FRED AND THE XX CENTURY HISTORY | Bed and Rome and Breakfast

martedì 28 marzo 2017


 oil refinery, story and history of the XX century

What has to do an oil refinery with a blog where we talk about Rome, its history and the bed & breakfast buesiness?

Well, indeed it seems nothing. In reality this is a blog where I try, firts of all, to narrate stories and especially stories about history.

And the story of Fred, who has crossed the history of the XX century, is worth to be narated because it is a story of the great crimes of the two ideologies that have marked the XX century, fascism and communism, but is is especially a story of heart and passion.

The above picture shows the oil refinery in Mazeikiai, Lithuania, and it was there, in this industrial city that Fred told me about his story.

We have worked together for some years when, before starting the bed & breakfast business, I was going around the oil refineries of a large part of Europe as chemical engineer, like Fred.
And, one evening, drinking his usual сто граммов водки (sto grammov vodki, one hundred grams of vodka - for some reason Russian people measure vodka by weight and not by volume), he started his narration.

He was born by a German father and Russian mother in Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg. His father was politically active, was a member of the German Communist Party, that, when Hitler rose to the power, fled to the Soviet Union along with his brother, politically neutral but attracted by the adventure. There, he became a Soviet citizen, married with a local girl and had three children, Fridrikh (Fred), Benjamin and a third one whose name I do not remember.

His father was really believing to the communist ideal and that was, in the era of Stalin's Great Purges, to become a victim of the terror. He was arrested and shot to death. His mother was sent to a gulag in Siberia. Fred and his two brothers were then sent to an orphanage.
Short time passed and the nazist German army invaded Soviet Union. Leningrad remained almost three years under siege, A large part of the population died of hunger and deprivation, including the two brother of Fred.
Leningrad Siege
At the end of the war Fred's uncle that, being politically neutral, was not involved with the purged but, rather, had served as doctor in the Red Army, was able to recover Fred from the orphanage and to deliver him to the grandfather living in Hamburg.
Fred, a small kid that had removed all the deprivations from his memory, then grew with his grandfather, the grandmother had died during the war, being convinced he was his father.

1956 came and the XX congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. Khrushchev, that had become the secretary of the party, started to denounce Stalin's crimes. Those who had been wrongfully convicted were rehabilitated and, among them, Fred's mother that was released from the gulag and went back to Leningrad. There, her brother in law told her about her children, two died and one, now almost 20 y.o, living in Hamburg, West Germany. And she wrote to her son.

Fred, receiving the letter, remained astonished; the first thing he said to his grandfather, that he believed to be the father was "why did you tell me that Mom had died and not that she was prisoner?". And finally his grandfather explained to him all the story.

Fred decided immediately to jin back to his mother, despite she was trying to convince him to remain in West Germany because, being a German, he was goig to be not well acceptedd in the Soviet society. He took to him two or three years to get all the permissions to emigrate to USSR, in the mentime he graduated in chemical engineering at Hambur university. When , finally, he moved to USSR he had to learn back Russian, that he speaks with German accent, and to go again to the university.  And he started his second Soviet life, later getting married and having a son, working in an engineering company and becoming one of the directors of the company.

In that position, in the middle of the 80's, he went to Cuba to direct the constructio of an oil refinery.
The construction went ahead with Soviet and Caribbean times, that is very slowly. As a matter of fact he stayed in Cuba 5 years, learning also some Spanish.
The construction was almost at the end when, one day, looking to the documentation and to the operating plan for the future, he realized that there was something wrong. In summary the refinery had been designed for a type of oil that was no more available and it was planned to process a completely different type, so it could not work.
That was totally against his Western mentality so he went immediately by the Cuban director, explaining the situation.

The answer he got was; "You have a capitalistic mentality, you do not understand communism. Construction will go ahead!". That was too much for him, even becase in the meantime he had become a frind with the Cuban director. He made such a mess that finally he convinced the man to ask clarifications to the engineers in Moscow. By the way, that Cuban guy later becam Minister of Energy and later he was arrested. Fred went to visit him whil in prison.

The Soviet engineers had the to admit the mistake and went to Cuba to provide a solution. The boss of Fred, just after landing to Cuba, called Fred and told him: "Well, we will have to pay but, as soonas getting back to USSR, there is a nice job ready for you as operator in an oil well in Siberia, your wife, a school teacher, will go to teach in some remote and desolate village in the middle of nowhere and your son, instead of being admitted to the technical university, will be admitted in a unit of the Red Army serving in a quiet area like the Caucasus or the border with Afghanistan".
For the luck of Fred it was summertime and his wife and his son were on vacation and staying with him in Cuba. The flight back to Moscow had to make a refueling stop in Canada.
During the stop all the family managed to ask for polytical asylum. The escape itself was worthy of the best spy stories but telling also that will make the story too long.

And so Fred became Canadina citizen, had to learn a new language, English, that he speaks with Russina accent, and started a new job in a Canadian engineering company.

A couple of years later Soviet Union collapsed and he, with his family, got back Russian citizenship.

Few years later the company where I was working too, decided to start to develop the Russian market and found Fred to be the perfect person to do the job and he began to commute between Canada and Russia as well as other countrie of former USSR. Many of his former colleagues and friends had become, in the meantime, managers of important Russian oil companies, so it was very successfull in the business development.

I met him for the first time on 2000, in Moscow and we visited together several oil refineries and petrochemical plants, ending all the working days with сто граммов водки.
Last time I met him was on 2008 in Omsk. He had just recovered from a chemiotherapy after being discovered to be affected by lung cancer, but still full of energy. His dream, at that time, was to retire in Costa Rica.
Probably he has jsu gone on vacation over there becasue he is a person that is passionate of his job. The latest news I have about him, December 2016, are that he as moved to Hungary and he is still active.

The only disappontment of his life, that is what he told me once, is that his son, when at home, is speaking English and not Russian or German!

So, that is the story across the history of Fred. He didn't want to write it or to sell to a film-maker, it was worth of a movie. But I belive he deserves that people know about that story.

Vincenzo Sangiorgio

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