Rena's Memories

Part 14 (Nazi Occupation)

One day three men were hung from lamp posts for some minor disobedience. This was an example for everyone to see and be afraid. 

Click on images to enlarge.

Helping Soviet POWs and Hiding a Jew

The rubble from the burnt down buildings was being cleaned up by Soviet prisoners of war. The Nazis treated them harshly so we would sneak food to them, even though we had little ourselves. 

 

Many of these Soviet POWs were able to escape with the help of the local population. The son of my parent’s friends — the friends whose apartment on Bankova Street we occupied — was one of these escapees. He came to the  apartment not knowing that his parents had left, and ended up living in the apartment with us. This was dangerous for us. We had to keep him secret from our neighbors. The same awful people who would lie to the communists for their own benefit became Nazi informers.

The son (Volodya, I think) stayed with us for three to four months. Then he left hoping to cross the front and return to the Soviet army. My parents didn’t ask him to leave, but there was just as much danger in staying as in leaving.  He was Jewish and was afraid that if he was found out we would all be killed. My parents supplied him with all kinds of things and he set out on foot — and through connections — to the area under Soviet control. This all happened before we knew Fritz.

One more thing: The Nazis tried not to feed the POWs but they permitted some to work for the local population (I don’t remember the exact details). We would hire some of them to get water and carry wood for us. My parents were soft hearted and wanted to help them out.

How dangerous was it to hide a Jew? Serheii Plokhy, professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, wrote the following in his book The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine  (2015, Basic Books):

The Holocaust in Ukraine also differed from the holocaust in central and western Europe in that those who tried to rescue Jews were subject not only to arrest but also to executions. So were the members of their families.

 

Winter was both dreadful and fun for the kids.

Winter Play

The first winter was extremely cold. Many nights the temperature dropped down to -40℃ (same as -40℉). Daytimes were only slightly warmer. We had to cover our faces when outside and many had frostbite. This was the coldest winter in my parents experience. The winter of 1812 like this and, just like the French back then, the Germans were not prepared to face the elements. There were also some Hungarian and Italian troops in Kiev as well and they suffered the most. The Italians were mostly short and dark and pitiful looking. They were not used to so much snow.

 

We kids were used to snow and enjoyed it. Kiev is situated on a hills. Bankova is at the top of a steep hill and we used to sled down for hours. A different, more quiet, street was used for skiing. I felt lucky to own both skis and sled. Just before the war my parents gave me a choice between skis and skates. I chose skis and so I never learned how to skate until I was 24.

 

Some of the events I have just mentioned may be from the second winter, since both winters were similar. 

I remember hiking to a village for provisions through fields of buckwheat.

 

Life After the First Winter

The first summer under occupation was very different – no outings of any kind, no swimming in the Dnieper. My father was working at the archeological museum, a building with two magnificent statues of lions in the front. The yard of the museum was split into many little plots for gardens. I loved growing things. We had our own potatoes and tomatoes. Our apartment had a balcony where we grew flowers in boxes and kept a chicken (maybe two). We also let the chicken run around the yard. I liked to sleep on a cot on the balcony.

 

During this summer my father found two tutors for me. One tutored me in Russian grammar, history, and literature and the other in German. Knowing German proved helpful for the next few years. My friend Rima was tutored in math and physics which seemed fascinating to me, but my father considered language skills to be more important. And so I was never introduced to the mysteries of geometry and somehow managed to get along without it. Later I was able to wing it through calculus and differential equations.

Art Museum Kiev Ukraine.jpg
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The building that was used as an archeological museum during World War II is now the National Museum of Art of Ukraine. The photo is from Wikipedia.

The second winter (1942-43) was easier than then first, though there was still the constant fear connected with the war.. Activities consisted of work (trading, studying, chopping wood) and fun (skiing and sledding).