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University of California Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre* Series 


Interviews with 

Olga C. Morgan 

Vera A. Elischer 

Vasily V. Ushanoff 

Nikolai N. Khripunov 

Adolf Idol 
Oswald Kratins 
Valentina A. Vernon 

Interviews Conducted by 

Richard A. Pierce 


Underwritten by the 
L. J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation 

Copyright (c\ 1986 by the Regents of the University of California 

This manuscript is made available for research 
purposes. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for 
publication without the written permission of the 
Director of The Bancroft Library of the University of 
California at Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication 
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 
486 Library, and should include identification of the 
specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the 
passages, and identification of the user. 

It is recommended that this oral history be cited 
as follows: 

To cite the volume: Russian Emigre* Recollections : 
Life in Russia and California, an oral history 
conducted 1979-1983, Regional Oral History Office, 
The Bancroft Library, University of California, 
Berkeley, 1986. 

To cite individual interview: Olga C. Morgan, 
"Recollections of Russia and Life in Emigration," 
an oral history conducted in 1983 by Richard A. 
Pierce, in Russian Emigre" Recollections ; Life 
in Russia and California, Regional Oral History 
Office, The Bancroft Library, University of 
California, Berkeley, 1986. 

Copy No. 2- 


The Russian-Americans, although numerically a small proportion of the 
population, have for long been a conspicuous and picturesque element in the 
cosmopolitan make-up of the San Francisco Bay Area. Some came here prior to 
the Russian Revolution, but the majority were refugees from the Revolution of 
1917 who came to California through Siberia and the Orient. Recognizing the 
historical value of preserving the reminiscences of these Russian refugees, in 
the spring of 1958 Dr. Richard A. Pierce, author of Russian Central Asia, 1867- 
1917, (U.C. Press, Spring 1960) then a research historian at the University 
working on the history of the Communist Party in Central Asia, made the following 
proposal to Professor Charles Jelavich, chairman of the Center for Slavic Studies: 

I would like to start on the Berkeley campus, under the 
auspices of the Center for Slavic Studies, an oral 
history project to collect and preserve the recollections 
of members of the Russian colony of the Bay Region. We 
have in this area the second largest community of Russian 
refugees in the U.S., some 30,000 in San Francisco alone. 
These represent an invaluable and up to now almost entirely 
neglected source of historical information concerning life 
in Russia before 1917, the February and October Revolutions, 
the Civil War of 1918-1921, the Allied intervention in 
Siberia, the Soviet period; of the exile communities of 
Harbin, Shanghai, Prague, Paris, San Francisco, etc.; and 
of the phases in the integration of this minority into 
American life. 

The proposed series of tape-recorded interviews , as a part of the Regional 
Oral History Office of the University of California Library, was begun in 
September 1958 under the direction of Professor Jelavich and with the assistance 
of Professor Nicholas V. Riasanovsky of the Department of History. To date, the 
interviews listed below have been completed in several series. Each interview 
lasted a number of sessions, which were transcribed and, if necessary, translated. 
Each was edited by the interviewer and the interviewee, and then typed and bound. 
An interview by Professor R. A. Pierce with the late Professor Gleb Struve, still 
being edited, will constitute a fifth series. 

Funding for the California Russian Emigre* Series has come from several 
sources. First supported by the General Library, it was in the second and third 
series supported by the Center for Slavic and Near Eastern Studies. The fourth 
series, begun in 1979, received funding from the L. J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs 

In addition to the completed oral histories, other Russian emigre* materials 
have been acquired as a result of the interviewing program. 


An interview begun with Professor Nicholas T. Mirov was expanded by 
Professor Mirov and published as The Road I Came, The Memoirs of a Russian- 
American Forester (The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario, 1978). 

Several manuscripts were donated to Professor Pierce by emigres who had 
already written or dictated their memoirs. These include: 

Lialia Andreevna Sharov, Life in Siberia and Manchuria. 1898-1922, 296 pages. 
Completed in Los Angeles, California, ca. 1960. 

Professor Ivan Stenbock-Fermor, Memoirs of Life in Old Russia, World War 
I, Revolution, and in Emigration, 1112 pages. Completed in Palo Alto, 
California, 1976. 

Professor Alex Albov, Recollections of Pre-Revolutionary Russia, the Russian 
Revolution and Civil War, the Balkans in the 1930 *s and Service in the Vlasov 
Army in World War II, 550 pages. Dictated on tape, transcribed by Professor 

These manuscripts will be made a part of the Russian emigre' collection of The 
Bancroft Library. 

The Regional Oral History Office was established in 1954 to tape record 
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed to the development 
of the West. The Office is under the administrative supervision of Professor 
James D. Hart, the director of The Bancroft Library. 

Willa K. Baum, Head 
Regional Oral History Office 

15 April 1986 

Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 
University of California 
Berkeley, California 94709 

April 1986 

The following interviews on the lives of Russian emigres have been undertaken 
by the Regional Oral History Office, a division of The Bancroft Library. The 
interviews with members of the San Francisco Bay Area Russian community focus 
on their experiences in Russia, the exile communities to which they fled follow 
ing the Revolution of 1917, and their integration into American life. 

First Series; Interviews conducted by Richard A. Pierce and Alton C. Donnelly, 
sponsored by the General Library, 1960-1961. 

Dotsenko, Paul The Struggle for the Liberation of Siberia, 1918- 

1921. 114 pages, 1960. [Pierce] 
Malozemoff, Elizabeth The Life of a Russian Teacher. 444 pages, 1961. 


Shebeko, Boris Russian Civil War, 1918-1922. 284 pages, 1961. [Pierce] 

Shneyeroff, Michael M. Recollections of the Russian Revolution. 270 pages, 

1960. [Pierce] 

Second Series ; Interviews conducted by Boris Raymond (Romanoff) , sponsored by the 
Center for Slavic and East European Studies, 1966-1967. 

Fedoulenko, Valentin V. Russian Emigre" Life in Shanghai. 171 pages, 1967. 
Guins, George C. Professor and Government Official; Russia, China, 

and California. 364 pages, 1966. 

Lenkoff, Aleksandr N. Life of a Russian Emigre" Soldier. 64 pages, 1967. 
Volume also contains: Report to Subcommittee on Russian Emigre! Project. 

4 pages . 

Bibliography of Works on Far Eastern Emigration. 

16 pages. 

Third Series: Interviews conducted by Richard A. Pierce and Boris Raymond (Romanoff) , 
sponsored by the Center for Slavic and East European Studies, 1971- 

Guins, George C. Impressions of the Russian Imperial Government. 

95 pages, 1971. [Pierce] 
Marschak, Jacob Recollections of Kiev and the Northern Caucasus, 1917- 

1918. 78 pages, 1971. [Pierce] 

Moltchanoff, Victorin M. The Last White General. 132 pages, 1972. [Raymond] 
Nagy-Talavera, Miklos Recollections of Soviet Labor Camps, 1949-1955. 

100 pages, 1972. [Pierce] 

Fourth Series ; Interviews conducted by Richard A. Pierce, sponsored by the L. J. 
Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, 1979-1983. 

Olga Morgan Russian Emigre* Recollections ; Life in Russia and 

Vera Elischer California. 428 pages, 1986. 

Vasily Ushanoff 

Nikolai Khripunov 

Adolf Idol 

Oswald Kratins 

Valentina Vernon 

Regional Oral History Ofc. 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 

Berkeley. CA 94720 



The seven accounts presented here were transcribed from 
interviews with residents of Monterey, Carmel Valley and 
Laguna Beach, California. Five of the people interviewed were 
Russians, one was Latvian, and one was a Baltic German, from 
Estonia. All were born before the Russian Revolution, and all 
within the borders of the Russian Empire, except one who was 
born in Machuria, on land set aside for the Russian-owned 
Chinese-Eastern Railway. 

The interviews illustrate Russian folk life and folk ways, 
not in the narrow sense of "the traditional life of the mass of 
a population, but as part of the entire Russian culture. 
Culture in this sense can be looked upon as "a complex of 
typical behavior or standardized social characteristics 
peculiar to a specific group, occupation, or sex, age grade, 
or social class." For it is not only peasants and laborers 
who must be studied if we are to understand a people, but 
the group or people as a whole, comprising many cultures, 
including that of the more "advanced," educated, sophisticated 
classes whose members have to a large degree forgotten their 
earlier ways. 

In this sense, all human cultures, of whatever era, 
nationality or class, merit study, and even the simplest will 
prove complex upon close examination. Thus the Russians, 
actually a whole congeries of peoples, classes and cultures. 
"Understanding the Russians" has never been more necessary 
than today, but attempts are usually piecemeal and incomplete, 
fraught with error. Some fail to realize that Russia is not 
of one nationality, but many. Others dismiss the old Russia 
as a backward, static land, transformed in 1917, whereas the 
new socio-political-economic structure was in many ways a 
regression, and in any case retained a strong Russian flavor. 
Not all the nobility and commercial classes were exploiters, 
not all the workers and peasants were noble, not all the Red 
Army forces were paladins of righteousness, nor were all 
White Army men good, or otherwise, depending on the point of 
view of the narrator. "Understanding" therefore remains 

elusive, obscured by stereotypes. 

The best way to get behind the stereotypes is through 
the study of individual lives through biography, or, better 
still, through autobiographical accounts. The accounts that 
follow, if studied and compared, permit a small step to be 
made in that direction. 

Mrs. Olga Morgan, half -American, but at home in high 
circles, tells of her experiences in nursing during World War I, 
and of a successful departure from Russia just before the 
Revolution, by way of Siberia. 

Mrs. Vera Elischer, of a highly placed family, was a 
nurse during the war, then lived through hard times after 
the Revolution until she and her husband were able to 
escape from Russia with a transport of prisoners of war 
returning to Hungary. 

Dr. Ushanoff, the only one of the seven who was of 
humble birth, indicates how determination could overcome 
the economic and social difficulties facing the emigrant. 

Mr. Khripunov, the son of a cavalry officer and landowner, 
educated by governesses and good schools, would in normal 
times have assumed a station similar to that of his father. 
Instead, thrown unprepared into a competitive society, he 
eked out his years on the bounty of others, unable to 
adapt, like the "superfluous man" of Russian novels of the 
second half of the 19th century. 

Adolf Idol, from Estonia, and Oswald Kratins, a Latvian, 
both began life as Russian subjects. Idol, an alien in his 
own homeland and in the Russian Empire, where anti-German 
feeling was common, gives an idea of the care with which 
the member of a minority had to tread in troubled times. 
Kratins describes the Bolshevik excesses he witnessed as a 
youth in Southern Russia, and then the mauling which Latvia 
endured in 1940 and 1941 when it was annexed and occupied by 
the Soviets. 

Mrs. Vernon, daughter of an army officer of the General 
Staff, describes the halcyon days before 1914, and then the 
hunger and terror of Soviet rule until she and members of her 
family were finally able to emigrate. 


Each interview' is preceded by a short introduction, 
describing the subject and setting, and is followed by a 
short index. 

Dr. Ushanoff's account is followed by a short 
autobiographical sketch, and Mrs. Vernon's by a longer 
work consisting of 12 sketches, written for her grandchildren. 
Some of these parallel the interview, some are on different 
themes, thus providing additional material. Mr. George Vernon 
kindly provided a copy of his mother's manuscript. 

The interviews were taped and transcribed with the 
aid of a grant from the Skaggs Foundation, whose aid, and 
interest in the project is gratefully acknowledged. The grant 
was administered by the Regional Oral History Office of the 
Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. 

Richard A. Pierce 

History Department 
Queen's University 
Kingston, Ontario, Canada 

22 July 1985 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre' Series 

Olga Chrapovitsky Morgan 

Recollections of Russia and Life in Emigration 

An Interview Conducted by 

Richard A. Pierce 

March 12 and 13, 1983 

at Laguna Beach, California 

Copyright (cT) 1986 by the Regents of the University of California 


I interviewed Olga Morgan (Mrs. Jasper Morgan) at her 
home in Laguna Beach, on March 12 and 15, 1983. Laguna Beach 
has resisted the mediocrity which has spoiled the appearance 
of many Southern California beach towns, and the view from 
Mrs. Morgan's house, on a steep hillside overlooking the 
Pacific, might be in the south of France. Her garden supports 
many plants suited for semi-arid conditions, and a trickle from 
a small fountain, in an artificial grotto framed by ivy, gets 
a rich yield from others which are more demanding. The 
visitor enters her lot from the street below, and climbs a 
steep path to the house, a spacious wooden structure built in 
the early 1920 's. Windows along the south and west sides of 
the large dining and living room, and large mirrors which 
make up the north. wall give it ample light, besides which one 
can step out onto a sun porch which runs along the entire west 
side of the house, for a fine view of the ocean. 

Most of the comfortable furnishings, of the 1920 's and 
1930 's, were picked up second hand over many years. There 
are many photographs, and a wide variety of bric-a-brac and 
memorabilia, which is like a museum of earlier 20th century 
popular culture. 

Born in 1896 "Prehistorically old!" she exclaims Mrs. 
Morgan retains a zest for life and a youthful flexibility. 
When I saw her in March, 1985 she had nearly recovered from 
injuries received in a traffic accident the previous fall, 
for which she had received damages, and was looking forward 
to resuming her volunteer work at the gift shop of a nearby 

Richard A. Pierce 
22 July 1985 


Early summer, 1914. An afternoon gathering in the Crimea. Olga Morgan, 
the narrator, is third from the left of the three women in white. In center, 
the Grand Duchess Marie. Seated, first row on the left, is the Grand 
Duchess George, and in foreground, side view, sits the Grand Duke George. 

Early summer, 1914. Holiday gathering in the Crimea. Officers are of the 
regiment which was stationed there. Their guests for lunch are the Grand 
Duchess Marie (2nd row, center), wife of the Crown Prince of Sweden. Behind 
her, a lady in waiting, who served as chaperon. In rear, right, Olga Morgan, 
the narrator, then 18, and in front of her, Zoya Stoeckl, the daughter of 
the Grand Duchess' lady in waiting. 

I . 


This page and next : Olga Morgan at 
society functions. 



Interview, Richard Pierce 
with Mrs. Olga Morgan, 
Laguna Beach, California, 
March 12, 1983. 



RP: Could we begin with a short autobiographical sketch, 
including a bit about your family? 

Morgan: I will do my best! My mother, Margaret Taylor, was 

born in 1870. The family had become wealthy, I think 
it was in railroads. Henry Augustus Taylor, her 
father, built the library in Milford, Connecticut, 
and they have his portrait in oil there. 

My mother met my father, Nicholas de Chrapovitsky, 
a Russian naval officer, at a ball in Washington, B.C. 
A year later she went to Paris and married him in the 
church in the Rue de Russe she had become Orthodox 
and they went to Russia. Of course, after America 
it was a very difficult place for her to live; she 
didn't speak the language, so she always had an 
English companion with her who helped her translate. 

Do you know when they met, or what had brought him to 
the United States? 

I don't know. That's the trouble, there are so many 
details that I don't know. I know she met him in 
Washington, D.C., but I don't even know the date 
of their marriage. I only know that I was born on 
December 19, 1896, so obviously they must have been 
married for at least a year before that. 

RP: Could you relate some of your earliest memories? 

Morgan: My earliest recollections, strangely enough, are 

mostly of life in the country, where we went in summer, 
We used to go someplace I don't even know where it 
was near St. Petersburg, on the water. My father 
was away most of the summer. And it had a beach, 
and I remember we used to go down to the beach, and 
we had a little carriage, with a pony, that we drove 
around, with a governess, obviously. That I remember 
quite vividly, but I remember very little of life in 
town, and of studying, with governesses and all that. 

Then I have a very strange recollection of when I 
was very small, about five or six. My sister and I 
slept in a room where we each had a bed, and at night 
I used to see a little devil, walking around my bed. 
I could have sworn that it was a little black devil, 
so there must have been some stories I was told that 
affected me like that, because I really saw him, and 

Morgan 2 

when I ' d get up in the morning and try to get my 
toys out of the closet I was always standing off in 
case he jumped out/ because I thought he lived in 
the closet with my toys. That's a very early recollectior 
of when I was in town. I don't remember where we 
stayed in the country. We always rented different 
places, I don't remember what they looked like. I 
only remember that they used to be near that beach. 

My father was killed in the Japanese War, in the 
Battle of Tsushima /May 27-28, 1905/, and I know very 
little about him. I hardly ever saw him because he 
was always stationed on the royal yacht, the 
Shtandart. He was there all summer. I remember 
only that when we went to the United States during 
the summer of 1905, as we got off the ship all the 
correspondents threw themselved on my mother and 
said "Did you know that your husband was lost in 
the battle?" And mother had had a premonition 
while she was on board, she kept saying "I think he's 
dead." But otherwise she didn't know; it was a 
rather cruel thing to do, a terrible welcome. 
He was on the Alexander III The whole fleet was 
sunk, many by their own volition, because they did 
not want the Japanese to take them prisoners. They 
were all regarded as heroes, so we became ladies-in- 
waiting to the Empress as one of the rewards for 
being daughters of heroes. 

NOTE BY INTERVIEWER: The New York Times for 7 June 

1905, p. 4, has the following: 



The Countess Chrapovitsky, widow of Count Chrapovitsky, 

second in command of the Russian battleship Alexander III, 

which was one of the vessels of Admiral Rojdesvensky 's 

fleet that was destroyed in the battle of the Sea of 

Japan, arrived in New York last night on the North 

German Lloyd liner Kaiser Wilhelm II. 

The Countess, who was accompanied by her two little 

daughters, was met by her brother, Henry Taylor 

of Milford, Conn., and left for that place soon after 

the Kaiser Wilhelm docked. Mr. Taylor said that 

his sister was too grieved over the misfortune that 

had overtaken her to talk, and added that she was 

not yet certain that her husband was among the lost, 

and would not believe so until she recieved official 

confirmation of it. 

She heard of the sea battle when the Kaiser touched 

at Cherbourg and Southhampton a week ago yesterday. 

According to accounts of the battle, the Alexander III 
went down with all hands several thousand men. No 
roster of the officers appears to have been published, 
and a ctually there was very little mention of that 


particular vessel/ which was only one of those 
lost. The Russian press quickly went on to the 
negotiations for peace. I tried to obtain 
biographical details concerning Count Chrapovitsky 
from the Naval Museum in Leningrad, but without 
success. R.P. 

Morgan: After my father died my mother never saw his side 
of the family anymore/ except Countess Heyden, who 
was a good friend of hers, but they were only 
distant relatives of the Chrapovitskys . She was 
the only one I ever met. 

RP: Why this estrangement? 

Morgan: She didn't like them. And then, about a year later, 
she remarried, to Christopher der Felden, or Baron 
der Felden, but he didn't like to use that because 
he said it was Germanic. 

Before that, through my father's family, my mother 
was always invited to all the balls and other affairs 
at court. But after she married Baron der Felden, she 
never went to the balls and things like that anymore, 
but then the Imperial family used to come and visit 
us the Dowager Empress, the Grand Duke Michael, 
and quite a few others; they were very close. 

RP: You mentioned having governesses, could you describe 
that? At what age did you have the first? 

Morgan: The first was before 1905. She was a French governess, 
whom we disliked very much. Whenever we did anything 
that she didn't like she would say "Faite la planche!" 
which is French for "make the board' so we had to 
get down on the floor and lie like a board we hated 
her! And we were never able to tell anyone how much 
we disliked her, except when we went on this trip in 
1905 to America. Then every day we would come out 
and say "Oh, how wonderful it is, to be without her! 
How wonderful it is not to have Mademoiselle Mizan 
around our neck ! " 

And mother said, "Do you really dislike her that much?" 
So when we got back she fired her or retired her 
people didn't fire a governess, they retired her. 
But when we lived in summer in a country place we had 
a governess for each day. We had to take a walk with 
her, eat with her, talk to her, all day, and then the 
next day it would be a French governess. 

In the winter we had the same thing; a governess for 
each day. It was very strict, we had always to take 


long walks and do healthy things, and then study 
that particular language for one day and then another 
language another day, and so I am very proficient 
in French. After I have been in Paris for two or 
three weeks they can hardly tell that I am not French. 

RP: So this was from the age of 6 or 7? 

Morgan: Yes, and before that. This lasted until my stepfather 
got very ill. Then we had to break the whole monotony 
of the thing, because then we went every year to Cannes, 
Nice and places like that. They thought he had TB and 
that he couldn't stand the winter climate. So then we 
had only one governess with us, but then we would get 
another governess there who could speak French. German 
was a little bit forgotten at that time. We had the 
Russian governess come with us, the maids my mother's 
maid and our own maid to take care of my sister and 
me, and a valet who took care of my stepfather, so 
you can see what a large procession of people traveled 
back and forth. 

RP: That was in what year? 

Morgan: In 1907, 1908 and 1909, and I think he died in 1910. 
After that mother was completely broken up; she never 
went out socially after he died. She was completely 
devastated. Then we started the routine of the 
governesses again, but by that time we were much older, 
so we were able to pick and choose a little bit. 

RP: So it was always female tutelage? 

Morgan: Entirely female, except for mathematics. Then I had 
some kind of young man who taught me mathematics I 
don't think he was a professor; he was probably a 
student. I was very good at mathematics; I wish 
I had continued. But otherwise it was always 
females. We had a butler and a valet in the house, 
but when the war came on in 1914 then there were no 
men doing any work for us, except that we did have a 
coachman, but he must have been a very old man; everyone 
else went to the front. 

RP: Where was your house in Petersburg? 

Morgan: It was Fontanka 14. After mother remarried, when we 
moved in the summer we always went to the same 
country house that belonged to my stepfather, in Gatchina, 
And that place we adored, for then we had our own 
animals; we had left them there for the winter. 

RP: Gatchina that was where Paul spent so many years, waiting 
for his mother to die so that he could gain the throne. 
It was almost destroyed during the war, but they have 
done a remarkable job of restoring it. 


Morgan: It was a beautiful palace. The Dowager Empress used 
to come and stay there, and behind the palace was a 
huge park. We children used to take walks there 
every day, and on the way to the park we used to 
buy great loaves of bread and feed it to the geese, 
ducks and swans. And we loved that; it was beautiful. 
But it was quite dangerous in the autumn, because then 
the elk fought; sometimes it was quite frightening. 
So it was a beautiful, beautiful park; I think that 
they have left it quite as it was. We also used to 
drive through it quite a lot, because walking 
was a little far. We'd drive to it, and then get 
out and walk, with those loaves of bread to feed the 

RP: This takes us up to what point? 
Morgan: Oh, it must be already 1908, 09 and 10. 

RP: And still you never were in school, but always with 

Morgan: Always governesses. No, I never went to school, but 
we bothered mother so much about it that finally she 
said "All right, once a year you can go and take 
exams." Which was not pleasant, because we had 
never seen any of the people who would give us papers. 
She felt that maybe that would keep us on our toes. 

And it did. Because you would come for the exam, and 
there would be all of the other girls who were 
studying, girls who were in the same age group. You 
didn't know any of them, which was sort of unpleasant, 
and then you were given these papers . There would be 
some oral examination, but very little. It was mostly 
papers to write. They would give you some literary 
thing, or geography or something, and that would 
show how much you really knew. By that they would be 
able to gauge what we had to study. And as we went 
abroad very often in the winter on account of the climate, 
we had to keep up our lessons. 

We had very few girl friends, unfortunately, because 
we never went to school. There were just children of 
my mother's friends, so we had about five families 
with whom we were very close. Among them was the 
Countess Tolstoy and all her children, and I'm still 
close to them now. 

RP: Which Countess Tolstoy? It was such a huge family. 

. Morgan: He was the commander of the Ekipazh de la garde, the 

navy guards . In other words the part of the navy that 
went with the Emperor on his yacht and so forth. It 
was like a guards regiment of the navy, and Count Tolstoy 

Morgan 6 

was the coiranander. And the Countess Tolstoy was the 
Princess Meshcherskii, of the very highest aristocracy 
in Russia. The meshcherskiis and Vasil 'chikovs, you've 
probably heard of those names. 

I only wish I had the book about all those people, 
but I gave it away to my nephew. And those people 
I kept up with, and I still see them; the Countess 
Tolstoy's grandson married my niece. I introduced 
them in Paris in 1950. 

RP: The Vasil 'chikovs are still around, are they not? 

Morgan: Yes, there are some, but they are all dying out, 

unfortunately. There are still some Meshcherskiis, 
particularly in Paris. I don't think there are any 
of them in New York. There used to be an Obolensky in 
New York; I have a book by him, his memoirs. I think 
you would really get much more from his memoirs than 
you will get from talking to me. 

RP: Everyone sees something different. 

Morgan: I knew him quite well, and he was an interesting man. 
We all criticized him at times, because we all had 
different ideas about how the Russians should be. He 
married money, so he was able to live very well. Quite 
a few Russians that I knew who were very well born 
would always say when you introduced them to somebody: 
"Has she any money?" They were penniless! And they 
were not equipped to do any work. You know, when we 
first came to New York some of the high ranking 
officers colonels, and generals were doormen, in the 
big hotels. The younger ones drove taxis, but not too 
many. In Paris, there were a lot of them who were taxi 
drivers. They were simply not equipped in any way 
through their military education for any jobs.' 

We attended very few social events. As a social event 
we used to have dancing class when we were young, which 
I thought made up for a real social life. And I did 
go to one ball when I was only sixteen. It was Grand 
Duchess Olga and she was giving a ball. She came over 
to the house and she asked me, "Would you like to go to 
a ball?" 

"Oh yes 1 . 1 I exclaimed, "I would love tol" 

So she said to mother, "I have invited your little 

Mother said, "It's not possible! She has not been 
out in society or anything." But she told me, 
"Never mind, I told her you could go." 

Morgan 7 

So they made me a dress, which had to be covered up, 
of course, to the neck, with the arms covered and 
everything, and then I went to the ball and it was 
very interesting. Everybody was so beautifully 
dressed. Pushkin describes it as everything gleaming 
with jewelry and everything beautiful. And I danced. 
It was in her palace. That was in 1914, in the spring, 
just before I went to the Crimea. She was the 
Emperor's sister; she later married a commoner, and 
she went to Canada and she died there. A book was 
written about her, it was called Once a Grand Duchess. 

RP: Did you see the Emperor? 

Morgan: Oh yes, he appeared in all the parades. In the 

winter, when we lived in St. Petersburg, we used to 

go to all of them, and even in summer, when we 

were there. They used to have them on the Champ de 

Mars, and it was very beautiful, and very exciting, 

with wonderful music. Then I remember once going 

to something where Sikorsky showed off his new planes. 

Sikorsky was the first to invent the helicopter, so 

it was a very interesting thing. Just before the 

war quite a few planes had appeared in Russia. 

I knew one of the men during the war, Seversky; I 

knew him very well. We knew him when we were living 

in Gatchina and he was stationed there, at the beginning 

of the war. He went to Japan for awhile, and then 

he came over here, and he built planes, including 

the first metal plane. 

RP: During this earlier period, were you able to attend 

many cultural events? These seem always to have been 
an important part of Russian life. 

Morgan: Do you mean like theaters? No, we were pretty well 
cut off, you see, because the trains ran very 
sporadically to St. Petersburg, and to take a train 
just to go and see a play... We used to see little 
playstight in Gatchina, there were sometimes put on 
by amateurs and whatever, but that was about all 
that we saw, a few little ballets and things like that, 
but we never went to St. Petersburg anymore. Before 
that the cultural events were very fine, because 
the ballet was marvellous, absolutely marvellous, 
the opera was very, very good, and they had all sorts 
of theaters. We never were taken much to the theater, 
because it was not supposed to be for young people, 
but we were taken very often to the ballet and to the 
opera, at least once a week. 

RP: It must have been easier to get tickets then. 


Morgan: Oh, and then, of course, people had subscriptions 
to boxes, and if they were not going that night 
they offered them to somebody else, saying "Will you 
take my box tonight?" and so forth, so that we always 
seemed to have seats, very good ones, and always in 
boxes; we never sat in the /main portion/ - 

RP: How did you happen to go to the Crimea? 

Morgan: In 1914 /the Grand Duke George,;' his wife, who was 

Greek by 'birth!, invited us to go and stay with them 
and their two~"daughters. They had a beautiful home, 
right on the water. The house, "Haraks," which still 
exists, was very, very English, because so many of 
them had been to England. They loved their chintz 
and English china. But it wasn't a home where they 
lived all the time; it was just a place where they 
went in spring and maybe in autumn for a couple of 
weeks. But this time they stayed there for almost 
two months. Their two daughters, Nina and Xenia, 
were younger than I was, but we were very close, 
and we remained very good friends. Both of them have 
died since. 

/She shows a photograph of a Crimean holiday scene./ 
RP: Who are the people in this picture? 

Morgan: I have forgotten their names, but they all belonged to 
the Crimean regiment which was stationed in the Crimea, 
They asked us for lunch. This /2nd row, sitting/ 
was the Grand Duchess Marie who was married to the 
Crown Prince of Sweden. And then, so that we would 
be taken care of, we had this lady in waiting, who 
came with us to see that we behaved. That was me 
(standing in rear) and below was Zoya Stoeckl, the 
daughter of the Grand Duchess 1 lady in waiting. 

RP: She was probably a descendant of Eduard Stoeckl who 
was the Russian minister to the United States and 
who concluded the negotiations in 1867 for the sale 
of Alaska. The men were handsome fellows. 

Morgan: Very handsome! They took us to their regimental place 
and gave us lunch and then they had the men do a 
cossack dance for us. That was an outing for three 
young women, to amuse us a little bit. 

And this /another photo/ was a party we went to. 
I am here in back /in white, third/, there's the Grand 
Duchess Marie again, and here /seated, first row on 
the left/ is the Grand Duchess George, and the 
Grand Duke George /seated, in foreground, sideview/. 
Some of the others are also grand dukes, but I 
don't remember who they are, unfortunately; I never 
wrote their names down. It was a tiny, tiny picture, 
no bigger than this, and I had it blown up. 


I don't know any of them. I may find out from 
Prince Vasilii /Romanov/ because he was there too; 
he might remember. He was living there all the time. 
He is about five years younger than I. He didn't 
attend the party because he was too young, but he 
knew everybody who was there. I see him every 
once in awhile. He lives in Woodbridge. 

That trip was really the first time in my life that 

I had fun, because I didn't have a governess with me and 
I did a little bit what I wanted. I was very strictly 
brought up, so I knew very well that I had to kiss 
the Empress's hand, and make my kniksen, as they 
called it a curtsey. In other words I had to have 
very good manners in public. We were being groomed, 
you see, for being ladies in waiting. We couldn't 
have bad manners; you had even to eat in an especially 
neat way. 

RP: I suppose much attention was given to dress? 

Morgan: We were very clothes conscious, unfortunately, 

even as young children, because mother bought all her 
clothes in Paris, and then she had a very famous 
dressmaker in St. Petersburg where she got other 
clothes. When I was going to the Crimea, she took me 
to that dressmaker and got me some beautiful special 
clothes to wear there. When you were young you were 
supposed to be completely covered up, never to be 
decollete in any way, shape or manner. Even in the 
day we always wore something right up to our neck, 
and long sleeves. It was very different /from today/. 

RP: And jewelry? 

Morgan: We were given a few jewels to wear, but very few. 

I still have a piece of jewelry which was made for me. 
My stepfather had a star from someone, it was all 
diamond chips, you know the kind of diamonds they use 
in the jewelry in Constantinople. We were taken to 
the jeweler, and they showed us a lot of designs 
and I chose one for a barette, because that's all 
we wore, you know we wore our hair back through the 
barette. It was like a clip; I still have it, but 
I have it made over into a pin now, because where 
would I ever wear a barette? So we did have a bit 
of jewelry even then, although we were very young, 
and it was not supposed to be worn by young girls. 
Mother, of course, was always beautifully dressed, and 
all the people around me. 



RP: And then the war? 

Morgan: We were still studying when the war broke out /in 

in August 1914;. I still had a year, but we refused 
to study German after that; we thought it was 

RP: Was this suggested? 

Morgan: No, no, we refused, and mother was furious with us. 

RP: When the war broke out, we were in the country; I 

remember it very well. We were more or less expecting 
it, because there was that murder in Sarajevo, and 
the whole thing which led up to it, but we knew a lot 
of the military men. My step-father having been 
commander of a division, all the men who were 
stationed in the country, in Gatchina, for instance, 
had to come and call on us and leave their visiting 
cards, and then some of them were invited to the 
house; mother knew their family or something; she 
wanted us to have some kind of rapport with other 
people. We used to drive to the station to see all 
the regiments off, and wave goodbye to them, and it 
was all very heart-rending, that they were all 
leaving . 

RP: Was there enthusiasm for the struggle, or did people 

look upon this as potentially dangerous for the country? 

Morgan: You know, I really don't know. Isn't that awful? 

we were young, and we were interested in other things; 
the war seemed so remote. Before that I had not 
been very happy; I don't know why. I was always very 
gloomy; I loved to ride on horseback, it was about the 
only thing I really enjoyed; we went to the theater a 
lot, to ballets, and some opera, but my great 
enthusiasm was riding, and of course when the war came 
on, then it was a little harder, because the men were 
all called, and the horse that I used to ride belonged 
to somebody else, so I was somewhat disrupted in that 
particular thing; it made me a little bit sad. And 
then we knew quite a few of the young officers; they 
used to come to call, and say hello and so forth. We 
didn't see too much of them, but sometimes they would 
be the brother of a friend, or something like that, 
which would bring them to us. 

RP: And then the casualties began to mount? 

Morgan: Yes, and then we were called on to help in the 

hospitals. We were very young; I was 17, but we 
were asked. All the young girls in town who were 
well bred were asked. It was not a military hospital, 
but they had nobody else. I think there was one doctor 
for the whole hospital, because the nurses had all gone 
to the front; everything was depleted. 



RP: So although technically a nurse's aid you were 
taking the role of a nurse? 

Morgan: I don't even know what role we took, because we had 
nothing to do with the bedmaking, or cleaning up 
or anything of that nature. They had peasant women 
who did all the work, but what we had to do was 
bandage, help the doctor when he was seeing patients, 
and sometimes stay overtime and wait at the door for 
people who would come in. 

I remember one evening I was asked to stay later, and 
this man came in and he said "I got off the train. 
I was going to the front but I got off the train 
because I feel very ill." There was nobody in the 
hospital except me, that is, of the staff; it was 
full of patients, but they were mostly peasants. 
So I took him up to a room which was free, and I took 
his temperature which was very, very high. "I'll 
leave a note for the doctor when he comes in the 
morning," I said. 

In the morning the doctor called me, and he said, 
"Did you touch that man?" 

"Yes," I said, "I took his temperature." 

And he said "You'll have to go into quarantine because 
he has spotted typhus . " I had noticed when I was 
taking his temperature that his chest was all covered 
with spots, so I was in quarantine for two or three 
weeks. It was very boring obviously; I couldn't work 
in the hospital; I couldn't see anyone; I just had to 
stay in my room. 

RP: Your room at the hospital? 

Morgan: No, no, at home. So I could have given it to everybody 
at home, if I had had it. I think spotted typhus was 
carried by lice. I don't think it came from touching 
a person. Well, anyway, they didn'thave a chance in 
my case, because I never got it, but it was very 
annoying. I was completely quarantined; I couldn't 
go and see any friends. 

RP: So you were in this capacity throughout the war? 

Morgan: Throughout the war, yes. Then, towards the end of 
the war a lot of wounded began to come in, and then 
mother decided to open a little hospital. We had a 
building, it was not very big, but I think it had 
about thirty beds in it, and it was fixed up, more 
or less. I don't know who took care of it or anything. 
I know that we spent all our days there, but we didn't 
really do anything very much except bandage. Sometimes 



the bandage would fall off immediately because we 
didn't know how to do this thing, but I suppose it 
was a morale builder, and they were not really 
people who were very ill, but they were somebody, 
for instance, who came with a broken leg and had 
to wait until the leg mended. You know, things like 
that; it took a little time. They were not ordinary 
citizens; they were military men who were convalescing, 
and then they'd have to go back to the front again. 
So different doctors used to come in every day 
and check everybody, and it was a little bit better 
taken care of than the one we had worked in first, 
and mother was paying for it. 

RP: The family must have had very good means. 

Morgan: Oh, mother was very wealthy. But unfortunately she 
took all her fortune out of the United States and 
took it over to Russia about 19 10 so it went down 
the drain with the revolution, completely. 

RP: How did you feel about your work in the hospital? 

Morgan: Oh, we were very patriotic; we had to do it. No, 

I didn't like it. I remember the first time I 
assisted in an operation. Imagine assisting in an 
operation and I had never even seen a little boy 
naked in my life. I threw up. I had to run out 
into the corridor and throw up. Oh, it was very 
unpleasant. And I remember another operation I took 
part in, and I was thinking of something else, and 
trying not to watch what they were doing. We had 
no anesthetics, so they had to give some liquor. 
Imagine, no anesthetics at all for awhile. There 
was a terrible shortage. But this particular 
operation the man was screaming his head off; the 
whole thing was horrible, and I was standing there, 
trying not to concentrate on what was going on, 
thinking of something else, and then suddenly I looked 
down and I had this leg in my arms unattached! I am 
sorry to say I fainted. 

There was no question whether the war was for the 
right or for the wrong; we hated the Germans and we 
wanted to do everything we could for the war. 

RP: Yes, St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd. 

Morgan: Yes, but of course we had one thing that was very 
difficult. My mother, first of all, her name was 
der Felden, which was a German name, and secondly 
she had a terrible accent; she spoke very poor Russian, 
so many people thought that she was German. She would 
go into a shop and give her name and the salesperson 
would look at her and say "Oh, Nemetskii /German/1" 
So she had a very difficult time. 



In our moments away from the hospital we used to go 

to a little tennis club, and that's where we had 

our fun. We all played tennis, and all these 

officers would come and be playing tennis too. 

Then, during a sport, we didn't seem to have a governess 

with us all the time. 

RP: A governess was around, then, even while you were 
working in the hospital? 

Morgan: Oh yes! Sometimes they used to come and pick us 

up at the hospital and walk us home; very rarely did 
they let us walk in the evening alone. But at the 
tennis club we were free, and we met some very 
attractive young men there, and flirtations started. 

RP: This takes you, then, through 1916, when things 
were getting increasingly difficult. Was the 
assassination of Rasputin looked upon as a patriotic 
act, or as an aberration? 

Morgan: Oh, it was considered very patriotic, very much so. 

Because everybody hated Rasputin; they felt that he had 
a terrible influence on the Empress, and through her 
on the Emperor. 

RP: But a great deal of this was exaggerated, was it not? 
Evidently, though, he did have a hypnotic power. 

Morgan: Because he was able to cure the young Tsarevich. 

And now I have read some books about the medicines 

in Siberia. And there are really some very 

interesting herbs and things that people still use. 

Or he might have been just lucky. Or he might have been 

just lucky. He was really a horrid man; everybody who 

knew him thought that he was a terrible creature. 

RP: Except for those in his own circle. 

Morgan: Yes, his own circle. Madame Vyrubova, who introduced 
him to the Empress, thinking that he might help the 
boy, and he did help him, there is no denying it, but 
it really was one of the reasons that there were less 
and less people willing to take the side of the Tsar. 

But we were very far away from all that, because you see 
my stepfather had already died, thank God, and we were 
living in the country; we had moved out of St. Petersburg, 
so we had very little contact with people there. Before 
that, mother had lots of friends who lived in St. 
Petersburg, and she was seeing them all the time, but 
when we moved out into the country we had very few 
people. There was the Grand Duke Michael, who used to 
come to see us all the time, who never talked of 
politics, obviously. And a few of the grand dukes who 
lived in Gatchina at that time. And the Dowager Empress 
used to come and live in Gatchina at that time. We 
used to see them quite a lot. And I used to play with 









Prince Vasilii /Romanov/ and the children in the 
palace; they had slides, indoor slides, and used to 
enjoy that very much. But otherwise I think mother 
was very much out of touch with the world, so when 
the revolution came it was quite a shock. 

What do you recall of February 1917? 
quite evident? 

Was the change 

No, not too evident at first except that the servants 
got a little bit disagreeable, and mother put red 
armbands on our arms, so that nobody would stop us on 
the street. Things got to be sticky, but we didn't 
realize it too much until finally one night we were 
all awakened, and soldiers came to the door and said 
"We want to see what you have in the house!" We had 
a great marvellous collection of antiques and 
different kinds of firearms which my father and then 
my stepfather both had collected, and they took 
every one of them. 

When did that occur? 

At the beginning of the revolution. I can't give 
you the date because I don't know, but it was very 
frightening. First the knocking on the door, and 
then they came in. Soon they came knocking on the 
door again, another night; they wanted something 
else, and then suddenly mother said to herself, 
"This is going to end very badly, because everybody 
knows that we have a great cellar of wines!" So 
then she had a file of servants stand, and take 
the bottles out of the cellar and pass from one to 
another. Then at a deep ditch by the street the 
neck of each bottle was knocked off and the street 
was running with wine for miles. After that they 
lost interest in coming. She was afraid they would 
come to the house, get drunk, and rape the girls. 
I thought that was a very clever move. Everybody said 
"She's crazy; that foreign woman is crazy, what she 
did, she poured all the wine on the street, all the 
good wine ! " 

I think we saved two bottles of Napoleon brandy, 
which we buried. It was very hard to do, so it 
must have still been February or March, the ground 
was not thawed yet, because we had a very difficult 
time burying those two bottles. I know where they 
are, but I don't think I'll ever be able to find 

So this was probably at the outset, in February or 

Yes. The Americans had already congratulated the 
Russians on how clever they were to depose the Tsar, 
and start a new democratic life. We were absolutely 

Morgan 15 

infuriated by that. It was some time after that. 
Before that they couldn't come knocking at your door 
and coming in at night. Then there were police, but 
later you were on your own. 

We didn't feel it in the country that much, but then 
the governess was sent to St. Petersburg to feel 
things out, and see what it was like, and she used 
to come back with lurid tales about what was going on, 
so we felt we had to get out. Our name, der Felden, 
was a German name, and mother spoke Russian with a 
very bad accent, so that everybody took her for a 
German, and then all the grand dukes had visited us all 
the time, so we were definitely in danger. 

RP: You were in double jeopardy, first from your social 
position, and second from the German implication. 

Morgan: Yes, so mother went to the American embassy and asked 
them to help her, and they did. She had given up 
her citizenship, but she was able to get that status 

So we got on the train and went across Siberia. We 
left just before the Provisional Government was ousted 
and the Soviets took over /November 7, 19 17/. And 
we left just before that, thank God. 

I think the journey took two weeks. The train was 
full of soldiers, who were all running away from the 
front, who didn't want to fight anymore. The whole 
thing was in disarray, but we were just very lucky. 
I think it was the last train before Elihu Root 
got out, one of the last /scheduled/ trains to cross 
Siberia. I don't think any /regular/ trains ran 
after that. There were already trains that /did 
not follow a schedule/ and people had to ride in 
box cars. But this was still a train with a little 
bathroom between the two compartments, still the 
old fashioned way of traveling, and they had a 
restaurant, although we couldn't always get to it 
because of the soldiers . Sometimes we were just fed 
through the window. We would buy things at the 
stations along the way. 

At Vladivostok we got on to a Japanese steamer, and went 
to Tsuruga, Japan, and then to Yokohama. There we 
stayed about a year, thinking the revolution was going 
to be over, and we would go back. 

Finally we went to the United States. We arrived in 
San Francisco, and then went by rail to New York, 
arriving on the day peace was declared /November 11, 



We were then living on our jewelry. Mother had 
had something like $2,000,000 in the Credit 
Lyonnaise, but it had all been taken over during 
the war by the Russian government. And all the jewelry 
that was in the safe deposit vaults had been taken 
over too, so we had only what mother was wearing, or 
what she had around the house she always wore two 
enormous diamonds, and another one on her throat, so 
those kept us going for a long time. 

Then in the following year, 1919, I got married, to 
a Russian. He was sent from Denikin's army to 
Kolchak's army around the world, by way of the 
United States. I met him in New York. I have a 
clipping here that might amuse you, about that 
whole story. 

RP: I am reading from an item in the New York American 
for Tuesday, July 29, 1919: 



"With distinct interest society looks forward to the 
marriage of Miss Olga Chrapovitsky , heiress to a large 
estate in Russia, daughter of Mrs. Christopher Der 
Felden, of number 100 West 59th Street, to Lieutenant 
George De Filosofof of the Russian cavalry. The 
wedding will take place in the Russian church, Bridgeport, 
Connecticut, probably on August 23rd. On August 30th 
Lieutenant and Mrs. de Filosofof must sail for Siberia. 
There the young bride will enter an American hospital 
not far from Petrograd /!/ while her husband resumes 
his post to fight the Bolsheviki. " 

Morgan: I think they meant Vladivostok. 

RP: "Miss Chrapovitsky returned from Newport yesterday to 
attend to pre-nuptial shopping. Of her meeting with 
and subsequent engagement to Lieutenant de Filosofof 
she said: 'We formerly lived in Petrograd, although 
we did not meet one another there, perhaps because we 
were both too young to attend the affairs of society. 
Our parents were well acquainted, however .'" 

Morgan: That is all true. 

RP: "'Then came the Revolution, when days and nights were 

alike horrible in Petrograd and our lives were threatened 
should we remain. In June 1917 my mother, sister and 
I were forced to leave our home and sacrifice everything 
for safety. We went into Siberia where my sister and 
I became attached to an American hospital for wounded 
soldiers. My sister is still in Siberia, but last 



November my mother and I went to Japan and then came 
to America. It was here just a month ago that I 
met Lieutenant de Filosofof. 1 " 

Morgan: Its a little mixed up/ because my sister and my 

mother and I all came to Japan together, and then 
my sister joined the American Red Cross and went back 
to Siberia. So it is a little bit mixed up, but 
never mind. 






Morgan : 




"He had been wounded and gassed... 1 " Gassed? Not 
in the war with the Bolsheviks; this must have been 
against the Germans! 

No, he was much too young to be in the war. I think 
they invented a little bit; you how newspaper people do 
that. No, he had not been gassed; he was perfectly 

He hadn ' t been wounded either? 

I don't remember. I was married to him only one month. 

"'...and had been sent with a score of other officers 
to America on a sort of health furlough. Friends 
introduced us. . . ' " 

No, that is not true; they were sent to join Kolchak, 
because there were too few enlisted men and too 
many officers in Denikin's army, and they wanted to 
send officers over to Kolchak, who had a lot of men 
but no officers. So the newspaper people had it 
mixed up. 

"'friends introduced us; we had both known service 
and had much in common, perhaps our wedding seems 
sudden. ' " 

The other, from a paper in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 

/Looking at photo/. He was rather nice looking, 
now that I look back. 

"A marriage of international interest was solemnized 
at the Holy Ghost Russian Catholic Church today when 
Olga Chrapovitsky became the bride of Lieutenant 
de Filosofof, an officer in the bodyguard of the Tsar." 

This is also all invented! Because he was much too 
young! He certainly was not in the bodyguard of... 
Oh yes, he was! He was in the Pazheskii korpus, the 
Corps de Pages. It was for the very, very top of 
the aristocracy, but when they studied in it it was 
like any other military school, and then later they 
would wait behind the Emperor and Empress at table. 



RP: "Miss Chrapovitsky is the oldest daughter of Madame 
Christopher Der Felden, late of Petrograd Russia and 
formerly of New York. Madame Der Felden is the daughter 
of the late Henry Augustus Taylor of New York, who 
figured in an international romance. As a young 
girl she met Nicholas Chrapovitsky while the Russian 
fleet lay in New York harbor. During the Russo-Japanese 
War Madame Chrapovitsky with her two daughters 
visited New York City and while here were informed 
that the husband and father had been lost..." 
/last portion missing/" 

Morgan: I've got to arrange these things, because they're 
all falling apart. 

RP: And another: 

the 20th of September for Siberia, the Bride to 
continue Red Cross work under General Kolchak, while 
her husband will join his regiment under command of 
General Denikin." 

Morgan: Which of course was nonsense! Denikin was in the south. 
You see how reporters get everything wrong. They 
don't always, of course, but... 

RP: "Lieutenant de Filosofof has been in uniform for 13 
out of his 23 years, having received his education 
at a military academy..." 

Morgan: That was true, the poor guy had only been in military 
schools; he had known nothing except military life. 
At the age of fifteen he was in military school, then 
he was thrown into the fight against the communists; 
he was very young. 

RP: "...then at once entering the army. He wears the 
silver star denoting service with the Tsar's own 
regiment, and one of his brother officers also wore the 
same decoration. Among the guests, Marguerite der 
Felden, the mother of the bride; General and Mrs. 
Theodore Lodyzhenskii, General and Mrs. George Mukhanov, 
Mrs. de Kruliov, Prince Victor Kochubey, Lieutenant 
Konstantine Bildau, Mr. Timely; Mr. and Mrs. Oscar 
Bergstrom, James Burnside, Frederick Burnside, Mrs. 
Frederick Burnside, Miss Henrietta and Miss Molly 
Burnside, F.Roskie, Mr. and Mrs. Harry R. Parsons of 
Bonnie Brae, Stockbridge, Mass., formerly of 
Morningside, Palm Point..." etc. 

Morgan: Then this is a long story of how Filosofof divorces 
me. /Pause; off the record remarks/. But I was 
the one who paid for the divorce. I still have the 
lawyers' letters telling me that I owe $650. Anyway, 
I divorced him. I had a very difficult time getting 
a divorce, a terrible time. But anyway I got it 
finally, in Paris. 



We left, intending to go to Siberia. I could not 
get in, however, so he went on. I stayed in Japan 
for awhile and then came back. 





So you never got to Siberia? 
as well. 

Perhaps it was just 

I suppose so. But it was all sort of hand-to-mouth, 
as you say in English, you never knew where your next 
penny was coming from. I had a few jewels, and I 
would sell something. Life seemed very cheap in Japan. 
I stayed with some friends, but they were not very 
well off, so I had to rent the room from them, but 
still I probably paid practically nothing. 

When I came to America the second time, and we 
had to earn our living, my sister and I took an 
apartment on 14th Street West, and it was on the ground 
floor, lower than the ground floor, so you could only 
see people's feet walking by. It must have been 
very cheap. I have no idea of how much we paid. 

We had never cooked in our life; we didn't know how 
to do anything, not even cook an egg, but we had to. 
We had absolutely no money. I remember we sold two 
fur scarfs, and that kept us going for two or three 
months. And then we got sort of door-to-door selling 
jobs until we finally took a secretarial course, and 
then it became easier, with languages, to get some 
kind of a more or less respectable job, and later 
I was able to be sales lady in a good district of 
5th Avenue. It was called Chez Rosette, and then 
for a little while I worked in Bergdorf's. 

So by these means it took two or three years, and 
then you were fairly well on your feet? 

I don't think we really got on our feet too well 
for quite awhile yet, because we didn't make very much. 
But then mother had a little tail end of her stocks 
and bonds which had not been sold when she took 
everything to Russia, so those stocks and bonds 
already were bringing her a little money. She never 
sold the capital. She should have, of course, but 
she never did; she just lived very frugally on what 
they brought, and then she did some writing. One 
story, called "The Buddha," appeared in Scribners, 
sometime in the late 1920's. 

Bit by bit, things got better. We got a nicer 
apartment, we moved to 110th and 114th Street, I think, 
near Riverside Drive, and that already was much nicer 
than living on 14th Street. And then finally when my 
sister got married she married very well we were on 
78th Street between Park and Madison, I think. It 
was a small apartment, a sort of walkup, but still it 
was quite a nice district. 





New York must have been nicer to live in then. 

Oh yes, it was very nice. I used to go out to 
parties and sometimes come back on the subway late at 
night at 1 o'clock in the morning, with never any 
fear of anything. I couldn't afford taxis, so I had 
to use the underground. 

It must have been difficult for nearly all of the 
refugees to adapt to this new life. 

Morgan: Yes, my sister and I joined an organization which 
was called Russian Refugee Relief. We were paid a 
salary for working there; we worked as secretaries. 
This organization was helped by many Americans, and 
it was specially arranged to find jobs for people 
who had come into the country. Most of them were 
well-educated and spoke foreign languages, so that 
helped. But the jobs we could find them would be in 
buscuit factories, or in soap factories, or in 
places like Elizabeth Arden, making creams and things. 
If they were very good looking and had beautiful skins 
she would let them be sales ladies. But it was very 
hard for most people when they came over, very hard. 

Because a lot of them came out, you know, with the 
White Army through the Crimea, then through Constantin 
ople. They stayed at Constantinople for awhile, 
then they went on into Africa and then came out 
slowly to the United States. A lot of them stayed 
in Paris. There are still plenty of them there. 

RP: You mentioned the conflicting ideas as to what 

Russians should be. You yourself were bridging two 
cultures. Are Russians different than other 
nationalities? Do they have distinctive characteristics? 

Morgan: I don't know. The aristocracy it's hard to tell I 

think they have some distinct characteristics. But of 
course that had a lot to do with your education, with 
your way of life, with thinking. For instance, we 
had one lady I forget her name who was very well born. 
When she came here she said "I'm going to support myself." 
So she went out and completely broke her ties with 
everybody; we never saw her anymore. She became a 
cleaning lady, and she said "I have such a job that I 
don't want people to know me." She was ashamed of what 
she was doing. We wouldn't be ashamed of whatever we 
were doing. 


Others might have menial jobs but retained their ties? 









Yes, some did, but she wouldn't; she was so ashamed 
of what she had to do. So you never can tell. And 
then of course we had two or three places where we all 
met. There was a General Lodyzhenskii, who opened 
a restaurant which he called the "Russian Eagle," 
a very well known restaurant in New York, and a lot 
of Russians would go there. And I guess he was 
kind, because sometimes he would meet people who had 
very little money, because you know he would give them 
a little credit, but it was one of the favorite places, 
lots of Americans went there. It was on 57th Street. 
He did very well for himself. A few of them were 
able to. 

Quite a few of the women did very well in Paris in 
dressmaking and designing, very well, because they 
were used to beautiful clothes, and they knew what 
they were doing and they got very good jobs. Prince 
Yusupov, for instance, who was married to the 
Tsar's niece, Irina. She was one of Princess Xenia's 
children, a very large family. 

He was the Yusupov who helped to kill Rasputin? 

Yes. We knew him very well. He and she used to 
come and have dinner with us in New York when we had 
this tiny little apartment and very little money, 
and he started a dressmaking place in Paris, and 
did very well. His place was very popular. 

How was he looked upon by other Russians? 

With great envy! Because he did well, and was 
able to live very well. He had a little more money 
than others, because his family was very wealthy; 
they had country homes in Nice. 

/Discussion of her divorce from first husband, 
de Filosofof, and subsequent remarriage. Shows 
photograph in another article, in Vogue, April 1, 

This me while I was living in New York /as Mrs. 
Edward B. Condon, second marriage/. I was for awhile 
very chic. I've gone up and down so much. I'd be 
written up in all the newspapers about my clothes 
and everything else, and then I'd again start with 

Could you say a few words now about this book that 
you have, about the possible survival of the Imperial 
family have you any thoughts on that? 



Morgan: I don't somehow believe it. I think that the people 
who made the investigation did their best/ but do you 
feel that it is possible at all that the Tsar could 
have survived? I don't think so. I knew a man here, 
a former Russian officer. Everybody said that he 
was rather a very vulgar expression a B.S.-er. 

RP: There are many such, in all nationalities. 

Morgan: And he told me that the Tsarevich was one of his best 
friends when he was a little boy, that he played with 
him in Tsarskoe Selo, and that he was in New York, 
and he haeirseen him there. However, he had such a 
reputation for being a liar that it didn't make much 
impression. I can't remember his name now, but I was 
rather nice to his mother, who was quite old and very 
religious, and I used to go and see her and sometimes 
bring her something a book on religion or something 
of that sort, so he was a little grateful to me that 
I had not neglected her; I hadn't known her before. 
And then he disappeared. His little story about 
Alexis is mentioned in that book. 

RP: Well, people like a good story, and Russia in particular 
has had so many stories of imposters. 

Morgan: Now for instance Vasilii and his family don't believe 
in that at all, and they didn't believe in Anastasia 
either. But my family and Xenia Leeds, who had her 
in their home for quite awhile, we all believed in her. 

She is still living, I saw her on TV a couple of years 
ago, and she was very funny. She had a hat on and her 
husband said "Please take your hat off, because the 
newsmen can't see your face," and she said "I don't 
care!" "Oh, but do take it off!" he said. And she 
said, "I spit on them all!" Right on TV! It really 
was funny, and she didn't care about newsmen, and 
I think that is a little bit characteristic of the 
Tsar's family. They didn't have newsmen in those 
days hounding everybody. I am sure that the poor Queen 
of England would be very glad to say "I spit on you all, 1 
sometimes, if she had a chance, and if she wasn't so 
well brought up! 

RP: She married a professor of Russian history. 

Morgan: Yes, and he's twenty years younger than she is. They 
are still trying to prove something, but it is very 
hard to prove. Botkin brought her over, when she 
first came here. Botkin was the son of their doctor, 
and we knew him very well, and he was completely sure 
that it was she, and he was with the children all the 
time. I think the father, Dr. Botkin, was shot with 
the whole Imperial family. The son at the time was very 



interested in religion, and he had gone to a 
monastery, so he didn't get shot. Then afterwards 
he escaped the communists. He was sure that she 
was alive, and when she came to Europe, and was in 
an insane asylum for awhile well you probably know 
all this. 

RP: It is a strange story, one that fascinates people. 

Morgan: Yes, but there were so many claimants. My mother 

was very close to the Dowager Empress, and she said that 

when she used to go there, she would often see Anastasia, 

and she said that she wouldn't speak Russian, "that 

dreadful language; I don't know it, and I don't want to 

speak it I" So she spoke English and German, but if 

she would drop a cup or something else would happen she 

would immediately revert to Russian. In other words, 

you could see that it was her language, and that 

she knew it pretty well, but they did talk mostly 

in English, because the Empress learned Russian quite 

late, only when she became a bride. So they did speak 

English mostly at home. All the Imperial family spoke 

English; they still do. I don't think the Empress 

ever wrote in Russian, maybe a few words; otherwise 

it was always in English. 

RP: Have you ever seen Anastasia? 

Morgan: Yes, when she was staying with Miss Annie Jennings, in 
New York. I went to see her several times, but I had 
hardly known her when I was in the Crimea in 1914. 
She was younger, quite a bit younger, and she didn't 
come to the dinner parties, where I met the older 
sisters. I talked with her a little bit, and I 
brought her a bottle of perfume, and she was very gracious 
and nice about it, but there wasn't anything that I could 
remember that was anything special, and I didn't know 
her enough when she was a child to be able to absolutely 
pinpoint it and say that it was she. My mother seemed 
to think that she knew so many things about the family 
that she could not have been an imposter. 

But several of the Imperial family all said that she 
was not Anastasia; they wouldn't even come to see her. 


Botkin, Gleb, 22 

Chrapovitsky, Nicholas de, father; died on Alexander III.. 1905, 1 

Der Felden, Christopher, Baron, step-father, 3 

Gatchina, palace and estate, 4, 5 

George, Grand Duke, 8 

Lodyzhenskii, General, proprietor of "Russia Eagle" restaurant, 
New York, 1920's, 21 

Maria Fedorovna, Dowager Empress, 3 

Michael, Grand Duke, 3, 13 

Morgan, Olga (nee Chrapovitsky) , birth, 1; governesses, 3, 4; 

nursing, 10, 11; departure for USA via Siberia, 15; 

marriage to Lieutenant de Filosofov, March 1919, 16, 21; 

marriage to Edward B. Conton, 21 
Imperial family, Romanovs, purported survival, 22; the 

question of Anastasia, 22 
Grand Duchess Olga, 6 
Rasputin, 13 

Revolution, February 1917, 14 
Romanov, Vasilii, Prince, 9, 14 
Sever sky, aircraft designer, 7 
Taylor, Henry August, grandfather, 1 
Taylor, Henry, uncle, 1 

Taylor, Margaret (1870-1942) , mother, 1 
Theaters, 7 

Vyrubova, Madam, friend of Rasputin, 13 
World War I, beginning, August 1914, 4 
Yusupov, Prince, slayer of Rasputin, 21 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre" Series 

Vera Aleksandrova Elischer 

Recollections of Growing Up on a Russian Estate 
and Nursing In World War I 

An Interview Conducted by 

Richard A. Pierce 
July 28 - 31, 1981 
at Monterey, California 

Copyright (c) 1986 by The Regents of the University of California 


Although born at the opening of the present century, Vera 
Aleksandrovna Elischer gives the impression of being very much 
younger, directing her energy and spirit into long tours, and 
hospitality for family and friends. In our interviews she 
recounts her memories of an idyllic life on her family's 
country estate. World War I cut short her education and swept 
her into nursing. After the Revolution, in June 1918, she was 
employed by an Austro-Hungarian commission, under the Red Cross, 
to look after prisoners of war and prepare them for dispatch 
to their homeland. She married a co-worker, Alii Bruckner. 
In danger of arrest by the Cheka, they went to Petersburg, 
where, although still in danger, they lived until 2 June 1920, when 
they were able to leave with a transport of Austro-Hungarians. 

She lived in Hungary for many years, during which time 
she remarried. Emigrating to the United States after 1945, 
she and her husband settled in California, and eventually in 
Monterey. Widowed, she supported her daughter and two sons 
by teaching Russian at the Institute of International Studies 
in Monterey and renting out rooms to students at the Defense 
Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey. One of her 
sons is now head of a driving school; the other, an engineer 
has attained a high position on scientific projects. A daughter 
is married to a dentist in Southern California. 

Since her children are sufficiently well fixed, Mrs. 
Elischer uses her funds to a large extent for travel. She has 
been twice in the Soviet Union, has made several trips to 
Western and Eastern Europe, and has been on several cruises. 

The house, where the interviews were conducted, takes 
up most of a large corner lot. Probably built in the early 
1920 's, it is comfortable and spacious. The living room contains 
a few Russian pictures, and there are many photographsrin her 
bedroom, although very few dating back to the time she spent in 
Russia. Mrs. Elischer is gregarious and callers, by telephone and 
in per son, are frequent. 

Richard A. Pierce 
22 July 1985 


Vera Elischer, Monterey 
[Interview: 28-31 July 1981] 

Elischer: I was born Vera Aleksandrovna Voronets. My father, they told me, 
had been a vice-governor of Vologda gubernia. He was 17 years 
older than my mother; he had participated in the Russo-Turkish 
War, in which he was wounded. 

Then he retired from the military service, and was appointed 
to the State Council. That is all I know about him. He died in 
1901, when I was only 13 months old, and was buried on my 
grandfather's estate, called Mikhailovskaia, near the station of 
Lykoshino, in Novgorod gubernia. My grandfather on my mother's 
side built the church on a hill, which you can see from the 
railway, and all his family, including himself, and his daughters, 
were buried in the sklep (crypt) under the altar of this church. 
My father was buried outside the church my mother didn't want to 
bury him with my grandfather's family. Instead, she brought some 
marble from Italy and they made a big marble cross on his grave 
and my mother painted the ikon of Jesus Gefsemanskii (in the 
Garden of Gethsamine) in the middle of the cross. It was very 
well kept. Later on my uncle, Nikolai Panaev, and one of his 
daughters were buried in the same place, so there were only these 
three graves. It was quite a large place, and nobody else could 
be buried there. 

Pierce: So the estate was in Novgorod gubernia, and in both Borovichi and 
Valdai uezds? 

Elischer: Yes, they were adjoining. So it was the same estate, just over 
lapping. There was a big monastery at Valdai, very well known 
where the Tver icon [Iverskaia ikona Bozhiei materi] was. It 
is a copy of the original in Athens which they said produces 
miracles, and every year in July the icon would go away from the 
monastery and go around the uezd, Valdaiskii uezd. My grandfather 
built this church and gave it to 'Iver monastery. 


My grandfather was Kronit Aleksandrovich Panaev. Kronit is a 
very rare name; it derives from the Greek kronos. So my mother 
was Vera Kronitovna, her brother was Kronit Kronitovich, and my 
brother, four years older than I, was also named Kronit. The 
family of Panaev comes from Kazan gubernia. They have some Tatar 
blood; that's why my eyes are a little slanted, so that people 
have sometimes called me Genghis Khan! 

My grandfather's brother, Valerian Aleksandrovich Panaev,* was 
the main engineer and supervisor of the railway from St. Peters 
burg to Moscow, the one the Tsar said should be absolutely 
straight. Valerian Panaev engaged my grandfather, Kronit, and 
his brothers, Ippolit and Arkadii, to supervise the engineering. 
Their mother sat on this hill and looked on because from the 
hill you could see the whole panorama where later on my grand 
father built this church, in memory of his mother, and bought 
this estate. The Tsar gave each brother jewels, in gratitude for 
this railway; I still have a big pearl which was given to my 
father. Valerian became a very well known architect and he built 
in Petersburg it still exists the theater bouffe, and a lot of 
other structures. They had the Italian opera there. His daughter 
was a well known singer; she sang a lot at the court, and 
Tchaikovsky adored her. Later on she married one of Tchaikovsky's 
nephews, George Kartsov. She was a beautiful woman, with a 
beautiful voice, and Apikhtin, the Russian poet, of the 19th 
century,** dedicated several poems to her. One is very beautiful: 
"Ona krasavitsa po prigorovu tsveta" and he describes her. I have 
this book; I can show you these poems "and to her husband Kartsov. 
When Tchaikovsky composed "Eugene Onegin" he wanted her to sing 
Tatiana, because he composed many songs for her which she sang in 
the court, but her father said "It's impossible; no lady can be 
an opera singer!" But later on when he built his own theater, 
and the Italian opera came Mazzini, Battistini, and Figner she 

* Panaev, Valerian Aleksandrovich (1824 - ? ) , engineer. In 
1844, on finishing engineering school with the rank of ensign, 
he began service on the Vikolaevsk railway. He built the 
Grushevsk railway in 1860, and half of the Kursk-Kiev railway. 
In 1870 he retired. He wrote several brochures in Russian and 
French on the economics of railroad policy, and the books: 
Vostochnyi Vopros [Eastern question] (1877) and Finansovye i 
Ekonomicheskie Voprosy [Financial and Economic Problems] (1878). 
He also built the Panaev theater in St. Petersburg. Brockhaus- 
Efron Entsiklopedicheskii Slovar' (St. Petersburg, 1897), Vol. 
44, p. "680. 

** Aleksei Nikolaevich Apukhtin (1841-1893) . 


sang there, several times, 
remember her singing. 

She had a really beautiful voice; I 




When my father died, my mother was still quite young, with my 
brother, five years old, and myself, so we moved to my grand 
father's big estate, where [for several years] we lived winter 
and summer. It was a beautiful estate, not with palaces, but big 
mansions; we lived in the biggest in the summer and in the other 
during the winter. The winter house was smaller. We, the 
family the close family moved there in the winter because the 
big house was difficult to heat. 

We had, I think, seven houses in all where the family would 
come in summer. The brothers had big families, so everybody came 
there. The houses were completely equipped with everything, and 
then they got servants from our village, Mikhailovskoe, so it was 
very comfortable. And each house had a name Krasnyi dom 
[Red house], Uiutnaia [comfortablej , and Okhotnichyi dom [hunting 
house] . 

These seven were like a little village then, all arranged 

No, they were in completely different places; they had complete 
privacy all around. The main houses, the Srasnyi dom, and the house 
where we lived with ay mother were in the middle, quite close, and 
the others were in the periphery, half a mile, or a mile, across 
the river, over the bridge. The carriage house was close to the 
big house, and horses for riding, but the farm was across the 
river. It was excellent; we had many cows and they sent milk, 
butter and everything to Sumakov, and to Petersburg. We had a very 
good manager, a Finn, who managed the whole estate. 

Later on, when the family had grown up and did not want to come 
anymore, my grandfather was in a harder situation; his sons spent 
a lot of money and were always sending telegrams that they had to 
have more. He gradually sold a lot of land and then in the summer 
he started to rent those houses to people from Petersburg and two 
of them to officers from some of the regiments from Tsarskoe 
Selo who came and founded a hunting club there. 

Who were the servants? 

We always had a lot of servants, especially in the summer, when 
the guests came, so we had to provide servants for each house. 
They were absolutely furnished with everything for the household. 
We usually provided one maid, from the village, from the krestnitsy, 
and they were paid by the guests, usually. I don't know how they 
did it, but there were so many young people who would love to 




Elischer : 



work, and then come to Petersburg. Our servants in Petersburg 
were from our village. 

Did they like their work? 
Yes, they liked it. 
Were any of them lazy? 

No, there were so many they didn't have to work very hard, so they 
enjoyed it, I think. The last servant we had, already during the 
change, was alone, and she sued my brother, saying that she had 
had a child by him. She was very nasty. 

And the governesses? 

They wrote away to Switzerland, and to France, and they were sent 
to us. Some of them very nice, and some of them not at all. If my 
brother and I didn't like the governess we did something, we 
played dirty tricks. We put a glass of water in her bed. We cut 
brushes in the bed, and so forth, so they would leave, and another 
one would come. The one we lived the most was a young French girl, 
who taught us a lot of French songs. I remember that some of 
them were very daring. When we sang them the people were 
horrified, but everybody loved her because she was very gay. She 
was the last one that I remember very well. 

How long would someone like that remain? 

They stayed two or three years, as long as they wanted. 

Was this by contract, or by verbal agreement? 

Just by agreement. I don't know how much they paid them, maybe 
forty rubles a month. And they had everything. They loved it 
there because there were always so many people officers in the 
house. I remember that she taught us to make a liqueur, 
chartreuse, from seeds. She was very nice, the last one, the 
daring one pretty and nice. 

Could you describe the routine of things as you remember it? 
how did a year go? 


During the winter we lived in the winter house, only the family. 
My grandfather, we two children, my mother, my uncle, who later 
married Honey, a British girl, Ethel Dicken. She had a child, but 
he died. And we all lived together, and the governesses, and we 
usually got up very early, we had to have breakfast with my grand 
father, who was already up at 6 o'clock and came back for break- 





fast, from work if it was summer time. If it was winter he was 
there, and when my grandfather stopped eating we had to stop 
whether we had finished or not. When they served the soup, for 
instance, and he finished his, and put down his spoon, we had to 
put down our spoons. We started the dinner with a prayer, and 
finished the dinner with a prayer, and everybody, my mother 
included, respected my grandfather greatly. He loved me very 
much. He had his own room, a big study, where he sat all day 
long, no one else was supposed to go there, but he invited me, 
and I would go and he would teach me to read. The letters were 
cut out of visiting cards of the guests, and he made them 
different colors. He started when I was about four, maybe, maybe 
earlier, so that at five I could read everything completely well. 

Yes, then I always see myself sitting with my grandfather, and 
learning to read, and how I read, and how I stole books to read, 
because they didn't give me all. 

Why? Did they think you were too young? 

Yes, it was very strict at this time, but I read very early 
Dostoevsky and Turgenev's Pervoe liubov* it was a big event when 
I read it. And then we read a lot in French. 

And my grandfather would play solitaires and I would help 
him, and [would be with him] if something happened in the family. 
Two of Mother's three brothers were living in Petersburg. One 
was in the horse guards [konnogvardeiskii polk] , and the other 
was a grenadier, a dragoon. The youngest brother, Nikolai 
his son, Michael Panaev, a dancer, still lives in Los Angeles 
was very sick, with only one lung. He quit the military service, 
but the others stayed in and sent telegrams that they needed 
money. Then my grandfather would be very upset and closed the 
door and stayed there, and paid, paid, and paid. 

He always had to spend much time going over the accounts 
because there were two big flour mills, and that required a lot 
of work. And my mother learned the bookkeeping, two systems, I 
don't know what kind, Italian or whatever, because she was 
widowed, and she helped him a great deal with the accounts. 

How were the mills powered? 

With water, with a water wheel. But I think later on they had 
electricity; all the last years we had electricity. 

There were lots of entertainments, and many guests. 
Especially in July, for the 20th of July. We had a big place 


where the tennis courts were and a big pavilion, that was brought 
from an exhibit at Borovichi. And in this pavilion the big 
festivities were held, and they had the buffet and the children 
of the peasants came for all kinds of entertainment. For 
instance, they put bags on them and they had to hop for a certain 

Pierce: Sack races. 

Elischer: Yes, and they had all kind of plays, and the children took part. 
I was very little, I didn't do it. And then in the morning, 
with my grandfather, we went in all the villages and then in the 
evening there were fireworks, and the peasants and everybody 
else came, and all of that was in this place. The games were 
held in a big field in front. Then there was a lot of horseback 
riding, and jumping. 

Once I was probably between four and five we had a big 
dinner and the table wasn't cleared immediately, because every 
one went to the salons or living rooms, and the servants went 
for their dinner, and my nurse certainly went too, to eat. On 
that occasion I escaped and went to the dining room. They never 
drank everything something always remained in the glasses so 
I poured everything together in one glass and drank it all, 
including the beer and everything else that was there. Then I 
got very sleepy, and when they found me I was in the big arm 
chair in the corner, asleep. So I started very young. Now I 
don't like it so much as I liked it then. 

Hunting was also a favorite sport. My mother took part in 
that and sometimes she shot more than the others. 

Pierce: Where did she learn? 

Elischer: Probably on the estate, when she was a young girl. 

Pierce: This would be with a shotgun? 

Elischer: Rifles, and double barrelled shotguns. 

My brother got a small double barreled shotgun; he was very 
young and I was horrified; I never hunted. They called it a 
Monte Cristo, it was a small gun, for small birds sparrows 
and they would eat them. I loved to eat them too, but I hated to 
see them killed; they would fry them and put them on a crouton 
and you could eat even the bones. It was very delicate, very 


Pierce: What livestock did they have on the estate, besides the horses? 

Elischer: Horses, pigs, sheep, everything that belonged there, that for me 
was a real farm. The farms here, in California, are not mixed 
farms, so when I went to Indiana I liked those mixed farms, that 
was what appealed to me, a lot of animals. And there was a lot 
of poultry. A poultry yard, they called it [ptichii dvor] ; you 
had geese, turkeys, ducks and chickens, and they sent eggs also 
to Petersburg. 

Pierce: That was in what town? 

Elischer: Lykoshino in Borovichi uezd. [The estate was] in two uezds 
Borovicheskii - Borovichi - and Valdaiskii uezds in Novgorod 
guberniia, halfway between Moscow and Petersburg, on that 
strait 'railway. My two uncles spent enough money, and my grand 
father sold half of the estate to pay their debts. Kronit 
Kronitovich then retired and became zemskii nachal'nik in 
Borovichi. He was elected by the local landholders. 

Pierce: Would the local peasants have a vote? 

Elischer: I don't think so. 

Pierce: Was the zemstvo a major factor in the life of the region? 

Elischer: It was a big factor. During the first war they worked very hard 
for the war; they had a good organization. If they had remained, 
communism would not have come. Automatically I am sure, Russia 
would have become a constitutional monarchy, like England. And 
then the fate of the Duma would have changed. But they were not 
popular enough. But [laughs ruefully] you have to accept... 

Pierce: As a child, what did you see of the peasants, how much did you 
associate with them? 

Elischer: Oh, very much, because our estate was on the border of the 

village of the same name, Mikhailovskoe , most of the village people 
were god daughters or god sons of my parents, my grandfather. 
They adored my grandfather because he lived with the peasants. 
He got up at 5 or half past five, he went always to the 
harvesting, and worked with them, and my mother willingly worked 
one day at least every summer, so she could cut with the 
scythe. The women usually didn't do that but she worked in the 
row with the men, and never gave up because if you give up for 
a moment they will cut your legs, and so she had to go and keep 
the tempo of the men. Everything was done by hand, only later 
on we had the machines on the farm. We children went out there 
too, and had picnics. The peasants were always very nice to us, 



to all of us. On the 24th of July, the holiday of the village, 
II 'in den', the day of the prophet St. Elias, and we had to go, 
all of the family, through the village, and in each house you 
had to stop and eat something. For this day the peasants 
prepared beer, they brewed it themselves in big kettles. 

Pierce: Was this kvass? 

Elischer: No, beer, made from hops. And they worked on that a lot, and 
they had this beer, and all kinds of Russian things piroshki, 
pirogi, vatrushkas, and tvorog. So we had to stop at each 
house, and when we entered the house in the corner I think it 
was in the left corner they had the icons, surrounded with 
towels that they had embroidered themselves, and usually they 
had an izba. You came in the part which was neutral. They 
lived in the part to the right with the big stove, while to the 
left was the festive part, which was kept very clean. They 
usually didn't go there during the week, only on Sundays, when 
they had dinners there. It was always very clean, they had a 
lot of pillows on the beds, and it was beautiful, all with 
handworks that they did during the winter, when they didn't 
have harvesting. In the evening, all the women would come 
together, they would sit and embroider and sing. That was in 
the winter, because the winter was very cold and they couldn't 
go out. They gathered together in one house and they sang, 
sometimes big sons, sometimes these short little chastushkis 
as they are called. I made a collection of these chastushki, 
but later they were lost. 

Shila milomu rubashku 
da iskrapi.. ristash. . 
da elo ego telo 
chtoby pomniu on menia 

That was one. 


Po doroshki vyzhit 


la ego za khvost 

A on milionichik ' ? 

And such things. Four lines. I remember very few. Always the 
same tune, with a harmonica. And then the longer songs, "Sten'ka 
Razin," and "Ukhor kupets," those they sang too. 

What was the attitude of the peasants, then, toward your family? 

Very, very good! They had to work a certain number of days for 
the farm, but if they worked over that they had to be paid, and I 


know my grandfather paid them very well I don't remember how 
much 25 or perhaps 40 kopecks a day. 

Pierce: They weren't just being sly again, and pretending that they liked 
the family? 

Elischer: No! My mother opened a little hospital; the doctor came once or 
twice a month and my mother went there. When someone was injured 
she bandaged them. I couldn't bear the sight of blood so I 
always screamed and went away. They were very, very grateful; 
they called them Kresnyi papen'ka and kresnai-.mat' , god father 
and god mother. And then he helped them; he sold them a lot of 
land and they had an arrangement with the peasant bank which paid 
my grandfather, but very slowly, or not at all. So he tried to 
help them a great deal and he was always with them and they were 
very attached to him. 

The peasants disliked it very much when my grandfather and 
especially my uncle, who inherited the estate, hired a manager, 
who was a Chukhonets, a Finn, they thought "It's a German, and it 
was he who brought the machines." When he brought the threshing 
machine for the harvesting, they were furious and said "That 
comes from Germany!" They thought of all the machines, whatever 
they were, as German. They felt that because of the machines 
they got less work, which irritated them very much. My grandfather 
and my uncle thought they could give the community these machines 
if they wanted them, but they never wanted them. And then 
electricity was installed on the farm, and milking machines, to 
separate the milk, and they just hated them, because they used to 
put the milk in big earthenware containers and then skim it by 
hand and when the machines came they didn't have to do it. So 
they were irritated by everything, and they thought "All is 
nemchera Nemchera prinesla" Jit's all German they have brought 
the German things.]. And that's why the war of 1914 was very 

Pierce: What is a Chukhonets? 

Elischer: It is a term for a Finn, anyone who came from Finland, or from 
parts of Finland which were in Russia. They were very good 
farmers, excellent, and specialists in dairying. 

Pierce: Did they not realize that the manager was not a German? 

Elischer: They didn't know. For them German meant someone was foreign 
nemchera anything which came from outside Russia, so they 
disliked this manager very much, although he was excellent; he 
increased the output of the farm very much, and we had electricity 
already when my grandfather died, in 1906, I think, after the 
Japanese war. 



Pierce: So the machinery was introduced only on your grandfather's part 
of the estate? 

Elischer: Yes, and everywhere it started, it spread. 
Pierce: What did the peasants call their community? 

Elischer: It was the mir, and every year or two they redistributed the 
land between them, so it was like a commune. 

Pierce: Did they like this? 

Elischer: Yes, I think they liked the whole procedure. Sometimes someone 
got a bad [piece of land] one year and sometimes he had a piece 
of land here and then another piece half a mile away and that 
was very incorrect, because they wanted to distribute [it] so that 
the quality of the land would be more equal. 

Pierce: Stolypin was against this; he wanted to change it. 
Elischer: Yes, and he was right. In many things he was very wise. 

When we were older and no longer lived on the big estate, but 
on our small [one] then my mother read every evening 
Shakespeare usually, in English, and Schiller. And I hated it 
when she read in German, and I didn't understand it, and I 
didn't want to learn it. They tried to hire a German nurse, but 
I didn't like her you see that was the influence I hated. Just 
the mere fact that it was German, I hated it, even though my 
grandmother was a Rizenkampf, not a German, but a Baltic German. 
I think it was bred into me, but I got used to that. I don't 
know why. 

The peasants thought that everything that came from there was 
evil, because they believed the machines were evil for them. And 
I hate machines too; I like to work with my own hands; it's still 
in me, even today! When Vera I my daughter] says "Such a mixer!" 
I tell her just to keep it, I don't like a mixer; I have my two 
hands. The Russians call it perezhitok starogo, a survival of the 
past, I am very modern in many ways, but the perezhitok starogo 
is very strong in me. 

Pierce: Could you tell something about the customs of the peasantry, their 
beliefs and superstitions? 

Elischer: That I cannot tell you because the whole of Russia is full of 
superstitions, not only the peasants but the higher classes! 


What are some of them? 



Elischer: One was the evil eye, if somebody looked at you with it, that was 
very bad. 

Pierce: What would you do against the evil eye? 
Elischer: I don't know; I really don't know. 

Pierce: What brought bad luck? Anything like a cat walking in front of 

Elischer: Yes, especially a black cat. If a black cat crossed the road... 
and I still have this superstition! If I go in a car and a cat 
runs in front. It's funny, but its born in you. 

Pierce: What about the number 13? 

Elischer: Thirteen, yes, because of Jesus and the Apostles. 

Pierce: And what of customs regarding marriage? Did the peasants have 

different customs than the upper classes? How did their marriages 

Elischer: In the beginning it was so that the bride didn't see the groom, 

and the parents arranged it, and between the parents was a match 
maker, svakha , who came to talk it over, with first one set of 
parents and then the other, how much land, how many if she gets a 
house, or how much linen she would get, so all those things were 
discussed, and then they brought them together and they were 

Pierce: You mention the linen, was this part of the dowry? 

Elischer: Yes, the dowry was mainly the linen, how many towels, how many 

pillows, how many sheets. That was very important, because they 
didn't have much money. So they usually started to collect it 
from childhood, even in the big families, I know that my mother 
had a big chest, filled with beautiful linen, stitched and 
embroidered in monasteries by the nuns, even the lace was done by 
hand. The nuns or the young girls who went to become nuns. 

Pierce: Russia was known as "Holy Russia" and it is said that the Russians 
are a deeply religious people. Would you say that this is so? 

Elischer: It is true. But they have many perezhitki starogo survivals of 
ancient times and it is still alive. Like the belief in the bad 
spirit, the zloi dukh. I explained to my students I don't know 
whether it is true or not, but this is my theory that the oven 
they call in Russian "dukhovka" may be called that because the 
Russians had the superstition that the spirits are hiding there, 




Elischer : 




when someone dies, they are still in your house, in the big ovens. 
In the country they had these big ovens, made of brick, where they 
baked the bread, and the used to say 'The spirit lives there! 1 
[Tarn zhivet dukh] so I think that's why they call it dukhovka . 

A rather hot place to hide. 

Yes, but the peasants slept on the top because it was warm. They 
believed in God and also in bad spirits. I cannot remember all 
of them. They called one the domovoi. It lived in the house. 

This was the house spirit, and I have heard that a little food had 
to be put out for it. 

Yes, and that's what they believed. That's from times past, long 
ago. The domovoi was a good spirit, was it not, except if it 
wasn't given something and then he could turn otherwise? 

Do you think they really believed it, or was it just a kind of 
old custom fondly retained? 

No, I think they believed it. Then there were other things, the 
rusalka for instance. The rusalka lived in the water, a fish-like 
woman. But that they have many places, I think, in Ireland, and 
Denmark, they believe in mermaids. It's the same. 

When someone died, what customs were followed? 

First of all, you washed the dead person it was usually somebody 
who was close and dressed it, and the body would stay three days 
in the house. They would take all the furniture from the room, 
and the plants and cover everything with white sheets. Usually 
the body was laid diagonally in the room with the head pointing 
toward the icon and then they put it in the coffin, and it would 
stay three days this way. And sometimes it was the opposite, I 
don't know why, but usually it was this way, and twice a day they 
had panikhidy [required servicesj and all the people would come 
to the panikhid with candles. 

Where was this held? 

In this room, around the coffin, and the coffin was open, so you 
could see, and in summer it wasn't very pleasant because they 
couldn't prepare the body. The room was filled with flowers, it 
was hard to stand there, the candles, the flowers and the body 
which was not always very good, and then they would take [the body] 
to the church, and there a mass was held I have a record of the 
mass and then they would close the coffin and take it to the 
grave. And the pallbearers were always friends or close people to 



the deceased, and they would put it down in the {grave] and each 
of them, like you do had to take a little bit of earth and throw 
it on the coffin. I think they do this here, too, do they not? 

And then in the old time we didn't do that but many people, 
especially the peasants, they cried! and wailed! 

They would cry and sit there, and you wouldn't leave that 
body alone, all the time you would read from the Holy Scriptures. 
Even in Santa Barbara, when an American died, who was very close 
to one Russian woman, she and I took turns reading and we didn't 
leave, so he was never alone. And they believe that you pray for 
forty days. On the ninth day, they have a service and on the 
fortieth day you have another service. 

Pierce: And all of that time the spirit of the dead person remains around? 

Elischer: Yes, for his peace. You know, I don't even dwell on these things; 
where I'll be forty days afterward I don't know. 

Pierce: I have heard that a window is kept open, so the spirit can go out. 

Elischer: Yes, to be free to circulate. 

Pierce: And that food is left for the spirit during this time. 

Elischer: We didn't leave any. I don't know, probably in the old time they 
did it, but we didn't. 

Pierce: You mentioned something rather interesting, your theory about 

the peasantry and the years that were given to them. Could you 
elaborate on this? 

Elischer: Yes, I always explained to my students that only in the Russian 
language do we say that the years that we live are given to us, 
with the dative case: Mne dvadtsat' let, mne tridsat* let. Bog 
dast eshche desiat'. All those refer to it as if it is God who 
gives us the years; we don't take these years, as they state it 
in French "I have thirty years", or in English, "I am thirty 
years old". I explained to the students that the Russian faith 
is so big that anything that comes they think it comes from the 
good Lord, sometimes the Devil takes over and dictates to you, 
and that's why, I explained, that the Russian people accept Fate, 
accept all that comes, and for me it starts with this moment that 
they talk about their age, Bog dast, they said, eshche deviat' let 
[God gives yet another ten years]. 

Pierce: So this fatalism, then, is one of the aspects of the Russian 






Elischer : 

Elischer : 



Yes, but the fate comes from God, it does not come by itself. 

How do you look upon the Russian character; what makes Russians 
different from other peoples? 

Because by the geographical situation already, Russia is a 
mixture of East and West, and until Peter the Great, the East 
predominated. Peter brought the West to Russia, and they adapted 
to it pretty well, although in the beginning they wouldn't, like 
them, shave their beards and cut their hair, and were reluctant 
to take the way of life of Western Europe. Certainly we had many 
mixtures, just as I have for instance Tatar blood the Russians 
are not a really pure race. Because of the Tatar occupation many 
Tatars married Russians and in the end it became a mixture. 

But still this mixture of East and West was incomplete, and it has 
been said that there was a split, and the people who were above 
in the upper classes were westernized, and those who were in the 
great mass below were not. 

Yes, that is true, and now it was a big break for them, they tried 
to fight the influence of the west on Russia. Solzhenitsin is 
more western, and Sakharov is more Easter^ or real Russian. 
That's why he won't leave Russia, and won't even try. And the 
Russians usually accept anything that happens in their life, 
because they think it may be a punishment for the past, and you 
have to expiate the faults or the crimes of the past generation. 
I myself held this belief for a long time, that you have to accept, 
it's a punishment, and so forth, but then I got wiser, and I 
shook it off from my mind. 

You now feel that this was rather naive? 

You cannot say that it was naive, it was born in the Russian 
people. And in this way I was westernized; I got free, but it 
took me a long time. I accepted all like a punishment. But the 
Americans start too to feel guilty for the Negro question, the 
new generation, so in this way I always think that the Americans 
are like Russians, in some way they want to expiate the mistakes 
of the previous generation, but I got over that already, all of it. 

