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.

Posted in Living in the USSR, My Book | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Da, Nyet, and Spasibo

I did a lot of research prior to my trip to Paris several years ago, and the overwhelming theme was that the French would treat you a lot better if you made an attempt to speak their language. Having spent time living in Puerto Rico, I observed that everyone there spoke both Spanish and English. I know that fluency in English—or some other second language—is common throughout the world, so knowing that the command of a second language is not the norm in the United States is embarrassing.

While Spanish is spoken as a second language more frequently than any other language in this country, I would like to suggest that now is the time for our citizens to consider learning to speak Russian—just in case we become a Russian colony or you want to boost your resume for employment in the Intelligence job market.

Thanks to my father, I already got a head start as a child. Sadly, I know just a few words and phrases, but I am certain that what I learned as a little girl places me at a distinct advantage over most Americans. I would like to share what I learned so many years ago.

  • Hello                                                    Zdrvstvuyte (zdrah-stvooy-tyeh)
  • Good Night                                        Spokoynoy nochi   (Spah-koy-nay-noh-chee)
  • Goodbye                                             Do Svidanya (Do-svi-don-ya)
  • I love you                                            Ya lyublyu tebya (Ya loo-bloo te-bya)
  • I want to eat                                       Ya khochu kushat (Ya-ha-choo-koo-shat)
  • Tea                                                       Chai
  • Milk                                                     Moloko (Mol-uh-kaw)
  • I want to go for a walk                     Ya khachu gulyat (Ya-ha-choo-gool-yat)
  • Good                                                    khorosho (hah-rah-shoh)
  • Thank you                                           Spasibo (Spa-see-bah)
  • Yes                                                        Da
  • No                                                         Nyet

So once you learn these few words and phrases, which will become useful if we become a Putin colony or you decide to seek employment in the espionage world, you know enough to survive. You can won’t be dehydrated because you can ask for milk and tea. You can ask express your desire for food (Ya khochu kushat), and then give that meal a positive review (khorosho). You can go outside for some fresh air (Ya khachu gulyat), participate in a meet and greet (Zdrvstvuyte/do Svidanya), and express your feelings to your true love (Ya lyublyu tebya) before kissing them Spokoynoy nochi.

It’s just the beginning, but with a little work, you are all set. Thanks Dad.

bit.ly/2nBj8HB

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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.

 

 

Posted in Jersey to Leningrad, My Book | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Not True. Case Closed.

I was listening to the news this week after the first round of testimonies with FBI Director Comey and NSA director Admiral Rogers. The discussion which followed revolved around the lies of our president, which were no longer presented as “alternative facts” or “untruths.” They are lies.

One reporter ran through a litany of lies, one of which was the infamous “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.”

I decided to see if any of Dad’s old New Jersey newspapers could uncover any stories regarding these alleged celebrations. I was not disappointed, finding an article published two days after the attack in the Newark Star Ledger. What happened throughout the country to many Muslim-Americans was quite shameful as evidenced by the article.

In Alexandria, Virginia, the window of an Islamic bookstore was smashed, while in San Francisco, a bag containing pig’s blood was left on the steps of thean Islamic center. Parents of Muslim children pulled their children from their classrooms because they feared violence against them. Hotlines were established to ferry out complaints, and police increased security at mosques and Muslim stores. My husband told me of a Muslim coworker who feared for the safety of himself and his family.

I continued reading these disgraceful stories and felt sick to my stomach, knowing attacks again Muslimss are happening more and more in this country today. Then I saw the famous story spouted by then candidate Trump:

             In New Jersey, one of the most persistent rumors—repeated all day on talk radio and on the Internet—was that Muslims in Paterson were celebrating the attacks in the streets of the Passaic County city.

            Angry callers besieged media outlets and local police for demands for action to the point that city officials sent out a press release categorically denying the rumor. For many, that was not enough to quell their rage.

Sadly, the violence continued, and one of the primary victims were Indian-American Sikhs, simply because their traditional turbans and beards looked similar to Osama Bin Laden. The article ended with the story of an Indian-American family who had gone to McDonald’s shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center. The husband, who himself had safely escape from one of the towers, was verbally attacked by a woman who yelled, “That’s what happens in America when they let those immigrants in.”

