What had happened to my grandparents, aunts and uncles? The diary, letters from the National Archives, and page 195 of the book, “The Forsaken,” all pointed to one place- Kuibyshev. A search on Google told me that Kuibyshev is presently named Samara, and Google maps showed that Kuibyshev/Samara is approximately 1000 miles southeast of Novgorod. No wonder they couldn’t be found. How did they get there?
I set out for the library where I found a book, “To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival in the Soviet Union at War.” This is where I learned the details of Stalin’s hurriedly-assembled evacuation plan.
The movement of the population was, foremost, structured as a function of the war effort rather than based upon saving human lives. Those skilled in factory work were moved to industrial areas where they could assist in manufacturing material for the war effort, while unskilled labor was evacuated to areas outside the cities. Materials which could not be moved but could be useful to the enemy were destroyed.
Trains were the primary means of population movement, and the evacuations concentrated in major population centers, where it was presumed that attacks would occur. Soviet citizens in smaller villages were on their own, so they were unable to buy train tickets and were not included on official evacuation lists. If they were lucky, they were still able to board a train; otherwise, they either left on foot or on boats.
While the evacuations of some cities were organized in the beginning, hysteria and confusion often ensued as the stations became more crowded. It was not unusual for there to be thousands in a single station pushing and shoving as they tried to squeeze onto a train.
People were crammed inside like ants in a nest, sitting on suitcases or bedrolls for days and even weeks at a time as they waited for their time to finally board a train. It was nearly impossible to sleep because of the noise of the nonstop chattering of people and crying babies. Those who could not inch their way inside would be forced to sleep outside, which became increasingly difficult as the nighttime temperatures began to dip.
When it became apparent that it could take a very long time to find seats on the trains, people began leaving on foot, carrying as many of their possessions as possible in suitcases, trunks, wheelbarrows and carts. It was not uncommon to see men, women and children trudging along with their belongings strapped to their backs.
As the autumn of 1941 approached and Germany edged closer to Moscow, Stalin decided to evacuate all government personnel, Soviet Premier Vyacheslav Molotov, all foreign embassies, and members of the arts to the city of Kuibyshev while he remained in Moscow. If something could not be moved but was thought to be valuable to the Germans, it was destroyed.
So now I had an answer regarding the mysterious disappearance of Dad’s family and their emergence in Kuibyshev sometime in the winter of 1942. Did they go by boat, train, or on foot? Time to pull out the diary.