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Liudmila Khmelnitskaya. New data to Bella Rosenfeld's biography of the Vitebsk period

  Liudmila Khmelnitskaya. New data to Bella Rosenfeld's

biography of the Vitebsk period


In numerous publications in the Russian language the reference to the place of Bella Rosenfeld's secondary education was enviably constant for many years - Vitebsk  Mariinskaya girls grammar school. The first to write it was the famous Vitebsk local lore specialist A.M.Podlipsky after whom this information began to be used by other researchers. Records of Vitebsk Mariinskaya grammar school kept in the National historical archives of Belarus are not numerous therefore it was hardly possible neither to confirm, nor to deny these data through archival researches.

Jacob Rosenfeld's memoirs discovered by V.A.Shishanov gave new opportunities for our search.

The fund of Alekseevskaya grammar school that is kept at the moment in the Minsk archive is rather well preserved, and works on study of the archival materials gave curious results. Thus we discovered an application submitted by "Vitebsk merchantman of the 2nd guild Shmuyla Itskov Rosenfeld " to admit his daughter for education at Alekseevskaya female grammar school, Bella's marks at entrance and final exams, her school-leaving certificate, as well as other numerous documents that allow elucidating the years of study of great artist's companion. Now I would like to share some results of our researches.

Vitebsk Alekseevskaya female grammar school was founded on the 1st of July 1905 as a 6-class educational establishment under the Ministry of public education. Heretofore there had been only one governmental grammar school founded in 1870 within the system of establishments authority of the impress Maria. At the beginning of ХХ century the number of school-girls at Mariinskaya grammar school increased significantly, and the city experienced the need for another state educational establishment for maids of different estates and religions.

The new grammar school was established according to the typical regulations of 1869 and was named in honour of the throne's successor Grand duke Alexey Nikolaevich. Since August, 1 they started to form the teachers personnel: 2 law teachers of the orthodox confession, 10 teachers and 6 form-masters were hired for work in the grammar school. The post of the grammar school's chief was temporarily taken up by the inspector of national schools of the Vitebsk province Jacob Ivanovich Taranovsky; the duchess Vera Vladimirovna Volkonskaya, the graduate of Petersburg Ekaterininsky institute, became the head supervisor. And the first personnel of the grammar school's form-masters and teachers was basically made of the graduates of the Vilnius Mariinskaya female college, and also Vitebsk and Mogilyov female grammar schools. Among them there was, however, one graduate of the Petersburg Smol'ny institute, as well as one graduate of the Penza art college who taught calligraphy (1).

In August the grammar scghool started receiption of applications from future schoolgirls. On August, 2, 1905 the father of Thea Brakhman (a friend from Bella's youth who she mentions a lot in her book) submitted an application to accept his daughter for study at Alekseevskaya grammar school , and on August, 10 the father of Bella Rosenfeld (2) made the same. Both girls intended to enter the  6-th class of the grammar school and were ready to pass corresponding tests. Heretofore they both had studied at Vitebsk private seven-class school of R.A.Milinarskaya. By the way, their full Jewish names were specified in the applications of their fathers: Touba (Tayba) Vulfovna Brakhman and Basia - Reizl Shmuylovna Rosenfeld.  

In the archival document "Record book of new school girls of Vitebsk female grammar school under the Ministry of public education" for the year 1905 we found information about the birthdates of the both girls: they both were born in 1889, Basia-Reizl was born on December 2 (Old Style), and Touba - on January 29 (Old Style) (3).

The both friends had finished 5 forms at one of the private Christian educational establishments of Vitebsk - seven form female grammar school of the first class which received subsidies from the government, Raisa Aleksandrovna Milinarskaya was its head. Now we do not have much information about that educational establishment. In the "Record book of Vilnius educational region for the school year 1900/1901" we found the list of its teachers that looks quite odd regarding the biographies of our heroines: among 18 female and male teachers of the grammar school six had the title of a home teacher, one teacher graduated from Strasburg university and the teacher of dancing graduated from Vienna ballet school, two of the teachers were candidates of  Petersburg university and the rest eight were graduates of the Petersburg and Kiev clerical academies  and Vitebsk theological seminary (4). And it is still a mystery why the girls from Jewish families  studied at a Christian educational establishment and not at, for example, Mariinskaya grammar school.

