Luba and Aelita FITINGOF

Luba and Aelita FITINGOF:
“When someone knocked on the door, Rosa was hiding in the closet”

Luba: My name is Luba Fitingof. This is my sister Alla, Aelita Fitingof.

Our relatives went through the Holocaust and the Gulag. It was a big family — our dad was one of four brothers and they had three sisters. And it’s very interesting that in the same family we had both a communist, a Zionist, and a future capitalist — our dad Benno Fitingof.

Aelita: And a revolutionary.

Luba: And the revolutionary was our aunt. Let’s start with the revolutionary. Our aunt, Roza Fitingof, she was the oldest of seven children. According to her documents, she was born in 1895, but in fact she was born in 1891. And I thought: why in 1891? Because her future husband Abani Mukherje was also born in 1891. Roza, I think, was very independent, and very convinced about her views on life. I remember that she even went from Riga to Bestuzhev courses in Leningrad, then it was St. Petersburg. Before that she studied dentistry at the Tartu University medical school. At that time it was the city of Yuryev, in Estonia. Then, having received a diploma as a dentist, she decided to go to Moscow. There she met a charming Indian communist Abani Mukherje.

Aelita: He was an active member of the Communist Party of India and came to visit Moscow. To Moscow or St. Petersburg?

Luba: I think to Moscow. She supported his ideas. They traveled a lot, visited many places meeting with idealistic people who shared their ideas and were members of Comintern (The Communist International). In 1921, their son Goga (GEUR) was born. Being an idealist and a staunched communism supporter she worked as a secretary for Lidia Fotieva. Many members of the Fitingof family spoke several languages, and she was engaged in international correspondence in English, German and French. She has communicated with Lenin very often, she was quite successful in her work and remained a convinced revolutionary until the end of her life.

Maya was born in 1929. Roza still worked in Kremlin. Maya went to school with Svetlana Alliluyeva (Stalin’s daughter). The children were friends. I think it was in 1935, when something might have happened between Abani and the communist authorities. Either his ideas changed, or the attitude of the authorities towards him, but he fell out of favor. As a result, he was arrested in 1937. A couple of months after his arrest he was executed at Lubyanka. Consequently, Roza was arrested, and became “an enemy of the people». Served fully her prison sentence. But what’s interesting is that she remained so strong in spirit, and optimistic… When Aelita and I were growing up, I asked: “Roza, what was it like there — in prison?” She replied: “ Many people who were imprisoned and suffered from gallbladder inflammation did no have acute pains anymore because of constant hunger.” You know, it’s a unique approach. When she was arrested, she was sent to the Gulag. In Komi ASSR. And then Maya, who grew up in such — I wouldn’t say luxury, but…

Aelita: In a prosperous family.

Luba: Yes, in prosperity. She was taken to an orphanage. She was there from 1937 until 1940 when Roza’s brother Grisha Fitingof finally found her. He was also a doctor. He took her to his home in Voronezh. According to him when he brought Maya to Voronezh — she was an absolutely wild child. She swore like a trooper, she was rude. There was a long process before she adapted.

Meanwhile, Goga, remained in Moscow. He lived there first with one family, then another. Entered the Institute of Gas and Oil. He attended school for one year, later on the faculty was sent to the area near Moscow. They had mobilization/military training for students.  The meningitis epidemics broke out and over hundred young people died. Goga was buried there.

Roza was in the camp for almost ten years. And where was she supposed to go after she was released? Her family was gone. Maya was in Voronezh. Roza was not allowed to travel anywhere, only to the place of her birth.  She wrote to my papa in Riga and arrived to her hometown Riga in 1947. She had no permission to stay…

Aelita: Not in any big cities.

Luba: Nowhere. But first, when she arrived — it was a terribly small room, such a tiny room…

Aelita: There was only room for one single bed.

Luba: And a tiny table. And then we lived — it was the mezzanine. Semi-basement apartment. Maya was still in Voronezh attending medical school. Whenever there was a knock on the door, Rose was hiding in the closet. Because otherwise she would have been arrested. Dad would have been arrested too. And they would throw us all out onto the street. Then Maya arrived. She transferred to a medical school in Riga. And I’ll never forget, how there was a tiny bed there, and the two of them slept on it. It was less than children’s room. As may be a crib like this. Terrible conditions.

Aelita: But she was always in a good mood.

Luba: Maya?

Aelita: Roza

Luba: Yes, always. So she always sat there. I even have photos somewhere — here she is also sitting. That’s how she sat, and that’s how she swayed. And not even once she said anything bad about the terrible experience she endured.

Aelita: I remember later, in the 50s, after Stalin’s death, when she was rehabilitated…

Luba: In 1956.

Aelita: I remember that she lived with us. She was involved in my upbringing because mom and dad worked. And these years are among the happiest years of my life. Because everything was a game. She knew poetry of Samuil Marshak by heart, she knew Pushkin by heart. We had a game component in everything. I had a doll who slept in a small crib. One day I came and said: “Aunt Rose, my doll seems to have peed itself…”. And this was her who poured some water into the crib on purpose. And Aunt Roza answers: “No, no, she didn’t wet herself. She wouldn’t do that. It seems to me that it was raining very heavily outside…” Then we had a wall newspaper, she wrote poems:

Sloppy Lyuba’s fur coats lived poorly,

Dirty, shaggy fur coats cried bitterly…

Luba: And then more:

Lyuba’s teeth hurt so badly all day long,

But due to being a timid mouse,

she is afraid to visit dentist.

Aelita: And she hasn’t worked for many years. I remember when I hugged her, I told her: “Aunt Roza, you smell like a dentist’s office.” She laughed: “What are you, Allochka, I haven’t worked for so many years…” Overall, the best memories remained. She loved dad very much. And she always said: “Benno, I’ll go to the other side of the world with you or wherever you go.» And I remember, already in sixty-five, a letter arrived, that Mukherjee Abani estate left a large inheritance for his wife Roza. And I remember this one talk. We were sitting in our dining room, and dad said: “Roza, please, let me go with you.” — “You are owed and you deserve this money…” She thought for a long time and said: “You know Benno, I won’t go. I don’t need this money. Let this money go to the people, who are in need, who are hungry.” In general, this is how she was. And you know, until the last minute she believed that her worldview was correct. That the Communist party is not to blame for her tragic fate, but rather it was due to cruelty of others.

Luba: It’s interesting that dad kept a magazine from 1967 — “New Time”, where there is article about Roza and Abani. And then, when she was rehabilitated, I will never forget, he asked her: “So, after your husband was killed, your son died, and you suffered — do you still believe that your Stalin was right?”

Her answer was… I still get chills when I talk about it: “He was not guilty. It wasn’t him, it was Lavrentiy Beria…”