The Judeo-Uzbek historical archives open to the public

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News has recently reached Israel that Uzbekistan is encouraging archival cooperation with Israel.

Uzbekistan is now officially researching and documenting the history of its Jewish community, which has existed in the Central Asian nation since the region was crushed by the hooves of Genghis Khan’s horses. It also includes hundreds of thousands of Jews who managed to escape the chains of German Panzer tanks.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan generously opened its doors to Jews and many others fleeing the Germans. Now the republic invites the public to enter the official Uzbek archives and see for themselves the history of its Jewish community.

The Central State Archives of the Republic of Uzbekistan were tasked with making information about the life of Jews during World War II and before available to the public. The archives are also in the process of signing an agreement with the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, and soon after also with Yad Vashem.

“This agreement with Uzbekistan was made possible thanks to the country’s policy of openness and thanks to the vigorous efforts of the new Uzbekistan Ambassador to Israel, Feruza Makhmudova”, enthuses Dr. Yochai Ben-Gedaliah. , director of the Central Archives of Jerusalem.

VICTORY PARK, Tashkent. (Credit: UZBEKISTAN MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS)

The archives of the Uzbek Republic, “Uzarchive”, include three national archives, including 101 district archives and 123 personal archives. The National Archives have approximately nine million storage units, of which 550,000 are considered to contain valuable information.

For the moment, the website still operates as a national entity. Yet, with the help of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, 150,000 data entries regarding the refugees – most of which referred to Jews who were evacuated to Uzbekistan during the war – were uploaded to the site. . In this archive, users can check the date of birth and marital status of individuals.

“Now that access to information covering the years 1941-1945 is accessible, experts from Uzbekistan and Israel will be able to carry out joint research projects,” Uzarchive director Ulugbek Yusupov said enthusiastically.

On May 9, the Uzbek Embassy in Tel Aviv celebrated Victory Day, a public holiday commemorating the 1945 surrender of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, a complex was inaugurated last year in Victory Park, Tashkent, with the support of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, to commemorate “the practical embodiment of our admiration for the achievement of the people in this cruel war.” .

Almost all families in Uzbekistan were affected by WWII, as the country was still part of the Soviet Union at the time. More than 580,000 Uzbek nationals have lost their lives, including tens of thousands of Jews. Some 100,000 Soviet factories in areas conquered by the Wehrmacht were relocated to Uzbekistan. These factories produced arms and ammunition, which were then shipped to the front lines. More importantly, Uzbekistan has become a sanctuary for refugees fleeing Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Serbia. INFORMATION CARDS of the Jews who fled the Nazis and were rescued by Uzbekistan.  (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)INFORMATION CARDS of the Jews who fled the Nazis and were rescued by Uzbekistan. (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)
INFORMATION CARDS of the Jews who fled the Nazis and were rescued by Uzbekistan.  (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)INFORMATION CARDS of the Jews who fled the Nazis and were rescued by Uzbekistan. (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)It is the famous Uzbek tradition of hospitality that saved 1.5 million people, including more than 200,000 Jews, including Max Wexelman.
MAX WEXELMAN: Don't be afraid to run up against Soviet historians.  (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)MAX WEXELMAN: Don’t be afraid to run up against Soviet historians. (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)

MAX WEXELMAN was born on July 15, 1931 in a small shtetl called Taplik, near the now famous city of Uman, Ukraine. When he was one year old, the Holodomor – the Terror-Famine – took place, which resulted in the deaths of three to 10 million Ukrainian nationals. In an attempt to save themselves, the Wexelman family fled to Tashkent.

The father of the family, Yitzhak, had fallen ill along the way. The Wexelmans learned that the only treatment available was in Moscow. Sadly, Yitzhak died before they reached the capital.

When the war broke out, Max and his mother decided to return to Tashkent. Having no money or accommodation, they found refuge in a small archive building. When he was 14, Max started working in archives, first in filing. Over the years, Max learned a lot from Jewish historians who had also fled Europe to Uzbekistan and at the age of 18 enrolled in Tashkent University, majoring in history. It was in these hallways that he met his wife Aida, the love of his life until her very last day.

