Arrival at Domashov

Translated by Shmuel Kehati

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It was a dark night. The wind was blowing fiercely and the rain pierced our faces. The guards forgot about us and went to warm up in the bakery. We arrived safely in the town of Domashov where only a few Jews lived. To my great joy I met my son there. A local Jew took me to his home and provided me with a bed with sheets. I lay down tired but not before wishing the man a long and happy life. I felt I was in Heaven and fell into a deep sleep. I woke up early. I got dressed quickly and looked through the window trying to ascertain what was going on outside. What I saw froze my blood. Jews were standing in long lines, as far as the eye could see, men, women and children, who where probably caught by the Russian patrols, were now being brought close to the border in order to return them to where they had came from. Their faces reflected total despair. They probably understood their destiny, to life or death, was now imminent. All around Soviet soldiers guarded them with bayoneted rifles. Among them I recognized the group that ran ahead of me, which I failed to catch up with.

The irony of destiny. Lack of strength on my part, causing me great anguish, turned out to save my life. Seeing them I instinctively jumped and hid behind the curtain, worrying that my movement would be detected. I choked, thinking about their misfortune.

I heard that Yishaya Krelnbaum, a communist from Pulawy, who spent 4 years in a Polish jail, was in town.

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Here in Soviet Russia, he achieved an important position. At home, in Pulawy, we had very cordial relations, and we played Chess together. I took advantage of our acquaintance. He provided me with a wagon, and at night he escorted my son and me to the train station, so he would be able to assist us in case we met a patrol. He provided us with train tickets, and waited with us till we left on the train.

It was pitch dark in the train. It didn't make me sad. I sat in the corner, pretending to be asleep so my miserable face wouldn't give me in. Finally, we made it to the well- ventilated Brisk Station, and it made me feel much better since here they didn't anymore ask for documents.

Somehow I found a cheap hotel and started looking for a job. I visited City Hall daily, searching for work. I purchased a Russian tutorial book to refresh my Russian. The money I had started to dwindle and forced me to watch my expenses.

I didn't find any work, so after two weeks I went to Kowal. Here too, I looked around for a few weeks, but couldn't find work despite the fact that I visited City Hall and other places, several times. My money dwindled even further, so I lived only on bread and tea. The cost of bread more than quadrupled. You could get bread at the bakery at the official price but had to wait 6-8 hours outside in the queue, in freezing weather.

The weather probably declared war on the poor refugees. It got all the way down to 30° below zero, and the supply of wood or coal was insufficient. It was cold in the soul, as well. The filth in which the homeless were forced to live brought disease and illness, such as Typhus,

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which took its toll on the young people. People were exhausted from walking; hungry and weary – they died like flies.

I finally found work as a bookkeeper in a meat cooperative through my acquaintance, Avraham Nusbaum. I put all my effort into this job, and in a short time the business grew to over 1,000 members.

More than 20 stores opened around the city, and the “Artel” factory resembled a busy beehive. I worked almost 16 hours a day, starting at 4:30 a.m. till 9 p.m. Sometimes I had to travel to the City of Loczk, the District center, where the cooperative's auditor's office was located. Jews, Poles and Ukrainians worked at “Artel”.

Fourteen Jews and one Russian were part of the unqualified workers' group. One day I was called to the supervisor's office, and was warned that as head bookkeeper, I was responsible for all those breaking the laws. There were many workers who took advantage and 'stole' whatever possible. It became my responsibility and I had to avoid being arrested for what other people did wrong. The supervisor of the Central Bank arrived unexpectedly and checked all the books and documents. He discovered that the secretary didn't deposit the money in the Central Bank on the required days, which was considered a felony. Go try to understand all their laws !…

I received only a warning, and breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn't control all that was happening, it was too much. After a few more weeks, the supervisor arrived again, and found that the secretary had once again committed the same felony.

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This time the matter was serious. I worried about the consequences, and as it turned out, I had good reason.

At the Prosecutor

A few days later the management and myself were summoned to the prosecutor. The investigating Officer was a Jew by the name of Borchman, who read the charges to us, for which we could be jailed for 5 years.

I pleaded that I had no idea I was responsible for felonies committed by others, that I was extremely overloaded with work at Artel, and that it was impossible for me to watch everything going on in the office. He argued that if he accepted my arguments, others might follow, and the whole Soviet country would fall apart. It became obvious that they intended to make it a show-case to deter others, and the manager and myself would be the scapegoats. All our pleadings fell on deaf ears. We had to sign that we would not leave town, and only then were we released.

The Trial

A few weeks later the manager and me received summons to sit on the accused bench. With us sat two N.K.W.D men carrying guns. My heart was beating loudly, and my eyes were misty. Here I was on the accused bench facing a possible 5 year jail term. Why? For other people's felonies.

