Anatoly Altman

Translated from Russian
by Ilana Romanovsky

Part 1. Delayed Start

Excerpts from an uncompleted book

In 1967 in the far-away Middle East the thunder of shells died away, planes and tanks calmed down, the dead were mourned for, "kadish" was recited over the missing. All these things were somewhere over there, where they were supposed to be, where there had always been the line between the two worlds: the world of Isaak the firstborn, endowed with all the sweetness and the bitterness of the right of birth, and the world of Ismael the rebel, the one who was rejected by the civilization of Abraham our forefather.

All this was happening somewhere over there, while here, at home – radio announcers and commentators covered the news and branded the aggressors, milkmaids and steel founders expressed wrath – naturally, “simple people’s”, and Jews – made up jokes about Six Day War, as a sign of making peace with the condemners. Some time passed, and everything returned to the routine of normal life. The churning with the latest news of the tolchok [Odessa’s outdoor market – translator’s note] and the Lanzheron beach Odessa would not take to heart anything that could break the slow and lazy indulgence of the cool dachas in Bolshoi Fontan [popular Odessa seaside resort – translator’s note] or, its antipode, the football fans’ fiery cut and thrust at Sobornaya Square. In “bodegas” [beer bars in the specific Odessa's argot – translator’s note] the foamy Schwab beer was poured from huge barrels into mugs and from mugs into Odessa’s townsfolks’ hefty stomachs, accompanied by “your health, buddy!” – “you too, bro, keep your head up for me!” [These toasts, as well as other Odessans’ talk examples, are in rich Odessa’s argot, which is so well represented in “Odessa Stories” by Isaak Babel – translator’s note].

They did not see themselves as “Soviet comrades”. The Soviet power – there still are some witnesses of that – flew into Odessa on the wings of the revolution. It dispersed Moldavanka [a crime infested Odessa's suburb - see Isaak Babel once more – editor’s note] thugs from Odessa streets, gave a good shake to the well-heeled burghers, declared freedom for the people - and in exchange it appropriated, without much ado, the banks, the production enterprises, the port and the like – the spawn of capitalist thought. After that the dashing cavalrymen dismounted, creamed off the finest buildings in town and fenced themselves from the rest of the town dwellers behind intimidating signboards UPR, DOPR, GLAV… , [ abbreviations for “upravleniye” – management, dom prinuditel’nykh rabot – forced labor house, “glavnyi” – main, central – translator’s note] and so on. Then they calmed down and the townsfolk of the glorious porto-franco city of Odessa returned to their routine life. Again, the former chic was no longer there, but there still was, let us say, the larger-than-life stock of optimism and humor, big enough to cover the whole of Deribasovskaya street, and Odessans generously shared them with anyone who “knew a good thing when they saw one”.

Sometimes – and it usually happened in the loveliest seasons – that is, spring and fall, the streets of Odessa (ah, Odessa streets!) - my memory keeps it in its deepest hidden corners – powdered with golden pollen, weary from the summer heat or scented with the fragrance of freshly showered acacias that could drive you crazy when in full bloom; - the streets and the lanes where I wandered paying no heed to time or direction, the streets and lanes that were soaked with a vague sensation of a near farewell – of which my Odessan spiritual ancestor had in his own words sung with dashing bitterness: “Ah, Odessa, I will never drink your wine again – oi wei - / Nor sweep your pavements with my bell-bottomed trousers” [“Odessa-mama” by Soviet poet Boris Smolensky, 1921-1941 – translator’s note] would turn, by the will of the Great Sausage-Maker [an allusion to “Envy” by Yuri Olesha, here – the Soviet leadership – translator’s note] into endless purple-grey bowels stuffed with swarming and bubbling pulp, the pink foam above the surface of the peristaltically convulsing stream jolted at the turns and near the numerous bodegas, the flags and the sausage-makers’ portraits that had fallen down in shapeless heaps, their otherworldly magnificence lost, they no longer looked from their height with reproach and suspicion, and the mob, which a few moments ago had formed a stiffly whipped homogeneous mass, split into its components – male and female Odessans and “baistryuki” – [the brats or bastards – translator’s note], future Odessans. [The whole paragraph is a metaphoric description of May 1 and November 7 demonstrations – translator’s note.]

