I was watching a news show on television Tuesday night—The Rachel Maddow Show—and the introductory story mentioned that the Soviet Union used to have an official travel agency. That comment immediately got my attention, particularly when she stated that it was created by Joseph Stalin. At the same moment Rachel announced its name, so did I. It was called Intourist. She told her audience what I already knew, which was that all foreigners who visited the USSR during the regime of Stalin were required to use Intourist, which managed all travel arrangements, including the use of particular hotels.
She mentioned that all workers, from the bellboys to the cooks to the maids all worked for the NKVD, which was the “secret police agency later known as the KGB.” Their job was not only to clean the rooms and prepare meals, but also to keep a very close watch on the foreign tourists.
I was familiar with Intourist because my father’s brother Tony worked there briefly around 1940. I don’t know if he was involved in anything nefarious, but I was told by a Russian-history professor friend that
Tony’s work as an Intourist guide almost certainly put him into contact with the NKVD, which kept a watchful eye on foreign tourists, particularly at that time. He probably had to inform on foreigners. At the same time, he might have been able to establish connections to the outside world through the foreigners he met. So, his situation, during a time of war, was quite precarious. The NKVD was very suspicious of Soviet people who had any contact with foreigners, particularly an American immigrant working for Intourist…. Perhaps Tony stumbled onto some important information related to these larger world events. Or, maybe he was overheard criticizing Soviet policy.
Shortly before my father’s return to the United States, he was contact by his brother, who told him he had some information he wanted Dad to report to the FBI. Before they could meet, my uncle died under mysterious circumstances. The death certificate said the cause of death was pneumonia, but my family always believed otherwise. My visit to the National Archives mentioned the family’s suspicions.
Now, seventy-six years later Intourist is in the news again. I can’t help wondering what my father would think about this.