Blogs > Liberty and Power > A Horrible, Little-Known Legacy of the Great Depression

Jan 6, 2009 2:44 pm

A Horrible, Little-Known Legacy of the Great Depression

Not many people are aware that during the early 1930s, thousands of Americans emigrated from the United States to the USSR. Some, many of them unemployed engineers and technical workers, went simply in search of employment in the Soviets’ big push to industrialize; others went in search of a better society they mistakenly believed the Communists were building.

No doubt, most of them became disillusioned after a while, if not immediately. Worse, thousands of them were enmeshed in Stalin’s purges of the latter 1930s and ended up in the Gulag, where prisoners endured an extraordinarily harsh life, usually cut short by a painful death after a few months or years. Some of these victims managed to appeal to U.S. diplomats inside the USSR for help, only to be turned away by over-cautious junior-level careerists or, in effect, by supercilious higher-ups who were even more despicable.

Tim Tzouliadis has written a book about these things, The Forsaken: From the Great Depression to the Gulags Hope and Betrayal in Stalin’s Russia. For an interesting and informative review, see Adam Hochschild’s article in The Times Literary Supplement, December 23, 2008.

HT: Elizabeth Higgs

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Bill Courtney - 1/8/2009

One excellent and fascinating personal memoir of this immigration is Robert Robinson's "Black on Red: My 44 Years Inside the Soviet Union." As a black engineer in the early 20th century, Robinson saw little opportunity in the U.S. but was lured by faulty promises of a better life in the USSR.