Childhood

I was born at the most inconvenient time—July 15, 1941. Mother told me (during the only interview I ever videotaped of her) that I was born in the middle of an air raid, bombs falling, horrible noise outside, and she begged the midwife to take me away. ''Please, please! Take her to a bomb shelter.''

The midwife placed me in my mother's arms and said, ''I'm not taking her away from you. You two have one fate. Whatever happens, you must be together.''

For a long time I did not know who my grandparents were. Mother's passport gave her birthplace as Kaunas, in Lithuania. Later, my mother admitted that she was born in Moscow.

''Then why does it say Kaunas on your passport?''

''Because my parents were wealthy people. If it said Moscow, everyone would understand that I came from a rich family. Only rich Jews were given permission to live in Moscow. Your grandmother 'corrected' my documents by bribing the authorities.''

An interesting detail: Before the revolution, my grandmother had a safe-deposit box in a bank where she kept her jewelry. When the Bolsheviks took over and it became clear that they were there to stay, she wanted to retrieve it. But this was easier said than done. To get it, she had to ''convince'' the guard, a Red Army soldier, to help her.

She told him, ''If you get it for me, I'll give you half.'' He didn't argue. He got the box, and he got his share.

So even at the euphoric idealistic height of the revolution, there were no incorruptibles. Mother's story was a revelation to me. All my life I had been taught about the fighters for the grand idea, and it turned out that, in every age, money was stronger than any idea.

My mother's parents lost their civil rights for being part of the ''exploiting'' classes. Before the revolution, they had owned a small factory on Ordynka

Street (Mother pointed out the building to me later), which was of course nationalized. Grandmother and Grandfather stayed on there, I think as bookkeepers. The first few years after the revolution were very hard for them. When Lenin in 1922 instituted nep, the New Economic Policy, which allowed limited free enterprise to improve the economy devastated by the revolution, the workers voted to make Grandfather the managing director again, and he was reinstated. They liked him. He was a kind and good man. I think he was also too easygoing. Grandmother was the one with a strong personality, and she ran things. During nep the family got back on its feet, but in 1929 Stalin reversed the policy, and they found themselves deprived again.

Grandmother managed to get orders for sewing brassieres. The whole family depended on her income. There were three children: my mother; her brother Borya, three years older; and her brother Mark, the oldest. Mark died in 1920 of tuberculosis, which he contracted during years of starvation; they couldn't save him. Grandfather helped Grandmother sew brassieres, without complaining. By then he was a broken man and couldn't take a step without her. The revolution had clipped his wings. I never saw him. He was evacuated in 1941 to the Urals along with my uncle Borya, and he died there.

Mother was never able to join the Komsomol (the Communist Youth League) or the Party. I think she really wanted to. She belonged to those who really believed in the Communist idea, a ''non-Party Bolshevik.'' But she couldn't apply. The authorities would have checked her past and found what she was trying to hide.

Mother played piano when she was a little girl. She adored music and wanted to become a pianist. But at the age of fourteen she strained her hands from overplaying and had to give up music. After graduating from high school, she worked during the day as a translator and took evening courses at the Institute of Foreign Languages. Later she took courses at gitis (the State Institute of Theater Arts) but continued working. The family needed her income; they could barely make ends meet.

Mother, like Father, was a real workaholic; she could not exist without work. I spent my childhood waiting for her to finish writing her doctoral dissertation, ''Shakespeare on the English Stage.'' Mother wrote and rewrote it right up to her defense. She taught theater history in Moscow and in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. There things were easier—you were farther away from the political bosses in Moscow, which meant that you had a little more freedom. She published several books, her last, Theater Collections of France, just before her death.

Before the war, Mother had worked as head of the literary section at Mi-khoels's Jewish Theater. She said that in 1940, when Mikhoels returned from a trip to Odessa, he had told her, ''Well, Nina, now they've started official state anti-Semitism.''

I remember her story of how in 1918, in the very beginning of the Soviet era, when internationalism was one of the main Bolshevik slogans, Grandmother had met a friend, an elderly rabbi on the street.

