The fate of Russian Americans Robert (Boris) and Olga Parr without exaggeration encompassed an entire era. The children of immigrants from Russia, they were both born in China before the Second World war, but met for the first time only many years later, already in America.
Boris Parr. Photo: Ksenia Kirillova
In a new country that became his second home, Boris has dedicated 39 years of his life to the U.S. army, rising to Colonel of military-air forces of the USA. During the long years of the Cold war, he worked as a translator during the historic negotiations on limiting strategic arms in Austria and Helsinki, to be present at a personal meeting of Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon in California and participate in the interviewing of the Soviet defector.
On the way to America
Boris Parr was born in 1932 in the Chinese city of Hankow (now Wuhan). His family was more fortunate than many of their compatriots: they left Russia before the revolution of 1917. Father Boris worked in the Maritime customs of China, and in early childhood the boy had the opportunity to travel the world. The fate of the British school, he had no problems with English, and in 1941, together with his family during the long vacation, his father even a few months living in California. At that time the family did not think about emigration, and returned to Shanghai as the time when the Japanese attacked pearl Harbor. The war brought about changes in the lives of immigrants, and the family was able to travel to San Francisco, only 6 years later, in 1947, was finally.
The family of Olga are less fortunate than the family of Boris – her parents caught all the hardships of the revolution in Russia began after her civil war.
“My great-grandfather was Alexander Kasimovich kazembek — Russian orientalist, the first Dean of the faculty of Oriental languages of St. Petersburg University, who created alphabets for many of the peoples of Russia. My mother Elena, his granddaughter – born Kazem-Bek. After the revolution, when the Bolsheviks started to physically destroy formed in pre-revolutionary Russia the middle class, our family had literally to flee. Mom told me that she had to go to the Baikal in winter on foot over the ice. Finally, they reached the ship, carried out the evacuation of refugees from Russia. All were 120 of these ships and they transported emigrants mostly in Asian countries. No one knew where he would be eventually. Mom with a family, for example, initially came to Korea, and then they got to Harbin and then to Shanghai. A cousin of the mother, Mr Kazem-Bek, later became a famous doctor in Harbin,” – says Olga Parr.
Olga was born in exile in 1937 in the Chinese city of Dairen (Dairen). According to her, in a new country they had to endure poverty, and hunger. The family lived in a bamboo house in a Chinese village without running water or electricity, growing vegetables. Olga and her sister Helen were playing around the village cotton fields and drainage ditches, collecting leeches. If passing by a young Russian rich men hiding behind the city from the Shanghai summer heat, girls sometimes fall rare treats. In 1944, Olga’s father found work as a security guard Japanese warehouse on the North railway station in Shanghai. The family huddled in one room in an unheated concrete building, along with other warehouse workers.
“There was constantly hungry and cold, but in typical Russian style, someone began to play the balalaika, and people picked up songs and shared stories,” says Olga.
Life began to improve only in 1945, when Olga’s father found work as a security guard at a power plant in Beijing.
“We have experienced incredible joy, when ended the Second World war, – says Olga. — Happy American soldiers ran through the streets. The school of the sacred Heart sister became friends with Chinese children.”
However, the quiet life did not last long. When the power in China the Communists came, the family again had to flee the country. The opportunity to travel to America they did not have, and in 1949 refugees were sent to Australia. On the issue of entry visa to the U.S. it took them another 5 years.
Olga Parr. Photo: Ksenia Kirillova
Olga’s family came to San Francisco in 1954, without any means of livelihood. Because of the excellent school marks in China and Australia Olga was offered a scholarship at the University of California at Berkeley. However, the girl had to give up the opportunity to study and go to work with your insurance company to help parents with money. In 1955 at the wedding of friends, she met a young man, and a year later they were married.
“Friends before mentioned to me about Olga, but I didn’t pay attention to their words. However, when I met her, I instantly felt that this girl will be my wife. It really was love at first sight,” recalls Boris.
After the wedding, Olga worked as a draftsman in an engineering firm. Three years later they had a son Michael, followed by Alex. Olga entered the state University of San Francisco for the specialty “Russian language”, but suddenly found a new love – art. She began to take painting lessons and in 1970 he joined the Society of Western artists and the Society of arts of Burlingame.
Meanwhile, the Boris in America holding a name Robert, after finishing school he entered the University of California, Berkeley, and at the same time in the U.S. air force reserves. However, despite the service in the reserve, he was called to active military duty for two years (in those years in the United States still had a mandatory conscription).
