Chapter One: Baboushka
Chapter Two: Dedoushka
Chapter Three: Together in Odessa
Chapter Four: Bartering, War and Revolution
Chapter Five: Moscow
Chapter Six: To Paris and Beyond


“Ostorojna!” was the first Russian word I ever learned. “Careful!” Dedoushka would shout when one of his three grandchildren ran too fast, swam too far, played too hard. We laughed — why was he always so worried? Yet ostorojna is the last word to describe how Rose and Leon Davis lived their lives. War, revolution, humor, prison, incredible risk-taking and sheer good luck are only a handful of the reasons we are even here at all.

Baboushka, as she is fond of saying, was born in the nineteenth century; and, she, Dedoushka and Tatiana traveled farther through time, farther through history, than we can ever fathom. Few of us have ended up so far from where we began.

Several years before Dedoushka died, he and Baboushka began to talk about their lives in taped interviews. Tatiana transcribed some eighty pages or more and sent me a copy in a large envelope, which was promptly put away in a drawer. Yet never forgotten. As Paris became my home and France my second country, their tales of travel — from Odessa to Moscow, on to Paris and then America — risk and courage, and their marvelous instincts, began to haunt me. Some of these events I understand: Ralph and I live as foreigners; we, too are bringing up children in a multicultural environment. Some are funny; others are so frightening, however, that I can only hope that neither we nor our children will ever have to face anything comparable.

I know the places Baboushka and Dedoushka describe in Paris, I walk the same streets — the same cherry trees are in blossom on the Champs de Mars right now. I’ve shared Paris with Richard, Dedoushka’s brother, who lived through many of these stories himself. Russia, however, especially this Russia of revolution and chaos, has always been far more elusive. After sifting through page after page of transcribed tapes, I was astonished at the clarity with which Baboushka and Dedoushka remembered events that happened so long ago. And for me, their stories finally bring to life a half-forgotten past.

Lisa Davidson
Montreuil, France, April 16, 1997

Chapter One


When my mother was married, they lived in a small village called Pishchanka; my father did not come from Kiev, but from another small town. When my mother was fourteen or fifteen, her parents came and said to her, “You are engaged.” Then the marriage took place two years later. When the bride-groom arrived, my mother kept asking “Where is he?” “Which one is my future husband?” That was — let’s see, how many years — oh, about a hundred years ago, at least a hundred. My mother died in Paris in 1939, my father had died in 1919. When my father died in 1919, he was fifty-eight, and so was my mother. So let’s figure it out. She was born in 1861. Then my sister Anna was married and moved to Kirson, and to her great misfortune, she lived with her husband’s family. Her husband was a charming person, but his parents held her in a state of terror. They had a small house with a garden, and they kept cows, she went out every day and sold milk — measured it out and ladled it.

When we left Odessa in 1923, my sister Anna and her husband moved into our apartment. But the Germans were there during World War II; they took her away and she never came back. Her children had already moved to Moscow. I didn’t learn about my sister and her children until after the war. I sent parcels all the time to them from New York, but the two are dead now.

Even before Anna, I think my parents had an older boy, but he died when he was nine years old.

There were seven children in our family, five sisters and two brothers. When my oldest sister got married, I was only two years old, and my mother had her last child, Edith, when she was a grandmother. My oldest sister was Anna, she had a little boy, Borya, who was two. Then she had a daughter, Kucya, the same week as my mother gave birth to my youngest sister, Edith. In one week, the mother and daughter gave birth.

The next child was my older brother Sacha, who died of a heart attack in Moscow after we had all moved to the United States. Sacha finished the gymnasium in Odessa, then went to an engineering school in Belgium.

Then came Marconne. She completed the gymnasium and was studying music. She married Barjansky, that was her first marriage. Barjansky was the father of Tatiana’s cousin Lena, and Pryor’s grandfather.

They lived like cats and dogs. He had the most awful character. I remember a small thing. Ladies then wore low décolleté, and underneath, shift with lace. When friends came, Marconne would pull her décolleté down a little and show her shift, and he would call out in front of everyone, “Mucya, cover up your underwear.” They lived together for nine years. Lena then married Roger Dodge. When Marconne divorced Kolya Barjansky, and the revolution started, he and Lenochka and his mother went to Vienna, and they lived in Austria all the time. Marconne then married Fedya in Odessa, and they left for Constantinople under the Bolsheviks.

Then there was my brother Davey, a charming person, Peter reminds me a lot of him. He was so gay, pleasant, open. He was twenty-nine when he was shot to death by the Bolsheviks for carrying a five-ruble gold coin. Davey finished college in Leeds in England, or rather in Manchester, then he went to Warsaw where they had a great many textile plants, and he finished his studies in the field of textiles in Manchester. That’s where he met his wife. She was the daughter of some big industrialist. They were married in Warsaw, then they moved to Odessa.

Then came Sonia. She was married to Misha Tzeiner, who recently died in Berlin. She did not live with him very long. They were soon divorced, and she moved to Berlin, met Boris Said and married him. Then her third husband was Orloff, Sacha Orloff, who was a gigolo, a very cheap gigolo, and they were divorced, too. After Sonya came, of course, me. The least beautiful in the family and the happiest. They say in Russia, don’t be born beautiful, be born happy. I am the only the only one who hung on to her first husband, Leon, for sixty-five years.

Then came Edith. She had a terrible character. I won’t forget, when she was three or four years old, we had a lot of guests, everybody was sitting in the dining room, we had an enormous apartment, and it was raining, and snowing and everybody was wearing galoshes. They left their galoshes in the entry hall, and when everybody was sitting and eating, Edith came in front the entry hall and started throwing all the dirty galoshes right onto the table, at the guests, at everybody.

Once I remember, there was a large tray full of glasses, goblets, and she got mad and threw the whole thing down. But my father loved her. In the morning, when we had to go to school, and the weather was bad, and my father would say to her, “Don’t wake her up, take pity on the child, let her sleep.” That’s how she was, and she was the same to the day she died.


As I talk about this, it wakes me up at night and I can’t sleep for remembering all the things that happened — prison, too.

I was in prison before I was married to Dedoushka. It was in 1918 — the Bolsheviks came to Odessa and imposed a “contribution,” a new tax, because they needed money. They had gathered all the doctors and lawyers in City Hall and they were deliberating about how much each would give; my father was there with the others. At that time the Bolsheviks got tired of waiting, they just walked through apartment buildings and began arresting people. I remember that a young man, an athletic type, walked into our apartment. I was home alone with my mother. It is surprising how you remember certain details; I had very long hair, and I had just washed it, and I was sitting there with very long, very wet hair.

He came in and asked, “Where is your father?”

I said that he wasn’t home — and that it was a good thing he wasn’t, too.

“Bourgeois,” he called me, “you have carpets, you have mirrors, good furniture.”

I was about eighteen or nineteen and had a razor sharp tongue, and I started talking back to him.

He said, “Citizeness, if you don’t shut your mouth, I’m going to arrest you.”

“Please, go ahead,” I snapped back, and he arrested me on the spot. My mother was crying and crying, we were alone in the house at the time.

They took me to the precinct station first, then a whole group of us, about twenty people, were sent to prison. And at that time you might say that all the best society was gathered in the prisons. I was among all the Who’s Who. There was the daughter of Gutkin, who was a famous man in the Duma. We slept eighteen or twenty people to a cell, on the floor, no mattresses. But the day after we were arrested we all got up at six in the morning, and we were all taken to the fields and we dug up potatoes. I met my very best friend there, in prison. Just across from us was another building that had all the boys. And we all knew which boys were in what rooms. All our boyfriends were there, just across the way.

When my brother and father came home, they found out what happened to me, so they started to bring parcels of food for us, because they didn’t feed us in prison. I was only there three days, and the money was paid and we were all released.

When I begin to remember those days, I feel my heart pounding with fear again.

Chapter Two


Dedoushka: I remember that we all were born in the town of Kiev, in the Ukraine. In about 1905, my father, who was then working in the manufacture of papas, warm hats for the army personnel, caught a cold, went to Evpatoria in the Crimea, where he died and was buried. Five years later, in 1910, my mother died on the operating table during an operation for peritonitis. She was unable to withstand the operation. In those days penicillin was unknown and this type of operation was a rather serious one.

So the six of us became orphans. Abrasha (Abraham), the oldest, must have been about sixteen or seventeen; the youngest, Richard, was already in school at that time. During my mother’s lifetime we were all still in school, I, Bernard and Richard were in the lower grades — so perhaps he was about nine then. Lisochka (Lisa) was next to last, so she must have been ten or eleven. She came after Richard, so it was Richard, Lisochka, me, Bernard and Abraham — no there were six children, not five; I must have forgotten someone. Yes, Gregory. Gregory was at school also, he was older than Lisochka, so there was Abram, Bernard, Leon, Gregory, Lisochka and Richard.

All of us, Bernard, I, Grisha, and Richard, all of us attended the First Commercial Institute. It was one of the best educational facilities in Russia. The buildings for this school were built for Pretechnikova, but then that school (a pre-technical school) moved out of town to their own campus and their former building was turned over to the Commercial School. I remember that not long before my mother’s death, Bernard, who was quite a fighter at school, ran after some friends during recess, could not catch up with him, took off his belt with a heavy metal buckle, hit him on the head with it and broke open his skull. I’ll never forget. It was the day before Easter holidays. We were sitting in class and in the middle of the lesson the door opened and the Director walked in, whom we all feared and made us tremble. Hi name was Kuznevski.

He walked in and said, “On the eve of the holy days of Easter, you, Bernard, permitted yourself such an action, almost killed your friend. Go home and tell your mother that you have been expelled from school. You will get a low grade for behavior, and don’t bother coming back to school.”

