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YOSSI'S TALE


by David bar Elias

 

 


Kulinda, March 1922

The pale gray clouds of the early morning hung over Kulinda. As the day advanced, flecks of red-gold became visible between the breaks in the cloud.

The somber beauty of the late winter sky was lost on Yossi Nussboym. The son of one of the best craftsmen in the city of Chita, this latest battle would see Cossacks and Jews thrown together against the Reds. They had suffered their fair share of reversals in the past few years. The Reds were stubborn fighters.

But at last, the tide was turning. The Chinese were finally deploying their troops in assistance of the local Whites. After years of harsh fighting in the Siberian wilderness, Lenin's boys were finally being put in their place.

For Yossi, this whole situation had been deliciously ironic. The men of the Transbaikal Cossack Host were no less anti-semitic than any other regiment of their brethren. And yet, it was their commander, Ataman Semyonov, who had allowed for the creation of the Jewish Regiment in the first place.

Yossi's umpteenth reflection on this ironic predicament was shattered by the bullet which cracked inches past his head. He threw himself down into the wet snow, and tried to configure where the shot had come from.

Beside him, his childhood friend, David bar-Natayam shivered. David didn't have Yossi's physical stamina, but he had plenty of stubbornness. Yossi, for his part, was thoroughly surprised that David had made it through the entire campaign in one piece.

"Looks like we finally got those bastards on the run," he snarled, as though daring the Reds to shoot again in their direction. Overhead, a Chinese biplane (Yossi couldn't tell just what type) zoomed low over their heads, strafing the Bolshevik stronghold that overlooked the northern end of Lake Viluyskoye.

Yossi Nusboym merely shrugged. "I think they're done running. Looks like this is going to be their last stand."

These 15,000 Chinese troops from the semiautonomous Beiyang Army had been advancing through Siberia since the end of the Great War. The Whites had joined up with them back in 1919. The Chinese mostly used them as a screening force. Yossi couldn't have cared if they had been led by Baron von Sternberg himself....as long as they kept their guns trained on the Bolsheviks and the not the Jews. In fact, the Chinese had been friendly enough to the men of the Jewish Regiment; many of their Enfields had gone to the Jews. The Cossacks, by contrast, were the ones organized as the main screening group, and consequently, were the ones who took the harshest casualties.

The skirmishes that had been waged throughout this corner of Siberia had been brutal. Many of the men that Yossi had served with since '19 had fallen in the line of duty. Yossi had recited the Kaddish more times in the last week than he had done in his entire life prior to the campaign.

But flesh and munitions could only sustain so much. The Reds were now confined to several armored compounds that sat in the town of Kulinda. The bell was rapidly tolling for their cause.

At least, in this part of the former Russian Empire. Yossi had heard rumors regarding the reversals suffered by the Whites further west. But that was their battle. This was his.

Yossi and David crawled as rapidly as they could to the welcoming protection of the pine grove. It would be a long day. That much was certain.......
***

The last of the Bolsheviks surrendered two days later. They had been a sorry bunch to comprehend. The Chinese had then taken them away. Yossi had no idea where the Reds would end up, and frankly didnít care. He just wanted to go home.

The remaining horsemen of the Transbaikal Host had been allowed their personal weapons, as long as they swore an oath of loyalty to the new Kingdom of Yakutia.

"Yakutia?" asked David bar-Natayam. "What do we do now?"

"We go home to Chita," said Yossi Nussboym. "I donít think the Chinese are giving us much of a choice. If swearing an oath to some monarch to the east will let me return to father and the shop, then so be it."

"Say, Yossi," said David. "Remember what I suggested a week ago? Back before the skirmish at Yerema?

"Yeah," said Yossi. "But Iím needed at home. Iím sorry."

"Oh come on Yossi," pleaded David. "Thereís a fortune to be made! Multiple-"

"Shh! Looks like it's our turn to take the oath," hissed Yossi. An officer from the New Nationalist Army, flanked by two lieutenants, was striding towards the two men of the Jewish Regiment. He was a tough looking, imperious man with a thin mustache and flinty eyes. Both Yossi and David straightened up.

"Stand down," said the officer, who turned out to be a captain. His Russian was very rough, but Yossi could understand him clearly enough. "Where are you two from?"

"We're from Chita," said Yossi Nussboym, as politely as his fatigue could allow him. "We just want to home."

"You two are from the Jewish Regiment...is that correct?"

"Yes sir."

"Excellent," said the Captain, in a genuinely friendly tone. This contrasted sharply with the cold tone the two Jews had heard him take with the Cossacks. "Yakutia will need men like yourselves in the future. Please raise your right arms."

The two Chita born-and-raised Jews did just that.

