Italics denote translator’s comments
Interviewer: Good evening, Polina. We are currently in the apartment of
Polina Ashkenazi of the address 2115 Astor Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. This
interview is conducted by Galina Dashevsky. Today is January 31,
2000. Again, Polina, good evening, and thank you for agreeing to give this
interview of your very interesting life.
Ashkenazi: Good evening, Galina. I am very happy to see you today as a
guest in my home. Today is a very important, festive day in my life. Sixty years
ago today was my wedding. That was the happiest day of my life. Now I am in
America, and for twelve years already my favorite person (in reference to her
husband) is not by my side. Such is life.
Interviewer: I am very glad that I am with you this day. I congratulate you
on this date. Once again, thank you for your agreement to give this interview.
Tell me please when and where were you born? Who were your parents,
grandmothers, and grandfathers? What did they do?
Ashkenazi: I was born in a very interesting time: during the
unfinished civil war and the beginning of the October Revolution. November 2nd,
1917. I was born into the family of Solomon Cohen and Mother Emka Gooserman (maiden
name). Their eldest son was Milya Cohen. I was born a very desired child
because my parents wanted a second child very much, especially a girl. My
grandma and grandma became grandparents for the first time when my brother was
born. He was the first of the boys. I was the first granddaughter loved by all.
Truthfully my grandma and grandpa I never saw because they left the city very
early. Now I will explain why and the story of my family. My father at the age
of fourteen, with he brother Khaim who was thirteen years old, was left without
shelter because his father got married, and their stepmother kicked them out. My
father went to seek a job and a place to live. He met a very kind Jew who owned
a mill. His name was Lyov, and his last name was Husserman. His wife was Leah
Husserman. He (Husserman) already had then, well I don’t know how many…
He probably had three children then. Three or four children. He gave my father a
small place in which to live to live in his home. My father began to work. He
was very hardworking. He was very skilled, kind, and well wishing. He quickly
became social with his co-workers and with his boss. The owner understood also
that my father was an outstanding person. He saw that he would grow up to be a
good person so he treated him very well. Later on, my father befriended the
owner’s children. Later he fell in love with his daughter, Ella, and she
requited his love. But the tradition then was simple. It was necessary to marry
a rich man even if he is old. She had many proposals, but Ella’s family
refused everyone’s proposals. When Ella and Solomon understood that they
couldn’t live without each other, her father informed her that, “The
richest man will come, and if you do not give your agreement, I will forcefully
give you into marriage.” Solomon’s co-workers told him about this, and he
fainted. This was brought to the owner’s attention. He asked, “Why did he
faint?” They told him, “Because he is in love with your daughter,
Ella.” And the owner said, “Let him marry her. I am not against
it.” In 1910 a new, young family was created: Cohen. In 1911 a son was born
to them: Ilya Cohen. And almost in seven years they at last gave birth to a
desired girl whom they named “Polya”. They loved her dearly.
Interviewer: That was you?
Ashkenazi: That was I. I think that I grew up very early. But I
understand that only from my parents’ words I understood what situations
reigned in this world and especially in that city.
Interviewer: Please talk about what you remember from your parent’s stories
about the revolution, the civil war, and maybe about Jewish pogroms.
Ashkenazi: I heard a lot, and I remember it all as if it were
yesterday. I heard and knew that the city in which I was born, in Ukraine, stood
on the boundary with Poland. And mostly Jews, Ukrainian, and Polish people lived
there. It was called Proskurov. It was infamous for it’s pogroms. Now this
city is called “Khmelnitzky”. I knew that a horrible civil war was
going on, and it had not yet finished. I knew that a revolution took place, and
the soviet government was established. This date coincided with my birthday.
Near our city stood a large division of Budyoni. This did much good and bad to
the city. The city was closed (required clearance for entry); a person
could not enter it without a passport. From my parents’ words I knew that
pogroms often too place. Petlyoora, Denikin, and others were gangs that came
there. In 1920 there was a terrible pogrom conducted by the Petlyoora gang. My
grandma and grandpa went to America with their eldest children, but without my
mother and one sister. My mother did not go because I, during that time, was ill
from pneumonia. This was in April. We were supposed to leave in September, but
leaving the country was prohibited. We stayed forever in Ukraine, and my
grandparents left. My parents exchanged letters with them. They sent me many
Interviewer: What do you remember about the details of your life during your
childhood? Tell me about the house in which you lived, about your lifestyle,
about vacation, traditions, and any remembered events?
Ashkenazi: I remember everything. I remember that I was born in a
house that was located on the main street of Proskurov. It was a private house
that was nationalized. My father, as a worker, was given a very good, large
apartment in that house. This was one of the most beautiful houses in the city.
It had a large fruit garden. I loved this garden very much. My childhood was
good. I began to become interested in theater very early. With my peers I
started to act in a theater. We used everything that would could for decoration,
even sheets and blankets. I had another hobby. My mother sewed and
needle-pointed, and I, too, needle-pointed very well. My third hobby was fruit
trees. I was very sporty and climbed trees. I tore off fruit, I soiled my
clothes, and my mom scolded me. Years went by, and I grew older. Children were
accepted into school starting from the age of nine. Before school my mother
decided to improve my health, and she took my brother and me to Odessa. There I
again fell ill with pneumonia. Medicine was scarce; there were few doctors
there. On one of the nights I felt awful, and I said, “I am dying.” My
brother went to seek a doctor and found some young doctor. He, too, was
vacationing there. He came and offered two syrups. But I felt better and did not
take them. Soon my mother invited a very famous professor. His last name was
“Tsiguiss”. I still remember him. He arrived in an army uniform. He
examined me, examined the medicine that I was given, and he asked whether I had
taken them. I answered, “No.” My mother explained that I was very
stubborn. But the doctor said, “No, she chose well. She saved her own life.
From these medicines she would have already died.” The professor found out
that the young doctor was a doctorate student. He examined the functions of the
medicine and apparently decided that I was already dying. If I would have lived,
it would have been his accomplishment, and if I would have died, that was the
way it was supposed to be. I lived and decided that I would definitely become a
doctor. I would treat children so that they would not die.
Interviewer: That is an interesting story. It is the
beginning of the story about your wonderful profession. Please talk about your
studies, the events of those years, and maybe about the Jewish youth of that
Ashkenazi: Not far from our home was a synagogue. But
by the time I grew up, it was no longer there. It was destroyed. Not far from
there was an almshouse. Old ladies resided there. Every Friday they came to my
mother, and she gave them food to last the week. Then I went into the first
grade in a Ukrainian school. The schools were Jewish, Ukrainian, and Polish. The
Jewish school was hurriedly closed. Because the Army of Budyoni was nearby, and
Russians were there, the first Russian school was built in Proskurov. I finished
the fourth grade. I did not tell anyone, dressed beautifully (I loved large bows
that my grandma sent from Brooklin), and came to the principle of the Russian
school. I said that I want to transfer to that school and that I finished four
grades. He asked, “Where are your parents?” I said that I came alone.
