22 April 2021

Mikhail Yurievich Roshchin; Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl. Two tributes.

Misha (screenshot from Yakov Krotov's "From a Christian Viewpoint," svoboda.org); Johan Fredrik (photo by Judy Maurer)

It's been a rough few days. On Saturday morning, I learned that Misha Roshchin, my oldest friend in Russia, had died just a few hours earlier in Moscow. Then, just yesterday, as I was planning what to say here about Misha,  I was hit with the news that my dear cousin Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl had died earlier that morning, Oslo time.

I'm not the right person to provide formal biographies or eulogies for either Misha or Johan Fredrik, but I can't let the week go by without saying something. So here are two tributes based on my own personal recollections of these two, and the influences they have had on my life.

Mikhail Yurievich Roshchin, September 14, 1952 - April 16, 2021

Misha, 1996
Translation Group, 1997
Power of Goodness arrives from Grozny,

My relationship with Misha Roshchin began in 1993, during the first months of my tenure at Friends United Meeting. He began a correspondence with us by fax, asking a question (if I remember correctly) about the Quaker figure Hildegarde in Nikolai Leskov's story "Vale of Tears" (1892). Learning that Misha was a member of the Moscow Friends Meeting, I turned to him for help when my colleague Bill Wagoner and I began planning a trip to Moscow, Elektrostal, and Serpukhov (the last being Richmond, Indiana's sister city) for fall 1994.

Misha and the Friends of Moscow and Elektrostal meetings did a wonderful job arranging our visit, with Misha greeting us on our arrival at Sheremetyevo Airport. I spent most of my time in Elektrostal, and Bill in Moscow, so I didn't really spend much time with Misha until my next visit to Moscow, in 1996. During that visit he and I walked all over Moscow, and we talked for hours. The first Chechen conflict was coming to an end; as Misha briefed me on that war and on Friends participation in the peace movement, I realized that he had more than a passing knowledge of the context. Later I learned (from others!) that he was a senior faculty member of the Institute of Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, specializing in Islam and the Islamic populations in and near the Russian Federation.

For many years, Misha was a valuable co-worker in the publishing projects of the Quaker US-USSR Committee, which became the Friends International Library. The first project I was personally involved with was Tatiana Pavlova's Russian translation of John Woolman's Journal. Next came a Russian-English bilingual edition of the classic Lighting Candles in the Dark. That book was followed by a trilingual edition (adding the Chechen language), renamed Power of Goodness, that included several stories from Chechnya thanks to Misha's extensive contacts. He also arranged for this last edition to be printed in Chechnya.

During my four years as clerk of Moscow Meeting, Misha was assistant clerk. When I gave up the clerkship during our sabbatical year, we swapped places and I became one of the assistant clerks. We didn't always agree, but we always remained in close communication. When open discord broke out in our meeting over the Ukrainian conflict in 2014, he tended to favor the Russian nationalists' point of view, but together we succeeded in encouraging the meeting to issue an even-handed call for peace in the region.

Misha and I went on the road together several times -- to Yaroslavl in 2005, for example, for the Benjamin Britten War Requiem concert on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II, and to Kremenchug, Ukraine, for the Russian-speaking Friends retreat in 2011. He also visited Reedwood Friends Church in Portland, Oregon, and George Fox University in Newberg, when I was on the Reedwood pastoral staff. During that visit, he was also able to make contact with the Old Believers community in Woodburn, Oregon. (Before becoming a Friend, Misha had been part of the Old Believers community in Moscow; his old church was part of our walking tour in 1996, and on Tuesday, this is where his Moscow family and friends observed his church farewell.)

In 2016, Misha's mom Liudmila died. If you understand Russian (there are some English fragments, too), or would simply like to hear his voice once again, you will appreciate this recording that Judy made when, at her suggestion, we spent some time together after meeting for worship, with Misha talking about his mother's life and showing us photos and clippings to illustrate his remembrances.

Rest in peace, Misha! Eternal memory!

UPDATE: A Quaker memorial meeting for Misha will be held on May 22, 19.00 Moscow time, on the Zoom platform. Contact me personally if you'd like the link.

Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl, October 21, 1937 - April 20, 2021

In Bergen, 1974
Axel and Johan Fredrik
Rolf Jacobsen's autograph, thanks
to Johan Fredrik

In 1971, shortly after finishing high school in Evanston, Illinois, I went to Oslo to visit my grandparents. One afternoon, they told me "Your cousin Johan is here to take you to see his family." I walked out to the car parked outside, and the man by the car greeted me cheerfully: "Oho, so you have the same stupid name!" We were both named Johan Fredrik because we were named after the same ancestor, Johan Fredrik Maurer (1817 - 1887).

Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl was actually my father's cousin. His mother was my grandfather's sister Sol, who had four sons and no daughters. (I still remember her exclaiming with mock [?] ferocity, "Mannfolk!")

As it turned out, Aunt Sol's sons became very important to me, especially two of them: Axel and Johan Fredrik. When my parents threw me out of the house just before my high school graduation (a story I've told before), Axel wrote to me right away from Canada, offered to sponsor me as an immigrant, and suggested Carleton University in Ottawa as a place for my higher education. After a year working at a telephone factory to earn university tuition, I took him up on his offer.

Three summers later, in 1974, I went back to Norway, and returned again in 1975 on my way to the Soviet Union. During these and subsequent visits, Johan Fredrik and I had much more time together. I soon learned why the back of his car was always full of books; from 1965 until 1982, he was chief editor of the Norwegian Book Club. He had an infectious love of books and writers -- but unlike me, he knew or had interviewed many writers first-hand. He alerted me to the Norwegian writer Jens Bjørneboe, whose English-language translator (I found out to my delight) was someone I already knew -- the Philadelphia Friend Esther Greenleaf Mürer. He described interviewing Doris Lessing, whose novels I had inhaled in college. He got to know writer and singer-songwriter Alexander Galich during Galich's year of exile in Norway. He introduced me (literally!) to the poets Finn Strømsted and Rolf Jacobsen.

He also loved music, especially jazz, and took me to many of the jazz spots in Oslo and Bergen. Thanks to him, I got to meet Jan Garbarek and Ole Paus. When Judy and I visited Oslo in 1985 -- Judy's first time in Norway -- he made sure that we had tickets to hear the amazing cellist Mstislav Rostropovich perform in Oslo.

He also introduced me to the Russian-Norwegian pianist Natalia Strelchenko, whose career I followed until I learned to my horror that she was murdered in 2015 at her home in the UK.

Johan Fredrik's literary interests ranged worldwide. Among the authors he recommended to me were David Grossman (starting with The Yellow Wind), Milan Kundera, and the writers of the Charter 77 movement in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia.

As with Misha, some of our best conversations happened when we traveled together -- to Bergen in 1974, for example, and to Hamburg in 1999. On one visit I remember just spending a couple of days in his little cottage in Sweden, talking and listening to music, and going to the town of Arvika for Chinese food. But staying home also had its advantages -- hanging out with his wonderful wife Else and their three daughters, all of whom could more than hold their own in the world of ideas.

Whenever I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself for the hard years growing up in a violent and chaotic family, I have to remind myself that my extended family did so many amazing things for me -- things that, without exaggeration, gave me a future. The Brothers Heyerdahl played a central role in opening that future, and now we have said goodbye (in this world) to the last and youngest, Johan Fredrik. How I will miss you. How I will pray for your family!

UPDATE: I just cannot resist adding this story about Johan Fredrik. When my dear grandmother Gerd Maurer died, I found out through a transatlantic phone call from him. He was sitting next to her body, and said he would be sitting with her for a while, because that was the right thing to do. There he was, talking to me calmly and kindly, across the ocean, with my grandma right next to him.

The multilingual Power of Goodness project is now under the care of Friends Peace Teams.

Supporting the human rights of Palestinians in the U.S. Congress. (Analysis of H.R. 2590.)

The Quaker testimony of equality: what is its foundation?

It seems a good time to post (not for the first time) a different kind of blues, thanks to Mstislav Rostropovich:


Unknown said...

Oh Johann! Thank you so, so much! I also felt so close to Mischa. As you'll recall, he was the essential link in giving Art of Living some contacts to start with in our conflict resolution project in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ron Myers said...

Thank you Johan for allowing me to learn about such good people. If only more people would emulate them.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Hannah and Ron.