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March 21, 1975 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1975-03-21

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\6 Friday, March 21, 1975

Smola( Visits Trotsky House in Alma-Ata,

Finds Natives Unaware leader Lived There

ences of•his journalistic


(Copyright 1975, JTA, Inc.)

(Editor's note: This is
one of the chapter's of
Boris Smolar's forthcom-
ing book relating experi-

Alma-Ata is the capital
city of Kazakstan, a Soviet
republic in Central Asia.
Far removed from Moscow
it lies close to the Chinese

frontier. That is where
Stalin had banished Leon
Trotsky in 1928.
One year later, in 1929,
Trotsky was turned out of
the Soviet Union to Turkey,
whence he secretly smug-
gled himself out. He wan-

A Happy Healthy


To All

Ben & Harry Kosins



Best Wishes to All Our

Friends and Patrons

for a

Happy, Healthy



Mr. and Mrs. Earl Ruby
and Family

1 81 35 Livernois


me to the house where Trot-
sky lived," I said, after I had
made myself comfortable.
"What street is it on — and
what number?" he.asked
I surmised from his ques-
tions that he, too, did not
know where Trotsky had
lived. Still, I tried to ascer-
tain whether his apparent
ignorance was honest.
"What sort of a cab driver
are you, that you don't know
the adress where Trotsky
lived?" I asked.


He turned his head to-
ward me, and scrutinized
me inquisitively. I con-
cluded that he would have
liked to earn the few extra
rubles which I might pay,
dered about from country to if he would bring me to the
country and finally reached house I asked for, but, I
Mexico in 1937. However, he now felt certain that he
was not safe even there. The had no knowledge of such
long arm of Stalin's GPU ov- a house. He said he knew
ertook him three years who Trotsky was but that
later, where a Soviet agent he had never heard that
murdered him brutally with Trotsky had lived in Alma-
an axe.


To be in Alma-Ata three
years after Trotsky's ban-
ishment from there, and not
to visit the house in which
he had been lodged in exile,
would have been, for me, as
if someone had visited Mos-
cow for the first time with-
out seeing the Kremlin. The
difference was simply this:
everyone knew that the
Kremlin was situated on
Red Square, while in Alma-
Ata there was virtually no
one who knew that Trotsky
had lived in that city for
more than a year as a politi-
cal exile by order of Stalin.
Even neighbors living in the
surrounding houses had not
been aware of it.

As I left the droshky I no-
ticed a mail-carrier passing.
That gave me an idea. A
mail-carrier would be apt to
know Trotsky's address,
though, I was certain that
Trotsky's mail, in Alma-
Ata, had not been delivered
by ordinary postmen, but by
special agents of the GPU
who were keeping him un-
der surveillance.
"I am one of a group who
arrived here from Moscow
today," I accosted the mail-
carrier. "Perhaps you coup
give the address of the house
where Trotsky lived?"
The man looked me up
and down to see whether I
was actually a stranger in
town, and he replied quite
cooly: "Why don't you stop
at the GPU office? You can
get that information there!"

I stopped one passer-by,
then another, and asked
them to show me the way
to the house where Trot-
sky had lived. They looked
His reply, since it did
at me with astonishment, not include a denial teat
shrugging their shoulders, Trotsky had lived in town,
and answered politely that made me feel that he prob-
they had never known that . ably knew the address I
Trotsky had even been in was looking for; so I de-
cided not to let him go at
I hailed a cab driver and that.

got into his droshky. "Take

from your


"Why should I go to the
GPU, when I feel certain
that you, being a mail-car-
rier know that address as
well as the GPU?" I wanted
to open a conversation with
A feN,V more cordial re-
marks garnished by a small
gift of a few rubles pro-
duced the desired results. In
a few minutes I obtained the
address from the postal-car-
rier. He also informed me
that Trotsky had actually
been assigned two lodgings,
one in the city, and the
other in the high hills sur-
rounding the city, where he
had been kept in complete
isolation in the early
months, until they finally
transferred him to the city
* * *
The city house was lo-
cated no more than a
10-minute walk from where
I had run into that postal-
carrier. Trotsky's lodging
was an apartment in a plain
two-story structure, which

was also occupied by other
families. None of the latter
had been aware that a dis-
tinguished tenant had re-
sided in the building.

