Hello, my name is Anatole Konstantin. When I was ten years old, my father was taken from my home in the middle of the night by Stalin’s Secret Police. He disappeared and we later discovered that he was accused of espionage because he corresponded with his parents in Romania. Our family became labeled as “enemies of the people” and we were banned from our town. I spent the next few years as a starving refugee working on a collective farm in Kazakhstan with my mother and baby brother. When the war ended, we escaped to Poland and then West Germany. I ended up in Munich where I was able to attend the technical university. After becoming a citizen of the United States in 1955, I worked on the Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Launcher and later started an engineering company that I have been working at for the past 46 years. I wrote a memoir called “A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin”, published by University of Missouri Press, which details my experiences living in the Soviet Union and later fleeing. I recently taught a course at the local community college entitled “The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire” and I am currently writing the sequel to A Red Boyhood titled “America Through the Eyes of an Immigrant”.

Here is a picture of me from 1947.

My book is available on Amazon as hardcover, Kindle download, and Audiobook: http://www.amazon.com/Red-Boyhood-Growing-Under-Stalin/dp/0826217877

Proof: http://imgur.com/gFPC0Xp.jpg

My grandson, Miles, is typing my replies for me.

Edit (5:36pm Eastern): Thank you for all of your questions. You can read more about my experiences in my memoir. Sorry I could not answer all of your questions, but I will try to answer more of them at another time.

Comments: 2565 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

JTGuitarnerd1218 karma

Do you think that Putin is dangerous?

AnatoleKonstantin1946 karma

Putin is trying to restore Russia to its previous power and influence in the neighboring countries. It is difficult to predict how far he would go. It all depends on the reaction of the world. Many Russians agree with him and he is still very popular. He is trying to replace the ideas of communism with the ideas of nationalism.

wizardkick916 karma

Did you ever go back to the Soviet Union/Russia?

AnatoleKonstantin1857 karma

In 1990 I travelled to Ukraine and in my town of Khmelnik nothing had been repaired or painted since the time I left it in 1945.

HarkASquirrel587 karma

If you could have the opportunity to do so, would you go back now (or at some point in the future when Ukraine isn't in a state of war)?

Greetings from Lviv!

AnatoleKonstantin1170 karma

I would like to go for a visit, but I am too Americanized to live there.

Tuxpc814 karma

Why do you think your father and family were singled out by the secret police?

AnatoleKonstantin1910 karma

Because my father corresponded with his parents in Romania and any contact with a foreign country was grounds for suspicion of espionage. Once the family became an "enemy of the people", we were subjected to eviction and persecution. After Father was arrested we did not know what happened to him and only in 1990 did we get a letter from the KGB saying that he was executed in 1938 and that he was being "posthumously rehabilitated", which means that they were admitting he was innocent.

braxtonianman548 karma

Thank you so much for doing this ama. I have two questions: While you were still in the USSR, how much propaganda was actually present, and how did people react to it?

What was the thing that kept you going when you were in Kazakhstan? It seems so easy to have just given up hope.

AnatoleKonstantin798 karma

The propaganda was ever-present beginning with kindergarten. It came through books, radio, songs, and school. People pretended to believe it in order to avoid suspicion of being disloyal.

We didn't give up hope of victory over the Nazis and a better future for us even though sometimes it appeared that the Nazis may win the war.

Roznak537 karma

What do you think about the bloggers law in Russia?

AnatoleKonstantin963 karma

Putin is trying to introduce censorship and the bloggers law is a part of this attempt to control communication and news. He already controls the nationwide channels on television and nationwide newspapers. Even though he still does not control local newspapers, they censor themselves and follow his line if they know what is good for them.

alent1234293 karma

Where are you originally from? I had distant family that was killed too

AnatoleKonstantin391 karma

I am from the town of Khmelnik in Ukraine. It is not far from Vinnitsa.

pkosuda434 karma

I am Polish, and my great grandfather lived in Russia(a part that used to be a part of Poland before it was annexed), and he was a high ranking official in his town. Because of that reason, the Russian Secret Police took him one day in the very early morning, and executed him. My family was only able to identify him because he did not finish shaving and only shaved half his face, so later on when the mass grave was undug, they found the body with a half shaved face.

