WE WERE HELPED BY GOOD PEOPLE
I’m Manya Friedman. I was born in 1926 in the city of Kremenchug. Our city is washed by the Dnieper river from all its sides.
My childhood was cloudless. My father, who had grown up with his sister and without parents but only with his distant relatives, tried to give me the maximum of love and care. I was a very sociable and emotional child. At my age of 85 years old, now I remember the joy of children, the nanny with her samovar, my making the humentashen (ozney Aman) for Purim mom, and rabbi Slepner – my grandfather, praying in the corner (my mother’s father) in Thales. In 1941 I graduated seventh grade and submitted documents to Kremenchug Teachers College. Thanks to my excellent certificate, they accepted me without exams. My joy was boundless but a very short one. Only in a week our quiet and peaceful life came to an end, the terrible word – THE WAR – was heard.
My father was not liable for military service due to health reasons, but in early July he was taken to dig trenches. At that moment there were two more children in the family except me, we had our three-year-old twins – Tamara and Boris. We lived near the bridge over the Dnieper. Since the beginning of July 1941, every night at 12 p.m. the German planes bombed the bridge as the trains were going to the south of Ukraine, to Odessa. After the first bombing, there was no more glasses in the windows of our house.
On August 7 the German troops reached the right bank of the Dnieper river and the Deyevskaya mountain; they started firing at our city. Kremenchug started to panic, people were not prepared, they did not know what to do, whom to ask and where to flee. My mother and I put the things that were the most necessary into a suitcase, locked the apartment, grabbed the children and, not knowing the way, went after the bulk of the refugees. The children got tired quickly; we had to carry them on our hands, so we left the suitcase soon. The exploding shells chased us, and we were very much afraid of falling behind of the fleeing people. The seen on the road horrific pictures strengthened our fear of the unknown. A shell exploded directly in front of us, it killed a horse, and a man was wounded. A woman tore a piece of cloth from her skirt and bandaged the wound; the cloth turned red at once. On the road there was a fallen electrical pole with hanging wires and a corpse of a man was lying next to it. I was carrying the little sister on my arms; a man called out to me and warned not to come close as it was dangerous. The children could not walk; they were tired and hungry, they wanted to sleep. Tamara lost her shoe button but there weren’t any other shoes for her. We had to go along the airfield; a German plane flying at a low level machine-gunned the running people. The Germans saw clearly that there were no warriors among us, only women and children, but the shelling continued. By night, still behind the bulk of the people, we came to the bridge over the Psel river. But as the bridge was bombed, we were not allowed by the military people to cross it. With great difficulty, we managed to persuade them to let us go, so we quickly crossed the bridge. We covered about three kilometers and reached the station of Potoki. However, we were not allowed to come into the building, again because of bombing. With the sleeping children, we settled under the bushes. At night, the train came, and it was taken by storm. My mother and I were standing aside with the children on our arms, as we were afraid of approaching to the crowd in fear of crushing the kids. Suddenly, a man came up to us and said to my mother, “Why are you standing here with your brood? Come with me!” He took us to the back of the train, opened the door with his key and allowed us to come into the carriage. It was our first savior, but on the station of Iskrovka we went out, it was already closer to Kharkov and it has not been bombed yet. The next train was also stormed by refugees, but, luckily for us, instead of a conductor there was a military man who saw me with the child on my arms and shouted: “Make way for the girl with the baby!” He pulled me into the carriage, and I shouted, “There’s still my mom with my little brother!” He shouted, “Where’re your mother and brother? Make way for them!” He took us into the carriage; it was the second man to come to our rescue. Finally, after all the ordeals, we got to Kharkov. At the railway station of Kharkov there was the evacuation center for us to be registered and since then we were considered to be the evacuated.
In Kharkov we had relatives, so we went to them. When we arrived to their house, their son was drinking tea with bread and jam. Our children, of course, were hungry, but they knew: it was impolite for them to ask for something. But our Borya said, “I would also like to drink tea.” The children were fed immediately, and Borya’s words became a catch phrase in our family. In Kharkov we were caught up with my father in uniform. After his work at the fortifications, he joined the regular army units. However, he suffered his illness attack, the military authorities studied his documents and he was demobilized immediately.
At the evacuation center, we were sent to the city of Engels, in the republic of the Volga Germans.
We traveled almost a month. The food ration cards were given to us at the evacuation center and we could not realize them because the train usually did not stop at the stations but in the open field. We had to starve. On the way the route was changed, and we got to the Akmola region (now – Astana region), the city of Atbasar. We were fed for the first time there. All were given a lot of food and huge chunks of meat. Children could not even eat them. Mom took the leftovers with her. No one knew when we would eat the next time. Then we were taken to the remote village of Popovka at the Ishim river, the tributary of the Irtysh river. In September it was usually covered with ice near the shore, and we were completely naked and barefoot. The steppe was all around us, as far as the eye could see; only tumbleweeds grew there and there were no trees. There were about thirty houses in the village, each of them had a barn attached to it, a storage shed for keeping cattle and stocks of fodder. There was a well there, too. In winter, the snow encased all of the house, and it could be removed only from the inside. No one could help us because there was terrible poverty. Our hostess treated us kindly, but the climate was awful, and we feared for the children.
