Today is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz [5708], 1948

I recall some more reminiscences that ought to be recorded.


The week [of Passover] brought some change into our lives. Afterwards, however, we returned to the usual routine.

Most residents there [in Chi’li] were Kazakhs, with a minority of Russian Christians who had been transplanted from Siberia. With the latter we were able to converse and interact. Besides the three Jewish deportees, however, no other Jews lived there.

Walking four kilometer under the burning sun

Every ten days, my husband had to report to the NKVD office to register and sign in. When it was a weekday, it was hard enough. But when the day coincided with Shabbat, we suffered terribly. Besides everything else, he was expected to bring along his [deportee] identity card. (His “passport”1 had been confiscated as soon as he was brought to trial). A female Christian deportee to whom we revealed our secret did my husband the favor of carrying it there [on Shabbat]. But the need to sign in2 created a serious problem.

Another Jewish deportee who was a Shabbat observer would write with his left hand, in somewhat illegible lettering. He would also bandage his right hand and claim it hurt him.3 On one occasion, the registrar told him that he noticed how his hand was in pain whenever his registration day coincided with Shabbat! He admonished the deportee not to forget his legal status or try to institute his own rules, and warned that, if he wouldn’t follow official rules, he would be deported to a remote a’ul,4 inhabited by half-primitive Kazakhs. He found this prospect terrifying.

The building where my husband had to register was four kilometers from our lodgings. He would make the trek there by day, through open fields under the burning sun. On his return, he would stagger into our room, barely alive, and immediately had to rest in bed.

On national holidays such as May 1,5 and the anniversary of the October Revolution,6 it was necessary to report there on three successive days. Every time he went, he was interrogated and had to be cautious in the responses he gave to their questions.

Swine more precious than children

Our “society” consisted of our landlady, who used to arrive home late at night, and her still young but hooligan children, from whom we suffered greatly.

As the sun would set, we could sit outside near our room and enjoy the evening air. But the landlady’s goats and pigs disturbed our repose. There wasn’t a single human being in sight. As my husband sat outside, he would select one of the sefarim7 I had brought, or, as I could discern, sit deep in thought. The roaming pigs, however, disturbed both these pursuits and, irritatedly, he would sometimes drive them away with his cane.

But this annoyed our landlady, whose pigs gave her much nachas.8 She once confided to me that her pigs were more precious to her than her children, for the simple reason that “from the pigs I will derive benefit, but from my children—what do I stand to gain?” So she was upset with my husband’s treatment of her pigs. On one occasion, she said to me viciously and spitefully, “Your husband doesn’t seem to like pigs. He even hits them with his stick.” After hearing that, we had to be careful how we treated her pigs, because getting her upset could get us into trouble.

What to eat?

Time didn’t stand still. The provisions I had brought were running low. The problem of where to get food became pressing.

Even today, when I am, thank G‑d, a hundred-percent sated, I still recall the pangs of hunger I experienced then. We wouldn’t talk about it but would glance anxiously at the now empty containers which had held our food. Most alarming was our lack of bread. I recall how we didn’t even see any bread throughout the entire month of May.

Our landlady was employed by privileged officials who had more bread than they needed. They gave her the extra bread, and when she came home, she gathered all her goats and pigs and her two dogs, and threw them morsels of bread.

As I recall that now, I am pleased by the self-control I mustered by not asking her to give me a piece of bread as well. I clearly remember how I would squeeze my hands together, trembling a little from hunger, while realizing how, for my husband, this actually represented a continuation of the year of hunger he had already suffered during his imprisonment. I have seen people who were once wealthy who became so impoverished that they came to the point where they actually begged for bread, may G‑d protect us from such wretched depths.

I took care to ensure that my husband shouldn’t see the landlady’s bag of bread. We used to break our old, left-over crusts into several pieces and dip them into water to soften them and make them edible. Gnawing at us was the thought, “What will be tomorrow?”