What other aspects of Russian character stand out, in your 

I think they are very sly, and naturally wise, 
simple people, are very wise, but sly. 

The peasants, the 

Pierce: You mean that they would trick people? 



Elischer: Yes, but they will trick people naturally, not intentionally. 

Pierce: Is this because they think that someone else is trying to get the 
better of them? 

Elischer: Yes, and they fight it. They are very naive, but in the meantime 
they act as if they believe you, but inwardly they do not; they 
always find something. 

Also laziness; I think the Russian people are very lazy; they 
love to let themselves go, they don't fight, because they feel 
that it's due to them what comes, they don't fight, they don't 
struggle really. Look how they could take the Tatar yoke; they 
didn't fight enough, they didn't organize. 

Pierce: There was quite a bit of resistance at the start, but then they 
lost out. 

Elischer: Yes, they lost out, and then they became resigned. They accept 
very easily, too easily for me. 

We lived on my grandfather's estate at least five years, but 
from the time I was six and my brother was ten we had to move in 
the winter to Petersburg, where my brother went to school to a 
classical gymnasium, and I was taught French and English at home 
by a governess. German I refused to learn; I didn't like German. 
And my brother didn't do very well at school, and my mother 
couldn't afford at this time to put him in the Aleksandrovskii 
Lyceum where my father had gone. 

So we lived in Petersburg in a big apartment on Nadezhinskaia 
street 40 I saw the house when I went back; it's partly rebuilt 
with the wife of my mother's grand uncle, Rizenkampf. My grand 
mother from the Panaev side was born a Rizenkampf, a Baltic 
German. Her brother was a general in the etat major, and he 
married a very nice woman, whom we called both my grandmothers 
had died by this time and we called her "babushka babusin'ka". 
And she was in some way related to Dostoevsky, for I know that 
Dostoevsky lived for a long time with a Rizenkampf. That is in 
all the books, the friendship between Rizenkampf and Dostoevsky, 
in the early days. 

So this Babusin'ka took over my education in French she spoke 
a beautiful French and I had a governess besides that. I had 
learned to read while on my grandfather's estate, but still she 
was very, very protective and loved me, and I did anything she 
wanted, because I adored her. Once a week she took me to 





Dostoevsky's house, on the Spasskii ploshchad to see Anna 
Grigorevna Dostoevsky. It was the corner house I think it was 
on the third floor. I was maybe nine or ten years of age. I 
remember when we entered the living room, it was very, very 
formal, the furniture was the Austrian Biedermeier style whereas 
we had the French style, with Louis XV and Louis XIV, and each 
chair I can see the whole picture, but I don't remember what 
color it was it was green or wine, dark red velvet, and on each 
chair was a little doily, crocheted, and everywhere these little 
crocheted doilies on the chairs it seems to me so petit 
bourgeois. But I was so surprised, and I always thought my 
goodness, Dostoevsky sat in this chair! And she came in from the 
left side, very formal, in black, and she seemed to me very, very 
tall, and I got completely numb; I couldn't even greet her. 
Babushka-babusin'ka told me to make a {curtsey] so I greeted her 
and she talked very formally, very coldly. I don't remember 
anything more about her, [although] I know that I had to go 
every week, but this [first time] I remember very well. We 
called it [khodit' na poklon k Anny Grigor'evny] "to go to pay 
homage to Anna Grigorevna". "Na poklon". that means it was like 
a duty. This Babusin'ka was born a Kipriianov Kipriianov was a 
very well known Russian painter. I think that Anna Grigorevna 
was a Kirprianov toothere was some family connection, and 
that's why we had to go. By this time I read Bednye liudi, 
podrostok many, many times but I never dared to tell that 
openly to Anna Grigorevna, or even to Babusin'ka because she 
would be horrified that I was already reading such things at ten. 

Were these regarded as risque? 

Yes. And children didn't read them; at this age they were 
[still] children, but I wasn't a child; I grew up very early, 
very early. However, I couldn't master arithmetic. I had read 
all of the Russian literature but didn't know anything about 
mathematics, and I didn't get a regular instruction. 

Do you mean multiplication and division? 

I couldn't do division. I had learned multiplication by myself 
but nobody had taught me anything. And then my brother decided 
to teach me division, and when I couldn't understand he hit me 
on the head with the little book of arithmetic Vereshchagin, I 
think it was called, very thin, and I fainted. Then suddenly 
the whole household realized that I had to learn something, that 
they had to hire teachers. And so they took a teacher, Mrs. 
Vasil'ev, and three times a week she came to teach me with 
another girl, I think she was Marguerite, and she was a niece of 
the well known Russian painter Belibin, who illustrated fairy 
tales. Her mother was the sister of Belibin' s wife. This Mrs. 





Vasil'ev was excellent, and I learned very well, and in two 
years I caught up everything, and passed very well the examination 
for the fifth class. I wanted to go to the Obelensky School, 
which was very near where we lived and where all my friends were 
going, but my mother refused. She said, No, she wanted to put me 
in a much more serious school where there was not so much social 
life, because they had constant balls there, and from the age of 
12 years everybody went to the balls. So I went to the 
Lokhvitskaia School with courses in languages and painting. When 
you finished this school you had everyday languages, and the 
diploma of a teacher. With the diploma of teacher you could not 
yet teach in the school, but you had the right to teach privately 
anyway. And that's where I was; we had only ten girls in the 
class; every day we had French thank God because I learned it 
well, a French lady taught us French grammar, and a French 
gentleman, a Professor Marceau I remember the woman teacher, but 
I do not remember the man French literature. We had English 
lessons every day, and mathematics, and history, all very well 
[taught]; it was a very serious school. 

Most of my fellow students were Jewish, so I came in contact 
very early with the Jewish people, who were snubbed quite a bit in 
Russia, especially in Petersburg. I became very good friends with 
two of them, and I invited them to come, but my grandmother told 
me I could not, and then still, if my grandmother was away she 
always went to the Riviera in the south of France they came to my 
house. So I was very liberally brought up. My mother too. My 
brother's best friend Senia 3afkin also was Jewish, and he also 
came to our house, and I liked him very much. My mother didn't 
mind, but grandmother wouldn't come out if he was there. 


So your mother and your grandaunt didn't agree? 
tutors at that time? 

You had no 

No. My brother had tutors, because he learned very badly in 
school. He had Greek and Latin. The classical gymnasium in 
Vasil'evskii Ostrov was a very serious school, one of the most 
serious, and he was always backward; he didn't write very well in 
Russian; I always wrote very correctly, but he did not. And every 
summer we had a tutor, a student, Dobychyn and Fedorenko. One of 
them married mother's friend who was Jewish by descent, Fedorenko. 
I even remember their names; some of them very serious and others 
not. Dobychyn was a kind of nihilist [nigilist] and my mother 
protected them. By this time we didn't live in the big estate, 
because my mother's brother inherited it, and mother got a smaller 
estate nearby to the station with three houses. I don't know how 
many desiatins there were, but it wasn't a farm, nothing like 

Elischer 18 

Pierce: During family crises, such as sickness, who was the doctor and 
how far did he have to come? 

Elischer: There was a doctor at the station Istantsiia] Lykoshinn. That was 
where we got off the train. There was a little town there, with 
perhaps a thousand population. And only two big shops were there, 
the Brat'ia Troniny Tronin Brothers and another I cannot 
remember . 

Vera Elischer, Monterey 

Interview: 29 March 1983 

RP: In our previous sessions you told about your girlhood on the family 
estate and about getting an education in St. Petersburg, but you 
didn't mention your higher education. 

Elischer: I didn't have any. I had only nurses training. I 

finished high school with the diploma of a language instructor, 
because we had languages every day. It was a special private 
school called Lokhutskaia skalon (Gimnaziia Lokutskaia skalon s 
khudozhestvennymi kursami iazykov) . with language courses. There 
we had English, French and German every day. There were only 12 
in the class and it was very strict; every day we had an hour of 
grammar, under a Mademoiselle Monseau, and an hour of literature, 
from a man. It was all in French, and the same with the English 
and the German. It was a very serious and very difficult school, 
and when you finished it, with the diploma I have mine here you 
had the right to teach those languages. So later, in Hungary, I 
got such a position on the basis of that /"training/. 

I was in the gymnasium seven or eight years, and was in the last 
class when the war broke out in 1914, early in July. For awhile 
I worked with the families of men recruited in the army, 
if they needed help to survive, and then I went to nursing school 
in the evenings, and worked in the hospitals on Saturday afternoon 
and Sundays. So I studied very little, but I had very good 
reports. I finished in May 1915 with a gold medal, but because 
it was wartime they didn't give me the medal; they only put it on 
paper . 

/After graduation from the gymnasium I wanted to enter nursing 
school full time/. I went to all the schools, but not one would 
accept me. I was only 15 and a half, and they did not accept anybody 
who was younger than 18, and you had to finish high school. I had 
finished, but I wasn't 18. 

My mother at this time was already on the front, supervising 
hospitals, and the head of the school with which my mother worked 
didn't accept me because she knew that my mother would not want 
her to. So I asked my cousin, Count Bennigsen, the secretary general 
of the Red Cross, to submit a petition addressed to the mother of 
the Tsar, Mariia Fedorovna, in which I asked to be accepted in the 
Red Cross, in spite of my age. He went every week to present her 
with a report on the Red Cross, so he handed her my petition. She 
wrote on it that she accepted me to be in one of the schools if the 
school found upon trial that I was capable of becoming a nurse. 
By then I had tried all the schools, and not one wanted me, and only 
the third one, one of the biggest and the best, the school of 
St. George, of the Red Cross, where my cousin was one of the head 
nurses, finally accepted me, on trial. 

So I started to work there. My mother wasn't there; she didn't even 
know what I was doing, and they didn't ask permission. I lived with 
my brother and my soi disant grand aunt, and went to the school 
every day. It was very hard, because they considered me a baby and 
always called me dityo and made me do the most awful, the most dirty 
work, but I took it quite well. 



RP: I think you mentioned your grand aunt before. 

Elischer: Yes, Rizenkampf, the grand aunt who took us to see Dostoevski! every 
week, in Petersburg, when I was about 12. Later I knew that her 
husband, my uncle, the brother of my real grandmother, Nikolai 
Egorovich Rizenkampf, was a friend of Dostoevskii and they lived 
quite a while together; he is mentioned many times. Mrs. 
Stenbock-Fermor told me "Oh certainly, he was a friend, and 
Dostoevsky lived with him." So now I know why we always went to 
see her. 



So you were taken into nursing, but rather conditionally? 

Elischer: Yes, but it worked out quite well. And then, at the end of June, 

or in early July I cannot remember exactly, but I have my Red Cross 
book, with all my work indicated I was sent to the private hospital 
of the Tsar's mother, Mariia Fedorovna, in Minsk. And there for the 
first time I saw a Jewish ghetto. I was so surprised because we 
didn't have anything like it in Petersburg, nor in Moscow. 


What was your reaction? 

Elischer: I was surprised! I hadn't seen Jews with the long kaftans and black 
hats, and beards. Everybody was the same there, and I couldn't 
understand. "What is it?" I asked. 

"You don't know?" they said. 

"No, I have never seen anything like it I" 

"That's the Jewish settlement!" 

A Jew had to have a special permit to be able to live in Petersburg 
or Moscow; he had to have a profession, or be a tailor. There were 
some lawyers too Ginsburg, for instance, was a very famous lawyer, 
but to have the whole part of town set aside this way was completely 
unbelievable for me, and I felt somehow strange, and a little 
scared. In Petersburg Jews were scarcely distinguishable from the 
rest of the population. 

That's why it made me so mad when I heard people say that the Jews 
were so suppressed in Russia. My brother's best friend was Senia 
Hafkin. He and a brother went to Petersburg university. Their 
father was a tailor, on Vasil'evskii ostrov; the two boys were very 
good students. The older son finished so well, with distinction, 
that he was accepted in the Military Medical Academy (Voennaia 
meditsinskaia akademiia) . He was accepted, and he was Jewish. 
So I said always that it was not true that they were suppressed. 
They had to work very hard, but they were accepted in many places. 
My grand aunt, however, was fantastically hurt that Senia Hafkin 
came to our house, but we loved him very much. Of twelve girls 
in my class in the Lokutskaia skalon, at least 6 or 7 were Jewish. 
It was a very hard school, and we all were excellent students. 


And you all got along well? 

Elischer 21 

Elischer: Very well! I could invite them to my house, but made sure that 
my grand aunt, Babushka Rizenkampf , didn't know about it; she 
shouldn't see them; she wouldn't accept them. And I went sometimes 
to their houses too. They were wonderful; they were all such gifted 
girls. So it was a funny situation. That's why I was so surprised 
in Minsk when I saw the ghetto. I couldn't believe it. In Moscow 
I had never even heard about ghettos. 

I worked in Minsk for quite awhile, until later on I got news that 

my grand aunt, Rizenkampf, was very sick, that she had something 

with her gall bladder and liver, so I asked for leave from the 

hospital and went to Petersburg to take care of her. She was very 

sick, but they brought her home from the hospital. I slept in the 

same room, and took good care of her. I gave her morphine injections, 

but she was dying. It was hard on me because she suffered a great 

deal, and the doctor told me I could only give her morphine every 

four or five hours, and then she suffered so much that my 

aunt, her daughter, asked me to give it to her, and I gave it a little 

bit earlier. When she died, after two or three months, I thought that 

maybe I had caused her death by giving the morphine to her earlier, but it 

wasn t that; she would have died anyway. 

So I stayed quite awhile, and meanwhile had a young man friend, 
Spirtov. He was on leave, and we kind of thought that we would marry, 
but then I didn't marry him; I kept back, and he went back to the 
front and I went back fco hospital workj. I wanted to go back to 
the hospital of the Tsarina, but I learned that there had been a 
big intrigue between the chief doctor and the head nurse. She 
was a very sweet woman, and very prominent, but there were terrible 
intrigues between them. I heard that she was very badly treated 
by the head doctor, and that she went to have an audience with the 
Tsar's mother in Petersburg, but in the train she committed suicide. 
I didn't want to go back to the hospital and work with the doctor, 
Rudnikov, so I resigned and went to the Georgievskoe obshchestvo 
/George society/ and told them that I was resigning, and why. Those 
names are all in my book. 

RP: Was this usual, for a doctor to behave like that? 

Elischer: No. She was a very fine and prominent woman. She was the fraulein 
of the Tsarina, so she behaved a little bit too high-toned. He 
didn't like that, so he tried in every way to put her down, and 
humiliate her, and she couldn't stand that. Then the Tsarina asked 
her to come, and on the way, in the train, she committed 
suicide. I decided that I could not go and face this Rudnikov 
because I loved her; she was a very good person. So I went to the 
Society and they understood and didn't force me to go back. 


And so I was assigned to the Second Georgievskii hospital, first in 
Smolensk and later in lur'ev. The war was quieter in Smolensk, but 
we had a lot of scurvy. The hospital was filled with soldiers who 
had it. They lost their teeth; it was very hard. But the life 
in Smolensk was otherwise rather pleasant. My father was from 
there, and I met a lot of relatives whom I had never known before. 
They were very nice to me, and I went to see them on their big 
estate, "Zhdanova," in Smolensk gubernia, I think it was in 
El'ninskii uezd. 

Elischer 22 

lur'ev, 1916 

We worked at Smolensk for quite awhile, and then we were evacuated 
to lur'ev. There was more action on that sector, and we were there 
for half a year. It was a beautiful town; we loved it and we went 
sailing on the river Narva. It was very interesting to be on the 

Riga, February 1917 

After that we were moved again, more toward the front, to a big 
hospital in Riga. By then they liked me at the hospital; they 
didn't consider me as a child anymore, and I was nominated to 
head a department (otdelenie) in the hospital. I was very happy 
there, and the work was very good. The main doctor, Solov'ev, 
was the head of the department, and it was nice to work there. 
I learned a great deal about surgery and many other things. 

After being there quite awhile I started to have terrible pains 
in my face in my triangle nerve here. It was terrible; I 
couldn't work, I couldn't see, and then I started to have little 
fevers, but I continued to work. 

At this time the people came back from the front. It was the awful 
17th of February, of the first Revolution. We heard of what was 
happening in St. Petersburg; it was agony for everyone in the 
hospital. By this time the doctors decided that I could not stay, 
that I had to go to Petersburg, so they gave me a leave of absence, 
and I went to Petersburg in this awful time. 

In Petersburg I went to see a famous doctor, Manukhin he died 
later in Paris. He examined me and said "My goodness, you have 
something on your left lung. If you don't do what I tell you 
right away, then we won't have anything to talk about!" My 
cousin was still in the Red Cross, and I went there and they 
sent me to a sanatorium in the Caucasus, at Kislovodsk, for two 
months . 

Kislovodsk, March-April 1917 

I loved Kislovodsk; now I have seen it again, and it is so changed, 
but then it was very good. The sanatorium for the nurses was very 
good and it was very quiet there; you didn't feel the war or revolution 
or anything. Next to it was a sanatorium for officers. They had 
horses, and I went riding with them. We weren't allowed to go out 
of the sanatorium, but I took my amazon and went through the window 
and out with them. 

RP: What is an amazon? 

Elischer: That was a long black dress, with one side long, which women wore 
when they went riding. At that time women very seldom rode like 
men; they rode side-saddle. It was easy to fall off if you were 
not strong and if you did not know how to sit. I also rode in the 
cossack saddle, which is very high. You were nearly standing, but 
then you had slacks, and a cossack tunic. I loved that, but there 
you couldn't /use it/. 

Elischer 23 

Once I rode in the rain, and came back wet, and they caught me. 
They told me that if I did it again they would punish me and send 
me away, so I couldn't do it anymore. I was at Kislovodsk until 
June. Then they said that I was better, and they sent me back 
to Petersburg. 

By then it was already nearly the summer of 1917. I went back 
to Dr. Manukhin, who told me that I was still in a very bad state, 
and I would have to stop working. I didn't believe him and went to 
my doctor, Georgievskii, in St. Petersburg. He told me he didn't 
think it was so bad, and if I would do what he told me I could go 
back to work. You had to work, because in Petersburg there was no 
way to stay. So I went back. 

By now the hospital in Riga was in a terrible state; I didn't want 
to go back there, and they didn't want to send me, and it was 
already no longer the 2nd Georgievskii hospital. I had to get a 
new assignment, so I went to the Red Cross center, and they 
assigned me to the 102nd golovnoi punkt /advance point, or medical 
station/ at Dvinsk. 


A golovnoi punkt, or advance point, was not a privileged hospital. 
We were very close to the front, and they bombarded us; we had a 
very hard time. 

The Legion of Women was at Dvinsk then, and it was fantastic how 
they fought. Late in the war, when the men were deserting, they 
began organizing women, under Bochkareva. I remember seeing her, 
inarching at the head of them in Petersburg, and there was another, 
Sverdlova, or something, very well known. Now I met them again 
in Dvinsk. They were wonderful, wonderful! 

RP: But they were only a company or so, were they not? 

Elischer: Yes, they were just in Dvinsk, but they were fantastic, and when 

they were brought in wounded, they never complained. When one was 
asked "Where are you wounded?" even though she was bleeding, she 
would say, pointing to another, "Oh no, no! Take her.' I can wait!" 
They were just fantastic. A woman can suffer, really. 

After I had been in Dvinsk quite awhile, they sent me, with two 
railroad wagons, up to the front to pick up the wounded. There the 
sanitars (corpsmen) brought you the wounded, and when the two carriages 
were filled they were taken back. 

By this time there were already many deserters. They always came 
and wanted to get in the wagons. I stood by the door of one of them 
and told them "You cannot get on; it is only for the wounded!" 

"Yes, we can!" they said, and while I was holding the door this 
finger got in between and they smashed the end of it, although I 
had a glove on. We went back to the punkt , but there were so many 
wounded nobody had time to do anything with my finger. So :: took 
off the glove myself, froze it, and cut and took off my nail. I 


Elischer 24 

still have a trace of it here. It was a very difficult time. And 
now they told me that I could not go with this train anymore. 

My hand was so terrible, I couldn't work as a nurse in the operating 
room or anywhere else, so I got another job at this punkt, as chief 
of the doctors' and nurses' mess. I didn't have the slightest idea 
about cooking, but the cook, a Polish man, knew a bit more than I 
did, so we went together and bought, he cooked, and I directed as 
well as I could. 

And then they started to elect deputies of the army, of the front, 
and of the medical doctors, to commissions which would be 
represented in Petersburg later on. So we had many meetings, and 
they elected me as a representative of the army for the Dvinsk 
district, and sent me to Pskov, the headquarters of the Northwest 
Front. There I attended a congress of medical personnel, 
consisting of the doctors, the nurses, and the sanitars (orderlies). 

The sanitars wanted to be on the same level as the nurses, but 
they didn't know anything, and there was an awful fight. The 
nurses sided with the doctors . 

When they held the election for the big Ail-Russian Congress 

(Vserossiiskii s'ezd) in Petersburg, they sent me there. It was 

held in the Military Medical Academy (Voennaia meditsinskaia akademiia) , 

on Kamenno-ostrovskii Zhow Kirovskii.7 prospekt. It begins when 

you cross the Troitskaia most (bridge) , when you pass the 

Kseshinskii palace, where Lenin had his headquarters. So it was 

held there, and all the fronts and all Russia were represented. 

In the beginning the meeting went very well, but then the communists 

came and tried to take over. Those were the troubled times, when 

they were trying to get power. 

What was your attitude concerning the communists? 

Elischer: Oh, I hated them, from the beginning. I don't know how I was 

elected, but the people were not communists, and they wanted to 
have good representation. 


But this was still before the takeover, 
then merely as a kind of bad element? 

Did you look upon them 

Elischer: Yes, a bad element, who wanted to disrupt things, but we didn't 

believe that it was serious. My goodness, they were throwing chairs 
and all that. 

After the meeting was finished, I went home, and now I was without 
a job. I couldn't go back; I was no longer a representative. 
Nothing existed there anymore; it was disbanded. So I didn't know 
what to do. 

And then my brother told me: "Don't go back to rnursing; it's bad. Find 
another job." And someone, I cannot remember who, recommended me 
to the Teatr i zrelishche (Theater and spectacle) . They had no one 
who could even add 2 and 2; there was no one to hire. So they 



took me in as a bookkeeper. I didn't know a thing, but I remember 
sitting and adding figures, endless figures, as a bookkeeper /schetovod/. 
I was good at mathematics, so I did it well, I hope, but it was 
terrible work, and you got very little pay, but still you went home and 
could eat. And so it went for awhile, and then suddenly, in May 19^3 
/I got a job with the Red CrossJ. 

My brother didn't go to the war because he was the only son of a 
widow, and they didn't take those in the army. So he worked in 
/the Red CrossJ, a very good organization, throughout the war. 
He was in the university; he studied law. 

"The Swedish and Danish Red Cross have come to Petersburg," he told 
me. "They are going to take care of the prisoners-of-war, because 
we have so many. They have arrived here and now they will organize 
them." I can arrange for you to work for them as a nurse. They are 
looking for nurses who can speak several languages. Do you want to? 
Then go to the Tserkovskii, the palace of Volkonskii. They are my 
friends. I worked for the daughter of Volkonskii when he was the 
intendant of theaters." 

I went there and there were very many people nurses, and foreign 
looking men. We waited, and finally they called us and asked if we 
wanted to go to work, if we were willing to work during epidemics, 
and if we were afraid of anything. I told them we were not afraid 
of anything, we would go anywhere. They asked who they should notify 
if something happened to us, and we gave that to them. 

With the Red Cross, May 1918 

Then three or four men came and started to look at us, and said, 
"You, you, you, and you." I had a friend with me, the daughter of 
the Vice Minister of Communications, a very nice girl I have looked 
for her for years and have never found her. She came with me and I told 
them "Please take her too, if you can." 

Then he told us to come to his room, and we talked, in French and English. 
He said his name was Josef Gyorgi, and he wanted me to sign all the 
papers. I did so. He asked me where I lived, and how old I was I 
was just 18. And then he said he would like to see my mother, to 
talk to her if she was there, to know if she would give her permission. 

"Yes, she is here," I said. And so he went and talked to my mother, 
and told her that she shouldn't worry, that they would look after 
us very well, and the pay was excellent, a thousand rubles that 
was enormous pay.' We would have food, and we could help our families; 
it was fantastic. 

And so they told us that we had to be ready in two days, and get on 
the train at the goods station (tovarnaia stantsiia) . My brother 
would bring me, I said, but nobody could see me off, nobody. 

Elischer 26 

So Novikov and I, and a third nurse, Krymskaia, a Jewish girl, 
very nice, went to this goods station. My brother took us to 
the first aid car, and we boarded the train. 

The train was very full, and we found that we, the three nurses, 
were to share a compartment with three Red Cross officers we 
didn't know. We thought they were Danes, but after awhile they 
came in and told us: "Now we have to tell you something." 

"What?" we asked. 

"That we are not Danish. You have to know that, but you must not 
tell anybody, because now you are attached to us. Mr. Paulik and 
Mr. Gyorgi are Hungarian, and I, Mr. Burger, am Austrian." 

"How can this be?" I exclaimed. "We want the war to be fought to 
the end /to victory/. I don't want to work with you or accept your 
money!" And I started to cry. "Oh," I said, "this is terrible!" 

They waited until I had finished and then said, "No, don't feel that 
way. The times are very bad for you now; if you are with us we can 
help you and your families. If you go back you will have to go to 
the Red Army, because already they have said everywhere that they 
have to mobilize." 

So we left Petrograd on the 18th of June, on a special train of the 
Danish Red Cross, the Mission for Prisoners of War (Missiia dlia 
voennoplen) . The Swedish undertook the protection of the Germans, 
and the Danish Red Cross the protection of the Austro-Hungarians. 
I want to show you how interesting the papers are; I still have them. 

By the time we got to Moscow we were all good friends. I stayed in 
fhe apartment of my uncle, Shirinskii-Sheikhmatov. My grand-aunt's 
daughter, Liudmila, the youngest, has described it in her book 
As I Remember Them. It is very good. There she describes the estate 
of the Prince Shirinskii-Sheikhmatov, Andrei, and they lived in Moscow. 
So when I arrived in Moscow with the mission, which was called the 
Tenth Ekspositura, I said I would try to get them rooms, so I went 
directly to No. 6 Obukhovskii pereulok, to the Shirinskii-Sheikhmatovs. 
They were so happy to see me. And I told them, "Now I know its 
very hard on you, but would you like to give us two or three rooms? 
One for the nurses, one for Mr. Gyorgi, and one for the two others." 
But they could give only two rooms, and they would have had to pass 
through to the kitchen and the bath and all, so Gyorgi said they 
would find something else. So I stayed there, with the two nurses, at 
the Shirinskii-Shekhmatovs . 

When I married, in 1919, Andrei Shirinskii-Sheikhmatov was already 
in Liubianka. When I saw them Volkonskii lived there and they were 
afraid that they would all be arrested, but they still lived somehow, 
but in a year and a half they were already gone. I think Solzhenitsyn 
describes how his son Anikita (Andrei) became a fantastic 
man, he helped others when they were in the Far North, in terrible 
camps. He suffered a great deal and he died there. 

On July 6, 1918, the German ambassador, Count Mirbach, was assassinated 
in Moscow, so we were stuck there for awhile. 

Elischer 27 

From Moscow we went to Kursk. By then I already spoke some 
Hungarian. It had taken us nearly a week to go from St. Petersburg 
to Moscow, this short distance usually it is overnight, but it 
took us a weekand I learned a lot in that time. And by then I 
was very much in love with Josef Gyorgi, the head of the mission. 
I liked General Haig, and Gyorgi looked very much like him. But 
he was 34 and I was 18 a big difference and he was married and 
had three daughters, and he loved women in general. 

From Kursk, Gyorgi sent me to Orel, and the other nurse, my friend 
Novikov, to Voronezh, while Krymskaia stayed in Kursk. They 
disliked her, so they decided just to send us, and kept her. 
They had no patience. 

So I went to Orel, and it was while I was there, in October 1918, 
that they killed the Tsar. 

After that, we became the Austro-Hungarian Mission, openly, because 
the war was finished. And then they sent a commissar to us. He 
worked with us and supervised us, because they didn't trust us. He was 
a Bolshevik. It was terrible to work with them, because they were 
always looking over your shoulder. My chief in Orel was Bruckner, who 
became my first husband, and I went with him to different camps to 
visit the Hungarian prisoners of war. 

In November, when the communists had already been in power for a 
year, they came with the international battalion and 
searched through everything in the mission. They found things which 
were compromising for us, and they arrested Bruckner. 

The international battalions were formed from Czechs, Slovaks, 

Hungarians, and Austrians who were communists. I think 

they entered those international battalions because they wanted 

a better life. They were fed, and had good uniforms, and were active. 

They arrested all of us in the mission. And that's when I decided to 

marry Bruckner, because I felt very guilty about the things that 

they found . They found things of the poet Miatlev you never heard 

of him? He is fantastic, I have one little booklet by him. He and 

his wife were in Orel, and the Serbievs (?), and the Golokhovs. We 

were good friends, and they brought their furs, and jewelry, and I 

put it all in the mission's safe, and /the communists/ found it all. 

Some items had inscriptions, and some did not. So Bruckner told me "Don't 

say anything; don't tell them that you did it. I will say that I 

did it." He didn't want me to /say that I did it/ because he knew 

that that would be worse. /So he took the blame/ and the next day 

they said they would take him to Moscow as a counter-revolutionary, and 

they closed us. I had a French woman, a nurse, Shulgin, the wife of 

the Shulgin who was in the Duma, and she was with me, in the mission 


The next day we were surrounded by international battalion soldiers, 
and Shulgin was away, and they said that Bruckner would be sent to 
Moscow. "Don't tell anything," he stressed, "say that you don't know 
about anything." 

And then he said: "Will you marry me if I come back?" "Yes, yes!" I said. 
I felt so guilty; I felt terrible. 






And the next day was the 7th of November, the anniversary of the 
Revolution, and the train didn't go. There were no locomotives, so 
everything came to a standstill and they all celebrated. So he didn't 
leave. But then in the afternoon, Gyorgi arrived, in a car, with a 
commissar from Kursk. 

"Now everything is arranged," he said, 
out; I arranged everything." 

"They will let Bruckner 

The commissar said: "Well, you will have a commissar, and you have 
to continue to work because only you know how to organize the 
transports of the prisoners of war and all these camps, and you have 
all the papers of everybody, and everything, so they cannot work 
without you. So you will work, but they will control." 

So they left Bruckner there, and there I was, tied. 
You were married? 

No I wasn't married yet! But nearly. And I couldn't go anything, 
and we stayed there to work with this commissar. And Gyorgi went 
back to Kursk . He said there was communism in Hungary. "Ill have 
to go back to Hungary," he said, "and I'll leave Bruckner as the chief 
of the mission in Kursk, so you will have to move there; you will 
have commissars over you, but you can carry on with your work." 
He was horrified that I wanted to marry Bruckner. 

So we stayed in Kursk quite awhile, and continued to work. We were 

invited to Plenbezh, an organization for the prisoners of war. 

The Plenbezh was headed by a commissar and they invited us and held a 

big reception in honor of my marriage to"Tovarishch Bruckner." 

I was just horrified; it was terrible. 

For awhile, everything went alright, and then suddenly the 
international battalions came a second time, and started another 
search. They took Bruckner, and I heard a gunshot. 

The next day they came and took all of Bruckner's clothing, all his 
suits that were in the other room; I thought they had killed him. I 
couldn't ask; they wouldn't have answered. They took my revolver, 
some pictures of the Tsar I had, some jewelry, and perfume I had 
beautiful perfume, Guerlain all that, and everything else they 
could take, and they forced us. 

The next day one of the wives of the international battalion men, an 

Austrian, came and said "Now you will come with me, and with 

a soldier." "Where?" I asked. "You have to come," was all she would say. 

They took us to the Cheka and gave me a typewriter and said that I 
should type names, a whole list of Russian names, including those of 
Serbeiev, and Miatlev. I didn't know what it was for, but later on I 
knew that it was people that they wanted to arrest or to send away. 

How long was the list? How many names were there? 

Elischer: A million names! It was written by hand. They told me to write, 
so I had to write all kind of things. 

Elischer 29 

/Bruckner was then freed? but soon/they arrested us a second time. 
We had decided to make up a transport of prisoners of war to Kiev. 
And I wanted to go and stay in Kiev, and Bruckner wanted to accompany 
me. So we went to the goods station /tovarnyi vokzal/ where all the 
war prisoners had gathered to board the train to go with them. 
And there they arrested us a second time. 

You know how a Russian railway station is there is a high 
embankment, a nasyp, and there are wooden stairs going down to the 
tracks. So when they arrested Bruckner they took him 
right away, and I started to walk on the steps. They they 
came after me, thinking that I would go down. But I stepped aside and 
went on the nasyp and hid there, and went to a hospital where there 
were two doctors, one, Heinerli, a Hungarian, and the other, Michael, 
a German. And I went to the hospital and told them that they had 
arrested Bruckner again and they wanted to arrest me, but I had escaped. 

They said "Alright, stay here, we will try to get a passport for 
you and you will go back to your family in Petersburg, but we 
won't let you go back to the mission." 

"But I cannot," I said, "because now they have arrested him and that 
will be worse than the first time!" 

So Dr. Heinerli went and looked. It was a house with very low 
windows, and at first he said "It is full of soldiers, and we 
cannot see " but then "No! Bruckner is sitting and playing 
chess with one of the soldiers!" 

So I said, "It's all right; so I should go." 

Then a Russian officer came and said "I can give you my wife's passport, 
and you can get through to Petersburg and escape." 

But I said "No, I cannot do it! I cannot leave him! He will probably 

be ni 

u c . . . 

So I went back. They met me at the door and said: "We knew that you 
would come back! Where could you have gone?" And they were riglit, 
because I couldn't have escaped them. 

They put me in the same room again, and then next day they took 

Bruckner away, and that's when I didn't know if they had killed 

him or what had happened. But then one of the international battalion 

soldiers too care of us and looked after us. We had to sleep with 

the door open. He was a Hungarian, and he told me "Don't be afraid; he 

is in the Cheka, in a room with forty people; he asks for handkerchiefs." 

So I gave him two or three and he said he would take them. So many 

of them were not bad, these international battalion men. But some of 

them were very bad, like those who killed the Tsar! 

RP: And then you were with the Hungarian mission again? 

Elischer: It was a very chaotic period, and we were arrested several times. 
In the end we had to go. Mr. Gyorgi came and told us that he 
was going back to Hungary. And my future husband he was not my 
husband because you couldn't marry because he was a Catholic and 

Elischer 30 

I was Greek Orthodox, and we had to have a certain permission 
from the Catholic nuncios for him to marry a Greek Orthodox 
he and I were to go to Kursk. 

On the train, going from Orel to Kursk, it was Christmas /1919/ and 

we decided that we would ask the chaplain of our mission to marry us. 

So we stood up, and he started to look, and look, and he said 

"You know, I don't have the prayers for a wedding; I am not used to 

marrying anyone, only to bury them. I cannot do it!" He had only 

been going to the camps to bury people. So we laughed over that, and 

when we arrived at Kursk we started those procedures 

again so we could get married there in a Russian Catholic church. 

In Kursk, Mr. Gyorgi told the commissar that he was going back 
to Hungary, which at that time was communist /the Bela Kun regime, 
March-July 19197, and so he played the role of a very enthusiastic, 
patriot who was very satisfied with what was happening in Hungary, 
because otherwise they would not have allowed him to go. The 
commissar was also very good and said that everything was beautiful 
in Hungary now, and we could continue to work in Kursk, directing 
those big transports of prisoners of war thousands and thousands 
of men were going, and we would continue to organize them, 
take them to the train, and see them off. Gyorgi talked to Bruckner 
and told him how he was to work. He gave him a marshrut, a long 
band of paper on which were shown the towns they would have to go 
through. This he was to give to people who he was sure were not 
communists, to the officers in the transports. At this time they 
wouldn't let the officers go home, they wanted only the ordinary 
soldiers to go, but many officers pretended that they were ordinary 
soldiers. So my husband was to find out whom he could 
trust, and give instructions. 

So , they went back to Hungary, and we stayed there and worked 
with this commissar. At the end of December /1919/ we could marry; 
we got the permission and we were married in the Catholic church. 
I sent a telegram to my mother that I was married, and that I hoped 
that we would be in Petersburg and I would see her. 

At this time the typhoid was very bad in Russia; everybody had it. 
Our commissar got sick and was separated from all the mission, in 
the samehouse, but nobody would go to him; they put food for him 
by the door and he had to get it himself. I was furious. I said "You 
know he is sick; you cannot do that." 

"No," they said, "because we do not want to spread the sickness. 
Nobody can go." 

And I said "I am a nurse; JE will go." And I went and I took care 
of him. And he recovered, and we became very good friends, and he 
was very grateful to me. 

We continued to work, but it was very hard. Because a new commissar 
came who was terrible. He was completely a communist, a red one, 
and he didn't trust us, and looked at us with suspicion. We had a 
nice apartment, but we were afraid to talk there because we always 
felt that somebody might be listening and would report. So the 
situation was very bad. 



Finally, in February or March, 1920, I told my husband, "You know, 
we have to get out of here, because something will happen; they don't 
trust us, and they will arrest us. We have to get out." 

"How?" he asked. 

I told him, "I will write to my mother through my friends who are 
going to St. Petersburg, and ask her to send us a telegram that she 
is very sick and wants us to come. And then we will try to get to 
St. Petersburg." 

And she did it; she sent us the telegram and we told the commissar that 
we wanted to leave now, not for good, but for awhile, and go to 
Petersburg. So he allowed us to leave. And with us went the cook 
of themission, Matiushkin, a Hungarian, and my maid. Yes, I had a 
maid there my goodness, I was something! She married him and they 
came with us. They were proletarians, and they got permission to 
come with us. We went and then we didn't go back. They pressed us 
all the time from Kursk to go back, to work, saying we 
had deserted, we had to come back, and always we told them "My mother 
is sick, we cannot do it." We went to the mission at this time 
the missions for prisoners of war were called Missii rabochikh i 
soldat. Not the military mission, but the mission for workers and 
soldiers. The president in Petersburg was a very nice Austrian, Mr. 
Pohl. He was a banker, but he was playing the communist, and was there. 

"We don't want to go back," we said, and asked him what we could 

And he said, "I cannot help it; I will have to send you back, because 
I am getting pressure from Kursk all the time. You have to go back." 

And I told him, "No, please do something; we don't want to go." 
He told me, "I will call you in another two weeks." 

Then I went to my brother, and he got me a job as a nurse in the central 

hospital on the Bol'shoe Kammeno-ostrovskii prospekt, the 

Lechebnitsa kamera Meiera (?). There they brought everybody 

who was sick, and then sent them to different hospitals. They 

kept only those who were sick with typhoid, cholera, dysentery all 

epidemic diseases in this hospital, the others were sent away. 

It was a big hospital, six stories. And I worked there, and they 

took my husband, who knew how to drive a car, in the first aid organization 

as a chauffeur. The cook became a painter, repainting the 

cars, and my maid stayed with us. We had a big apartment, 7 rooms, but 

we all lived in two small rooms, my mother, my husband and myself 

in one room, and in the other the cook and his wife. We couldn't 

live in the rest of the rooms because it was so cold already. My 

brother lived where he worked, because it was such a terrible time 

of epidemics. 

And every night some agents of the Cheka would come to look for something, 
we didn't know for what. "What do you want?" we asked, but they would 
tell us nothing. And all of the things from the drawers were on 
the floor. We didn't even try to put them in order. 

Elischer 32 

So we lived in those two little rooms, having as cooking facilities 
a little burzhuika, or stove, quite small, with little pieces of 
wood, and this time we had to break up the furniture in the other 
rooms in order to be able to cook something. 

We lived on the corner of Tavricheskii and Suvorovskii prospekt, 
where the military academy is. Before we lived in Tavricheskaia 5, 
but they took the whole house for the Red Army, so my mother moved 
to Tavricheskaia 5, on the 6th floor. You couldn't get in the house 
from the front, because it was closed; the elevator didn't work, so we 
had to go up the service stairs in back po chernaia lestnitsa as 
we called it. This chernaia lestnitsa was terrible. You came 
home, and you couldn't have an electric bulb, they were all stolen, it 
was always dark, the stairs were all covered with ice because we 
didn't have water in the faucets; we had to go one block to bring 
water in buckets; it was terrible. The toilets didn't work. 
Everybody used buckets and then emptied them into the little court 
between the houses. It was a terrible life. They wanted to put 
somebody in the house, but nobody wanted to come there, and there 
weren't many people in Petersburg at this time. So many were sick, 
so many had died, so many had left for the south, so they didn't 
need the space. 

To go to work, I had to go over the Troitskii most (bridge) , and 
along Kamenno-ostrovskii, it was five miles. I had to walk because 
the tramways were filled, and very seldom came, and you never knew 
when. You might have to wait for an hour to get one, and so you 
walked to work in the morning, and from work at night. 

And we had to work long hours, from 8 in the morning until 8 in the 
evening, 12 hours. Then we could go home for the night. Then we 
had to go for 24 hours, and then we had 24 hours free, so it was 
hard work. And when I came in the morning, after 24 hours, I usually 
stopped on Marsovoe pole (Champ de Mars) . Before it was for military 
reviews, and I guess now it is for parades, but then the black 
market was there. So you usually stopped to sell something a 
table cloth or something to get fresh milk. For a big table cloth 
for 12 or 20 people you got 1 quart of milk. Maybe it would be 
real milk, maybe it would be hot water. It was a terrible situation. 

But as we worked on the epidemics, we got more bread, much more than 
others, and that was the solution, that we got so much bread that we 
could exchange some. My mother and I exchanged it for cigarettes, 
for makhorka /cheap tobacco/, and that saved us, we had more to 
eat. When I brought our ration /paek/ , of millet, and a little 
oil, and dried fish, and bread, and maybe two or three potatoes, 
we put it in the cupboard, but my mother would steal it and take it 
to somebody who didn't have anything to eat. So we always had to 
fight to get enough. 

The cook usually walked home from the hospital, far away, and on 
the way he sometimes saw horses which died on the street, and people 
just rushed on those horses and cut off pieces with knives. And he 
brought those pieces of meat home, and we cooked on the little stove, 
and that wasterrible, becauseif you cook horsemeat as soup the 
foam is so high that it boils over; it is terrible.' My husband 



-ouldn't eat it for anything in the world; he would die first. But 
we ate it. And then, because he worked and painted the cars, eight 
of them, he stole gasoline and brought it to us. It was a mixture 
of benzine and spirits, and we cleaned it through coal, and drank 
it. It was terrible. My goodness, what a life; I wonder that we survived. 

At this time the American Relief Association, the ARA, started to work, 
and was very active. Mr. Ruhle was one of the chiefs, and when we 
left in 1920, my mother worked with him. Mother was in a special 
commission to help the scientists and the professors of the 
university, and ARA did a lot to help with that. 

RP: So they were active right in Leningrad? 

Elischer: Oh yes, in Leningrad, and everywhere. You know, they sent commissions 
to the villages where they ate people. One of my friends in San 
Francisco, Mrs. II 'in, who came from Shanghai and is still alive, 
has told how terrible it was to go there. She went with the Americans, 
to see how it was, and then in 1923 or 1924 it was terrible. And 
the deaths and the epidemics. My brother always went to pick up 
the people, with cars. And he told how they would come in the house 
somewhere, and call them, and hear nothing, and then they would find 
five or six people dead there. Some of them, who had died first, 
would be completely decomposed, and others would have died later. 
The telephones didn't work most of the time. I don't know how we 
survived. Very often I have nightmares that it is freezing cold 
and I am walking, walking endlessly across the bridge, and somebody 
is following me, and I don't know whether he will throw me in the 
river or he will take my coat, and I don't know what will happen, and 
this awful persecution. It is terrible. 

You didn't see many old people there. Hardly anyone survived. 

And then, by and by, Mr. Pohl, thehead of the mission, told us he 
could not even put us on a transport. The transports were leaving 
all the time, but my husband was an officer, and he could not send 
officers back. 

"My goodness," I told him, "we will pay you what you want. I have some 
jewelry, but try to put him in as a Zivilgefangener /a civilian 
prisoner)." He could not do it, he said, it was too obvious, 
and Kursk was demanding constantly that we be sent back, but he 
would see what he could do. So we continued to work there. 

In between, we tried three times to get out of St. Petersburg illegally, 

but with all kinds of agents provocateurs it didn't work. The last 

time we tried to get out, my husband and the cook ended up in the 

Cheka, in Shuvalova, and I escaped it only by a miracle, because I 

went back to work. We met a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Solpris they died 

in Paris about 10 years ago. They told us that there was an agent 

who could take us to the Finnish border. They were going, and with them 

the Galitsyns. This is Mala Galitsyn /'shows portrait/. She married 

a Hungarian later on in prison. She lived in Westphalia; I went 

over to see her; she died three years ago. Her father was governor 

of Novgorod /Velikii Novogorodskaia/ gubernia. He was dead already, but the 

whole family the father, four children and the mother, and my friends 

the Solpris he was a Hungarian decided to go in the first group 

with this man. 



We all met in the apartment of the Solpris' and we talked with the 
man and he said, "Yes, I will take you." 

"But we have no money," we told him. 

"That's all right," he said, "your husband has leather pants and a 
leather jacket as chauffeur for the ambulance service /skoraia pomoshch/ 
so on the border you can give me this suit." 

"All right," we said, "that's something else. But first you take the 
Solpris' and the Galitsyns, and if they pass the border all right, 
they will give you a letter that you will bring to us. In this 
apartment we will meet again, and in a week you can take us." 

So in a week the batiushka (priest) came to our house and we had a 
moleben (prayer service) and we left with my husband and the cook and 
his wife all of us and my brother took us in this car, to this 
empty apartment. And we went in, and the man came and said, "Now 
you are ready; we will go." 

"Yes, we are ready," we said. So the four of us grownups, and the 
Matiusheks' little baby met in the empty apartment. Just then the 
phone rang. My husband went to the phone, came back and said to me, 
"Oh, Vera, it is your mother! She is very sick; she has had a heart 
attack. We cannot go. We have to go back!" 

The man was very angry. "How can you do this?" he said, "I came 
all this way ..." 

"No," said my husband, "they say she is very ill. We have to go back. 
In a week, if she is better, we can meet again, in this apartment." 

So the man left. And then my husband told me, "It's not that, but 
a cook, from some grand family, was arrested and in Shuvalova, and 
now they have let him out of the Cheka and he has let us know that 
the whole Galitsyn family and the Solpris' are all in the Cheka, 
in Shuvalova. He came to see Mrs. Shamanskii, the mother of Mrs. 
Solpris and told her, so she called to tell her daughter that she 
knew they were not going to let us go." 

So we went home and considered what to do. Then my husband said, 
"Now we have to go back to work. You go in the hospital, I will go 
to my cars; everybody will go." 

The chief of skoraia pomoshch. Dr. lurii Grigor'evich Hafkin, a very 
nice man, knew that we were going to leave, and when we let him know 
that we were back he said "All right, you're back, and if they call 
me I will tell them that." 

So we started to work, and toward evening my mother called ! the hospital 
and said that the Cheka was there. The man who was going to help us 
get over the border, an agent provacateur she did not know him was there, 
and three or four soldiers, and they demanded that Alii Bruckner should 
come home right away, and Matiushkin, the cook. So they left their work, 
and went. 



"What about me?" I asked. 

"No," she said, "they didn't'.htion you. You just stay overnight 
there until you hear from me." 

And so my husband and Matiushkin had gone home, and the first 

person my husband saw when he entered was the agent provacateur. 

He was so furious he told him "If I were to meet you anywhere else, your 

head wouldn't stay on your shoulders I" 

The chief of the mission sent to arrest them was an educated man, my 
mother said. They were sitting in the house for several hours, but 
she was very quiet, and calm. She made them tea and talked to them 
as if nothing had happened, as if they were guests. And mother 
said he was looking around all of the time, and went to her books and 
said "Oh, my goodness, you are interested in theosophy!" 

"Oh yes," my mother said, "I am very interested in it." 

And he said, "I would like to buy this book" But then he said, 
"No, we are not allowed to buy anything. Can you lend it to me?" 

"Oh yes," said mother, "take all the books you want, and keep them 

if you want." So he took a lot of books and put them on the 

piano, and on the piano he found my diary I had a diary I had kept 

throughout the war and the revolution, and letters from my friends 

who had gone to the army of General Miller, of the White Army, 

from Petersburg, and letters from my cousins, all of it was there together. 

He picked it all up and put it next to those books on the piano. 

Mother was horrified. "Now," she thought, "Vera will get arrested 
because of all that I" 

But when they to talked to Alii, and the cook, they said "You must come 
with us. Take some things, because we don't know how long you will 
be away." 

And so they all went, but the head of this little group stayed back. 
He looked at my mother, went to the piano, and picked up the books, 
but left my diaries. Whereupon my mother burned it all. When I saw 
her in Budapest later I said: 'Oh, how could you do that! How could you 
do it!" It was such a good diary, and I had cherished it so. 

But she had to, she said; it had to be done. Later,. when she was 
banished, she burned all of the family photographs, everything. 
She said it took three days. By then very little was left already, but 
still she burned it all. She didn't want them to get it, and she 
couldn't take it with her. 

I stayed in the hospital for two days. The third day I came home, and 
then went back to the hospital. For a week we didn't know anything about 
Alii and the cook, Matiushek. Then, one day, on my day off, Alii came 
with two soldiers. "What's the matter," I said, "did they let you out?" 

"No," the soldiers said. 

Matiushek, the cook, had told them that Alii was a proletarian and a 
chauffeur. He didn't tell them that he had been an officer, or anything 
like that. And they said, "All right, we have two motorcycles that 

Elischer 36 

have to be repaired, and we don't know how. Can you repair them?" 

"Yes," he said, "I can, but I need tools." 

"Tools?" they asked. 

"Yes, I have them at home." 

So, two soldiers brought him home, and he picked up his tools and 
went back. 

"What will happen?" I asked him. 

"There will be a trial," he said. "The Galitsyns and the Solpris ' will 
all be on trial, and I will be too, and Matiushek." 

But Matiushek, who was a simple soldier, a peasant, adored my husband. 
"I can save you," he said, "if together we repair the motorcycles and 
show that we are real proletarians and not officers. Everything will 
be all right." I forget even his first name. Grusha was the name of 
the maid, his wife, and I was godmother to their daughter. I never 
saw them again. They lived in Sambatai, and for quite awhile I got 
letters, but then we lost touch. 

And so a whole week passed, and then another week. They repaired the 
motorcycles, and at the trial they said that they were proletarians, 
and they let them go. They both came home, and we continued to work. 

Then we decided that something had to be done. We still wanted 
to go. That would be our third attempt. The first time my husband 
had gone to the border but he had to come back. They had changed 
the guard there, and they couldn't pass. The third time we went to 
the Danish Red Cross, in Petersburg, at the Hotel Dagmar, on Sadovaia. 
They said that they were sending transports to Finland, and maybe 
they could take us. We had those Danish Red Cross papers, so my 
husband went to talk to them. Night came, and he didn't return. 
Another day passed, and still he didn't come back. It was in the 
spring, and I remember the white nights. I was standing on the 
balcony and always waiting to see him come. Then I called my brother, 
at skoraia porno shch he was living there and asked him what to do. 
"Don't do anything, "he said, "I will go." And he went and he 
didn't come back either, and now it was already four or five days and 
nobody had come out. 

then I went to look, there were people there, but from the street, 
opposite the Dagmar, you couldn't see what was going on. And then I 
thought I would go in. I went to the door, it opened, they let me in, 
and then they closed it, and there I was, caught. "You cannot go out," 
they said, "why did you come?" 

I said "I came because I am an Austro-Hungarian. I am not a Russian. 
I came to look for my husband, who is a Hungarian and wanted to go 
home, and came here." I didn't mention my brother, only my husband. 

"We'll see," they said. "A lot of people here say they are this and 
that, but they are not." And they took me to where the women were. 
One of them had I don't know how many thousand rubles, and she went to 
the toilet and flushed them all down, because they were searching 

Elischer 37 

people and she didn't want to be found with them. I had no money, 
nothing, so I merely sat there for a day waiting, and asking "Can 
you tell me where my husband is?" 

"Oh," they said, "there are so many people here we don't know where 
your husband is." Then they asked me about him. 

"I tell you," I said, "he is an Austro-Hungarian, and a member of 
the Danish Red Cross. I am too. I think Mr. Pohl has my papers." 
So after that they found him in a room where the foreigners were, 
and diplomats and all, and they took me there. For two or three 
days we stayed there, they fed us biscuits or something, and we 
couldn't learn anything about what had happened to the others. But 
they said the whole block was filled with people whom they had 
arrested. It was a trap. And then they let us out, but they said, 
"There won't be any transport; you cannot go." 

We went home, but my brother wasn't there. We learned that he 
had been sent to Moscow, to the Liubianka. I went to Hafkin, 
the head of the First Aid, to ask what we could do. We had to 
free him. "You know," he said, "I can send somebody who will try 
to get him freed. He will talk to Dzerzhinsky, and they will try 
to get him out, and they will tell the truth that he went to look 
for you because you had disappeared here, and that he had no intention 
of escaping from Russia." 

The epidemics were bad, and they needed their men, but Hafkin 
arranged for one of six or seven instructors in first aid to go. 
He was a very good man; he and one of my brother's friends went and 
brought my brother back. He didn't even have any laces in his 
shoes; they took everything that he could have used to hurt himself. 
He was in Liubianka for about 2 or 3 weeks, and they had wanted to 
take him to Siberia. He came back, but he was on record, and I 
think that in the end that was bad for him. 

And then we started to wait, and wait, and wait. And then by and by 
it got easier. It was already May, 1920. We went to the 
Austro-Hungarian mission, where Pohl was, and found several officers 
there, who said that they were not officers, they were only volunteers 
who were in the army. They were starving, so we brought them home and 
I cooked for all of them. At the end Pohl told me, "You know, now I 
think it is easing. I believe that I can put you in a transport. 
The communists have been beaten in Hungary, so you can go home." 
And we gave him money and jewelry. 

Now the question was, we had three officers, good friends who came 
to eat, who were inscribed to go in the transport Chariot, Kari and 
the actor from Issinghaus, Zapad. "Can you take somebody out of 
Russia?" we asked. 

"All right," they said, "we are ready to marry any Russian you want." 

We were thinking of one of the Galitsyns. They had all been sent to 
Moscow, to Liubianka. Maia/Galitsyn/ too; she met her husband, 
the Count Sechenyi, while she was in prison. But the two youngest 
children had been released in the protection of a communist woman, 
Andreeva, and a third, Fuga.was also let out. They came to see me 

Elischer 33 

and I tried to feed them, and to help them as much as I could. 

Alek was too young, 14 or 15; the boy was 16, but the girl was 17 or 18, 

we could take her. So-:we married her to one of the officers, a 

Soviet marriage. They brought a lot of people from Russia in this way. 

The officers drew lots to see who would marry her, but Chariot, the 

youngest, an architect, and very kind, drew, and he married her. 

My mother, who worked in a local Soviet at this time, was a witness. So 

they were married and then we were included in the transport. I urged 

my mother to leave in that way too, but she didn't want to. 

We were all fantastically happy, and then we started to select the 
things which we would take, and to conceal jewels in 
toothpast, and all kinds of other ways, including this big 
pearl that 1 have. 


We left Petersburg on June 2nd, 1920, leaving the country through Narva. 
It was a very difficult moment when we approached Narva and the 
Russian controllers. We were so afraid that they would keep this 
Princess Galitsyn who was with Chariot, and that the officers would 

RP: And Maia Galitsyn? 

Elischer: Maia was in prison in Moscow. She came many years later, in 1932 
or 1933. She met her husband, Count Sechenyi, while she was in 
prison she washed toilets in the men's prison and they were 
married. And then he got a permit to leave as a prisoner of war and 
he brought her. We were very good friends later. 

As for Fuga Galitsyn, we brought her with the transport through 
Germany and left her in Berlin with the Vasil'chikovs, her aunt 
and uncle, and she was a companion in different big families 
for quite awhile. In the end she married a rich Czech industrialist, 
Baron Liebich, and had six children. She came to Hungary, saying she 
could never forget how we had saved her, and how she was so happy, 
but during the war he left her. The children were grown up, and 
she is now living in Munich. I saw her two years ago, and I may 
see her this year /1983/. She is now in her late 60 's. 

When /my friend/ Lilly's husband went to Russia in 1935 I asked him 
to go and see my brother, and when he came back he said he looked 
"like a living corpse /zhivoi trup/." And he took a picture of him, 
and I have these pictures of my mother and my brother. And that's 
the first and last that I had news of them, and then they were 
banished . 

At Narva we boarded a boat, to Svinemunde, and from there we went by 
train to a camp where we stayed in quarantine, and from there we 
sent a telegram to Jozef Gyorgi, who had become the aide-de-camp 
of Horthy. He had a very big position. And right away he gave an 
order through Horthy to let us out. So we didn't have to go through 
quarantine, and we went right away to Budapest, where they invited 
us to go to the palace, for an audience to tell what had happened. 

There we met Gyorgi, and GHmbOs, later to be the prime minister of 
Hungary. /Note: Julius GOmbOs, former extreme reactionary and anti-Semite 
became premier 4 October 1932. He held office until his death 6 October 
1935. / 

Elischer 39 

We brought money, a lot of rubles of the Proflsional Government. 
We had gone through hunger and all sorts of difficulties to bring 
them out, because they belonged to the mission. But Combo's, then 
young, was very unpleasant. "I don't understand you," he told Alii, 
"Why did you leave? You could have made a big career, speaking Russian 
and all that.' And you brought the money. 1 " He just treated us like 
two idioms for having done it, and we were so proud for having done 
so, and for 'having got out. He wasn't very nice; I didn't like him, 
though my husband did. 

RP: And your mother? 

She remained, working, she was a bookkeeper, and she gave courses in 
bookkeeping. That's what you will read now, in these ten or fifteen 
pages that I have given you. There it is written that when my father 
died she went back to the estate and helped my grandfather to manage the 
big mills they had fine mills, with electricity and everythingand 
she was managing it and doing the bookkeeping. Double bookkeeping, 
Italian or something very complicated that very few people knew at 
this time. The estate was very big, but by and by my grandfather 
had to sell a lot, because my mother's brothers were very extravagant, 
they were in the guards, they had dancers as mistresses, and the 
Panaev's house in Petersburg, a little palace on the Nikolaevskaia, 
but by and by it was all gone. 

The best one was the one who died, who married the English lady, 
Nicholas. He quit the military service and came to manage the estate, 
but he was impossible, he couldn't do it, or handle money. He died, 
and a year ago his son, my only first cousin, died a year ago. He 
was a dancer in Los Angeles. Lilli /a friend/ knew him, he was a 
charming man, such a russkii bar in, 100% and a bohemian. He painted 
a lot, and he adopted an American boy, a dancer. This boy called me 
a few days ago and told me that he would come and see me. He 
refers to him as Papa, he speaks a little Russian, and he 
manages my cousin's studio. 

My mother was an accountant, and then she taught courses of bookkeeping, 
and then she became a scientific translator, so that when they started 
to build the Dneprostroi, she was sent there as an interpreter. They 
were mainly French engineers who came and built the whole project, and 
when they went home they wrote me letters about my mother. One of 
them wrote: "If your mother starts your letter 'Dorogaia Verochka,' 
then you can write back to her, but it it is 'Dorogaia Vera,' then no." 
Because it was a bad period, and they dold me that nearly every night 
the Cheka called her in and they interrogated her. And my mother 
told me afterwards, "I was so exhausted, I never could sleep, and 

en I went the first thing they said was "Now sit down," and would be 
very nice. And she would tell them "All right, I will tell you, 
but give me a cigarette. I won't open my mouth if you don't." 
They gave her one so she could stand it, because she was always on the 
edge of /'collapse/. And my mother, strangely enough, she thought 
they were right in doing that. 

My brother became an employee of the tea trust, but mainly he was a 
sports manager, because in this time they tried to lancer les sports, 
especially tennis, and my brother was a wonderful tennis player, so good that 
he was a trainer and he arranged all the tournaments, so his position 
was very good, absolutely out of politics. 

Elischer 40 

When Kirov was killed, they arrested him. They took his passport 
and held him for five or six days. Then they let him out, so you 
never know. When Lilly's husband asked him why he didn't leave, he 
replied "Because I love Russia more than I hate the communists." 
He married one of my colleagues in the hospital, whose husband was 
killed on the border escaping. I saw her. He was an officer in the 
White Army and he wanted to escape, and on the border they took him 
from the train and shot him in front of her. They let her go and 
she came back to St. Petersburg and worked in our hospital. 

My brother was in love with another nurse that I introduced him to, 

a nurse that I met in the Caucasus, very beautiful, but I didn't 

want him to marry her, and when he wanted to tell me that he would 

marry her he went in the bathroom and filled the tub with water, cold, 

closed the door, sat in the bath, and then screamed I I rushed to 

the door and cried "What happened?" 

"I have to tell you!" he said. 

"What?" I asked 

"I am marrying this girl." 

"No, no.'" I said, and I hit the door. "Let me in!" 

"No!" he said, "not until you tell me you accept it!" 

I didn't want to accept it, but then it didn't happen anyway, but 

he liked this girl very much. I looked for her for a long time, and 

in 1967 I found her. I went to see her in 1976, 

and she was very, very weak. She was the same age as I was, and 

she eied all the time. This /most recent/ time I didn't take even 

Vera /daughter/ and John, because she was completely gone, completely. 

I settled in Hungary, and corresponded with my mother. From the time 
I arrived I sent her $20 a month, and books. The dollar was blocked, 
but the Hungarian banks allowed me to send that much. 

In 1935 a French writer wrote good things about conditions in Russia, 
and I decided to try to go there for a visit. Intourist started to 
give people permits to go to Russia as tourists, so I gave my 
application for a visa to Cook the travel agency, and a fee of $50, 
or 50 pengoes. They sent it, and in two weeks I had money, and 
clothing all my students gave me clothes to take to my relatives. 
And then I got the answer that I could not go, and that they would 
repay me the $50. They would not give me a visa. I was very upset. 

/My mother and brother were happy to receive the help I sent them/ 
but in October 1937 he was arrested. They took him without 
even giving him a chance to take his hat. He was banished to some 
labor camp in Siberia, where he had only a number, with no right 
to correspond. 

In December my mother /and my brother's wife/ got the news that in 
two weeks they would have to leave for the town of Osh, in Fergana 
oblast /in Central Asia/ at their own expense /"svpi sobstvennyi raskhody/. 
So they had to sell all that they had. My mother" said that they still 
had something very little probablybut they had to liquidate everything 
to get the money to go. They were told that it was very important that 
they should have cots to sleep on, because in Osh they would be given 
four square meters in a room where there could be from twenty to a 
hundred people, and you could not get a cot there. So they bought 
cots and had to pay, and that is when she burned everything. So I 

Elischer 41 

didn't even have a picture of my father. I had one in Budapest, 
a small one, but I lost it. Only recently, when I was 78 or 79, 
my cousin got one, and sent it from England. It was a miracle 
that I should get that, a real miracle. 

/The last I heard from my mother indicated that7she thought it 
was my fault that they had been arrested. She said that our 
paths had separated, and that I never could understand her, and she 
could not understand me, so I shouldn't bother to write to her, and 
she would not write to me. I have these letter si 

RP: This probably did not reflect her feeling in the matter at all, but 
was just a desperate measure to break off the correspondence, which 
in those times was dangerous to continue! 

Elischer: When I visited Russia in 1976, after 56 years away, I went 

first to Kiev. There I asked if I could get a permit to stop at 
the stantsiia Lykoshina, if I paid for the trip myself. 

They said, "No you cannot, because we are the Ukraine", and 
so forth. "Ask in Moscow." 

In Moscow I asked, and they said, "No, you cannot do it, you 
can do it in Leningrad, because it belongs more to Leningrad than 
to Moscow." Before I left I asked for a trip by train from 
Budapest to Kiev; from Kiev I didn't care how, to Moscow, and 
from Moscow by day in the train to Petersburg, because I wanted 
to pass this railway [station] where I was born. They didn't 
allow me to go from Budapest to Kiev by train, which would have 
been much simpler. They said I would have to fly from Budapest 
to Moscow, then change planes at the airport and go down to Kiev, 
which was silly, to go this way, and then back. From Kiev they 
allowed me to take a night train back to Moscow and stay five days 
in Moscow. 

I said, "I won't go if they won't [let me go by train to 
Petersburg]". They will allow you to go by train in the daytime, 
from Moscow to Petersburg, so we took the train from Moscow to 
Petersburg. "Do you know this place Lykoshino?" I asked the 

"Oh, yes, that's a most beautiful place," she said. 

"Do you know if something remains from before which you can 
see from the train there? The church on the hill?" 

"Oh," she said, "No, no." 

"Will you tell me [when we come to it]?" I said. "I know 
Uglovka, and then Lykoshino, I know all the stations, but still 
tell me; maybe I will forget." 

She said, "Yes, all right, I will tell you." 


And it was a bad day; it was raining. And then I went out to 
smoke on the perron [corridor] in the car. Two men were there, 
and when I smoked an American cigarette, and lit it with a 
lighter, and they said, "Hmm, inostranka! Ne russkaia!" [A 
foreigner! Not a Russian!] 

"la russkaia," I said. "I am Russian." 

"Da? sigarete u vas, sigarete da, Amerikanka!" 

And then we talked. And one was drunk, and the other not. We 
talked for awhile, and I said, "You know, this railway, where you 
go was built by my grandfather and his brothers." 

"Oh," they said, "that's history!' 
"Yes," I said, "that's history!" 

And then the militsioner you know, they don't have policeman 
on each train they have two or three militsionery, all the time. 
He came, and looked at me and them, and said, "What are you 
talking about?" 

"We are talking about this railway," I told him. 

"Who are you? What are you saying? You! Go!" he told them, 
and they left, and they were very scared. He asked me, "Who are 
you? Where do you come from?" 

I told him, "I come from America. I left here 56 years ago." 

Then the conductor came, and said, "Yes, yes! This woman asked 
about the stantsiia Lykoshlno." 

"Lykoshino?" he asked me. 

"Yes," I said, "I lived there, my grandfather built the church 
there. I wanted to see it." 

"I was born in Lykoshino," he said, "and I still live in 
Lykoshino . " 

"How old are you?" I asked. 

"Sixty," he replied. 

I said, "I am nearly 77, and haven't been here for 56 years." 

Well, he changed completely. "My goodness!" he said. 


"The church was built by my grandfather, and he was buried in 
the crypt. I want to go there." 

"Don't go," he said. "Don't." 
"How is the estate?" I asked. 

"Oh," he said, "the estate is good, but you wouldn't recognize 
it. It is all built up, to the station I But the house is about 
the same. They have a children's recreation center there now. 
But don't go there /Ne ezdite tuda; ne nado!/, it would be too 
hard on you I " 

And then we talked about the station. "Do you recall the name 
Tronin?" I asked, and he replied, "Oh yes, I have heard of the 
Tronins. But there was another one I can't remember, it began 
with , they were very rich. But please, don't go there!" 
And then we talked, and he was very nice. 

Imagine! 280 million people and I met on the train someone 
from that little station. It was a miracle. He was very 
official at first, but then he changed completely, and he felt 
free to talk to me. I didn't ask him anything that could 
embarrass him. 

American Relief Association, 33 
Belibin, painter, 16 

Bennigsen, Count, secretary general of Red Cross, 19 
Bochkareva, organizer of Women's Legion of Death, 23 
Bruckner, Alii, first husband, 27, 28, 34 
Burger, Austrian with Red Cross mission aiding POW's, 26 

Dzerzhinsky, Feliks, head of Cheka, 37 

Elischer, Vera Aleksandrovna, education, 4, 17, 18; estate 
life, 6; nursing, 19, theater work, 24, 25; Red Cross 
work, 25 

Galitsin, Fuga, 38 
Galitsin, Maria (Maia) , 33-37, 38 
Georgievskii, Dr., 73 

Gb'mbds, Julius, Hungarian statesman, 38, 39 
Golokhovs, 27 

Gyorgi, Josef, Hungarian, Red Cross mission head, 26, 27, 29, 
30, 38 

Hafkin, lurii, Grigor 'evich, Dr., head of ambulance service, 34, 37 

Jews, 17, 20 

Kislovodsk, sanatorium, 22 

Lykoshino, Novgorod gubernia, 1, 41, 42, 43 

Manukhin, Dr., 22, 23 

Mariia Fedorovna, Dowager Empress, 20 

Matiushkin, Hungarian cook, 31 

Miatlev, poet, 27 

Mission for workers and soldiers, successor to military 

mission, 41 
Mirbach, Count, German Ambassador, assassinated 6 July 1918, 26 

Nicholas II, Emperor, murder October 1918, 27 

Panaev, Kronit Aleksandrovich, grandfather, 2 

Panaev, Nikolai, uncle, 1 

Panaev, Valerian Aleksandrovich (b. 1824) , 2 

Panaev (married Kartsov) , opera singer, 2 

Paulik, Austrian, member of Red Cross mission, 26 

peasant life, 7-10 

Petersburg (Leningrad) , arrival in, 31 

"Plenbezh", organization of POW's, 28 

Pohl, Mr., head of prisoner of war mission, Petersburg, 31, 33, 37 

Rizenkampf , Nikolai Egorovich, grand uncle, friend of Dostoevsky, 15 
Rizenkampf, grand aunt, 15, 21 

Ruhle, Mr., one of chiefs of the American Relief Association, 33 
Russian characteristics, 13-15; holidays, 6, marriage customs, 11, 
superstitions, 12; funeral customs, 13; holidays, 6 

Sakharov, 14 
Sechenyi, Count, 38 
Serbievs, 27 
Shirinsky-Shaikhmatov, Andrei, Prince, 26 

Shulgin, French nurse, wife of Duma member Shulgin, 17 
Solpris, Mr. and Mrs.., 33 
Solzhenitsyn, 14 
Spirtov, first love, 21 
superstitions, 10, 11, 12 

Troitskii most, bridge over Neva River, 32 

Voronets, Vera Aleksandrovna, 1 (See Elischer) 

Voronets, , mother, 1, 3, 9, 40, 41 

Voronets, Aleksandr, father, (d. 1901), 1 

Voronets, Kronit, brother, 2, 24, 25, 31, 36, 37, 39, 40 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre* Series 

Vasily V. Ushanoff 

Recollections of Life in the Russian Community 
in Manchuria and in Emigration 

An Interview Conducted by 
Richard A. Pierce 

July 1981 
at Laguna Beach, California 

With Written Recollections by 
Vasily V. Ushanoff, 1979 

Copyright (?) 1986 by the Regents of the University of California 


Unlike many Russian emigres of the "old" or "first" emigration, 
Vasilii (Basil) Ushanoff was not of the privileged castes of 
pre-Revolutionary Russian society, or of the professional or 
commercial classes, but of humble origin. The son of a 
stationmaster, he grew up outside of Russia, in Manchuria. 
The society of his boyhood years was as Russian as that within 
the borders of the Empire, but the exotic environment of 
Manchuria evidently exerted small influences in diet, crafts 
and outlook. 

Emigrating to the United States in 1922, Dr. Ushanoff at first 
worked at a variety of jobs, particularly in sawmills, until 
he could afford to enter university. In 1966 he tetired, at 
the urging of his second wife. For the first time he had time 
to read extensively, to attempt (unsuccessfully) writing, and 
to make a tour of Greece and the Near East. They sold their 
house in Hollywood and moved to Laguna Beach, where Mrs. 
Ushanoff 's three sisters lived. There he busied himself with 
modernizing their house, being, he says, a carpenter, cabinet maker, 
plumber, bricklayer, cement worker, tile setter and gardener. 
Until recent years he made annual trips to Tule Lake, for 

"This self-sufficient, simple life" was suddenly shaken when his 
son, William B. Arthur gave up a promising career and became a 
Witness of Jehova. Finding argument unavailing, Dr. Ushanoff, 
characteristically immersed himself in the principles of his 
son's new faith and Christian fundamentalism in general. He read 
hundreds of books and eventually compiled two lengthy studies of 
his own, Satan, Gods and Armageddon and The Flood, Noah and his Ark. 
These are well organized, well documented, and well thought-out, 
but although sceptics might praise them, his son, by now an 
ardent believer, rejected such a logical, analytical approach to 
his faith. 

Assisted by his brother-in-law, the late Alexander Dolgopolov (Doll) 
of South Laguna, Dr. Ushanoff 's interest focused on Russian culture 
in the USA. He studied the penetration by Russians of Alaska, 
California, and Hawaii. 

In 1976, at the age of 72, Dr. Ushanoff was led by accident into 
oil painting. By trial and error he learned to mix colors and 
apply them on canvas . Painting soon became his hobby and main 
interest. Taking scattered engravings from old works, in two 
years he completed a series of 120 paintings on Russian America, 
which have been exhibited in Alaska, and some of which are now 
part of the collections at Fort Ross, California, and museums 
in Alaska. 

The interviews were made in July 1981 in the light, airy 
kitchen of the Ushanoff home in Laguna Beach. Dr. Ushanoff 
talked in an even, well -modulated tone, quietly in order to avoid 
straining his vocal chords, delicate since an operation in boyhood, 
His thoughts were well-selected, the sign of an orderly mind. 
I have confined changes chiefly to small points of English, and 
to occasional rearrangement in order to keep chronological order. 

Richard A. Pierce 
22 July 1986 




May we begin with an autobiographical sketch? 
and where were you born? 





I was born on February 7, 1904 in Manchuria, China, 
on the Chinese Eastern Railway. My father, 
Vasilii, was a stationmaster on that 
railroad. There were six in our family my mother 
and father, myself, two brothers and a sister. 

Did you live in a town, or a suburb? 

We were generally in small stations. As an 
employee, my father was transferred from one 
station to another, wherever his services were needed 
most, and so we lived in several different stations 
on the Chinese Eastern Railway. Some of these were 
very small, with maybe, about ten or twelve buildings 
for the employees. 

What were the buildings made of? 

They were made of brick. Construction in Manchuria 
is mainly of brick and stone. 

Was this fired brick, or was it sundried? 

It was fired. With the exception of some 
commercial buildings, there was permanent 
construction along the entire Chinese Eastern 
Railway. In the small stations, where about 1,500 
people lived, the commercial people had buildings 
made of wood, in the Russian style, with the same tall 
stockade around, and a big gate that would admit two 
or three horses abreast. They were engaged in 
different varieties of business. In the smaller 
stations, for instance, several people were engaged 
in cutting grass in the autumn and sold hay, or 
they engaged in trade with the Mongolians. We 
were close to the Gobi Desert, and there were lots 
of Mongolians travelling throughout the country. 
In the spring they used to come in with their 
herds and settle around the river. I came in 
contact with them on many occasions, while I was 
riding on horseback and hunting. The Chinese 
element was mainly used as labor on the stations 
and on the railroad; a laboring- force. That 
particular part of Manchuria was sparsely populated, 

Ushanof f 

so I could go for fifteen or twenty miles inside the 
country along the river and I wouldn't meet a 
single Chinese. 

Pierce: Was there a class distinction, a feeling that the 
Russians were higher than the Chinese? 

Ushanof f: Yes, the Chinese were just a laboring group, that's 
all. Now, in some of the big cities the Chinese 
population was quite large. Of course, they had war 
lords who were governing them, but on the Chinese 
Eastern Railway, according to the treaty between 
the Russian and Chinese governments, there was a 
sort of line of demarcation, of Russian influence 
not only along the railroad but also for two or 
three miles around the small stations and the 
Russians governed it. However, to protect the 
nationals there were military forces, cavalry 
units, and also regular army units stationed 
there. Some of the army units were engineering 
corps, employed in different services for the 
railroad, and cavalry units. Whenever they heard 
of any of what we used to call the hung-hooze, the 
Chinese name for bandits, they would make forays 
against them, and if they captured any they just 
shot them and that was all there was to it. That 
way they kept them out, away from the Chinese 
Eastern Railway. They were quite prevalent in 
areas where the Russians had no influence and 
were too far away, and they used to commit murders 
and kidnap people. 

That's about the way it was. In Harbin, where I 
was educated, we had some Chinese students too, 
but instruction was in Russian. The Chinese 
language was taught in one school only, in what 
we called a commercial school, which was equivalent 
to a gymnasium. They concentrated mainly on 
training a cadre of Russians who spoke Chinese and 
who also would know how to carry on business. It 
was a very good school, but I happened to go to a 
gymnasium, which was just a regular educational 
institution previous to getting into a university. 
However, after finishing at that gymnasium I could 
go to any university without passing any kind of 
examinations. But commercial school required 
examination in order to attend university. 
Gymnasium in Russia was equivalent to junior 
college here, and many Russians who came to the 
U.S. took that opportunity and completed some of 
the courses in two years, commercial courses for 
example, where there were no scientific studies 
required. But whenever a professional college 
was involved, that was a different story. They 
had to take the complete course. Just as I had 








Was the Russian community in these towns a fairly 
closely knit group, in which everybody knew 
everybody else? 

Oh yes, it was closely knit. 

And you mentioned a stockade. Was this for 

Yes. If, for instance, we had a home built of 
bricks, we didn't have any stockade, we had maybe 
just a fence around the place. Most people had a 
fence or something, either to keep animals in or 
out. But ordinary Russian people not the 
employees of the railroad whenever they built any 
home on the Chinese Eastern Railway themselves, 
had to do it in the same way as it was done in 
Russia. It was of log construction and there 
would be quite a stockade, probably 8 or 10 feet 
high, all around their particular place, and which 
could be very extensive, because they generally 
had cattle there, and horses, and they were 
engaged in some kind of business venture. 

So this was protection against thieves? 

I'll tell you one thing. When my dad came to 
China they never locked the doors there. Of 
course, it was a primitive life to begin with 
because it was during the construction of the 
railroad, and there were no doors or the doors 
were not closed, and nobody was afraid of anybody. 
The Chinese wouldn't touch anything because in 
those days any thief had his hand cut off, and 
that precluded them from entertaining any ideas 
about stealing anything. However, with the 
influx of Russians, as more and more people began 
to be settled there, and derive their livelihood 
from it, the Russians themselves began to do the 
occasional pilfering, and then gradually the Chinese 
too began to help themselves, because the Chinese 
law courts had no jurisdiction over Russian 
territory. The only punishment they received in 
Russian territory was to be put in the clink and 
that was about all. 

Before the Revolution the Russians were under the 
law of the Russian Empire, were they not? After 
the Revolution were they still under the same law? 

No, they weren't, because, actually there was no 
government. After the revolutionary period, 
which includes the time in which the White Army, 
fought against the Red Army in Siberia until the 
collapse of the White Army, many of the people, 
to save themselves,- came into China, to Manchuria, 
and many of them came over here to the U.S.A. 


So there was quite an influx of them, both 
intellectuals and common people, and they had a 
pretty tough time. Some of them served in the 
Chinese forces as guard units for the warlords, 
just to get by somehow. 

Pierce: Could you describe a Russian household in one of 
the villages or smaller towns? 

Ushanoff: The places we were living in were hardly villages. 
They couldn't be considered as such. The houses, 
as I said before, were solidly made, of brick 
and with peaked or pitched roofs, V-shaped, and 
double windows in the winter time. The winter was 
very harsh. 

Now I will describe one of the different houses 
where we lived when my father was station master. 
We had three bedrooms, a dining room, and a sort 
of cooler room where supplies were kept. This 
cooler room was a part of the house, an unheated 
room, generally on the north side. During the 
winter time two stoves provided heat. The 
Chinese Eastern Railway alloted so much coal and 
wood to each employee, so we didn't have to buy 
any. During the winter the house was heated 
with that fuel. 

In the cooler room, there was an opening into the 
basement. You lifted up the door, and you went 
down. There were shelves there, and our mother 
as other people, of course used to keep all kinds 
of preserves which she prepared during the autumn, 
from fruits and vegetables. For instance, she made 
sauerkraut, and there were barrels of it there; 
she put up beets and carrots in sand. When I was 
hunting, there were salted wild ducks and geese, 
and smoked pheasants. They were all kept there, and 
milk and so on; it was a regular storage place, 
because it was cool there. 

Secondly, during the summer, starting in June, and 
in July and part of August, the warmest days, the 
perishable food used to be kept outside in a place 
specially built for that. I'll describe that 
particular construction. They would dig a hole in 
the ground, then they built a V-shaped roof over it 
and covered it with all the dirt that they dug up. 
There would be one door to enter and wooden planks 
set all around this hole. In the winter time when 
the rivers froze the Chinese laborers would break 
the ice and bring it over and fill up the hole with 
ice. So, in the summer time, it would preserve all 
the food that you wanted, on ice. k 

In the spacious kitchen, like I mentioned before, 
was a big oven made out of brick, with an iron top. 



This had openings for the pots and pans that could 
be closed whenever they weren't needed. The 
frying was done there, or the baking. It was 
fueled mainly by wood. 

What kind of wood? 

In those days I wasn't interested in what kind of 
wood was growing in Manchuria. All I knew were 
birch trees; that is the tree Russians sing and 
have all kinds of verses about, so one couldn't 
help to know that. There were also quite a few 
fir trees. Manchuria has a very interesting 
fauna and flora, and it varies in different places. 
Once upon a time, as you know, the earth was in a 
different position and some of the remains of 
tropical growth are left in Manchuria. For instance, 
they had lianas there, and large water lilies, with 
huge leaves which denoted tropical growth in the 

Then there was a profusion of flowers. I haven't 
seen anything like it here in California. 
Perhaps back East there is a variety of flowers, 
but there it was really amazing; they start in 
the spring. The snow is still on the ground when 
the blue flower begins to appear. 

If you walk in the fields in California, they are 
dead; you don't hear anything, it is just dry 
grass. But there, the fields are alive, they 
have crickets and all kinds of insects; you could 
hear them everywhere, and you could pick them up. 
And, because of those little animals crawling on 
the ground, there were naturally many birds, and 
you could hear them singing at any time of the day. 
Around 12 o'clock, of course, you didn't hear so 
much because it was too warm but otherwise when 
you walked on the fields you were in a different 
world altogether. 

Secondly, as I mentioned, there were many different 
flowers, which came up in a sort of [schedule], two 
weeks one flower and another week another. In 
damp places orchids grew; I used to pick them up 
and bring them home, and it was quite a thing for 
the boys and girls of the community to go for 
walks in the evening, before dark, and collect 
the flowers, bring them home and present them to 
mother "Here, mom, here's a present for you!" 
and she would place them in a bowl filled with water, 
and maybe the next day we would come again with more. 

That's the type of country I was brought up in. 
Also, we had mountains that we used to climb, not 
very tall ones they were part of the Khinganskii 
khrebet, the Khingan range and we had the river 


about four miles from the station that I am 
describing. Wherever we lived, in whatever station, 
there was always a river. During the Easter 
holidays, in April, when many places still were 
snow covered, and the river still had ice on the 
shores, in the middle it was open and running, and 
we kids used to take a dip in it. And boy! that 
was just like getting in a hot stream! That was 
quite a pleasure, of course. 

As I mentioned, the region was sparsely settled, 
uninhabited by Chinamen, and so the streams were 
abundant with fish, all kinds of fish. I remember 
the pike especially. My father loved fishing, 
with a net, and when I was a kid I used to tie a 
str:ng on a pole, with a hook and a cork, and fish. 
Then, when we were living in that small station, 
occasionally the people would organize the whole 
place and kids, women and everybody would ride in 
telegas [carts] to the river. One member of that 
group, a commercial fellow who was living there, 
had a big net, a seine, about 200 feet long. There 
were a few good places where everybody could fish, 
but in some places they could tear the net. The 
first time I was helping there I was, of course, 
a youngster. I had to be of help around there, 
but not a nuisance. I had to swim to the other 
bank with a thin rope, and then pull a thicker 
rope with an adult. Gradually more of the men came 
and finally pulled the net across the river and 
then got on the boat and pulled it out to a shallow 
place. By the time I swam back to the place where 
they pulled the net out I saw lots of silvery fish! 
They were flopping on the sand. But at first I 
couldn't figure out why there were so many logs 
brought up from the bottom of the river. Now I'm 
not exaggerating, as a fisherman would. They seemed 
to be logs, as much as 2 feet and as long as six feet 
or more. My gosh! I said, they've brought so many 
logs! Actually the net did sometimes catch some logs 
but when I cam closer I saw that the logs were 
actually huge pike, covered entirely with green 
moss. How old they were I don't know. As I 
mentioned before, everybody was there including 
little kids and teenagers; the only people who stayed 
in the station were the stationmaster or his assistant, 
and the switchman. Otherwise it was empty, and I 
don't think the doors were even locked. But 
actually there was nothing to steal there; they 
were poor people, with no valuables of any kind, 
except some simple furniture and who would want 

When the catch was brought in, first of all the 
women cut the heads off the catfish and put them in 
a big cast iron pot full of water suspended from a 
tripod over the fire. They put in pepper, salt 





and all kinds of herbs and boiled them. After it 
was cooled they gradually poured what was in that 
pot through a sieve into another big container. 
It left a sort of golden liquid. Then they put it 
back into the pot, added potatoes and carrots and 
a variety of fish without small bones. Of course, 
the women folks were doing the cooking, and men 
were having a drink and telling stories. Somebody 
would play an accordion and with more vodka to 
drink, he would start singing and everyone would 
join him. They all had a hell of a good time, and 
that happened maybe three or four times during the 
summer. All the catch was divided. The owner of 
the net got the largest share, and the rest was 
divided into sacks and distributed evenly amongst 
the families. In our place, in a little house, 
separate from the main dwelling, there was a 
specially built outdoor smoking device, and mother 
used to smoke the fish. 

I should also mention that in a small station, not 
so much in the larger station of about 1,500 
people, but in a small station, in practically 
every household the outhouse was outside. In the 
winter, with snow and a deep cold, it was quite 
tough to go there. 

They also had a special barn for cows or horses. 
We had a couple of cows, and one horse and she had 
a col", and mother also raised ducks, geese, and 
chickens, so it was quite a household. But 
actually it was the same in practically every 
household in a small station. It was possible to 
have that because we were living in the wide open 
spaces. In the morning, after the cows were 
milked, a Mongolian shepherd would take them out in 
the field and stay with them until evening and then 
bring them home . It was in some ways a pastoral 

You mentioned the stoves; could you discuss them 
further? I suppose the simplest kind was in the 
village, in the peasant home? 

Well it would be a rather simple kind of stove, 
because it didn't have any frying facilities, only 
baking facilities. Of course, you stuck something 
in that big oven which had hot charcoal, well naturally 
it could fry there too, but it took quite a long 
while, and as I recall from when I was back in the 
old country, they used to make soup. Generally in 
peasant homes they had two types of ware, mainly 
pots, made out of clay and of cast iron. They 
would bake in those things, and make soup in them. 
They didn't have very much iron or copper ware; as 
I recall it was mainly clay fixtures. Of course, 
on the Chinese Eastern Railway they lived in better 



conditions, and some of the simple folk even had 
big homes. They had pots and pans and they fried 
things on a hot plate. 

In Russia the peasant's bi'', long brick stove had 
a place on top for the old folks to sleep during 
the winter time, because it kept them warm there. 
It was quite spacious, probably it could fit in 
four or five people. 

There were Russian peasants in Manchuria at this 
time, but they would not have lived in this 
fashion because they lived in homes furnished for 
them by the Chinese Eastern Railway; they didn't 
have to build them. If they had to build, then 
they might have made them like that, just like I 
mentioned awhile ago that when the common people 
built their homes they built them in the same way 
that they were built in Russia. They had those 
kind of stoves, though not necessarily in every 

Pierce: What kind of stove did they have in the better 
class type of home? 

Ushanoff: The better class of homes had tiled kitchens and 
tiled stoves and there was a big long iron hot 
plate on top. All the walls were tiled, as I 
recall, and also the floor. Those were people of 
some importance, well-to-do people; they lived in 

a different condition. They also had toilet 
facilities, built in the home. They didn't have 
to go outside in cold weather, so everything was 
provided for them. 

Pierce: This would have been a flush toilet then. Would 
this have been imported, perhaps from England? 

Ushanoff: Not necessarily! They were made in Russia too. 

