A Museum for K.G.B. Aficionados? Da! | Modern Society of USA

A Museum for K.G.B. Aficionados? Da!

A Museum for K.G.B. Aficionados? Da!

“This is a Bulgarian umbrella; have you heard about this one?” Agne Urbaityte asked, pointing to a blue umbrella behind a glass case. There was a needle peeking out from the top.

“It’s a weapon umbrella,” she said. “You press the button here, you see the needle, the needle goes out and shoots a small shot of ricin poison. It’s still the most harsh poison in the world.”

Thank goodness this was not the real thing. It was the kind of tool famously used to kill the Bulgarian dissident author Georgi Markov on Waterloo Bridge in 1978, roughly a decade after he defected to the West. Many have speculated since that the K.G.B. was involved.

Ms. Urbaityte, 29, was standing against a wall Wednesday at the recently opened K.G.B. Spy Museum in Chelsea, a warehouse-type space housing what Ms. Urbaityte said are thousands of artifacts documenting the rise of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or in plain English: the Committee for State Security. Or more familiarly: the K.G.B., the Soviet Union’s intelligence agency and secret police.

But this museum, Ms. Urbaityte said, is apolitical.

“It’s historical and about technological progress; you cannot erase facts from history,” she said in an interview, sitting next to her father, Julius Urbaitis, 55. They are the co-curators of the new institution.

The Spy Museum is the culmination of three decades worth of collecting by Mr. Urbaitis, he said. He first had an interest in World War II artifacts, but when he acquired a listening device that belonged to Adolf Hitler, he became fascinated with espionage, he said. The family hails from Lithuania, where they founded a museum in 2014 called Atomic Bunker — which was actually based in an old nuclear bunker.

“My dad has a collector’s spirit,” Ms. Urbaityte said.

Some of the objects from Atomic Bunker have migrated to Chelsea. About half of the items in the collection, a combination of original artifacts and copies, are owned by the father-daughter duo. The other half were acquired separately by the curators. Ms. Urbaityte and Mr. Urbaitis do not own the museum, which is private and for-profit. The owners have chosen to remain anonymous.

The museum doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh tactics of the K.G.B. Far from it: There are interactive exhibits, like a model of a chair used for interrogations.

“If people want to, we can tie them up,” Ms. Urbaityte deadpanned.

The tour starts with a mock-up of a chief officer’s work space. A mannequin wearing a K.G.B. chief officer’s uniform is at a desk with a flag of Soviet Russia behind him. To the mannequin’s left sits a bronze desk lamp, which, according to the curators, sat in a villa belonging to the former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Nearby, Russian propaganda posters cover a wall. One of the oldest items in the space is a switchboard from 1928. Its operator was almost always recruited by the N.K.V.D., the Russian secret police and a forerunner of the K.G.B., according to a description of the item.

As we finished up our tour, I couldn’t help but ask: Had the curators seen “The Americans?” After all, some of the devices in the museum were likely visible onscreen in the show.

“It is precise and it’s good and we loved it,” Ms. Urbaityte said.

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