''You'll see,'' he said, ''a little time will pass, and then they'll blame the Jews for all of Russia's woes.''

As befits a rabbi, he was wise. After the war, in 1946, Mother went to Lithuania. She wanted to know how her relatives were doing. It turned out that they had all been killed in the Holocaust.

At the beginning of the war, they were going to draft Father into the people's defense units (not the regular army but ill-equipped ''volunteers''). He came home and started packing. The house was in mourning. So many great minds, talents, and unique specialists (for example, Yuri Kondratiuk, after whom the Americans have named a crater on the moon) died stupidly and uselessly in the people's defense of Moscow. The same fate probably awaited my father, but Pavel Vasilyevich Kozlov, the director of nikei, came to the rescue.

''Evsei Mikhailovich! We can't manage without you,'' he said. ''I got you an exemption.''

Kozlov depended fully on my father, whom he respected and valued. Father was a very active person, a wonderful organizer and manager. Things would have been tough for the institute without him, especially during the expected evacuation of the institute away from the endangered capital. Father got the institute ready to go within a few days and organized the move of staff and equipment to Samarqand, a town in Uzbekistan.

Mother, who was working in the Repertory Committee then, went with me, Grandmother, and my nanny to Tashkent. We were leaving just when Moscow was in a panic, with everyone expecting the Germans to enter the city momentarily. It was a madhouse. The station platforms were overcrowded, making it impossible to get to the trains. The well-known screenwriter Iossif Prut, later told me how he had passed me to my mother through the train win-dow—we didn't have a sleeper reserved but managed to squeeze into the club car.

It took a week to get to Tashkent. Mother later told me that she didn't understand how I survived. It was terribly cold in the train, everyone was sick, and so was I. But she breast-fed me, and that must have saved me.

We lived in a tiny room with one mattress for Mother, Grandmother, and my nanny. I was living and sleeping in a wardrobe that had been pushed to one side of the floor. I actually learned to stand and to walk in that wardrobe.

Throughout my childhood, I had only one doll, a cloth monkey my mother had made for me when I was eighteen months old. I lived with that monkey until I was around ten.

Father visited us rarely, and I almost never saw him. In late 1943 we all returned to Moscow. This is when I really started remembering things.

I remember clearly: the room is dark, the kerosene lamp is lit, and Father holds me close, gives me a kiss, and says, ''Well, so long, my little girl.'' That was February 1945. He was on his way to Germany, to bring back film equipment the Russian army had confiscated. I remember the scratchy warmth of his overcoat—he wore a colonel's uniform then. Later that coat with its insignias hung in the closet of our dacha for a long time. Father wore it when he dug potatoes.

When we returned from Tashkent, we found strangers living in our apart-ment—they had broken in and were squatting there. There was nothing left of our things. Mother had to battle with the squatters for a long time. At last they were forced to leave and given other housing. Besides us, there were other relatives in our apartment—Father's sister, Rita, whose husband had been executed in 1938, and her daughter, my cousin Innochka.

There was absolutely nothing in the house. Mother didn't take anything with her from our place in Tashkent, because she was sure that everything we needed was back home. Father brought two suitcases from Germany—dresses for mother and, for me, all kinds of trifles. A month after our return, my parents took me for a walk, and when we came back, the apartment was completely ransacked. Even the old furniture they had managed to buy was gone. Only one thing was left: a pair of tiny scissors Father had brought back from Germany. I kept them with me always. When they were stolen with my wallet in 1990 in Vienna, I treated it as a tragedy. It was the only surviving piece from my early childhood.

Father began traveling frequently to work in Leningrad. People could buy beautiful antique furniture there. It was usually damaged, but Father bought it anyway. He loved old furniture, and he either restored it himself or hired specialists to make it look like new. He even restored an old antique clock, a trade he had learned from his father, who had been a watchmaker. Grandfather had died in 1915 of delirium tremens, which was probably the reason why my father never took a single drink throughout his life.

The second day that I remember well was Victory Day. I still can picture the fountains all around and the blinding sunshine. I am jumping up and down at the sink, splashing water and shouting, ''Victory! Victory!''

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