The friends successfully passed their entrance exams at Alekseevskaya grammar school: Basia-Reizl got tree fours and two fives, and Touba got two fours, two fives and a three for Russian (5). According to the resolution of the pedagogical council they both were admitted to the 6th form.

Lessons started at the end of September. It was difficult to find constant premises for the grammar school in Vitebsk, therefore it was located in the rent house of Gurevich in Zamkavaya street. The landlady concluded a one-year contract only (6). During the first year of the school's operation 261 schoolgirls studied there (7).

On the 24th of September 1905 the grammar school was appointed a new director - the former teacher of Vitebsk male grammar school, a graduate of Petersburg university Ivan Jurievich Sabin-Gus (8). He held the post for three years, and the first months of his service had timed out with impetuous events connected with the October political riot in 1905.

On the 17 of October a strike started in Vitebsk. The groups of young people went into the streets, they stopped the work of industrial plants, workshops and stores. At the corner of Gogolevskaya street near the church someone shoot at the policeman after the divine service, the shot turned out to be killing. The patrol started to fire back at the crowd. The romours spread around the city that the crowd of two thousand people had smashed official establishments and was moving towards Vitebsk. The same day the crowd of recruits smashed several shops in the central Smolenskaya and Zamkovaya streets in the evening.

The tension was growing, the next day people were expecting more serious events. On the 18th of October some parents did not allow their daughters to go to the grammar school, some took their children to the school and back. At the same time in Smolenskaya street a crowd gathered by the governor's printing-house who demanded to read the Tsar's manifest of the 17th of October that the local authorities had not dared to proclaim. A mass-meeting started. The Cossack guard attempted to disperse the crowd with whips and then opened the fire. As a result 7 people were killed and 4 wounded. The same day a protesting demonstration took part in the city, 20 thousand people took part in it (9).

At that time when most school girls were putting coats on and were going home a crowd of approximately 50 people broke into the lobby (most of them were seminarians) and demanded that the director stopped the lessons. (10).

Vitebsk Alekseevskaya grammar school stopped lessons for two days. Nevertheless, the school life took its usual course rather quickly if compared to the other educational establishments where administrations continued to receive claims and demands.

As the incident at Alekseevskaya grammar school on the 18th of October had been provoked not by the school girls and had not got special encouragement from them it was settled very quickly. Nevertheless, the director, in order to prevent similar events in the future, "considered it useful to have a talk with the schoolgirls of the higher forms on the case, and draw their attention to the fact that demands are indecent in general", stressing that the administration itself of both the school and the educational region acknowledged shortcomings of their work and did their best to improve (11).

The October events frightened the high officials of the Ministry of public education a lot. The curator of Vilnius educational region gave immediate recommendations to conduct preventive works among the pupils of the educational establishments. Following the recommendations on the 21st of November the director of Alekseevskaya grammar school "gave a lecture to the students of higher forms regarding the Royal manifest of October 17", afterwards the students asked different questions and asked for explanations. On the 21st of November a meeting of parents took part in the assembly hall of the male grammar school (Alekseevskaya school did not have it) where it was decided to form "Parents group at Alekseevskaya school" where they could learn a lot and give sufficient assistance to the school sometimes "(12).

Disorders, which took part in autumn of 1905, made the ministries officials give more attention to the issues raised by students and their parents regarding school education and training. A lot of girls from Jewish families studied at Alekseevskaya grammar school (thus they made about 70% of Basia's form). After numerous unsuccessful requests of parents in the name of the school's director to introduce "the law of Jewish religion" into the usual course of study, in its resolution of November 13, 1905 the Ministry finally permitted to teach this subject at the grammar school " (...) during two lessons a week in each form so that it was taught in Russian and in full accordance with the text books approved by the scientific council under the Ministry of public education "(13). "A teacher of the Jewish religion" was hired for work at the grammar school, though only from the 14th of March the next year. It was Mordukh Jukhnovich who was in charge of the Vitebsk Talmud-Thora (14) (where Shmul'-Neukh Rosenfeld, Basia's father" was a senior man for a long time).

