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FAREWELL TO THE USSR

Yuzef Bronfman's story posted on February 05, 2013 at 12:45 pm. Yuzef emigrated from Moscow, Soviet Union (USSR) to San Francisco, United States in 1980

Lenny is seeing his parents off at the Chop's Border Transfer Station on their way to United States in 1977.   


 


"The process of waiting for the permission to leave the country was a long and difficult one, but it was finally over and then came the day of the departure! Yesterday, the closest friends and relatives came over to see Sofia and her husband, perhaps, last time in their lives and to say “Good bay” and “Bon Voyage”. Sadness and tears covered eyes of those who decided to escape reality and those who still have continued to decide what to do with their destinies or waited for approval. Everybody felt as if they were parting forever. Nobody knew if they would meet each other again. Along with the country and many close people, Lenny’s parents knew that they may lose their son, who looks defeated already and nobody knows how this almost funeral ceremony would apply on his thought. Would he stay or would he go? Does his wife, Fanny, would let him go? Does he would ever decide to immigrate? What if their fate would hinder them of seeing Lenny again and they would just live alone at other side of the fence?Jews, who were allowed to leave the Soviet Union with only Israeli visas, later claimed refugee status in Vienna and moved to the United States. For both, Lenny’s parents from Odessa, and for Lenny from Moscow, this trip was difficult and exhausting.On the screen, there is a map. The railway line connecting Odessa with Kiev, Kiev with Lvov, and Lvov with Uzhgorod is visible. Not far from Uzhgorod, 25 kilometers away, there is the border station of Chop, the western-most point of Ukraine. The delineations of state borders are visible near Chop —Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and a bit closer—Romania and Poland. Europe!  The name "Chop" gets larger in the camera frame and then the scenes of Soviet émigrés with Israeli visas at the transshipment point begin to progress slowly:  - A small city square with a monument to Lenin. Around the monument, Jewish refugees are lying side by side, with luggage and without, some eating, some listening to the radio, some chattering away, some sleeping soundly;  - Next to the town square is a railroad station. A train approaches the platform. There are many border guards, some standing to the side with dogs. First, there is selective passport control, very formal yet causing fear. The next party of worried passengers with an endless number of bags disembarks from the train hurriedly. Among them are those who are simply seeing off their family members and who don't have exit visas. They are not allowed to be at the border post and later they will be arrested. However, for now, the platform is full of commotion; porters, with whom the Jews are bargaining, are rushing around. Everyone wants to get into the train station quickly in order to take his or her place in line;  - A small waiting area packed with Jews from Ukraine and Moldavia, who are waiting their turn for customs inspection. The newly arrived squeeze themselves into the area with difficulty.  In reality, the beginning of the inspection is still far off; after all, the train for Vienna will depart only after midnight. But the line is huge; a very small number of émigrés go through customs inspection every day, which is why volunteers from the group of those departing maintain a strict sign-up sheet by surname and the list is checked regularly. Each family representative has his own number, which is written on the back of his hand with indelible pencil. And if someone doesn't respond during one of the regular checks, the volunteer reading the list mercilessly crosses the name off the list to the general joyful support of the people in line.


 It is very hot and stuffy in the waiting area; there are many flies, and a stale, foul stench of sweat and the station bathroom, constantly jammed full of people, and with its own "bathroom" line. Sometimes it is deliberately closed, for spite. On the floor, densely packed next to one another, the departing Jews sit. Among them are tired, confused children and sick elderly men and women, women with breastfeeding children, pregnant women. Some sleep and snore loudly. They are awoken by others but fall asleep again. This entire crowd, mixed in every which way with an enormous number of suitcases, purses, trunks, cardboard boxes, and bags, rumbles, is never silent, not even for a moment, as the people in get accustomed to one another. They will be together for a long time yet.  "Nudelman...Itskovich...Benderskiy..." all of a sudden the names ring out loudly in the waiting area and the crowd immediately goes silent, tensely listening to the shouts of the one checking the line according to the list — afraid to miss a name. Silence reigns, and if someone starts to say something, everyone simultaneously cuts them off, waving their hands.  "Shhh," is heard from all sides.  People are very serious and focused. A general laugh breaks the silence when the person reading the list shouts out the following name:  "Kolesnichenko!"