I remember that the next morning, the three of us, I, Bernard and our mother, came to school to see the Director. I remember this as though it were yesterday. My mother was dressed all in black and she also wore a large, heavy black scarf. She looked like an old Spanish woman. I was probably twelve or thirteen at the time and Bernard was a little over a year older than me.

The Director came in, and my mother fell on her knees before him and said, “I am a widow, and I beg you not to expel my son,” and he started crying.

Of course, Bernard and I did likewise. And it seems to me that even the Director had tears in his eyes over this dramatic family scene.

He said, “We will give him a very low grade for conduct, but all right, I shall reinstate him as a student, and I hope he will never fight in school again.”

Mother left, very happy, and we became more or less famous in school because, besides the four of us, my two cousins Alex and Boris also attended that school, and it was an expensive school. If I’m not mistaken, we were paying 100 rubles per student per year, which was a great deal of money. There was a rule in that school: fifty percent of the students were Jewish, fifty percent were Christian, most of whom usually came from poor Christian families and it worked out that the Jewish students paid enough to cover the costs of the others’ education.

Where did our money come from? We had a general store. It was in the Garitski Bazaar, in a large corner building and it was a very large store. It was during my father’s lifetime, and we had a large apartment on the second floor above the store. After my father’s death, my mother took over the store and sometimes we all helped. I remember that when I was still very small I was responsible for the sale of collars, paper collars. These collars were made out of cardboard, covered with thin fabric, which probably came from abroad. These collars came in different styles and were mostly purchased by employees of the railroad because they always needed collars, and they threw them away after a week or two and bought others. There was a whole wall display of different sizes, different styles and I knew all this by heart and took care of that part of the business on very busy days.

Schoolteachers often came in. At that time, Abrasha was in Second Gymnasium, which you entered only through a strict quota system if you were a Jew. Through some connections, Abrasha was admitted to that school, named the Classical School, because they taught two ancient languages, Greek and Latin. But he did not study enough, was kept back for a year and ultimately expelled, and it was a terrible blow because at that time it was very rare among the Jewish community to be able to attend this school.

And so it went for several years until our mother died during her operation. After that it was decided by our uncle, the father of our cousins Alex and Boris who ended up living in Paris, to sell the store. If I’m not mistaken, it was sold for 40,000 rubles, which at the time represented a vast sum of money and from this sum he paid for our education and living expenses. We continued to live in the same apartment, but by ourselves. We had a large, a very large living room, which was great because we could all play football in it. And we had a maid.

Then Bernard left Russia, which is eventually what led to our own trip to America. Bernard must have been about seventeen. I was admitted into the Commercial Institute, but he didn’t get in because his grades were not good enough. He was called up for the draft. There was a lottery, and he picked a low number, I think number 8. To avoid the military service, Bernard decided to go abroad. At that time it was not difficult to leave the country. He took a few hundred rubles from our uncle, crossed the border and took a ship from Germany to America.

I continued my studies at the Commercial Institute, together with Grisha and Richard. At that time, I believe Abraham got married. He was married young and continued to live in an apartment in Kiev where we subsequently moved in. We were living with our older brother. One fine day, I can’t remember the exact date, our uncle announced that all the money had been spent, and we had no more money left. He had given money to live on for years out of those 40,000 rubles and it so happened, whether it was honest or not, he did not place the money in any bank, he did not get any interest on it, he probably invested the money in his own business, and during World War I, which had already started, he declared that there was no more money.

Grisha was called into the army. I think I remained at the Institute and in 1915, at the approach of the Germans, our Institute was moved to Saratov. If I’m not mistaken, there remained a small amount of money, because I took some money for the trip and in 1915 we were given the opportunity to finish school. Saratov is on the Volga. If I’m not mistaken, Saratov used to be Stalingrad, then the name was changed again. It was to the east of Kiev, rather far, I don’t remember how many thousands of versts (3,500 feet). It was in war time, in 1915, and the Red Army was retreating. The commander, Solshenitsin, was always full of admiration in his papers for the efficiency of the German army, for which he was greatly disliked in Russia, and indeed, the army was retreating. The Germans were nearing Kiev, and our Institute was moved by water — equipment, papers, documents, everything on a barge — and we were to follow by train to Saratov. We had a great time on the train. There were not many women, but there were some, because there were some studies for women in the Institute, and they went along.

I was on the upper level of bunks and underneath me they were playing cards. I did not play, at least not that time, I just watched. My friend from Gruzin was playing with some other guys, and of course they were card sharks. They were always winning more money than everyone else. At that time we were approaching some station. The guy from Gruzin stood up in his burnoose and said, “I have no more money for Saratov. I am going back to my parents in the Caususes,” and he walked out, he just deserted right there and then.

We arrived in Saratov, and we all had to concentrate on not completing the courses so we could stay at the Institute, because students had a deferment from the army. Even the Conservatory could grant deferments. My older brother, Sasha a big strong man, he decided to take up singing. He enrolled in the Conservatory and started taking singing lessons, in order to get a deferment. Anyway, for my classes, I delayed and delayed — until there was one final exam in government law. I didn’t study very hard, but I had a sharp memory. I lay in bed the night before, took the book, about 600 pages on civil law, started to look through the book. The next day I faced the professor. I remember him clearly, an Armenian.

I walked in, walked up to the table and he said, “Step back, don’t breath on me.” and then, “Who are you? A little Jew?”

I said “No, I am not a ‘little Jew,’ I am a Jew.”

I became quite excited. He asked me a series of questions, about where Jews could live and where they could not. I was sure that he wouldn’t pass me, and that I could stay another half a year, but he gave me a 3+.

So I finished the Institute, got my Second Degree diploma, with the right to go on to First Degree within six months. A First Stage status at that time gave you the right to higher subsistence benefits. The problem was that the whole of Russia was closed to Jews, except for Western Poland. Jews had no right to live unless they had achieved a higher level of education, which gave them the right to live anywhere in Russia — and tradesmen could live where they liked if they had a First Grade License. Otherwise they had to live in a ghetto, which included some parts of Poland and other provinces. They could not live in Kiev, but we had a First Class permit and we were allowed to live there. But in a section of Kiev, across Boulevard Chivchenko, there we could live.

Because I had my Second Degree, I assumed this meant that I had another six months deferment, which was ridiculous. So I didn’t report to anybody, I just stayed home. In 1915, I didn’t register for the draft on the excuse that I had been given a six-month grace period to defend my dissertation. On about the fifth month, there was a knock at the door, I opened the door and there stood a policeman.

“Does Leon Something-or-Other live here?”


“Get dressed,” he said, which I did.

“Where are we going?”

“To the station. Follow me. You are going to be sent to the town of Vassilkov to be dealt with as a draft evader because your time has been up and you should have reported five months ago.”

Knowing the general habits of the police at that time, I took a few rubles with me in order to buy myself out of there, but as it later turned out, I didn’t have enough money. I called my uncle, a clever man who was rather popular in that precinct. He quickly got in touch with his friend, the head of the precinct. He walked into the captain’s office, then walked out and said to me, “You are a fool, you certainly managed to mess things up. If you had told me sooner, it would have cost less. Now I had to pay the precinct chief 25 rubles, the man under him 15 rubles, the policeman, 10. In other words, it costs 50 rubles. So now you can proceed to your destination by yourself, without a police escort.”


Baboushka: This uncle, he was really something. They had a general store, and their mother and father had died early and the children were left. Bernard was in America, Abraham was a gambler, so there remained your father, Grisha, Lisa. So they sold the store, and their uncle took the money and sort of became their guardian. But instead of investing the money and giving them what they needed for their education, he just spent it, I don’t know what he did with it, and one fine day he called all the children together and said, “Children, as of today, you have no more money — do whatever you want.” And that’s how it was. So your father started to work and he supported Grisha and Lisochka and Richard too, for many, many years.


Dedoushka: So, needless to say, I had to find a regiment quickly. At that time, I was working at the Kiev Thought, a newspaper. Every day I drew a map of the military developments and the problem was that every day on my map the front line was moving further and further east. The Germans were coming closer to Kiev. I worked in the office of the editor, Lupovsky, from Poland. It was one of the best newspapers in Russia — Lunacharsky and others wrote for it. It was like The Times, a great newspaper, one of the best in Russia. I asked the editor whether he knew someone in Vassilkov.

“Of course,” he said. “My good friend is the military commander of the army out there.”

That was an important position, so I asked him for a letter to the commander. When I got to Vassilkov armed with the letter from the editor of the paper, I went to see him and he was very friendly.

We were driving around in his carriage somewhere — that was before I was in the army. He said, “I will give you a six-day pass, go wherever you wish, try to find a regiment where they will take you and I will send you there.”

I decided to try and find an artillery regiment, I figured that first of all it would be farther from the front lines; maybe they would send me to Siberia or somewhere. And everybody figured that a few months would go by, that the war would end and it would all be over. But I could not find anything and he sent me to some small town where the army was on active duty, not quite at the front, in Venitza, not far from the border. I remember that when I got there, they put me down somewhere near a window and I lost my voice from sleeping near the broken window. It was dreadful. And even worse, it turned out it was the most terrible disciplinary battalion, where they sent criminals and deserters.

So I served there for awhile and then I learned that the revolution had taken place and that Kerensky had become the head of the government. It was a temporary government in 1917, and Kerensky granted the Jews the right to enter military schools, officer schools. There were twenty-five people with a higher education in the regiment, come Christians, some Jews. I gathered them together and went to the commander and pointed out the new regulations that Kerensky had promulgated, and said that I and my friends wanted to apply for admission to the officer schools.

He gave me some sealed orders, which of course I opened and read, but there was nothing special in it, and after some efforts I was able to enter the Kiev military institute. It is a long story but after a few months I finished the course and was appointed to the Odessa military station, where I then went.