He dictated me a sentence in Russian, and I wrote it correctly. He accepted me
into the fifth grade. And o I became a student of the Russian school. Children
from an army base studied with me. Some were the children of the famous General
Gorodovicov, some were the children of the chairmen of the Revolutionary
Military Council: Milanovsky, and others. Jews began to become oppressed. The
so-called “Zolotooha” company began.
Interviewer: What is “Zolotooha”?
Ashkenazi: Later I’ll explain in more detail. It was
the 1930s. Gold was taken away from people. This was the time during which the
collectivization of agriculture began. Those who had property or businesses were
expelled. Gold was taken from the elderly. This did not affect me because my
father was a worker during that time. Later he remotely finished the Odessa
Flour-Grinding College. He became the senior engineer of the mill. But I worried
with other because near me sat the children who were affected by the “Zolotooha”.
I think that they were ashamed. I finished the first ten-year school in Ukraine.
Interviewer: The first Russian School?
Ashkenazi: Yes, but there were no other ten-year
schools. There were only seven-year schools. I finished school successfully.
This was the first and most famous graduating class. Everyone studied well. Our
parents and the Department of Public Education gave us a gift: a tour to the new
Dneprofskaya Hydroelectric Station. We rode from Proskurov to Kiev, and then to
Zaporojye. We were in Zaporojye for a few days. Later we went to Odessa by
steamboat. There we were also for a few days. We attended the breathtaking
Odessa Opera Theater that I remember to this day. And then we returned home. In
a few days I went to Leningrad to live with my brother. I enrolled in the First
Medical University that existed even before the revolution.
Interviewer: Before we talk about your time at the
University, would you like to add anything about your brother and his roll in
Ashkenazi: Yes, I am proud of him. He is no longer
with us since 1989. My brother was a gifted person. His name was Milya. He was
much like my father. Our father was a gifted, excellent mathematician. My
brother graduated from a seven-year school with excellence, and then a technical
school. Then he enrolled in the Odessa Institute of Communications. He graduated
from it in 1935 with an “outstanding” diploma that was specially made
for him. He was invited to Leningrad. There he enrolled in post-graduate school
and worked there for his entire life. I went to Leningrad because he was there.
My parents were very upset about my leaving. All of my friends who wanted to be
doctors enrolled in the Kiev, Odessa, and other institutes of Ukraine. But I, a
Jewish girl, was accepted into the most prestigious medical university of the
Soviet Union. I learned from the best professors — the founder of therapy:
Lund, the surgeon: Janaritze, the gynecologist: Strovansky, the urologist:
Tzerikovskaya. They were my teachers to whom I am grateful to this day and for
the rest of my life. But how did it happen that I went to a medical university?
Everything happened spontaneously. I had a pining towards acting. I played
sports and always went to the theater when theaters traveled through Proskurov.
Proskurov did not have its own theater. While preparing to apply to a
university, I at first considered applying to a theatrical one. On my winter
vacation I came to Kiev, and my friend and I went to the Theater College on
Kreshyatnik Street. I made an agreement that after I finished school, I would
come to study there. But everything changed. My father knew that I wanted to
marry a sailor or a pilot. I always said that if I were a boy, I would be a
sailor or a pilot. And my father gave me a very good suggestion. If you want to
marry a sailor, you ought to become a doctor. If you be the wife of a sailor,
you will travel with him. As an actress, you will be a housewife. But as a
doctor, you will work even if the place to where you come only has two houses. I
made an ultimatum: either I stay in Ukraine as my parents wanted and enroll in
the theatrical college in Kiev, or I go to Leningrad to the medical school. And
I left and am very pleased.
Interviewer: And so we continue your story about your years
in Leningrad. Tell me please about your student years and your life there.
Ashkenazi: Yes, my childhood ended, and my young
adulthood began. A week after my return from the Dneprofskaya Hydroelectric
Station, I boarded a train to Kiev. There my friends met me and I transferred to
a train to Leningrad where my brother welcomed me. He already had a small room
in Leningrad on 9th Soviet Street. He took me there. He was preparing
to defend his dissertation. He was a member of the “House of
Scientists”. This was very prestigious especially considering that he was
very young. My brother said that not far from our house is the Second Medical
University, but I should study in the First Medical University. The commute
there was a whole hour. I really liked chocolate-covered nuts. My brother said,
“I will give you one hundred Kopeikas with which you can buy one hundred
grams of chocolate-covered nuts, and you will finish them in a hour.” The
first time that I needed to complete an interview with the head of the
university, he (my brother) accompanied me. I did not need to take an
exam. I came to the head of the university, and he was very pleasant and well
wishing. I was of small stature, and I was very gregarious. We began to talk. He
asked me, “Where are you from?” I said, “From Proskurov, a small
town in Ukraine.” He said, “You can write to your parents that you are
now a student of the First Leningrad Medical University.” This was on the
fifth or sixth of August. My parents gave me a present, sent me money, and I
visited them for twenty days in Proskurov. I arrived in a very happy mood as I
was already a student. My peers were still taking entrance exams. But the times
were very depressing. There was grief in the city.
Interviewer: What year was it?
Ashkenazi: 1935. Many Comsomols (members of a youth
organization of the Communist Party, also known as The Young Communist League)
who were Jewish were arrested, and they were accused of being Zionists. Spared
were only those who were not in the city. Many boys even feared returning for
vacation because everybody was being annihilated. That was a horrifying time,
and it remains in memory. I returned to Leningrad. In half of a year, I already
had friends. I was the leader of my group. There was a tradition in the
university. There was an auditorium where Lenin once spoke. On the November 7th,
the anniversary of the October Revolution, performers presented a concert there.
I first met Arcady Raikin (a very famous Soviet stage performer) there. I
met Schuljenko (a well-known singer), and Cherkasov (a famous actor).
This happened every year. For my winter vacation I visited home for two weeks.
Once, when I returned home for my vacation after my third year, I met my
girlfriends. One of them said, “A guy is going to come now. He is older
than we are. He attends the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. I have fallen in love
with him, but I cannot introduce myself. Help me, Polya!” I agreed. My
friend who knew him acquainted me with him. I introduced him to my girlfriend,
and the whole group was together. When I was preparing cherry jam for breakfast,
he came to me and offered a walk. Then he suggested meeting with him somewhere
in the evening. I said that at eight o’clock in the evening, all of my friends
are gathering at my home. He thought about it but came. On the fourth day of our
acquaintance, he proposed to me. I agreed. We decided that until the next winter
vacation he would return to study in Kiev, and I would go back to Leningrad. On
January 20th he was scheduled to present his thesis and receive his
diploma. On the 27th of January, I was supposed to come to Kiev. He
loved the numbers 7, 17, and 27. At two o’clock we were going to get married,
and then go home to Proskurov. Nobody knew anything of this at home. That’s
how it was. I came home. At five o’clock in the evening I began to get dressed
fancily. My parents asked why. I answered, “Because my husband is
coming.” They screamed, “What?” My mother fell unconscious. My
husband came at seven. Then there was a wedding that all of my friends attended.