 Everyone looks around gaily, yearning to see a Jew with this surname.  "Here we are, six people," a middle-aged woman with a typical Jewish face embarrassedly calls out – evidently already accustomed to this reaction about her family's "non-Jewish" Ukrainian last name. The crowd laughed harder at the shy, timid Kolishneshenko, and silently rejoiced that at least they got lucky with their last name.


“Levinson”… “Pinkus”… “Kaufman,” continued the volunteer and in reply heard “Here, three of us,” “Four here,” or “Present, twelve people”.“Tzuckerman”… “Tzuckerman”…The crowd was at attention; there was no reply.“Tzsuckerman?” the volunteer called louder, “Tzsuckerman, this is the last time I’m calling you. Two people?”No reply. “They probably cut in line yesterday and left,” someone yelled out.The volunteer turned, waited a few seconds, watching the panic overtaking the crowd, and yelled,“Tzuckerman, no answer…so I am crossing them off…” he glanced around, did not see anyone objecting, and with a wave of his hand crossed their name off the list. “Brodsky”… “Tulchinskaya”… “Waissman”…“We are here,” answered Lenny’s father, “two of us.”Like all others, Lenny’s parents were forced to settle on the floor. They were no different from anyone else – tired and weary, susceptible to the influence of others. Lenny looked better. He looked around with the curiosity of a young bull that is absorbing the unexpected experience of the humbled crowd, their common problems, the chaos and condescending attitude of the government. Used to the luxury of Moscow life, Lenny could not imagine that this could happen in his country.


When the volunteer moved away, almost to the entrance and his voice could not be heard as loudly, a woman out of breath hurried to the center where the suitcases lay, and nervously, to no one in particular, asked,“Has there been a roll call?”Someone answered that there had been. The woman, scared, but with hope in her voice asked, “Did they call Tzuckerman?”By the general silence of the crowd, she knew that something terrible has happened.


“I said, did they call Tzuckerman?!”“Yes,” someone answered, “we all thought you left yesterday.”“Oh my God! Oh my God!” wailed the woman, “my husband is an invalid, I was helping him to the bathroom…”The woman, once again, making her way through the suitcases, hurried toward the departing volunteer. Finally reaching him, she pulled on his sleeve and timidly asked,“I am Tzuckerman, did you call us?” The volunteer suspiciously eyed the woman.“Yes, I called you… no one answered. There are no Tzuckermans, they left yesterday.”“We didn’t leave! What are you talking about?” The woman spread her arms, “Here we are. Right here.”“I don’t know, I was told that Tzuckermans left yesterday! We crossed you off the list.”“What? How could you? My husband is disabled, he is an invalid and I was taking him to the bathroom.”


“Everyone here is disabled and an invalid!” a tall, fat man from the crowd announced, looking in their direction. “Rules are rules.”“Don’t bring a curse upon yourself! My husband is on crutches, you can easily spot him.”“Have we become heartless barbarians here?” exclaimed a young, pregnant woman, “check their documents and if they are Tzuckermans, why torture them?”“You know the rules, you have to be present during roll call!” insisted the volunteer, “otherwise (with an annoyed emphasis on the “other”) it will be a mess. You could have warned someone you were going to the bathroom.” He wouldn’t let up.“Please, I am sorry. Next time I will warn someone.” “Alright. Let’s go take a look, where is your husband?”


And they once again headed in the direction where Lenny sat with his parents, and not far from them, the husband-invalid. Even from a distance, the volunteer could see the man, standing on crutches, humiliated and guiltily looking at the other deportees.A young girl whined nearby.“Oh! I remember you,” said the volunteer, trading ire for compassion. “I’ve been checking you for two days. I will reinstate you”.The woman nodded in gratitude.“Thank you. Thank you.” When the volunteer walked off, a sole word erupted from her, “curses!”Taking a deep breath, she sat on the suitcase.“If you need to walk away,” Lenny’s father offered as a friendly gesture, “let us know. We are almost right behind you on the list.” He glanced at her husband, standing by the wall, guiltily leaning on his crutches.


