Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tales of a Clan with Blood on Its Hands

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tales of a Clan with Blood on Its Hands

Article excerpt

Byline: CLAIRE HARMAN

THE EITINGONS: A TWENTIETH-CENTURY STORY by Mary-Kay Wilmers (Faber, [pounds sterling]20) NOT many memoirists can boast huge wealth, powerful connections and a cold-blooded executioner in the family but Mary-Kay Wilmers, the respected editor of the London Review of Books, turns out to be one. None of her spectacular relations was on her father's side; they were all Eitingons, an immensely rich Russian-Jewish clan once known as "the Rothschilds of Leipzig".

First we have Wilmers's greatuncle, Motty, an astute and charming wheeler-dealer who managed to dominate the American fur trade in the 1920s by exploiting his Russian connections and his communist sympathies. The amounts of money he made and lost and his interesting sidelines, such as giving a home to a Left-wing Austrian writer and consorting with union leaders, put him under suspicion of "un-American activities" in the Thirties, and Wilmers wonders if he was in a spy.

She asks the same question of Motty's brother Max, a protege and colleague of Freud, whose penetration of the inner circle surrounding the Master encouraged conspiracy theorists to imagine that he was a Soviet government mole. Jung was jealous of the interloper and in an unguarded moment called Max "an impotent gasbag". But his concerns seem to have been groundless, as Freud was probably more interested in Max's millions (inherited from the fur trade) than in his mind. Motty, too, ultimately evaded suspicion by being too nice and too rich.

The third and most remarkable Eitingon in Wilmers's gallery is Leonid, who was described as "Stalin's Avenging Angel" by a previous biographer. He was a ruthless Party henchman, responsible for dozens, possibly hundreds, of killings on behalf of the state in China, Turkey, Spain and most significantly, in Mexico, where he orchestrated the execution of Trotsky, driving the assassin Ramon Mercader to meet his victim, with the ice-pick, presumably, popped in the back of the car. …

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