I walked in and said, “I want to see the commander,” although it was unthinkable to be able to get to him.

“No, no, no,” said the guard.

“Give him my card.”

I handed him my card from the newspaper, and they did not know what I wanted, they thought I wanted to interview him. I walked in, and he was sitting there with a large red ribbon and I said, “I have a request for you, General. I did not have time to finish my work at the newspaper, could you possibly give me permission to remain another month or two in Odessa?”

“Go upstairs and see Rospetrov,” he said, “and tell him I ordered you to remain in Odessa for two or three months.”

I remember how happy I was, because I wanted to stay near the children. I went straight upstairs to the right department.

Two or three men sat there, especially one very distinguished gentleman, who asked, “How may I help you?”

“I just came from General Marx, he requested that you permit me to remain here for some time.”

“And who are you, are you from the Ukraine? Or Moldavia?”

I felt the blood rush to my head. I thought he was laughing at me. “No, I am not from Moldavia, I am not Ukrainian, I’m Jewish.”

He looked embarrassed, “No, you don’t understand me, we are forming just two regiments, here, Ukrainian and Moldavian.”

So I asked, “Where could you send me?”

“If you wish, I could send you to Molitopov, it’s the nearest I can offer you. Molitopov is near the Crimea.”

So I accepted that, and went there.

In Militopov the next day, I ran into an army pogrom, it is the most frightening thing I ever experienced in my life. Molitopov was famous for its wine cellars and they had large wine storage facilities. They also had some famous alcoholic beverages. Huge, whole warehouses filled with wines and spirits. All the soldiers, there were tens of thousands of them, and the entire population, all were drunk. They had broken into the storage vats for liquor and were literally drowning in them. There was not one single person who was not dead drunk.

This went on for some time, until some detachments were formed, and I was among these and we got rid of the wine and alcohol. I vividly remember that we walked around with enormous staffs and opened the barrels, we hit the barrels with any kind of tool we could find, axes, I think, and let the wine flow out. Wine flowed over the entire main square of town, mixing with the mud and such, and thousands of soldiers and other people stood around or rather squatted there and drank that muddy liquid, right off the street. Anyway, it was eventually over, and to our good fortune arrived some sailors who helped to reestablish some order.

Chapter Three


Baboushka: I met Dedoushka in the spring, probably in May or April. I remember because it was just a year before we were married. We met through my brother Davey.

When I was twenty or twenty-one, Davey came back from Moscow and asked me “How old are you? It’s time for you to get married! You’re just an old maid.”

“All right,” I told him, “do you have a nice boy for me?”

“Yes! A wonderful boy. My best friend, Leon.”

And then one day Dedoushka came from Moscow to Odessa looking for my brother. I remember it as though it were today. I just happened to be at my brother’s house, it was in the afternoon and suddenly Leon walked in. We met, we talked a little while.

And it was love from the first sight, believe it or not.

When I went home, my mother said to me, “Oh Rosachka, I’m so sorry you were not home earlier. Such a wonderful young man was here. He had the pinkest cheeks, the smallest mouth.” — she forgot to mention that he also had a large nose and big ears — but she kept saying what a shame it was that I had not been home.

“Don’t worry about it.” I told her, “I’ve already met him.”

So I met Dedoushka, he stayed only one week in Odessa, and he went back to Kiev. I didn’t know if he would ever return. There was no letter, no nothing. Then he did finally come back and had a room someplace; he worked in the military. One day he called me and we went for a walk.

And then it happened that a few days later an edict went out, saying: “All citizens who have large apartments must give up some of their space. Only 16-square meters allowed per person.”

I was living with my mother, my brother Sacha, there were just three of us in the apartment, and we had four large rooms at Kouznechnaya Street in Odessa. My father had died shortly before. So there was my mother, me, Sacha and oh yes, Edith was with us; that makes four. Anyway the apartment was too big for four people and at that time your father showed up, he was in the army and had proper papers, and we asked him to move in with us. He could requisition two rooms, that way we would be saved. He moved in, took over my room and that was when I told him: “Ah ha, I won’t let you go again.” So he stayed on to live with us, which permitted us to keep our apartment.

We used to walk around, and we were together, but I was getting mad at him because he would never say anything about what was going on with us.

Dedoushka bought lots of small things. And we had lots of carpets. One time I got mad at him. He had been going out with me for a long time, he would not propose — and once we met, went for a walk, ate some piroshki, and stopped in front of some store. Dedoushka bought two exquisite Venetian glass bottles, charming things, very valuable. He bought them, they were wrapped. He walked me home.

We stood at the front door, talking and he said, “Take these Rosachka, they are for you.”

“I won’t accept any gifts from you.”

“If you don’t accept them, I’ll break them.”

“Go ahead, break them.”

And he flung them down and broke them into smithereens. That’s how he was, can you imagine? I was so furious with him. But after that, finally, he married me, but that was terrible when he broke those bottles, it was such a shock.

One day, he called me and said, “What are you doing now?”


“So go downstairs to the man in charge of the building and he has to give you a paper saying that you never were married and I’ll be waiting for you, and come quick, we’ll get married.”

And so I rushed and rushed, of course, and we got married.

We didn’t have rings then, but we did later. At that time, we had real gold money, a 10-ruble coin, it was 100% gold. About a year after we got married, we found a man who made two rings for us. We didn’t wear them very much because it was a time when we were obliged to give all gold to the government and it was dangerous to have those rings. So we didn’t wear them and kept them instead in the safe deposit box, and I told myself that when my granddaughter will get married, she will get it. And these are the rings that Lisa and Ralph have now.


Dedoushka: Some rather troubled days started in Kiev at about that time, and I decided to leave for Odessa where I had a friend, Davey Borochine, with whom I was very close in Moscow. Somehow, before that, I happened to go to Nikolaev, because the roads and tracks were broken and in Nikolaev I was made a member of some volunteer troops. And one night I grabbed my revolver, which I had never shot, but to which I had become very attached ever since I had become an officer. I headed for the port and for not too much money I was able to get passage on a sailing vessel. I remember that we were twice stopped by representatives of the French Navy, questioned and our papers checked. I managed to hide my revolver under a trunk, and made my way safely to Odessa.

In Odessa I set out to look for my friend and ended up at Kouznechnaya Street, where my future wife Rose lived. Things were not quite settled, because control of the city changed every few weeks, from Communist to White Russians and back again. There was a volunteer army formed which fought against the Communists. Those were terrible times because both sides resorted to terrorist tactics, and each time the Bolsheviks shot a group of merchants and other “enemies of the Soviet realm” in Kharkov or whatever other town they occupied, the volunteer army answered in kind in whatever towns they held, and shot Communists and whatever prisoners they held.

I was literally between two fires and did not know which way to turn. From Odessa, I made my way back to Kiev, where I had a job with the military. I turned over all my documents. I was carrying a great deal of money belonging to the government, to the military command, and I did not know what to do. I was finally able to successfully deposit the money in a government bank and receive the necessary receipts.

I must say that my arrival made a great impression on the Borochine family. I was looked upon fondly by Rosachka’s mother, and she herself did not seem reluctant to see me, and we parted great friends.

After a certain time, the Bolsheviks defeated the volunteer troops, and I returned once again to Odessa where we fell in love and decided to get married. I vividly remember that we were invited to the home of a lady who, I believe, gave manicures and we celebrated our marriage, which we had made official by inscribing our names in some kind of book. She prepared for us a kind of vodka-like drink, some sort of home-made brew, which gave us all splitting headaches for, oh… a good week thereafter.


Baboushka: Then the great cold came. When we were married, in May, it had been a terribly cold winter. There was no fuel at all to heat the apartment. This was in 1920. So we all moved into one big room, the dining room. In the middle we put a stove and we moved out the extra furniture. We lived with my mother in Odessa. She had two large beds. We put those against the walls. In one of the beds slept mother and Edith, the bed next door was for the honeymooners, Leon and me, my brother Sacha slept on the sofa, but we had a maid, she slept on the floor. And so we lived all winter long in one room.

The stove was in the middle, there was one table and we lived all in one room. We never saw water. There was no water, all the pipes had frozen. To get a pail of water, you had to walk at least eighteen or twenty blocks and carry back two pails of water. Sacha rigged up a long pole and we hung two pails on it. I held one end, Edith or Leon held the other, and that’s how we carried our water.

We lived on the fifth floor and one day they announced that there was water. But only in the basement. And how were we to get it upstairs? So Sacha figured it out. Somewhere he got a metal block and a pulley I think. He put it on the sixth floor, dropped a rope down and we pulled the water up from downstairs, and all the neighbors used it too, right up to the sixth floor and you can just imagine what high favor we were held in. But before that, we used to go to the port, in the lower part of the town, and from there we carried one pail of water for use by the entire family.

You can imagine that nobody even thought of washing. We went to bed fully dressed, just as we were. It was a frightful way of life. Because it was very cold and very miserable, we had a kind of oven, it was the only thing that kept us warm. We had no electricity, in the middle of the table we had a small glass lamp and the entire family sat around that one lighted wick. No heat, no lights, there was very little food, but we were young, healthy and in love.

We were hungry, but we always had bread or something. We were really foolish — we had a cookbook, and when we had nothing to do, we would read the book about how to make cakes and everything. It was stupid, because we were so hungry and we couldn’t get all this food we needed to cook, but we used to make up all these meals to entertain ourselves.

We starved when everybody starved. We were cold when everybody was cold. Still, we lived well.


I was living with my mother when Tosh [Tatiana, the author’s mother] was born. And it was very cold — she was born on February 4, so we kept her in a bed and put small bottles of hot water all around her so that she wouldn’t freeze to death. She was born very small, under six pounds, a very, very small baby. And because we had not enough food, I didn’t have enough milk and she was very weak, and often sick. She would have stomach pains, and I couldn’t feed her enough. She was so very, very weak, she couldn’t hold her head up and I worried all the time she wouldn’t survive. What saved her, though, is my sister, Marconne, in Constantinople. She got in touch with Dedoushka’s brother Bernard who lived in New York and he started to send money to Constantinople and then she sent us lots of food through the post, everything for babies, food and lot of things, like chocolate, and sugar and even oil and butter in big jars and even kerosene. It saved our lives.


Dedoushka: I can’t remember what the occasion was, but once I drank some civuka, it was a homemade vodka-like drink. I drank so much that I had yellow jaundice. That stuff just lay in your stomach and never dissolved, civuka is denatured alcohol, like kerosene. I remember that I thought I was going to die. And then Anastasia said, “You must cover him [Leon] with fur coats to make him perspire.”

It was sort of like a sauna, to make the alcohol escape. And I remember they threw a pile of fur coats over me, up to the ceiling and on the third day I came to, and after that I think I had jaundice. I was sick a long time. I think I was as yellow as a banana. It was terrible.


Baboushka: We were married in 1920. Before that, Marconne and Fedya had left for Constantinople and Sonya was in Moscow and that is probably where she was married to Misha. Four months after our own marriage in 1920, my brother Davey was shot to death, he was twenty-nine, a young man killed for a piece of gold.

My sister Sonya, who was in Moscow, was not told at first what had happened to Davey, she thought he had died of typhus fever. We went to Moscow, we were given tickets to Boris Gudonov, with Chaliapin, and when we returned after the performance, Checya, my sister-in-law (Davey’s wife), was angry that we had gone to the theater, and he told Sonya that he had been shot. It was a terrible scene, hysterics, it was awful. We were staying with Sonya and Misha in Moscow, then we returned to Odessa for a time.

Chapter Four


Dedoushka: When I was in the army I decided to go to Kiev to see the children (his brothers and sisters). It was impossible to get permission, so I went to my commander and asked if I could join a peace delegation headed by Manuisky, which was on its way to negotiations with Kiev, which was still free, in the Ukraine. Rakovsky sent me as a member of the delegation. At the border of the Ukraine, somewhere near Voronesh, I was told I had to get out, the delegation couldn’t bring any suspicious army people and I was going along as an army representative. I left the train, and I had two large suitcases, stuffed full of things. I was carrying a lot of cloth, furs, I remember I had a lot of mink skins, and it was about eight or ten versts to the border. There was a free zone between Soviet Russia and the Ukraine and I had to carry these two suitcases over. It was impossible. I remember there was a young ex-soldier with us. We found a long stick, strung the two suitcases on it and carried them like a tiger in India, safari-like, to the border. I remember at dawn I heard “Halt, halt!” These were German soldiers, that was very good fortune, much better than Communists. I got into the train and brought some jewelry to Lisa, pearls, real pearls of course, they weren’t making cultured pearls yet. When the Germans came it was considered great good fortune, that was liberation. They were met by the mayor and everybody.

Baboushka: They were very correct, the Germans were. I remember they came once and wanted to requisition a room from us. When they saw me, a young girl, and I talked to them, they apologized, kissed my hand and left. They were very, very correct. Then they got much worse.


Dedoushka: Once I was in Moscow in 1918 when Sonya and Misha were living at the Elite Hotel and there was wild gambling going on there. I won a large sum of money and at that moment someone came in from downstairs and offered me a string of pearls. And I bought them. I can’t remember what I paid; it was for my sister Lizochka. But I remember that there were also two wonderful earrings, and Misha took them as a commission. I think that today they would be very valuable. They were very beautiful pearl earrings, and very large. The string of pearls was not nearly as high quality.


Baboushka: Tosh was not yet born. In the port of Odessa there were ships of the White Army, which was on the run, and the Red Army was coming into the city and Leon went downstairs with a rifle, toward the port, risking his life for a crazy boat.

Dedoushka: The White Army was in Odessa. Somehow I became acquainted with the head of the military procurement of the White Army. He owned a cargo ship which carried lumber; it was a wonderful ship, named Lastochka (Swallow). He just took it over. There were many ships in the harbor, but he could not sail this one out because, for the first time in many years, perhaps 100 years, the port of Odessa was frozen solid, and all the ships froze in place, near the shore. He couldn’t sail it away, and the White Army was retreating toward the Caucasus, where the English were.

“Lev Markovitch, would you like to buy the Swallow?” he asked me.

“I have a buyer for it,” I told him. Shulmeister, our brother-in-law, Kucya’s father, was in the business of transporting lumber; he cut down the trees and transported them, and he needed that boat.

“How much does the boat cost?” I asked. Nobody had any large sums of money, but I paid part of the money for the boat and returned home.

Some short time later, Schulmeister and I were sitting down at home, when there was a knock at the door and in walked two soldiers of the White Army.

“Where is Schulmeister?” he said. Meanwhile, he was hiding behind the wardrobe.

“He is not here.”

“And who are you?”

“A relative.”

One of them said, “Well, we have to bring in someone.”

They took me away at night and took me to the commander, who I think was in counterintelligence, and important man.

“We are leaving tomorrow,” he told me, “but nobody knows that. Before we go, though, you have to pay me the money you owe me for the boat Swallow.”

I said, “As far as I know, he gave you part of the money.”

“Yes, but he still owes me a few thousand rubles.”

“I can’t find him,” I told the commander, “but you can trust me when I say that the money is secure. I can transmit it to whomever you wish.”

“My mistress is here,” he said. “Give her all the money that is owed to me.”

I swore on the cross, of course, of course. On the way they were pushing me ahead, I was afraid they would shoot me in the back and kill me, but they let me go, I returned home, and the next morning there was nobody left. The White Army had disappeared and the Red Army was marching in, shooting.

The Swallow was still in port. I think Davey was still home. I said, “Let’s go see what’s happening to the boat.”

We went down the famous steps of Odessa and found the boat — it was not far away in the ice — and once on board, we paled: there was a vast amount of foreign goods, rice, which nobody had seen, it was like finding gold. We carried the bags off. We looked around and found some rifles. I was always afraid of firearms, but I took five rifles anyway, lifted the bags of rice, and carried it all to where I lived, near the Municipal Theater. We were not married then. I met Red Army men on the street and I felt better. These were my friends. But then I saw that they were putting up posters everywhere: “Turn in your weapons. Anybody found with weapons will be shot on the spot.” And I had five rifles at home! That night I ran out and placed a rifle behind the first tree I could find. And I did that five times to get rid of them.

We kept the rice. As the ships started to leave, Davey and I went down to the port, we carried the bags of rice, five pud (about 40 pounds) we each carried on our shoulders — we could have been shot twenty-five times over. We took the rice home and lived on it. We sold some and exchanged a cup of rice for bread, for anything. It was worth more than money, than gold, more than diamonds. Then there was a thaw, and the Swallow was taken away. It was a wonderful ship, certainly worth a fortune today.

I don’t remember what year it was, but there was a severe famine in Russia. Literally, the streets were strewn with the bodies of dead horses, there was no food, no fuel, no electricity. We usually sat around a small oil lamp, a small bottle in which we put a little kerosene and a wick. It was in Odessa.

At that time I was with the army in procurement and I had the idea of asking my commanding officer to give me orders to go to Moscow, and pick up some special documents, so that on the way I might be able to find some food. I finally received these orders to go to Moscow, and of course, right away I set off for the Liman, where bags of salt were sold for almost nothing. This was in Odessa, of course. I took a bag weighing several puds, lifted it on my shoulders, brought it home and waited for the train to depart. When the train came, and it stood at the station for a long time, I loaded the bag onto the second shelf of a car and lay down alongside the bag in order to hide it.

A few stations past Odessa, there was a checkpoint, the train stopped, and a group of sailors, rifles in hand, started to search the train and unload the bags of salt. There was some talk that the salt everybody was bringing was over-loading the train and that there might be a wreck, because all the passengers were either military personnel or people on special detail — private citizens were not allowed to take the train. They started unloading the salt bags, they literally dragged me down by my feet from my shelf, found my salt, which had already gained much in value in just a few hundred miles from Odessa, and they took it away.

I lost my head with the horror of the whole thing — what will happen to me without the salt? So I took my rifle, flung it over my shoulder and went into the guard house, where the salt was being kept. I walked in and addressed the commander, a captain perhaps. I actually had tears in my eyes.

“What are you doing to me? This is a matter of life and death. I have children, I may be able to exchange it for food, for flour or lard after I discharge my military duties. I am on my way to Moscow on secret orders from my commanding officer.”

He saw tears in my eyes, “Tovarich, don’t worry, we can rectify all this. Where is your bag?”

I looked all around and there were bags of salt everywhere, ten- to twelve-pud bags, thousands of bags. I chose a medium-sized one, about six or seven pud and said, “That’s it, I recognize it, that’s mine.”

He said, “How can you carry it? It’s heavy.”

“I can do it, if you can just help me load it.”

He helped me lift the bag onto my shoulders and I went off. How I reached my railroad car, who helped me and how, I don’t remember. Everybody was astonished. They all asked, “How did you ever manage to liberate your salt, Tovarich?”

I kept saying, “It is not my salt, I am taking it on special orders to Moscow, it belongs to the army.”

So we started off, rode and rode and reached Farstov, I don’t remember how many miles, but the train stopped and there was much commotion around the train — people trading, exchanging things.

I went out and asked, “Where can I trade some salt?”

“Salt? Everybody takes salt. What do you want for it?”

I said, “Well, how about some sugar? How do you exchange it?”

