Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#20 ~ July 1975 ~ Rome, Italy

When I woke up next morning, it took me awhile to figure out where I was, and what am I supposed to be doing. I saw a big room with bare, white walls and cold tile floor, 2 military style beds, small table and few chairs. And then I felt my little girl snuggled up under my arm, sleeping peacefully. We are in Italy! Somehow I did not feel any fear or stress any more. I was looking forward to what is going to happen next. To me, Italy was the country of beautiful songs ( I loved Robertino Loretti sinc I was a small child), amazing arts, history and romantic movies. What and how are we going to fit in? How long are we going to be here? How are we going to understand anyone? Oh, there were so many questions. Breakfast was in the dining room with other families. We knew some of them from Kiev and Vienna. It was a happy reunion. Since there was nothing that Masha could eat, I found the kitchen and asked if I could use some milk to make hot cereal for the baby. Italian women, who were working in the kitchen looked at me like I was insane. They kept saying:"Mango, mango" and I kept pointing on the stove and saying: "I need milk. I have everything else". Finally, they let me cook, but they were watching me closely and kept talking and laughing. I was smiling and kept pointing on different subjects and they were teaching me Italian words. After breakfast we went for a walk. One of the boys from the family that arrived to Rome a few days earlier showed us a small grocery store, pretty park near-by, bus stop to get to the train station. It was very hot. I got enough nerve to walk into the bar and ask for cold water for the baby "freddo acqua". And it worked. I was so proud!!!
Later that afternoon we had a meeting with the representatives from the HIAS.

What is HIAS?
HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is the international migration agency of the American Jewish community. They provide rescue and refuge for persecuted and oppressed Jews around the world. In recent years, as the population of Jewish refugees has diminished, they have directed their expertise to assist refugees and immigrants of all backgrounds. HIAS also advocates in Congress for fair and effective policies affecting refugees and immigrants. Since 1881, HIAS has assisted more than 4,500,000 people worldwide.

 We were told that we have 2 weeks to find an apartment, that we will be getting financial help for rent and food. That we need to economise, which is nothing new to us. That we will have to attend school to learn English and that information about our familly will be sent out to different Jewish Federations and as soon as someone will be willing to "accept" and sponsor us, we will be notified. They also told us that we are very, very lucky, because immigrants that came before us, did not have any support or this kind of help. All this was possible because of the financial aid and donations from Jewish people, mostly from the USA. It was hard for us to understand any of this, but we were so grateful and humble and ready to do whatever possible to become independant. I knew back then, that I really wanted to repay the kindness and compassion, care and empathy that we received from people that we did not even know.
So everything looked wonderful, until we were told to be on the lookout for thieves and con artists. Apperently there were two kind of immigrants: families, like us that did not know anything and just wanted to live a normal, happy life, who were not afraid to work hard and people who took advantage of our situation.
It was impossible to rent an apartment in Rome, so we had to find something in Lido de Ostia, a suborb of Rome, where Italians had their summer homes and were renting apatments for the Fall and Winter. We did not know how to do it, where to go, who to ask. And that's when a Russian speaking man approached us and said that he will help us. But it would cost us pretty much all the money we had: $180.00. As a family we received about $200.00 a month. There would be nothing left for food or train fare or anything else. We could not afford it by ourselves. So in order to rent this place, we had to have 3 families move in and live together. It was no fun...
Apartment itself was very nice: very clean, one big room, with small kitchen, thick red carpet, inside bathroom and bath. Great thing about it was, that it was one block from the beach. But living with 2 other families was simply impossible. We could not get a good night sleep, there was no privacy, no place to even talk to each other unless we went outside. But we had to live like this at least for awhile, until we learn by ourselves how things worked...
 Local post office was the place for meetings, gathering information, learning, socilising, selling and buying. We would go there every night for the latest news, since we were cut off from the world.
Pretty soon we found big farmers market, clothing stores, learned how to bargain with locals and how to find things on sale. When we bought a pair of tiny jeans for Masha, it was such a joy! We could not help and bought a pair of jeans for myself and Felix as well.

Felix, Marianna (Masha) and Marina with newly purchased jeans in Ostia Lido, Italy.
We were learning how to survive, how to enjoy life, sunshine, beach, new sights and each other.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#19 ~ July 1975 ~ Saying goodbye to Vienna

We stayed in Vienna a little over 2 weeks. Felix got to practice his German. He was very proud that he could get around by asking people for directions and  help. We lived in a small hotel/pension owned by Bettina. Since we had about 10 families living there, it was very difficult to cook something for us, especially for Masha. There was only one kitchen with one stove and the gas was turned on very low. I guess it was done to save money. It took about 4 hours to make a simple soup or hot cereal. We did not have enough allowance to eat in the cafe or restaurant and we were determine to to use our $600.00. Some families did eat out all the time. And I noticed that women had their jewelry. When I asked (oh, how naive I was!) how did they manage to get the gold rings and necklaces through the custom, they simply said:" You need to know who to bribe..." Well, we did not have enough money to do that. But we did not complain. We were safe, we were together and we had hope, trust and anticipation of something wonderful ahead.
Representatives from HIAS held several meetings where they explained what to expect, what to do and what to avoid. They asked us not to talk to anyone, stay close to the hotel and be ready for a long train journey to Rome.
I loved Vienna. Gorgeous parks, lovely gardens, charming theaters, palaces, stores and beautiful people. But still my favorite place was the grocery store. I could walk around the store for hours, explore the colorful packages, bottles and cans. One item fascinated me the most: it was a mascara. First, it came in different colors. Wow!!! And it had a small brush, that was tucked away inside the tube. And it smelled so good. Mascara that we used to have was a small box, the one you had to spit in and then apply to your lashes with a tiny brush. Gross and nasty, right?!  I wanted to buy it so bad, but everyone told me to wait. Things are going to be much cheaper and better in Italy. So I was patient.
One of the Palaces in Vienna.

