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My Mother Escaped From Russia With Rags On Her Feet – Part One

My mother Anna at 16 years old.

My mother, Anna at age 16

My mother escaped from Russia with rags on her feet. She left with her family In the middle of the winter of 1917 and walked across frozen rivers, frozen lakes, across Poland and Germany to Holland.  Throughout her life, she told me that the meal of bread and milk she was given in Holland, was the most delicious meal she had ever eaten. I never knew who fed her but it was the food she remembered and savored her whole life long.

She was seven years old and going to America. The youngest in a family of seven, her mother died in childbirth a year after she was born. Because she was so young, the family considered leaving her in Russia, but her older brother, Charlie insisted that she come with the family. Perhaps that’s why Charlie was always her favorite brother.

We’re not sure, but we think she was born in 1910, the child of a poor Rabbi, living in a shtetl, Skoznitz, in the Ukraine, surrounded by a forest.

She hated her life there. It was cold, they were poor and often filled with terror.

Shtetl-02

Three_shot_shtetl

And then there were the Cossacks…

Cossacks

Cossacks_on_horses Cossacks on horses, with sabers drawn, would thunder down the dirt streets and yell, “Let’s kill a Jew today!” And they would.

russian_cossack_charging

Once they yelled, “Who is the oldest man in the village?” Then, they took him into the forest, tied him to a post and chopped his head off! My aunt, Nettie, told me that the man’s sister died immediately at the sight of this.

Mother tells of another time when they ran into the forest to escape the Cossacks. They brought a baby with them. In order to not be discovered, the baby’s mother had to put her hand over her child’s face to stifle the crying. The baby suffocated and died.

Russian_cossacks

Other times, roving bandits would gallop through the town looking for liquor and food.

My mother’s family would ply them with home made booze and bread until they would get so sleepy they would forget about their mission of destruction. Mother helped make the wine. She remembers stamping on the grapes just the way Lucille Ball did on her television show.

Czar Nicholas II cheated my mother and she never forgave him or any of his relations including the Kings and Queen of England!

czar-nicholas-ii-1868-1918While watching the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, I phoned my mother to exclaim over the beauty of Lady Diana, her billowing gown, the soaring music, and the majesty of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  I loved all of the pomp and circumstance. To my surprise she said, “ I refuse to watch that wedding! I will have nothing to do with that family!”  What was she talking about? She exclaimed, “ I worked for the Czar for a week and was promised a pound of salt. He never paid me and I will never forgive him or anyone in his family!” That was back in 1917. You do not mess with my mother!

St Isaac

Ninety years later, my husband and I sailed into St Petersburg harbor on a luxury ship. Now, I was in Russia and not sure how I felt about it.

On the one hand, I vividly remembered my mother’s sad stories and on the other hand, I was looking forward to enjoying the art and majesty of Imperial Russia. This was a personal conflict that I would experience during my entire visit.

Port_of_St_Petersburg

Next time: Gold, gardens, and grim guards…

The story continues My Mother Left Russia With Rags On Her Feet Part Two

Many thanks to http://www.jewishpostcardcollection.com for the use of the first shtetl photograph.

All images appearing on My Mother Escaped From Russia With Rags On Her Feet – Part One are the expressed property of Sandra Sallin. All rights reserved. In other words, don’t steal it!



  • SilverFoxyBlog - How interesting and great photos, rarely seen images of Russian Jews.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thank you. I did a lot of searching to find those pictures and was amazed myself. There’s is a treasure trove on the internet.ReplyCancel

  • Diane - Your mom is one tough cookie. Great you are sharing her story.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thanks Diane. It’s something she never wanted to talk about. She hated those times so I had to force her to talk about Russia. I also spoke with my aunt and put together the bits and pieces. I have found that many people who experience this kind of terror simply don’t want to talk about the past. Too many terrible memories.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - I love learning about your family.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - To be honest, my sisters and cousins all love hearing these stories. Hard to pry it out of my mom and dad. More to come. Thanks for reading.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Just thinking my family’s stories must be so different from yours. Would love to learn about your family.ReplyCancel

  • Scott Morris - This was such a great post! I can’t wait for part 2!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thanks for reading Scott. After the grandkids leave, I’ll put together part 2.ReplyCancel

  • Jon and Charles - Sandy – thank you for sharing such a personal and moving story. Your mom is a hero. We feel so honored to have been able to experience the personal journey with you and Bob in St. Petersburg. Jon and CharlesReplyCancel

    • sandra - You, Charles and your adorable children have been a joy in our lives.ReplyCancel

