Basya Chaika

Kiev, Ukraine

Basya Chaika
Kiev
Ukraine
Interviewer: Tatyana Chaika

 

 

My family background
Childhood memories
Growing up
During the war
Returning to Kiev
Married life
Anti-Semitism in Kiev

 

My family background

My name is Basya. I was born in 1926 in Kiev. I was named after my
grandmother - Basya Gorenstein, who died before the Revolution, that is,
before 1917. I did not know my grandfather, Moshe-Leib Gorenstein either,
because he died before I was born, but at home we had a big portrait of him
that was made in Paris at the beginning of the century. In the portrait, my
grandfather is a handsome and respectable man with a beautiful full beard
and is wearing a yarmulke. He worked in commerce; he had his own bank in
Kiev, according to his daughter - my mother, and they had a big expensive
house. My grandfather was actively involved in charity - he sponsored
Kiev's scientists and engineers. According to my mother, their home was
Jewish, and they celebrated every holiday, Sabbath, and my grandfather
attended synagogue every week. My mother said that on holidays, poor people
came over to receive gifts from my grandfather and to be seated around his
table. There were many poor people in those days who had lost their jobs
and even their families, and the government of course would not help them.

Grandfather Moshe and grandmother Basya had six children. All the
children finished secondary school and had secular educations. I remember
almost all of his children, my aunts and uncles: the first one was Isaac,
who was born in 1879 in Kiev and was killed in 1941 during the Holocaust in
Babi Yar together with his wife, Hannah, and daughter. My cousin, the
daughter of Isaac and Hannah, Manya, was handicapped, and she was pushed to
Babi Yar in her wheelchair. The second daughter of grandfather Moshe and
grandmother Basya, daughter Hannah (Khaika), born in 1883, was also killed
in Babi Yar on September 29, 1941, together with her husband. Thus, out of
the six children of grandfather Moshe Gorenstein, two were killed in the
Holocaust. Together with their family members five were killed in total.

Then grandfather Moshe had four daughters - Malka, Rachel (my
mother), Yelizaveta, and Lena, who survived the Holocaust in evacuation.
All of them have passed away, and some of their family members perished
during World War II (11 people), while others left Kiev for other places in
the world. I know now only two of them: Alexander Pritsker - the son of
aunt Hannah and Mendel Pritsker, and Marat Golik - the son of Liza Pritsker
and Izya Golik. (by the way, Izya Golik was a cousin of his wife Liza. The
Jewish tradition does not encourage such marriages, and in my childhood I
heard a lot of bad things about it from adults.)

 

Childhood memories

I remember all these relatives from my pre-war childhood in Kiev very
well. They lived poorly, two families in one little house on Turgenevska
Street. After the Revolution, all of my grandfather Moshe's possessions
were confiscated, and prior to the Second World War they remained very
poor. I often went to see them there. They lived under very crowded
conditions, but they were always so warm and welcoming. As I said, all of
their children received higher educations, but in the Soviet times, they
had practically nothing left of their wealth or their Jewish lifestyle.
They lost them both.

I don't remember any Jewish holidays there and at home they spoke
Russian. The oldest generation spoke Yiddish only when they did not want
their children to understand them and their children were never taught it.

The first time I saw tallit and tefillin was with my father's father.
His name was Aaron Pan. He came from the town of Kazatin, Kiev region. The
family of grandfather Aaron was very poor, I never knew what he did, but
his lifestyle was strongly Orthodox Jewish. He and his wife - my
grandmother Hannah - kept their traditions until they died.

Aaron and Hannah had three sons: the oldest - my father Ber (later -
Boris), Yakov and Nyuma. They also had daughter Genya, who died in 1917 in
childbirth. Grandmother Hannah and grandfather Aaron brought up the son
she bore - Zyunya Kuperman. Later, he became an aircraft designer. Prior to
the war he worked as a chief engineer at the Makeyevka Chemical Plant.
During the war and after the war, he worked at secret defense plants,
taking part in the creation of the hydrogen bomb. Both during and after the
war, we were forbidden to keep up a correspondence with him.

All three brothers received a good education: I think, they went to a
cheder in Kazatin, and then - a secular school in Kiev. Uncle Yakov was a
Communist, a military man who held a very high position; he was also a
deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. He died in 1937 in Moscow from a
stroke while speaking at a meeting to his electors. (A few months before
his death, his cousin, whose name I unfortunately don't know, was arrested
and shot the same night in Kiev). Uncle Yakov escaped his destiny - he died
his own death. A street in Vinnitsa was named after him. I remember him
very well: always a nice looking military uniform, a black car that took
him everywhere, he and his wife Sarah had a luxurious flat in Kiev in
Pechersk - a white bear skin on the floor of his huge study. He very seldom
visited us, but I received birthday presents from him every year - large
boxes of candies that we never saw in our life. Grandmother Hannah had a
very hard time after the death of her son. He was her biggest pride in her
life. Grandfather Aaron did not live to see his death; he died in 1936.

I also remember my uncle Nyuma. He, his wife and daughter Inna lived
in the Pushkinska Street in Kiev before the war. After grandfather Aaron's
death, grandmother Hannah lived with them. In 1941 Uncle Nyuma sent our
whole family to evacuation and went to fight the Germans on the front. He
died in 1942. His family kept kashrut, Sabbath, and all the holidays, which
was an exception among the urban Jews of those times. The urban Jews of
those days preferred to live just like everybody else. They usually were
strongly assimilated. Many Jews, just like many other people around them,
preferred to believe in the revolution, hoping that it would bring them
more peaceful and better life. Urban Jews usually did not keep their Jewish
traditions for only one reason: after the generation of their parents
passed, they no longer believed in God and did not think there was any
sense in keeping those old traditions of their parents. Not everyone
thought that way, of course, but it was the majority, or it seems to me it
was.

