Running From the War

August 1941, Dad is now safe in Rockaway, New Jersey, staying at the home of his godmother and her family.  He was unaware that his family had left Novgorod with barely any time to spare.  The day before the city fell to the Germans, the diary entry said that the family left Novgorod on foot.

Several letters from the National Archives provided further details.  On the morning of August 14, they left Novgorod headed away from the hostilities with their evacuation papers packed carefully away. The city fell to the Germans the next day.

Uncle Pete, his wife, Nona (Dad did not know his brother had a wife), Aunt Nancy’s husband, Waldemar and his sister, Vera, left Novgorod via the Volkhov River. They were responsible for taking most of the bulky items which could not be easily transported by train or on foot. This may have included household items such as linens, dishes and pots and pans. Dad’s parents and sisters intended to walk until they could reach a train station. They piled a wagon to nearly overflowing with blankets, pillows, and nonperishable food, and carried the remainder of their belongings either in suitcases or strapped to their backs, believing that the family would be reunited within a few days.

The first night, my grandparents, twin aunts, and Aunt Anna slept in a barn in a nearby village, eating raw potatoes and cucumbers stolen from a nearby garden.

Diary August 15, 1940

With the constant sounds of aircraft thundering overhead and bombs exploding nearby, they were fearful that their lives would come to an end if they ventured outside.  My grandparents and three aunts remained hidden there for over two weeks until they felt it was safe to move again.

Meanwhile, back in Boonton, New Jersey- only 10 miles from where Dad was living- my other grandfather (Papa) had somehow survived the Great Depression. He managed to get small jobs here and there laying linoleum. He had beautiful handwriting, so he made signs for various people and companies. The jobs were few and far between, so those were very lean, hard times.

That grandpa finally secured employment working for the Works Project Administration (WPA), which was a federal project for the unemployed. He helped build a wall in his town on the upper part of Main Street. Papa was paid fourteen dollars per week. My Boonton grandma somehow managed to feed their six children on the meager allowance from that job. By the time my father had arrived in Rockaway, Papa had secured a job at Curtiss Wright Corporation assembling parts in their aircraft manufacturing facility.

Two grandpas; two different paths.  By the fall of 1941, my twenty-two year old father was worried and wondering about his family on the other side of the world, while my then twelve year old mother was living a much more carefree life. It would be years before their worlds would intersect.

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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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9 Responses to Running From the War

  1. Dick Diemar says:

    Cool!! Tip: Do not overuse “they” in starting sentences (paragraph 3). It’s ok, but I noticed it immediately .

    Amazing you could dig up all this info.

  2. kjw616 says:

    Thanks Dick. I try to watch the pronouns, because I know it can be confusing. Sometimes a few slip in anyway. This is why it is good to have an educator reading my blog. I made a few changes.. I hope it’s better.

  3. NikiMarie says:

    I love the contrast you put in between your mother’s and father’s lives. It’s so crazy to think that two people whose lives, up to a point, were so different but eventually intertwine. 🙂

  4. kjw616 says:

    Thanks. I was wondering about the reaction to adding that, but I do find it interesting that they got together. When you watch movies, particular romantic films, never say never.

  5. Pingback: Stranded by the Rain | Do Svidanya Dad

  6. Natascha says:

    I have a spelling question – the recurrent subject of names:
    You write that your aunts husband was named Waldemar. Was he Russian?
    Was his name spelled like that in Russia, or did he change that when he met your aunt?

    I am asking because both my father and my great grandfather are named Wladimir, but there are some confusion.
    My father spells his name Waldimir, although I see Russians do not use ‘w’, but ‘v’.
    I have been so lucky as to find EWZ records, and there I see they are both listed as Waldemar.

    The trouble is that we really don’t know if my great grandfather was given the name Waldemar or Wladimir by birth, because he was of Austrian origin born in Bessarabia, and so far I have had no luck in finding anything on him, at all.

    I am just wondering if Waldemar and Wladimir were both accepted variations in USSR, or if Waldemar was solely used in the Western world?

    I do not expect you to be able to make me any wiser on this subject, but I thought I’d try and ask you anyhow….

  7. kjw616 says:

    Waldemar was born in the US- in the state of Utah. His father’s naturalization papers say he (Dmitrius Bulvahn) was born in “Riga, Russia.” I am looking at his records now and see Waldemar’s name also spelled as Vlademyr during the 1920 census.

    I don’t know when the family returned to Russia. I haven’t been able to find them here after 1920 anywhere in the US records. I found some records in the consular records at the National Archives, in Washington, DC, but I could only find Waldemar and his sister, Vera listed (spelled with the “W”). I don’t know what happened to his father, but his mother died in the US in 1975, so she either came back here or never went.

    I have been told that “W” is not used in Russian. I have seen my own name spelled with both a “V” and a “W”. I saw it spelled in 1918 with a “V”, and then it changed to a “W” in 1920. I am guessing that Waldemar was originally Vlademyr.

    Last week I decided that my Wednesday post will be genealogy tips I have found. I think that the “V” vs. “W” in Russian names will be one topic.

  8. Natascha says:

    Hm, interesting…. I made a quick google search and it seems the Vlademyr variant is very rare. Then one can wonder what is the story behind that…
    I shall look forward to reading your post on the V/W – that should be interesting

  9. Pingback: Trying Every Angle | Do Svidanya Dad

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