Read & discuss: 13 year old against the KGB (short story)
Updated: Mar 12, 2021
For nearly two decades The Jewish Press publicized the cause of Marina Tiemkin of Moscow. She had been kidnapped as a teenager by the KGB at her mother’s instigation in 1973 after she declared her intention to leave for Israel with her father, Dr. Alexander Tiemkin. Faced with the choice of emigration or the gulag, Dr. Tiemkin eventually arrived in Israel and waged an unceasing public campaign for Marina’s freedom.
During that time, little was known about Marina’s fate other than the fact that she was finally, after several years, able to break free of her mother’s grip and associate with young Jews who loved Israel. By 1989, as the USSR began to disintegrate, Marina managed to visit Israel along with her husband, Grigory Davidovsky; their child was kept behind to ensure their return to Russia. A year later, Marina and her family were finally able to immigrate to Israel. Only recently, and now in her mid-50s, did Marina decide to confront her traumatic refusenik past and write about the first five years after her kidnapping.
Introduction and background on life in the Soviet Union in the 1970s through the perspective of a young girl.
How to stay true to ideals under social pressure.
It is recommended to first give a brief introduction to the students: Background of Soviet Jewry .
Press HERE to download/print Marina Tiomkin's photos and read Marina Tiomkin's testimony.
Discuss with the students (recommended discussion points are listed at the bottom of this page.
By Marina Tiemkin Davidovsky / The Jewish Press
"I was born in Moscow into a Jewish family. My mother was a doctor and my father was a scientist in the field of physics. I received a typical Soviet education. At the age of 6 or 7, I was told by father that I was a Jew and belonged to the Jewish nation.
When I was 11 or 12, my father started teaching me Hebrew. At around that time I read two books that had a big impact on me and changed my perspective on life: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and I Must Tell, written by a survivor of the Vilna ghetto, Masha Rolnik.
I re-read those books many times, and discussed them with my father along with the feelings they left with me.
During these conversations, my father revealed that he wanted to make aliyah to Israel. I said I wanted to make aliyah together with him.
My mother adamantly opposed this idea and received strong support from her mother, who was an active member of the Communist Party. Grandmother managed to pass on to the KGB the information about my father’s and my desire to leave.
A campaign against us – marked by warnings and threats – started, and the police visited our home on a number of occasions. They said that if we applied to emigrate to Israel, criminal charges would be leveled against us.
At the same time, my father was fired from his position and the police began following us. The headmistress and teachers in my school conducted talks with me. They tried to blame my father for his “bad influence” and said: “Marina, you are a Soviet girl just like all the others, and this is your motherland. Israel is an enemy state.”
Parallel to this, my parents’ divorce trial was held and it turned out to be a political show trial. Contrary to the law, I was not allowed to express my opinion as to which parent I would prefer to be with. The court decided I should be under my mother’s sole custody, arguing that my father was a “political criminal” and a harmful influence on me.
Immediately following the trial I was summoned to see an inspector in the Ministry of Education. She demanded that I agree to travel to the Pioneer Young Communist indoctrination camp and stay there until I changed my mind.
I told the inspector I would not change my mind and that I wished to emigrate to Israel. She said that if I resisted, I would be forcibly placed in a hospital for the mentally ill.
In the meantime, my father applied for an exit visa together with me. We were turned down several times. One day, as I exited the emigration office with my father, the KGB apprehended us and took us to a police station for interrogation. They spoke to me separately. I explained to them that I was a Jew and therefore wanted to live in my homeland, Israel, just like Russians want to live in their homeland.
Marina Tiemkin Davidovsky with her husband, Grigory, and their son Michael.
I was still being followed everywhere. At one point, an attempt was made to force me into a car but I escaped. I feared returning home lest I be kidnapped, so I went to live with my paternal grandmother, whom I loved dearly.
* * * * *
In January 1973 my father’s parental rights were completely negated by the authorities. I took this very hard and decided to leave the Pioneer Youth. I removed the group’s red tie and in its place wore a Star of David.
On February 19, 1973, I returned from school as usual to my grandmother’s house, where we sat down to eat lunch. My grandmother and my father were at the table with me. Suddenly, four strange men (who, it became clear, were KGB agents) grabbed me hard by the hand and dragged me to the apartment door.
