June 5, 2008
Interviewer: This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on June 5th, 2008 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society oral history project. The interview is being recorded in the building of the Columbus Jewish Federation. My name is Fred Magaziner and I’m interviewing Evsey Neymotin.
Interviewer: What is your formal name?
Neymotin: Evsey Neymotin.
Interviewer: Do you have a Jewish name?
Interviewer: A very nice name. And do you know who you’re named after?
Neymotin: Yeah. My grand, grandfather.
Interviewer: How far back can you recall your family?
Neymotin: Uh, actually, there is a book written by my father and I think he records our family by…I can… [pages flipping]…let see by four generations. So would you like me to…?
Interviewer: Generally just some questions. Do you know any stories about the past?
Neymotin: Can read the names.
Interviewer: Do you remember stories connected to your families?
Neymotin: [Laughs] Many stories.
Interviewer: No, I mean that goes in your family like your mom told about her parents or your dad talked about his parents?
Neymotin: Yeah, many stories of the tragic background, so about sufferings and prison and exile…
Neymotin: So nothing…
Interviewer: Okay, so what is your mother’s full name?
Neymotin: Sida Feurer.
Interviewer: Fiever? What’s her maiden name?
Interviewer: Before marriage.
Neymotin: Before marriage, Vedienne.
Neymotin: And what is your father’s name? Full name?
Neymotin: Uh, Chaim Jessel Dan.
Interviewer: And where were they born?
Neymotin: In Leningrad, my father was born in Leningrad.
Interviewer: At that time it was St. Petersburg.
Neymotin: St. Petersburg.
Interviewer: And where was your mom born?
Neymotin: In a city just called Neville which somewhere I think in Belo…
Interviewer: Belorussia or Poland?
Neymotin: It was part of Russia.
Interviewer: Okay and they came to United States with you, with your family, together? You came with your parents together?
Neymotin: Yeah, we came together.
Interviewer: And what year did you come?
Interviewer: Okay. Did you remember names of father’s brothers and sisters?
Neymotin: My father’s brothers and sisters? Yeah. His brother is Rafael, and his sisters are, um, my father’s sister’s name, Bluma, Muscia, and Leah.
Interviewer: So from the names the siblings were about together five?
Interviewer: And your mom, how many she have?
Neymotin: She had four brothers and one sister.
Interviewer: They alive?
Interviewer: No one alive. Okay. Do you know anything about your grandparents?
Neymotin: My grandparents, I know now but it is so sad. My grandfather was executed in 1937.
Interviewer: By Stalin?
Interviewer: By communists?
Neymotin: By communists, yeah.
Interviewer: And your grandmother?
Neymotin: My grandmother survived and she died in 1961.
Interviewer: Is this on the father’s side or mother’s?
Neymotin: Father’s side.
Interviewer: What happened to mother’s side?
Neymotin: Mother’s side, they both died. My grandfather on my mother’s side was tortured. He was arrested and tortured because they wanted him to tell them who of Jews were rich enough to get money from, and he was poor but he was very respected in the Jewish community. So they were trying to find out from him who was rich enough.
Interviewer: Do you know the story on how your parents met?
Neymotin: My parents met, yeah, my mother came from Neva into Leningrad and the family you knew was the Neymotin family. So she went there and she stayed with them and one of the sons was my father.
Interviewer: And they got married?
Neymotin: And they got married.
Interviewer: And when they were young how were they living? How did they make a living; how they have money?
Neymotin: My father was a weaver.
Interviewer: I forgot, what year were your parents married?
Neymotin: I don’t remember. I think 1938.
Neymotin: Or 1936.
Interviewer: Okay and how did they earn money?
Neymotin: He was a weaver. My father was a weaver.
Interviewer: And your mother?
Neymotin: My mother didn’t work. She was helping my father.
Interviewer: Okay. Now about, you have brothers or sisters?
Neymotin: Yeah. I have one brother.
