On the 18th of September Kyiv was empty. There was a rumor in Kyiv: there was not a governance in the city. Soviet troops went on the front, the Germans did not appear. People rushed to the center. I was passed with a crowd on Khreschatyk, were began widespread looting of shops: people tore locks, smashed shop windows, dragged everything that came to hand - on the carriage, wheelchairs, stretchers, carts. Everyone around became brutal. I remember, I managed to grab two brushes - one for shoes, the other one for clothes. Rushed to the central deli that was on the contrary - to get food. The deli was empty, only a few ripped bags and sprinkled cereal was there. But there stood untouched racks - cans with crabs. I took a couple of cans: go home with empty-hands was comfortless. I returned home at night.
On the 19th of September, early in the morning I ate quickly and went on the street, to hear the news. I went to Lvivs’ka Street, where were a lot of people, and met our neighbors there.
- Why are you running here? – They asked me. - The Germans are in Kyiv ...
- What did you say? The Germans? There were no shots, no fight, nothing, and suddenly – The Germans!
- The Germans are in Kyiv.
- Where are they?
- They are on Khreschatyk Street.
I rushed on Khreschatyk - through Proreznaja Street and then I saw from afar: the column of people was on Khreschatyk. I wanted to see them up closely ... The Germans marched in strict order. They were washed, polished, funny. Officers went on horseback. The cars were moving. There were a lot of people on the sidewalks. I saw happy faces, bouquets of flowers, which were thrown for the German officers, but the majority had
depressed mood, sullen faces.
When I returned home I told my grandparents about it. The next day, were hung the first orders, mainly about the defense situation. In Russian, Ukrainian and German was written that ... we must abide by the blackout ... must bring bicycles, radios, cameras to the commandants office.
And at the end of any order was the same sentence: “for refusing - the death penalty”. I read that the Soviet money continue to depreciate - ten Soviet rubles equaled to one occupation stamp. And of course, I found out that it was necessary to return the stolen property back to the places, from where it was taken. And that all men , who were 18 years old and older must go to the commandants office. It was on the corner of Prorizna and Khreschatyk Street,in the building of the store "Detskij Mir".
Then appeared Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists— Ukrainian police with yellow and blue armbands marked O.U.N. They began to keep order in the city. Then released newspaper “Ukrains’ke slovo" (“Ukrainian word"), where was wrote that on the 19th of September the Germans occupied Kyiv and Poltava and were on track to Moscow. There was perfectly calm without gunshots, explosions or even a distant cannonade from the 20th till 23th of September in Kyiv.
Before curfew we went freely, eating what was in store, and went out only to take the water from Pokrovskyi priory, where were wells… My grandmother and I lugged buckets and kettles, grandfather and aunt, both disabled, stayed home. On the way we met the German soldiers and officers, grandma always beat me with elbow and wanted me to say "Guten Morgen" or "Guten tag". She said hello to everyone, but the Germans did not respond, except sometimes somebody of them answered with a snarl: "Guten Morgen."
On the twenty fourth of September in the first half of the day we walked to take the water. Suddenly there was a terrible explosion, we saw the column of smoke over the centre. A few minutes later was another explosion, then another, explosions were incessantly, they deafened. Smoke screen hunged over Khreschatyk, it amazed, because the aircraft were neither seen nor heard.
By the evening there were witnesses who told us that Khreschatyk blew up. The Germans frightened and left the city centre, even the troops left the city. Only weaponed curfew surveillance stayed in Kyiv. All people were in a flap. The Germans were trying to extinguish the fire and pull the hoses from the Dnipro, because there was not water in the city. It was said that someone whether tied up or cut the pipe en-route, and the whole center was mined and Jews and Bolsheviks blew up everything. Explosions continued for almost three days.
After the war we got to know that it was a planned action of Soviet troops. When the Germans came to Kyiv and adapted, the action began, and the withdrawal of troops with that. Everybody got the jitters because the whole city was mined, but only the centre was mined. After three days of incessant explosions the smoke did not dissipate and the ashes flew over our heads for a rather long time. My grandfather was preparing for the holiday of Yom Kippur. On the 29th of September we woke up early because of sudden silence.
