Letters from friend in a German Office, Estonia - Telegraph
Many Estonians were in traditional costume as we stood singing, watching the . in the bitter cold weather briskly until they made it back to the mainland and their car .. The film Magnus gives a glimpse into the dark jaws of depression, a disease which . In September when the Russian armies closed in on Estonia. As we earnestly hope this slim but topically important volume will become an Object of Estonian Cultural. Heritage, rather front and back covers. Co- ordinator Europe from the end of World War II in until the . The Soviet occupation of Estonia in caused free .. a mushrooming of military installations to meet a. I never came across the surname Kaplun among Estonian Jews. There are a lot of . When the first movie theaters opened up, he took me there. Father loved.
Some of the most pleasant work must have been that in the forest at a lumber camp. Even though it was sometimes loading heavy logs on bogies, the open air combined with Red Cross food and heavy workers' rations kept the prisoners in a camp such as this very fit. They were far enough away from military headquarters not to be forced to work too hard; and sitting round a roaring fire toasting bread at lunchtime almost gave the illusion of a camp holiday.
Because of their remoteness the prisoners' living quarters, in old but snug farm buildings, were loosely guarded, especially in winter when it would have been very difficult for an escaper to get far without being detected. Prisoners often wandered alone to and from the work in the forest, and some were able in the evenings to visit Polish and German women living in the neighbourhood.
A sympathetic German guard is even said to have been seen in the early mornings filling in the prisoners' return tracks in the snow.
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One small party of 14 men, Arbeitskommandowas employed at the gasworks in Breslau, stacking and emptying gas purifiers. It was from this party that the first New Zealander 1 to escape from Germany proper made his successful break. He and another of the party got to know some Ukrainians in the factory and were able to obtain from them civilian clothes and a briefcase each in exchange for cigarettes.
On 23 September they changed into civilian clothes, one a little later than the other, scaled a wall, and walked down the road away from the gasworks. They each went by tram 1 Sgt B. French workers engaged in loading at the docks smuggled them on board a Swedish ship, on which they hid under coal in one of the holds.
On arrival in Sweden they were handed over to the police, but were able eventually to report to the British Embassy in Stockholm at the end of September The New Zealander was able to send back word to his companions of previous attempts that in his case the plan they had worked out together had succeeded.
Two of these companions, New Zealanders, 1 and a British Army man got away on 23 December from the working party billets in a cement works at Oppeln. One cut the wire surrounding the latrines and the other two scaled over the main gate. All were experienced escapers, who knew the German language fairly well and had made careful plans and secured the necessary equipment before leaving the stalag. They all travelled by train to Breslau and to Berlinshowing false identity cards as Belgian workers.
They went across Berlin by underground to a main station, but had to wait there for an Allied air raid to finish. Eventually they reached Stettin, where they stayed in a boarding house and managed to make contact with some Swedish sailors by going into a brothel. The latter agreed to smuggle them on board a Swedish vessel, which sailed on New Year's Day After five days crouched in a rope locker, they made their presence known as the vessel neared Sweden and were handed over to the police at Oselsund.
They spent a month at Stockholm under British protection and were flown out to Scotland in early February. The working party engaged on railway maintenance and construction at Oderburg put in a bad winter. They had to work in all weathers except heavy rain, and low temperatures made canvas gloves necessary to prevent their hands freezing on to the metal rails they had to carry. Though overcrowded until some of the men were transferred to a coal mine, their barracks were warm, for the surroundings in which they worked gave them ample opportunity to supplement their coal ration unknown to the guards.
When undetected by the guard, they were also able to obtain fresh food from the Polish and Czech civilians with whom they worked in exchange for cigarettes, tea, and coffee. With only three slow-running taps, it would have been very difficult to keep clean if Red Cross soap had not been available to use instead of the German putty-like soap ration. By the spring they had completed the German firm's contract and were allocated to another working 1 Dvrs E.
Silverwood both 4 Res MT Coy. Both received the MM for their efforts to escape. The Czech overseers, who replaced the German they had previously worked under, shortened their hours of work and treated them more reasonably. In mid-summer waves of Allied planes began to pass overhead and bomb the nearby industrial cities, and soon an air-raid alert became a daily occurrence.
Oderburg was a railway junction of some size through which passed supplies to the Eastern Front, and it was too important to be missed.
On 29 September the railway station, the yards, and main lines were heavily bombed. Five New Zealanders, together with a guard and a number of civilians, were killed when an air-raid shelter received a direct hit. The German authorities allowed them a full military funeral, with a guard of New Zealanders from the neighbourhood and the senior New Zealand chaplain 1 from Teschen.
Large numbers of prisoners had been employed since in the flat forest area south-east of Breslau, around Heydebreck and Blechammer, on the construction of a huge industrial centre. The scheme was under the control of the I. Farben group and was planned to realise the extraction of motor spirit and other by-products from coal.
In late some 25, prisoners and other foreign workers of both sexes and of many different nationalities were being used there. British prisoners were organised into large construction groups of about a thousand men known as Bau battalionsArbeitskommandos of about the same size from which gangs could be drawn for work where required, and smaller Arbeitskommandos for more permanent tasks scattered about the area.
By mid the stage of clearing and preliminary construction was over, and the demand was for skilled workmen to complete the detail of the giant project, and for more and more of the unskilled to go down the mines and hack out coal to feed into it. A working camp of a thousand was large enough to permit the organisation of most of the amenities of the stalag—music, library, theatre, and even school—and small enough to be capable of an esprit de corps that the stalag lacked.
