Evacuation and Escape

Leningrad Blockade

Krasnyansky Michael


My mother’s mother, my grandmother Rosa died during the evacuation. Mom told me that Hitler’s army completely occupied the town of Stalino and established their administration there by winter of 1941/42. At first Mom stayed in the town, as she was already pregnant, and the winter of 1941/42 was especially cold. However, at the beginning of 1942 Hitler’s administration in Stalino began mass executions of Jews. Apparently in an effort to save bullets, Jews were thrown alive into the vertical shafts of coal mines that were several hundred meters deep. Into just one such shaft named “04.04 bis Kalinovka” about one hundred thousand Jews were dumped during 1942/43. According to a number of eyewitness accounts, Nazis threw entire families into the mine pit, sparing neither children nor the elderly (today in place of the shaft stands a memorial, in contemporary Donets’k). Consequently, my mother with my grandma Rosa fled from Stalino, having procured an old cart pulled by a horse barely alive. Through the snow and bitter cold they reached the neighboring region of Rostov, where they managed to squeeze into a crowded train car with broken windows (the train had been bombed by Hitler’s air force). The wagon was so cold that water froze. Grandma Rosa caught a cold and died right in that train car; her body was carried unto the nearest railway station (I still do not know where she is buried). My mom, pregnant with me, finally (after two weeks!) reached the small town of Makhachkala in the North Caucasus, to where already tens of thousands of refugees had streamed from the occupied areas of the USSR. As a result, housing was not available, and my mother was forced to live in the stairwell of a two-story house, where another several refugee families with children also lived. It was extremely cold there, lacking in hygiene, with no place to cook, and no food in sight. It was true starvation. It was there, in that stairwell, that my mother gave birth to me, and it was there I lived together with her for the whole year of 1942 (in the spring of 1943 my mother was able to move to a small room, in which another five or six families already lived). Only in early 1945 did my mother return with me to Stalino, liberated from Hitler’s army, to the ruined apartment, which no longer had our clothes or our furniture, or even doors or windows. This is our family’s bill to Hitler …

Mother was a very beautiful woman, dark-haired, tall, and slender (almost a head taller than my short dad!). She had a strong-willed personality to match her considerable physical strength. Because of her “bourgeois” father (my grandfather Simcha had a wealthy home in Odessa and provided my mother with two governesses), mom was not accepted by any university and was unable to receive higher education. She had a lifelong principle: “I don’t want to fear anything and I want to sleep calmly.” I remember very well one occasion: a knock at the door, my mother opens it, a man with a box of broken chickens barges in, puts the box by the door and says, “This is for Yefim Moiseevich from Van Vanych,” and quickly disappears (they did not even try to bring it to my dad at work—they knew that he would throw them out). But there it was! My slender, beautiful but fierce mother easily grabs the heavy box of chickens and off she goes to chase after him. As she overtakes the fugitive, she seizes his collar with an iron grip, throws the unfortunate chickens at his feet, and having thoroughly shaken the villain says in a narrative, state newscaster-like voice: “Take it back. And don’t let me see you again!” The warning was good for the next 10 years!