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The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia [Paperback]

Tim Tzouliadis
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 30 2009
A remarkable piece of forgotten history- the never-before-told story of Americans lured to Soviet Russia by the promise of jobs and better lives, only to meet tragic ends

In 1934, a photograph was taken of a baseball team. These two rows of young men look like any group of American ballplayers, except perhaps for the Russian lettering on their jerseys. The players have left their homeland and the Great Depression in search of a better life in Stalinist Russia, but instead they will meet tragic and, until now, forgotten fates. Within four years, most of them will be arrested alongside untold numbers of other Americans. Some will be executed. Others will be sent to "corrective labor" camps where they will be worked to death. This book is the story of lives-the forsaken who died and those who survived.

Based on groundbreaking research, The Forsaken is the story of Americans whose dreams were shattered and lives lost in Stalinist Russia.


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Review

" The horror that was Stalinist Russia is still incomprehensible to many Americans . . . Reading this book is certain to open their eyes."
-Richard Pipes, The New York Sun

" Gripping and important . . . an extremely impressive book."
-Noel Malcolm, Telegraph (London)

" Tzouliadis's clear, strong narrative discloses the terrible fates which awaited those . . . who wandered into the Soviet sphere. . . . [A] grim, brilliantly told story."
-Financial Times

About the Author

Born in Athens, Timotheos Tzouladis was raised in England. A graduate of Oxford, he subsequently pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker and television journalist whose work has appeared on NBC and National Geographic television. He lives in London.


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Daffy Bibliophile TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This book is not so much an in depth history of the Soviet Gulag system as it is the story of how innocent people, of many nationalities, were caught up in the ever-increasing paranoia of Joseph Stalin, how they died in and some survived in the camps that were the manifestation of one man's paranoia and cruelty. By telling the story of a few individuals, Tzouliadis has shown us the human suffering behind the statistics.

"The Forsaken" made me think very hard about how the "little people" can fall through the cracks when the Great Powers are playing The Game; it also made me realize how people in the Depression-era United States saw the USSR. Many saw the apparent failure of capitalism contrasted unfavourably with the apparent success of the "Soviet experiment" and emigrated freely to join the new socialist state unaware of what the "dictatorship of the proletariat" truly entailed.

Tim Tzouliadis focuses on two individuals who went voluntarily from the USA to the USSR in the 1930s: Thomas Sgovio and Victor Herman. Sgovio's father was an American communist who went to the Soviet Union to preach the evils of capitalism and Herman's father left Detroit and went to Stalin's Russia to work in, believe it or not, a Ford automotive plant building "Soviet Model A's". There were thousands of other Americans as well as Canadians and Britons who joined them in Russia, victims of Soviet propaganda and the Great Depression.
The book follows these foreigners who had been tricked or forced by the Soviet authorities into giving up their passports as they descend into the hell that was the Gulag. The use of terror as a political weapon has a long history in Russia and both Lenin and then Stalin found it easy to continue this tradition.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Coach C TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed reading "The Forsaken" as more of a non-fiction narrative of previously suppressed information. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, there have been many more secrets uncovered by scholars and journalists searching through the archives, and there appears to be much more that still remains uncovered.

As a micro-history, Tzouliadis achieves the goal of highlighting the plight of Americans abandoned by their government and left to suffer the horrors of the Soviet gulags. As far as context, Tzouliadis does rely mostly on secondary literature. Although, I found his narrative engaging, stories of people like Thomas Sgovio, Tzouliadis failed to capture the overall historical significance beyond the obvious suffering of select individuals. For example, since the Bolshevik revolution, many Americans (mostly self-identified socialists) have migrated (voluntarily and forced) to the USSR. And as early as 1923, when Emma Goldman published her scathing memoir "My Disillusionment in Russia," the repression and violence of the Bolsheviks has been well-documented, none of which is mentioned by Tzouliadis. Again, as individual stories go, "The Forsaken" explains the desperation of the Americans who sought to help from their government, but he fails to capture the true horror of the gulags in the way Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did in his seminal text "Gulag Archipelago."

For an interesting non-fiction read, "The Forsaken" is a riveting account of hope and betrayal. The writing is easy to follow, and the facts are spot on. However, the book is pretty thin in terms of historical interpretation and significance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Following years of groundbreaking, painstaking research through archives on two continents, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia is the resulting chapter from the little-reported pages of history of that period in which thousands of Americans, faced with a devasting Depression at home in the 1930s and lured by the power of the written word and an ideology of communism, immigrated to Stalin's Russia in search of the proverbial greener pastures. The book documents and details the background, the emigration/immigration, the tragic consequences, the complicity and the cover-up of American writers, journalists and academics, as well as the indifferences of both the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and, specifically, the State Department to history, even as it was being written.

Tim Tzouliadis, born in Athens and raised in England, is a graduate of Oxford. He pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker and television journalist; his work has appeared on NBC and the National Geographic Channel.

Written in a style sure to completely capture your interest from the first page, first sentence, you'll find it difficult, at best, to put down this riveting recount straight off the pages of history and from deep within the archives of America and Russia.

