Daddy Went to Spy School!

Every few months I google my name to see if anything new has appeared—my maiden name, not my current name. I try the many variations I have discovered, and this week, I got a new hit. On the second page of my Google search a website appeared: V-Z Surnames–The Ritchie Boys.

Apparently during World War II there was a camp in northern Maryland used to train Intelligence personnel, and my dad’s name was on the roster. Dad was trained as a spy? That was news to me because I always thought that my father was part of a medical unit. I even have the photographs of Dad with a plethora of nurses appearing to be having a jolly good time.

Then I recalled a mysterious line in his discharge papers which said, “8 weeks aerial photo interp” alongside “8 weeks surgical.” I sent a letter of inquiry to someone affiliated with the webpage.

I immediately heard back from the son of the primary researcher, who stated that “I would say he had foreign language knowledge that they wanted to use. Most of them were translators, interrogators, spies, etc…”

Follow-up emails confirmed what I already knew since I had a very unique name: Dad was a Ritchie Boy. What surprised me, and I disagree based upon a conversation that my brother had with my father many years ago, was that Dad was an infantry cadet in the Russian Army in 1938. That would have been after he graduated from high school in June of that year. My father had said that he refused to enter the Soviet Army because he was an American citizen, so I am curious why that would be in his file.

The Ritchie Boys Researcher, Daniel Gross, told me that in his opinion, Dad’s medical skills may have been of greater value than his Russian language skills or his ability to interpret aerial photographs.

Many of the Ritchie Boys were German Jews, whose German-language skills were particularly useful as interrogators. Mr. Gross stated that “In cases where a Ritchie Boy is assigned to a team and/or attached to a unit (Division, Army, etc), I can usually find some additional information on the soldier but in the case of your father, I wasn’t able to get additional service information from these records.”

So there is another mystery about Dad that will never get resolved. Since he returned to work on a medical ship, I asked if he would still be considered a Ritchie Boy. Here’s what Mr. Gross said, “One of the (many) unresolved points is the definition of a Ritchie Boy (whether it should be narrow, e.g. only graduates of the basic 8-week course or broader to include non-graduates of the 8-week course, plus graduates of shorter courses, etc).

In any case, it has been verified that my father went to Intelligence School, and I have a slip of paper to prove it.

To learn more about these men, go to “The Ritchie Boys.”






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What Would Dad Think About Me?

As I get older, I have found myself analyzing much of my past and present behavior. Maybe I am checking off the boxes before I cross through the pearly gates. Was I good mother, wife, friend, daughter? Knowing now so much about my father’s childhood and young adulthood as well as reflecting upon him as my father factors into my questions regarding what he thought about the daughter I was and what he would think about the daughter I have now become.

I never thought much about the lack of political discussions at home until I saw the video my brother made of Dad nearly a quarter of a century ago, in which he discussed the pictures in an old album. He mentioned how his own dad told him to never join any political organizations, citing his belief that his lack of such affiliations may have saved him from death at the hands of Stalin’s secret police when they lived there during the Thirties and the Forties.

Until the election of our current president, I never was involved in politics at any level, but now I have become much more politically active. I have joined some local groups, registered people to vote, knocked on doors during the 2018 election, attended several protest rallies, visited the local office of my congressman for eleven weeks during the summer of 2018, and sat in on subcommittee and committee meetings with my local legislatures in the hopes of changing some of our gun laws. I want to get involved in convincing my state legislatures of the need and merits of being the final state to finally ratify the ERA.

What would Dad think?

Living in an early primary state provides me with the opportunity to hear as many presidential candidates speak as my little heart desires. I have heard four so far: two men and two women—one who has since decided not to run and one who is still in the process of deciding.

One meet and greet was at a large venue, two were in the home of a lovely couple who have been very involved in politics for years, and the last was at a small-ish venue in my southern capital city. The conversation at the last event touched upon whether the fire marshalls would shut the event down because of the size of the audience as well as how to react if the balcony where we stood collapsed under the weight of all the eager decision makers.

What would Dad think?

My mother tells me that she would never participate in any of these political activities, but she believed my father would be proud. Is Mom correct?

I wonder what would Dad think?


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I Just Learned About the Credits

Credits are a great thing, and when you did not even know you had one, the surprise of discovery enhances the credit. Such is what happened today when I attempted to purchase a book for my Kindle. The price of the book I was considering purchasing was $14.99, but then I saw a curious peach-colored box with the note “$5.25 after credits.” I immediately contacted the family bibliophile, who told me to check my email or messages for an explanation.

I found the answer to the mystery in my Amazon account message center, which took a few minutes to locate. For those of you as clueless and uninformed as me, the message center is located by navigating to “Your Accounts” and then locating “Email alerts, messages, and ads.”

Lo and behold, I found a message informing me of a $9.74 credit I had received after a recent purchase of the fabulous book, “Educated: A Memoir,” which I just completed reading for my book club. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Amazon classifies certain nonfiction books as Great on Kindle books,” which entitles the purchaser to a 75% credit on their next Great on Kindle book.

I had purchased “Educated” using a $5.00 credit I received for doing a NY Times survey, so this was a huge win-win. I then went to the purchase page of my own book, “Trapped in Russia: An American Family’s Struggle to Survive” and was surprised to learn that Amazon has determined that my book is a Great on Kindle book.

Amazon also told me that sales of similar books perform better at a higher price, so as an experiment, I am increasing the price from $2.99 to $4.99. Knowing that anyone who purchases my book will receive a 75% credit on their next Great on Kindle book makes the price to anyone who plans on reading another book effectively $1.25.