 “Misha,” called Tzuckerman’s wife, “come here. Sit a while.”Her husband, clumsily using the crutches, hopped on one leg and sat next to his wife. Sort of in his own defense, he said in the direction of Weissman,“Five days before we left for Chop, I broke my leg. Can you imagine? Putting the trip off was impossible. It would have taken a hundred forms to be filled out for OVIR[1]. It would have dragged on for months. Thank God, they got the cast on in time.” To prove his point, he raises the pant leg to reveal a cast. “I’m not used to the crutches yet…to make matters worse the bathroom is closed and has a long line… ” The whining of the child became a loud cry and the crowd began looking around for the source. A young woman was comforting a small girl. “God willing, maybe we can leave today,” said Lenny’s mother in comfort. “How many days have you been here?” some man interjected into the conversation. “Three days! God willing, the last,” repeated Sofia. The man asking the question moved closer to Lenny’s parents. “We just got here today. How did you manage here for three days? Could it be that we have to stay for that long?” The girl once again sobbed loudly. The mother tried to calm her. “If you are lucky it will only be three days. It could be more,” answered Lenny. “Have you rented a room?” “What are you talking about?” asked the man in wonder, “we need to rent a room?” All around, the crowd smirked knowingly and smiled with contempt at the “green” ones. They couldn’t imagine where someone so naive came from. “Are you planning to sleep here for the night? On the floor? In this stench?” Other Jews joined the conversation, “How many of you are there?” “Five,” answered the “naive” one, “we thought we’d leave the same day...” “The rules are like this,” Sofia calmly explained, “our friends were here before us, they left us an address of the house where we can rent a room. They bribed the owner with a bit of extra money to take us. We moved in as soon as we got here.”  “One of us stands on watch here, in line, the others rest over there,” added Lenny.


The wailing of the girl became unbearable. Her mother, worried and upset, did not know what to do. “Why is she crying, what happened?” Sofia could no long control herself and walked over to the girl.“She wants to drink, but we ran out of water. I can’t leave, I’m here alone with her, the rest went to the (rented place) apartment to pick up our things, and we are probably leaving today.”


“Why didn’t you say something sooner?! Come here, little one,” and swept the girl in her arms. “We have water and a candy. Lenny, hold her, I will get the candy.”