They spoke Yiddish in the family. Grandmother Hannah did not particularly
like my mother and me for abandoning the tradition; she called us "goyim"
[or "gentiles"]. She was especially irritated when I, being a young
pioneer, argued with her that there was no God at all, neither Russian, nor
Jewish. Grandmother Hannah died in 1942 in evacuation, in my mother's and
my own arms. Before her death she said that I was her best granddaughter.

My father Ber, being the eldest son of Aaron and Hanna, had the
hardest time making his way into the world. His constant duties to take
care of the younger ones took a lot of his time. In order to pay for
getting higher education, he tutored a lot of children in Jewish families
of Kiev. He knew Hebrew well. The Revolution of 1917 changed little in his
life, but made possible his marriage with Rachel Gorenstein, my mother,
1918, who was very rich before the Revolution. They made a very good
couple. In love and peace they lived together till December 31, 1942, the
day when my father died of a stroke. On the New Year night in the Urals,
near the town of Krasnoufimsk, he went to get some wood, so that at least
on New Year night my mother and I could be warm. He was brought home dead
next morning.

Prior to the war, my father was the chief of the financial department
of the Higher Police School in Kiev. My brother Yosif (7 years older than
me, born in 1919) and I seldom saw our father- according to the then Soviet
schedule he often worked even at night. He was quiet, calm, not very
talkative, but very kind and agreeable). As far as I remember, he had no
particular political preferences. It is funny that while holding such a
high rank in the structure of the Interior Ministry, he was not a
Communist. Neither was he an Orthodox Jew like grandfather Aaron, at least
I never noticed that. He was simply a very good and hardworking man. My
brother Yosif has fully inherited his character.

My mother, Rachel Gorenstein was the energy center of our family. She
was born in 1897 in Kiev. She was the fourth and the most beautiful child
of Moshe and Basya Gorenstein. As a baby she was taken around in a richly
decorated stroller, and everyone said she was as beautiful as a rose. Rose
became her second, and then main name. After the war and till her death in
1954 she was officially (in documents) registered as Rozalia Moiseyevna.
The first twenty years of life, my mother lived as the daughter of a big
Kiev banker; she finished a very prestigious and very expensive secondary
school with honors; she knew foreign languages and wanted to continue her
education. She dreamed of becoming a doctor. Moshe Gorenstein, however,
explained to her that a good Jewish girl, even a very rich one, must be a
good wife and mother, for which her education was already good enough. My
mother felt offended by him for the rest of her life. After getting married
she never worked outside the house.

Grandfather Moshe did not live to see his daughter Rachel-Rose as a
wife or as a mother. In 1918 he had already passed away, and my mother had
no proper Jewish wedding. (Kiev of 1918, with its pogroms and various anti-
Semitic gangs was not a good place for Jewish weddings). My mother
immediately switched to another life (we presume the interviewee meant that
she dropped all contact to Judaism), and it was dangerous to remember or
tell about that previous life during the Soviet times. My mother only
shared stories with me about herself and her father who was a banker after
the war, and she begged me to keep my mouth shut.

Growing up

I was born when my mother was 29. My brother Yosif was 7, he just
started going to school. In 1926, we lived in downtown Kiev, at 49
Krasnoarmeyskaya Street in a big five-storey building. Seven unrelated
families lived in a single apartment.. Every family had its own room, and
everyone shared the kitchen, bathroom and toilet. Every family consisted
of at least 4-5 people. In our small room four of us lived. Later we made
two small rooms of this one room. Our neighbors were Russian, Ukrainian,
and Jewish.

We were friends. It was the year 1933 - the year of famine. My
mother, who used to help everyone in her childhood, shared our only food
portion among all the children in our flat. My mother was a wonderful cook
- the whole house asked her for recipes of Jewish cuisine. Jewish cuisine
was that little detail of the Jewish tradition that I learned from my
mother prior to the war. She taught me everything except kashrut because
she never kept it. Sometimes grandfather Aaron came to visit us
(grandmother Hannah almost never came to our non-kosher home, and when she
did come, she never ate anything). For my grandparents, my mother had
special kosher food and dishes. We also had a taleth and a tefilin for my
grandfather. When my grandfather would leave, my mother would put these
things away deep into the wardrobe, so that nobody else would see them. My
father also brought real matzo for us on Passover from my grandfather, and
it was a big secret. We could not share it with our neighbors, because it
was against the law, but my mother's recipe of noodles was used by our
whole international house.

In autumn of 1934 I went to school. I was 8 years old. From my
preschool childhood I still have two vivid memories: the first one is
related to the famine of 1933, when in front of my own eyes a homeless
child stole the bread that my mother had just received on her bread-card.
My mother began to cry, and I felt very scared. My second memory is about
our big yard, where we were friends with children of at least five or six
nationalities. One child was once called a kike so his parents filed a
lawsuit against the offender. Court hearings were held, but I don't
remember the result.

My first contacts outside my family before school were made in my
yard. I was the leader in all games (mostly active ones). My friends were
usually boys. I never liked playing with dolls, but since the age of 7 I
liked embroidering and sewing very much. My Ukrainian neighbor taught me
these skills, and she praised my abilities very much. She believed sewing
was something I could always use in life, and she was right.

My first school, where I studied from the first through the third
grade was school nr 15. It stood in place of today's Vatutin cinema. Then
I went to a newly built school nr 131. (Schools in the Soviet Union almost
never had any special names, only numbers. Sometimes they had both a name
and a number, but a number was a must.) That school was Russian, and my
parents could send me only there. I knew nothing about Jewish schools then,
and Jews did not send their children to the few Ukrainian schools that
existed at the time.

