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Interview with Isya Braginsky with Comments by Motya Braginsky

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OLD LIVES, NEW LIVES: SOVIET JEWISH WOMEN IN
MINNESOTA


Interview with lsya Braginsky .
with comments by Motya Braginsky


Interviewed by Linda Schloff and Felicia Weingarten


Interviewed on April 24 and 26, 1991
at the Saint Paul home of Mr. and Mrs. Braginsky


lsya 8raginsky -18

Motya 8raginsky -M8

Linda Schloff -LS

Felicia Weingarten -FW

[ ] =comments or explanations by transcriber, Eleanora loffe

LS: Tell us your name please.

18: My name is lsya 8raginsky.
LS: And what was your maiden name?
18: My maiden name was Vynek.
LS: Vynek. Are you related to any of the Vyneks in town, in Saint
Paul or Minneapolis?

18: No.
LS: When were you born?
18: In 1922.
LS: Where were you born?
18: In Kiev.
1



LS: Why don't you tell me your father's name.

18: My father's name was Gersh.
LS: Gersh? Is it short for Gershwin or was it Gersh?
18: Hersh.
LS: Oh, Hersh, OK.
18: My mother's name was Dvoyra.
LS: Dvora?
18: Dvoyra.
LS: Dvoyra. OK. And do you happen to know when they were born?
18: Oh yes, sure. In 1888, both of them.
LS: And when did they die?
18: My father died in 1932; my mother in 1957.
LS: 1957? I see. And how many brothers and sisters did you have?
18: One brother and two sisters; I am the third one.
LS: Tell me their names in order of their birth dates.
18: My brother...
LS: The eldest?
18: Yes, he is, in Yiddish, Leib , in Russian (it was) Lyova.
LS: And do you know when he was born?
18: He was born in 1913.
2



LS: And your next?

18: My next is my sister, Riva. She was born in 1914, and then I was
born, in 1922, and then my youngest sister, Elene, she was born in
1924.
LS: So the war happened between Riva and you? There is a long gap,
there is, what...

18: The war started, the first one, when my sister was born, the
revolution was between me and my sister.
LS: Right, that was ...

18: 1917.
LS: And how many children do you have?
18: One son.
LS: His name is?
18: Greg.
LS: And when was he born?
18: He was born in 1947, Gregory [In Russian usually Grigory]. Oh, in
1948.
LS: 1948? OK. A good year! For the Jews, right! [Both laugh]

18: It all started there, for the Jewish people in Russia.
LS: Well, we'll come back to that because that's part of what we
want to ask you. You said you were born in Kiev. Did your parents
still maintain a tie to, did they come from a shtetl

18: No, from Kiev. My mother was born in Kiev.
3



LS: Because I know that many Jews were not allowed to live in Kiev
before the war, one had to have permission.

18: It was a certain area in Kiev that Jews could not live, but my
mother was born in Kiev. My father came from White Russia, he was
born there, but my mother was born in Kiev.
LS: Where did your father come from in White Russia?
IB: From a small town.
LS: From a shtetl?


18: Yes, I think a shtetl, but I don't even remember the name.
LS: Did both your parents work?

IB: No, no. My father was a locksmith, he used to make copper beds
(?) and then to nickel them to make them shiny, and my mother was a
housewife.

LS: And where did you father pick this up? Was he an apprentice?
How did he pick up this trade? How did he learn to do this?

IB: This trade? I don't know, I don't remember, but he worked from
twelve, when he was twelve years old, he started to work.

LS: Did they have brothers and sisters who lived in Kiev? Was there
a large family?

IB: Yes, sure. My mother had three sisters, and my father had one
brother and a sister.

LS: Did they live nearby?

IB: Yes, they lived in Kiev. As a matter of fact, my mother's sisters
lived together with my mother, in one apartment. They got married
from our home. My mother was the oldest one; so she kept it
together when their parents died, and then they got married, but they
lived in the same city, in Kiev.

4



LS: But after they were married, they lived in their own
apartments?

IB: Yes, in their own apartments, in Kiev.

LS: Well, then you did not go through the revolution in the Ukrainian
Republic etc., etc.?

IB: No.

LS: My mother has memories of those days because she left Kiev
about the time you were born, so she tells me.

IB: No, I don't have the memories, I saw movies.

LS: From a child's point of view, World War I, the Ukrainian
Republic, Petlyura's Army, it was like one vast pogrom to her.

IB: Yes, pogroms, my mother used to tell us the stories about the
pogroms in Kiev. It was a hard time. They had to hide. But my
father went in 1914 to World War I, he was in service for four years,
and not wounded, not one time, and he came back.

LS: You were born about the time the communist party was finally
taking hold in the Ukraine?

IB: Yes, it was already there, sure.

LS: I know that a lot of Jews in the Ukraine joined the communist
party because it seemed liked the best alternative. How did your
parents feel?,

IB: My parents were not, not my father, not my mother, they were
not communists, but in 1941, when the war started and the soldiers
used to go to fight for us and they had an assignment, they were
asked to go as a communist, to sign a paper. This assignment is for
communists, to fight for our country. So my brother signed it up and
when he came back in 1945, he was a communist. But what did he
have from it? Just the dues he paid, and that's it. He didn't have any

5



privileges because he was in the service or something; it was the
same.

LS: I wanted you to tell us something about when you were growing
up. Most of what I know is from what I've read, and it seems to me
as though it took a long time to stamp out Jewish life, especially in
a town like Kiev, and I understand there was still a Yiddish theater
in Kiev.

IB: I'll tell you, I graduated from an Yiddish school. In 1929 I
started school. It was an Yiddish school because then in the Ukraine,
the nationalists had a rule: Jewish people had to go to Jewish
schools, Russian to Russian, and Ukrainian to Ukrainian schools. So I
started in 1929; it was an Yiddish school; so was my sister already
in the school and my brother. When I started school, he was out of
school already. But it was a nice school; the teachers were so nice,
intelligent people, and it was like a home; it was so warm, it was so
nice--the best memories are from this school!

FW: I wanted to ask you what was the language of instruction, the
main language.

18: Yiddish! Every subject in Yiddish!
FW: How many classes, grades?
18: I graduated from the tenth grade, it was the last one. We had ten
grades in Russia.
FW: So you learned everything n YiddisH?

18: In Yiddish, all the subjects.
FW: And you had the Russian language also?
18: As a subject, Russian, and Ukrainian too, and German.
FW: And who were the teachers, were they all Jewish?
6



IB: Sure, just the Ukrainian language and the Russian language, they
were non-Jewish two teachers, but from the intelligentsia, you
know, from the old times. They used to wear long dresses... It was
the best time! And we had the Yiddish theater in Kiev. They used to
take care of us, they were our sponsors.

LS[?]: The Yiddish theater were your sponsors?

IB: Yes, every time, they used to come and put on shows or a
concert, and we used to go to the Yiddish theater. It was the best
time in my life!

LS: And you had Yiddish newspapers and books?

IB: Oh sure, before the war we had many Jewish writers. I don't
remember when it happened; it happened after the war, no before the
war, in 1937, when the anti-semitism started. Yiddish writers were
taken away for no reason, at night, they used to come and take them,
and nobody knew where they were taken, even the families they
wouldn't tell. So many people were killed, so many Jewish writers-
Bergelson, in my time I knew the man .. It's too hard to talk about it.
[gets very emotional]

LS: It was an awful time.

IB: It was an awful time: at night they used to come and search the
apartment and turn it upside down, and take the people away, and
that's it.

FW: When was the school closed?

IB: Before the war, in 1940, they started Russian classes. You see,
in 1940, they started to merge schools, the Yiddish schools. I was in
School No. 9; it was [No.] 5, and it was [No.] 10, it was many schools,
and then they started to merge the schools to make it fewer, and
then in 1940 they started Russian classes, until it came to the tenth
grade, no more Jewish schools. It was in 1940.

LS: And what happened to the teachers? Were they also taken
away?

7


IB: No, some of them they put libel on the teacher, and that's it, but
from what I remember, our teachers were all OK.

LS: What about the teachers teaching you communism, with the
Jewish faith?

IB: History, this is a history. The books were changed so many
times, every time they would put something else, new, and we
studied, we had to study, we had a lot of subjects. You see, the
program for the schools was compulsory; we had to take all the
subjects, whether we liked it or not, we had to study and to be
promoted from one grade to another, you had to pass certain exams.

LS: I guess I was interested in how ardent were the teachers, were
they ardent communists, could you tell?

IB: I didn't feel it in our school because the Jewish children and the
Jewish teachers, they were very nice to us and very good. Some
teachers had the best students they liked most, but we didn't feel
anti-Semitism in the school, and we were called by the teachers by
the name.

LS: I see, so it wasn't formal.

IB: It wasn't formal, not at all.

LS: Was there any religious life allowed in those early times?

IB: . No, not in our school.

LS: I am talking about outside your school.

IB: Outside, we had one synagogue, Before the war we had several
synagogues in Kiev. I used to live near a synagogue. We had three or
four synagogues. Then, after the war, just one was open, a small
one, and it couldn't accommodate all the people, elderly people, not
the young people. It was an atheistic society, it started from the
revolution, and then, even in our school, in the Yiddish school, we
didn't practice any religion, nothing. But my mother used to keep,

8



not Kosher--she couldn't keep Kosher--but as Jewish as [possible]-we
had Pesach, we cleaned our house for Pesach, and we observed all
the holidays.

LS: Did you go to schul (synagogue) then on Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur?

IB: When I was a child, when my brother was Bar Mitzvah'd Well,26 ...

FW: He was circumcised?

IB: He was circumcised; my brother was circumcised, and he had a
Bar Mitzvah in 1926. It wasn't as bad then. There was a schul next
door, and I remember the Bar Mitzvah and I remember a hupa in our
house, my mother's sister got married ...

LS: With a rabbi?

IB: With a rabbi and with a chupa, in our house. I remember it was
in 1926 or 1927, I remember it. Even my son was circumcised, but
it was a secret.

LS: What I guess I am trying to do is to lead you through your life,
step by step, so we are going to get back to that. Did you graduate
from this Yiddish gymnasium?

IB: Yes, yes, school, this was a public school. I graduated in 1939,
and I applied to the university; it's an institute, in Russia it's
institute. This was a Chemical Technological Institute, and I had to
pass certain exams. I graduated from an Yiddish school, and the
exams were in Russia, so I had to work very hard to know all the
terms because all the subjects were in Yiddish, but I did very well,
and I was accepted. It was seven people for one vacancy, so the
first exam half of them remained, and then fewer and fewer people
remained for one place, and I was accepted, I was enrolled in the
institute, and I studied for two years until the war started in 1941.

LS: I just wanted to get back to your father. It sounds like he had
his own business before the revolution, and what happened?

9


18: I don't know that it was his own business. Somebody had the
business; he just worked there; he never owned the business. In
1920 ... , I don't remember when we started, when I started the eighth
grade, it was in our school, because when my sister graduated and
my brother, it was just seven grades in this school, then they didn't
have ten grades. You could go to a technical vocational school, but
again, because my father worked in a corporation, it was a private
corporation, not a government, my brother couldn't go to the
technical vocational school.
LS: Were you considered members of the bourgeoisie?

18: Yes, the society was divided, and he was not considered
proletariat, my father, because he worked in a private business. It
was a theory, it changed so many times, but then he couldn't go to
study. But then my father died in 1932, so he had to go look for a
job, and my father's friends took him in in this business. When my
father died, it was artel.
LS: What?

18: Artel, you know.
FW: It was already nationalized; it was no longer private.

18: Yes, it was no longer private, and he started to work there; he
took my father's place.
LS: Your brother did?

18: Yes, he was then, in '32, he was 19 years old.
FW: lsya, an artel is a kind of a union or a corporation, but it is
owned by the government?

18: I'll ask my husband. [She consults Mr. Braginsky in Russian.]
It's cooperative, not the government, that's why he was not
considered proletariat. [Another comment by Mr. Braginsky in
Russian] In every cooperative should be executive director a member
10



of the communist party. I don't remember those times, but he
remembers.

LS: So, the war started while you were ...

18: In 1941 my mother was a widow; my sister got married already;
my brother was in the service; and we had an auntie--she was
paralyzed in 1920, when it was the epidemic of typhus, she didn't
get married--and she lived with our family, with us. So in 1941 we
did not have a man in our family. We had a neighbor of ours, who
worked in the city hall.
LS: Was he Jewish?

18: Yes. He came to my mother and said, "What are you thinking?
Why are you sitting here? You have to leave. You know what the
Germans do to Jewish children, to girls especially? Why are you
sitting here?" She said, "We have the auntie; she is paralyzed. I
cannot leave her here--she'll die of starvation--and I cannot go
because it's hard to take her." He said, "I'll arrange everything for
you, and you'll have to leave. Don't wait."
LS: Did the government tell you what the Germans were actually
doing?

18: Yes, sure, the propaganda was high.
FW: Did the government or the newspapers tell what was going on in
Poland, what the Nazis were doing with the Jews in Poland?

18: I don't remember. [Consults her husband in Russian] Yes, it was
in the newspapers, but, now I remember, especially the older people,
who used to have their own businesses, they didn't believe it. They
thought when the Germans would come, they'd open the businesses
again, and it'd be as it was before.
M8: [Spoken in Russian] When refugees started arriving from Poland,
then it became clear that it was in fact. ..

18: And then the refugees started to come in from Poland ...
11


FW: 1939...

18: In 1939, then they believed in it, but we left.
LS: Where did you go? How did you go?

18: It was a hardship. It was so hard. We got a train, a cargo, it's
not a passenger train, and the families who had members in the
National Guard, they came to help them to board the train. We didn't
have anyone to help us; we didn't have something to get on the train.
It was so high, we had to jump, and we couldn't jump with our
auntie. So all the people boarded already the train, and we were
sitting there, we couldn't do it. Then I went to the head of the train,
the man who was in charge--he was an officer--and said, "Will you
help us please?" He said, "Wait, we'll add some more box cars, and
then I'll help you." So he did. He jumped on the train and he didn't let
anyone in till we got on the train.
FW: lsya, did everybody know through newspapers or radio that it's
necessary to evacuate?

18: Yes, yes.
FW: It was in the papers?

18: They knew they had to go. The city hall gave us like a statement
that you had to present when you're leaving, with the name and how
many people in the family, and this paper was like a pass to go. We
didn't buy tickets, we didn't need tickets for a cargo train, and we
could get food on the stations where we passed and where we
stopped, hot food was distributed from a window--they did a good
job--but those who did not want to go remained there, and who
wanted to leave left. It was well organized.
FW: From what I understand, there were also privileged, who had
National Guards, say, or position could be evacuated under better
conditions.

