If Only We Stayed

December 11 was a significant day in my father’s family history. On that day eighty-five years ago, my grandparents and five of their six children set sail out of New York Harbor. Their daughter Anna had already gone in March of that year with my grandfather’s brother Mark.


They were beginning a new chapter in their lives, and I imagine that they left with hope in their hearts that the move would change their lives for the better. Even the newspapers in America hailed the glories awaiting them in Russia. An article in the NY Times, quoting Russian President Molotoff, must have encouraged my grandparents that the plan to relocate to the Soviet Union was the right thing to do:

 At a time when production in other countries is falling steadily we aim to increase production in the USSR to three times what it was before the war. Socialism is developing and progressing while capitalism is rolling down.

So as they glided out of the harbor, they passed the Statue of Liberty—her arms held high as if saying goodbye.

Statue of Liberty

Little did they know that in less than nine years, one of the children would be dead, another back in the states serving in the army, a third missing, and the remaining ones refugees in flight from Hitler’s army.

Boarding Train

Boarding Train Source: Rebecca Manley:To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival of the Soviet Union at War

 Each day they continued advancing, staying wherever they could find a place to hide so they would not be in danger. It was difficult to sleep with the roars of the military aircraft rumbling overhead throughout the night.

…They knew they could not remain at any location for long, fearing they would be discovered and killed by Hitler’s troops.

 As they eventually saw they lives crumbling, how often did they look back on that move and think, “If only we stayed?”

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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