Just figured I would share my story, as I'm guessing he was only a decade, if that, older than you were. My parents also grew up in Soviet Union controlled Poland and have tons of stories about it.

You're a strong man for enduring what you have, and have my utmost respect.

Edit: For those interested, he was from Stołowacz, a village very close to Bielsk Podlaski. It is now a part of Poland again, thankfully. He was taken away and shot somewhere else. And was shot for being a sołtys, which is pretty much a "village leader", like what a mayor would be for a larger town.

From Wikipedia, about Bielsk Podlaski, the town right next to Stołowacz, and the place many people would say they are from since there were so many villages in Poland that it would just be easier to state the larger area. It was either during the 1939 invasion or when it was captured by the Soviets again in 1944, that this happened. I'm sorry it doesn't have good grammar and no sources, as I'm sure it's pretty hard to find sources on what happened in a small town back then, and this part of the article could have been written by a local:

During the 1939 Invasion of Poland, the town was captured by the Wehrmacht, which on September 23 handed it over to the Soviets, who remained here until June 23, 1941, forcibly sending thousands to Siberia. In 1941 - 1944, the town was occupied by the Third Reich. Germans murder its Jewish minority, and in a nearby forest kill app. 800 Poles. Bielsk was captured by the Red Army on July 30, 1944.

Also, I got the ages wrong. As I am 20, and my grandfather(his son) is going to be 98 in September, that would put my great grandfather a couple of decades older than Mr. Konstantin, since even my grandfather was 23 during the invasion of Poland(1939), making his father probably in his 40s, maybe late 30's depending how early they had my grandfather(as was common back then).

AnatoleKonstantin372 karma

In our town, about 800 people were buried in the KGB's backyard.

Thank you for sharing your story.

DaManmohansingh96 karma

In a way could your exile have saved your life? Vinnitsa (and the region) saw some particularly brutal fighting during the great war.

AnatoleKonstantin160 karma

Yes, it is true, but many people did not survive in exile also.

Yung_Don259 karma

Thanks for sharing your amazing story! I've always wondered how omnipresent the state surveillance apparatus was. Was there such a thing as a normal daily life or could you feel the state breathing down your neck at all times? Could you afford to be more relaxed outside of urban centres or was it just impossible to avoid?

AnatoleKonstantin371 karma

It was impossible to avoid, but people tried to ignore it because any appearance of fear would only increase their suspicion. This doesn't mean that every single person was followed, but the possibility of it was enough to terrorize the population. It was more intense in towns and cities than in villages.

Necronomiconomics163 karma

What do you think about the rise of the omnipresent surveillance apparatus of the state in modern Western nations? Your answer is being recorded for your files.

AnatoleKonstantin320 karma

This surveillance in Western nations was not instituted just for its own sake. It was the need for it brought by 9/11 and we really do not know how much of it will be sufficient to protect us from people who are willing to die for their cause. Our judiciary system is based on punishing deeds, but now we are forced to prevent the evildoers from committing these deeds and this requires knowledge of intent.

M0therPlucker210 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA! My grandparents were also alive at this time and I've heard scattered stories, which have always interested/horrified me. I had a couple of questions:

  1. How did Russians generally feel about Stalin during the time? Was support mostly fear based, or did propaganda play a bigger role?
  2. Is it true that things like possession of bubblegum and blue jeans would land you in jail for smuggling?

Thanks again for the AMA! I look forward to reading this.

AnatoleKonstantin295 karma

He was supported by fear because any indication of disagreement with his line would lead to exile in the best case and to execution in the worst.

Possession of bubblegum and blue jeans could create suspicion of being a black marketeer, but it wasn't really dangerous.

oudamaga192 karma

What was the best thing about your life living in the Soviet Union?

AnatoleKonstantin983 karma

Getting out of there.

TheStadiaArchitect178 karma

Hello Anatole, what did you do to help time pass when you were in Kazakhstan and what work did you do while there?

AnatoleKonstantin338 karma

I read books which were available at a small library that for some reason, being in the sticks, had been overlooked by censors and I was able to find books that had been banned in larger libraries which was very interesting. When not going to school, I worked on a collective farm harvesting sugar beets or raking hay.

