Following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Alexander and his family fled eastward to Lvov. His father then fled to Vilna, hoping to obtain visas for the family to escape through Japan. The rest of the family was caught while trying to cross border into Lithuania in order to meet up with Alexander's father. They returned to Lvov. Alexander and his mother were later arrested for refusing to declare Soviet citizenship. They were sent to a labor camp in the Soviet interior. After their release from the camp they remained in the Soviet Union until 1946. Alexander's father had been able to flee to Japan and then to the United States in 1941; the rest of the family immigrated to the United States in 1947.
We were all...practically all of us became lumberjacks. Nobody knew how to handle an ex...ax. Nobody knew how handle a saw. There was no mechanical tool whatsoever. I mean no...no, uh, uh, power saws. Everything was done manually. Uh, and we were totally out of it. Well, the Russians were aware of that and they attached to...we...they divided us into brigades and they, uh...to each brigade they added a native peasant from those areas, and he was teaching us how to do it. And, uh...but before it came to that I told this commandant of the camp -- there was one commandant and three militiamen under him, that was the whole, uh, sort of contingent of the guards -- and I said to him, "What's the point of taking my mother to work because you...she will never do anything for you because she's...she is simply, she is simply unable to do anything like that. Why don't you take me instead and let her stay in the barracks, since I don't have to...to work?" He liked the idea and so I, before I was supposed to work, began working. And later on when I turned 16 they got so used to the sight of my mother at home -- that is, in the barracks rather than at work -- that she never worked for the length of our stay in that camp.