A daring war correspondent in his youth, Churchill persuaded Stalin that an Anglo-American press corps filing stirring reports from the eastern front would convince the British people to send much-needed tanks and aircraft to support the Red Army.
With his forces retreating every day and his regime under threat, Stalin could not say no.
In Stalin’s Russia Soviet citizens were not allowed to associate with foreigners but in wartime the Metropol was a unique island of fraternisation where the journalists and their translators lived, ate and often slept together.
A prominent British communist, she persuaded the Daily Sketch to send her to Moscow to cover the heroic exploits of the Red Army and persuade British readers of the superiority of communist rule. Her discovery of the gulf between Soviet propaganda and the grim reality of life in the USSR tested her political convictions.
After working for British intelligence in the Balkans, Parker was sent by The Times to Moscow to cover the war on the Eastern Front. He later worked the New York Times as well. Resentful of Britain’s pre-war policy of appeasing Hitler, he soon became a cheerleader for Stalin. But whose side was he really on?
One of America’s star reporters, Snow’s views were sought out by Roosevelt to balance the advice he got from his officials. He had made his name by befriending Mao Tse-tung, then an unknown communist guerrilla leader. Used to finding his own sources of news, Snow found all his attempts at penetrating the veil of secrecy surround life in Russia were frustrated by the Soviet press department.
A teenage convert to revolutionary socialism, she took part in the civil war on the Bolshevik side and then worked for Soviet military intelligence in Shanghai and New York. To all appearances she was a perfect choice to translate for – and guide – the war correspondents in the Metropol Hotel.
Valentina learned English from an American she married as a student, but that experience did not make her love the capitalist west. In the Metropol, her devotion to the communist party line convinced the journalists that she was a senior officer the secret police working under cover as a translator.
Growing up in the oil town of Grozny, Tanya learned English from American technicians who inspired in her an ambition to leave Stalin’s Russia for the land of jazz and tinned fruit. She landed a job as translator in the Metropol. To a poor girl from the provinces, it was an oasis of luxury where privileged foreigners scoffed caviar sandwiches. But how could she parlay her role in the Metropol into a permit to emigrate?
Living and working in the faded luxury of the Metropol Hotel in wartime was a memorable experience for the journalists, and a life-changing one for their translators. Some served their country well. Some achieved a lifelong goal. For others, the reward was a sentence to the Gulag.