In Part I, Katya (Kreina) Umansky applied for – and was refused – a visa to emigrate from the USSR to Israel. She then joined up with the Jewish underground, headed by Rabbi Getzel Vilensky. She was contacted by a KGB agent, Alexander Vladimirovitch, who hinted to her that he had information about her father, who had disappeared suddenly years earlier. Eventually Vladimirovitch introduced her to his superior, Colonel-General Kovalyov who offered her a job with the KGB. When she refused, he informed her that he would personally ensure that she never left the USSR.


Alexander Vladimirovitch didn't bother Katya for a while after the incident with Colonel-General Kovalyov. Katya, however, saw him everywhere she went. In the past, during their many talks, she had often seen a trace of sympathy in his eyes. Now she imagined him chasing her with his German shepherd dog and then killing her with that same expression of sympathy.

Working for the Jewish underground calmed her. She spent hours copying Jewish literature for distribution. If caught, she would be condemned to languish seven, eight or even twelve years in a prison or Siberian labor camp. But she learned to toss the fear over her shoulder and look ahead with faith and courage.

One afternoon, rolling her shopping cart filled with the copies she had labored over, she arrived at the subway station. If caught, she would be condemned to languish seven, eight or even twelve years in a prison. Right near the tracks stood her teacher, waiting to retrieve the precious copies and pay her for her work. Suddenly Katya, who like most refuseniks had developed a kind of radar, sensed a pair of eyes staring at her back. A cold chill ran through her. Someone had been following her. Someone was waiting for the right time to pounce on her. Katya swiftly got a hold of herself. She continued walking purposefully ahead, moving right past her teacher, as though she had no idea who he was.

It had been a narrow escape, but she needed a plan, a support system. And so her friends in the Underground helped her get in touch with a Dutch journalist (Raymond Von Dem Bogart) as well as an American Jewish couple who worked for the American embassy. Katya formed a close friendship with these kind people. But more importantly, if something were to happen to her, it would become known in the U.S., in Amsterdam and all over the world.

Still, the KGB weren't easily scared away. It didn't take long for Katya to notice that she was being shadowed day and night, wherever she went. But that didn't stop her. The constant surveillance was merely an annoyance that inspired her to become more active.

The dreaded knock came on a cold winter night. Katya was all alone and the hour was late. Up until then, the KGB had followed her on the street, but at a distance. They had tapped her phone, but didn't harass her. Now it seemed that the KGB had declared an open war against her.

Six strapping men marched into her home. The dreaded knock came on a cold winter night. Six strapping men marched into her home. One of them, their leader, handed Katya a search warrant – it was issued by the court, there was nowhere to run. Her heart hammered inside her chest, but she steeled herself. "Guys, please, keep together," she told them. If it was war they wanted, this was her territory and she was in control. "Go ahead and search," she said, her eyes flashing. "Just don't spread out all over the house, all of you stay in one place." The men, hardened KGB agents, were taken aback by her command, but they listened nonetheless.

The hours crept by. Katya watched as they scrutinized each and every paper inside her desk, on her bookshelf and in her closet. Under her watchful gaze they returned everything back into its place. Then they reached the closet where she usually kept her chemical photo laboratory. The leader, his lips set in a determined curve, turned the doorknob and yanked the door open. A row of empty shelves stared back at him. He ducked his head inside and touched the shelves with his hands. A thin layer of dust clung to his fingers. The silence thundered as each took a turn to grope inside the closet and emerged empty-handed.

At last, the long night came to an end. As the sun rose, the officers left, and safely alone, Katya gave way to numbness. It had been another close call. Just a week before she had decided to replace her photo equipment – it was old and inefficient – she had sold it for a fraction of the price. Now as the shafts of sunlight poured into her apartment, Katya shivered with the realization that G‑d had planted it in her heart to sell them.


The Underground rented a dacha, a small cabin in the countryside about an hour away from Moscow, surrounded by a garden and a small vegetable patch – the perfect place for the children of refuseniks to escape from the harshness of city life. Here they would be able to learn Torah in tranquility. Every Monday, in the early morning hours, Katya would stand at the railroad station awaiting the Jewish parents who came to deposit their children in her care. She had an average of six to eight children.

Posing as their mother, Katya traveled with them by train to the little dacha. There she taught them aleph bet, instructed them on the Jewish prayers and regaled them with tales of the holidays. On Thursdays, she traveled back home to resume her own studies and to teach Hebrew lessons to adults in her Moscow apartment until the next Monday when she again journeyed out with the children.

