Mr. Bord was born in 1931 in Lepel (Belarus). He lived and worked in Vitebsk as an electrical engineer. He married Irina Levikova, a pediatrician, who was born in 1935 in Vitebsk. Together, they immigrated to Israel in 1991 and live in Haifa. They have a son, a daughter, a granddaughter and a grandson.
THE LONG WAIT FOR VICTORY
I was born in Lepel in the Vitebsk region. When the war started, I was almost ten years old. My father worked in a cobblers’ cooperative; my mother was a housewife. I was just about to go to a summer camp when the war started. A few days later Vitebsk and Orsha were bombed; these towns were important railway junctions. Lepel was bombed as well. There were five children in our family, three boys and two girls, and my father sent my mother and us kids to the village of Kameno, between Vitebsk and Lepel, where my father’s cousin’s parents lived. There we stayed for three or four days. On June 28, Lepel was bombed out, and Father came to join us, riding a horse his cooperative had lent him. Not many Jews lived in the town of Kameno. There were good relations between the Belorussians and the Jews, and someone even offered to Father to hide us with some Belorussian family in another village.
So we got everyone together: my father’s family of seven, and my father’s cousin’s family, also seven people: he, his wife, their three children, and his parents. We piled all our suitcases in one cart, but we had scarcely left the place when we suddenly discovered that the horse could not pull the cart up the hill – and the cart was supposed to carry the elderly and children as well. And then Father’s cousin’s family decided that they would not go. They turned around, went back to the house and unloaded their things. “We are staying and that’s it.”
My father, however, decided that we were leaving. So we headed to Vitebsk, just us in that cart. I was the main horse driver. We traveled mostly at night, hiding in the woods during the day. I remember that once I fell asleep and fell down between the horse and the cart. The horse was clever; it immediately stopped and did not go any further, and so saved me.
This was how we traveled for a week. With great difficulty, we reached a place some forty kilometers from Vitebsk, where a passing car gave us a ride the rest of the way to the city. From Vitebsk, we took a train to Smolensk. Near Smolensk, an air raid siren rang out, and everybody poured out of the cars and ran to hide in a grove. The airplanes swooped in and started bombing. I was a kid, I was very curious to see what was going on. So I jumped to my feet and saw bombs falling. I shouted: “Look, there are bombs falling!” Then a man grabbed me by the foot and pulled me down. I fell down beside him. At that moment a bomb exploded, and the man lost his leg.
Our train was destroyed, and we continued on foot, in groups, going in the direction of Smolensk. From Smolensk, Father decided to go to Stalingrad where his brother lived. We found a train going that way. On our way, soldiers sometimes gave us food. I remember that once I approached a group of soldiers who were eating out of their pots. I stood there, not daring to ask because I was shy, even though I was really hungry. The soldiers understood and put some porridge for me in a pot; I took it and I ran to feed my family.
We arrived in Stalingrad. Father’s brother met us, all seven of us, and suggested that we go to the collective farm “Stalindorf”; otherwise, he said, we could not survive. The collective farm was 80 kilometers from Stalingrad, near the River Don. So we went there. It was actually a Jewish collective farm, established by ethnic Russians who were Subbotnicks (Sabbatarians) by faith or converts to Judaism. Even their first names were Jewish: Sarah, Solomon, etc. The collective farm was rich; people from other collective farms nearby came to us to get food.
There we worked in the fields. There was no private property at all in Stalindorf, not even individual garden plots, like there were on other collective farms, nor individually-owned livestock – everything belonged to the collective farm. Typically, in the fall the collective farm began to distribute people’s earnings in the form of bread, corn, watermelons, tomatoes, potatoes, and so on. Some farmers complained that they had no place to store all this and refused to take it! And that was during the war! There we did not starve at all.
But soon the Germans began to advance toward Stalingrad. At this time, Father had been mobilized to work at a military factory. He was allowed to go and collect us. We boarded a train car that was half loaded with factory crates that were bound for Saratov. When we reached a certain station, the bombing began – the station was close to three military plants. Father was afraid to abandon the train car since he was responsible for it, even though no one was thinking about train cars at all at that moment. By a miracle, however, the train car was not hit. We ran to the bomb shelter. A high-ranking military officer entered the bomb shelter and asked why there were children there. He ordered us to be ferried across the Volga at night, when the bombing stopped.
