They Did What They Had to Do

Being a parent is a job of overwhelming responsibility, which hits you like a ton of bricks the first time you hold that tiny helpless life in your arms and realize that he or she is totally dependent on you. It is a frightening and exciting moment. You do the best you can to protect that child, but inevitably, you make many mistakes.

I have often wondered when was the moment my grandparents realized that their decision to relocate the family to the Soviet Union was a horrible move. Was it when they first set foot into that tiny apartment they shared with another family, which was apparently quite normal in Russia at the time? Or was it when my father allegedly found himself an unknowing witness to the planning of an assassination at the tender age of fifteen?

Dad always spoke fondly of his school days in Leningrad, telling us about the opportunities he had to attend ballet and opera with his classmates. He worked very hard to be accepted into medical school, a dream which would have been impossible if the family had remained in New Jersey.

Sometime after his first year, my father was issued an ultimatum to become a Soviet citizens or leave school. At that moment, he sought the advice of my grandfather, who told him he needed to make the decision himself. It was at that time when my grandfather admitted that he had erred in leaving America.

I never heard my father blame him for what happened to the family. Yet my grandparents must have felt so sad and guilty as they bid their farewells to their twenty-two-year old son as he left their home and headed back to New Jersey alone because, for some reason, only he was issued a passport.

I know how nervous I felt when my daughter left our home in South Carolina and headed to New Jersey. At that time, she had a cell phone to provide us with updates of her trip and enough money and a credit card for any expenses she might have encountered. When my dad left his family, they did not know when, or if, they would ever see him again. He had little money for the trip, and no means of providing them with updates of his travel. It was a different time, but the emotions between a parent and child are similar.

They could never have foreseen the Stalin Purges or The Second World War. For them, they made a decision which made sense to them at the time. My grandparents believed they were doing what they had to do for the sake of their six children. When they boarded that ship in New York in 1931, they never dreamed that not all of them would return. They never saw the tragedy awaiting them.



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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