THE HARD LIFE OF A REFUGEE
In August of 1941 the chairman of the Nayfeld Jewish collective farm in Berezovsky district of Odessa region – Isaac Shuravetsky – went to the district authorities for permission and help in evacuating the people because the Germans were drawing near. But there was nobody there already. Then Isaac gave the order to leave immediately. The farm transport was arranged quickly. However, the preparations and the departure were delayed up to 24 hours. As soon as we were on the move, the German planes appeared and began bombing our train. The horse and the cart with our documents, money, food and clothes ran away in fright – the damage for our family was irreparable. We had to go back to our farm, but the rest of the farmers had already plundered our homes, the food and the livestock. We were picked up by Rakhman, one of our countrymen, and on his cart, we came to the crossing at the Bug river. The planes were bombing constantly. There were a lot of wounded and dead. In the city of Nikolayev our relative was admitted to the hospital but when the Germans came, they burned the hospital with the patients.
Having crossed the Bug river, we came to the city of Kherson. At some point, Rakhman disappeared and we could not find him. Also, in Kherson we lost my brother. In 1944 the villagers told us: they had seen my brother who told them that he is joining to the army as a volunteer. He did not return from the war. My elder brother, Joseph, was killed in the war, too. In the town of Salsk there was nobody to go further with. We were sent to the farm near the city of Stalingrad. The weather was getting cold, but we did not have any warm clothes on. It was impossible to travel by freight trains, so we all were sent to the Western Kazakhstan region. The train stopped at the station of Saykyn, we were unloaded and taken to Urdu, the regional center of Kazakhstan. From there we were sent to the farm in 7 km from the Saykyn station. It is impossible to describe all the ordeals we had to go through on that farm. It is a miracle we survived. We were settled in a small house. The room was no more than 4 square meters and it was separated by a wall from the owners’ half of the house. A large boiler was installed there for the owner to cook food. Usually she took the boiler contents with a soup laddle, raised it high and poured into the boiler again. The sprays flew at us. We could not get out because there were 40 degrees of frost outside and there was no clothing. It was the winter of 1942. We were lying on the unclad floor, having spread an old blanket on it. We did not take our clothes off at night. For meals we were given 300 grams of grain. We had to grind it with the help of a special stone to receive a handful of flour. There was no water; we were getting it of snow. My mother was ill with scurvy. There was no doctor there. She appealed to the leadership of the collective farm to take us to the Russian region, but they refused. They hated us.
Once, me and one more girl, also a refugee, were abducted and locked in some kind of pit. A Kazakh girl saw what happened and told my mother. A disaster could have happened. Salt wasn’t given to us, although were were close to the Baskunchak lake where they produced salt. We realized: to cure my mother and to survive we had to move to the town of Vladimirovka which was 130 km from Stalingrad. With great difficulty we moved mother and father into a house the local tinsmith allowed us to use for housing. We were in a hurry and forgot our bag with meager belongings. My sister and I rushed to look for it. We did not know that it was not allowed to change the accommodation without permission. We managed to take our things, but the farm chairman began chasing us on a horse.
We hid in a haystack, and then got out to the road in the morning, and the passing military vehicle took us to Vladimirovka. However, it was bombed by the Nazi aircraft day and night.
There was nowhere to work. Lunches were not given. There was no housing. It was a war zone. My sister was able to get a job as a postwoman at the post office, next to it there was the abandoned bakery. We went to the bakery and lived in it for some time. A post office employee woman found out that we had neither money nor food and clothing. She advised us to join the forming train. My older sister signed us up and she was given a loaf of bread for the journey. She brought it to us as we were starving while waiting for her for three days in the apartment of that kindhearted Russian woman. We got to the train, which was without locomotive. It was a van for livestock transportation. Suddenly, a German plane appeared with its shooting machine gun but, because they did not see any people, they flew away. After a while, passengers occupied the van, the locomotive approached, hitched the wagons and we began moving quickly. After some time, the train stopped, and the driver allowed us to get out of the cars and said we had passed a very dangerous crossing – the Akhtuba station which was bombed much.
Many ordeals awaited us in the town of Pugachev where we were working at the factory supplying the army with uniforms. We were given very little food, but our mother was not given any food at all because she was sick. Three persons of our family were at the front. My father was disabled, but he was sent to the farm to work as an accountant. Children worked on the plantations. My sister was sent to float timber on the Volga river. The logs were loaded onto barges and shipped on the river for the Army needs.
In 1943 my sister was sent for harvesting to the Volga German republic. Having learned that Odessa was liberated in April 10, 1944, we decided to return home. With great difficulty we obtained permission and a month later we came to our own home which was completely looted and destroyed. A new, but not less difficult life began.
From Joseph Skarbovsky’s book “The Children of the War Remember the Taste of Bread”, Vol.2, Israel: Studio Fresco, 2016.