He was born in Germany at the height of Hitler’s power.
I was born in Detroit the year before the Great Depression.
After World War II, he chose America and attended the University of Michigan, becoming a prominent architect.
After World War II, I chose the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and became a teacher who earned prominence playing basketball.
We met in May in Petoskey, Michigan, at McLean & Eiken Booksellers where I was signing copies of my book. I will confess I was more anxious to hear his story than sign books. He wanted to know why I would leave a country like the United States to live under a despot as evil as Joseph Stalin. My answers mystified him.
Our conversation drew more people around us than either of us expected.
I asked him about Hitler and life in Nazi Germany. “When we were winning all was well; when we were losing, all was hell.” He then offered the following…“We were losing the war and, at 15, I was called upon to do my duty for the Fatherland. They trained me as an anti-aircraft gunner and I spent the last days of the war futilely trying to shoot down planes. But, you know we also had a lot of planes…even jet planes…but we didn’t have enough pilots to fly them.
When his family found out that the Russians were at the gates of Berlin and they made a frantic rush to escape to the West. “And then we came to America. Why would you go to such an evil place as the USSR?”
I did not know it was evil, I told him. The Soviets were our friends, our allies, and I did not understand how a ruler could be evil. After all I was born in a democracy and believed that the world enjoyed the same rights as we did.
“Did you not know or read about the mass arrests and killings…Hitler, yes, was evil, but there are no words to describe what Stalin did to his people and to his enemies.”
My argument was the argument that most fellow travelers, socialists and communists at the time used, the Soviet Union was so great an ally during World War II, that Stalin and the Communist Party offered work and security and did not discriminate while capitalism had crushed the creative forces of labor and was constantly subject to the explosive whims and greed of those forces who controlled Wall Street. Capitalism had served its purpose and it was felt that it needed to be replaced by a system that would serve the masses, the working people.
Like him, I, too, had lived most of my youth surfing tidal waves of radical idealism, hoping to find a utopia that does not exist.
He asked whether there were any regrets on my part. My answer was short and truthful, “No.” The Soviet experience has made me the man I am today.
Tom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess. Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!