We had forty children in our class, all of different nationalities.
There were many children with purely Jewish names that had not been changed
yet. Among teachers there were many Jews, too, but students paid no
attention to this fact: their political and human characteristics were much
more important. At school, in the yard, at our shared apartment the
language we spoke was Russian. We celebrated common holidays, with the
exception of the first New Year, introduced in Kiev by Postyshev after it
was forbidden during the Revolution.

At the age of 10 I joined young pioneers, just like everybody else.
By that time I had become a strong atheist and internationalist. And just
like everyone else, we children, began to look for spies. In 1937, a family
was arrested in our house: a couple that was reported as Trotsky-followers.
People said that the wife carried enciphered messages from Trotsky in her
braid. After their arrest, a big truck came to take out their books. A year
later our English teacher was arrested. Our class did not believe he was
the "enemy of people", and we raised a real rebellion at school. In about
six months he was rehabilitated and sent back to school, which was a rare
case in those times. Almost the whole school went to visit him in hospital
where he found himself after the prison.

Besides English, I also liked sports, track and field athletics, as
well as gymnastics, but my mother believed that a Jewish girl from a good
family should not go for sports, and she only allowed me to take dancing
lessons. We also often went to the children's Jewish theater, which was not
far from our school. There were plays in Yiddish, which were translated
into Russian by an actor on the stage. I remember a play about a Jewish
girl who fell in love with a Ukrainian guy, and their parents were against
their marriage first, but then they saw how this couple was happy, and
allowed their marriage. There were no arranged marriages among my relatives
then, but right prior to the war such marriages became acceptable in Kiev.

In 1938 we met Spanish children in Kiev. I wanted to invite a Spanish
child into our family very much, but my parents found it impossible. We
wore Spanish caps and sang Spanish songs. We hated the fascists and
prepared for the war, although everyone said there would be no war. In
1939, discussions about fascism became more serious, especially after
Germany attacked Poland. At our house we had regular public lectures on the
international situation, and children attended these lectures as well -
everyone was interested in politics back then. We had special "political
information hours" at school and at our amateur theater. We spoke a lot
about the fascists, but never about their special attitude towards the
Jews.

During the war

We were looking forward to June 22, because on that day our new
central stadium was to be opened, and it was very close to us. But instead
of this joyful news, we heard rumors that there were bombings somewhere in
the city. We did not see the bombs yet, but went outside anyway. I think I
remember seeing refugees from Western Ukraine in our Krasnoarmeyskaya
Street on that day. I don't know how it could be, but they said that the
Germans were shooting everyone in their lands. It is still a mystery how
they could have reached Kiev by June 22. In the afternoon on that day we
heard the first radio announcement that the war began. There were loud
speakers on poles in the street, large black plates. People were crying and
were getting ready to fight. Everyone expected Stalin to address the
nation, but he did not. Instead, we listened to Molotov. Starting on June
23, the whole population of our building and other buildings were digging
trenches. We had shifts of people who would stand on duty on the roofs to
neutralize firebombs in time. Every house had air-raid shelters. When the
bombing raids began - and in our street they began on the third day of the
war - my mother and I did not go to those shelters, because my mother was
afraid that she would be buried under the ground. I was not even 15 years
old then. By the beginning of the war there were three of us living in
Kiev: my father, my mother and me. My brother Yosif was studying at the
naval college in Leningrad at the time.

This is how I remember the first bombing of my life. At night, the
Germans flew and spread their missiles, so that it was light as day. Bombs
did not fall often on our quarter; defense dirigibles "hung" over the city
all day long, and antiaircraft guns were on every roof to shoot down the
enemy. Nevertheless, in front of my own eyes, a bomb fell on the building
next to ours - and destroyed it.

Later, bombing raids became awful, but during the first month there
was no panic: people knew exactly what, where and when they must do. The
only destructive component was the refugees. Every day their number grew,
they were coming from the west, telling terrible things about the Germans.
The city began to get ready for evacuation.

Evacuation was voluntary. People left with their organizations and
establishments, not according to their residence or schools. People got
registered at their workplaces, and companies evacuated their workers from
Kiev. The first people who were evacuated - at the end of June - could take
anything they wanted, even furniture. People were given a lot of place on
the trains, but they did not take much, because everyone was sure that
victory would come soon and evacuation would not be long. People expected
to be home in one or two months. My father believed so, too. He was not
going to be evacuated. He was liable for a call-up, and he expected it.
They decided to evacuate my mother, my aunt (the wife of my father's
brother) and me. My mother begged her brother Isaac and her sister Hannah
to evacuate. They refused very firmly. They believed that the Germans they
saw in Kiev in 1918 were a highly cultured nation, and nobody can expect
any terrible things from them.
Officially, nobody told us that the Jews had to be evacuated first of all.
There were rumors to this effect, circulated by the refugees, but in our
big family nobody really believed them. Only our family and two younger
sisters of my mother's grandfather Gorenstein went to evacuation. When on
July 7 we stood at the train station, waiting for our train having said
good-bye to my father, he came back to us. He was released from the army
for health reasons - he had heart problems. We were all put on the train.
We had only one suitcase with us. Our railcar looked as follows: it was a
big freight car, in the middle of which were two metal heating stoves and
along which were several two- and three-storey plank beds, on which people
and their belongings lied. Around 80 people could fit into such a car.

Right there, on the train station, there was another bombing.
Everyone ran out of the train into the shelter, while my mother and I stood
under the roof of the Kiev train station during the whole bombing raid, and
then went back to our train. When we were crossing the Dneper, leaving
Kiev, the bombing began again. We were crossing the bridge under bombs. Our
train managed to escape, but the one after ours was destroyed and sank in
the Dneper. We were taken to the Urals. It took us a month to get there by
this train. We had to spend a lot of time at some stations. We would meet
people from other trains, and then at the next station we would see that
train burned out and people were dead. Our train was also often bombed.
When it happened, the train would stop and all its passengers would scatter
in the fields, while the German planes would fly very low and shoot people
almost point-blank. This continued till Voronezh. After Voronezh the
bombings gradually ceased, and the journey to Krasnoufimsk, in the Urals,
was practically quiet. We did not have enough food on the train. Only small
food portions were given out in a centralized manner, the rest we had to
buy at the stations. Local residents offered us their products, and we had
money to buy them, but even such small markets were often bombed.

