De Toledano,









M. Wesley




INT: Fine. Well, I was going to ask you to simply go on and tell me. It's quite nice that as a figure he can actually cross the divide of the Cold War at that point and turn up in Moscow. It would be nice if you could tell me a little bit about the success of that concert, how great... how he used that position as being able to cross the divide as it were and the story about Yitzhak Pfeffer, that would be great. If you could tell me a little bit about Moscow.

PR: The interesting thing about dad's trip to the Soviet Union is that he was immensely popular with the Soviet people, one of the most popular artists, Russian or otherwise ever to appear in the Soviet Union. And in a way, he was a cultural bridge between the two countries. So, in any case, he accepted the invitation, he went to Moscow, but when he arrived, he noticed some disturbing things. There was a strange atmosphere, almost like the purge years of 1936, '37, when he had been in the Soviet Union then, but most of all, there were headlines about Zionists and cosmopolitans being subversive elements in the Soviet Union, selling out Soviet interests to the West, etcetera, etcetera and he understood that those terms were metaphors for Jews and that there was a kind of an underground anti-Semitic campaign going on and he figured out that it had been launched by Stalin himself, it couldn't have come from any other source. So, he began asking to see his Jewish friends. Well, so and so's on vacation, and unfortunately a very good friend of his, a great playwright named Solomon Mikhoils had died and they said, well he died of a heart attack and so on and when dad asked around, people just sort of clammed up. So he suspected it might not have been a heart attack. In any case, he demanded to see a very dear friend of his, who he had met over here during the War, in the United States, by the name of Yitzhak Pfeffer, a famous Jewish poet, Jewish-Soviet poet. And they said, well Pfeffer's on vacation somewhere in Leningrad and this and that, so dad went on his tour of the Soviet Union, went to Stalingrad, did all the things that they asked him to do and then a couple of days before he was to leave, he sat down and he said, well, I want to see Yitzhak Pfeffer and he was absolutely adamant and when dad got that way quietly, no fuss, no muss, there's no denying him. So they said, all right, he'll come see you tomorrow. And sure enough, Pfeffer showed up at the hotel, knocked on the door and as dad greeted him, he made sign motions, indicating that the suite was bugged and they carried on two conversations, one normal for the listeners in Russian, my dad spoke Russian fluently, and another with sign language and brief little notes that they wrote back and forth. Brief halt, segue, it turns out that Pfeffer had disappeared, nobody knew where he was. He had been arrested, he was sitting in the Lubyanka Prison at the time. They gathered him up, sent him home, dressed him up, gave him a meal and turned him loose in the lobby of the hotel, he couldn't run anywhere, go up and reassure Paul Robeson that everything's OK. So that was the background. So, Pfeffer managed to convey to dad that, you know, he was in jail and then dad asked him, well about Mikhoils, note Mikhoils question mark, and Pfeffer answered, murdered on Stalin's order. And it's true that Stalin had ordered the assassination of Mikhoils in a truck accident. And then they discussed, you know, how's your career, fine, I'm writing my memoirs and so on and so forth, but dad asked him, well what's going to happen to you and some of his friends who had also disappeared, others. So Pfeffer told a funny joke as he drew his finger cross his throat, meaning that they're going to shoot us. So when the parted, finally, a very emotional parting, because they probably wouldn't see each other again, dad was left with, what do you do? You're hardly going to stand on a street corner and make a lot of noise, that's foolish. If you did make a public fuss, they'd probably shoot him immediately. So he tore up the little notes and burned 'em in an ash tray, flushed them down the toilet and the next day was his last concert, which turned out to be a legendary one, because it was broadcast live to the whole nation. It was given in Tchaikovsky Hall, which is the equivalent of Carnegie Hall in New York. And he sang the concert, got to the last song, 'Ol' MaRiver' and then he s

INT: It's a very moving story.