Vera Dunham’s Big Deal.

Vera Dunham’s 1976 In Stalin’s Time is one of those books that routinely gets called “seminal”; apparently for a year after it was published people talked about little else at gatherings of Russianists. Her theoretical point was about “the relationship between the Soviet regime and the Soviet middleclass citizen,” which she called the “Big Deal.” Her analysis of the complexities of that relationship and the way it changed after WWII dropped like a thunderbolt into the stagnant, simplistic assumptions about “totalitarianism” and the like that ruled American academia in those days, but it has long been assimilated and the field has moved on. What makes the book worth reading today — and it is very much worth reading — is its illustration of her points by lots and lots of quotes from the formulaic official literature of the late Stalin period (from 1945 to his death in 1953), novels and poems and plays that were avoided with a shudder by other scholars who preferred to concentrate on “real literature” (Dunham proudly said she had waded through mountains of elephant shit to write the book), and explication of the plots in terms of the changing relations between party officials and the managers of factories and farms (and between men and women, and between front-line veterans and those who had spent the war trying to keep the country functioning). Those things seem dry when presented theoretically, but when you have seen them in action (in her summmaries and quotes, of course — nobody wants to replicate her work of reading the stuff in full!) you will understand them in your bones.

Nevertheless, I have complaints (when do I not have complaints?), and I am here to share them with you. First off, the book needed a copyeditor — even more than most books do, since English was not the author’s native language (she was born Vera Sandomirskaya in Russia, came to the United States in 1940, and married H. Warren Dunham in 1942). The very phrase “Big Deal” is unfortunate, and somebody should have suggested a replacement; she was presumably thinking of FDR’s New Deal, but the ironic slang sense of “big deal” makes it problematic. Her English is good but occasionally shaky, and I’m not sure whether “scroundrel” on p. 188 is a typo or her own charming mangling. To my mind, her obsession with “meshchanstvo” (usually translated “petty bourgeoisie” or “philistinism”) betrays a typically Russian intelligentsia contempt for the pursuit of the pleasant things of life, whether potted plants, canaries, a television, or whatever, and she should have been urged to rethink that bit of rhetoric. But to be honest, the thing that most annoys me about the book is her insistence on replacing the names of most of the characters in the works she discusses by cutesy English nicknames; it’s bad enough when she at least provides the original Russian form — “Mrs. ‘All-or-Nothing’ (Kraineva)” — but it’s infuriating when she doesn’t, as when on page 190 she calls a particular type of pedantic party functionary a “talmudist” (itself a very unfortunate term when discussing this period with its anti-Semitic campaign against “cosmopolitans”) and then calls a character in Ocheretin’s Pervoe derzanie (First daring) “Comrade Talmudist,” even maintaining that pseudonym in a quote from the book (“You work, Comrade Talmudist, from nine to five…”)! For that, I want to call her in and give her the sort of dressing-down the experienced party officials in these books give young hotheads who are messing up kolkhoz production.

But now that I’ve gotten that off my chest: it’s a really good book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the period.


  1. I was kind of incredulous about 1940 arrival, given the immigration ban on Russian born after 1924. And her degrees, 1935 in Nazi Germany, made it unlikely that she was a refugee from Nazism. But it looks like she was an American citizen, who came from Moscow in 1923 with her parents and brother at age 10, when her dad got a job with Harvester Combine in Chicago. Then her English must have been close to L1?

  2. That was a quota, not a ban. My Russian-born grandparents arrived in the US in 1932.

  3. A quota for certain close family relations (more favorable for spouses and underage children of citizens) was equivalent to a ban on the grownups without immediate family in the US. Vera Sandomirsky didn’t marry until 2 years after her reported 1940 immigration, and she was obviously an adult by then, which is why her official bio didn’t make good sense. But I guess it’s easier for a Russian scholar to make it look as if one didn’t leave Russia in tender young age…

  4. Then her English must have been close to L1?

    Yes, it’s very good, but not perfect. I’m sure she spoke with an accent.

  5. I got the information on her life from her NY Times obituary; they usually fact-check these things pretty carefully.

  6. I started from the same obit, of course. Obviously, she must have entered the US anyhow after studies in Germany and Belgium, and NYT wouldn’t commit a sin of commission, but I couldn’t find her immigration entry in 1940. It wasn’t totally surprising as I surmised that she might have used a different name then. No naturalization record either. But seeing that she immigrated as a child, I gotta conclude that she got US citizenship with her parents.

