In 1933 Peter Mysaevich Nemirovsky married Bassia Israelivna Galanskaya. Peter’s sister had met Bassia after World War I. She introduced Bassia to her brother and after a courtship they were married in a religious Jewish ceremony.
Yakov was born September 13, 1934 in Kiev. The family lived a quiet middleclass life. Peter worked in hardware. He had a Jewish education and led the family in a religious life. They had a maid who looked after the children. There was also a Jewish man, a person who was intellectually slow, who brought water into the house every day. Bassia would feed him meals. The family lived on the 2nd floor of a 4 family house. The first floor had apartments for 3 families. The Nemirovsky’s lived in the 2nd floor in the only apartment on that floor. There was a big balcony off the living room as Yakov remembers. On the left of the balcony there was a large white marble fireplace which helped to warm the home. The large kitchen was in the corridor.
Bassia’s parents Zrulik and Riva Galansky lived nearby. They were wealthy and lived in a large house. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Grandfather Zrulik worked for the military Arsenalm making patterns for machinery. Every evening after work, he would say prayers and then take a shot of vodka.
Peter’s parents, Moshe and Chaya Nemirovsky, were also quite wealthy. They owned a farm that raised beef. They, however, did not spend much time with their son and his family. Life was dangerous during the times of the pogroms. The soldiers would come into the house and ruin things and rip pillows. They cut Peter’s brother Fema’s head with a sabre. Moshe and Chaya decided to have the four oldest boys go to America in 1920 along with Moshe’s sister Pearl. The grandparents left the farm and moved to Kiev. Grandfather Moshe died in 1938. Grandmother stayed with Faina and Abrasha.
Yakov’s first memories about World War II were in 1940. Bassia gave birth to a little girl, Genya. Peter entered the army as World War II broke out in Poland. Yakov was sick with the mumps in his Grandmother Riva’s house. He heard loud sirens. His grandparents took him to a relative’s apartment house which had a large basement. Every one sought shelter in this basement. Yakov remembers the smell of cabbage, pickles that permeated the atmosphere in this dark damp place. They were down there for 3 or 4 days.
After this experience, Bassia wanted to move. Grandfather Zrulik said that the Arsenal was moving from Kiev to Siberia. The whole family prepared for departure. One half of a train car was reserved for the Nemirovsky family. It was filled with Yakov’s family, his grandparents as well as aunts and uncles. Just before the train started, Grandfather Zrulik said to Grandmother Riva, “Come, get off the train.” He decided that they would protect their homes. That was the last time Yakov saw his beloved grandparents. They were killed at Baba Yar.
After the 3rd day on the train, it was bombed. Yakov was severely injured. His leg was shattered and he almost lost it. The bones were pushed back through the skin and the skin was held together with safety pins. Fifty percent of the passengers perished in that bombing. They were stranded. There was no food, no water and very little medicines. Things were so very desperate that people were eating the meat of human corpses.
Finally, another train came and took the remaining people to Uzbekestan. They were let off in the middle of nowhere on a platform…no station. Officials told them to get off the train and then they were marched to Kermeneh near Tashkent in Uzbekestan.
The family eventually found shelter in a goats’ stall. Surrounding this little hovel were fruit trees. Yakov picked the fruit and ate it. He came down with typhus as well as his baby sister, Genya, who had been newly born. The baby was so terribly ill that Bassia was afraid she was going to die. A “medicine” woman was sent for from the nearby village. She placed an egg under the baby’s pillow as part of her folk medicine treatment. The baby recovered!
Yakov’s Uncle Abrasha Galansky, was the principal of the local school. The government provided food for the school. Abrasha hired Bassia and his wife Faina along with another aunt, Nusia, who was married to Peter’s brother Grisha, to make the breakfasts and lunches for the children at the school. They worked at home and were able to keep any leftover foods. Because of this, the family benefited. However, Nusia’s little baby Clara died of hunger before they got the job of cooking for the school.
Peter’s sister, Sheva, was in Siberia. Her son Fema was in the army. His uncle Gregory came down with TB.
In 1942 – 3, Aunt Sheva wrote a letter that Yakov’s father Peter was in Kuybeshev, Urals in a hospital. This was a closed city. The Politburo was here. It had moved from Moscow. It also made airplanes. Peter was burned all over his body. Peter wrote back. He asked for permission to bring his family. He was told he could. The family came – it was winter time. They did not recognize Peter, he was burned all over his face. He took them to the house where he was living in a room with another woman and her two children. Yakov lived in that room for 3 or 4 months. Then they moved to another area where they had their own apartment with a balcony on the first floor. They lived there until 1947. Yakov began his education here. He went to the school in Kuybeshev.
Bassia, in the meantime, wrote to Aunt Faina and Uncle Abrasha who had gone back before them to Kiev. She didn’t hear from them. In 1947, the Nemirovsky’s returned to Kiev. Their home was occupied by a big shot. Their Uncle returned 2 years before and reclaimed his house. It was saved by a lady who lived in the same apartment. Peter, Bassia, and the children moved in with this uncle Abrasha and everybody else for a few months and then found an apartment in a basement. Yakov resumed school and attended #110 on Sofskaya Street where he received a diploma. In 1946, a brother, Roman, was born.
Bassia found out about the death of her parents, Zrulik and Riva Galansky, at Baba Yar from a friend. It seems that a neighbor told the Germans that the Galansky’s had a son who was a Communist. Besides being Jewish, that was one more reason for the Nazis to send them to their deaths.
Life was difficult in the post war years. The Communists took large homes and assigned rooms to families. Each family had one room to live in. There were communal kitchens set up in the hallways of these homes. Everyone used the same kitchen. There were no bathing facilities. People would go to the public baths. Yakov continued his education going to the College of Electratransport in Kiev where he received a diploma. He worked for 14 years as a lathe operator and garage intern in the Trolley Park before going into the army. In 1953 to 1956 Yakov was in the army. He was stationed in Tsedatson, about 60 miles from Chita. The top military officers were stationed here. It was a secret station. Yakov was assigned to the maintenance of artillery, tanks and communications. He worked directly for the top Generals. In March of 1961, Yakov married Olga Kipperman. She worked as an engineer in electrical communication in Russia. They have two boys, Igor (Gary) and Maxim and 4 grandchildren, Jacqueline, Daniel, David, and Rachel.
Yakov said that his family lived well under Stalin. It seems that the very rich were sent to Siberia. The middle and working classes were able to live hard but decent lives.
He immigrated to the United States with his wife and two sons in 1977.
Interviewed by Jane Rushefsky