Sunday, November 15, 2020

How I Discovered My Cousin was a Victim of Stalin's Purges

Have you used one of the post powerful genealogy resources, Google?  Well, you should.  And don't just search in English, search in the language that was used by your family.

My Lefand family lived in Nezhin and some surrounding villages, so I periodically search (and have some automated searches running as well--you can set up alerts here) to look for things like Лефанд Нежин (Russian for Lefand Nezhin).  and I got a new hit that led me to a really sad story about a relative.  And a photo of him as well.

Isai Lefand Death Certificate

My third cousin three times removed, Isai (Shaya) Lefand, was a trained engineer.  And that got him into trouble with the Soviet government.

It seems that some projects that Isai was working on in the 1930s took longer than the government felt they should take.  And so the government accused him of sabotage and collusion with the Japanese government, and he was put on trial in 1937.

He denied all charges.

Isai Lefand

This pretty incredible site (Лефанд_Исай_Львович_(1893)) has multiple documents related to his case.  He was arrested in July 1937; on December 15, 1937 he was executed.  His wife was also found to be involved and was condemned to eight years' hard labor.  That would have been bad enough, but in 1956, he was found to have been wrongly accused.


Found Innocent.  Too Late.

He was executed right in the midst of Stalin's Great Purge, likely primarily because he was Jewish.  I haven't (yet) found what became of his wife and children.

Isai Lefand's Marriage - Happier Times

So use Google.  Use Google in different languages.  Keep checking back.  Maybe if I keep doing that, I'll find out what happened to the wife and kids?

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  1. I’ve seen that family. I THINK it’s a different family, but if you know any Lefand males from the Riga branch, I’d love if one would be willing to take a Y dna test just to see for sure.

  2. Lara, you can also find relatives on Russian websites by doing a "reverse image search" using the Yandex image search engine here:

    1. Yes, another great resource. But I didn't have Isai's photo until finding this particular page via Google. Until this find, the only sign I had of him existing was his marriage record.

  3. Long shot: I corr. with a writer named Frank Lafond in France. Might he be your family? A recent book on a Jewish filmmaker:

    1. Unfortunately I'm pretty sure that's a different family.