Born in Uman’, in the former Soviet Union (now Ukraine), in 1930, Mariia had a happy childhood in a close-knit family. Mariia’s father was drafted during the first days of Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union and was killed on the front shortly thereafter. At the age of 10, Mariia survived the first pogrom in her hometown by hiding with strangers in a basement. Her grandmother, mother, and sister were subsequently killed in 1941. Posing as a non-Jew, Mariia fled to the nearby village of Sushkovka where she worked as a domestic helper. Warned by a local policeman Petr Degtiarenko about her impending arrest, Mariia agreed to follow him to the village of Balanka. Mariia lived with Petr’s family in Balanka until the village was liberated by the Soviet army in 1944. After liberation, Petr was arrested as a collaborator
by the Soviet military police. Mariia testified on his behalf, and Petr was released.
"I thought, “What’s this war all about? Why all the fuss?” I was intrigued. Everyone rushing, bustling about. That has stuck in my memory. Maybe I heard it on the radio. When the war broke out there was a lot of worrying and tears…"
"They’re going to kill us anyway, do you understand?
Either they kill me right here,
or I escape…"
"I wasn’t there for long. The days, dates, and years
all ran together
and seemed like an eternity. So I couldn’t tell how long I was there… For me, it was pure hell.
Whether it was one day or one year, it was pure hell."