by Batya Goldshmidt (nee Perevoznik), Petach Tikva
I Struggled and Succeeded
I was young when the Soviets arrived in Lithuania. I had not yet turned 20. My father Hillel was a dedicated Zionist. I studied in Tarbut and continued in the Hebrew Real Gymnasium in Kovno. I was active in Beitar, and my entire outlook was directed to the Land of Israel.
Our brick kiln, which was owned in partnership with my Uncle David Yitzchak, was nationalized immediately after the proclamation of the Soviet guard. We were left bereft of an economic base.
I decided to leave home and to get married to my childhood friend Nissan Goldshmidt, an official with Segalovsky, whose enterprise was also nationalized. I got a job with the thought of beginning a quiet life appropriate to the times. However, this was not to be my fate.
Late at night on June 14, 1941, we were awakened to the sound of knocking on our door. To our question, Who is there?, someone declared in Russian, Open up, we are from the N.K.V.D.. Two of them broke into our small room with pointed guns, accompanied by Reuven Vidzky of the Comsomol Youth. They conducted a thorough search and ordered us to prepare for a journey within 20 minutes. We were permitted to take up to 100 kilograms of belongings. In the darkness of the night, we were hauled to the train station in a truck, accompanied by soldiers. We were forbidden to bid farewell to our parents and relatives. We were brought into a transport car, the doors were closed with bars and locks, and a Soviet guard guarded us.
At a young age, lacking in experience, innocent of wrongdoing, and suddenly I bore the mark of a criminal. Why and for what reason? Where were we going? Large question marks floated before my eyes. I was broken. My world darkened upon me. I wept bitterly and screamed, Mother!.
The next day, my mother, father, brothers and sisters appeared. They stood at a distance. They were not permitted to approach. Through the mesh window I could see them weeping as they peered into the cage in which the bird, the apple of their eye, was imprisoned.
The next day, at one of the stops in the darkness of the night, they knocked on the door and asked for Nissan. He was ordered to leave the train. Thus my lad, with whom I had hoped to share my fate in the new exile, was cut off from me. I never saw him again. He perished in the Rashuty Camp in 1942. I remained alone, alone as is written in the Book of Job, A fire of G-d has fallen from heaven and burned the flocks and lads and consumed them, and I remain alone
Yitzchak [Ben-David (Burstein)] already wrote about the tribulations of the journey and my life in the Altai Mountains throughout the year. I will not repeat it.
I will describe in brief what transpired with me in the far-off, frigid Yakutsk region.
At times, a person needs to be stronger than iron if he wishes to continue to live and to come to better days.
[First unnumbered page following page 276. NYPL 389.]
Levi Perevoznik, Nissan Goldshmidt, Yehudit Ferber, Dina Kapol, Yocheved Kahansky, Batya Senior, Moshe Namiot, Batya Perevoznik, Tzvi Suntochky, Babilsky, Biarsky, Yaakov Kapol
[Second unnumbered page following page 276. NYPL 390.]
1. Batya. 2. Shimon Shapira of Wilkomir
[Third unnumbered page following page 276. NYPL 391.]
[Fourth unnumbered page following page 276. NYPL 392.]
In August 1942, we received a command from the N.K.V.D. that all of the families who do not have small children should prepare to leave the Karpova Sovkhoz. Wagons hitched to horses were sent. We loaded our belongings, and walked on foot to the city of Biysk, accompanied by the N.K.V.D. guards who were riding on horses. The Wolfovich family and Masha Namiot were with me. The journey lasted for three days. In Biysk we learned that we would be taken to the region of the Arctic Ocean, to the Tiksi point on the Lena River, a journey of 4,000 kilometers. We proceeded to Barnaul and Novosibirsk on open transport trucks, and from there, we boarded the Trans-Siberian railway. After a week of travel we arrived at the Osterovo railway station. From there we continued in trucks on an uncharted route through mountains and valleys, for hundreds of kilometers until the water mill on the Angara River. There, they loaded us like cattle and sheep upon transport barges, and after three days we arrived in a place not far from the port of Mukhtuya (Lensk) on the Lena River.
We transferred to a larger ship, and after we traversed more than 1,000 kilometers in a seven day journey along the downstream of the Lena, we arrived at the port of Olekminsk.
