Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Book of the Month: The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia

The new Book of the Month is The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia by Tim Tzouliadis. Beginning in 1930, with the start of the Great Depression in the United States, a number of American citizens pulled up stakes, as it were, and emigrated out of the US, which had an official unemployment rate of 25%, and went to the "worker's paradise" that was the Soviet Union. Ordinary people -- miners, auto workers, engineers, barbers, etc., who could see no future in the US, went for the new experiment that was Communism. Even the Ford Motor Company, one of the bastions of capitalism, entered into a deal with Joe Stalin to build a Ford factory in Russia. Which meant that thousands of auto workers from the Detroit area were willing to leave the US and help run the factory in Russia.

The total number of Americans who emigrated out of the US to Russia is unknown, but estimates in the tens of thousands of individuals seem reasonable. And this number included wives and children, who were subsequently raised to be good little Communists... While a good number of those adults were true believers in the Soviet worker's paradise, a surprisingly substantial number were apolitical, who were just trying to get to where the jobs were. For those who believed the promises, that was Soviet Russia. That it rapidly turned to shit on them has been hidden for a long time.

This book is an examination of the lives and deaths of those people. When they got to Russia in the early to mid-1930s, "Uncle Joe" Stalin was well on the road to his personal paranoid insanity which would ultimately cause the death of millions of Russians -- and the vast majority of these Americans. When the height of Stalin's paranoia resulted in the deaths of millions and the great purge of 1937-38, with its "show trials" that fooled the American ambassador, the Americans were first identified as questionable, then suspect, then treasonous to the People of the Soviet Union. Many were killed, many more were sent to the Gulags in Siberia where they eventually were worked to death.

This book pulls no punches on its criticisms, not only of Stalin and the Communist experiment in Russia, but also the willing coalition of US industrialists and the starry-eyed New Dealers all of whom conspired to elevate the Soviet Union (after all, Russia was our ally against Germany... eventually) and ignored the Soviet crimes against these Americans.

At one point the US Embassy was, finally, in spite of a decade of denial, made unequivocally aware that Americans were being sent to the Gulags to be tortured and killed. The official American response was essentially this: "They made their beds, now they can lie in them." In other words, if they were stupid enough to leave the US and come to Russia, they deserved it. It didn't help that the Russians forced the new immigrants to give up their US passports and fill out a form, in Russian, that they were applying for Russian citizenship.

I highly recommend this book for an astonishing -- and troubling -- insight into a period of history that has gone missing for a long time. Who was even aware of these American immigrants into Russia? Not me.


double nickel said...

Thanks for this. I had no idea.

the yellow fringe said...

This book is one I would like to read, I love stuff like that and I will hunt it after I finish my new read. Thanks. I just started 'Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame'. By Christopher Boehm. So far I find it very interesting.

timr said...

I had forgotten that I read the book when it came out. Got it on Kindle now
It was, all in all, a very depressing book.
It does show, IMO, just how ignorant many people were back then. How readily they accepted what they were told, how easily they were led.
Now Ford was another kettle of fish. While he did open a factory in the USSR, I think I read somewhere about him being one of the american backers of German Fascism. Admittedly a few years after the "big move"
My father worked for Ford back in the day. He got a fractured skull in the "battle of the overpass" left Ford and went to work as a Seaman as a member of the SIU-Seamans International Union.
OT, did you know that what we now call Public Health Hospitals were built by the Seamans Union? They had hospitals all over the US and the world to care for union members-the union sent my father to England for his first hip replacement surgery. Anyway, the union hospitals got so big(this is the union side, I am dure that the govt had their own side) that the US govt took them over(the same way the govt took over the union run Railroad Retirementand turned it into a federal program, the union claims it was because RR had too much money) and turned them into the current Public Health Hospitals, which still have to treat union seamen. The union sent my dad to NYC Staten Island Public Health Hosp for his second hip replacement in 1971.
At any rate, my father once told me about people who gave up the US and moved to the USSR. Being young and single, he did not and instead went into a WPA program replanting forests He told me that a cousin took his wife and kids and moved to the USSR. He said that letters started being returned about a year later and they never knew what happened to the family. Reading the book, I got a pretty good idea what happened to them
But because it happened to a fairly small group of americans, during the depression-american commies-nobody really gave a sh*t at the time.
So it became just one more forgotten bit of history.
Kind of like the WWI US soldiers who went to Russia. I vaguely remember reading a book about them many years ago. I wonder if the book is still around-if I could remember the title-or if its on Kindle