Family stories
Zinaida Laskova
Interview recorded: by Alina Tanasova Mariupol, obwód doniecki, Ukraina 25.11.2020

Zinaida Laskova

Zinaida Laskova was born on August 21, 1926 in the village of Hnylozubivka into a large family. She survived the Holodomor of 1932-1933. My great-grandmother witnessed World War II. When she was 16 years old, she was taken to Germany, where she worked first at a factory and then in a local tavern, where the locals used to come for a beer. After the war, my great-grandmother turned back home. On her way home, she was accompanied by the scary-looking prisoners of concentration camps. After the war, she got married and had three children. Until the end of her life, Zinaida Laskova was considered by many to be a very cultured, honest, and kind person.

So my mother, Laskova Zinaida Illinichna, was born on August 21, 1926, into a family of, let’s say, collective farm workers. She had 4 more brothers, uncle Sasha, uncle Andriusha, uncle Vanya, and the youngest one, uncle Vitia, and one sister, aunt Lucy. In general, the family was, so to speak, large. Well, they all worked, they were all engaged in housekeeping and this allowed them to somehow survive. They were born and lived in the village of Troitskyi (former Gnilozubovka), on a hill right above the Kalmius river. The river was for them like another garden. They used to fish, namely, my grandfather, and mostly my mother used to help him because brothers were always busy working in the plants and factories, so she helped him. They used to fish with what you would call trap nets. Now this fishing tackle is forbidden, but back then everything was possible. They always had fish around, there always used to be a dry fish hanging in the attic.

Her parents kept a household and a garden, so the children wanted for nothing. The most memorable thing about her childhood is the river. All her good memories were associated with this river. Fishing with her father and her brothers, even before the war, fishing, swimming… Well, it was a happy childhood.

Ok, and what about her school studies? What’s her background?

I can’t say anything about her school studies, no one told me about it, but knowing our mother and grandmother, she was the one with a clear and wise head. Even up till now (she died three days before her 90th birthday) she used to have a clear mind, she remembered German songs, poems, and proverbs… all told, she had an excellent memory. So I think she did well at school. After the secondary school, she went to a factory apprenticeship school (a kind of a professional technical school) run by a garment factory.

Did she say anything about the Holodomor of 1932-1933?

Well, according to her, it hasn’t affected them much. However, in 1926, she was, well, 6 years old. She recalls having a cow and luckily having their own household, but at the same time she mentions the monument to a sprat erected somewhere, and she says: “Oh, this is well-deserved!” Because sprats have helped people to keep staying alive and to finally survive.

What emotions did you feel when she told about the Holodomor and their ways of survival?

What emotions can one feel? Feeling sorry for children, sorry for everyone. I was glad that our mom was neither hungry nor cold, but so many people, children would come, she said, “They would go door to door, and if they came, I’d give them at least a handful of cottage cheese, because we used to have it at home, and that child would just gulp it down. And you just can’t help crying.”

What happened to your great-grandmother during the Second World War? How exactly did she find herself in Germany?

When German Fascist troops entered Mariupol, she, a girl of 16, was taken to Germany, she was forced to go there. We can now read it in the books, newspapers, magazines, how it was back then. And she confirmed that this was true, they would herd people into the waggons like cattle and take them for a long ride. Those who died, were thrown out on the road, those who survived, reached the destination. At first, she was brought to a factory, I don’t know for sure, but she says it was really big. They were housed in barracks, and she worked there for three days only, if I’m not mistaken. And on the fourth day, in the evening, some bayers came, as my mom called them. They picked her and two other girls. One of them was from Poland, the other was from Slovenia…  if I have it right. And they were brought to the hamlet, but not the one we would think of, like 2-3 huts, but rather a small town from our perspective. These hosts had their own cafe or tavern. My mom and these two girls used to cook, clean, serve, and most of them [the visitors] were civilians, they came for a drink of beer and all… there were no troops, the troops were not staying there. And the girls were treated with respect, indeed. After the war, in the 80’s, my mom sent them a letter. She got the answer from the hosts’ son, they were no longer alive, he invited her over.

Maybe she told some everyday life stories, how they used to celebrate holidays in Germany?

No, it was out of the question. Her holidays included cooking, cleaning, and serving.

When she told this story, what emotions did you feel?

A girl of 16 who was separated from her parents and sent miles and miles away, it’s so sad…

What do you remember most about your great-grandmother’s stories?

I have known her for the last 45 years since we got married with her son. Each time during these years, every story she told us was like a new one. She would recall, something would come to her mind, we would sit like little children next to our granny, although adults, and would listen with our mouths open. When I recall her telling us about liberation, I get “goosebumps”. Our troops came in and they told her to go to the military headquarters. She says, “We came up, and they asked us, who we were, whether we could cook. “Go to the officers’ mess, do the cooking.” Now I can remember the goosebumps, as she told us all this… I do not remember exactly what kind of camp it was, but there was a stop-over somewhere near the meeting point and they picked up those from the camps who was not killed yet. She says, “God forbid that one should see this. It’s so scary there, that we didn’t know how to shelter them so they wouldn’t break. They were not allowed to eat, we were given food rations, and they were just sitting, and we could not eat because they could not, as they could end up with a twisted bowel.”

Has she mentioned any stories told by those prisoners?

They told of the abuse and the extermination of thousands of people…

If you had an object associated with your great-grandmother, what would it be?

For 45 years, my children, grandchildren, the eldest son’s children, my daughter’s family, we all used to come together three times a year, religiously, on Grandma’s birthday, March 8, and Christmas. The whole family used to get together, up to 20 people. Everyone has been full fed, watered, and happy because we had our mother by our side… She learned a lot of household skills back in Germany. Her specialty was boiled fish with spices and pickled onions, and to crown it all, only the pike-perch cheeks were used for the dish… they used to be this big! It was delicious and very beautiful. Apart from that she adopted there what I would call behaviors. One should have seen and known our granny Zina to understand that no formal education, no specific job is enough to make you a cultured person, a truly cultured one. Me personally and those who knew her considered her to be a cultured, well-bred, gracious, kind, and honest person.

The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.

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