Narrated by: Michael Lokshin, Los Angelos, USA
Recorded by : Jacob Lokshin, Michael's grandson, Reno, Nevada
Edited by : Daniel Klionsky, the webmaster
Posted on: 30 Sep 2016
Last Updated on: 30 Sep 2016


From the perspective of Michael Lokshin’s contemporaries, his journey of survival was not unusual.

However, from the perspective of someone living in the 21st century, his story is not just pure luck but an example of how to believe in yourself and make the best decisions based on the limited information available.

Who was Michael Lokshin? Michael was the brother-in-law of Ruvim Katz (b. 1918), the grandson of cantor Abram Mikhlin (1850?-1919) of Petrovichi.

He was the younger brother of Hannah Katz (1922-2005), a late wife of Ruvim Katz (b. 1918).

Hannah and Ruvim are the grandparents of Daniel Klionsky, this site’s webmaster. In Daniel’s family, his great-uncle Michael was known by his Russian nickname, “Misha” or “Moisey” (Russified version of Moshe).


Michael Loskhin WWII survival journey, 1941-1945
Klimovichi, Belarus, where Michael Lokshin lived since 1932, was a poor town northwest of Minsk and not far from Petrovichi, where cantor Abram Mikhlin (1850?-1919) of Petrovichi lived and died.

Before the start of World War II, a number of unrelated Mikhlin families lived in Klimovichi, including Masya Katz (nee Mikhlin), daughter of chazzan Abram Mikhlin.

In 1940, Klimovichi had a population of about 9,000, of which about 1,600 were Jews. All the buildings were wooden. The town did not have much of an industry and was existed based on its proximity to a train station.
 Michael (Hebrew name – Moishe), the second of four children, was born October 27, 1924, in the small village of Zimonino.

His father, Zalman, was a bookbinder who did not make much money. His mother, Dina, took care of the children and the house.

In the fall of 1940, at age 17, Michael started his senior year in high school. His younger brother David and sister Sonya were in elementary school.

His older sister, Hannah (Daniel’s grandmother), had graduated from high school and was attending law school in Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city (originally Saint Petersburg; changed to Petrograd in 1914, re-named as Leningrad in 1924, and changed back to Saint Petersburg in 1991).

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Michael (on the left) with classmates, 1940, Klimovichi
      
Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s military invasion of the Soviet Union, began on June 22, 1941. The German military swiftly advanced eastward into Russia and what are now the Baltic States, Belarus, and Ukraine.

There was an air of panic as refugees from conquered areas started coming into Klimovichi. The refugees told horror stories of Germans burning down entire villages and killing almost everybody. However, even this was not enough for the Lokshin family to leave behind their belongings and run.

The Lokshin family had built their house in a course of nine years, by saving every penny.
 Their house even had a tin roof while most of the neighboring houses had cheap wooden roofs. The thought of leaving that house was intolerable.

By the end of July 1941, Klimovichi was not yet under attack. However, many residents had fled to escape while they still could. Some residents were drafted into the Soviet Red Army, some moved their families further east into the Soviet Union, and others went by train to work in factories at the outskirts of European Russia along the Volga River.

That month, Michael Lokshin’s family split up. With the Soviet Red Army drafting all men at age of 18, and Michael being just 17, he was too young to be conscripted but his father Zalman was drafted as a military cook. While in the Red Army,

Zalman heard stories of the vicious treatment of the Jews by the Germans, so he asked his family, including Michael, to leave Klimovichi as soon as possible.

Luckily for the people of Klimovichi, they had a train station. So when the German Army began its approach and the residents of Klimovichi had to flee, there was an escape out of the region that was quick and more effective than riding a wagon or horse.

Michael, his mother, his sister Sonya, and his younger brother David all left Klimovichi by train on July 15, 1941, to live in Kuybyshev with cousins they had never seen. They traveled with a few blankets, a hand-cranked Singer’s sewing machine, and the clothes on their backs.

They rode on an empty, no-roof, coal platform with about 20 other people who at different points along the way would get off the train as others hopped on as space became available. Along the way, the train stopped at the small town of Borisoglebsk.

Michael got off the train to look for some extra food and drinking water, and ran into a group of his old classmates who recently had been drafted into the Red Army (Michael at this time was still 17, but his slightly older classmates already were over the age of 18).

Michael’s friends were on their way to the front lines, westward. While Michael was talking to his former classmates, his train left the station without him. It took Michael two days to catch up with the train and his family. (After the war Michael discovered that every one of the friends he had met at that small train station had died in combat during the war.)

One month later, on August 10, 1941, the Germans entered Klimovichi.
When Michael and his family left Klimovichi they were heading towards the factory town of Kuybyshev, on the western shore of the Volga River and the edge of European Russia.

