She asked that I not reveal her identity because she works for a TV station and is well known in Russia and elsewhere. She’s been reading about my search for Bolislav Vainman on SomethingBurning — how it began when I sent him some money, how my mom weighed in, how Greg Clayman joined the search, and more.
Last night, this Russian TV anchor sent me a note, joining the search. She’s already begun to research what happened to my “Russian twin,” Bolislav, and thousands of other Russian teenagers who, two decades ago, my friends and I sent shitloads of money to. Did they make it out of Russia alive? Where are they now? Was this all a big ponzi scheme?
From her email to me:
I don’t know if this will help in your search, but I just spoke to a woman familiar with all this stuff.
She thinks it wasn’t the government who took your money, but a Russian immigrant who came to the US in the 1970s.
It had to be someone who was familiar with the concept of a charitable organization here in the US and someone who also knew that American Jews were so sympathetic to all this that they would give money for it.
Here’s how it worked: Around 1986, people who still had a way to travel to the Soviet Union but were living in the US could come back for some economic opportunity in the Soviet Union…so some guy could have figured all this out in the U.S. and then went to Russia to make this all happen for himself and steal American boys’ money.
In the Soviet Union, charitable organizations were not trackable. In fact, any documents from the Sov. Union are pretty illegitimate…if they even exist anymore at all, so it would be very difficult to find any traces of such an ‘orgnization’ there.
And a person living in the Soviet Union would not just come up with this…it was someone who had to know the situation here as well and the pressure for American Jews to help and to act on this cause (Frank Lautenberg did a lot for this cause in the Senate…pretty much pushing through legislation that allowed Russian Jews to come here).
No one in Russia was giving anyone money or transferring it for that matter, so it all had to have happened from here.
Another thing to consider is that there was no way to transfer money over there, especially in 1987 when you sent it.
In fact, there was no concept of donation in the Soviet Union.
As far as the government stealing it….it’s not likely because when people stole money there, they stole big. Billions of dollars, mostly from oil…they didn’t care about bar mitzvah money…even Ross Martin’s money 🙂
There were two main organizations helping Jews at the time get out of Russia or live abroad (Italy, Austria, etc.) while they waited to come to the U.S. or Israel: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society).
It would be helpful for you to call JDC and HIAS to see if you could track him down that way. There may be a little old lady who’s been working there for like thirty years and could remember something or someone like Bolislav Vainman, if he exists at all.
I will send you some questions to answer so that I can try to track down more information. Don’t give up! And please don’t tell anyone my name!