eja Mälestused-Jutustused

Ruth Stupel

"My roots"

The Stupels

Stupel family My great grandfather on my father’s side Samuel Stupel didn’t know where he came from or his date of birth because he was enlisted to Tsar Nicolas I army straight from a bathhouse. The 25-year service gave him the right to settle in Tallinn (then Reval). Here he married a local girl Feige Goldshtik (1854 – 1924).

They had 7 children but my father could recall only 3 of his aunts: Bluma Pepersh married in Kiev, her son and husband left for America, Nehama Goldshtik lived in Riga with her 3 daughters, Rasha Itskovich (? – 1941) lived in Tallinn. She had 4 children from three marriages. Her youngest daughter Roza and my father were friends. In mid 20-ties she married a German pilot and moved to Helsinki. After his tragic death she married a local man Artur Nyytaja. The couple adopted 2 children: Kalevi in 1932 and Irene in 1942. My father visited them in 1936. After the war Roza was looking for her relatives in Tallinn through the Red Cross but without any results. Kalevi found us in 1970 and we are in touch since then.

My grandmother Zelda Stupel (1883 – 1941) was the third daughter of a big and poor family. In 1906 she married a retired soldier from Borisov, Moisei Tserefman and gave birth to 2 sons: my father Samuel (1907 – 1997) and Yehuda (1909 – 1941). The family lived in Borisov, Belorussia. Moisei (Moses) worked at the match factory. When my father was two, Moses drank icy water from a well on a hot day, caught pneumonia and died. My grandma Zelda returned to her mother in Tallinn. Here she met a soldier from Warsaw, his family name was Suffit. Soon she left for Warsaw with him and the children. My father remembered a room in the basement with a big bed and a baby on it – his step-brother Sholem (Solomon)(1913 – 2006).

When Zelda learned that her husband had a mistress, she took her three sons and returned to her mother’s home. Zelda and her mother Feige worked hard to make the ends. My father Samuel could afford to study in the Jewish school only till class 4, as the following studies had to be paid for. So he used the opportunity twice. Later he worked as apprentice at a shoemaker’s. His "teacher" treated him ruthlessly.

My father’s favourite place at that time was cinema “The Grand Marina” that was situated in the present house of the Russian Drama theatre in Vabaduse square. There was free admission for children with parents. So you had to find a kindhearted person and then you could spend a whole day high up in the gallery as films were shown nonstop. And if you had a few lollipops in your pocket, life didn’t seem so miserable.

In the 30-ties Sholem worked in the readymade clothes’ shop of Benno Rubanovich. My father and Yehuda worked at Hirshveldt’s, a Jewish wholesale store. My mother Berta Meiertal worked there at the same time. My father was a traveling salesman. His task was to sell haberdashery to shop owners on the islands named Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Samuel was intelligent and sociable by nature. As a child I loved to listen to my father’s endless stories about his adventures and clients. Merchants trusted him and called him “an honest Jew”. My father was good-looking and danced well. I had my first waltz with him when I was 4.

In 1934 he married Nehame-Menuhe Brekel from Riga. He learned that his bride was 4 years older than he only at the registration. The young couple settled on the corner of Karu and Aedvilja streets just opposite the Jewish school. A few years later Nehama became partly crippled as a result of a flu. Her mother moved to Tallinn to help.


As you may have noticed the date of death of most of my father’s relatives is in the year 1941. That year my father worked at a government grocery company in Tallinn. On June 14 he was sent on a 2-week business trip as a buffet keeper of a train going to Sverdlovsk. He said “good-bye” to his wife and mother and went to the railway station with a small bag. Only here it became clear what kind of a train it was. Father had to work in the buffet of a train that took deportees to the East. On the way he learnt that war had begun.

On arrival to Sverdlovsk my father developed high fever as a result of nervous breakdown and found himself in a hospital. Later he was sent to work at a ski factory in Kushva, Sverdlovsk province. My father recalled the way he got from the house to work in his elegant light coat and summer shoes in severe low winter temperatures of Siberia. In 1942 he was mobilized to the Soviet Army. He served in the Estonian corps as a mortar man till the end of the war. Yehuda and Sholem were mobilized from Tallinn and sent to a labour camp to cut wood.

The fate of Yehuda is tragic. In the evening after a long and strenuous day he left his boots with a shoemaker to have them repaired. At night the whole camp was awoken on alarm in honour of arrival of some higher army rank. Sholem went to explain the situation but nobody listened and poor Yehuda had to stand at attention in his socks. That winter night was especially cold. He developed high fever in the morning. Sholem managed with great difficulty to get permission to take him to a hospital. But Yehuda died in his brother’s arms in the lorry. That night my uncle’s hair turned grey. He was a medical orderly in the Estonian corps.

Samuel and Sholem were in war together and returned to Tallinn with the army. But nobody was waiting for them at home.

When nazis entered Tallin, notices appeared everywhere telling Jews to present themselves at the appointed day and time at a certain place with their valuable possessions. My grandma Zelda took her only precious thing – her wedding ring – to her Estonian friend, and since then nobody saw either her, Nehama with her mother, or her sisters with their children. The gold ring with a reddish shade is the only reminiscence left of my grandmother. I am said to look like her both in build and character.

My Mother and Father

On entering Tallinn with the army my father noticed Berta Meiertal in the cheering crowd. They had worked together at Hirshveldt’s before the war. The soldiers were quartered in the barracks in Klooga. Relatives were allowed to visit. Berta came to see her brother Hirsh and certainly talked to Samuel. She had returned with her mother Lea from evacuation in the Urals in 1944 and worked as a bookkeeper. They lived in their prewar apartment in 20 Tina street. It had been kept throughout the nazi occupation by their maid and nanny Katta.

Berta did not accept my father’s courting for a long time. I still keep my father’s love letter with mistakes corrected by my mother’s strict hand. As I have written my father had studied twice from class 1 till class 3. It gave him the possibility to fill the guestion “education” in the questionnaires - 6 classes. Berta had graduated from the secondary school and courses of bookkeeping. Her father Abram was the owner of a small shoe shop.

Samuel was a kind and gentle person and he managed to win my mother’s heart. In March 1946 the wedding took place in postwar Tallinn. My mother recalled that her bride bouquet consisted of a few snowdrops, the only available flowers at the florist’s. But there were guests and a wedding table – the pride of my grandmother. In a year to the great joy of my granny Lea the author of these lines was born. My parents had a happy and close relationship that took them through hardships and illnesses. Their late and only child being the apple of their eye. You can imagine how happy and proud my father was when his daughter graduated from college.

My mother died within a day from a heart attack at the age of 64. Her last words addressed to me were:” Take care of your dad.” My father lived till the age of 90, being in his senses till his last days.


The thought of being the last member of the Stupel family from Estonia made me write this story. Perhaps some relatives still live somewhere but I do not know anything about them. When I opened the site of Yad Vashem in the Internet I came across many perished people bearing the same surname Stupel from Poland and Belorussia. Who knows, may be there is still someone who will read these lines.

Jerusalem, 2006.

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