YEARS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR: Children of the War Recall (Part I)
Even in the XXI century, mankind has not stopped fighting. Millions of lives and destinies are hit by this cruel and merciless flow, which affects the history of countries and nations. We always remember the war, we study it carefully, listening to the memories of eyewitnesses. We hope that it will never happen again to anyone…
We publish the memories of Danilov Mikhail Ivanovich, a veteran of labor from Odesa whose difficult childhood took place during the years of the terrible Second World War. The memory of his life lives in the manuscripts, copies of which the family of the hero of the story provided to the editorial office of Huxleў.
FOURTH JEWISH BLOOD*
I am a pure-blooded Jew, Danilov Mikhail Ivanovich, by nationality — Russian. I was born in 1932 in the city of Minsk. I don’t remember the month and date of my birth exactly. We lived on Gorky Street, 37 or 38, on the second floor of a wooden house, in apartment number 4.
My father, Haim Rabinovich (I don’t remember his birth year and patronymic), had his own horse. On this horse, he used to take all kinds of freight, but more often — construction waste to the landfill. To put it in Odesa terms, my father was a real drayman, and I — was the son of a drayman.
My father loved me a lot. When he would come home from work a little drunk, he would put me on his lap and give me candy, and I would eat it with pleasure. My father often took me on trips to the landfill. To this day, the garbage construction dump brings back fond memories of a distant, happy childhood for me.
My mother, Doba Rabinovich, worked at the Rosa Luxemburg candy factory. My older brother, Tyval Rabinovich, does not seem to have worked or studied anywhere. Probably, my older brother was related to the criminals. He often left home, and my mother and I would go and look for him everywhere, even in the cemetery.
My sister, Bronza Rabinovich, was charming and had many admirers. I don’t know where she worked, but she always had money in her pocket. My younger sister’s name was Maya. And I, Boris Rabinovich, was the third child in the family.
There were some religious rituals observed in our family. All the men in our family were circumcised, and on Passover, we ate matzah. But we did not go to the synagogue, we did not observe the Sabbath, and we worked like bloody men for a piece of bread.
The constant fear of hunger, especially in 1932–33 years, forced my family to violate God’s commandment — not to eat pork. And we wanted to live, we really wanted to live. And my father kept a couple of pigs in a fence in the stable next to the horse. And when one of the pigs gained weight, some men would come, cut the pig, and cut up the carcass.
My mom fried big pieces of meat on the stove with lard. Together with my father, the men drank vodka and snacked on the meat, and when they were drunk, they sang sad songs together until late in the evening. And the rest of the family just ate meat and drank cider. I still eat pork to this day, especially lard, which saved me from tuberculosis.
Sometimes, my father and mother would sing together a simple Jewish song, of which I only memorized a few words. I don’t know how they knew the Jewish song because, at home, we always spoke Russian, so we were Russianized Jews.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. My father and I were standing in the street outside our house. Suddenly, a drunken man flew up to me and shouted: «I’ll kill you, Yid!» and stabbed me with a knife.
My father knocked the drunkard to the ground with a powerful blow and began to beat him with his legs. Passers-by saved the drunkard from the beating by pulling my father away from him. I asked my father: «Why did that drunkard call me a Yid and want to kill me, even though my name is Boris?» My father answered me, «They call us Yid only because we are Jews».
So, from my father’s mouth, at an early age, I learned that I was a Jew, despised by everyone, but he never told me why. Many years later, I realized that the reason for the hatred of Jews was religious intolerance. Thus, on a religious basis, from the knife of an anti-Semite, my childhood Jewish blood was spilled, which merged with the flow of the fourth Jewish blood.
On June 22, 1941, at 4 a.m., my sweet childhood sleep was interrupted by explosions. German airplanes are bombing Minsk. My city turned into a massive campfire from the bombing.
Heavenly vacuum pumps sucked in the smoke and fire of the burning city. Together with the fire and smoke, human souls soared upwards. God was letting these souls out of the fiery hell into a blossoming paradise for eternity
When the bombing was over, it turned out that not a single bomb had hit our wooden house. My father harnessed a horse to a cart, and the whole family began to load things into it. We, like all people, were leaving from the Germans. When all our household goods were loaded onto the cart, my mother realized that we had no bread. So she gave me money to buy some.
The bread store was on another street, and when I ran up to it, it was gone; only the embers flickered with different colors. At that moment, the German airplanes came again and started bombing the city. Under the explosions of German bombs, I ran to my house. And when I came to it, it was burning; the buildings in our yard were burning; everything was on fire.
I started calling loudly for my mother, father, brother, sisters, but no one answered my cry from behind that wall of fire. My parents waited for me to come back and did not leave the yard where they were burned. My mother, father, brother and sisters were gone: they were consumed by the flames of war.
With a daze, I looked at the yellow flames, and tears rolled down my cheeks. How long I stood there crying for my lost family, I don’t remember, until someone took my hand and said: «Let’s go.» And I went with the flood of people to the East.
But I had hope that I would see my family, that they were not burned but alive, that they were in that column leaving the Germans. And I ran forward, asking people if they had seen a horse and cart with a green curve. But nobody had seen such a cart. So, at the age of 9, the war made me a complete orphan. The city was left far behind, and I kept walking and asking if anyone had seen a horse and cart with a green curve.
Suddenly, over the colorful column, a German fighter flew low. It flew so low that the smiling face of the pilot was visible, and he was still waving at us. Then, the airplane turned around and began firing machine guns at the unarmed people.
The column instantly scattered, and people rolled into the roadside ditches. But many remained lying motionless on the gray road. The blood of the killed and wounded stained it red. More airplanes came and shot us until dark. Many people were killed by smiling German pilots on the road that led to the East.
I reached the edge of the forest where a truck was parked. The car was full of people, and there were no seats in it. One woman from the truck looked at me, and a boy of my age jumped out of the back of the car and put me and this boy in my place.
This strange woman saved two children’s souls by her act, and she herself may have died in the German occupation. I am already 81 years old, but all my life, I have not forgotten this woman and her sacrificial feat. I don’t know her name, I don’t remember her face, but I owe her my life.
The second boy that this woman put in the car in her place became my friend. He had a sore on his lip, and I started calling him «sore», and he called me «black». We had those nicknames in the orphanage.
*According to the racial law of Nazi Germany of 1935: «A Jew is someone who in the third generation is descended from at least three pure-blooded Jews — grandparents».