Sofia Ruderman

My family’s evacuation during the first days of the Great Patriotic War was probably not much different than the evacuation stories of the most Soviet families. Because I was not yet four years old when the war began, my knowledge of our evacuation is based on my parents’ memories as well as my own. At that time my dad was a professional soldier who served in a military unit stationed in western Belarus, almost on the border with Poland, where our family lived. Early in the morning on Sunday, June 22, 1941, my mother went to pick up a suit in Minsk, where it had been sewn, and I was left with her nineteen-year-old sister, who had come to visit us. My father’s military unit was mobilized, but Father had the chance to run home to report that he would send a car that would take our family to Minsk. He asked my aunt to gather everything we needed. Of course, she was so scared and confused that all what she took was a grinder, my doll and plyushevka (jacket). The last item was very useful later.

All of the servicemen were loaded into the back of a truck and taken to Minsk. Along the way air bombings occurred, and my aunt covered my head with the plyushevka. As the car bounced over the potholes and pits created by the bombs, the plyushevka slipped from my head. Even now I can visualize the pillars of earth and fire that rose up to the sky. It was very scary. Our driver miraculously was able to drive us to the Minsk train station, where the evacuation of military families was carried out. Several times people tried to convince my mother to leave, but she would not agree because she was waiting for us. We were arrived right before being sent away with the last train. And again, I still can see a terribly gray-haired woman with sunken eyes and a tear-stained and blackened face stretching her arms out to me and calling, “My daughter, my daughter!” Everyone told me that this woman was my mother, and I cried and tried to huddle in a far corner of the train car.

Another incident that I remember also happened at a train station. Whenever the train stopped at a station, people left the freight car to fetch boiling water. At one of these stops my aunt went to get water, but when an air raid began suddenly, the train left quickly. My aunt did not return in time, and it seemed as if we had lost her forever. My mother looked for her at every train station that followed. At one station we were sitting on our haunches by the freight car’s open door, crying and looking for our aunt. Suddenly she appeared, running toward our freight car. Her face was black, and she was carrying a teapot filled with boiling water. It turned out that the driver of a locomotive train had given her a ride.

We arrived at the collective farm named “First of May” in the Chkalov Region, Kurmanayevsky District. We lived there from the end of June 1942 to April 1944. We lived like everyone else did. My mother worked at the farm, and my aunt was drafted into the army, where she served until 1945.

In 1944 a famine caused people’s bodies to bloat, and many victims died. Again in my memory, I see a white curtain that covered a shelf on a wall. In better days Mom stored her homemade bread on that shelf. I really wanted to eat, so I begged my mother to look and see if maybe there was even a little breadcrumb left on the shelf.

I do not know how my mother found out about Mozyr’s liberation from the Germans, after which she wrote a letter to Mozyr, Gomel Region. We got a call, and in April 1944 we arrived there. The Germans were somewhere very close; every night we experienced air raids. We hid in trenches that were dug out by our house, and in the morning we found strings of multicolored plastic beads. I do not remember what they were, but the Germans dumped something from the airplanes.

My father fought during the entire war at different parts of the front. He was injured, but fortunately he survived and remained in the army. He served in Minsk, Vilnius, and Smolensk, and the last place of his service was in Irkutsk. Our family followed my father everywhere he went. Shortly after Stalin died in 1953, the army began to fire Jews. My father also was fired, but he received no severance pay or pensions because he lacked seniority (three months less than a full twenty-five years). My father and mother wrote a letter to [Lavrentiy] Beria, [Nikolai] Bulganin, and [Georgy] Malenkov. We had no savings and could not return to Byelorussia, where the family lived before the war and where a few other surviving war and Holocaust relatives lived.

The Holocaust also touched our family. As a result, my father received a severance package, and we were able to move to Minsk, where the family encountered various difficulties in life in terms of housing and employment. Father was a professional soldier for almost twenty-five years, and of course he had no civilian profession. I think that we all remember what kind of years those were. In 1959 my father finally received a partial pension after making repeated requests to the Ministry of Defense. But that is another story of my family’s survival.

Written by Sofia Ruderman, Never Heard, Never Forget: Vol. I, 2017

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