Evacuation and Escape

Leningrad Blockade

Shlepakov Evgeny


Born 1938 in Yenakiyevo, Donetsk region.
Physician, lived and worked in Moscow, immigrated to Israel in 1990.
He lives in Rishon Lezion.
He has four children and one grandchild.

Evgeny Shlepakov with his wife Lena, Israel, 2007.


From the beginning of the war until March 1942, the military cartography unit in which my father, Reuven Shlepakov, had served since January 1941, remained in Rostov. But when it became clear that the Germans might seize the city, there was an order to evacuate the unit to the city of Pyatigorsk in the Northern Caucasus.[1] Our train came under a bombing attack as we were leaving Rostov.

As my father told me, the Red Army General Staff had established a new Cartography Department back in 1939, and it was decided to establish a cartography unit in each military district. It turned out that before the war (in 1939–1940), the mighty Soviet Union did not have high-quality, large- and small-scale maps of its own territory; those it did have were inaccurate and obsolete. Since the beginning of the twentieth century and especially in the 1920s and 1930s, many new enterprises and roads had been built, and the borders had changed.

Divisional and regimental command staff, let alone army battalions and companies, did not have sufficient numbers of topographic maps. At the beginning of the war, many junior and middle-rank officers were only vaguely familiar with the disciplines of cartography and topography. Father told me that these facts had been repeatedly emphasized in command orders and other documents. One World War II veteran says in his memoirs that in 1942, during the retreat, his battalion commander used a map from a book by the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky describing the latter’s journey to the Caucasus. That was the only map he had!

A cartographic unit was formed in every military district of the Red Army, consisting of several groups (they were called, as I recall, publishing groups), a printing shop, and a special library (containing special literature, various reference books and reference tables for cartography, topography, geodesy, air photography, etc.). The Rostov unit consisted mainly of young officers; there were no soldiers in these units.

In Pyatigorsk, all the evacuees were billeted in local people’s apartments. We were placed with a very nice family by the name of Gavrilov. In June 1942 the Germans approached Pyatigorsk. Once again, my father’s unit together with their families, along with two military schools, were scheduled to be evacuated with the last train out of town, but at the last moment it turned out that the railway line from Pyatigorsk had been cut by the Germans. All the officers along with the military school cadets were ordered to leave on foot, and their maps were removed in two trucks, while the families were left behind at the train station.

Confusion reigned in the city; there was, essentially, no government left. The women with their children walked back from the train station to the courtyard outside the cartography unit’s building. The unit’s commander had left behind two officers (Father told me later that they had volunteered at the last moment) with orders to destroy the map-printing equipment and the maps, which had been loaded into two freight cars. The officers were given three cans of gasoline for the job and told which way to retreat afterwards.

What happened to one of them is unknown. But the other one entered the courtyard that the evening wearing an armband that said “Polizei” and told the officers’ families (the women and children) that he had decided to stay and work for the new regime, that the war was about to end, and that they had nothing to worry about. The women were speechless. The newly minted policeman – a former Soviet officer – continued: “Only Klara Shlepakova and Nina Kosheleva with their children must report to the city government.”

No explanation was given, although it was clear enough. Everyone began to disperse, and my mother and Auntie Nina (she was Jewish, her husband a Ukrainian; she had a daughter Lida, my senior by three years) went back to the apartment where we were staying. There, Mother told the landlady and her husband about the situation. They said we should continue living with them and keep out of sight while they came up with ideas on what to do next.

A day later, all Jews were ordered to gather with their belongings and documents at a specific location on a certain date. The next day my mother ventured out into the city, where she met a woman she knew, who told my mother: “Hide! That traitor-policeman is already looking for you” and repeated his words: “I must find these Jew broads.”

Once again, I bow before the courage, ingenuity, and intelligence of my dear mother, who was only 28 years old, and who would show these qualities many more times afterwards.

[1] Pyatigorsk is a city in North Caucasus Krai, RSFSR (now Russian Federation). 1,139 Jews lived in the city in 1939. Prior to the German occupation (August 9, 1942), several hundred evacuated Jews arrived in the city, mostly from Leningrad. On September 9, 1942, the entire Jewish population was killed, some shot, some suffocated in mobile gas chambers.


Evgeny’s mother, Klara Shlepakova (née Dalid), 1937. She was born on August 25, 1914 in the Novo-Vitebsk colony, Stalindorfsky District (now the village of Kamenevka, Sophia district, Dnepropetrovsk region).

When she related this to Auntie Nina, the latter said there was nothing to be done, and we should do as we were told. Many years later, when my father was transferred to Tashkent, we met Auntie Nina again, as her husband was already serving there. And then I heard her tell the story of what had happened: “I told your mother that we should obey. Klara asked me where my passport was. I handed it to her, asking why she needed it. Klara, without saying a word and without a moment’s hesitation, tore it to pieces, and then did the same with hers. And she said to me: ‘If they ask, we gave the passports to the evacuation train commander and then, in the turmoil and confusion at the station, we could not find him again.’”