Sometimes multi-colored and red dragons adorned with flags and banners would fill the streets of the city; the leaders cast searching looks at the swarms from the portraits above people’s heads; drums pounded, waves of compressed air from huge pipes hit the crowd and, after wavering a little, it reverberated with a roar in answer. The dragon wriggled, lingered more and more often at numerous bodegas, drowsiness started to overcome it until, weary from the warmth of the lavish southern sun, it started to molt; its red scales, shed from its bristly back, formed small jams. The standard-bearers would then club together, forming classical Soviet-style triptychs [to buy a bottle of vodka for the three of them – translator’s note].

I was carried to Odessa in 1963, from a plain town on the periphery of the world and very quickly I felt at home in this constantly celebrating life city, adopted the local speech and behavior manner and was ready, after some pushing and elbowing, to take my own place in this Ukrainian-Jewish-steppe-sea Babylon. Odessa’s young people were raised on the principles of tolerance, enterprise and non-interference in the USSR’s internal affairs. And even though the whole city was at our full disposal, we favored the city and country beaches and Primorsky (seaside) boulevard. The necessity to work for one’s living was seen as an irritating obstacle on the way to the beach, and the minute you were through with all that, your feet brought you to the sea as if on their own accord. At night, the stretched above the city like a trampoline boulevard soaked up thousands of burning hot bodies; the boulevard buzzed and vibrated, the breeze from the sea caressed and fondled the most delicate in the world knees and cheeks and believe me, when you are just over twenty, it doesn’t matter a bit who these knees belong to or whose lips consent. After drinking up all the joys of the boulevard the crowd would swim away to Pushkinskaya and Deribasovskaya streets and settle in ice-cream and coffee shops or pubs, and then, late at night, with guitars or without them, sometimes after a slight brawl, one by one or in friendly bunches, the young Odessans would disperse and scatter to their own “ranches”.

My “ranch” was in Moldavanka. I lived in a workers’ hostel as a holder of a temporal residence permit to which I was entitled when I got employed as a worker at a ship repair plant. Our life was simple: a booze-up on the payday, sport, movies, books – that is, from the point of view of loyalty to the authorities – no deviations. Tomorrow or today – “ready for work and defense” (only explain from who…). Sometimes guests would come, male or female, and the ritual of making acquaintance and sharing a meal together started, significant sounding toasts were pronounced, the ritual meal progressed from one stage to the next, then came the stage of sorting things out, and this was done either in the corridor or in bed. To say that we never had enough money would be an understatement, and maybe this was the reason why my roommates and I “knew a good thing when we saw one” so well. I saw a lot in my life later, but how can one forget the triumphal blooming of acacias, the aloofness of the immortal Duc [Statue of the Duc de Richelieu, Odessa's founder and first governor - one of the its main symbols – translator’s note] awaiting the Armada which is already hurrying to his help. I roamed the lanes of the Fountain and old Odessa, smelling out, like a dog, something that my soul was seeking but didn’t know its name, though as it became clear later, the soul got everything it was looking for…

Years later, at night, in the freezing isolation cell of Duc de Richeiieu, sitting on the detached for the event of superior importance plank bed, leaning against the slop-bucket, I received the report of the Commander-in-Chief of the free squadron of Genoa’s merchants, the rebel Geuzen, the fleeing pirates. The echo brought the news to the farthest corner of the huge hall: “The holy city porto-franco Odessa IS FREE, HURRAY, gentlemen!” But of course, you can see all kinds of visions on the twelfth day in a penal isolation cell…

