Photos are not mine.
My mother had been in the habit of attending a Molokan church service in a neighboring village every Sunday. She had done this quite a few times and because she always returned, she was able to gain the trust of the Uzbek guard. The Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles, which Molokans celebrated, was approaching. My mother asked permission of the guard for our whole family to attend this feast at that church in the aforementioned village. Permission was granted. We started off for the village that Sunday morning, but as the camp receded from view, we totally changed direction. I asked why but was told to keep quiet and keep walking. Our destination was the city of Samarkand, because we had distant relatives there. We arrived there around midnight. The next day we had one of the relatives buy us train tickets back to Ashkhabad. Before we departed for the station, my brother John surreptitiously scouted it in advance and saw the camp officials there, evidently looking for us. We had to postpone the trip until the following day. The coast was clear that day and so we left. Our family was scattered throughout the train in various cars. One of the stops the train made was where the camp was. Trains were routinely searched there for escapees from the camp. As we approached that stop, my mother emphatically told us to face away from the aisle and under no circumstances were we to turn toward it. As the guards came onto the train, my mother fell to her knees in prayer. The guards roamed through the cars more than once but, praise God, none of us were recognized. As the train left the station we all heaved a sigh of relief.
Our troubles, though, were not over. That evening, the lights in the train suddenly went out. All hell broke loose in the train as those who were stronger began to forcefully plunder the weaker. I’ll never forget those moments. Nobody came to anybody’s aid. It was every man for himself. I specifically remember how one man was screaming for help as two others were trying to take his possessions. He would not let go. They finally dragged him and his possessions into another car. I don’t know what happened to him.
It was terrifying. All authorities were absent. No conductors, no militia. Yet, by God’s grace, none of our family was plundered. Finally, conductors appeared at the next stop.
And so we returned to Ashkhabad. It was September of 1933. We had nothing-absolutely nothing. We begged a widow to take us in. She acquiesced. She only had one room for us and so we had to make do. I remember she was growing onions on the roof so that was all we had to eat for a while. One day a knock was heard at the door. The widow answered. Some men were at the door requesting able-bodied workers for a roofing job. The widow relayed their request. We replied that we lacked the necessary ID papers to be able to work. The men at the door replied that papers weren’t necessary. So my two brothers and mother went to work. This happened more than once and this is how God took care of us.