Moysey Gabay

HUNGER

Of course, to think about the bygone days’ affairs at the age of 74 is not an easy task, but we must keep the memory of the past events for future generations. In those days I was a boy of ten years old; I finished the third grade and lived with my parents and my two-year-old brother in Ukraine, in the village of Romodan, Kremenchug district, Poltava region. The first weeks of the war passed unnoticeably. After all, we were always confident about the ability of our Red Army to crush the enemy. However, later, in July, anxiety enveloped the whole village. We had a large railway station and the German planes bombed it. The bombs scattered around the village. The first attacks were rare, but at the end of July they were increased.

My uncle, Semion Vulfovich Sigalov was a career military artilleryman. During one of his visits he gave me his bag and binoculars. The bag was always with me, I went to school with it, and all the children envied me. One day, in early July, a district police officer (I remember even his name - Nestulya) came to our home and demanded to hand over the military equipment – my commander bag and binoculars. For me it was the first blow of the war. In August the bombings became more intense.

Especially memorable is August 18th (it was the Soviet Air Force Day) when nine Nazi bombers were repeatedly bombing us during the whole day. There were many hospital trains, trains with fuel and ammunition at the station. It all blew up and was burning. The terrible view is in front of me even now. There was nowhere to hide during the air raids. The most reliable shelter for us was our bed with the mattress to hide in case of bombing.

The German troops were already close. But the local authorities didn’t take any measures to evacuate the population. The people were confused. What to do? Where to go? Luckily, a familiar doctor who worked at the local hospital warned us about the Germans coming next day. The hospital was going to be evacuated urgently, and he could take us by the last car that was evacuating hospital property.

So, we got to Kharkov, but the trains were already formed to evacuate the population. We settled in a freight car and began moving slowly to the east through Moscow. At Moscow we were staying for a few days, and during that time some young people were constantly coming to the echelon and treating us to loaves of bread. I remember the taste of the loaves. No one knew exactly where we were going.

A month later, we arrived in Tashkent. There was such a mass of evacuees that people were sleeping at the station for weeks. But we were lucky. The train went further and, finally, we found ourselves in the town of Karasu, in Kyrgyzstan. I must say, the organization of the refugee reception was done very well. We were fed right at the station, parents were immediately given a job and provided with a room in the barracks. The winter of 1941 was rather severe; the events were bad at the front. As all of us were patriots, a company of kids my age gathered, and we decided to go to war with the fascists. But we were caught by the police at a station and our front-line business was finished. Our room had only one bench where we all slept and a furnace, but it was heated rarely, as there was a fuel problem. There was no electricity, we used a kerosene lamp. The first two years I was out of school because I was nursing my two-year-old brother. We were afraid to let him go to daycare, because all the children were sick with dysentery and there were even lethal cases. Then I passed my exams as the external student of the 4th grade and began studies in 5th grade. I studied there for two years and in 1945 I went to 7th grade. I also joined the Komsomol. The feeling of hunger was our constant companion. At school we were often taken to work in the cotton fields, we participated in the planting seasonal job and provided assistance for the wounded that were treated at the local hospital. The teaching staff was very weak and incomplete, we received only superficial knowledge.

Immediately after the war, in June 1945, we returned from the evacuation and settled in the town of Babushkin (now it is Moscow). We didn’t want to go back to Ukraine because everything burned down, and my mother’s mother family lived in Moscow. I went to the 7th grade there, but when the school year began, I immediately felt the difference in the level of training. Though I was an excellent student at the old school, here I had many difficulties due to lack of knowledge.

 

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