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From an interview with Helena Mikhaylovna

…All my brothers became highly qualified professionals. Two are no longer of this world. The remaining two are both in engineering design: the elder brother works at the Mytischi Carriage Works and the middle one, Emmanuel Davydovich, worked all his life at the Yangel Engineering Design Office.

Isaac Davydovich Kobzon: “You just don’t find people as noble as Joseph any more.”

All of us three brothers were great friends as we grew up in Dnepropetrovsk. This is the way our mother brought us up. We made a point of doing well at school but football was our main pleasure. Lessons over, we would kick a ball around till dark.

In 1948, I left home to study in Moscow. But come the holidays, I would dash back to see my family, share my news and seek their advice. I was really missing my mother’s loving care and my brothers’ company.

I studied at a teachers’ college in Moscow. In 1950, I met a girl in Pushkino, we got married in 1954 and have lived in Pushkino ever since. I have tried many different professions, from a teacher to an engineering designer, and ended up working in industrial production. Work has always sought me out and I was eager to oblige as this was the way our mother brought us up. I refused to retire at 60, still feeling strong, and carried on working for another four years.

After I left home for Moscow in the late 1940s, I did not see Joseph very often but his care and solicitude have sustained me throughout my life. He would send a letter or a telegram and always ask how my family and I were getting on, if everyone was all right and if was there anything he could do to help.

We rarely see each other nowadays; life is speeding on at too fast a tempo and Joseph is a very busy man: he has been touring non-stop all his life and still does not get a single day off. He is a statesman now, championing justice at a governmental level.

But when there is an occasion for family celebrations, Joseph and Nelly try to get all our family together in their house – this is like a law. The very first question I hear from Joseph at seeing him is invariably: “Any problems?” I am no longer a well man, my heart is playing up and, of course, my pension is nowhere near enough to afford the medicines I need. I do not know how we would survive if it were not for Joseph. He will always get us into a hospital or make arrangements with doctors, never treating it as a mere formality and perhaps even sending a car to fetch us so that we should not be in any way inconvenienced. Joseph does everything very promptly and casually, not expecting any thanks in return. You just don’t find people as noble as Joseph any more.

Emmanuel Davydovich Kobzon: “Joseph always helps everybody…”

I first saw my brother Joseph in September 1937, a few days after he was born. My father, David Konovich, my elder brother, Isaac Davydovich, and I walked to the maternity hospital in the town of Chasov Yar where we lived at the time. Our mother was in a ward on the ground floor and when the babies were brought in to feed she showed Joseph to us through the window. I was three and a half but was already aware that a baby brother was born and there would be three of us boys from then on.

We were good friends among ourselves, played football in the courtyard and, in winter, went sledding by the Avanguard Stadium. We would always stand up for each other in scrapes although I cannot remember many such occasions: we were not hooligans. Our mother was a court magistrate and our father worked at the local executive committee. In 1939, he was transferred to Lvov and appointed the managing director of Branka Works, which is now called Svitoch. We lived in Lvov till 1941. We were well off, had a housemaid, Auntie Frosia, and often used to go with her to the furniture factory where our mother was then a production director. When the war started, our father was immediately appointed head of the evacuation centre, as managing director of a factory was regarded as a high position at the time.

We were on the very last train leaving for Slaviansk because our father had to first send away everyone else. Our mother did ask him to hurry up. I remember Father saying “Leave everything, no need to take along anything bulky, we will be back in a couple of months.” Everybody thought that at the time. Father had recently bought a Meccano set for my elder brother. An aeroplane had been assembled and placed on top of the bookcase, where it stayed all through the war. Slaviansk was bombed in August and Mother decided to take us away to Tashkent. The journey in a converted goods carriage took nearly a month. One day Mother went to fetch some boiled water at a station and got left behind. All of us, the three boys, our granny, her disabled brother and our father’s parents were in a terrible panic. Luckily, evacuation trains moved slowly and stopped for a long time so she caught up with us five hours later in a hospital train. The station master had helped her and we all thank him for it to this day.

Once we reached Tashkent, Mother immediately got registered at the regional party committee. She was appointed deputy director of Turkmensad at Yangiyul, near Tashkent, and we were given a flat there. Mother was a gregarious and very hospitable person: she invited guests to celebrate October Revolution Day and the New Year, making a feast for them with whatever she could afford. She even managed to get a Christmas tree from somewhere. She would get together all her own and her neighbours’ children and teach them to sing so that when guests came we gave a performance. Mother loved animals and we had chicken and tortoises living in our courtyard. Each brother had a cockerel of his own and we formed a cortege to take them out for an evening walk. There were many tall fruit trees around the house. The height of achievement was to climb up the tallest tree, then scramble over to the other ones, picking apricots, walnuts and apples.

When Slaviansk was liberated in 1944, we went back – just in time for school. Joseph started his first year, I my second. We studied diligently but it was difficult: we wrote on newspapers and one textbook was shared by 10 pupils. Joseph started singing immediately at school and sang at all celebrations and amateur talent shows.

Then Mother was transferred to work as a lawyer in Kramatorsk and we moved with her. All brothers went to Dzerzhinsky School No 6. It was there that Joseph came first at an amateur talent competition and was sent to the finals in Moscow. He sang the song Golden Wheat and came first again. Stalin was in the audience. Joseph told us later that Stalin came backstage and personally congratulated him.

Our father left us in 1943 not to return and our life was very hard. Mother remarried. Our stepfather, whom we called Father from the start, had two boys of his own, so we were five brothers now.

Joseph was conscripted in 1956 to serve in the Transcaucasian Military Command. Back after completing his term, he said: “I must go to Moscow. My voice-training tutor said it would be criminal of me not to go to the Moscow Conservatory. She said I could be an opera singer.” Such things sink deep into the mind when you are young… The eldest brothers, Leonid and Grigoriy, were against: you must work to feed the family. But Mother decided to send him to Moscow. Joseph got accepted simultaneously at the Conservatory and the Gnesins Institute. Studying, tours, concerts followed but Joseph tried to get back home as often as possible as all of us brothers got married and had families, while Mother and Father were left on their own.

Back home, Joseph always held concerts, the first was in Dnepropetrovsk, the city where he grew up. Obviously, he always helped everybody as much as he could. This is the way we have always lived, a close-knit family. I remember when I was a mechanic, he would come to my workshops and I would always give him as much dosh as I could. Now Joseph helps us all.

My wife and I live in Israel, in the town of Kholon, near Tel-Aviv, a quiet beautiful place. But lately we have both been unwell: it is hot and very humid. When we are in Moscow everything is fine. As soon as Joseph heard about our health troubles, he said at once: “Come on, get over closer to us. I will help.” We also have our elder brother, Isaac Davydovich, living in Pushkino. So it looks like we will all get together in our old age. Thanks to Joseph.
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