Tears Over Russia: A Search for Family and the Legacy of Ukraine’s Pogroms

Written by Lisa Brahin
Review by Janice Ottersberg

This meticulously researched book tells the story not only of the author’s family during the anti-Jewish pogroms, from 1917 until their escape to America in 1923, but also the brutalization of Jewish communities throughout Ukraine.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered during these organized, state-sanctioned massacres. Brahin writes about her ancestors, the Caproves and the Cutlers, from 1876 to 1918, beginning with her great-grandmother Rebecca, her grandmother Channa or Anne, her adopted American name, and the extended family of uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters.  Early in the book we get a good overview of their culture, marriage traditions, and life under the benevolent Count Wladyslaw Braniki, with happy times enjoying his vast, beautiful gardens.

The pogroms in Russia began years earlier, in 1881, after Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and the Jews were blamed.  By 1917 the violence came to the family’s village of Stavishche.  The brutality of torture, murder, and intimidation was relentless, forcing the family to flee from village to village then returning home to Stavishche, only to flee again.  Now having lost everything, they live in poverty, starvation, and hardship.  There is a gripping escape to Romania in 1920 where they were delayed for various reasons until they were finally successful in boarding a ship to America three years later.  America wasn’t the country paved in gold as they believed.  Brahin gives an interesting account of their lives and the challenges they faced in their new country.

A family tree or list of family members and associates would have been helpful to keep everyone straight.  This book shows that Jewish persecution and mass murders were not just of WWII.  It also gives the reader insight into the immigrant experience and the terrors that often force them to leave the land they love, losing everything, but gaining freedom.