Tuesdays With Moisi ~10

Our Pop’s story continued…

This is our Pop’s story dictated verbally by him a few years ago. I’ll be sharing excerpts every Tuesday. When I add to his story or explain a photo I will Italicize my words. Our Pop’s words will not be italicized. Our mom does not come into Pop’s story until “Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9” even though I’ve posted photos of her before #9. I have very few photos from our parents’ life in Russia and Persia. At the end of my Tuesday posts I’ll add links to all the other posts.

Our mom here with her friend Zena. She got into big trouble with her father when he saw this photo of her with lipstick on.

When the harvest was finished, on a Sunday afternoon after church, Nadia and I took a walk in the forest.  It was then that I confessed my love for her and asked her to marry me. She told me to ask her mother. But I wanted to know from her – would she marry me if permission was granted.  She said she’d think about it. I told her that as her husband I would do anything she wanted. By this time we had returned back to where she was staying. Nadia did ask her mother but she replied that this decision was her father’s.  Nadia relayed that message to me. That was good enough for me – so far.

Our Pop, Moisi, with our uncle Paul, the future brother-in-law he went to town with.

The next day I, with my brother-in-law, had to go into town to take care of some business.  On the way I told him that I was getting engaged to Nadia and was going to telegraph her father to come to the wedding.  According to Russian custom whenever someone was met with good fortune, he had to treat his friends. This was called mahareech.  So when we went to lunch at a local restaurant, I bought a bottle of Iran’s finest fire water along with the lunch. As we were eating, a buddy of ours from our village happened into the restaurant.  Seeing the bottle on the table he asked what the occasion was. My brother-in-law explained that I was getting engaged to a city girl. He couldn’t believe my good fortune and so ordered another bottle and joined us.  So after eating lunch and downing two bottles of alcohol, we three were definitely two sheets to the wind. We headed for the telegraph office. The telegram my future father-in-law received went something like this: “Papa, please hurry and come to my wedding: Nadia.”

You can just imagine his reaction.  He went to his friends and acquaintances to try and find out what was going on.  He couldn’t believe his daughter would send such a telegram and was quite offended that she would do something like this without his permission.  Of course he could not know that she had nothing to do with the telegram.

Realizing there wasn’t much he could do about the situation from Tehran, he came out to our village.  For some reason there were quite a few of my contemporaries who were against our marriage. So when he arrived, he was met with a barrage of gossip claiming that I was unfit for marriage, I couldn’t have children, I wasn’t a Christian, etc., etc.  But Nadia and I stood firm in our commitment to each other.

I’m adding this photo of the Shvetzov and Katkov families because it’s one of the only photos I have of our maternal grandfather. He is seated next to our Babushka on the right. He was killed in Persia after my mother and father immigrated to the U.S. Later our grandmother immigrated with our Uncle Paul and Aunt Nina (they are standing behind my grandparents in this photo far right). Zena, who was in the first photo in this post is in the back row on the left holding her daughter Tamara. She married a Katkov. The Shvetzov and Katkov families all immigrated to the U.S. and we remained close going to the same church and future marriages intertwined our two families closer together. Our Aunt Nina was one of the Katkov girls. The three young girls in this photo are the only ones still alive in the southern California area. My cousin Alex who is standing between my maternal grandmother and grandfather (Uncle Paul and Aunt Nina’s oldest son) was killed tragically in a car accident in 1979. His three siblings, our cousins, who were born after our aunt and uncle and Alex immigrated are still living in southern California and Florida. Our babushka and babushka Manya, sitting next to her, lived out their lives as widows in apartments next door to each other in Los Angeles, a few doors down from our Russian Baptist church. 

This is a photo of our babushka Vera and Babushka Manya Katkov in the United States.

Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9

Our Pop’s story continued…

This is our Pop’s story dictated verbally by him a few years ago. I’ll be sharing excerpts every Tuesday. When I add to his story or explain a photo I will Italicize my words. Our Pop’s words will not be italicized. Our mom does not come into Pop’s story until “Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9” even though I’ve posted photos of her before #9. I have very few photos from our parents’ life in Russia and Persia. At the end of my Tuesday posts I’ll add links to all the other posts.

Our mom with her cousin Luba.

Nineteen forty-one saw the start of World War II and as a result, demand for wheat grew and we began to prosper.  In 1943, I began to seriously think of marriage and started looking for a suitable mate. One of my sister’s-in-law came from Teheran to give birth in our town because her mother was there.  I was assigned the duty of escorting her and her baby back to Teheran. When I was there I became acquainted with the local young people. Two girls among them caught my eye – Nina Katkov and Nadia Shvetzov.  At that time I mentally picked Nina for myself and Nadia for my friend. Of course this was unbeknownst to them and so I returned home and told my friend of all that had transpired.

