Saturday, December 27, 2008

Americans in the gulags

Reviewing a new book by Tim Tzouliadis in the TLS, Adam Hochschild discusses the dark and little-known fate of those American citizens, mostly of a left-wing persuasion, who in the 1930s tried to escape the Great Depression by emigrating to the Soviet Union. Excerpt:

Even though the conservative Ambassador of tiny Austria was able to save the lives of more than twenty Austrian left-wingers by sheltering them in his basement, US officials, contemptuous of the Americans who had come to Russia out of naive idealism, did virtually nothing. Yet they could have saved many lives if they had tried, for Stalin was shrewd enough to want to please a valued foreign trading partner. Again and again, the diplomats turned aside those begging for help, generally with the excuse that there was no proof that the prisoner involved was a US citizen. This was literally often true, for when Americans arrived to work in the Soviet Union, the Russians usually confiscated their passports – the better to exert control, and also to acquire a stash of US passports they could later doctor and use to send Soviet spies abroad.

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