After the assassination of Sergei Kirov, life throughout the Soviet Union changed. Stalin used that act as an excuse to rid the Communist Party of anyone perceived to be a threat to his rule. The punishment was imprisonment or death. What began as accusations within the elite of the party quickly spread to ordinary citizens. My grandparents realized that leaving America had been a huge error.  They had never become American citizens, and even for those who were, the Soviet government made it impossible to leave. They did this by confiscating their passports or tricking them into becoming Soviet citizens by coercing them to sign documents renouncing their citizenship. Many Americans were not fluent in Russian, so they were often unaware of what they were signing.

The forty million dollar deal that Henry Ford signed with Joseph Stalin in 1929 to establish an automobile plant in the Soviet Union, complete with American workers and technical ability, was not a secret to anyone.  Once the stock market crashed and  job losses began to spiral upward,  unemployed Americans were eager to work in Ford’s Soviet factories.

 As time passed, those invited American autoworkers began to disappear into the night, never to be seen again.  Anyone speaking favorably about life in America was viewed as a threat, since those compliments about life back home implied discontent with their lives in the Soviet Union.

The United States government had established an embassy in the Soviet Union two years after Dad’s family arrived, but those embassy officials did little to help their fellow citizens once they realized it had been a mistake in leaving the United States and now wanted to return.  The attitude of some diplomats was that since those families chose to abandon America, why should they be helped?  The fact that they left because of poor economic conditions was irrelevant.

 Those who reached out to the American Embassy were often left helpless.  According to the Tim Tzouliadis book, many of the ambassadors enjoyed the lives they were leading in their new assignments.  Stalin instructed them to be royally treated, and they knew their lives were better in the Soviet Union than back in the United States at that point in time. Some lived in lavish homes and were guests at elaborate state dinners, so they chose to ignore the pleas of their fellow Americans asking for assistance to return home.  They were also wise enough to know that it was becoming increasing futile to do so. They chose to turn a blind eye to the plight of their fellow citizens who were being killed, tortured, starved, or sent to the frozen land of Siberia, never to be seen again.  Many of those embassy officials feared that if they revealed the truth, they too would suffer a similar fate.

That was the environment my father’s family found themselves in, but there was little they could do. Their passports had been confiscated, and I am guessing that they did not have the funds for the return trip to New Jersey.  The best chance of survival was to say little and continue to stay under the radar.

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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