Oﬃcers and girls
Sasson: Sava Rabilizorof became my guide into Soviet culture and business world. From him I learned that in Russia, being a member of the Communist Party was not a choice, and that every neighbor, colleague, acquaintance and even friends will report you to the security authorities. Most of the young women who would come to hotels at nights looking for foreign customers, he explained to me, were also puppets of the security agencies.
It was a Sunday. I had just reached the Rassia Hotel in the Red Square in Moscow, a huge hotel with hundreds of rooms. After settling in my room, I went down to the lobby to unwind.
As I was sitting there, I saw a young man and two girls, sitting a short distance from me, looking at me and talking in whispers. After a few minutes I got up and sat next to them.
“How are you all related?” I asked them.
They said: “We are students at Leningrad University, on a short trip to Moscow. We’ve heard a lot about this hotel, and came to see it.”
I invited them to the private bar of the hotel, and they readily accepted. The bar was located in the underground level of the hotel, and resembled a dimly-lit tunnel with an orchestra on one end, guards in the entrance, and two rows of tables along the walls. The atmosphere was warm and pleasant. The orchestra was playing balalaika music, and some European businessmen were dancing with Russian girls. I was dazzled and mesmerized by the dancers and the people around me, when all of a sudden a smartly dressed man approached our table and asked one of the girls to dance with him! She refused, and he tried to force her to dance with him! She said no, but he insisted, started using harsh language, but was still unsuccessful. Then he went back and joined two of his comrades at the club door.
My oriental blood was bubbling with fury, and I couldn’t control my temper anymore. I stood up, went up to the young man, and asked him in English: “Excuse me, where are you from?”
“The US,” he replied.
I said: “Is it a common practice in the States for a stranger to come out of nowhere and insist on forcing a girl to dance when she’s sitting and talking with her boyfriend?”
“I’m not really American.” The man ﬁnally admitted. “I’m with the country’s security agency, and what I know and you don’t, is that most of these girls come here to sell their bodies and sting foreign businessmen. We are here to protect you from them, and ﬁght this phenomenon ﬁercely!”
I explained to him that it was I who invited the students to the bar. He said: “If that’s what happened you’re free, just take them away, and leave the premises immediately.” The students were disappointed, but when I explained to them what it meant for girls to be there, they got up and left promptly. I walked out with them, and didn’t feel like spending time at the bar anymore.
He should have listened to me!
Sasson: On my trips to Moscow, I usually took European-Iranian customers with me. I would show my guest the city, and the guest would buy hand-woven carpets directly from the Russian company. They paid me a fee, and took all the headache on themselves.
Once I took an Iranian businessman who made a very serious impression. He was married, had children, and was very conservative in this views. We arrived at the Cosmos Hotel, checked-in, and agreed to meet an hour later in the lobby. As I came to the lobby to see him, he was rather confused, and asked me: “Sasson, who are these young girls hanging out all around the lobby? One of them asked me if I would like to take her to my room. Who are they?”
I warned him: “Be careful! These are all ‘business girls’ working with the maﬁa and Russian security services.”
After dinner we all went to sleep in our rooms. At breakfast, I noticed he was down and troubled.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
He said: “I’ll tell you the truth, yetzer hara, my evil inclination, took over me. After dinner I went down to the lobby and invited a girl to my room for a certain amount. I gave her my room number, and went upstairs to wait for her. After a few minutes she knocked on the door, and came in. She asked me to pay in advance, and then offered to take a shower together. After the shower, I heard a knock on the door. I was totally confused, but she said, ‘What’s the matter? Open the door!’
“I went to open the door, and saw a ‘gorilla’ shouting: ’Where is my wife?!’ Without further ado he stepped into the room, and shouted at the woman: ’What are you doing here?! I will kill him!’
“I didn’t know what to do. I said, ‘Please don’t do it! How much money do you want? I will give you, just don’t make a mess.’
“He shouted: ‘OK, show me the money!’ and as I took out my wallet, he just seized it, took the girl and left. And here I am, with nothing.”
I said: “You have no money, but at least you had an unforgettable experience.” What I really meant was, “You should have listened to me!”
The unbelievable story about Daniella (1972)
Sasson: When my ﬁrst cousin Yishai ﬁnished his military service in Israel, he came to Hamburg and married Elizabeth, Gollar’s ﬁrst cousin, Nathan’s daughter. They are actually second cousins themselves, as they’re both paternal cousins of ours, but that’s not the story.
His business plan was to get a monopoly on hand-woven carpets from Romania, and I felt obliged to assist him with that. After contacting the Romanian ambassador in Germany, we got an appointment with the governmental organization in Bucharest, for a business meeting and negotiations. Yishai and I didn’t manage to get tickets on the same ﬂight, so Yishai ﬂew earlier, and we decided to meet each other in the hotel we had booked. After I arrived in Bucharest, I entered our room, and saw Yishai celebrating alone, dancing with happiness. I asked him, “What’s the matter with you?”
He told me: “I’m the luckiest person in the world! During the ﬂight I had the privilege to sit next to this German guy. We started talking, and when he saw I’m from Israel and going to Romania for the ﬁrst time to do business, he told me he knows all the top ministers of Romania and will arrange for me to meet with the most important key people and get a monopoly for the carpets! Sasson,” he asked me, “is this not amazing?!” I tried to talk to him and convince him that it doesn’t look serious, but it didn’t help. “Why should a German guy meet you for the ﬁrst time, and want to go through all this trouble for you?” He was not convinced.
The next day, early in the morning, the telephone in our room rang. He took the phone and I heard him say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” He hung up and started dancing again. I asked, “What is it?”
He said, “Hurry up, they’re waiting for us in the breakfast room!”
We went downstairs to the breakfast room. There we met a wonderful, beautiful young lady, together with someone with such a face… he would have been arrested in Switzerland without doing anything. He practically had the word “criminal” written all over his face.
They introduced themselves as Daniella and Joseph. “How can I help you?” Joseph asked.
We explained to him that we had an appointment, and had to go to the ministry. He said: “You don’t need to go, I will bring the minister tonight to have dinner with you.”
“So what should we do with our meeting?”
“Don’t worry, just don’t show up to the meeting. You have to prepare very good presents for the two ministers that I’m bringing, and pay me as you like.”
I saw there was no chance to convince my cousin, and we said — “Alright, we will not go to the meeting.”
Then a miracle happened: the criminal-guy stood up and went to the washroom. I immediately took a nice present out of my bag (my bag was always full of “presents,” from my experience in Russia: gold coins, perfumes etc.). I gave it to the lady and said: “Daniella, I have a question for you: How come you, with a face like an angel, are cooperating with a charlatan like Joseph?”
Daniella was shocked, and asked me: “How dare you call him a charlatan?”
I told her: “You don’t have to be a genius to realize who you’re dealing with. Daniella, I implore you, my cousin is in Romania for the ﬁrst time. This business trip, and this meeting is so important for him and his family, we need your help.”
She became very emotional, and said: “He will kill me if he realizes what I’m telling you. You have to promise not to do or react in a way that would make him suspect I told you anything about him.
“You’re right,” she continued. “He’s a charlatan, and his business is just to ﬁsh tourists and young, inexperienced business people like you, and cheat them.”
“How come you are collaborating with him?” I asked.
She said: “I will make it very short. I used to be a schoolteacher. My husband was a very talented singer, very popular. He got an invitation for a concert in France. In order for him to get a visa to France, I had to guarantee that he would come back. Unfortunately, he didn’t come back. And it didn’t take long until I was ﬁred from the school where I worked. I remained with my child and without any income, and didn’t know what to do. Everywhere I tried to get a job, I realized I was blacklisted. Until, by chance, I met this Joseph. He offered me to collaborate with him and share the income 50:50. Later on, I realized this is his business.”
We were shocked.
Joseph came back. He said everything is under control and tonight the ministers are coming to have dinner with us. He noticed our faces — I guess we’re not very good actors — and got suspicious. I tried to act as normal as possible, and asked him: “What time is our dinner?”
He stated the time and location, and left.
My cousin was completely shocked and disappointed. We knew he was cheating us, but didn’t want to put Daniella in more danger than we already had. So we didn’t go to meet the minister, and came to the meeting that night. He came with two ladies. I gave them their presents, and told Joseph: “Unfortunately, we got a message, tomorrow we have to leave Bucharest to Istanbul and are not in a position to come to the ministry for business.” Joseph was very disappointed, and it didn’t take long before we saw him taking a piece of paper, writing something on it, and passing it to Daniella. Daniella read it, kept a poker face, wrote him back, and after several times of this back and forth correspondence, I asked them: “What are you writing? What are you doing?”
Daniella said: “He’s writing poems to me, and I write him back.”
We had our dinner, said our goodbyes and went back to our hotel room.
We didn’t know what to do. Then the phone rang. Daniella was on the other end of the line. She was crying and sounded terriﬁed. I asked her: “What’s wrong?”
She said: “He suspects! The whole time in our apartment, he puts burning cigarettes in front of my eyes and says, ‘either you’re going to lose your eyes or you will tell me the truth — what you told the guys’.
“Now he went to buy cigarettes. He will come back. I used the opportunity to tell you that unfortunately, he knows.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where she was! All I could do was thank her for her courageous behavior. I gave her my number in Germany, and asked her not to hesitate to call any time she needs help.
She never did.
She hung up quickly, before I could ask for an address or think about a solution. There was nothing I could do but pray for her.
The next day, early in the morning, we arranged a ticket for me to ﬂy to Istanbul without meeting with the minister. Joseph came to the airport to make sure we were leaving at the time we had said, but only I left. Yishai stayed, and I don’t know how, but he managed to meet with the minister. I don’t know what happened afterwards, to Daniella or with Joseph the gangster. But I was deeply impressed with her courageous, humane and noble behavior.