No one knows how he returned to his native Russia after having spent months in an enemy prison camp during the Russo-Japanese war that ended in 1905. When asked about it, he would look away and fall silent. Eventually, the questions stopped. He had made his point through the same dissuasive technique that would stand him in good stead for the rest of his life.
A tall, imposing, handsome dark man, Moshe Murachver became a furrier as his father and grandfather before. He found inexpressible pleasure in caressing the soft lifeless skin of leopards, mink, Siberian foxes, and Karakul lambs. Otter and skunk he despised. Makeshifts for the mob, he called them.
His choice of a wife followed a similar pattern. The matchmaker insisted that he marry someone whose station in life was not above his. Yet Moshe had set eyes on the youngest daughter of a lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina. As the matchmaker bluntly refused to approach the Chasevoi-Master family, he managed to interest the mother, a widowed Baroness, in his unmatched wraps. Several calls on his new client led to his meeting the daughters, all three of them desirous of being allowed to wear his creations. The Baroness yielded to their pleas, but Moshe surprised her by saying that such furs were not meant for young girls, and that he, for one, would not contribute to make them look ridiculous for the sake of a sale. Such a statement threw them off their balance. Since when did a merchant dictate to the nobility, even if the Iron Cross for valor glinted on his lapel? The shadow of Rasputin hovered ominously in the heavy atmosphere of the room.
Moshe’s intense gaze on young Sophie didn’t go unnoticed. The girl returned it under thick, black eyelashes. The mother ruminated. That her family ranked among the aristocracy was a joke of fate, stemming from a long-forgotten incident in which a Chasevoi had saved the late Tsar’s life and been rewarded with a title. An ordinary reward in those times, one might think, except for the fact that the Chasevois, like Moshe, were Jews. Few seemed to remember their origin, and those few preferred to pretend ignorance. They had been taught to abide by the Royal Family’s whims.
Yet guilt gnawed at the Baroness. When money ran short to pay the Cossacks, their leaders would tell them, “Go get your pay from the Jews!” Ever more often the pogroms butchered the Jews’ quarters. The Chasevoi-Masters never experienced such violence, but the Baroness bled for her less fortunate brothers and sisters in faith, while the thought that the winds could change gave her no respite. Thus Moshe found a totally unexpected ally.
The story goes that she approached him before he had the chance to devise a suitable plan. The Baroness seems to have given her consent to a wedding Moshe had not yet dared to mention on one condition only: he must emigrate with the bride’s entire family. Where to? His choice. Four women in the care of an ex-soldier who would now have to fight a different kind of battle.
In the map of his mind, Moshe foresaw new, crueler strives in Europe. After a simple ceremony conducted by a disapproving rabbi, they took ship to South America, leaving behind a halo of mystery that would never be dispelled.
I never met my great-grandmother the Baroness, whom my father said I take after, but I certainly enjoyed the affection and wisdom of Moshe Murachver, my grandfather, until his last day on earth and beyond.