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Tears Over Russia: A Search for Family and the Legacy of Ukraine’s Pogroms

Tears Over Russia: A Search for Family and the Legacy of Ukraine’s Pogroms

A sweeping saga of a Jewish family and community fighting for survival against the ravages of history.

Set between events depicted in Fiddler on the Roof and Schindler’s List, Lisa Brahin’s Tears over Russia brings to life a piece of Jewish history that has never before been told.

Between 1917 and 1921, twenty years before the Holocaust began, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 Jews were murdered in anti-Jewish pogroms across Ukraine. Lisa grew up transfixed by her grandmother Channa’s stories about her family being forced to flee their hometown of Stavishche, as armies and bandit groups raided village after village, killing Jewish residents. Channa described a perilous three-year journey through Russia and Romania, led at first by a gallant American who had snuck into Ukraine to save his immediate family and ended up leading an exodus of nearly eighty to safety.

With almost no published sources to validate her grandmother’s tales, Lisa embarked on her incredible journey to tell Channa’s story, forging connections with archivists around the world to find elusive documents to fill in the gaps of what happened in Stavishche. She also tapped into connections closer to home, gathering testimonies from her grandmother’s relatives, childhood friends and neighbors.

The result is a moving historical family narrative that speaks to universal human themes—the resilience and hope of ordinary people surviving the ravages of history and human cruelty. With the growing passage of time, it is unlikely that we will see another family saga emerge so richly detailing this forgotten time period. Tears Over Russia eloquently proves that true life is sometimes more compelling than fiction.

Preface: A Granddaughter’s Memories

Russian Jewish Timeline: A Brief Chronology of Historical Events, 1881-1921

Prologue: Stavishche, June 15-16, 1919

Part I: Calm Before the Storm: 1876-1918

Chapter 1. Family Folklore

Chapter 2. A Total Eclipse

Chapter 3. A Passover Tragedy

Chapter 4. Days of Innocence

Chapter 5. Avrum Cutler’s Brief Betrothals

Chapter 6. Count Wladyslaw Branicki and the Noble Family of Stavishche

Part II: The Pogroms: 1917-1920

Chapter 7. Stavishche Under Siege

Chapter 8. Grigoriev’s Bandits

Chapter 9. From Village to Village

Chapter 10. Ataman Zeleny Meets Rabbi Pitsie Avram

Chapter 11. The Murder of Bessie Cutler’s Husband

Chapter 12. General Denikin’s Militia

Chapter 13. Refuge in Belaya Tserkov

Part III: Exodus to the Goldene Medina, 1920-1925

Chapter 14. There Was a Place Nearby, Where They Made the Little Coffins

Chapter 15. The Unlikely Arrival of Barney Stumacher, an American Hero

Chapter 16. The Great Escape: The Wagon Trains

Chapter 17. The Perilous Crossing of the Dniester River

Chapter 18. Adventures in Romania

Chapter 19. Life in Kishinev

Chapter 20. Journey on the SS Braga

Chapter 21. America: The First Years

Part IV: Rebecca and Isaac’s Children: Select Stories in Philadelphia, 1926-1941

Chapter 22. Struggling in the Golden Land

Chapter 23. The Story of Anne and Ben

Chapter 24. When Sunny Met Harry

Chapter 25. Beryl

Part V: Rabbis and Reunions 1941-1950, Rainbows 1925 and 2003

Chapter 26. Rabbi Pitsie Avram in the Bronx

Chapter 27. The Events That Defined Their Lives in the New World

Chapter 28. Rainbows

Appendices

Appendix A. The Colorful History of Branicki Palace and the Secret Identity of Its First Countess

Appendix B. Funeral Speech for Count Wladyslaw M. Branicki, Last Nobleman of Stavishche: Sucha, Poland, September 21, 1922

Appendix C. The Stavishche Pogrom Tombstone List (Partial), 1918-1920

Appendix D. Partial List of Stavishche Residents Murdered by Grigoriev’s Band, Headed by Zhelezniak, June 1919

Appendix E. A Partial Pogrom Memorial List, 1920

Appendix F. Death List (Partial): Stavishche, (Translated from Yiddish into English)

Appendix G. The Pogrom Survivors: Stavishche, 1923

Appendix H. Fates of the Villagers, 1920s

Appendix I. Famine, Fascists, and the Holocaust: Stavishche, 1931-1945

Appendix J. Searching for a Historical Treasure: The Megilat Ha-tevah, Tel Aviv, 2003

Appendix K. The Stunning Discovery of the Stavishche Torah Crown, 2005

Glossary

Notes

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