Catholic parents submitted a similar request to the school's director to introduce the law of Roman-Catholic religion. Their request was satisfied as well. Thus, Alekseevskaya grammar school had three religion teachers by 1906: of Orthodox, Roman-Catholic and Jewish religions. However, all public evens at school started with an orthodox prayer only.

Basia-Reizl Rosenfeld and Touba Brakhman successfully finished the sixth form. Knowledge of schoolchildren was estimated according to the five-grade system and those who received 4 or 5 were exempt from final yearly exams. There are no names of the girls in the examination register for the 5th form. And we find them in the minutes of teachers council meeting: "for excellent behavior, diligence and excellent success at sciences when moved up to the next form "Basia Rosenfeld  was awarded with I degree prize, and Touba Brakhman was awarded with  II degree prize (15).

In August 1906 Vitebsk Alekseevskaya grammar school was reorganized into 7-form grammar school, therefore teachers personnel was increased. Besides, a parallel department under the 2nd form and a preparatory form were opened (16). In summer the grammar school moved into a new, more convenient building  - previously it had lodged public council. A year before its organizers, worried that "Vitebsk offers a bad choice of such premises as a grammar school needs", paid attention to two buildings: one that belonged to the merchant Vishniak located in Nizhne-Petrovskaya street in the 3rd part of Vitebsk and the other that belonged to Gurevich located in the2nd part by Dvinski bridge. The first was located in a very narrow street, therefore the rooms were poorly illuminated and it needed serious repair works - it had been a reserve battalion and infirmary that's why its sanitary condition was awful. The other building was still occupied by the public council in 1905. At the same time it was ideal for the grammar school: it was located in the center of the city that made it very conveniently accessible for the inhabitants on both banks of the Dvina river", the window on its back side looked on the river and on the front side it faced the street, that gave "a wealth of light and air" in the classrooms. Moreover, it had a "big hall facing two corners of the world", that in the opinion of the grammar school's head could substitute school girls for "the playground in winter time and bad weather" and also could be used as the only "wonderful concert hall" in the city (17). By the beginning of the school year 1906-1907 the grammar school concluded a rent contract with the owner of the building at the rate of 3625 rubles a year.

There were 392 school girls in the new school year. The parents of 300 of them lived in Vitebsk, the rest lived in Vitebski ujezd (Vitebsk region). Tuition payment made 65 rubles a year (55 rubles in preliminary class). The heads of the grammar school planned to receive annual income of 23000 rubles, 3000 rubles more were assignments from the Vitebsk City Council (18).

The entire course of studied subjects was divided into obligatory and optional ones. Among the obligatory subjects in the 7th form were religion, the Russian language, algebra, geometry, physics and cosmography. The French and German languages, pedagogy and needlework were optional. Payment for studying optional subjects was included into the tuition fee, but only 6 of the 25 school girls in the 7th form decided to attend classes of all optional subjects including Basia Rosenfeld (Touba Brakhman refused to study French).

Nowadays we know what role the knowledge of the French language, which basics she received during her study years at the grammar school and gymnasium, played in Bella Chagall's life later. In the register of passes and final exams of the 7th form pupils Basia had only fives (excellent marks) on French namely final mark for the passed school year, for the written test and oral exam. We can make an assumption that her teachers played significant role in it.

It is very difficult to say something particular about Basia's first teachers, but there are some data about her teacher of French who taught her in the 7th form. It is known that on the 16th of August 1906 Maria Ivanovna Sazonova, the wife of retired staff-captain, was hired as a teacher of the French language at Alekseevskaya grammar school. (19) She was a Lutheran, had lived in Switzerland and only in 1897 moved to Vitebsk where she married Vladimir Fiodorovich Sazonov. Her maiden name was Maria-Lidia-Elisa Duborgelles (20). To all appearances she had lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (her daughter Vanda-Natalia was born in Geneva) that is very important for us. The 7th form school girls had a written test in French and German on the same date (April 12, 1907) and comparing the texts for translation provided by the teachers (see appendix) we can say that the text of M.I. Sazonova is more complicated as it demands of bigger vocabulary and ability to work with compound sentences. Nevertheless, Basia Rosenfeld received 5 for this translation whereas her German translation was graded only 4. It is obvious that the girl loved and knew French more than German.

