I was skimming through my father’s photo album and came across several photos of his older brother, Tony, dressed in a jacket and tie, posing with another young man who worked with him for Intourist. Intourist was the Soviet state travel agency, founded in 1929 by Stalin and the People’s Commissariat of Travel.
At that time, the impetus for forming this agency was to improve the image of the country and bring in foreign currency, which was vital to the Soviet economy. According to their website, the official birthday of Intourist was April 12, 1929. They had two branches under their wing—one involved in bringing in tourists from outside the country, and the other involved in tourism inside the country which was aimed at providing accommodations, tours, souvenirs, and excursions.
When my dad’s family was forced to leave Leningrad after they refused to become Soviet citizens, they all secured jobs in order to save enough money for the return trip to New Jersey. My father worked as an electrician, his younger brother was a machinist, one sister was a librarian, her twin sister was employed as a telephone operator, and the third sister taught high school English. His older brother had the most interesting, and personally dangerous job, since he worked for Intourist.
Not only did that job put him into direct contact with members of the secret police—the NKVD—but he may have tried to communicate with citizens outside the Soviet Union. In the end, this work had tragic consequences for him.
As we are constantly seeing in the news, there is not a whole lot of respect for the lives of anyone who crosses someone in the Russian government. We have seen the interviews with the journalist who has lived to tell the tale of being poisoned twice, after promoting a film about a friend who was shot just yards from the Kremlin a few years ago. Punishment for publicly speaking negatively about the Russian government has been happening for a long time. Thank goodness we are still able to state our opinions about our government without fear of reprisals, at least for now.