    She had an uncle in Moscow.

  7. I’ve read a few pages from In Stalin’s Time and her English is good, but a bit stiff, like someone’s who has a limited vocabulary and range of idiomatic expressions. Or at least is hesitant to use them in fear of making a mistake. Her thinking about Soviet realities is clearly in Russian terms, even if she didn’t literally translated from her inner Russian, but that could have happened even for born and bred American submerged in the Soviet history.

  8. A quota for certain close family relations (more favorable for spouses and underage children of citizens) was equivalent to a ban on the grownups without immediate family in the US.

    This is all wrong. The 1924 act defined spouses and children of US citizens – as well as some other classes, such as aspiring professors (which may have included Sandomirskaya) – as non-quota immigrants; the quota (once again: not ban) was for everyone else. My grandparents came in under this quota.

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    One plausible looking online secondary source says that total new immigration into the U.S. for the decade 1931-1940 inclusive was around 530,000. That’s a huge drop from the seven-figure sums of previous decades, but still a significant number of people. That source didn’t have a breakdown by country of birth, but the Russian/USSR-origin subset must have been non-zero. Come to think of it, Vladimir, Vera, and Dmitri Nabokov moved from France to the U.S. in 1940, so there’s at least two right there (assuming Dmitri’s diaspora birth in Germany might have put him in a more favorable quota-slot than his parents’ births in Russia would have put them).

  10. @Lazar. Immigration matters are complex and both of us simplified things.

    The 1924 act defined spouses and children of US citizens – as well as some other classes, such as aspiring professors (which may have included Sandomirskaya) – as non-quota immigrants

    Well, not exactly. Only unmarried minor children under 18, and wives, were non-quota immigrants, and only if their respective parents or husbands physically resided in the US and were over21 years of age. And applicants for professorship positions were exempt from quotas only if they had at least two years of uninterrupted prior employment as college professors. (Sec. 4(d)).
    The quotas were technically supposed to be allocated in even parts: 50% to preferred class (unmarried children under 21 of the citizens, spouses and parents, as well as agricultural specialists) and 50% to everybody else, but in practice a huge backlog of preferred-class applications ensued, with the waiting times making children ineligible as they waited. So in practice the preferred-class children and parents from the backlog gobbled up most of the USSR tiny quota of 2,248 immigrants a year (but not higher than 224 visas a month).

    assuming Dmitri’s diaspora birth in Germany might have put him in a more favorable quota-slot
    that wouldn’t have worked – the son would have needed to naturalize and, after age 21, petitioned for his parents under preferred quota slot for their country of birth, Russia.

    BTW I also have a relative who immigrated under the 1924 act despite being born in the Russian Empire. But she shaved off 5 years from her age, and hid her marriage, to qualify as a minor child. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who claim to have beaten the odds of the quotas actually “cheated the odds” 🙂

    And BTW while we are discussing “to what extent a draconian quota system may be called a ban”, may I ask my previous question to the respected language aficionados? An OED question, about XVIII c. usage of the verb “to regulate” (and did it ever mean “to generously equip”)

  11. BTW on my opening premise – that Vera Dunham grew up in Chicago rather than moved to the US in 1940 – I have to take it back. On their 1924 trip, the family returned to Moscow the same year, and Vera’s younger sister Zoya was born in Moscow in 1925. They didn’t finally settle the US until June 1940, arriving aboard SS Washington from La Verdon / Calway (Vera’s father has passed away by then, and her older brother Alex lived separately). They had “Passport visas” (rather than Quota Immigrant visas) with numbers 336 through 338, issued two years earlier in Brussels where they lived in 1938, and they already traveled to New York in May 1938, arriving then from Antwerp aboard SS Westerland. Upon arrival to NYC in 1940, mother Eugenia paid for Alex’s passage from London, and he did get in under the quota his Quota Immigrant Visa (QIV) number being 405 for year 1940. Eugenie, Vera, Alex and Zoya were Czechoslovak nationals by then, but the quota number was for Russia. I guess Soviet restrictions on emigration made the quotas passable again…

    Interestingly also, on the 1924 and 1938 immigration forms the family claimed being of “Russian” race, while in 1940, of “Hebrew race”.