Basia and Touba attended classes in the 7th form regularly. The archives have preserved "Daily bulletin of Vitebsk Alekseevskaya grammar school for the year 1906-1907 " which testifies that the friends were absent from classes only on Saturdays when in the column "Absentees" surnames were not indicated but only one phrase "All Jews" was written. Besides, Basia Rosenfeld missed only 2 days for the whole school year (January 13 and February 12, 1907), and Touba Brakhman  missed 9 days (five of them in October 1906, evidently because of illness) (21).

On March 31, 1907 the school girls finished studying. As the entry in "Daily bulletin" witnesses, 7th form was dismissed on that day. Examination period started. During the period from April 9 to May 28 the school girls were to pass 12 oral and written tests on 9 subjects and one exam (physics).

It is interesting that reports of all tests are preserved in the archives and they indicate not only marks of the school girls but also and the contents of the question cards.  One can see certain destiny omen in the question card that fell to the lot of Basia Rosenfeld at the oral exam on Russian: "Card №20. "Dead souls". Significance of  Gogol. Characterization of Chichikov" (Touba Brakhman was to narrate on the biography of I.A. Krylov and his fables) (22).

The following maxim became the topic of the Russian written test: "Poverty teaches and happiness spoils". According to the report of the test 25 school girls of the 7th form gathered in the school's auditorium, one of them said a prayer in the presence of other girls, the school's head Ivan Jurievich Sabin-Guss announced the chosen topic and the girls proceeded to work. The first essay written out fair was handed in already in three hours. Basia handed her essay in among the latest - precisely in five hours from the beginning having asked the inspectors present at the test for several "additional sheets of paper for her fair copy "(23). We can only feel pity that the text of her first literary work has not been preserved in the archives.

Exact sciences came rather easily to Basia. Thus, all the school girls were solving the task on geometry for a long time and the first task solution was handed in only in one hour and five minutes from the beginning. Basia Rosenfeld solved the task in one hour and a half while the others coped only in three hours (24).

According to the resolution of the pedagogical council of May 30, 1907 the merchant's daughter Basia-Reiza Shmujleva Rosenfeld was issued certificate №267 (25). Her "total average derivation of all the obligatory subjects" made 4 7/8, and Touba Brahman's one made 4 3/4, thus they both were "honored certificates" and also rewarded with silver medals. In total the graduates of the 7th form received 2 golden and 7 silver medals.

So together with the last school ring Basia Rosenfeld's carefree childhood and adolescence came to the end. She had a long and complex life ahead to live.

Extracts from the tests' reports of the 7th form of Vitebsk Alekseevskaya grammar schoolм. 1907. The question cards Basia-Reiza Rosenfeld answered.

Written test on geometry held on April 10, 1907. (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.65).
A right round cone and a cylinder have common base, the vertex of the cone is located in the center of the other base of the cylinder. The lateral surface of the cone is 47 1/2 sq. meters, and its total surface is 75 3/7 sq. meters. Calculate the cylinder's volume.
Mark: 5.

Written test on the French language held on April 12 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.63-63об.).
"Pushkin's room.
There is a small child's room in a country house. It's winter evening. The windows are covered with snow and painted with white traceries. There is a biting frost outside. It is quiet in the room; snowstorm is howling and crying in the chimney. In the front corner, in front of the icons an icon-lamp is glimmering. To the right behind the screen there is a baby cot. To the left by the wall there is a tiled stove with a bench. A curly, black-haired boy of 6 years old with dark complexion is lying prone on the bench with his head on the hands keeping his eyes glued on the old nanny. The old woman in a rabbit sleeveless sweater with a black scarf on her head with a kind wrinkled face and big glasses on her nose is sitting on the chair by the oven, knitting a stocking and telling the boy the fairytale "About a fisherman and a fish".
Mark: 5.