18: Sure, on better conditions, and they took care of it, you know,
they were the first ones to get everything. So, we left, in 24 hours
12



our train stopped, and we could go farther, but some people said, "We
can get off here." It was in Rostov. [To Mr. 8raginsky] What did you
want to say?

M8: [Spoken in Russian] I wanted to say that the Jews who went to
8abiy Yar, many of them had an opportunity to evacuate, but they did
not believe that they would be killed. In 1918 Germans treated Jews
well ...

18: So, the people who were killed in 8abiy Yar, they could leave too;
there was transportation, they could leave, but because of 1918, the
German soldiers were nicer to the Jewish people than the
or the bands, the gangs, that's why they couldn't believe it.
remained there, but unfortunately, they were all killed.
Petlyuras
So they
LS: Did you spend the war years in Rostov?
18: No. So, in Rostov there were many representatives from the

collective farms around Rostov, and they asked people to go there.
We were provided with a place to stay and food, and everything. And
because of our auntie, I said to my mother, "Let's go to a collective
farm." So,. it was 120 kilometers. They gave us a horse, and food,
and everything--there were people who took us there--and we were
four or five days on our way to the collective farm. The people were
very nice: The population of this small village was very nice. They
gave us a house for three families, and pillows, and dishes, and
everything, and food. The food was advanced for the labor we'll put
in later on. We had to work it...

FW: It was given as an advance for the work that they would do in
the future. What kind of food?

18: Yes. Everything: we had milk, we had bread, we had everything;
it was a rich collective farm. Our family consisted of seven people:
it was my mother, my sister and me, and the auntie, and then my
mother's sister--we used to live in the same apartment--Semyon's
mother and Semyon's uncle, and his mother, his grandmother. [end
Tape 1 Side 1]
[Tape 1 Side 2]

13


18: Later on, we went to different cities because the Germans were
chasing us out of that place. So we were given bread--it was
rationed, on kartochky...
FW: Slips, they had to have their bread rations.

18: Bread rations, yes. We got it in the morning and we shared
together, it was like one family. I was the one who got a job
immediately. I worked in the field--it was a cotton field--and had
to pick up cotton. Then I was promoted. I was like a clerk: I had to
measure the field, the rate that people had to do, the rate of
production, and then to count, to weigh what they got from the field,
and then according to what they got, they were paid. And then I had
to bring groceries. We had neighbors of ours from Kiev living
together with us because when we went to the collective farm, many
people wanted to go together with us. We had two more families of
our neighbors, and she cooked for us in the field, and we had lunch
there, and it was subtracted from our earnings. When we left Kiev,
it was late August...
LS: 1941 ...

18: Yes, and we stayed there September and October. During this
time my mother started to work too. They used to make clothes for
the soldiers. She worked sewing telogreiky for the winter--special
uniforms made with cotton inside--so she sewed those, my mother,
and then my auntie too, and Semyon's grandmother. Then winter was
approaching, the nights were cold, and cotton got frozen. We had to
root it out, pull it up and root it out in the field and make it flat, and
then just me, I went to the field where they grew grain, rye or
wheat; it was a hard job for me, I never did it. before. It was a
combine, and we had to throw, I don't know ...
FW: You had to collect it and then ...

18: It was collected already, it's throwing in the machine ...
FW: In bundles?

14



18: In bundles, but it was ...
FW: And then it's thrashed there ...
18: It was thrashing, yes, but I had to ...
FW: Lift up the bundles and toss them in...
18: And toss them in, and then sometimes to toss the bundles, and
sometimes I had to pull back the straw and I had to work in special
kind of glasses, and it was· so fast, and we slept there, in the fields,
because we did not have transportation to go back. So, I worked
there for three weeks, and then we heard on the radio that the
Germans were following up, they were coming closer to Rostov ...
FW: Is this Rostov-na-Donu?

18: Yes, it was on the river Don, but this place was Zimovniki, and
we asked for transportation to go to the next city--it was Kalmykia,
[Kalmyk Autonomous Republic] the name of the city was Elista--it
was like 50 kilometers.

LS: Well, where is Zimovniki?

18: Zimovniki is in Rostov, Rostov District.
LS: Did you get permission to go to Elista?
18: They would not let us go, then when I got sick, I had a toothache
[?] and my cheek was swollen ...
LS: An abscess?

18: An abscess; so the chairman of the collective farm said, "OK, I'll
let you go." They gave us just a wagon with a horse, and we put
everything together, and one family more, we were eleven, and we
went...
FW: What happened to the other people that came with you,
neighbors, they stayed?

15



18: They stayed, and then they left too because the front came
closer and closer--all the people left--but when we were there,
people went by, people who came from those places that were taken
already, and they went by our farm, in this small town, Zimovniki,
we heard so much. They were starving, they did not have food on
their way, to go farther; they were not provided with anything, and
we gave them bread and milk, and they were so surprised that we
had so much food--they did not have it. We left, and we came to
Elista; it was 50 kilometers from this town; it was the capital of
Kalmykia. It was late in the evening when we came, and we saw the
first house on the hill. We stopped there, and the woman who drove
us there on the horse went back, but we stayed there. We knocked on
the door, and it was a Russian woman, who was exiled there, in, you
know when, it was in 1920, when the government started to send out
to [unclear] people who were rich, who had their own businesses
and they had the land--kulaki ...
LS: [?] The kulaky...

18: Yes, the kulaky. So they were exiled there. We were fortunate
she spoke Russian. So she said, "I have just one room." It was a
kitchen and a room, an extended room, a big one. Her husband was in
the service, and she had a small boy, and she said, "I can let you stay
here till you find an apartment." We slept on the floor--eleven [of
us]--we could not turn, just to command, "To the left, to the right,"
at night. It was winter already, it was cold, and we had to go down
the hill to get some water from a well and to carry it with two
buckets over the shoulder. So we stayed there for seven days, and
then we went to the city hall and asked for some help. It was so
hard to talk; the Kalmyks are so wild people.
FW: They speak a different language.

18: They wouldn't understand us, at all.
FW: They have slanted eyes ...

18: Slanted eyes and wide cheek bones, and all the women wore
braids hidden inside a case made of some material. The men had
16



rings in the nose. Even those who spoke Russian we could not
understand.

FW: lsya, how far is this from Rostov? This is no longer Western
Russia?

IB: It was 250 kilometers from Rostov, approximately. So, we found

an apartment, but there was a stipulation. The people who lived

there, they were Russian too, and they said, ~~we'll let you in, there

is an empty apartment, it was attached to our room--one room that
was attached to their room, but it was sealed from outside, but they
could open a door to go into this room--we'll let you in, you'll go
through our room, and when you'll get permission, you'll have to
switch rooms.11 It was a bigger room, much bigger; there were four
in the family, and they had a small, a long, small room. We said, OK.
We got the permission, we switched the rooms, and we lived there,
and it was too small for us. There were seven in one small room. I
got a job immediately. I worked in an arte/--cooperative--washing
sheepskins, and I had to take 100 buckets of water outside in winter
time. My hands were like this [shows] Everyone had a rate to take
out 100 buckets of water, and then to wash, it was like a pipe, they
put the water through the pipe, and it came to the place where we
washed it.

FW: You mean, there was a quota of a hundred per person?

IB: Yes, it was hard for me, but we couldn't get the ration slips for
bread. All the other people in our family were dependants, they were

dependent on me, so they were registered
for the whole family.
as dependants. So we got
LS: What about your sister? Wasn't she able to work?
IB: She was weak, she was not well when she was a child.
oldest one, and I took over the whole family.
I was the
FW: Did they permit you to
worked, not just for yourself?
take bread for everybody when you

17



18: Yes, for everyone. Everyone could get a ration card, to go to the
city hall and get it there, but the amount was small, much smaller
than a working person's. I got like 500 grams of bread a day, and the
dependants got 300 or 400 grams, depending on the place. [After
consulting with M8]
FW: [?] Did you stay there during the war, the rest of the war?

18: No, no, no. After a while, somebody was looking at me every day,
a man, was looking at me every day. I said, "What is he staring at me
for every day?" Then he came up to me and said, "Would you like to
move to a different place to work?" I said, "What kind of work?" He
said, "It would be much better than here, and just the night shift."
They used to make valenky...
FW: I'll explain: valenky are felt boots for the winter.

18: It was made of wool; the skins were used to make warm jackets
for the soldiers, but the hair ...
FW: It's called felt, felt boots, knee length.

18: Yes. There were machines for processing the felt, and it was so
thin, it was so fluffy, and then they had a pattern, and they put the
felt on the pattern, and I had to put it in two big wooden cylinders,
and to press it, to compact it. It was my job to do it. I worked at
night. And then a man came from Russia. He was an academician, a
chemist, and he said, "Would you like to help me to make soap from
the production they have here in this artel?" I said, "I don't know if
I'll be able." And he said, "You wilL" We cooked soap from--they
used to make oil from mustard, they grew the mustard grain, then
they put it through a special process, and they made oil, and from
the waste of the oil we used to cook soap. It was mild soap, it was
soft soap, it wasn't as hard as usual soap. Then we used to make
soap if a cow or a horse got killed or fell from illness, I used to take
it apart, to take off the fat and cook soap. I worked there, and my
sister worked. It was on the outskirts of the city of Elista, and to
get bread we had to go five kilometers, so it was organized. They
had a horse. My sister used to go to the downtown and to get bread
for all the workers. This was a small factory. Then we heard on the
18



radio that the Germans were coming to Elista--we had stayed there
for six or seven months--and then we went to the city hall and asked
for some transportation, but the next town was Astrakhan, 300
kilometers, and they did not have any railroad from Elista to go
there, just trucks, but they wouldn't give us any trucks. So they
gave us a camel, and a wagon, and the Kalmyks--it was a caravan of
many camels and many wagons, and many Jews--we had to walk,
just to put the belongings, it was a small wagon, just my auntie was
sitting on the wagon and our backpacks. We left Kiev with just
backpacks, so we didn't gain much of anything.

FW: What month was that approximately, it was 1942?

18: It was 1942, it was still, I think it was October. So we walked,
300 kilometers. We went by the side roads, and the people, the
Kalmyks, they couldn't speak Russian, just a little bit, and every
time we went to the villages, and the people said, "What are you
doing? Why do you have to take the people there? Stay here, let
them go." And every time he came and said, "I don't go, I don't want
to go."
LS: Who said that?

18: The man who was in charge to take us, the leader, the Kalmyk.
So whatever we had, what we took from Kiev, all our belongings, and
everything that belonged to my brother--a winter coat, shoes, his
watch--we put it in a different backpack, and I was carrying it--we
thought it was a sign that he will come back, and he came back. So I
started, I had an embroidered shirt, I gave him the shirt, and he said
OK, we went farther. Then he started again, "I'm not going any more."
So I gave him the watch. I gave things, and all the people went with
us. When we were 100 kilometers from Elista, on the way to
Astrakhan, we heard the cannons, the sound of the guns, and many
people did not want to go with us on the side roads; they went on the
main road, and they were killed, many people were killed. We came
to the Volga, and because of the situation, of the Germans coming,
they had destroyed the bridges, and we couldn't get a ship--you
cannot even imagine how many people were sitting in the squares, on
the ground, for weeks, they didn't have a way to go from there. My
sister, the youngest one, she got malaria because we ate whatever
19



we could find, we drank water from the puddles. We were six or
seven days on the way to ...

LS: Are you sure it was malaria?

18: Yes, I know, she got malaria. We didn't have blankets to put on
her when she was cold, so I didn't know what to do. The family who
went with us, the four people, they had spirtus, you know, pure
alcohol, and she said--it was a young woman--she said, "Let's go to
the harbor, maybe we talk to somebody and find a way to get out of
here." We were lucky. We saw a ship coming, a big one, but she
couldn't stop at the shore because it was shallow. So they had to be
in the middle of the river, and they put a gangway, it was suspended.
I didn't know what I was doing, but I went up there, and it was an
empty ship, it was after repair, it was painted, even the smell of the
paint was there. Then I saw a man in a uniform, who said, "What are
you doing here?" I said, "Can you take us to Astrakhan? We'll pay
you."
LS: What town were you in, at the harbor?

18: This was a small town, Alya; it was still Kalmykia, so the
strange name, Alya. He said, "No, I can't." I said, "Why not, we'll pay
you. We have money and we have alcohol. When he heard "alcohol,"
he said OK. He said, "Where is your passport?" I said, "I'll bring it."
I ran back, I took all the passports, and I showed him. He said, "OK,
I'll take you." He was a politruk. In the army, there was a ...
FW: Political officer.

18: Yes, political officer. So I made a mistake. ran in a hurry to
my mother, "Mother, come, take the things!" So all the people
started to follow us. My auntie couldn't walk, so I had to carry her
because of the plank. We boarded the ship, and so did many people.
They thought it was a mess. They started the ship and they started
to sail, to push away, but the screams--parents were on the ship and
children were on the shore--and I came up and said, "You shouldn't
let the people board the ship. If you did, take all the people who are
separated now, the children of the parents." So he made a circle, he
put in the children and the parents, and so we went. They got drunk.
20



FW: Did he take everyone?

18: Not everyone, no, just the people who were separated, who could
make it in the short time they gave us.
LS: How many people got on board the ship?
'

18: Fifty or sixty, I don't remember. So they got drunk.
LS: How much alcohol was there?

18: It was a liter. So they got drunk, and there was a bombing in the
air; they bombed a ship, it was a big river, Volga. So, they put the
ship on a shallow place, and they couldn't take it off. We got stuck
there; we saw the bombing; we saw the barges blow up in the air,
and we were sitting--we couldn't do a thing. Thank God, the bombing
stopped. They took a small boat from the ship and they went to the
harbor, and they brought a small but powerful ship ...
FW: Tugboat.

IB: And some people had to transfer to this ship--half--and they
took us off. We came to the harbor--it was Astrakhan--it was dark,
no lights because of the war. We stayed the night in the square, and
in the morning we went to the market. There was so much fish, so
much food was there. A man came up to me and said, "lsya!" And
said, "Yes." It was my father's friend; he was in the service and was
stationed there. God sent this man. "What are you doing here?" I
told the whole story, and he said, "I'll help you. I'll take time off and
I'll help you. Don't worry. I'll help you!" So in the evening, he went,
he did everything to get tickets.

LS: Tickets for where?

18: No, it was not tickets, it was just cargo, to go to Saratov.
Saratov wasn't taken. [Consults with M8] It wasn't taken.
FW: What area of the Soviet Union is this?

21



18: This is Russia, Russian Republic.
FW: Central Russia?

18: It's after Moscow. So we went to Saratov. He helped us board
the train. It was the same thing, but we. had a man to help us.
FW: How did you buy food? Did you have money?

