Migration, Memory & Memorial

1891 Abraham’s Journey

Rand, McNally & Company's indexed atlas of the world map of Europe. Copyright 1891, by Rand, McNally & Co. … Engravers, Chicago. (1897).

At half past midnight I arrived in the town of Kovno. I have finally escaped from Odessa! God only knows whether it will lead to good or evil. I went through such hard time the day before leaving Odessa! Thousands of confusing thoughts were troubling me that day. I was torn between following C.’s advice and ignoring it. Thousands of times I agreed to go but, remembering all the bad things it would bring, I wouldn’t dare to go. At 7 p.m. I hadn’t made my mind up yet. Twice I went to say goodbye and having gone halfway, turned back determined to remain in Odessa. And my mother! Poor mother, she was so upset! And she didn’t know how to advise me. It seemed as though she was advising me against going, while at the same time she was packing my clothes. She must have felt confused as well and didn’t know how to advise me. Finally, my wish to leave prevailed and I decided to go on the off-chance, to gamble as it were. And that very evening, i.e. the 13th August, I left Odessa with 30 roubles in my pocket, having left my mother with 6 roubles for her food and promised to help her as soon as possible. At the moment I am sitting in the “Rossian” inn in the town of Kovno, examining my situation. I am left with 9 roubles 50 kopecks which won’t get me to London. I have written to my sister asking her to send me a..card or 2 or 3 roubles. I reckon if she sends me this money I will be able to get there.

17th August 1891, Kovno

I’ve been idling in Kovno for three days now and I can say that I’ve seen all of it. I have even visited… I can’t find anything of any interest in Kovno: the houses are very simple, the streets – even more so. There are no monuments, no gardens, parks or boulevards. The most fashionable place here is the Nickolayevsky Prospect or the “new plan”. The Jews – on Saturdays and the Russians – on Sundays, stroll here and know of no other place. I have also walked along this street today with a friend from Odessa whom I’d met here by chance. But nothing pleases me here more than the girls. For the last three days I have been trying and failed to find at least one plain girl in this town. It is as if Kovno had chosen for itself all the beautiful girls and can’t bear plain ones. Modesty of movement and dress only add to their beauty. They seem to have neither coquetry nor greediness, but only modesty and nobleness.

19th August 1891 Rossian

Yesterday at 9 am I left for the town of Rossian on a steamer, “Courier” and arrived here after midnight. But what an agony that journey was! At Bukrak station I had to hire a horse and cart. It had poured with rain just an hour before, so the road was very bad and the horses could hardly draw the overloaded cart along the muddy track. I was frozen to the bone and couldn’t wait to get to Rossian. Finally, just after midnight, I arrived here and drove to an inn. I spent the night sleeping on the ground but at dawn a policeman noticed me and demanded to see my passport. My passport is invalid and I was afraid to show it to the policeman and therefore I had to hide. When the policeman had left, I started to ask other people’s advice as to how I should act from there on. C. advised me not to stay too long for they were very strict with passports in Rossian and if they found me, I’d be transported home. He told me to leave immediately and wait for him on the other side of the border in the town of Tilza 1. He has spoken to a guide who has agreed to see me to the other side of the border and as far as Tuza for 8 roubles. Tonight at 9 o’clock I left Rossian for Touraghen 2 with 2 roubles in my pocket. I felt extremely depressed and anxious.

20th August 1891, Touraghen

Today at 5 o’clock in the afternoon I arrived in Touraghen.

24th August 1891, Tilza

…at half past four in the afternoon I crossed the border. It was very easy and not frightening at all. As soon as I crossed the border I felt as if the air smelled different. No more than ten steps away from Russia and yet I felt such a weight lift from my heart, the air was so sweet, as if I’d stepped into a different world. We spent 2 hours at the border. I paid 8 roubles to cross it, which leaves me with 1 rouble 60 kopecks. At half past eleven we arrived at the town of Tilza and drove to Goldstein’s Inn. I slept the night with my head on the table and paid 15 pfennigs for the privilege.

4th September 1891 (according to the new calendar), Tilza

I’ve been stuck in Tilza for 4 days now, living in real agony. For 4 nights I’ve been sleeping on bare ground, my travelling bag serving me as a pillow. It is such torture! When I get up, all my body aches. I’ve been living on nothing but bread and apples all week. Everything is so expensive here! How much longer do I have to suffer in this place? I’m left with 80 kopecks now, and what shall I do when this money runs out? I might as well go and drown myself. I’ve asked the Committee for help but was refused on the grounds that I wasn’t one of the … As if only those people are getting help! And how many of them are lying around in this miserable town and aren’t given any help either! God, it hurts so much to see the unfortunate families arriving here with their children and expecting help from the Committee. Not having enough money to leave, they lie about on the ground or in garrets for days and sometimes weeks, 5 and 6 families with 4 or 5 children each arrive every day. Exhausted after the journey they resemble skeletons, while their children are a poorer sight still. Dog tired, worn out and hungry, these people lie around for days waiting for the Committee to help them, but help doesn’t come. If some of them do get help, it is only enough to get them to Koenigsberg 3 where even greater suffering awaits them. And how many people go back to Russia cursing the day they left it! Every day young people return from America and London. Dear God, they tell such horrors about these countries, life appears to be so bad there. They curse the day they went, paint London with dismal, gloomy colours and tell us that newcomers must go through awful suffering, hunger and unemployment. And this is where I am going. They’ve upset me terribly with their stories and I already miss and long for that which I left behind.

8th September 1891, Tilza

I’ve been to the railway station today. I was seeing off the people emigrating to America. Christ, what a mess! More than 300 people were leaving, accompanied by the cries of small children and babies, they were literally crushing each other. It is so sad, so heartrending that I could not hold back my tears. There were only two 4th-class carriages and they had to do for all those people with all that luggage. Every Jew had a ticket to Koenigsburg, sold to him cheaply by the Committee. God knows how they managed to find room in the carriages which ended up being so crowded that the people couldn’t stir. A sad time has come for the Jews.

18th September 1891, Tilza

I’m bored. I’m bored to death and very restless. I go out, come back in, but wherever I go, everything seems equally tedious and dull. How long will it last, please! I’ve been stuck in Tilza for more than a fortnight and simply can’t escape from this town. thirteen days ago I wrote a letter to my sister asking her to send me some money and still I haven’t received a reply. I’ve got only 15 pfennigs left. What will happen to me when this runs out?

19th September 1891, Tilza

I finally received some money – 21 marks – from my sister and this very day I’m leaving for Hamburg.

21st September 1891, Hamburg, Germany

At 7 p.m. I left for London on the steamer ‘Obiovie’.

22nd September 1895

Sea travel is an awful thing! I’m terribly ill. I’ve been sick twice but I still feel dizzy.

23rd September 1895

Thank God, I feel better now. We’re approaching London. But why is my heart beating so? Does it have some kind of foreboding?

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