Where are Your Papers?

I often wonder at what point my grandfather realized he made a huge mistake in uprooting his family and moving to the Soviet Union.  My father had revealed a conversation he had with him around 1939, in which my grandfather admitted that they should have stayed in New Jersey. How long had he kept that realization a secret from his children?

Was it as early as 1932, when the Soviet government reinstituted propiska, which was a permit establishing a person’s residency in a particular location? Propiska was in the form of a stamp on one’s passport or identification papers, according to University of South Carolina professor, Elena Osokina. It was required for individuals who had attained the age of sixteen and needed to be renewed every five years. No one was permitted to change their residence without permission, and failure to register could result in fines or even imprisonment. Propiska was required to marry or to work. A police officer could stop anyone on the street at any time and demand to see their identification papers to insure that the individual was not outside their area of residency. http://www.nelegal.net/articles/propiska.htm )  Failure to either produce these papers, or being in a location different from one’s propiska, could have dire consequences.  It was described to me as a something akin to an internal passport.

The mandate for propiska was reinstated as a means of controlling population movement into cities, which were becoming overcrowded as people left the rural areas for the industrial towns looking for employment.  The government wanted to know the whereabouts and control the movements of everyone living there. Adults were obligated to have permits registered with their local police and could not move without permission from the authorities.

When I began reading about propiska, it was at a time when many states in this country were trying to pass laws requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone being in this country illegally.  These requirements controlling  population movement by the mandates for propiska directly affected my father’s sister when she disappeared in 1942-but more on that later.

I don’t  have an answer to immigration control in this country, I just know that when I read about propiska,  it reminded me of some of the conversations happening here.


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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