18: We had money from the collective farm we worked at, and we got
even grain. After a while when we stayed in Elista, my mother went
back and she got everything that we earned. It was 50 kilometers;
so we got money already, we could hire some kind of transportation.
My mother went there and she got everything that we earned. We had
the money. And I worked in Elista, my sister worked in Elista, and
my mother used to do sewing for people there, and we had the
mustard oil--it was like ganzenschmaltz, (goosefat) it was so tasty,
it was so good. I couldn't even remember, there was time when we
didn't have anything to put in the oven to make it warm. So we had
to go in the fields and cut kamysh--this is like bamboo--but it's
strong straw, you can light it and it'll burn, like firewood. [End Tape
1 Side 2]
[Tape 2 Side 1]
LS: It occurred to me that when this man who was watching you
gave you a better job, did he expect anything from you? Here you
were, just nineteen years old. Was he interested in anything
(sexual) from you?

18: No! I was a hard worker, and he was a very, very nice man. He
was looking for a good worker, nothing else.
LS: OK, so you got to Saratov •..

18: No, not yet. In Zimovniki near Lake 8asmunchak (?) our train was
bombed. I saw people and children wounded, killed, and we had to go
under the train to get to the fields. My auntie had to be carried, and
we were in the field the whole night and the explosions of the oil
and gas resorvoirs at the station of Zimovniki. There were
22



explosions all over and so many people were killed. Then we were
rescued -they sent a locomotive on a different track and we came to
Saratov. In Saratov, thousands and thousands of people, refugees
without transportation. No cargo trains, just passenger trains. And
my sister got the spells of malaria and was laying on the bench in
the square. So I went to a doctor and asked if he would help us get a
ticket, because every day she got the spells of fever. So we got
tickets to Tashkent. We were planning to go to Tadjikistan, to
Leninabad where our neighbors were. We had corresponded in Elista,
and they said if you need come here, its safe, we will give you a
place to stay, but do it now. But we couldn't do it until we were
evacuated. So we got the tickets and came to Tashkent, and again

thousands of people -thousands in the square on the ground. In
Saratov it was cold, but Tashkent was warm -it was something. It
didn't take too long -we got tickets and came to Leninabad.

The people there didn't know what a Jew is. But they knew
that a Jew is (called) Abram, because they had exiled people there,
too. And a woman is Sarah. "Ah, you are Sarah?" That's it. To buy
food, men and women stayed in different lines. The women covered
their faces -they are Moslems. And they were very good to us.

I got a job there. I worked in a shoe factory. I wanted to get a
job making soap because of my experience, but they had mechanized
factories. Our neighbors, the ones we came to, she worked in a shoe
factory. She said "Let's go there and I will introduce you." She
introduced me to the accountant. It was a Polish accountant, Jakov
Sigismono Zuskin (?unclear) . He was a refugee from Poland. Many
Polish people were working in the factory when I came. So he asked
me my background, and I told him my two years in college. But I had
no skills. He said don't worry. 1"11 show you what to do. He gave me
a place to sit. He sat alongside me and taught me. I got the job
because the director of this factory was a previous student of (my)
college. So he gave me the job right away. I was a bookkeeper. ...1
put in the file all the documents ...

LS: So that was a privileged sort of job, wasn't it?

IB: It was a simple job. I worked there till '44. I got promoted and
became a bookkeeper, material job. Before, when I got the job, I just
had the file to put the income and outcome of the documents, of the

23



name of the material they got, like leather, [Russian names], they
had the articles, and then I had a file of the shoes, the production
they made, all the articles, the models, and everything. And then I
got a promotion and became a helper to make the balance. I was
under this man, and we became friends, he was marvelous, he was a
nice man. And then from there, in 1944, we went back, but we had to
get permission, to go to the KGB and ask for propusk...

FW: ...Permission.

IB: Permission to go back, but my auntie died there, she passed away
in '44, in February in the beginning, and in March of '44 we started to
apply for a permission, and he said, "I can't let you go to Kiev; Kiev
is a closed city; it's closed up; you can't go there." I said, "We used
to live in a small town during the summer time, to go to a dacha, you
know, we used to go to a village to live there." He said, "If you have
a stamp in your passport, even one of your family members has a
stamp that you lived there, I'll give you permission." And I
remember Semyon's grandmother, she had it; so, the appointment
was just at night, and next night I came with a permission. I had ...

FW: You mean, on the passport, she had this stamp that she lived in
that little dacha. town ...

IB: For three months she stayed there, so she had it. In Russia you
have to have a stamp whenever you go. This is a propiska. In Kiev
we had to have a stamp too: my address and when I came there ...

LS: Is this what Americans call an internal passport or is this
something different?

IB: No, no.

FW: An internal passport is a passport with your nationality, and
Judaism is a nationality. This is a permission: if you wish to move,
not only from city to city, but from apartment to apartment, you
have to have this permission.

24



IB: And even if you came temporarily to a place during the summer,
you had to have permission because the militia has to know who
lives there.

LS: OK, so you can't just pick up and go...

IB: Right, so she had a stamp in her passport; I got a vyzov ...

FW: ...Invitation ...

IB: Invitation from my niece in college. I knew they were back in
Kiev, so I wrote there, and they sent me an invitation to come, so I
got an invitation to Kiev, and they, all the family--my mother, sister
and the rest of the family--got permission to go to Chapovichi [?]
But we had to pass Kiev to go to Chapovichi. So we got out of the
train in Kiev and we were accommodated by our friends next building
where we used to live ...

FW: What friends, Jewish friends who came back or gentiles?

IB: No, Jewish friends who came back before we came, and we
stayed there, and we applied for our apartment, but it was taken by
gentile people, and we had a right to get it back because my brother
was in the service. So we went to the District Attorney, we applied,
and there was a hearing, and they gave us back the apartment.

FW: But not the furniture:

IB: Nothing there; it was robbed, nothing, just the four walls. But
the people were living there; we could not evict them. Nobody could,
even we had a permission from the District Attorney. So, what could
we do? Then somebody said, "Go to the high man of the militia. If
you bribe him, he'll do it." But I was afraid to do it, but I didn't have
any other choice. So I went there and I said, "Here is my permission,
and you have to evict the people from there." They have our
apartment. They have people in the service too. They can go to take
their place. They did not want to because our apartment was much
better. So he gave me a militia man, and just me and him, we came
there, but what we had, we used to live in what was a kitchen and

25



four rooms. Semyon's grandmother lived in one room, and our family
lived in three rooms, but we had one kitchen ...

FW: A communal kitchen, and a communal bathroom?

18: No, the bathroom was in the outhouse.
FW: And no inside plumbing?
18: No, plumbing just water--cold water, not hot water. So, when
we came back, it was two apartments. One apartment was taken by
the caretaker ...
FW: The apartment was divided?

18: Divided in two now. She let us in, the caretaker, and from the
kitchen we had a door to our apartment. The militia man knocked and
said, "Open up!" But she wouldn't. So he took off a piece of the door.
You could push it, just a small piece. So he pushed it, he anticipated
it, and the woman in our apartment, she had an ax in her hand. She
wouldn't let us in. He grabbed her by the arm, and he went inside and
opened up the door, and he said, "Empty out this room, the last one."
So I had to go three rooms--two rooms to the third one--he let me
in, but I couldn't get out of there, I was afraid.
FW: Did you have to pass the other rooms where this family lived?

18: I was afraid to.
LS: If she was going to be evicted... Was she going to be evicted?
18: In her apartment. She had an apartment, but she had there
somebody else too.
LS: I guess I don't quite understand ...

FW: Neither one of us understands, if she had an eviction notice, why
weren't you permitted to get all the four rooms, but just one room?

26



IB: The room where my auntie used to live, there was the caretaker,
because Semyon's father was in the service too and he was killed,
they were notified that he was killed, so the District Attorney gave
the permission to take the apartment. But this caretaker willingly
said, "OK, I'll empty it out and you can get in."

FW: So how many rooms were you entitled to?

IB: Three rooms, our three rooms, but it wasn't a room, it was a
kitchen already because it was divided. So, two rooms and a kitchen,
and one room and a kitchen, when it was altogether three rooms. It
was three rooms and a kitchen. Now it was two rooms and a kitchen,
and one room and a kitchen.

LS: So this person, I thought if they were evicted, they'd get out.

m: They were notified that we had the right, but nobody would do a
thing to let. ..
LS: But then, when the militia, when the man came with you ...

IB: Just to let in in [?], that's it. They wouldn't open the door, they
wouldn't let me in, but then he let me in and that's it.

LS: And then he left?

IB: He left, I closed the door, locked it with a hook, and I was there.
My mother used to bring food, I would put a rope down the window
and get the food. I stayed there for three days, and then I said to
myself, "What can I lose? So he'll kill me. I'll go." But I was afraid
to do it. So I opened up the door, the room was quiet, I locked my
door, and I went out, and I came back, it was quiet. Then my brother
came. He got a couple of days off, but it was in May '45, when my
mother got sick; she was in a very serious condition, so we sent a
telegram to my brother in the army, and he got 10 days off. When he
came, it was the end of the war already, so her husband--the young
lady's--it was a father and a mother and a young lady with three
children, they lived in this room and the kitchen. They occupied this
part of the apartment. My brother came, and her husband came
wounded from the war. It was the second husband, I think. She lived

27



with a German soldier, she had a child ... it was a story. So my
brother came, and he went to the District Attorney with this man,
and they got permission to evict the people from the apartment they
used to live. So they moved out and we got the whole apartment.

LS: So you had the whole apartment...

18: Two rooms and a kitchen, it was divided already, we couldn't do
a thing ...
FW: Who stayed in that one room and a kitchen? The caretaker?

18: No, she moved in her own. Semyon's grandmother and his mother
and brother. Semyon was born then. So we got back ...
FW: So if your brother weren't there, you probably couldn't do very
much?

18: I would have just one room, and that's it.
FW: But because he was a serviceman ...
18: He was a serviceman, and the man who came was a serviceman
too. They got divorce, it was a story.
FW: You mean the man who came back was this young woman's
husband?

18: Yes.
LS: They were able to evict someone [unclear] OK, so did you get
your life back together? Did you try to go to college again?

18: Yes, I tried to go college, but just in the evening time because
my mother took sick, and I had to stay with her in the hospital for
four months. My mother used to work, she used to take some sewing
from a factory before the war, when my father died, she had to
support us, so she used to make the job she took at home, and then
she brought it back, and she got...
28


FW: It's called piece work, piece, you do it piece by piece.

18: No, she did not do piece work. She did the whole thing, but she
brought it home and had a machine ...
LS: In America, it's called piece work.

18: OK. She used to work in a factory. When we came back, she got
her job back. We had a room, we had to buy a sewing machine, and ·
she used to do this kind of work, and I went to study, back to the
i(Chemical) Institute.
LS: And your younger sister?

18: My younger sister passed the test and exams, and she was a
student at a... economical institute [Institute of Economy Planning],
she studied too. My mother got sick; it was a very serious operation,
and she almost died. So I couldn't attend during the day, but there
were evening classes. In the day time I worked in the same factory
that my mother used to work. I had experience in bookkeeping; so I
was working there from '44 to '48. In 1947 I got married, and in '48
Gregory was born. So I had to take care of Gregory and my mother. I
got married, and because of Gregory I did not study any more. My
mother got a stroke, fourth stroke in a row, from '48 to '57. So I
couldn't work; I had to take care of my mother, and then, in 1957, I
went back to work, and I worked till 1977.
LS: What did you work at?

18: I went back and did some bookkeeping, and then I learned how to
draft on material, to put the patterns and make ...
LS: To make a pattern?

18: No, to put the pattern for material and then to circle it with
chalk, and then by this, when I circled all the patterns, we used to
put 200 layers or 150, depending on the thickness of material, and
then a cutter cut it.
29



FW: She wasn't really making patterns ...

18: No, no, I had the patterns ready, but I had to make combination of
the sizes, of the models, and to make a rate how much material we
had to spend on this kind and ...
LS: This is a very skilled job ...

18: It was a skilled job, but I learned to do it, and I worked there for
four years, and then I was promoted to engineering work, but it was
a technician, I was a technician of making the rates of spending the
material. I had to make all the combinations, and I worked in the
laboratory where they make experimental models. We made samples,
and by the samples I knew how much material we had to spend, and I
had to transfer it to different width of the material, in square
meters. I worked there, and then my name [title] was not technician,
it was an engineer. I worked there for ...
FW: In this country it would be production office supervisor or
manager.

18: In 1975 our factory was merged with another one, and the main
factory was the other one, and I was afraid, without education, of
losing it--1 didn't have a diploma. I was afraid they wouldn't keep
me. So I went to the director of the factory, and she knew me from
1944, when I started the job, when my mother took sick. I said to
her, "I know you're leaving because the other one will be the
director. Will you do me a favor and let me get a job in the
bookkeeping department. I don't need a diploma there." She said,
"You have a reason. OK." So she put me in the bookkeeping
department, and in four years I became an accountant for a
corporation for six factories, and I was the main accountant. So I
retired in '77, and in '79 we left the country.
LS: Now, you said that you started as an accountant in 1975 ...

18: In '75 I started as a bookkeeper ...
LS: I mean, as a bookkeeper, but did you say you retired in '77?

30



18: In '77. From '44, with the interruption for nine years; no, in '57 I
started again; from
factory.
'48 to '59 I did not work there. This is the same
FW: It's eleven years.
18: '57 -nine years.
FW: Oh, '57 or '59?
18: '57. Nine years I did not work, and from '57 to '77, for twenty

years [I worked again]. When I was 55, I had a right on go on social
security, to get my pension, and because I was an accountant, I
couldn't get my pension and my salary, so it was a big responsibility
to do the job, so I quit, and I got my pension. He was retired already.
I got an apartment; from this factory, in 1962, I got an apartment
with hot water and with a bath tub, and with everything.

FW: How many rooms?

18: It was two rooms; one was 8 square meters, and the other one
was 14. It was like this: two rooms the same size like this room,
because I was a big shot. They gave then, it was a rate, just to give
for three people one room.
FW: And did you have a kitchen?

18: A small kitchen, like just a stove and a sink, that's it.
FW: Were you living in that other apartment up until '62?

18: Yes, the same apartment.
LS: At least your neighbor was a relative, right, all of that time?

18: No, then we had separate apartments, because it was divided.
Then my sister got married; we lived in two rooms and one kitchen
and attached room with my sister and my mother. My mother passed
away in '57. My mother used to live with me in one room; three of
us, my mother the fourth one, and one for my sister. [?]
31


FW: Your sister remained in that apartment after your mother's


death, and she married and she lived there?
IB: She married when I used to live there, when I was married. My
sister married in '56.


FW: But then did she live with you?


