Chapter 10

       The war started on June 21. The German Army invaded Ukraine and Belarus, moving rapidly east. There was no resistance, but disorganized withdrawal. On the day it began, a few women with children, the families of Soviet  military personnel living in western Belarus and Ukraine, arrived at our dormitories.  They  had fled Brzest, a town on the river Bug. We listened to their story, but we did not realize the danger posed by the rapidly approaching German armies or that 2 days later, we would be in the same position. It was Sunday; we were in the park studying for the physics final examination, to take place the next day. In the afternoon there was an air attack on Minsk. The weather was a perfect June weather. The park was crowded. No one was aware that danger is imminent. The news, before the population is informed, had to go through clearance. Nobody was aware that the German army was marching West .There was no opposition from the Soviet military forces.

Stretched on the blanket on the grass, we suddenly heard the planes and the exchange of fire, but we were sure that the noise was that of military exercises in the air. Since we were almost ready to return to the dormitory, we packed our notes and walked toward the trolley bus. We were sure, that there were military exercises. . The previous the German planes attacking close to Minsk. We were upset, but not hysterical. Everybody believed that the Soviet Union is strong and able to resist the attack. In reality there was complete chaos and panic.  On the bus we heard a rumor that the German army had invaded successfully and that there was an influx of refugees from the west. When we arrived at the dormitory, it became clear that we couldn’t stay there, because the center of the city might be attacked. Our roommates were leaving. Tamara told us that she would try to get to her family in the Ukraine. The other girl was on the way to Witebsk.

Ella and I decided to go to Bunia and her family, who were living in the housing complex of a radio factory in the Minsk outskirts.  Bunia, who had been our seamstress, had gone to live with her brother in Minsk because of the benefits associated with his factory job.  We became good friends. And it is why we were offered shelter and we accepted it with gratitude We really did not know what to do. We hoped that mother would leave Lida and  arrive in Minsk. We were searching the passing trucks of evacuees. There was no one from Lida. We took a few necessary belongings and went to stay with Bunia. Bunia and her brother accepted us.

Her parents were not friendly. As I recall they were rather opposed to our visit. We shared their meal. We got settled for a sleep on the floor. In the middle of the night an air alarm sounded. We saw the German planes throwing bombs. It appeared that the city was under fire. The next day we decided to return to the dormitory. On the way we saw the craters left after the air attack. When we arrived, the dormitory was empty. All the doors were open. The belongings were thrown around. In our room all the suitcases were open. We collected what we could carry in a bundle. It was not much. We left behind all photos. It always bothered me that I did not grab any instead of insignificant items, which we lost on our trip anyway.   We left the entire past behind with the photo albums in a suitcase in the dormitory room .We did not realize that we were going away forever. We were two frightened girls with no family, no money or valuables to survive. Mother was supposed to be in Mins in a few days.

We returned to Bunia carrying the two bundles of cloth. When we returned there was another air raid. Ella and I found a shelter under a staircase close to a young couple from Warsaw. She was very pretty. They had a few weeks old baby.   The situation became dangerous. There was a decision that we should abandon the shelter and run in the direction to the forests.  The timing was tense. A young couple left an infant with us and run to their apartment to gather diapers and what ever was needed for the baby. They came back the moment before a firebomb fell on our building and we  ran to the fields of grain. It was in the late afternoon. The weather was beautiful .It was warm. The sky was clear. The sunset was full of colors. The rye was tall and it was a good cover.  Ella and I held hands and ran with the crowd. There was a sound of the planes and machine guns. Finally we reached the thick of the forest. On the road there were trucks packed with evacuated personnel and their families. We had no money and no food and no one to help us. We sat under a tree to rest. Bunia and her family were carrying heavy suitcases. They decided to return home. The goodbye  was short. No one knew what is the best choice.  Ella and I had an incentive. We knew that our father is deep in the Soviet Union and we hoped that we would be able to reach him. The two of us joined a group of women with children, resting in the clearing in the forest.  Bunia & her family sat at some distance. They had food, but we were not invited to share it. Sitting close to Ella was a group of Russian women with children.  They asked us to share their food. They were very kind. Total strangers happened to be kinder than people we knew.

