Tsilya Yosifovna WeinerTatar ASSR, Chistopol, 1946
Bronya Weiner was born 1929 in Gomel, where she returned after the evacuation. She immigrated to Israel in 1991 and lives in Kiryat Gat.
WE WOULD NOT HAVE SURVIVED
I myself could never have written these memories down because I am almost illiterate. My neighbor helped me to record them, and I am grateful to her for that.
I was born in Gomel (Belarus). The family had eleven children, Father worked as a firefighter, Mother was a housewife. We had a house, two cows, and a vegetable garden. We sold our milk and vegetables in the market, since we needed money to buy clothes. The older children – a sister and two brothers – had married and started their families before the war and lived apart from us. When the war broke out, three of my brothers were taken to the army, to the frontlines. Later we received notices that they had been declared missing in action.
In July 1941, we left our house and farm and took a train heading east, riding in boxcars. We were told that in two weeks the war would be over and we would be back. But instead, we first found ourselves in Kharkiv in the Ukraine, then were sent further east, to the Jambul region in Kazakhstan.
Father, who had been wounded in the Finnish War and left with a permanent disability, was sent into a nursing home. Mother got seriously ill and took to her bed, so there was no one left in the family who could work, and we were left without any means of subsistence. The younger children, and I among them, went out in the street to beg; we also slept there. We were picked up one day during a police raid and put into an orphanage, which was somewhere in the Jambul region (I do not remember the name of the place).
The orphanage was full of kids from everywhere. They lived in crushing poverty prevailed: there was one pair of shoes for every ten kids. Whoever grabbed it first wore it, while the rest were running barefoot. We were fed rotten food. They would open a barrel of sauerkraut, and there were maggots in there. We learned to steal; we turned into true little thieves, but we would not have survived without it. I remember, we would go to the train station to steal beets from freight cars. To get inside, we broke off wooden fence slats to make holes we could get through, all this during school hours.
Studying on an empty stomach was hard. We were punished for bad grades. Especially the smaller kids got it: they had to kneel on coarse salt and had their meals taken away. They cried. We fought with the orphanage staff as best we could. I tried to comfort my little sisters, stealing what I could from the kitchen. By that time I was already eleven years old.
Our older sister worked with our mother (who had recovered) at the local collective farm. When it came time to go back home from the evacuation, our parents took us out of the orphanage, and we started to prepare to leave.
We returned home to Gomel in 1945. Our house had been completely destroyed, and another one had been built in its place. There was a public bath-house in Gomel, in Proletarian street. It, too, had been destroyed but its basement had survived. We, and other Jews in the same situation, made ourselves a place to live there. And we lived there for over five years.
Before the war, I had completed four grades and never went to school again because of hunger and a lack of clothing. When I reached working age, I was recruited to work in different places, even as far as Sakhalin; I was a blood donor, donated blood, and worked as a disinfection specialist at a sanitation department.
Memories of her mother-in-law recorded by Irina Weiner