Interviewer: Zhanna Litinskaya
Date of interview: July 2004
I met Zoya Shapochnik in the Kishinev Hesed 1, where she works as a volunteer. It took Zoya a long time to agree to an interview. She lives in a modest, tidy apartment in a typical five-storied building constructed in the 1960s, the so-called Khrushchovka 2. There were photos on the table. I could feel that she was getting ready for the meeting. The interview wasn’t just a formal thing for Zoya, but the opportunity to leave a trace about her relatives. Her story is imbued with sincerity, romanticism, strong feelings and love for people.
My family background
In spite of the fact that I was born in 1934, I remember a lot about my childhood and know certain things about my grandparents from the tales of my kin. My parental grandfather, Haim Shapochnik, was born in Moldova, in the small town Leovo [about 70km from Kishinev, on the Romanian border] in 1875. He wasn’t a very educated man. He only finished cheder. I don’t know about my grandfather’s kin. I don’t even know how many siblings he had. I knew his nephew Isaac Shapochnik. He lived in Kishinev after the war and worked as an accountant. At present Isaac, his wife and three children live in Israel. He’s an elderly man now. Grandfather Haim was involved in wine making. He bought grapes from the peasants, made wine and sold it. He had a small vineyard which he cultivated himself.
My paternal grandmother, Dvoira Shapochnik, nee Khazina was born in Leovo in 1878. I knew my grandmother’s siblings: Jacob, Sapsai and Enna. Enna, who was much younger than Grandmother Dvoira, lived in the small town Cahul, not far from Leovo, with her husband and children. Her husband was rather well-off. They had a churn and mill. In 1940 when the Soviets came to power [see Annexation of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union] 3, their property was nationalized and Enna, her husband and children were exiled to Siberia, Akmolilnsk oblast. When the war was over, they came back to Moldova 4. Enna died in the early 1960s. Her sons: Anatoliy, a construction engineer, and Grigoriy, a turner, and daughter Haya lived in America with their families. My grandmother’s brothers, Jacob and Sapsai, came back to Moldova with their wives and children, during the Great Patriotic War 5. I don’t remember their names. I saw them only once in the early 1950s at a family reunion at Sapsai’s place. I keep a big family picture. Sapsai, who was much older than my grandmother, died in the 1950s. Jacob passed away shortly after him.
My grandparents got married in 1895. They had a traditional Jewish wedding. It couldn’t have been any different. Then, after the wedding they settled in Leovo. Haim and Dvoira had a small house with a thatched roof. They were neither rich nor poor. They had five children in the family, who had to be fed, clad, and educated. I’ve never been to Leovo. My father told me about them. I saw Grandmother Dvoira only once, when she came over in 1937. She was a large, debonair woman. Her head was covered with a beautiful knit kerchief. My grandmother never went out with her head uncovered. Both she and Grandfather Haim were very religious. My grandfather also wore a hat. In the mornings he put on a kippah, tallit and tefillin when he was praying. Grandmother Dvoira died in 1938. She was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Leovo. My grandfather died in 1941 on our way to evacuation.
All the children of Haim and Dvoira weren’t very religious, except my father. The boys finished cheder, and Charna, my father’s only sister got elementary Jewish education at home. She mostly helped my grandmother about the house. Charna was younger than my father. She was born in 1905. She was single and lived with her parents. Charna died at a young age, in the early 1930s. I don’t know the reason of her death. My father loved his sister very much. He was always in tears when he spoke about her.
Boris was the eldest in the family. He was born in 1897. He, his wife Manya, and daughter Haya, born in the 1930s, lived in Kishinev. Boris was a supply agent. When World War II was unleashed a large kin of Manya talked Boris into staying in the city. Many people disbelieved at that time that the Germans could do harm to the Jews. Besides, Soviet propaganda induced people to believe in the soonest victory of the Red Army. Manya, Boris and Haya stayed in Kishinev thinking that they could hole up the occupation in the basement. They perished in the Kishinev ghetto 6. No one survived out of Manya’s large family.
My father also had a brother, who was much younger than him. He died young. I don’t even know his name. The youngest in the family, David, born in 1907 lived in Iasi. He was also a supplier and his wife Dora an accountant. When Bessarabia became part of the Soviet Union, David’s family moved to Kishinev. Like many Jewish families they fled from the fascists. They went to the USSR having left what they had. At the outbreak of war, David and Dora left for evacuation in Chimkent [today Uzbekistan]. Their only child Jacob was born in 1944 in Chimkent. After the war David’s family came back to Kishinev. His son’s life was the embodiment of the life of a talented Jewish guy in the Soviet environment back in that time. Having finished school with a gold medal Jacob went to Kiev [today Ukraine] to enter the medical institute, knowing that it was hard for a Jew to enter the institute in Kishinev. But as they say: out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Kiev was one of the anti-Semitic cities of the USSR and Jacob, being fluent in English flunked the English exam and wasn’t admitted to the institute. He worked as a projectionist for a year. The following year Jacob easily entered the Leningrad Medical Institute. He was a brilliant student and got a scholarship. Later, he defended his dissertation [see Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees] 7 on medicine and genetics. After that he worked in the affiliate of the All-union Scientific and Research Institute of Oncology, located in the vicinity of Leningrad [today Russia]. Jacob married a Jew, Lily from Moldova, who had moved to Moscow [today Russia]. They had lived in different cities for seven years and then Jacob found a job in Moscow and moved there. In 1980 David and Dora left for America, planning for Jacob to follow them. A few years later Jacob and his wife left for America. Now he lives in Las Vegas as a doctor of the higher category. Their daughter also graduated from a medical institute. David died in 1991 and was buried in Buffalo, the place where his family lived at that time. His wife Dora passed away in 2000.
