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Interview with Inna Brezman






World Region



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Old Lives, New Lives: Soviet Jewish Women in Minnesota

Interview with lnna Brezman
July 15, 1991

Linda Schloff, interviewer

Schloff: Your name is spelled 1-N-N-A?
Brezman: Right.
Schloff: Spell your last name.
Brezman: 8-R-E-Z-M-A-N.
Schloff: What was your maiden name?
Brezman: Gendelman. G-E-N-0-E-L-M-A-N.
Schloff: And your address here?
Brezman: 1751 Morgan.
Schloff: Where were you born?
Brezman: In Leningrad.
Schloff: What section? They all have names, don't they?

Brezman: On the main street, let's say, near Nevsky Prospekt.
Schloff: When were you born?
Brezman: May 21, 1949.
Schloff: Did you live anyplace else besides Leningrad?

Brezman: In Riga, in Latvia.
Schloff: And when did you live there?
Brezman: From age two to nine, for seven years.
Schloff: Why?
Brezman: My father had a job there.
Schloff: What is your educational background?
Brezman: High school and nursing school.

Schloff: How many years was the nursing school training?

Brezman: Nursing school was two years. I also have a dental
assistant license here, and I'm a manicurist right now.
Schloff: What is your husband's name?
Brezman: Michael.
Schloff: When were you married?
Brezman: June 28, '74.
Schloff: Was that in Leningrad?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: What was your mother's first and last name?
Brezman: Olga Petushima, P-E-T-U-8-H-1-M-A.
Schloff: What is her ethnic background? Was she Jewish?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: When was she born?
Brezman: February '27. February 7, 1927.
Schloff: Is she living?


Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: Is she living here?
Brezman: Yes, they're both here.
Schloff: Where was she born, do you know?
Brezman: Leningrad. My sister was born in Riga.
Schloff: And your father's name?
Brezman: Boris.
Schloff: Gendelman, right?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: He was also born in--
Brezman: In Leningrad.

Schloff: When?
Brezman: March 20, 1928.
Schloff: Did both sets of grandparents move to Leningrad after the

revolution, or had they lived there before the revolution?

Brezman: am sure before the revolution they were always in
Schloff: I thought that was a city that was closed to Jews.
Brezman: · I'm not really sure, but my grandfather was in the

military, I know. I never asked that question. Now it's too late.
Schloff: Maybe your father knows. He's living here?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: Do you have brothers and sisters?


Brezman: I have a sister.
Schloff: She's younger than you?
Brezman: She's younger.
Schloff: What's her name?
Brezman: Luba, L-U-B-A.
Schloff: What's her last name?
Brezman: Glickson.
Schloff: Where does she live?
Brezman: She lives in St. Louis Park, and so do my parents, too.
Schloff: Are there any other relatives who have come?
Brezman: My uncle, my mother's brother.
Schloff: Has he got a family?
Brezman: Yes, a wife and an eighteen-year-old son.
Schloff: You have two children. Their names?
Brezman: Anna and Jessica.
Schloff: Anna is how old now?
Brezman: Sixteen, almost.

Schloff: And Jessica?
Brezman: Is nine.
Schloff: Was Jessica born here?
Brezman: Uh-huh.

Schloff: So you gave her an American name.


Brezman: Yes. [Laughter]
Schloff: Is Anna named for anyone?
Brezman: No. Despite everybody else.
Schloff: What do you mean, despite everybody else?
Brezman: There were a few possibilities, but they sounded

Jewish, and in Russia it wasn't a question that my child would be
subject of jokes.

Schloff: Who wanted you to give them Jewish names?
Brezman: Grandparents and parents, to name them after.
Schloff: Is that still common in Jewish families to name children

after deceased relatives?
Brezman: Sure.
Schloff: One wonders how much traditions have been broken.
Brezman: It's broken, but--
Schloff: And how many are still maintained. One of the things we

had never thought to ask was about naming practices. It's

interesting to know that your parents were interested in that.
Brezman: My parents and my grandparents would have liked me to
name the first grandchild some ridiculous name. I don't even
remember now. On both sides. My husband's parents wanted that,
too. But I just didn't want that for my child.

Schloff: In this country, you can give them an American name and

for synagogue, a Hebrew name. So you have that choice.
Brezman: But I wouldn't name my daughter Sara in Russia.
Absolutely not. Although it's a beautiful name and I love it,
just didn't want that. Then we had no thinking of moving to this


Schloff: Tell me a little bit about your parents. You said that they
were both born in Leningrad. What's your father's educational
background and what did he do for a living?

Brezman: He worked in textiles then and in the jewelry business.
Schloff: What is the jewelry business?
Brezman: Making jewelry, like in the jewelry factory--bracelets,

Schloff: So was he actually making them or was he in charge of--

Brezman: He was in administration.
Schloff: So was that considered a pretty important position?
Brezman: It was a good position, yes, until all the travel

started, because they were doing things on the side, I suppose.

That kind of thing.
Schloff: It sounds like there certainly was a possibility to do
well for yourself.

Brezman: Yes. But that was in the fifties, and things were quite
different then after the war. Then he went to school, night
school, and he got business administration degree. I suppose that
would be an equivalent. He held a very high position.

Schloff: In this jewelry business?

Brezman: No, in the construction company in Leningrad, after the
move back to Leningrad from Riga.
Schloff: What did he do in Riga? Was this jewelry?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: So he left. Why did he leave the jewelry business?
Brezman: They wanted to move back to Leningrad where all the

relatives were, the parents and grandparents. It was a lot of


moving back and forth on the train, and it was just, I suppose, a

better position in Leningrad. Riga was then still a pretty

peripheral city.

Schloff: Did they make friends among the Jewish community in


Brezman: Yes. Yes.

Schloff: Was that easier for Jews than for non-Jews? I know

there's a lot of hard feeling between Latvians and Russians.

Brezman: That's now because Russians totally trashed Latvia and

Estonia and their beautiful beaches and beautiful resorts. But then

in the

fifties, what they have are the beautiful memories, it was really

nice. Yes, they had a lot of Jewish friends.

Schloff: So your dad always held jobs where he was in charge of

other people and in charge of projects. And your mother?

Brezman: She didn't work for a long time. She started working
when we moved back to Leningrad, and she worked in the box office

of a drama theater.

Schloff: Did you have grandparents living with you or near you?

Brezman: No, not then. My parents lived with my maternal
grandparents right after they were married and when I was born, for
about two years, and then they moved to Riga.

Schloff: Then when they moved back, what sort of apartment did
they have?

Brezman: We had a beautiful apartment, in a communal apartment,
call it. But it was a building of some palace, which was
transferred to little apartments. It was really beautiful, but we
lived with four other families for about nine years.

Schloff: So you shared kitchen facilities.

Brezman: Yes, kitchen and the bath.


Schloff: And the rooms themselves, how many rooms were allotted

to you?

Brezman: We had two enormous rooms.


Schloff: For four people.

Brezman: For four people, yes. My parents had the bedroom, living

room, and a dining room of sorts set in one room, and my sister and

I were in another room. Then we had like our nook, breakfast nook,

you can call it, and our bedroom.

Schloff: Did your mother feel that was really satisfactory?

Brezman: We had a separate apartment while we were in Riga, but
there was no other choice when we move.d to Leningrad, and that was
upgrade from Riga.

Schloff: So was your mother pretty happy? Or is it just something
that she accepted.

Brezman: Nobody asked are you happy with that apartment or not.

It's what you got.

Schloff: Was there any possibility of moving to one with one's own

Brezman: We did after nine years. We did.

Schloff: Was that on the outskirts of the city?

Brezman: It was on the outskirts of the city. It was two bedroom,
living room, kitchen--our own.

Schloff: That's a tradeoff, right?

Brezman: That's a tradeoff and that was a big upgrade, because my
father was able to do it because he was in the construction
business and he was able to swing things and get an absolutely
brand-new apartment for us.

Schloff: Even though she was not living near the Nevsky Prospekt?


Brezman: We were. After we got a new apartment?

Schloff: Yes.

Brezman: No, she was happy about that. Yes, she was happy.

Schloff: So your mother was basically happy to move.

Brezman: To have our own apartment. Absolutely. There is no
question about it. And we weren't that far, maybe half an hour.

Schloff: Tell me about your grade school and high school
experiences. Was this an area that had a lot of Jews?

Brezman: No, no. Up till eighth grade, I was the only Jew in the

Schloff: Was that difficult for you or didn't it matter?

Brezman: It did matter, because what teachers do--l guess it was
a rule or a policy--they have like a big journal for everybody in
the class with different subjects. In the back of the journal,
they put your name, your parents' names, and your nationality. The
word "Jew" stands out among the Russians. So kids used to have a
practice of going into the journal and flipping to the back page.
So curiosity was--

Schloff: But at some point it seems to me it didn't matter whether
you were Jewish or not. Higher government policy didn't--

Brezman: No. See,, I wasn't the subject of a joke or humiliation
in the class; I just felt that I was different. My foreign
language teacher made sure that she singled me out. The only
teacher I had troubles with. She was a classroom teacher too, and
we didn't get along too well.

