Interviewed by Carol Zuckert, Translation by Dmitri Rifkin
June 25, 1999
CZ: Today is June 25, 1999. Carol Zuckert is interviewing Raisa Sigalova. We're here at 5651 East Edison Plaza in Tucson, 85712. So, when did you come to the United States?
RS: She came in last year, November 28th.
CZ: Oh, very recently. Right before you came [to translator]
RS: [translator] Yes, we came in February.
CZ: I forgot to mention that Dmitri is here translating for us, so that's the male voice that we hear. And where did you come from?
RS: Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
CZ: Were you born in Tashkent?
RS: No, she was born in Kiev.
CZ: OK. When was that? Birth date?
RS: She was born in 1929 on June 29th, so in a few days she will have birthday.
CZ: Oh, happy birthday. So you're going to be 70 years old?
CZ: Very good. Congratulations.
RS: Thank you.
CZ: You're welcome. So you were born in Kiev and you lived in Kiev for how long?
RS: She lived in Kiev before the war, before 1941 and then she with her mother moved to Tashkent.
CZ: I see. A lot of people did that.
RS: Yes, a lot of people. Hundreds of thousands.
CZ: How did you go there. Did you get help going there?
RS: It was five days before the Germany army came in Kiev so it was no organization and people moved from Kiev they used the means of transportation they can, horses, trains, and so on.
CZ: And how did you leave? What transportation? That was in 1941, she was very young.
RS: They used train.
CZ: And your mother. How old was your mother at that point?
RS: She was 35 years old.
CZ: Did you have a father?
CZ: Where was he?
RS: He died in battle near Kiev.
CZ: So he didn't get a chance to move at all. He just stayed to be in the Army.
CZ: He was forced to be in the army?
RS: He has a special white ticket so he can move from Kiev to Tashkent or whatever.
CZ: He can't?
RS: He can. He had the right to move to some other city. He had the right not to go to war but he went to war and he died.
CZ: And how did you find out about that?
RS: In 1947 they received special documents, special papers from Office of Defense that he died.
CZ: So they didn't know for six years? Did he die in 1947 or back in the earlier days.
RS: They knew in 1942, two years that something happened because there was no information about him but only in 1947 they received the official documents. When she was 16, when our army freed Kiev from German armies she went to Kiev at once to find out what happened with her father. She looked for information in special archives of Office of Defense and her neighbors in Kiev saw her father one day before Germans came into Kiev.
CZ: I see. So, did you have other family that left with you from Kiev to Tashkent?
RS: Grandmother, aunt (mom's sister).
CZ: Where did she learn to understand English so well? She understands me very well.
RS: She said that she knew Germany very well. She doesn't think that she understands English very well.
CZ: But she picks up everything I'm saying. Doesn't she? I mean, she certainly seems to, you do very well. Maybe not perfect, but well. So, why did you learn German?
RS: In school and in the university.
CZ: What did you do at the university?
RS: In the university she studied world history.
CZ: Why? What was she going to do with it? Become a teacher?
CZ: You taught in Tashkent?
CZ: Where? At what level school?
RS: It was a special school with physics and mathematics lessons and she taught in high school.
CZ: World history.
CZ: This is a strange question I'm going to ask. One of the other women I interviewed was a teacher at the university level and she had to teach history according to the way she was told, not based on reality. Revisionism, do you know that word? Revised history based on the political. Did that happen here to Raisa?
CZ: It was probably different in Russia and the Ukraine than it was in Uzbekistan.
RS: That woman was from Russia?
CZ: I can't remember, Russia or Ukraine. I don't remember which one.
RS: But anyway she says that they had common history system.
CZ: Common to whom?
RS: Common to all the people, common to state, so they had to teach...
CZ: Curriculum, that's what you mean?
RS: Yes. Okay. When she taught her students or her pupils she used to say to them, I think so, and You can have another point of view.
CZ: OK, very good. So, let's go back to wartime and your move to Tashkent. How did you get settled? You arrived in Tashkent, did you know anybody?
RS: When they were moving to Tashkent another mom's sister, another aunt...
CZ: A different one?
RS: Yes, she lived in Tashkent and they knew that they would live at her mom's sister's house.
CZ: Good, so it was easier than for other people.