 Office of Visas and Registration


Sofia handed the girl over to Lenny. Still sobbing, the child looked at her mother in fright, but when she was handed a cup of water, she calmed down and thirstily began to gulp it. When the girl’s thirst was sated, she apparently remembered the promise of a candy and looked curiously at Sofia. Everyone laughed, even the girl. Sofia handed her the candy.“So it is,” said Lenny, holding the girl in his arms, “don’t say ‘gop’ ‘til you hop over Chop!” “What is ‘gop’?” asked the apparently inquisitive and humorous little girl. “Where are you coming from?” asked Lenny. “From Kishenev.” The girl looked at her mother, as though for confirmation. “My name is Maya,” she added with bravado, while licking the candy.“Maya, how old are you?” “Six.” “See, Maya, when you hop over something, you yell ‘op!’” said Lenny and in demonstration, he jumped and yelled ‘op!’ He put the girl on the floor, moved the suitcases over as much as possible, put one bag in front of him, took the girl’s hand and said to her, “Let’s jump together over this bag and say ‘op!’. One, two, three!” and they jumped over the bag and in unison yelled, “‘op!’” The girl was overjoyed and her mother, enamoured, looked at Lenny. “Do you understand, Maya? We don’t yell ‘op!’ before jumping. We yell it afterwards,” explained Lenny, as she started to do it on her own, jumping and yelling ‘op!’, ‘op!’  “But you are from Moldavia, where they say ‘op!’, but in the Ukraine, they say ‘gop!’” said Lenny, surprised by his own enthusiasm. “Here, the saying goes ‘don’t say ‘gop!’ till you hop over Chop”. Maya, genuinely enjoying the game, jumped back and forth over the bag, each time repeating “dontsaygoptillyouhopoverchop”. Smiles appeared on the faces around them. They watched the little girl and an uncomfortable feeling overcame the room – distaste for those like them. The people on the floor began moving about, talking to one another; some took out their hidden food supplies. A smell of kielbasa with garlic filled the room.The man who didn’t know he needed to rent a room for the night worriedly asked questions of Lenny and his parents .“What do I do? How will I find a place to stay on my own? I do not know anyone here.” He faithfully looked at Sofia, as though she was in charge of assigning rooms. “It’s not easy. Rooms here are hard to come by, a lot more people than available places,” replied Sofia. “Here is what you do,” interrupted Lenny, business like, “many are leaving today. Including us…” The ‘us’ came out unintentionally and he was frightened at the ease with which he believed in it. “Us,” he repeated. “You need to get addresses from those who are potentially leaving today.” Lenny, unsure that the confused man correctly understood ‘potentially’, corrected himself, “…those who are ahead on the list. If possible, go with them to the houses, make a deal with the owner. After all, there are five of you.” “Yes, yes,” the man said, even more nervous now, “thank you for the advice. Zina,” he yelled in the direction of his family, “these kind people told me what to do. I will be busy; you make yourselves comfortable here in the meantime. When are you going to your place?” he asked, turning to Lenny.“A bit later. When it starts getting dark. I need to go get our things and bring them here,” said Lenny and gave the man a comforting wink. “I’ll call you when we are ready.”“I’m sorry; I don’t quite understand what is going on. For example, I go and make a deal with the owner, and then you don’t leave. Where will you sleep?”“Bite your tongue!” Lenny’s mother spat out.“I am very sorry, I hope to God you leave, but… but…just in case, where will you sleep?” “Now I see that you are getting it,” said Lenny, winking at the man, “It goes like this. Here, everyone knows, I repeat, everyone, that just in case, you always pay for the room one day ahead. In case you don’t leave. You always have it if you need it. But if you leave, the money is gone… so you need several addresses. Find out who is first on the list and talk to them. Got it?” “Of course!” said the man, finding courage. “Thanks a lot, now I understand the ‘Chop’ way of doing it. Please don’t forget to take me with you, and I’ll go talk to others in the meantime.”He did not get far. A sudden silence overcame the room and he heard the worried voice of his wife. “Grisha, Grisha!” The man turned around and saw that she was making signs and pointing somehwere. At first, he couldn’t understand what she was showing him, and then finally looked where he was supposed to. The Customs Patrol was slowly making its way through the hall. Three