ORDINARY EXIT VISA
by Ilana Romanovsky
Part 2. The Riga Running Start
Excerpts from an uncompleted book
the same time a group of Rigans, mostly former prisoners, were
allowed to leave the country. The Zionist movement was growing in
Riga – the influence of the recent liberal “bourgeois” past.
Young people, almost teenagers, united around the idea of creating a
memorial in Rumbula, a place where thousands of Jews were shot during
the German occupation by polite and methodical Latvian
politsai [collaborationists, members of local police under Nazi occupation - translator’s note]
former prisoners who had served time for “Zionism” formed the
nucleus, and they were probably considered to be the most vicious and
hostile people and therefore, they were to be exiled or liberated –
whatever. It is an interesting feature of that time: the Reds sent
away the most problematic Jews with the aim of stopping their
pernicious influence on others. But the result was exactly the
opposite. After their departure a lot of literature and documents
were left, and people competed for filling the “vacancies”. In
short, the putrefying ideas were attracting more and more people. In
general, in the Baltic republics the fighting spirit was rising; in
Vilnius a musical group was organized and it almost openly united
young Zionists around it. Jews from Riga were going to Rumbula and
several times erected a monument of their own making at the place of
mass killing of Jews – several times because every time somebody
demolished the monument. Yasha Kazakov sent his passport to the
Central Soviet with a demand to let him go to Israel. He was called
to a police station and the “lost” passport was returned to him.
Then he sent it again, and again the “lost” passport was returned
to him, with a warning…
Reds soon got fed up with it and – an unheard of case – Yasha
received permission. Then he went on a hunger strike at the UN
building and managed to drag his father out of the country. Grains of
sand and heavy stones were rolling out of the press that was crushing
everyone and everything, and everybody wanted to try their chance.
Only – when and where? Georgian Jews sent an open letter to the UN,
then open letters were sent from Riga, Moscow and Kiev. Both Rosa
Palatnik in Odessa and Kochubievsky in Kiev went to jail instead of
receiving permissions (in the periphery the authorities were harder).
small Odessan community was waiting for invitations from Israel in
order to knock at the doors again and again – “Let my people go!”
Avram was in Moscow. His condition was deteriorating, a thrombus
occluded a blood vessel in his heart and he was sent to the Intensive
Care Unit unconscious. The tissues of the sore leg were putrefying,
and on September 19 his leg was amputated. Some months later we met
him at the railway station. He came in the same carriage with Arab
students - they might be going to one of Odessa’s military schools.
winter was cold and food was scarce. There was almost no food in
Odessa, the market prices were five, ten times higher than usual.
Avram moved to another apartment. I wrote to my Riga friends. It
looked like things were not so bad there – the tiny flow of those
who received visas did not stop, and I decided to try again.
with Odessa resembled going to exile, but from some moment all my
actions and strivings acquired a uniform character – in my memory
Odessa remained a filthy from lack of love and care place, its
streets grey from dust mixed with a thin layer of snow. From time to
time the wind dragged this filth along the streets and threw it in
people’s faces. Everything augured disaster. In the summer of 1970
an epidemic of cholera broke out in Odessa. I was going on the lam,
leaving in Odessa my friends and memories, my hopes, boulevards and
beaches, everything that could gladden and warm the heart and
remained my golden treasure that stayed with me for long years after
started for me with the cordial and noisy Alexandroviches’ home.
The soul of the house was the mother – Revekka Iosifovna, Aunt
Riva, Rivka – large and warm, any minute ready to burst into merry
laughter or tears. With her nothing had limits – neither joy nor
grief. In the kitchen that was her kingdom there was a radio receiver
and every time when there was a “Kol Israel” broadcast everything
froze in the house. The latest news was the source of energy and they
called Israel “our place”.
Alexandrovich had been our guest in Karolno-Bugaz and she astonished
everyone by her categorical views which she never concealed, nowhere.
On the second day after my arrival she took me for a walk in the
city, introduced me to her numerous friends and showed me the city
sights. The most important of them was the KGB building. During the
war it housed the Gestapo. Ruth maintained that under the five
visible storeys there were five more ones underground – less well
decorated, just cells where up to 1,000 people could be packed. Both
of us later had an opportunity of exploring the truth of this
assertion – that is, personally, in the flesh. For some more time I
took leisurely walks, enjoying the town, the snowy northern winter,
the pine and fir forest where the air was fresh like in its pristine
state, the delicious and plentiful food, after the hungry Odessa.