  • kathy peck leeds - Such a similar story to my families – same place, time, all of it. I could never get the stories out of my grandparents though, they were very silent on the subject.
    Although they easily could have financially, they would never return to Europe for a visit, and were always slightly irritated that any of their offspring would go.
    Thank you for sharing Part 1 of such a fascinating story.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - It seems that no one wants to talk about those days. I know my mother felt that America was the best place on earth and was so grateful for everything it represented.ReplyCancel

  • Jeannette Pepin - Enjoyed reading your story very much. Thank you for sharing it. Looking forward to Part 2! My nick name is Nettie, same as your aunt.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Oh my, what a small world. I don’t know any other Netties.ReplyCancel

  • Sharon Twigg-Smith - …..and now I understand more about your gung-ho personality!! It all makes sense! What a great story! I was wondering WHO in the world had a camera in the family! You are so resourceful!! xxReplyCancel

    • sandra - It takes one to know one. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Linda Gordon - Very interesting. So similar to Jack’s family. Thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - I actually thought of Jack. I know his family came from Poland. I’m sure we have many stories in common.ReplyCancel

  • Randy Hyde - Wow, this is really fantastic, Sandy! So interesting! I want to know more. Will there be a part 2?ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Yes, definitly. More to come. Glad you liked it.ReplyCancel

  • Linda Shecter - Can’t wait for the next installment.. brilliant!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Glad you enjoyed it. Stay tunned.ReplyCancel

  • Elsa Louise - The pogroms in Russia were certainly some of the most violent in all human history. Such terrible, frightening memories your mother holds. She must be forgiven should she wish to not discuss them. Sometimes forgetting is a blessing.

    Give her a kiss and a hug.

    How beautiful she looks standing in front of the painted backdrop. Such a serious young woman. Circa mid-1920s, then? Yet so demure with the little curl gracing her forehead.

    How fortunate that her people actually were able to remove themselves. Imagine if they’d been unable to get out in time.

    Via which city did they arrive in America? Would it have been NYC? If so, then she may also have interesting memories to relate concerning Ellis Island. If it was EI, then you can look up the ship’s manifest and see the names, which can be enlightening, too.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Unfortunately my mother is no longer alive.But she is very vivid in her family’s memories.

      I love this photo. My cousin had it for some reason, but she gave me the scan.

      If my mother had not come to America, our whole family would be gone. The family would have surely been destroyed by WWII. The town is no longer there. Nothing is there.ReplyCancel

      • E. L. von Schreiber - Oh, I am sorry. With the verb “tells,” in the present tense, I just assumed. My condolences to you.

        And the story is so very vivid. She will endure here, on your site in this memorial posting.ReplyCancel

        • sandra - Yes, she lives on in not only our family but many people who knew her. she was very special to all of us.ReplyCancel

  • Mom Mom's Apron - I just subscribed to your blog so I can read part 2 the second it’s posted! Thank you for sharing such a personal, sad and interesting story. My paternal great grandparents were from Kiev, but I know nothing more than that.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - I feel the presure. It’s so sad that you don’t know more about your history. I’m sorry I didn’t take Russian in college.ReplyCancel

  • imnotasupermom - So interesting and great pictures. I love reading about family stories.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thanks. I is fascinating isn’t it? I’ve loved all of our family adventures. More to come. I had no idea when I started blogging that I would be writing stories about my family. It’s just something that had to be written about. More to come.ReplyCancel

  • Stacia - wow. what an awesome story!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed your post also.You’re a funny lady.ReplyCancel

  • Ginger Kay - My daughter spent her first six years in Siberia. She has nothing good to say about it, either.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Oh my goodness, six years in Siberia voluntarily? I’d love to know that story. I mean do you ever get warm, do you ever stop drinking vodka? Tell me more please.ReplyCancel

  • conniemcleod - What a fascinating story! We often take the freedoms in this country for granted.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Trust me my mother worshiped this country and so do I. I am very grateful to live in this country.ReplyCancel

  • afterthekidsleave - Your mother’s story is fascinating–reminds me of my father-in-law’s father, who escaped across a frozen lake, as he didn’t want to serve in the Tsar’s army. I so admire the courage and tenacity of those who had to work so hard and travel so far to start new lives.
    KarenReplyCancel

    • sandra - His story is like so many. I find their bravery and resourcefulness to be astounding. Could we do it?ReplyCancel

  • virginia sullivan - We live such a cushy civilized life in the US and as the years go by, the stories of other countries and what people faced like your mother are being lost. In losing them, we are losing the understanding of how wonderful we have it. My great-grand parents immigrated here from Italy. They weren’t being persecuted, but just earning the money, traveling in steerage, living in tenements when they arrived- all so they could get to the US. For a better life. The one I’m living. Thanks so much for sharing your mother’s stories so we can all understand the lives of those who were lucky enough to migrate here.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - We are all so much alike aren’t we Virginia. So many of our backgrounds are so similar. I do not take the gift of life in America for granted. I have always been grateful for the bravery and strenght of my mother and father.ReplyCancel

