For months, people we knew of kept disappearing. It was rarely talked about, and because we had nothing which could be called a social life, we all assumed that they had emigrated or managed to escape. Paul and Ada were friends with several people in the university, and through the engineering department, with lecturers and academics in other colleges. I had met a few of these people on occasion, but whenever I met Ada, she would tell me that one or another of them had gone. Anka had a contact in the police, a Ukrainian who had moved to Lwow in the thirties, and a friend of her brother, who was killed on the Eastern Front in the first days of the war. This policeman had continued to keep in touch with what was happening in the prison, and he told her that large numbers of university staff were rotting in jail, charged with ‘crimes against the revolution’ by the NKVD. They had regular trials, which were held in camera and, he said, always resulted in mass deportation to Siberia or to summary executions in the prison yard. Meanwhile, Lwow University was taken over by Soviet academics. The Ukrainians, who had previously been unable to attend, were invited to study, and there were new Russian language and history departments apparently.
I also heard that a lot of residents of Lwow had been given Soviet citizenship, but they had to swear some kind of alliegence to the communist regime. Those who refused were deported not to Siberia, but into the German occupied area of Poland. The NKVD were also systematically stripping local land-owners of their property, and daylight robbery was common, in which a team of NKVD would come for breakfast to one’s house and leave it empty, like a swarm of locusts in a field of crops. These Bolsheviks were uncouth and unchecked, but they were also going hungry. These were men who had mostly been born in post-revolution Russia and had not known a time when the wealthy controlled the proletariat. They had grown up understanding that everything belonged to the people and should be shared out. They knew that owning riches was a crime against Russia, but they also knew that riches could be exchanged for food and alcohol, both of which could be consumed without evidence. It was a country, which supposedly cared more about breaking down class barriers than subjugating ethnic minorities, and for that, we had to thank our luck. Jews were not subjugated because they were Jewish, only because they were wealthy. Unfortunately, there was a lot of mischief-making by the NKVD in encouraging the gangs of Polish youths who roamed the streets to attack anyone whom they deemed part of the Polish elite, such as the academics and intellectuals, the Polish politicians, or members of the Jewish wealthy. Ukrainians became the new elite, and we Polish Jews became an underclass. Anka was offered pay in Roubles for doing the same job for which I only received my bowl of gruel, and while she continued to keep Inspector Mikhailov at arm’s length, he insisted that she accept this pay. Indeed, had she not done so, he might have had her arrested as an anti-Soviet conspirator, working for the OUN, which was a Ukrainian independence movement. At least she was able to share a little currency with me. We could no longer use our Zlotys, and what money she received was paid in Roubles. There was no bank or money lender who would change the Polish currency into Roubles, and I was forced to sell my beautiful necklace to pay my way, one pearl at a time.
One night in April, the NKVD brought lorries into the centre of Lwow and loaded them up with anyone who had been involved with the Polish army, and their families, and took them away. They also took away large numbers of ex-police, who had been in the force before the war and had already lost their jobs to NKVD, but who were nevertheless considered a danger to Soviet rule. A month later, the same process was repeated and this time they took away any wealthy Jews left in the city. Thousands of people were pulled from their beds in the suburbs where Isidor and Ania had been living. My dentist contact was among them, and all the former Jewish Councillors from City Hall. There was terror among the Jewish community about who would be next. Only those, like us, with no money or property were left untouched at this point. A Jewish resistance movement formed, mainly among the younger people, and these activists, who had initially supported the Russians because of their supposed egalitarian and left-wing politics, had now become very defensive, since the Ukrainians in Lwow were being encouraged to anti-Semitism. Gang fights erupted every day in the streets, and boys carried home-made knives with them for self-protection. The leaders in the synagogue were targeted as having helped the Russians last year, and based on the accusation that they had denounced Poles who were involved in their own underground groups in Lwow. Rabbis were tortured in the local prisons, and then executed. We heard of Polish gangs coming into the Jewish quarter at night and setting fire to the homes of innocent people. I saw young men daubing doors with the anti-Semitic graffiti, and I read in a local paper, which Anka had picked up, a Ukrainian backed paper, that we Jews were supposed to be part of a Judeo-Communist movement, a bunch of ‘Muscovite Imperialists’, and somehow responsible for the treatment of Ukrainians by the NKVD. It was easy to dismiss this as hyperbole and propaganda, but it was having a real effect on our safety. The history we’d always had, as long as I could remember, of division between Polish Jews and Ukrainians, and between us and the Catholics, was becoming a source of danger. But many times, Paul told me to hang on to my home and my work, to knuckle down and suffer the subjugation of the NKVD.
“For God’s sake, Miriam. Don’t react. You’re as safe here as you will be anywhere in the city. You’re already bound to be on the NKVD’s list, since you work in that kitchen, just like I am for having got my job through the Planning Department. They might be a bunch of thugs, but that’s all they are. You can see them coming at least. Anything is better than being taken over by the Nazis. Remember that.”
“What do you mean? Are we about to be attacked by Hitler again? Surely he has agreed to keep back as long as Stalin wants Lwow for Russia?”
“All I know is that Hitler isn’t to be trusted when it comes to Germany making deals with other countries, and there’s no love lost between him and Stalin. We’re powerless to do anything, and one way or another, we’re probably all on an NKVD list for anti-Soviet leanings or on an OUN list for being a Communist, or on a Gestapo list for being a Jew.”
“Who holds the list of good, honest, hardworking human beings?”
I thought Anna and I ought to move out of the Jewish quarter. I considered changing our surname from Wiener to something more Catholic, and living as a gentile. I’d never really felt strongly about my race, let alone my beliefs. All that mattered was survival for me and Anna. On my way to the soup kitchen, I looked in the mirror in the doorway of the old tailor’s shop doorway, cracked and blistered though it was, and I couldn’t see evidence of my origins, thought it is easy to mislead oneself when it suits.