Meanwhile, it turned out that I, myself, had become an object of
study. The Riga activists had substantial experience in Jewish
activity, which meant that their “office” gradually took notice
of everyone, and someone suggested creating two groups within the
movement – “Aleph” and “Beth”. These terms were adopted
after the names of the legal and the illegal Aliya. In Riga there
were trouble-makers who went to meetings in Rambula, openly taught
and learned Hebrew, signed all kinds of petitions (always giving
their addresses). This division also implied that there also were
“moles” for specific activities of which few people knew. No
doubt, this amateur secrecy was child play in the eyes of the KGB,
for it was impossible to remain “kosher”, unknown to them.
Anyway, this arrangement helped to feel safe in the underground
activity, for the “status-quo” was kept for quite a long time.
day, early in the morning on a Sunday, when the city was still
sleeping, I was taken to a new neighborhood of Riga and there, in the
apartment of one of the Group “Beth” members, I started calling
upon myself Article 65 of the Latvian Republic Criminal Code
propaganda and especially dangerous criminal offence against the
state, including preparing, dispersing and keeping the literature
with the said content. The punishment was imprisonment from six
months to seven years and exile from two to five years –
translator’s note]. With
the use of simple homemade devices, they arranged producing an
informational periodical of material on Israel’s army, wars and
kibbutzim. It contained articles by foreign and local authors.
Mendelevich, who printed the collection with us, was also the author
of an article. We always had to work in the conditions of great haste
- that is, we had to print on photo paper thousands of pages, dry
them, smooth the buckled sheets, arrange them according to page
numbers and pack; after that we had to clear the apartment of any
traces of our activity and then disperse unobtrusively.
remember a trip to Vilnius. We hired a whole bus (an unheard-of thing
in the Soviet Union, where everything was under state control) and
our merry bunch set off on our way. On the way we sang Israeli songs
and songs by amateur authors, told jokes – for the first time we
felt that we were on our own, everything was allowed, the spirit of
freedom was floating over our heads. We were going to a Jewish
amateur concert at a trade union center. The huge building on a
raised platform was crowded. Among others, there were KGB officers
with university pins on their uniforms. Just have a look at it –
“and the lion will lie with the lamb” [this
is an inaccurate quotation from Isaiah 11, 7: “and the wolf and the
lamb will live together” – translator’s note]. Where
are Kremlin doctors-murderers, where are Mikhoels [Jewish
in1948 in an
incident arranged to resemble a road
poet executed in 1952 – translator’s note],
writer who died in prison in 1940 – translator’s note], where
are the trains ready to carry Jews to the place that had been
prepared for them?
concert, as it should have been expected, started with eulogies and
swiftly passed on to entirely Jewish matters. They sang “Partisan
Song”, in which everyone recognized the Palmach anthem; the
“Schtetel Quadrille” was performed with humor and ingenuity, in a
way in which Jews can laugh at themselves; they also performed
Sholom-Aleichem, Babel and thousands of anonymous authors of Jewish
jokes. The concert was over late at night – the performers were
called to the stage over and over. After that, they split up our Riga
group and took us to their homes for the night. But sleep was out of
question. The real parties only started at private apartments –
singing, drinking, dancing. We calmed down only towards the morning.
Aizik and I got up rather late and went out for a walk. We walked
around the center of the city and the Old Town. I almost recognized
the streets and the houses. It looked like all the historical movies
had been shot there. Vilnius is different from the frowning Riga –
its spacious streets are painted in gay colors, its old houses are
adorned with red tiles. I stumbled upon the church of St. Sophia. The
legend has it that Napoleon had planned to dismantle it and move it
to Paris. In another place I saw something that even now still keeps
to excite my curiosity. I saw another church, on a small hill
surrounded by a fence – iron bars about two centimeters wide
between stone poles. The bars were fixed with horizontal iron bands
about 40-50 centimeters lower than the upper ends. Now, in one place
the free ends of these vertical spear-like bars were curled - two
into spirals and a small remaining vertical end was curled once more
into a ring, as if ready to be tied in a knot. Only a tipsy Ilya
[Russian folk-epic hero – translator’s note] could
do a thing like that.
continued our walk around the city and after some time we entered a
coffee shop to have a bite.
food and drink places in the Baltic republics have a good name to
them – they are always very clean, designed in good taste, without
the heavy style of Russian taverns or the elaborate decoration of
Oriental eateries. I came up to the woman at the counter and asked
her what she could offer us. Judging from her dignified manner, she
was the owner of the establishment, and she answered something in
Lithuanian. I had already heard of ways and manners in Lithuania and
Estonia and, without feeling hurt, I said that I would be glad to
talk to her in her language, but unfortunately, I didn’t know it.
