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I cannot find anything on the Internet which describes what happened to the rest of Ayn Rand's family after she left Russia. Wikipedia says that they couldn't get the papers to travel to the US. Does anyone know what happened to them? Did they simply live out their lives in the USSR? If the Russian government found out how famous Ayn Rand became in America, certainly they must have looked for any potential anti-Communists in their own country related to her. Were they killed?


After a little digging, I found this article which describes what happened to the youngest sister, Eleanora.

asked Oct 25 '13 at 23:19

Collin1's gravatar image


edited Oct 31 '13 at 16:45

The link that Collin has now provided in the update to the question is excellent -- a highly informative synopsis of what happened regarding Nora, the youngest of Ayn Rand's sisters. (Ayn Rand was the oldest.) There is some additional information in the book, Ayn Rand, a biography by Jeff Britting, published by Overlook Duckworth (2004), in compact hardcover form (5" x 7"). The book's main focus is Ayn Rand, not her family, except insofar as her family directly affected her life. Page 3 observes:

Rand's two younger sisters excelled in the arts. Natalia, known as Natasha (born in 1907) studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and became an accomplished pianist. Eleanora, known as Nora (born in 1910), aspired to a career in the fine arts.

There are photos of Ayn Rand with one or both of her sisters on page 5 (1912), p. 6 (1910), and p. 10 (1914). Page 30 describes "a series of increasingly bizarre strategies [by her family] to assist Rand in realizing her ambition [to be a screenwriter in America] and to safeguard their own survival." By 1925, she finally received permission to visit America, a visit that she and her family secretly hoped to make permanent. Two examples of paintings and drawings by Nora representing Ayn Rand's 1926 departure for America and her early years in America are shown on page 32. Page 44 describes her family's positive reactions to Ayn Rand's play, "Night of January 16th," and page 45 shows another romantic drawing by Nora and a 1934 photo of Nora with her husband. Page 54 shows a final radiogram in which Ayn Rand's father wrote, simply, "cannot get permission" from the Soviet authorities to visit Ayn Rand in America. The caption also reads, in part, "In the late 1940s Rand learned that her father had died in 1939 and her mother in 1940, both of natural causes. Her sister Natalia died during a World War II air raid, while Nora's status remained unknown."

There is no further news about Nora until page 106, which is filled by a photo of a "Clipping [in Russian] from the December 1971 issue of Amerika magazine seen in Leningrad by Rand's sister, Nora, leading to their reunion [in America] in April 1974." Page 107 further explains:

After a separation of forty-six years, what began as a joyous occasion turned, sadly, into a realization of an unbridgeable personal distance, for they no longer shared important values. Nora disliked her sister's works and philosophy, and after a short stay, she voluntarily returned to the Soviet Union.

Page 107 also includes another photo of Nora from 1973. I didn't find anything further about Nora after p. 107, but Collin's link provides some additional details of The Ayn Rand Institute's efforts to preserve as much history relating to Ayn Rand as possible.

Three of Ayn Rand's 1973 letters to Nora are reprinted in Letters of Ayn Rand, edited by Michael Berliner. The page references can be found by checking the index under "Drobyshev, Nora." The letters provide additional insight into Ayn Rand's excitement and anticipation upon learning of Nora's survival after so many years without news. Apparently Nora's husband accompanied her on the visit to meet Ayn Rand in America, and both of them mutually decided voluntarily to return to the USSR. I cannot imagine what they must have been thinking, unless it's simply a concrete demonstration of the power of a thoroughly misintegrated philosophy of life absorbed and assimilated over the span of a lifetime.

answered Nov 01 '13 at 00:40

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Re the choice to return to the Soviet Union:this was big news here in Chicagoland summer 1980:


Polovchak's parents never could give him a solid answer as to why they decided to return to the Soviet Union (wikipedia may not mention this fact but the five or six year old Michael Polovchak did return to the USSR with his parents). In the mid 1990's the now-citizen Walter Polovchak was attempting to sponsor his younger brother to return on the U.S.; I do not know if this attempt was successful.

My guess as to the reason for the return:homesickness.

(Nov 18 '13 at 22:23) Louise Louise's gravatar image

I remember hearing this (probably) apocryphal story when I was young, but I never found out the origin of it.

An Eastern Potentate, newly elevated to his throne upon his father's death, decided, as an act of benevolence, to free all of the prisoners in the dungeons he had inherited from his father. It must be remembered that serious criminals such as murderers and robbers and the like would have already been punished with maiming or death and not kept within the depths of his prison.

As the various prisoners were granted their freedom, they appeared before the king, had their histories recounted by his chamberlain, and then expressed their gratitude for his mercy. Until the last prisoner to be freed was brought before him.

