I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.
The Letters to Polya collection contains correspondence, a notebook journal, a book of Labor Songs, a Passport, a Train Ticket, an image gallery of photographs and postcards, commentaries, and a list for further reading. The items in the collection date from 1906 to 1920. The heart of the collection consists of letters and postcards from Aron Bookspan to his fiancée Poline (Polya) Dechtyar during the first half of 1914. These are love letters, filled with longing, anxiety, and, the favorite Russian emotion, suffering. Aron is in Kishinev, Russia, and Polya is waiting for him in Paris, France, with her father, siblings, and other relatives, who moved there to flee the pogroms and lack of economic opportunity. Aron also wants to leave, because he fears conscription into the Russian army to fight in what soon became World War I, the war to end all wars — which, of course, we know did not. Aron and Polya quietly plan unbeknowst to their families to meet in Paris and then go to America, where Aron has a sister who lives in Chicago. He waits to save money from his job at the Andrusier shoe shop, where he makes and sells shoes. The shop belongs to his uncle. Aron also waits for a “shifscard” from his sister in America, so he be accepted as an immigrant. Aron does eventually leave Kishinev with a proper passport, the shifscard, some rubles, luggage, pillows, and tobacco. He arrives in Paris, and he and Polya board the S.S. Noordam and arrive at Ellis Island, New York, on July 14, 1914. Bastille Day, indeed, and freedom.
The correspondence past Aron and Polya’s 1914 arrival in America is sketchy. The world is at war. There are some letters and postcards during these years that give glimpses of life in Kishinev and Paris.
One of the wonderful things about the correspondence are the different voices and personalities. These include Aron, the pining lover, his cousin Tsillie Andrusier, who works with him at the shoe shop, a young Polya, Polya’s father Henri (Chaim), Polya’s sisters Nina and Roza, and various friends. There are photos in the Image Gallery of this cast of characters. Also, just looking at the Image Gallery transports you into another time and world.
The commentaries are blogs that give historical information or insights into the particular personalities. While the collection of items is finite, the number of commentaries will continue to grow, which is the nature of commentaries. A good one that helps to introduce the collection is “How This Collection Came to Me.”
Aron’s Notebook is a journal he kept from about 1914 to 1920. In it are some drafts of his letters to Polya and a close count of when he wrote his correspondence. Of interest is his chronology of important dates during this exodus to America, including his marriage to Polya.
Another item of interest is the book of Labor Songs. The assumption is that Aron was involved with or had sympathies for the revolution of the working class. These songs dating around 1913 or 1914, so they are before the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Because the collection is large, and, let’s face it, this is from real life and not every scrap of correspondence is necessarily fascinating, here is a timeline of highlights to give you an overall feeling for the collection.