Interviewer: And how many children was in your family?
Neymotin: In my family?
Interviewer: I mean your mom and dad, you and brother.
Neymotin: And my brother.
Interviewer: And you had another brother who passed away.
Interviewer: He was oldest brother?
Neymotin: Yeah, in the time of the Second World War.
Interviewer: Okay. And where does your brother live now?
Neymotin: In New York; Long Island, New York.
Interviewer: Do you remember funny stories from when you were growing up together?
Neymotin: [Laughing] Funny, no. Most of the stories I remember are tragic nature. So there was not much fun.
Interviewer: So how you grow up? You were born during the Second World War, right?
Neymotin: Yeah. I was in the third grade, my father was arrested and in the school I had to live with it and all the kids, I couldn’t say why I don’t have a father. But many kids didn’t have fathers because of the Second World War. Their fathers were killed in the war. So when I was saying I had no father the kids assumed my father was killed in the war. But it was a very tough time.
Interviewer: Why was your father arrested?
Neymotin: This is a long story.
Interviewer: Make it short.
Neymotin: In the times of the Second World War many Jews from Poland ran from Hitler to the Soviet Union. And there they were arrested but they survived the Holocaust. After the war Stalin let the Jews go back to Poland. Some of religious Jews of Russia who were trying to get out of Russia, because it was impossible for a religious Jew to live there because they had to work on Saturday. So they were getting false documents and going with these Polish Jews pretending being Polish Jews to run away from Russia. But there was an informant who informed KGB that, about this fact, so they stopped the trains on the border and started checking who is talking in Polish and in this way they caught all of the, most of the Jews who were trying to escape Russia. They were all sent into prison. My father wasn’t in this train but he was planning to go to the next train. And the informant informed the KGB about this fact so he was arrested for an attempt to betray his homeland. And they were looking for him and he was running from them but finally in 1950 they caught him and he was arrested and put into prison.
Interviewer: And how long did he spend in prison?
Neymotin: He was released in 1956.
Interviewer: And put in a prison in 1940.
Interviewer: 1950, okay. During the war, actually were your parents religious?
Neymotin: Yes. They were.
Interviewer: How could they be religious in Soviet Union.
Neymotin: That was the problem.
Interviewer: It was very hard.
Neymotin: Yes, it was.
Interviewer: And they didn’t have synagogues there?
Neymotin: Yeah, they had, there was no official synagogues but there always were houses where people would agree to get ten people so they were praying like this.
Interviewer: And during the war they did the same?
Neymotin: During the war? Yeah. During the war they were Almaty and yes they were…
Interviewer: There was a rabbi there?
Neymotin: Yeah, there was a rabbi. The Lubavitcher rabbi’s father…
Interviewer: Rabbi Schneerson?
Neymotin: Rabbi Schneerson. The father was sent into exile in the area where the city Almaty was where my parents were. And so Jews managed to, he was settled not in Almaty but in some of the suburbs. It’s not the suburbs; it’s a small village with very bad economical conditions. But Jews managed to bribe the authorities and they let him to relocate to Almaty. So he was in Almaty and he was a rabbi of the Jews of the Lubavitcher Jews there.
Interviewer: And how survived during the war, there was no food?
Neymotin: They survived. It was their main purpose of the day to find food. They were doing this and my father was a weaver and clothing was very scarce. It was very difficult to get clothes in time of the Second World War especially women’s stockings, underwear. So the weavers they were making the items that were a necessity and then they were selling them on the black market. And this way they survived. People who were caught would be sent into prison. But they were taking the risks.
Interviewer: I heard that your mother helped the Lubavitcher rabbi.
Neymotin: Yes, sure.
Interviewer: How she help them?
Neymotin: When the rabbi’s father died then his mother stayed alone. My mother was, they were just close with each other.
Interviewer: So she supported her?
