1937 • The glazier

37 audrey blake pic from SMH obit

Audrey Blake was in Moscow with her husband Jack in 1937–38. [Photograph from Sydney Morning Herald, 22 November 2006]

The light darkens slightly. Audrey is aware of someone watching her. From outside the window. Even though she’s on the third floor, look, his shadow on the wall before her. So Audrey turns to face this man, framed behind the glass, who holds something in his hand. There is no balcony. Just a stone ledge. He might have come to rest there like a pigeon.

“Anissa, who is that?” [RED, page 51]

37 (pre1917) hotel luxe moscou >

Moscow’s Hotel Lux, as it was before the Revolution, c. 1911-17. In 1938 the building housed Communist visitors from other countries on what was then called Gorky Street, now given back its old name Tverskaya Street. The hotel has now been demolished.

Audrey and Jack Blake stayed at the Hotel Lux in Moscow, “a rambling, pleasant hotel on Gorky Street.” (Audrey Blake, A Proletarian Life, Kibble Books, 1984, p. 22) The hotel was the living quarters of all members of the Comintern (Communist International) and the Young Communist International. The “Lux” was no longer luxurious; the family lived in one room. (Blake interviewed in Verbatim, ABC Radio National, 19 March 2005)

The Blakes were in Moscow at the time Stalin was arresting people he imagined to be his enemies. This included many residents of the hotel, particularly German Communists who had fled Hitler after 1933. Audrey struggled with this in her Verbatim interview.

“The question you would ask, is, ‘How could you live in that period in Russia and still support [Communism]?’” This was the time of the manipulated public hearings known as the Show Trials. In fact, Jack obtained a ticket to Bukharin’s trial. “When Jack came home that night I said to him, ‘Well, Bukharin, was he guilty?’ and [Jack] was, well, he was very sad, and he said, ‘In the morning he was quizzed by Verzhinsky,’ a senior member of the CPSU, ‘and he [Bukharin] seemed evasive to me, he seemed to be speaking around the question and not saying “No, I was not a spy for anyone else in our party,”’ though [Jack] said [Bukharin] didn’t say it in that direct way. … But in the afternoon [Bukharin] changed, he admitted that he had been [a spy].” (Verbatim interview)

37 nikolai bukharin

Nikolai Bukharin [from Problems in Soviet Literature, Moscow, 1935]

Audrey talked further about this episode when I met her later in 2005. “Jack was puzzled enough to have said on that day, not years later, how odd it was: Bukharin seemed so doggedly unyielding when asked to confess to crimes in the morning, but after lunch he conceded it all in a grey voice. Years later we learned what happened to him at lunch: his family was threatened.” (Conversation with Audrey in Glebe, 2005)

Note. I have freely developed the Glazier episode from Audrey’s remark about the hotel’s windows: “the outer [panes], puttied up around the edges since the beginning of winter, muffled all sound from the outside.” (A Proletarian Life, p. 28) Brigadirov’s warning and arrest are on p. 23.