Krasnoufimsk was a small town not far from Sverdlovsk, in the Urals.
We arrived there on August 5, 1941 - my parents, Aunt Liza (my mother's
sister), her husband, uncle Yakov, and me. Uncle Yakov worked at the
railways, and due to his railway department we were evacuated. My aunt and
uncle were settled in a room at the train station, and my uncle began to
work at the railway depot. My parents and I were settled at the house of
former White Guard soldier Orlov. We were put there by force, and he was
forced to let us stay in his large summer kitchen, where we spent two
years. The kitchen was big, but very cold, and in winters, when frosts
reached minus 40 degrees Centigrade, the walls of the kitchen were covered
with ice. Our landlord looked forward to the Germans' coming to the Urals.
When he heard on the radio about cities captured by the Germans, he without
any fear put icons around the house and played victory marches.
Psychologically, it was very hard for us, Soviet people, to live with him.

I went to school; my mother did not work, only my father worked, so
we had his salary and the money sent by brother Yosif, who fought at the
front. We also had food cards, which gradually replaced money in 1941. Food
was poor and usually frozen.

At the same time, there was absolute order in the city. There were no
bandits, no hooligans in the streets. Food provision was poor but regular
and well ordered. Special Communist Party and Soviet bodies were in control
of it.

Right there in taiga, outside the city, plants that came from the Big
Land were established, and a month later they began to put out planes,
tanks and other military equipment. We turned out to be absolutely
unprepared for winter: we had no clothes, and the Urals climate was very
different from ours; it was extremely hard for many people. Some people
lost a lot of weight, while others, including me, began to gain weight and
looked as healthy as ever. Being almost always hungry I was rather fat,
with pink cheeks, and nobody believed I was starving. I went to study at
the 8th grade. Our class was big; there were mainly children from Moscow. I
joined the Komsomol League there, and in the 9th grade I became the
Secretary of the Komsomol School Organization. We did not only study -
several months a year we spent on collective farms in the fields. We worked
under awful conditions - without clothes and almost with no equipment.
While studying, we also went to hospitals, read letters to the wounded,
took care of them and provided political information to every stratum of
population of Krasnoufimsk.

We had a radio at home, which was on day and night. It was very
difficult for us to hear about the surrender of our cities; we cried hard
when our dear Kiev was surrendered. Nothing special was said about Babi Yar
or other places of mass shootings of the Jews. The usual formula during
those times was: death of Soviet civilians. It was only in 1942 that we
heard about the Jewish tragedy in Kiev. But we did hear it in an official
radio program. We worried very much for our families.
The attitude towards the Jews in Krasnoufimsk was fine. There were not many
Jews there. I never heard the word "kike" from the local population. The
only exceptions were former White Guard soldiers, many of whom were in
Krasnoufimsk in exile. Their attitude towards the Jews was openly hostile.

At that time, we did not discuss the special attitude of the Germans
towards the Jews. I don't remember ever asking this question. We were much
more anxious about the situation at the front and famine, which was very
strong since winter 1942.

We had almost nothing except bread, while its norm for students and
non-working family members was 400 grams a day. At school, however, we were
given a little bit more, but it was absolutely not enough. Every day I went
to bed hungry.

We continued to keep the traditional Soviet lifestyle. We also tried
to celebrate all the Soviet holidays and even New Year. For young girls,
the military were the most handsome men and heroes. In spring 1942 I saw
captured Germans for the first time in Krasnoufimsk.

Since March 1942, transport trucks with the captured Germans passed by
Krasnoufimsk to go further into Siberia. The transport trucks were heavily
guarded. There were three lines of guards around them. The Germans were
guarded against the evacuated population, the Soviet people, who were ready
to tear them apart, for many had already received letters about the death
of their near and dear at the front. I remember the Germans were miserable,
poorly clothed, half-frozen. Once a transport truck passed by us, and there
was no one alive - all the Germans got frozen on the way and turned into
ice.

We all were patriots of our country. Every schoolboy dreamed of
fighting at the front. When I was at the 9th grade I went to the military
registration and enlistment office, begging them to send girls to the front
line. They certainly refused. In 1942, I was not even 16 years old yet.

The first loss we experienced in our family was my grandmother. She
died in front of my mother and me in winter 1942. And on December 31, 1942,
my father died. He had gone outside to chop wood so we wouldn't be cold.
They brought his body in the next morning.

In order to make a hole in the frozen soil with temperature bellow 40
degrees and bury him we had to work three days with picks. So, my mother
and I remained alone. My brother fought at the front. We knew practically
nothing about his fate. Apart from bread, in winter 1942 we also had two
sacks of frozen potatoes. Fresh potatoes were in our dreams until the end
of evacuation. We did not starve to death only because my mother sold my
father's only suit. It was very good, and we exchanged it for two sacks of
flour. It lasted us till the end of summer 1943.

In June 1943 evacuation ended, and we were taken back to the
territories released by the Soviet army. Now, in August 1943, we were
coming home, and our way back was very much like our way to evacuation. We
were in practically the same freight cars. Our journey to Voronezh was
quiet, while after Voronezh bombings began again, and we again saw
transports ruined on their way home, people killed ...

