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Written by Morgan Manter

Julia V

Country of Birth:


Year of birth: 1968

Places of Residence:

Cold War

Julia V. Born in: 1968 Cold War

Birthplace: I was born in Moscow, in Russia.

Home: Let me see, I was an only child. I think we moved two or three times. At first my parents lived with my mom's parents. But I don't really remember that. I can remember they had an apartment that we lived in since I was about four. We lived in a flat on the 7th floor of a 9-story building; pretty much everyone in Moscow lived in flats. You don't see too many houses in Moscow unless you are in the outskirts. And so we lived in this two-room apartment. They served both as a study rooms and bedrooms at the same time, a small kitchen and a bathroom. We really didn't spend that much time at home. And I actually see that carry over here in American life, too. I have a hard time staying at home. The majority of life you went to work or were studying and you just did some homework or TV watching or had guests coming, but you didn't really hang out. You would hang out by going outside, walking, jogging, going to the movies, going to the theater, or things like that.

Favorite hang-out: We're still talking about Russia, right? I left Russia when I was 20. It's my childhood and teenage years that I spent there. I left when I was up to the 3rd year in Moscow University. I completed three years of college there. So when I was a kid growing up you know, I just did my homework and before we did our homework I would just go play with my friends outside. We had playgrounds and things like that. Our parents weren't as paranoid as parents are these days. They would just let their kids go. You had to be home at a certain time. And they knew who you were with and they could always reach those parents. But so you know, we just played hopscotch and walked around and talked about things with my girlfriends. It's pretty much just like here. We didn't use phones as much. I mean we had phones, but we just preferred to get together and talk.

As far as when I became a college student; most of the good universities were located in Moscow. Some of the big cities in the former Soviet Union had good universities and since we lived in Moscow I really didn't have to, it didn't make sense for me to travel somewhere to go to school. I lived with my parents. Most people do live with their parents, until they get married. Apartment space, at that time, was very hard to come by. And so I would just meet with my friends in college and go to various exhibits or just visit each other's homes.

So why did you move to America? : Well, this is a good question. So my family has been talking about leaving the Soviet Union probably since about the late 70's because we had family members who emigrated in the mid-70's. They left for Europe, and then they eventually came to America. But, the kind of life that we led in the Soviet Union, there aren't as many freedoms as you enjoy here and most significantly pronounced is the freedom of speech and the published word so in a society like this you have"¦ people kind of live a bit of double life and there's a lot of jokes about "¦ well you develop a type of speech where you say one thing, but it actually means a different thing. People joke about it. When I was growing up it wasn't like you really couldn't say anything against the government, and if you did you really needed to watch who you said it with. I personally didn't know anybody who was thrown in jail for saying something wrong, but then again we all knew that we weren't supposed to say anything too wrong. We might joke about Brezhnev being bald or getting old, but we wouldn't say that he was incapable of running the country any more. Especially with people that we didn't know. And so my family, my father, was very often listening to The Voice of America. I don't know if you know what The Voice of America is. It's a broadcast station. It was very popular in the 80's and 90's that is broadcasting towards the eastern block of the Soviet Union and tells people what is really happening in America, for example. The kinds of things that we would get through our media would be very much propaganda, and there was the Cold War going on and so we really didn't know much about the positive developments in this country, for example. We didn't know how people lived. Just like we were probably portrayed as monsters to you guys. The same way.

So America allowed us to really hear what was going on in the world politically, what was happening and kind of gave us a different perspective. It was kind of, whatever I heard from my father and my mom at home, I couldn't say with school friends; pretty much all of them I couldn't, maybe a few picked ones and my parents would tell me which ones. And same with when I was older, in a subject in history was devoted to studying the Russian Revolution which happened in 1917. The rise of the Communist party and how it all came about. As you study history, you learn that you can portray events very different viewpoints, there is no single right or single wrong. Its always in the eyes of the beholder. Some things are good in the eyes of some people but not so good for other people. There is no ultimate goodness in the historic events. So it was very biased in the ways it was portrayed for us and all the bad things were always in the shadows, all of the deaths and how bloody it was, how people were tortured and executed for following their own beliefs that did not follow the beliefs of the party. How bloody Leninn was and Stalin and all them. That was the kind of history that you had to study in school report and write about. And then there was the kind of history that I knew, the other aspect of it the other view that I knew from my parents and their friends that the rest of the world had about the events. For me when I came to this country the freedom to say what we could and hear people criticize the government so openly and express their views so openly and no matter where you are; at school, the university, at work; that was really very liberating.

As far as why we left, I didn't really make that decision, my parents made that decision and as Jews in Russia my parents and their parents had suffered a lot of prosecution, it was hard to get into universitys for my dad, my grandfather was almost thrown into prison luckily he escaped. It was happening on every corner; in Russia we had this passport, you know we have a passport here, but in Russia everybody has a passport you aren't just issued one whenever you want to leave the country to go someplace and one of the things that it would say about you in the passport was what was your nationality. Your nationality could be Russian, Jewish, or Ukrainean or Eusveck. But if it was Jewish you would be given very special treatment in terms of where you can and cannot be, go to college, where your hired for work, it was very hard for my dad to get a job as well as my mom who wasn't Jewish but was married to my dad which made it hard for her to get a job. It's a very deep web. Our main reason for our immigration was to get rid of that issue. So when you came here you came under that umbrella as a refugee. You gain rights and one of those very important rights is the right to work and after five years of being a good contributing member to society you could apply for citizenship. So that was a another very important right.

The Cold War for Julia: Well, the cold war wasn't a war that you fight. It was propaganda, really. Where you regard a certain state or country as your enemy and you exchange minimal amount of goods and you are watchful and have spies. Your department of intelligence heavily watches the country that you are at "˜cold war' with. You try to figure out what they are after. America, for example, thought that Russians wanted to take over and dismantle capitalism, right? And Russians were very watchful of Americans. It was an ideological war. Communism or socialism versus capitalism. I think in retrospect it actually did have some positives because in some ways I think it pushed both countries in science and math. There was always very big emphasis in the former Soviet Union on learning technology subjects like technology, engineering, science, math or physics. It was very prestigious to follow this career path. A lot of colleges were dedicated specifically to various branches of engineering, for example. There were very few that were devoted to arts or literature. That was one aspect of the cold war. And there was just propaganda in all the newspapers. But because I had the background in the family where people were telling me all the time how to read these newspapers and read between the lines I learned how to do it and it was almost funny how negatively America was always portrayed "“ and kind of "˜grabby'. And also, we never had any foreigners in my country that we would be even if we saw delegations coming through we would never come and talk to people because we knew we would be watched if we did that. Even if Americans or anybody from another country would come and start to talk with us we knew we couldn't answer their questions truthfully. We would always have to say only very positive things. And the authorities would take care of that. They wouldn't just let you guys come and talk to just anybody. Usually it was a prearranged occasion, even if it seemed it was not arranged, it was always arranged. People who were "˜cleared' and knew how to answer questions would go and with kids it was the same. Even if it was meeting with kids. With kids, of course, it's always spontaneous, but it was kids of people who knew how to answer questions and they would be very well-to-do kids that didn't have any problems, or things like that.
So, that's the cold war aspect of it.

Grandpa almost getting thrown in jail: Yeah, my grandpa. I don't exactly know the story, but he was a lead engineer during the war at one of the plants that was manufacturing tanks. In general his training was that he was the kind of engineer that runs turbines that generate electricity"¦ water turbines. So he was a chief engineer at a plant like that, but when the war happened, the plant was rededicated to manufacturing tanks. So he was doing that. People were under the gun to deliver. I think it happened a few years after the war was over. It must have been 50's and I know that a lot of Jews in that time were afraid in that time because Stalin, who was always very anti-semitic. Stalin was the head of the state. He took over after Lenin. He was the head of state for many, many years. He was a despot. He killed many, many people, just like Saddam Hussein. He would torture people and send them over to Siberia. So anyways, he was also very anti-semitic and he was getting older and I think he was getting crazier and crazier. And he had very serious plans to send all the Jews over to a province in Siberia and those plans were pretty much put into motion. He died in 1953 and had he not died, that probably would have happened. Because from all the people who know, and from what was published later, there was essentially all the trains and all the arrangements to make that happen.

So my grandfather and my grandmother were afraid. If you were a Jew working in kind of an executive position or in a position where you were under the limelight you had to work so hard to just make sure you don't fall out of favor for that reason. So he had several heart attacks because he was working days and nights to manufacture. Well I don't know what they were manufacturing after the war - if the plant was ever rededicated to peaceful purposes, I don't really know. I think they missed some timelines, or he was associated with somebody"¦ I think one of his friends was actually called in by the KGB and never came back. And so there was one night when they came after my grandfather. And they would always do it at night. They told him to gather his belongings and go with them. And my grandmother essentially said "˜goodbye'. She threw him together a couple of underwear and a couple of shirts and kissed him goodbye. She thought she would never see him again, but miraculously, about a week later he reappeared.

They didn't take him. My family says they never knew what really happened. Maybe through his service during the war, maybe he had some friends who were able to intervene and get him out. And it may have been temporary since Stalin died shortly after and nothing ever happened to my grandfather. But there was that scary moment.

So were you in America in the Vietnam War? : No, we came in 1990. We came shortly before the coup that happened in Russia that made everything collapse.

Did the Vietnam War affect Russia at all? : Interesting that you say that. We didn't really know that much about the Vietnam War growing up. Like I said, views in Russia were really very sheltered. Vietnam was 60's right? 70's? I was born in '68. So that may have passed me. I may have still been a child when it was happening, so I may not have heard much. But I remember a lot about Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan. A lot of Russian soldiers went into the war in Afghanistan. Ultimately, it was a fiasco. But Vietnam did not really affect us.