The answer was again in Lithuanian. Then Aizik, who knew Latvian and
probably a little Lithuanian, joined the conversation. I don’t know
how they managed to communicate, but suddenly Aizek laughed. The
Lithuanian woman said: You see, you can talk a normal language, why
should you dirty your mouth with Russian (this is a word-for-word
translation). It looked like the locals did not exactly like the Red
to put it mildly.
at night we came back to Riga, full of new impressions. The turmoil
of the previous day, the tiredness and the evening serenity brought
forth disturbed moods. My neighbor Yaffa recited poems by Akhmatova,
by Krug [he
most probably means Shimon
(1869-1916) – poet who wrote in Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew –
off spheres, from near spheres, I call for you, oh Ahasverus”.
Could it be true that the wanderings and humiliations were coming to
an end? We always were only passengers, here and everywhere, but we
could be something else, we just had to be. Where? How? I think that
these questions were asked not only by the free-thinking Jews of
Baltic republics, Leningrad, Moscow, Kishinev, Tbilisi, Kiev,
Novosibirsk, Minsk. A new young breed was rising – Jews were no
longer afraid, no longer kept silent.
could not stay with the Alexandroviches any longer, even though they
assured me that I wasn’t disturbing them and so on, whatever people
usually say in these occasions. Their apartment was well known and
most probably bugged; somebody drew a picture on the wall and wrote
“microphone”, as a joke, or maybe it was not really a joke. The
KGB installed microphones at the neighbors’ adjacent walls. The
most important things were discussed in the bathroom, with the water
running and drowning all the sounds.
started looking for a job and a place to live in the suburbs. Friends
helped me to get employed as a turner at the paper producing works,
in the section for producing spirits. I managed to rent a cozy lodge
in a yard; the owner was a nurse at the same works. This place was in
a beautiful pine wood, which for an unclear reason was called the
Beach village (I don’t remember the Latvian name for it). I
occupied a snug little house, there was enough firewood for heating
it; I kept my simple grub near the entrance instead of a fridge.
Once, while walking in the wood, I found a stray dog, a young sheep
dog. I called it and petted it, and it went after me. We sat in the
empty hut, wet firewood was hissing in the stove, sausages were
baking on long chips of wood, fragrant tea was steeping in the pot.
Time seemed to have stopped, I sat without moving, afraid to break
this silence and tranquility, the dog looked at me with its yellow
eyes, rarely raising its head and pricking its ears to the sounds of
the wood in the night. Indeed, something crackled and hooted there,
but it was clear that no evil forces could break into our house.
the dog got up and started scratching the door. I went out, the dog
ran after me to the right, to the left, around all the corners,
marked them and rushed into the bushes, rustling there and tending to
its own business. The moon shone in the night sky, the few unhasty
clouds floated across the sky acquiring hues of pink; there was
almost no wind, the slightly frosty air cooled my face. And suddenly,
in a brief moment, I absorbed all the joy and harmony, magnificence
and stillness that were filling this world. As if I, the coiled
within itself misery, had suddenly grown to the size of the whole
universe and was absorbing into myself everything that existed in
this world. The dog suddenly rushed to me and started jumping,
stepping on its forelegs, inviting me to play. Reluctantly I threw a
cone into the bushes, I did not feel like playing; it was late, time
to go to bed, I had to go to work for them again on the next day, I
was fed up with their talk to which I had to listen during breaks.
Again I had to face the efforts of gaining the residence registration
in order to be able to apply for exit permit in the OVIR.
happened so that I became the trusted listener for the laborers of
the repairs team, which consisted of Russians and Latvians. The
Latvians would come to me and start talking about “these Russians”
occupied Latvia and were pumping everything out of it. The Russians,
in their turn, called Latvians “Forest Brothers” [anti-Soviet
partisans in WWII – translator’s note],
that should have to be killed. They cited recent cases of assault and
murder. To these accusations I paid no heed either. As the popular in
those years song went - “I don’t want your vodka, I don’t need
your cabbage soup”. Divide all of that among yourselves, dear
comrades. Go on strengthening the proletarian solidarity and
international friendship, no wavering or doubting.
was unexpectedly called to the personnel department and asked to
clarify the number of the house which I had stated as my last
residence place. I said that it was the same number that I had given
No, this is not that house,- the inspector insisted.
