Before the war, our family lived in the small town of Baranovka in the Zhitomir Region. When the Great Patriotic War started, the Germans drove all the Jews to the ghetto on Zhaboritskaya Street, the most “Jewish” street in town.
On August 28, 1941, the Germans started the first pogrom. My father, Avrum Khmara, and many other men perished then. In another pogrom, on January 5, 1942, nearly a thousand children, women, and elderly people were killed. In sub-zero temperatures they were stripped naked, and the children were thrown into a pit while still alive. Then the adults were shot dead, and their corpses were thrown on top of the children. Then the pit was covered with earth. My mom, Lea Ruvinovna Khmara, died in this pogrom, but I managed to escape. I hid in the house of Galina Martynovna Pilipenko. After the war she was awarded the honorary title Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel. Somebody informed the police that she was sheltering a Jew, and I was forced to flee. I was captured and sent to the Jewish labor camp in Novograd-Volynsk, where I found my 14-year-old brother, Naum.
It’s difficult to convey all the trials that befell us: hard physical labor (installing crossties and rails), barracks unsuited for living, hunger, cold, and unsanitary conditions. We managed to get in touch with an underground resistance organization, and they helped connect us with the local partisans.
In the dead of night on November 15, 1942, after killing the camp guards, partisans led us out of captivity. Exhausted and dressed in rags, people could hardly walk. It was a very difficult passage. We walked during the night, taking remote roads, and we were under enemy fire. Many of us didn’t make it. Some died of gunshots or from exhaustion. We were led to the headquarters of Major-General A. Saburov, leader of the partisan formation. We were fed and then assigned to different partisan groups. I was a nurse in the group For Our Motherland. Naum was a fighter in another group, but after a while we were in the same group. My brother was given the Red Star award for taking part in partisan operations that detonated explosives and destroyed German military supply trains. I also participated in military operations, destroying special military trains and blowing up railways and bridges. I was gravely wounded.
After the war, Naum graduated from military school and served in the Soviet Army. I graduated from law school and worked as a judge in the Zhitomir region. Then I married and moved to the city of Kharkov. Because I’m Jewish, I couldn’t find a job in my field in Kharkov. Everyone was suspicious of a person who survived the ghetto.
Written by Eva Gladkaya, Never Heard, Never Forget: Vol. I, 2017