My first day of school was September 1, 1961. Unbeknownst to me, I boarded a propaganda train that took me through an indoctrination process very similar to what I now see happening in the United States of America. At the time, I lived in the USSR. I was a skinny, seven-year-old kid with big ambitions and dreams of endless possibilities.

In the USSR, adherence to regulations was non-negotiable and absolute. Breaking rules was unacceptable.   

I badly wanted to learn to read and write so I could become a doctor. I was the little girl who rushed to the medicine cabinet to look for a pill each time someone complained about a headache. As I matured, my wish to help others only grew and my desire to be a doctor became my dream.  

The first day of school fell on a Friday. I woke up, washed my face, brushed my teeth, ate my breakfast, and dressed in the special school uniform: a brown dress and a snow-white apron. It was the apron, sewn by Mama’s loving hands and trimmed with lace around the crisscrossed shoulder straps and the little pockets in the front that turned my otherwise plain outfit into the school uniform reserved for special ceremonial occasions, like the first day of school. On any other day of the year, the school code required the girls to wear a black apron. In the USSR, adherence to regulations was non-negotiable and absolute. Breaking rules was unacceptable.

Before opening the front door in the morning, I grabbed my school bag by its handle with one hand, and with the other I held onto Mama’s as we walked together toward school. I did not need an overcoat because the day was beautiful and warm. After all, it was the end of summer. At a leisurely pace, Mama and I entered the schoolyard. I stopped for a second to look around, noticing the lack of greenery and other colors. The cemented schoolyard looked gray and depressing.  The two-story school building painted eggshell-white seemed old and unattractive.

Seeing the other small children dressed up in their unique occasion uniforms made me feel somewhat cheerful. I had never seen so many children in one place until this moment.

A few minutes after our arrival, the person in charge of the assembly approached us. She explained to Mama which group I belonged to. We dutifully walked in the direction she pointed. A teacher with a stony expression stood in front of a group of small children. She did not nod to acknowledge my presence and did not smile as we walked together to the end of the first row in silence.   

Standing in my designated spot, I noticed each child held a small bouquet. That made me wonder why Mama didn’t buy any flowers for me. She probably didn’t know. Preoccupied with my thoughts, I felt confused, odd, and anxious. I did not like the feeling.   

However, it was more than that which made me feel uncomfortable. It seemed oddly strange that all the children were so quiet. Soundless and motionless, as if someone programmed them to behave well, they patiently waited. I imagined they must have attended a kindergarten, “detskiy sad,” where the staff taught them how to behave in public places. For some of them, the indoctrination began at six months. I never went to detskiy sad, grade one was my first encounter with this system.   

The childrens’ perfect obedience bothered me. The youngsters I knew were noisy and unruly. They became fidgety and destructive as soon as an opportunity presented itself. In the eyes of this seven-year-old, the first graders’ behavior seemed peculiar.   

Standing at the end of the first row, I tried to figure out what the children’s conduct meant and realized that I, too, would have to become a submissive and obedient child. Suddenly, the thrill of going to school for the first time left me, and a feeling of dread took control.  

I started to have a big problem with the brainwashing and conformity required of everyone living in the USSR. But on September 1, 1961, in Kotovsk, Ukraine, I became the propaganda machine’s next victim. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

The sound of the National Anthem interrupted my thoughts and brought me back to reality. Unhappy and scared, I quietly stood and watched the sequence of events unfold in front of my eyes. The official ceremony began. A Senior student brought the flag of the USSR to the front of the podium. The color guards and the marching band followed.

Next, I heard La Marseillaise, the Bastille’s famous song of the French Revolution, played. Everyone, except for the first graders, belted out the lyrics in Russian.  I observed the admiration on the students’ faces as they sang in unison. 

When I look back on the first day of school, I realize that my indoctrination started when I walked into the schoolyard. Later in the year, my teacher would instruct my peers and me to memorize the words to both songs. As time went on, the enthusiasm I felt on my first day of school began to disappear. I started to have a big problem with the brainwashing and conformity required of everyone living in the USSR. But on September 1, 1961, in Kotovsk, Ukraine, I became the propaganda machine’s next victim. There was nothing I could do to stop it. 

Shortly after the singing ended, one by one, the school officials welcomed us. Our director spoke first, then the Dean. He had a knack for riling up the students. Lots of clapping greeted his speech. After that, the less essential officials offered their greetings to all in a more concise form.   

Students from the soon-to-be graduating class spoke last. In their own words, they praised the greatness of the school and the ingenuity of the teachers. They made sure to thank the Communist Party for giving them a chance to grow up in a world of “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” Those who talked were the top students of each class. They encouraged the first graders to dedicate themselves to school studies. I enjoyed this part of the ceremony best.  

Eyes wide, I hung on every word of the soon-to-be graduates. In my mind, I envisioned the day I would be the one standing in front of the podium and giving my farewell speech in the schoolyard full of students. On that day, I promised to myself to be the best.

I knew how important education was to Mama and Papa. At age seven, I didn’t fully understand why it was so crucial to them, but years later, I figured out that my parents wanted better lives for their children. They knew the only way to achieve it was through excellent education, which was the key to our successes.  

Living in the Soviet Union was a struggle for everyone, but survival was more complicated for the uneducated Jews.  My parents were the proof of that. Neither one of them went to college, even though both studied at private schools when they were young. World War II had cut their education short.   

At the end of the ceremony, the Seniors brought out the Soviet red flag into the center of the schoolyard again. One of the color guards approached a group of the first graders. He lifted a little girl and placed her on his shoulder. Someone put a school bell in her hand, which she rang until the flags had entered the school building. The opening ceremony was officially over, and the crowd of children dispersed. 

