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A Long Way From Klenovka
Memoirs of Bertha Klenova

Soviet History Lessons is excited to publish the memoirs of Bertha Klenova, a linguist, traveler and diarist born in the Russian Empire into a wealthy lumber trading family, and who was just beginning her career at the American Embassy in Petrograd when the Bolshevik Revolution broke out. Klenova's account details her travels to Berlin and London during WWI and recounts in sharp detail pre-revolutionary Russia's mores and values, the plight of the Jewish communities, and America's views on tsarist Russia, as well as the reaction to the revolution of the U.S. diplomatic corps. We are grateful to Harriet Levi Fierman for making this remarkable text available to our readers.

Foreword by Harriet Levi Fierman


My parents, Doryce and Louis Levi, met Bertha Klenova through the local Jewish community in Florence, Alabama in the late 1940s.  Aunt Bertha, as we called her, was part of our lives as we grew up in Florence.  In fact, when I got married in 1973, she was one of only two non-relatives to attend my wedding.

It was not until her collection of poems and memories (People, Places and in Person) was published in 1982 by a local book committee of the Muscle Shoals Regional Library System did I begin to be aware of the vast adventure she had lived before she came to Alabama in May 1939 as a translator of scientific literature at the Tennessee Valley Authority.  And the details of her life in Russia before she left for Japan were a complete unknown to me until recently.

Apparently, Bertha entrusted her manuscript A Long Way from Klenovka to my mother, Doryce Goldberg Levi.  The handwritten account was typed up in 1977 by Marie Shanks, Aunt Bertha’s friend and former neighbor. (We do not know if that handwritten document survived, or if it did, where it is now). On mother’s passing, the manuscript went to my sister, Sigrid Levi Baum, who has the 1977 typed document.  Sigrid made a copy of that manuscript and sent it to the Muscle Shoals (Alabama) Regional Library, where it remains in their collection.  In the early 2000s a friend of mine, Celia Charlton Shanks (Marie Shanks’ daughter-in-law), informed me that she was transforming the typed manuscript into electronic form.  That is the document that is now being published by

The epilogue written by Bertha at the end of the manuscript gives a broad outline of what her life became once she left Russia.  Later, in People, Places and in Person she filled in some of the details hinted at in the epilogue.  What may be of particular interest to the readers of her memoire is the following note she penned regarding her dismissal from a German-American business firm office in New York prior to the beginning of WWII in Europe:

In the spring of 1937 I had to leave the post of Secretary to the President of the Technical Division of a German-American concern after fourteen years of service.  The headquarters in Germany had been taken over by the Nazis and my President was instructed by cable that I be fired, obviously because I was Jewish.  When deathly pale and with shaking hands he informed me of the contents of the cable, I though deeply shocked calmly assured him that I would not jump out of the window of our offices on the 34th floor of downtown Manhatten [sic].  Apparently relieved by my reaction he hurried to our Vice-President, who was also President of the Commercial Division that occupied the rest of the floor.  Between them they decided to let me resign by and by and, without my saying a word about the ugly development, offered me a compensation of eighteen months’ salary.  I had been getting $300.00 a month, a very large sum in those days for a female office worker, and thus assured of the near future I trained a substitute after office hours in secret and did not tell anyone in our combined offices but my assistant until the last day that I was leaving.  I then departed for a three-month stay with American friends in San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Harriet Levi Fierman

Bloomington, Indiana

December 2023






(née Berta Petrovna Katz-Sandler of Klenovka)


Written in 1977



The title I originally gave to my manuscript was Roots in Russia. Although the Introduction was written in 1934, I have decided to let it stand, for that was the way I felt when I was writing the book. I could not have written it at all these many years later. However, I am omitting the epigraph, which was my own translation of the last verse from a poem by Alexander Pushkin:


And although for the unfeeling body

It is immaterial where it decompose,

Close to the dear native spot

Just the same I should like to repose.


I do not feel that way any longer. The new Russia is an interesting foreign land.


I wish to express my deep gratitude to my deceased friends, Charles D. Todebush of St. Louis, Missouri, and Martin Walker Smith, Professor of History at Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio, for their assistance in checking the events reported in Part II. Mr. Todebush, my superior and Mr. Smith, a co-worker at the American Embassy at Petrograd, turned over to me the voluminous letters they had written from Petrograd to wife and mother, respectively. They also read over with me the penultimate copy of the manuscript.


To my friend, Charles Moritz of New York, New York, a busy editor in other fields, my eternal gratitude for his voluntary, meticulous and time-consuming revision of the manuscript many years ago.


To my more recent friend, Joyce Woodworth of Florence, Alabama, who made the final copy and acted as my literary agent for a while, my great appreciation of her additional corrections, especially punctuation.




On April 13, 1918, the steamer Simbirsk on its regular trip from Vladivostok, Siberia, to Tsuruga, Japan, carried me away from the shores of my native land. The boat was crowded with excited passengers who were so manifestly happy to have secured accommodation and so anxious about their baggage, which lay strewn in great disorder over the deck, that only a very few of them took the trouble to cast a parting glance toward the receding town. I was among those two or three passengers who had come astern for a last farewell. Tears kept welling up in my eyes, and as I lowered my lids to let them roll down, the rippling grayness of the water sent up the changing image of an old crab apple tree, a symbol of home to me since childhood days. When I again raised my eyes to the naked hills forming the background of Vladivostok, my blurred vision mirrored the very same tree stretching across the widening gulf between ship and shore. Gradually I lost all sense of reality, and in that dolorous stupor an idea began to take shape that I myself was the tree which the boat was pulling with such terrifying force. The boat seemed to have the branches firmly in its grip, while the roots clung just as firmly to the soil. Each forward movement pulled out and broke off another root. The symbolical wrenching of the roots became so real and the pain so intense that I thought I actually saw drops of blood where the roots broke in two.

Many years have passed since that day and many are the countries, east and west of the meridian, north and south of the equator, where I have tried to take root. I finally settled in the United States of America, to whose hospitable shores so many before me have fled to replant broken roots in its fertile soil. Still, a strain of a Russian melody painfully disentangled from its jazz form, a word in my native tongue intercepted in the street, a newspaper heading concerning New Russia never fail to remind me, with a piercing clarity, that the roots which have sprouted in foreign soil are those nearest to the surface, while those deepest embedded still are and forever will remain in the country of my birth. This is in spite of the widespread mis­ery and oppression which I witnessed and the suffering and humiliation to which I was personally subjected.


Bertha P. Katz-Klenova


New York City


September 1932–October 1934














Whenever my thoughts fly back to my childhood days, their first impact invariably encounters the outline of an old crab apple tree. An exquisite thing of beauty in the spring, all covered with lovely roseate buds, a cool green shelter in the summer, a living body with countless red apples in the autumn, a bizarre apparition under its blanket of snow in the winter - I loved it in all seasons with passionate attachment. That old crab apple tree stood behind a cow shed on a small estate in the Province of Vilna, formerly in Russia, then in Poland, where I was born in the last decade of the nineteenth century. To be exact, the fields of Klenovka are now located in Lithuania, while the neighboring small town of Troki was in Poland. There I first encountered civilization in the form of shops, churches, a prison and a post office and there, until 1939, father’s grave was tended by the offspring of those who personally knew and revered the memory of Peretz Katz.


The land belonged to a Count Tyshkevich, its 650 acres representing just a small fraction of the many square miles he owned in that part of Russia alone. Although we paid a certain rental, and several times a year the Count’s Chief Overseer came to pay us a call and between lunch and tea inspected the crops or the granaries, depending upon the season, it never penetrated my childish consciousness that Klenovka did not belong to us.


Long before I was born, my father, then a dealer in lumber, was supplying the old Count Tyshkevich with money for his various expensive chateaux and extravagant splurges on the Riviera and in Paris by cutting down thousands of acres of virgin forests which were young when Gedimin, Duke of Lithuania, founded Troki in the year 1321. The last tract father bought and subsequently settled on and where I first saw the light of day was about ten miles from Troki.


In after years, when the place of my birth had begun to take on the form of unreality, I often wondered how father obtained permission to settle on the land, for Jews were prohibited from doing so. It was in a library in a foreign country, when I looked up the heading “Jews” in a Russian Encyclopedia, that I discovered the reason: it had simply been a matter of chance. The law prohibiting the settling of Jews on land was passed in 1882, and father happened to buy the forest in 1877. It took six months to open the first clearing and build some sort of living quarters, so that he actually moved his family into the wilderness in the beginning of 1878.


The first contract between father and Count Tyshkevich called for a complete clearing of the allotted forest within twelve years. During this period, father must have grown attached to the soil, for when nothing but stumps remained, he decided to turn farmer.


I imagine that the lovely rolling country, with small lakes interspersed among undulating hills, had a great deal to do with his decision. From the knoll, where the maple stumps were thickest, he must have found himself gazing into a semicircle of thick woods at a uniform distance of about a mile. Slowly turning around, his eyes would have followed the receding trees to the right and left, until the hills in the background obscured further view. Also, while cutting down the trees and cultivating part of the land, an awakened impulse to create and make things grow no doubt prompted him to remain in the isolated spot.


He leased the land - stumps, lakes, swamps and all - named the property Klenovka (klen is Russian for maple) and proceeded to build additional buildings for the farm hands, sheds and granaries and to till the soil. It must have been a hard struggle for a Jew, born and bred in a small town, to master the intricacies of farming, especially since, apart from choosing a beautiful spot, he did not use very good judgment in selecting the land. There was not a single acre of level ground, the soil was full of small pebbles and sand, and the stumps must have been terrifically thick in the beginning, because twenty years later, when I began to notice such things, stump burning was still a regular seasonal occupation of the farm hands, between the time the last potatoes were carted in and the winter threshing began. I often wondered whether my crab apple tree had not bewitched father in the same unaccountable manner in which it held me in spell until I parted from it forever, for surely, I thought, it must have been there from time immemorial.


When I came into the world, the youngest of eight children, the family was solidly identified with the soil. By the time I was five, the old log buildings, which under the original contract father had built at his own expense, had begun to crumble and he was busy designing and erecting, this time at the Count’s expense, new stables, sheds, granaries and finally the house for ourselves and the twelve families of farm hands who lived on the estate. From the modern point of view, the house could have been greatly improved upon, but it certainly was very imposing in its setting. Long and squat, it was made of huge blocks of rock from our land with corners and sub-divisions in red brick and walls almost three feet thick. It was rather cold and damp in the winter and not as cozy as the old log house, because the smallest room, an auxiliary nursery used for the influx of my nieces and nephews during the summer months, was twenty feet square.


Yes, the house was very large and imposing with its high red tile roof, the first in a radius of ten to fifteen miles. It filled me with a pleasant elation to walk through the spacious high-ceilinged rooms, even though they occasionally presented a great drawback to me at night. At that time I had chosen a porcupine for a pet; his tiny paws echoed like horses’ hooves when he would set forth on his favorite nocturnal strolls in search of freedom or adventure. Nobody could do any harm to him, since he only drew in his quills when safely in my lap. Still, it was not pleasant to hear my older brothers and sisters ridicule my strange taste in pets and threaten to put the porcupine in the barn.


There was not another house in the neighborhood like it. The others were all of mere wood, while ours was of stone, actually blown out of rocks with dynamite by men smartly dressed in boots and vests, who came from town for this special purpose. Their attire differed greatly from that I was used to seeing on our peasants who, the spring, summer and early fall, went around barefoot and, when the weather was cool, wore a coat of home-made felt over raw linen shirt and trousers. In the winter they added a pair of homemade check­ered linen or woolen pants, a sheep-skin coat and a pair of lapti (a special kind of footwear similar to a sandal, made of bast) over rags wound around the feet.


In one way only was the house a great disappointment to the youngest member of the family, aged five, for it was built with mere­ly one step separating it from the level ground, and I had so hoped that it would have at least three steps. I knew we could not have any more because father had a lame leg and the house was designed especially for his comfort; even the one step was there to help him mount, for he spent most of his days on horseback. I did not then know that houses could be built with two stories one over another, but in my imagination I saw an ideal structure of countless steps going up to the skies and a house perched on top of the stairs. While the stone house was going up I would climb to the highest permissible point on the scaffolding and strain my eyes to penetrate beyond the thus enlarged horizon. Sometimes I would be rewarded by catching the sight of fast moving puffs of smoke. I was told that it came from a monster called a railroad train, but it was hard for me to imagine what it looked like.


There was only one person in my small world to whom I could boast about the house, the daughter of the count’s supervisor, my equal in years and upbringing. As luck would have it, her house most nearly approached the model of my dreams; it was actually raised ten steps. Otherwise, our house was the best in the immediate neighborhood, excepting the palaces of Count Tyshkevich’s various sons, and it somehow tended to nurture my childish belief in the superior position of my family.


Of course, my range of acquaintance was very limited. It comprised twelve families of our farm hands, the inhabitants of several villages within a radius of five to eight miles who worked in our fields during harvest time, five or six small farmers — owners very much down at the heel but preserving some kind of gentility - the abovementioned family of the supervisor, Mr. Boksztanin, later a lessee like ourselves, and our friends in the small town of Troki, the Klausners. As a matter of fact, to my childish mind, no one counted but the latter two, the Boksztanins and the Klausners.


The Boksztanins were moderately well-to-do Poles who liked to make a showing and who had a considerable amount of taste. They, of the house with many steps, had a grand piano in their salon, a profusion of flowers all over the place, many knickknacks in glass cases, and a chambermaid who wore a starched white apron with frills. The frills impressed me so much that they even cast a dwarfing shadow on the importance of the stone house.


Our families had become friends, probably through the common problem of the education of the children, but also perhaps because my father was a lovable character. Neither the Bokzstanins nor my family had much ready cash, and the education of the children was a great care since Vilna, the closest place with gymnasias (Russian middle schools which prepared for university entrance), was 35 miles away, with only the last 17 miles by train.


Shortly after I was born, the two families pooled their resources and engaged a tutor. My sister Sofya and brother Shlyoma (short for Solomon) were about the same age as Jan and Anton Boksztanin. The tutor lived for six months at our house and the other half year at the Boksztanins’, and the children alternated in driving three times a week in a horse and buggy five miles each way over infernal country roads to obtain their learning. I remember that in the winter it used to take ten to fifteen minutes to unbundle the Boksztanin boys from their many wrappings and to thaw them out sufficiently so that they could begin their studies. At the age of five I had a terrific crush on eleven-year-old Antek and probably annoyed him no end when I tried to be helpful in taking off his heavy wrappings and to be near him every moment I was permitted to do so. I, who never learned to cook properly, used to describe dreamily to my chum Stasya my favorite Jewish dishes that I would prepare for him when I grew up.


The Boksztanins were devout Catholics, and Father was a very pious Orthodox Jew, and an observer of all the rituals prescribed by the Jewish religion. There must have been a bond of understanding between them which was not affected by the difference in faith, for they remained friends until father’s death. As a matter of fact, father was such a strict observer of the kosher food laws that he would never eat in a Christian home, except to drink tea served in a glass, because glass is rendered pure by scouring with boiling water. The Boksztanins, whom he visited not oftener than four or five times a year, had a few utensils set aside for Papa’s special use, so that he could have boiled eggs in addition to the tea. This attention to Papa also tended to strengthen my belief that Papa, and consequently our entire family, was something to be proud of.


Our Jewish friends, the Klausners, had a sort of general store in Troki, and were a large family and very little money, the latter no doubt due to their boundless generosity to all who were in need. My mother came from a good and wealthy small town family but, having been left an orphan at the age of seven, was married off by her relatives when she was sixteen to Father, a widower twice her age. Transplanted to strange surroundings, she remained proud and aloof and did not approve of contact with any of the inhabitants of Troki other than the Klausners and, since we children were not permitted to go to town more than once a month, we did not have much opportunity to become friendly with others.


It happened therefore that until I reached the age of seven the Klausners were the only Jewish family I knew intimately, and they were exceedingly nice and liked and respected by Jew and Gentile alike. There were a few other Jewish families living in neighboring villages: a tailor, a blacksmith, a cobbler, all almost as dejectedly poor as the peasants around them and I somehow placed them in a class by themselves, above the peasants but not on a par with our family.


The rest of the people I knew during the early years of my life were peasants, farmhands on the estate and peasants in the neighboring villages, who came only in the summer to help with the harvest. With a very few exceptions they were all poor, illiterate and ignorant. Very few had been farther than Troki and fully half of them had never seen a train, even though it was only about fifteen miles to the nearest railroad station. Of course, the roads were terrible and it was necessary to reckon with wasting two or three hours one way or exhausting the horse in order to get to the railroad. Besides, they had very little business outside of their village and certainly no reason to take a train. They went to Troki, combining the Sunday pilgrimage to church with the sale of what little produce they could spare without literally starving, but Troki had no railroad connection because railroads in Russia were invariably planned and built without much regard for the economic needs of the district, and most of the railroad stations were miles away from a fairly inhabited place.


Of the hundreds of peasants in the villages around Klenovka, whom father knew by name and I remembered from summer to summer, hardly one could read or write. A government census taken the year I began my formal education showed that the Province of Vilna had an illiteracy rate of 72 per cent, but the fortunate 28 per cent, with the exception of landowners and lessees like ourselves, belonged to the town population. Occasionally a child could read the Catholic catechism by the slow and painful method of spelling each successive letter of a word and then adding them together, but this was forgotten as soon as the child began to do the work of an adult, which was around the age of eight or nine. This meager knowledge was acquired clandestinely, without the sanction of the authorities, because teaching the catechism also involved the teaching of the prohibited Polish language. The teachers were always old men whose own knowledge of spelling rarely went much further than that taught to their charges, and who in this manner earned their keep in successive households of the village during the winter time, when they could not find any other occupation for their dwindling strength. The keep was usually very meager and sleeping accommodation provided on top of the stove was often begrudged to the herald of the printed word.

The nearest village with a school, where the rudiments of book knowledge were taught, was at a distance of eight miles from Klenovka and anywhere from five to ten miles from the villages. How could the poor peasants send their children to that school, to trundle hours over the abominable roads, muddy in the fall, deeply covered with snow in the winter and almost impassable in the spring when the snow would begin to thaw? Boots and warm clothing were necessary, also food in bulk to take along. None of these necessities were available. During spring, summer and fall the children ran around barefoot, and in the winter they contrived to have rags wrapped around their feet and the inevitable lapti, but even so there was not always a suffi­cient amount of warm clothing for all the children, always numerous, who were forced to go outside to play, build snowmen or toboggan in rotation.


With some exceptions, the peasants all over Russia, but particu­larly in its northwestern part, were appallingly poor. Considering the fact that they had been serfs until 1861, dependent body and soul upon the will but more often on the tyranny of the landlords who owned them, and the conditions under which they were set free, their plight was only natural.


The census of 1851 shows that there were over twenty-five million male serfs, so that together with their families they formed a mighty part of the population of the Russian Empire. They had no civil or any other rights, had no recourse to any court and the few things that they were supposed to own, such as cattle, were also at the service of the landlord any time he wished. For several centuries their owners had sold them at will, separating husbands and wives, moth­ers and children. Occasionally, the downtrodden worms would turn and in their wrath and fury kill their oppressors, burn the estates and ruin everything that came their way. In the nineteenth century such riots became more frequent and the government found it advisable to attempt to curb the absolute power of the landowners. It was found to be much easier to enact the law at St. Petersburg than to see that it was obeyed by the nobility, who considered that lording over the peasants was their God-given right. Thus the situation of the peasants, while depending to a certain extent on the economic conditions of the district, was in reality governed by the kinds of obligations imposed upon them by their owners at the latter’s will, a will which was only slightly curbed by custom and very little by law.


Alexander II, who went down in history as the Liberator, intended to put into effect when he became Tsar of Russia the liberal ideas he acquired in his youth, but under the influence of his reactionary advisers and also due to his vacillating nature, only a few of them saw the light of day.


After much procrastination, in a manifesto dated February 19, 1861, Tsar Alexander II gave the peasants their freedom. Prior to that date, the reformers had over a period of years been arguing as to how best to accomplish it. Some of them had more liberal ideas than others but none of them possessed the necessary experience and sound economic knowledge required for such a tremendous task. They agreed that the peasants had to have land when they were freed but could not decide whether to make it obligatory for them to purchase it from their former owners. The government was afraid of offending the landlords by enacting a law which would make it mandatory for them to sell land to their former serfs but in the final count did much more harm when it left it to the landowners to straighten out with the peasants, already nominally free, the matter of their “buying” themselves out of serfdom.


By the time the manifesto was proclaimed, it was highly confusing to the reformers, the landlords and the peasants. The landlords were to receive so-and-so much for the land allotted to the peasant but the land was evaluated at two to three times its normal value because both the land and the working power of the freed peasant were assessed. Under such exorbitant demands many a peasant refused to sign the purchase contract assessing him with taxation for 49 years which the plot he would be paying for could never earn. They even preferred to remain in serfdom which, under the circumstances, was sound economic judgment on their part. The result was that twenty years later there were still one and a half million peasants in Russia who were yremennoobyasannye, meaning under temporary obligation.


Under the law the landlord was to receive 80 per cent from the government and 20 per cent from the peasants, provided the latter agreed to the bargain; otherwise the landlord had to be satisfied with 80 per cent of the evaluation. The peasants, however, paid the government in full for the exorbitant price placed by it on their liberty. Their descendants were still paying for their freedom in 1906 although, according to statistics, the government came out with a profit at the end of 1905. In 1907 the debt was finally cancelled.


The number of serfs the landed gentry could own was unlimited. In those parts of Russia where the soil was rich it was naturally advantageous to acquire as much land as possible. There, as elsewhere, the serf had to work for the lord three days a week using his own horse and implements, and his wife and children were also obligated to certain duties to the landlord, including gathering of berries, spinning and weaving. The serf was given sufficient acreage to till for his family’s own sustenance and that of his animals. It was of ad­vantage to the owner that his serfs should be healthy and that their cattle be strong.


On the other hand, in those parts of the country where the soil was poor, there was not much advantage in owning too much land. In such parts the gentry owned more serfs in proportion to the acreage than in the first described. The reason was very simple; as soon as the harvest was taken in, the male serfs were sent to towns to earn their living and the proceeds went to the landlord. Naturally, the acreage allotted to the peasant was very small and, since the landlord did not depend much on the land, he did not care how the peasant fared in his village as long as he earned money for him in town.


One of the conditions under which the peasants were freed was that, depending upon the quality of the soil, they were to be given against taxes for 49 years three to seven desyatinas (one desyatina = 2.70 acres) per adult male, but with the proviso that not more than half of the land belonging to the landlord could be divided among them. It therefore developed that while in those parts of Russia where the soil was rich the peasants could receive their full quota of land with the landlord still retaining a great deal more than one half, the peasants in those parts where the owners did not concentrate on owning land obtained next to nothing after the land owner received his full half share. By the end of the 19th century, some of the peasants in the villages around Klenovka were entitled to not more than a garden patch even after some of the males had forfeited their shares and hired themselves out as farmhands or laborers in town.


The antiquated method of tilling the soil had not changed for centuries. Artificial fertilizers were not even heard of in the villages and the manure from the only cow and horse and a couple of pigs was very scant, because even straw was a luxury and the animals often stood knee-deep in slimy mud. It was no wonder then that the crops were invariably poor and that it was only on the average of every seven years or so that the peasants had enough bread to last them till the new harvest. Even then, beginning in April, potatoes were added to the rye flour, making the loaves heavy and the bread indigestible. Every pinch of flour was so precious that, in order to save it, oak leaves were used for protecting the dough from sticking to the bricks of the oven.


Bread, potatoes, and a thin watery soup in which a few cabbage leaves and beets floated around - a poor imitation of the borshch served in well-to-do families - or hot water mixed with a handful of partially refined rye flour gruel and whitened with a few drops of milk were the staple foods of the peasants, at least in our part of Russia. Sundays, and then only during the winter months, a piece of ham and potato pancakes served with sour cream and farmer’s cheese dried hard in the sun would find their place on the meager menu.


If a son were to be sent to school (nobody would dream of sending a girl), he would either have to live in town or take food along for the entire day. He could not take soup, and the amount of bread that he would eat in place of soup was a very important factor in deciding whether the family could afford schooling.


Aside from the economic considerations, education had no rational appeal, for of what use was it to the peasant? The mere fact that his son would know how to read and write would not improve his crops nor permit him to buy an additional horse or cow. None of the people who knew how to read and write tilled the soil, so obviously learning was not meant for peasants. It was in order for the large and small estate owners or even lessees, such as Pan Peretz of Klenovka or Pan Boksztanin, to educate their children, for neither personally went behind the plough nor helped in the mowing. Thus reading and hard peasant work apparently did not go together.


When our new house was completed, it contained at one end living quarters for nine fami1ies of our workmen, the other three being housed in a log house. The new quarters were talked about far and wide, and on a Sunday, especially in the summer, many neighborhood peasants would come to admire them. Those rooms - which were actually palatial compared to the houses in the villages - what were they like? Nine rooms of uniform size, five on each side of a long hall, the latter frightfully cold in the winter because it had no ceiling, only the red tile roof. Each room had a modernized Russian stove of medium size, so that it occupied only about one-eighth of the space instead of the usual quarter; each room housed only one family, had high ceilings and real windows. The windows had six panes, each over a foot square, and also a “fortochka”, one framed pane which could be opened to let in air in the summer - no one would dream of opening it in the winter. The stove had the usual katuch (a vaulted hole under it for chickens) but no other animals were permitted in the living quarters by strict orders from Father. The result was that, although one family occupying such a room sometimes consisted of eight people and, crowded or not, the home had its full quota of various kinds of vermin, still it had plenty of light and no smoke so that none of the children born and brought up by our farmhands developed blindness and other diseases so frequent in the villages, and the mortality rate was also somewhat lower.


The average peasant house in our part of Russia was little better than a hovel. It usually comprised two parts, one housing the livestock, the other the family, connected by a cold ceilingless hall. Both were on about the same sanitary level; the earthen floor in the animal kingdom was covered with manure, in the living quarters with chicken dung. On a cold day, a couple of lambs, a calf or half a doz­en suckling pigs would also be found with the family. In a good many houses the stove had no chimney outlet, only a vent in the ceiling, so that at cooking time, especially in the winter, the air was so full of smoke and stench that even the light from the luchina (a dry piece of tinder lighted at one end and stuck in a crack in the wall) could hardly be seen. If the family could afford kerosene at three kopecks a pint, a tiny tin lamp with a smoking wick was used, while a lamp with a glass chimney was a decided sign of affluence. Each house usually had a window, sometimes two; the larger one of four panes, each about nine inches square, but it is hard for me to remember seeing all four panes intact. Usually a bundle of dirty rags protruded from one or two openings in the window.


The clothing worn by the occupants of these houses and the scant bedding used by them was also far from clean. Soap was one of those necessities that could only be bought in town and was therefore a luxury to be used sparingly. Accordingly, although soap was applied to the family wash, it was customary to give it a vigorous thrashing with special wooden beaters instead, to loosen the dirt. The more fastidious also used soap for washing the hands and face, but most of the peasants saved it for the weekly bath. On Saturday nights the entire village scrubbed itself clean and changed its underwear - the men their linen shirts and trousers, worn both day and night, and the women their long-sleeved shifts, which served the combined purpose of shirt, shirtwaist and nightgown. Each village owned a public bath, which had the capricious habit of burning down in the middle of winter when it was most needed and when it was impossible to build a new one. I have never been inside a village bathhouse but, as our own was built on the accepted pattern and, crude though it was, was considered far superior to those in the neighboring villages, it can serve as a fair example.


Our bathhouse, which stood at the far end of the pond, was built of logs and consisted of two rooms, an anteroom and the bathroom proper. In the anteroom the logs were not even hewed down, it was not heated and its only furniture consisted of benches running around the wall. A few wooden pegs took care of the clothing. The other room had a huge oven which occupied the entire length of one wall except for the door; it was built of stones, ingeniously put together without cementing, rising from a brick floor. Two tiers of benches ran along the other walls and the only other fixtures were several barrels filled with water, a few wooden buckets and a pile of birch twigs in a corner. Early on a Saturday afternoon a farm hand versed in the intricacies of heating the bathhouse was delegated to this task. First he piled the oven with about a hundred round stones specially selected for the purpose and then for several hours burned dry logs piled on the stones. As the bathhouse had no chimney, the man had to lie on the floor, so as not to become blinded by the smoke which he let out very gingerly, to conserve the heat, by leaving the door only slightly ajar. When the temperature of the stones underneath the logs and above the cupola-shaped oven satisfied the bath tender, he began to lower the red-hot stones into the barrels, soon bringing the water to near the boiling point. As soon as the last logs burned out and the smoke subsided, the man signaled to the household that all was ready and the family would start on its weekly pilgrimage. In the winter we were bundled into rugs and furs for the two-minute sleigh ride around the pond and, in company with the maids and a few chosen women from among the farmhands’ families, we usually had a gay if suffocating time. Upon our return, father and the boys were driven over, also sharing the bath with a few privileged farmhands. After them it was the turn of the rest of the women and children and then the men still unwashed closed the cycle. In the bath we were vigorously scrubbed by the maids and then just as vigorously spanked with bunches of birch twigs, while we lay stretched out on the benches with our heads in a bucket freshly rinsed with cold water, to prevent suffocation. By that time the room was usually dark from the dense steam which was produced by throwing cold water on the hot oven. Although we were heated to a point where our bodies could barely stand it, we, until late into the fall, used to jump into the pond straight from the steaming bath.


No precautions of any kind were taken by my family to safeguard the cleanliness of the bathhouse, except an ordinary soap and water scrubbing of the benches and the floor, yet in all the years that we used it, we never caught even an itch. Even so, I was not permitted to go near the bathhouse from one Saturday night to the next, because as soon as the heat cooled off and the water dried up, the small house at the other end of the pond became an undisputed flea domain. This prohibition was sometimes lifted late in the fall, when the bath­house was used for rotting flax, a process of soaking it in order to separate its fibers. The temperature inside was hot enough - and in the anteroom cold enough - to anesthetize the jumping pests. Pieces of the woody bark from the flax clung to the floor of the anteroom and it was not always a pleasant sensation to step on them with bare feet, but the use of the bathhouse for rotting flax was just as important as for keeping clean. The bathhouses in the villages also served this double purpose but they were neither as roomy nor as clean as ours, because their floors were made of clay and a scrubbing of the benches was not considered imperative.

Chapter II



Illustrations of the tortures that sinners were subjected to in hell kept me aloof from the Catholic religion. This in spite of my faithful part-time nurse Marinya who, though undoubtedly far from wanting to wean me from the faith of my fathers, nevertheless thought that a Pater Noster or two would probably insure me against too much torture in hell when I passed away from this life, for she loved me dearly and dreaded the beyond that awaited me. I was very quick to learn all of the prayers that Marinya knew and could even excel her occasionally in the delivery of them, but the pictures certainly were a great handicap to my taking an interest in the Catholic religion.


Although Jehovah, God of Israel, is invariably referred to as stern and bloodthirsty, I did not know him as such through the little religion I had been taught. As an inheritance from the East, women count for very little in the Jewish Orthodox religion. In order to have a prayer meeting a quorum of ten males is required, and it is essential to have a son so that he can pray for his parents when they are dead, but a woman is useless in religion. In orthodox synagogues women are not permitted to mingle with men. Synagogues built in the last century had mezzanines for women, but the old synagogues used to have their women behind heavy curtains so that they should not even be seen. Women, in fact, were of so little account from times immemorial that the morning prayer of the male contains the verse, “Blessed art thou, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who hath not made me a woman,” right after the thanks to the Creator for not being a heathen or a slave. It was therefore of no great importance whether women knew anything about the Jewish religion or not, so long as they followed the dogmas handed down from mother to daughter, whereas every Jewish male since the destruction of the Temple has not only been required to know Jewish history and say several prayers a day, but has also been taught to read and write Hebrew. The fact that all through the centuries there was no male Jew who was illiterate, that is, who did not know at least how to read Hebrew, is little known through­out the Christian world; nevertheless, this is a fact. Is there any wonder that a Jew, no matter how humble his position in life, in his innermost heart has always felt superior to his Christian oppressors who, though rich and powerful, set so little store by learning?


Father was evidently no exception to other Jews in respect to women and my lessons in Jewish religion were very scant indeed. I was taught the Morning Prayer and said it, on and off, for the words were in Hebrew and I never was fond of doing anything without understanding what it was all about. One of my sisters once also tried to teach me the bedtime prayer but, although I was quick to learn it by heart, I somehow decided that this prayer was not important. Nobody ever verified whether I prayed or not, nor did I have the example of either my mother or sisters ever praying on week days so after the first elation of having learned a Prayer had passed, I seldom repeated it. It was different with my brothers; they had to pray sev­eral times a day and also to study the various heavy folios written in several kinds of Hebrew script, but then to my mind, when I drew comparisons between myself and Solomon, six years my senior, this was a light penalty to pay for the privileges boys enjoyed.


The outward forms of the Jewish faith were strictly ob­served in my family. I was seldom told “You must not do this or that”; the way life was arranged and the example set by the adults was more conducive to my following the ritual than any threats would ever have been.


The main difference between the religion of my Gentile neighbors and that of our family, as it appeared to me then, was that they could eat and drink without any regulations and work day in and day out with­out any real repose, while our food and the procedure of eating itself were minutely defined, and Sunday could not be called a day of rest as compared with Saturday.


When considering the innumerable kosher food regulations which had their beginnings in the subtropical climate of Palestine, one is inclined to view them as a rigorous attempt at sanitation and hygiene. Israel, always a rebellious and obstreperous people, evidently was not inclined to listen to the teachings of the enlightened among them unless the threat of the wrath of God accompanied such learned advice. Unfortunately, their prophets, aside from being wise and highly cultured men, were crafty enough to understand mob psychology, with the result that their teachings became the law of God and as such were not only accepted in their times, but are also being strictly followed by an overwhelming percentage of the Jews the world over to this very day.


The dietary food laws which were rigorously observed in my family did not originate with the Hebrew lawgivers but go back to prehistoric times. For instance, the animals that are forbidden as food in the Mosaic Law are almost the same as are prohibited to the priests or saints in the ancient Hindu, Babylonian and Egyptian laws. The Israelites, who in ancient times had clung to the belief that they were chosen from among other nations and should be “a holy people unto the Lord,” appropriated these special dietary laws into their nation as a whole, intending to give to the Jews the charac­ter of priestly sanctity. Students of the dietary laws for centur­ies past have variously found hygienic, psychological and national explanations for them, and it is quite easy to believe that a mix­ture of the three would be correct.


It is not necessary to stretch the imagination to understand why pigs were forbidden as food when one remembers how these animals are predisposed to diseases, especially in hot climates. In fact, “danger to life” is given as a reason for a number or prohibitions included in the dietary laws. For instance, animals and fowls with the slightest defects, such as a lame leg or a needle found in the stomach, are not kosher. Obviously, this law was intended to safeguard Israel, by prescribing food of healthy animals only.


While the food restrictions are numerous and varied, the array of regulations governing the everyday conduct of life is just as imposing. The Jews I knew never sat down to eat without a tablecloth (this was before the advent of the oil cloth which my family never used even in later years). Different tablecloths and napkins had to be used for a meal of meat and a dairy meal. A Jew would not sit down to table without first washing his hands. He would not begin his food without a prayer and may not get up from the table without a lengthy thanksgiving to the Lord for the food he had eaten.


Mezuzah, the Hebrew word for doorpost, has come to mean the small flat or round metal tube attached to the doorpost of every Jewish home. It contains a small piece of parchment on which are hand printed in Hebrew letters: on one side, verses 4 to 9 of Deuteronomy 6 and on the other, verses 13 to 21 from Deuteronomy 11. In my household it was understood that Jews had to touch the mezuzah and say a prayer before crossing the threshold of one’s own home or that of other Jews.


These laws, a mixture of hygiene and manners, when strictly observed, lend a certain dignity, and the natural way in which they were performed by father and the boys in my family made each simple everyday action a beautiful ritual.


The poor peasants, it is true, made a hurried sign of the cross both before and after a meal but, returning famished from the fields, seldom took time to clean up before sitting down to the earthenware bowl set on the uncovered plank table, into which as many as could reach it would dip their spoons. I knew that if they had been Jews they would have had to act differently, no matter how poor.


The  other chasm between Jew and Christian was the Saturday versus Sunday day of rest. For Jews, the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, on which God rested after creating the Universe, is a day of rest and prayer, and a Jew must not only rest and pray, but he may not cause others to work, verbally or otherwise


Father abided strictly by the word of the law. On the Sabbath he neither touched the bell which roused the foreman at daybreak nor rode his horse, nor ever uttered a word of instruction to the farm hands. He spent most of the day praying and browsing over the holy script.


The older children had their books to occupy them, but for me Sabbath was a very long day. I had to be careful of my dress and was not permitted to spend the day, as was my usual custom, with my chum Stasya, for fear, no doubt, that I might unwittingly break a twig or, forgetting what day it was, help in feeding the animals or such like. I seldom sinned although the rule forbidding the plucking of flowers and gathering of berries on the Sabbath was the hardest to obey.


A touching incident always comes to my mind when I think of Father and the simple way in which he taught his religion to me. He was almost fifty-one when I was born, his last and most precious child, so that I can remember him only as an old man with a long gray beard, gradually turning white, and prematurely stooped shoulders on account of his lameness. Although I loved him dearly, I was also in great awe of him, because he was so much older than the fathers of all my chums.


On a Saturday early in the spring, when I was about five years old, I was given permission to accompany one of the milkmaids to the fields. Her occupation on that particular morning was to spread manure, which was not a drawback to my way of thinking. Any work on the farm fascinated me and, although I usually hampered the workmen more than helped, I, as the youngest, was everybody’s pet and was permitted to imitate the grownups. It was hard for me not to help Tekla, when I felt that my assistance was so vital to the farm (the manure was mostly spread by hand!), but the realization of the Sabbath held me back and I tried to be otherwise of service by keeping Tekla busy telling me stories. The field was behind a bend in the road and suddenly Father appeared, hobbling slowly on his two canes. When he reached us, he first praised Tekla for the work accomplished and then turned to me, “Have you been helping, daughter of mine?”


“Oh, no Papa,” I answered, fearing that God may have seen through my impious desires, a flush spreading all over my face.


Whereupon Father took my small hand in his own large and generous one, held it to his nose, and then pressed a kiss upon it. I stood transfixed, sensing that Father was grateful for my observance of the faith and also that it meant much to him that it should be so. We were taught to kiss the hands of our parents in the morning and upon retiring, but never before had Father kissed my hand. To cover up my confusion, I burst out in a fit of weeping, but the incident of that bright sunny morning in the spring has been a great factor in shaping my attitude toward the practice of religion. Since it meant so much to my parents, especially to Father, I observed the laws as long as I felt it would grieve them if I did otherwise. Subsequent life in town and conditions in the Christian school gradually made me drop them one by one. When I was about eighteen I asked Mother whether she would be hurt if I were to stop the last practice which I still performed, namely fasting on the Day of Atonement. Wise woman that she was, she quietly answered that by now she was sure I would remain a good Jewess and that I should therefore be guided only by that which I myself thought right and not by what others expected me to do.


Although I occasionally exchanged visits with the well-to-do Kasimira Boksztanin, my real chums were the children of the twelve families of workmen, with an average of four or five to a family, and especially Stasya, the daughter of the foreman. I was in and out of their quarters weekdays and Sundays, sometimes playing in a corner while a woman was giving birth to a new offspring in a dim recess of the same room.


One such childbirth stands out in my memory. Although I grew into womanhood with a very hazy knowledge of sex life and in my early childhood firmly believed that a stork had something to do with the advent of children, I at the same time, paradoxical as it may seem, knew that whenever a peasant woman grew large around her waistline, a new child would soon be brought by her into the world. The peasants had no false attitudes toward such a natural occurrence and often discussed the impending events in the presence of the children, among whom I was everlastingly present. Also some remark at my own home, frequently condemning the husband for too frequent births, would be overheard by me, even though not intended for my ears. Accordingly, I took childbirth for granted, except that I was very much excited in anticipation of beholding each new arrival, as I was passionately fond of babies and especially of mothering the newly born.


It was just after sunset on a summer evening when Stefaya, the wife of Roman, came home about a quarter of an hour ahead of the other harvesters and went straight to her bed. Her other three children, the two younger children of the second family who shared the room with them (three families occupied the same room in the old log house) and I were playing in the front of the house but, as it was getting dark, followed her into the room. The grandmother of the other children immediately got busy near the bed, which was in darkness, running to and from the stove near which we were playing squat on the floor. On one of her rounds she admonished us to play quietly. The youngest among us was probably three, the oldest not over eight. We one and all knew that Stefaya was going to give birth to a child and the enforced silence had a terrific effect on our nerves. We all twitched and turned, while talking in suppressed whispers, and suddenly we all broke out into an audible giggle. The grandmother then came over to our group, boxed a couple of the peasant children, and very sternly admonished me to go home. I was thunderstruck because, with the exception of my nurse who had free sway over my life and body, so it seemed to me, none of the peasant women had ever treated me in such a way. I silently left the room and, in spite of my mortal fear of darkness, spent a long time weeping with shame and mortification in the dark hall. It happened so long ago, yet I remember distinctly the complicated emotions which held me back from crossing our threshold with a tearstained face. I could not complain of having been thrown out without telling the reason and I fully realized that, if I told the reason, I would not find any sympathy; I would probably be told that I did not behave as a “young lady” should. I think it was the realization that I had not behaved as I should have under the circumstances that gave an additional smart to my injured feelings.


