Sunday, December 30, 2018

#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, December 28, 2018

#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

Saturday, December 15, 2018

#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.

#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.

Monday, December 10, 2018

#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.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

#21 ~Summer 1975~Ostia Lido

Our first month in Italy was very interesting, to say the least. Every night we would go to the Central Post office to find out what is happening, who is leaving Italy for the US or Canada, who is coming from Russia, ask questions and get advice from people who lived in Italy for a while. That's how we learned how to survive and what to do.
As we settled, we started the ORT School, where we studied English. Felix and Ida would go to the classes in the morning and I attended afternoon classes. This way one of us was taking care of Masha. School was in Rome, so we had to take the train and then use the bus to get to school.

Train Station in Ostia Lido
To save money I often walked to school instead of using the bus. I enjoyed my long walks along the river. I discovered short cuts and to my delight found beautiful piazzas, old churches, fountains and museums. I don't remember being afraid to get lost. I knew how to ask: "Where is the river?" And I could find my way from there. I loved school. Our teacher was a young man from Chicago. He did not speak any Russian, so everything was in English. We read American newspapers, asked questions about American way of life and shared our own stories. What is ORT School?

In 1880 a group of Russian Jews petitioned Czar Alexander II for permission to start a fund to assist Jewish trade schools and establish new colonies, agricultural schools and model farms in order to help lift Russia's five million Jews out of crushing poverty. The success of the appeal led Russian authorities to create the "Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor," for Jews of Russia. It is from this original name—Obschestvo Remeslenovo i. Zemledelcheskovo Trouda—that the word ORT is derived.

After the first month living with 2 other families in a 1 room apartment, we had a chance to rent a 3 bedroom apartment, which was not as new and not as comfortable. But we used only one room for ourselves and rented the other two to 2 families. It saved a lot of money for us and we had our own room. I loved going to the market. I learned how to find bargains, how to "make deals" with the merchants. On the weekends we decided to explore Rome. We bought a Guide book: "Rome and Vatican". It was so helpful to read about the certain place and then go and see it: Piazza Venezia, The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, The fountain of Trevi and so much more...
Some museums were free of charge, some had a very small admission fee. My most favorite was  The Pantheon.
One night when we walked by the Piazza Nationale, we saw that lots of people gathered around the fence. When we got closer, we saw a small stage and around it tables and chairs were set. People were sitting at the tables, sipping wine or champagne and listening to the singer. His name was Mario Rovi. Oh, how I wanted to be among those people, to sit comfortably and listen to the artist and not  behind the fence. And I made a promise to myself, that WE WILL COME BACK AND WE WILL SIT AT THE VERY FRONT TABLE AND WE WILL HAVE CHAMPAGNE  AND ENJOY THE MUSIC!
One of the most memorable discoveries we made was Town of Tivoli, about 30 km from Rome. One Sunday afternoon we packed sandwiches, got some water and fruits and got on the bus. We did know what to expect. But what we saw was so incredible, we simply got lost in the past, away from troules, questions, worries and uncertainties. Villa D'Este was something from a dream: fountains, gardens, statues, waterfalls... we spent an entire day there and enjoyed every minute of it!
I did not mean to turn this into the guide book, but just could not help it. Yes, it was a difficult time of our life. We did not know what is going to happen to us and where we are going, but we had high hopes and big dreams and we were free!



Saturday, December 1, 2018

#22 ~ Fall 1975 ~ Ostia Lido

Our life in Ostia was full of discoveries. We saw happiness and despair, tragedy and triumph, death and birth. We were surrounded with families with their own, unique stories. And I wish I kept a journal back then to document it all. It would make a fascinating book.
During the warm days, we would go to the beach and enjoy the sunshine, warm sand, beautiful blue water. We studied English, dreamed about our lives in the USA or Canada, anywhere in the Free World.
We were able to move to a 3 bedroom apartment. We stayed in one of the bedrooms and rented out the other two. This way we could afford to live there and have money for food and transportation. We all shared kitchen and a bathroom. A little tight, but livable.
In October warm weather turned into the cold, bitter, windy and very unpleasant. No wonder most of the apartments were empty. All Italians went back to the City. We lived on the top floor and one night the wind blew out large glass of the sliding door. We had nothing to repair it with. I hung blankets to shield from the wind and rain, but it was not very helpful. We all slept fully dressed, and it was still very cold. It took several weeks until the landlord sent  a repair man to fix the broken window. In a meantime, I found out that I was pregnant. We were very happy, but not knowing where we are going to be in a week, a month, a year added stress and anxiety, constant worry and nervous tension to our already strained lives. But the new life inside of me made me smile, made me more determined to succeed.
One Sunday morning, one of our neighbors invited us to come to the Vatican. Felix stayed home with Masha and I went with the group. Vatican is a magical place. I read in our guide book that Vatican City is home to some of the most famous art in the world. I did know what to expect. When we arrived to the St. Peter's Square, there were thousands of people standing and looking up. They explained to me that the Pope is going to appear and wave to the crowd from the window on the top floor. Well, I did not see the Pope, because I fainted... Maybe it was too hot, or too many people, or too much excitement, or maybe the fact that I was pregnant, or most likely all of the above. When I came to, I was carried on the stretchers by two funny looking men. They were Swiss  Guards in their traditional uniforms. I got so scared, frightened and panicky. They tried to comfort me, but I just wanted to get away and I did... That was my first encounter with the Vatican City. Just want to ensure that my next visit (years later) was much happier and very exciting.
St. Peter's Square ~ Vatican City


As I mentioned before, every day we were meeting so many different people with their own special stories, but one thing united us all: we all had to flee the country where we were born, face the unknown, and start our lives anew. We also shared new information from the books that were forbidden in the Soviet Union. One of the authors was  Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His novels tell about horrifying experiences in prison and war: "One Day of the Life of Ivan Denisovich", "The First Circle", "Cancer Ward". They describe the prison scenes, hospitals, atrocities by Soviet Government, corruption and dishonesty. The most dramatizing book for me was "The Gulag Archipelag" about the  the prison camps. Horror! Death! Bereavement!
Reading those books just confirmed that we made the right decision.