The History of My Departure
We were living in a communal flat in a four story pre-Revolutionary building on Stoleshnikov lane two minutes from the Moscow City Hall. This flat had eleven rooms populated by eleven families, one kitchen with several gas stoves, one bathroom, one toilet and a telephone in the corridor. Our 300 sq. feet room was divided into three by plywood partitions. Compared to other families our living conditions were quite acceptable: the center of the city, three metro stations around, several bus and trolley lines, high ceilings, hardwood floors…And we had a car! Small and old but, nevertheless, a piece of luxury – less than one percent of Muscovites owned cars at that time. Also, my wife Lara and I were PhD’s and our salaries were higher than those of most folks around. So, it looked like we had no right to be unhappy. However, this was not the case.
At that time a certain part of the intelligentsia was living a double life. Eight hours per day we were diligent soviet engineers and scientists, but in the evenings we were tuning our radios trying to reach thru jamming Russian Language broadcasts of BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, or Call of Israel. Another major characteristic of our life was the spread of the underground literature. We were reading not only anonymous articles printed on typewriters but also photocopies of books which were removed from libraries many years ago. My friend historian Roy Medvedev had written a book about Stalin. He asked me to photograph hundreds typed pages in order to smuggle the negatives abroad for publication. I spent many hours using a smart contraption which was made by Roy’s friend. After developing 35mm films I would cut off the perforation, chop the whole length on pieces of four frames and assemble them in neat packages. When the correspondent of The New York Times Hedrick Smith would come to us for a cup of tea, I would give him the package to send abroad. Roy’s book was published in several languages but I can’t claim that it was from my negatives. Certainly, he had other people helping him.
All this activity would not last unnoticeable by informers. Telephones were bugged. I thought our communal phone with thirty talkers would be hard to monitor but one newer new for sure. When talking about politics in presence of a telephone we would replace the receiver on the cradle with some heavy object, unscrew the mouthpiece cover and took out the microphone. Did it help? Nobody new…
One day a technician in our lab asked me to go outside. I followed him to a boulevard. We sat, he looked around and asked me if I knew where his wife was working.
- I have no idea.
- She works at a post office.
- So what?
- She works in YOUR post office.
- So what?
- A KGB man came and ordered not to deliver letters addressed to you. They must be collected, KGB would take them and later they would be returned to the post office to be delivered to you. Tell your friends to be careful.
The guy was not even a close friend of mine…Just a good human – Volodya Kot.
Gradually I came to the conclusion that the situation in the USSR would not be improved. Violations of human rights, lies, invasion into Czechoslovakia, increasing shortages of everything, vehement anti-Zionist propaganda which was just a cover for the state anti-Semitism… My understanding was that Jews have no future in the USSR. Not the religious – that goes without saying, but the simple secular people like me in whose internal passport were written that J word.
This life could not continue forever. One way out was applying for joining “relatives” in Israel. Almost 100% of applicants did not have any relatives there, but who could prove that? The affidavit from Israel was the first step into whirlwind of harassment, firing from work, condemnations, etc.
Moreover, the great number of applicants was not permitted to leave becoming “refuseniks”, i.e. exit visa was denied to them. My wife was dead set against emigration. So you can imagine our happy family life. Another way to end that Orwellian nightmare was to join active and open dissidents. That was very dangerous but I was quite ready to do so. However, fate found the third way.
One late fall morning in 1973 I went out from our apartment building to find my car missing. I called the police and took a trolley to work. During lunch time I called again and was told that the car was found and I had to come to the central office of the road police. There I was guided to an office where a police major was sitting.
- So, tell me how you did it.
- I went out to go to work but the car was gone, just fresh tracks in the snow.
- You shall tell this fairytale to somebody else but to me tell the truth.
- What truth? I’m telling you the truth, the car was driven away!
- Tell me how you ran into the person, how you ran away from the place of the accident.
- What are you talking about?! The car was stolen!!
- Well then, I’m warning you that the refusal to confess will make the punishment harsher.
- I did not hurt anybody! The car was stolen, is it damaged? May I see it?
- The car will be produced in due time as the material evidence of your crime. Now go home and think
hard, really hard. Tomorrow at that time I expect to hear your confession. Also, bring your clothes and shoes for analysis.
I left in total bewilderment. What was going on? Why bring the clothes? If I could give them not mine but another person clothes what would they derive from it? Also, what would happen, if the doorman of a small hotel across the street would testify that he saw me taking the car early in the morning? The doorman did not like me because according the traffic regulations I parked my car on his side of the street. All doormen were obliged to cooperate with KGB that was the very well known fact.
I told everything to my friend writer Lidiya Chukovskaya and she gave me the telephone of a lawyer who took the case of her daughter Lyusha when she was hurt in a traffic accident. Lyusha was in a taxi which was pushed off the road and rammed. That was organized by the KGB thugs.
I called the lawyer and went to see him. After he heard my story he said: “Stop! Car accidents are not investigated this way. This is not the road police. This is something else. I don’t know but something is cooking, be very careful”. From the lawyer’s office I went to work, took a typewriter and composed the request to the administration of the Institute to give me a character reference because I was going to emigrate in order to join my aunt in Israel. Submitting this note I felt relief. The double life ended. The desire to emigrate from “the best country of the world” was an act of defiance. The authorities knew perfectly well that “to join relatives in Israel” was the only pretension, the only possible way to leave the country. People who decided to emigrate were plunging into the unpredictable. Firing from work, harassment by police, kids beaten in school and on street – all these were everyday occurrences. Moreover, in very many cases exit visas were refused and people were left high and dry – no jobs at all or only manual jobs for scientists, teachers, and engineers…This situation could continue for months and years but still people were applying. There was a saying at that time: “The brave ones are leaving, but the most courageous are staying”.
In a couple of days my clothes and the car were returned to me. The car was undamaged, only one headlamp was broken. There was no talk about the accident, evidently nobody was hurt….
In a few weeks after I submitted my request a meeting was called at the Institute. At that gathering I was berated and expelled from the trade union. When I told this to an activist-refusnik Melik Agurski he suggested writing a letter to the Central Committee of the KPSU. In the letter we wrote that this action of stupid bureaucrats of the Institute was undermining the efforts of the Soviet Government to fulfill its international obligations and its effort to preserve and enforce the Human Rights in the USSR. We also said that this action was helping American reactionaries to maintain the Jackson-Vannink resolution in Congress when progressive lawmakers were struggling to remove it (the resolution linked the freedom to emigrate with the status of the most preferable trading country).