I was also with the peasant children when the priest came once a year, just before Easter, to bless the wafers and I also attended all their religious celebrations. Thus, when in the most impressionable years of a child’s life I began to compare the religion practiced by ignorant peasants with the one practiced in my own family, I came to the conclusion that ours was the one to be preferred.


What could be more beautiful than the eve of Sabbath? A snow-white tablecloth over the entire length of the enormous dining room table, although on weekdays only half of it was set for meals. There were silver candlesticks, assiduously polished the same morning, at one end and two loaves of chala (twisted white bread) under a dainty napkin at the other. Everybody dressed in their best and the meal so dignified and peaceful. No reference to the everlasting concern with the weather, crops and the health of the cattle was ever made at these meals but instead various serious subjects such as the Boer War, Queen Victoria and Zionism were discussed, and I was very much awed by the erudition of the various members of my family. Of course, I was brought up in a country and at a time when the maxim that children may be seen but not heard was strictly adhered to; the conversation of my elders therefore often led to a great deal of confusion in my head for as time went on I managed to piece some of the information together, but in what a bizarre pattern!


Then there was New Year’s (Rosh Hashanah), counted from the day the Universe was created and falling, due to the fact that the Jewish month goes by the moon, variously either in September or early October, when glorious autumn sunshine is loath to give way to dreary autumn days. Nothing looked real in the strange haze, through which the rays of the sun had to pass before touching the familiar objects: fields, meadows, the cattle in the pasture and the border of the forest. The custom was to dress in white and even Mother, who always wore somber colors, would put on a white blouse, which made her look so much younger and not as serious and preoccupied as usual. Then a great deal was going on, for accommodations had to be made for the worshippers who came from the surrounding villages to spend the two days of New Year’s celebration in our house. Father was the proud possessor of a beautifully written parchment scroll of the Torah, which converted his home into a house of worship, provided he had a quorum of ten males. We always had a few relatives as visitors and the tailor, the blacksmith, the carpenter and their sons made up the rest. Since it was too far to walk two days in succession to their homes, about five miles away, they came over with their entire families, pots and pans, feather beds, dogs and sometimes even cats, so that for me, who never saw anyone but the farmhands, these holidays were days of great excitement and pleasure. Of course, our guests also had children, but most of them were terribly shy in my presence and I in turn was exceedingly self-conscious with them, so that we never got to know each other well. But their parents were a revelation to me. It was such transformation from the workaday expression in their faces and even in their carriage. The father of the blacksmith, for instance, over seventy and bent almost double, who due to a special degree in Hebrew learning was privileged to kill animals and who occasionally earned a few kopecks by carrying twenty to thirty pounds of meat on his shoulders up hill and down to sell to us five miles away, looked twice his usual size as he strutted on the lawn in a glossy Kapota, a kind of long Prince Albert coat, with his hands behind his back. For today he was not a mere poverty-stricken Jew, bitterly struggling for a piece of bread, but a member of a learned community, anticipating the pleasures of discussing and relishing the intricacies of the Holy Writ when prayer was over.


A week later came Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I did not particularly like this day, not so much because it was a day of fasting; it was rather fun to try to emulate the adults and postpone breakfast for at least an hour, getting ravenously hungry all the while (children are not required to fast before they are thirteen), but because everybody was so solemn and the women cried a great deal. Still, I could find enough enjoyment even on that day. For instance, few of the women know how to read the book of prayer and it fascinated me to watch how they knew when to begin to cry. In the women’s part, which was in Mother’s bedroom, the women listened to the male voices coming from the adjoining drawing room and at the same time to Mother, who was following the men in her book. Mother knew Hebrew, so that when she would come to a pathetic part, her voice would begin to quiver slightly and this was immediately a sign for the others to burst into weeping. To me the words had no meaning at all and I knew that the other women understood as little as I, and yet I could not possibly squeeze out a tear!


The Eve of the Day of Atonement was the most memorable to me, though. Father was a Kohen Tzadik, presumably a direct descendant of Aaron and the High Priests of the Temple at Jerusalem, and was therefore entitled to don a special white robe for praying on holidays and also to other privileges denied the mere descendants of the Levis and Israels. His other privileges meant little to me, such as the fact that the Levis alone were entitled to the honor of pouring water over his hands before the prayer meeting began, but his blessing of his children just before sundown on that particular eve was an outstanding event in my life and I am glad I had those high moments in my childhood. To see him, covered by the voluminous white robe, standing without his canes for a few seconds in order to put both of his hands on my head and hear his voice, tense with emotion, calling down the blessings of his God upon me sent a tremor through my small frame and caused me to resolve to be awfully good for another year, so as to deserve to live through another such moment.


On the other hand, the week of Succoth, the Festival of Ingathering or the Feast of the Tabernacles, was a very gay one. Succoth is a combined celebration. It commemorates the harvest festival celebrated by the Jews in ancient Palestine and the successful forty-year journey of the Israelites through the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. In recalling the fact that their ancestors lived in booths, religious Jews spend the eight days of Succoth in wooden tents. That explained the little house on the front lawn with a moveable roof and a ceiling made from pine branches, through which patches of sky would shine. Christian hands were not supposed to touch this structure and, although the house itself was collapsible and had only to be put together anew each fall, still it was great fun to watch and help my brothers and sisters to fit the four walls and the door. As a special favor, I would be permitted to accompany Solomon, aged eleven or twelve, to the nearest woods to cut the branches and cart them home, and no one there to supervise us! My brother, to show off, would take the bends in the road rather dangerously and usually had the wagon upside down once or twice, but what did this matter since there was no coachman or any other grownup person to scold us!


The Feast of Passover, usually falling around Easter time, was also rather exciting, especially the preparations for it. For two weeks or so the house was turned topsy-turvy and what child does not enjoy such a state of affairs? The heavy homemade furniture, which seemed hewn out of tree trunks and looked so set and dignified the whole year round, appeared rather peevish and uncomfortable in the middle of the room while a chattering lot of women scrubbed and scoured every nook and corner. Not a crumb of bread or anything eaten during the year was supposed to be left around but even the drawing room, which was only used to entertain infrequent visitors and where I spend long hours to escape from reality and weave fantastic patterns, was also given an overhauling for good measure.


The feast of Passover is in commemoration of the liberation of the Jews from the oppression of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Moses ordered them to flee and to take along only such things and provisions as they could each carry. They did not have time to bake bread in preparation for the flight so they took flour along and, since time was precious, on their first halt mixed the flour with a little water and baked it under the broiling desert sun. They probably did not take along any salt either and the matzohs, as the unleavened bread baked by the fleeing tribe of Israel come to be knows, are to this day prepared in a similar manner but, of course, baked in an oven: flour and water, no salt or anything else and baked immediately after mixing before the dough can begin to leaven.


For eight days we ate matzohs and used ground matzoh meal in place of cereals or flour. Long before the end of Passover, I would begin to hunger for a piece of dark kitchen bread; still, I was such an object of envy among the poor peasant children that it gave me a certain satisfaction to have been born different. How they liked the matzohs, the poor children, to whom it was the greatest of delicacies since even a piece of white bread was a rarity to them, served only twice a year at Christmas and Easter. It was a custom in our household that on the first day of Passover all the farmhands came to congratulate us and each was given a few pieces of matzohs and a stiff glass of Pesakhovka, 120-proof vodka specially refined for this holiday under supervision of Jewish rabbis in government-run distilleries.


Each spring, before the Feast of Passover, the newspapers carried ugly rumors of the revival of the centuries-old “blood libel,” that a boy had been killed in some far-away province to provide Christian blood for the Jewish matzohs. This blood libel, or the accusation that Jews use the blood of a Christian, goes back to the first century A.D. when the celebrated Jewish historian, Josephus, in his tirade again Apion, repudiated the accusation that the Jews annually fattened a Greek in their temple, offered his body as sacrifice and swore an oath of enmity against all Greeks. No further reference is found in the intervening centuries, until in the year 1114 a Jewish convert in Norwich, England, accused Jews of having killed a Christian child for ritual purposes. It later was discovered that the child had been in a cataleptic fit and was buried alive by his own relatives. The case was so plain that none of the Jews were even tried but the mere accusation by the convert, who undoubtedly hoped thus to worm himself into the graces of the Christians, was sufficient to cause similar accusations in various parts of England toward the end of the same century. Though there was no evidence and no trial, in each and every case the rumor was sufficient to make martyrs out of children who perished under mysterious circumstances and to attract pilgrims to the cathedrals and abbeys of the various towns, so that such accusations became profitable in more ways than one.


In December 1235, five children of a German miller in the town of Fulda, Hesse-Nassau, were murdered by an unknown killer and immediately 34 Jews were slaughtered by the crusaders. Under torture, the Jews were supposed to have admitted that they needed the blood “for remedial purposes.” The German Emperor Frederick II, after having the matter sifted by numerous Christian scholars and distinguished Jewish converts, pronounced the following judgment:


“For these reasons we have decided, with the general consent of the governing Princes, to exonerate the Jews of the district from the grave crime with which they have been charged, and to declare the remainder of the Jews in Germany free of accusation.”


In 1529 a charge was made at Bazin, Hungary, that a Christian boy had been bled to death. Thirty Jews were supposed to have publicly confessed the crime, whereupon they were immediately burned. The child was later found alive in Vienna. Count Wolf of Bazin, heavily in debt to Jewish creditors, stole the child and spread the rumor, using a peculiarly ingenious way to avoid paying his debts.


There is such an extensive bibliography in the libraries of all civilized nations on the blood accusation and the consequent payment by Jewish communities in life and property for each Christian who perished in some unusual manner, always to the material advantage of their Christian neighbors, that it would take too long to cite all the cases. When they were brought to trial, the innocence of the accused was invariably proved. Just the same, although the accusations were mostly out of malice, they were predominantly based on ignorance and the hatred of people ignorant of things which they could not understand or comprehend.


The Jews have always had ways and customs different from their Christian neighbors and what the ignorant cannot comprehend becomes a mystery to him. The matzohs eaten at Pessach, for instance, are prepared with peculiar ceremonies in order to secure purity and absolute absence of leaven. Since Pessach sometimes coincides with Easter, it was natural for the Christians to compare the matzohs to wafers which pious Christians ate, believing that they partook of the body and blood of Christ. The blood of Christ was visible neither in the bread nor in the wine of the Holy Communion. Therefore, was it not possible that the matzohs contained such a similar invisible ingredient? As a matter of fact, the Jewish religion prohibits the use of animal, let alone of human, blood. For instance, meat has to be soaked for an hour and salted for half an hour before a religious Jew will eat it.


Be that as it may, the blood libel found many ardent proponents among the Russian authorities and Jews all over the pale were, year in and year out, somewhat apprehensive around the time of Passover. One never knew where and when it best served the purposes of the government to arrange a little diversion in the form of a Jewish pogrom. [Created by imperial decree, the Jewish Pale of Settlement was that part of the Russian Empire within which Russia's Jewish population was required to live and work for more than 130 years between the late 18th and early 20th century.]


Since our peasants could not read or perhaps because in their simple minds they figured that, regardless of what other Jews might do, their Pan Peretz could not possibly be guilty; whatever the reason, they enjoyed the matzohs much more than we ourselves did.


My best beloved holiday was Shevuoth. It was the gayest Jewish holiday – practically no crying prescribed by the prayers (it seemed to me that everywhere else crying was obligatory). Also, the smell of reed grass with which we used to cover the unpainted white pine floors, a custom followed also by the Christians at Whitsuntide in our part of Russia, was exhilarating and the profusion of flowers in and outside the house, as well as the decorations of young birch branches, made me unaccountably happy.


But, over and above these material manifestations of a practiced religion that impressed my inquisitive and sensitive mind, there were less tangible influences which left their permanent imprint because of their mysterious beauty.


In the winter the night was very long in a Russian village or even on an estate. The farmhands went to bed almost immediately after sunset, both to save on kerosene and to rest from the strenuous day spent either in the cold granaries or in the open, chopping and carting trees. In our own quarters an extra hour or two was spent reading the paper and planning the next day’s work, while the spinning wheels were busy in the workmen’s kitchen. The whole family retired early because for Father the day started much earlier than for the farmhands, who were roused around four or five A.M. I was usually so exhausted by my strenuous activities in the snow that I would fall asleep over my early supper and therefore would sometimes wake up when the sound of Father’s cane echoed through the high-ceilinged rooms. Simultaneously, I would sense rather than hear the dragging barefoot steps of one of the maids, even before she began to throw on the heavy logs to make a fire in the combination living and dining room to which Father had preceded her. If sleep did not overtake me in the course of my semiconscious listening-in, I, in nightgown and bare feet, would stealthily follow Father into his accustomed corner in front of the fire. He would be sitting there with a silk yarmolka (skull cap) on his head and one of the heavy books in front of him. No word was ever exchanged between us as I silently climbed onto his knees. With one arm around me he would continue his singsong reading of the Talmud while I would sit on his knees feeling that life was terrifyingly mysterious but that with the heat of the burning fire from without and the warmth of Father’s goodness from within, no evil could ever befall me. I would soon fall asleep again and only dimly feel the maid lifting me to carry me back to bed.


Yes, there was a great deal of beauty and dignity connected with the Jewish religion as practiced by my family in the remote corner of Klenovka. True, it was somewhat uncomfortable to have a God who, though invisible, saw everything and even knew your innermost thoughts, yet he seemed a great deal more plausible than the Jesus of my chum Stasya. My rational mind refused to concede to a human being, no matter how great, the omnipotence and omniscience of the invisible but omnipresent God.


I learned the Hebrew alphabet sometime after my fifth birthday and, although I set little store by daily prayers since I did not know their meaning, I was deeply religious in a mystical way. As I grew older this feeling gradually dissolved. However, in moments of great stress, whenever I find myself subconsciously calling upon God, I instinctively feel that it is the old Jehovah of my childhood.


All in all, I was very much satisfied with the Jewish religion and hotly defended it in my arguments with Stasya. I was not even dismayed by her usual final thrust that, since I was not permitted to make the sign of the cross and thus did not have the power to ward off the devils, I would have a tough time both on earth and in the beyond.


As a logical consequence of my satisfaction with the Jewish religion, after comparing it with that of the Christian world within the confines accessible to me, the conviction took root in me that it was an honor and a privilege to be Jewish. This conviction was strengthened by the deference paid to Father by the neighbors and the farmhands, all Christians. The workings of a child’s mind are strangely logical in their deductions but necessarily follow a narrow path, and I could not disassociate the personality of my Father from the fact of his being a Jew.

Chapter III



Before I reached the age of six, Solomon was at school in Troki, Sofya was continuing her pilgrimages to the Boksztanins alone, and a tutor was engaged in the spring to begin my formal schooling. To keep me company, Stasya was also included in this scheme of education. Then Solomon, after two winters at Troki without much credit to himself, was back home and a new tutor was engaged for the two of us, the Boksztanin ­boys having been sent to school in Vilna and Sofya’s education being considered completed by that time. The tutor, a graduate of the Jewish Teacher’s College in Vilna, took a great fancy to me; his hobby was mathematics, and at that age I showed an uncanny gift for figures. I could solve in my head problems which Solomon, six years my senior, would take twice as long to do on paper. It is hard to imagine with what other traits of genius he endowed me but I know that it was due to his dogged persuasion that my family de­cided to send me to school in Vilna the following term. This was not only setting a precedent, I being the first girl of the family to be sent away to school, but it also entailed quite a financial sacri­fice since my tuition was thirty rubles a year in addition to my board and lodging, and it took a good many carts packed full of rye, hay, oats or potatoes to realize the funds to defray the cost of my education away from home.


The secret dream of Mr. Levinskii had been to enroll me in the Maryinskaya Gymnasia, one of a system of girls’ schools under the patronage of the Empress Marya Feodorovna. He knew well that this was out of the question, for the percentage system limiting Jewish students stood in my way. Jewish parents had to have a good deal of money, in addition to a brainy child, to pave the way to­ward opening the portals of that particular institution.


This percentage system applied to all schools qualifying students for a government-approved diploma, for boys and girls alike, especially schools of higher learning. It ranged from “no admittance for Jews,” as in the Military Medical Academy and Railroad Institute at St. Petersburg, the Moscow Theatrical School, the Mining School at Dombrovo and a few others; three percent in the universities and all other schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg; five per cent in all other cities outside the pale and up to ten per cent within the bound­aries of the pale. However, the rate of three per cent prevailed in the so-called Maryinskii schools, no matter where they were located. This meant that only three Jewish girls were admitted to every hundred Christians.


Vilna had a population of about 120,000, about half of them Jews. Even though the other schools in Vilna were under the ten per cent rule, not more than thirty to forty children could be admitted each year, and it is therefore easy to imagine the heartache, and disap­pointments of the many children and their parents. Of course, only brilliant children and those of rich parents dared even to approach these institutions of learning, and since, after all, the requirements for entering a school at the age of eight could not be so terrifically complicated, a system of pitfalls in which to trap the unfortunate youngsters was deliberately invented and developed, for how other­wise could the teachers pick the worthy entrants from hundreds of applicants. A liberal gift on the part of the parent was helpful but, even so, the child had to be at least at gifted as the others. Some children tried doggedly year after year. More boys than girls applied to the government schools, for there were more such schools for boys and also because it was essential to have a diploma from such a school to enter a university, whether in Russia or abroad. University grad­uates as well as dentists and dental technicians obtained, simultaneously with their university diploma, the coveted privilege of domicile outside the pale. This, in addition to the inherent Jewish desire for learning, spurred both the parents and the children to struggle for a university degree. A diabolical vicious circle, however, closed in on them whichever way they turned.


Since girls were usually satisfied with a general all-around education and not so many pursued higher learning, a number of private schools for girls prospered in the towns of the pale, although their diplomas gave no “rights.” When I came to Vilna at the turn of the century these schools had only a four years’ course, but some years later they were permitted to add classes and ultimately embraced the full curriculum of government high schools.


When I was seven, Mr. Levinskii entered me into one of these private schools, run by a Jewish teaching staff for Jewish girls, but otherwise adhering to the requirements of the first four years of a regular Russian Gymnasia. The school of Marcusson was one of the best in town and when I finished it at the ripe age of not quite twelve, I had received a very thorough elementary education.


At school, no reference was ever made to our Jewish life or Jewish ideals. Twice a week there was a special hour for the study of Jewish history but this hour was obligatory in all schools, the government schools having both Catholic and Greek-Orthodox priests as well as a teacher of Jewish religion. In addition, the private schools so thoroughly observed the regulations governing all Russian schools that even talking in Yiddish during intermissions was strictly prohibited. This was good for the proper acquisition of the Russian tongue since many of the children came from poor and ignorant parents who spoke only Yiddish and a mixture of Russian-Polish with a strong influence of peasant talk. On the other hand, it gave the children a certain self-consciousness and girls who boasted that their parents did not speak Yiddish at home were held in awe by their schoolmates.


School presented a number of bewildering problems to me. In the entire seven years of my life in Kenovka I had not seen as many strangers as now passed me in the streets in an hour. For months I could not recognize the school building, which looked to me so much like all the other brick structures, and I also had great difficulty in distinguishing the teachers inside the school. Most of the children appeared rather stupid to me for they did not know, nor were they interested in, the names of flowers, trees and insects, and my excited reports about the individualities and idiosyncrasies of our various cows, horses and dogs left them entirely unmoved and often bored. On the other hand, I afforded them a great deal of mer­riment and entertainment by my limitless gullibility and intense interest in everything around me.


However, the hardest problem that confronted my childish mind was the school’s attitude toward things Jewish or rather the fact that it never referred to them at all. The contempt in which the Yiddish tongue was held had a curious effect on my mind, starting me, so to say, on the reassessment of values.


Until my advent in town, due to the unique conditions surrounding me, I had grown up with the idea that being Jewish was something like an achievement but, after having been thrown into an entirely Jewish environment, I began to sense that there was something amiss. I never gave much thought to Yiddish, which was the language my parents spoke among themselves and with the older children. I understood it perfectly but did not speak it well for the simple reason that I was the youngest and had been left mostly to Marina and my chums. I took it as a matter of course that I would speak it fluently when I grew up, just as all other grownup persons did. It was a matter of growing and learning.


My first spoken language was the dialect of our peasants, very similar to White Russian, and Polish as it was spoken around Vilna. However, when I began my studies, which were in Russian, the other two languages became taboo as far as the teacher and my family were concerned and remained in reserve for social intercourse with the peasants.


Although the real Russian population throughout the Border States, later variously belonging to Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Roumania, consisted of a handful of officials and school teachers, the Russian dominance was so complete that it never occurred to any of us to consider ourselves anything but Russian. Thus, though brought up among a population distinctly non-Russian by both religion and language, such was the influence of the schools and the administration that, to the minds of most of us, Poland started around Warsaw and “Polish” Poles were considered on a par with foreigners. True, this feeling was preeminent only among the Jewish population, whose patriotic awakening had had its beginning under the liberalizing policies of Alexander II; a feeling which none of the subsequent reactionary ukases (proclamations of the Tzar having the force of law in Russia) had managed to kill. On the other hand, the Catholics in the Province of Vilna - that is to say the edu­cated class, for to the peasants it was immaterial who oppressed them - considered themselves thoroughly Polish. This they were not permitted to demonstrate in any manner whatsoever but they used the Polish language for private conversation. It was not permitted to be taught at school or to be used on signs in stores, offices or other public places.


The morning prayer at school called for a blessing on the Tzar and his family and so did the closing prayer. On “Tabel” days (birthdays and saint’s days of the entire Imperial family) delega­tions of children from the various Jewish schools were taken to the main synagogue to listen to the chief rabbi invoke a blessing upon the Tzar. Those invocations resounded impressively under the high vaults of the beautiful old synagogue and had a great effect, especially on the imaginative children. I remember discussions on the way home from such ceremonials when we argued the question as to who ought to come first in the point of allegiance, one’s father or the Tzar. Between the age of eight and ten I was very devoted to the Tzar; in fact he was to me one of the links in my chain of deities God, Tzar and Father or God, Father and Tzar. Soon, however, my devotion to the Tzar began to crumble: the various tragic developments in Russia, as well as the cruel fate of its Jewish subjects in particular, for both of which the Tzar and his government were directly responsible, began their slow, but irreparable effect. Bewildered at first by the rivers of blood shed by innocent people, I set myself to questioning and analyzing the various events with the result that after the age of twelve I was never again a carefree child.


The Jewish pogroms in Kishineff in 1903, with 50 killed, several hundred wounded and 1300 homes and shops put to waste at one horrible stroke, made me realize that that which I myself thought and knew meant being Jewish was not understood by the world outside. I also learned that hooligans with criminal records and other shiftless subjects of the Russian Empire were instigated by agents of the Tzar’s government to murder and rape, and that it was the determined policy of the government to set the rest of the population against the Jews. There was no justice, only mockery. For example, after the pogrom in Bialystok in 1903, 36 young Jews were put on trial for their heroic efforts to defend their families and those of other Jews against the mob of rapists and killers.


Many things have happened in the history of the Russian Empire and in my own life since the days of the Kishineff pogrom. Yet I still remember the victims who trekked to safety among their breth­ren in Vilna, some of them motherless and fatherless children, with refined features but in rags, begging for alms. Vilna was cursed with an army of professional beggars, but it was easy to recognize the victims of the pogrom; they one and all had a tragically vacant look that made the almsgiver shudder. Many of the mothers had seen their children quartered and their daughters raped, and children had seen their parents tortured to death.


During my last year at the Marcusson School, Father died. It was the year of the Russo-Japanese war. I did not know why the war was waged and the idea of killing, no matter whom, was revolting to me. Still, the war-boast of the Russian Army, “We will annihilate them by throwing our caps at them,” sounded rather amusing, consider­ing the reputed size of the Japanese. Perhaps I would not have taken such an interest in the war, because children were not encouraged to read newspapers, except that in January, 1904, Father was brought to town to consult specialists and, weak though he was, his main interest seemed to center in the question of whether or not war would be declared. The physicians found his condition hope­less and sent him home to die in his beloved Klenovka. His last words spoken in my presence, though I did not realize then that I would never see him again, were about the war, and it and his refer­ence somehow remained entwined in my memory. He was talking to visitors when I came up to bid him good-by and overheard him saying, “I hope there will be no war, it will cost so many innocent lives,” and then with the special smile which he always seemed to have in reserve for me, his youngest, he whispered, “For you, my child, I ought to live a little longer.”


Three days later he died in his own bed in the large bedroom which he himself designed on the land which he reclaimed from the wilderness and which he had named Klenovka.



Although many decades have intervened, I remember the Saturday of my Father’s death, following the Thursday evening when I last saw him, as if it happened yesterday. Saturday being the day off in the Jewish schools - all Russian schools had a six-day week with only Sunday off - several of my chums and I were playing various dress-up games. When we decided to play Sleeping Beauty, I was chosen to be her. Wrapped in a white sheet to represent my beauti­ful gown, I lay flat on the floor. Suddenly I jumped up and refused to play anymore, for while in that position I had remembered that Ortho­dox Jews in Russia wound their dead in shrouds and placed them on the floor, and also that Father was gravely ill. I was uneasy the rest of the day so that, when in the evening my half-sister Paya came through the doorway - she had waited until sundown on the Sabbath before riding in a vehicle - I did not ask any questions and she did not say anything to me, except telling me to get my coat, as we were going to Troki. Nor did we talk during the three hours it took to reach our destination by train and diligence (horse-drawn coach). I did not say a word to Mother or Solomon or Sofya either, but looked with horror on the black bundle lying on the floor in someone’s living room in Troki. Next day, when I was urged to say goodbye to Father, I stubbornly refused to budge from the threshold. I was finally dragged forward and stonily stood near the corpse of my father, the Father whom I so deeply adored in life.


A strange thing had happened some six weeks before Father’s death. Three nights in succession I dreamed that I had lost a tooth. Since I had perfect teeth and did not know what a toothache was, I was puzzled and asked the woman with whom I boarded, a kindly soul, what she thought of it. Her face turned solemn and she told me that my dream was a bad omen, for dreaming of losing a tooth meant a death in the family. At eleven one does not take death seriously and I did not dwell on the information. However, when I went to Klenovka for the Christmas recess, I told Mother of the dream and the explanation imparted to me. Mother appeared to be angry and told me not to listen to stupid superstitions. Dreams, if they meant anything at all, predicted the opposite of what one dreamed. It meant that I would have healthy teeth the rest of my life.


Satisfied with her explanation, I did not pay much attention to the fact that Father had sores on his arms and drank innumerable glasses of tea all day long. A few weeks later Father died of diabetes, for which there was no treatment at that time.


After the obligatory seven days of deep mourning (we had to sit on low stools or benches and not leave the house), I returned to school and created a sensation: I was wearing a black uniform in­stead of the prescribed burgundy-colored one. Paya, who had become a dressmaker, was married, and lived in Troki, declared that burgundy was too bright for mourning and insisted on making a black dress for me. I was the only black-clad child in Vilna and the attention of my schoolmates plus the curious and often compassionate glances di­rected at me by strangers did not displease me in the least.


War was declared a day or two later and, as it had interested Father so much, I could not help taking an interest in it myself. It soon became apparent that Russia had been thrown into the war by the advisers of the Tzar without much regard to the fact that neither the country nor the army was in any way prepared for it. Only a small number of soldiers were massed in Siberia. The Trans-Siberian railroad was single-gauge and was not even completed around Lake Baikal; in the summer the cars were transported on ferries and in the winter on icebreakers.


The results were soon catastrophic and a severe blow to the great Russian nation and its gallant army, which was being wiped out by the “crafty yellow race.” In addition, although newspapers had always been strictly censored, it could not be hidden from the general public that graft was rampant and that there was treason in high places.


At home the harvest was exceptionally bad, so that even the states with the richest soil along the Volga River were suffering from famine, with its consequences of scurvy and other diseases. My simple logic could not reconcile the existence of a benevolent tzar, loving and interested in the well-being of his subjects, with the glaring injustices perpetrated under his form of government.


Upon Father’s death the management of the estate was taken over by Mother and Solomon, the latter not yet eighteen. Sofya was en­gaged to be married, and thus I became the family’s greatest problem. Although not uniformly good in all subjects at school, for I was very quick to grasp things but hated homework and much preferred reading a book on any subject, I showed a good head for learning. The percentage limitations in the government schools precluded any thought of my attempting to qualify for a middle school education in Vilna and yet there was absolutely nothing for me to do in Klenovka, with only peasant children whose mentality I had outgrown for playmates, and with only Solomon and Mother, who were busy all day long and went to bed early and rose with the farm hands.


Fortunately for me, my oldest half-brother Moritz, who lived in Kiev, invited me to stay with him and try to pass examinations in a government school the next spring. To this hoped-for eventuality I, by the way, owe a year’s addition to my age on my passport. It was imperative to have a passport in order to move about Russia. Government schools had an age limit, both upwards and downwards, for each grade and, as the private school had prepared me for a higher grade than that into which my twelve years would admit me, it was decided to make me a year older when applying for the passport. Luckily the registration of births and deaths in the small town to whose jurisdiction Klenovka belonged was done with such carelessness that, when Mother took me there to get a copy of my birth certificate, it was found that I was never born, so far as the authorities were concerned. A small tip did the rest.


The preparations for the trip and my unaccompanied departure for Kiev were one of those high points in a child’s life one never forgets. But the journey to and my stay in Kiev are also memorable to me for another serious reason, for during these same preparations it was driven home to me personally what it meant to be a Jew in Russia.


Kiev was located outside the pale, therefore only Jews with special qualifications were granted domicile within the precincts of the upper town, though they were permitted to reside in the lower town, a filthy and unhealthy suburb often inundated by the Dniepr River and known to harbor both low and criminal types. My brother was resident manager of a branch of a large rubber concern which, by paying huge taxes under the category of “Merchants of the First Guild,” had the right to delegate a Jewish representative to live outside the pale the whole year round. His immediate family was also permitted to live with him, but no one else. However, Kiev was not as strict as either St. Petersburg or Moscow and, since I was only a child, Moritz and the rest of my family fervently hoped that I would not be molested. Just the same, I was coached for the trip in terms which made me squirm. I did not look Jewish and spoke perfect Russian but my name was unmistakably Jewish. Therefore, upon reaching my destination I was admonished to talk to strangers as little as possible and never to tell them my name, as spies looking for Jews illegally residing in University towns were overabundant. If found out, I could be arrested any day and packed off for home “by etappe,” that is, forcibly, along with ordinary criminals, thieves, prostitutes and the like. It did not matter that I was only a child. If I were found living illegally, my brother would also be arrested for har­boring me and he most probably would be banished from Kiev.


Thus, with mixed feelings I embarked on the twenty-four hour journey after Mother with tears in her eyes and trembling voice entrusted me to the care of the conductor and a woman passenger who promised to look after me. The conductor, kindhearted overall and thankful for his quarter tip (quite a lot of money for Mother to part with), proved a good guardian and eager to entertain, took pains to point out to me all the towns en route. Late at night we passed Berdichev, populated predominantly by Jews, and stretching his arm toward the lights of the town, the kind conductor deprecatingly remarked, “Zhidovskaya stolitzsa.” Something suddenly contracted within me as I realized that he did not suspect that I was Jewish, for otherwise he would not have used the offensive adjective “sheeny” in trying to tell me that the town was a Jewish capital. Hurt though I was, I knew that the conductor meant no offense. But the mere fact that the ignorant muzhik dared to despise Jews while Berdichev no doubt harbored people as fine as my family and the Klausners acted like a stab in the back. A great ache entered my heart and sent a very sad and subdued child back to her corner in the third-class compartment. It was a presentiment of all the humiliation and injustice that were to confront me in Russia in later years.


Nor did my uneasiness diminish upon reaching Kiev. On the way from the depot to the new and elegant apartment house, my brother in a gentle way tried to impress upon me the necessity of being very careful while living under his roof. I was to use the front stair­case only and to avoid the kitchen as much as possible, all this in order to keep out of the way of the dvornik (caretaker). In add­ition to sweeping the court, the sidewalks and the street in front of the house, guarding the gate in the evenings, opening the door to every tenant who returned home after 10 P.m. and sundry other duties, it was the task of the dvornik to carry on his back up the back stairs bundles of wood to every apartment in the five-story house. Of course the dvornik had been tipped to overlook my presence but just the same it was advisable to be cautious. I listened to Moritz, whom I had seen only twice before in my life and who was old enough to be my father, and a feeling of shame mixed with resentment slowly began to pour poison into my heart. Moritz, whom I had always thought of as a being apart, for he had studied in Vienna and traveled extensively, had to bargain with an uncouth mouzhik and be obligated to him in order to befriend me, his fatherless sister, the daughter of Pan Peretz of Klenovka.


The dvornik was either too stupid to realize the risk he was running by disobeying the law, or perhaps could not very well get into his peasant head that the restrictions included a small chubby girl of twelve, or maybe the tip was generous, but the result was that I was not molested in any way. However, during the nine months that I spent in Kiev I never went into the street nor once returned home without the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that the dvornik might suddenly appear before me and threaten me with the police.


My nephew Yasha, four years my junior, and I became great friends and particularly enjoyed our visits to two families, each with a number of children. The male heads of the two families were bona fide residents of Kiev, one of them an engineer, the other a dentist. Their incomes were evidently insufficient to properly educate the many children, because each family kept roomers, and the tragicomic tales I heard from these people did not make me feel any happier.


One of the roomers was a gorgeous looking red-haired girl with a marvelous contralto voice. She was studying piano and singing but was officially registered as a milliner and in her room several dusty hats were strewn about and a basket with needles and tangled threads was ever in readiness for an unexpected visit from the police, especial­ly detailed to seek out such Jewish lawbreakers.


In another room, a lanky youth with beautiful hands and a faraway look in his eyes composed music the whole day long. Officially he was a dentist’s technician, though most probably he could not have differentiated between a molar and a wisdom tooth.


These two, and many others whose names and faces I have long forgotten, were all young, talented and ambitious and, in spite of their predicament, avid to enjoy life. But in each one of them something very vital had been warped. Hard as it may have been to buck up and meet calamities face to face, the everlasting fear that someday, by some chance, the enforced duplicity might be found out, and all hopes for a chosen career blasted, was even more difficult to bear.


The Slav barbarians had never taken very kindly to the Jews. As far back as the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth cen­tury, mention is made of the undesirable infidels. When in the year 1563, Ivan took the town of Polotzk, where a few Jewish families were in business, he issued a ukase “to throw all the Jews in the river and drown them.” True, in him religious zeal was perhaps uppermost, but he was known to be rather tolerant to other creeds.


While in earlier times opposition to Jews was mostly on account of their religion, with systematic persecutions starting only with the advent of the House of the Romanoffs, the curve of anti-Semitism has at all times curiously paralleled the line of commercial conflict.


In 1740, the Empress Elizabeth ordered that all Jews should leave the country. This was rather difficult to enforce but when later the merchants of Moscow and Smolensk started to complain about Jewish competition, a restriction of domicile was decreed and, in addition, Jews were prohibited from becoming members of the merchants’ estate.


Catherine the Great, on December 2, 1742, ruled Jews out of Russia “until such time as they become Christians.”


In 1791 Jews were prohibited from settling in Central Russia and from then on the attitude toward them grew worse and worse, culminating in the “cherta osedlosti,” literally “limits of domicile,” known in English as the “pale” and other complicated laws and regula­tions against the Jews. The pale, where they had legal residence, comprised the Provinces of Vilna, Vitebsk. Volyn, Grodno. Ekaterinoslav, Kovno, Minsk, Mogilev, Podolsk, Poltava, Bessarabia, parts of Crimea (away from the summer palaces of the tzar and the various grand dukes) and Kiev, except the upper city precincts. Even within the pale their rights were further curtailed by the act of May 23, 1882, restricting their residence to towns and villages of not less than five hundred souls.


In 1819, under Alexander I, Jews were forbidden to lease estates, and in 1824 he prohibited foreign Jews from entering Russia. Nikolai I considered Jews to belong to a “lower class” and was very zealous in his efforts to destroy them. His ukase of May 24, 1829, openly aimed at “decreasing the number of Jews in the State.” In the year 1827 he exiled them from various towns, including Troki, where Jews had enjoyed full autonomous rights under a grant from Lithuanian Prince Casimir Yagellon, issued in 1441.


In the same year, 1827, special and very inhuman rules governing the recruiting of Jews for soldiering were inaugurated. Boys from the age of twelve were forcibly taken from their parents, sent to distant provinces, and cruel attempts were made to proselytize them. Special “catchers” in the pay of the government hunted the unfor­tunate children like professional hunters of wild animals. Most of the captured children chose to remain Jews despite the threatened and imposed minimum term of twenty years. The last years under Nikolai I were the darkest for the Jews of Russia.


Nikolai’s son, Alexander II, who imbibed humanitarian ideas from his French tutor, gave some respite to the Jews as well as to the native population. Under him, in 1859, a law was enacted that Jews living in the pale, after paying the heavy tax of “Merchant of the First Guild” for five years in succession, could live for five years thereafter outside the pale and then, by continuing to pay the tax, could remain residents outside the pale. In 1861 he also allowed Jews who had attained a University degree to live outside the pale. In 1865, Jews with a trade were permitted to live in Central Russia, as were the so-called Cantonist Jews, who had soldiered under Nikolai I, and their descendants. Under Alexander II, in the years 1856 to 1865, Jews of certain qualifications were even admitted to govern­ment positions and entrance into schools was wide open to them. The result of course was very beneficial in that a new love and under­standing for the land of their birth began to blossom among the Jews, as the young generation was fired with the desire to become Russian nationals of Jewish faith.


However, this respite was of very short duration, for reaction soon set in, and under Alexander III, the most obtuse of the Romanoffs, the few liberties the Jews had been given were taken away from them and new oppressions invented. On May 23, 1882, they were prohibited from purchasing or settling on land, and this was followed in 1887 by the percentage limitation in schools described above. In 1891 and 1892, Jews who had theretofore enjoyed legal residence in Moscow were exiled from the city, all except artisans and retired soldiers who had served under Nikolai I. The next year, a meaningless and humiliating law was enacted, prohibiting their official use of Christian surnames. Those few rights which the Jews still legally retained were actually reduced to nothing by the unlimited arbitrariness of the authorities, against whom the Jews had no recourse.


The law which prohibited Jews from settling on land and in villages of less than 500 people defined the rights of domicile outside the pale as follows:

a)   Merchants of the First Guild, after paying taxes continually for ten years,

b)   Persons with University degrees; also pharmacists, dentists, barber-surgeons, midwives and students in Univer­sities, as well as students in training to be barber-surgeons and midwives (the percentage system applied to all students), and

c)   Artisans plying their trade.


Due to the ambiguity of the law and the many contradictory opinions of the Senate, the status of Jews in Siberia was never decided. As a result, with a very few exceptions, Jews were prohibited from settling in Siberia, a vast, scarcely populated, rich and undeveloped land, which Jewish enterprise might have turned into a fine source of income for the State.


Though constituting an insignificant minority, the Jews have always been accused and blamed for something or other in Russia. It is curious to note how the blame affixed to them was always invented to suit the historical situation. Thus, for instance, when Catherine the Great issued a ukase to banish the Jews from her Empire - there were only a few scattered groups of them then - it was for “false ideals and superstitions.” When Nikolai I started his oppressions, he moti­vated them by accusing the Jews of “silly national legends and fana­tical disunions.” Alexander III, when he took away all rights from Jews, except the right to breathe the stifled air in the pale, punished them for their supposed “detrimental economic activities.”

Chapter IV



The time I spent in Kiev had a decisive effect on my future development. I had always been a meditative child, but the problems which had confronted me previously had been only personal ones. Within that year, however, much deeper problems began to occupy my mind, and I labored assiduously to find an answer to them. The works of our poets and classical writers - which I read pell-mell between “The Last of the Mohicans” and a tale about African jungles - though exciting enough, were not quite satisfactory because the heroines were all at least sixteen years old and I could never read a novel without visualizing myself as the lucky or, more often, tragic heroine.


None at the books swallowed in this manner threw any light on why the peasants were so poor, why books and newspapers were strictly censored and why the greater part of the population of the cities was in such a sad state of poverty. By telling the librarian that I wanted the books for my brother, I started to bring home essays, criticism, history and even philosophy, which I studied with great concentration to the detriment of my other work. As a consequence, when the time for passing the official examinations came, I obtained only a diploma for a four-year course instead of five, so that the added age was of no use. My absorption in subjects outside the prescribed curriculum used to puzzle my tutor, and he told my brother on one occasion, “A curious child, your sister; when she sits, I get the idea that she is a grown­up young lady but when she stands, I realize she is only a little girl.”


The entries in my childishly compact diary at Kiev tell the tale of the prevailing conditions and the influences under which I grew up. My first entry on May 1, 1905, reads:


The feeling in town is very strained. I feel lonely and sad and tears well up in my eyes. I try to hold them back, but then they tighten my throat.


And the next day:


Today a pogrom had been expected, but so far everything is quiet. Oh, how to get away from here quickly, quickly!


My diary has several entries bemoaning how lonely and unhappy I was in Kiev. Moritz was away at his office until late in the evening - he had two hours for midday dinner - and after work he frequently played chess with friends or, when at home, he read. My sister-in-law, Emilya, though a Gymnasia graduate, never read anything or was interested in anything except dusting the furniture for hours every day, and that after the maid had already thoroughly done so. Because not a single object graced the buffet or the credenza so as not to scar the wood, and because no one was allowed to sit on the wide couch except in the rare event of company, the furniture was lovely and looked new, although it probably was not.