On a frigid winter morning, Katya awoke to strange sounds coming from the garden adjoining the dacha. Stealthily she headed to the door. What she saw shocked her. Four black Volgas were parked outside. At least twelve KGB agents were standing around. Her heart almost stopped. So they've finally come to get her. Out here in the wilderness. "Did they really think they needed twelve men to seize her?" She thought wryly. "And what about the children?"

The children, having awakened from the commotion came running to the door. In their curiosity they brushed past her and darted outside, their gleeful cries echoing in the morning stillness. Katya remained standing in place, bewildered. Should she deal with the KGB or take care of the children first who were frolicking barefoot on the snow covered grounds?

Then she noticed the cameras. Her frazzled nerves relaxed. They had come not to arrest her, but to photograph the dacha, the kids and her. She shrugged. "Let them take all the pictures in the world," she mused as she hurried after the children and brought them into the cabin. As long as they weren't arresting her. But the officers began to follow her inside. "You're not allowed here," she told them simply from the doorway. "Good bye." The officers turned and headed back to their Volgas, the crunching of the snow the only sound they made. Katya exhaled. G‑d was with her. She could think of no other explanation for what had just occurred.

More "battles" were fought and won across the USSR chess board. It was a game fraught with danger, but Katya saw herself not as a "knight" stuck in a corner, but a "pawn" with the ability to maximize its position, a pawn in the hand of G‑d.

In a twist of irony, Katya was sometimes hired to work as a Polish interpreter for the top Soviet institutions. It was a slip up of the highest order, the upshot of the organization's thick bureaucracy. While one department was intent on tapping her phone lines and keeping a close watch on her, another department appointed her to sit in booths, earphones strapped over her ears, to interpret for the Polish delegations. One division stripped her from employment, while another employed her to dine and wine with their Polish guests from abroad. The KGB was an enormous organization where the right hand didn't know from the left.

But when Katya's knowledge of Torah increased and she took on greater and greater levels of observance, her job as a Polish interpreter no longer fit into her lifestyle of Torah and mitzvot. In the same courageous way that she stood up to the forces from without, she prevailed over the rivals within to do what was right. She resigned from the post that might bring her to work on Shabbat or partake of unkosher food.

When Reb Getzel Velensky, the teire yid (precious Jew) who taught her about Judaism, discovered that Katya had forfeited her job for her religion he called her right away. "Kreina," he said. "I heard that you lost your job."

"It was my choice, Reb Geitche, because I didn't want to violate Shabbat."

"How much did you earn a month?"

"Two hundred rubles."

"I will give you two hundred rubles."

"You have work for me?" she asked excitedly. "What shall I do?"

"Nothing. Don't do anything."

"What do you mean, don't do anything? I can't sit home and receive two hundred rubles for doing nothing?"

"What would you like to do?" he asked.

"Reb Getzel, you know that my dream is to learn Torah."

"So do that."

"But that won't produce food," she reasoned.

"Why don't you teach the women Torah?"

Katya's eyes glowed. "I would like that a lot."

"Come to the synagogue. Women are constantly coming with their questions. They need someone. You can be there for them. I'll pay you for your work."

Torah was life, and Katya dove into its life-giving waters with ardor. Like starving wayfarers, the women, young and old, approached her, searching for a morsel of Jewish knowledge to nourish their hungry souls.

Helena, a beautiful seventeen year old girl came to ask her if she should become a nun.

Katya looked at her mildly, care in her eyes. "Why do you want to become a nun?"

"I believe in G‑d."

"I see. I believe in G‑d too. Let's talk about that. Do you want to come to my class?"

Helena's interest was piqued.

Then there was Ludmilla. One afternoon she came rushing into the synagogue in a panic. "Something terrible is going to happen to my son," she cried, wringing her hands. "I'm Jewish, but can I go to church to light the candles?"

"How do you know you're Jewish?" Katya asked her.

"My mother was Jewish."

"I see. What will the candles do for your son?"

"Bring mercy upon him."

"We have a merciful G‑d, do you know? Would you want to know more about Him?"

Ludmilla's eyes widened with joy. "Please, teach me everything you know."

In this manner, Katya gathered close to eighty students. Like starving wayfarers, the women, young and old approached her, searching for a morsel of Jewish knowledge to nourish their hungry souls. They met in her apartment where she taught them the aleph bet. She instructed them in Bible, in Jewish Law, in prayers and a little bit of everything. It filled her with immense satisfaction to see the subtle changes in her students. No longer did the term Jew denote only pain and isolation. They had a heritage, rich with meaning and they were a part of it all, they belonged. They stood straighter, their eyes shone and consequently they turned their sights on Israel, their homeland.

