Brin was born in Moscow to Russian Jewish parents, Michael Brin and Eugenia Brin, both graduates of Moscow State University. His father is a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, and his mother, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
In 1979, when Brin was six, his family felt compelled to immigrate to the United States. In an interview with Mark Malseed, co-author of The Google Story,Sergey’s father explains how he was “forced to abandon his dream of becoming an astronomer even before he reached college”. Although an official policy of anti-Semitism did not exist in the Soviet Union, Michael Brin claims Communist Party heads barred Jews from upper professional ranks by denying them entry to universities, as Jews were excluded from the physics departments in particular. Michael Brin therefore changed his major to mathematics where he received nearly straight As. He said, “Nobody would even consider me for graduate school because I was Jewish.” At Moscow State University, Jews were required to take their entrance exams in different rooms from non-Jewish applicants, which were nicknamed “gas chambers”, and they were marked on a harsher scale.
The Brin family lived in a three-room apartment in central Moscow, which they also shared with Sergey’s paternal grandmother.Sergey told Malseed, “I’ve known for a long time that my father wasn’t able to pursue the career he wanted”, but Sergey only picked up the details years later after they had settled in the United States. He learned that in 1977, after his father returned from a mathematics conference in Warsaw, Poland, he announced that it was time for the family to emigrate. “We cannot stay here any more”, he told his wife and mother. At the conference, he was able to “mingle freely with colleagues from the United States, France, England and Germany and discovered that his intellectual brethren in the West were ‘not monsters.’” He added, “I was the only one in the family who decided it was really important to leave.”
Sergey’s mother was less willing to leave their home in Moscow, where they had spent their entire lives. Malseed writes, “For Genia, the decision ultimately came down to Sergey. While her husband admits he was thinking as much about his own future as his son’s, for her, ‘it was 80/20′ about Sergey.” They formally applied for their exit visa in September 1978, and as a result his father “was promptly fired”. For related reasons, his mother also had to leave her job. For the next eight months, without any steady income, they were forced to take on temporary jobs as they waited, afraid their request would be denied as it was for many refuseniks. During this time his parents shared responsibility for looking after him and his father taught himself computer programming. In May 1979, they were granted their official exit visas and were allowed to leave the country.At an interview in October, 2000, Brin said, “I know the hard times that my parents went through there and am very thankful that I was brought to the States.”
In the summer of 1990, a few weeks before his 17th birthday, his father led a group of high school math students, including Sergey, on a two-week exchange program to the Soviet Union. “As Sergey recalls, the trip awakened his childhood fear of authority” and he remembered that his first “impulse on confronting Soviet oppression had been to throw pebbles at a police car”. Malseed adds, “On the second day of the trip, while the group toured a sanitarium in the countryside near Moscow, Sergey took his father aside, looked him in the eye and said, ‘Thank you for taking us all out of Russia.“