Emilya seldom talked to me so, except for my daily long walks with Yasha, I buried myself in reading or daydreaming. Although Yasha had two snacks a day between meals, I, though only thirteen, was never offered anything, not because Emilya was stingy but because it probably never occurred to her. Thus loneliness caused me to start eating big portions at meals and, stealthily, chunks of bread in the kitchen when the maid was out. I also appropriated some of the money that Tsilya sent me for the tutor and bought vatrushkas (round tarts filled with sweetened curds) at the elegant bakery on the ground floor of the apartment house. The result was that, when I stopped in Pinsk on my way home to meet Sofya’s husband - she had been married a few weeks earlier - Tsilya took one look at me and promptly ordered a corset. This prob­ably accounts for the fact that for the rest of my life I would not wear anything that felt tight.


However, in Kiev I discovered the theatre, an avocation that increased with time. There was a Troitskii Theatre that gave plays at popular prices and I do not remember how I discovered that Sunday matinees could be attended for ten or fifteen kopecks. Every Sunday thereafter Yasha and I became regular patrons. One of the women ushers happened to be a friend of our maid and she suggested to me that, in­stead of paying for the tickets, she would let us in free for a small gratuity. That went on for some time until I moved to seats in the front row reserved for some dignitary. That Sun­day we were ignominiously ushered out.


With my official diploma finally achieved, I returned to Klen­ovka for the summer and spent the following winter partly at home and partly visiting relatives, while my further education remained very much of a problem. Money was scarce, even more so than during Father’s lifetime but, just the same, Mother and Solomon were willing to make sacrifices, and my married sisters were also prepared to con­tribute to my further education, provided I could enter a Government school. Kiev was out of the question because Jewish students were restricted to five per cent. The two government schools in Vilna had too many well-prepared applicants of wealthy parentage on their waiting lists for me even to dream of competing. Wherever we turned, it was the same. I could not be sent to school outside the pale because the percentage was very low, and within the limits of the pale entrance into a government school, due to the great number of applicants, was as hard as for the proverbial rich man to pass through a needle’s eye.


I loved Klenovka dearly and had a great deal of fun with my pets: a pair of tame pigeons that promenaded with me around the court perched on my head; a young colt that I saved from death when, right after his birth as an accidental and useless offspring of an ordinary draft horse, he was left in the woods to die of hunger and who followed me around like a dog; and of course a number of dogs and cats. But, just the same, time dragged long and tediously with no playmates at the level of my own mental development. Even Kasimira, whom I visited occasionally, had not acquired much more than a smattering of French; she had refused to continue her studies the year before. Our library at home, with the exception of valuable Hebrew tomes, contained only an extensive collection of back numbers of the very popular magazine Niva, with its numerous free supplements of novels and short stories. All of these I gulped down one after the other during my fourteenth year.


Otherwise, there was nothing to do but daydream. This dangerous pastime, enforced upon me for an entire year through my inability to attend school after returning from Kiev, gradually became a part of my character. When I turned thirteen, life seemed to have nothing in store for me, for a future without knowledge was more dreadful to me than death itself. However, there were no tzarist rules and regulations to limit one’s imagination, and to that I gave wide scope.


Tresor was a huge dog, part Dane and seven-eighths other breeds. He would follow at my heels when I walked into the woods. There I imagined scores of thrilling encounters, fully aware at the same time that I could not possibly meet strangers, not a peasant who did not belong to Klenovka nor anyone from the outside world.


In time I found it pleasant and convenient to run away from any kind of reality by transcending at will the border of the land of make-believe. Best of all, I liked to climb to the topmost branches of the crab apple tree and there live and re-live a world that was far removed from percentages in schools, limits of domicile and other such troubling things. My personal longings and some episodes from the novels recently read would become hopelessly mixed up and, in the course of my endeavors to straighten out the entangled threads and clarify the plot, gradually came the desire to write and tell the things I felt. As many Russian writers wrote under pen names, I, to imitate them, chose one too. It was “Klenova” in honor of Klenovka. Mother, to whom I confided my aspirations, gave full approval to the name by saying that it was a wise and beautiful selection. Nonetheless, she cautioned me to wait until I grew a little older, for she had never heard of a fourteen year old writer. While waiting to grow up, I expended my fervor on lengthy epistles to my sisters and former schoolmates and, whatever those letters may have lacked in knowledge and sound judgment, they certainly made up by their earnest sincerity


I felt so grown-up that playing with the peasant children, the only companions available, never entered my mind, especially since the girls of my own age were already quite mature. They had been doing women’s work since the age of ten, if not earlier, and for them playing was out of the question. I knew nothing of sports, having never even heard of any except skating. Solomon was too busy to skate and it would have taken too much of the workmen’s time to keep a part of the pond clear of snow for my use alone. Though skates cost not more than a ruble, none of the peasants in Klenovka could afford a pair; the wages of the head of a family were three rubles a month in addition to the dwelling, a certain amount of produce and the garden, flax, and potato patch allotted to him.


The hills and valleys, covered with deep snow for five or six months of the year, would have been ideal for skiing but skis were entirely unknown. The peasant children usually managed to make some sort of contraption which they used for tobogganing, but after I had begun school, I felt it undignified to indulge in sliding down hill. Besides, this was rather tame compared to the thrill of going along with Solomon to break in the two-year-olds. Mother did not approve of my accompanying him and, if I had ever told her how many times I was out in the snow and under the sleigh when the spirited young colts tried to run away, she would probably have forbidden it entirely. As it was, one or two hours of this dangerous sport whenever weather was nice were my only diversions during that lonesome winter in Klenovka.

On January 1, 1906, I wrote in my diary:


Seven months have already passed since I left Kiev. How many bright hopes I then had, how gaily I planned the future. And now...only black thoughts and everything seems so dark. There seems to be nothing in the future. May God arrange that I be wrong. Today is New Year’s. So much is expected from the new year. So many changes in Government are hoped for, and in everything else. We all wish only that these dreams may come true.


That winter in Klenovka passed not entirely vain though, for under the influence of the current events, following the October 1905 attempt at revolution, I began to take a deeper interest in the peasants, in their way of thinking, mode of living and relations with each other. In a way, what I learned was not entirely new to me because, though I knew that the peasants were illiterate and ignorant as far as events of the outside world were concerned, it never had occurred to me to consider them stupid or backward, for Father, Mother and later Solomon had always found plenty to discuss with them. As a matter of fact, when I read Turgenev’s classic, A Sportsman’s Diary, in which he endeavored to prove that peasants were human (the book was published before the liberation of the serfs and stirred up a great deal of comment at the time; it was in fact written with a propaganda purpose), I did not quite comprehend its purport. I did not require any proof that peasants felt and suffered in the same manner as other people, only they did not show it, for centuries of oppression had taught them to be stoical and not to complain.


Having gained a deeper knowledge of the misery and ignorance of the peasants, I was fired with the desire to organize a class for the children of the farmhands and nearby villagers. I promptly went to Troki to purchase some textbooks and naturally did not fail to boast to the Klausners of my proposed contribution to the emancipation of the peasants. Whereupon I was taken into private consultation and given a thorough explanation of the dangers it entailed. It seems that no one was allowed to tutor a group of people without a special permit, in my case to be obtained from the uryadnik (county sheriff). A permit, however, was granted only to persons over sixteen years of age and in possession of a special teacher’s diploma. My diploma did not give me teaching rights and, of course, I could not take a teacher’s examination since I was underage. For good measure, I was also lectured on the then prevailing political situation.


Because of the revolutionary spirit that had been shown earlier in the year, all classes taking an interest in peasants and work­men were suspected of revolutionary activities, particularly the Jews. Whenever pogroms engineered by the police were given a forced airing, the government claimed that it was “vengeance of the people for the participation of Jews in revolutionary activities and for the growth of socialism among them”.


The Klausner girls told me most emphatically that if I did not wish to endanger the well-being of my family, I had better refrain from teaching the peasant children. Seeing my great disappointment, my good friends suggested that I choose one or two of the brighter children, and teach them, on the quiet, but teaching just one or two did not appeal to my imagination as it did not quite answer the slogan of the Russian Social Revolutionaries, namely, “Going to the People.” Thus my great plans for serving my country and my downtrodden fellow humans were nipped in the bud.


I never talked to either Mother or Solomon about how deeply I was disappointed in not being able to continue my schooling, but they did not need any words to understand how I felt. I became a moody youngster, sulky and uncommunicative, and to cheer me up Mother sent me visiting to Vilna. While I greatly enjoyed my stay with our wealthy relatives, it was not my destiny to have a carefree adolescence. Among notations about a spat with cousin Vita, a few years my junior, my progress at the piano and the romantic-looking officer we met on our walks, my diary contains lines such as these:


June 2, 1906:

There is another pogrom in Bialystok. Cause -- a bomb thrown into the Greek-Orthodox procession.


June 3:

Tomorrow a pogrom is expected, because a religious procession is going to take place.


June 4:

The day passed without an incident. The procession took place. But in Bialystok there is a reign of terror.


I was back in Klenovka for the summer and summers were always full of life and excitement. There were the preparations for the harvest and the harvest itself: crowds of peasants from neighboring villages, the gaiety and laughter of young people in spite of the back-breaking harvesting with a sickle, their merry dancing late into the night, and the house full of brothers, sisters, their children, nurses and maids. For the short summer months I was able to throw off my melancholy attitude toward life, but my mind remained alert, noticing and analyzing the simplest happenings:


July 13:

The harvest began on the 4th. For a week we had over sixty outside harvesters daily. Although I am used to it, still yesterday I had to marvel at the toil and endurance of the peasants. They work thirteen hours a day, exclusive of the three hours for breakfast and dinner. Last night, Yan Zaleski, the coachman, went to the neighboring village and brought a musician. After such a long and hard day they danced almost through the night.

That fall the inhabitants of the small town of Pinsk, numbering about thirty thousand, one-third of them Jews, succeeded after many years of petitioning in persuading the Department of Education to open a girls’ Gymnasia. The tuition was twice that of the other government schools, but the school was entirely free of the percentage curse.


How great was my desire to continue my studies and someday obtain a diploma from a government school can be gleaned from my diary:

There is such a chaos in my head that I do not understand how I have not lost my mind. Sofya writes that a Gymnasia is being planned in Pinsk and, if it mater­alizes, she invites me to come and enroll as a student…if she were my worst enemy, she could not have more harshly reopened the wound that has never healed.


When the school opened its doors in the fall of 1906, there was a double shift in all seven grades. There were seventy to eighty pupils in each grade, with girls coming from far and near since the school was the first of its kind to open in that district. So great was the thirst for education that not all the applicants could be accommodated. I entered school in mid-term as one of four lucky girls among thirty-two contestants. The pupils were predominantly Jewish, with Christian children representing only about one-fifth, for the latter did not need education and a degree as the gateway to a chance in life. Graduation from this school enabled the Jewish students to pursue further studies in universities either in Russia or abroad and thus acquire a profession which would enable them to live outside the pale.


For boys there still remained the one and only “Realnoye” School where mathematics was stressed, as opposed to Classical Gymnasia where Latin and Greek were the predominant subjects. Small, eager-faced Jewish youngsters continued to sweat year in and year out under tutors, usually recruited from the teaching staff of the school at a triple price in the hope that it might serve as a bribe. A year later a private Gymnasia for boys - with “rights” - opened its doors and was immediately filled to overflowing.


My school years in Pinsk reunited me with Marinya, my part-time nurse when I was younger. After many years with the family in Klenovka she decided to follow Sofya when my sister married. Marinya was an immaculate housekeeper and excellent cook but very moody and bossy, and we all learned to live with it.


One of my boyfriends was Yekhiel Weizmann. Yekhiel’s brother, Chaim, became a famous British chemist who later was the first President of the new State of Israel in 1948, and Yekhiel’s son, Ezer, became the Minister of Defense in the Likud Cabinet of Menachem Begin in 1977. Yekhiel lived in a large house that was separated from my sister’s by a wide lawn, a high fence, and the well we shared. Khillik, as Yekhiel was called, made a hole in the fence and came to see me that way instead of going out to the street and having to pass the closed but imposing Catholic church behind which my sister lived on a large plot of ground. Once, when he was ready to go home after a visit, we discovered that Sofya had company in the dining-living room adjoining my room and that Marinya was in a foul mood in the kitchen to which the other door led. He therefore climbed atop my writing desk and jumped out of the window and by doing so caused one or two of the many pots of plants that Marinya kept on the windowsill to tumble to the ground outside. Marinya heard the crash and took out after Khillik with a kocherga (a long-handled poker bent at a right angle at one end) across the grassy plot toward the fence. She missed him, but just!


To this day the Weizmanns remain the most interesting family I have ever known. Khillik was the youngest of five sons and seven daughters, and all but the oldest obtained higher education. They were also very independent and proud of their Jewish heritage. For example, they insisted on speaking Yiddish wherever they were, when most educated Jews tried to shun that language. The result was that the brightest Gentile boys in Pinsk learned some Yiddish in order to be invited to the Weizmann home, which was considered a privilege. Tsilya’s husband, Ovsey Epshtein, was a cousin of the Weizmanns and went with them to kheder (a class for boys to learn Hebrew) in Motel where they formerly lived, but the two families exchanged formal visits only a few times a year. After I left Pinsk the families became closer and the widow Weizmann with one or two of the daughters spent some time in the Epshtein home before emigrating from Poland to Palestine.


I felt shy in the presence of the Weizmann progeny and was immensely flattered when one of them, on vacation in Pinsk, condescended to play croquet with Khillik and me in their spacious back yard. Khillik and I were the same age but he was a grade lower than I because he had to pass stiff examinations twice in order to enter the Realnoye school. Just the same I was somewhat mortified to have an admirer in a grade below mine and never walked with him on the quai, but on the railroad tracks way out of town.


The memory of Marinya brings to mind another poignant fact. She was born a Greek-Orthodox but preferred the Roman Catholic religion and wanted to be converted. In order to do so, she had to learn the catechism. She did not know how to read and Sofya’s efforts to teach her failed entirely. However, she memorized the catechism word for word from Sofya’s reading it to her month after month for several years and was finally accepted into the Catholic Church. The priest, having heard what a good housekeeper and cook Marinya was, told her that it was a grave sin to work for Jews and asked her to come and work for him. She did so but later migrated to America. I found her in New York in the 1920s and she told me that she had not been happy with him.


My three years at school were happy ones on the whole but events in my native land blocked a carefree enjoyment of my youth, as mirrored in my diary:


January 1, 1907:

So many changes since last year. I don’t grieve any more; do not think that life has come to an end; on the contrary, I am busy studying for the exams. New hopes envelop me and the world is beautiful again. Happy New Year! Happiness, where is it? When will it come? Russia has a bad harvest, unemployment, famine. People die from scurvy, typhus and other miseries. The Duma [A Russian national parliament during czarist times] has been closed. When will there be an end to all this?


At Pinsk I alternated staying with one or the other of my two married sisters, Tsilya and Sofya. They, having passed a great portion of their lives in the country without seeing many people, were simple-hearted and not suspicious of their fellow man, so I was never restricted in my choice of friends, boys or girls. The Jews in Pinsk were for the most part Orthodox and did not approve of their daughters associating with Gentile boys. My sisters, on the contrary, never questioned the religion of the friends I made and I was free to bring them all to the house.


At our school there was no discrimination by the teachers, all Gentiles and most of them men, whether because we were in such a majority or because the teachers were liberal-minded is hard to tell. There was only one Gentile girl, to whom all of the teachers were partial, but we could not very well blame them, for golden-haired Sasha was the sweetest and best-mannered girl in my class and one of the most brilliant. Poor Sasha, she also had a cross to bear. Coming from a small neighboring town where her father was the Principal of a boys’ school, she boarded in Pinsk with her uncle, a gendarme. To be a gendarme was quite a position in the eyes of the law but it certainly set the person apart from his fellow beings. A gendarme was a member of the Political Police, whose duty it was to spy upon his fellow men. Outside of the strictly official circle, embracing the Police Captain, the Judge, the Public Prosecutor and a few others, gendarmes had no friends, for it took very little to become a political suspect and the most law-abiding citizens were wary of them. We all loved Sasha but seldom visited her or invited her to our houses and in general kept somewhat aloof because even an interest in literature, outside of that prescribed by the school curriculum, was cause for suspicion. We never mistrusted Sasha but, just the same, a word from her lips might unwittingly have caused trouble and so she, so well-read, intelligent and idealistic, had to content herself with friends among the lesser lights in the class. None of us ever suspected how this pained Sasha and it was only years later, when she became an active revolutionary in the year 1917 that she confided to an old classmate who met her far away from our alma mater, how much of an outcast she had felt during those years at school.


I was one of the three youngest girls in class and this trio quite naturally gravitated together although we were very different in temperament, upbringing and family position. The two other girls were Rashelle and Manya. Rashelle was the daughter of wealthy parents, very properly brought up under the guidance of a succession of governesses. She was rather quiet and reticent and these traits her classmates, in view of her upbringing and parentage, immediately dubbed as snobbish. It was this general attitude of the other girls toward Rashelle that drew me to her, for I always felt an urge to champion anyone who in my estimation had been wronged. The fact that she had two older brothers at the Realnoye School, one of them quite a favorite among the girls, may also have been a contributing factor to the beginning of our friendship. Manya, on the other hand, was the daughter of poor shopkeepers who had to struggle for a living and she therefore never had the advantages of either Rashelle or myself. First I and then Rashelle were strongly drawn to her. Poorly dressed and not at all pretty, also terribly shy, she only blossomed out when secure among those whom she considered true friends. She was very romantic and poetically inclined and, though in later years she became a poet and a writer, her only ar­tistic outlet during our school days was the drawing of faces, or rather noses, of a thousand shapes and lengths. I lived across the street from Manya and of an evening would often sit with her in the small grocery shop of her parents (customers were very scarce) and we would talk and talk. It was not boys that we discussed although both of us had our share of beaux. Our center of discussion was focused on books, which we devoured in a frenzy and then analyzed almost word by word. In my diary my references to Manya during our first year at school invariably have something to do with either books or life’s ideals:


Manya and I often talk about books. She is just marvelous at grasping the true meaning.

Manya and I often discuss the question of how to combine service to the cause of revolution with the desire for personal happiness. How, really? Where is the answer? Will time show?


I rather liked our school, mostly on account of its freedom as compared with other schools of the same standing. Not to be obliged to wear the brown uniform outside of school and not to have to ask for special permits every time one went to the theater -- these were privileges to be grateful for. My personal life during those school years had no complications, but the fate of Russia seemed to torment me all the time:


December 31, 1907:


The New Year is coming in an hour. Fearful, fathomless 1908! What will it bring? In the villages, in the towns is cold, famine and unemployment! There is no hope for a change for the better... It struck 12 o’clock. What shall I wish for? Happiness? Yes, happiness for myself, for my dear ones, and for Russia -- peaceful quieting down.

Chapter V



The years following the tragic 1905 were years of unrest during which a good many innocuous novels were banned by the authorities, because political meanings were suspected in the most innocent references. Naturally, such books were greatly sought after. Through our desire to read one of these books Manya and I came into contact with the underground library, conducted by boys of our own age. The forbidden books owned by this library, including no more than 100 tattered volumes, were mostly reference and text books. Such volumes could be found in any University library for the use of the students but which for some unaccountable reason were prohibited in the provinces. These included theses on political economy, history of human culture and of course some of Karl Marx, Kautski, Lassalle and other such authors. There were also a few old issues of socialist papers published abroad. The corruptive influence of these books could not have been very great, judging from the references to them in my diary:


I like the Memoirs of a Revolutionary very much. Kropotkin is close to me because he likes poetry and nature, just the contrary of Turgenev’s Baz­arov. The Memoirs of Lassalle show a great deal of egotism.


The library, which could be packed safely into a medium-sized box, was carefully catalogued; the box traveled from one youngster’s house to another’s to elude discovery but was most frequently lodged with Alex. Alex boarded with the family of some minor official who lived on the ground floor of an old monastery next door to Sasha and her uncle, the gendarme. To hide the box there was a very daring thing to do but it proved a safe place for a considerable length of time.


Gatherings of more than a dozen people at a time, especially among students, were actually viewed as against the law and I well remember the feelings of importance and bravery that coursed through my veins one evening when I had such a gathering at my house. About twelve or fifteen boys and girls, ranging in age from not yet fifteen to seventeen, sat listening to a girl a few years older than ourselves lecturing on an “Introduction to the History of Civilization”. To disguise the aim of the gathering, the table was set as if for a tea party and we were all ready to change our serious expressions into hilarious countenances at the merest suspicion of any noise outside. One member of the group had to miss half the lecture in order to serve as a lookout. The name of the book stuck in my memory, even though I could not verify it in my diary. Because of developments which I shall mention later, my diary for the years 1906—1907 appears rather mutilated. Pages are cut out in whole or in part and many lines are scratched out with a penknife. Under December 21, 1907, I find the following footnote:


Due to the censorship which I found necessary to intro­duce into my diary, a great deal will be deleted from the subsequent pages.


Then follows on December 29, 1907:


Last night we had a reading of...(scratched out). The lecturer...(scratched out) was tremendously interesting. Today I spent five hours with Rashelle. We read over the lecture. (Scratches and cuts). It seems what could be simpler? Young people desire to develop men­tally. Well, they may not! Strictly forbidden, otherwise you are banned from school! Such is the order of things in our Holy Russia. Will it ever be better? The future will show. In the meantime it’s bad. Oh, how terrible it is! I do not take much interest in politics, but I want to talk over with myself and write down what Russia is going through now. There was a State Duma, the first by actual count. There was a lot of talking but nothing could be accomplished. The deputies were all ‘left” ones and, of course the Duma was dissolved. The delegates chosen by the people would not disperse and gathered in Vyborg, Finland where they signed a proclamation to the people. For that they are now being tried. According to an article in one of the newspapers, Tovarishch, I think, they were ‘accused of incendarism to the Fatherland and tried as for reckless driving’, that is, three months in prison... Then there was the Second Duma. There were less “left” ones in it, but still too many for the authorities... and the Duma was again dissolved. Finally there is the third Duma now, consisting of members of the “Black Hundred”, but so far they have not accomplished anything either! The deputies being “True Russians” are all very pious and lovers of leisure, so they have hastened back to their homes.


Oh, you Russia, Russia you mine,

Poor and bitter is destiny thine.


Another memorable evening was spent in the house of this selfsame Alex in the monastery. We had gathered to discuss the possibility of arranging, in secret, evening classes for the Depot workers, which naturally would not receive the sanction of the authorities. Most of us came from either small towns or villages and all of us Zealous Monarchists (a society then), also reactionaries and active anti-Semites, knew firsthand the ignorance and the privations of both the peasants and the workers. All we wanted was to teach them to read and write so that they could find some outlet, other than vodka, for their pain and pleasure. However, the aim of the government was to keep the bulk of the population in ignorance and it alone had the prerogative of opening schools if and when it chose. That evening almost ended in disaster. Naturally, we were all very nervous and jumpy, knowing full well what dire punishment awaited us if we should he found out, and when the overcautious lookout suddenly shouted “police” we all dashed out of the room helter-skelter. Manya and I had a horrible experience, because we lost our way in the labyrinth of dark vaulted corridors and, when we finally gained the back gate, whom did we come face to face with but Sasha’s uncle? He probably assumed that we had been visiting Sasha and greeted us quite amiably but oh, what a scare he gave us!


Manya, more serious-minded than the rest of us, began to play an active role in the library, that is, she would accept four or five books from one of the bona fide members and distribute them among the various readers. I was one of the most voracious readers and some book from the underground library was always under the mattress of my bed. The reading of these books was the only secret I had from my sisters, not because they would have disapproved of the contents but because they knew the danger it entailed and would no doubt have tried to dissuade me from taking such risks.


A year at school had passed and the second one was nearing its end. In another year we would receive the coveted Gymnasia Diploma, which would open the doors of higher education to those of us who wanted or could afford to pursue it. One Saturday morning in the spring of 1908 I reached school rather early and found quite a few girls a1ready there. Pale and excited, they surrounded me with the news that Manya, two other girls, Rashelle’s two brothers and a few other boys had been arrested and taken to the detention pen. Since I was known to be Manya’s closest friend, they feared that I had suffered the same fate. My consternation can well be imagined and also the horrible sensation in the pit of my stomach, for I had as usual spent the evening before with Manya and had brought home one of the library books. The immediate dilemma before me was whether to go home and face arrest there, for surely the police must by now have found the book among my things, or to stay at school and face arrest where I was. Both were none too pleasant prospects, but I decided to take a chance and see whether I could not beat the police to it and destroy the book before they found it. Of course, I felt sure that I was being followed by a number of spies and on my walk home I tried to act as nonchalantly as possible.


It was considered a grave offense against school etiquette to come in without the prescribed black apron over one’s brown uniform. Using my wits, I tucked the apron into my muff and, walking fast with my coat open in spite of the cold spring air, shouted gaily to the girls and boys I met enroute so that anyone could hear me that I was going home for my apron which I had forgotten.


On the porch I collided with my little nieces who were being taken for their morning walk. I must have been a bad actress, for their old nurse after one look at my face precipitately made the sign of the cross, with the ejaculation “God help us,” but I did not give her time to question me and abruptly shut the front door in her face. Inside everything was peaceful and undisturbed, for my sister was still asleep. Pale and trembling -- a murderer endeavoring to cover up the traces of a crime could not have been more apprehensive -- I finally reached my room, locked the door and made a dash for the bed. Yes, the small book was still there. Thinking rapidly, I opened the tile stove, threw the book into the smoldering coals and, exhausted, dropped down or the bed. After five minutes of absolute inertia, during which time my brain seemed to have stopped functioning, I opened the stove, mixed the charred paper with the glowing embers and, with a sigh of relief, made my way back to school. Only then did Manya’s terrible predicament become clear to me in its full force.


The interminable hours of that day at school were divided be­tween grief for Manya and the fear that I too might still be drawn in. The news of her arrest spread like wildfire and nothing else was whispered about among the school children. The director of the school was a rather stern but quite intelligent man, and the headmistress was a good soul but rather ineffectual. Whatever they may have thought of the incident in private, took the official stand that Manya had disgraced the school and in a short lecture to the class warned us to avoid the pitfalls of association with such bad and dangerous company. Manya and dangerous company fitted so ill together! She was sweet, good—natured, bearing no ill will to anyone, and just wanted to learn a little more than prescribed by the school authorities in the belief that knowledge might help her to serve Russia and all the downtrodden peasants and workers.


Rashelle’s two older brothers, Abrasha and Syoma, had also been arrested. However, their rich papa’s and still richer grandpa’s contributions to the police must have been substantial, for the boys were soon released and permitted to finish their studies at the Realnoye.


The behavior of their mother during their arrest was the only hilarious memory connected with those tragic times. While the boys went to pack a few belongings to take to jail, mama cautioned the police captain that Syoma did not like the film that formed on boiled milk -- all milk had to be boiled in Russia to make it safe -- and that it must be removed before tea was served to him!


The weeks that followed were full of foreboding for the police had become very active and I lived in constant fear of receiving an unexpected call from them. There is a short note in my diary reading:


I will not write about the happenings of’ the last weeks; they are so engraved in my memory that they can never be forgotten. I should like to record them but no -- sooner or later the diary may fall into the hands of the police and I would not like them to know what I have lived through of late.


The next entry is months later at Klenovka:


My darling diary. Have not talked to you for such a long time. A lot of good and bad has happened since but I could not confide it to you because you, my dear comrade, were for reasons of necessity put away in a secret place. I want to tell you what happened. When I wrote last, the hideous nightmare had already taken place and among the victims were Manya, S.F., R.R., V.V. Although I know the others too, their arrests have not affected me as much as Manya’s for she and I have been friends for three years. She was kept for a few days in the detention pen, then for two weeks in prison where I visited her several times. Finally she was admitted to bail (400 rubles), but my connection with her had undergone a rift. I was busy at school, she at home, we did not visit each other often but I love her as before, even more. If I told her that, she probably would not believe me.


I was right in being convinced at the time that I would never forget Manya’s arrest and what followed but just the same my visits to the prison, especially the first one, stand out more vividly than the other recollections. It was the middle of April and spring was already well advanced. There were no special hours for visitors but we, a small group of her friends, knew that the women had their daily walk within the prison grounds from 12 to 2 o’clock. A high fence of wooden planks set close together separated the prison from the fields surrounding it. In some places the wood in the fence was warped or knots had fallen out and through these small slits and holes I beheld Manya, her pigtail swinging in the sunny breeze. I called out and upon hearing my voice Manya came running to the wall and we kissed, our lips on either side of the plank. At first she appeared rather cheerful and in a few minutes told me all the exciting news from behind the prison walls.


There were about a hundred political prisoners in the male section and the night she and the two boys were transferred from the detention pen to prison they were greeted by a beautiful chorus singing the famous revolutionary funeral march:


“You fell victims in the unequal strife

In the fatal struggle for freedom.”


These political prisoners, a good many of whom were university students, graduate engineers, etc., had made a pet of her, called her “Malysh” (Little One) and brought to the bars of the women’s section all the chocolate and other delicacies they received from the outside. She told me that now she was getting a real education; for the political prisoners had a library of so many “forbidden” books as she never dreamed could exist. Every evening the prisoners sang for hours all the enchanting Russian folk songs we all loved and also a number of revolutionary songs which were prohibited out­side the prison walls. The warden tried to stop them but, since the prisoners were otherwise well behaved, he did not enforce the rules too rigorously.


In the women’s section it was not so pleasant for it had no provision for political prisoners, Manya and another girl being the only ones. Therefore they were kept together with real criminals: murderers, prostitutes caught sinning against the law beyond the con­fines of their legalized profession, infanticides and so on. Manya was permitted to use a small camp bed of her own but, even so, the vermin were terrifying and the odor suffocating. She also had a lit­tle pillow (podushechka) of her own, brought along on the advice of the gendarme, who had known her since childhood, on the night he ar­rested her.


She told me though that she could not complain of the inmates themselves, “victims of social injustice,” as she proudly ex­plained to me. Soon, however, her fervor subsided and she just stared at me through the hole, while hot tears ran down our fresh young cheeks simultaneously on either side of the fence. A soldier with a gun over his shoulder, bayonet attached as on the field of battle, shouted something to her and soon she was gone from my blurred vision.


A special session of the District Court convened to try the youth­ful defendants. Manya, on account of her youth -- she was not yet sixteen – and thanks also to a bribe of 300 rubles and the gallantry of one of the boys, whom I only remember by his first name of Stanislav, was called only as a material witness. This Stanislav was a very poor boy who had starved and skimped all through his school years and had only three months to graduation from the Realnoye School. In his room nothing was found to incriminate him, but he voluntarily admitted that it was he who had given to Manya the books which were found during the night of her arrest. Manya, feeling the call to be a martyr, stoutly denied it but it did not save the unfortunate youth.


Among the four or five books found in Manya’s house, one was on political economy and another by Plekhanov. I don’t remember the others but they probably were of the same direct danger to the monarchy as the first two.


During the trial, a famous attorney who came from St. Petersburg to defend the youngsters tried his very best though he knew he was waging a losing battle. In his summing-up speech he quoted from Manya’s diary (which had been confiscated by the police), point­ing out her selfless ambition to serve Russia and to help all the downtrodden people, especially her desire to emulate the lives of Sofya Perovskaya and Vera Zasulich, famous revolutionary heroines. At one point he declared, “These are golden words and they should go down in history as the ideals of Russia’s youth,” but his sincere eloquence was not of much avail. A mimeographing machine was found in the room of one of the defendants, which led to the suspicion that he printed anti—Government pamphlets. It is also possible that the Government had reason to believe that they belonged to the Social-Revolutionary Party. The punishment was very dire: three of the boys were exiled to Siberia where the gallant Stanislav lost his mind, while the other two served their terms until the spring of 1917, when as half—broken human beings they returned to a “free” Russia.


Upon Manya’s release from prison the school authorities handed her the so—called “Woolf’s Ticket”, which blocked her from all government institutions of learning in Russia. Unable to afford study abroad, she finally embarked on the only road open to her. She emigrated from Poland to the United States, where she loved to describe the sweatshops she had been mercilessly pushed into by the government of her native land.


The end of the term without Manya on the bench at my side was not a gay one for me, nor for Rashelle. A dark cloud seemed always to hang between us and the sun in the daytime, while the evenings were much worse. Even after Manya was released it was very dangerous for us to associate with her and, although Rashelle and I were ready to brave fate, we had to consider our families. They all liked Manya and were full of pity for her, yet they were also anxious that our lives should not be similarly marred, especially considering the attitude of the school authorities. Manya’s predicament and the con­ditions of which it was a symbol made the evenings seem particularly empty and I can well recall the feeling of desolation that often engulfed us. Rashelle and especially her older brother Abrasha were accomplished musicians and their drawing room often presented the sight of five or six youngsters sprawled on the rich carpet in the dim recesses of the large room, listening to Chopin or Beethoven and feeling that life was too complex and not worth living.


A good many suicide clubs flourished in various cities among youngsters of fifteen to eighteen and, while the older people were horrified and naturally condemned such practices, the younger generation all over Russia, while not committing suicide en masse, fully comprehended the motives that prompted their contemporaries to end their lives.


One of my young second cousins did so, but her reasons were more complicated. She was a student, in Switzerland I think, and an ardent revolutionary. When a dangerous mission came around, she volunteered to carry it out. However, the notorious and infamous agent-provocateur (double agent) Azef, who was very fond of cousin Rashelle, refused to permit her to carry out the assignment since he knew full well that she would face certain death. Assuming that Azef did not trust her, the poor girl, who was in her late teens, was so mortified that she committed suicide. This reminds me that another second cousin later married Azef’s widow, who had been ignorant of her husband’s perfidy.


Just the same we were all young and we had our moments of joy. The Pina River, on the left bank of which Pinsk is situated, flows so lazily and is so wide as it passes through the town, that it much more resembles a lake. A great deal of the social activities of the young­er generation took place on the river or on the quai, the only street in town which was properly planned and adequately tended. In the spring, summer and fall, we sedately walked up and down the quai or rowed on the river, while in the winter we spent many hours skating on it and, of course, in all seasons did a considerable amount of flirting. Sometimes we walked along the railroad tracks on the other side of the town, on which trains passed only twice every twenty—four hours, and particularly on the rails themselves since, in order to keep balance, it was occasionally necessary to use one’s male companion’s hand for support.


School in Russia was a place of learning and learning only and I now realize that a great deal of knowledge was pounded into us. To be sure, not common everyday knowledge that would enable us to obtain jobs upon finishing school -- only a negligible percentage of us were dreaming of a job anyway -- but real learning. All subjects except Latin and either German or French were obligatory and while we were crammed with a mass of knowledge on many wholly unrelated subjects, still the Russian Gymnasia provided a solid academic foundation upon which to build.


Suddenly, fired by a desire to excel, I began to take a real interest in the studies, though never to the extent of doing any homework. If it had not been for a petty misunderstanding with one of the teachers I might have graduated with either a gold or silver medal, the highest honors in Russia, but he vowed to prevent it and he did. I must admit that he had ample reason for being angry. However, the punishment was too severe, for, regardless of the fact that I gave a brilliant description of the Toricelli vacuum princi­ple the day before school was dismissed for the ten-day pre-Lenten vacation, I should have at least glanced over the next lesson. As it was, when I was called on the day school reconvened I had to ad­mit that I had not opened the book. A single “3” in my diploma is the only “satisfactory” mark among the “good” and “excellent” for all other subjects. The consequences of this single “3” were stupendous in their effect upon the future course of my life.


As I have already explained, the percentage regulation limited Jewish university students to an exceedingly small number so that only those with either gold or silver medals, especially girls, could ever hope to jump the barriers or admission to a university. Very few universities admitted women students and there were only a few places of higher learning for women alone. The dream of every Russian girl, unless she wanted to study medicine, were the so-called “Bestuzhev Courses” in St. Petersburg, a university exclusively for women but the doors to this place as well as to any other were def­initely closed to me on account of that unfortunate “3”.


The spring of my graduation was an unseasonably hot one in Pinsk and by the time the diplomas were handed to us at the beginning of June we were one and all physically exhausted and mentally fagged out. All during my years at school I had relied on my powers of grasping material and my excellent retentive memory that had carried me from the fall semesters right through into the spring. However, since upon graduation we were required to pass examinations for the entire curriculum of seven years, I had to do a great deal of grinding. With a studious schoolmate named Sonya Kivman, whom I chose in prefer­ence to Rashelle so as not to be distracted and to whom book knowledge did not come very lightly, I crammed up to eighteen hours a day. The result was that the minute the last exam was over, I could not have acquitted myself again on any single subject had I been called on.


The graduation, without any kind of exercises to commemorate our parting from the school, was a cold official function. The teachers, the majority of whom were men, were suffocating in gala uniforms, the female supervisors including the headmistress were even more stiff than usual, while the girls wore the prescribed gala uni­form of brown dresses and starched white aprons. When her name was called, each graduating student went up to the dais, made a knicksen (curtsy), received her scroll, then made her last knicksen in life and, after shaking hands with the Director, was sent out into the world with a “medium” education.


I left the room in a mixed state of daze and boredom and went into the lovely garden to take leave of the beautiful peonies which bloomed there in profusion. On my way to the exit I encountered the headmistress. “Oh, Mademoiselle Katz—Sandler,” she exclaimed. “Why have you never used your full name before? It sounds so noble!”


I had great difficulty in holding back the mirth which her remark provoked in me. She was a kind but neutral person who always put major emphasis on appearances. During my first term at the Pinsk school she discovered that I made a very graceful knicksens and made it a habit to send children from the lower grades to me for instruction. Like all rather reserved people, I wanted to be known as a tomboy and a daredevil rather than an exemplary knicksen-maker, especially as the other girls made a great deal of fun of my instructions. At an­other time, the headmistress was horrified that such a well—bred young lady as Mlle. Katz should hold her hands in the pockets of her coat, although the weather was about 20 below zero Fahrenheit!


How could I explain to her my reason for using only Katz of my official passport name Katz-Sandler during the school year? Katz-Sandler had to appear on the diploma. Sandler in Hebrew means shoemaker. Some Jews in Russia were forced to accept arbitrary and often offensive names from the authorities when family names were first required. I dreaded the suspicion that there might have been a cobbler among my ancestors for Jewish artisans in the pale, due to the abject poverty in which they lived, were usually the least cultured among the race. On the other hand, the name of Katz needed no explanation in a Jewish community. In Hebrew it is spelled with just two letters without a vowel; the K standing for Kohne (priest) and Z for Zadik (holy). It is claimed that those bearing the name of Katz and its various derivatives such as Coohen, Kagan, etc., are the direct descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses and of the high priests in ancient Judea. Down through the two thousand years of persecutions, inquisition, ghettos, pales, pogroms and restrictions of every imaginable kind, all of my male ancestors were required to know the holy script and to lead the congregation in prayer. Only hazily acquainted with anthropology, I firmly believed that the pure undiluted blood of those ancient Hebrews flowed in my veins, particularly as all down through the ages a Kohen was not permitted to marry a proselyte. True, he could marry the daughter of a proselyte but, since being a Kohen had its material drawbacks, perhaps not many were tempted into such marriages. A priest in ancient Judea, in order to keep his purity, had to abide by many restrictions such as not to approach the vicinity of a corpse, not to visit cemeteries except for the burial of his own parents, and a good many others. For this reason a Kohen to this day is seldom welcome as a Rabbi and few Kohens choose medicine as their profession. I may not have known all the details but Father had been a Kohen and I felt that I would rather be known as his daughter. (Although the double name appeared in all the official documents, it was never used by any member of my family.)


Finis… I am very glad that it is all over, but is there really such happiness in finishing school? And what then? If I knew that I would be completely happy. But now! Do I know what is going to happen to me, where I shall be in a few months? Of one thing I am certain though; I shall not remain in Klenovka, no matter what this may cost me. Sadness comes with these thoughts, besides I am sorry to leave school, the carefree student life. It seems to me as if I were leaving behind forever all my exuberance, all childish pranks, all foolishness, all silly but dear nonsense. If this is so, then it’s very sad. At our last ball the teacher of mathematics told me that I was very good-natured and will therefore be happy. Yes, I do want to be happy and who does not at seventeen? All life is still ahead… I look back upon the past year and only pleasant memories re-echo. Our student balls, where I was always the mastermind, and all the school pranks in which I took part. Then the Gogol Celebration on March 20th. With Shura we read a scene from Gogol’s Dead Souls, that of Korobochka and Chichikov. I gave an excellent reading of Korobochka but, strangely, the reading itself gave me more pleasure than the applause that followed.

Chapter VI



The summer in Klenovka after graduation was one of the gayest for me. To the shocked amusement of the rest of the family I often took part in the dancing and hilarity of the peasants. In spite of the fact that in childhood our entire family grew up together with the peasant children, there was an insurmountable social distinction between us once we entered the adolescent state, which none of my older sisters ever tried to break through. However, prompted by the socialistic literature and also perhaps by the changing times, I did not see any reason why I should not dance with the handsome and dash­ing coachman, illiterate though he was. After a few critical remarks, such as that my education evidently did not have any beneficial effect on my manners since I seemed to prefer to imitate peasant girls rather than behave like a young lady, Mother let me have my own way and I suspect my sisters, in spite of their sarcasm on occasion, envied me my victory over Mother’s prejudices. At those times I became a giddy youngster enjoying life while at the same tine conscious of blazing a new trail toward equality of mankind.