With the help of our fellow countrymen we decided to move to the Southern part of Kazakhstan and came to Taldy-Kurgan region, to the village of Belokamenka. The kolkhoz chairman met us and the evacuated and the local people and said, “Samsonova – take the family!” That meant us, and we went with the woman. She told my mother, “I’m so glad I got you! “My mother asked, “Why?” The answer surprised us, “I was so afraid I was going to get the Jews!” And my mother said, “But we are Jews.” The woman was very surprised. She said, “Really? But you are just like us!” My mother tried to find out whether in her mind Jews were really with horns …Nevertheless, she treated us well. Our kids were bathed, fed, put to bed by the stove and we were also given a place in the house. In the morning, the house owners settled us in their outhouse. We lived there for a year. Then the outhouse was taken for medical center, which previously there was none in the village. We moved to the family of Vlasovs. It was also the outhouse, only smaller, but we were happy.
In th ebeginning, while my father was still able to work, we were living not a bad life. Dad was a good shoemaker. He repaired and sewed shoes. People paid him what they could, often with products. However, this lasted for a very short time.
My mother and I worked in the field, following the combine to make bundles. For our work, we were paid nothing, but we were given at least 50 grams of bread and some soup, and those who did not work due to illness received nothing. The evacuated people organized a kindergarten. Our children also went there. There was not enough food there, of course. Hunger was particularly hard for children. Someone gave us seeds of sugar beets and mother used to wet and to mash them in order to make the pancakes that were even hard to swallow. In spring, the children gathered green grass. They ate everything there were possible to find. In winter, we were allowed to dig a snow-covered potato field. For the whole day, we managed to find out two or three frozen potatoes and it was a holiday for us. Mom cooked pottage; we ate it with pleasure and were happy. The mother of the owner of the house we lived was a farm baker, she felt sorry for us, and, though it could be a criminal offense, sometimes, until no one was watching, she opened the door and threw us some bread crusts and broken pieces of bread. However, that was rare. Sometimes she gave us a few onion bulbs. My brother ate an onion, and tears flowed from his eyes. It is impossible to forget. We had no clothes. I even used to be without stockings in winter. To use the stove, we needed firewood. My mother and I went to look for it in the woods. Once me and my father got a cart of straw for the stove to heat. We were returning home from the farm in the evening. Suddenly I saw lights behind us. I showed them to my dad. It turned out they were wolves. I was scared they could eat us. Dad had a sense of humor and reassured me, saying that it was us that were going to eat them. Fortunately, nothing happened.
In 1943 our village admitted repressed Chechens.
They did not work. They ate only what they could bring with them. Every day one of them died. The cemetery was located on the mountain and from anywhere in the village the funeral procession was clearly visible. Our hostess also admitted a Chechen family – a mother and two sons. They didn’t communicate with anyone but gave trouble for no one.
Before the war, my dad was always on a diet, but in such circumstances, it was unthinkable, and Dad started to get sick very often. The nearest hospital was in Taldy-Kurgan, 60 kilometers from where we lived. I constantly had to take him by cart to the hospital and to walk to the hospital to visit him.
On September 29, 1943 our native city of Kremenchug was liberated. During a hospital visit, my father came to the Taldy-Kurgan City Party Committee to ask for the travel documents as he wished to return home. There he was told that our city was in ruins, but he said it was better to die “on the native stones”. The fate, however, decided otherwise. In late 1943, my father’s condition got worse and I brought him back to the hospital. There was no place there, and he was put at the emergency room right on the table. I ran to the market to buy some milk he loved. When I returned, the man who was lying in the next bed said, “You’re Mania by name?” I confirmed. Then he said words that shocked me, “He was calling for you all the time… “I dropped the pitcher of milk, rushed to my father and began to call his name, shake his hand and leg. The feet were already cold, but his hands were still warm. But I didn’t want to believe it was the end. The chief doctor came and calmed me down a little; he asked me if I wanted to bury him there or in the village. I did not have the transport to take my father back. He felt sorry for me and ordered to give me two sheets, a coffin and to take my father to the cemetery, where he was buried.
That was how I, a girl of seventeen, buried my father. By the time it was over, it was night. I was able to get to the city and I happened to see the house of my friends but they had no place for me and put me on the table, I couldn’t sleep. In the morning, I went home on foot. All my thoughts were only about how to tell my mother what had happened. By the end of the way, I met the chairman and he took me home. He did not need to ask me, he understood everything. My mother, too, saw me and understood the same. Then she told me she knew it would happen, when we left for the hospital, but she did not want to believe in it.