Our Mom in the 1940’s.

In May of 1943 the harvest was just beginning and it just so happened, within a few weeks of my return home, that Nina came with her folks and Nadia with her mom to participate in the harvest.  This suited me just fine. The day they came, I happened to be at home and not in the fields because I had hurt my leg. Their first stop upon arrival was our neighbor’s house. They came outside to wash up a bit after their journey – there was no indoor plumbing in those days.  I went next door, brought water from the well and poured it on their hands. Out came Nadia from the house, extended her hands to be watered, and smiled at me. That was it. Her smile rendered Nina a distant memory.

During the harvest, about four or five families worked as a group.  Lots would be cast as to what order each farm would be harvested. Each group worked for a specific farm.  The owners would feed us, and in general the work was quite pleasant. Since many of the workers were young singles of marriageable age, serious courting took place in the evenings.  Protracted individual dating was unknown back then. In those two summer months following that particular harvest, twelve marriages took place. I remember that some of these marriages did not do well primarily because of the immaturity of both bride and groom.

This is our mom with her brother Paul in Persia before she and Pop were married. Our mom’s brother Paul ended up marrying Nina and the next photo is from their wedding which occurred after my parents immigrated to the United States. I’m including this photo since Nina was mentioned in this part of Pop’s story. Nina ended up being our pop’s sister-in-law, our aunt.

In Persia on wedding days one of the customary photos taken was of the couple that just got married with all their single relatives and friends. Next to my uncle Paul is Luba who is also in the top photo with my mom when they were younger.

Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 8

Our Pop’s story continued…

This is our Pop’s story dictated verbally by him a few years ago. I’ll be sharing excerpts every Tuesday. When I add to his story or explain a photo I will Italicize my words. Our Pop’s words will not be italicized. Our mom does not come into Pop’s story until “Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9” even though I’ve posted photos of her before #9. I have very few photos from our parents’ life in Russia and Persia. At the end of my Tuesday posts I’ll add links to all the other posts.

The photo above is of our mom and some of her friends in Iran. This is well before my pop met my mom. I chose this photo to show how our Russian friends who immigrated to Persia dressed. Our mom is the girl seated on the left.

At this time in history the Shah issued a decree that Iranian women were no longer forced to wear head coverings.  He wanted to Europeanize Iran. This was met with fierce resistance from Muslims to the point of violence. We Europeans began to fear for our lives because we were blamed for the existence of this edict.  The Shah also wanted to scatter us Europeans among his people in order to teach them modern farming methods. We resisted this because we realized if we were to acquiesce, we Russians would be picked off one by one, resulting in our eventual extinction.  We had to cluster in order to effectively defend ourselves. So when a rich Iranian offered us substantial acreage for farming purposes, our community of about twenty families took him up on it. It was an abandoned village with surrounding farm land. Within the first year, however, some of us began to come down with malaria.  It grew to almost plague like proportions among us. Six of our group actually died. We then concluded that this area was not conducive for living, let alone farming, and so eventually we all left.

After this episode our family moved to a village near the Caspian Sea in Iranian territory.  We stayed there about two years and moved to another village. We stayed at this village for two years and moved to a town called Rahmanabad.  In my first year there, I worked as a driver delivering rocks and sand for the construction of roads and bridges. Then for the next three years I became a tenant farmer.  The Shah leased us the land and our payment to him was one-fifth of the harvest.

Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 7

Our Pop’s story continued…

This is our Pop’s story dictated verbally by him a few years ago. I’ll be sharing excerpts every Tuesday. When I add to his story or explain a photo I will Italicize my words. Our Pop’s words will not be italicized. Our mom does not come into Pop’s story until “Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9” even thought I’ve posted photos of her before #9. I have very few photos from our parents’ life in Russia and Persia. At the end of my Tuesday posts I’ll add links to all the other posts.

My paternal grandfather is in the gold and black shirt with his red bear waning and filling in with grey. My dear paternal grandmother is next to our Pop. Pop’s sister and her husband are on the right. This photo was taken at our home in La Mirada in the USA in the 1970’s. Red Beard, Timofey, my paternal grandfather died July 23, 1979, the year our first son was born, he was 91. Martha, my maternal grandmother died inJuly of 1986, she was 98! Our pop’s sister shown here is the last remaining member of the family alive.

