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Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Survivor Profile




(1920 - 2001)






MARCH 11, 1920








    Raisa Volkova was born in Kiev in the Ukraine on March 11, 1920. In 1933 the family moved to Moscow. Raisa was educated. She was in the same graduation class as her future spouse, David Kogan. They knew each other since middle school. She graduated from high school in 1939 and entered Moscow Medical University. By 1941 she finished two years of education. When the war started, she began working as a nurse in a hospital. David, her husband was serving in the Soviet Army. Raisa’s family lived in Moscow at the time. When the bombing started, all the family evacuated. Her family fled to Tataria, a Republic, to the small village of Mamadysh. They spent all the years of the war there. It was a very hard existence with no electricity, running water or heating, except for a stove. Raisa worked in the military hospital as a nurse and her mother worked on the farm.

    In 1943 they returned to Moscow and joined her father who stayed in Moscow all the years of war and worked as the principal of the bread factory that he founded in 1936. The bread factory provided bread and food to the troops during the war. Raisa continued working as a nurse in one of Moscow’s hospitals and returned to the Medical University. Raisa got married in August 1944 and gave birth to her only daughter, Elena, in May 1945, six days after the war was over. The post war years in Moscow were a very hard time. All food was rationed. It was impossible to find cloth for blankets and baby clothes. There was no running water. Anti-Semitism was on the rise by 1952, and Jewish doctors were arrested and there were rumors that all Moscow Jews would be deported to the Far East. Stalin’s death saved many Jews. Thousands of people were killed during Stalin’s funeral in March 1953 but luckily, nobody in Raisa’s family was there. Raisa lived the remainder of her life in Moscow and worked as a doctor in the clinic and hospital. She died in 2001 at the age of 81 and worked until the last day. In 2007 her daughter Elena decided to emigrate to the United States to live with her daughter, Natalia Black, already settled in New Jersey.



    Date: November 30, 2016

    Location: Volkova Residence

    Interviewer: Nancy Gorrell


    Q: What was your mother’s name and background?
    Her name was Raisa Volkova and she was born in Kiev on March 11, 1920. My mother was in the same graduation class as my father, David Kogan. They knew each other since middle school. She did not change her name when she got married. My mother graduated from high school in 1939 and entered Moscow Medical University. By 1941 she finished two years of education and when the war started, she began working as a nurse in a hospital.


    Q: While your father was in the Soviet Army, how did your mother and extended family survive in Russia?
    The family lived in Moscow. But when the bombing started, all the family evacuated except my grandfather who stayed to work in his bread factory. His bread factory provided food for the army. He built the bread factory in 1936. He was an engineer. In 1937 my grandfather was arrested under Stalin’s orders for being an American spy. Many Jews were arrested but many others too. My grandfather was sent to concentration camp in Kazakhstan, but he never told us much about that, so I do not know the name of it or exactly where he was. My grandfather’s sister was in a camp in northern Kazakhstan. That was a Russian camp, not Nazi. I do not know the name of that either, but usually they called all camps “gulags” as that was the abbreviation of the system of camps. In 1941 my grandfather was released and returned to Moscow to provide food for the army. His sister’s husband was a political man. In 1937 he was arrested and immediately killed, and his wife, my grandfather’s sister was arrested and sent to concentration camp. Their daughter who was ten was supposed to be sent to an orphanage. But her aunt kidnapped the child and took her to a different city and saved her from death.


    Q: What happened to your mother?
    My mother and her family fled to Tataria, a Republic, to the town of Mamadysh. They spent all the years of the war there. It was very hard with no electricity and running water. Heating was just a stove. It was a small village. My mom worked in the military hospital as a nurse and my grandmother worked on the farm. In 1943 they returned to Moscow and joined my grandfather. He worked there at the factory after the war too. He built that bread factory in 1936 and worked there. He was an engineer.


    Q: What was it like growing up in post-war Moscow? What were your memories?
    I was born six days after the war was over. My cousin was born at the same time. It was not easy to have two infants. It was a very hard life. All food was rationed. It was impossible to find cloth for blankets for baby clothes. There was no running water even in Moscow. They bathed us in old suitcases. Well, I do not have much memory about the first years after the war. I just know about all these problems from my grandparents and parents. Our childhood, my cousin’s and mine, was very happy even though we did not have many toys or any luxury. But I do remember the fear in 1952, when Moscow Jewish doctors were arrested and there were rumors that all Moscow Jews would be deported to the Far East. The trains were ready. Only Stalin’s death saved us all. I do remember Stalin’s funeral when thousands people were killed. Luckily nobody of my family was there.


    Q: Who survived in your immediate family?
    Fortunately, my parents and grandparents all survived as well as my mother and father’s brothers, but my mother’s cousin, Jakov Krichevsky, died during the Leningrad blockade. He was a student of Leningrad University and stayed there so he was starving. All the food he got he shared with his fiancée and saved her life. After the war, she found his mother and told her how he died.


