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'He was killed first': producer of the play about Solomon Mikhoels - about anti-Semitism and the tragedy of the great actor

February 29 spectators in New Jersey see for the first time the play “The Last Role of Solomon Mikhoels” is the story of a triumphant creative life, passionate love and the tragic death of the great Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels. On the eve of the ForumDaily performance, I had the opportunity to talk with the producer of the performance Leonid Kopeikin.

Photo provided by the organizers

“You are not a theatrical person.” As far as we know, in the Soviet Union you received a technical education, worked for many years in your specialty.

- That's right. I graduated from the second faculty of the Kuibyshev Aviation Institute. He was one of the five best aviation universities in the country. Oleg Sysuev studied at the same stream with me, but at a different faculty. And a few years later in KuAI - that’s how our institute was then called, entered and successfully graduated from another very famous person in the modern world - Mark Solonin.

- Great company. And after graduation ...

- He worked by profession in the beginning in Kuibyshev, at the engine plant named after Frunze. My parents worked there. Then he went to work at the Moscow Znamya plant. And in the early 90s, when the defense industry collapsed, I had to first go to work in a private business, and then move to America.

- What, is it that simple?

“No, of course.” I simply outline the most consistent line that will lead us to the answer to the question: where did the theater come from?

“So where did the theater come from?”

- I think about 30 years ago. I was on a business trip in Moscow, and in one of the crossings I bought the Weiner brothers novel “The Gospel of the Executioner” at the book collapse. I have a flair for books. Of course, the name of the author means a lot. But we know that even a famous author does not have every book as a masterpiece. And here the most powerful energy beat through the binding. And I was not mistaken. And my business trip is over. The whole space was occupied by the book, the rest was done on autopilot.

After the premiere. Photo provided by the organizers

“Well then ...”

- Wait, you'll understand now. Already at the first reading, I saw the faces of fictional heroes. What real historical characters looked like, I more or less knew. And when I began to re-read the novel, then each time I saw more clearly how this all happened. In my opinion, “The Gospel of the Executioner” is an almost finished script.

- That is, this book gave an impetus to your creative imagination?

- I think yes. Everything else grew like a snowball from a mountain. I read another Weiner novel from this dilogy - “A Loop and a Stone in the Green Grass”. And after that, I plunged into accessible historical non-fiction. Unknown to me details began to open, a feeling arose that the logic of events became clear. And a clear historical period arose, where events worked so that they should have led to a very definite result, which in my first public speech I called the Stalin Five-Year Plan for the final solution of the Jewish question in the USSR.

- Are you talking about what historical period?

- I am talking about the period from January 1948 to March 1953. Although the anti-Semitic overture began as early as 1947.

“What does all this have to do with you directly?”

- The most direct. I was born into a Jewish family. Though assimilated, but in Jewish. The Yiddish language sounded in the house, which was spoken by many of my close relatives. Parents spoke pure and correct Russian, therefore, both them and me all my life strangers asked a question: are you from Moscow or from Leningrad?

“Then it is all the more incomprehensible what turned you towards your ethnic origin?”

- Here it just turned around. The world around us has unfolded. Efraim Sevela has a work entitled "Yiddish-speaking Parrot." And I was a Jew who spoke Russian. It’s almost the same as Zhvanetsky’s: "Yes, well-known, but still ...." MM has a pause here, but everyone knows what word to fill in. My story. That is, from childhood I knew who I was. And I learned quite early about the case of doctors. And I was born in January of the 53rd year, when the hysteria of anti-Semitism spun in full swing. And lay down the stars differently, and start deportation - this conversation would not have happened. There would be nothing in my life.

- So you want to say that you had a personal motive to turn to the theater?

- Exactly. But maybe everything would have remained inside, if not for what is happening now in the world in relation to the Jews. You know, over the past year and a half, I have said and written in various places what I later read with Mark Solonin, Leonid Mlechin, and Nikolai Svanidze. And I'm glad about that. Here the main thing is not the palm, but the fact that people of different age, status, education and nationality see the situation and evaluate it almost identically.

- What is it expressed in?

- The fact that the effect of the vaccine against anti-Semitism, which mankind introduced to itself 75 years ago, is over. Everyone thought that the blood and ashes of six million innocent souls would forever protect humanity from the most terrible virus of hatred. It turned out that this is one of many illusions. If you don’t start acting - everywhere, openly, using all available and legal means, we will get a new Holocaust. It's not about what form. The point is the scale.

“Aren't you exaggerating the threat?”

“I don't want to downplay it.” And then, it is never limited only to Jews. Read the speeches of Lord Jonathan Sachs. No matter where the epidemic begins. If you do not fight it, it will cover the whole world. It can proceed as it was in pre-war Germany, or post-war Russia, or as in Poland, where there were practically no Jews left, and anti-Semitism still exists.

“And so you turned to the theater, to Mikhoels?”

- Yes. Mikhoels is a huge personality. In many ways, this led to the fact that he was killed first. And you pay attention to the uniqueness of this crime: the customer is known - Stalin, the performers are known - Abakumov and his subordinates, the method, time, place of the murder - everything is known. But the criminal case was not brought to court and no one was tried for this murder. Orders and ranks were selected (not all), put on (not all), shot (not all), but not specifically for this crime, but in the aggregate. But mainly for work under the leadership of Beria. And at the same time when I turned to the Russian community in New York with a proposal to talk about what was happening during the last Stalin five-year anniversary in the USSR, the director Arnold Shvetsov called me and suggested the play by our contemporary, playwright Zinovy ​​Sagalov “The Last Role of Solomon Mikhoels” . In 2019, we showed the play three times in the format of a stage reading and all the shows were a great success. Our actors Alexei Trubetskoy and Valeria Korennaya showed excellent work. Next in turn is the end of February to show the play in the form of a play with all the scenery that a wonderful person Natalya Vikhlyaeva developed for us, music, light and a cozy chamber hall, which we received thanks to the help of Dmitry Mikhailov, head of the Russian center in Firelon, New Jersey. By the way, we invite everyone to visit the Community Center on February 29 at 7 pm and watch the performance.

Solomon Mikhoels, frame from the movie Circus, 1936. A photo: Wikipedia, public domain

- And it's all?

- Of course not. Sagalov’s play is a work of the Broadway format. Mikhoels is timeless; anti-Semitism is an eternal topic. The play can be played for years. In addition, another work by Sagalov “Do not Believe Mr. Kafka” is already in work in us, and the third play on the events of the beginning of 1953 is in the draft.

- Judging by the way you talk about your work, your pace of promotion is not too high.

- It's true. I would like to move faster. But there are objective circumstances. Almost this year, we opened the company ARLO Art Productions, which will deal with our projects. Well, the most painful place of all endeavors is financing. We definitely need sponsors, both organizations and just caring people. We are a non-profit organization. So far, we can only rely on like-minded people, those who know us personally and believe in us. And we believe that we are doing a good and just cause.

- Thank you, Leonid. We wish you success.

- Thank you for your interest in our activities.

You can learn more and buy a ticket for a performance about Solomon Mikhoels at ForumDaily Poster Page.

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