Letter: Secrets of a dictator’s daughter

Svetlana Alliluyeva (Obituary, 30 November) came to the BBC Russian service some time in the 1970s inquiring whether we had a job for her, possibly as a translator. She spoke excellent English. We had no vacancy at the time, but the Russian programme organiser and I (then head of the east European services) took her to lunch to discuss possible freelance contributions.

She spoke of her childhood in the Kremlin. Her maternal grandmother, who had looked after her, was sworn to secrecy, so she did not learn about her mother’s suicide until years later. But the grandmother made a deep impression on her. Once she pointed to one of the Kremlin churches and told Svetlana that before the revolution at midnight between Easter Saturday and Sunday, one bell of this church would be rung. A moment later the other Kremlin churches would take up the sound and then – like ripples in a pond – all the churches of Moscow. From there the joyous ringing “Christ has arisen” would spread “all over Holy Russia“. Svetlana said she had never heard that bell. All her childhood she had wished she could hear it just once.

I said: “Would you come on air at midnight on Easter Sunday and tell this story again?” She said: “Gladly, but on no account must you mention who I am.”

“Madam, the story would lose its entire point.” I replied. “You are just like all the other journalists,” she said. “You just want to exploit my name.”

We never got her on the air!
Peter Fraenkel

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