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The Refuseniks

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For Saturday Evening Post subscribers only, here is an excerpt from Dr. Douglas Zipes’ “The Refuseniks,” the true story of his clandestine meeting in 1982 with blacklisted scientists in the Soviet Union … and the unwanted attention it garnered from the KGB.

When I opened the door, I gasped.

The room had been trashed!

Drawers were pulled out and my clothes scattered about, pockets turned inside out. The mattress lay askew on the bedframe.

I was stunned. I sat down hard on the bed, my head in my hands.

I opened my briefcase and took out the camera. That was why. Someone obviously thought I had come back to the room after leaving Naum and was looking for the film.

What had I gotten myself into? It had all seemed like an exciting adventure — a bit scary to be sure, but still just an adventure. I didn’t think I’d come to any harm, though that was always a possibility — remote, but still a possibility. I was a U.S. citizen. They didn’t imprison U.S. citizens, did they? Of course they did.

I tried to calm down, but my hands shook and I was sweating. I had to get myself together for my lecture in the morning. Fortunately, I would be using the same slides I showed the refuseniks, so that much was done. But I needed some sleep. I took off my jacket and felt a bulge. The messages from all the refuseniks, with phone numbers and names of relatives! What was I going to do with them?

I made sure the door was locked and propped a chair against the doorknob. I undressed and got into bed. I put the film from my camera into the breast pocket of my pajama top. Finally, after much tossing and turning and two sleeping pills, I fell asleep.

The ring of the phone woke me. It seemed like I had just fallen asleep. I looked at the clock on the night table: 4:30 a.m. Who the hell could be calling?

I picked up the receiver and heard … nothing!

Nothing except heavy breathing on the other end — in and out, in and out, like someone straining to catch his breath, a sucked in innhhhhah and a drawn out agghhhah. Over and over.

“Hello? Hello.” No answer, just the deep, labored breaths.

I hung up. Now I was in a total state of panic. Obviously, someone was trying to frighten me — and they had succeeded. I was terrified.

I tried to think straight. What should I do? Call my wife? What good would that do? “Hello, Joan. The KGB just ransacked my room and woke me up early to frighten me. Can you help?” Not likely.

Call Chazov? No, I’d have to tell him where I’d been, what I’d done.

Call the police? Ha, I thought. They were the police — the instrument of supreme power. They imprisoned people. They tortured people. They killed them or had them killed. And here I was meeting with refuseniks — and not just any refuseniks. One who had just been released from Siberian exile and was warned not to meet with foreigners. Another who was under constant surveillance.

Oh, and don’t forget trying to smuggle a letter out to the West. I must have been out of my mind. What could I have been thinking? And what if I were caught with all the notes?

What in God’s name should I do? I had no coherent thought, just mental chaos.


This is an excerpt of the article featured in the November/December 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.


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