Chapter 8

On February 29,1940 my father was arrested by the NKVD. We were having dinner when the doorbell rang. The maid Hela went to the door. She returned frightened, followed by 6 or more armed soldiers in NKVD uniforms. They ordered us to remain seated. Then they spread around to search the apartment. They told Hela that she is not a servant any longer, but a free citizen of the Soviet Republic. They did not realize that although Hela was a Bialorussian, she was a Catholic and very much against the Russian occupation. Hela was smart enough to lead them away from our safe. They took the camera, the radio, an painting of Marshall Pilsudski sitting in the park in his favored vacation place, Druskieniki. They took also my father’s photo portrait, in which he was wearing the medal of the silver cross. Father received the Silver Cross for outstanding service to the Polish government. He was always very proud of receiving it. The search ended. Father was ordered to dress and he was taken away. Hela and I began to cry. Mother, her face flushed, right away planned her next move. My sister Ella was not at home. Our mother was an exceptionally brave woman. The following day she went to the offices of NKVD. One of the officers was the husband of a dentist working with my parents in the Polyclinic. He told her that an interrogation would take place. We had no idea why he was to be questioned. It all became clear, when we joined father in the GULAG. There was a complaint signed by  Jewish  men, that father was a “socially dangerous element”.  Under pressure father agreed to a “TROIKA” verdict of GULAG for 5 years. One of the men who signed was a teenager from the orphanage in training in our dental laboratory. It was a charity case for the period of training and later he became an assistant to two senior dental mechanics, two brothers from the city of Dubno.

A few days after father was taken away we were notified by an electrician, Orzechowski, that while working in the prison he saw father being escorted through the corridor. That was when our daily walks on the sidewalk near the prison began, in hope that father might see us. Hela was in charge of delivering packages of clothes and food. It was delivered and it helped. We still had hope that he would be set free. It was in May when a peasant from Niemen brought us the news.  He saw father being transported in the cattle train. Father asked him to tell the family that he was sentenced for 5 years in the labor camp.  Mother started to write letters to the authorities, asking to review the case.  I have the letters written to father to the Gulag. Father saved them and I recovered the letters when he died.

Shortly after father was shipped to GULAG, the NKVD published an order that all refugees have to accept the Soviet documents or to sign papers to return to the territory under German occupation. A lot of refugees, separated from their families,  opted to return. One night a mass deportation action was done. It included not only the refugees who signed for return, but people who had papers as “Real estate owner”, a “capitalist”, a “factory owner”, and also the families of the prisoners. The action took place only in the middle of the night and took a few nights. The families were on the run. We were prepared to go, in case the NKVD came to take us. Mother prepared special belts for each of us to hide gold coins and jewelry. Ella had a friend Kazik Mucko. Kazik was an unusually handsome teenager. He was a leftist Belarussian and he was against the occupation. He survived the war and was living in Germany as a physician. Kazik volunteered to stay with us to help us if the truck arrived to pick us up. He stayed all night. We heard trucks passing by, but we were not taken. From the trucks the prisoners were loaded into the cattle trains prepared at the railroad stop. Some families were separated. The trains left Lida with families who had left everything behind. In some cases the children were separated from their parents. It was a nightmare.  Prisoners were allowed to take along only the minimum of their personal belongings. They were not shipped immediately. Since the rumor spread that they were camping next to the cattle train, not far from the rail road station,  family members left behind rushed to join them. They were allowed in, but no one was allowed out. They were told that they were being relocated into the Soviet Union proper. There was no panic. No one expected that  families with grandparents and small children could be moved to villages in Siberia or into other provinces where the labor force was needed. Not accustomed to the climate or to the extremely primitive living conditions, they were not able to survive. The epidemic of Dysentery and Typhus decimated them. However the survival rate was much higher than in Germany.  No one was killed. The living and the working conditions were as bad as for the Soviet citizens living there. The people able to use their profession, their skills and  who were physically strong adjusted in time. There were intermarriages with the so-called free people, the residents in the area. One has to understand that most of the population of these villages were descendants of  persons relocated for  political views different from those of the Stalinists. These settlements were not as bad as a Gulag, because the families stayed together. They were not permitted to leave the area of the resettlement until the amnesty for all imprisoned ex- Polish citizens. The amnesty was declared in September 1941.                                                                            .

It was spring 1940 .The trains with the arrested families gone, life in Lida became once more settled, for most of the people any way. Those who were in danger of persecution left for Lithuania. In Lida, in the meantime, life went on. Children went to school. The University students were admitted to the University of Lvov. The factories were working. With the owners gone, a workers’ union was in charge. It was also the time when the war between the Soviet Union and Finland erupted. Several of our colleagues were mobilized. They were placed in the military working corps as I was told by Ben Bojarski, one if those inducted.

Mother was determined to fight the establishment to get father free. Finally she accomplished something.  She received a permit to visit father in a Gulag. In June the war started. My mother was trapped in Lida.

