In 1952, Victor Grossman defected to the Soviet Union. Born Stephen Wechsler in New York City, Grossman says defecting wasn’t something he wanted to do. But he was afraid the U.S. Army would find out about his socialist and communist activities while he was a student at Harvard University. This was at a time when anti-communist sentiment ran high in the U.S.; Grossman knew he was looking at the possibility of decades of jail time.
He swam the Danube one night to turn himself in to the Soviets. Grossman changed his name to protect his family members in the U.S., and he was sent to East Germany to study journalism — an occupation he still pursues today at the age of 91. In 1994, he was pardoned and allowed to return to the U.S. to visit family. He still lives in Berlin, and he reports on the political climate in his adopted home.
Grossman is also the author of a number of books. His latest is a memoir called A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee. He says while the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) did many reprehensible things, it did a lot of good things too, like strongly opposing apartheid in South Africa.
Grossman notes that few in the GDR were left homeless, uninsured or unemployed. "These things meant a lot to me because I was raised feeling for people who were down and out, the underdog, people who were in trouble."
The 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is Saturday, Nov. 9.