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Comedian, immigrant, friend of scouts: the gripping story of a Jewish journalist who escaped from the USSR

By the time of emigration in 1974, a journalist Emil Dreitzer was already quite famous in the Soviet Union, though under the pseudonym Emil Abramov. His feuilletons and humoresques were published in the 12 Chairs Club, Literaturnaya Gazeta, Yunost, Krokodil and other publications. He also wrote for the satirical newsreel "Fitil", for the central radio and television. Nevertheless, over the years, more and more of his work went to the table - the scope of what was permitted in the USSR was too narrow, and it was impossible to publish really sharp things.

Photo courtesy of Emil Dreitzer

Chance of freedom

«Although I was widely published, I could not get a job in the staff of any of the Soviet publications in which I published. Two factors interfered: I was a Jew, besides, I was not a party”, - he recalls.

When the movement for immigration of Jews to the newly formed state of Israel began in the late 1960s, many Soviet Jews saw this as the only chance in their life to go abroad.

«Of course, this was a tightly controlled immigration, with many refusals to leave by the Soviet authorities. Applying for her was accompanied by a huge risk: a person could be refused without explanation, but the attempt itself led to the complete destruction of his career in the Soviet Union", - explains Emil Dreitser.

The feuilletonist from Odessa admits that he did not immediately decide to try to leave the country, not knowing how he could realize himself in the United States, even if he managed to get there. The turning point for the decision was the screening of Stanley Kramer's film Bless the Children and the Beasts.

«There is an episode at the end of the film. When the teenagers were finally able to open the enclosure with the bison to release them, they did not even try to run, not realizing that they had the opportunity to free themselves. They ran outside only when they were driven out. Suddenly it struck me: My God, I'm the same as these animals. I also have a chance to break out into the free world, and I'm afraid to even try", - says Emil Dreitser.

Photo courtesy of Emil Dreitzer

Emil was lucky: he was allowed to leave the first time. An engineer by training, at first he found a job in the USA as a draftsman.

«At that time, there was an acute shortage of Russian language teachers in the United States, which was in great demand during the Cold War. As a result, I was invited to the University of California at Los Angeles to teach Russian for beginners with the prospect of becoming a graduate student in a year. I jumped at this opportunity, because I have always wanted to study literature. Unfortunately, I came to the States at the age of 37, and my English was not very strong. However, in order to get a permanent job at the university, it was necessary to publish scientific articles - of course, in English. After entering graduate school, I began to engage in that in which I have accumulated some experience - the study of the genre of satire. My doctoral dissertation was entitled "The Art of the Comic at Saltykov-Shchedrin." By the way, I was allowed to write it in Russian, although I defended it, of course, in English. Later it was translated into English, and it came out as a separate book as Techniques of Satire: The Case of Saltykov-Schedrin "- says Emil.

The Scout's Fate

Emil Dreitser has published more than ten books of fiction, documentary and scientific prose in Russian, English and Polish, including sociological studies of Russian humor, memoirs and fiction novels about immigration, for example, a book of memoirs (Who are you ?: Odessa 1945-1953 ") And a novel about emigration"On kudykin mountain"(Both books in expanded edition were published in English - Shush! Growing up Jewish under Stalin и Farewell, Mama Odessa). Thanks to his work, the world of Soviet Odessa was opened for American readers, the tragic features of what it was like to grow up as a Jew in Stalin's time, the difficulties of immigration. Over the years, Emil Dreitzer began writing in English as well.

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“Once upon a timeAn American writer shared his observations with me. He came to the conclusion that the secret of success consists of three components: the presence of some kind of ability, perseverance and luck. Moreover, if the level of talent and success do not depend on our will, then perseverance in work is what is in our power ", - he explained.

Emil Dreitser is the author of the English-language biography of the legendary Soviet intelligence officer Dmitry Bystroletov. A scion of the Tolstoy family, a former White Guard recruited abroad shortly after the Civil War, he became one of the most prolific spies, according to modern intelligence. In the 1920s, Bystroletov worked in Prague under his real name - he successfully recruited and obtained secret documents from Western countries. In 1930, he switched to illegal intelligence posing as a Hungarian count, then an English lord, and sometimes even an American gangster. Upon his return to the USSR, like many of his colleagues, he was repressed in 1938. The legendary scout survived torture, labor camps and years in solitary confinement, and ended up in prison for 16 years. Bystroletov was released only in 1954, in 1956 he was rehabilitated, but he never returned to work in intelligence.