They said, “A pound for a pound,” which was okay with me.

They weighed the bag and gave me an equal weight of sugar. And so I reached Kiev with the sugar. I realized that it was not profitable to carry heavy bags. In Kiev, I went to the market and exchanged the bag, I remember, for some imported cocoa. Where they got this cocoa, I don’t know. Probably stole it from some military supply warehouse. Now I had a significantly smaller bag of cocoa and I moved on. After that things were rather uneventful. After a few days and nights we reached Moscow. In Moscow, before reporting to the central military office to get the necessary papers, I went to the Oxotnei Rad (a market). There were hundreds of people there and I stood there, in military uniform, with a rifle, and shouted, “Cocoa!”

A large crowd formed around me and in about half an hour I had exchanged all of my cocoa. I had lots of money, kerenky, each worth about 40 rubles. I stuffed my pockets full of kerenky, calmed down, went to my family — about whom I will speak later — washed up, counted my money, which came to thousands of rubles. Now what should I do with the money?

I had a brother-in-law, Misha. He said, “You know what?” You don’t need all that money, but diamonds instead.”

I said, “Where would I find diamonds, who would sell me diamonds at a time like this?”

He said, “Well, I just happen to have one.”

He rummaged around in a sofa and came up with a couple of small stones, rather yellow by present-day standards, worth very little.

He said, “Look at these wonderful stones. How much do you have?” We counted.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you this stone, and you will only owe me 800 rubles more because it is worth 2,500 rubles. It’s a clear diamond, white, with no flaws.”

I believed him, took the stone, sewed it into the sleeve of my jacket and I walked along thinking, “How about that? I’m rich, a rich man, set for life.” I walked along, whistling, and I thought there’s nothing more to be done here. So I got the army papers, put them in my sleeve, said good-bye to everybody and started back. I came home and hid the stones. For a long time I did not know where to hide them, because there were searches all the time, and I hid them in a wardrobe, behind a shelf where there was a slight crack. I wrapped the diamonds in brown paper so they could not be seen, and stuffed them in the crack. So we lived on, and I kept thinking, “We are all set — when there is a famine we will sell the stones and be able to buy food on the black market.” And, of course, we almost lost them altogether.


Baboushka: We were living with my mother and we had a large wardrobe, and once your father went to work, my mother came in and said “You know, some German peasant women were here, and I sold them the wardrobe. I didn’t really sell it, I traded it for four geese, two bags of flour and something else.”

I said, “Wait mother, Leon will be home soon.” I knew that at some time he had hid diamonds there, but I didn’t know where they were then.

She said “I can’t wait.” And they took away the wardrobe.

Leon came home from work and I said “You know, we sold the wardrobe, and where are the diamonds?”

“In the wardrobe,” he said.

I fainted, it was a frightful scene. So what did Leon do? He went back to his office with the army. He had a very fine commander, a very nice man and he told him the story. And you must remember that these were Communists, and for one diamond you could easily lose your head. His name was Chudnovsky, and Dedoushka told him the story. He said that his wife was prostrate because her mother had sold something which was something like a souvenir, had sentimental value and what could we do.

Dedoushka: So this commander said, “I’ll give a three-day pass and you can take off, but I warn you that Odessa I cut off. Petloura’s forces are a few miles from Odessa, from the Ukraine; these are the Green troops, who indiscriminately kill everyone they met.”

It so happened that the German woman from Adamovka who bought the wardrobe had become attached to some soldier in Odessa. I found him in the courtyard and told him that I wanted to go to Adamovka.

“I have some shirts,” I said, “and I want to exchange them for makuha, compressed soy bean.” Some people ate it, others used it for fuel. He said okay. We found a cart and a horse and driver. I took a rifle and we took off.

On the way at first we were stopped by the Red troops, ours; I had the proper documents and everything was okay. Eventually we reached Adamovka and he took us to an isba where the wardrobe was lying flat — just like a corpse. It has three sections, and they had laid it down so it would not break. The first section was for clothes, then a section with shelves and inside a place to hang coats and such, and then a large mirrored door. It was very wide. There it lay, like a corpse, without a door.

I came nearer. On the way I picked up some wire, and dug it into the shelves, and indeed I found the paper containing the diamonds.

Just then the owner came in, the German lady — it was a German colony — and asked “What are you doing here?”

“I’m looking for something of no importance, small pieces of glass.”

“Show me,” she said.

I showed her and she said, “Okay it’s nothing.”

And she asked, “Was it really worthwhile for you to come all this way and risk your life?”

Then I asked her if I could exchange my shirts, and I got a whole cartload of stuff — flour, the compressed soy beans, and all kinds of things, corn. The soy bean meal was important; at that time people formed it into bricks for stoves, fed it to cattle, and people ate it. We were bringing it back for fuel, because we were freezing. So we loaded all that stuff on the cart, and the solider remained behind, and I returned alone. On the way back, I was stopped at several check points by Green troops. It was really a miracle.

Baboushka: Leon was wearing a short fur coat, they were called Romanov half-coats, and since there was no soap, no water, people did not bathe or wash for months and there were lots of fleas. When he came home and threw his coat on the floor, it walked away by itself, there were so many fleas.


Dedoushka: I keep thinking. How casually we gambled with our lives. But we had to eat.

There was a terrible famine. We knew we were doing dangerous things, but somehow we never thought that we could be taken away and shot at any time. People were shot for that sort of thing. We were carrying a small fortune.

These four diamonds were the beginning of our whole fortune. At some point we had some gold coins. I guess we had sold the diamonds. In Moscow we bought an apartment, a large apartment from a man who had been granted permission to be abroad. It was a large apartment, five or six rooms, with a piano, furniture, everything. And we bought all that for thirty-five rubles — three gold-ten-ruble pieces and one five-ruble coin, remember. And that was the beginning of everything.


Dedoushka: I remember another time when I went back to Moscow on army business.

I was walking along Tversky Avenue, I think it is now called Gorky Street, and suddenly I met my old friend from Army school days. I had finished military school and was one of the few Jewish officers.

“What are you doing here? What has become of you all this time?” I asked him. He was a young, handsome man.

He said, “I have come from Uzbekistan, from Tashkent, and on special orders of the Republic I am escorting two carloads of dried fruit.”

I asked, “What do you mean, dried fruits?”

He answered, “Raisins, dried plums, apricot and other.”

It was amazing because for a long, long time, Moscow had not seen anything of the sort.

“Who is it for?” I asked.

“It goes to the Soviet People’s Committee, to the Commissars, then it goes to some highly placed military people, and government people.”

I asked, “What about me?”

“And who are you?”

I answered that I had arrived in Moscow as a representative of the Odessa Military Headquarters, with special documents, and I said, “I’ll tell you what. You give me some of your dried fruit, and I will give you this watch.” I had a magnificent gold watch with blue enamel work.

His eyes popped. “Are you serious? You really want to give me such a watch?”


He said, “Come to the Arbat, to army headquarters and this evening I will be distributing the fruit.”

So I came, in full uniform. He started the distribution. Part went to the Moscow headquarters, part went to Leningrad. Then he said, “And we have here a representative of the Odessa military headquarters.” So up I stepped. He said, “You are entitled to one bag of ‘Kishmish’ raisins.”

I looked at the bag. It seemed to be made of steel. An enormous bag as high as I was, weighing about 100 pounds.

“Drag it away,” he said.

Someone helped me take it outside. I couldn’t lift it myself. I went looking, found an izvoshchik (cab driver) for hire, and told him that we were going to Nikitskaya street and I had to take this bag. He was afraid that it would break his springs. But I told him, “Don’t worry. If the springs break, I will pay you in raisins.” Because of course nobody had seen any fruit in Moscow for a long time. It was difficult to imagine what had been happening.

We dragged the bag into the cab, I sat on top of it and we arrived. He unloaded the bag, I paid him off and called my brother-in-law Misha, who lived with Sonya on the second floor. He was a strong guy and we dragged it into his apartment. It was very cold, so they lived in one of two rooms in Moscow.

We put the bag in an empty room and I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll give you some of it for your help.” Incidentally, it wasn’t necessary to give him any. He would get up at night and steal all he wanted — he just stole it, went to the market and resold it. At night, I slept in the same room, my head on the raisins, and I slept soundly, but from time to time I heard some movement, and I found that rats had nibbled at the bag and eventually broke through the bag and stole several pounds of the raisins.

I transferred some of the raisins into a small bag and proceeded to Ohotney Rad (market), to try to sell them. It was such a success, I sold a few pounds and it was worth literally its weight in gold. I was selling it for money, not trading it for other goods, and this went on for several days. Every day I marked the bag, and I noticed that Misha was stealing from me, pound by pound, many dozens of pounds. Anyway, I earned a lot of money, all kinds of coins, kerenkies and others. I asked Misha: “What would you advise me to do with the money?” He said there is no other way out but to buy a diamond ring from him. He went away, dug in some old sofa and came up with a ring. He said, “This is a rare, a very rare stone. It probably is worth 200 chervonsi, but for you, only 100.” So I gave him almost all my money and took the ring.


Baboushka: Misha was the husband of Sonya. This is how Misha and Sonya started their life in Moscow: They arrived in Moscow without money, without a cent, and they met some actress, a famous actress named Mensilinsiva. Some introduced them and she said to them, “Listen, I have received permission to leave and I am going to Europe, to Berlin.” The Soviets had given her an exit permit. “I have no money for the trip and everything I own is in storage, all my things are there, a trunk-full of things. Here is the receipt. Whatever is there is yours, just give me enough money for the trip and keep whatever you find.”