But what is the matter? Why is it so important?
You are lying deliberately.
I may be mistaken, but I have no reason to lie.
information you gave us was checked, you did not live in that house,
so where were you living?
Who checked, why?
The recruitment office did, they gave us instructions to clarify the
information in the record.
later went to that address and found out that indeed, there was a
mistake, due to lack of attention. But it had been clear even before
that I was “being taken care of”. Evidently, the inspector was
lying – I was not registered anywhere, the recruitment office
couldn’t care less about me since I was not registered anywhere.
the time was coming for the next issue of our magazine. I shared with
friends my apprehensions about being shadowed. We decided that in
spite of that I should take all the possible precautions and go to
Boris Maftsir’s apartment. We spent 24 hours almost without sleep,
but finished our work. We decided that I would leave group “Beth”
and start taking steps towards obtaining the exit visa openly. On the
next day we planned to go to Rumbula for a meeting. We were expecting
somebody to come with a car to take away the defective pages, but no
one showed up. It was not safe to leave them in the apartment, so we
packed everything and took a taxi, intending to take the stuff
somewhere far away from the house and there to get rid of this
dangerous “cargo”. To do it we had to play a little performance
for the driver. I get out near some large building and say to Misha:
“Wait for me here, I will fetch him and we will come together”.
Then I disappear from their sight, find a garbage bin, empty the
briefcase into it and after that I come back and say: “He is not
in, and we can’t wait for him any longer”. Rumbula was buzzing
with lots of voices, from some distance we could see police cars and
athletically built young men. The speeches were short, both young and
old people spoke, everything was calm and subdued, without emotional
outbursts, and only sometimes somebody would break down and start
sobbing. Everyone left almost without talking.
went on with my work and all the time I pestered the personnel
department with requests for residence registration. It was clear
that it did not depend on them. I only wanted to get a formal refusal
that stated the reason.
started on one day in spring – I was called to the personnel
department and they announced that during the testing period I had
not demonstrated the required qualities and they were firing me as a
good-for-nothing, that is, they were not employing me. I want to
remark that during that period I, the only turner at the works, had
done more work on the side for those who asked for it than at any
other time of my life.
dog ran away, I was fired from my job, the snow was melting, mud and
puddles covered the ground. Maybe I was bearing on my brow, using a
grandiloquent style, the mark of an outcast, a hapless man; maybe
there was something in me that always pushed me out of any state of
good order and contentment. The confirmation of this is the next,
insignificant episode of my unsuccessful attempt to get a job at a
collective farm souvenir co-operative. After a couple of weeks there
I had a talk with the manager who had recently employed me at the
request of Iliya Valk. He straightforwardly declared that I had to
quit on my own accord, he could not keep me anymore. I did not ask
questions and left.
Iosifovna constantly consoled and helped me. She had a fixed idea
that is actually characteristic of all Jewish mothers – to find
matches for everyone. She promised me a bride that could be desired
by anyone. Soon, in the summer, the brother of Ruth’s father would
come - this very Alexandrovich, with his daughter, and of course, you
can’t find a worthier bride, and maybe they will not object to
leaving the country.
started making wooden souvenirs and jewelry in a carpenter’s
workshop where an acquaintance of mine allowed me to work. Ruth and
Revekka Iosifovna offered them to everyone who came to visit them.
This money was my food, my clothes and my lodgings. I rented a room
together with another guy, in an apartment that stank of urine, where
the owners made a dozen of kids without giving a thought to
bringing them up and providing for them. Every morning started with a
request to lend money. I came back home only for the night. I was
definitely stuck – no job, no residence registration, to future.
day Revekka Iosifovna asked me if I was ready to leave for Israel in
a, let’s put it like this, not quite an ordinary way. I did not
really understand it because the question was put in very vague terms
and answered in the same style. Soon holidays came – Passover and
the Independence Day – and this washed away the remembrance of
this short talk. On the Independence Day we went to the sea and to
the forest – had bonfires, raised an Israeli flag, drew caricatures
and performed short scenes. For the Passover Seder I was invited to
the brothers’ Valkov place. For the first time in my life I heard
and saw the ritual of this night, different from all other nights.