We, a group of four families numbering ten souls, were put up in a room of 12 square meters. The day after our arrival, we went out to work in the taiga that extends the length of the Lena River. Our work was to prepare firewood for the ships. We received portions of bread according to rations. Since we were not used to this type of work under these conditions, we did not reach the quota, and were starving for bread. The cold was minus 40, and it exhausted our strength.
As I was at the threshold of despair, I recalled the admonitions of Yitzchak [Burstein] who was our work director at the time we worked in the fields of the Altai Mountains. If you wish to remain alive you must work well, and whoever acts otherwise will have a bitter end. These words were spoken in the heat of an argument with Yochel Chernman, and her end is known. Thus did I act. I never refused to perform all of the work that was imposed upon me the backbreaking labor of men. I withstood the test. I had to do so, for I had no relative, no redeemer, and no packages from abroad.
I was transferred to Berezova, also on the Lena, at the end of 1942. There I worked in setting up barges. We would roll tree trunks to the water, and I would ascend the blocks of wood and tie them together. We would tie them six rows high. The barges on the Viliya seemed as toys in contrast to the barges that we prepared. I was the only Jewess there. The Lithuanians there were in the same Specifraslanska situation as I was.
In the autumn we took down the storehouses that served as our residences, loaded them on barges and floated them down the river to a place that was called Delgey. We re-erected our houses in the vast forests with our own hands. Two Jewish families from Wilkomir joined us (Shimon Shapira and his wife, today in Neve Sharet, and the Krem family).
I continued working at cutting down trees, making barges, and other backbreaking work until 1948. I became an accomplished professional. In 1947 I received a government prize for dedicated work during the wartime years.
We again packed up and moved 200 kilometers further to opposite the city of Olekminsk. I continued my work of tree cutting in the winter and producing barges during the summer. The system of food ration cards was revoked, and the situation in that region improved.
I was appointed to head staff in 1952. I breathed easily. A heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders. My job was to allocate the workplaces and to register the quotas. The shortage of workers was made up with political prisoners who were freed after serving their sentences in the prison camps of the Kolyma Peninsula. Without any way to continue their journey home during the winter season when the only means of exit from this area of Siberia was by boat, they tarried with us in order to earn some money before continuing onward. These people were a part of our staff during the long winter.
During the well-known Doctors' Plot of Stalin in 1953, I was suddenly fired from my high office as an official in the forest, and sent back to physical labor, which I continued until June 1956.
That year, thanks to my government prize, I was informed that my designation of Specifraslanska was removed from me, along with all types of restrictions. I received an identity card with the Hebrew designation, and I was permitted to move throughout all of Russia, with the exception of Soviet Lithuania and an area of 100 kilometers around the capital cities of the Soviet republics.
I seized the opportunity and left the Yakutsk Region. Despite the ban, I went to Vilna. Shmuel Balnik (today in Ramat Hanasi, Bat Yam), a member of the party, with a high government position in the milk combine (like Tnuva), set me up with work and assisted me in registering with the Vilna police as a resident with full rights.
I did not find any members of my family. I immediately began to take interest in immigrating to the Land. I fought for this right for 12 years, and I only received my permit in 1969.
I spent 15 years of my youth in the taiga of the Yakutsk Region, in conditions of terrible cold, fierce snow storms, freezing fog, malnourishment, and backbreaking work which was the work of men. I, the sole Jewess, strode through endless forests up to my knees in deep snow in the winter and in the ice cold water of the Lena in the summer, working together with men, the vast majority of whom were criminals, thieves and murderers and all of this in order to come to better days.
180 months, which are 6480 days and nights without a relative or a redeemer! Days and nights filled with tribulations, frustrations, delusions and desires of a young soul; days and nights of lack of sleep and fear of the N.K.V.D. who wanted to capture me in their net and embrace me with a life of danger, slander and causing harm to others. Then they would treat me with a candy.
My conscience remains clear. I struggled with them and succeeded.
by Batya Goldshmidt-Perevoznik
In the vast forests, in the desolation of the snow, white prevails. Walls of grey tree branches, adorned with piles of snow, close in from both sides. On the fourth side is the vast span, covered with a white desert, sparkling like ice in the dim light of the moon. This is at the banks of the gigantic Lena River, spreading out below our feet the silence and splendor of the works of creation.
In this open region, in this ice, an altar was prepared for me upon which I offered my energies and my youth.
The chimneys of the barracks which house us Specifraslanskas stuck up skyward. There were about 20 other small wooden huts for the rest of the workers. The chimneys spewed smoke.