Written test on the German language held on April 12, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.67-67об.).
"I am standing on the high mountain; in front of me there is a big city with gorgeous churches, palaces and other buildings, several villages, gardens, fields and meadows. At the bottom of the mountain there is a tiny stream curving along the fields and meadows towards the big lake. There is a bridge over the stream; and as the river is very shallow, people often cross it barefoot in summer cutting the way to the city on the path through the meadows. In winter they cross it on the ice.

Beyond the forest in three versts from our house there is a lodge where the forest warden and his family live. In the evening big flocks of crawls fly over the forest and alight to their nests in the trees shrilling loudly".
Mark: 4.

Oral math examination held on May 1 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.16).
Question card №8. Division of polynomial by polynomial. Occurrences of impossible division of polynomial by polynomial without remainder. What is the sense of negative index?
Mark: 5.

Oral examination on the Russian language held on May 8, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.24об.).
Question card №20. "Dead souls". Significance of Gogol. Characterization of Chichikov.
Mark: 5.

Oral examination on pedagogy held on May 8, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.52об.).
Development of cognitive capabilities. Development of exterior senses.

Mark: 5.

Physics examination held on May 18, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.57).
Question card №15. Forces (impulsive forces, continuous forces and resistance force). Force measurement. Influence of force on a latent body. Law of equality of action and contraction. Direction of force. Point of its attack. Representation of force. Equilibrium. Equivalent force. composition of forces, effecting one point of a solid body. Resolution of forces. Properties of forces.
Mark: 5.

Oral examination on history held on May 24, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.41).
Question card №22. Aleksey Mikhaylovich. Morozov's rule. Home disorders. Cathedral code. Rebellion in the result of pecuniary embarrassment. Patriarchy Nikon and church proceedings. History of Russian law.
Mark: 5.

Oral examination on cosmography held on May 26, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.29об.-30).
Question card №16. Shooting stars. Bolides. Aerolites. Star showers. Sporadic and periodic shooting stars. Star shower in August and November. The height where the phenomenon of shooting stars takes place. Reasons of the phenomenon. Persides and Leonides.
Mark: 5.

Oral examination on the German language held on May 28, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.37об.).
Question card №3. Declension of adjectives. Literature: the third period. Translation: "Astrakhan". Reading and narration 16 century.
Mark: 5.

Oral examination on the French language held on May 28, 1907 (NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.55, л.49об.).
Question card №6. About adjectives. Degrees of comparison of adjectives: bon, mauvais, petit. Moliere. His biography. His major works.
Mark: 5.


1. National historical archives of Belarus (hereinafter NHAB), ф.2406, оп.1, д.353, л.2об., 4-5.

2. Ibidem, д.342, л.59; д.346, л.13.

3. Ibidem, д.8, л.21об.-22, 12об.-13.

4. Records book of Vilna school province for the school year 1900/1901. Vilna, 1901. P.268-269.

5. NHAB, ф.2406, оп.1, д.8, л.21об.-22, 12об.-13.

6. Ibidem, д.29, л.5.

7. Ibidem, д.353, л.2-2об.

8. Records book of Vilna school province for the school year1906/1907. Vilna, 1906. P.108; Records book of Vilna school province for the school year1902/1903. Vilna, 1902. P.32.

9. Vitebsk. Encyclopaedic reference book. Minsk, 1988. P.314.

10. NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.349, л.9-12.

11. Ibidem, л.11-11об.

12. Ibidem, л.6-6об.

13. Ibidem, д.355, л.6-6об.

14. Records book of Vilna school province for the school year1906/1907. P.109.

15. NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.33, л.23, 24, 24об.

16. Records book of Vilna school province for the school year1906/1907. P.108.

17. NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.29, д.5-5об.

18. Ibidem, д.31, л.3; д.33, л.30; Records book of Vilna school province for the school year1906/1907. P.108.

19. Records book of Vilna school province for the school year1906/1907. P.110.

20. Khmelnitskaya L. Vitebsk roots of Adlianitski-Pachobut clan // Vitebsk notes. 2000. №4. P.136.

21. NHAB, ф.2604, оп.1, д.39.

22. Ibidem, д.55, л.24об.

23. Ibidem, л.35.

24. Ibidem, л.65.

25. Ibidem, л.93-93об.


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