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Margarita Kamiyenovskaya

I didn't know what was in store for us, but we were lucky. There wasn't a single medical worker in the village, not even a medical assistant. On that day, the mother of the NKVD commissar got ill and he came to my father for help. After that he left us in peace. Life in Staraya Kulatka was hard. It was a Mohammedan village and we were housed in the hut of a local, Mullah. As far as I understood, in accordance with Islam any harm done by a Mohammedan to an infidel would be pleasing Allah. Thus, they treated us accordingly. We weren't mere infidels to them, we were Jews: their most malicious enemies. I remember once, Mullah decided to do us good. We lived from hand to mouth and ate only potatoes. We didn't even have bread. Our hosts were pretty prosperous. They had a lot of sheep and ate meat every day. One day there was a great Muslim holiday. I don't remember which one, but on that day Allah had to do good to everybody. Our host decided to do good to us. He said that on that day we were allowed to boil our potatoes in their meat soup. We were so hungry that we agreed to that. I remember it very vaguely.
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Then came the day of deportation: 14th June 1941 [see Soviet Deportation of Estonian Civilians] [23]. It was probably the darkest day in the history of Estonia. It didn't just change the fate of the people deported from Estonia, but also the destiny of the remaining Estonian Jews. The list of people to be deported was made beforehand and we found out about that only later. The car with NKVD officers went to people's houses and these people were given half an hour to pack. Then they were taken to the train station, where all arrangements were made for their departure. The men were sent to the Gulag [24] and the women and children were exiled. Politicians, people who disapproved of the Soviet power, rich people, i.e. the owners of real estates, well-off peasants who came to prosperity by working hard, were to be exiled from Estonia. There were cases where people were exiled for no reason.

There was a Jewish family, Olephson, who lived not far from our house. They owned a small store in front of our house. They didn't have any hired employees. They did all the work by themselves to make a living. I remember that one night the NKVD stormed their apartment and took them away. It was dreadful. 10,000 people were exiled, whereas the total population of Estonia was about 1,000,000. There were mostly Estonians among the exiled, but there were also Jews, Russians and Belarusian. Nationality didn't matter. It was ideology that mattered. It can't be compared to the Holocaust, but Stalin's camps weren't much better than Hitler's. Of course, it's clear why Estonians started to hate the Russians after that. The atrocities happening in Estonia during the war, when Estonians murdered Jews, commenced on that very day. Estonians recognized fascists as liberators from Soviet oppression and strove to do anything for the Germans. They chose the lesser of two evils.
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In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact [20] was signed between the USSR and Germany. Soviet military bases were founded in Estonia [see Estonia in 1939- 1940] [21]. The USSR motivated it by acerbated international environment and the necessity to protect adjacent countries from attack. At that time the Soviet military didn't communicate with the local population. Probably their commanders had forbidden them to do that. We felt the Soviet presence in 1940. At that time the parliament was dissolved and the government resigned due to numerous demonstrations of the workers demanding resignations from the government. A new government held elections and the communist party, which was previously banned, came to power. After that the government addressed a request to the Soviet Union regarding Estonia joining the USSR. This took place on 6th August 1940. Estonia became a Soviet Republic.

Many things changed in our lives. It was the first time when I saw the queues in the grocery stores. My mother, having been in the USSR and having a better picture of Soviet reality, was deterred. She said that we would have to look for a smaller apartment as they would start accommodating new- comers from the USSR. The NKVD office was in front of our house so the dwellers of the houses nearby and in front of it were evicted. My mother found a small apartment for us and we moved in there. People's property was expropriated. Enterprises, and stores were taken over and they called it nationalization. The owner was merely turned out and the management was taken over by the commissar assigned by the Soviet regime [see Political officer] [22]. It was scary. Every day was boding new trouble. There was no resistance as everybody was aware that nothing could be done against the military power of the USSR.
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Henrich Kurizkes

We were not spoiled by awards in our Estonian Corps. I don't know why, but we didn't receive awards as often as they did in other units. I had two awards: Medal for Military Merits [40] and an Order for the Great Patriotic War [41] 2nd Grade. Later, after the war, I received awards dedicated to the Victory and Soviet army anniversaries.

