One day, in early November 1934, my grandfather was approached by a neighbor, who my dad referred to as a “Communist Big shot,” asking for permission to borrow his treasured gramophone. Apparently, Mr. Big Shot was having some friends over for a visit and thought some music would be nice. My grandfather told him in no uncertain terms that he would never consider allowing anyone to borrow it, but the man was persistent. The two men struck a deal after Mrs. Big Shot suggested that my grandfather send over one of his children to crank the gramophone. My fifteen year old father was assigned the task.
The story that Dad told us over the years was that the men at the meeting were talking about Joseph Stalin, and the discussion was quite critical of his policies. I don’t believe Dad discussed any of this with his father until the following month, when Sergei Kirov, who was the Leningrad Communist Leader, was assassinated outside his office by a lone gunman named Leonid Nikolayev. When pictures of Nikolayev appeared in the newspapers, Dad recognized him as one of the men at the meeting. That is when he approached his father about what he saw and heard that day in Mr. Big Shot’s apartment.