Actions and Reactions

Copyright © 2007 Daniel V. Klein

I don't know how to preface this – it was a letter I wrote to my Mother, and it explains itself. Well, perhaps it explains itself to a descendant of European Jewish emigrees... When you need to emigrate, you need a sponsor in the country to which you are emigrating (you can usually only apply for asylum when you are already there – to get there you need a sponsor). Without a sponsor, you stay where you are, and in times of trouble, that can literally mean death.

Some of the names in the letter have been changed.

Monday, 28 May 2007


So, did you know that your son is counted amongst the righteous?

I just had the most unusual dinner. I am in Melboure right now, and will be visiting my friends Alexander and Katya Lebedev tomorrow. I met them in Moscow in 1990, and have been in touch with them ever since. I had dinner with their daughter Natalya on Friday night, and Natalya called me yesterday with the number of Viktor Pripletchkov and his wife Taube, who wanted to meet me. So Viktor picked me up at Geoff's apartment, and I met with them tonight.

It seems that in 1992 or 1993, I wrote a letter (at the request of Alexander) that offered to sponsor Viktor and his wife. I suppose I must have known the financial committment I was offering, when none of Viktor's friends, family, or business associates were willing. I was offering to sponsor them, the same as Uncle Alfred sponsored you, or as Uncle Sam sponsored Grandpa. But for me, it was just a letter. And I had to confess to them that honestly, I didn't even remember writing it. But I know that I must have, and at some level, I think I do vaguely remember it. And Alexander said that I did, so it must be true (and I know that I had offered to write a similar letter for him, and perhaps even did).

But I didn't remember what I wrote for Viktor and Taube. I searched my archives, and couldn't find it.

They came from Soviet Georgia. In 1992, after the failed coup in Moscow, things were pretty dicey. "Guests were welcome during the day, but at night they need to go home". That's what the President of Georgia said. And people were asking them when they were going to go home, and where their home was. They were born in Georgia, their children had been born in Georgia. Georgia was the only home they knew. And they also knew that they had to get out – they feared for their very lives..

And so here they were, inviting me into their very nice home in Melbourne, esentially thanking me for their lives. They told me that I had no idea how much it had meant to them, how profound it was. And I couldn't remember saving them.

Perhaps it was better that way, but I felt embarrassed, and robbed of my words. I also suppose that is what a mensch is and does – you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. You don't do it for the thanks or for the credit. But to not even remember? Ripples in a pond. The butterfly effect. Me?

He is now the Dean at University, she is a tenured professor, their children are Australian with Georgian roots. They are free of their past. And here I was, their liberator. Their SPONSOR. And I didn't even remember.

So I had to tell them that. But I also said that they were welcome, and that I was glad, and that I'd do it again, for the same reasons. You do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.