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Russian Photographs from 1935

July 23, 2013

First photograph: Moscow, The Kremlin, 1935

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My third cousin, Fannie Simonowsky- Black, lived to the incredible age of 103. We all called her “Aunt” because in many ways she epitomized a typical role of an aunt. She was an elder who would educate, enlighten, share stories, and remark on our lives while also having the luxury of not being ultimately responsible for our daily needs. She passed away this January, and I requested that her photographs and paper memorabilia be handed to me for safe keeping and archival purposes. There is so much really interesting early to mid 20th century artifacts, that I am going to create a series of posts to share some of her collection. The first series is 6 postcards she sent home while visiting (the former) Soviet Union. I find it interesting that she visited in 1935, just one year before Stalin’s “Great Purge.” Fannie was a staunch supporter of social justice, and I am confident that she would have found Stalin’s political repression the following year to be tragic.


This second photograph/postcard is of Gosprom Building in Kharkov. “The house of projects.” Alec Dunn was able to fill in some interesting information on this space- that is is Constructivist architecture. This is quite fascinating as years ago Alec introduced me to several Constructivist artists, and their work has been quite influential to me over the years.

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Fannie’s brother Ben was an active member of the Communist party in the United States, and the whole family had leftist leanings. During the Red Scare, Ben temporarily limited contact with the rest of the family because he didn’t want to put them at risk because of his activism. When I interviewed Fannie over ten years ago, she said he helped organize meetings. Ben was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and he and Fannie became disillusioned with the Party.

This picture is of Peterhof Palace- Leningrad.

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This trip was taken when Fannie was in her early 20’s and I can only speculate about her idealism and optimism of visiting the country of our fore-parents. Fannie’s grandparents (my great-great grandparents) immigrated to the United States in the first few years of the 20th century from Russia so this was her chance to connect with some of the relatives who stayed behind and never came to the US.

Fannie also visited Kiev, and this postcard is dated July 31, 1937. The postcard is bittersweet- she says, “Dear Papa, Leaving Kiev today and I am very sorry to say that Uncle Chaim did not arrive to see me. Having a perfectly marvelous time and feeling wonderful. I’m writing on the station while waiting for the train to take us to Warsaw.”

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On this postcard she writes from a ship on the Black Sea while they are sailing from Yalta to Odessa.

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This final postcard is written while she was staying in a resort on the Black Sea. It’s addressed to her younger brother Ed. She visited some of our relatives who were apparently living in Dnipropetrovsk (southeast of Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. A quick google search demonstrates how much these cities have changed: it would be hard to find these today based on the images in these photographs.

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I do find these photographs to be stunningly beautiful, and I only wish I had known these postcards existed while Fannie was alive so I could have asked her more about her travels.