I_dont_have_username176 karma

When someone is talking about crimes of Hitler and how terrible it all was, do you ever get the feeling that you wanna say "But what about Stalin?"? As a citizezn of ex-Soviet state, I do. I feel like the crimes of Stalin are rather unnoticed, mainly because they were on the winning side.

AnatoleKonstantin351 karma

I feel exactly the way you do, but I think Stalin's crimes were underreported because many in the media were sympathetic to communism. For example, at the time when about six million Ukrainians starved to death the New York Times correspondent, Walter Duranty, received the Pulitzer Prize for his reports from the Soviet Union saying that there was no hunger in Ukraine.

Mises2Peaces163 karma

Do any authoritarian trends by any current governments worry you?

AnatoleKonstantin258 karma

Yes, particularly in Russia.

thegreaterrobot147 karma

What is your opinion on the current state of world affairs and US interfering in a few comments? Do you think it is justified?

Also thanks Miles, this is a great opportunity and it is good that you got your grandfather to do this!

AnatoleKonstantin510 karma

The current state of world affairs is terrible, but it is not all due to interference by the United States. The world needs a policeman, but our interference has to be based on reality and not on the assumption that people everywhere desire democracy.

FunandFailure142 karma

Prior to your father being taken how did you feel about the Soviet Union? Once taken, did you assume he had been killed?

AnatoleKonstantin240 karma

I knew that many people had been imprisoned before my father and at my age, with the continuous Soviet propaganda, I thought that there was a reason they were arrested. After that, believing that he was innocent, I began doubting that the others were guilty. For a long time we were hoping to hear from him, but after several years we assumed he had been killed.

robinthehood133 karma

Do you hate communism?

AnatoleKonstantin276 karma

Yes. Think of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

Alma_Negra105 karma

1: Have you been back to Romania?

2: What were the most important lessons you've learned while being persecuted by Stalin?

3: What were your reactions after his death and the fall of Stalinism?

4: What's your favorite hobby? Then and now.

AnatoleKonstantin278 karma

I have been back to the Ukraine in 1990 as the Soviet Union was falling apart which made people hope that there will be improvement in their condition.

The most important lesson was that you have to compare propaganda with the actual situation. We were being constantly told that life in the Soviet Union is better than in the capitalist countries, but as soon as the contact with the West showed that this wasn't true, people lost faith in the Soviet government.

I was overjoyed when Stalin died because he is from Georgia and many people there lived to a hundred years old which would have meant another quarter century of his rule.

My favorite hobby is reading books on history. As a child my hobby was to build machinery with an Erector set.

SenorSexy101 karma

After leaving the Soviet Union, and living in America, what was the most jarring transition you had to make to "integrate" into American society?

Also, how was your response to the changes within the USSR itself (such as the unification of Berlin, or the fall of the USSR)?

AnatoleKonstantin203 karma

The most jarring event upon arrival to the United States was when the customs agent took away my identification papers and when I asked them whether I needed them they told me not to worry about it and that they would be sent to me. Coming from USSR and Germany, where one didn't leave the house without having the internal passport with you, this was quite a shock to me. This immediately made me feel at home. Of course now things have changed and they don't do that anymore.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union looked very promising and was very beneficial to their former satellite countries, but Russia itself is going down a nationalist path and it is impossible to tell where it will lead.

Ska-jayjay97 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA.

Information about the soviet union is difficult to come by, and often anecdotal.

From what you know, how accurate was Solzhenitsyn's Gulag archipelago?

People have described the story as being a fantasy and nothing close to the truth, but i'm inclined to believe that is was closer to the truth then many would believe

AnatoleKonstantin262 karma

Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" is very accurate, but I can recommend the book by Anne Applebaum called "Gulag: A History" which is a thorough study of the gulags.

I have a carving from the bone of one of the wooly mammoths that were occasionally found in the permafrost in the gulag mines. Their flesh was so well preserved that the starving prisoners ate it.

linuxjava88 karma

Do you feel like communism is inherently wrong/bad/evil?

Do you think that in the rise of automation and AI that we might one day have communist societies?

AnatoleKonstantin236 karma

The reason I think it is inherently evil is because in China there was Mao and in Cambodia there was Pol Pot so that it wasn't only the Soviet Union that was evil.

