Inga Borisova was nine years old and was living in Moscow in June 1941 when the German army invaded the Soviet Union. Her childhood in the years that followed was filled with hunger, the threat of German occupation and fear for the future.
Borisova and her family lived in constant fear of a German takeover of Moscow. Every day she worried that the Germans would march into Moscow, putting her family’s life in danger. She remembers her mother crying and saying, “The Germans will be here any day, and we will be killed because we are Jews.”
The war took the lives of many of her family members and uprooted her previously calm and secure existence. Before the war, her mother had 18 family members living in Minsk, Belarus; after the war, none remained. They were all murdered within days of the German occupation.
As the German army continued its advance eastward and bombings on Moscow intensified, Borisova and her family evacuated further southeast into the former Soviet Union to the city of Saratov. When I asked her to describe life during the war, she shared, “The number one feeling I can remember from the war years is hunger. My family was always hungry. We had to stand in line to receive ration cards that still did not provide us with enough food.” She reiterated, “There was never enough food.”
Hunger was as much a part of her life as the war. It consumed her thoughts and perceptions. She reflected on her childhood by saying, “My whole early life I was hungry. We were hungry until 1947.” As a child, Borisova thought that a rich man was someone who had enough food to eat. She recalled thinking, “If he had bread and butter with honey, he was rich.”
The family lived in Saratov from September 1941 until 1943. The front came close to Saratov in the summer of 1942, and she remembers daily bombings and threats that brought on extreme fear, especially for Jews. The Germans dropped leaflets from their planes that read, “Kill your Jews; help us end this senseless war now.” In early 1943, she and her family returned to Moscow as the German advance stalled and Germany began to lose the war.
One positive food memory she has is of the Americans giving food to starving citizens in Moscow in 1943. She remembers receiving condensed milk and canned pork, which became her favorite foods. Borisova fondly reflected, “This made me appreciate America for the first time. It was the best food I had eaten in my life.” The Americans even supplied some kosher food. However, in the face of such extreme starvation Jews seldom followed Jewish dietary restrictions.
In September 1988, she immigrated to the United States with her son and father. Borisova proudly told the story of when her father wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton. “He wrote how difficult his life had been in Russia and how thankful and happy he was to be in America. He signed the letter thank you and God bless America.”
She has held on to her Russian roots by cooking the Russian specialty borscht (a soup made with beets and often served with sour cream) throughout the years. This is one way of maintaining her Russian identity while enjoying and appreciating her new life in the United States.
The Jewish Social Service Agency’s (JSSA) Holocaust Survivor Program provides care and safety net services to frail, poor and ill Holocaust survivors living independently in our community. At JSSA we are privileged to provide dignity and comfort to those who have seen the worst in humanity. Three-fourths of the Holocaust survivor clients JSSA serves in our area live below the federal poverty level. The majority has come from the Former Soviet Union. JSSA’s work, supported by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and The Holocaust Survivors’ Community Fund, strives to keep these survivors living in their homes and with dignity.