Neymotin: What happened there was not enough food, so they, my family just was giving food to them, to the rabbi’s mother. It was after the rabbi’s father died. Before the rabbi’s died Jews were collecting money and were supporting the rabbi’s father and his mom. However, after the rabbi himself died then she stayed alone and then, you know, the flow of money stopped. So, but she needed to eat, so my mother would send her food.
Interviewer: Hmm, huh.
Neymotin: My father told my mother that from now on the chicken on our Shabbos we’ll have only one left. He’d bring one to the rebbetzin.
Interviewer: Okay. Did you go to public school?
Neymotin: In Russia?
Neymotin: There were no other schools.
Interviewer: And did you, were you aware of the Jewish religion over there? Did you study when you were a child?
Neymotin: I started studying but after father was arrested it all stopped because they were afraid to teach me, so I became not…
Neymotin: Not. I was affiliated; I was going to the synagogue but they were afraid to do anything because there was a law for spreading the religion. You can be persecuted and it was especially true for our family when the one person was already in the prison.
Interviewer: So you went to public school and what year did you graduate?
Interviewer: And then what happened?
Neymotin: I went to the university. I was accepted to the university.
Interviewer: Which university?
Neymotin: Kazakh State University.
Interviewer: And what field did you study?
Interviewer: And you graduated?
Neymotin: Yeah, I graduated.
Interviewer: In what year?
Interviewer: And what fields?
Neymotin: Uh, molecular physics.
Interviewer: Okay, so you have a graduate with a Ph.D.?
Neymotin: No. Ph.D. was later.
Interviewer: So it was a Masters?
Neymotin: My Masters was molecular physics. Then I continued my studies in post-graduate school and I got a Ph.D. in theoretical mathematical physics; actually in neutron physics.
Interviewer: And what year it was?
Interviewer: So did you have any restrictions to get you to post graduate school?
Neymotin: Oh, yes, sure, it was very difficult because I was a Jew and it was difficult. But I was the best, one of the best students so I managed.
Interviewer: How many Jews were there?
Interviewer: In the post graduate school? Not too many?
Neymotin: Nah, not too many. I was…
Interviewer: Only one?
Neymotin: I know one more guy.
Interviewer: And how many total was it about?
Neymotin: It was very difficult to say because the structure was not like here where you have a group. It was just every student was studying by himself with their professors so it’s difficult to say how many.
Interviewer: Oh. Okay. So you got a PH.D. Was the next thing you got in your education? What form of…
Neymotin: I started work as an associate professor. First I was, you know, a far away city, and then I came back in Almaty and I was an associate professor.
Interviewer: And what was the main responsibility of your work teaching?
Interviewer: Okay, then started your adult life. So what is the name of your wife?
Interviewer: And when did you meet? How did you meet?
Neymotin: Just in the street.
Interviewer: You liked each other? Okay. And then you married.
Neymotin: In 1969.
Interviewer: And how was your wedding day? Do you remember?
Neymotin: Well, it was…
Interviewer: It was religious?
Neymotin: Yes, it was religious and in my parents’ house. Everybody was afraid to do a chuppa, but they found my parents’ invited enough Jews, there were ten or 11 people, a rabbi and they made a chuppa.
Neymotin: Then there was another wedding for non-religious people, just people.
Interviewer: Your friends.
Interviewer: Then what happened in your life? Did you have children?
Neymotin: Yep, we had children.
Interviewer: But over there in Russia?
Neymotin: In Russia had one child.
Interviewer: One child. And then you decided to leave.
Neymotin: [Laughing] It was not that I decided to leave. It was just that an opportunity came up to leave. My family never had any questions that they had to leave. My family was arrested for the desire to leave in 1946, ’47.
Interviewer: The main idea was find a window.
Interviewer: To run away from Russia.
Interviewer: And what year it came?
