Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.
In November 1970, the world was surprised by the announcement of the upcoming publication of the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, deposed leader of the Soviet Union. Time, Inc. reported that it had acquired the material which it planned to serialize in shortened form in the magazine Life and to publish in full as a book issued by Little, Brown and Co. The articles appeared in late November and early December and the book, KHRUSHCHEV REMEMBERS, came out in late December. Khrushchev died in September 1971. Time magazine and Little, Brown issued a second set of memoirs, KHRUSHCHEV REMEMBERS: THE LAST TESTAMENT, in 1974.
Time, Inc. provided no details on how it came into possession of the text other than to say that it was smuggled out of the USSR. The translator/editor for both parts of the project was Strobe Talbott, then a journalist with the Time organization. Talbott later served as Deputy Secretary of State from 1994 to 2001. To create the magazine articles and books, Talbott took disjointed manuscripts and turned them into coherent memoirs, organizing and condensing the original texts.
Recognizing that questions of authenticity would arise, the first book was published with the following statement: “The publisher is convinced beyond any doubt, and has taken pains to confirm, that this is an authentic record of Nikita Khrushchev’s words.” Nevertheless, there was controversy over the genuineness of the material and Khrushchev himself issued what can only be considered a non-denial denial. The second volume went into more detail on both the source of the memoirs and the process of authentication, but still offered little on how the materials came out of the USSR.
As with any self-portrait, the finished product has limitations. There are omissions, evasions, errors of memory, deceptions, and self-justifications. Given the nature of secrecy about the inner workings of the Soviet government, however, publication of Khrushchev’s memoir, if genuine, was of paramount interest to the U.S. Government.
As Life published each of the four parts to its summary of the memoir, the Department of State and the United States Information Agency (USIA) sent the following circular telegrams to all American diplomatic posts and the consulates in Munich and Hong Kong. The first circular noted that the memoir appeared authentic but that distortion through editing by Life or manipulation by the KGB could not be ruled out.
- Part I: Life with Stalin
“. . . Khrushchev concludes that if Stalin were alive today he would vote that he be brought to trial and punished for his crimes. . . . ”
- Part II: The Great Patriotic War [World War II]
“. . . [C]oncludes with a frank statement of appreciation of assistance given to Soviets by Western Allies during war. . . .”
- Part III: [Untitled]
“New material is contained in Khrushchev’ tale of events leading up to his denunciation of Stalin in 1956 . . . .”
- Part IV: The World Outside
“For the general reader many episodes are major revelations . . .; for the specialist, there are no surprises although new, largely confirmatory details are provided.”
 Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970).
 Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1974).
 Department of State to All Diplomatic Posts and the Consulates at Munich and Hong Kong, Telegram 192799, November 25, 1970, file POL 6 USSR, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
 Department of State to All Diplomatic Posts and Consulates at Munich and Hong Kong, Telegram 195868, December 1, 1970, file POL 6 USSR, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
 Department of State to All Diplomatic Posts, Telegram 200178, December 9, 1970, file POL 6 USSR, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
 Department of State to All Diplomatic Posts and Consulates at Munich and Hong Kong, Telegram 204060, December 16, 1970, file POL 6 USSR, 1970-73 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.