On June 21, I went out with my friends and did not come home until morning. My mother
was nervous and asked if I had heard any shooting. I said that it must be some maneuvers.
Just then, my uncle opened the door on the ground floor and stood in the doorway. At this
very moment, a burst of machine-gun fire from a low flying aircraft shot off two fingers
from my uncle's hand.
It was war.
I was mobilized for the city defense and until the last day of the city's defense I
remained in the fortified section of Kiev. Our unit was located near Svyatoshino, a suburb
of Kiev. We stood guard, dug trenches, and erected anti-tank barriers. We also went to
Vosdukhoflotsky prospect, where there was an underground oil reservoir, to get kerosene
and petrol. It was there I got my first taste of war when my coat was ripped through to
the flesh by a shell-splinter that got lodged into my leg during a bombing raid. The
injury, fortunately, was not serious.
We were few, about 200 people with one senior lieutenant at the head of our unit. In our
territory there was a concrete pill-box with sockets for two machine guns. Military
professionals were hard to come by but the machine gun had to be manned and the senior
lieutenant said that I was to be number 2 in the crew. It meant that somebody else had to
feed the cartridge belt into the gun.
The fascists did not attack us directly. They knew that there had been a pill box. The
only thing they did not know was that we never got the long awaited machine guns. They
crossed the Irpen bridge and headed towards Belaya Tserkva, so we were surrounded. The
Germans were so close to us that you could hear them talking at night. At first we thought
that it only seemed like you could hear them, but later we found out that enemy scouts
circled behind us long before the other troops started surrounding us. The political
instructor sent some boys on reconnaissance. They sent back an alarm signal and we asked
for arms and support. There arrived some army professionals, but it was already too late.
We gathered together and decided to try to break through the German line.
We agreed to cross the Irpen to the bridge. The senior lieutenant said that he received a
command to meet the others on the hill 1010 in Darnytsa.
We moved very quickly, counting every minute. On our way we overtook a group of soldiers
wearing combat boots. We understood that they belonged to the field army. Then the bombing
began and we sprinted to reach the bridge as fast as we could and cross over to Darnytsa.
We nearly made it. Then we heard the command Catch up! Don't stay behind. As far as I
remember we were followed by the frontier troops. All of a sudden there was a burst of
machine gun fire. We fell flat. As it turned out there was no bridge any longer... What to
do? How would it now be possible to get to the other side? We could not see where the
shooting came from, but we were spread out before the enemy. It was daytime, around 11. We
lay flat in the bushes. You could not raise your head because of the gunfire. The place we
ended up in was in the middle of the shooting. We got the command to wait a little while
and then try again. There was nothing to cross the river in, no boats nor any other
The shooting seemed to subside. Suddenly from behind the bushes, stood German military
police officers, wearing big badges on their chest, crying Halt. We had nowhere to go.
They waited for those who remained behind. Then they made us form columns, checked for the
officers and political instructors and off we went.
We reached the Fifth Goskino, which only a week before was a movie theater. We were
brought to the first floor. We looked around and realized that the theater was packed with
people like ourselves. On stage was a man immaculately dressed in a starched shirt and
bow-tie, who announced in Russian, with a strong western Ukrainian accent that all of the
Yids were to sit on the left and the rest on the right. I was astounded because I had
never heard this word used by any official in an official situation.
I suddenly recalled my childhood, when we were trying to run away from the pogromchiks. We
ran along Smolyanaya, the main street in Belaya Tserkva. The director of the local school,
Tytarenko, hid us. I remember him telling my father that the pogromchiks asked him if he
had any Yids in his house. He said no and saved our lives.
Now, many years later this ominous word was in the air again.
We were taken prisoner together with Yusik, a young man from our detachment. I told him
that we had to think how to escape. He strongly objected, pointing at the guards.
