Rena's Memories

Part 8 (War)

Kiev is Bombed

Click on images to enlarge.

In the summer of 1940 we went to a resort near Kiev called the “House for Scientific Workers”. As a senior scientist, my mother qualified for a vacation there and I loved it. Father spent weekends with us.

We went there again in June 1941, planning to stay a whole month. On June 22 before dawn many of us were awakened by the sound of explosions. I don’t remember now if I heard the explosions myself, but I remember waking up to the commotion and rumors about war. Before noon the radio announced that the Germans attacked without warning and Kiev was bombed.

We packed up and returned home that day. Fortunately the city itself was not damaged much. (June 22, 1941 was a Sunday but Rena doesn’t remember of her father was with them at the resort or back in Kiev).

On the first day of the German offensive June, 22 1941, cities such as Kiev, Lvov and Odessa were bombed. The German Luftwaffe concentrated on military targets like airfields and munitions depots. The German troops didn’t enter Kiev until Sept 19, almost three months later.

 

The First Days of War

July, August and September of 1941 were full of uncertainty, worry, and rumors. Early on we had very few bombardments and the city suffered only slightly, but by September we were constantly shelled. The cannonade was particularly scary at night.

Once in a while bombs would fall nearby. I was only eleven at that time and my friends and I would walk around and try to find pieces of bombs. everyone worries about kid’s sensitivity and upsetting them. Kids are tougher than adults. Your mentality is different and you just adjust.

The buildings near us in Lavra had no cellars so we had to hurry to different buildings when we heard the sirens. That usually happened during the night and it was an extremely frightening experience. Even now when some loud noise wakes me up, my first thought is that it is a bomb.

During these first months we were trying to get as much food as we could and preserve it — like drying bread and so forth — because of worries about what was going to happen. 

 

My mother and I had an appointment at the photographers one afternoon. My father didn’t want us to go but he couldn’t stop my mother from having my picture taken. As we left the studio, sirens sounded and we had to run for cover. I can still visualize the panic on Kiev’s main business street, Khreschatyk Street, with everyone running.

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This portrait was likely taken in 1941 at the appointment mentioned.

During these first months of war there were constant rumors and confusion about what to do. In Spetember, the rumor that Kiev was surrounded by the enemy turned out to be true. Soviet radio broadcasts announced that Nazis were executing Jews. The population thought that this might be Soviet propaganda but this turned out to be true as well.

 

The word evacuation was constantly in the air. My mother thought that the three of us could go to her parents in Leningrad. The workers at my mother’s institute were offered a place in a train to go into Russia, but it was difficult to decide whether to go. We were hearing terrible things about the Nazis, but by that time it was rumored that Kiev was surrounded and the evacuation might not be successful. 

 

Secondly, we would be loosing everything. And although my mother had her relatives in Leningrad, it was a really big decision. Also, my mother thought that the Jewish people should leave first because there was much more threat to them.

Rena and her parents would not have been able to travel to Leningrad and stay with Rena’s grandparents. The Siege of Leningrad started on September 8, 1941 and lasted 872 days. Her grandparents didn’t survive the siege.

 

Our Jewish Friends Evacuate

We had these Jewish friends who decided to leave. Many people didn’t want to leave, including the Jews, and one close friend was asking my mother to help them make a decision, but my mother said she couldn’t do that. The stories we heard through official channels about what the Nazis were doing to the Jews had a ring of truth to them but nobody knew whether to believe the official announcements. So it was a difficult decision to make.

Fortunately this close friend and her husband left. They gave us the key to their apartment and we agreed to take care of their belongings. The apartment was in center city on Bankova Street. This is the apartment we moved to later on when Lavra was evacuated. It was pretty far from Lavra which was on the outskirts of the city. Transportation between the two neighborhoods was on a trolley and there is still a trolley there even now – at least there was in 1974 when Luke and I visited.

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This photo was labeled as being from the Battle of Kiev, October 1, 1941. The German Army occupied the city on September 19th, so either the date is wrong or perhaps it is showing fires from Russian mines.

 

Operation Barbarossa

Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, involved four million Axis troops, making it the largest invasion force in the history of warfare until the Soviet invasion of Germany later in the war. The forces were in sight of Moscow before they stopped due to a brutal winter.

 

The German Army was very successful early on. Stalin was expecting aggression but thought it would come later. Also Stalin had killed or imprisoned most of his officer corp in the 1937 purges and had not positioned his troops well.

Besides the desire to take the Soviet territory for the eventual needs of the German race (after eliminating the local population), the Germans were after the short term benefits of grain, oil, and slaves to support their war effort.