In big cities in Russia where people could afford 
to have them, they did so. And naturally they 
preferred to have them; they could afford it. 
The poor folks, on the other hand, had to have 
outhouses. As I recall, they used to have a huge 
hole [yama] dug in the ground alongside their 
home, and probably underneath their home. They 
didn't have a cesspool similar to what is constructed 
here, with several sections for purification of 
deposits. Instead, in winter time, common laborers, 
like for instance Chinese in this case, they would 
come in when everything gets frozen; they would 
break it up and cart it away so that was a simple 
way to get rid of the waste material. Of course 
it was covered, and the cover could be raised up. 
At the stations there was a building specially 
made for that purpose. It was a small place, 
with several wooden seats, open, and the pit 


itself was very deep. Now it was an interesting 
thing, you would think that in the winter the 
waste would be carted away from the big stations 
but the laborers came around in the summer time 
and pumped out the stuff. The Chinese used to put 
the waste on their vegetable gardens for 
fertilizer. So if you bought vegetables from the 
Chinese you had to be very careful; it had to be 
washed thoroughly. 

We grew our own vegetables; I used to help Mom 
cultivate [the plot] . Father was about my height 
but he was very thin and, as mother used to say, 
he couldn't hammer a nail in the wall without 
hitting his finger; he was entirely useless with 
such things. Evidently I took after my mother; I 
used to help her cultivate the garden. 

Mother was a hard worker. Women, in general, were 
very hard workers, raising large families. My 
mother had four kids, but some of them had as many 
as eleven kids and no help. Sometimes I reminisce 
with Lisa, Ashia and 01 ' ga [wife, and two sisters- 
in-law] and we just can't imagine how our mothers 
could do the terrific amount of work they did. They 
had to dress the kids, to prepare dinner for them, 
had to see that the husband was fed and children 
sent to school. They had to wash the dishes and 
clean the house, milk the cows, feed the animals 
and wash the clothes. In order to wash the clothes 
mother had a large pot. She was small, shorter than 
I am, but husky. She would place the pot on the 
stove to boil the clothes. Then she was able to lift 
that pot off and put it on the ground. It is no 
wonder that for many women it was as the saying went 
in Russia, when the women was forty she was finished. 
Actually we could see that around forty-five or 
fifty years of age they were worn out. They were 
old, gray-haired and wrinkled, and actually feeling 
old. They would begin to dress in dark clothes. I 
don't know why. It made them look older, with a 
dark kerchief around their heads. I suppose they 
considered that they had already completed their 
life; they had done what they had to do. They were 
old, they couldn't help it. 

Of course, my mother lived until she was ninety- 
three, but I think that much of it was due to the 
fact that she came over here. Association with 
old folks makes one old too. In those days they 
would say, oh, you are an old women at the age of 
forty-five or fifty years old. 1 Naturally women of 
leisure, who had help in the house, they had cooks 
and maids, at forty they were just blossoming, and 
sexually they were just roaring to go, but women of 
the sort I am describing had passed over that stage 
of life; they were tired out. For instance, in 

Ushanof f 


the Caucasus Mountains they say that some people 
live to be a hundred and eleven or a hundred and 
thirty years of age. There, the woman marries at 
around 12 or 14, and by the time she is 35 or 40 
she is old. 

Pierce: It is a long time to be old. And for the men, on 
the other hand, was it a little easier for them? 

Ushanof f: It was a little easier for men, because the man 

considered himself the head of the household. As 
such, he brought home his wages and gave them to 
his wife. Some handled it themselves, but most 
of them gave it to the wife, because a wife knew 
how to buy food and to distribute it for other 
things. Most of the people were in debt. I know 
our family was always in debt to Chinese merchants 
from month to month. That's why, when I came over 
here and began to get on my feet, I said I am 
never going to run into any kind of debt. For 
instance, when I was married the first time and we 
had a child, I began to practice [dentistry] 
and finally we somehow got together five hundred 
dollars, and made a down payment on a home, because 
we had a child. We had to buy a frigidaire and a 
stove but we didn't have any furniture. My 
sister gave me a table and chairs for the kitchen 
and we had beds, of a simple kind, but we didn't 
have any furniture in the sitting room or dining 
room. In the sitting room I had wooden boxes, 
covered up with some kind of a quilt to sit on. I 
was a dentist then, so some of the friends would 
come in and say "What the hell! what's the matter 
with you? You are a dentist, aren't you? You 
could go and get anything you want, and just pay five 
bucks a month! " 

I said "No, when I save enough money to buy the 
things I want, I'll go and buy. It becomes mine 
from then on. Till then, if you like my company, 
you can come and sit on those boxes. If not, you 
don't have to come!" 

That's what this early upbringing taught me; I 
don't want to have any kind of debt on my neck; I 
would rather do without it. It was like that not 
only for our family, but for practically all of the 
low wage earners on the Chinese Eastern Railway, 
despite the fact that they were paid higher wages 
than anywhere on the Russian railroads. That's 
why father went to the Chinese Eastern Railway, 
because they paid more, and they received various 
exclusive privileges but still ran into debt. 

They couldn't very well do otherwise. There were 
four of us, but let's say you had eleven, well they 
had to be fed, they had to be dressed and so on. 




Occasionally maybe someone gave them [some clothes]. 
Let's say my youngest brother had outgrown his 
clothes and there was no one else after him, so my 
mother would say "Well, you have a younger son than 
Tony, so would you like some of his clothes?" 
That's the way they did, they helped each other. 
They didn't want to throw away this stuff which 
could be worn by somebody and helped them. So 
they were kind that way; you see, they had to be. 
So that way they had very cordial relations between 
the people around, they were all friends. Well, 
of course there were exceptions, naturally. Human 
beings are different, and so there could be some 
nasty people, but as a rule most of them were very 
cordial, and they were trying to help each other in 
any kind of need. Let's' say that a mother was 
ready to give birth to a child; she had to go to 
the hospital and stay there for a couple of weeks. 
Well, the neighbors would pitch in and help her 
to feed and look after her children because the 
father was out all day long as he had to work. 
Actually, it was a hard life. 

[My first trip to] Russia was when I was 6 1/2 
years of age. My mother took me and my youngest 
brother to see our grandparents in the town of 
Lukaianovo it's close to Nizhnii Novgorod. I 
recall travelling through Siberia, on the Trans- 
Siberian railroad, and particularly the trip around 
Lake Baikal, because I could see a huge body of 
water, which we ha 't seen in China. We had 
only rivers of different kinds. That excited me 
very much, just as it did later on in life when 
I was in Vladivostok where I saw big sea-going 
ships and the ocean itself. I thought it was a 
marvellous sight. Well, anyway, I do recall large 
fields of wheat, and how, when the wind was blowing, 
you could see the waves of the golden wheat fields. 
And, of course, I even can visualize the houses in 
which my grandparents lived, and I remember my great 
grandfather, who was bald headed, with some white 
hair hanging down on his collar and he was very 
stopped as he walked. Judlng by the size of his 
..houlders, he had probably been quite a strong 
person, or at least it seemed so to me, because I 
was a little boy. 

He had his own farm? 

No, they were in some sort of a business, but I 
have no idea of what they were doing. I know that 
like every household there they had a big garden, 
or actually a fruit orchard. They had apples, 
and I think they had pears. My grandmother on my 
mother's side was a widow. Her husband, red-headed, 
died from pneumonia which he contracted hunting. 
He loved hunting very much; evidently I sort of 




inherited that particular trait from him, because 
my father [wasn't a hunter]. We stayed there a 
whole summer. My grandmother on mother's side 
wanted me to stay with her, because whe was lonely, 
and go to school there. In the summer I would go 
back to Manchuria, and then come back again, and 
things like that. So in the autumn when I was 
6 1/2 years of age, I started to go to school there. 
I think I spent a couple of months there, but 
mother couldn't stand leaving me so she took me 
back to Manchuria. 

There father had a very hard time trying to place 
me into schools in Manchuria. According to them 
I had to be seven years of age, and in order to be 
seven years of age I would have had to wait until 
I would be seven and a half years of age, because 
you see I was born on February 7th. He couldn't 
see why I should lose so much time, particularly 
as I had done all right in the school in Russia. 
But he persisted in that and they had to take me, 
and they said 'if he doesn't do very well we'll 
kick him out, and he will have to wait. ' Well, I 
did all right, and I never stayed in the same 
class for an additional year. So that is why I 
graduated at 17 1/2. 

I went to Irkutsk once more in 1914, when I was 10 
years of age. I had a growth on my vocal chords 
and was speaking in a whisper. In Manchuria no 
one was able to perform the operation because it was 
very delicate, and so they said the best thing 
would be for mother to take me to Irkutsk where they 
had a medical school, and a very famous professor, 
Dr. Zimin, who would perform the operation. So I 
went there and stayed until they performed the 
operation and I began to speak as you hear me now. 
However, if I talk too much, as it will be by the 
end of this interview, you will find that my voice 
goes down and down and down, and gets tired very 
quickly, my vocal chords get tired. 

To return to the way of life for a moment, what 
holidays were observed? 

You would be interested, I think, in how the 
Russians prepared and spent their holidays, which 
differed in many ways from what we do here. When 
they come over here the' tend to spend them the 
same way the Yankees do; they get Americanized; 
they change their ideas, and because everybody does 
that they gradually do the same thing. However, in 
Manchuria it didn't make any difference how poor 
the person was; they tried either to save the money 
or even got in debt. A week or two before, let's 
say, Christmas, they began to buy different things, 
ham and all kinds of canned foods, candies for the 


kids and so on. 


Now, on the very first day of Christmas, starting 
about ten or eleven o'clock, the male head of the 
family began to make the rounds of the homes of 
their friends of course in a small station 
everyone was a friend and congratulate the members 
of the household with the happy holiday. The table 
was all set with all kinds of food, lots of drink, 
all kinds of wine, and vodka and so on, and he had 
to sit at the table, even if he was the only one. 
He sat there, and he had a shot of vodka and had 
to eat ham or something there that he liked. Then 
he went to another place. Or, in a big place, in 
many cases, he hired an izvozchik a driver and 
a horse. The izvozchik took him from one place 
to another. Which was a good thing, because by the 
time he ended up he was drunk, and had to be 
escorted home! Now, of course, in a small station 
where there were only twelve or fifteen households 
it didn't happen, but anyway he came staggering 

In the evening the whole station, with all the kinds, 
usually was invited to our house. Because my 
father was stationmaster they had to come and pay 
their respects to him. They were invited for 
dinnertime, to come around five o'clock, when it 
was still maybe a bit light, so when the whole 
bunch came in all the rooms were filled with 
people. They would borrow a table from somebody, 
one big enough so everybody could sit together. 

We had a Christmas tree Christmas was a children's 
holiday, not for adults. We did send Christmas 
cards, congratulating our friends and relatives, 
but not so extensively as here, just to relatives 
mainly, and very good friends. They generally 
tried to get as big a Christmas tree as they 
could, decorated it, and put candles on it. Some 
times there were fires, when a candle would [ignite 
a branch] so somebody usually watched it. The 
kids played around the Christmas tree, singing 
Christmas songs, and then they were given presents. 
The adults didn't get presents; children got 
candies, nuts, and tangerines and apples, which, 
in December, was quite a treat, of course. They 
generally put it in a little bag. 

The next day the assistant to the stationmaster 
had a party, and everybody went there. So 
Christmas was not a one day or three day holiday, 
but it started on the 25th and ended up on the 6th 
of January. Of course, people were working, but 
still they went and visited each other and had 
Christmas trees and parties. Finally, on the 6th 
of January it was finished, and on the 7th or 8th 




the children went to school and then everyone 
sobered up. 

At Easter there was again lots to eat and again 
the male head of the family visited different 
households, congratulated them and kissed them 
three times and they gave him colored eggs. Some 
times he broke the egg and sat there and ate and 
had drinks again. And the same thing happened 
in other places. 

This holiday lasted three days, and again maybe 
if you didn't have a chance to visit someone they 
would say 'Well come over anyway on the fourth or 
fifth day; we still have paskka [Easter cheesecake] 
or we still have kulich [Easter bread] ' . 

Another holiday was Maslenitsa. It was a remnant 
of the old religious customs when the Slavs 
believed in the sun god as their creator. During 
February, when the days begin to lengthen, they 
used to bake round cakes that represented the sun. 
You partook of that and then you would get all of 
the strength of the sun. That particular 
maslenitsa has been retained to the present time 
and is still being practiced here. That is to say, 
the family had pancakes, but back in Manchuria, or 
in the old country, it could last any length of 
time, even two weeks. Again, you ate in one place 
and then the next day you would go to another place 
and eat more of the same. As a rule sour cream 
and butter with caviar, never with anything sweet 
like we have with hotcakes. They also consumed 
quite large quantities of caviar, ham and smoked 
fish, plus lots of vodka. That was important, 
because otherwise the sun god probably wouldn't 
help you much. Before they were converted, the old 
Slavs did the same thing; they used to drink braga 
and eat those particular pancakes which they 
called bliny. 

So, I have described the main holidays. 

What was the role of the church? I suppose 
families varied according to their dependence on 
it, but how big a role did it usually play? 

Oh, it played some role of course, but I don't 
think it played a very great role in the lives of 
the people. To some extent it did, because they 
considered themselves Christians, and they had to 
go to church. The kids, whether they liked it or 
not, had to go to church, to Saturday evening 
service and Sundays. 

Now I will describe to you how it was when I 
visited Russia. I was 6 1/2 years old then, but I 


do remember many of the things that I saw there 
at that time. Sunday morning we would get up. We 
had to wash, naturally, but we were not given 
anything to eat. We were allowed to drink a glass 
of water. Then we were marched to church. From 
my grandfather's place it was probably about fifteen 
to twenty blocks. We had to stay for three hours 
at that service. It was a large cathedral, with 
beautiful choral singing. But how could I think of 
singing when my stomach was making all kinds of 
noises and I was hungry? 

At our home in Manchuria, we always ate something 
after we got up in the morning before we went to 
church. Later, as a teenager, I didn't mind 
attending the service, because I could chat with 
girls there and see them home after the service. 

By the time we all came home, grandmother it was 
a kind of tradition had baked two, sometimes 
three, pies, not round but square pies pirogs, 
one of meat and rice, and the other a fruit pie. 
It could be fish and veziga, or carrot pie. We all 
sat at the table, and only then we had our meal. 
Veziga was made, I think, from soya bean; it 
resembles sp^ffretti, only it is colorless, 
practically transparent, after it is cooked and mixed 
with fish and a pie is made. Of course, they add 
all kinds of seasoning. It was delicious. 

I don't think the church played a great part in 
our communities in China. I don't think there 
were many pious people there. There were exceptions, 
of course, but most people were too busy with every 
day life to devote much time to the church. 

In the small station where I received my preliminary 
education the church was generally built like a 
cross, with an altar on one side and then two wings. 
On Monday the altar part was covered up, the wings 
were divided in two, and the children of the 
preliminary grades were taught there. I went to 
the church school when I was 6 1/2 years of age, 
only for two years. The school at another place was 
in a specially built brick building, of two storeys, 
as I recall, a good deal higher than in the church. 
It was a well heated place and there were wonderful, 
well* educated teachers. As I look back, I wonder 
how they could have had an interest in the kids 
who were growing up in that particular section of 
China. It was a small place, education was free, 
provided by the railroad, and they were all paid 
by the government . 

Education in the gymnasium was free but it kept our 
parents poor, paying our board and room. I used 
to live at the school, in what we called the pension, 
a boarding place, right on the school property and 

Ushanof f 


Ushanof f : 

the cost of my living there was deducted from my 
father's wages every month. Then, when we were 
living in the small station, my youngest brother and 
sister had to attend school in another, larger 
depot, so their board and room had to be paid. 

I don't think the church exerted a very great 
influence on the lives of most of the people. 
Most, that is, except the peasants. They were 
more pious in many respects; as far as they were 
concerned, everything depended on God. All the 
good that they received, or all the bad things 
that happened to them, they probably considered 
as punishment for their sins. They were closer to 
God in some respects. 

Concerning this, I could relate to you a very 
curious and interesting story. The family of a 
friend of mine, living in the same station, had 
one of their distant relatives come and be a helper 
around the house. They had eleven children. He 
is now the only living member. He lives in Seattle, 
Washington, and we still keep in touch. It was 
quite an intellectual family. One member of the 
family was my teacher, a very interesting person 
in many ways. He came to the U.S. and passed 
away in San Francisco. 

Well, anyway, she came and began to live in their 
household as an equal to them. She was like a 
member of the family, but was helping around the 
house. They would sometimes ask her about life 
in the village. Once she said: 

"St. Nicholas used to look after us; he would walk 
for many versts and protect us." 

"But how do you know?" they would ask. 

"Well, every month we had to put new high boots 

in front of his icon because the old ones were worn 


That's the mentality of the people. The village 
had to collect the money and place the shoes in 
front of the icon. For us it is laughable, but 
for them it was real. The priests were poor folks 
too they lived on whatever the peasants gave 
them. They might bring them a chicken for 
christening a child or a suckling pig for performing 
a marriage, so one can't criticise them severely 

So, the peasants had such superstitions, but were 
the people in the towns more free of these? 

Oh yes, most of them. Educated people didn't have 



any such superstitions, with the exception of 
some city folks who would say that if you met a 
priest, you'd better hold on to a button on the 
blouse or anywhere, or you would meet with bad 
luck. They practiced that occasionally, but that 
was the realm of simple people. Any enlightened 
person wouldn't. 

Pierce: But since practically everybody had some 

connection with the church, could it not be said 
that in that regard they retained some belief in 
the supernatural? 

Ushanoff: The intellectual people, the educated people, might 
still have been believers in God, but maybe they 
questioned, as I began to do, when I was not long 
past my teens. I questioned many of the things 
that were preached to me by the priests. By the 
way, we had, from the very beginning of our 
schooling until the very end, to take what was 
called God's law, Zakon Bozhii, a required subject. 
It started with Adam and Eve and stories from the 
Old Testament, and as we progressed in our education 
we had to learn the church services. Why did we 
have to say 'Gospodi pomiliui 1 three times and 
not five times? Why did we have to say something 
else six times? It was boring! Then, at a certain 
age, we had to go to confession. Mother asked me: 

"Are you going to go to confession this time? You 
are getting to be a big fellow. You'd better go." 

"What's confession?" I asked. 

She said, "Go and see the priest, talk to him, 
after that he will forgive you all your sins and 
will give you the body of Christ and His blood. 
Actually it's wine and a piece of bred." 

I didn't like the idea of having the body of Christ 
and his blood, but anyway, just because I was 
getting older, and was a good boy in some respects 
I marched there, and come to the priest and he 
asked: "Do you obey your father and mother?" 

"I do." 

"Do you tell lies?" 

"No, I don't tell lies!" 

"Such impertinence!" 

"I don't tell lies!" 

"Did you ever steal anything?" 

Ushanoff 18 

"No, I never stole anything in my life." 

And a few questions of a similar nature. "Well," 
he said, "I forgive you all your sins." 

I came home, mother asked me, "Did you go to a 
confession?" Naturally she was busy at home 
cooking pie; she used to go to church only on big 

"Yes," I replied. 

"And what did the Father ask you?" 

So I told her. 

"Oh, no," she said.. "That's not the way to go to 
confession. " 

"What do you mean?" I asked. 

You should say: "I am sinful, Father." 

"But I am not," I replied, "so why should I sau I 

"You should say it anyway!" 

So next year I went and to whatever the priest 
asked me, such as "Did you steal anything?", I 
replied "I am sinful, father!" He looked at me 
as if he was sure he had some kind of a creep 
before him! 

That was just a minor story, pertaining to 
religious beliefs, but as I said, from an early age 
I questioned many things that were being taught 
and on several occasions I would ask some questions 
in the classroom, raising my hand. Once, I don't 
recall exactly how it was, I asked some sort of 
pertinent question and the Father raised his voice 
and said "Sit down, you fool!" I didn't like that! 
I had asked him for a definite and reasonable 
explanation on a subject he introduced to us. 

Personally I was never religious. I had to attend 
church when ordered, but whenever I could skip, I 
did. During services I stood mostly outside the 
church. On a warm day I derived more pleasure 
being in the fresh air. I'd just go outside and sit 
down there on the steps and chat with my friends 
about where we should go hunting, or where we would 
meet the girls whom we knew. Of course, everything 
was on the pure side, there were no sexual under 
tones in any of our activities. The moral 
upbringing in our time was very, very high. 



Were young people more innocent then than they are 

Oh yes! I may say that, roughly speaking, ninety- 
nine percent of the girls were innocent. The boys 
respected their innocence. When boys reached their 
high teens, as I know some friends of mine did, 
when they wanted a sexual outlet they would go and 
see a prostitute. Those of my friends who were able 
financially to afford it did that. As a matter of 
fact, I know that one woman, the aunt of one of my 
friends, used to give him money and say, "Go and see 
a prostitute; you need it!" When I was in high 
school I used to pal with a few boys. They drank 
vodka Russians drink a lot we used to go together 
to swim in the Sungari River in Harbin, during 
the summer time. Afterward we would drop in a 
Chinese restaurant and eat pilmeni. The boys 
always used to drink. My father had a little 
drinking problem, not because he was an alcoholic, 
but being in very poor health, he would drink a 
couple of small hosts and he was feeling drunk. 
The nature of his organism was such that he couldn't 
take much of any liquor. He was very frail. I 
never enjoyed it and I didn't like the taste of it. 
I might have liked some wine but they used to drink 
a Chinese drink, hanzha; rather potent stuff. One 
drink today and the next day after, drinking some 
water, a person would be drunk again!. But I 
didn't enjoy this and just as I mentioned, they 
had money, so they used to go without me; I couldn't 
keep up with their company on many occasions. But 
they were the boys who had wealthy parents. Like 
in the case of my friend, his auntie was very 
wealthy, and she used to give him money frequently 
so he could do whatever he wanted. Finally he 
ended up as an alcoholic, and contracted all kinds 
of venereal diseases. 

So this was a sad story. He was a good looking boy, 
of an aristocratic family. 

That was when we were living in a place of about 
1,500 people. His father was a big shot, the master 
of the depot where they serviced locomotives and 
prepared [railroad] cars. They had a beautiful 
home, and servants. A Chinese cook prepared their 
meals. Meals were simply served in our place, but 
when I went to his home for the first time, boy! 
There were so many forks, and so many knives and 
spoons on our dining table. He used to have a meal 
in our place, where we ate in a simpler style, so 
before we sat down he said, "Now don't get 
disturbed at whatever you see. Look at me, and 
see what fork or spoon I pick up, and then you pick 
up that particular spoon and eat the meal which is 
in front of you." Of course, there were napkins, 








and you had to learn how to use them. So actually 
through him I learned table manners and how to 
behave myself. From then on, I could be on my best 
behavior at the table, with no problems. It was 
just through my association with this boy. 

How did you look upon your family? The family you 
have described would have been well off, and 
genteel. Did you look upon yourself as being poorer 
than they, but just as good as they were? 

Just as good and maybe better in some ways. I 
still liked the life we led. We might not have 
everything, but I liked the way we lived. I was 
up to par with him in everything, and better as 
far as grades in school were concerned. There was 
no particular enmity between any one of us; we were 
friends, we rode horses, hunted and fought together 
against another bunch of boys. Finally, we would 
stop fighting and laughingly both parties would go 
swimming together. It was the same relationship 
as among youngsters even here, in the United States, 
I think it's about the same. 

Did anyone look upon himself as of lower status, 
a peasant for example? 

Well, I think the peasants might have felt that 
way, but lea say that many of our family friends 
were common people, working like I mentioned in the 
depot or station, or switchmen. He could be a 
common fellow who didn ' t even know how to read and 
write, but yet he was one of the people who lived 
there. Our folks were very kind to all of them. 

The exceptions were a few big shots. Of course 
they would have looked down upon them; and they 
would have looked down on us. There were not very 
many of them and they kept together. They were 
the intellegensia. We were very unimportant, we 

were "members of 

the working group; we were the 

people. Again, with exceptions, there were some 
wonderful heads of departments who were loved by 
everyone, but socially there was no communication. 
We had communication among the middle class, which 
we were part of, and with the very common people, 
the uneducated people working there. There was 
mutual interest and happy contact between the. two. 

How about marriage? Where would the lines be 
drawn? What would be regarded as a bad marriage? 

To answer that question I have to refer back to 
Russia and some of the customs there. Earlier, 
many marriages in villages were arranged by the 
parents of teenagers, but gradually this went out 
of use. However, on the Chinese Eastern Railway, 




as I have mentioned before, people were of a better 
status, because they had higher salaries, they 
lived in better houses, and had good educational 
facilities. Efforts to get couples together didn't 
work out. People got married because they loved 
each other. There probably were a few very 
wealthy people, that could have married a poor 
girl who was good looking, but just because of her 
parents' lower status in society, they wouldn't 
dare to marry her. It would not have been possible 
to make a happy inter- family relationship. 

It could be, of course, a question of intellectuality 
and upbringing. A wife had to be on par with the 
rest of the ladies and think the same way her 
husband did, otherwise ;:he would be rejected by the 
rest of society, by the four hundred, as we say 
here. She would be an outcast because she was a 
switchman's daughter. She wouldn't be accepted in 
society; it wouldn't make any difference how 
beautiful she was. So a man might offer "Would you 
like to be my mistress?" They would go that far, 
but no further. Otherwise, people would marry whom 
soever they pleased. 

However, despite the fact that the Russians had 
been living there for so long, there was no 
intermarriage with the Chinese. Russians would 
marry Russians and Chinese would marry Chinese. 
The only exceptions I ever knew was a woman who 
lived, as they say, with a Chinaman, in a station 
of about 1,500 population, a former prostitute. 
Possibly she was even married to him, but I know 
that she v/as looked down upon by the other Russians. 
She was an old woman; he used to accompany her 
to church. Evidently he was baptized into 
Orthodoxy; she wouldn't have it any other way. He 
had a little grocery shop there and she helped 
him. But that's the only case I have known. 
However, after the revolutionary period and when 
I was already here, in the 1930" s, Russian women 
were being married occasionally because of need, 
just to survive, to wealthy Chinese who had some 
sort of important position and could support them. 

So the Chinese, as a group, were considered to be 
beneath the Russians? 

They were considered to be. However, from what I 
have read about the rough treatment given the 
Chinese by the British, the Russians were rather 
friendly. They looked down on the Chinese, but 
they didn't despise them; they were on rather 
friendly terms with many of them. For instance, 
a Chinaman would come around to sell his wares. He 
would display his goods to the lady of the house. 
She would buy from him what she needed and would 





say "I can't pay you very much now, I can give you 
one ruble. If you sell me three rubles worth, 
then next month you come and collect the rest. " He 
would come next month and become a friend and they 
would treat him to tea and pieS. Again, that would 
happen among the type of people with whom I lived. 
Simple folks would do that. The big shots wouldn't 
think of doing such a thing. They would go to the 
fanciest stores, order the best and have their own 
seamstresses to do the sewing. They were people of 
a different and interesting world altogether; that's 
why I mentioned to you in one of our conversations, 
Dad said many times : 

"Be an engineer. See how well they live! Get your 
education, it's very important! Without education 
you can't get anywhere ! So you've got to get as 
high an education as you can!" He was right, and 
I thank him for his advice. Our parents kept 
themselves in debt trying to educate us. My sister- 
in-law belonged to the same type of family as ours; 
they lived in the same way. Her parents never got 
out of debt. My wife, Lisa, relates that when she 
used to go to school in the winter time, she had only 
one dress and some kind of sweater or coat which 
was very thin. By the time she got to school she 
was[>alf frozen. There was no transportation for 
kids to school and back. We had to walk to get to 
school. I walked about three miles to my school. 
Many of the children of today would hate to do this, 
but, personally, I think, it was good exercise. 

Did you have any athletics at the school? 

We had, but not enough. We had an athletic field, 
and once a week we had gymnastics. There was a 
teacher, a former army sergeant, who would lead us 
in all. kinds of calisthenics. We would play 
soccer, run around and climb on the stairs, and 
climb on the poles, only during our recess period, 
but not to such an extent as here. The contention 
of educators was, we want to educate these children 
so that they will be good members of society when 
we get through with them. And, by golly, they did 
it too, in most cases. 

The money that might have been spent on athletics 
was put on other activities, which they considered 
more important, because one could run around after 
school and get all the exercise that he wanted. 

The discipline in school was very strict. For a 
small infraction of the rules the parents had to be 
called and a pupil had been reprimanded. There 
were no .elective subjects, with the exception of 
languages in the later years of the gymnasium. We 
had to take subjects as they were given to us. If 



you flunked the subject this year, I believe it 
was two subjects, a chance was given to make it 
up during the summer, and one had to pass an 
examination in the autumn. Then a person would 
be admitted to the next class. However, if the 
pupil flunked more than two, then he had to repeat 
the courses. And if he flunked again they gave 
him a third chance to repeat the courses. After 
that a pupil was asked to leave the school. It 
was as simple as that. They didn't monkey around. 

Were there a few, then, who still weren't able to 
keep up with it? 

Ushanoff: Yes, I knew of several. One fellow I sat with 
in the school he was directly behind me was 
expelled. The director told him to learn some 
kind of a trade. If a person could not get a 
scientific education he had to learn a trade of 
some sort. He had to attend a machine shop. 
Educators promoted that idea. In Russia they had 
technical schools for students who were unable to 
keep up with their education. They would make 
machine operators out of them and teach them other 
crafts. It is still being carried on by the Soviets, 
but it is not their invention. The Soviets 
considered, after they finally got Russia in their 
hands, that they wanted modern education for their 
children, that the tsarist education was not for 
them; it had to be liberalized. As a result, what 
happened? What we see going on today in the 
United States; colleges are saying that the material 
they are getting from high schools is far below 
the standard. Many students do not know how to 
spell and write. Some of them do not know how to 
read. Exactly the same thing happened in Russia. 
Students came into the colleges unable to write in 
Russian. So they thought that there must be 
something wrong with their liberal education, that 
they would have to have better preparation before 
being allowed entry into colleges. They gave them 
special courses and taught them how to read and 
write. The Soviets made a complete turn-around 
and began to teach them in the same way as they did 
in tsarist Russia. 

I remember when I was on the staff at the University 
of California, once the freshman class was given the 
exam, I had to be on the floor. As a rule, 
starting with, the sophomore year, students selected 
honor members from a class to prevent cheating. 
I had to be present when freshmen were writing 
their exams, and as they were turning in their blue 
books, I began to correct them. One question was: 
"What is plaster of Paris?" The answer was 
"Plaster of Paris is the subject which could be 
poured over objects." Now, when a question of that 




type is asked, it should be answered by presenting 
a chemical formula, its properties, etc. Well, 
the more I corrected the worse it got. After every 
question I had to put a zero. And it ended up in 
a zero./Tie/rofessor came along; I was the clinical 
assistant. I said, "Doctor Hughes, I want you to see 
this blue book. I would never have answered a 
question like this. I might make mistakes in 
English, but I would make a scientific description 
of plaster of Paris, of its properties, etc." 

"So what do you think of that?" he said. 

"I would give him zero," I said. "Do you agree 
with that?" 

And he said, "By all means. You see the Dean of 
the Dental College passing by there? Show it to 

So I took a blue book over to him. "Doctor ff 
Fleming" he passed away, a wonderful person what 
do you think of this?" I gave him the blue book. 
"Here is a student who is going to spend five 
years in the Dental College. I consider it a 
disgrace if we let people of this sort take a dental 
course. " 

He glanced at several pages and said, "My God! 
I intend to see him." He called me by my first 
name, "Basil, I am going to see him. I am going 
to talk to him, because a man of that sort 
couldn' t continue in dental college." 

This just shows you how even at that time, at the 
end of the 1930' s, we began to have a kind of 
people that shouldn't enter college. And now it's 
worse . 

Could we return to your parent's house in Manchuria. 
What were the furnishings? Floor coverings, for 
instance. Were there rugs? 

The floors were of wood, painted a brown color. No 
rugs. Oh, there were occasional rugs made by the 
women of the house by using all kinds of rags. 
They might do that and put it in front of the bed 
when they got up in the morning, so that it 
wouldn't be cold for their feet, but that was very 
seldom in that kind of a household. Of course, in 
a wealthy household they had Persian rugs, Chinese 
rugs and what not. The furnitute was very simple, 
wooden, made by some local craftsman, a Russian. 
Occasionally there were iron beds, with iron springs; 
I remember I had one like that. A wooden frame 
sometimes, with an iron spring, high on one side. 
I don't recall double beds; I think they were single 







beds, but fairly wide. 
Were there curtains? 
Oh yes, curtains. 

Most times the lady of the house would make her own, 
out of some sort of cheap material that she would 
buy. They didn't have time for embroidery; the only 
embroidery was on towels, for icons. Of course, 
there were different kinds of women, some were 
interested in embroidery. My mom never was, she 
did some fancy work on a Singer sewing machine, 
when she bought it and paid a ruble a month. A 
Jewish fellow, who was stopping at every station, 
sold them and he taught her how to do fancy embroidery, 
but she didn't use it very much. He came around 
every month to collect his ruble and how in the 
hell he made a living, I don't know. Even if he 
got fifty percent from each payment, it must have 
been a very precarious living. 

You mentioned an embroidered cloth being used to 
embellish an icon. Was there an icon in every room? 

It was always in a corner of the dining room, in 
the kitchen, and in the bedrooms definitely; but in 
the dining room there could be more . As a matter 
of fact, if you come to our place here, we have 
one there right now, but it's not mine; it belongs 
to my wife. She is not very religious, but she 
holds on to her beliefs; she's Christian, and its 
a custom. 

Could you tell something about the customs 
regarding the dead? What routines were followed? 

Of course, there was lots of crying going on, 
during the church service. Then they buried the 
dead. Then they gathered at a relative's house, 
where they had eats and drinks to pay the last 
respect to the deceased. Once a year, relatives 
went to the grave and decorated it with flowers, 
sometimes flowers were planted on the graves during 
the summer time. There was a memorial celebration 
once a year, which again has roots in old Slavic 
custom. People go to the graves and bring food 
to the dead. They will arise one day, so they 
leave the food there. At Easter time they bring 
colored egg s, even kulich- and paskha and place it 
on the grave together with the flowers. In 
Manchuria, usually, the Chinese people went around 
and gathered up everything which seems to me was 
a good idea. Sometimes the Russians sat around the 
grave and ate and drank and got merry. So the 





death was not considered to be Such a dreadful 
thing. Their thought was, we are going to be in 
heaven, where many of those who are gone will 
arise. Maybe some would go to hell, but most 
everybody thought they were going to be in better 
spiritual conditions. As a matter of fact, most 
of the common people were of the opinion when I 
die, I will be in heaven. What sort of heaven 
they imagined, is very hard to say. 

What about Hell, is this put forth as something 
which one should avoid? 

Well yes, of course; you have to be a good person, 
and treat everybody in a Christian way, and many 
do follow the precepts of Christ, particularly 
women. Women are more religious than men. They 
always have been. So they attempt fairly well to 
follow the teaching of the Christ. Occasionally 
one wonders when meeting such pious people in 
Church, and then afterward they cuss and criticize 
each other when they are out of church; that 
happens too. So there are different people, and 
different complex individuals. 

What higher education did you receive in Manchuria 
and when did you decide to emigrate? 

I attended gymnasium in Harbin. We were living 
in a small station and I had to spend my winters 
away from the family, so I was put on my own from 
the time I was twelve years of age. That helped 
me a lot in future life, to be self reliant. 

I graduated from gymnasium, the equivalent of junior 
college here, rather early in the spring of 1921. 
I was the youngest in the class, 17 1/2 years of 
age. I wouldn't say I was an outstanding student; 
I was just a little above the middle of the class. 
After graduation, because of the conditions in 
Russia, and revolutionary movements here and there, 
with nothing stable, I didn't want to go to Russia. 
There was communism there so Russia was out of the 
question. For a whole year I wondered how I could 
continue with my education. As I said, in our 
family, our parents used to instill in us the idea 
that education was something everybody should 
stive toward. Particularly because of the way 
eucated people live in Manchuria such as engineers, 
physicians, etc. Dad always used to say, "when you 
graduate you must go to an engineering college.' 1 

So education was the key to good living and a 

That's right, self respect and everything else 
which was connected with it. And actually it is 



the truth! In the schools they used to say 
"Ucheniia svet, a neuchen'ia t'ma" "Knowledge 
is light and ignorance is darkness". That brought 
an idea, that you'd better strive to get as much 
knowledge in school as you can, because that opens 
up your horizons in every way. It was correct, of 

There was one college in Harbin, a technological 
institute opened by professors who had run away 
from communism. I could not go there because of 
the financial standing of my parents; they couldn't 
afford to pay for my schooling. So, for the first 
half of the year I roamed around the countryside 
of the small station there, riding borse-back and 
hunting. Then we moved to Harbin; Father had to 
retire because of his health, on a very small 
pension, 30 rubles a month, paid by the Chinese 
Eastern Railway. I was sorry and upset that I 
couldn't continue with my education, and there 
was no job available; you couldn't get one there 
at that unsettled time. 

A few of my classmates had gone to Soviet Russia. 
Pierce: Even in the early 1920 ' s? 

Ushanoff: Oh yes! "We are going to Russia/ they would say. 
" Why don't you come along?* No. Not me. 

Pierce: Did you ever hear of any of them? 

Ushanoff: No, I never heard what happened to them after they 
got there. There were no letters from them whatso 
ever so anyone could learn of their fate. 

One day I met one of my classmates, who had 
graduated from the gymnasium with me. "How's 
everything?" he asked. 

I replied, "I am not doing anything. I am roaming 
the streets so to speak, going swimming, and that's 
about all. Seeing girls naturally." 

"Well," he said, "I am going to America!" 
"How come?" I said. 

"Oh," he told me, "there is a possibility that you 
could work your way through college there." 

"That's what I would like to do," I said. "How 
do you go there?" 

He explained, "If you go to the YMCA there is a 
group of students being formed. They are going to 
go very soon now. Two groups have already gone 

Ushanof f 

there. This one will be the third." 

I went to the YMCA right away and found the people 
who were organizing this emigration. A fellow 
named Dmitriev was very active in this field. He 
was in a commercial venture of some sort in Harbin. 
I am not quite sure of his background. I told him 
I would like to go to America. 

"Fine, " he said. 

"When can I go? How much will it cost?" 
again a big question for me. 

That was 

"We're forming a third group here," he told me. 

"You wouldn't be able to get into that because they 

are leaving very soon, but you can join the next 
group . " 

I went home and announced to my parents, "I am 
going to America if you can provide me with the 
money. " 

Mother started to cry, but Dad was all for it. 
"Well, if you can get an education there," he said, 
"that's fine! That's what you should do." 

Pierce: What was the idea of bringing over these groups 

of immigrants? Was it felt that there was no future 
for such people in Manchuriat 

Ushanof f: I think originally that was a little different 
story. There were quite a few young cadets and 
young officers who had been fighting against 
Bolshevism in Siberia and other places in Russia. 
The son of this particular man, Dmitriev, was one 
of those, and they had to find some sort of a haven 
for them. They had to get away as far as they 
could because people knew that some day the Reds 
would take over. I think this was the original 
idea, to save the young military men. Of course, 
they could not refuse to let youngsters like me 
go with them because it was supposed to be a student 
group and so they welcomed anyone who desired to 
emigrate to America. 

Another reason was that a person could work in 
America and continue with his education. Out of 
all that came here, probably 75%, if not more, 
received higher education, a variety of professions, 
but mainly as engineers. 

Pierce: What role did the YMCA play in this? 

Ushanof f: I think the YMCA had something to do with helping 
the Russian youth, because the meetings were held 
at the YMCA. I can't say any more about that, 








because I was interested only in coming to America, 
and that was all. 

Once when I was out hunting ducks and geese, I 
returned to a small substation on horseback. There 
I met a Chinaman who was passing by and was 
predicting futures for our friends living there. 
The woman of the house told me, "Sit down, he is 
going to tell your future! He is amazing! He told 
the future for all of us." 

"I haven't any money to pay him," I said. 

"Oh, never mind," she said, "I'll pay him, just 
ten cents, that's all." 

Mind you, I was dirty and unshaven and looked like 
a laborer, but he told me interesting things. He 
said, in broken Russian, "You think very, very 
hard, very hard; you want to study." That was a 
fact! I was surprised with this particular statement. 
Then he said, "You going to go across big, big 
river ! " That was before I even thought about 
leaving for America. "When you cross that river, 
you going to work and you going to study." At that 
time I dismissed all that because I thought it was 
impossible and that was about all. I didn't think 
about it until, actually, I was residing here for a 
few years and I said to myself, "By golly, that Chink 
was right!" 

There was no need for a sponsor in those days? 

No, there was no need. We were allowed in as a 
student group, and if we wished we could become 
American citizens. The question was asked: 'If you 
like the United States, and the life here, would 
you consider becoming an American citizen? 1 Why, 
of course. 

There was evidently no barrier than, except to 
orientals. Russians were admitted freely? 

I know the Russian quota was not filled, because of 
World War I and all that revolutionary movement, 
so that was the reason they were allowing us to 

You didn't think in terms, then, of emigrating to 
any other country? 

It was just the United States. That was the 
country! The main reason for all newcomers was the 
possibility of working one's way through, college. 

Pierce: How much did you know then about the United States? 



Ushanoff: We had had a very extensive education in geography 
and history. We studied the history of all the 
countries in the world, and their geography too, 
states and governments. As far as that was 
concerned, it was just like any other country. A 
few youngsters who graduated in Manchurian schools 
went to Germany to study. A friend of mine went to 
Germany his dad was able to support him. Several 
children of the wealthy people went to Germany, 
France and so on. But for poor people like myself 
and others, the United States was the country of 
choice, where it was possible to work and study, 
and there was no question about it. The first group 
departed, then the second group, and the students 
went to college. They worked, and they were able 
to take courses in universities. It was definitely 
established that great possibilities were there. 
Canada? Nobody even thought about it; nor South 

I don't remember exactly what the trip cost, but 
it was rather minimal because we travelled on a 
Japanese cargo vessel, and there was a question of 
whether to arrive in San Francisco or Seattle. 
It was cheaper to go to Seattle. Possibly it was 
twenty or thirty dollars or maybe a little less 
to go there. So that was how I cam to land in 

Pierce: Which vessel, and what was the date? 

Ushanoff: The Kaga Maru, and I think we landed on December 22, 
1922. First of all we touched land at Victoria. 
That was quite a pleasant sight for all of us, to 
see snow covered land, after nothing else but 
stormy water. In those days we could not even see 
the town. We stayed there for a day and then we 
were on our way into Puget Sound and Seattle. 
We were interned for a day or so in the immigration 
house for a physical examination and then they let 
us go. 

I knew a little bit of elementary English, so I 
was able to read and write somewhat, and knew a few 
words. When I heard the very first word in English, 
I asked our leader, "My gosh, I heard the first 
American word, what does it mean?" He placed his 
fingers to his mouth and whispered "Shhhh, Quiet!" 
The stevedores had come aboard and were cussing! 


We went from the immigration house to the church of 
Father Aleksandr Viacheslavov. He was a very 
interesting person; he met us and took us under his 
wing and gave us a place to spend the night. We 
didn't know anything about the place, where to stop. 
He took us to the old church that used to be there it 
is gone now. There were 18 in our group and he let us 






have a room under the church, where they used to 
hold meetings. We slept there on the floor and the 
table until we got acquainted with the town. We 
had a little money - $40 or so, that's all [most of 
us] had. That much had to be shown when we arrived 
in the States. 

As we crossed Second Avenue from the immigration 
home, I was alarmed. It was one of the main avenues 
in Seattle. There were many people on the street, 
and many girls. I was surprised that there were so 
many prostitutes around. The reason was this: in 
Manchuria the girls didn't use any makeup, and at 
the time I arrived in the U.S.A. it had just come 
into vogue here. They used to color their cheeks, 
like apples, and their lips were also colored. This 
sight we had only seen occasionally on our streets, 
and everybody would say "That's a prostitute!" 

Then, of course, there was the question of what 
we were going to do. Where we were going to find a 
job. Father Aleksandr Viacheslavov was very helpful 
to us. 

My first job was on a sawmill, with the Fairfax 
Lumber Company. That's close to Mount Rainier. 

How much English did you know? 
Very little. 
Could you read it? 

Oh yes. We had studied it, but it wasn't a very 
thorough study. I studied it just as I had German. 
I took English for three years, but my knowledge 
was weak. That's why I say, I was able to read, 
and I knew a few words. The very first book I 
bought to read, because I loved to read, was The 
Alaskan, by James Oliver Curwood. I would sit down 
with that book in the evening. I would read it 
and understand about half a sentence, then I would 
look up the rest of it in the dictionary. At first 
I could not make head or tail out of the sentences. 
But, anyway, I would write down English words, and 
the translation. The next day I read more of it. 
First I was able to make half a page, then again 
half a page. The next thing I would sit and read 
it over again, and consult my written words. And 
trying to make sense out of it. That way I was 
able to go through the whole book. By then it was 
a little bit too much to do the back reading, but 
by doing that every day, of course, I built quite 
a vocabulary. I was able, at the end, to understand 
better what it was all about, with the exception 
of a few specific expressions. 

Ushanof f 

Ushanof f i 


Ushanof f; 

Ushanof f; 

Ushanof f: 

The first firm I worked for was the Fairfax Lumber 
Company. There were about ten of us Russians. I 
was very husky those days and I enjoyed living in 
the fresh air, working with my muscles, and I forgot 
about my education for awhile. I was making my way 
here in the new country, and I gradually learned 

How was the pay? 

The job paid four dollars a day. I was working on 
the table, as they used to call it, pulling boards 
out as they passed me on the chain. At the 
Simpson Company in Seattle, I was working on the 
carriage, the one that passes by the big saw. I 
was the cho ker, holding the log in place. It was 
8 hours, back and forth, standing by the big noisy 

So this was about 50 cents an hour, 

Was it 

The first one wasn't but the last one was very 
dangerous. Sometimes the saw would hit a spike 
if it was not discovered in time. One man looked 
over the logs but once the saw did hit a spike 
and was shattered; it was a good thing it didn't 
hit us, but pices were stuck in the timbers holding 
up the roof. Another time that happened, the log 
was split slightly on one end. It was a good 
thing it was just a thin log. A man who sent the 
log down into carriage was tired by the end of the 
day. Everybody gets tired I was adjusting the 
choke, juding the size of the log which was coming 
in, when the log rolled over and a section of it 
slipped off, and hit me right on the back; it was 
a good thing it wasn't on my head. Stunned, I had 
to sit down. The sawyer told me to take a half an 
hour off. Of course everything stopped for a time. 
I was sore but all right. I finished my work and 
went home. I asked a friend of mine where I stayed, 
a Russian, to examine my back. It was blue and 
red, but it could have cracked my skull. 

There was no Workmen ' s Compensation? 

No, there was nothing of that sort in those days. 
Nobody paid any attention. Unless you cut your 
finger, then they gave you first aid and sent you 
to the hospital. 

Then I worked in a logging camp at Snoqualmie Falls 
and, I recall, in a few other camp s, as a chokerman, 

What is a choke? 

A choke was something like your hand; it was made 






out of metal attached to a heavy steel cable. The 
logs had to be dragged out of the forest where 
they were cut and trimmed, and that's the chokerman's 
job. The line goes from the donkey in a sort of 
semi-circle, and from that cable a choker hangs 
down. There were certain signals being given for 
the cable to stop, and then our job was to put a 
choker under the log, and hook it on the other side 
to the cable. Then everybody had to run like hell, 
because when the donkey begins to pull on the cable, 
any other logs which were in the way begin to rise 
up and tumble. Many times people were killed if 
they weren't careful. As a matter of fact, after I 
quit I got a longing for Seattle, to see some 
Russians two people were killed in my particular 
group. Actually the reason to quit was this; when 
I went to the United States mother blessed me. I'm 
not a religious person as I made mention, but she 
blessed me with that little icon, and as I was 
working there I lost it. Being slightly 
superstitious aren't we all to a certain extent 
I said to myself, my gosh, it doesn't look good, I 
lost the icon with which mother blessed me. So I 
took off, and two people were killed. So that's 
the story. 

What was the composition of this crew? Eight or 
ten of you who were Russians, had they come over 
just recently like yourself? 

You are speaking of the group of students who came 
over here? Well, yes , they were young people 

Were the others immigrants? 

No, there were no immigrants, they were just student 
groups, that's what they used to be called; student 
groups to continue their education. 

Was there no thought that the people would settle 
down there? Or was it thought that most of them 
would be going back after they had finished? 

Personally I had no idea of where I was going and 
what I was going to do. Later on, a few elderly 
people, immigrants, were coming in, like former 
capitalists and generals and even common people. 
Their story was different. They didn't come in as 
students; the United States let them in as 
immigrants. They had different thoughts. They 
thought that Russia would recover after the blood 
bath and throw the communists out. They intended to 
go back. They were going to get their estates 
back, their titles, and their former positions, 
didn't entertain any thoughts on the subject because 
actually I didn't know Russia; my place of birth was 



Manchuria. But we considered it a part of Russian 
territory, and it was at that particular time. 

Those who were employed with you on the logging 
operation, what was the composition there? 

They were mostly Swedes, Norwegians, different 
nationalities. In some places there were two 
Russians, and in others five or six. The workers 
were a sort of common bunch. For instance, two 
Swedes cut a huge tree in those days they used 
axes, and they cut it by hand; now they use gas 
saws. It took them a couple of weeks; it was a 
very large tree. When they felled it they received 
pay by so much a foot, according to the size of 
the tree. They quit their job right then and 
there, collected their pay and went to Seattle. 
In a couple of weeks they were back again, broke. 
People were asking them "What did you do in 

"We went to whore houses; we had lots to drink, 
played cards, and had a hell of a time. Now that 
we are broke, we're back again." 

This environment, of course, I didn't like at all. 
There was nothing stimulating about it. No improve 
ment in the way of life; it was rather degrading, 
and that I didn't like. That's why occasionally I 
would change my jobs we used to live in special 
railroad cars people were nice, but there was no 
incentive in any way to improve one's self. 

I believe it was in 1923 that I got a little more 
knowledge of English.. First I'll tell you a very 
interesting thing. When I was working in Seattle, 
we Russians used to eat in a cafeteria; after work 
we took showers and walked about 15 blocks. I would 
ask invariably for the same thing: "mash-eed 
potatoes" and they would say "What?" I had to point 
my finger. I was disgusted that they didn't 
understand perfectly spoken English. I always 
laugh when I think about it. 

I enrolled in the University of Washington, majoring 
in civil engineering. I stayed there for two 
quarters, and when I had to register for the third 
quarter I received a letter from my folks. I never 
thought that I could bring them here. I imagined 
my brothers and sisters were still like little 
children. Then I found that my mother and my 
young brother were ill with typhus. "Please help 
us financially! 1 ' they wrote. I had already 
registered. I hadn't done very well, but I had 
B's and C's all passing grades. 

I thought for about half an hour. I had another 



Russian with. me. We both were working in a 
sorority house. When I told him of this particular 
predicament that I was in he told me 'Disregard 
all that! Continue with your education! You're 
crazy if you quit now!" He had done that, to his 

"No, I'm not going to contiue my education," I told 
him. "If they need my help I have to help them 
out . I must go back to work . " Sol went back to 
the same sawmill where I had been employed before. 
They hired me right away; I was a good worker. I 
had 70 dollars in the bank. I took that out and I 
sent it to my family. 

Then there was a question of getting something 
better to do than riding in a carriage. I couldn't 
continue working the sawmill. The next job for me 
would be that of sawyer; I could gradually progress 
and in 20 years I could be a head sawyer. Big 
deal! So I spoke with a friend of mine, and told 
him "I have to find something better to do than work 
in the sawmill, but what?" There was the airplane 
factory, Boeing. There were a few Russians working 
there, but I couldn't see it somehow. They were 
just beginning to develop it and the airplane 
business was in such a state that I couldn't think 
of it. Secondly, I wasn't mechanically trained in 
any way. I didn't know that I had the possibility 
to learn to do things with my fingers, very easily. 

So I worked as a dishwasher in a cafeteria for 
about a week, but that was enough! I couldn't 
stand it any more. 12 hours a day, for $3 a day. 
I said to myself I had better go ahead and work on 
the sawmill. At least there is fresh air, four 
dollars a day, and I'm using my muscles instead of 
handling all those dirty dishes; I couldn't stand 
doing this. 

Then I worked for the Frye Company, a meat packing 
company; I washed intestines for sausages and hot 
dogs; I did all kinds of jobs there. 

None of these jobs were unionized? 

No, not in those days. Another thing, I began to 
develop an exematous condition on my hands and on 
my skull; that's the reason I lost my hair. I went 
to a Russian doctor and I told him about it and 
asked what I should do. 

He advised, "I could give you some medicine to 
put on your sores, but if you are going to continue 
with that work, it's still going to develop, and 
the condition may get worse." 





In order to change jobs, I went to digging ditches 
for the City of Seattle. My hands were rather 
tender from constant water. I had to use pick and 
shovel, and by the evening my hands were all 
bloody, because they were too tender for that kind 
of work. So I went back to the sawmill again. 

I was in Seattle about 3 1/2 years. Then, in 1925, 
I heard that there were possibilities of finding 
work of. a different kind in San Francisco. There 
I worked as a stevedore. You would stand at the 
pier and a boss would come and see who was the 
huskiest guy to hire. I was husky in those days, 
in comparison to what I am now. My muscles are 
probably one third of what I had then. I never had 
any trouble being hired. Whenever I wanted work 
I got it. 

While I was in Seattle, I wrote occasionally for 
the Russian newspaper Novaia Zaria in San Francisco, 
short stories and articles, under my name. So when 
I came to San Francisco I went over to Novaia Zaria 
and got acquainted with the editor. They asked me 
if I could type in Russian. Yes, I could I said. 
They told me, "Well, we need a man to work our 
linotype machine. Do you think you could learn?" 
I worked there for about three months, ten hours a 
day, but then they changed management. Someone 
else, a relative of a new boss, wanted that job. 

How much did they pay? 

Very little two dollars a day! Then I found that 
there was a possibility of working on the ferry 
boats that paid fairly well. I applied for a job 
with Southern Pacific Company. I was working there 
all the time until I went to college. 

Were you helping your family all this time? 

After I came to San Francisco, then I was helping 
them right along. Checks had to be sent through a 
special Nippon bank; I had a pile of receipts. 
In the meantime I met a girl and I got married. She 
was a Scotch- English girl. Then I thought, I 
couldn't continue helping them indefinitely; I had 
to get them here somehow. Suddenly it hit me, they 
have grown up by now, why am I still thinking of 
them as little children, like I left them. I was 
the oldest in the family. It never occurred to me 
that so many years had passed. 

So I said to my wife, 'I have to get them out here. 1 
We sent them money. At first we got my sister and 
brother, then we got my mother, my father and 
youngest brother stayed there; we couldn't get them 
out. None of us had any money by then. My mother 

Ushanoff 37 

was a healthy, strong woman. I got them together 
and told them: "I don't know what I am going to 
major in, but I am going to college. Try to get 
Dad and youngest brother here. It is your turn 
now. " 

In the meantime Dad died; he was in very poor 
health, he was just about half of me, very thin and 
scrawny; I took after Mother. We borrowed the 
needed amount and brought our youngest brother 
here; he went to high school. Until retirement 
he was a salesman for a hardware company and quite 
successful. He speaks fluent English, better than 
I do because he went to high school, and that makes 
a difference or perhaps his linguistic abilities 
are better than mine. 

I couldn't make up my mind what to do. It happened 
that my brother-in-law my sister's husband told 
me of a Russian who was working as a dental 
technician, and making very good money. It so 
happened that I had met him in Seattle; he had 
arrived there as I had and then moved to San 
Francisco. One day I dropped in to see him. I 
was interested to find out what he was doing. There 
he was working with teeth in his own lab. I asked 
his permission if I could visit him whenever I had 
time. He sfc'id, "Sure, come in!" 

A few weeks after I went there again. 

"How long does it take to learn to be a dental 
technician?" I asked. 

"Well," he said, "you have to start as a swe^p boy 
and do all kinds of jobs and then gradually you 
will learn by helping a technician in his work." 

"How long will it take?" 
"Oh, maybe five years." 
"Are there any schools?" 

"Oh, yes," he said, "there are schools, you can find 
out about them. " 

I looked up those dental technician schools. I went 
over there but I didn't like them. For some reason 
I didn't care for them; I couldn't tell you why. 

One day one of the dentists came into his office 
he had his office next door and he brought some 
work to do. I asked him, "Doctor Knopf, how long 
does it take to become a dentist?" 

"When I graduated years ago it took me three years, 


but I think it's longer now." 

I asked, "Do they have any dental colleges here in 
San Francisco?" 

"Oh sure," he said, "there are two, P and S, that's 
private, and the University of California." 

"Which is the best?" 

"The University of California. However, I graduated 
from P and S . " 

"Where is the University of California located?" 

"It's on Parnassus Avenue," he said, and told me how 
to get there. 

When I came to the Dental College and saw the 
secretary to the dean, I told her I wanted to enroll 
in Dental School. 

That was around November. I thought as with the 
rest of the university you could enroll any time 
after December, but she said, "We can't take you 
then. In our Dental College the year begins in 
August. What sort of education have you had?" 

"I have finished Russian gym -sium and I also was 
attending the University of Washington majoring 
in Civil Engineering. You could get the papers 
from them. " 

"Well, that's fine." After a couple of weeks I 
went to see her when the papers had arrived 
"You'll have to take a one year pre-dental course, 
then you'll come in and take four years here." 
I also had to take a few courses in Berkeley. 

I didn't like that; I had to wait a half a year 
before I could enroll in Berkeley, study a year, 
and then go to dental school. Well, precisely, 
that's what I did. In order to go to college and 
get higher education and still work I changed jobs 
from seaman to night watchman. I was two nights 
one and one night off, working twelve hours a night. 

Previous to that I said to my wife, "Now you 
haven't been working. I am going to college, 
whether you like it or not. You have to find and 
learn something, so that you'll be working and 
supporting yourself, probably whatever I will be 
making will be just enough to pay the tuition, 
fees and other expenses. In the meantime, while 
I am waiting for the 8 months before I go to college, 
I want you to learn something." 


She took a beauty course. She had a little 
artistic ability, but there was nothing to do in 
that field. She started to work in her profession 
while I went to college. In the morning I would 
come in, change my clothes, take a shower if I had 
time, eat something and go to college. At 5 
o'clock I would get home, change the clothes and 
go to work. And that was going on for the next two 

I had finished my pre-dental courses very well. 
It was very hard to study because so many years 
passed by, my brain had lost the ability to 
assimilate. I had to sit and force myself to read 
and yet retain nothing; I had to repeat and repeat, 
but finally the time came when the brain was like 
a sponge. Everything that was coming in was 
registered. I read once, or twice, finished! and 
that's all I had to do. I had and still have a 
wonderful photographic memory, and retentive 
powers. When I had to recall something, I could 
visualize the page, see the illustration and recite 
verbatim. I lost the job, which was a blessing as 
I was putting up so much without sleep and drinking 
so much coffee that my kidneys began to function 
badly. We paid about a dollar and a half for 
medical insurance in our college. I went to see 
a physician. He examined me and he said "Well, 
your kidneys are functioning only 70%". He didn't 
know why. I told him my life's pattern. It was 
a blessing in disguise he told me; if I had kept it 
up I would have kicked the bucket. I knew of one 
Russian who did the same thing and by the time 
he graduated he was taken to the hospital, one 
kidney was taken, and the other was partially 
infected; he survived three or four years and 
died. A wonderful person, a very good scholar, but 
he burned himself out. 

I went to school for two years and the first year 
in the dental college. Everything was fine but then 
I lost my job. It was the depth of the Depression. 
I didn't know how I would continue my education. I 
tried everything I possibly could and couldn't find 
anything to do . Our school started and I still 
didn't register for several weeks for my second 
year. I went to see Doctor Sproul; he was the dean 
of the University at Berkeley. Twice I went there 
and he wasn't there! He was attending a meeting or 
somewhere else. "When is he going to be back? I 
asked his secretary. 

"He will be in on Wednesday," she said. "Why don't 
you make an appointment?" I did. 

I had good grades. We had a special card with 
grades. I had A's and B's in dental college, and 

Ushanof f 


Ushanof f: 

also in my pre-dental. I had more A's than B's 
actually. It happened that I had unusual ability; 
I am not braggingiiout it by any means. Most of 
the students were either very good at theory or very 
good with their hands, but I was good in both, 
with my hands and also in the theory, so when I 
graduated from the university I had the highest 
grade points in the class. After my graduation 
I was retained on the faculty. I taught prosthetics 
until we moved down to the south. I never thought 
about all those things that I am telling you know. 

On the appointed day I went in to Dr. Sproul. 
Finally I had got hold of him. I was boiling mad. 
"Dr. Sproul, I cannot see any reason why a person 
with grades like I have can't continue with his 
education because he hasn't got any money to pay 
his tuition 1" 

He looked at me, he looked at the grades, and then 
he said, "Yes, I see what you mean. I'll tell 
you what, you go and see your dean, Dr. Millberry. 
I'll see what I can do. You'll find out from 
your dean . " 

From Berkeley I crossed the by on a ferry boat and 
then rode on a streetcar to our college, where I 
reported to our dean. He said, "Fine, I ^ .have 
already heard from him. It was the best you could 
have done . " 

Your college at that time was in San Francisco? 

Berkeley was where I took my pre-dental course. 
The University of California Dental College was 
part of a complex system, so Sproul was over 
everyone. Our dean wasn't able to do much; Sproul 
had greater authority so he was the man to see. So 
when I reported to our dean, Dr. Millberry, he 
said, "Yes, I heard about it already, and Dr. 
Sproul was very impressed with your audience and 
go right ahead and attend the classes." 

He called me up the next day and said, "We have to 
send a report to Dr. Sproul about how much money 
you need. " 

I said, "I don't need any money, what I'd like is 
if he would pay for this year's tuition. Next 
year I'll find some way to take care of it, but 
this year is very important." 

They figured in the office, and I got a check for 
$170.00 I came to the Dean. "It's neither here 
nor there; it's only for half a year, and I need 
tuition to be paid for a whole year." 


"Yes, there was a mistake," he said. He sent it 
back and then I received a whole year's tuition. 
Of course, after I graduated I paid it all back. 

In the following years, because I was an out 
standing student, I was given a job in the labs. 
I would get up in the morning and at 6 o'clock 
I was there doing all kinds of things. Washing 
equipment in the vats, as I mentioned. I also 
cleaned up the professor's lab. It was a good 
paying job, 75 cents an hour. The Anatomy 
Department required some work during the summer, 
and that was very well paid. So, in that way I 
was able to continue my education. 

I finished in May 1935. That was a tough period 
in which to graduate, because the Depression was 
still on. 

Pierce: And then you were taken on the faculty of the 
University of California? 

Ushanoff: I was on the faculty for seven years. And I 

gathered, from the information which I received 
from students, and also from Dean Fleming, they 
were very sorry when I left. But the reason I 
left to go down south was that I couldn't make a 
go of it financially. A filling was $3, cleaning 
was $3, and I couldn't make any headway with it. 
I was just barely trying to pay the debts. The 
youngster came along, and that was very tough. 
There was no way that I could raise the prices, 
I had to get out and start anew. Then the War 
started. I was on the faculty and would be 
automatically excluded from military service, but 
in the questionnaire I said that if my services 
were needed I would gladly go. I passed the 
examination in the Presidio; everything was 
perfect. I thought, I am going any time now, so 
I will just relax before I go in the Army or in 
the Air Corps. Then I received a letter: "We 
have enough dentists in the armed forces at the 
present time 1 and I was overage. In 1942 I was 
already 38. I intended to sign up for the Navy, 
but then my youngster got ill and had an operation, 
I said to myself, as long as the brass may take 
me later on I might as well wait. I finally 
decided that I might as well move down south; they 
could just as well get me there, because I hated 
to live in San Francisco. 

Pierce: Oh, you had never liked it there? 

Ushanoff: No. Occasionally I would go south for a visit. I 
liked the sunshine, and little cottages here, lots 
of greenery, so I though^ it's heaven compared 
with San Francisco. 


Ushanoff : 

So I said to myself, "Well, I'll just go down 
south and wait until they call me." 

I came here and was established at Hollywood and 
Vine, which is a very good corner. I made a round 
of dentists, and I said, "I'm a newcomer here, I 
have such and such qualifications, and if you wish 
to send any patients to me I will be glad to take 
care of them." I knew they might be overloaded. 
They responded very nicely, and gradually that small 
number to start with built up to quite a large 
clientele. I think one of the reasons was that I 
did all the work myself. I didn't give it to the 
technicians, because while I was teaching students 
I required a good job to be done. When work is 
given to a technician it is impossible to know what 
you are going to get. I got inferior work from 
them a few times. I thought, that's not the way to 
do it. When I received an inferior job and had to 
do it over, I said to myself, "I am going to do it 
myself." I did denture work, I did crowns, and 
bridges, and partials and inlays. I worked a bit 
too much, actually rather long hours. I met my 
present wife my first wife was a fine woman, but 
it just happened. I don't care to say much about 
that. Sometimes a psychological turn comes in 
men's lives and they change mates. When I met my 
present wife, I said, "When the youngster is 18 
years of age, then I will marry you." 

My son is a very nice fellow. He is a psychologist. 
He has turned into religion, and I am very sorry 
about that; I don't agree with it, but he is an 
awfully nice fellow. 

Which religion? 

Jehovah's Witnesses, of all things! Because of 
his mother's influence. So that's why I say there 
were a few things I don't care to discuss. She 
influenced him. I was very much against it. I 
did not want to have friction over this all the time. 

I worked very hard, and gradually my present wife, 
Lisa, made me come home a little earlier; I used to 
come home at 9 o'clock. At 10 o'clock I would 
have dinner, at 10:30 I would be in bed, at 6:30 
I would get up, and Sunday I would be busy. She 
said, "That's no way to live!" I was not used 
to raising my voice at any time. I was very calm 
always, but then, gradually because of all the load 
I had to carry I couldn't refuse a person if he 
was my patient; I had to see him my nerves began 
to go. And then my wife said, "No, you can't keep 
that up, you have to cut down." 

"How can I?" I said. 


"You simply must," she said. 

Finally, when I reachied the age of 62 she said, 
"We have a little money; quit!" In those days it 
was just enough for us to live, but not now. 

I stopped working; I was very sorry, because I loved 
my job. It was creative; when something is done 
very nice a person gets a great satisfaction. I 
worked to please myself and her. I had too many 
patients, more than I wanted the word gets 
around. I could not only construct fine things, 
very minute things, with gold. For instance, I 
built this cement block wall you see [here in the 
garden] with my own hands; I am not afraid to work 
with my hands. It was very interesting. One 
woman told me once: "I look at you, at your hands, 
they are just like a hammer. At the same time when 
you work in a patient's mouth, or you work in my 
mouth, they are so gentle and delicate!" I thought 
that was a rather cute way of expressing it. 

And that's about the story of my life. 

Pierce: When you were in the San Francisco Bay area, 

going to school you had your work, of course how 
much did you associate with the Russian community? 

Ushanoff: While I was attending college there was not much 
association. I never attended any of their 
gatherings that was out. [My work prevented that] 
and also my interests didn't lie in that 
direction. Before that I used to write for the 
newspaper, and also I used to play on the stage 
occasionally. But when I went to college every 
thing was taboo for me. I couldn't afford to 
spend the time on niceties of that sort. Of course, 
I met some Russians, but I wasn't interested in 
what was going on in the Russian colony. 

Pierce: Did you read any Russian newspapers? 

Ushanoff: No, I never did. When you go to college you have 
so much reading assignments that your head begins 
to swim, so there was no time for that. And they 
were so far removed from my particular world that 
I couldn't be bothered with what was going on in 
the Russian colony. And secondly, of course, the 
wife being English and Scotch, she wouldn't mix 
well; she liked Russians, she was a fine woman. I 
wouldn't say she was a very good mother, but we 
were two different poles brought together. 



Pierce: So you came over in your late teens, and then you 
adapted. But you have always considered yourself 
a Russian on foreign soil, have you not? 

Ushanoff: No, no I did not. That's a strange thing. In 1927 
I became an American citizen. And as we have a 
saying in Russia, "It is not the mother who gave 
you birth, but the one who brought you up." Russia 
was always so far removed from me and always was 
because we lived on the Chinese Eastern Railway. 
My Russia was Manchuria. There was a predominance 
of Russians in that particular area. Of course, we 
came in contact with the Chinese, but anyway we 
considered it to be part of Russia, and when the 
Russians sold the Chinese Eastern Railway to the 
Japanese, I had actually angry tears in my eyes 
they had sold my land, the land where I was born. 

I am very proud of my Russian heritage but again, 
they are strangers to me. You see I am more 
American; the land where I am living is more important 
to me than Russia. Let's say that even if there was 
an Imperial Russia, it wouldn't make any difference 
to me. I would never think of going back there. 
My wife thinks the same. And she was also brought 
up in Manchuria. That must have something to do 
with it; I don't know! 

Pierce: It might be a little easier to adapt in that 

circumstance than it was for those who came out by 
way of Constantinople, particularly those who were 
in the Civil War. 

Ushanoff: Yes, that's true; they may feel it more so than 
I would, perhaps. Yet it all depends on the 
individual. I know some other people that came 
from Russia, and they are more American, and they 
act and think as Americans rather than Russians. 
But, yet, at the same time, they are quite proud 
that they are Russian born. So the majority of 
them, you may say, are that way, and if you examine 
the family life of Russians, I would call them a 
silent minority. You never hear about Russians 
demanding this or demanding that like, say Jewish 
people, Mexicans, or Negroes or any other 
nationalities. They don't march with any red flags 
or any kind of flags. They would march in a parade 
with American flags, but that's a different story. 
They forged their way in this country actually by 
themselves, and they made life better for them 
selves, and they contributed a lot to the United 
States in many ways. In that respect, they didn't 
even ask for any help. They are quite satisfied 
with the life that they have here. Many of them 
had a very tough life I had a very hard life 
myself"; I'm not sorry I had it; I worked my way 
through, and the rest of them did the same, and 





many of them are occupying wonderful positions as 
scientists in every field of endeavor in the United 
States; they worked their way through. 

Now, when it comes to the children of those Russian 
immigrants, of our children, they are Yankees! 
Through and through. When my youngster was little 
I used to ask him "What do the Yankees say?" and 
he would reply "Business is business!" He knows a 
few Russian words, very few. He likes to know 
about Russia but he is an American. We breed them 
as Americans. We don't tell them, you will have to 
go to Russia eventually they are Americans! 

That is clear. And yet there seem to be many who 
come and who somehow do not get out into American 
society as quickly as others, or perhaps they never 
do. They don't quite adapt. Like those closely 
affiliated with the Russian Center in San Francisco, 

Well, those are mostly elderly men and women. 
They were a different breed than us youngsters 
who came in. In this respect quite a few of them 
used to have good positions back in Russia. Some 
of them didn't have, ut they say they did. Those 
elderly people, immigrants, they came in here to 
find temporary shelter, and then they intended to 
go back to Russia. As we have a saying: "Oni 
sidiat na chemodanakh" they are sitting on their 
luggage, ready to move at any time. They reminisce 
about what used to be in Russia, how they used to 
live, and so on. I spoke with Alex [a friend] on 
this subject. I said, the aristocracy are to blame 
for all that happened there, and those that expect 
to get back and find that they will be welcome will 
be greatly disappointed. If anything, people will 
hang them. The people will say, "We had communism 
on our necks, and now you come in here and tell us 
how we should rule ourselves. No! We are the 
people who will decide what governing body we 
should have!" They are really scum now, actually, 
they are neither here nor there. Those are the 
people who have affiliated and they are trying to 
be close to each other. 

Pierce: Did he agree with your ideas? 


He agreed. I said, "They will hang them," and he 
said, "I personally would not want to go there. I 
love Russia, but as it used to be." 

But again, from my standpoint, in Russia as it used 
to be many things were not quite right. Had the 
old regime continued to the present, even under the 
Tsar, it is quite possible that changes would have 
been made, and working conditions of the people in 
Russia would be much improved. But to think that 
there was something wonderful there [then], no, it 


was just for a few, actually for the aristrocracy, 
not for the workers or people in general. 

Pierce: The efforts through church schools to keep the 
next generation Russian seem doomed to failure. 
Would you agree with that? 

Ushanoff: Yes, they are. Because of the way the children 

are brought up. Mexican children talk only Spanish 
at home and nobody can understand them. Now in a 
Russian family/ a somewhat similar thing occurs, 
but in a different way. The Russians talk with 
their parents in English and the parents talk to 
them in Russian. So that's something! Not that 
they are ashamed of Russian, but it's easier for 
them. Why should they bother finding Russian 
words when it is simpler to express themselves in 
English? So they are fully immersed in American 
life, part of America, and they will never by 
anything else. But those elderly people, that 
class of people, they are already dying out. 

Pierce: How many did you know who went back? You came 

over, and stayed, but did many return to Russia, 
or to Manchuria? 

Ushanoff: If any of them went back it was just for a short 
visit to see their folks. After Japan took it 
over most of them went to other parts of China. 
After WWII Russia gave it to China and most of them 
were out. Many went back to Russia then. You have 
heard how they used to coax them to go there. When 
the war started, many Russians from China were 
interned in the Philippines, quite a few from 
Shanghai and after the war they were allowed to 
come to the United States, some to South America, 
and probably some to Canada. They were a sort of 
motley crowd, of different kinds and types, some 
of them questionable characters; of course, the 
U.S. immigration tried to sort them out. Now there 
are hardly any Russians left in China; if there 
are any, they are old people who are ready to die. 

Pierce: And now a more philosophical question: what, in 
your view, constitutes a Russian? What are the 
qualities of their national character? 

Ushanoff: The Russian is a more outgoing person. 

Pierce: You mentioned for one thing that the emigration is 


Ushanoff : 






not as vocal about its rights and organizing. 

They hate politics; that is probably instilled in 
them by the Revolution. 

Why do they split so much? Why so many little 

That is the Russian character. We can't agree very 
well on many things as a rule. You'll find that 
in a certain section of a large city or even in 
a small city, there will be two churches, because 
they couldn't agree with each other on certain 
things, and so they split. It's the Russian 
character. And you can trace it all the way back 
to Kiev [in 862 A. D. ] , when the people asked the 
Variags [Varangians or Vf Kings] to come and rule 
over them because there was no order among them. 
So there you are. 

Another thing, they are more hospitable than any 
other nation I know. Again that is a Slavic trait 
and that comes again from the old days. It was 
even allowed for the Slavs, if a guest came to 
their house and they didn ' t have anything to treat 
him with, then they can steal something from their 
neighbor and bring it home. That was all right 
if you were treating guests. Great hospitality. 

Another trait was great adaptability, and you can 
see that throughout their whole history, even in 
the conquest of Siberia and down to Alaska and 
so on. They adapt themselves to conditions that 
exist in any countries. 

What is the role of the church? 

Do you attend 


No, I don't. I am not a religious person; I 
an agnostic. My wife does attend; she is a 
religious person; I don't argue with her about her 
beliefs. I may take her to church, but I don't 
have to attend. As far as religion is concerned, 
I think women are more religious than men; they 
always were. As far as men are concerned, there 
is less [religious feeling]. I don't believe in 
it on reasonable and historical grounds why should 

How do you account for the great devotion to the 
Russian land? It seems to be the key to Russian 
patriotism, which would seem perhaps more intense 
than in other countries. 

It's very hard to define this. It must be the 
conglomeration of quite a few things that a person 
comes in contact with while living there. Don't 

Ushanof f 



Ushanof f: 




forget, the most important thing in olden times 
for a peasant was his land. And he received his 
sustenance from it, and naturally that was very 
dear to him. If you are going to touch my land 
I am going to fight you. So this is inborn 
partially. I wouldn't say that it was built up 
by the tsarists or anyone to be patriotic. Then 
again, it's a spacious land, and if you take 
European Russia, it has wideopen spaces bol' shoi 
prostor (great expanse) . 

And that again develops certain qualities in a 
person. You take a Caucasian, who lives in the 
mountains there, he is of a different character 
altogether. But here they have a wider nature 
to begin with. 

Could you see anything of that sort in Manchuria, 
among the Chinese who were there? 

Well, yes, to a certain extent. Not probably to 
a greater extent than it is in Russia proper, 
because after all you have two cultures in 
Manchuria, the Chinese culture and the Russian 
three cultures, with the Mongolian. But you take 
any gubernia in Russia, they're all brothers, that 
sort of thing. It's a different approach altogether, 
they are all alike. 

The immigration that you were part of, would you 
characterize this as a more select group than one 
would find coining from other countries because of 
the skimming off of the upper classes of society 
due to the Revolution? 

No, I wouldn't say so. Yes, some of them were 
selected, but don't forget that many of the people 
who fought communism, many of them were common 
soldiers who came over here, were common people. 

But were not many of them former military cadets 
and officers? 

Yes, but they were common people. They were 
peasants, they were workers. You take, for instance, 
there is an organization in San Francisco there 
are not many of them left of the Votkintsy and 
the Izhevtsy. Here are the working people from two 
of the largest munitions factories. There is an 
example right there; many of them were not educated. 
They made their way in their own way. Now, for 
instance, I know of one person who was living in San 
Francisco, a patient of mine, he was a common 
persons, he could hardly read and write. He 
started a very small grocery business. But when 
people would come in and say "Do you have this or 
that?" He would say, "Yes, I do; I'll deliver it." 






He didn't have it, but he would write it down and 
find a place where he could obtain it, and then 
deliver it. Finally, it happened that he 
gradually built his business so much, a telephone 
order business, that he was serving a wealthy 
clientele in San Francisco. Whatever they would 
order he would get it for them. He knew where to 
go and to get it for them. Despite the fact that 
it was during the Depression, his business was 
booming. That's one example, but there are many 
others, of people without any education. 

That is a good example of how the immigrant often 
comes to the United States or to Canada, and sees 
some opportunity which the natives just don't 
perceive or take advantage of, and then gets ahead. 

I'll give you a good example, although not of a 
Russian. When we visited Great Britain, and 
stayed in a hotel in London, we had steaks in the 
hotel (a steak house) . The hotel was one of the 
chains of hotels and steak houses belonging to a 
Turk. He came to London, opened up a very small 
shop and started to serve steaks. Gradually 
business increased more and more and he had to open 
a larger place. Then he opened another place and 
then a third and a fourth, and then he bought 
and built hotels. "What happened to the British?" 
I asked. "Why didn't you people start that kind 
of a business? Why was it a Turk?" 

So the same thing happens here. They come in and 
start a business of some sort on their own which 
native born Americans couldn't think of. Although 
in America they are very inventive and they think 
of businesses that never exist anywhere else. And 
yet some [immigrants] come and make a living in their 
own right. 

Can you now tell something about your trip to the 
Soviet Union? 

After my retirement from dental practice, it was 
easier to travel in Russia, so, in 1974, my wife and 
I decided we might as well take a trip there, to 
Mother Russia, as we Russians call it. I was 
particularly interested in seeing the ancient 
historical cities of which, we had read in the 
literature, and which we had studied in the history 
books, Kiev, Moscow and its Kremlin wall, and 
Leningrad, which used to be St. Petersburg, and 
which, during World War I became Petrograd, and then 
Leningrad. I won't go into many details of our 
trip there, just a few things which stand out in 
my memory. 

I was excited, of course, to see all those ancient 




towns and to go along the River and see the place 
where Prince Vladimir baptised all the 
Russians. His statue is standing there on the 
shore. Moscow was very interesting, with the 
Kremlin, and we went inside. But a few things 
happened there which I thought were rather unusual. 

Zhukov died while we were there (18 June 1974) and 
his internment was to be v /the Kremlin. We were 
staying in the hotel right opposite I think it was 
called the National. The guide took us on a trip 
around different places and we were supposed to see 
a few things in the Kremlin wall, but because of 
that particular ceremony we weren't allowed to. We 
had to find our bus somewhere, and I was surprised 
to see, as we passed by the Kremlin wall, there 
is a little park in front, and there were soldiers 
standing there, armed, every so many paces. There 
was nobody on that lawn there, and so we passed 
that by, and then when we came to the corner of the 
street we only had to go right around the corner 
and into the entrance to our hotel. There were 
KGB men standing there, everything was closed, all 
the streets were closed because big shots were 
coining there and so on, and empty, entirely empty, 
and they had a cordon of KGB men and all kinds of 
things standing there, and officers. The guide went 
over and said, "I have a group of tourists, if you 
will allow me I would like to take them over to our 
hotel, it is time for them to have their lunch." 
They wouldn't allow it! We had to go way around 
and it was just across the street. That was 

Well, anyway, I found that the people were sullen, 
there were not many smiles on their faces. They 
were concerned about their way of life. The children, 
unlike our American children happy-go-lucky kids 
that you see running around freely in the streets and 
smiling and laughing and having a good time were 
as if they were under some sort of pressure and 
neither the children nor the adults seemed happy. 

Did you notice that it was any freer in the other 
places you visited? Did people look any different 
in Kiev than in Moscow? 

I would say just about the same; there wasn't much 
difference; you could see that they were subdued; 
they were not pleased with what they had, but of 
course they couldn't do very much about it. 

,.- .* i- *s 

I went to Beriozka^to see what they had to sell. I 
wanted to get a special stone from the Ural 
Mountains. It's a golden sparkling stone, semi 

precious. My wife has one. 
they didn't have it at all. 

But it was strange; 
Whether the supply 


was exhausted, or whether they were sending it to 
the European countries where they could get more 
money for it than they would in Russia, I don't 

Well, anyway, I started to speak Russian to her. 
She was a fairly intelligent woman and she said, 
"Where did you learn to speak such a beautiful 

So I told her, "At the University of California, in 
America. " 

"Oh!" she said, "They teach you so well there." 

"Yes, they do!" I said. So I pulled her leg a 
little bit. 

But I noticed that the former beauty of the Russian 
language, the Russian language of the intelligentsia, 
of Pushkin and of Turgenev, of Dostoevsky, and so 
on the language which we were taught in our 
Manchurian school, just isn't there any more. It 
was the language of the capital, of St. Petersburg. 
We were taught to express ourselves in that way 
so naturally our language developed according to 
the literature and the teachers. But I found out 
that the communist language that they used there 
we have just as if, to use a Russian expression, 
they are cutting with an axe. Its expressions 
are rather on the crude side, and not that 
beautifully flowing tongue. However, there are 
exceptions. I won't say all of them like that. 
There are intelligent people who speak a very good 
language, but I think their parents must have been 
intelligent, so that they were brought up in a 
very good family atmosphere. 

After Moscow we flew to Volgograd. Now it 
happened that in Volgograd, of course, we had to 
go and have dinner as soon as we arrived but 
after dinner we had to see the Volga Volga 
matushka rodnaia. That was quite exciting. ' It 
was evening and as we walked down the steps to the 
river it was already getting sort of dark. There 
were a few Russians in our group, and a woman in 
black started to talk to my wife and another lady 
that was there, and I was walking with another 
Russian fellow, and sort of discussing different 
things that we had seen. On the way back, she 
approached us and started to talk to us* I was 
sort of careful not to express my thoughts in any 
way, but in the conversation that followed, I asked 
"Are you working anywhere? What is your position?" 
She was fairly intelligent by the way. But she 
said, "No, they don't employ me because I tell 
them the truth!" And she told us, "Do you think 

Ushanof f 


the life everywhere is just as good as it is here, 
as what they show you? You go 30 miles from here 
and they won't let you in. They are in mud up 
to their knees!" 

Pierce: She was probably right. 

Ushanof f: She wanted to continue with the conversation; she 
even invited us to go to her place, wherever it 
was, but I had to decline that because I didn't 
know who she was. She could have been one of the 
KGB you know, who wanted us to express our ideas 
on what we had seen there and to criticize what 
we had seen, and so I just had to be rather careful. 
But that, at least, that's what she said. 

Pierce: Most people are more cautious. 

Ushanof f: Yes, that's what I have noticed. When I was 

speaking one to one, that was a different story. 
As happened on occasion, and I expressed my opinion 
freely because I knew to whom I was talking. 

I have written a story about our visit there which 
I am going to send to a Russian magazine. Volgo 
grad was formerly Stalingrad, where 800,000 people 
lost their lives during World War II. It was 
practically all razed to the ground by the bombs 
by the Russians and the Germans, and their planes. 
But it was rebuilt, and on the Mamaev kurgan, a 
sort of raised mountain, a memorial was constructed 
to all those dead. It is very impressive. We had 
to climb many steps and as my wife wasn't feeling 
very well that day she decided to stay in the bus. 
So I went by myself. Being a little more sprightly 
than the rest of our companions there were about 
12 Russians in our group I reached the top quicker 
than they did. My camera was swinging around my 
neck and my felt hat was of a different kind than 
what the Russians would wear. So I walked there 
alone I won't describe many things because the 
story would be too long but anyway, as I got to 
the top there was a big square, a long trough filled 
with water. The water was overflowing the sides of 
the trough. On one side there were sculptured 
figures of fighting men and workers made out of 
brownish stone. Quite beautiful sculptured, naked 

As I walked slowly, looking all around, a woman with 
a child passed me. She looked me over and said to 
me, "They overfilled their cups it's a saying 
they did everything they could for Mother Russia." 

I said, "That's interesting" and took a snapshot. 
As we walked, I asked "Where's that music coming 
from? What's that round building?" 


"When you reach there..." she said, and she looked 
me over again, "You're not a Siviet citizen?" 

"No, I am not," I said. 

"When you reach there," she continued, "You will 
find tears, and there you can communicate with your 
creator. " 

Her answer amazed me. So when I reached the top 
there were lots of people walking up the circular 
ramp two uniformed guards were standing at the 
entrance, and a crowd of people was slowly filing 
past them. On the wall were names of all the 
soldiers and officers who were killed there, 
written on red banners, which are of brownish 
color. Beneath was a grave of the unknown soldiers. 
A big arm stuck out from the gave into an opening 
in the roof where the blue of the sky was seen. 
The stringed instruments were playing a very sad 
melody. It was amazing to walk with a mass of 
Russian people through this memorial. One say 
tears of the people as they walked slowly up the 
ramp, old and young. In my article, I describe some 
of them as I saw them, there was a big husky man 
with medals all over his chest, in civilian dress, 
wiping his eyes. An old woman was crossing herself; 
many of them crossed themselves, they didn't pay 
any attention to anti-religious propaganda. The 
woman with the little girl was right, these people 
communicated with their creator. Despite the 
atheistic propaganda in Russia, God was still alive 
in their hearts. That's what I got out of it. 

The melody of stringed instruments was very sad, 
as if it was coming from heaven itself. It was the 
most marvellous monument I have seen and was built 
by the Russian people. It was ordered by the 
government, but was actually planned and put up in 
what they had there by the Russian people. It 
makes a terrific impression. After I saw all this 
I rushed back to the bus, to Lisa. "Lis," I said, 
"you must go and see it", because I was so moved. 
I practically had tears in my eyes. We had to hurry 
because we had to be back at the bus at a certain 
time so I rushed her down the hill to that round 
building and it made a terrific impression on her 

I noticed another thing. I wanted to take a picture 
of a dam on the Don River, so I asked our guide, 
"May I take a picture of this?" 

"Oh no, that's not allowed!" she said. 

But when I went in the Beriozka I could see that 
they had postcards with pictures of the dam, and also 


of the airport. I said to myself, isn't that crazy? 
So I told her a few things that I shouldn't have. 
I said, "Well now, in America you could take 
pictures of anything; we don't mind. And furthermore, 
we have much bigger dams than you have here, so its 
nothing new to us." 

In Leningrad they were showing to us the graves of 
the emperors, in the Petropavlovsk fortress in 
Leningrad. Well, anyway, we went here and there was 
the grave of Alexander I, his sarcophagus, you 
know, covered up. I said to the guide, "You know, 
it's empty; Alexander I isn't there." 

"What are you talking about?" she said. 

I said, "Well, first of all, don't you know anything 
about the legend of Taganrog, of Fedor Kuzmich, and 
how he lived in Siberia and all that?" She had 
never heard of it. And I said, "Furthermore, I 
remember reading in the newspaper Russian news 
papers here in the United States that Soviet 
scholars opened up the sarcophagus and there was no 
body there ! " 

Another interesting thing happened in Leningrad. 
While we were on the bus, one of the member of our 
group asked our guide, a girl, "Of course, you 
weren't here during the siege in Leningrad?" All 
of a sudden tears filled her eyes; she was in her 
30 's I guessed, and she turned away. We had a 
Russian woman in our group and she kept talking 
to the guide. I said, sternly, "Keep quiet; she 
has seen so many awful things in her early life; 
leave her alone" . 