I suddenly heard strange remark from our neighbour Lavriunenko to my grandfather. Lavriunenko was old ,too. He spoke not very intelligibly and said something like: "Well, Leib, your Jewish power ended, now begin a new order, so keep in mind you will pay off ..."
But we lived quite amicably with our neighbours, and then I heard a whisper of scandal.
- Why do you loaf here? - one of the neighbors asked me in the yard. – Have you seen the new German order? No? So, it is hanging at the corner of Pavlovs’ka and Turgeneva Street. Go there and read it…
I read it, but I do not remember word for word ... "All the Jews of Kyiv take you personal belongings, money, documents and come to Miller Street area on the 29th of September... For failure to appear- the death-penalty ... the commandant of the city..." Kyivers knew that it was near Lukyanivs’ke cemetery.
I told my grandfather, he thought, and then suddenly became agitated and gave instructions for everyone : to pack this, to take that, all in all to prepare to carry out the order on the next day, and my grandmother had already begun to be ready to leave. Suddenly, in the midst of the bustle, Sonia from village Bilogorodka( it was 22 km far from Kyiv) came to us. Long time ago she brought us milk, sour cream, eggs, chickens, and now she came in town to exchange products at things.
- Sonia - says her grandfather - the Germans ordered to come all of us in such a place, I believe, for the reason that there is a turbulent life in Kyiv, anti-Jewish demolitions are possible and someone, probably, wants to take us in a safe place. Where? No one knows. I would like to ask you, Sonia, take Kim (then I was called Kim after my grandfather, my paternal grandfather - Kalman) with you to Bilogorodka, he will help you on the farm ... And when we adopt, I will write you, and then he will come back to us ...
Sonia agreed, packed something up in a bag and said goodbye to my grandparents and aunts ...
I was afraid to go home, so I made my way to aunt Rakhil. She lived not far from us. I'm even afraid to remember what happened to me in recent days. Sonia led me to the village headman, he told the policeman to take me back to Kyiv, and I escaped from him. I remembered that a round-the-clock homemaker lived with my aunt. I knocked on the door. She opened it, saw me, turned pale:
- Where do you come from? Come in quickly, --and she shut the door upon me.Do you know that the whole your family was shot? All who were in the order, all were shot: yor grandfather, grandmother and aunt Rakhil ... She could not go. After they left, the Germans searched all over the yards, then one of the neighbours said that there was another Jew in the yard, they moved into there and shot your aunt. It was on the thirty of September. The Germans issued another order that not all Jews came to the Babyn Yar. The Germans know where and who is hiding in the city. People who know where Jews are hiding will be also shot. For this reason run away from Kyiv and go to some village ...
I was afraid to stay. My fear took me away from my house. I vaguely remembered that before the war we rested on some dacha in village Plisky. It was on the road to Nizhin, towards Moscow. I should go 200 km to the village, where we stayed with hosts : they were peasants and the only one my acquaintances now. It was necessary to get there, but how? It was one exit from Kyiv – through the Dnipro. But all the bridges were blown up, and I could not swim.
I ripped through Kyiv in the heat of passion when each seemingly familiar face caused horror and everything inside me broke off. Even from a distance, when I saw the German, I pressed against the billboards, raised coat collar, moved down my cap and hid my face, pretending to read.
It was an utterly omnipotent unwillingness to die. I reached the Dnipro through the devious paths. I walked unsteadily along the upper terraces of Dnipro’s parks, along Volodymyrivska Hill, then Pervomaiskyi park, Proletarskyi garden, looking down on the Dnipro and two pontoon bridges which were built by the Germans. One was wide - for transport, the other - for pedestrians, and both had got heavy traffic.
I went below and saw clearly that a lot of people, inhabitants of Kyiv and suburban villages, went to the Darnitsa and the others came back from the Darnitsa, and there was Ukrainian police and German soldiers at the entrance to the bridge. They inspected passers-by, looking into their bags and sacks. I was a skinny teenager, so I quietly stole by the crowd and the danger was over.