In the midst of America's deep Depression, many, searching for a better life, read an English translation of "New Russia's Primer: The Story of the Five-Year Plan," and, in the process, made it a bestseller for seven months and one of the highest selling nonfiction titles of the past decade. They not only devoured the book, believing that the grass was greener on the other side, but they implemented their thoughts with actions by immigrating to Russia to better their lives.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  98 reviews
61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Filling in the Gaps in the Gulag history Aug. 29 2008
By Graham M. Flower - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book reflects a great amount of scholarship on the part of Mr Tzouliadis, he has done a remarkable job of research here to add to what is already known about the grim story of the gulags. This book is well written and engaging but it also is a fairly thorough survey of the literature on this general topic. I have discovered several good first hand sources that I did not realize existed.

This book also sheds a good amount of light on the question of why the conditions in Russia were so little known in the 1930s. Basically, once a person was inside Russia, censorship of their communication was full and these people had their passports confiscated by the Russian government so it was almost impossible to leave. The Russian government claimed that these American citizens had renounced their citizenships, resulting in the fact that the American state department was not able or very willing to help these poor people.

In addition it appears that the treaties with Russia establishing diplomatic relations were not thoroughly drafted with safeguards for the protection of American citizens in Russia. The Soviets exploited these loopholes extensively.

Mr Tzouliadis sketches in a number of missing pieces in the dynamics here. The Russian foreign ministry was deathly afraid of the NKVD, and so inquiries to the Russian foreign ministry were fruitless. The problem of helping these people could only have been addressed by the highest level of interaction meaning FDR to Stalin. However, unfortuanately one of FDR's key sources was Walter Duranty, one of the most famous newspaper reporters of his time and unfortuantely it appears that Mr Duranty was a very serious apoligist for Stalin at the very least, and quite possibly was an agent of the NKVD as some defectors have alleged. (the existence of these defectors was unknown to me) Hence, several of FDR's sources with respect the the reality inside the Soviet union were compromised. It also appears that bureaucratic lethargy played a role.

Mr Tzouliadis also sheds much light on the question of MIA's possibly being left behind in Asia. From reading this account it becomes pretty clear that American prisoners of war from World war two and Korea have been spirited into the Gulags. The reasons why this was desirable are not clear and Mr Tzouliadis does not engage in any wild speculation. It also becomes fairly clear that the Americans were far from alone in being pulled into the camps, it appears that many nationalities were present in the camps. It also appears that some other nations were perhaps more diligent in pursuing the release of their citizens.

In summary this is a sad tale, but one which fills in some important gaps in the overall story of the camps. It also clarifies why the reality of what was going on inside Russia in the 1930s was simply not known widely and unfortuantely this did lead to a good number of American emigres suffering horrendously and being trapped inside the abyss. I found some of the discussion of the state department behavior and Mr Duranty's writings and influence very interesting. The fact that nobody could get back out of Russia and that several of the most important information channels were tainted goes a long way to explaining why a better understanding of the realities of the Soviet Union under Stalin took so long to come to pass.

This is an excellent and very impressive book and it deserves a wide readership.
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing stuff Sept. 15 2008
By Spotlight - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I saw a review of this book in the Economist a few weeks ago, and it reminded me of a brief newspaper article I read in about 1996. It talked of thousands of US POWs who had disappeared after WW2, apparently kidnapped by the Russians. At the time I thought that was pretty big news given the uproar over the relatively small number of MIAs in Vietnam. It was just a cursory article, and when I asked around, no one seemed to know anything about it. When the Internet arrived I searched a bit, but didn't find anything much either. This review was the first time I'd seen the thing mentioned in 12 years, so I got the book immediately. It's really a brief (and in my opinion very well written) history of the gulags, with the American angle (both 30s emigrants and post-war pows) as a selling point, and as I didn't know much about the gulags either I found it fascinating from both ends. Moreover, as the reviewer from the Economist said, "the horrors of the Gulag ought to be as well known as Auschwitz, but they aren't". Hard to know if the scale of the atrocities or the general ignorance about them (notably with the Russian population now heading willingly back into a neo-Stalinist styled state) is more disturbing.
60 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important contribution Aug. 7 2008
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anne Applebaum in Gulag: A History discusses briefly the issue of foreigners in the Gulag. But she does not give us a figure as to how many were there. Elsewhere stories have popped up from time to time of notable American leftists who journeyed to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and disappeared into Stalin's system. This, finally, is a full account of these people and who they were and where they came from. The author attempts to claim that many of these people were 'ordinary' but this is probably far from the truth. Many of these people were beleivers in the Communist dream, as a time when Capitalism seemed to be failing during the Great Depression. There were also hard core subversives among them, true beleivers in the Stalinist ideology who were 'returning home' to fight for COmmunism. In the supreme irony many of these higher minded intellectuals who hated American, found that the USSR was capable of doing things ten times worse to them than the U.S would ever imagine doing to Communist radicals. THey were rounded up when they tried to have outbursts of free speech, they were beaten, raped and placed on trains to the East. Once there they were worked to death. Few survived. As foreigners they were especially suspect as Stalin's grip became even more paranoid. Americans were imprisoned along with many other people from all over the world who had come to experience the 'Socialist utopia'. These poor people were not the only one's taken in. The New York Times came to Russia in the period and wrote a glowing peice about the miracle of Stalin's Russia. It has taken 70 years for these stories to come to light. It is a pleasure to read this wonderful and important account of these lives who were shattered.