    Q: Did you see your father in the immediate post-war years?
    Yes, I saw my father. My mom and I went to him when he was in Germany after the war in 1946-47. We spent there some months but mom had to return to Moscow to finish her education (medical university). In 1948 my dad was sent back to Russia and was in military units in different places, so my mom and I went to visit him in summer when she had university vacations or he came to visit us to Moscow or when he had his vacation. Of course it was hard for them to live that way, but it was not unusual for families in Russia. My memories about that time were rather positive because when we went to see my dad, we traveled a lot and saw other places. In 1948 for example, he was in Mary, Turkmenistan, when there was an earthquake in Ashgabad and his unit did help to save people’s lives and to restore the city.


    Q: Did you experience any anti-Semitism growing up in Moscow?
    No, nothing serious in Moscow, but when I wanted to go to the University, I took exams and passed and did very well. Then, when I looked at the results, my name was not on the list. My grandfather and I went to check why. We thought there was a mistake and they told us, “We already took our limit of Jews.” This was 1962.


    Q: Despite the anti-Semitism, how did you get your advanced education?
    Instead, I entered the Pedagogical University for teaching and I became an elementary and English and biology teacher. I worked and taught in Moscow for 40 years at an English speaking school #1816. I met my husband in 1968. We had one child, Natalia, and then we divorced in 1973.


    Q: Did the anti-Semitism continue for your family?
    When I was born, I got the last name “Kogan” like my dad’s. When I got married, I changed my last name to “Fradkina,” my husband’s last name. When I divorced, I stayed with that name until my daughter was 16. That last name, Fradkina, sounded really Jewish as well as Kogan. So because of anti-Semitism, we decided that for my daughter’s entering the university, it would be easier to have the name that would sound more neutral, and I changed my last name and her last name to my mother’s last name and we all became Volkova.


    Q: Did the name changes help?
    Twenty-four years later, the anti-Semitism was still the same. It was 1986, but this time it was my daughter’s experience. Her teacher told her she should enter Moscow University and I told the teacher “We are Jews” and the teacher said, “I will try to find out if this is an issue,” and some days later the teacher called me to say, “You were right; she will not go there, there is no chance she will be admitted.” But most Jews got their education anyway, despite the anti Semitism. All people in my in family; we got our education. My daughter went to a different university. I had a colleague that said to me: “Why do you talk about anti-Semitism? I got my education; you got your education. I have an apartment, you have the same one; I have a job and you have the same one. So where is anti-Semitism?” But then I asked her, “Is it ok if your son marries my daughter?” She said, “Over my dead body.” This is anti-Semitism.


    Q: Why and when did you come to the United States?
    First I came to the USA in 1993. It was really very interesting. An American teacher in River Falls, Wisconsin wanted to do a correspondence with a Russian teacher. He had many questions about our school, about our teaching, so we started to write each other via e-mail. Then we started some telecommunication projects. He was an elementary teacher and each of his students started a story, and my students finished the story. He got a Christa McAuliffe Fellowship and could come to Moscow for three months to work at my school. And after that I got an invitation to come to their school to work there. Since then, we stayed friends. He named his daughter after me. That’s how I got to America first.


    Q: What happened after your first time in America?
    And then I went there to organize summer school for American kids, and American teachers came to Moscow for summer school with my students. The exchange continued for several years. And then my daughter got a fellowship for graduate school in NYC at the New School for two years, and there she met her future husband. After getting a Master Degree, she had to return to Moscow on the condition of her fellowship. She returned to Moscow for two years and then she returned to US to be with her husband. Her daughter was born in Moscow. Since 2005, she lives here, in the U.S. And then we decided I should move to U.S. because Natalia was my only child, and I wanted to be with her. My mother, Raisa had died March 16, 2001. So finally I moved to New Jersey in 2007. Natalia works for Jewish Federation in East Brunswick and I have two grand children, Dina and Jolie. Mostly, I have been full time grandmother.


    Q: Did you have difficulty coming to America?
    We applied in 2006 and I got permission a year later. My daughter and her husband had to vouch for me, and we had to get an affidavit. Before 1990s Russia didn’t want to let the Jews go. They had to pay back to the government when they left whatever their education cost, whatever their apartments costs (all apartments belonged to the government) and they had to pay for restoration of their apartments. They could only take one suitcase each—no money or valuables could be taken out of the country. When I left, by that time in 2007, it wasn’t a problem. I could take whatever I wanted except the army medals of my fathers.


    Q: Why were your father’s Army medals so important to you?
    My dad had a lot of medals and the Order of Red Star. By Russian law, these medals and the Order of the Red Star, cannot be taken out of the country, as they are our cultural treasure. But how could I leave them there? They are part of our family history and I wanted my grandchildren to know it and to be proud of them. But it took me almost a year to get them out. All the bureaucracies to get the permission from the minister of culture himself. And even with his permission, no one knew whether customs would allow it. So my friends came with me, just in case, to take the medals if they did not allow me to take them with me. So now my granddaughters know the stories, and they will have the medals. My granddaughters know a lot of our family history, about their ancestors, and about our country.

  • Sources and Credits:

    SSBJCC Survivor Registry Interview by Nancy Gorrell, November 30, 2016; Biography by Elena Volkova, daughter. Digital historic and family photographs donated by Elena Volkova.