FAMILY HISTORY OF LEV GASULIS
My father, Mordechai Gasul was born in 1912 in Riga, to a family blessed with many children.
My mother Beila (Gildenson) was also born in Riga in 1921, one of six siblings. The two families lived on Marijas Street in the central part of the city.
My mother's parents were originally from Belarus. Her father was born in Vitebsk and went to Moscow to study shoe manufacturing, where he met Dora, his future wife. They married and their oldest daughter, Rachel, was born. Their fate brought them to Riga, Latvia, where five more children were born.
My father's parents were born in the Latgale district of Latvia in the city of Rezica (Rezekne). His grandfather was also born there. The family's name is probably connected to the name of the town Gasuli, south of Režica. Dad's grandfather, at the age of 15, was a"cantonist" forcibly drafted into the army, where he served for 25 years and received a medal of excellence - the St. George Cross! In those days there was a settlement law in Russia that forbade Jews to settle and live in central cities and provincial capitals. The right to live in these cities was granted only to those of special status, such as merchants with high guild rank, rich businessmen, doctors, etc., as well as those who had served in the Tsarist army for 25 years. Therefore, dad's grandfather was allowed to move with his family to Riga, where his grandchildren were born.
In 1935 my father married Necha Lichtman and in 1936 their daughter Raya was born. My mother married in 1941(before the war) Boris Lichtman, the brother of my father's first wife...
The war started on June 22, 1941.The German army entered Riga on July 1, 1941 and immediately the persecution and liquidation of the Jews began. This started with the active and enthusiastic assistance of the Latvian collaborators. In Latvia there were about 90,000 Jews. About 15-16 thousand of them managed to flee. About 4-5 thousand were killed on the way or died of starvation and disease. The rest remained in their homes in the hope that nothing bad would happen to them. My father's family, unfortunately, remained in Riga.
They couldn't imagine that the "great cultural nation" would harm them and did not take into account the hatred and anti-Semitism of the local collaborators. On the other hand, to my great joy, my mother's family immediately left their homes, leaving all their possessions, and fled Latvia. My father joined the Red Army at the outbreak of the war and fought in the Latvian Division, as well as my mother's first husband who was killed in battle in the early days of the war. My father spent the entire war until his last day as a combat soldier, was wounded many times, and received medals and citations for his service. In 1945, he returned to Riga, where he learned the bitter truth. No one from his large family survived or was found alive, including his mother, father, brother, sisters, wife, and little daughter ... It was a terrible shock. He knew about the terrible fate of the Latvian Jews but, nevertheless, he still hoped that maybe someone had survived. He met my mother, who also returned to Riga after losing her first husband. They embraced each other and shed tears for their terrible loss. After a few days they made a courageous and bold decision to start their lives anew and establish a new family together. They had no possessions, my father wore army uniforms and my mother sewed a dress from an old curtain. My father returned to his apartment on 33 Matisa Street, where he had lived with his first wife and daughter before the war and found Latvians living there. He expelled them from the apartment. When the police arrived and found a soldier in uniform with his chest full of medals, they left him alone. The authorities approved his return to his apartment.
I was born in Riga in 1946 and grew up in this apartment. Fortunately, my mother's entire family survived the war, except for her first husband. Her brother Boris enlisted in 1942 and fought in fierce battles under the city of Kursk where he was wounded. The younger brother Sema (Shmuel) enlisted in 1945, was an officer in the Border Police and fought against the gangs in the Latvian forests. He also returned home safely to Riga.
My father continued to search for his relatives for several years and found his nephew Aaron, the son of his sister Bella, in an orphanage in southern Russia. Aaron was only 9 years old, his mother Bella had died from disease and hunger before the end of the war. Subsequently Aaron's father, who also fought in the army and survived, returned. As for my father’s younger brother David, there were rumors that he had survived the Riga ghetto and was sent to a concentration camp in Germany. My father searched for him through various organizations, including the International Red Cross in Geneva. Unfortunately, the searches were unsuccessful, but no evidence nor documentation of his death were found. David was a very strong guy, an athlete from a young age, and a member of the Greco-Roman wrestling club at the ASK club in Riga. He participated in many competitions and won prizes in 1936 and 1939 at the International Olympics of the Baltic States. My father always believed that David could not have been murdered so easily, and that he would have fought for his life tooth and nail! My father died in 1996 in Israel.
Since then many years have passed... And on one of the evenings of March 2018, I received a phone call at home. An unknown man named Michael Goldstein spoke to me with a heavy English accent. He presented himself as an expert in locating relatives of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust! He asked for my name, my father's name, my grandfather and my grandmother... and so on, and I began to understand that the man knew a lot about me and my family. I was in shock and shouted to him: "Is this about Uncle David?”... “Yes”, he answered me, “I am calling you at the request of your cousin Larry Kassel, the son of your Uncle David Gasul” ... 15 minutes later I got a call from the United States. On the line was my cousin Larry Kassel! Both of us were excited, we were very happy that we managed to find each other, talking in a mixture of English, Hebrew and Yiddish, then we moved on to Hebrew. It turns out that he was in Israel several times, studied dentistry in the United States and then spent a whole year with his wife in Ramat Aviv. In his youth, he was also a volunteer in Kibbutz Ein Shemer and Farod.