On the night before our departure from Vienna, we packed all our belongings, prepared small packages with food and drinks. A small bus took us to the train station very early in the morning. Thankfully we did not have many bags, so we boarded the train without any problems. But there were so many people, and most of them had a lot of luggage. Our small compartment was very crowded. There were shouts and screams, people shoving each other, kicking, fighting. It was a nightmare! Finally, when everyone was on board, and the train moved, people started to calm down and settle. It was still crowded and very hot and stuffy. I remembered when my Mom told me how they had to evacuate from Nazis during the World War II and I felt better. At least we were not transported like animals...
In the middle of our trip, last car caught on fire and everyone had to be moved to the front. So our crowded compartment got even more crammed. Some people had to sit on the floor. Someone started singing. It was such a familiar and bittersweet song, that everyone joined in. We had a chance to talk and share our stories.
Soon we ran out of water. When the train stopped somewhere around Yugoslavia, we had people from outside giving us bottles of water through the windows. We could not understand what they were saying, but their kindness was so appreciated. The guards told us that we have to wait. For security reasons, we had to arrive to Rome at night. So we waited, but we were not allowed to go outside. That trip seemed to go on forever!

Finally, late at night we saw the lights of Rome. Everyone started moving, get their things together. But there was no more fighting or screaming. We all sort of bonded, got to know each other. We were so tired, hungry, exhausted and dehydrated. Small buses took one family at a time to a 4-story hotel. And all I remember, how we all fell asleep, finally being able to lie down and stretch out in our own beds.

Friday, June 1, 2012

#18 ~ 1975 ~ Vienna

This was my first time in the airplane. I felt like a kid in a toy store. So many buttons, lights, handles. Flight attendants offering us drinks and food, little pillows and blankets... Everything was so different. I even forgot all the agony and pain we just went through in Kiev. I concentrated on taking care of the baby. She seemed fascinated with the new sights, sounds and  smells as well. Since we did not have diapers at that time, I had to go take her potty often. Everyone was very helpful and offered to hold and play with her. I did not have time to think who is going to meet us, where to go once we arrived, what to do, etc. There were 7 families traveling with us and we started to get to know them, share information, learning from each other. Before we knew it, we arrived to Vienna. As we walked down from the plane, I saw the Western World for the first time. Beautiful landscape, cleanness, polite people. We were told to wait. In a few minutes an older man with black coat on, approached our little group and said that he was from the organization HIAS, he welcomed us, asked if everyone was OK. He spoke Russian with a very heavy accent. Then he asked if we are going to Israel or other countries. And everyone said: "Other countries". We followed him inside and were blown away by the beauty of the airport. It was so big, colorful, bright and alive with sounds, smells and activities. First thing I did - I took Masha to the bathroom. Boy, I was not ready for this. It looked like a ballroom: big, bright, with mirrors everywhere and plenty of TOILET PAPER!!! When we finally came back, Felix was already nervous, because we were gone for a very long time. But when he saw my huge smile and wide open surprised eyes, he knew that it was something nice. I made everyone go to see it. And we all had the same reaction. After waiting for some time, we were told to collect our luggage and put the suitcases in the small bus that was waiting outside. We were taken to the charming hotel/pension "Bettina". Our room was small, but it seemed like palace to us. Big, soft bed, table, chairs, pretty lamps and our own bathroom. We were so tired, but I could not fall asleep. We were very excited. In the morning I was nervous, because there was nothing left from the food I packed for Masha. Chicken soup was gone, fruits were gone. Just a few cookies left. And just as I became really panicky, the door opens and Felix walks in, takes my hand and says: "Come with me". We were walking for a few minutes and came to a grocery store "Lyon". When we walked inside, I was shocked. I could  never imagine, in my wildest dreams, what I saw in front of me. I could not help myself. I was just standing there, holding my baby and crying, sobbing and smiling at the same time. Smells of salami, coffee, freshly baked bread were overwhelming. Packages of items I've never seen before, and how could I??? I only wish I had more literary talent to describe my thoughts and feelings at that time. I don't know how long we were standing there, at the entrance of the grocery store, taking it all in. Finally, we were given a shopping cart (WOW!) and we started our way through the store. I did not know what most of the jars, packages and bags were. Thankfully, there was a family that came to Vienna few days earlier and pointed out for us items like milk, yogurt, cereal, coffee, tea. Explained how to order meat, cheese, how to select breads, grind coffee,etc. We did not know how much it all costs. Since we were given a small allowance, we were very careful not to spend it all at once. I did not want to leave the store. Ever!!! I wanted to touch each and every item, read and understand what it is. And of course, I wanted to try and eat everything. Sheer happiness, glee, delight!
We stayed in Vienna about 10 days. We purchased a small stroller and went out exploring this beautiful city. Manicured lawns, properly dressed people, incredible architecture, free outside concerts, shady and colorful parks, and stores full of beautiful clothes, shoes, purses, makeup. One time while walking in the park, we saw a small cafe and for the first time we bought and tried Coca-Cola. It was so sweet and bubbly and I thought: "Well, that's my first dream come true". I've always wondered what it tastes like. Now I know. Next thing I wanted to try - was gum... Just like in American movies :-) At that time I felt that I was in a movie.
Unfortunately I have no pictures to share.