Evacuation and Escape

Leningrad Blockade

Kogan Alexander


I became a refugee from the first days of the War World II. Our family – of my father Rakhmil, my mother Bella, my four-year-old younger brother Anatoliy and me. I was nine years old at the time. We lived in the city of Bendery, the Moldavian SSR, now the Republic of Moldova. We woke up at dawn because of the bomb explosions: the Germans were bombing the railway station and the bridge over the. In the morning my father was mobilized to the Home Guard, and the next day the city residents were brought by trucks to the station for further shipment to the rear. The next morning our father found us and said that he, as the warehouse chief of the district consumer society, and his partner Ivan Kirichenko were tasked to escort two platforms with the two-million-rubles warehouse property to the city of Krasnodar (the deposit certificate was kept in our family for many years after the war). A day later, after the echelon was ready, our train crossed the survived bridge and began its trip to the rear which lasted almost a month.

I’d like to tell about the two most tragic episodes of the trip. I don’t remember the exact day, but I remember that we were approaching a station when, suddenly, an explosion occurred behind us and we heard a string of bombing. The station was bombed. The train jerked; the driver increased the speed. Soon, a noise of the approaching aircraft engines was heard. The driver stopped the train abruptly; everyone rushed out of the van into the field of the growing corn. My mother pushed me and my brother onto the ground and lay down leaning on her elbows to cover us; my father was standing on all fours above all of us. Two fascist planes were flying at a low height: one of them was shooting down the train, the other was killing the people lying on the ground. Soil fountains appeared around us; we heard the screams of the wounded. The planes turned around and flew back. All the people were waiting for the planes return with horror, but they had flown away – apparently, they’d used all the ammo. The people rushed to the vans, fortunately, only several people were injured easily. My mother (a nurse) called out to them: “To our carriage, for bandaging!”. The train began moving at faster speed, it was difficult to climb there because of the high position of floors in the boxcars, but the men were the first to do that and they helped the others. Unfortunately, one of the women to climb last couldn’t hold on, fell under the wheels and died, as the train was moving.
Two more jolts – and the train stopped, the driver came and then left, after that a stoker with shovels appeared. The remains were removed and buried in the field, the train picked up the speed and we continued to move further… The final point of the movement was Krasnodar. After the arrival and delivery of the valuable cargo, at the local evacuation center we were directed to another train, also of boxcars. It was going to the main evacuation center of the country – the city of Tashkent. We moved through Makhachkala to Baku, then we were transferred by ferry to Krasnovodsk, after that we came to Tashkent.

Another incident happened when, as it turned out, only two days were left of the journey to Tashkent. The echelon stopped at stations usually for 10-15 minutes, it was the time to refill with cold and hot water and, if one managed, to exchange some things for food. Once the train started slowing down, our father jumped out and ran to the station with two kettles in his hands. The echelon began moving without warning, just slowly started gaining its speed. Through the open door we were watching our father run to our boxcar, but the train was moving faster than him. Then he put the kettles on the ground, began running faster and caught up with us while saying to mom: “Throw any of the suitcases, give Sasha to me, jump yourself and then Tolya will be passed to us.” Mom did so, but when she jumped, the train was picking up its speed, so father grabbed her, and they fell down. We heard Tolya screaming from the carriage – he was leaving us at full speed… I was petrified, my mother was crying bitterly, and father could barely restrain himself. Then he said we should go to the chief of the station and ask to take us with the first train to Tashkent. We came there, but we were said there were no trains until the day after tomorrow. My mother began crying again, then father said to the chief: “Any train, with coal or goods, anything!”

The chief seemed to become overwhelmed with compassion and told us about the special train on the further railway, they weren’t going to take passengers, but it was worth a try. We ran across the railway to the train with impressive cars and closed doors. Father was knocking at each car, but the doors were not opening. Finally, a car door opened, the conductor said they wouldn’t take anyone. My weeping mother told him about what had happened; she took the wedding ring off her finger and handed it to the conductor. He opened the door wider, looked around and said to come in quickly. Then he locked the door behind us, accompanied us to the compartment and warned not to come to the windows while the train was approaching the stops. He promised to bring us a cup of boiling water three times a day for everybody. He did not promise any food. We settled on the soft shelves, mom rummaged in the suitcase and found a bag with a rusk and some crumbs at the bottom. The boiling water and the contents of the suitcase were our meals for two and a half days. We arrived in Tashkent at night; the conductor explained to us how to get to the main station square. When we got there, we were petrified: the vast space at spotlights in front of the station was filled with the things and there were hundreds of sitting, lying and walking people. Mom left me with dad at the searchlight tower, ordered not to leave and went to the broadcasting center. After a while, we heard from the loudspeakers: “If anybody knows the location of a boy: Tolya, four years old, dressed in … (I don’t remember), arrived two days ago – please bring him to the broadcasting center, his mother is waiting for him.” The time dragged on long painfully, and suddenly, we saw my mother carrying Tolya in her arms! We rushed to them, and then we were standing and hugging each other for a long time…

For a few more days Tolya held my mother’s hand; he was sleeping hugging her and walking hand in hand with her everywhere. Once, mom lowered the collar of her blouse because of hot weather, I and Dad noticed two bruises over her shoulder blades – it was the result of Tolya’s clutch when he had seen her at the broadcasting center. He rushed to her and silently clenched her neck so that she wasn’t able to persuade him to unclench his fingers.

Other episodes and incidents from our life in the rear I will describe in my more detailed memories.


From Joseph Skarbovsky’s book “The Children of the War Remember the Taste of Bread”, Vol.2, Israel: Studio Fresco, 2016.