My father, Joseph Shapochnik, was born in 1902. He was the only one of the brothers who had thirst for knowledge and striving to get educated. Upon finishing cheder my father entered the nearest Realschule 8 in Leovo. Gagauz 9, Moldovans and Russians mostly studied there. Several Jewish boys made friends and decided to go on with their education. By that time Bessarabia had been annexed to Romania [see Annexation of Bessarabia to Romania] 10 and my father dreamt of studying in one of the European universities. Grandfather Haim scraped up some money for him to get to university with a lot of difficulty. That was the only thing he could help his son with. My father and three or four of his friends, I don’t remember their names, went to Prague [today Czech Republic], and entered the Prague Polytechnic Institute, electric and mechanic department. The friends shared an apartment and saved money that way. They had to work to get by.
My father worked as a stevedore, tutor, and sang in the choir of the Prague Opera. A lot of students from Russia studied at the university [in Prague]. There was a whole course, where the lectures were held in Russian. After graduation, the graduates found good jobs at the Prague power station. They were there on night duty. It was the time of revolutionary changes. The Bolsheviks 11 had come to power in Russia, intending to spread communist ideas all over the world. Outstanding Bolshevik activists took the floor at the university, where my father was studying. They held lectures there and my father attended all of them. My father also joined some communist groups. He adhered to those views all his life though he never became a member of the Party. Usually students went home on summer vacations. Joint 12 helped pay for the round trip ticket to the parents. My father went home every year. He felt tedious in the hick town Leovo and often went to Kishinev. Here, in the late 1920s he met my mother at a party. He was enchanted by her at once. It was love at first sight.
My mother, Pesya Treiger, was born in Kishinev. Her grandfather was a simple and pious Jew, whom I didn’t know. He was from Ukraine. When he was over the hill, he came to Kishinev to see his son, Grandfather Gersh, and died with the words, ‘The lord is calling me.’ My grandfather, Gersh Treiger, was born in Ukraine in the 1870s. He worked in the municipal administration. He was responsible for cartage, which was one of the main vehicles back in that time. My grandfather was very tall and handsome. He didn’t wear a kippah at work. He put it on when he was praying. He wasn’t a religious Jew, but holidays were observed in his house. My mother said that on Pesach all traditional Jewish dishes were on the table and her father reclining at the table led the seder. On holidays he went to the synagogue. Sometimes he went there on Sabbath. On the whole, he was a secular man. He liked theater, literature and poetry.
My maternal grandmother’s name was also Dvoira [nee Hadji]. There were a lot of Jewish names of mixed origin in Bessarabia. They had the imprint of Turkish and Romanian languages. [Hadji in the Muslim tradition refers to a pilgrim.] My grandmother mostly took care of the children. There was a maid who came over to do the household chores. Dvoira was mostly keen on theater. She nurtured the love for theater in her daughter, my mother, who passed it on to me. There was a Russian theater in Kishinev. Plays by Gogol 13 and Chekhov 14 were staged there, but it existed only before Bessarabia was annexed to Romania. My grandmother was a frequent theater-goer. It was a real treat when famous actors came from Moscow and Petersburg [today Russia]. Dvoira would take the whole day to get ready. She put on her best bib and tucker, and wore modest jewelry so that the children felt that something great was going to happen. The Treiger family lived very modestly. They never owned a house, just rented small apartments. Education and upbringing were prioritized.
There were three children in the family. The eldest, Lazar Treiger, born in 1895, graduated from Odessa institute. He was a pharmacist. He owned an apothecary in the center of Kishinev. The apothecary was small, but a steady income was derived. Lazar’s wife Annette was a teacher. After getting married she took care of her children. They had a son, Izrael and a daughter, Riva. When the Soviets came to power, Lazar voluntarily gave up his apothecary. In spite of that the whole family was exiled, and even worse it was severe. Lazar happened to be in Ural [today Russia], where he died soon during timbering. His family was in Kazakhstan. During the war my father found them via the information center in Buguruslan [today Russia]. After the war Lazar’s wife and children went to Odessa 15. It was hard for them to live in Kishinev, as they were constantly reminded of their Lazar. Annette died in 1972. Izrael, who had worked as an accountant all his life, is currently living in Odessa with his wife Sarah. Riva became an engineer. She married a Jew called Mark Gerber, whose father perished in the Fighting battalion 16 in the vicinity of Odessa. There is a monument on the curb of one of the villages where his name is embossed. Riva and Mark are now in Boston, USA. They left Odessa in 1989.