A little later a railway station in the Ukrainian town of Konotop was
fully destroyed in front of us. Two weeks before that Konotop was liberated
from the Germans. The front line was on the railway juncture Vorozhba. Kiev
was still in the hands of the Germans. We could not go further. We were
left in Konotop. Bodies of Soviet power were formed from our midst, the
young people, Komsomol members, who were in evacuation, that is, who did
not stay in the occupied territories. Local residents, who had stayed in
the territories occupied by the Germans were not trusted with such work.
Thus I began to work at the passport department of the Konotop police, and
in two months, due to some circumstances, I became the chief of this
department. I had just turned 16 at the time.

Our work at the passport department consisted of checking and re-
registering residents of Konotop, putting Soviet stamps into their old, pre-
war, and most often German passports. In their old pre-war Soviet passports
people had big, two-page stamps - the German swastika, and we put our own
Soviet stamps next to it into the passports of people we have checked.

People stood in long, several kilometers long lines to get to our
department. We worked 12-14 hours a day. The flow of people did not
decrease for several months. The reason was that without the Soviet mark in
their passports, Konotop residents could neither find a job, nor get bread
cards. Their passports were considered invalid. If I remember correctly,
there were practically no Jewish names among Konotop residents I checked
and registered.

Registration and checking of documents was a hard, responsible and
sometimes dangerous task. Many people turned out to be without documents at
all; many were hiding from the Soviet authorities or concealed their names,
for different reasons, pretending to be somebody else. There were many
deserters from the army and very many bandits. We had to filter out all of
them, find them out and pass them on. Regularly, once or twice a week, we
took part in special raids to check documents around the town.

At this work I grew very serious and suspicious. Two months later I
was taken to be a court assessor in the military tribunal. The tribunal
consisted of three people, it was a secret court: two assessors (I was one
of them) and the chairman, sometimes a military lawyer, sometimes not. We
judged all kinds of traitors: German policemen and other people who
collaborated with the Germans. Information about them reached us through
numerous sources, including the local population.

Two weeks before our coming to Konotop, the local population hung the
man, a Ukrainian, who was chief of the police under the Germans; they hung
him without any court judgment. Later we had all the necessary proceedings.
We did not know the term "collaboration" then, but everyone knew the term
"traitor of motherland."

A military tribunal was a secret, closed court hearing, but the
procedure, as you can imagine, was kept very strict. There were many
witnesses. Court hearings could last from two to ten or more days.
We convicted a Ukrainian doctor, who was chief of the medical service
of the concentration camp for prisoners of war in Konotop under the Germans
and who gradually killed all the Soviet prisoners of war and betrayed those
doctors who tried to save them. I don't remember ever convicting anyone for
shooting the Jews in Konotop, although I'm sure there were such shootings.
But we did not register such places or people who took part in them at that
time. We convicted those locals who betrayed their fellow men, sending them
to death.

I, as an assessor, had to sign death sentences more than once. Such a
responsibility really changes a girl's character at 16. I was very radical
and uncompromising. Local residents treated me with caution. When my friend
and I turned up to the dance club, people fled from that place, often
thinking we were on another raid. Several times people tried to kill me. My
poor mother cried a lot because of me. But in the eyes of the local youth
we were heroes, who accomplished justice.

I worked there till the beginning of 1944. In January, Uncle Yakov
came to pick us up from Kiev. He took my aunt, but I could not leave
because, as it turned out, after working for four months in the police, I
became subject to call-up, that is, the military, and I could no longer
move around without permission of the military command. We learned that our
house in Kiev was ruined, so we had nowhere to stay anyway. My mother and I
stayed in Konotop. At the same time Uncle Yakov told us about the death of
the Gorenstein family in Babi Yar.

For another whole year, until 1944, when I was 17, I was the chief of
the passport department and in charge of the passport regime in Konotop and
its region. Without my personal signature on passes and stamps, no one
could leave Konotop, no one could come and stay to live in it for more than
three days. Some people tried to bribe me, promising big money and
services, while I wore shoes with torn bottoms for that whole year.

In the beginning of 1945, after a very strict checking of the Konotop
passport department by the regional Sumy department, I was sent there as
the chief of the passport department of the region. It was an extraordinary
career for a Jewish girl, unbelievable. In the center of the city I was
given a 20-meter room with two beds - for me and for my mother, one chair
and a huge suitcase, which served as a table. It was an unheard-of luxury
in 1945.

There was more work in the region than in Konotop district, but two
months later I was again promoted to the special unit of the Department of
the Interior. My unit monitored all secret information about Sumy citizens.
This information, first of all, related to people whose names were found in
the German archive that was captured there, that is, people, who
collaborated with the Germans during the occupation. We mainly checked and
traced such people. As far as I remember, I never saw any case related
specifically to the Jewish mass murders in Sumy, even though there were
obviously mass Jewish burial places in Sumy. Besides, we received a large
group of people, who returned from the German captivity or slave labor,
followed by the German information archive, transferred to us. So, I had to
deal with this work as well. It was at that work that I received my first
officer rank - junior lieutenant.