Schloff: So you were saying that you had problems because the
nationality was listed.

Brezman: I think so, yes. I never asked my teacher directly
what's the problem between us. Things weren't talked out But I'm
pretty sure it's because of that.


Schloff: Then you said that your language teacher singled you out.
Brezman: For one reason or another.
Schloff: What about your friendships with students?
Brezman: There was no problem ever.
Schloff: What did you kids do after school? I'm sort of curious.
Brezman: I think the same things as here. Doing homework, lots

of it, go out with your friends, although we didn't have yards,
because everybody lived in apartment buildings, but there were
parks to go to, and the movies. I guess we just walked around back
and forth.

Schloff: ·Sure.
Brezman: But there were sports, games, and I was involved in
different things like gymnastics and theater and basketball. So

we were busy. I don't remember sitting around. There wasn't as
much TV to watch, though.
Schloff: Did you go to camp in the summer?
Brezman: Once. I didn't like it at all. [Laughter]
Schloff: Why not?
Brezman: Because I am not a camp-out person.
Schloff: Was your father a member of the Communist Party?
Brezman: Never. No.
Schloff: Did he not have to be, even though he had a fairly

responsible position?
Brezman: He didn't have to be. Everybody was really curious about
it. He got himself in a very high position because of his hard
working, and he didn't really have to be a member of the party.
On top of everything else, he was a Jew.

1 0

Schloff: Could he not have joined if he'd wished to?

Brezman: If he wished to, they would probably be more than happy
to have him.
Schloff: What were his reasons for not joining?

Brezman: He never wanted to. He never believed in that. He was
never denied a position because he wasn't a member of the party.

Schloff: I see. I've interviewed so many people now that I
sometimes forget what people tell me. Did you know your

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: What did they tell you about their background? When
grandparents tell their grandchildren things, there are certain
stories they tell over and over again.

Brezman: My grandmother--see, we didn't live with them. I was two
years old when we left. When we came back, my grandmother was
already failing in her health. Although I did visit them a lot,
we really never talked about backgrounds. My grandfather, however,
he loved to tell stories about his war stories.

Schloff: The First [World War]?

Brezman: No, the second one. As a matter of fact, I'll show you
a picture later when my oldest daughter and my husband went back
to Russia, and she met her great-grandfather and his chest is just
covered with medals and everything. He loved that. He was telling
me stories about the war, but never of his background.

Schloff: So the Second World War is the most important part of his
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: Was this maternal or paternal?
Brezman: Maternal.

1 1

Schloff: And the paternal ones?

Brezman: I never heard much from them about the background. They
were scared people. They never talked about background. They came
from Ukraine to Leningrad. My grandfather was a very religious
person. I suppose it's because of him, every time I hear cantors
sing, I start to cry, because that was his lullaby. He didn't know
any lullabies, so when I slept over there, he was singing some
Jewish songs, and I suppose it was just part of the service. But
comparing it to here, grandparents did not talk a lot about their
backgrounds, because it was so sad. I don't know. Nobody looked
for their roots. Nobody was looking for their relatives, anything
you did before. It was just absolutely different. I never even
asked them about their background.
Schloff: That's pretty common.

Brezman: Because they were reluctant to talk about it.

Schloff: What about foods? Did you learn about Jewish foods from

Brezman: Yes, from my paternal grandparents.

Schloff: Such as?

Brezman: Everything you make here for Passover, all the Seder
services and all the food. It was absolutely the same.

Schloff: So you're talking about--

Brezman: Gefilte fish and a regular Seder with matzo and--

Schloff: And the full Seder service?

Brezman: Yes. Yes, yes. My grandfather always did that.

Schloff: Did he go to the synagogue in Leningrad?

Brezman: Yes, to his last days, he always went. He was almost
blind and he went to synagogue all the time.

Schloff: When your mother started working, was that harder on you?
Did you have to do more around the house? What are children

1 2

expected to do?

Brezman: We were helping. There were chores. I had to sweep and
dust and do the dishes. I had to go across the town to pick up my
sister from the kindergarten, or nursery school. I was expected
to do those things, and they never questioned it.

Schloff: Why wasn't your sister in a closer kindergarten or
nursery school?

Brezman: Because it was easier for my mom to drop her on her way
to work where she was working. So in the box office sometimes
she'd work till ten, eleven o'clock at night, so I had to pick my
sister up in the day after school.

Schloff: Who were your parents' best friends? Were they of mixed
ethnic backgrounds? Were they Russians, Ukrainians, Jews?

Brezman: Jews.

Schloff: Just Jews?

Brezman: Just Jews.

Schloff: Did they feel any problem with your friends because none of
them were Jewish?

Brezman: No, not when I was at school, no. But there was never
a question for me not to marry a Jew. So when I already started
dating after high school, my mom always pointed out that it would
be nicer to bring Jewish friends, which I did. But I dated a lot
of non-Jewish people, too.

Schloff: I've never understood this, because, on the one hand,
you're subject to so much more discrimination if you're Jewish, why
did these Jewish parents still point this out?

Brezman: I don't know. It's something in the blood. You just do
not marry a non-Jewish person. [Laughter] That was something in
the blood. I don't know. People, still, they wanted to dissolve,
and there was a lot of non-Jews, you know, mixed marriages, and a
lot of Jews accepted Russian last names so they won't be harassed
at work or they would be hired at work easier. But, still, for a


girl it was nice to marry a Jewish person. Because our parents
living in that country, a mixed marriage, at some point of your
marriage you would be called a "dirty Jew" one way or another, from
a husband or a wife or in-laws, sometime. That was unavoidable.

Schloff: I see. Did you start going with a group of more Jewish

people at some point?

Brezman: Yes, in my early twenties I did. Yes, it was a totally

Jewish company, which has continued here. They're all here!


Schloff: Why is it that you chose nursing?

Brezman: That's another story. I always wanted to be a doctor.
There are entrance exams in medical school, and I think I failed
them twice. Not because I didn't know enough; because I was a Jew.

Schloff: So nursing was open?

Brezman: Yes, that was open and that was another option, and I was
just tired of failing exams. It's a very stressful situation, and
you have to do something. You have to work. So I went to nursing
school and I was a surgical nurse.

Schloff: For how long?

Brezman: Until we left in '79.

Schloff: Does that position have much status?

Brezman: Yes, it was a very good position.

Schloff: Good.

Brezman: I was head nurse of OR, and it was a very good position.
Schloff: Did you have any trouble finding a job as a nurse because
of being Jewish?

Brezman: No. I started in a clinic when I failed my first exam.
I started as a nurse assistant and then I went to school after
that, and they hired me back again. I always worked in that



Schloff: Did you go to school in the evening?

Brezman: No, in the daytime. But they were waiting for me.

Schloff: When your parents and their friends got together, did

they always speak Russian, or did they drop Yiddish phrases?
Brezman: My parents didn't want me to understand Yiddish, but they

forgot that I learned German and I knew a little bit, so I could

understand some.

Schloff: But with their friends, did they ever fall back to


Brezman: No. That was mostly Russian.

Schloff: Did your parents continue to have a Seder after your

grandfather died?
Brezman: Yes. My mother always had the Seder then, yes.
Schloff: And who led it?
Brezman: My grandfather.

Schloff: But after he died?

Brezman: He died after we had already left.

Schloff: What about when you started dating? How old were you?

Brezman: When I started dating?

Schloff: Yes.

Brezman: Fifteen.

Schloff: And when kids date in the Soviet Union, do they go out

in groups or do they go one on one?
Brezman: Both. It depends, whatever the arrangements, if we go


out together, all of us, or just the two of us. But the two of us
would be walking, going to the park. Rarely kids sit in the
apartment, because parents were always there, or neighbors. So
what to do? It's a lot easier to kiss on the bench in the park than in
front of your parents. [Laughter]

Schloff: That's true.

Brezman: And Leningrad is a very beautiful, romantic city, so that

was really nice just to take a nice walk.

Schloff: What did you do in the summer when you got older? You

know how kids work here in the summer.

Brezman: Bum around. It's what we did. Sleep late, go out.

There was a lot of beaches. My mother took us for a whole month

to the Black Sea, my sister and I. We spent a month in the summer

there. I don't know. Summers were long, and it was always nice.

Or we'd rent a cabin. Basically the same as here. There was no

working. Teenagers don't work there. Babysitting service--never

heard of.

Schloff: So you had a fairly nice growing-up?

Brezman: Sure!

Schloff: Except for this background static of anti-Semitism?

Brezman: Not until I started to understand it, I really didn't
feel like anything. At school sometimes, but when the school was

Schloff: When did you start to understand it?

Brezman: The first time I failed my exams in medical school. Then
it was very obvious. It was extremely obvious how it happened.
Then it hit me. I was seventeen. So up until then, life was
really nice.