  • Debra Eve - Sandra, what an astonishing story, made even more so by your trip to St. Petersburg via cruise ship. How surreal! Thanks for your comment over at my blog. I love your art and was reminded of Mary Granville Delany: http://www.laterbloomer.com/mary-granville-delanyReplyCancel

    • sandra - Oh yes, I really enjoyed your web site. Love the idea of late bloomers. Good stories, really so much to keep you engaged.ReplyCancel

  • Cathy - You story sounds like mine. My father escaped Nazi Germany. My maternal grandmother escaped the Cossacks – her birthplace always reminded me of Anatevka. Someday I will write about those stories that need to be told. Thank you for sharing yours, particularly on Holocaust Remembrance Day. CathyReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thanks Cathy,
      Our background certainly is similar. My mother saw Fiddler on the Roof and was furious. She said “You call this entertainment?” So much for sweet thoughts about Anatevka. She said Anatevka was exactly like her Shtetl. Please don’t wait to write those stories. People who you can ask questions of, will be gone. At least get as much information as you can now. I did not realize I posted on Holocaust Remembrance Day. I do know that if my parents had stayed, we would all be gone!ReplyCancel

  • Carpool Goddess - The photographs are incredible as is the story and their courage. Thank you for sharing. This reminds me of my father-in-law who was from a small Czech mountain village, which is now the Ukraine. The Nazi’s killed his parents and four younger siblings in front of him. He and two older siblings were taken into labor and concentration camps. Thankfully, the three survived.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - It is unfathomable to me how monstrous these people can be! I’m relived that three survived but still. How did he cope for the rest of his life after being exposed that heartbreaking experience? I really cannot understand.ReplyCancel

  • nurseplummer - My Grandparents, on both sides, escaped the terrors of being Jewish in the Ukraine. Reading your story, while seeing the photos, truly brought their story to me in a much more horrific and vivid way.

    During a tour we took of the Hermitage, we noticed signs next to some priceless pieces attributing the acquisition of the works to individuals with Jewish names, my people! The tour guide referred to the art as “found art”. I looked at my husband and said: “Stolen art!” Some things never change.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - We both had the same reaction to the Hermitage! How many of us noticed that? In my next post, Part two, I talk about the Hermitage and their methods of acquisition!ReplyCancel

  • Sheryl - It’s so important to keep these stories alive. Love your photos.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thank you. You’re right. My mother was so young when she left and never liked talking about it. It’s interesting I know some of the stories because I quized an aunt who had a great memory, and took notes.ReplyCancel

  • Leora - Her story sounds similar to that of my paternal grandmother who left her shtetl after being attacked by Cossacks. She was quite young at the time of the attack.

    My mother remembers her first time tasting a banana in the U.S. – she said it tasted like a funny potato. They used to get one orange around holiday time – that was a huge treat.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Such similar stories. We’re all connected. My mother remembers the milk and bread she was given in Holland. I know in many old movies the big treat at Christmas was to recieve an orange at the bottom of your Christmas stocking. Look at me having an orange every morning.ReplyCancel

  • Debra Yearwood - Great story (and story telling). I like your use of images and your sense of humor. What a wonderful family treasure you’re building here.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - I had no idea that I was doing that when I began. Then a few people mentioned it and you’re right. I’m telling stories that need to be told. More to come.Thanks for stopping by.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Scott - Wonderful retelling of your mother’s childhood. So many people do not realize the sacrafice and terror that many people felt trying to make a better life for themselves. My grandmother would tell me stories of her childhood when she first came to America from Spain. Her Uncle raised her and her brothers after their parents passed.

    Can not wait to read more.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - We all seem to have the same stories. Such brave people for us to look up to.ReplyCancel

  • Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.com - Beautiful story!! I love the photography because it really brings your words to life. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Sandra - Thank you for writing this story Sandy. The photograph of your mother at age 16 is quite beautiful, and thankfully, your mother made it to America. I can certainly understand why she did not like to talk about her childhood and I can also understand the internal conflict you felt during your visit to Russia.
    All of the photographs in this post are stunning. Thanks again for sharing!

