Opinion | A Doctor Who Fled Russia Remembers the Pain of Antisemitism

As a teenager she had dreams of becoming a doctor, but soon after the war,she began to see the perils of doing so. In the 1950s, a propaganda campaign accused Jewish doctors of conspiring against Soviet leaders. Antisemitism prevented many Jewish people from being able to advance in their studies or careers.

Dr. Amastis was undeterred. She dived into her studies at medical school. Passionate about surgery, she filled her days and nights with clinical training. She could have been sent to work in a remote part of the Soviet Union where she had no family, but instead she married a military doctor. Her husband was sent to a hospital in the city of Ulan-Ude in East Siberia, and she joined him.

They made friends with another doctor couple. One encouraged Dr. Amastis to make radiology her specialty because the hours were less demanding. She agreed and practiced at a large hospital once they returned to St. Petersburg.

A few years after her husband died, she decided to follow her relatives who had already emigrated to the United States. In New York, she found a support system among neighbors who came from similar backgrounds. They gathered in the park to exercise and organized trips to Brooklyn to shop for the Russian specialty groceries that remind her of home.

Dr. Amastis lives alone and has poor vision, so for part of the week a health aide helps her get around. From the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A. of Washington Heights & Inwood, she received a new sofa for the aide to sleep on when she stays overnight. The Washington Heights Y is a beneficiary agency of the UJA-Federation of New York, which is supported by The New York Times Communities Fund.

Dr. Amastis’s memories of being young, ambitious and Jewish are always at hand. Watching the news about the wars in Israel and Ukraine, and of growing antisemitic persecution around the world, her memories of World War II have taken on a new sharpness.

“What was happening was a massive, massive humiliation,” she said. “Massive destruction of humanity, of anyone who thought differently.” Nevertheless, she survived.

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