“There was nothing left but a huge smoking pit– the Kostyukovs were gone.“

Sarah Kaplan, Berdichev

“There was nothing left but a huge smoking pit– the Kostyukovs were gone.“

Sarah Kaplan, who was born in Berdichev in 1916, was interviewed in Lviv in 2002 when she was 86 years old by Zhanna Litinskaya.

We knew that there was a war in Europe, but it seemed so far away and we had always been told that the Soviet Union had the strongest army in the world, so it never even occurred to us that somebody might attack us

But just a few days after the war began, Berdichev was bombed and my husband Shunia was standing on one of the city’s watchtowers. He was employed in a unit of the air force but had never trained as a soldier.

Our 6-year-old son and I climbed halfway up and shouted to him, ‘Get down from there. Let’s get out of here!’

Just then I saw the car of my husband’s boss Kostyukov, the director of his military unit, with his wife and children. There was another car just behind it loaded with carpets, dishes, bags of flour and sugar, and boxes filled with dried fish. I said to Shunia, ‘Look how your boss is getting ready to run away while you’re standing up there!’

We ran home and I tried to convince my mother and father to go with us. They refused. Same thing with the rest of the family.

Kostyukov and his wife were still loading up their two cars so I asked him to take us, but he refused. So, I just threw out a few things from his second car and shoved my husband and son in it. Kostyukov threatened us with his gun, but I didn’t think he’d actually kill us. We drove off. The Germans arrived in Berdichev two days later.

We headed away from the Germans. We got as far as Belaya Tserkov, around a hundred kilometers east, when a bomb hit Kostyukov’s car a few meters in front of ours. There was nothing left but a huge smoking pit– the Kostyukovs were gone.

His driver, the man in the second car, kept us with him and in three days we had gone around 400 kilometers and arrived in Poltava.

We stayed with Ukrainian people there and I’ll never forget how kind strangers were to us.

I didn’t want Shunia to go to the front and I begged him not to. But in early September he left for the front and we were bundled onto a train that was headed for Kazan, which was at least 930 miles to the east. All I know is that the Germans arrived in Poltava on September 18th. And the killing started immediately, just as it had in Berdichev.

We found room in Kazan with a Tatar family and in the fall of 1942 I received my husband’s death notice. I took to my bed and sobbed.

About a year later, in 1943, I met a Jewish barber in Kazan. His name was Zeilik Kaplan. He came from Mohilev-Podolsk. His wife and daughter perished in the ghetto back home. Zeilik and I began to live together.

After the war, Sara and Zelik Kaplan moved to Lviv, where they both worked as barbers. Sara passed away in 2006.