As I discussed in a previous post, “The Marriage between History and Genealogy”, our ancestors stories may become enhanced and understood by studying the history of the era in which they lived. I found this particularly helpful in learning about Dad and his family. Throughout his life, Dad was always bumping into history.
The despair his parents felt during the Great Depression and the lure of a better life by Joseph Stalin’s false promises brought the family to the Soviet Union in 1931. The paranoia which led to the reign of terror under Stalin was set in motion by the murder of the leader of the Leningrad Party, Sergei Kirov. Dad claimed to have been a witness, as a fifteen year old boy, to a meeting attended by the assassin, Leonid Nikolayev. That story was something I definitely needed to research!
His first steps on United States soil after having been away for ten years was on June 22, 1941, the day German forces invaded the Soviet Union. He was finally on his way home. The rest of his family was still located in the USSR. I knew who ultimately returned, but it was important for me to learn what happened to all of them- both my family that came back and those that perished there.
Dad’s story never wavered about speaking to a US Intelligence officer that June day, who approached him when he left the ship in Honolulu. As long as I can remember, he insisted that he was told by a Japanese police officer that he needed to leave Japan soon, because “Japan was going to ‘boom boom’ the United States.” Apparently, the police officer did not speak English well, but he was able to get that message across to Dad. Was it actually possible that Dad knew about the Pearl Harbor attack in June 1941?
In 1956, Dad was visited by the FBI after he refused to speak at the local Lions Club meeting about his experiences living in the Soviet Union. That was the time when Americans lived in fear of Communists- precipitated by Joseph McCarthy’s own reign of terror and the explosion of the first atomic bomb by the Soviets. Here history was literally knocking at his door.
I have tried, and thus far been unsuccessful, in obtaining his FBI file. I recently sat next to an FBI agent on an airplane who encouraged me to be persistent, stating that “if the FBI came to your house, and your father had family living in the Soviet Union at that time, then an FBI file does exist.”
It is not surprising that my parents’ basement is filled with newspapers depicting historical events such as the assassination of both Kennedy’s, the first walk on the moon, and the resignation of Nixon. It is also not surprising that Dad died on the anniversary of a date of historical significance- a date when the world changed and a large part of this country also died. Dad died on September 11, 2008. Dad was the first person who called and told me to turn on the television that bright sunny day twelve years ago. I didn’t believe what he was telling me, but I nevertheless followed his instructions and was horrified that he was correct.
So every year on this date, I reflect back on Dad’s difficult life, recall how often he bumped into history, and then sadly remember all those others who lost their lives on September 11.