Lea and Fred

By Catherine

In the correspondence of the Lea Roback Fonds, one will find letters between Roback and Fred Rose, a union organizer and Canada’s only communist Member of Parliament (under the Labour Progressive Party).  Rose was charged and convicted of communicating official secrets to the Soviet Union.  The accusation of these charges stemmed from Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk who launched the “Gouzenko Affair” in 1945 by defecting to Canada with documents of Soviet espionage activities.  After being released from prison, Fred Rose was ultimately stripped of his Canadian citizenship and forced to live the rest of his life in Poland.  He continued to correspond with Roback, who was a communist herself and an important worker in Rose’s first election campaign. 

These letters between Roback and Rose are quite interesting in what they do not include as far as discussions on labour topics.  I was surprised at the lack of labour-related material simply because of Rose and Roback’s involvement in the communist party and in unions and their past political relationship.  Instead their letters are in the majority standard correspondence; Fred Rose and Lea Roback talk about everything and nothing in their letters.

There are some interesting topics such as Eastern European politics as well as Rose’s life in Poland.  Only a few of these can be found amongst the letters though. In an historian’s perfect world, these letters would have provided detail on the daily and political life of two of Canada’s most luminary labor figures.

His correspondence with Lea Roback dates from the 1950s until his death in 1983. During this time Rose was stripped of his Canadian citizenship while he was in Poland for political affairs.  Despite this, he did continue to request to be able to return to Canada.  After his death, his family also attempted to return his remains to Canada, without success.  This struggle would have deeply affected Rose yet the letters stubbornly do not give up this glimpse of his life. What the correspondence does provide though are questions.  Was Rose not able to discuss his former life in Canada or his desire to return because of his expulsion?  How was he monitored by the communist officials in Poland?  Did he feel perhaps that Roback was not the right audience for these discussions?  Such hypothesizing is endless when faced with such interesting historical figures.  What do you think?

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