Schloff: You believed in Soviet society?

Brezman: Yes, we were brought up like that. Oh, yes, the radio
and television and school mostly. Yes, yes.


Schloff: The ideals are wonderful.

Brezman: Right.

Schloff: They are wonderful. So did you have any serious romances

before you met your husband?
Brezman: Oh, sure. I met my husband when I was twenty-four.
what did I do before that? [Laughter]
Schloff: Right.
Brezman: Twenty-three.
Schloff: And where did you meet him?
Brezman: Through friends.
dated for a year before we
Just common friends introdugot married.
ced us. We
Schloff: What did your husband do there?
Brezman: Computer engineer. Same thing here.
Schloff: His parents also lived in Leningrad, of course. Was
their background sort of similar to your parents' background?

Brezman: No. My husband's father was a furrier, and he lived in
a very small village. He was in his twenties when he came to
Leningrad. That was after the revolution.

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

Brezman: Coming from the small village in Belorussia, and to his
last day he was a person from a srnall village. Never accepted life
of a big city. Moved to America and it was the same thing.
[Laughter] My mother-in-law was the same way, too.

Schloff: Is she still living, too?

Brezman: No, she passed away a 'year ago.

Schloff: You said you went together a year before you got married
and then where did you get married?

1 7

Brezman: We got married in a civil ceremony, of course, in the

beautiful Wedding Palace, they call it. Went on a honeymoon. Same


Schloff: Was it a big wedding?

Brezman: It was a small reception right after the wedding at that

Palace, and then we had a dinner with relatives and we left for our

honeymoon that same night. I tremendously dislike wedding, big,

drunken receptions, so I just didn't want that.

Schloff: Is it at all common for Jews to have any sort of Jewish

elements in a wedding in the Soviet Union?

Brezman: Never saw one. Some people like to have a hupah (Jewish
wedding canopy, but they had it at home. They would invite the rabbi
and have it at home, because they felt it would be big trouble for
them to have
it in the synagogue. In our wedding, Michael decided to break the
glass. We had to pay for the crystal goblets first, to break it.

Schloff: Who conducts the ceremony? A judge?

Brezman: Yes, a judge and some kind of a public official, two of


Schloff: When was the glass--did he just set it down?

Brezman: After the reception, during the reception when there was

no officials, just the friends.

Schloff: I see. [Laughter] Had you gone to any other Jewish

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: What can you remember of other ones?

Brezman: Same thing, you know. The ceremony itself is the same
for everybody, same words for the whole world. Afterwards, it's
what people like to do. But I never saw any Jewish inclinations
in any weddings.

1 8

Schloff: What about songs afterwards at receptions?

Brezman: We didn't know many Jewish songs. My first Jewish

wedding was from the movie. What's the name of the movie? It's

a blank.

Schloff: "Fiddler on the Roof."

Brezman: "Fiddler on the Roof." Right. That's the first one I

ever saw! [Laughter]

Schloff: And did you see that here in America?

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: When you got married--! guess we're curious about the sex

education that boys and girls get.

Brezman: None. None. There was no sex education done at school.
Parents didn't talk about it; it was embarrassing. Lucky me, I was
in the medical field, so I knew a lot and I saw a lot before I got
married. But no sex education except whatever other girls know and
tell you.

Schloff: So what did you use to prevent--did you use any form of
birth control?

Brezman: Yes. Pills were unavailable, or if they were, it would
be sporadically, you know, whenever they have shipment from
Bulgaria or Hungary. Birth control pills, you get them, but you
don't know what's going to happen next month. IUDs mostly were
used because, condoms weren't available either.

Schloff: What about diaphragms?

Brezman: Yes, that sort of thing. Diaphragms and IUDs. Or you just
count the right days. But because abortions were so available, some
of my friends had ten, eleven, fifteen, which is nothing.

Schloff: Yes. Like going in for cleaning your teeth.

Brezman: Exactly. Yes, because it was one of the forms of birth

1 9

Schloff: Sure.
Brezman: How bad it is, but what do you do?
Schloff: Yes. So you had a decent background when you got

Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: You could either have children or not have children.
Brezman: It was my decision and I knew what to do about it. But

still, except diaphragm and IUD, which is only 90 percent sure,
there was nothing else.

Schloff: How long did you wait to have children?
Brezman: I didn't wait. Whenever I got pregnant; I got pregnant.
Anna was born the following August.

Schloff: But then you waited, right?
Brezman: Yes. Then I waited; because I was absolutely sure I was

not going to have another child there. The most horrible
experience of my life.
Schloff: Why don't we talk about that. Why was it so horrible?

I would imagine that you would have gotten preferential treatment.
Brezman: Why?
Schloff: Because you were a nurse.
Brezman: Never.
Schloff: You knew people.
Brezman: Well, no. I worked in a different field, and at the

clinic I had a baby, and they didn't care whether I was a nurse or
not. It wouldn't matter. When my mother called, because she
worked in that wonderful theater which was very hard to get ticke~s
to, then I got a little preferehtial treatment because the doctor


thought my mom would get him tickets.

Schloff: What was the name of the theater?

Brezman: In Russian?

Schloff: Yes.

Brezman: You can't. It's a big theater of drama. That's what you

call it. It was one of the best, and it was next to impossible to

get tickets if you don't have connections. So there you got


Schloff: What about your prenatal care? Was that satisfactory?

Brezman: That was fine, yes. Yes, that was fine. But the doctor

who treats you in the clinic of prenatal care never delivers your

baby. You just go to absolute strangers who work in a different

hospital and you have your baby there. I got there at five o'clock

in the morning and I didn't have the baby till seven o'clock that

day, at night. It was just absolutely a horrifying experience,

although I knew how babies are born and I saw it before, you know,

in . the internship, in the different clinics.

Schloff: How do you think it would have been different in America?
I mean, it's a difficult experience the first time around, anyhow.

Brezman: They would treat me as a human being, not with the rusty
blades approaching me. It was just--feel bad.

Schloff: Then after the baby was born?

Brezman: Then after the baby was born, it was even worse. You had
to be in the clinic for a whole week. The treatment was absolutely
terrible. There were ten people in the room. They would never
bring you new linens or new clothes. You know; women are bleeding
after that delivery. There was always a problem to get a pad. You
had to beg or pay or do whatever to get a new one. You get one a

Schloff: Tell me again when Anna was born. What year was she

Brezman: '75.


Schloff: Was that an indication that economic conditions were

getting worse in Russia, or had it always been this way?

Brezman: It was always like that, because I knew it. I worked in

a clinic. I knew what nursing assistants do to people. But

because somebody else does that to them, like the nurse who is in

charge of linens, she wouldn't give them extra. So what can they


Schloff: Did your mother have to bring things, scrounge around and
find things for you, or what?
Brezman: Nobody is allowed to visit new mothers for a whole week.
My husband saw Anna from the window. We were allowed some food,
no flowers and no visitors.

Schloff: Do many women get depressed because of this sort of


Brezman: What do you think? Yes. Yes. Our babies are brought
to us six times a day for feedings. Otherwise, we never saw them.
There was one shower for the whole floor. I don't know, over 100
women. You're never in private quarters.

Schloff: But on the other hand, you have the camaraderie and the

support of other women in the same situation.

Brezman: Right. And you hear stories. And I never wanted to have
another child from then on. [Laughter]

Schloff: What about the incidence of infection?

Brezman: I suppose there were many. I didn't have any problems.

Physically I didn't have any problems.

Schloff: Because with this lack of changing, one wonders.

Brezman: Sure. I'm sure there would be.

Schloff: That's very interesting. I haven't heard those from
anyone else. But, of course, I haven it. interviewed anybody who has
your background either. So that's one reason not to have any more
children. What about living conditions? Where did you live after


you were married?

Brezman: Because my father, remember, was in construction
building, my parents had a two-bedroom apartment, but there was
sister, too. So if my husband and I moved with our parents, my
sister would have to be on the couch in the living room. I didn't
think that was fair. My in-laws had a condo, and we could have
lived there, but I never had good relations with them. We were
very civil to each other, but I just said that I cannot live in the
same apartment. with them. But we had an extra living conditions,
you know, my husband and I, we could never get our own apartment,
so my father divorced my mother, and because he was single and
worked in the construction company, he was allowed for an
apartment. That's where we lived. Of course, my father lived with
my mom. It was sort of a fake divorce.

Schloff: That's so interesting!

Brezman: But that's how you do things to get by. We were very


Schloff: Even though he divorced your mother, I mean even though
people divorce each other, do they always ended up getting
an oth e rapartm e nt?

Brezman: No.

Schlott: Or because he had connections?

Brezman: Exactly. He was able to do it. His company built that
building we lived in, because he was so special.

Schlott: What sort of an apartment did you end up with?

Brezman: Studio apartment. One room, kitchen.

Schloff: Kitchen of your own?

Brezman: Kitchen of our own.

Schloff: Great!


