"No," Adele remembered answering ("Of course, I was scared to death," she admitted later.)
"I, too, am not afraid," he answered. "Come in."
Over the course of four nights, Abramovich brought refuseniks to the apartment to meet with the couple. When the Sandbergs would leave, an escort would take them back to their hotel and point out the plain-clothed KGB agents. "See that lady on the bus? She's KGB."
Then it happened. The morning they were leaving Kishinev for their next stop, KGB agents stopped them as they left their hotel room with their luggage. The men led them to a small room in the hotel. They took their passports and said they'd be deported to Siberia. They were scared but believed the threat was empty. There were plenty of stories of Americans being tossed out of the Soviet Union, but none of outsiders being sent off to Siberia.
For 10 hours, the Sandbergs were peppered with questions. The three officials wanted to know who sent them, where they'd been, who'd they'd seen.
The agents played good cop, bad cop. One would scream a question in Russian. Another would translate it screaming in English. A third would offer them a drink. "Of course, we were afraid to drink," Adele said. They knew to stay vague and speak carefully.
When the agents started to search Joel, Adele panicked. Hidden inside her underwear were all the notes they'd gathered about the refuseniks they'd met, information that was critical to their case histories and getting them help.
She pulled a tampon from her pocketbook and made a big scene about needing to use the bathroom. Once inside, she sat on the toilet and frantically memorized her notes. She struggled to keep the names straight, they sounded so alike, before ripping up the papers and flushing them down the toilet as agents came in to take her back for more questioning.
When Adele was given a piece of paper to sign and told to describe what she was doing in Kishinev, she wrote about wanting to find her roots.
The announcement that they'd be released came suddenly: "There's a train going to Romania, and you'll be on the train."
The Sandbergs foolishly asked if they could instead go to Moscow.
"Well, you can stay, and we'll do this again tomorrow," an agent said. So they got on the train to Romania.
For four days in Romania, while they waited for a flight to the West, they were followed. Even as the plane was about to take off, they held their breath. Two uniformed men walked directly to their seats, demanded their passports and checked to be sure the right people were leaving. After they landed in Vienna, the Sandbergs kissed the ground.
Comfort in 'social network'
The Sandbergs' oldest daughter, Sheryl, was raising awareness with her own brand of activism. She was only 1 when she attended her first rally for Soviet Jews, the Miami Herald once wrote. By 8, she was sending letters to her Soviet "twin," Kira Volvovsky, as part of a program that matched children of refuseniks with young American Jews.
Kira's parents first applied for exit visas in 1974. Within 48 hours, they'd lost their jobs in computer science.
Six years later, in advance of the Olympic Games, the family was among the "undesirables" exiled from Moscow to Gorky, a city 250 miles to the east and now known as Nizhny Novgorod.
Kira said she was the only Jewish girl in her school. She heard the jokes and guarded her words. She often felt alone.
She found comfort in letters she received from American peers.
With only so many children of refuseniks to go around, Kira had almost 100 pen pals. They'd write about their dreams, share anxieties about upcoming tests, worry about boys -- and realize they weren't so different. Her "twins" would say prayers on her behalf and tell her story at their bat mitzvah ceremonies.
These girls became what Kira called her "social network" -- a fitting description given that Sheryl is now the COO of Facebook.
"I remember feeling when I was writing these girls, and they were writing me, that we had the same issues," said Kira. "They wrote about the same stuff I was feeling."
Sheryl Sandberg declined to be interviewed. But Kira said what she remembers about her most "is she had such pretty handwriting and the stationary was so beautiful. I remember copying her handwriting because I wanted to write like an American girl."
While she and her pen pals often thought about the same things, Kira's path was paved with challenges her American counterparts couldn't fathom.
Her father taught Hebrew and Jewish studies underground. He wanted nothing more than to go to Israel. But in 1985, he was arrested for slandering the Soviet regime and sent to Siberia, where he toiled in a forced labor camp for a year and nine months.