Sophie's Horror Story

(Your money and your property are not safe)

          Some years ago, after a family get-together, I was asked to drive a very elderly woman home. Her name was Sophie, and she had lived through the Russian Revolution. She was a teenager at that time, and she remembered the Revolution well. I asked her to tell me about it. The story she told was one I shall never forget.

          She had been born into a wealthy Jewish family from Odessa, a very cosmopolitan city on the shores of the Black Sea. Prior to the Revolution, Jews in Russia were subject to degrading anti-semitic laws. One such law required a passport for travel -- within the country as well as without. In general, passport requests were not granted. On the other hand, if you were a rich Jew, then you could get the passport. Even then, it would only be granted if you were going to transact some sort of business which was of value to the Czar and his circle of friends.

          Sophie's father had a passport, and he was permitted to travel to Moscow on business even though he was Jewish. I'm telling you this so that you will understand that he was a member of a privileged class. Furthermore, he owned a 5-story residential building in Odessa, and the family occupied the entire top floor. In other words, they were very well-off.

          In the 1890's, members of Sophie's family traveled to New York to check on rumors that life was better there. When they returned, they strongly discouraged moving. Odessa, it seems, was a better place to live than New York! Two items Sophie specifically brought to my attention were lighting and cleanliness. Odessa, at the turn of the century, had electric lights, while New York still had gas lighting. So much for America being the leader in technology! Also, the streets of New York were apparently filthy compared with the carefully swept streets of Odessa. "Odessa is a much better place to live", the returning relatives reported!

          So the family decided against relocating. They were rich, and they lived in the finest city a family could live in. Their lives were marred only by the anti-semitic laws, but, after all, anti-semitism was everywhere in the world. Besides, they were of privileged station, and they were not seriously inconvenienced by those laws.

          "Surely", I said to Sophie, "you must have been aware that a revolution was brewing"? To my astonishment, she said that they weren't! "Oh sure", she said, "we heard that there were some labor union strikes, and a few street demonstrations in Moscow, but we had no idea that there was going to be a revolution"!

          So, you can indeed have a revolution and not know about it in advance. In this case, as it turned out, the revolution of 1917 was initially a good thing for the family. The moderate Kerensky regime liberalized life in Russia, including, among other things, the revoking of all anti-semitic laws. Now the family could travel anywhere, and the children could go to any school. And, they were still rich!

          Unfortunately, Kerensky lasted only a few months. Then, in October 1917, Lenin took over. Didn't Sophie's family know about that? "No", she answered matter-of-factly. "The first we knew about it was after it was already over".

          And what effect did the Communist revolution have on Sophie's life? The first big effect was in the area of banking, and anyone who thinks that America's banking system is protected by God Himself ought to pay strict attention: Sophie's parents went down to the bank one day, and their passbooks were handed back to them with a stamp which read "ACCOUNT CLOSED". Just like that! No discussion, no explanation, and no one to complain to. The account was closed, and there was all there was to it. Obviously, the money was unaccounted for, and no questions could either be asked or answered.

          If you weren't "satisfied" with the teller's "explanation" (or lack thereof), you could fill out some sort of an inquiry form. Anyone who did so is still waiting for a reply, 80 years later.

          The next surprise was about equally uplifting. Shortly thereafter, members of the army came to their apartment. They were there to inform Sophie's parents that they no longer owned the building! They would, by Lenin's "magnanimity", be permitted to remain living within it. HOWEVER, they would have to move out of the penthouse. The entire family was going to be "given" one room.

          So, in the space of a few days, they lost all their money and property, and were forcefully relocated from a spacious penthouse floor to a single room -- in the basement!

          The family had some jewelry hidden away. They sewed it into their clothing, and escaped from Russia. That's a whole story in itself, but we don't have time to tell it here.

          The purpose of this story is not to dramatize Sophie's losses. It is to dramatize the fact that she was a member of the upper and privileged class, and that in spite of their social station, the family was totally unaware of what was about to happen. There were no announcements, no warnings, and no "handwriting on the wall" to prepare anyone for the devastating personal losses they were about to sustain.

          If it makes you comfortable to say to yourself "that's Russia; it can't happen here", then go ahead and say so. You've been warned.