After a while she wiped her tears and a thought 
crossed my mind; maybe she is just a very good 
actress. The second day we had another guide, and 
another somewhat similar question was asked. There 
was the same reaction. She said, "I was a little 
girl; I lived through all that horror." She had 
tears in her eyes, running down her cheeks. 

And, when I was in Leningrad I listened to TV, which 
is not much to listen to. They had announcements: 
Victor Petrov was taken out from Leningrad in 1941 
or whatever it was, by such and such a group; he 
resides in Odessa, and he is looking for his 
relatives; if anyone knows where his relatives 
reside, please contact him. And: Lena Ivanov was 
taken out at the same time; she is looking for her 
relatives, and so on and so on. Every day they 
mentioned different names, of people looking for 
their lost or dead kinfolk. It was sad even to 
listen to them. 



Pierce: I visited the cemetery in Leningrad with someone 
whose grandparents had died in the siege, and she 
even claimed that she knew which mound they were 
in, and at one point I saw some little candies, 
wrapped in paper, which someone had put on one of 
the mounds. I wondered if this was meant as an 
offering, as if it was something which went far 
back; someone had had this feeling about the 
particular relative who was there. 

Ushanoff: Yes, that's right! It was a tribute to them, just 
like I said to you, how on certain days, in the 
summer, Russians hold a Memorial Day for their dead. 
They gather and put food on the grave. You have 
mentioned the same occurrence; simple folks do 
bring candies to put on the graves. 

Yes, some of our customs are strange, but they all 
have their beginnings somewhere. Most of them go 
far back into the ancient Slavic times. They used 
to burn their dead, with their horses, their 
wives and servants, and then they covered them with 
earth, and then, on top of this "kurgan", they 
held what they used to call in Russian trizna. 
That's a seldom used word, but a very interesting 
one if you come to think of it. They would sit on 
top of that mound and bayans minstrels would play 
instruments stringed instruments and maybe the 
flute sing, drink and eat. Why was it done? Maybe 
the thought was, you are dead, we respect you, but 
we are still alive, and we drink to you and your 
afterlife. I don't know the words; I wish I had 
attended one of those triznas, but it was so far 
back in our history. 

When we went to Sochi, I was quite surprised at the 
beauty of the mountains the Caucasian mountains 
are very beautiful. I took a dip in the Black Sea 
there. The water was rather cold and the seashore 
is not like ours; it was covered with fairly large 
pebbles, so it was very uncomfortable, but anyway 
I decided to take a [specimen] and I brought back 
a stone from there. 

From there we had to go to Leningrad and from 
Leningrad to Moscow, and then we flew over to Italy 
to see our stepson, because he had an office there. 
I know one thing, after we had travelled all 
around Russia, when we arrived at Kennedy airport 
in New York I had to go to the toilet, and when 
I came out I said to my wife, "Go and see the kind 
of toilet room that we have in our America! You 
can eat off the floor it is so clean!" You know 
how the Russian toilets smell like hell. When 
we arrived I felt like kissing the ground that we 
landed on. Because you couldn't find any better 
place to live than the United States of America, 

Ushanoff 56 

in spite of all the troubles that we have. I would 
suggest to all the youngsters who are not satisfied 
with the life here, and who criticize everything 
so much, that they go and travel, not just to see 
the best places, where they will get the red carpet 
treatment, but to see some of the country, and learn 
how the people live. 


Chinese bandits (hung-hooze) , 2 

Chinese Eastern Railway, 1, 11; sale of, to Japan, 44 

Class distinctions, 1, 19, 20, 55 

Customs, funeral, 25; marriage, 20-21 

Dmitriev, YMCA worker, Harbin, organizing emigrant parties, 28 

Education, 2; high quality of Russian schools, 3, 12; gymnasium, 
15-16; 22-23; 26-27; athletics, 23, discipline, 23; 
moral upbringing of youth, 18, 19; USA, faulty education 
standards of, 23, 24; at Univ. of Calif., 37-41 

Gobi Desert, I 

Harbin, 2 

Houses in railway settlements, 1,3, 4; barn, 7; furnishings, 

24, 25; stoves, 7-8; toilet facilities, 8-9; gardens, 9, 11; 

fishing, 6; animals, domestic, 7; hunting, 11 

Kaga Maru, steamship, 30 

Manchuria, abundance of wild life, 5 

Millberry, dean, University of California Dental College, 40 

Russia before 1917, faults of, 45, 46 

Russian characteristics, 1, 46, 47; superstitions, 16 

Russian community, Manchuria, 3, roles of men and women, 10; 

holidays, 13, 14 

Russian community, San Francisco, 43, 44; children, 45 
Russian emigrants, enterprise of, 48, 49 

Russian language, beauty of, deterioration in Soviet period, 51 
Russian newspapers, 36, 43 
Russian Orthodox Church, 1, 14-15, 17, 18. 

San Francisco, 36 
Seattle, 30, 31, 35, 36 

Sproul, Robert Gordon, dean (later President) , University of 
California, 39, 40 

Ushanoff, Vasilii, birth, 1, emigration, 27, English language 

study, 31, 34; marriage, 10, 21; work in lumber, 31, 32, 33, 
35; in meat packing company, 35; ditch digging, Seattle, 36; 
for Southern Pacific Co., S.F., on ferry boats, 36; as 
stevedore, 36; dental technician, 37; night watchman, 38; 
in laboratories, University of California Dental College, 41; 
USSR, trip to, 1974, 49-56; retirement, 43; upbringing, 11. 

Ushanoff, Vasilii, father, 1, 19, 22 

Votkintsy and Izhevtsy, andi-Bolshevik workers groups, 48 

Washington, University of, 34 
White Army, 3 


Vasily V. Ushanoff 

Written Recolleat-ians 


To write one's own life story is a trying assignment. 
Particularly for a person who is not a public figure and of 
humble origin. The general tendency would be to glorify oneself. 
This glorification could not give a true picture, but false 
portrayal of an individual. The presentation of statistical data 
often raises many questions. They remain unanswered and open to 

One has to view himself as if from a distance, or like a sleuth 
compiling facts on a total stranger. 

To clarify a few, otherwise obscure, specifics, we should start 
with his parents . 

* * * 

His father, Vasilly Alexandrovich, was a station master on 
the Chinese-Eastern Railway, which ran on a straight line across 
Manchuria, China, to connect borders of the sprawling Russian land 
of Siberia. 

The Chinese-Eastern Railway was built by the Russian Government, 
on an acquired portion of the China territory, as a reparation 
payment after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The Boxer , or anti- 
foreign rebellion of the Chinese nationals, was squelched by the 

combined military forces of several European nations with the United 
States included. Evidently his father had an adventurous spirit 
to travel so far from his hometown, Lukoyanovo, which is located 
in proximity to what is now known as the city of Gorky on the great 
River Volga. 


His distant ancestor, who started their family's name, was '> 
baptized Tatar, (Ushan - talking, or whispering waters) . The 
infidel's conversion to Christianity was a requirement of the 
Orthodox Church to be married to a Russian woman. 

His family belonged to a social class of petty bourgeoise. 
His father's education was of four grades in the only educational 
institution in their small town. 

Bright and intelligent, Vasilly Alexandrovich learned Morse 
Code and in his teens was employed as a telegraph operator on the 
Trans-Siberian Railroad. 

The better working conditions, larger salary and various benefii 
attracted him to the then started construction of the Chinese- 
Eastern Railway. When he reached the age of 21, he had to report 
to his hometown for induction into military service. There was a 
definite quota set for the number of men to be drafted. They had 
to draw lots. His was an empty one. This automatically excluded 
him from the army. He courted a blue-eyed girl with golden hair, 

married, and took her on a long journey to Manchuria. 


The Russians came to China to stay. In essence, Manchuria 
became a part of Russia in China with a formidable military force 
to guard their interests and nationals. 

The permanent buildings of brick and stone were constructed, 
churches and hospitals were built; and the schools with high 
educational standards, strict requirements and discipline were 

opened for the growing generation of the Russian-Manchurians . 



On February 7 , 1904, a son was born to Ushanoff's couple. 
He was named Vasilly after his grandfather and Vasillevich 
automatically became his middle name, e.t. Vasilly the son of 
Vasilly (Alexandrovich.) While growing up on the small stations 
of the railroad, his playgrounds were wide open spaces, mountains, 
rivers and lakes. Untouched by human habitation, they were abundant 
with many varieties of fish and game. At thirteen, he rode horseback 
like a cossack, and knew how to handle rifles and shotguns. 

The summers were devoted to horseback riding, fishing and 
swimming. When not in a school, in the spring and autumn, he 
ventured on the hunting trips alone, occasionally riding a horse, 
but mostly walking several miles to the nearest river and lakes. 
It was not the idea to supplant his family diet with game which 
was salted and smoked for the long winter months , but the adventure 
itself and beauty of the Manchurian land was the primary 
interest, which attracted him to walk for miles up or down the river. 
These solitary adventuresome trips taught him self-reliance and 
independence. <m 

After completing four years of preliminary education in the 
school of their small station, he passed an exam and was enrolled 
into a third class of Gymnazia, which was located in the administra 
tive center of the railway, in the City of Harbin. 

In the spring of 1921, at the age of 17%, he graduated from 
the eighth class of Gymnazia, not distinguishing himself in any 
particular studies of many non-elective subjects. He was the 
youngest in their graduation class, while the average age of the 
students was nineteen. In the same year, because of poor health, 
his father was retired from the railroad on a small pension. 


In the spring of 1922, their family moved to Harbin 
for a permanent residence. 


The bloody, prolonged revolutionary period in Russia did 
not affect the lives of the Russians in Manchuria very much. 
The influx of the intellectuals, and common people with their 
families and then White Army combatants, greatly increased 
population in Manchuria. The eyewitness accounts of the Red 
terror turned most of the employees and civilians into anti- 

The continuation of higher education for most graduates, 
from several educational institutions in Harbin, was a problem. 

A small contingent of radically minded idealists left for 
Russia, but their fate was unknown to their parents. 

The well-to-do sent their youngsters to European countries, 
where they enrolled in-.^. famous universities. 

Vasilly was restless; there was no way out for him. All the 
roads were closed. 


In the early autumi of 1922, Vasilly met his classmate. He 
told Vasilly, that soon, with a student's group he would be leaving 
for America. America was the only country in the world where one 
could work his way through a college of his choice. 

That same day, after finding all the particulars about 
formation of the students' group, he surprised his parents with 
the statement that he wanted to go to the land of opportunity 
to work and study. 

The Russian immigration quota in the United States, unfulfilled 
since the start of the World War I, was wide open. The students 


were the first to take advantage of the only open gate to realize 
their dreams . 


With a student group #4, in a steerage of the Japanese 
freighter, Kaga Maru, he crossed the Pacific Ocean. On December, 
1922, he landed in the port city of Seattle, Washington. 

His first job was on a sawmill in a small lumber town of 
Fairfax, Washington, with a beautiful view of Mt. Rahier, jutting 
its snow covered peak straight up into the sky. For the youth 
of eighteen years of age, with a strong back, the hard physical 
work was fun; a pleasure to be outdoors and breathe an aroma 
of pine trees and freshly cut lumber. Furthermore, psychologically 
it was uplifting. He was able to stand on his own feet, and not 
to be a burden to his family. From then on, he always preferred 
to work in the sawmills, or logging camps. In between these 
jobs, temporarily he was a dishwasher in a cafeteria, dug ditches 
on the city streets, and washed pigs' intestines for the hot dog 
department of the Frey Meat Packing Company, in Seattle. 

The first must on his agenda, was to repay his debt to parents; 

second- to perfect his English, the bases for which were laid in 
his former studies in Manchuria. 

But languages were not his forte. He still speaks with 
a heavy Russian accent, and gropes for words. He keeps low profile, 

does not talk much, but likes to listen. 



At the age of twenty- one, to realize his father's dream 
to become an engineer/ he enrolled in the University of 
Washington in Seattle/ to major in Civil Engineering. 

For his board and room, he worked in a sorority house in close 
proximity to the campus. 

It was invigorating to merge into a different, vibrant, 
dynamic life of a student, leaving behind, as if it never existed, 
the dirty overalls and mentally inactive, dull existence. To use 
head instead of muscles . To be hungry for knowledge and strive to 

reach a far away gleaming light of wholesome living. 

And/ as the years went by, he has never forgotten that 
exhilarate.?, feeling of being a student. 


When .. . registration for the third quarter in the University 
was completed, Vasilly received a letter from his dad. His family 
was in dire need of financial assistance. 

He was stunned. His dreams were shattered. He had to discontim; 
his education. It was his duty to help them. He withdrew all his 
savings from a bank and sent them to Manchuria. He was back on 
his job in a sawmill at the Simpson Lumber Company, which was 
then located on Lake Washington in the City of Seattle. He was a 
chokerman on a carriage, which ran by the main saw and cut logs 
into boards . 

To help his family, he had to work as a common laborer, with 
no perspective in sight to improve his status. 

An idea to learn some kind of a trade, was behind his move 
to San Francisco, California. 

For a while, he worked as a janitor in Y.M.C.A., then as a 
stevedore on the docks of San Francisco, finally as a deckhand 

on the ferry boats which transported passengers and autos 
across the bay. 


To relieve the strain of continuous financial aid and 
responsibility for the well-being of his folks in Manchuria, he 
formulated plans to get them all into the United States. 

It took time, but he accomplished what seemed to be an 
impossible task. At first, his brother and sister came, then 
mother arrived. 

In the meantime, his father passed away, and on borrowed 
money, the youngest in the family, Anatoly, joined them, and was 
enrolled in a high school. 


One day, Vasilly told them, "I am glad to see you all 
here and gainfully employed. Please, from now on, take care of 
yourselves and Anatoly. Don't expect anything from me. I 
intend to continue on with my interrupted education." 

By this time, his ambition was changed. He had no desire 
to be a Civil Engineer, but a Doctor of Dental Surgery. A 
fascination for this profession developed as he watched his 
acquaintance, a dental technician, at work. 

An education in Dentistry was expensive. He asked his wife, 
a Scotch-English girl, whom he was married to for the last two 
years, to learn some kind of a trade and be gainfully employed, so 
that she could take care of herself financially. That was all the 

assistance he wanted. She became a beauty operator. 



At the age of twenty-six, he enrolled in the University 
of California for five years of study. One year was pre-dental at 
Berkeley, and four- at the Dental College in San Francisco. 

For two years, he worked as a nightwatchman on ferry boats. 
Two nights on and one off, twelve hours each shift. This job gave 
him an opportunity to attend classes in the daytime and study 
at night after the boats were tied up at the end of their runs. 

After his final exams in a freshman class of the Dental 
College, he lost his job. It happened during the worst time 
during the depression years. With the exception of occasional 

work as a manual laborer, there were no jobs available. 


The autumn came. He could not register. He had no funds 
to pay his tuition fee, which amounted to $278.00. There were 
no loans available. His classmates were studying. Time was 
running out. 

In desperation, twice he crossed the San Francisco Bay on a 
ferry boat to Berkeley, and only on the third time was he ushered 
into the office of Dr. Sproul, President of the University of 
California, who had just returned from his vacation. 

He shook Vasilly's hand, and asked him what he could do for 
him? "I am a student in Dental College. Here are my grades." 
He handed him his report cards of predominant A's and a few B's. 
"I am unable to pay tuition fees for this semester, but... I can't 
see any reason why I shouldn't continue with my education." 

He informed him of the loss of his job. And, it was imperative 
that his tuition be paid, only for this coming year, and from then 
on he would manage somehow. 


Dr. Sproul promised him, "I will see, what and if I can 
do something for you. " 

As he left the President's office, he suddenly realized that he 
did not ask for the privilege to continue on with his education, 
but demanded it. He was ashamed of his impertinence. 

The next morning, he walked into the Dean's Office of Dental 
College. Before Vasilly was able to say anything, Dr. Millberry, 
greeted him with a wide smile. "I know, I know! Dr. Sproul 
called me yesterday. He was impressed with an interview he had with 
you. He promised to arrange a loan to pay your tuition for the 
entire year. I give you my permission to attend your classes." 

As he left the Dean's office, tears of joy filled his eyes. 
He turned to the wall, away from the glances of passers by, and wiped 
his eyes. Now, he had to make up for one month of missed studies 
in theory and lab work. It was a hard task, but he did not mind 
it. It was a pleasure. 

Vasilly is of the opinion, that this was the worst crisis he 
had to face in his lifetime, and he likened it to the question 

of "life or death"? 


The physical examination conducted the same year, in the 
Medical School on their campus, revealed that his kidneys performed 
only 65% of their normal function. 

The examining physician inquired about the mode of his life, 
and remarked, "I grant you, you were upset about losing your job, 
but it was a blessing in disguise. Your system, overtaxed with a 
continuous intake of food and coffee, to keep you awake for 
long periods of time, was unable to remove all the metabolic wastes 


from your body. ~v>= continuation of the same life pattern, in 
another year, or two would have caused .. considerable damage to 
your kidneys, ending with a partial or complete removal of the 
organs. And, you know what the end result would be - caput." 


He was blessed with a rare combination, which placed him... 
above many students of his class, he excelled in theoretical subjects 
and digital skill. 

The college authorities and his professors provided him with 
enough work in and around the campus , so that he could meet his 
financial obligations until . graduation; 

For his meals, during a lunch period, he washed dishes in the 
Students' Cafeteria. 

His day started at six in the morning and ended around ten 

at night, attending classes and being gainfully employed on the campu: 


At the end of his senior year, the California Study Club 
held their annual contest for the Best Gold Foil Operator in the 
Senior Class of 1935. 

Vasilly, the oldest, was awarded the First Prize, and with 
more grade points accumulated to his credit than any other student, 
this placed him at the top of his graduating class . 

He is a member of EPSILON ALPHA, University of California Dental 
Honor Society; Omicron Kappa Upsilon, National Honorary Dental 
Society; Past Member of American Dental Association, and a member 
of Alumni Association of the Dental College, University of California 



After his graduation, he was retained on the teaching 
staff at the University, as a Clinical Instructor in Denture 
Prosthesis . 

In the beginning of the World War II he refused to be placed 
on an essential for defense list of teachers in Dental College. 
Twice he was called by the Induction Center and passed his physical, 
but eventually was rejected, because of his age. Army Air Corps had 
more than enough younger dentists to fill their ranks. 

The youngest, Anatoly, repaid their family s debt to their 
adopted country. With General Clark's array, he was with the 
first wave of landing forces to secure the Anzio beachhead in Italy. 
He survived the long and incessant bombardment of their positions 
by the German Stukas and their long range guns . After victorious 
American forces passed the City of Rome, he was badly shell-shocked. 
He recovered in the Army Psychiatric Ward and was honorably dis 
charged. Since then, he was employed by the large wholesale supply 

firm and became a very successful salesman. 


Plans formulated before the start of War, were carried out. 
Vasilly and his family (his wife and son of five years old) moved 
to Southern California and he opened his office in Hollywood. 

His real estate involvement and desire to bring their youngster 
into better surroundings than the sidewalks of Hollywood, eventually 
ended with his wife and son living in Santa Barbara, where her 
relatives resided. 

This temporary separation, aggravated with clashes on 
religious subjects, Vasilly 's reason and his education against his 
wife and her kin's ignorance and fanatism, who for some time before 
embraced Jehovah witnesses cult, became a permanent one. 


However, to argue on the subject which was not in his 
realm and prove to himself that he was right, he acquired scholarly 

books on the ancient history and religious beliefs of mankind. 


He met a Russian woman, Elizabeth, culturally more compatible 
with him. She also was born in Manchuria and educated in Harbin. 
She waited several years to marry him. And, when his son turned 
eighteen, then Vasilly was ready to tie the knot of matrimony 
for a second time. By his own volition, he left his real estate 
holdings and cash in the bank to his former wife and their son. 

With his new mate, he started life over again only with his 
knowledge, his capable hands, and rented office with his dental 

Their marital association was. a very congenial, wholesome and 
happy one. She had a son by a former marriage, Boris Mishel, an 
engineer, a master of several languages. He is employed by the 
Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, Washington, as one of the 
directors of sales. He is married, and they have two children, 
a boy and girl. 


In his office, Vasilly was strictly a one-man operator, a 
habit he developed since the depression years. 

However, he welcomed his wife's help in a darkroom, and in his 
bookkeeping. She found it in a mess. He did not send monthly 
statements to his patients. "I had no time! They know what they 
owe me. They are all good people and one of these days, they will 
pay . " 


Being a practical person, Elizabeth improved on his collection 
system and "good people" paid their bills when they were due. 


Being a good worker, he lacked any business sense, and lost 
thousands of dollars on his inventions and other impetuous ventures 
which did not pay. 

Vasilly and his wife financed his son's education at the 
University of California in San Diego. She took better care of 
him than his own mother, worrying about his well being and providing 

all the essentials for his life away from home. As the years went 

by, he became fond of her. 

After his graduation as Psychologist, his son, Wra. B. Arthur, 
a well built, six feet two, bright young man with a wonderful 
personality, easily obtained employment as a Social Worker with the 
State of California Youth Authorities. He got married and made 
admirable progress. 

Vasilly also contributed to the support of his mother, until 
she passed away at the age of 93. 


A perfectionist, Dr. Ushanoff was not satisfied, since his 
graduation days, with the work submitted by the dental technicians. 
He preferred to make himself all the intricate gold appliances and 
dentures . 

The heavy load of patients , laboratory work and long hours in 
the office, Sundays included, affected his health and nerves, not beir 
aware at that time that hypoglycemia in his system was the main 
cause. His wife, concerned for his well-being, insisted that he 
should retire, or he would not survive the strain of his profession 
for long. He worked hard all his life, why not enjoy a few 


remaining years of their life together. Their two sons were 
doing fine. They don't have to worry about them, and they, are 
proud of their achievements. They have two wonderful grandchildren 
to brighten their life. They had enough investment for their 
simple mode of life, not expecting that later on the inflation 
spiral would affect their plans. 

Vasilly was faced with a difficult decision. Should he stop 
what he loved to do the most in his life, or continue on and die 
in his office with his boots on. 


He did retire in 1966, and his wife still claims that she 
prevented his early demise. Perhaps she did. 

He read all the books he always wanted to read, but had no 
time before. He was mainly interested in history, and gained 
a superficial knowledge of the ancient civilizations of the world. 

They traveled, and when in London he spent most of his time 
'r\ *j 
in British Museum where the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and 

Egyptian artifacts were well presented. 

For their trip to Italy and the Greek Islands, he brushed up 
on the history of Rome and Greece, the subjects he enjoyed in his 
early studies in Manchuria. They stayed with his stepson, who had 
his office in the Eternal City, and for three weeks they walked 
the streets of Rome. They visited the ruins of Pompeii, and 
Athens. They marvelled at the achievements of the ancients on the 
Island of Crete. On . mules, they climbed steep steps of the 
Island Santorini , and looked down on a huge crater filled with sea- 
water, where their steamship was just a speck in the middle of it. 
Vasilly told his wife, "You know, I missed my true vocation. 
I should have been an Archaeologist." 



His intrusion into a journalistic field was not successful. 
Having a vivid imagination/ he enjoyed writing. He wrote two 
fairy tales in verse for his two grandchildren. Then an adventure 
novel/ and finally with an acquired experience and better use of 
English, he composed a dramatic and psychologically emotional story 
of a white man's tribulations/ when overnight his skin turned black, 

His acquaintances praised it, but editors were not interested. 


In 1970, they sold their place in Hollywood and moved to 
Laguna Beach, California, a small resort town, to be close to the 
ocean and enjoy clear, fresh air in their lungs. 

To modernize their newly acquired residence, Vasilly was a 
carpenter, cabinet maker, plumber, bricklayer, cement worker, 

painter, tile setter, and gardener. 


Their self-sufficient, simple life unexpectedly was shaken. 
His son, Wm. B. Arthur, under continuous bombardment with Jehovah 
literature by his mother, succumbed and joined their cult. And, 
he demanded his wife to follow in his footsteps. Heartbroken, she 
refused and sued for a divorce. 

Nothing could change his decision. He made up his mind to 
dedicate his life to God, live by the Bible, and in return to be 
granted an eternal life on earth, soon, in the coming Kingdom of 

He quit his position as an assistant to the Supervisor in 
San Diego, California and resigned his commission as an officer 
in the Reserve Corps. One could praise the ideals of a man, but 
one does not have to agree with the superstitious and ignorant 


preachings of their cult, which wreck a man's life and people 
around him. 

Vasilly/ in his previous review of several years back, was not 
convinced of the rationality of their cult, however idealistic 
it sounded. His superficial knowledge of the ancient and Jewish 
history came in handy in his intensified quest for the truth and 
origin of the Biblical writings. 

The books he acquired previously and hundreds more from 
libraries were searched for a concrete scholarly material of 
diversified nature. This search introduced Vasilly to more 
sciences, than he learned in his life. The ancient civilizations 
of the world and particularly of the Near East and Mediterranean 
area were fascinating. 

The history of the people living there and their accomplishments 
in various fields of human endeavor, with their vast contribution to 
the Judaic-Christian religion and humanity as a whole, are in the rea 
of scholars and not known by the average person. 

The voluminous material which he collected was incorporated 
into two books. His largest treatise was titled Satan, Gods, and 
Armageddon, The Flood, Noah and His Ark, where the origin of the 
Biblical story was traced to the Sumerian literature, many centuries 
before the Nomadic Jews were civilized and been able to read and writ 

Also, a short critique on the Velikhovsky ' s pseudo-scientific 
writings, that the celestial mechanics were responsible for the 
miracles recorded in The Old Testament. 

The books were intended to be read by his son, but brainwashed 
by their cult, he was not interested. He became a fanatically minded 
individual, rejecting scholars and sciences as the tools of Satan. 


Vasilly never submitted his writings to the publishers, 
because of their controversial subject and with a limited appeal 
to a small number of readers. 

Neatly typewritten, his books are on the shelves. Perhaps, 
his son will be curious enough to read them some day. 

Vasilly consoles himself with an important fact, that his 
quest for the truth was not in vain. It opened broad horizons 
of knowledge and answered his questions, which every intelligent 
individual asks : "Where are we from? Why are we here? Where 
are we going from here?" 


With the assistance of his brother-in-law, the late A. Dolgopolo 
an authority on Russian History, and his large library, Dr. Ushanoff 
interest focused on the Russian Culture in the U.S.A. He studied 
penetration of the Russians into Alaska, California and Hawaii. 

At the age of 72, purely by accident, he found himself in 
possession of a large old canvas, tubes of paint, and brushes. 

By trial and error he learned to mix colors and apply them on th 
canvas. Painting soon became his hobby and main interest. 

His knowledge of anatomy, gained in the Dental School, came 
in handy in portrayal of his two sons and their grandchildren from 
photographs. Then an idea came to him to paint Fort Ross, on a 
large old canvas, from a pamphlet published by the State of Californi 
Parks and Recreations Department. 

His early training as an engineer gave him an understanding 
of perspective, proportion, form, light and shade. 

From then on he depicted on a canvas a few historical scenes. 


After obtaining satisfactory results and exhausting all 

the available material at hand, he decided to expand his subject 

fhe. -fte 

matter to encompass Russian Period in early history of the 

A 'I 

United States. To fill large gaps in his pictorial story, a 
search for the needed historical drawings and engravings was 
conducted/ by writing in the evenings to the historical societies, 
museums, libraries in the States of California, Alaska, Hawaii and 
private individuals . 

Strangely, very valuable and rare material was obtained 
through casual contact with the people. 

His studio was their spacious garage with good, even lighting, 
where the walls and ceiling were getting crowded with his paintings 
His wife had an enviable distinction of having her laundromat and 
dryer in the picture gallery. She asked him on many occasions, 
what he was going to do with all these paintings. He answered: 
"I really don't know, and have no idea!" 

When his work produced around seventy paintings and there 
was no end in sight, he told her, "I hope the historical societies 
will recognize their educational and historical value and acquire 
them for their exhibits. 

If not, that means my work is not good enough. Presently, 
I have buyers for several of them and I'll sell these. I know 
our sons would like to have a few of them... But, the rest... 
I suppose, I will order destroyed, when I am gone. Remember that!" 

She thought he was crazy to waste his time in a futile effort 
to collect widely dispersed historical material into one unit and 
using his imagination reproduce it in color. 

But as far as he was concerned, his time was not wasted. He 


knew all the people intimately, whose faces became alive on the 
canvases. They were his friends, and he was amongst them 
building their settlements and living in the remote corners 
of Northwestern part of Alaska, on the foggy shores of California, 
and picturesque Hawaii. 

It took him two full years of concentrated effort to complete 
his project and present a well rounded pictorial story containing 
120 paintings. He is of the opinion that the material is plentiful 
and if he comes across something unusually interesting, then he will 

spend days portraying it in color. 


He did not and does not claim to be an artist, but of the 


opinion that someone guided his hand to achieve the desired 

Next year he will be 76 years of age. He still is strong and 
physically active. 

His hobby was waterfowl hunting, with annual travel to 
Tule Lake in the Northern part of California, but he had to 
discontinue this sport. His hunting pals of many years now are 
residing in the Happy Hunting Grounds. 


In retrospect, as he views his life, he does not regret his 
actions, or decisions he made and carried out, and with his head 
up, he can look straight up into the sun and not be ashamed for 
anything he has done in his past life. 

In his heart he carries a great gratitude of his adopted country 
for the opportunity he was given to acquire his knowledge, to advance 
culturally and spiritually, and develop his talents freely. 


This opportunity is wide open to anyone in these United 
States who has the guts to fight his way in life, to become 
whatever he wants to be/ but not to those who sit on the sidelines 
of human progress expecting a manna from heaven to feed their 
intellect and improve their way of life. 

This is the story of the humble man's life. The man of an 
inquisitive nature and stubborn tenacity, who took delight in 

his achievements and fully enjoyed his life of hard work. 


Perhaps, one day, someone may add a few more lines to this 

story and will finish it with THE END. 

October 1979 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre" Series 

Nikolai Nikolaevich Khripunov 

Recollections of Emigre' Life 

An Interview Conducted by 
Richard A. Pierce 

July 16, 1981 
at Monterey, California 

Copyright (c] 1986 by the Regents of the University of California 


' About 1978, a stroke left N. N. Khripunov totally 
paralyzed. When Mrs. Vera Elischer, of Monterey, California, 
a friend of many years, visited him in a convalescent home, 
she found his morale low and his rate of recovery unsatisfactory, 
so offered him quarters at her home. The county paid for two 
small rooms and a bath, located off her kitchen, and the 
services of a woman who came in daily to bathe him and prepare 
his meals. He had a color television, but used it only when there 
were concerts. The local newspaper was supplied him daily, 
though read cursorily, but he read and reread Russian novels 
and short stories, particularly those of Chekhov. An elderly 
Russian lady from next door came in every day or so to chat, 
and sometimes the two of them studied English together, though 
seemingly with little benefit for either. 

In this friendly environment, Mr. Khripunov by the middle 
of 1982 had recovered to a point where he could hobble about 
with the aid of a walker, but one hand remained paralyzed. With 
his trim beard, courtly manners (especially with the ladies he 
kissed their hands) , a limpid, artless gaze, shy smile, and 
gentle, naive speech, it seemed that he himself might have 
stepped from some work of 19th century Russian literature. 
A tendency toward indolence, to be careless about his dress, 
and to forget his exercises, was held in check by Mrs. Elischer, 
who fcep~t"a watchful eye on him. 

Our interview, translated here from Russian, revealed a 
man who had seen and endured much, but without any particular 
thought on matters, or even a sense of humor; he had not 
delved deeply into anything, even the literature or music which 
he enjoyed. In normal times he could have fitted into a niche 
in society already made for him, but the Revolution had cast 
him out, unprepared to begin a new life. 

He lost this haven late in 1982, when he had another 
stroke and had to be taken to a nursing home. He died there in 

Richard A. Pierce 
22 July 1985 


Nikolai Nikolaevich Khripunov, Monterey 
[Interview: 16 July 1981] 

Pierce: First of all, Nikolai Nikolaevich, can you tell me something about 
your early years? 

Khripunov: I was born in 1901, in Orlovsk gubernia, named after the main 

town of Orel. My father was a landowner. There were five of us 
four girls and myself. Two of my sisters were older than I, 
and two younger. Two of them still live in Moscow. They write 

Pierce: Do you recall much about the life you led there? 

Khripunov: We had a good life. We had a fine big house, stables, horses, 
and hunting dogs borzois. 

Pierce: What did you hunt? 

Khripunov: Hares, mostly. But after the Revolution they took it all away from 

Pierce: As a child, were you educated at home or in a school? 

Khripunov: I will tell you how it was. My mother had five children, and it 
was difficult for her. We always had German nurses and French 
governesses. So, in the beginning, I spoke better French than 
Russian. Therefore, I knew French and German from childhood. We 
always had German nurses. They were nice; we liked them. My 
mother had a French governess who remained with her her whole 
life. She taught my sisters French. She disliked the Germans 
very much calling them "les sale Boches"! She did not want to 
return, and she finally did so only after the Revolution. She 
had saved some money, and she lost everything. She had relatives 
in Switzerland, and she left. She later found my address and we 


Pierce: You didn't study English? 

Khripunov: In the last year before the Revolution, while living in the 

country, we had an Englishwoman. My sisters studied but I refused 
I liked my freedom. We had horses and I liked to ride; there 
were nice neighbors, and we had a fine free life, so I said that 
learning English was for my sisters. Therefore, they learned and 
I didn't, unfortunately. 

Pierce: Did you have many friends in the country? 

Khripunov: We had relatives, also landowners, as neighbors. So there were 
many young people, and there were frequent visits; they came to 
us, and I went to them. I very much liked that village life, and 
the peasants and I was interested in farming and liked to see the 
people at work in the fields. They were good people, but they 
were poor, and of course they had a hard life. 

We lived in the country during the summer, and in Moscow in 
the winter. In the city I studied, and my sisters studied in 
the institute. We went home only on holidays. 

Pierce: What was your school like? 

Khripunov: First I went to the Moscow Lyceum. It was big, and more 

privileged than other schools. Not everyone could attend there. 
There was another one in Petersburg, where my father attended, 
and my uncle. The one in Moscow was simpler. Then I went to 
realschule, like a gymnasiu, with seven classes. 

Pierce: What was the difference between a realschule and a gymnasium? 

Khripunov: A realschule was like a gymnasiu,' but more for engineering, and 
mathematics. When my father finished the Lyceum he went in the 
guards regiment, the Cuirassiers, for military service. 

Pierce: Did your father work mainly in Moscow? 

Khripunov: He was in military service in the horse guards. He was in the 
German War. But he was young. He himself volunteered from 
patriotism, but in the Hussars. And then he was wounded. He 
recuperated in the Caucasus, at Essentuki, near Piatigorsk, and 
Miner al'nye vody. 

Pierce: Did you want a military career also? 

Khripunov: I wanted to enter the same regiment, but my father didn't wish it. 
He wanted me to become an engineer. But later I did serve in a 
guards regiment, the Cuirassiers, in the Volunteer Army. 


Khripunov : 





Where were you when the Revolution occurred? 

In Moscow. I was still in the realschule. Then we moved to 
Poltava, in the Ukraine. We had relatives there, and there were 
no Bolsheviks, because the Ukraine was occupied by the Germans. 

My father had an estate in the Poltava gubernia then, but after 
the Revolution we lost it all. But then, because there were no 
Bolsheviks, my father sent my mother there, and my four sisters. 
I followed later because I had first to write my examinations. 
But the times were abnormal; they kept delaying and delaying, so 
finally I left too, and then my father came. 

My father served in the horse guards. He was at Poltava you 
know [Ivan Ivanovich] Stenbock-Fermor [of Palo AltoJ? His cousin, 
Sergei Stenbok-Fermor, was also in the horse guards in the 
Volunteer Army. He was at Poltava, and saw my father. 

Stenbok-Fermor then took me with him, and with him I entered 
the regiment. I was not an officer but a vol 'nupredeliaiushchii 
like a soldier, but you can become an officer. So I served in 
that capacity in the squadron in which Stenbok-Fermor served, and 
Ivan Ivanovich Stenbok-Fermor was also there. I remember him from 
that time. [Shows me a picture of man in uniform, with saber.] 

So you knew Ivan Ivanovich [Stenbok-Fermor] then? 

He was once my commander, and led me in an attack, 
the cavalry. 

I served in 

That was dangerous, was it not, against machine guns? 

Yes, it was. That was a very cruel war Russians against 
Russians. And it wasn't good for the population because the army 
always requisitioned things from the peasants fodder for horses, 
food for the men. They plundered sometimes, both sides, so the 
population suffered very much. And don't forget, that this followed 
the 1914 war years. First there was the war with the Germans, 
and after that the Civil War. 

How many battles did you go through at this time? 

Every day there was something. From morning, the whole day, then 
tired we sought lodging somewhere in some village or hamlet and 
the next morning again the same. 

What uniform did you wear? 



Khripunov : 



I had a Russian uniform, with shoulder pieces [pogony] , but later, 
when the English helped us, we were dressed in British uniforms. 
The French did the same. 

How many years were you in that service? 

I was in the army for one year, under Denikin, and then when it 
finished, when Wrangel continued the struggle in the Crimea, I 
became ill with typhus: there was a great epidemic there. 
Everywhere we lay in the train carriages, and had voshi [lice], 
small bugs - thevbite. The epidemic went from one person to 
another. The trains took away many sick people. They took us to 
Novorossiisk, a large port, and I didn't know what to do. I was 
alone, sick, and very weak, and we didn't want to fall in the 
hands of the Bolsheviks. Because it was a very cruel war. In 
Novorossiisk I walked around, not knowing what to do. The English 
evacuated us. They helped the White Army, giving us guns, 
uniforms, and medical supplies. 

I was already unable to fight, so they put me on a hospital 
ship, a former Austrian steamer, the Baron Beck. At the outbreak 
of the war, in 1914, the English took it and made it into a 
hospital ship. They had hammocks instead of beds. So I was put 
in a hammock, although I was very sick, and they took me first to 
the island of Crete. But they wouldn't take us. I don't know 
why; it was probably because there was no agreement; Crete belonged 
to Greece. We stayed a long time in the roadstead, and then went 
on to Alexandria, in Egypt, which was a British protectorate. There 
the English put me in a military hospital. This was in 1920. 

The doctors and sisters in the hospital were Hindus, very good. 
There I lay for a long time, and then they sent me to the military 
hospital at Cairo. I was there a long time, and then began to 
recover . 

I didn't know what to do. I had no money, no father or mother, 
and I had to eat. I understood that I had to undertake some kind 
of work, but I had no specialty. I hadn't finished gymnasium in 
Russia, hadn't taken the final exams. It was very hard to seek 
work. I didn't know any foreign language except French. So I 
looked and looked. 

There in Cairo was a Russian club. It is interesting that the 
director was a Jew, a very nice man. He had been a lawyer 
[advokat] in Russia. They looked after refugees, and we of course 
went to this club. There was a library there, and a general, his 
wife and two daughters had organized a little snackbar, where they 
sold drinks and zakuski. Even the Egyptians went there, because 
they liked the Russian cooking, and it didn't cost much there. Of 

Khr ipunov 

course, the emigrants took over this club. There were more of 
us, of the tsarist regime. 

I was in Egypt about two years, in Port Said, Alexandria, and 
then Cairo. Then I was in a camp for refugees, Tel-el-Kebir, 
between Cairo and Port Said. There we lived in tents, not in 
barracks, and nearby there were two English cavalry squadrons. 
They played polo, and we went to watch them. We had no money, 
and we were given British uniforms, so that I looked like an 
English soldier, with coat, and warm shirt. 

We Russians were always in good spirits, lively. We had 
artists among the refugees in the camp, including some young 
women, some of them singers. 

The English didn't like the Egyptians, and they told us not to 
go into the town, saying it was dangerous to go there in British 
uniforms the ordinary people might attack us. But we went there 
anyway, to sell our things because we needed the money to buy 
vodka and other things. 

So that's the way we lived. I was there about a half a year, 
and then returned to Cairo. There I found work for the first 
time. I was in a Russian restaurant and met an Egyptian judge. 
He had a mixed tribunal there, as they called it, because 
foreigners were not under the Egyptian tribunal. 

The judge's father, mother, wife, a son and daughters lived in 
his house. It was not in the center hut far out. The father and 
mother lived upstairs and his own family and an Arab servant 

The wife was a Christian a Copt. She was nice, but he was very 
miserly. He took me as a teacher of his son and daughter. I took 
them to and from school; that was my work. In the morning I had 
breakfast. Always beans, beans the cheapest food. 

I didn't sleep in their quarters, but instead they put me on the 
roof. In Cairo all buildings had flat roofs. On the roof there 
was a little house, with one room. Earlier they had kept chickens 
there for several years. It was dirty, but he said "This is 
yours." It was smelly in hot weather, and slippery when it was 
wet. There was no way to clean it. There was a wooden trestle 
[podmost], and he said, "That is your bed." It was winter, and 
the nights were cold. The one small window was broken, so that 
made it colder, so I lay there under my English army overcoat 
[ shinel ' ] and slept somehow. 

I went to school every morning with the boy and girl. He had 


a car, but it was out of repair, and he was very tight, and didn't 
want to spend the money to fix it. So I found a Russian who had 
served in a tank division; he said he could repair it, so I 
brought him. He bargained and bargained, but was always told it 
was too expensive. Finally the mechanic got tired of it and 
dropped the matter and took other work, and so it ended. But he 
had a little carriage pulled by a pony, and I sometimes went to 
town with that to fetch the children, though mostly I went about on 

During all the time I was there he never paid me. He promised 
but never did. But he gave me a fez to wear a tarboosh. "They 
don't like the English here," he said, "and without this they may 
take you for one. Therefore, you had better wear this." I took 
it, but never wore it. I kept it in my room. 

Pierce: What food did he give you? 

Khripunov: In the morning the young Egyptian servant fixed my breakfast. The 
food was poor. For breakfast there were beans, the cheapest food. 

I was there for two years. There was a big park in the center 
of town. Near it were two big hotels, Shepherd's, where most of 
the English stayed, and the Continentale, where most of the other 
foreigners stayed. Shepherd's was a good hotel. Not far away 
was a club, and there in the center of the town was a big park 
where there were big trees. I used to go walking there and some 
times you could pick up figs. They were very sweet and tasty and 
you could gather them where they had dropped. 

And then I went in this park to a canteen for English soldiers. 
I worked there sometimes. They delivered food and I sorted it out. 
That was my work it wasn't important. 

Then I also danced in the ballet for a time [laughing ruefully] 
but now I can't! 

Pierce: How long did you do that? 

Khripunov: Unfortunately, not long. It was very interesting. A Russian 

ballerina arrived, with her husband, her partner. She was a good 
ballerina; she organized a ballet at Cairo. She collected young 
boys and girls from among the emigrants. There were four girls 
and three of us boys. I went there. She was strict; you had to 
study and practice, every day. 

She put on only one ballet, Rimskii-Korsakov' s Scheherazade. 
She played the leading role, her husband was her partner, and we 
were slaves. 




The first night it went well; many people were interested, and 
there was a full house, but then it dwindled, so that after the 
3rd or 4th time there were not enough to continue . 

Who made up the audiences? 

Mostly Egyptians, 
not for long. 

It was new for them, and at first many came, but 

An entrepreneur then proposed that we go as a troupe for 
several years, to India and other places, but nothing came of it, 
because the girls' families didn't want to let them go. We were 
supposed to go to Port Said and there form another ballet, so we 
practiced and practiced, and the entrepreneur waited and waited, 
but time passed and he finally dropped the matter. I was very 
sorry because I had looked forward to travelling to other countries. 

And I, frankly, thought all the time that I would not be there 
much longer. We were then so naive; we were firmly convinced that 
the Bolsheviks would not last long, and then we could return home. 
I even had relatives who didn't put their children in school, 
saying that the Russian schools were better, and when they returned 
they could learn there. 

Therefore, I wanted to live closer to Russia, in Europe, in 
order to be closer to home. But at that time it was impossible to 
obtain a visa because of the evacuation of the Denikin and Wrangel 
armies, and the European countries didn't want to accept emigrants. 
I didn't know how to get to Europe. 

This ballerina, Zinaida Shubert, was a very nice person. A 
Russian steamer, the Kavkaz, arrived at Port Said. It was chartered 
by a French company, but it was formerly Russian. The captain was 
a Russian, and the representative of the company to which the ship 
belonged was a Russian, named Liamin. In Moscow he had known the 
ballerina well, and they often met. Liamin and his wife lived in 
a cabin aboard a ship in Port Said. I asked Liamin if it would 
be possible to go to Europe on that steamer. 

"The captain is an unpleasant, crude fellow," he told me. 
I thought it might be possible to speak to him. 


The ballerina Shubert invited us to dinner at the hotel in 
Alexandria, to which she had invited the captain. I sat beside 
him; we got along well, and I asked him: "Nikolai Nikolaevich, 
would it be possible for you to take me somehow to Europe?" And 
he agreed. 

The Kavkaz was a trading vessel; it called at ports along the 

Khripunov 8 

Asia Minor coast Jaffa, Haifa, Smyrna, and back to Constantinople. 
It came back from Constantinople with goods which it carried 
wherever there was a call for them. 

I got on the steamer, but it stood a long time in Port Said 
because the Company didn't want to send money for fuel. They 
wanted the steamer to earn its own way and buy the coal itself. 

So we stood a long time at Port Said. It was a freighter, not 
a passenger vessel, so there were places for four passengers. 
There was a Russian girl, she was a friend of the first officer, 
an Englishman. She would spend time with him, and then he would 
take her back at night on the launch. 

I had a Nansen passport. I decided there was nothing to do 
with the captain, for he was unpleasant, so I went to the French 
consulate, because the ship belonged to a French company, and 
asked permission to return to Constantinople. They took me as a 
seaman, and issued a visa so I could return in legal fashion. 

This was a good time. The Captain was Russian, and the crew. 
We ate well. Once we didn't carry goods, but livestock sheep, 
cows, and oxen all in the hold, and we had plenty of mutton. I 
had to stand watch at night and strike the bell, and wash the 
deck every day, and that was all. 

Smyrna was full of troops there was a war on between the 
Greeks and Turks. 

When we arrived at Constantinople I found my uncle, my father's 
cousin, also named Khripunov. He and my father had attended the 
privileged school, the Lyceum, in Petersburg, and the former 
Lyseiists had an organization. Through this, my uncle learned 
that there was a Khripunov at Budapest and when he wrote there, 
we found that he was my father. He had been in Yugoslavia and 
then went to Hungary. 

My uncle lived well! He was a practical man. He said, "You 
need to study, finish your education, get a specialty." At that 
time there was an organization of Russian emigres, the Soiuz 
gorodov [union of towns] . It formed a Russian gymnasium in 
Constantinople, and I went to this gymnasium and then the Czechs 
took the whole gymnasium to Czechoslovakia. The Czechs liked the 
Russian youth. They took the whole gymnasium girls and boys 
and sent it to a small town in Moravia, Cebovo. There, in 
barracks was the gymnasium, the director, the teachers, and 
students, and there I studied and finished. 

The Czechs helped the Russian emigres very much; they gave us 


everything free, all of our gymnasium and university educations. 
In Prague was the Svobodarnia, a great dormitory for students. 
I lived there for only a short time. In a small room. I didn't 
learn to speak Czech, and I soon went to Hungary. 

There, in Budapest, I saw my father for the first time since I 
had entered the army in Rostov. 

It was a joyful meeting, and I stayed on. I didn't want to 
leave my father. It was difficult for him to find work. That was 
in 1923. There was a small Russian colony there and I met Vera 
Aleksandrovna [Elischer] and her mother and children. 

Pierce : How was life in Hungary? 

Khripunov: The country was in economic ruin. The money fell in value, prices 
were in millions, there was much unemployment, it was hard to find 
work. I worked in a factory, making cloth, at a big loom, with a 
shuttle, which flew back and forth, and I always had to clean the 
thread . 

I worked in the textile factory for awhile and then was laid 
off. I lived in Budapest, in a barracks near the center of town. 
There was a number of such barracks. They belonged to the city. 
During the 1914 war they were lazarets for sick or wounded 
soldiers. When the war ended the city took them over and gave 
four to our Russian emigration, so we could live there. They were 
simple barracks, with plain beds. There were very many people; 
it wasn't very pleasant. Vera Aleksandrovna [Elischer] came once 
to see me there. 

There were different Russians there, other officers, not 
cavalrymen, but infantrymen. Very nice. They often came to my 
room. They had no work, so they gave me tea and helped me in 
those barracks. Later they got work and through them I got a job 
too, unloading boxcars. It was on the bank of the Dunai I Danube J . 
The trains went along there, and barges with foodstuffs. This work 
was not paid for by the hour but by the job, for one boxcar, two, 
and so forth. We worked together; it was heavy work. 

Then Vera Aleksandrovna [ElischerJ gave me advice. She taught 
French. "Why don't you do the same?" she said. She gave me a 
Hungarian boy pupil, and so I began to teach French, and did that 
for the rest of the time I was there. By working, I could help 
my father. 

The Hungarian people were very good to us. They helped us 
very much, even under Bela Kun, when they had communism. They 
knew that we had suffered from communism and the society, even 

Khripunov 10 

the higher society, helped us very much. Aristocrats, rich, with 
big estates, invited Russians like Prince Galitsyn, Prince 
Obolensky, and my father to stay with them. Galitsyn lived that 
way for 12 years, free. They gave him a house, a servant, food, 
everything, free. My father was also acquainted with a count. 
His wife was a Countess Esterhazy, and they had a hunting estate, 
and my father stayed there. Not in the house of the count, but 
in that of the head forester. When I arrived, I also lived there. 

Obelensky and Galitsyn lived like that for many years, but my 
father didn't want to, and after two years he left. 

But in Budapest, it was very difficult for him to find work. 
I got him a job in a factory, far from town, as a watchman. And 
then the estate owner, the count, invited him to stay there during 

the summer. And then I got acquainted with Mr. D (?), the director 

of a very large enterprise, Hanji (.?) in Hungarian meaning "arts". 
A great economic enterprise. We got along well, and when he left 
he said, "If you need anything, any time., come to me." 

And when my father had no work, I wrote him and he took my 
father in his office of this Hanji firm. It was easy work, as he 
was inside and warm in the winter, and later he got a pension, 
until his death in 1938, of a heart attack. 

I remained in Hungary for 23 years. I left when the 
Russians the Bolsheviks approached Budapest near the end of the 
Second World War. All the other emigrants were leaving; they 
didn't want to remain there, but I was tired of emigration, 
always emigrating, emigrating. I thought that the Russians, my 
own people, were approaching, and I might perhaps remain, but then 
I met people with the Swedish Red Cross. They occupied several 
villas. They helped mainly the Jews, hid them, and saved them 
from the Germans. The director was a Swede, a very nice man. He 
said that if the Red Army comes I can hide you.* For awhile I 
thought of remaining, and entering the service of the Swedes, 
but then the Germans gave us transportation; they supplied trains 
and took families, priests, and everybody they liked the 

* Note: this was probably the well-known and tragic figure Raoul 
Wallenberg, who was soon arrested by the Russians. He was said 
to have died in a Soviet prison in 1946, but repeated rumors 
ever since have indicated that he may still have been in confine 
ment in the Soviet Union much later. The most recent report, in 
December 1982, was given by a former camp inmate, in Israel, 
who said he had talked to a man about 1972, who may have been 



I had a good friend, also a Russian, and we went together, 
through Vienna, then to Stuttgart, and later he also went with me 
to America. He was ten years older than I, and he is dead now, 
from a heart attack. 

I came to America in 1947. I had good documents. In Budapest 
I had a Nansen passport, but the Swedes gave me a Swedish Red 
Cross passport. When the Americans saw this in 1974 they regarded 
it as a valid document and I quickly obtained a visa to go to 
America. All the emigrants wanted very much to come here. They 
stood in line, asked, and wrote, but with my documents I quickly 
received permission. From Stuttgart, I went to a camp, and from 
this camp they sent me to a German town where I boarded a ship 
for America, the General Exelman. 

While in Europe I always wanted to live in the south, because 
the winter was always cold, we were very poor, and needed fuel. 
We had small rooms and the cold, rain and snow came in. I 
dreamed of settling somewhere in the south of France. Therefore, 
when someone suggested going to California I agreed. 

The ship landed in New York. I didn't stay long there, only 
a day, and then set out for Chicago by train, and from there to 
Los Angeles. 

Here again it was the same story as in Hungary, 
to find work, and what to do? 

It wasn't easy 

[There followed a difficult time. Mr. Khripunov and his friend 
were picking fruit, and not doing very well at it when his friend, 
Vera Elischer, again helped him with timely advice and he was 
able to obtain light work in Santa Barbara, California, and 
eventually an old age pension. With relative security, he was 
able to make two trips to the Soviet Union.] 

Pierce: What was it like to go back? 

Khripunov: I was in Moscow for two weeks in 1972. I saw my sisters there 

and many relatives. It was a pleasant visit for me. My relatives 
took good care of me. Every day there was a program of some 
sort. I was invited first by one relative and then by another. 
So I got along with them well. I stopped in the hotel Metropol. 
In my time, the Metropol was the most fashionable in Moscow. 
There the artists usually stopped. Now after the war it has 
grown older and is not the same, but I had a good room, with a 
carpet, and a bathroom. I didn't want to stay with my sisters, 
because if you stay with relatives it is much harder to get a 
visa. Therefore, I went as a tourist, entirely independently. 



When I arrived in Moscow I didn't know where I would be staying. 
Intourist decided that. They said I would stay at the Metropol, 
and took me there, by car. 

When I was there the second time I stayed in a large, fine new 
hotel, the "Rossiia", near Red Square. Everything was fine. I 
had no unpleasantness. Everybody was correct in their attitude 
and service. 

Pierce: Even though you had fought against them in the Civil War? 

Khripunov: They no longer have any interest in the old emigration. It was 
different after the 2nd World War, when they didn't like the old 
emigres. Some had served with the Germans. I read of one case, 
a Russian-Ukrainian, who wanted to go back with his wife and 
children. He went and it appeared that he had worked with the 
Germans. They arrested him, and I think they shot him. They 
went in a group of tourists to Moscow. Some went to the Baltic, 
and some to other places, and he remained in Moscow. They 
arrested him, questioned him, and shot him. Perhaps he only 
worked in the kitchen with the Germans, but that didn't matter. 
But Iwhen I went there] they were no longer interested in us, the 
old emigres. 

Pierce: You didn't visit Orel? 

Khripunov: I was only in Moscow. I was interested only in seeing my sisters 
and relatives, so I wasn't in any of the museums or anywhere else. 
Once I was in the Bolshoi Theater. I had a young niece and I 
thought it would be nice for her, because as a tourist it would 
be easier for me to obtain tickets. They have to stand in long 
lines for tickets, all night sometimes. The Intourist people 
asked if we wouldn't want to go on excursions. I refused, but 
then I thought that my niece might like to go. 

And when I went for tickets to the Bolshoi Theater they said 
there were no more tickets, because all the artists had gone on 
tour, to America, Western Europe and other places. And then 
after a week or so they came and said, "There is an extra 
performance, because at this time the King and Queen of 
Afghanistan [?] had arrived as visitors, and for this they had 
organized a special performance of the ballet "Giselle". I asked 
for five tickets and got three, so I could take my niece and 
another relative. It was a very fine performance. Between acts 
we went to the foyer for refreshments. 

Moscow is full of people, there are great crowds and traffic. 
Moscow draws the tourists, not only from Europe and America, but 
from India and Pakistan. People had to stand in line just to buy 
a magazine. 

Baron Beck, hospital ship, 4 
Denikin, White Army leader, 4 
Elischer, Vera A., friend, 9 

General Exelman, steamship, 11 
Germans, in Ukraine, 3 

Kavkaz, steamer, 7, 8 

Khripunov, Nikolai Nikolaevich, upbringing, 1; Revolution, 

3-4; emigration, Cairo, 4, Czechoslovakia, 8; Budapest, 9; 

USA, journey to, 1947, 11; USSR, visits to, 1972, 12 
Kun, Bela, Hungarian Communist leader, 9 

Novorossiisk, 4 

Stenbok-Fermor, Ivan Ivanovich, 3; Sergei, 3 

Ukraine, 3 

Tel-el-Kebir , Egypt, refugee camp, 5 

Wallenberg, Raoul, Swedish diplomat, 10 n. 

World War I, 2 

Wrangel, White Army leader, 4 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre" Series 

Adolf Idol 

Recollections of Russia 
Before, During, and After the 1917 Revolution 

An Interview Conducted by 
Richard A. Pierce 

August 1, 1979 
at Carmel Valley, California 

Copyright (cj 1986 by the Regents of the University of California 


Interview with Adolf Idol, 

at Carmel Valley, California, 
1 August, 1979. 

I met Adolf Idol (known to Russian acquaintances as 
Adolf Adolf ovich) in Monterey, California, in June 1979. Tall, 
still handsome, belying his 74 years, he was pleasant and 
unassuming. A Baltic German, born and raised in Estonia when 
it was still part of Russia, he had been a keen observer of 
relations between the Baltic countries and Russia on the one 
hand, and with Germany. In 1940, before the Soviet occupation 
of Estonia, he emigrated to Germany, where he was soon taken 
into the Wehrmacht. 


When iakov (Svanidze) Stalin, the son of the Soviet dictator, 
by his first wife was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1941, Idol 
was with an anti-aircraft unit. Because of his knowledge of 
Russian, he was transferred to the German airforce to interrogate 
the prisoner. He showed me a photograph of Svanidze, looking 
down, with Idol on his right, in profile, and a young German 
captain, in propaganda work, on his left. The latter did not 
even speak Russian, but had the interview recorded. He later 
cut Idol out of the picture and had the remainder, of him with 
Svanidze given to the press. The picture was widely 
publicized, with uncomplimentary remarks Svanidze made about 
Stalin and the alleged murder of his mother. In 1942 the 
Germans offered Svanidze to the Russians in exchange for General 
von Paulus, but Stalin refused. Svanidze, fearing repatriation 
at the end of the war, died by touching the electric fence 
of the camp he was in. After the war, the Soviet secret police 
hunted down the young German captain who had been pictured with 
Svanidze, and sentenced him to ten years in a labor camp, but 
as Idol had been removed from the picture, they did not know of 

Idol 2 

Idol told of another Soviet prisoner, a friend of the Stalin 
family, whom he interrogated soon after he was captured. Saying 
to himself "This one I will hide'. 1 he kept him sequestered. He got 
much information from, liked him and finally put him with Soviet 
airforce PW's. At the end of the war, when these were repatriated, 
the man was immediately sent to Moscow, where he was reinstated 
with the Stalin family. Later, Idol heard that the erstwhile 
prisoner, now in Munfdh, was looking everywhere for him, but Idol 
decided to remain in hiding. Perhaps the Soviet merely wanted 
to see him out of gratitude. (Or, I suggested, to get rid of Idol 
as sole witness to his special status during the war and the 
circumstances of his return? But Idol said it would not have 
been in keeping with his character.) 

Specializing in intelligence work, he worked closely with 
the Vlasov army, made up of Red Army prisoners of war who had volunteered 
to enter a special corps, to fight on the German side. They were not 
pro-Nazi, but rather an i-communist, and desirous of a free Russia. 
Idol said that he had devised a way to have men of various Soviet 
nationalities, Russians, Turkestanians and others, in one air force unit, 
by having all wear the same uniform but with arm insignia indicating 
their respective nationalities. This worked, and they all got on very 
well. He saw General Vlasov many times, also General Maltsev and 
others of the Vlasov air force. He had pictures of himself with Vlasov 
and subordinates, and one of General Maltsev beside a plane. He 
had had many more, but at the end of the war destroyed them, so had 
got them since from various individuals. He had one of Vlasov in 
civilian clothes when he was being hidden after he had surrendered 
to the Germans. Idol had drafted a memo, signed by Colonel Halters, 
proposing a separate air squadron for the Vlasov forces. This was 
given to a high officer of the Luftwaffe. This officer had a quarrel 
with Hitler and shot himself. The memo was found in his safe. It 
seemed important, so Halters was asked to take the necessary action. 
He agreed only if Idol was given him as an assistant, so he was 
thereafter with the Vlasov air force. 

After the war he came to the United States and taught for some 
years at the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, until retirement. 
He had a great store of information, so I asked him if I might tape 
his account, but he refused, saying that it was still too soon, and 

it might bring harm to people still living. He was also, in all 

idol : 

likelihood, in the habit of maintaining a low profile, instilled 
especially under conditions at the end of the war. However, he 
had evidently enjoyed our chat, and the chance to talk of many 
things which he said he had not discussed with anyone for over 
20 years. He agreed that I might tape an interview with him about 
the abortive communist putch which took place in Estonia in 1924. 

Two days later, on 19 June, I visited him at his home in 
sunny Cannel Valley, on the outskirts of the village of the same name. 
The rambling old house, at the foot of the hills on one side of 
the valley, was almost hidden by oak trees and chaparral. It 
was one of the first to be built in that part of the valley, as 
a hunting lodge for a wealthy San Franciscan and his guests. 

Inside was an interesting collection of objets d'art. 
Mrs. Idol was a member of the wealthy Uxkllll family of Estonia, 
which at one time had had the equivalent of 200,000 acres. 
When the country became a republic after World War I, the 
estates were confiscated, leaving only thehouse and the farm buildings. 
Her father took "many box cars' of furniture and art objects to 
Germany. Much of what they took was sold at auction, but the proceeds 
vanished in the German inflation of the early 1920 's. Objects they 
still possessed included two larger than lifesize busts of the Emperor 
Nicholas I and his consort in Roman dress, presented to an earlier 
Uxktill by Nicholas in gratitude for hospitality; a little porcelain 
thing showing a young man and woman in 18th century garb, embracing. 
This had been made for the Empress Alexandra, who said it would not 
do at all, and ordered that it be broken up, but it was not. 
There were some old portraits of 18th century vintage; and one 
probably of the 17th century, of a child, with a big dog. Stowed 
away in a drawer were several dozen books of the 17th and 18th 
centuries, of considerable value. 

All over the house there were pictures of the East Indian 
leader of a Vedanta sect, Sai Baba, to which Mrs. Idol adhered. 

Idol liked to walk with his dog, an Alsatian, and their cat, 
Ocelot, thus named because of its markings. He indulged a small 
eccentricity, collecting hats, using different ones for his walks 
and visits to town. His Germanic orderliness contrasted with his 
wife's Russian carelessness and impetuosity; both were warm and 


After the interview of 19 June, given on the following pages, 
there was no opportunity for another that year. I saw him again 
on 27 July 1980, the following year, during a short visit to 
Monterey, but there was no opportunity for another interview at 
that time. I hoped to have one or more later on, but toward the 
end of 1980 he died of a stroke. 

Richard A. Pierce 


Interview, with Adolf Idol, 
at Carmel Valley, California, 
1 August 1979. 

Pierce: Mr. Idol, you agreed to talk today about your experiences in Estonia 
during the abortive communist putsch in 1924. Since very little is 
known about this, anything you have to say about this will be of 

Idol: One of the most knowledgeable individuals regarding Russian history 
is Georg von Rauch; he is from my own fraternity. You know his 
book, A History of Soviet Russia; it is now translated, a standard 
source, a really dependable source. Therefore, I was astonished 
to discover in the chronological listing at the end the note 
"Communist putsch in Reval, October 1924" But it was really on 
December 1, and not in October. How could it happen? Von Rauch 
is accurate in relations with France and other things, but slips 
up in this extremely important occurrence for Estonia and in 
the history of Soviet foreign policy. 

Now to talk about December 1. I have thought about it since we 
talked last time, and I am sure that you can find very good, even 
excellent reports about all these happenings in Toronto among the 
Estonians living there, especially the older generation. There 
will certainly be somebody still living who was there at the time. 
I myself can't tell you much about it, only about when it happened; 
I remember it so well. 

I was just 19 years old, and I had just matriculated in the 
University of Tartu, but I happened to be not in Tartu but in 
Tallin. I was in a German club, the Black Hats club (Schwarz 
Holcke ? Klub) , a historic, Hanseatic club there. It was quite 
late, and there was some kind of a party or something going on 
there, and it was in the middle of the night, maybe between one or 
two o'clock or something like that, when I went home. Everything 
was deserted and quiet, and I just walked through the city to the 
place where I lived, passing by the main railway station. I 
crossed the railway tracks, maybe 200 meters from the main 
buildings. It was very quiet there and nothing was happening. 
When I got home, I went to sleep, but one or two hours later I 
was awakened by the sound of shooting . When I heard machine guns 
I knew that something was going on. I dressed quickly and went out. 
At this time the battle had begun. I found that the communists 
had occupied the Baltic central station, so that when I passed 
by, they were already inside, waiting for the signal to begin. 
I was probably lucky that I passed by when I did, and not later. 

And then they occupied the Ministry of War, and across the street 
the central police, and all police stations including the detective 
police. And then they occupied the center of Tallin, the central 
post office, which means telephone and telegraph also, and the 
radio station. They occupied, or stormed, you could say, the 
officers school on the outskirts of Tallin, which was maybe three 
kilometers from Tallin, and two or three more places. 


All this in one night. It was well planned. The Communist Party 
existed officially, but all this was done in the underground. 
In a few preceding months they brought in a few hundred Estonian 
communist revolutionaries and instructors from Soviet Russia. 
They crossed the border illegally and prepared everything. They 
brought in weapons, and so everything was arranged with the idea 
that the so-called proletariat of Tallin would join them, tecause 
in Tallin there was big industry. But they made one mistake; 
everything they did in the beginning was right; the only wrong thing 
was that the proletariat didn't come out, so practically nobody 
joined this uprising, and so it was just a relatively small group 
of revolutionaries who couldn't succeed against the military. One 
of the heroes of the war of independence in Estonia, General 
Tudeh (?), a former Russian officer they were all former Russian 
military officers commanded the military which fought the battle 
for the Baltic station the central station. It took quite awhile 
before they recaptured it. The shooting went on for a day or two 
or even more. Then they began to try to round up the revolutionaries 
who went underground in Tallinn and other cities. 

It took quite awhile before it was fully liquidated, and then they 
had the military courts and everything proceeded through them. 
Both death sentences and imprisonment were imposed. The general 
prosecutor was a Baron Knorring, of a very well known Baltic German 
family. There were still a few Baltic Germans in the government 
apparatus then, especially the military. 

After that, probably a month or two later, the Communist Party was 
forbidden. All this had been initiated from the center, from the 
Estonian section of the Comintern. As far as I know, it was the 
first time that a revolutionary uprising was initiated on the 
outside in this way. 

RP: They really believed their own propaganda? 

Idol: Oh yes I They realy deceived themselves, and there is no question 
that they were all idealists always the most dangerous. 

RP: Up to then everything had been very quiet? 
Idol: Yes, at least nothing like that. 
RP: So this was just an episode? 

Idol: Yes, but early in the morning of the same night I went to the 

headquarters of an organization which was founded just before the 
war of independence, a kind of civilian guard. Probably you would 
compare it to a certain degree to the National Guard in the United 
States now; it was a kind of militia. So I went there immediately 
and volunteered, and they gave me a rifle and some ammunition. 

RP: And a brassard? 

Idol: Yes, and I had to go and make patrols. It went on for a month or 

so, patrols regularly at night everywhere. Our headquarters was on 
the Surtatumante, the road which leads to Tartu, a big central 


central street. For a few years after that they organized this unit 
more and more until it became a real national guard, with uniforms 
promotions, and leading officers from the military and so on. Later, 
anyone who was a member was very much a persona non grata after 
Estonia was taken over by the Red Army. It is understandable, because 
this was the hard core /of possible resistance/. 

I mentioned that it was a turning point in my life, because until then 
I had never actively joined anything. Now I became automatically a 
member of something, an active body, the goal of which was to resist 
or to fight communist takeover attempts. 

RP: What were your motives/ Were you primarily anti-Bolshevik, or 
pro-Estonian, were you patriotic and desiring to preserve the 
status quo? 

Idol: That is an interesting question, and an individual question, because 
it wasn't the same with everybody. In my case it was a little bit 
different. With regard to this I have prepared the following short 
manuscript for you: 

"There were several turning points during my life, but I think that 
the one which determined my entire future life took place exactly 
65 years ago, on August 1st of 1914. I was then almost 9 years old, 
and lived with my parents in St. Petersburg, Russia, where my father was 
an official of the Imperial Treasury Department. My mother, being an 
ethnic German, from Estonia (Deutsch-Baltin) spoke other languages 
beside German with a distinctly recognizable German accent. Inside 
the family we spoke only German. I attended a German secondary 
school (gymnasium), the St. Aunen-Schule, we belonged to a German 
Lutheran church, St. Aunen kirche, etc, etc. You could say it was 
an almost 100% German home. At that time about 5% of the two million 
population of the Russian capital was German. 

"I remember this particular day, it was sunny and warm. The morning 
papers were already delivered, as usual. They contained the 
shattering news of the beginning of the war with Germany. It was 
very exciting for me, as a nine year old boy, to read the big 
headlines about the start of the hostilities. As I felt, we, our 
country, had been attacked by a vicious enemy, Germany. 

"After awhile I left our home and went, as usual, to a playground to 
meet my playmates, with whom I played almost every day during the 
school vacation. They were already gathered together, but I 
immediately noticed that something must have happened meanwhile 
between yesterday and today. They stood in a closed group and 
watched me approach them. Then, spontaneously, they began to sing 
a Russian childrens' verse, jeering at and ridiculing the Germans. 
The content of the song didn't make any sense, it was just gibberish, 
but it was used by children and is probably known to them to this 
very day. 

"The effect on me was tremendous. For some reason I was absolutely 
unprepared for this situation. In spite of our "German" household 
I never felt myself to be other than an integral part of my Russian 
environment. I spoke Russian like a Russian, I loved Russian 
literature, music, songs, and was, thanks to my upbringing, 


absolutely at home in the Russian culture. My friends were Russians 
and Germans, not to mention children of Jewish, French, English and 
other origins. As I later could understand, I was brought up in a 
truly cosmopolitan atmosphere, accepting the Russian monarchy, 
state and people as the given environment of my place of birth, 
without narrowing this fact to a nationalistic allegiance to all 
Russia. On the other hand, there might be an important difference 
between me and my Russian friends and playmates: I had hardly any 
connection with the Russian-Orthodox Church. Everybody who knows 
"Old Russia" knows how deeply rooted were all Russians in their 
church, and how much this influence determined their entire life. 

"I could say today that I was "thunderstruck" by the unexpected attitude 
of my playmates. I remember that I stood awhile and felt like 
crying. I turned around and slowly left the playground, going home. 

"I don't remember that I told my parents about what had happened, but 
I began to think about myself and everything that happened after 

this day in a new light. 


"Very soon the government issued regulations prohibiting the use of 
the German language in public. That meant that everywhere, in offices, 
stores, shops, etc., posters were put on the wall prohibiting the 
speaking of German. 

"In our German school all books had to be changed to books with 
Russian texts . Very soon our school was confiscated and an 
officers school and a military hospital were established there. 

"One German school was still allowed to exist (St. Petri-Schule) 
on the Nevsky Prospect. Their students attended the school in the 
first half of the day, and our students from the St. Aunen-Schule 
began at 3 p.m. and finished at 8 p.m. in the late evening every 

RP: So at the age of nine you became aware that you were part of a minority. 

Idol: Exactly! That was somehow a turning point for me, as was December 3rd, 
ten years later. 

I had more such points. Another which very much influenced me occurred 
in 1940, after I arrived by ship in Gdynia, which we called Gotenhafen, 
in the former Polish Corridor. From there we were transported to 
the city of Poznan, formerly the Russian Posen, which after the World 
War was Polish. That was where I had to settle. 

One spring day I was walking on the street in Posen. My only thought 
was how to begin building up a new life. I had to take care of my 
family. Because of my business and personal connections, that was 
not likely to be very difficult. I had a good reputation and people 
wanted to have me, so that rather than having to look for a position, 
I was looked for. 

Now that day, as I was walking, there came marching a small unit of 
the black uniformed SS. For the most part this black uniformed SS 


consisted of ethnic Germans who lived in Poland. After they were, 
so to say, liberated by the National Socialists, they were given 
every opportunity to join these sub-organizations of the Nazi Party. 
Now such a unit was marching there, a small unit of 20 to 25 people, 
not more, and in front of them was marching an NCO of the SS, somebody 
with very small sub-officer rank. 

Then I saw Polish children, they were looking on with much interest, 
as children always do when something military is passing by they 
didn't know what it represented. Suddenly a small boy, with bare 
feet, ran on the street just in front of them, to the other side of 
the street for some reason. And then I couldn't believe my 
eyes this red-haired SS NC6 ran after the boy and with full force 
kicked him with his big boot so that the boy was just thrown against 
the wall. It was a shock to see it. Then he immediately returned 
and marched again. 

It was a shock. Suddenly I really understood what was going on 
there. It was good, because there was pressure on all immigrants or 
refugees of German origin to join something. You had to join just 
to show your loyalty, and I was in an especially dangerous position 
because I had been an editor of a German newspaper in Tallin which 
had been constantly in opposition to this upcoming National Socialist 
pressure. I had not only been the editorof this paper, I had been 
the co-founder of one and then a second political organization to 
resist this pressure. 

/This, by the way, will indicate the position I had in Estonia./' 
I have mentioned my talk with the prime minister before I left Estonia. 
The reason I had such connections was because these people knew that 
the Germans whose families had lived for 700 years in their country were 
not like those of Germany; it was an entirely different aspect. But 
I don't want to talk about that right now. 

But this small episode immediately told me 'Careful, careful! ' and 
I balanced between all the things, so as somehow not to be pressured 
into something /I didn't want to get involved in/, and to survive, 
which wasn't very easy. Then, suddenly, I was drafted, and sent to 
the front. Once in the military, my political affiliations were no 
longer in question, so I didn't need to do anything; I was not under 
pressure anymore. 

Except that now, if you believe in coincidences, I just happened to land 
in the center of the people who later tried to liquidate Hitler. It 
was the 4th Army of Field Marshal von Klug, who later had to take his 
own life, and many officers of his staff were later killed after the 
1944 attempt. It was a center of enemies of Hitler, so it was a 
dangerous spot. I just happened to fall in the midst of these 
people, and being a Bait was immediately accepted by them. 

RP: Were they predominantly Baits? 

Idol: Oh no! I was the only one in this particular group, but there were 
a few Baits who were killed after the July 1944 attempt. Not many, 
but a few. The Baits mostly had another policy. Most Baits were 


friends of the anti-communist Russians, worked with them, were good 
to the population, and so on. Such as Strik-Strikfeld, who was 
with Vlasov he was a Bait from Riga, with some British ancestry. 

RP: Now, to return to the question of why you joined the militia group 
in Estonia in 1924. 

Idol: Yes! And that is why I gave you that passage to read. You see, I 
couldn't identify myself with a narrowly national point of view. 
Even today I cannot. Impossible. It is my fourth citizenship 
right now. What can you expect from me, you see. I am glad it is 
America; I can say "Oh, its so multinational"; its not a particular 

RP: So, when you were nine years old you became aware that you were a 
German living on Russian soil. 

Idol: Right! The basic culture in my house, the language that we spoke 
at home was German, but I was not German in the sense of a German 
from Germany. I had never been in German. Germany was a foreign 
country for me; my roots were in Estonia. 

RP: Then later, as you have just described in the episode about the 
SS NCO, that again, even though you were now on German soil, 
German speaking and in culture, still you were different from those 

Idol: Right! It sounds like a joke, but I am probably the only German officer 
who never took an oath to Hitler, which everyone had to take. And 
only by a mistake, of which I was very much aware. You see, it happened 
through a series of circumstances, and although I don't believe in 
coincidence, I never took an oath. Never. It was overlooked. It 
was supposed that I had it was so self-evident but sometimes such 
things can happen. I got so many medals and everything, and had 
some very interesting key positions, and was in top secret situations, 
but I never had what I was supposed to have had, the oath to the 
Fdhrer. By the way, all the Stauffenbergs, and the others, all of 
them had to take this oath, but they broke the oath. It is a 
curious thing. 

RP: So you never had a feeling of commitment which might have come if 
you had taken an oath. 

Idol: No! I never felt that I was committed. 

RP: Now back to 1924, you remeined in the militia for some time? 

Idol: I remained! 

RP: Did you go up in the ranks? 

Idol: No, I didn't. You see, I didn't go with the trend, you had to go 
all the time for maneuvers and so on, like many of my friends, 
but I didn't, so I never advanced in this thing; I didn't have 
the time. I had to divide my time between my studies, and later 


I needed money so I had to go into business life, and thirdly, I 

had to go into politics, and edit the newspaper, Neue Zeit (the 

New Time). I simply didn't have time, and wasn't very much interested; 

I knew that I could do very little there, and that I could do much 

more for the cause in a different activity and not just trying 

to play at military life on a very low level. 

RP: How did you see the cause? 

Idol: That's a difficult question, and I am very careful. I would prefer 
not to talk too much about it right now, because I have to organize 
my own thoughts /on the matter/. 

RP: We are speaking of the 1920's, of course. 

Idol: Yes, its easier then. In the 1920 's there is no question that 

I saw simply that the enemy number one was in the East. And then 
I began to look more from a higher point. I thought there are two 
forces coming out. I never believed seriously in the so-called 
Western democracy, especially the American and so on; I never believed 
that they would be able to resist these two big movements, powers 
and so on Germany and Italy, with 

Fascism, and the USSR and communism. I never believed that it was 
possible to crush communism in the western way. I never believed 
in it, and I believed more that it was possible to crush what they 
now call fascism, lets say this entire complex. And by the way, 
fascism and everything in this sector came from Moscow, it bears a 
Moscow stamp. So I thought they could be defeated, the communists 
could be even more affected in fighting this upcoming fascism. 
And so I didn't feel myself committed, either to one or the other. 
Nor believing, you see, in the old style democracy, or parliamentary 
democracy as it existed. I thought some new ways must be found. 
By the way, the Estonians tried, although its very much misunderstood; 
they had some movements, but they tended too much toward the 
fascistic side. 

RP: They were trying to keep a middle road? 

Idol: Right! but they wanted to fight. But they are a rare people, like 
their last president, Petz (?), who by no way was a fascist, who 
fought the Estonian fascists lets call them that, although it isn't 
the right word, but just to use a cliche and he and the prime 
minister Einpanu (?) had to find the routes and the way in this 
direction, you may call it a middle road, without giving up freedom, 
without going into a dictatorship, but governing something like Euro 
communism. They tried something like that, but against the communists. 
And so I never felt committed. 

RP: How did the Estonians regard you and other Baltic Germans who were 
living in Estonia in the 1920 's? Were you accepted or integrated, 
or did some of them look upon you as the Russians did in 1914, as 
a people apart? 

Idol: It wasn't easy. There was an upcoming new young nationalism, of 
Young Turks, but it was not so with the old leaders. The real 
leaders, Petz, Einpalu (?) and Tenison (?) and many others. They were 
not antagonistic against the Baits; they recognized them as a useful 

idol i: 

part of the population; they recognized their right to live there. 
They didn't recognize their ownership of 70% or so of the entire 
country, but after the war of independence and after the agrarian 
reforms these problems were mainly solved. They were absolutely 
ready to accept them as full citizens, without prerogatives of 
aristocracy or other privileged status. 

RP: How many remained in the government? 

Not many, but as an example, I remember the commander of the third 

cavalry regiment, the only cavalry regiment of Estonia, was a Baron 

Buxhoeveden, of a very old family, seven hundred years old. 

The commander of one squadron was Baron Nolcken, and you could see, 

at parades and other events, the regimental commanders, Baron 

so and so, etcetera. 

In Latvia it was the same, the first admiral, and commander of the 
fleet was Graf Keyserling. Everywhere you could find them in the 
judiciary, and in the economy, old firms and old names. But new 
firms had Estonians. Because there was already an Estonian 
intelligentsia, and a very good intelligentsia. The center of this 
intelligentsia was in Petersburg. My own father, who was of 
Estonian origin, was one of the early leaders of the renaissance 
of Estonia, but he died before that. If he had not died in 1916 he 
might have been one of the leading government people in Estonia. 
He was the chairman of the Estonian society in St. Petersburg, and 
his best friend and my godfather was Alexander Tomba (?), who was 
minister of finance in Estonia after independence. He was already 
in finance in Petersburg; he was the jurisconsult of the Volga-Kama 
bank, one of the leading Russian banks, but at home he and his wife, 
who was Estonian too, spoke German. 

When I grew up, after my father's death, I could have gone into 
Estonian life. They offered to send me to France, to the Sorbonne, 
with all expenses paid. But no, I wanted to go to Berlin, because 
I had grown up in this German culture, and all my wife's relatives 
were German. 

Then I went to Tartu and joined the German fraternity, and that 
determined my /life/. I asked my friends, "What do you want Do 
you want me to go with the Estonians, and be a friend of the Germans 
in Estonia, or do you want me to remain here to be with you?" 
"Oh no," they said, " you have to be with us! and be an active fighter 
for Baltic Germans as an integral part of Estonia..." For me the 700 
years were more important, the history of the past which formed the 
entire culture, the history and so on. 

And it was funny, in our circles they talked about the Germans in 
Germany, about the Reichsgermanen the Imperial Germans as different 
from other Germans. I think it was the same way as many ethnic Germans 
might have felt in other countries. But who had such a long history? 
Nobody! Because if a family went to South America or somewhere, 
maybe it was a second generation, or a third, but not more, but here 
you had 700 or 800 years. 


RP: The only thing like it would have been the Swedish minority in 

Idol: Right! And you can see what happened there, through integration; 
you can see today it would be ridiculous to talk about some 
conflicts between Swedes and Finns; it has all passed by. 

RP: What higher education did you obtain in the 1920 's? 

Idol: In 1925 I interrupted my law studies in Tartu to go to the 

University of Berlin, which was one of the few universities which 
had what they called Staatswissenschaf t, a department of State 
science. Today you would call it political and social science, 
but it was together, one complex. They had something similar in 
the universities in Vienna and in the Sorbonne. 

In the 1920 's I had something more. The Pan-Europa movement arose, 
led by Count Coudenhove-Kalergi in Vienna. I was very much 
interested in that. I felt that a united Europe was something 
worth fighting for. 

RP: This was an early forerunner of the idea of a Common Market? 

Idol: Right! Very early. Led by Stresemann, Gaspari and others. And I 

still have deep sympathy for everything which is going in this direction, 
and I believe that maybe if it could be realized it could help to 
solve the world's problems. That's what I think, because I am so 
disappointed by the foreign policy here right now. 

The United Nations was an opportunity for this, but it has 
followed the same trends as the League of Nations . 


Baltic Germans, 7 
Buxhoeveden , Baron, 12 

Carmel Valley, California, 3 

Defense Language Institute, Monterey, 2 

Estonia, communist putsch, 1924, 3, 5-6; civilian guard formed, 6; 
anti-communist movements, 11 

Fraternities, student, 5, 12 

Gdynia (Gotenhafen) , 7, 8 

Idol, Adolf, education, 13, emigration to Germany, 8, death, 4 

Keyserling, Count, 12 
Klug, Field Marshal von, 9 

Maltsev, General, Soviet officer in airforce of Vlasov army, 2 

Nolcken, Baron, 12 

Poznan (Posen) in 1940, 7, 8 

Rauch, Georg von, historian, 5 

Stalin, Josef, 1, 2 

Strik-Strikfeld, anti-Hitler Baltic German, 9 

Svanidze, lakov, son of Josef Stalin, 1 

Tartu, University of, 5 
Vlasov army, 2 

World War I, outbreak, Russian prejudice against Germans 
in Russia, 7 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre" Series 

Oswald Kratins 

Recollections of Life in a Southern Russian Factory Town 

During the Bolshevik Terror } 1917-1918, 
and of Latvia During the Soviet Take Over, 1940 

An Interview Conducted by 
Richard A. Pierce 

February 1983 
at Monterey, California 

Copyright (c) 1986 by the Regents of the University of California 


A Latvian by nationality, Oswald Kratins was born a 
Russian subject, his country being then a part of the Russian 
Empire. Early in World War I, facing a German advance, the 
Russian government evacuated hundreds of thousands of Poles 
and Baits from the threatened western areas to points in the 
interior. Mr Kratins and his parents were settled in the Don 
region. He describes life in the region after the October 
Revolution, the Bolshevik terror, and successful departure with 
a transport of hundreds of Latvians for their homeland in 1920, 
in which they bribed officials along the way with salt, 
tobacco, and flour. 

He then tells of the Soviet acquisition of basis in Latvia 
in September 1939, annexation of the country in 1940, followed 
by another terror and wholesale deportations ended only by the 
arrival of German forces in June/ July. 

He concludes with a few anecdotes about getting established 
in the USA. 

Mr. Kratins has white, wavy hair, a ruddy complexion 
free of wrinkles, and an erect bearing. For years he has been 
an avid reader on international affairs and history. As an 
avocation, pursued with zeal as a patriotic duty toward the 
lost homeland, he has gathered all manner of information about 
Latvia, to be placed on file or published by an organization 
of Latvian emigres in Toronto, to inform generations yet unborn, 

The interviews were taken in the Kratins 1 home in Monterey, 
which they have occupied since his retirement from many years 
of service with Holman's department store in Pacific Grove. The 
living room had many books, a study and guest room had many more. 
Since the interviews were made, however, Mr. Kratins has had 
considerable trouble with his eyes, requiring surgery, and 
forcing him and his wife to dispose of many of their possessions 
and move to the settlement for the elderly, "Rossmore". 

Richard A. Pierce 
22 July 1985 

Interview with Oswald Kratins 
Date: February 1983 
Interviewer: Richard A. Pierce 
Transcriber: " 

Pierce: This will be an account of boyhood experiences in Russia, and your 
experiences later on, within your own country, Latvia, when the 
Russians annexed it during World War II. Could you tell, first, of 
how you happened to be in Russia? 

Kratins: I was born in Riga, on 29 March 1904. Riga was then the capital 

of the Lifliandskaia gubernia, or province, of the Russian Empire, 
and later, after 1917, of the republic of Latvia. 

In the spring of 1916 my parents and I travelled from Tver, on the 
river Volga, to Nakhichevan-na-Donu [on-the-Don, as distinct from 
another Nakhichevan, in Armenia] adjoining Rostov-na-Donu in the 
oblast [region] of the Don Cossack voisko [host]. After a harsh 
winter, with many snow storms, it was very pleasant to settle in 
a town full of the fragrance of acacia trees. Nakhichevan was 
a medium sized town [1896 census: 32,174 inhabitants], with two 
factories. The Aksai factory was the larger, formerly an 
agricultural machine factory. The Tikhomirov factory was smaller, 
manufacturing plows and smaller farm equipment. During the war 
both were converted to the production of war materiel. 
Rostov-na-Donu had many small factories, some of them merely 
workshops, employing three or four, or a dozen workers. 

In 1916 the mobilization was getting full swing, calling men up to 
50 years of age. My father had a relative working in the Aksai 
factory, and one day we received a letter, that there was an opening 
in one of the factories in Nakhichevan-na-Donu. The previous 
manager had no knowledge of how to handle production, and my father 
got the job because he had worked in similar conditions in the Krupp 
factory in Germany. 

We had a good life in Nakhichevan, with pleasant surroundings. The 
managerial staff and engineers lived in factory houses, pretty 
spacious for our needs, and we lacked absolutely nothing. You could 
buy everything. The market was full, and food was cheap. When we 
arrived in 1916 a vedro (bucket) of grapes cost a grivennik, or 10 
kopecks. On the river Don there were barges and boats full of 
arbuzy (water melons). The biggest melon cost 5 kopecks. The 
dynia, another kind of melon, very sweet, weighing from 3 to 5 
pounds, cost a grivennik. Meat was the same. A goose cost a 
polfiinnik, or 50 kopecks. Sometimes it was funny; when the first 
Latvians came they did not know Russian, and when they went on the 

market they said allright, to taste, and so the vendor would cut a 
slice, and they would eat and then go to another, tasting as they 
went along. 

Pierce: Those old terms were still in use in this cossack area? 