Seth J. Frantzman
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lest They Be Forgotten Aug. 31 2008
By Gary Strickland - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It is as Solzhenitsyn predicted in The Gulag Archipelago: "No, no one would have to answer. No one would be looked into." (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956, 3:482; trans. Harry Willetts (New York: Harper and Row, 1978)). In this work, Tim Tzouliadis seeks to arouse an interest, to create an insight into the barbarities committed throughout the "socialist experiment" in Soviet Russia. Writing particularly to an American audience, Tzouliadis recounts the story of the lost thousands of American to the oppression of the Soviet state. Virtually unknown to Americans is that the existence of these thousands was well-known to U.S. government officials and journalists stationed in the Soviet Union during the 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's, people who simply remained silent in the midst of their fellow-citizens' disappearance and murders.

This book is a primer on the brutality of the Communist regime. For those unfamiliar with this history, it is an introduction. For those who have read Anne Applebaum, Robert Conquest, Vassily Grossman, John Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Elinor Lipper, the Medvedevs (Roy and Zhores), Richard Pipes, Edward Radzinsky, Varlam Shalamov, Vitaly Shentalinsky, Dmitri Volkogonov, and, of course, Alexander Solzhenitysn, the history is not new. But, the story of Americans who once played baseball in Gorky Park only to end up executed by the gun or hard labor in Siberia is news to most.

Particularly of interest is the author's revelation of the betrayal of their fellow-citizens by government officials at the very top of the U.S. government. While the identities of the likes of Harry Hopkins, Alger Hiss, Dexter White, Paul Robeson, Joseph Davies and others is well-known to those familiar with the history of the era, Tzouliadis provides new insights by relying on more-recently divulged information to establish the extent of the betrayal of traditional American moral virtues.

The bones of the victims of Soviet repression cry out for acknowledgement of their torture and degradation, as well as condemnation and judgment of their persecutors. The victims of Communist deceit, it must be recognized, are us all. It is time for the full story to be told.

In addition to his simply telling this story, Tzouliadis offers a moral tale that is supremely relevant today: those with utopian ideals and a fractured understanding of human nature cannot be trusted to lead a nation.

Read this book; its style makes it an easy encounter; its disclosures make it essential reading for those who would be intelligently informed.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A SAD NOTE IN AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY Oct. 20 2008
By A. Calabrese - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not too far from where I live is a small National Cemetery. Way in the back corner are a half dozen or so markers of World War II German POW's. Some of those German soldiers buried there committed suicide because at the end of World War II, the US Government was going to repatriate them back to the Soviet Union. You see, they came from a part of Ukraine, settled by Germans, under Catherine the Great, when the Germans invaded the USSR, they joined the German Army. They apparently also understood what awaited them in Stalin's Russia. This is just a side bar in the great history, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia by Tim Tzouliadis. The author tells the story of what became of American nationals, who out of committment to communism, hunger during the depression, or just plain naivete emmigrated from the United States to the Soviet Union during the great depression. Out of tens of thousands of immigrants from the US to the USSR during the 1930s, very few lived to tell the tale of their experiences under the greatest terror conceived by any dictator. Stalin out of his own twisted paranoia had many of them executed or sentenced to the slow death of the Soviet Gulag's. But, more disturbing than that is the fact that the US Government, under Franklin Roosevelt, knew what Stalin was doing to US nationals, including downed American Pilots originally captured by the Germans or who crash landed in Soviet territory during our war with Japan, and quiety acquiesced to allowing them to be executed or imprisoned by the Soviets. So much for "Nothing to fear but fear itself." Unless of course your President, for lack of a better description admires and kisses up to a Soviet thug. The Author paints a clear picture of how the first American Ambassadors to the USSR were so enamored of Stalin the Soviet experiment they were willing to look the other way. It also paints a sad picture of how the Roosevelt administration contributed to the Soviet "Terror" by choosing to ignore it, only to be followed by the Truman administration's gullibility when it came to trusting Stalin and his regime. This book will hopefully open American eyes to just how not great FDR and give 'em hell Harry really did this nation an diservice when it came to dealing with the Soviet Union. As I mentioned earlier, there are side bars here, namely how the Soviet's used our lend lease materials, trucks, ships, etc. to feed the terror, namely transport people to the Gulags, and not fight the Germans. This is a well written history, but deeply disturbing because of the facts it reveals. This book is highly recommended if one wants to really understand how the United States government by its elected an appointed officials aided Stalin's terror against not only his own people, but foreigners too.
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