The weather was pleas-
ant as it could be in the
spring season. Women,
their suckling infants in
their arms, were lounging
on the steps of the front
entrance to the building.

It was not difficult to
raise a conversation with
the women. They were
wives of common laborers,
and they had no interest in_
political matters. It had
never occurred to them, at


the time, that their neigh-
bor was Trotsky. But they
did know who Trotsky was.
"Here,' in our building,"
one of the women said. "We
knew him as a most retir-
ing person who seldom left
his quarters and who kept
himself aloof from all the
other occupants. His house-
keeper also kept her dis-
tance from us. She was not
a native of these parts."
"Apparently, she must
have been a GPU operative
who had been assigned to
keep an eye on him, in the
guise of domestic, to see
who his visitors might be," I

The women did not re=
spond to my remark. But
they had all formed a fa-
vorable impression of their
former neighbor. They had
taken him to be a writer
because he used to sit and
write into the late hours of
the night. •

Inside Trotsky's former.
lodgings I found a family —
a Kazakstan woman and
three children. Her husband
was at work. The apartment
was comprised of two rooms
and a kitchen, entirely par-
titioned from the other

apartments on the same
story, which had a common
entrance through a narrow
hallway. To this simple
woman, it meant nothing
that she was occupying the
lodgings used by one of the
greatest personalities of the
Russian Revolution.
"It's just as well we didn't
know that Trotsky was our
neighbor," one woman on
the steps later commented,
as I was bidding them good-
bye. It was not difficult to
perceive what she meant.
She had simply indicated
that all the neighbors on
that street would have been
living continually in a state
of agitation, fearing the con-
stant surveillance of the
area by GPU agents. -

Perhaps that womar -
was right, and perhap,
not. But GPU agents must'"-
have been hovering con-
stantly about the building.
Some of them had appar-
ently been established as
tenants on the same street.
After Trotsky had been
removed to Turkey, these
people suddenly moved out
and had never been seen
again in the city. But Trot-
sky's actual presence in
Alma-Ata had remained a
guarded secret from
nearly the entire popula-
tion of the city.

During the period when
Trotsky was living as an ex-
ile in Alma-Ata there had
been no Jews in the Soviet
republic of Kazakstan, the
area of which is about one-
third of that of all America,
with a population of some
six million. At present,
about 40,000 Jews are living
there. All of them had come
from localities - in the Soviet
Union which were in danger
of falling into the hands of
the Nazis during the war.
They also included Jews
who managed to escape
from Nazi-occupied Poland.
They had been evacuated to
this remote territory of
Asiatic Kazakstan, where,
in the interim, large desert
`areas had been transformed
into agricultural centers.
Kazakstan now produces
as much grain as the
Ukraine, and has become a
center for cattle breeding,
and cotton plantations. In
the Soviet census of 1959,
28,048 people registered as
Jews in that territory.
There are more Jewish in-
habitants there now than in
all of Lithuania.

Hebrew University Celebrations Begin

200 overseas delegates
joined Isralis in Jerusalem
this week for the annual
meeting of the board of gov-
ernors of Hebrew Univer-
sity to celebrate its 50th
On Wednesday, the board
held a special session on the
University's Mount Scopus
campus with former Prime
Minister Golda Meir attend-
- A jubilee plaque near the
amphitheater where Lord
Balfour proclaimed the
opening of the University 50
years ago was unveiled.

The University also held
a golden anniversary con-
cert in the Binyanei Ha'-
ooma, featuring violinist
Isaac Stern and the Jeru-

salem Symphony Orches-

President Ephraim Kat-
zir, Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin, Defense Minister
Shimon Peres and Educa-
tion Minister Aharon
lin will speak during
A number of new campus
buildings will also be dedi-

Concert Cancelled

PARIS (JTA) — A con-
cert planned to be held in
Tunis by French singers
Johnny Hallyday and his
wife, Sylvie \Tartan, has
been cancelled because of
the singers' "pro-Zionist at-

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