IB: We lived until '62 together; in '62 I got an apartment. Our
building was ... dilapidated? ...
FW: Destroyed.
IB: Destroyed, it was ruined, so they got an apartment. I got it in


'64, and she got an apartment in '62.
LS: But you said in '62?
IB: Yes, I got in '62, and she got her apartment in '74.
LS: I see. Well, tell us now about your meeting your husband.
IB: I met him at my auntie's; he was a relative of my...
FW: Was he in the army during the war?
IB: He was in the labor army because he had a broken leg when he


was a child and ·he wasn't drafted. So I met him at my... [End Tape 2
Side 1]
[Tape 2 Side 2]
IB: ... In 1948 we got married--in '47--in '48 I got my son ...


FW: Did you have a chupa?
IB: No, just a civil service, but my son was circumcised because my
mother and I wanted it. It was secret. There was a man, a shochet,
(ritual slaughterer) there was a place where they killed the


32



chickens, and he was a shochet, and he used to do secret
circumc1s1ons. He came to our apartment; it was quiet; nobody was
there, just a friend of mine from my job came, and he was the kvater
(godfather)--he held my son--and that's it, and Semyon's
grandmother, of course, we lived together. In the evening we had
dinner, his family, my family--we kept together--and this man who
was the kvater, he came with his wife, and that's it. All was quiet;
we took a low profile because ...

LS:: What was happening in '48? Tell us a little bit how it was for
the Jews?

18: It started in '37, as I said, when the Jewish writers were killed
and taken away, but you see, after the revolution, the majority of
the fighters were Jewish people. They wanted a better life.
'

FW: You mean the Bolsheviks?

18: No, the Bundists, the Yiddish. A lot of Jewish people were in the
government after the revolution: Trotsky and Sverdlov ...
FW: Kaganovich...

18: Kaganovich was later. Kamenev and Yakiev, and Zinovyev, Radek,
Kaganovich--Jewish leaders were in the government, in the party. In
'35 it started, when Trotsky was assassinated, in '26, when was it?
In '27, but it was here, somewhere in the West...
FW: It was in Mexico.

18: He left because he was thrown out and persecuted, that's why he
left, and in '37 it got worse, but we didn't feel it. Even before the
war, in 1941, there was anti-Semitism in the streets, the neighbors
who knew us, they said, "You're good Jews. You're not as bad as the
other ones." How bad are the other? You don't know, but it was like
epidemic. People knew that the Jewish people, because they lived
better, they were not drunkards ...
To buy a bottle of vodka, it's money, you have to spend a lot of
money. The Jewish people didn't do it. So lived better, they were
smarter, they got education, and you can tell that they took a place

33



in the society. That's why it started the envy, the antagonism, but
the government did not encourage it. But little by little, it got
worse and worse.

After the Germans were in Kiev, the occupied territories, the
gentile people became more anti-Semitic. In the places, in Kiev, in
Gamel, in all the cities, which were occupied, the anti-Semitism
was stronger because the gentile people did bad things to the Jewish
people during the war. They would let on. In '41 the youngsters, like
17-18, they were taken to the labor camps to make the trenches.
There were taken away from the families, and when Kiev was about
to be taken by the Germans, the parents left; they didn't wait for the
children. They thought they would find them and they would be
together. And some of the boys were smart not to go back ...

LS: Are you talking about Jewish boys?

IB: Yes, they were smart not to go back to the occupied territory,
but one boy, our neighbor, he came back, and our caretaker--he was
good to the Jewish people before the war--and· he came to his
apartment and said, "Kostya, would you help me find my parents? Do
you know where they are?" He said, "I don't know." He said, "Take a
bath, and I'll give you something to eat." He gave him food, and he
went out and brought an officer, and he was buried alive in our yard.

FW: A German officer?

IB: Yes. They did so many bad things to the Jewish people during the
war. When Babiy Yar, the Germans wouldn't know. They put orders to
come to this place with their belongings at a certain time, but they
wouldn't search the apartments. But the people, the paliza is ...

FW: The police ...

IB: No, polizais, these are the assigned people who were helping the
Germans.

FW: Collaborators, Ukrainian collaborators.

IB: So, they said, "There is a Jew, and there is a Jew," and they came
and they took them away. They pointed out at the people. They

34



wanted to get something out of this, if he pointed out at this man,
then the Nazis will be better to him, they will give him a better job
and do something for him. And why the antagonism started?
Because all the Jewish people had the high jobs in Russia; they were
educated, and that's what happened.

And in '48, when Israel became a Jewish state, it came from
the government. They started to write in the newspapers-propaganda--
the Zionists are bad for the world, and it started, my
God, people were out of jobs because they were Jewish, and they
were not given jobs; it was hard to get into studying if you wanted
to get education.

My son, in '62, couldn't study in Kiev. He applied to a musical
vocational institute [This should probably be "College of Music"; in
Russia, for whatever reason, they do not use the term "institute" in
the names of colleges where one studies music, dance or art;
instead, they use the same term as used in "Vocational Technical
Institute," and this might have gotten lsya confused],. and he had a
program to play, and the accompanist started to play, and they
stopped him and said, "You didn't fill out an application." What
application? His nationality. So knew right away. Then he couldn't
play. He played but he got so nervous.

Then he went to a different state, to White Russia, and he got
in a musical vocational school there; he studied zaochno [by
correspondence]--he had sessions twice a year; he went there two
times a year, just for sessions, and then he had to pass his exams
there.

LS: I don't quite understand what this job was.

FW: Not a job. He was learning to become a musician. He was not a
permanent student. He was permitted to play occasionally and take
his exams.

18: Just to come twice a year to this city. He used to live in Kiev.
He was then 15. And he went there twice a year, just to have a
session for a week, they studied there, and then he had to pass
exams: the musical subjects and to play, to show his skills; and
then, he studied there for four years--it was a five-year course-but
he made it in four instead of five.
35



LS: lsya, I am going to come back to that a little later because I am
trying to get this in a sort of a chronological order. You started to
talk about the anti-Zionists and the cosmopolitans ...

IB: Yes, cosmopolitanism and anti-Semitism, because of the Jewish
state it got worse.

FW: Were people arrested, a lot of people?

IB: People were arrested, they lost their jobs. It was a situation
that you didn't know what to do~ to be good to this neighbor if he had
somebody taken away, you had to do it secretly, because other
neighbors pointed at you. It was terrible; it was a terrible time for
us. Jewish people suffered a lot, and it came from the government.
In '53 ...

LS: When Stalin died ...

IB: Before Stalin died, a Kremlin doctor, a woman, she said that the
Jewish doctors wanted to kill Stalin, and then it started all over;
gentile people did not want to go Jewish doctors in the clinics, did
not want to be served by Jewish doctors; neighbors would not talk to
Jewish people because of this situation. It was a terrible time. I
came for a visit to Leningrad, to visit my sister; she used to live in
an apartment. ..

LS: This was your older sister, Riva?

IB: Yes, Riva. Five neighbors in one apartment, just one kitchen, and
just one of them was the same as before; the others would not talk
to her. When she came to the kitchen, they would leave; they would
not talk to her.

LS: Why?

IB: Because she's Jewish, because of the Jewish situation, because
the doctors killed people, that's why, for no reason. In '53, after
Stalin's death, when she was forced to tell the truth ...

LS: Who was?

36


FW: The physician who said he was killed by the doctors.

IB: Yes. She was forced to tell the truth. And she told the truth: it
was not so; it was a lie. So then my sister did not want to talk to
the neighbors. She said, "I wasn't good for you then, you're not good
for me now." And when I came, she said, "You can say 'hello' to this
neighbor, just to this neighbor, because she was good, she wouldn't
listen to the others. And you can talk to her, be nice to her, but not
to these neighbors." You went to the store, "Oh you dirty Jews,
you're traitors, you're cosmopolitans." It was a terrible time. But
you see, we didn't know how miserable... We were happy there, we
didn't know anything else, we had to live there.

LS: Because you were accustomed to it.

IB: Yes, so we were happy; we didn't know how miserable we were

----------------I

there. ---··--· -··· ··-


LS: What about the care for your mother? Was that a problem?

IB: A problem? [ironically] My mother -nine strokes! She lived,
and they wouldn't even take her to the hospital. The elderly people
didn't get any care. I'll tell you about my son. In '78, he had surgery
on his tailbone. It was a good hospital, and I went to the doctor, the
surgeon, at home, and said, "Will you take good care of my son? I'll
be very grateful to you." He knew I'd give him money, but not before
the surgery. So he operated on my son. For three days he was OK; on
the fourth day he got a fever: they banded his wound on a table, not a
clean table. They had to divide the department of surgery--it had to
be clean wounds and not clean ones... infected ones. He was in the
clean, not the infected, department, but somebody cleaned the wound
of a woman before him with an infected one. So he got the
staphylococcus immediately. You see, here, everything is one time
use. There, it's not. They don't have enough material to ... change the
dressing ...

LS: Oh really, the dressing was reused?

37



IB: Not reused, but they don't have enough dressing. When my son got
infected and got high fever, I started to look for a medication to help
him to fight the infection, but they didn't have it, and they wouldn't
give me a prescription because they don't have it in the drug stores.

FW: Was it penicillin?

IB: No, I needed something simple. It was made in the meat... where
they kill the cattle... in the slaughter-house, some extract from an
animal, from a cow or a horse, I don't know. It was simple; they
made it in ampules ...

FW: Likes serum...

IB: Something very simple, but it went just to the high authorities,
to the government drug stores, for the big shots. I couldn't get it.
And it cost kopeikis--nothing, pennies. My husband's cousin worked
in a different hospital--they used to serve railroad big shots--so I
asked her to buy it. She bought it--for 50 rubles; it was big money:
my salary was 140 rubles, my pension was 117; 50 rubles was big
money. So she bought it for 50 rubles, and I brought it there, and
they started to give him the shots, and he was OK. But they had to
put dressing every time on his wound. It was stitched, and then they
had to take it apart. So it took time till it grew together. It was
the May 1. lnna used to go and to wash the wound before they the
dressing was ...

FW: Were they married already, Grisha and lnna?

IB: Yes, sure, it was in ... '78; sure, Vadim [?] was then three years
old. She used to come in the morning, and to put pressured water to
clean the wound, from a distance, and then to put the soap water,
and then they had to put a dressing. So she cleaned the wound, and it
was already 12 o'clock, and from 8 in the morning he was without
dressing, without anything ...

FW: Was he at home?

IB: No, at the hospital.

38


FW: And there was no nurse to do it. His wife had to come and do it?

18: In the morning, yes, but the dressing, he had to go to a special
room to put the dressing. They didn't have dressings.
FW: They didn't have a nurse either to do it?

18: It was May 1
FW: Oh, a holiday.

18: So, why, people could work, but it was Easter, the same day, so
nobody was there. His father [her father?] was a military man. He
came at 12 o'clock to visit him, and he said, "You didn't get a
dressing still?" He said, "No." So he went to the director and said,
"Why? What happened?" So they brought it. Many people didn't get
it. Just Gregory got it, and the rest were waiting, I don't know when
they got it.
LS: OK, coming back to your mother's health care, the fact that she
had nine strokes ...

18: She was in the apartment, and I took care of her. I could call a
doctor--they made house calls--and the doctor would come and say,
"What can I do? What can I do?" That's it. So I took care of my
mother. I used to go to work in the morning; we were four in the
family--four children--so we couldn't hire someone to take care of
my mother. Finally I got a 75-year-old gentile lady, a very nice lady,
and she used to come when I left for work, and at 12 o'clock, during
the lunchtime, I used to walk, eight blocks or nine blocks, to come to
take care of my mother, to give her something, to take a look. And
then at 5 o'clock, when I was back, she would leave, and then I took
over. And that's it. We didn't have a bathtub. We had to do it in my
kitchen, in the small kitchen, in the basin. It was a hard time.
FW: How did she go to the bathroom? There wasn't a bathroom
inside?

18: She didn't feel anything, so we had to put a ...
39


LS: Diapers or something?

IB: Diapers? What diapers?

LS: Well, I mean, something like that...

IB: Nothing. She would have to lay on a rubber pan, and I had to lift
her and to drag her... I didn't know if there were nursing homes, like
here... There was a nursing home, but for people who didn't have
family, children. I had a relative of my sister's husband; she was
taken to such a nursing home. It had 18 beds in one room; the floor
was cement, and the food they got was in metal bowls... [End Tape 2
Side 2]

[Tape 3 Side 1]

LS: It's Friday, April 26, ·and· we are back at the home of lsya
Braginsky. This is Linda Schloff talking, and I am with Felicia
Weingarten once again. lsya, I have reviewed some of what we had
gone over, and the last thing we've been talking about was your
mother's illness. While we were on the subject, and how you finally
found someone to take care of her, about your aunt who had been at
the nursing home and how unsuitable that was ...

IB: Terrible, terrible conditions, but all these people who didn't have
children had to go there ...

LS: ... And I was thinking that I really should have asked you a little
bit about, when you became pregnant and you had Gregory, how did
you find the care? Did you go to the hospital to have the baby?

IB: Yes.

LS: And you had good prenatal care and good care for Gregory?

IB: I paid the doctor before we went there, so I got good care;
otherwise, not so good.

40



LS: Another thing that I was curious about, I know you just had one
child. Did you take precautions not to have any other children or did
you have to have abortions?

18: We didn't have any. I had one abortion, but we didn't have any
birth control; nothing there.
LS: How many children did you want, did you want more than one?

18: I would want more than one, but then my mother got sick, and
she was nine years in bed, so I had enough with one child, and when
Gregory was four, my mother got her fifth stroke, and during the
nine years, she had four of them, so I had to take care of my mother,
and the living conditions were not so good,· and the doctors did not
pay attention to the old people, the sick people. What can we do?
There is nothing we can do. We had a doctor, a friend of ours, who
used to come now and then, just to take a look, to give his advice or
prescribe something. In Russia, they have house calls, but one
doctor has approximately 25-30 patients to take care of every day,
and then he has admission there, the people who came to his place to
the polyclinic. He doesn't have a car; he walks the stairs, up the
stairs to 25 or 30 patients, and meanwhile, on his way, there is
something to line up, to get some food. So his mind is on food.
LS: To get provisions for his household as well as serving the
patients. ·

18: This was free of charge.
LS: So you're telling me that you get what you pay for.

18: Yes. Sure.
LS: Here you were, you were home with the baby, at home with the
sick mother. I never asked you what your husband did for a living?

18: He was a supervisor in a sewing factory.
LS: Did he help you much at home? Did he go shopping?

