Born in Yalta in 1932, Yuri Burakovsky lived and worked in Kiev as a mechanical engineer. He immigrated to Israel in 1994 and lives in Ashkelon. He has a daughter and three grandchildren.
Dedicated to the bright memory of my mother Alexandra Burakovskaya
On August 6, 1941, I (then nine years old), my mother, and my little sister Svetlana fled from Kiev. We took a train to the Rostov region and lived there for a year. In May 1942, the Germans took Rostov and were swiftly advancing south. All of the evacuees were put in ox carts. We were back on the road.
At night we saw German paratroopers landing, heard the chattering of machine guns; the sky was pierced by flights of rockets. Not far from us, the towns of Georgievsk and Mozdok were ablaze. Driving through the villages of the North Caucasus, we felt the hostility of the local population. “Hitler will shoot all you dirty Jews anyway,” they said. Often, people refused to give us a drink of water. A horseman, a commander with two bars on his tabs, caught up with us on the road and told us: “The Germans are close. Keep driving your oxen and don’t tell anyone that you’re Jewish. The local are waiting for the Germans.”
After that, some of the evacuees began talking ominously, threatening to give us away to the Germans. Then my mother decided to leave the crowd and turned the oxen into the nearest village. So we found ourselves in the village Pravokumka (Stavropol Area). We knocked on the door at the nearest house. An old woman came out and gave us a friendly smile: “Are you looking for a place to stay? Hopefully, you’re not Jewish,” and she invited us into the house.
I helped the landlady around the house, dug her vegetable garden, fetched water—she was very satisfied. One day, Red Army soldiers came to the house and asked for water; they told us that they had been captured by the Germans and had just been released, that all the prisoners had been released except the Jews. “It looks like all of them will be shot,” they said. Our anxiety increased but we still hoped that the enemy would pass around our village. However, that did not happen. A few days later, I heard the noise of engines, and a number of trucks entered the village. The Germans stood in the open truck beds, holding on to the metal hoops and yelling loudly. I saw their brick-red faces and icy eyes. The trucks were followed by motorcyclists.
The next morning, a mobile killing squad came into the village. The executioners were dressed in faded German uniforms and sang a song in Russian. Our hostess told us that she had heard machine gun fire during the night: the squad was executing all the Communists. Now they were looking for the Jews. Mother took her passport and threw it into the burning stove, and half an hour later, two executioners came into the house. One of them asked who we were and where we were from, and demanded to see our documents. “We were robbed on the way, and our bag was stolen, with all our things and our documents in it,” said my mother. “I’ve heard these kinds of songs before… but I don’t have time to speak with you now. Prepare a meal for us, with eggs and potatoes. I’ll be back in the evening.” And they were gone.
In the evening the man came alone. “You don’t look Russian,” he addressed my mother. “I’ve sent many of your kind to the next world.” “You shouldn’t say that, we’re Russian,” Mother kept saying. He pulled out his tobacco pouch, sat down at the table, lit a cigarette and puffed at it for a long time, enveloped in a cloud of smoke. “I’m tired of all this driving around,” he said suddenly. “I’ve had my own troubles, I’ve been captured, now the Germans got me.” He abruptly stood up and told my mother: “Fine, live. Maybe you too, Alexandra, will help me out someday. Tell them who saved you and your kids.”
Yuri with his mother and sister in Pravokumka after the Germans left. April, 1943
The next day, my mother and I saw carts carrying the doomed people, the elderly, women, and children. They were all Jews … They were escorted by the same killing squad on horseback, and that night, they were all shot.
Our hostess, frightened by rumors that we were probably Jews, told us to leave. With difficulty, we found another place to live. But the Germans also came to stay there, one group after another, and some of them were in the SS. Our situation was getting worse; people were getting more suspicious of us, especially the village policeman and the the village headman. “Why did you flee anyway – there must be something wrong with you!” they said to my mother.
Then cold weather came; our hearts, too, were cold with dread. Mother tried to get us food, bartering some of our things for bread. When I left the house, I heard the words “dirty Jew” repeated by the local boys. Going to school for me was out of question, it would have put me in mortal danger. The posters hanging on the walls of houses exhorted the villagers to look for Jews, promising a reward for turning them in and threatening punishment for to those who would hide them.
We had to move many times because of these suspicions. It was very difficult to find a new place to stay. For six months we lived in mortal fear: every day could be our last. Ultimately, we were saved by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who ordered a Soviet offensive against the southern territory occupied by the Germans. The advanced detachments of the Red Army liberated our area. On December 31, 1942, Soviet partisans entered our village; we were saved.
When the Nazi-appointed policemen were put on trial, we learned that they had put our family on the list of those who were sentenced to death.
Yuri Burakovsky with his sister Svetlana before the beginning of his army service. Kiev, 1952