Before the winds of "perestroika" stirred in the Soviet Union, a remarkable democratic movement flourished despite KGB intimidation.
"Memorial" began just before the 19th Party Congress in 1988 when a group of young people took to the streets of Moscow to collect signatures on a petition calling for the establishment of a memorial to the victims of Stalin.Some of the group were arrested, many were beaten. But the signatures were given to President Mikhail Gorbachev and accepted.
Natalya Rapoport played an integral role in the direction Memorial was to take from this beginning. Rapoport, a visiting Soviet professor who holds the W.W. Clyde Chair in the College of Engineering at the University of Utah, spoke Wednesday night at a meeting of the Utah Committee for American-Soviet Relations.
Rapoport is also the author of a best-seller in the Soviet Union. Her memoirs have sold 1.5 million copies. Her father, an eminent pathologist, is the sole survivor of Stalin's 1952 "Doctors Plot." The thinly veiled anti-Semitic round-up of physicians in Moscow was begun by Stalin's claim that Jewish doctors were plotting against prominent members of the Communist Party. The doctors were said to be agents of some intelligence service and reportedly had already killed some Communists. Of the 19 names printed in Soviet newspapers, all but four were Jewish. Her father was the last to be arrested.
"They all were our friends, they all came to our house. I was sitting on their laps as a child," Rapoport said.
The doctors were to be shot in Red Square in the middle of March. Stalin died nine days before the date of execution. One month later the physicians were released, their papers stamped "rehabilitated."
Because the memoirs of Rapoport and her father, Yacov, were the first to report the long-hushed scandal, they found fame in the Soviet Union.
Rapoport spoke out at an early meeting of Memorial requesting that the memorial not just commemorate the victims of Stalin from the 1930s to the 1950s, but represent all victims of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union from the 1917 Revolution on.
"I had my own idea to create not just a memorial, but a museum, an archive, library and institution for historical research," she explained. "Up to now, there are many Russians who don't know how and why their loved ones perished or where they are . . . `buried' is not a good word because they just put the victims in a hole naked. Twenty million or more died during the Soviet totalitarian time," said Rapoport.
Despite the historic changes in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, all is not well in her homeland, she said.
"Two nights ago my father told me in a telephone conversation from Moscow that Soviet citizens are now allowed to travel abroad. But they have to purchase the tickets in hard currency, which 99 percent of the population can't obtain," she said. "He said that not every day he has milk. There is a joke that there are many sex shops in Moscow now - they all demonstrate naked shelves."
Rapoport paid a price for her political involvement. For example, her daughter, Victoria, who lost an art scholarship in the United States when her visa was delayed, was trying to get her driver's license before she immigrated to Israel. She called her mother saying an official said her promised license could not be delivered.
Weeping, she told her mother, "He has such a hatred for my ugly Jewish face that he covers his eyes so he doesn't have to look at me."
Rapoport called the man and was told, "I don't help Rapoports or Cohens or Zsids. All Zsids should be exterminated."
When Rapoport threatened to call the media, the license suddenly materialized. But the night of Victoria's departure, Rapoport and her daughter were chased by police in a black Volga.
"You should be grateful for this night," Rapoport told Victoria. "You have been immunized against nostalgia for `home.' "