As an undergraduate student at Stanford University in the early 1960s, I frequently saw on campus the stooped, shuffling figure of Aleksandr Kerensky, who had briefly headed the Provisional Government of Russia, which was overthrown in the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. Kerensky was then working on his memoirs while in residence at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, which houses an outstanding collection of materials related to the Russian Revolution.
When I traveled to the Soviet Union with a student group in the spring of 1961, all the Russians to whom I mentioned seeing Kerensky insisted that I was mistaken. He was long dead, they explained—and he was, indeed, as dead to Soviet historical memory as were the political figures who had been crudely chiseled out of the mosaics that adorned various Moscow subway stations.
On returning to the Stanford campus in the summer of 1961, I found myself working at a campus job serving food in the cafeteria line at the faculty club. One day Kerensky appeared in the line, methodically pushing his tray along and selecting his lunch. I nudged the student working next to me and told him who the historical figure who was approaching us was. As it happened, my coworker was then enrolled in a course in Russian history and determined on the spot that he must conduct an interview with Kerensky.
Abandoning his place behind the mashed potatoes, he followed Kerensky into the dining room. No less derelict in the line of duty, I forsook the cubed carrots and followed. No sooner had the old gentleman settled laboriously into his chair than his white-jacketed interrogator loomed closely above him. Without ceremony or even introduction, he put the question to a startled Kerensky: “Mr. Kerensky, to what do you attribute the downfall of the Provisional Government in 1917?” Kerensky ended the interview with a glance at his plate and a single word: “Myself.”