On Sept. 21, friends, colleagues and guests attended a book signing reception in recognition of the publication of “From Tajikistan To The Moon,” a memoir written by Ranch resident Robert Frimtzis. The event took place at the home of Robert and Annette Frimtzis and guests were enthralled as Frimtzis shared some of the incredible tales of his life: from horrors of his childhood as he escaped the Nazis to his accomplishments later in life working with Neil Armstrong in the Apollo Space Program.
It took 60 years before Frimtzis finally wrote his book, which fulfilled a promise he made to his mother during the dark days of World War II. When the family was running for their lives, starving, and under constant barrage of flying bombs and bullets, his mother told him to write the book and tell how innocent people suffered. A young Frimtzis told his mother, “Ma, first we’ve got to survive!” Eleven family members weren’t so fortunate — they were brutally murdered by the Nazis. Frimtzis dedicates his book to them.
Frimtzis was 10 when the Nazis invaded the city of Beltz, Bessarabia (now Moldova), and destroyed all the Jewish neighborhoods. He and his parents discovered that their home was completely bombed. Together they fled and spent the next four months and 3,000 miles hiding from the Nazis. They travelled much of their journey on foot as they were fearful because Nazis were also bombing trains if they knew Jews were aboard. Penniless and nearly starving, the family arrived in Tajikistan, a country Frimtzis describes as “the end of the world.” At the age of 12, he was forced to quit school and work full time to help support the family.
After the war ended, Frimtzis returned to Romania, but found that anti-Semitism still prevailed. The Russian anti-Semites beat him and with great fear a young Frimtzis decided to flee once again. He crossed many borders illegally, crossing the Alps on foot, to get to Italy where he could obtain a visa to the United States. Once in Italy, however, he was captured and sent to a Displaced Person Camp. At gunpoint, he returned to Austria. In a short time, the determined young man secretly ran back to Italy to await his visa to the United States. The process took several years, but it was time he spent beginning his education in Switzerland.
At the age of 19, Frimtzis finally fulfilled his dream of arriving in America — albeit with no money and no education. He worked full time and attended night school to get his high school diploma. Eventually, he earned a bachelor’s degree from CCNY and a master’s from Columbia University. Yet even after achieving degrees in electrical engineering, Frimtzis confessed to feeling unhappy in his new homeland. “I was jealous, envious and competitive,” he said. “I wanted more.”
Eventually, Frimtzis fulfilled his potential when he worked on the Apollo and Surveyor lunar explorations, defence satellites and Gamma Ray Observatory spacecraft. He worked on the Apollo space simulator with another young colleague named Neil Armstrong. Indeed, Frimtzis’ life went full circle from Tajikistan to the moon.
Frimtzis is living proof when he says, “The American Dream is more than a fairy tale. I married and raised a family. Of my four children, three are doctors and the fourth is a mechanical engineer, as is my wife.” His children are grown now and he is the proud grandfather to six children. He and his wife are retired and are now living in Rancho Santa Fe.
The book signing party was sponsored by the Chabad Jewish Center of Rancho Santa Fe. For more information on “From Tajikistan To The Moon” visit Frimtzi’s Web site at www.robertfrimtzis.com.