My mother Dora Kogan was born in 1896 in the town of Kremenchug of the Ukraine, or as the Russian Imperial House called it, “Mahlorossia”, or Little Russia. Kremenchug was located within the Pail, the area restricted for a habitat of Jews. The Pail encompassed the areas of small towns within the currently sovereign states of Bessarabia (now Moldova), Ukraine, Belorussia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. All these countries were the parts of the Russian Empire that brutally suppressed all political decent there. At the break of the twentieth century until the revolution of 1917 the Jews who lived in the Pail suffered the most infamous violence at the hands of bigoted gangs.
That violence provided the international community with a Russian word “pogrom” (raid) and contributed the most massive Jewish emigration to the United States. For the rest of her life my mother could not listen to the ringing of church bells, because during her childhood and youth the bells announced the beginning of the pogroms. The drunken hordes of killers and rapists were led by Russian orthodox priests who carried icons of Jesus Christ and Saint Mary. Their slogan was “Beat the Yids, save Russia!”
Because Dora and her older sister Hanna graduated with excellence from a local school, their family was allowed to move from Kremenchug to a central city of Kharkov where they studied in the Tsar’s gymnasium. I inherited my mother’s golden medal that shows the Empress Maria Romanov on one side and the Greek Godess of Wisdom Athena on the other. The Empress supported education while her husband Nicholas II supported the pogroms.
Then came the revolution of 1917 that wiped out the thousand years of Russian monarchy and established the first socialist state of the world. Many educated Jews participated in the initial Soviet government led by Vladimir Lenin. Lev Trotsky, a bespectacled Jewish lawyer who created the victorious Red Army became the first Commissar of War. The hastily organized Red Army beat off the attacks of the domestic White Army and the expeditionary forces of France, England, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the United States that supported the Whites.
Dora Kogan’s career opened up. She chose the medical field and became a doctor of medicine. She married a leading pediatrician and bore him a daughter, but the child died of tuberculosis. In 1924 Lenin died and his successor Joseph Stalin has gradually reinstated the state anti-Semitism. While portraying himself as a Lenin’s pupil, Stalin effectively eradicated the Lenin’s government, many of whom were Jewish. In 1929 Stalin expelled Trotsky from the Soviet Union and later on killed him in Mexico.
In the 30-s Stalin organized the infamous “purges” that were aimed at eliminating all the dissent and political opposition to his dictatorship. Dora Kogan married my father and I was born in 1937, the most terrible year of the great terror. My ant Hanna Kogan’s husband fell a victim to those purges and was executed in 1938. Hanna was sent to a prison camp in Kazakhstan where she remained until Stalin’s death in 1953. My other two ants survived the purges, but then came World War II and the family separated.
While my father went to the front, my mother, my nanny and me were evacuated to Siberia but returned to Moscow in 1944. The country was devastated. In addition to the previous two revolutions, the civil war and the purges, the Soviet Union lost 20 million people in the war. Dora worked in a local hospital, I studied in a local school. Until 1956 we lived in a communal apartment with a long double-loaded corridor with a toilet at the end of it. In 1955 I entered Moscow Institute of Architecture and graduated from it in 1961.
In 1972 Dora Kogan died after a long illness at the same hospital where she worked and educated young doctors for 28 years. Until the end she believed in socialism though she never belonged to the communist party. When I criticized the regime she defended it, but accused Stalin of perverting it. When I talked about emigrating to the West, she predicted that I would feel incompatible with capitalism. As usual, she turned to be right.
In 1991 when I was already living in the United States, the Soviet Union fell apart. The crony socialism became the crony capitalism and the Russian Empire lost its 14 constituent republics. Currently, another Russian czar Vladimir Putin calls himself president and tries to restore the Russian Empire. As Lev Trotsky predicted in 1935, the Stalin’s bureaucracy led to the restoration of Russian capitalism. He also predicted the confrontation between Russia and the United States. As usual, he turned to be right.