There were commissars, political officers, in the Estonia Corps and in other units in the Soviet army. They conducted political training and engaged themselves in all proceedings. Of course, there were also SMERSH [42] officers, both Estonian and Russian ones. They were involved in hiring informers among us. We even knew some of these informers. A few of our soldiers were transferred to SMERSH and they were even awarded officers' ranks. I was lucky in this respect: they never tried to involve me.

SMERSH representatives were continuously mixing with the staff of the Estonian Corps, but they usually disappeared before combat actions. They preferred to watch the actions from a distance. We also had a rear unit in the Corps. They moved behind us and God forbid if a combatant decided to turn back: they were allowed to shoot and kill. Fortunately, there were no such cases in our regiment, though I came to the front at the turning point of the war. We never retreated. We advanced or stayed where we were, but we didn't retreat.

I joined the Party during the war. These were mass events, and officers were required to be party members. Our political officer convinced me to join. He was a very intelligent man. I wasn't eager to join the party, but nor did I mind.
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Dina Kuremaa

I got married in 1956. I met my future husband, Raymond Kuremaa, with the help of my neighbors, an Estonian family. Raymond was their relative. On 31st December 1945 he came to congratulate his relatives on New Year. He rang the bell, and I opened the door. He looked at me and asked who I was. I said that I had lived there since my arrival from evacuation. He introduced himself and said that he had come to see his relatives. Then my neighbor came up to me and said that Raymond wanted to congratulate me on New Year. That was the way we met. From time to time we saw each other, went for a walk, to the cinema. I had known Raymond for eleven years before we got married. We were just friends. If someone told me about our getting married, I would only laugh.

Raymond was born in a hamlet in Raplass district of Estonia in 1924. His parents owned a farm, cultivated land and bred cows. When Estonia became Soviet, all property of Raymond's parents was taken over by a kolkhoz. Raymond's elder brother, who was 18 in 1941, was in hiding in the forest, when the Germans came to Estonia - he was not willing to join the German army. Then he came home to his parents, and someone told on him to the NKVD. When they came to arrest him, they found a rifle in his house. He was sentenced to 25 years and nobody believed that he was fighting against Soviet troops, and he was given an additional five years for keeping a weapon. He spent almost ten years in the Gulag, somewhere in Kolyma [32]. Only after Stalin's death, when the commission on retrial of the convicts' cases considered his case, he was released since there was no corpus delicti. He came back home in 1956 and attended our wedding.
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ruth laane

I remember the Doctors' Plot [22] in January 1953. Now I wonder that this fearful period only lasted for two months. NKVD employees [23] managed a lot through this short period of time.... I was 13. I remember a meeting at school where students of our 7th grade held 'murdering doctors' up to shame. They made speeches saying what rascals those doctors were. I remember that one Jewish girl spoke even having no direction from the teacher. She also said how terrible this was.

My grandfather had many friends and acquaintances, and they often came to see him and discuss political news. My grandfather read newspapers, and could read between lines, which was common in the Soviet Union. He also commented on what he had read saying 'Well, if they write like this, this means...' He also liked listening to 'The Voice of America' [24] and other international radio stations that were forbidden in the USSR, and also discussed what he had heard.

I am grateful to my grandfather that all such discussions took place in my presence. Nobody feared that I could mention something that was not safe for my grandfather or his acquaintances. I think my grandfather did a lot for me. He planted the seeds of doubt in me, and he taught me to think and analyze. These seeds have grown out.

I remember 5th March 1953, when Stalin died. We knew about it from the radio news before it was time for me to leave for school. When my grandfather heard that Stalin had died, his face brightened with happiness. My grandfather did not work on this day as if it was a Jewish holiday. This was so very unusual that my grandfather stayed away from work on a weekday, which had never happened before. On hearing the news my grandfather rushed to see my mother and tell her the news. My grandfather was really happy, but for me Stalin's death was a terrible blow. We had a mourning meeting at school, and all attendants were sobbing.
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Boris Dorfman

