A trial over a piece of bread

Soon,1 however, my husband’s need to eat became pressing. The deportees were not provided with bread, nor could it be bought even with money. Once, when he was at the train station, he saw bread being sold to those entitled to receive it. He noticed a Communist party member who, due to his high position, was entitled to a double food ration. My husband asked if he would sell him a piece of bread, while letting him keep the soup and meat portion of the ration. The Communist agreed, and for a sum of money sold him a piece of bread.

An official observed the criminal activity of doing business with food rations. He immediately called over the buyer and seller, and wrote down their names for the purpose of issuing them a summons to face trial.

The fear my husband experienced was very understandable for, so soon after arriving at a new place of residence, he had now committed a new “crime.”

He awaited the day of his court appearance with great trepidation. Although I don’t remember all the details of the trial, it proceeded, relatively speaking, quite leniently, for they couldn’t accuse the seller too severely.

This happened before my arrival.

The danger of losing my home in Dnepropetrovsk

After my husband’s deportation, at the end of the month of Shevat, I spent about a month preparing suitable clothing, and setting our Dnepropetrovsk apartment in order.

It greatly affected my health when, soon after my husband’s deportation, the government sought to confiscate our apartment. Firstly, I needed a place to live and, above all, I was protecting our home in the hope that my husband would soon return and everything would be as it was before.

Obviously, as the wife of a deported “counter-revolutionary,” my legal status had been severely diminished. This upset me very much.

Fortunately, the official responsible for our building, a Jewish Communist, was indescribably friendly towards me. Risking his position and livelihood, he fearlessly took steps both legal and illegal that enabled me to keep the apartment.

Once it was confirmed that I could remain there, I took in a boarder for one of the rooms, while I stayed with Rochel in the other rooms. After accomplishing all this, I began preparing for my journey, and a week after Purim,2 I left [Dnepropetrovsk] to join my husband.

Passing through Moscow

In accordance with the railroad route, I first travelled to Moscow and stayed there for Shabbat. The trip from Moscow to Chi’ili took another five days. I managed to take along Passover utensils, kosher for Passover chicken fat, matzoh and wine. Under the circumstances, all this was most difficult to accomplish.

In Moscow I obtained bread and potatoes. By permission of an acquaintance who worked for the NKVD (secret police), I bought a considerable supply of food at a special store where ordinary citizens were not privileged to shop. Thus I had food supplies to last us for some time.

Through another acquaintance who had connections in high-level government departments, I got a ticket for a train scheduled to arrive in Chi’li before Shabbat. It also wouldn’t arrive at night—even by day it was quite difficult to alight from the train and walk, for it was almost impossible to lift one’s feet out of the mud.

The warmth, empathy and devotion shown to me by our acquaintances and close friends in Moscow gave me the strength to bear all the difficulties.

Upon my arrival in Moscow, I left my luggage at the train station and went straight to the Office of the Prosecutor to file an appeal for my husband’s sentence to be lifted. I was told to return two days later, on Friday.

I returned at the designated time. Words cannot describe the emotions I experienced while waiting and after I was finally admitted to meet the “chief” himself. Hundreds of people were waiting, each with a bitter heart—all wishing to improve their family member’s situation and apprehensive of the great dangers involved.

I was called in and was received very courteously. But despite the polite manner of speech, the heart of anyone depending on the favors of these officials doesn’t cease its rapid beating even for a moment.

After hearing my appeal, the officials promised to review my husband’s file and to mail their decision to my home address.

Accompanied by their promises, yet with a heavy spirit—like everyone submitting similar requests—I went to the apartment where I was to stay for Shabbat. I was scheduled to leave on the next leg of my journey on Saturday night at midnight.

A five-day journey

When it was time to leave, some fifteen acquaintances and close friends came to escort me to the train station. There they employed all kinds of ruses to let me board the train with all my packages, since taking many bags was forbidden. After paying the porter handsomely, my packages were loaded onto the train.

My journey was due to take more than five days. One of the friends accompanying me to the station handed a gift to the female conductor in charge of my train carriage, asking her to keep an eye out for me for the duration of the trip and to supply me with hot tea and the like that had no kashrut problems.

Among my fellow passengers were prominent businessmen and educated people, professors at the newly established universities in the capital cities of the distant Asiatic Soviet republics.

I told no one of my destination or to whom I was traveling. On the fifth day, as my time to disembark approached, I told them I was going to meet my son, who worked at the local municipality.

“A hole in my heart”

When it was time to disembark, my fellow passengers carried my luggage and then waited for my son to arrive for me in his car. While waiting, they described the region’s awful living conditions, the heat, mud and mosquitoes, and the malaria, which takes many victims.

To their surprise, however, my son’s car did not appear. Instead, my husband, of blessed memory, came to meet me, together with another Jewish deportee. I was immensely happy to see him, though his appearance and unfamiliar clothing, the total change in his face and the apparent change in his whole personality, bored a hole in my heart, as the saying goes. Despite all, however, we both strengthened ourselves and kept our spirits up.

A small room in a wretched village

Now began the process of “settling down,” as it is called, and getting everything I had brought to our place of residence. This took several days to organize, for there was almost no one to do it for us. Eventually, a somewhat uncouth Kazakh agreed to carry the heavier items on his shoulders, while the rest was carried by the three of us—my husband, myself and the other Jew.

Traversing the two kilometers of sticky mud was extremely difficult; walking through the mire was very arduous. Nevertheless, we all arrived without mishap.

The village was appallingly poor. When the villagers saw our many packages, they concluded that we were very wealthy. But their attitude towards the deportees was not a bad one, so they regarded us forgivingly, not treating us as harshly as they would treat the truly rich.

Our room was in the home of a Tatar3 family, which consisted of a husband and wife and their young child, a boy. To get to our room, we had to pass through a hallway wet with mud and dark due to swarms of flies. From there we had to pass through the couple’s bedroom and dining room.

I started a fire with small pieces of wood I gathered, and took out a kettle to boil some tea. Before drinking hot water, we had to wait for the water to settle and the sediment to fall to the bottom of the glass. In time we got used to it, but the first time it made a most unpleasant impression.

As we drank the tea, the non-Jewish wife and her child sat close by, there being no door between our room and theirs. Still, the two of us had much to discuss after such a hard year.

As night fell, we had to think about getting some rest. Our only lighting came from a small oil-filled lamp. We ate supper and prepared a pitcher of water—which was a great accomplishment—for negel vasser in the morning. I draped the two windows with whatever I could find from what I had brought, and hoped to get some rest. But we immediately began suffering from a new problem—biting insects. Despite everything, however, we managed to get a little sleep.

Upon arising in the morning we started to follow what was to become our daily schedule.

Late in the afternoon, we would spend time at the train station—the only place that livened up our lives. There was a particular bench around which the deportees gathered. There were only two Jewish deportees living there, my husband, of blessed memory, and another, a member of the Kiev intelligentsia and former Bundist,4 who had spent almost two years in prison. The other deportees were from a variety of ethnicities.

They were all aware of my arrival. Relations between them were very friendly and crossed ethnic lines; they were united by their memories.

Once, an engineer, a Russian Orthodox Christian, grabbed hold of my husband’s beard and asked him, “How did your beard remain unshaven? In my cell, there was a prisoner whom the guards beat because he didn’t let them shave his beard. For refusing, they shaved off all his hair.”

We would sit together until 10:00 p.m., when everyone would return to their places of lodging.