RS: Yes, it was a little bit easier.
CZ: So, did you immediately go to school? She was only 11.
RS: Yes, at once.
CZ: And then, so you went on to the university? And what kind of a degree did you have from the university? Is there anything equivalent? I know it's hard.
RS: Masters level.
CZ: So, what was life like in Tashkent? Is it supposed to be beautiful?
RS: It was very hard life in Tashkent during the war. Because people tried to survive.
CZ: Because they were short on goods and food?
RS: It wasn't shortage of food. They almost didn't have food at all.
CZ: Oh, much worse than a shortage.
RS: They had a special document signed between the United States and Soviet Union and United States helped Soviet people so they had some food from the United States.
CZ: After the war?
RS: No, during the war.
CZ: I heard her say lend lease.
RS: Lend lease. And twice during the war they received special food help from the United States and she says it was a real holiday in her family since there was some meat products. And her mother, and because she was an excellent worker, sh e received this from the United States a fur coat.
CZ: Was it cold in Tashkent?
RS: Yes in winter it was cold because it's a continental climate. It's hot in summer and cold in winter.
CZ: What did her mother do that made her so special, that got her the fur coat?
RS: They had a special workers committee and this committee decided who was an excellent worker.
CZ: The communist party?
RS: No, it was an independent committee.
CZ: Where did her mother work?
RS: Maybe you know that Uzbekistan is the motherland of cotton and they produced a lot of cotton for army, for example. It was a special organization where her mother worked for preparation of cotton.
CZ: What did you do for food if there wasn't any? How did you survive without food? If there was such a terrible, not shortage even, if it didn't exist.
RS: She says that a man is such special human that he or she can survive in just incredible conditions, especially former citizens of the former USSR. They were used to terrible conditions. They were receiving a lot of products, a lot of foods from the United States, lend-lease I mean, and especially teachers in high schools and universities, they received a lot of products from the United States. She says that she had a friend and when her friend used to go to like shop on her way back she always came to see her and she brought some, once she brought white bread, and it was the first time she saw white bread in Tashkent.
CZ: Ever? Since the beginning, since you got there?
RS: Yes in the beginning of the war.
CZ: So, you went to school every day? Did they bomb in Tashkent? Did the Fascists ever get there?
RS: No, never. It was very far from the front. She went to school every day because they didn't bomb Tashkent. It was far. She said that from Moscow and from Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, the best teachers moved to Tashkent during the war, so the best teachers taught in schools and universities.
CZ: Oh, so that's wonderful. You had that advantage. You moved and they moved so it worked out.
RS: Yes, unfortunately.
CZ: What did you do, you went to school and you came home every day? What was your life like? Did you study other things? Did you play? Did you have friends that you could be with?
RS: Yes, sure. When she came to Tashkent in one of her first days in school she asked one of her classmates to teach her the Uzbek language.
CZ: And so you learned?
RS: Well, she knew a lot of words in Uzbek language but she can't speak a lot.
CZ: Verbs and sentences.
RS: Yes, yes.
CZ: OK, so, now, Uzbekistan is mostly Muslim?
CZ: Did you have any problem being Jewish.
RS: No, no way.
CZ: No problem?
RS: No problem. They began to experience problems in Uzbekistan and Tashkent since about 1990 when the USSR experienced major problems too and everybody found people ...
RS: Exactly, and it lasted until 1995 but of course now the Jewish people in Uzbekistan have problems but it's not major problems now. But since 1990 until 1995 it was like an explosion. Now the president of Uzbekistan is trying to make relationships with United States and with west countries and now there are a lot of people in Uzbekistan, mostly fundamentalists who don't like president, who don't like this kind of power. And in this year they tried to kill president six times. There were six terrorists acts and a lot of people were killed, so it's another danger now.
CZ: So you're happy to be out.
RS: They began to experience major problems in Uzbekistan since, do you know Taliban in Afghanistan? Since they began moving to the front of Uzbekistan. And around the embassy of United States in Tashkent they had a special big defense against terrorists. They were afraid of terrorist acts against US Embassy in Tashkent.
CZ: I see. And the Taliban is very serious, very scary group of people. So, going back to your early days, your youth, going back to when you were a teenager. What sorts of things did you do? What kinds of things? Or young adult. What I'm t rying to do is get a feel for her life there.