At the hospital I caught typhus and fell ill a couple of days after. A nurse came to help me, but she could do nothing, she only offered to cut off my hair. I had braids down to the waist, and I refused to cut them. Nobody came to visit me, because they were afraid of being infected. My mother was afraid the kids would get sick, so she arranged them to stay at the day-and-night kindergarten group.
There, an incident happened which is still remembered by our whole family. By that time the children were already potty-trained, but when my mother came to take them home, she was shocked. Their pants were full…. Mom asked, “Why didn’t you ask to go to the toilet?” Boris replied, “We asked, but when I said I needed to make a “little”, the daycare nurse ordered me to play with little children, and when I said I need to make a “big”, she ordered me to play with the grown-up children.” So that is how they played.
I was lying in the outhouse alone, but one of the Chechens began to visit me. He used to bring me some water, sometimes some soup, and when I started to get up, he started taking me outside. He knew only one Russian word, “mother”. He helped me to sit on the bench, and when the sun was too bright, his mother – a tall and beautiful woman – used to say something to him and he took me into the shadows. I am eternally grateful to them.
When I recovered, my mom went to the district authorities to ask for the travel documents my father could not get. But that could not be achieved without bureaucracy. The documents were made out for the family of five persons. My mother said our father had passed away and we were four. But it turned out they couldn’t allow that, and we had to find a fifth person. Only after my mother’s complaint to the head of the office, she was given tickets for four persons.
As soon as I got stronger, we set off. We were travelling very slowly in the supply trucks, while making the way for the front trains, the trains with the wounded and the cars with the scrap metal from the fields of military actions. The stoppings were long. I went out to get some water in my father’s overcoat. I had no other clothes. I was extremely weak after the serious illness and soldiers apparently took me for a nurse after being injured. They treated me to some rusks and lumps of sugar. When my mother saw the wealth, she asked in outrage, “Where did you get it?” I reassured her and explained I did not beg for the food and did not steal it. Thanks to the good people, we were saved from starvation.
Finally, the long journey was over, and we arrived in our city. We knew the city was destroyed, but it was impossible to imagine it even in the nightmare. The streets were littered with debris of bombed buildings, almost all the houses were burned and only ruins were left. On the walls of the ruins there was the inscription: “Demined” with the name of the miner.
There was nowhere to live. Surprisingly, our house survived in all this nightmare. However, five families lived in our former apartment. We appealed to the city council and were said it was not possible to remove them from the apartment. However, we also needed somewhere to live, and again we were helped by good people. One of the neighbors made a room exchange and we got the six-meter communicating room for four persons in our old apartment.
At that time, I was almost eighteen years old, the kids were six years old, and I was responsible for them. I went to work at the tannery to sew harness for horses. Immediately I was given a bread rationing card – 400 grams of bread a day and coupons for lunch at the canteen. My mother and children were not given any bread cards, as some bureaucrat had considered them to be farmers. My mother could not find a job. I appealed to the director and my mother was taken to the factory job as well.
I wore my dad’s shirt and my mother had sewed a skirt for me out of the dad’s trousers. On my feet I had old galoshes tied with ropes. One day I came into the canteen. I was suddenly stopped by the director and he said: “Come up to the lab on the third floor. Find Voronov. Tell him I ordered to make boots for you.” Voronov met me warmly, asked my name and when I answered he asked, “Are you Levka’s daughter? Why did you go to the director? Wouldn’t I help my late friend’s daughter to get boots? “. So, I received my boots. The director tested them and was satisfied with the master’s work. In general, he helped everyone who returned from evacuation, as much as he could. He himself was also in evacuation, and he knew what it was like.
The work at the factory was very hard and there was a piecework pay. In order to have more time for work, I reduced my lunch time. At lunch, I did not eat my bread, I used to take it home as my brother and sister waited for it. I usually shared it equally, they didn’t trust anyone else. The process was long and very responsible. They used to lie down on the floor and compared the two slices, insisted on exchange, and it could go on for very long. On my hands, there were deep cuts and I had the smell of rawhide. I was always considered an advanced worker.
Fortunately, everything comes to an end, and after 1418 days and nights we heard the long-awaited word: “THE VICTORY!” All people were exulting.
In 1946 I was given a medal “For valorous work in the Great War of 1941-1945.” After the war, in 1951, I got married and changed my last name to Krichevskaya. I gave birth to two daughters and brought them up. I graduated from the college and worked as the chief accountant of the general construction management. My total length of work is over 50 years. Since 1995, my husband and I live in Israel. We are almost 85 years old. We have three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. We are happy and grateful to the country we live in. Here we are at home and we regret that it took us such a long time to return to our historic homeland.
From Joseph Skarbovsky’s book “The Children of the War Remember the Taste of Bread”, Vol.2, Israel: Studio Fresco, 2016.