There were guests from Moscow, a lot of people and a lot of noise.
after that Revekka Iosifovna invited me to her place, and there was a
man who was a stranger to me there – Mark Dymshits from Leningrad,
who had come for a visit. We talked a little, I said good-bye and
left. I found out later that this was a “bride show”. It looked
like he was satisfied with what he saw and I was invited to talk with
Silva Zalmanson’s husband, Edik (Edward) Kuznetsov. I knew that he
had served time in the GULAG, several years for the “misdeeds” of
which I knew from samizdat
[“self-publishers”, the clandestine copying and distribution of
literature banned by the state – translator’s note].
narrow room of the newlyweds was filled cram-full with books. Edik
was sitting at the desk (I knew that he was making a little money
translating fiction from English), on the desk there were piles of
paper and stationary, a tape-recorder, a mug of tea – prison camp
tea, I had already drunk it at Avram’s in Odessa. “Want a cup?”
– he offered. “OK”. The tea rolled your tongue into a tube, it
was hot, black and bitter. But you couldn’t add sugar - they said
“you can blow up the engine” – that is, it was bad for your
heart. Edik started with small talk – the Deribasovskaya street in
Odessa, this and that, the job, the residence registration, and then
he asked if I was ready for a “dash” – that is, to break away
from the Reds. I felt like I was petrified, but I tried to conceal my
feelings with questions: “How? Where? With whom?” Edik gave the
details in very general terms – a trainer plane in an airfield near
Leningrad. They had a pilot, there would be about ten participants.
He asked me to prepare tools, to use in case we had to break open a locked
plane. Naturally, it was supposed to be at night. A guard or dogs
could be an obstacle, something should be worked out. And that’s
it. We parted.
night I could not fall asleep. That’s it, the line is drawn, you
can refuse, other people will go, and you… and you will be dragging
on here, marry the daughter of that Alexandrovich or somebody else’s
daughter, go to work – the useful and faithful lackey. I kept
snoozing and waking up from visions that were drowning me – we are
walking along the airfield at night, coming up to the plane and
suddenly everything is lit up and we hear the command: “Hands up,
stand still!” No, it was better not to sleep at all, but something
was already taking shape, the visions were settling down and the
decision was forming itself. A little more rage was needed to conquer
the fear. My memory brought me images of friends who were staying in
Odessa under this wall of hopelessness - Avram, who had left his leg
in a trap, like a running away wolf, friends who refused to pass
their graduation exams so as not to create additional difficulties
with the rules for leaving the country, weddings,
that had been cancelled (it looked that it was easier to take the
risks alone), hopes and disappointments of hundreds of thousands of
people doomed for slavery and trying to escape from it.
wedding did take place in Riga, though – and it was the wedding of
two most inveterate Zionists, Arye Khnokn and Mary Mendelevich. The
wedding took place in the short break in “sfirat ha-omer”.
Everyone assembled in the synagogue, the rabbi was nervous – the
sunset was nearing. Arye was going to be late, the backbiters
remarked ironically: “As usual, he is going to be late”. At last
the couple arrived. Arye seemed upset and ill at ease, the bride
looked troubled as well. Arye told us later that it had cost him
tremendous effort to convince her that brides normally did not walk
under the “khupa” in torn old jeans. For these cases there were
dresses – the pretty white things with ribbons and flowers. That
last thing was totally unacceptable - Mary usually carried a fixed
blade Finnish knife in her purse. She worked at a biology lab and her
fingers were always bitten – a rat’s bite, she used to explain.
The wedding was joyful, everyone drank to the newlyweds’ health and
few people knew that they were getting married in order to go to the
plane as a unit, a family. Yosef took me aside and asked me about my
decision. I gathered that he was there, too… Almost everyone who
planned the “dash” was present at the wedding: Zalmanson Silva
and her younger brother Izya, and also some people who had decided
not to take the risk. Hanele was pregnant and Tsvi considered their
participation in the escape impossible.