RS: When she was a teenager she tried to study hard and her grandmother used to say that a lot of knowledge is very useful, it's not useless. But since the sixth grade in the school pupils were sent to collective farms to collect cotton every year.
CZ: For how long?
RS: Four months.
CZ: Hard work?
CZ: You were picking the cotton?
RS: The cotton was very light in weight and they had special standards to pick up a lot of cotton so it was hard to fulfill this. At Tashkent during the days of the war Tashkent became a cultural center of the USSR because from Moscow and from Leningrad a lot of scientists, a lot of cultural people moved to Tashkent. For instance, Leningrad Conservatory then central Moscow film studio, so they had a lot of special cultural clubs and if children wanted they could go to these clubs.
CZ: Did you do that?
RS: Yes, sure.
CZ: So, good music, and...
RS: Yes. And every Saturday and Sunday there are free concerts for schoolchildren.
CZ: Oh wonderful. And what kind of music? Russian? Mozart?
RS: Yes, classical music, Russian music.
CZ: OK, so that's very wonderful. You had a rich, cultural upbringing.
RS: So they had these possibilities, these cultural possibilities I mean.
CZ: Yes, OK. Was there any Judaism? Any practice of your religion in Tashkent? Did she practice, in family? Not everybody, anybody, but her family.
RS: Her grandma was very religious and she knew Hebrew, she knew Yiddish, she knew special traditions and all she knows now she was taught by her grandma.
CZ: I see. And does she practice anything now?
RS: Yes, she goes to synagogue.
CZ: Which one?
CZ: You go often or once in awhile?
RS: Earlier she went to the synagogue pretty frequently, every Saturday she went before, but now she has lessons of English language, so now when she goes to the synagogue she misses English lessons and she wants some special book.
CZ: Where did you get this? This is a prayer book and it's in Hebrew and Cyrillic. An art scroll edition. Where did you get this?
RS: It was a German man. He goes to the synagogue here, accepted Judaism, and he give her this present.
CZ: Oh, so he was converted? It doesn't matter. It's not important. But this is nice. The Anshay didn't have books like this? The synagogue didn't have these books?
RS: Synagogue has these books but not many and when she came to this synagogue for the first time the president of the synagogue gave her such book for awhile to read it, to use it, for awhile, because they don't have money for more books.
CZ: I know they don't. I'm aware of that. That's too bad.
RS: If you visit synagogue...
CZ: But not Anshay. Tonight I'm going to Emmanuel Reform, modern Judaism.
RS: Is it a reformist?
CZ: Reformed, yes. So, did you ever get married?
CZ: So no children. Who came here with you? How did you decide to come to America?
RS: She has two sisters in New York. Sisters are with whom she lived in one house.
CZ: Not biological sisters.
RS: No, it's cousins.
CZ: Sure, makes sense. So, you didn't want to live in New York?
RS: She doesn't know.
CZ: They sent you here.
RS: She likes it here.
CZ: Are you all by yourself here? Any family in Tucson?
RS: Yes, she said that she has some kind of relatives here.
CZ: Do you see them?
CZ: Oh, OK. And do you have friends here?
RS: Yes, classmates with whom she studies English but they are much younger.
CZ: So, OK, so you decided to come to America because you had your cousins, as opposed to Israel. Did you want to go to Israel or chose to come to the United States?
RS: She came here because of her cousins and she has no relatives in Tashkent except graves.
CZ: So you're contented here, you're happy.
RS: She has no relatives in Israel, no connection.
CZ: Do you get to visit your cousins in New York?
RS: Yes. When she moved to United States she flew through New York so she spent one night in New York. And even this night she saw her cousins.
CZ: I guess that's it. Are there any stories, teaching, did you have a nice teaching career? Did you have a good teaching career? Was it difficult to be a teacher?
RS: She says that it was a pleasure in that school to teach. She had great pupils she said so it was very interesting for her. She says that every second Sunday of September pupils and twenty teachers from that particular school in Tashkent where she taught meet in New York.
CZ: Are you going to go?
RS: If she has no surgery she'll go.
CZ: Well, I hope you are well to go.
RS: She's asking if you live in Tucson permanently?
RS: You can turn it off.