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Ex-refusenik Returns to Chicago, 58 Years After Leaving Birthplace

July 6, 1989
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Abe Stolar finally had his dream fulfilled. On the Fourth of July, after 58 years, he returned to his birthplace, Chicago.

It was 1931 when Depression-era unemployment led his father, a Communist, to leave Chicago with his family and return to the Soviet Union, which he had fled in 1909 to escape Czarist persecution.

But his father’s dream of a worker’s paradise turned into a nightmare. He was arrested in 1937, during Stalin’s purges, as an enemy of the people. He later died in a Siberian labor camp.

Abe Stolar later fought in the Soviet Army in World War II and lost sight in one eye from a German hand grenade. He went on to work as a translator for Radio Moscow for 20 years.

But in 1971, he joined thousands of other Soviet Jews and applied for an exit visa to Israel, which was approved four years later.

Yet on the day of departure, after the family had sold what belongings they could and shipped the rest to Israel, they were informed at the airport that because Stolar’s wife, a chemist, had access to state secrets, she could not leave.

Their luggage has sat in an Israeli warehouse for 15 years, and to this day remains unopened.

“We decided to come here first,” Stolar said.

Stolar was met Tuesday evening at O’Hare Airport by Sen. Paul Simon (D-III.), who had taken up the former Chicagoan’s case in Congress, and members of the Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry.

“I’m confident no one appreciates freedom more than Abe Stolar. After years of frustration and red tape, Abe Stolar is finally home,” the senator said.

Now back on his home turf, Stolar, 77, plans to reacquaint himself with the city streets and attractions of his youth.

Although downtown trolley cars have disappeared, Wrigley Field has lights and his Humboldt Park community is no longer a Jewish area, Stolar plans to make up for his 58-year absence.


A Wednesday night baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres, visits to Chicago museums and strolls through his old neighborhood are planned.

Stolar and his wife, Gita, are staying as guests of the Chicago Hilton and Towers, known in his day as the Stevens Hotel.

Stolar will crisscross the United States, visiting several other Jewish communities, but his seven-day visit to Chicago is sure to be the highlight of his journey. “This is my hometown. I love Chicago,” he said.

Although he settled with his family in Israel, Stolar hinted the allure of his hometown may be too much for him to ignore.

Asked by reporters Tuesday if he would rather live in Chicago, Stolar said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I decided to move back here.”

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