In the evening, when darkness fell, a soldier came and escorted all the children and civilians to the crossing. Buildings were set on fire everywhere there was a ferry, so the Germans would think that everything had already been bombed out and there was nothing for them to do in that place. We descended the steep bank, a barge arrived, and we crossed the Volga. During the crossing we were shelled, and the shells fell into the water next to us. When the barge approached the opposite shore, people started to jump from it into the Volga, to get onto the beach quickly and hide in the woods.
We came into the forest and went to the Elton station, where the Volga Germans once lived. Walking through the woods was scary and painful: the bombing continued, and it was dark. We walked like this for over a week. In Elton it was a little quieter, as it was three hundred kilometers from Stalingrad. There we were put on a train and taken to Saratov where there were evacuation centers that decided who should be sent where. Father was assigned to a sewing factory in Novosibirsk. Until our train came, we lived in the actual train station, where we were fed semolina porridge flavored with sunflower oil. I still remember that smell with horror, and to this day, I still cannot eat semolina. Then we were put in boxcars, and finally we reached Novosibirsk.
I must say that in Siberia, where many dispossessed people had once been exiled, the locals treated Jews well. And besides, some people did not even know what a Jew was. Although I did have a younger brother whose name was Abram, we lived on the ground floor, and one day my mother said, “Oh, they already know our Abram around here.” It turned out that this was how they called all Jews.
Still, there were some incidents. We had to haul water from a pump, which was pretty far from home. In winter, we loaded an empty can onto a sledge and came back with it filled with water. Once a boy turned my sledge over, with the water in it. And there was a long, slow-moving line at the water pump, and the temperature was -45°C. I was shorter than that boy, but the power of my anger won – I beat him. After that he became my best friend.
Left: Simon Bord in the Navy, the beginning of the 1950s; right: A few months after Simon’s marriage to Irene.
How passionately we waited for the Soviet victory! We made bets: it was going to come this many days from now. And one morning, I went to school as usual; I was then in seventh grade. The weather was sunny. We had not heard anything, due to the big time difference between Moscow and Novosibirsk. And suddenly I saw happy people, standing around in groups, talking, laughing, crying. I met an acquaintance. “Where are you going?” he said. “Victory is here!” My joy was double: first, the victory, and second, no need to go to school.
We returned to Lepel in 1947. Our house was no longer there. In Lepel we had left my father’s father, his daughter and his two sons with their families. All of them had died in the Lepel ghetto. All twelve of Father’s relatives died. A good number of Jews returned to Lepel from the evacuation, and Jewish life continued there for some time. Before the war it had been a good town; there was a synagogue where we went with my father during the holidays. It was a beautiful synagogue, in a well-constructed building. There was also a Jewish school. Children were circumcised; bar-mitzvahs were celebrated. People baked matzo in their homes in traditional Russian stoves.
During the war, some local residents turned Jews in to the Nazi police. The family of my Jewish friend, his mother, and sister were herded into a ghetto. The father was away at the front. Then the Nazis killed the mother, and the girl was rescued by a Russian woman who hid her in her home during the entire war. The little girl grew up and married one of my distant relatives.
Some time later, my father died, and I went to Vitebsk after graduating from the railroad and train engineering school. Then I began studying at the Moscow State Institute of Railway Engineering and only came back to our town of Lepel occasionally to visit the graves of my parents.
How passionately we waited for the victory! We made bets: in so and so many days it will come. Well, I was then in the seventh grade, and I went to school one morning. The weather was sunny. We still were not aware of anything: the time difference between Moscow and Novosibirsk was big. And suddenly I saw: people happy, standing in groups, talking, laughing, crying. I met an acquaintance, “Where are you going?” he said. “It is victory!” My joy was double: first, the victory, and second, you could cut school.
We returned to Lepel in 1947. Our house did not exist. In Lepel we had left my father’s father, his daughter and two sons with their families. All of them died in the Lepel ghetto, on the Jewish street. All twelve of father’s relatives died. Quite a lot of Jews returned to Lepel from the evacuation, and Jewish life there for some time continued. Before the war it was a good town; there was a synagogue, where we went with my dad during the holidays. It was a beautiful, sound building. There was also a Jewish school. Children were circumcised; bar-mitzvahs were celebrated. Matzo was baked in the Russian stoves at home.
During the war, some local residents turned Jews in to the Nazi police. The family of my Jewish friend, his mother, and sister were herded into a ghetto. The father was on the front. Then the Nazis killed the mother, and the girl was rescued by a Russian woman who hid her in her home for the whole war time. The little girl grew up and married one of my distant relatives.
After some time my father died, and I went to Vitebsk after having completed the railway technical school. Then I began studying at the Moscow Institute of Railway Transport. I came to our town of Lepel only to visit the graves of my parents.