The dinner ‘interrogation’ of my mother by three professional journalists, is interrupted by peals of laughter. “And, by the way, how are you enjoying your soup?”
Shored up by two pals , I decided to try, once more to pry some war-time secrets out of my mother, Agnes Spicer. That summer’s night in Toronto was the closest I ever came to actually ‘interviewing’ Mom. One of Hitler’s slaves. A traitor in Stalin’s eyes. A Soviet Red Army soldier who could throw knives into a perfect pattern on the wall, or anything or anyone else. That was my mother.
Three hours later, she gave me the ‘spine’ of the film I am now making, “The Traitor’s Daughter”.
We spent the afternoon between the kitchen and the living room, one set of hands prepping the traditional Siberian dumplings and Russian Borscht soup that I had grown up with on the prairies. That would be Mom. Meanwhile, in my Toronto living room, I set up a video camera on a tripod, ran some cables for the mike and lights, trying to act nonchalant about it all, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Of course, it was rather ridiculous and obvious. But she played along.
We pretended it was a normal evening of conversation and laughter, all fortified by my mother’s legendary cooking and a very good bottle of merlot. And once again, a longing for answers to questions that have haunted me a lifetime.
From my earliest childhood days in Netherhill, Saskatchewan I had learned that the best strategy for acquiring information from my mother, was simply to say nothing and wait and hope. I had been doing it all my life, from the first midnight sessions on the prairies, when the sounds of the Russian Red Army on the old family HIFI would summon me. I’d crawl out of bed, perch on the corner of the old green velvet sofa, and wait for my mother to talk.
Forty years later, was this “interrogation ” session in my own living room any different? Only after she died four years ago, would I discover just how much she left out that night. It would take two trips to Russia, a trip to Germany, and, the collective efforts of five professional archivists in three countries. During the war, she was a woman on the run. She covered her tracks with half a dozen alias’s. She had managed to outmaneuver the real Gestapo.
In doing this film, the question remains: did she outmaneuver me, too?