The summer of 1967 found me working at a commercial enterprise that was not exactly approved of by the law. I will quote an experienced Odessan whose opinion was that “there ain’t no melukha better than this one, ya only need zekher”, which roughly meant “there’s no government better than this one, you only have to find the right approach”. In those years, among other new ideas, there was a directive “from the above”: to open workshops on collective farms. The idea was to use the agricultural production waste and work force that had not yet joined the noble impetus of productive labor (old people, invalids, alcoholics). It is well known that ideas have to be pushed from the heights of pure mind into the world of pragmatic implementation. And then something indescribable started… The enterprising spirit of Odessans does not need to be exemplified. But this was a totally different type of enterprisers – they did not have to resort to “zekhers” when the “melukha” itself endowed them with accessories of authority like seals, forms, bank accounts and the right to employ, evading all the ideological and regime limitations, all kinds of “-shteins” and “-bergs”. And the most important thing was that the authorities did not make you face the problem of who to employ. A person’s morals, ethnicity, social background and other decisive factors of questionnaires’ traps had no currency at that market. The main principle was this: “I give you everything, you give me fifty per cent”. For example, if the highest wages of a collective farm worker were 300 rubles a month, this was my lawful salary, and even if I had to give half of it to the “boss”, it was in those times not bad money anyway, taken into consideration almost free meals, free bus rides and two days off. Without class fight, without the directing role of the Party we were quite happy on this classless post-ideological island. The majority of these “greenhouses” staff were Jews, and even though this was the reason for my landing in this company, to tell the truth, my ethnic roots did not add any pride to my ego. The bus would pick us up in the morning and after an unhurried ride along the Black Sea steppe, it would bring us to the village. The ride only took an hour and the morning drowsiness gave way to vivid discussions of the latest news. I seldom joined discussions of this or that football team, and talks about “who, when, where, how” did not interest me either.

But one day on the way to work in the morning I heard some almost unintelligible rendering of the latest news, most probably, from one of “foreign voices”. Palestine, air battles, Sinai, UNO, Arabs – both the topics and the vocabulary were so far away from our everyday reality that I didn’t ask any questions. Then from the Soviet sources it became known that Israel was waging an aggressive war against its peace-loving Arab neighbors. As I have mentioned before, most of us were Jews and that is why the problem and its discussion acquired a certain bias. The later coverage of the events in the Middle East contained military events, commentaries, including historical commentaries. It suddenly became clear that Israel’s population was about three million people, while there were 100 million Arabs, all in all. And when one day they spoke of encirclement, I didn’t hear well and assumed that Israelis were surrounded, communications severed and defeat was inevitable. But even though I sympathized with the Israeli team, I was not too much upset by its supposed defeat – we knew little about this country and personal feelings did not project onto our attitude to Israel. That is, we knew that Israel was populated by Jews, but they were different from us. After some days of military actions and cheerful reports from the battlefields, there was a certain change in the announcers’ voices – dramatic and wrathful condemnations of the “aggressors” who thought too much of themselves, with unfailing demands to bring them to account. Then it became clear that the Israeli team was making it to the finals. And Israel was not playing in hopeful defense – their air force attacked and destroyed Egyptian airports, Israeli tanks were breaking fronts and flanks and rushing to Cairo, the infantry and landing troops were sweeping the trash that had been left by Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem, the Golan heights were ours!

Since when I started calling them ours – I don’t remember. Maybe when the unfathomable, Biblical sounding names of Israeli statesmen and military leaders: Alon, Ben Gurion, Shamir – were back-translated and became Gurevich, Meerson and even Rabinovich, or maybe when I had read “Exodus” and for the first time felt related to those who fought for a national home and then, for the first time, my being Jewish stopped tethering my feet. Israel fought there, but won here…! At that time there was no Jewish home where that war did not lay front lines between the old and the young generations. To lie low in rough time, not to draw attention to oneself, to camouflage – the ways which had been tested by numerous pogrom victims’ generations – did not find the evolutionary continuation with my generation. On the contrary, the wish to stick to one’s historical past, to national identity demanded being different from the indistinguishable social environment. Though some of us were already acquainted with the dissident movement, and even earlier had lived through the happiest in the world childhood without apparent losses – sure, Stalin is thinking of us! – and then the perestroika speeches of the next “father” ( the word “pakhan” – chieftain, Godfather – I learned much later) about the previous “father”…