Its location on the border with Siberia made it secure, too far away from the front line with the German Army for it to be overrun. It had been determined that, if Moscow fell to the Germans, Kuybyshev would be the backup capital city of the Soviet Union.

Kuybyshev, known today as Samara, was a large town of about 500,000 people with many factories. Of that 500,000, there were about 20,000 Jews who had flooded into the city after their own towns had been destroyed by the German Army. 

Kuybyshev had been a center for industry for many years with the first natural gas line in Russia. Michael and his family arrived in Kuybyshev in September 1941.

But Michael was almost eighteen, so no local factory would give him a job because they thought he would be drafted into the Red Army. His mother found a job as a seamstress making uniforms for soldiers.

On October 5, 1941, Michael finally found a job at Airplane Factory 24, which had just been relocated from Moscow. The factory was still being built when he started working there.

“Factory construction was done by thousands of prisoners from the Gulag. First, concrete foundations for the machinery were poured in an open field.

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World War II poster.
Michael worked at the Airplane Factory but in the USSR
      
The machines were brought in while the walls and roofs were being built. Airplane manufacturing began as soon as the machinery arrived.”

The factory needed workers with metalworker experience, which excluded Michael, so he lied and said he was a metalworker. Because the employers desperately needed workers, they hired Michael anyway, even though they knew he had no experience as a metalworker.

Michael worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for the next three years as a lathe turner making the valves in an airplane engine. Getting this factory job meant that Michael and his family would not starve to death. Daily rations at the factory were 600 grams of bread and one bowl of soup.

The salary Michael received also was enough to pay for one kilo of bread per month. Everybody worked in pairs in the factory. Once a month, one person in the pair got a day off to go to the bathhouse, while the co-worker was on the job for 24 hours straight; then they would switch. Michael recalled that this was the hardest period of his life; he was starving, cold, dirty, and exhausted the entire time.

At one point during the war, Michael became so sick from chronic fatigue and malnourishment that the factory sent him to a small town called Zhiguly, where he rested for ten days. He eventually recovered enough to survive and be put back to work in the factory. Michael’s factory was part of a pair of factories that manufactured airplanes. His factory manufactured airplane engines; another factory outside of Kuybyshev manufactured the airplane fuselage and put the engine into the plane.

He and his co-workers contributed to the rebuilding of the Soviet Union’s Air Force, which was largely rebuilt by the end of 1941 after the loss of about 4,000 airplanes within the first few weeks of the German invasion.

Over the course of the war, military factories manufactured approximately 36,000 Ilyushin IL-2m-3 Shturmovik warplanes. Michael and his fellow workers manufactured IL2 Storm planes, which were low- flying planes that attacked infantry and tanks, rather than other aircraft.

On average, the factory Michael worked at produced 40 airplane engines per day.

As Lester Raymond reported in 1942, “Several miles from Kuibyshev’s outskirts stood a second city almost as large as the town itself, but consisting of nothing but factories….several of these factories made airplane parts and assembled planes….

[Kuibyshev] was simply one giant dormitory for the many thousands of workers who trekked every day on foot or by ailing trolley to the…factories” 
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Michael as a student, Leningrad, late 1940s

Michael Lokshin with family(first row: Asya, Boris, Michael; Anatole is standing behind Boris ) in  Leningrad, 1963
In 1944, while the war was still going on, Michael went to an aviation engineering college in Kuybyshev. That college had just opened and they recruited him.

There were not many people his age who still were alive, so all he had to do for admission was prove he had graduated from high school.

Because his high school had burned down, he asked his school principal to write a letter saying that he had indeed graduated. As soon as the war ended, Michael, his mother, his sister Sonya and his younger brother David all left Kuybyshev.

However, instead of going back to Klimovichi they decided to go to Leningrad (later Saint Petersburg) because the Germans had burned down almost all of Klimovichi, including their familial home.
Once they arrived in Leningrad, Michael went to another college for one year and studied mechanical engineering. Then he transferred to the Technological Institute for four years.

In 1951, he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and worked on various engineering jobs throughout his life.

That year, 1951, Michael married Asya, a fellow chemical engineer and five years his younger. Together they had had three children, Anatole, Boris and Tanya (Jacob Lokshin, the author of this article, is the youngest son of Boris).

Fast forward to 1983, and we learn that Michael and his family emigrated to the United States. While in America, he always kept in touch with the relatives he left behind in Soviet Russia.

Ten years later, in 1994, after signing an affidavit of relationship, Michael helped this site webmaster’s family to emigrate to the United States.

Michael survived his brother and both sisters. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 89 and is buried at the Jewish cemetery in Loma Linda, CA