At dawn we continued to walk east away from the front. We met people returning west. We also met men looking for an army outfit to join the fighting units. It was confusion and panic. Some where on the road, we met youngsters our age. We joined the group. One boy offered us food. I remember we had to cross a small stream and Ella was afraid. We were tired and dirty. Ella had bleeding blisters on her thighs, the result of dirt, sweat, and friction. Some how the boys found overnight shelter for all of us. With the help of our companions, we found a cattle train that was collecting refugees. We got on an open platform.  Here we met our anatomy instructor, a young woman, with her little child. She told us that she left Minsk and she did not know where the rest of her family was.

 When we arrived at the railroad station in Orsha there was an air raid. We jumped down and went flat into the trenches. . One of the girls became hysterical and crawled under my body for shelter. I remember I hit her.  After the air was clear we resumed the trip, boarding the train. Several hours later we reached Smolensk. It was at night.  The Orsha bombardment was a traumatic experience. I hit a girl, because I wanted to survive, and I really did not care what might happen to her. The night was warm when we arrived in Smolensk. The sky was cloudless. The railroad station was lit. There was no indication that this city, so deep in Russia, might be attacked. We went to the buffet to buy food. The only thing we could afford were crackers, in Russian “galety”.  We sat on a sidewalk resting against the wall of the station. We were tired and also we were very passive. We had no control of our destination. Most of our fellow travelers were in a similar position. I had the feeling that we are out of danger and that we are on the way to join father in Izma - Komi Republic. We did not have time to enjoy the peaceful rest The sound of siren announced that German planes were attacking Smolensk. All lights were gone. There was total darkness except the light of searchlights searching for planes. Every one was running in different directions. At that point a woman grabbed Ella's handbag. Ella lost all-important papers and whatever money we had. Life without a passport was dangerous She could be detained as an illegal person. From this moment we stayed close together. We ran uphill to be as far as possible from the railroad station. The Germans sent skydivers dressed in Soviet Army uniforms. Some people were stopped and killed. One of them was one of the boys who was with us on the train from Orsha.   He was from Warsaw, and he cried out in Yiddish. It was mistaken for German and he was shot and killed by the Soviets.  The planes left. People began to return to the station. The building was damaged. Ella and I went to the office of KGB to report the stolen passport. The officer was very kind. He told us that the city is in the process of evacuation. He advised us to return to the railroad station and to board any evacuation train. We went there. We were very tired and frightened and our courage was almost gone. I do not know how long we were sitting there. It could be hours. I remember only fear and passivity. There was no strength to decide on any action. I even do not remember if we talked to each other.

We would have sat there forever if not for  a young man from Lodz in Poland.  His name was Max. He was a factory worker and a communist and he felt very much at home in the Soviet Union. Stalin was against the western communists. While I was in a Gulag I met idealists of the doctrine of communism, jailed or killed by Stalin and his henchmen.  Max took care of us. He helped us to the cattle train, got a blanket and he fed us. There were two other men. One in the twenties and one young boy who became lost while traveling home to Molodechno,  from a visit to his grandparents, because his train had been diverted. We settled all together on the floor. Two girls from Lithuania joined the group. Dora and Sima were on the run from Shavly Lithuania.  They had been visiting relatives and could not return.

Much later in Komi I received a card from Moscow written by Dora. She was mobilized to a special school for soldiers to be sent to occupied areas. She was killed .I saved her letter mailed from Moscow on September 25, 42.

TRANSLATION of a letter

“Moscow. Dear Friends.  Today I received your letter dated September 9, 42. Happy to find old friends there is nothing new. I study a lot. The end is close and I do not know what is in the future, but I will let you know. Dears, My health is not good, my heart fails often, what will come, considering my poor health and mental condition I do not know. I have enough. Ella! You write that I live in a big city, in Moscow, Do you think that I live and enjoy Moscow the way it should be. I do not go out on the street. Sunday comes; I do not know what to do first. I am receiving often letters from Hannah, the news are not good. She has no work. She is naked and hungry. It breaks my heart. I cannot help her. I do not know how to help. Sima works at same place. I found her aunt.  But she did not get in touch with her. How is your father's health? It is getting cold. We will have to suffer again .It seems that the good times will never return.”

The letter was written to Ella. There was a previously written postcard dated May 28, 42 She wrote that she resides in a home of the Lithuanian Government. To make it clear, Dora was sent as a spy to Lithuania.

We all became good friends. We slept on the floor, next to each other. I was between Ella and Max. At night Max became aggressive. I rejected his advances firmly and politely. He left me alone for the time being. He started anew when we arrived at the collective farm. At that time I definitely rejected his advances.  I was on safe ground. I think we traveled about two weeks.

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