Oral History

Leo Melamed describes train ride across the Soviet Union

Leo was seven years old when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Before the war, Leo's father was a mathematics teacher and member of the Bialystok City Council. Fearing arrest, Leo's father fled Bialystok for Vilna just before the German occupation. Leo and his mother eventually joined his father in Vilna. After the Soviets occupied Vilna, Leo's father obtained transit visas to Japan. The family left Vilna in December 1940, traveled across the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Express, and arrived in Japan in January 1941. Leo's family obtained visas for the United States and immigrated in April 1941.


To me it was an adventure of unbelievable proportion, particularly when we hit Siberia, the real, uh, depth of Siberia, the cold. And, uh, watching the...the frozen steppes across countless and countless of miles when you saw nothing but frozen steppe. And you would think that there isn't...you know the monotony of that isn't much to see, but there is quite a bit of interest in...as you...as you...the...it grabs you, you know. You...you become mesmerized by the...the...these...these barren, white-covered steppes, miles upon miles, till you hit a city. And then you saw the outskirts and then some life. And since this was a single track, it would have to pull over at certain designated stations so that the west-bound train could go by. Now, it was one track, that's all they had laid. So we would spend hours in off...uh, off the track sites, waiting for the west-bound train to come by, as my father explained to me the process. And during that time, of course, um, my father would go down to the station to buy supplies because we only had enough on the ticket to pay for one meal. Uh, the evening meal on the train was paid for, but the rest of it we had to buy. So breakfast or lunch or, the other two meals were bought on these stations along the way. Uh, and we would eat in our cabin. We had a...we had a...a small compartment.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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