Kratins: Yes, when we arrived we didn't know what they meant, but the 

ordinary people still thought in those terms. If you asked at the 
market how much something oost, it was a grivennik, or poltinnik. 

It was a good life for everybody. The unskilled workers got about 
1 ruble 50 kopecks per day, but even they could live well, by their 
standards. That was for someone with absolutely no knowledge, 
employed only at sweeping, or checking coats and caps, or things 
like that. A tram ride from Nakhichevan to Rostov, for example, 
cost 2 kopecks. But those who were a little skilled got 2 rubles, 
or 3 rubles per day, and that made a big difference. 

Living around our factory were many of the unskilled workers, a 
mixture of Russians and Ukrainians, called khokhli. They had a 
primitive life, but they were also not poor. They were living in 
huts, living under the same roof with their cows, goats, sheep and 
other animals, but they were certainly not starving. 

The cossacks had a very free life. In the winter time they came to 
work : in the factories; in the summer time they departed into their 
steppes, where they hunted, leaving the women to work in the fields. 
It was dishonorable for a cossack to be seen working in the field. 
No, he was on his horse, he was the army, loyal to the Tsar and that 
was it. In the winter they came to the factories to work because 
they needed the money, but in the summer they were away from their 
stanitsa (settlement) , away from their women and so on, that was a 
completely different life. They were free men, not so much tied 
to their families as to their vintovka (rifle), their horse, and 

There were Don cossacks, Kuban cossacks, and Terek cossacks in that 
part of Russia. They were completely different establishments from 
the army. My father said they were somewhat like the Tsar's guards; 
they had their own rifles, horses and so on from the army; they were 
always on duty, ready at any time; they could never be taken out of 

For them, that was freedom. When you could earn a little money, so 
you were satisfied, what other kind of freedom was needed? In 
Petersburg and Moscow the students were killing the Tsars, and 
bombing and so on, but it was different in Nakhichevan. There no one 
even -thought about such things. 


To the common Russian freedom meant simply that you could change 
jobs when you wanted, you were not tied to your factory. You could 
go to the office and say: "I am leaving. Give me what I have 
earned," and that was all. They did not have to give two weeks 
notice before leaving. He did not think of this as freedom; it was 
his own will; he did not want to work and that was it. 

Pierce: Their freedom, then, was just living their own life? 

Kratins: Living their own life. A man could work for a week or two, or maybe 
a month, and then quit. He could say "To hell with it; I have 
enough!" and go to his hut and sleep on the stove and drink, while 
his wife worked. 

Cossacks and Russians were two completely different peoples, though 
not with different cultures, but maybe you could even say culture 
too. The cossacks were loyal to the Tsar, and they had big reason 
to be loyal, because in the cossack settlements, called stanitsy, 
when a boy was born he got a hundred rubles in gold, a horse, 
ammunition, and a hundred desiatins of land. But when a girl was 
born the cossacks beat their wives and drank for a week; it was 
something like Sodom and Gomorrah! 

Otherwise they followed the same routine. For instance there was 
something we once saw at Easter time. At Easter all the Russians 
went to church and took a piece of kulich [a special Easter cake] 
as they call it, to the priest, and got some kind of blessing, and 
then they came out and kissed each other. But when one man came 
out, and he kissed a girl, suddenly the girl fell down - he had 
stabbed her! For nothing at all! It is an example of the Russian 
nature, its mysticism. As they say, Tartar blood is always the 
same in Russia. They arrested him, of course, but that is just one 
example of how the Russians behaved. 

Pierce : Could you describe the life your family led? 

Kratins: Rents were cheap. The three of us, my father, my mother and I, and 
his relative who was the plant manager in the other factory, about 
seven people in all, occupied a five or six room house, for which 
we paid 25 rubles a month. It really was a good life. Every summer 
you got one month vacation, and you could go to Kislovodsk, 
Zheleznovodsk, Armavir and other places where there were kurorts. 
There were many Latvians there, and we had many friends. Or we could 
go to the cossack stanitsas, .or Novocherkassk or Staryicherkassk, in 
cossack territory. 



Kratins : 


Kratins ; 


What social contacts did you and your parents have? Were they 
mainly confined to people in the plant? Did you know many Russian 

On the outside we were in contact with my uncle, who was an accountant 
in the meat packing plant, and we were very good friends with some 
of the engineers there and their families. Then besides we had the 
staff in the factory; there were over a hundred engineers in the 
factory and higher staff and bookkeepers and their families, all 
living in the factory area. Besides that my father had connections 
with some of the families of cossacks who worked in the factory. 
Some were pretty rich people in the stanitsa, and because of our 
friendship with them we always had a good supply of food in our 
house, even later on when there were shortages. In addition, there 
were about 200 boys around the plant, whom I could associate with. 

Were these the children of the staff and workers? 
employed in the plant? 

Were they actually 

Some of the biggest ones, from 15 years and up, wore working in the 
factory, but those of us who were 13, 14, or 15 years old were not 
working, but living at home. There^was a special playground for 
the children, and schools. 

How much education was provided? 

I attended the srednoe uchebnoe zavedenie tsarevicha Alekseia 
(middle educational institution of the Tsarevich Aleksei). That 
was like a high school, with some kind of military education in 
one of the higher classes, so that from this school you could go 
to any kind of cadet corps in Russia, to the artillery, cavalry, 
and so on. I was there when the Tsarevich came, at the end of 
1916. He visited the school because it was named after him, so 
we were lined up in front, and of course we greeted him, and he 
greeted us. He was small, a boy of maybe 12 or 13 jtears, and one 
big man was carrying him on his shoulder. He was closely guarded 
because if he got the smallest cut he would bleed, and the bleeding 
could not be stopped. We had a very good education there, and it 
lasted while the Denikin army was there, until 1919. Of course, 
when the Bolsheviks came in there was no education at all. I did 
not go to school at that time. 

The students in the school were from ten till 18 or 19 years, and 
as I said it was a half military school. After graduating from this 
school you could get in every military school in Russia without an 
examination. There were compulsory religious courses for those who 
were Orthodox. When the batiushka came to give us the religious 
blessing we went out. At first he called us back, but we said we 


were Lutheran so there was nothing he could do. Of course we had 
other courses with the Russian boys. 

Pierce: Did you hear much about the war? 

Kratins: Of course, when the front soldiers came back they told about the 
war, and how badly equipped the Tsar's armies were. My father 
told later how some officers who were quartered in our house for 
awhile once told him that there were only three rifles for every 
seven men, so when Samsonov's army went into East Prussia [1914] 
and got trapped, the whole army was destroyed. General Rennenkampf, 
who was a -German but was commanding our army, once said "I will 
cut off my right hand rather than be defeated." He did not cut off 
his hand but he lost a whole army. 

Many other Latvians settled there at that time, to escape the 
mobilization. There was no mobilization in the Don, Kuban, and 
Terek cossack regions in war time because they were semi-independent; 
they were forces by themselves, although loyal to the Tsar. So 
when the mobilization was proclaimed in inner Russia, most of the 
Latvians there, in Petersburg or Moscow and other cities, took their 
families and went to the south. There they were in a good position 
to get jobs. For instance in our factory Father was always going 
to the Nakhichevan and Rostov stations, where the trains came in, 
and asking "Are there any Latvians here?" When there were, he would 
ask "Where are you going" "Oh, we are going to the south!" "Do you 
have anywhere to stay, or some kind of job?" he would ask. "No, we 
are just going somewhere to escape the mobilization!" "Allright, 
get out; we have jobs for you!" 

Because as I told you, the cossacks worked in the factories only in 
the winter time, so there was some kind of worker complex, but you 
could not count on them; they came and went, and there were always 
vacancies. So there were jobs for everyone who came to Rostov. 
Some had never worked in a factory before, but they were hired too. 
"Allright, we can give you a job; we can teach you," they would be 
told. And once they were in the munition factory, making war 
materiel, they were safe from everything, they escaped mobilization, 
and were assured a food supply and everything, because they were 
working in an industry which was necessary to the war effort. 


Life went smoothly until March 1917, when rumors started circulating 
that the Tsar had abdicated the throne, and that there had been 
some disturbances in Petersburg. At first no one believed such 
rumors, but then soldiers, mostly deserters, started arriving from 
the front. They told us the war was over, and there was freedom. 

The units which were stationed in Rostov and Nakhichevan were not 
large, they were maybe of battalion size. From them was formed the 
Red guard. Units were formed in our factory and then in other 
factories, and they got all the munitions and rifles. 


We were living in the factory. The first incident there was when 
a small detachment of the Red guards came to the factory engrance. 
An officer was guarding the factory grounds with his unit, as it 
was a munitions factory. I do not remember what he did, but it must 
have been pretty harsh, because someone then took a bayonet and 
killed him. That was the first killing on the factory grounds. 

Pierce: He was killed by his own men? 

Kratins: By his own men. As far as I remember, he was very brutal, a highly 
egotistical man, but he was only a poruchik, or first lieutenant. 

At the same time, there were many meetings. The first signs of 
"freedom" were huge meetins on the 3 kilometer border between 
Nakhichevan andRostov. People were singing, dancing, kissing each 
other - freedom, freedom! Agitators were standing on barrels 
explaining what freedom was: "We are all brothers and sisters, there 
are no more locks on doors, everything belongs to the people 1" 
On one corner was a black flag (like pirates) and a big sign: 
Anarkhizm - mat* poriadka! (Anarchism is the mother of order). 
Everyone was free, including thieves, there would be no punishment. 
Wealth was to be distributed among the poor, and so on and on. 
There were red flags, and no police. 

I remember one speaker, on a pedestal of some kind, saying thatnow 
all of the thieves should unite, "because now we have freedom, with 
no more closed doors, nor closed windows; everything in all the 
houses will be open, so we have to make a coalition and unite," and 
so on, "and we can go into every house because what is in it is 
yours!" That really came later, when the Bolsheviks said: "What is 
mine is mine, but what is yours is mine!" In other words, when 
some rich bourgeois had many things, I could take anything because 
it belongs to me! That was freedom! Everything belonged to the 
people, to the nation, and therefore to me. But then the thieves 
said that all the houses should be open, with no more locks on the 
doors, and all the contents should be distributed. "We will not 
take everything that belongs to you," they said, "but we will take 
that belongs to us." 

Even after that there were no big changes, until October 1917, when 
the Rostov garrison mutinied against the order to move to Petrograd 
to suppress the revolution. They killed some regimental officers, 
and came out of their barracks with red flags, and on the parade 
ground they swore loyalty to the revolution. 

[7 November 1917: Bolsheviks seize power in Petrograd. 

25 November: "power to the workers" in Rostov-na-Donu. 

26 November: Ataman Kaledin of the Don Cossack voisko 
sent a force to retake the town, accomplished after a 
six day battle. The tide went in favor of the Reds, 
however, and on 29 January 1918 Kaledin shot himself.] 

[In February 1918] delegates from all the cossack territories - the 
Don, Kuban and Terek - gathered at Starocherkassk to decide what to 
do. [They met from 4 to 12 February o.s.]. The so-called Red Army 
avantgarde surrounded Starocherkassk and dispersed the delegates. 
They killed some, or hanged them in the town square 

[Donskaia letopis ' . 1923, no. 2, gives the text of letters 
of Ataman A. M. Nazarov, V. M. Chernetsov, and Voloshinov, 
written before their execution.] 

Delegates who escaped called all cossacks to arms. [In May 1918] a 
strong army under the command of General Krasnov pushed back the Red 
Army avantgarde to the outskirts of Nakhichevan. The battle 
continued a couple of days. The Red Army was crushed, but there 
were big casualties on both sides. The Red guards did not have any 
military training or experience at all, so they could not do anything 
against the cossacks. Various Red officials [including Chairman 
of the Don Sovnarkom,Podtelkov, and member of the government 
Krivoshlykov] were hanged. 

As our house was on the outskirts of the factory grounds, we were 
the first victims of the cossack uprising. Mother and I escaped 
with the aid. of foremen, under the whistle of bullets, and we 
settled with our cossack friends in the middle of town. My father 
was at that time in Rostov, and we saw him only when all was over. 

When we returned to our house, it was bullet-ridden, ransacked, and 
furniture was damaged. The factory could start working only after 
a couple of months of major repairs. Some plants were completely 
ruined, l-.s. 

Meanwhile, father was offered the post of plant manager in one of 
the Rostov factories, so we moved to Rostov. There conditions were 
the same. We had a house in the factory. A new life started. 
The Latvians were about 1,000 strong in Rostov, we had our own club, 
gatherings, etc. The war moved to the midland of Russia, and seemed 
far away . 



Under the White Army, May 1918 - Dec. 1919 

Until he could conquer Moscow, General Denikin, the White Army 
commander, made Rostov his main base, supplying it with everything. 
Huge warehouses were full of grain, flour, sugar and other 
necessities. They thought that when they got to Moscow the supplies 
could be distributed to the starving people, but the opportunity 
never came. 

Pierce: Why did the Red Army win? If the white forces had experienced 

officers, and ample equipment and supplies, they would appear to 
have had major advantages. What other factors were against them? 

Kratins: At least one reason was the attitude of the officers toward their 
men. For instance, when an officer came along the street the 
gorodovoi, or policeman, was supposed to salute him. If he did not, 
and maybe his attention was somewhere else, the officer came and 
beat him! When you met an officer on the sidewalk, you had to give 
way to him, you had maybe to step from the sidewalk to the street. 
They were the same toward their troops. Latvians who were in the 
White Army said that it could not be very far from the end because 
they treated the soldiers very badly, beating them for small 
mistakes and so on, so there was already a kind of hatred against 
the officers. 

The officers also led a much different life than the soldiers. Of 
course there are always differences, but there is not so much in the 
American army. For instance, when I was at Fort Ord I noticed that 
the soldiers got the same food that the officers got. It was not 
like that in the White Army. There the soldiers were on limited 
wartime rations, but the officers had everything. My father had 
some good friends among the officers, because some of the company 
headquarters were located in our factory, and once I accompanied him 
when he was invited to the officers club. They had everything there, 
whereas at the same time there was a shortage of bread because they 
were keeping it in the warehouses. 

Besides that, the officers did not go in the front of their units, 
but remained somewhere behind or in the middle. It was the 
sergeants and corporals who were in the front, and they bore the 
brunt of the fighting. This was especially noticeable when 
Denikin was retreating. Rostov was then full of officers, who 
should have been in the front line, but were sitting in the 
sidewalk cafes. You could not see any soldiers; they were all 
officers. For instance, when the Red Army was taking Aksai, and the 
front line was only about 25 miles from Rostov, there was artillery 
fire all the time, but the officers were sitting there. 


For awhile the front was without movement, but then in late November 
the Don was frozen deeply and some Red Army units began testing 
weak spots. Just before Christmas the White Army retreated from 
Rostov without a battle. Day and night the army units left the 
town and suddenly there was no more noise, no firing, and we 
waited for what would come. 

The Red Army 

On the third day of Christmas, B&denny's Red cavalry crossed the 
frozen Don and entered Rostov. [25 December 1919 o.s., or 7 
January 1920 n.s. ] 

The first day, nothing happened. But then the order was given that 
there could be two days of pleasure and plunder, and then it started, 
All the shops were broken into and their contents were thrown out 
on the street. The mob trampled flour, sugar, rice and groceries. 
There was a mixture of everything on the street. The Red Army was 
giving provisions to the starving people of Rostov. As Rostov was 
a rich city, there was plenty of loot. 

In those three days the city was ruined. Bolts of fabric lay 
smeared, torn and mixed with everything on the street, presenting a 
scene of unheard of destruction. Streetcars were overturned, and 
some burned. 

Pierce: Who did this, the local Red guards, or the people who had come with 

Kratins : They were the new ones, from inner Russia. I suppose they had been 
mobilized in Russia, and you see, when a conqueror enters a city 
they can take everything they need, and of course the slogan "Take 
it, and do what you want with it" was some kind of signal that you 
had to loot everything. 

The same thing happened in the factories. There under the theory 
that everything belonged to the workers, they cut' the belts on the 
machines and used them as soles on their boots or sold them in the 
market, and the factory stood still. 

Later, when the comrades came in they were astonished to find what 
had been going on. "What are you doing?" they said, "You are 
sabotazhniks." 1 and then started shooting the workers who had done 
this. "One, two, three, four, five... ten - come out, 1 Sabotazhnik!" 
Because that was an ammunition factory and everyone needed rifles, 
and ammunition, and armor plate, and the factory had no belts.' So 
now the workers said "Gee, what comrades I These are not comrades, 
they are oppressors!" 




Kratins : 

Along with the destruction, terror ruled the city. You had only 
to mention that someone was a White Army sympathizer, and the man 
or woman would be killed or shot, without judges, without 
sentencing. The chrezvychaika, or Cheka, worked night and day 
founding up officers and their families who could not escape, and 
taking them to the Balabanovsky grove (Balabanovskaia roshcha) 
outside Rostov, where they were mowed down with machine guns. 
There were arrests every day. My father was arrested twice, because 
he was the plant manager, and in some way bourgeois, but the workers 
rescued him. 

How many people would you estimate got shot in this manner? A 
couple of hundred? 

Oh no, many more than that. Our factory was on the outskirts of 
the town, pretty close to the border line, and every day from our 
windows we saw them taking 10, 15, 20 and so on, and that was only 
what we saw in that particular place. My uncle, who was an auditor 
in the meat packing plant, which produced sausages and so on, said 
most of the engineers from the factory were taken and never 
returned, so of course they were put in jail or shot. 

The Balabanov grove had been a nice forest, a small one, where we 
used to have picnics, but after Budenny came, under the Bolshevik 
regime, it was forbidden to go closer to it than 1 kilometer, or be 
shot, so there were big graves there. 

The Red Army started the cannonade from Bataisk about Christmas Eve, 
and two days later they came in. Many of the officers could not 
retreat, and went into hiding. I would say they got pretty nearly 
all the officers or their families who were hiding in Rostov. They 
got everyone and because they were enemies they were taken right away 
to the Balabanov grove and shot. Once we saw about two hundred 
white prisoners being taken there. They were guarded by only three 
or four Red guards, yet no one tried to escape. We constantly 
heard the rattle of machine guns from there. 

As time went on, the procedures changed somewhat. In the first 
days, they made arrests right on the street, in broad daylight. 
Somebody said you were bourgeois, and that was enough. Later, 
however, they made arrests at night, at ten or eleven o'clock. When 
you heard the steps approaching your door, you knew that they were 

My father said that many tried to hide in the wineries. There were 
some big wineries in Rostov, the Romanovskie wineries, with 
thousands of barrels in them, in big places underground. Some of 
those barrels held maybe a hundred gallons. When the soldiers came 
in and wanted the wine or were looking for fugitives, and started 



shooting, the wine poured out. Those who were hiding there were 
afraid to come out because they knew they would be shot, and it 
flooded so far that they were drowned. Many corpses were found 
floating in the wine underground. 

I could tell you many things that happened in those two or three 
days. The factory was made up of many buildings, and there was 
a big gate near our house. One window of our house overlooked the 
street, always full of soldiers. Once a Red Army cavalryman rode 
by, completely drunk, reeling in the saddle. He had slung behind 
him, over his saddle, many women's boots. Suddenly we saw another 
Red Army man come out from around a corner. He quickly cut the 
boots, put them over his shoulder, and walked away. A moment later 
the horse stopped, the rider looked around. Where were the boots? 
He took out his gun and started shooting, spraying windows in all 

Pierce: How long did this go on? When was some kind of order restored? 

Kratins: On the fifth day, three Latvian regiments arrived, and they restored 
order. They were being sent down to the south, to the front. 
Denikin was out, and Wr angel had taken over command of the army. 
These Latvians were part of the Red Army. 

They were followed by what I will call execution units, sent to 
establish order. They even arrested many of the Budenny men, 
because they had simply acted like bandits during those three days, 
grabbing everything they could, and loading their horses with boots, 
cotton, silk, and anything else that had value. We didn't know 
what they were called, but they wore different uniforms than the 
army, and when you saw them coming you went around the corner and 
along another street, because you didn't want to meet them. 

Order was restored, but it was too late, the city was ruined. The 
famous Don coal mines had been flooded, the factories were not 
operating, the stores and the big warehouses were empty. The slogan 
"Everything belongs to the people" was the rule. Workers committees 
had been formed in the factories, only they consisted of the laziest 
bums, and the noisiest, with big mouths. Everything was at a 
standstill. Besides all the destruction, typhus began spreading, 
and there was famine. People dropped in the streets like flies, 
there was no milk for the children, no coal for heating, and no 

Soon there was actual starvation. The station was full of wounded 
soldiers, or ones ill with typhus, and there were lice all over the 
floors. You coated your boots with oil, and as you walked it was 
crunch, crunch, crunch! The whole floor was covered with lice. 




People were starving because they could not get anything, or they 
lacked the card that would show that you were working, and that you 
were entitled to buy a certain amount of food. And then the big 
lines started forming, for blocks and blocks, after bread, after 
meat, and everything. 

Once I went to the stanitsa with my mother, for food. We went to 
the Novocherkassk area, where we had many friends among the cossack 
families. We rode on the buffers between the railway wagons. 
Everybody had a sack with flour or some meat or whatever he could 
get, because at that time they still had pretty big supplies, 
because they had fields. The city was really very bad, especially 
by the station, so the trains did not stop. They were especially 
for going to the stanitsa and bringing food to the town, and they 
did not stop in the stations at all, because there were Red Army 
units in the stations and they were shooting at the trains, so when 
the train came to a station it went very fast, about 40 or 50 miles 
per hour. Of course, there was shooting, and some who were sitting 
on the roof may have been killed. It was not a big train, it was 
only four or five wagons maybe, and of course the mashinist, or 
engine driver, had a pretty big supply of food too, and he wanted 
to escape all this too, so he did not take the train into Rostov 
station, but stopped about 2 or 3 kilometers from there. From there 
you took all your supplies on your shoulder and walked the rest of 
the way. 

What was your own position? You were about 13 then. Did your age 
make you fairly immune to arrest or molestation, so that you were 
able to observe events without immediate danger? 

Kratins: My family never went out of the factory because it was guarded, and 
they were secure there, but I and the other boys went out and saw 
everything. For instance, I was going to the bank accompanied by 
two workers with rifles, to get the money from the bank to pay the 
factory workers. In our factory there were close to two hundred 
boys, and we were eager to see what was going on. We formed groups, 
and one group would go out today, and the other group tomorrow, and 
so on, and then we brought all the news back to the factory. 

A Red Army unit was stationed in the factory to guard it, and to 
make sure that no one sabotaged the machines, so it was a kind of 
barracks. A soldier was always on guard by the gates, and sometimes 
there were two soldiers, with machine guns. Why they needed 
machine guns no one knew, but they sere placed on both sides of the 
factory gates. No one could enter the factory without a pass 
[propusk] . There were fences all around, but the boys knew where 
there were openings, and because we were close to the border of the 
town, when we went through we were completely on the outside, and 



no one could see us. Then we dispersed and went around and saw what 
was going on, and brought the news back to the factory. 

Pierce: Did any of the boys ever try to get into the Balabanov grove? 

Kratins: No, no, no! We knew what was going on there, and no one tried 
going there; that was absolutely forbidden, it was taboo. Some 
went pretty close and the guards said "Stoil or we will shoot'." 
So we went around the town, and to the railroad station. Seeing 
how many trains were coming in with wounded soldiers, and how 
conditions were, we were thinking already that it was time to get 
out of Rostov. You could see people falling suddenly in the street, 
stricken by typhus or lack of food. 

Back to Latvia 

In 1920, word arrived somehow that the Latvian republic had been 

[On 18 November 1918 the Latvian declaration of 
independence was issued, but a prolonged period 
of invasion and conflict followed, until 1 February 
1920, when an armistice was signed with the Soviet 
government. On May 1, 1920 a constituent assembly 
began formation of a government in Riga, and on 
11 August 1920, in the Treaty of Riga, the Soviet 
government recognized the independence of Latvia. ] 

Then some representative from Latvia came to Rostov-na-Donu 
urging people to leave. 

At that time in our factory there were pretty close to 300 Latvians, 
as well as some Lithuanians and Est .onians, so we formed the major 
part of the factory. In the Don, Kuban and Terek cossack regions 
there were close to 4,000 families of Latvians. In Rostov we had a 
Latvian house or club. It was a pretty big building, which could 
hold close to a thousand people. When we had celebrations in the 
club, Latvians came from as far as Terek, which was about 500 
kilometers away. 

When we heard that the peace had been signed, we began thinking how 
we might bribe the Cheka people and leave. Some you could bribe 
with gold, silver or jewelry, but the best bribing materials were 
salt, tobacco, and flour. Salt and tobacco, those two were 
necessities. It was like cigarettes in Germany at the end of the 
second World War, when the Americans came in. If you had a carton 
of cigarettes you were a millionaire, you could get anything, and 
it was the same then. With these we started trying to bribe some of 





the officials and the Cheka, and gathering a supply to take with 
us. In this way we gathered about 300 pounds of salt, and because 
of united activity, bribing important party people and influential 
Cheka leaders, and some direction from Moscow, finally we were 
allowed to leave Rostov. 

Our wagons were about three kilometers outside of Rostov, and it 
was agreed that some of the Cheka people would take us there in 
cars. In one way, it was a risk, but also we thought that if the 
others got wind of what they were taking from us they would perish 

So we were transported at night time to the wagons with our few 
belongings and got aboard. The first echelon was about 250 people, 
including families, in three wagons, so we were really like 
sardines in a b ox. We could not take anything with us except 
necessities, but even then some were standing and some were lying 
in the car, and we had to change, like a guard, every two or three 
horus, so that those who were standing could lie down and the rest 
could stand. There were about 60 to 80 people in every wagon. 

This was like a special train, wasn't it? 
trains of this sort along the way? 

Did you see any other 

No, we were attached to an army train that was going to Moscow. It 
carried army units, and also civilians who worked for the railroad. 
We were not in the middle, but were in the last three wagons 
attached to this train. Once we were attached to the front wagons 
which were going to fight the Ukrainian freedom fighter Petliura, 
but at the last moment, about half an hour before starting, they 
found out that we were attached to the front wagons . My father 
took out ten pounds of salt, went over there, and in fifteen 
minutes we were detached and attached to the wagons which were going 
to Moscow. 

Pierce: You had to depend on many people keeping their word. 

Kratins: Yes, as I say that was a risk, but they were risking their lives 

too, supplying us with everything. So they were on a bridge too, to 
be or not to be. 

Pierce: But many people along the way must have discovered that this group 
was passing through, and you must have had to get food as you went 

Kratins: As soon as we crossed the Don border into inner Russia you could 

buy everything from the peasants for salt. You could get anything 
they had, because they didn't have salt at all. That was a 
necessity for them. Salt and tobacco. 



Pierce: What was done at the stations? What arrangement was made, for 
instance, for people to go to the toilet? 

Kratins: We never stopped in the stations. They were blocked with the dead, 
and wounded soldiers, and full of lice. Instead the train usually 
stopped at least three miles outside of the towns, or in the middle 
of a forest or a steppe. Then everyone jumped out of the car, 
because they were cattle wagons, for the army; there were no second 
or third class wagons at all. The women stayed behind, and the men 
went ahead, and remained until all business was finished. We had 
to be pretty sure about the engine driver - we had to bribe him too 
- because suddenly whisst! and the train started, and you had to 
run to get back on. We had five or six strong men by the wagon 
opening to help stragglers, so when the train started, and you were 
running to get on, they would grab you and pull you in. It was 
humiliating, and dangerous, but sometimes hilarious. 

Pierce: Was anyone ever left behind? 

Kratins: As far as I remember, only two or three. But when we were pretty 
close to the Latvian border they rejoined us somehow. I don't 
know how they managed; it was pretty close. I would say that of 
the 240 who started from Rostov, pretty close to 240 arrived, and 
we were under way for two and a half months. We lost only one 
member of our group, a young man, and our dog. We never knew how. 

It took many weeks, but we finally approached the border, after 
giving bribes of salt, flour and tobacco all along the way. In 
some places, where Latvian units were stationed, they helped us to 
overcome difficulties, such as inspections, and in some dangerous 
places they gave us some Red guards, who accompanied us until we 
reached safer places . 

On the Latvian border we stayed for three days, who, who knows. It 
was a frightening situation. We didn't know whether we would be 
allowed to cross the border or would be returned for prosecution as 
counter revolutionaries. Then came the order to get out of the 
wagons, take only what we could carry, leaving the rest, and to cross 
the border. As we did so, we heard some screams, "Stop, stop, they 
are counter revolutionaries!" and running soldiers, but we were 
already over the border. So ended our 3,000 mile flight out of the 
grip of-- communism. 

After us, other trains followed, about three cars every week. 
Approximately 90% of those people reached Latvia. 

Pierce: Has anything ever been published about this? 

Kratins: Oh yes, it is mentioned in some Latvian books, published in 1922 or 
1923, or in the papers of that time, how people escaped from Russia. 



I don't think anyone from our train wrote about it, but people on 
other trains who came after us did, on how they travelled. You 
see, some, maybe because they didn't have so much bribing material, 
were delayed, particularly in the Ukraine. For instance my aunt, 
who left two weeks later, arrived only after four or five months. 
They could not transport everyone at once, because such big masses 
would have been too conspicuous . Yes , there were some books 
published at the time on how they escaped, for instance from Crimea, 
because there, where some of the biggest fighting between the 
White and Red forces took place, there were many Latvians, 
thousands of them. Odessa, the Crimea, and the Caucasus were full 
of Latvians. 

During the first World war about 700,000 Latvians were evacuated from 
Latvia by Russia, and sent far away to the Caucasus, Siberia and so 
on. When the peace treaty was signed with Russia in 1920 we had 
difficulty in getting the people back, especially from Siberia. 
We had two armed units, about 4,000 men, who had to go through 
Manchuria to Japan, and around the world to get back to Latvia. 
That was the only group from there, but from inner Russia, and from 
the Caucasus, we got close to about 80%. So in the first World war 
we lost from the evacuation of Latvians, between 250,000 and 
300,000 people who could not get out afterward and had to stay in 


Before the first war we had big factories in Riga and other parts of 
the country, but after the war started the Russians took all the 
factories out, to Russia. After the peace with Russia in 1920, we 
got back only a small percentage, maybe 10%, of the rolling 
materials and machinery which the Russians had taken out of our 
country . 

Soviet military bases in Latvia, Sept. 1939 

Pierce: Now we pass over a period of nearly twenty years, to your next 
experience with the Russians. The fate of Latvia and the other 
Baltic nations was already decided in a secret protocol to the 
German- So vie.t non-aggression treaty of August 23, 1939. Did life 
in the country remain relatively normal at first, with no expectation 
that something was about to occur? 

Kratins: No one expected anything. When the second world war started 

[1 September 1939], and Germany attacked and conquered Poland, and 
partitioned the country with Russia, some of the Polish armored 
forces entered Latvia, either from Lithuania or across the small 
border - about 40 miles - between Poland and Latvia. They surrendered, 
and ware interned. 



Pierce: That was to avoid being taken by the Russians? 

Kratins: Yes. At that time Latvia and the other Baltic states were neutral. 
There were rumors then that something was going on, that Molotov 
and Ribbentrop had talked, but no one knew what they had been 
talking about. The English and Americans, and I think the French 
were also talking with Russia, against Hitler, but no one knew 
what it was about. 

And then, suddenly, in September 1939, the Russians declared that 
we should give them some military bases. The Baltic states were 
small countries, they said, and there were friendly relations 
between them and Russia, and if Germany should attack Latvia, the 
Latvians would be supported by the Russian forces. 

There was a big session in the cabinet of ministers. Did we have 
to let the Russians in or not? But a mistake had been made. Our 
president, Ulmanis, had devoted his work to agriculture. We were 
an agricultural country, exporting butter and cheese to Holland and 
Denmark, our timber to England, and flax and wheat. So he did not 
pay much attention to the army. We had many commanding and staff 
officers in our fraternities, and from them we found out that the 
army could resist the Russians only about a week, or at most ten 
or fifteen days. Altogether we could mobilize about 100,000 men, 
taking zeveryone from 18 years until 62, and of course the reserve. 
Estonia could supply about 40,000 men, and Lithuania about 50,000 
more, so altogether the three countries could mobilize about 
200,000 men. But we were poorly supplied. We had only about 
three squadrons of war planes, Estonia had only about ten planes, 
and Lithuania had none. Moreover, Latvia is a flat country. Only 
on the Russian border, in Latgale, is there an area of about five 
hundred lakes, and marshes. We thought that could prevent the 
Russians from quickly overrunning our country, but there was the 
question of Lithuania and Estonia. After the first world war Poland 
had taken Vilnius, and now the Lithuanians said "Allright, you did 
not come to our aid when the Poles took our Vilnius, so why should 
we get together and unite against the Russians?" And from Estonia 
the border was completely open, they didn't have anything. Altogether 
we could put out only a small and poorly armed force. 

Pierce: The Finns managed quite well. 

Kratins: Yes, but with Finland it was of course a completely different thing. 
Finland fought for three months, and the Russians lost hundreds of 
thousands of men, but we could not have done so. We asked France 
and England if they could supply us, but they refused. Then some of 
us thought that Germany might help us, but there lingered some kind 
of old hatret against the Germans because the knightly orders had 
conquered Latvia, so that was out. 

Kratins 18 

Finally, our cabinet decided, in accord with Estonia, that we could 
not do anything, and we would let the Russians in. Of course the 
army high staff, the generals, were against that. At least, they 
said, we could start to fight, and maybe somebody would come to our 
aid, but finally it was decided that we could not do anything. 
Also we had a little grudge against Lithuania because they had said 
no, they were against going against Russia, so it was decided that 
we would have to let the Russians have the bases. 

[The USSR concluded pacts of mutual assistance with 
Estonia on 28 September, Latvia on 5 October, and with 
Lithuania on 10 October 1939.] 

So, they came in, but of course, instead of only about 20,000 
Russians, as stated in the treaty, as soon as these were in, another 
20,000 came in, so altogether there were about 50,000. After that, 
of course, there could be no question of resistance. 

The Russian soldiers did not know what was going on. And about 
half of the Russian armed forces were Mongolians, because they were 
more stupid; they could not be influenced by what they saw. When 
the Russians first came in, our market was like an exhibition for 
them. The different halls were in zeppelin hangars, and in the 
meat market there was meat hanging from hooks all over . "What 
kind of exhibition is it?" they asked, "Are you putting it on for 
us?" Meat, butter, cheese, everything, it was a thrill for them; 
they had never seen such a thing . So , they would ask "Can we buy 
a pound?" "You can buy anything, but you have to pay!" "Oh yes!" 
So they bought ten pounds of butter and cheese, and everything else 
in large quantities. The country was small and well-supplied, but 
that was hard. 

Annexation to USSR, 16 June 1940 

[Latvia in 1939-1942, issued by the Latvian Legation, 
Washington, D.C., 1942, p. 20, states: "During the first 
months, the conduct of the Soviet Russian troops was 
correct, especially during the Finnish-Soviet Russian 
war. But this ended immediately or very shortly after 
the signing of peace between Soviet Russia and Finland 
(March 12, 1940)] 

Then the Russians said, 'Allright, in case there is war with Germany 
we have to protect you completely." Of course, once the Russian army 
was in they came in such force [16 June 1940] that the country was 
completely flooded with Russian troops. 

Then they said that our government was somehow hostile against the 
Russians, so we had to change the government, and that started. 

Kratins 19 

At first they asked us to put it to a vote that we should unite with 
Russia. The voting [14-15 July 1940] was in such a way that the 
result was already declared two days before all the votes were 
counted. They declared that 99.8 percent of all the nation had 
voted to unite with Russia. And they voted like this. In the 
Federal State Bank, for instance, where I worked, it was ordered 
that everyone should go and vote. In the voting offices were 
already GPU men. In most countries when you vote it is in secret, 
but that was open, and a GPU man was standing by, looking over your 
shoulder to see how you voted. There were only two votes to make, 
for the democrat! c bloc and for the communist bloc, and for 
goodness sake if you put the button on the democratic bloc you 
would come out, but you would not go to your home; you would be 
arrested right away. Even so, we found out later that about 30% 
voted against it somehow, but after that we were joined to Russia. 

Soviet terror 

Then the horror started. At first some disappeared, and some 
committed suicide. The border army commander committed suicide 
because he would be arrested right away, and many of the officers 
who had fought in our freedom war against the Russians in the first 
years after 1917 were all arrested, tortured, and then shot; they 
simply disappeared. 

And then it started with the civilians. When I came to the bank in 
the morning, the next desk was empty. At first everything was closed 
for three days, nationalized, the factories and banks and everything. 
We had not the slightest idea that during that time listening 
devices were placed under the desks. So, when the bank was opened, 
people came to work. As usual in our banks, fraternity men were in 
the higher posts, and we came together and said "What happened to 
him? He has not come in, is he ill?" and so on. "No, he is arrested. 
The family said he was called to the GPU, and he never came back." 
And so on. 

And finally it got so you did not trust anyone , not even the members 
of your fraternity. And why? It was because you came to work at 
9:30, and in the half hour before the banks opened, you had to fill 
out a list of what you did the day before, whom you had met, what 
you had talked about when you had a party, and so on. At first 
glance the questions seemed innocent, but this was repeated every 
day. And if your wife was working somewhere, she had to fill out 
the same. In school, the children had to put down what the parents 
were talking about. For instance, if you had a party in your home, 
they were told to put down who came, and what the grownups had talked 
about. Of course, the children could not lie, and all those answers 
went to the GPU and they compared them, and if there was any sort 

Kratins 20 

of difference between what your wife and your children and you had 
put down, then you were called in for questioning as to what it 
was all about, who was lying, and so on, until finally when you met 
your friends on the street you passed them by. 

The whole idea was to destroy the intelligentsia, and then destroy 
the family. You came home and you did not talk to your wife. 
Usually you had told what you did in your job, what the prospects 
for promotion were, and so forth, but now you were like enemies in 
your house. Finally you thought, "Wait a minute, my wife and I 
have been together so long, of course I can trust her!" And then 
you both went outside, where no one could listen, and talked about 
things. But sometimes you forgot the children, and when they went 
to school the next day they might be asked "What were your parents 
doing?" "Oh, they went out in the garden and were talking. I 
don't know what they were talking about." And there you were. 
Both were arrested. Such things made life a complete horror, it 
made the whole country like a jail. You could not meet anybody you 
could not trust anybody, and you could not go anywhere. You went 
to the theater and you were like a body, just sitting there and 
looking. And of course in the theaters only Russian dramas and 
sketches were playing, nothing about national Latvia. 

After 9 o'clock, no one could go out of doors. And then you heard 
somehow about various friends - he was arrested, she was arrested, 
he disappeared - and you were thinking, what will happen to me? So 
when you heard steps at your door at 11 or 12 o'clock at night, you 
knew that they had come for you. All the arrests were at night, 
between 11 and 1 o'clock in the morning, and the people were taken 
away in cars. We didn't know what we could do. We were completely 
demoralized. All of the radios were taken out, all of the typewriters 
were registered, and you were a prisoner in your own home. 

And here is another thing. When the Russians established the army 
bases, we thought "Oh, they will not be as bad as they were in 1917, 
when they killed and tortured all the bourgeoisie and all the 
prosperous peasants." But the army people - soldiers and officers - 
who fought against Russia in 1917 were on their lists. When they 
came in those people were the first to be arrested. For instance, 
a very good friend of ours was a freedom fighter. After the war he 
became a farmer. When the Russians came in 1940, he was the first 
to be caught and arrested, and he disappeared. So they knew the names 
of all the outstanding officers. 

There was another thing which was very interesting. When the second 
war started, Riga had a population of approximately 360,000. Every 
big house had a supervisor, who looked after the house. At night he 
opened the gate, he swept the street, he looked after repairs, and 
so on. Now when the Russians came, these men became somehow very 



important. When the killing and terrorizing started, they gave the 
names, for instance, of doctors, officers, high government officials, 
and so on, and because of them, many were arrested. The Russians 
could not otherwise have known all of them. For instance, when the 
Russians came we were taken out of our house and put somewhere in the 
outskirts. That was a big house, with about 110 units. How did 
the Russians know who was living in those 110 units? So these people 
were probably giving the names. Maybe they simply did not know what 
it was all about, but they gave the names. "Oh, he is serving in 
the Federal State Bank; he is an officer in the army; he is a 
professor of history, or of politica, and so on, and the Russians 
took those people right away. And by doing that they eliminated 
many of the intellectuals and deprived the units of their officers, 
so they could not fight. That was the main purpose. And destroying 
the family. 

Pierce: Who were their allies? Was there a communist party in the country? 

Kratins: Yes, but it was very small. When the Russians came they released 
them from the jails. There was a big demonstration, and fifty men 
appeared, dressed in prison uniforms. Our prison- inmates wore 
striped clothing, and their heads were shaved, so that people would 
know they were in jail. These fifty were at the station to greet 
the Red Army, and with them were people brought from Riga's one 
suburb where mostly Russians were living. They came dressed in such 
ragged clothing that the rest of us were looking and wondering, 
"Where have these people been all of this time? Where were they 
hiding?" But it was all arranged, of course. Our workers were 
workers, but they were neatly dressed, and they were not starving; 
no one was starving in our country; but these people came out in 
ragged clothes and made you wonder, were they sent in from Russia? 

And wagons came from Russia with inscriptions painted on the sides: 
"To the starving people of Latvia." They were empty, however; only 
the painted inscriptions were there. And they took everything 
out of Latvia. Our market, which had been in the zeppelin hangars, 
was emptied. 


Pierce: Were there any communists in the national parliament? 

Kratins: Only one, so you can imagine how many of them there were. We were 
so split and so democratic that we had 27 parties in our parliament, 
and they would change the government several times in one year. That 
was maybe our failure; we were too democratic. 

And then they began putting the farmers into kolkhozes and sovkhozes. 
The kolkhoz was the smallest unit, and the sovkhoz was the biggest, 
consisting of several small kolkhozes. None of the farmers believed 
that such things could happen. "Why?" they asked. "We are producing 



according to the rules, giving the state so much, and the population 
so much, and keeping so much for ourselves, and now they start this!" 
Of course the farmers resisted, and arrests were made, of what were 
called kulaks. And these were deported and their farms were combined, 
but in such a stupid way. They destroyed the old buildings and tried 
to build new ones where the offices would be. For instance, if ten 
farms were to be combined in a kolkhoz, they destroyed about nine 
buildings in the kolkhoz area, and left only one, for an office, 
from which the farm was supervised. Now where would the people 
live? They had been living in separate houses, because in Latvia 
we did not have villages, derevnia, as they do in Russia. Only in 
Latgale, close to the Russian border, there were villages. Our 
farmers were complete individualists. 

Pierce: This was like in Western Europe or in North America, with separate 

Kratins: Yes, every farmer was his own boss. They were not united in anything. 
Only the office in the community, which gave orders to repair the 
roads, and public buildings, and to support the school and so on, was 
giving orders to the farmer . Otherwise every farmer was his own 
boss; we did not have any villages at all. 

When the Russians came, they settled people in villages, and we 
hated these, because, we thought, we are free men. For instance, 
you and I are neighbors, but I do not agree with you, why should we 
be united? To hell with you! This is my land, I am working on my 
land, I am fulfilling all the duties that you asked of me, but I 
should not have to unite with my neighbor. But now there is not a 
single independent farmer in Latvia. It is all sovkhozes and 
kolkhozes, and whereas before Latvia exported all that the farmers 
produced - meat, butter, cheese,- flour, flax - now there is such a 
big shortage that meat is rationed. Sometimes, according to their 
letters which come out, they have not seen butter for weeks. And 
everything which they produce goes to Russia. 


And then, one day [in June 1941] I came to the bank and I noticed 
that there were many heavy trucks on the street, and across the 
river Daugava from Riga, in our suburb, there was a big area 
approximately a mile and a half around, where we were starting to 
build a stadium, and that was full of trucks. At that time we were 
living in that suburb, and we had some kind of suspicion - what could 
it be, why were the trucks over there? 


And then, on the night of 13/14 June 1941, the deportations started. 
At that time I qas not in Riga. I had been sent from the bank to 
check the branches of the State Bank, so I was in the provinces. 
When I came h;:;:V: into town I had first to report in the GPU. I had 
credentials to check all of the banks in that town and in the 
surrounding area. 

And then somehow I had an idea. When I returned I went first to the 
bank, and said "I will be here tomorrow at 9 o'clock in the morning, 
before the bank opens." Then I went to the GPU to present my 
credentials and get an OK. When I went into the GPU there were a 
lot of personnel running back and forth, back and forth, and phone 
calls all over. And somehow some kind of instinct took over. On 
the desk I saw a stamp with the initials which were put on your 
document to show that you were safe, that you were loyal. I looked 
around quickly, saw that no one was there, and put the stamp on my 
document. Then one came in and said "Now you go to your hotel and 
stay there. You know that after 9 o'clock you cannot go out." 

The hotel was very close to the railroad station. So I went down to 
the dining room, got dinner, and went upstairs. Suddenly I heard 
heavy steps approaching. I opened the door and saw a GPU man, 
with one soldier. "Don't worry," he said, "nothing will happen to 
you. You have your credentials. But do not leave your room. And 
don't open any windows. The windows and the drapes should be 
closed." I could not understand what was going on. I knew that they 
could not do anything to me because of the stamp on my document, but 
I was nervous. 

Then about eleven o'clock, I opened the drapes a little bit so I 
could see the station, and there I saw it all. Truck after truck 
was arriving, loaded with men, women, and children, and the station 
was full of GPU men, and there were wagons, with small barred 
windows, and the train was full. 

Now I understood, that there was some kind of transportation, 
deportation or something. Rumors had already been circulating that 
something was going to happen, but no one had known what it would be. 
That went on all night, the whole area around the railroad station 
was full of army units, and no one could go out after 9 o'clock. 
Anyone who would be out on the street after 9 o'clock, they had told 
me at the GPU, would be shot. 

Of course there was some resistance. In the town what we called our 
home guards had arms, and they resisted. Afterward I heard that about 
fifty men had been killed, and that also some GPU men were shot. 

The deportation that night, all over Latvia, affected approximately 
fourteen or fifteen thousand families. About four thousand families 
were deported from Riga, and it was done in this way. For instance 
your name was on the deportation list. If you were not at home, they 
would ask your wife where you were. If she would not tell, she would 
be arrested in your place, because they always thought that when the 
wife was arrested the man would come and join her. And the man would 
run to the station where the deportation w 

Kratins 24 

The deportations that night, all over Latvia, affected approximately fourteen 
or fifteen thousand families. About four thousand families were deported from 
Riga, and it was done in this way. For instance your name was on the deporta 
tion list. If you were not at home, they would ask your wife where you were. 
If she would not tell, she would be arrested in your place, because they 
always thought that when the wife was arrested the man would come and join 
her. And the man would run to the station where the deportation wagons were 
standing, and say that he would like to join his wife, but it was a complete 
mistake because the men and women and children were separated; they never got 

After that night was over I had to go to my duties, the door was opened and 
the GPU man said, "Now, have you seen anything?" I said "No, I rested." 
"Allright," he said, " you may go, but be very careful. Don't listen to any 
rumors." And when I went to the GPU office, they said "Everything that you 
hear outside, any rumors, do not believe it. Nothing happened. And don't 
talk with anyone, go to your duties, you can check all the branch banks and 
so on." They gave me an escort, like a guard, who went along with me to be 
sure that I was not doing anything else except my task of checking the accounts, 
So really I could not do anything. 

I had known the managers of all of the branch banks. I knew them pretty well 
because ^very six months I had gone to the provincial towns and checked all of 
the branches. But now none of them were there, and there was a completely new 
staff in all of those banks, and in some of the smaller ones the tellers and 
so on were so terrified that you could see it on their faces. They were 
counting the money with shaking hands, so that you could see what had happened. 

So, as my escort sat by me I thought, I will try to test; him, to see whether 
he actually knows anything or not. So I started checking and listed something 
which was completely wrong, but he looked on without reaction. Then I knew 
that he was completely dumb, he was only there to be a guard for me, and that 
was all. From there we went to other branches, and it was the same. 

I was checking all the factories which had received loans from the Federal 
State Bank, to see how they were working, and that there was no sabotage. 
But when I presented my figures, I was told "For goodness sake, what are you 
doing? This industry will be closed'. You have to put in more zeros! They 
should be stakhanovites! Don't you understand how we do things in Russia? 
Everything that is small has to have some zeros added on to it! You have to 
be a stakhanovite, otherwise you will not survive J" 

I was very concerned about this, because it meant that all the bank documents 
were falsified, and if someone who really knew about banking ever came from 
Moscow and checked he would have said "Wait a minute, what are you doing? You 
are a sabotazhnik! " And I would have been arrested. Later, when the Germans 
entered Riga in July, 1941, I was really nervous, thinking that if anybody 
ever checks I will be the first to be arrested, because I have falsified the 
documents . 


German occupation, July 1941 

[Germany invaded the USSR on June 21, 1941 i and by 1 July entered Riga]. The 
battle for Riga was very short but very harsh. The outskirts of Riga were 
like in medieval times, with very narrow streets. The Russian tanks would go 
in and they could not get out. Sometimes 3, 6, or 8 tanks would be caught in 
one small/ narrow street, and be completely destroyed tank by tank, by the 
German tanks. A tremendous number were destroyed in that way. Of course our 
churches were damaged, the St. Peters church was burned out. It was a real 

When the Germans came in, at first we met them as liberators. We were particu 
larly anxious for them to catch some of the wagons or trains with deportees, 
but they had already gone so deep into Russia, and so fast, that the Germans 
got only three or four wagons with children, and they had mostly suffocated 
because the doors were not opened. Later we found that they had been given 
only drinking water, no food. About forty or fifty people were in each 
wagon, and many died, especially the elderly. 

[Alfred Bilmanis, A History of Latvia, Princeton, 1951, P. 402, states that in 
the first stages of the mass deportation program, 34,340 Latvians were sent 
into Siberia and central Russia, where they disappeared into slave labor camps. 
Between June 13 and 17, some 824 railway cars of deportees were dispatched.] 

When the Germans came, we went to the jails. It was a horrifying sight. Some 
people had been shot in the neck, some were completely cut open, with all 
their organs exposed. Tongues were cut out, eyes were cut out. Some were so 
battered that their own relatives could not recognize them. They could be 
identified only by some marks on their bodies. In the cellar of the GPU 
building small chambers were built in which you could not sit, you had to 
stand. All night there was only a bare bulb burning, and you could be checked 
any time through a small opening. If you slid down the cell was opened and 
they were torturing in such a way that they made it cold with some kind of 
machinery, so that you were freezing, and then suddenly they raised the 
temperature to a very high point. And it was full of blood. It was dreadful. 
And then they started opening all the graves around Riga. There were 12 or 13 
mass graves in which they had put those they shot. 

Under the Germans, things got back to normal. I would say that in the first 
year everything was normal except that the Germans did not give back to the 
owners the things that the Russians had nationalized - the banks, industries, 
and farms. They took them as war booty, so: many things -remained the same. 
Our farms had to give the German army about 50% of their produce, keeping about 
25% on the farms, and sending 25% to our population in Latvia. At the end of 
1942, there was rationing, because we had to supply the front and our own 
population with produce - eggs, butter, cheese, meat, and poultry, and of 
course barley and flour. We had to give the army 70% then, leaving 10% to the 
farmers, and 20% for the population. It was very slim. Of course, the 
farmers did not give everything they produced. Then in 1944, when the Germans 
had retreated from Russia and came to the Latvian border, every community had 




Kratins : 


the fazans ["golden pheasants" - Nazi officials wearing light-brown 
gold-trimmed tunics], comparable to the SS, who supervised farm 
production and checked what each farmer was doing. 

What of yourself? 

Did you continue in the bank during the German 

No. In the bank I thought, allright, I have a high salary as an 
inspector, but according to all the evidence the war will last 
not one or two years but many years, and everything is going out of 
our farms. We will have a much harder life in the city and also on 
the farms. So, I thought, I will join some factory. So I went to 
a perfume and soap factory. Everything was getting scarcer, I 
thought, so that when the Germans came we were producing in the 
factories soap which was filled with air. A little bit of soap, 
and a little fat, and lime, so that it floated. Everyone got about 
ten small bars - single units - of this soap, but you could not wash 
your clothing?with these, and it disappeared if you even washed one 
time with your hands. I had good friends in the soap factory, so I 
asked them "Can I come to your factory and so something?" "Sure," 
I was told, "you can manage it!" So I became a factory manager. 

We produced real soap for the high officers in the army headquarters, 
because we had a good fat supply, and real soap for ourselves. With 
soap you could get anything in trade which you wanted - clothing, 
food, everything. That will be better, I thought, than if I stay in 
the bank, there you get your salary and that is nothing, and you get 
a ration card, but what can you get with it? But with my soap, and 
my perfume I could feed my family, and I could supply my friends 
with it as well. 

Of course, we were backed by the army headquarters, because we were 
supplying the army headquarters officers with good soap, and good 
perfume, which they were sending back to Germany. So on Saturday 
night until Sunday morning everyone in the factory worked on the 
special products. We knew that no one would tell what we were doing. 
The workers were supplied with the good soap as well, so they were 
silent. No word went out, nor did the Gestapo come in. Once the 
Gestapo came to our factory to check, and I called army headquarters. 
In ten minutes a general came in, covered with iron crosses and so 
on. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "This is an army soap 
factory! You don't need to set foot in this factory! Out!" 

Were you still putting out the poor quality soap the rest of the 

Kratins; Oh yes. Ours was a little bit better, but we were putting it out 
because we had to submit a list every month showing how much fat, 
oil and other material we had used, so that we could get such and 



such an amount in return. Of course, we did not put down all that 
we had used. We were guarded by the army, and we were sure that 
none of the men who were getting soap and perfume from us would 
talk. They would keep their mouths shut, and no Gestapo would set 
foot in our factory. 

Pierce: So you continued to operate on this soap economy as long as the 
Germans were there, until 1944? When did you feel that it was 
time to leave? 

Kratins: In 1944, when there was already fighting in Latvia, on our soil, it 
was put to me, "Allright, are you going to the front line, or are 
you going to work in the factories in Germany?" Two choices. 1 So 
why join the army? The front line in those days would have been 
suicide; there was no hope. The Germans had thought they could 
bring Russia to her knees by November, 1941. But America supplied 
them with tanks, and everything else. Sometimes when I was sent 
from our factory to the provinces to check other factories which 
were not yet in Russian hands, to check their fat supply, I saw 
American tanks, with white stars on them, not Russian tanks. 

So I went to Germany, 
the children came. 

First I went and then my mother, my wife and 

In Germany I was put into a labor camp, and we worked in the 
factories. I also worked a couple of months on farms, although I 
didn't know anything about farm work. 

And then, when the Russians came closer and closer, we were 
transferred farther and farther from the Russian zone, until we were 
stranded in Halle-an-der-Zahl, in Sazony, and then came the Americans, 

When the Americans came I thought maybe I can try to get into their 
headquarters as an interpreter - I had a pretty good knowledge of 
German at that time. They said OK, and so I served about three 
months before we gave Saxony to the Russians. 

Then we were put in Mannheim, and from Mannheim we went to Islingen. 
There was a big Latvian camp there, with about five or six thousand 
Latvians; we called it "Little Latvia." They were supplied by UNRRA 
and IRO, and then they started calling us up as to where we could go. 
We found we could go to the Australian consul or the American consul. 
It took a little longer to get permission to go to the United States 
because they questioned you more as to what you had done, what you 
had been, and so on, and you could go to Australia right away. But 
at that time we met Lisl [Elisabeth Zierer, a friend], and she said 
"We are going to the United States, and we will call you." So, we 
went to the United States. Otherwise, most of our friends went to 
Australia. They said there were places for three or four more 



families, but in the meantime an affidavit came from the United 
States, so we came here. 

Pierce: Did you come to California right away? 
Kratins: Right away. To a farm, in Hyampom. 
Pierce: Where? 

Kratins: Hyampom. It is between Eureka and Redding, a very isolated region, 
surrounded by mountains. About forty or fifty farmers lived there, 
and were about fifty years behind the times. Some of them had never 
been out of Hyampom, or maybe farther than Hayfork, the closest town, 
about 20 miles away. 

Pierce: What did they raise? 

Kratins: Mostly cattle. There was one big cattleman, who raised three or 
four thousand cattle; the others were smaller. 

Pierce: How long were you there? 

Kratins: We came in 1949, and stayed about a year. I worked as a clerk at 
the lumber company . 

It was, I would say, the dumbest community. When we came we were 
invited to a Saturday gethering in the community hall. The first 
question was "Do you have houses in your country?" 

"Oh yes," I said, "but we have caves too, not only houses!" 

"Ohhh," they said. They somehow associated Latvia with Iceland, and 
thought we lived in caves as protection against the cold. And they 
could not pronounce our names. They called [our son Oyas Oyah, and 
[our daughter AriaJ Yah-yah . 

In the community hall, conversation was first about the cattle, and 
then about the lumber mill. That was all. What could I say about 
cattle? I had lived in a big city, in the capital of Latvia; I had 
worked in a bank; I had been in fraternities; I had a university 
education - what did I know about cattle? And what did I know about 
the lumber mill? I audited their accounts, but that was all. 

I ordered some books, and when they came to the post office - it was 
a very small one - they said, "Why are you reading so many books? 
What for? Are you not satisfied with our neighborhood, with our 



What could I say? "No, I am very satisfied, but I need a little bit 
to read. 1 " 

Another topic was marriage. For the first time we met people who 
had been married 3, 4, 5, or 6 times. It was a surprise for us. 

Their minds were working only on those things. When I subscribed to 
a .newspaper - it was during the Korean War - they asked "Why are 
you interested in the Korean War? To hell with it, it is a hundred 
thousand miles from us! To hell with it, let them fight! So what? 
They will not come to Hyampom!" 

The only ones to whom I could talk were the lumber mill owner. His 
wife was well educated, and he was too, but they were already 
elderly people. But the youngsters, they married asnally inside the 
community, so they were dummies like everyone else. So the only 
people we could really talk to were the lumber mill owner and his 
wife . When we had free time and the salesmen were out to sell our 
product, then I came to his office, and I explained about our 
country, and about the communists, and they were interested in such 
things. But you could not talk in the community hall about such 
things, absolutely not! As for the workers, all the loggers were 
Okies and Arkies, and they were the dumbest of all! 

Pierce: How much education could your children get? 

Kratins: There was only one grammar school, of three or four grades, and all 
the classes were in one room. The teacher was a young girl. I 
don't know how she happened to come to Hyampom, perhaps after a 
disappointment in love, so she came into the jungles. Maybe that. 
And she was teaching all four grades. 

So, there was absolutely nothing in the nature of an intelligentsia. 
There were some people you-'Would be talking with, and you would 
wonder from which cave he came out of. 

You could talk to the ranger about the timber, and about the forest. 
He was an interesting man, who had put his whole life into the 
forest. Sometimes we had conversations with him, and he would tell 
about the forest life, the animals, and so on, but that was his only 
topic. The only thing that interested him was his forest; he had no 
outside interest. 

They did not want me to leave. They offered to build a house for 
me, and to pay me $500 a month, which was very good money at that 
time, in 1950, and that was on the farm! I could get all the supplies 
I needed, and would not have to pay any rent. All this if we would 
stay, because no one would like to come to such an outdated community, 
and I knew about accounting and so on. 



Kratins : 

And the ranger told me, "I can give you a hundred acres of the best 
forest, on a hundred year lease. In five years you will have to 
build a house, that is the only condition. And you would pay $100 
every year. You can use the lumber on your property, anything that 
you want, with no restrictions, and after a hundred years the house 
will be completely registered in your name and it will be your 
property forever, no one can take it." 

Everything seemed allright, but then I thought, " My wife and 
daughter have gone to Monterey, my son is going to high school in 
Weaverville, my mother is with me. My family is split already, what 
will we do? We have to think about our children, and we are far 
from - I will not say civilization - but far from everything. In 
the wintertime we are completely snowed in, when the real storms 
come the roads are closed and we cannot get out for a week or two. 
No, we have to get out, no matter what they pay me. If I stay my 
family and I will be completely isolated from everything'." 
And so we came to Monterey. 

That was in 1950; when did you get on with Holman's? 
In 1952, and then I was with them for 24 years. 

Pierce: I would like to ask a couple of other questions about Latvia. You 
said there was good feeling against the Germans when they liberated 
the country from the Russians. How long did this good feeling last? 

Kratins: When the Germans came in, we found that there were to have been other 
deportations like that of the 13th and 14th of June, and that our 
family and many friends would have been on the next one. So of 
course feeling was very good and we were very grateful to the 
Germans, for they were our liberators. But after a year when they 
started mobilizing our forces, to put our men in the front units, 
then the attitude became completely different. 

Pierce: What of the native Germans who were there, the descendants of the 
German landowners? 

Kratins: Hitler called them to Germany before the war started. He asked that 
every German from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania should go to Germany, 
so the Baltic Germans left. They took everything belonging to them 
that they could take on the ships, and we were to pay for the rest, 
for their houses and so on. 

Pierce: Was there any minority problem? 



Kratins: Our population consisted of over 80% Latvians, 12% Germans, about 
4% Jews, 2% Russians, 1% Poles, and about 1% Lithuanians. And the 
minorities were treated very good. In Riga we had Jewish schools, 
Polish schools, and Russian schools. In one town, near the border, 
there was a Lithuanian gymnasium. 

Pierce: There was no feeling againat the Jews? 

Kratins: At that time absolutely none. In the country districts there was 
some kind of humor. The Jews went there wearing big coats, with 
sacks, selling needles and other small things to the farmers. They 
usually stayed overnight on the farms. And sometimes they ridiculed 
them: "Oh yes. 1 Isaac is coming!" but they were friendly. And 
sometimes on some farms they teased them, putting pork before them. 
It was against their religion, of course, to eat pork, so he would 
say "Oy, oy, oy.' Why this pork? Why this pork? Don't you have 
any other meat for me?" 

In our parliament, the Seiam, they had four or five Jewish deputies, 
six or seven Germans, one Pole, two Russians, and one Lithuanian. 
So everybody was represented. Of course when the Germans came they 
started gathering up all the Jews, but that was different. 

Pierce: You have mentioned the fraternities several times. They must have 
been a special feature of life in Latvia. 

Kratins: They were a closed society, completely closed. There were 21 
in our university, including some sororities, for women. 

Pierce: We have them here too, but evidently yours were somewhat different. 

Kratins: You see, we took an oath that we were loyal to the government. If 
the government should call us, everyone in the fraternities would 
go to the armed forces, right away, without waiting for mobilization. 
We had 18 months of compulsory military service, and every year a 
month in the army, with training, so we were prepared for military 
duties at any time. You could go through the cadet corps, repeat 
your military education, and upon graduation you would be a second 
lieutenant. Most members of the commanding staff were fraternity men. 

Pierce: So these were quite different from what we have over here, which are 
more in the nature of living groups. 

Kratins: Oh yes. You could not get in a fraternity, for instance, without 

them checking your family. Every fraternity had its own colors, and 
name. This (showing a copy) is a magazine, Universitas, devoted to 
all the fraternities. This is the insignia, Pro patria, lustitsiia, 
Honoris . That was issued for the hundredth semester in the 
fraternities, from the time I joined. And every fraternity has 



different colors. Ours were black, white and gold. All three 
Baltic countries had them. This book is devoted solely to the 
fraternities of Latvia. 

In the case of disaster and so on, the Estonian groups with whom 
we had treaties would help us and we would help them. And it was 
carried out. This is a picture of our group in Toronto. 

Pierce: There are some younger people here also. So the groups-continue? ': 

Kratins: Oh yes, it continues, the tradition is the same, completely the same. 
You are taken into a fraternity only when you are checked. You 
cannot be a communist nor a left liberal. 

Pierce: You have to be a conservative or a right liberal then? To what 

extent is there interrelation with the Estonians and Lithuanians? 
Do they ever all get together, or do they send delegates to each 
other's meetings? 

Kratins: Once a year we have gatherings, each national group in turn, with 
delegates from the others. Relations between them are cordial. 

Pierce: Do the Latvians in particular keep up the idea of nationalism more 
than perhaps the other two? 

Kratins: No, the Estonians are very nationalistic too. The Lithuanians 

follow a slightly different pattern, perhaps because they are mostly 
Catholics. We are all Protestants or Lutherans, the same in Estonia. 
They don't have any Lutheran fraternities in Lithuania at all. In 
that way it is a little bit different, but I will say that among the 
fraternities the friendship is the same, differing only in the religion. 

Pierce: How many students were there in the University of Riga. 

Kratins: When I went to the university, 10,350 had matriculated. Up to the 
end of free Latvia it was 22,800. 

Pierce: How many would be on the campus at any time? 

Kratins Approximately 11,000, all faculties together. 
Pierce: What percentage of those would be in the fraternities? 
Kratins: A little over 40%. 

Pierce : Would there be any feeling between the non-fraternity members and 
those who were? 

Kratins: No, because the others who were not fraternity members also had clubs, 
although they did not have the kind of traditions which we had. 

Kratins 33 

Pierce: Were these fraternities in the same tradition, then, as those in the 
German universities? Did they stress dueling also? 

Kratins: Yes. And we had dueling too. Most of the dueling was done with the 
German fraternities. Especially when we had gatherings they invited 
us to the German fraternities. You wefe always picking out somebody 
to start a fight with. Because in the German fraternities in our 
country they were mostly nobles, German barons, so they were saying 
"How is it with the peasants?" But we were showing that the peasants 
could beat the Germans. We were specially trained to beat them in 
the duels. 

Americans, 27 

Balabanovsky Grove, Nakhichevan-na-Donu, Southern Russia, 

killing ground, 10, 13 

Baltic Germans, called to Germany by Hitler, 30-31 
Budennyi, General, Red Army, 9 

Cheka, 10 
cossacks, 2, 3 


Denikin, makes Rostov his base, 4 
Deportations from Latvia, June 1941, 22-24 

Epidemics, typhus, 11 
Executions, 10 

Famine, 11 
Family life, 3, 4 
Finland, 17 
Fraternities, 31-33 

Germany, occupation, July 1941, 25 
Germany, emigration to, 27 
Gestapo, 26, 27 
GPU, 19; atrocities of, 25 

Hayfork, Calif., 28 
Hyampom, Calif., 28-30 

Jews, 31 

Kaledin, Ataman of Don Cossack voisko, 7 
Krasnov, General, 7 

Kratins, Oswald, birth, 1904, 1; trip to southern Russia, 1; 
education, 4 

Latvia, minorities, 30 

Latvian Republic proclaimed, 1920, 13 

Latvian regiment in Red Army, 11 

Latvians return home, 13 

Latvia, annexation to USSR, June 1940, 18 

Latvia, wartime losses, 15-16 

Mannheim, 27 

Military bases, demanded by Soviets, September 1939, 17 

Monterey, California, 30 

Nakhichevan-na-Donu, 1 
Poland, 16, 17 

Rennenkampf, General, 5 

Russia, Revolution, March, 1917, 5, 6 

Rostov-na-Donu, 7, 8, 9 

Samsonov, General, 5 

Samsonov, General, 5 
soap factory/ 26 

Starocherkassk, cossack meeting, February 1918, dispersed by 
Red Army, 7 

Terror, Latvia, 1940, 19-22 

United States, emigration to, 27-28 

Vilnius, 17 

White Army, reasons for defeat, 8 

World War I, 5 

Zierer, Elisabeth, 27 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

California-Russian Emigre' Series 


Valentina Alekseevna Vernon 

Recollections of Life -in Russia and in Emigration 

An Interview Condcuted by 

Richard A. Pierce 

July 23, 24, 25, 1980 

at Monterey, California 

With Written Recollections by 
Valentina Alekseevna Vernon 

Copyright (c ) 1986 by the Regents of the University of California 


I met Mrs. Valentina Vernon about 1978, in "A Bit of Old Russia," the tea room 
and sandwich shop she and her cousin operated in the village of Carmel Valley, 
a few miles east of Carmel. Light and airy, with a view of the surrounding 
hills, the little shop did a good business in tea and light lunches. A few 
Russian dolls in glass cases gave an appropriate Russian touch, as did 
the proprietress herself, tall and elderly, in a colorful Russian peasant 
costume, with a long skirt. She took orders, served, and in slack moments 
chatted with the customers. Lively, with a keen sense of humor, she enjoyed 
meeting the public and reminiscing about the Russia she had known, or the 
United States as it had been in the 1920 's when she and her family arrived, 
or during the depression days of the 1930 's. She was less favorable about 
the changes in society and pace which began during World War II, and 
deplored hippies and what she considered the increase in communist influence. 
Her cousin and business associate, Oleg Petrovich Plemianikof f , a tall man 
in his late 70 's, was usually in the sweltering kitchen preparing food. 

I asked Mrs. Vernon if I could tape her story, but she was too busy with the 
tearoom by day, and tired in the evening, and I was there for only a few 
days anyhow. It was the same in the following year, 1979, but in July 1980, 
circumstances had changed. Oleg had died; the tearoom was up for sale, and 
after a few days at the home of a friend, Vera Elischer, in Monterey, Mrs. 
Vernon would go to live with her son and his family, in Milbrae. On three 
successive days, July 23, 24, and 25, she gave me some of the highlights of 
her eventful life. 

We began at the end, with her arrival in the United States, carried her 
story to the present day, and then reverted to her birth and childhood, the 
Revolution, and emigration:; In transcribing her account I have placed 
events in more or less proper chronological order. 

When we began, Mrs. Vernon was still fuming about a telephone conversation 
she had just had with an employee of Medicare. Her cousin had died leaving 
one or more Medicare checks unsigned. She needed the money for his burial 
expenses and had asked for it, only to be told that the money could be paid 
only to the person to whom the check was made out, who had to sign the check. 

Vernon: I have just sent his checks to the doctor. They can do whatever they want 
with them regarding his account. This is for Medicare. I talked to one 
of the people there, not just a clerk, but a supervisor, and when I told 
him my cousin had died, he told me: "He has to sign the checks." 

"Yes," I said, "but he is dead; he died."' 

"He has to sign the checks; the law requires that he sign the checks. 1 

I asked, "What did you drink today?" 

He repeated, "The law requires..." 

I said, "I am sorry, I do not talk to idiots!" That is all I can do, 
for if they are crazy I have never heard of such a thing that a dead 
person has to sign his checks'. It is unbelievable! I don't know what 
has happened in America. People used to be so sensible, and now that 
they do everything with machines they have ceased to think. . . 

Vernon 2 

The interviews were held in a rather busy household, so there were 
occasional interruptions by the telephone aad doorbell. 

I hoped to have another interview, in order to fill certain gaps and 
to make sure of the spelling of names. However, a few weeks after 
leaving Monterey, Mrs. Vernon died. I heard of her demise only several 
months later. 

In 1985, Mrs. Vernon 's son, George Vernon, kindly provided copies of a 
series of sketches she had written for her grandchildren. Her writing 
style in these is more belletristic or "literary" than her spoken 
account, but the sketches display the same good humor and other 
personality traits of the narrator. The two accounts overlap in some 
ways, but in general compliment each other. 

The sketches, appended as a supplement, close with a few lines which 
might equally declare "finis" for her entire generation: 

"The sun has set, the fog is coming over the hills. Is it me and 

years gone by? but this fog is gray, gloomy and sad. The tree is 

only a silhouette against the misty backdrop the leaves are still falling, 
but I don't see them anymore just a soft rustle it is getting cold. 

Time to go in and shut the door." 

Richard A. Pierce 
22 July 1985 


Interview, Richard Pierce, 
with Mrs. Valentina A. Vernon, 
at Monterey, California, 
July 23, 24, 25, 1980. 


Early years 

Can we begin with some of your earlier recollections, where you were born, 
about your family, and what you recall about life before the Revolution. 

Vernon: Do you want it in Russian or in English? 

RP: Whichever is easiest. 

Vernon Well, English is as easy as Russian. It doesn't make any difference. 

I was born during the Boxer War /19007- Wars and I were never far apart. 
I was born, I think, in Blagoveshchensk or Khabarovsk /In Eastern Siberia/. 
My mother always wanted to be near my father at this time they were newlywed 
and my father was at the front. I don't know who my god-parents were. 
You know, in Russia they christened the children; we didn't have any 
legal papers, we had only church papers. My mother was very, very sick; 
she had four children, and every time it was very hard. So I was taken to 
the church and only my aunt was with me from the family. They picked up 
some people in the street, I presume, and asked them if they could be my 
godfather and godmother. I have their names, but I don't have the slightest 
idea who these people are I 

So they baptised me there, and then my brother /Paul/ was born, then 
came the Japanese War, when I was five. At this time my mother wanted 
to be close to my father, so she went through Siberia, to Harbin, 
and I was deposited with my aunt, who was in the Ural Mountains. 
But I have this written down; I can send it to you. I wrote it as 
little short stories, for my granddaughters. 

So I was with my aunt and my uncle, in the Ural Mountains, during the 
first revolution. They had an estate, near Ufa, on' the Rezanka, one 
of the affluents of the Belaia, and my uncle had a steel mill. That 
new /shopping complex? here, "The Barnyard" [at the entrance to the 
Carmel Valley/ is exactly like my uncle's factory. When I saw it the 


first time I thought: "My goodness, it reminds me of something. 1 " but 
I could not place where it was. At that time, you know, the factories 
were not built with stones and so on; now some look like palaces they are 
so beautiful, but this was the beginning of the century, so it was 
wood, except that there were chimneys sticking up there. Ours was 
prettier because the river Rezanka was running in front of it. I was 
never in the factory; they never allowed children to go in factories, 
but really the whole thing is exactly the same, so it dawned on me, 
"My goodness, this is what I have seen 75 years ago. 1 " So I always 
laugh, I think here they are trying to be modern, to progress; but 
its kind of backward, you know! 

And that's where we were at this time, and when the first revolution 
broke out, they destroyed the whole factory. At this time they didn't 
call them Communists, they called them Nihilists. And they threw the 
chief engineer into the domna , the big blast furnace. As for my uncle, 
they said, "Well, he has always been a good man, so we won't throw him 
in, we will throw him out .' " and they threw him off the domna, which 
broke his leg, he was always lame; they had probably broken his hip; 
anyway they didn't burn him, but the place was completely destroyed. 

A domna would be a smelter, probably, where they made rails for the 
railroad. Everything was steel, because it was a very rich country 
there for steel. In the evening we saw the big fires from the mill, but 
there was no electricity yet, at least not there. 

These are kind of vague memories, very early. The only thing that I 
remember from there is the workmen from the factory. They were all 
very well dressed, they didn't look very beggarly. The peasants 
didn't like them /and the disturbances they created/. My cousins 
went always to play with the children in a nearby village, so they 
knew what the peasants were saying. 

The factory workers came down and they stood in front of our house with 
a big placard. They wanted to write Svoboda (Freedom), but instead they 
wrote Sloboda (village) . I remember that we children in Russia we 
knew how to read at five my cousins and I , we were laughing so much, at 
the funny factory people, who didn't even know how to write properly! 
This is all I remember of 1905. 

After the war was over, my mother came, and picked us up. At this time 
my father was working and building the fortifications of Vladivostok. 
They were so well built that the Japs attacked Port Arthur and Dairen 
/but not Vladivostok/. I even have a picture of it. My father sent 
it as a postcard to my mother, who was then back in Petersburg, and he 
wrote: "Here I am reading a letter from France, addressed to the 
commander of the Japanese navy, Admiral Togo, Vladivostok! They made 
a mistake; they thought /the Japanese/ would attack Vladivostok!" 

My father stayed in the Orient for quite awhile, because he always 
thought that the main attack would come from that side. He was in the 
General Staff, and he was fighting with Petersburg all the time, trying 
to explain to them... You see, our Tsar was so timid; that was the 
trouble with him, he was terribly, horribly timid! His father, 

Vernon 2 

Alexander III, was just the opposite, and I think that Alexander III 
treated his children so that they grew up without any guts, as we say 
in America. My father always said that the first shock that he had in 
his life was when he finished the General Staff Academy. He was 
Number 1; at studying he was always super-duper. 

The officers there were usually only 32 in the General Staff were 
presented to the Emperor, and when he approached my father he shook 
hands with him and congratulated him on finishing the Academy, and 
he said at this time my father was captain "Naturally you want to stay 

in Petersburg, in the Main Administration";" 


But my father already had his misgivings, because he had been in the 
Boxer War, about the Japanese, so he said, "No, Your Imperial Majesty, 
if possible I would like to go to the Far East!" Then, instead of saying 
yes or no, as Alexander III would have, Nicholas turned to the Minister 
of War who was standing back of him, and asked, "Can I decide? /Mozhno-li 
razreshit'?/ " He couldn't even decide himself.' Naturally the Minister 
of War said "Konechno ! /of course/" And that was it. My father said 
that he knew than that the Emperor did not know his own mind. When 
things had to be done he would be easily influenced, and this was 
actually what happened, and that is why we are here! 

Then again for awhile we were in Vladivostok, where my father was finishing 
his projects, fortifying Vladivostok, and then Poset, which is now 
a very important Bolshevik center, and Khabarovsk. It used to be a 
small no-good-for-nothing town, but I think it is now an enormous 
Bolshevik center. My father always wanted to do something in this 
Maritime Province /Primorskii krai/ so it would be safe from the 
Japanese and the Chinese. 

After that I was in Moscow most of the time, in the Institute. You could 
enter the Institute at the age of nine, so I was spending all the 
winters in Moscow, and then going for vacations to Vladivostok. 

What do you remember of Vladivostok? 

It was a beautiful city. Very much like San Francisco in the setting 
the same bay, and the mountains, and even Egorscheldt. The bay reminded 
me very much of San Francisco Bay, and then we had the Russkii Ostrov, 
which was the same distance away as the Farallones, only it was flat. 
And Askol'd, another island, farther down. So I understand why Togo 
and the Japanese thought twice about attacking it, because they would 
have had to go through those fortifications on Askol'd and Russkii Ostrov 
before they would get into the bay, and Russkii Ostrov was very well 
fortified. And so they would have been caught between Egorscheldt, which 
is one of the promontories, and the two batteries on the other side. 

The climate was rather mild, and the view was beautiful too. As a child, 
and as a young girl I enjoyed it very much. Later, San Francisco 
really reminded me of it . And we were driving around; my father had 
one of the first automobiles in use there, with the open, funny carriage; 
it was a Mercedes, they didn't call it Benz at this time, but just 
Mercedes, and you had to put on a hat and a veil, and the dust was flying, 
and for some reason there would always be two drivers, two soldiers, 
usually. I think one must have been a mechanic, in case something 


broke, for there were no service stations where you could go. The 
wheels were made kind of funny, like a velocipede, and they had to be 
very, very careful on the turns, because sometimes they slipped off, 
and then you went bang down the hill! I am not a mechanic, so I can't 
tell you why, but they were always watching those chains, because the 
daughter of General Mishchenko, who was a very good friend of my 
father, was killed in one accident like that. They were going up the 
mountain and they said that the chain slipped, the car went falling 
down the hill, and she was thrown out and killed. 

So that is my first remembrance of /automobiles^/ . We frightened the 
cows and the horses very much! The stupid cow would be running in 
front of us, and the more the chauffeur would honk the horn the 
crazier she would be. 

RP: What kind of social life did they lead in Vladivostok? 

Vernon: Well, they were mostly military. The last year my father was always 
saying that there was something that he felt in the air, that he felt 
that something was going wrong, so he didn't want me to leave the Far East, 
So, instead of finishing the Institute, I got one year of public 
school. I found out what the Russian public schools were like, and 
they were much more democratic than American schools, which surprised 
me when I came to America. We had uniforms, and we were all equal 
in the class, and our social origins didn't make any difference, 
as I found out. 

I was a brat; I was a terrible child. Many years have passed, but I 
still can't forget it; it was one of the very shameful moments of my 
life. We had brown uniforms, all the same material, no furs or fancy 
hats allowed. If the teacher met you on the street /with anything 
different on/ she could send you home. 

RP: This was a school for girls only? 

Vernon: Yes, we never had a mixed school, so that is why, when we came to America 
we sent all our children to Catholic schools. They went to Our Lady 
of Victory, like my son, and then when they graduated from grammar school 
the girls went to Notre Dame, which was closed last week, and then the 
boys went to St. Ignatius, so we kept on the separate thing. 

We had only a little white collar, turned up around, but being a brat 
I didn't like that white collar, so I put on a smaller one with frills 
or something like that. And naturally the dame de classe, who was like 
a governess, said: "Would you kindly take it off?" So I took it off, 
but next day I put it on again, so she told me to report to the 

So I went to see the directoress, and she looked me and said: "What, 
actually, are you trying to do? You know that many of those girls 
here, their parents have no money. We have daughters of izvozshchiki 
("teamsters.) , and you know, any kind of people, and so you are trying to 
show that you are in a better financial position. This is the most 
disgraceful thing that I have ever seen! We are all equal here, and you 
just kindly remember it!" 


I tell you, so many years have passed, but I have never forgotten it! 
In the class we always said ty (thou) to each other. Titles or any kind 
of things were never mentioned; we were all absolutely of one grade, 
whether we were the daughter of a garbage man or a general or a nobleman 
there was no difference whatsoever, and so when I came to America and found 
that pupils were dressed according to papa and mama's financial 
status I couldn't get over it. I looked and I said "How come? They 
say its a democracy and yet we had it the other way in Russia!" 

RP: So that was during your one year in public school? 

Vernon: Yes, just one year! Luckily I graduated. I was very thankful to the 
Lord that I graduated, because my behavior there was impossible, but 
at learning I was pretty good. I had an excellent memory, so I memorized 
everything, and so when I finished the class I got a gold medal, real 
gold, about that size. My best friend got the silver one, the next 
one. And you know, if I had finished the institute I would have gotten 
a chiffre, they are ribbons, with the initials of the school, that you 
put on your shoulder. My institute was Ekaterinovskii, named after 
Catherine the Great. There was an E and an M, after the Empress Dowager, 
who was the head of everything, and this was something which admitted 
you to Imperial balls and things like that. It didn't cost a penny. 
As for my gold medal, when things were awfully bad in Petersburg we ate 
a whole week on it! It was a very pleasant experience, one year 
of grammar school and I got food for a whole week! 

That was in 1915; my father was already in the fighting, and my 

younger brothers had already gone back to Petersburg and to the military 

school there. I had to finish, that was my last year. 

RP: So he had foreseen... 

Vernon: I don't know, it must have been my father's intuition. Because you 
know, in Russia men didn't talk to women as a rule about politics or 
their work, nor to children especially. I said "No" to my father 
only twice in all his life, once when I was 16, one time, and the second 
time when I was 42! That was the old style! 

RP: What were the occasions, if I may ask? 

Vernon: The first occasion was very strange. Actually up to now I cannot explain 
why I did it. It was during the war, the beginning of the second year. 
By this time I had finished, and was back in Petersburg, with the family. 
The war started in July and I think this was in January, because I 
finished in the middle of the year, because of the war's conditions. 
And everybody put all their money into the first war bonds, so my father 
came back from the front and he told my mother, take all the bonds and 
stocks and whatever was there. My mother had quite a few gold nuggets her 
uncle had a gold mine, and whenever the children went there when she was 
young they gave them as a souvenir a chunk of gold, big chunks. 
So my father said: "Take it all, take everything, including your jewels, 
and put it all in the first war bonds!" 




Everybody was doing that, even the Imperial family. That is why, 
with Anastasia, when they thought there was gold in the London bank 
there wasn't anything but a big heap of World War I first war bonds! 
About all they were good for was wall paper. They had made a whole 
story for nothing. So my mother went to dispose of the gold and brought 
that box with her jewels in it. She had very good sapphires, but the 
green ones, emeralds, were her favorites. And he said "Now I want you to 
sell those and put them in the bonds too." 

And then, I don't know what pushed me there; I couldn't tell you 
up to this moment; it was one of those strange things that happened 
in human life, it was the first time I said "No I" I was sixteen at 
the time and I walked up to my father and I said "No, you are not going 
to sell them. This will belong to me and to my brothers' wives later 
on," and I gook the box in my room and locked it in a drawer. Why did 
I do it? My father gave me a stunned look, he was so surprised. He 
didn't say a word but just turned around, and you know, he never insisted 
on doing it anymore; I don't know why. And those jewels saved our 
lives later on. 

So you finished school in 1915, in Vladivostok, and then you went back 
to Petersburg? 

My mother was /in Petersburg/ by then; my father wanted me to finish 
school, so I was left there with my governess. That was my only 
experience in public school; the rest was the Institute. 

And how was it in Petrograd? 

Actually I can't tell you anything special because I didn't pay any attention 
I was a teenager, and a very flighty one too. Well, I went to the 
university, to the Bestuzhevskie kursy (Bestuzhev courses), but I 
took it only one year, and then there were the Bolsheviks. I was more 
interested in boys and things, and most of those boys came back in 
coffins, dead. So that is why even now I cannot go to a funeral 
service in Russian, and I can hardly bear to hear a funeral inarch, 
such as Beethoven's funeral march. 

Toward Revolution 
(Interruption; end of Reel 2, side 2; beginning of reel 3, side 1) 

RP: Certainly it is all past history, but still we study it, and try to 
find out what happened, and to learn from it. 

Vernon: Yes, we try, but one wonders, why did we do all this? Why did the 

people... Well, it was a long time ago; we were traveling on the Amur 
River, on a pleasure trip. I was about 14. We were on a boat, one of 
those beautiful boats with the wheels going around. 

RP: A paddle wheel steamer? 

Vernon: Yes. And most of the people were elderly at least for us and we 

were just a group of youngsters, 14, 15, and 16 years old. And a German 

Vernon 7 

student, and I think kind of lonesome, joined us. This is a very good 

short story for children. There are some mountains down there, of turf. 

In the day time they are just gray, but at night time they burn. The 

peasants called them the chortovye gora (devil's mountains) because 

they thought the devil was running around. In Russia we have quite 

a few torfianye bolota (peat bogs) and these were the torfianye gora (mountains) 

This was below Khabarovsk, farther down inland, because I think we 

had passed the affluent of the Ussuri, or maybe it was higher up. And 

that young student was listening to a bunch of old people in the big 

sitting room with windows around so you could look at the view. 

There was a bunch of Russian generals, professors, and people from the 

government, too, and they were looking at those beautiful mountains, and 

our little German student heard them talking. And the Russians were 

always talking against the government, and nobody trying to do 

anything; it was all talk. 

So he came over and joined us, and he said, "You know, you are a kind 
of funny people. I will tell you a little story. If there would be a 
broken chair in somebody's house, if it would be in the house of an 
Englishman, he would not mend it; there could not possibly be a broken 
chair in a gentleman's house. If it were in a German's house he would 
quietly take it out, mend it, and put it back. But if the broken chair 
happened to be in a Russian's house they would sit there for a long time, 
talking and talking and talking, and blaming the government for not 
making good chairs, but not doing a thing to mend it! 

And this is my opinion now when I hear Russian people doing it; I think 
he was very right. This is very characteristic, we always have a lot 
of opinions (mnogo osuzhdali) and never do anything, and as a result we 
are here in America. In general we had a strange psychology. The 
nobility considered it not nice to talk of monay, to do anything 
practical was absolutely inadmissable. We had no idea that all those 
estates had been mortgaged one time, two times, and a third time 
until at last they went. 

The peasants were the same. The peasants and the higher classes in 
Russia were very close in their psychology. I think you must have 
read of it in the books, actually many of the children /of the 
landowning class/ were raised by nurses and nursed by peasant women, 
and I think we and the peasants were very close in some ways; we got 
some ideas from them /and they got some from us/. 

That's why when-'.we had the pogroms they always said they were organized 
by the government. Well, our government was stupid, but not stupid to 
that extent, because they /the Jews/ were the ones who were paying 
the taxes. But what happened, our peasants were always head over heels 
in debt, and so, when after selling their crop they drank too much 
vodka, who was to blame? Not they, it was the Jewish fellow who gave 
them credit. So it was the poor Jewish fellow who was beaten up. 
They always slept on the parina (?), the federbett, and /the mob/ 
always cut these up and the feathers would be flying around . Usually 
this would happen in a village where there was only one gorodovoi 
(policeman), or sometimes not even that, it would be a starosta (village 
elder). So that was why they had to send the cossacks, because there 
would be rioting, and the local police could do nothing. And then they 
said that it was the cossacks who were at fault. But what could the 
local police do? One man couldn't /deal with/ a drunken mob that was 
destroying everything around. But they would never blame it on themselves 




and I think our higher classes were the same. We were always blaming 
somebody else, but never trying to do anything to straighten things out. 

