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Testimonial Documented By: Avigdor Frenklakh

Project Co-ordinator: Nellie Khoroshina

Cover Art & Design: Sarah Scharf

Proof-reader: Shelley Dukes

Translated into English by: Sarah Bendetsky

Pyotr (Pesach) Kravchenko

I was born on 15 August 1927 in a small Jewish town of Naroulia in Belarus.

My parents called me Pesya (Pesach); in Russian, I was named Petya. My last name is Kravchenko.

My father, David, was a tailor who worked in a craftsmen association.

My mother was a housewife. She took care of kids – my two younger brothers and me. We had a wonderful Jewish family.

My Dad had six brothers and one sister who was later shot, alongside two of her kids and my grandmother.

My grandfather used to take me to the synagogue but back then I wasn’t that interested… It was the time of the Soviet pioneers, you know.

All the Jewish holidays were celebrated at our home; even Matzah was baked at our place for all the neighbours. We had a beautiful home near the riverbank. Life was beautiful. We loved going fishing and picking mushrooms and berries; everything was in plenty. What else can one ask for?

When the war broke out, it changed overnight. All the men left fight for their country. Thirty of us left the town, and only three came back – including my cousin and me. The rest were killed or gone missing… The week before the war began, I went to Kiev together with my aunt’s grandfather. On 22 June 1941, I woke up, not realising what has happened.

My relatives left to the Jewish marketplace; I was home alone. I sat on the windowsill looking at a strange cloud in the sky.

By mid-day, we heard a special announcement made by Vyacheslav Molotov about the war outbreak. That very day we went to the city pierce and headed back home to Naroulia. After reuniting with my mother and brothers, we continued our journey until we reached Baku. We came out at pierce 26, as we had to wait for two weeks to catch our transfer go to Krasnovodsk. During this time, suddenly, my mother got ill. She was hospitalised and diagnosed with typhus. She died the same day. I was left alone with my young brothers… One of them was six; the other one was not even two… We were offered to stay in the orphanage based in Ashkhabad. I refused, of course, because we were lucky to bump into our auntie from Kiev, who was my mother’s sister. It happened at a pierce in the city of Makhachkala. Our aunt took care of us then, and for many more years, until her death, I lived with her together with my brother Misha. She became the second mother to us. When my younger brother Misha turned six in 1942, I became his official guardian, while being an orphan myself. Due to this fact, I was not allowed to join the army, despite my wishes to go to the war.

I worked and was entitled to receive two bread tickets, providing a double portion of bread, for my brother and myself, but I kept asking the officials to allow me to go to the war, threatening to run away to the battlefield myself.

Finally, I was told that I would be able to join the army if I made sure that my brother Misha was well cared for.

At that stage, my youngest baby brother was taken to Krasnovodsk by a Russian couple, who offered to help us. Their older sons were in the army, too. I had no idea what would happen to my baby brother. Only eighteen years later, I finally found the woman who took him to Krasnovodsk. At first, she couldn’t remember me and then she said that my brother died during the war. I went to the local hospital and found his death certificate dating to October 1942…

In August 1944, I turned 17 and was finally allowed to join the army forces in the Yaroslavl region and was deployed to the Polish city of Sandomierz. In January, we liberated Częstochowa and prior to moving further, I joined the Communist Youth League known as the Komsomol. Soon after, we went to Katowice, Mislavice, Krakow, and from there, to Berlin. Following the Surrender of Berlin, we were asked to relocate to Prague. We jumped into the cars and drove through the Sudeten Mountains. The day after, we found ourselves in Prague. We were able to restore the government connection, and on 11 May, the war was over.

After the end of the war, I had a strong desire to capture my memories by writing poetry.

My poems were published in four books. My poem is dedicated to my grandmother, who was killed by the Nazis with other family members and neighbours… Some of my poems were translated into English.

I was a so-called Refusenik and was not allowed to leave USSR. In order to immigrate, I had to quit my job at a factory. I was unemployed for 5 years.

Moving to Melbourne was the best decision I could make for my family. It’s our second home, where there are so many people living peacefully together, and where all cultures and backgrounds are respected.

I love celebrating the Anzac Day and feel that I belong to its cause even though I fought in the USSR. I believe that the future of my grandchildren is going to be bright and peaceful in Australia, and I hope to share it with them for as long as I can.
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