Communal Living- What a Surprise!

The home Dad’s family moved into in Leningrad must have been a shock to the family.   It was nothing like their house in Rockaway, which was a palace in comparison.  In their New Jersey home, they had several bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a yard.  Their Leningrad residence was a small apartment called a kommunalka, which consisted of several rooms connected by a single long, dark corridor.

They shared the kitchen and bathroom with another family. Although I don’t know the specifics of Dad’s kommunalka other than the fact that they did share those rooms with another family, my research told me that it was common practice for each family to share one room, which acted as their living room and bedroom.

Privacy didn’t exist in this fragmented living arrangement. You never knew who would come waltzing into the kitchen, whether they would be drunk or sober, whispering or shouting, or if they would be dressed or in their underwear.

Cooking was an incidental activity in these kitchens. This room became the place where they also did their laundry, brushed their teeth, and washed their hands because there was no sink in the bathroom.

Fighting was a regular event.  The families divided the chores, devised bathroom and laundry schedules, and attempted to allocate the electric and water bills among the two families according to their size. Everything was divided as equally as possible, but inevitably, disagreements occurred.

Dad’s family was bigger than the other family in the apartment, so they did a larger share of the work. The logic was that the smaller family should not have to perform more of the cleaning than the larger family. After all, wouldn’t eight people make more of a mess than four or five people?

It was impossible to have secrets there.  The walls were usually paper-thin, so it would have been easy to hear the conversations occurring in the other rooms. The other family in their apartment likely knew every detail of their lives- every visitor to their room, every purchase made, every telephone conversation conducted in the shared hallway, and the specifics of every squabble.

Dad’s family liked to argue. It probably stemmed from living in the kommunalka. If someone broke an item in a common room, fighting likely would have erupted over who was responsible and therefore who was accountable for the repairs or replacement of the broken article.  If one family member misplaced something, accusations of theft would have arisen towards the other family members.  Loud noise or music fueled further battles.

According to my research, particularly what I learned from the website,  these were likely their new living conditions.  As Dorothy told Toto, they were not in Kansas anymore!

Baba Anna Marty - Copy


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, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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4 Responses to Communal Living- What a Surprise!

  1. chmjr2 says:

    Look over your blog today. You have some great stuff. I will be watching for more postings.

    • kjw616 says:

      Thanks for your interest. It has been very interesting to learn what life was like for my father’s family, particularly since the children were US citizens, who had experienced life here before moving to the USSR. What happened to them during their years there was incredible and also very upsetting.

  2. archecotech says:

    Great post, my wife has told me about these communal apartment buildings. She said that she even lived in one for a very short time. Now I understand why. Thank you. Hope you don’t mind but it gave a new idea for a post on my site. I will link to yours also.

  3. kjw616 says:

    I am curious about your wife’s memories. How many lived in her apartment? Based upon my research, it seemed like some apartments had many more sharing a single kitchen and bathroom than my father’s apartment. From what I gathered from his stories, they only shared with one family and I don’t believe it was a large one. I am wondering what was more common.

    Glad you liked my post.and that it provided you with some inspiration, and I don’t mind at all if you share mine. Your photos have been quite enjoyable to me.

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