Max is the author of a number of historical studies based on research he carried out at the Tashkent Archives and wrote his doctorate on the history of the archives.

“He knew all the documents in these archives,” remarked Faina, Max’s daughter. “All you had to do was mention the name of a person or a place, and my father could immediately locate all the relevant documents.”

Later, Max developed a passion for Yiddish theater and was delighted to find that a friend’s parents who were actors had been supporters of Solomon Mikhoels, one of the Soviet Union’s most famous actors and director. of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, which was assassinated on Stalin’s orders. PASSIONATE ABOUT Yiddish theater: Posters appearing in Uzbekistan during the war advertising Ukrainian Jewish theaters in Kharkiv (above) and Dnepropetrovsk.  (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)PASSIONATE ABOUT Yiddish theater: Posters appearing in Uzbekistan during the war advertising Ukrainian Jewish theaters in Kharkiv (above) and Dnepropetrovsk. (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)
PASSIONATE ABOUT Yiddish theater: Posters appearing in Uzbekistan during the war advertising Ukrainian Jewish theaters in Kharkiv (above) and Dnepropetrovsk.  (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)PASSIONATE ABOUT Yiddish theater: Posters appearing in Uzbekistan during the war advertising Ukrainian Jewish theaters in Kharkiv (above) and Dnepropetrovsk. (Credit: WEXELMAN FAMILY)Max was a determined person who was not afraid to clash with Soviet historians. They echoed the official position that the Soviet authorities helped strengthen the economy of the Uzbek Republic. Max, however, knew that was just not true. In fact, the Uzbek economy had prospered for years before the revolution, and Max even wrote a book on this subject for his post-doctoral thesis. Soviet authorities forbade him to defend it, but that did not prevent Max from describing the content of his research from the podium in the crowded halls of Tashkent University.

Max risked his life to talk about this subject in public. He spoke of poets like Alexander Galich and singer Vladimir Vysotsky.

“I was like, ‘Dad, don’t you realize how dangerous what you’re doing is?’ », Remembers his daughter. “He would say, ‘Yes, but it’s important that people know about anti-Soviet culture.’ When he realized that Perestroika (Restructuring) was not going to revolutionize Uzbek culture, he agreed to move to Israel with his family.

After making his aliya, Max continued his research on the cultural and economic contribution of Soviet Jews. Although his Hebrew was weak, he was immediately hired by Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, where he worked for six years. Historian Benjamin Pinkus recognized Max’s worth and went to great lengths to get him money. Max published a number of articles in Russian-language periodicals, which were immediately translated into Hebrew. After his retirement, Max spent a lot of time in the archives of the former Soviet Union, where he photographed documents on the lives of Jews and then donated them to the archives in Jerusalem. One of his favorite subjects remains Yiddish theater.

Max didn’t just read written testimonials. He would also track down people who had been involved in Yiddish theater in Tashkent and interview them in person.

“A lot of these people wouldn’t talk to anyone but my dad,” Faina explained. “These interviews form the basis of his book Yiddish theater in Uzbekistan: 1933-1947. Max continued to write articles which were translated and published in publications in Canada and the United States.

Max has not forgotten the warm welcome the Uzbeks gave to Jews before and during World War II. He therefore suggested to Yad Vashem to offer Uzbekistan the title of Righteous Among the Nations for having saved so many Jews, but he was told that this honor was reserved for individuals, not countries.

Even in his later years, when he could no longer travel, Max continued to work.

“He was a wonderful grandfather and great-grandfather,” Faina said. “He loved talking on the phone with his great-grandson Yonatan who lives in Berlin. “I want to give you a hug, great-grandfather, because you’re good and beautiful,” he told my dad in one of their last conversations.

Just before his 90th birthday, Max Wexelman died at Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva, with his daughter by his side. At the corner of his tombstone are engraved the words “In memory of Itzhak, father of Max”, who died during the trip from Tashkent to Moscow, and whose burial place is unknown.

“My father would be happy to know that his father was commemorated on his tombstone.”

Thank you Uzbekistan.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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