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The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia (2008)

by Tim Tzouliadis

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229885,251 (4.26)1
The story of a little-known group of émigrés, Americans who went to Russia during the 1930s in the hope that the Communist promise of a better life was a reality--only to find xenophobia, paranoia and ultimately, in many cases, imprisonment or death in Stalin's Terror.



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Excerpts from my original GR review (Dec 2012):
- This 2008 book by skilled journalist and filmmaker Tzouliadis was awarded the Longman/History Award in London.
- This engaging history is, ostensibly, about the sorry plight of the thousands of Americans who, lured by images of a sort of workers' idyll, emigrated to Soviet Russia in the early, downtrodden years of the Great Depression. This was a time of near-despondency for many in the U.S., and workers, particularly those in the automobile and related industries - who had earned steadily in better times - were ripe for ecstatic promises of prosperity in a new land.
- The earliest days upon arrival were hopeful - the Americans taught a gaping public the sport of baseball, and jobs at a Ford-assisted factory, for instance, seemed secure. In short order, however, the shine was off, as Soviet incompetence, and a sinister undercurrent, became known. The Orwellian "Five-Year Plan" (or is that 5 in 4?) for rapid industrialization was fast collapsing, and Stalin, with the killing agency know as the NKVD at his side, turned in all directions for scapegoats... The Americans, many of whom had already been blunted in their attempts to repatriate, were swept into the cauldron of paranoia. In fact, foreigners were the most suspect, and large numbers of Americans and other emigres were arrested after visiting our Moscow embassy... The U.S. ambassadors during this period were abysmal apologists for Stalin, going so far as to attend the Moscow "show trials", literal kangaroo courts of predetermined guilt in which the "accused" would appear in between his or her torture sessions.
- The book's focus expands to study The Great Terror and the gulag system as a whole in the USSR, appropriate since the expat Americans melt within the horror... (NKVD agents were in heated competition to "overfill" their extermination quotas). The horror of Stalin's purge of society, which continued for many years and likely murdered over 20 million souls, is the ultimate tragedy here. But it is worth never forgetting the mostly avoidable tragedy that befell the misled and misfit U.S. citizens who became trapped. High level U.S. officials, starting with the dandified and cowardly embassy staff, but including Vice President Wallace, and, to a degree, FDR himself were complicit... American and other western journalists were also blinded by, or in the case of Walter Duranty, paid by the Soviets into a propaganda-friendly assessment of the Stalin regime.
- This book, and others by Applebaum, Conquest, et al, are to be applauded for giving us well researched histories on the era. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Mar 27, 2018 |
This book focuses on Americans who emigrated to Russia during the Depression who ultimately got caught up in Stalin's Terror. It's a horrifying story, not just about the Americans but about the millions of Russians who were also destroyed by Stalin. Well researched which is evident by the fact the notes and bibliography are nearly half the book. Excellent, but terribly sad on so many levels. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
The gulags devoured thousands of American lives. Restless spirits that answered ads in U. S. newspapers for work in Soviet Russia during the depths of the depression found themselves state-less and isolated once the purges started. Their total number is lost, but at the height of the migration (early 30s) more than 1000 Americans a week were arriving in Moscow, usually entire families. There were American schools, baseball leagues, and English newspapers in and around Moscow. Henry Ford sold an entire (obsolete and shutdown) factory to Stalin, who imported the Ford engineers and mechanics that were also soon abandoned to their sad fates.

A second wave of purges struck after the war, claiming most of the children and wives of those purged in the 30s. Thousands of Allied POWs found themselves under Soviet control in the aftermath of the war. A final wave of Americans arrived as Korean War POWs and shot down airmen, and likewise abandoned due to Cold War realpolitik.

In a book filled with terrible revelations, the worst to me is a an eyewitness account buried in a U. S. archive, of two shipwrecked WWII submarine crews that were picked up by Soviet tankers, and dispatched to the camps.

Much in the book comes from the memoirs of two Americans, both taken to Stalin's Russia as children by parents desperate for work, that not only survived their ordeals, but were able to eventually (in the 60s and 70s) return home. ( )
1 vote kcshankd | Jan 22, 2015 |
Of all the great movements of population to and from the United States, the least heralded is the migration, in the depths of the Depression of the nineteen-thirties, of thousands of men, women and children to Stalin's Russia. Where capitalism had failed them, Communism promised dignity for the working man, racial equality, and honest labour. What in fact awaited them, however, was the most monstrous betrayal.
  British-Section | Mar 24, 2014 |
Tim Tzouliadis has written a welcome and important book that addresses the Soviet reality of Bolshevik Communism and its perception in the West from 1917 to the present day. American and Western European intellectuals of the 1920's and 30's were caught up in the Soviet fashion and it is worth reading the book just for the quotes of George Bernard Shaw (after his visit to Russia in 1931 - “Jefferson is Lenin” … “Hamilton is Stalin” … “Every intelligent Russian who has been to America didn't like it because he had not freedom there.”) or Jean Paul Sartre (supporter of Kim Il Sung - “Any anti-communist is a dog” or “terror is the midwife of humanism”).

