He’s Back in the West After 58 Years : At Last, U.S.-Born Jew Leaves Moscow
Abe Stolar, a U.S.-born Jew who spent 58 years in the Soviet Union, finally returned to the West on Monday, waving an “I Love Chicago” button and declaring, “It’s really wonderful to be here.
“Now I feel safe!” exulted Stolar after he landed at the Vienna airport with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. They plan to settle in Israel.
The Chicago native, who was taken to the Soviet Union in 1931 by his Communist parents, had tried to leave in 1975, but he was stopped at the last minute as he prepared to board a plane for the West.
That began a 14-year battle to emigrate to Israel. It took at least two superpower summits and lobbying by Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and other congressmen and diplomats to free the Stolar family.
Everything about Monday’s departure was “much simpler and easier” than in 1975, Stolar said, “but I didn’t believe it until we came off the plane.”
“Even in the plane, I still felt paranoiac, I still felt we weren’t safe,” said the 77-year-old.
Fled the Depression
“Just walking into this airport, there’s something so comforting about it, so beautiful . . . so un-Soviet,” said Stolar.
Stolar’s parents, who were Russian emigres, fled the Depression and arrived in a Soviet Union where Josef Stalin was just starting the wave of mass collectivization and purges that swallowed millions of lives in the next two decades.
Stolar’s father perished in the purges. Stolar remained in Moscow, working for 20 years until his retirement in the mid-1970s as an English-language translator at Radio Moscow.
But he was disenchanted with life in the Soviet Union and decided to join the growing wave of Soviet Jews emigrating to Israel.
In 1975, Stolar, his wife, Zita, and son, Michael, then a teen-ager, got almost to the plane at Sheremetyevo Airport when officials pulled them back, saying his wife was privy to state secrets and could not leave for at least another two years.
In some ways, the Stolars were better off than other refuseniks--those denied permission to leave the Soviet Union. Stolar had a U.S. passport, as did his son. In 1977, Israel granted a passport to Stolar’s wife.
Although they were foreigners, they couldn’t leave. And since they had given up Soviet citizenship--a Soviet requirement for emigration to Israel--they found themselves in a bureaucratic limbo.
They had given up their apartment and couldn’t officially register to live in another. When Michael married in 1983, he couldn’t go through with official ceremonies because he wasn’t registered to live in Moscow.
In 1985, then-President Ronald Reagan held his first meeting with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Geneva, and the Stolars were high on the list Reagan handed Gorbachev of emigration cases he wanted solved.
The Soviets granted the wish but refused to let Michael’s wife and their newborn daughter go.
Not a Refusenik
Stolar said he thinks the case was finally resolved through the summit meeting Gorbachev and Reagan held in Moscow last spring, although it took several more months to pry loose exit visas.
Stolar said earlier Monday in Moscow that he did not consider himself a refusenik because he has always been a U.S. citizen. “I was an American, pure and simple, and so I considered myself a hostage. . . .”
The family was subdued and tired after the 2 1/2-hour flight from Moscow.
“At last I got free, that’s all I feel,” said Zita Stolar.
“It did feel great to get off the plane,” Stolar added. “Just walking into this building, you could feel right away that it wasn’t Russia. The stones are different, the floors are laid different.”