Carefree World Meets a Heavy Heart

While cleaning my desk, I found my mother’s autograph book dating back to 1940 when she was eleven years old. Each carefully-worded entry was filled with the sweetness, innocence, and old-fashioned corniness of the day. Life was peaceful in Boonton, New Jersey at that time, which was such a stark contrast to events in other parts of the world.

In Great Britain, rationing had already begun, and five months before my mother’s future sister-in-law was the first to sign that scarlet autograph book, Hitler had invaded Poland; England and France declared war on Germany two days later.

Aunt Tess


Meanwhile, my father’s family had been exiled from Leningrad to the nearby city of Novgorod after refusing to become Soviet citizens. He and his siblings had begun the difficult process of applying for their passports and feverishly saving money to pay for their travel expenses home. Dad was employed as an electrician, his brother Pete as a machinist, and his older brother Tony was working as a tour guide. His sister Anna was employed as an English teacher and Helen was a telephone operator.

On August 12, as German bombers first attacked the Royal Airforce in Great Britain, Dad was waiting to hear from the American Embassy in Moscow regarding the issuance of his American passport. In Boonton, school was recessed for the summer and Mom was continuing to fill her autograph book.

Juliet Blue

In November, my father’s sister, Anna, received a letter from the embassy informing her that they were waiting for money from the family to pay for their transportation home. At that time, they had considered traveling through Finland. Two weeks after that letter was written, Finland was attacked by the Soviets. Clearly, this route home was no longer feasible.

Mom was in 7th grade now, continuing to fill up her book with words of wisdom, some written by her.

Signed by Mom

Six months later, my father is homeward bound aboard a Japanese ship headed toward Honolulu. In Boonton, another school year was coming to a close, and Mom was still finding friends to write in her book.

Your Pal Mimi

The note written by one of her teachers was needed more by Dad than by Mom.


Five days later, the Kamakura Maru docked in Japan, and Dad woke up to the news that Germany had just invaded the Soviet Union. He probably feared for his family’s safety, yet he was powerless to assist them.

This little red book portrays the enormous contrast between the lives of my parents. Mom’s biggest problems centered around homework and whether she could get that cute boy in her class to notice her. The man that she would marry ten years later had concerns aimed at the survival of himself and his family. It is mind-boggling to me that somehow, their two wildly distinctive paths ended up converging at a little church in Boonton, New Jersey. They had nothing in common. What did they ever talk about?


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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