Nearly 100 years ago, Feiga Shamis, a Jewish mother of 12, was driven by a little known humanitarian tragedy to send two of her youngest children to an orphanage a continent away. They were just eight and ten years old. Some 20 years later, she hand wrote a 174-page letter to the children, trying to explain to them why she made the decision she did.
Unfortunately, by the time the children received the letter, they could no longer read Yiddish. It was only after the two children had grown and died that the letter was translated into English and printed into a small book to be given to Feiga’s descendants. This book is the basis for the documentary My Dear Children.
Feiga’s letter reveals a horrific and little known piece of Jewish history. Her letter is in many respects a memoir of her life from her birth in 1878 through 1921, the year she sent her two children away. The bulk of the letter, however, recounts incident upon incident of anti-Jewish violence during the period 1917-1921. Up until this time, such incidents were known as pogroms. But the pogrom scholars consulted for My Dear Children say the more appropriate word for this time period is “massacres.”
Feiga’s written account is unique. It was rare for a woman to write such a letter, and many survivors simply didn’t want to re-live what they had endured. But her story is not unique. What happened to her, happened throughout the former Pale of Settlement in what is today Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. It is a story unknowingly shared by Jews around the world. Perhaps Shalom Shalom will shed light on your family’s past, too.
Preface by My Dear Children Co-Producer/Director LeeAnn Dance
Original Preface by Nora Favish, wife of one of the two children sent to South Africa
New introduction by Natan Meir, Lorry I. Lokey Chair in Judaic Studies at Portland State University
Map of Feiga’s path as a refugee in the former Pale of Settlement