Misha gave her some money and she left. When they got the things, they found silver, porcelain, magnificent fabrics, linens, such a luxurious array that it was difficult to imagine. For instance, there were some extraordinarily beautiful draperies, silk, lined with silk, and in between, some fine white fabric called bombazine, a cotton-like fabric. We took all the draperies apart, Sonya sold the silk, and we made dresses and all sorts of clothes from the lining. It was a fortune. And there was furniture, and some Russian Fabergé silver; crystal, amazing things, sheets, each one of which was worth a fortune, all in large trunks. That was the beginning of her entire fortune. There certainly were all kinds of things in Moscow during those times.

Chapter Five


We moved to Moscow when Tosh started to walk; she was about one-year old and she was getting stronger. Sonya came to Odessa from Moscow when the Bolshevik Communists had finally become firmly established. There were many emotional moments before then, since control of the city kept shifting from side to side, and the town kept changing sides. We were living in that large apartment. Sonya decided that we had to move to Moscow with her. She had become acquainted with some Cheka man, from the GPU. He introduced us to the director of the railroad, and that man arranged for us to have an entire red railroad car — it was called a tepoushka. We loaded all our furniture, everything we had. Not only furniture, we even took out the bathtub, a bathtub with feet and we put in the tub and my mother’s grand piano, and we moved to Moscow. But since you could trust no one, because everything could be stolen along the way, Edith and Richard (Baboushka’s sister and Dedoushka’s brother, the youngest of both families), they were not married yet, they rode in that car with the furniture, from Odessa all the way to Moscow.


Baboushka: During the Revolution, through all kinds of efforts, we eventually were granted three rooms, in Sokolniki. The little house that Peter first bought is a palace compared to the one we lived in at Sokolniki — no bathroom, no toilet, not anything. We had three small rooms, we carried our own water. No running water, no heat, no toilet, not anything. In the kitchen we had a barrel. In addition to out three rooms, there were two other rooms where other people lived.

We started with two rooms when we first came. There was a dining-room where Tosh slept with Marie (the maid), who had been my mother’s former cook, and we had a bedroom — that makes two rooms. Then we were able to buy another room, on the second floor, and move one of the families there, and then we had three rooms. Then Tosh and Marie slept in that third room. In addition to this, a student and his wife lived in one room, the room was about the size of Tosh’s sauna, and another young woman and her husband Verochka, lived there. There were four housewives in the kitchen and everybody cooked on a primus stove, which had to be pumped up, and that’s how we lived.

Nobody ever washed, nobody took baths. In the morning a water carrier would arrive. We had a large barrel in the kitchen and the water would be brought in the morning. Then, during our stay there, they installed running water. There was water for the toilet, and there was a faucet in the kitchen. Everybody washed under that faucet, a little bit.

My mother and Edith lived close by, the second or third house over. It was a nice house. They had only one room, but they had a bathroom, Edith was not married yet.


Baboushka: We were in Moscow about five years, until 1928. For a short time, Moscow was a wonderful place, especially after Richard and Leon opened their store. There was a free market for a few years, all the shops were open and the caviar was in big tubs, the same price as butter — three rubles a pound for butter and the same for caviar. When you wanted to buy a pound of caviar, you just went from one big tub to another, having a taste.

In 1924, just after we left Odessa, I traveled to Berlin and I brought back a lot of things. In Berlin I ordered such things — it was as if today I shopped at Patou, at Givenchy. I came to Berlin so hungry, in tatters from Moscow. I was wearing a dress which had been made from old curtains.

One day I happened into the House of Kundt. At that time I paid seventy-five dollars apiece for dresses; in 1924 that would be the equivalent of three or four thousand today. And where did I get all that money? Well, Leon was working. It was during the NEP, they had a store and I had money.

In that old beaver coat we kept all the dollars; I sewed the money into the coat and they let me through. I remember I had a black wool dress with an embroidered scarf. One was a green silk dress, I ordered a coat at Habbicut, I bought hats, I ordered two magnificent suits, seventy dollars each. I acted like a crazy woman. At that time I spent two thousand rubles, or rather dollars.

It was a fortune, all we had, and when I returned to Moscow with all these things, your father said, “You are crazy, where are you going to wear all that?” I could never wear any of these things. I never wore the fur coat, I could never wear anything.

And when I brought all that stuff back I could hardly realize where I was returning to. I had no right to bring back anything, as a matter of fact. I think I bought ten pairs of shoes, a whole wardrobe for Tosh, for my mother. A lot of fabric, all kinds of things.

But the trip back to Moscow was a real adventure. I was alone in the train, and I was very young, and at that time men and women all shared the same compartment. Several gentlemen and three young men were sitting next to me, wearing some kind of impressive uniforms. We sat and chatted. One of them asked me to sew a button back on for him, it was all very friendly. We reached the border, and all went well, a true miracle.

After we had crossed the border I said to them, “Imagine how lucky I am. You know what I am bringing with me? Fabrics, a fur coat, shoes, and this and that…”

Dedoushka met me at the station, I came out, the men said good-bye to me, and when they left, he said, “Do you know who those men were? That was Rakovsky.” He was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and he was surrounded by GPU people, and I had told them all that story. It was a miracle.


Baboushka: Misha, Sonya’s first husband was a strange sort of fellow, but he was good to us. When we went back to Moscow, your father opened a large store; they imported electric motors, lamp bulbs and such things from Germany. Misha had some sort of wholesale business, and across the street was your father’s store. Richard was considered the official owner and Leon was named his employee. They needed money.

Leon took the ring — the famous diamond — back to Misha and asked him to buy it back.

“Wait,” he said, “I have to take a magnifying glass an examine it.” Then he said, “My God, there is more coal here than diamond. I can give you only 100 chervonsi for it.”

“Wait a minute — I paid you three times that.”

“Yes,” he said, “at that time it was a clear diamond, I don’t know what you did to it, but now there are all kinds of flaws in it.”

There was nothing I could do, relatives are relatives. I took the 100 chervonsi, about 1,000 dollars at that time. The chervonsi was worth 10 rubles, and the ruble was worth a dollar. Anyway, he bought it back and that was the beginning of the store.


At that time there was free trade with Germany. So Richard and I rented an electrical supply store and started working. It was called Technichiski Dom (Technical House). It was an independent venture and we did well. This was during the NEP (New Economic Policy), when a certain amount of private enterprise was allowed.


Dedoushka: I almost bought an apartment in the Russia House, they were the largest buildings in Moscow, built by the Russia Insurance Company. I remember that someone came and said that there was an apartment for sale, some former rich kniaz (aristocrat). What I was really impressed with was the collection of porcelain and dishes and such, I bought some, then it was taken away.

One day I was called before the local IRS. It turned out that Misha used blank invoices, and wrote fake bills. They negotiated these through Soviet firms. (Misha, Sonya’s first husband, he was a terrible crook; he died recently). I was called in, and fined something like 40,000 pounds, a large amount. I could not even think of paying it. Misha made lots of money on these bonds and just cheated me mercilessly, me and Richard. He loved us, he was good to us, but if there were ever an opportunity to steal from us, he was always right there.


The country needed everything, there was a shortage of everything. Somehow I found a friend who told me, “By chance, I need you. I have permission to import from Germany some electric lamp bulbs, but I don’t know what to do with them.”

I said, “We can certainly use them. How much do you want for them?”

“We can surely reach some deal. Whatever you want to give me, because they cost me practically nothing.”

So we went to the custom house and picked up two large barrels full of light bulbs and brought them back. They came from Germany, by special import permission. How he got them, for what purpose, I don’t know, probably for some government agency. Anyway, we brought two of these barrels into our store and started to sell them. These were no lamp bulbs in the country, although there was electricity. I don’t remember how much the bulbs cost us, but we probably sold them for fifty times more than we had paid, and that was the beginning of my Soviet wealth and welfare.

Later, another thing happened. In walked some workman and said, “Would you be interested in buying the residual carbon from motors? We throw away a lot of this leftover carbon from motors. At that time there were not enough of these things they then called brushes, which were used for motors.”

I said, “How many do you have?”

He said, “I’ll bring as many as you want.”

He brought two basketfuls. These were leftover things, very small. I found some mechanics and they turned these into smaller brushes for smaller motors and we started to sell them, and we were the only ones in town who had them. The word went out, if you need brushes for small motors, go to Technichiski Dom — our store on Mesnitsky Street. He kept bringing them and we kept selling them. I don’t know what eventually happened to him. One day he vanished and there were no more brushes.


One day we started to buy meters for electrical installations. In Moscow you could only get electricity if you could provide your own meter. There were no meters for electrical energy, and electricity was given only to those who could supply their own meters. I had one. There had been a fire in Saratov. The electrical power plant burned down and there was no electricity in the entire town of Saratov, I think it is called Stalingrad now. Some train conductor started bringing electrical meters from there to Moscow, because I remember that railroad employees, mostly, brought these to Moscow and I paid fifteen rubles, or chervonsi, the chervonsi was a unit of currency used in the Ukraine, it was about equivalent to a ruble.

He said, “I happen to have an electrical meter.” And it was a meter for the 120-volt current then used in Moscow.

So I started to trade. I was the only person who could supply them. I don’t remember what I paid for them, about 15 rubles a meter, and I sold them for 250. The train conductor kept bringing one or two on each trip from Saratov — people there sold their meter to him because there wasn’t any power anyway — so it happened quite by accident.

This was not long before we closed down, because one day merchants started escaping abroad — they were being persecuted. The NEP was coming to an end, the free economic policy had been abandoned. The squeeze was on, that was in 1927, and store after store was closed as people tried to leave the country — stores were either sealed off or the people arrested.

But just before that, one day we were sitting in our store and in walked a crowd of people from Gruzin, with their fur hats, their wool burnooses. These people were from some town in the Caucasus, I don’t remember exactly where. They walked in and said, “We just came from some town, we have our own electrical power plant and we need some materials. Here is the list. We didn’t know where to turn.”

