My father's life made a sharp right-angled turn in January 1923. Everything he had been and had had before—vanished.
My father, Judah Asimov, was born in a "shtetl" named Petrovichi, in Russia, about 250 miles southwest of Moscow, on December 21, 1896. He was Jewish, but the Tsarist oppression and its endemic anti-Semitism made itself felt there only in its negative aspects.There were places that Jews couldn't live, things they couldn't do, professions they couldn't enter.Jews in Petrovichi, however, were accustomed to such things and accepted the limits as a fact of life.
There were no active expressions of the anti-Semitism, however; at least, not in Petrovichi.There were no pogroms; there was no violence. My father played peacefully with Gentile boys.
What's more, both my father and mother were among the wealthier townspeople. My father's father owned a mill; my mother's father owned a general store. Both families were economically secure.
My father did not have an education in the ordinary European sense, of course.It was difficult indeed (though not impossible) for a Jew in Tsarist Russia to receive what we ordinarily think of as an education, let alone go to a university.However, my father had no ambitions in that direction. He went to a Hebrew school, where he was thoroughly grounded in biblical studies and Talmudic scholarship.
He learned to read and write not only Hebrew and Yiddish but Russian as well, and had an opportunity to become acquainted with Russian literature and to read enough secular Russian books to pick up a better education of the ordinary sort than the Gentile boys of the town had a chance to