After all the wartime struggle to protect us, feed us, and put a roof over our heads, my father seemed lost in the New World. No bombs were falling, no enemy was chasing us. He had been raised and trained to fight, but now his zest for life was gone and he was confronted daily by all the ghosts of yesterday. All he could think to do was drown his sorrows and try to stop the voices in his head: O Mother Russia, what have I done? Am I a traitor– was I wrong to take my family out of Russia? To kill the pain, he drank himself into a stupor with vodka, mixing it with tears for his lost motherland.
Then, after Stalin died in 1953, my father was persuaded to return home by the phony promise that the new Khruschev regime would forgive everyone. Desperate to see his beloved homeland once more, perhaps even to see his parents again, he took the communists at their word. He booked passage and headed back to Russia from Venezuela. It was not easy for us to say goodby to father, even if he was terrifying to be around the way he was drinking. I remembered he once tried to kill mama in a drunken rage; another time, when I came home late, he threw a jar of kerosene on the kitchen floor and lit the fire. If I hadn’t shut the bedroom door tight, I would have been burned all over and never had a modeling career.
The last phone call we had from him came from Italy, where he excitedly informed us that “all was forgiven” and we should come with him back to the Motherland. We never heard from him again, and later learned that he was executed shortly after he re-entered the U.S.S.R., after being tortured for information and forced to make a false confession of “crimes against the state.” Many others met the same fate after the imaginary “liberalization” of the Khruschev period, but fortunately my mother had no desire to return to Russia, remembering the horrors of the Old World and the catastrophes that had only ended when we reached America.
Mama’s only dream was to escape that world and take care of her children. But needless to say, when we learned of Papa’s fate, the fear hung over our heads like a black cloud. What if the communists came for us here in Venezuela? Who would protect us when we heard that knock on the door? Soon after we heard the awful news, Mama applied for refugee residential visas for us at the US embassy. She was determined to get us beyond the long arms of the communists, in the promised land of America, with freedom and liberty for all.