Neymotin: I started in 1970 for the first time I got the documents it was I think in 1970. To then we applied officially for exit in 1974 and I got refused and I was refused from 1974 to 1979 and then in 1979 we left. In order to get the permission to immigrate you had to get a letter from the place you were working and this letter should be signed by the boss, in our case it was the chairman of the board of the university, and the party secretary. And before they give you the letter there is a big meeting where all people all so-called (unintelligible) people are talking and saying you are betraying your homeland and homeland gave you everything and you betrayed it. So it was a big meeting and they were saying name and bad things to me and finally it was over. And they send the letter to the institution responsible for giving exit visa, it was called Ovier. But it in Ovier we got refusal and it was because I was occupying a very sensitive position. I was for some period of time assistant dean of department of applied mathematics. And it was supposed to be a high level position and they didn’t like when people of this level immigrated. So I got refusal and I became a refusenik. So they fired me from the university and I stayed without any means of existence. But we were living on the money we were making by selling the gift parcels which were being sent to us from the United States. And it was like this for about half of a year.
And I came in a year to again apply for the exit permission, but, and they took the documents and the head of the Ovier told me that, “You know we are accepting your application but keep in mind that if a person doesn’t work for more than half a year he’s considered to be a criminal and you will be, and he can be sent into exile.” So I got really scared because it’s very scary to be sent into exile in Russia.
So I started to look for a job but nobody would accept a person who was trying to immigrate. And I didn’t tell it to anybody but usually they would call the place where you used to work and in this way you were kind of framed. Nobody would accept you. But I found one place where they needed person badly, a mathematician. And I was a big catch for them because they needed somebody who knows math at least a little bit but I was a mathematician. So they took me and they asked me, “How come you are a person of this level and you are unemployed?” I told them it was because Kazakh fired me. And it’s a strange situation because in Kazakhstan Kazakhs and Russians are fighting and sometimes they are just firing people like this. So in his way I got a job and I could exist.
This way I lived four more years til 1979 when I got the permission to immigrate.
I met many people when I was a refusenik because it was there were hundreds of people like this because Jews were occupying not the worst positions in Russia, and when they were applying for immigration they did not realize they would be refused and they will be fired. So there were many people like myself and I was in touch with them once I got in touch with the first secretary of American Embassy. His name was Joe Preston. I meet him in a house of my friend Igor Minchulko who was a linguist. And I talked to him, and Joe Preston he was busy with Shcharansky family then and because he was helping Shcharansky he was refused to enter the Soviet Union. One day I called him and I was told that he is not present any more because without any because just he is not there. So I kind of was scared because I thought they would start arresting all the people who were in touch with Joe Preston.
But I was lucky because nobody arrested me although almost four years I was living in fear that I would be arrested. And we were afraid to let our daughter to be alone because we were afraid that something would be done to her. And it was just life full of fear. It was a very difficult situation.
Interviewer: So like in 1979 you got permission. Right?
Neymotin: Yeah, it just wasn’t luck. Once I was invited to Niger and a guy was talking to me and he said they were expecting Ted Kennedy to come to visit our city and he told me, “We would try to do a demonstration of something like this to hurt his feelings. Then I would be arrested and in a very bad situation but if I would stay quiet during this visit then they will give me a chance to apply once more.” I was applying many times, about four or five times. And that was a meeting of international meeting of medical, of people of medical fields, something like this. And Ted Kennedy was present there. So after this meeting I went to them and said you promised me that you will give me one more chance and they said yes. And then I applied again and then I got the permission in 1979. Actually I got the permission at the end, I think in November 1978 but it took four months before I could collect all the necessary documents.
Interviewer: Okay. Very good that you could make it out from that bad place, and you came to the United States, and how did your life change in the United States?
Neymotin: Oh, it’s completely, a completely different life. New life, new language.
Interviewer: What happened with your search for a job?
Neymotin: I, for about half a year, I was supported by UNIYA, American association big in helping Jews from Russia. Then I got a job as computer programmer at Rockefeller University in New York City. And then in one more year I got a job at a nuclear power plant as a scientist. And that’s where I was working for 20 years.
