Memories - Inna and Ilya Hait

Inna and Ilya Hait were close friends of Hirshhorns family in Riga.

Ilya Hait: – I first saw Philippe when he was 7-8 days old, I think. It was just after he was born. We always maintained relations with his parents. They lived at the time on Moskovskaya Street. It was after the war and this was a tough, bad district. A communal apartment. Several years later, the Hirshhorns moved to Elizavetinskaya Street. That was also a communal apartment, but in the center of Riga. Two buildings away from the Splendid Palace. I don’t remember how many years they lived there, but then they changed it for a separate apartment of their own on Darznietsibas (Garden) Street, which runs parallel to Valdemar Street. The place where there were gardens – that’s where they built the new houses. This was the apartment in which they lived until they moved to Mezhapark.

Inna Hait: – We saw that house. It is now abandoned and falling apart. Perhaps, in one or another room someone is living, but their lovely balcony, on which there were flowers…

Ilya Hait: – When they were there, it was pretty. There was a little garden, a vegetable patch. Once three strawberries ripened there, and Philippe’s mother brought us one in a huge jar…We were then good friends. Back then, I was once again single. I had a lot of free time, and I often spent time with them. I worked in a furniture store. They often dropped by and Lyuda (his mother) even sometimes left little Philippe with me. Back then in Riga we had a very well-known portrait photographer. All the great people (of the city) had their photographs taken by him. He worked on Brivibas, in the very center of the city, where there is the monument to Freedom, on the corner. There was a large display window where he exhibited all kinds of celebrities – diplomats, artists… And there was a photo of Philippe. Aged 9 -10, with his violin. The photographer constantly changed the portraits, but this photo stayed there for years. He was so handsome in it. We left, but the photo remained there in the display window. You just couldn’t miss it when you walked by! Now this photo shop exists no longer; in its place there is a travel bureau. ..

Philippe studied with Sturestep, and Sturestep liked him very much, because he understood, understood right away, that something will develop from him. He devoted a lot of time to Philippe. He would come home with him, looked after him closely and helped a lot. These, of course, were his first steps, but Sturevich was very well disposed towards him.

Inna Hait: – Lyuda told us that once on their way to see Sturevich they passed through the Vermansky Garden. There were pigeons there and Lyuda promised that after the lesson they would feed the pigeons. The lesson went on for a long time and it was becoming dark. Philippe got gloomier and gloomier and suddenly said: “The pigeons surely are already sleeping.” Sturestep let Philippe go so that he might succeed in feeding them.

Ilya Hait: – Generally, Philippe often wanted something special… Once he said that he wanted a live horse. His parents said they had no money, and then he said – ask Ilya, let him buy me a horse.

The Hirshhorns always lived rather modestly. All the time. Harry (Philippe’s father) worked after the war as a city electricity inspector. Luda typed on a typewriter and earned a lot. She brought in and took away stacks of paper. And then Philippe won his prize in the competition, that was some good money. Back then you couldn’t bring hard currency into the Soviet Union, and he received instead of money vouchers. In Riga, there was one single store where you could exchange these vouchers for goods. At the time, you know, nylon raincoats were very fashionable. They were small, you could fold them and put them in a suitcase. Very convenient. You couldn’t get them anywhere. They weren’t sold in ordinary stores. Therefore, people paid serious money for them. For the money he received, you could buy, it appears, 25 raincoats. But that was impossible. No one would sell to one man twenty-five raincoats! So they thought up a trick which was called “plan B.” All his acquaintances went with these papers into the store one after another until all the vouchers had been turned into raincoats. And then they sold them for a good price.

Generally, when Philippe won the competition, there was a hullabaloo in Riga, it was an event. A major event – oh, what went on when they gave him the first prize! I remember it as if it just happened. Luda and Harry were happy. As for the official reaction, there was some note in the newspaper, in Rigas Balss (The Voice of Riga), a small article.

I remember what difficulties the Director of the Philharmonic Shveinik made for him when he wanted to emigrate. In order to leave, there was a certain order of approvals: from the party committee, the labor union, the place of work, all filing personal evaluations… and if someone along the way said ‘no,’ that meant you could not go anywhere. This Shveinik was terribly opposed. He made a scene… he said that Hirshhorn should have his fingers smashed for wanting to emigrate.

Inna Hait: – But then Sturestep helped him take out his violin. He thought it was a very valuable violin, and I took it out. And Misha Maisky came for it and hid it here in Israel. Then it turned out that this violin was not so valuable, but Philippe played precisely on it when he arrived in Israel. We were then in an ulpan, far away from Tel Aviv, and suddenly we heard that Philippe was giving a concert. It was his first concert in Tel Aviv. We were young then, easy going. We literally got up and left. We traveled and succeeded. The bus ride took three hours. Philippe played in a museum. In Tel Aviv, there is a museum with a concert hall, and that is where we sat and heard how the grandmas around us were whispering: “Finally, in Israel there is our own real violinist.” He played then not with an orchestra but with a pianist. After the concert, in the crowd, there were so many familiar people from Riga… But they, nonetheless, left Israel. Israel is a tiny country, and it is not so easy to get out of there. For a musician, it is considerably better to live in the center of Europe. In addition, we are a nationalist country, but Philippe did not consider himself Jewish, because his mother was not a Jew. Maybe, thanks to his talent, people could accept him as one of their own, but they are gone. Actually Philippe even went to perform at the front when Israel was at war. But they chose Belgium. We stayed with them there many times.