the course of looking for the most appropriate plan we thought about
the possibility of hijacking the plane of Tolstikov, First Secretary
of Leningrad District Party Committee. All of a sudden, somewhere in
the beginning of June, Edik informed us of the final version of the
plan. Mark, who was combing through small airports in the country, had found a
recently opened short distance flight – Leningrad – Priozersk –
Sartavala. You could not invent anything better than that. Mark’s
daughter Yulya and her friend tried this flight, then somebody else
whom at that stage we did not know did. The date was already set –
June 15. We would book all the tickets for the flight – twelve seats
all in all. We would fly as tourists, there will be no strangers, so
no problems should be expected. In the intermediate airport of
Priozersk everyone has to get out, you can’t go farther without a
pass – this is where the frontier area starts. Instead of that, we
attack the pilots, tie them up and get them out of the plane. Mark
takes control of the steering and we are joined by another four
people who came to the place on the day before.
were supposed to meet again before the action and discuss all the
details. We also had to discuss our next moves in the case of…
success? A week before the planned day we met for a preliminary
discussion. There were four of us – Silva, Izya, Yosef and I. We
left the Zalmansons’ house and on the way to the nearby stadium we
tried to see if we were shadowed. It looked like all was clear, but
then – who can know… We later found out that in big cities, in
the centers, TV cameras were installed and there was no need to be
disguised as a “lamppost”. Hardly had we reached the stadium when
a group of soldiers arrived there. They were laughing and cracking
sunflower seeds and settled near us. We had to speak softly and that
drew more attention to us. The fever of the last step had started.
Are we being shadowed or not, are we doing the right thing when we
hurry to book that very convenient for us flight and why had this
flight appeared exactly at that time – it looked that there was too
much luck. When I recollect my state during those days I find it
difficult to describe adequately my feelings and emotions – like,
amid a crowd I imagined… no, that’s wrong… I felt like I was
already in Israel and I was dreaming that long, long ago I had lived
in a different place, in Russia, maybe in Odessa, in Riga… no, I
did not remember its
somebody, an acquaintance, hurries to meet me, and I want to ask him
about that city and he says: “Hello, how are you?”
suggested that we meet in the wood near a village called Shmerli.
Yes, yes, let’s go, let’s go now; what do you think, are they
“looking after” us?
What’s the use of arresting us now, if they knew anything they
would be taking us to their place and asking questions, no, no, we
are in quiet waters.
was for the first time that nearly all of our whole group met in that wood near
Shmerli. We discussed in detail who would sit near the cockpit and who
at the entrance door. “We have to take the pilots without a
scratch”,- says Edik, - “otherwise the Reds will scream about
banditry. Mary, take everything for first aid. We must leave sleeping
bags for them, so that they won’t, God forbid, catch colds. We
should seriously control our emotions, the pilots should not be hurt
in any case”. At that time a blue Volga arrived and stopped not far
from us, but it would be sheer madness to suspect that they were
listening to us – they were still too far away from us for that.
continued: “Four people are going to Priozersk separately and will
join us after we take away the pilots. We will try to get to Sweden,
to Boden near the border. If we can’t make it, we will land
somewhere on a meadow in Finland and then walk to the border with
Sweden”. A merry guy this Edik was. “And what if something goes
wrong with us?” I was probably not the only one to think of it.
Edik went on: “There is something more, listen to it”. Yosef read
aloud the text of the “Appeal” and asked everyone to sign. We
did. The “Appeal” was to be kept by somebody in Riga and made
public only in case if the Reds decide to shoot down our plane. Then,
to prevent their declaring us to be hijackers and aggressors, the
“Appeal” was to be transferred for publishing in the West.
that time the “Volga” did not move, nobody got out of it, maybe
there was a young couple there, kissing in the wood.
had to collect my belongings, write a letter to the Alexanroviches,
then I planned to go to Daugavpils to Pinya and Dina Khnokh – to
take a book to them. What should I take with me? What does a man take
with him when he is going to flee abroad? At photographs in Soviet
newspapers and magazines one could even then see piles of gold coins
and necklaces, old icons, packs of foreign banknotes – all these,
the press told us, had belonged to smugglers or criminals who had
illegally acquired these treasures. “A chain of bloody crimes
followed these lovers of jewelry” – a typical line for such
photos. I counted my money – I had enough to go to Leningrad
through Daugavpils and even enough for food, and after that… after
that… no, that was a forbidden subject. What should I take with me?