The Chamberlain said, "Your Majesty, we have but one prisoner left, who has been so long in your custody that we have no records of why he was imprisoned, nor does he remember himself. Before you free him, he has one boon to ask of you."

The King said, "Let him ask it."

The prisoner began, "O mighty King, I have so long been a guest of your benevolence that I have forgotten for what offense I was taken. What I do know is that I remember nothing of my life before and am certain that my friends and family that I might have had are gone from me. I have lived my entire recollected life in your dungeons and know no other life. It you would truly be merciful, you would return me to the only life I know and let me live out my days in the only way I know."

The King granted his request.

Another tale of this type is the character of Brooks Hatlen in the Shawshank Redemption. He had spent so long in prison that he didn't know how to live on the outside. As Red, reflecting on his own parole and Brooks' solution puts it;

There's a harsh truth to face. No way I'm gonna make it on the outside. All I do anymore is think of ways to break my parole, so maybe they'd send me back. Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time.

And a related parable also involving an "Eastern Potentate." (Those Persians...)

A courtier is brought before the king having been found guilty of a heinous crime. The King said, "Since you were one of my favorites, you may choose your form of execution. Or," he said, gesturing to a large black door set flush into the wall of the audience room, "You may choose the Black Door."

The Courtier asked, "What is behind the Black Door?"

The King replies, "No one knows. In the times of my father, and his father, and his father, no one has returned from behind the Black Door."

The Courtier considers a while, then says, "If it please your Grace, I would choose the sword."

The King replies, "As you will."

As the King and His Consort walk from the audience room, the Queen asks, "Your Grace, what is behind the Black Door?"

The King Replies, "Freedom. But men will choose death over the unknown."

And finally, a parable - also with a Persian King - in contrast;

“One of your most ancient writers, a historian named Herodotus, tells of a thief who was to be executed. As he was taken away he made a bargain with the king: in one year he would teach the king's favorite horse to sing hymns. The other prisoners watched the thief singing to the horse and laughed. "You will not succeed," they told him. "No one can." To which the thief replied, "I have a year, and who knows what might happen in that time. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die. And perhaps the horse will learn to sing.” (As related in Niven & Pournelle, "The Mote in God's Eye")

I think that what happened to Nora was a variation of the first 3 examples. And while hers may be an almost archetypical case, the fact of the matter is that this kind of self-limitation is the inevitable concomitant of authoritarian governments everywhere. Even in the United States.

Imagine, if you will, an ordinary citizen who, while not politically connected, is concerned about the course of his country's governance. He finds like-minded individuals and expresses himself, if not eloquently, then plainly and forcefully, against the programme enacted by his country's political establishment, even those ostensibly of his own political persuasion.

He returns home, not satisfied, but hopeful that some change in impetus has been achieved and looking forward to continuing that reversal.

But, he reckons without the power of the state and those who run its apparatus. He finds that without getting appropriate permissions from the proper gov't authorities, his association with like-minded individuals may, in fact, be deemed criminal. That his independent business is now subject to scrutiny and adherence to arbitrary laws by other gov't functionaries who may deem that he has broken a law that he was in ignorance of. Remember, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse," except, of course, for ignorance on the part of those state agents executing it. And he finds that the information that he had to provide so that the authorities would grant his freedom of political expression is now in the hands of his social, political, business and bureaucratic enemies. Where is Rod Serling when you need him?

Except that this isn't "The Twilight Zone," this is the modern American political system. And we should find Nora to be a cautionary tale. Because the goal of the bureaucratic, authoritarian state is to reduce its "citizens" to the psychological state where they fear to do anything that has not been granted prior permission by the state's own Nosferatu. err, I mean, Nomenklatura.

answered Dec 16 '13 at 17:37

c_andrew's gravatar image

c_andrew ♦

edited Dec 17 '13 at 11:57

This is a great answer! I really enjoyed reading this. Can I just ask one small question? Are you a psychologist, or a person who finds much interest in psychology? What do you do?

(Dec 16 '13 at 21:16) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

Folks, re Rand's sister and brother-in-law I don't find it at all surprisingly that an elderly couple would opt to return to their known way to life and the friends/relatives awaiting them there.

Some people are adverse to risk taking. Nora, Nora's husband, and the Polovchak parents represent examples of these people who would prefer "the devil that I know" to the wilds of an unknown world.

(Dec 17 '13 at 07:51) Louise Louise's gravatar image

Thanks Collin, I've always been interested in what makes people 'tick' and in understanding why they do what they do. As far as my occupation; I'm a small business owner - and the small has gotten smaller under this regime and while I haven't been targeted as my Rod Serling example was, I do know of people, at one remove, who have.

