Sol Hurok immigrated to the United States from the
village of Pogar, Russia in 1906 and made a small living for himself by producing concerts
for New York City's burgeoning labor societies. Over the years, the workers' craving for
high-brow entertainment grew to such an extent that his concerts were staged in the
enormous amusement hall built by P.T. Barnum, the Hippodrome. Hurok became the personal
manager of the great Afro-American contralto Marian Anderson and arranged the first U.S.
tour for the young violin sensation and son of a poor Israeli barber, Itzak Perlman.
Within several generations Hurok became known as The Impresario, importing such world
class entertainment as the Comédie Française and the Old Vic to perform for American
audiences. A more beneficial, or benign profession would be hard to imagine. Except that
the talent he imported also included the Bolshoi Ballet and the Moiseyev Dance Company and
there were those who wished to disrupt the ties between the United States and the
then-Soviet Union by any means necessary.
Hurok had been warned many times that he was to stop bringing in Soviet
performers. Bottles of ammonia had been uncorked during a number of his events as well as
shows produced by Columbia Artists, a rival company which also imported Russian talent.
Live mice and stink bombs had been used to cause upset to the audiences. Some performances
had been disrupted by shouting. Annoying as those actions might have been, they hadn't
proven effective enough. It was thought that perhaps smoke bombs, delivered right to
Hurok's office, as well as those of Columbia Artists, would make the point.
A young man was given some money to buy the chemicals (hypnole and an
oxygenator) in order to produce the devices. Although an effective smoke bomb needed only
a few ounces of the two materials when combined, he purchased a hundred pounds of it, the
reasoning being, if a little smoke was good, a lot of smoke would be better. Then he and
another fellow made up two bombs, each weighing thirteen pounds and placed the bombs
inside two cheap attaché cases, a small fuse jutting inconspicuously outside each, ready
for the match.
Because the members of the group who came up with this idea were on probation or
facing serious criminal charges from recent arrests, it was decided that four fresh faces
would be used to plant the two devices. Two teams of high-school age youngsters were to be
sent out with the packages; one pair to Columbia Artists, the other young men to Hurok's.
They first met at their headquarters in Brooklyn. There they were shown how to light the
fuses and told where to deliver the smoke bombs. The teams then got into one of the young
men's cars and headed into Manhattan.
The first device was set off at the Columbia Artists office at 9 A.M. As it was
still early in the day, only a handful of employees had arrived at work. When the device
went off at the office's entrance those inside were able to safely escape via a rear exit.
No one was injured. It was about 9:30 A.M. when the pair assigned to Hurok's office at 6th
Avenue and 56th Street got off the elevator at the 20th floor. One of the young men went
up to a receptionist and inquired about purchasing tickets for some future performance.
While the receptionist was busy searching out the information, the two teenagers placed
the attaché case under a table, lit the fuse and quickly departed.
A moment later, one of Hurok's employees noticed smoke coming from across the
room. Surprised, he began to rise from his seat when suddenly that part of the room all at
once became engulfed in an intense red, pink and purple flare. He ran from the room. A
fraction of a second later the ignited chemicals began an incendiary fire whose
temperature reached 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat was so intense that lethal chemical
reactions took place. Phosgene gas was released from the plastic covering of the blazing
furniture. A gas that had proven deadly on the battlefields of World War One would now
prove equally effective here.
Unlike Columbia Artists, there was no rear exit at Hurok's. The reception area
was an inferno, those inside prisoners. The poison fume spread at a leisurely pace as it
made for its victims. Some attempted to fight back, tossing waste buckets of water into
the fire. But, at 1,700 degrees water ignites. The people retreated. Behind them metal
objects began to melt. With no where to run workers began smashing panes of glass, letting
in fresh air. This act saved their lives. Others found themselves trapped in less
Three women, including twenty-seven year old Iris Kones, took refuge in an inner
office. Tendrils of black smoke soon worked its way under their door. The small space
quickly filled with the poison and the three lost consciousness. It took some time for
rescuing firemen to locate the three women. Oxygen revived two. But not Kones. She was
dead. Before those responsible were aware they had
killed a young Jewish woman, one of those in charge of the operation had already made the
obligatory call to the media, saying: "This culture destroys millions of Jews.
Cultural bridges of friendship will not be built over the bodies of Soviet Jews. NEVER
At first, the New York Police Department had nothing but a very strong hunch about
those responsible for the bombing. The motive, the tactics, and the phone message all
pointed to a small group of extremists who were almost unknown when I was assigned to
infiltrate them two years before, and in a sadly ironic phrase had been described to me
then as a black cloud on the horizon.