Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#17 ~ June 1975 ~Time to go!

While I was staying with my parents, waiting for the news from Felix, who was still in Kiev, it looked like we tried to avoid the subject. When I would try to talk about the future, my Mom would say: "Everything is going to be fine". But my parents did not want to even consider the possibility of leaving the Soviet Union. What Felix had to go through, what he had to endure, is simply incredible. And maybe I can encourage him to write a story about it, which I will include in my blog. But the fact is that on June 12, 1975 I received a phone call that our family received permission to leave Soviet Union. They gave us 2 weeks to complete all the necessary arrangements and leave the country. We were allowed only one suitcase per person, about $150.00 a person. No jewelry, except wedding bands. We had to buy one way ticket from Kiev to Vienna. We also were allowed to pack a box, size 1 cubic meter (approximately 3 feet high and 3 feet wide). It was going to be kept at the customs and as soon as we will know the address, it will be shipped to us. What do you choose to put in this box, that we were not sure when or most important IF we will ever see it? So we packed it with pillows, linen, dishes, lots of books, pictures, some winter clothes, toys for Masha.
When we went to the bank to exchanger Russian rubles for the American dollars, I felt that people in line knew that we are about to leave this country and were accusing us, judging us, disapproving our decision.
When I held American dollars in my hand, it seemed very strange. I had to count it several times to make sure it was the right amount. It was $600.00. We had no idea what this amount was, what could be done with it, how long it would last...
Finally the day came when our carefully packed suitcases were loaded in the taxi, and our small family along with my Mom and Dad, Felix's cousin and uncle left for the airport. June 22 1975. It was hard to look at each other, tears were in everyone's eyes, but everyone tried to show courage an support each other. My Mom was holding Masha. She made chicken soup, packed some cookies, fruit and sandwiches and  kept explaining where everything was. When we got to the airport it was time for final goodbyes. How do you say Goodbye to your loved ones, knowing that you might never see them again? Gut wrenching...
At the customs, soldiers were doing everything possible to make our departure more difficult. They took everything from the suitcases, even tore  head from Masha's doll, checked the thermos with chicken soup. "What are you looking for? What are you doing?" Ida kept asking them. Felix begged her to be quiet and just do what they were asking. Well, now I know. They were looking for bribe, for money.
Next to us was an older woman with her son, Erik, who was a violinist. The were so rough with his violin and when he asked to please be careful with it, one of the soldiers said: "Actually, this cannot leave the country". He pleaded with them, said that he had an authorisation for it, but they confiscated it anyway. Oh, so much anger and pain in his eyes.
 They even took mine and Felix's golden necklace. For some reason, one of the guards allowed me to go back to the waiting area and give it to my Mom. Finally, we were in the International Waiting area. There was a big glass wall and we could see people on the other side. And to our surprise, we saw my Mom and Dad, uncle Alex. They came to the glass, Masha stretched her arms to my Mom. They touched through the glass and she mouthed: "I love you". One of the guards came up and with a smirk on his face drew the curtains closed. "Have you no heart?" Erik's mother lost it. She was hysterical and panic-stricken. We all tried to console her, to keep her quiet, because they still could escort her out for "disturbing piece". After we boarded the plane, it seemed that we transformed into the different world. And it was. It was the world of freedom, sanity, and possibilities. But we did not know it then. We just felt it. There were 7 families on the plane  leaving  Soviet Union with the one way ticket among the other passengers.
Marina Davidovich and Marianna ( Masha)  ~ Exit Visa Photo

