Interview recorded:Donetsk, Ukraine
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your family and relatives.
I’m Poznyar Vladimir Yakovlevich. I was born in 1934. I have 2 daughters and 3 grandchildren. My life was not easy, there were many tragic moments. I was born in Chimkent (South Kazakhstan). My parents, Zaidel Ida and Poznyar Yakov, lived there.
Tell me about their lives?
After they had graduated from the Odessa Chemical and Pharmaceutical Institute in the 30s, they were assigned to work at a chemical-pharmaceutical plant in Chymkent. The wave of Stalin’s repressions in the pre-war years touched my family too. In 1937 my father was arrested and repressed. I distinctly remember that moment, when we were searched by the NKVD officers. It was in the afternoon. Two military men came in, showed their IDs, and began the search which concluded with my father’s imprisonment. My father was the chief technical director of a plant and mother worked in a chemical laboratory. After father’s arrest, my mother tried to prove his innocence, she went to Moscow and wrote an appeal to the government. It did not bring any results. She was also arrested under article “a family member of an enemy of the Motherland.”
And what was your father accused of?
My father was charged under article “an enemy of the Motherland”. In 1938 he was shot. We learned about this only in 1956.
Do you have photos of your father?
No. They took everything during the search, the photos were not returned. The only photos that remained were those of my mother.
What do you know about the fate of your mother?
Mom was arrested in 1938, sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment as a family member of an enemy of the Motherland under articles ‘‘counter-revolutionary activities’’, ‘‘betrayal of the Motherland’’ by the Special SSR NKVD Commission. She spent a year there and was sent to the Akmol Corrective Labor Camp (ALZHIR – the camp for the wives of the betrayers of the Motherland) to serve the rest of the sentence. The camp was surrounded by double barbed wire fence, women lived in barracks and were forced to build barracks for new inmates and toil in fields. The daily food ration consisted of: a piece of a rye bread, a ladle of soup, a few spoons of a liquid porridge cooked in water. Correspondence and receipt of parcels were banned.
What feelings do you have when you think of those times?
The main feeling now is criticism Stalin’s repressions. Innocently convicted people loyal to their country were arrested and tagged “enemies of the Motherland”. This happened to my father and my mother. All charges were dropped after the end of the Stalin’s rule when Khrushchov came to power. In 1956 my mom received a certificate stating that her case had been revisited by the military tribunal of the Turkestan Military District and dismissed due to lack of evidence. She was completely rehabilitated and soon received the same certificate for her late husband. Everyone was rehabilitated, some were still alive, some posthumously.
What happened to you after your mother had been taken to prison?
My aunt Rosa brought me to other relatives otherwise I would have been sent to the orphanage for the kids of the enemies of the Motherland. Together with the aunt we went to a town of Kryve Ozero in the Odessa Region. My mother’s sister lived there – Zaidel Hanna Borysivna, she was a doctor at a regional hospital. We started to live there but our peaceful days did not last long. The Nazi occupation (1941-1944) began and our town was bombarded.
Do you remember the beginning of the war?
German aircraft bombed villages with peaceful people around Kryve Ozero. The bombardment began in June when I was playing in a yard with my peers. We had to run and hide from that nightmare. The occupation began. Our area was occupied by Romaniansand and was called Transnistria. Germans together with Romanians and policemen arrested the Jews, put them in ghettos and camps. I was there too.
Were you afraid of death and did you realize that you could die at any moment?
The horrors of war are still in my memory. German motorcycles broke into the village, new German rules were set. By the order of the German administration male population of the region was sent to dig clay in a ravine by Kryve Ozero. I was hidden under a bad. Then we have heard gunshots. All Jewish men were shot there.
My aunt Rosa was caught up in a raid and went missing. I think she was shot. We lived in a ghetto in Domanivka and Bohdanivka. Jewish ghetto was located in a school in Domanivka. We separated an area with stones in a big classroom, slept on straws. All Jews had to wear a Star of David on their chest and on the back and were not allowed to leave ghetto. They had to build roads, I would go there together with the adults. After work we were given a piece of bread.
Aunt Hanna was a member of the ghetto medical team. Doctor Halperin and a young doctor Bellochka were other members of the team. Every day they would do a round to check on the inmates. They were trying to help even though iodine and brilliant green were the only medicines available. I walked with them as an attendant.
There were also about 10,000 gypsies in the ghetto. They lived in their carts open-air.
Tens of thousands of Jews lost their lives in ghetto. People were undressed, made to kneel down in front of a ditch, shot straight in the head. Only up to 600 ghetto inhabitants survived till liberation.
How did you survive during the war?
We managed to escape. We were driven away from ghetto by a former patient of my aunt. He worked as a ward for Germans. We have been hiding in Kryve Ozero until the Red Army took over the region. We wouldn’t have made it but for the help of the local Ukrainian and Russian people. Shlapak family were one of my rescuers. I have to say that by saving Jews these people were putting themselves and their relative in deadly danger. Streets were flooded with ads from the German administration: “Death penalty for hiding Jews.”
Did you tell anyone about the events that you’ve been through?
We were trying not to talk much about my childhood after the war. Only after the end of the Stalin’s regime you could feel more or less comfortable talking about these things.
Now you live in Donetsk, there is a military conflict. What do you think about these events?
This is a very difficult time in our lives. Two nations who used to be friends are now trying to fix certain political and geographical issues. You hear gunfire from time to time, it’s difficult to travel around.
You are 83 years old. What are the most important life lessons you have learned?
I wish my descendants not to repeat the mistakes that have happened and keep happening. I hope people will live in peace, love and wellness and we will reach harmony in peaceful coexistence.