The captain cleared his throat. He's probably an officer due to his communications skills reflected Yossi sardonically.

"You will pledge complete loyalty to the Kingdom of Yakutia, and defend it against all aggressors?"

"Yes," said the two veterans of the Jewish Regiment.

"Good," said the captain. "10,000 Years for the Emperor!" And with that, he turned and marched to administer the oath to the next batch of Chitan Jews.

"Let's go home," said Yossi Nussboym. "Maybe this is indeed the start of a wonderful time." And with that, the two Yakutian Jews began their journey back to Chita.....
***
Chita, April 1922

Chita had changed since Yossi Nussboym had last seen it. The damage from the fighting that had swept through the place back in 1918 and 1919 had largely been repaired, except for the odd bullet hole in a wall or a crater or two in the fields outside the city.

However, Yossi spied two huge differences right away as he journeyed through Chitaís mud-drenched streets.

Firstly, the red flag of the new Kingdom of Yakutia, emblazoned with Yakut symbols, was the flag flying in the wind. Yossi simply appreciated the fact that the Imperial Russian St. Andrews Cross no longer shadowed the 8,000 -odd Jews of Chita.

Secondly, Yossi spied the old Czarist garrison outside of the city. It was being expanded.

How on Earth did our new Kingdom raise a national army so quickly? thought the craftsmenís son. But then, Yossi saw the answer.

The Chinese flag was fluttering over it.

"What the fuck?" snarled David bar-Natayam. "I thought we were Yakutians now."

"As long as we arenít Bolsheviks, thatís fine with me," deadpanned Yossi, trying his best to sound reasonable. "We arenít extremely far from the new border. We canít expect our new nation to depend on itself for defence, as yet."

David was about to reply when he noticed a figure out of the corner of his eye. It was running towards them as fast as it could. "Say, Yossi, isnít that your sister?"

"Why so it is," said Yossi, squinting to see her. "I wonder where the Golem is."

A few minutes later, Rebbeca Nussboym had reached her older brother. "Shalom, brother," she said, giving her best impression of a bear hug to Yossi. She had tears in her eyes.

"Itís alright, Rebecca, Iím here and everythingís-whatís wrong?"

"Itís father," she gasped. "You need to hurry home. Heís passed on."

"Shit," exclaimed David.

And with that, the three Chitan Jews rushed home to read the will of Abraham Nussboym.......
***

Excerpted from Two Jews from Yakutia by Jia Lin Nussboym. Published by Imperial Publishing, Guangzhou, 2001. All rights reserved.

"With the establishment of Yakutia, the Jewish population flourished. The Yakutian and Chinese governments valued the Jewish communities for their valuable skills. The Jews of Yakutia, centered mostly in Chita, prospered greatly. Among the most prominent of the Yakutian Jews was Yossi Nussboym and David bar-Natayam of Chita. As veterans of the anti-communist Jewish Regiment, the two eventually went into business for themselves. Investing in the growing industrial centers in Manchuria, Dongwang, and Yakutia itself, the two businessmen became very wealthy. Yossi had only agreed to ventures suggested by David when it became clear it was the best chance to support his family.

Unfortunately, the Japanese incursions into Manchuria and Dongwang ruined a large part of their business. Yossi Nussboym died of a heart attack in 1935 when the Japanese confiscated his factories. His partner was shot by the Japanese while trying to evacuate the workers of their Harbin plant.

However, his son, Moshe, would continue his father's business by helping the Imperial Government set up the factories of western China, which would play such a crucial role in defeating the Japanese invaders. He also raised bonds for the government, earning him praise for his patriotism from both the monarchs of Yakutia and China.

It was during this time that Moshe Nussboym fell in love with Lin Chuntao, the daughter of a minor Chinese industrialist. They would marry in 1939."
***

Excerpted from Jews of the Sinosphere by Paul Myers. Published by Random House, 2001. All rights reserved.

"It should be mentioned that during the 1930s, around 20,000 German-Jewish expatriates fled to Yakutia to escape from Nazi persecution. Most settled in Chita. After the Second Sino-Japanese War, most would immigrate to Israel, although a good smattering set down roots in Yakutia.

Before Lithuania was swallowed up by the Soviet Union in the spring of 1940, the Chinese and Yakutian consulates, under the direction of Ambassador Zhang Chen, managed to hand out 45,000 visas to desperate Lithuanian Jews. Today, Ambassador Chen honored as one of the 'Righteous Among the Nations' at the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vaschem.

The key role of individuals such as industrialist Moshe Nussboym (see Chapter 5), and the righteousness of men such as Ambassador Chen in the war effort would play a great role in inspiring China's UN ambassador to vote in favor of establishing the state of Israel after the wider World War II."

 

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