Interviewer: Why did you not tell your parents that you were
Ashkenazi: That is a very long and interesting story.
When I was five, I went to preschool. I recall that I took breakfast with me.
Milk, a meatloaf sandwich, and an apple. Near the mill where my father was the
senior engineer was a beer-brewery where the senior engineer was his friend. He
had a son whose name was Micha Degin, and he was my age. We were friends, and so
were our parents. We entered the first grade together and studied together
afterward. When we were in the eighth grade, his father was transferred to Kiev
to be the senior engineer of the Food Industry of Ukraine. But our friendship
continued until I married another man. Micha was studying in the University of
Kiev, and later became a physicist and a member of the Ukrainian Academy of
Science. But we broke up.
Interviewer: Perhaps now I can ask you about your life during
the war and your time during the evacuation. Apparently this was after your
graduation. May we move on to this period of your life?
Ashkenazi: Yes, of course. After my wedding I returned
to Leningrad. My husband went to work in the city of Nikolaive (in Ukraine)
on the famous military plant. My mother came to Leningrad to visit her son.
During that time the war with Finland began. This was approximately the 10th
or 11th of January, 1940. Our surgeon, Janaritze, became the chief
surgeon of the frontline of Leningrad. I was on my fourth year of college. All
students of this class were transferred to obey martial law, and they worked in
hospitals according to a schedule. Our schedule was such: until two o’clock I
studied, then I lunched and went to surgeon duty. This disciplined us well. I
immediately matured and began to be familiarized with nursing. We assisted
surgeons. I cannot forget one event. They brought an eighteen-year-old boy to
us. There were more contusions during this war than there were wounds. The
temperatures averaged around -41, -42 degrees Celsius. The distance from the frontline
to Leningrad were rather great. And there were many frost bites. Both of this
boy’s frostbitten legs were amputated. I was an assistant during this
operation, and only a few years older than he. This I will always remember.
There were many similar episodes. Our class became legendary. We all became
doctors and medical assistants. I was delegated to work in the city of Vyatka (later
known as Kirov). Despite my being married, I was obligated to go work there
by assignment. I was finishing physician department and was obligated to work
there for five years as a doctor. Only after this was I able to go to my
husband. I was only permitted to intern for a short time in Nikolaiv where my
husband worked. In the year 1941, before my government certification exams, my
husband came to Leningrad for a few days for a business trip. I became pregnant.
During that time our head of the university to whom I once gave an interview
went to prison. Everybody was devastated.
One time at night in the gynecological
department, babies were crying very hard. No nannies or nurses or doctors on
duty attended to them. Morning came and it became apparent that a rat had chewed
off a child’s nose, another child’s cheek, and yet another child’s chin.
How horrible! Of course on that day all of the doctors on duty were arrested and
the respected head of the university was arrested, too. They were sent to
prison. A new head came. He was the famous psychiatrist Azyrevsky who was known
to the entire world. On June 24th, 1941, I was scheduled to take the
final exam. On the 22nd of June, war was declared. A month before
that when my husband came, and he achieved a change of my assignment. Instead of
Vyatka, I was going to go work in Ukraine.
Interviewer: And so we have come to the beginning of the Great, Patriotic War
(World War II). How did your life go during that time?
Ashkenazi: I will begin with the 22nd of June. On the 24th
I was supposed to take my final exam. I was calm. I took the exam successfully,
and I already received the assignment to the city of Nikolaive where my husband
worked. On Sunday, the 22nd, when I was going by the “Finland
Station”, I heard the Molotov’s (the minister of the government during
Stalin’s reign) speech. As my final exam approached, the entire sky over
Leningrad was peppered with dirigibles. It was bright and frightening. On the 26th
I received my diploma and filled out various documents. My brother was already
in the homeland guard (opolcheniye – Russian word). On the 6th
of July, my friends saw me through. I went to the city of Tula. We got off of
the train. And in Tula, on the platform, I heard Stalin’s famous speech (some
of his most famous words included, “Our cause is right, and we will be
victorious”). Afterward we traveled in teplooshkas (wagons for
soldiers). The road was horrible because we traveled through Belarus and
Ukraine. Many refuges surrounded us, and there was much fear and grief. I
reached the city of Dnepropetrovsk. I left the wagon and awaited the boarding of
the train, and suddenly saw a flying bomber. Everyone hit the ground. Somebody
yelled at me, “Lie down!” But nobody was harmed, and I went to
Nikolaive. Crowds of refuges walked on foot to Hyerson from Odessa through
Nikolaive. I went to the military registration and enlistment office. I was
pregnant. I was directed to work in the same hospital where I carried out my
internship, and I ended up with the same supervising doctor: Dr. Hyersonsky. He
was happy to see me, and transferred me to an emergency status (in which
people live and work nearly at the same place because they are constantly on
call). My husband worked in a factory and was also in such a situation. We
saw each other on Sundays, but not for too long. Before my departure from
Nikolaive, people were awaiting the German descent. Many were sent to dig
military dugouts. But many did not return. This was the last Sunday of July, and
my friends and I went for a walk. Everyone was suddenly notified at nine o’clock
in the evening, “Everyone who can must immediately evacuate the city. In
half an hour the German descent will be here.” Those who went back home for
their children and loved ones did not return. I was in high heels, and we left.
We walked to Hyerson. Fields and haystacks surrounded us. The Germans were
bombing. We already knew that the descent had landed. At night we hid in
haystacks. We were very thirsty, but the people in the homes that we passed did
not give us any water. I walked barefoot, and my feet were covered in blisters.
Like this we came to Hyerson. This was in the middle of the day. We needed to
reach the other side of the Dnyepr (river). We saw bodies near a bakery.
We were told that a bombing had just occurred. We went to the shore. There were
many people, and there was a costal guard. We were seated on three barges. We
were stopped in the middle of the river because another air raid was overhead.
Two barges were destroyed, but our barge was left untouched. We arrived in the
city of Tzuryupi. There we needed to continue for another eighteen kilometers.
We went through fields. We carried nothing in our hands. We reached the city of
Junkoya. There awaited us open train cars camouflaged in branches and twigs.
Interviewer: Was your husband with you during this time?
Ashkenazi: Yes. His entire factory evacuated, at least those who made
it. There in Junkoya was a registration for entrance into the train cars. We
went farther. The train stops were lengthy. Like this we reached Stalingrad. We
got off on the shore of the Volga for our transfer. A mass of people was there.