41


18: He couldn't help me because he used to go from one job to
another, he left 7 in the morning, he came back 10-11 in the evening,
because it wasn't enough to provide the family. For nine years I was
at home, from '48 to '57, I didn't work; so he had to have two jobs to
provide everything. My mother used to live with me. The medication
wasn't so expensive, but to pay a doctor, I had to call doctors, and I
had to pay for it. I didn't get the qualified help we needed for my
mother, and then the hospital, it was 9-10 patients in one room, and
it was formal, he [doctor] came in the morning to [do] rounds, and
then he gave orders, and that's it.
LS: When you were staying at home ...

18: We didn't have a phone at home, so when we had to call the
hospital or the doctor, we had to go outside to find a pay phone. How
many times I had to call the paramedics to come at night, and I had
to go outside at night to call the paramedics. I got my phone, I don't
remember ... in '63 ...
LS: How many years did you wait for a phone?

18: Since I came back from the war [laughing]
LS: You mean you signed up that early?
18: Sure, it was a waiting list.
LS: So, you had two rooms and a kitchen, right?
18: Two rooms and a kitchen, yes.
LS: And next to you ...
18: In the two rooms and the kitchen I lived with my family--with
my husband and son--my mother lived in the attached room with my
sister, her husband and their daughter.
LS: And they had a kitchen also?

42



18: There was one kitchen. We used to come in the kitchen and to go
to my sister's room, and then to go to my room, attached rooms, not
separate rooms.
LS: What was this about, they had divided up the apartment and
made another kitchen?

18: This was before the war. We had one kitchen and four rooms.
After the war, they divided the apartment in two; they made two
kitchens--one kitchen and one room and two rooms and one kitchen.
LS: But at least your family had their own kitchen. You did not have
to share the kitchen with a lot of strangers?

18: No, not a lot, just with auntie, we lived together.
LS: And who lived in the· other room and the kitchen?
18: The caretaker used to live there.
LS: So they were not Jewish, right?
18: No, they stayed with the Germans.
LS: We'll have to come back to this again, who was the caretaker
who informed ...

18: It was before the war, we used to have a caretaker, dvornik,
janitor; he used to clean the streets, to take care of the garbage, and
snow. As long as I remember myself, I knew this man. We grew up
together when we were children, and we were friends, and all of a
sudden, when we returned back to our city, people told us that he let
on...
LS: Go ahead, tell us this. The last time you told me the story when
the machine wasn't on. What had Kostya done?

18: His name was Kostya, and he was so good to us and to all the
neighbors. It was mostly Jewish neighbors in our courtyard, and
when we came back, other Russian, gentile, not Jewish people who
43



remained there, said, "You know what your Kostya did?" When this
boy was back, looking for his parents, he gave him food and he went
to the station, to the German station and he said, 'There is a Jewish
boy, take care of him.' So they came, and they buried him in our
courtyard."

FW: What year was that?

18: It was '41, because we left in '41, in August, and we met the
boys on our way when we were evacuated; it was in '41.
LS: And after the war, you said, what happened to Kostya?

18: Somebody from the gentile people came and said, "Oh, you're
back. You know what your Kostya did, he did this and this.'' So he
couldn't stand it; everyone used to tell, "What did you do? Why? You
were such a nice ... What happened to you? Why did you do this?" So
he left, he left the city; we didn't see him anymore.
LS: As far as you know, he was never prosecuted?

18: No! [emphatically] The boy's parents came, he was still there,
when they came back, and they went to the District Attorney to
press charges, and they had witnesses, They wouldn't do a thing;
they had more important things to do than to prosecute Kostya.
LS: I will leave that there for a while, knowing full well that Babiy
Yar was in Kiev.

18: Yes, 8abiy Yar was in Kiev.
LS: Do you want to say something about 8abiy Yar?
18: What I know, we had a club for people to come for cultural
events there, and there was a teacher, ballet teacher, who used to
teach young people ...
LS: What year was this?

44



18: It was in '44, maybe in '45. I came in '44. She used to teach
ballet to people who wanted, who had talent. I just went because
worked together with one of the ballet participants. She said, "You
want to see how we dance?" So I went there. She told me that this
teacher was a survivor from 8abiy Yar. They didn't leave the city
before the Germans came. When they gathered all the people, it was
an order [?] to come to certain place with their belongings, with
everything. They came, and then the German soldiers, the officers,
said, "Leave everything and you go farther. They put them on the line
where there was a big ditch, in two or three rows, because they
didn't have enough space, and this lady, she fell in the ditch ,before
they shot her. So she remained there till dark, and then she crawled
out of this place, the bodies on her, she managed to crawl out, and
she got gray, this white, and she crawled at night so many
kilometers, till she came to ...
FW: Stark naked, because they were told to undress ...

18: No, not all of them, no. She came to oir village, and not all the
gentile people were mean to the Jewish people, and they saw in what
condition she was and they let her stay in the attic, they gave her a
babushka [?] to put on, she stayed there for a couple of· days, and
they said it's not safe to stay here. She was dressed as a peasant;
they gave her clothes and everything, and she wandered from one
village to another till she came to a place where she was safe, she
knew she would be safe--it was far away--and then she came back.
That's how she survived. I saw, when it was raining in Kiev after.
the war, we used to go to the cemetery, it was close to 8abiy Yar,
and the water that comes from the hills down in the ditch, it washed
all the ground, the soil, and we saw the bones, the sculls--this was
the place. They put a monument in Kiev, the government. It doesn't
say that Jewish people were killed. Russian, Ukrainian and other
nations, but Jews.
LS: No Jews mentioned... So what happened when Yevtushenko
published his poem?

18: You know the first time how we read it? It wasn't published. It
went from hand to hand.
45


LS: Was it Samyzdat?

18: It was just printed at home, and then it was published later,
years later.
LS: So it was justified then that somebody had noticed?

18: Yes, it was the truth.
LS: I was reading the other day that Khruschov had them change
several lines.

FW: There is a book, 8abiy Yar. by an eye-witness, a gentile boy who
hid and witnessed it, Anatoly Kuznetzov.

18: Kuznetzov, yes, he was a witness.
FW: The book was smuggled out to England because he could not
publish it._

18: No. no, it wasn't possible there. We read it because it was
handed, it wasn't legal.
LS: Well, we have to go on to other topics now; we could spend
several hours...

18: Yes, we can't talk about it now.
LS: When Gregory was growing up, did he go to school with a lot of
other Jewish children?

18: Yes, with Jewish kids and gentile children. There wasn't any
Jewish schools anymore, it wasn't a Yiddish school. Sometimes he
was called Jew, Zhid, by a boy sitting next to him at the same bench.
I called the parents, they were doctors, and I said, "You know what,
did you tell him to say something in class?" They said, "Why, what
happened?" and I said, "He called my son 'Zhid.' Why? They're sitting
together, and they were friends." So they came to our place with
this boy and they made him apologize.
46



LS: I see, that's very good. What about the attitude of the teachers?

IB: The teachers, there were many Jewish teachers, so they were in
favor of the Jewish people. Gregory, I don't remember, he was in the
second or the third grade, during the break, the recess--he read
somewhere, I don't know where--and he showed the children how in
America people are eating lunch. They put their legs on the table and
they are eating lunch. And a teacher, a mean one, an anti-Semite,
she just was watching the children on the recess, she came in, she
saw him, and she put his name in an article to put it in the
newspaper at school. The published a newspaper: the events, the
school, the good students, the bad students, about the behavior. So,
about his behavior--and she told him she'll do it. So I went to the
assistant to the director, a Jewish teacher; she was a teacher too,
but she was assistant. I came to her and said, "You know what
happened? He said he doesn't want to go to school any more if he is
in the newspaper." She said, "I'll take care of it, don't worry." He
wasn't in the newspaper. And what did he do? It was an
intermission; the children were talking; so he showed them; what
did he do? It was a bad behavior or what? He was a good student
and I didn't have any problems. So she said, "Don't worry, I'll take
care of it." She had a bad eye on me and my son, the teacher, but he
was a good student, and he wasn't in her class ...

LS: Did he have Jewish and non-Jewish friends?

IB: Yes, but mostly Jewish friends. Just this one who said to him
"You're Zhid." They walked from school home, and they started to
look at a horse or something, and he wanted to pet the horse, and
then he said, "Go, you Zhid, go away, Zhid." Gregory started to cry, he
came home and told me right away what happened. So I talked to the
parents.

LS: That's good that you didn't let that go.

IB: We never did. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it got worse.

LS: What other occurrences made you have to talk to people? Things
that happened with Gregory or what else?

47


IB: What else? Gregory got an apartment...

LS: When? How old was he then?

IB: He got married; he was married already, and they had a condo-one
room and a kitchen--and he applied and was on the waiting list
for two room or three rooms, I don't remember. In the city hall there
was a waiting list for a condo. Meanwhile, somebody left from their
building, he left the apartment, it was empty, and people wanted to
take the apartment. He went to the board of this cooperative and he
said, "I'm on the waiting list with the city. I have the right, and I'm
the first one in this building." They said, "OK, we'll think about it."
And then they wouldn't give him the apartment because, a neighbor
of his came and she said she was in the meeting when they had a
meeting to decide whom to give the apartment, and one of the
members of the committee said, "Why give the Jew the apartment.
There are places in Israel. Let him go there."

LS: What year was this?

IB: It was in ... '77. Because he wasn't well; he was in the hospital,
and I was staying with the boy during the day, and a neighbor came
and she said, "You know what, they wouldn't give you the apartment.
If I were you, you have the right, go, at night, open the door and move
in. If you won't do it, I will." And she did. She moved in, and they
stayed in the one room.

LS: So your neighbors took the apartment for Gregory? I mean, she
moved in...

IB: No, instead of Gregory, she moved in without permission. They
wouldn't evict her. She knew they wouldn't do it.

FW: Was she Jewish?

IB: No.

LS: Could you have moved in and kept it for Gregory?

IB: Not me, but Gregory.

48


LS: But he was in the hospital?

IB: Sure, he and his wife, they could do it.

LS: They could do it? But they chose not to?

IB: He waited to get it with a permission. He applied to the
committee ...

LS: He was doing it legally, and someone else did it...

IB: Yes, and they said, "Why to give it to Gregory; he is Jewish; let
him go to Israel; his place is there." I was a witness, when I was in
a street car, and I was in Gregory's place, and I went home, and two
drunk goyim (gentile people) came in and, "Zhidy, vstavajte!"

FW: ["Dirty Jews, get up!"]

IB: And they were looking in every face, and I couldn't take it. I got
off the street car, I came home, I was trembling. I couldn't get over
the [unclear], why?

LS: Tell us about, when Gregory graduated from high school and he
was ready to go to the university ...

IB: No, not the university. He wanted to get his education in music;
he was a violinist, studied to be a violinist.

LS: So he wanted to go to what we consider a conservatory?

IB: No, they were just eight grades in school--musical school-eight
grades, we didn't have ninth and tenth, just eight. After he had
to go to a technical musical school, to a musical vocational school.
He applied in Kiev, and because he didn't fill out an application--!
talked about it--he filled out an application and when he came to
play, it was an audition, it was exams, the accompanist started to
play and somebody said, "Wait, wait a minute. He didn't fill out the
application. He needs to do a second one. And it was just the
nationality. He knew right away... You know, you have to be inspired

49



to play, you have to be prepared. He started to play, and they
stopped. So he knew right away that he wouldn't be accepted. So we
went to White Russia, to the city of Gamel. ..

LS: Why did you choose [to go] there?

IB: Because we heard that there it was easier for Jewish people to
get in. So we went there, and he played--it was an audition--and he
got a big score, and he was accepted there. But, as I said, he wasn't
living there, in Gamel. He stayed at home, and twice a year he had to
go there and to listen to some lectures, and then to play, to pass
exams, and then to be promoted to the second year. So, instead of
five years, he made it in four.

LS: Was he playing in orchestras or the bands during that time?

IB: No, during this time, to study this way, you had to have a job. In
the beginning, the factory where I used to work, I asked them to take
him in. He was a helper for the mechanics with the sewing
machines. He used to put oil, to clean the machine, that's what he
did.

LS: But you got the job the him?

IB: Yes, I got the job for him, because I was working there ...

LS: Is it pretty common, people getting jobs for other people?

IB: Yes. You don't have advertising there for jobs. This way, you got
jobs. And then, when he was 15, when was it, '64, he got a job as a
teacher, music teacher, in a suburb of Kiev, Fastov, and he used to go
there by train twice a week, five in the morning and teach there till
ten in the evening. He was mature; he was very mature; he didn't
look like a boy. He was tall. ..

LS: After he passed his examinations at this institute, did he 'work
full-time as a musician?

50



18: This is a musical vocational school. After this, we went to Ural
Mountains, to Sverdlovsk, to study in a conservatory because we
knew in Kiev he wouldn't be able to study.
LS: You said, "We went...?"

18: I went with him because he was a boy; he was 16-17; so I went
with him there, and I stayed with him during these exams, and then I
left. And he stayed there for a couple years.
FW: Where did you stay?

18: I stayed in Sverdlovsk. My husband had a relativethere. Gregory
stayed in a dormitory, and I stayed with the reiatives, but they
didn't have food there.
LS: They didn't have food?

18: Food? In Sverdlovsk? No, Kiev had food then, and ..
LS: What city was this?
18: Not so many Jewish people were there, and anti-Semitism
wasn't so strong. And not all the gentile people were so talented to
go into the conservatory. So he went there, and not all the people
who wanted to study there were accepted. You had to pass the
exams, you had to have the good marks, you know. He was accepted.
He studied there for three years, and then he had an accident there
with his eye.
LS: What happened?

18: Somebody pulled... he walked in the street, and somebody with a
slingshot pulled a stone and it got into his eye.
LS: How awful!

18: He lost his sight. So he came home, and he studied [unclear]
FW: [unclear] or was it an accident?
51


IB: We don't know how exactly, we don't know.

LS: And then he was, you said an ex...

IB: Yes, like ... [End Tape 3 Side 1]

[Tape 3 Side 2]

IB: He studied for two years; it was in '73 or '74 he started, I don't
remember exactly, and then he came back home and he found a job.
He taught music. Somebody helped him to get into school to teach,
and twice a week he played in a vocational school, just for a student
who studied piano. He played the violin to teach how to accompany.

LS: And how did he meet his· wife?

18: He needed to have some work, assignment, in English, and he met
her, and she helped him to do the assignment, and that's how they got
acquainted.
LS: Is she Jewish also?

IB: Yes, she is.

LS: Did it matter to you?

IB: Yes, it did. It matters now too, who my grandson will marry.
talked to him about it. He says, "Does it matter to you?" "Yes, it
does."

LS: Because someone else told me that it did not matter so much to
her mother and she told me that some people thought it was an
advantage to be able to put down "Russian" in their passport.

18: It mattered to him too, because he was a nice-looking boy, and
all the co-workers used to tell me that he'll bring you avralochka...
LS: A what?

