Don’t Wait to Have that Chat

How I wish I had been more interested in my father’s past when he was younger. There are so many unanswered questions that are forever lost, and so many pieces to the puzzle which contradict one another.

What I know for sure is that my grandparents and four of their six children were living in the city of Novgorod in August 1941. The left quite hastily on the 14th, just before the invasion of that city by the Germans. That’s when the story gets fuzzy.

I was led to believe that part of the family left on foot, while the rest packed up their belongings and boarded a boat, intending to meet each other sometime later. Here is the proof:

A recently discovered news article, written when two of my aunts returned to the United States, supports this story. (I Underestimated the Horror ) The interview stated that they lived in the woods for three months, which is what I wrote in my book. However, today I reviewed several notes from my aunt’s diary, and one passage refuted that belief, implying that they all remained together until mid-September when my grandparents and aunts boarded a train.

They bombed Kiev and announced to us that war had begun. Peacetime has come to an end. It is time for us to part. I promise to be faithful to the end. But be careful with my feelings….The wheels of the rail cars clack as the train speeds on like an arrow. I am in the rail car. You are waving to me from the platform. A year will go by. I will meet you again. You will smile in your heart, and we will be together and will be happy then.

 These sound like words of  farewell spoken by my aunt to her new husband, who was part of the group that left by boat. How sad it must have been to leave one another, not knowing if and when they would be reunited again.

But the dates don’t match. Did they board a train and then disembark in order to hide in the woods, perhaps fearing for their safety as enemy aircraft flew overhead? Did they feel more vulnerable sitting on a train rather than hidden in an old barn?

This I will never know. That is why I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of having conversations with one’s living relatives. Ask questions and listen to their stories. If only I did.


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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2 Responses to Don’t Wait to Have that Chat

  1. Diane Taylor says:

    How well I understand your wishing to have been more interested in your father’s past when you were younger. But that’s youth, engaged more with the present than the past. Now, you have mystery – as do I about my Irish past. I did do a short oral history with my dad that was part of my last blog post and if interested you can read it here
    To others, I say, talk to your old ones. Record their stories if possible.

  2. kjw616 says:

    Reading your post made me feel very anxious regarding the one recorded history we have of my father. Dad was viewing an old photo album and telling the stories pertinent to each photo. My brother originally recorded it on VHS tape, and my daughter later transferred it to DVD. I no longer have the ability to view the original format on VHS, which now makes me think that I should transcribe that entire interview. What happens if/when this format also becomes obsolete? If I don’t write it down, I will have nothing. Your post, Diane, may have saved this story. Thank you.

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