My acquaintance with the movement that opposed the regime started with meeting Avram, my new friend. By that time he had already served about ten years in a prison camp and then, after being exiled to Karaganda, settled in Odessa and started to do woodwork for a living. This was what drew me to him, because since childhood I used to play with clay and wood and make figurines and masks from them. Avram attracted people, especially young ones, by his unusual views and way of life. For example, the problem of God, which had already been forever solved by someone for us, had further development for him, and even with an attempt to question the solution which you thought to be your own. Though actually, the problem never existed for us, like its object, and Avram’s extravagancy in the “esoteric” and “theosophical” questions we ascribed to his unusual biography. He wore a tiny pin with Israeli flag, but even without that it was clear where he belonged to, for his eyes and beard were out of place in the Slavonic landscape. Avram did not eat meat or fish, drank water in small gulps, practiced Hatha-Yoga and, with a screwed up face, stoically endured the pain in his leg from a sore left by a poorly healed old wound. The door of his house was open for everyone. Here you could read “Exodus”, listen to a Geula Gil song on an old, swinging like a dervish tape recorder, eat, chatter and daydream. His camp friends came to see him, Zola Katz [victim of political terror in the USSR – translator’s note], may he rest in peace, among them; they drank and talked about their life in camps. These retired old men recollected the rough times, places of “business trips”, names of cops and cellmates. Avram had mysteriously smuggled out of the camp manuscripts, poems by banned poets and prisoners, notes on Oriental philosophy and religion. Undoubtedly, all these things virtually intruded your mind and turned upside down all “that school and family teach us”.

One bright day he asked me what I thought about going to… Israel. Just like that, you are going somewhere and somebody stops you and asks: “Do you feel like going to Mars?” By that time I already wanted to go, but how? I certainly could not seriously accept this suggestion, but the situation was too dramatic to laugh it off, if you didn’t want to hurt the person’s feelings. So Avram wrote down my passport data and sometime in the autumn of 1968 a letter from Israel was delivered to the address where I was registered. The owner of the apartment – my uncle – was on good terms with me though he did not approve of my way of life. When the letter came, my family held a council and everyone wept “Woe!” As if it was not enough for my uncle to worry constantly about the surplus square meters in his apartment in the city center, to worry also about his work at a button factory where he was accountable not only for grams, but for carats and where cases of breaking work discipline had almost ceased, to say nothing about financial discipline, and where the whole staff had already undertaken to raise their work effectivity towards the coming national holiday and to bring down the number of immoral behavior cases in private life by 20 per cent! All this seemed not to be enough for the wretched lot of my uncle, who officially was a marketing department manager but who, in fact, was a genius of financial underground, one of my numerous other tribesmen who managed to unearth from fantastic, totally improbable places some unbelievable valuables, but it was always done while looking around in horror of another inspection, with trembling hands and shaking feet – and in addition to all that, this small surprise, a product of my nationalistic ambitions!

I was holding the letter and could not really trust my senses; it looked as if it had materialized from the world of wishes and would slip away any minute. But the countenances of my relatives increased my confidence in the reality of the letter – the stamp, the postmark, the standard Russian text. It was signed by Kubernik Braina from Petah Tikva, 32 Shprintsak street. Being my "cousin“", she was addressing the government of the USSR with a request to allow me to go to her with the aim of uniting our families; she also volunteered to help me settle in my new place. My late uncle later pointed out at the investigation that his attitude to my intentions was utterly negative; to his honor, I must say that I do not remember this. Most probably, he was just scared, both at the family council and at the interrogation, and also between these events, before and after. He did not do any wrong, may he rest in peace. He was only scared. Fear, even in the light-minded atmosphere of a southern city, came out of diabolic seeds that were forever planted in the subconscious.