52



IB: Avralochka, you know, from Urals, you know, and I said, "Don't
worry, not Gregory, I know he won't do it to me."

LS: A Uralochka ... [laughs] Did you speak Yiddish at home, what did
you speak?

IB: I studied at a Yiddish school, but Yiddish and Russian, both. Even
with my husband sometimes, Yiddish too. But not now; now I lost my
Yiddish.

LS: Did Gregory grow up hearing Yiddish?

IB: When my mother got a stroke, she lost her speech, and it came to
her back just the mother language, Yiddish. So I used to leave him
with my mother and go to line up to get some food or something else.
She used to talk to him in Yiddish. That's why he speaks Yiddish; he
understands Yiddish.

LS: Who decided to leave Russia?

IB: He. My son.

LS: It was his decision, but not your decision?

IB: No, not my decision. I was retired; my husband was retired. We
knew to go to a strange country, the language, and I couldn't imagine
even how it could happen. But he was fed up with everything what
happened, with the apartment, and with his job, and with everything.

LS: What happened with his job?

IB: He couldn't get the job; he got the job. He couldn't study in
Kiev ... You know, here, in America, the children go to different places,
to different cities, because they want to go. There they are forced
to go. He would stay with me because he was a [Yiddish] boy; all the
children in Russia; we live together, we don't send away the
children; they don't go away; they don't even want to go away.
Despite the fact that the living conditions are not so great; families
of three or four or five live in one room, because you can't get an

53



apartment. And even if you're married, you have to live with the
parents till you get an apartment. It's very hard. Living conditions
were very hard in Russia. So we used to live together to take care of
the grandchildren and the children, and this was all right. This was
our life.

LS: But he did get an apartment?

IB: Because his wife had already. She got an apartment, a condo.
Her father was in charge of condos in his place where he used to
work, so he built one for his daughter. Just one room; it was one
room and a kitchen. So when he got married, she had an apartment
already.

LS: Oh, and then, when they had a child, they lived in the same
apartment.

IB: They lived in the same apartment. They wanted more children,
and they applied for a bigger apartment. So that's what happened
then.

LS: What happened?

IB: They wouldn't give give him, because they wouldn't give a Jewish
person an apartment.

LS: I see. So he was getting fed up...

IB: He was fed up. He said, "I can't stay here any more. I don't want
to see the faces. He knew that he'll go here, he won't get a job as a
musician. He was ready to do anything, just to get out of there.

FW: I met him, and so [unclear] were exactly his words, that he
knows that his chances of working as a musician are zero, and that
he would do whatever is necessary to support his family. And he
also said that he wanted to be and that he is happy to be here.

IB: Oh, they are so happy. They were happy from the beginning. He
worked in a candy factory at night. He was a carrier; he did physical
labor; then he was laid off because they didn't have any more money

54



to keep more people. So he worked in a warehouse, which belonged
to the hardware stores. He drove the car so many miles, just the
night shift, he worked there too, and he was laid off again, twice.
He worked in the (Jewish Community Center. he used to work in the
locker room, to give the keys to the lockers, and then he studied to
become a computer programmer ...

LS: What about his wife? Did she want to leave?

18: Sure. The same thing. She got a diploma as a teacher in Russia.
She wouldn't get to be an English teacher because she was Jewish.
So what she did, she worked as a laboratory helper, in a school, an
assistant, and when the teacher got sick ...
FW: She was a substitute teacher ...

18: She wasn't a teacher, just a laboratory, and they liked her, the
children liked her. The lessons were so interesting, and they liked
her, and they asked their parents to get her a job, but they wouldn't
take her. Then she taught English, it was Byuro Dobrykh Us/ug [a
center offering various services to consumers]. This ·is a place
where you're asking
clean your house or
you could get a job.
for
to
service:
deliver something.
a teacher
This
for English
was a
lessons
place where
or
FW: Temporary? '

18: Just temporary. She taught who wanted to study English.
LS: So, were these often people who were planning to emigrate?
18: Yes. They~ went there, they paid a certain amount of money, and
she taught...
LS: Was this sort of temporary place? Was this something that the
government ran or was this a private enterprise?

18: No, everything's government. Everything is government.
55



LS: Now, I understand, they do. I thought, maybe. It was very naive
of me to even ask the question.

FW: Is it sort of an employment, a little employment agency?

18: It was an agency by the government, just to make money. If you
needed some service, to clean your house, they had cleaners, they
had typists, they had teachers, they had, not only English, math,
people who couldn't get job in another place ... lt was just part-time;
it was not so much money.
LS: OK, I wanted to sort of change the subject now. I wanted to
know something about family. We talked about family, I wanted to
talk about friendships among women. You had your mother there, you
had your sister there, and your, husband had family, and you were
very close. Did you have very close friends at work also?

18: Yes. I had many friends there. I used to live in a building which
was built by our factory. The apartment I got was from my job, the
second one. So, all the neighbors in this building, it was half, it was
built by two factories. So, in my part of the building, where I used
to live--1 lived on the third floor--on the fifth I had a neighbor of
mine, we used to work together for many years; downstairs I had the
same thing, so we were very close, and we used to be together after
work hours.
LS: So what did you do? Did you go out and have a drink together,
the way people do here?

18: We used to go to movies together or to go to a theater, we used
to go very often because it wasn't so expensive, to a concert, or just
to a birthday party, or just to sit there. She used to come to my
place and to sit and talk, and I could go up and talk to her. The one
on the fifth floor, she was a top executive in our factory, but there
was just a seamstress downstairs; she didn't have parents, she
didn't have family, she was an orphan. So, she used to cling to
people, and she was very nice, very good-hearted; she used to do
favors, so, just because she was single and alone, we were close to
her too.
56


LS: They were all Jewish?

18: Yes, all Jewish people.
LS: And did you go shopping for one another? Would you pick up, like
if you saw oranges in the store? ..

18: You couldn't pick up for one another because there was a certain
amount you can get. [Laughs] So how can you get for various
neighbors. We used to go early in the morning, at 6 o'clock, to line
up to get some butter or milk, together, but I couldn't get something
for her and she for me.
LS: I understand that people bought shoes, if they saw shoes. Could
you do that?

18: No, the people in line wouldn't let you do it.
LS: All right, they wouldn't let you, I don't know how I ever thought
it was possible. I've got to stop this.
LS: We are back again. Everybody has laughed at me...


18: You know what happened? I'll tell you.
LS: Tell me.
18: OK, stop, I'll tell you.
LS: Now we're starting again. But your husband did stand in line,
everybody does?

18: Listen, we had avoski, you know...
FW: A string bag ...
18: And everyone had it in his pocket...
LS: Men and women?
57



IB: Yes. And children too.

FW:: On the way to work or from work or during your lunch time,
people would take turns standing in line.

IB: Sure!

LS: Now tell me again about the matzos, how did you get matzos?

IB: Before the war we had matzos in the store. You could buy it any
time, any season of the year. Then, after the war, we used to bake
matzos at home, or somebody illegal, like Barst Volkov [?], he used
to have a ...

LS: Who?

FW: There is a gentleman here, Volkov, Barst, who came...

IB: People used to bribe the fire department because it was too
smoky. People would say, "Go there, something is burning." During
the day, at night, he would bribe the Fire Department and they would
let him build a big oven in his apartment. He used to bake the
matzos, but it was illegal. He could get fined and or even jailed for
a week, I don't know. And during the day to bring it to people's
houses. Then they shut it down, and they opened .in the synagogue,
they opened a special place, they built an oven, but to get the
matzos, you had to get up 1 o'clock in the morning or 12 o'clock.

LS: Why did you have to get up so early?

FW: Did you pay or did you have to bring in the flour?

IB: Flour, to bring the flour and to wait till your turn in line and give
the flour, and then they ask you to come in two weeks or a week and
to pay the money for the service. That's how we got the matzos. But
the people from the shtetls, it was just in Kiev, in the small towns
around Kiev they didn't get it; so they came ...

FW: They came to Kiev to purchase matzos?

58


18: To stay in line to purchase the matzos. That's why, as I said, 1
o'clock in the morning he used to go with me; it was not far away,
and I would put a number in my hand and go home, for they wouldn't
let to be outside, the militia, they wouldn't let people stay there. So
we went for a couple hours, and then to come back and to check my
number ...
LS: So you spent the whole day ...

18: The whole night! The whole night! And then people got smart and
got, they used to sell it for three rubles -five rubles a number.
People wouldn't sleep the night, the could bring children, and to get
the numbers and then to sell it. That's how I got for his mother and
for my sister who lived far away from the synagogue. To get in the
morning, you had to take a street car or a bus, and I walked ...
[Mr. Braginsky comments in Yiddish]

FW: He says it was very slippery and they hung on to one another not
to fall.

LS: Did you have a seder? Did you make a seder?

18: I remember seder when my father was alive. Since my father
passed away, I don't remember seder. Matzos and, but we didn't have
seder.
FW: lsya, was your family unusual in trying to keep up with the
Yiddish [unclear]? Were most of the Jewish people you knew as
concerned about keeping at least something or were they not
concerned?

18: In our environment, all our neighbors were the same, the same
age children. They were friends, my mother had friends, all the
neighbors who lived together. I knew two families--strict Kosher
Orthodox--he used to go to the shul in the morning and at night, you
know, twice a day he used to go to the shul. They had a seder, but
because my father passed away in 1932, and my mother was with
small children and my auntie, we struggled to make a living. But we
59



cleaned for Pesach, we washed the linen, we used to smelts, we
painted the kitchen, we koshered [?] the tables ...

LS: You did everything that women are supposed to do..

18: We took out from the attic the dishes, but no seder. It was
everything by the rules. No Kosher meat--because we couldn't get it.
LS: When you say you took out the dishes, how long did this
continue?

18: We changed the dishes till my mother was alive, and then I didn't
keep it up, but I had matzos, and Pesach we didn't have bread. The
week of Pesach we didn't have bread. Just to give Gregory to school;
he couldn't bring matzos to school because they would laugh at him,
and he was a pioneer, with a red kerchief, so he couldn't. They were
taught to be atheists, so... It was a life. [Laughs] Now...
LS: Maybe, let's talk about now. Gregory decided to leave, and what
year did he leave?

18: He wouldn't leave without us. He said, "Mother, let's go." I said,
"No, I'm not going." So he said, "I'm not going either, without you."
Because he was the only child. It was different opinions in my
family. My brother said, "You have to stay here because at your age
to learn the language, to go to a strange country--you have to stay
here."
LS: He doesn't know his sister.

18: My two sisters said, "You have to go because you wouldn't be able
to live without Gregory and your grandchildren. You go. It's so bad
to let you go, but you have to go." And then we decided not to stand
in my son's way. Otherwise, he wouldn't go, and for the sake of his
child, so we applied, but they wouldn't let us go together. He got his
permission, and we didn't. We lived in different areas.
LS: When did he leave?

18: He left on April 14, 1979. And we left July 4, 1979.
60


FW: Gregory came with his wife's family as I recall?

IB: No.

FW: They came later? His wife's mother, sister, brother and son.

IB: No, they came after me. I met Raisa in Italy. I went to Rome to
meet her because she was alone. They wouldn't let them go together
either. So she left, and in two weeks Valery got his permission.
Gregory asked, he said, "My mother and father, they are senior
citizens, why don't you let them go with us?" And the inspector, he
said, "They'll catch up with you."

FW: That was in Russia?

IB: Yes. They wouldn't listen even.

FW: Would that many people have left by 1979?

IB: This was the peak of emigration. Fifty-two thousand people left
this year. Oh, in AVIR, it was one room; these people were there like
herring in a barrel. You sweat so much, it went everything out of
you--you couldn't sweat anymore. It was something. When we got
invitation to come to AVIR after we applied, it was in the center of
the city. They wouldn't let us be outside in the street. They asked
us to go to the courtyard. And it was so many people. They said,
"Just to this line. Don't step over this line." But it was so many
people, they couldn't fit in in this space they gave us. We stepped a
little bit farther, over the line. That's it.· He said, "It's closed. We
don't want you to come in." Then, a Jewish man, an old one, said,
"People, make space, go back, do something."

It was 4 in the evening, and the gates were closed, like in a
ghetto, and people who walked by were looking at us like we were in
a cage. It was such an embarrassing feeling, I cried, I couldn't take
it. Finally, they let us in. One man got inside and he didn't say why
he is here to the official. So he took him by the collar and said,
"Where are you going?" He said, "I am going to get my permission."
"Not today, not tomorrow, not in a week, and not in two weeks!

61



don't want to see you here." And the poor man turned around and he
went away.

LS: They made it as difficult as possible ...

18: Oh, it was so difficult; it was so embarrassing; it was so
humiliating! And the customs!
FW: When you were already in the customs office at the airport?

18: My son Gregory was in Italy already, and he wrote, he knew his
father couldn't carry anything--he had back problems--so he said,
"Sell everything, just go by plane." When he went, they didn't open
the airline yet; it was in April, and they started to let people out by
plane in May.
FW: From Moscow to...

18: No, from Kiev.
FW: From Kiev to where?

18: To Vienna, by plane. We had the right to take just 20 kilograms
for one person. I had many suitcases; I had four or five, and when I
got the letter, I sold the suitcases and we started to think what to
put in the two suitcases, just two suitcases--for my husband and
for me. Finally, I waited every day, and when we came to the
airport, it was 44 kilograms, instead of 40. "Take it off!" I didn't
know what. We didn't have extra, just linen for one change and
everything for one change, and two plates and two forks and two
cups, and a tea kettle, one frying pan. In July, he put on two pairs of
pants; we took it off, of course. He put on two pairs of pants, and it
was his winter hat, it was a heavy one, made of fur, so I put it on,
and I had a shawl made of down, it was knitted, so I put in on. Then
it was then 40 kilograms and 700 grams. He said, OK.
Then they started to check our luggage, and they started to
search our pockets. In my pocket I had a letter from a friend of ours
from Denmark, and I forgot about it. It was in my glass case. I tore
it up, and a man searched our luggage, and then a woman came up and
said, "There is a man I want you to undress and take a look what he

62



has on his body." This woman said, "What is in your pocket?" He [the
male customs officer] didn't ask anything. She asked, "What is in
your pocket?" So I took out everything I had and the letter. I got the
letter and I tore it up. She said, "Why did you do it?" I said, "It's my
personal letter; I don't want you to read it." Then, when he came, she
said, "She tore up a letter." He said, "OK." It was a nice man, very
nice. He said, "Take off all the golden things you have." We could
have five, each person. So we put everything.

My husband had a ring, a massive ring. He said, "Where did you
get it? I can't let you take it because it's more than 300 rubles, or

350. I said, "I didn't buy it." He said, "Where did you get it?" I said,
"I made it from a golden chain." They wouldn't let to take a watch,
which was his father's watch with covers and a heavy chain--a
pocket watch--they wouldn't let us take it, we knew it. So I sold
the watch, and from the chain I made two rings, for my husband and
for my son.
FW: You mean, you had them made.

IB: Yes, there was a place, and it was made there. "Where?" I said
where, in this factory. Then he said, "I can't let you take it." My
husband said, "I worked 50 years; these are my belongings for 50
years." Then he winked and said, "Put it away and take it, take it."

So my husband put it away and he let us go.
anything, you know, 40 kilograms, two
kilograms.
Because we didn't have
suitcases, it was 8
LS: Then, when you got to...

IB: We came to Vienna; it was a representative... [End Tape 3 Side 2]

[Tape 4 Side 1]

IB: ...said, "Ladies and gentlemen, you're in a free country. You can
choose any country you want. Who wants to go to Israel, please go
this place--because they were taken by guards--and who wants to
go to different places, like Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia,
go this way. But please put your suitcases. We can't let you go to
the hotels with the suitcases." So we left the suitcases; we had
just small baggage, hand baggage. It was well organized. Everything

63



was so nice; we were free, we were relaxed. We were put in a hotel;
we got money for food; we went to the market; we saw the food, we
got crazy--we didn't see it in our lives.

Ten days we were in Vienna, until they processed all the
papers, and then we came to Rome, and the same thing. We were ten
days in a hotel, then we rented an apartment in Ladispoli. We got
just 225 mille lire, and the apartment was 200. I saw a woman
from Kiev and said, "Would you share the apartment with us?" And
she said, "Sure, I can't afford my apartment." And we couldn't afford
either.

LS: How many rooms?

18: Just one room. We were three, with this lady. We shared by
three: two parts we paid, so it was easier for us to live, because we
didn't have anything to sell there. We had just two suitcases, and
that's it.
LS: And then, you came to America...

18: We came to America and we got an apartment...
LS: Who got you the apartment?

18: Jewish Family Service. We got furniture from Jewish Family
Service; we got a full refrigerator with everything, and Felicia
brought us some stuff, I remember. I still have the plates and the
linen you brought, and everything. Felicia did such a good job. She
knew all the people who came; she knew the needs of the people; she
spent so much time to help the people to get settled or adjusted to
this life. The lectures we had... Not now, now it's not the same.
FW: We have it once a month, but we used to have it every two
weeks.

LS: What sort of lectures did you find ,useful?

18: When we first came to America, it was a lecture and it was a
movie, and it was every lecture, nice University lectors... [not
64



everything said is clear because FW adds some comments while IB
speaks]

LS: What lecturers from the University?

FW: Steve Feinstein, Hy Berman, Dan Cooperman [? spelling of
names] speaking on many subjects: Jewish History, Russian History,
whoever was traveling from Israel, a former Russian emigre, we
would invite them ... mostly literary people.

LS: l)id you have these professors translated into Russian?

FW: I got acquainted ...

· IB: A marvelous, marvelous translator!

FW: Accidentally I got acquainted with Olga, and I said, "Olga, I need
a professional translator. We have very little money. Would you
help us?" She said, "Certainly." And we covered from how to, I had
two bankers from the Highland Park Bank to show them how to use
the credit system, how to open--savings accounts they were
familiar with--but credit and checking, how to buy a used car, how
to sign a contract, because somebody had bought a car and didn't read
the fine print very well; from the practical to the intellectual,
everything and anything.

IB: Oh, it was fun; that's why we adjusted so easily to this life. It
was a big help.

LS: So you think the Jewish community really did a good job?

IB: And it was crowded, always, with people.

FW: Yes, always, and then we had, in order for the community to get
to know the people, we had what they call a vystavka, which is an
exhibit, and people brought beautiful things, things that they
produced here: a shoe-maker brought shoes, two dress-makers, their
things; we had different souvenirs, books, we baked like crazy--lsya
and Dora ...

65


IB: We baked, we sold ...

FW: We sold every crumb, and we had signs in Russian; one
calligrapher did it for us--Mr. Pilchin, Anatoly Pilchin. Signs in
English and in Russian, so that the community could get to know the
people, they were new here ...

18: It was in the beginning, and it was later on too, but then the
senior citizens had programs in the Jewish Community Center. The
staff is marvelous. And it was like our home. We used to go there
with joy, we had trips, summer time we used to go to the leg [log?
lake?] homes; we used to go to movies; we went to Red Wing, to
Stillwater; we sailed on the St. Croix River; to Minnetonka on the
lakes ...
FW: We took a trip to Chicago--we paid your way ...

18: No, I didn't go, but others went to Chicago, yes. We went to
Rochester to see the clinic. We had trips twice every summer, and
we baked, we started to bake for our trips. We saved the money to
subsidize the trips. Now it's not as... because you don't have the
money.
LS: You say that all of this has been in the past tense. What
happened and why isn't it done any more?

FW: It is done but to a lesser degree, for two reasons: a) the people
who are coming here are not solely dependent on the Jewish
community; they are now coming to [unclear] relatives, and they have
people who are here several years, some as many as ten and thirteen
years. That's one reason, and so the survival information--how to
open a bank account or which market is the cheapest or how to buy
used furniture or clothing-.:that is not necessary.

So we continue with the cultural part, but the second part is
also money. Because of the tremendous influx of Soviet emigres to
this country and the miraculous influx into Israel, much more money
is needed for resettlement than for the cultural part. And so we
cannot spend that much money. The cultural events do occur; they
occur every month, and they are sometimes, for instance, next month
there will be a retired CPA who will be telling them how to fill out

66



their income tax forms, with special attention for the low income
people, because there are some tax credits, so· that we still do some
of the lesser known practical things, things that may be very
important to them, and also the cultural things.

I am beginning to form a havura for the younger people who
know much less about being Jewish than their parents who are in
their sixties or seventies. The program is continuing, perhaps
somewhat in a different direction.

LS: What about the baking? Is that still done?

FW: No, the reason why it's not done is that the women who came
here, who were in their fifties and sixties, are now much older and
are not well enough. Of the bakers, we have maybe three or four who
are still baking. So, that is not done any more.

LS: It would be nice if one could involve some Americans, because it
might. .. [unclear because all three are talking]

18: We had two dinners at the temple, Russian dinners. Lyuda, me
and.. Clara 8revman [?], we cooked dinner for the community ...
FW: Do you remember the Friday family dinners?

18: Yes.
FW: One theme was Russian, and they did the whole ...

18: Twice, twice we did Russian, and what else, the Center provides
people with transportation to the doctor's office, [for those] who
cannot speak, they have a translator, and we have a bus every Friday
to the temple.
FW: Any synagogue they wish to go to. Most go to Temple of Aaron.

18: Yes, we go to Temple of Aaron.
LS: Tell me, why did you choose Temple of Aaron? How do you feel
when you go there?

67


18: I did not feel as warm at Mt. Zion, I don't know why, but I like
Temple of Aaron. When I started to go to Temple of Aaron, I don't
know, it happened so; we had the bus, we were taken there, that's it.
FW: The bus actually would have taken them to Mt. Zion [unclear noise]
It was not a bus provided for one synagogue only, but for
whatever reason the people, the majority, chose to go ...

18: Yes, I don't know how it happened.
LS: You told me two days ago that it was very difficult to get into
the Kiev Synagogue because so many people wanted to go there, but
actually people wanted to go there not to pray, but to be with other
Jews. When you go to Temple of Aaron, is it also to be with other
Jews?

18: No, of course not. When we started to go to Temple of Aaron, I
liked the singing and everything, but I couldn't read. I know Yiddish.
LS: But you knew the script?

18: Just the Yiddish, but Yiddish and Hebrew are not the same
because you don't have the vowels in Hebrew. So it was the [name
unclear]. Ruth was his wife, remember; it was so many years ago.
They are dead. She was so kind and taught us to read Hebrew. Just
four of us: Tanya--Tanya knew before but she renewed it--Fradya,
Dora and me. We got four or five lessons, and now I can read. I don't
know the meaning; I can just the transcription--the translation-then
I know what I am reading. But I go, I participate in the
services; all the people in this ...
FW: ... participate in everything. We just baked. This was bakery
done for Mt. Zion, and several women who were born in the Soviet
Union and several Americans ...

18: And I baked for Purim, the Hamantaschen . Nancy called me, and I
came and I baked for two days ...
LS: This was also at JCC.

68


18: Because of the good things they did for us when we came here,
we are obligated to do something good whenever they ask us. We
never say "No."
FW: I have never seen a more responsive and a more grateful group
of people than with senior citizens ...

LS: ...who came especially in 1979?

FW: Throughout, throughout. The appreciation of these elderly
people is marvelous, but as usual, the women are usually more
active, that's normal. They are more responsive; they are more
ready...

18: So, we became the citizens of America, and, when was it, in
1984? ...
FW: Do you remember the party we had?

18: Yes. Oh, we had a party. We had very nice events.
LS: Where was the party?

FW: At the JCC, for the new citizens, plus those who became U.S.
citizens in the years going by. Everyone was invited. We did the
baking at the JCC; we invited all the state officials; we had a
telegram from our state senator; we had speeches; and Rudy.
Boschwitz came, and [Bruce] Vento, and Durenberger sent people
from his office ...

18: And then we got married here, under the hupa, my husband and
me, my son and... it was 22 couples.
LS: Whose idea was this?

18: Felicia's. Felicia said, [?] for 22 couples...
LS: And you thought it was a good idea?
69



IB: Oh, it was a marvelous idea; because we had a civil ceremony:
we came to the office, we signed a paper, we paid the three rubles,
and we went home, and this was it.

FW: I was only a by-stander, and I was so excited-, but it was
something for the whole community. We had to beg people and bar
them from coming in, because the whole community--six hundred
people--crowded in the Temple of Aaron. Twenty-two couples were
supposed to be married, and a week before the ceremony one man
died, so there were twenty-one couples.

IB: No, twenty.

FW: Yes, correct, one couple fell out, so, twenty couples. Of the
twenty couples, two stood on the bimah with their children, and the
grandchildren were in the audience. We had a magnificent sweet
table and fruit, and orchestra, and wine, and the dancing and the joy,
it was unbelievable. The idea came from Boston. As you know, Mr.
Garr is from Boston. He went to visit his family, heard about it, and
brought the idea, and we set about to organize it. It took several
months and it cost money too. We had TV crews, it was an
unforgettable experience.

LS: When you said you had TV crews, do you have the tape of this?
What happened to the video tape?

IB: I was twice on TV, when I became a citizen ...

FW: We were not given the video tape, but Yefim Goldberg came with
his own video camera; he has it on tape.

IB: I have pictures.

FW: Yes, we took pictures, but he has the whole tape because his inlaws,
the Friedmans, were among the people who ...

IB: Yes, but they wouldn't let to make the movies, remember? At
the Temple, you are not allowed to take movies.

FW: I saw two camera men.

70


18: No; the officials, yes, but we couldn't do it.
FW: No, but Yefim, I saw him in the corner taking it; I'm sure he has
it.

18: Maybe he has it.
LS: This is the apartment that was given to you when you came here,
is that correct?

18: No, this is the third one.
LS: Where did you first live when you came?
18: In the basement. Here, in this courtyard. Because we came
unexpected, we got what we could. It was a basement, and then I got
next door apartment, and I moved in here because it was sunny there;
I couldn't stand the sun. So we came here. It was so easy to move,
to get an apartment, no permission, nothing.
FW:: lsya, are you living here under special program?

18: Yes, Program 8--Section 8.
FW: The rent is high.
LS: The rent is high...
FW: Even here.
LS: It's well taken care of; that's what all the noises going on today
here.


18: Yes, they're cleaning now; they are putting security system now
here too. And it's taken good care. Whenever you need a repair or
something [it's done]. I suffer now from this smell. Yesterday
evening I could die. When the Vietnamese are cooking something, you
can't take it.
71


FW: Some hallways are not clean.

IB: But we have a caretaker. Every building has a caretaker.

FW: Your building is very nice.

LS: So how does this apartment compare to the apartment you left

in Kiev?

18: This living room is the same size as two rooms in Russia we had.
And I got an apartment as a favor, as a favor from my administration
because I was in good standing. They were very good to me, so they
gave me two rooms for three; otherwise, I could get just one room
and a small kitchen, and a shower in the kitchen ...
LS: No bathroom separately? ..

18: It was a bathroom, yes, a small one.
LS: So you would say that this apartment is twice as large as
yours?

18: Even more than twice.
LS: I see. Do you have any complaints?
18: No. Even if I lived in one bedroom, I wouldn't complain either
because what we've got here and the attitude of the people... The
American people are so patient to us. When we came here, we
couldn't speak; even now, my English is not as· good as theirs,
sometimes people don't understand me; but they are patient to us.
They have the patience to listen and to understand. In Russia,
Jewish people who came from a shtetl, their Russian is not correct.
They would laugh, always laugh. Sometimes an old woman would say
instead of a "he" "she" or otherwise; they would laugh and criminzakh
[? Yiddish]
FW: Make faces ...

72



IB: Here, never, wherever we go, "Pardon me?" "Say it again?"
That's it.

LS: You have very good friends in Kiev, in Russian community. Do
you have friends also among people who have been in America for
fifty years? You have no problems?

IB: Sure. I have friends, I have good friends. Sunapinsky [?] When
we came here, she was the host family of Friedmans, and she used to
take care of all the people who were related or just friends of
Friedmans. She had a family of fifty. She is now in Arizona; she
calls. We correspond, and we are very friendly. And then, when I
came here, I wanted to have somebody to talk English to, and she
acquainted me with Annabel Blacker [?]. She came from Chicago. I
used to go every Saturday, in any weather, every Saturday morning, I
used to go up the hill and to talk to Annabel. We are friends still,
and her daughter and the whole family.

LS: Where did you take English lessons?

IB: At the International Institute, evening classes.

LS: Were there mainly Russians in your class?

IB: Yes. Not only Russians, mainly Russians, but it was Vietnamese,
Czechoslovakian, Cuban, from Iran; it was a big class, many people.
Friedman--Vladimir Friedman--was in my class; Yefim... Goldroyce
[?] and Foma, Lyuda's husband, and both Arpels [?] were in my class,
and somebody else I don't remember.

LS: Was it a de.cent class? I mean, did they give you the basics you
needed?

IB: Nice teacher, a very nice teacher, from Puerto Rico, a nice young
man; he was so good. I studied for six weeks; I paid my tuition and
for the books, and then Jewish Community Center got teachers, and I
studied there. It was big help.

LS: Who gave you driving lessons?

73


18: Driving lessons? My son, and Lamin ...
FW: lsya, there was one man from the Soviet Union who had dual
control [?] and he was teaching driving.