Everyone was in line to go farther. We needed to go to Barnaool where the famous
tank factory number 77 was already being constructed. We were seated in
teplooshkas, and we departed. Trains were bombed, but our train survived. At one
of the stations I began to bleed. My husband and I were taken off of the train,
took us to the maternity ward, and I was given medical help (she had a
miscarriage). We were sent to keep going. We began to catch up with our
train, and we caught up with it not far from Barnaool. Everyone knew me as I was
a doctor and helped many people. We were welcomed very warmly. We arrived in
Barnaool at eight o’clock in the evening. It was dark, and I could not see
anything. Only the ring of bells let us know that we arrived somewhere. They
came to us in the morning and conducted a meeting, and they told us about
Barnaool, the place where we were going to live, who we will be there, and how
we will help. A lot was expected from us. An interesting story: I again met the
1930s; the same that I lived through in Ukraine when in the 1930s the
intellectual community was sent away, mostly including professors, engineers,
doctors, and teachers. We were told that Barnaool was a city of these exiles and
a very distinctive city. Thecity is divided into four parts: the north, the
south, the east, and the west. There is a small area in the center where a
small, wooden hospital; the city hall; and a small club are located.
Transportation is very limited throughout the city. There are a few small houses
where the exiles, the doctors, teachers, and others, lived. The personnel: the
guards, the police, and others lived in quarters. I became a resident of the
western part in an apartment that was called a “zemlyanka” (earth
Interviewer: You mean dug out in the ground?
Ashkenazi: Yes, a dwelling dug out deep in the ground. There were no
other places to live in Barnaool. My husband’s parents came to us and we were
given a separate, little room in the zemlyanka. Many lived with two or three
families per room. A factory was not far. Many factories were evacuated into
Barnaool from Harkov, Leningrad, and Stalingrad. I was on military registration.
I still felt poorly after the miscarriage. I began to work in the medical
department. The doctors were mostly elderly people from Harkov. Only I was a
young doctor. We worked construction shifts in the morning, and then starting
from ten or eleven o’clock, we began our doctor jobs. Towards the winter we
began to build barracks. Our zemlyankas were filled in. This city was famous for
its blizzards and sand storms. Blizzards in the winter and sand storms in the
summer. Such dunes formed that they barred transport from one area to another.
We needed to dig our way out, and then continue while holding on to a rope. Many
could not reach their homes at night. Slowly we built our barracks. I became
pregnant again, and in October, 1942, I gave birth to my first daughter, Alla
Ashkenazi. I did not take my maternity leave. I continued to work. In order to
give birth in a hospital, it was necessary to walk twelve kilometers. We left at
night and arrived in the morning at six o’clock. I gave birth an hour after my
arrival. I had nothing with which to cover her. Someone gave me a washtub.
Someone sewed mattresses out of cotton. Someone gave me a blanket and some
gauze. I nurtured my daughter on a stove. I was allocated an addition five
hundred grams of bread for her. I produced no milk. I traded this bread for half
a liter of milk with a guard who owned a cow. I nursed her with this milk.
Interviewer: What other details about your life in Barnaool do you remember?
Ashkenazi: I remember a lot. I lived there for almost ten years. I
restored myself as a woman, a doctor, and a person. Life was difficult. The
factory was built, and it was very important for the war. A good doctor’s
office was constructed. It was difficult, but we lived. A club was build, and
houses were built. On the first floor of one house a polyclinic was built. This
was already the end of the war. On January 1st, 1946, I became the
head of this polyclinic. Here I met many interesting people who were exiled in
the thirties. Many people who came to our polyclinic were hapless in life,
professors, doctors, mostly those who were Jewish. They lived in zemlyankas, and
then in small sheds. They were under the control of the police. Every month they
went to check in with the police. I was able to take some of them in to my
polyclinic. The polyclinic was not of the factory but of the city. From these
doctors I received my second excellent wealth of knowledge after my wonderful
teachers. These people were brilliant specialists. In 1948, I gave birth to my
second daughter, Natasha. I again did not take my maternity leave. I gave my
polyclinic report just before my births. This time we went to the maternity ward
by car. In 1950, I was rewarded for my good work. I was directed towards a
post-graduate medical school in Leningrad in a fantastic hospital by the name of
“Lenin”. I was there for a year. My eldest daughter, Alla, was with
me. That was my husband’s condition for his agreement with my departure. We
lived with my brother, and all was well. Alla finished the second grade there,
and I finished post-graduate medical school. I received my diploma, and in 1951,
we returned to Barnaool. We were supposed to receive a new apartment, and
suddenly in June we received a surprise. It did not hurt us too much because we
had an apartment in Leningrad. But my husband was not released from Barnaool
where he was the chief technical supervisor of the factory. Stalin gave an
order, “Within the next few days, all Jews are to be removed from all
Interviewer: When was this?
Ashkenazi: In June of 1951. Jews were given opportunities to apply to
other factories, but not military ones. We were fortunate. Near Moscow, at that
time, a new factory was being constructed that made public city buses. The
famous factory “ZIL” (Factory By the Name of Lenin) in Moscow was
consigning the production of buses to the new factory. My husband was directed
to work as the chief engineer of that factory.
Interviewer: This is the factory in the city of Dulyevo?
Ashkenazi: Yes, Likino-Dulyevo. My husband went and looked at it, and
in a month I joined him there. I was already a doctor with ten years of
experience who headed a polyclinic. But I understood that I was going to Moscow,
and that I needed to measure up to their demands. I was on vacation at that
time, my first vacation. I came to Dulyevo. It was a small town. It was solely
Russian, but very interesting and historical. There once was a village by the
name of “Likino” where Savva Morozov had a textile factory. On the
other shore of the small creek was the village of “Dulyevo”. There was
a famous production of porcelain. A person who once worked for the famous
producer of porcelain, Kuznyetzov, organized it. It was Likino-Dulyevo. In
Likino there was a good, stone hospital with skilled doctors. Dulyevo had its
own hospital. When I arrived, doctors worked there who worked even before the
revolution. Again, I was fortunate. One of them was Iona Moiseyevich Rolnik. I
had much happiness and sorrow from my work with him. He was the brother of the
wife of the famous academy member: Cohen who was arrested in 1953 on account of
the Case of the Doctors. I was warned by representatives of the KGB that I, too,
might be arrested because we ware friends and co-workers. These representatives
were all being treated by us so they watched out for what affected us. At home
stood a small suit case with crackers and bare necessities in the case of an
arrest. Alla was eleven, and Natasha was six. Alla came from school and said,
“mom, they’re saying that all of the doctors are being arrested.” I
said, “My sweet daughter, they are not arresting me.” Truthfully, when
the children went to bed, my husband and I went into the other room and cried
over out lives awaiting the arrest every day. Again, I was fortunate. Stalin
died, and we were not arrested. We continued to live and work. Soon I became the
vice-head doctor of the hospital. I worked there for thirty-two years. I also
managed the internship program of student of the fourth year of the Moscow
Medical Institute in our hospital. There a dream of mine was also fulfilled. I
began to organize the competitions “Come on, Medics!” I became famous
to the entire community. Thousands of people attended my competitions. We held
competitions in our hospital, between hospitals, and that was how we celebrated
important dates. Like this I lived until I was sixty years old, until 1977. That
was the year in which the hospital in which I worked celebrated its 100th
anniversary. For my sixtieth birthday and the hospital’s one-hundred year
anniversary, we began to prepare in advance. I was acquainted with the niece of
a famous movie director, Tatyana Leoznova.