officers were carefully examining the faces of the immigrants, trying to determine which of them did not have exit visas, and thus, did not have the right to be in Chop, a Soviet checkpoint. In general, they usually guessed correctly, having accumulated huge experience in daily checks. If an elderly couple sat on suitcases, and someone younger but without a family was with them, then it was usually a son or daughter seeing their parents off. The offices would demand documents and immediately arrest the violators. “I got caught.” Lenny sat on a suitcase. “Got away with it for two days. Mother, if I am found out and arrested, I will go to the police, then to the house for the suitcases. Tell that Grisha guy to go outside when they lead me out.” The thing was that for the past two days Lenny somehow managed to evade inspection; he would go outside to smoke, or if it was too late to disappear, he would blend in with a large family and concentrate on eating a piece of bread and a cold cut. He now understood that it was too late to do one or the other. He lowered his eyes and began digging through his duffel bag, opening and closing the zipper.“Maybe they won’t come over here,” whispered his father, “it looks like they already caught someone.” Without raising his head, Lenny glanced in the direction of the officers. They demanded documents from a young woman. She apparently did not have them and one of the officers confiscated her passport and led her out of the room.Two others headed in Lenny’s direction. They walked with confidence, not hurrying, searching the frightened faces of the immigrants. Sometimes they stopped and looked around, as if to make sure that they didn’t miss anyone, and then continued as before, stepping over suitcases, sniffing out their next victim. The immigrants silently watched this game; almost every family had someone seeing them off and all wanted to escape the humiliation that would follow. The two officers were soon joined by the third, the one who just escorted the arrested young woman. Lenny, continuing his charade of repacking by opening and closing zippers, suddenly heard,“Your documents?” It was clear to everyone that another violator had been caught.“I am only helping my parents. My father is a very ill.” As Lenny handed his passport to the officer, a school verse of the famous Bolshevik poet Vladimir Mayakovski’s poem ran through his mind, “I pull out of my wide trouser-pockets duplicate of a priceless cargo. You now:read this and envy,I'm a citizenof the Soviet Socialist Union!” “Let’s go, you are under arrest for violating border regulations…”All of the immigrants knew how this comedy would unfold, which is why Lenny’s parents did not have a heart attack, did not scream and cry, but calmly watched as their son was led out of the hall. The arrest procedure is simple. First, the officer took Lenny to the line at the police station outside of the railroad station. The line is comprised of offenders like himself. The officer holding Lenny’s passport explained the procedure to him, then led him to the police department. Ahead of Lenny stood the young woman arrested before him. She was smiling. “Ten ruble fine!” “How long does it take?” asked Lenny.“About thirty minutes,” replied someone in line. “You’ll go inside, they will write out your fine, then you go to that line – it’s the cashier – pay ten rubles, then back in line at the police station to get your passport. You have to leave Chop within 24 hours! That’s all; my brother has already been through the routine.” “Thanks.” When his turn came, Lenny walked inside the police station where the situation was explained to him, paid the fine at the cashier, and got his passport. It was a conveyer belt – a conveyer to get money out of departing Jews, a conveyer to degrade and dehumanize  people, a conveyer that was easy to conceive under the Soviet system. Once he left the police station with his passport, he looked around for Grisha, who wanted to see the apartment. “ ’I’m here.” He heard a voice from behind. In the end, it turned out that taking Grisha with him had been the right move; Grisha helped him carry the suitcases. First, Lenny introduced Grisha to the hostess, who was serving food to her husband. The man did not interfere in the conversations but calmly, without looking about, consumed his fatty borscht. Grisha made a deal with the hostess, a pleasant, middle aged woman. They went to the room that was being rented out and Lenny began to pack. As they were leaving, they saw the hostess’ husband, his appetite apparently sated, smoking. A cart passed by the gate.


