Interviewed by Carol Zucker
March 23, 1999
Ita sometimes speaks through the interpreter, Vera
CZ I am in Vera's apartment again, interviewing, would you tell me your name?
IZ Ita Zeldovich.
CZ Thank you. I appreciate being here and I'm glad you understand what we're going to be doing today because Vera explained it. What I want to know is something about you, and about your experiences in Russia, and about your experiences in Tucson, and about your Judaism, whether it exists or doesn't exist?...So, when were you born?
IZ July 20, 1920.
CZ OK, did you come to Tucson by yourself?
IZ No, no. With my husband's family.
CZ With your husband? You had a husband then?
IZ No, my husband died in Tucson.
CZ In Tucson or in Russia?
IZ In Tucson.
CZ In Tucson, when was this?
IZ In 1994.
CZ OK. When did you come to Tucson?
IZ In September 1992.
CZ In 1992, so you've been here a long time. Wonderful. What made you decide to leave, why did you decide to leave Russia?
IZ We decided to leave Russia in 1979 because of great anti-Semitism in the republic we lived.
CZ And where was that?
IZ Tatarstan. In Tatarstan the city was Kazan.
IZ No, Tatarstan.
CZ And the city was?
IZ Kazan. And the government did not give the permission to leave Russia. And we had to wait from '79 until '92.
CZ And so what did that mean to you? What happened as a result?
IZ It was very difficult to live because I was retired, and my children lost their jobs.
CZ They were fired from their jobs, dismissed.
IZ Yes. When they knew that the family want to leave they fire from job.
CZ So when they knew, they found out that you wanted to leave...and that was in 1979?
CZ That was in '79 when this happened? I see.
IZ It was very, very hard to live because we had not a job and no money.
CZ So you were already retired. And what were your children doing then? In 1979 before they lost their jobs?
IZ She was a programmer.
CZ The daughter?
CZ And what was her name?
CZ When was she born?
IZ In November 1949.
CZ Did you have other children?
IZ Yes, I have a son.
CZ What is his name?
CZ When was he born? Write it...
CZ So he was three years older than your daughter. And what did he do?
IZ He was a programmer.
CZ Oh, programmer also. Now you were in the city of Kazan?
IZ Yes, Kazan.
CZ Did he have a family?
IZ Yes, his wife was a programmer.
CZ What did you do?
IZ I was a pediatrician. In university in 1946 I get...
CZ Get your diploma?
CZ You became a physician in 1946?
IZ Yes. I worked as a pediatrician.
CZ Where did you go to school?
IZ In Minsk, Belorussia.
CZ OK. Why did you go to school there?
[turn off tape momentarily]
CZ You left Kazan to go to Minsk to medical school?
IZ No, I was born in Belorussia in a schtettel, near Minsk, Parich, Belorussia. My family used to live in Parich. My mother and father had six children. I went to the University in 1948 in Minsk. My sister finished medical school in 1939.
CZ So your sister graduated from medical school in 1939.
IZ And my brother was graduated in 1941.
CZ Also from medical school?
IZ Yes, medical.
CZ Were your parents, mother and dad, physicians, doctors?
IZ My parents, no.
CZ So how come all three of you became doctors? You just wanted it that way?
IZ Yes. I completed three courses before the war, in medical school.
CZ What does that mean? You graduated three courses before the war? Did you finish everything? Was everything complete?
IZ I can't finish because a German Army came in Minsk. On the second day after the war began we ran from Minsk because the German...
CZ she's using her fingers to show how she was running
IZ Germans come to Minsk.
CZ And did they come to your little village?
CZ You were in Minsk at that time? OK, so what happened when you ran? Where did you go?
IZ We don't know. We go and we don't know where but we want to be far from Germans. Ten days and nights we ran and before we reach to the railroad.
CZ She's using her little hand held electronic machine for translating.
CZ You took the train! Took the railroad train.
IZ Train it is, train. We go to the road on the train.
CZ Go to the tracks, to the station.
IZ To the station train.
CZ To catch the train. Ten days after the war began?
IZ After the war began.
