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Bit by bit, more on the lives of Soviet spies in L.A.

December 30, 2009 |  7:19 pm


Three months after The Times ran a brief news obituary on a former Soviet spy who worked undercover with her husband in L.A. in the 1930s and '40s, we learn more about the stories of Yelizaveta and Mikhail Mukasey, otherwise known as Elza and Zefir.

Megan K. Stack, The Times' Moscow bureau chief, spins a yarn about how modern-day Russians are learning the fascinating details of the lives of these and other Soviet spies now that authorities are releasing more information about their work. She centers her story on Anatoly Mukasey, the son of the L.A. couple.

"I don't know much about their work, and most likely I will never know," Anatoly Mukasey said, sipping tea in a crammed Starbucks near his Moscow flat. He paused. "I don't think I'd like to know all of it."

During the long years of their parents' undercover operation after they left Los Angeles in 1943, he and his sister Ella grew up without them in Moscow. They were told nothing of their parents' whereabouts, only that they were abroad, and very busy. Meanwhile, the children lived under the care and tutelage of the Soviet system.


Like good Soviet children, he and his sister sensed that it was better not to ask too many questions.

"We began to understand because we received typewritten letters from Mom and Dad, and every year or three, a parcel would arrive in which our parents would send us some gifts," Mukasey said. "And we understood that these were foreign things, and that they can't write a letter in their own hand, and that this is part of the work. The work is dangerous."

It's a marvelous story worth reading to the end. And in case you are wondering, the different spellings can be attributed to different transliterations from Russian to English. I'm told by our excellent copy editing staff that the spellings in Stack's story are The Times' preferred usages.

Also, you can see more photos here.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey with their children Ella and Anatoly in front of their home in Los Angeles in the early 1940s. Credit: Mukasey's family archive.