About two or three hours later we came to the town of Sherevan just before sunset. Some of the townspeople came out with bread for us.  We were so thankful for their generosity. We were directed to a motel for the night.  But shortly thereafter, border guards came to the motel and took us all to the local police station in order to start the process of deporting us back to Russia.  We did not know this at the time. But then at that moment, a truck happened to arrive at the station. The driver saw us and asked, “Whose family are you?” My mom answered, “Bagdanov.”  He said, “Do you know that they are planning to send you back? But don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” He then went to the town mayor and asked, “Do you know whose family you’re sending back?  It’s Red beard’s family.” (My father had a rather prominent red beard.) The mayor immediately released us back to the motel, gave us a large room and brought us food. Later on that night my father came with a loaded truck (he was in the delivery business).  The next day he delivered his load and came back for us. We then headed for the town of Meshed where my father was living while he was waiting for us.

If you want to read the rest of the story you can search my Tuesdays With Moisi posts.

Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 6

My Pop’s story continued…

This is our Pop’s story dictated verbally by him a few years ago. I’ll be sharing excerpts every Tuesday. When I add to his story or explain a photo I will Italicize my words. Our Pop’s words will not be italicized. Our mom does not come into Pop’s story until “Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9” even though I’ve posted photos of her before #9. I have very few photos from our parents’ life in Russia and Persia. At the end of my Tuesday posts I’ll add links to all the other posts.

 

Not too long after this, the father-in-law of my brother John showed up on our doorstep.  His name was Sofely Sisoyev. He told us to be ready by the end of October because he would be our guide in our escape to Iran.  He then left for Azerbaijan to collect his family and bring them back to Iran. Again by God’s grace, my brothers were given another roofing job and so we were able to buy provisions for the journey.  Then Mr. Sisoyev returned with his family as promised. We all left the evening of November 6, 1933. We walked all night, reached the Iranian border and crossed it. We hid during the day. On the second night we were unfortunately accosted by a gang of Kurdish thugs.  They robbed us of all we had and raped my brother John’s wife. (She was impregnated as a result, but died months later in giving birth.) And so we were left with nothing but the clothes on our backs – no food and no water. During the following day, we hid. Even though we were not walking or active during the day we were still hungry.  On the third night of our journey we became very tired and very hungry. We approached a Kurdish village, knocked on doors and begged for food. One family had mercy and gave us bread and raisins. We were able to pay them for it because we had some money hidden in a belt underneath my nephew Alex’s diaper. It had escaped the attention of the Kurdish gang that had robbed us.  By this time we were quite a distance from the border. Uncle Sofely told us to take a certain road that would take us to where we needed to go. He then separated from our family and his. The reason for this was self protection. He did not carry any ID – either Russian or Iranian. If we were for some reason apprehended, he would be identified as the guide and would be arrested.  He reconnected with his family later.

So our group continued on – all fifteen of us.  There were seven adults and eight children. Around twelve noon on the 9th of November, a man on horseback overtook us, looked us over and rode on.  We walked on for another hour or so. All of a sudden, there he was to our right, about 250 feet away, underneath a tree. He motioned us to come to him.  As we drew closer we could see a rug on the ground loaded with bread, grapes, raisins and lady fingers. We all started to cry and literally knelt before him in gratitude.  He motioned us to sit down and eat. Before we began eating we prayed. After we ate we rested for a short while. When we were ready to resume our journey, we were given specific directions as to how we were to reach our destination.  We again knelt before him in gratitude and started on our way.

If you missed any of the story you can find parts 1-5 in older posts.

Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 5

Pop’s story continued…

This is our Pop’s story dictated verbally by him a few years ago. I’ll be sharing excerpts every Tuesday. When I add to his story or explain a photo I will Italicize my words. Our Pop’s words will not be italicized. Our mom does not come into Pop’s story until “Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9” even though I’ve posted photos of her before #9. I have very few photos from our parents’ life in Russia and Persia. At the end of my Tuesday posts I’ll add links to all the other posts.

Photos are not mine.