My fraternizing with the peasants once led to a near disaster. One of the farmhands had spent a year as a prisoner of war in Ja­pan and, although he was pock—marked and stupid, I regarded him as surrounded by an aura of that far-away and exotic land. As a mark of favor I once suggested to him that he take me on as a partner on the swing in place of the milkmaid whom he had been thrilling by dare­devil stunts. He knew that I was not permitted to swing high, because I easily became dizzy, and he also knew that I had never been on the swing with a farm hand before. He therefore swung me very gingerly but I encouraged him to go higher and higher and just when we were at the level of the horizontal pole connecting the trunks of two full-grown pine trees which supported the swing, I lost consciousness and flopped to the ground. When I came to, the first thing I saw were the fascinated eyes of my three year old niece Sonya. I did not know whether or not I was injured but that question did not matter as much as the fact that Mother was not to know what had happened. I knew that the peasants would not tell but Sonya appeared to be a danger. I therefore focused all my attention on her and, still flat on my hack, made it plain to her that she must not tell Grandmother what happened. Sonya promised and I knew that she would keep her word; I did not real­ize that to her three year old logic, whispering did not mean the same as telling. The result was that no sooner was I escorted to the summer nursery and an ice-pack clandestinely brought to me by Sonya’s nurse, than Mother flew into the room covering her fright by a burst of indignation at my behavior. While the nurse had been fetching the ice, Sonya braved several dark rooms to gain the large workmen’s kitchen and, tip—toeing to her grandmother, had imparted with a great deal of mystery, “Babushka, I must whisper something to you, because I may not tell!”


When I left my room next morning, there was not a trace of the swing left -- Mother had seen to that -- and I have never been on one since.


It also happened that most of our neighbors had town visitors, a good many university students among them, and I, the only girl with a Gymnasia education, was naturally very popular. Poor Solomon, after a hard day’s work, usually chaperoned me to all evening affairs for no matter how broadminded my mother was, she did not think it fitting that a Jewish girl should be alone with so many Gentile boys even though she did not care how long I was with their sisters. Solomon was not a lady’s man and the niceties to be observed during a picnic or a dance no doubt made him very uncomfortable but he never complained, probably because he liked to hear my contagious laughter and enjoyed the change in my countenance. At home, if we had no visitors and I was not preparing to go anywhere, I walked around sad and listless, for the thought of not continuing my studies and of a winter in Klenovka was terrifying enough.


Realizing that all doors were closed to me, I began to in­dulge in daydreams as to what I would do if I could study further. In spite of his injustice, the teacher of mathematics and physics had managed to evoke in me a real love for these subjects, especially when we reached the stage of mechanics. He often joked that I would make a good engineer, and a mechanical engineer I decided I wanted to be. The novelty of being one of the first women engineers in Rus­sia no doubt also appealed to me and in my imagination I saw myself in an electrical plant one day, building bridges on another day, but finally I settled on railroad engineering. The Railroad Institute in Petersburg, the most exclusive university in Russia, accepted neither Jews nor women, but this did not affect my dreams! However, when autumn came, the only dreary season in our part of Russia, and the full realization of a winter in Klenovka with only occasional visits to the wor1d outside became clear in my mind, I shook off my dreams and began to make plans for the future. Those plans were so radical that I knew I had to work them out in every detail before presenting them to Mother.


There never was much ready cash at home but just the same life on the estate was very comfortable and I was brought up as a person of leisure. We maintained forty to fifty cows, thirty to forty horses, chickens, turkeys and geese in countless numbers, to say nothing of the produce which was raised. Only such things as sugar, salt, coffee, tea, clothing and a few other necessities were bought. In addition to the farmhands, a number of servants were attached to the house and, although Solomon loved the rhythmic balance of sowing from a basket slung over the left shoulder and occasionally also helped with the plough, and Mother was constantly weeding the kitchen garden when not overseeing the workers in the fields, they did this more out of love for work than from necessity. The rest of the children never took much part in the work of the estate unless we developed some special hobbies. Mine were numerous and they changed from season to season but I never really worked and, as a matter of fact, was considered by the entire family to be its most indolent member. Their attitude toward the youngest offspring, however, was so indulgent that I just naturally developed the habit of staying in bed until ten o’clock and having my breakfast served when Mother, my brother and the farmhands came for their heavy morning meal, the first of three similar ones, for they got up between four and five, summer and winter. The rest of the day I spent as an onlooker of the various activities on the estate or taking walks with faithful Tresor at my heels or with a book somewhere in the house, in the fields or in close proximity to the old crab apple tree.


Under the influence of socialist literature I would occasionally resolve to learn to be self-reliant and try my hand at various household duties but would soon lose interest. The hardest attempt I made was to scrub the unpainted pine floors in the large dining room but, as this resulted in my being confined to bed with a backache for two days and ridiculed by my brothers and sisters, I never again went be­yond watering the flowers or annoying the cook by experimenting in the kitchen.


The previous summer I had become very friendly with a girl of my own age who lived on a small farm nearby. Helenka was a beauti­ful girl, a descendant of proud Polish noblemen who were deprived of their rights and estates in the Polish uprising of 1863. Due to the deliberately abusive policy of the Russian government this revolt had been long brewing and had dire results for the third of Poland under Russian dominance. It broke out in earnest when, aiming to suppress the restiveness, Russia threatened to recruit all of male population into military service. In consequence, Helenka’s family was very poor and her parents could not afford tutors, teaching her only what they knew themselves. She soon confessed to me how little learning she had had and I offered to teach her, without pay­ment of course. We became very intimate and, during the second sum­mer, while enjoying our joint visits to the various neighbors, often discussed the dreaded possibility of having to spend the winter in our respective holes, my spacious home with the red tile roof and her small but very cozy log house.


Gradua1ly we began to formulate plans and finally decided that the only thing for us to do was to go to Vilna and look for work although neither of us had been brought up to do any special kind of work. We had a hazy idea that Helenka might get a job as a cashier because, unsophisticated though we were, we knew that her looks might be of great help. I on the other hand was determined to try my luck either as a tutor or in an office. Why I thought of an office I really cannot remember now, considering that I had never seen a woman in an office, nor many offices at all, other than the front room at my brother-in-law’s, where several men sat on high stools. I do not even recollect whether I had ever seen a typewriter, but I surely had never read a business letter. However, in foreign liter­ature mention was often made of new women who had gone out into the business world and I decided that I would prefer to be a businesswoman rather than a teacher.


When Helenka’s plans and mine were worked out to the smallest detail we sprang the news on our respective families. When I recollect the horror with which Mother greeted the news of my desire to go to work, it seems that it was not I but some other person who had to plead and had to try to explain that it was not a disgrace for a woman to seek a gainful occupation. Among our relatives there were several women physicians, who had re­ceived their degrees abroad, and Father had often talked to me of sending me to Switzerland to study medicine. There were also a number of women dentists and a good many teachers but all these occupa­tions were considered honorable professions, definitely marking one as an educated person, whereas the idea of a girl of good family, with a Gymnasia education to boot, seeking work in an office was almost inconceivable. Any half-educated boy could find work in an office and girls of the poorer classes found employment as cashiers and salesgirls, but that the youngest child of Peretz Katz, whose rightful place was in a university, should go to work in an office was a disgrace indeed. Like all old—fashioned parents (and maybe modern ones too) Mother hoped that I would marry very soon and, of course, working would greatly minimize my chances of getting a husband of suitable station in life.


Up to that moment I had never had to plead for anything of consequence and the firm stand that her otherwise indolent daughter suddenly took no doubt impressed Mother. Seeing that I was in earnest and that Helenka would go with me, Mother soon capitulated. But not before I had made a promise to her under oath, the first and only one that she ever asked of me, that in case I should not succeed in finding the work I wanted, I was to return home and under no circumstances should I accept a job as a governess. Her argument was that she did not want me to become a higher-paid servant but I guessed so well the trend of her thoughts. I was very young and to her all sorts of dangers lurked in the possibility of my living with strangers. There might be older boys, or the husband a roué, and of course Mother wanted her daughter to avoid such pitfalls, even if she did go out into the world on her own. I, on the other hand, often toyed with the thought of becoming a governess, not because I liked the idea at looking after noisy brats but because I saw plenty of romantic opportunities in such a position. A big estate, a rich family, fascina­ting young uncles with whom I would go horseback riding or skating and whom I could dazzle by my erudition! However, at the same time I realized full well that I was not suited by either temperament or inclination for such a position and therefore solemnly, though very easily, I gave Mother the desired promise. I have kept it too.


While my preparations were being made, Mother had evidently dispatched letters in every direction to take counsel with the other members of the family. The more distant, relatives immediate­ly answered that it was sheer nonsense on my part, that I could spend the next year or two on the estate with occasional visits to them, invitations for which were readily proffered, and that during that time I would easily get a husband to take care of me for the rest of my life. My sisters and brothers, on the other hand, thought they knew me a little better and counseled Mother not to oppose me, as that would only make me more obstinate, but to let me go and try my luck; I surely would be back home soon enough after I had found out that I could not do just as I pleased and would not have a house full of servants at my beck and call. I knew nothing of those let­ters until Solomon, who as a rule was not very communicative and took no part in the arguments pro and con, remarked to me one evening with a sly wink, “The Pinsk branch advises us to give you as long a rope as possible.”


At the end of September, after all the produce had been taken in and the fields were left to themselves until the next spring, Helenka and I set forth on our joint adventure. Mother accompanied me as far as Helenka’s farm and there our two mothers blessed us, mine by putting her hands on my head and Helenka’s by making several signs of the cross. It was arranged that we would take a room with a dis­tant neighbor who lived in town in the winter to educate her children and who had a room to spare. It was not easy for either of us to find work and Helenka, after several weeks of tramping the streets, took a position as something between a nurse-maid and a governess with a rich family on a beautiful estate, where she subsequently suffered the fate which Mother so much feared for me.


My chances of finding work seemed even slimmer than Helenka’s since I had a particular occupation in view. At first, I secured a few letters of introduction from my wealthy relatives but this turned out to be more of a handicap than a help. Even if the peo­ple were willing to make an opening for me personally, they considered a relative of the rich and well-known Vilna family ill placed in the position of an ordinary clerk at the prevailing (very inadequate) scale of wages. I especially remember a local branch of a famous St. Petersburg publishing house, one of the very few offices that already employed girls and also required them to have a higher level of education. The owner was a son of the richest private banker in town. The offices, beautifully appointed with bookshelves lining all the walls, appeared to me the most ideal place in which to work. Since I had no previous experience, knew neither bookkeeping nor typing and in addition had very bad handwriting, I stood little chance of getting the job. When I told my potential employer what my education had been he to my great amazement took the same view that all my family held, namely that with my education and background I should not go looking for office jobs. Besides, he added, the salary offered to beginners was only fifteen rubles a month on which I, being from out of town, could not possibly support myself. In pleading my case, I brightly suggested that I would give lessons in the evening to ampli­fy my finances, but this brought forth the reply that anyone employed in his office was required to conserve all of her energy for the work at hand and not to dissipate it on other activities. My read­ing of socialist literature had made me conversant with a good many theories but my first encounter with capitalistic logic gave me a shock nevertheless.


Gathering my wits together, I rented a typewriter from a sales­man in a combination bicycle-sewing machine-typewriter store and paid the exorbitant price of five rubles for using it a few hours a day for several weeks. In the home of this salesman I set myself to studying the intricacies of typing with two fingers (I do so to this day). In the meantime my funds, which had consisted of the munificent sum of twenty—five rubles to start with, were rapidly becoming depleted, so with the beginning of the fourth week I had to dispense with dinners and live on two very meager meals a day. Of course, I knew that a note to Klenovka or to my sisters would bring immediate relief but likewise a recommendation to return home. By this time my exaltation at the idea of blazing a trail of independence in the face of so many obstacles and real sacrifices had reached such a peak that I stuck to my original intention with even greater tenacity. Just the same, three weeks without dinners was as much I could stand. I then decided on a rather desperate step for me. Mother’s relatives were wealthy, charitable and famed for their generosity to the poor but, seeing me cheerful and determined, it never occurred to them that I might be hungry, especially since I avoided calling on them around meal times and, with the pride which a poorer relation feels toward the more favored ones the world over, I preferred that they should not know. Going to bed on a pretty empty stomach and not being able to sleep, I began to turn things over in my head and, after a few such nights of inner struggle, I came to the very start­ling conclusion that there was no shame in asking rich people to share a meal with a needy person! In fact, the more I thought of it the more convinced I became that I was within my rights even if I had to insist on being fed. Hunger is a great force in changing preconceived ideas on ethics and morals!



Vilna, February 6, 1910:


There is no getting away from the fact that I have been dreadfully unfaithful to my dear diary -- my only witness of grief and joy. A lot has accumulated to tell it dur­ing leisure but the trouble is I have so little, leisure. I’ll try telling from the beginning and if patience will last out, will write in detail. Toward the end of September I came to Vilna, together with Helenka, with the firm determination to find some kind of work. !{elenka obtained a temporary job in a kindergarten and she and I took a room together. During six weeks I have suf­fered according to all the precepts of Podyacheff. For three weeks I did not eat any dinner, although I visited Aunt L. every day since Vita was then staying with her. Breakfast and supper were nothing to brag about, the room not too warm and my wardrobe nothing to show off. However, I did not complain and, in order to avoid temptation, stopped writing letters, while running all over town looking for work. Finally, after six weeks, my efforts were crowned with success and I have now been working for four months at a salary of twenty ru­bles per month. The work is rather monotonous, but so far so good... To live on such a miserable salary is, of course, impossible and after an eleven-hour day I tutor Lola, daughter of the Rutkovsky’s from Kermelishki (the village in which Helenka lived), for which I receive room, breakfast and supper. Dinners don’t cost me anything but, at Aunt L’s request, I give a lesson to a poor relation three times a week. Consequently there is very little time left... I have decided to work for an­other year and a half and then go to Germany to finish my education.


It was quite a walk from home to the office and, by the time I returned at night and had supper, the clock would be nearing eight-thirty. Lola was very stupid and my wrangles with her often lasted till after ten at night. From then till long after midnight, I continued my studies of French and German and followed up with modern literature in three languages. My friends, most of them in the last year in Gymnasia or students on vacation from the universities, admired my pluck and independence, but I could not help but feel their com­miseration at the fact that I was not attending a university, at least abroad.


Most of my new friends attended universities in Russia and, among the Jewish ones, those who finished high schools without medals were either studying abroad or attending private courses in university towns if their parents were wealthy and paid the heavy tax of Merchant of the First Guild, giving their sons the right of domicile outside the pale. I still longed for a university de­gree but, having tasted the bitter joy of independence, I did not want to ask the family for even partial support when I went abroad. The ambition which had made me wish to excel the last three years at school, in contrast to the four years of mediocre standing while I was in the lower grades, again began to spur me on to find a way which would enable me to surpass all the luckier boys and girls whose family position made it possible for them to obtain higher ed­ucation.

Though I was to a certain degree musical, my education in that respect had been sadly neglected because of my migrations from one place to another, but practically all my friends had received a sound musical education. The university students were, of course, ahead of me in learning: French and German all of my friends commanded -- French even better than I. What then could I do to outshine them all? Many fantastic plans came to my mind, to be rejected one after another, when gradually the idea dawned on me that I could acquire the English lan­guage, practically unknown in the provinces. I heard that a few fashionable women were taking a course in English at the “Club of Intelligent Professions” from the only Englishman in town, a tutor of a young count. I found out, however, that the Englishman used the Ber1itz method and this did not appeal to me. I did not want to play with the language, I wanted to learn it and learn it quickly. I approached the Englishman personally and he threw a good deal of cold water on my plans. In the first place, he charged three rubles an hour, did not give any lessons after eight in the evening and the few hours he was free from his duties in the count’s household were all taken up by the selfsame fashionable women, who found nibbling at English a novel diversion. That was indeed a hard blow but, when my mind had settled on an idea, it seemed very difficult to swerve me from it. For the next eighteen months, no matter what I did and where I was, the undercurrent of my thoughts was how to learn English properly. In the meantime, I had left my typist’s job and taken a position as an assistant correspondent in another concern at a salary of thirty-two rubles to start. This was subsequently to be raised to thirty-five rubles, a very high salary for a girl in those days in a provincial town in Russia. This eliminated the necessity of tutoring after office hours, but after a short interval of rooming with a girl from Troki I came back to live with the same family. The family had lived in the Caucasus for many years and my room was decorated like a Caucasian tent, with rare car­pets covering every available inch of space, table and all. I liked the room and grew quite poetic describing it in my diary:


Whatever you may say, the feeling that certain things are your own has a pleasing effect on your soul. It is pleasant to feel that your room is your small king­dom, where you can lord it over everything. From the wall the great Tolstoy and the morose Beethoven give you a friendly nod. Ukrainian Night by Kuindzhi has a calming effect. But, above everything, the lovely ‘Witch” of Reynard draws you as if by magic. How often, whether in distressing loneliness or enthusiastically reading some literary masterpiece or laughing in the circle of friends, my eyes fall with equal delight on the charming little figure. Pleasant also is the certainty that you can stretch out on either of the two Persian divans and be surrounded by the bizarre design of rugs, bolsters and cushions. Everything is dear to me here, beginning with the old badly burning kero­sene lamp and ending with the niche in the window. Oh, it is not at all strange that the niche is particularly dear to me; many a beautiful moment have I spent in it during long spring twilights. In time I’ll probably for­get everything, forget also you, the witness of my moral transcendence into womanhood!


Gradually my room turned into a gathering place for my friends and I had at least the satisfaction that, although I was not a student myself, all my male friends wore uniforms of some middle school or university. Everybody in Russia wore a uniform. The wearing of uniforms for schools, which undoubtedly were first introduced as a copy of a foreign, probably German custom, was very rigorously enforced. Uniforms could be seen at a distance and this was of great help in spying upon their wearers. It was not so much their moral behavior that the school au­thorities were concerned with, but rather their political affiliations.


When a newcomer on a holiday from St. Petersburg, upon looking around the room, remarked, “Just like at a kursisistka’s,” (girl university student), I took it as the greatest compliment ever paid me.


This same newcomer, George Ivanoff by name, was the object of my first adoration and the cause of my first disappointment in love. In my infatuation with George, race and religion did not play any part, for neither he nor I for a moment entertained the idea of possible matrimony. Like most or the Russian youth of that period, both of us probably considered falling in love entirely apart from the prosaic idea of getting married and it was, no doubt, this romantic attitude toward love that made the relationship between Russian boys and girls so free and yet so unbelievably pure.


August 26, 1911:


“Him”’, the newcomer I liked the moment we met. He is the type of a real student, both in appearance and in character, clever, witty, sometimes very gay -- in other words I liked him. Almost at the very begin­ning he told me that I did not appeal to him as a woman. With a smile on my face but with pain in my heart I accepted his attitude and did not make any attempt to change it. However, I was eighteen and a half and he nineteen... They say that I am far from being ugly, also quite clever… The Fairy-spring came along and we... I do not know which verb to use because it was not quite love and yet more than infatuation. We met every day, went for long walks and to the woods. And there, oh God! His kisses, so pass­ionate and yet so pure! I know nobody will ever kiss me in that manner again and perhaps I myself shall not be able to call forth such a response. I cannot quite explain it, but in his most passionate kisses, I felt that he did not embrace the physical body in me. He never touched it as a man... He has often said that I accommodate myself to people, but he has certainly done the same toward me. He knew that I placed beauty be­fore everything else and that rudeness and uncouthness revolted me more than a serious crime and he has always tried not to cheapen our relationship. For this I am grateful to him. Amen! Farewell my first, pure love, farewell, George! Beautiful was our encounter on the wide road of life. Now we are again going apart. Go, and be happy!


Although I said farewell to George on August 26th, he occupied my thoughts and was the object of suppressed longings and tribulations right into the spring of the next year, to judge by my diary. It was also later that the real heartache began. The real awakening to the fact that I had built up and bolstered my infatuation in my imagination, to satisfy a longing for things unusual when I caught him in a subterfuge that was not worthy of our pure and romantic relationship. It hurt tremendously:


 Yes, I can truthfully say that I am not jealous of George, but it hurts and I feel shame for myself and for my beautiful deep feeling. To kiss in such an intimate manner and next day, like a schoolboy, to make a date with one of my best girl friends. This is too much. It touches my pride, which rises above everything in me, when there is no love. Finis. Today I have had a wake, a very mournful wake: I have scattered the ashes. Yes. There was a fire which burned fiercely and beautifully an entire spring. During the summer cloudy and rainy weather and insufficient fuel have caused it occasionally to burst out into a flame of despondency or die down for a while. In the autumn there were still some sparks left, although very insignificant ones but, just the same, sparks of a real fire. One after another they went out. Dread grips the soul... Winter came. Cov­ered everything with snow. It hid also the remnants of the fire. That, when the snow was removed... ashes were found, hot ashes, which in their in­tensity were equal to the flame but, still, those were only ashes. After a touch or two they gave up their warmth and I have strewn them with the wind as an unnecessary, superfluous reminder of the past. From the once beautiful fire only a charred spot remains which is very, very painful to the touch... Yes, painful, almost phys­ically painful. But the pain is only in the charred edges of the soil which come in contact with the even and calm blanket of’ snow...


My friends in Vilna were divided about equally between Jews and Gentiles. In a town where the population was almost half Jewish and where their children were given the best education they could afford, it was only natural that the educated classes of both groups should mix freely. This was in spite of a11 the laws and regulations excluding Jews not only from schools but from any and all service to the country except soldiering. There most certainly was an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, but this also was felt more officially than otherwise and it was largely based on economic reasons. Vilna was within the pale and one of its most concentrated centers.


According to the census of 1897, of 5,215,805 Jews, 93.9 percent were domiciled within the pale while only 6.1 percent were scat­tered over the rest of Russia, including Siberia. The same census states that, of these 93.9 percent, all except two or three percent lived in towns. The law of 1882 took away from the Jews the right of set­tling on land (also defined as land were villages of less than 500 souls) and in consequence the Jews in the pale averaged approximately 37 percent of the population in larger towns and 40 percent in sma1ler ones, while in some their number was as high as 50 to 60 percent. With all civil, military and public offices c1osed to them, with educational facilities restricted and professions surrounded by almost insurmountable obstacles, the Jews had either to turn to trades or to become artisans, such as tailors, cobblers, chimney sweeps, silversmiths, and the like. The Gentile part of the population thus was forced out of these trades and, in the course of time, with economic conditions growing from bad to worse, began to resent it. Despite this, the Jews and their neighbors lived peacefully for generations, until it became necessary for the government, in cases of national emergency, to divert the minds of the much-abused peasants and workers from thoughts of the necessity of a change in government. At such times the government invariably played upon religious differences and inflamed racial hatred.


When in the ill-fated year 1905 public clamor forced the Tzar to give his country a Constitution, his Manifest of October 17th was followed by pogroms in 66O places, with 810 Jews killed, 1770 wounded and tens of millions of rubles worth of property destroyed. As publicly told by the ex—Minister of the Interior, Prince Urusov, the authorities had themselves planned and executed all of those outrages. It is history that the advisors of Tzar Nicholas II, who drew up the Constitution, tried to exclude Jews from participation in the State Duma but, when ten Jews were elected by the Jewish population, the government endeavored to show that the rest of the population resented it and engineered the pogroms. Vilna escaped the fate of the other 600 towns, for for­tunately the government’s provocateurs were not strong enough to fan the flame of hate among its inhabitants.


There were Gentiles who looked with disfavor at their sons if they associated with Jewish colleagues and a good many Jewish parents resented it even more when their daughters were too friendly with Gentile boys, especially if these boys were students of the Vilna Military Academy. It was a rare occurrence for a Jewish girl to be seen with an army officer because it was scandalous. My family, however, having lived in close contact with Gentiles for so long, never placed any taboos on my associations; they were too sure of me and too proud of their Jewish traditions.

Chapter VII



During my second year as an office worker I went to spend a vacation with my brother Yosif’s family at a fashionable seaside resort in Germany, so orderly and clean and so unlike our haphazard towns. I came back with a firm decision to see much more of the world and also to learn a great deal more than I already knew. Having successfully weathered a year of hard work, I knew that under an indolent exterior I harbored unsuspected reserves of tenacity, and no aim seemed farfetched once I seriously began to dwell on it.


About that time two friends of mine were forced by family circumstances to emigrate to England. They showed very little enthusiasm for to them it meant a parting from Russia forever, but I felt suddenly that fate was pointing. The idea began to ferment in my head that, since it was my desire to know Eng1ish, a year’s sojourn in England would be the best solution. In the meantime a very important step had been taken by the family at Klenovka and there was a glimmer of hope that in a year or two Mother might be able to send me abroad.


Count Josef Tyshkevich, the owner of Klenovka and a number of other small estates within a radius of twenty miles, erected a large vodka distillery on a piece of property adjoining Klenovka. Vodka in our part of Russia was made predominantly of potatoes and a large acreage was required to feed the distillery. Since Klenovka was the most accessible property, the Count proposed to Mother that she move to another estate: otherwise she would have to get out. Naturally, after thirty—two years of farming, Mother was loath to give it up, especially as Grinapol, the new estate offered by the count, was quite unattractive. Grinapol had long been tenanted by a Polish family, famous in the neighborhood for its pretensions and laziness, who had neglected their duties over a period of years and practically al­lowed the fields to go to seed. However, the land itself and the loca1ity were much more desirable than Klenovka and, if properly tended, offered many more advantages. The Count knew that it would take a couple of years to put Grinapol on a paying basis and made some slight allowances for the beginning. Before signing the new con­tract, though, Solomon asked the Count whether he would take care of the legal requirements since, although Jews who settled on land be­fore 1882 retained the right of domicile, they had no right to move from one place to another.


“Oh, that’s all right,” the Count answered. “The Governor of Vilna is a close friend of mine. Besides, since you are moving from one end of my lands to another, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law.”


With this assurance, the entire complicated paraphernalia of a big estate was slowly moved into the new homestead in the beginning of 1910. Solomon for the first time borrowed outside capital and in­vested it in imported fertilizers, factory—made ploughs, additional livestock, etc. Both he and Mother wrote enthusiastic letters about the new place, which I knew only by sight: Mother, especially, was in of praise of it. She wrote to me that it was so beautifully situated that I would love it even more than Klenovka and that, after seeing it, I perhaps would again wish to become a girl of leisure and stop slaving for business people in town.


On my first visit to Grinapol I lost my heart to it. “Such a lovely place. It fulfills all the dreams of my childhood and early youth,” I wrote in my diary. It was just like the great estates described by Turgenev, Goncharov and other Russian writers and only the thought of the lonely crab apple tree which I somehow felt was pining away for me, its constant and devoted lover, filled me with nos­talgia for Klenovka.


The house, of smoothly hewn logs, was reached by a long circular drive between old and shady chestnut trees. It stood by itself far away from the workers’ quarters and all other farm buildings and was not only roomier than the stone house, but also much cozier. Some rooms were smaller than in Klenovka but the dining and living rooms were of tremendous proportions. There was a feeling about the house that the people who used to occupy it were very rich, interested in having a good time, and the gaiety and laughter still seemed to echo from the old walls. The front of the house was raised six steps —— the fulfillment of my childhood’s most fervent desire —— and, as it stood on the top of a hill, it had a wide vista for miles around. The view from the top was almost startling in its beauty. It was pure joy to watch the creek which, after swelling to gross proportions at the old water mill, wound its way like a silver ribbon through meadows and fields. We knew that a few miles distant it joined another creek, a little larger, which in turn flowed into a tributary of the Vilya, itself a tributary of the Nieman and then into the Gulf of Riga, and my thoughts often followed its waters to the end.


The back of the house, facing southwest, led into the orchard which covered many acres and was separated from the adjoining forest by a broken—down fence. A path running alongside the orchard lost itself in a large lake which mirrored the forest on one side and a range of low hills on the other. The creek flowing into the lake from the opposite bank made its exit on our property. It was a very gentle creek, narrow and only about four or five feet deep, but in the fall and spring it became swollen and angry, usually tearing down the narrow foot bridge, making it about a mile’s walk to reach the mea­dow across from the house. Another path, almost concealed by a long neglected privet hedge, led from the house to the creek for whoever might want to take a morning dip without the trouble of walking five minutes to the lake. The location was beautiful and everything look­ed romantic in its utter desolation, while Mother and Solomon were confident that, with everything going well, they would be able to pay off the debt and put the estate on a paying basis in about three years.


“In fact,” said Solomon, giving me a hug — a very rare evidence of affection from him — “after three years you will never have to work any more and, as far as I am concerned, you can go and become a ‘blue stocking’ in any university of Europe you choose, for in three years we shall be on easy street.”


“And you will buy a thoroughbred for yourself,” I said to Solomon who, though the family breadwinner, never thought that he too was entitled to the fruits of his labors.


“Yes, a glossy dark thoroughbred,” he said wistfully with a dreamy look in his eyes, for Solomon, like Father, spent all his days on horse­back and loved horses passionately. His old gray mare had been his faithful companion for many years but I knew that for him, who rode horses like a circus performer, a thoroughbred was the ultimate dream of happiness.


I liked Grinapol so much that I began seriously to weigh the possibility of staying with Mother and Solomon for the next year or two. In my exaltation I already saw myself undertaking a man’s work, so as to be of true assistance to Solomon, but he laugh1ingly waved me aside.


“These next two years will be no joke,” he explained to me, leading me around the dilapidated stables, granaries and part of the house itself. “The Count gave us liberal terms but insisted that we take over the estate as is and you must understand that it will be most difficult to make ends meet for the next few years. In fact,” he added, with one of his rare and roguish smiles, “I shall not even be able to keep you in cigarettes,” referring to our constant bone of contention. I started smoking the year I graduated from school and, of course, helped myself to his cigarettes, which were always bought in boxes of one hundred. He did not object to my smoking per se, for he was absolutely innocent of all citified notions of morals and behavior, but he accused me of wasting the cigarettes. This reminds me that Mother never seriously objected to my smoking either. When I first started the habit, she would remark to me with a preoccupied air, her mind probably on a new—born calf or a sick child among the farmhands, “I wish you would stop smoking, it’s so unladylike,” meaning that it was not ladylike to smoke at such an early age. Just the same, I knew she hoped that some day later, when I had entered into middle age at about thirty-five and was surrounded by a husband and several children, my position in life would be such as to entitle me to smoke. This was because only women of the better classes, and especially great ladies on estates, indulged in the practice — smoking at middle age was a definite sign of belonging to the upper class.


“It was your own fault that you went to work,” Solomon remarked later in the day, “and now you will have to stick it out until I am able to keep you in the style that you have accustomed yourself to,” and with a sly wink, “unless, of course, you decide to marry in the meantime.”


“I will not,” I retorted furiously, “so make up your mind to support me in times to come.”


My first visit was followed by many others but I usually stayed only a few days at a time and it was not until the summer following that I spent my month’s vacation there. There were about ten other town members of the family — not counting the maids and nurses my sisters brought with them — and the enchantment of the place sank still deeper into my being. Solomon had accomplished a great deal in that year and a half; the buildings were now in good repair, the fences restored, the woods cleared of old rotting trees, the paths to the lake and down to the creek really passable, also the road to the house considerably smoothed out. However, the crops were, as was to be expected after so many years of neglect, far from satisfactory and very little grain could be sold. Still, Mother and Solomon were very happy and full of great hopes for the future. I never suspected that Mother had such a deep appreciation of beauty as she evidenced at Grinapol. Early in the morning she would pull me out of bed to watch the rays of the sun play in the creek or, of an evening, tired after a day spent supervising the work and the feeding of the farmhands, she would wearily sink into a chair on the verandah which ran along the entire front of the house and, admonish­ing us to listen to the water dripping from the mill—wheel below the house, would whisper, “Just like in a novel.”


That summer was one of the happiest in many years and the beauty of Grinapol had the effect of an enchantment on the moods of all of us. My sisters, one in the late twenties and the other in the early thirties, both married and already very sedate, behaved as gaily as their children and the house was constantly filled with noise and laughter. Any little thing would raise gales of merriment, but our greatest amusement was usually on a Sunday, when we would invite the workers with their families and peasants from adjoining villages to come to the big house and listen to the phonograph. None of them had ever seen or heard one before and there was no end to their amazement. The older people would invariably make the sign of the cross and murmur, shaking their heads, “This is assuredly an invention of the devil,” while the younger and more daring ones would ask permission to come into the house and look for the singers. We would then put on a chorus song and the bewilderment of the simple folk knew no bounds.


The orchard, in addition to proving an unexpected source of income, also provided us with the greatest fun. Like everything else, it was in an exceedingly run—down condition but the year was a good one and the trees in the spring were bending under the abundance of blossoms. As Solomon had neither the time nor the money to take care of it, it was rented out for the summer and, when I came to spend my vacation, an old couple with an equally old but very alert dog was installed in a tent in the center of the orchard. The or­chard was so vast that, although the fruit trees began under the very windows of the house, the tent was off at a considerable dis­tance. The arrangement with the orchard tenant was that, in addi­tion to whatever money he paid for rent, the house was entitled to so-and—so many gallons (practically everything was measured by quarts and gallons) of berries and fruits in season and a certain quantity of bushels of apples, pears, plums, etc. for the winter. We usually picked all the fruit we needed for the day ourselves, but that did not satisfy us and our favorite pastime was to raid the orchard at night. Whenever we had company, and this happened quite often that summer, we gave them the treat of literally enjoying stolen fruit. The gardener’s dog, ever watchful, would start a terrific racket and the poor gardener, awakened by the barking, would follow the direct­ion the dog had taken. In the meantime, the dog, satisfied that there no strangers (all the food he got was from our kitchen and he was therefore, very well disposed towards us) in his domain, would content­edly return to his master. Thus we were never caught, and though we would come back with perhaps just one coveted pear or prize plum, the game was always considered worth the trouble. Mother, when she found out what we had been doing, would scold us quite severely, especially the older members of the family, pointing out our inconsideration toward the old couple, but even she had to smile when we related the details of our escapades.


Thus the summer was a joyous and happy one in spite of the ever present undercurrent of thought that two more years of financial and physical struggle lay ahead for the family. That fall Solomon had to forego a new suit, the one he usually ordered for the Jewish New Year with cash realized from the sale of the first bushels of rye. And his riding boots, which were his pride, were given a few patches to make them last another year. All these privations, however, seemed as nothing compared to the reward in two years’ time; the soil was much better than in Klenovka and the cattle also seemed to thrive in Grinapol, because the narrow creek made the meadows on one side of it more luscious. Grinapol, with proper care, was sure to give a far better return.


For me, particularly, it meant that I would get a higher educa­tion in spite of all the restrictions the Russian authorities imposed upon Jews, as I would be enabled to study abroad. By that time I had already decided that I was not interested in any particular profession but just wanted to know things, especially languages. I therefore made up my mind that I would study philology, preferably in England, of course.

Chapter VIII


Each time I visited Grinapol and saw the progress made there I became quite intoxicated with happiness. Now Solomon and Mother were paving a way for a higher education for me and I returned to Vilna from my summer vacation happy and buoyant, for at last there were no clouds on the horizon.


In November I received a short note from Solomon. Both he and Mother were coming to town. I immediately sensed something was wrong because, in al1 my memory, except the time when Solomon went to an­swer the conscription notice upon reaching the age of twenty-one, mother and son had not left the estate together. When, a few days later I beheld them at their modest hotel, my knees gave way and I began to tremble violently as I had never expected that a few months could age Mother so terrifically and make Solomon, six feet tall, broad—shouldered and very manly, look like a forlorn child.


The story they told me was not a very long one. A new uryadnik (county sheriff) had been appointed the previous summer and he was very much astonished to find a Jewish family enjoying all the privileges of the Gentile land owners or lessees in the neighborhood. He was even more surprised to find that we had moved into Grinapol only a year before. Whether the reason behind his ambition was a too small goodwil1 gratuity on his first visit to Grinapol or a desire to gain recognition from the higher-ups remains obscure, but he set himself to work and brought to light the paragraph of the law prohibiting those Jews who had settled on land before 1882 from moving from one place to another. An amendment had been passed some years later that they could move within a radius of seven verstas (about seven-tenths of a mile). Ac­cording to local estimates, the distance from Klenovka to Grinapol was seven verstas but perhaps by exact survey measurements it may have been a little longer.


In the beginning of October, just after the fall sowing, the uryadnik appeared at Grinapol with a Ukase signed by the Governor of Vilna, demanding that Mother and Solomon leave Grinapol within TWENTY-FOUR hours! The blow was so unexpected and of such consequence that my loved ones almost lost their minds then and there. However, at the suggestion of this very same uryadnik, who was generously paid for it, Solomon went to the Pristav, an official a step above the uryadnik, to consult with him. This official, who had known the family for sev­eral decades, worked out a petition to the Governor, explaining the circumstances and especially stressing the point that it is impossible to leave an estate within twenty—four hours (as if this needed an explanation)!


At the same time Mother consulted a lawyer, who informed her that the enforcement of the ‘moving” law was illegal in our case since not only was Grinapol within the seven versta limit, but it belonged to the same owner and was situated in the same province, county and even dis­trict. At the same time he told her that she would have to await the pleasure of the Governor and, if his decision should be adverse, there would be very little help that she could get from any quarter. If the Governor decreed that Grinapol was even a foot further than seven verstas she would have to get out. A petition to the Senate, the highest Court of Appeals in Russia, was of course possible but, as it took years for that august body even to consider a case, especially of such unimportance as a Jew being thrown out from her place of domicile, it would be of little help because in the meantime she would have to get out anyhow.


This had happened about six weeks before. In the meantime a re­ply had come from the Governor, permitting my family to remain for a few months to sell the stock and wind up the complicated machinery of a large property. The Count, who had previously assured Solomon that there was no risk in moving, could not or would not alter the situation nor compensate for the losses. It was useless to go to court because of what avail would a legal suit be against a Count, especially if filed by a Jew?


My brother again paid a visit to the Pristav who, even though he took bribes very willingly, was genuinely distressed at the misfortune that befell Mother and Solomon and devised a very ingenious scheme to circumvent the law.


His plan was that on a certain day he would come to Grinapol with a staff of officials to evict the family, but would find that they had already moved out. He would question all the farmhands and neighboring peasants and write down in the protocol their statements as witnesses, testifying that the widow of Pan Peretz Katz and her son Solomon had moved out into a small town in the neighborhood. This protocol would be sent to the Governor to give the impression that his orders were complied with, while the family would remain in Grinapol as before. Under the terrific strain with which he had labored for many weeks, Solomon consented. Some time later, when he saw the suite of the Pristav approach the gates of the large courtyard, he and Mother went for a walk into the woods while all the farmhands solemnly test­ified that their employer had moved out for good. Next day he went to see the pristav to thank him both verbally and in kind and found that official very pleased with himself. However, the more Solomon and Mother thought of the equivocal situation they were in, the less they liked it, for it meant that their entire future lives depended on the goodwill of their own farmhands and the peasants in the neighborhood and that one spiteful word from any of them would cause not only eviction, but this time arrest and serious consequences.


After five such harrowing days in Grinapol, Mother and Solomon could not stand it any longer and went to Vilna to take counsel with me and the relatives in town with regard to future plans.


I was spared the suspense of the intervening weeks because they had faithfully hoped that, considering the circumstances in the case, the Governor would render a favorable decision. The blow when it came, therefore, was the more stunning. In my diary I made only short mention of the tragic event:


We have a terrible tragedy at home. For being a Jewess, Mother has been thrown out of the land where she has spent almost forty years. This is called justice! I am sorry, frightfully sorry for her, poor dear, to have to get used to buying bread by the pound in her old age...


but to my dying day I will not forget that small dingy hotel room and the three of us facing each other. Solomon, elbows on knees, chin in the cups of his hands, crestfallen and silent, would every few minutes nervously pass his fingers through his hair. Mother, a tragic figure huddled up in a chair, would gently sway to and fro and murmur, “what shall we do, what shall we do?” Once she raised her anguished eyes to mine and quietly said, “Imagine, daughter of mine, we shall have to buy bread by the pound! Three kopecks a pound, three kopecks a pound...” She repeated the last words so many times that I was ready to scream but I just sat stiff and silent because there was nothing I could say, and her monotonous repetition of the words “three kopecks a pound” were only too clear to me. For over thirty years Mother had been lording it over a vast property and had been used to figuring by bushels and poods (a pood is 36 American pounds). She may have had only one black silk dress to wear to town and her winter coat, lined with squirrel fur and trimmed with black astrachan may not have been exactly in the latest style but at the same time she was used to driving to town behind a coachman and a pair of well-fed horses and to be greeted by every passer-by, first as the wife and then as the widow of Pan Peretz of Klenovka. In the summer she fed anywhere from forty to a hundred farmhands a day, depending on the season, and was known far and wide for the generous portions she gave. In her own small world she felt quite important and now she would have to go and live in some small town and figure out the cost of bread by the pound. No doubt in her vision there were mir­rored the tremendous loaves weighing up to a pood which were baked day in and day out during the entire month of May in preparation for the harvest time. The black rye bread was stored in a special com­partment of the granary practically empty in midsummer and it tasted quite fresh a month later. Those tremendous black loaves - and a pound of city bread! Yes, the comparison was monstrous but so was the situ­ation she found herself in. Mother was fifty—four at the time but full of vigor and on the estate she could have been active for many years to come. In the city, what could she do? Open a store? Buy and sell? Yes, she could bargain when it came to selling several hundred poods of grain or ten or twelve wagonloads of hay or potatoes, but she knew that she had neither the aptitude nor the inclination to be a small shopkeeper. Besides, it was too bitter a come-down in life, and through no fault of her own.


As for Solomon, I could not fathom his mind as easily. He always appeared happy and contented on the estate. With the exception of two or three winters spent at school in Troki, he had not been away from home for more than a few days at a time, and so far had never evidenced any great interest in city life. Just the same, was he perhaps glad that an opportunity presented itself to get away from the soil and be a little more like other Jews? But one look at his miserable face con­vinced me that the future in a city terrified him much more than it attracted him.