Interviewer: The director of the famous movie Seventeen Moments of Spring.
Ashkenazi: Tatyana Leoznova lived with her mother. They worked
together. She helped me to make a silent movie called One Day of Hospital
Work. Many medical, governmental, and communist bosses came for the
anniversary. I headed this evening. I have photographs. Leoznova was supposed to
come with actors, but she had a toothache, and she went to get the tooth
removed. She sent two actors and a pianist. These were: Zolotoohin, “Pan
Gimalaisky”, and suddenly an actress came in whom I knew in my youth in
Leningrad, the actress: Telegina. The last time we had met was in a sauna as
students in July, 1941. She arrived and immediately recognized me. This was so
elegant and beautiful that we were even photographed. I have the pictures. The
evening was terrific. It is in my memory to this day. Telegina was terrible ill,
and she passed away two years after.
Interviewer: You interestingly connected two of your life’s callings: your
medical calling and your calling to the stage. Right now I think that you are
talking about the moment in which you connected them.
Ashkenazi: I had another hobby. For my entire life I enjoyed
Interviewer: I see that in your apartment are still are many beautiful things
you maid with your hands.
Ashkenazi: I can make a whole exhibit. Many blouses, dresses, pillows,
and pictures. My last work I began to do in 1991. I finished half and fell ill
with glaucoma. It remains unfinished still.
Interviewer: You’ll still finish it.
Ashkenazi: It seems that I will not. Maybe my grandchildren might.
Interviewer: When and why did you leave Dulyevo?
Ashkenazi: We did our work there very well. I received two doctor’s
awards of the highest category as a cardiologist and as a public health servant.
I was able to retire with pension 1972, but I continued to work to the last day.
My last day in my hospital was in July, 1983, on the Day of the Medical Worker.
Traditionally, on this day, I gave a speech at the meeting of the regional
medical workers. I presented very well. I knew that in a week I would have to
give notice that I wish to leave this city. Nobody knew of this yet. What was
the reason? My children graduated from their Institutes. Alla graduated from
medical school, and Natasha from mechanical school. They got married and worked
in the city of Luberzy. That was practically Moscow. My husband was allowed to
buy an apartment where our children lived. In June of 1983, the home was ready
for occupancy. I came to the head doctor and told him that we would have to say
good-bye. He said, “No. Go to the head regional doctor.” I went. He
asked me what happened. I said that I came to ask for permission to retire
because I was leaving. He said, “I did not expect this from you. Are you
really leaving like all the Jews?” I said, “I am like all of the Jews,
but I am not going to where you think I am. I am leaving for Luberzy to be with
my children.” He stood up, kissed my hand, and said, “An entire era is
leaving with you from the hospital.” Then there were goodbyes, and I left.
But I lived up to my promise to do my yearly presentation. In Luberzy I
immediately began to work as a cardiologist, but continued to visit my hospital
sometimes, and I gave my speech for 1983. My husband began to work as a teacher
and a consultant at an auto-mechanical institute in Moscow. Soon I was struck by
grief. My husband unexpectedly fell heavily ill. He did not want to go to a
hospital. I continued to work, and I was brought cardiograms at home. I treated
my husband. On March 30, 1987, at the age of 72, he passed away.
Italics denote translator’s comments
Interviewer: We are continuing the interview with Polina Ashkenazi. This is
tape number 2, side A. When and why did your family decide to immigrate to
America? With whom did you immigrate to America?
Ashkenazi: I want to speak a little about how I lived my last years in
Russia. I already said that when my husband passed away, I buried him. It was
very difficult. I was recovering poorly, but I worked very much. I remember that
I completely turned my attention to the lives of my children and my
grandchildren. I lived on my own. I had an apartment that was not too far from
them. I lived through their lives, and we met daily. My first grandson, Igor,
was born from my youngest daughter, Natasha, on the 27th of August,
1972. That was my husband’s favorite date because if the “7” and the
“2” of “72” switched places, they would become
“27”. You could not imagine our happiness. My second grandson was born
in exactly one year. He was born on the same last Sunday of the month, but on
the 26th of August, which was one day earlier.
Interviewer: Who was born?
Ashkenazi: Oleg was born from my eldest daughter, Alla. And in almost
a year and six months, my youngest grandchild, my only granddaughter, Sveta, was
born on the 20th of December, 1974. Well, when I moved to Luberzy,
they were already more or less on their feet. They studied in school, they
studied English, they were in a musical school, Igor and Sveta, and Oleg was
interested in physics and mathematics. He was a very dedicated student. They
were dedicated as well, but they were more diversified. When Sveta was seven
years of age, a school of ballroom dance opened nearby. She was very beautiful,
and still is beautiful, and we enrolled her in this school. She was very
successful, but there was one problem; we needed to find a partner for her. Igor
was in the third grade, and he strongly wished not to attend this school. I
spent a lot of energy to convince him. Since he loved me very much, he tried it
for me. He tried it, and he was very successful. Soon they sent these little
dancers to the most important competition in Moscow. Their mother sewed them
costumes. All of us attended, and they won the first prize. After that, they
were transferred to the most prestigious dance school, and they began to
practice there. Sveta and Igor were very delighted. They were thriving in
musical school, dancing, academics, and English. They began to triumph in many
different competitions. We attended all of their competitions, rooted for them,
made their costumes, and they grew older. Igor was soon to graduate from school
while Sveta continued to study. They always danced together.
Igor desired to be a mathematician. When he turned sixteen, Kishenyov held a
national olympiad of physics. He went to the competition with his father, and he
took the fourth place. When he returned, he had a chance to be enrolled in the
Moscow Institute of Physical Engineers. He began to take tests in school, and
his results were brilliant. Before he finished school, Gorbachev was elected to
be the president. In his first year of presidency, Gorbachev gave everybody a
gift. He allowed an olympiad to be conducted in which the fifty people who
earned ten points (The highest possible score in an olympiad) could
attend any university. Igor attented this olympiad, and there was an advantage
of not having to record nationality and name (Igor’s Jewish nationality
could bar him from access to many universities in the former U.S.S.R.), but
only a person’s number. Igor earned ten points.
When he was finishing school, he had a gold academic medal(The
highest echelon of academic success), the fourth place of a national
olympiad, and ten points in the other physics olympiad, but he wanted to be a
mathematician. He enrolled in Moscow University to become a mathematician. He
successfully studied, continued to dance, but he said that it is time to change
his partner. He chose a girl who also danced with her brother since the age of
seven. Her brother left for the army, and Igor invited her to be his partner. He
began to dance with her. Sveta found a new partner from another school in
Moscow. He met her and invited her to dance with him. They also began to win
prizes, but soon it became apparent that he was departing for Israel with his
parents. Sveta was in the eighth grade, and they invited her to go with them.
She stayed and found a new partner. They continued to dance with their
In a year, Gorbachev announced a national mathematical olympiad, and Oleg, my
other grandson, decided to participated even though he dreamed of being a
physicist. He also earned ten points.
