Moscow 1963

In the summer of 1963, my father was one of six lay delegates from the American Lutheran Church to the Fourth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Helsinki, Finland. A Google search reveals that the assembly lasted from July 30 through August 11, but my parents were gone pretty much all summer. My older brother and I spent the summer in Annapolis, Maryland, with our uncle the spy and his family. (He was actually an intelligence analyst, but we called him a spy.)

Sometime during the summer, my parents were part of a group from the Assembly that took a side trip to Moscow for several days. This was the height of the Cold War, less than a year after the Cuban missile crisis, and it was rare for Americans to visit the USSR. The slides that my parents took have been gathering dust for decades now, but I recently dug them out and thought that some of the images might be of interest to our readers. The color in some cases isn’t great; no doubt a better photo editor could improve them. Still, after nearly 50 years they don’t look too bad.

This was the group from the Assembly that participated in the tour. Their guide Rima–whom my parents described as the only attractive woman they saw in Moscow–is second from the left. My mother is in the front, wearing white sunglasses, which I guess must have been fashionable then. Moscow University is in the background. Click to enlarge:

Communist banners were common. This one shows Marx, Engels and Lenin and I think is an exhortation to strive for the victory of Communism:

At this time, Moscow’s great monuments didn’t look too bad. Here, for example, is the Bolshoi Ballet:

But my parents and their companions were strictly limited in what they could photograph. One member of their group had his camera seized by a policeman who thought he had photographed something that would not reflect well on the workers’ paradise. This is the Pushkin Museum:

The group spent quite a bit of time in the Kremlin. Here it is, from across the street:

This line of people is waiting to see Lenin’s tomb. Lenin’s body was on display in the Kremlin for many years (if it really was his body). My parents, not surprisingly, found it creepy:

I believe this picture shows the same line from a different perspective, with St. Basil’s Cathedral on the right:

This is another church in the Kremlin, which, my mother noted, contained Christian art:

This is Stalin’s tomb, located outside the Kremlin walls:

The atmosphere in Russia at that time (as for a long time both before and after) was oppressive. Foreigners were viewed with deep suspicion. The hotel where my parents’ group stayed was a relatively good one, but was a dump by Western standards. A woman sat in a chair at the end of each corridor as a sort of hall monitor, keeping an eye on the guests. Whenever they returned to their room after a day of touring, it was evident that someone had entered the room and searched their belongings.

My parents were struck by the large number of women who were working in manual occupations, like the woman on this street crew:

This was due, no doubt, to the extraordinary rates of mortality to which Russian men were subjected over more than a generation, beginning with World War I and continuing through the Civil War, the purges and World War II. As you can imagine, my mother did not view the opportunity to do heavy labor favorably, as a sort of proto-feminism.

What my parents most enjoyed about their visit to the U.S.S.R. was the Moscow Circus, but for some reason I can’t locate any photos of it. While the visit was extraordinarily interesting to them and their companions, the atmosphere in Russia was palpably oppressive and somewhat threatening, to the extent that when their airplane taxied down the runway and took off to return to Western Europe, the passengers all began to applaud, spontaneously.

This last one is just a bonus. When they returned to the U.S., my parents spent a few days with us in Annapolis. I believe it was at that time that my uncle got word that President Kennedy was about to give a speech at the Naval Academy. Apparently this became public only on short notice, so we jumped into my uncle’s car and drove a short distance to the Academy. We were fortunate enough to see Kennedy’s helicopter land on the Academy grounds; he got out and walked into the building where he was to speak. It was the only time I saw Kennedy. Lee Oswald assassinated him just three months later. This picture of my parents, my older brother and me was taken at around the same time on the Mall, with the Washington Monument in the background. I am the geeky one in the red shirt; as you can see, my brother was much cooler:


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