But something had to be done with the visa, so I found out where the OVIR [Visa and Registration Department – translator’s note] was situated, and with beating heart I went there. They explained to me everything –to register the invitation I had to bring various documents: a reference from work, the birth certificate, written permission from my parents (I wonder if when they sent soldiers to Afghanistan – another foreign country - they also asked their mothers for their permission?). To tell the truth, I did not feel determined enough to appear in the OVIR with the invitation, but after several nights of fear (for some reason nights are the most appropriate time to feel afraid) I gathered enough evil impudence, and, as they would later say in court, stepped on the road of treachery and Zionism. Well, the inner movements of your soul and the doubtless rightness of your choice are one thing, but what practically comes out of it after that is quite a different thing. It is extremely hard and frightful to leave the linear movement path that you were sometime, by somebody, ordered to take. What force will push you away from this path if everyone is close to you, pressed together and moving in an even senseless motion? And yet I dived into this tar and every movement demanded tremendous effort. At best, people saw me as an idiot, though not everyone. Aba Agapyan, the son of a circus manager who had been sentenced to death and shot, blessed me in a short and touching blessing.

Here is a story from that time. I knew a medical student, a guy who was born in a mixed family, his mother was Jewish, his father was from the Caucasus and he was for a long time not in contact with the family. His mother, a very attractive diminutive woman, married a second time. Her new husband was a quartermaster service officer, a Byelorussian who was some years younger than she was. I often came to their house and I knew that the three of them were good friends indeed. Valerka called his stepfather Lyosha, a pet name for his first name Alexei, and the friends that came to see them were treated with equal care and attention. I visited them soon after getting the invitation from Israel and told them of my plans without concealing anything. Valerka’s response was disapproving and skeptical, his mother’s – somewhat nervous and frightened, but Alexei’s reaction was harshly negative.

- Just imagine, there’s a war, we are here, you are there. Will you shoot at Valerka, at me?

I could not deny myself the pleasure of noting that quartermaster service was not supposed to be shot at. As to Valerka, I got mad:

- Valerka is not a fool to go get shot for your ideals, he will get out of it. And all the rest, those who come to me, that is, against me, have to know what awaits them.

Some months after that talk I met Alexei downtown. He rushed to my side and from his first words I saw that he was fairly boozed. At that moment he spat out a phrase that sounded as if it had been prepared specially for me and kept for a long time:

- Go away from here, you’re right, get out of this puke, everything stinks here, they fuck up the best things…

After that memorable evening I didn’t show up at their place, I didn’t want to strain the relationship. Meanwhile Valerka got married, by the day of the wedding his bride had got to an advanced stage of pregnancy, and a week before that encounter she had given birth to a son. Alexei, a young and robust man, suddenly became a granddad. Everyone drank – officers and warrant officers, Russians and non-Russians – how could it be different? A man had been born, so many changes at once: the young people had become parents, their parents had become grandparents, new feelings and duties, new roles to play. All these things were seriously talked about, with drinks and food. The zampolit [Deputy Commander for Political Matters – translator’s note] came when the celebration was at its height and asked what the occasion was. Alexei filled a glass and handed it to the new guest: “A grandson! Only yesterday we brought him home from the maternity hospital – 4 kilos 200 grams!” The zampolit smiled when accepting the glass and said: “Well, well, congratulations! A great event – a new little Yid has been born in Odessa!” Next second Alexei gave him a slap in the face. The upshot came a few days later. The zampolit would not sue Alexei in military tribunal and Alexei would resign his officer’s position. The Officers’ Court of Honor (a phenomenon that hardly fits into our everyday reality) gave this “Solomon’s judgement”, and Solomon, as they say, was an old hand at solving Jewish problems. Of course, this story can be explained in a simpler way – everyone was fairly drunk and the zampolit was too much of a boor, but I think that the main factor was “little Yid”, who, strictly speaking, was only a quarter Jewish. The hero of this story – a Byelorussian, a demoted officer Alexei somehow linked his slap in the face of the zampolit with the Middle East wars and our memorable talk acquired a most convincing finale from unexpected quarters.