Oleg also had the advantages of a gold academic medal and a score of ten
points in the olympiad, and he enrolled in the physics department. Both of my
grandsons were very successful. Sveta was also finishing with a gold academic
medal. She and her partner participated in a very large dance competition, and
they took third place. A gentleman approached her knowing that she was finishing
school with a gold medal. He knew that she wished to be a theater director. He
invited her to meet with him to help her to become a theater director. He told
her that if she finished school with a gold medal, she could study for free.
Otherwise she would have to pay. She prepared a dance number, earned the highest
grade, and she was accepted with a scholarship. She had almost been studying for
a year, and Igor was finishing college. He was a straight-A student, and could
continue as a postgraduate student after his graduation.
At this time, the family received an invitation to come to America. Before
that, his father’s sister moved to Columbus with her husband by the last name
of Meksin. They invited Igor’s father, my daughter’s husband, to come to
Columbus, Ohio with his family. My daughter refused to go without me. I was
having problems because I had to leave my job, and nobody knew at work that I
planned to move, and I would have to leave my other daughter. But I was
convinced that she would follow later. We began to fill out the documents, I
continued to work, and I came to my supervisor a month before our departure. I
told him that I wanted to take a vacation. He was surprised that I wanted to go
at this time. I told him that my children were moving and that I needed to see
them through. I was not selling my apartment, my other daughter was staying, and
I would return in a year, and maybe earlier. He believed me, and he let me go.
We left on the 28th of April.
Interviewer: Of which year?
Ashkenazi: 1993. I worked in Luberzy for exactly 10 years.
Interviewer: So you are going with your family to America.
Ashkenazi: Yes. We are, on the 28th, with the family, in
the airport in Moscow. Our friends are seeing us off, and the most important
thing for me was my parting with my eldest daughter and her family. This was an
extremely difficult moment, if not the most difficult moment of my life. But I
had to leave with them, and to hope that soon this daughter would also come. On
the 29th, we landed in New York. We needed a flight transfer in the
airport to fly to Columbus. We sat there and looked around. Everything was
unusual. I did not take the travel well. I did not feel well after the flight
physically and emotionally because I had always been afraid of flying on
airplanes, even though I always liked pilots very much. I did not feel well, but
when we arrived here, the same Meksin family welcomed us. Abraham Michailovich,
Victor, Asya, some of the children, and Abraham’s wife were there. All
together they welcomed us fantastically. They received us with a cordial
welcome, rented an apartment for us, and everything was excellent. When I was
riding home in a car from the airport, I remembered Ilf and Petrov’s (soviet
humorists) The One-Storied America (a witty account of their road
trip across America). I even once wrote a composition in English
about my impression of Columbus and America. I have it still, but now I have
many other impressions as well. Well that was on the 29th. On the
second day we went…. We needed to fill out some documents. I did not
participate a whole lot. I was just present, and everything that they told me I
filled out, and pretty much I only remembered that on the 5th, the 5th
of May, I came to the Jewish Center. The children quickly found which classes to
take, but I did not know a drop of English, and they were confused about what to
do with me. My condition was difficult for me; the surrounding people probably
did not even notice, and I was soon to turn 76 years old. This is already a
significant age. But nevertheless, I maintained myself well. They told me… And
immediately led me to a class, and said, “Here is a new one for you.”
I glanced the room over, and almost everyone was about the same age as I. A few
were much older, and some were a trifle younger. He received me very well, like
my own son. He saw that I was an old lady, and probably hapless in the given
Interviewer: I think that you are very cheerful.
Ashkenazi: I will be grateful to Nikolai Grebelsky for my entire life.
I forgot what her name was… I remember Sveta. One person was named Sveta, but
I do not remember what the second person’s name was. She also welcomed me very
well. She was the one who brought me to the class. Immediately, as I sat down,
he began to ask me questions as we doctors ask a new patient when he comes to
see a doctor. “What is my name, what my your last name, from where did I
come, what was my occupation, etc.” When I told him, he said,
“ok.” “We have already been studying for three months. Please
catch up.” I said, “Very good. I’ll try.” I tried very hard to
catch up. I am able to tell you that when I came he told me, “We are
studying ‘(Said in English) continues’. This means ‘(Said in
Russian) continues’. I said, “Ok. This will be my continuation.”
You know, to this day I still know “continues” better than anything
else in English. More than everything else, day and night. I began to study
persistently. I learned with pleasure. I encountered difficulties, and I
overcame all of these difficulties. After two months I moved to the
“Russian Village” (The name given by Russian immigrants to the
Bexley Plaza Apartment Complex). I began to live independently. I still
cannot completely express my great appreciation to Victor Meksin who supported
me morally. During the whole first year of my life here, he did not forget about
me. He knew me in Moscow, he knew my character, my liveliness, and he promised
me that I would be happy here. I believed him, and I am truthfully happy. I am
very happy that I am here and that I had such good teachers. I had many
teachers, and I remember each one. I am grateful to each of them. I learned
persistently. I studied persistently. Many would relax, walk outside, but I sat
and studied. Many people would ask me, “Why do you study so much?” I
would say, “I must know English well enough to become a citizen.” I
began to await my daughter. In three years my eldest daughter arrived. By then
the chief doctor knew that I for sure would not return, but he still mails me
greetings, and sometimes we talk on the telephone. Like this passed my life to
that moment. Interesting and good it was. In a year I moved to this wonderful
home. When I lived in Russia, I never knew that such good homes for elderly
people like me existed. This is a comfortable home. This is a fantastic home.
Extraordinary people live here. Here, wonderful Americans are neighbors and
friends. This is a home in which everyone, even in a younger age, can dream
about living. I have a garden that occupies me during the summer. I run it
completely by myself without trusting anyone else. I work it, I harvest it, I
treat guests, and I eat it myself. I am thankful for that. Well, what else?
Interviewer: Polina, I want to ask you if I may. How are the lives of your
children and grandchildren coming along here in America?
Ashkenazi: Yes. I slightly sidestepped that. I talked more about
Interviewer: That is very good.
Ashkenazi: That is not very polite of me. Ok, well, let us begin from
the beginning. When we arrived, Igor, although the acceptance was already
finished, was immediately accepted into post-graduate school to the mathematics
Interviewer: To the Ohio State University?
Ashkenazi: Yes, the Ohio State University. He immediately went to the
dance studio. They also accepted him. I came to the JCC on the fifth, and on the
ninth, the JCC held an evening dedicated to the day of victory (WWII). My
grandchildren, Igor and Sveta, danced there for the first time in America. Here
I became famous. I have this story. When I still lived with my daughter, they
all left and told me not to leave the apartment. But I left and got lost, and
could not go home. All of the apartments there look alike. I began to ask, I was
near, “Where?” But nobody could tell me where this apartment was. They
asked me, “With whom did you come to the United States?” I said,
“With my daughter.” “Anyone else?” I said, “With my
grandchildren. The ones who danced.” “Oh, the one who dance!”
