“Levenson, Solomon Abramovich, 10 years without the right of correspondence.”
That’s all Dasha Levenson was told about the fate of her husband by the NKVD after he was arrested on Feb. 5, 1938, and taken from their Moscow apartment. In “Vaporized,”published in the Jan. 2 issue of The Weekly Standard, David Margolin recounts the story of his great-grandparents. Dasha went to the NKVD office and was ignored, as were tens of thousands of Soviet citizens. Margolin cites Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror: A Reassessment (1990):
“Conquest notes the misery the wives and children of the arrested were put through, the endless waiting at various information centers where, if they learnt anything of their loved one, it was a lie anyway. He quotes the Russian poetess Anna Akhmatova, who wrote in the introduction to her Requiem that if a monument ever be erected to her, it should be placed at the gates of the Leningrad prison where she stood for hundreds of hours hoping to glean some little piece of information about her son.”
Margolin’s story is part family memoir and part Soviet history, as well as being a report on the willful amnesia of today’s Russians. Polls suggest “a majority believes Stalin had a positive effect on Russian history, and he has come out among the top three Russian leaders of the twentieth century.” Estimates of the number of Soviet citizens murdered by Stalin’s regime vary from 40 million to 50 million. Stalin, of course, is supposed to have said: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Only incrementally, like Solomon’s family, do we learn the fate of Margolin’s grandfather. Dasha and her children hear nothing after his arrest for 18 years. “In 1956,” Margolin tells us, “a slip of paper arrived at the same apartment from which Solomon had been taken nearly two decades earlier, explaining that he had been wrongly accused and convicted of crimes and was therefore being rehabilitated. In a twisted bit of Soviet bureaucratic morality, Dasha also received two months’ back pay for her husband’s excused leave of absence.”
In 2009, Margolin discovers Solomon Levenson’s fate: “He had been charged with being a member of a counterrevolutionary organization. He was tried and sentenced to be shot at the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court on June 20, 1938, and the sentence was carried out that same day. He is buried in a mass grave at Communarka, the former dacha of purged NKVD boss Genrikh Yagoda, and his case file today lies buried in the central archives of the KGB’s successor, the Russian Federation’s FSB.” Solomon and Dasha Levenson’s daughter, Olga, Margolin tells us, “is a full-fledged, voting American (and Weekly Standard reader) who has lived happily in Boston for the last 31 years.”
Only in 2009 could Margolin’s father say Kaddish for his father. The Military Collegium is the same building in Moscow where, on Jan. 26, 1940, Isaac Babel was sentenced to death. The next day he was shot and his body burned. Fourteen years later, Babel was cleared of all charges “for lack of any basis” in the original indictment.