Brezman: And bathroom. It was beautiful. We were very lucky, and
that's where we were. So when we had guests over, we'd always sit
in the kitchen because Anna was sleeping in the room. She was a
baby. We were one of the luckiest to have that.

Schloff: When you say a studio apartment, here it's one room

that's multi-purpose. Do you mean that as a studio apartment or

actually a one-room apartment in the Soviet Union?

Brezman: It's one-room apartment, separate kitchen, though, and

a separate bathroom and toilet.

Schloff: .. Was your husband happy with his work?

Brezman: Yes. He was happy.

Schloff: So you were pleased. How long did you stay out of work

before you went back to nursing?

Brezman: I stayed with Anna for two and a half years.

Schloff: Is that pretty common?

Brezman: No. Usually women go back. They paid six months after
the baby is born. They have six months maternity leave. Then they
usually go back to work. But because Ann had problems, she had
asthma and a lot of food allergies, it was impossible for me to
place her in the nursery. So I stayed with her.

Schloff: Did you get bored staying at home?

Brezman: Out of my mind! But you see, you don't get really bored.
You have. a lot of things to do. You have to wash those diapers and
iron them and dry them, and that's in a one-room apartment. Then
you have to run to the stores for the food. So there was really-1
never saw the daylight till she was a few years old when we
moved here. [Laughter]

Schloff: So would you say that being a mother was more difficult
because there were--

Brezman: Absolutely. Because you do things from morning till
night. Yes.


Schloff: How about getting her clothes? Was that always

Brezman: No. No, it wasn't available. Some things like underwear
and socks maybe, but if you want something nicer and cuter for a
little girl, that was brought from the different countries or sent
in the parcels. By then we had a few friends who had already moved
to the United States and Canada, so they were always sending things
for little Annie. Or my father traveled a lot to Finland.

Schloff: She's a pretty girl.

Brezman: Thank you. He would bring a lot of cute things for his
Schloff: I should think so.
Brezman: Yes!
Schloff: So your parents didn't live with you. You really were

lucky. Did your fa_1her and mother spend much time with the baby?
Brezman: As babysitting?
Schloff: Well, no, not as babysitters. Doing what grandparents

Brezman: Sure. Sure. You know, they would always come over.
Schloff: How often did they see her?
Brezman: Twice a week, for sure. Twice a week, for sure. Then

my mother was always worried that we were hungry, so she would
over with the [unclear]. Yes. There was no problem of

Schloff: Did your folks have a car?
Brezman: No. No.
Schloff: Did they want a car?


Brezman: My father didn't need one because he had a car and a

chauffeur from his job. So he was driven around. He never wanted

one, or he didn't think he could care for one.

Schloff: Did your mother give you much advice about how to raise

the baby?

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: And was it useful or did you just do what you wanted to


Brezman: I did what I was told, stupidly enough.

Schloff: What you were told by whom? By your mother?

Brezman: By doctors, by mothers, by in-laws, by everybody else who
knew how to raise children. So when I had Jessica, I just closed
my ears and did what I want, and I have a perfect child.

Schloff: I see. So you're saying that being a mother the first
time around is always difficult.

Brezman: It's always difficult, but then I never asked anybody why
we do that.

Schloff: Were you able to get along fairly well on one salary this
year and a half you didn't work?

Brezman: Yes, but, as I said, my parents always helped and my inlaws
always helped, you know. They would bring food or clothes,
whatever they could get, and, of course, never expected to be paid

Schloff: Is this pretty common?

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: Is this common all across Russia? I mean all across the
Russia you know.

Brezman: What I know, yes.


Schloff: Is it common among Jews or is it common among Russians?

Brezman: I don't know how Russians live. I suppose it would be

the same. But I think Jews are more caring people, especially

Jewish mothers. You know that.

Schloff: Could be.

Brezman: But, you know, I would never be expected to pay for the

chicken or a bottle of milk my mother brought me. I suppose my

friends would be the same, too.

Schloff: What about your friends? Who were your girlfriends, for

instance? Did you have a circle of close friends?
Brezman: I had a girlfriend from the eighth grade that was the
second Jewish girl in my class, and we're still friends, although
she's in Russia yet. But we still are friends. We had a lot of
friends, but she was the only Jewish person till I started dating.

Schloff: Then did you make other close friends?

Brezman: Yes, and it was friends and the wives of friends of my
husband. It was a big company and you meet people here and there.

Schloff: Did you set up some sort of helping network of young

Brezman: Absolutely no, no. No. No. We walked a lot. I spent
about four hours a day outside with the baby in the carriage. In
the morning when you go out for a walk, you meet other mothers in
the park. But it's, "Hi, how are you?" and talk about children
mostly, never about current events.

Schloff: Could you help each other out as far as babysitting was

the baby.
Nobody ever helped me. Nobody ever asked me to sit with
Schloff: mean babysitting cooperatives.
Brezman: No. That was not common. I don't think anybody ever

thought of it. Grandmothers used to sit. You would always ask a



Schloff: Did you have a grandmother?

Brezman: My mother would sit sometimes if we had to go to the
theater or my mother-in-law would sit if we had to go somewhere,
or when my husband and I would go on vacation, they would take my
child and stay with her.

Schloff: What about if you saw something really cheap in the


Brezman: What do you mean, cheap?

Schloff: I'm talking about clothing, if you came across--well, you

would call it a special. Could you buy?

Brezman: There are no specials in Russia. There is one price
across the country. If the suit costs $90 in Leningrad, it would
cost $90 in every store in Leningrad. On the other side of the
country it would cost absolutely the same. There was no specials,
no sales.

Schloff: When I say specials, I mean, let's say, a shipment of

Bulgarian children's clothes that just came in. Could you buy for

friends as well as for yourself?


Brezman: Yes, I could buy two or three if there was no limit, if

I had three to four hours to stand in line.

Schloff: So did you do this, though? Or did you rely on your
father's connections?

Brezman: Sure, sure. I would do it if I see something. Sure, I

Schloff: Did you buy for friends, too? Did you have them in mind?

Brezman: Sometimes if there was something I could buy for them.
Ann was the only girl around. [Laughter] But yes, sure. Sure.
You would always think, "Okay. It comes in a size two and four,
so I'd better take two different sizes for the next year."


Schloff: I was curious, if you were buying for Ann, could you buy
for a neighbor ~n the building who had a boy.
Brezman: Yes. Sure.
Schloff: And they would· do the same for you?

Brezman: Probably, yes.
Schloff: It doesn't sound like it was real important to you,

Brezman: No. Well, if I had a very good friend, I would buy it,
but neighbor in the building, I would never think of that because
we weren't that friendly.

Schloff: Was it hard for you to go back to work then after?

Brezman: No. She was fine by then and she was in a nursery, the
Schloff: Was that nursery school satisfactory to you?
Brezman: Yes. She was in a good one.
Schloff: So she was only three when you left, though.
Brezman: When we left, she was a little over three years old.
Schloff: And you were home till she was two and a half?
Brezman: Two and a half. So I only worked for a year afterwards.
Schloff: What made you decide to leave? When did you start

thinking that this isn't the only way to live?
Brezman: A lot of our friends started to leave. Things were
getting--and because of that, you know, Russian people thought that
everything that disappears in the country, it's because of the
Jews. I saw a few riots during the lines for food.

Schloff: In Leningrad?
Brezman: In Leningrad. A few comments, like, "We don't have any


meat in Leningrad anymore. Oh, it's because all the Jews left to

Israel and they took meat with them." I mean, the most ridiculous

things, but that's what [made me] start thinking, you know. A lot

of our friends were leaving. I started to think that I really

don't want my daughter to face that all. Things were going

downhill from then on, you know, and somewhere in '75, '76, we

started thinking about leaving. It took us three years to do the

thinking. But mostly I was concerned about my daughter and the

future children if I had them. I just wanted better things for her

and for us, too. You were young.

Schloff: Sure. I just want to go back a little bit. When you

said a lot of your friends. had left, what sort of sparked their
wanting to leave? Do you remember any events that happened that
would be like turning points?

Brezman: · Sure. Yes. That would be the Six-Day War. That was the
turning point.

Schloff: How old were you during that war?

Brezman: Nineteen.

Schloff: How did it make any difference in your life? What did
you hear? What did you see? What was the reaction of the Soviets?

Brezman: The reaction in the newspapers was, first of all, that
the Russian government and the diplomatic relationship with Israel
was broken. I remember the riots by the Israeli consulate in

Schloff: Riots?

Brezman: Yes. And the demonstrations. "Jews go home!" And the
general basic condition in the country was that Jews are
terrorists. So because they couldn't get the ones who were in
Israel, they were trying to get the ones who were still in Russia.
Anti-Semitism was flourishing, even more so than usual.

Schloff: Did you listen to the Voice of Israel?

Brezman: Yes.


Schloff: Was that pretty common?

Brezman: For everybody I knew, yes. Voice of America and the Voice
of Israel. They were jamming. Russians were jamming the station.
But we were able to hear things, yes.

