It Wasn’t All Bad in Leningrad

Going to school in Leningrad was not as bad as Dad and his siblings had anticipated. There were many other American families like his who had immigrated to the Soviet Union, so they all made friends easily.   They were not happy to have to attend school for six days each week, and the vacations were shorter than in the United States. They had a summer vacation, but they had no holidays during the year as they had in Rockaway.

Music was a required course for everyone- not playing musical instruments- but learning about the classic artists. On Sundays, they were taken to the opera or ballet as part of the curriculum, which was a new and fun experience for all of them.  That was certainly an activity never experienced by any of them in New Jersey, and my father was surprised how much he enjoyed be exposed to the arts.

All of his siblings were surprised at how well they were doing in school.  They studied the Russian writers: Chekov, Pushkin, and Tolstoy, but since it was an American school, they also read the literature of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

My twin aunts, Helen and Nancy, who had quit school after eighth grade to work, were able to return to school, enrolling in the Anglo-American School Number 7 in Leningrad.  They did particularly well in geography and history and found that they enjoyed most of their classes.

Many of Dad’s classmates who came to the Soviet Union spoke little or no Russian before coming there. Since his mother did not speak English at all, Russian was the language which was always spoken at home.  Although his grades were much better in math and science back in New Jersey, he found that he was ahead of his classmates, even in Russian grammar, at his new school.  He hoped to be a doctor one day, and with the promises of a free college education in the Soviet Union, he knew that was no longer a pipe-dream as it would have been had they remained in New Jersey.



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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