This isn't uniquely Russian, of course. 

But in Russia it was to an enormous extent. That is why some of them 
joined all those revolutionary groups. I blame Tolstoi to a great 
extent. My aunt was a follower of Tolstoi. She cut her hair a terrible 
scandal at the end of the last century; she wore glasses, another scandal; 
she went to the medical school, another scandal; and she was a tolstovka. 
So this killed my grandfather, because it was a terrible disgrace 
for the family. She had two brothers, my father and my uncle Vasilii, 
but she was the only daughter, and the apple of my grandfather's eye. 

And then they would join all the nihiliststs and so on at this time, most 
of them were of good families. And so, naturally, they did the same 
thing, instead of doing something they were talking. Talking and 
talking and distributing leaflets. 

Well, I cannot talk about those things; you must have read a great deal 
about it. 

True, but it is valuable to hear about it from someone who was there. 

Well, the only class that did anything was the kuptsy, the merchants. 
Have you read the book, Russkoe kupechestvo /Russian merchant class/? 
Maria Vladimirovna has it, among the books I gave her. All those men 
were usually out of the peasant class, but instead of drinking down their 
crops they started doing something practical, and gradually Moscow 
became the center of all the extremely rich merchants, and they started 
as peasants, some of them serfs even. The grandfather, the son and the 
grandson each did better /than therone before/. 

That is why the people of Petersburg always despised Moscow "Oh, kuptsy," 
they said. But those kuptsy were the ones who had something in their 
head, practical, instead of just blabbing and talking. And all the 
Tret'iakovs, Morozovs and Eliseevs, they started from very low grade, 
and some of them became multi-millionaires. Whereas the Russian nobility, 
when it became a question of what to do, just remortgage. 

Fortunately, my uncle had some sense. My aunt was very much a follower 
of Tolstoi, and even joined a Tolstoi commune, like the communes here now. 
Luckily she met and married him. She remained very liberal, but living 
in a comfortable way was much more convenient than in a commune. And my 
uncle, her husband, instead of taking a third mortgage on his estate, 
started a steel mill, on the Ural River. After the Bolsheviks destroyed 
it he started a sawmill , and naturally the Bolsheviks killed him. 
The last letter we received from my aunt was in 1933, when she wrote that 
Vasilii her brother and Nikolai her husband had both met with an 
accident. It was an open postcard, but when she wrote "they met with 
an accident and things are very sad" you know, for the essentials of 
life we understood. And the last line was "Ma culpa mea maxima culpa.'" 
The censor wouldn't understand it, but we understood what she meant, that 
she was sorry. 

Have you read Basargin? He was one of our best writers. He was a 
revolutionary too; I don't know what party he belonged to. He exiled 
himself from Russia and lived for a time in Italy. When the Revolution 
came he went back, and what he saw terrified him, when he saw what they 



had done. One of his books is Mea culpa, and the other, in Russian, 
is Sevrazhek (?), the name of a street in Moscow, or in English, 
Quiet Street. It is terrifying, because he saw the results of their 
work, what it led to. I have it in English. If you don't find it in 
the library I can send it to you. It was quite popular in America 
about 30 years ago. It gave him enough money to be able to escape 
again, this time from the USSR. I think he died in Paris. 

Just like my aunt, they all smote their brows and cried "Our fault, 
our fault. 1 " at the end, but it was too late to correct it. And 
naturally Tolstoi had a great influence. I think and I'm not that smart- 
I think that at the end he was just plain senile. Because his writing 
was so beautiful he was like a god, and everything he would say, people 
admired it, but toward the end all his preachings and so on well, it 
was just talk. But on account of his enormous genius as a novelist, 
he had a terrific influence on the people, especially the young 
people. Everything that Tolstoi said was like a Gospel; they believed 
every word of it. So I blame him a great deal. Well, again, that is 
my opinion. 

RP: You said yesterday that as a teenager you didn't notice the events 

leading to the Revolution, but later it must have become more apparent. 

Vernon: Yes, when it did become noticeable, it was a shock. The abdication of 
the Tsar, and then the Provisional Government, and the way Kerensky 
was running things. And meanwhile the army was falling apart. Because 
by that timethis I know from my father the army was already composed 
of borodachi, bearded ones . 

For me, the first shock was when so many of my boy friends were killed. 
They didn't even have time for a panikhida (service for the dead, 
requiem) for each one, so they always used to have six or seven bodies 
at a time. 

You see, what happened, the best soldiers and the best officers were sent 
in the first attack. Again, I am not a tactician, so I cannot 
judge, but they were sent in the first attack, you know, when they were 
very nearly in Prussia, with flags flying, and trumpets, on horseback, 
in parade uniforms it was like a parade. And then the Germans just 
turned those Big Berthas loose on them, and the whole thing just 
went pff t. And my first horrible impression was that I had some 
friends in the konnogvardii (horse guards) , one of our best regiments 
in Russia, and I remember a friend of ours, Vadim Kushelev, out of 
32 officers of the regiment, he brought back 18 coffins. I remember 
Vadim saying to me: "I wish I could be in one of the coffins, because it 
is too heartbreaking." But 18 officers and one of them was Konstantin, 
one of the grand dukes, the nephew of the Emperor. 

So that was it. And naturally the soldiers were the best. Then they 
mobilized all the young people first, and then after they were all 
slaughtered, there would be a second mobilization, of the middle-aged 
men. By that time the war was going worse and worse, because of 
mistakes which I cannot tell you about my father could have explained it, 

Vernon 10 

By then it was already the borodachi, the middle aged men, who had 
families and children, who were taken. And what happened? The 
first day, there was no bread, because there was nobody at home to 
work. The men on whom they depended for raising food were at the 
front, so naturally those men were very susceptible to any kind of 
propaganda. And then there were the food shortages. And this is what 
happened. And so that was the end. My father said he was still trying 
to do something at the front. He said that when you talked to individual 
soldiers they were normal and acted normally, but as soon as there would 
be one of the agents by that time Lenin and Trotsky were back they 
would turn into a mob, that would kill their officers and go home. 
And they promised them land, which they never got. And this was how 
the army fell apart. And this is why I became kind of... I always say 
there is nothing, when they say there is something that is supernatural... 

RP: This was all in the time of Kerensky? 

Vernon: Kerensky, yes. And Mr. Kerensky, if he had been a man and not what he 
was no decent Russian shook his hand when he was at Stanford . He was 
actually to blame for... Well, he was actually a nothing, but a very 
good talker. He could talk, my goodness how he could talk, but as to 
action he was absolutely Well, naturally he ran away. He let our 
Imperial family die, but he saved himself. He dressed as a woman and he 
crossed the frontier to Finland, and later he lived very comfortably in 
Stanford. I hope the good Lord will make him pay for it well, he is 
up there now. . . 

If Kerensky could have stopped them in the beginning, just simply, 
plainly shot them, we wouldn't have had the... This was one of the 
characteristic . . . 

I think there were only about eighty men who were his (Lenin's) bodyguards, 
or whatever you want to call them, and he was talking from the mansion 
of Ksheshinskaia, that is, crossing over the Nikolaevskii Most (bridge). 
There was a big open... and Kshenskaia's big house was right there, and 
here was the Petropavlovskaia fortress, and farther down a beautiful 
Moslem mosque. I asked one of the boys who escaped from there whether 
the mosque was still there, and he said " No, it is a skating rink." 
But this is the way... 

We were still supposed to vote it was still the time of the Vremennoe 
pravitel'stvo (Provisional Government), and here came my maid, Marusiia. 
And she said: "Look, look, I have 25 rubles. 1 " 

"Where did you get it?" I said. 

She said, "Trotsky and Lenin are talking to the people and their agents 
are going around giving the people 25 rubles to vote for proposition 
No. 4." That was the communistic item on the ballot. So here was that 
stupid little girl she was about 20 years old saying "Here I have 25 
rubles and I am going to vote for No. 4!" 

I said, "Marusia, don't do it!" 

"Well," she said, "I might get some more!" That was her psychology! 


And I looked at the 25 rubles, and they were false. Naturally the Germans 
must have sent Lenin and Trotsky lots of money, but they didn't have 
very much themselves, so they printed this counterfeit money. And those 
people stupidly accepted it and voted for Number 4, giving the most 
communistic party the lead over the others. 

I could not vote I was too young, but one man who was in the voting 
place told me it was a most amusing thing here came an old Russian 
peasant woman and there was an icon there there were still icons and 
she crossed herself and said, in a loud voice, "Well, I hope we are going 
to elect a good Tsar!" And she voted for proposition No. 4! 

Life under the Bolsheviks 

Then /after the Bolshevik seizure of power on 25 October/7 November, n.s., 
1917.7 it started to get worse and worse. But the Communists were not too 
well organized yet. The Cheka was only beginning after they took over. 
Actually they were shooting at random. If they saw somebody in uniform 
they would shoot. The counter-espionage was not organized as it is now, 
everything was just at the beginning. Most of it was just simply killing. 
Naturally my husband or my brother could not get out of the house in 
uniform. They would finish you off, for no reason whatsoever. 

RP: When did you marry? 

Vernon: Why did I marry? Because I was an idiot! 

RP: No, no! I didn't ask why! I asked when ! 

Vernon: I was in love with my future husband. And I told you how my parents 
obtained permission to leave, and I could have left with them. My 
mother implored me to come, but I said, "No, I can't live one single 
day without Igor! My heart would be broken, I would die!" You know, 
at eighteen! Later I was divorced from my husband, and lived here in 
America, and my heart didn't break once! We were good friends. There was 
no quarrel, and we were on good terms for the rest of our lives, till 
he died. But at this time I thought one more day without him would 
be the end . 

So I was married the 12th of January 1918, and my parents left on the 
13th. I am going to get the papers concerning my marriage from my 
husband's third wife. I always say that, and the Americans always 
laugh. I say she is the wife of my husband, and she is a very wonderful 
woman; she lives in Canada, in Vancouver. She just wrote to say she 
is sending the marriage certificate that my husband had. She is mailing 
it to me because I want to give it to the Hoover Library, because we 
were married in the chapel of the Winter Palace. You know, people 
just did not think it was the end of everything. How we got there I don't 
remember; I was all excited, my parents were leaving, and my darling 
and I were getting married. You know, at 18 you have no brains anyway, 
so by some dark corridor, by some kind of stairway we walked into the 
chapel. How it happened, I don't know, but my husband's father was in 
the Imperial government (Imperatorskoe pravitel'stvo) . He wasn't 
military, he was an Imperial councillor (tsarskii sovetnik) or something 
like that. 





Vernon : 






But this was already 1918. Was a church wedding still allowed? 

No, it wasn't allowed; we were kids, but our parents were grown up, 
and we were all risking our necks to be married... As I have said, 
the Bolsheviks were not organized yet, but they were there in force, 
their soldiers were all around the Winter Palace. So how we got into 
that chapel I don't know, but why it happened was because my husband's 
family was very religious, and Ian Kronshtadtskii, you know, the 
famous priest, when he came from Kronshtadt he was always the guest 
of my husband's family. They were very religious and the priest who 
had baptised all the children met my fiance and me on the Nevskii, 
and he said he was the chaplain of the Imperial 

chapel and he said "I have baptised you, and I am going to marry 
you." So that's why we were married in the chapel of the Imperial 
Palace (Zimnii dvorets) . And my father and my brother were in uniform 
it was of khaki, but still it was the uniform. 

That was a great risk. 

Well, as I said, the grownups should have known. And the members of 
the family of my husband's brother, and Mr. Carton (?) who was a 
stahlmeister. That uniform, can you imagine putting it on during 
the Revolution? Its unbelievable! Can you imagine that? 

Well, he couldn't have gone through the streets wearing it. He must 
have carried it in a package. 

I don't know, because as I say I was in a daze. 

That was really bizarre, because the old regime was finished. 

Yes, and they were grown up! and it was finished; everything was finished, 
but he still had to put his uniform on. Naturally it was khaki, during 
the war. And so did one of the witnesses, Stenbock-Fermor not the one 
that lives in Palo Alto, but one who is still living in London. 

So somehow we managed that. That is why you would find the marriage 
certificate interesting, because it is stamped by the Zimnii dvorets. 
So besides the priest there was some kind of secretary, who put on one 
of the last stamps of the Zimnii dvorets. But as I say, it was ridiculous. 
Foolhardy. The street was full of revolutionary soldiers, and how we 
sneaked in there I don't remember. But I do remember some kind of dark 
halls and a stairway. But it wasn't through the front. 

And that was how optimistic we were. We didn't believe that it would 
last. I was very fond of furs; I didn't like diamonds; and my mother 
had very, very good furs. Girls weren't allowed to wear them, only 
belyi pesets (white fox) and Persian lamb, but not too much of that. 

Allowed by whom? 

By custom. Look at our grand duchesses, the way they were dressed was 
pitiful, because all they were allowed to wear was just one string of 
pearls, and only a little bit of ermine, even for big occasions. The 
ladjes in waiting were dressed very well, while the daughters of the 
Emperor were still young ladies, and not married, they were not allowed... 
And we were not to go to restaurants, or to light /opera?/... 

Vernon 13 

RP: So this was by social custom, then, your being allowed or not allowed 
to do certain things? 

Vernon: Those were the things that were not allowed. For instance, we were not 
allowed to wear any black. So we were dreaming about it. Black was 
supposed to be for older women. We were allowed pink, pale blue, and 
white, but no black. Nor gloves. We even had a song in the boarding 
schools, about having gloves. We were embarrassed about our bony, 
skinny, horrible looking hands, and short sleeves. Only the graduating 
class was permitted to wear gloves, with 16 buttons. In French there was 
a song "0 les gants avec seize boutons" gloves and sixteen buttons, this 
was our dream at that time. 

My mother had quite a large collection of sables, and gornostai (ermine) 
quite a large collection and so they wouldn't get spoiled during the 
summer there was a big fur store which took things which had to be 
preserved from moths, by putting them in special rooms, I suppose, so 
we turned all our furs to the fur store Mertons? I still have the receipt. 
These were stored so the moths would not eat them. Then on top of that 
we always had rugs to be stored. But by 1918, Mertons was closed, and 
the banks and everything else. 

Hadn't the Bolsheviks started confiscating those things? 

Vernon: That came a little later. You see, the Bolsheviks were not yet taking 
too much they were too busy killing. My father-in-law and his family 
and his wife had an apartment on the Liteinyi naberezhnyi, that is, on 
the bank of the Neva, at this time the whole floor. And then somehow my 
husband and I found an apartment on the next corner we didn't want to 
live with the family. I think it was on the Voznesenskii naberezhnyi. 
We were not far, so we could go and visit them. 

And then things got steadily worse. At this time when the Bolsheviks 
searched they never searched our apartment they did not have enough 
men, so when they came in it was just to pick up a person and take him 
across the Neva on the Vasil'evskii ostrov, to be shot. We were living 
directly opposite, and at night, at 1 o'clock, they would always 
start shooting. They took all those people across there, and so naturally 
there would be screaming which you would hear across the Neva, when it 
was cold, because at night everything was quiet there wasn't much movement 
anyway, even in the daytime. So to shut up the sound of the machine 
guns, they used trucks; they lifted them up in some way and started them, 
and then they put people against the wall and machinegunned until 
everybody was killed. At 1 o'clock it always started, the noise of 
the engines, and through it you could hear the sound of the machine 
guns, and so we knew people were being shot. So we woke up at 
1 o'clock, and stood near the window and listened; it still makes me 
cold when I think about it. And my mother-in-law and her sister were 
always praying for those who were being killed. 

But as far as furniture and things were concerned they didn't seem to be 
much interested. The soldiers running away from the front were interested 
mainly in going back to their own villages. But there were quite a 
few peasants coming from the north, and this was really I was young, so 
we still laughed. They would come on the Neva on big barges, land on the 

Vernon 14 

pristan' (pier) and come ashore. They were bringing flour which they 
would exchange for furniture, dishes and so on. Big, strong, and very 
blond, they spoke with a he-he-he-he, a funny kind of Russian, through 
their teeth. They took furniture and things, and actually we were 
glad to get flour and something edible, because there was nothing you 
could buy. I remember a bunch of them came in; they were workmen, and 
the communist soldiers didn't pay any attention. They were scared of 
them, I think, because those people wouldn't talk two minutes, they 
would just pick you up and throw you in the river. 


So once they came /and they not iced /a trumeau / we use the French 
term a piece which has a little table, and then a big mirror up 
to the ceiling. 

RP: A sort of dressing table? 

Vernon: No, it wasn't a dressing table; it was usually in the living room, a 

decorative piece. And this peasant woman, she said "Well, I want that 
thing there." 

"What do you need it for?" I said. 
"Sell; I want it." 

"Well," I said, "how much will you give me for it?" I don't remember how 
many pounds of flour you got for something like that. 

We bargained a little, and then I said, "Well, actually, what are you 
going to do with it?" because I knew that the peasant houses were low. 
"Your ceilings will be too low," I said. 

"Oh," she said, "I'll put it lengthwise." 

And another one, she looked in the house of my in-laws. They had a 
grand piano, and one of them wanted it. 

Again I asked, "What do you need it for?" I was genuinely interested. 

And she said, "Well, you see, my son likes this sound, and you know, 
it gets pretty damp in our villages in winter, so it would be a very 
good place for the chickens to hatch!" 

That was the kind of exchange we made. Different antique pieces of 
furniture were exchanged for food. And when they departed it was amusing 
to look through the windows. Here was a barge, carrying a grand piano, 
with a broomstick sticking out, and a bunch of pots lying inside, and the 
peasants happily sailing away with that stuff. But they were very welcome. 

And then the "bagmen" (meshechniki) organized. They carried a lot they 
were risking their lives, actually, because the Bolsheviks were searching 
their clothes. They took valuables from the town into the country 
and brought back food. We had one, the sister of our doorman (shveitsar) . 
She was a very skinny little woman, and she would bring us a leg of 
lamb, for instance. And suddenly this little skinny woman would develop 
the figure of a Marion Monroe, having it attached around her neck. 
So that is how we were supplied with food, but naturally, if they 
were found out, they were shot, so it was a serious thing. 

Vernon 15 

And then the ones in the barges stopped coming I think they must have 
put some kind of restriction on the river. So the meshechniki provided 
our only exceptional things. Otherwise the food was well, bread, 
about so much /indicates a very small amount/ for two days. 

RP: They were more like little cakes. 

Vernon: Yes, and full of straw, and dried fish. You see in Russia we had lots 
of dried vegetables. In the winter time they used them to make soup. 
So this we could get. We ground that horrible stuff, and then used 
the skins from the potatoes you could get a few of potatoes, they 
were a sort of luxury. The skins were put in the oven and dried out and 
made into a powder, and the cakes made out of the dried vegetables were 
rolled in the black stuff and fried in coco-butter. Awful! There was no 
butter, but you still could find some coconut. And then the dried 
fish (seledki) , that was the main supply of food. 

So naturally we lost some weight. And this was our existence until 
we left. 

RP: When did you leave? 

Vernon: In September, 1918, just 18 days before the birth of my son. I had 

the Spanish flu, but I didn't die, and my son didn't either. Like the 
doctor here, who says Russian women are awfully tough! But my 
sister-in-law refused to leave, and they shot her husband. 

So this is another amusing fact in the life of human beings. My 
sister-in-law's first husband before the war was Prince Bobrinskii. 
I must try to find out from Vera Aleksandrovna /Elis^ .cher/ if he is 
still alive, because one Bobrinskii is a priest and^a relative of 
Vera Aleksandrovna. They had a little boy by the name of Aliosha, and 
they thought the Russian nurses were no good, so they had English 
nurses. The room was heated by Russian stoves (pech 1 ) with a pyramid on 
top so there wouldn't be any dust, it would fall off. All the shelves in 
that poor child's room were out of glass, so the nurses could wash them 
every day. The poor kid was taken every time he ate and put on a 
scale, so it was a very scientific way of bringing up a child. And 
Aliosha, a little blond fellow, was not strong. 

What Bobrinskii had done was a family secret, I don't know, because 
divorces in Russia were very, very difficult. But Lolot the girl's name 
and he were divorced; it was very hush-hush. Perhaps it was explained 
and I didn't understand we were ^ery naive in some ways. Then she 
married a Count Vronskoi. There were ten days between us. I was 
expecting my son, and she was expecting a child too, but because her 
sister Vera, who was married to the brother of my husband her mother, 
Mrs. Carton, were there she wanted to stay. 

We were trying to escape, and we told Lolot and her mother to come, 
but she said, "No, no, the child is coming soon, and I cannot travel in 
that condition!" 

"Well I am," I said, "and you can do it too!" 
But she said "No, I won't leave." 

In the last letter I got from my mother-in-law, she said that about 
ten days after we left the Bolsheviks searched her house they had a 
beautiful house, not far from the Frantsuzskaia naberezhnaia (French quay), 



They took Vronskoi, her husband, and they shot him on the street 
corner. And naturally the baby was born ahead of time from the shock, 
and Lolot had no milk, and as my mother-in-law told us, they raised the 
new born baby on potatoes. That's all they had, so they took potatoes 
and boiled them to the consistency of milk and like my mother-in-law 
wrote, Aleksei, the one who was raised scientifically, was still a weak 
little boy, but Olga, the new born baby, was a husky little thing. Can 
you Imagine? The way human things work out. As far as Bobrinskoi the 
priest could find out, Lolot Vronskaia died later in a labor camp. 
That is all I know of the familyy but it shows that a child can survive 
in strange conditions. I know nothing further of what happened to her or 
the rest of them, whether or not she survived to be a teen-ager. 

RP: How did the rest of you escape? 

Vernon: The jewels /that I had insisted were not to be turned in for first 
war bonds, in spite of my father's wishes, back in 19 15 / saved our 
lives, because we paid them to the Jews who got us out of Petersburg. 
There was no money, and these were the things that I had to sell because 
my husband and my brother couldn't get out of the house. They had no 
civilian clothes, and they would have been shot on sight, so I sold 
/"the jewels/ and paid enough to three very nice Jewish fellows, 
Sherman, German and Berman. I think one got us the false documents, the 
other got the tickets for the train, and the third one escorted us 
to the frontier, to the Ukraine, which was by this time occupied by the 
Germans. And not only us but the brother of my husband, his wife, 
my mother-in-law, and one of the maids who didn't want to leave (them). 

My husband /had papers showing that he/was a worker at the Putilov 
factory I don't remember the name and Gleb his brother was also a 
worker in some other factory, sent to the Ukraine by the government 
as a progragandist. My brother always had a slight German accent he 
spoke German perfectly and so he was supposed to be Finnish; they gave 
him some name and he was supposed to be in the military. And the 
women were just women their wives and so on. And so we got the documents, 
the tickets and so on, and then Mr. Berman went to the frontier and 
got us over the line. 

RP: So you made it out, and were able to have your child... 

Vernon: At Novorossiisk. There the White Army was in control. I don't remember 
any of the trip, my fever was very high. He (my son) didn't suffer 
from it in any way whatsoever. He was in the Air Force here, and they 
gave him 99% perfect with only one point off because he had a broken 
tooth; he broke it diving. He is 61 right now he was born on October 
12 and thank God he has never been sick. So human children are very 
much sturdier than pedigreed dogs. 

So that's how things worked out. But by then the White Army the Volunteer 
Army (Dobrovol'cheskaia armiia) was in very sad condition. 

RP: Was there still hope of victory? 

Vernon: Yes, we were only 60 miles from Moscow, and if the English would have 

Well, don't let me talk about the English, I don't like them. They sent 
us ammunition of one kind, and guns of another. They were so afraid that 



Russia might well, they were always afraid of Russia, I don't know why. 
Russia was big enough without trying to get colonies, but for some 
reason they thought that Russia wanted India. Good heavens, who wanted 
India when we couldn't take care of what we had. Well, that's another 
part of the history, but when it comes to the English I have no sympathy 
whatsoever. The way they treated us on the ship and so on, I will 
never forget. The Japanese and the English are two peoples that I 
don't well, there are individuals, of course; I have some English friends 
that I think are wonderful, but... Well, they always called it 
treacherous Albion /kovarnyi Albion/. 

RP: Perfidious Albion, Napoleon's term? 


Vernon: And they keep on, but they are punished for it; I believe in higher 
justice, and the higher justice is punishing, you can see it by 
England. Out of a big empire, what are they, a miserable little island, 
and only existing because America helps them the America they despise 
so much. 

RP: At what stage did people begin to think that there was no possibility 
of beating the Bolsheviks? Did the optimism last until the middle of 

Vernon: You see, we advanced pretty well, but there were lots of mistakes. 
RP: What kind? 

Vernon: Well, of every kind. It would take very long, and I cannot tell you. 
Mistakes in tactics, mistakes in commanders; Denikin was blah. My 
brother always said he didn't have anything of the leader about him. 
My brother was 17 and he was commanding because most of the officers 
were sick from the black typhus or Spanish flu. So the doctor and my 
brother, Paul, aged 17, were commanding what they called a guard 
artillery division /gvardeiskii artilleriiskii divizion/. 

RP: The doctor was commanding? 

Vernon: He was the only one who was healthy, he and my brother the two of them. 
One of our poets described it very well in Evgenii Onegin nashego dnei, 
one of our humorists. The reasons for the White collapse have been 
set forth very well. Mamaevskii and Shkuro you know how it is in a 
civil war, men sometimes came in from outside and raised the peasants, 
and they were plundering and so forth, so there was no support from the 

As for Denikin, my brother said, it was like a parade. If it had been 
Wrangel he would have saved the situation, but here came Denikin, he 
was a fat, elderly man, and he had a swollen tooth, and his face was 
tied with a handkerchief. He came in, and he was mumbling something. 
My brother said we had the whole regiment at this time, and everyone was 
so eager to go in and fight, kind of enthusiastic, but when they saw that 
pitiful figure of their commander their spirits sank. You see, if you 
have a good leader he can lead the troops to any attack, but when you have 
a kind of plump, good-for-nothing... Wrangel was another person, a good 
leader, but he didn't get the command until it was too late. When he 
took over it was already hopeless, only the Crimea was left, and that was 
the end of everything. I have pictures of Wrangel 's funeral which I 



will send you. They were made in Serbia, where he died. This was 
the end of everything, the end of Russia. So when they speak of Russia 
to me now, this for me is the USSR. If I had a chance to poison one 
of them, one of the leaders, I would die happy. 

Have you read "The Man who Walked Away," in the Reader's Digest? 
You see that class now in the USSR; they take bright boys and 
raise them under luxurious conditions to become members of the 
KGB, its about how they I have that book; I must get it for 
you. That young man was raised in luxurious conditions, and then, 
what changed all his outlook, they took them to the country, 
where he saw how the peasants were living, and under what horrible 
conditions, because they were the bosses and those people were 
the rabble. So when he was sent to Egypt, he got in touch with 
a man from the American CIA. It was while Nasser was the head, and 
Nasser's closest advisor was a communist. But Nasser was not, and 
this was when there wzs that big break, when they sent all the 
Soviets home. And this young man helped a great deal in it, and 
when Nasser found out about this he put his close friend in 
prison. First he sentenced him to death; I don't think you last 
long in an Egyptian prison. 

But anyway, the whole politics of Egypt was changed; they 
became pro-American and this young man was the connection 
between the KGB and the CIA. They had an arrangement with him that 
if by some chance he would be discovered, the Americans had a 
Volkswagen in his street, and in that VW were different things 
children's toys, rags, etc., like somebody who was a tourist 
travelling, and if you see a bunch of viewers on top of that mess 
that is inside of the car, keep on walking. So one day he saw it, 
and he kept on walking into the desert, and a helicopter picked 
him up. I suppose now he must be living somewhere in America, 
under a false name. It is very interesting; they give the 
names, and photographs. I'll send it to you. 

4 . Voyage to America 
RP: Would you now tell how you left Russia and came to the United States? 

Vernon: After the White Army collapsed, they shipped the women and children, 
and the wounded from Novorossiisk. My husband and my brothers 
were still fighting under Wrangel in the Crimea, but we were 
shipped out. 

Nobody wanted to accept us, first, because we were not tourists, 
and had no money whatsoever, and second, because we had black 
typhus. Do you know what that is? It is a terrible kind of disease. 
It starts with red blotches on your body, and then the temperature 
goes in Russia the highest is 98, which in America' would be 105. 
On the tenth day it drops down to normal, and the only way to 
save you then is to inject adrenalin into the heart, but we didn't 
even have aspirin, so it was a sure way to die. We had some cases 
on the ship, so in general it was a very sad journey. 


RP: Which ship was it? 

Vernon: The Karlsberg; it had been taken from the Germans. It was run 
by a crew of fellahs, recruited in Egypt, the captains were 
Italian, for some reason, and the main crew was English. That is 
why I still have an unpleasant memory of the English; I will 
never forget that, because the soldiers and the captain took all 
the cabins, and we were in the holds, the first, second and third. 
In the first were 400 wounded men, most of them dying slowly. In 
the second were the women and children, including the Grand 
Duchess Olga, and in the third were the healthy men. 

Our White Army had paid the English in oil, from Baku, but just 
the same they didn't feed us, the water was... And the children 
started to die; that is why I will never forget that. There was 
nothing to eat except crackers and canned meat. The babies just 
couldn't take it in. Our doctors complained to the English 
colonel, and he said "Well, why don't you soak the crackers in 
water? The children can have that." So we were burying them 
at sea. But my son survived, somehow, thank God for that. 

But naturally nobody wanted that kind of crowd, a bunch of women 
with kids, and dying men. The only ones who would take us were 
the Serbs. Their king, Alexander, said: "Well, we have nearly 
nothing left, but what we have we will share with the Russians 
with pleasure, because you saved us one time, and we will try 
to do what we can for you." 

And so we spent two years in Yugoslavia, and they were a wonderful 
people. I don't know how they are now, but then they were 
absolutely marvellous. 

For a long time I thought that my father had been shot, together with 
Kolchak. He was on the staff of the Kolchak army, and when the 
French surrendered Kolchak to the Bolsheviks they shot the whole 
staff too. However, it happened that my father had been gassed during 
War Number 2 I am sorry, War Number 1! Excuse me, I have 
seen so many wars that I get mixed up! and this day he had a 
blood pressure in the head from the gas, and he had to leave 
the front, so he escaped the slaughter. Then, for two years, we 
didn't know if he was alive, and they didn't know if we were alive. 
But then somehow, somebody at this time after the war there was 
no telephone, and no telegrams, and as for letters, you could 
send one, but if it didn't arrive it was normal we found out 
that my father was alive and he sent us a visa. By that time 
he had decided to go to America, and from Siberia had gone by 
way of Japan and then to San Francisco. So he sent us a visa and 
instructions to come to San Francisco. 

But the only way we could go was to Italy first, and we got 

there just at the time of the Mussolini revolution. There was 

some shooting, but by that time we were used to it trucks, shooting, 

and so on. They kept us there six weeks, and we were getting 

very nervous, because the visa was for only a certain amount of 

' ( 


I orni. No. 22S. Revised 




Varipaer Valeiiti 

bv-ire. oi 



at Zagreb, Jugos.a- 

2 8, M- 

i92 - 

a subject oi .... 



Ci. Uiuj 

by Vi c e -Consulate 

ponaine of tht Prc 
United States of America, accon 
Sjtdinj^nc Drzove, u pratnji 


r of Ruesia 


am abou( to go to the 

Ti so rial Rua/ian gbVrruant. Jmadem nakanu putovati u 

panied b> 

own passport/ 




I was born 1899 T . _|* 

ja sam rodjen(u) 

my occupation is hQJEJHKCJCi^ 

po zanimanju \\ 

i IL '- - - M 

kroz godina, tt sam naumio(la) putovati u 

in U. S. A. to remain for ^_ 

a Sjev. amer. Sjed. Drzave 

of Joining my pajantfr 

VlaciiTostoi Primorski gubernija 

resided at .JalknTa 
stanovah u poslijednje aoha 


tor the purpose 


us shown by letters or 
kako potvrdjuju moja pisma 
affidavits attached hereto and tied at the;!a'.c. I have prevous'y resided in the United States 
/// prilozena izjava ubiljezcna ut konzularnom zapisniku. Ja ttanovch prije u Sjedinjenim Driavama 
at the following places for the Hllownig periods: 
/ to slijcdecim mjcstuna i kroz wire navi'tt<.nu vrijunc: NfVr 4 A US. 


My references in iTniicd States are Baron Al xi s BoudToerg, sent v^ire. inri tinc...m.e. to hi' 
Upntc o mcni mo:c duti u S/cd. Driuvan.a j. 

Business Addres., Pcrto Alto 30. r i Cpwper Street, 

My references in this district are _ 
Ujnrte o meat u ovom okruzju I 


liadwce Ttrezina Jnlco 

Ljubljana Jurcicev trg 3 

I have rendered military service curing the world, war in the armies of 
Za vrieme svjetskog rata sluzio sam kao vojnik u vojsci 
as> follows .'_ 

i to kako slijfdi- 



I have infoimcd myself of '.he provisions of ! 

I'ntlpunn sum upiifcn(n) t> narcclbama Clanka 
and am convinced that. 1 am eligible for admission 
nvjcrrn'rii da cc mi hiti iti:vnljrn pristnp n S/rdin/e, 

I realize that it I am nnc of a class prohibit 
Poznalu mi jc (fit ako pripadam mtdju onnvc 
I will be deponed or detained in (he United States 
da te mi bill pristup uskraccn i da cu biti po ixcljc 
assume the r sk ni deportation and of compulsoty 
xvtifcn odjfovornasf n slnf-a/u tleporladjc iz bilo koje 

I solemnly swear that ll:c foregoing stalemen. arc trt:e to the 
/a se sve fa no zaklinjem da sit gornjc izjavc is 
and that I fully intend while in Ilie United States 
se obvczujcm tin at kruz vri/eme boravka u Sjcdinjenit 

tion 3 of the Inf [nigtation Ac; of February 5. 1917. 
fvanjc od 5. vcljaic H'l7. It. sam 
es thereunder 

:akona za nsctj 
to the Unitet St? 
Driavi: . 

hy law from a 

ly Imm gr: tion a; 
?kim oblastima 
ttirn m care of n 
merikanakc luke. ; 

dmi.-sion into the United Stale* 
f izkljuienc iz Sjcdinjenili dtzava, 
iilicriucs and I am prepared to 
'bitiran(a), ie yrcnzimam na scbc. 
y rejection at an American port. 

lest of my knowledge and belief. 
lite i po mojem n ajsavjeslnijem znanjn ticinjene, te 

obey the. laws a^id constituted authorities then of. 
Drzavama ; oitiiZ *~i podnpirati zakone i oblastt islih. 

POTPIS. te va^cji 

Vl erttJ 'He signed her husband* 

Subscribed and sworn to before me this. . 

UecoiiimcnaatiOiiS: V* 

2 & N, 19?1 192 

-V4ee Consul 

Visa g rar r -d 

Fee No. 



Via refud 

S3 1.00 


and (Th validity of tnJt VI'M expire* 
: e Stamp f' -i^A'from thh date, 



time, but at last we got in some ship, and the ship took 21 days 
to reach New York one of those old galoshes, you know. 

RP: Do you remember the name? 

Vernon: It was of the Kazulich line, but I don't remember the name of 
the ship. 

So we arrived in New York. Another interesting thing was our 
way of disembarking, 

So we arrived in New York. In front of us I saw the Statue 
of Liberty, and I said to my son, lurii, "This is one country 
where my son will never go to war." We thought that the 
Americans would never go into another war, but in World War II 
my son spent five years in the Air Force. 

Another interesting thing was our way of disembarking, but I 
won't tell it to you because they would get mad at me I 

RP: Who? 

Vernon: The people that used to be... Oh well, it was so many years 
ago... There we were, in the middle of the bay, but they 
wouldn't let us land. When we asked the Italian stewards they 
were very amusing, they said "We land when the commission is 
ready!" ' 

I said "What do you mean by ready?" 

And he went like that /taps throat/. You know, like the Italians 
do when you are drunk. "They are in the captain's 
cabin being entertained." 

You see, it was during Prohibition, and they were being entertained 
until by the time they let us go they didn't know if it was a man 
or a woman. There were so many comical and amusing cases. Some 
dark haired young woman would come out and they would say that some 
man was her father, and the father would be about 20 years 
younger than she was, and blond, or something like that. But 
by that time they didn't care. 

We landed in New York on the 10th of June, and oh, it was hot, 
beastly hot. And we weren't dressed for it. I was wearing a 

From New York we went by train to San Francisco. In Chicago 
it was impossibly hot. In geography we had learned that California 
and Florida were the warmest states, and I said "I'll die; I'll die 
in California, no question.'" But we crossed the Sierras at 
night time, and when I woke up in the morning it was so nice and 
fresh that I was sure we had taken the wrong train. I said to 
the conductor: "Are we going to Canada, or to Alaska? Where are 
we going?" 

He said: "But we are in California, lady!" 
And I said: "California? But it is not hot!" 






He said: "It's never hot in California." 

Later on we found that it was true; it was always warm and pleasant; 

it must have been around the 15th or 16th of June. It was nice weather, 

It was foggy in San Francisco. 

5. Getting established in San Francisco 

About this time there were only about 1,000 Russians living in 
and around San Francisco. Most of them were officers, who 
had been in the army in Russia; there were professors, doctors, 
generals, anybody you wanted. Most of them didn't know English; 
some knew French and German, but that didn'telp very much, 
and they didn't know how to do anything . So they took whatever 
jobs they could get, but the Americans were very nice at this 
time; they were so friendly and helpful. The women took jobs as 
chambermaids in the hotels, and as seamstresses, even if they 
never had seen a sewing machine, anything they could get. 

We settled/at first/in Palo Alto, but it was not far from 
San Francisco. Most of us didn't know English. I could read 
English, so I was very proud of myself. I thought I could get 
along very well, but when people spoke I could not understand 
anything. I could understand women /better than men/ so I had 
always to go to a lady and ask "Would you kindly tell me what 
this gentleman told me?" 

So, as I understood some English, and could talk a little, though 
not too well, I became a waitress. At this time there were lots 
of tearooms in San Francisco, where they served lunch and then 
tea and things in the afternoon. 

Had these been started by Russians? 

No, those were American places. The Russians couldn't start 
anything; nobody had any money. 

What kind of a community did they have was there any feeling of 

Oh yes, it centered around the church. At first people assembled 
under the quarters of Father Sarkovich (?), the priest, and then 
gradually, when things got better, they got other quarters. Now 
there is quite a large institute, in a large building there. 
There is a journal they put out, from the time of World War II, when 
Russians already had jobs, Den' russkago rebenka (Day of the Russian 
child). You'll find there some very useful data about who the 
members were, and how they organized, and so on. I gave my copies 
to Maria Vladimirovna; you can get them from her. 

Of the thousand who were there then, were there any who 
stood out as leaders? 

Vernon: No; everybody was too busy trying to find a job. All except 
a few of the merchants /kuptsy/, especially Kulaev, and Dr. 
Maksim , who was married to one of the Kulaevs. 

Vernon 22 

RP: And how soon did a cultural life begin? 

Vernon: If you get Den' russkago rebenka, it will tell you, and I gave 
something on it to Professor Pronin, of Fresno State. 

So I was already a waitress. I understood English but I didn't 

understand idioms. I'll never forget one of the customers in the 

little tearoom where I was working. She was a maiden lady, very 

rich and very unpleasant, one of the few unpleasant Americans 

I met, but I had her as a customer for 15 years, because when 

I had the Russian tearoom she followed me. Heaven's sakes, it was 

mean of me, but I was glad when she died! At that time I 

didn't understand idioms, so when I was getting her a cup of coffee, 

and didn't fill it to the top in order to leave her room for 

sugar and cream she said: "Would you kindly fill my cup? I 

want my money's worth!" 

Money's worth? I just couldn't figure what that thing was; I 
thought it was a dessert of some kind. So I went back in the 
kitchen and there was a nice Negro cook, very, very nice, always 
with a big smile, and nice eyes. 

And I said, "Mary, this lady wants something, and I don't know 
what it is! I think it might be some kind of dessert." 

"What does she call it?" she asked. 
'"My money's worth, 1 " I said. 

And Mary just about died laughing, and she said "Honey, she wants 
her money's worth!" 

"But what is it?"I said, "Is it a dessert?" 

"No," she said, and she explained to me. After that every time I 

made an order she said to me, "And you want your money's worth, darling, 

don't you?" 

Other ladies took jobs mostly as chambermaids in the Fairmont 
Hotel. Like one lady whose husband used to be one of the biggest 
bankersin Petersburg, and when they were trabelling on their honeymoon 
they had one of the top floors in the St. Francis Hotel, but now 
she was working in the basement, sorting the dirty linen. "My 
goodness," she said, "San Francisco looks different from the top 
and the bottom!" 

Most of the men, the professors and so on, were running elevators. 
Somehow they figured out how to run an elevator. And most of 
the middle aged men took jobs as janitors. Oleg, my cousin, 
who died, had a job for Southern Pacific mopping the floors, and 
he had never touched a mop in his life. Those horrible cuspidors 
were the worst to clean, and up to his last year he always said it 
gave him the shivers just to think of them. 

So most of them did janitor work, or tried to be painters, but 
the Americans were mostly very nice, and when a lady didn't 
know how to make beds they would say "Honey, that isn't the way to 
make a bed." They didn't make any fuss or discharge her, but 
would show how to do things. And when a fellow was working for 

Vernon 23 

a painter and he would wash an oil brush in water, he would be 
told: "You don't use water to wash a brush. You'd better take 
this oil..." They were really trying to help, there was no 
question about it. 

But naturally, there must have been lots of really amusing cases. 
One woman, a friend of mine, got a job with Marindell, a big 
dairy company near San Francisco. They put her in the room 
where she had to watch the machine that brought the butter and 
then wrapped it. It wasn't computers at this time but some kind of 
arrangement where the butter would go through the line, and down 
to the place where it was cut and wrapped, but she got so scared 
of the whole thing that she didn't know what to do. After 
awhile the foreman who was working in the main room 
was surprised that that department was so very quiet, and when he 
walked in there was Lydia lying there on the floor in a 
dead faint, covered with butter, with the machine still going, 
throwing out those cubes of butter. 

Some tried to sew. I remember another lady who was supposed to sew 
a sweater together, and the forelady told her what to do. 
Well, she had never run a sewing machine in her life, but anyway 
she decided to try to do her best. Well, she pushed the wrong 
buttons, and instead of sewing the sweater together, it got 
smaller and smaller, diminishing until there was only a little 
patch left! 

The younger men, the ones who were strong and healthy, got jobs as 
oongshoremen. At this time the longshoremen were paid very well. 
It was Mr. Bridges who destroyed the whole thing; he destroyed 
the San Francisco port. And for this he got the Order of Lenin. 
Did you know that? I have a clipping about it which I cut out 
out of a newspaper. He was given it when he retired for his big 
achievement for the cause of communism, and the Order of Lenin is 
very difficult to get; it is one of the highest decorations. 
So when people don't believe me, I show them the clipping. 

But this was before Bridges, and the longshoremen were paid very 
well, here were not very many machines, so it was not easy 
work, but they were paid about as much as a teller in a bank, or 
more. The salary of a teller was $80 a month at that time, while 
I know some boys, among them the brother of the chef I had in 
the Russian Tearoom. He was a big, husky boy; he was only 19, 
but he said he was 21 you had to be 21 to work there and that 
boy was making a hundred a week, working at night time. 

RP: That was a big wage then. 

Vernon: Oh, at this time it was very nearly the wage of the president of 
a bank. I know, I used to cash his checks for him. He worked 
long hours, it is true, and night shifts, and with dangerous 
things, so he made $100 a week. I was surprised, for $100 then was 
like a thousand now. And it really actually ruined the boy for 
life because he made so much money that he went to drinking, 
with women, friends and what not, and the longshoremen were gambling 
a great deal. After work they would go to speakeasies, and gamble. 
And one time my chef said, "Oh, my soandso brother; last night he 
lost 800 dollars!" It was unbelievable, that amount of money. 


Other men got work in the mines, some gold and some silver. It 
was a hard job, but it was paid well. For instance, one of my 
husband's friends made enough money in a gold mine, for a year, 
so he could buy all the equipment for a beauty parlor for his 
wife, and they went back to Shanghai and started a beauty 
parlor there. 

So those were the jobs. And then for our younger boys there was 
a very good arrangement, that anybody who had graduated from a 
military school, what they call a cadet corps (kadetskii korpus) 
or a gymnasium, before 1917, got 2 years credit in the university. 
So my two oldest brothers /were able to continue their educationV. 
Paul went to Stanford; he didn't have to pay the money then. We 
signed a note, which he paid when he got out. It was one of the 
most expensive universities, but very good. He took electrical 
engineering, and got two years credit. 

My other brother, Peter, in Berkeley, got two years too. However, 
my youngest brother did not have time to graduate from anything 
in Russia, he was a teenager. These two years helped a great deal. 
Many became engineers, and very quickly. Meanwhile, naturally, 
they had to work in the evening. 

Paul, my oldest brother, graduated from Stanford in German. Paul 

spoke a perfect German, and was especially good at it, but his 

English was still poor. We landed in June and he went /to university/ in 

September. We had a very nice neighbor who taught him as much as 

she could, but although he was good in languages, his English was 

still very broken. So when he went to Stanford the professor 

of mathematics in the engineering department was a German Jew by 

the name of Karl Marx. And he was a wonderful man. He died 

not so long ago, because a lady who stopped in my place in Carmel 

Valley told me that she had studied under him, and that he died 

when he was 93 or 94 years old. She said that everyone 

remembered Professor Karl Marx, because he was so helpful to the 

students. So he told Paul, my brother, that in mathematics 

everything is the same, so he said "You don't have to worry 

about it, everything will be alright. You 

understand enough; there will be no trouble. As to everything 

that you have to write write it in German; I'll accept it!" 

That was my brother's first year; in the second and final year he 
knew enough English to write in English. This lady who had been 
one of Professor Marx's pupils said that he had done so much for 
different students to help them through the university. But 
naturally his having that name was always a little bit surprising 
for us. My youngest brother Alexander, on the other hand, had to 
take two years of high school before he could /enter university/. 

/Doorbell rings; pause/ 

/Few became alcoholics/. There are so many now who say someone 

is drinking because "he has problems." Or women are drinking 
because "they have problems." I don't believe that. At this time 
I suppose the wole of us were close to a thousand , half men and half 
women. Of course we had problems, nothing but problems, but out 
of all that group 500 men, there was only one. To my great regret 

Vernon 25 

he was a good friend of ours; I mean of my father, really. I 
don't know if he is still alive, so I don't know if I should 
mention him really; he was the only one who did wrong, and he 
had a better position than anybody else. 

RP: If he is still alive, it couldn't have hurt him too much. 

Vernon: I don't want to say anymore, because the last I heard he was still 
in the same situation; he still drinks. He spoke English very 
well, while most of us did not. In Russia his aunt was the 
Princess Lobanov-Rostovskii, a lady-in-waiting of the Empress, and 
his uncle was an attache of the American Embassy. They fell in 
love and got married and she came to America with him. Naturally 
she was very happy to find her nephew, and her husband was 
working in the Crocker National Uank, and Mr. Crocker was a good 
friend of hers, so right away he arranged for this Dmitrii that 
was his first name to be given a job in the bank as a teller, 
so he had a white collar job from the beginning, a good job, and 
a very good boss, because Mr. Crocker was fond of his aunt. 

Well, he didn't keep that job and he sank lower and lower. When 
my father heard about it, he did not know what the 
situation was, and he invited him to our house. I saw that 
something was peculiar, but I had never met any alcoholics in 
Russia it was not very frequent so I didn't know what was the 
matter, but his behavior was very strange. He never lifted a 
finger to do anything except smoke a cigarette, and did nothing 
to help my mother. She killed herself working; she died 
when she was only 54, from work and worry. So finally I asked him 
to leave. Then he was a janitor somewhere; well, everybody 
was a janitor, but everybody else tried to better themselves, 
but he didn't; he finished picking up cigarettes off the 
street. Somebody told me he is still alive, but he doesn't 
pick up cigarettes anymore. Some Russian who has an apartment 
house took him as a janitor. I don't know if he still drinks. 

But this was the only one of those five hundred men. All the 
others did their best, and everybody improved their living 
conditions. They got better and better. Some managed to bring 
some money with them, but those were mostly Siberian millionaires, 
kuptsy (merchants) . Some of the women sewed their money in their 
dresses, and so on, but those helped the rest of the Russians as 
much as they could. One of those who managed to get some of 
his fortune out was Kuvaev, who had been one of the very rich 
merchants of Siberia, with gold mines and all that. He had a 
nursery for the women who went to work, and so on. 

And so the few Russians who had money did help the others. The boys 
went to universities, and worked at night; they didn'thave time 
to make demonstrations or anything; they worked. My brother Paul 
was working part time in the Delmonte factory watching the 
wrapping machines for a long time he couldn't look at a Delmonte 
sign and part time in a nursery. Since he didn't know 
anything about plants I imagine he did a terrible job. And 
Peter was washing dishes in a restaurant in Berkeley, and 
probably not too well either. Alex, my youngest brother, had the 
best paying job. He was a gifted mechanic; he could drive, repair 



or do anything; he was driving a truck for an undertaker. He 
said fishing the dead bodies out of the Bay was very unpleasant, 
but for that time it was comparatively well paid. 

RP: So your whole family was there. 

Vernon: Yes, my three brothers and I, and my father and mother. We were lucky 
because my two younger brothers, Peter and Alexander, had been sent 
away from Petersburg ahead of time. Both were in the cadet corps, 
This was still under the Provisional Government, before the 
Bolsheviks took over, but already they had started to throw the boys 
in the Fontanka. Besides, there was nothing to eat, so my mother 
shipped them with my aunt to Harbin, where my uncle, Nazorov, 
was chief attorney. He had no children, and so my two brothers 
were dumped in his house, to his great discomfort, because at 
that age they were terrible. He was married, but very strict, like 
most attorneys, and I don't think they made him too happy. However, 
I didn't know about their existence at this time. My brother 
Paul, and my husband were in the army until finally we 
escaped. We had a little harder time. As I say, for two 
years we did not know if the others were still alive. When we finally 
found that they were, to our great pleasure, we managed to communicate, 
by a very complicated way, and they sent us some money for the tickets 
so we could leave. 

RP: How did you learn that they had survived? The Red Cross was not 
available then; was it just hearing from people that you met? 

Vernon: Yes. Well, at this time the Russians were very close to each other. 
Most of them lived near the Fillmore district, but at this time 
Fillmore was a very nice street, whereas now they say its a dump, 
and even the policemen are afraid to go there. From the old times 
there were kind of arches and big lamps, with electric globes. It 
was really very pretty, and all the stores were Jewish stores, and 
those Jews were very, very nice. They were mostly 
Russian Jews, and spoke Russian and helped the Russians to settle 
in the Fillmore district. They had come before the Revolution; 
they had stores, different kinds of groceries and so on at this 
time they didn't have those big markets but they had stores of groceries, 
and meat, and what not. Even pharmacies. The pharmacist, Mr. 
Bachman, knowing the position of the Russians, arranged with the 
Russian doctors to make a special mark on the prescriptions, 
and he charged only half price. You know, things like that. 

There was just one church then, the one on the corner of Green and 
Van Ness; it is more like a chapel. It is still there. With 
Father Shakovich, a Russian priest, who was here before, and then 
there was the parish house. There have been many offers to buy 
it, because now they have the big cathedral on Geary Street, but 
it is still there. 

Later, when things became a little better, we had balls every year, 
to help the Russian veterans across the waters, because especially 
the wounded ones were in a terrible situation. Often the Scottish 
Rite auditorium, quite a large place, gave the place for free, so 
that we could use it for balls. In many ways, as I said, I have 
to give credit to the Americans who were very, very helpful and kind. 
The Jewish people who said that in Russia they had been so terribly 



persecuted didn't seem to resent it, because all of them helped 
a great deal. However, the Russians started to move away to 
the avenues, neaa: Clement Street, etc., and now they say that 
Fillmore has changed. 

And now, naturally, all of my generation are dying. Oleg was the 
last one of his class at the Litsei (Lyceum) . Now there is only 
one left, Mr. Klibanov (?) in San Francisco. Oh yes, in the south, 
in Santa Barbara, there is the Archbishop, Prince Shakovskoi. 
He is of one of the younger classes. As to the school of my 
cousin, the Pravovedy (?), there is only the Prince Ukhtomskii (?), 
in San Francisco, who is 92 or 93; all the rest are dead. 

As for our children, they are all married, to American girls. 
Some kept the Russian language, butnot many. My son speaks 
Russian with an American accent. He understands Russian 
perfectly but he says it is too complicated /to speak it/. 

RP: Is he still in the service? 

Vernon: No, no. He left after the war. He is in the automobile business. 
He lives in Milbrae; that is where I am going to live now, when I 
finish all of this Medicare business, and all of the bills of Oleg's 
death, and close out the accounts. I am going to leave in about 
two weeks. But my granddaughters don't speak any Russian. My 
brother Peter and his wife tried to keep their daughter, my niece, from 
speaking English, only French and Russian, until she would go to 
school, so as not to spoil her accent, because the English accent 
spoils all the other languages, but it didn't help. So right now 
Xenia tries very hard to bring the Russian back, but her 
son is already 23 years old, so she is not a young girl, and her 
accent is very amusing, partly English, partly French. I always 
have fun talking to her. I talk Russian to her just as I talk 
to my son; he understands. But with Xenia I always laugh a little 
bit, because it is a very amusing Russian. 

RP: Does her son speak any Russian? 

Vernon: Oh no, and it is the same with my grand daughters. A few families, 
the ones that were younger, and could, kept their children home, 
but most of them are like my son, they speak half and half. 
This is what they call the second emigration. Most of them 
escaped from the Bolsheviks through Siberia, and later, when 
in the 1940 's the Bolsheviks came to Harbin and Shanghai, they came here. 
They were younger. We were the old emigration, the first one. 

Some lived for quite awhile in Peking and came here after World 
War II, but some came a little later, when the communists started 
to take China. I know a lady, here in Carmel Valley, who 
speaks Chinese perfectly, because her parents lived in Peking, and 
there was a Russian doctor, who died a short time ago, at the very 
ripe age of 96, who practiced in Peking. 

Many escaped from Shanghai; they knew that the communists were taking ove 
but those were in a little better position; they had already had 
some training, in the different arts and trades, in China. When 
they came here they already could get jobs that were decent, of a 



better class than digging ditches and what not. We were the 

first emigres, and then the second emigration had it a little 

better. For awhile they couldn't come directly to America, there was 

the visa and so on, so quite a large group lived in the Philippine Islands, 

on Tubabao, and there they learned English perfectly, whereas most of 

us didn't know it at all when we came. Others learned the same 

way I did, we never lost the accent. My two youngest brothers 

didn't have any accent at all, but they both were teenagers, in 

high school. Peter was actually 18, he had graduated already, 

but he still was in the young class. My brother Paul and I were 

20, and after you are over 20 it is awfully hard to lose your 

accent. And Alexander, my youngest brother, you wouldn't know 

that he was not an American; he died very young. 

6. The Russian Tearoom 
RP: How were you able to start the tea room in San Francisco? 

Vernon: For awhile, after we came in 1922, I was a waitress. My mother 
was a marvellous cook; I never did figure out how she learned; 
she never cooked in Russia, but somehow she developed that talent. 
She could sew, although she had never sewn in Russia, because 
since we had no ready to wear clothes in Russia you had to go to a 
tailor, and anyway the Russian men all wore uniforms. I never 
saw my father in civilian clothes until I came to America, nor 
my brothers either. But somehow my mother knew how to sew, 
though up to now I cannot understand where she learned. She used 
to go to the basement of the Emporium or the City of Paris, and 
buy leftovers for two dollars and fifty cents, and just from 
looking at the display at I. Magnin's, which at this time was 
one of the two best stores in San Francisco, she made a 
pattern, and from that she made me a dress. She made it so 
well that they asked me: "Where did you get that beautiful 
model?" And I would say: "In the basement at the Emporium, for 



(Telephone rings; digression regarding forgetting languages. She 
says she has forgotten her German, but thinks it would soon come 
back. 7 

...with me, I could sit here with you and recite Russian poetry 
for two hours, without stopping for one minute. The same with 
French and German poetry too, but speaking it, that is another 
matter. Isn't that strange? 

If you or I tried to memorize something now, it would be more 
difficult than it used to be. 

No, I could; it would just take a little longer. My memory is still 
good for poetry, though sometimes zero in life. This morning I 
couldn't even remember the number of my postoffice box in Carmel 
Valley! It's a very strange machine, our mind, very strange. It 

Vernon 29 

works in unusual ways. So when people say "This kind of miracle 
happened to me. 1 " I never say no, because its a possibility, and 
because I have seen too many examples in the War and the Revolution 
where things were absolutely unbelievable, but they did happen. 
Like in the movies. 

For instance, I was telling Vera Aleksandrovna (Elischer) a short 
time ago about my father when he escaped from Siberia. As I 
told you, he was on the General Staff, and a soldier 
was elected to become the head of the General Staff. He was very 
drunk that day, so when they gave him the permit for my father to 
leave, he signed it, and on the 13th of January 1918 my mother and 
my father left Petersburg. My husband and my brother could not 
go because they didn't have a permit, and secondly they were just 
young boys, lieutenants, and they were keeping all the young 
people because they wanted to put them in the Red Army. 

By the time my father reached Irkutsk in the middle of Siberia, 
by that time they must have been in communication with Petersburg , 
and heard that something was wrong, that the permit had not been 
given by comissar whatever-his-name-was, and that my father was 
traveling on false papers. 

So they took him off the train, and had a court martial, and when 
they brought my father in he figured "Well, the next thing will 
be that they will shoot me." 

But then one of the men, the head judge, if you want to call him 
that, of those three commissars, said to the other two: "Leave 
me alone, I want to talk to the General myself." 

Why they obeyed him I don't know, perhaps he threatened them in 
some way. The Bolsheviks were not very well organized at that 
time; it was just the beginning. And so, when they had gone, 
suddenly the commissar in charge turned to my father and said: 
"General, do you not remember me?" 

My father said "I haven't the slightest idea who you are; I have 
never seen you before." 

But he said"! remember you very well." 
"How did it happen?" said my father. 

"When you were in Vladivostok," he said, "where we had our 
Institute of Oriental Languages." This institute was not for 
military people, but for general students. In the old times we 
were always organizing balls or spectacles for the benefit of 
the students, to help them out, to pay their tuition, and so on. 
And so it was a benefit evening, for the students of the Institute 
of Oriental Languages. And he said "I approached you, and I told 
you that I was in a very bad financial position and I wanted to 
go to Moscow and continue my studies in the university but I 
didn't have any money, and you gave me 200 rubles." 

Vernon 20 

And my father said "Oh? Did I?" 

And he said "Yes you did, and I haven't forgotten it, and so the 
back door is open. I have told the soldiers to put your luggage 
on the train that is going east, and your wife has been transferred 

My father wanted to thank him, but he said "We have no time for 
thanks; just walk as fast as you can." And so he saved my 
father's life. So you see /the result of/ a miserable 200 
rubles well it was money, yes, but my father had forgotten 
about it completely in over 20 years. In many cases people were 
saved like that; they did something good for some soldier, and 
when the soldier became a big commissar later on, he would 
shelter them, or tell them that they might be arrested, so not 
everybody was bad . 

We cannot change things now, its too late; we made lots of mistakes, 
so that's why I am always a little afraid for America. The 
Bolsheviks are working hard here, very hard. Even in Carmel Valley, 
I know three, three agents of the communists, can you imagine 
that? And they are born Americans, they are not Russians. 

But one, a woman, made me laugh very much. At that time I had a 
larger place. It was during lunch, which was very annoying because 
later on I would have remembered. But she came in while I was 
busy, the customers were coming and I had to seat them, the cook 
wanted this, and the waiters wanted that. And she brought me a 
letter and she said "Would you kindly translate this for me?" Can you 
imagine it? It was one time when I found the Bolsheviks being 
stupid; usually they are very clever. She didn't know Russian! 
She thought, "She's a waitress, she's alright." 

And this letter was very interesting, it was from the Ministry of 
Internal Affairs of the USSR. I tried desperately to remember the 
name of the commissar, but when you are busy you just cannot. It 
must have been a code, because he said: "Dear Mrs. ...: We have 
to inform you in reply to your letter that the situation with 
the wolves in the USSR is very acute now, because they attack the 
sheep in Siberia, and we might lose some stock, so would you pay 
attention to the wolf situation in the United States?" 

It was an idiotic kind of thing, but I understood what it was. I 
told her: "If you will leave it with me I will give you a good 
translation." But she said "Oh, no, no.' I just wanted you to give 
me an idea of what it is!" I didn't remember the name exactly, but 
I wanted to write to that commissar and say "Comade, if you choose 
an agent to work in the underground in the USA you should be a 
little smarter than to choose that stupid woman!" 

Pretty soon they disappeared. And one of those fellows used to 
be a lieutenant commander in the American Navy! 

RP: But how do you know? 

Vernon: The boys told me, the American boys. You see, there was a corner 
store, called The Encounter. And he was working there, and when 
I asked a lady who had a store farther on I said "Why is he, a 



Vernon 31 

middleaged man, working in that store?" And she said, "Oh, he is 
working there because he says he has to do something to earn his 
living. 1 " 

That's funny, I thought, they get a good pension, /he doesn't need/ 
to make sandwiches for a bunch of kids. And then after Viet Nam 
one of the boys told me, he said /this man/ had meetings in the 
evenings where he was lecturing the boys who came back from Viet 
Nam, who were especially bitter because of the war and everything, 
and he was telling them: "What could be better so that there 
would be no war?" and the blessings of the communist regime, and so 
on. I know the boy, I know that he's honest, and he wouldn't 
have invented it anyway. I saw him always in the store where 
this funny woman, who had the letter was, by this time she had 
a doughnut shop, and he was always hanging around there too, 
and then there were the other people by the big place, they were 
the big shots, they had money, and they were all working 
together . 

And one time they were passing my shop in the middle of the day, 
that was when I /still/ had the big place, and I heard someone 
say in English: "We should burn that damned place!" And I wanted 
to jump out from behind the counter, but I didn't have time , and 
to say: "Listen comrades, just give me time to get good insurance, 
and go ahead I" Because they had already burned my place in San 
Francisco, so I knew from experience that I must have a good 
insurance before they did the job. 

Now back to the tea room. You began working as a waitress in 1922; 
how long did you hold that position? 

For two or three years, and then the lady who owned that little 
place sold it to me. By that time we had accumulated a little 
money; at that time you could buy a place for a hundred dollars. 

What was this place? 

It was a tea room, not far from Van Ness and from the Russian church, 
near Green Street. And then at this time Monsieur Verdier, who 
owned the City of Paris, he had a beautiful building on top of 
Russian Hill, 1001 Vallejo, a beautiful place. They called it 
"the Ghost House," so nobody wanted to take it. The story was 
that it was built in the style of a European castle. 1000 Vallejo 
was very steep, and actually it was poor for business because 
the cars would not go up that hill. It was built by some 
millionaire lumberman for his lady friend that he expected to 
marry, but she changed her mind and didn't want to marry him. 
So the building wasn't quite finished, and Mr. Verdier saw it and 
he wanted it for his wife, who was in France, so he finished it. 
It was built in the old fashioned way, there were steps and little 
couloirs (corridors) and then other steps, and balconies. And 
the main living room was double light, two storeys, and a gorgeous 
dining room and then the sunken garden. So he offered to let me 
take the dining room, and so we got together with the chef, and 
Russian girls who needed a job. Because when Madame Verdier came 
from France and saw the house she didn't want to live in it /either/. 

Vernon 32 

At this time there was a club there, the Hillcrest Club, which 
occupied the whole building, with pictures, and lectures. It 
was an artistic club, and Mrs. Livingstone, the head of it, was very 
artistically inclined. So I took that sunken garden, and there we 
fixed up the dining room, and the kitchen of the Hillcrest Club, 
so we were feeding the members of the club, and then open to the 
public too, and gradually we got an orchestra, with two singers. 
And so it became The Russian Tea Room. It became very popular 
because the chef was very good. We made lots of mistakes, but 
I guess I'm used to customers coming in, to find out about such a 
strange place with strange speaking people. 

We had lots of trouble there on account of Prohibition. We had 
actually to be like policewomen, and very nearly search our 
customers, which was very unpleasant. They brought their liquor in 
those flat bottles (flasks) and the ladies had them in their purses. 
It was something that I didn't like at all. And the girls had 
not only to watch their food, they had to watch the glasses, 
because there were /fountains/ in the sunken garden and they would 
pour the water out and pour in the liquor from their flasks. 
I always said that the glasses should be kept full of water, so 
the girls were filling them with water all the time. It was 
becoming very annoying, and I thought My goodness, there will be... 

RP: Why did they call it "the Ghost House?" 

Vernon: That was because it was deserted for awhile, and there were 

hoboes at that time there were no hippies and these hoboes , 
usually old men, lived in the basement, and they had candles, and 
the people saw the moving lights of the candles. And one of those 
hoboes hanged himself in the basement, so this gave a reputation 
to the place. And then a poet he was part Japanese and part 
American, named Harashiri (?), took the opera house, when it 
was the Hillcrest Club, and would stand there on the balconies in a 
white robe and make long speeches, and declaim from Shakespeare. 
And a brother of Isadora Duncan, who was always walking in a long 
white dress, he was there too, and the two of them would be playing 
Shakespeare, reciting on the balcony in the moonlight. So there 
were those two men, and the lights in the basement. 

And then Mr. Verdier put them out, and cleaned up the place, and the 
Hillcrest Club, and then we came. But I just couldn't deal with the 
problem of Prohibition; I was afraid that some scandal would break 
out, and there would be war, because how could we prove that we 
did not serve it? So that's why I went to Mr. Verdier and said 
"Either you cancel my ... or tell the Liquor Control why I am 
leaving." That was in 1926. But it was all the time constant 
fighting; it was tiresome. 

7 . Another Russian Tea Room 

And then I borrowed money, all around frankly, I don't remember 
how I did it, and then opened the Russian Tea Room down on Sutter 
Street, at Number 326, and we had a very good business. And 
again the Americans were very helpful. Dohrman (?) Hotel Supply 
was the company that supplied all the restaurants, and I did not 

Vernon 33 

have any money except the money that I borrowed here and there, 
which was very limited. I still remember his name, Mr. Sheray (?), he 
was the trade manager. I went to him and asked "Will you give me 
credit?" He looked at me for awhile, and then said "I will." So I 
got all the equipment on credit, and he didn't ask me where I was 
born or anything. 

And the plumbing there was very difficult, because it was a /high?/ 
building and they had to bring those pipes. Oh, it was dirty, and 
for new equipment and so on we had to have those long pipes on the 
roof; it was the law. Mr. Hutchins did the plumbing, and the bill 
came to nearly a thousand dollars. "I can give you two hundred," 
I said, "will you give me credit?" 

"I'll let you know tomorrow, "he said. And he went to Mr. Sheray, 
and Mr. Sheray said, "I know that she will pay you. She will 
work her fingers off and she will pay you, so I guarantee her 
bill." So next day Mr. Hutchins came down and said "I will give 
you credit." And when I paid him, he never told me why, but 
later he told me why he had done it. He said "Did you know that 
Sheray guaranteed your bill? Believe me, I am surprised that 
he did." That was the way the Americans did business, they kind 
of judged you. Then the business went very good, and I paid 
off my bills very quickly. 

Depression days 

And the Depression came, and everybody's business fell off. It 
started in 1929; 1930 was still allright; in '31 it began to show a 
little bit, and then in '32 things became really bad, because it came 
from the East, then spread across America, and then it came to the 
west. And then, well people were starving, but they weren't the 
Americans of nowadays; they were a different people; I respected 
them highly; I was very proud of the Americans. You could walk 
in the streets of San Francisco in the middle of night, and 
nobody would ever attack you. Nobody was stealing; there was no 
murder. People had reason to when you see your child hungry 
you can kill but nothing happened. I had girls at this time 
who worked as usherettes in the movie houses. There were no 
taxies then, and they would take a car after 1 o'clock at night 
to go to Hunters Point where their parents were living. Today 
the policemen are afraid to go there at one or two at night, but 
then they could walk 4 or 5 blocks to their houses and nobody 
was ever even touched. Of the hundreds of people who came 
in the restaurant, not one asked me /for food/; they would say 
"What can I do to get a meal?" And when we had food I served them, 
and there wasn't one who didn't get up /after eating/ and say 
"Now, lady, what can I do for you?" 

We had one man who was coming in the evening who was dying of cancer 
at that time there was no Medicare or anything and that man, on his 
death bed, dying of cancer, knowing that I was a Russian, embroidered 
cross stitched a picture of a Russian troika. This was the 
Americans of that day. 

.-nd not only the poor but the rich. I always remember Tommy McGee (?). 
His family was one of the richest in San Francisco, and his 
mother, Mrs. Miller, owned half of Oakland. But one day he came in 

Vernon 34 

and said he was one of my favorite customers, I liked him very 
much, he had been educated in Switzerland and Oxford and a year 
here, and he said "Can I go to the kitchen and ask the chef 
how to make a beef stew?" 

I said, "Tommy, what for?" You know they had a mansion on Pacific 
Heights, and so on, his father was dead. They had been thrown 
into such financial condition that they had to sell everything, 
and the boy was driving a truck for a construction firm. And he 
said: "When we stop I have to cook for my gang, so I want to find out 
how to make beef stew." He was a wonderful boy. During World War II 
he was the first one shot, Thomas McGee III was the first casualty. 
He was in the Navy. 

That was the way people were then. There was the son of another 
family they had been millionaires in real estateand he came in 
and I said "What are you doing?" 

He said "Oh, I am driving a truck for the milk company." 
"Don't you find it a little difficult?" I said. 

"Oh," he said, "I never knew the sunrises were so beautiful!" He 
had to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning. Most of the people 
did a beautiful job, and if Mr. Roosevelt hadn't interfered, and 
introduced the WPA, most of America would still be as it used to 
be. My father at this time was alive, and he said "This is the 
first blow at the American /system?, to get something for nothing. 
It has never been done before. This is the first step in the 
downgrade of everything." Which it was. 

The night they burned the tea room 
RP: You mentioned that your second tea room was burned; could you 

tell about that? 

Vernon: That happened on December 6, 1932. It was in the middle of the 
depression; things were so bad that I didn't know how to pay the 
PG & E; I didn't know how to pay the rent. At this time I had 
no unions, and the only way we existed, my chefs were getting 
$64 a week. That was a very high salary at the time because 
they were excellent chefs, and the girls I don't remember how much 
they were getting but anyway, I called them all together and I said, 
"You see the situation. I don't want anybody in the breadline 
/breadlines then were two and three blocks long/so I don't want to 
let anybody go; you go home, and figure out what you can 
exist on, because..." 

I had two chefs, and Konstantin, who was a bachelor, came back 
and said "I can live on $18 a week." And Vladimir, who was 
married and had a son, he said $21. And the girls, and the 
kitchen help we had Filipinos asked only a dollar, and so we 
didn't fire a single person out of 25 employees. We survived 
because there was no union to interfere. I presume every 
owner of restaurants and other businesses did the same thing, but 
the banks laid off many. My cousin, the one that died, he was in the 
Crocker Bank, and in one day they laid off 250. Actually we had 
more people in the kitchen than we had in the dining room. 

They threw a Molotov cocktail. 






Why? Were they trying to organize your staff? 

-No, no. They just wanted to burn the place. They didn't like my 
father, and me. My father was not very popular with the communists. 

Because of his activities in the Russian Civil War? 

Yes, because of that, but more because here in America he was an 
honorary member of the American Legion, and a member of the Un-American 
Activities. You see, in the American Legion there was an 
Un-American Activities /division?./ and my father was a member of 
that. Well, he hated the communists as much as anyone could, so 
naturally they didn't have much liking for him, or for me either. 

At this time the Molotov cocktail was not called that; it's a 
bottle, but if you want to burn a place I can tell you how to 
do it! Marshal Kelly, our fire chief at that time, explained 
to me how it was /made/... Marshal Kelly told me exactly the 
place where it fell, and he made a package very similar. The 
kitchen wasn't burned, it went through the kitchen into the dining 
room, and the pantry in between. And he told the policeman to 
throw this bag and it landed where he told me. It was unbelievable, 
because the place was burned black, black all over, and he found the 
right place. 

So he asked me what my insurance was at this time many businesses 
and restaurants were burning /for the insurance/. I said it used to 
be $12,000, but when my friend (the agent) called me up, and asked 
if I wanted to raise my insurance, I said "Darling, I don't have 
the money to pay for it." 

/End of interview for that day; resumes next day/ 

...the Bolsheviks don't talk like we do; they talk differently. 
One friend of mine, who died a short time ago, a Russian Jew, very 
highly educated, Mr. Truve (?), who lived in Carmel, made a trip 
to the USSR. He finished at Petrograd University, and before this 
he was in the Annenschule, one of the best schools in Russia. 
I don't know why it was called that. It wasn't Catholic, so it 
wasn't named for any saint. The other was the Peter and Paul 
school. Two German schools, and they were very, very good, the 
best ones in Petersburg. 

Well, he finished there, and then he finished at the University of 
Petersburg. He lived here for close to 50 years he had a marvellous 
collection of Russian records and books and then he went to the 
USSR for a trip. And that made me 

laugh very much too, because he had been very radical in his 
principals, although just the same he didn't like the Bolsheviks. 
But after he had visited the USSR he came back the biggest monarchist 
you could expect; he changed his mind about everything. But he 
said that he was afraid he was beginning to forget Russian, having 
been over here so long, but he said the people there stopped him 
sometimes, saying: "Would you mind talking to us? You speak such 
a beautiful Russian; its classical Russian!" So Mr. Trubik laughed 
when he came back. "I thought I spoke Russian," he said, "but now 
I find that I speak classical Russian!" 



RP: Could we return now to the tea room in San Francisco. You told 
how the depression came, and your establishment was burned by 

Vernon: Yes, business was dropping and dropping, but at this time we 

didn't have any unions; I think I told you that we just kind of 
compromised with the help and the chefs went to 18 and 21 dollars 
a week, and the girls to one dollar, but this way not one of our 
25 employees went to the breadline. And on top of that, my 
father he had the Russian Veterans Association (Obshchestvo 
russkikh veteranov) , he organized it many years after we came, of 
former officers, and there they had some clothes and beds, and we sent 
what was left of the clothes down there. In we avoided more or 
less starvation for the people, and the same with the help; I did 
not fire one person, but there was no union. Now you would have 
to keep the salary even it was what I told those idiots in 
the union. I said: "You cannot squeeze blood out of a turnip, 
why do you try? So many places have been ruined on account of 
this, putting up salaries that they could not possibly afford. 
The St. Francis and the littletea room are not in the same 
league, you know!" 

RP: So the little ones would be forced out of business, leaving the 
people without jobs? 

Vernon: That's exactly what happened. But after they burned my place, 

we knew who had done it, because my brother had seen him in the back 

alley at 1 o'clock that night. My brother and his wife had gone to 

a movie, and as they were coming back he went through the 

back alley, to go to the kitchen to get something, and that fellow 

was walking there. So my brother told Marshal Kelly, and 

Marshal Kelly said "Aha! That must be it! But the trouble is you 

cannot prove it as arson." 

So he sent two detectives of the criminal detail or something 
like that to me. And this time I laughed my head off, because I was 
young and still could laugh. They were the funniest kind of 
characters, just like in the movies, very big, tall, and husky, with 
kind of round hats, and cigarettes, this way, and they said 
"Well lady, we talked to that fellow, and he said, yes, he was in 
the back alley; he was going to Chinatown, to get some cigarettes." 
It sounded very funny. He said, "There is no question that there is 
something there, but we have to have your permission." 

I said "What do you mean, permission?" 

He said "We'll take him to a private hotel, and have a nice private 
conversation, and after that conversation he will confess." 

I said "Well, gentlemen, I have left my country because they used 
private conversations, and I am not going to go for the same here. 
Forget about it." 

And he said, "So you don't give us any permission? Well, alright lady, 
that's up to you," and with their cigarettes hanging down, they left. 

Vernon 37 

But everybody was just wonderful. Everyone of my suppliers said 
"We will extend credit until you reopen, and we will send you 
everything you want until you are again on your feet." All except 
Mr. Waxman. He was the breadman; he made excellent Russian bread, 
I have to admit; he was a little Jew, very small, he spoke Russian 
as well, and this was another amusing anecdote. 

He came in, he looked around the place, and he said "Hm, burned?" 

I said "Yes, burned." 

"Pretty bad?" 

"Pretty bad." 

"Well, how is your insurance?" 

"No good," I said. 

"Hm, not covered, not at all?" 

"Not at all." 

He said, "Not declaring bankruptcy?" 

I said, "No." 

He said, "You mean you are overhead in debt, and you don't want to 

declare bankruptcy?" 

I said "No, I am not going to do it, Mr. Waxman." 

It was funny, he wore suspenders, and he put his thumbs into them, 

pulled them up and stepped back and he said "I'll tell you, I thought 

you were a smart woman, but I found that you are a schlemiel!" 

But he still gave me credit, even though he lost his respect for 

me I was a schlemiel! 

But we all worked, everybody worked; the chefs painted the 

walls, the girls worked, and all my family, and in about two months we rebi 

the whole thing and we started all over again. 

By that time, things were worse. It was 1933, the banks were closing, 
but we did the best we could. In 1934 things worked out fine, until 
the great strike, led by Mr. Bridges. 

Really life is strange before the depression my chef Konstantin 

wanted to take a vacation and go to Hawaii. Well, I didn't know where 

to get a replacement, so I called up the union, and I said "Do you 

have a Russian chef by some chance?" 

"Yes, we do," he said. 

"I said, "Well that's fine, could he work for about two weeks to 

replace Konstantin?" 

"Oh sure," he said, "we'll send him in." 

So that fellow came. Vasilii Zakharov was his name, and from the 
beginning I saw he did not belong. He had very communistic 
inclinations, and we were all White Russians. As a cook he was 
no good, and he was very annoying toward my waitresses, who were 
young and pretty. In every respect he was unsatisfactory. 

We suffered with him for about a week, and then I talked to Vladimir 

the lunch chef and he said "Well, I'll fix it up; I'll work nights. 

We cannot stand that fellow." 

So I told him "Vasilii, I'm sorry, but you don't fit in here. Here 

is your check." 

He understood, and he said "I'm sorry I disturbed you." 

Vernon 28 

That was before the depression. When the strike of 1934 began, Mr. 
Bridges ordered everything closed, everything except the gas and 
electricity. It was like in Russia, everything was dead. 

But then the strangest thing happened. When I opened the newspaper, 
I found that Vasilii Zakharov had by that time become a big shot 
in the Communist Party. He was the chief of the Maritime Chefs 
Union, and a member of the party. And so when my head waitress 
came in, and she said "Vasilii wants to talk to you," I said 
"What can he talk to me about?" I went to the dining roomand 
there was Vasilii. "I came to talk to you," he said. 
I said "All right, Vasilii, what's it about?" 

He said, "Tomorrow everything has to be closed, and knowing you 
I am afraid you are not going to do it." 

/He warns her to close/ 

... and then a Bolshevik, and after I had fired him, had the kindness to 
come and tell me. I was stunned for a minute, and naturally I shook 
his hand and said "Thank you, Vasilii." And I closed, like 
everybody else. 

So this was another surprise in my life; the strangest things happen, 
like this. The strike lasted only three days, but it was like in 
Russsia, they were turning back the trucks that were bringing food 
to San Francisco, and near Brisbane they were turning them over, 
down the hills, inclines and so on, and then there was some trouble 
with the police and I think two of them were killed, and there was 
a big howl about that, that the police were doing the most horrible 
things just like the media always do but somehow the 
strike was settled, and then business was good, /"in the rest of 
1934, and 1935 and 1936/. 

Southern California 

I sold the place only when the war started, when my son had to go 
in the Air Force. 

RP: That was in 1941? You had kept it for a long time. 

Vernon: Yes, a long time, from 1924 to 1941. lurii, my son, was 

stationed at Long Beach, Burbank Airport he had to change the 
motors or something, and he was married by that time too, and 
my first grand daughter was born there. So I stayed there 
during the war, though I didn't like it. 

But the tearoom, the man I sold it to, in 9 months he went 

broke. He was a Russian, but he changed the whole thing; he changed 

the whole atmosphere. The first thing was it never had a bar; 

I didn't like that, and he put in three bars; and he changed 

my orchestra from a balalaika orchestra into some kind of 

a violin trio, and the chef quit. He got a very good chef, and 

instead of having a family place where ladies could come in 



unescorted he changed it into a ... and so he went bankrupt and the 
place died out, and it was the end of the Russian tearoom. 

In Southern California I had just a little place, because I had to do 
something. It was a small cafe, most of the men were military people. 
And then, naturally, I was with Shirley, my daughter-in-law a 
great deal, their first baby died, so there was enough trouble down 

Return to San Francisco 

After the war we came back, but by then San Francisco was completely 
different. It was another San Francisco, like somebody took it, 
moved it away and put in something else. 

RP: In what way? 

Vernon: Well, because in the old times, during the depression, when people 
were hungry, really hungry, and you understand well, not being a 
mother you don't know it but actually when your child is hungry you 
might kill; I wouldn't blame them, but you could walk anytime in 
the night or day anyplace in San Francisco. We had no murders, no 
rapes, no trouble whatsoever; I had some girls, still in high school, 
who /also/ worked as usherettes, to help their parents to survive. 
One, for instance, worked in the California Theater that was on the 
corner of Third and Market. They closed at 1 o'clock, and this young 
lady, very pretty too, only 16, she would go on Market Street at 
1 o'clock in the morning and take a street car to Van Ness, and on 
Van Ness change to South Van Ness, stand there waiting for the 
other car, and go to the end of the line, to Hunters Point. Now 
when the policemen go on Hunters Point, they go three together, 
never one, yet from the end of the street car line, from the terminus, it 
was four blocks to where her parents lived, but she said "Nobody even 
talked to me." Now, even for an elderly woman to walk one block... 
this was the whole difference. 

When we came back I got a house on Buena Vista Park. In the old times 
I used to walk in Golden Gate Park at night, alone, with my two little 
dogs I had a sealyham and a scotty, each about ten inches high but I 
liked it. After having been all day with cigarette smoke and people I 
was tired, and I always lived near the park so I would have a chance 
to go out. So I would go walking in Golden Gate Park with as little 
concern as right here now. The people you would meet would say 
"Nice evening," and you would say, "Yes it is," and they would say 
"Well, have a pleasant walk." And never, never, absolutely nobody ever 
was afraid, it was so beautiful there at nighttime. 

When I moved back, naturally I thought that San Francisco was the same, 
so I got a house near Buena Vista Park, that is, on top of the Buena 
Vista Hill Buena Vista Avenue goes around it and the park is in 
the center, so the street has only one side. By that time I did not 
want to go downtown, because I didn't like the outlook there women 
walking with their hair in curlers, and in slippers or sandals I 
was shocked. On Grand Avenue in the old time a woman would walk in a 
hat and with gloves and a purse, looking ladylike, and those people 
looked like tramps. So I had a place on Ocean Avenue, where there 
was a better class of people, anyway better than. . . 



But one of the first nights, after fixing up the place, around ten 
o'clock or something like that, I took my two dogs and was crossing 
Buena Vista Avenue, and I saw a police car kind of slowing down, 
and then the officer kind of leaning out of the window, and 
he said "Where are you going, lady?" 

I said, "I'm going to walk in the park." 

He said, "You're going to do WHAAATl" You know, as if I had said 
I was going to jump on the moon. He was a young man, and I said 
"Young man, when you were in your diapers I used to walk in that 
park at night." 

Well, he started laughing, and he said "Have you been away?" 
"Yes, five years," I said. 

He said, "You know, we even advise a man not to walk there alone in 
the day time. So you'd better take my advioe, don't go across the 
Street, keep on that side." 

So only then I took his advice, which later on proved to be the best 
thing I could do. It had changed completely, so this was the beginning 
of my understanding, because I used to walk in Sutro Forest, Sutro 
Park, any place, you know, and I liked always to have empty spaces 
where the dogs could run with no chance of getting hit by a car. 

They have wonderful parks there. Golden Gate Park is beautiful, and 
the same with Sutro Heights. It was beautiful in the day time 
, because I didn't go there at night. My house was near the Golden 
Gate, very, very deserted. Or even the Getty (?) cemetery; it was 
a beautiful place too, and very safe for my two little dogs. 

But then later on it got worse and worse, and then this Haight-Ashbury, 
it began to be full of hippies and Negroes and what not, and my two 
little dogs died, of old age, they were each about 15. And so I got 
a Doberman, and he never attacked anyone. I let him run in the park in 
the night time, and if anybody was in the park /then/ he shouldn't 
be. Well, he wouldn't attack, but naturally the sight of a Doberman 
frightened people. And one night I heard him barking; I knew from 
the sound that something was wrong. And there was a big Negro standing 
there, inside my gate, and I got on the porch and said "What are you 
doing there?" 

And he said "That dog has attacked me." 

And I said, "Funny, a dog has attacked you and you got 

into his yard to protect yourself? That sounds very funny. You had 

better keep on walking!" 

So he kept on walking, and fast, I'll tell you, because King was 
following him, just growling, a little bit, once in awhile. And 
he would walk faster and faster. 

Well, the next day, King was poisoned. So I sold that house, and we 
went to San Mateo first, and I still wanted more peace and quiet, so 
we came to Carmel Valley. I had a restaurant, the Russian Inn, on Ocean 

Vernon 41 

Avenue. I just sold the equipment; part of it we took to San Mateo. 

Carmel Valley 
RP: When did you get started in Carmel Valley? 

Vernon: Nineteen years ago, in 1961. I called it "A Bit of Old Russia," 

because I wanted it known there was no communist affiliation. There 
is no "Russia" anymore; "Russia" is dead; we call it "Bolshevizia" 
or "Sovetshchina". It isn't my country. Russia died, at least for 
me, in February 1920. 

But I am sorry for the Russians, because the Russians are still MY 
people. Some of those who escaped they have come to me in my little 
place here. It is the same. One lady, who escaped only a year ago, 
told me that the KGB car stops and picks you up, and that is the last 
you hear from them. And one characteristic that is very interesting 
for me is that in Russia in the old times when we spoke about the 
government we said pravitel'stvo, but now they say nachal'stvo, the 
bosses 'the bosses are telling us,' not the government. 

So, for us it was the end of our country. So I made an American out 
of my son. Oh yes, why should he feel like an emigre, an outcast; 
its his country, he was fighting for it; and my granddaughters are 
thoroughly American, both their husbands were fighting in Viet Nam, 
and they don't speak any Russian at all; my son does, but not my 
grand daughters. 


RP: What do you think of U.S. politics? 

Vernon: I vote Republican. What frightens me is that I hope it isn't going 
the same way as my country. In some ways its like an old movie 
re-run, with different subtitles. In many ways. It is heart breaking, 
because it is a beautiful country, and I love Americans. But the program 
is the same, and the Bolsheviks work the same. 

I cannot find the paper, it is with the papers of my father, in the 
Veterans Society in San Francisco, on Lyons Street. And there are none 
of the old people there /how"/, only one old gentleman, who is 84, and 
/he is a bit ga-ga/. As for the others, it is more of a Russian meeting 
club now. Most of my father's papers, his decorations even I asked if 
I could get his sword, you know, it is Georgievskaia /Note: bestowed 
with Order of St. George?, but they said "No, it is going to the 
Hoover Library when the old people are all gone." 

But this was an extremely interesting paper. It was 1933, and my 
father was an honorary member of the American Legion and a member of 
the Un-American Activities section, and still had some communication 
with the USSR underground, and the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich 
was the head of that organization. 

And so my father sometimes got information from the underground, how I 
couldn't tell you. And in 1933, he got that paper, /a plan for/ the 
destruction of the United States. The speaker was Mr. Kamenev, whose 
real name was Tsederbaum. He was giving a lecture to the students 
of the Lenin Institute, the ones for underground work. He was /addressing/ 
the ones being sent to the United States. This was in Russian shorthand, 
evidently written by somebody who was in that meeting. My father received 
it in 1933 my mother died in February of that year, and the meeting 
was in March, and, as I say, devoted to the destruction of the United 

Vernon 42 

ates. My father transcribed it into Russian first, and then 
translated it to English, and he mimeographed close to a thousand copies. 
He sent it to everyone from Mr. Roosevelt down to the last 
assemblyman at Sacramento, but nobody paid any attention. 

