They choose about 200 of us and brought us to the Maryinsky Palace, today the Supreme
Soviet. There the Germans did what they had not managed to do in Kerosynnaya, where they
hurried to liquidate as many people as possible. Now they started to work on those who
were left alive. They wanted to suppress our will, to demoralize, to disorient. They
ordered us to kneel and began torturing us. We were beaten with sticks and repeatedly
ordered in German to lie down, to stand up, to go goose-like. To go goose-like meant to
walk while squatting.
It lasted 3 or 4 hours. We were then lined up again and taken to 3/5, Institutskaya street
to the former Debutante school. Before the war it was the secret police headquarters and
now the Palace of Culture. We went past the Ukrainian drama theater and on the way noticed
sacks with dried bread in the basement. We could not take them at the time, but remembered
the location. As soon as it was possible, we went back and took as many sacks as we could
to the school. We warned everybody not to tell anything about where they got the bread.
Everybody knew what would happen if we got caught.
There were no special barriers or bars there. It looked as if you could go anywhere. We,
the captives of the Jewish labor camp, as it was called then, had nowhere to go. If we
were caught anywhere else than where we were supposed to be, it definitely meant the end.
We would have been definitely been caught because our clothes and appearance singled us
When we were brought to the school, the nazi ordered us to take each other's hands and
walk into the building in a compact unit. As it turned out, this was the way the Germans
tested if the building had been mined. Many buildings had been mined and they were afraid
of new explosions. I still remember the big fires, how for three months the Ginsburg
building, a unique structure at the time, an eleven story building made of fortified
Satisfied that the building had not been mined, the soldiers led us into the basement,
separating the old and weak from the young and strong. We stood there until morning on the
icy-cold floor with nothing to eat. In the morning we were lined up and a German officer
addressed us in a fluent Russian and Yiddish, which surprised me greatly. If I remember
correctly, his name was Schlusser. He knew Yiddish better than I did, since I only
understood it and he both understood it and spoke it. He said that everyone, except the
sick, had to work despite lack of training for the jobs.
Yasha Mann was sent to work in a garage and I have
In the Jewish labor camp at the school, there were both civil and military prisoners. We
were in military uniforms. The rest wore the things that they had been captured in.
I met several acquaintances there with whom I worked before the war at the building unit
as a screener, thatcher and painter. I warned them not to disclose that I was a builder.
There was one brick layer, Ludwig, by name. He was a Polish Jew. During the first days
they took him somewhere and when I inquired what he was doing there he said that the
fascists were building an enormous furnace.
From him we learned that the fascists were building a plant where they could make soap
from the corpses. It was clear that all those who would build the plant would later be
killed. Then I realized how wise it was to have concealed my profession, thanks to Yasha
I must say that the Polish bricklayer was lucky. His wife got a cross for him and he
managed to escape with her to the country and some relatives gave them shelter.
At the school, I met Leonid Ostrovsky and Yasha Kaper. We were on subsidiary assignments
and always tried to keep together.
All the radios taken from citizens were brought here. Once, Schlusser asked if there were
people who could test and, if necessary, repair the radios. 7 people, myself included,
I knew a little about radio repair since at home we had a radio receiver CVD-9 and I used
to repair it often.
This work gave us an opportunity to listen to the news and find out what was going on.
While we were doing this, one person stood near the door, so we would not get caught red
The prisoners were all underfed, constantly humiliated and beaten. But, there is something
in a person that is stronger than the power of punishment. I was not religious. I remember
once when some religious Jews gather to pray in the room next to the repair shop. It was
Yom Kippur. From their forefathers, we knew that it was the day when it was decided who
was to live and who was to die, who was to flourish and who was to suffer. They believed
that patience, prayers and good deeds would change a predetermined fate. Even under those
awful conditions, they did not want to abandon traditions.
One guard stood at the door. The other stood in the street where he pretended to prepare
the mortar. The house was under repair. It lasted for an hour or two. The victims were
confessing the 'sins' while their executioners were killing people in cold blood.
We already knew something about the shootings in Babi Yar. With every passing day we felt
the approach of death. More and more often a truck, which in German was called a
Gasenwagen and had a gas chamber in the back, rolled up to our building. Once, after about
three weeks, the fascists announced that they needed five volunteers to do some cleaning
in the hostel for the police and SS soldiers. We certainly did not know what lay in stock
for us there but we thought it might be better than a beating. Together with Kaper, I
ended up at the hostel at 48, Melnikova street.
