Early Years of World War II

Sarny, Poland

In 1939, after Hitler and Stalin divided up Poland, Sarny became part of the Soviet Union. Bronia had the opportunity to repeat a year of high school in Russian and learn the language. She did so because Jewish graduates of a Russian high school could attend medical school. Her father went to work in the Russian army as a civilian. In June 1941, Hitler attacked Russia and was marching towards Sarny. When Bronia heard the news on a shortwave radio while on civic patrol duty, she returned home to warn her family and they started running towards Kiev where her aunt lived. Her father originally went with them but returned home to where her grandparents were to wait for the army to evacuate. Bronia, her mother, and sister made it to Kiev, but her aunt had already been evacuated. Her aunt’s husband was a Russian officer and was able to obtain room on a barge for them that was headed towards Dnepropetrovsk. After 3 days, they arrived in Dnepropetrovsk and they were put into box cars that were headed into Asia. Along the way, they were reunited with her mother’s sister. Bronia, her mother, sister, and aunt got off the train in the foothills of the Caucasian Mountains. While there, her mother worked in the fields on a collective farm, her sister went to high school, and Bronia studied medicine in Krasnodar. After three months, the Nazis were getting closer and Bronia and her family traveled to Armenia. They arrived in Kirovakan and were given housing. Bronia worked as a waitress, her sister worked as a telephone operator, and her aunt sewed clothing for the wives of Russian officers.. They were able to obtain more food and made enough money to live. In Armenia, the people were Semites and friendly, but there were no Jews there. In September 1942, Bronia went to medical school in the capital, Yerevan, while her family stayed in Kirovakan. She received a scholarship and was housed in the dormitories. In school, she learned Armenian. While in Armenia, Bronia and her family read in the newspaper in October 1942 that the Germans had invaded Sarny. They had killed 14,000 Jews in one day from Sarny and the surrounding towns. They killed all the Jews in one mass grave. Bronia and her family mourned as their father and grandparents were killed. In 1943, Bella finished high school and went to study languages at the university in Yerevan.