There is the Republican Party…The Democratic Party…The Libertarian Party. There were also The Federalist Party…The Whig Party…The Democratic-Republican Party…The Labor Party…The Know Nothing Party…The Tea Party. All known to those who studied American History. In addition there was The National Socialist Party…The Social Democratic Party…The Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics… “Etc., etc., etc.,” as Yul Brynner said in that unforgettable musical “The King & I”.
I despise all political labels, for although they may mean much, often they signify little, if anything. For one can be a Republican today, a Democrat tomorrow and who know what in the future. The complicated – to the foreigner – system political system has been warped in time. And no one knows how to straighten it out.
As individuals, we celebrate our independence as citizens, but most are malfeasance in duty and obligation to the nation at election time. How else can one explain that less that 20 percent vote in a district’s board of education elections? Less than 30 percent in state elections and only half of us will venture to the almighty polls in a Presidential election?
But oh how we will criticize the unfortunate one who is elected to that Oval Office.
We Americans are indeed political anomalies. We demand from our government: Creation of jobs when times are rough; unemployment benefits when jobs are e lost; and stopping those who would seek refuge here for political reasons, to preserve our way of life, forgetting that most of us are the children of those who fled tyranny. Did I forget to mention that government also must protect us from the psychopaths our society has produced.
Paradoxically, we ask more from our government yet accuse it of meddling in our private affairs.
In my lifetime I have known an America that asked for nothing but gave from its heart…until it hurt. I knew an America that would open the doors to my parents…“starving Armenians”…to the Irish…when the potato crops failed, to the Jews when Hitler came to power…to the Russian who fled first czar, then the communists.
There was always room around the table for one more in the America I love and loved.
But, now, not since the Civil War has this country been so divided; not since the Great Depression have we felt so insecure.
It is time to toss aside the politics of Left and the Right; of the Conservative and the Liberal, and use all our resources and strength to put this nation back to work. Not to do so would betray those young men and women who have fought so courageously for the flag. This nation, so unique among the nations of the world, has always rallied when challenged.
In the past, we felt secure that “the printed word was sacred,” that our leaders would find solutions to our problems. Nothing…literally nothing…appears to be sacred these days. Trust in our elected officials; our TV anchormen or women has waned.
We have become a society frustrated because those whom we trust have deceived us.
Where are the Will Rogers, the Edward R. Murrows, the Walter Cronkites, the Chet Huntleys and David Brinkleys, and the John Chancellors of yesteryear – men whose nightly newscasts you could trust. Where is the objectivity and unbiased reporting in today’s news? Truth and fact appear to have become victims of ratings and profit.
The trustworthiness of a leader does not depend upon his party affiliation, but upon his honesty and integrity seen through his accomplishments for the benefit of his fellow man.
It is notoriously and historically accepted that those seeking an elected need financing, will belittle, ridicule even slander and label, an opponent to enhance his chances of winning. It is called “Dirty Politics.” It is nothing new. However, the germ has spread throughout the country. There are those who are ill-informed and/or mentally unstable who believe they must act upon a suggestion to eradicate an imaginary threat to the nation. They act in sincere belief that it is for the good of the country and it is self-evidence after the heinous deed that the perpetrator is sick.
And, as some Americans fight the truths of logic by falsely labeling our leaders socialists and suggest they are Hitler and Stalin reincarnated, our national blindness continues. The fact remains that we are wasting vital resources, fighting illegal wars 3,000 miles from our shores, against an enemy who stays in the shadows, refuses to show itself knowing that our forces will eventually leave.
In the meantime, how many more of our children must we sacrifice to appease the gods of war and profit!
Ten years of battle is ten years too many. To fight a war against an enemy who can stroll amongst his kin and can escape through a labyrinth of defenses built by his ancestors down through the centuries is, if I may say, “dammed stupid.” The nation needs to bring our men and women home.
In one of his more prophetic sermons, Italian Girolama Savonarola, in 1496, noted, “The ass alone saw the angel, the others did not…so open your eyes…”
America open your eyes!
Weep, America, for we have lost all of our sense of fairness.
We reach for weapons to kill, instead of using the power of words to persuade, to seek compromise. We are all consumed with “our rights” instead of the “rights of all.” We have forgotten that man, in community, must give away some rights to enjoy the blessings of liberty.
Sick minds capture the headlines of our major newspapers, while those of the brilliant earn a paragraph or two on the inside pages.
And, indeed, magnanimity today in politics is rare. Seldom is there the smile and the laugh after the debate is over; rare is the handshake.
Our interests are not of fellow man but ourselves. Ignorance and little minds shout down those who have true wisdom to offer us and we are doomed, if the course is not soon changed, to return (if we have not already done so) to the savage wilderness.
We can’t govern our own people, yet are involved in an illegal war (wars) to show that we can govern those who are thousands of miles, oceans away from our shores. We dedicate millions – no, billions of dollars – to destroy, but refuse to give pennies to the clinics that can help our sick. We have washed our hands. Our conscience is clear, we rationalize, because we are on the side of righteousness and God. But our hearts know better. Our flag is dishonored and the world has turned its back upon us. I shall not repeat here what others have already said and written so eloquently about the recent senseless shootings in Tucson.
The guilt does not rest upon the shoulders of one sick man – it rests upon our society. Upon all Americans who have turned aside and closed their eyes to what is happening on the streets of America today. The so-called zealous advocates of democracy are as responsible for these deaths as he who planned and carried out the executions of these innocent patriots.
And we want to plant our form of government – our way of life – on foreign soil! God forbid.
Let me tell you what the word “American” once meant to those across the sea. I have told this story to the hundreds who have attended my talks from coast to coast.
In one of my first trips outside of Soviet Armenia, our basketball team traveled to Vilnius (Lithuania) to compete in the national championships. We were housed along with the Georgians, Azerbaijani, Kirgizias, and Kazakhstan teams in, what I believe was, a stable. Shortly after being assigned a bunk, one of my teammates said they were providing other accommodations for our team. A bus pulled up and the Armenian contingent was taken to the newly opened Vilnius Hotel. Later I asked why the change of heart. I was told, “Someone on our team informed the Lithuanian official that there was an American on our team.”
The mere mention of the word “American” was once awed throughout the world. That we once earned that respect few will deny. The tombstones of our martyred are found in every corner of this earth, and there need no further evidence of how courageous our men and women are and have been throughout the history of this nation.
Can we ever again regain that confidence, that pride that once we as Americans enjoyed? Shall we rekindle that American spirit so precious to us all, and hold high that torch of freedom whose glorious beam of hope and liberty were coveted by nations.
My faith has always been in American and Americans.
It will never change.
This is the land of my birth and it will be the land of my final resting place.
Many who fell for the Soviet propaganda and accepted an invitation by the Soviet government to repatriate felt betrayed.
The Soviet Constitution, Stalin’s Constitution of the 1930’s, by law guaranteed a Soviet citizen work, free medical care, and free education. That was the Soviets’ promise to those who would return.
Instead, those who went found hell: long lines for food, what food there was, unimaginable living conditions, nauseous and disgusting working conditions. Life in the former Soviet Union was beyond any American’s wildest imagination.
Even to this day – six decades later – I shudder to think of the life I lived as a Soviet citizen.
Now, I feel betrayed by Armenian scholars, some of whom lived under the fear of the communist state, who fail to recognize the Armenian Americans’ contributions to the repatriation program. And by not recognizing them they perpetuate the existing schism between the Motherland and the Diaspora.
In November of 1947, along with 150 other Armenian Americans I repatriated to Soviet Armenia. I lived in the republic and played basketball continuously for the next 13 years. A second group of Armenians from America of approximately the same number arrived in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia in March of 1949. Between us, Armenian Americans contributed millions of dollars in machinery, cars, trucks, tractors, refrigerators, and items that the Soviets never thought existed, to help rebuild the war-torn nation.
The repatriation program was conducted during a period of time when most of Europe was dying to come to the shores of the United States, seeking freedom and liberty from war-torn countries and their totalitarian dictators.
“America had the highest standard of living in the world. We gave it all up. We were going against the tide,” said Deran Tashjian, now living in Pasadena, CA. Tashjian, who became an outstanding Soviet track and field coach, coaching athletes to Olympic stardom, continued, “We had a lot to lose. And we lost it, especially our freedom.”
“I consider these Armenian Americans heroes,” said another surviving repatriate, who went with his family from Kenosha, WI. “They contributed so much, and asked so little. They repaid them, by exiling their fathers and mothers to Siberia…”
In mid-October I attended an International Academic Conference hosted by The Armenian Research Center, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Armenian scholars throughout the United States and Europe attended the conference which, without hesitation I would call a tremendous success.
But, a paper submitted by Professor Garen Khachatryan, of the Institute of History, National Science of Armenia, and presented during the first session, chaired by Kevork Bardakjian, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, noted the repatriation of Armenians from Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, France, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and then bunched the United States with “other countries”, not even mentioning it by name.
The Armenian repatriates from the United States contributed more to the wealth of that impoverished Soviet republic than all the others combined. And these American Armenians suffered the most, for they gave up the most!
The others took from the Soviets – we gave to them and received from them a slap in the face. No, not a “slap” but the basic denial of our freedom.
Although I, as did many others from the United States, wanted to return home, I was denied that right for 13 years. Some who tried were imprisoned.
It is my sincere opinion that it would be an injustice to adopt Professor Khachatryan’s paper, before it is amended to include the historic contributions by Armenian Americans to the Motherland.
In addition, in another session, I heard an advisor to the President of Armenia tell the group that government archives, as well as many others, have been opened for use for scholarly study. However, when I asked, “Have the KGB files been opened?” He responded immediately, “No. No. No.”
One of my repatriate friends told me of two Armenian Americans who went to Hyestan in 1949. They were Dashnaks and the Soviets sent them to Siberia before they could even get their things off the ship.
We depend on scholars, not only from Armenia, but all over the world to speak freely, but it seems that the cloak of communism still remains in some of the countries that were behind the Iron Curtain.
The Repatriate; Love, Basketball, and the KGB tells of Tom’s 13 years behind the Iron Curtain, 1947-1960, and is available from his website: www.TomMooradian.com
I am an American.
I am but one voice in a chorus of a millions who I feel betrayed by those we have entrusted with the awesome responsibility of representing us in government. I know that some – thank goodness it is but a minority – have abused that power, but, in general the character of Congress is strong and healthy.
America is the envy of the world.
This incessant Congressional bickering has drained the national energy of the people. Unemployment today is unparalleled in the history of the United States (Since there are more Americans today than during the Great Depression of 1929, the numbers are greater) and we, the people, want answers from Washington but instead are, because of the inertia, getting a litany of excuses and finger-pointing. It seems that it has become a practice of those sitting in Congress to work to bring down the opposite party’s program(s) or opponent(s) by the age-old use of innuendos and smear campaigns.
And, while Washington burns, our citizens, many of whom have already lost their homes, have their arms stretched out, seeking, begging alms.
Instead of solutions, our lawmakers provide us with gibberish, babble, and bosh. Some day one may even say, “Let them eat cake”.
And we, the people, thought that we had elected officials who would protect our hard-earned savings, protect our jobs, and protect the rights and liberty of the citizens as guaranteed by our Constitution.
The spirit-broken people feel betrayed by those who proclaimed as they campaigned for office, that when elected, they would provide solutions to our malaise. Why is it that the party usually out of office seems to have the solutions to what ails us, but once in office fails to implement them, and do not fulfill their campaign pledges.
As an Armenian American, who has lived in Soviet Armenia, I, and my countrymen, know what broken promises are. Our spokespeople have asked the current President on more than one occasion why he has broken his campaign promise that he would acknowledge, by resolution, that the 1915 slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire was genocide.
The worsening economic and living conditions of Americans caused by the irreconcilable differences between the two major parties has given rise to extremist groups who paint the President as a “Hitler”, a “Stalin” and use disinformation to rally the people to their cause.
There are Tea Parties and Tax Rebellions and “neo-this” and “neo-that” groups springing up everywhere. There are even those who still advocate the inalienable rights of the states. They have resurrected Jefferson Davis as their god, maintaining the remedy to our problems can be found in the doctrine of succession. They believe that it would have been a far, far better thing if these United States were severed into many nations, and that each state solves its own problems. That each of the fifty states is sovereign. The argument of the inalienable rights of the people, of the state continues long after the war has ended.
Incredulous, you say. Then read some of the hullabaloo that is being projected on the Internet these days. Of those who would even dare entertain that position let it be asked the questions, “Which State would have defeated Hitler?”, “Which of the states would have stopped Stalin?” Would it have been better for this nation, or for the world, if these United States had not existed? I do not think so.
Our memories are not so short that we have forgotten what occurred in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ancient and historic racial hatred between the smaller countries within the USSR or under the Soviet sphere, which had been given their independence, resurfaced: Armenia and Azerbaijan crossed swords over Karabakh, lands inhabited by Armenians for centuries but given as a gift by Stalin to Azerbaijan for their loyalty; Georgia sent troops to quell a rebellion by South Ossetia, which brought the Russian Federation on to the battlefield; the demise of the Czechoslovakia Republic triggered a altercation between the Czechs, the Slovaks, and Tito’s Yugoslavia disappeared from the maps and was piecemealed after bloody wars between the local Serbs – Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro have kept mapmakers busy redrawing the boundary lines. Russia and the Ukraine, the Serbs and the Croatians, etc., etc., etc. have again resurfaced.
The weak look to the United States for protection; and the strong need no protection.
I believe, as most Americans, in a strong federal government, a government that has the right to raise taxes so that it can maintain a strong military force, to protect our Republic from our enemies. Our freedom – and the world, in general – is secured only if the United States remains strong. It is not fear that we must fear, but ourselves.
The scene being played out in Washington, if it were not so tragic, is comical. We have one senator – the strikeout king, Senator Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) holding up a bill that would put food on the table for millions of unemployed, but he would approve going to war in Iraq and Iran and he would put his vote for trillions to bail out those greedy money-baggers on Wall Street.
I would never want Bunning to go to bat for me. I have personally seen him strike out too many times when he wore the beloved uniform of a Detroit Tiger. If there was anyone who help bring about the DH (Designated Hitter) rule in the American Baseball League it was Jim Bunning.
If we, the people, do not confront those whose malignant craft is to smear and slander those we have empowered by our vote to lift us out of this Depression, then truly the Republic will die.
The mighty challenges of the day are no greater that those faced by Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Reagan, and the challenges, in due course, will be met and conquered by those we, the people, have empowered to represent us. We will, as one people, find the remedies that will cure the malaise that has stricken us.
And, we will do this because we are a great people. We are a great nation. No nation in the history of civilization has had so many talented and dedicated citizens as these United States.
As I have noted, I am but one voice but, together, we are the voices who have been heard down through the ages. We are the people.
And, as one people we will restore the dignity and the honor of our nation, that soon our children may again return to the path that leads them to a future that once we, too, enjoyed, thanks to our fathers.
There was a flush of questions that immediately dominated my thoughts as I listened to the woman’s voice on the other end of the telephone.
“This is the Shirley Temple look-alike, you wrote about in your book,” the voice said. It was a voice I had not heard for more than a half of a century. “And I want you to know that I do not have blue eyes; they are brown.”
Before my burst of questions to the caller began, she identified herself as Christine Karibian. “I loved your book, especially your description of me, but for the record my eyes are brown and not blue.” Christine went on to say that she had heard I would be appearing in the Providence area, and that she and her friends would definitely be attending the talk. Unfortunately, her brother, the lanky, sandy-haired Michael, would not. He had passed away in the USSR several years ago.
Christine and Michael were among the youngest of the Armenian American repatriates. Their father, Harry, and mother, Jean, who was of Polish descent, left Detroit in 1947 to live in Soviet Armenia. Christine’s father unsuccessfully attempted to get his family out of the USSR and was arrested after leaving the US Embassy in Moscow. He was tried and convicted as an “enemy of the state”.
“Dad survived the gulag,” Christine said. “In fact, he and mom actually made it back to the States. When you get here I’ll tell you the whole story.”
Christine married an Armenian American repatriate, Ara Lafian, and they had two children while in Armenia. The Lafians made it back to the United States and settled in Rhode Island.
It would be my first of seven talks in California that I would give on The Cold War and my recently published book, “The Repatriate: Love Basketball and the KGB”. Our first stop was Mission Hills, a serene senior citizens community that has a notable museum, the Ararat Eskijian, on its spacious and plush site.
After describing some of the hardships that Soviets and Armenian American repatriates faced daily, the long bread lines, the night vigils at stores waiting for them to open in hopes of finding sugar or butter or any edible items in the morning to place on the table for their families, I spotted an elderly woman in the crowd with tears in her eyes. I continued with my talk, though I paused briefly to tell the woman that my story did have a happy ending – that I actually survived 13 years in the USSR. She smiled, but one could see torment on her face.
I was not there to arouse anger, or pity, or any other emotion…I was there to provide information about a group of 151 Armenian Armenians who in 1947 made history by returning to their ancestral lands, controlled by the Soviets at the time, to help rebuild a war-torn nation, a nation that was, incidentally, an ally to the USA during World War II.
“There was a lot of disinformation spread on both sides of the Atlantic,” I told the gathering. “The US was also eager to stop the repatriation of Armenians to a country with which it was now locked in an ideological war. I produced an article published in 1951 in a prominent Armenian publication that noted that the Soviets seized from Armenian Americans all their cars, refrigerators, stoves, and valuable possessions upon landing on Soviet soil. That was not true.
“But, after a month in the Soviet Union, living in fear of the secret police, and hungry, most repatriates would have gladly given up all of their possessions if the Soviets would have granted them exit visas.”
Shortly after my talk, the woman whose eyes betrayed her emotions, came up to me, hugged and kissed me on my cheeks – a typical Armenian greeting. She apologized for interrupting the talk, “You see, Mr. Mooradian, I was 11 at the time. My father had also decided to take us on that first ship, but my mother told him he could go but she and her two daughters would not leave America. We stayed here. I have heard many rumors and stories about what happened, but you have given me a first-hand account. I thank God that we stayed here. And I truly am sorry or what you and the others had to go through.”
It was Churchill who noted that facts are better than dreams.
For we can dream all we want of jobs, or a national health care program, or financial security, or peace, if we do not work for those ends, it just won’t happen.
To hope is good, but the word is too subjective. I can pray all I want to God for peace, but the fact is there is no peace. The 20th Century was one of the most violent centuries since man recorded history; and the 21st is shaping up to being no better. We have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for more years than we were in World War I or even World War II.
And to make it clear – I detest war as most men and women do. Death comes too soon in life to hasten it in battle.
Though I have heard during my fourscore and one years many false prophets preach of a “Judgment Day” for the evil and a Resurrection Day for the merciful, I have seen neither. So those who have died for the causes…the “isms”, for liberty, for equality, for fraternity and for their national security have apparently died in vain.
There is no justifiable reason to go to war, not even if it is a so-called “humanitarian operation”.
If by “we” means to place American lives in jeopardy, I say no…a thousand times “no”. Have we not sacrificed enough of our young men and women upon the altar of war? The world has long forgotten those who sacrificed their lives at Verdun and the Somme and Amiens and Normandy and El Alamein and Stalingrad, and Dien Bien Phu – to list but a few. Those millions of lives lost – on both sides of the battle lines – were lives of the young and our finest – what unfulfilled missions did they have before the fatal bullet struck them down? Which of those brave lads was the one destined to find the cures for our cancers, to create undersea and ocean apartment complexes – what were they destined to do before they were called to arms?
Isn’t it time for man to abandon violence as a means to settle disagreements?
Given a microphone to ask a question, one student at one of my recent talks, Schoolcraft College, Livonia, Michigan, said, “Mr. Mooradian, I have served in Iraq. Do not be confused. We are not there for the people. We are there for our buddies: to protect him and hopefully for him to protect me.”
Another student raised the question, “Should we not intervene to stop those in power from mass murdering ethnic groups?”
Strange, isn’t it – that that question should be asked of an Armenian author whose mother, at the age of 10, watched as a Turk plunged a saber into the belly of her pregnant older sister and saw the Turks slaughter her mother and father after they burned down their home in the village of Ererzum. Where was the United States? Where was France and England and Russia then? They stood by and asked the Christian Armenians to pray…
But then Armenians did not have oil.
To those who believe in intervention, let the United Nations – not the United States – act. After all, was not that the purpose of the framers of the United Nations charter…to establish a government body that would immediately act against those who would commit crimes against humanity.
“They don’t have the power…or the forces…to do so,” you say.
Then give them the power and the resources.
And, I will repeat what I have told the now thousands who have heard me, “If man cannot live on earth in peace, then damn it, we do not deserve to live on earth!”
I did not anticipate, nor was I prepared to immediately answer, the question. Over the years the memory of the events had been relegated to the farthest corners of my mind. It would take time to recall the story. And one thing a speaker doesn’t have when facing a group is time.
I had been on a coast-to-coast talking tour to promote my book, The Repatriate: Love, Basketball, and the KGB. This particular event was sponsored by AGBU/Chicago.
A petite, Victorian-dressed, French-speaking Armenian in Chicago had asked in a patois, consisting mostly of French and English and Armenian words, “Whatever became of the French women who had repatriated in 1947? I was to go with them,” she continued, “but at the final hour our family decided not to go.”
I pondered the question, as she provided me time and stirred my memory, “You mentioned in your book that there were French odars (non-Armenians) married to Armenians living across from where you lived. Do you know if they ever got out of the Soviet Union?”
Her distinctive accent led me back in time, to Kalinin Street, to the courtyard and the communal cistern where we would wash, brush our teeth, and chat with our neighbors. It was there on a daily basis the French and the Americans would pause and chat. Never behind closed doors for it would draw suspicion and possibly a visit from the secret police.
I had stored so many of those events away that it took several seconds to search my memory and recall what had happened. I told her the following story:
The French Armenians, especially the French women, were the most courageous of our lot, I began. In public, they were a silent, struggling hard to feed their family, and washing clothes at the cistern where they managed to learn some of their Armenian.
Then, an unprecedented chain of events in 1956 placed these French women in the international spotlight. In February, during the 20th Session of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev unmasked Stalin for his crimes, and within weeks it appeared that the Iron Curtain had dissipated. Later that year, French Premier Guy Mollet, and his Foreign Minister Christian Pineau were invited to visit Moscow to discuss with the Soviet Premier and other top Soviet officials the future relations between the two countries.
Pineau, I had been told (but I can’t find any supporting information to the rumor), was born in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. During a social evening, the French foreign minister apparently expressed a desire to visit “the city of his birth” and Soviet Minister Anastas Mikoyan informed him that that could be arranged. Little did Mikoyan realize at the time that he had opened up a Pandora’s Box.
News that the two top French diplomats planned to pay Yerevan a visit reached Soviet Armenia before their plane’s motors were even warmed up in Moscow. Scores of French Armenian repatriates prepared an unprecedented greeting at the airport and there would be no stopping them.
In the meantime, the French women were busy at home planning their own party. Their greeting went beyond the wildest thoughts of the KGB. During the evening, the women had come together to sew blue, white, and red cloth – the tricolors of the French Flag and made banners, embracing “Liberte”, “Equalite”, and “Fraternite”. Arm-in-arm the following evening, they marched down Abovian Street, the main thoroughfare of the capital, to the Intourist Hotel, where the distinguished diplomats were staying.
Confronted by the secret police and ordered to disband, the women stood their ground, and began to sing the “Marseilles”, the French national anthem. The commotion and the song reached the ears of the French diplomats who appeared at the balcony of the hotel, and looking upon a sea of faces below, most in tears as they sang, were moved by the crowd.
It is said that Pineau apparently rushed down to the street and met with the women. One stepped forward and said, “We are French. We want to return to our homeland. The Soviets have refused to allow us to go.”
The shocked Socialist Foreign Minister listened to her, and to the others who presented their grievances. The French Premier vowed he would help. And apparently did. The French would be the first to return to their homeland. There would be many, many others.
I believe I was the first of 300 Armenian Americans who would leave the USSR. And I also am convinced that if it were not for these courageous French women none of the rest of us would have been granted exit visas.