So there you go. The story of people “cheering on the other side of New Jersey” was proven false immediately. Sad, isn’t it?

We are always looking for a scapegoat. During World War II it was the Japanese, then the Russians during the Cold War when my father was trying to bring his mother home. Now it is the refugees fleeing from persecution and Muslims who just want to live their lives.

Yes, within any group there is always evil, but to persecute and blame them all is just not what I thought the Statue of Liberty symbolized. Again I wonder: What would Dad say?

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History Followed Me Too

I am now back in the saddle again after having received a right total hip replacement just two weeks ago today. It has been surprisingly not bad. The pain level is low, and I am slowly leaving the house for small field trips.

Since I have become quite the researcher while trying to learn my father’s story, I decided to go off topic and look into the history of this surgery just a bit. What I learned was quite surprising.

Apparently, the first surgery to replace a hip was in 1891 using implants made of ivory. While the fact that this operation was first done in the nineteenth century was unexpected to me, what I found even more surprising was the fact that the first metallic hip replacement was done here in Columbia, South Carolina—where I currently live. The procedure was performed by a doctor by the name of Austin Moore. Dr. Moore’s prosthesis was the first metal replacement, which is supposedly similar to what was done to me.

Hey, wait a second. The practice I go to was originally named “Moore Orthopedic Center.” Coincidence? Nope. Apparently, the group which sliced and diced me was founded by Dr. Moore in 1928, and while it has joined with another practice, its roots date back to the original practice. Since my work is all about history and roots, knowing this history is right up my alley.

Next time, back to Dad.

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I Underestimated the Horror

Although I planned on no further posts for a few weeks, I am too excited to wait.

I recently found an article which was posted in the Bridgewater, New Jersey Courier News on July 12, 1945—just five days after my father’s twin sisters docked in Newport News, Virginia after having lived in the Soviet Union since 1931. During all the years I have researched what happened to my father’s family after they left New Jersey, I never read this particular newspaper story.

It was shocking to learn that my pregnant aunt dug trenches for the Russian army shortly before the city of Novgorod fell to the Germans in August 1941.

Planes would come over to fire on us. One day I came home to find my mother had been looking all over the area for my body, because she had heard that all the trench diggers had been killed.

 Aunt Nancy confirmed what I read in the diary, which was that they were eating food from abandoned farms, where they hid for three months until they were able to board a train headed away from the hostilities. While I wrote that they had been approached by soldiers, I was not aware that they were German officers.

We didn’t know what to do.We couldn’t run because they had guns and grenades they would have thrown after us. They thought we might be able to tell them something about the Red Army, but they finally decided to let us go.

 Wow! That sounds terrifying. I always thought what happened to them was horrifying, but I underestimated the enormity of their wartime journey.

article-july-12-1945

Posted in My Book, World War II | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Turning to Google

Today I turned to newspapers.com, where I found two interesting articles. The first is dated July 12, 1945, and is from the Bridgewater, NJ CourierNews. Because I do not have the extended subscription to this service, I am unable to read it, so I am waiting for the assistance from someone on my ancestry.com Facebook group. I am excited to see what turns up, because the piece of the title which I am able to see is “Russian Visit.” Very intriguing!

The second article is also on newspapers.com, dated December 16, 1932, from The Montana Butte Standard. I used an alternate spelling of my name to retrieve this, which I have been able to pull up in its entirety.  (Clearly, the Montana Butte Standard is not as valuable as the Courier-News.)

butte-montana-standard-newspaper

Who the heck was Donna Burns Wardamsky? Trust me, my name is so unusual that I am positive that anyone with that name must be a relative. My only family in the United States were descendants of my father, so now I need to turn to my genealogy skills and figure out who was the mysterious uncle or cousin she married and what happened to him.

I will be taking some time off during the next few weeks while I recover from hip-replacement surgery, which I will having on Monday. There will be lots of time for reading and researching while I am recovering, so the next time I post, I hope to have the answers about “Aunt/Cousin Donna.” I also expect to reveal what was in that 1945 “Russian Visit” news articles.

Take care for now!

 

Posted in Genealogy Research Tips | Tagged , , | 2 Comments