This is what I can still remember of it. He started by saying: 
"Comrades, you are going to the United States. You must remember 
that the Americans are much different from the Europeans and from 
us Russians. They are very interested in and devoted to their so-called 
liberties. (Laughter in the audience). So remember that you are not 
fishing for a small fish, but for a very big one. So be extremely 
careful. Act like a smart fisherman does with a very large fish; let 
them take the hook and then let them play for awhile, then pull, and let 
them play again. We are not in a hurry, eventually we'll get them in the 
bag, but it will take some time. 

"What we are interested in, in the United States, is the 
middle class. As for Wall Street, when the time comes, we will just 
liquidate them. As for the unions we have them pretty well organized 
already. But what America is built on is the middle class, the small 
business people, and the farmers. We have to destroy that, overtax them, 
somehow cause trouble in this class by excessive taxation; work in the 
universities through the young people old people don't interest us; . 
they are going to die anyway. Try to teach the Americans that there 
might be strikes; they are not used to that; make strikes, and at 
times when they are extremely appropriate. And a little bloodshed 
here and there would not be bad, but always be very careful, remember 
the Boston Tea Party. If you pull too hard they might do the 
same thing nowadays. 

"Another thing, we don't want any war; what we want is to destroy the 
United States financially, and when it is in bad shape, then we can work. 
These are a few points you must work on. The Americans are very much 
against passports. We want to have them, to have them numbered; we 
want to know where we can trace a person by the number. .(Mrs. V.: We 
got that with Social Security) . 

"Another thing, we want to engage them in some kind of competition; and 
you know, Americans are very fond of being always at the head, Number One, 
which I admit is a very good quality, even in a hog-calling contest 
(Laughter in the hall) . They want to be Number One, but we will use 
that quality of the Americans to help them spend money, and we have to 
try to engage them in some competition which will be very, very expensive 
(Mrs. V.: later the first sputnik came). And with that problem, let 
them spend more than they should. Then, when the dollar is low enough, 
then we'll see. But meanwhile just take your time, do it carefully and 
gently, and right now don't pull, don't pull. 1 And engage the Americans 
in wars, not big wars, but small ones, which will cost them money, and 
exhaust their treasury..." 

That was the program, and now I have seen it year by year, this program. 
The /space program?, this stupid thing going round and round, and 
going to the moon, and the small wars Korea and Southeast Asia, the 
Middle East, and then Africa, and the last will be South America. 

Vernon 43 

So it was a very interesting paper, but nobody paid any attention to it. 
As my father was a member of the Legion, he asked if they would read it 
at the Miami meeting. They read it in 1948 in San Francisco, 13 
years later. Later a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, about 
20 years after my father had sent it in, said it was a very revealing 
document. And then there was a columnist, for a long time he was the 
most famous in America, but I have forgotten his name. I think it 
began with an S names are terrible with me. But he said he had had 
a meeting with Senator Nye, and that "he showed me a letter sent 
by a Russian general who had escaped the communists, and it was a very 
revealing document." 

They work so hard with the young people. As a very simple example 
I will tell you of a case here in Carmel Valley, which is mostly a 
decent, quiet place of middle class people, well-bred, well-educated, 
nice people. It was just last year, the 4th of July. In former times 
the 4th of July was something that was so beautiful. There was always 
a big parade. A man who used to be in the American cavalry he had a 
gorgeous horse would always lead the procession, and always there 
were lots of girls who are very gcod horseback riders in Carmel Valley, 
all of them following with all those American flags; then very often 
they would send the Presidio band to play, and soldiers they came 
to the restaurant to eat and then girl scouts and boy scouts it was 
really very impressive, you know, beautiful. And so Oleg and I 
decided "We'll open the 4th of July this time; it will revive our 
spirits to see a good American parade.'" And, I'll tell you, we 
had one! 

Next to our little place was a place we called 'the hippy joint 1 
its a place where they get marijuana and beer. Beer is the important 
part, they say, but I know there is something more, stronger than 

At 2:30 it began, and it was absolutely unbelievable. The whole street, 

you could not pass; traffi c stopped. There were around 200 cars and 

trucks, with all these long-haired, bearded, unkempt characters and 

women, and we had the same thing as we had during the revolution in 

Russia; they must have brought something stronger than beer. And 

for two hours it went on. I was so shocked, I said: "Here is a revolution 

again," except that in Russia the women did not take part. There was 

always a bunch of drunken soldiers and men, but not women, and here were those 

women with hardly any clothes on. And so they were shouting, screaming, 

drinking, and rolling there in the dirt in the street. No cars were 

passing by; everybody was scared to death. And we couldn't get a 

deputy sheriff because they were on strike, there were 16 for all of 

Monterey County. 

At last a neighbor came, a nice lady, the wife of a former lieutenant 
commander in the navy. She is a big woman, and very decided. She 
came down through all this, through the back alley and the yards. The 
noise that these people made was such that it could be heard in her 
house, two blocks away. And she came in and she said "I came to 
salvage you; I believe you are in the middle of a riot.'" 



"We certainly are," I said. And we couldn't get out. The car was 
parked, and we couldn't get a car through. 

By that time, luckily, they got one deputy sheriff, and when she 
passed by, they quieted a little bit and so we could get to the car 
and go home. And then, they say, they started all over again, and 
they finished by knifing each other there and they had the ambulance 
going there three times. I don't think anybody was killed, but they 
were pretty well cut up. So this was the difference between the 
former and the present 4th of July. And I could only say "Well, well, 
well!" I really got very, very upset. I said this is just the same 
story with different pictures. Again this was something predicted in 
that paper I told you about. 

RP: Your father's memoirs of the Civil War were published in an emigre 
journal; did he leave any other accounts? 

Vernon: He had many other ones. My father was always writing and writing, 

and making speeches; it is all there in the Veterans Club. And many 
books that he donated. So I didn't get anything, and my brothers 
didn't either; I have only a pair of his epaulettes. 

So if you can get in you might find lots of interesting things. And 
that book about the Russians who were organizing balls and so on to 
aid the ones who were in Serbia and Bulgaria. Many of them were 
invalids. Because the Serbs were helping a great deal, we even had 
a military school there, and a gymnasium, and when Wrangel died 
there was a state funeral for him, with all the Serbian soldiers 
standing there with what was left of the Russian army, the White 
Guard. It was very impressive. I have a picture, which I can send 
to you. Its in a little book. Wrangel was the last of our generals 
who was commanding the Volunteer Army. 

RP: How did your father get along? Did he get any kind of employment? 

Vernon: No, he did not, but somehow he managed; he lived with me and my 

RP: Being mainly a military man, I suppose he would have had trouble 

Vernon: He never did; he never took American citizenship, because he said 

I cannot sign that I renounce Russia, because Russia is now the USSR. 
I renounce the USSR every moment. But just the same he was a member 
of the American Legion, and when he died-it broke his heart that he 
was dying as a civilian the American Legion sent men to stand as an 
honor guard at his coffin. The Russian officers were there, and so 
was the American Legion, and when they buried him there was a 
platoon of the 1st Marines, and they played taps and fired their 
rifles. So I think he was satisfied he was buried like a soldier! 

RP: In what cemetery was he buried? And what was the date? 

Vernon: Serbskii. It was in December; I don't remember the year; it was 
after 1945. He died of a heart attack. He always loved American 
soldiers. He took part in the National Guard exercises at Fort Ord, 
and had a wonderful time crawling through the mud with the soldiers 

Vernon 45 

at his age I he enjoyed it very much. 

Mr. DeGraaf , in Carmel Valley he passed away a short time ago said 
he always remembered how much my. .father enjoyed marching with the 
soldiers. When they had the parade at the Armistice /end of World War II? / 
my father was standing by the Lincoln statue in San Francisco, and when 
he saw the soldiers marching he jumped off, 4 or 5 feet physically he 
had still the old training; it was his heart that killed him so 
when they saw that he had the Legion cap they said "Oh Grandpa, that's 
wonderful!" so they grabbed him and he had a wonderful time marching 
with the American soldiers, as happy as could be. But then he had a 
terrible tifce, because he never drank, not a drop, and when the 
parade ended the boys all went to the bars, and they wanted to drag 
him along too, and he had a time extricating himself. 

He was 78 when he died. 

RP: So he must have been born about 1870. He saw a great deal the Boxer 
Rebellion, you said, the Japanese War, World War I, and then the 
Russian Civil War. What of your brothers did they have an easy 
time adapting? 

Vernon: Well, I told you about Paul, who graduated at Stanford, and Peter 

graduated in Berkeley; he became one of the very famous professors of 
Oriental languages, and he was the Dean of Oriental Languages in 
Berkeley. He was already professor emeritus, but 

he killed himself, actually, overdoing. He didn't have to lecture 
anymore, but my sister-in-law, she fell down and knocked her head 
against some rocks there in Berkeley they were living on 
Santa Barbara Road; it was a hemorrhage. And it was actually a 
Jewish doctor, who was very good, who saved her life. He asked my 
brother, "Professor, do you want me to operate?" Because the other 
doctors in Kaiser Hospital refused to operate, it was too 
serious. Naturally my brother said yes, and that doctor 
operated from 9 o'clock in the evening until 2 o'clock at night. 
He saved her life, but not her brain. Six years after my brother's 
death, Elena is still alive. She is physically OK, even at her 
age, but mentally she doesn't know her daughter, or her 
grandchildren, whom she adored, and she doesn't know that Peter is 

I have never seen her since that time, but my niece does, the one 
that I am going to see in Berkeley. She is married to Richard Lee. 
Every generation has someone named Richard, after Richard Lee who signed 
the Declaration of Independence. He is Richard Lee the 12th and his 
son is Richard Lee the 13th. Well, this is a very long and funny story. 
The old man was very much opposed to the marriage, because I guess he 
wanted his son to marry an American, and I guess he had it figured 
out who he was to marry. But Richard Dicky is not the kind to be 
told who to marry. So it is to Dicky that I gave many details about 
our family, our genealogy. Naturally he has his. 

They are very happy, except that Xenia goes to see her mother every 
two or three days; she is in one of those very good retirement homes. 
Peter was getting a good pension for all his years in the University. 
He told me that as an emeritus he did not have to go on, but he told 
me on the telephone that "If I take a few seminars it will raise my 
psnsion so much that it will take care of Helen for good." I think 

Vernon 46 

it was around a thousand dollars a month in the retirement home, and 
he didn't want it to be a load on Xenia's shoulders. That was a 
Tuesday, and Thursday he died, of a heart attack. Those extra 
seminars were something he had to take. 

I have a bunch of books about Peter, but I don't understand anything 
about it. It was by his co-workers, and students and so on, but it is 
all about Confucius, and Mao-tse-Tung . Well, as for me I don't 
understand any of it. He never bought a suit; it was always done 
by his wife, so that when she got sick, he was lost. All he ate 
was beets. 

RP: Beets? 

Vernon: Beets. I don't know why. In some ways he was like a child, left 
without its mother. He did not know anything. Except that Xenia 
could help him; she is of a very sound mind; I am going to stay with 
them for awhile. And Dicky is a very good boy he is a boy to me, 
though actually he is 23. He is very nice. And Julie is their 

But this is modern history, what happens to them and to me. For me it 
is not important, but what will happen to them I don't know. Every 
generation has its problems. That's why I never interfered with the 
life of my son, who is thoroughly American. That's why I had an 
argument with my father, who said "You are making an American out of 
himj" And I said "Yes, this is his country. And why should he feel 
an emigre, and mourn for a country that doesn't exist. I said "I am 
not going to hurt my son. I want him to be the American that he is, and 
like baseball, football, basketball and golf!" 


Alexander III, Emperor, 3 
Amur River, 6, 7 

Barnyard, The (Carmel Valley) , 12 

Basargin, writer, 8, 9 

Bobrinskii, Prince, 15 

Bolsheviks, purchase of votes, 10, atrocities, 11, 12 

Budberg, Aleksandr, brother, 24, 25, 26, 28 

Budberg (Boodberg) , Aleksei, 1, 3, to U.S., 19, 29-30, 41, 44-45 

Budberg, Paul, 1; service under Gen. Denikin, 1, 7; 45 

Budberg, Peter, at Stanford University, 24; 26, 27, 28, 45, 46 

Carmel Valley, Fourth of July celebration, 1979, 43-44 
Christmas customs, Supplement, 22 
Communist activity, purported, 30, 41-43 

Depression, 33 

Dress of girls, restriction, 12, 13 

Elischer, Vera A. , 29 

English, perfidy of, 16; "Portrait of a gentleman, Mr. 
Reginald King and the bandit queen, Supp., 103 ff. 

Fillmore district, San Francisco, in 1920 's, 27 
Food shortage, 13, 14, 15 

Hillcrest Club, San Francisco, 32 

Kamenev, speech on tactics, 41-43 
Kerensky, Aleksandr, 10 
Ksheshinskaia palace, 10 

Lenin, Vladimir Il'ich, 10 

Livingston, Mrs., head of Hillcrest Club, S.F., 1920 's, 32 

McGee, Thomas III, 33, 34 

Mishchenko, P. I., General, 4 

Nazorov, uncle, chief attorney, Harbin, 26 
Nicholas II, Emperor, 2; abdication, 9 
Nikolai, uncle, steelmill of, 1, 2; sawmill, 8 

Russians, characteristics of, 11, 21 ff. 

Russian emigres, old and new waves, 27 

Russians in San Francisco, 21 ff 

Russian tea room, 22ff., 31, 32, burned, 34 ff; restored, 37. 

Russo-Japanese War, 1, 2 

San Francisco, in 1920 's, 21 ff.; in post-war period, 39 
Shakovich (Shakovskoi?) , Father, Russian priest, San Francisco, 26 
Shakovskoi, Archbishop, 27 

Southern California, 1941-1945, move to, 38 

Superstitions, Supp., 7-8 to 15; witchcraft, Supp. 27; pagan 
rituals, supp., 77-79, 83 

Tolstoi, 8, 9 

Vernon, Index (cent's) 

Ukhtomskii, Prince, San Francisco, 27 

Verdier, owner of "City of Paris" store, 31, 32 

Vernon, George, son, 27 

Vernon, Valentina Alekseevna, nee Budberg, fcirth, 1, 

marriage to Varipaev (Vernon) in Winter Palace, 10, 11, 12; 
escape, September 1918, 15, 16; emigration to U.S., 
documents, 18, 19 a, b, c; education, 4, 5, 6 

Vladivostok, 2, 3, 4 

Vronskoi, Count, shot, 15, 16 


Russian Emigre" Recollections : Life in Russia and California 

Page Number 




15th from bottom 

"Sarkovich (?) , the Priest" 
should be "Father Vladimir 
Sakovich, Dean of Holy Trinity 


12th from bottom 

"Shakovich" should be "Sakovich 
Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral," 

Corrections provided by Maria Sakovich, granddaughter of Father 
Vladimir Sakovich. For more information, Maria Sakovich may be reached 
at (415) 849-0508. 

Valentina Alekseevna Vernon 

Written Recollections 


By: Mrs. Valentina A. Vernon 

Chapter I THE WITCH. Witchcraft among the Pennsylvania 
Germans; River Belaia, 1904; malignant spirits, 7; 
a witch, 10 

Chapter II THE HOUSE. Life on an estate; Christmas customs 17 


Peter, a cossack; Auntie Shura; their son, Oleg 32 

Chap. IV SARAH BERNHARDT; School at Institute, in Moscow; 

A visit from the celebrated French actress 50 

Chap. V KATIA. School (cont'd) 

Chap. VI THE LAST VACATION. Estate of Uncle Nikolai, at 

Muromsk; pagan rituals 71 

Chap. VII THE VULTURES. Life in St. Petersburg in 1918; 

trading for food; the "bagmen" 83 


Chap. IX PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN; excution of a female 

bandit; Mr. Reginald King 103 

Chap. X FORGET IT; departure from Russia, February, 1920; 

resettlement in Yugoslavia 111 

Chap. XI THE STATUE OF LIBERTY: arrival in New York; 

journey to California 129 


Thf- lenves are falling slovly, they drift from the 
T-a..;le tree; purple/' orange, golden leaver in the light of 
the setting sun. They drift down to be loct in the shadow 
of the dsr-p earth. Autumn for the &rden and for my life. 

r>r.fcre the golden leovec of memories, events and people 
disappear in the dark, I would like to picl: at randc;;; 
to preserve betv.-een the pages of a scrapbook, like our 
icthcrr used to do in the long bypone dayr in .Tiy lon^ 
country Rursia. 

Thie Witch 

Six A. M. We are driving back from V,'ashington, D. C. 
to Hazelton in the Pennsylvania coal region. A dismal green 
ish light filtering through winter clouds does not look like 
sunrise at all. Unless the thought comes to you, weary and 
tired of the long journey--unless we lost our way and are 
somewhere on another planet, one of those weird surrealistic 

Sharp turnes all the time. The road is climbing, but 
the hills are so desolate. Even the snow, the beautiful white 
snow is not white at all but grey from the coal dust. Each 
chilly river we cross looks like another Styx. The miners 
coming from the graveyard shift are like some damned souls 
emerging from underground; specters shuffling in the grey 
snow; ghost faces with a greenish make-up and coal dust mascara 
around hollow eyes. And no sound but the rustle of the tires 
on the icy road. 

It's too much like a nightmare. , t > We have to break it up. 
We start to talk all at once. Remembering yesterday's pleasant 
drive through Lancaster country in that crisp crystal clear 
afternoon, we marvel about the beautiful farms, the shaded lanes; 
at the cleanliness, neatness of every inch of ground groomed, 
combed, brushed--perfect I 

"I know now where Borden's contended cows come from", 
laughs my son. "How possibly could they be otherwise in those 


beautiful red barns with electric lights, electric milking 
machines, ventilation and so on. I bet they have aircooling 
for the lucky critters S One thing I forgot to ask; why on 
most of the barns do they have pictures of a cow, a horse and 
a ship, and above them a funny sign like a whirly Swastika in 
a circle. Do you know, Joanna?" ^/ 

Joanna is my sister-in-law and Pennsylvania Dutch. "Oh 
yes, it is a hex sign." 

"Hex "witch" in German. We don 't understand. People_ 
don't believe in witches. We are in America. It is the year 


"You would be astounded at how tenacious the belief in 
witches is among our people here in Pennsylvania, " explains 
my brother Paul, and he starts a long dissertation The 
origins of the belief in witchcraft, opinion of Prof essor 'so- 
and-so, burning of witches, citations from Historian 'so-and- 
so, "evil eye, hexing the cattle; "if you want to shoot a 
witch, you have to use a sawed-off shot gun." 

I wonder why it should be sawed off? I must have dozed 
off. I am awakened by the voice of my son. 

"A French proverb sayst "Speak of the devil, you will 
see his tail; here we speak of witches and there is one in 
person I " 


She certainly was a perfect specimen. The car was go 
ing very slowly on the icy pavement and we all could see her 
silhouetted against a rickety hillside cabin, A lantern in 
her crotchety hand cast a flickering light over a hawk-like 
nose, toothless mouth; beady eyes peering from under wisps 
of grey, untidy hair. 

"See, she is leaning on a staff. I bet it's a broom; 
the snow is hiding it," my son was squealing with delight. 
"Gee, I wish I could take her^as is"to California to a 
Halloween party! Just imagine, it would floor them all a 
real, authentic Pennsylvania witch!" 

"Shame on you, George! It's just a poor old worried 
woman. No doubt she came out to watch for the return of a 
miner t son or, more probably, a grandson " Joanna was ad 
monishing him, but there was an edge of added anxiety in her 
voice when she begged Paul to drive more carefully. /.-Did she 
cross her fingers surreptitiously inside of her muff?, . , As 
to my brother and me , we exchanged one fleeting glance and 
our simultaneously spoken question clashed in mid-air: "Do 
you remember?" 

I certainly do remember, but it is another country 
the mountains of the Ural, our own great divide between 
Russia proper and the vast Siberia another river, the fast 
running Belaya--the year, 1904. 

The house stood on a hill overlooking the river. On 
the other bank was the factory, the mysterious place where 
our uncle spent his days. Everybody on our side, at the house 
and in the village that lay in a pleasant valley back of our 
sprawling park, spoke about the factory, the ore, the produc 
tion, the steel plates. 

We saw at day time the tall chimneys sprouting endless 
columns of smoke; at night flickering fires in v/hat looked 
from our side to be huge barrels ovens, the kids in the 
village told us. Their fathers all worked there too; they 
seemed well informed at what was going on in that interesting 
place, but we children of the "house" were not allowed to 

cross the bridge. 

The factory is no place for children was the grownups 

verdict. There were so many places not "for children"-- 
the fascinating worl d of the kitchen, for instance. It 
was in a semi-basement of the house. Some mysterious action 
v/as going on there, too; appetizing smells, clatter of dishes, 
chopping sounds, the cook's voice, the kitchen maid's laughter, 
bits of songs escaped from the windows. Once in a while un 
seen hands would deposit smoking loaves of bread on the wide 
windowsills steaming pies, exciting smelling pots all cool- 


ing off in full sight, but like forbidden grapes, out of 
reach. Any climbing devices; overturned crates, boxes or 
garden benches were always spotted by one of the governesses 

and the offender pulled down and told once more to stay out 

of places that are not for children. Only once we two, Cousin 

Lussia and I, were successful in our quest; we carried away 
an enormous round loaf of bread intended for the help and the 
girls from the village that were, as usual, called for extra 
help needed for making strawberry jam., <, For some unknown reason, 

it had to be cooked outdoors in large copper pans over an open 

u u 

fire, and what was very important, under a linden tree. The 

cooks were carefully spooning off the white scum from the 

boiling, sweet smelling berries into separate pots. ,, The jam 

was to be as clear as crystal, they explained to us. They 


were nice girls; when the housekeeper was not around, they 

filled large saucers for us. The forbidden fruit, the stolen 
loaf of bread, was devoured by us you would have thought 
we were starved kids and the result was a gigantic stomach 

ache, the doctor and castor oil. Once more it was the same; 

stay out of places that arejiot for children. That meant 

the animal yard, too; the fascinating place where lived cows, 
pigs, chickens and turkeys. We were especially interested 
in the turkeys after the poultry department woman requested 


some vodka from Claudia the housekeeper~to. rub the young 
turkeys legs. "They are not doing too well; the weather 
has been so cold. I gave them chopped green onion and red 
pepper with their mash, but something is wrong with their 
legs. I think I should rub them with vodka." 

"Oh please, please let us see Akaelina massage the 
turkeys", we implored. But the governesses were adamant. 
"You remember what happened with the geese?" The grownups 
always had a point... It was true the encounter with the flock 
of geese had been rather painful. 

We met the flock on the narrow path leading to the pond. 
We were not going to give the right of way to a bunch of dumb 
geese, and tried to shoo them away.^- Then the incredible hap 
pened they attacked. The long snake like necks went down; 
hissing and slapping their wings, they chased us ail the way 


down to the house. Our calves and higher ups were black and 
blue for days after. 

There was no use arguing that not all the domesxic birds 
were as mean as the geese; ducks for instance. "I don't like 
ducks", wailed my brother. "They ate Daniel". Daniel was 
his pet garter snake. He had his bowl of mill: on the back 
porch, and every morning he would emerge from the bushes, 
so black, so shiny, and drink his milk in a gentle and refined 



way. He could be taken for a walk, too, a leash around his 
neck, and seemed to enjoy it. But one fatal day, Brother 

decided to take him for a swim in the pond with his leash 

on^so he would not drown. The big ducks, the big white ones, 

pounced on poor Daniel, killed him and ate him, piece by 
piece. ./ 

For quite a while Paul had nightmares about the ter 
rible fate of poor Daniel, and would wake shaking and sobb 
ing until his old Niania would put her arms around him, sooth 


him, and sprinkle some Holy Water over his head to chase the 

evil spirits away.'' The Holy Water, kept in a jar behind the 
icons, was an important item in the household. ...There were 
so many malignant spirits that had to be taken care of. 

There was the Domovoy (dome-house in Russian). He was 
not too bad; mostly at some mischief like rattling windows, 
dropping things, playing tricks to frighten people. In win 
ter he would sit in a corner of the attic and howl with the 
wind. We were sorry for him so cold and lonely there. 

"Niania, could we have a blanket to take to the poor Domovay, 
to keep him warm?" Niania would cross herself. "You stupisd 
kids, to talk about the evil ones, and at night time, too". 
She would spit, say "Choor, choor" (away, away), and cross 
her fingers. All of this was supposed to take care of the 
bad ones. 

\Wu J 


In summer the Domovoy had lots of fun; he liked to 
spend the nights in the stable and braid the horses tails. 
"Niania, do the horses like it?" 

"No, no, stupid ones, it frightens them and they get 
so nervous you cannot handle them in the morning. It is 
why the grooms keep a he-goat in the stable to protect their 
horses. " 

This we understood, what spirit, good or evil could 
withstand the goat's B.C. f 

Then there was the Leshey (less forest in Russian). 
This one was real mean. He lived in the forest and would 
waylay people who would get lost and were never heard of 
again.'.. So keep close to the grownups when picnicking, 
never dare go by yourself, and keep away from ponds and 
rivers so the Roossalky (mermaids) could not reach out and 
pull you in. Never climb on the well in the park; the 
Vodianoy (voda-water--the water girls Papa) might grab 
you. " . All this was quite fascinating, if frightening, 

"But, Niania, what about witches? Are they like the 
old woman that fixed Nikolai's hand?" 

"Well, there are witches and witches; it depends." 

We could not get very much information, but remembered 



the old woman that took care of Nikolai, our coachman, 
whom we all adored. He was so big and strong and could 
drive a troika so easily, and look so handsome in his 
loose black coat, red shirt, and a small hat with pea 
cock feathers all around it. He never sent us away when 
we wanted to look at a new horse or colt. He let us ride / 
the two small ponies, and promised to teach us to ride 
the big ones "when you grow up". 

One day there was a terrible commotion. Nikolai 
was injured; the horses of the troika had become fright 
ened, and while he had managed to stop them, the reins 
had cut off his thumb, and he was going to bleed to death. 
To send for a doctor to the nearest town would have taken 
hours. "Oh my, oh my", everyone wailed. In the confusion, 
the grownups forgot to send us away and we stood, a small 
group of frightened sheep, crying over our dear Nikolai 
who was going to die. 

Then they brought her in; "The Old Lady" they called 
her, but we children were sure she was a witch. Her nose 
and chin were like two hooks meeting together; she was 
bent and leaning on a stick, a black kerchief over stringy 
white hair, bushy eyebrows, beady eyes.,and all wrinkled up 
like an old, old apple. Everybody stepped aside. She 



took Nikolai's hand, held it in her own birdlike claw, 
mumbling something under her breath. The blood slowed, 
slowed and stopped. She went in a corner of the garden 
and dug out some molded leaves, mildewed soil, cobwebs, 
mixed all this and applied it to Nikolai's wound, ban 
daged it, mumbled some more, and departed. 

I remember ray young French governess exclaiming, 
"God help us, he is going to die of blood poisoning. 
Those savages I".,. He did not die, and a while later drove 
the carriage as usual with a great flourish and jingling 
of bells on the ]aad horsefe' harness. 

While the witch was ministering to Nikolai, we child 
ren noticed a shy young boy who came with her, but stood 
apart hiding in the bushes. Nicki, our cousin, who was 
old enough to be allowed to go to the village to play with 
the peasant boys, and knew everyone of them, was puzzled 
and went to speak to the newcomer. 

"Who are you?" 

"I am her grandson, Vania" 

"Why don't you come to the village and play with 
the other kids?* 

"They don"t like meV 

"But I like you. Next week there is a fair on the 
pasture grounds; come down, wait near the church, after 
the Mass is over I will take you around and introduce you 



to everybody. We will have lots of fun." 

Vania liked the idea. He and Nicki parted good 
friends.> . .. . 

The summer was over, the crops were in, the wheat 
had been harvested and the fields looked like the un 
shaven face of the earth. It was time to celebrate. 

The Fair was usually on the big pasture, between 
our village and the neighboring larger one. Early in 
the morning we were loaded on a long carriage, sitting 
back to back with our Nikolai driving, not a troika, but 

two horses with two extras tied to the back in case of a* 1 




The road was crowded with vehicles, carts of the mer 
chants and groups of peasants dressed in their best. The 
fairgrounds/ was teaming with people; the farmers selling 
their produce, the merchants displaying their wares, the 
horses and cattle raising clouds of dust, while chickens, 
geese and ducks in cages were having a concert of their 

We spotted at last our new friend Vania and intro 
duced him to all the wonders of the fairgrounds. Pretty 
soon he was loaded with packages of nuts, dried fruit, 
honey cookies covered by some pink frosting the works. 
For awhile we were distracted by a marionette side show..,, 


and that was when the catastrophe happened. We saw 
our poor Vania standing against the church wall, 
clutching his bags while a mob of peasant boys was 
attacking him. 

"Give us all this or we will beat you up, and 
how", shouted the young hoodlums. Vania tried to stand 

his ground. 


"The children from the house gave it to me, it is 


mine, leave me alone or I shall complain to Grandma, 
and she will hex you all". 

The next moment we saw the pathetic little figure 
running for his life, all the sweets scattered in the 
dust while the mob followed him, belting him with stones, 
shouting: "You Witches brat, we will teach you a lesson, 
you and your devil's relatives." 

Crying bitterly we told all to our mother who was 
visiting for a short while, before returning to the 
war zone. Our aunt was not very sympathetic: "He 
should not have called a hex on them, our peasants are 
so superstitious". But Mother, who was not used to 
country ways, was feeling differently. "Poor kid, to- 
morrov/ we are going to his grandmother's house, see if 
he is hurt, and brine some other goodies. You meant 


well^ but somehow we all are responsible for what hap 
pened. " 

The next day, one of the maids was induced, rather 


reluctantly, to show us the old woman's house. She took 


us as far as the jetty. "Now, my Lady, you go on by 
yourself, I am not stepping inside of this place." She 
crossed herself, folded her hands and sat down on a tree 
trunk to await what was going to happen to us, doubt 
ing if she would ever see us again in human shape, but 
transformed into frogs or what not. 

We followed the trail and reached the little house 
on the knoll. The inside of the hut was rather dis 
appointing, rather dark and gloomy, but no black cat, 
owl or broom in sight. The only unusual thing was the 
absence of icons always displayed by our peasants 
instead bunches of dry herbs, dry roots and strings 
of mushrooms hung on the walls. 

The old .-woman was cooking something on the large 
stove; her greeting was far from cordial. "Why are 
you here, and what do you want?" 

Mother explained that we came to see if Vania 
was badly hurt, if he needed a doctor, and if she 
needed some help. 


"He was hurt all rifht, but your doctors, they 
don't know anything. I can doctor him better than 
any of them. If you want to see him, there he is on 
the bench." 

Vania's face was badly bruised, his hand band- 

/ " 

aged, but he assured us that he was all right, as 


Grandma could fix anything. His face lit up when he 

saw the sweets and presents. We were still his friends 


and he promised "to come to see us at the house as soon 
as he was able to. 

Meanwhile his grandmother was watching us with 
her birdlike, unblinking eyes and seemed to come to 
the conclusion we meant well. After Mother deposited 
some money on the table, "to help to buy some cloth 
for the child", her attitude changed to an almost 
friendly one. 

"I see, my Lady, you are as kind as you are beauti 
ful. I will do something for you, too. Give me your 
hand. I will tell your fortune." 

She bent down over Mother's hand and her voice 
took the same strange sing song mumbling tone she used 
with Nikolai. 

"Worry,,. worry not about your husband, Lady, he 


will come home safe. But the two others, your brothers 
you fret about; one you will never find the same as he 
was when he left, the other never more. Sorrow, lots 
of sorrow I see for you, gracious Lady. You travel a 
long, long way across some big water, and never will 
see your country again. You and your children will be 
buried in foreign soil. And, oh my, while the earth 
over one's grave at home is as light as feather, it is 
as hard as rocks in a foreign land. Dark clouds ahead 
is all I see for all of us." 

And so truly it came the storm that carried away 
home, family and Russia. 


The House 

The house was divided into four parts. A wind- 


ing stairway led to Grandmother's apartment on the left, 
and Uncles and Aunt Mila's on the right. Dov/nstairs 
were the children's headquarters, our cousins and their 
Fraulein Elsa. On the other side vcre ours and Mademoiselle 
Constance, our governess, and the quarters of the old 
Niania (nounou) who had raised my father, and was now in 
charge of our infant brother Peter. Under her command 
were two young subaltern nurses assigned to help her in 
that important task. 

And help she needed, poor soul. Peter was the apple 
of the eye of Grandma, and spoiled accordingly. He would 
condescend to eat his mush of oatmeal in the nursery down 
stairs, but then: "No, no. I eat the eggs only with Grand 
ma!" Screams and riot, and the procession goes upstairs.; 
first nurse carrying the highchair, the second "The 
Brat" (as we called him in private ), and closing up the 
old lady with the dish of eggs.*.. After the eggs are con 
sumed in the presence of Grandma, a new order from the 


little tyrant: milk only downstairs, and everybody pro 
ceeds in reverse. 

As to us, the rules were strict and obeyed, though 
sometimes there was some confusion on the neutral grounds 

ii IS. 


downstairs. They consisted of the main reception room, 
called somewhat pompously, "ballroom", with a grand 
piano, old fashioned stiff , uncomfortable chairs, and 
sofas lined along the walls, and portraits of the an 
cestors in heavy gold frames.** We did not like to cross 
this room in the dark. It was kind of ghostly with the 

moonlight designing silvery squares on the parquet floor, 

the crystal chandelier tinkling slightly, ,tink, tink, 

with the tall grandfather clock accompaniment, ;/ tock, tock, 

tock and the eyes of all those stern gentlemen and ladies 

;'that seemed to follow your progress while you reached 

the sanctuary of the ( salon, the other reception room, 

where everything was cozy and friendly, as was also the 
dining room with its large french doors opening onto the 
balcony, and a beautiful vista of the garden. 

These "no man's land" rooms were the battleground 
for our French and German governesses. The Franco-German 
war v;as recent yet, and though neither of them spoke the 
other's language, and only a few words of Russian, they 
managed to exchange glances that showed that the "Entente" 
was far from cordial. The ensuing orders to their "own" 
pupils were like enemy sorties and quite confusing to 
their flocks. 


Actually, on the upper floor not everything was 
ideally peaceful either. Though Grandmother was actually 
the Grand Lady of the householdt there was a certain ten 
sion between her and her daughter, Aunt Ludmila -a^.gen- 

eration gap. Grandmother was the "establishment", born 

and raised on one of the large estates of the lajs^t cen 
tury, where life was flowing according to old rules, 
traditions and religious ceremonies established for 
centuries. The owner's mansion, surrounded by acres and 
acres of land tilled by the peasants of the villages 
that belonged to the domain. The landowners house was 
always full of people, swarms of servants, usually too 
many, and just hanging around; nurses, governesses, tutors 
of the children and the "pri jivalschiki", an institution 
strictly Russian, and with no counterpart anywhere, I 

They were just people; poor relatives, servants 
on pension, very often individuals that drifted in from 
somewhere, liked the place and stayed on,, lived in." 
They had no definite duties or assignment, just were 
hanging around. With usually no less than twenty people 
at the dinner table, the hostess would be very embar 
rassed if asked what half of the participants were doing 


11 ZO 


On birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, swarms of 
relatives with all their retinue would arrive and cele 
brate the event, not for a day or. two, but for weeks. 
When a neighboring landowner had some happy occasion, 
Grandma's family did the same; half of the household 

migrated to the/hospitable friend, and was dined, wined 

" K 

and entertained ad infinitum. 

Holy days and religious services were strictly 
observed. Living close to the peasant folks, the le 
gends, superstitions and fairy tales of Russia were a 
part of life. The child of the "Barin" (master), wet- 
nursed, cradled and raised in his infancy by a peasant 
woman naturally became a part of the people's soul and 
mind, was integrated into what was the Russian nation. 

This was in the past ..^ The time of the large estates 
was over. Mismanagement, taxes, second and third mort 
gages had taken it's toll. The land was subdivided, 
taken over by the "Peasant's Bank", (supported by the 
government,) and resold to the farmers or for commercial 
enterprises. Very few of the land owners had put their 
properties on a working basis, or commercial use, as 
did our uncle with his factory. 

He and his wife, our Aunt Ludmila, were, the new 
generation; the ones that pqrtested against anything 
old, past ideas, traditions and ways of life. They were 



called liberals, socialists or nihilists, according 
to the degree of their radical ideas,' formed secret 
societies, and argued and talked and talked, as only 
Russians know how. The Actionists were the ones that 
resorted to terrorist acts, bombs, and shootings. 

The milder were the followers of Leo Tolstoy, his 
, nonresistance to evil cult, antireligious propaganda, 
and the inevitable in all protests, "communes." To 
the latter group belonged, before her marriage, our 
aunt; cut her hair short, wore glasses (that was part 
of the liberated woman's outfit) and took courses at 
the medical school. All this must have been terribly 
shocking to the family, but luckily she met our uncle, 
fell in love, mellowed down to a quiet life in the country 
estate, very much more comfortable than the one in the 

Still our uncle and aunt kept their ties with the 
progressive movement, had mysterious visitors taken 
directly to their apartment, propaganda literature de 
livered to them, read only the liberal newspapers, and 
had connections with the political emigres. Being a 
revolutionary" was handy to cover many sins, and to 
be liberal was very fashionable, but Aunt Ludmila, being 




very devoted to her mother was careful not to hurt her 
feelings. So luckily for us children, many old fashioned 

ideas and customs were tolerated in our household 

So it is why we, all the children, were in our room 
on the 2i-th of December with our noses glued to the win 
dows anxiously scanning the clear sky for the first' star 
to appear. The Christmas Eve "Sotchelnik" was a strictly 
fasting day no food until the first star. We children 
were allowed some milk and rolls for breakfast, but nothing 
else all day, and hungry we were! 

Forlornly we trailed after Klaudia, the house- 

keeper, whose very ample waist was encircled by a belt with 

dozens of keys to all the closets and cupboards in the house; 

the custodian of all the goodies stored in themt jams, 

jellies, pickles, hams, sausages and so on. 

"Klaudia, please, oh please, a tiny slice of corned 

beef", we implored, only to be rebuffed by a stern: "No, 

you sinners, to indulge in wordly pleasures at such a Holy 

Day ! " 

"But you gave some to Peter, and marshmallows, too." 
"That is something elsehe is a baby yet. He has 

no sins on his soul, he is like a pure little angel. These 

rules don't apply to the innocent ones" 



We did not share the opinion that Peter was an angel, 
but Klaudia was adamant. So we had no choice but to wait 
for the star. ...The park was like a white fairy tale, the 
snow sparkling under the lighted windows; the pines tall 
white ghosts around the clearing of what in summer was the 
flower bed..,. At last over their tops in the pale greenish 
evening sky appeared a lonely, but so welcome star. 

"The starthe Christmas star" we shouted in unison, 
stampeding to the dining room to bring the news to the 
grown ups. How impatiently we waited for Grandma to come 
down and take her place at the head of the table, and give 
us permission to take our respective chairs with bundles 
of fresh straw tucked under our feet--a reminder of the 

How good everything tasted, though it was still a 
semi-fasting dinner no meat, butter or sweets, except the 
traditional dessert "Kootia", a mixture of cooked whole 
wheat, honey, raisins and nuts. We did not like it very 
much, but had to eat all of our portion with "reverence", 
we were told. 

Then, after a short thanksgiving prayer, we were in 
structed to follow GrandTia. We were bundled in fur coats, 
snowshoes, and fur caps, and stepped out in the cold out- 



doors. Grandmother headed the procession, which included 
our somewhat reluctant uncle and aunt, all the children, 
and the retinue of servants. We trudged through snow 
covered fields to the crossing of four roads. 

There Grandmother would take a spoonfull of the "Kootia" 
out of the bowl held by one of the maids, throw it to the 
east, cross herself, and invoke a blessing on the members 
of the family that were living in that direction. The pro 
cedure would be repeated to the north, south and west. 
After everybody was remembered, the ritual was over, and 
we could then retrace our steps. 

Back home we were allowed to stay and listen to the 
carols sung by the village kids, who went from house to 
house carrying a big star, praising the Christ Child, and 
collecting small donations. Then early to bed, as next 
day was the Big Holiday, and the Christmas Tree. /<-. 

Weeks before a package had been delivered from the 
City. It contained gold and silver foil paper, cardboard 
of different colors, beads, strings, not counting all the 
wonderful decorations, candles and a huge star. A table 
was set up for cutting and pasting gold chains, stringing 
beads, making cornets for candy, wrapping walnuts in gold 
leafno end of projects. Under the direction and super- 


*^\^ . 



vision of our governesses we worked as hard as we never 
did in regular classes, and a lot was ready for the event} 
but the results of our labors we would not see until Christ 
mas Day. We knew the tree was in the big room,- we heard it 
being brought in, and the whole house was fragrant and balmy, 
but the grownups were going to decorate it and we would see 
it only in the evening. 

A drive to the church next morning on the sleighs 
through the white countryside, with the bells on the horses 
tinkling so gaily in the icy air, and everybody very holiday 
looking and smiling even the sour-faced ones. Then dinner 
and an impatient waiting for the great moment. 

At last we heard in the hall the shuffle of feet, whisper 
ing and giggling our guests, the village children had come. 
Their coats and snowshoes off, they appeared dressed in their 
best: the boys in red, yellow, green shirts, and the girls 
in starched dresses with bright multicolored kerchiefs. The 
big doors to the ballroom were thrown open and, after a few 
moments of spellbound ecsatcy, we finally trooped into the 
room to admire the wonder. 

From floor to ceiling the tree stood like a golden 
flaming column, lit by hundreds of candles, shimmering and 
shining with stars and jewels. The grownups gave us time 



to recover from the shock and admire the fairy tree;-but. 
now it was time for action. Our governesses very nearly 
spoiled our happiness by arguing with our aunt about what 
should be sung first, "0 Tannenbaum" in German, or "Noel" 


in French. Luckily the school teacher, a swell fellow, 
young and gay, settled the argument. "The pupils don't 
know either; let's sing in Russian." 

Aunt sat down to the piano and started a gay old 
song, "Here I Bury the Gold, There I Bury the Silver." 
This was familiar to all. We made a circle and went round 
the tree faster and faster, holding tight at each other's 
hands, and singing one after another, Russian songs.,. .Out 
of breath at last, we stopped to receive our presents, 
wrapped in bright kerchiefs. Our aunt had everyone of them 
marked by name, the contents all alike, for her children, 
us ( and the village kidspractical things, candy, nuts and 
cookies. She was as ever, a staunch believer in democratic 
equality. Once more we danced around the tree, but the 
candles were beginning to burn out. 

We were taken to the dining room to have tea and 
sample our goodies. By that time we were exhausted, and 
sent to bed, while our guests departed under the leader 
ship of their school teacher. The great day was over, but 
the holidays lasted until Epiphany. 


The Christmas decorations were taken off after New 
Year's Day, and we were busy again. This time we used 
empty match boxes to make little containers to fill with 
bird seeds and bread crumbs. The tree was carried out 
doors and propped in a snow bank^ The feeders were attached 
to the branches, and there stood a "Christmas tree for the 
birds." They came in flocks and had a wonderful time until 
the tree dried out, was taken out and burned "with rever 

During the two weeks vacation we could go skiing on 
the river, ride the makeshift sleighs with the village 
children, and take part in plays staged in the small school, 
where our aunt was helping the young teacher. She was very 
successful with the children; but in the hospital she had 
organized, she very often ran into opposition. 

The older people trusted the methods and herbs of the 
"old woman" more than the modern medicines. New born child 
ren had to be baptized the first days, very often in icy 
water, to guaranty their admittance to heaven in case they 
died,-and they often did after that cold bath. When the 
doctor came from town for smallpx vaccination of the child 
ren, there was nearly a riot, and my cousins had to be vac 
cinated first to prove it was not harmful..- * 


a j. 

W'e ]p.ufhfd, but it was really e tragic evtnt. The 
doctor had prescribed a medicine to an old sick -.ssn; * 

tablespoon cvrry hour.' Cur aunt v.ont the next d ^' to in ~ 
quire about the patient. 

"Depd, r,y deer Lady, difd last ni^ht, God rest his 

soul " 

"But did you give him the rrcdicine?" 
"I sure did, my dear Lady, but what the use of 
giving it by the spoonfull I fave him. the v.hole bottle 

to drink, and he died. God's v.111 it was for him to fo." 

It was God's will, too, for men who dived into pools 

chopped in the frozen ice of the river during the Epiphany- 
church service, to survive instead of catch.^, pneumonia; 
as it was in America to be able tc handle rattlesnakes and, 
after bein<? bitten, to be able to live to prove the All- 
nighty's power. / 

Vacation over we settled GCV.TI aTi in to our studies 
of Russian, French, and German. Anc the v;.inter nettled 
down to business, too. 

The carl: clouds seemed to have an inexhaustible sup 
ply of snov. ; drifts v/ere as hip,h as half cf the window panes. 
The tilr stoves in every rco'. blazed all cr.y. It V.T.E v.arrn 
in the house, but v.e -.ore and lirtlc^r;.- Cnr- could 
not gc out r.uch, and v.hat fun it to wal-: v.rappcci a~ 
a cocoon, and breathing air that cut like icicles t Xhc 




days dragged so slowly. We liked to visit Grandmother's 
quarters, look at old photographs, listen to her stories 
of "how things used to be", admire all the precious knick- 
knacks, vases, cut glass stored in old fashioned side 
boards with intricate mother of pearl inlays. But Grand 
ma was ailing, easily tired, and the visits had to be cut 
short. .^ As to the visits to Aunt's apartment, we dreaded 

We were sent to see Aunt Ludmila when we misbehaved 
and needed to be "talked to". And what an ordeal that 
was I One stood a long time listening to her lecture. She 
never raided her voice; first she described the crime we 
had committed, and then what we should do to improve our 
behavior and become an asset to our country, society, and 
humanity in general a marvelous speech for a university 
audience, but not for kids under ten.*-. 

The bear on the floor was listening, and being bored, 
too. It was an enormous bear skin rug, with a real stuffed 
head. I remember figuring what would happen if the bear 
would get up on his fours and start growling. Knowing my 
aunt, I am afraid she would tell him to lay down, finish 
her lecture, and only then let us happily escape to our 
own rooms. 

The room we liked the best was the one of "Niania" 


It was so cozy, lit by the candles in front of the icon, 
and the fire in the stove. We could sit on low stools 
close to the smoldering coals and listen to Niania's tales 
of beautiful princesses, monsters that kidnaped them, brave 
princes that came to thei^ rescue--battled giants and dra 
gons to save their lady fair, and lived happily ever after. 

"The monsters aren't coming to carry us away, are they 

"No, no as long as you have your crosses (small bapti 
smal crosses we wore on chains around our necks ), no evil 
one will dare touch you. Bless you, and go to bed."..., 

The wind would howl, the branches of the tortured 
trees hammer on the window panes, the snowdrifts wave their 
ghostly white arms; we would fall asleep, sure that our 
r&ania's icon would protect us better than the prayers in 
French we had to recite with Mademoiselle. 

"Es muss doch Fruhling werden", kept on Fraulein Elsa, 
quoting Schiller. And it did come. For three days other 
winds started to blow, soft, humid, melting the white snow, 
leaving only grayish mildewed patches. The trees lost their 
beautiful white gowns, and looked bleak and desolate. Flocks 
of blackbirds invaded the garden, and water, water running 

; I 
' - ' ' i 



everywhere, breaking through the ice of the river and drip 
ping from the roofs. 

To greet the return of spring in the beginning of March 
it was a tradition to serve for breakfast the "Javoronky" 
(larks), little rolls shaped like birds with raisin eyes and 
a gold piece in one of them for the lucky finder. While we 
were busily exploring their insides Tania, our oldest cousin, 
burst into the room dancing and shouting, "Spring, spring 
is here!" In her hand was the delicate first flower, the 
snowdrop that she picked near a snow patch 

Our mother came to pick us up to take us back to the 
Orient, where Father was stationed, persuing his professional 
military career, very much frowned at by his sister and her 
liberal friends. 

i-'irst the war, and then the big storm of the Revolu 
tion came in sweeping away everything, destroying, tear= 
ing life by the roots and leveling reactionaries, liberals, 
revolutionaries, nihilists in one common death and misery; 
substituting to all of them the triumphant name of "Bolshevik". 

In 1.933 we received the last news of our aunt; a post 
card informing us that her husband and her second brother, 
who took refuge in the country met with an accident and died 
(we guessed how). She asked that we not communicate with 
her until "further notice", and finished (hoping that the 
censor did not know Latin) with the tragic words: "Mea Culpa, 
mea maxima culpa". 


6 /. 


Little George Washington Russian Style 

There were two Cossacks? the big, wild Cossack, my 
Uncle Feter, and his son, the little Cossack-monster. 
Naturally, Uncle came first. I still have his picture 
one of those faded photographs against a background of, 
rose-garlanded Greek or Roman columns; a tall youngster 
in a long cossack coat, a tiny belted waist, blond baby 
curls, candid eyes, a little shy, but proud. 

He had just graduated from military school and was 
a commissioned officer. He had mastered the theory of 
how to kill people and was being sent away to put his 
knowledge into practice. This was the time before the 
Russo-Japanese war in 1904. Mama's blue-eyed boy was dis 
patched to Outer Mongolia and put in charge of a detach 
ment of native soldiers. It was a windpswept plateau with 
a few tents and a few hundred wild tribesmen. Only the 
sergeants spoke Russian. The freshly hatched lieutenant 
timidly gave orders that sounded more like suggestions.*.. 
It did not take long before the higher in command found 
out that things were out of hand in Lieutenant Nazoroff's 
sector. An old timer in the frontier service, Captain 
Ivanoff was sent to investigate. After a short talk with 
the top sergeant, he came to Uncle Petr's tent. 


"You know, youngster, this cannot go on. The men 
say: 'What kind of Captain is he? He has been here over 
a month and not once has he used his nogayka (whip). 1 
With these savages every order has to be spiked with the 
whip. They have been used to this system from time im 
memorial. I am astonished they did not kill you. You 

TI ., 

just lost face. Now go ahead, make it over. Don't for 
get you have a strong arm and a good whip. Use it." 

Uncle Peter learned he learned many things on the 
wild Mongolian desert; the cold cruelty of man to man; 
the merciless destruction of the weak and old who were 
hindering the survival of the fittest; the bitter struggle 
for that survival. A few Russian officers were lost in 
that mass of yellow savages trainers in a cage of sulk 
ing wild beasts. Always whip in hand, and a steady one, 
never let them forget you are the master, the "Captain". 
Alcohol did help to keep up the bravado and drinking was 

Uncle used to tell how he woke in the middle of the 
night gasping for breath. His best friend, a young officer 
with whom he shared his tent, had his left hand around 
Uncle's throat, choking him to death. V.'ith his right hand 
he was making the sign of the cross over Uncle's head, ad 
monishing in the most gentle way: "Don't get excited, dear 
Peter, just take it easyeverything will be over pretty 
soon. " 


It took all of Uncle's terrific strength to shake 
off the madman. In a straight jacket he was shipped back 
to civilization. < The ones who did not break down became 
tough. Uncle Peter became tough. So tough that even in 
that wild country he got the surname of "The Wild Cossack". 

The Japanese war was declared and Uncle Peter was sent 
to the front. For his bravery in action he received our 
highest military decoration, the St. George's Cross. To 
friend and foe alike, he was known as "The Wild Cossack". 
His erratic moods, reckless daring and complete disregard 
of danger made him perfect for guerrilla and reconnaissance 
work. In one of those expeditions the cards were stacked 
against him. His detachment was surrounded by Japanese; 
there was a chance to try to ride through, but Uncle was 
wounded in the thigh. He could not get up into the saddle. 
The Cossack horses are taught to lay down to give a chance 
to a wounded man to mount them, but Uncle's faithful horse 
had a bullet in the shoulder and could not lift his great 

"Try to break through. I'll stay and shoot it out with 
the Japs; this might cover your retreat." The soldiers 
were reluctant to leave their officer, but--"Life is sweet, 
who wants to die--orders are orders"; and they galloped away 
Uncle tried to send his horse along, but for the first time 
in his life he refused to obey, he was going to stay with 

VCVrXCft\ vJ-5", 


his master to the bitter end. Protected by boulders and 
the horse's bulk, Uncle kept on shooting. The last thing 
he remembered was the almost human (Uncle always said "better 
than) look in the dying horse's eyes. When he came to, he 
was in a prison hospital. His first months in 7 captivity 
were an endless suffering from his many wounds and from ex- 
crutiating headaches. A bullet had gone through his skull. 
He survived it all. The wounds healed, more or less, but 
the mental suffering was getting worse. To be a prisoner, 
to have the "little yellow "raonkey8"as his "masters" it 
was a thing he could not take. He had outbursts of wild 
rages, followed by epileptic fits caused by the pressure 
on the brain. During one of the attacks brought on the 
sight of an orderly hitting a wounded man, Uncle really 
went on a rampage. He threw the orderlies and male nurses, 
like peanuts, all over the room, broke furniture over their 
heads, very nearly tore the flimsy walls down. He was sub 
dued by soldiers, and the rest of his imprisonment was spent 
in a cage like a wild animal. /.. 

The peace treaty brought the prisoners' release, and 
Uncle came home. I vaguely remember the grownups talking 
in hushed voices about Uncle Peter's terrible fits, the 
doctor's efforts to relieve the pressure, and some kind 
of metal band they were gradually tightening around his 



skull. The operation must have been successful. The 
headaches and attacks stopped, all the other wounds were 
patched. Uncle was left with one leg shorter than the 
other, a silver plate in the back of his head, and an as 
sortment of scars all over his body.,.-. The invisible scars 
on his soul were something our medicine had no cure for, 
so Uncle was proclaimed a "psycho" by the doctors and just 
plain "queer" by the laymen. He did not care, he had no 
love for any of his fellow humans; all he loved were horses, 
all he longed for was solitude, so he left us and settled 
on a ranch high up on the Mongolian plateau. There was 
miles of wilderness around, and all the horses he could 
have. There was one flaw in his plans; in a moment of 
weakness he got married. 

Poor little bride, poor Aunt Shoorochka. From a 
pleasant, sheltered life in a provincial town, she was 
transplanted to the Cossack's mountain retreat no more 
girl friends to gossip with, no more gay little parties 
at home, no annual grand balls and amateur theatre plays 
or summer picnics in the country. There was plenty of 
country now, but of formidable and forbidding aspect; 
mountains and gorges and deep canyons, with wild torrents 
tumbling in their shadows not an inviting landscape for 
a gentle picnic. There is no fun picnicking by yourself 



anyway, and the poor bride was mostly left alone. A few 
people who came to visit them were mostly high mountain 
ranchers strong sullen people. The conversation, if any, 
always turned to hunting, fishing, cattle and horses. ...Uncle 
Peter could be quite charming and entertaining when he wanted 
to be, but he wanted to so seldom. His moody days were many. 
After a hurried and silent meal he would disappear and spend 
the day in the stable, the field or the orchard. Many a 
night, instead of coming home, he would gallop all over the 
countryside. People hearing the thundering hoofs in the 
middle of the night used to say* "There goes the ; Wild Cos 
sack again. At this rate he is going to break his neck 
someday." His neck did not break, but his marriage did. 

According to Aunt Shoura, this is the way it happened. 
They were expecting the arrival of the baby, the future 
little Cossack-monster. The time was approaching, but, 
unfortunately, Uncle's favorite mare chose the same week 
to foal her colt. Uncle Peter sent his wife down to the 
city doctors and stayed with his mare. He casually tele 
phoned to find what was born and, informed that it was a 
son, happily announced that the new little horse was also 
a male.*- This was the last straw. Divorce was very nearly 
impossible in Russia, so they separated. Aunt Shoura stayed 


down in the city and Uncle up on the ranch. The boy's 
time was shared between the parents. I am afraid the 
greater part of his time, though, was spent with his father 
and the horses. It was so much more fun for little Oleg 
and his mother was not' able to handle him. Why? We found 
out.. ... 

War (number One) had patched many quarrels, misunder 
standings "-and separations they seemed so small face-to- 
face with the great universal tragedy. Aunt Shoura's mar 
riage 'was no exception, and she went to the front for a 
visit with Uncle. She brought her son to stay with us for 
a coupj-e of weeks. It was our first glimpse of our cousin, 
a big, clue-eyed cherub dressed in a Cossack uniform, a 
white iur cap rakishly perched on top of a mop of golden 

"What an adorable child, give me a kiss my little 
angel," exclaimed my maiden Aunt Anne, and quickly with 
drew. The "little angel" had bitten the hand that was 
reaching to embrace him. "I don't like to be kissed. 
Men don't kiss. I am a man a Cossack! We let women be." 
And the pearly little teeth clicked quite menacingly. 

"It's a little Cossack monster," whispered my brother, 
and our cousin certainly lived up to his name. We were 
harboring a little wild cat in the apartment. Every mem- 
berof the family tried to entertain him with games, story 


i m 

reading, and child plays to no avail. "It's no fun!" 

"What do you like, Oleg?" 

"Horses wild animals . " 

"Ah, fine, fine," exclaimed Aunt Anne enthusiastically. 
"I will take him tomorrow to the zoo and then to the park 
for a pony ride." She did.** A few hours later the maid 
opened the door to a strange trio: the little Cossack, 
unconcerned and seemingly quite pleased with himself and 
a newly acquired whip. Auntie in a state close to hysteria, 
and a kindly policeman who explained.' 

"The lady was so upset I was afraid to leave her alone, 
so I came along to see her safely home. As to the little 
fellow, he certainly can take care of himself. But, beg 
your pardon ladies, those are the instructions of my police 
captain. He very respectfully insists on your keeping the 
little " "Monster?, whispered my brother. 

"Beg your ladies' pardon, I completely agree with 
the youngman's opinion, but the captain said 'little boy' 
to keep the little boy away from the park and public play 

The good man clicked his heels, saluted, and departed. 
It took quite a fev; drops of nerve medicine, smelling salts 
and cold compresses to enable Aunt Anne to tell the story. 

She took the boy to the zoo to see the wild animals. The 
tigers, leopards and lynxes were all dismissed with a boreds 


"Eunch of mangy cats I My father shot bigger and better 
in the tayga (Siberian) forest." 

That was true. I had two fur rugs in my room to 
prove it. They were pelts my uncle had sent me; one of 
a tiger and the other a leopard. In Siberian forests they 
change their color for winter wear from orange to sil 
very gray, keeping their dark stripes and spots a perfect 
job of nature's camouflage. rl . The huge Siberian bear met 
with Oleg's approval. 

"He is a good bear. We had one like that in Mongolia. 
We kept him for a pet. The soldiers wrestled with him 
and he liked sugar and vodka. When he would get drunk, 
he had the hiccups, but he could dance just the same. I 
will show you how to teach a bear to dance." 

And before chubby Auntie could interfere, the boy 
started climbing the fence singing in his childish voice 
the ribald song, "Aye you S of a B peasant from Kamarinski". 
He was climbing as fast as a squirrel. Luckily, the keep 
er caught him, setting him rather hard on the ground. 

"Keep away, youngster, from those cages! The animals 
are dangerous." 

"That's you, big coward, who is afraid of them. Me, 
a Cossack, I am not afraid. I am not afraid of anything!" 

* I 



"I can see that. If I had a brat like you I certainly 
would teach him to be afraid of a good whipping. But it's 
none of my business. All I am asking you, lady, is to take 
the kid away from here and keep him away." 

Poor Auntie grabbed her charge's hand and dragged him 
away, followed by jokes and jeers from the assembled crowd. 

"I am not going home until I see the horses," declared 
the little demon, "and I want a whip." 

To pacify him, Aunt Anne bought a whip and they be 
took themselves to the meadow and the pony rides. The 
ponies got Cleg's approval. He was used to the small Mon 
golian horsesi so it was not beneath his dignity to mount 
one of them. But as soon as he was in the saddle, he jerked 
the reins out of the hands of the groom who was ready to 
walk him sedately around the green. With a shrill "Whoopee" 
he let his crop fall on the pony's flank. It must have 
been a first experience for the little beast. He was brought 
up to be gentle and considerate, but after all, he was a 
horse and reacted as any horse would. First he reared, then 
he kicked, then he broke into a wild gallop around the mea 
dow. The little Cossack kept to his saddle, whooping, shout 
ing and waving his whip and his hat... The other ponies, de 
murely walking around the green started to get into the 



The place broke into a pandemonium. The ponies kick 
ing and snorting, the grooms trying to quiet them down* 
while the frightened parents and governesses were pulling 
their children out of the saddles. The nurses who were 
dozing in the sunshine grabbed their respective infants 
out of the perambulators and were climbing on the benches 
or trying to find a shelter behind the trees. Three police 
men came running to the rescue. Oleg was pulled, kicking 
and screaming off his horse and unceremoniously marched, 
together with Auntie, to the nearest police station. 

"To a police station like a criminal I" sobbed Auntie, 
"And then escorted in the cab by a policeman like some 
drunk taken to jail. The police captain said to keep him 
out of public places. What shall we do with him?" 

It certainly was a problem. Our little monster was 
confined to the apartment house and court. Our trials 
began the next day. 

"The child needs companions of his own age, "decided 
our nice neighbor. "Boys will be boys. I'll take him for 
a day " to play with my little Pasha." 

The day lasted only a couple of hours. Blood curdling 
screams were coming from Pasha's room. We found the host 
on the floor, his guest sitting on his chest with a knife 



in his hand. 


"I am a Comanchei he is the paleface. He lost the 

battle and I am going to scalp him. What does he holler 
like a pig for?" 

Luckily the knife was a dull one and only a red^ scar 
across Pasha's forehead for about a week reminded him of 
the pleasant visit-. -*-. 

"I'll watch the little boy for a few hours," vol 
unteered another nice neighbor, a maiden lady. "The child 
looks like an angel so sweet, too. You just don't have 
the right approach. You like animals, don't you my little 
friend? .,You do very much then you can play with my cats." 

The two beautiful cats were the pride and joy of the 
old spinster's heart. I have to admit the little Cossack 
monster had a way with animals. The cats were fascinated 
by him to the extent that one of them submitted to a strange 
experiment. Oleg was very proud of his invention and could 
not see why it raised such a hue and cry. He adjusted a 
wide belt around the cat's middle, secured it to a long 
string and decided to lower the animal from the third 
story down to the court. 

"The kitty could take a walk then. I was going to 
pull it back". But as soon as kitty found himself hanging 
ov^er an abyss, it gave the most heart-rending shriek that 



ever came out of cat's throat. It brought lots of people's 
heads out of the different windows. Unfortunately the lady 
in the apartment below looked out, too, while the cat had 
already descended that far. The lady was dressed to go 
out and the cat landed on her hat. It was her turn to 
shriek, and howl 

By that time our spinster was at her window frantically 
pulling her cat back to safety. The kitty had other ideas. 
He had landed on something and he was going to hold on to 
it. So the cat sailed home clutching the hat and, securely 
pinned to it, the false curls of its owner. The poor lady 
whose luxurious "natural" tresses were the envy and ad 
miration of all the women tenants, moved away a few weeks 


We found our cousin's hostess clutching to her heart 
her pet, the neighbor's glorious curls and chapeau, sobb 
ing over it all in the most distressing fashion. - 

What came next? Was it the time that cousin Oleg 
played with the pushbuttons of the elevator and it stopped 
between the third and fourth floor?*,,. People suspended in 
mid air, cursing and shouting, while our dear child im 
mensely satisfied with his achievement, was dancing some 
sort of Indian victory dance in front of the elevator door. 


Or was it when the policeman came again with the 
complaints of pedestrians who were bombarded with eggs 
from our windows. "It's Easter, they were far away, but 
I wanted to say a happy Easter to them." It sounded so 
cute, but by that time we knew what a little devil was 
lurking behind the angelic face. 

Things were getting worse and worse. Masha, the maid, 
while taking the letters out of the mailbox had a live mouse 
run up her sleeve. The frightened mouse was whirling around 
and around inside the terrified girl's blouse, until Dasha, 
the cook., killed it with a mighty slap on Masha 's back. 

"We never had mice in boxes before Master Oleg came to 
stay with us* t cried the maid. The cook chimed in, "We did 
not have wrong things in wrong places before Master Oleg 
came . " 

Dasha was referring to her broken romance with Ivan, 
the dashing fireman; Ivan, whose brilliant uniform and 
handlebar moustache made all the women folk swoon, had 
chosen Dasha and her cuisine. Envious and jealous females 
insinuated that what tipped the S2ales in Dasha 's favor was 
a few bottles of Riabinovka (vodka) that Dasha had in her 
possession. We had prohibition during the war, and good 
liquor was hard to get, and the glorious Ivan was uncommonly 
fond of that kind of vodka. Whatever it was, love was in 



full bloom. Perfect happiness reigned in the kitchen where 
Ivan and his sweetie were enjoying a midday snack until. . . 
until Ivan reached for his favorite bottle, poured himself 
a nice tumbler full of the ruby liquor and downed it in one 
big gulp. The next foment found him spitting, suffocating, 
his eyes bulging out. The terrified Dasha watched him grab 
his helmet and stumble down the back stairs in search of 
the nearest first aid station. The doctor reassured our 
hero that his life was not in danger he had had a straight 
shot of denatured alcohol. How the alcohol we used to heat 
our hair curling irons got into the vodka bottle remained 
a mystery. But, naturally, everybody had the same suspicions. 

Explanations and excuses were of no avail. Ivan trans 
ferred his affections to the cook in apartment #7 on the floor 
below. "The cooking is not as good as in apartment #12" , 
declared the backstairs Don Juan, "but at least you know 
what you are getting. There is no viper lurking around." 

The laundress, the portereverybody had some complaint. 
It was evident our servants were going to quit. Our neigh 
bors were avoiding us and we had a vague suspicion our land 
lord might ask us to move. Good neighbors, good servants, 
and good apartments v/ere hard to find in war-time Fetrograd, 
and gloom descended on the family. When the bell rang that 



morning we all caught our breath. What next? It was Aunt 
Soura. She never in her life had such an enthusiastic re 
ception! We loved her, we adored her, she was our deliver 

The Revolution broke. We never saw our aunt or her son / 
again, but a mutual friend described an episode very character 
istic of our little Cossack. Our friend met Aunt Soura after 
she was released from the Cheka (secret police) after a three 
months imprisonment. The Bolsheviks were trying to find the 
whereabouts of Uncle Peter. She did not know and could not 
give them any information. But the Chekist kept on question 
ing her using a "direct approach". They would put a gun 
at the child's head and tell the distracted mother: "You'd 
better come through or we'll blow the brat's brain." 

The "Brat" would come back at the tormentor's: "Leave 
Mother alone. Don't you see she does not know anything. 
Women are cowards she would tell. If I knew, I would not 
because my father said that a Cossack dies, but does not 
sell out a friend? and I am a Cossack." Our friend concluded 
that the lad meant every word of it. 

"He certainly is a rough little guy. I think the 

VI ~ 


Chekists got convinced that your aunt really had no know 
ledge of your uncle's hiding place and released her." 

For our part, we had a lurking suspicion that the 
little monster proved to be too much even for the Bolsheviks 
to handle.. * But I am way ahe,ad of myself. For the George 
Washington episode, we have to go back to the pre-war years 
and Uncle Peter's ranch in Mongolia. As I said, it was on 
a wind swept mountain plateau. Local trees grew well ex 
cept they were always leaning in one direction like weary 
travelers turning their backs to the gusts of the wind. 
But Uncle Peter wanted an orchard; not a big one, at least 
a family orchard. It took lots of perseverance and toil. 
First, big holes had to be dug in the rocky hill and car 
loads of good soil brought up from the fertile valley. 
When the young trees were planted, Uncle nursed them like 
babies. They had to be protected from the wind with a high 
fence, from the cold with straw padding, from the rabbits 
and deer in winter time with wire mesh around the trunks. 

After five years of struggle, Uncle's efforts were re 
warded. He had an orchard. The trees were blooming, he 
would have some fruit in the fall to prove to all the critics 
it could be done., .At a little family and friends gathering 
on the occasion of Oleg's fifth birthday, Uncle was proudly 
inviting his guests to come back in the fall and taste home" 
made jams and jellies. 



H He is so proud of his orchard", broke in the grand 
mother. "Shouldn"t he be proud of his son too? Such a 
strong, handsome child!" And the little fellow was brought 
down by his governess to be admired by all present. 

"What has , my little angel been doing this afternoon?" 
cooed Grandma. "I was reading to him", answered the gover 
ness. "We were reading about George Washington. What a 
good boy he was and could not tell a lie. Weren't we read 
ing about it, my little Oleg?" cooed in turn the governess, 
trying to show off her charge. 

"Sure," took over the brilliant pupil, "and he chop 
ped his father's tree. Hal I have a hatchet, too, and 
that George Washington he was just an American boy. Me, 
I am a Cossack. So when Mademoiselle was having her nap, 
I took my hatchet and, Father, I chopped down all your 
trees 1" 

r -1- 

Sarah Bernhardt 

A few months ago a friend of mine returning from U.S.S.R, 
was describing to me a beautiful school the Communists had 
built in Moscow for their 7 youth. The location and building 
sounded so familiar. 

"Wait a minute", I interrupted my visitor. "The build 
ing occupies a whole block, the four sides of it, with a 
small park in the center and a gazebo on an artificial hill." 
"How do you know, you have not been back." 
The answer was simple. It was the school I attended 
years before anybody heard of the Bolsheviks. It was a 
palace of Empress Catherine the Second, given by her to the 
city of Moscow, sometime at the end of the eighteenth cen 
tury to be used as a school for girls. The great Empress 
was very interested in women's education and founded the 
first boarding school for girls in St. Petersburg, the great 
"Smolny Institute", where generations of young ladies were 



Our "Institute" in Moscow had a later start, at the 
beginning of the reign of Emperor Alexander the Third, but 
still was named in honor of Catherine the Great, whose beauti 
ful statue greeted one at the top of a circular flight of 
white marble stairs. Her big portrait hung in the place 
of honor in the huge ballroom flanked by the portraits of 


<3VYU.: . 1 jy 

Czar Nicholas, and one of Alexander the Third. 

We loved the Empress. She looked so motherly. Czar 
Nicholas was a favorite, too, simple and human; but Alex 
ander the Third, no, we were plain afraid of him, he looked 
so stern, his eyes so/ alive that many times in the evening 
when the big chandeliers were not yet lit, we would swear 
that he moved. Somebody would start screaming, there - would 
be a panic and stampede, with everybody running to the big 
doors out in the lighted corridor, to be confronted by our 
governess, "Dame de Classe", who shamed us for being such 

We were not babies, but very young about nine years 
old, in the first grade (classe, it was called in Russian). 
It took eight years to complete the course. The last classe, 
young ladies already, were more or less our supervisors, 
and the object of our envy. They could wear their hair up, 
had pretty gray dresses, did not have to curtsy all the 
time, and at parties and receptions acted as hostesses. -We, 
the "little", and the "middle" ones had long to the ground 
blue dresses with tight bodices, white aprons, and long white 
sleeves attached to the shoulders. The only graceful thing 
in this attire was a pelerine that covered the rather open 
cut bodice and tied in front with a bow. The hair was to 
be worn in two braids for the youngest, in one for the older 
ones.*. The discipline was strict. 


7- -ao-. c 



Each class had its dormitory, a "night lady" patrol 
ling the corridor, watching for running around, conversa 
tions, and especially for night picnics. 

Our food was good, but candy was not allowed, so we 
bribed our maids to buy some for us and smuggle it in the 
dormitories. The amount of candy we could consume was stag 
gering a pound at one time was not unusual. Unbelievably, 
we were, except for a very few, very slim, and in our dressy 
uniforms at parties with a "decolleter et manches courtes" 
our skinny arms and necks drove us to despair. 

At seven the bell woke us up. After breakfast (Russian 
style tea and rolls) and a short prayer we marched to our 
study rooms. Each classe had its own room and every girl 
her desk, inspected by our Dame de Classe for neatness and 
order. The only exception was when somebody had a birth - 
day. Then in secret, the previous evening, the books were 
removed from the desk and presents and decorations sub 

The lessons lasted one hour each, then ten minutes re 
cess, and back to study until twelve and lunch. After one 
hour of playing in the gardenl ('there was tennis or croquet 
in the summer, and skating in winter,) and bfeen back to another 
period of lessons until the five o'clock dinner. After that 
we had a couple of hours of relaxation and then to bed. 


On certain days the routine was interrupted by classes 
of Swedish "gymnastique". This was very boring: one, two, 
three lift your arms, one, two , three move right , move 
left and so on. It was supposed to be good for our health 
and posture,- and frankly, we hated it. 

The dance lessons were more amusing, thanks to our 
instructor, the balletmeister of the Bolshoy Theatre. A 

little Frenchman in knee length pants, black stockings and 

ballet shoes, he tried hard to make Pavlovas out of a bunch 

of awkward teenagers. He usually lost his temper and shouted 
in French: "Mesdemoiselles, a herd of cows let out of the 
barn are more graceful than you I" 

Once he had an idea to hand us glasses full of water 
that we were supposed not to spill while trying the Polonaise 
"Slide, ., glide,/. don't jump; one, two, three, graceful steps, 
"Mesdemoiselles. H And then, "Hopeless, hopeless", he would 
cry, storming out of the ballroom that had begun to look 
like a swimming pool. 

When we had Royal family visitors, the poor fellow 
was to rehearse the "Court curtsies 1 . 1 . It was easy for him 
in his ballet costume, but try it in long dresses, starched 
under petticoats, a long apron always getting in your way, 
and high laced shoes! 

Once in a while there were official balls. We had to 
go to bed for a couple of hours in the afternoon to be able 




to stay up late. Usually it was the time when,- instead 
of resting, we were very excited and tried to make our 
selves as beautiful as possible. We ratted our hair 
(it was the style of high pompadours), making huge bows 
of ribbons to plant on top of our hairdo. We rubbed our 
cheeks to make them pink, so hard they looked like fresh 
ly cooked beets, and our lips were bleeding from biting 
them for color. All of our efforts would be in vain. The 
"Dame de Classe", after inspection, would calmly pack us 


all in the bathroom and stick our heads under the water fau 
cet, destroying our hopes of becoming dazzling beauties. 

We would come out with our hair damp, blue from cold 
to line up in front of the authorities for a deep curtsy; 
"All at once, Mademoiselles". We had nothing with which to 
charm our dance partners. Those young men in groups on the 
other side of the ballroom stood rather unhappily until they 
were permitted to invite the girl of their choice for a 
dance... and one had to change partners; to favor one too 
often was not "proper". The only gay affair was the supper, 
which was usually excellent, and where we could sit in groups 
and flirt and laugh and have a good time. It seemed so short, 
we were called for a last quadrille--a final march. Every 
body then went home and we to our dormitories. 



Our greatest pleasure was home theatricals. Natur 
ally the plays were very "appropriate" for young ladies. This 
time it was "Athalie" in French, written by Racine in 1690 
for Madame de Maintenon's Convent school for girls. 


Nothing could be more proper: God's punishment of the 
wicked Queen Athalie, the daughter of the still more wicked 
Queen Jezebel. This play proved to be one of the greatest 
events of our lives. 

Madame Sarah Bernhardt walked in. She was a good friend 
of our principal, Madame Talizine. and being in Moscow, drop 
ped by to see her. Our Principal brought the great actress 
to hear us, which must have been amusing to her, but absolute 
ly horrifying for us. We forgot our lines, our words, and 
stood there petrified by such a celebrity's presence. To 
ease the tension Madame Talizine asked Sarah Bernhardt if she 
would consent to read for us some part of the play. Madame 
graciously agreed. 

She chose the monologue "Athalie 's Dream". At the first 
words :"C' e tait pendant 1'horreur d'une profonde nuit", we 
stood there, spellbound in a trance, not daring to breathe, 
so as not to lose one word of this divine voice. There was 
never, and I doubt will ever be, anything comparable to the 
timbre, diction and pathos reproduced by a human being. 

When she finished we stood there. Children as we 
were, we understood one does not applaud genius, one can 
just feel humble, and silently bow in reverence. Only one 
of us, one of the oldest girls, who was to play Athalie, 
broke the silence. Her head in her arms, dropped on a desk, 
she was sobbing hysterically. 

Sarah Bernhardt went to her and kindly asked, "What 
is the matter, my child?" 

"Oh Madame, Madame" cried our poor prima donna, "after 
hearing you, seeing what perfection is, could I ever dare 
imitate you. How could I go on, and how could I try, when 
you, only you, have everything?" 

Madame lifted the tear stained face very gently and 
said, "My child, I don't. You have something I don't, and 
never will again*, something that's more beautiful than good 
acting, more precious than talent, something whose mistakes 
can always be forgiven. And this is what God gives us only 
once, and never, never will it come back: "La Jeunesse" 
(youth)." This time we broke into wild applause; she threw 
us a kiss, and departed, leaving us so happy. 

We were still happier the next day when our Principal 
came in with the news that Madame Sarah Bernhardt had en- 

joyed her visit so much that she invited all of the girls 
in the cast to be her guests at the presentation of "L'Aiglon" 
in the French Theatre. It was against the rules. We were 
allowed to hear only selected operas' like "Life of the Czar", 
Boris Godunof", "Prince Igor"; even Verdi's "Aida" was too 
risque.' For some reason the ballets were on the approved 
list. .-But one could not refuse a Sarah Bernhardt. 

So one happy evening, special black carriages, curtains 
drawn, were awaiting us. Those vehicles, for some reason, 
were always used to transport the girls of all the different 
"institutes". They looked like a crossbreed between the 
coaches of the past century, and funeral carriages. Some 
times we even had seen some devout old lady, mistaking us 
for a funeral procession, make the sign of the cross, and 
no doubt whisper a prayer for the soul of the unknown de 

But very much alive we were, when we reached the thea 
tre, were ^seated in our loge just in time to see the cur 
tain rise, T'ben the miracle began; the miracle of a middle 
aged lady, dressed in a man's Austrian Imperial Guard uni 
form, transformed by the genius of her talent into a twenty 
year old boy, Napolean's son, the ill fated "L'Aiglon". 


It would be mild to say we were delighted. We were 
betwitched, hypnotized, carried away to another time, another 
epoch, suffering in common with the young prince. At the 
famous scene when the prince smashes the mirror in which 

Metternich tries/to make him see the shadows of his Austrian 


ancestors to prove he has not inherited anything from his 
famous father, two of our girls fainted and had to be taken 
out and revived by the smelling salts, the universal remedy 
for swooning. 

The last act, the death of L'Aiglon was lost to us. 
We were crying so bitterly that only the ovation accorded 
to Madame Bernhardt brought us to our senses, and v/e were 
quickly shepherded back to our carriages by our governesses, 
who were afraid of another outbreak of hysteria. 

Back at school I remember the astonished exclamations 
of our maids who were helping us to get out of our uni 
forms. "Say, young ladies, how did you manage to get in 
the rain, when it is clear sky, and you. were in covered 

It was hard to explain that our pelerines were soak 
ing wet because we had cried our eyes out seeing a young 
prince die. It is very probable that if they had been 
given such an answer, they would have called the head nurse 


who in her turn would have decided vve had suddenly contract 
ed some mysterious general sickness , were delirious , and 
had to be put to bed in the hospital. 

The hospital occupied one side of the quadrangle, and 
unless you were really very sick, was a nice place to be,*. 
after the usual dosage of castor oil. But later on, no les 
sons, no classes, the food was more carefully prepared than 
in the general refectory; you could read, talk, have visitors. 
Sometimes, to prolong the stay on the sick list, we surr 
eptitiously took the temperature of the soup, tea or hot 
milk, whatever was handy and out of sight of the nurses. 
The temperature zoomed to over a hundred and a few more days 
of leisure were assured. Sometimes you were even allowed 
to go home to parents or relatives to recuperate. 



The general rule in the school was to have visitors 

every Sunday, in the afternoon when we could entertain 

ii /. 

them at a five o'clock tea, served at four. On long week 
ends we could get off, and on Christmas and Easter, we 
had over two weeks vacation. This time was always im 
patiently awaited by every girl. 

For me to go home would have taken eight days one 
way, as my father was stationed in the Orient, so I spent 
my vacations with my Great Aunt Liuba in dear old Moscow. 
Moscow was quite different from St. Petersburg at this 
epoch. It reminded one in many parts of a provincial 
town, but was Russian through and through. St. Petersburg 
was a young town (only two hundred years old), while Mos 
cow dated from times innumerable. 

St. Petersburg was the capital, the residence of the 
Imperial Family, the center of the government and official 
activity. It had a large foreign population, modern build 
ings, gorgeous museums and palaces, famous restaurants, 
theatres and operas, the Neva banked in marble quays. 

Moscow was more modest. The Moscow river had plain 
sand banks, but its Kremlin, churches and monasteries were 
not only historical, but living and untouched monuments 

\ / 




to the artistry and creative spirit of the Russian people 
through centuries. It's thoroughfares were not laid out 
in straight lines as in St. Petersburg, but meandered in 
a most hazardous way. Little squares, small chapels, blind 
alleys were found in the most unusual places. Even their 
names very often referred to events, accidents and happen 
ings of lost and forgotten years. #. 

In one of those tucked away streets lived my Grand 
Aunt Liuba. Tn former times it was quite an estate, but 
years had encroached on it. The garden was overgrown, big 
bushes of lilac and jasmin hung over the untrimmed alleys, 
the fountain was dry, and the statue of the boy supporting 
it had lost part of his cute little nose. I loved to spend 
my vacation in that unusual place, play with my cousins in 
the thick "jungle" of the garden, run through low ceilinged 
rooms that had a peculiar musty smell of old wood and tap 
estry. It was so much fun to rummage in the attic, full of 
discarded furniture, lamps, knickknacks, look in the huge 
coffers where were stored ancient uniforms, m ilitary belts 
and sashes, and what especially interested us: dresses 
worn in the past centuries by our Great Grandmothers. 

We tried gowns with long trains, petticoats with hun 
dreds of ruffles, even some white wigs and bonnets covered 



with faded ribbons and flowers. How many interesting stories 
those old rags could tell us if they could, t^e same as the 
portraits of stiff looking gentlemen and pretty ladies whose 
portraits in tarnished gold frames hung in the living rooms I 
Great Aunt lived with them in the past, surrounded not by 
well trained modern servants, but by her old staff, most of 
them her own age. My favorite was Katia, Aunt's personal 
maid for, I presume, sixty years. She insisted on calling 
Granny"wiss Liuba' 1 though her "Miss" had been married, lost 
her husband, had grown up children and grandchildren. 

For Katia the greatest event of her life had been Miss 
Liuba's wedding, and she loved to tell us all about it. 
Great Grandfather had four daughters, all beautiful, talented, 
who had a wide choice of admirers. Aunt Liuba chose ou r 
Great Uncle, and the date of the wedding was set a year in 

!> ^> 

advance. But why such a long time to wait.fwe modern child 
ren asked . 

Well i this was not like now a days; one, two, three 
you buy this junky stuff in stores, make hasty arrangements 
and before you know, you are married to somebody whom you 
hardly know. In the old times, decent young men started 
by courting the lady of their choice, got in well with her 
family, and had to be approved by her parents. 

\V vxoa V 


"And if the parents did not approve?" 
"Well, then they did not marry". 
"And died of a broken heart?" 

"Not that I heard of, but usually married the second 

"And lived a miserable life?" 

"Not always, mostly got used to it, had children to 

get their mind off romantic fancies. But not Miss Liuba; 


she was very happy, loved her fiance so we started to pre 
pare her hope chest." 

And then came an .exact account of how much silver 
ware, dishes, glassware was set aside, how many dozens of 
sheets, pillowcases and towels were cut of homemade linen, 
how many hours the girls from the village spent making 
lace for same. Even the wedding night shirt of the bride 
groom was all edged with lace "with rose buds in the middle 
of each linen square". I wondered why the shirt was so 
important, and possibly could not visualize the very stern 
gentleman with black sideburns, whose portrait was prominantly 
displayed in the drawing room, wearing this kind of outfit. 
Then came the description of what the happy father was 
to supply. Not only the dowry, but so many acres of land, 
with the house, the carriages, horses and retinue of servants. 

V.- ^ <. 

,..,, -,, 

(* I ' - ' 



All this plus the wedding: guests, the great ball, fire 
works in the park, a ballet in the house theater. Many 
landowners had their own ballet troups and specially built 
stage. Our Great Grandfather had four daughters and, as 
we modern youngsters figured out, at that pace no wonder 
he died very nearly broke. 

Easter vacation started with the "Masleniza", the 
last week before Quadragessima, the fast that lasted seven 
weeks up to the great Ressurection Sunday. We could go 
with Katia* Wo governess trailing, reminding you all the 
time 'to walk straight, don't dangle your arms, don't smile 

at people you don't know, close your mouth you are not 

a horse to show your teeth and so on. With Katia you could 

do all this, mingle with the people on the big fair ground 
that was laid out in the Red Square. 

It was a very democratic minded crowd: high ranking 
officers and officials, ladies of the Society, hobnobbing 
with poorly dressed people from the suburbs and peasants 
of neighboring villages. Everybody was having a good time, 
buying i -t s O f trinkets, goodies and stuff one did not need, 
laughing at the side shows on primitive little stages, or 
listening to ancient ballads sung by wandering musicians. 


The numerous very rich merchants of Moscow would con 
spicuously drive their troika (three horse carriage), try 
ing to outdo each other by the beauty of their horses, cov 
ered by gold , silver, or colored nets with matching sleighs, 
coachman, and fur/trimmed rugs. Their wives would be wrap 
ped in gorgeous sables, reclining on brocade covered cushions 
displaying, as much as the weather permitted, an assortment 
of dazzling diamond brooches, necklaces and earrings. 

This was the week, too for the traditional "blini", 
and their husbands had regular contests to see who could eat 
the largest amount, doused with sour cream and butter, served 
with caviar * smoked salmon and other delicacies. <. These were 
the last days of gorging oneself on food, as from then on, 
there would be seven weeks of fasting. Devout people did 
observe it with no meat, dairy products, sweets, and the 
last seventh week, "Our Lord's Suffering", one even cut out 
fish. Theatres and restaurants were closed, and no kind 
of entertainment was allowed at that time, so all the town 
was subdued and solemn. * ' 

It was the week when our Easter vacation from school 
started, and my cousins and I, under the leadership cf Katia, 
did our penance. At seven in the morning the sky is just 
beginning to get a rosy tint when you walk between patches 


of melting snow, the air crisp and clear, to a small mon 
astery not far from our house. The dimly lit church is 
full of people, some standing, some kneeling^ all you hear 
is the deep sighs and mumbling of the parishioners, the 
priest's invocations, and the rumbling basso of the dea 
con giving the responses. You begin to get tired, as in 
our churches we have no pews, you stand up. But you for 
get it all when the singing starts. In our monastery we 
had especially good singers. The choir was divided into 
two groups, the sopranos and contraltos. Many of our great 
composers had contributed to the church music, and the re 
sults were superb. 

On Thursday of Holy week, after the reading of the' 
four Gospels, there was an evening service we delighted in. 
Every person in the church held a lighted candle. Instead 
of blowing it out at the end of the service one would carry 
it, carefully protecting it from the wind, so as to bring 
the flickering little light safely home. The streets 
looked as if thousands of fireflies had descended from the 
sky and were slowly moving in all directions. 

After the sad Good Friday, we went to confession and 
communion on Saturday. "Now your souls are pure and clean, 
try to keep them free of sin until the Great Holiday" was 
the admonition of Katia. Easy to say, but hard to do with 
all the temptations at the house. It was buzzing with 



activity, preparations for the midnight feast after the 
Easter night church service. Special dishes were being 
prepared like "pashka" of cream and cheese, "coolich" a 
tall tower of a cake, a short plump cake "babas 1 , hamsj 
roast, suckling pigs, turkeys, puddings, jellies and doz 
ens and dozens of eggs dyed in the hues of the rainbow. 
Too many things to tempt you to commit the sin of gluttony, 
or worse, snatching some cookie or pastry. 

