My paternal grandmother, Dvoira Sokolovskaya, had nine children—six boys and three girls. The accompanying photo shows her with some of them. When the war began in June 1941, they were all grown up and had their own families. Before the war most of them lived in Kharkov, Ukraine. Five Sokolovsky brothers were drafted into the army; four of them were killed, including my father. One, Uncle Joseph, lost a leg at the front and died of his wounds a few years later. I know my father only by my mother’s stories and by his letters from the front, which I cherish.
Three of our families in Kharkov fled before the Germans occupied the city. But grandmother did not want to leave her oldest daughter and her child (my aunt Sonia and cousin Riva). Aunt Sonia took part in the evacuation of the factory where she worked, but she didn’t have time to leave before the Germans came.
The Germans slaughtered Jews in Kharkov just as they did in other towns and villages. Three members of our once-large family— Dvoira, Sonia, and Riva Sokolovsky—perished in Drobitskiy Yar along with twenty thousand other Jews. On December 14, 1941, they were driven from their homes and forced to walk along Moscow Prospect to the ghetto near the HTZ settlement, where they were placed in dilapidated barracks. Two hundred fifty to three hundred people were shot at Drobitskiy Yar every day. The ghetto was liquidated at the beginning of 1942, but the shootings at Drobitskiy Yar continued until Kharkov was liberated.
In 1989, not long before I left for America, I found out that a group of “Refuseniks” was trying to erect a memorial at Drobitskiy Yar to commemorate the people who were destroyed there. I donated money to the memorial, which was erected in 2002. The Russian poet Evgeniy Evtushenko wrote a beautiful, touching poem, “Drobitsky Apple Trees,” dedicated to the victims of this tragedy.
My mother’s parents died of typhoid during the forced famine— Holodomor—in Ukraine. I have a photo of my grandfather, Yankel Leshiner, who had a wonderful voice. He sang in the synagogue in Cherkassy. My mother’s brother and sister died in the bombings soon after the Germans invaded Cherkassy.
This is the story of how most of the members of our once-large and happy family perished in the Holodomor, Holocaust, and war.
We must never forget, so that it will never happen again.
Written by Stella Sokolovskaya, Never Heard, Never Forget: Vol. I, 2017