18: OK, but I got just ten hours, and the re$t was my son.
LS: And you don't have to pay anybody to give you a license?

18: No way. My purse was stolen here one time. The door was
unlocked, and I went to Solganik, across the hall, to tell them
somebody called, to give the message, and my purse was stolen. A
passer-by, I don't know. Not our neighbors, very nice neighbors.
Somebody, a young person, went by, you know, just to make a
shortcut, and my green card and my check book ...
LS: What's a green card?

18: After a year that you're here, you got a card that you're an alien,
resident; so, my green card and my check book and driver's license.
FW: In order to become a U.S. citizen, after the first year, you get a
green card. Without it, you cannot afterwards apply.

18: Five years. In five years I got my citizenship. I had to pass
exams, to answer questions.
LS: Without a green card, you can't leave the country?

18: No, no, no way.
LS; You had to replace all of this?

18: I got hysterical; I called my son, and he said, "Don't worry,
mother, I'll be over." He came and he said, "What is the problem?
You go and apply for a duplicate, and everything, and it's nothing."
remember in Russia, if you lose your passport, it's a big deal; it's
three-four-five months, and it's a fine. Oh, it's so much [unclear].
And here I went and I replaced it with no problem.
74


LS: Do you use the public library here?

18: Yes, here we have a book-mobile; I read a lot.
FW: We also have a Russian language library ...
18: I don't read Russian now.
FW: But you did, in the beginning ...
18: He does, now too, he goes. read now English books because I
want to know the vocabulary, the language.
LS: I am curious about how you see the role of the grandmother, the
role of the son. You live apart here. Do you see your son and your
grandchildren as much as you did?
18: Sure!

LS: That doesn't change ...

18: When we came here, we took care of the grandchildren because
the parents studied and worked, and I used to go there and to take to
school--we walked to Homecroft, they didn't have a bus, so I had to
walk to. Homecroft to take him, to bring him. Now they depend on me
too because sometimes they have to drive to the doctor's office,
sometimes they don't have a bus to school, and I have to drive to
school and from school, and I'm busy.
LS: So they depend on you ...

18: They depend on me. Now I don't depend on them.
LS: You're an American grandmother; you drive them here and there.
18: I am an American.
LS: You feel American?
18: I feel American.
75


LS: We were talking before you came about different theories of
immigration, and about 1940-1950, I was telling lsya that the
theory among historians was that you would be uprooted out of your
life and a certain part of you would never adjust to a new country.
The feeling has changed. The feeling now is that one is transplanted
and one can sink new roots in a foreign country. And even though one
has been born somewhere else, one can still feel at home; it is not a

totally alien environment, and I would think, lsya ...
18: I went back three years ago. I went to visit my sister and my
brother.

LS: Tell us about that.

18: I couldn't stay there. I couldn't be there. Everything was strange
to me, and everything was not as good as here. I was dreaming to
have a piece of bread, because the bread was different here. I
couldn't get it there.
LS: When you say, you were dreaming to have a piece of Russian
bread? When you were here, you were dreaming of Russian bread?

18: Yes, Russian bread. I couldn't get it there. And everything was
so dirty, everything smells different, and the service in the stores,
the lines for food, and then, no paper, no bags, nothing.
FW: You have to bring your own paper, your own bags--everything;
they don't have it.

18: And the toilet paper and everything. The smell, everything was
different.
FW: Can I ask you a question?

LS: Yes, please do. You're a part of this. You don't have to ask to
ask.

76



FW: I know that your life as a grandmother, as grandparents, differs.
You don't live with them. How would you compare it? Are you
happier living separately and yet being part of the family?

IB: Yes.

FW: You don't miss this togetherness?

18: No, I don't miss it because two generations have different
outlooks of life, and I am happy. I didn't live with the children in
Russia either, but I know what it means to live together because we
lived in an apartment with my mother's sister and with the family,
you live all together. It's nice to be together but to live separately.
LS: It's very nice. It seems rather luxurious ...

18: This is a luxury; this is a luxury, yes.
LS: When you went back ...

18: When I went back, and I came here, I said right away to my
children, "You have to kiss the ground here." You see, just the other
day, Gregory said to his friend, "You know what my mother said when
she came back? We have to kiss the ground here!" Everything is a
problem there; everything is different. People are mad; the faces
are sad; they are mean to each other. The life is different there. It's
hard. The life is hard. And I am not talking about food, even about
food, because if you have, not now, now it's so expensive, the farmer
market, to go to buy a kilogram of meat is thirty rubles; you have to
have the money to buy it. When we were there, even it was a
shortage of food, I was happy; so I went to the farmer market and I
bought instead of a kilogram of meat half a kilogram of meat. So
what? But the atmosphere, the attitude of the people. I was an
advanced worker, it was skilled work, and I had a rate and I doubled
it; so I was always on the red board. They wanted to send me to the
demonstration on November 7 to be on the podium.
LS: You were a model worker then ...

77



18: They gave my name, and they wouldn't give me a propusk... [pass],
a permission, because I am Jewish... [End Tape 4 Side 1]
[Tape 4 Side 2]

18: ...the party leader came to me and said, "I'm sorry; I know you
deserve it, but it's not my fault. I gave the list of the people, and
they crossed you out," because I was Jewish. But I worked better
than the other people, the other nationalities; I worked because my
conscience.. I didn't skip, I didn't fake, I worked. I worked as my
husband did. We were the best. He and me, and so was my son, and
the family. We worked, the whole family; we knew we were
responsible for a certain kind of work, and we did it.
LS: There used to be a feeling in America, I don't know if it's true or
not, but there used to be a feeling among some people that Jewish
men make better husbands because they were more reliable, they
would work ...

18: It was the same feeling in Russia too.
FW: lsya, what did they say about the men who drink--and a lot of
them drink in Russia--what do they say in Russian?

18: Pyanitza. [Drunk]
FW: No, byut and pyut.
18: Pyut i byut!
FW: They say about many men that they drink and they hit.
18: They hit! [unclear] batter. The batter (with) the woman ...
LS: This must be true also of some Jewish men; there must be some
Jewish men who drink.

18: Some. How do they say, "Every family has someone in the family
who is not as good as... a black sheep." This happens; so, what can
we say?
78


FW: But it's not as frequent as in other families?

18: No, no.
LS: When you came to America, did you have any expectations of
what life would be like here?

18: No. no.
LS: You simply came here to join your son, your family ...

18: We came here and we knew that it would be hard to establish
ourselves here. We knew from the beginning. We knew we'd have the
freedom here, but we'll have to work and we'll have to do everything
what they will expect from us, the American people.
LS: What do the American people expect from you?

18: We have to work. I didn't get a job because nobody would take
me, at my age, at 59, who needs me, but I kept in mind that when I
came here, that I'll have to work, any kind of job, if just they take
me. I would clean; I would wash; I'd done everything. I didn't know
I'd get some help from the government. I didn't know and I didn't
expect it.
LS: Would you say that you are happier and it seems we are much
better than you expected?

18: I don't know; I didn't expect anything. I took in when I came, and
everything was so good, so nice. I didn't expect anything. That's why
it was good for me, and I adjusted very easily. My son asked me,
when we left Russia, before we left, he said, "Mother, I want to ask
you one thing. Promise me, how bad or good it'll be, you won't
complain. You'll never regret what you did." I said, "I promise you."
[Repeats same in Russian]
FW: He said, "Promise me that you will never be sorry and that you
will never complain that you left."

79



18: So, I this was my word and I was keeping it.
LS: I think he has done a remarkable job too of transforming
himself, but obviously there must be, when you look at the friends
you've made here and you look at other Americans, ...

18: We were fortunate; we had nice friends here, we made friends,
and we are very devoted to each other; we never gossip, and a word
is a word, and I am very happy.
LS: When you look at greater American culture, there are obviously
things that you don't like too much. I recall two days ago you were
saying that you didn't think that the school system was as rigorous
here..

18: I don't know; I can't judge, because I see here the technology is
more advanced than in other countries; so, maybe later on, not in the
schools, when you go to the institutes, or the colleges, there is
better education, when the students are more mature, they know
what they are doing. You have to pay, that's. why they have to study
hard. I can't judge, but the school system, the elementary schools,
the public schools, they are low level. But how come the country is
so advanced and everything is low? So it couldn't be.
LS: It is a good question. And another problem, you said, you used to
go to the theatre a lot when you were in Russia ...

18: Yes, here we cannot afford. I will go when, Felicia knows there
is, when we went for five dollars to the Guthrie Theatre, you called
me and we went there. When I can afford, I go.
FW: We are trying very hard at the Jewish Community Center, and I
also do it occasionally individually, to try to be able to be of help to
the people in the cultural way, because they are cut off. Many cannot
partake because they really don't understand the language, but there
are quite a few that do. Whenever there is a possibility, ...

18: Yes, if you ask for a discount, they'll give you, but sometimes
am embarrassed to ask to tell you the truth ..
80



LS: Are there aspects of Soviet culture that you miss?

18: Sure, we used to go the ballet, to the opera. Now, Channel 2,
they have Pavarotti or Domingo or some other singers, sure I like it
very much, and when they honor an actor or actress, it is a pleasure,
it is fun, and I always watch the programs, but I can't afford to go to
the theatre.
FW: You go to the movies?

18: Yes, I go to the Highland here, it's the second time when they
show, after the other ...
LS: You mean it's a second run theatre.

18: Yes. This is $1.05; sometimes I go, if I can't wait, I want to see
the movie, I go to Grandview.
FW: Yes, It's $1.50 on Tuesdays.

18: No, during the day time, I go before 5 o'clock, then I can have it
for $1.50
LS: Are Gregory's children keeping up their Russian?

18: Yes, they are.
LS: How are they keeping it up?
18: They have lessons once a week with a teacher.
LS: And are they taking it seriously?
18: In the beginning, my oldest grandson didn't: because his parents
told him to do it, he went. Now he understands that he can get
credits at college. So he is now more serious about the idea. He
wants to take Russian in the University now. And the little one, he
started when he was one year [old]. He didn't have enough words to
express himself. The vocabulary was so poor. Now he is getting
better.
81



LS: Do they go to a Hebrew school also?

IB: Sure. The older one had a Bar Mitzvah, and he performed the
service very nicely.

FW: Which was a beautiful Bar Mitzvah, and the parents didn't know
Hebrew, but they learned and they prayed in Hebrew, and it was so
dignified, and it was so moving. One of my greatest pleasures is to
be invited to a child, whose family came from the Soviet Union, to a
Bar or Bat Mitzvah, I feel like we have saved souls.

LS: Do you belong to the Russian choir at the JCC?

IB: Sure. I sing in the choir. It's a pleasure.

LS: Is this a pleasure? Is it something you look forward to doing?

IB: Yes. I am the spokeswoman for the choir.

LS: What benefits does it give you? The internal benefits?

IB: No benefits; just pleasure. When we go and people enjoy our
singing, this is a pleasure. We bring joy to people; that's very
important.

FW: Last week, at the Mt. Zion service, they began the service with
the choir and ended it. It was something to behold. They all wore
white and black: the men white shirts and black trousers and the
women wore a white blouse and a black skirt, and it is really a
heart-warming ·sight.

LS: What are the ages of the Russian choir?

IB: The youngest is sixty-six and the oldest more than eighty-two or
eighty-three. It's Bella, Bella Ginsburg.

LS: That's marvelous... How do you feel that American Jews in
general, when they look at people like you, do you feel that there is a

82



gulf between people who were born here, in America, and people like
you, that still needs to be bridged somehow?

18: Because of the difference in the language, it's a problem to
communicate. I have been here for twelve years, and my English is
not as good as any American, even not educated people. They took
English. They speak English; it's so easy for them; it's no problem. I
think the language is a problem. I can't cover any topic I would want
to with people. In Russian it's easy to talk; in English, I'm
sometimes I am embarrassed to talk because of my English.
LS: Other than that, you feel that you are being looked down at,
because your English is not as good?

18: I don't think so, I didn't feel it since I came here because
whoever I met, they were very good to us. I don't feel it. I don't
have an environment, mostly among Russians, but whenever I go to
the Center, I don't feel it.
LS: And when you go to the synagogue, you don't feel it either?

18: I don't feel it. People are very friendly. I don't know what they
are thinking, but they are very friendly.
LS: So you don't feel like a poor Russian cousin or anything like
that?

18: wouldn't go to a ball because, first of all, I can't afford it,
secondly, I wouldn't be dressed, but I don't know, I don't feel it,
maybe other people do, but I don't.
LS: Do you feel that any people resent the fact that Russians are
getting resettlement (help)?

18: In the beginning, at the Center, the senior citizens, when they
came here, they used to look at us a little bit, and then, when they
got acquainted, they knew about us more and they talked to the
people, and what helped is when we went to Herzl Camp, a group of
Russian people--it was Nina, Tanya and me--Rose Grossman, and a
group of Americans--Ida Cantor, Sarah Ettinger, and some other
83



people, and we were a part of everything there; we danced together
with the children, we sang, we were in discussion groups, we cooked
for the children, and we participated in every way we could,
together with all. And [unclear] was with us. Since then the
attitude changed, and I don't feel anything.

FW: You are right. In the beginning there was a gap, and I had to
come and speak to the seniors a couple of times, but as lsya said,
once they learned to speak English and they got to know each other
on a one-to-one level, last week, when we baked, wasn't that
wonderful in the kitchen? There was a camaraderie, and who cared
who was what?

IB: That's what I'm saying. I don't feel it.

[all speak at the same time]

IB: The attitude changed completely. Now we are greeted like the
rest of the people.

LS: They are part of the community, the newest part, and a very
precious part.

IB: Even Rose Grossman and other people, they used to say, "You
enriched our group and a nice experienc~ to have." Every time she
asks, "Are you going this year? Are you going this year?" This is
expensive. We paid, I don't remember, sixty or seventy [dollars] ...

FW: It's a lot of money.

IB: This is expensive, but I wanted to see Herzl Camp, and I went,
and it was such an experience, the Sabbath at Herzl Camp I will
never forget.

FW: You know, one thing I want to say, any time you or anybody else
wishes to participate, it doesn't hurt to ask. Things can be
subsidized. You can speak to me, you can speak to Rose. You're
wonderful people, and it is important that you enrich us and we do
things together. So, don't hesitate.

84


LS:: I think I am going to stop here, but you are a very precious part
of our community, I can see that. You have given as much as you can
give and enriched this community.

IB: A group of Russian seniors, my age, they are all very nice people
and they like to do everything the Americans are doing.

FW: And they have done. Whatever I have done this year [?], always
ready to help.

LS: I am going to stop here, and I thank you very much.

IB: You are welcome.

85