Interviewer: You worked for American Electric Power?
Neymotin: Yeah, I worked for American Electric Power for a nuclear power plant there.
Interviewer: Hmm huh. And that time how many children you have?
Neymotin: My daughter was born next year after we came to the United States in 1980, and my son was born when the company was transferred from New York City to Columbus, Ohio in 1983. And my son was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1985.
Interviewer: Your parents? They came with you?
Neymotin: Yeah, they came with me but they stayed first in New York City. Then after my father died they brought my mother to Columbus, Ohio and she stayed here and after the latter days.
Interviewer: And your father was meeting Lubavitcher rabbi?
Neymotin: Yeah, Lubavitcher liked my father because he was helping his parents a lot during the Second World War and he arranged, my father arranged for Lubavitcher rabbi’s mother to get out from Russia. He arranged it. So the Lubavitcher rabbi would say to my father I owe you because you helped me to get my mother, something like this.
Interviewer: And besides work do you have any hobbies, interests?
Neymotin: I like reading books. I like searching Internet.
Interviewer: Do you travel? Do you like to travel?
Neymotin: I like but at the present I am pretty much homebound because of the, now I am changing my life completely because I retired a year ago, so now I am adjusting to my new life.
Interviewer: Do you involve community activity? I know you were involved with Hebrew for long.
Neymotin: Yeah, I used to do something in the synagogue sometimes I’m doing something.
Interviewer: Do you involve with the synagogue?
Neymotin: Yes. I do.
Interviewer: Which synagogue are you a member?
Neymotin: Main Street Synagogue.
Interviewer: It’s called Torah Emet.
Neymotin: Torah Emet, yeah.
Interviewer: And are you very active there, like a member or committee?
Neymotin: No, I ‘m not a member of a committee. I just attend the services and do whatever has to be done.
Interviewer: So you continue your Jewish education?
Neymotin: Yes, I’m continuing my Jewish education although it’s difficult age but I’m trying.
Interviewer: So how you do that?
Neymotin: I’m trying my best but the results aren’t as good as I’d like them to be.
Interviewer: But you’re optimist, right? Now, do you taking classes somewhere?
Neymotin: Yes. I’m taking classes at Kollel on Jewish subjects.
Interviewer: That’s good. I think Columbus is one of the best educational Jewish organizations…
Neymotin: Yes, it is.
Interviewer: In Columbus, Ohio. How is your affiliation with, what is your philosophy on Israel?
Neymotin: Well, I am supporting Israel all my, everything I could do I would do for Israel. And I’m, I would send, when I was working and I had money I would always send them money to Israel of course.
Interviewer: What about besides money? About standing…
Neymotin: Yeah, I participated in many demonstrations to support Israel. Once we went to Washington, D.C. to participate in a demonstration for Israel. Yeah.
Interviewer: Did you go in 1986?
Interviewer: By bus or plane?
Neymotin: No, by plane.
Interviewer: Plane couldn’t make it this time?
Interviewer: And, you, plane didn’t do it.
Neymotin: I don’t remember because in 1986…
Interviewer: Yeah, because I went by bus. They made it and it was big forum in Columbus and they made it you went to Statehouse to demonstrate.
Neymotin: No, no, no, no. I definitely remember we went to D.C.
Interviewer: Okay, it doesn’t matter.
Neymotin: Probably it was another time, but it was in Washington, D.C.
Interviewer: I saw you in demonstration at the Ohio State University against the (unintelligible) conference.
Neymotin: Oh, sure. I’m always participating in conferences like that.
Interviewer: And, uh, how do you think Jewish organizations should behave in present times in case of situations that local anti-Semites try to declare about bad Israeli policies and etc.?
Neymotin: You should do everything that you can to protect Israel, whatever it takes because it is home.