Meanwhile, I started collecting documents that were needed for an exit visa. Everyone already knows of course how references from workplace were obtained. My dear fellow Jews, I received permission to leave the country the day after handing an application in Riga’s OVIR (though a day before that I had been released from imprisonment only a trifle before my ten-year time was finished) and nobody demanded any references. But don’t think that I do not know how you earned them (papir und noch papir) [paper and another paper – Yiddish – translator’s note].

I worked at a collective farm co-operative near Odessa, and my boss was Jewish. Without burdening myself with unnecessary doubts concerning the results of my request, I addressed him in a conspirator’s tone, without beating around the bush, but somehow drifting into an emotional tone. I talked about our love for this melukha and how, accordingly, it loved us, and how good it would be to live at home and not to be “this nation”. And what do you think – he pressed me to his breast melting into tears or may be he gave me a gift of half of my salary which I gave to him according to our agreement? Oh, come on, you’ll say, it’s quite enough for him to write this reference with an unmoved face and throw it to me as a proof of having nothing in common with me. Like hell he did! His whole body was shaking and he yelled in a choking voice about my ungratefulness towards the Soviet people, the party, the co-operative’s management and my coworkers. My escapades would not lead me to any good (he was right here!), I had better have pity for my parents. I don’t remember now how I stopped this fountain, but it was clear that I could not count on my Jewish brethren, and I decided to go to the village where the chairman of the collective farm lived. It was December and the weather threatened to freeze both your soul and your body. I got on a bus in Odessa and reached the district center and there I got to a country road that led to the village through the snow-covered steppe. I was wearing a coat that was in vogue then but that was good only for the Deribassovskaya promenade, and only if you entered into some cafes on the way to warm yourself, and I was wearing no hat, as usual. While waiting in an open space for a car to pick me up I started to freeze, at first only nose and ears, then the cold penetrated inside. After making all the movements to warm my body I realized that I couldn’t last long. Another wave of shivering overcame me. The evening was coming. I looked at the road and at the wilderness around me. The steppe was magnificent, the evening shadows of rare trees were getting blue; the steppe was smoothed by the winds, but the finest shades of pink betrayed the rare raised places. Black birds were crossing the white area hurrying to their hiding places for the night. I felt a stranger in this splendid landscape, but the piercing cold did not allow my mind to reach a more favorable state, and I started to call into my consciousness the landscapes of Israel as described in “Exodus” and “The Judean War”. While I was musing on such exciting subjects a truck came near me. After running a dozen meters after it, I asked the driver if he could take me to the village and he said that he would first take a woman who was riding in the cab to another village. I climbed onto the loading platform and sat on a wooden box. The truck started and at first I held on to the side with my freezing hands, for it was impossible to remain seated on the box otherwise. I was thrown from side to side, standing up would be suicide, the freezing wind was piercing through the coat, jacket and shirt, burning my body and making me breathless, my uncovered head felt like it was compressed by a stiff hoop that caused unbearable pain. Sitting was equally impossible – the box jumped and leaped in its own rhythm and then I took the only possible in this case position – on my half bended but thoroughly frozen legs I hopped across the endless Scythian steppe towards some unknown finish, almost oblivious to the reason of my actions because of the terrible physical stress. Only not to fall down, only to keep standing, otherwise you’ll just fall apart. How long this terrible race lasted I cannot tell.

The Chairman’s house was heated as hot as a furnace, he wasn’t in, but his wife looked at me with compassion and offered food and drink to me. I sat near the hot stove, chill waves were passing through my body and leaving it, legs were aching, the heated blood hurt the tips of my toes and fingers. I took off my shoes and tried to rub the stiff feet that seemed to be falling to pieces. Soon the Chairman came; he was wearing a short sheepskin coat and felt boots. He greeted me and disappeared in the next room without saying a word. I got sleepy while I waited, but he came at last and we started talking. I explained what I wanted from him and it looked like he understood the situation, at least he listened with attention and did not look hypocritical. That evening a meeting of the management had been planned, and he promised to discuss my request. I fell asleep the minute when the Chairmen's wife made a bed for me. When I woke up in the morning I found a note from the Chairman. It didn’t leave me much hope, but after the long way there and a talk with a man who intended to help me it was bitterly disappointing to go back with nothing.