  12. (Took me longer to figure out what were the “Passport visas”. They turned out to be issued under Sec. 3(2) of the Immigration Act of 1924 as non-immigrant visas for tourism or business)

    But in April 1940, the Sandomirsky family ladies had their QIV Quota Immigrant Visa numbers as well, issued in Antwerp with numbers 1145 through 1147. So by 1940, Russian-born immigrants did have a chance to squeeze in under the quotas.

  13. Fascinating stuff — thanks for clearing up the details!

  14. While we are at it, Vladimir Nabokoff, with Vera and Dmitri, also got in under QIV’s. Issued in Paris in April 1940, and, interestingly, their numbers are higher than the supposed quota totals for Russia for the whole year. Whatever it might mean. (The numbers ARE country-specific; most of the people traveling with the Nabokovs aboard Champlain from St-Nazaire are stateless German Jews, and their visa numbers are 10 times bigger) Interestingly also, they are listed as a stateless, mixed-race Russian / Hebrew family. Vladimir Nabokov’s occupation is an author (not a qualifying professor as we might have assumed).

    But LH! Please! What about my OED “to regulate” 😉 Inquiring minds are restless )))))

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    Nabokov was indeed stateless when he came to the U.S. and some of his memories of traveling on a “Nansen passport” are collected here:

  16. But LH! Please! What about my OED “to regulate

    Don’t look at me, I don’t have OED access any more! Somebody else will surely step into the breach…

  17. Noblesse oblige. (But Hat, doesn’t your public library have OED access? NYPL does.)

    Here are the definitions with quotations and dates. I don’t see anything like “equip generously”.

    1. trans.

    a. To control, govern, or direct, esp. by means of regulations or restrictions. Also intr.
    ?a1425 tr. Guy de Chauliac Grande Chirurgie (N.Y. Acad. Med.) f. 154v Of þe mesure of fleobotomie it ys seid þat þer may nouȝt be giffen a certane reule..Neþerlez þe mesure is regulated [?c1425 Paris rewlede; L. regulatur] or rewled..for to coniecture not only also þe toleraunce or tholing.
    a1513 J. Irland Meroure of Wyssdome (1965) II. 70 His power ordinate and regulat be his devin wisdome has ordand and disponit that thir operaciouns sal be maid.
    1579 G. Fenton tr. F. Guicciardini Hist. Guicciardin ii. 76 Touching trade of marchandise, artes, and offices, the Pysans were not bownde with other lawes, then did regulat all other cities subiect to the Florentyns.
    1583 Sir T. Smith’s De Republica Anglorum i. viii. 7 The other they call..the Royall power regulate by lawes.
    1644 Milton Areopagitica 16 If we think to regulat Printing,..we must regulat all recreations and pastimes.
    1672 A. Marvell Let. 22 June in Poems & Lett. (1971) II. 273 Hauing received..your letter..according to which I shall regulate my selfe upon occasion.
    1682 Dryden in T. Southerne Loyal Brother Prol. sig. A3 Criticks wou’d regulate Our Theatres, and Whiggs reform our State.
    1709 J. Spelman Life Ælfred the Great ii. 117 The Licentiousness and Unruliness of Trouble to all the Justices in the Kingdom to regulate.
    1780 Johnson Let. 6 Apr. (1992) III. 229 Dos he direct any regimen, or dos Mr. Thrale regulate himself?
    1792 J. Almon Anecd. Life W. Pitt (octavo ed.) I. iv. 75 Can freedom be regulated without some part destroyed?
    1851 U.S. Mag. & Democratic Rev. Nov. 393 As it was beyond the power of parliament to regulate the wages of labor, it was unjust to pass an act to regulate, with a view unnaturally to raise the price of food.
    1877 W. Sparrow Serm. vi. 81 He that reduced the material world to order, can regulate and direct the mind.
    1916 N.Y. Times 4 Feb. 17/2 The plan to zone the city and regulate the height of buildings.
    1968 P. Warner Sieges of Middle Ages vi. 119 He regulated gambling, no knight or squire being allowed to lose more than twenty shillings in twenty-four hours.
    2005 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 18 July 8/4 Community groups wanted a judicial inquiry into why the EPA was not regulating mining.