Returning to Kiev

At the end of April 1945 I came to Kiev by miracle. One Russian
colonel in Sumy learned that I came from Kiev but did not have a chance to
go there after evacuation, so he let me go there for a month. Considering
that nobody got any vacation then, I can only marvel at the fact. It is
impossible to describe what I saw in my native city, how I saw my house,
which resembled a skeleton on the burnt out street. I hardly escaped death
there, when I was running up the half-ruined stairs to the second floor, to
our apartment, where in the hole in the wall I saw the remains of our
pictures. In the yard, where my whole childhood passed, I met my former
neighbors; our meeting was very warm, but I felt like I came from a
different world: they were free people, while I, at 17-years-old, was a
very responsible and secret worker. It was hard for me to find my
relatives. I stayed at Uncle Yakov's and aunt Liza's and spent the month
there. First I hoped very much that I would remain in Kiev and be
transferred here for work. My hopes ran high because in Sumy I was working
together with the niece of Polina Zhemchuzhnaya, Molotov's wife. She gave
me a letter of recommendation to a big boss in Kiev, and after seeing him,
I almost got registered at work in Kiev. The only difficulty was the fact
that even being able to give me work at the department of the Interior,
this man was unable to help me find a flat. At that time, it was
practically impossible for my mother and I - my brother was still at the
Northern Navy - to rent an apartment and pay for it. Besides, after staying
a short time, the situation in Kiev began to weigh heavily on me. Almost a
third of the Gorenstein family had died. Nobody saw their graves - it was
the whole Babi Yar. I learned that after our evacuation our neighbors took
all of our belongings. I was told I could turn to the court, but I just
couldn't do that. My best pre-war friend Lena turned out to be a complete
stranger to me. It was very had for me to live in Kiev, and when I still
had about five days of my vacation left, right after the Victory Day, I
went back to Sumy.

The thought about Babi Yar, where my relatives lay, which was so close
to Kiev, was unbearable for me. I remember that April 1945 well. People
went around Jewish homes in Kiev, collecting money for a monument. As far
as I know, no monument was built there within the next 20 or even 30 years.

The only good memory I had from Kiev then was the Victory Day. I
celebrated it with my friends from my Krasnoarmeyskaya Street in Kiev.
Since May 7, people gathered around loudspeakers outside, waiting for the
announcement of victory. And we heard this announcement at 12:00 on May 9,
1945. "Hurrah!" could be heard all over the city; people shot into the air
from guns and rifles. It was a celebration for every one personally and for
the whole nation at large.

I remember that immediately after the Victory Day, people began to
tell the Jews to emigrate to Palestine. As far as I remember, most people
did not want to go. My family, and me first of all, were very negative
about emigration, we wanted to stay and build up our country. Those who
emigrated were traitors in my opinion.

In comparison with pre-war times, the attitude towards the Jews was
considerably worse. It was a painful paradox. It would seem that after all
the atrocities that the fascists did to the Jews in front of the whole of
Kiev, they were to be at least pitied. But nothing of this sort was
happening. A precedent was created - the Germans demonstrated that the Jews
could be destroyed, and the daringness of this crime inspired fresh anti-
Semitism, which in fact had never been absent in Ukraine. Nevertheless, it
did not push my family towards emigration. We were Soviet patriots and
could not imagine ourselves outside our motherland. But our
internationalism, especially that of my mother, was greatly shaken at that
time. At the end of 1944, unexpectedly for the whole family, my older
brother Yosif married a Russian woman. He spent the war serving as an
officer at the Northern Navy. He had been on a trawler and led military
transportation vessels across mine fields. He married a woman from his ship
crew. The family did not take the fact that she was older than him as
painfully as the fact that she was Russian. Unlike the pre-war times that I
have already described, this fact was taken very negatively. My mother said
then that if it were before the war, she would not mind a mixed marriage
with a Gentile, but the war tragedy, which we did not call Holocaust yet,
left an impact on her understanding, and she was afraid of mixed marriages.

Anyway, my brother's marriage was to be recognized. And it was not the
last trial for my mother, because soon afterwards I met my future husband,
an officer, a captian of the Soviet Army, Alexey Chaika, and in 1946,
despite vigorous protests of my mother and our whole Jewish family, we got
married.

I should say that Alexey Chaika was not the first one who made a
proposal to me. There were a lot of boys, mainly Russian ones, around me.
There were Jewish boys as well, introduced to me by my Jewish relatives.
But at one point I told them not to interfere with my life because I was
going to find my spouse on my own. That's how it happened. I would date
others for a long time, but it took Alexey Chaika only one month to make a
proposal and to get my "yes." However, it was a "yes" from me, and not from
my mother. She did not mind the fact that my future husband was 12 years
older than me, but she greatly minded his military profession and
nationality. Just like in the case with my brother Yosif, she reminded me,
too, about how Russian husbands betrayed their Jewish wives and children
during the occupation. It got stuck in her memory for her whole life. In
addition, she was absolutely sure that some time later he would say
something bad about my nationality. Just let me tell you at once: she was
wrong. My husband and I lived together for 45 years, and our marriage was
unbelievably happy.

Married life

Our wedding took place on April 25, 1946. The wedding was a military
one; my husband's whole regiment and my colleagues came to see us. There
were no relatives, except my mother, at the wedding. My uncle and aunt,
members of our Kiev family, officially rejected me. But my husband was
right in saying before our wedding that if our life together went well, all
the relatives will recognize us again, but if our life went badly, nobody
will need me anyhow. Since our life was good, we quickly reconciled with
the whole Kiev family. Alexey, with his open and kind heart, quickly won
the love of my relatives, and first and best of all, my mother's.

Since the end of 1946, my husband and I began to travel all over
Ukraine. My husband served at the air regiment, and together with this
regiment we moved from place to place. We never stayed at one place for
more than six months. In snowy frosty December of 1947, in the town of
Belaya Tserkov, not far from Kiev, our daughter Tatyana was born.

In the morning of that day, I had to unload a whole truck of coal -
the winter was cold and a truck of coal was an unheard-of luxury in the
then Belaya Tserkov. My husband brought the truck in the morning, but we
could unload it only in the evening. I did not want to wait till the
evening, I was afraid that somebody would steal it. So, I decided to unload
it on my own, and that is why my daughter was born one full month early.
She was born at night; there was no electricity for some reason, and
candles were lit around me.

I had to quit work. Our frequent moving from place to place did not
let me work properly, and then my newborn daughter required my full
attention. The problem was that right before her birth I slipped on the
steps and fell with a bucket of coal, and so when my daughter was one year
old she already had fully developed traumatic cataract. She had two
surgeries, on both eyes, in Kiev, but still her sight remained very weak
for the whole life.