For my sister Ella, this period of time was exceptionally difficult. She was 16 years old and her life changed suddenly. She was running wild. We never knew where she was, but she was always home at dinnertime. Our mother worried. We did not know what to do about her. She had her friends and I don't know how much she suffered.  She had to attend the last grade in a Russian school, with a different language and different curriculum. I was older and therefore more mature. As far as I remember, I spent a lot of time with friends. They were still there. Their life was not affected. They lived in the same apartments. Some of my colleagues left Lida for Vilnius, which became the capital of the independent state of Lithuania. In Wilno, it was possible to get  transit visas to different countries. Families with considerable wealth were able to buy exit visas. They had to have support from family members living in the  countries willing to give an immigration permit. My parents were not anxious to leave. They considered themselves more Russian than Polish. They were sure they belonged to the working class. How wrong they were!  In the eyes of the occupying force, our family was capitalistic, the people’s enemy.

There was a funny incident. Our car was parked in a shed on our grandparent’s property. One day the lock was broken and the car was gone. When we inquired, we were told that it was confiscated as  property of an enemy of the state. Several weeks later as I was walking with my mother we spotted the car parked on the main street.   Mother, without saying a word, opened the car door and got in.  She stepped out a short time later with a satisfied expression on her face. The loss of a .car was not important any more. So many things were happening. Lida was a border town with Lithuania. There was influx of refugees from the part of Poland occupied by Germany. There were single young people, rich as well as poor. Families were separating to save the lives of the young.  While Ella was finishing the last grade in Gymnasium, I was working in a laboratory, doing the simple urine and stool analysis.

December 1940 was very cold. By the end of the month a few of our friends secretly left for Vilnius and from there, with the help of the Japanese vice-consul, they were able to leave Lithuania. Several families ended their trip in China, Shanghai, and lived there through the war. Eventually they got visas to Cuba, USA, and Palestine, Argentina et cetera. Some were able to enter USA directly.

It was February 29, 1940. It was Thursday evening.  We were having dinner. Our arents were tired after working long day. The maid, her name was Hela, was serving dinner. Hela had been with us since 1934. She came as a 17 year old youngster from a village. In a few years she graduated to become a chambermaid. We had a cook. Hela became a member of the family. Our parents trusted her and she loved them, especially my father. We were having our meal. The front door bell rang; Hela went to open the door. The entrance to the apartment was from the waiting room. Through the waiting room, one entered the office and then the dining room. We heard a commotion.  We did not expect to see at least 6 uniformed policemen (NKVD) come in. We were ordered to remain seated. Hela was told to show the rest of the rooms. She was also told that our family is using her as a slave. Hela didn't speak Russian, but she spoke Bialorussian, which sounds more like Polish.  Any way Hela knew where our safe deposit box was.  It was in the closet. She was able to mislead the soldiers and it was not taken. They took the radio, the camera, and an oil painting of Marshall Pilsudski sitting on a bench in a park in Druskieniki (a spa in Poland), father’s portrait where he wears the silver cross medal, given him as recognition as a special citizen, and few other things. When they returned to the dining room, they ordered father to get dressed, and told him that he is detained. Hela bent down to help father with shoes. They told her that she is not a slave and father should help himself. I remember that she pushed the soldier away and helped father. And then father was gone. I became hysterical, Hela was crying. Mother was in shock for a while, but shortly after, she began to plan what to do next .My sister Ella was not home.

We did not expect that anyone could help to get father out of the hands of Stalin's police, the NKVD later called KGB. Mother was full of action.  Apparently the same day, another person was arrested. .He was released few days later. Mother tried to find out how it was done, but his wife did not tell her. Many years later, when we were with father, it became clear, that she knew whom and how much to bribe.   .

Mother was adamant about Ella and me going away to Medical School. Ella was accepted at the University of Lvov. But since I was accepted at the University of Minsk, she transferred. The day before our scheduled departure, I had a gallbladder attack. Ella had to go alone. It was a long trip from Lida to Minsk. Ella was 17 years old. The only family we knew in Minsk was Dr. Slutsky and his wife. Dr. Slutsky stayed in our apartment when he was the health department chief in Lida. He was there when father was ttaken away. He was also there when the workers of the sewing factory attempted to occupy our apartment. He came out to defend us. It was a temporary stop only. Two days later, the workers came  in order to take over two rooms in our apartment. We were cut off from the front entrance .The back staircase was very steep and dark. In addition, because of sanitary negligence of the building we had an invasion of rats.  One evening Mother and I went for a walk. Mother was walking down the stairs while I was locking the door.  I heard a noise and I realized that mother fell.  She was unconscious. I screamed for help .Our neighbors came They lifted mother and they brought her to their apartment.  After a while she regained consciousness . She did not remember what had happened. This accident was frightening. It is always in my mind.. From being protected I became a protector.   Several weeks later we were ordered to move to a small apartment. The entrance was from a courtyard.  There was no running water .The restroom was communal. The apartment had two rooms and a windowless small kitchen. It’s where we left mother when we went to Minsk to enter Medical School.

A few days after Ella left, I said goodbye to mother and the rest of the family and I followed my sister. It was especially difficult to say goodbye to Grandfather. We had very special feelings for each other. My grandfather was my friend. He did not talk much. His eyes expressed his sadness since his oldest son was taken away .He visited often. He helped us to get the supply of wood for our stoves. He would bring nuts (my father’s favored snack) to be included into a package to the prison. We shared a secret. I began to smoke cigarettes. I did not tell my parents, but I told my grandfather. He supplied me with cigarettes he rolled himself.

My grandmother had died suddenly in 1938. Grandfather stayed in the apartment with a maid. We do not know how and when he died. He was not in the ghetto.

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