Formative Experiences: Sometimes you just go along and accumulate knowledge and become a well-rounded human being. But I do have one event that I distinctly remember myself when it clicked in my head, "OK, I'm no longer a child. I have a lot of responsibilities now." And that was when we were on our way to the United States from Russia. So the process was that you had to apply for exit first. And then if they allow you to come here which when we were leaving it was pretty much a slam-dunk. So we were lucky in that way because a lot of people before us had to wait for many, many years to be granted permission to get out. And they would be out of a job because they would fire them right away and things like that. Some of them would get prosecuted, but we didn't have to deal with anything like that because Gorbachev came into power and pretty much opened the doors to emigration. So once we applied we were granted the right to leave, but it's one thing to be granted the right to leave "“ you can leave. But then you have to be granted the right to enter. So we were in between and there was no direct route at that time for us to come to the United States so we had to go to spend a month in Austria at a refugee placement, a refugee camp, so to speak. We lived in Vienna, but it was an apartment building that was rented out specifically for refugees like us. Then we moved to the north side of Rome. We stayed there, in Italy, before we were granted entry visas into the United States.

During that time, it was a very difficult time for my family. You just kind of hung out. It was winter and it was cold. We lived on the Mediterranean, but the apartment that we were in didn't have any heat. It was a structure built to withstand the heat in the summer. That's normally when people come there.

So when we came there from Austria, I remember we had my mom, my dad, my grandma who was 75 and our dog and me. We had to find a place to live within 3 days. And unlike Austria where they we kind of holding our hands, and driving us showing us the apartment and where the stores were and all that stuff, in Italy they just kind of dumped us in the airport and said, "here's the address where you have to go. You have 3 days you can stay there. After that you're on your own for 3 months. This is where you come to get additional subsidy for money." Money to buy food and stuff like that. I remember my dad when we tried to get a place to live"¦ and Italy is very different than the majority of the rest of Europe because people don't really speak English there. So we didn't speak the language. I spoke English. My dad spoke a little bit of English at that time, but none of us spoke Italian. Somehow, miraculously we were supposed to, having very little money, to go and get an apartment. We knew nothing about how to get an apartment in Italy and my grandma was developing a sickness, she had heart disease, she was almost flipping out. My dad was starting to get very nervous that he would not be able to do it and we were very tired after the first month in Austria. It seemed as if you are going nowhere. You don't have a job lined up, you don't know where you're going or how it's all going to work out.

I remember my dad was just sitting like this with his hands on his head, saying "We're going to die here". And I think partly because I was 20 years old and the way I saw the whole thing was like it was a big adventure. I thought, "what do you mean "˜we're going to die'? Life was just beginning". So I think I had a very positive outlook on things, but that was the minute when I realized that if I'm not going to pull my family through, then nobody is going to do it. And it was up to me to find that apartment. Figure out how to do it. We didn't have a car; we had nothing. Somehow, by talking to other immigrants we found out that if you go to a certain market, which was maybe 20 or 30 miles away, there's actually Russian immigrants that gather there and other people know that. People who have apartments to rent to Russians would gather there as well. An exchange going on. We had to go there, so my dad and I went hitchhiking to that place (which is a story of its own because hitchhiking in Italy, well maybe in any country, when a young woman raises her hand to go hitchhiking only a certain kind of people would stop by to pick her up and the expect certain favors in return. So my dad and I had to scheme how to do all of this. So he would hide and I would raise my hand and cars would stop. Then my dad would come out and they would realize we were together and then the cars would leave. In about 3 hours, finally one car didn't leave and so we finally got to that market. I think it was a 20 or 30 minute drive. It wasn't really that far. So the first obstacle was overcome. I put a sign on my shoulder, "Looking for an apartment." and the parameters of what we were willing to pay, and we just started walking around. After a few hours of walking finally somebody came by and we sort of negotiated. It was a Russian who knew Italian and he worked as a middle-person between a pool of Italians who rented places to stay and Russians who were looking for places to stay. It was all doable, you know. But you kind of had to have some courage to just go through the motions and not give up. My dad was also worried because we had a dog. In Italy they don't particularly favor dogs. Some families do, but it's not like they were widely accepted. And being a Russian immigrant family looking for an apartment with a dog makes it much harder, so we had to lie about the dog. We didn't say anything about the dog. So we rented an apartment. The dog situation worked out eventually. Actually, the family that we rented the space from was very nice. They had a son and a daughter. We ended up being friends.

That was very scary. But that was one time, when I remember my dad sitting like this in that little temporary space "We're going to die here", and my mom crying and the dog barking and my grandma lying on the couch holding her heart. Oh my God, what the Hell? Since that moment and when we came to America, a lot of it was on me. Because I knew English, I was naturally the interpreter between my family and the rest of the world. And so I was actually very instrumental in that first few months. I really felt like I was carrying the family and that really made me mature very quickly.
End chapter 1