Interviewer: Should Jews keep quiet or raise their…?
Neymotin: No. You shouldn’t be quiet. You should raise your voices on every occasion that which comes up. You should always talk loudly because our enemies like us to be silent. People who think we have to be silent are enemies of Jews.
Interviewer: How do you see education of Jewish children, Jewish education for Jewish children?
Neymotin: I think the academy provides education. I think they are teaching okay.
Interviewer: But do you see tendencies of less Jewish children getting Jewish education?
Neymotin: Yes, that is because Jews are being seduced by different liberals, by reform, and if Jew is talking being an Orthodox then his children and grandchildren are stopping being Jewish. They are marrying non-Jews and that’s it; only Orthodox Jews will stay. Everybody else will disappear in two, three generations.
Interviewer: Do you think there should be more visible; Jews should be more visible in American policy, politics?
Neymotin: That’s a difficult situation. Jews should make sure that kids are religious. This is the main thing because if the kids are not religious they intermarry and the whole story about Jews will be done in two, three generations. The main thing is to stay religious and to make the kids remain religious. Everything else is second.
Interviewer: Do you feel, what do you feel biggest thing was on you when you were young?
Neymotin: Unfortunately not what I would like it to be now. The street was violent.
Interviewer: You were brought up in the streets surrounding?
Neymotin: Sure because my mother was working day and night and I was alone. My father was in the prison.
Interviewer: Okay. Now what do you think of American media, television and a lot of stuff?
Neymotin: They are doing everything to destroy the basis of religion and they are succeeding unfortunately.
Interviewer: Evsey, tell me please how your children adopted to American life and what their achievements.
Neymotin: Yeah, my children adopted to American life because they were actually brought up here. They were brought up in Torah Academy, they all went to Torah Academy. They get education at OSU and post-graduate one of my daughters was graduated from there in economics. She’s an associate professor now at Kansas. My son is now working at Einstein Institute in New York City. And my other daughter is an attorney in Florida. So they are all got, you know, they got use to America and actually I cannot even say they got use to America because they were brought up as Americans and they are Americans.
Interviewer: So you’re happy they are here?
Neymotin: Yes, certainly they could achieve what they did.
Interviewer: And imagine if you would stay there you think they could do same things?
Neymotin: If I stayed there I don’t think they would exist, so no it’s impossible in Russia for a Jew to get…on the other hand I think that everything is possible because I made it in Russia. And the reason I immigrated was because of the hatred to the Soviet regime and because of the history of my family. But I personally achieved a lot in Russia too.
Interviewer: What do you think, what is your advice you can give to generation of young Jewish people?
Neymotin: Stay Jewish and don’t try to become friends with all these non-Jewish people because this is the worst thing which can happen; all this projects with Jews coming together with non-Jews they leading to intermarriage and this is the death of Jewish nation. Stay religious, study in religious schools and be Orthodox.
Interviewer: And support Israel?
Neymotin: And support Israel exactly.
Interviewer: Because we don’t have any other country which will save us.
Interviewer: Evsey, on behalf of Columbus Jewish Historical Society I want to thank you for contributing to the oral history project. This will conclude the interview.
This is addendum to Neymotin interview.
Neymotin: I want to add a couple of things regarding the relations between my family and the Rabbi Schneerson’s family. Now there are many kids who have the name Levi Yitzchak, the kids claim. My brother was the first person after the Rebbe’s father and what happened was when the Rebbe’s father died his mother came to visit my mother and my mother was just pregnant with my brother. And the rebbetzin told to my mother, “Your son has to be named after my husband, after Levi Yitzchak.” So my brother is the first Levi Yitzchak in the Lubavitcher community.
When I was refusenik among refuseniks there were many, many scientists; many people with different backgrounds and different areas. And they arranged so-called a seminar of refuseniks. This is an unbelievable story. People from different institutions made a seminar.
[End of tape.]
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