A British camp of this size was allocated a British medical officer, and its well-being depended largely on the combined efforts of this officer and the camp leader. Insistence on adequate facilities for keeping clean and proper sanitation, apart from the treatment of minor ailments and the recognition of more serious ones, were all made easier by the presence of an officer skilled in a science which the Germans respected.
His protected status and his visits to small outlying sub-camps, to neighbouring towns, and to stalag made it possible 1 Rev. In E3 at Blechammer, the medical officer, a New Zealander, 1 was able over a period of two years not only to build up a very efficient medical service, but to play a large part in developing the general administration of a camp which earned a reputation for the well-being and high morale of those confined in it.
The working camp at the Gleiwitz aerodrome of some British Commonwealth prisoners was typical of those Arbeitskommandos which acted as maintenance unit and light labour force for the surrounding district. The duties of the men in this camp varied from digging water-mains in the town and building barracks on the aerodrome to unloading and stacking on the nearby canal and carting loads of bricks or sand.
They often travelled by train to work in TostQuellengrundand other neighbouring towns. The change of scene and the variety of jobs, many of them in the open air, gave them a great advantage over prisoners not so fortunately placed.
The German NCO in charge seems to have done his best to protect them against exploitation by civilian overseers, to help them in the organisation of recreation, and generally to see that they were reasonably treated. Here they were joined by small parties of other New Zealanders from various Arbeitskommandos in eastern Germany.
They took the place of most of the British, Cypriots, French, and Spanish who had been there for some years. Milowitz may be taken as typical of a good number of the mining camps, though not all of them had such bad conditions. The old mine shafts were in disrepair, the machinery was old, and there was a shortage of essential mining equipment such as lamps.
The place lacked washing facilities capable of coping with coaldust and there was a totally inadequate soap ration. Near the mine shaft were the barracks—dirty, leaking, insanitary, bug-infested—on a piece of ground where every blade of grass had long since given up the unequal struggle against scoria.
Discipline was in the hands of a German NCO of low mentality who was always threatening collective punishment and occasionally manhandling the prisoners. Their diet consisted mainly of swill soup, potatoes and bread, and the quantity would have been quite insufficient had it not been for regular supplies of Red Cross food parcels in the early stages.
Fortunately they were able to trade regularly with Polish civilians for eggs and other fresh food, and occasionally for liquor of a kind. Fresh farm produce compensated for the unpalatability of the German rations, and occasional schnapps provided an escape from the ugliness and semi-animal atmosphere of the mine. This illicit trading the German guards tried to circumvent by searches at the camp gates. As in many other camps, the arrival of newcomers with new ideas was resented by some of the old hands, and some clashes occurred.
Gradually, however, most of the original occupants were transferred elsewhere, and more New Zealanders kept arriving until there were more than of them. Old comrades who had not seen each other since the days of Crete met again and compared experiences.
Hours of actual work at the mine were long, usually eight and a half hours in the coal seam, preparations beforehand and cleaning up afterwards added another hour or two, and for a long time only one Sunday in four was a free day. This was later the subject of an official complaint when the International Red Cross Committee investigated all the German mining camps. Down in the mine prisoners were employed in pushing or shovel-loading trucks, working alongside Polish men and boys, sometimes ankle-deep in water.
There was much threatening with pistols by both Polish-born overseers and German guards in order to keep the prisoners working. But constant bullying of this kind failed to make much impression on men who by this time had several years of prisoner-of-war experience behind them, had been screamed at by guards, snarled at by Alsatian police dogs, and threatened with firearms too often page to be worried.
They shovelled the required minimum of wagonloads, less if they could deceive the overseer, and quickly learnt all the ways in which they could loaf on the job and get away with it. But work below was unpleasant and anyone who fell foul of a German guard was kept there for a long period.
The only accepted excuse for not working was incapacity through illness or injury, verified by medical examination. It seemed justified on the grounds of keeping men from working for the German war effort. But only five per cent of the camp strength was normally allowed off work at a time, and sometimes genuinely sick persons were forced down the mine to make up the work quota. The lot of the genuinely sick was made more difficult in any case if the Germans became suspicious of a succession of similar injuries.
The British medical officer and many of the men felt, moreover, that the spells from work should have been shared evenly among those in the camp.
The whole matter gave rise to some bitter arguments. Among men working under such conditions and on various shifts throughout the whole day and night, it was unlikely that artistic and intellectual recreations would flourish as they did in other camps. There were almost no facilities for reading, and even letters were short in mid Football and boxing matches held on the rare free days and an occasional concert were the only light relief from the weariness and monotony of a life of continual dirt, hunger, and oppression.
Against this drab background there was the brightness of the war news—consistently good throughout this period on all fronts. To back it up there were increasingly severe air raids, and evidence of the approach of the Russian forces in the digging of tank traps in the neighbourhood and the evacuation of prisoner-of-war camps to the north and east.
These things kept morale high, even when Red Cross food and cigarettes ran out and when the last quarter of the year brought rain and snow to add their share of discomfort. It was possibly through the inspiration of the good war news that the camp weekly newspaper Tiki Times 2 came into being in August and ran through 24 issues.
It became the camp's chief artistic outlet and an enthusiastic meeting voted to publish it after the war, a resolution that has since been carried out.
They were in a party of four who got out in September through an old escape tunnel cut from a disused mine working. The break was made late on the night of the 12th, and the four men lost no time crossing into Slovakia.
