Russia TodayA. Benenson, The Ottawa Citizen, February 25, 1931

Long before its adoption as the name of official Russian media Novosti's global cable television outlet, now simply "RT," Russia Today appeared at the head of a long forgotten column appearing in the Ottawa Citizen of February 25, 1931—a letter from a former Ottawan, "A. Benenson," now living in the Soviet Union and working as a manager on a kolkhoz near Krasnodar. He bemoans the plight of the Soviet Union beset by belligerent neighbors, calling out Poland in particular, and asks the rhetorical question, where is Latvia now without the Soviet Union?

As a western border region on the Black Sea, lying between Ukraine to the north and Georgia to the south, it would not have been totally unreasonable for Soviet authorities to cultivate a fear of the Polish military among Krasnodar's inhabitants, although we've not been able to find any confirmation of two new factories manufacturing poison gas. It is not without irony that we observe that it was only another decade before Poland was once again partitioned between the great powers to its east and west; no amount of arms production could have saved Poland in a war on two fronts.

Latvia, it seems, was already a target long before Russia initiated its ritualistic floggings in defense of the Soviet legacy following the eventual collapse of the USSR. Unfortunately, Benenson's account ignores the origin of Latvia's turn to agriculture by necessity, abandoning its pre-war industrial base. That was the evacuation, sabotage, and war-time destruction of all of Latvia's industrial capacity by both tsarist Russia and then the Bolsheviks as they retreated for the last time during Latvia's Brīvības Cīņas, its war of independence.

We are the beneficiaries or victims of the choices we make. The early years of the Soviet Union garnered an air of excitement and romance for the great social experiment—recall the American journalist Jack Reed and those who went to participate—we have no doubt of A. Benenson's aspirations for the future. Nor is Бененсон an uncommon Russian (Jewish) surname; he may well have returned to his heritage and familial roots per his interest in the possibility of an autonomous Jewish republic within the Soviet Union. The coming war, instigated by Hitler's and Stalin's partnership, did not spare the Benenson family. We found this stoic—and wrenching—account fourteen years later in The Ottawa Evening Citizen of October 6, 1945:

Diary of Our Own Pepys

Monday, October 1

A FOUL MORNING and so to the office and a letter there from Moscow, from A. Benenson, that I knew well 25 years ago in Ottawa, who writes to me a sad story bravely and uncomplainingly, of how he escaped the Germans at Krasnodar but had to leave his family behind, and how his sister lived through the siege of Leningrad, and how at last his family were united in Moscow, only to hear of the death of Willy:

"Our sorrow came late in March this year. We were, in a way, like ancient Job of old. We went through a lot, but our lives were spared. Then we lost our oldest boy, Willy, at the front. He was only 19, and had been drafted into the army at 16, but a very brave chap. Had he lived he would probably have been named a Hero of the Soviet Union. He was rewarded thrice, was thrice wounded, and had a most spectacular record."

He has lost all his belongings, including extra clothes, and says, "You in Canada have perhaps not felt the times as we have," a masterpiece of understatement, I mused. . . .

E.W.H.

We honor the suffering and heroism of those whose only act was to face the Nazi onslaught with bravery and unswerving determination. Still, if we take Hitler at his word, Stalin's preemptive ultimata and invasions from Finland in the north to Romania in the south were tipping points in his decision to invade the USSR.[1] We cannot dismiss the possibility that Operation Barbarossa was, at least in part, a fruit of Stalin's own sowing.

We return to 1931, when it appeared to some that a besieged and maligned Soviet Union was the only country truly interested in peace.[2]


