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My Family’s Buried Treasure in the Former Soviet Union

by Sofya Tamarkin July 2, 2023

Wyoming News Re-published With permission of Aish.com

July 5, 2023

5 min read

After the Communist Revolution my great-grandfather filled a milk jug with gold coins and buried it in the yard with the hope that one day he’d retrieve it.

Here’s my family’s deepest secret: When I was 8 years old, I overheard my grandmother Zelda telling my parents about a mysterious map that holds a key to our family’s fortune. I thought treasure maps were only for pirates! This shocking revelation took place a few months after her father’s passing.

The Communist Revolution of 1917 encouraged its party leaders to seize private property and personal possessions of anyone who was deemed “wealthy” by socialists’ standards. The new Soviet philosophy supported collective ownership. Everything my great-grandfather David earned throughout years of hard work with his father in a kosher slaughtering business was now owned by the government.

Party demands were not to be ignored. Disobedience resulted in devastating consequences, imprisonment, exile to Siberia and even death. David knew that keeping his family’s hard-earned money was not an option.

As our family’s legend has it, David filled a milk jug with gold coins and buried it in the yard. He believed that one day life would return to “normal” but until then family fortune would be safer buried in the ground.

David with his wife Golda in the early 1920s

David didn’t trust his memory and so he drew a detailed map to aid himself in retrieving it one day. Years went by and for over eight decades of David’s life, Communists continued to rule the country. Atheism penetrated Soviet society with a destructive mindset of communal apathy.

Religious observances were a crime punishable by law. Children no longer believed in God or knew of a world where individuality was celebrated and encouraged. People spent their days in long lines for food, clothes and basic necessities.

Personal wealth was a thing of the past. Everyone was deemed “equal” in the Soviet Union reality, and many forgot how to dream.

But David never gave up hope. Right up until his passing in June of 1985, my great grandfather continued to hold on to his treasure map, praying for a better future for his family.

On his deathbed, David gave the map to his three daughters as a token of faith, believing that his family’s legacy will eventually be reclaimed.

David’s three daughters. My grandmother Zelda is standing on the right.

Despite the enormous influence of Soviet society, David never lost connection to his Jewish heritage. He secretly ate matzah on Passover and fasted on Yom Kippur. Up until his death, David privately reassured his children and grandchildren that Communism will eventually crumble from within their atheistic mission.

A New Life in the US

While David didn’t live to see his predictions actualize, his children did. In 1989, President Gorbachevallowed Soviet Jews to leave the country. We were one of the first families who emigrated from our city of Saratov to the United States.

What happened to the jug filled with gold coins?

Before coming to the United States, my family was closely followed and monitored by the KGB agents. Emigration out of the Communist country was a new idea and a taboo subject. Any actions that might be deemed as suspicious would halt our exit.

“My parents decided that freedom was infinitely greater than any material treasure.”

My parents understood that digging for treasures would immediately draw unnecessary attention. They decided that freedom was infinitely greater than any material treasure.

While the jug was never reclaimed, our family’s heritage was. Since our arrival in the United States, we have been fortunate to celebrate our Jewish identity. We worked hard at earning a living, learning English and adjusting to the new life in the United States. We created many memories, our own family “treasures” of connection and purpose. My grandmother Zelda did merit to see a better world, just as her father hoped. She lived for three more decades after immigrating to Philadelphia, proud of her Jewish identity.

Growing up in the former Soviet Union, I wasn’t allowed to question atheistic ideas. Fortunately, at the age of 13, I received a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I remember seeing a reflection of my Godly soul in his eyes. Since that time, I began to view my Soviet upbringing as an external cover hiding my spiritual light. David’s buried jug reminds me of my own inner spark hidden within, and gives me strength.

I don’t understand God’s plan as to why my family had to struggle under the Communist regime. Yet, I am beyond thankful to know that my true essence was never diminished and can always be uncovered and reclaimed.

After hiding underground for over 100 years, it’s unlikely that the jug remains in its original spot. My great grandfather’s house was demolished many decades ago and tall apartments were built in its place. I suspect that the jug with coins was cemented into the foundation of one of the high-rises or perhaps found by a construction worker.

I feel a sense of sadness that David’s hard-earned fortune was never uncovered and its map left behind, but I remind myself that I found an even more valuable treasure map – the Torah. It guides me to uncover gems of priceless Jewish wisdom and is a treasure more precious than gold.

Wyoming News
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