Here two of them were recaptured, but the two New Zealanders had the good fortune to meet in the hills near Mesto Slovakian partisans, who passed them on to the Allied military mission operating there. They were flown to Bari on 5 October. As in other camps, the end of the year at Milowitz saw the Germans tightening up security measures for fear of concerted action by prisoners under the influence of the good war news. There were stricter searches at the gate to detect illicit trading, and searches of the camp by guards or Gestapoin one of which a prisoner was caught with earphones listening on a secret radio.
Some timely Red Cross food, a concert, and a pictorial issue of the Tiki Times helped to bring some cheer into Christmas, and some illicit schnapps contributed to a noisy New Year's Eve. The prisoners began the new year with a strong complaint about the shortage of proper miners' boots, and many were allowed to remain above ground on this account. They followed it up by a concerted condemnation of the camp on letter-cards, in which almost everybody took part.
The immediate result was the return of all the cards to the camp by the commandant in a fit of rage. Nevertheless, a film was shown shortly afterwards in the newly-built concert hall for the first time, and half the day shift were allowed to remain on surface work.
As the snow fell deeper in the first days of January the news became steadily better, and rumours of the close proximity of the Russians were confirmed by the feverish digging of defences nearby. On the 18th a pitiful rabble of Jews from the adjacent Auschwitz concentration camp was herded past on the road. Next day E was on the march, the first stage of a gruelling kilometre trek which in the next three months took them across Czechoslovakia and into Bavaria almost to Munich.
In its strength was aboutof which more than a third, mainly NCOs and including some New Zealanders, were at the stalag, the remainder being spread over odd Arbeitskommandos. As for the other camp 1 Ptes W. Gilmour 27 MG Bn and R. McKinney 26 Bnboth mentioned in despatches for their escape. Prisoners were able to reap the benefit of the hard work put in while getting the camp in order following their arrival.
Until the latter part of the year there were ample supplies of Red Cross food, tobacco, and recreational material. Camp routine was well established, and all the various departments of a properly organised camp, from post office to barber's shop, from library to theatrical rehearsal group, from church to escape committee, were put into smooth running order.
In some ways they ran more smoothly than would be normal in civilian life, since in an NCOs' stalag or an oflag these were the only things to which the prisoner need devote his time.
At camps for non-working prisoners a full programme of recreational activities was essential if men were to have sufficient interests to occupy their time. While a large proportion of men engaged in outdoor sports as a means of keeping fit, the theatre was probably outstanding among indoor recreations in providing the most satisfying form of escape for the greatest number of prisoners. For at least the hour or two of the performance men could forget bedbugs, barbed wire, searches, police dogs, evening curfew, and the other annoyances that were all too insistent at other times.
But if they prevented a Christmas show, the Gestapo did little to eliminate traffic between prisoners and the outside world. For a few thousand cigarettes a group of New Zealanders bought a live sheep, which was in due course smuggled into the camp, slaughtered, and added to the Christmas menu. Only a few, notably those at coal mines, had more than a hundred British prisoners; but they were kept up to strength by the German doctor, who ruthlessly drafted out prisoners from the stalag whether or not they were pronounced fit by the British medical officers.
A group of about fifty were quartered in three rooms of an inn in the centre of Weisswasserwhere they had to manhandle electrical equipment destined for German airfields.
Such work was monotonous, and so was the stone-breaking done by another party at Greiffenberg. But in addition to outdoor sports at a village sports field, these men had page opportunities of swimming and visiting the cinema already noted at other German Arbeitskommandos.
Their surroundings both at work and at other times were freer and more pleasant than those of their fellow prisoners in stalags. A congenial party supplied with musical instruments, darts, and other equipment could pass their leisure hours pleasantly enough, and one man rates his time at a Silesian Arbeitskommando as the happiest of his prisoner-of-war days.
Such men had usually received information and equipment from the escape committee of the stalags they previously had been at. The only New Zealander 2 to succeed from a camp in this area left his billet at Munsterberg in the early morning of 14 July He made for the railway station wearing a civilian suit acquired from a Frenchman, and travelled by train to Breslau and on to Stettin.
Here he met a Swedish sailor, who guided him while he swam out to his ship and boarded it by a rope ladder. He hid in the airshaft of the ship's main funnel until he could safely disclose his presence and was landed at Kalmar, in Swedenat the beginning of August. Like most successful escapes from Germanythis was the last of a long series of attempts. About New Zealand prisoners of war spent in southern Austriathe great majority of them in working camps.
A good number of the latter, although they were recorded as being in Stalag XVIIIA at Wolfsberg, had never seen the stalag and knew it merely as the centre from which they were administered and obtained their relief supplies. The work of dealing with the needs of nine or ten thousand British prisoners working in more than Arbeitskommandos, as well as the thousand or so at the stalag, was an administrative task at all times heavy, and in often very intricate.
By the middle of that year some of the New Zealanders had begun their fourth year of captivity and some of the British Army prisoners their fifth. In spite of getting used to the routine, the length of captivity and the tension caused by anticipation first of the final Allied push and later by its completion began to tell on 1 From an article contributed to Interlude, an illustrated account of Stalag VIIIA edited by ex-prisoners from the camp and published in England in Fortunately byas in the camps already described, the organisation of Wolfsberg had reached a very efficient pitch.
The installation of a new drainage system had made sanitation much easier. The fittest of the German guards had been sent in late to one of the battle zones and their replacements were found to be susceptible to offers of cigarettes, soap, and chocolate. As a result, it gradually became possible to obtain almost anything desired in the way of fresh food or articles such as cameras, films, and radio valves, which had a special value in prisoner-of-war camps.