So I will see what happens, and for now, thank you Amazon for considering my book a Great on Kindle book. Even if all nonfiction books are given this designation, it has a nice ring to me!

Here’s a thought: Did I lose many other credits by purchasing a fiction book after I potentially purchased a qualifying Great on Kindle book? Well, there is no sense crying over spilled credits!

Continue reading

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People Like Free Stuff

In honor of New Year’s Day, I decided to give away my new-and-improved book for a two-day period. I had done something similar twice before, although I had never done so for free. There was a huge difference in the outcome, so the question is, was it because people will take anything for free (but not for 99 cents), or was the title and cover more appealing?

My husband, who suggested eliminating the confusing “Do Svidanya” from the name and changing “USSR” to “Russia” in order to take advantage of the constant Russia news, was walking around the house with a big I-told-you-so smirk on his face. I pointed out that, while he may be correct, he was silent when I chose the original name.

During my 99 cent sale, I sold a whopping eight books, yet when I offered the book for free, 296 copies were downloaded. So was it the revamped title and cover or do people just like to grab free stuff?

And will they or will they not read it?

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Do Svidanya Dad 2.0

After careful consideration, along with input from my book club and Facebook friends, I changed my book title and cover. The new cover is in the form of a collage, and includes the photo from the original book along with a picture of Lenin, a letter from my father, and my aunt’s diary, which was so helpful in writing this book.

Based upon a suggestion of a friend, I included some red on the cover because of the obvious association of that color with Russia, such as Red Square and its red flag with the yellow hammer and sickle.

I took advantage of the change to expand one chapter based upon new information I found after the original publication. For anyone who has already read the book, I will be happy to send you the amended chapter.

My hope is that I will not lose the reviews from the original book. So here it is—my new and improved book: same story; different package.

Buy Here:


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Having Second Thoughts

I am looking for input from readers of my book regarding its title because it has been suggested (by my husband) that my lackluster sales may be because few people “get it.” After all, although Russia, Russia, Russia is all we seem to have been hearing about this past year or so, not many Americans may be as familiar with the meaning of do svidanya as they are of au revoir or adios. At book fairs, few people stop by my table. Is it because the title does not grab them because it is  confusing or could it be that the cover is not attractive enough?

The alternative explanation is that people know precisely what do svidanya means and are simply not interested in reading about anything Russia-related during their leisure time. So to those who have already read my book or this blog, what are your thoughts? Would changing the title to Trapped in the USSR would attract more prospective readers?

Since the book was about my father, and so many chapters began “Dear Dad,” I was drawn to “Do Svidanya Dad.” When I found several translations claiming it meant not just “goodbye” but rather “until we meet again,” I felt confident that I had found my title.

Not only is it my hope that Dad and I will meet again, I thought it was an appropriate farewell to his parents when he set out on his journey back to New Jersey. Now I am having second thoughts.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about my struggles in finding a title, so as I have been writing today’s posting, I looked to my thoughts back then. Among those that I rejected were:

  • They Never Gave Up
  • They Never Stopped Trying
  • So Long New Jersey, Do Svidanya My Family
  • So Long, Do Svidanya
  • If Only They Had the Money
  • My Hero, My Dad
  • Deceived, Abandoned but Not Forgotten

I found instructions on how to change the title without losing my reviews as well as how to inform potential readers that it is the same book in order to avoid confusion.

How about some input, please?



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Thankful for the First Amendment

I did two DNA tests—the first several years ago via and the second more recently through 23andMe. It was the second test that proved more exciting since it resulted in a connection to a cousin in Russia with the same last name—albeit one of the other spellings I have unearthed.

Cousin Yury and I have corresponded several times. He told me that the area of Russia where he is from is the home of many members of my family and is just 2.5 kilometers from where my grandfather was born.

He provided me with links to a site, “Victims of Political Terror in the USSR,” which has information on several relatives, the first being my great Uncle Ivan. In order to understand what was written on the site, I contacted an old friend from my schooldays, who is now a Russian history professor.

His arrest record states that Ivan was an illiterate peasant who worked on a collective farm (Kolkhoz).  He was arrested on December 30, 1932.  Some secret informant overhead him making politically incorrect statements (e.g., criticizing the Soviet state or administration in the collective farm).  He was sentenced to three years of exile in the “Northern Krai,” which was a large territorial administrative district in far northwestern Russia around Archangel.  He was (luckily) released in 1937. 

The arrest occurred during the early stage of the massive famine of 1932-33, which claimed some 7-8 million lives in the USSR.  The famine resulted from the failures of collectivization, especially from the fact that far too much food was being taken from the farms by the Soviet state.  My guess is that someone overheard Ivan criticizing collectivization. 

The biggest construction project taking place in the “Northern Krai” in 1932 was construction of the Baltic-White Sea Canal.  Tens of thousands worked on the project, and an estimated 25,000 died in the process.  Once completed in 1933, however, the canal proved to be too shallow for large ships to go between the White Sea and Baltic Sea.  It amounted to a huge waste of lives and resources.  Although Ivan was sentenced only to exile and not hard labor, he may have ended up working on the canal.  He was subsequently “rehabilitated” (exonerated) in 1989.

I wonder if my grandfather knew what happened to his brother Ivan. He had been arrested one year before my grandfather moved the family from New Jersey to the USSR and was not released until four years after their arrival.

My father’s family was certainly a lot more complex than my mother’s, who led a much more simple life in New Jersey, free from arrests and exile.

Thankfully, we still live in a nation where we do not get arrested for making politically incorrect statements or speaking out against our government. I hope to never live to see that day.

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