Skip to comments.The Courage of Victor Kravchenko
Posted on 02/15/2011 10:03:22 AM PST by robowombat
Victor Andreevich Kravchenko, (11 October 1905 Yekaterinoslav 25 February 1966 New York) was a Soviet defector who wrote of his life in the Soviet Union as a Soviet official in his book I Chose Freedom published in 1946. He also wrote about his experience under American capitalism.
Born into a family of Old Bolsheviks, Kravchenko became an engineer and worked in the Don basin region. He joined the Communist Party in 1929. He witnessed the mass starvation of the Ukrainian peasantry as part of Joseph Stalin's agricultural collectivization. His disgust at the large scale death toll made him feel increasingly alienated from the Soviet regime. During the Second World War he served as a Captain in the Soviet Army before being posted to the Soviet Purchasing Commission in Washington DC. Defection
In 1944 he abandoned his post and requested political asylum in the United States. The Soviet authorities, however, demanded his immediate extradition, calling him a traitor. Ambassador Joseph E. Davies appealed to President Roosevelt directly on behalf of Stalin to have Kravchenko returned. He was granted asylum but was forced to live under a pseudonym to avoid the danger of assassination by Soviet agents.
Victor Kravchenko had a secret wife in America, Cynthia Kuser-Earle, by whom he had two sons, Anthony and Andrew. Obliged to live their mother's married name (Earle), they remained unaware of their father's identity until 1965.
When Kravchenko defected he left behind a son, Valentin, born in 1935 by his first wife, Zinaida Gorlova. In spite of changing his last name, Valentin was eventually discovered to be the son of a "traitor to the motherland" and was sent for five years to a gulag in 1983, ruining his mental and physical health. He applied for political asylum in America when he discovered that his half-brother Andrew lived there (Anthony died in 1969). The two brothers were reunited in Arizona in 1992 at an emotional press conference. Valentin died in 2001 from heart failure. He received his American citizenship on the day he died. Author
Kravchenko remains widely known for his memoir I Chose Freedom containing extensive revelations on collectivization, Soviet prison camps and the use of penal labor came at a time of growing tension between the Soviet Union and the West. Its publication was met with vocal attacks by the Soviet Union and by international Communist parties. Kravchenko refused to give full credit for editorial assistance from respected journalist Eugene Lyons, instead referring to Lyons as an anonymous "translator."
Kravchenko's lesser-known sequel, I Chose Justice (1950), mainly covered his "trial of the century" in France. The Trial of the Century
An attack on Kravchenko's character by the French Communist weekly Les Lettres Françaises resulted in his suing them for libel in a French court. The extended 1949 trial featuring hundreds of witnesses was dubbed 'The Trial of the Century'. The Soviet State flew in Kravchenko's former colleagues to denounce him, accusing him of being a traitor, a draft dodger, and an embezzler. His ex-wife appeared as well, accusing him of being physically abusive and sexually impotent. When a KGB officer alleged that he had been found mentally deficient, Kravchenko jumped to his feet and screamed, "We are not in Moscow! If you were not a witness, I'd tear your head off!"
In a convincing case, Kravchenko's lawyers presented witnesses who had survived the Soviet GULAG. Among them was Margarete Buber-Neumann, the widow of German Communist Heinz Neumann, who had been shot during the Great Purge. As a survivor of both Soviet and Nazi concentration camps, her testimony corroborated Kravchenko's allegations concerning the essential similarities between the two dictatorships. The court ultimately ruled that Kravchenko had been unfairly libeled. Kravchenko was awarded only symbolic damages. In the view of one close observer, Alexander Werth,
Technically, Kravchenko won his case... But on balance the case caused more damage to Kravchenko than to the French Communists, and although the Soviet Union and its police system did not come too well out of it, the Kravchenko Affair did not in any way interfere with the fast Peace Campaign the French Communists were planning to launch upon the world.
Les Lettres Françaises appealed the verdict. A higher French court upheld the verdict but reduced the fine from 50,000 francs to 3 francs, or less than US$1, on the grounds that trial publicity had helped Kravchenko sell books. Later years
A lifelong democratic socialist, Kravchenko felt increasingly alienated from American politics, both from the anti-socialist Right and a decreasingly anti-communist Left. He then chose different ways to counteract exploitation and Stalinist development by moving to Bolivia and Peru. These included investing his profits made from I Chose Freedom into an attempt to organize poor farmers into new collectives. His South American ventures failed, due to official obstruction and murky activities by business associates. Sympathetic biographer Gary Kern suspects the KGB played a role. Suicide or assassination?
Kravchenko's decision to abandon the Soviet Union condemned family members he left behind to harassment, imprisonment and worse. It was alleged that some of his family were killed.
It is known that Kravchenko's whereabouts, was discovered by 1944 by NKVD agents including Mark Zborowski , and subsequently monitored very closely by the NKVD and later, the KGB special operations.
Kravchenko's 1966 death from a gunshot wound to his head at his desk in his apartment in Manhattan was officially ruled a suicide. This view is widely accepted, including by author Gary Kern, though Kern concedes a possibility Kravchenko was assassinated by Soviet agents. Recently de-classified FBI files show that President Lyndon B. Johnson had taken a strong interest in Kravchenko's suicide, demanding that the FBI determine if his suicide note was authentic or a Soviet fabrication.
The question remains unanswered, although his son Andrew believes he was the victim of a KGB assassination. Andrew Kravchenko produced a documentary film in 2008, The Defector, about his father. Books Kern, G. (2007) Kravchenko Case: One Man's War On Stalin, Enigma Books, ISBN 978-1-929631-73-5
President Johnson strongly suspected his death was a KGB assasination.
Very interesting article-Thank you for posting it!
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.