‘A Horror Story’

Oggins1

Oggins2

Pictures that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times. The images are haunting in themselves. There is a long and equally haunting story that goes with them. The man pictured was Isaiah “Cy” Oggins, Born in Connecticut in 1898 to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants and educated at Columbia. At some point he became a Soviet spy, was arrested in Moscow in 1939 (the occasion of the top photos), spent eight years in a prison camp, and was executed (on the day the bottom photos were taken).

The Times story focuses on Oggins’ son, Robin, a history professor in upstate New York. He was about seven years old when he saw his father for the last time, in the late 1930s. The second set of pictures above appeared only when a reporter for Time began researching the Oggins case. (That investigation led to the publication earlier this year of “The Lost Spy,” an attempt to reconstruct Oggins’s fate; the book got an uncharitable review from the Times, and much more favorable attention from the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. NPR reprinted the first chapter a couple months ago).

The Times piece Saturday focused on Robin Oggins’s hopes to learn more about his father’s fate. The story concludes:

Seeing the final photographs for the first time, Robin wept.

But the photographs arrived late in his life. His wife was ill with Alzheimer’s disease, his mind occupied by his own academic research. He had no means or experience to press the Russian government for help.

“I am a full-time caregiver,” he said. “I do not speak Russian. Practically, I cannot travel. To work on this, I would not know where to begin.”

Still, the photographs raise questions. What did a man, caught at the crossroads of history and reduced to such a state, know? “Abstractly, I want more,” Robin Oggins said. “Practically, it changes nothing. It is still a horror story.”

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