My mother’s younger brother Boris was born in 1907. He was educated in the Romanian city of Ploiesti, Prahova. He finished medical school and became a dentist and prosthetist. His wife, a Romanian Jew called Paula, spoke only Romanian and their son Evgeniy spoke only Romanian during his childhood. In 1940 Boris and his family moved to Kishinev, when the Soviets came to power. When the war was unleashed, they were evacuated. We happened to be in one car. After the war Boris and his family came back to Kishinev and Boris resumed working as a dentist. Paula was a housewife. Boris died in the 1980s. Aunt Paula died a couple of years after him. Evgeniy and his family immigrated to Israel in the late 1980s.
My mother Pesya was born on 25th December 1902. They said that my mother was a rare beauty in her childhood. The neighbors used to say, ‘Go look, what a beauty has been born from Gersh.’ The maid, a Moldovan, who worked for my grandmother, crossed herself and prayed saying, ‘What a miracle, such a beautiful girl is born on Christmas!’ My mother, the only daughter in the family, was the favorite. In her early childhood tutors came over to teach her so that she would be prepared for lyceum. It was a state lyceum. There were wonderful teachers in it. My mother remembered her Russian literature teacher Orlov, who plied her with love for Russian classics. My mother recited poems written by Pushkin 17, and Lermontov 18 till the end of her days. She was very knowledgeable about Russian playwrights. She was interested in theater in her adolescence, following in my grandmother’s footsteps. My mother worked in the apothecary of Uncle Lazar. First she weighed and poured the medicine in the bottles. Then she learnt how to make medicine. She was so good at it that she became a professional pharmacist.
My parents fell in love at once. In 1929 they got married. They had a wedding in Kishinev. The newly-weds were rather modern and unreligious, but in spite of that they went under a chuppah, in the central synagogue. There was a posh wedding with music and many guests from Leovo and other cities. My mother wore a gorgeous dress. It wasn’t snow white, but pinkish. When I was a child I often asked her to show me her wedding gown and imagined myself in it.
When the feast was over, my parents had quite a lot of things to do. My father was to finish the last course of the institute. That year the tuition in Prague had increased and my father transferred to the French town [city] Cannes, in the south of France. My mother went with him. After some time they rented an apartment in Paris. They were so indigent that they didn’t have money to attend the renowned museums and palaces and it was a pity. They weren’t entitled to work as it was written in their documents: ‘Not permitted to work.’ Their main food was rice porridge without meat. They were lucky if they could add some chocolate to it.
In 1931 my father graduated from the institute and obtained a diploma of electric engineering. They returned to Bessarabia. They moved in with my mother’s parents in Kishinev. It was hard for my father to find a job, as Bessarabia wasn’t an area where industry was developed. He was jobless for a few months and then was employed by a power station in Bucharest [today Romania]. My parents moved there.
I was born on 19th September 1934. I was named Zoya after my distant relative, whose Jewish name was Zlata. I was born in Kishinev and had spent the first years of my life in the house of my maternal grandparents: Gersh and Dvoira Treiger. I remember my early childhood: the old low house, a drawing room with a big round table and laced cloth on it in the center of the room, my grandmother in a dressy white kerchief lighting the candles, chest of drawers, which caught my attention. I was less than two years old, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. Such bright pictures are still in my heart. On Sabbath Uncle Lazar, his wife and children, who were older than me, came over to see us. I remember a beautiful park, where my mother liked taking me for a stroll. That park, named after Pushkin, is still there. We were rather poor as my father didn’t make that much money in Bucharest. Part of his salary was to pay for the apartment and food. He sent my mother the remaining money. Sometimes my mother bought me scrumptious ice-cream or sweets in the park. Often there wasn’t enough money for these dainty things.
Then our life had a sudden turn. One of my father’s friends Dulitskiy, a famous engineer introduced him to a Romanian, Romascu, who commenced the construction of a spa for tuberculosis of the bone in Bugaz [small spa area, 50km from Odessa, Ukraine]. The town Bugaz, on the firth of the Black Sea was part of Bessarabia. [The Black Sea region was taken away from Moldova and attached to Ukraine after World War II.] Romascu offered my father the management of the construction. So, my father left for Bugaz. Soon we moved there, too. I was two and a half or three years old. For some time we lived in a poky apartment in some sort of a building, reminding me of a shanty. I was bothered by the gnats and my mother covered my bed with a gauze. She was in despair. My aunts Paula and Zhenya came over from Ploesti to support my mother. Grandmother Dvoira also came. It was the first and last time I saw her. My grandmother stayed with us for some weeks helping my mother about the house. She wore a dark kerchief, prayed in the mornings and evenings and spoke only Yiddish with my father.
