Memories of lost souls befriended: American communists stranded in the USSR

Lev NavrozovLev Navrozov

While surfing the Russian Internet the other day, I came upon the Snob site (www.snob.ru), an “international Russian-language media project, which was launched in 2008, with the aim to connect international and global audience of influential, high-net worth individuals.”

One item jumped at me right away: “Lessons of Patriotism from Tim Kirby,” an interview by a Russian journalist Lera Yakutina with Timothy Kirby.

The American-born Timothy Kirby had emigrated to Russia from the United States, his native country he left behind.

Soviet propaganda poster.

“I am an American. I moved to live to Russia, and I am here to stay for good. I did not enjoy my life in America. For me, it was much too complicated. I never felt too comfortable there — I always felt I was out of place. I did not belong there. I could not fit into that society. For me, it was too materialistic. It’s that simple.”

The interview was in Russian, the language he spoke near perfect.

Responding to the interviewer’s question whether it was difficult for him to master the Russian language, Tim said that it takes a great effort to learn any foreign language, especially taking into account the fact that foreign languages are not being taught in American schools. Of course, you can take it on an extracurricular basis, which is not obligatory.

And so the lengthy interview went on and on. The gist of it was that life in the United States was for him a complete disappointment.

When I read the interview, something else went through my mind — something I and my family lived through while we were still living in Russia.

I and my wife were too studying a foreign language. German was taught in all Soviet schools throughout the country. But we both studied English on our own, by taking private lessons, outside the classroom. Secretly, we both had the same dream: to escape the Stalin’s paradise-on-earth once called Russia and into the United States.

After graduating from the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, we both went to work at the Foreign Languages Publishing House. And there we met and later got married. I translated Russian classical literature into English, while my wife worked as an editor.

There, at the publishing house, we were lucky to work with our native-born English-speaking colleagues. To us, who had an impossible dream to escape our hellish life and come to America, those people were an enigma: those poor souls were victims of their own doing. Most of them were Americans and some of them British who were members of the communist parties back there in their countries.

They came to Stalin’s Russia in the hope that they would be hailed as heroes and enjoy the communist paradise, as promised by Soviet propaganda. Some of them gave up their foreign passports and became Soviet citizens. Upon their arrival, however, they were arrested on suspicion of being spies and were send to serve time in concentration camps.

Upon their release, they were lucky to find a place to live in some communal apartments and get a job. Those poor souls trapped in that strange, vicious regime, shared with us their memories of the life they left behind. Some of them kept photographs of their weddings, their houses, and the free life they left behind. They were all depressed, and there were those who could not take it any longer and committed suicide.

We became friends with one of them, Jack G., an American, whose father, a dentist, was an American communist who despised his son’s anti-communist attitudes.

Jack was an intellectual, loved classical music, and was an accomplished pianist. To prove that his father’s communist beliefs were a utopia, Jack decided to go to Soviet Russia to see what was happening there with his own eyes.

Jack traveled there as a tourist. He stayed at the Moscow Intourist Hotel and for a week enjoyed sightseeing and making friends. He was appalled at what he saw: the unfriendly faces of poorly dressed people in the street, empty stores, striking poverty all around. Jack decided to go back home before his tourist visa expired. But it did not happen. He was detained by Soviet police, questioned, was pronounced an American spy, and arrested. Jack spent 7 years in a concentration camp. His health deteriorated, he lost all his teeth.

We met Jack after he was released from prison. He was looking for a job, and I was happy to help him to survive. He was a brilliant storyteller. He spoke very little Russian.

Jack never renounced his American citizenship. His mother, a New Yorker, despite her failed desperate attempts all those years to get him out of that hell, suddenly got her visa and came to Moscow to see her only son. She already knew about us. They came to see us, and she showered us with gifts she brought to our newborn son.

Soon afterwards Jack brought us good news: he received an invitation from American government to come back to the United States.

Shortly after, he and his wife, an American-born girl he had met in Moscow, who waited for him all those 7 years he was in prison and supported him by sending him food parcels, went off back to the United States.

They stayed with Jack’s mother for some time and then bought a house in Cleveland, where Jack got a teaching job at a university.

When we arrived to the United States, they came to see us: “Welcome to the country of your dream, Lev. Welcome to our America!”

Jack’s health was failing, and soon we had a call from his wife that Jack had passed away.

Lev Navrozov can be reached by e-mail at levnavrozov@gmail.com.

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