Renia: A Holocaust Memoir

Table of Contents

After we had bathed, they took us to a cafeteria to eat. It was good food, Russian borscht and meat and potatoes, everything. After that they took us to our quarters, a room and a kitchen. We came in and a fire was burning in the stove and a samovar was going. We found bread and flour and eggs and clean beds. Four beds — two in the room and two in the kitchen — four stools, four of everything. Even a desk. We felt good after so much travelling and hunger.

It turned out that we had arrived at a collective community called Kubanski Zerno Sofhoz, in the region of the North Caucusus Mountains and not far from Krasnodar. My father, who could speak Russian reasonably well, got a job as a purchasing agent for the hospital. My mother, whose Russian was even better, got a job as a receptionist at the hospital. She was also in charge of linens. I went to school and I started learning Russian. With the permission of the sofhoz committee, Gitta went off to Krasnodar to study English literature at university. She boarded with a Russian Jewish family there.

This photograph was on display at the university in Krasnodar, with a caption that read, “We are proud to have Gitta Apt as a student at our university.”

This photograph was on display at the university in Krasnodar, with a caption that read, "We are proud to have Gitta Apt as a student at our university."

I used to go by train all by myself to visit my sister; I was now old enough to do that. I would bring her eggs from the chickens we kept and my mother would send some baking. Once when I visited Gitta in Krasnodar — it was a beautiful city — I saw a large photograph of her in one of the buildings at the university. Its caption read, “We are proud to have Gitta Apt as a student at our university.” She was a brilliant student.

Although I had already entered the first year of high school in Rovno, I was put back to grade seven on the sofhoz because I couldn’t speak Russian. I didn’t like that at first but the principal was a wonderful man. Every day he would stay after school to help me with Russian and I caught on quickly. I was always good at languages.

I made great friends at a club for young people. We had a little band made up of balalaikas, mandolins and guitars. I played the guitar; the other kids, who were very musical, taught me how. Even today I love Russian music, Russian songs; I know many by heart. Unfortunately, I can’t sing any more; I used to have a good voice. Cigarette smoking has taken its toll.

Sometimes living on the sofhoz reminded me of our vacations in the country. I remember the hayrides we went on and the long walks through the fields. I became more interested in boys — one in particular — but they didn’t seem to pay any attention to me. I later learned that the boy I was especially fond of was killed during the war.

Despite all the terrible things that were happening in Europe at the time, I had not seen a violent death until my best friend on the sofhoz, a girl named Tamara, was killed right in front of my eyes. We were standing on the sidewalk, talking, and all of a sudden she said she had to hurry. She ran into the street without looking and was hit by a truck and died instantly. She was the same age I was, fourteen. I was in shock.

My family was now living very very simply. I had just a couple of dresses now; I used to wash and wear them over and over again. But children adjust. It’s much harder for the adults.

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