I had an elegant light colored leather bag which I had brought from
Odessa – it had room for photographs, passport, school leaving
certificate, driving license, diver’s and diving instructor’s
certificates, the military identity card. The reference from work was
lacking, but everything was clear even without it – here and there,
moral character and attitude to work – attended, did not attend,
participated, did not participate, what else? Maybe a knife, swimming
trunks (they looked nice, it would be a pity to leave them behind), a
change of underwear… that’s all? That’s all, you have not
acquired anything more, only this. No problem, I will get more
things, the important thing is to stay safe! I had to say good-bye to
the Alexandrovich family. I had long ago invented for them a story of
going to a summer camp to work as a swimming instructor. It wasn’t
a complete lie, there had been an offer like that and I had agreed,
but then there was another offer… (to another camp?). This story
was supposed to explain my leaving Riga. The letter was short; I was
taking leave of them and thanking them for their kindness. I asked
Ruth to sell what was left of my handicrafts and pay my debts – I
made a list of names and sums. I put the letter in an envelope and
took it to Ruth’s father, to the shop where he worked. I asked him
to give the letter on Monday, June 15, to a friend of mine who would
come for it. I wrote a short good-bye note for her, too. I knew that
he would keep the letter till Monday, but things turned out a little
different. Before leaving my house, I called my friend, told her that
I was leaving and that Ruth’s father had a letter for her, but she
could take it only on Monday. She must have guessed something, and
she went to the shop immediately. She read the letter and everything
became clear to her, but this early warning helped a lot. Because
something really unusual was about to happen, everyone was on the
alert and they took all the “compromising material” out of the
house. Meanwhile, I went to the dacha
Revekka Iosifovna. We talked a little, I told her that I was going to
a summer camp, but at the last moment I couldn't restrain myself and,
feeling that I was seeing her for the last time, kissed her hand. She
was surprised by this emotional farewell and asked something, but I
made a joke of it. They reminded me of that kiss at the
investigation. My train was leaving early in the evening and I
hurried to the station. On the way I tried to figure out if they were
tailing me, but everything was as clean as inside a funeral coffin.
coming to Daugavpils I went to the Khnokhs’ apartment. Pinya and
Dina were at home, Arye had informed me that they knew everything, so
I was open with them and we talked about everything. Their Simona was
a tiny little girl, but she behaved very independently. All the
house, including her Latvian nanny, was circling around her little
finger. We went out with Simona for a short walk and I gave her a
record of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Pinya asked me to
give Arye a ring for Mary. The train for Leningrad was leaving at
night and I decided to take a walk in the town, and at the same time
to try to guess – was I being shadowed? At the station I came to my
carriage and handed my ticket to the conductor. He looked at the
ticket and said that I would feel better in another carriage, which
was almost empty. “Aha, that’s it! But then, what was the trouble
with this offer? Nothing, but why should he be so kind?” The
carriage, indeed, was empty, except for two men who could be father
and son, judging from their ages.
had already been in Leningrad, sometime in April, I was visiting my
second cousin. There was also a girl from Chernovtsy whom I had met a
year before that, she was a student at the Academy of Arts. I knew
that her parents were planning to leave the country and had even
tried to win their sympathy, but they probably couldn’t think of
matchmaking at that time. We met and spoke mostly about Leningrad.
The city was recovering from its slushy and unhealthy winter. The
sunny sides of streets were drying up, snowdrops and mimosa were sold
here and there. We wandered in the center of the city, passing from
narrow yards to lanes and side-streets, then taking a streetcar or a
trolleybus at a stop. St. Isaak’s Cathedral, Vasilyevsky Island –
so many books we had read, so many movies and pictures we had seen
about this city. The city was beyond one’s comprehension, there was
always something else behind what you could see and understand. Oh,
those mysteries – the Bronze Horseman, three cards, three cards,
three cards… [Allusions
to a poem and a story by A. Pushkin – translator’s note].
And now I am again in Leningrad,
it smells of warm dust, the air is damp. Probably every city looks
especially beautiful at sunrise, but Leningrad is a phenomenon that
beats all the rest. The sky above Leningrad is pierced by numerous
spires, gables and flagstaffs. And on each of them rays of the early
sun play a unique melody. And then, this unusual stillness of this
mass of buildings, palaces, granite colonnades – will its magic
come to an end one day? I stopped again at my cousin’s. He had
graduated from the Institute of Theatre and Cinematography and was
working at a theatre. I had little hope of making him change his
plans and talked very little on Jewish subjects. Then I went to see
that acquaintance of mine and again we took a short walk in the city.
I told her that I would soon go away. - Where to? What for? – She
would probably soon find out and if it was not too much of trouble,
could she see my mother if she goes to Chernovtsy? At that we parted.
The last hours that were left until Monday, June 15 were coming to an