Interviewed by Carol Zuckert through an interpreter
June 1, 1999
CZ: ...and I'm interviewing Rakhil Sivayeva. And we're at Council House. My favorite interpreter is here with me. So, when did you come to the United States?
RS: October 27, 1992.
CZ: So you've been here for close to seven years. And you came from...?
RS: From Azerbaijan, Baku
CZ: Baku is the city, can you spell that for me?
CZ: Very good. Were you born there?
CZ: Were your parents born there?
CZ: And your grandparents?
CZ: Oh, you don't know. Do you know why you were in Azerbaijan? Why your family lived there?
RS: She don't know, but it was a fact that many Jewish people live many generations in Azerbaijan and in Caucasand other places but how they came, because maybe many years ago when Jewish people was settled around the world from Israel, they lived in many countries.
RS: But she don't remember, she don't know the history of her family before her parents.
CZ: What did your parents do? Did your father, what was his profession? Or job?
RS: He can sew shoes, repair shoes, shoemaker.
CZ: Shoemaker, OK, very good.
RS: Her mother used to work as a housekeeper and mostly for home.
CZ: And what did you do? Did you have a job or were you a housewife as well?
RS: She used to work on the telegraph. It's like a post office but post offices that send telegrams.
CZ: We used to call that Western Union.
RS: It was a Morse apparatus.
CZ: You could do Morse code?
RS: Yes. No computer, no? Like typewriter.
CZ: And did you do that for a long time?
RS: Yes. 30 years she worked on the telegraph and then she used to work on the underground, subway.
CZ: In Baku?
CZ: Baku is the major city in Azerbaijan, isn't it? Is it the biggest city?
RS: Yes, it is the capital.
CZ: Sorry, I'm not wiser about that. What was life like? Who lived in Azerbaijan besides Jewish people? Was it Moslem mostly? Or Christian?
RS: Armenian, Tartars, Russians, many nationalities.
CZ: Was there one dominant culture or was there one more important than another?
RS: Azerbaijan was the main nationality.
CZ: OK, many nationalities. What was it like living in Azerbaijan? Was it hot, was it cold?
RS: It hot, it cold. Four seasons. Summer, spring, winter. Sometimes it would snow.
CZ: Was it this hot in the summer?
RS: Not so hot.
CZ: So the climate was nice?
CZ: Did you have, were you active in Jewish, was your family practicing Judaism?
RS: Not so free but they tried to make some Jewish celebrations.
CZ: Now why weren't you so free? What wasn't so free?
RS: Not so free like in America because government did not allow to observe any religion.
CZ: Because of Communism?
CZ: I see. So when you were younger, when you were first growing up, did you go to school?
RS: Yes, she went to school. When she was 15 year she started to work.
CZ: When did you get married? How old were you? About.
RS: I don't remember. My husband died in 1981.
CZ: Oh, he died in 1981. And what did he do? What was his job? What was his profession?
RS: He used to work in the plant.
CZ: Manufacturing something.
RS: He was a worker. To do something with his hands and instruments.
CZ: Did you have children?
CZ: No kids. Was life difficult? Was it difficult to live...?
RS: Sometimes it was difficult, sometimes it was better.
CZ: Difficult food? Did you have trouble getting food or affording to eat?
RS: There was not rich family and it was difficult to buy some things. Not a very good life.
CZ: Not a very good life. Life in America is easier? Did you live with anybody else but your husband? Did you have sisters or brothers? Or your mother and dad?
RS: With my brother, his wife, daughter. My brother's son was killed in Georgia. It was a nationality conflict.
CZ: State Catholic.
RS: And he was killed.
CZ: And he was in the Army?
RS: No, no, not in Army. She want to [won't?] speak more about this.
CZ: I understand. So tell me how you lived in Baku. Did you live in an apartment.
CZ: Like this at all?
RS: It was an apartment, government apartment. One room, one kitchen.
CZ: Hot and cold, cold in the winter, hot in the summer?
RS: No, it was some utilities.
CZ: OK, so you came to the United States with your husband?
RS: No. He died in 1981.
CZ: Oh, before you came here, he passed away. And your parents? How long ago did they pass away, your mother and your dad?
RS: Her father died in 1943, when the war was. The mother died in 1985.
CZ: After your husband. Your father was in the military?
RS: No. He used to work, he was not young.
CZ: He was too old. I see. So what's different in your life here than in Baku? How is your life different? Do you do different things here?
RS: Here she lives better in the sense that she has an apartment, she has enough food, she can buy some clothes, she can do what she wants, she can go to synagogue. And it is better here.
CZ: Do you go to synagogue.
RS: Not so often but sometimes I go.
CZ: Anshai Israel?
CZ: Uh huh, on the holidays. Did your parents, were they, before communism, were they Jewish? Did they practice Judaism when they could, your parents?
RS: No, no. I came here with my brother and my brother's family and my nephew's wife and her two boys.
CZ: Oh, and they live here still? Oh, they live at La Mirada. Do you see them much? Do you visit them?
CZ: That's nice for you.
CZ: This picture of the man with the Torah, did you bring that or did you buy that since you were here?
RS: One woman make it and gave me.
CZ: Oh, how nice. So you're happy. Is there anything if you had, if I was to make recommendations to someone, is there anything you could see that would be done differently, that for you, when you first came to this country, or now? Transla te that? Was there any service, generally help that you could have gotten that you didn't get?
RS: Thank you very much America.
CZ: You're happy.
RS: People, American people...
CZ: Are they friendly to you? Are they nice to you?
CZ: Good. You know, I don't have your date of birth.
RS: February 11, 1924.
CZ: OK. Is there anything you want to tell me?
RS: The two boys of my nephew's wife they finished school here and now they study at the University.
CZ: How nice, how nice.
RS: They are very good students.
CZ: All A's, huh? Very good. You know, I can't help but think from talking to everybody about the people in the former Soviet Union, the big shots, the government leaders, the brain drain... do you know that word? All the smart people that have left Russia, USSR, the former USSR. I meant to ask you. Were there any definite anti-Semitic incidents, happenings?
RS: It was a big conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan people want to rid of Armenians, then Russian, then Jewish people.
RS: The Russian people, the Jewish people.
CZ: That order. I see. So they wanted to get rid of you.
CZ: About when was this? More recent history? Now?
RS: Now, when she left.
CZ: I see. Is that why you left?
RS: The last years when Stalin was in power it was very strong power and all people would be afraid to do something, not allowed by the government. But then perestroika, freedom of speech came and each republic want to be an independent state. Then came nationality conflicts and then it was more anti-Semitism.
CZ: More predominant. Well, I think, can you think of anything?
RS: Like many other people I left my native place because of anti-Semitism, because of not stability in economic, bad political situation. Relatives went here for young children to make them better future and she has to go with them because she was alone without them.
CZ: Not being by yourself. But it was a good move?
CZ: OK. So good. So I thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it very much and be well. I think, is there anything else you need to tell me or want to tell me?
RS: I am very glad to live here. I am very appreciative to the government of USA and to Jewish Family Service for the help and I feel now better than before in Azerbaijan. Good neighbors in this facility.
CZ: Nice. And there's a lot of Russian people too. That's good, very good. OK, well thank you.