MOSCOW (Jun. 17)
Former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov had Jewish roots, according to recent reports in the Russian press.
Andropov, who was in charge of the KGB for 15 years and then headed the USSR from November 1982 until his death in February 1984, concealed his Jewish background after he entered the Communist Party as a young man, according to the reports.
Andropov’s mother, Yevgeniya Faynshtein, was a music teacher in southern Russia. The fate of Andropov’s father remains a mystery. His mother later remarried a Russian Greek named Andropulo. His adopted son later changed this last name to a more Russian-sounding one.
Unlike many other Soviet leaders, Andropov never wrote his memoirs, which in part can be explained by his roots, say the reports.
Andropov’s role in Soviet history is still open to a debate 15 years after his death.
During the 1950s he served as Moscow’s ambassador to Hungary and arranged for Soviet tanks to enter Budapest to crush the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
Between 1967 and 1982 while he served as head of the KGB, the Soviet secret service, he was responsible for persecuting dissidents, including members of the underground Jewish movement.
Yet some credit him for exiling some of the prominent dissidents rather than jailing them — as well as for partially opening the doors for Jewish emigration to Israel in the 1970s.
According to the daily newspaper Today, human rights activist Andrei Sakharov once remarked that under Andropov the KGB was the only institution in the USSR that was not corrupt.
Some people speculate that had Andropov not died so soon, he would have launched reforms to pump life into the country’s stagnant economy — moves that were later made by Andropov protege Mikhail Gorbachev.