Manya K. – Grodno, Belarus

GRODNO, Belarus – July 2006

Greetings …Enormous thanks to you for the letter and for what was in it…

For two weeks the temperature stayed at 33-34 degrees C. This was Israel in Byelorussia. But since we are not used to such heat, plus we had our hot water turned off as a preventive measure precisely at the time of the worst weather, it was not even Israel but the Saharan Desert. But yesterday we had a shower and the temperature dropped 10 degrees, so that, now that I write you, this little bit of communication will not melt, and like a bird I hope it will fly from me to you.

I promised in my last letter that I would write about my life…

My mother and father had five children. When the war started the oldest was eleven, the youngest two. They evacuated us. My grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side were burned alive in the hut into which were chased all the Jews who didn’t want to leave their native and familiar places. Before departure, when my parents pleaded for them to all leave together, they answered, “The Germans are an intelligent nation, we didn’t do anything bad to them, we will not leave behind on their account that for which we worked all our lives.” Mama told us that not having gone more than 10 kilometers from their native places, they saw a glow and smelled burning human bodies. Among them were her parents, my grandfather and grandmother. About my grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side nothing is known. Most likely they ended up in the ghetto. We traveled for a very long time to the Saratov region. On the way my oldest sister was lost. Our train had stopped at the station and my sister ran to get some water. Suddenly a bombardment began, the train immediately began to move… and my sister was left behind. There was no hope that she remained alive after the bombardment. We left convinced that one of my mother’s children had already been taken by the war.

We were already en route for six months; the train would move for an hour and stand for a week. So once we stopped at one of the stations. Mama, as she told us, got off on the platform. On the opposite track a military train was slowly passing in the other direction. The wagons were flashing by and for some reason mama looked very attentively into the windows of each one. A mother’s heart. You can’t fool it. And suddenly there was a childish cry: “Mama, Mama!” It was my sister Fanya calling out from the passing wagon. Soldiers’ hands grabbed the child and practically threw her from the train. My mother cried out so loudly that I still remember her cry to this day. Soldiers had picked up my sister when she left the train [6 months earlier] and she had been traveling with them along the paths of the war, until her path crossed ours.

This is one of the episodes from the life of my family as we made our way to our designated places. Something terrible happened to each of us children. But all five of us survived and as soon as our native places were liberated, we headed home. The route back was less dramatic.

At one of the junction stations, I really don’t even know how we managed, but a new pair of red shoes was bought for me. I ran around in them, happy, until we got back on the train. I remember that my eyes never left the bag where Mama made me put the shoes, saving them so they would still be new when we arrived home…and then we were there, in our native place. The smell of our native place made us drunk. June, warm, everything native [“rodnoy”]. We arrived at night. We were allowed to rest on the train until morning. Mama put the bag (that is all that we took with us) under her head, we put our heads on mama’s stomach… and we all fell asleep in a minute. Later Mama, justifying herself, would say, “Nu, every dog knew us here, the native air caressed our cheeks, I never would have thought…”. The fact of the matter is that someone stole the bag out from under Mama’s head. We had traveled with this bag for four months all over Russia, she had guarded it so carefully, we all mourned so, and there you have it, our native place made us drunk, and we were robbed…robbery, always robbery.

Lord, how I cried over my red shoes. Mother could not calm me. For these were my first such beautiful, such red shoes. At that time my mother cried with me, and then having become a grandmother, she told her grandchildren about this and the tears poured down her already grandmotherly face, and now when I write to you about this, my eyes are also wet, in fact these children’s shoes are right before my eyes along with Mama’s tears, which she didn’t even notice and didn’t wipe away…

Later, when I lived with my parents, and later, when I would come to visit them, I would hear from my father’s mouth: “You should tell how you slept through the bag and left your children cold and hungry!”. This was the most terrible reproach of my mother [that ever came] from my father’s mouth. Sad, right? Then we had more than enough of what was sad and what was funny. Something kind of lopsided about it all. Well, so it is, I won’t rewrite it…

When we returned to our home, we found ashes. Our entire little town was burned. To nothing. But what happiness it was with tears in our eyes that we were home, although no one had any houses. And so we began to live in earthen huts.

So you see, in order to write in detail about my life, more than one sheet of paper is needed. So there will be a continuation in the next letter. And in the next letter I will try to describe things more briefly.

My good, so dear [“rodnoy”] ones. I wish you health, I wish you everything good that there is on Earth.

Ach, if I could embrace you. Again, please, be healthy.

Manya Anatolievna

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