It was 5:00 a.m. The early risers had already lit the large oven and were warming the soup, prepared from the previous day. During the night, the strong cold penetrated into the barracks. The windows were covered with a layer of thick ice that was beginning to melt.
I woke up. I breathed in the cold air and tarried in getting up. I had not slept enough. However, the hunger was gnawing at the stomach and the head, and I involuntarily crawled out from beneath the warm blanket.
The light of the dim lantern spread its shadows around. Along the length of the walls were twelve wooden shelves, one meter wide each. These were the wooden beds, called the nars. Beside each such bed, attached to the wall, was a wooden shelf. This was the food corner. The passage between the beds was half a meter, and beneath them all of one's property: suitcases and sacks from the parental home.
The iron oven with its tin pipes reaching up to the chimney was already burning, red from the fire. The wooden beds hung down from the ceiling on both sides of it, and above it were the tattered clothes that were hung up the previous evening while they were still wet, and now they were dry. A small pull, and my patched pants made out of cotton and my pupikia were in my hands, warm and dry. I slid into them, took a few cups of soup and bread, sipped a cup of tea and already the gigantic bell (brought from some church), hanging on the pillar in the middle of the field was pealing and breaking the silence. It was time to go out to work. I tarried a bit. Immediately the barrack supervisors castigated me with shouting and curses:
Hurry, daughter of a bitch, lest you be late for work.
It was still dark outside. Only the stars were shining above, as if they were blessing those going out. How beautiful and frightful was the world around. We went out on foot into the recesses of the sleepy forest. Snow fell at night. The paths were covered and disappeared. Again we dug a new furrow through the cover of snow. We marched through the darkness for an hour. We got hot. The sweat rolled down from under the headgear on the forehead and dripped onto the eyes. The fog was heavy. The minus 50 degrees cold weighed down upon us.
We reached the place of the cutting. We spread out two by two in all directions of the wide area. I and my work partner, a Lithuanian gentile, approached one of the silent trees whose foliage was still enveloped in darkness. We quickly removed the pile of snow around its roots until we got to the layer of frozen ground. I used the axe to slowly chop chips of the trunk until the appropriate depth. Then I moved to the other side and used the saw. We kneeled on our knees or stood bent over, monotonously pulled the saw, and cut this gigantic tree with a humming sound. A small groan was heard. We jumped to the side. The pine tree slowly leaned downward. One more minute, and the giant fell over, raising a flurry of snow. Now we cut the branches with axes, gathered them into a pile, and lit them. The trunk was cut according to the standard measurements. Our quota was eight cubic meters, which was made up by 30-40 trees.
Lunchtime approached. We removed the piece of frozen bread from our sacks and placed it on a wooden twig next to the bonfire to toast it. We also melted snow in a cup. The water boiled and the tea was ready. After an hour of rest, we returned to work.
It was 4:45 in the afternoon. The work was registered by an official of the office. They signed the document and the fate of the quota of bread and of life was decreed upon you. We cast a glance around, there had been a forest and now there was a dead field. It was time to return home. The light was dimming. The sun disappeared behind the treetops. The cold deepened. The pants, pupikia, felt boots and gloves were damp from sweat and the deep snow. I quickened my pace, and in my head there was one thought: hot soup and fresh bread.
When we arrived at the small field we hastened into line at the small store in order to receive our ration of bread: 600-800 grams. Once a month we also received other provisions: a kilogram of sugar, two kilograms of grits, 700 grams of butter, a small bag of tea and two small bags of machorka for smoking. When there was no butter we would receive a kilogram of horse meat in lieu of each 100 grams.
We removed our work clothes when we entered the barracks. Everything was hung to dry. The oven was lit, and the elderly people and children who had remained there had already prepared their meals. We snatched our places near the oven. Whoever was unable to cook their meal had their pot pushed to the side. It was now the turn of the people of the forest.
The meal was ready. I devoured my delicacies but I did not have the feeling of satiation. I arrived hungry and remained hungry. There was no radio or newspapers, and all sorts of rumors were spread. Everyone jumped in and said what he wanted. The Lithuanians spread fabricated stories about the German victories. The gnawing in the heart grew. Aside from these stories, we heard words of argument, strife and slander.
It was 9:00 p.m. I hastened to my bed, fell asleep and dreamed about food, love, and days and years gone by.
Tomorrow is another day of work. One of thousands like it.
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