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In the Khrushchev orbit

A letter to Sergei Khrushchev, Brown University professor and newly naturalized American:

Welcome. I knew your father as well as a bourgeois correspondent could know a Communist leader. I covered him for five years in the 1950s, in Moscow and on his foreign trips, until he broke up the East-West summit in Paris in 1960. Once in Warsaw he spotted me and chortled, "There is my American sputnik."

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I think your father showed a lot of guts in his secret speech to the party congress in February, 1956, denouncing Stalin's murders and inferentially admitting that he had been at least a silent accomplice to these crimes.

You were along, I remember, on his incredible tour of America in 1959, you then in your early 20s, I guess. You were very disappointed - and your father furious - about not being allowed to go to Disneyland.

Did anyone ever tell you why?

It resulted from a bureaucratic foul-up. The State Department, retaliating for Soviet regions closed to foreigners, had arbitrarily marked off a US region to be closed to Soviet citizens.

No one figured out how to waive that ban for the leader of the other nuclear superpower.

Another thing. Our newspapers seem to find it ironic that you have become an American, considering that your father said of this country, "We will bury you," a phrase that dogged your father's steps forever after.

But it was a bum rap. I was present when he said it in 1957 at a Polish embassy reception for Polish Communist chief Wladyslaw Gomulka. In context, as we heard it, he was trying to reassure the shaky satellites, after the Soviets had crushed the Hungarian uprising, that Communism would, in the end, survive capitalism.

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I don't need to tell you what an earthy, outgoing, sometimes hilarious man your father was. But it speaks well for his parenting that he didn't put you in a cocoon, as Soviet bosses generally did, and that you turned out so normal.

I think of the other child of a Communist boss who came to America, Svetlana Stalin, a very troubled woman.

I owed your father a lot. In 1957, he accepted my invitation to appear on CBS television, the first-ever TV interview with a Soviet leader.

Your father could also be very funny. The year before trying to check rumors of an emergency meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee to act on the Hungarian uprising and the Suez war, I engaged your father in a conversation at a diplomatic reception.

I let him tell me about his hunting vacation in the Crimea, then said I would love to go down to the Crimea, but I had a problem that maybe he could help me with. It was that my capitalist bosses would not let me leave Moscow because of rumors of a Central Committee session.

Lowering his voice to confidential tones, looking around as though to make sure we were not being overheard, he whispered, "Mr. Schorr, you can go on your vacation."

"You mean, no meeting?"

He whispered, "Shhh. If absolutely necessary we will have the meeting without you."

You know what?

I bet if your father had lived to see the collapse of Communism, he might have ended up here.

Quite a man, your father Nikita Sergeiivich Khrushchev.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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