In comparison to the school, even a hell like this one could seem like a paradise. Here
lived the police and SS soldiers and also Obersturmbahnfuhrer Radomsky, chief of the
Syrets concentration camp. We were put into the basement. The gates were open and there
was the illusion that it was easy to come and go like at the school. In my uniform and
prisoner's appearance I had no chance to go any further than the corner, where I would
have been stopped by someone like Sharikov, the welder, or his son Zhenya, who drove the
gas truck. Sharikov was sympathetic to the fascists and ingratiated himself to the
officers. His complying attitude was rewarded with cigarettes and other trifles. When the
newspaper Ukrainske Slovo was issued, Sharikov was ecstatic. He kept on showing it to the
German officers and repeating incessantly that the Judeo-Bolshevik forces no longer
At least once a week the fascists went out shooting. They had a special expert in shooting
who was called Willy. Every time, while getting into the car he chirped Going fishin....
It was his regular joke.
In the boiler room both civilians and prisoners worked, but the civilians were criminals.
To tell the truth, they did not treat us badly. Especially one German officer who we
called Pan George. He never behaved brutally, did not erupt over the trifles and even
sometimes addressed us by our names. He needed us for different household work. Phillip
Wilkes, Leonid Ostrovsky and Podkaminer worked in the kitchen. Kaper was a carpenter and I
was an electrician. My courses at the school at the housing union paid off. Though Pan
George sometimes warned us not to run away, he knew as well as we did that we had nowhere
to go. We were thoroughly watched over by Boyarsky. The only thing I knew about him was
that he once worked with the police but somehow slipped up, he used to drink a bit too
much, and was sent to 48 Melnikova as a prisoner.
In the sub-basement the fascists set up a casino where they had fun after their
hard-labor. Sometimes, mainly on holidays, the girls who worked in the casino managed to
slip us some of the food that they had taken from the tables.
Somehow we got used to such a life, though we still hoped that our army would overthrow
the fascists and our fate would change. At the same time we realized that we could easily
die before the victory, since we all knew what was in store for us.
Once it was nearly all over for me. The fascists discovered that their radio did not work
when they wanted to listen to a very important speech. They went on the roof and realized
that the antenna had been hacksawed in half.
The investigation began. They started questioning the civilians, Sharikov and me. Pan
George asked if I had been on the roof and believed me when I said that I had never been
there, since I did not work in that area. At this moment, a black car drove up and some
officers stepped out of the car. About 10 minutes later I was taken in for interrogation.
Again I explained that I had nothing to do with the antenna and did not know anything. I
was ordered to leave and when I went down into the yard I heard the command Face the wall!
Hands up! The officers again interrogated everybody. When it was Sharikov's turn, he said
it could have been me. Strange as it may seem, that must have saved my life because Pan
George said that I had nothing to do with it and Misha, a former sailor, added that he had
seen Sharikov near the antenna. Sharikov was put into the car and they drove off. I still
do not know why he did it. In any case, he returned because his son, who was a well-known
figure in the Gestapo, saved him.
I thought that if I was shot at that time my relatives would never know what became of me.
I still did not know anything about my cousins, the Bernardiners, who were great friends
of mine. I could not have imagined that none of them would survive the war. The younger
brother, Arkady, having already gone to the front from his second year of studies at the
Agricultural College, died on May 2, 1945 during the storming of Berlin. Moses, a talented
physician and assistant professor of the Physics institute of the USSR Academy of
Sciences, was reported missing. The same thing happened to David, who served in the Red
Army and to my aunt's husband, a shoe maker, Abraham Grigoryevich Meltser. I only found
all this out much later.
My parents together with my younger sister, Sima, were evacuated to Central Asia. I still
remember their address: Kokand, 18 Zhadanova street. I gave this address to Yasha Kaper
and told him to write it down and keep it in a reliable place. He gave me the address of a
woman, a friend of his mother, living on Turgenevskaya street in Kiev. We agreed that in
case something happened to the other, the one who remained alive would convey the
information to the address, or if we both survived but were separated we would know where
to start looking for each other.