“Petro,” yelled the husband in Ukrainian, “take them to the station, they’ll pay. Give him three rubles,” he told Lenny in Russian, threw away the cigarette butt and went inside the house. When Lenny and Grisha carried the suitcases inside the waiting hall, his parents were beginning to worry as it was almost time for inspection. They quickly ate and washed the sandwiches down with tea from the thermos. “As usual, those jerks wait until the last minute,” angrily, but quietly mumbled Lenny’s father. “Why do they do it? There are old, sick, and crippled people here.” “It’s the last degrading thing they can do to us,” said Misha, the invalid. “They take great pleasure in watching the sick and poor chase the train at the last moment…” Time passed slowly but Lenny knew that these moments were the last before the goodbye. Lives were being ruined, people risked leaving their children behind. His father took Lenny’s hand. “Son, this is hard, very hard. Now my son, you are head of the family. Your grandma and grandpa left already, your mother and father are leaving now. You are in charge. I want you to grow up, both physically and mentally. I don’t know how to accomplish that...” his voice shook. “My grandparents lived here, so did my parents. Our people have been chased out of many places, now we are being chased from here. We are going to the end of the world… In Jewish history it’s called an ‘exodus’. I think this is also an exodus – yet one more exodus.” The father took his handkerchief and wiped his eyes and nose.  “It seems that a Jew is not entitled to plan his future or the future of his children. A Jew needs to be able to intelligently plan his future. I want for you to grow up,” he quietly repeated. “Father, if what you are saying is true, it’s terrible. When should I start planning the future of my children, their children, and their grandchildren? Is it possible that they will have to leave America too?” “I don’t know, Lenny. I do know that when Jews begin leaving a country, the country loses a great deal – the Egyptian exodus, the exile of Jews from England at the end of XII century, from France in the beginning of XIV century, from Spain at the end of XV. And so century after century. And in our time! How much pain and suffering Hitler brought on Germany! They say it was like that with Stalin, as soon as he came up with the ‘doctors’ plot’ and began resettling the Jews, he died.” “Father, is this religion or myth…” “Or fact…”Mother was standing nearby, listening to their conversation, and nodding in agreement. She came closer to Lenny, hugged and kissed him. With one hand she held on to Lenny, with the other, like her mother did at Sheremetyevo airport some time ago, she yanked a locket hanging around her neck on a gold chain. They remembered that this locket did not get through customs and grandma managed to sneak it to Lenny at the last second. Now Lenny’s mother, Sofia, would try to smuggle it out at the Chop customs. Lenny noticed how she nervously played with the chain. He reached out, opened the locket, which contained the picture of a very young Sofia, bent over and kissed the photo. “Mother, don’t worry, if they don’t let it through, I will bring it. ”By saying this he was reassuring his mother about his own decision to leave. He did not know how life would unfold, but supposed that at some point he would need to be around to comfort his parents. Sofia hugged her son tighter. At that moment chaos overtook the hall. An inspection was announced; the volunteer checker was calling the first 15 families on the list. The familiar names once again rang out, “Tzuckerman, Brodskiy, Tulchinskaya, Waissman… to inspection.” The immigrants rushed to gather their things and began to shove their way through to the inspection room. “Lenny, my darling, remember that we love you!” Father and mother also grabbed their suitcases and bags and began dragging them over. “Goodbye, son. Tell Fanny that we love her.” “Fanny and I love you too. Take care of yourselves!” Lenny was barely able to yell in return.His parents, along with other immigrants, disappeared behind the door to the future, which separated them from their son, from their country of birth, from the past, which they left behind forever. Lenny, exhausted and confused, knew that his parents will now be in a room where bribable customs officials are in charge – officials who go unpunished for the demeaning and degrading treatment of scared Jewish immigrants.In the inspection room, everyone quickly tried to get a table with a customs officer. Everyone knew that there was little time until the train left and that the customs officers would not hurry with their inspection; they would stall to make the immigrants chase the train in a panic. The immigrants had large plastic bags ready, for they knew they would not have time to repack their strewn-about items. Lenny’s parents rushed to an open table. On the other side of the table stood a uniformed officer, and when their eyes met, Sofia recognized him as the host of the room where they had lived for the past three days. It is the same man with the cigarette who stopped Petro, the driver, and told him to take Lenny to the station. She was temporarily stunned. The officer recognized them as well, and when Lenny’s father lifted the heavy suitcase onto the table, yelled, “To that table!” and points. Father was confused, did not know what to do, but when the officer repeated the command, Sofia ran to the other table, while her husband struggled to remove the suitcase from the table and drag it after her. Together, they lifted three huge suitcases and one duffle bag and placed it in front of the other customs official. It took them a while to come to their senses from the unexpected transformation of their former host from a simple country man to a formidable government official.  In all their time in the home of this man, he had never once talked of emigrants or in his direct involvement in the inspections, nor ever shown his knowledge about the continuous humiliation of Jewish refugees. He should have refused to rent Lenny the room in his house, as Lenny was in Chop illegally. Instead, he was quite friendly, told them of his own son who was studying in Lvov, how difficult it was for him in the dorms…


