Dodging Bombs on the Train

Dad’s parents and sisters never knew what to expect from one day to the next.  My Aunt Anna seemed to be the optimistof their family as they fled to safety from the Germans. On December 1, they were “riding on box cars with all comforts to the city of Yarolslav….Our meal- black bread and water. Led a hand to mouth life.”

I wanted to understand their journey.  Luckily, I live in a university town, so I headed to the library. The map room, I discovered, was five floors underground. I guess I was safe if a sudden tornado hits town.

When I requested a map of the Soviet Union, I was asked, “what year.” I learned that in looking at our past, old maps are so helpful.  Many times I could not locate a city or town on a map only to discover that the name had been changed. So when doing genealogy research, keep in mind that not only is it helpful to try variations of a family name, the spellings of locations may have changed slightly, or in many cases, completely. I discovered early in my research that the city of Kuibyshev,  is now the city of Samara. I have found eight different spellings of my surname.

On December 6, my grandparents and aunts arrived at the Rybinsk station and as their train pulled into the station, they were pounded by German bombs.  How much more could they take? Luckily, no one in the family was physically injured, although my aunt Helen was left shell-shocked from the experience. (I learned this much later on, although it was alluded to in a later diary entry.) 

That particular day they had nothing to eat- not even a sip of water. “Germans dropped a few bombs on our train. We were left without any meal or bread and were hungry all day long.”

Apparently the cold was brutal.  I have seen historical accounts stating that the December 1941 temperatures hit -20°F. With so many of their belongings with my Uncle Pete, who had taken the water route, they were unprepared for this ferocious blast of cold.

The following day, December 7, 1941, was a holiday-or so it seemed to Anna- because the Yarolslavl train station brought the promise of hope. They “got a free meal: soup, fish and 3 kg of bread.  It seemed like a holiday to us when we ate that meal.”

Little did they know what that date meant to Dad and the rest of our countrymen.

Route traveled between Novogord and Kuibyshev- on foot and by train

Route traveled between Novogord and Kuibyshev- on foot and by train

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About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
This entry was posted in Genealogy Research Tips, The Diary, World War II and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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