I thought I knew Dad. After all, he had been my father for fifty-three years. When I think of Dad, I recall a man who loved his family and his job.
As much as I thought I knew him, it wasn’t until after he died that I realized how much more there was to his story. He was thirty-six when the first of his five children was born, so he lived a long time before becoming a father. While he told us stories about his life BC (Before Children), I really didn’t believe it all, nor did I take the time to sit down with him and hear all the details. I guess I was too busy studying, hanging out with my friends, and later raising my own family.
My grandparents were Russian immigrants who came to America in 1913 seeking a better life- like so many others of their time. Their lives were so much better in their small, New Jersey home. My grandfather found a job, they owned a home, and had six children. They couldn’t be happier. Then the Great Depression came, casting a dark shadow on all their hopes and dreams. After seeing advertisements and news articles promising an abundance of jobs, free education, and great medical care in the Soviet Union, they made the decision to sell them home, pack up their bags, and move their family to the USSR until the economy in the United States improved.
Three years after leaving New Jersey, Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror began. Millions of Soviet citizens and Americans, who had been duped into moving there, died as a result of policies instituted by Stalin.
Over the years, my family heard snipets of Dad’s life there, but few details. What I do recall was that while other kids’ fathers were hanging out on the baseball diamond, fishing in the local pond, or working at the neighborhood drugstore, my dad was hanging out with Russian assassins and trying to warn someone in the United States Intelligence Community about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. My dad’s stories couldn’t possibly be true, could they?
I could no longer ask him, but I made it my mission to learn what horrors his family had suffered and the role he played in bringing his family home. What I found, where I found some of the answers, and who I met on my journey of discovery were quite surprising.