The courtroom bell startled me out of my daydreaming. The clerk laconically announced the arrival of the Judge, and the trial began. Following the reading of the indictment he asked if the manager and me admit the charges. We pleaded not guilty, of course.

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The lawyer argued with the prosecutor's charges, but he insisted that by our deeds we threatened the integrity of the Soviet Union, and therefore we deserve harsh punishment, as set by the law. I was allowed to speak and defended myself arguing I was a newcomer to the Soviet Law, and being a bookkeeper I could not be held responsible for the secretary's shortcomings. I stressed that the country be better served by organizing courses teaching what is allowed and what's not, than putting us behind bars. Following the manager's plea for release, the judge left the courtroom to prepare for sentencing.

Tension grew in the courtroom, but I was so desperate that I didn't hear what was happening in the room. When the judge returned he read his decision and handed us both a one year jail term on probation for two years.

We breathed a sigh of relief, realizing we had avoided a horrible jail sentence, for now, but what next? In the meantime, management prepared a reception with wine and beer for us, and it was truly a happy occasion. I tried being relieved of the title of chief Bookkeeper, but I was unsuccessful. I went on with my work, always looking for alternatives. Suddenly, it ended in an unexpected way. What happened?

Sudden Arrests

Weeks went by. Prices rose steadily and produce disappeared from the markets. Where food was sold, there were long lines, and difficulties mounted from day to day. The authorities declared that all citizens must obtain Soviet papers within one month.

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Most of the homeless could not decide what to do, since this meant cutting all ties with relatives and friends who stayed under German occupation. Nevertheless, I decided to apply for a Russian passport, despite my fears of problems with the Soviet authorities, which turned out later to be true. On the other hand, I did not rush to accept the passport, hoping that salvation would come unexpectedly, I got an idea from the Hebrew quoted: “What sense does not do, time does”. Another thing happened here: my son Pinchas, went without my knowledge and registered as being homeless in order to return to Germany in exchange for those Ukrainians wishing to return to the Soviet Russia. He registered me and my daughter, as well, without informing me. The authorities had not acted yet, but this was only the calm before the storm.

On June 29, 1940 Komsomol (Communist youth groups) and N.K.W.D groups raided all the locations where homeless people stayed, and arrested all those who did not posses valid passports. They knocked at our door, as well, at 3 in the morning, asking for Soviet passports. Before we even had the chance to open the door, my son and his young homeless friend slipped out through the back window and vanished into the dark. I argued that the Passport office promised to issue my passport today. Luckily, they were reasonable men who accepted my explanation and left.

I could not return to sleep. I was in shock from this unexpected visit, fearing the worst was still to come. At 4:30 we got up and walked to Artel, hoping to somehow get our passports through our friends and avoid all these unpleasant moments.

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On the way security barriers stopped us, my son and me, three times. Each time we managed to persuade them that we were getting our passports today.

We arrived early at Artel. I started working and my son stayed outside. I was reflecting on what we went through and what might still happen next, when I noticed through the window a truck loaded with Soviet soldiers entering the yard outside my office. I recognized my son on the truck and realized he must have been arrested and told them where I was. In the first instant I thought of hiding, but on second thought I realized I would not know where my son and daughter were, so I decided to stay. The door opened and a high ranking Soviet clerk, accompanied by two N.K.W.D soldiers, appeared.

He drew his revolver, pointed it at me and came towards me. He declared that I was under arrest by Soviet rule. When they tried to explain to him that I was alright and that I had applied for a passport, he replied that I was on the list for deportation back to the German occupied zone. I told them I did not register on any list. He answered that my son registered me, and since we shared a room, he must have done it with my consent. Soon after he ordered me: Climb on the truck, and let's go!. To my question: “Where to?” he replied that we were going to my apartment to get our belongings. In short, we arrived at the train station where we were placed under heavy guard.

The transport grew from minute to minute. We were put in animal cars in spite our loud protests. There were no washrooms, and it was terribly crowded. When there was not any room left to stand, every one received half a loaf of bread.

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The doors were closed and locked from the outside. Then they allowed water buckets to be put inside. It took a few hours till all the cars were filled, and the train moved out of the station.

We traveled for more than two weeks. Each morning the train stopped, the doors opened from the outside, and the prisoners were allowed out to the fields to relieve themselves. Hundreds of people, men and women, stripped of human dignity; they had no other choice. People simply functioned like animals and lost their shame.

The cars were full of bugs that bit us and annoyed us all the time, and of course, there was no way to clean ourselves. Only once did they let us shower, in Swerdlosk, in the public bathing house, where women waited on the naked men and men waited on the women prisoners.

