Khayele the Baptized

Below is my translation of an entry in Noam Starik's Yiddish blog. Any historical novelists out there?

A terrible tragedy occurred on June 5th, 1814, in the house of Dovid Slutski, the rabbi of Kiev. After the Sabbath meal, Khayele, the thirteen-year-old daughter, suddenly disappeared. By the next day the whole city knew that priests had kidnapped the rabbi's daughter and were planning to convert her to Christianity. Her father protested to the churches and their responsible authorities. The priests, for their part, stood their ground, claiming that the girl had freely converted to the Orthodox faith, and that therefore they could not help the rabbi.

The priests moved Khayele to a fanatic Orthodox family in Kiev that was known for baptizing Jewish children. They paired her off with a Christian named Ivan Popov, and gave her the name Maria; so it was that Khayele became Maria Popov.

But on June 25th, her 12th day in captivity, she managed to smuggle out from under the noses of her guards nine dramatic letters she had written on tattered green paper. From the letters themselves -- heart-rendingly naive in tone, in a childish spelling -- it also seems that she managed to receive the responses from her family.

[I have made no attempt to preserve the original variations in spelling. ZShB]

Letter 3:

Darling father dearest, please take me out of this house. God should let me get away from these Christians, and I ask you, father, get me out of here fast, you must come quickly because I am so weak I don't eat and I can't eat and sleep. God should let you come soon with health and joy and we should all see and we should all be happy together Amen. Darling father dearest, my mother is too weak to get through this, please come and don't delay, you should come soon with joy Amen. Dear sister Hedele, write me dearest in good health. God should let me see you soon in good health and joy Amen.

Letter 5:

Darling sister-in-law dearest, I received your note that you wrote. I thank you very much for it. Please, please get me out of this unclean house. Darling brother dearest, please write me about your health and my darling sister. It's awful that I am away from you and that they don't let me out of here to see my dear mother. God should let my darling mother get through the troubles that have happened. How awful it is that I left my father and that my father is not there and I am with the Christians. God should let us see each other in health.

I allow myself to speculatethat the rabbi's daughter, the 13-year-old, tried to get herself converted by her own free will, but afterwards she realized what she had done and felt awful. She tried to run away (say the historical documents) from her home, and sent the sad notes to her family, but by then it was no help. Since she had already converted, the priests were able to hold her. From the above-quoted letters ("How awful it is that I left my father") it seems that she went to the church willingly and volunteered to be baptized. She quickly awoke from her dream and some days later she wrote the desperate letters. Perhaps she became frightened when she was matched with Ivan -- she had not expected that much.

We don't know the end of the story -- the documents don't tell us. We've found out about this history through searching the archives of the Orthodox church. From the same documents we know that a legal case was begun against the father for accusing the priests of lying, kidnapping, and baptizing the daughter against her will. We have no written evidence of the outcome of the trial.

[The article is based on Shoel Ginzburg, A terrible page of history, Di Tsukunft, July, 1932, pp. 423-427.]

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