A Book with Some Answers

Before discovering the book written by Tim Tzouliadis, “The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia”, I had no idea the scope of emigration from the United States to the Soviet Union during the Great Depression.  I knew Dad’s family left, but I guess I naively thought there were not many others who made a similar decision.

What I learned from this book was that “more people were leaving the United States than were arriving….In the first eight months of 1931 alone, Amtorg-the Soviet trade agency based in New York-received more than one hundred thousand American applications for emigration to the USSR.”

So many of those migrating to the USSR did not speak the language; my grandfather had the advantage over so many of these emigrants.  I do not know what skill he or his brother, Mark, brought to the table, but they had the benefit of family living there, and they knew the danger of being outspoken in the Soviet Union.

I know Dad continued his education in an American school in Leningrad, and he had nothing but praise for the quality of his education there.  He even began attending medical school, enrolling in the Pavlov Medical Institute, until the entire family was exiled to Novgorod – 120 miles south west of Leningrad- after refusing to become Soviet citizens.

What I did not realize was the horrors experienced by so many Americans who, upon discovering that the grass was not greener in their new homes, were forbidden to return. Their passports had been confiscated, and these malcontents began to slowly disappear- many never to be heard from again.  They were treated as spies and sent to concentration camps in Siberia where they faced unspeakable hardships. Because they moved voluntarily- abandoned the United States- the embassy officials often chose to ignore their pleas for help.

As a child, Dad was probably insulated from much of this by my grandparents.  It wasn’t until he was able to leave just prior to the United States’ entry into World War II- the first of his family able to do so- that he eventually realized that the journey to the Soviet Union was a one-way trip for many of his fellow citizens.

The book detailed the experiences of many Americans who moved to the Soviet Union expecting jobs in beautiful factories, a shortened workday, clean working conditions, and higher wages. It told stories of what happened to those poor souls. These stories provided names, and as I read through the book one day, I decided to turn to the index and was surprised and excited when I found my name. (misspelled, but definitely my name)

I turned to page 195, and found the following:

In Kuibyshev, just as in Moscow, the diplomats were harried by a few surviving American exiles, often female family members who had escaped the NKVD thus far.  Anna and Anastasia Wardamsky, for example, called at the new American embassy building in February 1942, hysterical after their father had disappeared and their third sister, Helena, had fallen “sick with nerves.”

I was stunned. I read the remainder of the page regarding my family, and then set about trying to learn how and where Mr. Tzouliadis was able to obtain this information.


About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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