My father was given a separate small house consisting of two rooms and a kitchen. There were no Jews in the whereabouts. We were mostly surrounded by Moldovans. There were a lot of Ukrainians. Since childhood I came to like sad old Ukrainian songs, which were even more euphonious because they were sung by the sea. My mother was on very good terms with the neighbors and soon learnt those beautiful melodies. Those ladies also taught my mother how to bake fancy bread on Orthodox Easter. So, there was no matzah in Bugaz as there was no place where we could get it. We ate Easter cakes on Orthodox Easter.
I spent almost all the time with my mother. My father was always tied up at work .He had various duties: he was a superintendent, foreman, cashier and accountant. He got money from Bucharest and paid off wages to the workers. My mother was scared that he could be robbed and killed as everybody knew that he was carrying large amounts of money. On weekends my father took us for a walk. I remember the park along the firth. The wind band played there. The King of Romania came for the opening ceremony of the sanatorium. My parents and I were on the platform waiting for the train to come. We met the King with flowers and then all of us went to the feast. It was held in the only restaurant in town. The King, clad in a white suit, was at the head of the table. My parents and I weren’t far from him. When the sanatorium was opened, my father was offered a job as an administrator and supervisor. He got quite a high salary and our life got better. It was a marvelous sanatorium. A Hungarian surgeon, Janos, worked there. [After World War I Romania gained Transylvania and parts of Eastern Hungary and as a result the country inherited a substantial ethnic Hungarian population from the previous Austro-Hungarian monarchy.] He was a miracle-maker. Crippled people came from all over the world and they left healthy and happy.
My father still believed in high ideals of communism. Bugaz was close to the border with the USSR. There were times when people crossed the firth to get there. At that time we didn’t know what was in store for them. As a rule they were caught by the NKVD 19 and then sent to Stalin’s camps. My father’s dream was to live in the USSR. If it hadn’t been for my mother, my father most likely would have crossed the border. At least he could listen to the radio. My father rose when the International [Anthem of the International Worker’s Movement and of the Soviet Union between 1918 and 1943. Originally French it has been translated into most languages and has been widely used and is still used by various Socialist and Communist movements worldwide.] was played. I also stood by him being solemn and strict. My mother laughed at us.
I remember how my father brought a telegram in 1938, where it was written that my maternal grandmother had passed away. My mother and I went to Kishinev and stayed at Uncle Lazar’s house by the apothecary. I wasn’t invited for the funeral, so I don’t know whether all the Jewish traditions were observed. I remember looking out of the window to see the funereal procession. I saw the hearse drawn by horses and the relatives following it. I’ll never forget the lamentation of my mother. We went back to Bugaz and in two weeks my father got another sad telegram: my paternal grandmother had died and my father went to Leovo to attend her funeral.
In winter it was very sad in Bugaz. It was very windy and cold. My father took my mother and me to Inkerman [now Izmail, Ukraine, 700km south-west of Kiev]. He rented a small house there where we spent winter. Inkerman was big as compared to Bugaz. There were stores and a cinema. In spring we went back to Bugaz. Here, in June 1940, the Soviet regime came to power. At once the management left. The director, chief physician, and surgeon Janos quit. Work practically stopped. We moved to Inkerman, where I saw Soviet soldiers for the first time. Bessarabians welcomed them with flowers. We left Inkerman for Kishinev. We had no place to live. Grandfather Gersh lived in a separate poky room. Uncle Lazar and his family were evicted and exiled. We moved to my mother’s friend Fanya Berekhman. After a few months there was a strong earthquake in Kishinev. Part of the house, where we lived, collapsed. Fortunately, my father managed to take me and my mother from the house. Then we rented a small room. My father found a job at a railroad design institute: Dorproject. My mother was a housewife. On 21st January 1941, Grandfather Gersh died. The Jewish cemetery was full at that time and he was buried in a different place, in the city cemetery. During the war the cemetery was in a mess and we couldn’t find the grave of Grandfather Gersh.
During the war
On 22nd June 1941 the war was unleashed. Kishinev was bombed on the first day. A dairymaid came over and said that the railroad had been bombed. That was the way we found out about the war. We hid in the basement during the bombing. Water and lime were brought there for some reason. My father said that it was in accordance with the civil defense instructions. I didn’t know that my mother was pregnant. Later, she mentioned that she went to the hospital to have an abortion, but she was refused, as the hospital was being frequently bombed and they made only vital operations. When we lived in Bugaz, my father’s friend Dulitskiy often came there on business trips. He brought a Russian magazine, ‘Soviet Union,’ with beautiful glossy covers and fairy-tales for me. World War II was on, and the atrocities of the fascists on the occupied European territories were covered in those magazines. My mother remembered it and insisted that we should be evacuated immediately. I don’t remember how Grandfather Haim came from Leovo. In early July 1941 my father hired a cart, loaded all our precious things and we went to the train station. It was crowded and was next to impossible to get on a train. In the evening the representatives of the authorities came to the platform and father asked for help saying that his wife was pregnant. I, considering my father to be my idol, was shocked thinking that he had lied; I didn’t know that my mother was expecting.
