It was fifty-one years ago this week that Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, took a taxi from the Embassy of the USSR in New Delhi, India to the U.S. Embassy and told the Marine guard on duty that she wished for asylum in the United States. Her visit to India was over and she was to return to the Soviet Union the next day. Instead, she made the decision to defect.
In 1967, during the height of the Viet Nam war, the U.S. was worried about Communism and the “domino effect.” Svetlana’s request was fraught with complications for those who might assist her in fulfilling her plan. Relations with the USSR were delicate. My father, U.S. Consul to India, was one of those who assisted her, in addition to a CIA operative who was fluent in Russian. That skill was not needed, as Svetlana spoke excellent English.
The night Svetlana was hurried to the airport and flown to Rome remained one of the most climactic of my father’s career. First, there were cables to the State Department, then a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador who was ill in bed, then finally a decision to believe she was who she said she was—and, most importantly, to help her get out of India and eventually to the United States.
Svetlana lay on the floor in the back seat of my father’s station wagon as he drove her to the airport through the streets of New Delhi, past the Embassy of the USSR. Her ticket was purchased with no problem but mechanical issues delayed the flight. My father and various CIA operatives spread out in the waiting room, eyeing the gate entrance anxiously whenever someone new entered. Surely the Russian Embassy would detect Svetlana’s absence at any time.
My father arrived home at 4:00 a.m. from this adventure, and told my waiting mother all about it. Svetlana landed safely in Rome and then was flown to Switzerland along with her CIA companion, who became a lifelong friend.
From Switzerland, while she waited to enter the U.S., Svetlana sent my father her cardboard baggage ticket with a handwritten note. “With the best wishes to Mr. George O. Huey. Very much grateful. Svetlana Alliluyeva. (18th April 1967 Switzerland).”
That month she was cleared to enter the United States. Her life was complicated and not easy. If you want to know more, read Stalin’s Daughter,”by Rosemary Sullivan. Svetlana had surprising ties to Wisconsin during the rest of her life and actually died in Richland Center, WI in 2011.
As I remember that exciting evening, I wish I could tell my Dad how I admired his career with the State Department. I wonder what he would think of the low morale in the State Department today. I would ask him if it could really be possible that Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, may have nixed the choice of Mitt Romney as Secretary of State and approved businessman Rex Tillerson? Svetlana spoke out against Putin in the 2000s, saying he was KGB and a tiger doesn’t change his stripes.
I would like to thank my father for the stimulating life my three sisters and I experienced as we grew up. We loved to say that we each graduated from high school in a different country.
How about you? Does March trigger any special memories?