I dropped this letter into a mailbox and in a few days the postal service delivered an invitation for a meeting with an instructor of the Moscow Party Committee comrade Smirnova. So, with a briefcase in hand, dressed in my best (and only) suite, I went to Staraya Square. There, in a huge complex of old and new buildings, was located the pinnacle of the ruling power. The pass was waiting and I easily found the office of Ms. Smirnova but she was not there. Her secretary advised me to have a cup of coffee in a buffet down the corridor. After the coffee and the tastiest cheapest sandwich in my life
I decided to stroll along these red carpeted quiet corridors of power.
The sign on one of the doors attracted my attention. It said: “The Department of Graphic Agitation and Propaganda”. I entered and said to the receptionist that I would like to see the head of the department.
- Do you have an appointment?
- No, I am here for other business but I would like to talk to your boss about other very important issues.
She disappeared behind the heavily padded door and in a few seconds I was invited into small office where I introduced myself to the round-faced man in his late thirties with a Moscow University lapel pin.
- I’m Yuri Tuvim, senior scientist at the Institute of Metrology of The State Committee of Standards. I’m here for another purpose but I saw the sign of your department and I would like to use my opportunity of being here to address one issue which I consider to be of the prime importance.
- I am all attention.
- Do you know the restaurant Sofia on the Mayakovski Square?
- Sure I do.
- Do you know what is on the roof of it?
- I don’t recall…
- There is a big slogan on the whole length of the building. It says: “Let us to turn Moscow into the Exemplary Communist City!”
- Yes, yes, certainly. So what?
- This is the problem!
- Pardon me, please, but I don’t follow you. Where is the problem?
- The problem is in the slogan. It gives the ground to anti-soviet jokes, spreads criticism. This slogan furthers maliciousness. You have to fix it.
- What are you talking about?
- Yes, I’ll explain. You see, it says “Exemplary Communist City “. That means that there might be also ordinary “Communist Cities”. Two different grades of communist cities, yes? Moscow didn’t reach an Exemplary state yet but is in the Communist stage already. And if Moscow already reached the first grade why potatoes in food stores are all rotten? I think this slogan is very counterproductive. It does not reflect the current moment.
The head of the department was looking at me with half open mouth in silence. I continued.
- You see, this would be very easy to fix. The only thing which is needed is a comma. You have to put a comma after “Exemplary” and the slogan would acquire precise concrete meaning. “Exemplary” would mean “Communist”, i.e. clarification according the rules of the grammar. And this would put the end to the anti-soviet jokes.
“I understand”, - said the department head and started to look for something in the drawers of his desk. After a long search he produced a thick book, leafed through pages, raised his head and said with the utter doom:
- Nothing could be done.
- Why nothing? This is a two hour job; even the words don’t need to be spread apart.
- That is not the case. This slogan as such is written in The Program of the KPSU.
- I am sorry to hear that, - said I and departed.
Comrade Smirnova was in her office. A nice looking blond lady with a university lapel pin on the voluptuous bosom. I apologized for being several minutes late explaining this by visiting The Department of Graphic Agitation and Propaganda. Madam Smirnova ears perked up. With the great pleasure I informed her about the anti-soviet influence created by the absence of a comma and begged for her help. I told her that inept bureaucrats refused to create an initiative fixing the obvious typo in The Program of the Party.
- They are Talmudists and Pedants, as comrade Stalin said many years ago. They must be pinned
to the pillory!
- Not Stalin but Lenin, -said the madam.
- I bet that was Stalin’s formula. Do you have his book “Questions of Leninism”? Give it to me,
I’ll show you the place where it is written.
Smirnova looked at me exactly the same way as the head of the department. Even her mouth opened on the same 10 millimeters. But that lasted a tenth of a second. In a twinkling of an eye she regained her composure and said:
- We were distracted a little.
- Yes, -I said, - when persecuting a man expelling him from the union, everybody voted unanimously, but when legality is at stake nobody would help. I hoped you would help me. I paid my dues always on time and there was no law to expel a person if he wanted to live with his aunt.
- Yes, but you wanted to go to Israel.
- So what? There are trade unions too, I would join them immediately.
- These are the Israeli unions; we have no relations with them.
- I am sure you have relations with our trade unions. So, help me please. You need to restore legitimacy. I was expelled unlawfully. I did not violate any rules.
- Our trade unions are independent. The party can not correct their actions. You have to appeal to the Headquarter of All-Soviet Trade Unions.
- But why you invited me to come?
- We responded to your letter.
- You should have sent me to the headquarters to start with. I am wasting my time. You can’t even fix a grammatical error. The comma is an insurmountable obstacle to you! Totally useless organization!
Thus ended my second visit to the center of USSR power. The first encounter was several years before and for completely different reasons. It happened because we used to rent a summer house 60 miles from Moscow. The farther from Moscow the worse the road. The last ten miles it was something unimaginable: solidified waves of six feet high. In dry weather it was interesting – you rose and fell as if on a swing but after a rain you would need a tank to reach the village.
One summer the big road construction started, straight cut across the bog. Dump tracks were hauling in mountains of sand and asphalt; I watched the construction with great anticipation. In August the road was finished and I sped on the smooth surface. The joy lasted a mile. A police car with blasting siren stopped me and I was ordered to make a u-turn and proceed on the old road. The next week I was returning from Moscow. At the fork in the road was a freshly installed sign – “Do Not Enter”. I stopped, looked around, nobody was in sight. I lifted the sign from the post, threw it into the bog and took the asphalt road. Approaching a hunting lodge which was a mile from the village I was stopped. My documents were thoroughly checked and a ticket was issued for a grave violation – entering a restricted road. I argued vehemently finally convincing the policeman to follow me back to the fork. You should have seen his face when he did not find the sign on the post!! He had no choice but to permit me to drive to the village on the asphalt. However, next week the sign was back on the post. I tried my trick again but it was welded and with nothing to do I took the old road.
At the village store I struck up a conversation with a trapper from the hunting lodge. He told me that the big Party bosses started to come hunting there. He also said that Brezhnev treated everybody with coffee, but Kosigin only needed to glance at the aide and the aide would produce a bottle of vodka from his pocket.
So, I sat and wrote a letter to Department of the People’s Control at the Central Committee of the KPSU. I don’t recall it verbally but something like the following:
“Dear comrades, an unhealthy situation has developed recently. A road was built for the authorities using people’s money. Common folk are not permitted to use the road and continue to get carsick vomiting inside the busses. One woman even had a miscarriage, cars and busses break, efficiency of labor is going down, anti-party feelings are on rise and anti-soviet jokes are proliferating….”
