Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tales from the Old Country IV - from Kiev to Tashkent

On April 11th, 1941 my grandmother Sophia gave birth to twins: a healthy boy and girl. The girl was my mother. On June 22, 1941 the German army crossed the Polish border at Brest and invaded the Soviet Union.

My grandfather was a radio engineer and in that capacity was responsible for turning on the radio transmitter at the break of dawn. When he got to the station he heard the announcement that the Germans invaded. The rest of the town was still asleep.

The Germans were about 300 miles away and moving quickly. There was almost no time to run. With incredible luck, their brother-in-law, who was an officer in the army, procured a truck to evacuate the families of the officers. He told my grandmother that he can take her and the children to Kiev, the capital, where she could at least get on a train or a boat.

By this time, the German planes were flying over the countryside. The brother-in-law told my grandmother that if the children made any noise, he would have to throw them off the truck, because they would all wind up dead. (My grandmother always told me that the planes flew so low they could hear noise on the ground. I am not sure if they had some type of listening device or what?) She covered them with a blanket and got into the truck. In a few hours she was in Kiev. My grandfather made it to Kiev 3 days later. He had to ride his bicycle through the woods at night since by this time all the roads were bombed by the Germans.

From Kiev, my grandparents and their family went to Kislovodsk.
a city in the Cacausus mountains.
The scene was an absolute nightmare - a stream of refugees headed toward the city. My grandparents were travelling on horse drawn carts along with some other people from their town. At one point, my grandmother asked one of the women from her town to hold my mother for just a little while. When she came back a little while later, the woman and my mother were gone.

My grandparents went crazy; they ran from cart to cart looking for the baby but they could not find her or the woman. Eventually, in desparation, they gave up. Miraculously, when they got to the city, they met another person from their town who told them that he saw the woman with the baby, my mother, and led my grandparents to her. It turned out that the woman had always wanted a child and wasn't able to have one.

Since the Germans were already getting close to the city, my grandparents took the train further east to Uzbekistan. When they stopped in Tashkent to get hot water, a woman told my grandmother to kill the babies because there was no way that they would survive the train ride, with the disease and the cold. My grandmother immediately got off the train.

This is how my mother's family survived the Nazi invasion. There is much more to the story. Many of the details are getting fuzzier and unfortunately the people who could set things straight no longer have the ability to remember.


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

What a storyy! Twins! Sounds very similar to my own family story. My grandmother was twenty when they evacuated to Samarkand, but she had two younger sisters (one died in transition), and my great grandmother had a baby boy three weeks before the evacuation. Their trip was very similar! (I wonder whether they might have met!!!)

February 12, 2006 9:55 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

How about this...

Chana's mother's family is from Bukhara, which is about 200 miles west of Samarkand. Who knows, maybe they all may have met there.

For some unknown reason, I've always been drawn by those two cities. Take a look at Bukhara!

February 12, 2006 8:11 PM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

That's gorgeous! I've read a lot about its architecture in my Art and Islam class, and now I really feel like visiting!

February 12, 2006 8:16 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

Margilan/ Ferganah Valley, specifically. *smile*

But I was going to comment on your post- your history is so rich and colorful. I'm fascinated by it. And the part where the person says that they won't survive the road trip, so she gets off the train is beautiful.

February 13, 2006 4:00 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

I'll have to look this up on a map, my knowledge of the geography of Uzbekistan is not that good.

I do know about the two deserts of Uzbekistan. Karakum (black sands) and Kizilkum (red sands). Very cool.

For someone living in Chicago, the notion that these places exist and there are people that witness these amazing architectural, historical and natural wonders every day and to them it is just something that is part of their experience...

February 13, 2006 8:12 AM  

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