My Life through My Dress­es: Grow­ing Up Socialist

January 1, 2013

In My Life through My Dress­es – Grow­ing Up Social­ist, Mari­na Berkovich describes her ear­ly life under the anti-Semit­ic choke of the Sovi­et Union, and shares what she learned about its total­i­tar­i­an con­trol over its cit­i­zens in Kiev, Ukraine where it was always even worse for the Jews. 

Grow­ing up in a dys­func­tion­al Jew­ish fam­i­ly with alco­holic absen­tee father and a Sovi­et work­er-bee moth­er, who strug­gled with pover­ty and com­plete dis­as­so­ci­a­tion from Judaism, the teenag­er was doomed to life of sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, until the coin­ci­den­tal, or per­haps even prov­i­den­tial, turns of her own life even­tu­al­ly led her and her mom towards gain­ing freedom. 

An unfath­omable chance to vis­it Poland, smug­gle con­tra­band out of and back into the USSR, and a brief tour of Maj­danek con­cen­tra­tion camp, are the begin­ning of their dif­fi­cult deci­sion to sur­ren­der the USSR cit­i­zen­ship, leave the rest of the fam­i­ly behind the Iron Cur­tain, and under­take the per­ilous jour­ney through 1979 Europe as a state­less refugees.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Mari­na Berkovich

  1. Did Marina’s choice to tell her life sto­ry through her dress­es help you gain insights into the world she lived in at that time? Which of her dress­es was a favorite of yours? Was it because of the lessons Mari­na was learning?

  2. What shocked you more – Marina’s rela­tion­ship with her moth­er, the abuse they under­went as Jews, the life of mil­lions of ordi­nary Sovi­et cit­i­zens, the exo­dus of Sovi­et Jew­ry out of the USSR or some­thing else?

  3. Were you com­par­ing Marina’s USSR life with yours and/​or your family’s in the USA or your trav­els behind the Iron Cur­tain? USSR, through KGB and their meth­ods, involved its cit­i­zens in main­tain­ing the myths it cre­at­ed to deceive for­eign­ers. Let’s discuss.

  4. After read­ing Marina’s book, will you still call the Union of Sovi­et Social­ist Republics a Com­mu­nist coun­try? Would you have liked to live in that coun­try dur­ing 1960s and 1970s or at any time it exist­ed? Why or why not?

  5. Mari­na described how class­es of cit­i­zens were formed and func­tioned in the USSR based on par­ty affil­i­a­tion, goods pro­cure­ment, dis­tri­b­u­tion sta­tus and so on. Social­ism puts itself for­ward as a class­less soci­etal sys­tem. Do you think it is pos­si­ble to have an objec­tive­ly class­less country/​world and how can that be achieved?

  6. How impor­tant is it to under­stand every­day social­ism in the cli­mate of esca­lat­ing anti­semitism of today’s world? Did this book help you dis­cuss social­ism or anti­semitism with your peers and family?

  7. How did Marina’s deeply per­son­al Sovi­et Jew­ish fam­i­ly sto­ry res­onate with you? Was the impact of athe­is­tic upbring­ing on a per­son dur­ing their for­ma­tive years impor­tant to you?

  8. Do you think Marina’s moth­er has a sim­i­lar view of the events Mari­na described? Or of their relationship?

  9. Babiy Yar and Maj­danek helped Mari­na embark on her own jour­ney to Judaism. Should the Holo­caust lega­cy be pro­tect­ed and reserved as a Jew­ish event” now that most sur­vivors are no longer among us and so many revi­sion­ists attempt to hijack or rewrite history?

  10. Did you march to free the Sovi­et Jew­ry? Are you glad they were able to get out and make it to their des­ti­na­tions? Have you ever envi­sioned the Sovi­et Jewry’s days in Europe as state­less refugees? Was Mari­na account of it sim­i­lar or dif­fer­ent to oth­ers you may have read?