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My Great grandmother, Sofia Bykhovskaya (6/5/1918 - 2/26/2008) is a holocaust survivor with a very unique story of hardship and bravery.
Shortly after World War Two began, the town (Retchtsa, Belarus) which she lived in with her parents while her husband, Mendel Guslitser, was serving in the USSR army prior to WW2 starting, was invaded by Nazi troops. Sofia’s father, a respected blacksmith, was tortured and killed by the Nazis. They tied him to a horse which went around the town. Sofia was one of the people who was forced to watch him tied to a horse which roamed around the town for all to see. This was used as an example for others of what could happen to them as well. Sofia, her 1-year old baby (Faina) and her legally blind mother (Riva), had an extremely minuscule chance of escaping the Nazi-occupied town that they once called home. Sofia was advised that their only chance of survival was to take a train out of the town. Although, that sounded reasonable, it was highly risky. A bridge which the train must travel over to escape the town was in great disrepair and deteriorating condition. The bridge would either collapse once the train crossed over it, or would miraculously hold together. The chances were not in Sofia’s favor. Knowing that it was their only chance to escape certain death by the Nazis, Sofia decided to take the train. Luckily, the train was able to successfully cross the bridge. Sofia later learned that the next train that tried to make the crossing didn't make it, and everyone died after the bridge collapsed. Sofia and her mother escaped the Nazi-occupied town and went to exile in the eastern part of Russia (Sverdlovsk) which was farther away from the German invaders.
In 1941, Sofia’s infant daughter, Faina, was dying. Virtually every doctor informed Sofia that her child would shortly die. She didn’t want to witness Faina’s death, so she brought the baby to medical facility where it was presumed that Faina would die. After leaving the room where she sadly dropped off her dying child, the doctor told Sofia that their was an experimental treatment that could save Faina’s life. She agreed to give her child the treatment. Miraculously, the experimental treatment worked.
Sofia and her daughter Faina survived the war and reunited with her husband who also had an amazing survival story (My Grandfather Mendel Guslitser, Holocaust Survivor, Leader of Belarusian partisans).
They moved to Minsk, Belarus, and they subsequently had 3 more children, one of them being my grandmother. Riva passed away in 1954.
Sofia and Mendel immigrated to New York in 1993. Sofia passed away in 2008 at the age of 89 leaving behind 3 daughters, 1 son, 6 grandchildren, and 1 great grandchild.