It was a long list. Of course we didn’t have everything, so I said, “This is going to take a few days, we will have to search these things out, we may have to go to another town, but we’ll get all these things for you. In the meanwhile, let’s sit down and have something to eat.”

“That’s a fine idea,” they said. We sent out for some salami, bread, we got a few bottles of vodka and we drank far into the night. We closed the store and drank and drank.

They were delighted. They said, “This is the first time we have met with such hospitality on the part of merchants. All this time we thought you were enemies of the state.”

The next morning we started to get the various items they needed from municipal and private sources. There was quite a bit of it. They needed some switches, and I remembered that somewhere under a workbench we had stored some large silver switches months before, nobody had needed them and they had been lying around for months.

I showed them to these guys from Gruzin, and they exclaimed, “That is exactly what we need. How much are they worth?”

“They are priced in the catalogue,” I answered.

“What catalogue?”

“The government catalogue, two-and-a-half times the list price, that is the established price.”

“That’s okay,” they said, “but how much will it cost?”

I looked it up and said, “They cost 18 rubles, two-and-a-half times that, so it’s about 42 rubles a piece.”

“That’s rather expensive,” they said, “what’s in it?”

“Silver, perhaps platinum, I don’t know.”

Anyway, on the fifth day, they took everything and left. I went next door to the government store, which was called Electroprom, and I had friends there who sometimes sold things to me, and I asked him, “Tell me, why are these things so expensive in the catalogue, eighteen rubles?”

“Old, Czar rubles?” he said. “Why? Is that so expensive? That’s the price per gross, a dozen dozen.”

My heart jumped. What would happen if they realized that? But happily about two months later, our store was forced to close and that was the end of that business. So they paid heaven knows how much — not 20 times the list price, but probably 220 times.


Dedoushka: But then I was arrested and went to prison. There was a law to close all stores. Officially, I was an employee, so I was safe. But Richard, who on paper was the owner, left Russia without a passport, without anything, he escaped to Europe, and then moved to America. And these were the times that changed the course of our lives for good.


I received a telegram from an old customer, I have forgotten his name, saying that he was coming from Leningrad and wanted to see me and talk about a deal, and he would be at Nikolaev Station at a given time.

I arrived at the station, met him, he walked out of the railroad car with two large suitcases. I helped him carry them. We took a horse-drawn taxi and he said, “First of all, I am going to see my brother, he has a transport agency on Mesnitski Street. I’ll unpack the suitcases, then we can sit down quietly and I can tell you the reason for our meeting.”

We arrived at his house on Mesnitski Street, got out, and walked into the courtyard. These were heavy suitcases for him to carry. I was young, so I picked up the two rather large suitcases, crossed the entire long courtyard, pushed open the door the door and walked into the building, the transport office. I had been there before, but I did not know what to expect. I looked around and saw lots of people, and I paled. There were military men, with purple epaulets, I recognized them as railroad Cheka, railroad police.

I started to back out, and a soldier said, “No, Tovarich, come in, come in, don’t leave.”

I walked in. There was a large table, people everywhere, some standing, some sitting on the floor, there were not enough chairs. They detained everybody who walked in, and a lot of people walked in, because people speculated through these transport agencies, they bought manufactured goods in Moscow and sent them to various towns, some to Siberia, some to the Volga and so forth.

I was asked “What do you have?”

“I don’t have anything.”

“What do you have in your pockets?”

Well, first of all, I had some letters from abroad, which I had to give to my wife’s mother. That in itself was incriminating material. Then — and I myself was surprised — for some reason I had 160 chervonsi. Why I had them, for what eventuality, I don’t know. It was a very large sum of money. I could never justify it, because my salary was very small. And the worst thing of all is that in my wallet I had a receipt showing that in that very storehouse I had left the remains of all the merchandise left in our store when it had been closed by the government. I had a few cases of stuff left, and I had taken them there.

The man said, “Do you have a handkerchief?”

I took a handkerchief out of my pocket, he took everything and said, “And the watch, put the watch here, it’s a gold watch.”

I put down the watch.

He asked, “What is that on your finger?”

“That’s my wedding ring.”

“Put it down.”

In short, he took everything and then I went to prison.

At the prison, the guard wrote my name.

I started to ask, “Tovarich, when…?”

“The head man will come and look this over,” he answered. “He will decide who goes to prison and who goes free. Wait.”

We waited one, two, maybe three nights, but he never came. I walked up to the guy in charge and said, “Tovarich, could I at least let my wife know where I am?” And I broke into tears. “My wife is pregnant, if I don’t get home in another hour or two, God knows what will happen to her.” This was not true, of course.

He said, “All right, call her. But don’t say where you are.”

I called my wife’s brother, because we had no phone, and told him that I had accidentally been arrested, that the man in charge would arrive and they would let me free, because I had not been involved in dirty deals. The guard said “Stop!” and slammed down the receiver.

It later turned out that Rose found out I had been arrested. The first thing she did was to take a chair. And in the leg of that chair was hidden the famous diamond. I had drilled a hole in the chair leg, rather deeply, pushed this diamond in, sealed the whole thing and painted over it, so that nobody could ever find it again. She took the chair and took it to her mother’s, because she expected that following my arrest there would be a search of my home. That was the usual procedure.

Another hour went by, nobody came. The guard said, “He must be busy. Let’s go.”

This all took place in Moscow. Then they took us to Boutirka, which was an old, famous prison. Probably had been there from the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

Two trucks came up, about fifty or sixty people piled into each one, and off we went. We drove over to the Butirka prison and ended up in an enormous hall — there were thousands of people there, from all different offices. It turned out that about 10,000 people had been arrested from different offices. It was impossible to sit down, difficult to stand. I stood on one foot. Eating or drinking was entirely out of the question. After a few hours, people were divided into cells. I ended up in a cell designed for twenty people, criminals, thieves, and other unsavory characters — but there were about seventy of us there.

I was wearing a new coat and somehow I managed to crouch into a corner and I was thinking, “What’s going to happen next? I’m lost forever.”

Some two days or more went by.

Then I heard someone shout, “Is there someone here named Udovich?” (which was my name before we came to America).

“That’s me!” I shouted.

He said, “There’s a package for you.”

I later found out that Rose started out to look for me at the GPU (which became the KGB). They told her there was no one there by that name. Try Butirski Prison, perhaps he is there. And there they found my name on a list and her package reached me. There were fine things in it, salami and other things, but immediately all the thieves and criminals grabbed it, saying “This is common property; you must share with us.” They left me the rind of the salami, they took everything.

But I had no thoughts for food. Two more days went by, three days. Finally, at night, a few people were called out for questioning. I was somewhere in the third floor. I was so scared that I wanted to go into a bathroom on the way, but I did not make it and my pant legs dripped. My legs felt out of rubber.

I finally reached the right room. There were dozens and dozens of tables and at each table sat some sort of official from the Cheka, and they started questioning me. I sat down by one of the tables, and I happened to draw a charming young Cheka officer, a member of the railroad Cheka. A rather sensitive person. He had all sorts of papers before him, and he literally started from the day of my birth. Where were you born? What did you do? How did you happen to be in that office? And since I had been in the army and had a rather impressive army record, I started to say that I had served in the Red Army, that I was this and that, that I worked with that famous Commissar, and I talked and talked and talked.

He said, “Yes, Tovarich, you have been working hard for the glory of our fatherland.”

“What’s going to happen next?” I asked him.

I started crying again and said, “Tovarich, it has been over three days since my pregnant wife has not known where I am and what’s happening to me. Let me go free.”

He listened to me with great feeling, and said, “Don’t worry, calm yourself. I’m going to report on this to my chief.”

About thirty or forty steps away stood a medium-sized man, with very, very black eyes, he was probably from Gruznin. They exchanged a few words, the other glanced at me and I saw that my officer was returning toward me and said, “You will be released today.”

You know, I didn’t even believe it. It was a miracle.

He said, “You go gather your things, and get ready.”

I went back to my cell and everybody asked, “What happened?”

“They’re going to release me.”

“That’s impossible, it’s nighttime,” these experts said. “At night they only take you out to shoot you. Who ever heard of anybody being released from prison at night? Have you lost your mind?”

I was beginning to wonder whether my man had lied to me. At that moment, the door opened and someone yelled “Udovich! … Out!”

I went out and wondered, “Are they really going to shoot me? They can’t do that.”

They led me through a courtyard to another office and there was a young boy, about twelve years old, I can’t imagine how he got there. The commander said to me, “Sign here and I’ll let you go free.”

I signed, and they opened the gates, enormous three-story-high gates. I went out, and saw that the boy was starting to dance. And I started dancing with joy, too. I sort of lost my mind, I didn’t know what was happening to me. At that moment I saw a trolley car approaching. I caught in on the run and rode off. And the conductor said, “Tovarich, how about paying the fare.”

I started going through my pockets, but they had taken everything, I didn’t have a kopeck.

“I have no money.”

“Well,” he said, “when we get to the Red Gate, since you have no money, you have to get off.”

I got off, and I remember that from the Red Gate I started running to Sokolniki several miles away, where we lived. I ran, stopped, rested and ran on. How did I run? On that day I could have set a world’s record for running. It was in Moscow. The extraordinary thing was that we already had passports, exit passports signed by Yegoda. And the prison returned everything down to the last penny.

So this is what I did net. On that same say, at night rather, I went to the railroad station and left for Leningrad, I think Abraham was there. I did not want to remain in Moscow. I had run home at night, later your mother went to the police and got all the money back. I remember that something was missing, but the money was there, the watch was there, all the papers were returned. I think some letters were missing, some letters from abroad. They are probably still holding them.