Siberia

Those who did not see this land with their own eyes could not imagine what Siberia was like. The climate during June, July and August was wonderful. The sun shines with all its glory. The air is clean and comfortable. Forests are loaded with various kinds of berries. Many beehives filled with honey are scattered in the old forests. Vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes and carrots are three times larger than anywhere else, and tastes delicious. Cabbage is eaten fresh, and tastes and smells like apples. There is a very comfort breeze outside and at night one can see the Northern Light. The sky and the scenery are just magnificent. Gazing at these natural sights one remembers the wide world out there, where people enjoy their freedom and here you wish you

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could forget being forcefully and unwillingly deported far away from your family and friends.

Strong winds start blowing in August, storms are regular visitors and soon you feel you are in abnormal environment and you are a minute creature, who does not know if he would live to see the rest of the wide world. Then the first days of September arrive and the days become shorter. The air fills with snowflakes falling and the ground, the trees and houses are covered in a white cover that blinds the eyes, giving the world a different look. Your entire body shivers violently. It's a sign that the cruel winter has arrived.

Two more weeks and the freezing cold have a firm grip on the weather. First it gets to minus 30 degrees, then 40 and 50 even 55 and sometimes even down to minus 60 degrees. The air feels thick as a heavy mass, making it hard to breathe, and in order to prevent your nose and ears from freezing you have to cover your entire face, head and eyes in heavy wool, otherwise your face turns into the shape of snow – a sign that you have been affected by the terrible frost.

Nights are 18 hours long, from 3 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. while during the summer they last only 2 hours, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Inside, thick logs of wood burn in the stoves all day long. The noise of wood crackling with fiery flames, swallowing the thick logs. The fire stays on all day, from early morning till late at night. One can not stay alive without a fire in these unbearable climate conditions.

We where dumped all the way here. Will we survive long enough to escape from here?

Labor and Living Conditions

We arrived here on July 15, 1940 in a place called Asina on the Tzulim River. Here the saw-mills work noisily day and night. The thick woods slowly thinned out by the

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thousands of men who were sent here from all over the Russian country, and who toiled here cutting the Ural forests, which took not one of these poor men's life. They brought us here, as well, to fight nature. Dozens groups of Poles arrived soon after and were sent deeper into these endless forests. Only few lucky one stayed at this place, where condition were relatively better.

I managed to persuade the chief bookkeeper that I can help him and lighten his work load. He doubted me till he saw my papers indicating I graduated bookkeeping school with honors, which influenced his decision. About 2,000 of the deportees stayed here, most of them intellectuals, Doctors, lawyers, wealthy men who were not used to manual labor.

The old, rotten barracks filled up quickly and many men found room in the corridors. My family and me found space only next to the entrance where the wind blew day and night. Obviously, we could hardly sleep there, which affected my work in the office. My supervisor started complaining and said that he believes he erred when he took me into his office, and that he contemplating sending me to the forest to chop trees. Finally I managed to bring him to our barrack, show him our 'apartment', and persuade him that should I receive better conditions to rest my head, it will perform to his satisfaction in the office.

After a few days, the supervisor offered me a small, old, tottered house, but when we, my son, daughter and me, entered it we couldn't believe what we saw. All the walls were covered with signs of bugs, and a few rat carcasses lay in the doorway. My daughter refused to accept this place, but I agreed. My supervisor got extremely angry when he heard that my daughter refused this house,

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and he declared that he will not assist me any longer. We moved from place to place for a few weeks till finally new barracks were built and we they moved 7 people, us included, into one room. There was no space to move in a room where 7 people were sleeping, but we tried to maintain it reasonably clean and in sanitary condition. Slowly, however, bugs and cats crept in, but we didn't feel them.

At the beginning, my worked as bookkeeper at the kitchen for the deportees, but soon after I became in-charge of all the kitchens and food outlets in the area; about 30 of them. It was a tough job. Management kept increasing my load so I worked at least 12 hours, every day of the week, including Sundays.

At the beginning, food was edible, but when the war broke between Germany and Russia, the conditions worsened. Instead of 500 Gr. of bread a day, we now received only 300 Gr. and later only 200 Gr. of bread per day. Soup was warm water with a few pieces of cabbage thrown in. Hunger took its toll and we had no strength left. We started mixing waste from animal food, which we purchased dearly, which caused stomach illnesses. We ate raw beat and potatoes, as well, because there were no facilities for cooking.

We lived few months in these conditions of starvation and misery, till one day brought the good news that the Polish General Sikorski signed an agreement with the Soviet authorities that all civilian Poles will be freed and were allowed to leave Siberia. It turned to be true, and brought endless joy to all. We may be able to go home. We started preparing for to leave Siberia, and move southern Russia, where it was warmer.

