See America First: The Abe Stolar Story

Streaming Video

Abe Stolar
Above: On the left, Abe Stolar in his Moscow apartment in September of 1986. On the right, Abe Stolar at a hotel in Los Angeles in the summer of 1989 at the conclusion of his travels in the United States.

A note from Rich Samuels, the curator of these pages: Abe Stolar, born in Chicago in 1912, was taken by his Marxist parents to live in Moscow in 1931. His father disappeared during the Stalinist purges; his mother spent time in the gulags; Abe served in the Red Army during World War II and as a translator and announcer for the English language service of Radio Moscow thereafter. Though Abe married a Soviet citizen he retained his U.S. passport along with vivid memories of his home town. Though Abe and his family were given permission to emigrate in 1975, they were dregged from the plane at the last moment. Thus began a fifteen-year struggle to leave the USSR. While a reporter at WMAQ-TV I did countless stories on Stolar and those truing to secure his emigration. In September, 1986, I went to Moscow to interview Stolar who, prior to that time, had declined to appear on camera. In March, 1989, the Soviets finally issued the family exit visas. I went to Vienna to chronicle the Stolars' arrival in the West. On July 4th of 1989, Abe returned to Chicago---the city he had not seen in 58 years---the first step in a cross-country tour that enabled him to "see America last". The video you can access below tells the Stolar story in very abbreviated form. It originally appeared on WMAQ-TV in the summer of 1989. [more background on Abe Stolar to follow]

Watch the video: [RealPlayer required]

Part 1: July 4th 1989: U.S. Senator Paul Simon welcomes Abe Stolar as he arrives in Chicago following an absence of 58 years. Flashback to September, 1986: Abe, in his dismal apartment on the southwest side of Moscow, recalls vivid memories of Chicago. It is, of course, the Chicago of 1931. (And should you perhaps wonder what the residents of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood sounded like when they spoke in that remote time, listen to Abe). We meet Abe's wife Gita, his son Mikhail, his daughter-in-law Julia and Sara, his granddaughter.

Part 2: March 13th, 1989: Abe and his family arrive in Vienna. The Soviets have finally granted exit visas to the entire family. The following day Rich Samuels (the curator of these pages) accompanies Abe to the Post and Telegraph building for a live feed to NBC's "Today" show. A brief history of the efforts that made Abe's return to the West possible.

Part 3: Abe Stolar's return to Chicago, where he's become an instant celebrity (and so recognized by Time Magazine, News Magazine and People Magazine). At a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field he's recognized by WGN-TV's Harry Caray (though Caray gets the name of Senator Simon wrong).

Part 4: Abe Stolar tours the U.S. and offers his critique of life in the nation he hasn't seen in nearly six decades.

More about the Abe Stolar story:
Right: Abe Stolar in Chicago prior to his departure in 1931 for the USSR. Abe Stolar as a teenager

Abe Stolar and his granddaughter Sara Left: 75-year-old Abe Stolar and his granddaughter Sara in the Stolar's Moscow apartment in September, 1986. Abe at this moment was singing "If I had a Talking Picture of You" from the 1929 Fox film "Sunny Side Up".

Right: Abe Stolar singing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field prior to a Cubs game. Abe is flanked by Gita his wife and Senator Paul Simon. The late Senator Simon was Abe's principal advocate on Capitol Hill. But Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry deserves much credit for keeping the Stolar family's plight before the public eye. Abe Stolar at Wrigley Field with Senator Paul Simon


Written by:
Rich Samuels

Directed by:
Bob Webb

Dave Adkins, Eddie Banks, Ed Bsrtlett, Hal Bernstein, Larry Collins, Lauren Caudill, Chuck Haynie, Grant Light, Jim MacDonald, Mabel Miller, Paul Nagaro, Bill Nuyttens, Roman Polys, Chuck Quinzio, Pete Ranger, Dwight Samuelson, Gary Sarpy, Dick Smith, Ken Stone, Jim Stricklin.

Minicam/Moscow: Steve Coppen, Ken Willinger.

Mincam/Vienna: Christian Kersten, Joe Oexle, Heinrich Willing, Roman Wiehart.

Minicam/Washington: Estel Dillon

Minicam/Los Angeles: Sam Cardenas

Stagehand: Miriam Sanchez

Special Thanks: KTUU (Anchorage), KCNC (Denver), WDIV (Detroit), WSFA (Montgomery).

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