Narrated: Ruvim Katz, St-Petersburg, Russia
English Translation: Mark Klionsky, webmaster's father, St-Petersburg, Russia
Editing: Maria Klionsky, San Francisco
Posted on: 27 Aug, 2011
Last Updated on: 17 Sep, 2011

Ruvim, 1930s.
By Ruvim Katz (b. 1918), retired Red Army lieutenant-colonel, WWII veteran and webmaster’s grandfather. He lives in St-Petersburg, Russia and will be 93 years old in November.

The series consist of several short stories that Ruvim narrated from memory to Mark Klionsky, webmaster’s father.

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N. Sisoev `Cutting cabbage for pickling in a village`, 1966
I was born in 1918 at the small village of Kholmi, near the border of Smolensk area (Russia) and Belarus, about 20 miles from Petrovichi.

The village consisted of 100 households with 15 out of 100 being Jewish. My mother, Masya (Mikhlina) Katz(1882-1959) was cantor Abram Mikhlin’s daughter.

My father, Isaac Katz(1880-1971) was a farmer. The family consisted of my 5 siblings, one orphan and the rebbe, our Hebrew teacher, whom my parents agreed to feed as a part of a teaching deal. Life was tough.

This story takes place in the late 1920s. My father, Isaac Katz, decided to visit his neighbor Ivan and order the extra-large wooden barrel for the pickled cabbage, which was the staple of our diet at the time. I asked to go with him.

Our family was large, consisting of eight people, and the regular size barrel was not enough for the whole winter.
We really needed it, but as soon as Ivan saw us he from his house he threw up his hands and shouted – “Itzek, forget about ordering any barrels, I already closed my shop. I just recently made a barrel for Stephan and the authorities found out right away. They fined me 75 rubles. Where can I get such money? (The price of barrel was a mere 7 rubles, so paying this fine was crazy expensive).

It was ridiculous that we could not order the barrel but there was no room for private enterprise in Soviet Russia and we returned home with nothing.

My mother,Masya (Mikhlina) Katz(1882-1959), was daughter of a cantor. She was brought up as a very religious person. My father, Isaak Katz, even though having little religious education, was also a devoted Jewish husband. Both followed the Jewish laws with no questions.

They were always making certain that their children were following the same laws under any circumstances.

Living in a small village, our daily diet consisted mostly of potato, some vegetables and bread. Meat was given only when the cows were slaughtered. 
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That did not happen often because the nearest reznik or shochet (slaughterer) lived in the next village. He made his decisions on the spot whether the meat was kosher or treif (not kosher).

The rear part of the cow was always considered treif and was sold to our Russian Orthodox neighbors for almost nothing. My family would anxiously wait to hear what the reznik would tell us about the "front" part of the cow.

Sometimes when he mumbled ‘treif` my family would leave with no meat until the next trip. (even when a kosher animal is slaughtered in a kosher way, the meat could be non-kosher if certain defects in the animal are found. Lesions, lacerations, broken limbs, missing or punctured organs, or the result of an attack by a larger animal are all defects that make an animal treif.).

Meanwhile our Russian- Orthodox neighbors owned pigs, ate bread with pig’s fat and were never hungry.

Once, when I was 6-7 years old, I was hungry (as always) and asked our neighbor’s son for this "delicacy." He shared his piece of fat (salo) with curiosity, as it was so unusual to see Jewish boy eating pork.

Afterwards, I carelessly told my mom about this and she got very angry and upset. She scolded me and forced me to clean my tongue and teeth with ashes (no tooth paste!) for a long time

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At another time, during haymaking, my father was loading a haystack on a wooden cart, and suddenly something like a small brick wrapped in a rag fell out of the hay.

My older brother Grisha (Girsha), 17 years old at the time, saw this and while running as fast as he could towards the cart, screamed, “don't touch that, its mine!”

Our father, of course, immediately unwrapped the package and to his astonishment found a piece of pork fat.

Because of the heavy physical labor (cutting the The food that our mom provided consisted of rye bread, milk and vegetable soup from beet tops or spinach.
It was certainly not enough and Grisha turned to something that could fill him up, even though it risked severly upsetting our parents.

After the pork incident, our father did not let him into our house and as a punishment Grisha had to sleep several cold nights in the horse barn.

Once, our father brought 100 cheaply bought eggs from the market.

We always needed eggs but more so in preparation to Shabbat. On Fridays, our mother was always baking hallah and the eggs were essential part of the ingredients in the dough.

We have had our own hens but they were laying eggs only during the summer months when there was enough grain for them to be fed.

Our father arrived from the market late in the Friday night. By that time, Shabbat had started and all work was forbidden.

Knowing this, our father waived his hand and shouted to us, “hell with these eggs, it’s Shabbat!” rushing to his bed. Any of my 6 siblings could bring those eggs in the house, but all the work on Shabbat was banned.

The eggs remained in a cart at our courtyard all night.

Next morning the first thing I heard waking up was our mother crying. Early in the morning she went out to the courtyard to check upon treasured purchase and all of the eggs were eaten by the village stray dogs.
We walked in the park, and a tall man, about 6 feet tall passed us by.

Ruvim started to reminisce on meeting such men during World War II (1941-1945, for Soviet Russia).

It was 1943, the Red Army started to prevail, but German Army was still too strong. I was the commander of a company of communication, in a captain rank.

I arrived on official business to the headquarters that was hidden in the heavily forested area.
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After bombardment, 1942
I was standing in the courtyard when German planes appeared from nowhere and started to bomb our headquarters.

In a search of shelter I happened to notice a pothole in the earth and rushed there trying to hide.

Bombs were falling around tearing up the earth and everything around me. Suddenly, something next to heavy crashed down on the earth next to me, but no explosion followed. I was bewildered.

After the German planes dropped all their bombs and left, I decided to get out of my little trench. I looked around and noticed a killed horse nearby.

It appeared that, when bombardment started, a soldier who was responsible for this horse tied it to a tree, and ran for shelter.

A piece of the bomb shrapnel killed the horse and it fell with deafening sound next to me.

At that moment, I thought that if I were tall then I would not be able to fit completely in that pot hole and probably followed the fate of that unlucky horse.