I had lots of fun writing this. The invitation for a talk came very quickly. I was received by an old man decorated with a multitude of medal ribbons. I expounded the whole story exaggerating the anti-soviet effect of the new road. The man did not interrupt me and when I ran out of steam he asked me a question:
- Where is the village located?
- In Yaroslav region.
- In that case you have to bring your complaint to the authorities of that area because our Department is taking care only of the All-Union problems.
The old apparatchik knew how to deflect complaints which he could not resolve. This was the end of my first encounter with the pinnacle of the soviet power structure.
After expulsion from the trade union I continued to work but the atmosphere around me changed
drastically. From being the darling of the administration because I successfully ran a very important
project I became a pariah. My friends would talk to me only when known stool pigeons and tattletales were out of sight. My project suddenly lost its significance but I could not be fired because I was elected by a Science Council of the Institute to my position of the Senior Scientist. The authorities found the perfect legal way to deal with me. The whole structure of the Institute was changed. All scientists were asked to submit the necessary papers for participation in a contest. A new voting procedure was organized with utmost precaution. The ballot box was so small that ballot forms could not spread inside the box and were piling on the top of each other. The election committee was composed of the most trusted people who were watching the voting members of the Council like hawks. Naturally, my friends could not vote “For” and I was blackballed. The legitimacy was preserved and the next day I was laid off.
The loss of 250 rubles per month was a very serious thing but as the Russian proverb says: - “Net khuda bez dobra”, meaning “There are no bad things without good”. Lidiya Chukovskaya asked me to be her chauffer and the most exciting life started without delay. I met Chukovskaya a few years before. She was a fragile old lady with an iron will. Her husband a brilliant physicist Bronstein was arrested and shot during the Era of Terror. She was a friend of Andrei Sakharov and was greatly respected by the Moscow liberal dissident intelligentsia. I earned her appreciation when I fixed the inscription on the gravestone of her father writer Korneii Chukovskii. A few bronze characters were lost, so I asked my friend who was working in a military aviation plant to cast them. That was done and I cemented the letters back onto the stone. Needless to say no money was involved. That’s how we used to help each other back then.
Chukovskaya was giving me to read her books which she was writing “in the desk”, meaning that they could not be published under Soviet rule. Her articles were circulating in Samizdat and Solzhenitsyn sometimes stayed in her house. I never met him but I got acquainted with many remarkable people, the crème of real Moscow intelligentsia. Those days since the expulsion from work until my departure – these were the most interesting days of my life.
I had at my disposal two cars, plenty of free time and many friends. One car, however, presented a problem. I have to admit that I never bought a single liter of gas from a gas station. The steering wheel of my small car could not be turned to the direction of a gas station. When I needed gas I would stop the car, put a canister from the trunk behind the car and wait. The waiting was not long. A truck or a dump truck would stop and in a few minutes my canisters would be filled for three or four times less money that at a gas station. Unfortunately, Lidiya Chukovskaya did not feel comfortable with my enterprising and I was experiencing pangs of conscience enriching the state instead supporting hardworking truck drivers.
One day driving Chukovskaya from her dacha to Moscow we had an interesting conversation. She was
categorically against any emigration for a reason that if good people would leave who would be left to
make the country better. I answered that the only thing which I could do for the country would be to commit a suicide on a collective farm field in order to fertilize the soil. But if we organize an
opposition party I would stay. Chukovskaya said that she was not a politician but a writer. We switched to other topics. The question of an opposition party popped out a few months later when I was summoned to a police station where two KGB man were giving me a hard time asking about a small package which was taken by customs from an American pilot. This pilot called me one day and said that he had a letter to me from my friends in Boston. I met him and gave him a Bukovski’s letter from a prison, a scientific article by a scientist-refusnik Mark Asbel and my letter to friends. When the pilot was asked if he took something from somebody in Moscow, he immediately cracked and named me. I met him a few years later in Boston and discovered that he was extremely naïve and slightly stupid.
The KGB men were performing flawlessly the “Good cop – Bad cop” play. One would say: “There is no need talking to him. The place for this anti-sovetchik is in prison!” Another: “Ah, wait a little. He is a good fellow, confused slightly, he made a mistake, but he is our citizen, not an American agent!” I admitted the article and my letter but denied the Bukovski’s. Anyhow they were not much interested in those. They revealed the major concern when they mentioned in passing the opposition party. I told them that I am not going to retract my exit visa application which I would do if there would be such a party. They were visibly relived and we parted almost like old friends. How they knew about the party? The car was bugged and the device worked.
The best place to find the latest news and rumors was a small street on which the Moscow synagogue was. Not very many people would go inside, the biggest gathering was outside. You met friends, learn news, rumors. Plainclothes KGB men would take pictures. When the crowd grew big during Jewish holidays, the parallel major street would be closed for traffic and endless stream of cars would be directed trough that street. I enjoyed going to the synagogue, this was my small demonstration against totalitarian power of the state. There I usually would see Sanya Lipavski. I got acquainted with him in the apartment of Prof. David Asbel, who went on the hunger strike protesting the denial to emigrate to Israel. Sanya was a MD; he monitored the health of Professor Asbel. I liked Sanya. He was polite, he never asked me to introduce him to Sakharov or Chukovskaya, and he was not nosey. He worked at a clinic where people were examined to get driver licenses and he helped many folks to pass the test. Gradually we become friends. He invited me to his home where I met his father – a huge man of 300 plus pounds. Sanya told me that his father was only one who was not shot after he was convicted with a group of others. They were involved with the embezzlement of gigantic proportions. Sanya said that he was not shot because he did not admit his guilt when others confessed and were put against the wall. Later I understood the real reason for the mercy.
Sanya was the proud owner of a new Volga car. That was very unusual, only a very privileged few possessed these cars. Sanya said that Volga was bought for him by his American relatives who also already set up an X-ray office where he would work after emigration. He did not apply for visa because his Russian wife did not make her mind yet. One day he told me that the brake line hose of his car was snapped by KGB men and he miraculously avoided an accident in the middle of Moscow. He also warned me to be careful with another friend of ours because he was being seen talking with a suspected KGB informer. Nothing unusual with all of these stories, Moscow was full of them…
I continued to enjoy my freewheeling life, driving Chukovskaya, reading underground literature, visiting Sakharov and meeting foreign correspondents. In Sakharov’s flat I met Senator Buckley and before that I was in the apartment of Prof. Lerner when Senator Kennedy came to see Jewish refusniks. Senator Buckley impressed me very much by his pertinent questions but Kennedy’s stupid ones where very primitive. I had a feeling that he did not understand or did not care about the answers.
In the midst of this activity my mother came for visit. After the death of my father she was living in Iceland with my sister who was married to an Icelandic journalist. My mother was a dentist but she could not work in Iceland. Yet she was a very active person so she took to knitting and in a short time achieved quite a skill. She knitted sweaters with beautiful traditional Icelandic patterns for family members and many relatives and friends. This time she brought sweaters for Sakharov, Chukovskaya and Ruth Bonner, Sakharov’s mother-in-law. I called Sakharov and asked if I could come for a visit with my Mama. The answer was yes and we went. I also had with me a box of 45 cans of evaporated milk without sugar. That milk was popular and not expensive but it was hard to find. Luckily, I got acquainted with a sales woman from one store. When that store needed to fulfill a plan they started to sell deficit products one of which was that milk. The woman would call me; I would buy the whole box and pay a few rubles above the price. Everybody would be happy: the woman with a few rubles, I with milk and the store with the fulfillment of the plan. So, as you can see, the shortages can bring happiness to many.
Do I experience something like that shopping in America? Not at all! The obnoxious abundance sickens and irritates me. Overstaffed stores, hundreds of kinds of cookies, untold number of sausages, meats, juices, potatoes…This is one of reasons for obesity which endangers out society. But I got distracted, sorry.
When we arrived at the apartment building where the Sakharovs were living (Elena Bonner was in Italy for an eye operation), several people were on the usually empty sidewalk. I helped Mama out of my small car and took the very heavy box from the trunk. The box was almost forty pounds and was circled by a luggage belt. Holding Mama under her arm with my right arm and the box with my left we entered the building. At that moment a big woman pushed me from behind. I let the box go and it crashed with a horrendous clank on the foot of a woman. She screamed, I apologized and we took an elevator up. I think the KGB decided that “Mama“ was a code word and sent a detachment of agents to check. I hoped that the foot of the stooge would teach her a lesson.
In the summer of 1975 I received my exit visa. This was very unusual, hundreds of refusniks envied me and I, being ready to join them, was perturbed. To leave family suddenly become the new frightening reality. My son was in a summer camp. In two weeks I must leave without seeing him. That was out of the question and I went to the visa office and asked for postponement. To my astonishment I was granted the whole month and life started to look better. I decided to go to Smolensk to say farewell to my old nanny who was living alone in my parents flat. I also wanted to see several friends from my father’s liquor plant where he was chief engineer for many years. Directors of this plant were always party members but that did not warrant permanent employment. Some become alcoholics, some would be dismissed as unqualified, and one was arrested. He was an Ukrainian. He sent an unsigned letter to an Ukrainian poet Sosura reprimanding him for brown-nosing Russians. Evidently, Sosura brought the letter to the KGB and they found and arrested the poor guy. The family was immediately evicted from their flat. They spent the whole winter in a shed without electricity. For heat they burned wooden scraps in an iron barrel. They believed that my father betrayed him to get a position. Poor stupid people! During the trial they learned the truth and apologized. Pretty soon the new director arrived and my father resumed his old duties plus teaching the newcomer basics of the technology.
The most important part of his work was manifesting itself during the days before the major holidays when managers of other socialist enterprises would arrive at the plant. All visits proceeded like this: the General Manager of the railroad station would come to my father’s office. They would exchange some pleasantries; my father would reach into his desk drawer, pull out one or two bottles of vodka and present them to the visitor congratulating him with the approaching October Revolution day. So, if he needed cars to ship vodka he would get them on time. The big party bosses and the Attorney General of the region would never come by themselves but would send their chauffeurs. What my father was doing was unlawful and criminal, but if he would not do it his plant would never fulfill the plan, workers would not get bonuses and the Ministry would give him a very hard time. But if inspectors would find about this activity nobody would even try to help him. That’s how he worked between Scylla and Haribda of the Soviet life. The workers respected and even loved him including our whole family also because some of them were my mother patients.
When I told them that I was leaving the country, they were shocked.
- You are going to Amerika!? You are crazy! There is no work, unemployment! Negros are lynched…
- Everybody is armed, people are killed on streets!
- How much money you are permitted to exchange?
- How you will survive on ninety dollars?
- How much a coat costs?
They asked me many questions for which I did not know the answers. Finally they said: -“Where did you park the car? Go around the corner to the lumber yard and wait there”.
So I did and in fifteen minutes the factory truck stopped behind me. My friend Volodya Zelkovski put in my trunk the case with 20 bottles of Stolichnaya vodka. – “Be careful with these” - he said and shook the bottle. Large air bubbles quickly rose and disappeared. That was not vodka but 196 proof alcohol poured and sealed into Stoly bottles. “This will help you in Amerika!” - He said. (Here I have to explain to my readers that vodka in Russia always was an equivalent of hard currency. My dear friends were helping me to start a new life…) Upon returning to Moscow the precious cargo greatly enhanced my already interesting life. New friends were appearing, old friendships were strengthened, nobody was demanding to pay the union dues and the anxiety of the imminent departure almost dissipated in the fog of alcohol.
One day Sanya Lipavski asked me to meet him.
- Yura, I know you have contacts with foreigners but I lost mine. I need your help.
- No problem, what’s cooking?
- You see, I have friends, engineers. They hate the Soviet system and they want to help America.
They work in a military plant, you know, in Zagoryanka. They stole some secret documentation and I promised to transfer that abroad but I lost my contact. You are my only hope .
When a friend is in need you must help, so I agreed, and a plywood case was transferred into my car. I drove to my garage sweating hot and cold alternately. One thing is to mingle with dissidents and spread underground pamphlets, another – espionage. Death penalty, no joke! Locking myself in the garage I opened the case. It was full of all sorts of technical documentation stamped “Secret”. I leafed through and quickly understood that there was no technical value in them. I especially remember one: “The installation to determine degree of blackness of bodies”. Luckily, that subject was very well known to me. This “secret” installation was on the level of a primitive school laboratory.
I remember another paper about how to weld a certain aluminum alloy. “What, - I thought, - don’t Americans know how to weld? Maybe they don’t even have this particular alloy…”
I called Sanya, we met and I told him that I could not help him and he should take the case back. He refused. I put the case into his car and left. I have never seen him again and his electric drill remained in my possession in spite of my several calls to him.
One week before the fatal day of my departure my wife Lara baked an apple pie and I called Sakharov and invited him for a cup of tea. He came with his mother-in-law Ruth Bonner; when I went to the kitchen to put the tea kettle on the stove the door bell rang. I opened; there were three writers – Lev Kopelev, Vladimir Voinovich and Konstantinovski. I never met Konstantinovski but Kopelev and Voinovich were familiar faces.
- Is Andrei here? – Asked Kopelev.
- Yes, he is, but I did not invite you.
