• News Feeds
Page last updated at 05:15 GMT, Saturday, 2 August 2008 06:15 UK
Nightmare in the workers paradise

By Tim Tzouliadis
Author, The Forsaken

The construction of the power station to the Gorky Plant, 1935
Thousands left the US to take part in Stalin's '5 year plan'
It was the least heralded migration in American history.

At the height of the Depression, several thousand American emigrants left New York on the decks of passenger liners waving goodbye to the Statue of Liberty, bound for Leningrad.

Over 100,000 Americans had applied for jobs working in brand new factories in Soviet Russia, ironically built for Stalin by famous American industrialists such as Henry Ford.

Those American emigrants who entered the "workers' paradise" were certain that they were leaving the misery of unemployment and poverty behind them. They considered themselves fortunate.

Their optimism would prove to be short-lived. Most were stripped of their American passports soon after their arrival.

Considered suspect by Stalin's paranoid totalitarian state, the foreigners were swept away in the Terror.

The American jazz clubs, the baseball teams, and the English-language schools set up in cities across the USSR, would quickly vanish with them.

Early years

During the early years, in public, the Americans learned to follow the Russian example, and never mentioned the words "GPU" or "NKVD" out loud.

The Moscow Foreign Workers baseball team after their match against the Gorky Autoworkers Team, Gorky Park, 1934
In the early years US workers formed baseball teams and held parties
Instead they joked about "The Four-Letter Boys" or "Phi Beta Kappa" or "The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Bolshevism" or any other whip-smart euphemism that might confuse the listening waiters, secretaries, and informers who surrounded them.

The Metropol Hotel became the weekly venue for the party of rich American journalists, businessmen and engineers who would dance around the circular fountain kept stocked with fish in the middle of the dance-floor.

Diners were encouraged to select their supper, at which point a net would be deftly flourished by the waiter, the fish caught and cooked and brought to their table.

Seventy years later the Metropol is still Moscow's finest hotel, and the marble fountain is still present in the centre of the dining room.

The city has changed radically but the key locations of the American emigration are still there.

In Gorky Park, the American baseball teams would compete against each other in the summer evenings of the early 1930s.

The American Ambassador's residence, Spaso House, where William C. Bullitt once hosted the "party of the century" in April 1935, still has the Stars and Stripes flying in front and the diplomats still drink cocktails on the terrace.

The original American embassy on Mokhovaya Street is now the headquarters of a Russian investment bank. The neo-classical building had been hurriedly constructed on the site of a Russian church demolished during Stalin's atheist campaign.


Stalin's executioners had been convinced of the need to "kill and kill and kill" for the benefit of all mankind

At the height of the Terror, the American emigrants had besieged their embassy, begging for passports so they could leave Russia.

They were turned away only to be arrested on the pavement outside by lurking NKVD agents.

Inside, the American diplomats had known about these disappearances almost from the very beginning. But they did little to save their fellow countrymen, whom they had christened "the captured Americans."

Thousands killed

The emigrants began their long journey either into the prison cells and the Gulag camps, or the shorter route to the execution grounds.

In the killing fields at Butovo, a suburb 27 kilometres south-east of Moscow, several of the American baseball players were executed during the Terror, and lie buried in mass graves stretching for hundreds of metres.

The mass graves at Butovo, outside Moscow
Many US workers ended up in mass graves just outside Moscow
Thousands were killed in this quiet country backwater, surrounded by trees to muffle their screams.

In its stillness lies the unimaginable horror of the Revolution that has spun out of control.

Wearing leather aprons and protective gloves, the masked NKVD guards had set about their nightly work methodically, killing young and old alike, understanding that they too would be killed if they refused.

But many also acted willingly, as the conscious and deliberate agents of the class struggle.

Stalin's executioners had been convinced of the need to "kill and kill and kill" for the benefit of all mankind. And then they returned each morning to steady their nerves with their specifically-allotted quota of vodka, and to douse their clothes in eau-de-cologne to remove the stench of death, ready for the next night's work.

Vladimir Putin was recently quoted as saying that Russians have nothing to be ashamed of concerning the Terror.

The iconography of totalitarianism remains firmly in place in modern Russian society. The entrance to the Lubyanka is still decorated with hammer and sickles.

Only the euphemisms have changed. Nowadays the Russians refer to the FSB, the secret police, as "the pult" - "the remote control."




FEATURES AND COMMENT
Ajibola Lewis (right) with her daughter Police custody 'scandal'
A charity calls for a public inquiry into the number of people who die while being held by police.

Christmas tree Mass Observing the season
The spirits of Christmases past, as seen by the British people

Children selling low-value goods at the roadside are a familiar sight in Liberia Catch-22
Evan Davis examines Liberia's attempt to rebuild its economy following the recent civil war.

AUDIO SLIDESHOWS
RECENT INTERVIEWS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific