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Maya Dembo

Maya Dembo

.....My paternal grandfather, Isaac Dembo, was born in Riga [Latvia]
in the 1870s. He had some kind of technical education, but I have no
detailed information. He worked in the timber processing and paper
industry. He died at an early age, in 1914, when my father was only 14
years old. Grandfather Isaac was sick with diabetes and tuberculosis.
During his last years he lived in the Crimea, in Yalta, where the
climate is drier and warmer than in the Baltic region and suits a
consumptive person better. He died in Yalta. He was buried in the
Jewish cemetery, but we weren't able to find his grave after the war.
I have no information about his family or his siblings.

My paternal grandmother, Sara Lazarevna Dembo, nee Bugg, also had a
Jewish name, Sorel. She was also born in Riga in 1865. The Bugg family
was wealthy; they owned a fur factory in Riga named Electra. This
factory was one of the first in Europe, which learnt to make mouton
out of sheepskin, a shining fur with a soft flexible base. They really
succeeded in it. They also had a dairy farm near Riga, in Saulkraste,
so they were a fairly well-to-do family.

Grandmother Sara had several siblings, though I know little about
their life. I only heard from my father that her brother Max Bugg, who
owned the factory in Riga, anticipating the movement of the Reds [1]
to the West, to the Baltic region, took his family and moved to
Stockholm in Sweden in 1936 or 1937. He lived with his wife there.
Some of his children lived with him and one of his sons, Natan Bugg,
obtained education either in Cambridge or in Oxford and found himself
in Riga. Right before the war he married Yudit; she was an art expert.
Their fate brought them to the Middle Asia during the war. After the
war they returned to Riga. Natan was a talented engineer and worked at
the famous Riga carriage construction plant, which produced cars for
electrical trains. They are still used by our St. Petersburg subway.
Another one of Grandmother Sara's brothers – his name is unknown –
found himself in Riga occupied by the Germans, and perished
tragically. The fascists threw him into the burning synagogue. Other
relatives had managed to escape from Riga before the Germans arrived.
Some fled to the East, some the West.

Grandmother Sara didn't get any education, she was a housewife. She
got married in the 1890s, they lived in Riga and had three children:
Aron, my father Gerasim – his Jewish name is Gerson – and Cecilia.
Regardless of the fact that grandfather died early and grandmother was
left alone, she tried to provide the children with education. I
believe, her well-to-do brothers supported her financially. All her
children finished a classical gymnasia and obtained education abroad,
in Europe.

The German – not Yiddish – language was the mother tongue of
Grandmother Sara's family, because the German influence was very
strong on the Latvian culture at that time, especially so in Riga, the
capital of Latvia. All members of the family spoke Latvian and German;
grandmother Sara and Aunt Cecilia, who lived most of their lives in
Latvia, spoke it perfectly; my father and Uncle Aron spoke it less
well. They all spoke Russian well, Cecilia spoke without any accent
and her brothers had a slight accent. Grandmother Sara wasn't
religious, as far as I remember, she was a secular woman. Sh_ died in
Riga in 1959.

My father's elder brother Aron Isaacovich Dembo – they called him
Ronya at home – was born in Riga in 1898. He finished a classical
gymnasia in Riga and later graduated from Berlin University. He was a
chemist by occupation and worked all his life in the field of
oil-processing. In 1937-1938 he married Olga Lvovna Tsymbal and their
son Lev was born. They lived in Leningrad. They were aware of their
Jewish origin, but were secular people having little in common with
Jewish traditions. Olga Lvovna was a doctor-roentgenologist and worked
at Leningrad Pediatric Institute. Aron was in the chemical forces at
the frontline during the war. Right after the war he worked at some
plant in Leningrad. There was an explosion at that plant, Aron was
considered guilty and was put into prison. I remember how some
ex-prisoner came to our place and gave father a note from his brother.
My father hired various attorneys and finally my uncle was released.

Later Aron was working at the oilfields in Bashkiria with a center in
the town of Ishimbay. He spent most of his time in that town. He
bought a Volga car in 1958 before he retired. [Editor's note: a Soviet
car mark, very expensive and prestigious at that time.] He was
returning to Leningrad via Moscow in this car along with his
colleague. The car was hit by a dump truck and they were both killed.
Uncle Aron was buried in Leningrad in the Jewish Preobrazhensky

My father's younger sister Cecilia Isaacovna Dembo was born in Riga in
1904. When she was nine years old, she was run over by a street
railway car and lost her leg; she had a prosthesis afterwards. This
circumstance left a certain imprint on her further personal life. She
had a good education, she finished a classical gymnasia in Riga,
graduated from the medical faculty of Tartu University and later
improved her education in Prague with Voyachek, who was very famous in
the world of medicine. She traveled a lot, went to Italy and France.
Cecilia was a very good otolaryngologist. She was a secular Jew, far
from religion. She lived with her mother, my grandmother Sara, in

During the war, while in evacuation in the Urals, Cecilia worked in a
polyclinic. After she returned to liberated Riga, she continued with
her medical activity. She treated the opera singers' vocal chord
illness; she was on friendly terms with the famous tenor
Alexandrovich, and knew the academician Tarle very well. [Editor's
note: E. V. Tarle (1875-1955): a famous Soviet historian of Jewish
origin, one of the most prominent specialists in the history of
Russia, France and international relations at the end of the 19th,
beginning of the 20th century.]

Cecilia was an extraordinary person, though she didn't have any
personal life; she was never married. She adopted and raised Alexander
Genkin, her cousin's son, and gave him her last name. Alexander was
born in Paris, his French mother left him in his early childhood and
then his father died. Alexander Dembo became an artist, worked as a
teacher at the Riga Academy of Arts, faculty of industrial aesthetics.
I have his paintings at home. Cecilia died in Riga in 1981.

My father, Gerasim Isaacovich Dembo, was born in Riga in 1900. In 1918
he moved to Petrograd with his mother and sister Cecilia because of
Cecilia's illness. He finished a classical gymnasia located on
Vosstania Street and met my mother there. My father's family lived in
the center of Petrograd, on Grechesky Lane. My mother's family lived
nearby. After finishing the gymnasia my father started to work at the
Oktyabrskaya Railroad as a stoker to earn a living. My grandmother and
her daughter returned to Riga and Gerasim stayed in Petrograd.

I remember not only my maternal grandparents, but also my maternal
great-grandparents, the Neimotins. My great-grandfather's name was
Ovsha, he was a very handsome old man and resembled Moses by
Michelangelo, with a gray beard, which seemed silver to me. I loved to
sit in his lap and pull at his beard. My great-grandmother's name was
Pesya, she wore a very long skirt, which surprised me, because
everybody already wore short skirts at that time. She always put her
hand under her skirt – she must have had a pocket there – and gave me
candies. They lived in 44 4th Sovetskaya, the whole apartment formerly
belonged to the Neimotins; later they were 'packed' and when I knew
them they lived in a small long room, which was all crammed with
bookcases full of books in Yiddish and Hebrew. All books were age-old,
with golden stamping in leather binding. My great-grandfather always
read books, no matter when I came to visit. He read some big books
with signs unknown to me, and he turned the pages in the direction
opposite to the standard. My great-grandparents were quiet, calm, nice
and smiling people, and very religious. According to some information
my great-grandfather was a rabbi before the [Russian] Revolution [of
1917] [2]. He prayed a lot. They didn't attend the synagogue at the
time I remember them, because they were sick people and it was
difficult for them to climb to the six floor, where their apartment
was located, so they prayed at home. They died during the blockade of
Leningrad [3] in 1942...... for the rest go to;