Discipline became the easiest it had ever been, until a morning check parade mustered only about eighty prisoners and the guards had to be called out to clear the barracks. If the discipline still continued fairly easy inthe German security was considerably tightened.
Representatives of working parties were restricted in their movements, chaplains were for a while prohibited from visiting work-camps except on entirely unacceptable terms, 2 and both the stalag and its Arbeitskommandos experienced more thorough searches than in any previous year. It still remained possible, however, for British prisoners liable to heavy sentences of imprisonment to be concealed in the stalag, 3 just as they were on a larger scale at Lamsdorf.
It was possible also to maintain radio reception of BBC news bulletins and so continue the daily camp news service, which became of increasing interest to prisoners as they felt that their time of liberation was approaching.
A stalag school catered for the latter and especially for those wishing to sit examinations. There was a sports field inside the camp, besides ample facilities for outdoor games on Sundays at most Arbeitskommandos.
A monthly cyclostyled stalag newspaper, the Pow Wow, published administrative instructions and information regarding Red Cross supplies in addition to topical articles, and the chaplains joined in the publication of the equivalent of a parish magazine. Both publications tried to help prisoners 1 Disciplinaire, a prisoner who had escaped or committed some other offence warranting a jail sentence.
He was usually sent to a special Arbeitskommando See p. On 19 December bombing of the stalag by Allied planes destroyed several barracks and killed a hundred prisoners. A majority of the men in the Arbeitskommandos in southern Austria had hitherto been engaged on farm work, but in the number used on industrial undertakings rose to 60 per cent: VeitGross Reifling and Selzstal.
Most men knew better than to refuse to do work permitted under the Geneva Convention. Such refusals had in the past produced savage sentences of three or four years at a military prison.
A whole working party which refused to parade because an overseer had broken his promise of an extra day off was cleared out of its billet with rifle butts and police dogs. On the other hand, a party which made a firm stand against loading a tank onto a railway truck had its appeal upheld by a German officer.
All lyceum students were members of Jewish organizations. In Tartu I was a member of Hashomer Hatzair . This organization was represented in Tallinn as well. A lot of my classmates were members of Hashomer. We took part in Estonian scout contests. In summer we went to Hashomer Hatzair scout camps. When we moved to Tallinn I entered the Jewish youth organization Maccabi . There were good gyms in that organization. I started attending rhythmic gymnastics there.
I had rhythmic gymnastics classes in Tartu, but they did not have such good facilities as in Tallinn. Our trainings took place in the university gym. We, schoolchildren, were interested in politics.
When the fascists came to power in Germany, we started boycotting German films; a lot of them were screened in movie theaters.
We even refused speaking German, though most of us were fluent in this language. I finished lyceum in at the age of I wanted to go on with my education, and was dreaming of going to the arts institute. The tuition was very expensive, and I could not afford it. Aunt suggested taking me as an apprentice in her workshop, but I did not like sewing and had no skills for that.
I decided that I would take any profession, but that. I became an apprentice of a famous hairdresser in Tallinn. Even the president had his hair cut there and the wives of all the diplomats were customers there. At that time, when the fascists came to power in Germany, fascism was trickling down here as well. They even did not want to hire me for being a Jew, but still took me as an apprentice for two months. Then one of their regular customers — a wealthy Jew — stood up for me.
She said if I was fired only because of my nationality then no Tallinn Jews would ever come to the salon. She was also supported by a rich German lady, who was also a regular customer. She said the nationality did not matter, the work did. Unfortunately, during my apprenticeship I was more involved in cleaning than in training. When I had spare time I was standing by the master and watching his work — beautiful hairdos. Once a week I attended a special school where I was taught to put wigs on and do make-up.
It was very interesting for me. Often I did not have to do my job, but be at beck and call for my customers, who were of different age — adult ladies and young girls like me.
While they waiting in line, they could send me to fetch cakes from confectionary or run other errands for them. When a customer was my age I sadly thought to myself — that she could do what she wanted — study and have no problems in life. I wanted to study, but could not afford it.
I wanted to banish those thoughts, as there was nothing I could do. If I was too focused on that, it would make my life unbearable. I tried to have a fully-fledged life the best way I could.
In the evenings I went to Maccabi for training. I dated a guy, my classmate from lyceum. My beloved and I went to the theater, cinema, dancing. I also attended English language courses. Now I cannot picture how I could cope with all that. In a year I met a young man, an artist. He looked at my drawings from school and said that I should become an artist.
I dropped my English language courses and went to the art studio instead. It was headed by Estonian sculptor, Voldemar Mellik. I attended evening art school courses. We painted nude models. He said that I had to study at the institute, which I could not afford. In my elder sister Rika, her husband and son came to Tallinn from Israel. Then Mother and Grandpa moved to Tallinn.
It was OK with me as I was out of the house most of the time. I spent a lot of time in Maccabi. We had a wonderful rhythmic gymnastics trainer and we succeeded in our performance.
We did not only tour Estonian cities we were also in Latvia and Lithuania. In we were invited to Finland. There was a large stadium in Helsinki constructed on the occasion of Olympic games, where in on the eve of the Soviet-Finnish War , an international gymnastics event was held with the participation of Estonian girls and boys. Our nine ladies from Maccabi, including me, also took part in the event. The audience was pleased. In Germany attacked Poland .
The war was over shortly after Soviet troops entered Poland. Then the Soviet Union attacked Finland. We followed the military actions and were worried for Finland. We were very happy when the war was over as Estonia always had very good relationships with Finland.
