International Committee for Crimea
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Surgun Stories Series
By Memet Abdulla*
In April, our squadron joined the Primorskaya army commanded by General Yeremenko. We crossed the Kerch Straits in boats. We rested for a few days in Eski Kirim (Stary Krym) doing the chores that needed to be done. Our squadron finally reached Bahcesaray. A few days later, they sent us to Albat. The German troops had burned Buyuk Ozenbash village by pouring gasoline as they evacuated. The village people had scattered and were staying in nearby villages. My mother, my aunt Zemine and her child, sisters Sefika and Saziye had gone to stay in the house of Kurtseyit, an ironsmith in the village of Gavur. After a while, my mother and sisters moved to the village of Fotisala to stay with my grandmother, who had invited them.
I asked the chief of my squadron, Shepel, for permission to go by car and see my hometown, the village of Ozenbash. He granted me a leave of 24 hours. As I was getting ready, Seyit Omer from Ozenbashh approached me and said: "In the village of Topcu, your sister-in-law Eftade is living with her children." (Her husband Appaz Mamudov was a communist and head of the kolhoz. The German soldiers had imprisoned him). I stopped at Topcu first and took them to Ozenbash, but my family was still in Fotisala, which we visited next. I found my family. My sisters Sefika and Saziye tried to avoid me, as they did not recognize me. I took my family, and we returned to Ozenbash. Of the 700 housed in the village, only 10-15 stood undamaged by fire. The rest of the houses were pitch black. Some of the villagers had returned and had started to plant potatoes. I then brought my other relatives to Ozenbash.
Two days before the deportation of our people, the chief of our squadron announced at a meeting that those who assisted the German soldiers would be deported. That night I went to see my family to tell them the news. On my way back, I was stopped by the guards on duty and taken to the headquarters. When I showed them my papers, they were very surprised. "Are the Tatars serving in the military?" they asked. That night, in the early hours of the morning, they started deporting our people. They gathered the men and put them in cars.
Concerned about the situation, my chief asked me to go to central headquarters in Akmescit (Simferopol). Perhaps, he said, they could leave your family here. Accompanied by three soldiers, I went to see the commander in charge. The colonel said that all of us would be deported. "This morning, war heroes and patriots came to see me. We are granting no exceptions."
I returned to Fotisala but could not find my family. I drove to Buyuk Suren and saw rail cars waiting between Duvankoy and Bahcesaray (15-16 km). The car that had my family had already left. The doors were open. I saw Uncle Osman and his wife in one of the wagons. I got on it, and we hugged, kissed and wept. Some of our people were crying, thinking that they would be thrown into the sea. The wagons started to move, one after another.
I returned to my squadron. I stayed in the car and started thinking, with my head in my hands. A black smoke covered the entire area. Our commissar, Kogan, a Jew from Odessa, came to me. "On a beautiful summer day, one cannot even see the sun. Many innocent people have been punished," he said. The black smoke did not lift for almost a week.
They first sent us to the village of Bakis Eli in Karasubazar, then to the village of Ortalan. When we entered the village, only the animals met us - cats, horses, chickens and cows. As we approached the stables, we heard the animals moaning, trying to force the doors open. The chickens and roosters were jumping on our shoulders. There was no human being in the village except the animals.
After May 18, we stayed in Crimea for two more months. We were transporting the needed supplies to the Kara Hasan Sanatorium. One day, they called me to the headquarters and said "We received the order [to deport you] today. Let's change your name and give you a Jewish last name. The victory will be declared soon, and you can move to Odessa after the war."
I was with them (the army) since the beginning of the war, but I responded without hesitation and said "I do not know where my mother, wife, children, relatives, and my people [nation] are. I cannot accept your offer and will have to meet my destiny, whatever it may be."
They gave me a new uniform and shoes. According to the order, I was required to report to the regiment in Besterek, accompanied by two armed soldiers. My chief said: "Let us write on his assignment sheet that he is going to Besterek to get wood and have the armed soldiers sitting in the back of the truck." As I said goodbye to my group, the soldiers carried me on their shoulders. "Many times you saved our lives and helped us. We are deeply grateful to you," they said.
We left the headquarters for Besterek around noon. When we reached the place, I saw that our people were already beginning to gather there. Soldiers, sergeants, and sergeant-majors, we were all 93 souls. After a few days, they brought concrete posts in a truck and unloaded them. They gave us shovels, and we dug holes in the ground, erecting the posts and enclosing the area with barbed wire. Thus we imprisoned ourselves, surrounded by barbed wire.
When I woke up at night and took a look around, I would see armed soldiers placed two meters apart guarding us. We did not have any weapons. During the day, soldiers with automatic guns would patrol the area to prevent us from escaping. One day, four Studebaker trucks arrived. We were ordered to pick up our belongings and get on the trucks. They took us to the baths, where we washed and put on the clothes given to us. The trucks then took us to a large building on Kantarnaya Street in Akmescit. There were many people who had gathered there. We could go out to the courtyard only in groups of 10-12, under the supervision of armed guards.
One night, no one could sleep. They played instruments, danced and chatted. In the morning, there was another order from the commander. They asked us to gather our belongings and line up in fours. There were armed guards in front of us, behind us, as well as on our sides. We started singing a song, "Our dear homeland, Farewell!"
When we got to the railway station, we were loaded onto a car with double bunks. They shut the doors of the car. I got permission from the sergeant to go and see the general serving as deputy to Beria. I asked: "I speak on behalf of all the soldiers whom I trust," I said, "Would you please give us permission to keep the doors open?" The general granted us the permission. In the same car, there were Greeks, Bulgarians, Germans and Turkish citizens, also being deported. It took us 18 days to reach the city of Hokand. There I searched for my family and found them.
*Memet Abdulla was born in 1908 in the village of Buyuk Ozenbas. He joined the Soviet Army in 1941, and in 1944 he was working as a driver in the 780th Squadron, 9th Army. He was awarded 8 medals for his service during World War II.
Translated into English by Inci Bowman.
Return to: Surgun Stories Series (Personal Narratives by Survivors or Eye-witness Accounts)
Posted: 27 May 2009