Hyacinths: blue, lavender, rose, tall and stately in 
the show windows of our famous Podesta and Baldocci store 
on Grant Avenue in the golden days of San Francisco--how 
many memories they bring of the golden days of old Moscowt 
Their fragance, the past of two glorious cities, and the 
sad feeling of "nevermore"..*' 

Easter night was fantastic in Moscow: Spring in the 
air, and a happy expectation in the hearts of men. The 
churches full of people for the midnight service. It started 
with not much light and dark wall hangings still an atmos 
phere of mourning and funeral. Then a part of the choir 
and volunteers carrying holy pictures and banners leave 
the church and circle the building three times with the 
priest knocking on the closed door of the church repeating 
the words of Mary Magdalene, "We came for the body of the 



dead master". And the choir from the insdie answering: 
"He is Risen". -The procession reenters the church; as if 
by magic, the lights go on, the dark vestments change to 
white ones, while our wonderful choir happily sings, "Al- 
lejuah, Christ is Risen". ... "Boom" starts the biggest bell 
of the church of Ivan the Great, and all the bells of the 


countless churches of Moscow catch on in a happy carillon 
that will last all the Easter week. We kiss each other 
three times, always repeating the "Christ is Risen" greet 
ing, and feeling on the seventh, heaven, walk back home. 

The streets are all lighted now and crowded with people, 
happy, smiling and really full of good will to each other. -/ 
At home, the midnight supper around the table loaded with 
all the wonderful things prepared so laboriously during the 
week. There are flowers everywhere, the first comers of 
Spring: hyacinths, blue, gold, rose with their sweet pun 
gent smell forever associated for me with the festive table. 
Like my gay uncle used to say: "Not a table--a color and 
gastronomic symphony." This "symphony" lasted all Easter 
week; people dropping in to wish you a happy holiday, 1 the 
display of food, replenished all day, and the hostess watch 
ing that everybody has a sample of each item. How people 


1 " 4 



survived this gastronomic extravaganza is still a wonder 
to me. 

If our uncle was present in Moscow It was a feast for 
us youngsters, too. He took us to the opera, ballet, sight 
seeing and to the only restaurant allowed to teenagers. 
High on the hill overlooking the Moscow River, it had an 
open terrace where the best Shasklik was served. Waiters 
in Caucasian uniforms brought it to your table on flaming 
swords and sliced:' it off to order with their razor sharp 
daggers. Caucasian wine for grownups, the famous "Kvass" 
for us the spring blue sky, all the bells ringing across 
the river, the gold domes and crosses of the churches we 
were really living it up! Every minute was precious as we 
knew the next week was back to school, and the hardest time, 
the final examinations. 

H Birds are singing, trees blooming, everybody having 
a wonderful time picnicing on the new sweet smelling grass, 
and we have to sit here caged in and trying to remember 

why the war of the Roses started, or who destroyed the city 


of Carthage. Were we moaning, but it was no joke, the exam 
inations. If you did not pass, you were left for the second 
year in the same grades, had to suffer the humiliation and 




shame, lose a ll your companions and spend the whole next 
year with the inferior younger ones.,, 

The questions on the particular subject were written 
on separate sheets and disposed face down^ on a long table 
covered with a green table cloth. For some reason that bright 
green color had a demoralizing effect on many of us, and was 
the theme of pre- examination nightmares. The principal , in- 
spectress and teachers were seated in a semi-circle like a 
court martial jury, or so they looked to us, when one by 
one we walked the "last mile', picked up a ticket, curtsied 
and returned to our own desks to study the proposed questions. 
Then one by one we were called to face the conclave, and 
answer 'clearly and intelligently, "what country raised the 
largest amount of corn. Who built the Pantheon. How many 
miles between Moscow and Pskov", and so on according to the 
scientific subject. 

After sweating out the oral examinations, you had to 
go through the written ones. This was easier as we had 
dozens of clever ways to cheat or copy from a better pupil's 

papers . *-.. 

There were lots of sighs of relief, and lots of tears, 
too, when the ordeal was over, the verdicts were announced. 
The summer vacation started, and goodbye until September. 

i 1-} 


The Last Vacation 

We were going to spend our vacation on the estate 
of our Uncle Nickolai near Mooronisk, in the heart of 
Central Russia. After having had his steel factories 
in the Ural Mountains destroyed by the revolutionaries 
of 1905, our indefatigable uncle had started all over, 
with a new venture, a large sawmill industry on the 
River Oka in the middle of the dense pine forests of 
the province of Riasan./.. 

After a short trip by train from Moscow, we had 
to get off at a small railroad junction, where a troika 
was waiting, for the longer journey through the rural 
country. We were delighted to meet our old friend the 
coachman, Nikolai, our hero of early childhood. 

He did not seem as big and impressive as of yore, 
but years had passed, we were teenagers now, and the 
world and Nikolai looked smaller. 

The horses took off at a brisk trot on the well 
kept but unpaved road. We left a trail of dust behind 
MB, but aroi'nd us everything was so beautiful: the 
fields of wheat, the blue bachelor buttons, and little 
red poppies bordering the road, the dark line of the 
forest ahead. The bells attached to the lead horse's 



bow tinkled gaily as an accompaniment to the songs of 
the larks high up in the blue sky. 

Pretty soon everything changed. We were in the 
greenish semi-darkness of the pine dense forest/ fright 
ened rabbits and squirrels darting across the road; 
maybe disgusted by all the noise that disrupted the 
quiet and peace of their home. 

A faint ringing of distant church bells attracted 
our attention. "We will pretty soon get to jthe monastery 
where the ferry across the river is", Nikolai informed 
us. "They are already ringing for Vespers, I am afraid 
we are rather late for the crossing. Maybe we will have 
to spend the night at the monastery." 

That was perfect for us, especially when we reached 
it an ancient monastery, surrounded by a high wall, 
heavy towers on each corner, a big archway with a heavy 
iron nail studded door guarding the entrance to the 
enclosure, the church, and the monastery buildings.... 
How many sieges and attacks by the hordes of Mongolians, 
Tartars, and in later years, Polish troops those old 
walls withstood was left to our imagination. 

We were hoping it was too late to continue our 
journey, and were delighted when a nice old monk told 
us we had to stay overnight in the hostelry provided 



for the pilgrims. He led us to the two story white washed 
building and showed the rooms we could have. They were 
white washed too, spotlessly clean, but naturally monastic 
in style* a bed, table and chair, an icon on the wall 
with/ a votive candles flickering light. 

Our hospitable host apologized for the scant meal he 
could provide; it was a time of fasting (one of the many 
prescribed by the church before different holidays) . He 
really need not have done so, as the cottage cheene, home 
baked bread, milk and honey were excellent. 

"If you desire to attend the Vesper service we will 
be happy to have you join the brotherhood." 

We certainly wanted to. The church was at the end 
of a long alley of linden trees, and must have dated to 
the early seventeen hundreds. The icons were primitive 
frescos painted on the thick walls and, as my cousin re 
marked, "Look at the devils, broiling a sinner on the 
eternal fire, they have the cutest little mugs. As to 
the angels guarding the pearly gates, they look so severe 
and forbidding, you begin to doubt if you should enter." 

But our flippancy died out pretty soon at the solemn 
ritual of the service, the semi-dark church's high dome 
echoing the priests deep voice, and the singing of the 


beautiful choir ..... and all those black robed monks so 
fervently praying for the salvation and peace of all the 

Very small and subdued, we walked back to our hostelry; 
our cousin Nicki so impressed that he made a decision right 
there to renounce the world and enter the monastery as a 
novice. Next morning, waking up very early, he had for 
gotten his conversion and hastened with all of us to the 
ferry landing. 

The horses and carriage went first followed by the 
people. "God bless, and Christ be with you", came from 
the group of monks on the shore, and the wooden ferry start 
ed off so smoothly that we did not feel that we were moving-- 
the other bank was moving in on us. 

After landing on the other side, the country was dif 
ferent; the woods darker, denser and rather forbidding. 
My "romantic" brother Peter insisted that he could see the 
wolves' eyes shining in the underbrush, while Paul, more 
practical, was trying to explain to him that the wolves 
showed up only in winter, when hungry. Nikolai settled 
the argument, "Very few wolves in these parts. .. .plenty 

of foxes though, weasels, and all the birds, snakes, por 
cupines and such you will find, boys.... and you certainly 
will have a wonderful time. " 



Right he was, and a glorious time was had by all. 
The boys enjoyed hunting, fishing and going to the saw 
mill to watch the workers cut the big trees into long 
shiny boards and load them on the small narrow guage train 
cars to be cartel to the river. Big flat bottomed barges 
were waiting there to take the lumber down stream to un 
known destinations. 

We girls preferred to tramp in the woods, pick up 
baskets full of wild berries, gather dozens of different 
kinds of mushrooms and present them to the cook. At sup 
per the mushrooms in sour cream and fresh berry compotes 
seemed to taste especially good. 

We liked to visit the villages and get acquainted 
with the inhabitants, especially with young girls like 
ourselves. For instance, we found out that girls of a 
marriageable age did not turn in their earnings to the 
family fund, but saved them for their hopechests. 

The peasants in this part of the country were well 
to do. Their houses were built of wooden logs with solid 
roofs and intricate designs around the beams and the win 
dow frames. 

The men in the villages had some knowledge of the 
outside world. In summer they went down the river with 
the lumber boats, in winter transported their wares on 




sleigh -caravans to the cities t sometimes as far as Moscow. 
That was a good market for their wooden handcrafted bowls, 
kitchen ware, toys and handwoven and beautifully embroidered 
cloth items. - There was the military service, too..-- 

But the women kept closer to home, and when you told 
them about the rest of our country they replied with a 
disdainful, "We are the roots of real Russia, the rest 
is a bunch of tramps, newcomers and Tartars." After eight 

hundred years that had passed since the Tartar invasion 

jf ii 
the people could not forget, and the word Tartar was an 


We liked to get up early in the morning, walk through 
the still wet grass of the meadows to the village. Usually 
the old sheppard playing his flute would beat us to it. 
One after another the gates of the yards would open to let 
the cows out, red, black, spotted ones that with a pleased 
"moo" would follow their leader. A few shaggy dogs kept 
them in good order until they reached the common pasture. 

Then the men departed for the heavy field work, the 
girls and young boys in tow to help with the lighter chores. 
The housewives usually stayed home to take care of chickens, 
geese, home, kids, and old folks, too. 

Wooden benches in front of most of the houses were 



provided for the old ones to sun themselves and tell to 
the willing listeners (for which we qualified) about the 
old times and customs. Some of these customs dated cen 
turies back to the beginning of Russia. 

Curiously many pagan rituals survived and were some- 

/ Fh< i:Ui- 

how linked to Christian holidays. /Forty days after Easter 
was "Krasnaya Gorka", the little red mountain. Why such 
a surname nobody could tell. -After church all the people 
walked to the cemetery, and there among the tombs of their 
"departed ones" had regular picnics and parties. Maybe 
this was a reminder of the dawn of times when a dead Chief 
was buried with all his slaughtered wives and favorite 
horse, a huge mound built over his tomb, and a wake" cele 
brated for three days. Some of his warriors fought duels 
in order to send a few more men to the other world to 
keep company to the departed prince..-. 

On the days of Holy Trinity at the end of May, branches 
of the Russian's favorite tree the birch--were taken to 
church to be blessed by the priest, while the same evening 
birch branches were made in wreaths to decorate the heads 
of old and young and then thrown in the river to float. 

The songs accompanying this ritual had lost their 
meaning, as well as the answer to the riddle of the dif 
ference of where and how the wreaths drifted. At night 

a vi 


campfires were built and the young people jumped over 
them. Were those the purifying fires consecrated to 
"Feroon", thunder and fire god of the pagan ancestors? 

Another odd and weird happening was the march of 
the twelve women. When there was a cattle sickness 
spreading in a village, the women held a meeting in deep 
secrecy and choose three widows and nine girls to ex 
orcise it. At night fall, clad in long shirts, their 
hair undone, they would leave their home, four of them 
hitched to a plow, while the others followed chanting 
some strange incantations. 

Everybody stayed at home that night as the weird 
procession knocked at every door asking always the same 
question, "Is the cow's death here?" The answer had to 
be negative, otherwise one ran the risk of being beaten 
by/ the infuriated women. 

After having made a deep furrow encircling the vil 
lage, they would return to their respective domiciles. 
Whether or not it helped the cattle epidemic is left an 
open question. /., 

The interesting part was that in all those rituals 
one had to take off the baptismal cross that everyone 
of us wore, and that was supposed to protect us from 
evil, but at the same time carry a candle from the church 

or a piece of charcoal from the incense burner to make 


a circle on the ground that the devils could not cross. 


vicr.i VI 


You had to use this protection when you ventured 
for the quest of the "Eternal Rouble". First you had 
to find a cat (a black one was required) and take him 
to the crossroads, draw the magic circle, and wait for 
a black troika to appear at the stroke of midnight. A 
dark stranger would step out of the carriage and try to 
buy the cat for a fabulous price, but you had to insist 
you wanted one rouble only. After some wrangling the 
disgusted stranger would throw it at you, pick up the 
cat and disappear. And that rouble would be the unchange 
able magic rouble that would reappear in your pocket over 
and over again for a lifetime, and make you rich./-- 

My brother decided to make the experiment. He found 
a cat as black as coal alright, but the big torn refused 
to be put in a potatoe sack to be delivered to the devil. 
He fought tooth and claw, and Peter, instead of the "Magic 
Rouble" got scratches all over his face and hands, and 
a shameful admission of his defeat 

The last pleasant day in the countrywe did not know- 
it would be the last was when we went to the mowing of 
the grass on the river meadows. The village girls and young 
women seemed to work so easily, the scythes coming down in 
unison, the grass laying in neat rows to be out in bundles 


by the young boys. Laughing and joking they dragged the 
hay packed tight toward the older men who stacked it. To 
make a haystack properly was an art, and only experienced 
men were entrusted with the job. 

At sunset the work done, there was supper, songs and 
dancing, again circles, "horovod!" The magic of the circle 
seemed to have an important role in our folklore; as to 
singing it was a part of life in joy and in sorrow. 

Our uncle sent some sweets, candy, nuts and cookies 
for the young toilers, bottles of some more potent refresh 
ments for the older ones. As to us, we had a picnic around 
the boiling "samovar, the table cloth spread on the sweet 
smelling new mowed hay, listening to the songs and watching 
the moon rise over the dark line of the forest. r 

With all the fun we had, the days passed too quickly. 
We did not notice the preoccupied look of our older people. 
Some disturbing news welcoming from the city?- diplomatic 
tension, war talks, the newspapers saying, "The air is 
charged with electricity." 

As if nature wanted to share in the general dis 
comfort, the splendid weather v;e had up to now changed 
for the worse. Not a drop of rain fell for two weeks. 
The heat was oppressive* the crops were drying out, the 
leaves on the trees lost their lustre, and hung down, 
the birds were silent and even the flies did not want to 



The ill-fated day of July 18th, everybody was ex 
hausted. V/e were sitting on the porch hoping for a 
breath of fresh air and watching the sun setting in a 
red hot haze. A dog across the river was howling lu 
gubriously, monotonously. Old Katia broke the general 
silence. "I wish he would stop bad omen it is-- the 
dogs howl for the dead, God help us." 

The darkness was oppressive, a maid came in bring- 
ing a lighted lamp and a telegram for Uncle. We all saw 
his face become tense and worried while our aunt, reading 
over his shoulder, turned pale. 

"Children, it is bad news. The country is in full 
mobilization--we are at war. The thunder has struck." 

As to support his words, a distant rumble started 
far away among the trees. It became louder and louder, 
a tremendous gust of wind blew out the lamp, dead leaves 
started a wild dance on the ground. Somewhere in the 
house a window crashed with the tinkling of broken glass. 
A blinding, tremendous lightening cut across the sky, and 
the roar of the thunder drowned the noise of the rain pour 
ing in torrents. 

That evening when I went to say "goodnight" to my 
beloved Great Aunt Liuba, I found her sitting in her fav 
orite armchair near the open window. A pitiful little 




figure, slow tears coursing down her sad, wrinkled face. 
I sat on a low stool at her feet, my head on her lap. 
For a long time we remained at the window staring at the 
darkness outside.*. .The dog had started howling again, may 
/ be for the millions who were going to die. The steady 
light rain did not seem to let up. Was it the heavens 
crying for us, for Russia, for all the unhappy mixed up 



Year 1918 as of our Lord, and year 2 as of the Rev 
olution; Petrograd, the former St. Petersburg. During 
the war the name was changed. It should not have been 
done. There was a legend that when the construction of 
St. Isaac's Cathedral would be completed, and the capital's 
name changed, the end of Russia would come.** Maybe because 


of this superstition, there were always scaffoldings some 
place in the old cathedral, and some sort of repair or 
painting going on. 

The Revolution put a stop to this work as well as "- 
many other things, and here we were witnessing the dying 
of Russia and the birth of U.S.S.R. It is true that the 
pillars that were supporting our old empire's structure 
had been crumbling one by one during the war and the Rev 
olution of 1.917- Then slam, bang! The Bolsheviki October 
uprising, and the roof caved in over our heads. It was 
not unexpected, but the population was dazed, in a state 
of shock. t i How often have you seen a devoted wife whose 
husband has dropped dead of a heart attack keep up the 
pretense of living the everyday life: "Children are your 
hands clean? Mary don't forget to buy some eggs; it's 
old tfrs. Smith's birthday--! ' 11 have to bake her favorite 
cake." Everybody marvels at the new widow's courage. The 


friends whisper behind her back with an occasional: "And 
I thought she would take it hard they seemed so devoted." 

How often, after a terrible automobile collision have 
you seen the driver talk and act quite normal? He can 
make dispositions about the wreck, calls the garage, his 
insurance company? Everybody marvels: "Look what is 
left of the car and the man walked away unscratched. " 

Are you sure that he is, that for the rest of his 
life there won't be a crack somewhere deep inside, a lit 
tle hurt that will never, never heal?.,All of us who sur 
vived the revolution in those fateful months of 1918 kept 
up the pretense. Nothing irrevocable had happened; life, 
however absurd, hungry and crippled, must go on. Don't 
think, don't look too closely around you keep on going..,. 
"Did you reach home safely after the ballet?" "Oh fine, 
nobody stopped us. Had to wait, though, in front of our 
house quite a while to get back into the apartment. The 
secret police raided Apartment 3" 

"Did they take anybody?" "Yes, a couple of students." 
I guess they'll shoot them." "I guess so. How did you 
like the performance and the new prima ballerina?" 

"Beautiful, beautiful--but the great Pavlova-- no 
body will ever be able to approach the perfection of her 
swan dance." "Yes, yes, I completely agree with you. Did 



you hear there will be some dry beans for sale at our 
cooperative?" .- "Indeed? I'd better hurry home and tell 
the wife; we will try to get in the waiting line as soon 
as possible. Goodbye." "So long!" 

Two ordinary citizens talking about every day topics; 
the ballet, two students who are going to be shot, dry 
beans. And the beans are the most important of all. To 
morrow maybe it will be your turn to be taken by the Cheka 
and liquidated, but today the struggle, the efforts, the 
countless hours in the waiting line for a package of dry 
vegetablessalted herringa piece of bread; bread that 
looks and tastes like an adobe brick, there is so much 
straw in it. 

That little hurt deep, deep inside--it is still there. 
After all those years, in nightmares you see the young 
mother in the bread line. She had waited hours for her 
turn and when at last she received her ration (about a 
pound of the abomination the Bolsheviks called bread) her 
children were too hungry to wait. So she divided the piece 
between the three of them and while they devoured their 
portions, sat on the curb. She watched every mouthful 
with the eyes of a starved dog long strings of saliva 
running from the corners of her drawn mouth. 


A famous professor, a friend of my father-in-law, 
came to visit us and received from my mother-in-law a 
wonderful gift--a jar of pre-revolution jam. His hands 
were shaking so badly when he picked up his precious pre 
sent that he dropped it and the jar shattered in hundreds 
of pieces. The professor dropped to the floor. His coat / 
and hands smeared with the sticky mess-he was picking up 
the broken pieces and licking them clean, while huge tears 
rolled down his cheeks.. 

Our Niania (my husband's nurse), the only one left 
of all the household servants, came running to my husband 
in the early morning: "My little dove, give me your sword 
and quickly!" While we stood open-mouthed at such a martial 
request from the old woman, she explained: "A horse just 
died' on the quay, let me have the sv/ord quickly and I'll get 
down there and get a chunk of meat before the other house 
wives see." Very chagrined by our refusal, she stood at 
the window watching a group of women who, like a flock of 
vultures, were tearing and hacking the bleeding carcass in 
the middle of the pavement. Tvvo well fed Bolshevik soldiers 
stood by convulsed with laughter: "Just like a bunch of 
witches at the Sabbath on the Eald Mountain. It's what 
you look like, comrades. So help me, God, I'll die laughing.", 


We, the people had our laughs too. While the money 
still had some value in the peasants' estimation, they 
were willing to trade with the townspeople. Some peasants 
were bringing their products to town; some courageous city 
dwellers went to the villages in search of food. A whole 
class of those strange tradespeople was born; they were 
called "bagmen" as they always carried their wares in bags. 
A risky business it was! You had to fight your way into 
the crowded trains, very seldom sit, mostly stand for hours 
and you never knew if a search by the police would come 
your way. The goods might be confiscated, the enterpris 
ing businessman beaten or shot, according to the disposi 
tion of the Commissar in charge. So naturally, all those 
purchases were conducted in a cloak and dagger setting.,,-. 

First entrance of our maid Masha whispering in my 
mother-in-law's ear: "She has arrived in town. She will 
be here as soon as it gets dark." "She" is Daria, the sis 
ter of our porter Nikodim, and our chief purveyor of food 

Then late in the evening, second entrance of Masha-- 
hardly able to control her excitement--and another drama 
tic: "She is here!" V/e all troop to the back room to 
personally greet our famous bagman--a skinny little woman 

vu 88 


with a bust ample enough to put to shame Gina Lollabrigida, 
Eridgette Bardot, and Sophia Loren combined. 

"My dear Lady, here it is for you. All the way down 
from the village I brought it to you." One shawl, one 

kerchief, and one blouse less, we discover that the tre- 


mendous bosom of our Daria is a leg of mutton hung from 
her scrawny neck by a very ingenious system of strings 
and rags. We don't dare laugh; actually she is a heroine 
and expects to be treated accordingly. She is seated at 
the head of the table, a tea substitute is poured, and we 
surround her to listen. 

"My dear ladies, what one goes through nowadays, it's 
hard to believe. With cur Lord's help, thanks to the prayers 
of his Holy Mother and all the Saints, here I am and my 
mutton leg. Naturally you pray, but you have to use your 
wits, too. After a few trips back and forth you begin to 
feel your way, find how to get around those accursed search 
parties. You know my approach, but Olga from the village- 
she has them all beat! 

She has a son, fourteen years or so, husky for his age 
and strong like an ox. Feeble-minded, though, always hangs 
his head down and stares at you just like a bull in the 
pasture. "v.'ell, Olga got the idea to make a hunchback out 
of him. Made him a harness with straps--fits his shoulders 
perf ectly--then attaches to it a 200 pound sack of flour. 


With his blouse on his own father would believe he was 
born a hunchback. 'Steupa' she says, 'don't answer, don't 
move when the soldiers start shouting at you". And sure 
enough he'll stand for hours like that looking straight 
at you, just like a sheep at a barn. What can you do? 
The policemen/ get hoarse shouting questions at him, so 
they say: 'To hell with the idiot 1 , and let him go. That's 
a smart woman, that Olga for you! A real go-getter. Me 
and her and some other women--you might say we are profes 
sionals by now; but some of those amateurs--they are really 
in a jam. First rule in our business; watch for the perish 
able goods. We had a case not long ago.' 

A nice young woman on the train; we all thought she 
was pregnant. It was a bad trip--no place to sit down. We 
stood shoulder to shoulder for hours. We tried not to push 
her too hard the poor thing. Then came the usual search. 
The soldier flashed his light in her face: What are you 
hiding? 1 She just stands there, eyes like saucers, -lost 
her speech. Then the so and so pokes his gun in her face 
and she just bursts out shrieking and crying and would have 
fallen if there was a place to fall. All we women thought 
she lost her baby from fright, and got real mad at the sol 
dier and told him off. He quickly sneaked away, gun and all. 
And the poor thing sobs and sobs and at last we got what she 

V H ^j Q 


was saying: 'Sugarsugar . ' It was not a baby--it was 
a sack of sugar she had under her skirt. Well, you under 
stand. We had not left the car for hoursthen the fright 
all that sugar v/as spoiled, a fortune lost. You can see 


right away it was the girl's first trip--no experience. 
Heavens, we laughed and laughed all the way home.!" 

We were laughing too, and thanking our stars that 
Daria chose to carry our leg of lamb close to_jier brave 
old heart!.,, .We had other visitors from the village who 
came to barter their goods. They were stocky, silent pea 
sants from the north. They did not seem to be afraid of 
the Bolsheviks. Just walked past them as if they did not 
exist. And our insolent militia men stepped aside. They 
came by water, tied their barges along the waterfront, and 
trooped from house to house in search of business. There 
was no bargaining or arguing with them. 

"Two pood" (160 pounds flour) would mumble some tow- 
headed giant pointing to a piece of furniture that caught 
his eye. Whatever you said, it was "Two pood." Usually 
the giant was the winner. We could not chew up Grand 
mother's Eoule writing desk while his flour was real flour. r .. 
Once I could not resist asking one of those monolith like 
women what she wanted the baby grand for. "My son likes 


the sound it makes and the inride of the box is a grand 
place for the hens to hatch. V;e live on the lakes up 
northgets damp on the floor." 

vVhen we wondered how they would stand up a pier-glass 
in their lov;-ceilinged huts, the answer was simple too: 
"We'll lay the thing on its side. ".;.. Business deals closed, 
they departed, their barges loaded with the most incon 
gruous assortment of houseware: brooms and mops sticking 
out of an Empire Commode and pots and pans resting under 
the top of a grand piano. -... 

Petersburg was dying and over its prostrated body 
were circling vulturesgrabbing, tearing, carrying away. 
The larger vultures even formed a new class of "nouveau 
rich". The commissars who liquidated the bourgeois and 
"nationalized", helped themselves to their apartments, 
jewels and furs. The enterprising business men who saw 
a good chance to buy, bought on one cent a dollar, or less. 

I remember one of them a stocky little fellow with 
an oversized head and oversized diamonds in his tie pin 
and rings. A former Army supply man, he wanted to buy my 
sister-in-law's dining room set for his new home in "Tsarskoje 
Sello", a fashionable suburb of St. Petersburg. He under 
lined the name so that we should realize his importance. 


Vere was arguing with him. The price he offered for the 
beautiful set (especially designed for an oval dining room) 
was ridiculous. But he stood his groundnot a ruble more. 

"Ry dear lady," a step back, he strikes a pose a-la- 
Napoleon--one hand at his coat lapel, a sweeping gesture 
with the other to include all the family portraits on the 
walls, "42,000 rubles is my last word but I will make a 
concession. I am leaving you your ancestors." 

Oh my goodness! Ke was buying the old folks, too 
dawned on us. Wildly laughing, we started talking French. 
Obviously good manners were things of the past, as well as 
the ancestors. Vera told me to go upstairs to the maid's 
rooms, pick up all I could in bric-a-brac, shooting gallery 
prizes, what nots, and put them in the best glass case in 
the living room. ...From there on it was not an ordeal anymore 
it was fun. The *Vulture k got the dining room set at his 
price, but paid a fancy one for lots of junk. Vera per 
suaded him he needed all those genuine "antiques" and rare 
pieces to decorate his new home...- 

"How is everything?" "Fine, we just finished 'eating' 
the living roomstarting on my husband's studio." 

"Give me the name of your dealerwould he be interested 
in a good Fragonard or Greuse?" . 

_?,"_ H; 

We are still putting up a front but it is daytime. Night 
is different, it is quiet--so quiet over the city. The 
familiar chimes of the St. ?aul-St Feter Fortress are stilled, 
no street traffic, no restaurants open. The people are holed 
up in their houses. "Qui dort dine" says a French proverb, 
and we are trying to sleep on an empty stomach. But try as 
hard as you canyou wake up at 1:00 AM. Against your will 
you are drawn to the windows of the living room overlooking 
the Neva. Pressed against the cold glass you wait, listen, 
and hope it^won't happen tonight. But no, here it starts./*. 

Somewhere across the river the of a truck, 
two, three truck motors running in high gear. V/e know what 
it means: the Cheka covers with this infernal noise the 
sound of gun shots and the cries of its victims. We stand 
there ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Then it is over--quiet 
again. The oppressive, ominous quietness of fear that seems 
to reach from the dark buildings to the pale sky of our city's 
"white night". 

My mother-in-law motions to us: "Go to bed, young ones, 
you will need your strength for tomorrow. V.'e, the old ones, 
me and Zoya (her sister) will pray for them." V,"e slowly 
close the door on two little shadows kneeling at the foot 
of the picture of Our Lady of Sorrow and the murmuring of 

prayers. . . . "and grant rest and peace to the souls of those 


sufferers recently departed whose names you only, Our Lord, 
knov.-est . ">=. 

Get out of thisescape this slow annihilation. Our 
young men were making plans. My husband and brother joined 
a conspiracy. A group of young officers, cadets from mill- / 
tary schools, university students, former regular army sol 
diers were to enlist in a red regiment ready to leave for 
the front against the anti-communistic "white army. 1 * We wo 
men were supposed to follow as nurses in a field hospital. 
As soon as we would reach the front lines, we were to desert- 
pass over to our people and freedom- We were a group of 
hopeful youngsters; the plan was childish and the Bolsheviks 
naturally got wind of the contra-revolutionary plot. The 
Cheka came to arrest our leader, Colonel Morren, a thirty- 
two year old hero of the German war. He was not a man to 
surrender, he put his gun to his temple and fired. 

The Bolsheviks were searching high and low for the 
other members of the conspiracy. There was no time to lose-- 
we had to get out. To get out you had to have money, so 
in search of it I ventured forth.,. An antique shop tucked 
in dark corner of an apartment building courta fat lit 
tle Armenian opens the door, looks at the jewels I brought: 
"The sapphire is not bad, nice shade, but I have so much of 
that stuff. Look." He opens a drawer; brooches, rings 


stars, hundreds of them. "Look." Loose diamonds. Ke 
opens envelopes and pours into his palm yellov, , white, 
blue diamonds handfuls of them. "See, isn't this beauti 
ful? An exquisite crown, all diamonds. It belonged to 
the Countess Gehrikoff, Lady in Waiting. You know their 
situation is not so good. The crown is worth 400-500 
thousand rubles. I gave her eighty thousand; she took it. 
Their situation not good, not good at all I As to you, 
my child (he dares to call me-his child!) this is nice, 
quite nice this sapphire--it is worth eighty thousand 
I will give you forty for it, and the other trinkets. 
That's only because I am sorry for you, my child. You 
are so young! We are not informers, you understand, but 
business is business. V/e have our leads, every little 

bit one knows helps and " Ke bends towards me, his 

eyes become two malignant slits, "and I happen to know 
that Colonel Morren blew his brains out yesterday." 

In a panic I grab whatever money he hands me.... the 
door, the fresh air ... .quickly home, and get out before 
it is too late. 

The Escape 

The first one, the senior partner, Mr. Sherman, I 
never met--nr.y brother-in-lew made- all the arrangements. 
Kr. Sherman pulled some strings, paid whomever should be 
paid, and got us false passports and permits to leave 
Petrograd. The Bolshevik organization was green yet; 
a few months later we would not have gotten away with our 
passes. After one look at my husband's and my brother 1 ? \fs 
hands, no experienced Chekist would be naive enough to 
believe they were steel workers sent by the Soviets to 
spread propaganda in Unkranian factories. My brother was 
supposed to be a kind of military bodyguardwe women tag 
ged along. 

At this time the Ukraine was occupied by the Germans 
vith a puppet government under Guetman (President) 
Scoropadsky. Vttiatever qualms we had to ask the protection 
of enemies, were dispelled by firs. Gartong, my sister-in- 
lav's mother. Her. husband had died in a German war prison 
er's camp, but she was the first to say: "Anything, any 
body but the Bolsheviks!" 

'.Ve heartily agreed, especially after the famous speech 
of Comrade Zinoviev: "Death to the bourgeosie is the 
slogan we have to put in practice. That does not mean that 
we must exterminate a few representatives of that class only 
No, we must cut the throats of the whole class." 

V. r e were between the devil and the deep sea--we de 
cided to take the plunge. Our small group was met at the 


station by Mr. Bergman, the junior partner, v.ho was to 
be our guide as far as the demarcation line. A tall, 
handsome man, impecably dressed, he courteously, but 
firmly took command. He herded all six of us in a small 
compartment on the train. 

"Lock the door, I'll stay outside; don't open or ans 
wer unless you hear my voice. And to be sure you don't 
make a mistake, the password is 'Honneur et patrie'; v,e 
might be reasonably sure no Chekist speaks French." 

The endless night began. Many times we heard heavy 
footsteps in the corridor, rifle butts hitting the floor, 
gruff voices asking questions. But our guardian angel stood 
at the door and it remained closed. -- Rattling over the point 
groaning at the bendsslowly as if intentionally prolong 
ing the journey our heavily loaded train crept tov.ards the 

A pale dawn shone through the dusty wind o--. panes when 
at last the train stopped at our destinationthe small town 
of Orsha (Russian). Over there, over some barbed wire and 
across the no-man's land, was; Crsha (Ukranian). V;hen we 
opened the corr.cartment door we found our angel, Bergman, a 
little darker frorr: the stubs of his unshaven beard but as 
debonair and business-like as the previous evening. Ke 
called the strategic directives: we hac to have cur passes 
validated by different suthorities; so my brother, who spoke 



=-ood German, v^as sent to the German Commandant. ily husband 
and my brother-in-lav as representatives of the proletariat, 
were to see the Commissar in charge, i-'.rs. Gartong, who \vas 
a distant cousin of the "Guetman" had to stress her relation 
ship to get the approval of the Ukrainian border patrol. My 
sister-in-law, Vera , Mr. Bergman and I went to the incredibly 
dirty waiting room of the station. Never had a room been 

better named "waiting" .... everybody was waiting. Crowds 

of people standing, squatting. .. the weak ones lying on the 
filthy floor. The tension, the suspense was in the very air. 

What next? The only ones who seemed to know what was 
ahead of them were the policemen. Mostly young men in long 
military coats, laden with guns, ammunition and hand grenades 
they were circulating through the crowd. At their passage 
people stayed away, seemed to cringe and flatten themselves 
against the walls. Those cocky boys were the masters of our 
destinies. The Cheka left to their discretion the interpre 
tation of a "counter-revolutionary" and the power to dispose 
of same without a trial. 

"Keep smiling, ladies," instructed Eergman, "you are 
the happy wives of two staunch Soviet citizens don't forget 
it." And every time one of our Chekists passed by we stretched 
our faces in an idiotic grin v.hile Bergman raised his voice to 
tell us some jolly story. 

At last all our emissaries returnedthey were all 
successful in their missions. "Thank God this is done-- 
now it's my turn to act.; 1 .. And the most amazing transformation 
happened to our Mr. Bergman. He pulled his stylish hat down 
in a shapeless mass over his ears, forcing them to stick out, 
and buttoned his coat collar up to his chin. His sleeves 
suddenly became too long and covered his hands; his back 
hunched, his shoulders sagged dejectedly. Lo and behold, 
our dashing boulevardier was transformed into a lean, hungry 
looking and melancholy local Jew. With slow shuffling steps 
he went down the stairway into the square. V.c had a glimpse 
of him waving his arms and jabbering in quick Yiddish, then 
he was lost among the hundreds of similar shapes milling 

It was not too long before he reappeared with a cart 
pulled by a skinny horse and a skinny little fellow in the 
driver's seat. "This is little Etzke, he will take you over 
the line. Give him all your valuables and money. They won't 
search him; he will return it all to you when you cross over." 

Good Bergman, he said "when 1 , 1 not "if"! He stopped our 
effusive thinks with a characteristic gesture. V.'as it the 
ham actor in him, or was he covering up his pity and sympathy? 
But his parting speech was in the best tradition: "You people 
are really poor actors. Here I am supposed to fetch you a 



carriage and you start thanking me as if I saved your lives. 
Tut-tut... to anybody watching us, we are casual acquaintances; 
we met and now are parting cordially, like that." He lifted 
his hat, made a general bow and nonchalantly walked away 
out of our sight and our lives forever. 

We were left with the third member of our Jewish rescue 
squad, little Etzke. And little, truly he was, a diminutive 
figure lost in the long lapsardack (traditional habit); the 
dark side curls sadly drooping around a very thin, pale face. 
Only his eyes were remarkable, enormous, dark, full of intell 
igence, kindness and sadness the great two thousand year old 
sorrow of his raceeyes you could trust, and we trusted 
little Etzke. All that we had left of money and jewelry dis 
appeared under his voluminous coat. We loaded our luggage on 
the cart and started on the last leg of our journey toward 
freedom. But between us and the open field over there was the 
last obstacle and the most frightening one: the search post 
on the frontier of the U.S.S.R. It was a huge barn; really 
two barns joined by a massive archway. The carts loaded with 
the belongings of the travelers one by one passed under it 
and were searched by a swarm of red soldiers. Ivleanwhile the 
documents were checked by a commissar seated in a little office ( 
formerly, I guess, used by the farmer's superintendant . The 
left wine of the barn was downhill and you could see the open 


backdoor and a trail leading down and getting lost in a dark 
ravine . 

The procedure for every cart took an awfully long time. 
Some of the carriages kept going, passed the red sentry and 
disappeared in the dust of the no man's land. Others were 
stopped, the luggage dumped in the "barn- -and/ as to the pas- 
sengers--a quick gesture of the commissar; "Down the hill!" 
We knew what it meant, and every time an empty cart returning 
to town passed us, our hearts turned to stone. 

We were third from the end and we were waiting and wait 
ing. "Sheep going to the slaughter house. .. sheep going to 
the slaugher house," kept turning in your brain, until at 
last a dull peace settled in. . .you did not care anymore. One 
way or another, the hours passed.,. The sun was below the hor 
izon when at last we heard the rough: "Your turn!" Jzke 
pulled under the arch, it was pretty dark there already. The 
first red soldier picked up our papers; "Seems to be all 
right, delegates from the steel workers Soviet. Do we have 
to search their things?" 

A few voices broke in: "we are so damn tiredworked 
all day! They did not send anybody to relieve us from the 
commissariat. We are hungry, it's long past dinner time... 
time to close and go back to town." 

We were waiting. Hearing the disgruntled voices of his 

<>VVV.r."l "". ___ i ' 


soldiers, the Commissar came out of his cubicle: "I am damn 
tired myself. Such a day! Three carts left only... to hell 
with them, let them pass ! "... Y.'e were so spent, so exhausted 
that we came to only as wepulled in front of the German and 
Ukranian border patrol 'station. A quick check of our passes, 


/ the sentry opened the gate. We were over, past the barbed 

wirewe were free. We stood there stunned, not able to real 
ize we were out of hell, we were alive. 

A gentle tug at my husband's arm... it's our little driver: 
"Sir, it is getting dark, I have to drive back to Orsha. Mr. 
. Bergman paid me for the trip, you don't have to bother. Here 
are your valuables and money." 

Only then it dawned on us: little Etzke was sharing our 
danger all the time. He was risking his life smuggling our 
jewelry. If things had gone wrong he might have gone with us 
"down the hill". Mrs. Gartong impulsively turned to the 
little fellow, put her arms around his skinny neck and kissed 
him. "Go back, little Etzke and may I bless you?" 

Little Etzke 's great heart understood. He bowed his head 
and the old lady made three large signs of the cross over the 
dark curls, "i'ay God protect you, Etzke! What difference does 
it make--v:hat we call him. .. 'Christ* , 'Jehovah', or 'Holy 
Spirit'... it is the same God for all of us. May he protect 
you through the days to come! Go back in peace and God bless 
you!" And our hearts said, "Amen!" 

Portrait Of A Gentleman 

A huge bougainville~a plant climbing up along the wall 
of a white stucco house--"Villa" they v.-ould have called it 
in the South of Europe. An incredible blue sea beyond, a 
radiantly blue sky above ....the Monterey coast. Something 
clicks in my memory. The switch is thrown back; back ten, 
twenty, thirty, forty years. 

Another flamboyant bougainvillea climbs the walls of 
a white villa; one, two stories high, dropping its carmine 
petals all over the sundeck. To the great delight of my 
baby son , they fall in his bath--a large basin on the 
floor; splashing water all over the deck. Ke runs crab- 
fashion on all fours picking more and more blossoms to 
throw in his bath tub. The sea down at the beach is as in 
credibly blue, the sky as radiant, as in California, but it 
is South Russia, on the Black Sea coast near the city of 
Novorossisk. The Cheerful voice of our hostess, Mrs. S. 
calls: "Come down, we are having tea on the porch, the 
toast is ready." The wonderful smell of bread toasted 
over charcoal, the gentle splashing of v;aves (not waves- 
wavelets) at the beachthe bougainvillea pets Is stuck to' 
my son's fair hair. So peaceful is that last summer in 
our country! 

But the peace and quiet are very limitedup to the 
hedge that encloses our oasis. Fast the gate runs the 
highway buzzing with war-like activity: trucks ramble loaded 

>\ i'l^/L 


with tired troops; tanks and guns stream in an endless line 
going or coming from the different war fronts. Our city is 
the hub of all this traffic. A sleepy little town of about 
forty thousand before the Civil V;ar, now it is stretching 
and stretching to accommodate the hundreds of thousands that 

have fled south to escape the Bolshevik paradise. 

It .was stretching to a bursting point. Housing ac- 

commadations had been exhausted a long time ago. People 
were sleeping in public buildings, schools, warehouses-- 
anywhere they could find a fevTspare feet to lay down on 
a dirty floor. The food supplies were not adequate for 
those mobs, and naturally prices skyrocketed. Soup kitchens 
did the best they could; it was not much. The orchards and 
vineyards were plentiful but it was dangerous to venture 
too far in the green hills surrounding the town. The hills 
were not on ly green, they housed the "greens". That was 
the surname giVgn t> oands of bandits that did not have 
any party distinctionthey robbed and killed the "reds" 
and the "whites" alike. One of those bands was very much 
in the spotlight lately. ~t was rumored its leader was a 
very beautiful and clever woman. A lady of easy virtuye, 
a former streetwalker, had used her charm and wiles to bind 
together a group of desperados: Bunka's Band. She rules'' 
them with an iron hand, but under her leadership the "or 
ganization" prospered. They had plenty of ammunition and 


were even dressed in English army uniforms. An officer from 
one of the English battleships tied up in our bay had been 
so imprudent as to take a ride up into the hills with the 
beautiful girl he met downtown. Ke never csme back as v.ith 
many other prosperous looking admirers of the "forest siren" 
In his pockets were found the keys to an English army store 
house on shore and the next day, after his demise, the gang- 
was beautifully equipped and supplied. 

In "their raids they were becoming bolder and bolder 
every day. v,. So it was quite an excitement when our husbands 
came home from the military headquarters with the news that 
the bandit queen and her two closest aids had been captured. 
The town was under martial law. Justice was swift. The 
court martial met in the afternoon; the three were sentenced 
to death--to be shot at dawn. -, Though it was late, we were 
still sitting on the porch discussing the events when in 
stumbled Captain R., a friend of ours. He looked ghastly. 

"Give me a drink, a good stiff one!" 

"~.Vhat next?" was our mute question as we waited for 
him to gulp his drink and recover sufficiently to tell his 
story. Captain R. had been assigned on guard duty in the 
military quarters where Dunka and her two associates were 
spending their last night. AnjL that night was beautiful; 
velvet snc silver, the moon playing with the v.aves on the 
bay around the long jetty v;here the executions were carried 


out. The thought that the prisoner could see it from her 
window toe v-as net a pleasant one. 

"A night like that to be young and beautiful and to 
knov, 1 that in -. few short hours there en that sandbar, every 
thing would be over! Heck, she is a monster, a murderess", 
and the poor Captain kept v;alking back and forth, back and 
forth, trying not to look down; cursing his bad luck. "All 
the other guys sound asleep at home and me drawing the prize 
lemon--a death watch, and over that accursed woman, too!" 

"Excuse me, Sir, a gentleman to see you." A soldier 
was mounting the steps followed by a tall, handsome British 
Naval Officer. The young man was out of breath, embarrassed, 
fumbling for words. 

"I was told, Captain, you are in command here. Let 
me introduce myself: Reginald King, Lieutenant aboard his 
Majesty's ship, The Crafton. I have a request....! knov-. it 
is irregular. It will seem strange to you, Captain, but me 
and Dunka--we have known each other for some time you know 
how it is. I have a little apartment for her in town; when 
on shore leave I would visit heryou know!" 

Surp the Captain knew; you don't have to speak the 
Fame language--! ove is the same in any one. Dunka might be 
a criminal of the worst kind; a murderess, a horror in the 
eyes of oth c r men. For him she was "the girl". Poor toy! 



And the poor boy was struggling alonganxious and de 

"I heard about the arrest, the courts, the conviction. 
I have to see her just for a moment; just a few words a 
question. Could you manage it, Captain? Please do, just 
a few minutes!" 

The Captain was suffering, too: "I know, I understand, 
Lieutenant. I sympathize, but the sentence has been passed. 
The lav: is "no visitors' until ... until ... I hate to have to 
tell you, Lieutenant, .. .until 4:00 a.m. when the sentence 
will have to carried out." 

"So there is no hope." The young man sounded so for 
lorn the Captain could not take it.. 

"V.'ait here, Lieutenant, I have no authority, but I 
am going to see the Colonel, my Chief; maybe he can do some 
thing. " 

It took quite a bit of talking, but at last the Colonel 
relented: "'Veil heck- -after all, love is love. V,e all are 
human. It is bad enough to execute a woman. Lon't see if 
it would be too much a breach of rules to let her say good 
bye to her lover. O.K., Captain, you have my permission 
but be sure he does not get too close one never knows. You 
will have to be interpreter anyway; I don't imagine she knows 
English, or he Russian." 


Eack to jail hurried the Captain to arrange the last 
interview vith Dunka. One look at her when she caught sight 
of the tall figure in a white unif orm--anti the Captain under 
stood why Reginald King was spared the fate of all her other 
admirers. "The poor thing did love him; it made it still 
worse for me. Here were two lovers facing each/ other for 
the last time and melike some idiotic messenger in an 
idiotic Greek tragedyin the middle of everything. I was 
the one fumbling for words now. " 

'Lieutenant, I hope you understand how I feel. 1 am 
sorry but orders are orders. You cannot approach her. I 
have to transmit your words to her. V/hat did you want to 
ask or say? 1 " 

"Oh yes, yes, Captain. Awfully kind of you. You see, 
I gave Dunka some jewelry; it is quite valuable. I searched 
everyv/here in the apartment. Would you please ask her where 
she put the jewelry box?" 

"It was as if he hit me in the pit of the stomach. I 
lost my breath. It took me a few moments to recover; it 
could not be the fellow had not understood." 

"V'ait a minute, Lieutenant, you did not understand. My 
English is not too good. It is not just a visit for you. 
This woman, Dunka, has been sentenced to death she is going 
to die in a few short hours." 

"I understood you perfectly, Captain. There is not 

much time left it's why I was in a hurry." 

"I don't know how I managed to cross the room and 
repeat the Englishman's question. I know no power on 
earth could have made me look at her at that moment. A 
few minutes of silenceher hand was on my sleeve... '^Thank 
you Captain./'thank you for feeling the way you feel. It 
will make it easier for me afterwards. . .later . But now, 
tell this... this fellow there that his stuff is back of 
the baking oven, behind the loose brick. And will you spit 
in his face for me? V/ill you?' 1 

I could not carry out the last request of Dunka's-- 
diplomatic relations you know- -but I certainly could re 
fuse the extended hand and the hearty 'thank you 1 of wr. 
Reginald King. He gave me an astonished look, shrugged 
his shoulders and left in a hurry--! bet to check on the 
poor girl before it was too late. I followed him into 
the garden and proceeded to be sick. It was there my ser 
geant found me retching and heaving. He called my sub 
stitute and they sent me home. I saw your light on my way 
and stopped for that drink. I desperately needed it to 
settle my stomach after the encounter with that 'gentleman'." 

As to the bandit queen, the reports were that she 
walked to her death with great calm and dignity. Her epi 
taph was voiced by a young soldier of the firing squad: 


"This Dunka, she certainly lived like a whore, but 
I'll be damned if she did not die like a lady!" 


Forget I;t 
Gray seagulls against a backdrop of ^ray sky, gray 

angry waves, the dark hills in a grc.y mist 

It is February 1920 and v:e are leaving Russia forever 
on the "Kapsburg", a former German cargo ship chartered by 
the White Army Commander in Chief to take us away- -where 
to? No one knows but away from the horror of falling into 
the hands of the Bolsheviks, away from the advancing Red 
Army that is coming closer and closer and is, perhaps, al 
ready there behind this last range. -4 

"We" are 600 v/omen and children and ^00 men, most of 
them badly wounded, the others old or unfit for combat duty. 
Cur men, husbands, fathers, brothers, are still there fight 
ing step by step but falling back, always back, toward the 
Elack Sea. Vi'ill there be ships to take them away too? 

As the ship begins to move, not one of us stays on 
deck to watch. We are like so many "Lot's Wives" one look 
back and the pain will be too great to endure. Instead we 
busy ourselves settling down, and I mean "down". 

Our quarters are the three cargo holds of the old 
"Kapsburg", three circles of Dante's Inferno in a modern 
version. The lower hold is taken by the childless women, 
sble bodied men and older children. The middle one by women 
with babies or on the way to having them, and the upper by 
wounded men and their nurses and doctors. The latrines and 

the galley are located on deck and you have to climb hold 
ing your baby with one hand and clutching the slippery 
cold rungs of the ladder \vith the other while the ship 
rocks and rolls. 

And don't look "back, never look back. Bad enough 
to look around when you go through the upper circle of our 

Dante's Inferno. All those wounded men lying there on the 
bare floor with the nurses trying to brace them with bundles, 

luggage- -any thing to prevent them from rolling with the ship. 
Two of our doctors, one tall and skinny, the other short 
and puffy, hurry back and forth. What for? There is very 
little medicine, no sedatives, and not much water either. 


The wounded men have realized the hopelessness of it 
all a long time ago. They don't groan or complain any more. 
They even seem to be sorry for the poor doctors v:ho cannot 
help them, and for the little old priest who tries so hard 
to comfort everyone. Once in a while, when he kneels near 
a prone form somewhere in a dark corner, and his big silver 
cross flashes in the dim light of their hell, the men know: 
another comrade has left it for the land "where there is 
no sickness, no sorrow, and no regrets, " The words sung 
in our beautiful requiem prayer .* Don' t stay too long, you 
won't have the strength to climb the last ladder to the 
decks . . ... 

At last we are settled; the gray skies and the gray 

Ve-.v*\ I! 3 

-3- ' 

water, and the poor old "Kapsburg" puffing toward the Dard 

There are cabins on deck; they are taken "by a detach 
ment of English soldiers and their officers. We don't envy 
them or protest against it. They won the war and to the 
victors belong the spoils. 

The skipper and the officers are Italians. The crew 
men are all dark and are, as they explain to us with friendly 
grins showing an expanse of flashing white teeth, the "Fell- 
ahin from Egypt". 

Eventually we find out that our floating tower of Babel 
is headed for Constantinople. Will they let us land there? 
Or perhaps in Greece? Well this is the future, the present 
is what we have to cope with; not to fall down the ladders, 
try to wash the kids, feed them--and this is the hardest. 
You wait a long time in a line, an army tin piste in hand 

* A f // 

for what in the morning is called tea; .at noon, porridge, 

n i> 

and in the evening, soup. Tastes the same- -lukewarm dish 
water. On top of that, a can of very salty and dry corned 
beef (for some reason people insist it is monkey meat from 
Australia), and extremely hard "hard tack". My friend 
Helene (she used to be the gayest girl in our gang back 

home) still manages to laugh despite her last month of 
pregnancy and. ensuing problems- -like climbing up and down 

the ladder. "Maybe if I try it with my back toward the 
rungs" i --and we both choke from laughter. It does help 
to be only eighteeneven on a hell's ship. Kelene used 
the hard tack to hammer back her heel that was loose, 
dunked it in the (I think it was called "tea" that time) 
and ate it. "Food is too precious to waste", and again 
we were convulsed with laughter.**" 

One morning when we emerged on deck we discovered we 
were in Constantinople, the fabulous Istanbul we knew so 


well from the novels of Loti and Farrere. A dream of one 
thousand and one nights; an oriental jewel; an arabesque 
of unbelievably beautiful colors, sounds and smells. It 
was not so for us, the "blue" Bosphorus was lead gray and 
the city under a gray, melancholy sky, drab and colorless. 
The old mosque cupolas looked like sand dunes in a brown 
desert--their minarets menacing and mean- -while the old 
Turkish houses were so forlorn among the dark cypress trees. 
All of this smelled musty, old and v/as infinitely sad. 

/hile a 7,'e stern city, like Petersburg of my young days, 
San Francisco of my mature years, they say London, too, have 
a particular charm on a misty day; an oriental or tropical 
city needs the sun to make it glisten and sparkle. /. One of 
the attributes of Istanbul: the"sounds" were there, and 
what a noise! Ours was one of the first of the refugee 
ships to reach Constantinople and the news had spread, some 
how. We were flying a yellow quarantine flag so nobody 

! 1 f . 

could get aboard. But a Greek is primarily a business man 
and, figured right that we were short of food and fresh 
water. Business to be madeand our "Kapsburg" was at once 
surrounded by a flotilla of small boats. 

Fruits, fresh and dry; oriental sweets; and water- 
wonderfully tasting water in big oak barrelswere there 
for sale. But the enterprising Greeks had made one mis 
take. We had no money, or so little of it that after this 
supply was exhausted the business stopped dead- However, 
a good merchant is not that easily discouraged, and some 
how a barter exchange was established. On long ropes, people 
from our deck were lowered into the bobbing little boats; 
rings, brooches, little valuable trinkets, wearing apparel, 
leather jacketseven shoes anything to get a bucketful 
of that wonderful fresh water, a few oranges or sweets. 

After inspecting what came down, the Greek merchantf 
would attach to the rope what he considered an adequate 
amount of his wares and the buyer would pull it up. The 
Greek was at the receiving end and the refugees were at 
his mercy. An old lady leaning precariously over the guard 
rail was trying to shame the men down there in the boats. 
"You are an Orthodox, we go to the same church. See, we 
cross ourselves the same way, and here you rob us; shame, 
shame on you!" 

It was in vain. Obviously the Greeks did not make it 
out. Suddenly she remembered from our church's excommunicating 


office the terrible Greek word: "Anathema". "Anathema, 
anathema", she shrieked at the Greeks, when suddently the 
Hapsburg joined with a terrible bellow of his siren and 
started moving- again. V.'hile all the little boats scuttled 
to safety, we passed the City of cities, the jewel of the 
Orient the fabulous Istanbul our siren wailing like a 
banshee and our old lady calling the wrath of God on the 
heads of its inhabitants. Soon the news spread; no land 
ing in Constantinople or lies des Princes so on to sea 

forward. No permission is granted to land anywhere. 

It 3 f oked as if our ship was doomed to become a modern Flying 
Dutchman but the original had one advantage over us, the 

ghostly crew did not have to eat. 

At last when we anchored in the port of ScJ.onica, with 
our skipper by then, I imagine, in a state of desperation, 

two Serbian officers came aboard with a message for us from 

King Alexander of Yugoslavia. The message read: "We are 
offering you the entry into our country and although it is 

burned, ruined and devastated by the war, we will be happy 

to share with you what little we have and thus repay some 
of the debt of gratitude we owe to Russia." 

With enthusiastic shouts and tears we pack and at last 
step down on terra firma which proved to be not too firm, 

though, as we were loaded into rickety box cars (of the ^C 
men and 8 horses type) and whisked through Greece and 

V. j* i 


Kacedonia. The scenery was nonexistent as the big sliding 
doors of the cars were bolted. After a few hours of this 
semi-darkness the doors were thrown wide open and we saw 
the friendly faces of soldiers of the Serbian Frontier Pa 
trol and, alas, we saw too what the good King meant. The 
devastation of the country was a'shock even to us who had 
lived through war and revolution and were used to sorry sights 

Here and there, stark black chimneys as markers of what 
used to be a village, a prosperous farm or a small town. 
The snow had mercifully covered the ground, but the burned 
skeletons of trees stretched their gaunt arms to the sky as 
if asking: "Oh God, how far can the inhumanity of the human 
kind go." 

After this desolate valley the railroad started to climb. 
Pretty hills first then beautiful mountains, higher and high 
er. The train was shorter by now. Our wounded had been taken 
to hospitals, as we wondered by what miracle had any hos 
pital escaped the universal destruction. The rest of us 
were divided into two groups. V;e were to be taken wherever 
shelters could be found. ,,. 

Night: the cars were swaying gently, "Cannot travel 
too fast the road has not been repaired since the end of 

the war; have to take it easy," explained our friendly Serbs. 
That is fine but why do we stop in the middle of nowhere? 


J 1 c s 

Lots of running between the cars, lantern lights dancing 

on the snow; our man talking to the Serbian soldiers. 
"Very simply, the engineer drank too much slivovitja (home 
made prune brandy) to keep warm he is dead drunk." 

o ( 

"Another man t> take his place? -Oh no! We are lucky 
we have this one; not many engineers left after the war." 

We tried to wait until our engineer slept it out, but 
by 4:00 A.M. we knew we had to move on or freeze. The bit 
ter wind was chasing snow in all the cracks of our cars, we 
had not much warm clothing, no way to build a fire in a wood 
en car no "slivovitja", either. A few of our men and four 
of the Serbians were deputized to see what they could do with 
the engineer. What they did we never found out, but sudden 
ly there were shouts--all the doors were closed the whole 
train gave a terrific jerk and we went into action.. It was 
a nightmare ride: we roared through forests, swished around 
sharp turns of the mountains roads, over deep ravines, passed 
without diminishing speed on dozens of bridges all of this 
through a howling wind and blizzard. 

Our car was like the inside of a cement mixer. The 
baggage was rolling all over (luckily it was light, the 
Bolsheviks did not leave us much); but the kids! They were 
many in our car, and light, too; we were holding them try 
ing to protect them from the flying objects. In the darkness 

*page 119 miss-Ing from original 


filtered between two jagged peaks and behold the miracle! 
The lake became a shimmering surface of rose petals speckled 
with rhinestones; the hills a mass of soft velvet folds of 
gold pale, pink and lavender with incredible purple shadows 
in their creases. It was breathtaking beauty, pure, sheer 
beauty! It lasted four, maybe five minutes. The sun's rajf 
disappeared and we were back in gray ugliness...- Somewhere 
in my brain a memory cell clicked Helene was back smiling 
from her dark corner in the box car her voice gaily call 
ing: "Well girls, the drunken engineer provided the ride, 
I the music; I hope the old time Valkeries were bumped less." 

We all laughed a little hysterically but the tension 
was broken. A few minutes later the train gave one more tre 
mendous jerk and stopped for good. The word ran down the 
linei "the engineer had passed out", but we were only a few 
miles from our destination. The morning was beautifulsnow 
here and there on the ground, the rising sun shining over a 
wonderful little valley--and a cozy little village down 
way down. The problem was how to reach it. Loaded with 
our few belongings and our many kids we started on our trek. 
There were just a few miles, but they were long, long, long. 
Our group: Helene, another pregnant girl, and three of us 
with babes in arms, were the last to reach the village. The 
night had fallen, the little houses were dark, the air bit- 

r* ;>" .'.' ; \ 1 A. \ 


terly cold. The first snowf lakes were whirling in the light-- 
a light a door, we pushed it and were in a *Kaf ana"--the vil 
lage saloon. The long low room was full of people , smoke 
and noise. All the male population of the village, their 
wives and children safely in bed, were having their "sliv- 

ovitja" nightcap. At our entry they all turned around, but 


after a fleeting glance resumed their drinking and singing. 
The patron of the establishment came to us, he understood 
Russian, understood that we could not walk one more step. 
He motioned to a corner of the room: "You can sleep here 
on the floor, put the children on the bench and God will take 
care of tomorrow." 

Quickly spread your coat on the earthen floor, close 
your eyes and sleep sleep! I 'wake up with a jerk. Some 
body is shaking me. In a panic I see everything very clear 
ly. The Serbian Kafana, the lights are low just a few of 
the men left. A group near us, drunk, terribly drunk. One 
of them, a tall fellow swaying on his long legs is shaking 

"Gospa (lady) wake up! Your boy was rolling off the 
bench. I put my leather coat under him so he wouldn't get 
hurt. In the morning give it to the patron for me t Danila",..-- 
and he is gone. 

Later on we found that a woman is always absolutely 


safe among those crude mountaineers. As to the children; 
we were awakened by our children who somehow managed to get 
off their high perch. There are people coming and going, 
tradespeople, peasants, women with baskets. Two of our boys 
who can talk are all excited: "Look, Mommy, money", and 
they open their little fists which are clutching a few pen 

"Where did you get this?" 

"The men gave it to us." I pry open my son's hand, 
sure enough he has some money too. Oh God, that's too much! 
I can take anything, but not charity. I start toward the 
group of men talking around one of the tables, but the pat 
ron overtakes me. 

"Please, Gospa, don't don't give it back. You don't 
understand it is a custom. You will offend these people 
terribly. It is an insult, a horrible insult to give the 
children's present back." 

Indeed it was a custom, a very beautiful one. Any old 
man meeting a little child would give him somethinga penny, 
a sweet, even a little piece of bread or cheese, and the 
little one was taught to kiss the giving hand. Eventually 
we got used to seeing our little fellows always clutching 
something. ...We got used to many things except one not to 


Our destination proved to be Vranska Bania, a former 
resort in the beautiful Serbian mountains. A hot spring 
bubbled directly out of the rock, so hot that you could 
boil eggs in it. A mineral source ran parallel to it for 
some distance until the two merged to form a gay little 
lukewarm river that ran to the/end of the valley and then 
tumbled down somewhere through the thick pine forest. Later 
we saw gypsies (there was a tribe of them in the vicinity) 
wash their laundry in the hot spring, rinse it in the cold, 
and bathe their children in the mixed one. The resort con 
sisted of quite a few small cottages t a very picturesque 
village with a tiny church and even a summer palace for the 
King himself. The palace, to be candid, was more like a 
farm house, a not too prosperous farm at that. As to plumb 
ing, there was none, and the King, in the quite democratic 
fashion prevailing at the time, bathed with the gypsies in 
the warmish Vrania river and took his constitutional walk 
up the hills like the rest of his subjects.... 

Everything looked very cozy from the train and only 
as we reached it could we see that in retreating the Bulgarians 
and the Germans had burned all the furniture, smashed win 
dows and doors, leaving but the empty shells of the buildings. 
Unable to smash the people, they went after inanimate things. 
The Serbians had centuries of experience in warfare, of guerilla 

wars against the Turks. In their struggle against the new 
invaders they resorted to the old methods. Men, women and 
children took to the hills, living for two years in moun 
tain caves, and from their secret hideouts attacked where 
and whenever they could. After the Armistice, the peasants 
/nad come back to their village, patched what was left of it, 
and started from scratch again. 

The government did the best it could to provide us 
with hasty accomodations. We at least had a roof over our 
heads, a few windows and doors were replaced. There was 
plenty of wood to burn and an abundant supply of hot mineral 
water, hot enough to boil things in but no "things" to boil. 
Our Serbian peasant-neighbors were not too well supplied 
either, but we could have bought some of their extras, if 
we had the money. What we had was worthless: the beauti 
fully printed old Imperial bills, the shabby scraps of paper 
issued by the temporary governments. There were rumors about the 

Serbian government exchanging Russian roubles for their own curren 
so a delegation from our group left for Belgrad to see what 
could be done. "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; 
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion" wailed the ancient 
Hebrews as did we on the shores of little Vrania, while 
the river skipped merrily bubbling over barren rocks and 
barren itself as it was empty of fish. 


Everything was enveloped in gloom. It was pre Easter 
lent, and we were really fasting. All the silver money we 
had was pooled to buy milk and eggs to be rationed among 
the childrent As to the grown-ups we drank lots of water. 

Tin cans in hand, we were standing around our hot water 
springwaiting for what? For some miracle to appear on the 
dusty road? And behold, the miracle happened down that road 
came not a fairy chariot, but something more tangible and 
wonderful to us: a truck. A big, battered, noisy truck. It 
clattered down the rocky village street followed by barking 
dogs and a crowd of gypsy children, their bare little feet 
splashing in the mud. The Serbian population was not taking 
chances with an unknown element and were barricading their 
houses and getting the rifles ready. ^. The truck did not seem 
to have any hostile intentions toward the village, but pass 
ing it by, came to rest, with a squeal of brakes and a deep 
sigh, in front of us. From the seat of this chariot clamber 
ed down not two enchanting fairies with golden wands, but 
two formsthey were human, no doubt, but for a few minutes 
we could not make out if they were male or female. Heavy 
goggles and helmets, long gray-green coats, and all that 
splattered with hard dried mud and thickly powdered with 
dust. With all this excessive attire removed, the figures 
emerged as two tall, very efficient looking middle-aged 
women. "We are American volunteer workers for the Red Cross; 
heard about you being hard updrove down to see what can be 

cone. " 

I ^ (' 
\ ^Vs> 



We were completely dumbfounded. Two women driving a 
truck hundreds of miles by very nearly impassable roads, 
through a desolate country where a frightened mountaineer 

was very apt to take a shot first and ask questions later 

(/ ' 
all this just because they heard that we were hard up. But 

all our gushing thanks and flowing speeches of gratitude 
and appreciation were cut short by the older lady's curtj 
"We came here not to talk these kids look hungry, let's 
start working". 

In an incredibly short time our able bodied men were 
organized in gangs unloading the big truck, hauling bricks 
from ruined houses* building a large outdoor barbecue pit 
and rummaging through the ruins of the resort hotel for pots 
and pans. Next day a huge fire was burning in the clumsy 
but serviceable stove and we had our first hot meal in weeks- 
some kind of beans, I think, but they tasted out of this 
world. For a whole week the two ladies ran our soup kitchen, 
no words were wasted, just short commands to the obedient 

The truck load seemed to be inexhaustible. Case after 
case was unloaded from it and we had three meals a day; beans 
mostly, but wonderful beans. The children had canned milk, 
pablum, some canned fruit. From morning till night the two 
ladies toiled taking care of us but still not talking much. 


All we knew about them was that they were Americans and that 
the tallest one was named Florence and the other Betty. 

Our delegates to Belgrad returned with money and instruc 
tions as to permanent settlement. "Guess you will need us 
no longer, will shove off, said our ladies. 

A committee was formed to give them a send-off. An 

English speaking member worked for hours to compose a speech; 

11 / 

thanks, appreciation, will never forget, our saviors, and so 

on. There was even a proposal to sing the American Anthem, 
but it had to be voted down we were not sure of the words. 
At last we all trooped down to our ladies' camp..- There was 
no camp their tents had been taken down, the truck loaded, 
and our two ladies in goggles, scarves and trench coats were 
climbing back to their high drivers 1 seats. In our group 
the speaker advanced holding his paper: "Our dear ladies, we 
came to express our appreciation." Florence interrupted him: 
"That's O.K. nothing to it. N "But", stammered the speaker, 
"we don"t even know your names, we should write to your head 
quarters, express our thanks." This was interrupted again: 
"It's all in a day's work, hope you will be OK now. No thanks 
necessary forget it." She was interrupted in her turn the 

. v . . 

truck gave a roar, two or three backfires, a jerk and started 
moving. A cloud of dust closed around our fairy chariot. The 
last we saw of them was at the turn of the road. The wind 
blew the cloud away and Betty was leaning out of the truck 
waving to us and shouting something. We could not make out 

I - 


whether it was "Goodby" or "Forget it". 

I did not forget. I have not forgotten 

I ?- O 

V ,;r. 

The Statue of Liberty 

There she stands, so majestic in the early morning 
sunshine against the backdrop of the New York skyline. 

Our "Piroscafo", the "Belvedere "that carried us for 
twenty days from Trieste and the Mussolini revolution, is 
anchored in the middle of the bay. 

We impatiently walk the decks hoping to soon step on 
the land of the brave and the soil of the free. "When do 
we land?" 

The JLittle Italian steward is busy quieting down every 
body: "Pronto, pronto, as soon as they are ready!" 

"Who is going to be ready?" 

"The commission, the inspectors of the immigration 
detail. They are in the Captain's cabin." 

"Examining the papers?" 

He bursts out laughing. "Examining the labels on the 
bottles." With a characteristic Italian gesture, he snaps 
his fingers at his collar. 

"I let you know when they are done." 

It is prohibition in the United States, we are on for 
eign ground, and it seems those inspector fellows have an 
enormous capacity for sampling the forbidden liquids. The 
sun is high by the time they are "done" enough for all the 
passengers to be lined up in alphabetical order for the check 
ing of the passports and visas. 


The line is long, the passengers are tired and so are 
the members of the immigration commission. Without the help 
of the stewards and crew members it is doubtful they would 
be able to distinguish one immigrant from another, nor check 
their credentials or rights to enter the country. 

The gay Italians are busy: "Sure, sure, Mr. Comm^ssion- 
er, this lad is the lady's son." 

It is hard to believe a very young blond Swedish girl 
could be the mother of a twenty year old dark haired youth. 
But it is O.K., pass the papers are stamped. 

"Those two girls are the daughters of this man." 

The pretty senoritas giggle, smile, get a tap on their 
well rounded little bottoms, and depart with a lawful entry 
blank, escorted by their "Papa", tall blond and decidedly 

We don't have the sixty dollars per person required 
before landing, but I still have one decent dress, a small 
sable stole and ray last jewel in my last alligator bag. A 
bleary look from the gentleman across the table: "You have 
the money, have you?" 

"Not enough, but I have this" one peek inside my bag. 

"Is it a hundred and twenty dollars worth?" 

"Oh yes, yes." 

"si, si, Mr. Commissioner", chimes in the steward. 

The poor inspector is really "done". All he wants is 

^ " 13 i. 


to be finished with all those people that seem to increase 
in number, and go home. 

"O.K., they pass." The stamp is affixed with an un 
certain hand and we are free to land. 

And we do, running as fast as possible down the plank 
clutching our meagre luggage and followed by the gibes and 
jokes of the assembled stewards. Boarding the ship in Trieste, 
and during the trip, we had tipped them rather lavishly. 

On our far -from -luxurious vessel, there was one class 
only and the steerage. So we were considered "persona grata". 
But those early tips were in Italian liras, now we could not 
afford to part with the few dollars left for an uncertain 

Custom inspection did not take long, a quick look through 
our skinny suitcases, and they let us out in the frightening 
open spaces of Brooklyn and New York. A taxi we boarded 

naturally took the most round about way to a very modest 


During the interminable trip we were munching (I imagine 
to the great amusement of the taxi driver) on a package of 
dry corn flakes the cheapest "cookies" we bought at a near 
by grocery. 

The hotel and taxi paid, we found out that our destination, 
California, was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

To follow this rainbow you had to have railroad tickets and 
money to buy them. So after some inquiries, off we left for 
the Sixth avenue, far from the glamour of the famous Fifth, 
looking for the three gold balls the international sign of 
a loan shop. 

At last we discovered one that looked friendly, remind 
ed us of some small store in Russia and sure enough, the 
owner was a nice Russian Jewish patriarch, who greeted us 
in our own tongue. 

"You certainly are in a mess, young people. Give me 
your jewelry. I will lend you some money and give a receipt 
When you get to California and your parents send me the 
amount with the American Express, I will return your piece 
by the same company." 

So thanks to the dear old man, our American "Shylock" 
in reverse, we found the rainbow: the money, the tickets, 
the railroad station. The helpful "red caps" put us on the 
right train that departed, to our astonishment, with nothing 
but an "all aboard" by the conductors. 

In Russia we were "conditioned" to board a train and 
hear the first bell and announcement of the destination, 
second bell for good count, and if you missed the third one 
you really deserved to miss your train, too. 

The inside of the cars was another surprise: chairs 



in the daytime and the strange arrangement of curtained 
beds at night. We were used to compartments with permanent 
cushioned benches, made into beds at night, a table, read 
ing lamp and your own small dressing room. 

Those cars were extremely comfortable and made in the 
United States for the Russian railroads. The walls were 
upholstered in leather of such quality that, according to 
U.S.S.R. travelers nowadays, after sixty years it is still 
in good condition. The United States manufacturers were 
certainly "delivering the goods" in the good old days I -" 

It was the month of June: hot in New York, stifling 
hot in Chicago were we had to transfer. There awaited us 
another discovery: "red fezes" instead of "red caps", and 
a completely dumbfounded look of a Shriner, who was on his 
convention, and never expected to be loaded with our luggage 
and asked to put us on the right train. 

Hotter and hotter it was getting along on our journey, 
and remembering our geography; "California is one of the 
warmest states of the Union", we were expecting to be boiled 
alive in a tropical heat caldron. 

The Sierras were crossed at night and we woke up in 
the most blessed cool air and fresh breeze but in a terrible 
fright. We had taken the wrong train for sure! 


In my best English I tried to get information from 
the conductor. "Are we headed for Canada? Are we on the 
way to Alaska?" 

The good man burst out laughing. "Dear lady, you are 
in California it is always nice in our state." 

So we found out to be true, and made it our residence 
for fifty years with no regrets. 

The Russian Tea Room 

For our generation of San Franciscans there were two 
periods: B.D, before the depression, and A.D., after. And 
was this a most wonderful, friendliest city in the happy 
years of B.D. ' 

While so many European cities had not welcomed us, re 
fugees of the red terror, San Francisco greeted us with a 
smile. Naturally for some of us things looked a little 
different from former visits. For instance, sorting the 
linen in the St. Francis Hotel's basement was not the same 
as occupying a suite on the upper floors on your honeymoon. 

To a former officer on a Russian Imperial Navy ship 
the city was decidedly more pleasant while being entertained 
by his American comrades than when working as a stevedore 
unloading cargo on the same waterfront. But we were free, 
safe and thankful to the country that gave us a chance to 
try to learn to live a different life. 

With a characteristic shrug of the shoulder and our 
Russian "kak niboode somehow", everybody pitched in. Pro 
fessors, doctors, generals running the elevators or serving 
as night watchmen; younger and stronger men working longshore, 
janitorial service or in factories. 

Let's give credit to the American employers and managers 
of this time, who overlooked poorly mopped floors, patiently 
explaining to a neophyte what this or that gadget was for, 
and that you did not wash oil paint brushes with water. 


How many yards of good material was ruined by our wo 
men, who never had seen a sewing machine; how many dishes 
broken by girls who tried to be waitresses, beds made up 
all wrong by others who had their first experience as cham 
ber maids! And in most cases the employers looked at these 
blunders with good humor and a kindly 7 : "Honey, you do it ' 
all wrong." 

In this atmosphere of friendliness the "Russian Tea 
Room"was born, high up on the Russian Hill in the Paul Verdi er's 
home, "The Haunted House" for many native San Franciscans. 
The building was like a castle with terraces, stairways, dark 
gloomy underground passages, sunken garden, fountains, panel 
ed walls, a huge ballroom with double story windows. It was 
started by some lumber millionaire for his future bride, but 
the girl changed her mind and the house went begging for a 

For awhile, hoboes, homeless derelictsi slept in the 
basement, and the flickering lights of their candles started 
the ghost stories, especially after one of the poor fellows 
chose one of the closets as the place to hang himself. The 
eccentric Hadahishi Hoffman occupied the house for awhile. 
His performances reciting poetry, dressed in long flowing 
robes, in the company of Isadora Duncan's brother wrapped 
in a Roman toga all this on moonlight nights on the upper 


terrace added to the weird reputation of the place. 

I guess this romantic European atmosphere appealed to 
the French personality of Monsieur Paul Verdier (the owner 
of the famous City of Paris department store). He bought 
the house and finished the interior in expectation of the 
Arrival of his young bride from France. But, alas, Madame 
Verdier gave one look to the place the "vibes" were not 
right she was not going to live there. 

The house stood empty until the Hillcrest Club rented 
it and the Russian Tea Room took over the sunken garden and 
the dining room. We loved the place, it's quaintness, the 
gorgeous view; even from the kitchen you could see all of 
the bay with it's ferry boats, which looked like giant white 
seagulls, the hills back of Oakland's skyline, the Campanile 
in the charming university town of Berkeley. 

The club was quite respectable, but I am afraid we 
Russians added another chapter to the legends of number 1001 
Vallejo Street. The Russian decorations, our dresses, the 
"balalaika" orchestra, the cossack dances, the"Song of the 
Volga Boatman" and the "Dark Eyes" repeated over and over 
by request from our dinner customers must have been novel, 
if not annoying to the quiet neighborhood. 

Once, especially, everybody was shaken by the booming 
voice of our Chef, Vladimir and a voice he had "a la Shalia- 
pin"--you could hear him across the Bay! His hat perched 



as a Cossack's "papaha" on top of his curly hair, he was 
leaning out of the kitchen window brandishing his largest 
carving knife and shouting at the top of his lungs: "Just 
give me this 'so and so', this dirty Commisar, this lousy 
Bolshevik, and I am going to slice him as a turkey!" 

It happened that the Club had invited as a lecturer 
for the afternoon meeting Professor Fruinze, the brother of 
Commisar Fruinze, who had not only been a member of Lenin's 
gang, but was the one who signed the separate peace with 

MT&Vir, f f 

Germany at Brest-Li^oosk. This was considered by us white 

Russians the greatest disgrace the Bolsheviks inflicted on 

Russia. Our last Czar, by refusing to sign the treaty, seal 
ed his and his family's doom as the Germans would have saved 

So it is understandable the uproar that the appearance 
of this person aroused in our group. Mr. Fruinze, having 
seen the apparition of our Vladimir and his knife, was not 
too happy to go in, and inquired anxiously where the kitchen 
door was located. During his speech he very often looked 
back over his shoulder so we were told. 

When I refused to serve tea to the party even if the 
president would give me for same a hundred thousand dollar 
check (which she could), I got a completely astonished look: 
"Those strange Russians!" 

I did not blame her; the lucky lady did not live through 

a revolution and witness the destruction of her country. 

We tried not to think about the past, enjoy and take 
part in the life of gay San Francisco, "The city that knew 
how". And so many interesting people you could meet.' Our 
mayor, "Sunny Jim Rdlph", boots, whijte carnation in his but 
tonhole, a smile to all, especially to pretty girls. 

Maynard Dixon, the painter of the gorgeous California 
landscapes, always -attired in high cowboy boots and a ten 
gallon hat; old man Giannini, the fabulous banker, busily 
running his bank, turning off the extra lights"for economy 
sake". Misha Elman, whose sister lived across the street 
playing on his marvelous violin Russian songs that made us 
cry. Ramon Navarro, and all the dishes broken by our girls 
that were dropping everything in their admiration of the 
dashing movie hero. Mimi Imperato, the impressario turned 
bootlegger, whose speakeasy's walls were covered with auto 
graphed photos of most of the great singers of the "Belle 
Epoque" including Caruso's, and whose pianist "The Marquis" 
could play as an Italian Rubinstein, and better and better 
with every drink. 

Drink that was our problem. Prohibition was the law, 
and we had left a lawless country not to disobey the rules 
of another. It was a constant struggle to ask the customers 


not to use their pocket flasks, fill the water glasses to 
the brim st> they would not be used for stronger drinks, 
watch the people going for a stroll in our gardens. Grad 
ually we began to feel like guards in a penitentiary, short 
of frisking every customer or going through the contents 
of ladies purses. 

The only solution was to leave our beautiful secluded 
retreat and move downtown to a more populated thoroughfare. 
Downtown we did not have any liquor enforcement problems 
just to take care of feeding a large amount of people, and 
instead of liquor flasks be on a look out for rats. 

Downtown San Francisco was infested by those horrible 
rodents. The basements, the attics, the palm trees in Union 
Square were their living quarters and nurseries, and the 
many restaurants their dining rooms. The Board of Health 
organized regular safaris, using poison, traps and even 
shot guns. 

The Chefs laughed for weeks at the beautiful perfor 
mance by our Russian girls that proved our national gift 
for ballet dancing. In the middle of a busy lunch, a doped 
rat walked into the kitchen, and all the waitresses present, 
in one unrehearsed leap were standing on whatever was closest: 
salad table, bread counter, even the hot steam table, clutch 
ing their trays, eyes closed until the culprit was disposed 


of by the kitchen helpers. 

"Rats, little baby rats are playing on the wrought iron 
window", shakily whispered Tania, the closing girl. "Thank 
goodness there are not many customers. I told them that 
Madam's little boys' pet mice escaped from their cage." 

One of the Filipino boys went with a basket to pick 
up the "pets", while the nice ladies having a late dinner, 
admonished him to be gentle and not to hurt the "cute" lit 
tle things. All he did was to ring their cute little necks 
and "gently" carry them away in his basket. 

I guess the customers had lots of fun watching us strug 
gling not to dump the Russian meatballs in somebody's lap, 
explain a foreign menu in broken English or try to walk grace 
fully with a loaded tray. 

Once there was nearly a riot when nearsighted Liuba de 
scended the mezzanine stairs with a tray in one hand and 
holding a lorgnette in the other "to better see where my 
table was." 

But everybody was so good natured and patient. "Poor 
sweet child, she does not understand English so well", some 
nice lady would excuse a mistake made by Gloria, born and 
raised in Oakland and whose knowledge of Russian was "da" 
and "niet". "Naturally our nice waitress does not know what 
poached eggs are it is so American", would comment another 

when Inez (from Ohio) would deliver a plate of fried eggs. 

But most of the girls were Russian and played pranks 
on the Americansi "russified" by their peasant costumes, 
teaching them (to preserve the atmosphere) sentences in 
Russian that made our musicians very nearly fall off the stage. 

Most of our problems were on the funny side: "Another 
one is choking!" And I had to bang on the customers back to 
dislodge the prickly part of the artichoke that many people 
tried to eat. ,.. 

There was not much traveling in those days and many 
tourists had never tasted artichokes, avocados, broccoli 
all new California vegetables. In our tea room we very 
nearly introduced marijuana. When the produce man came for 
his order I told him: "Earl, we had such a success serving 
broccoli, I heard about a new Mexican vegetable, marijuana. 
Maybe we could feature it as a new and different dish, put 
it on the menu with sauce "Hollandaise" or "Au beurre noir". 

Earl collapsed on a chair and between fits of laughter 
explained to us: "That's dope, you dopes." Since then on 
the order blank he would write, "and one pound of marijuana, 
sauce hollandaise 1 ". 

"Stop her, stop my waitress", a lady came running to 
me. "She took my teeth away!" 

"But how could she?" 

"In my soup, I dropped them in my soup." 


"Oh my I Then they are thrown away in the garbage can" 

"What shall I do, my goodness, what shall I do?" And 
the distressed lady was away to hunt for her waitress and 
her dentures. 

In a few minutes the girl in question came down in time 
to stop the dishwashers from emptying all the cans An quest 
for the lost teeth. The lady had found them in her salad. 

Many incidents like this one enlivened our working days. 
Timid old. little ladies inquiring if it would be safe to 
walk alone in Chinatown (around the corner from the tea room), 
and us reassuring them that for them there was no danger. 

But not only little old ladies were patrons of our es 
tablishment. We really had a variety. The gay boys from 
Finoccio's, that was in the same block, coming in groups, 
white orchids in their buttonholes, calling each other "dearie* 
and ordering peach and cottage cheese salad that in this time 
and age was considered a "ladies" dish. 

Our very rich and very handsome young guest, who ordered 
an elaborate dinner and asked for an empty table to deposit 
the presents for his friend's birthday party. And some pre 
sents they were! An endless procession of gorgeously wrapped 
boxes from all the best and most expensive ladies stores in 
town. All our girls were so enviousi so rich, so handsome, 


and so generous. Oh, the lucky girl! 


Come dinner time and everybody was awaiting the entrance 
of the interesting pair. But even our blase musicians chock 
ed in the middle of a song when our"answer to a maiden's 
prayer" walked in with a boy in tow. 

The gorgeous Myrna Loy of the movie fame proved to be 
a very friendly and unassuming, but rather plain blond. 
While Miss America, Fay Lamphier of Oakland, was breath- 
takingly beautiful: a figure of a Venus, the golden hair 
of a Lorelei, eyes of an incredible violet hue, shaded by 
the longest dark eyelashes. And all this was real with no 
beauty parlor help. Yet seeing her in the newsreal on screen 
you wondered if the beauty contest judges had lost their minds 
awarding the crown to such a homely girl. 

The rotund Hardy and lean Laurel team; Laurel with a 
poker face who imitated so well a growling dog that our bus 
bojyjwere crawling on their fours looking for the beast hid 
ing under some table. 

Mr. Timothy Hopkins, of the famous Hopkins clan: white 
spats, cut away coat, silver handled cane and top hat strol 
ling in with a condescending smile for all of us "peasants". 

Mrs. U., widow of the famous professor whom we nick 
named "Queen Mary", whose exact replica she was: chock pearl 
collar and hat includedgliding down to her table, acknow 
ledging her many friends greetings with a truly queenly smile. 

And so many interesting and nice people we could see 
and entertain the best way we knew how. The tea room was 


a busy place, long hours and hard work, but we were young 
and eager to become a part of American life. 

It was hard not to join in the excitement of the"Big 
Game" night, when the orchestra had to play consecutively 
the Stanford and California University theme songs, and the 
winners courteously applauding louder those of the loosers. 

It was a delight to watch the crowd of the Easter (after 
church) brunch when the dining room looked like a beautiful 
garden; all the ladies so_chic in their new flowered spring 
hats, all the girls- white angels with their halos of gay 
Easter bonnets. And the gentlemen? Well, the gentlemen 
were a bit self-conscious, but very distinguished looking 
in their formal suits and parading their spring straw head 

In the winter it was impossible not to get the "Christ 
mas Spirit fever" and not to join the happy crowds of shop 
pers, admire the dazzling displays in the stores, the de 
corations of the streets and private homes, that used to 
outdo each other in original and beautiful ideas. 

Speaking of building decorations, everybody's fun was 
to drive around town to admire and judge the Christmas de 
corations of the firehouses. The fire department boys for 
weeks ahead planned and worked in deep secrecy how to de 
corate the fronts of their respective buildings. 


The result was really fantastic! The fire company 
with the largest amount of votes received the first prize 
quite a considerable amount of money. The cash was supplied 
by Gus Oliva, nicknamed "The Mafia Robinhood". Nobody ques 
tioned how he made his money, as he spent it as fast as it 
came all for good purposes charitable institutions, sum 
mer camps for needy children, Easter egg hunts in the Golden 
Gate Park for hundreds of kids. Naturally, he died broke, 
but I am sure, contented. 

San Francisco knew hov to make money and how to spend 
it with a smile. Dear old San Francisco, where even the 
evening fog, drifting over the grim Alcatraz Island peninten 
tiary seemed to be caressing, soft and gentle. 

The sun has set, the fog is coming over the hills. Is 


it me and years gone by? but this fog is gray, gloomy 

and sad. The tree is only a silhouette against the misty 

backdrop--the leaves are still falling, but I don't see them 
anymore just a soft rustle it is getting cold. 
Time to go in and shut the door. 


Born in California. 

Undergraduate and graduate training at the University 
of California, Berkeley, specializing in the history of 
Russia, particularly of Russian expansion in Central 
Asia, Siberia, and Alaska. 

Since 1959, on the teaching staff of Queen's University, 
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Since 1982, Professor 
Emeritus . 

Author of Russian Central Asia, 1867-1917; A Study in 
Colonial Rule (University of California Press, Berkeley, 
1960) and Russia's Hawaiian Adventure, 1815-1817 (University 
of California Press, Berkeley, 1965). Co-author (with 
George V. Lantzeff) of Eastward to Empire, Exploration 
and Conquest on the Russian Open Frontier to 1750 (McGill- 
Queen's University Press, Montreal, New York and London, 
1974). Co-translator (with A. S. Donnelly) of P. A. 
Tikhmenev's History of the Russian- American Company 
(University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1978). 

Editor, Alaska History series, The Limestone Press, Kingston, 
Ontario, from 1972. 

Travels include eight trips to Soviet Union, 1960-1984. 

Project director, California-Russian Emigre's Project, 
Regional Oral History Office, 1958-1986. 

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