Rachel’s Story

After Germany broke its pact and attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Soviets joined the Allies in the war against the Nazis. At that time, many of the people in the camps in Siberia were freed in order to join the Soviet army and fight in the war. Of course, Mr. Dershowitz didn’t want to leave his daughters to become a soldier, so the family stayed and were among the last people still living in the camp. By 1942, however, Mr. Dershowitz received permission to leave the camp with his daughters. Leaving Siberia, they boarded a train carrying workers to populate more remote areas of the Soviet Union in Central Asia.

The train journeyed through various regions, heading into warmer countries. Along the way, Rachel and her family encountered many other refugees from the war. The train stopped often, sometimes for a day or two. One of the stops was in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which was in one of the most southern areas of the Soviet Union. Here, someone approached them and suggested to Mr. Dershowitz that he join the other workers on a local kolkhoz , which was a Soviet collective farm.

Rachel’s father, desperate to find employment and reestablish some stability for his family, agreed to the proposal. Rachel felt herself hoisted up onto a camel and their journey began once again, carried through the stark countryside on the backs of the camels for several days. When they arrived, they received a room in a mud house. A different family lived in each room of the house. The rooms were completely empty, with dirt floors. Mr. Dershowitz managed to find some straw for beds, and they were able to make a fire using weeds they pulled up from the soil. Conditions were very different from those in the bitter wastelands of Siberia, but not much improved.

Once again, Rachel went to work to help support her family, because her father was so weak that he could no longer work in the fields. Each day, Rachel had to collect a huge bag of cotton from the field in order to be paid her tiny amount of food. Sometimes she also managed to sneak some cotton out of the fields and bring it home. Rachel and her sisters would turn the cotton into yarn and knit gloves and socks. Their father would sell what they made in the nearby village, and from that they were able to get more food.

But the situation was rapidly deteriorating. Mr. Dershowitz felt he could no longer take care of his daughters himself, so he tried to place them in the care of one of the local orphanages. Because there were so many refugees from the war, there was even a Polish orphanage where the girls would be able to speak their native language instead of Russian. Despite his many efforts, however, only Chanka was given a place in one of the orphanages.

Moving on with his other two daughters, Mr. Dershowitz continued to look for a way to help his girls survive. They eventually heard that Jewish groups were helping children find refuge in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, known at the time as the Mandate for Palestine , by bringing them on a long journey through Tehran in Iran. Willing to separate from his children for the sake of giving them a better life, Rachel’s father began to do everything he could to get the remaining girls into one of these groups. He even tried to pretend that the girls were orphans in order to increase their chances of being accepted, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

While he searched for some place where his children would be safe, Mr. Dershowitz fell severely ill with pneumonia. Rachel took him to the hospital, and stayed by his side to care for him until his last day. Meanwhile, the hospital found an orphanage that would take in her sister, Zvetla.

“For me it was a terrible blow, I think the most serious one.”
—Rachel Dershowitz