I do not think that automation and artificial intelligence will lead to communism because the society will still need individual incentives, which communism destroys.

Medza86 karma

What are your views on Gorbachev ?

AnatoleKonstantin275 karma

Gorbachev did not intend to destroy the Soviet Union, but he and Yeltsin have done a great service to the world by doing it and I would like to shake his hand.

DionKr84 karma

Hello, thank you for doing this AMA! What is your current political view? Also, this year I'm going to start a study on aeronautical engineering, any tips for starting with a technical study?

AnatoleKonstantin366 karma

Like most immigrants from the Soviet Union, I do not believe that government control of everything is beneficial.

My only suggestion to those studying engineering and sciences is not to neglect humanities.

buckeyeredwing0279 karma

How did you view the U.S. while living in the USSR?

AnatoleKonstantin216 karma

I remember my mother telling us that during the famine of the 1920's the United States distributed grain in Ukraine. In spite of all the propaganda, during the second world war, we saw the American trucks and jeeps that were given to the Soviet Union by the United States. Also, there was powdered milk, powdered eggs, and canned meat and fish that came from the United States. While we could only dream of foreign travel, the United States was the place I was dreaming about.

Wolf48276 karma

As a witness to a the definition of a totalitarian state, do you see any nations that are "free," but yet seem to be on a slippery slope towards a similar fate of the Soviet Union?

AnatoleKonstantin142 karma

Yes, some of the nations of central Asia, like Turkmenistan, that were part of the Soviet Union are continuing policies similar to those of the Soviets.

BattleSwab75 karma

Did you ever face any suspicion or mistrust from people in the United States when they found out you used to be a Soviet citizen?

AnatoleKonstantin248 karma

No, the only negative attitude I had encountered was from people who were leftists when I was telling them about what the Soviet Union was like.

Thegreatpatsby59 karma

Thanks for sharing your story with us!

My question is, was there ever a time you can remember, or your parents, where the community was excited about Lenin and Stalin's eventual rise to power? I understand there were many factions fighting for power near the end of Nikolas, but I'm curious about the average person's reaction to the Bolshevik rise and its ultimate transition to Stalinism.

AnatoleKonstantin136 karma

There was no such thing as an "average person". Those who had nothing to lose hoped that they will get a piece of the riches of the affluent. Those who were better off wanted to protect what they had. The promises made by the Bolsheviks were very enticing: equality, fraternity of nations, factories to the workers, and land to the peasants. But it didn't work out that way. The land was taken away from the peasants and factories were managed by members of the Communist Party who became more equal than everybody else.

noott57 karma

What are your thoughts on the book "Animal Farm"?

AnatoleKonstantin107 karma

I think George Orwell truly understood the essence of the Soviet system.

rabiesmcz56 karma

My sympathy for what you went through, and my admiration for overcoming all of that hardship to do so much in your life.

My question: How do you feel those childhood experiences have affected you as an adult?

AnatoleKonstantin122 karma

I think that the saying "adversity builds character" is true and having lost everything several times affects one's attitude toward material things. It shows that one can live with very little.

SoCalPotato55 karma

As someone who lived through what you've lived through, what's your opinion on the current state of the world? For example, Ukrainian-Russian tensions/ Russian annexation of Crimea; Israeli invasion of Gaza; ISIS conflict, Etc.

AnatoleKonstantin147 karma

After the collapse of the Soviet Union it looked like democracy was spreading all over the world and one philosopher even wrote a book titled "The End of History". Now it looks like history came back and the world seems to be returning to the Middle Ages with the religious and tribal wars.

magmagmagmag53 karma

How was the daily life in ussr when it comes to personal comfort and also the possibilities to climb the social ranks? Were men and women more equal than in the west in term of careers?

Sorry for my bad english

AnatoleKonstantin147 karma

The standard of living in the USSR was very low and people had to stand in long lines to obtain food. To climb the social ranks, one had to be a member of the Communist Party. Women had equal opportunity in some jobs including digging ditches and shoveling snow.

7_up_curly46 karma

What was it like on the collective farm? Did you have to hide a lot for fear of being caught? How did you get into West Germany? Was it a big adjustment/culture shock to be in a western country?