We have had several more phone calls and we now regularly correspond through emails. After an exchange of information about the family and the fate of Uncle David, I found many new details, names, dates, etc... Larry was surprised to discover that he had another 82-year-old cousin (Aaron) now in Hanover, Germany, and I found out that Larry has a brother Michael, who is also my cousin. I am named Lev in honor of my grandfather, Levi Yitzchak, who perished in the ghetto. It turns out that Larry is also named after him but, in the United States Larry sounds more American!
The two brothers live in Flint, Michigan. During the exchange of information and documents i learned many details about the fate of my uncle David! According to the details i gave Larry, there was also a connection between him and my cousin Aaron and his family in Hanover.
And now some history:
The war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on June 22, 1941. Immediately, with the advent of the occupation of Riga by the Nazi forces on July 1st, the Riga Ghetto was established and the persecution and extermination of the Jewish population began. On July 4th, 1941, with the active support of the local Latvian Nazi collaborators, composed of former policemen, member of the Perkonkrusts, the Victors Arajs gang, and others. The Great Gogol Shul was burned down. Three Hundred Latvian Jews and Jewish refugees from Lithuanian were herded into the large central synagogue, the Gogol Shul. All of the entrances and windows of the building were locked, the walls doused with gasoline and set afire, burning alive all of the adults and children inside. Within a few days, all of Riga’s synagogues were burned, except for one – the Paitav Shul, which was only spared due to its close proximity to the surrounding buildings in the Old City. This synagogue was converted into a warehouse by the Nazis. In recent years, the Paitav Shul was renovated and today serves as a Jewish community meeting center. On the site of the burned Gogol Shul, in place of the ruins, there is now a stone monument. Every year, on July 4th, a memorial ceremony is held there with representatives of the Jewish public and the Latvian government authorities. This day is now a public Holocaust Memorial day in Latvia.
According to the information i received from Larry, my uncle David, was arrested and imprisoned, at the age of 24, in the Riga ghetto with his entire family in the summer of 1941. In 1942 the ghetto was closed, since the majority of Jews were killed in the Rumbuli forest, Bikernieki forest and other places. David survived the ghetto and was sent to concentration camp Kaiserwald near Riga. David (Gasul) also survived the Kaiserwald camp and in 1943 was sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in northern Poland. On October 1, 1944 he was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany and in December 1944 to one of its sub-camps: the Polte camp in Magdeburg where he worked in plants producing heavy weaponry for the German army as a locksmith and a mechanic. On April 18, 1945, the camp was liberated by the British and American forces.
On March 21, 1946, he received an identity card in the name of David Kassel (the name was changed from Gasul to Kassel) in two languages, German and English. from the police headquarters of the city of Goslar. The Identity Documents stated that David Kassel was arrested and sent to Riga ghetto in 1941 and that he was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 18, 1945, by soldiers of the American army. The document further stated that "Mr. David Kassel is on his way to search for his family, it is requested not to hinder him, but to help him in any way”, signed the headquarters of the Goslar city police station. David lived in the city of Goslar, Germany until October 10, 1947, and worked in the port. From December 29, 1948 to August 24, 1949, he stayed in the British area of the camp for future immigrants, and waited for the entry visa to the United States. On September 26, 1949, he sailed from the port of Bremen haven on the "General Ballou" to New York City and emigrated to the United States. In the United States, he settled in Flint, Mich., married Rachel, whose parents had arrived well before the war from the Kurland region of Latvia as well. The couple had two sons, Larry and Michael. Larry has two daughters Michelle and Shiri, and a son Joshua, and Michael has twins, David and Dahlia.
Uncle David tried to find my father, but unfortunately his searches did not succeed. It should be noted that this was a difficult time, when we lived behind the Iron Curtain, when contact with relatives in America was not supported nor encouraged by the Soviet authorities. Uncle David died in 1996 at the age of 78 from a long and difficult illness and never got to see his brother again. We arranged with Larry to meet in August this year in Riga! He will then continue to Hannover to meet with our cousin Aaron. We are very excited and waiting eagerly for the moment when we will meet one another in Riga!
THE BEST IS YET TO COME …
Kiryat Motzkin Israel
In 2018, I invited my cousin Larry to Latvia, where we usually spend time in the summer. He brought with him his wife Marilyn, daughter Michelle and her husband Hector. I invited my daughter and son too.
We stayed in the same Baltic Beach Hotel in Jurmala. I showed them all the memorial places in Latvia, including the Riga ghetto, the Jewish museum, the places where our family died, etc. Larry and I read the memorial Kaddish for our fathers in the Riga synagogue during this visit in 2018.
In 2019, they came to Israel with the children of my cousin Aaron, who unfortunately died a few months earlier in Germany.
I also keep in touch with my second cousin Michael via facebook. We are closer with Larry - we communicate more and have already met.
Thanks for attention.
All the best,