[1]The German press release of June 22, 1941, the day Operation Barbarossa was launched, commenced as follows (our emphasis): "This morning the Führer, through Reich Minister Dr. Goebbels, issued a proclamation to the German people in which he explains that after months-long silence he can finally speak openly to the German people about the dangerous machinations of the Jewish-Bolshevik rulers in Soviet Russia. After the German-Russian Friendship Treaty in the Autumn of 1939, he hoped for an easing of tensions with Russia. This hope, however, was crushed by Soviet Russia's extortionist demands against both Finland and the Baltic states as well as against Romania." The USSR invaded Finland on November 30, 1939 after it refused to sign a Pact of Mutual Assistance; and invaded the Baltics—despite their having capitulated and signed such Pacts under direct threat of invasion—on June 14, 1940 while the world was focused on the fall of Paris to the Germans that same day. Lastly, the Soviets issued an ultimatum to Romania and occupied Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina on June 28, 1940 and in the days following. Regardless of the partition of Poland at the start of the war, indications are that the Germans may well have viewed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's "spheres of influence" in the buffer states lying between them exactly as stated and not as direct invasion and occupation, other than the partition of Poland which commenced WWII.
[2]viz., for example, the similarity to subsequent Soviet allegations at The Treaties of Non-Aggression and Neutrality Between the U.S.S.R. and the Baltic States.
...Timeline...Latvia — Lettish LifeLatvia—Lettish Life in Legendary & Modern Times, Florence Farmborough. ca. 1920. Farmborough's vivid and copiously illustrated account of the newly independent Latvia: the challenges of recovering from the devastation of war, an intimate look into daily life, and hope expressed for the future. From J. A. Hammerton's encyclopedia, Peoples of All Nations: Their Life Today and Story of Their Past. Devastated Latvia, 1921Latvijas Izpostīto Apgabalu Kongresa Padomes izdevums uzņemts u. izdots 1921 g. (Devastated Latvia, 1921.) Photo album issued by the Latvia's Devastated Regions Congress Council in 1921 documenting the destruction left in the wake of WWI and Latvia's War of Independence. Jānis Čakste In MemoriumJānis Čakste Memorial Album, 1927.Photo album dedicated to Latvia's first President upon his death in office. The Four New Baltic States"Estonia", "Finland", "Lithuania", "Latvia." The New Human Interest Library. Vol. V. Midland Press, Chicago. 1928. Articles about the four new Baltic states, a decade after independence. Illustrations and photographs. Latvian Butter ExportsLettische Butter, National Butter Export Control of Latvia, 1929. Between the wars, Germany grew to become the largest customer for Latvia's prized butter exports. By 1928, the year prior to publication, Latvia was the 10th largest butter exporter in the world with 85% of its butter export going to Germany. Benenson's "Russia Today"Russia Today The Ottawa Citizen, 1931. Canadian émigré A. Benenson expresses alarm over Polish armaments and sorrow over Latvia's post-WWI de-industrialization in a letter to the editior from his new homeland. Freedom MonumentBrīvības Piemineklis (Freedom Monument), Jānis Siliņš. Brīvības Pieminekļa Komiteja, 1935. Art critic Jānis Siliņš' detailed discussion of the Freedom Monument, published by the Freedom Monument Committee. Stalin–Howard InterviewThe Stalin—Howard Interview. Friends of the Soviet Union, 1936. Roy W. Howard's interview of Joseph Stalin, March 1st, 1936, originally carried in U.S. and Soviet news media and subsequently published by the Friends of the Soviet Union under the provocative title J. Stalin—Is War Inevitable?. Reading between the lines and redaction by the Chief Censor of the Soviet Union, Stalin admits to not achieving Communism and resorts to memory lapses and protestations of absurdity when confronted with the USSR's failure to comply with its commitment to respect the U.S. First Arts & Crafts ExhibitionPirmās Latvijas Daiļamatniecības Izstādes Katalogs [The First Latvian Arts and Crafts Exhibition Catalog]. Valstspapīru Spiestuve, Riga. 1937.Essays on the exhibition and on aspects of traditional arts and crafts. In Latvian. B&W and color plates of exhibit objects. Latvia For TouristsLettland für Reisende, Latvian government tourist brochure, ca. 1937. Latvia sought to regain its pre-WWI stature as a tourist destination—its Gauja river valley having been known as the "Livonian Switzerland." The brochure features sights, activities, a brief history of Latvia, and information for German tourists. An ABC of Latvian OrnamentsLatvju Rakstu Ābecīte [An ABC of Latvian Ornaments]. Latviešu Bērnu Draudzības Savienība. 1939.A child's primer on the basics of Latvian ornaments and examples of how more complex forms are then constructed. In Latvian. Facsimile.
"Russia Today" appeared in The Ottawa Citizen edition of February 25, 1931. This is one of a number of such letters published in the The Ottawa Citizen with Benenson's bylines from across the Soviet Union. The dates of his letters to the editor indicate the Benenson family emigrated to the U.S.S.R. some time after 1928.

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