- You know nothing! He got the Nobel Prize!
So, I let them in; they entered, put on the table a bottle of vodka and three roses and Kopelev said:
- Andrei, I would like to take down your statement in your new capacity.
Andrei Dmitrievich started to talk and Kopelev standing was writing it down.
My friend and brother-in-methanol Naum Schmidt who came to see me said: - “Why are you standing like an idiot? Where is your camera?” I snapped this photo; the door bell rang; in the corridor was a crowd of foreign correspondents with movie-, tele- and photo cameras. Somebody thrusted a light into my son Misha’s hand and he was holding it high amidst the pandemonium. Ruth was sitting imperturbably in an armchair with unlit cigarette in hand.
First words said when he learned of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
Thursday October 9th, 1975, 20:00-20:15
The apartment of Yuri Tuvim, Dmitrov Road, 45B, #72
I hope that this will be good for political prisoners in our country. I hope that it will support the struggle for human rights in which I participate. I believe that this award is not as much an acknowledgement of my personal merits, but the merits of all of those who fight for human rights, publicity, for the freedom of beliefs, and especially those who paid for this with the high price of losing their freedom.
I hope that during this period of détente, the bestowing of this prize on a person who does not completely share the official point of view, will not appear as a challenge to the official view, but will be accepted as an expression of tolerance and breadth of spirit that must comprise the main part of the process of détente.
In the past few months, starting from precisely this point of view, I have called for amnesty for political prisoners many times. And now, learning of my award, I want to repeat this call once more. And, it goes without saying, I feel extremely gracious towards the Norwegian Parliament.
Recorded by L. Kopelev
This evening in Iceland my sister’s family turned on the TV and they saw all of this: Sakharov, my flat, myself, Misha…
A few days before my departure another brother-in-methanol Arkadi came from Leningrad. Late at night when walking with him on a dark alley I spotted a very shiny piece on the sidewalk. It was a ten kopeck coin issued in 1930 – the year I was born. The coin was in absolute perfect condition, as just from the minting press. I have no explanation to this. Coincidence? – Yes, but why did it not tarnish in 45 years? This coin is now in my desk in Gloucester, it lost its entire spark and I lost mine too…
The last hour in the airport was horrible. I don’t remember any details except that Lara was wearing a black goat fur coat, Misha was pale like a ghost, Sakharov was taller that anybody and our little crowd was under observation by several unremarkable personas. Finally I tore myself from the rest and went thru custom where an officer grouped my jeans and thru passport control where another officer took me into a box and checked my jeans and the belt again. The plain was half empty. They started to play some soul tearing music, the ancient sobbing and bawling. I was ready to run back but at that moment to door was closed and I was saved from action.
My very first impression: shaggy soldiers with assault rifles at the ramp, something ridiculous for my eyes – the army permits such disheveled locks? In the airport all emigrants were separated into two groups. Those who decided to go to Israel were taken by Sokhnut and sped under guard to some remote location fearing Palestinian terrorists. The rest, including me, were taken in by HIAS and brought to the city by bus. The second impression: very well organized racks with building materials and pipes – cleanliness and order along the road. The third impression – the hostel - did not answer my picture of the comfortable West. It was crowded and poorly lit. We were instructed how to use the toilet bowl (flush!) and also to use hot water very sparingly. I put my suitcase under the bed and went out. That was thirty years ago but I still vividly remember the small store with a fantastic selection of cheeses and sausages. I took the price list and wrote my first letter home on its back. This letter never reached my family just as many others on which I spent a fortune.
I stayed in Vienna ten days visiting HIAS a couple times to fill out various needed documents. That left me plenty of free time for exploring the majestic city and its superb museums. I walked far and wide, taking pictures and cursing myself for not bringing more film. Certainly, film was available but HIAS’s pocket money was barely enough for post stamps, trams and some meals which I used to buy at the farmer’s market. There I stole a knife with a plastic handle which I used every morning to cut bread and sausages in the hostel. I also tried to sell a porcelain doll’s head which was given to me by my nanny when I visited Smolensk to bid her farewell. This head was the only remaining part of my sister’s doll. Antique dealers in Vienna were stingy and the head traveled with me to Rome and Boston where I finally sold it for $30 to some crazy woman whose house was jam-packed with a gazillion doll’s heads.
One day when I was photographing Viennese architectural gems, a drunken Austrian struck a conversation with me. At that time my German allowed me to converse on a kindergarten level and I understood that an invitation was issued to go with him to his home. I agreed, he waived a taxi and we went. The short ride made him deadly drunk and the strain of carrying him to the second floor almost untied my belly button. His lovely wife immediately made him drink the strongest coffee and he become sober in a few minutes. Never again did I see such a sobering effect of coffee on an absolutely drunk person. The Austrian turned out to be a bartender but his wife was the daughter of the retired police chief of the Vienna. In a couple of days I found myself as the guest of honor at their family dinner. The dinner was followed by a film about Vienna’s beauty taken by the chief. After coffee, cigars and cognac I was delivered to the hostel in a police Mercedes. In the morning Monica - the wife of the bartender - came to the hostel with her daughter and we went to see the Schoenbrun castle and the park. On the way back we stopped in a village for a delicious lunch with white wine. I think they had a big program to acquaint me with Viennese life but HIAS ordered “all aboard” the train to Rome. As a parting gift I received a magnificent Grundig with stretched diapasons of short waves.
The radio needed some work but I was able to receive Deutsche Welle and Liberty. I brought the Grundig to America and it worked for 20 years more.
Two cars of the train Vienna-Rome were designated for Soviet emigrating Jews. I was put into a compartment with a family of five from Kiev – parents, frail granny and two small kids. The head of the family was “five feet with hat” and I could not stop wondering how he was able to manage their luggage consisting of ten huge suitcases. I helped him put everything into the compartment. After that we realized that there was no room for people. Luckily, we found a rope and I made a hammock above the seats. It was impossible to stand but it was OK to sit. Twenty two hours later we arrived in Rome.
Actually, it was not Rome but a small station in the suburbs. Several stern men observed our relocation from the train to busses. The rumor was that HIAS enlisted mafia to protect us from Arab terrorists.