I was afraid they would change their minds and come back for me, so I left for Leningrad.


Baboushka: While this was going on, I didn’t know where he was, of course. Somehow, he called me and said, “I can’t tell you anything, but I won’t be home.” Then I got a tip. To find out where he was, and how he was, I was to prepare some food and go to GPU, on Red Square in Moscow. So I took a package and stood in line for two, three hours. And I heard that if they accept the package, it means he is there; if they don’t accept it, it means that he is probably dead. They took it.

Chapter Six


After Leon got out of prison, he left immediately for Leningrad, he was afraid to remain in Moscow. We had a very good friend of Dedoushka’s from university; he was a big man in the GPU. We also got an invitation from Bernard in America asking us to come. We had very good luck. We finally did get our passports, and that very day Dedoushka left for Leningrad and I remained in Moscow with Tosh.

Dedoushka: I spent a few weeks in Leningrad then returned to Moscow and left for Paris. I remember that I took along an empty suitcase — I don’t know why — and I had problems with it. At the border with Latvia, which was then free, they opened my suitcase and saw that it was empty.

“How come a man goes abroad without taking anything at all with him?” the guards asked. They called me in to the guard room and asked again about the empty suitcase. They searched me. They took me into an empty room. That search was such a humiliating experience that I can’t describe it. I had to get undressed and searched; that’s a terrible feeling. They pinched me, naked, to see that I had not hidden any foreign currency anywhere. They told me to take off my pants. I took them off and stood there half naked.

“Take off the shoes.”

“What do you expect to find in the shoes?” I asked.

“Never mind, we’ll find it,” they said.

They tried to pry off the heels, but they were solid. I had hidden nothing.

“Okay,” they said, get dressed.”

I got dressed, they gave me back my passport. I sat in the train as far as Latvia and crossed the border — there I was, abroad finally. From there I went to Riga. In Riga, I remember, for the first time in my life I ordered coffee. They brought me coffee, white bread, I had some money, but also an empty suitcase because I didn’t have time to pack. I thought of taking some knick-knacks, but somehow didn’t.


Baboushka: I remained behind, and started to get rid of our things, to sell Leon’s suits, everything. We had some fine things. Then I called Yasha, Lisa’s husband from Kiev, and Abram, from Leningrad, and I gave them a lot of things. I had a beaver coat that I gave to his wife Sonya. I had down comforters; I sent all the baby furniture to Kiev for Lisa, lots of things — all of them came from Sonya. The local commissar gladly took over our apartment. We left everything in the apartment.

Tosh and I first stopped in Warsaw and had dinner with an uncle, then went to Berlin, to Misha’s, Sonya’s first husband. From Riga I went to Paris, where Marconne and Fedya, along with my mother, were already living.


So we left Moscow in 1928. I sold everything and the rest I gave away; we had nothing when we arrived in France. We had had marvelous things. I had been in St. Petersburg and brought back Pavlov chairs and a table. We had some wonderful things in Moscow. We had marvelous dishes. Your father had bought plates. Each had a different design, six or eight designs. We had malachite boxes, porcelain, lovely things.

The very first present your father ever gave me was that blue Bohemian glass basket which is now in the dining room shelf, by the window. That was instead of an engagement ring, the very first thing.


Baboushka: But before we all left, we had to get some money out of the country. Boris (Sonya’s second husband) arranged a meeting between Harriman and Boris Stanfield, who became Harriman’s interpreter and friend. Then Harriman left Russia and Robinson, a colleague, remained.

I am still afraid to tell the story about Robinson, about how we were able to get our money out of Russia. We had managed to acquire quite a sizable capital on speculation, on government bonds. I went to Robinson’s hotel in Moscow with the money and went into their room, and nobody was there, but a maid caught me. It was a miracle, a miracle that we were not sent to Siberia, because I had all this money and a silver goblet on me that I wanted to give as a gift to the Robinsons. I did not know where to go, I had all that foreign currency, for which I could have been shot. The maid followed me from the Robinson’s room and I rushed to Stanfield’s room, fortunately he was there.

“Do you know this citizeness?” the maid asked.

He said yes and the maid left. I went out on the street. Leon was waiting for me. I told him the story and instead of forgetting about it, we went back in a half hour later and I walked back into the Robinson’s room and gave them the money for them to take to America. It was madness. I gave them two silver goblets. It was such a mess; only young people would have done it — it was terrifying.


Edith also did a lot for Sonya and Misha. Misha at the time knew the Latvian ambassador. Edith used to go to the German embassy and turned over money. She also could have been caught and arrested. That is how they got money abroad. I remember that, for instance, it was forbidden to keep gold. You had to turn it in. I knew the Taubeneks, they were searched, they found one golden ten-ruble piece and he was shot for it. Baboushka’s brother Davey was also shot on the street in Odessa for having a gold five-ruble coin on him.


So then Tosh and I left for Paris together, that was in winter. Abraham took us to the station, we stopped in Warsaw. We still have Soviet passports signed by Yagoda. The train stood in Warsaw for twelve hours.


Tatiana: I remember clearly that we arrived in the middle of the night and went to visit someone who had long corridors in their apartment. We had dinner with my uncle. He was there, along with my aunt, and Boris, Manya, Fanya, the entire family. We then went back to our train and on to Berlin. And in Berlin we were met by Misha and we lived in his apartment near the Brandenburg Gate. I remember beaded curtains. That’s where I saw my first traffic light.”

Finally we arrived in Paris. In Paris, we had a furnished apartment on Rue de la Hausse, near the Champs de Mars. And we came in and that is where I saw a banana for the first time.

Baboushka: And that was the first time I had ever had a banana, too. But at first in Paris, I wanted to go home to Moscow. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the people. It was so strange for me, everything there.


Dedoushka: We were finally able to obtain visas and passports to go to France. There used to be special Nansen visas, but we did not get those. We obtained a Soviet passport and when we arrived in Paris we were given what is called a carte de voyage, which enabled us to travel only in France, but in order to leave France we had to obtain special permission. Once we wanted to go to Holland but we never could; we lived with this carte de voyage and weren’t allowed to go. We could never become French citizens. The only way that could happen is if we had a son who would join the French army. That is why we decided to leave. Also Baboushka’s sister Sonya and my brother Richard were in America and they insisted that we come.

I remember the time of the recession. In 1929, during the recession, currency kept falling. I exchanged dollars for Dutch guilder, they fell; the French franc fell, nobody knew what money to keep. I was going crazy, and I realized that if things went on like that, we would be completely ruined. I kept losing money.

This was in 1930… and we didn’t leave until 1935. In 1934, I went to America to check things out. And Rose and Tosh were in the US in 1933. Boris was just one-year old. We finally moved there in 1935.

Let’s see… When I decided to go to America, it must have been 1934, a year before we finally moved. I went to the American consulate to get a visa on the Place de la Concorde, and saw that there were a lot of police around on horseback; there seemed to be quite a commotion. It turned out to be a student demonstration, and I remember that later the papers wrote that the horses were attacked with razors.

I went over to the Embassy and started to take the necessary steps to secure a tourist visa. The consul, Mr. Parks, whose daughter went to school with Tosh, was living in the same apartment building on Square Henri Pathé. One day, he said, “I am being transferred to Mexico, but why don’t you get a permanent visa?”

I didn’t pay attention and went to America, returned to Paris, and had no thought of going back. But then I remembered my visa; I asked that it be extended and it was, and in 1935 I decided to leave France, because it seemed to be that strange things, frightening things were about to happen, a revolution perhaps.

Then there was some trouble with the currency, the franc was falling, the dollar was falling, there were all kinds of problems, and also, of course, we could never become French citizens, never, only if we had had a son in France, a son who would join the army, in that way we might have been eligible for citizenship.

As a foreigner we never had the right to work in France, so we began thinking that when Tosh grew up, she would never be able to work. And Boris was saying, “Listen Rosachka, move to America, let the two smart sisters live in New York.”


When we came to America we changed our name from Udovich, a beautiful name. One of my friends in New York asked me why I changed such a beautiful name for such a common name like Davis. I guess it was because Richard and Bernard were there already. And my mother’s name, Borochine, was very unusual. It was the only Borochine in the town. I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe because the name “Bor” means forest in Russia, so perhaps it comes from my father’s grandfather or great-grandfather. Many, many years ago, they used to just give any names to the serfs when they were freed. So maybe that’s where it comes from, because it’s a very rare name.


I must say that God truly led us. First we left Moscow at just the right time. We got to France, and left there at the right time, too. First I regretted having left, then it turned out that many of our friends were burned by the Germans — Latal, for instance, his family lost their lives in the concentration camps. Marconne and Fedya were able to escape to Portugal, stayed there for a long time because they were unable to get an American visa. People had a dreadful time of it. But as for us, from Odessa to New York, we were always very, very lucky with our timing.


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от Lisa Davidson

As Paris became my home and France my second country, their tales of travel — from Odessa to Moscow, on to Paris and then America — risk and courage, and their marvelous instincts, began to haunt me. Some of these events I understand: Ralph and I live as foreigners; we, too are bringing up children in a multicultural environment. Some are funny; others are so frightening, however, that I can only hope that neither we nor our children will ever have to face anything comparable. I know the places Baboushka and Dedoushka describe in Paris, I walk the same streets — the same cherry trees are in blossom on the Champs de Mars right now. I’ve shared Paris with Richard, Dedoushka’s brother, who lived through many of these stories himself. Russia, however, especially this Russia of revolution and chaos, has always been far more elusive. After sifting through page after page of transcribed tapes, I was astonished at the clarity with which Baboushka and Dedoushka remembered events that happened so long ago. And for me, their stories finally bring to life a half-forgotten past.

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