It has been 66 years, but Isabella Svetlosanova still vividly remembers the Nazi siege of her hometown of Leningrad that began in September 1941, and of fleeing at the age of 4 with her mother in a military convoy.
“We had to leave my father behind in a makeshift hospital,” the Brooklyn resident recalled in an interview conducted through a translator. “He was very sick — very weak from hunger,” surviving as they all did on a daily diet of melted snow and just four ounces of bread.
Although she and her mother escaped the siege after eight months, it continued for 900 days until January 1944 when the Nazi blockade of the city was finally breached by Soviet troops. Of the city’s 3 million residents, 1.25 million died from starvation or froze to death.
This week, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany announced that Germany has agreed to make a one-time payment of about $4,000 to each Jewish survivor of that ordeal.
“In 50 years, they have never recognized this group,” said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference.
“Leningrad was never conquered, but the people went through terrible conditions and would have been massacred by the Nazis had [the Nazis] managed to break the siege,” he said. “The Nazis distributed leaflets saying the Jews would be killed.”
It is believed that there are about 2,000 such survivors living in the United States and perhaps another 4,000 living elsewhere. Germany continues to refuse payments to those who have remained in the former Soviet Union.
Those who are eligible for the payment had to be in Leningrad — now called St. Petersburg — at any time during the siege from September 1941 until January 1944 and meet other qualifications established by Germany for the so-called Hardship Fund. The criteria and an application to apply for the money can be found at www.claimscon.org.
“Finally, justice has been served,” said Svetlosanova of the compensation payments.
She noted that her father survived the siege but died in 1948. Her mother died in 1981.
Asked what she remembered about fleeing Leningrad, Svetlosanova said the caravan was filled with other women and children and that she and her mother huddled together in the open truck trying to stay warm in the cold May air. Several times the convoy was targeted by Nazi warplanes as it traveled east across frozen Lake Ladoga.
“One truck ahead of us was hit and sank,” Svetlosanova recalled, adding that her truck drove over the hole in the ice using wooden planks taken from the truck’s siding.
Now living in Bensonhurst after immigrating here in 1989 with her husband, son and his family, Svetlosanova, 71, a retired engineer, said she plans to use the $4,000 to fly back to Leningrad to visit the graves of her parents and other relatives.