One after another her students made aliyah. Katya felt like a train conductor waving good-bye to the departing trains while she stayed on. The KGB had been true to its promise – a lifetime refusal had been issued and she remained stuck behind the Iron Curtain. Yet Katya's faith in G‑d never faltered. She now saw herself as His emissary with a mission to fulfill. She was needed to cultivate and tend to the frozen souls in this spiritual wasteland.

Sunday was a big day on Katya's calendar. On that day her little apartment became alive with excitement. Her simple dining room table would be converted into a "hospital bed," the air would become vibrant with the happiness of a mitzvah.

With their lives in their hands and joy in their hearts, they came – five or six adults, from all over the former Soviet Union. The surgeon, nurse, the anesthesiologist, all of them turned a blind eye to the KGB agent outside. Reb Getzel came too; to supervise the proceedings – his presence lighting up the room. Katya secluded herself in her kitchen, busily preparing for the feast that would follow, hoping that G‑d would protect them from the KGB. And so it was. Dozens of circumcisions were performed. Not once did the agent enter her home during a circumcision.


With all the excitement in her life now, Katya hardly recognized the familiar voice of Alexander Vladimirovitch, when he telephoned her one summer day in 1988.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

His voice transported her to a different world. For a moment, she felt an urge to ask him where her father was, but she resisted. He would never tell her and she wouldn't give him the pleasure of asking. Instead, she kept her voice brisk and business-like. "How can I help you, Alexander Vladimirovich?"

"You have a brilliant memory, Katerina. We're starting to teach Hebrew in KGB school. Do you want to work for us as a teacher?"

"Do you think I'll say 'yes' after all these years?"

"We live in Perestroyka. Gorbachev is president, and he changed the way the KGB works now; aren't you aware?"

"Sorry I don't believe in the repentance of the crocodile."

"You're just as bad as before."

And the phone went dead.


The grey clouds obscured the sun as Katya made her way home past the empty parks and dejected looking boulevards. It was autumn again, eleven long years since Katya had first applied for emigration. The leaves were beginning to change colors, the cold and rain turning the tapestry of color into dead leaves mixed with mud. It was a season that matched the despair and melancholy of Moscow's citizens.

As soon as she entered her home, Katya noticed the postcard that had arrived by mail informing her that she was being summoned to the OVIR, a department of the KGB. What now? She wondered. What do they want from me this time? She felt her strength ebbing. "G‑d," she cried, "help me in the same way You helped me until now."

When Katya arrived at the OVIR, she slipped the postcard and her brown passport to the clerk through the glass partition and prepared herself for a long wait. The OVIR was a slow moving bureaucratic beast – they had all the time in the world. To her surprise, the clerk immediately ushered her through massive oak doors. "The Chief of OVIR," read the plaque. Katya was overcome with fear.

Inside the massive office, sat the chief of OVIR himself, studying her intensely. "Madam Umansky," he said. "Can I see your passport and your work certificate please?" Katya was momentarily caught off guard. Madam? Was that how he'd called her? What was going on here? There was a tremor in her hand when she placed the documents on his desk.

"You won't be needing these any longer," he said. Katya pursed her lips and swallowed, suppressing her urge to cry out. Would it be prison or Siberia? Would she be interrogated? Tortured?

"You have two weeks to get ready," she heard him say. "We recommend," he emphasized the word recommend, "that you get a visa at the American Embassy and purchase a ticket to the USA within two weeks. You must leave this country."

Katya couldn't move. She was dumbfounded. The office, the OVIR chief, everything seemed to be an illusion. In utter disbelief she watched the chief slide a red passport across the desk. "This is your international passport," he said.

She took the document and left the office in a daze, a cloud seemed to hang over her eyes and inside her head. It didn't seem real. All her hopes and desires of eleven years were about to come true.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had had enough of Katya Umansky.


Postscript from Katya (Kreina):

My father, Lev Umansky, a geophysicist who discovered several gas and oil fields in the Baltic Seas and Northern Russia, was never found or heard from again since I last saw him, in August, 1978. A criminal investigation was opened regarding his disappearance, but was closed due to absence of evidence.

Remember Jacob, who suffered so much because Joseph was missing? I understand that story all too well...