AnatoleKonstantin78 karma

In a collective farm one works for very little, but not having done anything wrong, there was no reason to fear for being caught.

When World War II ended it was possible to escape to Poland and from there to West Germany. This made the adjustment easier than going straight from the Soviet Union. Also, the living situation at that time in Germany was not much different than anywhere else.

watchingcameras43 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. I could not imagine as a child how difficult this would be to experience. Knowing what you know now, what would you say to the children that are currently living under those conditions?

AnatoleKonstantin64 karma

I would advise them to compare their real situation with the propaganda that tells them what it presumably is.

Juviltoidfu41 karma

What is your reaction to the people in Russia today who think of the Stalin era as a golden period of Russian history?

AnatoleKonstantin93 karma

As in any society, there were people who had benefited from Stalin's regime. Stalin couldn't have killed twenty million people by himself. Also, the extreme nationalists would like to see Russia as powerful and as feared as was the Soviet Union.

cdts40 karma

Controversial question (sorry if this offends you): Do you think Stalin's industrialization program helped the USSR survive World War II?

AnatoleKonstantin106 karma

Yes, but if it weren't for Stalin, there might not have been a World War II. He had ordered the German communists to vote against the Weimar Republic which allowed the Nazi Party to come to power.

MysticLights32 karma

Hello Anatole!

My family left Poland in 1987. I myself am really interested in Communist history because when I ask my family about living in Poland, they say that communism was one of the best things to happen to them, saying that Stalin was just a 'rough patch.'

I have two questions for you. Did you notice any distinct differences in propaganda or state intervention in the various places you had to move through? And how do you feel about communism in the USSR, not necessarily Stalinism?

AnatoleKonstantin53 karma

Some people who collaborated with communists did benefit from his rule. As far as my feelings about communism, I would like to refer you to the Black Book of Communism, according to which, between the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, and some African countries, the communists have killed approximately one hundred million people.

There was a distinction in propaganda in different countries depending on the degree to which the media was sympathetic to the communist ideology.

HammerAndPotato31 karma

After growing up under Stalin, what is your opinion of communism, socialism, etc? After learning about figures such as Lenin, how do you feel about them?

AnatoleKonstantin105 karma

My opinion of communism and socialism is that it is not a workable system because it eliminates individual incentives.

When after the disintegration of the Soviet Union a correspondent was interviewing Molotov and said that it was pity that Lenin died so early because he was a noble person while Stalin was a bloodsucker, Molotov replied that in comparison with Lenin, Stalin was just a lamb.

avocadosrgreat31 karma

How did you have the opportunity to work on the Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Launcher as a recent immigrant?

AnatoleKonstantin51 karma

After becoming a citizen I received a "confidential" clearance. The launcher job did not involve secret information and while it was confidential, one day a complete picture of the launcher appeared as a centerfold of the Aviation Week Magazine. I don't know where they got the confidential information.

-purple-is-a-fruit-25 karma

I read your book! I thought it was great. The part where you almost missed the train getting walnut shells for your family stayed with me. Just like that, you could have lost them forever. This is what I always think of when I see refugees on TV or disaster movies. Just how easy it would be to lose someone in the tide of chaos. If you were just a few seconds later it could have been so different. Does this haunt you? Because it haunts me.

AnatoleKonstantin23 karma

I am glad you liked my book. I am not haunted by any particular incident because there were so many of them that could have gone the wrong way.

Punic_Hebil22 karma

What are some misconceptions people (mainly from the West) have about life in the Soviet Union or during Stalin's rule that you would like to clear up?

AnatoleKonstantin67 karma

The misconception during that time was that life in the Soviet Union was the way it was depicted in their propaganda. Currently, a misconception is that the health system was working when in reality you had to bribe the nurses to get the bed sheets changed.

Cinskiy8 karma

Had anybody confused you with Gorbachev? You look very alike.

AnatoleKonstantin16 karma

Yes, some people used to call me "Gorby".

Jin-roh4 karma

If you had to pick one Russian author and one Russian book in addition to your own memoirs to help younger westerners understand life in the USSR, what would it be?

AnatoleKonstantin17 karma

In addition to Solzhenitsyn, I would recommend the book The Forsaken which is about Americans volunteering to build socialism in the Soviet Union.