    †b. To bring under control; to reduce to order. Obs.
    1622 T. Roe True & Faithfull Rel. Constantinople sig. C3v He would..stay there, vntill he had regulated his new Army, and Discipline, and then to returne triumphant to Constantinople.
    1647 Fairfax (title) Orders Established..for Regulating the Army.
    1654 J. Bramhall Just Vindic. Church of Eng. vi. 127 He might have..called a Councel, regulated him, and reduced him to order and reason.
    1685 N. Luttrell Diary in Brief Hist. Relation State Affairs (1857) I. 341 In other buroughs..they have new regulated the electors by new charters.
    1687 N. Luttrell Diary in Brief Hist. Relation State Affairs (1857) I. 421 There are 6 commissioners appointed, who are to inspect all the corporations of England, and regulate them, by turning out such as are against the taking away the penall lawes and test.

    †c. To correct through regulation. Obs.
    a1680 S. Butler Genuine Remains (1759) I. 218 To regulate the Errors of the Mind.
    1682 A. Wood Life & Times (1894) III. 22 The chancellor’s letters for regulating the rudeness and miscarriage of the Masters in Convocation.
    1707 J. Floyer Physician’s Pulse-watch 186 By the Pulse we find by what Method we must regulate all Exorbitances.

    2. trans.

    a. To control, modify, or adjust with reference to some principle, standard, or norm; to alter in response to a situation, set of circumstances, etc.
    1571 T. Hill Contempl. Mankinde x. f. 85v If the lippe within be seene not lyuely, or not a fayre red in colour: doth argue a matter not regulated, and grosse humours to consist in that creature.
    1638 L. Roberts Merchants Mappe of Commerce viii. 37 Thereby [sc. by measures] as by weights many commutations are regulated..and profit and losse is also thereby found out and distinguished.
    1662 J. Davies tr. A. Olearius Voy. & Trav. Ambassadors 391 The Persians regulate [Fr. reglent] their Feasts according to the Moon.
    1726 Bp. J. Butler 15 Serm. i. 11 Desire of Esteem..was given regulate our Behaviour towards Society.
    1732 J. Arbuthnot Pract. Rules of Diet iv. 401 If such a one by a statical Engine could regulate his insensible Perspiration, he might often..shorten his Fit.
    1750 tr. C. Leonardus Mirror of Stones 33 The heat should be proportioned and regulated by the mineral or effective virtue of the stone itself.
    1776 A. Smith Inq. Wealth of Nations II. iv. i. 9 The quantity of every commodity..naturally regulates itself in every country according to the effectual demand.
    1800 R. Somerville Comm. Board of Agric. II. 95 Proprietors and occupiers of ground being at due pains to investigate accurately the peculiar circumstances connected with its natural situation, and to regulate their plans of inclosing accordingly.
    1836 J. Gilbert Christian Atonem. ix. 411 Mercy must be in some way regulated by regard to righteousness.
    1863 H. Cox Inst. Eng. Govt. ii. x. 533 The Weregild, or compensation for murder was regulated according to the rank of the person slain.
    1913 Lockwood’s Dict. Mech. Engin. (ed. 4) Salt bath furnace, a type of hardening furnace in which the temperature is regulated by the employment of fused salts.
    1990 P. P. Read On Third Day xix. 201 Women sometimes take the pill simply to regulate their menstrual cycle.

    b. To calibrate, adjust, or control (a timepiece or other mechanism) in order to ensure accurate or proper working.
    1665 [implied in: R. Hooke Micrographia 133 Several..begin each of them to move, thus or thus, but quite after another method then before, there being many regulating parts and the like, fallen away and lost. (at regulating adj. 2)].
    1669 Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 4 937 Watches, which instead of a Ballance-wheele are regulated by a Pendulum.
    1764 J. Ferguson Lect. Select Subj. iv. 50 If a heavy fly be put upon the will help to regulate the motion.
    1807 T. Young Course Lect. Nat. Philos. I. xvii. 201 A plate has been applied in such a way as to shorten the spring when the temperature is increased, by an operation similar to that which serves to regulate a common watch.
    1842 Penny Cycl. XXII. 485/1 He can..regulate the throttle-valve by hand-gear placed within his reach.
    1893 P. Carus Truth in Fiction 34 Clock and watches..can be well regulated according to some change that constantly takes place in nature with strict regularity.
    1954 R. Wailes Eng. Windmill xvi. 142 Small governors were fitted operating a gate to regulate the feed.
    1992 Atlantic Apr. 121/1 (advt.) Dual-rate gas pressurized shock absorbers and air springs are electronically regulated to optimize ride and handling.

