My grandfather had a conversation with my father just before Dad left to return to the United States in 1941. My grandfather told Dad “never belong to any political organizations. If I was a Communist when Kirov was shot, I would have been arrested and shot, but I wasn’t a member of the Party. You don’t know what is going to happen in the future in this world. You could belong to an organization and later end up getting arrested.”
These opinions are likely the result of what happened after the assassination of Kirov. Stalin was exceedingly paranoid and fearful of losing power, so he used the assassination as a catalyst for years of terror in which millions of people in the Soviet Union were sent to labor camps or murdered for any actions even remotely against Stalin or the government.
Dad had mentioned living in an apartment building with NKVD officers (the dreaded Soviet secret police) and members of the Communist Party, but the family miraculously lived, worked, and went to school unharmed during the years of Stalin’s Great Purge. My grandfather must have been adamant in his instructions to his family never to speak negatively about the government.
I have grown up in a country where I have listened to ordinary citizens, comedians, and politicians criticize and laugh at many of our presidents over the years without fearing any serious repercussions. Whether you agree or disagree with these comments, the fact remains that our free speech allows this. My grandfather realized that he should never have left the United States only after living in both countries .
My Irish grandfather struggled to survive the Great Depression with six children of his own. Perhaps I might have met my Russian grandpa if he had somehow figured out a way to remain in New Jersey.