The shocking story of one Jewish family

Suomen Kuvalehti – 13th August

The Last Train to Moscow is a true story told in highly erudite style

The last train to Moscow left Riga on Sunday, June 29, 1941, two days before the Nazi occupation of Latvia. On that train was a Jewish couple, Josef and Mascha (née Tokatsier) Jungman. They were there because the Soviet Union offered a safe haven for Jews. Three years later, the Jungman family returned to Riga, following a circuitous route that took them not to Moscow, but to Kazakhstan.

René Nyberg parallels the Jungman’s story with the fate of his own mother Feigo-Fanny (née Tokazier). Feigo, Mascha’s cousin, endured her own Jewish family tragedy in a Finnish context. Upon her marriage to Bruno Nyberg, a gentile, Feigo’s family and the Jewish congregation of Helsinki shunned her permanently. René was raised with a Finnish-Lutheran identity, unaware of his Jewish roots.

Nyberg’s book, The Last Train to Moscow (Viimeinen juna Moskovaan in Finnish) is based on archival research in Helsinki, Riga, Moscow and Berlin. Having served as Finland’s Ambassador to both Moscow and Berlin, Nyberg provides an insightful and deeply moving examination of a family microcosm amidst upheavals that affected Finns, the Jewish diaspora and European society.

The book further provides an excellent introduction into the historical paradoxes confronting Jews in Finland, Russia, the Baltics and Eastern Europe in the last century. German Jews, a tiny minority of the German population, had fully embraced their German identity and made significant contributions to German culture. The Nazis tragically stripped these Jews of their German-ness.

Russian Jews embraced Bolshevism. It conferred full rights to participate in the project of building a new society to replace the hated institutions of Czarist rule. Through self-initiative, many Jews raised themselves out of poverty. Underlying these “rags to riches” stories was the Jewish minority’s intense focus on higher education and linguistic talent.

Returning to a war-torn Riga, Joseph had no problem finding work as a violin teacher and solo artist with the symphony orchestra. But the rise of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union created a new set of challenges. Josef and Mascha moved in 1971 to Israel and then in 1974 to West Berlin, the city where young Josef had taken his music diploma. In 1975, Germany recognized Joseph as Deutscher, including a German passport and full rights to a German old-age pension. Who would have believed that Jews saved from the killing fields of a Nazi invasion would find their ultimate refuge in Germany?

Paavo Lipponen, former Prime Minister of Finland

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Written by René Nyberg