Schloff: Did you feel connected with Israel?

Brezman: Yes. Yes. And I remember we were in the Black Sea at
that time, and there were a lot of Jews at the time. On the beach,
people would go around and say, "Well, how are our people doing?"
Because they were connected to the Jews, yes. "Who is winning?"
"Ours." You know.

Schloff: You said you had friends who had decided to leave. Who

was the first person or the first couple who left, and when did

they leave? Do you remember?

Brezman: In '73. They were my parents' friends, of course, and
they left in '73. That's when people started to go. Actually, the
very. first couple who left were friends of my parents, and they
left from Riga. They left through Poland, and from Poland they
sent my parents an invitation. But my mother was pregnant at the
time and we couldn't go.

Schloff: Oh, that was very early, wasn't it?

Brezman: Very early. My sister was born in '57, so that's when

it was. It was a couple of months before she was born.

Schloff: That was when it was possible to leave that way.

Brezman: Right. Yes. So those friends are in Israel. My parents
and them see each other all the time. They're still friends.

Schloff: That's fantastic. Your father had a fairly decent life,
though. Did he spend much time kicking himself for not leaving?

Brezman: No. He never wanted to. He really didn't want to leave,
because he had a really good job and a high position and a lot of
respect, and he really didn't want to leave. That was one of the
reasons it took us so long, because in '78, '79, when we left,
conditions were so bad for people to leave and then to see each


other, if we left the country, we didn't know whether we would see
our parents again or not.

Schloff: But he did give you permission to leave.

Brezman: He did give us permission to leave, but we had to give
him--you know, swear that he would leave, too. Otherwise we would
never go. It was really tough.

Schloff: So you ended up persuading him to come.

Brezman: Yes, and they came. My parents came a year later after


Schloff: Was your sister married by then?

Brezman: No.

Schloff: Did you lose your job? Did your husband lose his job?

Brezman: He had to quit the job before we applied for our exit

visas. I had to quit my job, too. It really didn't take us long,

about three months to get permission. It was really fast for us,

because I was a nurse, my husband--it was five years after his

military service, so he was free then, and he didn't have any

security job, you know, to be involved in state secrets of the


Schloff: Were you hassled very much?

Brezman: Bureaucracy. The usual.

Schloff: What's the usual?

Brezman: Taking a long time for each signature on each document
and going to the same place three times a day to get what you want.
But I suppose it was normal, because we were really lucky to get
out in three months. People were waiting years.

Schloff: So then where did you go? Did you have any idea? How
did you decide to come to America?

Brezman: Well, that was mutual decision of us and our parents,
because they didn't think they would want to go to Israel. · My


husband knew English and he had a computer job, which was the
place ·
to go, to the United States. So we decided on the United States.

Schloff: And how did you decide on Minnesota?

Brezman: My uncle was here. So when they place families together,
they try to reunite relatives.
Schloff: Who? I don't think we've mentioned your uncle.
Brezman: My uncle. Right. The most important.

[Begin Tape 2, Side 1]
Schloff: Brother, right?
Brezman: Well, cousin.
Schloff: Your father's cousin?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: But you call him an uncle?
Brezman: He was an uncle. I'm his number one niece. [Laughter]
Schloff: When did he come over?
Brezman: He came in '79. He was here in '77.
Schloff: He had a family, I take it?
Brezman: Yes. A wife and child, yes.


Schloff: He was living here?
Brezman: In St. Paul.
Schloff: What was his name?
Brezman: He is Boris Gendelman, too.
Schloff: For heaven's sake.


Brezman: For heaven's sake.
Schloff: Was he the only relative here?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: So you were very fortunate to have somebody, a relative

here, from this era. Most people who came in the seventies didn't

have relatives.
Brezman: Yes. So our choice was to probably go to New York, as
everybody else did.

Schloff: What about Silicon Valley? What about San Jose, where

there are so many computer companies? Did you think of that?
Brezman: No. It was very hard to get to California, by the way,
then. In '79, only people who had relatives there could go,
because the California community was closed for strays. So was
Minnesota, too. Minnesota was only for relatives.
Schloff: I see.

Brezman: So it would be New York or Atlanta, Georgia. And I'm
glad we're here.
Schloff: You came here. Who met you at the airport?
Brezman: My uncle and his wife, our hostess families.

Schloff: Who were?
Brezman: Mary Andler and Allen Guberman then, and a girl from
Jewish Family Service. I think her name was Sandy.

Schloff: Did you know any English by then?
Brezman: No. No. I knew "yes" and "no."
Schloff: And your husband?
Brezman: My husband knew English very well.


Schloff: Where did you go to live?
Brezman: Sibley Manor. We had an apartment there.
Schloff: How did you find that?
Brezman: It was beautiful. I thought it was absolutely terrific.

We had a stocked kitchen with everything in there, a refrigerator
full of food. Everything!
Schloff: What time of year did you come here?
Brezman: April.
Schloff: So was the weather fairly decent then?
Brezman: It was really nice.
Schloff: Were there any Soviet Jews who lived nearby?
Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: Was that sort of cozy or was that more difficult?
Brezman: Well, it was a big culture shock for us, because in '79
there wasn't a lot of people on the streets around here, mostly
cars. If we would walk to the post office, people would just look
absolutely weird at us. It wasn't too bad at all. In '79, that
was the biggest immigrant year--50,000 people who left. So a lot
of people came at the same time and we had the same problems,
learning language and looking for a job, and children were
practically the same age, within two or three years of each other. So
it was nice. I can't really complain about anything.

Schloff: What sort of services were provided? You say learning

English, getting a job.
Brezman: We had classes at the International Institute every day
for three months.

Schloff: Was it mainly other Soviets, or were there Iranians,


Brezman: Oh, yes, all of the above. My husband took an advanced

class and he found a job within three months.

Schloff: Was he helped find a job, or did he find it through the

newspaper, or what?

Brezman: There was a vocational service for us to find a job, but

he found it by himself ..

Schloff: He did? Did he find that difficult, coming from a

country where everything is done for you?

Brezman: No. No. He adjusted quite well, and his job was

absolutely the same what he did in Russia.

Schloff: So he didn't have to move· down because of not knowing--

Brezman: No.

Schloff: Sort of the job culture.

Brezman: No. They hired him right away. It was interesting. He

was absolutely amazed, because he said, "They didn't even ask me

for any documents," verifying his background or education. It's

what you put in your resume. [Laughter]

Schloff: Was he astounded that people were so trusting here?

Brezman: Yes. Yes. He said, "I could say I was a doctor." Well,
that wouldn't work; doctors take an exam. But for the engineers,
it was no problem at all. Whatever you put on your resume, you are

Schloff: Who hired him?

Brezman: NCR, National Cash Register. It was Camp Ten then. He
worked with them for three years. It wasn't really a big deal for

Schloff: What about you and your adjustment?


Brezman: Oh, my adjustment was a little bit more difficult because!
didn't know any English. I had questions of what to do. Felicia
Weingarten arranged a tour for me in a hospital. I was terrified.
When I saw all the equipment in the American hospitals here, I was
absolutely terrified of doing anything near that hospital. Maybe
because of the lack of language, maybe because I was overwhelmed
with all that high tech. Then I had to go for four years back to

Schloff: Four years?
Brezman: Four years.
Schloff: Oh, my goodness.
Brezman: Start all my education over again. The money, the

financial, although I was given a grant from the city for

Schloff: Oh, you were?
Brezman: Uh-huh. But it wouldn't cover four years of the nursing
school. So I decided to go to a dental assistant school.

Schloff: Where did you do this? Was this at a community college?

Brezman: No, it was at the Lakeland Dental Academy on Lake Street
and Hennepin.
Schloff: How long was that?
Brezman: Nine months, and I graduated from that school.
Schloff: Did you work?
Brezman: Yes, I worked with a dentist in downtown St. Paul.
Schloff: But' you didn't stay with it, right?
Brezman: No. After Jessica was born, I didn't stay with it.

First of all, because I thought my English didn't improve there at
all. You can't talk to people with their mouth open. [Laughter]


Schloff: You can.

Brezman: You can, but not much back. And then I was so involved
with that child, I just didn't want to bring her to a babysitter
when she was a month old. She was too precious for that. So I
stayed with Jessica for six months at home, and then I went to
beauty school, which was only six weeks. I was able to choose my
own hours working as a manicurist so I could juggle babysitters and

Schloff: So is that pretty satisfactory to you, working there?
Brezman: Yes, and I meet wonderful people every day, and I do
blabber a lot. [Laughter] My English improved a lot, to the point
that I understand more than my husband does and it's easier for me
to speak English than for him, although he did know it before.

Schloff: How very, very interesting.

Brezman: Very interesting.

Schloff: What about contrasts in what you can expect from the

state as far as raising children here and as far as being pregnant

and giving birth here? First of all, what was your experience of

being pregnant and giving birth here versus the Soviet Union?