Nevertheless we decided to give it a try. On the back stairs, there stood a fireman. We
went up to him and asked him to let us go out and have a smoke since it was prohibited
inside. He said Go...I gave him the rest of my cigarettes. I still remember the brand
Raskurochniye. Yurik and I went down the metallic staircase and came out near the hotel
I had a girlfriend. She was a medical student. Her father had been arrested in the purges
and since she had no mother, she lived alone. We went to her and stayed there for the
night. Then I noticed that there had been some changes in the interior of the apartment. A
piano appeared from somewhere. She explained very calmly that the Jews went away so her
neighbors and she took what they needed. I was so astonished that I did not want to stay
in her apartment any longer. I did not tell her anything because she would not have
understood and thought it only natural. I felt very sick.
At that moment, even if I still did not fully understand it, I knew that my former life
was gone. In my past life I used to feel myself only a citizen of my country. From then
on, whether I liked it or not, I became aware that I was a Jew.
Yusik said that he had an aunt who lived on Krasnoarmeskaya street and we went over
there.At this time there was an explosion a the Continental hotel. Many German soldiers
and officers were wounded and it became dangerous to stay nearby. We had just got to
Kreshyatik, when a military police officer came towards us and said Komm, Komm... He took
us into the shop on the corner of Karl Marx street, where they used to sell fancy ceramic
goods. He ordered us to clean the place and take the garbage out to the yard. The yard was
surrounded by a low fence and some logs lying on the side. We agreed that we would load
the wheel barrow with garbage, carry it outside, leave it and jump the fence. At that
moment there was a woman walking on the street with a baby carriage. I only slightly
remembered her. She was known for not having a very good reputation. But never had I
imagined that she would yell out Catch them! The German ran out into the street screaming,
but he did not fire and did not try to catch us, since he was afraid that the rest of the
people cleaning the store would then escape.
Very carefully, through the backyards, we headed towards Yusik's aunt's house. When we got
there, she was in an awful state since she was paralyzed and alone in the apartment. All
of a sudden we heard pounding on the stairs. We ran out of the flat to the top floor.
There were German soldiers. Though they were only interested in looting, if they caught us
they would shoot us. There was nothing we could do for the dying woman. We did not even
have something edible to give her. All the cupboards were empty. Everything possible had
been taken out of them.
As soon as we left the yard there was an explosion in the flower bed in Tolstoy square.
Everything was in turmoil. Motorcyclists went along the street shooting incessantly. We
ran away. Not knowing where to head, we again found ourselves near the Fifth Gosinko. This
time we were caught and sent to the first floor. There were many people and, ceartainly,
nobody knew that we were there for the second time. We were kept there the entire day.
There was not room for everybody, but even those in the yard were guarded.
Then all of us were lined up in a column and transferred to the prisoner's camp in
Kerosynnaya. It was my first, though not my last, camp and the beginning of my ordeals.
In Kerosynnaya we stayed for about 10 days. It was a kind of trans-shipping point. The
captives were kept in a two-story building and in the five or six garages. Formerly, it
must have been a fire station.
The military captives were kept separately from the civilian captives. The first five days
they did not give us anything to eat at all. Only on the sixth day did they bring us some
gruel. It was poured into mess-tins, caps or whatever people had. Spoons were considered
something fantastic and were fought over. I poured some gruel into my cap and ate it.
Here about 30 to 40 people died daily. They were almost elderly. On the seventh day they
selected young people, about 15 or 16 years old, loaded them onto trucks and headed off to
some unknown destination. We heard some shooting off in the distance. At first we did not
understand what was the matter. When we saw the same trucks coming back with their
clothes, we realized what had happened.
Then they took the old people. And again everything repeated itself. First, the machine
gun shooting and the trucks filled with their clothes returning to the camp.
In Kerosynnaya there were more than three thousand Jews, including old people, women and
children. The shooting lasted all day long. Then, all those under 40 who were left were
lined up. One of the fascists announced through an interpreter that they needed people
skilled in certain professions. Yasha Mann, was standing by my side. I did not know him
well but I did know that he had worked as a car mechanic. When I heard that they needed
welders, carpenters and skilled mechanics, I decided not to admit that I was a builder
since I thought it would end in disaster. I told Yasha about it. He told me that when car
mechanics were announced I should raise my hand. I hesitated since I was not a mechanic.
But he said it would turn out all right. So I did it. Who knows what would have happened
if I had not obeyed his instructions.