A Jewish mother but he went to German school.

Internet site Delfi, 30.11.2017

Conversation with the former ambassador of Finland in Germany and Russia (summary)

René Nyberg in his book “The last train to Moscow” has described his mother Fanny Tukacier, who abandoned her Jewish identity in 1937 when against her father’s will she got married with a Finn of Swedish origin Bruno.

Latvian translation of the book was published in mid-November and the opening of it took place at the Finnish embassy in Riga. The title of the book and also one of the links with Riga is the fact that in June 1941 the last train went from Riga to Moscow in which there were Fanny’s cousin Masha and her husband Josef. The rest of his mother’s relatives who stayed in Riga were killed.

Yet, the fateful train is not the only link between the Nyberg’s family and Riga. Fanny came to Riga to visit her cousin even before she got married and she spent pleasant moments of her youth in the big flat on Gertrudes street. Later she always remembered that time and said that life in Riga was good.

But talking about the book René Nyberg stresses that it is not a fiction. It is rather an informatively intensive historical study rooted and interlaced with family stories that have been put together for many years from different sources. It is a saturated message on Jewish history and Holocaust in Soviet Union, Baltic and Finland – in the countries where the experience of antisemitism is different and even until today incompletely lit.

René Nyberg says that if you do not know your past you do not know also who you are. For small nations it is more important to understand what the past was like in order to realize the present. He says he has combined holocaust with Stalinism in his book but it was not done on purpose. He does not have political intentions. He says that this book is his and Lena’s (Masha’s daughter) joint work. She wrote him long essays about the events in 1941, about her parent’s escape from Riga to Moscow with the last train.  She had memories and family stories but he acted as a historian.

In the book René calls himself the first stage half-breed. But he got to know about his Jewish roots only in his adolescent years. His mother’s Jewish origin was a taboo therefore he did not tell his school mates (René attended German school) that his mother was Jewish. It was not easy for a young boy and it took him time to realize the full picture of his family and the world.

He says: “Writing and publishing of the book is a huge relief that I had not foreseen. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It is amusing that in Finland many think that I am a very big expert on Jewish history and culture but I am not a Jew and I do not know much about Jewish culture.”

His cousins in Finland were rather skeptical when they found out that he was writing this book.  They did not like the idea as such. Also his sister was against this book but he knew what and why he was doing it. Only he and Lena knew about it. It was Lena’s memories and René’s work in archives where he read thousands of pages.  He went to Tel Aviv to interview Lena in 2013 and in the result he had 30 pages of family stories which he had to check afterwards whether the facts were true. In December 2013 he retired and in January 2014 he already sat in archives. He said that the biggest challenge was to find out why Josef got such a big pension in Germany. Nobody in the family knew why he was granted the German citizenship. Finally René got help from a lady who worked in German federal pension system. She explained that there was a system created in Germany for refugees and Jews were a special category in it. They were granted citizenship if they had worked in Germany before.

At the beginning of the book René has written: “I tribute this book to my strong mother, her resourceful cousin and to my father who loved my mother.”