Meanwhile, he and his wife had no problem taking money one day ahead for the rental. Sofia jerked  her husband’s sleeve; it was time to open the suitcases and duffel bag. All of the tables had the same scenarios. The officers calmly confiscated the half pints and fifth of vodka, which the immigrants had the foresight to put on top in their suitcases. Without a blink, as though it was their second nature, they placed the bottles under the counter, then, also as second nature, turned the contents of the suitcase upside down. The tables were covered with blankets, sheets, shirts, underwear, items to sell in Vienna and Italy, pots and pans, cameras, cigarettes, bread and kielbasa, dresses and suits. If the officer did not find anything unlawful, he waved his hand, and the nervous immigrants stuffed the items back in without any regard to order. Items that did not fit got thrown into the plastic bags. Nearby a heated discussion between a Jew and an officer was going on. The Jew was trying to prove that their amount of silver teaspoons is within the allowed limit, but the officer, without any regard to the explanation, took one and threw it underneath the counter with the stern explanation, “Confiscated.”


Lenny’s parents did fine. Hurriedly they tossed their items into the bags and the officer finally let them go.The task that lay ahead was to quickly find their train car and load their stuff. When they ran out onto the platform, Lenny saw them from a distance. It was a horrid sight; people were running on the platform, dragging their bags behind them, helplessly searching for their car. Lenny felt a tug on his heart, but had no way to help them. He glanced at his watch and suddenly yelled loudly, so they could hear him,“Mama! Mama!” and when she turned around, he shouted, “Happy birthday Mama! It’s already three minutes past midnight!”Lenny stood and watched his departing parents. Soon he could no longer see them; the people running on the platform had blocked his view. He felt emptiness from the humiliation they went through, the unfairness and helplessness of his parents, and for the others running with the crowd. He suffered from his inability to change anything, and in his mind he had a persistent thought, “You need to leave this country! You have learned a valuable lesson! ”Remembering that he has been fined for border violations, Lenny quickly left the hall. He already saw how the people on the platforms, yelling out “What car is this?” ran around in panic from one car to the next. Here was scared little Maya with her parents, there Misha was hobbling on his crutches with a bag attached and dragging behind him. The whole crowd, all the men and women, were hastily shoving bags and suitcases through the windows of the train. They were all screaming, scared of being separated from their families. His parents found their car, but it took a long time to board, as the train loading platform is blocked by the suitcases of those who arrived earlier. All around screams and curses were heard, all except from the train attendant, who stood to the side, smirking, apparently accustomed to such a frightening sight. After a struggle to shove their overstuffed bags through the windows, people walked on the bags stuck on the loading platform inside the wagon, and began the search for their suitcases and bags. But since all the bags looked very similar, the scene turned to chaos, and once again the last names that fill a Russian anti-Semite with hate were heard, “This one is Abramovich, who is Abramovich? This one – Katz. This one – Schwartz. Who is Schwartz?” It seemed that Sofia was last to board the train. Standing on the steps, she glanced in the direction of the platform. On the platform, lost Jews were still rushing about, dragging behind them their immigrant junk. Unable to control herself, this former Soviet teacher wailed and hissed,“**** it,” she spit in the general direction of the station, or in the direction of the land she was leaving, or into her past. “Go to hell!” The train attendant, still smirking, witnessed this but did not react. Who knows, she traveled outside the country often, and probably understood better than anyone else what was going on. “Sofochka,” she heard her husband’s voice, “thus begins your birthday…”He stood in the hallway, atop a heap of others’ suitcases.“No Mark, I was born in the evening so I will begin my birthday from zero in a new country. ”With one hand she held on to the rail; with the other, she nervously pulled on the silver locket that had made it through customs.


The chaos and panic continued inside the train. People searched for their suitcases and for each other, tried to find seats and shelf space. The well-trained crowd, finally free of their captors, noisily acted on instinct. And only when the train suddenly jerked forward and inertia pushed the crowd back did the noise subside. It was replaced by a confused silence and everyone finally understood what has occurred, that they were leaving and that the bridges have been burned. They were glued to the windows, frozen, as the wheels ticked off the final meters of their past. Slipping slowly away from the border guards with the dogs, small border houses, and a small cemetery with crosses off to the sides. A split second later they saw a striped Border pole with the sign “USSR”.


Yuzef Bronfman's story, excerpt from the novel entitled, "My Grandma is from Russia"


Translation by Irina Itsekson and Nina Bogdan


http://mygrandmafromrussia.com/english 


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