In 1955 our traveling came to an end: our daughter had to go to
school, and since she could study only at a special school for children
with impaired vision, and this school was only one - in Kiev, my husband
had to transfer to the reserve, having declined a higher army promotion.

Thus, since 1955, I have been living in Kiev again. When I look back
at my life in various military camps, I always remember cold and almost
hungry existence, crowded houses with cockroaches everywhere and huge rats
active at night. Once, a rat bit my young Tanya, so the whole house ran
after this rat to show it to the medics and free the child from shots. But
I also remember that we were all friends in these towns and villages, the
team was always international, and all the holidays were cheerful and long,
even though there was not enough food.

Anti-Semitism in Kiev

We could not imagine somebody saying anything negative or irrespective
about Jews. Apart from punishing it as a crime, according to the Communist
Party and Soviet authorities' policy, my husband would never allow it.
Once, in 1952, the situation changed in connection with the Doctors' Case.
We lived in Poltava, and my mother, with tears in her eyes, told my husband
that our neighbor said that our fellow Jews wanted to poison Stalin. Since
Stalin was almost a living god for my mother, this offense was horrible to
her. Alexey went to talk to the offender. Since their talk did not seem to
go the way he wanted, he used his official position and wrote a report to
the chief of the political unit of his regiment, where he worked at the
time. But to his surprise, the chief of the unit explained to him that he
should not worry about it, because the man who offended my mother was not
very wrong. Besides, he advised that Alexey, whose wife was Jewish (meaning
me), he should keep quiet and low. So, my husband went to talk to the
neighbor as man to man. It seems that this talk was much more effective. We
never heard anything like that again. Soon after that Stalin died. And this
terrible grief united Jews, Russians, and Ukrainians in our regiment. The
old and the young cried without hiding their tears. The Soviet people had
no idea how to live without their great Stalin. On March 5, the day of his
death, two planes crashed in our regiment - one was taking off and another
was landing. They collided on the runway. 22 coffins were in the regiment
on that day; they were buried on the same day as Stalin.

We came across everyday anti-Semitism in full in Kiev. Then, in 1955,
spoken Yiddish was freely heard in the streets. And almost as often as
Yiddish was heard, so the word "kikes" was used against us or someone else.
My Russian husband Alexey could not tolerate it. Naively he thought that
there was no difference between people's nationalities. "A person's good
nature is only important, the rest is not so important", he said often. By
the way, his many relatives in the Russian village of Tetkino outside Kursk
did not object to our marriage. In the very beginning they treated me well
and later our relations became very friendly; finally, if they had any
family questions, they first discussed them with me and only after that -
with Alexey.

In general, the transition to Kiev lifestyle turned out to be hard for
us. It was hard to go back to the old memories and Babi Yar. My husband and
I, my daughter and our Jewish relatives went to Babi Yar almost every year,
practically in secret. That place was dark, wild and dangerous. Rumors had
it that the authorities were planning to build a stadium there.

I did not go to work. I worked around the house and helped my daughter
to study. It was hard for my husband to start living civilian life. He
began to work at the air factory and later was transferred to the design
bureau of famous aircraft designer Antonov. He worked there util his
retirement. It was hard for him to take the changes in the nature of
relations as compared with his military brotherhood.

The exposure of the Stalin cult was very difficult for all of our
families, both Jewish and Russian. For us, he was the highest authority, an
example of a true person and a state leader. Even prior to the war our
family had a tradition that at our family celebrations, even at birthday
parties, the first toast was the toast to the health of Comrade Stalin.
Even the death of my uncle's brother changed nothing in this regard. And 20
years later, it was hard to accept that everything we believed in were
lies.

After these lies we became suspicious of everything. We also were
skeptical about the existence of Israel. It seemed to us that it was all a
nice joke. We had only Soviet sources of information about Israel. And in
general, it all was too far from our everyday life of the end of the 1950s,
when we had to do our best to forget that we were Jewish in order to live
in peace, so that my daughter would study peacefully as well, because she
had already run across anti-Semitism in her school.

The Jewish language , Yiddish, was gradually disappearing, as well as
our Jewish names. Sometimes on purpose, other times - for pronunciation
reasons, they were turned into Russian names: Moishe - Misha, Izya - Igor.
And me, Basya, became Asya, not on purpose, but because my Russian
neighbors found it easier to say it this way. In Jewish families full names
were no longer given to children in honor of their late relatives - only
the first letter of the name was left, the rest of the name was Russian,
for instance: in honor of Leib or Lazar a boy was named Leonid, in honor of
Rivka a girl was named Raisa. Before the end of 1970s I did not even know
where the only Kiev synagogue was located. So, I was very surprised when my
daughter Tatyana, who, as I believed, was brought up in the spirit of
internationalism, when she was going to get her passport in 1964, demanded
that in the "nationality" line she would be registered as Jewish. It was
correct, but impossible. This so-called "fifth line" in the passport, that
is, Jewish nationality, could put an end to her further career, institute
studies, finding a good job; it threatened to cause a lot of troubles. I
sincerely wanted her to register as Russian, according to her father's
nationality, while my husband believed she could choose whatever
nationality she wanted. He still did not understand the peculiarities of
our Jewish fate. Neither begging nor explanations could influence her -
only my bitter tears shed for many days impacted her, and she did what I
wanted from her. I still don't understand what it was - a protest on her
part, her ethnic identification or the fact that on the example of her
Jewish friends she could see a special attitude towards the Jews. To be
frank, I need to say that anti-Semitism did not affect me personally. It
did not hinder my career, or my work, or my Communist Party membership,
which started when I was 19. I was more concerned about those who were with
me. My Jewish relatives became fewer and fewer. In 1954, my mother died; a
few years before that Aunt Liza was gone, and then Uncle Yakov. However, in
1960s, my brother Yosif came home from the army. By the way, he received a
second higher education - he graduated from the Higher Military Engineer
Academy in Leningrad. After coming back to Kiev he found a job at the
military plant, where he worked at a very high office until his death in
1981. He could not register his sons, Vova and Boris, as the Russians,
because he divorced his first wife, who was Russian, and married a Jewish
woman. But, being an optimist, he believed his boys would fight their ways
in this life somehow.

