Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Durr's stance on the Cold War

Durr held very strong views on the United States' role in the development of the Cold War which she illustrates through stories about Maxim and Ivy Litvinoff, who were then living and working in Moscow.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SUE THRASHER:
How much of the anti-Communism that went on then was wrapped up with the party's position in terms of the war?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Quite a lot. You see, when the Communist party switched, you see, the united front had been the line of the party for years, by that time. Ever since fascism had begun to rise. During all of the Spanish War, the united front was a great thing, a democratic force and so on. And then, when the democracies, England and France and the United States, refused to support a duly elected government in Spain, and wouldn't even send them even any materials to fight with and while Germany and Italy were supplying Franco with all the munitions and airplanes in the world, at that point, Russia said, "To hell with them." No, I think that even after that, Litvinoff tried to get some anti-Hitler coalition going.
CLIFFORD DURR:
That break didn't come until the Chamberlain deal.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Litvinoff, you see, was a great united fronter and he was married to an Englishwoman, you know, Ivy Litvinoff sister of David Low, the great cartoonist who was a . . . oh, she had all the Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights and the English Constitution built into her system. I mean, she believed it as much as anybody could. She had been a Fabian, I believe, and Litvinoff met her when he was in exile when he was in London. The way that we met her it was so funny. We had this neighbor living next door named Charles and Janie Siepman who we were very devoted to, and Janie had been a great student of Esperanto, you know, the universal language.
CLIFFORD DURR:
It wasn't Esperanto, it was a basic simplified language. . . . Basic English.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Simplified English, maybe that was it. . . .
CLIFFORD DURR:
They had about five or six hundred words and they would use them to. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Madame Litvinoff was then married to Maxim Litvinoff and living in Moscow and in addition to being the wife of the Foreign Minister, which he was at that time, she was also a great expert on Basic English. So was this friend of ours, Janie Siepman, was going to China to visit the Lattimores, who were living in China at that time, Owen Lattimore. So, she stopped by Moscow and got in contact with Madame Litvinoff and took some lessons from her in Basic English and got the books and all and she and Madame Litvinoff struck up this very warm friendship. So, when Madame Litvinoff came to Washington as the wife of the Ambassador, and he became Ambassador, Janie renewed the acquaintance and they got to be very devoted friends. So, we had a carpool then, that was during the war, wasn't it Cliff? It must have been. And the gas was all rationed, you see, so we had a carpool that went back and forth. One day, we all got together and there was this middle aged, elderly lady, it was in the summer, and she had on a pair of sandles and no stockings and a cotton sort of housedress and no bra and no girdle. It was about a hundred degrees and you know, Washington can be the hottest place in the world, like a soup kettle, just steam. So, the lady had white hair and she looked like a nice lady and spoke English and since Charles Siepman was an Englishman, we thought that she might be a friend of his. We never did get her name very well, you see. So, we were driving out to Seminary Hill and she was chatting away and then . . . what was it she said that made us. . . .
CLIFFORD DURR:
Well, there was a subdivision going on and they called it "revolutionary homes" and she said, "Well, I don't think I see anything revolutionary about that." We thought that was a very funny remark, you know, and we said, "Well, what do you know about a revolution?" And she said, "Well, I know quite a bit about revolutions." We said, "Why?" She said, "Well, I'm Maxim Litvinoff's wife." So, that did make her sort of an expert, although she hadn't been through the revolution. (laughter) But she was a really delightful woman and it is her son, you see, Pavel Litvinoff, who has been fighting for civil liberties in Russia and has now been expelled. He is over here now. This is a man who was one of the fighters with Sokanof and all those forfree speech in Russia. He is her son and he was brought up with the English Constitution and the Magna Charta in his bones. Well, he fought and fought in Russia for free speech and constitutional liberties, and then, when he lost, he was expelled and came over here. I don't know whether he is here or in England, but he is out of Russia.