Early in 1932 Mendel Osherowitch journeyed to Soviet Ukraine on assignment for Forverts (Forward), a Yiddish-language newspaper in New York City boasting a daily circulation of 275,000 copies. Born in Trostianets before the Great War, and speaking Yiddish, Ukrainian and Russian like a native, Osherowitch astutely recorded life under a Communist system he found markedly dysfunctional, sometimes criminal.
He documented a pervasive fear of the secret police, the GPU, recounting how parents were scared their children might betray them. He watched hordes of peasants clambering onto trains escaping to the cities in an anguished search for bread. He heard stories about rural uprisings brutally suppressed, saw how Western reporters self-sequestered in Moscow were failing to report what was happening and observed growing tensions between the beneficiaries of Bolshevik rule and those for whom it was an enervating nightmare.