Brezman: Like day and night, maybe. I was treated like a

princess. Absolutely. I was crying day and night because I felt
so wonderful here. It was quite different. The first night when

a nurse drew me a bath and did my back massage, it was very
different. [Laughter]

Schloff: Did you know English pretty well by then?

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: So you were pleased with that. Were you horrified at the
expense involved, or did your husband's insurance pay?

Brezman: My insurance and my husband's insurance covered it all.
I think I paid like fifty dollars. That was all. And I stayed
five days in the hospital.

Schloff: Five days is a long time.


Brezman: Yes. I was there for five days. I had a small
complication, but five days was wonderful, yes.

Schloff: And how many people were in the room?
Brezman: Just me. Everybody came two hours after the birth and
held the baby and the other one was running with her little sister
all over the hospital. It was great. Everybody visited me.

Schloff: What about working? When you worked in Russia, you said
you were in charge. You were the chief surgical nurse.

Brezman: Head nurse.
Schloff: The people who worked with you, you formed a unit? You
felt close to one another, did you?

Brezman: Yes. Working in the medical field, I think it's a very
camaraderie thing, and here I think it's a little bit different
between doctors and the nurses.
Schloff: How do you think it is?

Brezman: I think nurses are put down.
Schloff: Here in America?
Brezman: Yes. I think so.
Schloff: It's difficult, I would imagine, to contrast what you're

doing, the atmosphere in a beauty shop versus --
Brezman: The hospital.
Schloff: Yes.
Brezman: Sure.
Schloff: Is there a feeling of camaraderie where you work now?
Brezman: With the people I work? Yes. Yes. Somehow it happened

that we are all good friends, but I suppose in a lot of shops there
is a lot of envy and trying to outdo each other. But, no, we each


do our thing and we each have our own customers.
Schloff: You're pretty happy where you work?
Brezman: Yes.
Schlott: Great. What could your uncle do for you when you first

came to America?

Brezman: Just taking us around, telling us what he learned and his
own experience of things. That's about it.
Schloff: Like what? What did he provide for you that your host

family didn't?
Brezman: Well, our host families showed us more and explained [to]
us more in things like maybe buying a house, insurance, and what
to do and how to, because my uncle knew it from his perspective and

it wasn't always right. Then he was quite older. When there is

such difference in the age, you do things differently.

Schlott: And you have different needs, too.

Brezman: Exactly. Our host family, they are the same age. We're

still friends. Our girls did double bat mitzvahs.

Schlott: Did they really?

Brezman: Yes. They decided when they were eight years old and

they had double bat mitzvahs.

Schlott: That's wonderful.

Brezman: We are such good friends and we stayed.

Schloff: It doesn't always work out.

Brezman: No, it doesn't.

Schloff: Throw two strangers together, one American, one Russian.

Brezman: We feel very close.

Schloff: These are the Andlers?


Brezman: Yes. We feel very close to each other.

Schloff: That's wonderful. Did they take you to synagogue?

Brezman: Uh-huh.

Schloff: Did it matter to you? Here you are trying to find your
way in America. Was it important to you to go to synagogue?

Brezman: Yes. All cowards, you know. We said we immigrated
because of the anti-Semitism and because we are Jews, although we
never went to synagogue in Russia. I did once, but I ended up in
the police station.

Schloff: Was that at Simchat Torah (Jewish holiday celebrating the
giving of the Torah)?

Brezman: Right. It was a great dancing on the streets, so we were
all disturbing the peace and all taken to the police station. But
here, although I don't go every Friday or every Saturday, but when
I do go, it makes me feel good. It's like exercising. [Laughter]
You don't want to go, but when you do, you feel wonderful.
Something about that. We were taken to Temple of Aaron and we
taken to Mount Zion, and I never liked Mount Zion. I don't know
why. It just didn't have that home feeling. So we belong to Temple
of Aaron.

Schloff: Was it important to you to send your daughters to Hebrew

Brezman: Yes. Yes. That was one of the main reasons we came
here, to put her in. She's the first one to know her identity and
know her traditions, because we really didn't know much. I was ·
learning things with her as she went along in school.

Schloff: Were there any classes for you?

Brezman: Yes, they had classes. I didn't. I should have. Maybe
when I have more time, I will.

Schloff: You mean in Jewish history and Jewish background and that


sort of thing?

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: That's very, very interesting. What about when it comes

time for Jewish holidays? Did you go to any classes on how to

prepare Seder?

Brezman: We had Seder at the (Jewish Community) Center a couple

of times. We had a Seder in Italy when we were there. But how to

prepare food, I

knew. We always spent first Seder with the Andlers. I mean, that's

no question about Rosh Hashana and first Seder, always at the

Andlers. Sometimes we have a very long service, sometimes short,

depending on how many people there are. But basically we're with

them and we just go along with whatever they do. You learn by

doing, right?

Schloff: I guess so. Was there any help that you thought you'd

get, that you didn't get when you first came over?

Brezman: I didn't know what to expect, and I think we were very,

very lucky, because people don't get that help now at all.

Schloff: What help did you get?

Brezman: We were pampered day and night.

Schloff: You were?

Brezman: Yes. Yes. We had people from Jewish Vocational Service
doing things for us, from Jewish Family Service. We were taken
everywhere, to every office we had to go. We had extra money for
the babysitters if we need it. I don't know if it's still the same. We
had a year free membership at the JCC; the camp where Ann was free
for the first year. So I can't complain. It was wonderful. It was
wonderful. We had a lot of help.

Schloff: And when your parehts came over, where did they live?

Brezman: They lived right on St. Paul Avenue. They had an
apartment there.


Schloff: Were things rougher for them because they were older?

Brezman: It was very hard for my father to adjust, because coming
from such a high position down to trying to find a job with no
language, it was very, very, very hard for him.

Schloff: How old was he when he came?

Brezman: Let's see. He came in the eighties, so he was fifty


Schloff: A tough time to move.

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: Was he able to find any sort of work?

Brezman: Yes. He was doing some odd jobs here and there. Then

they moved.

Schloff: What sorts of jobs did your dad do here?

Brezman: Mostly workmen's jobs, working on a different plans.

Then they moved to Chicago, because my sister was living there at

the time with her husband. Then they moved back. Then he found

a wonderful job here with the Metalcraft Company and he is a

quality inspector, and he just loves it. He gets a lot of respect
there. He did a lot of improvements at his work.

Schloff: And how's his English?

Brezman: Better. Much better. He is very well paid for his job,
so that's very important for him. Then a wonderful thing happened
to him. He and my mom went back to Leningrad to visit relatives,
and that has cured him forever and ever of every disappointment he
ever had about leaving.

Schloff: Oh, really? Because things have gotten so much worse

Brezman: It's really bad. Really bad. He saw people who he used
to work with, who look fifty years older than he does, and so tired
and so stressed and so afraid and disappointed in their life. He
is just [unclear] around.


Schloff: Oh, my goodness. What about your mother? How was her

adjustment here?
Brezman: It was fine for her. My mom always wanted to be around
her children and grandchildren, so that's very important to her.
She is quite well in English.

Schloff: Where did she learn English? Did she go to the

International Institute, too?
Brezman: Yes, they did for a while. Then she worked at the Shalom

Schloff: She did?
Brezman: In the kitchen. Yes. Now she doesn't work, but she

watches a lot of soaps, so I suppose that's where you learn
English. She's fine.
Schloff: Does she have other friends her age here?
Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: Does she go to the Jewish Community Center?
Brezman: No, that she doesn't, because she doesn't drive.
Schloff: Is it too far to walk?
Brezman: They live in St. Louis Park. She doesn't like organized

activities. She likes to do her own thing. They have a lot of
friends. They have American friends and Russian friends.

Schloff: Was it difficult for them to make American friends?
Brezman: Not really. Not really. Just walking around, you know,
her neighbors in the building, people my father works with. No,
they're fine. They see a lot of Americans.

Schloff: That's really interesting.
Brezman: They're trying to get out and around. They don't sit
home complaining how things are different. My mom just accepts


that things are different and let's do it a new way.

Schloff: Sure.

Brezman: It's a lot easier.

Schloff: It is a lot easier.

Brezman: I think so.

Schloff: But I think it's very difficult when you come here and
you're plopped down.

Brezman: It is. It is.

Schloff: In your late fifties.

Brezman: Right. Yes. But instead of her just sitting and moping
about it, they do something. I think they're really happy. Now
that my sister moved back here, too.

Schloff: Oh, she did?

Brezman: So Mom has all her grandchildren around and she's very
happy about it.

Schloff: How often does she see them?

Brezman: During the school year, maybe once a week, maybe every
other week or so. But now Jessica came from Herzl Camp and she
has a
couple of weeks before her next session starts, so she stays about
three days a week with my mother. They have a pool there. She
communicates with Jessica in English.
Schloff: Why does she do that in English?

Brezman: They ask her. Because she feels that she is on the same
level then as her grandchild. Jessica understands Russian
perfectly well. She doesn't speak it, but she can understand. But
Mom thinks she is in a higher position with her grandchild if she
speaks English to her.

