When I learned that Dad’s family spent five days touring the sites of London before embarking on the next leg of the journey to the Soviet Union, I was a surprised, because I didn’t envision the trip as being anything more than basic transportation. This first page of the trip described the rough seas which left several of them seasick, but I am sure that Dad and his siblings were excited to see the forts, submarines, and seaplanes in Cherbourg.
I learned from reading this diary the importance of always giving any document a second, third or fourth look. This page contained much more than just the descriptions of the trip across the Atlantic. Buried in tiny handwriting before the December 12th entry were the words, “April 22, 1942 Kuibyshev militia sent to hotel with threats to arrest us if we don’t leave the hotel.”
Wow! There was obviously some interesting twist to their lives. Note to self: Where is Kuibyshev, and why were they there? The war is going on in 1942. Check the history. But first, let’s see what happened in London.
They arrived at the Kingsway Hotel in London the evening of December 18. Despite not arriving until 8:00, my seventeen year old twin aunts were permitted to attend a dance after the evening meal.
The following day, the girls “got acquainted with an English waiter and went walking around the city. Sunday the entire family toured London. Most of the buildings were quite ancient, including their hotel, which was over two hundred years old. There were no skyscrapers like they were accustomed to seeing in New York City. Dad and his two brothers probably enjoyed watching the double-decker buses maneuvering through the narrow streets of London. They had never seen any vehicles like that before. This city was like a marriage between an old man and his young bride: motor cars were by now quite commonplace, yet they still shared the turf with the soon-to-be obsolete horse-drawn carriages.
That day, they walked over Westminster Bridge, saw the House of Parliament, Soldiers Academy, Buckingham Palace, and Queen Victoria’s statue. In the evening, my aunts “took a stroll in Hyde Park with the English fellow.”
The entries of December 21-22 mentioned going to the “movie picture” shows both days with the English fellows. On December 23, they left London early in the morning for Hull, England, where they boarded the Finnish boat, the Arcturus. “The sea was rough and windy and lonesome.”
Again, reading between the lines, in very tiny handwriting, was the notation, “Chief of militia of city of Kuibyshev forced us under threats of being arrested.”
Now the diary has transported me eleven years into the future, into the city of Kuibyshev. I need to know what this means, but despite my overwhelming curiosity to uncover this mystery, I decide to continue with the diary until Dad’s family arrives in Leningrad.