I myself was totally numb within, for this meant the partial end of my dreams of further study. However, I could not think much of myself while facing these two dear unhappy figures, for by now I knew that I could fight life in spite of the Russian Tzar and his cruel and inhuman laws and regulations. To bring a little cheer into the atmosphere, I said, “Mother, aren’t you glad now that I had go to work?”


A shadow of a bitter smile hovered over Mother’s lips as she answered, “Aye, you have always been very wise, daughter of mine!” and then, with a deep sigh that rent my heart, “God knows how long you will have to work now.”


It appeared that Solomon and Mother came to town to discuss with me the possibility of settling in Vilna, but the thought that Mother and he would have to take an apartment in some second—rate part of the town, for they could not afford to pay much without any tangible prospects in mind, gave me a terrific pang and I decided to fight it tooth and nail. I could not possibly visualize Mother cooped up in a few small rooms, with neighbors to whom she would probably never talk, and Solomon perhaps picking up some awful girl, for my friends would likely not find him very entertaining. He knew nothing about theaters, did not read the books they read, and the things he could talk about would not interest them.


Mother said that my sisters urged her to come to Pinsk. There she could have a small house of her own at a comparatively low rental and, since Solomon knew a great deal about forests, one of my brothers—in—law, a quite well—to—do timber merchant, could give him a job. However, Mother vacillated, fearing that people might think she was throwing herself on her daughters’ mercy and also because it seemed only logical to her that she should try and make a home with me in Vilna as long as I had chosen to work there.


When I had left them - it was not very late but they were weary and used to retiring early - it seemed to me that I took a direct route home but when I finally let myself in it was long past midnight. I did not remember where I tramped during those long hours, I was shaky and physically exhausted, but my mind was alert and my thoughts were clear. I must have done a great deal of thinking in those hours, for I discovered that I had worked out a definite plan of action. I would prevent Mother from moving to Vilna. I would arrange it so that I would not be in Vilna and thus remove the only reason for her settling there. I knew that neither of us would be happy living together in such adverse conditions. While in Pinsk, Mother’s several grandchildren would help to divert her mind from thinking too much of the past.


Next day Mother sent a message to the office that she would meet me for luncheon at the home of relatives. I hated those family reunions because Mother appeared ill at ease among the dignified and quietly luxurious surroundings. She had been brought up by this very aunt and had married from her house but Mother’s long years on the land had made her a little shy.


Our relatives had already been apprised of the calamity that had befallen us and were giving Mother a good deal of advice; that is what rich relatives usually give. I sat quiet and determined and when Mother timidly said, “I am planning to settle in Vilna, so as to make a home for Bertha. What do you think of that?”


Before anybody had a chance to reply, I calmly interposed, “There is no need for you to do this, Mother, for I shall not be here much longer.”


My simple statement exploded like a bombshell and for quite a while nobody said a word until Mother, her lips trembling, asked, “Where will you go?”


“To London to study,” I replied and then, in an even voice, pro­ceeded to tell them what I had decided the night before.


Mother, looking at me compassionately, said, “Daughter of mine, that was my dream, too, that you should go abroad and study. But you know this is out of the question now. We are ruined, we have no hope for the future and we certainly cannot send you abroad. Besides, why do you want to go to London? No one goes there but emigrants, none of our relatives or friends have ever gone to London to study. How can you say you will go to London?”


“All I want is my passage money and enough for four months’ stay. About two hundred rubles will cover it. Consider it my dowry” - ­this with a smile - “I do not think that I am unreasonable.”


The coterie of relatives sat dumbfounded while this conversation with Mother went on. Finally one of our cousins, a man of the world and with a sense of humor, broke the silence by bursting into a laugh and saying, “Let her go to London, I like her nerve! I have no fear for her future.”


When we left the house Mother quietly asked me whether I was serious about London and capitulated quite suddenly without any fur­ther argument. Only hesitatingly she asked me, “You said you want enough for four months. What will you do after that? You cannot possibly learn the language sufficiently in that time to find work.

What will happen to you if you do not find a suitable occupation?”


“Oh, well,” I replied lightheartedly, happy that my victory was so complete, “there are plenty of factories in London.”


I smiled after saying that because I could not very well picture myself working in a factory. However, Mother had evidently taken me seriously because, when four months to the day after my arrival in London I secured a position as a French-English translator (I had a lot of nerve to do so!) and sent a postal card to Mother with the short note, “Have found work,” a telegram reached me three days later asking, “What kind of work?”


Shortly after her visit to Vilna Mother wrote me that they had decided to leave Grinapol for Pinsk by the middle of May and I then made up my mind to depart from Vilna in advance.



January 21, 1912:


I am going to London, this is definite, Hopes, dreams, plans during a year and a half finally came true. In three or four weeks I shall leave here. I have no fur­ther desires, all else is concentrated in this trip. I am going with a limited capital of 200 rubles, with an enormous store of energy and a trust in my own strength. I have no false illusions: I know that it is very difficult to get work in London, that there as elsewhere the supply greatly surpasses the demand but I also know that with a knowledge of languages and with a persevering energy it is likewise difficult to perish. Oh, with what delight I shall study the language, realizing that every new word that remains in my memory will be of help in the future!


At the feast of Passover, which was early that year and coin­cided with the Russian Easter, I went to Grinapol to say farewell to the farmhands, to take leave of all the things that had surrounded me since my first conscious moments and to say goodbye forever to a home, for I knew that I could never call any other place home.


My thoughts on the half—hour train ride and the two—hour sleigh jolt over a mushy road, in part over thawing lakes, were far from joyous but even so I was not prepared for the pain that gripped me when I alighted in front of the house. Mother and Solomon were out but the servants bade me welcome by bursting out into a wail, “Oh, God our Father, what have we come to! And the old lady said that you were going far away, almost as far as America. Oh Lord have mercy on us poor sinners!”


Dissolving into tears myself, I comforted them as well as I could and then slowly walked through the house. As a rule, all the rooms except the dining room and two bedrooms were shut off during the winter months, but now all the doors were ajar, and oh, what a picture of desolation! Practically all the furniture was gone and in the large salon only the old grand piano, which was inherited from the former occupants and in which every second note was silent due to old age, stood in a corner in all its grandeur. However, the view from every window was as beautiful as ever and, gazing at the landscape which I learned to love in the short time since we moved from Klenovka, I involuntarily clenched my fists and whispered, “Oh, God, what for?”


Soon Mother and Solomon returned, both so quiet and subdued, and, sitting around the samovar, they told the latest happenings. The greater part of the cattle and practically all of the horses had already been sold. Very little cash was realized from these sales for no one had any money in the spring, nor fodder to feed extra cat­tle. Besides, the neighbors knew the predicament of the occupants of Grinapol in having to dispose of everything at any cost and, though well-disposed as they were to the family, it was only human that they were glad to drive a bargain.


“Mother, where did all the furniture go to?” I asked.


Mother smiled for the first time when she answered, “You would not believe it, but, in comparison, we realized more for the old junk than for anything else. Even those horrible old mirrors, at which you children always made faces, fetched a good price — in fact the richer peasant-tenants almost fought over them.” Mother then gave a vivid account of how the would-be purchasers were at first so awed by the large overstuffed sets of sofas, fauteuils and chairs that they hardly dared to approach them, but as soon as Mother coaxed them into sitting down and they felt the springs give way under them, the sale was as good as made. This was the only cheerful interlude during the entire evening, the rest having been spent in discussing the traits of such and such a cow and such and such a horse and their present owners, and how unhappy the farmhands were, not knowing what would become of them after St. George’s Day, the day they were always hired for a year’s service.


That night I had to share Mother’s bedroom and the agony of it is still fresh in my memory. I simulated sleep and so did Mother, but neither of us slept much. Even when Mother would doze off, I would suddenly hear a suppressed sigh coming from so deep within her that it tore at my heart. I lay still and wept for many hours without uttering a sound, the tears rolling down my face into the old pillow which in the past had shared so many joyous and happy dreams of mine. From time to time a wave of impotent anger, no, rage, would well up in me and I would grit my teeth in order to suppress the words that were ready on my lips: “God, I have never prayed to you, I do not believe that it matters to you whether we send prayers up to you or not; but I believe in you as the Ruler of the Universe, as a Force sustaining the equilibrium of this world of ours. I believe that wrong cannot go unpunished. Oh, God, punish them for persecuting innocent people, punish them from the uryadnik up and from the Tzar down. Punish them, punish them, make them suffer, because you will never make them understand!”


These and many other words I addressed to God, no doubt the God of Israel, because in moments of great distress a person does not rationalize much but acts according to the subconscious, which echoes the things instilled in early childhood!


I got up feeling as if every bone and every nerve of my body had been stretched on a rack, for in addition to the mental agony it had been physically impossible for me to sleep because the four dogs kept up a howl all through the night. When we met for breakfast I asked Solomon what was the matter with the dogs. With downcast eyes, probably to hold back the tears, he quietly explained that the dogs started howling the day the first batch of cattle was led away by their new owner. Since then their howls had been increasing in volume and duration with each successive night.


Oh, how well I remembered Solomon’s sad face when, many years later, my old nurse Marinya, for whom I searched and found in the slums of New York, told me the sequel to this night’s howling, the dogs’ way of expressing devotion and loyalty to their masters. She had learned it from Mother when she moved to Pinsk.


It seemed that it was arranged with the new tenant of the estate that he was to keep the dogs. The last few days before the departure, the dogs followed Mother and Solomon wherever they went and whined constantly, as if sensing that parting was near. On the morning of their departure the dogs were locked up as a precaution but they some­how managed to escape and, three miles out of Grinapol, the four of them caught up with the carriage and, throwing themselves in front of the horses, did not let them proceed. With a heavy heart and half-broken physically from the ordeal of the last months, Mother and Solomon had to retrace the three miles to Grinapol on account of the dogs! The dogs were then securely locked up but their whining and howling long resounded in Mother’s and Solomon’s ears. Tresor, Nero, Alba, Pique - you were more human than the Governor of Vilna!


During the second afternoon after my arrival, the rage of the previous night arose in me to such a degree that I unwittingly a1most killed myself. The Count’s new supervisor, a very cultured and affable German, came to pay his respects and to check up on the fields of rye sown the previous fall, for the greater part by Solomon himself. He came over in a dogcart to which was hitched a spirited young horse. Solomon and I joined him and the three of us crossed the creek over the bridge next to the mill and mounted the hills facing the house from the opposite side. The snow had already melted and the ruts in the road made the ride far from comfortable. Coming to a point where it was not easily possible to proceed on wheels, the supervisor suggested that I return home with the dogcart and that he and Solomon would try to cross the creek over the foot bridge, which had been half torn away. Firmly astride the seat of the dogcart, I turned the horse and my eyes beheld the entire panorama of Grinapol, illuminated by the setting sun. I pulled in the reins so as to photograph that sight in my inner vision but the spirited horse, either anxious to get home or not liking a strange woman for a boss, pranced and would not stand still. Suddenly I saw black before my eyes and gave the horse such a crack with the whip that it broke into a mad gallop, carrying the light cart and me like an empty shell on a swelling sea. I remember dis­tinctly that, although I realized the danger, I had no fear and did not try to stop the horse. Mother had evidently seen my wild ride from the house verandah, for by the time we reached the gate several of the men were running to meet me and stop the mad gallop. However, the horse, covered with foam, stopped in front of the house trembling and with distended eyes, while I lightly jumped out of the cart, cool and composed. I had let out my rage against the Russian government on the poor innocent horse.


Three days later the various workmen with their wives, children and babes in arms came to bid me goodbye. They came one after another, the men silent with somber faces which looked angry from pent-up emotions, the women weeping and whispering, “God bless you, amen!” and the children frightened and uneasy. Since I was not a married woman, the farmhands were not supposed to kiss my hand and I never let even the children do it but now they all bent over my hand and I touched the foreheads of some of the men, kissed most of the women, patted the head of every child. I found the strength to say a word to each one of them, reminding them of incidents of my childhood which I had spent in their midst, but inside I felt like a frozen statue - I was so overcome that I did not seem to suffer any more.


Early the next morning I said goodbye to Grinapol, to the feeling of being a daughter of a large estate, and to a home!

Chapter IX



I arrived in London at the end of May, 1912, and when I left it for Berlin the last of July, 1913, exactly fourteen months later, I not only spoke English correctly but had also managed to acquire stenography, self—taught, both in English and German. I thus had fully established myself as an independent woman, for in pre-war Europe knowledge of business English in addition to other languages was, if not a rarity, a very good asset. In fact, the head of a business house in Berlin on one of his periodic visits to London met me at the office where I was working at the time and engaged me for his Berlin office, with the promise to transfer me to Paris the next year.


Standing on the deck of the small channel boat crowded with holiday seekers - it was the eve of a British Bank Holiday - I, rarely for me, felt quite satisfied with myself and the world at large. Condi­tions in Russia had robbed me of a university degree but I knew that I had managed to obtain an even better education in certain respects. The year in London was time well spent. Not only did I fulfill what was once just a caprice, to shine among my friends, but I had learned so many things in addition. First and foremost of all, that a country can be governed by a king and have noblemen in abundance and at the same time leave freedom to its subjects.


Hyde Park Corner at Marble Arch was my free-air university. When I was taken there the very next day after my arrival I just stood and gaped; we happened to stop near a socialist soap—box orator but, of course, I did not understand a word he said. The fact, alone, that a person spoke in the street with a large crowd around him and that the police with nagaykas (whips) and galloping horses did not charge into them was beyond my understanding. Of course, I had read about freedom of speech in England and knew the foreign word “meeting”, which was always pronounced with a special significance when uttered by Russians; still the reality was beyond my wildest dreams. I walked excitedly from one group to another, looking at the speakers with a mixture of admiration and awe as if they were semi-gods, which rather amused my two Russian friends who had become very much anglicized during their year’s stay in London. After that I often went to Hyde Park to hear English spoken.


Then, during the four months that I devoted exclusively to study­ing, I made it a habit to spend several hours a day either in the Brit­ish Museum or in one of the galleries. A German girl, Lotte Lewin, whom I met at the boarding home where I lived, was of great help to me for she had learned English in school at home and also had a far better knowledge of art than I. She also had an ingenuity for loca­ting all the private collections in London and many a sumptuous home, upon written request from Lotte, was opened to let in two young foreign girls to gaze at some rare armor or an alabaster bathtub several thou­sand years old!


The Salvation Army must also be given due credit for the strides I made in the English language. On our way home from a gallery or some special exhibition, Lotte and I would invariably look for a Salvation Army Corner and usually serve as the nucleus for a crowd to gather. Our favorite group was the one which made its stand in front of the Palace Theatre; in fact, this particular group of Salvationists got to know us so well that the members gave us sugary smiles every time we came. The reason I was drawn to this band was because they were trying to convert sinners under the very patronage, so it seemed to me, of Gaby Delys, whose huge portrait in very scant attire, illuminated by electric lights, graced the front of the thea­ter. There was a time when my repertoire of Salvation Army songs was quite voluminous, even though I no doubt often led the entire crowd off key. I sang with the Salvation Army because a French teach­er I had once had had made her pupils sing French songs to acquire proper pronunciation. While her method was no doubt excellent her cracked voice made me squirm in my seat, but neither the Salvationists nor their songs annoyed me for they were teaching me how to pro­nounce English properly and I let nothing interfere.


For the first six months I lived in a very strict Home for girls and, in the beginning, seemed to enjoy everything in London, even the infringement on my personal liberty.



London, August 3, 1912

(the last entry in my diary)


How long have I been in London? Nine weeks have already elapsed since I, so-to-say, reached the crown of my am­bitions and… so far everything is well, even better than that. It is rather peculiar how soon I got used to this foreign land, strange people and life in a semi-closed institution. How extraordinary, after the free life in Russia, especially the ultra-free life in Vilna, to have to be home by 1O:3O in the evening, to be called by the loud ringing of a bell at 7 A.M. and, in general, to submit to a strict discipline. Life in the Home is interesting to me because of its nov­elty, although the overabundance of girls begins to wear me down. There are moments, quite often, when I want to remain entirely by myself and this is not so easy.



Once a week, on Saturday, we were permitted to stay out till midnight and on this one late night I religiously went to the theater, at first not understanding a word of the language. One of the first plays I was taken to was Shaw’s Fanny’s First Play and to this day I do not know what it was all about. On Sundays I stood in line at the Royal Albert Hall in order to be among the first two hundred who were let in free to the topmost gallery, not because I could not af­ford the sixpence, but because it was so much fun to stand outside the hall, flirt with some of the boys seen the Sunday before and watch the many entertainers who made a livelihood of sorts by playing to the crowds outside concert and music halls and legitimate theaters. Below a certain price limit the seats in English theaters and halls were not reserved and it was first come, first served. Usually, after standing for two hours outside Albert Hall and climbing the six flights of stairs at top speed, our little group would be so exhausted that we would pay the sixpence entitling us to a seat anyhow, but we would seldom fore­go the fun of waiting in line. Quite a few of the street artists had their regular hours at the various queues and we got to know them and their repertoire quite well. All sorts of stories were circulated about them, which made them fascinating to my imaginative mind. Of especial interest to me was an elderly, tall and withered woman with a vacant look in her eyes who made the most impossible sounds on a fiddle long untuned; it was rumored that she had been a great artist once upon a time but that an unfortunate love affair had robbed her of her mind and brought her to her present state.


Of the many famous performers I saw and heard during the fourteen months in London there are a few whose impact on me I remember to this day. Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson in Jerome K. Jerome’s The Passing of the Third Floor Back, one of his biggest successes. Mm. Luisa Tetrazzini, known at the time as the greatest Italian coloratura soprano, because I had such terrible cramps during her concert at Albert Hall after running up the five or six flights of steps to the topmost gallery that I had to take a taxi home, a hardly permis­sible luxury for me at that time. Anna Pavlova in The Dying Swan and Vatslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina in Spectre de la Rose, a ballet which they made their own. These dancers had a lasting influence on my preference of ballet to any other dance form. A dozen or so years later in Now York I even took ballet lessons for several years, both for exercise and for a better understanding of the technique of that art.


I also saw the great Sarah Bernhardt in a short skit, but was bitterly disappointed because she appeared in a Music Hall between a soft-shoe dancer and a low comedian. I was so stunned that I failed to be impressed by her supposedly marvelous voice and felt only shame that she should appear in such surroundings.


In the summer, I often spent my Sundays on the Thames leisurely floating in a punt, but more frequently in Hyde Park or Key Gardens. Key Gardens were much more beautiful but Hyde Park offered a greater variety of types and I preferred to speculate on the continuous stream of people that passed before my eyes. One such Sunday is especially memorable to me. It was a beautiful day a few weeks after my arrival in London. I was sitting on a bench facing a drive along which passed a stream of carriages, and this time I happened to be more interested in appraising the horses than the people. Turning my head to get a full view of an approaching landau drawn by two magnificent black horses, I noticed that all the men on the benches alongside the drive were lifting their hats and the women bowing with a friendly smile to the occupants of the carriage. When it passed within four or five feet of where I sat and I glanced at the occupants, who everybody seemed to know, I received such a shock that my heart missed a few beats and I had the queer sensation of becoming suddenly faint; the male figure in the carriage was King George V of England, who bore such a marked resemblance to his cousin, Tzar Nikolai II of Russia, that for a moment I forgot that I was in England and thought that a miracle had brought me face to face with our Tzar, for only by a miracle could a subject of the vast Russian Empire, especially a Jew limited to the pale, ever behold the Tzar, the Little Father, in the flesh. He very seldom came to the provinces in the pale and then he was so well guard­ed that it was difficult if not impossible to get a glimpse of him.


Queen Mary was seated next to the King and Princess Mary faced them on the folding seat, just a little girl in a white dress and a large straw hat. The British rulers looked just like a happy family taking a Sunday ride along with so many others in the carriages in front of and behind them. Even when I came to my senses again and realized that it was not Nikolai II, I felt thrilled and elated at actually having seen a king, for so far removed was the Ruler of Russia from his people that any other king also seemed a phantom and not a human being.


Later, on my way home, a bitter feeling of envy swept over me. Why should all these placid Britishers have the privilege of boasting during Sunday high tea that they had exchanged a friendly greeting with their king while we in Russia were deprived of that simple and yet thrilling experience?


I loved London and became very fond of the few real Britishers that I came in contact with, even though I could not always make them out - they were all so anxious to avoid any discussion of subjects of importance and always seemed to try just to skim over the surface of things.


Among the young people of my day in Russia it would have been unthinkable to tell a smutty joke in mixed company, but absolutely free discussion of all subjects was considered natural and enlightening. It was therefore a little bewildering when the English people I met shrank from such discussions, particularly as regards sex. The spring of 1913 witnessed the famous libel suit of Norman Doug1as in the Oscar Wilde case. In Russia the books of Oscar Wilde were con­sidered the last word in literature; I had read every one of them, but had never heard anything about his private life. For this reason my ideas about what was wrong with his sex life were more than hazy; just the same I was very indignant that any one should pry into his private affairs. On a stroll through Hammersmith with a charming, cultured and liberal-minded Englishwoman, to whom I tried to teach Russian but who, instead, taught me most of my English, I very hotly defended the literary fame of Oscar Wilde. The lady was quite horrified to hear me mention his name so naturally and gently admonished me that this was not a subject to talk about in the street. Later on I came to understand the Anglo-Saxon enigma a little better - this reluctance bordering on fear to expose one’s real fee1ings - but at the time it puzzled me greatly.


In my anxiety not to miss any opportunity to go where English was spoken and also due to my fervent interest in literature, I joined the T. P. O’Connor Club, which was supposedly a literary organization but, as I now figure it out, must have been a get-together place for Irish residents in London. We had literary evenings, read and discussed Shakespeare and every second Saturday went on exploring tours but, though the group no doubt was of great help to me in stopping my bloodless murder of the Kings English, I do not remember that it furthered my literary knowledge very much, except that through the Club I met two English writers and came to know one of them rather well.


As chance would have it, I was the only Jew and the only bona fide foreigner in our branch. I didn’t know whether my casual re­mark that I was Jewish surprised any of the members or not, neither did I take the trouble to puzzle out whether the singular kindness shown me by each and every member was a desire to compensate me for my belonging to the chosen but not very well—liked race, but the fact remains that on many occasions I was singled out and shown the respect that non-Jews usually feel for one who takes his or her Judaism natur­ally. Especially touching was the chairman of the Club, Mr. Archibald Ryder, who as a special compliment to me invited as guest of honor for the annual dinner of the Club Israel Zangwill, and seated me at his right.


Mr. Ryder also did me the signal honor, which I neither realized nor appreciated at the time, of inviting me to Sunday tea to meet his mother. All I remember of that afternoon is that I was bored to tears, especially when the mother spent a long time showing me her collection of demitasses, describing their make and their antiquity. I probably saw a demitasse for the first time in my life, knew nothing of china or porcelain, and cared even less.


The other literary figure I met though the T. P. Club was W. L. George, then a writer of much promise, and a long time before the American press discovered him and paid him a good price for writing silly commonplaces in a column entitled “Across the Breakfast Table.” Youth has its prerogatives and a lot of nerve! He certainly accepted very good—humouredly the lashing criticism which I gave him on his book, Israel Kalish, then just published. The hero was supposedly a Russian-Jewish revolutionary and the picture the book gave was so distorted that it made me laugh out loud in derision. Unfortunately, Mr. George, the defender of feminism and a great admirer of the sex, was much more interested in my looks than my literary judgment, which vexed me con­siderably. I was annoyed when he once said, “I will talk philosophy and literature with you when you are forty. Now I just want to look at you.”


One of the friends I made at the T. P. Club was an elderly Cath­olic priest, a socialist, a welfare worker and a man of exceptional erudition. He was the only one of the Britishers I met who was not afraid to go beneath the surface of things. Our conversation quite often turned to God and, strange as it may seem, we did not disagree very much. He dubbed me ‘the little female Spinoza” and I have al­ways held him in grateful memory for his deep human interest and broadmindedness.


In London I held two jobs, and I marvel even now why I was not dismissed the very day I came to work. After four months in England I had the temerity to fill a vacancy for a French-English and vice- versa translator in an office dealing with nonferrous metals. True, they let me go after four weeks; I took it as a personal insult and had to hold back my tears of indignation on my way home.


The second job was with a crazy Russian-born inventor. What little work there was entirely in English and I did not acquit myself well. My stenography was lamentable, my spelling of English names questionable and my telephone conversation with those who called must have been quite a performance. Still, they kept me un­til I left them to go to Germany.


The English chapter of my life closed during the channel crossing with a romantic friend­ship spontaneously formed with a dash­ing Scotsman who was returning to a diplomatic post in Egypt. I did not then foresee that we would keep in touch with each other for many years to come but, when we parted on reaching the Continent and he kissed me in full view of the other passengers as if his heart were breaking, I felt that my entry into Germany was quite auspicious.


The year in Germany passed very swiftly. There were a great number of Russian students of both sexes in Berlin, about 90 percent of them Jewish and the rest Armenians, with a few bona fide Slavs. The latter, for the most part, had been thrown out of Russian univer­sities on account of political beliefs. The winter of 1913—1914, like the calm before a storm, was hysterically gay and I forgot whatever interest I ever had in politics and in the sufferings of humanity in the mad whirl of dances and good times. I worked in an office and attended certain courses a few evenings a week, but this did not deter me from frequenting three to four cafes in an evening, as it presented no hardship for me at that time to go to bed at four A.M. and get up fresh and rested at seven-thirty the same morning. However, I must have slept late Sundays - Saturday was an ordinary working day in German offices — for, when one Sunday morning my boss called for me to come to the office, the maid, assuming that he was one of my student friends, answered, “Die fraulein laesst sich nicht stoeren (The young lady does not wish to be disturbed).” The next day the boss was very sarcastic.


I was very popular with the Berlin students but did not take any signs of devotion very seriously because I felt I still had a great deal to learn and, since all the girl students I knew usually gave up their supposed life’s work the moment they fell in love and married a fellow student, I did not wish a mere male to stand in the way of my accomplishments. There would be time enough for that after I had been to Paris to complete my study of the French language.


In the intervening years, Rashelle’s brother Abrasha had fin­ished his studies in Germany and was a full-fledged electrical engineer with a job in Berlin. I had had a crush on him, as did so many other girls, during my school years in Pinsk, but he had paid little atten­tion to me except for teasing me mercilessly when he found me with Rashelle. Now we made an effort to spark a romance but it fizzed out, because our personalities clashed. We continued to see one another, though, but he invariably irritated me by ridiculing and finding fault with every man that he saw me with. He was particularly hard on two loyal admirers, Arno Hausknecht, a student from Rumania, and Vano Arushanian from somewhere in the Caucasus, although he was civil enough when face to face with them. One evening Abrasha and Vano happened to call on me at the same time. I had a bad cold, so stretched out on the chaise longue while the two of them conversed at the other side of the room. I was dozing off when I suddenly heard them discuss­ing me. Paraphrasing one of the Songs of Solomon, they with tongue in cheek evaluated my every feature. “Eyes like burning Donetz coal, eyebrows like sable,” and so on. Then one of them said question­ingly. “Legs?” and the other answered using a well-known Russian expression, “History keeps quiet on the subject.” My legs were not my forte and, ruefully acknowledging the fact, I burst out laughing.


In the meantime, spring and summer had come and I was looking forward to my departure for Paris early in the fall, when an unex­pected calamity shook the world. The heir to the Austrian throne had been assassinated in the small town of Sarajevo and clouds began to gather on the political horizon. The German newspaper editorials be­gan to talk of the possibility of war. The bulk of the population did not seem to give it much thought, but a feeling of uneasiness persisted. Also, the faces of my German friends, whom I considered both mentally and intellectually so close to me, would take on a strange look of cold determination, especially when they stated one and all that Germany did not want war, but, if she were forced into it, they wou1d all defend their Fatherland to the last breath. I would then begin to feel that I only imagined that they were close to me and it would make me very uncomfortable.


The Socialist demonstration held at the end of July in protest against war heartened me considerably, for it showed that a goodly part of the German people did not want to be inveigled into such a calam­ity, but my elation was short-lived for the next thing I knew war was declared between Germany and Russia. In spite of the fact that the possibility of war had been the topic of conversation for several weeks, the actual declaration was a bolt from the blue to the greater part of the German population.


Especially was the news upsetting to the thousands of Russians trapped in the numerous German health resorts. A great deal of confusion ensued, not so much because the Germans had lost their heads but because the contingent of foreigners, consisting predominantly of women and, if they were Russian or Russian-Polish, generally traveling with children, maids, nurses and innumerable pieces of baggage, seemed unable to realize the seriousness of the situation. Who would think of reading a newspaper while having a good time for one’s health at the North Sea or Wiesbaden, Baden—Baden or Bad Homburg? Taken even more by surprise than the others, they were terribly indignant when they were not given preference to soldiers on trains or if they had to leave part of their baggage behind. In Berlin itself, perfect or­der was practically uninterrupted. All foreigners, who even in peace-time had to register in their respective precincts, were sent notices to appear in person for a checkup. I had lived at the same address in the suburb of Charlottenberg the entire year of my stay and was known to the Police Inspector through my several visits to pay income tax, which was due quarterly. Along with the others, I was required to call at the police station every day and not to leave the county but, after I exp1ained that I had to go to work in the city of Berlin, I was given permission to call at the station less fre­quently. To my knowledge, in Berlin itself a goodly number of male Russians were not molested during the first months of the war, be­cause I remember distinctly the farewell party given to me at the end of November, 1914 entirely by Russian men, for most of the wo­men had already left.


However, the German people themselves, their unprecedented tactlessness and sudden ferocity, amazed and horrified me. When I came out of Germany four months later and on neutral ground met German subjects expelled from various countries of the Allies, I learned that ugly chauvinism had reared its monstrous head in other countries as well. To me this feeling of sudden hatred was inexplicable. Why should I begin to hate the people of a nation which on the whole had always treated me very kindly just because irresponsible governments threw the entire world into panic and misery? I could understand and even greatly admire the patriotism of the Germans, who with meticulous care began to help their Fatherland to win the war from the very first day it was declared, and deep down in my heart hoped that all of Russia was standing behind its fighting chiefs and armies as were the Germans. But hate them, why? However, dislike them I did for the many signs of arrogance and stupidity not only among the rank and file, but also among those whom I knew quite well.


One very unpleasant incident occurred the second Sunday after the outbreak of hostilities. I rented my room from a German widow, who understandably did not want to part with her large and beautiful apartment after her husband’s death. The only other roomer was a German, a quiet and unassuming fellow whom I saw very seldom but who seemed exceedingly well-mannered and polite. The day before war was declared he unexpectedly returned from his vacation at the North Sea and a few days later already in the army when he came to pay us a call. We were at the time looking at the Berliner Illustrierte that showed scenes of fighting and, among other things, Belgian pri­soners of war. Looking at the latter, I absent-mindedly remarked, “Poor things, they certainly look emaciated,” whereupon my next-room neighbor of twelve months suddenly flew into a rage, exclaiming, “Poor things, indeed! Die Schweinehunde! I don’t see why we even take them prisoner; they ought to be shot one and all.” I gasped and, without replying, left the room.


Another incident was also illustrative of the frame of mind of the civilians. The private secretary of my employer was a sweet and timid German girl, with whom I got along rather well. One day the papers spread a rumor that the Cossacks were nearing Berlin. Looking up from the paper, she exclaimed in a passionate voice and with flaming eyes, “If this happens, I’11 go out and shoot at them myself.”


Amazed, I looked at her and smilingly inquired, “You don’t mean it, do you? A 1a guerre comme a la guerre, but surely civilians should not take part in fighting.”


“Well,” she declared “if the Russians ever come to Berlin, I vouch for a good many heads that will be seen on lampposts along Unter den Linden, thanks to these hands of mine,” shaking her fists in my face.


Another time, my employer’s brother flew into the room and, shoving the latest extra under my face, exclaimed, “Thirty thousand Russians have just been drowned in the Masourian Marshes,” knowing full well that the news would hurt me terribly.


Most amazing to me was the superpatriotism of the German Jews. Even in peacetime they often amused me by their Germanism, a mixture of sentimentality and crass materialism, but when war broke out they appeared to me “plus royal que le roi meme.” To me it seemed strange and almost inhuman that none of the German Jews ever mentioned what was happening to the millions of Polish and Russian Jews who, because of their domicile along the border, were the first to suffer the rav­ages of war. If they were ever discussed, it was to point out how dirty, uncouth and inferior they were to the German Jews. The latter were so thoroughly German that even blood-ties did not mean anything. My landlady’s nephew, whose father had been a British subject, was in some apprenticeship in Berlin when the war broke out. Charlie, who was about 18 or 19 at the time, was immediately incarcerated and I, who had known him from London, was horrified and quite upset. Not so his German aunt; she took it very calmly and with great dignity explained to me that, since Charlie was British, it was only right that he should be punished for what his government had done to Germany.


On the whole, however, people quietly went about their business, grimly determined that whatever they did at the moment should aim in the direction of helping the Fatherland win the war and, aside from a few spy scares, did not bother much about persecuting poor help­less civilians. Later on, when people were driven to desperation by hunger and misery, there may have been reprisals, but not during the four months of my stay, at least not in Berlin.


In the excitement I missed my chance to leave Germany via Sweden with a number of other women who were permitted to depart in the first week of the war. Naturally, I was not very happy, but the Germans were making such terrible strides into borderland Russia that I began to believe the talk of my employer and the German newspapers to the effect that before long Vilna and Pinsk, the only places where I could find refuge, would be in the hands of the Germans. This possibility was soon dispelled but, having missed the first opportunity, I had to chafe and wait until the government would decide to let another group of women and children out. Thanks to the influence of my employer, I was almost the first on the list of the next contingent and, at the end of November I received my passport with the stamp: “Die Reise muss am 30. November, 1914, angetreten werden. (The trip must start on November 30, 1914.)”

Chapter X



My elation knew no bounds, in spite of the fact that German news­papers carried articles describing hopeless conditions in Russia and the chaos that seemingly reigned there. Added to my joy in great measure was the fact that I would be going via Sweden and to see a new country was always a welcome event, no matter how it was brought about.


Early on November 30 we were locked into a roomy and clean German train, which was unlocked only to let us pass through the Customs at Sassnitz. By that time the Allied press had already begun its campaign on German atrocities and the German official circle, to counteract its effect, retaliated with a campaign of politeness and most correct attitude towards the civilian prisoners of war when they were let out of the country. Every official at Sassnitz, beginning with the train porter and ending with the Captain of the garrison, were most attentive to each departing prisoner and the last words of each one were, “Erzahlen Sie Ihren Russen wie wir Sie hier behandelt habe.” (“Tell your Russians how we have treated you here.”)


An incident occurred while my baggage was being examined. As could be expected, special scrutiny was given to papers and letters. Realizing their right to inspect papers, I had left behind the many letters I had accumulated during my two and a half years abroad, having never destroyed a single line. By an oversight, a few letters from Mr. George remained in my writing case and were found by the soldier doing duty at the Customs. Though the letters were quite innocent in their contents, I did not wish to have them read by strangers and, blushing to the roots, I boldly told the soldier that they were love letters and, if he did not care to leave them with me, to destroy them before my eyes. To my discomfiture, the soldier calmly remarked that a few of the offi­cers knew English and that, if the letters were what I claimed them to be, they would be returned to me. About ten minutes later a young and very charming lieutenant handed me the letters and, with a smile, said in perfect English, “It would have been a pity to destroy them; one likes to keep such letters.” Then, turning serious, he added with great earnestness, “Tell your Russians how we have treated you here.”


At Stockholm we were met by a Swedish band, society women pre­siding over canteens with food and drink and members of the Russian Relief Committee in full force. Very few of our party, except some who had lost their personal belongings through some mishap or other or had to leave behind a son or brother, had gone through any appre­ciable amount of suffering in Germany, and the fuss that was made over us was somewhat amusing and, to me, downright uncomfortable. I had never before received charity and the well—meant efforts of the Committee to pity me and bundle me up with sweaters, knitted caps and gloves, I found humiliating. However, the warm attention given to us by the Russian Committee, the majority of whom were Jewish and consisted of high society women with Princess Urusov at the head, was surprising1y pleasant. Surely, a new dawn must have risen in Russia for, while the people were usually friendly, the government had never gone out of its way to help a Jew, at home or abroad.


Princess Urusov took a special liking to me and smothered “the poor young child fleeing from the horrible enemy” with kisses. It made me smile, but just the same I could not tell her that I had noth­ing to complain of about the enemy. She would no doubt think it very unpatriotic and then, who knows, suspect me of sympathizing with the Germans. There was always that terrible thought in the back of the mind that a Russian Jew was always suspected by his government, if not for one thing, then for another. Princess Urusov did not exactly represent the government, but she was in close touch with the Russian­ Embassy at Stockholm, and I suddenly had the uneasy feeling that per­haps she did not know I was Jewish. However, this was impossible, since my name clearly indicated it and, besides, my passport was in the hands of the Relief Committee.


The day before I left Stockholm, Princess Urusov introduced to me a young man from the office of the Russian Naval Attaché, who said that he had come to ask a favor of me. Princess Urusov thought so highly of me that he felt he could trust me with the important mission of taking certain papers to Petrograd for delivery to the Admiralty. It was urgent to send the papers at the earliest opportunity, but not imperative enough to warrant a special courier. He explained that I would not have any bother with the papers, as he was informing his department accordingly, and all I would have to do was to telephone the Admiralty upon my arrival and the packages would be sent for.


I could hardly believe my ears. A bona fide Russian official entrusting a Jew with government papers, whether important or not, was such an unprecedented procedure that I felt both astonished and elated. I immediately attributed it to the new spirit that must have swept over Russia since the beginning of the war. In Stockholm I had already learned of some very important changes that affected the treatment of Jews.


Since the entire battlefront from the Baltic down to the Black Sea was raging in the provinces within the pale, the government saw itself forced to open some place of refuge to the millions of Jews fleeing from the approaching enemy. Thus, the laws affecting the boundaries where Jews were prohibited the right of domicile were lifted and they were, for the duration of the war, permitted to settle wher­ever they chose in European Russia except within a radius of 100 miles of the two capitals, Petrograd and Moscow. It is true, there was the added humiliation that Jews living in fortified towns were forcibly evacuated at the first advance of the Germans on account of a groundless suspicion that they might betray them to the enemy. Still, there was much to be grateful for. The percentage limitations in schools and universities had also been very favorably modified so that, no matter what had caused the change, the Jews breathed much more freely and, of course, secretly hoped that these newly acquired rights might remain with them after the war came to an end. Thus I was returning to my native land with the hope of finding it a better place to live, in spite of the horrors of war.


The Russian refugees were given the choice of returning either by boat across the Gulf of Finland or by train via the uppermost northern route, crossing the frontier into Russia at Torneo, only slightly south of the Arctic Circle. This meant a train ride of several days across endless snow and a monotonous landscape, so I chose the boat. At first Princess Urusov tried to dissuade me from going by boat because it was dangerous on account of floating mines (the boat I sailed on was the last to cross; the very next one was blown up by such a mine), but I insisted and early in December I embarked for home. The boat was the smallest I ever traveled on and, from the moment it left the pic­turesque rocky islands surrounding the coast of Sweden, it pitched and rocked as if possessed even though we proceeded most slowly and cautious­ly. Though not a very good sailor at the time, I for some unaccount­able reason felt exceptionally well and spent a good part of the night tending to the other female passengers, some of whom I was afraid would never land alive. However, sometime during the next day we safely reached Raumo and I was ready to fall on the neck of the first Russian wearing a uniform, the only Russians, by the way, in that remote part of Finland.


My joy at reaching a place where I was no longer a foreigner was very short—lived, however. It happened that most of the other women on the boat were returning home either from Belgium, France or England and that I was practically the only one who was actually only some ten days out of Germany. I was taken to the private room of the Commander and there unexpectedly subjected to the most grueling inquisition. Politely but very firmly I was questioned and cross-examined as to my doings since leaving Russia two and a half years before. This questioning lasted so long that I began to feel as if I were under arrest. Finally I was asked to put down in writing my experiences in Germany since the beginning of the war, with the insinuation that it would be to my advantage if I described in detail the horrors I must have gone through, even though I had not mentioned any. I then realized that I, in my own land, was suspected of being a German spy, a bitter thought to assail one at such a moment. It would not have been easy for me to concoct a false story under any circumstances, but especially not under pressure. Gathering all my courage, I tried to explain to the officer that I had nothing to complain of. The reasons I gave were that I spoke the language like a native, had lived at the same address and worked at the same place during my entire stay in Berlin and, be­cause of these facts, had on the whole been treated with great kind­ness. Seeing that my inquisitors had no intention of letting me go and afraid of missing the train for Petrograd, also not particularly liking the flirtatious attitude of one of the officers, I recalled the consideration shown me in Stockholm. Hoping to prove my alibi by the high sign of trust of the Navy man, I told them that it was very important that I reach Petrograd at the earliest possible moment, as I had to turn in important papers that had been entrusted to me at Stockholm.


If a bomb had burst in the room, the commotion my simple words occasioned could not have been greater. I was immediately rushed to the waiting room where my baggage lay about. The packages in question were confiscated on the spot, my personal baggage given a minute and thorough search and the entire train kept wa1ting for another hour or more until all the packages were examined. To this day I have no idea what was in them. They were never returned to me at Raumo and my pleadings for a receipt were met with derision. Finally, the officer con­descended to say that I would have no difficulty whatsoever, as he was sending them with a special courier himself.


Such were my first hours on Russian soil upon my return from the barbarous enemy.