Photo courtesy of Emil Dreitzer

In 1973, about a year and a half before his death, he suddenly expressed a desire to meet with the famous journalist Emil Dreitzer.

According to the writer, the repressed intelligence officer, after the experience, was completely disillusioned with the Soviet Union and, of course, could not forgive the authorities for the ruined life.

«After his arrest, his Czech wife and mother committed suicide. In 1947, he was offered to admit his guilt and get amnesty, but he demanded full rehabilitation, as a result of which he ended up in prison again. In a word, this man caused me only respect. He never asked the Soviet government for anything and confessed to me how she mutilated a person. By the way, he met his second wife in the camp - she was also a prisoner, and was waiting for him five years after his release.", - says Emil.

For a long time Dreitser could not understand why Bystroletov told him the story of his life. None of what he said could even be offered for publication in the Soviet press of that time. It took a long time before a guess came.

«It was a year before my immigration, but at that time I myself did not yet know that I would decide to leave. Probably, Bystroletov had a presentiment that the Jewish author would not be able to exist for a long time in the Soviet Union, and sooner or later he would try to break out to the West. He seemed to have thrown a bottle with a note into the sea in the hope that sooner or later someone will find it", - says Emil.

Having left for the West, 25 years later he fulfilled the wish of the already deceased intelligence officer by that time - he wrote a scientific biographical work about him (Stalin's romeo spy), having checked all the details of its history and having visited all the countries where the Bystroletov intelligence officer mined secrets.

Photo courtesy of Emil Dreitzer

By the way, after the publication of the book in the International Museum of Espionage in Washington, a stele dedicated to Dmitry Bystroletov was erected, and Emil himself repeatedly spoke there presenting his book.

Russian humor in the USA

Emil Dreitzer admits that it is really difficult to convey in a foreign language the peculiarities of Soviet life, color, language and humor.

«Before a book comes out in print in English, it goes through several stages. I write in English, using a dictionary of English idioms, proverbs and sayings, but then I hire an American editor who handles the specifics of the language. After that, the book is read by the editor of the American publishing house, who can also point out that some moments remained incomprehensible to him. By the way, when in 1980 my American colleague and I published a bilingual collection of Soviet underground anecdotes Forbidden Laughter", We have not yet thought about these subtleties, just as we had no idea how the marketing and promotion of the book is carried out", - the author admits.

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Nevertheless, the collection became widely known (New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers wrote about it). He shattered many stereotypes about Russians in American pop culture.

«For many, it has already become a discovery that Russians have a sense of humor. But there were other problems as well. So, in one of the reviews I read that, for example, the anecdotes about Chapaev were incomprehensible to the American reader, because they did not know who he was. It is also important to consider the peculiarities of American culture. For example, the anecdote that, unfortunately, Stalin's mother did not have an abortion on time does not cause laughter in the United States. The topic of abortion is highly politicized so that you can joke about this topic. Puns are also impossible to translate into another language.", - says Emil.

Photo courtesy of Emil Dreitzer

Soon, an American publishing house approached the immigrant with a request to write a scientific book about Soviet anecdotes.

«This was the first book I wrote in English. It was called Taking Penguins to the Movies: Ethnic Humor in Russia and dealt with ethnic humor in Russia. I tried to explain the socio-cultural reasons for the use of certain nationalities in Soviet jokes. Then followed Making War, Not Love: Gender and Sexuality in Russian Humor... This is a book about how Russian anecdotes about sex and relations between the sexes implicitly reflect the cultural attitudes of the nation. It is much easier to write scientific books in English than fiction books: there is a rather strict language, knowledge of idioms and slang is not required ", - the writer explains.

Emil Dreitzer's literary work has received numerous awards from the New Jersey State Arts Council and grants from the City University of New York. Several of his stories are included in American college textbooks.

Since 1986, Emil Dreitser has been a professor of the Russian department at the V. Hunter in New York.

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