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Lydia Sokolik: My Life at War. Part 2

The Road to Evacuation.

I had joined the medical brigade, and I was given the overalls, a hat and an anti-gas mask. On 11 October 1941 we heard that Medyn [a town to the north off Borovsk] was already taken by German troops. Three days before that we had the retreating Soviet troops stationed in our town, some soldiers were even staying in our house. One of them was a police officer, his surname was Bystritskiy, who told us about the Nazis’ carnage. He said to my father: ‘Please, let your children go. You may be unable to leave, but at least let them go because the Nazis are extremely cruel to young people’.

Later that afternoon those who worked in the local radio station said farewell to the villagers, and told everyone to go to Balabanovo Station where buses stood ready to evacuate people. My father did not believe it when I told him about this, and he went back to work after his lunch.

Then the air raid siren went off, and I rushed to the meeting of my medical brigade. We were lined up in front of the vice-head of the War Committee of Borovsk, who called several people out from the line. I was one of them. He told me to move forward ten paces, then he came up to me and said: ‘The War Committee orders you to give your up munitions and go home to help your father to evacuate your mother and brother’. I was determined to refuse, but he repeated the order. He then said to me discreetly: ‘You should understand, you must help your parents because your brothers are fighting in the front, and your sister already joined the secret service in Moscow’. I marvelled at how well they knew everything. I gave my munitions to Nina Rostova, who was the head of our brigade.

I came home in the dark. A horse and cart was standing at the porch. I heard my brother Vitaliy crying; I rushed in and saw him sitting on the Russian oven, clinging on to a pillow, and sobbing: ‘I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay home, it’s warm here’. Outside, the land was covered with the first snow…

Some people decided to stay. When we were preparing to evacuation, our neighbour did not approve. She said: ‘Look, you have a samovar, and so do I. When the Germans enter the village, we shall invite and entertain them. So, why are you so keen on leaving?’ When the troops came in the village, some went to live next door to her, and parked their Studebaker in between the two houses. The Studebaker was all stocked with various goods. Local boys, typically curious, saw a box of cigarettes inside, and decided to get it. One of the boys was our neighbour’s son, a 12-year-old. They went in the truck for the cigarettes. She was unaware, but rushed out of the house upon hearing deafening rifle shots. She saw a Nazi officer standing at the porch of the neighbouring house with a rifle, from which he had just shot all five boys, including her son. To save her other two children, she dug a hole in the house’s cellar and kept them there until early January 1942, when the Nazis were driven out from the village.

We had to drive about 1.5 km to get to the centre of Borovsk. We reached it by about 9-10pm. My mother was disabled so it was difficult getting her on the bus. But some men helped us. The bus that took us from Borovsk to the train station was the very last one. We left on 12 October, at about 1am; at 4am, the Nazis entered the town.

Most of my family were Communists, so the Nazis ruthlessly rampaged on our house. We only took a couple of pillows with us and some meat and poultry; the rest was left behind, including hens. They were “executed” by hanging; our red pioneer ties were used as ropes.

The Nazis locked the majority of population in the main church, in the centre of the town, and were going to burn them upon the arrival of their chief SS commanders. The commanders were expected to arrive on 10 January 1942; the Latvian troops liberated the town on January 5.

But we were already the evacuees. Later on 12 October we got on a train, which only started moving in the early morning. At Narofominsk we were bombed… We spent about a month on the train. We left on October 12 and only arrived to the Murashi Station (in Kirov region) on November 5.

Panic was following us all the way. When we left from Borovsk to Kirov by train, people were telling us we would not make it, that we would be bombed. Indeed, we were bombed, although nothing too serious. We were in the last wagon, so during one of the raids our wagon was pushed off the rails. Thankfully, it did not take the entire train with it, but all people had to be moved to other wagons. Of course, we couldn’t just run, with our mother being paraplegic; so other people had to help us to move. The last time our train was caught up in the air raid was near Gorky (Nizhniy Novgorod).

4 thoughts on “Lydia Sokolik: My Life at War. Part 2”

  1. Julia ~ I look forward to reading the rest of your grandmother’s story. I know exactly what she meant by her reference to the ‘Nazis’. It is disturbing to realise what an all-encompassing term it has become to those with only a minimal understanding of that period of history. As you say, it is unfortnate that sixty years on many are still unable (or unwilling) to gain a proper perspective of events. Hitler was such a great persuader that initially he was able to brainwash even his own people to the extent that they saw him as a hero who would bring prosperity and all that is good to the German nation. It took rather longer than it should have for people to realise what his agenda was <>actually<> about. I agree with you also that not enough lessons were learnt and similar conflicts are indeed likely to occur again, In fact, it’s a very real threat. With hindsight perhaps the BBC’s project would have been an ideal platform for my family’s story. Years ago, when I asked to be allowed to write a book about what they went through during WWII they were totally against the idea. As I’m sure is the case with your grandmother the mental scars of such terrible experiences never heal. I have witnessed that first hand with my folk. You are doing absoutely the right thing in putting your grandma’s experiences on record, imho. We must not be allowed to forget the tragedy and senselessness of war – the two World Wars and all others also.

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