This is dedicated to the
The moment, I found out about the opening of the Soviet Jewish Struggle for Freedom (1967-1989) exhibition, I felt a surge of thoughts and gratitude to the people who had helped us to get out of the Soviet Union by their precedent, determination and support.
Our children left the Soviet Union when they were 9 and 3 years old, and they accepted all the benefits their new country could offer. After growing up and visiting their native country, they said to us: “Thank you so much for all your efforts in taking us out of that country!”
Now I will tell you how it was for us.
We have known Natasha and Eugene Abeshaus for a long time, from about 1965, when we worked together at the Leningrad Design Institute of Telecommunication. We were part of the same group of friends; we celebrated many events and holidays and went hiking and skiing together. When Eugene started his art work, we went to his exhibitions in various halls and in their apartment. We were witnesses to their struggle for an exit visa, which ended successfully in the fall of 1976.
We were warned that, during the night of their farewell party, we would see guards in front of their apartment and they will ask us nasty questions. It was the truth, but people continued to come in to say good-bye all the same.
Our children can’t imagine that at that time, the farewell was a tragic event. Of course, each family who got an exit visa was very happy, but their separation from relatives and close friends was very hard. The OVIR (government office, which handled visa processing) threatened us with “You will never return to your native country! You are traitors! You voluntarily refused Soviet citizenship!”
When people applied for an exit visa, they never knew whether they would get permission or refusal, or whether they would see their dear ones again or not. When I came to the Abeshaus farewell, I was pregnant. Looking at me Natasha said her famous phrase, which I remember very well: “When you give birth to your second child, you will understand right away that you need to leave this country!”
Dear Natasha! You are so clever!
When we were young in the 60s and 70s, the majority of families had just one child and those who had a second one were considered heroes. Mothers went back to work after giving birth, children in day care centers got sick very often, our earnings were very modest, and our apartments were small and cramped. Such was our daily life…
But Enemy Number One for us was anti-Semitism. A lot of articles and books are written on this subject. We lived within limitations and in restrictions. Some universities did not except Jews at all, some accepted them only for certain sub jects, which did not require a security clearance. At our jobs, we weren’t promoted to high level positions. It was almost impossible to take vacations outside of the Soviet Union. The authorities did not permit it since they were afraid that we wouldn't come back.
We were desperate and helpless. We needed to do something! We didn’t want our children live such a life!
In the 60s and 70s one had to be very brave to apply for exit visas, since everyone was afraid of getting refusnik status. We knew about the refusniks' fate. They lost their jobs, they earned very limited money at unprofessional jobs, and they were prosecuted and controlled by government authorities.
We visited Aba and Ida Taratuta several times. I was surprised to see Ida’s blouse with Jewish symbols and the Magen David pendant on her neck. I hadn’t seen such items before. Aba and Ida helped us to obtain all the necessary documents for exit visa application. We made a risky decision and applied for exit visas in June 1979. My husband and I both had security clearance level 2.
What helped us to by pass refusal?
Your advice and good luck!
We followed your advice. First of all, we both resigned from our jobs and only after that did we bring all the paperwork to OVIR.
Following your advice, I did my best to arrange a personal talk with my manager. We lived in the same city district and met at the front door of an apartment building, located between our houses. It was dark and cold… However, I had enough guts to make this passionate speech:
- We are having a hard time now. We’ve made the decision to go for the sake of our children! Please, don’t put any obstacles in our way for our departure! Help us! Let us go!
My manager was obviously touched by my sincere speech and promised not to create obstacles for our departure. Due to my manager’s position, he was able to influence the decisions made by the “First Department” that was responsible for making decisions about security clearances and permission to leave the country. The First Department told the OVIR that I hadn’t worked on projects requiring security clearance 2 for two years.
This statement determined our destiny.
We waited for a decision for 8 months. Ilia worked as a machinist at the plant. I took a class in hat making and I was ready to open a hat making business in case of refusal.
Following your advice, we applied for an exit visa in June of 1979, the year before the upcoming Moscow Olympic Games in August 1980. At that time, the Soviet Government started to have more liberal policies towards their citizens to avoid people’s dissatisfaction and protest demonstrations before the Olympic Games. We took this advice, and it was very true, indeed; after the Games the “exit gates almost closed;” the number of refusals increased considerably.
We came to the USA in May 1980 at the invitation of my three cousins. Their father, my uncle, had left the Ukraine in 1920. Our relatives began coming to the USA starting in 1991. Now we have an extended family of 35, including 10 young people (children and grandchildren) ranging in age from two weeks to 10 years old.
Our children got a good education in USA, they know several languages and are working and traveling around the world.
Thank you for everything that you have done for us!
We wished we could have to come for the opening ceremony as "live exhibits"!
We have great respect for you and thank you very much for everything!!
Rimma and Ilia Zaraysky,
San Jose, CA, USA
October 12, 2007