Our landlady had told my mother that she had a sister who lived alone (her only son was in the army) in Goryachevodsk, nine kilometers from Pyatigorsk, and we should hurry and go there. Near the house where we were staying there were some warehouses; German trucks brought something in by day and went back empty late at night. My mother got an elderly truck driver to agree to take us to Goryachevodsk. Carrying our landlady’s letter to her sister, my mother and I and Auntie Nina with her daughter all went to Goryachevodsk. The sister also turned out to be a good person and let us stay at her place for a few days. I must say that my mother and Auntie Nina, who was several years older than my mother, did not look Jewish. That was important at the time, and proved to be our salvation.

It was dangerous for us to stay in Goryachevodsk, so near Pyatigorsk, and my mother decided that we should go somewhere further away. How and why it happened that we stopped in the village of Krylovskaya in the Krasnodar region, I do not know. Krylovskaya was a large village where the homesteads were wealthy and the houses were spacious. Many homesteaders were willing to take in the evacuees because the Germans were less likely to visit those houses that were crowded with people, especially children, and usually picked homes where there were fewer people if they wanted to stay overnight.

So, given the situation, my mother and Auntie Nina decided to stay with an Armenian woman. She had five young children, and the house reeked of the ever-full chamber pots. Her husband was away in the army, and she had a large vegetable garden, so she was actually glad to have two young, strong women, with only two children, to help her.

The Armenian woman and her dark-haired children gave my mother an idea. I most definitely did not look Russian, and the Germans twice told my mother that her child did not look like her and asked her why the boy was so dark. She was ready with an answer: I took after her Armenian husband, a relative of the landlady’s. My mother did take a risk and told the landlady the truth. Later, with laughter and with gratitude, she would recall how one of the children was always sitting on the pot, and how the Germans turned up their noses when they came into the house.


Klara Shlepakova, Rostov-on-Don, 1941

The village was located on the way from Krasnodar and Rostov to the North Caucasus. There was a lot of troops moving through there, so there were Germans stopping over in the houses almost every night. Very often, especially in winter, they would open the door of our house, say “Russische Schweine,” and usually go off to look for a less smelly place. I recall two incidents from that time (with details filled in by my mother, of course).

One happened late in the evening. Outside, the wind howled and the snow fell. It was either December or January. I had a fever, a runny nose; the rest of the children were in the same condition. All of a sudden there was a knock on the door, and a few Germans tumbled in, wanting to spend the night. They brought with them a side of beef and asked us to boil it for them. The women did not refuse but warned them that all the children were sick, and some seemed to have a rash that might be infectious. One of the Germans said that he was a doctor and could examine the children and give us some drugs if necessary.

As my mother later told me, he seemed very nice and even resembled a Jewish doctor. For some reason he turned to my mother first: “Where is your child? Undress him.” He examined me very carefully, then all the other children, and made all of them undress completely, looking for the rash. Of course, all three mothers and all the other Germans watched him in silence. Then he gave some pills to all the children (for the fever?), a piece of chocolate for each, and said that the infection was a childhood disease, and it was safe to spend the night. That was when my mother thought what a blessing it was that I had not been circumcised.


Yevgeny’s father, Ruvim Shlepakov, Moscow, 1932

And here is the second episode. We could hear the muffled noise of a distant cannonade. The Germans were retreating. They would come into the house just to get warm and get some rest, and then they would leave, and others would come in, take a short nap and disappear. And so it went for several days. On the last night, there was a knock on the door, and a group of soldiers burst in. They were dressed in German uniforms but spoke Russian – or rather, they were swearing in it. They were angry, hungry, tired and, of course, drunk. They took their coats off, sat down at the table and asked us to fry or cook something for them to eat.

Then one of them went out and crossed over to the house opposite, a large, spacious, beautiful home where there were no small children and where German officers always stayed. There was drinking going on there also. The owner of the house was, fortunately, a very decent man; my mother said she had heard about his having links with the Soviet partisans.

So, the bastard who came out of our house said to the officers there, “There’s a house full of yids back there, I don’t know how the Germans left them alive. We’ve got to fix this.” The officer replied, “Leave them be, we should worry about ourselves now.” The owner of the house heard it and corrected him: “They are Armenians, not Jews.” However, the scoundrel continued to insist that maybe not all of them but Klava with her kid were surely Jews (my mother had given her name as Klava, not Klara, when getting her identity papers). He could always tell, he said, they could not fool him.

Somehow they got this “expert” to sit down and continue to eat and drink moonshine. Meanwhile, the owner ran back to my mother, repeated the whole conversation, took another two bottles of vodka for the soldiers, tossed her his coat and literally commanded us and Nina with her daughter to leave quickly and go to a small grove that began immediately on the outskirts of the village. He added that our army was very close and might get there tomorrow or the day after.

We spent the rest of the night in the woods, wrapped in blankets, stiff from cold. Mother kept wondering how we could find out whether these soldiers would leave in the morning, and whether others might come who might be just as bad or even worse. When dawn broke, the cannonade increased; then there was silence, and tanks appeared in the distance. It was only when one of them with a red star on the turret passed near us that we knew we could return safely. It was the beginning of March; our nightmare that had lasted nine months was finally over.


Yevgeny with his mother and father, Rostov-on-Don, 1950