When the war started I stayed in our little neighborhood, in the Jewish ghetto. I had a friend who could not speak a word of Russian or Ukrainian. I taught him Ukrainian, and he taught me Yiddish. And so we spoke together: I spoke Yiddish without an accent, and he spoke Ukrainian without an accent. I was a pretty good teacher, and he was too. No one was killed in our neighborhood. No one was even harassed. Well, one person was killed. He was reported as a partisan, so they killed him. But this was really just a single case. The rest of the people were fine. The life was normal. They didn't let us out...
There were two streets that ran through our neighborhood: Lenin Street and Karl Marks Street. Lenin Street served as the divider between the Jewish and Ukrainian communities. But still, Jews did live on the Ukrainian territory – my two uncles baked bread there and lived there.
The scary part was something else: every day we had to pay our dues for staying alive, so that we wouldn’t be killed. They’d say there was a mission of some sort that needed to be funded. So people paid with whatever they had. But this had to end at some point. The Russians came and the Romanians left. The Romanians were good people.
I was in prison. I’ll explain how it happened. I was not a killer or a thief... The situation was so bad that I... my mother received only one ration of food for the two of us, so we shared it. And we lived like that for one and a half years. So I too knew some hard times... And my mother said: “Go. You will survive”.
I left and got a job working with my uncle in Chernigov. My uncle was a supplier. Once he left and didn’t return for over a week. I had nothing to eat. So I enlisted to work at Donbass mines. I didn’t work long at Donbass. I earned 12,000 rubles there but they didn’t give us the money. There was a Soviet worker policy in effect: if the mine didn’t meet its quota, the salaries were not paid out. So I didn’t have money to buy a meal or bread. I borrowed some bread, took my ration cards... and left.
When I was leaving, you understand, it was winter, it was cold. I got into a “dog case” I saw at the doorway on the train. I curled up in there. I travelled in that case for 8 days. Hungry, without water or anything else all the way from Schers to Zhmerinka. At Zhmerinka I got off and went home on foot. There was a little village nearby, called Buraha. When I reached Buraha I realized I could not walk any further. At that time my mother worked there as a cook. I got there somehow and asked them to give me something to eat: “my mother would pay you back”. They gave me some food, and I ate and went home. I finally arrived, stepped over the threshold, and collapsed. This was my journey.
Shortly after I was taken to the prosecutor’s office for things I “took” from Donbass. You see, I didn’t simply leave... I left my work suit there. Someone probably took it, and... [blamed it on me]. So they put me in prison and I stayed there from May until the end of August. Not for quitting my job and leaving but for failing to “return the work suit!” It was not important that I didn’t take it with me, the point was that I didn’t officially return it. That’s the kind of life it was.
As soon as I reached home I was collected by the prosecutor. My mother helped me out of it. She went to the investigator. “He is the only one I have, I am alone. What are you doing? I will die here and he will die there. What for? Give him back to me!” And they let me out, in August. The prison was terrible: there were 86 people in a cell designed for 18. There were plank beds. They were so crowded that there was no space left on or even under these beds. I slept under one of the beds. I was nineteen then. That’s the kind of life it was.