Then the Soviet government signed a non-aggression agreement with Germany [the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact]  and put pressure on the Estonian government to have military bases constructed on its territory .
Of course, at that time we did not know what it was for and felt calm. Many of those who were frightened of the intrusion of German troops in Poland even welcomed the idea of Soviet military bases in Estonia thinking it to be a pledge for peace. We knew that Jews were killed in Germany. By the middle of the s there were quite a few fugitives from Germany.
They said what was going on there.
At any rate, our family feared fascists much more than the Soviet Union. In Estonia became Soviet. In general, we had nothing against it as we knew hardly anything about Soviet life. All we knew were pretty attractive slogans. A lot changed when the Soviet regime was established in Lithuania. There were even changes for the better — the education was free, both secondary and higher.
It meant that my dream to study at the Art Institute would come true. In general, there were a lot of new interesting things. My friends and I were fond of that. I successfully passed entrance exams to Tallinn Art Institute, the art department. I did not have to pay tuition. Besides, I got scholarship. I could drop work and start studying. It was a happy year for me, I enjoyed drawing and the classes were not a burden, but a pleasure for me.
I managed to cover a two-year program within a year. I studied only for half a year at the first course, attending the classes for the 1st and the 2nd course and passed exams for both courses.
As for the painting classes, I was in the group with the students of the 3rd course. Khapson, the best Estonian artist, taught us painting. He became my tutor. He was my teacher for the whole time.
Khapson is still alive. He is 90 and he is still working! His workshop is in the house, where I am living. A museum with his paintings is also here. Our rector, Starkov, was a wonderful Estonian sculptor. He made sculptures from granite. After the war his workshop was in Tartu. Starkov was a very intelligent person, a good rector, treating the students very nicely.
I was lucky to have such teachers. Having finished the academic year, as per results of the exams, I was transferred to the third course. We had a Komsomol organization  at the institute and I joined it. I was a very young girl and was interested in many things. I also had some odd jobs — drawing slogans, pictures for wall papers.
At times I had to work from dawn till night. I was friends with the students and did not have any problems with anybody. The teachers also treated me very well. Of course, I was grateful to the Soviet regime, which let me study and do what I liked. At first, the Soviet regime did not oppress Estonian citizens in any way.
Kolkhozes  appeared later, and peasants were not oppressed right away. Enterprises were nationalized, and taken away from rich people. There were no wealthy people among my acquaintances and family, so we were not affected by that. We did not have our own apartment, but rented one. During the Soviet time, the houses were nationalized, but people were not evicted from their homes. At that time we had to share our apartment with another family.
It was called communal apartment . Before we did not have anything of the kind — people living with strangers in the same apartment. But we abided by that and with many other things. When on 14th Juneone week before the war, people were deported from Estonia , it was dreadful!
I remember it vividly. Nobody was deported from our family, but we feared it! People shared with each other the news about deportation on that scary day and were afraid for themselves. Everybody understood that it was just a beginning. Most likely there would have been more deportations if on 22nd June Germany had not attacked the Soviet Union . At that time I destroyed all photos which were connected with Betar , Hashomer Hatzair.
At that time I understood that those pictures would be the evidence against me. I kept only some snapshots of performances of our Maccabi gymnastics group. I regret it so much; I should have hidden those snapshots. Grandpa died two weeks before the war. He was buried in the Tallinn Jewish cemetery according to the Jewish rite.
At that time we were mourning over him. Only later we understood how happy he was to die at home, among people who loved him, having been buried decently, not in a common grave in evacuation. Rika and her husband left Estonia in late They went back to Israel. When we found out that the war was unleashed, we decided to leave Estonian immediately. In the late s there were a lot of fugitives from Germany in Estonia, who told us that the fascists killed Jews. We understood, that we would be killed if we stayed.
Without any doubts we packed our things within one night. They escorted the Tallinn hospital, which was evacuated there. Aisik took our things and left. We agreed on a place where we would be able to find them in Leningrad.
They left and in couple of days Mother, Sarah, her husband and her one-year-old son went to the train station. We took the train to Leningrad, but we did not reach there. At Kacha station we were rerouted to another train heading for Ulianovsk, Kuybyshev. They did not want to let Estonian fugitives into Leningrad.
We had no things at all as we had counted on getting them in Leningrad. We only had evacuation certificates and passports on us. The final destination was Kuybyshev, but we got off the train in Ulianovsk. Only several Estonian families got off the train there.
At the evacuation point we were asked for our identification and intentions. Then we were sent to a local house in a kolkhoz where fugitives from Polish concentration camps were living.
After a while our family was sent to the kolkhoz Kremlevskiy, 25 kilometers away from Ulianovsk. My sister and I were given assignments for work at school. My sister was offered to teach German and I — to teach drawing.
My mother and sister were fluent in Russian and I was not. Owing to my Russian teacher at the lyceum I knew the rudiments. It did not take me long to learn Russian, but I was not very literate. I am still ashamed of my Russian grammar. But still, I know something. It is a beautiful and interesting language. I like Russian literature particularly. We lived in that kolkhoz for half a year. Our family was given a small ramshackle house, but we could not live there as it was teeming with bedbugs.
We found a vacant room at school and moved in there temporarily. Then we were provided with a new lodging — a nice clean house not far from Volga.
We lived from hand to mouth. We were saved by the under harvested crops in the fields — we picked peas, wheat ears and ate them. The locals also helped us, though they did not have enough for themselves. By that time, my brother-in-law Aisik and his brother came. They took the patients and staff of the hospital and then they were free to go. They did not meet us in Leningrad, but found us via the information bureau for evacuees in Buguruslan. Aisik started working at the factory and rented a room from a Tartar for the whole family.