CZ So where were you in those ten days?
IZ We sleep in the woods.
CZ How many were there of you?
IZ I was studying in Minsk and my sister lived in Minsk. And when the war began we ran. And my father came from the schtettel where they live and came to visit us in Minsk.
CZ Did he know the war...
IZ No, we don't know the war is began. Before three or four days until the war began.
CZ He came a few days before the war began.
IZ Yes, to visit his daughters, and his son. And his son sent a letter to his father and wrote that after the graduation from medical institute they all have to be in Red Army. But not because the war begin, no, but after graduation they have to serve in military, Red Army. And so, father want to visit his son before he go to the Army, and the daughters, and he came for three or four days before the war to Minsk. So, we run, with father, me, my sister, and nephew, and sister's husband. My brother, on that day when began the war, my brother was mobilized to the Army.
CZ Bad luck.
IZ Yes, bad luck. And me and my father decided to go to the schtettel. And her sister and the sister's husband wanted to accompany us. But the German Army started to bombing Minsk.
CZ Yeah, bombing raid.
IZ Yes, and we wanted to go out from Minsk.
CZ So you wanted to see your best escape route? The best way to escape? Is that right?
IZ Yes. How we go out. And not to the schtettel but only from Minsk.
CZ OK, are you here in the schtettel with your father?
IZ No. We were not in the schtettel. We go to schtettel and came back.
CZ And you're back. And you're returned from the schtettel.
IZ No, we cannot go to the schtettel. When we went out from Minsk we saw that we cannot reach the schtettel.
CZ Oh, I see. I got you.
IZ It was so terrible.
CZ The bombing and the destruction.
IZ Yes, the bombing. And then the German soldiers, very quickly cut off the routes.
CZ Cut the escape routes.
IZ Yes, and we cannot reach the schtettel. So we ran where we can. And so we went ten days and nights and we sleep in the woods and eat...
CZ What did you eat? Not much.
IZ No, not much. We was hungry and we have no papers, no passport. We have not food, we have not clothes, we have nothing. A little bit of money.
CZ To get on the train?
IZ No, it is not enough for the train. We was very poor.
CZ You left very poor.
CZ OK, so after ten days what happened?
IZ When we reach the station and we saw the train with open platforms.
CZ Cars? Cattle cars?
CZ Not cattle cars? Freight cars? Where they carry cows?
IZ No. It was an open platform.
CZ Passenger car?
IZ No, not for passengers. And we sit on this open platform.
CZ What was the weather like. When was this? What month, what year?
IZ June 1941. The war began 22nd June. And that day, 24th, we went away from Minsk.
CZ And then you found these cars.
IZ Yes, it was open platforms.
CZ And nowhere to sit?
CZ And what about water?
IZ On the station we get water and we drink it.
CZ And no food.
IZ No food.
CZ So, did you know where the train was going?
IZ No, we don't know.
CZ So you just get on a train to get out?
CZ It could have gone back to Minsk?
IZ No, no. It would be going the wrong way.
CZ So where did you stop?
IZ We sit on the train on the open platform.
CZ For how long?
IZ We rode maybe twelve hours. And so we reached a station where evacuated people were gathered.
CZ OK. Was that lucky that you found that?
IZ It was on the station, and they for decided how to be with the people who ran. And people got food. And they was sent to the Kolchoz, you know what this is, the Kolchoz?
IZ Yes, it was in Israel.
CZ You were sent to Israel?
IZ No, no, no.
CZ It's like the ones in Israel? Cooperative farms.
IZ Yes, cooperative farms, but worse. And maybe three days we rode to the farm to collect the harvest.
CZ Oh, they sent you to work, it was harvest time. I see. Now, how did you know the Germans weren't going to come after you?
IZ We don't know. We worked in this place maybe three weeks.
CZ What did they harvest?
CZ OK, so you lived in these camps?
IZ They gave to the family a little home, a very bad home, without floor, it was ground. And we sleep on the floor. And no bathroom. Only what we have the farm gave us food.
CZ And they gave you a place to cook in the house?
