David Geller was born in 1929 in Zhmerynka. During the war he evacuated to Central Asia, first to Tashkent and then to Shymkent. After the war, he returned to Zhmerynka, but soon moved to Kiev, where he worked in a factory. In 1950 he was drafted into the army, served for three years, and then settled in Bratslav, where his wife was from.

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Evacuation of the Communists

Bratslav, Ukraine

In the first days of the war, the Soviet government in Moscow established an Evacuation Council, initially headed by Lazar Kaganovich, the Commissar of Transportation who himself had been born and raised in a small shtetl near Kiev. The Council was responsible for coordinating the orderly relocation of critical industrial and consumer infrastructure from the warzone to the Russian interior, where it was imagined industrial output could be preserved with limited interruption. The Council privileged the evacuation of people and entities that were crucial for the military and industrial needs of the state, singling out engineers, workers in factories critical for industrial and military output, youth fit for military service, and state and party elites. Family members of those individuals fitting into these categories were later added to the list. No specific provisions were made for the evacuation of the rest of the civilian population, and at no point was the evacuation of the Jewish population prioritized, despite the mortal danger Jews who fell under German rule faced. The Council also adopted a scorched earth policy, ordering the destruction of all valuable resources that could not be evacuated, so that the enemy—not to mention the civilians caught under enemy rule—would be deprived of even the most basic necessities. The lack of official sanction and governmental assistance in preparing for evacuation, though, did not stop hundreds of thousands of Jews from fleeing in advance of the German army. Many Jews were able to evacuate as part of the official evacuation because they were represented among the state and party elite or other categories scheduled for evacuation. As he explains in this clip, Dovid Geller was fortunate that his father was among those privileged to be included in the official evacuation list. As a result, he was able to leave in an orderly fashion from his native Zhmerynka. Geller believed that the evacuation list included not only communists, but also all the town’s Jews. Despite this common perception that all Jews were scheduled for evacuation, there is no documentary evidence that any government official had a policy to evacuate all Jews.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)