Faina Astrakhan

The First Day of the War

On June 24, 1941, the German planes were flying above our heads with a growing rumble; the approaching armada was going to bomb the city of Minsk. With wild eyes, the people were running and hurrying to hide. My mother and I were running with the crowd, too. I was firmly grasping my mother's dress. I didn't know what were the things that were falling out of the planes - they were called bombs, and the crosses on the aircraft were called swastika. I was only six years old. At that time, awareness was not as high as it is today. My mother and I ran to our uncle Jacob's house; it was only there that mom started to come to her senses after seeing all this hell.
Before the war, we lived in the city of Bobruisk. Dad graduated from the tank school, and he served in the army near the city of Brest; my mother worked as a teacher in Bobruisk. Just two weeks before the war, my mother took a vacation, and we went to visit my father. I remember well the day when the war began. My dad and I took a blanket and a book, we went to the lawn, and my mother stayed at home to cook dinner. Dad fell asleep quickly, and I was playing next to him with a doll. Suddenly, I heard my mother scream:
“David, it is a war!” Dad jumped up, left me with mom, and ran to the headquarters. Shortly after, a truck came to take out the military wives. This is what I remember from the first day of the war.
Because of the bombings, the way to Minsk took longer than usual. We quickly moved to the town of Cherven. German troops were occupying the entrance to the town, and evacuation to the other side of the country was not possible. A case helped us to avoid certain death from the hands of the German Nazis. Uncle Yasha completed the evacuation of the plant and had a few hours to visit us. While he was riding a bicycle through the forest, he saw a truck driver he knew. He asked uncle Yasha for help. My uncle agreed, on one condition: the driver would have to take out all his relatives. Only aunt Gutia refused to go with us because she couldn't leave her sick husband. We took the car, but a Red Army officer appeared there. He forbade us to take the car. Then uncle Yasha showed him a responsible officer document, and the man joined us in the car. At the checkpoint, uncle Yasha said that there is a suspicious man in the back of the car. He was arrested. At that time, we didn't know: a few days before the war, the Germans decided to sabotage and create panic with the "Brandenburg 800" special units. This officer was one of them. This way uncle Yasha saved us and put us onto a train going to the East. On the way, the train was bombed many times. I learned to differentiate between the sounds of our planes and German ones. After a while, we came to Mordovia. We parted with the uncle's family as we were taken to different places.
Uncle Yasha joined the Red Army. He was sent to some special courses, and then to the forests of Belarus, where he organized a guerrilla unit and was its commander. My mother, the officer's wife, took a job as a librarian in the GULAG camps. There were many intellectuals among the prisoners. One day I was sick, and it is possible that I could have died, but Dr. Lebedev saved and nursed me back to health. She came from Latvia. My mom was often sent to deliver some documents to the remote branch office of the camp. Once she was pursued by a man; in order to break away from the chase, she jumped into a swamp, and with her last efforts reached the camp. She was revived there and treated for a few days in the camp infirmary.
Another uncle – my mother's brother - found us and took us with him to the Sverdlovsk region. We got there by cattle trucks. My mother's duties were to feed the cows and to clean the trucks. Sometimes the train stopped far away from the standpipes; thus, my mother hardly had time to bring a bucket of water at the risk of being late for the train departure. One of my mom's duties was to remove the manure. Once, my mother threw a shovel of feces through the open door onto the heads of German war prisoners who were working at clearing the station driveways and guarded by gunmen. It was a kind of unintended revenge for what they did to us. Almost until January 1945, we received rare letters from my father. His optimism was transmitted to us. My mother completely immersed herself in work. I studied and lived, hoping that the war will end, and my father will return soon. In early 1945 the letters from my father took a note of sadness on the eve of his death. Yes, my daddy died in the storming of Berlin eight days before the Victory. In one of his letters, he wrote about his fighting in the military units where a relative of ours fought and was killed. So, it must have been the infantry. But why? After all, my dad was a tankman.
[After reading the book by Mark Solonin, I began to understand why the best Red Army representatives met their death. Marshal Zhukov, who was called the bloody Marshal, ordered his soldiers to be looters. Many of them agreed and packed the trains with the looted things for the Marshal. Those who refused to be engaged in looting were transferred to a penal company and thrown into the most dangerous places of the fronts. Evidently, my father rejected the humiliating orders and was directed to the penal battalion, where he was killed]. My mother received a letter from the military unit where dad fought and died; it was a gratitude letter for the dad's high merits. I've long become a mother and a grandmother. Still, my beloved father's image doesn't leave me like everything we experienced during the war.