This group of western intellectuals didn't actually go to live in Russia but many working and unemployed Americans were sufficiently impressed by the propaganda to apply for work there. The book shows that Amtorg, the Soviet trade agency in New York received 100.000 applications from Americans in the first 8 months of 1931 to emigrate to the USSR and arrivals of American immigrant at Russian ports were running of at least 1000 people per month.

The author follows the thin documentary record of these Americans as they had their passports removed by the Bolsheviks and were abandoned by the U.S. government while progressively being subjected to the same violence, transportation and murder as the general population.

This is a thoroughly worthwhile part of the book but an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance starts to creep into the account for any reader with a more than superficial knowledge of Russian Bolshevism. Certainly the case for this reviewer.

First hand accounts of the Bolshevik dictatorship from the earliest days (e.g. dozens of them here http://ia700407.us.archive.org/20/items/RussiaNo.1/47439722-Russia-No-1.pdf from British residents reporting to the British government ) confirm the extreme random brutality against both Russians and foreigners with a further theme being the Jewish identity of the Bolshevik leaders. This was confirmed by the American ambassador David Francis, who reported the situation daily in 1917 to the US government saying, “The Bolshevik leaders here, most of whom are Jews and 90 percent of whom are returned exiles, care little for Russia or any other country but are internationalists and they are trying to start a worldwide social revolution” (see David R. Francis', "Russia from the American Embassy").

Tzouliadis ignores this central aspect of Bolshevism and doesn't say that Lenin's chosen heirs were all Jews (Lev Bronstein, Ovsei-Gershon Apfelbaum and Lev Rozenfeld). Stalin was a distant fourth in the race for absolute power but he cleverly gained advantage by setting one against the other while building his private party organization (excellent book here is Robert Service's "Stalin: A Biography").

The relevance is that Stalin explicitly entered an alliance with Soviet Jewry awarding them a special protected status (numerous declarations that anti-Semitism was punishable by death) and used them for the majority of his top administrators although they only comprised 2% of the Russian population. There's none of this in “The Forsaken” despite the highly relevant fact that his Americans all ended up in a Gulag system designed and run by Jews. The Gulag had an entirely Jewish leadership (NKVD heads Genrikh Yagoda and Yakov Agranov, Gulag death camp heads, Naftaly Frenkel, Matvei Berman, Lazar Kogan, Aron Solts and Yakov Rappoport + Lazar Kaganovich who personally organized an executed the murder of at least 3 million Ukrainians in the death famine of the winter of 1932/33 – disputed by Ukrainians who put it at 5 million+ -

If one follows George Orwell's dictum that; “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If this is granted, all else follows", then Yagoda, Kaganovich and Frenkel were Jewish mass murderers who used absolute power to organize and execute the largest slaughter of Christian Europeans that the world has ever seen. The author deflects attention from this essential truth by only emphasising the 1937+ period when Stalin, greatly impressed by the popular nationalist based success of his soon to be ally Hitler, proceeded to turn against his heretofore Jewish administration allies in favour of ethnic Russians and Russian nationalism.

Saying that Jews were victims of Bolshevism has the same Doublespeak status as George Bernard Shaw's statement that "Stalin is Hamilton".

Unfortunately the truth can only be found outside Party approved media, with the clearest statement probably being David Duke's recent samizdat hit "The Secret Behind Communism" (Usually out of stock on Amazon but available on his website), ( )
  Miro | Nov 3, 2013 |
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Their story begins with a photograph of a baseball team. The year is 1934, the picture is in black and white. Two rows of young men pose for the camera; one standing, the other crouching down with their arms around each other's shoulders. They are all somewhere in their late teens or early twenties, in the peak of health. They appear to be the best of friends. We know many, if not all, of their names:...
Their story begins with a photograph of a baseball team.
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The story of a little-known group of émigrés, Americans who went to Russia during the 1930s in the hope that the Communist promise of a better life was a reality--only to find xenophobia, paranoia and ultimately, in many cases, imprisonment or death in Stalin's Terror.

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