I liked them a lot — they were very kind and sincere. Russians were also very good people. But still there were some rascals, who informed the NKVD  against us saying to check our things. They searched our apartment, but of course they did not find any things that were banned.
In October the Germans came closer to Moscow. The commanders understood that they would not be able to stop the Germans and started making anti-tank fortifications. A lot of women and teenagers were involved in that. Those fortifications were made 50 kilometers from Ulianovsk. We were taken there by train. We were followed by another train with young guys, who were heading for the front. There were even schoolboys among them. That trained stopped by ours. The ladies, who were heading for construction works, got off the train, hugged those boys and gave them some food they had.
All of us cried, understanding that the guys were to face death. They did not even have rifles, and they were to be in the lines fighting against well trained and well-armed soldiers. We were given spades, hoes for digging anti-tank trenches.
It was cold, the land was frozen and it was very hard to dig. First we had to work with a hoe and then use a spade. We did not have a place to stay; we had to sleep on the earth.
No food was taken to us. We even did not have bread for a week. We had to pick some roots and herbs in the forest nearby. An elderly lady and her daughter and some 13 to 14 boys evacuated from Leningrad were working closely with me.
That elderly lady shared all food she had. I will never forget her. We exerted our every effort, but there were hardly any results. In a couple of days the lady said that we should leave as our work was futile and dangerous for our life. We had to walk for 50 kilometers. It was a harsh winter. We walked along dug anti-tank trenches and the trip seemed endless to us.
There were a great many people involved in digging. I got really cold and was unwell for a while. I almost died, but I had a young organism and survived without any medicine. When I got better, I went to work at the military plant.
There we were given food cards , which allowed us to get twice as much bread than for civil work. It was very important as there were three of us and I was the only one who was working. Of course, it was not enough. We were hungry, but the cold was even worse. The parents and brother of Aisik lived in evacuation in Middle Asia. They often wrote to us and we knew that it was warm there.
It was the main reason for our decision to move there. Mother, Aunt Sarah, my sister Masha and her son moved there first. Aisik and I were to follow them later. We were supposed to work for a certain time after submitting our notice.
He said that he had a lot of friends in Moscow, who taught at the art academy.
He gave me their addresses. He told me to drop by them and say hello from him if I were in Moscow. He said they would help me continue my education in Moscow.
At that time, I was not thinking of Moscow as I was on the point of leaving for Fergana [Uzbekistan, about km from Moscow]. We had been traveling for two months. We took the train heading for Fergana, but reached Samarkand. We had to spend a day there before we could take a local train to Fergana. I went to take a walk in the city. It was a beautiful and peculiar place.
It was the first time when I saw oriental architecture and paintings. I was carried away and got lost. I asked for directions, but the local people did not understand me as their Russian was also bad. I reached the mosque and noticed some people who did not look like locals.
I heard them speaking Russian. I went up to them and asked where they were from. I learned that they were from the Moscow Academy of Art which was evacuated in Samarkand. I took out the note which I had gotten from Starkov and asked whether there was such and such a person among them. They told me that it was the rector and took me to him.
He asked me about him and myself and suggested that I should stay in Samarkand and study at the academy. It was very alluring for me, but I decided to find my family first and then, if I had a chance, I would decide to move to Samarkand to study. They saw me off to the train station, but the train to Fergana had already left. The next day I went to the train station once again. There were no tickets, but crowds of people intending to leave, but failing for a number of times.
I was lucky that a guy working at the train station took pity on me and pushed me in the car when the train was starting to move. When I came to Fergana, I went to the evacuation point to ask where my relatives were living. It turned out that they had not reached there yet, though they had left much earlier than me. I happened to be in a strange city alone. A bullock-cart cabman took me to the market on the central street which was called Lenin, as it was common in Soviet times.
I started roaming about the city without knowing what to do. There are such amazing coincidences! He suggested that I should live with him. I had stayed there for two weeks before my relatives arrived. Aisik also came after me. It turned out that his brother and he caught typhus on the train and were hospitalized in Samarkand. Aisik survived, but his brother did not. We found a place to live. Mother and Aunt Sarah were very weak and elderly, so it was hard for them to work.
I understood that I would be the only bread-winner of the family and started looking for a job. I found a job as a hair dresser. Before our departure, I took all the instruments with me, I even had rollers for making hair curly.
I was gladly offered a job. In spite of hard military times, I had a lot of clients. All kinds of ladies! The doctors from the rear hospital, wives of militaries, evacuees, women of easy virtue… All of them were very different, but willing to look good.
Women wanted to remain feminine and I really liked the fact that I could help them. I tried to do my best especially when ladies wanted to have their pictures taken to be sent to their husbands to the front. I was very pleased when the lady showed me the letter from her husband saying how beautiful she looked. There were so few joys at that time, so I was happy for making someone feel good!
Apart from that work I also had some odd jobs. Twice a week I gave drawing lessons at the Pioneer House , made inscriptions on gravestones, painted posters, slogans. I worked till night. Then I got lucky. The Moscow theater named after Lenin was evacuated to Fergana from Moscow. I found out that there was a vacancy for an artist.
I offered my services and was employed. I made posters, decorations. It was not complicated. In I got a letter from the Estonian government. I was offered to go take classes at the art institute in a city in Bauhinia, near Oaf. Of course I felt so happy. It was my cherished dream. Mother and Aunt Sarah got food cards for dependents. There were few products and they would have died if I had not worked. I could not leave them by themselves. He went through the war and finally he took part in the liberation of Estonia from the fascists.