Shattered by the reception, I cried a good deal on the train from Raumo to Petrograd (the name given to St. Petersburg when World War I broke out), the city of my dreams and longings. It was bitter to swallow the fact that Germany, official Germany, had treated me with much more cordiality than my native land and that tears of deep humil­iation had to be shed upon landing.


In Petrograd, the authorities permitted me a special favor granted to all Jews returning from abroad during the war (there was no other way of entering the country), to remain in the capital of Russia for exactly seven days. I was grateful for even this small privilege, but secretly hoped that by the time I had visited with my mother and sis­ters for a while either the exclusion law would be further modified or some means could be devised to enable me to settle in Petrograd. This was especially desirable since a very attractive position was awaiting me when I reached the capital.


Relatives of mine living in Petrograd, who had been advised of my return, had seen an advertisement for an English—Russian stenographer appearing for over a week in a leading newspaper and had answered it. They informed the advertiser that a person well qualified to fill the position was expected in Petrograd within two or three weeks, if that were of any help to him. A hasty answer came in reply, requesting that I call the moment I arrived. I did so and Mr. Clyde W. Cook, manager of a large chemical company, offered me a very good salary and requested that I start immediately. This I declined, explaining that I wanted to take a good look at Petrograd first and also to visit my mother. That was true but, naturally, I did not mention that I had no right to reside in Petrograd. The many foreigners who had lived in Russia for years and who so much enjoyed the many privileges they were given and the sumptuous life of the two capitals with very few exceptions ever took an interest in the country itself. Therefore they had no idea how the other half, consisting of 95 per cent of the Russians, lived. Of the anti—Jewish laws they generally knew nothing.


Mr. Cook then promptly offered to wait until I returned. It is easy to imagine how flattered I was, especially since I did not realize that it was rather difficult to get an English—Russian stenographer in those days and that he probably had no other choice. I was filled with the joy of conquest and enjoyed Petrograd acutely.


It is hard to describe the happiness that welled up within me when I walked along the Nevskii Prospect or peeped into the Winter Pal­ace through a window of the Hermitage adjoining it. It was not that the sight was overwhelming. To the contrary, after London and Berlin the city appeared somewhat drab and only certain parts of it, like the Nevskii Prospect and the Quais on the Neva, were substantially imposing. However, after living there for three years and having become thorough­ly acquainted with its numerous canals criss—crossing the city, its beautiful bridges over the canals, its magnificent monuments, and having seen it from the islands across the Neva, I began to feel and still do that old St. Petersburg was one of the most impressive capitals in which I resided or visited either before or after leaving Russia.


Merely walking the streets of Petrograd was to me like re­reading and reliving the novels of our notable writers. Every other building had a certain significance and I actually mounted the steps of a few of them to see Petrograd as some hero or heroine had observed St. Petersburg several decades before. To hear a play in Russian was also unexpectedly thrilling, even though I did not get into either the Maryinskii Opera House or the Alexandrynskii Drama Theatre. Subscrip­tions to these theaters were handed down in families and mentioned in wills along with country estates and jewelry and, to get hold of the few available returned tickets, people would stand in line, sometimes as long as twenty-four hours if someone like Chaliapin were appearing. With the exception of the afternoon concerts at Royal Albert Hall, I never cared for such sacrifices.


On my way to Pinsk I stopped over at Troki to visit my half-sister Hessia and to see Father’s grave. Both Klenovka and Grinapol had by that time ceased to exist as separate units and were connected by a long line of trenches. Though they were not yet in enemy hands, the retreating Russian troops a month or so earlier had practically leveled them to the ground. The inhabitants of Troki had seen the trusting Russian soldiers go to certain death without ammunition and with un­certainty as to reinforcements and they also saw them retreating, wild-eyed and uncomprehending, one clutching a top hat, another an empty fiddle case, part of the loot taken at Eytkunen or some other German border town. Since these towns were some eighty miles away, it is easy to imagine the horrors that must have affected the minds of these soldiers if they were absentmindedly still carrying those worthless ar­ticles around with them.


Many tales were told me of the poorly equipped armies that were sent into battle and I then remembered a story that was told to me in Berlin by a German officer who had been a newspaper editor in private life. He had visited a friend of his, a Commander of a Russian prisoner’s camp, and was terribly affected by the sight of the Russian soldiers standing for long hours near the high fence and refusing to budge, even under threat of the bayonet; they were listening for the approach of the Russian army for they had been told that in three weeks the war would be over and they would be back home for the fall sowing! Poor Russian muzhik, he was never a coward and, though not quarrel­some, would fight like a demon if attacked! But how could these ig­norant peasants, the fleeing soldiers who passed through Troki to join the remnants of their regiments, want to fight the Germans when to them Germany was an unknown place, reached in from three days to three weeks on a slow soldiers’ train labeled ‘Forty men or eight horses”? What for? Why?


From the time when actual serfdom was abandoned in 1861, what had been done to enlighten them until 1914? Even if a peasant was privileged to have been born in a village with a school, he soon forgot the little learning he acquired since little or nothing was done to keep it up. While he was doing his four-year conscript service in the army, a sup­erficial attempt was made to teach him reading and writing. However, the ignorance of the teacher, himself a graduate from the ranks, coupled with the deadly monotony of army life, seldom led to much more than reading by the slow method of spelling every word with the finger on each letter. Upon his return to his village the sol­dier never again saw a book till the end of his days, and only some­times brought an old newspaper from town in which to roll his tobacco. What was he taught about his country and patriotism except the shout­ing of “Hurrah” when the Tzar’s or the Tsar’s family’s names were mentioned?


The stories were sad, but Troki was unusually wide-awake and gay. On very clear days the distant rumblings of the big guns could be heard distinctly, but no one paid any attention to the sounds. It was strange, for Troki, the tiny town on a peninsula (actually an island which sticks out like a tongue and divides into two parts the beautiful lake of Troki and which is connected by bridges to the mainland) had, since its founding in 1321, been a sleepy nest, roused to excitement by such incidents as the appearance of the first automobile in 1908, and enlivened only by its yearly festival of St. Augustine on August 15 (28).


I saw none of our former farmhands or neighbors, who had either perished or fled in some other direction, except Helenka. She and her mother had had to abandon their home, as too near the firing line, and now lived in Troki. The man she had met while employed as a governess and who was going to marry her when he obtained a divorce from his wife was visiting her. A divorce in Russia! Only the c1ergy was empowered to solemnize marriage and, in the absence of civil marriage, civil divorce did not exist either. Jews, therefore, were rather fortunate for the Hebrew religion is more than liberal in its views on divorce but, ironically enough, the Jews very seldom availed themselves of this, practically their only privilege in pre-war Russia. Russians of the Greek Orthodox faith were supposed to marry for life because, according to the canons of the Church, only death could part two people who took the sacred vows of marriage. The holy fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church fortunately were wise enough to come to the conclusion that certain transgressions in married life were equal to death itself. On this basis, theoretically at least, the grounds for divorce, or ra­ther for dissolution of marriage, were liberal enough. Action was by petition: in cases where one of the parties had been sentenced to a punishment that involved the loss of civil rights including, of course, family rights; and for desertion, when the other party had been absent for more than five years; and by suit, without criminality, such as in­capacity to consummate marriage and, involving criminal action, for adultery or transgression.


However, the cumbersome and archaic procedure frightened away most unhappy coup1es, even the bravest among them. Each case had to go through the Ecclesiastical Consistories of the Diocese where one of the parties lived and then be finally decided upon by the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg; added to this was the enormous expenditure involved and de­lays of many years. True, the Holy Synod only sat in cases involving the nobility, while for ordinary mortals the Bishop presiding over each diocese had sufficient jurisdiction. But this was of little weight for divorces among the poor and especially among the peasants were practically unheard of. Of course, it is reasonable to assume that the interpretation of the Church that dissolution of marriage was equal unto death kept many an unhappy couple in the holy although often despicable state of matrimony. Also, the cost involved was staggering. A stamp tax had to accompany the petition, advertisements in the Church papers had to be paid for, exorbitant lawyers’ fees defrayed, so that even the cheapest divorce came to over a thou­sand rubles, and only those who know what an enormous sum a thousand rubles was to an average Russian before the ruble lost its value with the advent of the war will appreciate its effect upon the divorce rate in Russia.


Helenka’s young man was an artist and very improvident. Divorce seemed a long way off. Poor Helenka, she was still beautiful, but her eyes were so very sad.


Like so many other young girls at the outbreak of war, I toyed with the idea of becoming a Red Cross nurse. On reaching Troki, so near the front, I was torn between the desire for living in Petrograd and that of sharing the dangers of the war. I was not fit for nursing, as even the sight of a cut finger other than my own would bring on a feeling of nausea, nor did the work itself attract me very much. But I wanted to help all the unfortunate soldiers and was determined to overcome whatever in my character stood in its way. This desire, however, was not strong enough to persist when I learned of the discrimination against Jewish Red Cross nurses. First of all, they were seldom ad­mitted to training in other than Jewish hospitals and then had the hardest time to get a job. They were usually offered work of the poor­est nature and even this was made more difficult by sending them far away from home. However, no Jewish nurse was ever sent to the fighting lines, a humiliating suspicion as to their not being trustworthy so near the enemy, though her Jewish brothers were, whenever possible, mustered into position so as to be the first to be fed to the guns. Jewish nurses were never appointed to officers’ hospitals, which were incomparably better run and equipped than the soldiers’. Gentile nur­ses often told me that they very much preferred serving in soldiers’ hospitals because the soldiers were so grateful for the slightest attention given them, while the officers, especially if they were reg­ular army men, were unbearable in their haughtiness and incessant de­mands upon the nurses. Just the same, this discrimination in the face of the national calamity was very bitter, and I decided to stay away.


I found Pinsk, which was some fifteen to eighteen hours away from the firing line, transformed and bustling with life. Practically all the boys I knew were either in the trenches or doing some other war work, but in their stead there were many new faces. Every hospital, barracks and a good many private residences were requisitioned for the wounded soldiers but, in spite of that, there was no dejection anywhere and a friendly atmosphere seemed to pervade the entire town. Aside from the many uniforms in the streets and the fact that every family was worrying about someone at the front, life seemed rather peaceful.


I found Mother settled in a one-story five-room house, the en­tire floor space of which was not much larger than the “salon” of Grinapol, and did not get as much of a shock as I expected. Now that both estates were in the line of fighting, it seemed the work of Providence that we had had to abandon Grinapol two years before. Mother also appeared to have grown used to her new surroundings and found great joy in her grandchildren, whose self-imposed duty it was to do their homework at “Babushka’s” (Grandmother’s). In fact, un­known to her children, Mother had found a new interest in life; at first perhaps it only helped her to forget her former busy and con­structive life, but gradually it replaced all her longing for the land and the hard work which it entailed. Mother had received a very scant Russian education in her childhood and, after her marriage at sixteen, had had so little time to read that she had forgotten the little she knew. When she moved to Pinsk, her grandchildren were in the first grades at school and, when she zealously went over their lessons with them, they did not suspect that the printed pages which were new to them were also undiscovered worlds to her. She had always been very proud and reticent about her own feelings and emotions and her children never even suspected that she missed her Russian education, for there were many excellent newspapers and good books published in Yiddish. During my three months at Pinsk I was out so much that I never noticed Mother’s particular absorption in the textbooks of my nieces, and it came with both a shock and a thrill when I discovered Mother reading Tolstoy, her favorite author, in the original.


An incident occurred during my short stay in Pinsk in the winter of 1914—1915. The private house next to my sister’s was transformed into a hospital and Tsilya began to invite the con­valescent soldiers, who usually sat on the bench in front of the gate, in for tea. Gradually it became a habit among the wounded to drop in around four o’clock in groups of two to four and sometimes even more. One afternoon two maimed figures hobbled in; one of the visitors looked a little more intelligent than the other and, when I questioned him, I found that he came from a village near Archangel on the White Sea. Archangel was so far away that I became interested and made him tell us about the fishing and fur trapping which I knew were the main occupations of the inhabitants of the far north.


The other soldier listened patiently to our conversation and then said caustically. “Now you are bragging about what fish you catch and how brave you are with the gun, but you don’t mention when you work your fields.”


“We do not work any fields,” the other replied, “nothing grows in my part of the world but some cabbages.”


“You may be more learned than I am,” suddenly exclaimed the sol­dier from the Ukraine, “but you cannot make a fool of me in front of these ladies! I understand that much, that where there is a village there is land to till and you cannot tell me that your peasants do not till the land, for you are nothing but an ordinary muzhik like myself,” whereupon the one with a bandaged arm and the one with a lame leg start­ed a fight across the tea table and we had a hard time saving the dishes. We laughed a great deal but it was sad, just the same, that the Russian peasant should know so little about his own country.


I also remember another incident during my stay in Pinsk. Tsilya asked me to spend a few nights with her during her husband’s absence on business. One night after the boys, Pepa (Peter) and Benya (Benjamin), were put to bed by the nurse we were surprised not to hear any protests. After a while we quietly opened the door and discovered that Benya was in Pepa’s bed instead of his own. They were also whispering and giggling quietly. Benya, a smart but mischievous child, not yet four and only fifteen months younger than his brother, suddenly said, “Our bodies are like samovars,” and the two then proceeded to compare every part and function of the body with that of a samovar, ending with the spout! We did not let the boys know that we heard them, but had difficulty controlling our laughter.


After five years of work and study I suddenly discovered that I very much enjoyed a life of leisure. I breakfasted in bed as in the old days and did nothing much more strenuous than several hours’ skating on the frozen Pina. However, the moment my sisters and my favorite brother—in-law would suggest that I stay and, if I absolutely insisted on being independent, give a few English lessons, for which language there was suddenly a great demand, I would grow restless and plan to get to Petrograd by fair means or foul. But how was I to accomplish it? Well, the Jews had been prohibited the sight of St. Petersburg for many generations but, since from time immemorial a way had always been found to break or circumvent laws which were contrary to simple human justice, and the Russian Jews had found several. Some ways were humil­iating, some tragic, while some were only petty deceptions.


A good many young men, bent on a university degree which would give them the means of livelihood in a cherished profession, became proselytes. In the earlier days they joined the Greek Orthodox Church but, when they found out that they were spied upon and required to practice church—going and also to forsake their Jewish affiliations, the newer generation of Jews embraced the Lutheran faith. To become a Lutheran was a much simpler procedure. It was a great relief that there was no crossing since, strange as it may seem, to every Jew, no matter how broadminded and non-practicing, to make the sign of the cross is the hardest thing to do. A good many jokes were current among Jewish students on how they became Christians, but underlying each joke was the tragedy of an entire human group.


Some girls became desperate enough to obtain the notorious Yellow Ticket, which a prostitute carried in place of a passport and which gave her freedom of all Russia. The police officers in university towns were not at all backward and, when a refined-looking Jewish girl pre­sented a Yellow Ticket, they invariably sensed deception and took demoniacal pleasure in making life for her hell on earth. They would give the girl’s name to all the debauched men they knew and, unless the girl consented to practice her profession, she would be arrested and deported by etappe as a common criminal. After a few such inci­dents, the practice of obtaining Yellow Tickets gradually died down.


The third method was not as tragic as the first two described, but just as humiliating and as dangerous. As mentioned before, Jews, by buying themselves into the Merchants Guilds, obtained certain privileges. Merchants of the First Guild had the right of domicile anywhere in Russia, the whole year round, while Merchants of the Second Guild could live outside the pale for three months during the calen­dar year or delegate a Jewish representative for the same length of time. The practice which the Jews, mostly students of both sexes, developed was very involved.


On arrival in a university town they would duly register at the police station (every person was required to register within twenty-four hours but Jews also had to present themselves in person.) After staying at a given address for a week or two, the Jew would check out, presenting the passport at the police station and pretending that he was leaving town for home. On both occasions it was the custom to hand the police inspector a few rubles between the leaves of the pass­port as a token of good will. The police inspector knew very well why he was bribed and, if he was at all human or very poor, or greedy, or both, he would pretend that he accepted the Jew’s word. The Jew in the meantime would return to his lodgings and stay there for a few months non-existent, so to say, except that he was very much in evidence to the gateman, the dvornik. Every house and apartment house in Russia had a courtyard, which was reached by a huge gateway presided over by a gateman. Better apartment houses also had doormen, who were responsible to the police for the tenants and, since the Russian word for doorman (schveitzar) and Switzerland (Schveitzaria) have the same root, Jews at the mercy of gatemen or doormen nicknamed themselves “Swiss” subjects. To this gateman or doorman the Jews would pay weekly tips for the privilege of being overlooked. After the lapse of a cer­tain time, the Jew would again go to the police station, register, pretending that he had just returned, again give graft in the folds of his passport, come back to check out in a few weeks’ time, and so on until he had rounded out his three months permit, usually at the end of the school term.


The entire police, of course, knew of this practice and, once in a while, either by orders from above or out of malice, would stage a raid (oblava) during some particular night. On such a night, the en­tire police force would be called to duty and every house and every apartment, nay every nook in a suspected locality would be searched for Jews living as Swiss subjects. To assure success the raids were usually staged around three or four in the morning and the suspects, as well as their hosts, handled without kid gloves. If his or her papers were not in order and the particular policeman was either unwilling or unable to accept graft at the moment, the Jews were occasion­ally given notice to leave town within twenty—four hours but in most instances placed under arrest, dragged to the detention pen and next morning deported under guard to their respective homes. When caught, they were treated like cattle and there was no use fighting back.


As already stated, most of these Jews were students of both sexes, but among them were also writers, journalists and artists who had been unable, due to the rigid restrictions, to obtain a university degree; also actors, actresses and others of high cultural level. Petty thieves, procurers and other underworld characters had no difficul­ty in obtaining domicile rights; they either used forged passports or made other arrangements.


Well, I wanted to go to Petrograd, where a good position await­ed me and where theaters, concerts and lectures would fill my intellectual cravings. In the meantime, Mr. Cook had been bombarding me with letters, and at the end of February 1915 I arrived in Petrograd to represent the lumber interests of my brother—in-law, Mer­chant of the Second Guild - and to become a Swiss subject!






Chapter I



The three years almost to the day which I spent in the capital of Russia were memorable ones, because they formed one of the most exciting chapters of my life. I had finally achieved what every pro­vincial Russian boy and girl longed for. Like the immortal “Three Sisters“ of Chechov (currently spelled ‘Chekhov’), who yearned for Moscow, we the younger generation dreamed of St. Petersburg as the Mecca of what the best Russian cul­ture and civilized European influence had to offer. Opera, drama, ballet, lectures, museums, White Nights (almost uninterrupted day­light caused by the Aurora Borealis), drives to the Strelka (the ar­row end of the Kamenootrovskii Island), they all were mentioned indiv­idually or collectively in practically all novels and short stories of our great writers. So many people in the provinces, unless they had money, spent their lives in an everlasting but futile hope of some day experiencing the thrill of our great city, and here was I, with all the odds seemingly against me, actually forming part and parcel of Petrograd.


My salary at the office was comparatively high and I, never having been taught the value of money in the light of saving it, gleefully spent it on the things that were of real value to me. As I mentioned before, it was practically impossible to obtain seats for the Imperial Maryinskii Opera House or the Imperial Alexandrinskii Drama Theatre unless one stood in line for long hours for the few seats available outside of subscriptions or bought tickets from speculators who themselves had stood long hours to obtain them. I often chose the latter method but, as this was rather costly, I began to frequent the Musykalnaya Drama, a privately owned opera company located in the Large Hall of the Imperial Conservatory of Music across the square from the Maryinskii. Very soon I became a passionate adherent of the Musical Drama, whose management strove to present operas in a realistic man­ner, sometimes foregoing the traditional mannerisms of opera acting and occasionally even changing the structure of the opera and the se­quence of the music itself. Endowed with more sense of drama than of music, I heartily approved of the Musical Drama tendencies, especially as a few years before, at a time when my acquaintance with operas was very limited, a road tour of the Petrograd Crooked Mirror Theatre greatly affected my attitude towards operas. This Crooked Mirror, created and run under the able direction of the renowned producer Evreynov, in a series of sketches made very sophisticated fun of all ridiculous traditions, especially insofar as they affected the opera, ballet, operetta and learned societies. Their greatest triumph was a parody on an opera, called Vampuka. The opera was very tuneful and the singers were perfectly serious in their rendition, but the audience rocked with laughter. The name Vampuka became a synonym for anything without rhyme or reason and the main aria of the opera, when the great lover, standing over the prostrate body of the dying heroine, sings ten variations on “Oh, where can I get a glass of water for my dear Vampuka,” became equally famous.


In the presentations of the Musical Drama the cigarette girl in Carmen looked and acted like a factory worker and not like a prima donna. Figaro in the Barber of Seville was an ordinary village bar­ber to whom everybody confided their troubles and who therefore did not hesitate to meddle in other people’s affairs.


I heard all the operas presented by the Musical Drama several times a season, but my favorites were the two Tchaikovsky operas, Evgenyi Onegin (Eugene Onegin) and Pikovaya Dama (Queen of Spades). The text of the two operas, in part entirely unchanged, is by the immortal Russian poet Pushkin and, since his works were studied from a different angle in each successive grade at school, I, like the rest of the audience, knew every word and also the ultimate sad fate of the characters.


The operas at both houses were sung in Russian. Prior to the war there was also a permanent Italian opera company and opera lovers still held up the tenor Battistini as a model, but that was before my time.


I had been an ardent theater—goer in both London and Berlin and was frequently carried away by Sir Robert Forbes-Robertson or the ensemble of the Reinhardt Theatre. Just the same, the foreign tongue and the foreign atmosphere never provided that feeling of absolute illusion, the feeling of taking part in the life on the stage that I experienced in Petrograd. I necessarily say I, but all the young peo­ple around me and a good many of the older generation seemed also similarly affected by some unforgettable performances at the Alexandrynskii Drama Theatre. All Russian theaters played repertory with a permanent stock of actors and the team work was naturally excellent. Even light comedy at the Saburov Theatre was performed with a distinctive finesse. This theater, by the way, also pre­sented farces and in 1915 played a translation from an English piece called A Little Bit of Fluff. No self-respecting serious-minded Russian girl could condescend to see a farce, and I remember feeling rather resentful that the actress who had given such a memorable performance as the opera singer in Romance should the very next day appear in a Russian version of Potash and Pearlmutter. I may men­tion that Potash and Pearlmutter met with meager success in Russia. The Jews in the play, though portrayed as coming from the Old World, were such a typically American product that their antics failed to be convincing to the Russian audience.


My Sundays, if I did not go to some matinee -- Russian theaters were open Sundays and gave their only matinee performance of the week on that day -- were usually spent either at the Hermitage or at the Mu­seum of Alexander III.


The Hermitage, which was built in 1760 and adjoined the Winter Palace, was started as a museum with the private collections of Catherine the Great and within the short period of a century and a half developed into one of the richest art collections of the world. My knowledge of art, in spite of Lotte’s tutelage and the miles of floor I covered in the various London galleries, was at all times rather limited, but the mere realization that I was walking through the rooms of “our” Hermitage, gave a special aura to everything. Sculpture, be­ing in my opinion an expression of art much easier for a layman to comprehend, always held more attraction for me, and I never failed to go into one of the halls where the impressive sculpture of Mephisto by the Russian-Jewish sculptor Antokolskii, a native of Vilna, stood in the middle of the room. At that time I knew the Thinker by Rodin only from photographs and so considered the figure of Mephisto the most powerful example of modern sculpture. Of course, the fact that during my first or second school year in Vilna at the turn of the century, I was among the school children who were delegated to attend the fun­eral of Antokolskii in his native town may have had something to do with my special interest in this particular artist’s work.


Emerging from the Hermitage I would invariably stop at the Kanavka, a narrow canal falling into the Neva, where Lisa, the heroine of Pushkin’s and Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, committed suicide after dis­covering that her lover was a gambler and the unintentional murderer of her rich aunt.


The building known as the Museum of Alexander III was itself a work of art. It was built by Alexander I for his son Michael and executed by the Russo—Italian architect Rossi around 1819. Alexander I did not spare any expense and the Mikhailovskii Palace, as it was then called, was built at a tremendous cost. It faced a large square which was laid out and landscaped to conform to the architecture, and all the buildings facing the square were required to harmonize with their magnificent neighbor. During its comparatively short career as a palace it was the witness of the most magnificent and costly balls given in St. Petersburg, as well as of the development of young Russian talent under the benevolent and understanding patronage of Grand Duke Michael’s wife and, later, of his daughter.


In 1895 the building was purchased by Alexander 111 and turned into a museum bearing his name. The ceilings, the floors, the wall coverings, the paneling and most of the furniture were left intact; it certainly made a beautiful whole. Although it contained few masterpieces from a connoisseur’s point of view, the Museum of Alexander III was much nearer to my heart, because the Russia I knew so well and loved so much shone from every other canvas. Landscapes of peace­ful meadows or murmuring brooks; portraits of poets, musicians and writers; peasant types, especially Malyayev’s famous Peasant Women, resplendent in multi-colored shawls; street scenes on market days, all these familiar objects found much readier response within me than did the stately canvases of the old masters.


After coming to Petrograd I felt as if I had at last come into possession of my rightful heritage and would have been very happy there had it not been for the dark cloud which hung over me during the entire first year. On account of the subterfuge I had had to practice to re­main in the capital, I had no freedom to choose a suitable place to live and the constant dread that one day I might be found out somehow interfered with every outside interest. When I met young people whose acquaintance I would have been very glad to cultivate, I hesitated to give them my address, for my name was not known to anyone in the house but the gateman and it was best not to have callers and thus arouse suspicion. I did not particularly like the room I engaged, as it was not as comfortable and presentable as I would have wished even though the people were extremely kind to me and the epileptic maid, when she was well, waited on me hand and foot. The owners of the apartment were an old Russo-German couple, who occupied an apart­ment a floor above that of the relatives with whom I stayed on my first visit to Petrograd and, by manipulating my registration in the manner that I have already described, I managed to stay there for almost a year. However, my visits to the police station were so pain­ful to me that before and after each such visit I was mentally and physical1y upset for days at a time. I knew that I was not fooling the police inspector and he knew that I knew it and this made our brief conversations extremely uncomfortable for me.


In the meantime, early in 1915, Troki and vicinity were occupied by the Germans and in August of that year Pinsk also fell into the hands of the enemy, the fighting line remaining about ten miles away from the town for the remainder of the war. In this way I became a refugee in the full sense of the word, with no family or near relatives to go to; my sister Tsilya with her four children and a fifth on the way, together with Mother, fled to the south of Russia; my brother-in-law was a ruined man, for all his money was invested in forests in the province of Grodno, just then a bone of contention between the Russian and German troops.


These forests, by the way, adjoined the so-called Bieloveszeskaya Pushcha, a reservation under the jurisdiction of a special min­istry, to which few ordinary mortals were given admittance, as it was the hunting ground of the Tzar. This reservation, comprising about 330,000 acres of land, almost 300,000 of which were covered with forest, had been the hunting ground of Polish kings and Lith­uanian dukes before the Russian rulers and, at the turn of the twen­tieth century, some of its fir trees were 230, pines 250 and oaks 300 years old. The Pushcha also abounded in a variety of wild animals, but was famous primarily for the only extant species of zubrs (bos urus), the bisons of Roman times. In 1902, a count showed that there were 670 head, protected and cared for. The Pushcha was later conceded to Poland and the zubrs, with one or two exceptions, became extinct, while mighty few Russians had ever seen one.


From Cherkassy, where the family temporarily settled, Mother wrote that they were not even able to afford a maid, and this in Russia was the surest sign of bad pecuniary conditions, since in a small town a maid cost very little above the food she consumed.


With the occupation of Pinsk by the Germans I found myself a clear case of being a home1ess refugee and felt sure that the authorities would let me remain in the capital when I tendered my petition for per­mission to reside there, for I had heard of similar cases having been given a favorable decision. But evidently I did not know the right way to go about it. I did not dare to offer graft at the Ministry of the Interior and my case dragged on interminably. I called at the offices of the Ministry regularly about twice a month, waited for hours on hard benches among ill-smelling peasants and crestfallen old ladies, and was usually given the same curt reply that the Minister had not as yet made a decision on my case. Once I was bold enough to tell the official that I was living illegally pending the final outcome since I had no place to go to. He shrugged his shoulders and said that it was my lookout how I managed until such time as I received a reply. It was my luck that this official happened to be disinter­ested in the enforcement of the anti-Jewish law, for he could have had me arrested then and there.


In the meantime, my relations with the police inspector of my own precinct were becoming visibly strained, and early in 1916 he calmly pulled out the few rubles folded as usual in my passport and returned them to me without comment. I literally felt the floor sink under my feet, for this was done in view of a number of people grouped in front of the partition separating the desks of the officials; a hot wave of shame and mortification shot through me with such force that for a few seconds I was unable to move. However, these emotions were as nothing compared to the despair that enveloped me when I realized that in his own way the inspector was being kind to me and that this was a broad hint to me to get out of Petrograd on my own volition.


This incident occurred almost a year after my arrival in Petro­grad and in the meantime many thrilling things had happened in my life.


My position in Mr. Cook’s office -- he was the manager of a large pharmaceutical firm -- was very pleasant, but the hardest and most exhausting job I ever held. There were about twenty to thirty employees in the office and practically as many in the laboratories; a tremendous amount of correspondence was exchanged, with thousands of customers all over Russia, and Mr. Cook did not know a word of Russian. In addition, lengthy reports were written to the home office in New York and even more lengthy answers received and these had to be translated into Russian for the use of the laboratory. It was for this latter work that I was originally engaged. However, the assistant manager, a Russian woman with a fair knowledge of English, who had been acting as an interpreter for Mr. Cook, left with her husband for the Ural Mountains a few weeks after I came to the office and as a result numerous complicated duties were thrust on me.


Aside from a girl chemist in the laboratory and a very loud wo­man bookkeeper in the office, the entire staff was Gentile. The only person in the firm whom I heartily disliked was this Jewish bookkeeper, who became a convert in order to marry. I was told that her husband was a nice young fellow and I often wondered why he had to pick one of the most objectionable examples of the Jewish race. Fortunately, she did not remain there long, and it was only after she left that the other girls told me how she had always brought the conversation around to my being Jewish and had tried to make trouble.


As for Mr. Cook, my religion or other affiliations or beliefs evidently did not interest him in the least. His attitude towards me, always cordial, was so utterly impersonal and strictly business-like that I often wondered whether he had any interests outside of the office. Mr. Cook was the first American with whom I came into real contact and his mentality intrigued me very much, but I soon had to give up puzzling it out as a bad job. His paramount interest was working in the office, not only from early morning until late at night, but also on Sundays. Undoubtedly he was making money but, since he apparently did not spend any of it (for I could not imagine how he could spend it sitting in the office), I could not comprehend of what good the money was to him.


Russians, except a few residents of the two capitals, Petrograd and Moscow, knew very little about Americans, as most of those who visited Russia were naturalized Russian-Americans of the lower strata, who came back with grand airs, dressed in loud clothes and with ridiculous mannerisms. Those who like myself had lived in western Europe also only knew Americans who by their eccentric manners or dress attracted the attention of the native population; once I rode in the London underground next to an American who had two watches sewn in the top of his shoes, right under the shoe laces. Therefore, even if I was not entirely ready to subscribe to the adjective “crazy” which was usually prefexed before the word “amerikanets” when they were re­ferred to by Russians, still, from the 1iving example of Mr. Cook I did find them entirely different from Russians, Germans or English­men and in my mind imagined America as the land of a different species of human beings.


My salary was soon raised to a hundred rubles per month, three times the amount earned by the Russian typists and clerks, and higher than that paid to many a government official of comparatively high rank, but the scale of living expenses was gradually rising and what with the graft I had to pay to the doorman and the police and the money I spent on the ballet, opera and concerts, I always just manag­ed to make ends meet. True, I made many trips into the area surround­ing Petrograd and into Finland and, in the summer of 1915, I also took a trip on the Volga from Rybinsk down to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, returning to Saratov on the same boat and thence by rail via Moscow to Petrograd. Aside from my joy at beholding the old capital of Rus­sia for the first time, I was also much gratified to have the regis­try stamp of Moscow on my passport, the only bona fide absence from my Petrograd address duly attested to.


The Volga trip is thrilling primarily to a Russian because all the little villages and hillocks on its banks are familiar historical landmarks. Otherwise the scenery changes so slowly that when, eight days out of Rybinsk, instead of shaggy horses and bearded peasants the eye beholds camels and clean-shaven Mongols, it seems just a continuation of one stupendous tableau. The boat stopped for several hours at all the large cities situated on either bank of the river to load and unload, thus giving the passengers a chance to see the sights.


To me it was pure enchantment to wander in the Tartar bazaars of Kazan, so old and quaint and so reminiscent of the gallant efforts of a succession of Tartar princes to defend the city against the crafty Moscovites. It was finally conquered by Ivan the Terrible, but a great deal of blood was shed and many a romance shattered. A vision of the beautiful Princess Gorshanda, who took a hand in political plottings, seemed to float over the crumbling walls of the Kazan Kremlin; also the Princess Syumbeck, who was a pawn in the political game and was married off first to one prince and then, as soon as her first hus­band was killed, to another prince to assure Kazan to the Tartars.


It was enchanting, as well, to ride up in the mountain railway to the ancient walls of Nishnii­-Novgorod (now Gorkii) and admire the pure Tartar style of the city, unique among all other Russian cities which were built without any style or order; to look down on the bustling Fair Grounds famous the world over; to listen to the plaintive melody of Ay Da Ukhnem, so popular at picnics, sung by a group of sweating peasants pulling a barge upstream; to frown at a Greek youth with the figure of an Apollo only partly covered by dirty rags, a handsome face and bold eyes, try­ing to flirt with the women passengers of the passing boat from a barge full of sweet-smelling melons. Perhaps it is my imagination but, though I have lived in many climes since leaving Russia, I have never tasted a melon of a flavor to equal those sold at Astrakhan. Due to the absence of refrigeration, those melons, very perishable in nature, never reached the North or West of Russia and it seemed almost unbeliev­able that such fruit was grown in this vast empire of ours. It made my heart ache to think how vast and rich in resources Russia was and yet how pitiably poor 85 to 90 percent of the population was. But then, like all Russians, I had only to think of the beginnings of our history and to realize that it has been so for almost eleven hundred years. The Russian history books of my day actually began with these words: “In the year 826 a delegation of Slavs went to Sweden and said to the three Swedish Princes, Rurik, Sineus and Truvor, ‘Our land is vast and abundant but there is no order in it. Come to own us and to rule over us.’”


The first two days on the Volga were both amusing and exciting. There were only five passengers on the small boat from Rybinsk to Nizhnii—Novgorod, a distance of two days downstream, where the Volga was still too shallow to accommodate the luxurious oil burning steamers which plied between Nizhnii and Astrakhan. The five passengers in the first class consisted of an Italian couple, Signor and Signorina Virginio Gayda, he the correspondent of La Stampa of Turin  and she a well-known poet and a correspondent of the Gorriero de la Serra of Rome (Virginio Gayda later became known as the mouthpiece of Mussolini); they had been in Russia for only a week and wanted to make the famed trip before the season closed; also, a Mr. and Mrs. Mac­Pharson, he a Scotchman but a longtime resident in Russia and she a Serbian. I made the fifth. The Gaydas spoke neither Russian nor English, but knew German and French. Mr. MacPharson, aside from English and Rus­sian, understood German but not French. His wife spoke a good German but no French. I was the only one who knew all four languages but, as it was rather tedious for me to act as interpreter and for them to talk in this complicated manner, it was decided that we would converse in German, the only language all of us knew. Naturally, during the war conversation in German was strictly prohibited and at every stop we were all prepared to see the police board the ship and examine our passports, for we certainly looked and felt like a bunch of conspir­ators. We did not dare to talk aloud and therefore were always to be found huddled together in a close knot, whispering. The stewards were either too dumb or did not care, for nothing could have been more cause for suspicion than the way we stopped talking the moment one of them came near. We were all on the side of the Allies and each in his own way was just as good a patriot as those meddlesome people who in each country during the war poked their noses into things that did not concern them, but the mere fact that speaking German was prohibited caused us to feel like criminals.


By the time the Gaydas and I returned to Petrograd, we were very close friends; it seemed so easy to make friends with them in spite of the short acquaintance, the differences in language and upbringing. We were constantly talking, never running out of subjects and, during one of our strolls on deck, while we were all under the spell of the pitch black night enveloping us, I suddenly thought of Mr. Cook and America, which he represented to me, and asked myself whether Americans were also able to feel enchantment; the idea seemed so amusing that I broke into merry laughter.


Aside from the books of James Fenimore Cooper and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, read in childhood, I knew America by the books of Mark Twain and Jack London, the only two authors who were really known in Russia, the latter probably more admired there than in his own country. It was diffi­cult to reconcile fiction with living human beings.


I felt rather tired when I left on my vacation and had originally booked passage to go up the River Kama, a tributary of the Volga, which had its beginnings on a high plateau not far from the Ural Mountains. I knew that very few people took this trip, which was continued on the small boat, because most travelers preferred the gay life on the larger steamers down the Volga, so I felt sure of getting a good rest. However, the Gaydas were very anxious to have me with them and I easily capitulated. I could not get a refund on my Kama ticket until after my return to Petrograd and, as the Gaydas before meeting me planned to go only as far as Nizhnii—Novgorcd or Kazan, a day or so farther downstream, our party soon ran out of funds. I telegraphed to my sis­ter Sofya in Pinsk but received no reply and at our next stop, at Saratov, I think, I found an explanation in newspaper headlines. Pinsk had that very same day been taken by the Germans.



Chapter II



Life aboard the river boat was lazy, gay, comfortable and pleasant. The rooms in first class were large and very sensibly furnished and the food was the best a real Russian cuisine could offer. Young sturgeon and caviar aplenty were on the menu any time of the day or night, while there was a change in fruit with every stop. It was therefore something of a shock, on returning to Petrograd, to find the same queues in front of various shops: the butcher's, the grocer's, the dairy and even the confectioner's. Rybinsk was only twelve hours by rail from Petrograd and that town certainly seemed to have food in abundance, to say nothing of the various Volga towns farther down. The confusion and mismanagement that prevailed in almost every Russian department, when the war caught everybody unprepared, made itself particularly seriously felt in the Transportation Department. Freight cars loaded with perishable goods were sidetracked en route to let a soldiers' or other train pass and then either forgotten on the siding or misdirected to some unknown destination. The entire network of railroads and waterways was government-owned and there was nothing that a Russian subject or group of subjects could do about it. Even constructive criticism and useful recommendations were not only disregarded but viewed with great suspicion and any attempt by a community or even by the Duma itself to help the government was regarded as counter-revolutionary activity.


The Duma, under its last President during the Monarchy, the valiant M. V. Rodzianko, a firm believer in a constitutional monarchy with the House of Romanov at its helm, a sincere patriot and a man of wide vision and great personal courage, tried to organize a committee consisting of members of the Duma, representatives of commerce and of various military departments in order to consolidate and organize a way to counteract the criminal mismanagement of the supplies for the army. These supplies were directed in such a haphazard manner that the soldiers were sent to the front not only without ammunition but also without sufficient food and clothing. However, even these highly patriotic efforts were viewed very much askance and it was many months before Rodzianko was permitted to go ahead with this highly important work. The enlightened section of the population looked on with disgust and despair, while every day a new member was added to the list of one's deceased relatives or friends.


In spite of all that, life in the capital did not seem to change much. The theaters and cafes thrived, while the streets were gay with officers on leave and soldiers in training, marching through town singing lilting ditties. True, otherwise there were not many men around, as all jobs were taken over by women, including dvorniks and streetcar conductors.


Upon my return to the office I had occasion to meet another American, who happened to be visiting Mr. Cook. He was the representative of the American Express Company, which name did not convey anything to me since I knew nothing of its size and importance. When Mr. Spencer heard that I knew English stenography and typewriting, he seemed overcome with joy and offered me a handsome sum for giving him a few hours a week. I was pleased to earn some extra money, but even more happy to have the opportunity to dissect another American.


Little did I know that fate was using Mr. Spencer as its tool and that my life was being given an entirely different turn. For, while the only impression I retained of Mr. Spencer was that of a man very pleasant to work for, gentlemanly, good-natured and jolly, it was in his rooms at the Hotel Europa that I met the American Commercial Attaché, Henry D. Baker. He and a few other Americans, businessmen who with the beginning of the war commenced to swarm into Russia in search of new markets, were in the habit of dropping in at Mr. Spencer's office. If I were not taking dictation but just transcribing notes, they usually stayed on to talk to him. Mr. Baker, in spite of his tremendous bulk, was the most unassuming among them, but I did not like him at first for he used to tease me in true American fashion and, being a serious-minded and properly brought-up young Russian lady, I rather resented such an attitude and was usually coldly polite in my retorts. His favorite phrase almost from the very start was, "What do you want to work for Spencer for? Come and work for me, young lady, I'll pay you better too." I had no idea who Mr. Baker was and thought it somewhat unethical of him to try to lure me away from Mr. Spencer.


One day another American, a naturalized Russian Jew, happened to be in the room and, seeing the displeasure on my face after one of Mr. Baker’s remarks, came up to me after Mr. Baker left the room and said, 'Don't be a fool! Don't you know who Mr. Baker is? He is the American Commercial Attaché in this country and, if he offers you work again, just grab the opportunity and don't play 'Princess Touch-me-not.'"