    †3. trans. To make regular or even in form. Obs.
    1652 W. Blith Eng. Improver Improved xxvi. 180 The Corn with much harrowing..will be drawn into wants and uneven places, and much regulated by the Harrow.
    1728 E. Chambers Cycl. at Printing To regulate the Margins..are two Iron Points which make two Holes in the Sheet.
    1751 A. McDouall Inst. Laws Scotl. I. 282 The incloser may apply to the judge visit the ground, straiten and regulate the marches.
    1789 J. Abercrombie Gardener’s Pocket Jrnl. & Ann. Reg. 58 Cut the edges of grass even, and regulate all sorts of edgings of box, thrift, &c.

    4. intr. To make, enact, or enforce regulations.
    1661 in L. B. Taylor Aberdeen Council Lett. (1954) IV. 135 The provest, baillies, deane of gild and thesaurer ar appoynted Commissioners of the Excysse to regulat within the burgh and to choyse thair awen collector.
    1788 A. Jardine Lett. from Barbary, France, &c. II. 457 He tried to regulate and legislate for that great colony.
    1808 W. Miller Let. 8 Apr. in Rev. Eng. Stud. (1993) May 201 (note) Ballantyne coming to town I can regulate with him about the printing.
    1895 Westm. Gaz. 1 May 2/2 If the Board of Trade has any power to regulate on this point, we trust that it will use it.
    1932 Michigan Law Rev. 30 1281 There are many other cases placing the right to regulate on the ground of the importance of the business.
    1978 Eng. Jrnl. 67 10/1 They even proposed an Academy which would regulate and legislate.
    2005 R. B. Siegel in B. Baines & R. Rubio-Marin Gender Constit. Jurispr. xii. 313 The state cannot regulate on the basis of sex, unless it can show that its sexually discriminatory means are ‘substantially related’ to an ‘important’ government purpose.

    5. Biol.

    a. intr. To exhibit developmental regulation (regulation n. 5a). Also trans. (refl.).
    1902 Archiv f. Entwicklungsmech. der Organismen 15 228 Pieces which are more active may be expected to regulate more widely.
    1926 J. S. Huxley Ess. Pop. Sci. 235 The portion of substance which in its normal position would have developed into a half, has the power, if isolated, of regulating itself and its internal structure so as to give rise to a whole.
    1977 Sci. Amer. (U.K. ed.) July 67/1 Parts of the early embryo of various animals can be removed and the remaining parts will embryonically regulate to form a normal whole.

    b. trans. Genetics. To control (expression of a gene), e.g. by production of a protein that inhibits gene transcription.
    1959 A. B. Pardee et al. in Jrnl. Molecular Biol. 1 177 A repressor-making gene..whose function is to block or regulate the expression of the neighbouring genes.
    1984 M. J. Taussig Processes in Pathol. & Microbiol. (ed. 2) iv. 415 The corynebacterium has the ability to regulate the expression of the tox gene by producing a repressor protein.
    1994 D. Tulchinsky & A. B. Little Maternal–Fetal Endocrinol. (ed. 2) ii. 16/2 The expression of the gene is regulated by gonadotropins in the ovary but not in the placenta.
    2008 N.Y. Times (National ed.) 11 Nov. d3/1 A single micro-RNA can regulate the activity of hundreds of genes.

  18. I am no longer one, but I am pretty sure that a Massachusetts resident can get a BPL eCard.

  19. Yeah, I tried that with my Pittsfield Athenaeum card and there was some kind of hassle which annoyed me to the extent I gave up. But I should give it another try.

  20. marie-lucie says

    JC: I don’t see anything like “equip generously”.

    Neither do I, but for a militia to be “well-regulated”, the regulations might include not only proper military organization and behaviour but also the kind and amount of equipment needed for each member or group. It seems to me that some of the examples of “regulate” might have a meaning closer to “establish, set on a firm footing” than just “codify the rules for an already established institution”.

  21. “…when her dad got a job (in 1923) with Harvester Combine in Chicago.”

    “On their 1924 trip, the family returned to Moscow the same year…”

    Did the entire family accompany the father in 1923? How and more importantly why, would a Russian national have gotten a job in Chicago in 1923? Not sure how you make a “trip” to the same place you moved to in the preceding year? There is certainly more to this convoluted immigration story than that memorialized by the NYT.