They brought me straight home. I did not tell any of the children that I got
lost because I was embarrassed. But I was very proud that finally I was
recognized through my grandchildren. Earlier they were recognized by people
through me, but now they recognize me through them. He was receiving his degree
at that point in time. In the end of 1999, in the month of December, at the
final American Competition, he and his wife earned the first place for Latino
ballroom dancing. The first place he won for the century and the millennium.
This is of course very pleasing. Soon after he needed to defend his
dissertation. This is my first grandchild. The second…
Interviewer: If I know correctly, he also works as a teacher here?
Ashkenazi: Yes, he teaches. He is very successful. His students also
receive good places. Some of his student dancing pairs also earned a good…
Yana’s Daughter Ira with him also received a first prize. And then Tanya’s
daughter Vicka also received one.
Interviewer: Vicka Breydo.
Ashkenazi: Everything is good for them. They are living well. They got
married. It was a gift to me for my fifty-fifth marriage anniversary of January
27th. I was married in 1940. In 1995, they asked my permission to get
married on that day. Igor married that girl with whom he danced. He invited her
to America from Kharkov. He danced with her and he dances with her now. She is
his wife. Her name is Svetlana. Her maiden name is “Tatkova”. I
organized a wedding for them. The wedding was small as my apartment is not big.
But the wedding was very pleasant. On the 27th of January, 2000, when
I would have had my sixtieth anniversary, by the way my wedding was on the 30th,
but I obtained my marriage license on the 27th, they came to me and
the three of us celebrated that day.
Interviewer: Their fifth anniversary.
Ashkenazi: Yes, their fifth anniversary.
Interviewer: And your sixtieth anniversary.
Ashkenazi: Yes, that is when it should have been. It does not exist,
but it exists in my memory. My second grandson, Oleg, came in three years. He
was already a post-graduate student of physics. He also immediately enrolled in
post-graduate school and also studies and teaches at the university just like
Igor who teaches mathematics. Oleg is also preparing to defend his dissertation.
Sveta is a little less fortunate. She strongly did not want to leave from there
after having studied for a year in the department of directing. She was very
successful, but she had to leave the country. No such department existed here (Columbus),
and she did not want to go someplace else. So she went to study to be a computer
programmer. She finished it well, continued to dance… At first they danced
together (Sveta and Igor) before Svetlana (Igor’s wife) arrived.
In the year 1995 in Canada, they (The brother and sister Igor and Sveta)
earned the second place for the United States. Well, they continued to dance
here, study, and teach…. Afterward she was finishing college; she finished it
well. And as soon as she graduated she got married. She wanted to set the
marriage date for my husband’s birthday, the 15th of August. Well,
that did not work, but nevertheless on the 8th of August, 1998, we
celebrated her wedding. She and her husband left for Chicago. They live there.
He is a very pleasant, young person. He is a chemist who also has a Ph.D. They
make a living there. She is a programmer, and he works his in line with
occupation. Now they even own a house. I visited them on Thanksgiving, and ate
the turkey that they prepared for me.
Interviewer: What is his name? What is Sveta’s husband’s name?
Ashkenazi: Bert (?). I forget his last name. He has such a beautiful
last name, but I need to look it up for next time. They recently visited me for
my eighty-second birthday. They were at my home. The New Year we brought in
together. The new year of 2000… We call each other often and see each other
often. Here everyone also works. One of my daughters, the younger, works in the
department of… It is, you know… She is currently studying for her Ph.D? How
do you say? Her master’s degree.
Ashkenazi: Natasha. She works in a very large company. She is in the
field of accounting. My second daughter is a doctor. She is already fifty-six
years of age. She works as a hematologist in a company that collects blood.
Everything is going well, and I am continuing to study. I passed the test for
Interviewer: I wanted to ask you. I know that you recently became a citizen
of the United States. What does this mean to you?
Ashkenazi: It was my dream. Overall I had two dreams. One was to find
my ancestors, be it even at a cemetery, but I wanted to find them. But I haven’t
completely accomplished that yet. I decided that first I need to become a
citizen of the United States. I studied a lot, and I prepared a lot. This was
especially difficult for me because I suffer from glaucoma. I see very poorly. I
almost do not see in one eye. But I knew that I must pass. When everyone went to
take the written test, I though, why do I need to worry twice? First I needed to
write, and then go to the interview…. I decided to combine the two, and I
decided correctly. I studied night and day. And I consciously went to the
interview without fear. My teacher remembered me because Igor once called him
about a daughter and returned upset (jokingly). “Grandma, everyone
tells me that you are my grandma, but he said ‘oh, you’re
Polina Ashkenazi’s Grandson’! I was very upset with him.” (Polina
had always been recognized through her grandson Igor, but this man recognized
him through her) But he calmed down. I successfully passed the interview. I
then took the oath effectively that I would be an honest American. I will
fulfill everything, and I honestly for the third year volunteer at the home
where I live. They call me the “policewoman”. First I was troubled,
but now I enjoy it. Every day during the same hour, I check everybody’s
“okay” (a sign that all residents must hang from their doors every
morning that a person on duty checks). I created order. I am very proud of
that. I worry if I spot an absence of an “okay” sign, and I always
report it. This satisfies me very much. I feel like I am going to work. I always
go happily, cheerfully, and with discipline.
Interviewer: Polina, right now you are talking about the home in which you
live. This is the home where elderly people reside. Apparently this is returning
you mentally to the story of your parents, and you wanted, in the process of our
interview, later to talk a little about them and about these thoughts of yours.
Perhaps now is a good time to do so? Thank you.
Ashkenazi: Galina, Thank you. Oh, yes. When I was talking about all of
the worries and hardships of the Jews, I said that later I would continue to
speak about everything. I want to begin with the commencement of World War II.
On the 22nd, I lived in Leningrad. I was finishing college. It was
the day before my graduation. On the 24th of June, 1942, I took my
final governmental exams, and on the 26th of June, 1942, I received
my diploma and was directed towards the workplace of my husband. I was allowed
to go work in Ukraine, in the city of Nikolayev.
Well, about that I already
talked, and now I want to talk about my parents. I went to Nikolayev. This was
already the beginning of July. Where my parents were, Proskurov, Ukraine, there
were Germans already. My parents lived their entire lives in Proskurov. My
father worked all of his life at a mill. At first he was only a miller, and
afterward had a higher post. When the war began, they did not have time to
finish… Neither my brother nor I was with them. They were in poor health, and
were not able to do anything by themselves. The director of the mill told them,
“Don’t worry. When we leave, we will take you with us. Right now it is
necessary to continue to make flour for the military.” But the Germans came
shortly, and everyone of course left, but my parents were left behind.
They lived there, as I told you earlier, in a very beautiful house on the main street
of Alexandrovsky house number 63. It was private, and then it was nationalized.
And of course when the Germans came, they immediately selected it for their use.