It took Mr. Paul G. Fourman quite a little while to impress me with the importance of Mr. Baker but, when the latter again asked me to help him out, I finally went to call on him. Without any preliminaries, Mr. Baker informed me that he wanted me as a full-time employee, that he had already cabled to Washington for permission to engage a Russian secretary and was expecting an answer within the next few days. In the meantime, he asked me to help him out evenings and Sundays. His offices, with only himself in them and cluttered with all sorts of Russian handicraft, were far from impressive and, even after I did some temporary work for him, I could not make out what he was doing in Russia. My mind absolutely refused to comprehend his mission, as I could not possibly conceive that an amiable elderly gentleman, without a uniform and without any bureaucratic airs about him, could be a representative of a government. However, the hours in his office were to be much shorter than at Mr. Cook's and, furthermore, he mentioned a sum for my salary far in excess of what I had been receiving. I thought I would like the change, especially as the idea of bringing some order into the chaos which reigned in his office fascinated me.


A few days later the reply from Washington arrived. In it Mr. Baker was informed that an American secretary had been appointed in the United States and that he was already en route to Petrograd. I was only mildly disappointed, but Mr. Baker already had another idea in mind.


"I'll tell you what you do,” he said to me, "take down a letter of recommendation to the American Embassy. They are badly in need of someone like you.”


"The American Embassy,” I said, stupefied. “You are not serious, Mr. Baker?"


"Of course I am serious,” he answered impatiently and added with a grumble, “The trouble with you Russians is that you are so slow.”


Aside from the police stations in Russia and Germany and my recent pilgrimages to the Department of the Interior in Petrograd, I had never been on an equal footing inside any government office anywhere and the idea that I might actually obtain employment in an embassy of a foreign government was much too overwhelming. I decided not to argue with Mr. Baker, but just the same I pitied his simplicity. He no doubt knew very little of conditions in Russia if he was recommending a Jewish girl for employment in an embassy. Of course, I knew that America was a free country and that Jews occupied very high posts there. There were other countries, such as England and Italy, where Jews held positions of trust with their governments, but I also knew, much better than did Mr. Baker, that those governments, while in Russia, were diplomatic enough not to trespass on the order of things. Just the same, I thought, it might be amusing to see what an embassy looked like and I dutifully transcribed the letter of recommendation.


"Take it down tomorrow. Sorry I can't have you myself," were his parting words.


This happened on a Sunday and during the evening and part of the night I continued to muse on the ignorance of Americans. Then the thought finally struck me that perhaps Mr. Baker did not know that I was Jewish. Towards morning I got quite feverish from a sleepless night, but decided to wait and see what the interview would be like; it would be an exciting experience anyhow.


My heart beat very fast when I approached the building of the American Embassy during my lunch hour. The outward appearance was far from imposing. An ordinary private house in a row of others, painted a muddy brown, with not even a soldier or other uniformed flunky to grace the door. On the main doorway a sign pointed to an entrance through the gate. The wicket gate (a door in a large gate) was open; no sign of a guard there either. I rang the bell and when the door finally opened I beheld the first uniform, an old man in a blue coat with brass buttons who, in a strong German accent, asked me whom I wished to see. This was old Buhling, born of German parents in Australia, who wound up a checkered career as head of the couriers of the American Embassy at Petrograd and to whose funeral I was to go about two years later. I named my party, whereupon without much ado I was ushered into a room on the ground floor. It served as a waiting room but was far from awe inspiring and looked as if part of the furniture that belonged to it had been removed and other pieces having no connection with the first occupants had been moved in instead. I did not have much time to take in all the details, for the door soon opened to let in a tall young man with a friendly smile and a long cigar in the corner of his mouth. To me, who had expected to see a dignified gentleman in gold braid with a stern look on his face, the appearance of Mr. George B. Link, Chief of the Financial Division, it was a great relief and a slight disappointment at the same time. Our interview did not last more than ten minutes and the outcome of it was so unexpected that for a moment I was afraid I had not quite gotten rid of the fever of the night before.


"Do you know English shorthand?" was the first question he asked me and, when I affirmed it, he pushed a sheet of paper toward me and with a slight incredulity in his voice started to dictate. At the end of the second sentence he stopped dictating and, when I offered to read him my shorthand notes, he shot out instead, “When can you start?"


The question so perplexed me that for a few seconds I just sat and blinked at him. Then, beginning to feel firm ground under my feet, I proceeded to explain that Mr. Cook had no intimation of the steps I had taken, that he needed me until he could find someone to replace me and that I felt I ought to give him at least two weeks’ notice.


"This is out of the question,” was Mr. Link's retort. "You must start tomorrow and you inform Mr. Cook accordingly.” This was plain business language, nothing diplomatic about it, and with this I knew how to cope.


"I would not do such a thing for anyone or anything," I retorted calmly. "Mr. Cook has been very kind to me and I could not possibly treat him in this manner. As a matter of fact, I would not think of leaving him if it were not for the long hours and the great amount of interpreting which my work requires, which tires me greatly. By the way, how much are you going to pay me?”


"How much do you want?" I did a bit of thinking and decided to go “va banque.” If the Embassy wanted me badly, they should pay for it. However, my face did not betray my sentiments when I replied with an air of the greatest innocence, "I have been getting 150 rubles at Mr. Cook's and would expect 175 if I changed. However, I shall be glad to start at the same amount, provided my hours are shortened.”


"One hundred seventy-five rubles is more than the Embassy wishes to pay," was Mr. Link's reply. “You will get 150 rubles a month and work from 10 to 4. The regular hours are 10 to 5, but I'll make this exception for you. However, remember you start tomorrow."


After some argument on this latter point it was decided that I would ask Mr. Cook to allow me to work half a day at the Embassy for the next two weeks and thus be able to do justice to both jobs.


When I emerged from the Embassy I felt I was walking on air. It was only when I was nearly back at my desk that I remembered that Mr. Link had not asked me questions of any kind, and again the thought assailed me, "Did he know that I was Jewish or didn't he?" for I didn't want to get in under false pretenses. I also began to feel a little uneasy about the fact that I had lied to Mr. Link about my salary. I should not have worried on this account, for Mr. Link later confessed to me that he was very proud of the bargain he drove, as the Embassy would have been glad to pay me 200 rubles if I had had the courage to insist on it.


As to Mr. Cook, he for the first time showed me a side of himself that I least suspected. When the entire office force dispersed I told him that I wanted to talk to him and, with a halting voice and a pounding heart, related to him the developments of the last few weeks which, beginning with a teasing remark of Mr. Baker's, had culminated in my entering the employ of the Embassy. I finished by saying, "Of course, I will not leave you so suddenly, but I shall be very grateful if you will permit me to do part-time work for the Embassy until you find a substitute.”


During my entire recital Mr. Cook did not say a word and he was also silent for some seconds after I finished. Then, in a tired flat tone he said, "No, you will leave here tonight and start at the Embassy tomorrow. I'll manage. Don't you worry about me. Never worry about anyone else. This is your chance in life. Grab it. Besides,” he added with a peculiar smile, “The Embassy is the right place for you. That's where you belong. I'll see you at the next reception.” And with these words and a hardy handshake, we parted.


What peculiar people these Americans! One ruthlessly demands that I leave my present employer in the lurch and the other lets me go, in spite of all the inconveniences that the sudden termination of my services were sure to cause him. Did I imagine that Mr. Cook looked strangely fatigued when I told him about my plans? Was it possible that he would miss me as a human being as well as an able assistant?


I could not concentrate my thoughts on Mr. Cook or anything in particular. The developments of this single day were too fantastic. And suddenly, as always under the stress of a great emotion, my mind mirrored the old crab apple tree and a little girl, this time up in the branches with a book of James Fenimore Cooper, reading about America, the land of the Indians. Was it possible that some of the Americans had inherited a few traits from the Indians and that this was the reason why they were so queer and unaccountable? Well, some dreams evidently come true! I was not seeing America yet, but would certainly know more about her people very soon!


My face evidently expressed very plainly all the joyous excitement within me, for on my way home quite a few men raised their hats invitingly to me and even a few women turned around with a comprehending smile, but I was oblivious to everybody and everything. Tomorrow I shall be working in an Embassy!


The last block to the house I almost ran, I was so anxious to share my good fortune with my friends, but in the hall I was fully brought down to earth again for at the entrance I came face to face with the caretaker's wife who, since her husband's departure for the army several months ago had been doing his work.


"You better go and see the pristav (police inspector), Miss, and register for a few days again. I have seen a few policemen snooping around and I am so scared. You must realize my position, Miss! What will happen to me and my poor children if they find irregularities and arrest me? Please, Miss, could you not find another place to stay?”


Petrified, I listened to her, fully realizing that her fears were well grounded and, clumsily pushing a few rubles into her hand, I said hastily, "Please don't worry, I'll go and see the pristav. I told you that I was expecting an answer from the Minister.”


“Yes, I know, Miss," she said, suddenly beginning to weep and wipe her eyes with the end of her dirty apron. "You are such a nice lady, I would not bother you for the world, but you know how it is with us poor people. So much sorrow to bear. My heart tells me my husband will never return from the front and what will I do then with four little children? And our apartment is so damp; my arms and legs are so screwed up with rheumatism that I can't sleep nights and the oldest one has such a hollow cough; he always starts in September and continues coughing all through the winter. Lord our God, forgive us sinners,” and with this she disappeared into the dark courtyard.


Never a chance to be happy with full abandon! Always something to remind you that you are a pariah. Why? And a hatred, such as I could never muster up for the enemy at the front, again began to well up within me against the regime that made such things possible.


"Something must happen to make things right. Wrong cannot continue forever. God or Superhuman Force, You who govern the universe, when will you balance things?"


Thus muttering, I mounted the steps two at a time. At the third landing I was out of breath and inconsequentially remembered a wartime joke that was going the rounds among the Jews.


God had summoned the heads of the three largest kingdoms now engaged in war. To each of them He put the same question: "What have you done for your land and people?”


The King of England answered, “I gave them freedom and I think my subjects would rather have that than other earthly goods.”


The Kaiser said, “I have taught them order and discipline and I believe my people are happy."


The Tzar of Russia said apologetically, “My land is so vast that I do not know what is going on in it and how my various nationalities are faring."


Whereupon God said to the Tzar, “I shall take away from you a goodly part of your land, so that it may be easier for you to find out what is going on."


“Well, God, you must do something soon,” I grimly added, half-aloud.


That very evening I went to the police station, again going through the humiliating experience of handing the inspector a few rubles in the folds of the passport, and the next morning I entered the employ of the American Embassy.


From that morning in September, 1915, when I demurely crossed the threshold of the Embassy, to take up my duties as emergency clerk, to the evening late in February, 1918, when, along with the other members of the Embassy staff, I parted forever from the brown building in the Furshtadskaya, I never tired of thanking fate for having prearranged the circumstances which brought me in contact with the Embassy. In an impersonal way, those were the happiest years of my life, for I spent them among people who had a healing influence on the moral bruises and nervous jolts my native land caused and also because the days were full of excitement and most unexpected happenings. It sometimes seemed to me that my decision to study English in preference to everything else, which I explained by a desire to outshine my friends, was preordained by Fate, who, though blind herself, had long ago mapped out for me the road to light and lightheartedness.


For a while my hours ran on the exceptional schedule of 10 to 4 and, although my work, contrary to all expectations, turned out to be far more nerve wracking than routine office work could ever be for it was emotionally upsetting, I could not reach the Embassy gates soon enough in the morning and for a long time reluctantly parted from them in the evening. Always eager to learn, I found a great deal to study and observe in my new surroundings and every step forward was more thrilling than the preceding one.


Chapter III



My first impressions of the Embassy and the people in it are somewhat blurred, for my eyes, ears and mind were overtaxed with the newness and strangeness of things. The Embassy grounds were extraterritorial, and not only in name alone. The moment the wicket gate c1osed behind me and I was inside the Embassy court I was literal1y in a foreign country.


Petrograd, even at the time when it was called St. Petersburg, in spite of its magnificence, was in a sense a drab city, no doubt due to its very unfavorable climatic conditions. With the exception of a few summer months and some occasionally bright days in the winter, the prevailing weather was rain, snow or fog, or a combination of the three in the fall and early spring, and this had an undeniable and indelible effect on the inhabitants. Through the mist all faces looked gray, and this impression was augmented by the somber clothing that everybody wore. In the summer months some women would don white but a splash of bright color was so out of place that foreign women seen in Petrograd were generally considered to have bad taste, for they occasionally appeared in bright frocks in the streets. The expression of the man and woman in the street, in contrast to people in other parts of Russia, was preoccupied and not very friendly. In addition, the people I knew and the friends I made in Petrograd were, like everyone else in Russia at the time, far from cheerful, for it was wartime and there was not a family in the land that was not stricken in one way or another. At the Embassy gates, however, a magic curtain seemed to separate the troubles of the outside world from those inside the walls of the brown building.


The American people were not at war and all members of the Embassy from the Ambassador down were no doubt getting good news from home. Business in the United States was flourishing and whatever uneasiness some of them may have had about those left behind was naturally lightened by the fact that times were good there and economic conditions on the upgrade. The weather did not affect them very much either. It is only sensitive people, not very robust physically, who take such things into account. To the athletic Americans the condition of the weather made little difference; besides, they all had sufficient funds to hire a drozhky (carriage) if they did not like to walk in the rain, sleet or snow. Finally, they one and all were born and brought up in a country where the only adversities which they may have met were of a financial nature, for some of the clerks undoubtedly had had to work their way through college. All they had to do to achieve things was to work hard for them. They knew nothing of political or religious persecution, which in Russia blocked your future whichever way you turned.


It was therefore a great relief to leave Russia and to become part of America for six or seven hours a day! Even the disorder and haphazard arrangement of the various offices added to the feeling of friendliness which enveloped me once inside the building.


The Embassy occupied a private residence of a Count Grabbe at No. 34 Furshtadskaya Street. It was a large, two-story building built around a square court, with a third story added to the side wings. The ground floor had innumerable rooms of every size imaginable, the rooms on the second floor facing the front were all very spacious and the two third floor wings were tremendous single halls facing each other across the court. One of these halls had originally been used as a library, the second probably as a ballroom, but at the end of 1915 only a few rooms on the ground floor were being used as offices while the Ambassador and the Secretaries occupied several rooms on the second floor. The entire staff, in addition to the Ambassador, the First, Second and Third Secretaries consisted of four or five male clerks and three females, including myself. One was a middle-aged woman of German descent, the other a Russian girl married to a British aviator, then at the front in France. Both had a fair knowledge of English, though they did not know any shorthand. Both had been employed since the beginning of the war. As there were rooms aplenty, each of us had a room to herself and, as the only office article in the room would be a typewriter on a small carved table or a pile of files on a marble stand, there was nothing businesslike about them. The room Mrs. Kennedy worked in had gilt mirrors while mine was a little less sumptuous but much cozier; if the brocaded chair I sat on was not very comfortable for typing, it certainly was ornate.


The American Ambassador at the time was the Hon. George T. Marye, who had his residence at a hotel and was very little seen by the staff on the first f1oor. He resigned his post to Russia very soon after I entered the Embassy service, so that my memory of him was very dim except for one occasion.


Mr. Baker had arranged a Russo-American Bazaar for some charitable purpose, with the intent of promoting Russian-American relations. I do not know of how much help this was to that cause, but know that for weeks I worked evenings helping Mr. Baker arrange the exhibits and attractions. At the Gala Opening I was in charge of a booth called "Fish Pond", without which no Russian function was ever complete. A quarter or so entitled the paying party to cast a fishing rod into the booth and someone inside the booth would attach some article to the hook. A tiny slit was usually made in the fabric of the booth so that the person inside could see the fisher and often, if he knew the person, he would attach either suitable or most ridiculous winnings. When the Ambassador approached my booth, I quite familiarly began to urge him to take a chance until the cold restraining look from the eyes of Mr. Raymond T. Baker, who accompanied him, almost put me out of countenance. However, since my partner inside the booth used very good judgment and attached to the Ambassador's rod the choicest articles we had, good humor was soon restored all around. The amusement of the Ambassador was so genuine that I felt pity for us blasé Russians who were rather tired of these fishing booths. At Russian affairs the prettiest girls were usually selected for duty at the booths to inveigle reluctant males into taking chances.


During the preparations for this affair it also filtered into my mind for the first time how much influence the American officials had in Russia. I happened to mention casually to Mr. Baker that it would be very appropriate if the patronesses of the affair could appear in true Russian costumes and added that the Imperial Theatres had quite a collection. Whereupon Mr. Baker immediately dictated a letter to Mr. Tretyakovskii, the Director of the Imperial Theatres and delegated a young man and me to ask him for a loan of costumes. It was about eight in the evening and, as the opening of the Bazaar was set for the next day, we repaired to the private residence of Mr. Tretyakovskii whom, as a rule, it was extremely difficult for an ordinary mortal to see. Mr. Tretyakovskii received us immediately, although with a great deal of astonishment. Nor did we obtain the costumes, because, he explained, that only with the personal permission of the Tzar could Theatre property be loaned to outsiders. Just the same, on my way home I could not help giggling at the thought of how indignant Mr. Tretyakovskii probably would be if he learned the identity of one representative of the American Commercial Attaché who had dared to disturb him in his private residence.


Mr. Raymond T. Baker, by the way, was no doubt quite oblivious of the strange fascination he evoked in me and the queer longing I had to turn him inside out and see what he was made of. He was officially referred to as secretary to the Ambassador, but on rare occasions when I was called to the second floor I seldom saw him doing much of anything except sitting in a very relaxed posture and gazing into space. He was exceptionally well groomed, very slender and, due to the posture I mostly saw him in, appeared physically weak. But one look at his hands would immediately dispel any suspicion of weakness; they were well shaped and wiry, with long, strong fingers, and therefore in great contrast to his indolent figure. As if to draw special attention to his hands, he wore two enormous rings with the largest diamonds I ever saw. Men in Russia and elsewhere in Europe wore wedding bands if they were married but seldom ornamental rings with precious stones and I never had imagined that a man could wear two of them. My interest in Mr. Baker was also very much fired by stories told of his adventurous and fascinating career. It seemed inconceivable that this unapproachable, immaculately dressed man, friend of an Ambassador and thus persona grata in the highest Russian society, had actually worked as an ordinary miner once upon a time. The America of Jack London! Did he dig for gold with his rings on? Whenever I had dealings with Mr. Baker, I tried to keep my gaze on his face, but his hands always drew me like a magnet.


Shortly after I came to the Embassy, its work began to expand and very soon the personnel, both American and native, doubled and tripled until it grew to be a very large organization.


Before the war, the relations between Russia and the United States were of such a simple nature that the notes that were occasionally exchanged between the American Embassy and the Russian Foreign Office required neither special diplomacy nor much labor. The staff was accordingly very small. When the war broke out in 1914, the German and Austrian Governments entrusted the United States, then a neutral power, with the care of their subjects, both military and civil prisoners of war. Although the United States government could not very well refuse such a request, it could not foretell what this would entail and certainly could not foresee that in years to come it would be called upon to protect several millions of Germans and Austrians. Each German and Austrian prisoner of war was entitled to a certain pay from his government and was also permitted a certain limited amount of money from private sources. In addition to these prisoners from the battle front, whose number, especially of Austrians, grew by leaps and bounds, there were thousands upon thousands of German civilians whose families had lived in Russia for centuries and who suddenly found themselves enemy aliens.

The American Embassy was the only place where these people could or were permitted to address their grievances, of which there were many. However, as their letters were censored, very little came through except requests for money or some other kind of help involving finances. For this reason, although special attachés were sent from Washington to investigate conditions prevailing at the various camps and additional personnel was engaged to take care of the increased amount of work, it was the financial department of the Embassy, in charge of Mr. Link, that was the busiest. It was my duty, not orally this time but in writing, to translate the hundreds of postal cards and letters which came every day in German, Polish, French, Russian and a variety of Balkan dialects. I soon mastered the trick of translating these letters so that three lines would amply state the contents of some four closely written pages, for I knew that the Embassy was in a position to attend to only those parts which I translated. The rest of the heart-rending stories thus seemed destined for me alone, for stating the other facts was of no use whatsoever since the Embassy was powerless to alleviate the other sufferings.


There is a Russian proverb to the effect that, "If you live across the road from a cemetery, you cannot cry at every funeral." Personally, I have never learned the trick of becoming callous and, in spite of the fact that the letters were from enemies, so-to-say, the tragedy of the helpless thousands dying of neglect in frozen Siberia, five and six thousand miles away from home, or around Archangel, tortured me every day anew. It is the futility of things that has always appalled me most and it was the fact that neither the complaints made by the prisoners of war, nor my bringing them to the attention of the Embassy, would help matters much, that made my work so nerve-wracking.


There was no particular feeling of hate among the Russian population against the enemy. Quite the contrary, when the Austrian prisoners of war were given privileges and permitted to work in the villages to help the women (either widows or those whose husbands were at the front) to till the fields, the villagers had to be reminded by the authorities not to be overly friendly with the enemy. This did not help much, and many a tragic romance flourished in villages the width and breadth of Russia between the Russian women and the prisoners of war. Most of the prisoners, even if peasants themselves, were on a far higher cultural level than the Russian muzhik. They not only treated the women with much more consideration but also, coming from more civilized communities, helped to introduce new and more up-to-date farming methods, as well as to awaken new interests.


In the concentration camps, however, everything depended upon the Commander in charge. If the person in charge was humane and understanding, the prisoners were left to themselves to arrange their lives as best they could under the circumstances, for there was no great necessity of guarding them. Most of the concentration camps were in Siberia and with the entire world against the Germans and Austrians it was not easy to escape and trek to their native lands; even if they were to succeed in crossing six thousand miles of land, frozen in the winter, there was no way of getting home, for the fighting lines stretched from the White to the Black Sea. At the other end was Japan, also an enemy. If the Commander happened to be mean and greedy, and some of them unfortunately were, the prisoner’s life was hell on earth. There was no dearth of food in Russia, particularly in Siberia, so that there was no necessity of starving the prisoners and I do not think that many of them did. However, there was many a way to plague the charges, and some of the Commanders enjoyed just that.


Then there were the letters from the German colonists. Under the reign of Catherine the Great, about 8000 families, comprising some 27,000 souls, emigrated to Russia, drawn by the promises of free land, exemption from taxation and military service, freedom to practice their own religion and to be ruled by their own laws. Those first colonists all settled on the fertile banks of the Volga, then regions very sparsely populated and, in the course of a century and a half, developed the most modern farm and dairy methods in Russia. In the year 1914, there were 204 such German villages, with a population of over half a million, on the banks of the Volga alone. At intervals many other Germans followed the first settlers and were given land and similar privileges in the south and southwest. Thanks to the privileges granted them as far back as 1764 (while the Russian peasant remained in serfdom almost a century longer, until 1861), as well as to the higher level of culture which they brought over from their fatherland, coupled with their inherent industry and thoroughness, the colonists prospered and gradually became, in addition to farmers, flour mill owners, cattle ranchers, tobacco planters, etc.


Their sons became teachers and professors in Russian schools and universities. The colonists, however, although surrounded by other nationals, remained purely and absolutely German in their customs, traditions, religion and language. The native population, placed at such a disadvantage as compared with the “foreigners", gradually began to resent the prosperity of the Germans and the Tzarist government, always ready to incite one part of its subjects against another, took a leading role in fanning the animosity. The slow but definite curbing of the autonomous rights of the colonists began after the death of Alexander I. In the year 1874, their exemption from military service, which was supposed to have been granted to their ancestors for their descendants "for all time", was taken away and several other laws were enacted to bring them more in line with the other Russian subjects. The summer before World War I, the German colonists were preparing to celebrate the sesquicentennial of German settlement in Russia, with accentuation of their German blood ties and of being German Kulturtraeger, but instead they were called upon to send their sons to fight their blood kin. Due in part to the fact that the colonists had remained so completely German with not a trace of any Russian characteristics after a century and a half in their adopted country, but due in a greater measure to the baiting of the reactionary and nationalistic press, the government suspected their loyalty and a system of persecutions was instituted and rigorously enforced against them. All soldiers of German-Russian descent were withdrawn from the vicinity of the fighting lines and concentrated in the Caucasus where many of them perished from typhus and other diseases. The German colonists in Volhynia in the southwest, numbering about three hundred thousand, as well as those in the south, were uprooted and banished into the north of Russia around Viatka and Archangel after their land was expropriated against bonds redeemable after twenty-five years. Tens of thousands of them perished in the unaccustomed cold climate, while a minority found refuge among the Volga colonists, who were the least affected, but were to come under the same ruling in 1917. However, a good many among the 1atter, especially those who had been publishing German newspapers or advocating German culture or the German language, mostly teachers and ministers, were banished to Siberia. All these unfortunates were Russian subjects, but in their misery and bewilderment they did not know where to turn, and the Embassy was flooded with their letters of sorrow and despair.


Gradually, with the war rounding out its second year and the number of prisoners increasing by leaps and bounds, the work in the Embassy took on enormous proportions. Special investigating commissions, in addition to hordes of clerks, began to pour in from Washington, so that finally the Embassy proper could not house the accumulated personnel. The entire staff dealing with prisoners of war was therefore transferred to the offices of the former Austrian Embassy a few blocks away. Exception was made for the Financial Department and a few other clerks who remained in their old quarters, although the rooms assigned to them were constantly changed. It seems to me that there was not a single room on the first floor in which I had not worked at one time or another.


When I got to know a little more about everyone at the Embassy, I realized that I was the only one of the Jewish race. Strangely enough I remained the only one too, this, no doubt, for the simple reason that no Jew in Russia would ever dream of applying for a post in a foreign Embassy, just as it would have never entered my head to do so of my own accord. I was told that two Jewish sisters were employed at the British Embassy during the war, but I was never able to verify this.


While I took it as a matter of fact that I was the right-hand assistant to Mr. Cook in an office of practically all Gentiles, it took me some time to get used to the idea of being with an Embassy. At first I wondered whether any of them knew that I was Jewish, but I felt sure that Mrs. Kennedy, being a Russian and therefore knowing that I could be nothing but Jewish with a name like mine, would enlighten anyone who might be interested. But evidently no one was, for no reference was ever made to it and the Embassy was the only place where I soon learned to leave off being conscious of my race - for I could never forget it outside – my hateful position of residing in Petrograd illegally was a constant reminder.


Sometime late in February 1916, it must have been Washington's Birthday, a reception was held at the Embassy, to which the entire staff was also invited. Naturally, I would not miss an opportunity to see the American colony in full force, as well as to get a chance to behold with my own eyes other diplomats resident in Petrograd. Although I kept my poise, of which I had a little too much in my young days, I really wanted to clap my hands and jump gleefully on one foot when my name was solemnly announced between “His Excellency Y” and “the Princess Cantacuzene-Speransky.” What with being young and not unattractive, I had a glorious time. A very nice middle-aged gentleman (he was the Roumanian Minister I later found out) talked to me with apparent pleasure for quite some time, nor did I lack attention from others, so that I was naturally quite elated.


When, full of new and pleasant impressions. I returned home that evening, the maid told me that the gate man’s wife had been looking for me. My heart fell and the elation of the entire day evaporated in no time. I knew that something serious must have happened, for she had never looked for me before. With dragging steps I descended from the fourth floor, crossed the yard and went down into the ill-smelling and dimly lit cellar room of the gate woman, where she lived with her four children. Before I had time to close the door behind me, she came up to me and, with anguish in her voice, almost shrieked, "You must get out of here, Miss. I cannot afford to lose my job on account of you and probably face arrest in addition. The policeman was here today and inquired whether you were still staying here. I told him that you had left for home several weeks ago, but I could see that he did not believe me. Please, Miss, I don't want to see you here any longer."


So that was how matters stood. Without saying a word in reply, I walked out and, upon reaching my room, in hat and coat, just as I was, sunk on the couch and for hours silently wept into the cushions. About midnight I calmed down somewhat and decided to settle the matter in my mind. It was simple in a way; I could not move into any other place in Petrograd and therefore had to leave town. I was sick and tired of being dependent on the ignorant though kindly gate woman anyway, tired of sitting for hours in the waiting rooms of the Department of the Interior, sick of the peculiar odor of the police station. It is true, I spent a few happy hours a day at the Embassy, but the rest of the time was intolerable and the uncertain condition was undermining both my physical and mental strength. Besides, the contrasts between my position at the Embassy and in Petrograd at large were so great that the shock of adapting daily from one to the other was not so good for me either. Above all, I was so tired of it all that I could not stand it much longer. I did not know where I would go or what I would do, but I had to leave Petrograd and the sooner the better. A spasm of grief gripped my heart when I thought of parting with the Embassy, the easygoing Americans, the good humor and good fellowship that reigned there, but I would just have to forget all that. Beautiful dreams are never of long duration and I would just have to cherish the time with the Americans as one cherishes a beautiful dream, that's all. A hot wave of shame mounted in me when I thought of confessing the truth at the Embassy. Not the fact that I was a Jew, oh no, that never entered my mind, but to confess that I was being driven out of Petrograd, as if I were a criminal or something unclean!


Naturally, I did not close my eyes during the whole night, but the longer I thought the matter over, the firmer my decision grew to make the break. I never grew to love Petrograd, for these twelve months were too humiliating, but just the same, I felt strangely at home there, almost from the very first day, and the idea of leaving it was appalling. But I had to leave. The uncertain position I was in was too much for me; I knew I could not stand the strain much longer.


Next morning, pale and haggard, I dragged myself to the Embassy, fully prepared to see it for the last time. I avoided going out of my room for I was afraid I would break down as soon as anyone should ask me what was the matter. Neither did I go to Mr. Link's room, sending the pages for whatever I needed, until Mr. Link, as if sensing something was wrong, came in to see me.


"Say, Miss Katz, have you seen a ghost?" were his first words upon catching sight of my face.


"Mr. Link, I must leave the Embassy service and I must do it today.”


"Whaaat?" was all he managed to ejaculate in his surprise.


"Did you know I am Jewish?" I queried in reply.


“What has that to do with your leaving the Embassy?" he answered and looked so profoundly mystified that I involuntarily felt better for a moment and briefly told him of all my tribulations and the many vain attempts to obtain permission of residence.


"Well, I'll be damned!" was his final, somewhat undiplomatic, comment. "And where do you propose to go from here?" he added, for he knew my family circumstances.


To this I could find no reply and the thing I dreaded most, of course, happened; I burst into a fit of weeping.


Without saying a word, Mr. Link brought me a glass of water and then disappeared.


I was so ashamed of my weakness that I made a superhuman effort to control my feelings, but almost before I had time to dry my eyes and swallow some water, Mr. Link came back and, in a voice strangely full of anger and resentment, yelled at me, "Powder your nose and go up to Mr. Dearing."


Nothing much mattered anymore and whether Mr. Dearing was the first person I said good-bye to or anyone else was entirely immaterial to me at the moment.


Mr. Fred Morris Dearing was the First Secretary of the Embassy and, in the interim between Mr. Marye's departure and the arrival of a new Ambassador, he also served as Counselor. He was a slim and rather small man who, though unassuming, appeared somewhat distant. He was slightly deaf and this no doubt was the reason he did not impress people with being as friendly as he in reality was. I happened to know him a little better than the other clerks and had grown very fond of him and his charming young wife. They had recently been transferred to Petrograd from Madrid, where they had been stationed for only a short while. In fact, as Mrs. Dearing told me, the day when they finally put up the last shelf in their apartment in Madrid they received their notification of transfer to Petrograd, thousands of miles away. Since Mrs. Dearing, a happily married young matron, desired to go into housekeeping in Petrograd, Mr. Dearing asked me if I would like to help his wife with her shopping, and this was the way I came to know them more intimately.


Mrs. Dearing and I usually had very good times together, especially in the bazaars. We both particularly liked wandering among the antique shops in the Alexandrovskii Dvor, reputedly a market for stolen goods. Both of us were too poor to buy the things we wanted. Especially do I remember a chain that we liked to price every time we went shopping. It was a long chain, reaching to the knees, of beautifully cut beads of white Ural topaz, encased in silver rosettes at each end, and with a large suspended cross. The price was sixty rubles, about twenty dollars at the then prevailing rate of exchange, but the wife of the Counselor of the American Embassy, whose salary was the munificent sum of $250 per month, of course, could not afford it. Neither could I and this was for the best, because secretly each of us preferred that neither one should own it.


To this Mr. Dearing, whom I therefore knew more as a human being than as the First Secretary with the powers of an Ambassador, I went up to say good-bye. It was sad, but it would soon be over. When I entered Mr. Dearing's room, in place of the usually mild and courteous person, I was confronted by such a complete stranger that I did not dare to proceed and remained just inside with my back to the door.

“Is this true, what Mr. Link was telling me?” he threw at me, measuring each word. I only nodded in reply.


"Why didn’t you tell me this before?” he asked angrily.


"I couldn't, Mr. Dearing, it was too humiliating to complain about my own country to a foreign power," I answered quietly, biting my lips in order to restrain the tears which again welled up in my eyes.


After remaining silent and motionless for a few seconds, Mr. Dearing suddenly got up and, with a menacing look in his eyes, pronounced, "We shall see whether the Russian government can throw out an employee of the American Embassy. You get your hat and coat on while I dictate a letter to the Minister. Take the letter and, if you don't get satisfaction at once, I will jump into an izvozschik (cab) with you myself and see that it is given to you."


I may have changed the exact wording of my interview with Mr. Dearing somewhat, but for the last sentence I vouch in full; these were his exact words and they remained engraved in my mind, deeply etched by my gratitude.


After all, Mr. Dearing was the representative of the mighty United States of America and, although I may have been a valuable employee of the Embassy, he would not have gone to the trouble of defending me if he did not fully comprehend the injustice which was being perpetrated upon me and upon my people. To Mr. Dearing this was no doubt a routine incident in his diplomatic career, so rich in experience, which he perhaps promptly forgot, but to me he became and has since remained the finest example of the true American.



Chapter IV



Within ten minutes I was on my way to the Ministry of the Interior with the precious letter in my purse. With an entirely different feeling I mounted the broad steps and, upon stating my business, was immediately ushered into the private waiting room of the Assistant Minister. In another five minutes the ornate double doors leading into another room were thrown open and I found myself in a spacious and beautiful study. When my name was announced, a man got up from a desk at the other end of the room and, with a charming smile, came forward to greet me. The man was Prince Vladimir Nikolayevich Volkonskii, a scion of one of the oldest and noblest families in Russia. His face, framed in a short square black beard, was handsome and intelligent and the hand that he stretched out to shake mine, we11-shaped, well-kept and artistic. His grip also was a very pleasant one. After asking me to sit down, without any preliminaries he told me that he would be very glad to comply with the request of Mr. Dearing. He asked no questions, did not refer to my case in any way and, naturally, did not apologize to me for all the anguish and indignities that I had had to go through up to that moment.


As to myself, I of course was overcome by so easy a victory. I explained that my right to stay in Petrograd had expired long ago and that I would have to get a document from him right away, for the Police Inspector would not take my word that a verbal promise had been given me by the Assistant Minister. Prince Volkonskii did not say anything in reply, but only nodded his head, and a strange smile played around his lips. For a second his eyes met mine and it suddenly seemed to me that there was understanding, sympathy and a touch of sadness in his look. It may have been my imagination, but perhaps at that point he realized that the system was all wrong although he was unable to change it, just as I was helpless to change the conditions of the prisoners of war, while fully realizing their plight. My intuition must have been right, for a little later in the same year 1916 Prince Volkonskii resigned his post, declaring that he "considered it impossible to continue when everything's aimed against public agencies”. He very soon dismissed me, telling me that the police would be notified and to wait outside for his reply to the Embassy. The letter, which was handed to me by his secretary within a half-hour of my arrival at the Ministry, told His Excellency, the Counselor of the American Embassy, in superb diplomatic French, that the ministry would permit me to remain in Petrograd "pour le temps de son emploie dans l'Ambassade des Etats Unis”. When I read the lines "for the time of her employment at the American Embassy," I involuntarily smiled as a curious presentiment whispered to me that, if ever I were to leave Petrograd, the Imperial Ministry of the Interior would have nothing to do with it.


Descending the broad carpeted steps, I was overcome by such a feeling of lassitude that I did not have the strength to experience as much joy and happiness as the occasion deserved. Finally free from the oppressing feeling of a trapped animal. Free to move to a more comfortable place. Forever free from visits to the police station and the humiliating sham! I remember, though, that before going out into the street I turned around, deliberately looked at the goodly number of haughty and indifferent flunkeys, while the age-old proverb of all nations turned up in my mind: "He who laughs last, laughs best."


Thus, though a Russian subject, I was now fully under the protection of the American government. No one could harm me as long as I was with the Embassy. A wonderful country, the United States of America, where everybody was legal before the law without regard to race and religion!


From that day on my remaining days in Petrograd took on an entirely different aspect. My first action was to leave the house where I had suffered so much from being forced to be a "Swiss" subject. I was in luck. When I looked up the advertisements upon my return from the interview with Prince Volkonskii, I found exactly what I wanted; a lady was offering to share a four-room apartment in the House of Pertsev. Since my arrival in Petrograd, I had been longing to move into this house at Ligovka 44, one of the two most modern apartment houses in Petrograd. It was a huge structure, comprising many buildings; it had been erected by a very wealthy engineer named Pertsevand and was absolutely up-to-date: steam heat, continuous hot water, self-service elevators, private telephone exchange, and all of the other comforts of modern life.


I liked Mme. Piasetskaya, the owner of the apartment, immediately on hearing her voice over the telephone--I have always been extremely susceptible to voices--and when in the course of our conversation I mentioned to her that I was working in an office, she told me laughingly that she had already made up her mind to have me because she liked my voice and, since I would not be home in the daytime, the arrangement would be ideal for both of us, for she taught singing and would not want to annoy her new tenant. Still, haunted by my unfortunate experiences in Petrograd, I, who until my advent to town at the age of seven had been convinced that to be a Jew amounted to a certain privilege, haltingly informed Mme. Piasetskaya, “You know, I am Jewish.”


“What of it?” came a surprised query over the wire. That settled the matter. I went to see Evdokya Vasilyevna the very same evening and a day or two later was settled in one of the most charmingly artistic apartments it has ever been my good fortune to live in. For two years our partnership continued, and when I departed from Petrograd forever my heart was heavy over Mme. Piasetskaya; she was such a true example of the highest in Russian womanhood: broadminded, cultured, frank and courageous.


It's funny to remember how extremely modern Mme. Piasetskaya was considered to be by her friends, and I by mine, just because we did not keep a full-time maid, but employed one for only half a day. We did not eat dinner at home either, just breakfast and a light supper, despite a fully equipped kitchen. Also, we used electrical appliances exclusively to escape the drudgery of a coal fire, for there were no gas kitchen ranges.


It was shortly after my stay in Petrograd was satisfactorily settled that the Hon. David R. Francis came to Russia as Ambassador from the United States. He came unaccompanied by any members of his family, with his faithful valet, Phil Jordan, and took up modest quarters at the Embassy consisting of three or four rooms in one of the side wings on the second floor. His conduct was as unspectacular as the rooms he lived in. The rumor soon spread that it was not modesty but stinginess that caused him to use so little display. Be that as it may, I for one approved of the Hon. David R. Francis as a man, a1though I will not take it upon myself to judge him as an Ambassador. Unquestionably, he was not the person best fit to represent the United States at such momentous times in a country about which he knew very little. However, whether any other ambassador would have fared any better under the unprecedented developments that were soon to take place deserves at least the benefit of doubt, especially since experienced and crafty diplomats of the other nations, both allied and neutral, made even graver mistakes than he did.


The Ambassador arrived at night and we were, of course, all agog with anticipation. The next morning I got to the Embassy ahead of time. On nearing the building I observed bareheaded, gray-haired elderly gentleman in house slippers, with hands in his trouser pockets, standing on the sidewalk and looking up and down the street. “It must be the new Ambassador,” flashed through my mind. “It cannot be,” said another voice within me. Ambassadors don't act like that. Marye never did." With doubt in my mind and a polite "Good morning," I tried to pass by him into the gate. "Good morning," the old gentleman replied, looking me over from head to foot, as if surprised that I spoke English.


Inside, with the entire staff already present at the unusual hour of ten o'clock, I was greeted by a hubbub of excited voices. "Did you see him? What do you think of him? Looks a dangerous old dog, in spite of his seeming kindness."


However, Ambassador Francis was neither overly kind nor dangerous. He was very approachable to any member of the staff and under his regime the Embassy grew into one large family with him in the center. He also was a good and just employer, taking a great interest in all the functions of the various departments, a little too much perhaps for an Ambassador. For, young and inexperienced though I was, it often seemed to me that it would have been more expedient for him to get a better slant on the situation in Russia than to have wasted his time in going over accounts with Mr. Link and his successor, my second and last chief, Charles D. Todebush. Mr. Francis had been a successful banker before he was appointed ambassador and for a banker figures no doubt hold a great fascination! Just the same, his business training and natural shrewdness stood him in good stead in understanding the Russian phenomenon--the country as a whole as apart from the government--and he showed a great deal of common sense on more than one occasion. He did not know Russian literature and he may have made blunders in regard to Russian operas. He also chewed tobacco and used a spittoon, which I among others found revolting. However, under more normal conditions he undoubtedly would have closed quite a few bargains for his country and gone down in history as a successful diplomat.


A few weeks after Mr. Francis' arrival, there was another cause for excitement among the Embassy staff. The Ambassador, accompanied by the Secretaries, was to hand his credentials to the Tzar, then residing at Tzarskoye Selo. To the great disappointment of the female personnel, the Ambassador did not order the prescribed court dress for the occasion, which automatically required his suite to wear the same full dress that he wore. We were especially anxious on account of Third Secretary John Latta Ryan, who had tried on his uniform for our special benefit and, had looked very resplendent in it. He was a young man of about 24, tall, slender, good-looking and very boyish. Whatever duties he may have had did not weigh very heavily on him. It was rumored that he was much more interested in getting back to a sweetheart or fiancé back home than in his diplomatic career. Mrs. Kennedy, who seemed to like to work evenings, told me that he often sat in her office for hours strumming plaintive songs on a mandolin. During the day he sometimes amused himself by turning the portraits of those American historical figures whom he did not like to the wall.


