The best-selling book A Simples Life by the loveable meerkat Aleksandr Orlov may be unwittingly focussing attention on one of the great mysteries of the twentieth century.
No doubt the creators of the British television adverts for CompareTheMarket.com were looking for a typical Russian name when choosing “Aleksander Orlov.” But their choice has resulted in the spotlight being shed on another Russian of the same name.
People searching on Amazon’s website for what is one of this season’s top holiday presents are coming across at least one book by, and others about, Leiba Lazarevich Feldbin.
Feldbin wrote books and articles under the name “Alexander Orlov” after arriving in the United States in 1938. This Orlov was no loveable meerkat. He was in fact the highest ranking defector from Stalin’s secret service ever to appear in the West.
General Alexander Orlov is remembered by historians for three things – all of them mysteries in their own ways.
First of all, as representative of the Soviet dictator in Spain during the 1936-39 civil war, he was accused of being behind the kidnapping, torture and murder of Andres Nin, the leader of the dissident Marxist POUM party. Orlov always denied involvement, but new evidence emerged in recent years implicating him in the crime.
Second, Orlov wrote a 1953 book entitled “The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes” which revealed many – but not all – the secrets he brought over with him. Among those secrets he knew of, but did not reveal, was the existence of the Cambridge spy ring that included Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby. In 1993, journalists Oleg Tsarev and John Costello concluded that Orlov (who died in 1973) never fully broke from the Soviet secret police and carried with him certain state secrets to the grave.
The third and to my mind most interesting mystery was Orlov’s extraordinary revelation in 1956 in an article for Life magazine that he knew the true reason for Stalin’s mad purges of millions of loyal Communists, including the entire officer corps of the Red Army.
According to Orlov, a young NKVD officer named Stein accidentally discovered evidence in the police archives proving that Stalin, in his youth, worked as a double agent, spying on the Bolsheviks for the tsarist Okhrana. Stein passed on the evidence to his superiors who then plotted a coup to oust the dictator – but Stalin found out first and struck hard.
Orlov’s article appeared in the same issue of Life that contained the controversial “Eremin Letter” which offered documentary proof of Stalin’s role as a tsarist police agent.
Orlov’s testimony was dismissed by most experts and largely forgotten until revived by author Roman Brackman in his 2001 book, The Secret File of Joseph Stalin.
Thanks to the wonders of Amazon’s website, thousands of people looking for some light Christmas entertainment are stumbling upon some of the last century’s darkest chapters.