The time for processing my application was almost coming to an end and I had to do something about this bloody reference, to bring any kind of an answer from work. But “the boss” refused point-blank to “have anything to do with Zionist affairs” and I threatened him with the law that obliged him to give me reference and said that I would go to Public Prosecutor if he refused.

The visit to Public Prosecutor ended like this:

- We do not deal with your affairs.

- What are “your affairs”?

- Of the Motherland traitors!

- What kind of a traitor am I? I am still a Soviet citizen!

- You will be one! (How did they know everything in advance?)

The skies of my beautiful Odessa ceased to be blue and cloudless, the sun did not warm me, the wine gave no joy. I felt that I was falling ill with the fever that all of us knew so well. It must be the morbidity of my state that generated pictures of different, unusual sights of my world. The city seemed to be surrounded by enemies who went into hiding and at secret hours, under camouflage, went on forays on the peaceful city, its streets and beaches. It was impossible to understand what they wanted and even to identify them, and this made it even more frightening. I saw vague shadows that dashed about here and there, condensed into grey lumps and rolled into crowds of careless people making them freeze for a moment, after which they continued their way but they were already touched by the grey ashes and did not even suspect it.

Diabolic farce! Thus, cancer starts unnoticed - something, let’s call it “pre-cancer”, creeps into a healthy body and without killing the healthy cells forces madness on them and the cells forget their function and start functioning according to the program that was thrusted on them, moreover – they infect other, healthy cells with the same madness! I am not sure that the thought that the cancer will die when the living being dies gives consolation…

My relations with friends and family started to rot. With great difficulty and threats to do something drastic to myself I made mother send me her permission to leave the country. When father learned about my plan he grumbled something about “smart ones” who wanted to be smarter than other people; hundreds of millions live here and everything is OK and here is one of the “smart ones” and so on. My kid brother, who was born in father’s new family, a young boy at that time, listened to these talks with his mouth agape – it looked that even Mayne Reid stories were not that interesting. My stepmother, who had spent her young years in Siberian exile where she had been banished with her family, felt sympathy for me, but did not believe in the reality of the enterprise. My brother introduced me to some young people in Chernovtsy and I gave them some materials about Israel that we had in Odessa. And finally, the last visit to the OVIR, that was situated, as Odessans maintained, on the longest street in town: this was the street where the KGB was situated and old-timers knew – sometimes they invite you for a minute and you return ten years later… - right, this is the longest street! In the OVIR our affairs were handled by one Nadezhdina, and I am not making a pun of it [“nadezhda” means “hope” in Russian – translator’s note], ask the Odessans who were in the process of obtaining exit visas in those years, but up to the last minute I had some tiny hope. And it was gone. They just swept away my past and myself from their office counter. Of cause, more terrible things happen in this world, but I felt in a kind of a limbo between time and space – before the OVIR decision and after it. How shall I start to live in the next moment to come? I was seized by terrible emptiness and anguish which made me want to turn myself inside out and shrink into a mere dot, so that nobody would be able to see or touch me. I cursed Odessa, its hypocrisy, its rotten guts, now I only saw Red, red, red around myself! Soon winter came, I could not stay in Odessa because of this total prostration, but I realized that I could not give in at that, so I decided to try my luck in Moscow.

Moscow met me with snow, cordiality and contentment. I stayed at Avram’s daughter’s. Behind us was the summer of 1968, a country house on the seashore. Crabs were darting about on the deserted sandy beach. The wind in the thicket of reeds was trying to keep count of something: “S-s-six, s-s-seven, s-s-six”, but got confused and, without finishing, flew to our backs and heads, stirred our hair and tickled our naked bodies with light touches. It was probably there that the idea of organizing a summer camp in Karolino-Bugaz [a place on the sea shore not far from Odessa – translator’s note] for young people from various cities of the country first came to mind. Young Jews from Riga, Moscow, Kiev and Kishinev stayed in our little house in Bugaz. This was another subject for discussion in Moscow. One evening we went to David, a man we had heard a lot about from Avram. He was another former prisoner who boldly and openly displayed his attitude towards the Reds and opened his house to the lucky ones who had obtained permission to leave the country. Everyone went through his hospitable house.

