Last week I celebrated my 81st birthday. As one grows older, every
person starts thinking about how they lived their life, reminiscing over the events of
long passed days, analyzing their actions and summing them up. Many people might ask
themselves: Am I happy? Was my life a success? Our views change with the years. Older
people must be right when they say that in youth one thinks that unhappiness is the lack
of happiness and in old age one thinks that happiness is the lack of unhappiness. I know
what bereavement is. Old friends leave this world one after another. My wife died before
she was 60, not having seen our grandson who was named after my mother, Olga Davidiovna
My mother used to say that I was born lucky, or as the English say, with a silver spoon in
my mouth. In Russian one would say, I was born in a gown. I always understood my mother's
phrase figuratively, as being born under lucky stars. But once my mother told me that I
had literally been born in a so-called gown, that is I was born in my birth-film. Certain
peoples consider this a sign promising a happy life. More than once I recalled my mother's
My life was not easy, sometimes simply unbearable but I can not call it a failure. How did
I manage to survive being doomed? Many people asked me about it and I myself have pondered
on this question. I must have been born lucky. Every day people next to me were killed.
Everybody walked with death at his side and it was impossible to plan an escape.
I was lucky that during those two awful years, I never turned out to be the third or the
fifth when they shot every third or fifth person, just to make the others scared, suppress
their will and ability to resist and the desire to live.
I was lucky that I could do some work. By luck, I found myself among those who were chosen
to work and thus I was not killed at once but left until 'later'.
I was lucky that I was not killed at the time of escape. Bullets do not choose who is to
live or die.
I was lucky to have met good people who helped and supported me.
There is a folk saying that every man must build a home, plant a tree and bring up a
child. I think that I have done that. But, in my opinion, there is still one more thing
left to be done. I must write about those things my friends and I have gone through.
Probably, I should have done it earlier because now many details escape my mind. I have
set myself to write about everything that I remember without exaggeration or embellishing
anything. Simply, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...'
I was born in December, 11 on the first day of Chanukah, the holiday marking the victory
of the Jewish people over the Greek invaders. The struggle was led by a father and his two
sons who are remembered as the Maccabees. The three-year war succeeded in saving the
Temple and rebuilding the altar, replacing the one built by the Greeks. It was in the year
165 B.C. on the 25th day of Kislev. (The month Kislev corresponds to November-December) In
the Temple, the Maccabees found a vessel with some holy oil and lit the menorah. The fire
burnt not for one day as expected, but for eight days. This started the tradition of
lighting Chanukah candles on every night of the eight-day holiday.
When I was young, I had no idea about such things. Our generation had been raised in the
spirit of atheism and we were not interested in those events. I could not guess that my
people, my nation and I would ever face such hardships again.
Now many things in my life seem symbolic, like the date of my birth. After I lived through
September 29, 1941, the day of bloodshed in Babi Yar, I could say that I was born again.
It now seems symbolic that shortly after the war it was my construction unit that went to
do repairs in the lodging house at 48 Melnikova street, the same house where during the
nazi occupation I was kept as a prisoner before being transferred to Syrets concentration
I was born in Belaya Tserkva, at that time a small town near Kiev. After I graduated from
the seventh class of my trade school, I still wanted to continue my education, but there
was nowhere to go. Later an agricultural college opened, but that did not appeal to me. My
father took me to my relatives who live in Kiev, where I could find a job and continue
I was still unsure of what type of work I wanted to do when they issued an appeal to
the Soviet youth: Young men and women, to the Donbass. So several of us got together and
decided to there to mine coal. I am still under the impression that the mine where we
ended up was a private one since it was called the Yengus' mine. That might have been the
name of the former owner. Nevertheless I did not have time to find out anything since we
did not stay there long. I was disappointed by the fact that the boys went down into the
mine in a cage while I was left in the upper hauling with the girls.
None of us were trained. Somebody advised us to go to Altchevsk where workers were needed
for the metallurgical and cooking-coal mills. There I worked in an open hearth furnace
shop. I collected the metal scrap in a cart and brought them to the furnace. Furnace
loading was done manually and this work was beyond my physical capacities.
I came back to Kiev. My uncle and aunt did not live in a mansion but they did give
I worked in the workshop of the housing union, where they made window frames, lattices and
doors for repairing and building new houses. At the shop there were courses for training
electrical technicians. Since I wanted to get some qualifications, I enrolled in these
courses. We had classes two to three times a week after we finished work.
It was then that I discover that I wanted to be a builder and nothing else. I liked this
profession and went to work as a foreman in the construction department while studying at
the secondary civil engineering school. Those were the years of famine. At the school we
were given meals and on rare occasions gingerbread, which was considered a real treat.
I was never afraid of any type of physical labor after my experience at the furnace shop.
I became the foreman, got good wages and was glad not to be a burden on my family.
I grew to love my profession more and more. I still remember the question at the entrance
exam to the special technical school, What would you do if the construction process is
completed and suddenly from underneath the ground water appears that undermines the
basement? I still remember my answer. A trench should be dug at least one meter deeper
than the basement and filled with rich clay. The clay needs to be pounded flat and leveled
off, then covered with concrete until it reaches a mark slightly above the basement. I
received an excellent mark for my answer. It may seem dull to someone else but to me it
sounds like music. It might be because I liked my work so much that I could not part with
it and retired only at the age of 74.
In 1932, I was supposed to join the Red Army, but was pronounced unfit for active service.
I continued working at the construction department until 1941.