Thursday, April 1, 2010

Russia to China to the good old USA

This is my story.
My Father, George Alexis Skopichenko, shortened to Scope when he became an American citizen, was born in February 13, 1913 in Samara, Russia into an aristocratic family to Alexis Vladimirovich Skopichenko and Olga Petrovna Zavadovski. Alexis was born in Pskov, Russia and Olga was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. When my Dad was a small boy, the revolution broke out and his family had to escape from Russia to avoid being executed. The entire family of Father, Mother, 5 daughters and 1 son were able to board the Trans Siberian Train to make their escape to China. They left behind all of their belongings except some money and jewels which they sewed into the hems of their coats. They traveled in cattle cars, crammed in so that they could barely move. In the middle of each car was a huge kettle of boiling water in which they could boil a few potatoes for nourishment and which they used for sanitation purposes. During the trip there was a sudden stop and the pot spilled over burning quite a few people. My Dad was one of those. He was terribly burned, but he survived. It took him over a year to learn to walk again. He had a miraculous recovery and I knew him free of any scarring. They also had to burn any of their identifying paperwork and information because if they had been found out, they would have been shot on the spot for being White Russians and against communism. Like many of those who left Russia, they had self inflicted loss of memory. They forced themselves to forget important dates, places, and events because of their fear of being identified. They finally made their way to Shanghai, China and settled there.
My Mothers parents German Simonovich Popoff, born in Russia, and Katherine Pavlovna Farafontoff, born in Blagovyeshinskaya, AP, Siberia, Russia, had 2 daughters one of whom was my Mom Olga Germanovna born the 5th of June 1913 in Harbin, China. They were living in China because my Grandfather was working for the Diplomatic Service. He did a lot of work for the Tzar and also for the Japanese Emperor. He spoke 5 oriental languages besides his native Russian, English and some others. Because of his work and awards from the Tzar and the Emperor, he too has some very interesting stories of near capture.
My parents met and married in China. They had a very good life there. Many, many Russians escaped to China and made their life there. Their lives were good. They worked hard and they spent time enjoying each others company too. The wives always vacationed in Harbin or Peking in the summer time with their children. The husbands would make periodic visits. In my parents home they had a maid, a boy, a cook, and 2 Ammas (nursemaid), 1 for each child. My Dad owned an import/export delicatessen and store. They lived in the French concession in Shanghai. At that time Shanghai was divided into 4 concessions: French, English, German, and Russian.
7 years after they were married I was born in Shanghai, China. Because of being born there I could have both French and Chinese citizenship as well as Russian, but when I became a United States Citizen I signed a paper giving up all other country relationships. My life in China was a luxurious one. My parents were wealthy there and so I was raised with a "golden spoon" in my mouth.
This did not last long because communism came to China. Once again my family had to flee. They knew things were changing. They were experiencing the infiltration of communism and they wanted to get out. At first they were going to go to Australia along with my grandparents. Our immediate family Mother, Father, me and my baby brother were given visas, but Australia would not issue visas to my grandparents their objection being that they were too old (63 and 52). So then they decided to go to the USA. My Dad bought first class tickets and all was set. Suddenly we received a letter from my uncle in Seattle, Washington telling my Dad that American lines were striking and if we wanted to leave China, we had better take the General Gordon, which would be the last ship to leave China. My Dad was able to change the tickets and we got 3rd class tickets. All of the men traveled on one of the lower levels of the ship and the women and children traveled in the cargo area. I remember there were bunks and bunks and bunks as far as my little eyes could see. Each bunk, top and bottom, carried 2 people. I was with my Mom and my brother was with my Grandma. The trip was long and arduous. There were many, many people who became sick. Many were seasick with lots of vomiting, dehydration, and moaning. I personally became very, very sick. My Grandma and
Mom were sick too. The only thing that saved me was the fact that my Grandpa and Dad would take turns sneaking oranges for us to eat. The menu on the ship was rice and more rice. There was a cupful for each person per day. I think there were a few other things to eat, but I was too little to remember. The personnel thought that since we were coming from China we wanted and needed only rice. The men, however, were given a bit more food. My Dad and Grandpa would take oranges and come to the pole that the sailors used for going from one level to another. As they stood by the pole at the top on the higher deck, either my Mom or Grandmother, who would drag themselves from their sick bed, would stand by the pole on the lower deck. Then my Dad or Grandfather would drop an orange down through his pant leg to the waiting Mom or Grandmother below. Because of this daring act, I was saved. My brother who was about 18months old felt just great. He was very active and loved climbing and running around. Luckily for us, there was a sailor, a huge black fellow, who took a great liking to my brother. He took him on as his responsibility for the duration of the trip. He carried him everywhere and let him climb and run around as much as he wanted. People were amused at this relationship because one was so black and the other so light and blong, one so huge, and one so little. We are so grateful to that sailor because without him, we don't know what would have happened. Our ship finally arrived in the port of San Francisco, California, USA. Even though I was so sick and being carried in my Dad's arms because I was too weak to walk, I remember approaching the port. I remember the people being soooooo excited and grateful. I remember many of them kissing the deck of the ship in gratitude for making it safely to the land of the free. I remember many giving prayers of thanks to our Lord. I remember seeing the beautiful, shining, white skyline of San Francisco. I remember the cheers and yelling of all the people as we came closer and closer to docking. What a wonderful, marvelous day. We could once again live the life that we wanted to live. We could attend church as we wished We could go where we wanted to go. We would have no curfew. We would be FREE!!!!!!
Life was not easy after we got there. My Father had left his store and all of his assets in the hands of his sister and brother-in-law. They were supposed to sell the store, liquidate everything and send the money to my Dad. Sadly during the time we were traveling, the brother-in-law had a heart attack and died. The Chinese government came in and took everything from my Father's sister. They said that a woman could have no rights, that she could not have or sell the store and they took all of the assets, home, everything. And so there we were in a new country with only a little knowledge of the language and just the things on our backs and some money that my Dad brought. Fortunately we did have a place to live because we had relatives living in Oakland who had sponsored us and who kindly welcomed us. My parents just kept on doing what they needed to do. Within a week my Dad had a job. His first job in the US was working in the shipyards repairing ships for the Navy. Within 2 weeks he had purchased a small home in Richmond Annex and a car. My grandparents also looked for work. My Mom took care of the children although she did also go to work after some time. My grandmother got a job working in a coat factory doing piece work. She ( an accomplished and experienced seamstress) began by sewing buttons onto coats and being paid a small wage for each button that she sewed. It took her over an hour and a half to get to work each day: first walk to the bus stop. Then transfer to a bus that would go across the bay to S.F. and then a 3rd bus that would take her to the factory. My grandparents later got a job as gardener and housekeeper for a family. Life was difficult, but no one complained. They were happy and happy to work. They were happy to be living a life of freedom.
There were many Russians who came to S.F. In fact many Russians who lived in S.F. came to there in the early 1920's, in the wake of the Russian Revolution. By 1974 there were over 35,000 people of Russian birth living in the S.F. Bay Area. Many of the Russians who came were learned, cultured, sophisticated people. They had great educations and great jobs before and now they were working as maids, gardeners, factory workers, janitors, and other menial jobs. But they did not lose their sense of self. They were happy to work. They did not feel embarrassed or ashamed of what they were doing. They developed their talents and little by little they got better jobs. They provided for their children and their families. They did not depend on the government to support them. They are proud of their heritage and keep many of their traditions and customs as well as their language, but they are more proud of being Americans. They speak English. They vote. They want to be and they are good citizens of the land that gave them refuge.
I was excited and thrilled to become a citizen. I remember my parents and grandparents studying and studying to take the citizenship test. I would work with them and test their knowledge. I was too young to have to take any tests. I was under the blanket of my parents. However, I did have to sign my own paperwork and testify that I indeed wanted to become a citizen. I remember going to the Immigration Office and sensing the tension and fear in the people there waiting to take their test and interview and then feeling and seeing the extreme excitement and happiness at passing and becoming a citizen. It was a great day!
I grew up in San Francisco with a wonderful family who was always warm and loving and kind to me and really to everyone. I never heard my parents or my grandparents say an unkind or angry word to each other. I never heard them argue. I knew only love and consideration although we children were disciplined and taught to be respectful and morally strong. I went to school and college in San Francisco. During my high school years I also attended Russian School 2 times a week and on Saturday mornings where we studied the language, grammar, history, and literature. I and my classmates loved going there. We had a lot of fun. Each year we would put on a big play and we had many fun activities. And so here is my story starting in Russia, going to China and ending up in the land of the free and the home of the brave, America.