We were helped to get on the locomotive. It was a long and hard journey. The train was often bombed and we had to get out and hide in the bushes. We came to Rostov oblast [about 900km from Kishinev] [today Russia] and were sent to a kolkhoz 20. We settled in the house of a lady from the kolkhoz. She gave us a warm shoulder. My parents worked in the field and I stayed at home with Grandfather Haim. The kolkhoz gave some rations. I remember how we were treated to tasty scones with honey. I tried to help my mother. Once, I even tried to fry some potatoes, but they got burnt. Grandfather Haim scolded me and I had a grudge against him. I didn’t know that these were his last days. By the way, my grandfather, even here, tried to observe the kashrut even under such severities. We ate everything we were given. We didn’t even grouch over a piece of pig’s fat, but Grandfather Haim strongly reprimanded my father for that. There were times when he remained without food if it wasn’t kosher. We didn’t stay in that kolkhoz for a long time.
I picked up berries of violet color from the bush and was stricken with typhus fever. I was taken to the hospital in Novoshakhtinsk [today Russia] and my mother went with me. I stayed there for three weeks. It was fall. Fascists [Nazis] were approaching Rostov oblast. We had to move and my father didn’t know what to do. On one hand he couldn’t leave Grandfather Haim and on the other he had to come get us. My grandfather insisted on my father’s going. He left my grandfather in the kolkhoz, made arrangements with some man to get my grandfather to Novoshakhtinsk or Krasny Sulin [today Russia], where we were supposed to meet. My father was so upset about my grandfather that he left our things, photos and my mother’s jewelry. He came to the hospital with a small suitcase. He felt so dreadful for leaving his father that he swooned in the hospital. We were discharged from the hospital and went to Krasny Sulin in summer clothes, without our belongings. We waited for my grandfather for a few days, but he didn’t show up. The Germans were approaching and we had to move.
Again we, hungry and cold, took the train. My father kept our documents and a little bit of money. My father got off the train at a stop, which was supposed to be long. He and an elderly man went there to look for food. The train had left, when my father came back. My mother and I burst into tears. My mother’s pregnancy was rather difficult. She fainted often. There was a doctor in our car. She had camphor and gave my mother injections with the same syringe. At one of the stations the old man who was with my dad caught up with us. My mother started sobbing again. She thought my father was dead. The old man said that my father put him in some sort of echelon, and didn’t manage to get there himself. We had been on the road for two weeks without knowing anything about my father. We were starving. Sometimes people took pity on us and gave us a slice of bread. I remember how long I sucked on a hunch of the bread. We were told that we should get to some bigger town and go to the hospital and my mother was parturient. We got off in Saratov [today Russia]. We went to the evacuation point located at the polytechnic institute. We settled in a room which was partitioned. There were cadavers behind the partition. My mother got food cards [see Card system] 21 and bread. She feared death in the coming parturition, and most of all she was afraid that I would remain by myself. She was given a document for me to be settled in an orphanage in case she died.
First, the director of the orphanage didn’t want to take me as there were no space, but she sympathized with my mother. She took me to the orphanage and on that very day my mother fell from the staircase in the orphanage. Amniorrhea took place and the parturition began. She had strong furuncles, so she was afraid of a possible sepsis, which would lead to death. A Russian lady doctor stayed with my mother all the time. She delivered the baby and bandaged furuncles. My mother gave birth to a little boy, weighing a little over two kilograms. Though she was starving, she covered herself with a blanket when the food was brought, and was abundant with milk. She even was placed in the day nursery to suckle other babies. After a few days the milk was gone and my tiny brother died from pneumonia. All those events took place within two or three weeks. I lived in the orphanage. We were fed very well. At times we were even given sweets or tangerine.
We, the famished children, instinctively were afraid of hunger and tried to take a slice of bread from the canteen. It was forbidden and we hid the breadcrumbs in the sleeves or clothes. At night we woke up, took out the stashed things and munched on them in the darkness. When my mother came over, Muromtseva received her in her office. She had sweet tea and muffins brought in. She let my mother eat first. When I came in my mother could barely recognize me, as I had turned into a plump girl from the rack of bones I had been before. My mother often came over and Muromtseva gave her tea and rolls. Evacuation points in the cities were overloaded and it was easier to survive in the village. My mother decided to leave. Muromtseva tried to talk her into leaving me in the orphanage before she had settled, but my mother was afraid to lose me and took me with her. Muromtseva cordially said good-bye to us. She gave us clothes, which I was already wearing, a warm coat for me, and food. I’ll never forget that wonderful woman who practically saved my life. My mother always prayed for her and the gratuitous doctor, who delivered her baby and bandaged the wounds. Those great women rescued our lives.
