Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Sura Vaysman was born in Bessarabia in 1934 and lived there with her father Baruch, mother Shendl, and older brother Boris. Her family name was Shvatzman. Bessarabia was part of Romania before 1940. On August 2, 1940, most of Bessarabia was forced to join the Soviet Union. It became the Moldavian Soviet Republic and the city of Kishinev became the capital of the Moldavian Socialist Republic.
When Sura was 7 years old, Germany had attacked the USSR. The Great Patriotic War started on June 22, 1941. Moldavia was heavily bombed and then defeated by the Germans on one of the first days of the war. Sura’s family lived across the street from a power station which meant that they were a target for bombing by the Germans. Everytime they were bombed, they would hide in their neighbor's cellar. Since their neighborhood was so dangerous, her father sent their family to live with his sister in the town of Orhei, located forty kilometers from Kishinev. Yet, when they arrived at Orhei, her relatives were ready to leave the city - they already heard that Nazi killing Jews, along with Roma and handicapped. Sura’s mother refused to leave with them since she did not know Russia, spoke Yiddish and Moldavian and did not want to disobey her husband.
Sura’s mother sent Sura’s brother, Boris, back to Kishinev to find their dad and inform him on what was going on. He walked all the way back to Kishinev while refugees were walking the other way around, from Kishinev. It was a very risky journey since roads were constantly bombarded. Then something miraculous happened: he saw his dad on the road! They returned to Orhei together.
The family quickly packed up their things and went to the Criuleni village. They had to cross a bridge over the Dnestr River but by the time they got to the river bank, the bridge was blown up. Locals offered them a ride on a fishing boat in exchange for a large sum of money. They agreed, only to be robbed of their money and being thrown into the river. They were by the river for almost two days and then decided to go back home, to Kishinev. Many families had left, and the city seemed empty, there was a lot of looting. The Red Army had ordered not to leave anything to the enemy, so stores, bus and train stations, shops, and many local businesses were set on fire. They could not stay in their house, so they went on a road again, and eventually were picked up by a military truck. Sura remembers that she could “hardly breathe because the air was so hot and full of ash”. They returned to the Dniester River bank again, and saw that a pontoon bridge had been set up in place of the destroyed bridge.
Sura’s family ended up in the city of Tiraspol. Her family joined people from the Moldavia Lyric Opera who were waiting to be evacuated from Moldavia to Russia. Her father had worked for the Opera as a tailor, so administration allowed them to join a list of evacuees. They boarded a freight train - a platform that “had no roof, no doors, and no stairs”. The train was exposed to air raids and shelling all along the railroad. During the air raids, passengers had to jump down and run in different directions. From time to time, the train also stopped, so riders could use a bathroom which was - the open fields around the tracks.
Sura’s family eventually made it to the town of Budennovsk where she lived for about a year until August 1942. Sura went to first grade but had to quit school in the winter since it was too cold and she had no winter clothes. The German military started a new operation in the North Caucasus which is not far from the Caspian Sea, the biggest and most important source of oil. The oil capital was city of Baku. Germans planned to cut Baku off from the rest of the country. Her family was forced to evacuate yet again. They got two horses and a cart and traveled to Central Asia–despite the fact that her father was a tailor and had never known how to handle horses and a cart.
Despite all of the challenges, the
family was able to reach Grozny, from there went to the Caspian port of Makhachkala. They had to wait there for a boat to cross the sea and faced horrible heat, hunger, thirst, and the crowds of people. While it was a truly terrible time all around, Sura was able to bathe in the sea for the first time in her life. Her family also found a green bottle that was full of honey which kept them alive for a long time. Finally, after months of wandering, they made it to the city of Leninsk in Uzbekistan, Central Asia in November of 1942. Her parents got jobs as tailors and her brother was hired at a cotton plant. They rented a one-bedroom house without windows, and slept together on a bed. Sura was enrolled in second grade but classes were very hard for her since she had missed a lot of school. At the end of 1942, Sura fell ill with typhus and missed even more school. Everyone was suffering from hunger. The daily portion of bread for an adult was 300 grams and 200 grams for a child. To avoid starvation, in 1943 at seventeen years old Boris was drafted and sent to the front. He was injured in the right leg, spent nine months in the hospital and remained disabled for the rest of his life. Finally, in 1945 family returned to Kishinev. The city was mostly in ruins, there was no electricity, no firewood, no kerosene, and not enough food. Yet, they finally had peace.
All information from the book Never Heard Never Forget and interviews with survivors.