(Dec 17 '13 at 12:01) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

Hi Louise,

I do think that family and friends and risk aversion can explain part of Nora's return to the USSR. I seem to remember through reading in one of the Freeman magazines from the 1980s that refugees from totalitarian countries were uneasy and some were frightened by the prospects of the choices they would be required to make as free people. My sister's Russian teacher was a refugee from Latvia and she said that it was exhausting to try decide which toothpaste to buy because she was used to being where "toothpaste was toothpaste;" eg., there was only one "brand."


(Dec 17 '13 at 12:10) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

My great grandfather left Germany for the US in 1906. After WWII, my grandfather sponsored one of his more distant cousins for residency in the US. This cousin ended up returning to Germany which, although no longer authoritarian in governance, was in serious economic disarray, because he couldn't handle the myriad choices required of autonomous individuals. My grandfather was at a loss to understand why. In Liberty, we take so much of this choice in the economic realm for granted; we don't see what is epistemologically required because we have automatized the process.


(Dec 17 '13 at 12:15) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

We effortlessly (if not always wisely) slot our purchasing decisions into our hierarchy of values and have only recently began brushing up against the constraints of authority; or at least the generationally recognized constraints of power over our autonomy. I say this because our autonomy has been eroded over the decades; the fear that most people express at the idea of an unregulated medical system is akin to the dismay felt by the totalitarian refugee when faced with the "chaos" (I'm projecting their emotional state) of "too much" prosperity.


(Dec 17 '13 at 12:19) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

As an example of what we have lost, both in our possibilities and in our national character, my grandfather, who was victimized by a surgeon practitioner who did not believe in the germ theory of infection, arranged for his transportation to and his treatment at the Mayo Clinic from the intermountain west during WWII when all transportation was either rationed or allocated to troop and materiel movements. And he paid for it himself. As a small businessman. With an 8th grade education. Now I know that there are structural issues underlying the restraint being exercised by state


(Dec 17 '13 at 12:23) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

actors against our autonomy, and I'm not ignoring those. But the bigger and more important issue is the grinding down of the American Psyche; the "sense of life" if you will. And that is the function of those state functionaries, whether they know it or not. The ideal "citizen" which the progressives are trying to create - and have been trying to create since the importation of the Prussian Education Model in the 19th century - is the citizen who obeys, who faces diminishing choices passively, and doesn't look beyond when "he's made enough money;" a standard which declines with the rise of the

(Dec 17 '13 at 12:28) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

continued authoritarian state. American citizens are being domesticated; they are no longer "Free Range." This is a feature, not a bug, of the encroaching state. And I think that we should use such examples as Rand's sister as a concrete to understand what the end of such creeping authoritarianism is. And that end is not just to extinguish Liberty in its various concrete manifestations, but to so constrain the people that the likelihood of producing individuals capable of the autonomy that liberty requires, is extinguished as well.

(Dec 17 '13 at 12:41) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

And, in another concrete manifestation and artistic incarnation of the totalitarian state that is particularly apropos today given Edward Snowden's latest statement, I must recommend the German language film "The Lives of Others." This will give you insight into the soul-crushing aspect of the surveillance state and where it leads. And for those who would argue that the treatment meted out in the film could not happen from surveillance alone, and thus we Americans need not fear, I'd suggest you revisit topics like the NDAA, the antics of the IRS, and the politicizing of our medical system.

(Dec 17 '13 at 12:46) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

What kind of business do you run? Also, do you think stories primarily focused on the psychology of its characters fall into the category of naturalism?

(Dec 17 '13 at 13:30) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

I run a small courier business moving documents between businesses.

On the question of psychology as it pertains to naturalism or romanticism, it is not investigating their psychology as such that determines whether the work is naturalistic or romantic, but rather how their psychology is treated. As Rand pointed out in "Art of Fiction," (See quote in comment below)


If one treats that conflict of values so the character has volition in regard to his thoughts and actions, exercised or not, it's romantic. Without volition, (where he is helpless before his psychology) it's naturalism.

(Dec 17 '13 at 14:07) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image
Now I want to clarify the difference between drama and melodrama. A drama involves primarily a conflict of values within a man (as expressed in action); a melodrama involves only conflicts of men with other men. (These are my own definitions. Dictionaries usually define melodrama as "exaggerated drama," which is not a proper definition because it leaves open the question of what is or is not exaggerated.)
(Dec 17 '13 at 14:09) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

How does one start a business like that? How rewarding is it for you?

(Dec 17 '13 at 18:33) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image
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Asked: Oct 25 '13 at 23:19

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Last updated: Dec 17 '13 at 18:33