    SandraReplyCancel

    • sandra - I’m so glad you enjoyed the story Sandra. It has always meant so much to me recalling these stories.ReplyCancel

  • mkslagel - That is a truly enriching and inspiring post. I think it is great you have so many stories of your mother’s childhood and you can depict her voice in such a way that she seems to be writing this piece with you.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thank you so much. You know you’re right I can still hear her words in my head. Didn’t realize I was chaneling her voice.ReplyCancel

  • I’m Going to the BlogHer ’13 Conference! » Apart From My Art - […] post, My Mother Escaped Russia with Rags on Her Feet was also chosen as one of the Voices of the Year! I freaked out and yelled, “YES!!!!” […]ReplyCancel

  • THIS BAND OF BLOGHERS ’13 » Apart From My Art - […] given to only 100 out of 3600 blog submission world-wide. I was very fortunate to have my post, “My Mother Left Russia with Rags on her Feet” honored. Some of the other winners read their posts on stage.  Many of them were quite moving and […]ReplyCancel

  • Manal The Go Go Girl - Sandra,
    I’m so glad your mother escaped the horrific acts of the enemy and I can imagine how terrifying life was day in and day out. I would love to hear more and I’m anxious to read part 2. I felt lots of emotions reading this post.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - Wow. Such incredible, albeit terrifying, family history there. How did you go about learning more about your mom and her life in Russia? I know very little about my family (both sides) and there are so many times I wish I knew.

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m off to read part 2 now. =)ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Dear Kim, I would always ask questions about our background. My mother was kind of vague but my aunt would tell me stories and I would write them down. I now have even more information about my father and plan on writing about that also. The important thing to do is constantly ask questions of any one in the family that might have some answers. Do it while everyone is youngish if you can.ReplyCancel

  • 30-Day Challenge, Day 20 » Tana's World with Tana Bevan - […] was producing Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan ll, *wrote a loving tribute of her mother’s escape from Russia with rags on her feet,  and *has “hundreds of […]ReplyCancel

  • Joann Woolley - This is a wonderfully written post about exploring your ancestry and continuing your journey of self discovery. I love how much detail one can feel from your writing in your mom’s stories. Passing down stories like these that give us a deeper sense of self or where we come from are so important and not everyone has had the chance to feel incredible connection and value to their past like that. I’ve loved reading your stories. My father told great stories of his childhood from when he lived in Alaska. I miss him. It is something we’ve done for all of humankind. I’m currently helping my daughter read up on the Kumeayaay Indians for her 3rd grade California report and they were all but wiped out. If it hadn’t been of the story telling passed down from generation to generation, their value to the modern day San Diego would be lost. Story telling is an art form that I think is being revived currently with some of the big social media gurus spotlighting it as an important way to connect with out audience. Thank you for sharing such beautiful work!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thank you Joann. Actually I have told stories that my sister’s didn’t know about. I would badger my aunt on the phone and write stories down as quickly as possible. I would also speak with my mother to try and get her to tell me more stories. I would love to here the stories about Alaska. How fascinating to grow up there. Yes, people are very interested in stories these days. I always tell people to sit down and ask their parents stories now. Don’t wait. I’m sorry there were some recipes I never got from my mother. I’ll always miss them. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.ReplyCancel

  • Bloglovin' - Everyday Gyaan - […] Sandra is a 70 year old professional artist and has been married for 53 years now. The story of how her mother escaped from Russia with rags on her feet caught the attention of the blogging world and Sandra was one of the Voices of The Year  at the […]ReplyCancel

  • Kristin Drysdale - Wow, Sandra! You are quite an established young lady!;D It is an honor to be reading things so personal. You give multiple accounts of heart-wrenching events- knowledge of such could possibly discourage anyone and plummet them into depression. I think your mother sounds like quite a character. I can’t wait to read Part 2.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thank you Kristin. Yes, my mother was quite the character. Loved her but also got lots of laughs for memories.ReplyCancel

  • Kim Bultman - Sandra, thank you for sharing your mother’s story and yours.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - So glad you took the time to read and enjoy Kim.ReplyCancel

  • Heather in Arles - Sandy, thank you so much for suggesting this post. I am deeply moved. In my travels, I have seen a lot of poverty and so much determination to make a better life. Your Mother and her siblings faced fears that are unimaginable to most of us. And yet she did it and survived to grow into the lovely young woman in the photograph. Her eyes tell the truth. I certainly would be very interested indeed to read more about her, including what it was like for her when she first arrived in America, if you know.
    With all of my Best from a cold and windy Provence,
    Heather

    PS. And thank you so much for the very, very kind compliment and comparison for “our” tulips…ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Thanks Heather. You have inspired me to write more about how my family came to America. There is quite a saga to be told that I think so many others can relate to. So thank you.

      My Best, from sunny California. I don’t know if you’ve heard but we desperately need rain. Too much beautiful sunshine.ReplyCancel

  • October | Sandra Sallin | Style at a certain age - […] about her life experiences and family history. One of her posts was about her mother who left Russia with rags on her feet It was honored as one of the one hundred “Voices of the Year,” by BlogHer. Impressive? […]ReplyCancel

  • SWIMMING WITH CHEESECAKE » Apart From My Art - […] my original blog about my mother which was recognized with a Voices of the Year Award from […]ReplyCancel

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