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    Re “regulate,” the google books corpus turns up section one of “An Act to organize and regulate the Militia of the State of Indiana,” enacted 1831, which first tells you who is obligated to be enrolled in the militia (able-bodied white male U.S. citizens residing in the state who are at least 18 years old but no older than 45) and then provides that “every citizen, so enrolled, shall provide himself with a good rifle, musket or fusee, with a cartouch box to contain at least twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or fusee, or a pouch to contain at least twenty-four balls suited to the caliber of his rifle, and a powder horn to contain at least one quarter of a pound of powder.” Not sure whether it follows that every directive in the statute is an instance of either organizing or regulating, but it’s suggestive (as well as perhaps helping to illuminate the mysterious-to-modern-ears constitutional phrase “well-regulated militia”). Of course, the regulating here is not the regulator generously equipping the regulated, but requiring the regulated to self-equip and specifying the details. (The statute does generously provide that even though the specified military gear is the private property of the individual citizen, purchased at his own expense, due to its public-spirited function it will be exempt from being seized to satisfy claims of the citizen’s creditors.)

  23. “…when her dad got a job (in 1923) with Harvester Combine in Chicago.”

    “On their 1924 trip, the family returned to Moscow the same year…”

    Did the entire family accompany the father in 1923? How and more importantly why, would a Russian national have gotten a job in Chicago in 1923?

    Short answer – the guy was Harvester’s rep for Russia throughout the 1920s.

    The 1923/1924 confusion just stems from the recollections of Vera’s brother, as recorded on his immigration form in 1940. The correct date of this family’s entry into the US is November 1923. In 1923, George Sandomirsky is a manager, and his destination is Harvester Combine in Chicago. Since he was traveling with a family, it’s clear that his assignment was relatively long lasting. These were the high days of Amtorg, and Ford and Harvester were at each other’s throats for access to the Soviet agricultural machinery market (the Soviet’s goal was to built double-purpose tractor/tank factories, but they soon ran out of cash and the American companies’ inability to secure government credits doomed their efforts). Harvester Combine secured the first proof-of-principal contract for International brand tractors late in 1924. George Sandomirsky represented the company, haggling for a piece of action through 1925 but being continuously squeezed out by the dominant players (Ford and the Europeans).
    Before a stint in Chicago, and before going to Moscow in 1924, George Sandomirsky was in charge of Russian sales for Harvester, out of a Brussels office (1921). That’s where the family was still residing before WWII. I assume that his appointment in Moscow didn’t last very long, because his name doesn’t appear in business directories of the time.

  24. Isaac Asimov’s family emigrated from the USSR in 1923.

    If they waited a year, American SF would have lost its greatest writer!

  25. “They didn’t finally settle the US until June 1940, arriving aboard SS Washington…”

    There seems to be considerable tergiversation on this point. Earlier, you said this. You are now saying the family arrived in 1923. How long did they stay? Yet George (and presumably family) turned around and went to Moscow in 1924? If I’m following correctly, that is NOT the official timeline in the NYT obituary?

    “But it looks like she was an American citizen, who came from Moscow in 1923 with her parents and brother at age 10, when her dad got a job with Harvester Combine in Chicago.”

    There are some date problems here. Evidently she got her US citizenship during their short stint in 1923 before returning to Moscow?

    Not to get too far fetched but I wonder if the midwestern Mr. Dunham was related to the Obama Dunhams?

  26. Which one is it? Did she and her family COME from Moscow to the US in 1923 or did they GO to Moscow from the US in 1924?

    Do we know when she got her US citizenship?

  27. Well they did come to the US in 1923 and returned to Moscow in 1924. The whole family returned, and the youngest child wss born in Moscow in 1925. Both moves were dictated by Vera’s father’s work for Harvester. Earlier on he worked at Harvesters Brussels office, and later on the family lived in Brussels, so I assume that he returned to the same job after the dealings with Moscow fell through. Vera was Czech citizen in 1940. The rest of the family naturalized in 1946 in Chicago, but I can’t find Veras citizenship application.

    I picked these history tidbits over the course of recent days, one by one, so I hope you forgive me the guesses of earlier posts which don’t always flesh out later? The guess that the family stayed in the US for a long time, enough to become citizens, was incorrect, but I never said it for a fact. It was just a working assumption.

