Drawing on her current book project, Communist Neverland, Elizabeth McGuire tells the story of the Stasova International Children’s Home, an elite orphanage and boarding school for the children of Communist Party leaders from all parts of the globe. Professor McGuire will focus in this talk on “Jimmy Ruegg,” one of the Stasova home’s many “mystery children.” Jimmy spent his earliest years in the International Settlement in Shanghai, believed he was German, and thought he had two families: one enmeshed in German-Chinese trade and the other in prison. As major underground operatives, his parents were eventually able to arrange for him to be raised at the Stasova home. There, he encountered many equally confused and traumatized children. Even the Stasova home’s administrators did not know the real identities of many children’s parents, which caused major difficulties during Stalin’s purge. Were children free of responsibility for the sins of their parents, as Stalin preached, or were they dangerous potential enemies of the people, as he often practiced?
Voices of history’s children matter today more than ever, when children from Gaza to Eastern Ukraine serve as high-profile symbols, pawns, and victims in the violent geopolitics of the world around them. Dozens of first-person interviews have allowed Professor McGuire to investigate how the equally fierce struggle for world communism looked through the eyes of children, and what the long-term consequences for them were.
Professor Elizabeth McGuire is a historian of global communism, focusing on cross-cultural human experiences and networks that arose in connection with the Soviet-backed transnational communist movement. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and is now Associate Professor of History at California State University, East Bay, where she also created and runs a B.A. program to prepare future high school history teachers. Her first book, Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution, published by Oxford University Press in 2017, is about personal relationships between Russian and Chinese revolutionaries against the dramatic backdrop of shifting geopolitics. It won an honorable mention for the W. Bruce Lincoln prize for a first published monograph of “exceptional merit and lasting significance for the understanding of Russia’s past.” It was also a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and a London Times Higher Education Book of the Year. Professor McGuire is now writing a second book, Communist Neverland: History of an International Children’s Home, 1933–2013.
Sponsored by the Center for Cold War Studies and International History