Every day we cut the crusts off the bread and saved them in a bag to keep them clean. Later we soaked and ate them. We even shook the crumbs from the tablecloth so that none fell to the ground, and used them for extra food to help leave us a little more satisfied.

To receive just one kilo of bread per person, which had to last us for three days, we had to wait many hours in line. We needed to get there really early in the day to receive that kilo, or sometimes even less, because often there wasn’t enough bread for those standing further back in the line.

Among those waiting in line were deportees of various ethnicities—Koreans, Kazakhs, Russians and many others. Each ethnic group worked determinedly to ensure that their fellow ethnics received bread, and occasionally fights even broke out between groups.

Every group of ten waiting in line would appoint a “supervisor” in charge of all ten. Usually, the first groups of ten in the line could be more confident that they would not have to leave empty-handed.

We both waited in line, because you weren’t permitted to receive bread on behalf of anyone else. To make sure my husband attracted no undue attention and appeared as ordinary as possible, I sewed for him, while yet at home, a proletarian-looking suit, and he wore an ordinary cap. But his face betrayed his secret as a personage worthy of special treatment, and often those in the first groups of ten invited him to join their group so that he shouldn’t have to stand too long. When anti-Semites, usually Russians, noticed this, they shouted out, “Hey, old man! Where are you pushing in?”

I couldn’t bear hearing this, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Receiving that kilo of bread was a “whole world” for in itself.

Intercession in Kzyl-Orda

As time went on, I began to plan my return home [to Dnepropetrovsk] for the purpose of taking care of our apartment and also to assure the continuous flow of material assistance from our community. In order to supply my husband with food parcels, I had to resort to all kinds of ruses. The food had to be obtained from cities which had a large range of products.

Yet not everyone could send food parcels to such a “criminal,” for doing so placed the sender in danger. Nevertheless, there were people, even high-ranking officials, whose fine character was revealed as, with true self-sacrifice, they literally endangered their lives. May G‑d reward them kindly for these good deeds. When I returned home, I took care of this as much as possible.

There was another, much simpler reason for my return home—to have one less person to feed. In order to enable my husband to seek food for one person only, we agreed that I should return home.

At that time, the summer heat was becoming unbearable. If my husband would remain alone, I feared he might not survive. Accordingly, I travelled to Kzyl-Orda, the regional seat of government, to try and intercede with the NKVD in the hope that perhaps he could be transferred there. That city had a community of Bukharan Jews, and the general living conditions were better than in Chi’ili.

In Kzyl-Orda, the community’s rabbi and shochet were brothers. By day they worked as shoe-shiners sitting in the street on their trademark stools, and when they finished their work, they assumed their sacred professions!

While there, I was fortunate to meet a Jew from Yekaterinoslav, who had been deported to Kzyl-Orda as a member of the bourgeoisie.9 When his sentence expired, he had settled down there, establishing a successful business and bringing his family to join him. He knew us well and was eager to assist us in any way possible. For kashrut reasons, though, I was unable to eat at his home. But he directed me to a former shochet from Homel who had been deported and, unable to return home after his sentence expired, had settled there. Accordingly, I ate at the shochet’s home and stayed with the family from Yekaterinoslav.

I spent ten days in Kzyl-Orda, trying to find some way to get permission for my husband to move there. Through a prominent lawyer recommended by my friends, I submitted a petition explaining that my husband was in poor health and required treatment available only in the large city. After all my intercessions, and after spending time there and visiting the NKVD office three times, asking diplomatic questions and receiving their responses, I received this final response: All medical treatment my husband needs is available in Chi’ili, and there is no need to transfer him anywhere else.

I found out, confidentially, that his dossier was marked with the order—“Must not live among Jews”!

In any case, as unpleasant as this was, his situation would have to remain unchanged. Having no other choice, I bought a few items unavailable in Chi’ili, and traveled back there.

When a situation isn’t good and you try to improve it but without success, it leaves you with a very negative feeling. But I swallowed that bitter pill, too.

I arranged with another Jewish deportee to move in with my husband on my departure, so that he would not be left completely alone.