I was dead on my feet. I walked through the Dnipro and farther along the destroyed tram line to Brovary. I knew it would lead to the station, and then to the east to Plisky. It was dark, I had to hide somewhere for the night, I knew about the curfew. In the darkness I saw broken old tramcar on a track, without glass and doors. I got into it, hid under the bench, crouched in a heap.
I walked forty miles away, but fear did not pass, then I dozed,
fell in a state of unconsciousness and everything was ghostly and sickening.
From a distance there could be heard a rattle of hobnailed boots; it seemed to go two persons, nearer and yet nearer to the car. I crouched in a heap. They passed me, speaking in German. Trough the hole I saw two wardens. They had got flashlights which illuminated the road. They walked back and forth, I did not sleep, I listened in on their steps. There was a strange moment: steps tailed away. Apparently they tired and sat on the bandwagon. This could be the end: one movement, and they could be in the car, shining with flashlights and dragged me out from under the bench…And the end...
By morning they gone, through the hole in the car I saw carts and people. I carefully crawled to the door of the car, but no one paid attention on me. I rolled down the slope and reached a railway track. Everything was destroyed, the trains did not go.
I wandered two or three hours, behind me was Brovary , ahead me - the steppe. I wanted to eat, because I was without bite or sup for 24 hours. I wrapped in the village that was near the railway. It seemed to be no Germans, so I go begged from door to door:
— Please, give me a piece of bread, give me something to eat!..
— Where are came from? Where are you going?
— I am going to my godmother.
— Where does she live?
— Near Kharkiv.
Someone gave me a piece of bread. I knocked on the door. Old man came out, stopped at the fence, and I asked him something to eat. He said:
— Come into the house, I'll give you something ...
He gave me potatoes and bread, asked where I was going, I repeated him about my godmother, he was all ears and kept his eyes peeled:
— You know, you are citified boy. Well, look, your coat and cap is citified. Let's change. You will give me your coat and hat, and I'll give you something to wear. I will also give you a little bit of bacon and bread for the journey.
I agreed. I put rural clothing on—it was for the better. I turned out rural boy in those clothes.
I walked along the rail-track, on the ties, I rarely met people and did not ask anyone about anything. I walked by villages, which were a lot along the railway, until night. Grew dusky, when I rolled to the forsaken cab. I looked into, there were five or six men, all of them were rural and they were in preparation for nights lodging, looking for the bedding straw, and splitting the kindling-wood to light up the oven. Then some people came into and there were about 15 persons in the cab. I was silent, just listening if they were military men, who were in the ring of enemy troops, or soldiers, or commanders. Large army was encircled near Kyiv. Mostly people ‘from the cab’ were the Ukrainians from Kyiv region and from the west of Ukraine and they were going home. Some of them ( Ukrainians and Russians) made their way to the east. I listened and learnt where was dangerous to walk and how to behave in any case: not move in large groups, at most two, to avoid large settlements, especially stations, where were many Germans.
So I made my way a few days. I wanted to eat, then I came to the village, begging, quite skillfully and successfully, and in the evening again sought out another cab which was from time to time on my way. And every night in these booths gathered together captives. Somehow I caught up two boys, looked at them and immediately realized that they were Jews. I began to ask where they were going and from where. One boy said he was thirteen, and the second was younger, they went from Babyn Yar. They disembosomed themselves to me after I told them all about yourself.
On the 29th of September they walked together with their mothers, grandfather and grandmother, and their fathers were in the Red Army. They did not know and suspect anything. They got to the corner of Ovruchska Sreet where was the beginning of gullies and the Jewish cemetery, and there were a lot of German soldiers and police, the crowd poured in, stemmed the whole Miller Street, and it was pretty broad street. Further was narrow street and a barrier in front of it. All were squeezed there, and in the end of the street was a glade. People were forced to drift away their things - suitcases, bags, chests - all in a heap. There were policemen and the Germans with dogs around the glade and along the towpath. Over the ravine was a glade again. People were forced to disrobe there. And again – things into a heap, screaming soldiers, barking dogs, mad naked people. They were driven again, then stopped and separated the group of about thirty, maybe fifty people. Those who remained, waited in a queue, and from there, where went the first several people, were heard something like shots, but people were so mad that they could not understand how and why somebody shot. And then came the command: "Go, go, come quickly!" People were persecuted, beaten with sticks, and above them was the wall of the ravine, only one person could be fit on the path . And on the opposite side— somebody shot, you could see people fell down, turned, flew down, and underfoot were piles of corpses.
