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A wooden Statue of Vladimir Lenin from Romania sits in the main gallery of the The Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War in Culver City, California on February 7, 2011. - 

The Cold War may be fresh again in our minds but for decades, many tried to forget it. Former Soviet states shed their archives of Soviet propaganda, museums gradually lost interest in the arts and crafts that Soviet artists turned out for the government. Individuals started to get rid of the memorabilia they either saw as shameful or just as junk.

But at Wende, a museum dedicated to preserving artifacts from the Cold War, this is an opportunity.

“So many of our collections have been obtained because there was something going on that put these materials at risk” says Justinian Jampol, the museum’s founder and executive direct. He has a team of scouts in Europe who locate Cold War artificats that might otherwise be destroyed or thrown away.

A cover of the record 'The Dog was Lost,' Flexi Disc, by composer Vladimir Shainsky, part of the Museum's collection. (The Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War).

In a warehouse below the main level of the museum is the archive. There are rows and rows of shelves that tower eight and nine feet high. Lenin busts are prevalent and a Checkpoint Charlie sign hangs overhead. In a glass case sit a handful of shiny brass toy military tanks. Jampol says those were once hot gifts to give and were made by prisoners who melted down bullets to make the toys.

Busts of Soviet Bloc communist leaders now residing in the vaults of The Wende Museum. (Glen McCurtayne/Coleman-Rayner)

Many of the artifacts are donated by people who may be ashamed of their work with the Soviets but who don’t want to throw away something that was once significant. The museum has a huge collection of items sent by Border Guards, for example.

“It’s always an issue of trying to preserve the important stuff. We can’t save everything, nor should we. But I think it is important to make sure that we know what’s out there, what’s being affected. Unfortunately, we’re too small of a museum to make a difference in terms of opinion.”

Soviet propaganda posters in the Museum gallery. (Marie Astrid-Gonzales)

Jampol acknowledges that their “business model” would make the head of your typical Wall Street CEO spin. They’ll spend huge amounts of money for something is quite small. But, says Jampol, it’s worth it. “We’re interested in going after the thing that can make a difference in terms of how we see the past.”

And listen to 'The Dog was Lost,' by composer Vladimir Shainsky:


Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal