My Immigration

Story posted on August 3, 2009 at 5:15 PM

We were afraid to leave, but even more we feared to stay...
We had our first denial in 1982 and in 1987 resumed our efforts. This time everything was fine, except that I was immediately fired and they threatened not to allow my son to leave until he had served three years in the army. We were told directly - “Do not worry; he will not get from the army alive...”

Nevertheless, the times were changing. We burned all bridges and called the American Senate, Vienna Conference and all our friends who settled already in the US. The pressure was growing and after all, the District Military Commissar (an official in charge for enlisting of the youth to the army) came to our neighbor (we secluded ourselves in a refuge outside of the city) complaining that somebody called him “from the organs (the term “organs” equally refer to the human reproductive system and KGB) he was embarrassed to name” asking, if we were still in Odessa.

The spring of 1988.
Finally, the green exit visas to Israel are received in exchange for the red Soviet passports. The OVIR officials staged the process as a civil execution – after we paid for submitting the passports, they were solemnly shredded in front of us. We shed tears… happy tears. Moreover, after surrendering our citizenship we automatically were upgraded from the status of the second class Soviet citizens to the privileged class of the foreigners. They separated us from the general herd as if we were contagious with Zionist ideas, and send us to wait for the flight Moscow – Odessa in a special waiting room provided for the foreign tourists, where the first time in our lives we could have a peek into a hard-currency store.

We were leaving Odessa on a very significant day – April 10th. So it was a double dip – the Day of Odessa Liberation from the Nazi occupation and our personal Liberation Day from the Soviet regime. I vaguely remember the last days before departure. Endless ordeal of going to different offices, filling out dozens of questionnaires, visiting museum to get permission to take with us a picture my father drew when he was sixteen, and permanent extortion from everybody who felt like that. And only a very lazy person did not use the chance to get something from a leaving Jew...I remember a visit to the Customs with a question, if silverware was allowed. They said yes, and of course they lied. But the friends were the saddest issue. Last meetings, promises to write… At that time, when one was leaving, it was forever...Finally we find ourselves at the Moscow airport Customs. We – it is ten people and twenty bags and suitcases. The Custom officers started working thoroughly with great experience of humiliation and inintimidation. Carefully placed trousers, shirts, underwear flew from the open suitcases. No counterrevolutionary or anti-Soviet literature, however, suddenly the proud protector of the Motherland’s borders dug out a parcel of the silver spoons and forks.

- Aha! Smuggling out the valuables! You will be fined...
And he barked out a sum we never had in our pockets even in better times. It is clear that no references to the orally given permission of the Odessa Customs had any effect. The silverware was confiscated and we paid fine in an amount we could pay, but which left us with almost no money. Still another result was that I started to shake.

Literally, as in a fever – from anger, helplessness, and hatred to everything symbolized by this moron in the uniform. My wife noticed my condition and started quietly calming me down:
- Calm down, calm down, will you? Big deal, spoons and forks, we’ll survive… However, the Custom officer made a conclusion of his own. He assumed that if I was so nervous, I had something much more valuable than silver and in a second I found myself in a circle of soldiers leading me to a destination unknown. Then the officer explained his intentions and not only I calmed down, but I was absolutely elated by what was going to happen.

- You will be taken to a room for a personal search. You will be stripped down...

I calmed down because they could not find anything, simply because I did not have anything. And elated I was because… obediently bending my body to allow the Soviet officer the best view of my lower part, I could not help thinking that while I was looking forward to my future, he and in his person all hateful regime, was looking into his.

In an hour the plane took off and we left the country, where we were born, but which did not become our Motherland.

The people ask me frequently, how long it took me to adapt to a new country, new environment, new way of life. I always answer the truth – a fraction of a second, when the plane crossed the state border, I completely adapted and became free. However, in fact I realized our disconnection with the past, when I was taking a picture of my son in Italy with a Pisa Tower in the background. Just to think of it: familiar from the childhood by the pictures in the history books and inaccessible as Martian mountains, its leaning outline was growing in twenty yards from us...It was at this moment when I finally understood – we escaped!