I tried to resist: I kicked, pinched, pushed, all to no avail. They got me into the elevator, took me downstairs, and threw me into a big black car parked alongside the building. Two men sat on either side of me. I continued to struggle, trying to reach the door handle, to open it and escape, but without success.
The moment the car started moving I saw my father at the entrance of the building. I’ll never forget the look on his face at that moment: horror, suffering, and powerlessness all rolled into one.
I was taken to the airport without warm clothing, while outdoors the winter snow and cold reigned. Dressed in no more than my school uniform, I was flown to a location near the Black Sea. A car met the plane and I was driven to Orlionok, a resort during vacation time.
To me, the place was a prison. I declared a hunger strike, and for four days I didn’t eat anything until a man from the administration came and told me I would be force-fed.
I was frightened but told my captors I’d stop the hunger strike if they would deliver letters from me to my father and my grandmother. They promised. Of course, they didn’t keep the promise. I wrote eight letters; not one was delivered.
They forced me to wear the Pioneer camp uniform, to be like all the others and participate in all the training sessions. When I said I didn’t want to, they said: “There’s nothing terrible if you suffer a little.”
And, just as it was in Moscow, I was being followed at all times.
After several weeks in Orlionok, I managed to place a call to a friend of my father and told him where I was. My father came to visit me. I told him how bad it was for me there and begged him to take me out of the camp. But it was impossible.
When my father left, I was immediately called to the director’s office where I was warned: Any more visits with my father, grandmother, or friends would result in strict sanctions being applied.
“You’d be better off not trying it,” I was told.
I gave in, and that’s how the next seven months passed. I tried to evade the Komsomol Young Communist activities but was forced to participate.
* * * * *
In October 1973, Padalova Albetina, the national chairperson of the Komsomol, arrived in Orlionok.
“Do you want to return home to Moscow?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I will help you, but there are conditions,” she said. “Your father has left you.” She was referring to the fact that my father finally had managed to make aliyah that very month.
“He is no longer your father. It is forbidden for you to meet your paternal grandmother, your father’s friends, or any person connected to your father. If you do so, you’ll be sent away permanently, and never allowed to return home. Don’t worry – we know everything.”
She then smiled and left. I was in shock and had mixed feelings. The following month I was returned to Moscow, to my mother’s and maternal grandmother’s house. They acted as if nothing had happened. I was afraid to talk and ask questions.
Time passed and I resumed a life of familiar routine. Then one day on my way home from school, I met my paternal grandmother. I didn’t hold back: I spoke with her. She was so happy –but she was also frightened, just like I was.
That evening I received a telephone call summoning me to the KGB building for a chat. I was told that if I were ever seen again with my father’s mother, sanctions would be applied and I would no longer remain in Moscow.
I understood quite clearly that the surveillance was ongoing.
* * * * *
From Israel my father made repeated attempts to contact with me via newspapers like the Jerusalem Post. This resulted in my receiving more warnings. I stopped talking to people I suspected were in contact with my father.
The weeks and months continued to pass. In the meantime I completed my secondary school studies and began attending the Pedagogical Institute in Moscow. It was now four years since my return to Moscow. I was 18. I decided it was time to once again visit my paternal grandmother.
My boyfriend and I went to her apartment. She was overjoyed to see me and we spoke at length. She told us she was alone and how difficult it was for her. I promised I would come to help her.
Some of her neighbors saw my visit and apparently reported it to the authorities. The next day I was again summoned by the KGB. I was told: “Have you forgotten the conditions for your return? It’s forbidden for you to see your father’s mother!”
I told them, “She’s old and I want to help her.” But they only repeated their threats.
All those years following my return to Moscow, my life was enveloped in fear. I suppressed that whole period, along with my feelings. Until now I dared not discuss it with anyone.
Why did the KGB try to put pressure on Marina?
How do you think the KGB knew about every step and action of Marina?
Why do you think Marina's mother cooperated with the KGB and tried to separate Marina from her father?
Why do you think Marina's father left and immigrated to Israel without Marina? (Answer: He was probably threatened with imprisonment, which in any case would separate him from his daughter, and he probably thought that through Israel he could apply pressure and bring her in as well).
Why did Marina want to be in Israel?