In 1966, my Tanya finished school with honors and entered University,
philosophy department, which was another surprise for us. Prior to that she
had finished music school (playing violin), and we hoped she would continue
her musical education in the musical college. However, she chose a
different path, and in general she became independent then. I could start
working again. I certainly did not go back to my previous, semi-military
profession. Having finally completed my secondary education at the age of
40, I went to work at the structure of the Education Ministry. I worked
there till 1985, when my granddaughter Katya was born.

In the 1970s, life around us was slowly changing, and I could find my
place in it. I became a trade union leader at my work. At the same time
more people began to emigrate to Israel. There was an instruction, coming
either from the party or from the Soviet authorities, according to which
trade union leaders had to do explanatory work with those who were going to
emigrate. I had to do it many times, and it was always hard for me. It was
a little easier because the first to leave was our director, in 1975. The
next step according to this instruction was a special meeting with these
people to expel them from the Communist Party if they were its members. It
was a very painful procedure. We all tried to escape it, and there was a
method: when a person knew he would leave, he had to quit his job, leave
the party ranks and work somewhere as a street cleaner, for instance; he
had to put himself in such a position that he would have nothing in common
with his previous work. It made situation easier for him because he did not
have to blush in front of his work team where he had worked for a long
time, and it made the situation easier for the organization that had to do
such a thing to him. The first people who left - in 1970s - seemed to have
disappeared without any trace. Technically, correspondence with them was
very complicated, and literally, it was dangerous for those who were left
here and received letters from abroad. In the 1980s the situation began to
change. We began to get news from those who left for another world, which
was so unlike ours. We learned that their lives there went well. The
attitude towards them began to change, first unofficially. My attitude was
also changing, even though I was still against emigration. I thought we
were being deceived again. Besides, I remembered the words of my mother in
evacuation in the Urals. She said she was willing to go back to Kiev even
if there would be no place to stay; she was willing to kiss the rocks of
the Kiev streets, so that she would only stay home. I still think the same
way.
By the end of the 1980s, my few relatives also began to leave. They
were leaving for the United States, Israel, even Australia, and we remained
even fewer in Kiev. Correspondence with our relatives became more and more
legal and free, and gradually communications with the free world became a
tradition in our family.

By the end of the 1980s, there were much less Jews in Kiev, but my
family increased: in 1985, my long-awaited granddaughter Katya was born.
Her father, Tatyana's husband, is Viktor Malakhov, son of the famous
sculptor, Aaron Foterman, and Belarussian doctor Tamara Malakhova. When he
finished school and could not enter the medical institute after having
passed practically all exams with excellent marks, he changed his last name
for his mother's. Then he entered the philosophy department of the
University, where he studied together with my daughter. They have been
living and working together for the past 20 years.

My husband and I doted upon our granddaughter. His last words before
he died in 1991 were concerning her. Unfortunately, he did not live to see
her as a student and did not know that in the third grade her parents
transferred Katya to the first Jewish national school of Kiev, which she
finished with honors this year.

My granddaughter Katya is a person of the new time that began for us
in 1991. She is absolutely free in her political, religious and national
choices. Her father is Doctor of Philosophy and Professor of the National
University in Kiev. This year, Katya passed exams with a very high rating
and entered two universities at once: the National "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy"
University and the State Jewish Solomon University. She studies at the
philosophy department. Even now she speaks fluent Russian, Ukrainian,
English, and Hebrew. She knows the Jewish tradition well. She loves reading
the Torah and Talmud in original. It was with her that the Jewish tradition
came back to our home. Katya tells me that the most valuable thing in life
is free choice. She is probably right. But it is not easy for me to
understand her. Neither in my childhood nor in the rest of my life did I
have such freedom, but I also understand what a dear price was paid for
this freedom.

I remember that my mother, being young, told me how in the 1920s, a
famous Kiev rabbi invited her to join his family in their emigration to
America. And she, a daughter of rich parents, from whom Revolution
confiscated everything they had, nevertheless decided to stay in her
motherland - and she never regretted it. I think I have her character; only
at home I can enjoy full rights of a person. But I understand that my
viewpoint is not the only right one, and it is very good that the whole
world is now open. Let them leave freely, and let them be free to come back
should they decide to do so. The most important thing, according to my
granddaughter, is free choice. A free choice to remain really human. I am
very glad that my Kiev is becoming more and more not only Ukrainian, but
also Jewish: Jewish schools, synagogues, theaters, "Khesed Avot" - this is
all very good; I just want people to live in peace. Because there is
probably no greater evil than mutual hatred. I am especially afraid of
national and religious hatred. And if religions or nationalities are able
to separate people and make them hate one another, then something is wrong
in this world. Because the most important thing is for all people to be
happy. And they need very little for this: mind, kindness and peace of
heart.

Country: 
City: 
Kiev

Interview details

Interviewee: Basya Chaika
Interviewer:
Tatyana Chaika
Month of interview:
October
Year of interview:
2001
Kiev, Ukraine

KEY PERSON

Basya Chaika
Year of birth:
1926
City of birth:
Kiev
Country name at time of birth:
Russia
Occupation
after WW II:
chief of passport division
Family names
  • Previous family name: 
    Pan
    Year of changing: 
    1946
    Reason for changing: 
    Marriage

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