  28. What sort of immigration status would Vera have had when first entering the US in 1923? Would George the father have had a different status given his employment situation? Is there a record of the family entry in 1923 that lists dependent children?

    “In 1923, George Sandomirsky is a manager, and his destination is Harvester Combine in Chicago. Since he was traveling with a family, it’s clear that his assignment was relatively long lasting”

    Then why the same year return to Moscow?

    “Eugenie, Vera, Alex and Zoya were Czechoslovak nationals by then, but the quota number was for Russia.”

    Good to know the Sandomirsky’s never lost their feel for international immigration parlour games.

  29. Hozo, you’re being awfully pissy about this for some reason. Did you miss X’s final paragraph? Here it is, to refresh your memory:

    I picked these history tidbits over the course of recent days, one by one, so I hope you forgive me the guesses of earlier posts which don’t always flesh out later? The guess that the family stayed in the US for a long time, enough to become citizens, was incorrect, but I never said it for a fact. It was just a working assumption.

  30. Of course, the Sandomirskys went to Chicago with 2 children in 1923 (Zoya wasn’t yet born, remember?). Their status allowed them indefinite stay. Check here and also on the following scan for the overleaf page:

    (free registration may be required; there are plenty more interesting pages but more links would put my post in LH purgatory 😉 ).

    The documents don’t quite answer the “why’s”, and generally one wouldn’t expect immigrants to go back, especially so soon. But George Sandomirsky was an international business executive who was being moved around by his corporation as the global sales opportunities required, so his wasn’t the usual immigrant’s story.

    My hunches are following: In 1922, Armand Hammer won a US government permission to ship Ford tractors to Soviet Russia (earlier on, all ag equipment sales were construed as charitable / development aid and flowed through the quasi-government ARA, but gradually, more permittees were granted concession licenses). At first nothing major transpired with Hammer and Ford, but in 1923 Hammer started moving equipment by $$ millions, and Harvester furiously sought a way into this game. The company probably needed Sandomirsky’s expertise for relevant negotiations in America. But by mid-1924, the Russians butted in and made Armand Hammer transfer the tractor deals to the newly-established AMTORG. While AMTORG was, on paper, an American corporation with the majority of its board being Americans (usually Russian Americans), everybody understood that its strings are being pulled from Moscow. I assume that this development made Harvester Combine change its strategy, and send Sandomirsky to Moscow.

  31. Some numbers on the US immigrant visa quota waiting times in the run-up to WWII (it is from the USHMM website, but positing a full link will probably quarantine my post)

    In summer 1939, the German-born applicants on the waiting list numbered 309,782. The joint post-Anschluss German/Austrian quota was 27,370 immigrants (over 11 years waiting time). For those born in Hungary, by 1939, the waiting time neared 40 years. There is no number of on the waiting list for the Russian-born applicants although we know that their quota was tiny. By 1940, the quota lines might have eased somewhat, for a no good reason. Basically, since 1933 the US required detailed paperwork documenting the immigrants’ funds at the home country as well as funds pledged by their sponsors in the US, to make absolutely sure that the immigrants will never need public assistance here. It also required valid steamboat tickets before the visa was issued. The Nazi state was controlling issuance of financial paperwork, with predictable results, and the threat of sea hostilities made the steamer lines dramatically cut European departures, putting ship tickets out of reach for many. As a result, a number of prospective refugees lost their slots in the waiting lists.
    Once the war started, the DoS instructed its consular offices to deny visa to those who might potentially be Axis spies. In June 1941, this rule was generalized to deny visas to anyone with close kin remaining on Nazi-occupied territories, and in July 1941, to anyone who resided on Nazi-occupied territories.

    Since there was an extensive Russian-born diaspora trying to escape the Nazi threat, it appears somewhat unusual both for the Nabokov family and for the Sandomirsky’s to be granted visas so quickly. If anyone comes across the US immigration waiting list numbers for Russia in around 1940, I will greatly appreciate it

    Today is Yom Hashoah and a good moment to contemplate the plight of those denied asylum

  32. Indeed, and thanks for the research.

  33. Yom Hashoah is one of the very few holidays that I take seriously. Unfortunately, I talked to my rabbi this afternoon, and there are no commemoration events tonight or tomorrow in town.

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