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Management did not look favorably on our preparations to leave, and they tried to persuade us to stay, and obtain better conditions. Obviously, only mad men will choose to stay where the sun is not seen for 9 straight months, but only dark skies covered with heavy clouds causing gloom and fear.

A group of about 30 people got organized to leave to Turkestan where the sun had already warmed up the air a bit. The Soviets promised us the world, but we refused to stay here.

Suddenly it happened: on my last working day at the office I found in my papers a foreign document proving that a known merchant disappeared while owing money. This could be used to prove that I held this document to enable the culprit to escape with out standing for trial. This was probably put in my file to force me to stay with them in Siberia as an accused, because I refused to stay there voluntarily. I understood immediately what it was all about, so I hid the document among the manager's papers, and left. I hid with some friends till the night when it was time to get on the train to Asina, and my trick was successful. I boarded a merchandise car and hid between the sack till the train left the station. I was truly scared to get caught and thrown off the train in the middle of the way, however, my fears were for not.

It took two whole weeks of travel to get away from Siberia. We stopped at train stations to allow more important trains to pass, and slowly we crept to Uzbekistan, to a town called Leninsk, near Andszischen.

Even here in the Near Asia province, it was snowing, although lighter than the Siberian snow, and the sun soon shine and melted the snow which turned into mud. Searches for an apartment soon started, but we had no chance of finding a respected one because we did not have sufficient cash for that.

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Finally, I rented from an Uzbekian one small room with a window and a furnace in the corner which did not have a chimney, therefore the smoke had to go through a hole in the roof. It was 20° below zero and snowing, and the snow melted through the hole in the roof. Our hands and feet were frozen. The floor was not, of course, from wood, but rather packed dirt with mice running back and forth looking for food. We cursed our lives, it was much better in our apartment in Siberia. Because of the freezing temperatures we could not open the door, so we stayed inside in darkness.

I went searching for a job, but was unsuccessful. Our cash situation worsened daily. 1-kilogram bread cost 50 Rubbles, so we couldn't effort it and had to survive on carrot and tomatoes. We were starving. My son obtained work as a porter in a wool factory where he had the opportunity to eat in the kitchen and sometimes to buy food for my daughter.

A sudden announcement forced all new citizens to leave town within three days. Since the homeless did not hurry to abide by the new decree, the authorities decided to evacuate them by force. Representatives of the city arrived at my room, one night, accompanies with workers who proceeded to load my few possessions on a truck and escorted us to the train station. At the station we were told to wait for the next train due shortly. We waited there, outside in the pouring rain, for two whole nights and one day. When the train finally arrived, pandemonium and panic erupted there, everybody was pushing and shoving, luckily there was no disaster. The train moved and kept on moving aimlessly for two weeks, throughout which we received no food or water. When we arrived at some stations we jumped off the train trying to

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find some warm water to warm ourselves up. This happened a few times but we rarely found food, just a couple of times a managed to purchase a rotten pickle.

After one week we arrived at Tczambul, the capital city of Raian in Kazakhstan. After standing in the station for a night and a day, the train moved back in the direction we came from. After a few more days we arrived at Kara-su in Kyrgyzstan, about 1 kilometer from the city Ash. The train stopped there. There was no-one to talk with, so finally we, and a few more families, disembarked. An old local Uzbekian had pity over us, and he arranged for us to stay at the local elementary-school building. In comparison with our previous situation, this was better, since now I could stretch my legs and not forced to sleep with bent legs. However, the food situation was the same, and we had no place where to bath, so we washed as usual with snow.

Sanitary conditions were worse than ever. Dirt all around. Lice bit us constantly, and we were contracted by Typhus.

My daughter became ill and it was immediately diagnosed as Typhus. We were desperate. There was no place to stay in and nothing to eat. We could not find work. What could we do? Go through yourself under the train's wheels.

I started looking for work in earnest, but to no avail. The money I brought with me from Siberia diminished, and we were starving. Finally, a local Uzbekian acquaintance acquired daily coupons of 400 gram of bread for us. In our condition this was pure salvation, but is 400 grams of bread sufficient?

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After long hesitations I decided to walk to Ash, where the secretary of the Rain Committee of the communist Party was situated. The truth was, he welcomed me, listened to my complaints and promised to find me a job. He gave me a letter of recommendations for a Collective factory manager, which only the day before complained he was short of intellectual workers.

The “Kata-Toldik” collective was about 20 Km out of town. An hour later I sat in a collective's car heading there. It became dark, and drenched from the rain, I arrived at the factory.


I stop here. The continuation of my wandering is another story, but the ??? strings stretch all the way from our home town, Pulawy…

Half around the globe – from the Visla River in Poland, to the sacred Salamanka mountain in Kyrgyzstan ...


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