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My Grandfather, Aron Katsnelson

Aron Katsnelson's story posted by Joseph Gorelik on November 30, 2011 at 1:48 am. Aron emigrated from Minsk, Belarus to Los Angeles, United States in 1996

For many years the Jews of Eastern Europe have been treated as a different ethnicity or even race from the rest of the homogenous population.  In the Soviet Unionthis took the form of anti-Semitism as well as a passport that had Jew as an option under nationality. One man who has experienced the hardships of being a Jew in the Soviet Unionis Aron Katsnelson.    Aron Katsnelson was born the 2nd of 3 children in 1935 inBobruisk,Belarus. Evacuated further east to Shumerlya because of World War II, he returned to a destroyed home and with a Missing in Action father.  Seven and half years later Aron decided to enter the field of Civil Engineering.  Here he felt the Anti-Semitism growing ever more prevalent in theSoviet Union.  Many of the larger technical institute such as those in the republic capitals had ethnicity quotas which forbade Jews from making up more then a certain percent of the student body. This was one of the first instances of major anti-Semitism he felt because until that point he went to a school with a student body that was over 50% Jewish, where very few if any slurs were uttered.  He ended up leavingBelarus, to go to an Institute inVoronezh.


After Aron finished his studies, he was sent to the biggest city in Siberia,Novosibirsk.  He worked there for five years (two more than was mandatory from job placement laws), in which time he experienced very little anti-Semitism.  However two events made a large impact in his life.  On one occasion while riding the trolley-bus with a handful of his Jewish co-workers, a group of men began shouting slurs towards them.  This brought him once again to the fact that he was different from most of the people around him.  The second event occurred just prior to his departure from Novosibirsk, when the Head of the Local Communist Party Branch associated with his company, a fellow Jew, warned him against returning to Belarus. This man told Aron, that he would not be able to make a career for himself inBelarusbecause of the anti-Semitism there; while inNovosibirska Jew could still gain a position of relative power.  Despite the warning, Aron returned toBelarus, but went instead to the Republic capital ofMinsk.


InMinsk, he managed to acquire a decent position in a respectable company.  At this company, where he spent 35 years, he met his future wife.  In his own opinion, he did not experience the anti-Semitism that Party Leader fromNovosibirskhad alluded to, because he was not overly ambitious and therefore did not run into many of the blocks that prevented Jews from attaining positions of power.  However he did experience one instance of grave anti-Semitism only a handful of years before he immigrated toAmerica.  His local manager prevented him from obtaining a specific worker he required to aid him in complete a project because he said “I do not want to train these specialists who are all going to leave for the United States and Israel and take all our knowledge with them.”  This was one of the main stories my grandfather told when trying to explain why he wanted to enter theUnited States.  Aron Katsnelson’s story is not unusual; he is but one of many Jews who left the formerSoviet Unionbecause of anti-Semitism.


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