My mother and I headed to the village. First we went to a kolkhoz and then finally settled in a kolkhoz named after Kalinin 22, in Novoguzskiy region, Saratov oblast. Since my mother was literate she found a job as an aide of the secretary of the village council. Besides, she was involved in propaganda. She read newspapers to the field workers. She was also involved in harvesting of potatoes. The farm ladies said, ‘Pelageya, take home a bucket of potatoes,’ but my mother was embarrassed without understanding how she could have taken anything without permission. We, who didn’t live in socialist conditions, weren’t used to that, but it was normal for the Soviet people to take things belonging to the state. In the end my mother also started taking potatoes home, about half a bucket. We weren’t that hungry because of that scrumptious ‘sugary’ potato. My mother was ready to assume any job. She, without knowing how to saw, became a seamstress because of her natural talent. She made brassieres, skirts. Once she even made a sheepskin, though her fingers were hurt. A peasant lady brought some potatoes and a keg of sauerkraut for that.
There was another family of evacuees from Saratov. We were the only Jews. People from the kolkhoz treated us well. We lived in the house of Tanya Monakhova. Her father-in-law had a bee-hive. When he took honey he brought me a honeycomb on a saucer and said, ‘Zoyka, this is for you!’ I felt so happy at that moment. I fainted a couple of times because of malnutrition. Once I fell on the iced river and some women helped me come around. The second time it happened in the hall of the house we lived in. The hostess’ daughter, Nina, told her mother that I was sleeping in the hall. She was two years older than me. I went into the field with that girl to pick the remaining wheat ears. A terrible thing happened in our kolkhoz. Ladies burned a barn and it turned out that there was a Russian guy, evacuated from Saratov, inside. He was on fire and ran up to them. Silly, uneducated women took him as an apparition and fled instead of helping him. The guy stayed in the hospital for a few days and died. The entire village was at the funeral.
I’ll never forget the funeral repast. [It is an Orthodox Christian tradition to arrange a funeral repast right in the cemetery, near the grave. When people come to visit the graves of their relatives on Russian Orthodox holidays, it is also traditional to eat some food ‘for the peace of the soul’ and leave pieces of food, candies and hard-boiled eggs near the tombstone or directly on the grave.] It seemed to me that I had never eaten such tasty millet gruel. Once in the winter time, when my mother was sick and lied on the Russian stove 23, Nina and I went to gather the wormwood. We used it instead of firewood, as we had no logs. We, knee length in semi-thawed snow and with bundles on our backs, saw a huge bull, which had escaped. We dropped the bundles and darted home screaming. There were a lot of funny and sad things happening. There was much sadness though. I went to school there in the kolkhoz. My mother made me some boots to have something to wear. Four grades studied in one premise. I was interested in things we were taught as well as in the things taught to the older ones. Here I learnt a lot of things from the third and fourth grades.
My mother was constantly writing letters to the information center in Buguruslan, desperate to find my father. Finally, in spring 1943 she got a response saying that my father was working for a mining enterprise in the Uzbek town Chirchiq [3500km from Kishinev]. My mother wrote him a letter and he replied. My father wrote about his hardship. He had spent a night at the train station, wherefrom he managed to get his traveling fellow on the train. He failed to leave. He fell asleep on the bench and at night his watch and remaining money were stolen. My father was in despair. It seemed to him that he had lost everybody: first his father, then his wife, and me. There he was caught by the raid aiming to pick the men eligible for military service. He was drafted into the labor front 24 and sent to work in the mines, first to Angren [today Uzbekistan], then to Chirchiq.
My mother and I were happy. We started getting ready. Again it was hard for us to get on a train. This time it wasn’t a locomotive, just an ordinary car. We reached Chirchiq and gingerly stepped on the suspension bridge trying to cross the rapid mountain river. A military guy helped with our things. We reached the hostel, where my father was living. It’s difficult to put in words what we felt when we saw my father. Even now my heart is thumping when I go back to that moment. We embraced each other, crying and laughing at the same time. My father didn’t say anything about the child. I think he had a lot to talk about with my mother. We spent the first night in the room of the hostel for men. There were six more men apart from my father. Then my father found a tent where we settled. There was an aryk [artificial irrigation channel] close by. We drank water from it and bathed there. We didn’t stay there for long, we moved to barracks. My mother found a job at a fertilizing factory and soon she was given a room in a warm barrack. Our life was getting better.
By that time, my mother had found her younger brother Boris. He and his family came to us. First we stayed in one tent, and then Uncle Boris found a job and was also given lodging. Then my mother found a job in a pharmacy. She used her skills, acquired when she worked for Uncle Lazar. My mother was a good worker. The manager of the pharmacy gave her cod liver oil. She used that oil to fry corn flower scones, I couldn’t eat them. We weren’t starving as badly as in Chirchiq, but still there wasn’t enough food for me and I swooned. I went to my father’s canteen and got food there by some cards. Once I fainted in the line, between two huge workers. When I came around, I heard, ‘She’s hungry. Bring the soup!’ Kind people took me to the table, fed me and filled my containers with food.
Here in Chirchiq I went to school, where I studied for two years. in the third and fourth grades, and became a pioneer [see All-union pioneer organization] 25. I did well at school. I was equally good at liberal arts and sciences. I took part in extra curriculum activities, recited verses on festive events. I had a friend, Inga Golunova. Both of us took an oath that we would never part. We corresponded with each other. Inga graduated from Moscow State University 26, the history department and got a mandatory job assignment [in the USSR] 27 in Pensa [today Russia]. She worked in a history museum. In 1962 we stopped keeping in touch. I don’t know what happened to her.