My mother had been in the habit of attending a Molokan church service in a neighboring village every Sunday.  She had done this quite a few times and because she always returned, she was able to gain the trust of the Uzbek guard.  The Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles, which Molokans celebrated, was approaching. My mother asked permission of the guard for our whole family to attend this feast at that church in the aforementioned village.  Permission was granted. We started off for the village that Sunday morning, but as the camp receded from view, we totally changed direction. I asked why but was told to keep quiet and keep walking. Our destination was the city of Samarkand, because we had distant relatives there.  We arrived there around midnight. The next day we had one of the relatives buy us train tickets back to Ashkhabad. Before we departed for the station, my brother John surreptitiously scouted it in advance and saw the camp officials there, evidently looking for us. We had to postpone the trip until the following day.  The coast was clear that day and so we left. Our family was scattered throughout the train in various cars. One of the stops the train made was where the camp was. Trains were routinely searched there for escapees from the camp. As we approached that stop, my mother emphatically told us to face away from the aisle and under no circumstances were we to turn toward it.  As the guards came onto the train, my mother fell to her knees in prayer. The guards roamed through the cars more than once but, praise God, none of us were recognized. As the train left the station we all heaved a sigh of relief.

Our troubles, though, were not over.  That evening, the lights in the train suddenly went out.  All hell broke loose in the train as those who were stronger began to forcefully plunder the weaker.  I’ll never forget those moments. Nobody came to anybody’s aid. It was every man for himself. I specifically remember how one man was screaming for help as two others were trying to take his possessions.  He would not let go. They finally dragged him and his possessions into another car. I don’t know what happened to him.

It was terrifying.  All authorities were absent.  No conductors, no militia. Yet, by God’s grace, none of our family was plundered.  Finally, conductors appeared at the next stop.

And so we returned to Ashkhabad.  It was September of 1933. We had nothing-absolutely nothing.  We begged a widow to take us in. She acquiesced. She only had one room for us  and so we had to make do. I remember she was growing onions on the roof so that was all we had to eat for a while.  One day a knock was heard at the door. The widow answered. Some men were at the door requesting able-bodied workers for a roofing job.  The widow relayed their request. We replied that we lacked the necessary ID papers to be able to work. The men at the door replied that papers weren’t necessary.  So my two brothers and mother went to work. This happened more than once and this is how God took care of us.

Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 4

Our Pop’s story continued…

This is our Pop’s story dictated verbally by him a few years ago. I’ll be sharing excerpts every Tuesday. When I add to his story or explain a photo I will Italicize my words. Our Pop’s words will not be italicized. Our mom does not come into Pop’s story until “Tuesdays With Moisi ~ 9” even though I’ve posted photos of her before #9. I have very few photos from our parents’ life in Russia and Persia. At the end of my Tuesday posts I’ll add links to all the other posts.

These photos are not our personal photos but are photos from Uzbekistan during this time period. Continuing with our Pop’s story as told to a journalist and later translated into English.

In the spring of 1933, the authorities deported our whole family along with thirty-five other families to a concentration camp in Uzbekistan near the city of Samarkand.

We were herded like animals into a railroad freight car that was used for transporting pigs.  They packed us in so tight that we could only sit upright. There was no room to lay down. As soon as the doors were shut, we all began to cry.  It was a terrifying situation. We slept as best we could that first night and when we awoke, we started crying again. Traveling with us in that boxcar were our distant relatives.  They had two daughters. One could sing and play the guitar quite well. Her playing and singing quieted us. The guards actually appreciated her talents. At both stops, they allowed us to replenish our water supply and beg for food at the stations.  And so we arrived at the concentration camp which was actually a large farm.

I remember that sometime during the first days of our arrival there, an inmate came up to us and said, “Look at the remains of this turtle.  This is what we were reduced to eating this past winter. There are no more left. You came here to die of starvation.” That was encouraging.  We were assigned various barracks. It was early spring. The grain was just beginning to sprout and the fruit in the fields was just beginning to ripen.  I and other children would steal melons at night. They weren’t that tasty but they weren’t that bad either. Reminded me of cucumbers. Our daily food ration was woefully inadequate considering the hard work that was required of us.  When the wheat harvest began, I was at the in-between stage. I was too old for kindergarten but too young for work in the fields. I didn’t fit anywhere and that bothered me. My brother’s work required them to thresh wheat. As they were working, they would allow kernels of grain to fall into their shoes and pockets and so would come back to the barracks every night and give them to my mother.  She would then crush them into flour and bake them into bread by means of a little outdoor stove which she built in an isolated area. Because the barracks were not heated in any way, we concluded that the winters could be deadly. Added to that was the very real prospect of starvation. And so we as a family decided that escape was our only chance of survival.

Ellen’s note: When The Hiding Place (Corrie Ten Boom’s Story) came out in the theaters we went with my parents to see it. I remember my Pop really moved emotionally by the railway scenes and he told us it brought back memories of he and his family being herded off to Uzbekistan. Also I remember my parents talking about having to stand in lines to get a loaf of bread.