Schloff: I think she has a point.


Brezman: She has a point, although I would like her to speak
Russian to her.

Schloff: Of course.
Brezman: She does both. If Jessica doesn't comprehend Russian at
all, some words she doesn't know, then she switches to English and
they get along just fine.

Schloff: Do your kids use the Jewish Community Center?
Brezman: All the time. All the time, yes.
Schloff: And do you use it for any reasons?
Brezman: Uh-huh.
Schloff: What do you use it for?
Brezman: I use it for my exercise. We go there for lectures.

Symphony orchestra. There's a lot of theater performances. My
little one was there since eighteen months old in the toddler care
and nursery school and camp. She's always there.

Schloff: So what do you miss about Leningrad besides the street
Brezman: Nothing.
Schloff: You don't?

Brezman: Absolutely nothing.
Schloff: I mean, you went from a major city of the world to a nice
midwestern city, but nothing in the same class.

Brezman: Right. Yes. But now we can always go and visit bigger
cities if we want to. I really don't miss anything about life in
the big city. We've been in a lot of places in the United States.

Schloff: Where have you been?


Brezman: East Coast, West Coast, Atlanta, Florida. Everywhere.
really didn't find anything better yet. [Laughter] My daughter,
my oldest one, threatens to move out of here to go to college
because it's too cold. But I am fine here.

Schloff: You don't miss the Nevsky Prospekt?
Brezman: No. The Nicollet Mall is just fine! [Laughter]
Schloff: Do you have American friends here besides the Andlers?
Brezman: Yes, we do.
Schloff: Was that difficult, making American friends? Did you

find that they were concerned about things that were not as
important to you? How do you see American women as different
Russian women?

Brezman: You know, I just accept them for whatever they think
they're concerned about. It's fine with me, you know. There's a
lot of people I met here with the same soul as mine. We grew up
in a different country, a different background, but we think the
same, we worry about the same things, and we get along quite well.
So I really don't--people I don't like, I don't see them. The same
with Russians or Americans. It doesn't matter. There's a lot of
Russian people I don't like. It doesn't matter that we're from the
same country; I don't want to spend time with them.

Schloff: You were saying that the Russians who come over now are
having a much harder time or don't get as much help from the
community. What are they not getting?

Brezman: Financial help, in the first place. They're all put on
welfare, I think, aren't they? And medical assistance. See, the
word "welfare" was a dirty wor(j for us. Nobody of our coming in
that '78, '80, '81 ever thought of that. We all had jobs. It was
easier for us then. I don't know, because there were more jobs
available, although '79 wasn't a very good year in the United
States. I don't know why nobody was ever on welfare. Nobody was
sitting around expecting for somebody else to do things for them.
We were out and about. My husband didn't have a job, he worked as
a bus boy. People don't want to do that now.


Schloff: I see.

Brezman: And I don't know if it's a problem with society, a
financial problem, or is it just different generation that came

Schloff: Yes. What do you think it is? Have you met people who
have come over in the last few years?

Brezman: Right.

Schloff: What is your diagnosis?
Brezman: They expect too much. They expect too much. They were
complaining that they don't get enough money, although I met a few
of them by the video store which they were returning movies, and
it's like, "Oh, you have VCR?" "Well, of course we have VCR."
[Laughter] We didn't have many material things. We didn't care
about that. We were getting our jobs first. Now that Sibley Manor
is a ghetto, is a real ghetto now, and nobody wants to get out of
there because they all sit on welfare. I don't know if they're
looking for a job or not looking. I don't know. I don't socialize
with many of the new people. But when I met a few new couples at
the Talmud Torah, where my daughter goes, and stupid me, I wanted
give them a few advices, I was really rudely rejected because they
supposedly know more than I do. I think it's a different
expectation of people who come over right now.

Schloff: Do you think that the Jewish community should be using
people like you as much as possible to sort of help the newer
arrivals orient themselves as to what they can expect and what they
should do for themselves? Do you feel ,that you have a role to

Brezman: No, because I know I would be rejected by those Russians,
or whatever.

Schloff: Do you think that the Jewish community ought to be
putting more people who've been here as long as you on boards of
organizations so that they get the viewpoint of a new segment of
the community and not have community control sort of in the hands
of the people it's always been in? Or do you feel that Russians


are well enough represented on synagogue and community center

Brezman: I think they are represented well enough, yes. Yes, I
think they are. Because there are a lot of people who came from
the seventies, late seventies, who are on the board of JCC and
schools and the temple.

Schloff: One thing we haven't talked about, I'm trying to contrast
things in the Soviet Union and America, about schooling. Annie
didn't go to school there, but you went to school and you've seen
her go to grade school and high school. What are your opinions?

Brezman: It's still, after twelve years here, it's still really
hard to get used to the system of the schooling here. Basically
children are left on their own, I think.

Schloff: Here?

Brezman: Yes. We used to bring our grades home every week for the
parents to sign the paper. So parents were always involved,
whether they wanted or not. Here if parents don't want to be
involved, they're not involved. Children are on their own. It's
still really hard for me to get adjusted to the grade
system,percentage, whatever. It was one to five in Russia, and it
quite easy. [Laughter] I don't think twelve years of school is
necessary. We only went to school for ten years, ten very hard
years. My oldest daughter never has homework. I don't see her
doing homework at all. They spend more time talking about social
things, social studies, than doing just academics, simple math and
simple biology.

[Begin Tape 2, Side 2]

Schloff: Math and biology are just not up to snuff.

Brezman: Not only math and biology; anything. Some kids don't
know geography. They don't know where are they in the world. They
simply don't know. When all four subjects are jammed in one class,
which is what we call world sciences, it's not enough. It's not
enough. And then they go to college and they don't know anything.
Then after college they have to go elsewhere, to graduate school,


to do things! I mean, what are they learning in college? What do
they do?

Schloff: think they'll learn quite a bit in college.

Brezman: To think.

Schloff: Have you gone to the school to complain and ask for more

Brezman: School? To complain? No!

Schloff: Your daughter's high school, to say this isn't

Brezman: And do what? Change the whole system? It's not only
that school, you see. It's not a problem of one school. She went
to St. Paul Academy for quite a few years. It's the same thing.
It's totally for a child to decide whether the child wants to do
it or not. Not every student is motivated to do well. Some do and
some don't. Some need more pressure. Parents are not the ones to
pressure, because children don't listen to parents.

Schloff: Do you think that children listen to parents more in the
Soviet Union?

Brezman: Yes. Yes, simply because they know better to listen and
to respect their parents.

Schloff: Has that been hard for you here?

Brezman: Yes. My perspective of the Soviet Union is from twelve
years ago, and I went to school in the fifties and the sixties.
I'm sure things are quite different there right now. Time, of
course, goes ahead. If there is no drug problems then when I went
to school, I am sure there is now quite a bit. But it's really hard for
me to adjust to the school system here.

Schloff: And the fact that you just feel there is less respect for

Brezman: Yes. I think so. I think so. Friends are more ,


Schloff: Friends are more important here than parents. Yes,
that's probably true. That's probably true. You said that Annie
went to St. Paul Academy, which is a private school, for a number
of years. From what grade did she go there?

Brezman: From third grade till the tenth. Now she goes to Henry

Sibley in West St. Paul.

Schloff: You found that St. Paul Academy wasn't academically

rigorous? Is that what you're saying?

Brezman: It was. The school is not the problem; it's the child,
I think, too. She just didn't want to motivate herself and I
didn't feel like we had to pay that kind of an amount of money for
her just to have a wonderful social life, which she did.

Schloff: Did you say she did or she didn't?

Brezman: She did have a wonderful social life.

Schloff: I see. How is it that she is able to go to Henry Sibling

and you live in Highland Park?

Brezman: It's open enrollment. You transfer. The city transfers

the funds to a certain school. Her first choice was Hopkins

School. [Laughter]

Schloff: Well, no wonder you want her to drive as soon as

Brezman: Right. There are quite a few kids who go from Highland
Park to Sibling. We have a carpool.

Schloff: So what is she doing this summer? Is she fifteen now?

Brezman: She's fifteen. She's be sixteen at the end of summer,
the month of August. She's working.

Schloff: What is she doing?

Brezman: She's working as a caddie in a golf course. She is doing
some tennis. She plays tennis. Actually, it's really hard for her


to find a job at that age.

Schloff: Yes, it is. You said the younger one was going to
Herzl Camp?
Brezman: She was at Herzl Camp for a week, first time, and she'll go

to Butwin (the Jewish Community Center camp) for the last session.
Schloff: Where does she attend school?
Brezman: Talmud Torah.
Schloff: The day school?
Brezman: Day school.
Schloff: Are you pleased with that?
Brezman: Yes.
Schloff: Do you think that's going to work out better than St.