IZ They gave us only milk and bread.
CZ And how many meals a day.
IZ Not too much. A little.
CZ So they starved you. Now tell me about this. Why did you decide to leave, because of the soldiers. But did everybody leave?
IZ We was afraid of German soldiers.
CZ Because you were Jewish?
CZ Was that important for you leaving?
IZ We know that the German soldiers hate the Jewish people. But we saw in Russia maybe film, movie, it was a very nice movie and in this movie, it was before the war. And from this movie Russian people knows about Nazis and what German people, Nazis, did with Jewish people. In this movie they show about one doctor, professor, that was fired from his job and all the Jewish was in this situation. It was one source to help us know about German. And that source was when Germany in 1939 occupied the Poland and the Poland people come to Russia and they told about what the Nazis do with Jewish people. So we was afraid and we run from Germans.
CZ Was that the main reason, because you were Jewish? Was that the primary reason?
IZ Yes, it was primary reason.
CZ What did you hear? What had you heard that the soldiers did? Did you know anything about the extermination camps?
IZ No, no. Some people believed and some people not believe, we don't know because our government don't release the information.
CZ About how many people left Minsk about the same time you did? A lot? Many?
CZ Like hundreds, thousands?
IZ Thousands. But who began to run in the beginning of the war, would be safe. But who decided to went from Minsk 27th the route was hard and closed
CZ So those of you left really quickly got out and then after that it was too late.
IZ Yes, and people who could not run and remain in Minsk and Jewish people were in the concentration camp and they were killed. Many Jewish people remained and were killed.
CZ Many got killed.
CZ So, you had your whole family with you. Your husband was with you?
IZ Ah, I was not married yet.
CZ Oh, it was before you were married. OK. It was your sister and your sister's son. Right, right, OK.
IZ And I was 21 years old, and my sister's family lived in Minsk.
CZ And stayed there?
IZ The sister who went with me now lives in New York.
CZ So, the people that are with you, your father, but your mother's back in the schtettel.
IZ And she was killed. My mother, my sister's family she has a husband and a son, my brother.
CZ Another brother.
IZ Another brother was killed.
CZ All killed in the schtettel. How did you know that? How did you find that out?
IZ After the war was finished.
CZ I see. OK, so you're working in the Kolchoz, these terrible conditions.
IZ After we worked three weeks in this Kolchoz we went to the government of this county and ask them to let usto go to a road to another place. And they let us go.
CZ And all of you?
IZ All the family, yes. We had the hand watch, we sold it.
CZ Paid off.
IZ Yes. And take tickets for only one station because we have no money, and take a train. This train went to Moscow but before Moscow Russian soldiers said that we cannot go to Moscow and they we to get off the train in Voronej.
CZ And Voronej is where, near Moscow?
IZ It is not so far from Moscow but it is Russia. It is a great county city.
CZ OK, so weren't there soldiers there? More Nazis? More German soldiers there in Voronej?
IZ No, not yet. At that time they did not be in Voronej, the German soldiers.
CZ OK. So what did you do there?
IZ My sister's husband was an accountant. He was very qualified. He come to the office of the military.
CZ Recruiting office we would say. To recruit.
IZ Yes. The recruit office said he can go to the little city to be an auditor.
CZ So that was his job. Was he in the military?
CZ No, but he worked for them.
IZ Yes. And they sent him to a small city.
CZ So you're all living in the small city and he's going around ...
IZ Yes, yes.
CZ And he's earning money?
IZ Uh huh. And my sister's husband earned money and I began to work as a nurse.
CZ Because you're so close to your medical school finish.
CZ Sure, good.
IZ It was a house where lived children with mental...
CZ Yes, disabled children.
IZ Yes, and I was a nurse. The sister was at home and she begin to sew the clothes because they have no clothes.
CZ Nothing. What did your father do then?
IZ He was old and he was very sad about his family, his wife. He was very sick. After two months we lived there the German military come close to this city.
CZ So that's when you decided to leave?
IZ Yes. When we knew about this we don't wait and quickly go to the railroad station and take the train. No, no tickets. The train ride the animals. But this train they offer for the people. They construct them for people.