On the occasion of the audience with the Tzar he looked particularly handsome. We all were very much interested to hear about the Tzar and Tzaritsa, especially I, who knew that I would never get a chance to see them. When the Ambassador's party returned we all surrounded Mr. Ryan and barraged him with questions.


“Did you kiss the Tsaritsa's hand?" I inquired excitedly.


Whereupon young Mr. Ryan answered very deliberately, “My dear Miss Katz, if she were young or pretty I might have considered kissing some other spot, but I certainly would not think of kissing an old woman's hand."


Democratically inclined as I was, I was shocked at Mr. Ryan's reply, shocked, and at the same time rather thrilled by the independence of Americans.


Mr. Ryan and I once had a rather amusing encounter. The Embassy had no regular lunch hours. We all brought sandwiches along and usually took a bite without stopping our work. I do not know what the Secretaries did about lunches, but between the hours of twelve and one they usually could be found anywhere but in their own rooms. One day, coming in to Mr. Link's room to take dictation, I found Mr. Ryan comfortably stretched out in a chair with his long legs half way across one of the desks. The two desks stood back to back, so that if I sat down at the side of Mr. Link's, Ryan's feet would almost stick into my back. I particularly remember that some of the Petrograd mud was still noticeable on his shoes and that the soles had a small hole each. After a year or so at the American Embassy, I knew that Americans had what appeared to me the disgusting habit of putting their feet on the edge of their desks, but Mr. Link would immediately take them off whenever I or any of the other girls came into the room. Mr. Ryan, however, made no move, as if entirely oblivious of my presence, and I just stood there transfixed; it seemed the most terrible affront imaginable. Finally, I very politely asked Mr. Ryan to take his feet off the desk. My request seemed to surprise him so much that he almost automatically pulled them down. He soon recovered his composure though, and continued quite unperturbed in his original pose. I then repeated more firmly, in my excitement saying, "Will you, please, take off your feet from the table.”


At first he burst into laughter but then his eyes narrowed slightly and in a very haughty voice he answered, “Do you realize that I am Secretary of this Embassy and that you are just a mere clerk?"


“If you were the Ambassador himself, I would ask you to take your feet off just the same,” and with these words I walked out of the room. I only had time to notice that Mr. Link grew very red in the face, but, though sometimes not overly courteous, he did not say a word. Nor did he say anything to me when a few minutes later he came to call me back to his room. I would have quickly forgotten the incident had I not felt so indignant. How great was my astonishment when several months later I was told that my behavior had been discussed and weighed at one of the staff meetings. I was never told the particulars, but either the Embassy decided that Russian girls were queer and therefore to be forgiven for objecting to feet on desks, or perhaps my services were valuable after all.


About a week after the feet-on-the-desk incident, a cable was received from Washington promoting Mr. Ryan to a higher post in some South American republic. The day before his departure for the United States, I bumped into him on the very narrow inner stairs leading to the second floor.


"Did you mean what you said the other day?" he asked.


"Naturally, I expected you to take your feet off," I replied.


“Well, let's forget it--and goodbye,” and before I could recover my wits, he kissed me and disappeared downstairs. Another unaccountable American specimen!


In the meantime the war continued in its slow and tragic pace. In Petrograd its immediate effects were not very noticeable. The hospitals were crowded with wounded officers and soldiers, but those who did not live near a depot or hospital saw little of them. Also, the more serious cases were directed either to places nearer the front or into the interior. Not a single prisoner of war was brought to Petrograd. The restaurants, theaters and cinemas were crowded with officers on leave, gay and debonair, but there was neither any excess of gaiety nor any particular despair to be noticed. Nor was there any dancing hysteria, such as was reported from Paris and London. Russia, that is the bulk of Russia's population, did not dance during the war just as it had danced little before the war. True, the number of charity affairs for various semiprivate hospitals and other institutions connected with the war was quite considerable and it was customary to have dancing after the entertainment. But these affairs were for the wealthier classes and the percentage of people so situated was negligible. Every regiment had its club and the officers continued to give glittering balls, famous among the restricted circle of those privileged to attend. However, there were no public places for dancing. A waltz or two and a few of the Russian ballroom dances, such as Pas d'Espagne, Hongroise, Pas de Quatres, various kinds of polkas and a spirited Mazurka were occasionally danced at a family celebration, but again only among the wealthier classes.


A Russian noblewoman, the head of one of the soldiers' hospitals where a friend of mine was the nurse in charge of the operating room, often arranged dances to cheer up the convalescent soldiers. This was the only Russian place I waltzed in, and then only once or twice, during the entire war period. This woman, by the way, was one of the most remarkable women I have met. At the outset of the war her two sons, aged twenty and twenty-two, fell at the front within a period of three weeks. She was left with a daughter and a husband, a former Colonel in the army, who had disgraced himself in peacetime by gambling with some regimental money. For years they had been exiled to a small garrison in Turkestan and only when the war began were they permitted to return to Petrograd, no doubt thanks to her family connections. Her entire love was centered on the two boys and yet so deep and sincere was her patriotism that, upon learning of their deaths, she never changed the routine of her life nor that of the hospital, and endeavored to be a real mother to the unfortunate soldiers in her care.


I occasionally danced with or rather took dancing lessons from the American boys, at first with a great deal of inner qualms for even wanting to dance during the war. Peculiar as it may seem, Russia never took very kindly to the one-steps and two-steps which came into fashion a few years before the war. Russians considered the movements of these dances indecent. Even in pre-war Berlin, where dancing had developed into the supreme object of life, the music to these dances was seldom played at Russian gatherings. I remember one occasion when, at a Russian Students' Ball in Berlin, I asked Rashel1e's brother, Abrasha, by that time a graduate engineer from a German university, to dance a one-step with me. He pulled himself up to his full height and very coldly admonished me, “I never dance these with Russian girls.”


There seemed nothing wrong though in the way the Americans danced, except that in this case, their pupil made very slow progress. All Russian dances were based on the three-quarter tempo and it was exceedingly difficult for me to catch onto the two-two timing. Apropos of my dancing, the wit of the clerical staff, Edward P. Paramore, nicknamed the "Kid", used to say, "Bertha P. has a wooden leg; only at one time it's the left and at another it's the right one." Just the same, as I look back over those times, I must say that the boys were extremely patient. On the other hand, they did not know many girls in Petrograd and my naïveté about things American was probably quite diverting to them.


Thus, in spite of the war, the horrors of which it was difficult to escape even at a distance and the sorrows of the prisoners of war which I had to relive anew every day, my own life was pleasant and exhilarating.


In the summer of 1916 I went down south to visit my mother and sister. The financial position of my brother-in-law had improved somewhat since his flight from Pinsk the preceding fall, and the family took a dacha (a summer cottage) at Sosnovka, a health resort on the left bank of the River Dniepr, only about ten miles from Cherkasy. Sosnovka was a delightful spot. As the name in Russian (sosna--pine) implies, the small settlement was built amidst pine trees, although oaks were also in abundance. The soil was sandy, the air dry and the surroundings beautiful. The village was we11-planned, with houses occupying only one side of the street, while squares of oaks separated one street from the other. The river was nearby but, while it took about three minutes to run down the high steep bank, provided you kept your balance, about a quarter of an hour and a great deal of panting was required to get back to the top. The river made a slight bend right opposite Sosnovka and a sandy beach within this bend was the favorite spot for bathing. Bathing suits were unknown and all bathed in the nude, the men about 50 to 100 feet away from the women. While some boys might stand a little longer than necessary at the edge of the water before going in, as a rule very little attention was paid by either group to the other.


I had brought with me my one-piece bathing suit that I had bought at the German seaside resort of Zoppot three years earlier, but wore it only once, the first time I ran down the steep embankment to the Dniepr. When after undressing I started to walk towards the water, a swarm of boys of various ages began swimming towards the women's side to gape at the black-clad figure. I promptly submerged and the rest of my vacation bathed in the nude as did everybody else.


Except for the suburban dachas around Kiev, I had never seen Ukrainian villages before and took great delight in strolling over to the ones nearest Sosnovka, for they reminded one so vividly of the traditional scenery in the Ukrainian operettas that had been very popular before the war. They were entirely different from those I knew around Klenovka or Petrograd. The houses, while lacking in sanitation, were all kept scrupulously clean, both inside and out. Whenever you came to a Ukrainian village someone was sure to be whitewashing or covering with a pinkish hue the stove, the walls or the outside of the house which, unlike our northern log houses, was plastered with clay. No doubt climatic conditions had a great deal to do with it, for the Ukraine was blessed in that respect; just enough rain in the summer, a very dry winter and plenty of sunshine the whole year round. Also they were all much better off than the peasants in the northwestern provinces, for the soil was rich and everything grew well. Due to all these factors, the peasants themselves were much gayer by nature and only their love songs were very sad.


Enchanting though Sosnovka was, especially when the pitch-black southern night would envelop everything with a blanket of such stillness that, the crackling of a branch would sound like an explosion, it was there more than anywhere else that I longed for the less exotic climate of my native Klenovka and Grinapol. During the four years that had intervened since the heartbreaking parting from Grinapol, my life had been so full of ever-changing impressions that I seldom let my thoughts wander back to the earlier years. But the chance sight of a landowner of some estate in the neighborhood of Sosnovka driving behind a pair of horses would bring back a thousand and one seemingly unimportant but nevertheless poignant memories of the years spent on the two estates. It did seem, though, as if the words of the Holy Books that “everything is for the best on this earth" for we knew that Klenoovka was probably no more and that Grinapol had suffered the same fate.


However, I did have lots of fun at Sosnovka, with my nephews and nieces slightly out of hand and full of mischief, especially as I was the only one of the family who shared their enthusiasm for corn-on-the-cob. Corn was very little known in the north and even in the Ukraine it was grown mostly as fodder for pigs. However, the peasants there ate it on the cob and rumor had it that even city people in the south sometimes indulged in this typically peasant food, but that it might be served at table was entirely unheard of. The kitchen at Sosnovka was quite a distance from the house, and the children and I would devour the corn sitting on the kitchen stoop.


My family, while slightly shocked by my low taste in food, was very much amused by the kitchen parties and often teased me by saying that they would like my American friends, the diplomats, to see me just then. Not until I came to Japan two years later and at a fashionable hotel was served something wrapped in a napkin with two silver contrivances sticking out at the ends, did I learn that it was not a sign of peasant habits to like corn-on-the-cob.


At about that time my brother-in-law decided to move to Kiev and he, my sister and I took the boat up the river. Though not as impressive as those of the Volga, the banks of the Dniepr are at certain points much more picturesque, and the beauty of the approach to Kiev from the river can hardly be surpassed anywhere.


Kiev is built on seven hills, so the geography books claim, but this evidently does not take into consideration the many elevations between the more outstanding hills. In 1904 a funicular was built to connect the city on the hills and the flats below, but in the upper city many a fourth and fifth door on one street forms the ground floor for the back of the house. The main business street, the Kreshchatik, is almost perpendicular to the river and ends at the entrance to the "Merchants' Garden" located on the lowest of the hills along the river bank. When the city is approached from Cherkasy, first the hill on which the Pecherskaya Lavra (monastery of the highest rank) is built looms up, then comes the one with the then-called Tzar's Garden, and finally the beautifully kept Merchants' Garden.


The three hills, although at some parts forming just one high plateau, are in several places connected by small foot-bridges and those bridges, seen from the river, seemed unreal in the morning haze, while the boat, small in itself, looked tiny and helpless in comparison with the high banks. It gave me a great thrill to set foot in Kiev once more and under such different auspices. This time there was no necessity for hiding from the dvornik for, since the beginning of the war, Jews were permitted to settle there, and I freely gave myself to the enchantment of one of Russia's most beautiful cities. It was so clean and attractive, with its tree-lined boulevards, the brilliant sunshine and the people much friendlier than in the north.


On my long train ride back to Petrograd--it took three days and two nights--I quickly struck up a friendship with another girl passenger, the wife of a midshipman stationed at Helsingfors (now Helsinki). She was from a wealthy family of landed gentry, young, pretty, gay, vivacious and with a wealth of knowledge that made her a fascinating traveling companion. (It was from her that I first heard about yoga.) When we parted, she insisted that I visit her at Helsingfors. I promised, but I knew I never would; the officers of the Russian Navy were in a class by themselves; chosen as a rule from the better families, they were cultured and well-educated, but very class conscious and, since no Jews were admitted to the Navy in any capacity whatsoever, they looked down upon Jews without perhaps being anti-Semitic at heart. I did not even make an attempt to communicate with her on my several visits to Helsingfors. However, Natasha got in touch with me at the Embassy once: in the fall of 1917 an anguished voice over the telephone implored me to save her and her husband by helping him to enlist in the U. S. Navy.


Chapter V


In the fall of 1916 a slow but definite gloom began to settle over the Russian nation at large and Petrograd in particular. The losses at the front were enormous. The soldiers were facing a third winter of mud, lice, inadequate clothing and insufficient food. The poor peasants, who made up by far the largest part of the army, were worried over their families and crops at home and, even after two years in the fighting lines, had no idea what the war was all about. Certainly Russia did not need any additional land, and for a mind unenlightened and limited to the confines of one's own village, with no knowledge of the outside world, it was hard to whip up patriotism for a cause which it could not comprehend. The number of deserters began to increase markedly and the newspapers, though strictly censored, now and then let news through that was at variance with the official communiqués. Whereupon the censorship was tightened more firmly. Then bewildering things began to happen.


Though no news about the life at Court was ever allowed to appear in the newspapers, stories by word of mouth began to circulate about the shameful doings of Rasputin, his tremendous influence over the Tzaritsa and, through her, on the Tzar. The dirty, uncouth monk became a legendary figure. At first people shrugged their shoulders, but then a wave of disgust began to mount among the people of all classes having the slightest intelligence or culture. Rumors were current that there was not a crime or a crooked deal committed that could not be straightened out by paying a substantial graft to Ras­putin. The Secretaries of the various government departments, if they wanted to hold onto their jobs, had to abide by the will of the ignorant monk and, gradually but definitely, a rebellious feeling against the Tzaritsa and the Court assailed the hearts and minds of those who would be the last to be accused of anti-monarchistic or even mildly revolutionary tendencies. The Tzaritsa was never much liked and during the war was distrusted on account of her German origin. Her extraordinary friendship with Rasputin then was a wel­come cause for deepening the already existing feeling of dislike.


However, when one morning the news leaked out that Rasputin had been killed and thrown into an ice hole in the Neva, the entire cap­ital was taken aback. Who could have dared to do away with the Tzar­itsa’s favorite? Little by little bits of news were put together and, when it became known that Prince Felix Yusupov and Duma Deputy Purishke­vich, assisted by Grand Duke Dmitri, were the actual assassins, the fact seemed unbelievable. Young and wealthy, married to the cousin of the Tzar, what did Yusupov have to gain by killing Rasputin? And V. M. Purishkevich? The most reactionary among the Deputies of the Duma, a foe of all liberal-minded people, a man whose name was anathema to the Jews for his special mission in life seemed to be their per­secution, what could have prompted him to take part in this sordid deed? When the people woke up to the fact that these two had taken it upon themselves to rid Russia of the influence of the evil monk, Prince Yusupov overnight became the idol of the people and many a deadly sin was momentarily forgiven Purishkevich for his part in the gruesome murder.


Very scant news was permitted to appear in the newspapers but one of the journals managed to print an article which at first glance appeared to make no sense whatever but to be just a jumble of words. However, by reading every third word or so, a broad hint as to the actual happenings could be gained. The next day, all papers appeared with many blank columns, where the news had been suppressed.


Since the death of Rasputin a certain imperceptible tenseness, at first so slight as to be hardly noticeable, began to pervade the city. However, when at the end of January, Martin Walker Smith, a member of the Embassy staff, solemnly related in my presence that he had been told of a pending revolution, which had been postponed to February 17th (March 1 in the West), I was greatly amused. How gull­ible these Americans were to think that a revolution was possible in Russia!


As the weeks wore on and Petrograd began to show unmistakable signs of dissatisfaction, we Russians had only one hope, shared by everybody except the small clique of faithful Rasputintsy, and that was that the Tzar would give the Duma broader powers, since by that time everybody realized that the Duma alone was in a position to co­ordinate the various widely scattered points of supply and save Petro­grad from starvation, which it was gradually approaching. The fact, which later proved historically correct, was somehow apparent to us in Petrograd, that if Petrograd could be satisfied, the rest of Russia would remain quiet.


Russia had not exported any agricultural products since the beginning of the war and there was food in abundance only a short dis­tance from the capital, yet Petrograd had begun to feel the pinch of insufficient supply almost from the very beginning of the war. Early in 1915 a shortage of food began to make itself felt and by the fall of 1916 long lines of people in front of every store selling food­stuffs became a customary sight. These lines often formed as early as one in the morning and a maid, after standing for hours in the line, might come home with less than half a pound of meat per person. Sugar became a rarity and flour was also hard to get. However, bread, the staple food of a goodly part of even the city population, was freely available, and as long as the Russian workmen had bread they did not seem to mind the other shortages so much.


Then, in February, even bread began to get scarce. On Thursday, March 8, Petrograd awoke to bread riots; these were staged all over the city, for the most part by women who had stood in line perhaps from the evening before only to be told at the end of their long wait that there was no bread to be had. The workmen, long dissatisfied with the order of things, joined their women and went on strike.


The Nevskii, the main thoroughfare of Petrograd and ordinarily the parade ground for fashionably dressed women and officers on leave, presented the unusual sight of workmen on a holiday. The police were under instructions to disperse the crowds and the better to achieve this, were given the assistance of the Regiment of Ninth Dra­goons. The provoked population took it upon itself to fire upon the police and upon the soldiers and in the skirmish a few people were killed and a number wounded.  The next day, Friday, the riots grew more demonstrative and the workers who had gone on strike the day before visited all the factories that were still at work and asked the other workers to join them. There was a general walkout, in which even the streetcar contingent joined the strikers. The Nevskii and some other busy thoroughfares looked unrecognizable with turned-over streetcars lying beside the tracks, where the conductors had abandoned them and had helped the other workmen to overturn them.


That Friday morning, on my way to the Embassy, I for some reason or other took the streetcar, although I usually walked, and, standing squeezed in between the conductor and a fellow passenger, I overheard a conversation between the two.


"The police have set up machine guns on the roofs of most of the buildings, but they won't scare us," the workman said.


"They've drunk enough of our blood. Pora i chest znat (Time they knew their place),” The conductor answered with grim irony.


With all my knowledge of the crimes perpetrated by the police in the past, I could not bring myself to believe that they planned to fire from the roofs on the mobs of men, women and children who had done nothing more criminal than to ask for bread, and I was quite in­censed by the remark of the workman. He left one stop before I did and, before going out, I sternly admonished the conductor that the man must have been a provocateur sent out by the police to stir up trouble and that he should not listen to such nonsense in the future.


Later events showed the workman was correct in his state­ment, but on the other hand I was not so very far from wrong, either. For a long time rumors were current that the government of the Tzar, influenced by the Tzaritsa and her German clique, were attempting to bring about a rebellion in order to provide them with an excuse for a separate peace with Germany. In fact, when in the fall of 1916 the workers showed a certain amount of unrest and dissatisfaction on account of the shortage of absolute necessities, Professor Paul Milyukov, a member of Kadet (Constitutional-Democrats) party, in a fiery speech in the Duma openly accused Prime Minister Sturmer of betraying Russia, of negotiating a separate peace, and of doing it for German gold.


The last Duma convened February 14 (27), 1917, and a few days earlier a certain individual had been visiting all the large factor­ies around Petrograd, especially those producing war materiel, tell­ing them that he was the Duma member Milyukov and urging the work­men to open rebellion. Milyukov wrote a letter to the newspapers un­masking the provocateur, but the censor refused permission for the letter to be published, thus definitely showing that the government knew about and approved the actions of this man.


The Duma had been in session for about a week and, in spite of the strained relationship between it and the government, was trying to avoid an open break. From the reports that appeared in the papers it was evident that the Duma was tired and listless from its contin­uous struggle to obtain somewhat broader powers from the government in order to save Russia. The Minister of Agriculture in his report made it all too clear that things were in a critical state. All the larger cities were in danger of starvation, while in Siberia stocks of meat, bread and butter were rotting away; the rationing of the various states for supplies of grain was so organized, or rather so disorganized, that those states that had grain in abundance were not sufficiently taxed, while some with a scarcity themselves were taxed much too high. The result was that the peasants, frightened by the taxation, by rumors of requisition and by the many successive written Ukases, began to hide grain by burying it in the ground or sold it to speculators.


A few days before the Duma convened, Mikhail V. Rodzianko, Pres­ident of that body, was given an audience with the Tzar, but was very coldly received. However, just before the bread riots began, rumors were current that the Tzar had called together a few of his Ministers and discussed with them the question of giving the country a respon­sible ministry. For this reason no one took the first few days of rioting very seriously, because there were only demands for more ade­quate distribution of food, principally bread, and people were confident that as soon as the Duma received broader powers it would be able to straighten matters out within a reasonably short time.


In the midst of these tribulations my sister Tsilya telegraphed me from Kiev that she had finally decided to pay her long-deferred visit to Petrograd and, on Saturday, March 10, I went to the Niko­layevskii Depot to meet her train. The uneasiness of the several months past and the rioting of the last few days seemed to have been concentrated in Petrograd, for when Tsilya had left Kiev only two days before, not a single cloud floated over the political horizon of the southern city. Neither she nor any of the other passengers had the slightest intimation of what had been going on in Petro­grad. I am not a very good actress and my obviously dimmed enthus­iasm on meeting her must have perplexed Tsilya and she immediately sensed that something was wrong.


To her anxious questions I replied with false gaiety, "Oh, we are just having something in the order of a strike. The streetcars are not running and I'm afraid we won't get an isvoshchik (cab driver) so easily."

As a matter of fact it was lucky that she arrived on Saturday, for on Sunday all the isvoshchiks, numbering around 25,000, also went on strike. The isvoshchik whom we finally found took us through var­ious by-streets, as the Nevskii appeared crowded and occasional shots were heard from that direction. Tsilya thus did not get a very pleas­ant welcome to Petrograd, but everybody regarded the situation as a passing evil and did not worry particularly. The very same evening we went to attend the famous subbotniki of the pianist-conductor Alexander Siloti, held during the opera season every Saturday night at the Maryinskii Opera House. The Opera and the Drama Theaters, which were subsidized by the state, did not hold performances on Saturday nights and this for a very curious reason. Before the year 1861, when serfdom was abolished in Russia, most of the performers at the state Theatres were sons and daughters of serfs, themselves not free beings either, who by their talents had won the approbation of their owners or had otherwise attracted the attention of some music or drama lover. These artists had had their living quarters within the theater building or in a dwelling run in conjunction with the theater. On Saturday nights they were taken to a public bath for their weekly ablution and, after cleansing of the body, to church, for Saturday night vespers in the Greek-Orthodox faith are as impor­tant as the Sunday service. Consequently the state theaters were closed on this particular night, and the tradition of Saturday clo­sing remained.


The Siloti concerts were very popular and usually tickets were at a premium. Since their inception in 1903, the Siloti concerts had developed into a distinguished feature of the musical life of the capital, just as the figure of the tall and gaunt pianist-conductor had become a familiar sight to all music lovers. In addition to being an excellent musician, Siloti was endowed with a fiery fighting spirit and inexhaustible reserves of energy, qualities so essential to the pioneering will to do. For Siloti was the pioneer of new music in Russia. As often as not two or three items on an evening's program would be marked "First time in Russia" and occasionally the tiny star even stood for “World Premiere”. His concerts were therefore attended with a great deal of anticipation and the exchange of opin­ion in the audience during intermission and on emerging from the theater was at times quite heated. I always enjoyed the concerts because, aside from masterly rendition, they somehow conveyed to the listener a feeling of participation in the path-finding.


True, for the Saturday of February 25 (March 10), 1917, I had no difficulty in getting good seats, for the demand did not seem so great, but even so I was not prepared for the unusual sight of the tremendous Opera House being practically empty. In the Bel-Étage (dress circle) where we had our seats we counted twenty-seven peo­ple, the orchestra had not many more and the balconies, where we could see them, looked rather empty also. Since the streetcars did not run and isvoshchiks were scarce and at a premium, people did not risk leaving their homes, and it was only because the house where I formerly lived and where my sister was now staying with relatives was within walking distance of the Opera House that we got there. Siloti seemed oblivious to the emptiness of the large house and played with such tenderness and poetry that my sister and I, neither of us very musical, were carried away and forgot about the charged atmos­phere outside. During the intermission I took Tsilya up and down stairs and showed her the “Foyer" where on Opera and Ballet nights people gathered to be seen and to see others. I grew quite enthusiastic describing the subdued splendor of Gala nights: the enchantment of the scenery on the stage; the beautiful women in the boxes; the rich uniforms of the military; the gold braid and ribbons of the civil servants.


When we left the Maryinskii Opera House, aglow with the masterly rendition of the music, and Tsilya in addition greatly awed by every­thing I showed her, neither of us suspected that we had been inside the "Imperial" Opera House for the last time. The Sunday afternoon Opera and evening Ballet performances were cancelled and on Monday a new order of things had its beginning.


The time from Saturday to Monday I spent with my sister, but on Sunday afternoon I set out for the House of Pertsev to change my clothes. The distance was about two miles and the most direct way of reaching home was to walk along the Sadovaya, turn right on the Nevskii Prospect, and then from the Nikolayevskii Depot on to Ligovka. When I got to the Nevskii, I found that cordons of police were guard­ing the street and apparently would not let anyone pass. This, how­ever, was not entirely so, as they only held back those who looked like workmen or peasants. Anyone decently dressed, I for one, was permitted to proceed. There were not many of us who passed the test as "bourgeousie” on that memorable afternoon. With a great shock, I suddenly realized how few women in hats and men of the white collar class there were in Petrograd, as compared to the contingent of wo­men in shawls and men in blouses and caps. This realization was the more staggering since Petrograd was the most citified town in all of Russia. My fast walk along the Nevskii was something of an ordeal. The sudden politeness of the policemen was suspicious and uncomfor­table and the stillness of the Nevskii on a Sunday afternoon, when it was usually packed with strolling waves of humanity, was quite ominous. Going back I took a more circuitous route through by-streets.


Monday morning I awoke among strange surroundings, practically blinded by a brilliant sun pouring its rays in through the window. The frost had held on for several days, so that the snow was white on the neighboring roofs, and I knew from experience how enchanting Petrograd looked on days like that. Used as we were to weeks of fog and grayness, the sudden brilliant sunshine worked like magic on everything in view. I jumped out of bed, feeling full of exhilarating energy, but something in the back of my head tried to subdue my high spirits. I then remembered my walk along the deserted Nevskii and what it implied, but so strong was the influence of the bright sunny morning that I felt sure everything had been straightened out since yesterday.


It was quite a walk from the lower end of the Fontanka to the Furshtadskaya and I therefore started rather early. In my Petro­grad days two or three miles constituted just a nice walk and the fact that neither street cars nor isvoshchiks were available did not dampen my good humor. I decided beforehand, however, that I would not walk along the Nevskii and at a brisk pace I proceeded on a complica­ted zig-zag to the Embassy. However, crossing the Nevskii was unavoid­able and, while in the middle of it, I for the first time heard the strange tra-ta-ta-ta of the machine gun, a sound to which I very soon became accustomed. It still haunts me at times even now. My knees gave way in the most ridiculous manner and my impulse was to run but, seeing no one else running on the empty street, I continued at a forced, dignified step. At that moment I was about halfway from my destination. After a fast mental calculation I decided that I could not possibly run a mile and a half in either direction. I might just as well entrust myself to fate and try to reach the Embassy in some way or other. In order to get there I had to cross another important thoroughfare, the Liteynyi Prospect, running perpendicular to the Nevskii. However, when I hurriedly turned into a by-street lead­ing to it, I was met with a deafening sound of fusillade and a group of excited people walking fast towards me. They were just walking fast, like a crowd of exuberant children, all giggling and laughing, while I stood there, terrified, listening to the unaccustomed sound of shots, not daring to proceed nor to turn back. Finally someone came up to me and asked me where I wanted to go. When I explained, the man said very deliberately, “Oh, no, you can’t get there. They are shooting from the top of the Officers' Club and, a1though they are shooting in the air, a stray bullet might hit you just the same.”


“Why all this shooting?" I stammered.


"Don't you know? The club's already in the hands of the revolu­tionaries. There were no casualties to speak of; they are just shoot­ing for good measure."


Revolutionaries? What was the man talking about? Were we having a revolution? I long ago knew the history of the French Revolution by heart and was aware how revolutions were carried out. Angry, blood-thirsty mobs…lots of blood…  No, this couldn't be a rev­olution, the man was mistaken. However, there was no mistake about my not getting to the Embassy so I then decided to try my luck in the direction of the former Austrian Embassy, which was located a little farther away this side of the Liteynyi. I found the gates locked and for a few minutes, which to me lasted an eternity, no one came to open them. During those few minutes, or perhaps they were only seconds, I began to believe that a revolution really was in progress, for I heard the first yell of an angry mob, a blood­ curdling yell, full of lust and triumph.


When the heavy doors finally swung open, the Embassy caretaker whispered to me, "They have just killed the Commandant in charge of the Munitions Plant next door and thrown his body over the fence."


So, the revolution had really started and I was in the midst of it!


The subdivision of the American Embassy which occupied a num­ber of rooms in the former Austrian Embassy did very little work that day, and the atmosphere soon resembled that of a schoolhouse on an unexpected holiday because of the sudden illness and absence of the teacher. The American men walked around as if electrified by the shots outside and their shining faces and excited voices were evidence enough that they were happy to have the diversion of "something going on" in Russia. They naturally did not keep their elation to themselves and their flippant attitude began to get on my nerves. While my heart and my mind tried to puzzle out this tremendous phenomenon of a revolution in Russia. they treated the sounds of rifle and other shots as a huge joke and as a special godsend for their personal amusement. I had a longing to be in the Embassy proper where I was certain that the Ambassador and the Secretaries would have a better grasp of the situation and would not treat the historical moment my country was living through as a comic-opera joke. Tel­ephone communication was still functioning and it was decided between the two Embassy establishments that I was not to be permitted to go out for the time being. The day dragged on interminably. By afternoon I had become so insistent that when the fusillade seemed to weaken somewhat, I was allowed to walk to the Furshtadskaya under the guardianship of the stalwart courier Andrey. This cour­ier was over six feet tall, a former soldier in a Guard regiment and the most impassive person I have ever known. When we were about five minutes away from our destination the shooting started anew. I anxiously looked up at my companion but he appeared not to have heard anything. Suddenly the tra-ta-ta-ta began to descend upon us from the roof of the very house we were passing and, although I did not see anyone shot dead or even wounded, my courage deserted me and I broke into a wild run, not stopping until I almost bumped my head into the closed Embassy gate.


This was the first and last time I was afraid of shots or hastened my steps during the succeeding twelve months that I remained in Petrograd. Gradually one's ears became so accustomed to the sound and one's eyes to the occasional sight of blood, that it would never have occurred to me to change my gait. Danger lurked in every corner and, if fate preordained that I should be killed, I would be, walking or running.


The Secretaries and the other American personnel in the Embassy proper also seemed to hold to the view, at least outwardly, that the sudden turn of events was in the order of an amusing performance, and my heart was heavy that day.


What did all these foreigners know or care about Russia? They wanted fun and amusement, first and foremost. Petrograd was rather dull during the war and the revolution was a welcome change. To me and to the rest of Russia it meant such a great deal! Children, all of them! Childish in their simplicity and childish in their personal courage! Childish and yet practical. They not only wanted to see things, but they immediately thought how valuable their photographs of the Russian revolution would be to send to the folks at home, and their only worry during the few days that changed one-sixth of the globe from a monarchy to a free people was that they were not suffi­ciently stocked up with film! Shooting or no shooting, they were all over town taking pictures!


When evening came, Ambassador Francis gave orders that the female personnel of the subdivision located at the Austrian Embassy were to be taken to a hotel and that Mrs. Kennedy and I were to remain in the Embassy proper overnight. It so happened that two girls, clerks of the American Legation in Rumania, arrived that very day, by a somewhat circuitous route via Austro-Hungary, Germany and Sweden on their way to the new temporary capital of Rumania, at Yassy, a distance of about one hundred miles from Bucharest. They insisted on going to a hotel and the American men who went to accompany them had a "per­fectly glorious" time dodging bullets and reveling at the sight of the "Russkis" making a revolution.


Among the personnel of the Embassy proper, one was a Finnish girl, the Dragoman was Polish, Mrs. Kennedy was the only bona fide Russian Slav and I was Jewish. Although we did not talk about it, I instinctively knew how the others felt.


The Finnish girl was probably thinking of Finland, which un­doubtedly would waste no time to throw off the yoke of Russia. Under an agreement with the Russian government, Finland paid Russia twenty million rubles (about $10,000,000) and in return its citizens were not subject to conscription in the Russian army. In the course of a century of Russian domination, into which Finland entered more or less voluntarily, the Finns learned to hate the Russian government to such an extent that a good many of them went as volunteers into the German army to fight the Russians. Although they kept their neutrality under the watchful eyes of Russian marines, their sympathies were quite openly on the side of the Germans. I could therefore very well comprehend the probable feelings of Karin Sante.


Jan Stalinskii's feelings were an open book to me because he and I were rather good friends. Though a graduate of a Russian middle school in Warsaw and the Moscow University, he still spoke with a strong Polish accent and took very little interest in things Russian. Since the occupation of Russian Poland by the Germans, Poland had been given autonomy by the conquerors, and I knew that Jan’s foremost desire was to get back home and help in the reconstruction of his native land.


Mrs. Zinaida Kennedy, who came from a Russian merchant family, quite well off, never took any interest in politics and I was not at all sure how she felt about the way the events were turning.


It seemed to me, while listening to the happily excited Amer­icans and the shots outside, that among the four of us I was the only one who felt Russian through and through during and after the turbulent hours of the change in government. In the turmoil of feelings I completely forgot about my tribulations as a Jew; with all the fiber of body and soul I felt that this was a momentous time for the whole of Russia.


During the entire afternoon and late into the night regiments of soldiers passed the Embassy windows on their way to the Duma, only a few blocks away, to give their support to the Duma Members who re­fused to obey the command of the Tzar to disband, a command which came in place of the awaited broadening of its powers. As a matter of fact, since no newspapers appeared, the members did not know until they gathered for the afternoon session that the Duma was prorogued. In spite of the absence of newspapers, the news spread like wildfire and this was truly the last straw that broke the camel’s back!


Chapter VI



In a strange bed in the apartment of one of the couriers I listened to the continuous tra-ta-ta-ta which interrupted the deathly stillness of the night. I tried to think out what this turn of events meant for Russia, but I could not. It seemed impossible that the old system should really come to an end! Tomorrow we would probably see Cossacks charging down on innocent crowds and treading them under their horses' hoofs, as in the abortive attempts at revolution that had been made in 1905, and then things would become worse than ever before. Nevertheless, though I slept little during the night, I got up feeling fresh and full of hope and energy and my first impulse was to run out into the street and see what Petrograd looked like under changed conditions. My first reaction was a tremendous shock: there was no visible change in anything. The frost continued and the dvornik from the house opposite was busy shoveling up snow towards the enormous heap which had been lying in the middle of the street for several days, pending the time when it would be removed. I stared at the female dvornik, with a large woolen kerchief wound round her head and in men’s felt boots, methodically shoveling the snow, and I just could not reconcile this everyday occupation with the fact that Rus­sia was facing a new dawn. Involuntarily I thought of my nephew Peter, a gifted and sensitive child, who was about five and a half years old at the end of 1914. On New Year's Day, 1915, he crawled out of bed before anybody was up, stole over to the window and then with tears streaming down his face ran into his parents' room crying, “It isn't a new year at all. It's just exactly like yesterday. Nothing is different. You've all been fooling me."


The Furshtadskaya certainly did not look any different.


Late the previous evening telephone communication had been cut off. On Tuesday morning, before even attempting to do any work, I left the Embassy to walk over to my apartment and see how Mme Pyasetskaya was faring. There was a great deal of joy and exhilaration in me, but also much apprehension. It was a beautiful but bitterly cold day and, walking with an easy step as if carried along by my inner elation, I repeated in a singsong, "Spring is here. Spring is here."


Passing the soldiers' barracks I decided, after some hesitation, to ask the sentinel whether it was safe to proceed. As a rule, I hated this particular corner at Kirochnaya and Znamenskaya, where a few lounging soldiers were wont to relish an equivocal remark in my direct­ion on my daily walk past them. I was somewhat diffident even then, but the answer was so startling that to this day I am happy that I stopped to inquire, because the answer to my query became to me the leitmotiv of the revolution.


"I want to cross over to Ligovka. Do you know whether there is any shooting going on around the Nikolayevskii Depot?” I asked timidly.


"No, tovarishch,” he answered, with a wave of one arm and a broad grin on his peasant face, “brother will not shoot a brother!"


This soldier was the first person from whom I heard the word "tovarishch" (comrade), the holy word of the brotherhood of men, the same word later so besmirched by the scoffers at home and the press abroad. To this Unknown Tovarishch I have remained grateful for awakening me to the fact that a real miracle had taken place in Rus­sia. Before the revo1ution, soldiers were part of the government and not of the people, for whenever the police had difficulties with the civil population the soldiers were ordered to shoot, and invariably they obeyed.


The system of conscript military service in Russia achieved its aim of separating the soldiers from the population by a very simple strategy. The recruits, the largest contingent of which was supplied by the peasants, since peasants constituted the largest portion of the population, were sent off to garrisons thousands of miles from their place of birth, ostensibly to acquaint them with the Empire. However, since the majority of the recruits could not read even the names of the stations they passed and since they were transported in the famous (or infamous) freight cars labeled "forty men or eight horses”, with tiny windows on a level with a horse's head, there was very little in­deed they learned of their country while riding to and from their three to four years of separation from home and family. The actual reason was much deeper and more subtle. To the ignorant peasant any­one outside of his own village was a total stranger and while he no doubt would have hesitated to fire into a crowd where he might suppose some of his friends or relatives to be, he found little diffi­culty in obeying the command "pali" (shoot) when it was directed to­wards utter strangers. The officer told him what to do and the officer undoubtedly knew best.


For many reasons, not the least being the obvious distinction made between them and other nationals, the Jews in particular felt enormously separated from the soldiers. Although the law read that every male of the Russian Empire upon reaching the age of twenty-one was subject to the draft, there were many exemptions affecting the conscription service. For instance, the inhabitants of Cossack districts, Finland, Turkestan, Kamchatka, Sakhalin, as well as the so-called native foreign races in outlying territories, were not drafted. In addition, there were exemptions for physical disability, for priests of the Russian-Orthodox faith, for only sons, and for a few other categories. Moreover, since as a rule each year more men ­were eligible than the contingent required, those over and above the quota were drafted into so-called "opolcnenye" or six weeks of training for a few consecutive years. The yearly quota, decided upon at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was arrived at by dividing the number to be drafted “between Jews and all other faiths" in proportion to the number of each listed as having reached the age of twenty the preceding January first. In spite of the many exemptions, the Imperial Government was very careful that no Jew should escape military service, and strict precautions were taken in that direction. In 1886, a law was enacted that, in the event that a Jew escaped from the draft (usually by being smuggled across the border and emigrating to Eng­land, America or Africa), a fine of three hundred rubles was to be imposed upon the Jewish community to which the deserter belonged. It was also characteristic of the special attitude towards Jews that all those who were freed from military service under Exemption No. 1 did not have to appear before the Drafting Board "except persons of the Jewish faith.” Needless to say, all these special regulations, combined with the petty persecutions to which Jewish soldiers were subjected in the barracks, made soldiering a nightmare and many crooked subterfuges were developed in the course of time to circum­vent the dreaded “soldatchina”.


Recollections of many pitiful and heartbreaking tales told by Jewish ex-soldiers flitted through my mind as, encouraged by my new tovarisch, I proceeded along the Znamenskaya, at first practically deserted, but becoming more and more populated the nearer it drew to the Nevskii. Near one of the intersections I saw a group of people talking and excitedly gesticulating. A political battle, I immediately conclude, but when I approached the milling crowd I saw that some of the participants were laughing, with tears streaming down otherwise happy faces, and that everybody was talking to everybody else.


"Has anything happened here?" I questioned the woman nearest to me, who, by, all appearances, was a factory worker or housemaid.



"Akh, nyet, nichevo baryshnya (No, nothing, young lady)” was all she answered, while she threw her arms around me and kissed me loudly on both cheeks.


It's difficult to describe the turmoil this impulsive act on the part of the strange woman produced in me! This was brotherhood indeed! I gave her a quick hug and proceeded toward my destination, unashamed of the happy tears that were streaming down my own cheeks.


The tremendous square in front of the Nikolayevskii Depot was thronged with thousands of people. A red banner hung down from the horse’s mane of the familiar statue and a young man, precariously holding on to the bronze leg of Tzar Alexander III, was talking to the crowd below.


"Just like Hyde Park in London,” flashed through my mind in awe and wonder, while the incongruity of the red banner on the "Be­hemoth" almost made me laugh aloud.


This famous equestrian statue by the renowned