I witnessed another tragic event in Kishinev. Many Moldavian and Ukrainian families were deported from their homes during this period [1947-1949]. They were wealthy families who worked hard to make a decent living. After the Great Patriotic War they recovered their wealth, but they didn't want to join collective farms. I don't think they really had much to give away at that time, but the state wanted to take away their grain stocks. I was to be the representative of my company responsible for collecting grain stocks. There were two NKVD officers to escort me and we were to go to the villagers, who were told that resisting to deliver food supplies made them enemies of the Soviet power. NKVD officers had the list of villagers and I was just supposed to attend these actions. If a family wasn't at home we went to another house. Families were taken by cattle transportation trains. They were given no time to get ready for the trip. I don't know exactly where they were taken - I believe, somewhere to the north. I never met anybody who returned home from there. It was the period of a horrific famine. People were starving to death. There were many dead people in towns and villages.
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I was allowed to bring some food to my parents, but I couldn't see them and they weren't allowed to have an attorney. Shortly before the Great Patriotic War, in late May 1941, eleven months after they had been arrested, I received a statement from a special meeting of the NKVD [14] about preventive punishment of particularly dangerous 'enemies' of the Soviet power. My parents were sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment and deprived of their right to correspond with their families. My mother was sentenced on the charges of being a Zionist and bourgeois chauvinist and my father was sentenced for being a capitalist. My father was sent to Karaganda camp [on the Gulag] [15], in Kazakhstan [2,800 km from Kiev] and my mother was sent to Solikamsk camp in the Ural. I wasn't allowed to visit my father and never saw him again. He died in 1942, but we only got to know this after we received his rehabilitation [16] papers some time after 1956. It was stated that he had cardiac insufficiency and tuberculosis and that he was buried in grave #31 at a certain location. We looked it up on a map, but couldn't find it. I was allowed to see my mother before her departure to Solikamsk. She looked exhausted, but she didn't lose her spirits. We promised each other to keep in touch.
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feiga tregerene

Her husband was rather prejudiced against us. He wasn't an easy-going person. He worked in the accounting office of an NKVD body [15]. Though he wasn't involved in arrests [16] or interrogations, the atmosphere itself must have affected his personality, which was not easy, anyway. I wouldn't say he was a manifest anti-Semite. I never heard a word of abuse from him, but he was treating my parents and me with resentment. In early 1946 there was a fire in our street, and this fire caused severe damage to our house. We were given separate apartments, though in one building. We finally had our own lodging.
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Revekka Blumberg

It goes without saying that shortly after the Soviet rule was established in Estonia, the store was nationalized. Rachmiel’s employees wrote a letter to the NKVD requesting to let Rachmiel stay as director of the store. Rachmiel came from a poor family and lived a hard life, and he knew whatever concerns were worrying common people and treated them with sympathy. His employees thought much of him. However, their letter didn’t help, and Rachmiel lost his store and the job. Rachmiel took to tailoring again and had his clients.

Then 14th June 1941 came. Someone knocked on the door and Hana opened it. Those were NKVD officers. They told the family to pack promptly and leave. Rachmiel was sentenced to five years in a strict security camp in Sverdlovsk region. Hana and their two children were sent to the village of Sbornoye, in Tomsk region. Estonian and Jewish families resided in barracks. Moris was three and Rafail was one year and a half. Hana had to go to work. The term of their exile was indefinite. Rachmiel survived the camp. His craft helped him. He made clothes for prisoners and employees. Rachmiel was lucky that his expertise was in demand.

He was released in 1946 and granted permission to go back to Estonia. However, his wife and sons were sentenced to permanent residence in exile and were not allowed to relocate. Rachmiel had an entrepreneur’s mind and plotted a fantastic plan. At first he planned to take his children out of Siberia, and then he thought that he might as well consider other children. It was just his luck that in 1946 there was a secret direction issued to the NKVD, according to which underage orphans were allowed to go back to Estonia.
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I remember very well how this was with my family despite my being just a child. Two NKVD officers [5] came to our home and gave us half an hour to get ready. Nobody knew what was happening. Much depended on each NKVD employee. Some of them merely followed their orders. They were told that the ones to be deported were enemies of the people and deserved no mercy. These NKVD guys didn’t even give a thought to where the fault of those who were called ‘enemies of people’ was. They did their job with the same ardor as someone digging a pit or planting potatoes. Others were more merciful warning owners of the houses that they were to be deported, telling them what they should take with them and even helping them to pack.