On the third day, the Gestapo occupied it. And naturally my parents were evicted
in their attire, perhaps they were allowed to grab a small number of belongings,
and they ended up in a ghetto. Well, I’m not going to talk much about the
ghetto. It was not only a Provskurov ghetto, but also a regional ghetto. It was
a horrific ghetto. A convoy took my ill father every day to work at the mill
until he was completely unable to walk. Like everyone else, at the end of 1942
or the beginning of 1943, they were killed near Lesnevo. Right now it an entity
of the city of Khmelnitzky. I would like to continue further about what happened
in the city of Proskurov during my life. I no longer lived in Proskurov. I lived
in Siberia during the war, and from 1951 I lived in Moscow until the last day.
In 1951, when I came to Moscow, my husband and I soon went to Proskurov to know
“how and what”.
With horror I still remember the Holocaust that
occurred in that time. What I heard is inconceivable to the mind. And here some
are even saying that there was no holocaust. I want to say; right now I will
talk about this holocaust, the fascist’s one, and then I will talk about the
communist holocaust. When I came, I looked at the place where the ghetto was. It
was a large area that was later turned into a bazaar where they sold vegetables,
etc. The grave was between Proskurov and the village of Lesnevo. It reminded me
very much of the Kiev Babi Yar. A hole… In the middle of the hole was
something like a monument on which it was written, “Here lie the victims of
the ghetto.” If you were to hear the entire story of how people got there,
and some people from the ghetto could not get there at all…
The Germans decided to pave over the city. With whom? Exactly with those Jews. Old,
enfeebled, ill… And here is this picture… They are going to pave. In front
walked a man whom I knew from childhood. I think his last name was Finkel, but I
do not remember exactly. But I know that in our town was a restaurant. This
Finkel whom I believe was self-taught played the violin in this restaurant. And
so in front of this column of elders walked this Finkel and played “The Cry
of Israel”. Those who fell down on the way were immersed, covered, and
paved over alive in asphalt. And when he, too, could no longer go on, he was
also paved over with his violin. When I came I was told that in Proskurov it is
impossible to walk. The asphalt is all alive. Under this asphalt, thousands of
old Jews are buried alive. This was the fascist holocaust.
But I want to tell
you about the holocaust that I was telling you about that was in the 1930s when
gold was taken from all the Jews. GPU, the regional GPU. People brought there
from all the places that surrounded Proskurov. There were underground cellars,
rooms, I don’t know…. I was never there. There also were thousands of Jews.
In my following visit, we came to visit my parents, my husband, my children, and
I. This was the year 1957. And we encountered this picture. There where the OGPU
stood… They decided to put…
Interviewer: Excuse me, Polina. You said that you went to visit your parents,
but your parents were killed.
Ashkenazi: Their graves.
Interviewer: Oh, their graves. I’m sorry.
Ashkenazi: On the place where stood the OGPU (regional governmental
political department) they decided to build the “Palace of
Pioneers” (pioneers – a communist, mandatory, nationwide youth
organization) and a hotel. So they began to empty it out. They say that they
could not take out all of the corpses that were inside for three years. Is this
not a holocaust? But it was a communist holocaust. These two moments that I
wanted to speak about will stay with me for the rest of my life. And time after
time when I later went to Proskurov to visit my Parents’ graves, and when I
was leaving (to America) I went to say goodbye to them, I always went by
the Palace of the Pioneers and that hotel, and I always lowered my head in
sorrow. Well, about this I wanted to talk.
Interview: From these sad memories I want to return you to your current life.
I wish you many, many, many wonderful years in this fantastic country. I wish
you to keep for many, many years such optimism and your inspiring influence on
other people. I can sense your influence on me, too. Thank you very much for
these meetings. Thank you very much for your warmth, and that you agreed to tell
this story. I think that it will be interesting to many others. Not only for
members of your family, but to future generations it will bring much interest.
Once again, thank you very much for your time, your attention, everything.
Ashkenazi: Galina, I cannot hide it. I also talk with you and speak
with you with pleasure. All of this I remember. All of this I have written. I
have many written memories. But I must tell you, of course, I never knew that I,
as an elderly person, would be in such a fantastic country. What I can say is
that I regret that it happened so late. Especially it was very sad for me when I
came at first and had to leave my daughter behind. And also you can say that I
came to America straight from work. I worked for 52 years as a doctor, and a
month before my arrival here, I took a vacation and went to America. I am happy.
I just always regret that it happened so late. But I always say, “Better
later than never.” I am happy that I live in such a home. I never knew in
Moscow that such homes exist. In my memories are always the visions of Proskurov
where hapless, old people lived who came to us for food. Now I live in a
The home is wonderful. When I arrived, it was only
preparing to be built. I remember that my granddaughter, Sveta, told me,
“Grandma. They are building a home, a new home. This is the home for
you.” I immediately went and signed up. My first meeting with David, the
manager, was such a good meeting. He welcomed me like a son. He said, “Ok,
I will put you on the list.” I waited. During this time I filed documents
for the Section 8 Program. Then passed a law that stated that whoever is
approved for the Section 8 Program is not permitted to reside in this retirement
home. On this day many people were not approved, and only Pesya, Elina, and I
were approved, and I already needed to go see my apartment. I was frightened. I
hid my documents far so that no one would find them. Everyone declined and
wanted me to decline. But I said that I would not have another opportunity. I
went to see this apartment and said, “This is where I am going to
live.” I was one of the first who moved into this home. I chose my own
apartment on the third floor with a view of the park, the creek, and the
highway. It reminds me of Moscow. Whenever an ambulance goes through with a
siren, I remember that these sirens accompanied my entire life. Someone is going
to help somebody. I felt here that I ended up where I needed to be. I have the
option to walk outside. I have the option to walk by foot to the JCC (where I
studied). I love it very much. I have another option. Under my windows I was
allotted some earth. I am an owner of a garden. And I, completely by myself,
tend to this garden. I grow cucumbers and tomatoes. In my home, I grow flowers.
In my home there are always live flowers. I loved them very much from day of my
arrival. Like this I live.
At first it was difficult as I had never lived in a
communal building. But I go to work. Every day I go to work. Three days a week I
go to class. It will soon be seven years that I am a lifetime student. Excellent
schools in a Jewish home that is close to me and dear to me. I arrive before
everyone else, and I love it very much. At ten o’clock I go up, and I am so
delighted when Galina Dashevsky and Sue (Pliskin) smile at me. I greet
them in English and go on feeling pleased and joyful that I can study in this
country in my age of eighty-two years. I meet with my classmates with whom I am
studying for five years now, and we are like family. It always seems to me that
there is no more interesting time than when I am studying. Thank you, everyone.
I am happy that I became a citizen of the United States. I will absolutely and
happily go to vote, and I will select the one for whom I will vote. Once again,
thank you! I want to continue seeing for long see your smile, your kindness,
your well-wishing spirit, and I want to be able to and to wish to study for a
very long time. Thank you!
Interviewer: Thank you very much again for this interview, and I wish you the
very, very best. This is the end of the interview with Polina Ashkenazi.