By the time Gisya Rubashkin first set foot in Minnesota, she had already spent 35 years as a doctor in her native Russia. Then, at nearly 60, she gave up her career in cardiology to follow her children to America, joining the exodus of Soviet Jews in the 1970s.
As she told her daughter, “family is of utmost importance, and above all, we should all be together.”
Rubashkin, who built a new life as a medical technologist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, died April 14 at age 92.
“The next 30 plus years were like a rebirth for her,” said her daughter, Ellen Prozumenshikov of Minnetonka.
Like most Soviet Jews, Rubashkin and her husband, Arkady, were forced to leave everything behind when they emigrated. “They came with a few boxes and that’s all,” Prozumenshikov said.
Both physicians, they lacked the language skills and license to practice medicine here. But they were used to overcoming hardship. During World War II, the couple survived what has been called one of the longest and most brutal sieges in history: the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg.
But she rarely talked about that period until a grandson, a history buff, starting asking her about it a few years ago. Then she filled up 10 hours of audiotapes with her stories.
Rubashkin, who was born in 1921, was in her third year of medical school in St. Petersburg when the German army encircled the city in September 1941, leaving 3 million people with little heat, water, food or electricity. “During the siege, she lost her brother and her father to starvation,” her daughter said.
Rubashkin and her mother survived with the help of handouts from patients, who shared bread and other food when she made house calls. She beat out another medical student for that job — a skinny young man, wrapped in so many scarves that all she could see were his eyes and nose. “That was my father,” Prozumenshikov said.
The couple married in October 1943. By the time the siege ended in January 1944, it had taken more than 650,000 lives.
After the war, Rubashkin became a heart specialist and her husband an Army doctor, raising their two children in a small apartment. Their son Boris, a psychiatrist, was the first to leave, in 1974. He settled in Minnesota, and by 1979 the whole family had left.
The transition, says Prozumenshikov, was easier for her mother than for her father, who worked as a janitor after emigrating and died of cancer at 65. Her mother, she said, learned English, learned to drive and became an EKG technologist.
In 2003, she returned to St. Petersburg as a visitor with her daughter and grandchildren. “She was very emotional,” she said, but she had no regrets about leaving. “By then, she was American through and through.”
In addition to her children, Rubashkin is survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.