Boys did not remember how they fell down from the slope and how corpses fell on them. They could not not say how much time passed but suddenly became completely silent. And each of them emerged by itself. Boys heard a rustle in the ravine and saw each other in the darkness. They crept for a long time.
It began to grow light, and they made sure they were still among the ravines and went close. They hid in the bushes and fell into broken slumber. Boys awoke because of human voices and saw the house. There was a woman, a boy and a older girl near the house. One of the survivors called the woman out:
— May I ask you a question?
She approached and saw a naked, all scratched and bloodied boy.
- Give me some water, please...
She treated to him sympathetically, understood that in the bushes was another boy and said:
- Get up to the house, but that no one can see you.
Then she poured the water into a basin, washed the guys, found off-size duds, gave them to eat. The woman said she lived near Babyn Yar and knew – there killed people. She advised to hurry up and to bypass BabynYar highway ward.
They reached the Dnipro, some fisherman rowed them across the river.
- Well, where do you go? - I asked, after hearing the story.
- Aimlessly, before our noses, just to get away from the Germans, - said the elder.
We parted near some village. I have not seen them again, and I have not got any more information about them.
On the fifth day I came to Plisky. I remembered where was the house and that the owner's name was Mundiersha. It was an old peasant woman, she lived next to her two older children: son and daughter. They had got their farms, and she lived alone in her hut. I found her at home and told her all frankly. She visited us in Kyiv, knew my grandmother, grandfather, aunt Rakhil. She heared me out and said:
- Well, we have little choice. What to do with you?.. That's life! Stay at my house. A village head is a good man. We will tell him that you are my cousin. You will help me with the housework.
Her children also knew me and treated with understanding. I lived in her house until the spring of 1942. The news were very different: the Germans captured Kharkiv and they were going to Moscow. But military men, who had been in the ring of enemy troops, that walked along the railroad and came to take a meal, they said that the front was not so far away, and the Germans did not capture Moscow, Kursk in Russian hands.
Winter went, it was the beginning of May, people reported: our troops stopped the Germans near Kharkiv, there were terrible battles. I had the heebie-jeebies, once I said Mundiersha:
- You know what? I will go to the front. Maybe somewhere there are my parents, they are in a stew, they think I am dead.
She discouraged me, and then agreed :
- Well, divine will. So, go ... – she gave me the potatoes, some bacon and bread.
Again along the line. I bypassed Bakhmach. Passers-by alerted that the Germans were in Bakhmach. I bypassed Konotop. And then - a fork: one road to Kharkiv, the other - to Moscow. I decided to go to Kharkiv, and along the railway bypassed Sumy. Passers-by alerted that it was dangerous to go further, because there were the Germans troops.
I walked through the villages, begged again, then spent the night in a haystack or under a bush: the earth was warm and spring. I nightly heard distant shots and I moved there, where I thought somebody shot. I came to the railway line again. In the village somebody told me that that line tended from Kharkiv to Belgorod or to Kursk, to the north.
I remember this day, the nineteenth of May. I saw the crossway ahead, the column of Germans were going there: soldiers went on foot, guns were horse-drawn, officers were on horseback. What should I do to? There was nowhere to hide… Hit or miss! I looked like a rural boy. Then I leaned forward, swinging a stick, straight toward the column. But no one paid me any attention.
It was getting dark, I walked past a station. Among the destroyed structures were helmeted soldiers in tents. Shoulder straps were not visible. I stopped, I thought I heard Russian speech. I nent to do up my shoelaces. Yes, it was the Russians. I rushed to them:
- Are you Russian soldiers?
- Yes ... What are you doing here? What is wrong?
And I cried passionately. I said that I run from the Germans from Kyiv, there all my relatives were shot and I am Jew ...