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

# 16~ 1975~ Still waiting for Exit Visas

Waiting is one of the worst things one can experience, especially when your life and lives of the loved ones depends on it. We were all very nervous, anxious and fearful,but tried not to show it. Felix and Ida were forced to leave their jobs, I was almost done with College. Financially we were struggling. Ida started selling some of her clothes, shoes, dishes, even furniture. We decided that it will be easier on everyone if I would go and live with my parents until we get permission from the Government to leave the country. In the middle of May, as soon as I was done with my final exams, I took the baby and left Kiev to live with my parents. My Mom still did not want to accept the fact that we are going to leave. She did not want to even talk about it. I was trying very gently to tell her and my Dad that we had no chance making a normal life for ourselves here, that it is a perfect time to escape this misery while the iron curtain is slightly open. One episode is so fresh in my memory, when my Mom said for the first time: "Maybe you are right". We had a tomato in the refrigerator and my brother who was 14 years old (and growing!)  at that time, came home from school and ate it. Yes, he ate a tomato. My mother screamed and yelled at him:"It was for the baby! What were you thinking?!?" The look of hurt, question and pain in my brother's eyes was unbearable. He did not cry, but I did.
One night I woke up from a frightening almost barking sound of  Masha's cough. It became worse and worse by the hour. Next day in the afternoon, we had to call the ambulance and they took us to the hospital, hospital for infectious disease. I hated and feared that hospital. My Grandfather died there and I was "held" a prisoner there for almost a month when I was only 7 years old. Masha had a croup. She had a very high fever, horrible dry "barking seal" cough, she had hard time breathing. As soon as we were admitted to the hospital, a nurse took the baby from my arms and brought her to the "steam room" they called it. She had a basin with scalding hot water and without even checking the temperature of the water, she put Masha's legs in it. I touched water with my hands, and screamed that it was boiling hot, but the nurse did not even acknowledged my cries. Baby was screaming and kicking her little legs, I was fighting with the "Nazi-nurse", but she was so much bigger and stronger then me. It seemed forever, until another nurse came in and wrestled my baby from her. Masha's legs and my hands were red, burned. But I did not feel the pain. I was so angry, so concerned for the baby... They put some kind of ointment on the burns and took us a long time to calm her down. Thankfully, I nursed her at that time. We were in the room with about 14 other patients. Bed was very narrow, with saggy mattress, so I was sitting on the chair all night, listening to my baby breath. People were crying and coughing all around us. I fell asleep and woke up sitting on the floor, with my head on the bed. That's how we spent almost 2 weeks. Doctors were coming once a day to check on patients and their progress. While I was in the hospital two children died and we watched with horror their grieving parents escorting the stretchers. If you don't know what fear is, that's how I would describe it: Fear to lose something so dear and important to you, fear to lose your child. I was so determine to get out of this horrible place. In 2 weeks, which felt like an eternity,  they let us go. Again, I felt that I escaped from a prison! But we left the hospital with a present: both of us had head lice. Oh, what a joy... We had to shave my baby's beautiful curls and cut my long hair.
Baby Masha after the hospital. "Where are my curls?"

Friday, May 11, 2012

#15 ~ 1974 ~ Getting Exit Visas

 In 1971, when the United States made a deal with the Soviet Union for improved trade agreements in return for more lenient immigration policies, the doors were opened some. At this time any Soviet Jew could obtain an exit visa for Israel, but they still could not go to the United States. Then in 1976, HIAS ( the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society ) started to give Soviet Jews the chance to settle in America. Many Soviet Jews soon applied for visas for two reasons: first, Soviet Universities were continuing to restrict the number of Jewish students, and secondly there was a shortage of food, clothing and housing in the U.S.S.R which had been a problem since the World War II. Close to 700,000 Jews immigrated from former Soviet Union t the USA.
We did not have this information back then. We just knew that it is time to go. Felix's Mom, Ida decided not to join us. The process was long and complicated. First we had to have personal invitation from a relative in Israel. Thankfully, we got one from Ida's cousin. When we were ready to apply for visa, she changed her mind and begged Felix to  take her with us. Well, back to square one. We did not have phones or emails or faxes back then. Communication was ONLY via painfully slow and not reliable mail. Without any hope Felix went to Moscow and he approached a couple that were leaving Netherlands Embassy. They looked happy. So Felix asked them if they received visas. They said:"Yes, we are leaving for Israel in 7 days". So he begged total strangers to send invitation for our family. To our huge surprise after one month of waiting, we received an envelope with red ribbon on it and an invitation inside. We kept our decision in secret even from our closest friends and relatives. But now with invitation on our hands, we went to OVIR, agency that grants exit visas. And from there on, our decision was public. We had to get certificates from the places of work, school, place where we lived, permission from our parents and so many more documents, that it was overwhelming and sometimes devastating. I was still in College, and very busy with the baby. So Felix took it upon himself to do most of the work.
He did not see his father, who lived in Novosibirsk (up north) with his new family for over 20 years. Felix flew across the country to get his permission. When he got there, his father was very sick. But he signed the papers, asked for Felix's forgiveness, wished him good luck and gave him 200 rubles. Felix was touched. He said Goodbyes to his father and he knew that he will never see him again.
My family refused to sign papers. My Mom was so upset and angry. She could not imagine life without her new granddaughter. So we had no choice. We forged their signature...
There was no copy machines and in order to translate every document, we had to take it to the office and have it copied by hand, and then notarised. And goes for all the documents, since we could not take originals with us: birth certificates, marriage certificates, school and medical records, etc.
I cannot describe the tension and pressure we had to endure. And of course, the secret was out. Our neighbors found out, our friends found out. No one wanted to be associated with us any more. My best friend, Olga cut herself out of all our pictures together and dropped them in our mailbox. I understood.
Felix's boss said that Felix needs to quit his job or they will set him up as a thief. Both Ida and Felix had to quit their jobs.
I was called to the Dean's office. I was so very afraid that they will put me in front of all the students, just like they did for Michael. When I came into the Deans office, I was prepared to beg him not to make me go through this process. But he was very nice to me. He asked if I was sure of my decision, told me what a great student I am, promised a very bright future in College if I stay. And at the end he shook my hand, gave me my transcripts and wished me and my family best of luck. I was relieved and thankful!
After we submitted our documents to the government agency, we just had to sit and wait. If they will say "No" - we are finished. No one will ever hire or help us, we will have no place to live, no friends to turn to. Scary!!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

#14 ~ 1974 ~ No turning back

Being a full time student and a new Mother had lots of challenges. I was always going, going, going. I was studying for tests while nursing, and falling asleep during the lectures. The fact that we did not have diapers or store-ready baby food had all of us constantly washing, ironing and folding. My hands were raw from the soap.
It was also a luck and a miracle that we were able to buy a stroller. We used it as a crib as well.
Felix started talking again about us leaving the Soviet Union. Now he had facts, stories and advice from the letters that were coming from friends and relatives abroad. I was beginning to see that we had no future, but it was so scary, frightening and worrisome to even think about it.

