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.
Eventually, another group of people decided to make a second try for Iran. But, unknown to us, it was a plot engineered by the GPU-the Russian Secret Service. They formed a group of which my sister and her husband, Simyon, were participants. My mother decided to send only two of us with this group while keeping the younger children. So one evening the group, with my brother Michael and I, left. As we made our way out of the city, we walked up a small hill and down the other side. As we were descending, we were suddenly surrounded by the militia, ordering us to put up our hands. In so doing we dropped all of our possessions. We were then ordered to march in a different direction, leaving all our possessions behind. We were all loaded onto a truck and taken to the local GPU headquarters. When we arrived there, Simyon was taken inside and we were all herded outside underneath the open window of the room where he was being interrogated. We could hear everything that was going on inside. This was done purposely to intimidate. The interrogator showed no mercy. Simyon was ordered to empty his pockets. Among the items in his pockets was a handwritten book of hymns. The interrogator used the book to slap Simyon across his checks repeatedly and threatened to execute him if he lied in any way. The interrogation lasted four to five hours. Simyon was taken to a holding cell. A soldier then came out and mockingly shouted at us “Now you can go back to your dad.” We were released and went back home. My mother was naturally shocked to see us. We told her what had happened and that Simyon was now in jail.
To add to my mother’s increasing woes, my brother John was suddenly arrested one evening without warning. His job was a source of income for our family. We were now left totally destitute. My mother in desperation would go to the railroad yards and sop up spilled oil with rags. She would then wring out the oil from the rags into buckets and sell the buckets. She also used it as heating oil for us. This was an incredibly difficult time for us. We became intimately acquainted with hunger and cold. When we had absolutely nothing to eat, my mother would go to the local brewery and there beg for the mash that they discarded as pig feed. She would again go to the railroad yards and scratch for the spilled flour in the dirt. She would then combine this flour with the mash and so bake a sort of bread with these ingredients. It was very difficult to swallow this sort of food. We would soften it with our saliva and swallow it whole. We couldn’t chew it because of the dirt.
As a result of our desperate situation, I came down with a serious case of pneumonia. My fever rose to such a degree that I became delirious and my mother lost all hope that I would survive. But eventually I did come out of my delirium and remember very clearly my mother and another woman standing over me. My mother was crying and the other woman was comforting her. They gave me some soup and I began to improve. Eventually my health was slowly restored. So the years 1931 and 1932 were especially difficult for us.
Since John was mentioned in this segment, I added the photo above of the surviving Bogdanoff’s in the 1980’s with their spouses. Uncle John is the one on the top right with the beard.