A PIECE OF PAPER THAT SAVED OUR LIVES
For each of us, the children of war, the first day of war is unforgettable.
I was eight years old at that time, and in two months I was supposed to start my first year at school. Near my house there was a bright new multistoried building of the school№13, with a lot of desks in its yard. Every day there was something going on, so every day I visited and observed the place. We were waiting for each other – me and my wonderful school. So, on that day I also wanted to see it, I went out to the courtyard and plunged into the wonderful sunny morning. But what is that? The yard was full of people, mostly women. Everyone was watching the sky. What could they see there? I lifted my head, too; in its boundless blueness, I saw an outline of huge birds. Someone said: “It’s a war!” Until now I perceived that word as a set of sounds, but gradually it became clear.
The Germans were bombing the “Dormashina” plant that was located nearby, just across the road near our house. Walls were shaking, the plaster was falling off. At the sounds of the air raids we were hiding in basements. My mother’s sister was living with us, she was an impetuous young girl. At the next raid she became very angry at the Germans and shouted:” Enough! I will not move anywhere! Let them kill!” Then we too, my Dad and Mom, my three-year-old brother and I, didn’t run away and stopped hiding. We decided: if they kill us, so be it.
On the streets of the city, I saw the endless stream of the retreating army. Now I recollect the faces of the soldiers powdered with dust, but I don’t remember their eyes. Of course, the kids were at the end of the columns, they were trying to keep in pace with the soldiers because each of them had a real gun! I ran after my little brother in fear of losing him in the endless stream of the moving soldiers. Even now I’m tormented by the question: who of those young men arrived in Berlin and made it back home? No answer…
“Ah, the roads! Fog and dust, Cold and troubles, couch grass!”
These are the words of my favorite wartime song.
“Сouch grass” is the weed of my native Black Sea region sunny boundless plains – the city of Nikolayev.
My mother, a hard-working primary school teacher, went to the District Department of Education for “further orders”. In the empty building, she found a single person, a secretary, who literally scribbled on a piece of paper:
“Help granted to the citizen: Kiperman E.Yu.
A family of 2 persons.
To be evacuated and sent for residence to Sverdlovsk. Date: August 8, 1941.
Today I realize that that piece of paper saved our lives – it gave the right to evacuate, it gave us hope. The last train broke out of the city, and on the next day, the Romanians occupied Nikolayev. In my memory, there are some fragments of my recollections: endless bombings and inevitable stopovers, crying children and someone’s moaning because of the injury by the random shrapnel. My father was removed from the train, and later we learned he was not mobilized into action but into the labor army because of his impaired vision. Even so, I cannot remember only one thing: what did we eat then? Our train of suffering ran its course to the city of Voroshilovgrad. I am grateful to the nameless engine driver – he was a true war hero. To the final stop – the city of Sverdlovsk, the All-Union evacuation center – we traveled in a more civilized way. I remember well the apocalyptic view of the world: thousands of torn out of life people, they were exhausted, lying on the ground and waiting for some kind of savior. Salvation came in the shape of an official behind a glass. We got the direction to the taiga village of Gari. We traveled by exotic types of transport – ferries, barges, even on a reindeer sleigh. It is nothing of a surprise– the North Urals, tundra. Through the October snow, I ran to school in summer shoes. My frozen legs were recovering for a long time, it was very painful. I experience pain in my legs and a cold feeling even these days. Later, my mother got felt boots for the whole family, and in summer I sported in chuni – some pouches narrowed at the ankles. I studied well because I was taught by the remarkable selfless
people. I have much for what to be grateful to them. Perhaps that’s why I became a teacher. I must say, during the war time the people scattered throughout the world were trying to find their relatives. With this purpose, they sent their postcards with the new addresses to the main post offices of the liberated cities. My mother followed their example – and my Dad found us in the taiga wilderness.
I also remember the small room, filled with people, and the mournful silence – news received from hell.
This is Manya Abovich is writing to you, you may remember me. I was at the post office and took your letters. To my great sorrow, none of your family or relatives are still alive in Khmielnik. There are only 260 Jews left. There were, at least, 6 or 7 pogroms against Jews. I cannot describe all the horrors we have experienced during the last three years under the yoke of the German fascism. “So, one more concept – the Holocaust – came into my mind then. The postcard is the main heirloom of our family. I will pass it on to my children and grandchildren.
We stayed in the Urals where I graduated from e school. The inexhaustible riches of the Urals are a unique phenomenon. Still, their people are the main wealth: warriors, workers, craftsmen. All of them – unselfish and reliable. The Urals gave shelter to thousands of disadvantaged people, my family among them. The remarkable Russian writers, such as Mamin-Sibiriak, Bazhov, Astafjev, dedicated their works to the Urals… My younger brother used to recite his favorite poem with emotions, I remember it today:
“The Urals are the treasures of the planet: Ruby, sapphire, gold nuggets and emerald. The Urals are in glory, full of force.
It is the country’s natural resource.
It is a storehouse of different wealth.
The Urals are the Russian pearls.
It made the sword for battles…” Each of us, the children of the war, keeps in their memory this tragic period, and together they form integrated whole picture of that Time, common to all the children of the war.
From Joseph Skarbovsky’s book “The Children of the War Remember the Taste of Bread”, Vol.2, Israel: Studio Fresco, 2016.