I remember the specific atmosphere and order, if the constant mess in Khavkins’ place could be called so. People came, played Israeli records, had coffee at two o’clock at night; on the wall there was a map of Israel and a portrait of Moshe Dayan, on the table there was a menorah, dictionaries, and all that in a “communal apartment” [a communal apartment is one where several families share bathroom and kitchen facilities – translator’s note] where anyone could see it. One day David found a cable that was going to the attic, and there he unearthed some device. Half an hour later two men rushed in and claimed the device. David refused to speak with them. And then they started talking in almost human voices – this gadget was state property, the bosses would flay them alive, give it back, have pity! David poured out a handful of the remnants, that’s enough for the report, you can remove it from the list of equipment. David suggested that I should live in Moscow vicinity and work “for our cause”. It looked like he couldn’t help me in the nearest time, but if I worked for them it would be easier to strive for the visa. He also suggested another thing – a convenience marriage in order to leave with another family. With this I left Moscow, first to Lvov, then to Chernovtsy. I lived at my mother’s, found an inconspicuous job somewhere far away, but my friends came to me and I openly visited them. I did not know that I had already been “scented”, but meanwhile I did not see anything that could worry me (in any case, during that period the investigation could not collect any material against me). I lost hope to find a family that would be ready to have me as their son-in-law and returned to Odessa. I had no place to live and Avram gave me shelter in his rented apartment. The rest of the summer was uneventful. Avram was preparing for a trip to Moscow - he had been suffering from sharp pains in the legs, from the war and prison camp time. Sometimes he would leap from bed in the middle of a night and moan, unable to bear the pain. He was to undergo examination and treatment by Moscow professors. We saw him off at the railway station without knowing what was in store for him…

At that time rumors appeared that in Riga, Moscow and other cities they allowed to leave the country to those who had served time and their families. Somebody came from Moscow and said that David Khavkin obtained a visa in a rather unusual way… Goldberg, who had once been the USA representative in the UN, arrived in Moscow. One of the bystanders broke close to some government building, to the car where the ambassador sat. The police and civilians with armbands were pushing him aside, but in an unbelievable way, he managed to thrust a letter into the car. At the same time, David was grabbed by the collar and thrown outside, smashing his head, what a nuisance, against the side of the car, in full view of the US representative and other lovers of scandal. Naturally, the KGB people’s actions should have been seen as aiming to protect the important guest. But Goldberg was cheeky enough to neglect the hospitability and rudely interfere into the USSR’s home affairs and bring the application to its addressee. The Reds demonstrated their efficiency when they processed the application and in a matter of a few days gave the Khavkins permission to leave the country. Without losing time, David packed his things and came to the famous Sheremetyevo airport several hours before the takeoff, in accordance with the Aeroflot rules. In the airport, after a more than thorough check-up, they took David and his family to a special service room. There they took the couple apart and made them undress for a “personal check-up”. The procedure was nothing new to him – five years of prison camps teach you things like these, too. The problem arose unexpectedly: Fira refused to send away their little son from the “frisking room”. “Let him look and remember, he won’t see things like these in any other place!” The cops stubbornly insisted that the instruction demanded separation of sexes. Time was running, the cops were frisking, the plane flew away… The KGB men worked with great zeal, they were sure that David would not fly “empty handed”, but the fact was that they found absolutely nothing on him and, in their bewilderment, let the family go home. David used the situation to see Avram in the hospital and say good bye to him. On the next day they flew to Vienna. But he did smuggle papers out of the country, and quite a number of them. When arriving in Lod he chopped open, in full view of all those present, an object that did not look suitable for transporting documents and took out of it a lot of “compromising material”. The local customs officials, though, listed this object as an electrical appliance and in this way deprived the newcomer of the right to buy electrical appliances at a reduced price. But that is another story…

Part 2==>