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The Red Scare and the Death of Stalin (1950-56)

October 14, 2019

A brief excerpt from ‘Holocaust to Resistance’, by Suzanne Berliner Weiss

Introduction by John Riddell: The experience of my partner Suzanne Weiss with the U.S. Communist Party in the early 1950s forms an interesting complement to my own account, in “My Search for Socialism,” of my experiences with the CP a couple of years later. We were both teenagers. Suzanne assessed the pro-Moscow Communist movement from within; I did the same from without.

The text that follows is a short excerpt from Suzanne’s memoir, Holocaust to Resistance: My Journey, available for $22 from Fernwood Publishers. For more excerpts and other information, see suzanneberlinerweiss.com.

The Toronto book launch of Holocaust to Resistance takes place on Friday, October 18, 7:00 p.m., at 60 Lowther Avenue, Toronto (St. George subway).

Suzanne is receiving many requests for speaking engagements, and I am assisting her in organizing these events. For this reason, my activity on this blog will be much reduced through the end of the year.


When I arrived from war-scarred France, I thought the United States, my new home, was a land of liberty, freedom, love, and comfort. I entered grammar school and began to learn its true nature. It tore my heart.

Suzanne, 12 years old.

Louis Weiss, my adoptive father, was proud to have sung as a young man in the opera chorus in a performance of Boris Godunov in Moscow, Russia.

Russia! At school, the word was spoken with hate and fear. Often, my parents invited their “progressive” friends over, and I got to listen to their chatter. They didn’t mention Russia but spoke of the Soviet Union with respect. When I asked questions, they used guarded terms. “Progressives” were the good people, and as for those who were “against us,” that was everyone else.

My adoptive parents covered many books in the apartment with brown paper against the inquisitive eyes of maintenance men, visitors, and housekeepers. On buses and subways there were signs warning “foreigners” to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In school, a fellow student warned me, “You’re lucky that you’re from France. Otherwise, we could send you back.” To be perceived as an immigrant was decidedly hazardous, I thought.

At school I heard that “our enemies” were among us — the communists. Mom explained it differently: There was persecution of “progressives.” Some of them were in jail, some in hiding. She confided that before my arrival she and Dad had hidden a couple in their apartment at the request of the Communist Party. “You must be careful to protect me from losing my job,” Mom explained. When she and Dad talked with their friends about world events, it was with hushed voices. “Don’t tell your schoolmates anything about this,” she counselled.

Mom and Dad allowed me to listen in on their discussions of the news, as they focused on the opinions expressed in the radical newsletter I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which they spread out on the tableIn 1956, the tone of these discussions changed. A secret speech by Soviet Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev, leaked to the daily press, revealed many of the crimes of Joseph Stalin, who had died three years earlier. This news weighed heavily on my parents, who had been loyal to Stalin. They discussed the situation anxiously with their friends.

I recalled how, when Stalin died in 1953, Mom had gazed at his image and said, “What a kind face. He was so good to the people.” I had wondered how you can tell kindness by looking at a face. But now it turned out that much of the anti-Soviet propaganda in the US media, decrying the stifling of civil liberties there, had in fact been true. Jewish doctors and scientists had been murdered. “I must look at things with new eyes,” Dad declared. I respected his honest response; it created some much-needed common ground for us (pages 45-46).

Copyright © 2019 Suzanne Berliner Weiss

Suzanne Berliner Weiss, Holocaust to Resistance: My Journey, 311 pages, $22, order from Fernwood Publishing.

 

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