One morning in College, we had an announcement to report to the large auditorium for an important meeting. It usually happened only in the beginning of the school year. We  were all very happy, because we would miss our boring philosophy class. Once we were seated, the dean escorted to the stage one of the students, Michael and without any formal introductions, greetings, etc. announced: "Meet the enemy of the state, the trader, possibly enemy agent..." Everyone was stunned. We new Michael. He was a shy, quiet, always pleasant and smiling boy. The reason they made those accusations was: Michael and his family was immigrating to Israel. One by one professors and students were coming on the stage and were saying horrible, stabbing words to him. Michael was ghastly white, with tears in his eyes and his head down. He was only 18 years old and not prepared to this cruelty, humiliation  and accusations. It lasted for two excruciating long hours. I felt his pain and hurt.
I also was terrified. I thought: "I would rather die than go through this".
No caption needed!
Baby Masha was our source of joy and happiness. She was so beautiful! Every sound and move she made seemed like a miracle to me, a very proud and a very young mother.

Marina, Felix and baby Masha
One day I came home from school and went straight to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I took Mashoonya with me and put her on the sofa in the hall, so I could keep an eye on her while cooking. She was sound asleep. I heard the front door open and knew that it was Felix coming home from work. He ran up to the sofa, picked the baby up and was walking to the kitchen to give me a kiss. Before he reached me, a huge piece of the ceiling fell down, right on the spot where Masha was sleeping 3 seconds ago. We both froze in disbelief. I started crying, and shaking from the horrible thought of what would've happened, that she could be killed. For months I would wake up from the nightmare and thoughts what if Felix would be late, or did not pick Masha or...
At that very moment we both decided that no matter what we have to go through, what we have to endure, we must leave this town, this country, this life.
I had to tell my family about our decision and I knew it was going to be very, very hard. But it was NO TURNING BACK!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

#13 ~ I am a MOTHER!!!

There were several students in the College that were married, but I was the only one who was expecting a child. Very few of my close friends knew about it and nothing changed in my appearance until I was about 4.5 months pregnant. In September before the school resumed I moved in with Felix and his Mother, Ida. The situation was very awkward: Ida lived in the same flat with her x-husband Isak Aronovich. They had 2 separate rooms, but they shared kitchen and bathroom. Felix's bed was in the narrow hallway. An that's where we slept. Isak was a school teacher, so he was up at 5:30am and was gone from the house from 6am-6pm. School, where he worked was far away and he had to use bus and city tram to get there. Sundays were difficult since he stayed home all the time. But he was a very nice man and tried very hard to stay out of our way.
I was busy at school, and tried not to think about the future. Ida's cousin, Bella and her family left for Israel and promised to send us an invitation. I asked Felix why do we need an invitation, and he said:"Just in case". We kept getting information from friends about the life in America, Israel and Canada. I gradually started to realise that we have no future, we did not even have place to live. And we are going to have a baby!
I took an early midterm exams and in December I went home to be with my Mom and Dad. At least there I had my own room. It was very weird for me to see changes in my body, feel the baby move in my stomach. I was so young, so naive, but very inspired and curious.
In 2 months after I got home, a very beautiful healthy baby girl was born. And it changed my life FOREVER!!! I was responsible for this little tiny person. Mother's instinct took over immediately! There were 12 women in the same room with me. We did a lot of talking, exchanged stories: some sweet, some horrifying, some scary. I was the youngest one, so everyone felt obligated to teach me "life". Babies were brought to us every 3 hours for nursing. I could not wait to see my little girl and she was the most beautiful child I have ever seen!
It is a mandatory 7 days stay in the hospital. Food was horrible and I was so hungry! Relatives were allowed to bring food to us. Every day my Mom would bring me a little pot with chicken soup, or mashed potatoes or pirogi (pastry with meat inside). There were no showers, beds were very uncomfortable, my robe was 4 times my size, so were the slippers. I could not wait to get out of there. However, nurses and doctors were wonderful and very helpful and understanding. I was dreaming of going home and take a long bath...or at least a short shower.
Finally the day came when I was allowed to leave the hospital with my baby. Felix and my Mother met me downstairs and when he saw me, his eyes said it all. I was so skinny and pale, worn out and exhausted, he was speechless. But when he saw our perfect, beautiful girl, he cried. And I cried with him. The nurse  looked at me and simply said:"You are going to be a wonderful mother."
Marianna Davidovich (Masha) ~ my beautiful baby!
I cant remember how we got home, but I know that we did not have a stroller yet, so we must of carried our precious bundle in our hands all the way home using the city bus.