After the war
We experienced Victory Day in Chirchiq. I still think that it was the happiest day of my life. When on 9th May 1945 we were informed of the capitulation of Germany, we rushed to each other and started kissing and hugging no matter whether we knew each other or not. We were crying out of boundless joy.
Uncle Boris and his family were on the point of leaving for home. My father insisted that my mother and I should go with them. The problem was that he was still under military service and wasn’t entitled to leave Chirchiq. My mother and I suffered from malaria: we needed a change of climate. In summer 1945 we came back to Kishinev. We had no place to live. We stayed in the house of my father’s brother David for a while. My mother found a job as a cashier in the cinematograph department. It was a wonderful time. Every day my mother and I watched wonderful movies free-of-charge. Then she was fired, as another person was taken because of somebody’s connections. So, my mother went to work in the pharmacy once again.
My mother went to the institute, where my father had worked before the war and asked them to send him an invitation letter. First they were reluctant, as they said there were no vacancies, but my mother promised that my father wouldn’t seek a job at the institute. Thus, he got the invitation letter. In late 1946 my father came to Kishinev. He was hired by the sanitary and technical trust Moldsantekhmontazh and given a small room in a communal apartment 28 without conveniences. It was mere joy for us. The war was over, and both my parents were working to provide for our living and we had a place to live. We hadn’t even dreamed of that. We lived in that apartment until 1968. Then we got the apartment where I’m living now. At that time we accidentally found out how Grandfather Haim died.
My father’s cousin, Isaac Shapochnik, left his things in Chuchuleny in the house of a Moldovan. After the war he went over to take them back. There, in Chuchuleny he dropped by the Jews he knew. He saw our family album on their table. Isaac asked where they got it. They said that Grandfather Haim had been with them on the road. They were in Makhachkala [today Russia]. My grandfather died on the ferry boat and they took his things. They didn’t say how he died nor were he was buried. Isaac wanted to take our things, but they only returned my mother’s seal fur coat and photo album. The rest of the things, including my mother’s jewelry, were appropriated by them. My mother was so happy to get the pictures back! She thought she would never see any of her things.
I was a good and active student. I was a patriot of the USSR considering my country to be the best in the world. It couldn’t have been otherwise, as the propaganda was very strong! I and my contemporaries entered the Komsomol 29. I was involved in Komsomol work, took part in the meetings, extra-curriculum activities and other events connected with collection of scrap metal and cleaning of the school territory. In 1951 I finished school with a gold medal. [Editor’s note: the gold medal was the highest distinction in USSR secondary schools. A student was supposed to have straight excellent marks (100%) to get the gold medal.] I had to choose my future profession. In spite of the fact that I liked the arts more, loving theater and poetry most of all, I decided to deal with technology. I wanted to work at a big plant. I was attracted with workers, large workshops, metal and tools. I applied to Kishinev University, the chemical and technological department. Though, I didn’t like chemistry that much. I was an excellent student. Our teachers were strong and I came to like my specialty. These were hard years, when state anti-Semitism was exacerbated. I remember how our family as well as Boris’ took hard the Doctors’ Plot 30.
Of course, we didn’t quite believe the articles in the papers about malicious Jews; we couldn’t have totally disbelieved. Even though, we weren’t touched by repressions: none of our family members were fired. It appeared that people were looking at me in the transport and institute, classifying me with those poison doctors. It was good that my mother was a housewife at that time and wasn’t working in the pharmacy any more. I remember that in the second year we considered the Doctors’ Plot and stigmatized the doctors in the classes of Marxism and Leninism. When the doctors were exonerated after Stalin’s death we were told opposite things in the classes. Then one of the students asked whom we should we believe. She was reprimanded for questioning the correctness of the actions taken by the authorities. She was even summoned to the Komsomol committee and they wanted to expel her, but she got off with a reprimand. When Stalin died in 1953, I was in the tram on my way to university. It seemed to me that people were looking at me as if I had murdered him. I took Stalin’s death hard. I mourned with the others, being in the honor duty by his portrait. At that time we didn’t know what kind of a villain he had been.
I did well. I had a probation period at the production facility in Dneprodzerzhinsk [today Ukraine]. I was proud of being part of the great labor and walk in the crowd with the workers. I remembered the words of Mayakovskiy 31, ‘My labor is infused with the labor in my republic.’ All of us were full of enthusiasm and belief in a bright happy future and each worker felt his role in making that future and took pride in it. I gladly left on my mandatory job assignment in 1956. Upon graduation I was sent to the Moldovan town Bendery [60km from Kishinev] on the recently launched starch plant. I was a young expert and worked as a second technologist of the workshop. I was happy. I especially enjoyed the night when I was responsible for work of all people and each mechanism; when the whole workshop depended on me. I finished the evening department of the supreme party school 32. I conducted classes on political ideology with the workers after night shift. I took it very seriously. I was called by the Party committee several times and offered to enter the communist party. I sincerely considered myself unworthy and was sure that such honor should be deserved by outstanding and dedicated labor for the motherland.