CZ I see, so this normally had animals on it. Is that what you were saying?
CZ So it didn't cost any money?
IZ No. This train took the people who run from the Germans.
CZ So the Russians operated those trains in Russia?
IZ Yes, yes.
CZ Now why would they do that?
IZ Because the people were on the road.
CZ I know, but you hear so much about their anti-Semitism. That's what you hear about.
IZ It was Russian people, and Jewish people, it was everybody. In this train also were German people who lived in Russia. And they ride them far from the front.
CZ OK, so where did you go?
IZ And we want to go to Uzbekistan because it was very hot there.
CZ I'm going there this summer.
IZ We had no warm clothes.
CZ Cold clothes. Was it hot in Uzbekistan or cold?
CZ Hot in the summer and cold in the winter, no?
IZ No, it was hot in winter, hot in summer and good in winter.
CZ I see, so you didn't have any right clothes, cold clothes.
IZ Yes, and we want to go to Uzbekistan but the train came to the Kazakhstan. Also a republic, but in summer in Kazakhstan hot and in winter it is very cold, very cold. We say continental climate.
CZ We don't say that usually. OK, so how long did it take you to get to Kazakhstan?
IZ Maybe two weeks, maybe more.
CZ And did you have food?
IZ We took it with us.
CZ Oh, you took it with you. You had money at least.
IZ But we were still hungry and the child ask people for food.
CZ I see. How old was the child at this point?
IZ Seven years old.
CZ OK, off the subject. I should finish this. So you landed in Uzbekistan and you found jobs?
IZ No, Kazakhstan.
CZ I'm sorry, Kazakhstan.
IZ I worked as a nurse in the children's hospital.
CZ OK. And did you go back to medical school then or not until after the war?
IZ In 1944 I read in newspaper that my medical institute began to work in the city which was Yaroslav, in Russia. The Germans was not in this city.
CZ And I assume they never followed you to the eastern part of Russia. They never followed you, there was no problem, the Nazis never went to the eastern part of the USSR, the Soviet Union, was that true? Did they ever come to Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan.
IZ They never come in Yaroslav, they never come in Turkistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, never. It was far on the south. They come only to the Volga and we stuck there.
CZ OK, so how long were you there then?
IZ And I began to study in 1944 back in Russia in Yaroslav. It was one year before the war was finished. And I was graduated in Minsk.
CZ OK, because the Nazis were then out because you took one more year to finish?
IZ In 1946.
CZ And your sister and brother that were also physicians, did they finish in Minsk?
IZ My sister graduated from medical institute in Minsk in 1939.
CZ Oh yes, I think you told me that earlier. Now the thing that I want to talk about, there are so many things that we haven't covered. Things I want to talk about, I want to know about the anti-Semitism that you confronted in Belorussia, in Kazakstan, and in Minsk, in all of those places. Did you practice? Were you Jewish in Kazakhstan? Did you do any things that were observant of Judaism?
IZ My father, he believed in God and he did all the rituals, he pray, go to the synagogue.
CZ This was in the schtettel?
CZ Because in the schtettel there were a lot of Jewish people?
IZ It was six or seven synagogues in this schtettel then.
CZ I see, and how many people there? About what proportion of Jewish versus non-Jewish?
IZ It was only before, until 1930.
CZ It was only Jewish until 1930?
IZ No, it was not only Jews. It was synagogues in this schtettel and my father can do the Jewish service, and it was many Jewish people in this schtettel. But in 1930 the government said you must work on Saturday, you have to go to the job. And they closed all the synagogues.
CZ In your schtettel?
IZ Yes. All the synagogues and we cannot continue Jewish rituals.
CZ OK, you had no problem when you were in Kazakhstan, none whatsoever. Then you came back...
IZ When I was a little girl my grandmother taught me all the prayers.
CZ And you still know them.
IZ Yes. And after 1930 we cannot continue the Jewish rituals. When we came back to Minsk after the war, in Minsk was so great anti-semitism because in this city were Germans and the Russian people hate the Jewish people and it happened when we take a bus and the Russian person can stand up and say loudly, "I will not sit with Jewish."
