Damn Joseph Stalin.
Historical records, as well as public records, establish
facts. Stalin had no scruples in changing or manufacturing
public records. In doing this, he could effectively establish
This picture was of my grandfather taken in Russia
when he was probably in his 30s....
Veniamin Sverdlov, Commisar of Education
under Joseph Stalin
This picture was taken of him in the 40s or early 50s in
America when he was in his 70s.
Benny Swedlow, grandfather in 1950s
The problem is that he was officially executed in 1939
by Joseph Stalin.
Except, he lived to tell his grandchildren about his past.
I wasn't one of them, because, I wasn't born yet. I was
the midlife baby of my mom, who was a midlife baby of
her mom. My first cousins were old enough to be my
parents, so, I'm out of step for nearly a generation.
Not that I'm not old, but, I'm not that old.
In the 1950s, the Rosenbergs were executed for
passing secrets to the Israeli gov't. Joseph
McCarthy was on a crusade. Somewhere in California,
my grandfather was freaking out. If they fried the
Rosenbergs, they would burn him at the stake.
He had led a completely double, or triple life.
At one point in his youth, he had been involved
in international espionage, along with the
famous spy, Sidney Reilly. Who knows what
his involvement was, but, he was also part of the
fledgling Soviet State, from it's inception.
After emigrating to America, and becoming a
citizen, he went back to the USSR, and became
part of his brother's cabinet to assist in the
formation of the Soviet system.
He went back to America after his brother died,
and during this period, he became an American
After Stalin seized power, he was invited to come
back to the USSR, and played various roles in
the government. He was probably the only US
citizen to live a simultaneous life as a complete
Secret lives. Secret families... He married a Soviet
I always thought his well-known philanderies
were part of his double life, but, in fact, his American
children were the secret.
He was a Soviet star, through and through.
He abandoned my mom's siblings in the
aftermath of his wife's poisoning death.
Did she kill herself, as was believed ?
That's what the story was, but,
it makes you wonder if a man associated with
Stalin wouldn't poison his wife. In any event,
it was shameful to abandon six children
following the death of their mother. My mom
was just a child.
They nearly starved to death, but, he went
back to Russia to assist the government of
Stalin, being Commissar of this and that. His
titles were manifold and impressive.
Only in 1939 Stalin, his friend, decided to
have him executed, ostensibly.
His life in Russia was obviously over, so, he came
back to the USA to live out his days in anonymity.
No longer Veniamin Sverdlov, he was Benny
Swerdlow. He established contact with his
older children, and by the late 40s, he wanted
to know them, except, they didn't know if they
My two uncles knew about him, and his
family, but, it was always a big secret.
In the mid 50s, at the height of the McCarthy
purge, he fled for his life, and turned up at
his children's doorsteps, claiming to want to
get to know them. My dad turned him away,
but, my uncle took him in. He told his
grandchildren about his life, sort of....
He died in 56, this time, for real.
It was still not a cool thing in the 1960s
to speak of it. In the 80s, my uncle Julius
told me about the "curse of Rasputin",
which I still don't understand, but, it was
in relation to his family being important
in Russia. It took me decades to piece
together threads of narrative to explain
who we came from, but, the final pieces
became clear this week, when I learned
he was listed as being executed in 1939.
I had read that before, and thought it was
an error. Obviously it wasn't true, but, now
it appears that it was an official record.
Like I said, Damn Stalin. He secured the
death of the Manchurian candidate, so
to speak, and sent him back to his secret
life. Poor man must have despaired seeing
the Rosenberg's executed. If McCarthy got
a hold of him, he'd be the only man in
history, officially executed twice, and by
two separate governments.
It's quite a story. When I began this quest
to learn of his story, I just thought it would
be a revelation how a Russian revolutionary
would find a haven in American democracy.
Boy was I mistaken.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt in my
mind what happened. He couldn't have
been executed in 1939. So much for the
A spies life is something we'll never understand.
Which side Benny was on, we'll never know.
He was either double nought, or triple nought.
He was "executed" by Stalin for being "anti
communist" and probably feared being hunted
by McCarthy for being a communist.
No wonder we're cursed.