The Eitingons: A Twentieth Century Story
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A family history that explores the KGB, the fur trade, Freud and the assassination of Trotsky
Leonid Eitingon was a KGB assassin who dedicated his life to the Soviet regime. He was in China in the early 1920s, in Turkey in the late 1920s, in Spain during the Civil War, and, crucially, in Mexico, helping to organize the assassination of Trotsky. “As long as I live,” Stalin said, “not a hair of his head shall be touched.” It did not work out like that.
Max Eitingon was a psychoanalyst, a colleague, friend and protégé of Freud’s. He was rich, secretive and—through his friendship with a famous Russian singer— implicated in the abduction of a white Russian general in Paris in 1937. Motty Eitingon was a New York fur dealer whose connections with the Soviet Union made him the largest trader in the world. Imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, questioned by the FBI. Was Motty everybody’s friend or everybody’s enemy?
Mary-Kay Wilmers, best known as the editor of the London Review of Books, began looking into aspects of her remarkable family twenty years ago. The result is a book of astonishing scope and thrilling originality that throws light into some of the darkest corners of the last century. At the center of the story stands the author herself—ironic, precise, searching, and stylish—wondering not only about where she is from, but about what she’s entitled to know.
Kalinin. Of Leonid Stalin had said: ‘As long as I live not a hair of his head shall be touched.’ Stalin had only just gone to bed when German bombers attacked Soviet airbases. It was 3.15 a.m. on Sunday, 22 June 1941. No one had been able to persuade him that there would be a German invasion. By four o’clock, when he was woken up, German special forces were cutting telephone lines along Russia’s western frontier. More than 1,200 Russian aircraft, most of them on the ground, were lost by the end
Shestov’s influence, 186; Soviet agent?, 29–30, 34–5, 182, 194, 259, 261–4, 374; stammer, 161, 193; war service, 44, 169–72, 174; writings, 163, 165–6; Zionism, 175–6 Eitingon, May (wife of Waldemar), 77 Eitingon, Mirra (wife of Max): actress, 166; appearance and character, 167–8, 189; death, 264; Freud’s view of, 168–9, 189, 236; health, 168, 180–1, 189; husband’s stroke, 233–4; marriage to Max, 166–7; in Palestine, 238–9, 243; in Paris, 243–4; Plevitskaya friendship, 243–4, 250, 257–8, 261,
more about Russian furs than any man in this country,’ a rival American dealer would say of him) and everything to do with the arrangements he made with the Soviet government and its agencies. When he was arrested in Moscow in 1918 it was for a reason: people knew who he was and had some idea of what he was worth. Not an exact idea or they wouldn’t have tried out two different sums, but good enough. The Eitingons were well known in the Russian fur trade; Motty in particular had been travelling
whether Mr Prelin was in some sense responsible for his – or Cabral’s – death. (And if so, why was he boasting about it?) I didn’t press the point but instead asked for the address of the Africa Institute (titular head: Anatoli Gromyko, son of the Foreign Minister who had always said ‘no’). ‘Why should I know?’ Mr Prelin replied. ‘I’m not a scholar, I’m a spy.’ CHAPTER 13 Family To the Eitingons in the former Soviet Union the possibility of relatives in the West was a far trickier subject than
that Fruma had been hiding from them all these years. Reveka squirmed. ‘I wasn’t pretty,’ she said. ‘I had nice hair and a nice complexion – that’s all.’ Motty asked after Leonid’s sisters, Sonia and Sima, and then said: ‘A vash glavny Eitingon.’ Your main man. ‘Is he still a Chekist?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Fruma answered. ‘That means he still is.’ ‘Then why ask?’ she replied. Motty took a hundred-dollar bill out of his pocket and gave it to Reveka, which embarrassed her even more. She didn’t want