When I found out that my great-grandmother fled Minsk, Belarus during WWII with her two girls in tow and ended up 4,000 km away in Uzbekistan, I knew I needed to explore what happened to them.
I began my search on Google and found an amazing resource, JewishGen.org.
According to their site, approximately 1 million former Soviet Union Jews were evacuated or fled themselves to Uzbekistan and neighboring areas before the German troops entered their cities. They estimate as many as 300,000 deportees perished from disease and starvation, while some died in the line fire serving their country. 152,000 registration cards have been digitized and a database has been made available with names and digital images of the registration cards of those that arrived in Tashkent between 1941-1942.
My great-grandmothers registration card was among them!
Once I finished sifting through hours of Google search, I compiled my research together and began drafting a family tree.
From there, I started to reach out to distant relatives. I asked them questions about our relatives and about any information they might have had or even artifacts that could help me.
Soon, I was connected to relatives I had never known about here in the United States and in Russia. From them, I was able to get a more complete family tree and the original letters that Abraham sent to Raisa during the war.
These letters served as the basis to my story and inspired me to share her journey.
On the front is a patriotic Russian poem called “The Blue Scarf.” The backside has a hand-written note from Abraham to his girls on June 3rd, 1943.
Luba and Sofia were only 16 and 10 years old when my great-grandmother was forced to take them away from everything they knew. The girls had to grow up faster than they could ever have imagined.
They traveled 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) from Minsk, Belarus to Kokand, Uzbekistan. This would be the equivalent distance from San Diego to the tip of New York. It is hard to fathom traveling that far on foot and by train, especially while fleeing from the Nazis. The girls lived in what amounted to cattle cars with no electricity or running water and on floors of train stations. It took them months to arrive in Kokand. Their only saving grace was that the family avoided traveling during the harsh winter months where temperatures rarely average above 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using the detailed family tree I made while researching, I created a family and friends tree for the novel. I included Raisa’s friends as well, because for her, these women were family – they kept her going when times were most difficult.
In “The Girl with the Silver Star,” Raisa cooks Pelmeni (traditional Russian dumplings) with Luba. As I wrote the novel, I tried to incorporate traditions from my family that have been passed down. I love to cook them my girls and I am happy to share them so you can enjoy them as well!
One of my most favorite scenes is Raisa learning how to cook traditional Uzbek Plov or Rice Pilaf. This part of the novel captures an important friendship and bond that she makes with her neighbor over an afternoon of cooking. This dish is very easy to make and the leftovers are arguably better than freshly cooked!