This remarkable book unearths the untold story of thousands of American
citizens who travelled to the Soviet Union at the height of the Great
Depression only find themselves victims of Stalin’s Terror.
The number who made the one-way journey to Russia is unknown, but in the first eight months of 1931 alone, Amtorg – the Soviet trade agency based in
New York – received more than 100,000 applications for emigration to the
USSR, and some 10,000 of these applicants were hired.
Initially feted, the Americans soon found themselves objects of suspicion as Stalin’s paranoia became increasing pathological. With their passports
confiscated there was little opportunity for the new immigrants to leave
and any attempt to do so would land them in the Gulags.
In 1933, just as the Great Terror was unleashed, the US officially recognised the USSR and opened an embassy in Moscow. The importance of Russia as trading partner and bulwark against rising fascism meant a blind eye was turned to Stalin’s murderous regime and the US ambassador and his diplomats did not lift a finger to help the ‘captive Americans’.
The book is a riveting read, feeling at times more like a novel by Philip
Roth than a piece of intricately researched social history. Whilst it
never strays from its historical context, The Forsaken contains striking
parallels for the modern reader.
The way in which the US government ignored the torture and disappearance of US citizen’s who they regarded as radicals or communist sympathisers, on the grounds that they were now naturalised Russian citizens has echoes of the way in which the UK government accepted the classification of British nationals as ‘enemy combatants’ and remained silent about their rendition and
Another disturbingly familiar parallel is how journalists, among them the notorious Walter Durranty, practiced self-censorship so as not to incur the disapprobation of the Soviet state and their newspaper editors. Political and economic expediency took precedence over journalistic integrity and objectivity. Then as now, governments and journalists averted their gaze and then as now, “evil will prevail when good men do nothing.”