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Take, for instance, Mirra’s first marriage. We originally knew about it only from the 1943 Yiddish memoirs of the author and playwright Osip Dymov, who launched Mirra’s stage career.
An affair between them was widely rumored and became a scandal in 1907 St. Petersburg when her second husband, Boris Khariton, fired four pistol rounds at Dymov.
The incident provided the plot for Dymov’s best-known play, Nju, and later a major silent film.
Describing it, he wrote that “the young lady who played such a serious role in my destiny” had, before wedding Khariton, fled a marriage to a scion of the Brodsky dynasty—the sugar magnates of imperial Russia—to whom she had borne a son.
But Dymov didn’t actually name Mirra (to protect her reputation, as he explained), and there was no other evidence of this marriage and child.
So, imagine our delight when a few weeks ago we found conclusive proof that this child, Viktor Brodsky, was a high-school student in Baku in 1913 and in affectionate contact with his mother, who was by then already in Berlin.
We’re now trying to establish Viktor’s fate, which might have a lot to do with the espionage inquiry.
Recently, we discovered that a Jewish “artist” named Viktor Brodsky, of the right age, who gave his birthplace as Yekaterinodar—Mirra’s hometown—arrived at Ellis Island in 1923, with a group of defeated “white” Russians who had escaped to Constantinople.
There were only a few hundred Jews in Yekaterinodar at the time, and for two to be born the same year with the same name seems highly unlikely. He then changed his surname to Piatakoff—the name of a prominent Bolshevik, and hardly a convenient name to assume at random when applying for naturalization, which he successfully did.
Viktor Piatakoff, who described himself as a textile designer in New York, lived to age 92—just like his apparent half-brother Yuli Khariton. But that’s all we’ve been able to find out about Viktor so far. If Tablet readers can help, we’ll be much obliged.