The Estonian corps liberated Tallinn from German troops and moved farther, to the islands. Masha often got letters from her husband. She got the last letter from him after his death. He was killed in action on Sharma Island. His elder brother Samuel told us about it after the war. He was a military doctor in the Estonian corps.
Samuel saw Aisik walk into a mine field and he was blown up. After battles the soldiers of the Estonian corps buried their perished friends. In the s Shmuel immigrated to the USA.
Some of them were killed in action, others murdered by Germans in Estonia. We came back home in winter Estonia had already been liberated from the fascists. We had the certificate saying that we were evacuated from Tallinn and the militia in Fergana issued us a permit to go back. The winter was very cold, and the cars were barely heated.
When we came to Moscow, our train was on the sidetrack for ten days. It was 30 degrees below zero, and it was not much warmer in the cars. Then our train was help up in Leningrad for a long time. Finally we reached Tallinn. She let us live in her apartment until we would get a new one.
Estonians treated us very well. The neighbors took our things after we left and when we came back they returned all of them.
We even did not ask for them. The brought our furniture and other things. Aunt Sarah stayed with Masha. Mother and I returned to our apartment. We shared one room, but still we were happy to be back.
We were happy that our miseries and wanderings were over. When we came back to Tallinn, I found out about the dreadful fate of three Estonian Jews, who were not willing to get evacuated. There were very many of them. People did not believe those atrocities committed by Germans, thinking it to be Soviet propaganda, concocted against Jews whom they hated.
That is why many people stayed, in Tallinn in particular. Jews fled from Tartu; those who stayed were executed soon. In Tallinn it took Germans a month to get all the Jews for execution. Men were kept in Tallinn prison, women and kids in the camp near Lake Harku . He was the one who convinced Jews that there were no reasons for escaping from Germans, saying that it would not be worse than under the Soviet regime. He admitted that Jews might be oppressed in some way and restricted, but that he did not think that Germans, cultured and civilized people, killed Jews!
Doctor Gomer and his family stayed in Tallinn. He was killed by Germans on the first day of the occupation. His entire family was murdered. Mother had a friend from childhood. Before she met Father, she even wanted to marry him. That man stayed, because he could not leave his paralyzed sister. He was killed on the street. There were many stories like that. So many of my friends and pals from lyceum and Maccabi died.
Some of them were killed in actions, others in Tallinn… Not only the Germans exterminated Estonian Jews. When we came back to Tallinn, we got the documents of his death. It was a story, which was even covered in the newspapers: They identified the names of the perished and German was among them.
Nobody doubted that they were shot by Germans. Only many, many years later we found out the truth. Those people were arrested by Soviet people before the outbreak of war.
Now it is not important. They were executed by the Soviet regime before the German occupation of Estonia. Some of my pals from gymnasium got back from evacuation, from the front. One guy whom I was seeing during my studies at the lyceum also came back. We even wanted to get married after the war. He was drafted into the army during the first days of the war.
He was a military interpreter, then he was a reconnoiterer during the blockade of Leningrad . We wrote to each other during evacuation. Once I sent him a letter with pictures of me and my friend Reima who studied at Tartu school with me.
She was in evacuation in Fergana, so we met there. In his letters he told me that the Estonian should write letters to him. Reima was very beautiful and my friend liked her. They often wrote to each other. After the war he found her and they got married. It was a shock for me. Before going to the front he told me to wait for him and I did. He did not keep his word.
My pain is gone and good reminiscences are left. Finally, he brought a lot of good things in my life. In early s Reima and her husband left for Israel. Shortly after our return I resumed my studies. The Art Institute was open again and the rector, Starkov, came back from the evacuation. I did well, even got my scholarship increased because of excellent marks.
I met my future husband, Victor Mellov, during my studies. My classmate Markovich came back from the front and found me. He studied at the legal department of the university and Victor had studied with him before. They were friends and Markovich introduced me to him. We liked each other and started dating. Both of us were very busy and we saw each other seldom in the evening. We had to get ready for our studies. Usually we met in the morning on the way to classes. We walked, talked and sometimes got so carried away that we were late for classes.
We did not want to part. We decided to get married, but both of us were studying, had no money other than the scholarship, and no apartment. It was not the only obstacle. Victor was Estonian, born in in Tallinn. His father was a joiner, his mother did not work. His natural mother died young and Victor wars raised by his stepmother. His fate was very hard. Victor went to the lyceum, but could not finish it as he had to work. He worked in the harbor as a sailor on a small ship.
He and his friends were concerned and they decided to reach Finland by boat. Of course, it was a crazy idea, but they succeeded. Victor was not in the camp of Estonian fugitives in Finland. His relative lived in America. He was the captain of a ship. Victor decided to take a ship to Sweden, wherefrom he could get to America and find his relatives. Victor and his friends were captured by Germans in Finland. Victor was there for eight months. He was afflicted with typhus and was about to die.
They also took some Estonian guys from prison. Victor was released from prison and mobilized. I do not know what would have happened to Victor, if his parents had not interfered. They persuaded an Estonian surgeon to operate on Victor and remove his appendicitis.
While Victor was in hospital, the Germans had left Tallinn. Thus, he was saved. Later, Victor wrote in his books: If you cannot find a way out — talk to people and they will always help you. He is a very talented writer. The fact that Victor was in Finland during Soviet times, was in his ways. He did not conceal this fact and openly wrote about it in his forms. The Soviet regime found it very suspicious, as they did not know what he was doing there … In general, all people who were abroad were under suspicion.
