Sisterhood Blog

Meteor Town Saved My Grandparents

By Rachel Rosmarin

  • Print
  • Share Share
Rachel Rosmarin
Rachel Rosmarin’s grandparents in Chelyabinsk, 1946

Chelyabinsk. The way my grandparents say the word is nothing like the way the newscasters on CNN pronounced it last week. The L is soft, and the accent is on the A. Chelyabinsk.

The name of this Siberian town deep in the Ural mountains, where meteoric hellfire rained from above and spawned a thousand nightmares, has loomed large in my imagination my whole life. I’ve been grateful for its existence and upset by its inherent strangeness.

I wanted to visit — to mimic the interminable and terrifying train ride there my grandmother and grandfather each took out of the soon-to-be Lodz Ghetto in late 1939 — but when I found out it was considered by many scientists to be the most polluted place on earth in the 1990s due to hushed-up government nuclear waste dumping and three serious nuclear accidents that irradiated everything, I postponed my trip. Indefinitely.

And now? The place that saved my grandparents’ lives, threw them together and, ultimately, allowed me to be born, is getting its 15 minutes.

Will fireballs from outer space somehow make Chelyabinsk a destination? My grandfather doesn’t think so. Though he remembers the city that harbored so many Jewish refugees as a beautiful one, filled with potential due to the brand new nuclear research and metallurgical facilities built during his time there, he thinks it will remain an invisible backwater.

No matter what frightening mass erupts on Chelyabinsk — come weapons-grade plutonium or explosive chunks of iron and rock hurtling towards it at 40,000 miles per hour — for me, it doesn’t compare to the human drama that unfolded there more than 70 years ago.

It was a strange place, at a strange time. A place where the communist regime allowed you to live, but not easily. Where you couldn’t be Jewish, but where you also couldn’t help but be Jewish.

It was a place where you watched a tiny black-haired girl struggle to accomplish the absurd task given to her: to carry enormous buckets of cement. (“That’s the logic of communism,” says my grandfather.) And you fell in love with her.

It was a place where you escaped your military barracks at night and, using only instinct, hopped a train in the -20 degree snowfall and hoped it would take you to the hospital many miles away to find your wife and newborn daughter. It did, and you were back at the barracks by morning.

You listened, rapt, to an illegally-installed radio speaker plate built into the wall that played your beloved tenors, and you sang along, and hoped a bit of non-propaganda news about the allies in the war would slip through. And then you went to snatch bits of coal and moldy potatoes off of the train tracks.

It was a place where a thriving black market meant you traded cigarettes for soap for a jar of paint-thinner for a glass of milk for your toddler to drink. The man you traded with drank the paint thinner.

You watched as corrupt army officers lived in luxury while the soldiers starved. Your only living family members left in search of a better place, but you could only watch them go. You had to stay because you had a skill and earned enough to feed your family: You made luxurious suits and coats for the army officers and their families.

It was a time when you had no way to contact the parents and siblings you left behind in Poland. And though you were glad to be alive, and understood that the life you had built tucked far into Siberia was better than you had any right to expect, you knew deep down that you’d leave Chelyabinsk to look for your family the minute the war ended. And you did.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: meteor, meteorite, chelyabinsk, lodz ghetto, holocaust, siberia

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.