Paul Academy?
Brezman: For her it will, yes. For sure, because Jessica likes

more private quarters. She wouldn't be happy in a big school. All
her friends are there. She's quieter. She's really different from

Schloff: There surely are cultural differences that you find
between Americans and Soviets simply because of the way you were
brought up. What are they?

Brezman: Cultural differences?

Schloff: I mean what people expect from life or how they talk to
one another.

Brezman: As far as expectations go there, I don't know. It's
probably the same. But you see, I think Americans were brought up
a little freer, you know, in things they talk about or did or moved
around. We were more centered on families. Talking back to
parents or teachers was unheard of. I think we were more cautious
of doing different things. It all comes with the freedom. "Why


can't I do it? Sure I can." In Russia, it was always, "Do you

think you really should?" So that sort of a thing.

Schlott: When you first started making American friends, weren't

there sort of things you didn't understand about the way they

thought? When you think back, what they thought was important,

what they were talking about, that didn't make any sense to you?

Brezman: It did make sense. It was a question of, "Why didn't we

think about it?"

Schloff: Like what?

Brezman: Like, you know, changing things and moving about, you
know, the whole life. The whole life. I mean, they were a lot freer
to do things.

Schloff: So it was not just a matter of money; it was a matter of
just the way you were brought up? To think that you could move to
Chicago if things weren't working out here.

Brezman: Right. Yes.

Schloff: When you say changing things, do you have anything in


Brezman: I really don't have any particular thing in mind, but the
whole life. They weren't restricted of doing things.

Schloff: Are there certain things that you really dislike about

American life?

Brezman: Now?

Schloff: Yes.

Brezman: No.

Schlott: You don't feel that there's too much freedom? That can
be a bad thing, too.

Brezman: No, I really don't. I really don't. As far as for kids,
you mean?


Schloff: Yes.

Brezman: It's the time. It's the time, too. We have to be in
with the times. It's hard to keep up with a sixteen-year-old. But
maybe there is a little bit too much freedom, but I hope that my
child is smart enough to make the right choices, and that depends
on me and my husband. So whatever we talk about, whatever we
in her head, I hope it will stick. [Laughter]

Schloff: I could imagine that you would think that so much of
American culture seems rather superficial.

Brezman: Yes. There is not a lot of values. Yes. We were more
involved with the books, more classical things. Music, for
example. Maybe it's just the age for the kids. I don't know. It
will pass, I am sure.

Schloff: I imagine. Fortunately one stays sixteen for just one

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: Things do change. Is there anything you miss about
Soviet culture?
Brezman: No.

Schloff: You don't miss the theater?

Brezman: We go to theater here. We go to theater here and if we
don't like performance at the Guthrie Theater because it's too
much, we go to the Old Log Theater. We are able to find things.
We constantly go to Orchestra Hall and see all the Broadway shows.
We see all the movies, and they show Russian movies, which every
time I see one, I swear I am not going to see another one, and I
still go. But we're constantly doing things. There is so much to
do here, it's unbelievable. If we only had more time and more

Schloff: Do you feel like you are part of America now?

Brezman: Absolutely.


Schloff: Or do you feel like you're a step removed?

Brezman: No. No. No. I never wanted to feel a step removed.

That's why I am out and about.

Schloff: It's hard not to feel a step removed when you've grown

up in another place.

Brezman: No! But my American friends complain that I am too

Americanized now! [Laughter] That I don't do things the old

fashioned way like I used to do.

Schloff: What did you use to do that you don't do now?

Brezman: Well, Mary, Mary Andler, used to come here and I was

grinding her coffee in a special hand-grinder, mind you, and then

make her a cup. Now I just plop it in the machine. She is very

upset about it. [Laughter] Yes, they complain. I don't sit at

home and moan how wonderful was life in Russia. I enjoy it here,

and a lot of my friends, we don't complain about things.

Schloff: I'm not talking about complaining. I'm talking about
just noting and thinking that, "In some ways I'm never going to fit

in because I was born somewhere else. I'll never understand how
these people think."

Brezman: But I do fit in.

Schloff: You do fit in and you do understand how your friends, who
were born in America, think?

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: Okay.

Brezman: If I don't understand, they explain. But I usually catch (on
to) things quite easy.

Schloff: We were talking, I think before this machine was turned
on, about what Americans thought Russians would be like and their
misperceptions. Do you want to tell me about that?


Brezman: Yes. The older generation. The kids of the parents who

came in 1900s, they were asking us the most ridiculous things,

like, "Did you have lemonade?" or ice cream or refrigerators or

cars. They still thought there were bears going on the streets in

Russia. They think of Russia, the whole Russia, is Siberia. I

think it's lack of education about Russia. They remember things

their parents told them about little villages and how hard it was

in 1898, and I understand that, but they didn't want to know

anything else about Russia.

Schloff: Were they surprised at how much you knew about religion

or how little you knew about Jewish religion?

Brezman: They were surprised how much we knew about the United

States, about its economy, social life, geography. But it was part

of our school program.

Schloff: What did they think about what you knew about Judaism?

Was that an issue? Or was that brought out like, "Oh, I thought

you wouldn't know anything about religious practice"?

Brezman: Right. They thought we were all restricted, but they
didn't know we could do it inside our families, like, for example,
the Passover Seders and things like that. They didn't know that
we were able to do that. We didn't know a lot about Judaism.
That's right. So I had a lot of questions and I always looked
around and I always asked how to do things and why is that and why
is this. I wanted to learn that, too, and they were more than
eager to help and explain and do things with us.

Schloff: So do you feel comfortable when you go to synagogue?

Brezman: Absolutely.

Schloff: You don't feel like people are making a differentiation?

Brezman: No. No, not at all.

Schloff: What about other Minnesotans, non-Jews? Do you feel any
Anti-Semitism here?

Brezman: A twinge. Just a little, yes, from some people. Some
of my customers, when they learn that I am from Russia, just a


little remark. "Oh, you must have been a Jew, then." It's just

a little bit. Nobody says it in my face, no. But I suppose it

always will be. Maybe we'll have to move to Israel.

Schloff: But in general?

Brezman: In general, no. No.

Schloff: What parts of Russian life are you trying to keep active

in your kids? You're trying to keep the language up.

Brezman: Language mostly.

Schloff: Do you speak Russian to them?

Brezman: I try. Sometimes I forget and I slip to English.
Sometimes it's easier for me. It's faster for them to understand,
so if I'm in a hurry, drop a few English words, they will
understand better. But we try to speak to them in Russian, and my
husband always stresses that. Ann can do quite well. When she
went back to Leningrad, she was fine. She was speaking Russian to
everybody. No problem. Terrible accent, though. [Laughter] And
Jessica knows a few words. She can talk a little bit, but her
vocabulary is not as good, but she understands Russian perfectly.

Schloff: So you have to make her talk. Do you take a Russian


Brezman: No. It's mostly reprints from the English newspaper

Schloff: Oh, is it?

Brezman: Yes.

Schloff: Where do you get Russian newspapers?

Brezman: In New York; It's New Russian World. It's from New
York. It's printed in New York. And there is a lot of new writers
which print their new things. I'm just not interested. It's so
far away, and their problems don't--they don't interest me.

Schloff: What sort of problems are they having?


Brezman: Whatever problems they've having, they talk and talk and
talk about it, and I just don't want to hear about it anymore.
It's the same as going to the movies. They talk about that antiSemitism
problem for how many years now? Well, leave, then, if
you don't like it there. You can't change it there. Russia is a
very big country and there is not that many Jews there. I guess
it will take a couple of new generations to erase that hatred for
Jews there.

Schloff: In Russia?
Brezman: In Russia.
Schloff: Do you think ies erasable?

Brezman: I don't think so, but--1 don't think so. It's never been
Schloff: No, it hasn't.
Brezman: Anywhere.
Schloff: Do you celebrate any Soviet holidays?
Brezman: Oh, no. [Laughter]

Schloff: Women's Day?
Brezman: No. I just remind my husband when it's Women's Day. He
says, "Okay. Mother's Day is coming." [Laughter] No, we don't.

Schloff: Where do your husband's parents live?

Brezman: They both passed away.

Schloff: Oh, they did? I'm sorry. You probably told me that two

or three times. Did they come to this country?
Brezman: Yes. They were living right here.
Schloff: Did they go to the JCC much?
Brezman: No. No. My mother-in-law, she had a lot of friends, but

as many times I begged her to go to JCC, especially after her


husband passed away, no, she never did. She's just not a very
social person. But she had a lot of friends, Americans. They were
communicating in Yiddish. There was no problems at all.

Schloff: Where did she find American friends?

Brezman: In the building. She was doing some alterations, so she
would see people.
Schloff: As long as she was comfortable.
Brezman: She was.
Schloff: Did she go to synagogue with you?
Brezman: Yes.
$chloff: I honestly think that I am done. I guess I'm finding

that with the people who are engineers, who came in the seventies,
their adjust~ent has been pretty rapid and pretty complete.

Brezman: We had to. We had to.
Schloff: Thank you very much.
Brezman: No problem.

[End of interview]