CZ How did they know you were Jewish?
IZ How they know?
CZ We don't always know. Look at me. I don't look real Jewish. OK, so they know by the face.
CZ So they wouldn't let you, they would embarrass you in front of everybody, so much hatred. So, that school, what happened to you and your schooling? How did that anti-Semitism affect your last year of medical school?
IZ I continued.
CZ But what sort of anti-Semitism was there?
IZ We can enroll in the medical institute before the war but after the war Jewish people can't.
CZ But you had your last year to finish.
IZ I finished.
CZ OK, but then it stopped after that, allowing people to come to medical school?
IZ Yes but I could, because I continued.
CZ I see, because you were already enrolled so they didn't stop it. Anybody new couldn't come in, is that correct?
CZ So, you graduated from medical school. And then what did you do?
IZ I was married.
CZ When? Which year?
IZ In 1946, March, and began to work as a pediatrician
CZ And did you work, how did you work? Were you in a a group practice? Were you in a hospital? A clinic?
IZ It was an ambulatory clinic. So I was a doctor and when the child was sick, when mother called to the ambulatory, the doctor go to the home. Our doctors went to the sick people. Always.
CZ Even now?
IZ Yes, even now. It is another system. If an adult has a fever and feels bad he calls and the doctor come. And it was free.
CZ And it was free. That's communism. Right. OK. So, did they pay you? I mean, you earned a living, you were paid?
IZ Yes, yes. We paid but very little money. The doctors, teachers, engineers had low salary. And lawyers also.
CZ So what did your husband do?
IZ He was an engineer.
CZ Where did he work?
IZ He worked in a construction organization.
CZ Very good.
IZ He build the bridges.
CZ Bridges, civil engineer.
IZ Bridges and other structures.
IZ No highways.
CZ Dams and things like that? And then did you have children?
IZ Yes, I have two children.
CZ Tell me about, what did you do about their Judaism. Anything? Or was it just prohibited?
CZ There, in Minsk. That's where you lived?
IZ We couldn't do it. We cannot study the Jewish tradition and we have not where to do it. They know Passover and they knew Yom Kippur.
CZ What about Passover. Did you eat matzos?
IZ One day.
CZ One day. So you tried to do what you could do. And your children, because you had it as a child, you had religion as a child, but the children didn't though. Did they?
IZ They feel also that they are Jewish because their grandfather lived with them and my children know a little bit Yiddish, speak Yiddish because I and my father speak Yiddish.
CZ Did your father read Hebrew?
IZ Hebrew, yes.
CZ OK, sure. Makes a lot of sense. So, let's see. As a doctor, then, as an ambulatory doctor, did anybody ever turn you away because you were Jewish?
IZ In 1953, when Stalin was alive yet and it was a "doctor's case." In 1952, maybe close to 1953, the KGB said that the Jewish doctors who treat the members of the government gave them a bad treatment, you understand?
CZ Government members, bad treatment.
CZ So did you lose your job?
IZ They arrested the doctors. No, the government in Moscow arrested the all famous Jewish doctors and it was so terrible time because it was in the papers, they said the Jewish made bad for the government of Russia. And so was great anti-Semitism. And afterward we think they planned to send all Jewish people from the big cities, from Leningrad, from Moscow, from all the big cities to the concentration camp. I think it is not from all big cities but all cities, to the concentration camps. And at that time it was so great anti-Semitism to the doctors and to the Jewish people. It was very terrible to treat Russian people and come in their houses.
IZ And some doctors was killed at that time, who was arrested. But lucky it was that Stalin died and afterward they said that the Jewish doctors not guilty and they was released from the jail.
CZ So, that affected you directly.
CZ By being turned away? Were you turned away from somebody's home because you were Jewish?
IZ Never. But it was different Russian people. Many people knows me a long time and some people took pity on me.
CZ OK. So, a couple of questions more, and I know it's long interview and we're getting tired, right? How did you decide to come to Tucson? Or why not Israel? Why did you come to the United States?
