Julia + Ellie
1979 | Moscow, Russia | Age: 31 and 4 | via Austria and Italy
Julia: We were the refuseniks. We had applied to leave in 1976 when my daughter wasn’t even a year old. We had waited for 3 years with no word from the government. We wrote letters, met with people. Then one day we got the official letter with our permission, but we had to leave within 2 weeks. We left Moscow on May 11, 1979 for Vienna and Italy. We weren’t allowed to take much, but we were allowed to take our furniture. I still have the receipt for the 928 rubles we paid just for the permission. And here are our handwritten plane tickets. You can see they were already advertising for the 1980 Olympics.
Ellie: And you laugh at me for keeping everything! That’s crazy. They are in pristine condition, like you could use them today.
Ellie: I mostly remember the objects, the toys, my stuffed monkey. I remember my little table and chairs that came with us. I was an only child and I did a lot of independent work at that table.
Julia: Her grandfather taught her to read and write at this table because he wanted her to write him letters. My parents lived in Moldova. We even brought the books from which he taught her.
Ellie: And some 30 years later, my dad taught my kids Russian from those books. He passed away last year, but he was the storyteller. He would have been happy to talk to you for 2.5 days. And my little table is now my children’s table when they're at my mom’s house. They sit here and play by the window. They know it’s mine, and they have completely claimed it. And the link to the past lives through that little piece of furniture for me. So very little still exists of that world for them.
Ellie: My dad brought so many books here, his own books too, about his inventions. The hardest thing for him - and why the books mattered so much - is that all of a sudden, here he was looked at as “less than”. That was really hard for him and unexpected. We brought Chekhov and Dostoevsky, but also HIS books on HIS patents, on HIS theories of invention. That was his proof, “I may be nothing here, but look what I’ve done.”
Julia: He knew that it would be difficult. But even knowing that, it’s hard to get used to the idea when you are actually living that reality. His first job here was as a delivery man. A 42 year old Jew with two PhD’s and a part-time poet - as a TV delivery man.
Ellie: Do you think he was he ever disappointed in America?
Julia: No, never. He was never disappointed in America. He really felt that he belonged here. Even though our families had been well established in Moscow and we hadn’t experienced personal discrimination, my husband had wanted to leave purely on principle. He hated Russia. He was offended.
Ellie: One of his other jobs was as a lecturer at the NY Hall of Science. He had never studied English. So I have tapes of myself as a child recording his lectures. Here I was the expert, and he would listen to me over and over to get the pronunciation right. His whole life he did accent reduction classes. He was an actor, a frustrated would-be actor.
Julia: In Russia everyone lived within the same means, more or less. But people found themselves through different spiritual achievements - acting, music, poetry, art, writing, etc. Those were your most important accomplishments. Here, your spiritual endeavors didn’t interest anyone.