Forty years ago, incredibly enough, my wife, our son, and I emigrated from Soviet Russia to the United States. It’s time to evaluate our experience.
Osip Mandelstam, possibly the world’s greatest poet of the 20th century, died in a concentration camp in 1938, presumably for his 1933 poem. That was the death of Russian talent/genius, which had been agonizing since 1917.
So my wife, whom I called a swan, our son and I realized that Russia was over as a spiritual phenomenon and that we must emigrate at least in our imagination into a spiritually alive country. I chose England, known for her initiation of freedom in the past millennium.
Looking back, I recall that the English natives living in Russia would not believe that I had once been a Russian. At the Moscow Publishing House of Books in Foreign Languages, I found a job intended for an Englishman who had emigrated to Russia (there were such mad men and women): translating Russian classical literature into English.
My likeminded editor happened to be of the same thought: She also had been disillusioned with Russia and wished she lived in England. Every day after hours I would see her home, and we talked, and surely it was all impeccably decent: a translator seeing his editor up to a short walk to her home. Her husband, an artist, resented that. He decided they should escape to a summer resort for a while to patch up his sour mood.
A note would be in place. My editor’s husband was a wealthy man. They lived in an imposing Moscow apartment (not a room!), which by Moscow standards in those days corresponded to a New Yorker’s privately owned brownstone in Manhattan.
He also was one of the few who had a car (which at that time corresponded to a New Yorker having a yacht in the Mediterranean). As for myself, I lived in a room (not an apartment!) with my mother, a medical doctor.
My swan spent two days in the Caucasus, then left her husband there, and flew back to Moscow. She called me the minute she got off the plane.
I grabbed a taxi (that is, a Muskovite could hire this Mediterranean yacht), picked her up at the airport, and brought her to our room. Mother (a neurologist) treated the occurrence as a pleasant social event. “My child,” my mother said, “have you given it a serious thought? If you have, I know how much you must love my son.” My swan moved in, and this was how we started off on our lifetime journey.
Now, after I had been so mercilessly ironic about my swan’s husband’s wealth, it was awkward to continue not to be rich. After all, my translation of Russian classical literature turned to bring a constant flow of money.
We bought a three-storied stone mansion, and the wife of our neighbor, at one time a kind of appointed president of Russia, was indignant that a certain Navrozov, an outsider, could buy a bigger and better mansion than theirs. We spent there, in complete isolation from the outside Soviet world, a few happy years, giving parties and entertaining foreign journalists and English members of parliament on their sojourn in Russia.
The news that it was possible to emigrate from Russia was so unreal that prospective emigrants checked the veracity of it by calling those who were already abroad (and not in a Soviet concentration camp for their monstrous desire to leave their “socialist motherland”).
Well, those first lucky few emigrants were already in London. So within a similar fairy-tale reality we went on to New York.
I began to publish my “defense articles” in the Commentary magazine, and one of them (about the nonexistence of the CIA) was outlined or reprinted by over 500 periodicals in the West. Most of them were read into the U.S. Congressional Record.
Now is the time to ask us those key questions about freedom.
Yes, freedom is necessary for genius or even talent. But not so long ago, West European countries such as France were free enough to have some of the biggest “Communist Parties” in the world, while it was precisely freedom that made it possible for the party of Lenin or Mao to come to power.
Stalin or Mao was free to annihilate any party or anyone each considered dangerous and threatening to absolute power.
My Google search gives 4,790,000 results for the “number of degrees issued by American universities.” A country is happy if one genius — Kant, Newton, Goethe, da Vinci — appears in some field.
Now, what is a university degree compared with genius? Yet it is university degree holders that fill chock-full the CIA and all government military institutions. But none of them protected the United States and other free countries from nuclear bombs, which Germany was intensely developing up to 1942, when Hitler decreased the pace, since he needed more money for his war of invasion of Stalin’s Russia, which he lost and committed suicide.
The savior of the United States and other free countries was a man of genius named Einstein and known outside any university or their degrees.
It is true that once he attended a university only because he needed a degree to teach physics. He did not, however, attend a single lecture.
In his letter of 1939, a copy of which is on the wall of my study, he drew President Roosevelt’s attention to nuclear weapons and said that the United States and its allies must proceed immediately to the development of nuclear weapons before Germany develops them first and uses them against its enemy countries.
Freedom enabled Einstein, a Jew, to live safely outside Germany and to send a letter to the president of the United States, and the United States, the incarnation of freedom in the age of national socialism (“Nazism”), was able, with its allies, to develop nuclear bombs ahead of Hitler, who thus became not the owner of the world, but a suicide mission.
The world was saved by one man of genius, not by 4,790,000 American university-degree holders. Not a single university-degree holder wrote to Roosevelt what Einstein did.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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