The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Maya Rakitova

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June 04, 1931 Smolensk, Russia

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

1981 Montreal

Swept up in the drama of the Bolshevik revolution, Joseph Stalin’s Communist Party purges and World War II, the Rakitova family faces innumerable obstacles to survival. But young Maya knows only that her father is gone and that she must hide her Jewish identity. With what Maya calls “uncommon courage,” her mother fights to protect her, relying on the kindness of friends and strangers, and the tenuous hope that Maya can keep her identity a secret.

About Maya

Maya Rakitova was born in Smolensk, the Soviet Union, on June 4, 1931. In 1954, she graduated from the Faculty of Radio and Television at the Bonch-Bruevich Leningrad Electro-Technical Institute of Communications. Maya, her husband and their youngest daughter immigrated to Montreal in 1981. There, Maya worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for seventeen years. Maya and her husband live in Montreal.

Photos and Artifacts

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    The Brik family. Standing in the back row, left to right: Maya’s uncle Adam and aunt Sonya; Maya’s youngest uncle, Sasha; Maya’s aunt Nina; and her uncles Ber and Senya. Middle row, left to right: an unidentified woman; Aunt Betya; Maya’s grandparents Moses and Sima holding their twin grandsons, Vova and Jenya; and Uncle Arkady. Seated in front: Maya’s cousin Judith; Maya’s brother, Leonid; and Maya's cousin Miriam. Vinnitsa, summer 1931.

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    Maya, age 2, and her brother, Leonid. Smolensk, 1933.

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    Maya with her mother, Zinaida, outside the cottage near Smolensk. Summer 1934.

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    Maya (left), with her nanny, Nyura (centre), and her brother, Leonid. Smolensk, 1935.

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    Maya, age five. Smolensk, 1936.

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    Maya’s father, Grigory Davidovich Rakitov. 1930s.

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    Maya’s brother, Leonid. 1960s.

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    Memorial plaque in honour of Maya's father, which was placed on the house in Smolensk where the Rakitovs lived until 1935.

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    Maya’s mother, Zinaida. Leningrad, 1950s.

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    Passport photo of Zinaida. 1960s.

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    Maya Rakitova. Montreal, 2005.

The Book

Cover of Behind the Red Curtain

Behind the Red Curtain

As I looked at the postcard with a view of my native town, I recognized the exact place where I had been standing late at night, sixty years earlier, sobbing violently in fear and despair because I had nowhere to go.

Explore more of Maya’s story in Re:Collection

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Behind the Red Curtain

Desperate Efforts

At dawn one morning in mid-September 1941, a neighbour raised the alarm, informing us that screams had been heard at the boundary streets of the Old Town. The Germans were seen going from door to door, taking Jews. We thought they were taking young men and women to work, as they had done the week before. My mother asked Nyusya to take me to her rooms and rushed to the garden with Grandfather and Adya, Aunt Sonya’s husband. Aunt Sonya stayed at home with her granddaughters because everybody thought that the Germans would not take old people and children for work. Nyusya put me in the same bed where her three children were sleeping. At that moment, the Germans came in, accompanied by a Ukrainian policeman. They asked Nyusya what nationality she was. Frightened to death, with her hands shaking, she showed them her Ukrainian passport. As the Germans pointed to the children Nyusya told them, “These are my children.” With that decisive statement, this brave woman saved my life. The Germans left, heading to the house extension where Aunt Sonya and her granddaughters were. In a few minutes, they were brought out. I could see through the window that they hadn’t been allowed to put on proper clothes. Sonya carried the younger girl, Vita, who was wearing only a short nightgown.

That day, Nyusya took her children and me and we all moved to her mother’s house. Knowing nothing about my mother’s fate, I stayed with Nyusya for two or three days more. Meanwhile, the news spread across Vinnitsa that the Germans had taken at least ten thousand Jews out of town to the nearest forest, where a huge trench was dug; all of them were executed there. There were many wounded, as well as children, who were thrown in the trench alive, buried together with the dead. People said that for several days it looked like the earth was moving.