IZ Because my sister lives here, in New York.
CZ Do you visit your sister, ever?
IZ Yes, and my son lives in New Jersey.
CZ Where in New Jersey? Which city.
IZ New York, New Jersey, close?
CZ There are cities in New Jersey. Jersey City maybe? Anyway, it's not important. So your sister's there and your son is in that area and you're here in Tucson. Do you have family here in Tucson?
IZ My daughter's family lives in Tucson.
CZ And how many children does she have?
CZ What does she do?
IZ She is a programmer.
CZ She's a programmer. I guess that's a good skill. That you don't need the certificates like you need in medical to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer.
IZ My grandson will be a lawyer. And now he studies at Harvard.
CZ Very good school. He's a smart boy. Do you have a grandchild here?
IZ Yes. A boy.
CZ And where is he?
IZ He's in school in the 11th grade. University High School.
CZ He was born in Russia?
CZ And how old was he when he came here.
IZ He was nine years old.
CZ He'd be interesting to talk to. Do you think? He's bright if he's at University High? We'll talk about that.
IZ All grandchildren very bright.
CZ Yeah, I bet. So what do you do now, what do you do with yourself? How do you keep busy? This and that? OK. Do you practice your Judaism?
IZ She reads, watch TV, walk.
CZ What do you read?
IZ Russian books.
CZ And do you go to schull?
IZ On holidays.
CZ Friday night Shabas?
IZ Sometimes. I cannot understand in schull because I do not know English and Hebrew.
CZ So one of the things I would like to know is, if we had opportunity, chance to do something really wonderful, what would be wonderful for you and your community. In other words, we asked that question to somebody and she said, she didn't know how to go to the bank when she got here, to do her banking. Are you understanding me? When she came to Tucson she didn't know how to do the bank. So I'm thinking, you go to schull, and wouldn't it be nice to have a prayer book in Russian?
IZ Yes, it would be very nice, very nice. And many people would get this prayer book in Russia, and go to schull.
CZ And which schull would you go to? Anshay?
IZ Yes, but because my volunteer, Bea, she pick us up and drives to this synagogue.
CZ You let me know. I live three blocks away. Very close. So I take you sometime if you wanted to go.
IZ Thank you.
CZ You're welcome.
IZ What synagogue do you attend?
CZ Orhadash, reform.
CZ At the JCC.
IZ Oh, it's far away.
CZ But not if I'm driving it's not! It's not much different than Anshay.
IZ Our people cannot go to the synagogues because they have no cars. And in summer it is very hot and we cannot take a bus because it is very hot.
CZ And nighttime, you want to take busses at night? They don't run very often. Buses don't run very often. Not at nighttime.
IZ No, after 4 o'clock it is hard.
CZ So that's something, transportation to schull.
IZ But more important, the book.
CZ The book is more important.
CZ What about your grandchild. Does he ever go to schull?
IZ My grandson had bar mitzvah.
CZ Where, Anshay?
IZ No, in Hebrew Academy.
CZ Oh, he went to the Hebrew Academy?
IZ Yes. He studied in the Hebrew Academy and his bar mitzvah was there. And he was a big boy but he decided to do the circumcision.
CZ So he's really religious.
CZ Good, nice. Very nice. I would like to talk to him. I would like to interview him, to find out about his early experiences. Do you think I could?
CZ It probably wouldn't take long. Anything else you could think of that the community, if it had a chance, and I don't know what's going to happen, to do to make you more comfortable here in this community? Is there anything that you could think of that I could put in my report, for example.
IZ Thanks for all that you have done. It is very good now. I went through many terrible events in my life, but now is good.
CZ Good, wonderful. I'm happy you're here.
IZ Thank you America. I am a citizen.
CZ Oh, you're a citizen. You've done your citizenship. Congratulations.
IZ I got citizenship last year.
CZ Very good, very good. Wonderful.
IZ I am studying English in the adult school with other people.
CZ I'm wondering, once you get English...
IZ My head is old. I forgot.
IZ I know, mine too.
[end of tape 2]