Mochulsky's Memoirs: Found in Translation

On a research trip to Moscow in the late 1990s, Deborah Kaple was given a package of papers by a former Gulag official who believed its contents would be of great interest to a western audience.

As an American I might say that my translating a memoir of a ‘boss’ in Stalin’s Gulag was pure chance, but if I were Russian, I would no doubt say that it was fate. In the Autumn of 1992 I and several other young Russia specialists, calling ourselves ‘The New Cold War Historians’ of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., went to Moscow to take advantage of the newly-opening Soviet archives. I was hoping to research and write a history of Stalin’s ambitious Soviet Advisers’ Programme, which sent at least 10,000 Soviet citizens to China in the 1950s to help guide that country’s transformation to socialism. On the advice of Russian colleagues I began my work in the Communist Party Archives in what was once a rather grand bank building on Moscow’s Staraya Ploshchad, its walls adorned with the largest portraits of Marx and Lenin I’ve ever seen.

I worked in the reading room for several months under the withering gaze of the Fathers of Communism, but to little avail. All I wanted was to find the files for people who had been sent to China for two-year stints in the 1950s, to get a close-up view of who went, why they were chosen, what training they received and how they fitted into the overall programmme. Unfortunately this subject was deemed too sensitive. More than once the director of the archive lectured me about the inappropriate nature of the topic. Needless to say, the files I was shown rarely contained useful information.

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