Those Times

I lived in a very warm and gentle atmosphere of human relations. I was ''Daddy's girl.'' People loved my father, and therefore they loved me.

In the world of cinema, people treat one another in various ways. One encounters envy, hatred, intrigues, and rumors behind one's back—but Father was spared all that. He stood apart from the creative crowd, and even though there must have been squabbles in the technical field as well, he never mentioned them to me. Perhaps nothing like that ever occurred. I remember going with Mother to a birthday party for Father on January 20,1953, at his research institute. It was a terrible time, the height of the ''Doctors' Plot.'' A group of doctors were accused of planning to assassinate Stalin and the leadership of the party. It was all an anti-Semitic fabrication intended to kindle attacks on Jews throughout Russia.

Yet the auditorium was packed, there was a sea of flowers, and everyone made wonderful speeches about Father. He had not wanted any celebrations at all, probably to keep a low profile. But they didn't listen to him and held the party anyway. Father was worried, and he later said to Mother (they didn't talk in front of me often, but my ears were tuned in all the time): ''Once I complete the project I am currently working on, you can expect that they will come after me like they did in 1938.''

I remember those words well. Father was heading a project on aerial photography related to the defense of Moscow. The work was being done on Stalin's orders, and it was planned as a five-year project. It was due to be completed in late 1953.

Father was a gentle and kind man who helped many people. He lent money freely and almost never got it back. That taught him nothing—he kept making loans, unwilling to refuse anyone. His students loved him because he was incapable of giving bad grades. There were all sorts of stories about him at vgik. Once, he was auditing the oral exam of Vladimir Monakhov, who would later become the cameraman on the magnificent and award-winning Fate of Man. Father noticed that the student's wristwatch had stopped.

While Monakhov continued answering questions, Father took his watch, opened it, took a tiny screwdriver, made some adjustments, and repaired the timepiece. Father was good at that profession as well. After all, his father had been a watchmaker.

His wit was always appreciated. Some of his clever remarks were widely quoted. He once said about the institute that a constant struggle was going on: before lunch, with hunger, and after lunch, with sleep. Later, his line was repeated when describing any state institution.

Film technology is not the most fascinating of subjects, but students attending his lectures found his presentations interesting and fun. He told a lot of jokes, some of them quite provocative and crude.

I took his course, and I was amazed that he not only could make a boring subject interesting but also could make people love it.

The supportive and loving atmosphere in which I grew up was, in a certain way, harmful as well. I was accustomed to being liked, to being treated well—I assumed that everyone would always want to be nice to me. I never could adapt to hostility at work, to anger or envy. I did not develop a thick skin, which would have allowed me to go on with my work and ignore the fuss around me. All strange behavior toward me or others upset me.

I don't remember much before 1948. But in 1948, even I became aware of the constant anxiety in the area. It all started when my cousin, Uncle Lyolya's son, a boy of sixteen, was arrested. For some reason, he had tried to visit the American embassy. No one knew why. He later explained that his roommate in his Leningrad school had dared him to go to the embassy and ask for a tourist visa. And then he ratted on him. Misha never made it to the embassy—he was arrested and charged with ''planning to apply for political asylum.'' Uncle Lyolya and Aunt Roza turned to Father and asked him to help. Father tried, went somewhere, and returned very upset: ''What have I done? Why did I go? It was horrible.''

The anti-cosmopolitan (read: anti-Semitic) campaign was in full swing, and the kgb was arresting people left and right. It was impossible to help. My cousin was given a ten-year sentence. My aunt and uncle sent parcels to his jail, and finally, in 1956, after having served eight years, he was released, but he was banned from living in Moscow. He moved to Bezhitsi near Bryansk, got married, and became chief of a department in a foundry. He and his wife had two wonderful boys, now grown of course, with their own children.

I was often sick as a child—measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever. It seemed as if I was always in bed, and I remember the bedside lamp with the green glass shade. That evening in 1948, I was sick in bed. Grandmother was also sick; she was dying of cancer. I remember the evening because my parents were arguing. Mother wanted to go to the funeral of Solomon Mikhoels, the great Jewish actor. And Father said, ''Are you crazy? Out of the question!''

''But why?'' Mother demanded. ''I have to go! I'd never forgive myself.'' Father must have realized that Mikhoels's death was no accident. Once a great favorite appointed by Stalin himself to the presidency of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, Mikhoels had not yet been accused of being a bourgeois nationalist and an agent of the world Zionist conspiracy, as it was later claimed during the Doctors' Plot, but there was something in the air, a taste of things to come. Father sensed it, but not Mother. She went to the funeral anyway. She met the coffin at the train station when it arrived from Minsk, and then she went to the services.

In December 1952, when the affair of the Jewish doctors began, we were in Bolshevo. The director of the Bolshevo resort was Konstantin Kuzmin, a sturdy bald man. A businesslike gentleman who kept the entire place running smoothly, he was universally respected. I remember that after a radio report exposing the ''murderers in white coats'' who were planning to kill the beloved leaders of the Soviet people, Kuzmin came over to Father and said, ''Look what your people are doing!''

Father was stunned. The two men had been on excellent terms. Father had never expected to hear something like that from Kuzmin.

I remember Father discussing the incident later with Mother: ''Just imagine what people are like! Who can you trust?''

Mother later told a story that seems funny now. She liked shopping in consignment stores, where you usually could find better things than in the regular shops. In January or February 1953 she saw a pair of patent leather pumps, just what she'd always wanted. And they were her size. She was about to buy them when she had second thoughts: ''What for? They're going to load us into trains and send us to the camps in Kolyma. What could I do with these shoes there?'' I didn't know it then, but the adults understood that the government was collecting petitions from prominent figures in the country, requesting that, in order to protect Jews from the ''just wrath'' of the Russian people and from possible pogroms, they should be deported to far-off places. In other words, the government was paving the way for its planned deportation of the Jews.

When Mother told me the story about the shoes, she added laughingly, ''I'll never forgive myself! Why didn't I buy them?''

Over the years I heard about the public dressing-down of Dziga Vertov and Esther Shub, both famous documentarians. I didn't know exactly what it meant. Only later did I appreciate how humiliating it must have been for such prominent artists to be forced to confess to nonexistent sins. I was particularly moved by the account of Yuri Karavkin, an editor at a documentary studio, of how Vertov had burst into tears like a child. His heart acted up, and they had to call for the ambulance.

The atmosphere became tenser, and even I, a twelve-year-old girl, felt stifled. Then came the news of Stalin's illness, continuous bulletins about his health. On the morning of March 5, I looked out the window and saw red flags with black borders on the wall of the opposite building. I understood what it meant, burst into tears, and ran to Father. It was very early; he was still in bed.

''Papa! Stalin died! How can we go on living now?''

''One bastard less!'' my kind and gentle father replied.

I'll never forget those words, but at the time I didn't fully comprehend them. We were all so brainwashed. I went to school and felt immensely proud: as the best student, I was given the great honor of standing under a portrait of Stalin with my arm raised in a Pioneer salute until it cramped.

Things brightened with time, the doctors were released, the trumped-up charges against them declared false. The Khrushchev Thaw had begun.

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