Maia Filevskaya has been a member of the Jewish Community of Estonia since 1992, just after it was formally established. She used to take part in all its events and activities, and when the synagogue opened, she attended Shabbat services. But now, Maia says, at 86 she is rather old, her health is not good and life is hard. She lost an eye and wears an eye patch, and there is a possibility of losing her other eye. She has a weak heart, difficulties with her legs and can’t walk very much.
Maia, who lives in Tallinn, receives help with her daily life from the Jewish Community, through services funded by the Claims Conference and administered in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. A homecare aide does the shopping and cooking, and helps Maia with basic daily activities. She also takes Maia to the doctor. Maia also receives medicines and a debit card for food purchases.
“If it wasn’t for the homecare service, I couldn’t imagine how I would survive right now,” says Maia, who lives in a one-room apartment on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator. “I’m totally alone and can’t cope with everything.”
Maia was born in Minsk, Belarus, in 1927. When she was 8 years old, her father was a victim of political repression under Stalin and was sent to a gulag in Siberia. Her mother was fired from her job and Maia was labeled the daughter of an Enemy of the People.
Like many others in Belarus, the family didn’t believe they would have to flee when the Nazis invaded, Maia recalled. “But when the planes started to fly overhead and the bombing started, there were a couple of days where we had to hide in the basement of the Jewish theater in Minsk. When we came back to Minsk after the war, the theater was no longer there,” she says.
Soon, all the Jewish children were told – by whom, Maia has no recollection – to run into the woods to try to escape the Nazis. Maia and her older brother were in a small group who managed to reach a summer camp, where they stayed for several days. From there the children fled to a train station, where Maia was loaded onto a boxcar, and somehow separated from her mother and brother. After a month-long journey, Maia reached the small town of Khvalynsk, in Russia’s Saratov region, where, though she was reunited with her mother, she spent the remainder of the war in an orphanage. She later found out that her brother was killed at the front. Life at the orphanage was very difficult for Maia and often there wasn’t enough to eat. She still feels guilty about taking two millimeters of bread more than her allotment one day, she said. Living in this orphanage left Maia depressed for the rest of her life, she said.
After the war, Maia’s mother found out her extended family had been killed by the Nazis in Belarus. Maia’s father returned from Siberia, but because of the political repression he had endured, could not get a job. After high school, Maia had to work to support her family. She eventually attended university, but was unable to find a job because she was still labeled the daughter of an Enemy of the People. Finally, she was sent to Ukraine to work as an economist.
Maia met her future husband at a sanitorium in Parnu, Estonia, where she had gone to improve her health. They later divorced, and Maia moved to Tallinn in the 1970s. They had no children, and Maia is alone. A sister, born after the war, lives in Germany with her daughters.
Thanks to funds allocated by the Claims Conference to the Jewish Community of Estonia, Maia has people who check on her and care about her. “I’m so grateful to the Community; without it, life wouldn’t be the same,” Maia says.