It was late evening when our bus stopped in front a five story building. In the office on the first floor we were told that we might stay here only one week during which we must find and rent a place to live somewhere in Rome or in suburbs. On the second floor were several rooms with a dozen beds in each. From ceilings hung bare light bulbs burning in half incandescence. Several Russian speaking people were scurrying through our confused group asking if we had something to sell. I had nothing. I showed my suitcase under the bed and went out seriously worrying about its future. The poorly lit street launched me into despair. Crumpled cans, shreds of plastic and dog excrement were scattered on the wet sidewalk. And this is Europe?! The Eternal Rome?? A young man approached me and inquired if I had something to sell. We struck a conversation; he happened to be a former Muscovite Denis Pekarev. We found the common acquaintance – Volodya Albrekht whom we used to call Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) because he collected money to help families with small children whose fathers (or mothers) were arrested. Denis bought me a cup of coffee and said that I have to come tomorrow morning to the Radio Vatican Station where he was an announcer. He would try to help me to find a place to live. After that news and the cup of real coffee my mood brightened and early in the morning I set out on the explained route.
I called Denis from the reception room and in a few minutes he appeared with a small old lady who did not speak Russian. After a long travel by bus and tram we arrived to The Pilgrim House of the Catholic Hungarian Church. My benefactors spoke a few words in Italian to the Mother Superior and a nun led me to a beautiful room on the second story with a large window overlooking an orchard.
The room had a wardrobe, a desk, a sink and a crucifix above the headboard. My address became Casa Santo Stefano, 481 Via del Cazaletto. The Casa was a four story contemporary building with marble floors, a gallery on the third floor and a large chapel with an enormous stained glass window.
A couple of bathrooms stocked with all sorts of cleaning agents and utensils were two doors down from my room. The cleanliness everywhere was exceptional. In the cafeteria on the first floor a European breakfast (rolls, jam and coffee) was served from 7 to 9AM and dinner started at 6PM. And what a dinner!!! Hungarian goulash and other delicious concoctions were accompanied by unlimited consumption of white and red wines. And all this was free!!! Thus started my Rome vacation – the most memorable and happy time on my way to America.
After breakfast I started out to explore Rome. Because I did not have to pay rent, the money from HIAS allowed me a simple pizza for lunch, bus and tram fares, post stamps, museum tickets and even trips to Venice, Florence, Assisi, Siena, San Marino and Castel Gondolfo – the summer residence of the Pope. The most important thing was that I was not alone anymore. Thanks to me, my friend Sasha Gorlov’s family moved to the Casa, and my institute co-student Boris Gommershtadt also arrived in Rome. There were other emigrants with whom I spent time in the Eternal City.
Two events deserve to be mentioned. The first one happened on Christmas Eve. After a grandiose dinner I decided to fix a little mistake made by Italian plumbers, who did not hang the sink horizontally: it was tilted a little to the right. I studied the situation and found that to eliminate this annoying flaw would be very easy: a piece of wood half an inch thick under one side would do the job. I already had that piece, so I pulled the sink’s side up. It did not budge. I tugged a little harder and the sink moved, pulling the hot water tube from the nipple. I tried to push it back, but that did not work. I sprinted to the basement to turn off the water, but there was such an intercrossing of pipes of all sizes that I could not find the proper valve. In the meantime the puddle of hot water had already crept out of the room into the corridor and started to flow down the stairs. I lay my bedding across the door and ran to the cafeteria where the sisters were finishing their Christmas dinner. In a few minutes firefighters arrived, put a hose into my room through the window, sucked out the water, and fixed the sink… Efficiently, quickly, smartly. And nobody reprimanded me. The next day I set the sink properly – in compliance with the horizon.
The second event happened the next week. I was invited to celebrate the New Year with my Moscow friends who were now living in a rented flat near Termini. Around 10PM I went down the street to catch a bus. I waited, and waited, and waited, but no busses were in sight. The street was empty, totally devoid of any human activity. Suddenly there was a loud pop and hissing behind me: a firework rocket wildly spinning on the pavement. This was the beginning. As if on command numerous fireworks started to explode everywhere and from open windows pieces of furniture, dishes, toilet bowls, brooms, etc. began crashing on sidewalks. I ran back to the Casa down the middle of the street. And this, my friends, is how I met the New Year, 1976.
When I was photographing St. Peter’s Cathedral a priest approached me and struck up a conversation in a mixture of Russian and Polish. He turned out to be a monk working for Missione Consolata,- a Vatican organization sending missionaries to many countries of the world. Padre Garbolino served in Africa, Poland and the US. He was very interested in Soviet affairs. Several times he invited me for dinner to his monastery and every time he managed to give me ten dollars. I wanted to do something for him. When he mentioned Master and Margarita I decided to record it on tape for him. Pretty soon I realized that to dictate was hard work. It took me two full days of reading, but Padre Garbolino was happy to receive it.
When my fiancée Pippy and I went to Italy ten years after my arrival to America, Pippy got the idea that Padre Garbolino would marry us in Rome. That did not happen because I was a divorcee. The Catholic Church does not recognize divorces. We invited Padre for dinner. He came but could not stay because of a draconian rule: he had to be back to his residence before 8PM! No excuses were accepted. We were very upset.
Shortly after my arrival in Rome, Elena Bonner was released from the hospital after an eye operation. The Nobel Prize to Sakharov immensely increased demands on her. Several times I accompanied her to press-conferences and dinners. I remember one in a fashionable club where I was not permitted to enter because I did not have a tie. The solution was quickly found: a coatroom attendant produced a soiled tie from under the counter and I put it over my turtleneck. It was ridiculous but the rules were observed and I entered a medieval parlor were the hosts and translator swarmed around Ms. Bonner. Nobody paid attention to me except a waiter in tails serving champagne. For half an hour I kept him busy filling my glass. Dinner was served at an enormous round table large enough to sit double the number of invited guests. I don’t remember what we ate because my remaining mental abilities were mobilized not to make a faux pas using an improper utensil. Too too many were in front of me on the table. Frankly, I could not enjoy the multiplicity of dishes because all my attention was spent mimicking sophisticated members of the club in their handling of utensils. The only person who helped me survive that torture was the very attentive waiter who kept filling my glass.
Elena Bonner was ready to depart for Oslo to accept her husband’s Nobel Price. She worried because his statement still did not make it to Rome. You have to understand that it was sent not by regular mail (in that case it would never have arrived), but through foreign journalists in Moscow. When the statement finally arrived, Lusiya gave it to me to read; I found that some phrases were long and cumbersome and I volunteered to fix it. Lusiya agreed and I set to work. Pretty soon I realized that the task was beyond my ability: Sakharov’s text was awkward but monolithic as a rock. The next day Lusiya showed me her editing. It was a miracle! The message and the tone were preserved but the whole document become light and coherent. I asked Lusiya and she gave me the document with her cuts and inserts. I kept it for many years and later gave it to Brandeis University Sakharov’s Archive receiving an affidavit for a tax return in the sum of $3000.