Some of these guys took pleasure in bullying people to be the deported. This was the kind of people that we were to deal with. They were watching what Mama was packing throwing away what they thought was in excess of what we needed to take. They allowed only the minimum of things, just one set of underwear and everything else and later in exile this had its impact. Those, who had more belongings with them, could bargain them for food products or milk for their children, while we didn’t even have enough of what was necessary, to say nothing of excesses.
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Amalia Blank

At that time I was aware of the Soviet reality. Repressions started, though it was not the Great Terror [10] like in the late 1930s. There was the issue of ‘enemies of the people’ [11] at that time. Rich people were sent into exile, the Gulag [12]. I understood if I got money from America it would be revealed in the NKVD [13] right away and it would be easy to predict what would happen next. In such cases the state took half of the amount officially and the second half would be taken unofficially after arrest. It would have been useless to write to Uncle telling him not to bequeath me money, as the censorship would have noticed that. I decided not to respond and stop correspondence. It was my fault that I stopped keeping in touch with my relatives.
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Fania Brantsovskaya

In 1945 the factory where my husband was working burnt down. We were very concerned that my husband might get in trouble. There were many people taken to jail for sabotage or negligence. Fortunately, my husband's investigation officer from the NKVD [38] happened to be a decent man. He knew my husband was not to blame. My husband went to work as chief of department in the Lithuanian Industrial Council and then worked as chief of Department of State Planning of Lithuania for 25 years. He finished Moscow Institute of Engineering and Economics extramurally. We joined the Communist Party following our convictions. We joined it very consciously.
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Etta Ferdmann

After the war my father was in charge of a shoe workshop. He did not have a very professional accountant and in a while he had a discrepancy between the cash and the reports. There was a surplus in the till of 1,200 rubles. In 1950 there was an audit at the workshop and the surplus was seized. [Editor’s note: at that time it was not a very large amount, it equaled an average two-month salary, but it was hard to get by with that amount of money]. I went to the sixth grade at that time. It was January 1950. I remember how they came to our place for a search. It was dreadful for me. Of course, they did not find anything, but they arrested Mother. I stayed by myself. I was watched and assisted by my kind neighbors. Father was sentenced to eight years in prison, then they thought it was not enough and they added another two years, that is, ten years in total. Mother was in Tallinn jail. I went to see both Mother and Father, brought them some food. It was such a bad time!

Mother was in prison for a relatively short term: eight months. They did not find her guilty and let her go. She had to work as Father was in prison. First, she was employed at a textile store as a saleswoman. Then she went to work for a dairy store. Father stayed in Tallinn. Here we had a camp at Magazinin Street. Usually they did not imprison people in the city where they were from. For example, a prisoner from Tallinn was sent to Kostroma and one from Kostroma in Tallinn. It was done so that it would be hard for the relatives to go and see prisoners, for them to feel left out from ordinary life, for the hardship of prison to be felt dramatically. Father had many friends and they managed that he could stay in Tallinn. Mother and I went to see Dad, and at times we left things for him.
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When we had just returned to Tallinn from evacuation, we did not feel the Soviet regime as acutely. Then the oppression of the Soviets was getting harder and starting from 1947 we started feeling how strong it was. It all started with Estonian partisan squads, which could not abide by the Soviet occupation of Estonia. Those squads mostly consisted of peasants. They attacked soldiers. It was horrible! Those peasants were caught and ruthlessly exterminated like wolves. Many Estonian families had to mourn over their relatives that perished at the hand of the NKVD [19]. Then they started imprisoning people. One suspicion that the person was helping the partisans was enough to put him in jail. People were imprisoned for disapproving remarks with regards to the Soviet regime and whole innocent families were imprisoned.

Then in 1948-1949 deportation of Estonian population resumed. This time the Soviet regime fought well-off peasants. Agricultural export was the main source of export from Estonia. Of course, the peasants were rich, having large farm. They did not have any kolkhozes – families worked hard from dawn till night. Those hard-working people were called kulaks [20], and exiled to Siberia with their families. That deportation did not refer to the Jews only because the latter were barely involved in agriculture. Estonians were exiled – the most hard-working and skilled. The rest were compelled to join kolkhozes.
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