It is rather interesting to note that only one – just one – Armenian American, who had married a Russian and raised a family there, remained behind when he had an opportunity to get out Tragically the one who didn’t return home would, in the years to come, succumb in the disaster the world would know as “Chernobyl”.
I was hungry. My stomach craved, demanded food or it would definitely rebel. And there were no rest rooms or toilet facilities on the court adjacent to the building where I was assigned to teach.
I had had my stove-toasted, sawdust-filled, black bread early in the morning before I raced to my coaching job at the Pioneer’s Palace. I had taught two classes and it was now noon, and I had nothing to eat. I sat there on a tree stump waiting for my third and last class of the day to assemble, and wondered how I would make it through the day. The cold and refreshing water from the spring-fed stream by the Ararat had nourished me, but how much more water could it take. My stomach grumbled and rumbled and if I had to demonstrate another drive-in lay-up, I am sure that the water would squirt out like a water pistol.
My God how I missed my mother’s cooking; how I missed America. My country was my soul, and I had sold it to the devil.
I sat there in agony. It was my second year in the USSR. How many more would pass before the Soviets would open the door?
Could ‘they’ be watching me? Couldn’t they see that I was not ‘a sleeper’? Didn’t they know I had no secret means to exist; no American contacts? That I was but a young foolish fool?
They’d questioned me; they have released me. Was this their punishment? I would prefer death to starvation.
I looked up, there was a white-haired, elderly woman with a white flock standing before me.
“My son…my son…” she said. “Here, take this. Eat. Eat. We have been watching you. You look weak. And hungry.” She was one of the cooks who was charged with feeding the infants and the children at a nearby kindergarten (magabardez).
I could not accept the food. I knew it was meant for the children. But I thanked her.
She looked at me and said, “You must eat. You don’t have the strength to work. And I pray that wherever my son is, some mother will make sure he, too, is fed.”
I accepted the dish graciously. It was pilaf, a traditional rice dish, and made just as my mother would have.
The Soviets lost five million troops and more than 20 million civilians in their war against the Nazis. I would eventually learn that no family would be sparred and each would mourn in silence.
I had quickly learned to hate Stalin and the communists and what they stood for, but the people… the Soviet people were the most generous and courageous I have ever known.
I was sitting alone in one of the pews of our church, in Spruce, Michigan, thumbing through the Bible, pausing to read from Isaiah. I was in a rare, melancholy mood, built up over the weeks by staging several ‘book talks’. I sought my escape in this sanctum, instead of joining most of the members of our congregation who strolled into the “coffee room” to enjoy baked goods, tea, and coffee provided by various members of the church.
I opted instead for the serenity, the quietness of the sanctuary.
My wife was busy carrying out the myriads of tasks she had volunteered for, and I did not expect to hear from her, so I was surprised when someone tapped me on my shoulders during my mediation. I turned to find one of the pillars of the church standing behind me. She immediately apologized for interrupting my thoughts, and informed me there were two elderly gentlemen “downstairs who would like to meet me.”
“They wondered if you would join them,” she said quite nervously. I immediately replied that I would only be happy to meet the gentlemen.
She led me to the gentlemen and introduced them, for I had not known them. One immediately asked, “Are you the one who wrote The Repatriate?” I nodded that I was the author of the book and waited for the criticism.
These were the elderly statesmen of the church, very conservative, and I sensed that they were about to blast me for praising Nikita Khrushchev, the man who took over the USSR shortly after Stalin’s death. Or would they take issue with me for including “sex” in the book. One of the members of the congregation had informed me that she refused to read the book because she had heard from others about the illicit sexual context and encounters that I incorporated in the text.
Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when one of these gentlemen said, “I just want to say that I truly enjoyed the book.” He added, “It validated what I always believed…not only of the bread lines and food shortages in that country, but the cruelty and the oppressiveness of the Soviet government. I just wanted to thank you for writing the book.”
I thanked him for the compliment.
“I hope,” said the other man, “you don’t stop there. Please write about your life after you returned from the USSR. I am sure the readers would be interested on how you adjusted and what our government had to say.”
I told him that I am presently at work on the second book and hoped to be finished by mid-summer of 2010.