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Zhanna Zaborenko (7/2/2021)

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

Before the war, Zhanna Zaborenko’s family lived in Kiev, near Petropavlosky Square. Her father, Vasiliy, was the director of a cannery and her mother, Vera, also worked there. She was only three years old when the war started. Due to the order of Mikiyona, her father was transferred to the city of Orsha to work as the director of a meat-packing plant that produced canned goods for those on the front lines but her family stayed in Kiev. The Germans entered Kiev and established their order. While Zhanna’s family was not Jewish, her mother told her about the mandates that were plastered on posters and flyers, which ordered “all Jews to pack their belongings and prepare to be evacuated from Kiev”. On September 30th, Zhanna traveled with her mother to a department store to buy a beret for her mother’s birthday. On their way home, they stumbled upon a raid. Since Zhanna’s mother “looked Jewish” and did not have her passport or any other identification on her, the Germans threw them with the group of Jews who were driven down the street toward Babi Yar. Babi Yar is a ravine in Kiev where massacres carried out by Nazi German soldiers. Many of the Jews were carrying heavy bags and suitcases but if they fell behind, the Germans would force them back into the row using the butt of their guns. Her mother tried to escape but it was impossible and a German smacked her back into row with his gun. Everyone in the convoy eventually realized that something was wrong and tried to run. However, the Germans and their German shepherds would catch them. Luckily, her mother saw her sister, Maria, among the people standing on the sidewalks watching what was going on. Maria ran towards Zhanna and her mother and shouted, “What are you doing here? They’re taking them to the slaughter!” Her mother explained what had happened and Maria ran home to retrieve Zhanna’s mother’s passport. Maria reached her sister and Zhanna just in the nick of time; she reached them right before they got to Babi Yar. Maria showed the passport to the guards and Zhanna and her mother were able to leave.

Since her family lived in a heavily Jewish area, Zhanna’s grandmother, Martha, hid her Jewish neighbor, Liza, and traded some of their things for food. Shortly before the Soviet army arrived, the Germans ordered all the residents of Kurenovka to take their belongings and gather at the central square. They went from house to house, forcing people into the street. Afterward they herded everyone into a line and drove them down the lane towards Kiev’s train station. Zhanna’s family had a wheelbarrow with all of their things loaded into it and Zhanna on top. Eventually, the wheelbarrow collapsed and Zhanna fell onto the ground in the mud. The Germans conducted an inventory at the station and herded us into a boxcar. Six of her family members, including my grandma, were in her boxcar, among others. The Germans gave her rations of bread and sausage but they were thrown on the dirty floor. They also latched the door shut and there were no water or bathrooms. Everyone in the boxcar thought that they were being transported to Germany, but everyone was released in Shepatovka (there were rumors that partisans had blown up the train tracks). From Shepatovka they went to Baranovichi (Byelo-russia) and from there to Kiev. On the way they met American soldiers, who offered to help them and invited them to America.

“Who could have known that sixty years later, I would be telling this story to my family in America.”

All information from the book Never Heard Never Forget and interviews with survivors.

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