Krushchev’s Shoe: A Historical Mystery
On October 13, 1960, Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev, infuriated by an accusation by the Philippine delegation to the United Nations of imperialism in Eastern Europe, removed his shoe and repeatedly banged it against the rostrum while delivering a fiery retort.
At least, that’s how the story goes.
There are no photos or videos of the event. A (pretty obviously) doctored photo did emerge (above). Eyewitness testimony is strangely mixed. A New York Times article says:
Did he or didn’t he? A KGB general remembered that Khrushchev banged the shoe rhythmically, “like a metronome.” A UN staffer claimed Khrushchev didn’t remove his shoe (“he couldn’t have,” she recalled, because the size of his stomach prevented him from reaching under the table), but it fell off when a journalist stepped on his heel. The staffer said she passed the shoe wrapped in a napkin to Khrushchev, after which he did indeed bang it. Viktor Sukhodrev, Khrushchev’s brilliant interpreter, remembers that his boss pounded the UN desk so hard with his fists that his watch stopped, at which point, irritated by the fact that some “capitalist lackey” had in effect broken a good watch, Khrushchev took off his shoe and began banging.
When I talked about Khrushchev to veterans of his era in Washington, one eyewitness confirmed the banging. But another eyewitness confirmed the nonbanging. A third, who said he’d been standing several feet behind the premier, insisted that the heel of the hand that held the shoe slammed the desk but that shoe never actually touched it.
John Loengard, former picture editor for Life magazine, wrote me that he was in a General Assembly booth, along with 10 or so photographers from New York city dailies and national wire services. Loengard is “certain” that Khrushchev “did not bang his shoe on the desk,” but that “he certainly meant to do so.”
The article concludes:
A friend in Moscow, a distinguished medieval historian, reacted to the shoe controversy this way, his tongue only partly in cheek: “If one cannot establish the truth in an event with hundreds of eyewitnesses many of whom are alive and talking, what’s the point of reconstructing events centuries old?”