I finished 5th grade when they war started and I was sent to live with my grandparents and recover my health. They lived in a shtetl that wasn't getting bombed yet, but I did find lots of German leaflets. My dad stayed back to defend the city and would call and write to beg them to leave, for my sake. My grandfather really really didn't want to go. My dad’s pleas roused the whole family. My mom didn't want to go without me - I wasn't even 13 yet. I was a kid, I played in the yаrd, do embroidery, I did what I was told. She told the grandparents to pack up and go and we went.
They were bombing the Dnepr river, bombing the bridges, bombing us as we were leaving. We went in cattle-wagons. Mom left Gomel on her own. We hoped to meet back up. She looked for me for two years.
When we were evacuating, my uncle realized that I’m a kid [and need food], he got a side of bacon somewhere, salted it, and sent it with us in a box. My grandparents keep kosher and wouldn't eat lard. When we go to the Urals, it was winter. This box stayed outside, in the hallway. My grandmother said come, I’ll show you this box, cut yourself a slice, eat it outside, and then come back into the house. And so it was for a while. Then grandfather found out. It was very cold, and grandma told me, OK, come in to the house, eat it here. My grandfather was appalled. She then told him that if he was going to make a scene, she’d cut herself a slice too, and you’d have to be mad at both of us.
Then, after two years of searching, mom found me. I was at work when a woman from the local administration came and started calling out my name. I replied and she told me that my mother’s looking for me. Mom was in Kazakhstan. To get to her, I needed a pass. So I went to the district center to ask permission. It was across the Ural river. A pretty river with a fast current, cold, and to cross to the other side and keep going I needed to use a ferry and then walk another 8 kilometers through the forest. And so I’m coming back late at night, got through the fields and into the forest, it’s pitch black, made it to the shore, to the cliff, at night, and didn't know what to do. There were wolves there. I was screaming, I screamed and screamed…
My grandparents back home were scared senseless. And then I saw a distant light down the river, a moving light. It was a fisherman. He saw me, scrambled up the shore, and got me to the other side. I was really scared of the river, it was so fast, so loud. When I got home and opened the door, my grandmother fainted. I was scared out of my wit, but there was no turning back, I could only fall forward.
Finally, we got the document, went with my aunt to Kazakhstan. I had my monthly pay with me. Grandma baked some bread, dried it up. She told me she didn't want me to go. That here I could eat as much bread as I wanted, but there I’d be starving.
Mom couldn't wait for me to arrive and went to meet me at the train station. It was 12 kilometers from where she lived and she came. The station was huge, terribly crowded. We arrived and caught a carriage, got to the house, and mom was not there - she went to meet me at the station. I didn't recognize my mother when I saw her. She was always majestic, heavy-set, tall. Now she was tiny and thin, hair tied back in a kerchief, she always had long hair, her voice was all wrong I thought… I felt incredibly sorry for her. She’d leave for work at 6 in the morning and come back at 11. Food was rationed, 450 grams of bread, it looked like a brick, palm-sized, heavy. I’d split the 450 grams three ways, for mom, my sister, and myself. We were starving and sick. I came there all tanned, hair in braids, and then there was barely anything left of me.
My dad stayed back to defend the town. He fought till ‘45 and then he was killed. I had a brother, he wanted to join the partisans, but who’d take him? He went to the recruiting station, said he was 18 (he was 17 and a half). He died on April 30th 1945, he made it to Austria.
I remember getting a letter that mom has to go to the recruiting station to get notice of my father’s death. Then in a couple of days to get notice about my brother. How could I tell her that there were two death notices. I tell her nothing and go myself. My brother was an officer and the family was owed his savings, and I arranged them to transfer the money to mother little by little, to let her think that he’s still alive. That lasted some one and a half or two years. She’d say “he’s probably in a unit, where he’s not allowed to get in touch, but just to send money". Then more time passed and she said “they’re too quiet, I guess there won’t be news”. I told her “maybe”. And she knew.