Thanks to Lusiya I got acquainted with Irene Ilovaiskaya-Alberti, Asya Busiri-Vizi, Doctor Nina Kharkevich, and Journalist Lia Weinstein. I still have very fond memories about all of them and I would like to recall some.
Asya Busiri-Vizi was a daughter of a count Olsufiev who took his family out of Russia after the coup d’etat. She was born in Russia but her sister Maria was born in Italy. Maria became a successful Russian translator. Among many books she translated was Gulag Archipelago. Asiya was different. She did not like to talk about politics, she preferred painting and vodka. She specialized in pastel portraits of children of nobility; heir to the throne of Shah of Iran was one of them. Asya lived on Via Julia – a fashionable area like Mt.Vernon St. in Boston. Her flat was full of old Russian relics and ancestral portraits. There was also a pantry which served as a bathroom and bedroom where I used to sleep. Ten years later we paid a visit to Asya. She demonstrated perfect memory and cordial hospitality. After a serious lunch with Polish vodka she decided to paint Pippy’s portrait which turned out to be without the slightest resemblance to the model. Nevertheless all of us received great pleasure from the encounter.
The eye doctor Nina Kharkevich lived in Florence with her big fat black and white cat Paolino. Nina was born there. Her grandfather was a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church established in Florence well before the Bolshevik coup. She spoke Russian without the slightest accent, wrote poetry and painted. I stayed in her flat for several days exploring the wonderful city. One day the soup which she left for me seemed a little strange. At the dinner the puzzle was solved: the soup was Paolino’s.
Lia Weinstein worked for a prestigious newspaper La Stampa. She was the daughter of wealthy parents who made their timely escaped from Russia in 1917. She lived in a three story mansion on Via Piedmont, not far from the American Embassy. The main rooms of her house were filled with antique furniture. Museum quality paintings hung on silk lined walls. I spotted a silver vase with a bent leg and set to straighten it. The leg broke off unexpectedly easily. Disaster! When ten years later I introduced to Lia my fiancée she also demonstrated perfect memory: the first thing Lia mentioned was the broken leg! She invited us to dinner which was served in the dining room furnished with 17th century fixtures. Incredibly beautiful porcelain plates were flanked by the Faberge silverware. A middle age redheaded Clara, Lia’s friend-secretary and professor of English literature, served fantastic trout with polenta. Another disaster: my vegetarian fiancée did not eat fish. Lia was devastated. The professor left the table to scramble eggs and salad, but I got a double portion of trout which satisfied me immensely. When Lia learned out about our plans to marry, she suggested her jeweler from whom we bought a narrow band with a strip of rectangular diamonds. Seeing this ring a couple of days later Lia shrugged shoulders and said that it was not a bad gift for the birthday.
Irene Ilovaiskaya was the daughter of a famous Russian historian Ilovaiskii who left Russia after the Bolshevik coup. Irene was born in Yugoslavia but her Russian was impeccable. She was in charge of a ALI –Association Literature International in Rome. In reality it was a CIA affiliated warehouse filled with books which we used to call Tamizdat (printed abroad). Among them were forbidden books of Russian writers and translated books of Western historians and political scientists. The business of the library was to use every opportunity to smuggle books into the USSR. They used tourists, sailors, diplomats – anybody who would be willing to take a few volumes. When I mentioned that a friend of my sister would be departing from Iceland to work for the Icelandic embassy in Moscow, they sent my sister dozens of books for her friend.
I spent hours in ALI rummaging and reading previously inaccessible treasures. Once I found a stack of books “June 1941” by historian Alexander Nekrich. The book was about Stalin’s guilt for the initial collapse of the Soviet armies. The book was printed in the USSR but later was quietly banned and removed from libraries. Nekrich was expelled from the Party. Now hundreds of books were skillfully reproduced on bad quality paper so it would be impossible to distinguish them from the original and a traveler would not have any problems if the book would be discovered by customs.
My fellow-emigrants were frequent visitors to ALI. Don’t think that they were leaving the premises empty-handed. Our book-hunger was immense. One mother would come with a daughter in a stroller and when she was leaving the daughter was sitting on the pile of books. I took some books too. Ms. Ilovaiskaya new about our “borrowing” but she did not object. She understood us. At that time ALI was preparing for publication the book by a defector Vladimirov. When she learned that I had in my slow-speed luggage albums with photos of soviet posters, she asked me to bring them for copying.
I went to the warehouse, opened the box and tore several pictures from the albums. After a few days I found some of them scattered on the floor in ALI. The irresponsible staff lost part of my collection! Here are some I can remember:
“REMOVAL OF REFRIGERATORS FROM LENINGRAD IS FORBIDDEN”
“FIGHT BRAVELY FOR NEW TECHNOLOGY! THE STRUGGLE FOR IT IS THE NATIONWIDE GOAL!”
“TODAY YOU ARE A TRUANT AND A LOAFER BUT TOMORROW YOU BECOME A THIEF, A RAPIST AND A KILLER!”
“BREAD IS THE NATIONAL TREASURE! TAKE CARE OF IT!”
“THE FLATS ON THIS LANDING ARE FIGHTING TO BECOME THE EXAMPLE OF THE COMMUNIST DAILY LIFE!”
“THE LANDING OF COMMUNIST DAILY LIFE”
I became a friend of Ms. Ilovaiskaya. Together with a 7th Day Adventist Bresedden from Siberia we fixed and upholstered her sofa and she fed us with cheese ravioli. One day she told me that Solzhenitsin asked her to work for him as a secretary and I told her that she could not refuse the offer, but it would be a very difficult job.
Ms. Ilovaiskaya used her connections to obtain a Refugee Travel Document for me; my sister bought me a plane ticket from Luxemburg to Iceland and I boarded the train to Luxemburg. In my compartment there were three Italians returning to work in Germany. I asked them why so much junk was scattered along the railroad and why many historical buildings and monuments in Rome were covered with graffiti and the hammer-and-cycle. They explained that Italians were pigs but Germans were very clean and orderly people, they even washed sidewalks with soap; Italians are really bad…
“It was time to have a bite”,- so they lined the floor with newspapers and started to clean vegetables and peel sausages. I produced Russian salted pork. They suspiciously observed a yellowish-white piece covered with salt and rejected my offer inviting me to join them. Fresh peasant’s bread and smoked sausages were beyond imagination. Homemade wine made me to understand their German much better. After lunch they rolled the newspapers with the peels and opened the window. I screamed pulling the bundle of refuse from their hands. I disposed of it in a waste basket in the corridor…
At the French border I was asked to fill out some form. The line “Nationality” threw me into confusion. So I finally answered like I used to in the USSR: “Jew”. The border guard looked at me with pity, took the form and left.