What a blessed woman I am.

10 comments:

c.griffith said...

I love, love, love your story! It is so fun to read and that you remember even the smallest details! It is so cool that your family can carry it on. We are so blessed and it makes me sad that many take it for granted. Thanks for sharing! I love you!

** Dre and Yoho ** said...

love the story!! that is soo great!

Jay said...

I knew snippets of your story, but not the whole thing. What an amazing journey you and your family have taken. It's so great you can document it for future generations too. Thanks for sharing. I love it!

nikko said...

I really enjoyed reading, too. Such an amazing story. Thank you for sharing.

Yvonne said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. What an amazing story. I loved reading it. What an interesting life you have had. It is incredible to me to think of what you are doing now--how you are able to help so many others because of what you have experienced.

(My dad worked in the shipyards, too. Small world--maybe they worked together, eh ; )

Jared Idiart said...

Wow, I had no idea, what an adventure, what sacrifice, and what determination! I'm glad you guys made it here, what would life be like for us without you guys? I hope you and your hubby are well!

Robin said...

I am glad you shared that. I love learning about family history. How lucky you were to have parents who wanted better for all their family and worked hard and started over many times.

Shuldberg's in Texas said...

I also knew parts of your story, but to put it all together...WOW!!

Thanks for sharing.

utmommy said...

I didn't even know all that. I'm so glad you wrote it down. I love you!

Connie said...

Natalie,
Thank you, thank you for sharing your amazing, heart-felt story! I am so impressed with your parents foresight and desire for a better life for their children. I will be in Shanghai, China in June.

I would love to hear the rest of the story; your conversion, meeting your husband, where you raised your family, your mission call, etc.

Have a fantastic day!