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The Man of the Century Has Died…to Virtual Silence

November 4th, 2007 - 6:57 pm

You probably didn’t notice. Hardly anyone here did. The Brits, as usual, paid more attention.

He was a Polish Jew, born Victor Spielman, which he changed to Victor Grayevsky after he found that “Spielman” was just too Jewish for an ambitious young Pole. He went to school in Kazakhstan, then returned to Poland at the end of the war, where he joined the Communist Party and made a bit of a name for himself as a journalist. In the mid-fifties he followed his parents and sister to Israel, where he ran a lot of the broadcasting to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

And so? And so, he was arguably one of the most important men of the twentieth century, for he was the person who obtained the advance text of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the one delivered in February, 1956, the one that laid out the crimes of Stalin for the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party. That text was a turning point in the Cold War. Grayevsky gave it to the Israeli Embassy, where it was copied and sent to Israel. The Shin Bet intelligence service delivered it by courier to James Jesus Angleton, the head of CIA counterintelligence (and the CIA’s liaison with the Israelis), who gave it to CIA chief Allen Dulles, who gave it to President Eisenhower.

The speech made headlines around the world, and Khrushchev’s revelations were vigorously exploited by the United States, shocking the Communist faithful. But even more importantly, the speech provided a clear window into the world of Soviet Communism for American analysts both in and outside the government. Until then, it was possible for intelligence analysts and foreign service officers to believe that the Soviet system wasn’t all that horrible. The speech put paid to that delusion.

In keeping with the general rule that the most important information about the Soviet Union invariably came from “walk-ins,” and not from “agents” recruited by CIA, Grayevsky performed his world-changing act solely out of personal conviction. He had recently visited Israel to be with his dying father, and he had become a Zionist, secretly determined to emigrate to Israel as soon as he could manage it. But he was not working for the Israeli Government, or indeed any Western country.

It was only after his move to Israel shortly thereafter that Victor Grayevsky become involved in the world of espionage. The KGB recruited him, and for decades thereafter he pretended to be their man in Tel Aviv, while actually working as an Israeli double agent. He did his work so effectively that the Soviets awarded him the Lenin Medal.

But perhaps the most telling fact about Grayevsky came just a few years ago, after he retired. He decided to tell his story at long last, and wrote a memoir about his amazing life. You might have thought it would become an instant world-wide bestseller, but in fact he couldn’t find a publisher anywhere. By then, no editor was interested, and so far as I know his book didn’t even appear in Hebrew. It’s just one further example of the self-imposed ignorance that so afflicts us in this day and age.

If you Google “Victor Grayevsky,” you’ll find some articles from Australia, Italy and of course Israel, in addition to the Telegraph article linked above. But I haven’t seen anything in the big American papers or on the tube. A couple of bloggers noticed (Lucianne, for example), but nothing like the attention he deserved.

Sometimes you have to die before people notice how important you were. Maybe some serious publisher will now scratch his head and decide to permit Victor to tell his story.

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