I spent half of the day strolling through Luxemburg, saw how a woman washed the sidewalk with soapy water, spent the night in a small hotel and after three hours of flight my sister met me at the Keflavik airport. I was delighted to be with my dear mother and sister and her family. Back in the USSR I could only dream about it. When I was in graduate school, my sister sent me an invitation to visit her. I asked the management of the school for a character reference without which I could not apply for an exit visa. The answer was short: “The visit is inadvisable”. My joy of being with my dear ones was doubled by the recognition of the fact that I would never again need a permission to see them.
My stay in Iceland was slightly complicated by the fact that my brother-in-law and his friends were espousing some left-leaning ideology and were participating in demonstrations against the American base in Iceland. I could not stand this parochial nearsighted mentality and besieged him to translate my diatribes against their stupid behavior. Being a gentle and polite man, he could not brush off my nagging but I could not stop defending America. Thirty years later the same people were upset when America removed the base from the country.
Returning to Italy was not without complications. Because the Icelandic airline strike grounded all flights I could not leave for Italy on time. My entry visa expired and I was not permitted to enter the city. This was Saturday and I suffered inside the airport until Monday because the advanced seats in Fumicino were made like deep spoons – comfortable to sit in, but try to lay down! Luckily I was befriended by a janitor who let me to lay down in his storeroom.
When I was set free I entered a very different Italy. I left the cold and wet winter Rome and now it was sunny and warm with fragrant wisteria hanging from balconies and fences. My room in Casa Santo Stefano was waiting for me and the sisters greeted me as the returned prodigal son. Everything would be absolutely perfect if not for a telephone call from HIAS:
- Mister Tuvim, the Jewish community of Akron, Ohio, is waiting for you. Be ready for the flight in two days.
I lost heart. My spirit plunged. Such beauty around and I had nobody in Akron. All my acquaintances were in Boston. I went to the library and learned that Akron is the center of the tire industry. In my CV was written that I worked in the synthetic rubber plant, but that was my first job right after college. I knew nothing about tires. So I decided to call Victor.
Victor was a translator in the American embassy. He translated during my interview with the consul.
The interview was the final step in a long process of obtaining a visa to enter the US. All the questionnaires were filled, VD tests past and X-rays done.
- Are or were you a member of the Communist party?
- No, but one time I was a secretary of a Komsomol, i.e. Communist Youth League at the plant after the graduation.
At that moment Victor (I did not know his name then) looked at me somewhat strangely and said something which could not be the translation of what I said. The corpulent redheaded consul rose up, shook my hand and said something in his incomprehensible language. In the purest Russian Victor told me to follow him. Descending into bowels of the embassy I was shaken. Who is this guy? His Russian is perfect. Is he a KGB man? In his office the translator told me that I should not spill the beans if not being asked. Did I know that America was closed to communists? Youth league or otherwise – it did not matter. It is the law. The bureaucrats don’t see the difference. He was asking me some questions but I was confused and suddenly tears and snots started to pour out of me. I was overwhelmed. Victor gave me glass of water. I calmed down and out of the blue I told him that in Moscow a KGB provocateur Sanya Lipavski was working among refusniks. Victor gave me his business card and told me to call in a couple of days.
When I called he invited me to dinner at his apartment. He was living with his grandmother and daughter. They accepted me like one of their own. They fed me and made me talk. I felt like I was among old friends. Victor took me under his wing. One evening we went into Night Club Discotheque La Prugna were a fat black lady sang. There he bought me my first drink - Gin & tonic – which remains my best after thirty years in America. Several times Victor took me for trips around Rome. In short – I had a friend in the Embassy.
I called Victor with the news about Akron. He did not like it. Next morning the call from HIAS informed me that Americans withdrew my visa but I should not worry, everything would be straightened out in a few days. So, I received three more weeks of spring in Rome. What could be better?! Together with my friend Boris we explored Rome far and wide, we walked on Old Appian Road paved with huge flat stones, we saw equestrian jumping…
One day an Italian hugged me on the street: “Komrado Kommunisto!” I was perplexed. Yes, I was dressed poorly but “kommunisto”? The puzzle was solved in no time: I wore a belt of a Soviet army officer’s uniform. The Hammer-and-Cycle on the belt buckle revealed everything. I freed myself politely from the embrace of an ideological enemy and said: - “Mio anti-kommunisto, kapish?” Boris was rolling laughing, the Italian lost his wits.
The belt buckle was really good. One of Victor’s friends offered me a black Omega chronometer with three small faces but I declined the offer. It was great bait for local communists. One happened to be a barber in a small shop into which I went one day. He was trying to tell me what good life Soviet workers have. Because I couldn’t speak the language I drew a chicken with a price on it then the salary of a worker. Two other barbers were listening to our long debate without interfering. After the battle was over they gave me a free hair cut and said that I would always get one free because I devastated their red adversary.
Three weeks flew like one happy dream. The call from HIAS informed me that Boston was ready to receive me. The Boeing 747 was full of emigrants and after 9 hours of flight America appeared under the wings of the plane. To me the view was incredible: such an industrial country and so green!
Now I would like to finish the story of Sanya Lipavski. In 1977 Izvestiya published a big article. The article was about the spying activity of Sharansky who was arrested at that time. Lipavski was also mentioned. It was said that he was sorry for his contacts with foreigners. That he repented and decided not to leave the USSR.
Later I learned that after my departure Sharansky and Lipavski were roommates in a newly rented room. In 1986 Sharansky was freed and deported to Israel. When he was in Boston I asked him how Lipavski set him up. He answered: “They would have arrested me even without him but he helped”.
The readers might think that my story is typical. Very far from it. I was extremely lucky. And not only
during the times described above but throughout my whole life. My parents survived the Great Terror of Stalinism. My father was arrested but the prison was so full that he was told to go home and not to leave the city. They never came again. I was shot at and the bullet missed me, I drank a mortal dose of methanol and even that did not blind me, I survived a motorcycle crash on a mountain road at 50mph.
Even the story of my second marriage should be considered as sheer luck with roots from my past. Judge for yourself: I met Pippy Giuliano because I asked Richard Lourie to introduce me to an American woman. Richard translated into English the book of my friend Vladimir Voinovich. When Voinovich was expelled from Russia, another friend, poet Naum Korzhavin, had a party for Voinovich where I met Richard. Where I met Voinovoch? In the Sakharov’s flat when he was describing how KGB thugs poisoned him with contaminated cigarettes.
So, these are the links: Sakharov – Voinovoch – Korzhvin – Lourie – Giuliano…
If it is not the luck, what is it?