That is why Victor was not admitted to the Party, even though he was a Komsomol member. They had a practical vision: Besides, we did not have a place to live. My mother was flatly against my marriage to an Estonian. She did not think of the material side of things. Aunt Sarah was also against it, but not as ardently as mother.
We got married in Of course, we did not have a posh wedding. It was the time of hunger and the attitude of our kin did not allow us to feel like having parties. After the registration of our marriage we came home, to the room where I was living with my mother. The three of us shared one room. I finally resumed my previous relationship with Mother only after my son Oleg was born inwhen I finished my studies. Oleg reconciled us all.
In general, they were happy to have a grandson. My father-in-law was a good person. He often sat in for my pictures. My mother helped me a lot. She took care of my son Oleg and loved him. When in my daughter Zoya was born, Mother did not like her as much. She took after my mother-in-law: Oleg looked like my father. I chose Russian names for my children.
The main character was Oleg. I named my son after him. My daughter was named after the famous partisan Zoya Kosmedimianskaya, who was shot by Germans. My husband did not mind that, but our relatives were not pleased. Anyway, none of them bore a grudge. It was difficult for me to find a job. It was a hard time for the Jews: When I was a student, I started making posters, took part in the exhibitions, even got a prize for my poster devoted to the Days of Estonian Culture, taking place in at Tallinn stadium.
Besides, I liked making illustrations for books, especially for children. I was given an assignment for probation — to make illustrations for fairy tales. The art council approved of my work, but still I was not hired. The director did not like Jews and did not even conceal it. I made posters dedicated to some memorable dates, events, but mostly they were political.
I made many of them. Each of my political posters was to be approved by the central commission of the communist party of Estonia. They were supposed to put a stamp on my sketch with a note that it was ideologically correct. I never held back that I was a Jew. Knowing that in the Soviet Union it is dangerous to keep in touch with relatives abroad , I still mentioned in my forms that my sister was living in Israel.
I was never persecuted, even during the campaign against cosmopolitans. I did not have any conditions to do my job — the three of us were living in one dark small room. When I received a prize for my poster, I was given a room in the graphics workshop. I think that in Estonia the campaign against cosmopolitans was not as spread as in other parts of the USSR.
In Estonia the Soviet regime mostly struggled against Estonian nationalists — they were considered to be protesters against Soviet occupation. I think those nationalists were randomly selected. The rector of our Art Institute, Starkov, was accused of nationalism. I took the floor against his expulsion during the general meeting of the members of the Artist Council.
I said that I had known him for many years and he had never dealt with politics and the things he was accused of, that he just always worked on sculptures. I said he was a great sculptor, a wonderful teacher and Estonia should take pride in him.
My speech got fervid feedback in the Artist Council. The secretary of the party organization called me on the carpet and said that I was wrong, going against the Party.
He demanded that I should take my words back in public. I was called twice to the central party committee and every time I left a letter where I indicated that the charges against Starkov were spurious. He was a great rector and teacher. None of his student can say a bad word about him. I thought that at least they would expel me from the Party, but to my surprise it did not happen.
I was in constant fear. In there was the second deportation of Estonian citizens. This time the farmers were deported — those people who worked from dawn till sunset. Collectivization started in Estonia . It was not common for us. Peasants lived with their families on separate farmsteads.
Those who were against joining a kolkhoz, were deported. Estonia was also affected by that. There were a lot of people from the Soviet Union who came to Estonia after the war. They did not doubt a single word spoken by the Party. If the Party said, it was true that the Jewish doctors were murders, then this inferred that all Jews were bad.
At that time I was a member of the board of Artist Council, and dossiers of some of the Jewish artists were under consideration at our general meetings. I was not called for such meetings but still I got many anonymous insulting letters.
My husband also got defamatory letters saying how he, an Estonian, could have married a Jew. After that there were rumors in town regarding the deportation of Jews.
Some even said that special trains heading for Siberia were ready for the Jews. I was sure that I would be deported. Not only I, but my mother and aunt would not stand that trip.
Those were hard times! Thank God, we got away with that. When I found out about his death, I took it as personal grief. I understood that something was wrong in the Soviet Union, but I did not associate it with Stalin. I sincerely believed that we survived the war owing to him, thinking that he took care of us, USSR citizens, doing his best for us to have a good living.
I thought his death a tragedy for me and for the entire country. I cried, and other people as well. I had a feeling as if a close person had died.
Till We Meet Again
At first, his speech was not published and even party members did not know what had happened. Then his speech was partially covered in the press. When I read it, I was almost killed by the news. The people who were in exile during the first deportation instarted coming back. There was another deportation inwhen the peasants unwilling to join kolkhozes were deported.
Those few who survived the Gulag  also came back. Their stories were full of horror! So many people were killed, so many worthy people were sent to the camps by Stalin!
Probably some people knew about it when Stalin was alive, but they were afraid to talk about it. Most of them preferred to keep their mouth shut. At any rate there was a constant interference in the life of our family. During the war my husband was in Finland and he was always blamed for it.
I was not trusted either: I had a sister in Israel and according to the Soviet notions I could not be trusted. After the war Rika and I did not write letters to each other, as we were afraid. Soon we resumed our communication.
Of course, I understand that our life in the Soviet Union was not quite right: After the Twentieth Party Congress my belief in the Party was undermined. I understood that I should quit as it would be hard for me to find a job. My colleagues always treated me very well.