The feat of the heroes of war was the highest level I imagined. I pictured myself in the role of those heroes who had sacrificed their lives, going through ordeals and torture, and I understood that I wouldn’t have been able to go through that. That is why I thought myself to be unworthy because I wouldn’t be able to die voluntarily for the high ideals. Apart from political classes I was active in other fields: singing in the choir, making performances. I remember I recited an excerpt from a Pushkin poem on the stage. The event was on the occasion of the 50-year anniversary of the plant. After that I was told, ‘You could have been an actress, what do you need that chemistry for?’ I considered histrionic art to be unworthy as compared to work at the plant. Those were happy years. I had my own room, many friends and felt myself in the lime light.
Then I was interested in non-ferrous metallurgy. I wrote letters to many plants in the country and was invited by the plant in Bereznyaki, Ural. My parents advised me not to go there, as it was hard to get a hold of products in those years, especially in the remote places. I went to the south, to Alatala, Northern Armenia, to the copper and chemical mill. The Armenians treated me very well. I made new friends. There were wonderful scenic views. Though, the grass was burnt because of the waste from our mill and nylons were spoiled on the second day after wearing. I was involved in social work here as well. I didn’t stay in Alatala for more than a year. My mother got severely ill and I had to go back to Kishinev in late 1964.
I was employed by an instrument making plant. I worked there for 14 and a half years. First I worked in the department of the chief technologist; then I was the head of the finishing bureau. I was loved and respected here. In 1978 my father got severely ill. It was hard for me as the head of the bureau at the large plant and I changed my job. I had a less responsible job at a tractor plant and worked there until retirement. I retired in 1991 when my mother got seriously ill again.
I had a lot of friends, including a young man. We went to the theaters, cinemas, read books, magazines and exchanged opinions. I had a very active life attending cultural places. I was also a passionate traveler. Every year I went on a tour. I was on the rivers Yenisey, Ob and Irtish, in the cities of Norilsk, Dudink, Taimyr, in many Siberian towns such as Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Tobolsk, Khanty-Mansiysk. I took a voyage on the White Sea and the Sea of Barents, visited Solovki, Kizhi, Archangelsk. I was on Valaam Island, near Leningrad. [Editor’s note: All the places mentioned by the interviewee are today in Russia.]
I had a lot of Jewish friends and we followed the Israeli events with a bated heart, the period when Israel was associated with insecurity. We listened to the radio stations following the events of the Six-Day-War 33 and Yom Kippur War 34. Another reason why I didn’t want to join the Party was my not being able to prevaricate and be a hypocrite.
My parents knew what was happening in my life, I shared everything with them. After the war, to be more exact, after Grandfather Haim had perished, my father started observing some Jewish traditions: bought matzah on Pesach, went to the synagogue. He died in 1978. In late 1980 almost all our relatives immigrated either to Israel or America. I started panicking and thinking that I had remained alone. I don’t know how I managed to do that, but I processed the documents to leave for Israel. I was frenzied, suffered from insomnia. I began packing my things. Everyday I was weighing my books as I didn’t want to leave them behind. Every day I was getting more and more doubtful, fearing to leave my motherland, Moldova. When our relatives from Israel, who invited us, wrote that the situation there was rather inauspicious, my mother said, ‘We aren’t going anywhere!’ The insomnia was gone and the load was off my mind. My dearest friend, my mother, passed away in 1994. I remained by myself.
When I start thinking about my life, I can’t say why I’m alone, or why I remained single. First of all, I was very shy and had an inferior complex and secondly, I wanted the maximum. I fell in love with interesting people, who paid no attention to me, and those who wanted to date me weren’t interesting in my view. That’s life.
Nonetheless, I’m not lonely now. I am a volunteer at Hesed. I work there once a week, hand out medicine and food. I got new friends and feel needed. I hold lectures in the daytime center. Here I hold a lot of lectures on different topics: poets, writers and on the places I’ve seen. I’m so happy to hear the words of gratitude for things I’m doing for people.
Now my life is multisided, on one hand there was the break up of the Soviet Union [in 1991]. It was a catastrophe for me, who liked to travel all over the huge USSR and who had friends in different parts of the country. Besides, there was a slump in the economy, and all of us became indigent and depending on the ‘alms’ from Hesed. On the other hand, there was a real opportunity to revive Jewish culture. I’m not a religious person. I don’t know either the language or the traditions, and it’s too late for me to change my views, but it’s good for the youth to be interested in the history of their people and culture. It’s so good that they go to the synagogue. A lot of different cultural and charitable organizations emerged uniting the Jews, helping them to survive both materially and spiritually. Recently, there was a festival of klezmer music in Kishinev. We marked the anniversary of Israeli independence in the best palace of Kishinev. The Ambassador of Israel and the President of Moldova were present. The anthem of Israel was played. There were fireworks in the city. I was happy. The only thing I regret is that my parents didn’t live to see that.