The Sakharovs in Gorky

Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner
Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner; drawing by David Levine

Note: Natalya Viktorovna Hesse, an old and trusted friend of Nobel prize winner Andrei Sakharov and his family, arrived in Vienna from the Soviet Union on February 5, 1984. Hesse, who is now seventy, has known Elena Georgievna Bonner, Sakharov’s wife, for more than thirty years and Sakharov himself since 1970. This friendship, as well as her own views, was not approved of by the Soviet regime. Of her decision to emigrate to the United States to join her son and his family Hesse said:

The pressure against me was intensified. My apartment was searched, I was interrogated, I was called to the KGB many times for all kinds of talks…. But this was not the reason for my leaving the country. I was never afraid of them [the Soviet authorities], and I would have been able to resist them further…. But there was a change in my personal circumstances, and I decided to leave. And the KGB provided all kinds of “assistance.”

The purpose of this “assistance” is quite clear. According to Hesse, the KGB is determined to isolate the Sakharovs completely and to deprive them of any help from their friends.

Before her departure from the Soviet Union, Natalya Hesse met privately with Sakharov in Gorky and visited Elena Bonner in Moscow. She has brought alarming news of the deterioration of Sakharov’s health and of a new heart seizure suffered in January by Elena Bonner, who had still not completely recovered from the previous one. Upon her arrival in Vienna, Hesse was interviewed by Vladimir Tolz, a former dissident who is now a research analyst for Radio Liberty in Munich. The following is a translation of parts of the interview, which was recorded in Russian by Radio Liberty.

TOLZ: Please tell us about your meeting with Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov.

HESSE: This was our seventh meeting over the past few years since his forced exile to Gorky. In this case, as also in the case of the six other meetings (I will talk about the first one separately), the meeting took place on the street, at a prearranged place and a prearranged hour. We didn’t have much time. I already knew that I would be going away and I came to say goodbye to him. He has aged much, he is full of worries concerning the health of his wife, Elena Georgievna…. But he is not broken, he is not bending; he is full of worry and he is physically weak, but he is strong in spirit as always….

Between incoherent and hurried exchanges—because we had only a few hours at our disposal—between trivia and important topics—which we touched upon sometimes in more detail, sometimes with laughter or with sorrow—between questions about the life of our dear ones—who has been arrested, whose homes have been searched—we recalled Orwell, and I think this was…

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