Interview recorded:Mariupil, Ukraine
Please tell about the childhood of your mother Anna Sherdits (Fokina).
Granny Anna, my mother, was born in the village of Krestyshe, Sovetskiy district, Kursk region to a family of seven children. She and her sister Tatiana moved to Mariupil as they have been working hard and did not want to stay in a rural area. As teenagers they would graze geese, harvest herbs in summer. Each had a cross body linen bag, where they kept the herbs. Herbs were main treatment against cold, fever. When kids got sick, they would make tea. They had a dairy cow.
What was your mother’s education?
She went to a rural school, finished seven grades. She would always tell us how she was the first to do sums, raise the hand. And the teacher would say: “Hey Fokina, how did you work this out?”. She said: “I was very fast at math. Loved literature, spoke German quite well. Well for a seventh grader. To keep studying you had to commute or walk far. It was not like now that there is a school bus or a regular bus, winters were really cold. Sometimes, you get back from school, today it’s one kid who is wearing felt boots, tomorrow the other kid is wearing same boots to school, we did not have footwear” – she’d say. After the seventh grade she did not continue to study. She wanted to become a teacher, loved it, but things did not come around as expected.
How did your mother end up in Germany? What happened to her there?
Then they moved to Mariupil, she and her sister Tatiana to find a job and settle in. When the war began, they were taken to Germany. They had spent three years there from 1942 till 1943. She said they were liberated by the Americans. When they got back, no one would talk about the events as it was not much welcomed in the society.
She said she worked at a factory in Siegen. She was making some sort of boxes for airplanes, aviation, she did not know herself what it was and where it was going next. They were working hard, yet had food. Then something terrible happened, half of her nail on the left hand got cut off. She was taken to hospital and received treatment.
On weekends if she wanted she could go to a German family to help this Frau who had many kids around the house. They could have given her clothes, food. She would go there, do washing and cleaning but not everyone was doing this.
When did you learn about what happened to your mother during the WWII?
The reason why she would never talk about it after they had been liberated was that the society would perceive them as traitors, public enemies. Even us, kids, we did not know about it till the beginning of the campaign to exchange German Marks. She did not have any identity documents and had to write a request to Donetsk. She received a letter confirming that she was involuntarily taken to work in Germany from … to …, the time was indicated. Then with this document she went to an organization that was registering these people. And when she received the money for both times (first and second tranche). And her sister Tatiana too. She did not talk about this much. Either she didn’t want to rake up the past, the pain, or she didn’t think we had to know this. She’d never tell everything from A to Z. But for this campaign I might have never known that my mother was forcefully taken to Germany.
How was she taken to Germany?
How was she taken to Germany? Special commandant’s offices were set up in the city, she has received instructions from one of those: “Tomorrow at 7 we are expecting you to be here with the suitcases”. “We got there with our luggage, they took us to the train station in cars, forced us into wagons, not like a typical sleeper class coach, we have been on foot for a very long time, it was stuffy, everything was closed. There was a tiny opening either on top or from the side. You get close to it, breathe, all wagons were closed, the train did not stop.” It was tough, but she’d never say much. They were considered to be public enemies… Granny used to say: “A stranger’s soul is a deep well.” That was about her life.
Tell us, how did you learn that your grandma was taken to Germany?
I have learned that my grandma Fokina Anna Yehorovna was taken to Germany when I was quite old, I had my own family and my first daughter. My mom told me about it, then granny went into more detail about how things happened in reality.
So you know what had happened to your grandma in Germany?
Once we were visiting her and she told us that during the WWII, in 1942, they were taken to work in Germany, she and her sister Tatiana. Someone came home, ordered them to pack their things and go to the train station. Where? Why? Nothing was known. They got to the station, were taken to wagons called cattle trains, allocated to barracks upon arrival, that’s where they lived. Worked at a factory, granny was a lathe operator making as she called them “cans for aircraft”, she wouldn’t mention what they were used for. In the morning they would wake up and go to the rows of outdoor iron wash-stands, wash themselves, they used teeth bars instead of toothbrushes. Then there was some soup, food, they ate and went to their lathes.
What was the most memorable in the story your grandma told you?
There was an episode my grandma told me about, she worked together with three friends. The girls were from Berdiansk, it’s a port town of the Azov sea, and had long beautiful hair. After some time Germans noticed that the aircraft they were sending to the forefront were faulty. Fan propellers failure, they would not scroll through. Eventually grandma discovered that these girls from Berdiansk had been cutting strands of hair and just before fans were about to be sent to the forefront, would wind the hair on the propellers. It had been happening for quite a while before Germans started the investigation. Grandma said they had a male supervisor, a good man, who had managed to hide girls in a neighboring village. He hid them and later they had been transported abroad to Poland, the Czech Republic, even partisans might have been involved in the transfer.