Sasson: Gollar and I got married in 1964, and from that time until today, when I am committing my memories to paper for you, she has been everything for me in life. In the beginning of our married life, we decided together to go to Russia and start some business there. Looking back, in the long run, these things changed our fate and that of the whole Khakshouri family in Europe, for the best. During the 25 years from 1964 to 1989, I traveled to Moscow, alone or with Golli, more than 300 times. In those days, in order to travel to Moscow, you had to pay for all your travel and lodging in advance, without even knowing which hotel you are going to get. Then you had to travel to West Berlin, take a bus to East Berlin and go through passport control and customs to cross “the Iron Curtain.” There, you had to pick up your visa at the Soviet embassy, and then ﬂy via Warsaw to Moscow. Upon landing in Moscow, every single foreigner was met by an Intourist official to receive their hotel keys etc.
That was the point when you ﬁnally found out what hotel you were staying in.
During these visits, I came to appreciate the merits of communist countries and acknowledge their drawbacks. Children’s education, for example, is one of the things I wish we had learned from the Soviets: Education — from the beginning of kindergarten throughout all their school years including the highest university degrees — was free, giving everyone the possibility to get ahead in life. And so was the health system — patient care and doctors visits. Among the drawbacks of the system was, ﬁrst and foremost, the press and television commercials dedicated to massive brainwashing and fear of the government. But there were other drawbacks like the low income of the people, lack of interest in work or working, and poor living conditions: Most of the buildings housed 8–10 families on each ﬂoor, with one shared kitchen, and one bathroom and toilet. As you can imagine, these kitchens and bathrooms were always dirty.
I did come to appreciate the Russian people, however. Meeting them in offices gives you a completely wrong impression: you may think they are dry, heartless people. But when you meet them at a restaurant or a nightclub, they are completely different people. On the trips I took to Moscow alone, without Gollar, there have been many times when I came to a restaurant and was seated in a table with a couple that was already there. I don’t know how European couples would have reacted to a stranger seated with them in a restaurant, but the Russian couples were always very nice and kind to me, and usually even offered me a drink of their vodka!
In the USSR, when negotiating with communist offices, there were always two clerks who would declare their love and friendship for me, and badmouth each other. Each of them kept asking me not to tell the other colleague what he said, and made me say bad things, too.
Years later I realized it was a common practice, meant to test my good faith and honesty. This experience was a good lesson for me to never speak badly about others.
Gollar: Our ﬁrst trip to the Eastern Bloc was in November 1964. We went to Moscow with my uncle Nathan and Abdi Roubeni. After Moscow, we went to Leningrad, Yalta and Tbilisi. It was not a very pleasant trip, because people in communist Russia were very unpleasant, everything was very dark and cold, and wherever we walked, we were afraid of everything. We always felt we’re being watched, and we were! We were given an interpreter, chauffeur and car, not because they loved us so much, but because they wanted to control our every single step!
When we were in Moscow, we went to the synagogue, and there were very few people in there, old men and women who only spoke Russian and Yiddish. All of a sudden, I realized that in front of the synagogue were hundreds of people, curious to take a look at these tourists who came to Russia in this cold time of year during the Cold War. It was very unusual for people — especially tourists — to come to Moscow, and especially to the synagogue. My uncle Nathan, Mr. Roubeni and Sasson went to the carpet warehouse every day, and while they were choosing carpets, I went to all the museums.
In the armory, I went to the basement, and there I saw all the personal artifacts of the Tsar’s family. Some year later, when I went again, I wanted to see them again, and they said the entrance is forbidden. Nobody was allowed to see these things again. I’ll never forget the things I saw there. Things like a pure-gold manicure set of the Tsarina Ekaterina the Great. The translator said “Ziz are ze sings of ze great capitalistic criminals.” Mr. Roubeni was with us only because my father didn’t know yet if he could trust Sasson’s business skills, and hadn’t decided if he wants Sasson to become his business partner, or make a deal with Mr. Roubeni for a certain fee.
My brother Parviz was only 18 then, he came into the business later, after ﬁnishing his degree in economics.
Sasson was a bit upset about the need to visit Russia on that trip, because it might keep him from being able to go to Iran again, for fear of the Savak, the Shah’s security service. If someone didn’t like you in Iran, they could say you were in Russia, and you would be arrested for espionage. We really never went to Iran again after this.
Gollar: In the 1960’s and 70’s, Sasson used to ﬂy to Moscow once every three weeks. He had a friend, Sava Rabilizorof, a Soviet-Azerbaijani Jew, who was a manager in the carpet warehouse. He taught Sasson about Russian and Caucasian carpets. Soviet-Caucasian carpets are completely different from the Iranian carpets: Caucasian carpets are characterized by geometric patterns, and Iranian ones by ﬂowers.
The Soviet-Caucasian carpet market in the world was controlled by a duopoly: one company in London and the other in Germany. That was our company. Sava was not interested in having any other customers. We could sell the carpets before they even arrived in Hamburg. Sasson sold them for cheap and they just ﬂew out, so we didn’t have any storage expenses, and thus could sell in large volumes.