I was born on October 8th, 1932 in the town of Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia. My father, a historian, worked as a school director. My mom was a teacher at first and then made an impressive career as a Party functionary. In the end, she was the head of the local Party office. They were very interesting people. Mom was a hard, demanding and gorgeous.
I was their only child, I didn’t have any siblings. Just me.
When the war started, my father went to the front lines; it was the beginning of October. What I remember is that before leaving, dad bought me three dolls. On the couch, he spread out many pairs of shoes, from size 30 (what I was wearing then) to size 36. He was a historian and knew that this was going to be no quick and easy war. I wore those shoes till 10th grade.
During the war, mom would always bring in sealed packages for my birthday and told me they were from my dad. They always contained fruits, which were very rare for Siberia. She would always be disappointed when I shared them with neighboring kids. I thought that I had to share - these were things that I had and they did not. This is how we celebrated my birthdays. Dad got killed in ‘43. Whenever things weren’t going well in my life, I always thought that things would be different, better, had he been alive. He was a very tender father. He sang to me a lot, spent more time with me than mom did.
I left Krasnoyarsk at 17. I had my pick of places to go study - I was Russian, my mom was a Party worker, my background was correct, I was the head of the local Young Pioneer organization. I could have gone wherever I wanted to. My mom told me no, no way, you will study in Krasnoyarsk, but I wanted to go to Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. My boyfriend was there and so were a lot of my friends.
Then mom came around and told me that I could go to Tomsk and so I had to go to Tomsk, though I spend all my time thinking about Leningrad.
I went to Tomsk, got all of my paperwork [from the University]. Then this one girl told me that she has a ticket to Leningrad, but she changed her mind and will be staying in Tomsk instead. She asked me whether I wanted her ticket and I said that of course I did. This was a ticket without a seat or even a train - it was a family member pass for a railroad worker. I packed my little suitcase and off I went. I slept on the third bunk, along with all the baggage. I got all the way to Moscow before train inspectors took me off the train and to the police station for using someone else’s ticket. I broke down crying at the station. I told them “how can you do this to me, my whole family works for the railroad.” All my mom’s family really were railroad men. I told them, call my grandfather, he’s the head of the passenger service. They called in the head of the train terminal, he got through to my grandfather, and I immediately turned into a princess. They put me into a lux train cabin, brought me treats… They even telegraphed my mother that I’m going to Leningrad and asked to send me money to be picked up at the post office. This is how I wound up in St Petersburg.
I went to take the first entrance exam, it was in literature, and I wrote them an essay. When I went to get my results. I remember there was a big heavy standing ashtray next to the stand. My sheet said “Excellent. Recommended for the Journalism Department”. I was so surprised at seeing this that I sat down right on the ashtray in shock. I was offered to join the Journalism department, but I wasn’t interested - I was going to study philosophy. I did well enough on the entrance exams to get in, but not to get a dormitory stipend. I interviewed with the department and they accepted me.
And so I landed at the department of Philosophy. This is where I met my husband. My husband had straight A’s and should’ve been able to go anywhere. He wanted to study Physics, but he was a Jew and they wouldn’t let him in. He then wound up in philosophy - he thought he could meet women there.
I remember how one of the girls in my group was talking about how she likes him, and then one of the boys told her that he’s after Nina (after me). This is how I noticed him.
We were close friends from my first day at the University. I celebrated my 18th birthday with him. And then we got married.
Translation from Russian by Alex Furman