After World War II, and up to Stalin’s death in 1953 and his posthumous “dethronement,” communists accounted for almost one-quarter of voters in France and one-third of voters in Italy.
For the English-speaking countries, such percentages were fantastically high. Still, there were English and U.S. admirers of Soviet Russia perceived as a soon-to-be paradise on earth with its wealth (everything free of charge), freedom (everyone will choose his or her work) and universal cultural efflorescence (everyone will be what was once called a “genius”).
Those who immigrated to Russia became Soviet subjects, complete with Soviet passports. They quickly realized that 1930s Russia was a country of incredible poverty, prehistoric cruelty from the power holders, and devastation, from the destruction of what Russia had valued in the first third of the 20th century, such as poetry (still unknown outside Russia). But for them there was no going back!
An Englishman or an American who had a literary bent, and was trapped in Russia, could hardly find a better employment than at the Moscow Publishing House of Literature in Foreign Languages. Any employee in the Soviet paradise on earth was a pauper. But at the Moscow Publishing House, a translator was at least paid for the number of words he translated. It was an Anglo-Saxon island: We knew each other, and an editor became my wife, though neither of us was born Anglo-Saxon.
A translator, an American named Jack, who emigrated to Soviet Russia in the 1930s, became a friend of mine in the 1960s.
When Jack had lived in the United States (where he was born) he despised American official education and read on his own great philosophers in German and Latin, and he was a self-taught pianist who enjoyed playing classical music. He admired Russian literature and was its English translator.
Soon after he arrived in Russia and became a “Soviet citizen,” he had a setback. He was a friend of a British correspondent in Moscow who bought at a Moscow newsstand a large (almost royal) photograph of Lavrentiy Beria, published on the occasion of his becoming the minister of state security. The British correspondent sent this photograph to his London newspaper, to be published as a joke, which the newspaper did. Beria ordered the British correspondent to leave the country within 24 hours — or else. But since Jack knew about the joke, and was a “Soviet citizen,” he was sent to a concentration camp from which he had come out after Stalin’s death in 1953.
This was when I met Jack, and now we saw eye to eye politically. I spoke English with him, and he was pleasantly impressed that our “Moscow Anglo-Saxons” took me for an American who came with him from the United States to Russia.
The dream of many of us, “Moscow Anglo-Saxons,” was as unrealizable as a journey to Mars: We wanted to live in the English-speaking world, the land of personal freedom.
But what doesn’t happen in history? If the English Magna Carta and American Constitution could be realized, why couldn’t my wife, our son, my mother, and I emigrate to these countries?
Historical miracles do happen!
In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president. He launched what was called the U.S.-Soviet “détente” instead of the “Cold War.” The Soviet dictators wanted to reciprocate with something pleasant or useful to him. Nixon’s protection of Israel was well known. So those who considered themselves Jews (though my wife’s passport and my passport said that we were Russians), could apply to the relevant officials for exit visas.
In the Austrian center for Soviet émigrés, the Israeli lady in charge of the operation asked me in English why we wanted to go to the United States, and not to Israel.
“Israel is part of the geostrategy today,” I answered also in English. “But who will hear me from Israel? In the United States I have a chance.”
She agreed and arranged for our trip across the Atlantic. We landed on Mars. It was New York. A new life — “in the other world.”
Say that miracles do not happen in history!
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