Sixty years later, I now grieve over the current political state of affairs in America, the beloved country that sheltered me forty years ago when I left the oppression of the USSR.

I notice with great sadness how the progressives are brainwashing millions of Americans. They learned from the best and use The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, to plant seeds of discontent and stir up trouble. They create a mindset of victimhood in those who would think of themselves as oppressed. Once they have an active audience, the leftists get to work by using division to manipulate people’s minds. They know that the more divided our society is, the less united the United States of America will be.

My two children went to American public schools and prestigious colleges. Their educational experiences differed from mine for obvious reasons. They grew up in a Western country where the government promoted and encouraged freedom of thought. Still, the longer I live in my beloved United States, the more I wonder about the radical left’s infiltration of our schools. 

I saw it when my son, nine years younger than my daughter, started school. His first-grade teacher’s phrase, “as long as you do your best is all that matters,” grated on my nerves. I could not accept this because the definition of “best” in my mind meant something different: to me, “being the best” is not a flexible standard according to effort. Either you are the best because you excel, or you are not. I also did not like the idea of every child getting a trophy simply for the act of participation without true achievement. 

I feel like crying because I am convinced now that the Soviet Union ultimately won the Cold War without firing a single shot at its mortal enemy. This phenomenon of radical indoctrination arrived at the doorsteps of my beloved, adopted country after the collapse of the USSR.

How can a society produce strong leaders and great thinkers if schools teach them things like that? But the dumbing of the mind is also part of a leftist political agenda. 

This famous quote by Nikita Khrushchev has become today’s reality: “We cannot expect the Americans to jump from capitalism to communism, but we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans small doses of socialism until they suddenly awake to find they have communism.”

I feel like crying because I am convinced now that the Soviet Union ultimately won the Cold War without firing a single shot at its mortal enemy. This phenomenon of radical indoctrination arrived at the doorsteps of my beloved, adopted country after the collapse of the USSR. 

The progressives have achieved the impossible. They have persuaded millions of Americans to think that capitalism is wrong, and that freedom of thought should not exist. Under the pretense of social justice, our schools and colleges here in the United States have become the breeding grounds for Marxism and other anti-American ideas.

The same brainwashing instrument historically manipulated the minds of the Soviet people, but the techniques the Communist Party used pale in comparison to the American propaganda machine. The progressives have taken it to a higher level. The Great October Revolution happened at the beginning of the twentieth century when most people living in Russia remained ignorant and uneducated; today we witness the manipulation of American higher education as driving the propaganda machine.

It’s the intellectuals who propel the revolution now unfolding in America, which is scary. Unlike the uneducated masses of the Great October Revolution, their followers are also educated. The scholars are brilliant and know how to manipulate. They attract a specific audience.  They rile up the groups of people who believe they are oppressed and inflate the cause of grievance by promoting hate and violence.  

During my childhood, the government programmed us to believe that the Soviet Union was the best place in the world, that Russia was a country of equal rights and opportunities and embraced everyone’s differences. Their propaganda centered around the greatness of the Communist Party and its leaders and bashed capitalism and its number one nemesis, the United States of America. 

The ignorant and adoring fans hung on to every word and slogan of the Communist Party as if it was God; to many of them, it was. Using hyper-politicization to promote the Marxist Revolutionary Impulse, the totalitarian regime supported patriotism and self-sacrifice in the party’s name. Because of the unshakeable dedication of the socialist zealots, many innocent people became victims. Neighbors spied on and reported their neighbors to authorities, and neighbors disappeared, never to be seen again.

This calamity and the upheaval of human lives occurred because of the non-stop broadcasting of information. The media shoved the news down the people’s throats, the convenient “truth” the authoritarian government wanted them to hear, leaving them no room to think independently. The entire Soviet nation became submissive to the leaders who controlled it with an iron grip. Brainwashed by the propaganda, most could not see the truth. 

For years, I have seen the warning signs of indoctrination taking place in my adopted country, but none of them were as blatant as what I am noticing lately. The radical leftist machine has brainwashed the young impressionable minds with divisive talk about race, social justice, and gender fluidity to create a division. They never let a good crisis go to waste. They use it to divide, conform, and finally transform the core morality of the institution they try to bring down to its knees. The progressives know that by pursuing ideas of discord, America would implode on itself.

Division is a terrible thing. As history shows, it tears a country in pieces, makes mortal enemies out of friends, and breaks families apart.  People have the right to have any opinion they want, but according to the progressives, the only right idea is the one they present. The political agenda pushed onto people by the radical extremists leaves no room for discussion and whoever has a difference of opinion becomes an enemy.

The United States of America is a Constitutional Republic. Its foundation is built on freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government. We cannot allow the progressives to take away the foundation of America. We cannot allow the freest country in the world to die. 

It saddens me deeply that I still have to deal with brainwashing, indoctrination, and political propaganda in my late sixties. I honestly thought I left it behind when in 1977, I boarded a plane from Moscow to Rome, and three months later, flew from Rome to New York. The reason I came to America was to be free. Being told what to think never crossed my mind when I landed on the shores of my adopted country.

Etya Vasserman Krichmar was born in 1954 in Kazakhstan, one of the republics of the former Soviet Union. In 1977, claiming religious discrimination, her spouse, a two-year-old daughter, applied for immigration to the U.S. and were accepted. Now a mother to two children and grandmother of three, Etya is retired and lives in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, with her husband and two miniature dachshunds. She had written and published opinion pieces in the local TC Palm paper.