article Mark Mikhlin) also worked for his older brother. Shlema and his family lived in the second house located on Mikhel’s plot of land. Children of both brothers were close friends.

Mikhel’s enterprises were very successful despite problems he had with the village’s Deputies of Soviets and especially with the Chairman of Village’s Soviet Council (former shoemaker Lejba Ruskin).
A devastating blow came on December 27, 1929. On this date, a Bolshevik Party conference declared a policy to eliminate wealthy peasants called “kulaks” from Soviet society.

The process to physically eliminate kulaks became a state priority.

(According to document, a number of peasants who had had been killed, vanished or died in exile as a result of this forceful policy reached tens of millions of people.

It is interesting that the first military tanks built in USSR, called ‘Fighter for freedom Comrade Lenin’, were used in this campaign to eliminate kulaks.)

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Exile of former wealthy farmers, after their property was confiscated by the Soviet Authorities, to Siberia
In 1929, all of Mikhel’s property was confiscated by the Soviets, and he was jailed for being a kulak. This was a horrible blow to all family. All members of the family lost their civil rights.

They were forbidden to work for any Government organization or receive any type of college education, and etc. If somebody in the family tried to go to college, he/she would need a recommendation from the local Soviet council.

Unfortunately¸ these attempts were stymied the family’s enemy Lejba Ruskin. He remembered everything and wrote the worst recommendations about the family.

There was no future in Petrovichi, and Mikhel’s children started to leave as far as possible from their native village.

The first to leave was Yefim Mikhlin (he joined the Red Army and stayed there for additional time in service). He served in VerhneUralsk and invited all his brothers and sisters to move out there.

All the family left with exception of Balya, Mikhel’s wife, and their youngest daughter, Nelly.

The family’s troubles continued.

In 1930, the Soviet Government started a campaign to forcefully confiscate gold from all the citizens of the country. The same evil man Lejba Ruskin pointed his finger in the direction of Mikhel Mikhlin’s ‘kulak’ family.

Soviet Authorities, however, could not found any gold in Balya’s possession. As a result, they threw her in jail in the City of Smolensk.

She found herself in the same cell with criminals and prostitutes.

At age eleven (11), Nelly was left absolutely alone, but at this moment, fate smiled onto this little girl. Nelly wrote a letter to her mother in jail about her situation.

Soviet Authorities read this letter. They started an investigation and facts of lawless arrest were determined. After three (3) months in jail, Balya was freed and reunited with Nelly.

By 1931, Mikhel was in jail for a year as a kulak. Paradoxically, according to existing rules and regulations at that time, he was not kulak.

He never used hired labor from outside-- only labor of his family, mainly the labor of his eight children. This was a very important fact and argument to defent Mikhel. This was also a proof of despotism of local Soviets.

Mikhel’s oldest daughter Sarrah traveled to Moscow and was received by Chairman of Supreme Soviet Mikhail Kalinin. Consequently, Mikhel was released from jail ahead of schedule.

Regretfully, the family home and property were not returned.

Alone, Mikhel was sent into exile to Brjansk region. From there, he returned to a town of Klimovichi, where his sister Masya Katz had lived at one time.

Mikhel worked there at a local collective farm (kolhoz) up to 1935. In 1935, he was invited by his oldest son Yefim to move to Magnetogorsk, where he worked as a laborer at a local metallurgy plant.

In 1949, he was accidentally wounded at the plant. Mikhel died of blood poisoning at the age of 74. He was buried in Magnetogorsk.