“After the army I have decided to return to the force. At the same time I finished College, became an officer and remained in the army. At the time, dad insisted that I did not forget Russian language. Now I am very glad that listened to him. In the army my language skills proved to be extremely useful. I was often sent on business trips to Berlin and the last time I went there in 1991, when the Berlin wall was already ruined. I was an interpreter during the interview of a Soviet pilot defecting to the “safe house”, for which he later received a commendation medal, and during the visit of General Secretary of the USSR Leonid Brezhnev to California at the invitation of Nixon,” shares Robert.
Souvenir that Boris handed over during a recent trip to Berlin – with built-in pieces already collapsed of the Berlin wall. Photo: Ksenia Kirillova
Fearful guard of Brezhnev
“Soviet radio operators and radioresponse installed on the mountain radio station to broadcast the results of the meeting. The transfer was carried out directly to the Union via space satellites. Brezhnev was in his repertoire: he read his speech for radio broadcasts with huge posters, and several times had to interrupt the recording, when he was confused and was wrong. Most of all I remember his main translator. With the American press he spoke with an American accent, and when translated Brezhnev in England, spoke fluent English. I spoke with him several times and he clearly was difficult preparations,” said the American Colonel.
According to Robert Parra, the meeting place of the General Secretary has been carefully chosen for reasons of security, however security officers from the protection of Brezhnev, this was not enough.
“They demanded to close down all the roads from the airport to the venue and a huge area around the site of the negotiations. We explained that we do not do it, and assured that at a distance of 250 yards in front and rear of the vehicle with the presidents will be the only protection machine. However, they did not suit. In the end, they had to accept the fact that there is not Moscow, and go on our terms. As a result, the weather was good, and Brezhnev arrived by helicopter, not using the freeway. Of course, no excesses during the meeting did not happen, and both were safe,” says Parr.
Brezhnev and Nixon during Brezhnev’s visit to California. Exclusive photo of Boris Parra
Complex negotiations and a General cognac
According to him, such behavior was typical of the Soviet KGB and in other situations.
“They were always very closed and was constantly afraid that someone would infiltrate them and steal their secrets. I remember that, when the negotiations on limiting nuclear weapons, the first logical step was to inform the other side how many bombs and missiles you have. However, the Soviet delegation did not utter a word on the subject. They did not answer a single question. We were confused, because without disclosure of the nuclear potential, it was impossible to continue negotiations. Then American intelligence itself is listed, how many warheads the Soviet Union has. The Russians did not object, but did not add to our information. However, with time, seeing that the American delegation was behaving more openly, the Soviet partners also revealed some of his secrets. But they kept more open than Americans,” recalls Robert Parr.
However, the Colonel admits to talks directly related to disarmament, both parties had to reveal their cards and clearly define what number of and what weapons they need to eliminate.
Some members of the Soviet delegation, however, revealed a rather unexpected side.
“During the talks in Austria we met in a Catholic Church General and concurrently Minister Semenov. It turned out that he is well versed in the Catholic mass” – note the couple.
Boris and Olga Parr. Photo: Ksenia Kirillova
There were other moments of informal communication with the Soviet side.
“During a mission to Berlin on 4 July we have invited representatives from the Soviet Embassy to mark the US independence Day. We put the Chateau on the lake, grilling. I remember I went to the Soviet women and invited them to our barbecue, but they never moved. Then I realized that they mistook me for a Soviet defector and was afraid to even speak to me. I had to explain to them that I’m American, born in Harbin, and I know Russian only because my parents were immigrants from Russia. After that they relaxed,” – says Olga.
“Once at one of these meetings, I met with Soviet General. We got to talking about skittles. I played in towns in China in the community of the Russian Church. After 5-6 months after this meeting, I have to America the parcel came from Soviet General: a bottle of cognac, a bottle of vodka and a booklet with rules of the game of skittles. I was very touched,” admits Bob.
Then occurred the incident: at a checkpoint of the Berlin wall, the Soviet border guards shot and killed an American major. After that, any joint celebration stopped.
“However, we have always felt Russian, not Soviet, that is Russian. We have absorbed since childhood our language, culture and faith, and never left this”, – assured the couple.
Today Boris and Olga are regular parishioners of the Orthodox parish, actively involved in philanthropy and volunteering and trying to help newly arrived immigrants. At the age of 87, Robert Boris is actively involved in sports, is in good physical condition and advises all newly arrived immigrants do not forget their native language and culture.
Russian in the United States