Leonid Weisberg

ON THE WAY TO LIVE LIKE A HUMAN

I am Leonid Weisberg. In 1940-1941 I lived in Latvia, in the city of Daugavpils, but a week before the war I arrived with my parents on a vacation to Vinnitsa, in Ukraine. On the second day of the war my father – a military doctor – left us for his military unit, and all communication with him stopped and was restored only in 1943. After the first bombing of Vinnitsa my uncle helped us – the family of the military doctor – to flee “to the heartland”. It was a village in Kharkov region. My mother had no illusions about the “humanity of the Germans.” The trains were taken by storm, with great difficulty my mom and aunt were stuffed into a carriage, me and my brother were passed to my mother through the window. Me and my little brother were placed on the luggage rack of the carriage. We were lucky because on the way we were not bombed, but I will forever remember the sound of the air raid warning and the view of the carriages riddled with bullets. Shortly afterwards, when in the remote village near Kharkov we heard the approaching front gun sounds, my mother decided to flee further.

At the train station we were “sheltered” by some soldiers – they were evacuated to the rear with the military unit of pilots, we spent a week or more on the open platform along with the guard sitting and lying on the boxes of shells and bombs. It was a huge success, because at the slightest threat of bombing our echelon with bombs began moving to a nearby small forest and we weren’t bombed. Then, for many days we were going by supply trucks. At the stations we were scrambling under the carriages to get some boiling water. At the evacuation centers we were subjected to sanitary inspections and, finally, we arrived at Chkalov region.

We were placed at a small farm but later moved to the village of Tashla, where my mother began working as a teacher at the village school. We lived in one widow’s hut, where the local authorities gave us the opportunity to settle. The first year of the evacuation was particularly difficult and full of hunger; we were eating quinoa and sorrel; we were gathering wheat spikelets and digging sweet frozen potatoes. During the second year we grew our own potatoes, got a goat and, having restored communication with our father at the front, received a certificate and even a parcel with trophy boots for me. Still, we were always hungry, though we weren’t swelling from hunger. During the Ural winters we, the southerners, suffered from the cold, we had no warm clothing. When I used to come home from school, my little brother wore the same boots and only then could go out to the street. I continued my studies at the village school. It was during the evacuation in Tashla that I first found out that I was a “Jew” and I should “go away to my Palestine”. A well-known teaser: “Say: on the Mount of Ararat ruby grapes are growing” was popular.

All this was described by Boris Strugatsky, a famous writer who also lived in “my” village of Tashla at that time. Boris was younger than me, he studied in another class and I did not remember well this great writer. Still, I am somewhat proud: my mom taught Russian the future luminary of the Russian literature. The wishes of my peers –young village anti-Semites – came true: when I reached old age, I DID find myself in my “own” former Palestine that became Israel. After the liberation of Vinnitsa, we returned “home”.

Before returning we found out that my grandmother, my aunt and my cousins were shot in September 1941 in the Vinnitsa ghetto. Our apartment and all the things did not survive either in Latvia or in Vinnitsa, only my mother's piano was found – a bulky thing that was unnecessary and impossible to hide, so our neighbors returned it. Another aunt of mine returned to us, she managed to get a temporary room in the building of the daycare she worked in before the war and began to work again after returning. Mom started working as a teacher and director of studies at the music school and we went back to almost «civilized» life with street lavatory and cesspool, tap water outdoors, furnace heating and communal bathhouse. A year later, my mother, my brother and I were taken to the father’s place of service. We started a normal, human life.

 

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