1935 Minsk, Belarus
Roman Mitelman was born in Minsk, Belarus. Roman’s father was a carpenter, and became a member of the Bund in 1927, a movement for social equality for Jews
Roman had a big pouch that he carried as a child during the war. It had a gas mask, his toy pistol and rifle, and a sword that he made himself. He also had a cap from the Russian Civil War, which he wore. He had a Polish babysitter who took him to the store. One woman said, “Now, we will not be scared of Germans because we have somebody to defend us.” During the night Roman’s family would sleep in the shelter. They lived near the opera building, which had many stories with underground shelters. They spent some time in the shelters, but the Germans didn’t bomb Minsk at that time.
June 22: The Germans invaded the Soviet Union.
June 23: Roman’s father got them train tickets to leave, then returned to his military unit. They were to take everything that they could in a couple of small suits and a bag. The two-mile walk from their home to the train station took five hours, since they needed to look for shelters in case of bombing by the reconnaissance planes flying overhead. The day after they left the city, it was bombed. Minsk was built mostly from wood and the whole city burned.
June 28: The Germans occupied Minsk. They began mass killings of the Jews who lived in the Minsk Ghetto. Roman and his family came to a small town, approximately 150 miles east of Minsk, where they stayed for three weeks or so, because the Germans' advance slowed. His sister was born while they were traveling, but she died three weeks later, due to lack of sanitation on the trains. After that they started to move as refugees. Roman’s family moved around for the next three months.
They moved toward Asia in the southeast part of Russia. In October or November, they came close to the Chinese border in Kazakhstan.
Roman’s father was at the front near Moscow. He was wounded two or three times and sent to the hospital. After that, he got a new assignment to work in that hospital located near Moscow, and then came to Kazakhstan to be with his family.
Roman’s mother contracted typhus and was unable to recover. Due to his mother’s sickness, Roman was sent to live in an orphanage near Moscow for four months. There his food was stolen, he was humiliated, and he was picked on for being Jewish.
Roman’s father worked in the hospital, so when the hospital moved west near Smolensk, Russia, they moved with it.
July 3: Roman and his family are liberated by the Russians.
July 5: Roman’s mother wanted to see Minsk again, but when she came back, she was absolutely devastated. She died a couple of weeks later from complications due to typhus. She was 29 years old.
Roman’s father left the Russian army and they returned to Minsk. At that time, the city was in ruins. The city started to rebuild, and the first building they restored was the KGB (Committee for State Security) building. Due to lack of space and the desperate rebuilding the city needed, Roman and his father shared a space with nine other people. People slept under and on tables because there were not enough beds. His father lived in the Minsk Ghetto for three years, and was not a very healthy man after this.
Roman’s father died.